From October 23-29, 2016, a five member, nonpartisan delegation representing the House Democracy Partnership (HDP)—Jed Meline, HDP Staff Director; Ana Sorrentino, Legislative Assistant, Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA); Mike Dankler, Legislative Director, Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (R-IN); Jerry Hartz, Director of Government Relations for the National Democratic institute (NDI) and Scot Nemeth, Program Officer, Global Initiatives, IRI—lead a legislative fact finding mission to Guatemala.

HDP is a bipartisan, commission of the U.S. House of Representatives that works directly with 19 partner countries around the world to support the development of effective, independent, and responsive legislative institutions.

Organized by the IRI and NDI field teams, the objective of the assessment was to explore a partnership between the United States Congress and the Guatemalan Legislature through the HDP program.

Given Guatemala’s remarkable implementation of transparency and anti-corruption reforms, as well as efforts to enhance the Alliance for Prosperity across the Northern Triangle, the country’s inclusion as the twentieth HDP member seems opportune. Based on a social network analysis, the assessment team met with a wide array of institutions and relevant key actors—legislative, executive, judicial and local institutions, non-governmental organizations, journalists, think tanks, academe, civil society, and representatives from the US Mission, international and LGBTI communities—to better understand the nation’s needs, challenges and opportunities. The intent—to leverage a legislative alliance to further Guatemala’s democratic consolidation.

Meetings included the President of Congress’s Board of Directors and leadership; congressional finance and migration committees; congressional administrative staff, and the newly-established Woman’s Caucus made up of 24 women and lead by the first openly gay legislator, Sandra Moran. From there, the delegation met with a variety of organizations and relevant actors such as Attorney General and anti-corruption crusader Thelma Aldana, Director of Sexual Diversity Gabriela Tuch of the Ombudsman’s Office for Human Rights, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ana María Diéguez, the Board of Directors of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and Guatemala’s only female mayor, Susana Heidi Asencio.

Other consultations included analysts from the Association for Investigation and Social Studies (Asociación de Investigación y Estudios Sociales); Center for National Economic Investigations (Centro de Investigaciones Económicas Nacionales); University of San Carlos de Guatemala; University of Francisco Marroquin; Commissioner Ivan Velasquez, International Commission against Impunity and Corruption (CICIG); the United Nations Development Program; the Holland Institute for Parliamentary Democracy; congressional watch dog group—Transparent Congress (Congreso Transparente)-open government promoters, Citizen Network (Red Ciudadana), as well as Embassy Guatemala and USAID.

During the weeklong visit, the delegation highlighted various areas for possible collaboration, such as transparency, committee strengthening and mentorship; ethics; congressional research; professionalization of staff, and open parliament initiatives, among others. Demonstrating commitment, the President of the Congress, Mario Taracena, established a congressional committee dedicated to a potential HDP-Guatemala alliance and acknowledged HDP during a plenary session.

HDP membership would highlight Guatemala’s democratic progress and ongoing efforts to promote reforms.  Given its unique mandate, an HDP-Guatemala alliance can help strengthen, replicate and make sustainable ongoing legislative initiatives. HDP encourages responsive government by helping legislatures in emerging democracies improve processes, through the sharing of best practices, technical capacity, lessons learned, and peer-to-peer collaboration among elected officials and professional staff. Whatever decision the HDP makes, the visit serves as a reminder to the steadfast partnership between the United States and Guatemala.  Cooperation is not only limited to the legislative realm. The ongoing collaboration between the NDI and IRI field teams illustrates the power of team work, comradery, strength and value added to the HDP.

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