NGOs, Corruption, and Unethical Behavior

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Corruption in the Guatemala nonprofit sector made national and international news featuring the Noble Order for Human Excellence (NOHE). The nongovernmental organization (NGO) of Brazilian origin has worldwide programs and an association with the United Nations. It was found to have two legal registrations within the Guatemalan Ministry of the Interior in order. It was discovered that it received fraudulent funds to politically protect government officials. Additionally, its Guatemalan administrative representative was linked a child pornography ring and the black market. This controversy primarily revolves around NOHE ambassador in Guatemala, Bárbara Hernández. 

Noble Order of Human Excellence, Dignity to Childhood

Source: NOHE Facebook

Pionero Philanthropy focuses on Guatemalan nonprofit organizations that fill a space within Guatemala’s social, cultural, and political framework. As a result, we believe it is of utmost importance to make a public statement against corruption and unethical behavior. 

To understand the full context , we must first explore Bárbara Hernández and her role within Guatemalan politics and with NOHE.

Hernández, Political Activist

Barbara Hernandez pictured here interrupting a CICIG press conference in 2018 Source: Soy502

Bárbara Hernández informally defended politicians, economic groups, and conservative groups opposed to the CICIG (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.) For this reason, Hernández boasts as an intellectual leader who fought to prevent and overcome the “communist” threat in Guatemala. 

Hernández dismantled various cases against corruption in which several of the aforementioned groups were affiliated. For example, when former President Jimmy Morales and his family were accused of corruption, Hernández played a key role in ensuring that a supposed coup d’etat lead by the CICIG, the Public Ministry headed by Thelma Aldana, and various international embassies did not come to fruition. In January 2020, Hernández received a medal of honor from the Guatemalan Secretary of Strategic Intelligence under the Morales Administration. This medal is generally rewarded internally to intelligence or security personnel. The Morales administration was deemed one of the most inefficient in Guatemala’s history and is still surrounded by corruption investigations.

Hernández, NOHE Ambassador

Hernández led NOHE in Guatemala with a mission of ensuring the protection of children and their human rights. The NGO was legally registered twice in Guatemala without the knowledge or approval of the organization’s international director and board. NOHE’s international administration then reported that the organization did not have plans to ever register in Guatemala.

According to Guatemala’s Ministry of Interior, the NGO was first registered in 2017 under the name, the Noble Order for Human Excellence- Guatemala. Since its Guatemala registration, the organization received funds from the Morales administration. This is according to Guatecompras, a website from the Guatemalan government to track official contracts. In December 2019, the organization was registered for the second time under the Spanish name with a new board.

The Truth Revealed

On April 24, 2020, during an unsuccessful operation to capture Estuardo Galdámez, former presidential candidate and current justice fugitive, Bárbara Hernández was taken for questioning. When asked why she was in the fugitive’s house, she reported being a NOHE goodwill ambassador in Guatemala. She claimed that the house of Galdámez is the headquarters of the organization. 

Further investigation was performed and revealed that Hernández had been considered “non grata” by the NGO in February 2020. This was due to her participation in political, social, and economic issues in Guatemala. Hernández used NOHE to solicit fraudulent funds for projects that were never implemented, such as the construction of schools. It was also discovered that she sold false passports to political figures deeming them NOHE ambassadors. These passports give these figures political protection. These individuals included former President Jimmy Morales, his wife, and naming members of his political party as board members.

Above: Estuardo Galdámez, former presidential candidate and current fugitive of justice in whose house, Bárbara Hernández was taken in for questioning and who claimed the house was NOHE headquarters.

Source :Prensa Libre

Additionally, an internal investigation performed by NOHE revealed Hernández’s participation in various networks that commercialized online child pornography and sites that advertised and facilitated illegal and unsafe abortions, actions contrary to the NGO and its ideals.

Pionero Philanthropy in Guatemala

This is not the first nor the last case in which international or national NGOs are involved in acts of corruption or unethical behavior. Pionero Philanthropy does not condone or support these actions and/or behaviors. We continue to fear how the actions of a few impact the sector as a whole. For this reason, Pionero is standing strong to support and publicize our vetted NPO members in Guatemala. 

Across the geographic and cultural environments of the United States and Guatemala, an apprehension, lack of confidence, and general distrust for the sector has arisen. This is only further fueled by cases of corruption and unethical behavior, like that previously presented. This belief and the public’s call for more transparency have affected organizations’ abilities to acquire government contracts, national and international aid, and philanthropic donations, which has in turn impacted NPO programming, function, and development. One of the major challenges of Pionero’s NPO-philanthropy matching structure is to overcome this lack of trust. US donors and philanthropic organizations rely on Pionero to vet our members NPOs to ensure confidence.

Pionero Philanthropy’s Nonprofit Database

Pionero Philanthropy’s interactive map.

For this reason, Pionero developed a nonprofit database and an interactive map in order to track the approximately 9,000 nonprofits in Guatemala.

These organizations are categorized by multiple filters including Pionero Affiliation, legal registration and evaluation score of Pionero’s 5 Pillars, which includes transparency!

This evaluation score is used to determine whether a particular NPO is eligible for membership with Pionero Philanthropy and allows donors to put their faith in our NPO members.

Due to the importance of trust between NPOs and US donors, Pionero Philanthropy hopes to continue to conduct additional studies to enhance our 5 Pillar Evaluation and analyze nonprofit transparency in the Guatemalan context. Keep an eye out for the launch of our nonprofit database, the interactive map, and additional research in the coming months! 

By Asia Blackwell
Pionero Head of Research