NGOs, Corruption, and Unethical Behavior

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NGOs, Corruption, and Unethical Behavior

Corruption and unethical behavior in the Guatemala nonprofit sector have once again made national and international news with the Noble Order for Human Excellence (NOHE) in Guatemala at its forefront. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) of Brazilian origin, which has worldwide programs and an association with the United Nations, has been found to have two legal registrations within the Guatemalan Ministry of the Interior in order to receive fraudulent funds and politically protect government officials. Additionally, its Guatemalan administrative representative has been linked to the 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

As Pionero Philanthropy’s work focuses on the Guatemalan nonprofit organizations (NPOs) that have filled a key space within the social, cultural, and political framework of the Republic of Guatemala after the Firma de La Paz (Signature of The Peace) in 1996, we feel it is of utmost importance to transparently relate the situation and make a public statement against corruption and unethical behavior. 

To understand the full context of the situation, 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, of Cuban origin, made a name for herself in Guatemala through her informal participation in the defense of politicians, economic power groups, conservative groups, and other movements that opposed the management and work of the CICIG (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.) For this reason, Hernández boasts as an intellectual leader who fought to prevent and overcome the current “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, a medal that is generally rewarded internally to intelligence or security personnel. The Morales administration has since been deemed one of the most inefficient in Guatemala’s history and is still surrounded by investigations of corruption.

Hernández, NOHE Ambassador

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

 However, according to data from the Ministry of Interior, the NGO was first registered in 2017 under the English name, the Noble Order for Human Excellence- Guatemala. Since its registration in Guatemala, the organization has received funds from the Morales administration 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 name in Spanish with a new board of directors.

The Truth Revealed

On April 24, 2020, during an unsuccessful operation to capture Estuardo Galdámez, former presidential candidate for the political party of Jimmy Morales and current fugitive of justice, at his house in Sumpango Sacatepéquez, Bárbara Hernández was taken in for questioning. When asked why she was in the fugitive’s house, she reported being a NOHE goodwill ambassador in Guatemala with the house being the headquarters of the organization. 

Raising various red flags, further investigation was performed and revealed that Bárbara Hernández had been considered “non grata” by the NGO in February 2020 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. She was also found to have sold false passports to political figures deeming them NOHE ambassadors; she included former President Jimmy Morales, his wife, Patricia de Morales, and the ministers and congressmen of his political party as members of the board with the aim of political protection.

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, and 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 partners 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 partner NPOs to ensure confidence.

Pionero Philanthropy’s interactive map, due to be released to the public in the coming months.

For this reason, Pionero has developed a nonprofit database and an interactive map in order to track the approximately 12,000 NPOs located in Guatemala. These organizations are categorized by Pionero Affiliation (partner, discontinued partner, eligible for partnership, and non eligible for partnership), legal registration (US registered 501(c)3, Guatemalan registered association, and Guatemalan registered NGO), 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 partnership with Pionero Philanthropy and allows donors to put their faith in our NPO partners.

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