Guatemala reappoints criticized attorney general to 2nd term

·3 min read

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala’s president reappointed to a second term Monday his attorney general who the U.S. government said is involved “in significant corruption,” disappointing many Guatemalans and foreign governments critical of her backsliding on corruption investigations.

President Alejandro Giammattei said Consuelo Porras deserved another four years leading the office.

“I am convinced that the Attorney General's Office must be an independent institution,” the president said, adding that the process of her selection was transparent.

“It is a sovereign decision," he added, in apparent reference to international pressure.

Porras, standing with Giammattei for the announcement, said she had strengthened the institution, ensuring it acted without bias or ideology.

“In the past it was being used for political and ideological ends," Porras said.

Critics have accused her of the opposite: protecting political figures, including the president, from corruption investigations.

Hours after her reappointment, the U.S. State Department announced that it was designating Porras for “her involvement in significant corruption.” The authority under the State Department 2022 appropriations act allows the government to bar foreign government officials and their immediate family from entry into the U.S.

“During her tenure, Porras repeatedly obstructed and undermined anticorruption investigations in Guatemala to protect her political allies and gain undue political favor,” the statement said. It said she had ordered prosecutors to ignore cases based on political considerations and fired prosecutors investigating corruption cases.

Porras’ husband was also designated, making him ineligible to enter the United States. The State Department said it was actively considering additional designations.

“Attorney General Porras’s corrupt acts undermine democracy in Guatemala,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said via Twitter. “Today’s designation sends a strong signal that the U.S. stands with all Guatemalans to encourage accountability, transparency, and respect for the rule of law.”

Earlier Monday, Porras, 68, defended her record during her annual report. She said that under her leadership the office had enforced the country’s laws and sought justice for all without exceptions.

Porras was originally appointed in 2018 by then President Jimmy Morales. This is the first time Guatemala has given its top prosecutor a second consecutive term.

In August 2019, a bit more than a year after Porras’ appointment, Morales ended the United Nations anti-corruption mission while he was under investigation. Porras, at least publicly, did not push back in defense of the mission.

Over 12 years, the mission had supported the Special Prosecutors Office Against Impunity in dismantling dozens of criminal networks while at the same time building their capacity to handle complex corruption cases.

During her term, more than 20 prosecutors, judges and magistrates have gone into exile, fearful they will be prosecuted in retaliation for their work on corruption cases.

Last year, she fired Juan Francisco Sandoval, who led the Special Prosecutors Office Against Impunity and who had been applauded for his work. He fled the country.

The U.S. government protested publicly, labelled Porras an undemocratic actor undermining efforts against corruption and pulled her visa. A State Department official said at the time that Sandoval’s removal “contributes to the perception that there is a systematic effort in Guatemala to weaken those who fight against corruption.”

On Monday, Porras described her office’s work against corruption as precedent-setting, but offered no explanation on how.

Porras has been a frequent target of street protests in recent months expressing a general dissatisfaction with the government and calling for her ouster.

Juan Pappier, Human Rights Watch senior researcher for the Americas division, said Monday that Porras had blocked corruption investigations and pursued meritless cases against journalists, judges and prosecutors.

“This decision is the death blow to the fight against impunity in Guatemala,” Pappier said. “If the international community does not take urgent multilateral measures, democracy and the rule of law in Guatemala will be at great risk during her new term as Attorney General.”

Porras' reappointment promises to raise tensions between the Biden administration and a key ally in controlling the region's migration flows.

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