Guatemala’s much-criticized attorney general seeks second term

Guatemala’s much-criticized attorney general seeks second term

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Once the envy of Central America for anti-corruption efforts that toppled a sitting president, Guatemala’s attorney general’s office has been accused in recent years of blocking corruption investigations, protect powerful interests and even persecute those who pursue the corrupt.

Consuelo Porras, who has headed the office for four years, dismisses the charges and dodges questions with legalese and recitations of the law. President Alejandro Giammattei defends her before Guatemalans, international organizations and the US government, which suspended cooperation with his office last year and revoked her visa.

In the coming days, Giammattei is set to choose Guatemala’s next attorney general, a closely watched move that observers say gives him an opportunity to reinvigorate the country’s stalled fight against corruption. But Porras, 68, is seeking a second term, one of 15 candidates for the post.

His path to a second term is not entirely clear despite his friendship with Giammattei. Among the other candidates is the Solicitor General of Guatemala, Luis Donado, also close to Giammattei.

Porras’ appointment in 2018 by then-President Jimmy Morales proved to be an inflection point in his country’s fight against corruption.

She had big shoes to fill. She followed Thelma Aldana, who had pressed a number of high-profile corruption investigations, including those against Morales while he was president and some of his relatives and associates.

Aldana had already made a name for itself by jailing former president Otto Pérez Molina, his vice president and members of his cabinet, after perhaps the most high-profile of dozens of investigations. Aldana was granted asylum in the United States in 2020.

Aldana’s success against systemic corruption in Guatemala had come in conjunction with the United Nations-backed anti-corruption mission, known by its Spanish initials CICIG. For 12 years, the mission has helped the Office of the Special Prosecutor against Impunity dismantle dozens of criminal networks while building their capacity to handle complex corruption cases.

In August 2019, just over a year after Porras’ appointment, Morales terminated the CICIG mission while he was under investigation. Porras, at least publicly, did not back down in defense of the mission.

Porras, who came to the office with a background in constitutional law and as an appellate judge, initially spoke enthusiastically about her office’s accomplishment of anti-corruption work, but the people leading those efforts saw little. interest on his part.

When she took office, Porras delayed her meeting with Iván Velásquez, a Colombian lawyer and last head of the CICIG. She did anything to avoid a conversation, he said. “That was already a very bad sign.”

Her lack of experience in prosecuting corruption cases and her apparent disinterest make her seem odd, Velásquez said.

“Not just for his personality, but more for his inability, including confronting someone directly,” he said. “I think with Morales it was total submission.”

As investigations began to approach Giammattei and his associates, Porras went from disinterest to obstruction. Prosecutors and others who had worked closely with the CICIG themselves became targets.

During his tenure, nearly 20 prosecutors, judges and magistrates went into exile, fearing retaliation for their work on corruption cases.

Asked by a reporter this month if she is shielding the president from the investigation, Porras said, “We are all subject to the knowledge of the law; I can’t protect anyone.

Last year, she fired Juan Francisco Sandoval, who headed the Office of the Special Prosecutor against Impunity and who had been applauded for his work.

Sandoval fled Guatemala under cover of darkness to neighboring El Salvador just hours after his deportation. Porras had vaguely accused him of “abuse” without giving details.

Sandoval said he was fired because of his investigations into senior Giammattei administration officials.

The U.S. government publicly protested, branded Porras an undemocratic actor undermining anti-corruption efforts, and stripped him of his 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 corruption.”

Giammattei defended Porras, saying the American reaction showed a “disrespect”.

Sandoval said she wanted him out of her office. When he used to meet Porras in his office, she would pick up his cell phone to make sure he wasn’t recording what she was asking him, he said.

Velásquez, the former head of the CICIG, said: “She distrusted prosecutor Sandoval, but even more she was jealous of the work (of her office) because he stood out.”

The United has repeatedly made Giammattei’s selection of his replacement an issue.

Mario Búcaro, Guatemala’s foreign minister, declined to speak about specific US petitions, but confirmed that the issue of the new attorney general had been raised in meetings with US officials.

In February, during a meeting with evangelical pastors, Giammattei hinted at pressure from abroad ahead of his choice. “As long as I am president, the sovereignty of this country will be respected,” Giammattei said.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement last week that Porras had “undermined investigations into corruption and human rights abuses, and brought arbitrary criminal charges against journalists, judges, and prosecutors.”

“Consuelo Porras’ tenure as attorney general has been a disgrace to the rule of law in Guatemala,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, the organization’s acting director for the Americas. “His successor could play a pivotal role in defending democratic institutions – or delivering the deathblow that spells their demise.”

Poor farmers, lawyers, indigenous activists, pastors, human rights defenders and university students marched to demand Porras’ departure.

Last year, while Porras was teaching a virtual class in the economics department at a public university, a female student questioned her office’s performance. Then other students intervene and at the end there are cries of “corrupt!” A video went viral and Porras quit teaching.

A devout Roman Catholic, Porras has a small crucifix hanging from a rosary around her wrist.

People who have worked with her say she is technophobic. She asked the staff to print memes about her so she could see what was being said. Public criticism of her work bothers her greatly, especially when it comes from the Catholic Church, which has criticized her office’s pursuit of prosecutors and judges involved in anti-corruption efforts.

Porras touts the more than 60 accused drug traffickers extradited to the United States under his watch. She also cites the nearly 2 million cases resolved during her tenure, though most were simply closed.

Porras is very proud of her doctorate in law, so she was forced to respond when academic Marco Fonseca said his analysis of her doctoral dissertation showed that she had plagiarized part of it. Fonseca looked into the matter when he learned that she had completed her doctorate in just one year.

“She had literally copied entire chapters from Ramiro Choc’s thesis, including part of the title,” Fonseca said. Shock passed away.

Porras did not deny plagiarizing Choc’s work, but said the university reviewed his thesis and determined that it “met all requirements.”

As Porras spoke with the committee that will give Giammattei a list of six recommended candidates to be Guatemala’s next prosecutor, the question of plagiarism resurfaced.

Porras sent a letter to the committee warning them that if they took up the accusation against her, they would enter into a problem that corresponds to the university and if they did, they could face “administrative and criminal sanctions”. .

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