It is crucial that in the coming years, new coalitions coalesce between businesses, civil society, Indigenous peoples, and international allies, to promote a democratization of the country. Otherwise, the only path forward will be the one that leads to authoritarianism.
Álvaro Montenegro writes in El Faro about the challenges to judicial independence and its consequences for democracy and the rule of law in Guatemala. Increasingly, it appears that the President is strengthening impunity, primarily for the benefit of corrupt elites in the country.
On March 10, Guatemalan president Alejandro Giammattei named Leyla Lemus, his current chief of staff, as a magistrate to the Constitutional Court, the country’s top constitutional authority. With this move, Giammattei dealt the final blow to Guatemala’s justice system. In recent years, the courts presided over a wave of prosecutions which, more than in any other Central America nation, put the country’s most powerful political and business elites up against the ropes.
Guatemala’s Constitutional Court is composed of five titular or permanent magistrates, and five alternate magistrates. Of the five titular magistrates-elect who begin their five-year terms on the court on April 14, four have connections to corrupt interests and were appointed under heavy pressure from the president. The selection of Constitutional Court judges is managed by the Office of the President, Congress, Supreme Court, Guatemalan Bar Association, and University of San Carlos — all tasked with appointing one judge each.
The University of San Carlos, however, was the only institution to select an independent judge, Gloria Porra. The other four are aligned with the government and big business, and their interests center on maintaining impunity and securing the approval of various mining and hydroelectric projects suspended by the current court, which ruled that the projects violate international agreements on the rights of Indigenous people to prior consultation. Among these are the La Puya, Fénix, and El Escobal mining projects, as well as the Oxec hydroelectric dam.
The Constitutional Court has enormous power in Guatemala. It arbitrates disputes within the political system and is authorized by constitutional mandate to intervene in the illegal activity of state agencies. Throughout the last 35 years of democratic rule, the court has issued numerous decisive rulings, including the deposition of former president Jorge Serrano for attempting to stage a coup, overturning the sentence of ex-dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, and preventing the expulsion of Iván Velásquez, former head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG.
You can read the full article, including links, here, A Final Blow to Guatemala’s Justice System.