“That President Giammattei would confront the United States to protect major corruption targets says it all.”
Stephen McFarland writes in Plaza Pública on the troubling direction facing Guatemala. The wilful moves of the governing elites to repudiate U.S. government’s support for anti-corruption and an independent judiciary sends troubling signals for Guatemalans already suffering from extreme poverty, racism, violence, and the deliberate looting and destruction of public services, as well as the effects of the pandemic. The piece suggests ways forward for the U.S. government to tackling corruption but it needs the political will to do so.
Stephen McFarland was the United States Ambassador to Guatemala from 2008-2011.
Guatemala’s firing on July 23 of the all-too effective corruption prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval spells the end of anti-corruption efforts in that country. It demonstrates kleptocratic control over almost all parts of the Guatemalan state. It foreshadows restrictions on the press and civil society, as well as additional political inroads by narco-trafficking groups. With the apparent encouragement of President Giammattei, Attorney General Consuelo Porras took the measure despite the United States’ strong insistence —including Vice President Harris’ statements in her June visit to Guatemala— that Sandoval continue to lead anti-corruption investigations that the United States views as critical to addressing growing migration to the United States. The firing not only removes a strong prosecutor. It also advances the unraveling of investigations into political corruption and warns other prosecutors and judges that certain politicians and crimes are off limits. It is a major red flag for foreign and local investment.
One reason Sandoval likely fell from grace was his investigation that led to the seizure in 2020 of about $20 million dollars in a house allegedly owned by former communications minister Benito (now a fugitive); another was his persistence in investigating alleged “pay to play” deals by congressional representatives in the State Subordination case. He had also shown interest in the Guatemalan government’s unaccountable failure to obtain most of the Sputnik COVID vaccines that it had inexplicably purchased through a Russian third party for nearly $80 million. These are immense sums for a country whose poverty motivates hundreds of thousands to migrate yearly to the north. Interlocking groups use corruption to dominate almost every part of the Guatemalan state. Their agenda is to undo corruption investigations, to secure judicial approval for new mining and hydro-electric projects in Indigenous areas with minimal local consultation (and minimal taxes), to use contracting and hiring authorities for their benefit and to control the 2023 election process. Expect even more migration to the United States as Guatemala moves closer to the kleptocracy models of Honduras and Nicaragua—or perhaps the authoritarian populism of El Salvador.
You can read the full article here, Guatemala fires its top corruption prosecutor for being too effective.