A couple of days ago, the United States’ State Department announced that it was adding the Guatemala Attorney General, Consuelo Porras, and Angel Pineda, the Secretary General of the Public Ministry (MP), to the United States’ Undemocratic and Corrupt Actors list, which generally makes the perpetrators ineligible for visas and admission to the United States. The reasoning being that:
Maria Consuelo Porras Argueta De Porres, current Attorney General of Guatemala, obstructed investigations into acts of corruption by interfering with criminal investigations. Porras’ pattern of obstruction included ordering prosecutors in Guatemala’s Public Ministry (MP) to ignore cases based on political considerations and actively undermining investigations carried out by the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity [FECI], including by firing its lead prosecutor, Juan Francisco Sandoval, and transferring and firing prosecutors who investigate corruption. Angel Arnoldo Pineda Avila, current Secretary General of the MP, obstructed investigations into acts of corruption by interfering in anticorruption probes. The MP has opened a probe into allegations that Pineda interfered in an anticorruption investigation. Pineda is alleged to have tipped off investigative targets about cases being built against them.
The full announcement can be read here, United States Announces Actions Against Seven Central American Officials for Undermining Democracy and Obstructing Investigations into Acts of Corruption.
This was welcomed with a tweet by La Alianza Por Las Reformas (Alliance For Reforms), a coalition of 40 civil society organisations, specialising in justice and human rights, urban collectives, international institutions, and centres of analysis and thought.
On 23 August we asked the G-13 Donor Group to suspend all cooperation with @Mpguatemala because the current Attorney General is destroying more than 10 years of progress in the Attorney General’s Office. We can’t continue to support institutions that support corruption.
Following the announcement from the State Department, the Guatemala Net Centers (or Troll Centres) swung into action.
Journalist, Luis Assardo, tweeted that
Over the last few hours a network of new accounts with less than 5 followers have been pushing HTs [Rts?] in support of @DrGiammattei and the Attorney General of @Mpguatemala Many of the accounts share exactly the same message.
So many of the messages are identical, in support of the President and Attorney General and of a sovereign Guatemala. The tweet then shares the data used in the analysis, including the messages and the accounts.
You can read the tweet, in Spanish, here, Luis Assardo – tweet.
The term, Net Center, is a play on ‘Call Center’ and for more on this Guatemala phenomenon, The Intercept carried a piece by Cora Currier and Danielle Mackey.
Net centers are now used routinely and relentlessly to harass and intimidate opponents of Guatemala’s entrenched elite. They also reveal what precious little intelligence has been gleaned on the ground about these shadowy operations, which leave little or no paper trail and which appear to operate with protection from the nation’s powerful business interests, long allied with the military.
You can read the full piece here, The Rise of the Net Center – How an Army of Trolls Protects Guatemala’s Corrupt Elite
Interestingly, CICIG, before its mandate ended, also addressed this phenomenon in a report titled, “Bots, netcenters and the fight against impunity”. The Guatemalan case. The report describes ‘the operation scheme of the so-called “netcenters” in Guatemala, based on an analysis of quantitative structural content of the accounting behavior in social media’.
It states that while six out of every ten users giving an opinion about CICIG’s work used positive language, when measured in units (tweets), those against the fight against corruption and impunity, was more than 65%.
What this means is that
the number of users that are against the fight against corruption and favor impunity is less, but their involvement in the media is higher. A detailed analysis of the accounts that frequently publish content against the fight against impunity established that they only have a few or no followers at all. Besides, they do not have a profile photo and use a name that is not real or cannot be verified, and the contents of their feed relate only to negative campaigning.
These are the Net Centers – these are the trolls.
To read the CICIG report, in Spanish, you can link here, Bots, Netcenters and the Fight against Impunity.