Guatemala is on the verge of electing a new attorney general. The first filter in the selection process is the postulation commission, made up primarily of the deans from the country’s 12 law schools. As this important process continues, serious questions have emerged regarding these deans, the legitimacy of the universities they represent and the pressures imposed upon them by political interest and organized crime groups.
On the fourth floor of an office building in the financial district of Guatemala City, armed men from a private security company guard Da Vinci University’s most important asset: its law school.
Da Vinci University is relatively new, as is its law school. The nonprofit organization from which it was created was legally registered in 2008. Yet, in just the first five years of its existence, it is said to have opened 70 campuses covering every department in Guatemala. In 2017, it graduated no less than 541 attorneys, a figure lower only than that of the University of San Carlos of Guatemala, the largest, oldest, and only public institution in the country.
From a quick perusal of the paperwork Da Vinci submitted to the Private Higher Education Council (Consejo de la Enseñanza Privada Superior – CEPS), the body that approves higher education institutions in Guatemala, the university's offerings appear to be extensive: nine colleges boasting 46 degree programs. A closer inspection, though, reveals that Da Vinci's 46 degree programs are overseen by only 13 people, with one person in charge of as many as nine different disciplines.
Moreover, according to the institution’s own data, since opening its doors in 2012, Da Vinci has not graduated a single lawyer who began his or her studies there; its graduates failed at other universities.
In other words, Da Vinci is what you might call a "shell" university.
Within Da Vinci’s law school, the students do not matter nearly as much as the dean. This is because every sitting dean of an accredited Guatemalan law school automatically becomes a member of the government commission that will, on April 23, send President Jimmy Morales a list with six candidates to succeed current Attorney General Thelma Aldana.
The selection of the new attorney general is happening in an atmosphere tainted by the bitter confrontation between, on one hand, the Attorney General’s Office and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) -- the latter functions in practice as a sort of adjunct Attorney General’s Office -- and on the other hand, Guatemalan elites, many of whom the Attorney General’s Office and the CICIG have been investigating over the past several years for corruption and ties to organized crime.
In fact, the Attorney General’s Office-CICIG duo is even investigating President Morales for alleged illicit electoral financing. To beat back these efforts, the president has formed an alliance with former president and current Guatemala City Mayor Alvaro Arzú, who is also under investigation for possible corruption related to municipal contracts.
Morales and Arzú have different backgrounds. Whereas the power of the former comes directly from his current position as head of state, the latter has been a major player in Guatemalan politics and elite society for decades. The influential groups associated with the two powerful political figures are not necessarily the same either. Now, though, they seem to be united by a common goal: to weaken the CICIG and Attorney General’s Office, the two bodies investigating them.
The influence that Morales, Arzú and other groups with political power could exert over the members of the postulation commission — of which the dean of Da Vinci's law school is a member — has reopened questions about the process' transparency, the suitability of commission members and even the legitimacy of some of the nation's law schools.
On the chessboard that is Guatemalan politics, the members of the postulation commission act as the bishops and knights, guarding access to the most important piece: the head of the Attorney General's Office.
Bloc I: Shell Universities
Powerful political groups allied with Morales and Arzú seem to have the most influence over shell universities like Da Vinci. Between 2013 and 2017, Da Vinci's law school dean was attorney José Guillermo Alfredo "Fredy" Cabrera who, in 2014, was also the university’s first representative in a postulation commission to appoint the attorney general.
Cabrera has been identified as the leader of a network of influence whose reputation is dubious at best. A businessman and political operator, the attorney has represented a portfolio of clients that, in recent years, has included some of the most powerful institutions in the country, among these the national development bank Banrural, the Superintendency of Banks and the Patriotic Party (Partido Patriota – PP), the political party to which former President Otto Pérez Molina and ex-Vice President Roxana Baldetti belong. Both Pérez Molina and Roxana Baldetti are in prison awaiting trial on a corruption charges brought by the Attorney General’s Office and the CICIG, and Baldetti has also been indicted on drug trafficking charges in the United States.
*A previous version of this graphic incorrectly connected Ana Mercedes Suasnávar Palma, dean of Occidente University's law school, with the Morales Arzú network. InSight Crime regrets the error. See Occidente University’s full response here.
One of the institutions that contributed most to the growth of Da Vinci was Banrural, a client of Cabrera's by way of its former president, Fernando Peña. Peña is currently in jail for corruption charges related to the “Cooptation of the State” (Cooptación del Estado) case, which the Attorney General’s Office alleges was a criminal scheme led by Pérez Molina and Baldetti.
Banrural, for example, moved so much of its professional development programming to the college that its employees became two-thirds of Da Vinci's student body, according to data from the Private Higher Education Council.
When Cabrera was a member of the postulation commission that selected Thelma Aldana as a candidate for attorney general, accusations branding Da Vinci as a shell university were widespread. Cyriano Ruiz, Da Vinci University’s president at the time, distanced himself from Cabrera's behavior in an interview with Nómada, insisting that any criticism of the university was simply due to it being so new. In an interview with InSight Crime, Cabrera also defended himself, stating, "No one can tell me I’m not independent," after Aldana was chosen.
But what is certain is that a shadow continues to follow the university. This year, its representative in the postulation commission to select the candidates for a new attorney general is Juan Carlos Rodil Quintana, another attorney with ties to powerful groups linked to entreched Guatemalan political and military structures.
Rodil Quintana, one of the university's co-founders and the notary who legally legitimized the institution, is the son of José Rodil Peralta, the president of the national bar association (Colegio de Abogados y Notarios – CANG) in 1982. José Rodil Peralta also served as an advisor to ex-dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who was tried and convicted for genocide in 2013, although the sentence was later reversed by the Constitutional Court.
Between 1992 and 1994, Rodil Peralta was president of the Supreme Court. After serving his term, he faced several criminal charges that were eventually dismissed because the Attorney General’s Office at the time failed to meet the deadlines for indictment.
In 2016, President Morales appointed Rodil Peralta as Guatemala's ambassador to Nicaragua. Now, two years later, his son Juan Carlos has a vote in the postulation commission that will produce the list of candidates for attorney general to be sent to Morales, his father's boss.
In 2015, Rodil Quintana announced his candidacy with the Vision with Values (Visión con Valores - VIVA) political party, running for a congressional seat and openly supporting its presidential candidate Zury Ríos Sosa, the daughter of Ríos Montt and ex-wife of Roberto López Villatoro. López Villatoro, an attorney known as the “Tennis Shoe King,” was arrested in February, accused of having used handouts and bribes in 2014 to influence the postulation commission charged with selecting judges for the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.
Juan Carlos Rodil Quintana claims to have a doctorate, three master's degrees and two bachelor's degrees but no law degree. Despite his education, family history and connections, he is now the dean of a university whose academic rigor is regularly questioned. Even so, his vote is accepted as valid in a postulation commission that exists, by law, to guarantee the academic quality of the nation’s judicial candidates.
The attorney general postulation commission is made up of the deans of Guatemala's law schools -- of which there are currently 12 -- the president of the Supreme Court, the president of the bar association and the president of the association’s Honor Board.
Within this commission, shell universities similar to Da Vinci may account for up to five of the votes. Alongside Da Vinci is Occidente University, whose administrators told InSight Crime that it has 75 law students based in Quetzaltenango. However, they are still awaiting their first graduates.
SEE ALSO: Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime
Occidente University has links with the Guatemalan police that can be explained, in part, by José Adolfo Reyes Calderón’s political background. In 2014, Reyes Calderón was dean of Occidente University’s law school and, as such, a member of the postulation commission that year. In 2002, Reyes Calderón served as interior minister under President Alfonso Portillo, who was the first of Guatemala's former heads-of-state to be investigated by the Attorney General’s Office with the support of the CICIG in 2010. An analysis by the Guatemalan Institute of Comparative Studies in Criminal Science (Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencias Penales de Guatemala – ICCPG) on the 2014 selection process identified Reyes Calderón as representing the interests of the military sectors associated with the government of then President Pérez Molina.
The current president of Guatemala’s Rural University, another example of a shell university, is Fidel Reyes Lee, a congressional representative of the National Unity of Hope (Unión Nacional de la Esperanza - UNE) political party. In 2017, his brother Edgar Reyes Lee, also a congressman, pushed for penal code reforms that favored Pérez Molina’s release from prison. Both brothers also voted for the so-called “Corruption Pact” (Pacto de Corruptos) in September 2017, which halted investigations into illicit electoral financing by President Jimmy Morales.
Founded in 2006, San Pablo University is part of the economic empire of the controversial businessman, politician and evangelical pastor Harold Caballeros, who currently serves as its president. In 2011, Caballeros created the Viva party -- the same political party Zury Ríos supported in 2015 -- to serve as the vehicle enabling him to join that year's presidential race. After bowing out, he supported Otto Pérez Molina, in whose government he later served as foreign affairs minister.
The most recent institution to join the ranks of the shell universities is Regional University, which is also the youngest university in the country. Its administrative offices consist of a two-story house in Guatemala City's exclusive Zone 14. On the ground floor there are modern, empty meeting rooms whose atmosphere contrasts with most of the university’s other offices scattered throughout the country in small local malls. In fact, Regional does not even have its own campus. InSight Crime learned through field research in Guatemala that classes are given in elementary and high school classrooms or community centers, most of which are rented out on an ad hoc basis.
About 300 students are enrolled in the law school, according to figures from the university that could not be independently verified. Regional University is the only higher education institution whose information is not public on the Private Higher Education Council's website.
Da Vinci, Occidente, Regional, San Pablo and Rural, with their scarce and questionable credentials, have a voice, and more importantly, votes in the selection process for the nation's attorney general. But the problem does not end with them; other universities with longer histories and more prestigious lineages, like the 300-year-old San Carlos University (USAC), have also had their credibility called into question.
Bloc II: USAC
At the end of February, Guatemala's attorney general ordered the arrest of lawyer Sergio Roberto López Villatoro, the Tennis Shoe King. López Villatoro is one of the principal political operators in Guatemala thanks to the networks he built to influence the selection of judges for the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, as well as the attorney general.
After an anonymous complaint to the Attorney General's Office in 2015, a two-year investigation found that Edgar Giovanni Orellana Donis, a member of the 2014 postulation commission charged with selecting Supreme Court judges, lived in an apartment that López Villatoro had given him in an effort to influence the selection process.
The Attorney General’s Office investigations discovered that Orellana Donis received an overdraft line of credit of 1.6 million quetzales (about $220,000) in 2015 from Banco G&T Continental without actually having been approved for such a financial product. LOVI and Associates, López Villatoro's law firm, made the contacts that enabled the judge to obtain the line of credit.
In total, according to the Attorney General’s Office, Orellana Donis received 6.13 million quetzales (about $820,000) in exchange for helping manipulate the selection of the Supreme Court judges. The Attorney General’s Office has requested a preliminary hearing for Orellana Donis and Carlos Rodimiro Pérez Lucero Paz, another member of the 2014 postulation commission who is suspected of receiving handouts from the Tennis Shoe King.
This investigation by the Attorney General's Office, dubbed "Parallel Commissions" (Comisiones Paraleles), has uncovered evidence that López Villatoro's group may still have influence over people linked to the postulation commission. One such piece of evidence points to José Antonio Pineda Barales, current president of both the Supreme Court and the postulation commission for the selection of the attorney general this May.
Investigators searching an office of LOVI and Associates also found a list of names on a piece of paper with letterhead from Hotel Clarión in Guatemala City. In 2014 at this hotel, López Villatoro paid 145,000 quetzales (close to $20,000) through another company with which he is affiliated to meet with Supreme Court candidates for two days.
One of the names on the Clarión list is that of Pineda Barales, selected as a Supreme Court judge in 2014 as part of the Tennis Shoe King's quotas. Also on the list is Rafael Rojas Cetina, a candidate to succeed Thelma Aldana as attorney general in 2018.
Emma Patricia Guillermo de León de Chea, who ran as a candidate for attorney general but was disqualified for not meeting the basic requirements under the law, was also one of the participants in meetings at Hotel Clarión, according to official investigations.
The Tennis Shoe King began weaving his network together thanks to the contacts he secured at his alma mater, USAC. His case now serves as an example of how the historic university has been involved in criminal networks that revolve around the selection of judicial actors. USAC produces far more lawyers than any other Guatemalan university, so its deans exert an influence that goes well beyond the single vote it has in the postulation commission.
“Corruption showed up at our doorstep,” said Lenina García, one of the principal speakers at a February 28 event in which entrepreneurs, students and indigenous leaders introduced the Citizen's Front Against Corruption (Frente Ciudadano contra la Corrupción) in support of Attorney General Aldana and CICIG Commissioner Iván Velásquez.
The statement made by García, who is president of USAC's University Student Association (Asociación de Estudiantes Universitarios - AEU), was a direct reference to the links that analysts and some members of the Guatemalan press have found between university authorities and powerful groups or organized crime.
Over the past 20 years, USAC has developed a reputation for its shady role in influencing the nominating commissions, which is one reason why so many questions have been raised about the postulation process in general.
"The postulation commission is not a guarantee on its own; reforms are needed. The seats in the commission became seats for personal interest, for [the interests of] certain groups. The commission became political -- a table for powerbrokers -- and decisions were made in private meetings," said Marielos Fuentes of the watchdog group Guatemala Visible, which has been closely following the selection process and whose representatives have been present at the postulation commission's meetings since they began at the end of January.
Elvyn Díaz, the president of Guatemala's Institute of Comparative Studies of Criminal Sciences (Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencias Penales de Guatemala - ICCPG), which has closely studied the postulation commissions, is also skeptical. Involving the deans in the selection process "was thought to be an academic filter, but it is an outdated system," he said, and the case of López Villatoro is an example.
An investigator from the Attorney General’s Office knowledgeable about the Tennis Shoe King’s case told InSight Crime, for example, that these investigations have revealed the names of people who may represent power groups influential within the commission. One of those names is Estuardo Gálvez, who also influenced the high court selections in 2014.
Gálvez was both law school dean from 2000 to 2004 and university president from 2006 to 2014 at USAC. He has known López Villatoro since at least 2000, when, according to an investigation by Nómada, they joined forces to seize control of the national bar association and from there exert influence on the postulation commissions selecting judicial candidates.
Gálvez's main network of influence, however, is at USAC. Gustavo Bonilla, the current dean of the university's law school, was Gálvez's favored candidate for the position and, according to university sources, was appointed dean thanks to the support of the former university president’s network.
However, Bonilla's vote is not entirely secured for the interests of the networks that helped him reach the postulation commission. Representatives of the university student association assured InSight Crime that Bonilla is more independent than previous deans, and that he might even be in favor of continuing to support the reforms advanced by the Attorney General’s Office and the CICIG.
"The dean of USAC is an influential vote, and in the past [university] structures have responded to political groups, such as those linked to the Tennis Shoe King," said Lenina García, "Today the students are close to [Bonilla]. We support him, but we have demanded that he vote in line with the appropriate profiles. If he doesn't, we'll make sure he knows."
Bloc III: Traditional Universities
At the end of February, several social and economic forces in Guatemala came together to support the selection of an independent prosecutor. Representatives of important agroindustrial, financial, service and food sectors set up an event at which the Citizen's Front Against Corruption was launched. Among the participants were student leader Lenina García and activist Helen Mack, both opponents of the Morales-Arzú bloc and prominent figures representing those in support of the CICIG and the Attorney General's Office.
Aside from the official launch of the Citizen's Front, the event was largely a symbolic act seeking to rekindle the spirit of the disparate groups that converged in the streets of Guatemala City in 2015, when business groups, students, indigenous people and NGOs marched to demand the resignation of President Pérez Molina after the CICIG and Attorney General’s Office investigations accused him of leading a massive corruption scheme.
Numerous speakers at the event came out against President Morales' recent moves to undermine the CICIG, and it was clear they were not alone when three officials recently dismissed by Morales went to the front of the hall and received a standing ovations. Prior to their dismissal, all three officials had consistently collaborated with the CICIG and the Attorney General’s Office.
Even the postulation commission, convened in the Plenary Hall of the Supreme Court in the capital’s Zone 1, has received similar encouragement, perhaps most notably from the traditional elites of this country. Since the end of January, the 15 members of the postulation commission to select the next attorney general have sat at three horseshoe-shaped tables beneath an image of the quetzal mounted on the national coat of arms and held sessions open to the press and public.
At the table in front of the audience, the presidents of the national bar association and the Supreme Court sit alongside the deans of three private universities: Landívar, Del Istmo, and Mariano Gálvez. The dean of Mariano Gálvez is, by his colleagues’ choice, secretary of the commission, and the deans of the other two institutions are among the most active and influential voices in the sessions.
Jary Leticia Méndez Maddaleno, dean of Del Istmo University, and Hugo Rolando Escobar Menaldo, dean of Rafael Landívar University, seem to have taken on leadership roles in the bloc of traditional private universities, which analysts distinguish from the private shell universities.
Much like del Itsmo and Landívar, Francisco Marroquín University has been linked to the private sector represented by the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (Comité de Asociaciones Agrícolas, Comerciales, Industriales y Financieras - CACIF), a trade association that brings together the most important traditional business elites.
Francisco Marroquín University, represented in the commission by Dean Milton Estuardo Argueta Pinto, has been linked to the multinational corporation Multi Inversiones run by Dionisio Gutiérrez, one head of the fast food empire Pollo Campero.
Del Istmo University, for its part, has financial ties to businessman Juan Mauricio Wurmser, current director of the advertising company Ogilvy Guatemala, which was responsible for the implementation of Pollo Campero’s franchise program in Central America.
Del Istmo’s dean, Jary Méndez, has a strong presence during the postulation sessions. At times, her face partially disappears behind colorful scarves in an attempt to escape the drafts from the air conditioning wafting through the room. But she sticks to the letter of the law when interpreting the qualifications the commission is seeking from the applicants.
At the January 25 session, when the commission first discussed the possibility of disqualifying candidates who had a history of defending individuals charged with drug trafficking, organized crime and corruption, it was Jary Méndez who settled the discussion. "The spirit of the law is that there be no connection to organized crime," she said in response to her fellow commissioners, like the president of the bar association, who argued that disqualifying candidates based on past clients is unfair.
She was also one of the staunchest defenders of incorporating candidate profile suggestions made by the Pro-Justice Movement (Movimiento Pro Justicia - MPJ), one of the civil society organizations that closely follow the selection process.
But these more traditional universities have not always voted as a unified bloc. Luis Antonio Ruano Castillo, the dean of Mariano Gálvez University, has been close to sectors linked to President Morales’ government. In 2016, he was part of a group that advised the president on a series of reforms to the controversial Electoral and Political Party Law. These reforms included increasing government funding for political parties and raising the cap to double allowable campaign spending.
The MPJ has said that in 2014, when Ruano Castillo participated in selecting judges for the high courts, he was close to the group associated with Fredy Cabrera, the political operator with ties to Da Vinci University.
However, in the current process, Mariano Gálvez’s dean has been closer to the bloc of 10 private universities led by Landívar and Del Istmo, which the MPJ now ranks among those who would support the election of an attorney general independent from the country's de facto powers.
The most unpredictable vote in this group may be that of Ángel Estuardo Barrios Izaguirre, who is the dean of Mesoamericana University, which was established in 1971 in collaboration with Francisco Marroquín University. In this commission, he has allied himself with the traditional private universities closest to CACIF. However, in 2009, Barrios Izaguirre supported the Supreme Court candidacy of Elda Nidia Nájera Sagastume who, according to the CICIG, also enjoyed the support of groups affiliated with the Tennis Shoe King.
Morales-Arzú Wild Card: The CANG
Controlling the Attorney General's Office means controlling criminal investigations, which is no small feat in a country where five of the last seven presidents have been investigated or formally prosecuted for corruption offenses, two of whom are now in prison. Without the Attorney General’s Office, the impact of the CICIG's investigations would decrease: while the international commission has undeniable investigative capabilities, only the Attorney General’s Office has the power to take legal action.
President Morales' full frontal offensive against the CICIG began on August 26, 2017, when the president signed a document in which he declared Ivan Velásquez, a Colombian judge who has been commissioner of the CICIG since 2013, persona non grata and ordered him to leave the country immediately. Pressure from the United Nations, the CICIG's primary backer, and countries including the United States and Sweden, prevented the departure of Velásquez and temporarily reversed Morales' declaration.
Velásquez's enemies, however, are well established in the nomination commission, and the most vocal of them is Luis Fernando Ruiz Ramírez, the president of the national bar association, known by the Spanish acronym CANG. Of all the attorneys in the commission, he is the most imposing. Dressed in dark colors with his hair slicked back in perfect lines, he always pauses a few seconds before speaking. When he does say something, he brings to mind a lecturing professor, speaking as if reciting from memory. When he talks in commission sessions, he is emphatic, especially when he says he is speaking on behalf of the colleagues he represents.
On January 29, during the third session of the commission, Ruiz Ramírez took the floor for the second time that week to defend the right to nominate colleagues who have repeatedly defended clients accused of drug trafficking, organized crime or white-collar crimes. He did this despite the fact that just the previous day, the commissioners, himself included, had voted to disqualify such individuals from the selection process.
"I will be monitoring to ensure all the files are studied ... so [the candidates] are considered regardless of who they defended ... so that we remain faithful to what the constitution says," the CANG president declared.
The discussion that day also addressed the rubric on which the commissioners would base their support of the candidates: the weight they would give to academic qualifications, professional and judicial experience, as well as official accusations against them. On the last point, Ruiz Ramírez was one of those who insisted that these accusations only be applied to the candidates if they resulted in actual convictions and sentencing.
Ruiz Ramírez himself is, in fact, the subject of an investigation. Judge María Cristina Fernández, an alternate in the Constitutional Court, has accused Ruiz Ramírez of rigging an internal process within the bar association in an attempt to implicate her in influence peddling. It is likely no coincidence that Judge Fernández issued one of the votes that prevented the expulsion of Velásquez when the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of an injunction that overruled the expulsion of the CICIG leader.
On January 28, Helen Mack, president of the Myrna Mack Foundation and one of the most recognized activists in the fight against impunity in Guatemala, accused Ruiz Ramírez of alleged irregularities in the process the CANG Honor Board followed against Judge Fernández and demanded Ruiz be excluded from participating in the attorney general selection process.
Furthermore, Ruiz Ramírez has demonstrated loyalty to President Morales and the political groups that supported him in his run for the CANG presidency, according to five sources, including diplomats and members of civil society groups who spoke to InSight Crime in Guatemala.
Ruiz's resume reveals other connections as well. During Pérez Molina's presidency under the Patriotic Party, the attorney was an adviser to Guatemala's National Security Council, one of the most important intelligence agencies in the country. He was also a graduate school professor focusing on security in the same program where President Morales was a student.
Also representing the CANG in the postulation commission is current Honor Board President Julio Enrique Dougherty Liekens, who was a municipal official during Álvaro Arzú's first term, between 1986 and 1990.
Ruiz and Dougherty were elected to their positions within the CANG thanks to the support of a group of lawyers that Ruiz had led when he served as president of the Honor Board. The group has been linked to Fredy Cabrera.
Julio Enrique Dougherty Monroy, who is Dougherty Liekens' son, currently serves the Morales administration as the Economy Ministry's vice minister of foreign trade, having previously worked under Arzú in the Guatemala City mayor's office. Despite these many connections, the president of the CANG Honor Board says that he, as a member of the postulation commission for the country's attorney general, has no other allegiance but "to the Guatemalan people."
Analysis: Vote Counting and 'Good Decisions'
An ICCPG analysis of the previous selection process that saw Thelma Aldana elected in 2014 determined that in that instance, the university deans voted in blocs according to their political and economic associations.
Representing traditional economies -- that is to say, the historic wealth of the Guatemalan private sector connected to CACIF -- the think tank listed five private universities in 2014: Landívar, Del Istmo, Francisco Marroquín, Mesoamericana and San Pablo.
The ICCPG found that, like the president of the Supreme Court and the CANG representatives, the newer universities such as Rural and Da Vinci favored the interests of so-called emerging economies, primarily consisting of the military sector and new capital elites.
Similar dynamics appear to be at play in 2018. The law stipulates that a qualified majority (nine votes out of 15) is required to elect the six candidates that make up the list that will arrive on President Morales' desk. At the end of February, the MPJ presented a study in which it identified two blocs: one led by the most renowned private universities (Landívar, Del Istmo and Francisco Marroquín) with 10 votes, and another that includes Rural, Da Vinci, USAC, Regional and the two members of the CANG with the other five votes.
In its analysis, the ICCPG also divides the commissioners into two groups: "the pro-impunity group and the group that would continue the fight against corruption."
However, doubts persist about the role of the private universities given that their interests have also been hit by investigations carried out by the Attorney General and CICIG. The analyses done by the MPJ and other similar organizations leading up to the selection process warn that, unlike in 2014, when Guatemala's private sector uniformly supported the work of the CICIG, this time around, Thelma Aldana and the commission’s onslaught against the important people and institutions of the economic elite, such as former President Arzú, could cause some of the private universities to lean towards supporting candidates less favorable to the CICIG.
Carmen Aída Ibarra of the MPJ believes that, until now, the bloc led by Landívar and Del Istmo has generally made "good decisions" and that "the commission has shown good judgement" in technical matters such as selecting candidate profiles and scoring criteria. However, Ibarra cautions that in this process the traditional economic elites should not be thought of as a single bloc.
Ultimately, President Morales, who makes the final decision, just needs one candidate to be to his liking.
Another factor that could prove decisive is the message from the United States, a country that has supported the CICIG and its commissioners since their arrival in Guatemala in 2006. In 2015, when the Attorney General’s Office and CICIG revealed the investigation that cost Otto Pérez Molina the presidency, then-US ambassador Todd Robinson became the most influential supporter of both the attorney general and the commissioner.
Robinson's successor, Luis Arreaga, has a less public style, but has also made his support for the CICIG clear. Meanwhile, Morales’ government, after the fiasco sparked by his decision to declare commissioner Velásquez persona non grata, has opted to court US President Donald Trump's administration with announcements such as moving the Guatemalan embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and lobbying evangelical Christian sectors close to Vice President Mike Pence.
In Washington, diplomatic sources have told InSight Crime that the US embassy in Guatemala continues to favor the selection of an independent -- in other words, pro-CICIG -- prosecutor. A congressional official warned, on condition of anonymity, that the selection of a new head for the Attorney General's Office with clear ties to organized crime groups could lead the US State Department to refuse to certify Guatemala's anti-corruption efforts as adequate, which is a prerequisite for the United States to disburse aid funds. The certification has been on hold since September 2017, shortly after Morales attempted to expel CICIG's Velásquez.
There is much at stake in Guatemala. Regardless of how those in charge are politically aligned, though, it seems clear that the institutional future of the country is in the hands of the Attorney General’s Office. Together with the CICIG, the Attorney General’s Office has taken unprecedented steps to uncover and criminally prosecute the complex networks of corruption and elite interests operating within the government. Now, though, these corrupt interests have infiltrated the very institutions upon which the postulation commission depends in order to select the next attorney general.
In Guatemala’s political chess game, it is outdated and unnecessary to allow the law schools to play such an important role in the selection of justice officials. In a landscape that includes universities created by operators with obvious links to powerful groups facing legal action, a state university still plagued by the shadows of past corruption and a bloc of private institutions susceptible to influence from their financiers, transparency still seems to be a scarce commodity.
*This article was produced with the assistance of: Steve Dudley (editing), Shannon Kirby (translations), Elisa Roldán (graphics).
*A previous version of the graphic "Shell Universities: The Shadow of Morales, Arzú and the Political Fixers" incorrectly connected Ana Mercedes Suasnávar Palma, dean of Occidente University's law school, with the Morales Arzú network. InSight Crime regrets the error. See Occidente University’s full response here.