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Guatemala Judge Selection Process Rife With Corruption

GUATEMALA / 2 OCT 2014 BY DAVID GAGNE EN

Guatemala's Congress has elected over 200 officials to the country's appellate courts, in a selection process rife with corruption, which plays a role in protecting officials from legal action.

On September 30, the Patriot Party (PP) and Renewed Liberty Democratic Party (Lider) worked as allies to choose 210 judges, representatives, and alternates to fill the country's 42 appellate courts, reported elPeriodico

The newspaper gave an idea of the interests at play in drawing up the list of candidates, stating that the list was made up of individuals who were on the committee that nominates Supreme Court candidates, lawyers defending alleged drug traffickers, and relatives of lawmakers.

Those selected to the appellate court include Romeo Monterrosa, former lawyer to recently-captured trafficker Jairo Orellana, and Artemio Tanchez, who was among 18 judges accused of ruling in favor of criminal groups in "Judges of Impunity," a report by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), reported elPeriodico.

Thirteen of those chosen for the appellate court had themselves sat on the committee that selected the Supreme Court candidates last week.

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The highly politicized nature of the selection process is hardly surprising in a country that has long struggled with corruption. With millions of dollars in public funds and goverment contracts on the line, political parties vying to fill court seats have turned what should be a democratic process into a contest of political favors.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the War for Guatemala's Courts

Beyond financial incentives, the court elections are an important instrument for entrenched powers to influence judicial decisions. Political parties look to fill the courts with judges who will protect their interests and those of their allies, protecting them from prosecution.

Justice officials who do not uphold the status quo have not fared well in Guatemala. Despite international recognition for her achievements, in February former Attorney General Clauida Paz y Paz was rushed out of office one year after bringing former dictator Efrain Rios Montt to trial on charges of genocide. In August, Paz y Paz was prohibited from leaving Guatemala and had her bank assets frozen, although she had already left the country. 

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