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Controversial Attorney General Outlasts Guatemala's Anti-Corruption Efforts

ELITES AND CRIME / 18 MAY 2022 BY SCOTT MISTLER-FERGUSON EN

Guatemala has reappointed Attorney General Consuelo Porras for a second term despite her reported track record shielding political and business elites from anti-corruption investigations.

On May 16, President Alejandro Giammattei announced the reappointment of Consuelo Porras for an additional four years as Guatemala's top prosecutor. It is the first time an Attorney General has been granted a second consecutive term.

In her first term, Porras presided over a series of controversial decisions that critics say debilitated the country's fight against corruption. In response, the US sanctioned a former and current government official for their involvement in corruption.

SEE ALSO: Crackdown on Guatemala Prosecutors Intensifies Amid Presidential Corruption Claims

Such decisions included the ousting of the former head of Guatemala's special Prosecutor's Office Against Impunity (Fiscalía Especial Contra la Impunidad - FECI). Alongside this, a top judge and multiple prosecutors became targets for the Attorney General's Office, headed by Porras, driving more than a dozen to flee and live as fugitives abroad.

Additionally, there have been allegations that Porras has protected Giammattei from investigations into illicit campaign financing. The president was accused of using a $2.6 million bribe from a Russian mining company to help fund his 2019 election campaign, but the investigation was promptly crushed by Porras, according to news outlet, El Faro. Porras has denied these claims.

Right after she was re-appointed by Giammattei on May 16, the US slapped additional sanctions on both Porras and her husband. Under the Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Act, they will both be barred from entering the US, along with their immediate family members.

Porras' reappointment process itself raises eyebrows. On top of being sanctioned by the US, she was the candidate with the highest number of appeals against her of the six chosen by the nominating commission. According to elPeriodico, she lacked the votes to be added to the list, which is eventually sent to the president for final selection, but was added after the Guatemalan Constitutional Court restructured the nomination requirements to force the commission's hand.

In a press statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated how Porras "repeatedly obstructed and undermined anti-corruption investigations in Guatemala to protect her political allies and gain undue political favor."

The designation joins her previous addition to the so-called Engel List of corrupt and undemocratic actors in the Northern Triangle in 2021.

InSight Crime Analysis

Despite sustained outcry at home and abroad, Porras' reappointment is unsurprising.

In 2018, InSight Crime laid bare the corrupted and heavily politicized nature in which Attorney Generals are selected in Guatemala. While the 15-member postulation commission was initially formed to democratize the process and ensure a merit-based nomination system, the opposite has occurred. A collection of law school deans battle for a seat at the table to draft the list of six potential candidates for the president.

These seats are so coveted because of the influence that is gained by controlling the Attorney General’s Office. A similarly murky and contested system has presided over high court selections in Guatemala for decades.

Control over the courts in particular has long been understood by high-level officials as a means to ensure their own impunity when they eventually leave office.

SEE ALSO: University Deans and Guatemala's Convoluted Road to a New Attorney General

For Porras, a second term foretells the continued weaponization of the Attorney General's Office as she will maintain anti-corruption and impunity efforts under her thumb.

The Attorney General has spear-headed the weakening of justice institutions, allegedly obstructing investigations and crippling FECI since first being appointed by former president Jimmy Morales in 2018.

Porras stood aside while Morales finished dismantling the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG). And under President Giammattei, she has managed to decapitate FECI by dismissing Juan Francisco Sandoval, its former head, while repeatedly sidelining the anti-impunity body’s investigations.

The Biden administration has been vocal in its disapproval of Porras and these systematic assaults on anti-corruption efforts. But it may only go so far.

Guatemala, after all, remains a critical partner in the US’ overall goals to curb Central American migration north.

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