President Otto Perez has named Thelma Aldana as Guatemala’s new attorney general, a controversial decision that raises fears of a return to impunity after four years of judicial reform.
Perez announced his decision on May 9, dismissing accusations that Aldana has ties to his political party, the Patriotic Party, and that her appointment was politically motivated. The president claimed he made his decision based on Aldana’s 25 years of judicial experience, reported Prensa Libre.
Aldana currently serves as a Supreme Court justice and will replace Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz on May 17. She was one of six nominees out of 26 original candidates put forward by a selection committee for Perez to make the final decision.
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The selection process that resulted in Aldana’s appointment has been widely criticized both nationally and internationally for its apparent lack of impartiality. From the beginning, Aldana was regarded as the preferred candidate of the government and was reportedly backed by both Gustavo Herrera, a prominent businessman with alleged criminal ties and huge influence over the process, and Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who herself has faced accusations of connections to criminal networks.
The current Attorney General, Paz y Paz, was excluded from the shortlist of candidates despite the fact that she received the second highest ranking based on professional, academic and personal qualifications.
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Over the last four years, Paz y Paz has taken on corruption and organized crime and reduced Guatemala’s high levels of impunity. She has received international recognition for her work, including a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013, but her aggressive tactics have also made her an enemy of Guatemala’s elite, which maintains close links to Guatemala’s criminal networks and drug trafficking groups.
Given her ties to the country’s political elite, it is unlikely Aldana will take the same tough stance on corruption and organized crime. Plaza Publica reported that Aldana also has links to the Guatemalan Republican Front, which was founded by former dictator Efrain Rios Montt. These allegations are especially troubling because as Attorney General, Aldana will be in charge of prosecuting Rios Montt when he returns to trial in January 2015. If these accusations are true, Aldana’s appointment could be a serious setback to advances made under Paz y Paz.