Magistrate’s Arrest Signals Battle for Guatemala’s Judiciary

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The arrest of an influential Supreme Court magistrate from the country’s elite indicates that the struggle for control over Guatemala’s courts rages on, as an internationally-backed anti-impunity body moves against arguably the strongest remaining pillar of Guatemala’s mafia state, the judiciary.

Supreme Court Magistrate Blanca Aída Stalling Dávila was arrested by Guatemalan authorities on February 8 after having lost her immunity by parliamentary vote, announced the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) in two separate press releases.

Revelations that Stalling had pressured the judge handling her son’s case surfaced in January 2017 in the form of audio recordings. The judge fled the country and the recordings prompted the Attorney General’s Office and the CICIG to launch an investigation.

The arrest promises to further shake the Supreme Court, which has been unsuccessful in electing a president after ten voting rounds, according to Prensa Libre.

The court has been the scene of intense power struggles between rival interest groups that have brought the body to a deadlock. In the latest development, the October 2016 election of Silvia Patricia Valdés Quezada as president was deemed irregular by the Constitutional Court and suspended in January 2017.

InSight Crime Analysis

Stalling’s case is emblematic of how Guatemala’s powerful elites exploit their office and create influential networks for personal gain. The judiciary — via its ability to entertain widespread impunity — is at the heart of this system that the CICIG and the Attorney General’s Office are attempting to bring down. And amid this power struggle, the Supreme Court appears to be a central battlefield for rival interest groups.

As Plaza Pública reported, Stalling and her close entourage have been involved in various corruption scandals. The magistrate’s name has previously surfaced in recordings concerning the “Law Firm of Impunity” scheme, in which lawyers colluded with corrupt judiciary officials to obtain illegal favors for their clients.

Moreover, Stalling appears to be part of an influential network composed of various powerful military and government figures, including the toppled former President Otto Pérez Molina who is currently under arrest. In August 2015, Stalling had blocked the Supreme Court’s vote on lifting Molina’s presidential immunity.

As InSight Crime reported, this influential network of elites called the “oficialista” has been attempting to control the Supreme Court since its creation. These efforts have not ceased, as the recently suspended Supreme Court President Valdés Quezada is herself an “oficialista,” according to Prensa Libre.

SEE ALSO: Backroom Justice – The War for Guatemala’s Courts

In addition to being a central arena for rival interest groups, the Supreme Court — and, more generally, Guatemala’s judiciary as a whole — now appears to be a prime target for the CICIG and the Attorney General’s Office.

The latter two entities have successfully confronted corruption in various powerful institutions, including the Interior Ministry, the Social Security Institute and even the presidential palace. But these efforts will be trivial and their legacy short-lived as long as Guatemala’s judiciary remains but a tool for elites to enjoy impunity, allowing them to illegally assert or maintain their control over the state and the country’s economy.

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