Political Manipulation Could Taint Selection of Guatemala’s Next Attorney General

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A process to select members of a commission that will help choose Guatemala’s next attorney general is about to begin. But recent reports and past history suggest powerful elites have already been maneuvering to shape the commission’s composition and recommendations in an effort to thwart a years-long anti-graft drive by the top prosecutor’s office.

Guatemalan law requires the congress to begin the process of establishing the “postulation commission” by January 17, Prensa Libre reported. The body will be charged with providing the president with six potential candidates to replace current Attorney General Thelma Aldana, whose four-year mandate will end in May 2018.

The postulation commission is composed of the president of the Supreme Court, the president of the national bar association and the head of the bar association’s ethics committee, as well as law school faculty members chosen by Guatemala’s universities.

A report from Nómada indicates that two key positions on the commission have already sparked a behind-the-scenes political battle. The news outlet reported that the two officials from the bar association gained their office in January 2017 following a power struggle between rival political factions wishing to place allies in these important posts.

According to Nómada, both officials have close ties to the Patriotic Party (Partido Patriota), which has seen a number of top members, including former President Otto Pérez Molina, targeted in recent years by anti-corruption investigations led by the Attorney General’s Office with support from the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG), a United Nations-backed anti-graft body.

InSight Crime Analysis

Postulation commissions are an arcane but important mechanism in Guatemalan politics, as they are used to choose candidates for a number of top judicial posts. For this reason, they are also ripe for corruption and manipulation.

In the case of the forthcoming postulation commission, which will select a group of candidates that will include the country’s next attorney general, the stakes for corrupt elites are high. If they can ensure that the commission will choose a friendly slate of nominees, they may be able to avoid the fate of Pérez Molina, who is currently in jail while the trial against him proceeds.

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

As InSight Crime has previously detailed, elites have various ways of meddling in the process of selecting postulation commission members as well as influencing their votes. Perhaps the most emblematic example of this dynamic came in 2014, when powerful actors engaged in a multifaceted campaign to prevent then-Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz — who was widely praised for her strong anti-corruption and anti-impunity efforts — from retaining her position for a second term.

Postulation commissions are hardly the only aspect of Guatemala’s judicial system prone to corruption. As CICIG head Iván Velásquez pointed out in April 2017, virtually all crimes in Guatemala go unpunished due to the weakness of institutions that are susceptible to manipulation by powerful elites in various ways.

* This article was written with assistance from Josefina Salomón

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