EU, US caution Guatemala over persecution of lawyers, judges

The European Union and the United States are expressing concern about the Guatemalan government's legal actions against independent judges, lawyers and prosecutors, many of whom participated in past anti-corruption cases

ByThe Associated Press
February 11, 2022, 6:20 PM

GUATEMALA CITY -- The European Union and the United States expressed concern Friday about the Guatemalan government’s legal actions against independent judges, lawyers and prosecutors, many of whom participated in past anti-corruption cases.

The EU said in a statement that the arrests and other actions were preceded by a campaign of intimidation and threats.

Brian Nichols, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, wrote in his Twitter account that the arrests “undermine the rule of law.”

The comments came a day after a Guatemalan lawyer who previously represented a United Nations-backed anti-corruption mission in court proceedings was arrested in what some observers said was retribution against those who helped the highly effective anti-corruption effort.

The lawyer, Leidy Indira Santizo Rodas, is accused of obstruction of justice, but Attorney General’s Office spokesman Juan Luis Pantaleón did not share additional details and the case remains under seal.

The U.N.-supported International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala supported a number of high-profile successful prosecutions, including taking down former President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxanna Baldetti.

Over 12 years, the body helped dismantle more than 60 criminal networks, resulting in the sentencing of more than 400 people. It was staffed by foreign specialists and Guatemalans like Santizo.

In 2019, then President Jimmy Morales ended the mission as it continued to upset the country’s elite.

Last year, Attorney General Consuelo Porras fired Juan Francisco Sandoval, who had headed the office of the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity, which had worked closely with the U.N.-backed commission. Sandoval fled into self-exile. The U.S. government later cancelled Porras’ visa, accusing her of undermining Guatemala’s democracy by blocking investigations into corruption.

Constitutional lawyer Alejandro Balsells said there was “no doubt” that there has been persecution of everyone who worked with the commission or Sandoval’s office as well as “everyone who would be an obstacle to current abuses of power.”

“The European Union expresses its utmost concern over the ongoing deterioration of the rule of law in Guatemala, where the Supreme Court of Justice and the Prosecutor-General have initiated legal action against independent judges, lawyers and prosecutors,” the EU statement said.

“We also note that these actions were preceded by a lengthy social-media campaign, including intimidation and threats, especially against former staff of the Special Prosecution Office against Impunity ... and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).”

For his part, Nichols wrote: “The Guatemala Attorney General’s February 10 actions against current and former anti-corruption prosecutors continue a pattern of intimidation and revenge against individuals responsible for fighting impunity. These concerning actions undermine the rule of law.”

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