EXCLUSIVE Guatemalan President says corruption fighter is biased, ahead of Harris visit

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei criticized the country’s best-known corruption prosecutor for what he called left-wing politicization of the fight against corruption, a view at odds with strong American support for his work.

Speaking in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday evening, Giammattei nonetheless expressed hope that a visit to Guatemala next week by US Vice President Kamala Harris will produce common strategies to create prosperity in rural areas prone to the emigration.

Harris, a Democrat, is in charge of Washington’s efforts to address the causes of mass migration from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, collectively dubbed the Northern Triangle, including focusing on the corruption and poor governance which she says limit opportunities. A US $ 4 billion aid program for the region is at stake.

To tackle the root causes of migration, the United States should focus on tackling drug trafficking, which has “corrupted the political system,” Giammattei said.

He said he would ask Harris to channel rural support through the World Food Program and the government. Much of US aid currently goes to non-government projects.

“When we look at the new migration map, the majority is from rural areas,” Giammattei said. “An alliance between Guatemala and the United States can help overcome these structural causes through institutional programs.”

The 65-year-old president detailed his own efforts to clean up the government, including a presidential commission he set up, a bill to tackle money laundering and its obstruction of a law passed by the government. Congress that would allow local authorities to spend more.

However, when asked about top prosecutors such as the Office of the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity headed by Juan Francisco Sandoval, and a leading judge, he said they let political beliefs color their work.

The comments were the first time Giammattei had spoken to the media about these issues.

Giammattei, a conservative, said there were “enough cases” showing that justice was administered in a selective and politicized manner.

“Everyone has the right to their own ideology,” said Giammattei, stressing that the attorney general’s office was independent from the executive. “The problem is when you transfer this ideology to your actions, and worse when you are in charge of justice.”

US Ambassador to Guatemala William Popp said last week that Washington “was working to strongly support” Sandoval, who is facing a legal challenge from a lawyer seeking to dismantle his unit. The US State Department declared Sandoval an “anti-corruption champion” in an award in February.

Sandoval told Reuters in response to Giammattei’s comments that “obviously” the judges and prosecutors had political convictions, but said their work reflected respect for law, not ideology. He pointed out that his unit had also prosecuted members of the center-left UNE party. Most governments in Guatemala have been conservative.

Sandoval’s unit supported the work of a United Nations anti-corruption body known as CICIG which launched investigations leading to the resignation of a sitting president in 2015. Giammattei himself was imprisoned for 10 months following a CICIG investigation into seven extrajudicial executions in prison. raid in 2006, when he was director of the prison system.

Sandoval was among the prosecutors involved in the case. Giammattei was eventually acquitted. He denies any wrongdoing.

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei speaks during an interview with Reuters at the National Palace of Culture in Guatemala City, Guatemala, June 1, 2021. REUTERS / Sandra Sebastian

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IDEOLOGICAL FAULT LINES

Giammattei’s views reflect ideological loopholes dating back to the country’s civil war. Some other conservative Guatemalans believe that the CICIG and its allies in the judiciary, civil society and Congress were seeking to steer the country to the left without winning the elections. CICIG left Guatemala in 2019.

Without being specific, Giammattei said some of the fiercest critics of corruption were “destabilizers” who wanted to break with the democratic system and were themselves corrupt.

Giammattei also defended the process of selecting new judges at the Constitutional Court of Guatemala, the country’s highest court. The selection pushed prominent corruption fighter Gloria Porras off the bench, drawing criticism from Washington and civil society.

In his first public comments on the controversy, Giammattei said the decision to exclude Porras from court was correct as complaints about technical violations in his selection had yet to be resolved.

In contrast, he said Nester Vasquez, a magistrate who has been linked to a judicial corruption investigation, was selected by thousands of lawyers in a legitimate vote.

“There is nothing more democratic than this,” he said.

Giammattei denied that there was a revenge campaign or trend in recent movements against lawyers and activists linked to CICIG. He said that after his imprisonment people might think he was vengeful himself, but that was not correct.

INVESTMENT

Giammattei said he had asked Washington to help track drug revenues, seize property on its soil and return the proceeds to Guatemala. He said the United States was studying the proposal.

He is also researching supplies of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States and said he believes they will be available with AstraZeneca (AZN.L) injections.

“It looks like there will be help,” he said, adding that he didn’t know how many doses or when they would arrive.

Unlike its neighbors Honduras and El Salvador, Guatemala has no interest in sourcing vaccines from China, Giammattei said, citing what he said was their low effectiveness. He said his government would not seek to establish relations with Beijing, out of loyalty to Taiwan, a longtime ally.

Introducing an economic development plan, he cited a new law facilitating the establishment of free zones with low tax rates inside the Central American country, with the aim of attracting call centers and manufacturing. .

He said a Singaporean company was interested in a $ 250 million investment to manufacture surgical gloves and hazardous material protective suits, and mentioned negotiations for a $ 7 billion investment over two years by another company, but declined to provide further details.

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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