Statement On A Crisis Of Governance And The Rule Of Law In Guatemala

An independent judiciary, like free and fair elections, is the bedrock of democracy.  Without judges who are selected on the basis of their integrity and professional qualifications, rather than patronage or corrupt influences, upholding the rule of law is impossible and democracy cannot survive.  We have seen this in many countries.  Protecting judicial independence is an ongoing challenge even in countries with a long history of democracy.

Guatemala today faces a crisis that will determine the future of the U.S.-Guatemala partnership.  The choice lies with President Giammattei and the country’s other political and economic elites.  Corrupt forces within the private sector, the National Assembly, the armed forces, and even some within the judiciary itself, are acting, with the support of the presidency, to manipulate the judicial selection process and to intimidate and silence honest and courageous magistrates and others who risk their lives defending the rule of law.  We saw this when CICIG was forcibly shut down, and today history is repeating itself. 

President Giammattei pledged to be different from his predecessors.  He professed to stand for justice and accountable governance.  But his words have not yet been matched with action, and the country is at a crossroads. 

His government and Guatemala’s economic elites need to demonstrate convincingly whether they stand for or against judicial independence and the rule of law.  No one can make that choice for them, but the choice they make will have profound consequences.  The Biden Administration and the Congress are considering whether to increase aid to address the daunting social, economic, and security challenges Guatemala faces.  That aid is in question, and the choice of Guatemala’s leaders will determine whether they can be credible partners of the United States, or not.

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