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Menendez on Process of Choosing Guatemala’s Next Attorney General

WASHINGTON, D.C. – US Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today submitted the following statement for the record in support of a credible and efficient process for choosing Guatemala’s next Attorney General to continue the country’s efforts of strengthening the rule of law and combatting impunity.

“I rise to affirm the partnership between the United States and Guatemala. I also rise to speak to the crucial role the Guatemalan Attorney General has in efforts to strengthen the rule of law, and the importance of the selection of the country’s next attorney general.

“In addition to the important contributions that more than one million Guatemalan-Americans make to the United States, our two countries share a wide range of economic, social and cultural linkages. In the past two years, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales has emerged as a partner on U.S. foreign policy priorities. He has supported U.S. efforts to increase diplomatic pressure against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in the face of the humanitarian, economic, and political crisis in Venezuela. President Morales is also working to align Guatemalan foreign policy with the U.S. approach to the Middle East, both at the United Nations and by recently announcing that Guatemala will move its Embassy to Jerusalem.

“Since 2014, I have supported increased U.S. assistance for Guatemala and the other Northern Triangle countries in order to address levels of violence and poverty that drive migration in the region. I believe that continued U.S. engagement can be transformative for efforts to increase security, strengthen democratic governance, support civil society, improve protections for human rights, and foster economic development. However, we must recognize that these efforts would be futile without the work of Guatemala’s Attorney General.

“While President Morales made the commendable decision to increase the budget for Guatemala’s Public Ministry, which is overseen by the Attorney General, I am troubled by recent actions that run counter to the Ministry’s work. For the past eleven years, Guatemala has become an example in the fight against impunity. This is due, in no small part, to the work, commitment, and determination of Guatemala’s Attorneys General and the efforts of the United Nations International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala – known by its Spanish acronym, CICIG – an independent investigative body that works closely with the Public Ministry.

“Since its creation in 2006, CICIG has worked with the Public Ministry to investigate and dismantle the criminal networks that seek to influence the Guatemalan state, while also helping increase the capacity of local judicial institutions. Such efforts have contributed to reducing Guatemala’s overall impunity rate for homicides from 95 percent to 72 percent. These institutions deserve our steadfast support so they can continue their progress building a safer and more prosperous Guatemala, which in turn contributes to a more stable Hemisphere. The success of this model has served as a model for similar efforts in other countries.

“Although there has been tangible progress, much work remains, and Guatemala will continue to benefit from a sustained commitment to good governance and accountability. I worry recent actions signal a move in the wrong direction, including the recent removal of Interior Minister, Francisco Rivas and the Chief of Guatemala’s Internal Revenue Service, Juan Solorzano Foppa – both were key partners of the Public Ministry and the CICIG. I was equally concerned about attempts last year to reform the Guatemalan penal code in a way that may complicate the prosecution of cases involving illicit financing and commuted sentences for crimes such as extortion, trafficking, and sexual assault. And, I was truly shocked by President Morales’ attempt to expel CICIG Commissioner, Iván Velásquez, from Guatemala. The work of Commissioner Velásquez is highly regarded and attempting to remove him simply sends the wrong message to those interested in Guatemala’s fight against impunity.

“These developments are deeply concerning as Guatemala is in the process of selecting its next Attorney General. It is imperative that the Morales Administration ensures a credible and efficient process in which all Guatemalans can have faith. It is equally necessary that the Nominating Commission responsible for selecting candidates conduct a transparent, merit-based process, guided by international standards. Most importantly, it is essential that President Morales select a person with the best qualifications, professionalism, and impeccable ethical standards to continue advancing an agenda that upholds the independence and impartiality of the institution. Here in the United States Senate, we will be following this process closely.

“During her visit to Guatemala, Ambassador Nikki Haley reaffirmed U.S. support for CICIG and Commissioner Velásquez, noting that it would be in President Morales’ best interest to continue support for the UN body and the Commissioner. Ambassador Haley’s message builds on ongoing bipartisan efforts – including continued U.S. engagement in Central America’s Northern Triangle, steadfast support for CICIG, and ensuring accountability for human rights abuses, when necessary, through the implementation of the Global Magnitsky Act.

“Yesterday, I had the chance to meet with Commissioner Velasquez and reaffirm my support for him and CICIG as they carry out their critical work. I remain committed to ensuring that the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Treasury Department use all of our foreign policy tools to help strengthen democratic governance and the rule of law as we continue our support for the Guatemalan government and CICIG.

“Guatemala’s next Attorney General must continue the courageous work of current Attorney General Thelma Aldana and former Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, whose efforts have been invaluable in the fight against impunity. Failure to do so would undercut the commitment of prosecutors and judges who have done their work with professionalism and adherence to the law, and whose efforts have produced tangible results.

“Promoting good governance and the rule of law in Guatemala is critical to building a resilient, secure, and prosperous nation for all Guatemalans. Guatemala has taken commendable steps in establishing itself as a leader on these and other critical issues in the Hemisphere. It is my sincere belief that committing to these efforts will greatly contribute to overall stability and success to the region, including the United States.

“In closing, I urge President Morales to support the work of the Public Ministry and CICIG, so they are able to move forward with their important work without interference. I also encourage President Morales to continue his commitment to transparency and accountability, and to advancing his statement that, ‘the rule of law should always prevail.’”