August 17, 2020

Menendez, Cardin Call for an Independent and Transparent Process in Guatemala’s Judicial System

WASHINGTON –  U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), sent a letter to Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Michael Kozak urging the Trump Administration to use all available diplomatic tools to underscore the importance of an independent and transparent judicial system in Guatemala. The letter comes in the wake of recent reports detailing the involvement of illicit groups attempting to interfere in the process of selection of judges in the country as well as recent attacks against current independent judges and prosecutors.  

We are troubled by a recent investigation conducted by Guatemala’s Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), which revealed that Gustavo Alejos—an influential political actor and businessman currently in detention due to his involvement in several crimes related to misuse and abuse of government funds and illicit campaign financing—has been attempting to influence the selection process of the country’s judges.wrote the Senators.

Menendez and Cardin’s letter also expresses concerns about reports of recent attacks against independent judges and prosecutors seeking to uphold the rule of law, and highlights that while there is support for increased U.S. assistance and engagement to address the root causes of migration from Guatemala, these efforts would be futile without a trustworthy and independent judicial system.

“The Constitutional Court magistrates—who in response to the FECI’s investigation sought to protect the integrity of the judicial election process—are now facing the possibility of losing their judicial immunity and/or potentially being removed from their positions. These efforts undermine the independence of Guatemala’s democratic institutions,the Senators added. “An independent judiciary is crucial Guatemala’s stability.” 

A copy of the letter can be found HERE and below:

Dear Ambassador Kozak:

We write to express our deep concern about recent threats against the independence of Guatemala’s justice system, including troubling irregularities in the process of selecting judges and other interference attempts by illicit groups.

As you know, we have been strong supporters of the partnership between the United States and Guatemala, including our commitment to increased U.S. assistance to address the root causes of migration from the country. We believe that continued U.S. engagement can be transformative for efforts to improve security, strengthen democratic governance, increase protections for human rights, and foster inclusive economic growth. However, we fundamentally believe that these efforts would be futile without a trustworthy and independent judicial system.

In this context, we are troubled by a recent investigation conducted by Guatemala’s Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), which revealed that Gustavo Alejos—an influential political actor and businessman currently in detention due to his involvement in several crimes related to misuse and abuse of government funds and illicit campaign financing—has been attempting to influence the selection process of the country’s judges. Mr. Alejos was designated under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State as ineligible for entry into the United States due to his involvement in criminal activities on June 8, 2020. 

In addition, we are very concerned about recent reports detailing attacks against independent judges and prosecutors at the forefront of the fight to uphold the rule of law, as well as magistrates of Guatemala’s Constitutional Court.  The Constitutional Court magistrates—who in response to the FECI’s investigation sought to protect the integrity of the judicial election process—are now facing the possibility of losing their judicial immunity and/or potentially being removed from their positions. These efforts undermine the independence of Guatemala’s democratic institutions.

In closing, we urge you to use all diplomatic tools at your disposal to underscore the importance of an independent and transparent judicial system, and to encourage Guatemala’s President and Attorney General to prevent these acts. Likewise, the Guatemalan Congress has a duty to select judges in accordance with the law, based on professional qualifications, integrity, and commitment to justice, and free of any conflict of interest. An independent judiciary is crucial Guatemala’s stability.

Sincerely,

###

Press Contact

Juan Pachon 202-224-4651