{"code":"24641","sect":"Columnas","sect_slug":"columnas","hits":"199","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/en\/202007\/columnas\/24641","link_edit":"","name":"Appointing Judges in Guatemala\u2026From Prison","slug":"appointing-judges-in-guatemala-hellip-from-prison","info":"","mtag":"Corruption","noun":{"html":"\u003Cspan class='tint-text--dark' data_href='\/user\/profile\/amontenegro'\u003E \u00c1lvaro Montenegro\u003C\/span\u003E","data":{"alvaro-montenegro":{"sort":"amontenegro","slug":"alvaro-montenegro","path":"alvaro_montenegro","name":"\u00c1lvaro Montenegro","edge":"0","init":"0"}}},"view":"199","pict":{"cms-image-000034078-jpeg":{"feat":"1","sort":"34078","name":"cms-image-000034078.jpeg","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034078.jpeg","path":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034078.jpeg","back":"","slug":"cms-image-000034078-jpeg","text":"<p>\u00c1lvaro Montenegro is a journalist and one of the seven Guatemalans that founded the #RenunciaYa movement, which was later renamed #JusticiaYa. The movement played a central role in the protests that led to the resignation of Guatemalan President Otto P\u00e9rez Molina.<\/p>","capt":"\u003Cp\u003E\u00c1lvaro Montenegro is a journalist and one of the seven Guatemalans that founded the #RenunciaYa movement, which was later renamed #JusticiaYa. The movement played a central role in the protests that led to the resignation of Guatemalan President Otto P\u00e9rez Molina.\u003C\/p\u003E"}},"pict_main__sort":34078,"date":{"live":"2020\/07\/17"},"data_post_dateLive_YY":"2020","data_post_dateLive_MM":"07","data_post_dateLive_DD":"17","text":"\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EGuatemala is in the midst of a contentious legal battle, as networks of corrupt politicians and organized crime are trying to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to attack the country\u2019s courts. They are also disrupting over 100 cases against government officials and business leaders brought since 2015 by the Public Prosecutor\u2019s Office and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG, a United Nations-backed entity that was expelled from the country in 2019). The battle began with accusations against political cronies of former president Otto P\u00e9rez Molina, who resigned three years into his term after months of demonstrations against his administration; he has been in prison since September 2015.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EP\u00e9rez Molina\u2019s resignation and imprisonment stirred expectations of a stronger democracy in Guatemala, but the presidential administrations that followed have just been more of the same. Nevertheless, the political-business links that were previously only suspected have since been exposed to public scrutiny. While this produced a greater awareness of how the country\u2019s elites operate, it has also led to a direct attempt by implicated politicians to gain control over a judicial system that has been bogged down by maneuvers aimed at overturning a legal decision that gave Guatemala\u2019s Congress authority to appoint judges.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe plot to take over the courts is led by a man who himself has six ongoing corruption cases against him: Gustavo Alejos. Two of these charges pertain to corruption in the public health system consisting of rigged purchases and public bids to benefit certain companies (some owned by Alejos and others linked to him). On February 18th, Alejos was also discovered by prosecutors attempting to manipulate court appointments. His criminal history commenced with his lobbying efforts to steer state contracts to pharmaceutical companies in exchange for financing the campaigns of two former presidents, Alvaro Colom (2008-2011), for whom he served as private secretary, and Otto P\u00e9rez Molina (2012-2015). Both have been prosecuted under the Guatemalan judicial system.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EGustavo Alejos is known as a linchpin for Guatemala\u2019s criminal elite. He\u2019s the type of power broker who connects everyone, and calls on the country\u2019s most powerful businessmen. He can activate \u201cnet centers\u201d (internet-based disinformation campaigns) to attack opponents, influence the appointments of presidents of Congress, and wring money from businessmen in exchange for government contracts. He has been a prominent figure throughout many power shifts, and pays little heed to political correctness.\u00a0 Many people like him \u2212 Gustavito, they call him.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EAlejos started out as a pharmaceutical salesman and carefully built close relationships with Guatemala\u2019s political elite. He understood and worked the machinery of illegal campaign financing: give money to political parties and get it back through government contracts. The first legal charges were brought against him in 2015. Alejos influenced officials from the Guatemalan Social Security Institute (Instituto Guatemalteco de Seguridad Social \u2212 IGSS) by bribing and funding the ruling party to award contracts worth millions to three of his pharmaceutical companies.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EInvestigations led over the past five years by CICIG have demonstrated that this pattern of corruption permeates virtually all of the country\u2019s institutions, and continually weakens public services such as the health system. The COVID-19 crisis has clearly revealed the weakness of the health system, as hospitals collapse and doctors decry the lack of supplies such as stretchers, face masks, and other equipment. These resource shortages hold the public health system hostage while Alejos, operating from a hospital room because he supposedly has a medical condition that keeps him out of prison, negotiates the selection of new judges for the Supreme Court and the Appeals Courts.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe Special Prosecutor\u2019s Office Against Impunity (Fiscal\u00eda Especial Contra la Impunidad \u2212 FECI), perhaps the only truly independent unit within the Public Prosecutor's Office, obtained photographs and messages from Alejos\u2019 own phone documenting the meetings and calls that took place in this private hospital room to coordinate the appointments of judges. He spoke with at least 10 congressional representatives, dozens of candidates for public office, representatives of the judgeship nominating committee (which evaluates the candidates\u2019 records and then passes recommendations to Congress), and with Constitutional Court judge Dina Ochoa, who was appointed by former president Jimmy Morales and always ruled in his favor and against CICIG. If Alejos\u2019 activity had not been discovered, the selection of judges would have taken place without any appearance of irregularity.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EOnce they learned of this, the Public Prosecutor\u2019s Office filed a legal motion to halt all congressional appointments of judges. The Constitutional Court reviewed the report prepared by the Public Prosecutor\u2019s detailing Gustavo Alejos\u2019 relationships, and decreed that the judges would instead be elected by vote. The Court\u2019s decision established that any candidates deemed to be unsuitable would be excluded from the election. This clearly did not please the Congressional Board of Directors, chaired by Alan Rodr\u00edguez (of the ruling Vamos party) and his allies. On June 23, the day the vote was to be held, Rodriguez and his allies delayed the election until midnight, and rejected the request of a few congressmen who proposed that the official record should indicate that those appearing in the Public Prosecutor\u2019s report would be excluded from the election.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EOne of the legislators who spearheaded this scheme is Felipe Alejos. Though he supposedly is not related to Gustavo, they seem to work in close coordination, as evidenced by Gustavo\u2019s cell phone communications. Felipe is a congressional representative in his late thirties who was the vice president of the past Congress for four years, and is currently on its Board of Directors. He is viewed as the de facto president of Congress, and has a direct link to Gustavo and to different corruption networks, including the business sector.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EFelipe has been accused of influence peddling on behalf of large companies, including sugar mills, due to his attempts to secure government tax credits for them. Because of his closeness with the Supreme Court, Felipe has been shielded from prosecution four times. These Supreme Court rulings always use questionable procedural arguments to rescue him at key political junctures, such as last June 29th when the election of judges ground to a standstill.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn order to stop the court appointments, Gustavo Alejos and Felipe Alejos created a plan to thwart the election of judges, with the backing of Giammattei\u2019s supporters and the business sector. The Supreme Court controlled by Alejos accepted a case to censure the Constitutional Court for ordering Congress to consider the Public Prosecutor\u2019s report when electing judges. This is contrary to the case law that protects Constitutional Court judges from being prosecuted as a result of their legal decisions. As they did on other occasions, the Constitutional Court stopped the case from proceeding, but the Congress ignored this order and initiated a commission to investigate the Constitutional Court judges. In turn, the Constitutional Court ruled that Congress was in noncompliance with its ruling, and ordered the Public Prosecutor\u2019s Office to pursue criminal proceedings against the congressional representatives.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn response, the Congress censured the Constitutional Court, and in doing so garnered the support from all those who have an interest in impunity: the business associations, members of the military accused of human rights violations, and lawyers defending those accused of corruption. They are pursuing the dismantling of the Constitutional Court, which has been a steadfast obstacle to dozens of arbitrary actions by the different branches of government, and which has managed to keep the existing corruption cases alive. Businessmen dislike this Court because it does not protect them, and because it has halted resource extraction projects that do not meet legal requirements. Just as they did with the CICIG, the business sector has activated their million dollar lobby in Washington, D.C., claiming that the Constitutional Court is full of communists and that its decisions adversely affect the country\u2019s economy.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThis election is now in limbo, as is common in Guatemala\u2014where crises do not explode but instead slowly fade away without any resolution. The election of judges to the Supreme Court and the Appeals Courts has been halted, and the congressional commission to investigate the Constitutional Court judges is still moving forward, despite having been officially suspended. Consuelo Porras, the Attorney General, has not acted on the order to take legal action on the congressional noncompliance issue, and President Alejandro Giammattei has said that none of this is his problem, although his supporters in Congress are part of the whole scheme. In an attempt to instigate diplomatic efforts to avoid an institutional breakdown, Guatemala\u2019s national ombudsman for human rights and 50 congressional representatives have asked the president to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter with the Organization of American States (OAS), because government officials are trying to violate the constitution by disobeying legal decisions issued by the nation\u2019s highest court. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Diego Garc\u00eda-Say\u00e1n (the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers), the US Embassy, and several European embassies have all expressed their concern, especially since an accusation was filed on July 4 against Judge Erika Aif\u00e1n, currently presiding over cases against Alejos.\u00a0\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIt is clear that \u201cLos Alejos\u201d intend to delay this process until April 2021 when the Constitutional Court judges will change. The way things stand now, they are confident that they can gain control over this court, the most powerful institution in the country. By controlling this court, all the corruption cases brought over the past five years (which resulted in the dismantling of more than 100 political-economic-criminal networks) could be thrown out. This may also lead to the persecution of judges, prosecutors, journalists, and activists who have supported the struggle for justice.\u00a0\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EGustavo Alejos is not your run-of-the-mill criminal. On June 10, 2020, the US State Department revoked his visa, prohibiting him and his entire family from entering the United States. His influence in a Congress that will appoint new judges to the courts is clear evidence of the regressive forces that continue to operate from prison to protect hundreds of people accused of corruption, people who look forward to the impunity they will gain from new, loyal judges. If they are successful, they will effectively legalize impunity, making it look as if the fight against corruption that held the mafias in check had never existed.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\t\t\u003Cfigure class=\"pict pict_land pict_move_posc 0 cs_img cs_img--curr rule--ss_c\" data-shot=\"pict\" data-hint=\"pict\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__pobj text-overflow\"\u003E\u003Cimg src=\"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/get_img?ImageWidth=2000&ImageHeight=1333&ImageId=34078\" class=\"pobj\" style=\"max-width: 100%\" rel=\"resizable\" alt=\"\u00c1lvaro Montenegro is a journalist and one of the seven Guatemalans that founded the #RenunciaYa movement, which was later renamed #JusticiaYa. The movement played a central role in the protests that led to the resignation of Guatemalan President Otto P\u00e9rez Molina.\" \/\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__line block edge--ss_lax edge--ss_rax padd--ss_l0x padd--ss_r0x line--ss_s0b lineh rule--ss_c\"\u003E\u003Cspan class=\"block-inline full-width align-middle lineh__rect tint-back--nake\"\u003E\u003Cspan\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cfigcaption class=\"pict__text cs_img_caption folk_content typo_buttons line--ss_s0c line--ss_s0c--auto block full-width text-overflow rule--ss_l relative\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"__content block-inline full-width align-top tint-text--idle relative\"\u003E\u00c1lvaro Montenegro is a journalist and one of the seven Guatemalans that founded the #RenunciaYa movement, which was later renamed #JusticiaYa. The movement played a central role in the protests that led to the resignation of Guatemalan President Otto P\u00e9rez Molina.\u003C\/div\u003E\u003C\/figcaption\u003E\u003C\/figure\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E"}