Following the removal of the head of an anti-corruption prosecution unit last week, the US announced on Tuesday that it would suspend some cooperation with Guatemala’s criminal prosecutor.
On Tuesday, US State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters that the change affects “programmatic cooperation with the Public Ministry,” which is in charge of criminal prosecution.
Juan Francisco Sandoval, the head of Guatemala’s Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity, was fired by Attorney General Maria Porras (FECI). The office was established to deal with investigations spearheaded by the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), but it was removed from the country in 2019.
The US was an outspoken supporter of Sandoval’s work, which included investigating and litigating cases against former Guatemalan officials, presidents, and business leaders. In February, the State Department named him a “anti-corruption champion.”
The July 23 decision to remove Sandoval “fits a pattern of behavior that indicates a lack of commitment to the rule of law and independent judicial and prosecutorial processes,” Porter said on Tuesday.
“As a result, we have lost confidence in the Attorney General and her intention to cooperate with the U.S. government and fight corruption in good faith,” Porter said.
Guatemalan Public Ministry spokesperson Juan Luis Pantaleón said the ministry had learnt about the U.S. suspension in cooperation on social media and had not been notified, but that it would “respect U.S. decisions.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) agency aided the ministry, including offering technical help for prosecutors and donating equipment, Pantaleón said. In the ministry offices, printers carry USAID stickers.
The United States has sought to help Central American countries fight impunity for high-level law breakers.
In recent months, Washington has revoked the U.S. visas of two senior judges in Guatemala on graft suspicions and criticized lawmakers’ refusal to swear in a corruption-fighting judge.
“We are watching closely for any additional actions that would undermine the rule of law or judicial independence in Guatemala,” Porter warned.