US State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters on Tuesday that the United States is suspending its programmatic cooperation with the Guatemalan Public Ministry, which is responsible for criminal prosecutions.
The move comes after Guatemala’s Attorney General Maria Porras on Friday dismissed anti-corruption leader Juan Francisco Sandoval from his post as head of the Office of the Special Prosecutor against Impunity (FECI). A few hours later, Sandoval fled the country.
FECI was originally created to tackle investigations by the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), but was withdrawn from the country in 2019.
The decision to withdraw Sandoval “fits a pattern of behavior that indicates a lack of commitment to the rule of law and independent judicial and prosecution processes,” Porter said on Tuesday.
“As a result, we have lost confidence in the Attorney General and his intention to cooperate with the US government and to fight corruption in good faith,” Porter said.
The United States has been a strong supporter of Sandoval’s work, which included investigating and prosecuting former officials, presidents and business leaders in Guatemala. The State Department declared him a “champion of the fight against corruption” in an award in February.
Washington has pledged to help Central American countries fight impunity for high-level offenders, with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris pledging to further support anti-corruption efforts during a visit in June.
In recent months, President Joe Biden’s administration has also revoked the US visas of two senior Guatemalan magistrates on suspicion of corruption and criticized lawmakers’ refusal to swear an oath to an anti-corruption judge.
“We are closely monitoring any further action that would undermine the rule of law or judicial independence in Guatemala,” Porter said.
Meanwhile, Sandoval’s sacking has met with opposition and protests in Guatemala.
On Monday, rural organizations blocked three highways in protest against his sacking, while other groups are considering ways to pressure the government. Some lawmakers have already filed formal complaints against Porras, accusing him, among other things, of obstructing justice.
“The dismissal confirms the fear of several months ago that, despite having expressed interest in collaborating on an anti-corruption program, the Guatemalan government will eventually have a different program,” said Tiziano Breda, analyst for Central America for the International Crisis Group.
Ivan Velasquez, who led the UN mission and worked closely with Sandoval, warned that “the fight against corruption is getting worse” in Guatemala.
“It will only be reversed if the international community suspends all aid to the Attorney General’s office and isolates the Attorney General, who is allied with all the corrupt political power in the country,” Velasquez said.
“It will depend on the Guatemalans and their efforts to defend democracy and find a way out. ”