Guatemala is in the process of selecting its next attorney general to serve a four-year term: May 2018-May 2022. Because the process and result could have tremendous implications for grave crimes trials and the rule of law in Guatemala, the International Justice Monitor is providing regular situation reports.
The appointment of Guatemala’s next attorney general is now in the hands of President Jimmy Morales. Last Monday, the Nominating Commission tasked with choosing the shortlist, settled on the final six candidates. Amid concern that the composition of the Commission could make it prone to improper influence, following its vote, the Commission surprised observers by transmitting its results immediately to the president. President Morales has until May 14 to make the appointment.
The development came in the same week that eight elite businesspersons publicly admitted to vast overspending on President Morales’s election campaign in violation of Guatemalan law. The choice of a new attorney general may now be of even greater importance to Morales, who was already under criminal investigation for campaign finance violations.
In reaction to the development, Morales denied receiving illicit payments and lashed out angrily at the businesspersons, the news media, the Attorney General’s Office, and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Speaking at a military event last Friday, he asserted that investigative actions against his family by the Attorney General’s Office and CICIG were illegal and called for acceleration of talks at national and international levels to revise the CICIG agreement between Guatemala and the United Nations.
The Final Six
Brenda Dery Muñoz
She received the votes of all 15 commissioners and was one of two candidates the Commission graded highest in the prior round of selection, with 75 out of 100 possible points awarded through a process criticized for its subjectivity. Dery Muñoz served as a senior drug prosecutor from 2006-2012, under three attorneys general with widely varying reputations for independence. She has been associated with officials of the Patriot Party of former President Otto Pérez Molina (now facing trial for corruption), as well as the reformist Human Rights Ombudsperson Jordán Rodas. She is currently the director of procurement in his office.
María Consuelo Porras
She received 13 of 15 possible votes and was the other candidate to receive a score of 75 points on the Commission’s gradation table. In 2014, a Nominating Commission chose Consuelo Porras as a reserve judge of the Constitutional Court, and CICIG mentioned her name in connection with that Nominating Commission’s manipulation through a bribery scandal. Guatemalan media have questioned her association with the military, as her husband retired from the same unit as the current defense minister and his deputy.
Miguel Ángel Gálvez
He received 14 out of 15 Commission votes and received 70 points on its gradation table. As a High Risk Court judge, Gálvez has presided over or been involved in numerous high-profile cases. These include the La Línea corruption case that sent former President Otto Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti to jail, where they await trial. It has also included grave crimes cases. He was one of two pre-trial judges who heard portions of the genocide case against former head of state Efraín Ríos Montt and his then chief of military intelligence, Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez. Gálvez served as the pre-trial judge in the landmark Sepur Zarco sexual violence case, and in March 2016, Judge Gálvez seized and made public military documents relevant to the Military Diary (Diario Militar) grave crimes case.
She received 14 of 15 votes and received 67 points in the Commission’s scoring. Gámez has served as a judge for 20 years and is currently a High Risk Court judge. She has taken on numerous high-profile drug trafficking and corruption cases. Judge Gámez criticized corruption in the 2014 selection of senior judges then subsequently testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and filed suit before Guatemala’s Constitutional Court for apparent retaliatory administrative actions against herself and other judges who spoke out.
Gladys Verónica Ponce
She received unanimous support from the 15 Commissioners and had 63 points on the Commission’s gradation table. Ponce has served as an academic, a prosecutor, and worked with CICIG for four years. While at CICIG, she worked on high profile cases relating to the suicide/faked murder of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg and the case of a massacre at the Pavón prison.
Édgar Estuardo Melchor Solórzano
He received all 15 possible votes from the Commission but just met its cutoff of 60 points on the gradation table, deemed necessary to qualify for consideration. Melchor Solórzano was at one point close to senior officials of the Patriot Party, including former President Otto Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxanna Baldetti. He worked with Thelma Aldana within the judiciary and followed her to the Attorney General’s Office when she was selected to lead it. He is currently the third-highest official in the office and heads the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.
The American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights, which has monitored the selection process, called for additional vetting, including of the candidates’ finances, before President Morales makes his selection. The Center argued that a “failure to collect basic information about the candidates calls into question the Commission’s ability to evaluate whether any have engaged in unethical behavior or are the subject of credible allegations of corruption.”
The Convergence for Human Rights and International Commission of Jurists issued a statement on the Nominating Commission’s vote, stating that President Morales has a conflict of interest in making the final appointment because he and his family members are under criminal investigation. The two civil society groups warned of the potential appointment of a candidate committed to impunity.
A statement from members of the European Parliament on April 18 called on the government of Guatemala to base its selection of the new attorney general strictly on clear criteria of integrity and suitability.