Claudia Paz y Paz: "There was never any evidence to prove that there was fraud in Guatemala" | International
Claudia Paz y Paz (Guatemala, 56 years old) is one of the most recognized voices in Central America for her courageous defense of human rights. She was the first woman to hold the position of attorney general in her country, from where she initiated legal proceedings against those who perpetrated crimes against humanity during the bloody armed conflict, including the dictator noted for genocide Efraín Ríos Montt. She has also been part of the Interdisciplinary Groups of Independent Experts of the 'Ayotzinapa case', in Mexico and Nicaragua, after the political crisis in 2018, when massive protests were drowned in blood and fire by the Daniel Ortega regime. The results of her investigations in that country, which determined that there were State crimes against the civilian population, led Ortega to expel these experts. Currently, she is the director of the Program for Central America and Mexico of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and she views with concern how democracy and freedoms have deteriorated in a region dominated by authoritarian governments. These days her eyes are on Guatemala, where traditional political groups have called into question the results of the first round of the presidential election. Although the review of the electoral records by the Constitutional Court has not changed the vote, Paz y Paz warns that it is an "alarm signal" that demonstrates the authoritarian drift of President Alejandro Giammattei, who is accused of controlling the institutions of the State.
Ask. The Constitutional Court has ordered a review of the minutes of the first round of voting at the request of both the ruling party and other political groups that participated in the contest. Was this decision legitimate?
Answer. No. This decision of the Constitutional Court is very worrying. The amparo applicants should have resorted to other instances first, such as the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the Supreme Court of Justice. This decision is also anomalous because it establishes a procedure that is not regulated in the Electoral Law and the Political Parties Law. And the most worrying thing is that there was never any evidence to say that there could have been fraud, a bad vote count, alterations to the tally sheets.
Q. Both the OAS, the EU, the United States and other countries, academia, the Episcopal Conference and business chambers have said that the electoral result has been legitimate. What is the reason for this desire to review the minutes again?
R. They view this resolution of the Court with great concern and the panorama that it is opening, which could be very uncertain. What must be recognized and above all thanked is the work in the electoral boards of the citizens who have voluntarily not only protected our votes on election day, but also did their job, suffered attacks, threats, but continued to protect our vote. .
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Q. Many of these people who were on the electoral boards have published the minutes of the electoral results on social networks. In most there are no challenges. If they did not make challenges at that time, why did the parties decide to open this process that has put the result of the election in doubt?
R. That decision to file that amparo is not driven by a legitimate desire to determine whether or not there was fraud. That was not his motivation, because the counting of votes, the exercise of suffrage, the transmission of the minutes, everything happened normally. There is another desire that is much more perverse and that is not to accept defeat. Despite the fact that the official party really had a great triumph, because it achieved the largest bench in Congress. But they have not accepted their defeat in the election and they could not be unaware of the chaos they were creating by rolling back the process.
Q. In Guatemala there has been a fairly progressive institutional deterioration in these years under the mandate of President Alejandro Giammattei. How do you rate the Government of him?
R. We have pointed out on multiple occasions the alarms of an authoritarian drift in Guatemala. An example, that of the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice. They are going to complete four years of being in their functions when their terms had already expired. That is something very serious. The criminalization exercised by the attorney general against journalists, as in the case of José Roberto Zamora, but also against judges and prosecutors is another sign of authoritarianism. These are signs that, although they are expressed by different factors, there is a pattern of agreement and complicity from the Executive, from Congress and from the Judiciary. What we see with great concern is this cooptation of all State institutions.
Q. In Guatemala there is talk of a "corrupt pact", that is, an alliance between political and business elites to maintain a system where corruption and impunity are endorsed. Do you consider that the results of this first round of elections represent a threat to those who want to maintain a status quo in the country?
R. Definitely. That is why we find what some actors have said promoting the narrative that there was fraud or that if any of these candidates [los vencedores de la primera vuelta] came to occupy the presidency would be the end for the country. Apart from the legal actions, there is the whole construction of this horror narrative.
Q. Guatemala experienced a democratic spring in 2015. They began to prosecute people who were directly linked to corruption cases, State officials, businessmen, a whole movement that aroused a lot of hope in the continent. How has the country regressed so far?
R. It was a very important moment for the country. It was a moment where, in a very professional, diligent job, by prosecutors, judges, and the International Commission against Impunity itself, it was possible to document how corruption operated and how illicit electoral financing operated. And I am convinced that when this came to light and the number of sectors involved was seen, when they found themselves discovered and many of them prosecuted, they allied themselves in Guatemala and also with regressive sectors in the United States and managed to reverse all these advances.
Q. Can this process of institutional deterioration that has taken place in Guatemala be reversed or is it very anchored? Some analysts have even spoken of a failed state.
R. It will certainly take a long time. A first step is to reach August 20 [cuando está prevista la segunda vuelta] with free elections and respecting the results. There is still a lot of work to be done, because the Prosecutor's Office is still taken, the Supreme Court has not been renewed and there are actors in favor of the pact that operate from the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court and Congress. So, any reform that is attempted from the Executive must have a great citizen alliance, and hopefully with the support of the international community, so that they can defeat these internal actors, who hopefully will modify their actions and collaborate with the reconstruction of the institutional framework. , although it is very likely that they do not want to do it.
The scourge of criminals and genocidal
The name of Claudia Paz y Paz had worldwide resonance when, from her position as Attorney General of Guatemala, she initiated legal proceedings to sit on the bench politicians and soldiers accused of committing crimes against humanity and genocide during the civil war that left dozens of thousands dead. She became the voice of thousands of victims demanding justice in the Central American country. Although justice achieved a sentence against the dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, she ultimately died in impunity, but her sentence set an important precedent in Guatemala. Due to her secretive work in favor of the victims of the conflict, powerful sectors of her country began a campaign against the then prosecutor, who was not renewed in her position. Those trials raised a lot of hope not only in her country, but on the continent. Paz y Paz affirms that the processes against criminals during the armed conflict continue, although under the threat that they could be suspended and these crimes remain in impunity.
"They continue, yes, although more slowly and quietly. These processes have continued with many obstacles. There are judges who have had to leave the country and prosecutors who have been threatened. But due to the enormous effort of the survivors and the organizations of human rights that accompany them, these cases continue. What happens is that if there is no change soon, probably these cases, like the cases of grand corruption, will be closed and those responsible for serious crimes will obtain their freedom. There is a part of the Sadly, the population sympathizes with the perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity, but they know what crimes were committed and of course impunity is convenient for them," explains Paz y Paz.
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