Demonstrations in Guatemala Grow Amid Dismissal of Prominent Anti-Corruption Figure

Protests in the Central American country of Guatemala swell significantly, according to Reuters, after the July 23 dismissal of internationally known prosecutor and head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity Juan Francisco Sandoval by Attorney General Maria Porras. Protestors numbered in the thousands as they called for the resignation of Guatemalan president Alejandro Giammattei and the attorney general. Banners in the Guatemalan capital city could be seen with the words, “Giammattei, Resign,” Reuters notes. The alleged unwillingness of the Guatemalan government to cooperate with anti-corruption efforts has served as a catalyst for protestors blocking highways and heightened calls for a national strike. Organizations representing workers, students, and professionals of the Indigenous populace in Guatemala have announced that they will join a national work stoppage if one is organized, USA Today reports. 


After he was dismissed as the head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity, Sandoval asserted, according to Reuters, that he would challenge his dismissal, which he claims to believe is against the law. He also remarked that he was fired just as his investigations began to inch closer to the officials of the Guatemalan government. Meanwhile, President Giammattei and Attorney General Porras accuse Sandoval of doing his work in a manner that was politically motivated. According to a U.S. State Department press briefing by Principal Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter, the United States government has lost confidence in the attorney general of Guatemala to act in accordance with shared American-Guatemalan principles, and Porter also claimed that the decision to remove Sandoval poses a threat to stability and order.


The attorney general’s move to terminate Sandoval’s leading position is a veiled affront to stability and democracy for several reasons. First, without offering any specific details other than the accusation that Sandoval’s investigations were ideologically biased, the credibility of Guatemala’s government is significantly damaged, and the situation seems to suggest that there are more secretive justifications for Sandoval’s firing than what has been publicly announced. Second, instead of turning to a more democratic direction for the good of Guatemala, the government has opened the floodgates for heightened instability and resistance, effectively making ordinary citizens the chief engine for democratic progress, rather than the government. Lastly, the government has harmed its relationship with the United States and other allies. In order to assuage the political crisis in Guatemala while also ensuring the maintenance of a democratic order, Guatemalan leadership needs to either provide specific context behind the dismissal of Sandoval, allow him to continue leading investigations without government interference, or resign. 


Government neglect and an economic crisis have served as a recipe for Guatemala’s heightened political tensions since 2019, which have been exposed on a greater level by the coronavirus pandemic. A notable moment within the political crisis was in January 2019 when then-Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales moved to expel a United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission that involved the president in its investigations, which received backlash from Canada, Germany, and the European Union, but a blind eye from the U.S.’s Trump Administration, according to the Los Angeles Times. The crisis hasn’t subsided, and even with a new president, anti-corruption figures in Guatemala continue to see seemingly insurmountable roadblocks to performing their job without governmental interference. Currently, the Biden Administration is actively condemning the attorney general’s decision to remove Sandoval, a large shift from the former Trump Administration. 


It is noteworthy that external actors play a large role in what is happening in Guatemala, and the Biden Administration should be applauded in their efforts to steer Guatemala away from its current tendency to neglect its people. If the Guatemalan government continues to suppress investigations and efforts to combat corruption even if it lies within the government itself, the nation’s future and the safety of its people will become more uncertain. As the government’s intolerance to criticism and scrutiny continues to fuel student activism and actions of resistance by private organizations, it is clear that democracy and peace in Guatemala are seemingly on hold and facing a critical moment in either their restoration or decline.


Benjamin Fikhman