GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) -Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei reappointed the country’s attorney general to a new term on Monday, prompting U.S. sanctions, just months after the prosecutor was accused by the U.S. government of dismantling anti-corruption efforts.
Shortly after the announcement, the U.S. government deemed Maria Consuelo Porras ineligible for entry into the United States, citing “involvement in significant corruption,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
Last year, Porras was included in the list of “corrupt and anti-democratic actors” published by the U.S. State Department, singled out for thwarting corruption investigations with arrests and other actions.
Guatemala’s Public Ministry responded to the U.S. designation on Monday by describing itself as an autonomous institution that would not accept any interference or pressure.
“The Attorney General … will keep working objectively and impartially to ensure strict compliance with the law,” the Public Ministry said in a statement.
Giammattei in recent days had blasted as interventionist calls to deny Porras a second term, and defended her record as impartial and non-ideological.
Giammattei said last week he received calls, threats and a visit from the ambassador of a “foreign power” asking him not to re-appoint Porras.
Following Giammattei’s fresh vote of confidence, Porras will remain in her post four more years, after first taking over as attorney general in 2018.
“This wasn’t a simple decision taken lightly,” Giammattei said.
After the 68-year-old lawyer fired the former head of the Guatemalan Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) last year, claims that Porras was obstructing investigations related to Giammattei grew.
During Porras’s first term her office also arrested several FECI officials as well as a lawyer from the United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission CICIG, which was expelled from Guatemala in 2018 after its probes led to convictions of former presidents and high-level businessmen.
Other FECI officials resigned claiming they were pushed out in a political persecution, which Porras has denied.
Corruption in Guatemala is often cited as a major factor behind increased migration to the United States, along with joblessness and gang violence.
Some civil society leaders also criticized the pick.
“Porras has been dedicated to stopping corruption investigations and pushing spurious cases against journalists, prosecutors and judges,” Juan Pappier of Human Rights Watch wrote in a post on Twitter. “Guatemalan democracy is at serious risk.”
(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Valentine Hilaire and Brendan O’Boyle; Editing by David Alire, Stephen Coates and Gerry Doyle)