Mon. Nov 28th, 2022

Vice President

Kamala Harris

visits Guatemala on Monday as part of her effort to address the “root causes” of migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle—which also includes El Salvador and Honduras. One of Ms. Harris’s goals is to drum up investment for the region.

Manage your expectations.

Count on lots of glad-handing with politicians, activists from nongovernmental organizations, and slippery businessmen who know a thing or two about political entrepreneurship.

The unseen will matter more. For Guatemala that’s big numbers of small and medium-size investors, foreign and domestic, who are necessary for development but are not on board with Ms. Harris because they distrust her agenda.

Guatemalan politics are highly charged, polarized and corrupt. One side, with backers in Washington, applauds land invasions, electricity theft and road blocks in the name of social justice. For the antidevelopment left, in Guatemala and in the American Democratic Party, the rule of law in the developing world is a nuisance.

Ms. Harris showed her cards in Washington last month when she met with Guatemala’s former Attorney General

Thelma Aldana,

despite Ms. Aldana’s two outstanding Guatemalan arrest warrants on charges of corruption. She has said on


that she is a victim of “dark forces.”

Former Guatemalan high-court judge

Gloria Porras

was at the same meeting, though there are scores of legal complaints against her at home for allegedly refusing to obey the constitution. These include complaints from a qualified majority of the association of representatives who drafted the constitution in the mid-1980s. Ms. Porras claims she was denied a third five-year term by an antidemocratic conspiracy.

Ms. Harris’s show of support for Ms. Aldana and Ms. Porras was political theater. If the U.S. vice president were serious about drawing investment to Guatemala, she would have told them to go home and face justice. Paraphrasing Ms. Aldana from her time as the nation’s top prosecutor, if there’s nothing to hide, there’s nothing to fear.

Perhaps Ms. Aldana and Ms. Porras are worried they’ll be treated as the accused often were during their tenures. Ask the Bitkov family or Max Quirin, both victimized by abuses of power on the part of the attorney general and the high-court judge.

Investors know the runaway miscarriage of justice by Guatemalan judges and prosecutors occurred under

Iván Velásquez,

the Colombian leftist who in October 2013 took over as head of the U.N.’s International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG. Mr. Velásquez weaponized CICIG for political ends, using “preventive detention” as a tool to terrorize Guatemalan society and silence the left’s political opposition.

The way to stay out of Mr. Velásquez’s line of fire was to line up behind him. A lazy and corrupt press played the role of Madame Defarge. The commissioner won accolades when he jailed President

Otto Pérez Molina

and Vice President

Roxana Baldetti

for an alleged customs crime ring. Yet CICIG still hadn’t secured convictions in that case when, in 2019, its mandate wasn’t renewed. CICIG left the country, a failed experiment in institution building due in no small part to Mr. Velásquez’s political zeal.

Ms. Harris’s meeting with Ms. Aldana and Ms. Porras indicates where the Biden administration wants to steer Guatemala. Equally worrying is the decision by President Biden to nominate

Todd Robinson,

former U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, to head the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. The office of “drugs and thugs,” as the portfolio is sometimes called, is active in Central America. Mr. Robinson’s record raises serious questions about his suitability for the job.

Undoubtedly, he passes the Democrats’ ideological litmus test. During his time at the embassy he earned a reputation for meddling in domestic politics in ways that went well beyond the scope of his responsibility. He was known, for example, for pressuring Guatemala’s Congress to confirm judges aligned with his political views. The State Department told me he was not available for comment.

Judging from Mr. Robinson’s many public appearances with the pro-CICIG Ms. Aldana, the two were close and he supported her, even while she was making decisions that risked U.S. national security. In 2014 and 2015, insiders at Guatemala’s National Registry of Persons and at the attorney general’s office presented evidence to Ms. Aldana suggesting that permanent residency cards were fraudulently issued for people from places like Kazakhstan, Russia, China, Iran, Libya and Syria. Such cards can be used to secure Guatemalan citizenship, which can then be used to apply for U.S. visas. As I reported in December 2018, rather than investigate the person who signed those documents, Ms. Aldana promoted her to deputy attorney general.

The Senate should ask Mr. Robinson whether he knew about Ms. Aldana’s decisions and, if not, why not. Among those who deserve answers are the investors Ms. Harris is courting for Guatemala.

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