Deterring Rogue Prosecutions: Lessons for the United States from Guatemala

Put the Legal System to Work against Its Enemies

The radical left is not just winning; it has won and completely taken over US institutions. (Flickr)

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The Trump indictment has made evident that the US political system is in complete disarray.

The radical left is not just winning; it has won and completely taken over US institutions. The left’s victory came at the expense of our institutional legitimacy, which it has utterly destroyed.

The State Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the departments of Defense and Justice were once vaunted federal institutions, seemingly beyond the reach of petty politics. Now, in collusion with state authorities, they willingly practice the pettiest of political dirty tricks, openly engage in outright election interference, and use the courts of law to cling to power—elections be damned!

There is no turning back. For US political affairs to get better, they first have to get worse. The only way Democrats at the state and federal levels will learn is if they get their just deserts for their abuses of power. Simply put, they need the fear of jail to straighten them out.

Given so many RINOs in the Republican leadership, this is unlikely, but it is possible. Republicans have consistently failed to deliver significant accountability to the Democrats for their abuses, and this has emboldened the Democrats. The abuses did not start with Donald Trump. The Barack Obama administration practiced tax oppression against Tea Party Republicans and persecuted conservative journalists. Then it spied on the Trump 2016 campaign, and Obama’s federal stooges blatantly sabotaged the incoming Trump administration.

After the Trump indictment, the Republican voting base will have no more of this. Republican voters will demand that their leaders bring accountability to the Democrats. As a result, US politics will become even more polarized, but the focus must be on sober application of the law.

If Trump can be impeached for inquiring into Hunter Biden’s corruption in Ukraine, then Joe Biden should be impeached for aiding this corruption. If Trump can have expired state-level misdemeanors elevated into federal felonies, the Biden family should also be investigated for more serious acts of corruption, for which there is more than sufficient probable cause.

The first return salvo by the Republicans in the coming political war in the US has been fired in Tennessee. The GOP-controlled lower chamber of the General Assembly expelled two Democratic representatives for violating the legislature’s norms. More consequential blowback needs to happen if some semblance of political equilibrium is to be restored on the US political scene.

Many in the national Republican Party do not have the stomach for this fight. However, it is a necessary war that party leaders will be compelled to wage in earnest by voters, regardless of their party registration.

The problem is that Republican leaders have scant examples of how to fight back against the political weaponization of the criminal-justice system. Congressional investigations that amount to nothing will no longer calm their voting base.

Republicans can always reach out beyond US shores for examples on how to turn the tables on those who override longstanding jurisprudential norms for short-term political gain. The best example comes from a small country in Central America: Guatemala.

Consider Guatemalan Attorney General Consuelo Porras and the Office of the Special Prosecutor against Impunity (FECI), led by Rafael Curruchiche. They have been methodically investigating and prosecuting former prosecutors for violations of the law they allegedly committed while in office.

Porras and Curruchiche have brought forth criminal cases based on credible evidence. Aside from plea bargains, there has been insufficient time for full trials and convictions. The accused remain innocent until proven guilty. When the accused have made themselves available to the justice system, the Guatemalan authorities have proceeded in courts of law, largely abstaining from the media show trials that were common during the tenure of the UN Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

The US government was the real power behind CICIG, as CICIG cheerleaders were wont to point out (here, here, and here). CICIG operated in Guatemala from 2007 to 2019, but its heyday of unchecked power was from 2014 on. This was when the alleged abuses of prosecutorial power occurred, abuses similar to what is happening now in the Trump case(s). Many of those now being called to answer for their actions have fled to the United States as fugitives from justice. When these same people were in power, led by former Attorney General Thelma Aldana, their refrain was “he who has nothing to hide has nothing to fear.”

Both Porras and Curruchiche have paid a heavy price for their actions. The US State Department has named and shamed them (here and here), to intimidate them away from applying Guatemalan law as their conscience and sworn duties oblige them to do.

Republican leaders in the United States should follow the example of these leaders of the Guatemalan Public Ministry. The best way to discourage the abuse of judicial power, while working to restore the rule of law, is to put the fear of jail into the hearts of the would-be abusers.

It is a stain on the US political and justice systems that it needs lessons from a developing country, but it is what it is.

Having been shown the way forward by the Guatemalan government, the Republicans owe the Guatemalan justice system a favor. Republicans should immediately demand that the US return any fugitives from justice residing in the United States to Guatemala. After all, he who has nothing to hide, has nothing to fear.

Nicholas Virzi

Nicholas Virzi is dean of the ASTRA Institute for Leadership and Governance.

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