Hundreds protest ouster of Guatemalan anti-graft crusader

Juan Francisco Sandoval, who was removed by Guatemala’s Attorney General as head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), arrives for a news conference in Guatemala City, Guatemala July 23, 2021. — Reuters pic
Juan Francisco Sandoval, who was removed by Guatemala’s Attorney General as head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), arrives for a news conference in Guatemala City, Guatemala July 23, 2021. — Reuters pic

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GUATEMALA CITY, July 24 — Hundreds of Guatemalans protested outside the presidential palace yesterday against the ouster of anti-graft fighter Juan Francisco Sandoval, who fled the country overnight after being stripped of his post in a move that sparked a global outcry.

Sandoval, who had led the Guatemalan Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) until Friday, fled to the Salvadoran border in the wee hours of yesterday, according to the country’s human rights ombudsman Jordan Rodas.

“The decision was made to safeguard his life,” Rodas told Reuters.

Guatemala’s Attorney General Maria Porras removed Sandoval from his post on Friday as the head of FECI, which was originally created to tackle investigations spearheaded by the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), ousted from the country in 2019.

In a press conference hours before his departure, Sandoval said he would challenge his “illegal dismissal.” He accused the attorney general of asking his agency to seek her opinion on any case that involved the government.

“I am the latest in a string of prosecutors who have suffered the consequences for seeking truth and justice,” he said.

In April, the Guatemalan Congress refused to appoint another high-profile anti-corruption crusader, Magistrate Gloria Porras, to the nation’s highest court.

The Guatemalan government said in a statement yesterday that it “categorically rejects Juan Francisco Sandoval’s statements.”

Sandoval’s dismissal underscores the challenges US President Joe Biden’s government faces in pursuing its anti-graft push in Central America, where it says corruption and impunity are drivers of migration.

“Guatemala’s AG fired corruption prosecutor Sandoval for being too effective against organized crime and its links to politicians....USG (US government), your move,” wrote former US Ambassador to Guatemala, Stephen McFarland, on Twitter.

Guatemala’s most powerful campesino groups have called for a general strike tomorrow. — Reuters

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