NEW YORK – Coinciding with this year’s Summit of the Americas, exiled Guatemalan justice officials and migration leaders are sounding the alarm on the nation’s continued corruption, and calling on the Biden administration to send a clear message that it won’t be tolerated.

“The U.S. should help us keep the progress that we’ve made,” said Ursula Roldán Andrade, a migration researcher at the Rafael Landívar University in Guatemala. “We need their most drastic measures using legal means and diplomatic means to affect the power sectors that are reverting Guatemala to the dark age. To the loss of democracy.”

Andrade and others at a June 6 briefing spoke of a deterioration of democracy in Guatemala, which stems from a powerful minority of oligarchs, President Alejandro Giammattei, and high-level officials in his administration. They especially pointed to Maria Consuelo Porras retaining her role as the country’s attorney general.

Last month, the U.S. government singled out Porras for her involvement in “significant corruption,” where she “repeatedly obstructed and undermined anti-corruption investigations in Guatemala to protect her political allies and gain undue political favor,” according to a May statement from the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. The State Department’s designation of Porras prevents her or her immediate family from entering the U.S. In September, she was also included on the list of corrupt and undemocratic actors that was submitted to the U.S. Congress.

Juan Francisco Sandoval, a former anti-corruption prosecutor with the Guatemalan Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) exiled in the United States noted that corruption, “where a small group of families and people run the country as if the whole national territory is their own property,” encourages Guatemalans to live with low levels of education, social investment, pay, and opportunities.

Andrei Gonzalez, another former FECI anti-corruption prosecutor in exile in the United States, added that these realities have driven Guatemalans to migrate to the U.S.

“Guatemala is getting worse every day and the main effect is the increase in migration that has affected Guatemalans towards the United States, and, of course, this is a concern for the United States,” Gonzalez said. “One of the main causes [of migration] is the corruption and lack of opportunities that would allow people to stay in the country.”

The June 6 briefing was hosted by the Root Causes Initiative, which is a network of faith-based and grassroots organizations in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, and the U.S. that are working to change the structural conditions that cause poverty and suffering in Central America and force people from their homes. During the briefing, it was announced that the initiative sent a letter to President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Blinken echoing the actions that Sandoval, Gonzalez, and others have called for.

It was signed by over 1,000 faithful from the countries listed above including faith-based organizations and nonprofits. The actions include: ending U.S. support for the Giammattei regime, imposing Global Magnitsky Act financial sanctions on high level officials and oligarchs, and using U.S. influence with the International Monetary Fund and other international lenders to block new loans, “which only fuel corruption and electoral manipulation.”

“Doing so will send a clear message that the U.S. recognizes that rule of law is a prerequisite for addressing the root causes of migration and improving living conditions in Central America,” it reads.

Cardinal Álvaro Ramazzini of Guatemala was also present during the briefing. Ramazzini wasn’t able to speak because of an illness, but he did communicate through written messages. He emphasized the need for the U.S. to apply economic pressure on Guatemala over the economic relations between the two countries.

Separately, the cardinal spoke about the role of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference.

“In the case of the [USCCB] being so large, with diverse viewpoints, they haven’t had the common positions to vocally work against the injustice and poverty in Guatemala,” Ramazzini said. “I know U.S. bishops who are very committed to the social struggle from the Gospel, but I don’t perceive that this is a unanimous posture.”

During the briefing, Sandoval also spoke about the need for Guatemalans to get involved in political culture, saying that they should “at least learn and understand and exercise their rights.”

Thelma Aldana, a former Guatemalan attorney general highlighted that awareness is crucial.

“It’s important for the people to have an awareness of what’s happening in the country. We cannot permit the corruption to be normalized,” said Aldana, who is in exile in the U.S. “We cannot permit the fleeing of millions of Guatemalans to be normal and to become the basis of the economic system in Guatemala.”

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