Erika Aifán: Erika Aifán: “In Guatemala, justice advances because there are judges who, despite the risks, do their job” | International

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Guatemalan judge Erika Aifán poses for a photo in her office in Guatemala City, in November 2019.
Guatemalan judge Erika Aifán poses for a photo in her office in Guatemala City, in November 2019.Moses Castillo (AP)

In the hell that Guatemala is for those who fight against impunity, Judge Erika Aifán is in the eye of the storm and seems to have become the latest target of those who do not want to see independent justice in the Central American country. As head of the High Risk Court D, she has had to handle some of the most notorious cases of corruption, which has raised hatred against her. So much so, that from within the judiciary itself, her work is persecuted by officials “who are willing to sell their dignity or allow themselves to be frightened so that the criminal networks obtain impunity,” according to her complaint.

In an interview with EL PAÍS, he points out that there are all kinds of interests aimed at intimidating judges, from the presidency to the employees of the Prosecutor’s Office. In her case, exercising justice has meant being the object of threats, living every minute accompanied by security and knowing that every day she takes risks, but Judge Aifán does not relent in her efforts to ensure that justice prevails in Guatemala. “I believe that justice, I believe that the population and the country deserve this effort and sacrifice. Showing that we do not sell dignity and that we are willing to continue working despite obstacles, ”she says in a video call.

Ask. You have reported threats, persecution against you, a constant siege, who are your enemies?

Answer. I cannot give a name, a surname, because I fear that all these attacks have been systematized, structured, strategically designed. And that beyond going against the person, they go against the institution, the highest risk courts and the work that judicial functions mean. They go against the independence of the Judiciary.

P. But who is interested in you not continuing with your judicial work?

R. Attacks on judicial independence come both from factors external to the institution and from powers that are within the institution itself. I have filed the corresponding complaints in each of the cases. For example, Mr. Rodrigo de la Peña, a lawyer whom I do not know personally, in 2018 began to file a series of complaints against me for the various processes that I was aware of at that time, without him being a procedural party. within any of them or we could have detected that it could have some relationship with the parties. He was a completely foreign person, who knew the incidents that were taking place in the high-impact cases that were under my knowledge and the specific actions that he carried out. And he filed complaints and legal actions against me, until the local press evidenced it in a report and that was the last day he exercised these actions. Later, in this sequence of attacks against me, we found that the personnel assigned to the court in my charge made recordings, leaked sensitive information, and we also found the loss or theft of proceedings. Faced with these serious actions that were generated in 2019, no positive response was found from the authorities of the institution. To date, the actions that have been imposed on this personnel have not yet been executed.

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P. Are these people still working within the justice system?

R. I put one of the clearest examples. The notifier received 14 dismissal sanctions. Dismissal is the strongest possible sanction and is applied in extreme cases. She was notified of the last sanction more than a year ago and to this date, she continues to work in the judicial body. The Public Ministry, more than two years after these events as serious as the loss of proceedings, has not taken any action.

P. It seems that the system is against you.

R. We see at this time that the Public Ministry is taking action against me, presenting a trial every week. But it does not do this in an isolated way either, because we see messages on social networks through net centers, who in some countries are also called trolls, and who are people who hide their identity and are dedicated to generating hatred and discredit. We have specifically detected that one day before the Public Ministry takes action against the judges, the net centers they celebrate and announce them.

P. How is your relationship with the head of the Public Ministry, Consuelo Porras?

R. We as judges have no direct relationship with any prosecutor. The relationship with all of them is of a professional nature. I don’t even know the attorney general in person. However, we sent you a letter in June of last year asking you to file and dismiss proceedings that have been accumulating against at least four of the highest-risk judges in the country, who have tried the cases of more impact act since 2015. In the work that she develops, she can archive these processes, because they have no foundation. However, we have not found any answers.

P. Has she sought him out to explain why he takes an attitude like this? Has she sympathized with you at some point?

R. It has not done so, although I believe that it is not appropriate to make that approach and that solidarity due to the roles that we have within the justice administration system. As high-risk judges, the only thing we ask is that you do your objective work, that you verify why the prosecutors who are in charge of these cases against us have not filed them. If she considers that there are grounds, she can request the presentation of a trial. However, these cases are not filed, but neither does it file a trial. For us, either of the two solutions is important, because in the trial we could go to our authorities, who know these procedures, and ask them to file them. But the fact that she maintains them means maintaining the harassment and intimidation against the highest risk judges.

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P. Why is this harassment against you, who see cases of corruption in a country with high levels of impunity?

R. Because the highest-risk courts and tribunals are aware of high-impact crimes in the country, which involve transnational crimes; we know organized crime, investigation of criminal structures —some of them very complex—, money laundering, crimes against humanity… The processes that are assigned to us must have two characteristics: that they are aimed at serious crimes and that they represent a risk for the procedural subjects, because there are organized crime groups with great operational and logistical capacity.

P. Have these structures penetrated the judicial system?

R. In the investigations that have been carried out in various cases of the highest risk courts, and that have been public knowledge, people who belong not only to the judicial system have been identified, but the participation of prosecutors and other officials has been indicated. and employees. Acting president and vice president, deputies, ministers, mayors, judges and magistrates, prosecutors, etc. have been appointed. This is combining against this justice administration system that had advanced since 2015 in the judging of complex cases.

P. Do you feel confident, safe, with the people who help you in your work?

R. Definitely, a person cannot feel safe. I am working with a totally new team. And the time we have been working together is relatively recent. This entails the need to get to know each one of them in order to have full confidence in the work they do.

P. Have you taken any security measures in front of your staff?

R. Yes. I have ordered all files to be scanned for copies. And since we have done it, the actions that are entering the court are received at the window and are immediately scanned and uploaded to our system and no action has been lost. That has been very important. I have also adopted new forms of verification of everything that enters the court and I have reinforced all the controls.

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P. Of the processes that you have carried out, which do you think is the one that has generated the most discomfort?

R. Cases related to corruption. These cases link many people, for example, in cases of money laundering crimes, in which these criminal structures have the ability to create networks with cardboard entities and we are talking about creating up to 50 entities in different countries. And we, during the trial process, encountered many obstacles, not to mention the complexity involved and the little institutional support that has existed. We were not institutionally prepared to face these processes with such complex structures, and the response that has been given at this time has not been forceful enough either. We have said that in Guatemala justice has advanced, but it is not because the conditions of the country have allowed it, but because there are judges who, despite the risks and difficulties, continue to do their job.

P. Do you think that in President Giammattei’s government there are people who are better off not having judges like you who fight against corruption?

R. There is a union of interests and people who belong to organized crime. I do believe that there may be people from the State who may be behind it. One of the cases assigned to me, case 359, involves investigations of criminal acts committed in the three branches of government. There are officials from the Judiciary or the Public Ministry who are willing to sell their dignity or allow themselves to be intimidated so that the criminal networks obtain impunity. Judges do not respond to those interests and that is why they look for ways to remove us, to get us out of their way.

P. Those attacks continue against him.

R. Yes, they persist. In recent weeks, the levels of risk have increased and so has the frequency.

P. Is it worth living with this constant nervousness?

R. I have security systems that have been reinforced since I am a higher risk judge. And I think so, I think justice, I think the population and the country deserve the effort and the sacrifice. Showing that we do not sell dignity and that we are willing to continue working despite obstacles. I think it represents hope for the nation. And that transcends the person.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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