The Forced Exile

Juan Francisco Sandoval*

Versión en español aquí.

On March 5, 2003, I joined Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office as an intern, as part of my mandatory criminal practice, during my undergraduate studies in legal and social sciences at the State University of San Carlos, Guatemala (Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala). I never imagined that this initial internshipwould turn into a love for the defense of truth and justice, and that I would later participate in the prosecution and trial of three Guatemalan presidents, a vice president, dozens of legislators, state ministers, magistrates,and judges. All of these officials, and in turn cases, shared the common characteristic of having served as part of illicit political and economic networks that sought to generate impunity for their crimes.

The opportunity to work in public service allowed me to bring a little hope to the people of Guatemala who –like the majority of Latin American countries– have been destined to a history and  life of eternal resistance in the face of injustice.

The rearrangement of the power structures in Guatemala, which made impunity the way to preserve their privileges, led to the total capture of state institutions, precipitated by various decisions taken by former President Jimmy Morales and his successor and current ruler. 

In the case of Jimmy Morales, these decisions manifested themselves in a diplomatic confrontation with the United Nations with the obstinate intention of not renewing the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), as well as other decisions that sought to favor impunity, such as the appointment of Consuelo Porras as Attorney General of the Republic. The latter being the masterstroke to engender an environment of profound impunity.

This atmosphere has been accentuated by President Alejandro Giammattei, who –under the opaque sieve of political negotiations– made corrupt overtures with the aim of obtaining total control of National Congress, the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Justice, to guarantee that possible acts of corruption go unpunished.

The Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI), an arm of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which for 12 years worked hand in hand with CICIG and was a legacy of the great work of that mechanism, became the main obstacle to the consummation of Giammattei and the political elite’s plan. That prosecutorial unit, which was under my leadership for the last six years, obtained information and began to delve into investigations that could involve Guatemala’s current president.

Consuelo Porras has dismantled the efforts of courageous attorneys general of Guatemala, such as, José Amílcar Velásquez Zárate, Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey, and Thelma Esperanza Aldana Hernández, as well as the mission of the CICIG to fight against impunity led by Carlos Castresana and Iván Velásquez Gómez, at the service of the mafias who aim to impede the progress of said investigations. 

Today, I live in a new reality, far from my family where my life and personal integrity are at risk because I was arbitrarily and illegally removed from the institution where I worked for justice and now face an arrest warrant preventing me from returning to Guatemala for many years. Additionally, my colleagues who continue working in Guatemala face serious threats.

Beyond narrating the different factors that have caused a situation that not only affects me personally, but also affects the entire justice system of my country, I have begun to walk the path of an exile.

A very harsh term that, as defined by the Dictionary of the Academy of the Spanish Language, consists of the “separation of a person from the land in which he or she lives,” or can imply “expatriation, generally for political reasons”. More than this descriptive rudeness, the consequences that the exile faces in both the personal and professional spheres can only be explained by those of us who have been affected by this situation.

As the days go by, returning home feels more distant. But, in the same way, there are several circumstances that cushion this blow: the range of opportunities for subsistence and self-improvement offered by this new home, which is the historical refuge of migrants and the amalgamation of cultures.

The feeling of solidarity that I felt in my homeland has been enhanced by the accompaniment of compatriots here who have suffered the same fate, and wonderful people from different countries, who have understood and shared my fate. These people and relationships help me these days and help me continue to hold on to my hopes and dreams.

The motivation that comes with the love I have for justice, and for my country, is gradually creating the path formy future, strengthening my convictions and the work that I have made my own: my duty of service.

Being in a distant land also gives me the opportunity to continue preparing myself in different aspects (overcoming the language and cultural barrier, among others), and to take advantage of the opportunity provided by different spaces to learn that the reality of the justice system and inequalities that I lived and experienced in my country are common in several countries in Latin America.

Today, when the justice systems of the northern region of Central America are going through a particularly complex situation, which should attract attention from other parts of the world -and seek to influence them- in order to help rescue legality, due process, institutionality and the construction of a model of justice that satisfies the needs of these societies.

The crossroads of the justice systems in the region should motivate those of us who have worked for justice, and who have been victims of injustice, to doubledown on our efforts to build better societies, from wherever fate may have led us.

A tragic situation must be transformed into a niche of opportunities to contribute to the construction of a better society and a better future.


* Former head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity

Photo: AP Photo/Moises Castillo

Acerca de Justicia en las Américas

Este es un espacio de la Fundación para el Debido Proceso (DPLF, por sus siglas en inglés) en el que también colaboran las personas y organizaciones comprometidas con la vigencia de los derechos humanos en el continente americano. Aquí encontrará información y análisis sobre los principales debates y sucesos relacionados con la promoción del Estado de Derecho, los derechos humanos, la independencia judicial y el fortalecimiento de la democracia en América Latina. Este blog refleja las opiniones personales de los autores en sus capacidades individuales. Las publicaciones no representan necesariamente a las posiciones institucionales de DPLF o los integrantes de su junta directiva. / This blog is managed by the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF) and contains content written by people and organizations that are committed to the protection of human rights in Latin America. This space provides information and analysis on current debates and events regarding the rule of law, human rights, judicial independence, and the strengthening of democracy in the region. The blog reflects the personal views of the individual authors, in their individual capacities. Blog posts do not necessarily represent the institutional positions of DPLF or its board.

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