GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said on Tuesday he would not attend next month’s US summit in Los Angeles, following criticism from the Biden administration for reappointing the attorney general for allegedly protecting the United States from corruption.
His announcement came after several other regional leaders raised the possibility of not attending the summit, which was seen as an important moment for the Biden administration’s diplomatic efforts in Latin America.
Towards the end of Monday, Giamattei appointed Consuelo Porus as Guatemala’s top prosecutor for a second four-year term. The U.S. government, the European Union, and others have publicly criticized Porus’ performance, particularly in prosecuting prosecutors and judges working in anti-corruption cases.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced Monday night that the United States would ban Porus and his immediate family from the United States.
On Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said more steps could be taken.
“This is a step backwards for democracy, transparency and the rule of law in Guatemala, a move that will hurt the people of Guatemala,” Price said. “He has a track record of obstructing and weakening anti-corruption investigations in Guatemala to protect his allies.”
The announcement of his decision at the Mexican embassy in Guatemala did not seem a coincidence. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said last week that he would not attend the summit unless the White House invited leaders from all regions, including Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Bolivian President Luis Arsসn has also said he will not leave unless all countries are invited. And the leaders of the Caribbean countries have discussed that if any country is left out, the summit will be boycotted collectively.
US Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols has previously said that the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua have shown that they do not respect democracy and are less likely to be invited.
Argentina, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the community of Latin American and Caribbean states, issued an appeal this month to avoid ousting any government.
President Joe Biden said in March that he hoped to sign a “regional declaration on immigration and protection” at the summit. On Wednesday, First Lady Jill Biden was scheduled to begin her tour of Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica as the United States finalized arrangements for the rally.
Conflict with Giammattei could make it more difficult to achieve the US goal of an integrated regional approach to controlling immigration flows. In recent years, Guatemalan authorities have aggressively cracked down on migrant convoys trying to cross its territory.
The Giammattei government was already on notice that the Biden administration was concerned about corruption.
During a visit to Guatemala last June, Vice President Kamala Harris publicly mentioned corruption as one of the main causes of immigration. The following month, after Porus fired Guatemala’s top anti-corruption prosecutor, the U.S. government announced that it was suspending cooperation with his office.
Tiziano Breda, a Central American analyst at Crisis Group, said Giamattei probably considered the consequences of re-appointing Porus and decided it would not go beyond statements and personal sanctions.
“We need to see the United States respond differently,” Breda said. “The U.S. warning will not stop the decline in the fight against corruption because it is seen as costly to do so.”