In Defense of Claudia Paz y Paz


EspañolSteve Hecht and David Landau penned a report criticizing former Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz. The six-article series lumps a wide range of accusations and blames her for a wide array of events, ranging from social unrest in the countryside to the politics of appointing prominent public officials.

Disregarding the complexity of those phenomena, the writers are happy to link much to the actions of a particular person. I suspect, then, that Hecht and Landau are also upset about Paz y Paz’s choice of priorities while in office, especially her taking up of the genocide case against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and his chief of intelligence (see previous exchange here and here).

Despite their clear ideological distance from the former attorney, however, they should not have ignored that she laid the groundwork for stronger public prosecutors. Under Paz y Paz, the yearly rate of sentences grew from 3.4 to 8.2 convictions per 100 homicides, for example.

Most important, as political-scientist Carlos Mendoza has pointed out, cases related to crimes against life that reached a sentence rose from 5 percent to over 30 percent during the administration of Paz y Paz — a 500 percent increase! This is also correlated with a plunge in the countrywide homicide rate since 2010 and in the capital city; it was almost cut by half since its 2009 peak.

It is not hard to see that the attorney’s efforts to strengthen the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Life had something to do with it, although the responsibility is shared with the police and the National Institute of Forensic Sciences of Guatemala. She also led the way in strengthening the attorney general’s capacities for investigation and independence, a feat only proved by her successor Thelma Aldana.

It’s fair to say that the recent uncovering of a string of corruption scandals by Aldana’s administration and the UN International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala would have been impossible without Paz y Paz’s earlier efforts.

You can disagree with Paz y Paz’s standing on many issues and indeed, politics and history are hardly ever a tale of heroes and villains. Instead, a marginal but positive political change like she pushed for in her work against impunity should be taken for what it is: laudable, in the face of strong vested interests and perverse incentives, but moderate, as much more is needed to strengthen the justice system in a country like Guatemala.

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