Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said Tuesday he will not attend the Summit of the Americas next month in Los Angeles, following criticism from the Biden administration for reappointing an attorney general the U.S. accuses of protecting the corrupt.
During an event at the Mexican Embass, Giammattei said a country’s sovereignty must be respected.
His announcement came after several other regional leader have raised the possibility of not going to the summit, which was supposed to be a key moment for the Biden administration’s diplomatic efforts in Latin America.
Late Monday, Giammattei appointed Consuelo Porras to a second four-year term as Guatemala’s top prosecutor. The U.S. government, European Union and others had publicly criticized Porras’ performance, especially the opening of investigations against prosecutors and judges who had worked on anti-corruption cases.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Monday night that the U.S. would bar Porras and her immediate family from the United States.
On Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said more actions could be coming.
“This is a step backward for Guatemalan democracy, transparency and rule of law, a step that will hurt the people of Guatemala,” Price said. “She has a documented record of obstructing and undermining anti-corruption investigations in Guatemala to protect her allies.”
Announcing his decision at Mexico’s embassy in Guatemala did not appear to be coincidence. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said last week that he would not attend the summit unless the White House invited all the region’s leaders, including those of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Bolivian President Luis Arce also said he would not go if all countries were not invited. And leaders of Caribbean nations have discussed a collective boycott of the summit if any nations are excluded.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols has previously said the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua have shown they do not respect democracy and would be unlikely to receive invitations.
Argentina, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, issued an appeal this month to avoid excluding any governments.
President Joe Biden said in March that he hoped to sign “a regional declaration on migration and protection” at the summit. On Wednesday, first lady Jill Biden was scheduled to begin a trip to Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica to help lay the groundwork as the United States finalizes arrangements for the gathering.
The tiff with Giammattei could make the U.S. goal of a coordinated regional approach to control migration flows more difficult to achieve. Guatemalan authorities have aggressively broken up migrant caravans trying to cross its territory in recent years.
Giammattei’s government had already been on notice that the Biden administration was concerned about corruption.
Vice President Kamala Harris spoke openly of corruption being one of the root causes of migration when she visited Guatemala last June. The following month, after Porras fired Guatemala’s top anti-corruption prosecutor, the U.S. government announced it was suspending cooperation with her office.
Tiziano Breda, Central America analyst at the Crisis Group, said Giammattei had likely weighed the consequences of reappointing Porras and decided it would not go beyond statements and individual sanctions.
“We’ll have to see is the U.S. responds differently than they have,” Breda said. “The warnings of the U.S. will not stop the deterioration in the fight against corruption now that the cost of doing it is perceived as bearable.”