Former Judge Recounts Fight Against Guatemalan Corruption

Photo by Kevin GradyPhoto by Kevin Grady
The Harvard Crimson
December 3, 2015
By Theo C. Lebryk and Derek G. Xiao

Claudia Escobar, a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, spoke about her personal journey fighting against corruption in her home country of Guatemala in front of a packed audience Wednesday afternoon at Fay House.

Escobar’s talk, “The Relation among Judicial Independence, Separation of Powers, and Corruption,” is one in a series of fellows’ lectures presented by the Radcliffe Institute. As part of her fellowship, she is pursuing a research project on corruption’s negative effect on judicial independence in Guatemala.

“As we all know, the government has certain obligations over the citizens,” Escobar said. “Among these, they should guarantee security and justice for all. If the institutions that are in charge of these important tasks do not do their job, then the rule of law is an empty concept.”

According to Escobar, the process of electing magistrates in Guatemala has been largely tainted by “corrupt politicians, drug lords, and unethical lawyers.” Resigning from her position as judge in light of issues she saw in the judicial system, Escobar has moved on to lead a movement for judicial independence by forming a legal opinion on the unconstitutionality of the election process.

Though a court ruled against Escobar’s position near the end of 2014, her crusade against corruption brought about protests earlier this year that culminated in the resignation of Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina in September. Molina currently awaits trial for his involvement in a multimillion dollar customs fraud scheme.

But according to Escobar, challenges are still ongoing. She predicts that once the newly-elected President Jimmy Morales takes over in January, protests will resume.

“It’s not going to be easy. I think that people know that change doesn’t take months—sometimes it takes years,” she said. “I think we are at a turning point where we can build a full democracy, or we can become a failed state.”

Several audience members said they were inspired by Escobar’s bravery in fighting against corruption.

“All the protests got going because of her courage,” said Felipe Lara, another Radcliffe fellow. “She put her life in jeopardy, and her family, and obviously her career.”

“Corruption is a major problem. It’s a major concern for any democracy, not just Latin American democracies,” added Arlinda Shtuni, a local resident who frequents the presentations given by Radcliffe Institute fellows. “And here’s someone who sees that and confronts it—she obviously stood up to it.”

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