Thelma Aldana (Thelma Esperanza Aldana Hernández), a Guatemalan jurist and politician was born 27 September 1955. Ms Aldana was Guatemala’s most senior prosecutor from 2014 to 2018. Her willingness to so openly hold politicians accountable may explain why she was initially greeted with such skepticism. She has also said she is on the right wing politically. This led to concern that she might derail the work of her predecessor, Claudia Paz y Paz, who pursued human rights cases related to Guatemala’s 1960–1996 civil war.
Aldana said that, upon becoming attorney general, she told prosecutors working on those cases to “pretend nothing changed,” and proceed as they did under Paz y Paz. In fact, she allocated more resources to the team of prosecutors looking into sexual crimes during Guatemala’s dictatorship, an issue she said has not received as much media attention but is tremendously important.
“Women were the main victims of our armed conflict,” Aldana said. “But this remains a patriarchal culture, so it hasn’t gotten as much attention.” She said that, thanks to ongoing investigations, “now, soldiers know that if, God forbid, there is another conflict, and they rape women, justice will respond.”
Thelma Aldana prosecuted and jailed the former president Otto Perez Molina, as well as other politicians, on corruption charges. Ms Aldana has worked closely with a UN-backed anti-corruption commission to try to impeach President Jimmy Morales.
Aldana served as attorney general from 2014 to 2018 and helped topple a former president on corruption charges. She also investigated current President Jimmy Morales.
Thelma Aldana (Guatemala) & Iván Velásquez (Colombia) have been at the forefront of one of the most successful anti-corruption efforts seen anywhere in the world. Since 2014 and 2013 respectively, Aldana and Velásquez have led the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an Independent body established by an agreement between the Guatemalan government and the UN. Through their leadership of these institutions, they have spearheaded the campaign to tackle deep rooted criminal networks and corruption that have plagued Guatemala for decades.
In a country still reeling from the effects of 36 years of internal conflict, Aldana & Velásquez have demonstrated a historically unique model of joint international and local legal action that sets a benchmark for other countries with similar problems.
The cooperation between them and the institutions they have represented has resulted in several high-profile and sensitive criminal investigations, most notably the La Línea corruption case, which led to 60 prosecutions, including the arrest of then President Otto Pérez Molina and his Vice President Roxanna Baldetti.
Aldana & Velásquez have played a crucial role in shaping a defining era in Guatemalan history, while also rebuilding trust in public institutions. As a consequence, they have faced sustained resistance and endured great personal risk. Their courageous and exemplary work has so far resulted in more than 60 criminal structures identified, more than 310 convictions, and 34 proposed legal reforms.
After ending her four-year mandate as Attorney General in May 2018, Aldana has been living outside of Guatemala for security reasons. While Velásquez’s mandate as CICIG’s commissioner runs until September 2019, president Jimmy Morales, on 4 September 2018, banned him from entering the country and urged the UN Secretary-General to propose new candidates for the position.
At the moment of this announcement, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court and the UN have supported Velásquez as head of CICIG, and tens of thousands of Guatemalan citizens are taking to the streets in protest.
Thelma Aldana was detained at an airport in Honduras before abruptly leaving the country shortly afterward. Aldana said in a post on her Twitter page she was “arbitrarily detained” in Honduras and lashed out at what she dubbed a “pact of the corrupt” in which she included Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez. A senior campaign aide said security officials questioned Aldana without identifying themselves.
“Thelma was taken to an office where she was interrogated several times and questioned about personal matters and security issues that put her at risk due to the information they were seeking,” campaign strategist Jose Carlos Marroquin told Reuters.
The Honduran migration institute confirmed in a statement that Aldana landed at the main airport in the capital on Thursday morning on a flight from neighboring El Salvador, was processed, and “voluntarily” left the country nearly three hours later and returned to El Salvador. The statement noted twice that Aldana was traveling in a private plane. The Honduran national police said in a separate statement Aldana was never detained and that there are no restrictions on her travel in the country.
A Guatemalan judge issued a warrant for Aldana’s arrest last month on charges including embezzlement and tax fraud. She has dismissed the order as politically motivated, along with a separate ruling last week by Guatemala’s electoral tribunal that revoked her candidacy citing irregularities during her tenure as attorney general. She has appealed against the electoral tribunal’s ruling to the constitutional court, Guatemala’s top court.
Fighting Corruption and Impunity in Guatemala
Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina was forced to resign following allegations of his involvement in a multi-million dollar corruption scandal known as La Línea. Following months of public protests against corruption and impunity, the Guatemalan Congress stripped Pérez Molina of his immunity and he, along with the former Vice President, is currently in jail awaiting trial.
Guatemalan Attorney General (Fiscal General) Thelma Aldana, with the backing of the U.N. International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), led the investigation into La Línea, which has rocked Guatemala and reverberated throughout the region. Join us for a conversation with Attorney General Aldana as she reflects on the ongoing fight against corruption and impunity in Guatemala, as well as her role in the Línea case.
Thelma Aldana, Guatemala’s former chief prosecutor, is among the front-runners in next month’s election but faces an arrest warrant back home that she dismisses as the work of her political opponents. Aldana led the field of presidential candidates with 28 percent in a recent poll before the June 16 election, ahead of Zury Rios, the daughter of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, and former First Lady Sandra Torres.
If she wins, Aldana said she would ask the United Nations to formally expand the anti-corruption mandate of the CICIG, which was originally formed to investigate illegal security forces.
“Clandestine security bodies embedded in the state motivated the Guatemalan government 10 years ago to go to the United Nations … but they’re still there,” she said.
Aldana said if she wins, she would make government efficient and transparent as well as strengthen CICIG, adding that the accusations against her were politically motivated to undermine her bid for top office.
Aldana added that she is against a law proposed by Morales’ party that would free military officials convicted of human rights crimes during the Central American country’s 36-year civil war, which has sparked criticism from international rights groups.
“Without a doubt, it’s a proposal that could generate impunity and obviously I’m not in favor of approving it,” she said.
Thelma Aldana Quick Facts
- Thelma Aldana the attorney general of Guatemala.
- She was elected president of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in Vienna in November 2017.
- She was awarded the Anti-Corruption Lifetime Achievement Award from Qatar’s Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Center in 2016.
- Ms Aldana jailed some 250 people before leaving office in 2018.
- She launched an investigation of president, Jimmy Morales, for campaign-finance violations in 2015, and of members of his family on other charges.
- Aldana is the author of the book Los Retos de la Esperanza, published in 2013.
- She served as the president of the Guatemalan Supreme Court from 2011 to 2012.
- Aldana received her law degree from San Carlos University in Guatemala.
-The country’s electoral tribunal confirmed her candidacy in the June presidential election.
In 2015 Aldana won the Jaime Brunet Prize for the Promotion of Human Rights from the Public University of Navarra. The prize was for her work for women’s rights, against gender violence, and for the rights of the indigenous peoples, as well as against political corruption. The prize was 36,000 euros.
- Thelma Aldana Biography and Profile (TRLA)