The philosopher and historian Hannah Arendt noted that some of the Nazi party’s most effective leaders were not fanatics or sociopaths, but rather bureaucrats who ruthlessly engaged in murder and corruption on behalf of the cause. Their calculated efficiency made the horror greater, and Arendt called this the “banality of evil.”
María Consuelo Porras, Guatemala’s Attorney General, is a sterling example of that same banality –– albeit involving lesser crimes –– and that’s why our judges have decided she is worthy of being named 2023 Person of the Year in Organized Crime and Corruption.
2023 Finalists for Person of the Year in Organized Crime and Corruption
We asked for nominations from readers, journalists, the Person of the Year judges, and others in the OCCRP global network. The finalists who received the most votes this year were:
- President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan
- Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina
Porras has acted as an efficient instrument used by the government to eviscerate the rule of law. She has overseen efforts to prevent president elect Bernardo Arévalo from assuming office, including suspending his political party and raiding the election commission. Arévalo has called it a “coup in slow motion.” The moves by Porras and her government allies have thrown Central America’s most populous country into political crisis, with protestors taking to the streets and blocking a main highway leading into the capital, Guatemala City.
"Porras is protecting what has been called in Guatemala ‘the pact of the corrupt,’ which involves bent businessmen, corrupt politicians, members of organized crime, and retired generals," said Maria Teresa Ronderos, director of the Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística (CLIP), and one of OCCRP's Person of the Year judges. “She has brutally persecuted honest prosecutors, journalists, and activists, chasing them into exile and depriving the public of these crucial checks on authority."
Porras has been accused of failing to maintain independence from political interests, refusing to investigate and prosecute high level corruption cases, obstructing justice, and appointing people for their political standing rather than their competence or independence. She has overseen a massive purge of pro-democracy officials. Homes of former and present government officials are searched, individuals are hauled off to jail, while others have been forced to flee the country before they are arrested.
Porras has protected a right wing political elite who have made their fortunes from wholesale corruption and ties to narco cartels. These officials and influential business leaders have been implicated in large scale drug trafficking, people smuggling, and soliciting bribes from foreign companies.
The actions taken by Porras and her government allies have severely set back democratic progress in a country ruled for decades by a military junta, which prosecuted a war that killed about 200,000 people. Under military rule, extra-judicial killings, violence, and massive corruption became the norm.
In 2006, the United Nations established the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which was tasked with investigating “criminal groups believed to have infiltrated state institutions,” and oversaw the prosecution of some of the country’s worst offenders. That work came to a halt after the election of Jimmy Morales as president in 2015. His administration attacked the CICIG, finally shutting it down in 2019. Porras, who was appointed Attorney General in 2018, played a key role in ousting the CICIG.
Porras’s mission has been to ensure that Guatemala's corrupt leadership stays in power. The U.S. government sanctioned Porras in 2022, saying she had “repeatedly obstructed and undermined anti-corruption investigations in Guatemala to protect her political allies and gain undue political favor.” The European Union is also considering sanctions on those attempting to reverse the vote by Guatemalans.
Porras represents a type of actor that has not been recognized before by OCCRP’s Person of the Year award. She is not a colorful autocrat but a dry bureaucrat who carries out “her duty” –– which is to derail democracy and protect the kleptocratic elite.
She is not alone in that mission to enable a new breed of autocrats.
While people tend to think of failed states as run by an authoritarian strongman, the new autocrats don’t disavow democracy. Instead they undermine its framework, including elections, the judiciary, and state institutions. Key to that strategy are people like Porras –– government servants who corrupt the democratic process while maintaining the illusion of normality. These new autocrats cannot rule without this professional class of bureaucrats. Porras and her kind are the new banal faces of evil.
We recognize Porras and all her fellow members in the class of corrupt bureaucrats that enable the new autocrats with our 2023 award. Porras also has the distinction of being the first female to receive the award since OCCRP started the contest in 2012.