Friday, June 14, 2019

Guatemala's elections showcase corruption fighting setbacks (June 14, 2019)

Guatemalans head to the polls on Sunday, in general elections characterized by uncertainty, complexity and political pushback against popular anti-corruption efforts. (Americas Society/Council of the Americas has a handy summary of the election panorama.)

Presidential front-runner Sandra Torres is polling at 20 percent, meaning there will almost certainly be a second round vote in August to choose the president. Voters face a bewildering choice of 21 presidential candidates, most are relatively unknown and have extremely low levels of support. (Prensa Libre) Torres, a former first lady, is rejected by nearly half of Guatemala's voters, which has experts predicting she will lose to Alejandro Giammattei in an eventual second round. (Soy 502Prensa Libre.)

The general elections in Guatemala showcase the setbacks the country's anti-corruption fight in recent years, reports the Guardian. Paradoxically, as governmental corruption is one of the highest-ranking problems for Guatemalan citizens. (Global Americans) As Lucas Perelló wrote recently in Global Americans: "despite the country’s history of corruption and voter demands for cleaner government, there is no single candidate with a proven anti-corruption record running for the presidency."

Pick your poison: Nómada's Martín Rodríguez Pellecer reviews the lineup of the voters' favorite five candidates -- don't look for platforms, it's mostly a list of alleged wrongdoing. Americas Quarterly profiles the top three. 

There is still a high level of uncertainty among voters, 48 percent remain undecided, and 12.9 percent plan to cast blank votes. (Prensa Libre) This is in part because two voter favorites, anti-corruption crusader Thelma Aldana and far-right Zury Rios, were judicially blocked from running. The latter was denied her candidacy due to a constitutional clause preventing offspring of undemocratic leaders from holding office. Aldana is accused of minor financial wrongdoing and bureaucratic errors in her candidacy paperwork. The electoral season has been marred by controversial judicial maneuvers -- Aldana says the charges against her are trumped up and angled at at protecting Guatemala's political elite from corruption investigations. (See May 16's post.) Aldana has been out of the country for months, after the DEA warned her of an assassination plot coordinated by Mario Estrada, a would-be presidential candidate with drug organization links.

Charges of criminal association and illegal campaign financing against poll-leader Sandra Torres were conveniently delayed long enough to permit her candidacy.

Aldana was the candidate for a new progressive movement, Semilla, born of the country's ongoing corruption crisis. She represented the best chance at maintaining an internationally lauded, U.N. backed anti-corruption commission -- the CICIG -- charged with investigating graft in Guatemala. (Deutsche Welle) None of the remaining lead candidates in the field have said they would extend the commission's mandate, which is set to end in September.

Violence has been another underlying issue this campaign season: observers documented 12 cases of intimidation or threats since the campaign began on March 18 to mid-April. There have been at least five murders of candidates, party members, and election officials since, reports Nacla

This week  Guatemala’s top prosecutor for electoral crimes took temporary leave and fled the country with his family in response to threats. (Associated Press) The electoral registrar took a two week health leave this week as well, and Nómada reports there are allegations of pressure not to inscribe Aldana.

Other negative trends in Guatemala's election -- polarization, tricky "outsiders," military and evangelical alliances, attacks against corruption investigators, participation of former presidents and their family members -- are all too common in the region, writes Javier Corrales in a New York Times Español op-ed.

Guatemala's epic anti-corruption struggle at the presidential level looks grim. But activists are emphasizing the opportunity to effect change in congress. All 160 seats of the unicameral Congress are up for vote, and a lot is at stake. Deputies will play a key role in determining the CICIG's future, as well as electoral and political reforms. In recent years, lawmakers have been strong obstacles to reform and corruption investigations. (Deutsche Welle) More than half the sitting deputies are seeking reelection. A recent report by Fundacion Myrna Mack identified how deputies from a broad group of parties work to protect sources of illicit funding, shield lawmakers from investigations, and meddle in judicial appointments. Twenty percent of the legislature are being investigated for corruption. Prosecutors say nine deputies currently face serious criminal charges. (World Politics Review)

Nómada profiles the "reformer" candidates. Lawmakers are elected to represent districts on a closed list system with D'Hondt distribution aimed at ensuring minority representation. In addition, there is a "National List," that comprises a quarter of the chamber. Plaza Pública delves (deep) into the uneven impact of local votes.

Activists are also pointing at the relevance of local governments, 340 municipalities choose leaders this weekend

Political links to organized crime have been a pressing issue this electoral season. Estrada was arrested in the U.S. on charges of links to Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel during the campaign, and a handful of legislative and municipal candidates were blocked from running for alleged links to drug trafficking, reports Reuters. Though drug trafficking links are nothing new, activists say organized crime penetration into politics is only likely to grow, reports Plaza Pública.

Illegal campaign financing is a major issue in Guatemala, where  political parties received 50 percent of their funds from organized crime and corruption in the last two general elections. But plans for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala to investigate this year's election fell prey to attacks against its mandate and funding, reports the Guardian. 

One of the most stunning aspects of the CICIG's demise is the U.S. role in enabling President Jimmy Morales' dismantling of the institution investigating him and his family, reports the Washington Post. Indeed, the paradox of Guatemala's u-turn on impunity is that it has been supported by the U.S., though it directly impacts migration, one of the Trump administration's most vocal concerns, explained a recent New Yorker piece.

News Briefs

  • Migration is a key issue this year in regional relations -- especially between Central American countries and the U.S. Pedro Pablo Solares analyzes in an interview with Nómada, noting how Guatemala's migration policy changed as President Jimmy Morales consolidated his anti-CICIG moves.
  • A new draft agreement between the U.S. and Guatemala would establish "safe third country" protocol between the two -- a move aimed at blocking Central American asylum seekers from requesting protection in the U.S. The agreement would require migrants fleeing persecution in El Salvador and Honduras, who travel through Guatemala on their way to Mexico and the U.S., to first require asylum in Guatemala, reports Voice of America. Mexico has resisted signing such an agreement with the U.S. (See Monday's post.)
  • Already Guatemala is cracking down on migration towards the U.S. EFE profiles Haitian migrants affected by Guatemala's policy of deporting people who enter unlawfully back to the country they entered through, in this case, Honduras.
  • Mexico announced the deployment National Guard troops to its southern border with Guatemala this week, part of an agreement signed last week with the U.S. to reduce numbers of migrants. But there are no visible signs of their presence on the ground, according to Al Jazeera. Nonetheless, Mexican authorities have been cracking down on migrant movements in the country's south for weeks. The move is only likely to send migrants towards more dangerous routes, but could hinder illegal, but regular, flows back and forth across the border by locals, reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexico is under intense pressure to stem migrant flows fast -- within 45 days if it hopes to avoid more pressure to become a "safe third country," reports the Washington Post.
  • Thousands of Haitian protesters demanding President Jovenel Moïse's resignation clashed with police in Port-au-Prince yesterday. The violence occurred just as businesses and schools were reopening after days of strikes and anti-corruption protests, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazil's Supreme Court ruled that homophobia should be criminalized under existing legislation until Congress creates a specific law for the subject, reports Reuters.
  • Journalist Glenn Greenwald and his family are receiving death threats over reporting alleged improprieties in Brazil's landmark anti-corruption Lava Jato case, reports Common Dreams. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro fired one of his administration's most prominent moderates -- secretary of government, Gen Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz. The move comes after a prolonged Twitter clash between Santos Cruz and Bolsonaro's ideological guru Olavo de Carvalho, reports the Guardian.
  • A Senate committee rejected a Bolsonaro decree that significantly loosened laws banning the ability of citizens to carry guns, yesterday. (Reuters)
  • The most recent Venezuela Weekly looks at how dialogue efforts started in Norway might continue.
  • Major global powers reportedly met yesterday in Stockholm regarding the Venezuela crisis --  Russia, the United Nations, the Vatican, Cuba and the European Union participated, according to the Associated Press. The talks are apparently meant as backing for the Norway dialogue.
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran police are stepping up efforts against the country's notorious street gangs, reports Reuters.
  • Colombian authorities estimate that more than a quarter of fuel sold in the country last year went to the drugs industry, reports the Guardian. (See June 4's briefs.)
Election Rules
  • A regional shift to majority runoff elections has been largely successful in enhancing legitimacy, pulling political parties towards the center, and lowering barrier entries for new parties, writes Cynthia McClintock at the Aula Blog.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Brazil's Lava Jato in jeopardy (June 13, 2019)

Brazilian judge Sergio Moro -- currently Justice Minister -- is emblematic of the Lava Jato investigation that shed light on rampant political corruption in the country. But the investigation's achievements are in jeopardy after a series of exposes that appear to show Moro improperly colluding with prosecutors in the case against former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. (See Monday's post.) 

It could be a fatal blow for Lava Jato's credibility, argues the Economist.  Moro denies improprieties, and has so far refused to resign, reports AFP. But other ministers have been sacked for less, noted the conservative Estado de São Paulo newspaper in a scathing editorial arguing for Moro's resignation. (Guardian)

Ironically, Moro is himself about to become a test of how Brazil deals with impunity in the post-Lava Jato paradigm, argues Carol Pires in a New York Times Español op-ed. Unfortunately, so far Brazil is failing to demonstrate evolution, she says, noting that it would be proper for Moro to step down from the cabinet while the charges are investigated.
A lot is at stake: proof "that the investigations and prosecutions were politically motivated (as many da Silva supporters charge), ... would be a mortal blow to institutional independence and credibility — a dangerous development in a country already in the grips of right-wing populism and facing deep economic and social crisis," writes Raphael Tsavkko Garcia in a Washington Post opinion piece.

News Briefs

More Brazil
  • The head of Brazil's indigenous affairs agency was fired. He accused the government of caving to pressure from the powerful agribusiness lobby that seeks to commercially develop indigenous territories. He told collagues that President Jair Bolsonaro is being advized by aides who “froth hate for indigenous people." (GuardianAl Jazeera)
  • Hundreds of pesticide products have been approved since President Jair Bolsonaro took office this year -- many of which are banned in Europe and raise public health and environmental concerns, reports the Guardian.
  • Illegal gun production is booming in Brazil. Though gun ownership regulations were loosened this year, homemade weapons are increasingly a significant portion of the country’s total seizures, reports InSight Crime.
  • This weekend's general elections in Guatemala showcase the setbacks the country's anti-corruption fight in recent years, reports the Guardian. Judicial maneuvering kept anti-corruption crusader Thelma Aldana out of the running, but charges of criminal association and illegal campaign financing against poll-leader Sandra Torres were presented late enough to allow her to keep running. Illegal campaign financing is a major issue in Guatemala, where  political parties received 50 percent of their funds from organized crime and corruption in the last two general elections. But plans for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala to investigate this year's election fell prey to attacks against its mandate and funding. 
  • Guatemala is the largest source of migrants trying to enter the U.S. now. The drastic drop in coffee prices, that has left many farmers operating at a loss, is among the many push factors for rural Guatemalans to try their luck at the U.S. border, reports the Washington Post.
  • The vast majority of refugees, 85 percent, live in the developing world. Host countries often shoulder impossible costs, despite limited resources of their own. Instead, these countries and international institutions should be allowed to fund relieve efforts by drawing on the assets of refugee source countries, argue Amalia Perez and Selim Can Sazak in Foreign Affairs. They look specifically at the case of frozen Venezuelan state assets, which could be used to provide countries such as Colombia with a sustainable revenue stream to care for the millions of refugees that have recently settled within their borders.
  • Both the U.S. and Mexico celebrated a new migration agreement that averted a tariff war -- but how long the truce will continue remains unclear, according to the Economist.
  • The deal between Mexico and the U.S. expands a policy in which people seeking asylum in the U.S. can be sent to await their cases in Mexico. The Associated Press reports on what "Remain in Mexico" looks like in reality. 
  • The agreement also involves sending National Guard troops to Mexico's southern border, which is not a solution that addresses the true causes of the migration phenomenon," the Catholic bishops' conference of Mexico wrote in a statement on Monday. "If we as Mexicans have rejected the construction of a wall, we cannot ourselves become that wall," they wrote. (Al Jazeera)
  • Mexico is in the midst of a migrant crisis of its own. A drastic uptick in asylum requests from Central Americans at the country's southern border is overwhelming Mexico's refugee agency, reports the Wall Street Journal. The numbers would go up even more if the U.S. convinces Mexico to sign a "safe third country" agreement.
  • Mexico will finance it's own migrant crackdown with the sale of a presidential plane, said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. (Guardian)
  • Mexican criminals have started renting weapons, a method that affects authorities, who use gun tracing as a key crime-fighting tactic, reports InSight Crime.
  • Colombian security forces are accused of carrying out 12 extrajudicial executions last year in seven provinces, according to a new report by the U.N. human rights office. (Blu Radio)
  • The case of former FARC guerrilla commander Seuxis Hernández, now a member of Colombia's congress and wanted in the U.S. on cocaine-trafficking charges, has fueled debate over the 2016 peace pact, reports the Wall Street Journal. The case of Hernández, better known by his nom de guerre Jesús Santrich, emphasizes divisions among former guerrilla leaders and lends credence to peace pact opponents' arguments that the agreement was a veiled impunity pact, reports la Silla Vacía. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Colombian journalist Libardo Montenegro was murdered in the Nariño province where he worked as a reporter with a community radio station. (EFE)
  • Colombian President Iván Duque has called for a "National Pact" in politics, with hopes of attracting support for bogged down judicial reform and peace agreement amendments. A cabinet reshuffle aims to improve the Executive's relationship with lawmakers, reports la Silla Vacía. But Duque's inability or unwillingness to push his own party to compromise could doom the effort, reports Americas Quarterly.
  • Journalist Daniel Coronell recovered his Revista Semana column, two weeks after getting fired for criticizing the magazine's failure to follow up on information regarding controversial army orders to boost kill rates. (See June 5's briefs.)
  • Some of Colombia's most notorious criminal organizations teamed up in a plan to traffic three tons of cocaine. (InSight Crime)
  • Honduran educators and health sector workers maintained ongoing protests yesterday. The government called for a dialogue process to start today reports La Prensa. Protestors say the government has detained four demonstrators, and called for their immediate release. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • Venezuela is releasing new banknotes for the second time in less than a year, another symptom of hyperinflation. (Reuters) The new bills - 10,000; 20,000; and 50,000 denominations -- will work as a palliative for only a few months before price increases eat away at their usefulness, warn economists. (Efecto CocuyoEfecto Cocuyo)
  • Venezuelan authorities continue to crackdown on the opposition-led National Assembly. Efecto Cocuyo reports that the congress has been partially militarized and that security forces are keeping reporters out of the building.
  • Lawmakers found seven guns on the ceiling of a commission office, an apparent intimidation attempt. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Peru's crackdown on illegal mining in La Pampa has left the region in recession, demonstrating its dependance on the illicit economy, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Construction has begun on a multi-billion dollar airport project near Machu Picchu that has conservationists up in arms. (NPR)
  • Ecuador's top court approved same sex marriage. (BBC)
  • Drug tourism threatens indigenous Colombian ayahuasca traditions, reports the Economist.
  • Five Jamaican fishermen were detained and abused by the U.S. Coast Guard in 2017, part of what the ACLU characterized as the force's “unlawful detention and mistreatment policy” related to the U.S. war on drugs. (Guardian)
  • There is a growing market in Latin America for synthetic drugs reports InSight Crime, focusing on the recent seizure of a rocking horse stuffed with a large quantity of methamphetamine traveling from Belgium to Argentina.
  • Sergio Massa, considered a key figure for centrist voters in Argentina's upcoming general elections, entered a political alliance with lead opposition presidential candidate Alberto Fernández, strengthening the latter's bid against incumbent Mauricio Macri, reports Reuters.
  • A former Argentine public official was sentenced to six years in jail for illicit enrichment. The case of former public works secretary José López became infamous when he was caught trying to stash $9 million in cash in a Buenos Aires convent. (Associated Press)
Dominican Republic
  • A spate of tourist deaths -- no foul play, according to authorities -- is hitting the Dominican Republic's hospitality industry hard, reports the Washington Post.
  • A shooting attack against former Red Sox star David Ortiz over the weekend only raised fears. Authorities said five suspects, including the alleged gunman, have been detained, reports the Associated Press. Security footage indicates sophisticated attack, reports the Guardian.
  • Don't cancel your trip yet! Experts are advising travelers to consider the larger picture before abandoning their beach plans, reports the Washington Post separately.
Viewing party
  • Elective c-sections have long been a status symbol in Brazil -- and now, family and guests are increasingly invited to watch, reports the Washington Post.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Nicaragua frees 56 more prisoners (June 12, 2019)

News Briefs

  • Nicaragua's government freed 56 political prisoners yesterday, in addition to 50 released Monday, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.) Yesterday's releases came with no warning, and leaves 86 political detainees behind bars, reports Confidencial. Opposition Alianza Cívica confirmed that prominent anti-government activists are among those freed yesterday, but that there are indications the government will not continue releasing political prisoners.
  • The United States Congress should press the executive branch to impose targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against senior Nicaraguan government officials responsible for abuses, Human Rights Watch Americas director José Miguel Vivanco said yesterday in testimony before the US Congress.
  • Climate change is decimating agricultural production in Central America's Dry Corridor -- Deutsche Welle reports from Nicaragua where 90% of maize and 60% of bean crops in Nicaragua were lost in 2016. 
  • Venezuela may finally be ready for a negotiated democratic transition write Abraham F. Lowenthal and David Smilde in a New York Times op-ed that lauds recent talks in Norway and looks at historical democratization processes in other countries. "Solutions to bitter conflicts are possible when circumstances convince key actors on both sides that negotiating a change of regime on mutually acceptable terms is preferable to a painful stalemate. At that point, effective local leadership, backed by strong international support, can forge agreements that work."
  • Colombian President Iván Duque aligned himself with the U.S. and took a hard line against Maduro's government -- the approach seems to have been incorrect and could leave Colombia on the sidelines of an eventual transition, argues Sandra Borda in Americas Quarterly.
  • Venezuelan authorities said they detained 17 people in relation to the failed April 30 uprising against Nicolás Maduro's government. Attorney General Tarek William Saab said 34 people are under investigation, reports AFP. Fifteen opposition lawmakers have been stripped of their immunity by the regime-dominated Constituent Assembly in relation to the uprising.
  • Protesters are on the streets of Maturín the capital of Venezuela's oil producing Monagas state, the second day of manifestations due to lack of gas, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • U.S President Donald Trump said he'd consider granting temporary asylum to Venezuelan migrants living in the U.S. -- the move is contrary to his administration's ongoing push to eliminate Temporary Protection Status for migrants of other nationalities, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Doctors complain that migrants in U.S. hospitals are treated like felons, an approach that interferes with their medical care. (New York Times)
  • Mexico's crackdown on migrants crossing its southern border is forcing people trying to reach the U.S. to take increasingly isolated and dangerous paths, reports Animal Político.
  • Mexico promised the U.S. to send 6,000 National Guard troops to secure the border with Guatemala, but the new security force has limited power to act over migrants, reports Animal Político.
  • Mexican journalist Norma Sarabia was killed in Mexico's Tabasco state, the sixth journalist murdered in the country this year. (BBC and Animal Político)
  • Veracruz reporter Marcos Miranda Cogco was kidnapped yesterday while taking a family member to school, reports Animal Político.
  • "Despite serious missteps, there's cause to be optimistic about Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s presidency," writes Genaro Lozano in Americas Quarterly.
  • Haitian media organizations demanded greater police protection in the wake of increasing attacks against journalists in the midst of anti-government protests, reports the Associated Press. On Monday a well-known radio journalist was killed. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Violence and political maneuvering have marred the lead up to Guatemala's elections this Sunday, in which a slew of candidates have been judicially blocked from running. "Amid the chaos, left-wing parties may have most to lose," writes Jeff Abbott in NACLA.
  • Brazilian justice minister Sergio Moro is under increasing pressure to resign in the wake leaked documents that appear to show him colluding with prosecutors to ensure the imprisonment of former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, reports the Guardian. (See Monday's post.) The revelations lend strong support Lula's supporters who have long argued that the corruption case against him was politically motivated, reports the New York Times.
  • An estimated 28 million Brazilians' access to health care has been sharply curtailed in the wake of a diplomatic clash with Cuba that led to the recall of 8,517 doctors working in the public sector, reports the New York Times.
  • Former FARC guerrilla leader Seuxis Paucias Hernandez, better known as Jesús Santrich, was sworn in yesterday to Colombia's Senate, reports AFP. Santrich has been at the center of a judicial tug-o-war in recent months, see May 30's briefs.
  • Colombian lawmakers have opened a preliminary probe into whether former president Juan Manuel Santos accepted illegal campaign contributions from Brazilian construction Odebrecht in 2014, reports EFE.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri announced his reelection bid yesterday. In a bid to broaden his electoral base, he will be running with Peronist senator Miguel Pichetto, a surprise real politik move that left his base reeling yesterday. (Reuters)
  • Chile’s new climate change plan, unveiled by President Sebastian Piñera this week, puts the country on track to play its part in meeting globally agreed goals to limit warming of the planet, researchers said. (Reuters)

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Nicaraguan gov't frees political prisoners, passes self-amnesty law (June 11, 2019)

Nicaragua's government freed 50 political prisoners yesterday, under the aegis of a controversial new amnesty law. Two journalists detained in December, Miguel Mora was the director and Lucía Pineda Ubau the spokeswoman for the 100% Noticias television channel, were released this morning. (Guardian)

That means there are still 182 political prisoners ahead of the June 18 deadline to release all political detainees. Many are some of the most visible faces and leadership of last year's anti-government protests, and more than a dozen are in maximum security or solitary confinement, reports Confidencial. About 500 political prisoners have been freed from jail since February, but most are under some form of house arrest or parole, leaving them legally vulnerable.

This weekend pro-Ortega lawmakers passed an amnesty bill that allows for the release of people detained in relation to anti-government protests -- but also grants blanket immunity to police and paramilitary fighters who participated in repression last year and committed grave human rights violations. It also bans freed political prisoners from launching further anti-government protests, reports Reuters. The ruling Sandinista bloc characterized last year's protests as a "failed coup d'etat" and said the law aims at reconciliation, reports the Associated Press.

Human rights activists and a coalition of more than 70 opposition groups in Nicaragua strongly rejected the new law, which was passed the day after it was submitted by President Daniel Ortega. The law implies that no one is responsible for the deaths that occurred last year in the violent repression of anti-government protests, reports Al Jazeera. The Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (Cenidh) said the law is effectively a "self-amnesty" and is illegal under international law. (Confidencial)

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in a statement on Friday that the law “could impede the processing of potentially responsible persons for grave violations of human rights” committed during the protests.

More from Nicaragua
  • Released prisoners detail abusive conditions in Nicaraguan jails. (Confidencial)

Honduras protests continue

Honduran teachers and health workers protested yesterday -- part of ongoing demonstrations over the past month against reforms they say could lead to privatization and massive layoffs, report La Prensa and El Heraldo.

President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) threatened to repress protests that engage in vandalism or turn violent, reports Criterio. On Sunday Honduran security secretary said police would not be fooled and will not be tolerant, reports C-Libre. The response was characterized as "militarization" by human rights organization COPINHCofadeh considered the official communication about potential repression to be a threat.

Protesters are demanding dialogue with the government to strengthen the education and public health sectors, as well as the immediate halt of repression and investigation into security forces actions against demonstrators over the past month, reports TeleSUR. The government backtracked on the reform bills, but protesters demand that a dialogue process be internationally mediated and broadcast live from a deteriorated public hospital, reports La Prensa. (See last Wednesday's briefs, and last Tuesday's post.)

In response to the government's refusal to meet their conditions, the Plataforma por la Defensa de la Salud y la Educación, announced an "alternative dialogue" that will be conducted next week without government participation. (Criterio) In the meantime protests are slated to continue today. (Tiempo)

Nacla report delves into the controversy and how it's reignited calls for the president’s resignation. Protesters have also been spurred by recent revelations linking JOH to U.S. drug trafficking investigations, reports Criterio. (See May 31's briefs.)

News Briefs

  • Tensions escalated amid ongoing anti-corruption protests in Haiti. Demonstrators are demanding President Jovenel Moïse's resignation.  (See yesterday's briefs.) Port-au-Prince demonstrators barricaded roads, set tires on fire, and attacked a radio station. Late last night a well-known radio journalist was killed. Several of the attacks in recent days have singled out journalists, reports the Miami Herald. Protest organizers called for a national strike today, reports Voice of America. Much of the capital was paralyzed by a strike call yesterday as well, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Protests are focused on misused funds from a Venezuelan subsidized oil program meant to finance development policies. But the case of the Port-au-Prince Delmas viaduct demonstrates "just how difficult it will be to ensure justice and accountability in Haiti – and abroad," according to a CEPR report. "It’s not just the Haitian government that may be reticent about following the money. The implications of the Petrocaribe scandal in Haiti are vast and extend far beyond the country’s own borders and its own political class."
  • Armed gangs have essentially taken over Haiti's Artibonite Valley, an unintended consequence of tariff decisions 30 years ago that destroyed local agricultural economy, reports Bloomberg.
  • There were “serious problems with the culture, morale and behaviour” of Oxfam staff in Haiti. A new damning investigation by the Charity Commission found that Oxfam failed to disclose allegations of child abuse, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said yesterday that no secret immigration deal existed between his country and the United States, reports the New York Times. This directly contradicted U.S. President Donald Trump’s claim on Twitter that a “fully signed and documented” agreement would soon be revealed. (See yesterday's post.)
  • The outlook is bad for Guatemalan's ahead of Sunday's presidential election -- anti-corruption crusader Thelma Aldana has been kept out of the running by a court order, which threatens the country's ongoing efforts to route out entrenched corruption. Social pressure -- through activism and mobilization -- is the only way to protect Guatemala's U.N. backed international anti-impunity commission, whose mission will otherwise end in September, writes Alvaro Montenegro in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Colombia’s House of Representatives is debating a measure to censure the country’s defense minister, in the wake of revelations that army commanders were ordered to boost kill rates. (New York Times)
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's new -- young -- president, Nayib Bukele, is using Twitter for many of his first moves, including firing relatives of his predecessor, Salvador Sánchez Céren, reports Reuters.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Monday, June 10, 2019

Car Wash prosecutors colluded with Moro -- The Intercept (June 10, 2019)

The Intercept published three exposes that purport to show politicized and legally dubious maneuvers by the Operation Car Wash anti-corruption task force of prosecutors, along with then-Judge Sergio Moro. The reports are based on leaked internal discussions accessed by The Intercept. They appear to show repeated collaboration between Moro, now justice minister, and prosecutors in a case he was judging. (Guardian)

One piece focuses on "serious ethical violations and legally prohibited collaboration between the judge and prosecutors who last year convicted and imprisoned former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on corruption charges." Lula's incarceration kept him out of the 2018 presidential election -- which he had a strong chance of winning according to numerous polls.

The materials also show that the prosecution had serious doubts about whether there was sufficient evidence to establish Lula’s guilt. The case revolved around a beachside apartment Lula supposedly obtained as a kickback from a contractor in return for state-owned oil company contracts. The Intercept reports that, just days before filing the indictment, lead prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol expressed doubts to his prosecutorial colleagues in a group chat: over whether the triplex was in fact Lula’s and whether it had anything to do with Petrobras.

The archive of material accessed by The Intercept also shows that the Car Wash team operated with political intent in the lead-up to last year's October election. One example occurred 10 days before the first round of presidential voting last year, when a Supreme Court justice granted a petition from the country’s largest newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, to interview Lula in jail.

"Immediately upon learning of that decision on September 28, 2018, the team of prosecutors who handled Lula’s corruption case — who spent years vehemently denying that they were driven by political motives of any kind — began discussing in a private Telegram chat group how to block, subvert, or undermine the Supreme Court decision. This was based on their expressed fear that the decision would help the PT — Lula’s party — win the election. Based on their stated desire to prevent the PT’s return to power, they spent hours debating strategies to prevent or dilute the political impact of Lula’s interview."

A statement from Da Silva’s defense lawyer, Cristiano Zanin, published Sunday on the former president’s Workers’ Party website said the prosecution was “corrupted," reports the Associated Press.

The federal prosecutors’ office issued two statements confirming that phones were hacked. The agency defended the task force’s work and its impartiality.
In response to The Intercept reports, Moro -- now Minister of Justice -- defended his actions as judge in the ongoing Car Wash probe and said the material obtained through the "criminal invasion of prosecutors' cell phones" had been "taken out of context and sensationalized," reports AFP.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------U.S. Mexico immigration deal

The U.S. and Mexico announced a migration deal on Friday. The agreement came after frenzied negotiations between the two sides last week, after U.S. President Donald Trump suddenly threatened a blanket tariff on all Mexican goods if migration isn't significantly reduced, reports the New York Times

The agreement would expedite a program known as the Migration Protection Protocols, which sends people seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico as their cases are processed, reports Reuters. Mexico also agreed to send its National Guard police force to its own southern border, where many Central Americans enter Mexico.

Critics said the deal mostly involved previous commitments, reports the Guardian. The timing and many other steps remain uncertain. Experts disagreed on what the impact of the measures will be, as well. (Washington Post)

Redirecting the new Mexican National Guard to migration issues means President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will be diverting resources from his approach to reducing drug violence, according to the New York Times. It also means the Mexican government will be deploying the controversial new force towards a task it was not originally slated to fulfill, reports the Washington Post. The troops have no training in border patrol and has no formal connection to the Mexican migration agency.

Mexico has already been allowing people seeking asylum in the U.S. to await case processing on the Mexican side of the border. But the program has been implemented slowly, with a multitude of legal and logistical challenges. There is also mounting evidence that Mexico is not a safe place for asylum seekers -- many have in turn become victims of organized crime, reports the Wall Street Journal. (It is, also, unsafe for many Mexicans, reports the Wall Street Journal in a separate piece.)

Nonetheless, Mexico managed to avoid a worst options involving a vast overhaul of the asylum system that would have required migrants to apply for refuge in Mexico or the first country they passed through after their own, according to the New York Times. AMLO celebrated the agreement as a decent win at a rally on Saturday, reports the Guardian.

However Mexico will remain under pressure from Washington, notes the Wall Street Journal.

Today, however,  Trump said the agreement has “fully signed and documented” provisions that have not yet been publicly disclosed, that will require Mexican congressional approval, reports the Washington Post. Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard spoke of a potential regional system to limit migration and avoid future tariffs. 

News Briefs

  • "America’s immigration system takes the myth of due process and turns it on its head. Instead of a presumption of innocence, migrants face the assumption of inadmissibility," writes Francisco Cantú in a recent New York Times op-ed.
  • As the path to the U.S. becomes increasingly impossible, some Central American migrants are crossing the Atlantic and seeking asylum in Europe instead. The distance is greater, but by many accounts, the trip is safer and cheaper. (New York Times)
  • Aid is key to stopping migration flows from Guatemala, argues New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof.
  • Children born to Venezuelan refugees in Colombia are stateless -- a growing problem, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • This week is key for Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra. Though he won a confidence vote from Congress last week, lawmakers must still approve a series of anti-corruption reforms he has proposed -- one by one, before the current session of Congress ends on June 15, and then again in the next session which begins in late July, explains Simeon Tegel in Americas Quarterly. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
El Salvador
  • The Mara Salvatrucha street gang hopes to enter discussions with El Salvador's new president, Nayib Bukele. For the first time reducing extortion is on the table along with homicide reduction, reports Revista Factum. (InSight Crime translation.)
  • Thousands of Haitians marched in protest of government corruption and calling for President Jovel Moïse's resignation, in Port-au-Prince. Though the demonstration began peacefully, tensions increased throughout the day. Police said a preliminary tally shows there were at least two deaths from gunshots, four injuries also from gunshots and 12 arrests were made, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The Venezuela crisis is hitting Cuba hard, and Havana has an outsized influence on the Maduro government. While U.S. hawks hope that regime change in Venezuela will harm Cuba's communist government, the situation also offers an opportunity to engage productively with the island's leaders, argue  Benjamin N. Gedan and Nicolás Saldías in the Washington Post.
  • Argentina's presidential campaign season is marked by a slew of corruption cases against former government officials, namely veep candidate and former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. But the judicial proceedings seem to follow the current administration's political agenda more than legal norms, I argue in a New York Times Español op-ed. The result is a judicial system caught between a rock and a hard place: no matter the verdict, few consider the procedure credible.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...