Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Evidence issues in Tlatlaya Massacre case and Brazil's president fights to keep post (Oct. 14, 2015)

The Mexican general prosecutor's office only presented evidence against 3 of the eight soldiers it accused of participating in the extrajudicial killings and cover up of at least 8 soldiers in last year's Tlatlaya Massacre, reports Animal Político. The investigation and eyewitness testimony says that the remaining five soldiers remained in their vehicle outside the warehouse where the deaths took place, according to Animal Político based on the legal file.

In the July 2014 episode 22 suspected gang members were killed in what was originally reported as an extended shoot-out with army troops. But testimony and forensic evidence disprove this version of the events and The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) said in a report last year that 15 of the 22 people were probably killed after they surrendered. Last week four of the soldiers accused of participating in the extra-judicial killings were released because of insufficient evidence against them (see Oct. 6th's post.)

This week Animal Político also reported that there were originally five survivors of the Tlatlaya killings but that two of the people who had been hostages of the supposed gang members -- who were already tied up -- were then killed by the soldiers, according to eyewitness testimony.

Separately from the case itself, last week's announcement of the release of the four soldiers started a debate in Mexico regarding the validity of the accusations, with conservative commentators alleging that the case is trumped up by human rights organizations looking to discredit the army. (See last Thursday and Wednesday's briefs.) In a thoughtful opinion piece in El Universal political analyst and activist Maite Azuela wonders why searching for the truth in this case is considered a harm to the army, rather than an attempt to weed out illegal activity from the institution. 

Perhaps it's because the Army so strenuously rejects allegations of misconduct, in Tlatlaya and also in Iguala, the other headline human rights case dogging the Peña Nieto administration. Proceso notes that the Minister of Defense, General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda is coming out in in-depth media interviews denying any involvement by the Army in human rights violations related to the two cases and backing the official story in Tlatlaya, assuring that soldiers were attacked by gang members.

And El Daily Post has an interview with AP journalist Mark Stevenson, who won Colombia University's Maria Moore Cabot prize for his investigative reporting which revealed the Army's cover-up of the Tlatlaya Massacre. Stevenson’s reporting, and interviews with survivors, was followed by additional journalistic investigation that together prompted the authorities to re-examine the case. 

"The story looked dicey and was worth looking into," he told El Daily Post "We were curious that a shoot-out could occur in which all 22 gunmen were killed and only one soldier was wounded. And basically, we went because we could. It’s a simple truth that it is easier for foreign journalists to go ... Mexican journalists find it more difficult to take on these stories, whether because they are not allowed to go, they are fearful of the danger or the consequences, or whatever reason. Once there, the forensics didn’t seem to match the story … we kept looking and pieced the story together."


Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff won some time in her battle to stay in office yesterday with a Supreme Court ruling that suspended an opposition maneuver to force a vote in the lower house to open impeachment proceedings, reports Reuters.

Still the powerful speaker of the lower house Eduardo Cunha insisted yesterday that he would continue to review impeachment requests despite the  Supreme Court injunction. But the former Rousseff ally turned enemy has trouble of his own: he's facing removal from his post for alleged corruption. 

Yesterday fifty legislators from seven political parties asked the ethics committee of the Chamber of Deputies to open a process to remove Cunha, reports the Wall Street Journal. He is under investigation for alleged money laundering and receiving millions of dollars in bribes related to the state-run oil giant Petrobras.

Cunha has been feuding with Rousseff for months, and his post has the power to start impeachment proceedings against her for allegedly manipulating the budget to cover-up a growing national deficit (she rejects the accusations). WSJ says some Brazilian media reports are speculating that Cunha's critics will let him keep his post if he allows impeachment to move forward against Rousseff. Others say he will allow the proceedings to move forward as a distraction from his situation.

The Huffington Post has an interesting opinion piece from Diego Iraheta, the Brazil Post's editor in chief, who gives some background in Cuhna's role over recent months, including his polemic legislative proposals which pander to his conservative evangelical base and "represent a setback for basic human rights." But the piece focuses on his ethical lapses, and notes that the Brazilian Prosecutor General, Rodrigo Janot, had already warned that Cunha is unable to distinguish between private and public interests. He should resign because remaining in office is a conflict of interest, argues Iraheta: "If he remains in office, considering the power that the position grants him, he may move the political and institutional pieces to dissimulate his involvement with any allegation of corruption."

Cunha said he is reviewing three separate impeachment requests, the most serious alleges Rousseff doctored government accounts to allow for more spending before her re-election campaign last year, reports Reuters. For now, Rousseff appears to have enough votes to block impeachment.
And Rousseff says that any breach in the country's fiscal responsibility law -- as determined by a court last week (see Thursday's briefs) was aimed at maintaining the country's social programs. Her predecesor and mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, admitted yesterday that the accounting tricks happened to help pay for stipend programs that for years have alleviated poverty in Brazil, according to Reuters.

Yesterday Rousseff accused the political opposition of practicing "deliberate coup-mongering" by seeking to oust her without any material facts while spreading hatred and intolerance across the country, reports Reuters. "The artificiality of their arguments is absolute, their poisoning of people in social networks, their relentless game of 'the worse she does, the better for us,'" Rousseff said before a gathering of union leaders.

Last week Rousseff reportedly said in a closed-door meeting that Brazil is experiencing a "Paraguayan-style coup," alluding to the 2012 ouster of Paraguay’s then-head of state, according to Folha de S. Paulo.

This fight comes as Rousseff is battling Congress to pass austerity measures intended to jumpstart Brazil's ailing economy. 

News Briefs

  • Further south in Argentina, former Secretary of Transport Ricardo Jaime was convicted on corruption charges, after having admitted to receiving vacations and free rent from businessmen with favorable government contracts. He got a suspended sentence of one and a half years and was ordered to pay more than $200,000, reports the New York Times.
  • Yesterday, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced the beginning of a process of constitutional reform, one of her key electoral pledges. Chile's constitution dates from the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Although significant tweaks have been made since the return to democracy, Bachelet and others have argued that it needs to be redesigned from the ground up. A civic education phase will start now and continue until March of next year, and will be followed by a citizen dialogue process, she announced in a televised speech yesterday, according to Reuters.
  • The U.S. ambassador to Colombia says the U.S. would not press for the extradition of left-wing FARC guerrillas. Negotiators for the rebel group have historically said they would not accept any agreement which would allow their members to be deported to the United States. "... If the [Colombian] government decides it is not convenient to extradite them [to the US], we'll respect that," he said according to the BBC. "If you want to see that as the US's contribution to the peace process, you're welcome to do so," he added. He praised the recent agreement between the Colombian government and FARC rebels on transitional justice for human rights violators during the country's 50 year conflict as historic. 
  • This weekend, FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias "Timochenko," said the group should suspend its recruiting because of the progress being made in peace talks with the Colombian government, and admitted that the subject is currently being discussed, reports theLatin American Herald Tribune.
  • And yesterday Colombia's Congress delayed the debate over a constitutional reform necessary to implement an eventual peace deal with FARC rebels until after the mayoral elections on 25 October. Luis Fernando Velasco, the president of the Senate, told press that the constitutional reform is "an issue so complex, profound and important" that it should not be used for politics ahead of the upcoming elections, according to Colombia Reports.
  • Venezuela will propose a bold strategy to revive flagging oil prices, which have left its economy in disarray: a proposed price band to build an automatic floor for prices at $70 a barrel, reportsReuters. The proposal, which will be presented later this month, would reapply the old mechanism of progressive production cuts to control prices, with a "first floor" of $70 per barrel and a later target of $100 per barrel. Venezuelan Oil Minister Eulogio del Pino said yesterday that eight non-OPEC countries have been invited to the Oct. 21 technical meeting of OPEC experts: Azerbaijan, Brazil, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Norway, Mexico, Oman and Russia.
  • The Associated Press has an investigation into the small planes ferrying cocaine from Peru's isolated VRAEM region to Bolivia -- apparently with the collusion of corrupt military commanders. One accused narco-pilot interviewed by the AP said some local military commanders charge $10,000 per flight to let cocaine commerce go unhindered. In August the Peruvian Congress voted to permit the shooting down of small planes suspected of transporting drugs. Earlier this year the Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. officials estimate that currently there are more than 500 illicit flights per year between the two countries. However, the policy of shooting down small planes was suspended in 2001, after a missionary and her baby were killed in a mistaken shoot-down. U.S. intelligence played a critical role in that case. (See April 27th's briefs.)
  • A 5,000 person march in support of indigenous Mapuche people in Chile ended in clashes between militants and police, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • International and Haitian human rights activists say the U.N. is failing to provide justice for the many Haitians who have died or been sickened by a cholera outbreak that started in 2010 which has killed roughly 9,000 Haitians and sickened hundreds of thousands more, reports theAssociated Press. Scientific studies say there is evidence that the disease was brought inadvertently by U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal, after human waste was dumped in the country's biggest river, some 10 months after an earthquake devastated much of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas.
  • There is a low predicted turn-out for Haiti's Oct. 25 presidential elections, reports AFP, which says the campaign is lackluster.
  • Guatemalan authorities have officially ended the search for victims in the massive Oct. 1 landslide that killed at least 280 people with an estimated 70 more missing, reports theAssociated Press. They say work to stabilize and recover the disaster zone will continue. 
  • The mayor of Concepcion, a small town near Guatemala City, was dragged out of his home, beaten and then burned alive by a mob, reports Fox News Latino. Some residents believe earlier that day he was involved in an attack against his political rival who challenged him in elections last month.
  • The Nicaraguan government has denied a permit to a unit of Canada's B2Gold for a gold-mining project due to environmental concerns, reports Reuters.
  • In a climate change conference in Cochabamba, Bolivian President Evo Morales blamed capitalism for climate change and called on industrialized nations to reduce emissions. He said the world's "imperial powers" should take the money they now spend on the military and use it to address climate change, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. The presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela agreed to speak for "Pachamama," or Mother Earth, and civil society at the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP21, reports the LAHT in a separate piece.
  • The Jamaican novelist Marlon James won the Man Booker prize yesterday, for his novel "A Brief History of Seven Killings," which explores Jamaican politics, gang wars and drug trafficking from the perspective of the 1976 attempted assassination of Bob Marley, reports the New York Times. "It’s a crime novel that moves beyond the world of crime and takes us deep into a recent history we know far too little about," said one of the judges awarding the prize yesterday.

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