Friday, January 15, 2016

Guatemala's new president faces challenges and mobilized citizens (Jan. 15, 2016)

Political neophyte Jimmy Morales swore in as Guatemala's new president yesterday.

Morales was swept in on a wave of public anger following a corruption scandal that implicated the president and vice president in a customs fraud ring last year and forced them both to resign. (See Sept. 3rd's post and yesterday's briefs.)

The challenges are great, and include tattered public finances, an uncertain political playing field, the threat of ungovernability and the difficulty of shoring up a political system in which lack of trust reigns supreme, admitted the new vice president, Jafeth Ernesto Cabrera Franco in an interview with Plaza Pública.

Nómade puts it even more harshly: "the comic who wanted to be president in 2020 and became the surprise candidate after the anti-corruption protests of 2015, assumes the presidency today without any experience in government or politics, without a solid political party (its founder is accused by the Public Ministry of participating in massacres) and will have to govern in the worst crisis of the democratic period. A crisis in which the five power groups -- the big businesses, the traditional politicians, the United States, the CICIG and the Public Ministry and the citizen movement -- are arm-wrestling for the country's fate."

The citizen's movement has already called for protests tomorrow to maintain pressure on the new president, reports Nómade. (See yesterday's briefs.) 
Morales is also under pressure from the Public Ministry, which last week accused 18 former military officers, including a close political ally, of human rights violations during the country's civil war. (See Jan. 7th's post.)

There has been little announced in advance of his government, Morales announced his cabinet yesterday after swearing in. Plaza Pública has the complete list of 14 ministers and three secretaries and Nómade analyzes each of the appointees, noting a strong representation from the private sector and conservative sectors.

Morales petitioned U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who was present at yesterday's ceremony, to add Guatemala to the list of countries granted temporary protected status, which provides its eligible citizens in the United States a degree of temporary protection from deportation and allows them to work and travel, reports the Associated Press.

El Salvador and Honduras already have the status, which is usually granted in cases where armed conflict or natural disaster that makes it difficult to receive its citizens.

News Briefs

  • Systemic incompetence and a complete lack of will by State and Federal authorities in Mexico to properly search for and investigate the disappearance of thousands of people are fueling a human rights crisis of epidemic proportions, said Amnesty International in a new report. ‘Treated with indolence’: The state’s response to disappearances in Mexico reveals how the deep failings in the investigation into the enforced disappearance of 43 students in the southern state of Guerrero in September 2014 are mirrored in the northern state of Chihuahua and across the country. According to official figures, the whereabouts of more than 27,000 people remain unknown, many of them have been forcibly disappeared.
  • The Mexican Attorney General's Office (PRG) informed the families of the 43 disappeared students that two new bone remains were found in the Cocula area, reports Animal Político. The remains will be analyzed by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, reports El Universal. The OAS's  Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI, by its initials in Spanish) was present at the meeting to update families on the ongoing investigation.
  • But an injunction issued late last year, but not publicized, threatens to upend the case put together by prosecutors against suspects in case, reports the Associated Press. The injunction, which came in response to an appeal of the charges by lawyers for the 22 police officers, found prosecutorial errors including inconsistent testimony and scant evidence.
  • German G36 firearms, illegally shipped to Mexico were used by local police on the night of the disappearances. El Daily Post has a profile of the German anti-arms activist Jürgen Grässlin who whose work led to charges being filed against former employees of the German arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch, who were charged with breaching theWar Weapons Control Act. A separate piece reviews the history of German firearms in Mexico since the 1970s. (See Tuesday's briefs on gun problems in Mexico.)
  • Mexico City is moving closer to becoming an autonomous jurisdiction -- a law approved by Congress in December proposed a constitutional reform to end Mexico City’s status as a Federal District and grant it more complete autonomy. Seventeen states must ratify the change. But the political struggle over creating a new constitution and the selection of the constitutional assembly is already proving to be problematic, reports El Daily Post.
  • Activists fear ancient varieties of maize (corn) could be wiped out if a ban on genetically modified (GM) maize is lifted in Mexico, reports Financial Times. A legal battle has put GM maize cultivation on hold for the past two and a half years and the case could end up in the Supreme Court.
  • Mexico's government has launched a Web site with information aimed at facilitating a series of public debates on marijuana use, the first of which will be held on Jan. 26, focusing on public health and prevention, reports EFE.
  • After Colombia legalized medical marijuana last month the country is exploring creating an export industry of marijuana-based oils and creams, reports Bloomberg.
  • Two years after Uruguay passed a groundbreaking cannabis legalization law, it's still impossible to purchase marijuana legally in the country, reports the Global Post. But government officials promise supplies for May or June, and clarify that consumers will have three strains to choose from ...
  • And Bolivia may strengthen it's anti-drugs strategy this year, as an increasing presence of transnational criminal organizations within its borders, further underscores its role as a drug hub for the region, reports InSight Crime.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is being criticized by left-wing activists and right wing politicians for his decision to sell a majority share in state power generator Isagen yesterday. Critics say the government sold Isagen on the cheap to get much-needed cash, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Earlier this week Colombia's leftist FARC rebels cast doubt on the chances of reaching a peace agreement with the Colombian government by a March 23 deadline, reports Reuters.
  • Haitian opposition presidential candidate, Jude Célestin, confirmed yesterday that he will boycott next weekend's run-off election in which voters will pick between him and the government-backed candidate Jovenel Moise. Nonetheless, electoral authorities say Célestin's name will still appear on ballots because he never officially withdrew, reports the Associated Press. Célestin and a wide swathe of opposition politicians, human rights organizations, local electoral observers and an independent commission assigned to review last years elections have alleged widespread fraud and irregularities.
  • Brazilian Federal Police have accused and will investigate seven people and three companies of environmental crimes in response to a major dam collapse in November that killed 19 people and polluted 400 miles of a river basin, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Argentina's YPF signed a deal yesterday with American Energy Partners to jointly explore and develop unconventional oil and gas projects in Argentina. The deal is focused on Argentina's Vaca Muerta shale formation, and calls on the U.S. company to invest  most of the $500 million the companies will apply to drill more than 20 wells, most of them to horizontally fracture ancient shale rock. They will also build gas-treatment facilities, reports the Wall Street Journal.

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