Thursday, March 3, 2016

Guatemala is selecting a new constitutional court -- why it matters (March 3, 2016)

The Guatemalan Corte de Constitucionalidad (Constitutional Court) is up for renewal. Ten magistrates (five titulars and five alternates) will be selected for a term that goes from next month to 2021. Five institutions -- the three branches of government, the Guatemalan Bar Association and the Universidad de San Carlos -- each select a judge and an alternate, reports Soy 502

Yesterday the election was kicked off by the Supreme Court, which chose Neftaly Aldana Herrera and María Consuelo Porras Argueta. The Bar Association held a first round of voting yesterday, and will select their judges in a runoff election next week, reports Soy 502.

The issue might not be grabbing headlines like protests last year in Guatemala, but the next six weeks are more important than the recent presidential general elections, argues Dina Fernández at Soy 502.

The judicial cases that have piled up from scandals in the past year, including the La Línea customs fraud scheme that implicated former President Otto Pérez Molina, will be decided by the CC judges, she writes. In fact, the relevance of the court makes it an attractive prize for any number of interest groups, she argues, calling on the institutions to keep the flame of Guatemala's spring alive.
Yet several pieces question the electoral process in the different institutions.
Soy 502 has a piece on justice experts questioning the Bar Association's electoral process to select a judge. They point to lack of transparency and misuse of funds for campaigning.

The Universidad de San Carlos' election process is fraught with special interests, argues a piece in Nómada. One of the main candidates there, Gloria Porras is a current member of the CC's "progressive wing," and has generally been in the minority against the conservative majority. She is favored by the U.S. Embassy, according to the piece. 

And over at the Supreme Court, the magistrates who were chosen as a result of a "dark" alliance between two leading conservative parties -- but who sided with the Public Ministry and the CICIG last year -- had to choose between independent candidates and maintaining a finger in the CC pie, according to an earlier Nómada piece. Consuelo Porras, who was selected yesterday, is a friend of Gloria Porras. The two worked together at the Public Ministry. (The other candidates mentioned negatively in the piece were not selected.)

The remaining candidates will be chosen by mid April, when the new court will be sworn in.

(For more background see some of last year's postings on the CICIG investigation into the La Línea scheme and the fall of former President Otto Pérez Molina. Sept. 2 and Sept. 3, for example.

News Briefs
  • Yesterday Guatemalan court ordered two former military officers convicted of holding indigenous women as sex slaves during the nation's civil war to pay their victims just over $1 million in compensation, reports ReutersNómada reviews the historic case of the women from the Sepur Zarco village who were accused of giving food to guerrillas and who in the trial were portrayed as prostitutes by the defense lawyer. (See yesterday's briefs and Monday's post.)
  • The Venezuelan opposition announced today that it will pursue a "triple-barreled" strategy against President Nicolás Maduro, reports the Associated Press. The opposition will simultaneously pursue a constitutional amendment, a recall referendum and a campaign to push for the resignation of the embattled socialist president. The plan will be officially announced later today. Maduro's mandate lasts until 2019, but the opposition won legislative elections by a landslide last year and have promised to remove him by midway through this year. (See Jan. 6's post.)
  • The Venezuelan opposition's desire to oust Maduro has eclipsed the hopes of some leaders to find solutions to the country's crippling economic problems. But their legal strategies are "fraught with risks and obstacles," argues a New York Times op-ed, that urges Maduro to work with the opposition. The piece points to a slim chance to avert confrontation between the two sides if a multilateral organization were to broker a deal.
  • Students in San Cristobal set up roadblocks and threw stones at the police yesterday in protest of Tuesday's Supreme Court decision that curtailed the power of the opposition-controlled National Assembly to review government appointments of Supreme Court justices, reports the BBC. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Mexico is suffering a "serious crisis of violence and impunity," according to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR). A new report emphasizes government failure to resolve the estimated 27,000 enforced disappearances last year and security force abuses of power in the war on drugs, reports Reuters. The report argued that the government response to accusations of rights violations, in many cases, has been militarization which in turn leads to greater violence, notes El Daily Post.The Mexican government has responded that the report is biased and comes to unwarranted conclusions, reports El País. The government points to measures taken by President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration, such as a special prosecutor's office for disappeared persons, a mechanism for protecting journalists and the Ley de Víctimas. The government criticized the report's methodology, complaining that instead of "emphasizing the cooperation Mexico has offered with regard to responding to previous recommendations, it focuses on identifying and exposing individual cases and events, especially those that occurred in six states that pose particular challenges."
  • Berta Cáceres, an Honduran indigenous leader was killed by gunmen early this morning. The environmental rights activist won the prestigious Goldman prize for her fight against a hydroelectric project a proposed dam on the Gualcarque river, considered sacred by the Lenca indigenous tribe, reports the Associated Press. She succeeded in forcing the world's largest dam constructor, Chinese government owned Sinohydro, to abandon the project, along with the World Bank. In 2014 Honduras was the country with the most murders of environmental activists in the world, reports the BBC.
  • Brazil's Supreme Court accepted charges of corruption against lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha. President Dilma Rousseff's political foe will be on trial for allegedly accepting bribes on contracts for two drill ships leased by state oil company Petrobras, reports Reuters.
  • Mining companies responsible for the disastrous dam failure in Brazil's Minas Gerais state last year have come to an agreement with the government that could allow them to pay far less than the $5.2 billion originally sought by government lawyers, reports the Wall Street Journal. BHP Billiton has agreed to a $1.55 billion settlement, according to the Associated Press.
  • Coffee beans harvested by slave labor in Brazil could have ended up in major coffee company's products, according to a new reports a Denmark-based research center. People trafficked to work for little or no pay, and forced to live on rubbish heaps and drink water alongside animals, may have worked on plantations that supply Nestlé and Jacobs Douwe Egberts, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs on increased risk of slave labor in Brazil.)
  • Brazil's economy had it's worst contraction in the past 25 years in 2015, reports the Wall Street Journal. GDP contracted 3.8 percent last year, the biggest drop since 1990.
  • Keiko Fujimori is leading the polls for Peru's upcoming presidential election. She's running on the hard-right legacy of her father, the discredited former President who is mostly remembered for his legacy of high crimes. She is the face of an improbable political comeback that is said to be orchestrated by the family patriarch from his jail cell, reports Foreign Policy. Her popularity is demonstrative of a national disenchantment with democratic institutions and politicians, according to experts cited in the piece.
  • Cholera is still quietly killing dozens of people a month in Haiti, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs on a case victims are bringing against the U.N. for bringing the disease to the country in the wake of a devastating 2010 earthquake.)
  • Jamaican Labor Party leader Andrew Holness will be sworn in as Prime Minister today, reports the Miami Herald. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • U.S. airlines submitted applications for 20 daily flights to Havana before a Transportation Department deadline yesterday, reports the Wall Street Journal. There appeared to be less competition for flights to other Cuban airports though.
  • At Latin America Goes Global, Mariano Bertucci argues that U.S. President Barack Obama's upcoming trip to Argentina is more relevant to foreign policy than the more anticipated Cuba trip that will precede it. He says that Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who has signaled a strong wish to work closely with Washington, represents a small window of opportunity for American interests in the region. He points to Macri's defense of Venezuelan political prisoners as an important human rights initiative. (See yesterday's briefs for a different perspective on the new administration's stance on historic human rights cases.)
  • Mexico has seen a jump in swine flu this year, which has killed 68 people so far this flue season, reports Reuters.
  • A new trend of public shaming in Mexico aims to take corrupt police officers, parking offenders and bad neighbors to task. "The adherents of public shaming share the belief that, in a widely traditional and conservative society, appealing to the raw sense of humiliation is an effective means of encouraging people to abide by the rules," reports the New York Times. But some of the tools, such as a billboard calling a resident a pig for refusing to take out his trash have been questioned by human rights officials. El Daily Post has more details on the debate over how public officials can use social media for shaming violators.

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