Guatemala's attorney general and CICIG commissioner accused ex-president Otto Pérez Molina and more than 50 high-level businessmen and former government officials of being part of a massive money-laundering and illegal campaign financing scheme, reports Reuters. According to CICIG commissioner Iván Velásquez, Molina and former vice-president Roxana Baldetti led a "criminal mafia structure that had co-opted power through the ballot box," reports Plaza Pública. The investigation -- which took months according to Thursday's press conference -- produced evidence of a criminal structure that's even more intricate and tentacled than previously thought, explains InsightCrime.
Nómada has a helpful step-by-step guide to how the various money-laundering gags worked. Essentially, after Pérez Molina lost his 2007 presidential bid, he and Baldetti created a network of front companies to launder illicit campaign payments, the investigation alleges. The businesses and individuals who provided the illegal campaign funds were rewarded after Pérez Molina won the 2011 election: the investigation linked at least 450 state contracts to the crime ring, involving at least 500 million quetzals, or $65.5 million, in taxpayer money. Among the personal benefits pocketed by Baldetti and Pérez Molina: vacation homes, vehicles, yachts, helicopters, designer clothing, etc.
Plaza Pública sums it up thus: "The Partido Patriota wasn't a political party. In reality it was a criminal band whose objective was to seize power in order to assault the State in every possible way."
Authorities arrested 23 people on Thursday and sent seven international orders for capture, including for Alba Lorenzana, the wife and business partner of Mexican media magnate Angel González. Others accused in the case are already in jail for corruption-related crimes, including Pérez Molina and Baldetti, who are accused of orchestrating a network of bribes and tax avoidance. President Jimmy Morales attended the press conference, Plaza Pública reports.
Several banks and media conglomerates accused of being part of the crime ring denied wrongdoing on Friday, Soy502 reports. G&T Continental and Banrural, Guatemala's second and third-largest banks, released statements saying they'd acted in accordance with national financial regulations. Banrural president Fernando Peña told Nómada in a text message that he was abroad but would return to face justice. A statement from television channels 3 and 7 -- accused of secretly financing Molina's campaign in exchange for millions of dollars in state TV contracts after Molina became president -- said the programming was obtained legally, in compliance with the State Purchases and Contracts law. The statement did not mention payments received by the media conglomerate from fake cardboard companies run by Baldetti and Pérez Molina.
On social media and in comments sections, Guatemalans have expressed disgust at the former ruling party and support for CICIG and the Public Ministry. An El Periódico editorial warns that explosive judicial cases like this one won't spark long-lasting change without accompanying legislative and constitutional reform. CICIG commissioner Iván Velásquez suggested that proposed constitutional changes be put to a citizens' referendum, El Periódico reports. The National Assembly will discuss possible reforms later this month; it will ultimately need approval from 2/3 of members. If this majority is achieved -- which will be tough in a fractious Congress -- then the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the President, or Congress itself could convoke a national referendum to seek public approval of the new laws.
- In other news in Guatemala, an appeals court suspended the genocide trial against former head of state General José Efraín Ríos Montt and his former chief of intelligence General Mauricio Rodriguez Sánchez, reports the International Justice Monitor. The civil parties to the case, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action and the Justice and Reconciliation Association, had argued that prosecuting the two cases together was illegal and would've resulted in a mistrial or suspension of the proceedings. Friday's decision means two new tribunals must be formed to hear the two separate genocide cases, and 30 victims must testify a third and fourth time, Plaza Pública reports.
- Today's presidential elections in Peru are expected to be close, though Pedro Pablo Kuczynski held a slight lead (50.4 percent) over Keiko Fujimori (49.6), in a poll yesterday by Ipsos The poll, however, had a 1.8 percentage point margin of error, so the two remain statistically tied. The Guardian published a piece on how Fujimori's father's dictatorial legacy worries many Peruvians, while The Economist analyzed how a Fujimori presidency could change the balance of power in Peru. The Washington Post has a helpful explainer about where the two candidates have found support, and how this might affect election results.
- The New York Times has a colorful feature on dirty politics leading up to today's gubernatorial elections in Mexico. Stay tuned for results.
- Haiti's electoral officials will accept the recommendations of an international verification commission and hold new presidential elections in October, according to the Miami Herald. The vote will be limited to the 54 candidates who participated in the first round of last year's elections -- later concluded to be fraudulent -- and if no candidate secures a majority, a run-off will be held in January 2017. The fate of parliamentary elections called into question has not yet been determined.
- A Boston Consulting Group study found low brand awareness among Cubans, the Miami Herald reports. The exception? Adidas, which 55 percent of Cubans polled recognized, "thanks largely to Fidel Castro's preference for the company's tracksuits," according to BCG. Meanwhile, a Miami judge decided he needed more time to decide whether the wet-foot/dry-foot policy applies to 24 Cubans captured by the Coast Guard from a light-house 7 miles offshore, the Miami Herald reports. The migrants apparently scrambled from their raft to the lighthouse when they saw a Coast Guard cutter approaching two weeks ago, and have been in custody aboard the Coast Guard boat ever since. "It comes down to whether this was a reasonable interpretation of an unclear policy," the judge said.
- Tens of thousands of people marched in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires on Friday, in parallel (though coincidental) protests against the region's culture of sexual violence, The Guardian reports. Página 12 has a narrative account of Friday's march in Buenos Aires, which attracted up to 150,000 demonstrators.
- A short post by Jon Lee Anderson on NewYorker.com sums up Brazilians' worries about their new interim president, Michael Temer, after his series of "appalling choices" for government ministers: an all-white, all-male Cabinet; a Minister of Justice accused of taking part in death squads; and several officials implicated in corruption scandals. "For Brazilians to restore their democracy to full health, elected public office must no longer be allowed to be a sanctuary for scoundrels," Anderson writes.
- The Wall Street Journal profiles Venezuela's largest food conglomerate, Empresas Polar, which has been vilified by Nicolas Maduro's government and threatened with expropriation, despite wide public's support for its efforts to provide in the face of scarcity. "To Venezuelans, Polar is Nestlé, General Mills, and Anheuser-Busch InBev wrapped in one: It brews 80% of Venezuela's beers, produces 18% of the government-set nutritional basics and up to 14% of processed foods," the article explains.
- Colombian police and heavily-armed military raided the notorious "Bronx" slum in Bogotá last weekend, removing more than 2,000 people and shuttering brothels, crack-houses, weapons stashes, and "casas de pique," chop houses where people may have been tortured and dismembered. Mayor Enrique Peñalosa applauded the crackdown and said the city had provided aid to 2,500 Bronx dwellers; however, some have resisted leaving their homes, and their longterm fate is now up in the air, reports the Miami Herald. Many critics saw the raid as counterproductive: iron-fist tactics intended to grab headlines, but with no long-term plan to solve the structural problems creating such slums.