Friday, July 15, 2016

More on the Salvadoran Constitutional Court's overturning of the 1993 Amnesty Law (July 15, 2016)

More on the Salvadoran Constitutional Court's overturning of the 1993 Amnesty Law on Wednesday. (See yesterday's post.)

The decision "opens a new phase in the history of El Salvador. One in which the armor of the perpetrators stops being an excuse for hiding crimes and denying victims truth and justice about what happened during the civil war. One in which the spirit of the Peace Agreements, which included the explicit commitment to clarify human rights violations and not harbor impunity, recovers validity," celebrates an El Faro editorial.

"For more than two decades the right has repeated the fallacious argument that the Amnesty Law was the cornerstone of conflicting bands' reconciliation, and that without it the country risked returning to civil war. More recently, the current left-wing FMLN government has joined that lugubrious and threatening chorus. ... El Salvador can and must rethink its relationship to the past, its construction of a real reconciliation, from transparency, the truth and the recognition of responsibilities without further rear of darkness."

The New York Times notes that it's a startling policy reversal in a country where governments have "refused to confront the legacy of the crimes that characterized the civil war, from 1980 to 1992, between leftist guerrillas and a military-backed government supported by the United States."

The piece  gives good background on the cases that can now be tried, including the the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero by a right-wing death squad and the 1981 military massacre of hundreds in and around the village of El Mozote. The U.N. Truth Commission report, released just five days before the right-wing legislature passed the now overturned law, also described a guerrilla campaign to assassinate mayors.

The court suggested the prosecutors begin with the approximately 30 cases highlighted in the report, notes the Washington Post.

The overturning of the amnesty law in El Salvador follows a trend in the region of prosecuting the crimes of military dictatorships, formerly protected by amnesty legislation, reports the Washington Post piece.

News Briefs
  • Salvadoran online newspaper El Faro won this year's Premio Gabriel García Márquez de Periodismo in recognition of excellence. It's the first time the prize goes to a team and not an individual, a sign of "the quality of El Faro's journalism and also of the bravery of its journalists, who carry out their work under risks and in very adverse conditions, to investigate and divulge stories and topics that have inescapable resonance in the public debate.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's increasing reliance on the country's military in the fight against shortages of basic goods (seeWednesday's post) belies the armed forces role in creating the country's economic mess, according to the Associated Press. The move makes sense for Maduro politically, according to the piece, as he needs to guarantee the loyalty of the armed forces in a context of daily food riots and an opposition push to vote him out of office early. "But leaning on the military is unlikely to yield the economic miracle Venezuela desperately needs — at least judging by its record so far."
  • A Colombian court investigation into allegations that a national beverage giant, Postobón, collaborated with paramilitary death squads, draws attention to the issue of financing of the illegal groups. InSight Crimesays that "investigations into the "para-economy" have been few and far between despite the plethora of testimonies about ties between the AUC and the business sector, including claims businesses paid the paramilitaries to threaten and murder troublesome unionists and workers. What investigations there have been have often stumbled over the murky issue of whether payments were voluntary or obligatory and whether the companies received anything in return."
  • Mexico announced changes to a polemic teacher-evaluation measure that has been protested by dissident unions. (See June 20's post.) Government representatives reached an agreement with an umbrella teachers' union to include changes that will take into account regional socio-cultural differences, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • A new WOLA report looks at judicial reform in Mexico. Eight years after a legal reform mandated a change from a largely written and inquisitorial system to an oral adversarial system, the deadline for transitioning has passed. Nonetheless, the report finds that the new system's implementation is very delayed, and piecemeal, particularly in states with high rates of violence and organized crime. And judges and prosecutors must complete an extensive backlog of cases accumulated under the old system before they can start applying the new system -- one estimate says the full implementation of the new judicial system, and the guarantees it provides for people accused of crimes, could take eleven more years.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto seeks to convince citizens that the government's militarized crackdown on organized crime is working, but the data doesn't back up his story, according to InSight Crime. There has been a small decrease in kidnappings and extortions in the first five months of this year, but a 15 percent increase in homicides in the same period. The piece notes the weaknesses of the government's kingpin strategy of focusing on cartel leadership as way of fighting organized crime.
  • On a similar note, Honduran officials have found that recent arrests and extraditions of criminal organization leadership has led to a process of reorganization in the country's drug trafficking groups, explains InSight Crime. "The continued functioning of Latin American criminal groups increasingly depends less on powerful individual leaders directing large-scale, top-down operations, and more on horizontal networks."
  • Guatemala's police captured over 100 suspected gang members yesterday in raids on warring gangs, reports Reuters. Authorities targeted members of the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs, which have been struggling for power, and seized ammunition, firearms, bank receipts and cell phones used by gangsters.
  • Bolivia's government is proposing a drug law reform that would differentiate between coca leaves and cocaine. The proposal contemplates different sentences for different drug related crimes, a radical change from the current law that disregards the level of offense and the specific role of the offender within a criminal organization, explains InSight Crime. The law is in keeping with President Evo Morales'longstanding argument that coca production and cocaine trafficking must be treated differently. At the same time, Uruguay's government has introduced a bill that would establish a minimum prison sentence of two years for anyone caught producing or trafficking illicit substances. The focus of the new legislation is likely domestic insecurity, explain's WOLA's Geoffrey Ramsey.
  • A third of Uruguay's population joined a general strike yesterday calling for yearly wage adjustments for inflation and some government austerity measures that suspended some spending and tax measures, reports theLatin American Herald Tribune.
  • Thousands of Argentines protested utility hikes yesterday, President Mauricio Macri's first "cacerolazo." Macri's administration said reducing subsidies to utilities -- which has resulted increases of up to 1,000 percent -- are necessary part of his austerity plan. But citizens say its gone too far. Macri's cabinet capped increases at 400 percent this week, and vows to fight a court injunction that suspended the hikes, reportsReuters.
  • Argentine rights group CELS' Gastón Chillier emphasized police force torture and chronic prison overcrowding as examples of structural deficiencies in Argentina, which represent a "hard core” of human rights violations in democracy that the state has not resolved in twenty years. In an interview with La Nación about the CELS’ 20th annual report on the state of human rights in Argentina, he also spoke about rollbacks in the state’s management of social protests, a key tool for defending rights worldwide, and referred to a new protocol that seeks to limit protests. 
  • Seven former Chilean military officials were released just five days after their arrest in connection to the death of fifteen people in an operation known as Death Caravan a month after a military coup in 1973, reportsTeleSUR. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • A report by a Brazilian federal prosecutor found that the accounting maneuvers President Dilma Rousseff is accused of in an ongoing impeachment process do not constitute a crime, though they are an "abuse of power." The report forms part of a criminal investigation into her accounting practices, but has no bearing on the impeachment trial which will likely end next month, according to Bloomberg.
  • The impeachment proceedings, which won't conclude before the Olympics inauguration, have put many world leaders in a diplomatic quandary over whether to attend the ceremony and face the potentially awkward situation of greeting both suspended-president Dilma Rousseff and acting-president Michel Temer, according to the Associated Press.
  • Glen Greenwald at The Intercept has an interesting interview with Bloomberg reporter Alex Cuadros, about his new book on Brazilian billionaires. "It quickly became clear to me that billionaires really do live in a separate world. The most obvious quality of billionairedom is the insane luxury, and this is part of it: the private jets, the yachts, the penthouses in Manhattan and London and Ipanema. I saw some truly weird stuff, like a penthouse where one room’s walls had been entirely covered in exotic butterfly wings," says Cuadros. "In São Paulo, where the traffic is grueling, the very rich can essentially teleport to work via helicopter. There’s a consequence to all this, which is that they don’t rub shoulders much with ordinary people, beyond the staff who manage their households. In this way, they share much more in common with billionaires in other countries than with the average Brazilian."
  • U.S. and Cuban officials held another round of talks on migration issues this week, but announced no new agreements, reports the Associated Press.
  • U.S. banks are responding to stricter controls by cutting ties with Caribbean countries, putting the region at risk of a new financial crisis, reports the Miami Herald.
  • A piece on The Hill reports that the top U.S. military commander in Latin America and the Caribbean, said he sees the potential of an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria presence in the region. "When I talk with my counterparts in various countries throughout the region, all of them recognize that the potential for radicalization — and especially this phenomena of self-radicalization, internet-inspired, or facilitated self-radicalization — is something that they are starting to see crop up," said Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd.
  • Latin America's Zika epidemic may run its course in the next 18 months, according to U.S. and U.K. researchers, reports the Guardian.

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