Friday, August 25, 2017

Guatemalans protest in defense of CICIG (Aug. 25, 2017)

Protesters gathered outside the Guatemalan Casa Presidencial last night, in rejection of President Jimmy Morales' plan to oust the head of the U.N. International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Iván Velásquez, reports El Periódico. (See yesterday's post.) 

"Though only about 300 strong, the protests are reminiscent of the demonstrations that accompanied legal proceedings against former President Otto Pérez Molina in 2015, leading to his eventual ouster on charges of corruption. Social organizations called for further protests today. It could "could be the start of yet another political crisis in Guatemala's leadership only two years after criminal allegations toppled the previous presidency," notes InSight Crime.

Since reports that Morales would seek Velásquez's ouster in a meeting with the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Gutéres  today, there has been a chorus of rejection of the move. These include: Aldana's promise to resign, a U.S. State Department call to Morales urging him to desist, a statement from Gutéres' spokesperson that he backs Velásquez, threats from U.S. lawmakers to cut funding to Guatemala, a social media campaign in favor of Velásquez, and rejection from the business community -- reports Nómada.

The National Alliance for Transparency, which includes the MP, the Attorney General's office, Acción Ciudadana and the Human Rights Prosecutors' office committed to work on eradicating government corruption, and also backed Velásquez, reports El Periódico separately.

Morales' dissatisfaction with the CICIG began in January when the organism, together with the Public Ministry (MP), requested the arrest of Morales' brother and son in a 2013 corruption case, reports Nómada. But his current quest to oust CICIG head Iván Velásquez stems from the CICIG-MP investigation into the financing for the second round of his 2015 presidential campaign. Attorney General Thelma Aldana confirmed to Nómada that the investigation into several parties' financing includes Morales' FCN party. Morales himself was party secretary general and head of finances that year.

The specific allegations seem to involve a $500,000 contribution that may have been made to the FCN by alleged drug trafficker Marlon Francesco Monroy Meoño, alias "El Fantasma," reports InSight Crime.

Yesterday the CICIG and MP announced an investigation into all the country's political parties during the 2015 campaign, reports Reuters. Aldana and Velásquez revealed irregularities in the financing of several parties and requested the stripping of immunity from two lawmakers, reports Aristegui Noticias.

Ultimately, Morales can force Velásquez out of his post, but such a move would impact Guatemala's international standing, aid funding from the U.S. and investment potential, notes El Periódico in another piece.

News Briefs
  • Transitional justice human rights cases in Guatemala -- for crimes committed during the country's civil war -- have been hindered over the course of the year by "an erratic and deficient administration of justice for all the parts involved in the trials," reports Plaza Pública. The piece examines the case against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, accused of genocide; the Creompaz massacres of hundreds of victims in the Military Zone 21; and the case of the forced disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen and the detention, rape and torture of his sister, Emma Guadalupe. In a visit earlier this month, the  Inter-American Commission on Human Rights criticized the excessive use of precautionary measures, requests for amnesty and prescription as methods for delaying the trials. (See the International Justice Monitor's ongoing coverage of the trials.)
  • InSight Crime and Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ) have a new report on the illegal arms market in Honduras, where about 75 percent of homicides are carried out with guns. "...The illegal arms trade in Honduras does seem to follow some fairly clear and consistent patterns," they note. "It features both small, individual players and large, sometimes institutional actors. It benefits from a poorly regulated market and a contradictory legal framework. In the end, there are so many gaps in the system that those participating in the trade demonstrate the old adage: opportunity makes the thief." Major findings include that half of the country's unregistered weapons come from the U.S., and neighboring countries are also a significant source of trafficked weapons -- often Cold War-era relics. Additionally there is evidence "that weapons seem to be leaking from Honduran military and police stockpiles, and that some current and former military and police officials appear to be active in the firearms and ammunition black market." Problems with gun registration push Hondurans into the black market, and there seems to be insufficient real deterrents to trafficking.
  • A U.S. federal judge threw out the last remaining class-action lawsuit against the United Nations over the cholera epidemic in Haiti, upholding the organization’s assertion of diplomatic immunity, reports the New York Times.
  • Canadian officials are seeking to dissuade Haitians from illegally crossing their border with the U.S. in hopes of obtaining asylum, reports the Miami Herald. (See Aug. 14's post.)
  • Former Venezuelan attorney general Luisa Ortega has become a leading voice internationally and nationally against President Nicolás Maduro. But some in the opposition remain wary of working with an official who for years pressed charges against them, writes José González Vargas in Americas Quarterly. "But Ortega is now a valuable asset for the Democratic Unity Table, Venezuela’s main opposition coalition. Dissidence within chavismo isn’t new, but it has never really been a threat to the stability of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). What makes Ortega’s break from the government different is the power she wielded when she decided to defect."
  • Colombian TV network Caracol has been taken off the air in Venezuela, part of a growing list of blocked media, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Peruvian indigenous leaders are threatening to block access to the country's largest oil field unless an indigenous rights law is applied within 20 days, reports the Guardian. The leaders accuse the government of refusing to carry out a consultation process regarding development plans that might affect them.
  • U.S. authorities arrested the brother of former Sinaloa Cartel leader Dámaso López Núñez, alias "Licenciado," himself in jail. The detention raises questions about the future of the criminal group, reports InSight Crime, which says López Nuñez may be trading in top lieutenants in exchange for leniency. 
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer disolved a 46,000 km Amazon reserve, a move designed to to attract foreign investment and improve exports according to the government. The administration says mining will only be allowed outside protected areas and will be bound to environmental regulations. But conservationists it will open the door for mining companies to enter the area, and the decision will damage the forest and local indigenous communities, reports the Guardian. Opposition senator Randolfe Rodrigues of the Sustainability Network party, as the "biggest attack on the Amazon of the last 50 years." It's all part of an ambitious privatization plan aimed at reviving the country's economy, reports the Wall Street Journal. Also this week, the administration announced plans to grant licenses for the development of oil and gas fields, and sell airports in Brazil’s agricultural hinterlands, the busy and outdated Congonhas airport in São Paulo, the National Lottery, seaports, highways, power plants and the national mint.
  • Temer's tenure in office has been marked by the country's withdrawal from the world stage. The shift is particularly notable after the years of Workers' Party governments, particularly the prominent role of "independent foreign policy" under former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, writes Folha de S. Paulo politics editor Fábio Zanini in Americas Quarterly. "If he survives in office to the end of his term, which is by no means certain, Temer will be replaced in just under 18 months by an elected successor. He or she then will have to decide, as has happened in Brazil for decades, to which diplomatic role Brazil will aspire: a junior seat at the rich man’s club, or a front row spot at the poor man’s hall."

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