Thursday, December 21, 2017

Ortega denounces massacres by Venezuelan security forces (Dec. 21, 2017)

A former Venezuelan attorney general is denouncing thousands of killings by security forces in recent years. Luisa Ortega, who was ousted by the government earlier this year, said her office recorded the slayings of 8,292 people by the police, the National Guard, the army and Venezuela’s internal intelligence agency, from 2015 through the first six months of this year. Prosecutors and human rights groups are pointing to "recurring and escalating lethal attacks carried out by police or soldiers," often targeting poor neighborhoods, reports the Wall Street Journal. Ortega and human rights groups criticize the attacks as a poorly executed security policy in traditionally chavista neighborhoods. 

The result is "a systematic policy against a social sector," Ortega told the WSJ. An independent Caracas human-rights group, Families of Victims Committee, or Cofavic, tallied 6,385 extrajudicial executions from 2012 through the first three months of this year. The group is calling them social cleansing operations by state forces. Ortega recently filed a 495-page report on rights abuses at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands, asserting that "the civilian population is victim of these criminal attacks."

Ortega is working from Colombia, with a half dozen exiled prosecutors and former aides, working with international authorities to build cases against senior Venezuelan government officials, reports the Associated Press. But others question the scope of the evidence Ortega claims to have. The AP reports that U.S. officials privately "question Ortega's willingness to cooperate, saying she may be more motivated by ambitions of becoming Venezuela's first female president than revealing details of the corruption they believe she surely was aware of as the nation's top law enforcement official for a decade, while pressing what many see as trumped-up charges against prominent government opponents."

News Briefs
  • Flows of migrants from Venezuela have increased more than seven-fold over the past three years. A new report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found there were more than 629,000 Venezuelans living in nine major South American countries in 2017 — up from just 85,000 in 2015. The trend is notable in a region where migrants tend to head to the U.S. or Europe, notes the Miami Herald. In Colombia the increase has been most notable: from 44,615 in 2015 to an estimated 470,000 in 2017. Those numbers do not include Venezuelans seeking asylum: According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, from 2014 to 2017 more than 100,000 Venezuelans sought asylum protection in foreign countries — half those applications were filed this year.
  • Venezuela's Constituent Assembly (ANC) approved a measure yesterday aimed at blocking major opposition political parties from participating in next year's presidential elections, reports the New York Times. The decree requires political parties to have been active in recent elections in order to participate in the presidential race, retaliating against parties that called for a boycott of this month's municipal elections. (See Dec. 11's post.) The decree particularly affects Acción Democrática (AD), Voluntad Popular (VP) and Primero Justicia (PJ), notes Efecto Cocuyo. They will have to apply to the pro-government electoral commission in order to run.
  • Critics say the fast-track Peruvian lawmakers are using in impeachment proceedings against President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski are an assault on democracy and have bypassed due process, reports the Washington Post. The impeachment drive, led by the opposition Popular Force party comes just as prosecutors have advanced corruption investigations against the party's leadership. 
  • PPK spoke in Congress this morning, to defend himself from accusations of Odebrecht related corruption. (La República has live updates on the session, which could oust him later today.) 
  • PPK said the ouster attempt is a coup, and that his two vice presidents would quit if he is impeached, reportsReuters. Should that occur, new presidential and legislative elections would have to be called.
  • The country's political crisis raises the question of why the country's presidents are prone to unstable mandates, writes Bret Rosen in Americas Quarterly. "The answer lies in a democracy that has yet to fully mature. Whether or not Kuczynski is impeached on Thursday, Peru’s parties and political institutions are in desperate need of reform," he argues.
  • Brazilian construction magnate, Marcelo Odebrecht, was released to house arrest earlier this week. The Odebrecht SA executive served two and a half years of an almost-twenty year sentence, but negotiated a lighter sentence in exchange for testifying in the massive corruption scandal centered around his company. His release to his São Paulo mansion sparked public outrage, reports the Wall Street Journal. His arrest two years ago had raised hopes that corruption investigations were making an inroad into a culture of impunity, and some question whether the leniency shown in this case is a throwback. But others defend the deal, saying it was integral to pursuing further corruption cases.
  • Brazilian federal prosecutors on charged a Spanish-Swiss banker with laundering $21.7 million in graft money for Brazilian clients involved in the country’s Lava Jato corruption scandal, including jailed former lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha, reports Reuters.
  • At least 6 Mexican journalists were killed this year in retaliation for their work, making the country the deadliest for journalists outside of a war zone, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The advocacy group is investigating whether three other assassinations were in relation to the victims' work, which would bring the total up to nine, reports the New York Times. A possible tenth death was reported this week. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • A former deputy in Mexico's ruling PRI party was arrested yesterday, as part of an investigation into illicit funding for in campaigns in Chihuahua state last year. The case has already implicated more than a dozen former state officials, some of whom are now cooperating with the authorities. But it could reach the highest ranks of government according to the New York Times.
  • A teachers union leader recently released from jail has become an unlikely ally for the PRI in upcoming presidential elections, reports the Guardian.
  • A ProPublica investigation by Ginger Thompson sheds light on how a secret DEA operation played a role in the disappearance of five innocent Mexicans in 2010. For years relatives of the victims wondered why they were kidnapped from a Holiday Inn in Monterrey by Zeta Cartel operatives -- they were never seen again. But the investigation found that the cartel was reacting to information about a DEA surveillance operation run out of the hotel, working undercover to track a Zetas leader. "The DEA didn’t hang around to figure out how the tables had been so violently turned. It evacuated the SIU officers from Monterrey, and never looked back at the innocent people who weren’t so lucky. The agency never revealed its role in what had happened to either local or federal authorities. It didn’t offer to help investigate the incident, or to use its surveillance capabilities to track the kidnappers. Nor did it turn its scrutiny inward to figure out whether the intelligence leak that had drawn the Zetas to the Holiday Inn had come from within the SIU." ProPublica notes that the incident is hardly isolated, a previous investigation linked a DEA information leak to a Zetas massacre in the town of Allende -- leading to at least 60 deaths, perhaps as many as 300. (See June 13's post.)
  • Mexican officials suggest that corruption isn't actually worst, it's just easier to detect thanks to social media and such. "An extensive review of publicly available data suggests that corruption in Mexico has indeed become more widespread in recent years. What's more, evidence suggests that social media and an open press actually decrease public perceptions of corruption, contrary to what Peña Nieto and others claim," writes Viridiana Rios in Americas Quarterly.
  • At least 105 social activists have been killed in Colombia this year, according to the United Nations, which called on the government to improve protections, reports Reuters. More than half of the assassinated activists and community leaders killed this year were gunned down by hit men, the UN said. "The Office notes with deep concern the persistence of cases of killings of human rights defenders in the country," the UN human rights office said. "Cases of killings of male and female leaders and [rights] defenders have occurred in areas from which the Farc has left, and which has created a vacuum of power by the state."
  • Chile's Supreme Court defended the right to information over the right to be forgotten, in what the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas calls an unprecedented decision. "The court decided in favor of the Center for Investigative Reporting, CIPER, against a doctor's request to remove a report about medical malpractice from CIPER's site."
  • New York Times Español has the Spanish language version of an op-ed by Héctor Timerman, denouncing his detention in a treason case as politically motivated.

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