Wednesday, January 31, 2018

MACCIH monitor reports on new cases (Jan. 31, 2018)

The OAS Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) has been in headlines recently, accusing lawmakers of hobbling efforts to investigate a significant network of corruption operating within Congress. The American University Center for Latin American & Latino Studies just published a new issue of the MACCIH Monitor, giving context of how the commission is working in Honduras and perceptions of the mission on the ground. 

MACCIH has presented two of its highest profile cases up till now in the wake of the electoral scandal questioning results that gave President Juan Orlando Hernández a second term. These are the Network of Legislators (Red de Diputados) case, and  charges of misappropriation of funds against the former First Lady, Rosa Elena de Lobo. 

Nonetheless, "despite progress in key cases, MACCIH continues to face a public impression that it has not had sufficient impact. During the electoral period, it kept its distance from the OAS Electoral Observer Mission, which may have enhanced the perception of independence of MACCIH from the vicissitudes of the controversial election, especially once the Secretary General called for a second round but was undercut by Member States that recognized the decision of the TSE in favor of Juan Orlando Hernández’s reelection." 

Though there is an element of public disappointment in the mission's advances, the report emphasizes important efforts, particularly with the newly created Special Fiscal Unit Against Impunity and Corruption (UFECIC, its acronym in Spanish) in the Public Ministry, working alongside MACCIH.

News Briefs
  • The Lima Group, an informal diplomatic alliance of 12 Latin American countries aimed at defending democracy in Venezuela, has shown inconsistent standards when it comes to the rest of the region, argues Nicolás Comini at the AULA blog. In the case of Honduras, several governments from the coalition, including Argentina's, Brazil's, and Mexico's, quickly recognized President Juan Orlando Hernández's victory, despite reports of significant irregularities. Though the crises in each country are vastly different, "the high-sounding values at stake – democracy, institutionality, and rule of law – are the same," writes Comini. "The failure to support the OAS’ call for new elections was not just a stab in the back of Secretary General Almagro; it revealed that their rhetoric about the OAS Democracy Charter – embodiment of democratic values they demand be respected in Venezuela – are not as universal as they say. When the Lima Group last Tuesday (with considerable justification) rejected the Venezuelan National Assembly’s call for an early presidential election, the Hernández government’s signature was there alongside the others.  If universal democratic values and principles are not for universal application – if even an informal grouping will not criticize a small actor with whom they do not have major equities at stake – their value is much diminished."
  • Shifting factors in Colombia and Venezuela have made the border between the two countries "one of the most important organized crime hubs in Latin America," reports Insight Crime. In Colombia the relevant change is the FARC demobilization, while Venezuela is affected by its ongoing economic, political and social crisis. The piece breaks down the most relevant players in Colombia's criminal system, using Venezuela as a transport hub for drugs. Another important factor is the rise in Venezuelan refugees in Colombia, opening opportunities for criminal groups to extort the vulnerable population. "The border region is not a main priority for either government, which is likely to exacerbate criminality.
  • El Salvador's bipartisan system, between the FLMN and the Arena parties, no longer represents citizens, argues Roberto Valencia in a New York Times Español op-ed. A decade after the FLMN won El Salvador's presidency, the former guerrilla party has failed to follow through on its promise of change in the country. In the upcoming legislative elections, voters will still be forced to choose between the FMLN and the right-wing Arena, which have governed the country for decades. Valencia points to the potential impact of new parties in next year's presidential elections. In this year's March elections, San Salvador Mayor Nayib Bukele has called for citizens to cast null votes or just stay home. The call reflects a general disgust with the country's mainstream parties, for Valencia.
  • Though business sectors impact in the formulation of public policies throughout the region, elites are particularly entrenched in Guatemala, where business representatives sit on at least 58 public boards, commissions and committees, allowing them to impact on government decision making and access privileged information, reports Plaza Pública. Former officials in the piece point to positive impact in some cases, regarding energy policy or roads, for example. But more problematic influence in other cases such as land distribution or indigenous peoples participation. "The Ministry of Economy, regardless of the ideological bent of the current government, has been largely run by technocrats coming from business groups. Having control over this ministry is strategic for business leaders, as it is in charge of defining the rules of import and export, as well as regulating regional commerce, or defining the products that will have better import and export quotas in free trade agreements ..."
  • The Guatemalan government is proposing a change to the country's penal code that would characterize street gangs as terrorist organizations, reports Prensa Libre. The change would also impact U.S. Treasury designations, which can levy sanctions.
  • Mexico's electoral campaigns are awash in illicit funding, despite a generous public financing scheme for politicians and parties. "... Academic and journalistic analyses suggest that for every peso that legally enters a race for public office, another six to 10 come in under the table," writes María Amparo Casar, CEO of Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad, in Americas Quarterly. "Given the amount of illegal money used in campaigns, elected officials frequently begin their terms in debt to their political contributors. Public servants break the law in order to get to their position and do so again after taking office because of commitments they made during the campaign. Voters, and their interests, are sidelined."
  • Independents can run in Mexico's presidential election for the first time, but the clunky smartphone app required for gathering signatures to back candidates, is hindering many, writes Ana C. de Alba in the Conversation. Critics say the system particularly discriminates against rural and poorer voters, which requires a Facebook or Gmail account. 
  • Family remittances to 17 Latin American and the Caribbean countries grew over 8% from 2016 to 2017, reaching over US$75 billion, according to a new report by The Dialogue. "In terms of scale, remittance growth has been nearly as large as export growth (9%) in 2017. Growth in remittances is being driven predominantly by migration patterns in countries such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Colombia, which represent 45% of flows in remittances and experienced growth of over 10% last year. In fact, for Central America and the Caribbean, the projected 3.5% economic growth for these countries is due largely to the combined 15% increase in remittances."
  • In the wake of a sex-scandal controversy that accompanied the Pope's trip to Chile, the Vatican will send a sex crimes expert to listen to victims who accuse a bishop of involvement in shielding a pedophile priest, reports the Associated Press.
  • Argentine authorities say drug traffickers are increasingly using mules in the national territory in response to counter-narcotics policies employed by the Macri administration. However, use of the more rudimentary smuggling tactic could also respond to other factors, including fragmentation of criminal groups in the region, increased drug production in general, and a potential "uptick in criminal organizations specializing in the types of drugs for which mules are most useful," according to InSight Crime.
  • Villa 31, an emblematic informal neighborhood in Buenos Aires, demonstrates a paradox in urban planning, according to Gehl urban designers Jeff Risom and Mayra Madriz, writing in Next City. "Planners and urban designers often face an uncomfortable paradox: People tend to prefer neighborhoods that developed organically with the contributions of many over those that were master-planned by a small group of experts. City makers love to use terms like organic, spontaneous and authentic, but tend to plan and design areas that limit these very qualities." They caution against romanticizing the characteristics of the neighborhood that stem from need, but also emphasize beneficial elements of urban design, such as dense, human-scale construction, and flexible architecture that provides economic opportunity.

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