Friday, February 23, 2018

Honduras court dismisses cases against "impunity pact" (Feb. 23, 2018)

News Briefs
  • Honduras' top court dismissed two cases against a reform limiting anti-corruption investigations, leaving only the Public Ministry's challenge to be addressed, reports La Prensa. The cases aim to rollback a budget law limiting corruption investigations against lawmakers, dubbed the "impunity pact" by critics. (See last Friday's post.)
  • The Honduran National Anticorruption Council (CNA) presented a summary of 12 investigations into public contracts presented over the past three years, reports La Prensa. In 2017 alone eight lines of investigation involving 548 government officials and 16 private citizens were presented to the Public Ministry. Key figures mentioned include lawmaker David Chávez, judge Silvio Rodríguez, and former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo.
  • The Associated Press filed legal papers in Honduras objecting to an attempt by Honduran police officials to obtain phone records that would reveal the news agency's sources for a story on alleged police corruption. (See Jan. 26's briefs.)
  • Immigration activists in the U.S. are warning against terminating Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Honduran nationals, given the instability in their home country, reports NBC.
  • Eight Haitian and Salvadoran immigrants living in the United States with temporary protection from deportation have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, arguing that its decision to end their Temporary Protected Status was based on racism and discrimination that violates their constitutional rights, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Journalistic coverage of Venezuela's crisis has hardly been impartial. But in the case of the Simón Bolivar bridge crossing between Venezuela and Colombia, the situation is just as bad as the pictures being published, said WOLA Director for Defense Oversight Adam Isaacson in a blog post. "... It’s a chaotic scene with thousands of people either crossing, milling around, waiting in long immigration lines, or trying to sell food or other services, like hauling suitcases on carts. Colombian authorities appear to be trying at least to channel the crowd and order the migration process. But they’re undermanned and overwhelmed."
  • El Salvador's lame-duck congress is littered with millionaire lawmakers -- 13 to be exact. "All are from right-wing parties. All lied or omitted information in their declarations. All have been investigated or have pending investigations, for possible illicit enrichment. Eleven of them are candidates in the upcoming March 4 elections," reports El Faro
  • Ahead of those elections, InSight Crime Senior Investigator Héctor Silva Ávalos and Senior Editor Mike LaSusa discuss "how gangs and other types of criminal groups have managed to infiltrate El Salvador’s political system, and how they negotiate with candidates by trading electoral support for various types of benefits."
  • Homicides in Colombian municipalities participating in crop-substitution programs increased by 33 percent between 2016 and 2017, reports InSight Crime based on a new report by Fundación Ideas para la Paz. The full report notes the high cost of failure for the crop substitution program, "not only because of the resources invested, but because of the loss of trust in the communities and the risk of replanting. In political terms, the interruption and failure of the program could result in multiple social protests, capitalized on by organizations that seek to speak for the cocaleros (including the FARC). In addition, the militarization of the areas and a primordially repressive strategy could be counterproductive, strengthening the link between communities that depend on this illegal market and criminal groups that participate in the drug smuggling chain. What is in play is the development of these communities and territories."
  • Two eradication strategies -- crop substitution and forced eradication -- are at war with each other and have become proxies in the peace deal debate in Colombia, according to the Economist. "It will be up to the next president and congress to determine the balance between helping coca-growers and uprooting crops. Candidates on the left, such as Gustavo Petro, a former mayor of Bogotá, favour the voluntary approach. Conservatives such as Germán Vargas Lleras, a former vice-president, would resume aerial spraying."
  • Oil and mining are key industries in Colombia, and peace in former conflict zones could encourage expansion of extraction activities in those areas. But production has been hindered by "inconsistent policies and inefficient regulation," and "many communities are strongly opposed to extractive industries on environmental grounds ... In this context, the next president will be tasked with outlining a fresh approach to environmental regulation of extractive industries in the post-conflict period." A new Inter-American Dialogue report advocates a clearly defined mining policy for the next government, and national review of " local governance structures to determine whether local authorities are equipped to handle environmental management and disseminate accurate information to local communities about the environmental impacts of extractive industries."
  • Military intervention barely scratches at the surface of the public safety problem in Rio de Janeiro, argues Antônio Sampaio in Americas Quarterly. "Authorities in Rio and Brasília have not shown they understand the complexity and magnitude of the challenge. Otherwise, instead of military intervention we would have seen a profound and well-resourced reform of its troubled police, an ambitious and transparent plan for urban infrastructure investment in marginalized areas and a clear program (with the federal government and international partners) of socio-economic development. As it is, organized crime and corruption were left to expand, control favela territories and undermine hope to such an extent that many (though not all) cariocas have welcomed the announcement of military intervention." (See Tuesday's post.)
  • Speaking of militarized security: In Mexico the eleven-year "war on drugs" has resulted in more than 125,000 deaths, 30,000 disappearances, and the internal displacement of 250,000 people. The upcoming presidential election is an opportunity to question whether the military should continue to be involved in battling violence or whether its time to look at alternatives, writes Froylán Enciso in a New York Times Español op-ed. Front-runner Andrés Manuel López Obrador has voiced exploring alternatives to the questioned Law of Interior Security that formalizes the army's role in combating violence. He has proposed, for example, amnesty for the lowest rung of drug producers, the farmers of poppy and marijuana, "the historic victim's of Mexico's criminal system," writes Enciso. "Amnesty might be or not a solution to the security problem in Mexico, but it would be an advance to admit the mistake we have been in for the past eleven years."
  • In Mexico, a sweeping corruption case involving the alleged siphoning of millions of dollars in public money to fund the ruling PRI party's 2016 political campaigns is threatening a political operator traditionally considered untouchable, reports the New York Times. Last month, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, former PRI president, filed an injunction in Mexican federal court, hoping to temporarily suspend any possible arrest warrants against him. The case shows how the country is changing, according to the piece.
  • The Haitian government suspended British charity Oxfam for two months, while it investigates allegations of sexual misconduct by employees in the wake of a 2010 earthquake, reports the New York Times. The government raised the possibility that Oxfam will not be permitted to work in Haiti again. The decision only affects Oxfam Great Britain -- groups from from Italy, Spain and Quebec remain in the country. Oxfam spends $3.9 million annually in Haiti.
  • Cuba might jump to a single currency, after decades of using a dual currency, officials told visiting U.S. lawmakers, according to the Miami Herald.
  • Nascent student activism against guns in the U.S. is reminiscent of 2006 protests in Chile, where students staged a national strike against a dictatorship-era educational system, argues Brendan O'Boyle in Americas Quarterly. Their efforts led to reforms, and pushed the issue of education onto the national platform, where they helped elect Michelle Bachelet in 2013. "But perhaps the most enduring legacy of the student movement in Chile was a shift in the understanding of young people’s clout in a political system otherwise dominated by aging established politicians. This change was made clear in 2013, when four leaders of the youth movement, Camila Vallejo, Gabriel Boric, Giorgio Jackson, and Karol Cariola, were elected to Congress. The four have kept education on the legislative agenda. Boric and Jackson have also started a political coalition, the Frente Amplio, which has become an influential third forcein national politics."
  • The Macri administration announced indicated its lawmakers will have freedom of conscience to vote on an abortion bill in Argentina's congress, reports La Nación. The announcement comes amid growing pressure from activists on the issue. A bill which has been presented in congress for years but has never been voted on will be re-submitted in March. Though support from legislators from several different parties is growing in the Chamber of Deputies -- due to generational turnover, according to La Nación -- a majority of senators remain opposed to the the bill, which would legalize abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • An Argentine judge sentenced a woman to 150 hours of community service for Twitter defamation of a business leader. The case is emblematic of the issues of freedom of expression in the age of social media, writes Hugo Alconada Mon in a New York Times Español op-ed. "Twitter is the public bathroom stall door of the 21st century. You can run into pearls: reflexions, ideas, humor, poetry, and social and political campaigns. But also with the worst: fake news, intolerance, racism, xenophobia, child pornography, and much more. What to do, then? Who bells the cat? Moreover: should the cat be belled?"
  • IJNetwork features a story on Chequeado, an Argentine fact-checking organization that "has become a global leader in the fight against misinformation."
  • Argentine authorities announced six arrests -- including one police officer and a former Russian diplomat -- related to an international cocaine smuggling ring operating between Argentina, Russia, and Germany. The 14 month investigation came after 389 kilograms of cocaine were found in luggage on the grounds of the Russian Embassy in Buenos Aires. The Russian ambassador himself tipped off authorities about the $60 million in drugs. Officials replaced the cocaine with bags of flour fitted with tracking devices, permitting them to follow the purported drugs as they were smuggled to Russia, reports the New York Times.

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