Thursday, March 1, 2018

Former Honduran first lady arrested for corruption (March 1, 2018)

Former Honduran first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla was arrested yesterday as part of a corruption investigation led by the OAS backed Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), reports the Associated Press. Police also arrested her brother-in-law and seized documents pertaining to graft accusations, reports Reuters

She allegedly deposited $600,000 in government funds into her personal bank account five days before her husband, Porfirio Lobo ended his presidential term in 2014. MACCIH interim head Ana Maria Calderon said Bonilla is accused of "having created a money laundering network to hide money from the state that was earmarked for social works." The network, dubbed the "Lady's petty cash" by MACCIH, is accused of laundering about 4 million dollars between 2011 and 2014, reports La Prensa. Portions of the funds were used instead for her family's education fees and plastic surgeries. (More details on the nitty gritty workings of the network at La Prensa.)

The move comes after MACCIH head Juan Jiménez Mayor resigned two weeks ago, citing lack of institutional support from the OAS and failure of the Honduran government to cooperate. (See Feb. 16's post.)

News Briefs
  • The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, visited Honduras and Guatemala this week, and appeared to temper U.S. President Donald Trump's threats regarding aid cuts to Central America in retaliation for drug trafficking to the U.S., reports Reuters. "It is a conversation that needs to be taking place internationally," Haley said. "We can't just focus on the countries producing it, we do have to focus on the countries moving it and are we doing enough in the international community to stop it." Haley promised a strong U.S. focus on Latin America this year. 
  • Haley's visit to Honduras and Guatemala was apparently to express gratitude for the countries' support on a U.N. resolution condemning the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reports the Washington Post.
  • In the wake of Haley's visit about 500 protesters in Tegucigalpa threw rocks at police near the U.S. embassy, reports Reuters. They were led by the opposition presidential candidate, Salvador Nasralla, who accuses President Juan Orlando Hernández of stealing last November's election. Haley had urged Hondurans to come together after the divisive election.
  • In Guatemala, Haley told President Jimmy Morales that the U.N. supports the U.N. anti-graft commission that Morales has aimed to oust, reports Reuters.
  • The situation in Venezuela is not improving, and the opposition is perpetually divided, reports the Washington Post in the wake of former Lara state governor Henri Falcón's decision to break with the MUD coalition and run against President Nicolás Maduro in snap elections considered illegitimate by opposition leaders and many in the international community. (See yesterday's post.) "All the while, stories of degradation and deprivation come out of Venezuela at a relentless clip. There are lurid tales of prison inmates foraging for dead rats, pumas and lions wasting away in Venezuelan zoos, and mothers embarking on harrowing cross-border trips just to find medicine for their children."
  • Falcón confirmed publicly that MUD leadership met with top government officials to discuss electoral guarantees and a more protracted time table for the presidential elections, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Though most experts say the upcoming vote in Venezuela will be hopelessly skewed towards the government, Francisco Rodríguez of Torino Capital believes the opposition has a shot of winning anyway, reports Bloomberg. He argues that disgust with the government and Venezuela's crisis will be enough for voters to overcome the obstacles of electoral irregularities.
  • Of course, Rodríguez is an informal advisor to Falcón and could be named to lead his economic team should he win in said election, reports Reuters.
  • The New York Times Magazine has a long feature on Leopoldo López, the prominent Venezuelan opposition leader who spent four years in jail before being released to house arrest last year. "Ever since, to the great bewilderment of his supporters, he has vanished from public view. While the country descends into an unprecedented crisis — with the world’s highest rate of inflation, extreme shortages of food and medicine, constant electrical blackouts, thousands of children dying of malnutrition, rampant crime in every province, looting and rioting in the streets — López has said nothing." Yet though he has remained publicly silent -- a condition of his release from jail, and violation of which will likely implicate a return to detention -- López has served as a backchannel for dialogue among various opposition leaders and even government officials. "In 1958, there was a military coup that began the transition to democracy,"López told journalist Wil S. Hylton. "And in other Latin American countries, there have been coups that called elections. So I don’t want to rule anything out, because the electoral window has been closed. We need to go forward on many different levels. One is street demonstrations; a second is coordination with the international community. But this is how I’m thinking now: We need to increase all forms of pressure. Anything, anything that needs to happen to produce a free and fair election."
  • Top Venezuelan government official Diosdado Cabello said this week that the government hasn't requested international humanitarian aid, because what it seeks is to be rid of foreign intervention, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Maduro asked the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht for a $50 million bribe in exchange for Venezuelan public contracts in 2013, while running for president, claims Venezuela's ousted attorney general, Luisa Ortega. She has asked the country's Supreme Court, operating in exile, to issue an international arrest warrant for Maduro, reports the Miami Herald. Should they do so, Ortega said Interpol would be asked to emit a Red Alert for Maduro, which would request third countries to detain him, for example if he travels to Peru next month for the Summit of the Americas, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • A former Odebrecht executive told Peruvian prosecutors that that he gave money to President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s 2011 election campaign, according to an opposition party lawyer. The same exec said he donated to opposition leader Keiko Fujimori's campaign, reports Reuters.
  • Former FARC leader, now presidential candidate, Rodrigo Londoño said the guerrilla group's peace accord with the government is in danger. He denounced the government for failing to adequately provide for his security during the campaign, and of breaking other peace deal related promises, reports AFP.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he is torn about continuing peace negotiations with the ELN after the group carried out attacks over the past two months, reports Reuters. The latest on Tuesday killed five soldiers and wounded 10 in a bomb attack near the Venezuelan border.
  • The newly sworn in Minister of Public Security in Brazil fired the questioned director general of Brazil’s federal police. Earlier this week Attorney General Raquel Dodge sought Supreme Court intervention to prevent Fernando Segovia from interfering in a corruption investigation that could implicate President Michel Temer, reports Reuters. (See Tuesday's post and briefs.)
  • Former Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom defended himself yesterday in a case of suspected corruption in a bus concession, saying his order for a $35 million upgrade to the public transit system was needed to protect drivers and passengers from street gang extortions, reports the Associated Press. (See Feb. 14's post.)
  • Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced she will send a bill on a new constitution to the country's congress before her mandate ends on March 11, reports EFE.
  • Haiti's government continued to show displeasure with the U.N. -- yesterday it cancelled its participation in a high-level U.N. retreat on cholera, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The problem of sexual abuse by U.N. and aid organization employees in Haiti is real -- but inflated estimates hurt the cause of battling the systemic problem, argues Amanda Taub in the New York Times' Interpreter column.
  • The Dominican Republic will deploy 900 soldiers to secure the country's borders, namely the boundary with Haiti, announced President Danilo Medina this week. The move comes as sectors of the DR are complaining about a silent invasion of undocumented Haitian migrants, reports EFE.
  • Mexico would retaliate against potential U.S. steel tariffs, reports Bloomberg.
  • The Mexican government has been accused of deploying malicious spyware against journalists and critics. But New York Times Mexico correspondent Azam Ahmed questions whether the material gathered is providing officials with any real edge. "I often wonder if it even has the manpower and resources to review all the material it gathers from surveillance operations. It has this incredibly sophisticated spyware, and yet most signs indicate reckless use without real material gain. Sometimes it can feel as if the government bought a Lamborghini to race around a go-kart track."

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