Monday, March 5, 2018

Honduras detains alleged Cáceres murder mastermind (March 5, 2018)

Honduran police arrested an alleged mastermind of environmental activist Berta Cáceres' assassination, exactly two years after her death. David Castillo Mejía is the ninth person arrested in connection with the murder. He was the executive president of the company building a dam that Cáceres led protests against. He is accused of providing logistical support and other resources to one of the hitmen already charged, reports the Guardian.

Castillo Mejía was arrested on Friday at an airport in San Pedro Sula, in northern Honduras, as he was about to fly to Houston, reports the New York Times.

News of the arrest broke on Friday as members of Copinh, an activist group that co-founded by Cáceres, protested outside prosecutors' offices in Tegucigalpa to demand the arrest of executives accused of participating in her killing.

Cáceres led a campaign of peaceful resistance against the Agua Zarca dam project, along the Gualcarque River, which is sacred to the Lenca indigenous community. The project was licensed to the company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (Desa) without the legally required community consultation.

Castillo Mejía and Desa deny the allegations. The company blamed "international pressure and smear campaigns of various NGOs " for the development, reports the BBC. Four of the other eight suspects detained in the investigation also have ties to Desa, notes La Prensa.

Castillo is the second alleged mastermind captured for her murder, others detained in the case have connections to the Honduran military, reports Reuters.

Caceres' relatives said they were certain of Castillo's guilt, reports the Associated Press.

Before her death, Cáceres had said she was afraid of Castillo Mejía because of his military intelligence background. In 2016, the Guardian reported that Cáceres appeared on a hitlist distributed to US-trained special forces units of the Honduran military.

In November, an international group of experts reviewing the case found that she was killed by was killed by a criminal structure that spanned from senior executives of an Honduran dam development company to state officials and criminal organizations. (See Oct. 30's post.) The International Advisory Group of Experts (GAIPE), created at the request of Cáceres' family and fellow activists, found that the murder was not an isolated incident, but formed part of a to control, neutralize and eliminate any opposition to the dam project. (See Nov. 2's post.)

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FLMN suffers loss in municipal and legislative elections

El Salvador's ruling FLMN party suffered a devastating loss in municipal and legislative elections yesterday, leaving it weak ahead of next year's presidential vote. 

Right-wing opposition party ARENA already has a majority in the national assembly, reports El Faro. ARENA was on track to obtain 38 of the 84 seats in the unicameral congress, reports el Diario de Hoy. The FLMN is also poised to lose the mayorship of San Salvador and most of the country's departments. ARENA candidate for the capital Ernesto Muyshondt proclaimed his victory, though it hasn't been officially confirmed yet, reports El Diario de Hoy.

The results are in keeping with opinion polls that predicted a right-wing win, and have not been challenged by the FMLN.

(See Fruits and Votes for an analysis of El Salvador's electoral system quirks.)

The congressional results come at a critical moment, and could leave the FMLN sidelined in upcoming votes on Constitutional Court magistrates and the attorney general, notes El Faro. The legislative loss will also affect President Salvador Sánchez Ceren's ability to pass anti-gang security legislation, according to the AFP.

Major losers yesterday, in addition to the FMLN, include anti-corruption efforts and independent parties, writes Héctor Silva Hernández in El Faro, noting the reelection of candidates accused of corruption and votes which largely went to the two major parties. (In a recent NYT op-ed, Roberto Valencia analyzed the potential for independent candidates and a call for voters to cast blank ballots in yesterday's election. See Jan. 31's briefs.)

At El Salvador Perspectives, Tim Muth analyzes major donors to political campaigns, noting that "the bulk of ARENA's political money came from donations by businesses and other legal entities."

The winner, Silva argues optimistically, is democracy. "After years of failures in the areas of security, education and economy, the electorate punished the FMLN at the ballot boxes. Now the challenge is to develop this democratic potential, amplifying its effects, educating and informing and achieving a country with fewer corrupt politicians and more officials committed to national development and the wellbeing of citizens."

News Briefs
  • Mexican authorities are preparing to make dozens of arrests in connection to the disappearance of 43 students in southern Mexico in 2014. The Ayotzinapa teacher's college students became emblematic of the widespread enforced disappearances that have become increasingly common in the country. Prosecutor Alfredo Higuera told a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Bogota he had obtained new information to file charges against 30 people, including local police officers, reports Reuters.
  • "Shyboy" the spokesman for a dissident faction of MS-13 was assassinated in Mexico City this weekend, reports El Faro. 
  • The Atlantic reports on how El Salvador's gangs are targeting girls and young women, rivals' relatives are raped and murdered in revenge -- and how a tougher U.S. immigration policy will likely worsen gender violence.
  • Former Honduran First Lady Rosa Elena Bonilla was arrested last week as part of a corruption investigation. (See last Thursday's post.) La Prensa Gráfica details how the Public Ministry was alerted to overpriced shoe contracts as the starting point to unravelling a network that siphoned public funds earmarked for social programs. 
  • Brazilian political start-ups -- new independent groups -- have been proliferating in the lead up to October's elections and in the wake of corruption investigations that have implicated leaders of the country's main political parties, reports the Washington Post. These civic movements are fielding more than 500 candidates running for office at the municipal, state and presidential levels in elections this fall — an estimated 2 percent of prospective competitors. The groups run from libertarian to leftist, and many trace their roots to the 2013 anti-establishment protests that started over bus-fare increases. "With optimistic names such as Renovate Brazil and I Believe, the emerging movements represent an effort to channel the disillusionment stemming from the recent turmoil into something positive."
  • Brazil's Supreme Court supported legal reforms that soften penalties for Amazon deforestation. It's a blow for environmentalists, who say the revised laws that amnesty certain illegal deforestations create a culture of permissibility, reports the Guardian.
  • A Brazilian Supreme Court justice approved including President Michel Temer in an ongoing investigation into alleged illicit funds received by his PMDB party from Odebrecht SA, reports Reuters. Though he cannot be charged with crimes committed before his presidency while in power, Attorney General Raquel Dodge argued he be investigated anyway.
  • A team of scientists say the mysterious "sonic attacks" on U.S. diplomats in Cuba could be the result of two sources of ultrasound (like listening devices) being placed too close together. Their experiments replicate the kind of sound diplomats reported hearing, reports the Miami Herald. And it could have been an unintentional result of surveillance, not aimed at harming diplomats.
  • The diplomatic fallout from the alleged attacks remains a driving force of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. On Friday the U.S. State Department decided to maintain a reduced staff in the Havana embassy, bad news for Cubans who want to travel to the U.S., reports the Miami Herald. The embassy will become what is known as an unaccompanied post, with an indefinite ban on family members of embassy employees residing there, explains NPR.
  • Cuba experts believe that several historic revolutionary leaders will likely step down with President Raúl Castro next month, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Guatemala will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv in May, two days after the U.S. embassy makes the same move, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced in Washington, according to Reuters.
  • Marijuana debates are spreading in Caribbean countries -- Antigua and Barbuda are moving towards decriminalization, and St. Kitts and Nevis are holding debates and consultations, according to Caribbean News Now.
  • Medellín Miracle continues? U.S. retirees are increasingly flocking to Colombia's former narco haven to live out their golden years, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Chilean president-elect Sebastian Piñera will present a pension reform plan in the first half of this year, said one of his future ministers. During last year's campaign, Piñera promised to strengthen the system through a $700 million boost to the state’s annual contributions, along with increases in employer contributions and incentives for workers to delay retirement, reports Reuters.
  • An Argentine federal judge determined that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner should stand trial on illicit association charges related to the awarding of public-works contracts during her 2007-2015 administration, reports EFE.
  • A major Argentine cocaine bust in the Russian Buenos Aires embassy has the two countries' government's flatly contradicting each other's versions of the story, reports the Guardian.

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