Tuesday, April 10, 2018

FARC leader arrested on drug charges (April 10, 2018)

Colombian authorities arrested a FARC leader due to assume a seat congress on U.S. charges of drug trafficking yesterday. Seuxis Hernández, known by his nomme de guerre Jesús Santrich, was a negotiator for peace on behalf of the now disbanded guerrilla group, and is a representative of the political party that assumed the same name. 

A U.S. grand jury in the Southern District of New York indicted Hernández and three others last week. They are charged with conspiracy to export 10 tonnes of cocaine worth $320 million in street value to the United States, reports Reuters. According to the Interpol red notice requesting his detention, the alleged crimes were carried out from July of last year through this month.

The arrest is a surprising turn of events for the FARC. Though all of its leadership was wanted in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges, the former rebels were promised immunity from prosecution for past crimes as part of a 2016 peace deal, reports the New York TimesBut Hernández is accused of drug trafficking after the deal. 

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos spoke yesterday, alongside Attorney General Néstor Martínez. He emphasized that the crimes allegedly committed by Hernández occurred after the peace deal's signature, and thus will be judged through the regular justice system rather than the transitional justice tribunal negotiated in the accord, reports Semana. "The accords are clear: Whoever commits a crime after the signing of the deal will be sent to the courts for the new crimes committed," he said. Colombian authorities are awaiting a formal extradition request from the U.S.

The arrest sparked condemnation by the FARC, which said it was an attack on the peace process. In a press conference earlier today, leader Iván Márquez said the capture represented a critical juncture for the peace process which could end in failure, reports El Espectador. FARC leadership believes the charges could be trumped up, and note Martínez's opposition to the peace accord.

The arrest will represent a blow for the peace process, of which Hernández was a big symbol, reports La Silla Vacía. He particularly had support among the guerrilla group's rank and file, and the detention is likely to exacerbate discontent with how the peace process is being implemented.

The capture will likely become an electoral issue, in the midst of a presidential campaign that has focused on critics of the peace accord.

Earlier today the president of the transitional justice system said the body would be reviewing the alleged crimes to ensure they were committed after the peace accord, reports El Tiempo.

News Briefs
  • Among the small group of Latin American countries with an outright ban on abortion -- including when it represents a danger to the pregnant woman's life -- El Salvador prosecutes women with the most zeal. But women's rights advocates believe there is a small window of opportunity to reform the country's legislation to at least permit abortion in cases where a minor has been raped or risk to women's health. Two bills are pending in the National Assembly, and campaigners hope to have them voted on before a more conservative assembly is seated next month, reports the New York Times. Health practitioners have said their hands are tied by the ban, and the issue of rape is pressing in a country where girls and young women face high risk of violence at home and by gangs.
  • At least 30 political candidates in Mexico's July elections have been killed, and some experts say the number may be double that, reports the Los Angeles Times. Most of the victims were municipal candidates in provincial locations, and from a range of parties, suggesting the killings were related to local power disputes.
  • A group of U.S. and Argentine legislators have asked regional leaders to open their doors to Venezuelan refugees, ahead of this week's Summit of the Americas, reports the Miami Herald.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump will not attend the Summit of the Americas in Peru in order to oversee the US response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria, the White House announced today. Vice-president Mike Pence will make the trip in his stead. It would been Trump’s first visit to Latin America as president, reports the Guardian. The decision appeared to have taken even some senior White House officials by surprise, reports the New York Times. Critics, such as U.S. lawmaker Eliot L. Engel, said Trump is ceding leadership ground in the region.
  • Nonetheless, his absence is likely to save regional leaders from a lot of awkward moments, reports ReutersMcClatchy had also reported that Trump's advisors wanted him to avoid shaking hands with Cuban President Raúl Castro, though nobody felt very confident that the U.S. leader would stick to a script.
  • Lawyers representing Trump's company wrote directly to the president of Panama last month asking for his intervention in a commercial dispute over the Trump International Hotel in Panama City. The law firm, Panama-based Britton and Iglesias, wrote in Spanish to President Juan Carlos Varela on March 22, warning that the case could have “repercussions” for Panama’s reputation, reports the Washington Post. (See Feb. 27's briefs.) WaPo notes the extraordinary nature of the request: "The U.S. president’s company was asking the leader of a U.S. ally to intercede on its behalf, disregarding Panama’s separation of powers. It is the first known instance of the Trump Organization asking directly for a foreign leader’s help with a business dispute since Trump was elected."
  • Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is jailed in a special room of the Curitiba Federal Police building. Though it boasts no luxuries, his lawyer said the accommodations are not problematic, reports the New York Times.
  • The Workers' Party ratified yesterday that Lula will be its presidential candidate for October's election, and that his candidacy will be duly registered by the August deadline, reports the Associated Press.
  • A Brazilian association of criminal lawyers requested on Monday that a Supreme Court justice issue an injunction freeing. The request was presented to Justice Marco Aurelio Mello and asked that he free anyone who is in jail but has not yet had the chance to bring their case before Brazil’s top appeals court, which is the situation with Lula, reports Reuters.
  • The Brazilian Supreme Court could vote as early as tomorrow on a constitutional question over when prison sentences should start for people convicted of corruption. The result could actually release Lula from jail, reports the AFP. (See last Friday's and yesterday's posts.) The potential flip by the same court that last week sent Lula to jail is a worrisome development in a country where institutions are increasingly seen as acting with political bias.
  • In a recent Wall Street Journal column Mary Anastasia O'Grady accuses the U.N. backed international anti-graft commission in Guatemala -- the CICIG -- of acting on behalf of the Kremlin and unfairly persecuting its enemies. Specifically she points to the case of three Russian nationals, who were convicted and sentenced to jail in January. The CICIG responded that the prosecution of the Russian Bitkov family was part of a wider case of a criminal network operating within the country's migration authority. (See March 29's briefs.) A Nómada investigation further unravels O'Grady's allegations -- noting that the investigation started in 2010, three years before a Russian bank tipped off authorities about the Bitkov's illicit immigration status. The January sentence included 36 other people involved in the selling of falsified identification documents. The piece notes that the CICIG receives no funding from Russia. Its $18 million annual budget comes from the U.S., Sweden and the European Union. Nómada's investigation instead uncovers a more grave accusation in reference to the migration criminal network: the union official who originally reported irregularities was assassinated in 2010. Months before, he went to the Guatemalan human rights prosecutor's office and reported receiving threats from authorities at the migration authority, then run by Enrique Degenhart, current Ministro de Gobernación. The Morales administration hassought to expel the CICIG head, Iván Velásquez, last year and undermine the anti-graft commission's efforts. (See yesterday's briefs on the proliferation of trolling and fake news in Colombia, largely targeting the CICIG.)
  • Venezuela's "Supreme Court in Exile," made up of jurists appointed by the opposition-led National Assembly, say they will try Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on allegations of corruption and money laundering, reports the Associated Press.
  • Paraguayan's vote on April 22. Financing of political parties is a key issue to be addressed in order to shore up public confidence, according to the head of the European Union Election Observation Mission. In addition, the European team issued a report with 30 recommendations designed to contribute to strengthening future elections in Paraugay, including constitutional reforms and stricter application of existing regulations, reports EFE.
  • Chile is tightening up rules for immigrants from Haiti and Venezuela, reports the Miami Herald. Advocates fear this will only increase people living in the country illegally.
  • Ecuadorean authorities believe three kidnapped journalists are being held on Colombian soil, reports EFE
  • Ecuador's Comptroller office suggested that former President Rafael Correa was responsible for mismanagement of the national debt between 2012 and 2017, calling for a criminal sentence and administrative fines, reports TeleSUR.

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