Monday, June 8, 2015

Hondurans demand U.N. impunity commission (June 8, 2015)

Thousands of Honduran protesters and organizations of civil society are demanding a U.N. led commission against impunity to battle against government corruption in their country. Reports that President Juan Orlando Hernadez's National Party received about $90 million in funds skimmed from Honduras' Social Security Institute (IHSS).

About 20,000 marchers in Tegucigalpa on Friday marched from a hospital to the local UN building, carrying torches to symbolize the 2,800 patients they say died due to lack of medications, a result of the $300 million stolen from the IHSS, reports AFP. Protesters also demanded the president's resignation.

Political opposition leaders, including former President Manuel Zelayas (ousted in a 2009 civil-military coup) and Salvador Nasrala of the Anticorruption Party attended the march, which was convened through social media, reports El Heraldo. Marches in other localities around the country were planned for the weekend.

Hernandez (referred to by the protestors by his initials, JOH) admitted last week to accepting funds from companies involved in the IHSS scandal, though he minimized the amounts in question and called for a thorough investigation into the affair.

Alianza para la Paz y la Justicia (APJ), Asociación para una Sociedad Más Justa (ASJ), and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH) are making the case that Honduras should be aided in fighting corruption with a similar body to the U.N.'s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Representatives of the organizations met with the Attorney General Óscar Chinchilla, reports El Heraldo.

The CICIG was set up in 2007 after Guatemala asked for help in investigating serious crimes. Its staff of police and prosecutors from 25 nations has helped bring 161 public officials to trial for corruption, and uncovered the twin corruption scandals that have jeopardized President Otto Pérez Molina's administration. (See last Monday's briefs.)

In a forum last week the organizations of civil society made the case that Honduras' most important problem is high levels of corruption generated by criminal organizations operating from within state entities and national businesses, draining national funds and limiting development opportunities. An APJ investigation found that only four percent of crimes in Honduras are convicted, meaning there is a 96 percent rate of impunity, reports Proceso

Several arrest warrants for government officials and politicians will be released shortly, reports La Prensa. One might be aimed at the adjunct prosecutor Rigoberto Cuéllar, who is being accused of accepting bribes in exchange for stalling the IHSS investigation, reports La Prensa.

A much awaited Congressional report on 12 corruption cases -- including the IHSS -- was released last week, but had no new information, according to La Prensa. The Public Ministry has opened 21 lines of investigation in the IHSS case, according to the report, six are being tried and 14 others are still under investigation. The report urged further investigation of private companies that sold overpriced ambulances to the IHSS and quicker arrests of those accused of taking the funds.

On Friday the Foreign Minister, Arturo Corrales, made the case that Honduras has already requested and cooperated with international assistance from the OAS, Colombia and Chile regarding impunity. Honduran officials have also recognized that impunity is a problem he said, according to La Tribuna.

News Briefs

  • Mexican mid-term elections proceeded generally without incident yesterday, though there were incidents around the country that led to two deaths, about 100 arrests and ballot burning in several locations. Mexicans voted to renew the 500 member lower house of Congress as well as nine state governorships and more than 1,000 state and municipal posts in what was seen as a referendum on Pena Nieto's rule, reports Reuters. While threatened boycotts did not disrupt voting in most of the country, there was "deep public anger," reports the Los Angeles Times. Thousands of people in Oaxaca did boycott the vote, and the OAS suspended its observer mission in there due to security risks, reports the Washington Post. In Yucatán a supposed confrontation between PAN and PRI supporters left two people dead, reports Animal Político. Ballots, ballot boxes and other electoral material were burned in Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero states. Voting in Tixtla, in Guerrero, was reportedly cancelled after attacks on voting booths. Protesters included students, teachers and relatives of the 43 students disappeared in Iguala last year. Two of Oaxaca's districts had only 80 percent of voting booths installed, which was a potential case for annulment, but the national election authority ruled that the effect was insignificant.  The PRI led the vote for Congress, reports Proceso.
  • Preliminary election results show the PRI and its parliamentary allies are leading with nearly 39 percent of the vote, while PAN has nearly 21 percent according to Reuters. Thanks to a coalition with the Green Party, it might be enough to preserve the PRIs slim majority, in the lower chamber, according to the Miami Herald. The PRI won four of the nine governorships up for grabs, according to Proceso, while the PAN won two. For the first time an independent won a governorship, a sign of voter frustration with entrenched political parties, according to theNew York Times. Jaime Rodríguez, El Bronco, who won the Nuevo León state race, has become a world-wide trending topic reports Proceso. His victory "could spark a wave of independent candidacies nationwide for the 2018 presidential vote, a development analysts said might threaten traditional political parties’ grip on power," according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro cancelled a trip to Rome to meet with Pope Francis due to an ear infection. Rights groups, the political opposition and the Catholic Church in Venezuela this week pressured the Pope to address human rights issues during the visit, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Former Spanish PM Felipe González arrived in Venezuela yesterday and intends to meet with political prisoners Leopoldo López, Daniel Ceballos and Antonio Ledesma, reports the BBC. He plans to offer judicial assistance (a symbolic gesture, explains FP) and convince López and Ceballos to give up their ongoing hunger strike. They have been joined by 29 others, including a regional deputy, four councilmen and 22 students. Government officials have criticized Gonzalez's arrival, saying it's interference in local affairs, reports La Nación.
  • Contrary to prohibitionary trends, some public institutions in Brazil are aiming to reduce jail populations, reports O Globo. Rio de Janeiro's Public Defender, is arguing that prison time for drug users is unconstitutional on grounds of invasion of privacy. The Conselho Nacional de Justiça (CNJ) is attempting to force authorities to bring alleged criminals to a judge within 24 hours of their apprehension, in order to speed up a judicial process that can take years. Overcrowding is a critical problem in Brazilian jails, reaching nearly 90 percent in recent years, according to O Globo. Estadão reports that the country's prison population grew by 74 percent between 2005 and 2012, composed largely of youths, black men, and women accused of low value property crimes. 
  • A campaign intended to argue against heavy-handed war on drugs tactics in Brazil received an unintended boost by São Paulo authorities who pulled comic book-style public service announcements placed on city buses. Da Proibição Nasce o Tráfico (“Trafficking Is Born of Prohibition”) depict the irrational nature of the drug war, and were successfully displayed in Rio de Janeiro buses for a month. But authorities say that the Center for Studies on Public Security and Citizenship (CESeC) campaign is an apologia for drugs. Catesby Holmes presents the case on OSF's Voices.
  • DirecTV and 21st Century Fox, among other U.S. media companies have had business relationships with the sports-marketing firms at the center of the FIFA corruption scandal, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Mexico City’s taxi drivers, who operate the largest fleet in the world, with 140,000 registered cabs, have rallied together to try to drive out Uber, reports the Washington Post.

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