Friday, July 17, 2015

Drugs and corruption finance Guatemalan politics, according to report (July 17, 2015)

Drug money and corruption are key sources of financing for political parties in Guatemala says a report released just two months before presidential elections in Guatemala. In fact, corruption can be seen as the unifying force behind all Guatemalan politics.

The report by the the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a United Nations-backed independent group working with prosecutors to root out corruption, was released yesterday and is the "cherry" on top of three months of scandalous revelations of corruption affecting Guatemala's president, highest officials and opposition leaders, reports Nomada.

"Corruption is the principal source of financing for political parties," Ivan Velásquez, commissioner at the CICIG, told a news conference. The group's investigations have rocked the government and led to the arrest of some high-ranking officials, including the Central Bank chief, reports Reuters.

Guatemala is a good country for committing electoral crimes, noted Velásquez in his presentation yesterday, saying nearly all of them go unpunished.

The report estimates that 50 percent of campaign financing comes from government contractors, and another 25 percent from organized crime, leaving only 25 percent coming from legitimate private sources. The report identifies the role of "fundraiser" for politicians, a middleman between business groups, government contractors, anonymous donors and criminal structures on the one hand and candidates and political parties on the other. Many of these "fundraisers" have gone on to play key roles in the executive power, reports El Periodico.

The report said that drug trafficking had infiltrated local politics by financing campaigns, putting its own members up as candidates and creating construction companies that later won government contracts.

A key element explained in the report are the illicit political-economic networks (RPEI), led by regional and local powers. These networks are constituted around certain mayors and district legislators and are a critical part of the political system, according to the report. "They permit the articulation of local politics with national, they are the central piece for the illicit financing of politics, and, over time, have made possible the continuity of the system."

The report also notes the fragmented and weak political party system -- in which small unrepresentative "franchise" parties serve the highest bidder -- and the fact that, despite large party turnover rates, the same politicians often remain in office for many terms.

Velásquez called on Congress to approve election reform measures suggested by the country's top electoral tribunal in an attempt to change the entrenched dynamic that is perverting politics in Guatemala, notes Siglo 21 in its editorial today.

Nomada notes that the report also emphasizes the role of the media in shaping public opinion, and the various ways in which corruption extends to this area, including paid "infomercials" for politicians that are disguised as real reporting and accepting illicit campaign funds for advertising. The media positions certain political leaders and vetoes others.

Media reports lauded the report and emphasized the importance of CICIG's work, especially in confirming rumors of corruption and showing the systemic problem.

"Though it's true that in general terms the report presented yesterday by the CICIG doesn't present great revelations, given that it confirms old suspicions regarding the management of political financing, the document is valuable because it says absolute truths and can be the basis to prosecute criminal networks that have become millionaires at the taxpayers' cost," says Siglo 21

La Hora says the report shows the political system responds only to the interests of financiers, and cannot properly be called a democracy. "... The truth is that [the report] laid bare a perverse, immoral practise that betrays a population that, precisely because of it, continues to suffer the consequences of the lack of opportunities to achieve a better quality of life."

But while the CICIG is leading the battle against corruption -- and confronting virtually all of Guatemala's established powers in the process -- citizens cannot expect it to transform Guatemalan politics, argues Carol Zardetto in El Periodico, calling on people to carry out radical actions against a corrupt system. 

The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala released a statement yesterday supporting the CICIG report. "As we have said before, Guatemala suffers from weak institutions in the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and in their auditing. This report illustrates what happens when weak institutions are tasked with controlling corrupt actors. The report clearly demonstrates that the political class has been mocking the Guatemalan population," says the press release.
The report comes amid heated protests against the government, demands for President Otto Pérez Molina's resignation and calls for delaying the upcoming election in order to permit electoral reform to be enacted first. (See June 30th's post.)

About 7.5 million Guatemalans will vote in September -- if all goes as scheduled -- to choose a new president, as well as 158 legislators, 20 representatives for the Central American Parliament and 338 municipal administrators, reports EFE.

An opinion piece in Plaza Pública gives a quick overview of the past three months of CICIG led corruption scandal revelations and calls a reform to purify Guatemalan politics.

News Briefs

  • El Salvador's and Honduras' governments rejected the idea of creating CICIG-like commissions against impunity in their countries, reports El Faro. Somewhat confusingly, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández said on Wednesday that if an international commission against impunity, like that demanded by protesters, were the solution, then Guatemala wouldn't be facing it's current political crisis, reports La Prensa. U.S. officials have been suggesting the possibility of such a commission for El Salvador and Honduras (see July 9th's briefs) and in late June the U.N. and OAS announced they will assist the government of Honduras in the implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, in order to reinforce the national dialogue. (See June 30th's post.)
  • Mexico is investigating who could have given plans of a maximum security prison to accomplices of kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Gúzman in his second jail break, reports Reuters. The tunnel would have taken about a year to build at a cost of approximately $1 million, says the New York Times. A top federal law enforcement agent who has spent much of his career chasing "El Chapo" predicted that the prison escapee will be recaptured through U.S. intelligence efforts infiltrating his now-fractured Sinaloa drug organization, reports the Los Angeles Times. President Enrique Peña Nieto returned last night from a state visit to France, and will have to do something more dramatic to win back the confidence of Mexicans that was shattered by the drug kingpins escape, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Haitian authorities sought to reassure the international community that the country is on track to pull off the most complex elections in its history -- and to request funds to carry out the process. (See yesterday's post.) Brazil, Canada, Norway and the United States promised to provide additional funding, but it's not clear how much, reports the Miami Herald. Yet serious doubts regarding the election remain, according to the piece, including notification of polling sites, exclusion of some of the candidates and the electoral council's tardiness in many vital tasks including the publication of lists of candidates.
  • A piece in the Washington Post examines the potential continuity of Kirchnerismo in Argentina, the political movement named for former President Nestor Kirchner and current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. In October the country will hold elections and Kirchner will not be on the ballot. A few months ago political analysts were concluding that Kirchnerismo was done for, dragged down by a lagging economy and questions surrounding the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman. But since then Kirchner has bounced back in the polls, leading some to conclude that "her left-populist brand of politics -- and wide-reaching influence -- is likely to endure after she leaves office in December."
  • Peruvian authorities are renewing crackdown efforts against illegal gold mining camps in the Amazon, reports Reuters. This week police razed dozens of wildcat camps, the first actions since a crackdown let up in December. Another six operations planned for the rest of the year - about the same pace as in 2014 - could sap a fledgling rebound in gold output from Peru, the world's fifth biggest producer and exporter.

  • Brazilian federal prosecutors said yesterday that they were opening a full investigation into claims of influence peddling by former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose leftist Workers Party is already struggling with a sweeping graft scandal involving powerful political figures, reports the New York Times. A special anticorruption unit of the Public Ministry trying to determine whether the popular Mr. da Silva used his clout upon leaving office to convince international leaders to award contracts to Odebrecht SA, and to push Brazil’s development bank, known as BNDES, to finance those deals with subsidized loans. Under Brazilian law, both acts are criminal offenses, with influence peddling punishable by up to five years in prison. The alleged offenses occurred between 2011 and 2014, after da Silva left office, and involved a series of big infrastructure deals that Odebrecht won with nations including Ghana, Angola, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, reports the Wall Street Journal. Da Silva rejects the accusations. It is the first time the popular former president has been formally linked to a criminal investigation. And it escalates a political crisis that threatens to engulf the ruling Workers' Party, which has already been deeply shaken by a corruption scandal at state-owned oil company Petrobras. The NYTimes piece notes that several scandals are unfolding simultaneously, this week the police searched the properties of another former president, Fernando Collor de Mello, seizing more than $1 million in cash and vehicles and Eduardo Cunha, the conservative speaker of the lower house of Congress, was accused yesterday of soliciting a $5 million bribe from a contractor seeking business with Petrobras.
  • Jamaica's justice minister has signed an order to provide a path for people to get criminal records purged if they have minor convictions for smoking or possessing marijuana, reports the Associated Press. The move comes after April amendments to the country's drug laws that partially decriminalized small amounts of pot.
  • Who got the better deal in the diplomatic negotiations between Cuba and the U.S. asks an article in the Miami Herald. There is little consensus ahead of next Monday's reopening of embassies in the respective capitals. Some say both are benefited, others that the U.S. gained the upper hand. Naysayers, like Senator Marco Rubio say that the U.S. granted "concession after concession" to the island's communist government.
  • The Florida Center for Survivors of Torture used to predominantly treat Cubans -- immigrants from the island seeking help with the psychological consequences of the communist regime. But over the past year the majority of people seeking help at the center have been Venezuelans, victims of repression by Nicolas Maduro's government last year, reports the Miami Herald
  • Spanish ferry company Balearia said it has been granted U.S. licenses to operate a passenger service between Cuba and the United States, though it is waiting on final clearance from Cuban authorities, reports Reuters.
  • Swedish prosecutors said they were still waiting for Ecuador's permission to question WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London, as the statute of limitations nears for some of his alleged crimes, reports AFP
  • Brazil is beginning to examine it's complicated racial past, reports the Associated Press. A truth commission was established this year to investigate Brazil's 350-year period of slavery. Next year, tourists coming for the Olympic Games will be able to walk a pathway marking historical sites such as a mass grave for slaves who died en route from Africa.

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