Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Guatemala's Supreme Court takes first step in stripping president of immunity (August 26, 2015)

Guatemala's political upheaval continues, amid ever growing corruption scandals that have engulfed the country's top leadership (see Monday's post).

Yesterday the Supreme Court unanimously accepted the pretrial case presented against President Otto Pérez Molina by the U.N.'s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the Public Ministry. The case now goes to Congress, which must decide whether to strip the Pérez Molina of his immunity and force him to face trial on corruption charges. Yesterday's session of Congress was suspended due to lack of quorum, but a plenary session is expected for tomorrow, reports El Periódico. Earlier this month Congress already avoided stripping him of immunity in other charges, notes the piece.  

In the meantime, Pérez Molina named two new ministers, but still has nearly a dozen slots left to fill, after virtually the entire cabinet resigned after he was accused of participation in a massive customs fraud scheme on Friday.
Former vice president, Roxana Baldetti was ordered to stand trial yesterday in the same case, reports El Periódico.

The upheaval engulfing the country since the scheme came to light in April could be a sign of positive change, reports the Associated Press. "It's very exciting in some ways for those who forever have been deeply concerned about corruption and the elite political class that pillages the state," said Eric Olson, a Central America expert at the Washington-based Mexico Institute. "They got their hands caught in the cookie jar this time, and it's pretty bad."

The New York Times has an in-depth on the situation in Guatemala, and asks: "For a nation with the cards stacked against it — among the highest poverty and murder rates in the hemisphere and a history of violent government repression — the emergence of large public protests is being greeted as a major step. But a pressing question looms: Will the momentum continue? After the high-profile arrests and the emergence of peaceful protests in a place silenced by a history of civil war, will lasting change occur?"

As protesters block intersections, pledge more demonstrations in the coming days and demand postponement of September 6th's presidential elections, that is a critical question.

The piece quotes Colombia University's Christopher Sabatini who says "There is an inherent problem with anticorruption movements ... As positive as they are, the problem is that it is never clear what it leads to in terms of a policy prescription." 

La Línea, as the multi-million dollar scam is known, is not the only corruption scheme Pérez Molina was involved in, reports Nómada, which says an investigation of theirs into a carbon energy plant scheme -- for which his son-in-law and former secretary general is in jail -- shows the president's involvement.

In Nómade interviews, business association leader Jorge Briz and farm-worker organizer Daniel Pascual separately call for Pérez Molina's resignation.

News Briefs

  • Former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt can stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity – but cannot be sentenced because the 89-year-old suffers from dementia -- according to a national court decision announced yesterday. A special trial could be held behind closed doors, and Ríos Montt can be found guilty or not guilty, but will not receive a sentence because of his health conditions, reports the Associated Press. The ruling revives the hopes of human rights groups, two years after a historic conviction of the former strongman was thrown out on a technicality. Ríos Montt is accused of responsibility for the killings of nearly 2,000 indigenous Maya during a particularly brutal stretch of the country's 36-year civil war, reports Reuters. The in-camera ruling means that reporters will not be allowed to cover the new trial, reports the New York Times.
  • More than 100 Colombians began fleeing their homes in Venezuela yesterday, wading knee-deep through a river separating the two countries, as President Nicolas Maduro vowed to extend a crackdown on illegal migrants living along the border, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post by Eduardo Romero.) Many of the Colombians have lived in Venezuela for years, but are abandoning their shantytown homes after being given 72 hours to leave by Venezuelan security forces. Most of the refugees have lived for years in Ernesto Guevara, an extremely poor Venezuelan border village, or other nearby settlements, but they were forced to leave after Venezuelan authorities marked their homes with a "D" for "demolition" over the weekend, reports Reuters.
  • In the meantime, numerous violent clashes that have flared around the country in recent weeks as Venezuelans wait for hours in long supermarket lines for basics like milk and rice, reports the Wall Street Journal. Shortages have made hunger a palpable concern for many Wayuu Indians at the northern tip of Venezuela’s 1,300-mile border with Colombia. Soldiers deployed to stem rampant food smuggling and price speculation have become targets after they seize contraband goods. In a national survey, the pollster Consultores 21 found 30 percent of Venezuelans eating two or fewer meals a day during the second quarter of this year, up from 20 percent in the first quarter, reports the piece.
  • Drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán decided to escape from a Mexican high-security jail because there was an imminent possibility that he would be extradited to face charges in the U.S., reports The Guardian. "Extradition was always his main concern," Guzmán's lawyer, Juan Pablo Badillo Soto, told the Guardian. "Once it became clear the extradition process was underway, it was logical he decided to go."
  • It's time to debunk certain myths about Mexican-U.S. relations, argues Arturo Sarukhan, former Mexican ambassador to the U.S. in a Brookings blog. "One is that the relationship during President Felipe Calderón’s term (2006 to 2012) was “narcotized,” meaning it had become heavily slanted toward counternarcotics cooperation. The other is that nothing was done to promote immigration reform in the United States. Both of these arguments are utterly groundless, in large part because the bilateral relationship is too multifaceted to reduce it to only one issue. Even if one of the two nations were determined to boil it down to one single issue, the day-to-day of the agenda is so broad and deep that it would be impossible to turn it into a monothematic interaction."
  • The Colombian left-wing political party Union Patriótica ceased to exist more than a decade ago, as thousands of its members were attacked in the 1980s and 90s by right-wing paramilitary groups. Now the party, which was founded as a way of permitting guerilla's to lay down weapons and participate in democratic politics, is staging a comeback. How the UP fares in upcoming elections will be key to the Havana peace talks with the FARC reports the Miami Herald
  • In Haiti local observer groups say sanctions against 16 candidates in this month's violence-marred elections (see August 10th's post) are not enough, and are calling for an independent investigation, reports the Miami Herald. Apart from the violence that marked the polls, human rights groups say there was massive fraud -- stuffing of the ballot boxes and people voting multiple times because their fingers were not properly marked with ink. They also voiced concern that flimsy dividers and transparent ballot boxes jeopardized voter confidentiality.
  • A Brazilian judge asked prosecutors to investigate a potential shell company that received $446,000 from the 2014 re-election campaign of President Dilma Rousseff, reports the Wall Street Journal. It was the second time in less than a week that Electoral Judge Gilmar Mendes has asked for a probe of funds linked to Rousseff's campaign (see Monday's briefs.)
  • In another hit for Rousseff, Vice President Michel Temer on Monday decided to drop his role as day-to-day political coordinator in Congress for the president but is not leaving her government, reports Reuters. But yesterday he reversed his decision, saying Rousseff asked him to continue to be her government's liaison with its coalition in Congress in a new phase now that major fiscal austerity legislation has been approved, reported Reuters. He said impeachment of the embattled president is "unthinkable."
  • A feature piece in The Guardian from this weekend wonders whether Rousseff can withstand the political pressure she's facing, and goes into her history and political trajectory.
  • Brazil's state-owned lender Caixa Economica Federal began steps toward holding an initial public offering for its insurance subsidiary as part of an effort to help the government improve its fiscal situation, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Murders in El Salvador are hitting new records: over 40 a day on several days last week. A piece in The Guardian looks at the situation of violence plaguing the country.
  • An essay by Teju Cole in the New York Times Magazine examines "Men on a Rooftop," a photograph taken in  São Paulo in 1960 by René Burri. The image of four men on a rooftop " literally portrays the levels of social stratification and the enormous gap between those above and those below." He visits São Paulo in order to delve deeper into the image.

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