Monday, September 14, 2015

Sentencing of Venezuelan opposition leader criticized by rights groups (Sept 14, 2015)

Few demonstrators turned out in support of Venzuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, who received a 14 year jail sentence last week on charges of inciting violence. (See Friday's briefs.) The New York Times says it's a sign of the Venezuelan political opposition's discouragement, even in the face of December legislative elections where the government might lose. 

The Los Angeles Times asks whether López's career will end after this setback.  The piece reviews López's political history as an extremely popular mayor of a Caracas borough and his enmity with the Chavez government -- including his tacit support of the 2002 coup attempt. One expert cited in the piece chalks up the government's persecution of López to class differences, but the piece notes that López even outpolled Maduro in some surveys before his arrest last year on charges of inciting violence at anti-government demonstrations. Some hypothesize that the harsh sentence handed down last week is an attempt to sow fear among the opposition ahead of December's legislative elections, while others say it means the Venezuelan government is no longer afraid of being labelled as authoritarian.

López might have a chance a clemency if the opposition wins the December 6 elections, reports the Wall Street Journal. Chuo Torrealba, leader of Venezuela's MUD opposition alliance, said the group aims to win a legislative majority and push to free political prisoners. 

Human rights groups blasted López's sentencing, reports the Los Angeles Times. (See Friday's briefs.) "López’s conviction is a blatant display of the government’s willingness to criminalize political adversaries," said Joy Olson, Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). "Using the legal system to punish political opponents has no place in a democracy."

News Briefs

  • The Nation reports on the serious threats journalists in El Salvador have received as a result of reporting on police violence. In July, El Faro reporters Roberto Valencia, Daniel Valencia Caravantes, and Óscar Martinez wrote about the police massacre of eight people (see July 23rd's post). Since then they've left the country and none of them have discounted that the threats they've received might be coming from the police or from ex security force members. The piece sheds some light on the current situation in El Salvador, where gangs were recently declared "terrorist organizations," which might mean more military-style efforts to route them out.
  • The U.S. is seeking to bring former Salvadoran military officers it once partnered with to justice for human rights violations committed in the 1979-1992 civil war, reports the New York Times. The move, which is championed by human rights organizations and condemned by those who say it means turning in former allies. The piece focuses on the case of Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, a former vice minister of defense accused of participating in the meeting where the order was given to kill the the rector of the José Simeón Cañas University of Central America, and to leave no witnesses alive. He is in U.S. custody after immigration violations and the Justice Department is pushing for his extradition to Spain to face charges related to the massacre of 6 priests and two civilians in 1989. The piece quotes WOLA's Geoff Thale who says "The U.S. government has moved from an era in which we help provide visas to resettle the Salvadoran military in the United States to an era in which we are supporting their deportation and extradition for criminal charges." 
  • Wall Street Journal piece on the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) raises some interesting points on the judicial experiment in outsourcing that brought down President Otto Pérez Molina earlier this month. The CICIG, with an international staff from more than 20 countries, has broad powers to launch its own criminal investigations. It then works alongside Guatemala’s  public ministry to prosecute cases in local courts. It's recent success shows how deep corruption runs in the country, and has led for activists to call for similar bodies in Mexico, Honduras and Peru. "But it also raises a paradox: Scenes of a president being hauled off to jail will likely scare off governments in the countries that need it most." Since it began working in 2007, CICIG's more than 200 investigations have led to charges against more than 160 current or former government officials, reports the WSJ. When the organization was created the country's rate of impunity was 95 percent. The rate is now roughly 70 percent.
  • Folha de S. Paulo ran a front-page editorial yesterday saying Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has one last chance to save her government. The usually center-right newspaper advocated deep budget cuts -- for the government to gain credibility before demanding more tax hikes that will face strong popular opposition, reports Reuters. "The country, however, has no choice" but to accept higher taxes, Folha said. "Neither has President Dilma Rousseff: if she bends under the weight of the crisis, she will have no option other than leaving her presidential duties and, eventually, the position she holds."
  • Brazil's federal police are seeking to question former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in connection with the massive Petrobras corruption scandal, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • Pope Francis' upcoming four-day trip to Cuba presents a singular challenge, according to the Washington Post: " to accelerate the process of reconciliation between the United States and Cuba charted by John Paul and push the Castro government to hasten and deepen the process of change on the island." The pontiff's role as an intermediary between the U.S. and Cuba will be a major theme of the trip, which is officially focused on families and youth. The pope will afterwards visit the U.S., creating momentum for the end of the long-standing trade embargo, according to the piece.
  • The Miami Herald has a feature on the growing Jewish community in Cuba, which was decimated after the revolution and is slowly reviving, in large part thanks to the support of international Jewish philanthropy.
  • The head of the International Association of Prosecutors' (IAP) demanded an independent investigation into the death earlier this year of the Argentine prosecutor looking into the bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, reports Reuters.
  • A Mexican court order issued last month prohibits authorities from torturing, killing, or extraditing Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, an unusual gesture that raises questions about the seriousness of the search to apprehend the drug kingpin after his July prison escape, reports InSight Crime.
  • Mexican marijuana producers are becoming more sophisticated in response to changing consumer habits and competition from legal U.S. growers, reports El Daily Post. There is growing evidence that Mexican marijuana production is down, and that U.S. demand is being met by domestic production, explains Alejandro Hope in his Silver or Lead newsletter. But this doesn't mean Mexico should legalize pot right now, he argues. "Over the medium term, legal domestic supply will displace Mexican marijuana imports …That would be something close to a free lunch for Mexico: Collapsing revenues for the criminal gangs that control the illicit trade with little or no attendant increase in use and dependence, since marijuana in Mexico would still be illegal and thus relatively expensive ... There is, however, one way of messing up that happy scenario: If Mexico legalized in response to state-level moves, the whole process would be reversed. ... So what should Mexico do? Wait until federal legalization in the United States before freeing up the substance. Once marijuana is fully legal north of the border, Mexico could regulate marijuana in many different ways, without running the risk of rekindling a large criminal industry."
  • Peru's central bank announced it will hike its benchmark interest rate for the first time since 2011, a surprise move which may embolden other countries in the region to follow suit, reports Reuters.
  • New York Times feature from this weekend looks at Antônio Galdino da Silva Neto a police officer, turned convicted murderer, turned prison warden. The piece refers to the horrific conditions in Brazilian jails and how Silva Neto became close to the evangelical movement while in jail and became a prison warden with a penchant for human rights.

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