Friday, October 16, 2015

CICIG shockwaves in Central America (Oct. 16, 2015)

A sort of specter might be said to be haunting Central America -- that of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG)

In an unusual interview, the reticent Colombian Ivan Velásquez who heads the CICIG says the success of the investigative body in Guatemala is due to it's absolute independence from local power structures and political entities. 

"... We don't have social, patrimonial nor political interests. There's nothing they can use against us to try to obstruct or twist the investigations. This is a guarantee for the independence of justice. ... I think in countries in which there is not sufficient judicial independence or independence of investigative organs, commissions like the CICIG can contribute ... of course, only if the country is really committed to fighting against impunity," he told Verdad Abierta

The CICIG has been cropping up in conversations about how to remedy government corruption in other Central American countries, namely Honduras and El Salvador. Demands for a local version in Honduras didn't pan out, and instead turned into an OAS planned "Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras" (MACCIH). The project would entail cooperating with Honduran officials, but a recent group of experts say the mission is unlikely to have much impact: its mandate will be to diagnose problems and write reports, not take action or facilitate a serious, inclusive national dialogue.

Aula Blog reports on the main conclusions of an experts dialogue on Honduras, hosted CLALS and the Inter-American Dialogue. They warn that a CICIH would be a "would be a healthy way of addressing ongoing impunity while building investigative and prosecutorial institutions," but warn that it would not be a silver bullet and note that it is opposed by the country's economic and political elites. Interestingly, the group of experts, which included Hugo Noé Pino, of the Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales, and Carlos Ponce, of Freedom House and 80 participants, say "the U.S.-sponsored “Alliance for Prosperity” is unlikely to help Honduras – and could make things worse if it doesn’t challenge the status quo."

And fear of a local version of the CICIG might be a motivator for the Nicaraguan government's recent decision to suspend UNDP programs -- couched in terms of sovereignty and rejection of intermediaries implementing development projects, reports El Confidencial.

News Briefs

  • Back in Guatemala, "La Línea," the massive customs racket uncovered by the CICIG, that led to the resignation of former President Otto Pérez Molina, continues to have fallout. Fifty business people have been ordered to stay in the country by a Guatemalan judge while the investigation continues. The attorney general said last week that at least 1,500 businesspeople had benefited from the customs fraud, reports the Associated Press.
  • Salvadoran officials say prosecutors are working with their Guatemalan counterparts to establish whether Salvadorans were involved in the scheme and what role they played, reports Reuters.
  • And presidential candidate Sandra Torres, of National Unity of Hope, accused her rival, Jimmy Morales of receiving funding for his election campaign from former military men implicated in "La Línea," reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Back to the Verdad Abierta Velásquez interview, he has some interesting comments on the Colombian peace process with the FARC, including a demand that the accords be made public. "We cannot speak about an agreement we do not know. That is why I think it is urgently necessary, to avoid allowing these misunderstandings to lead to the failure of the accord that we thought had been reached, to reveal what was agreed ..."
  • Peace with the guerrilla FARC group is promised by March of next year, but on the ground, where the guerrillas have functioned as a sometimes shadow state, peace seems more distant, reports the Washington Post. Building a bond between the distant rural populations that often have a deep seated anger against the distant government will be an enduring challenge in the process. "We've had 50 years of war," Jose Nifer Diaz, a former mayor of Buenos Aires, the municipality that encompasses Esperanza, told the Post. "What they're signing in Cuba is not peace. Each and every one of us has to build our own peace." 
  • The two parts could come to an agreement this week on the fate of the conflicts' victims, specifically the tens of thousands of disappeared who are presumed dead, according to Colombia Reports.
  • The embattled speaker of Brazil's lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, came to an agreement with the equally embattled government: he would maintain his post and ward off impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff, according to Folha de S. Paulo. (See Wednesday's post.)
  • The chaotic battle between Rousseff and Cunha has is "a spectacularly unedifying spectacle," reports The Guardian, calling it "death by 1,000 defamations." And the conflict speaks to a broader political crisis affecting the country, worsened by the economic recession.
  • And the Brazilian army chief warned that growing political and economic turmoil in Latin America's biggest country risks becoming a "social crisis," according Folha de S. Paulo (reported on by Good Reads).
  • Yesterday former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva testified before Brazilian federal prosecutors who are investigating allegations of influence peddling, reports the Associated Press.
  • A Venezuelan opposition leader, former Governor Manuel Rosales who has been living in self-imposed exile for the past six years as a fugitive from corruption charges at home, returned yesterday and was immediately taken into custody. Before his arrest, Rosales vowed to continue fighting the country's 16-year-old socialist administration and urged Venezuelans to vote in Dec. 6 legislative elections, reports the Associated Press. An expert cited in the piece says Rosales is probably banking on the socialist run government falling next year and wants to be on the ground for that.
  • Militarization of security in El Salvador hasn't brought down the record levels of violence there, but it has created complications for the poorly paid soldiers who are doing policing work. InSight Crime has the English translation of an El Faro report on soldier's demands for compensation for the security risks they're taking. 
  • A Florida judge ruled the Ecuadorean government is not entitled to recover about $600 million from two bankers who fled to the U.S. after their bank failed in 1998. Ecuador’s government convicted the men of embezzling bank deposits and sued in Florida to recover the funds, reports the New York Times. But the judge ruled yesterday that the statute of limitations had expired.
  • Over at WOLA Jorge Vicente Paladines analyzes Ecuador's contradictory new drug policy, which could lead to more drug users being processed as micro-traffickers. (See October 7th's post.) And Ecuador's public defender continues to worry about the confusions of the new drug law, whose definitions of the limit between consumption and trafficking are confusing enough to make many cases unclear, reports El Comercio.
  • On the other side of the drug spectrum, a Tele Doce report in Uruguay has a positive take on the ongoing process of creating a regulated cannabis market.
  • Uruguay won one of the 10 non-permanent Security Council seats, with the overwhelming majority of U.N. members, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Mexico and the U.S. announced they will open joint border stations on Mexican soil in order to streamline trade, reports Reuters. The pilot program will allow cargo to be inspected only once, instead of twice, and has the potential to reduce waiting times by over 80 percent, reports the Associated Press.
  • Loud hammering accompanied the construction of a tunnel into a Mexican maximum security prison in order to spring drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán. But the guards on watch failed to act, reports Reuters. Footage aired by broadcaster Televisa showed Guzman raised the volume on the TV by his bed to drown out the noise as helpers hammered a hole through the floor of his cell.
  • In Mexico and unsure of what to be for Halloween? The Associated Press reports that El Chapo and Trump are two holiday favorites this year.

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