Monday, May 23, 2016

Salvadoran attorney general targets government official (May 23, 2016)

El Salvador's Attorney General Douglas Meléndez has already arrested nearly 20 people who helped carry out a 2012 gang truce credited with drastically reducing homicides in the country. (See May 6's post.) The detentions earlier this month include one of the truces' main mediators, former FLMN legislator Raul Mijango.

But Meléndez is aiming higher politically, and is preparing to ask Congress to impeach the defense minister, General David Munguía Payés, and remove his immunity, reports the New York Times.

Prosecutors investigating the gang truce have found there is enough evidence to ask for Munguía Payés' arrest, and have prepared a 152 page document asking legislators to remove his immunity (granted to all cabinet members) so he can be charged with illicit association and arbitrary actions, reports El Faro.

Portraying the arrests earlier this month as a politically motivated show in support of the government's "mano dura" crackdown on gang leaders, several pieces noted that Meléndez had not gone after top officials, including Munguía Payés, who served as the former administration's security minister at the time of the truce negotiation.  (See also May 9's post.)

Prosecutors are also going after Ricardo Perdomo, who now heads El Salvador's bank regulatory agency and served as the country’s director of intelligence during the truce.

Meléndez's actions put him on a potential collision course with President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who has expressed support for Munguía Payés, notes the NYTimes.

(See last Friday's post on the increasing human and economic impact of gangs in El Salvador.)

News Briefs
  • El Salvadoran officials have officially recommended women postpone pregnancy for two years due to an outbreak of Zika virus which can cause fetal malformation. But the virus has done little to spur conversation about abortion in the country, which is barred without exception for rape, fetal deformity and danger to the mothers' life, reports Reuters.
  • New York Times editorial sounds the latest death knell for the region's pink tide: "Latin America's leftist ramparts appear to be crumbling because of widespread corruption, a slowdown in China’s economy and poor economic choices." While the moment is an opportunity for the U.S. to forge better relations with its backyard, "a brighter future for struggling Latin Americans cannot depend on the United States. Ultimately, that will require leaders who are accountable to their citizens, are willing to invest in long-term prosperity rather than their political brands and stand ready to acknowledge the colossal mistakes of their predecessors," argues the piece.
  • Transcripts published this morning in Folha de S. Paulo show explicit plotting between the new Planning Minister (then-Senator) Romero Jucá and former oil executive Sergio Machado – in which both agree that removing President Dilma Rousseff is the only way to end the corruption investigation both are formal targets of, reports The Intercept. The conversations also show the role played in her removal by the country's most powerful institutions, including military leaders, says the piece which questions whether media outlets should start calling the ouster a "coup." "The transcripts are filled with profoundly incriminating statements about the real goals of impeachment and who was behind it. The crux of this plot is what Jucá calls 'a national pact' – involving all of Brazil’s most powerful institutions – to leave Michel Temer in place as President (notwithstanding his multiple corruption scandals) and to kill the corruption investigation once Dilma is removed." Jucá said today he will not resign, reports Reuters.
  • The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) is now in charge of leading the country out of the political and economic quagmire it's in. But the party has governed the oil-rich Rio de Janeiro state for most of the past decade, and it's hardly an example of exceptional management, reports the New York Times.
  • Brazil's new foreign minister, Jose Serra, marks a new focus on trade rather than ideology for the government, reports Reuters. He visits Argentina today, where he is expected to focus on on restoring South America's Mercosur bloc to its purpose as a free trade area.
  • Critics say the new Brazilian government could roll back environmental protections for the Amazon rainforest, reports the Washington Post.
  • Violent protests that erupted during Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's state of the union speech this weekend led to one death, reports the BBC. Demonstrators set up barricades and hurled firebombs in Valparaiso, where Chile's Congress meets. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons. Bachelet said the country is firmly on the path of reform, as evidenced by a free education policy, but that other reforms would be delayed due to an economic downturn.
  • A growing group of Mexico's politically influential people are concerned about what a Trump presidency in the U.S. could mean for the relationship between the two countries, in addition to the negative impact the campaign has already had, reports the New York Times.
  • The Mexican government authorized a U.S. extradition request against drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, reports the Wall Street Journal. He would face charges in courts in Texas and California for crimes including drug trafficking, homicide and money laundering. Guzmán can appeal the decision under Mexican law. But U.S. authorities seem to have quietly dropped charges for a series of brutal murders committed inside Mexico, reports the Guardian. The move could make it easier to secure drug trafficking convictions and avoid legal disputes over U.S. courts' authority over murders committed on foreign soil.
  • An upsurge in killings has made Acapulco, the glamorous beach resort, one of Mexico's most violent places, reports the Associated Press
  • El Daily Post's Alejandro Hope reports on the latest homicide stats in Mexico: April's average daily murder rate of 56.1 was the worst since the government began officially counting victims in January 2014.
  • CICIG advances against corruption in Guatemala show a marked difference with a region under attack by graft and lacking institutional strength to combat it, according to participants in a forum on Central American journalism organized by El Faro. Participants included CICIG Commissioner Iván Velásquez and former prosecutor Claudia Paz y Paz who emphasized that the CICIG was created to disarm criminal structures embedded within the state, not to take down governments.
  • An Ipsos poll yesterday showed Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori pulling ahead over her rival for June 5's run-off election, reports Reuters. She's projected to win 52.5 percent of the vote, despite a money-laundering scandal involving a close aide.  (See last Tuesday's and Thursday's briefs.)
  • Separately, the Associated Press reports that Peruvian prosecutors confirmed they've opened a preliminary investigation against Fujimori and her American husband for money laundering.
  • Hondura's telecommunications commission said it's taking 21 channels off the air, because they supposedly failed to renew their licenses. But ppposition channel Globo TV condemned the decision, calling it a reprise for constantly criticizing the government in its TV shows, reports TeleSur.
  • A U.S. law that seeks the extradition of anyone involved in the production and trafficking of drugs to the U.S. has some Colombians afraid that small coca farmers in the country could be targeted, according to Colombia Reports.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said the U.S. is aiming to divide the loyalties of the country's military, reports Reuters. The Venezuelan military has come under increased scrutiny in the midst of an increasingly tense standoff between the government and the political opposition which seeks to oust it. (See last Monday's  Tuesday's and Thursday's posts as well as Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Coca-Cola is stopping the Venezuelan production of its namesake beverage due to a sugar shortage related to the country's economic crisis, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • This weekend Bolivia enacted a gender identity law allowing transsexual and transgender people to change their name, sex and photo on official and private documents, reports AFP.
  • The Ecuadorian government named a young Galapagos Island native to manage the national park and marine reserve, one of the world's treasures, reports the New York Times. The job awarded to Africa Berdonces is one of the most significant environmental posts in the world, according to the piece.
  • Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra announced her candidacy in the race to become the next secretary general of the United Nations on Friday, reports the New York Times.
  • Cuban cigars have long been banned in the U.S. due to the trade embargo. As the ban seems near its end, excitement is building for a huge economic opportunity. But tobacco production on the island has declined, and likely will not be up to the challenge of quick massive expansion, reports the Wall Street Journal.

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