Tuesday, June 7, 2016

El Salvador's Supreme Court rules prison conditions unconstitutional (June 7, 2016)

The Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court ruled on Friday that overcrowding in jails is unconstitutional, reports La Pagina. The resolution dealt mainly with prisoners being kept in holding cells while awaiting trial, of which there are more than 5,000 throughout the country, many at three times capacity. According to La Prensa Gráfica, the Constitutional Chamber's investigation was spurred by complaints by prisoners in three regional police jails where overcrowding is so serious that a single prisoner has as little as 34 square centimeters of space. The Court declared that such conditions, accompanied by a lack of food, water, and medical care, constituted human rights abuses. 

Minister of Justice and Security Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde responded in an interview that the "modernization" of the penitentiary system is a government priority, so that the prisoners detained in holding cells can be transferred to proper prisons, reports Diario CoLatino. The plan includes the construction of three new facilities for around 10,000 low-risk prisoners, which in theory will clear space throughout the system. Catholic archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas applauded the Supreme Court's resolution, but said the government's proposed measures proposed aren't enough to solve the "inhumane" conditions in the prisons, according to El Dario de Hoy.  

El Salvador's prisons are particularly reviled because they're known to be the center of gang extortion operations. Last week Attorney General Douglas Meléndez announced he would investigate the origins of $11 million spent in prison stores over the past 14 months, suggesting the money seemed like "too much" and could have come from extortion, La Prensa Gráfica reports. However, as columnist Paolo Luers points out, when you divide this sum by 14 months and 30,000 prisoners, it comes out to just 87 cents per prisoner per day.

News Briefs

  • In other news in El Salvador, former prisons director Nelson Rauda was captured after more than a month in hiding, as part of the government's case against leaders of a controversial 2012 gang truce, Reuters reports. (See May 6's  briefing for background.) Also, Salvadorans are angry after a La Prensa Gráfica investigation revealed that the national customs agency spent $230,000 in taxpayer money at a disco-club in San Salvador.  
  • The latest results for Peru's election this past Sunday show Pedro Pablo Kuczynski beating Keiko Fujimori 50.15 percent to 49.85 percent, with 96.67 of votes counted, according to La República. Analysts said PPK's win is "irreversible." But will he be able to govern, wonders The Guardian
  • A leader in Honduras' LGBT community was kidnapped and murdered last week in San Pedro Sula, reports the Associated Press. The National Forum on AIDS called René Martínez, 39, "one of the main defenders of lesbians, gays, transsexuals, and intransexuals in the country." He was also a rising political leader, according to PinkNews. The U.S. embassy in Honduras condemned the killing and offered to help with the investigations; meanwhile, House Representative Eliot Engel, from New York, released a statementexpressing "outrage" and demanding "a full evaluation of steps being taken to protect the LGBT communities" in Northern Triangle countries where the State Department is considering offering economic aid.   
  • Chile is taking Bolivia to the U.N.'s highest court at the Hague over a dispute about access to the Silala River, reports Reuters. The dispute is not new, but recent indications that Bolivia plans to divert access to the river spurred Chile to seek outside intervention, according to El Pais, in an article that gives a thorough history of the fractious relations between the two countries.
  • The chief negotiator for the Colombian government in peace talks with the FARC urges continued support for the process in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Humberto de la Calle addresses criticisms of the proposed peace agreement, assuring readers that the guerrillas will give up their arms; victims will receive economic reparations; and "there will be no amnesties" for serious crimes committed by the FARC or paramilitary groups. 
  • Six months after Colombia announced it discovered one of the world's richest shipwrecks a few miles off its coast, a U.S. company revealed plans to launch an expedition to the site and begin hauling away some of the treasure, reports The Miami Herald. According to Sea Search Armada's director, the Washington-based company found the wreck -- from a British ship sunk in 1708, potentially carrying between $4 and $17 billion worth of gold, silver, and jewels -- back in the 1980s. But Colombia's president has been adamant that the riches are "the patrimony of all Colombians." Prepare for, in the words of the Miami Herald, "a high-seas, high-stakes showdown." 
  • Bloomberg has an interesting feature on sewage problems in Rio de Janeiro, which have come under scrutiny in preparation for this summer's Olympics. Interim president Michel Temer has moved to privatize the sewage system, which has been interpreted as a sign that he will continue selling state assets to help alleviate Brazil's massive debt. 
  • The new governor of Mexico's Veracruz state, Miguel Ángel Yunes, condemned his predecessor Javier Duarte for corruption and a "dirty campaign" against him, reports El País in a telephone interview with the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) politician. "I'm absolutely certain that Duarte will end up in prison," Yunes said. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal examines the unexpected resurgence of the PAN party, which now governs 11 states and has positioned itself as a serious contender for the 2018 presidential election, after coming in third in 2012. 
  • A bill under discussion in Argentina could penalize journalists for reporting the identities of tax evaders, TeleSur reports. President Mauricio Macri has proposed an amnesty for Argentines who have evaded taxes in the past by stashing their earnings abroad -- if they report the money now and pay 10 or 15% as a penalty to the government, they can avoid prosecution. However, an "anti-leak policy" included in the bill could allow authorities to imprison or fine judges, tax employees, and third parties "revealing or publishing documents" that expose those participating in the amnesty. 
  • In a Miami Herald op-ed that's sure to be controversial, Andres Oppenheimer urges Mexican-Americans to put down their flags "unless they want a racist to become the next U.S. president." Displaying Mexican flags at anti-Trump rallies adds gas to the flame, he argues: "It bolsters Trump's narrative that the United States is supposedly being taken over by 'illegals'...Latino leaders and Spanish-language TV networks and radio stations should urge demonstrators to carry American flags to anti-Trump rallies."

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