Monday, March 13, 2017

JOH implicated in cartel testimony (March 13, 2017)

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández won his party's primary election to run for reelection in November, reports Reuters. The issue of reelection is fraught in the country -- former President Mel Zelaya was ousted in 2009 for planning a referendum to permit reelection. A 2015 Supreme Court decision struck down the constitutional amendment prohibiting reelection, a move questioned by the opposition which said the judicial body lacked that power.

In the meantime, testimony by an Honduran gang leader in a U.S. court is implicating not only former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo (whose son is on trial for drug trafficking) but also mentions Hernández -- who goes by his initials, JOH. Testimony by Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, of the Los Cachiros cartel, references JOH, though the context is unclear from the transcript obtained by Honduran media, reports El Tiempo.

Rivera said he paid bribes to Lobo and his son in exchange for protection, reports CNN. Rivera, who is cooperating with the DEA in exchange for a reduced sentence, said he and other Los Chachiros leaders met with former president Lobo several times, and received his assurances that they'd be protected from extradition. Lobo denies the claims, reports La Prensa.

The current Honduran Minister of Security, Julián Pacheco, several lawmakers and a mayor were also implicated in Rivera's testimony, reports Criterio. Full transcript at La Tribuna and El Heraldo. (The case is being prosecuted by Preet Bharara.)

News Briefs
  • An Aula Blog piece by Chuck Call analyzes the OAS “Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras” (MACCIH) about a year after its launch. The institution, inspired by Guatemala's CICIG, had a slow start. The organization's "investigations have produced virtually no corruption-related arrests or prosecutions", notes Call, and this together with its decision not to take the high profile case of Berta Cáceres' murder has induced skepticism over its use. "Comparisons between MACCIH with CICIG may arguably be unfair just one year out.  Observers recall that CICIG had difficulty showing impact in its initial investigations and was criticized as ineffectual.  Delivering on its ambitious mission to help curb corruption and impunity – in a country notorious for both – will be even harder.  However, the mission has accomplished as much as CICIG did in its first year in case investigations and legal reform.  Despite its limitations and slow start, MACCIH’s performance does not preclude obtaining far-reaching corruption convictions and strengthening the Honduran judicial system in coming years.  As civil society groups seem to be getting past their disappointment that their country did not get a CICIG, their collaboration will be crucial to the mission’s success."
  • Coca cultivation in Colombia has soared since 2013 as U.S. efforts to combat the illicit crop through aerial fumigation were reduced and ultimately ended, reports the Wall Street Journal. Planted acreage has more than doubled since its lowest point in 2012, and communities openly admit to planting as much as possible since aerial spraying of herbicide ended. Under the FARC peace agreement, the government and former guerrillas will work with communities to voluntarily eradicate coca crops in return for aid growing legal crops. But these efforts will bump up against difficult economic realities, in which unpassable roads and high transportation costs threaten the sustainability of legal crops, notes the WSJ.
  • FARC leadership and the Colombian government accused each other of noncompliance with the peace agreement last week. While the FARC says the government hasn't followed through with promises for housing and aide, the government says the former fighters are too slow to turn over their weapons, reports the Los Angeles Times. More than two dozen former armed services commanders, all retired generals and admirals, said they were concerned that FARC will convert the transitional camps into permanent "independent republics."
  • Critics of the FARC peace deal implementation, with the much reported delays in setting up concentration zones for demobilizing guerrilla fighters, ignore the issue of weak local governments -- a situation in large part created by the FARC which controlled these areas for decades, argues Fabio Andrés Díaz in the Conversation. "Blaming the government for the slow pace of the peace process, as the FARC leadership has done, ignores these profound structural problems – problems they helped create. Not only are weak state institutions primarily responsible for the delays, but they’re also the reason guerrilla groups like the FARC came about in the first place – and then weakened them further."
  • Worldwide, punitive drug policies have imposed significant social, economic and institutional costs. A new study by Colectivo Estudios Drogas y Derecho (CEDD) gives national and regional data on the phenomenon, and how women and youths are particularly affected by these policies. The report "shows how incarceration rates for drug crimes have increased ... while a regional debate reinforces the need to explore alternative policies, particularly alternatives to incarceration.
  • Venezuelan authorities found a mass grave inside a prison with 14 bodies, reports the BBC.
  • The U.N. has only reached 2 percent of the $400 million funding it aims to raise for fighting cholera in Haiti, reports Voice of America. (See post for Dec. 2, 2016.)
  • The death toll from a fire in a Guatemalan children's shelter has risen to 40. Thousands of people protested against the government in Guatemala City this Saturday, reading the names of the dead girls, reports the Guardian.
  • Zika has faded from headlines -- passing to an endemic virus and with still unclear connections between the disease and severe fetal malformation. But the Zika babies in Brazil's northeast the parents of the approximately 2,500 babies born with brain damage to infected mothers are struggling with ongoing challenges and inadequate resources, reports the New York Times which profiles three families struggling to raise Zika babies. (And another family -- struggling in a Recife favela -- in a companion piece.)
  • International coverage of femicides -- especially the infamous ones in Juárez -- miss the bigger picture of structural violence, in favor of sensationalist narratives, writes InSight Crime's Stephen Dudley. "It's almost as if Juárez has become shorthand for the larger story of violence against women in the region. But if that story is conforming to the distorted, warped, orientalist narrative, what does that say about the international press' depiction of violence against women in the region as a whole?"
  • A piece in Nueva Sociedad analyzes how illicit financial flows shield international people trafficking, especially that of women, and argues that dismantling "opaque financial jurisdictions" would be a critical step for gender justice.
  • A group of Jamaican activists -- the Tambourine Army -- seeks to shift a culture that blames victims of sexual abuse to one that shames perpetrators, reports the Guardian. They led a protest in Kingston this weekend, accompanied by marches in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, the Bahamas and Guyana. The Caribbean has among the highest rates of sexual assault in the world: according to one recent U.N. estimate, one in three women have experienced sexual or physical violence at least once in their lives. And it is estimated that 14-38% of women have experienced intimate partner violence at least once. 
  • International relations in the Trump era are characterized by business ties and direct access to the president's ear via his son-in-law Jared Kushner or chief strategist Steve Bannon, reports the Guardian. The case of Mexico's foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, who travelled to DC last week and went straight to Kushner, who he knows from business dealings, is emblematic, according to the piece. Videgaray's official statement regarding the visit did not mention any meeting with State Department officials, a striking omission, according to the Los Angeles Times. Videgaray said the main concern prompting his visit was a U.S. proposal to separate migrant families illegally attempting to enter the country. (See last Monday's post.)
  • A bus driver fleeing the scene of an accident drove into three parades in Haiti, killing at least 38 people, reports Reuters. The incident occurred in Gonaives, where angry festival goers then attacked the bus and tried to burn it, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Mexican town of Tultepec commemorated the dozens of victims of explosions in a fireworks market last December -- with a pyrotechnics display, reports the Guardian.
  • Nueva Sociedad interviews Martín Schuster on the Argentine government's neoliberal agenda, and whether President Mauricio Macri betrayed his campaign promises. (A little, but in a wholly expected fashion.)
  • Entertaining piece on Galapagos tortoise mating in the New York Times.
  • A piece in the Intercept reviews the lost work of a black Brazilian scholar, Virgínia Leone Bicudo, who found that "that rather than having a “whitening” effect, social ascension creates consciousness of skin color, because even with the financial conditions to frequent certain places, such as clubs and hotels, black people who could afford to enter were rejected due to the color of their skin." Her thesis was published for the first time in 2010, decades after she wrote it, when another scholar found it buried in moldy archives.

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