Monday, June 26, 2017

Guatemalan president questioned over U.S. lobby firm contract (June 26, 2017)

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales is under growing pressure over contracts with a lobbying firm closely linked to U.S. vice president Mike Pence, reports the Guardian. Anti-corruption activists are calling for an urgent inquiry in Guatemala and the U.S. over the origins of the $80,000 contract. 

The Indiana firm was apparently hired to improve relations between the U.S. and Guatemala, an arrangement apparently designed to avoid the U.S. State department and the Guatemalan foreign affairs ministry. The agreement aims to undermine the CICIG, according to Nómada

News Briefs
  • Morales allegedly gave orders that kept teens trapped in a public institution for abused children, in which 41 youths were killed in a fire in March, reports Nómada. (See March 9's briefs.) A Guatemalan judge charged five more people over the deaths, including two police officers and three government officials who were arrested earlier this month, reports the BBC.
  • Venezuelan protesters broke down a metal fence around the La Carlota airbase, before being repelled by security forces firing tear gas on Saturday, reports the Associated Press. Last week a protester was killed there, after being shot point blank by a security office, reports the Washington Post. Interior Minister Néstor Reverol tweeted to confirm the death of a protester and said a police sergeant had fired an "unauthorised weapon." The victim's father made a personal plea to President Nicolás Maduro, who he worked with in the Caracas transportation system, reports the BBC.
  • Reports of mistreatment of political prisoners and arrested protesters are increasing, reports the Washington Post, which recounts harrowing experiences including beatings and electric shocks. Over the past 10 weeks of protests in Venezuela, security forces have detained more than 3,200 people, with over a third of them remaining in custody, according to Foro Penal.
  • Whither Venezuela? The Center for Strategic and International Studies put together a report with four potential scenarios. These range from a "soft landing" -- in which opposition forces oust the government in fair elections, but coexist with remaining Chavista forces -- to the grim "civil conflict and national collapse -- "this is the “worst-case scenario” because the existing internal polarizing factors of instability lead to armed conflict, a complete national collapse, total chaos, and high loss of life. High pressure from the international community combines with Maduro’s erosion of power and desperate attempts to hold on."
  • The FARC will formally finish disarmament this week -- yet the country remains "awash with weapons" and an increasing gloom about the peace process, according to the Financial Times. Demobilized FARC fighters are handing in their weaponry, but about 900 arms caches remain around the country in difficult to reach terrain. The U.N. is supposed to find and dismantle them by Sept. 1, but some experts fear they could be located by paramilitaries or criminal groups before. Opinion polls about the peace process and President Juan Manuel Santos are increasingly negative. Nonetheless, the piece notes, the country's murder rate is lower than at any point in decades and infringements on the peace accord have been "negligible." Tomorrow Santos and the FARC leadership will hold a ceremony to mark the end of disarmament.
  • Two Dutch journalists captured by ELN were freed, reports the BBC.
  • Former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner formally launched her senate bid this weekend, joining a mid-term race that will determine how the current administration will be able to carry out economic reform, reports the Guardian. She is running independently from the Peronist party, a break that divides the opposition and could strengthen President Mauricio Macri's hand. Fernández will be running for the Buenos Aires province, which has nearly 40 percent of the electorate and is traditionally a Peronist stronghold. However in the 2015 elections the governorship was won by Maria Eugenia Vidal, of Macri's party, notes the Financial Times.
  • Mexican activists have found an ally in Jeremy Corbyn, the British Labour leader. While the Conservative government has forged close ties to President Enrique Peña Nieto's government, Corbyn has, in parliament, condemned Mexico’s media censorship and human rights abuses, and led demonstrations against Nieto’s state visit in 2015 while the British government was signing controversial oil deals, reports the Guardian.
  • A widely cited report that Mexico had the world's second-highest homicide rate last year -- following Syria's -- has been retracted by he International Institute for Strategic Studies, which said there was a methodological flaw in its data, reports the Washington Post.
  • Officially a Russian complex in Nicaragua is a Glonass (Russian GPS) station. But speculation is rife over what is really going on in there, along with Russian investment in capital Managua, reports the BBC.
  • Trump's anti-Nafta stance has American natural gas companies concerned -- but industry leaders believe they can count on Energy Secretary Rick Perry to stand up for the trade that provides Mexico with more than a quarter of its electricity, reports the New York Times.
  • Haitian migrants stranded in Tijuana have received an outpouring of sympathy, resources and effort from locals -- demonstrating how refugees can be put in distinct hierarchies by different societies, reports the Christian Science Monitor.
  • A Brazilian human rights specialist has been granted special protection measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights due to threats he has received in the process of investigating human rights violations committed by Uruguay's last dictatorship, reports Radio Uruguay.
  • At least six people died yesterday when a tourist boat carrying 150 people sank near Medellín, reports the Guardian. A major rescue effort involving Colombia’s air force and firefighters from nearby cities was looking for survivors at the Guatapé reservoir, reports the Associated Press.

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