Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Critical Venezuelan attorney general on trial (July 5, 2017)

Venezuelan attorney general Luisa Ortega refused to appear in a court case at which she was accused of dereliction of duty andthat could lead to her suspension from office, reports the BBC

Ortega says she is being legally persecuted for political reasons -- her increasing criticism of President Nicolás Maduro's government. She called the case against her "spurious" and said she expected to be fired, reports Reuters. The Supreme Court said it would decide within five days.

Ortega's lawyers recused 17 of the Supreme Court judges that were to be involved in the case, pointing to a conflict of interest as they were the object of a lawsuit filed by Ortega alleging they were illegitimately named in December of 2015.

Yesterday she denounced the Supreme Court as an illegitimate and unconstitutional "circus" and reiterated criticisms of Maduro's plan to rewrite the constitution, reports the Financial Times. "Sovereign power does not lie with the president, it lies with the people," she said in a televised address."

Last week the Supreme Court froze Ortega's assets and banned her from leaving the country. (See Friday's briefs.)

The latest moves are part of a series of judicial attacks on the prosecutor's independence, explain David Smilde and Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The attempts to isolate and remove Ortega come as she has become increasingly critical of the administration, "a rare dissenting figure within the government."

Ortega has become a prominent critic of the government over the past few months of protests, though she is historically a chavista. FT quotes WOLA senior fellow David Smilde who says her about-face is not surprising, given her human rights activism. "What surprises me much more is that there have not been more Chavista officials and dissidents following her lead."

"Ortega has also taken steps to complicate efforts to erode the independence of her office," explains the Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights post. "Following the TSJ ruling that gave powers of criminal investigation to the loyal Ombudsman, she immediately announced that she would not recognize the ruling, and called on Venezuelans to join her in invoking Article 333 of the Constitution, which allows for citizens to stand up for constitutional order in the event of its breakdown. She also requested that the National Assembly ratify Gonzalez as her deputy, so that he could take her place if she was removed. Although the legislature did so on July 3, the fact that the TSJ is holding the Assembly “in contempt” will likely mean that the court will ignore this."

In fact, the Supreme Court yesterday rejected Ortega's choice for deputy attorney general, and instead appointed Katherine Harrington, one of seven Venezuelan officials subjected to sanctions by then-US president Barack Obama in 2015. Ortega said she'd refuse to recognize Harrington in the post.

Three months of unrest have left 91 people dead so far, according to prosecutors. The latest fatality was that of a 25 year old man killed yesterday in Tariba, reports AFP.

Venezuelan NGO Foro Penal said 27 students were jailed by a military court yesterday accused of "rebellion" in anti-government protests, reports AFP.

In response to opposition plans for a symbolic referendum, Maduro reminded citizens that the only institution allowed to organize elections in Venezuela was the National Electoral Council, reports TeleSUR.

"Chopper Coupster" pilot Oscar Pérez, the former police officer who carried out a helicopter attack against government buildings last week, appeared in an internet video this morning vowing to continue fighting for the "liberation" of his country, reports Reuters. (See last Thursday's post.)

News Briefs
  • Three leaders of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (Copinh) were attacked with machetes as they drove back from a community visit in central Honduras on Friday. The targets included Bertha Zuñiga, daughter of assassinated environmental activist Berta Cáceres, reports the Guardian. Copinh believes the attacks could be connected to a dispute over access to a local water source for Cancire and surrounding villages.
  • Haiti plans to start recruiting for a small reformed army, reports Reuters. The force would be under 500 troops, but critics questioned the need for recruitment given the country's difficult economic circumstances and history of military coups.
  • Peru's Congress dismissed the country's comptroller this week on accusations of misconduct. The move removes a prominent government critic, reports Reuters.
  • A group of women who were forcibly sterilized under the government of former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori protested the possibility that current President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski could pardon the former leader, reports EFE. Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in prison for crimes against humanity, but Kuczynski said recently that he could consider a humanitarian pardon.
  • FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño was released from the hospital after suffering a mild stroke, reports AFP. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • Living in an increasingly authoritarian Nicaragua has given journalist Tim Rogers insight into Trump's America, he writes in the Boston Globe. The difference? Daniel Ortega is savvier than Trump, he argues. "Nicaragua taught me that hard-fought democratic gains can get rolled back overnight, and that political rights can be erased with a single pen-stroke. ... There’s no substitute for experience. And when it comes to antidemocratic rule, Ortega is a savvy autocrat who’s been mastering his craft for nearly four decades. His brand of authoritarianism has led to a semblance of stability and budding investor confidence in Nicaragua. And Ortega is smart enough to stay off Twitter."
  • A Guatemalan court ordered the extradition of Mexican ex-governor Javier Duarte to face charges of embezzlement and ties to organized crime, reports the Associated Press.
  • More than 200 notables, including Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and U.S. linguist Noam Chomsky signed a letter urging the Argentine government to release jailed social activist Milagro Sala, who has been detained since January of last year in by the government of the Jujuy province. The petition notes that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Organization of American States, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, among other parties, have urged Argentina "to end the arbitrary imprisonment of Mrs. Milagro Sala," reports EFE.
  • Brazilian police arrested a former cabinet minister and close ally of President Michel Temer yesterday, Geddel Vieira Lima, reports the Guardian. This week the lower chamber of Congress is set to start discussing corruption charges against Temer. (See last Wednesday's post.)
  • Brazil's Congress will vote Temer's landmark pension reform bill on July 11, reports Reuters. The Senate passed a motion to fast-track the legislation yesterday evening.
  • Oil drilling in in the Foz de Amazonas could affect a newly discovered and unique coral reef at the mouth of the Amazon river, reports the Guardian.
  • What are the limits of (political) humor? The question is increasingly asked of Rafael Gumucio who directs the Instituto de Estudios Humorísticos in Chile. "My answer is invariably the same: I don't know what the limits of humor are, the only thing I know for certain is that humor starts exactly where we establish its limits," he writes in a New York Times Español op-ed. "It is evident that nobody has the right to insult anybody else's dog, son, or girlfriend. But an essential condition of any reasonable political conversation is that we are not talking about your dog or your children or your girlfriend. We are -- or should be -- in the territory of reason, not the heart. This goes counter current in a world in which, increasingly, feeling things intensely is considered something positive. This is perhaps what most terrifies me in the tone of contemporary debate: people do not seek to refute one another, but rather disqualify the enemy from the get go because of lack of empathy."

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