Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Guatemala's constitutional court ruled against Morales (Aug. 30, 2017)

Guatemala's Constitutional Court ruled that President Jimmy Morales can't expel the head of a United Nations anticorruption commission from the country. The court determined that Morales' order declaring Iván Velásquez persona non grata was issued improperly, reports the Associated Press

The court ruled yesterday afternoon that the presidential order violated a constitutional requirement to act in conjunction with relevant cabinet members, and also the convention with the U.N. establishing the commission, which stipulates that disagreements be resolved through negotiation, reports El Periódico.

The decisión increases political pressure on Morales to allow the work of the U.N. International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to continue, according to the New York Times.

Already, the court had suspended the order, made over the weekend, temporarily protecting the head of the CICIG. (See Monday's post and yesterday's briefs.) Velásquez and the CICIG are well regarded by Guatemalans.

Last week the CICIG and the Public Ministry requested that the Supreme Court lift Moraels' immunity from prosecution, so he could face charges of illicit fundraising. (See Monday's post.) Speaking at a meeting of Guatemalan political leaders yesterday, Morales promised to face the judicial proceedings. At the meeting, mayors backed Morales' anti-CICIG stance, reports El Periódico

The Supreme Court is expected to rule today, according to some reports, though others say justices could delay. 

Should the court rule in favor of lifting Morales' immunity, then two thirds of Congress must approve the request as well. It won't be easy, notes Nómada. Morales' FCN party has 37 legislators, and needs to gather 16 more votes in order to block the motion to lift immunity. But the secretary general of the majority UNE party is also accused of corruption by the CICIG.

In parallel, Acción Ciudadana also filed a suit against Morales, accusing him of obstructing justice and abuse of authority in trying to kick Velásquez out of the country, reports El Periódico.

International and civil society pressure in favor of Velásquez has been pronounced. This week over 80 organizations of civil society -- including the Open Society Justice Initiative, CEJIL, DPLF, CELS, Centro Prodh and WOLA -- condemned Morales' move against the CICIG head and called for respect of rule of law in Guatemala.

News Briefs
  • The U.S. foreign policy apparatus did not support democracy in Honduras in the wake of the 2009 coup that ousted its president. Rather, an in-depth investigation by The Intercept and the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that "hidden actors during the crisis tilted Honduras toward chaos, undermined official U.S. policy after the coup, and ushered in a new era of militarization that has left a trail of violence and repression in its wake." Though the State Department said it was supporting a peaceful solution, documents reviewed by the investigation showed close cooperation between the U.S. and Honduran militaries. In fact, the night before the coup, "American military officers and diplomats were at a party at the U.S. defense attaché’s house, with their Honduran counterparts." The investigation details how U.S. actors helped Honduras' de facto government to lobby in Washington, and how key U.S. actors from both parties "were working toward the same goal: elections without Zelaya’s prior restoration to office." The policy was influenced by U.S. interest in battling Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez's influence in the region, writes Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Research Associate Jake Johnston. "The machinations in Washinton and Tegucigalpa after the coup laid bare the preeminence of the Pentagon’s geostrategic interests in shaping U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, helping a 21st century military coup succeed and changing the fate of a small Central American nation forever."
  • The U.N. human rights office said earlier today that Venezuela’s security forces had committed extensive and apparently deliberate human rights violations in repressing anti-government protests, reports Reuters. Democracy is "barely alive" in the country, said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. "I think we would argue that over the course of time we have seen an erosion of democratic life in Venezuela." Some 882 people are currently believed to remain in custody, among 5,341 arbitrarily detained in street protests since April, according to the U.N. "Credible and consistent accounts of victims and witnesses indicate that security forces systematically used excessive force to deter demonstrations, crush dissent and instil fear," according to the report. The U.N. office said it hopes the report can be used extensively, especially by the OAS, which last month said it would be evaluating whether there are grounds to charge the Maduro administration in the International Criminal Court, reports EFE.
  • U.S. sanctions aimed at cutting off Venezuela's access to financing (see Monday's briefs) will ultimately affect the country's poorest and further polarize an already divided country, writes Mark Weisbrot in The Hill. And the unilateral action by the U.S. comes just as violent street protests have died down and many opposition politicians have agreed to participate in October's long-delayed regional elections. "This is a positive development for those who would like to see a peaceful resolution of the conflict. But for regime-change extremists like Marco Rubio, whom Trump seems to be listening to on Venezuela, peace is bad news, especially for the media strategy of “if it bleeds, it leads.” They may see exacerbating the economic crisis and suffering to their advantage, hoping to bring people back into the streets and away from the negotiations that will be necessary to settle the conflict."
  • In recent months shortages have been somewhat eased by a de-facto opening of imports and permission for merchants to pass on the full price of formerly price-controlled goods to consumers, reports the Associated Press. "The result of the de-facto dollarization has been a devil's bargain: Shelves are fuller than Venezuela has seen for months, but with prices that are out of reach for the vast majority of poor Venezuelans. Inflation, which has been running in the triple digits for more than two years, hit a record last month and has risen to 650 percent over the past 12 months."
  • Venezuela's former attorney general Luisa Ortega accused the government of hiring contract killers to target her and other justice officials, reports AFP. "I have information that the persecution is continuing against me and that the government has contracted hitmen to end my life," she said in a news conference in Costa Rica.
  • Policy decisions based on rational-actor theories often fail to explain Venezuelan reality, writes David Smilde in a very clear academic presentation posted on Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. He explains from a cultural sociological perspective why the sanctions targeted against government officials actually strengthen the reigning anti-imperialist narrative (as they always have in Cuba as well); and how a sociology of culture shows how the opposition has consistently misinterpreted Venezuelan reality. Finally, he looks at how illiberal ideologies, including Chavismo, can be convincing to people because they explain their world. "Thinking about illiberal ideologies in terms of embodied realism would suggest that representatives of the liberal world order actually need to make their case. They cannot treat illiberal movements–whether they be Christian fundamentalists, Islamists, nationalists, neofascists or neoLeninists–as irrational, duped or under the spell of a charismatic leader."
  • A retired U.S. army colonel was arrested in Maryland yesterday and accused of conspiring to bribe senior Haitian government officials to win support for an $84 million port project in Haiti's northern region, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Mexico's government has targeted critical civil society leaders with a string of actions -- ranging from exhaustive government audits to phone hacking -- in order to deter transparency efforts, reports the New York Times. The piece focuses on Claudio González Jr., scion of a wealthy family, who founded Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity. The group focuses on investigative journalism, research and legal action and has published important stories on government corruption in Mexico. And investigation of spying on critics and family members, using government owned software, is being carried out in a way that has victims concerned for their privacy, reports the NYT.
  • The Colombian government and the the ELN, said this week that they hope to reach a ceasefire agreement before Pope Francis's visit next week, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazilian lawmakers won't take up President Michel Temer's pension reform bill until late September, reports Reuters. The government does not currently have the votes to pass the unpopular measure, aimed at reducing the country's budget deficit, said congressman André Moura. A survey of the lower chamber completed last week by Arko Advice consultancy found that 83 percent of the 201 lawmakers surveyed from 25 parties do not believe pension reform will be passed this year.
  • El Salvador's government still hasn't given a convincing response to an investigative report last week that revealed how elite squadron carried out extrajudicial killings, reports InSight Crime. Though there have long been allegations of death squads operating within the security forces, "this time the revelations are clearer and more serious. They show that the alleged perpetrators of the crimes are part of a group that acts within the police. Moreover, the group exists within an elite unit endowed with extraordinary resources and directly supervised by the presidency."
  • El Salvador's attorney general called for urgent measures to protect off-duty police this week, after two more officers were killed by suspected gang members, reports the Associated Press.
  • Though Chilean President Michelle Bachelet presented a marriage equality bill this week, it's not clear that her fractured Nueva Mayoría coalition will succeed in passing the proposal, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)

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