Thursday, August 31, 2017

Salvadoran judge acquits truce trial defendants (Aug. 31, 2017)

A Salvadoran judge acquitted the defendants on trial for abuses committed in the scope of a 2012-2014 gang truce, reports the Associated Press. (See Aug. 14's post.) Judge Godofredo Salazar recognized that illicit acts were committed -- namely easing of security for jailed gang leaders, including prohibited items such as cell phones. But he said the defendants were acting as parts of a state policy run by high level officials who were not accused in this case, reports El Faro

The 17 former government officials (20, depending on the source) and advisor Raúl Mijango were acting under orders from then Security Minister David Munguía Payés, he concluded. Munguía is the current government's Minister of Defense. 

The judge called Munguía Payés "irresponsible" and asked the prosecution why he was not accused. Last year El Faro reported that the attorney general's office had put together accusations, though Munguía Payés cabinet status would have required Congress to strip him of immunity.

In the current trial Munguía Payés reiterated past statements that he was indeed behind the design of the truce and again said that it was all done with the approval of then President Mauricio Funes.

The judge agreed, arguing that the defendants could not be charged with illicit association or for unduly transferring gang leaders to lower security prisons, as such actions were carried out with the knowledge and approval of Munguía Payés and Funes, reports La Prensa Gráfica. The judge also criticized the prosecutor's evidence in the case, saying it was insufficient to establish who had ordered the transfer of prisoners to lower security facilities.

The defendants did not have the power to act alone, nor to design a state policy, marked the judge, criticizing the prosecutor's case.

It's the first stumble in a series of emblematic cases Attorney General Douglas Meléndez has opened since taking office in January of last year, according to El Faro. Arena legislators are jumping on the judge's criticism of Meléndez, reports El Diario de Hoy and Solo Noticias.

News Briefs
  • The current government of El Salvador conspired to create a dissident faction of the street gang Mara Salvatrucha and transferred 17 jailed gang members to a low security prison facility, where the members of the MS-503 released a video manifesting discontent with MS-13 leadership, reports El Faro. El Faro was alerted of the suspicious move by a source within the traditional MS-13 cupola, who said the government was sponsoring a rupture of the street gang.
  • U.S. lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are pushing the White House to renew Temporary Protected Status for nearly 300,000 immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador. TPS is an immigration program that grants people temporary legal status in the U.S. due to conditions such as natural disaster or civil war that make returning to their home country perilous, reports McClatchy. The program is set to expire for Honduras on Jan. 5 and for El Salvador on March 9. (See June 14's post.)
  • Former Venezuelan attorney general Luisa Ortega has given U.S. prosecutors evidence that personally implicates President Nicolás Maduro in criminal activities. Maduro skimmed $8 to 10 million from public coffers, she said in a press conference in Costa Rica, report EFE. If she provides evidence to support these and other allegations of corruption, she could help create international cases against Maduro and members of the administration, further complicating the crisis-ridden government, notes InSight Crime. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Though Venezuela is reeling from U.S. sanctions affecting its ability to access international financing, the government pledged $5 million to help victims of Hurricane Harvey in parts of Texas, reports Bloomberg.
  • Though U.S. Treasury sanctions announced last week affect new debt from Venezuela, the moveis having broader consequences in the bond market, where cautious brokers are limiting trades in existing notes, reports Bloomberg. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • A Brazilian court issued an injunction protecting a swathe of Amazon rainforest opened up to mining companies last week by President Michel Temer. The judge said the dissolution of Renca (more formally known as the National Reserve of Copper and Associates) could only be done by Congress, reports the Guardian. Though the decision may be overturned by higher courts, it buys activists some time to continue campaigning against the measure. The government was responding to an international outcry over plans to open sections of the area to mining developments, notes the New York Times. The government has argued that authorizing regulated mining in the region will curb illegal gold mining and generate new jobs.
  • Nearly 50,000 Colombians disappeared over the course of the country's five decade civil conflict -- uncovering their fate should be a national priority said Paula Gaviria, presidential advisor on human rights.The government has been criticized for not doing enough in relation to the disappearances, reports Reuters. The government offers up to $8,600 U.S. in compensation for relatives and has passed a law paving the way for a special search unit, including forensic teams, to help find, identify and exhume bodies. But the unit has yet to start work, and its director has still not been appointed.
  • Mexican leftist presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador said NAFTA renegotiations should be postponed until after next year's election. He also warned that he would renegotiate any deal that harms Mexico’s interests if he wins the vote, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A Peruvian judge accepted to hear a habeas corpus measure filed on behalf of jailed former president filed President Ollanta Humala and his wife, Nadine Herredia, reports EFE. The two were given 18 months of pretrial detention on allegations of money laundering.
  • Peruvian prosecutors are investigating opposition leader Keiko Fujimori over suspected illicit campaign contributions from Odebrecht, reports AFP.
  • Hundreds of Puerto Ricans protested austerity measures in San Juan yesterday, reports the Associated Press.
  • A new museum in the Guatemalan town of Rabinal seeks to create a space for historical memory in a place where the local indigenous community is still scarred by the atrocities of the country's civil war. In just four years – between 1980 and 1984 – the army and paramilitaries massacred 20 percent of the town’s inhabitants, killing more than 5,000 people, most of them members of the Maya-Achi tribe, reports EFE.
  • A Brazilian feminist writer launched a social media campaign against sexual violence, after she says she was assaulted by an Uber driver in São Paulo, reports the Guardian. "I am talking about this so that everyone who reads me knows what could happen to any woman, at any moment, and that helplessness and despair are inevitable,” she wrote. “The world is a horrible place to be a woman," Clara Averbuck wrote on Facebook.
  • And social media is also the forum for an increasingly acrimonious divorce between Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno and his predecessor Rafael Correa, writes Soraya Constante in a New York Times Español op-ed.

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