Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Guatemalan legislators protect Morales (Sept. 12, 2017)

Guatemalan legislators voted to protect President Jimmy Morales from facing charges of illicit campaign financing, reports the New York Times. Legislators voted yesterday to maintain Morales' immunity from prosecution, effectively shielding him from the investigation carried out by the U.N.'s International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the national Public Ministry. (See Sept. 5's post.)

Legislators overwhelmingly supported the measure, 104 out of 129 voted to maintain Morales' immunity, reports Deutsche Welle. However, Morales' defense fell one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to permanently shelve the issue, meaning the case is not dead and could be brought to legislators again, according to El Periódico. In fact, there were two separate votes, one of which rejected the request to lift immunity, and another which did not succeed in rejecting a congressional commission report recommending be investigated for illicit financing, explains Plaza Pública. (See yesterday's briefs.) 

Having failed a two-thirds majority against the measure, the case will remain a sort of a Achilles heel for the administration, as any legislator can bring it back to consideration by Congress, reports Plaza Pública separately.

The investigation into financing for the 2015 campaign can continue, but Morales will remain shielded from prosecution. Many legislators themselves are accused of wrongdoing in relation to campaign financing, and the decision is seen as a closing of ranks, according to the New York Times.

Morales' supporters in Congress argued their vote supported stability in the country, reports Reuters. The vote is a slap in the face for the CICIG, which has widespread popularity among citizens.

And it potentially sets the stage for further popular unrest in favor of the CICIG and against the political establishment, argued a Nacla piece written before yesterday's vote. "Simply put, this current crisis falls along the lines of those that wish to change the corrupt and violent Guatemalan political system, and those within the oligarchy and extreme-right wing that seek to maintain the system for their own benefit."

In the midst of a political crisis related to Morales' attempt to oust CICIG head Iván Velásquez, Morales will be attending the U.N. General Assembly later this month, reports El Periódico separately. Morales' declaration of Velásquez as persona non grata, later quashed by the country's Constitutional Court, was criticized by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres. (See Aug. 28's post.)

Guatemala aside: In the meantime, a series of constitutional reforms recommended in the wake of the corruption scandal that ousted the Pérez Molina government in 2015 languish in Congress, reports Plaza Pública.

News Briefs
  • Venezuelan authorities set Oct. 15 as the date for long delayed gubernatorial elections, which the opposition is heavily favored to win, reports the Associated Press. Voting will take place in 23 states. The elections were meant to be held last year, but were scrapped amid polls that indicated an opposition victory. The decision to participate in the elections has been divisive for Venezuela's political opposition, as many have alleged a recent vote for a constitutional assembly was marked by fraud.
  • Primary elections for the opposition coalition held on Sunday clearly favored Acción Democrática, enezuela’s oldest political party, reports EFE.
  • Venezuelan officials slammed the U.N. human rights office, which yesterday warned that security forces may have committed crimes against humanity while repressing protesters, reports AFP. (See yesterday's briefs.) "There is a very real danger that tensions will further escalate, with the government crushing democratic institutions and critical voices," warned Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at the opening of the 36th session of the human rights council. In turn, Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza Montserrat criticized the body's "political, selective and bias use of human rights."
  • Brazilian federal police suspect President Michel Temer and a group of close aides of participating in illicit acts that rendered him up to 31.5 million reais ($10 million) in advantages and other perks, reports Reuters. A police report sent to the Supreme Court yesterday said there were indications that Temer and the so-called "Gang of the Lower House" might have engaged in active and passive corruption acts, fraud and other crimes. Temer’s Chief of Staff Eliseu Padilha and Wellington Moreira Franco, Temer’s privatization tzar, were also named in the investigation, which started in 2015. The report could provide the basis for another formal corruption accusation against the president, the second in as many months.
  • An investigation into a suspected massacre of 10 members of an uncontacted indigenous tribe in Brazil at the hands of illegal miners is shedding light into violence that might be relatively common, though unreported, according to the Washington Post. (See yesterday's briefs.) Advocates "say the suspected massacre is evidence that the Brazilian government isn’t doing enough to safeguard the more than 100 vulnerable tribes that have never made contact with the outside world — and have no desire to." Brazil’s National Indian Foundation, known as Funai, is hampered in its efforts to protect indigenous tribes by large budget cuts enacted by President Michel Temer's business-friendly government, reports the Guardian.
  • The death count from Mexico's 8.2 magnitude earthquake last week has risen to 96, and officials estimate some 2.5 million Mexicans are in need of assistance. (See yesterday's briefs.) Mexico has withdrawn an offer to send assistance to U.S. Hurricane Harvey victims, saying the resources are needed to assist earthquake victims in the country, reports the Guardian. Oaxaca governor Alejandro Murat told local media that some 12,000 homes had been damaged. And residents in many affected areas continue to sleep on the streets fearing the impact of ongoing aftershocks.
  • In the meantime, private efforts to raise much needed aid are highlighting Mexicans mistrust of their elected officials, reports the New York Times. There is historically a conviction that disaster relief funds have been misused or funneled to supporters. Others accuse politicians of using the emergency as an opportunity for exposure.
  • UNICEF has called on the international community to offer aid to the Caribbean region, devastated in the wake of Hurricane Irma. The organization warned that Britain, Netherlands, and France, which control territories affected by the destruction, cannot be counted on to respond to the disaster alone, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Islands in the region are racing to restore tourism infrastructure, a key component of Caribbean countries' GDPs, reports the New York Times.
  • Barbuda apparently lost 90 percent of its structures in the storm, and the national repair and reconstruction bill has been estimated at $150 million. But the IMF is rejecting calls for suspending debt repayments in the wake of the storm, reports the Independent. Instead the  IMF's special representative to the United Nations, Christopher Lane, reportedly said the organization would prefer making new loans to the affected countries. Antigua and Barbuda have debt with the IMF of around $15.8 million.
  • But there's always a silver lining out there for somebody: Puerto Rico is in a state of emergency after Irma, and more than 1 million people have been left without electricity. Which adds strength to business interests angling to privatize the electrical grid, reports the Intercept. Sources say the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is purposely delaying repairs and worsening service to "prime the pump for privatization. Rumors circulated on social media, too, that Prepa’s foreboding warnings about storm-related outages were a signal for privatizers from its new leadership — installed as part of an agreement with Prepa’s creditors — that the system has reached a breaking point."
  • Colombia has been divided by a false dichotomy between justice or peace, but Pope Francis seemed to argue in favor of both in his visit last week, writes Catalina Lobo-Guerrera in a New York Times Español op-ed. But though his mission was to help reconcile a divided nation in the midst of a polemic peace process, the Catholic Church has remained unconscionably silent on the issue of its role during the five decades of conflict, she argues. A papal reflection on that role "would be the best example for the 8 million Colombians who believe in him, who need inspiration in these times and are hanging onto his words. We thank him for his faith and hope in use, but we would be more grateful still for honesty and bravery."
  • Former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro, a leftist former guerrilla promising to tax wealthy landowners, is polling well for Colombia's presidential election next year. It's a sign of the country's changing politics in the wake of the FARC peace deal, which has upended a traditional focus on security, reports Bloomberg. Instead Colombians are concerned with issues like unemployment and healthcare, opening up potential for a leftist leader.
  • "An art exhibition on gender diversity was cancelled in Brazil in response to a social media campaign by conservative groups that accused the show and the bank sponsoring it of promoting blasphemy, pedophilia and bestiality," reports the Associated Press.

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