Friday, October 13, 2017

Rios Montt Trial Resumes in Guatemala (Oct 13, 2017)

The retrial against former Guatemalan military dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt and his military intelligence chief restarts today, writes Jo-Marie Burt for the International Justice Monitor. It will be a closed door trial (due to the 91-year-old Rios Montt's diagnosis of dementia), and for now proceedings will only take place one day a week. 

In a landmark 2013 case, a judge found Rios Montt guilty of genocide and sentenced him to 80 years in prison, only for the Constitutional Court to overturn the ruling 10 days later. The Rios Montt case was extremely politically and historically significant for Guatemala, with many viewing his trial as emblematic of the country's struggles to seek justice for military abuses committed during Guatemala's civil war. However, the case would have also set a precedent for the prosecution of other elites who perpetrated crimes against humanity, a reality which likely influenced the Constitutional Court's ruling. The Rios Montt case was also particularly notable as it was the first time a former president was prosecuted for genocide in a national, rather than international, court.

The retrial may primarily serve a symbolic purpose -- Rios Montt's dementia prevents him from serving time in prisonEFE reported that at least four elderly witnesses who testified during the 2013 trial against Rios Montt have since passed away, arguably adding to a sense of urgency for the retrial. 

Notably, Rios Montt's defense lawyer was among those arrested last week by the Attorney General's Office and anti-impunity commission the CICIG, accused of mishandling public money in connection to a prison corruption ring (see the Oct. 6 brief). 

News Briefs

  • The AP got a hold of a recording of the "sonic attack" which reportedly injured at least 21 U.S. diplomats in Cuba, causing a major setback in relations between the two countries. In another twist to the story, neurologists told The Guardian that the symptoms experienced by U.S. personnel in Havana possibly were caused by "mass hysteria." Amid the ongoing mystery about what possibly could have caused the reported injuries, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said that the White House believes "the Cuban government could stop the attacks on our diplomats." A State Department spokeswoman echoed his words during a press conference, asserting that the Cuban government "may have more information than we are aware of right now." 
  • Venezuela's former Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz published a video on her website, which reportedly shows the head of the Venezuelan division of giant construction conglomerate Odebrecht saying he will pay President Nicolas Maduro $35 million in bribes. Before leaving Venezuela in August, Ortega said she was under pressure to flee the country due to an ongoing investigation into bribes that Odebrecht paid out to Maduro and other government officials. 
  • Reuters profiles Venezuela migrants forced to return home after failing to start a new life elsewhere. While no official data exists on the number of Venezuelans who've returned home after migrating, Reuters reports that an estimated 2 million Venezuelans have left the country under the Maduro government. Countries receiving an influx of Venezuelan migrants include Colombia (where a reported 36,000 Venezuelans enter daily), Panama (where a reported 2,000 Venezuelans arrive weekly), and Peru (40,000 Venezuelans have arrived during the first half of 2017). 
  • An investigation by The Guardian found that many of the buildings that collapsed in Mexico City during the Sept. 19 earthquake had received citizen complaints about safety. The city's building boom was accompanied by a similar spike in complaints by residents about construction violations. "Mexico City is prone to earthquakes, but the way it has developed since 1985 has made it even more so," the article states. 
  • Mexico passed a law which aims to strengthen the government’s ability to track and investigate disappearances. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) calls this an important step forward for human rights in Mexico, although fully implementing the law will be the real challenge. Additionally, the law "does little to facilitate the investigation of high-ranking security officers accused of forced disappearances," and "establishes harmful distinctions between 'disappeared' and 'missing' persons, which could possibly cause many cases to be classified as voluntary absences rather than forced disappearances."
  • The New Yorker examines whether Brazil's economic and political turmoil is fostering the myth that a military coup could help the country "clean up" its corruption problem. The article notes that a recent poll showed 43 percent of respondents as supporting "temporary military intervention." Homicide and crime rates could also be feeding Brazilians' nostalgia "for those days of law and apparent order," the article states. 
  • InSight Crime reviews three books about the history of the Zetas, the violent crime group whose modus operandi (and subsequent fracturing) had huge repercussions for Mexico's underworld. The Zetas' most enduring legacy may be their successful efforts to exploit and extort Mexico's energy sector, setting a model which other criminal groups in the country are likely to follow. InSight Crime is also running a three-part series looking at mayors and organized crime in the Northern Triangle -- the first installment focuses on Guatemala. 
  • John Otis reports for NPR on Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno, noting that while Moreno was a protege of his predecessor, Rafael Correa, Moreno has openly criticized corruption reported under the Correa administration.
  • Radio Ambulante reports on a 1974 World Cup qualifier between Chile and the Soviet Union, which the Soviet Union initially refused to play because, at the time, the Pinochet government had used Chile's largest stadium as a concentration camp to house prisoners of the regime. 
-- Elyssa Pachico 

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