Thursday, September 6, 2018

Moralazo (Sept. 6, 2018)

Guatemala's Constitutional Court gave President Jimmy Morales 48 hours to explain why he banned the head of a U.N. anti-graft commission from entering the country, yesterday. (See yesterday's post.) The court is considering four appeals in defense of Ivan Velásquez, head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. (Reuters and Associated Press)

In a press conference today Morales defended his actions against the CICIG -- in addition to the ban on Velásquez, last week he announced the commission's mandate will end in a year. He said Velásquez's actions threaten Guatemala's social peace and governability, reports La Hora on Twitter. (See Monday's post.) 

Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel said the CICIG has become a parallel structure, and Ministro de Gobernación Enrique Degenhart said the public ministry has the capacity to carry out ongoing corruption investigations. (La Hora) It was rumored Morales would terminate visas for CICIG's foreign employees, but did not touch on the issue in today's speech.

Morales decision puts him at odds with previous Constitutional Court decisions protecting Velásquez and the CICIG, and his efforts at a self-coup are being dubbed the "Moralazo," by critics. (Martín Rodríguez Pellecer writes in El País on Guatemala's political crisis and attempts to wrest control from entrenched mafias.)

The government's onslaught against the CICIG has been in the works for months, a legal strategy of increasing restrictions against the commission, led by the National Security Council (CNS), according to El Periódico. The CNS's assessment of Velásquez was the justification for his barring this week. (See yesterday's post.)

In another move, apparently aimed at further dismantling anti-corruption efforts, Guatemalan lawmakers are considering a bill that would give congress the right to consider pre-trial requests to investigate top government officials -- including the president, magistrates, the attorney general and the human rights prosecutor -- rather than the Supreme Court. (El Periódico) Currently charges against those officials are filtered by the country's supreme court, which dismisses those that lack merit. The new Ley de Antejuicio would instead give that power to lawmakers, who could use it to disarm corruption investigations. (NómadaSoy 502 and Guardian) Critics say the bill is unconstitutional, reports La Prensa Libre.
Velásquez is in Washington DC, where he continues to head the CICIG from abroad for now, reports the Associated Press. (The U.N.'s stance was called a "tantrum," by the head of the FCN lawmakers, reports La Hora.) Numerous U.S. lawmakers met with him yesterday to voice support. Diplomats from Germany, Canada, Spain, France, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Norway and the Netherlands all urged Guatemala's government to find a constructive solution to the situation. (El Periódico) International rights groups, including DPLF, WOLA, and CEJIL, criticized the moves against CICIG and called for respect for judicial independence in Guatemala. Open Society Foundations urged U.N. Secretary General António Guterres to act in defense of the CICIG.

However the U.S. seems disinclined to strongly support CICIG as it has in the past, notes NACLA. (See yesterday's post.)

More from Guatemala
  • Morales ended today's press conference with a call to fight for life, family and matrimony. Guatemala's congress will soon vote on a bill that would criminalize abortion in all cases, prohibit sexual education in schools, and ratify anti-gay marriage regulations.(See yesterday's briefs.) Amnesty International joined calls against a bill that would penalize women who miscarry and forbid teaching that homosexuality is acceptable, reports the Associated Press
News Briefs

  • The U.N. Security Council held a meeting on Nicaragua yesterday. Countries fell on familiar fault-lines, reports CNN: the U.S., U.K. and France denounced human rights violations, while Russia, China and Bolivia argued against keeping the issue on the agenda.
  • The Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa (SIP) honored the Nicaragua's independent press with the Gran Premio Libertad de Prensa 2018 -- noting that since April of this year it has bravely faced "the pressures, intimidation, and harassment, without fainting in its rigorous denunciation of the human rights violations and indiscriminate violence of Daniel Ortega's regime.Confidencial's Pedro Molina (PxMolinA) won in the caricature category. (See below.)
  • Eleven countries in the region agreed this week to accept expired Venezuelan identity documents and a regional program for exchanging information in collaboration with the International Migration Organization. (See yesterday's briefs.) But the declaration signed in Quito shied away from the terms “refugee,” “statelessness,” “international protection,” the “principle of non-refoulement,” notes David Smilde in the Venezuelan Weekly.  (See Tuesday's post.)
  • The U.S. should step up financial and logistical aid to Latin American countries dealing with the Venezuelan refugee crisis, argues former IMF chief economist Kenneth Rogoff in the Guardian. "And it is not too soon to start planning for reconstruction and repatriation of refugees after Venezuela’s brand of socialism – or, more accurately, oil and cocaine clientelism – finally comes to an end."
  • Political change in Venezuela will likely be spurred by bond traders and sovereign debt lawyers, rather than young activists, according to CBC.
Human Rights
  • The U.S. State Department and USAID have few controls in place to ensure that police training programs in Central America include human rights training, said the U.S. Government Accountability Office in a new report. "Agencies have established objectives and delivered training to professionalize police in Central America’s Northern Triangle but have not consistently done so to promote police respect for human rights." Supporting efforts to reform and professionalize police in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala is a focus of U.S. policy in Central America. The State Department about $37 million to train police in Central America's Northern Triangle for fiscal years 2014 through 2017.
  • Paraguay moved its Israeli embassy back to Tel Aviv, just three months after moving it to Jerusalem. Israel was angered by the decision, and recalled its ambassador from Asunción. Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez reversed his predecessor's decision to follow the U.S. and Guatemala. (Guardian)
  • This morning Brazil's Supreme Court rejected the latest appeal by jailed former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, that he be allowed to run in next month’s election, reports Reuters. (See Monday's post.)
  • Two candidates in Brazil's presidential race have been charged with illicit campaign funding, less than a month before Brazilians head to the polls. Workers' Party VP candidate is accused of receiving illegal donations in his 2012 mayoral campaign. And business favorite Geraldo Alckmin, from the rightwing PSDB, is accused of taking undisclosed donations from Odebrecht during his 2014 run for governor of São Paulo state. Neither case is likely to make headway before the election, but could damage the candidates' chances. (Guardian)
  • Indeed, right-wing firebrand Jair Bolsonaro, is already angling to benefit from the accusations: yesterday his campaign focused on advocating a clean break with Brazil's political establishment. (Reuters)
  • Though Bolsonaro is leading opinion polls that exclude Lula from the running, he would likely struggle in the second round of voting, reports Bloomberg. The latest Ibope survey indicates Bolsonaro would lose to all his potential second-round opponents, except for Haddad, with whom he is technically tied.
  • Colombia's ELN guerrilla have released three soldiers held hostage for nearly a month. The decision comes as President Iván Duque analyzes whether to continue peace talks with the group. Duque has said they must release 19 hostages in order to resume dialogue. (Reuters)
  • Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced plans to build what could be the country’s largest oil refinery, reports Reuters.
  • Japan signed a repayable financial aid agreement worth $70 million with Ecuador, aimed at modernizing the South American country's energy matrix, reports EFE.
  • Panamanian journalists protested harassment from government officials and politicians who file lawsuits to retaliate against coverage, reports EFE.
Elíxir de los dioses
  • New York Times photo essay provides a glimpse into the labor intensive-artisanal production of mezcal in Mexico's Oaxaca state.
PxMolinA (see Nicaragua briefs above)

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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