Monday, September 3, 2018

Morales moves against CICIG, again (Sept. 3, 2018)

On Friday Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales gave the country's U.N. backed anti-corruption commission, the CICIG, one year to exit the country. Guatemala will not renew the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala's mandate, which expires in Sept. 2019, said Morales. (Reuters)

Just before Morales made the announcement in a press conference, U.S. donated army vehicles, including manned machine gun turrets, were deployed to the commission's headquarters -- an intimidation attempt according to the CICIG and critics. (Associated Press) Morales made the announcement flanked by just three government ministers and dozens of uniformed security forces, reports La República, which says the rest of the cabinet was unaware of the decision.

El Periódico columnist Edgár Gutiérrez reports that Morales' original intention was to expel Velásquez and the CICIG and the suspension of constitutional guarantees in order to ensure order -- but U.S. pressure deterred him at the last minute.

Friday's announcement coincided with the expiration of visas for CICIG head Iván Velásquez and all of CICIG's foreign employees. Their migratory status is now unclear. The decision will be the subject of various legal battles, reports Nómada.

Donor countries, including Sweden, Spain and the EU reacted with concern and statements of support for the CICIG. (Prensa Libre) Sweden called the CICIG's work crucial and said it will do everything possible to ensure it can continue working, reports Deutsche Welle. (In May, Guatemala accused Sweden's ambassador of interference and asked the government to remove him, see May 11's briefs.)

The move is a major blow to anti-corruption efforts, said Human Rights Watch.

The U.S. joined shows of support for the CICIG, but the statement by the U.S. embassy was far softer in tone than last year when Morales tried to expel Velásquez, notes the AP. Morales has sought to align himself with the Trump administration, and Guatemala was one of a handful of countries that backed the U.S. decision to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. In July McClatchy DC reported that the Trump administration was supporting efforts to undermine the CICIG.

The move caps a year of confrontation between Morales and the CICIG, which has launched several investigations into the president and family members. A current case investigates alleged illicit financing of Morales' 2015 presidential run. Last month the Supreme Court sent the case to lawmakers, who must decide whether to lift Morales' immunity from prosecution in relation to the case. (See Aug. 23's briefs.) They shielded him in a similar case last year, and it's not clear how the main UNE opposition party will react this time -- Nómada analyzes the issue.

The announcement was not unexpected, but it was likely precipitated by the formation last week of an opposition dominated congressional commission to evaluate lifting Morales' immunity, reports El País.

Recent polls show Morales' approval rating has dropped to its lowest levels, under 20 percent. In April the CICIG polled as the institution most valued by Guatemalans, with over 70 percent approval, reports the BBC. About 500 people gathered in a protest in support of Velásquez and against Morales this weekend, reports EFE.

A far larger demonstration yesterday, called by evangelical and Catholic church leaders, rallied against abortion and in defense of "family." While not explicitly pro-government, pro-Morales factions attempted to spin the march in its favor, according to Nómada. (See Friday's briefs on the bill in Guatemala's Congress that would criminalize abortion in all instances, and Human Rights Watch's criticism.)


Nicaragua kicks out U.N. human rights delegation

On Friday Nicaragua's government ordered the expulsion of a U.N. human rights delegation, shortly after the body released a scathing report denouncing ongoing repression and violence, reports Reuters. (See last Wednesday's post.)

The OAS working group investigating the crisis in Nicaragua condemned the decision, reports Confidencial.

Thousands of people participated yesterday in an anti-government "Marcha de las Banderas." At least two people were injured yesterday when masked paramilitaries shot at the demonstration from three vans. (Confidencial and AFP)

Confidencial reports on smaller demonstrations of dissidence -- and support. On Saturday 400 crosses erected in honor of the victims of Ortega's repression this year, were destroyed and then put back up again. And the city of Catarina awoke on Saturday to streets filled with blue and white balloons, sporting anti-government slogans. (Confidencial)


Lula blocked from running

Brazil's top electoral court blocked former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's run for a third time in office. Lula, as he is known, is serving a 12-year sentence for corruption. Brazilian law prohibits candidate with criminal convictions upheld on appeal of running for office. However, Lula argues he is the victim of political persecution, and that the judicial case is aimed at keeping him out of the running. The electoral court gave his Workers' Party 10 days to replace him on the ballot. (Los Angeles Times)

The court also banned Lula from campaign advertisements. His lawyers said they will appeal to the Supreme Court. (Guardian) The case has been portrayed as a dispute between democracy and due process, according to the New York Times, but also as a landmark decision in Brazil's fight against corruption, for the Washington Post.

The decision clears up a chaotic political panorama, at least a little. Lula is by far the voters' favorite for October's presidential election, polling at 39 percent. But it is not clear how many voters will transfer their allegiance to his running mate, former São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad. Polls that exclude Lula show right-wing firebrand Jair Bolsonaro in the lead with 22 points, followed by a former environmental minister, Marina Silva, with 16 percent. Haddad trailed with just four percent. (New York Times)

Lula's candidacy received significant international support, and last month the U.N.Human Rights Committee asked the Brazilian government "not to prevent him from standing for election in the 2018 presidential elections, until his appeals before the courts have been completed in fair judicial proceedings." (Reuters)

Lula was meeting with top aides and Haddad in his Curitiba prison cell today to map out a strategy moving forward, reports Bloomberg. Over the weekend Haddad started campaigning in Lula's hometown, Caetés, reports El País.

News Briefs

  • More than 500 migrant children remain separated from their parents in the U.S., the remnants of the family separation policy applied earlier this year by the Trump administration. Most of these, more than 300 cases, affect children whose parents were deported without them -- most of whom are from Guatemala and Honduras, with smaller numbers from El Salvador, reports the New York Times. Advocates have been filling in for government in trying to locate parents and accompany them through the legal process of reunification. And in Guatemala advocates have been physically combing remote regions in an arduous search of parents who can't be contacted, reports the Los Angeles Times. (Also on NPR's All Things Considered.)
More from Guatemala
  • A U.N. backed truth commission found that Guatemalan security forces had inflicted “multiple acts of savagery” and genocide against Maya communities during the country's brutal civil war. Tactics aimed at destroying Mayan communities included bombing villages and attacking fleeing residents; impaling victims; burning people alive; severing limbs; throwing children into pits filled with bodies and killing them; disemboweling civilians and slashing open the wombs of pregnant women, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Mexico's police are usually considered part of the country's massive public safety problem. But in Morelia, Michoachán state's capital, an innovative community policing program has made headway in reducing homicides and increasing public trust of the security force, reports the New York Times.
  • Microwave strikes may be responsible for the strange symptoms suffered by U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba, ascribed to a "sonic attack" and the source of a diplomatic rupture between Havana and Washington. However, even if true, the source of the attacks remains unclear. (New York Times)
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri will eliminate half the country's national ministries and implement fiscal austerity measures in an attempt to stop a financial crisis afflicting the peso and his governability, reports Infobae. After a tense weekend with rumors of change, the president spoke this morning, saying twice that the country is in an "emergency." The government will implement a tax on exports and aim to reach a primary budget deficit of zero by next year -- a key IMF demand, reports La Política Online. (La Política Online is a good source for the minute by minute rumors.)
More from Brazil
  • A fire at Rio de Janeiro's 200-year-old National Museum of Brazil threatened more than 20 million historical artifacts -- including one of the largest meteorites ever found and and the fossil remains of the oldest humans found in the region. Critics noted the government's recent budget cuts, poor safety standards, and lack of a fire prevention system. (New York TimesAFPWashington Post and New York Times)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...Latin America Daily Briefing

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