Thursday, May 16, 2019

Guatemala's Constitutional Court denied an appeal that would have allowed former attorney general Thelma Aldana to run for president. The popular anti-corruption crusader -- a front-runner in opinion polls -- has little chance of competing in next month's election now. Pending appeals could potentially allow her to run, but time constraints make it increasingly unlikely.

Guatemala's general elections will be June 16, and a presidential runoff will be held on Aug. 11 if not candidate obtains an outright majority in the first round.

Guatemala's electoral authority blocked her candidacy due to allegations of financial wrong-doing during her tenure as the country's chief prosecutor. But supporters say the charges are trumped up, and aimed at protecting Guatemala's political elite from corruption investigations. (Judicialization of politics is a major challenge for Guatemala this year. Former Costa Rican president Luis Solis, who is heading Organization of American States’ electoral mission to Guatemala, pointed to national legislation that "allows legal measures to be filed permanently and throughout the electoral process."See Monday's briefs.)

Aldana is the second presidential hopeful left out of the running this week. On Monday the Constitutional Court determined that Zury Ríos, daughter of former dictator Efrain Ríos Montt, was constitutionally barred from running. (See yesterday's briefs.) The court is set to decide today whether former first lady Sandra Torres will be allowed to run for the UNE party. She faces charges of receiving illicit financing for her 2015 presidential run. Torres is the main beneficiary of this week's rulings, as the only remaining front-runner still in the race.

(Fun fact: Both Aldana and Ríos were disqualified from running after flying to Miami to interview with Mexican journalist Fernando Del Rincón -- in what he's dubbed the Miami Challenge, reports Nómada.)

But, supporters say Aldana has been maliciously targeted with a spate of injunctions and allegations -- filed by political opponents -- since announcing her candidacy in March. She has been in El Salvador since last month, when an arrest warrant was issued against her. Last week prosecutors announced an investigation into the issuing judge, who is accused of taking bribes. 

Aldana said she was tipped off in March by U.S. authorities about an assassination attempt apparently orchestrated by a rival candidate who has since been detained in Miami on drugs and weapons charges. (See April 25's briefs.)

The decision demonstrates the high costs of fighting corruption and criminal networks in Guatemala, Aldana wrote on Twitter yesterday. In an interview with CNN Español she said the court ruled against her candidacy in response to pressure from organized crime, and networks affected by CICIG investigations. 

The decision also strikes at a new political movement that aims to strengthen rule of law and the battle against entrenched corruption in Guatemala.

More from Guatemala
  • An Aldana presidency was the best bet for rescuing the U.N. backed anti-corruption commission, reports Plaza Pública. Current President Jimmy Morales terminated the CICIG's mandate, which ends in September. Attorney General Consuelo Porras said high-profile investigations conducted with the international commission's assistance will continue nonetheless, reports Nómada.

JEP frees Santrich, denies U.S. extradition request

Colombia's transitional justice tribunal -- the Jurisdicción Especial de Paz (JEP) -- ruled that a former guerrilla leader should not be extradited to the U.S. Seuxis Pausias Hernández Solarte, better known by his nom de guerre Jesús Santrich, is a former FARC commander accused of conspiring to export 10 tonnes of cocaine to the U.S. The case has significant implications for Colombia's peace deal and relations with the U.S.

The timing of the accusations is key -- crimes committed before the 2016 peace deal between the FARC and the Colombian government correspond to a transitional justice system. The JEP said the US justice department had not answered its request for evidence linking Santrich to the drug trafficking nor for evidence showing when the alleged crimes had taken place. Without sufficient proof that the crimes were committed after the peace deal, the JEP magistrates voted 3-2 that Santrich was safeguarded by an anti-extradition clause in the peace pact.

Colombian Attorney-General Néstor Humberto Martínez resigned immediately in protest of the decision, which ruled that Santrich should be freed immediately. President Iván Duque said he was "indignant" and that Colombian authorities would pursue appeals.

Santrich has been an issue of contention between Martínez and the JEP.

The JEP also questioned U.S. drug enforcement agents' actions, pointing to potential irregularities.

The JEP decision comes amid reports of U.S. pressure towards Colombian magistrates on the issue of extradition. (See Tuesday's briefs.)

More from Colombia
  • A group of U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Duque voicing concern over high level military appointments of commanders accused of human rights violations. They cite a recent Human Rights Watch report linking ten recently promoted officers with “false positive” killings and other abuses. (El Tiempo)
News Briefs

  • Representatives of Venezuela's government and political opposition are meeting in Norway. The two sides are open to dialogue, according to Venezuela's U.N. ambassador. Sources say Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez and Miranda state Governor Hector Rodriguez of the Socialist Party both traveled to Oslo.  Members of the opposition also confirmed the Oslo discussions, but details such as whether they would meet directly and what the agenda includes remain unclear. Norwegian media reported they have been meeting for several days and are due to conclude today. (Washington PostAssociated PressReutersAFP)
  • The U.S. banned all commercial and cargo flights between the United States and Venezuela, due to security concerns related to Venezuela's political crisis. The move further isolates many Venezuelans who have been dependent on remmitances and supplies sent from family in the U.S., reports the New York Times.
  • Venezuela's foreign policy is effectively an enormous transnational criminal conglomerate that operates with dozens of partners and hundreds of phantom companies, according to a new report by the National Defense University and Washington-based IBI Consultants. (Miami Herald)
  • Dozens of people were tortured and killed in the La Saline massacre last year in Port-au-Prince. An internal police investigation details that between Nov. 13-17 of last year men, women and even children as young as 4 were shot to death, their bodies then fed to dogs and pigs. Women were raped and set on fire, as was a police officer, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Tens and thousands of Brazilian students protested sharp education budget cuts. In Rio de Janeiro the demonstration turned violent: police fired tear gas and percussion grenades, and protesters set a bus on fire. President Jair Bolsonaro, speaking at a gala event in Texas, denied cutting education funding and said: "They are useful idiots, imbeciles, who are being used as the manoeuvring mass of a clever little minority who make up the nucleus of many federal universities in Brazil." (Guardian)
  • Also in Rio, protests erupted in the Alemão favelas after police allegedly killed a jujitsu teacher in the midst of an increasingly lethal crackdown on crime, reports the Washington Post.

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