Wednesday, July 17, 2019

U.S. detains Peru ex-president wanted for corruption (July 17, 2019)

Peru's former president Alejandro Toledo was arrested and is being held in custody in California, after the Peruvian government requested his extradition on corruption charges for allegedly receiving $20 million in illegal bribes from disgraced construction company Odebrecht (BBC).

While Peru first issued the arrest warrant for Toledo in 2017, a lawyer for the former president told the New York Times that the U.S. had not yet approved the extradition request. Toledo had previously been temporarily detained by California police for public drunkenness earlier this year, in a wealthy San Francisco enclave. His lawyer in Peru told local media that the defense team planned to argue that the corruption charges were a matter of political persecution, an argument that Toledo himself has made in past public statements (the Guardian).

Toledo, president of the Andean nation from 2000-2006, is one of four Peruvian presidents linked to the massive Odebrecht corruption scandal—the company has admitted to paying some $29 million in bribes to Peruvian officials since 2005. Former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned earlier this year and is now being held in pre-trial house arrest; Ollanta Humala is also awaiting trial on charges that could result in over 20 years of prison time; in mid-April, former two-term president Alan Garcia committed suicide when police arrived to arrest him.

Peru still has a ways to go in terms of successfully prosecuting and convicting the powerful political figures linked to the Odebrecht scandal. Still, the number of previously untouchable Peruvian political elites implicated in the Odebrecht case can arguably be credited, in part, to the "fierce and competent" public prosecutors originally in charge of the investigation, according to The Conversation.

Other Odebrecht-related probes continue to advance in Peru—last week, prosecutors ordered a raid on the house of Humala's wife, former first lady Nadine Heredia, as well as several law firm offices and the homes of ex-government officials, in connection to an Odebrecht-linked corruption case (ICIJ).

In total, Odebrecht, which declared bankruptcy in Brazil earlier this year, is believed to have paid approximately $788 million in bribes across 12 Latin American and African countries in order to secure favorable contracts.

  • The Trump administration asylum rule (see yesterday's post) will increase the burden on the Mexican civil society groups providing shelter and other forms of support for asylum seekers at the border. In one example of how the Mexican government is unprepared for this new reality at the border, the WSJ notes that the country's official asylum agency doesn't even have an office in Juarez, where 9,000 people have been sent back to wait for U.S. court dates under the "Remain in Mexico" program.  
  • High-ranking employees at the contractor responsible for housing the children of migrants and asylum seekers earned seven-figure salaries, the Washington Post found in a review of recent tax filings. Overall, the contractor has earned $1 billion over a five-year period. 
  • ProPublica interviews a Border Patrol agency about the realities of guarding children in detention centers. 

  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico, Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico and El Salvador this week. (WSJ)

Central America 
  • A new probe by the anti-impunity office of Guatemala's Attorney General's Office, with support from the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, resulted in the arrest of at least 19 people, including the former vice minister of health. The three-year investigation found that some 100 people were involved in a corruption ring that embezzled funds from Guatemala's health sector (CICIG press release). The CICIG's mandate ends in September; Commissioner Ivan Velasquez met today with El Salvador's vice president to discuss the creation of a similar commission in that country. 
  • In a Monday evening press conference, President Nayib Bukele said El Salvador deserves to be treated differently than Honduras and Guatemala, citing what he described as advances in fighting drug trafficking and reducing homicides since he assumed office some 90 days ago. (APEl Faro). 

  • Venezuelans will not be granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a U.S. humanitarian program meant to prevent foreign nationals from being deported back to countries experiencing unrest or recovering from a natural disaster. (The Guardian
  • Reuters with an exclusive: "U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration plans to divert more than $40 million in humanitarian aid for Central America to support the U.S.-backed opposition in Venezuela."
  • International Crisis Group asserts that the "discreet Norwegian diplomatic effort represents the best hope for breaking Venezuela's political deadlock." Notably, senior officials of the International Contact Group met yesterday in Brussels to discuss ongoing developments in the country. 
  • Venezuela has freed a National Philharmonic musician jailed several weeks ago after publishing posts critical of the government on social media. (AP)


  • In comments before an Inter-American Development Bank assembly, Ecuador President Lenin Moreno said that half a million Venezuelans are now settled in the country (EFE). (See also Refugees International's recent report on the "fragile welcome" that Venezuelan migrants and refugees have received in Ecuador). 
  • President Moreno has extended the state of emergency declared for Ecuador's prison system, first decreed two months ago following a series of violent incidents in the national prison system. (EFE

  • President Bolsonaro's assault on LGBT rights continues, after the federal government blocked a university from reserving slots for transgender students. (Folha)
  • Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel said that the 714 people killed in his state so far this year—five deaths a day—was the "normal" result of the police "hitting hard against criminals." (AP) Witzel also remarked that he sees an extremely promising political future ahead for himself—aka, the presidency. (Reuters)
  • There's much the UN can do to stop the high rate of deforestation of the Amazon taking place under the Bolsonaro administration, argues The Conversation

Southern Cone
  • A city in Chile's Patagonia region has the distinction of enjoying the worst air quality in the world. (The Guardian)

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