Thursday, August 22, 2019

CICIG shuts down in Guatemala (Aug. 22, 2019)

The United Nations backed international anti-impunity commission in Guatemala -- the CICIG -- presented a final report yesterday. The body helped bring 120 cases resulting in charges against 1,540 people in 12 years of work that marked a paradigm shift in corruption investigations in the country and the region. Over 70 highly complex criminal structures were identified and investigated.

Head commissioner Iván Velásquez -- who has been prohibited from entering the country -- spoke vía video of the commission's investigations, which accused three former presidents and a vice president of significant wrongdoing. "In these 12 years, the CICIG has helped expose the networks and perpetrators of impunity in Guatemala," he said. He also spoke of the counteroffensive against the CICIG under current President Jimmy Morales, who refused to extend the commission's mandate, which ends Sept. 3. (Associated PressSoy 502)

 Judges and experts said ongoing investigations and future cases will be significantly complicated without the support of the expert commission that worked with the public ministry. (El País)
Judges involved with corruption cases in Guatemala said they are concerned about their safety once the CICIG leaves the country. Already attacks and threats have increased, and Guatemalan judicial authorities have not responded adequately, they said. (El Periódico)

The attack on the CICIG by Morales is part of a general anti-democratic project of the government, according to Plaza Pública. The current administration has pushed back advances in the fight against corruption, and the incoming government of president-elect Alejandro Giammattei is likely to do the same, argues the piece.

More on CICIG's achievements at NómadaPrensa Libre.

More Guatemala
  • A sign of how corruption cases will go from now on? Nómada looks at how Morales' relatives were let off the hook this week in a corruption investigation. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Corruption will likely worsen under Giammattei. Together with his threats of iron-fist security policies and links to organized crime, the incoming administration is likely to increase rather than decrease outward migration rates, write Anita Isaacs and Álvaro Montenegro in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • The U.S. Trump administration could triple the number of temporary farmworker visas available to Guatemalans in an attempt to salvage the safe third country migration agreement, reports The Hill.

Bolsonaro accuses environmental groups of Amazon fires

Fires are raging in Brazil's Amazon rainforest at an elevated rate. The Brazilian space agency, which monitors the Amazon using satellite images, said detected a 77 to 84 percent increase in blazes so far this year. Most of the fires are set by farmers clearing land. The spread of fires themselves is also a sign of the rainforest's degradation, according to experts.

Smoke has spread to other parts of the country, causing alarm and drawing attention to the issue. Sao Paulo skies darkened this week, and a viral campaign #PrayfortheAmazon hit social media. (New York TimesWashington PostGuardianGuardian video)

The blazes occur as Amazon deforestation is in headlines and part of a battle between President Jair Bolsonaro's administration and conservation-minded international donors and activists. Bolsonaro recently fired the head of the space research institute, after it released data about increased deforestation since the president assumed office in January. (See Aug. 8's briefs.) Activists say the Bolsonaro administration's lax attitude towards environmental regulations has emboldened illicit clearing. Bolsonaro says the data is aimed at undermining his government. Norway and Germany recently suspended over $72 million in donations to the Brazilian government's Amazon Fund, due to the polemic. (See Aug. 16's briefs.)

Yesterday Bolsonaro accused environmental groups of setting the Amazon on fire in order to embarrass his government. Asked whether he had evidence, or whether he could name the NGOs involved, Bolsonaro said there were no written records and it was just his feeling, reports the Guardian.

Bolsonaro has argued that the Amazon's natural resources should be exploited for developmental purposes, but indigenous groups fear a lethal blow to their way of life, reports the Washington Post.

News Briefs

  • There have been several (sometimes conflicting) stories about backchannel negotiations involving Venezuela this week -- the Venezuela Weekly sorts through the latest updates and provides context. "It is important to remember that backchannel meetings have been occurring throughout this crisis ... The fact that they have been made public in the current context should be read as continuing attempts by the U.S. to generated a collapse of Maduro’s coalition by sowing divisions, given their skepticism regarding the Norwegian-mediated negotiations," write David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas.
  • A Honduran court convicted the wife of former President Porfirio Lobo on graft charges, including skimming funds from public programs aimed at poor children, reports Reuters.
  • At least 10 journalists have been killed in Mexico so far in 2019. Though the government grants protection to most reporters who request it, too often these bodyguards are insufficient to protect them from lethal threats, reports InSight Crime.
  • Brazil’s Senate on Wednesday approved measures aimed at streamlining business regulations, reports the Wall Street Journal. Critics fear reduced labor and environmental regulations.
  • Panicky Argentina observers shouldn't believe that presidential front-runner Alberto Fernández will mean a return to Kirchner-style populist policies, argues Marcelo García in a New York Times Español op-ed.

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