Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Giammattei swears in, Morales keeps immunity (Jan 15, 2020)

Guatemala's new president, Alejandro Giammattei swore in yesterday -- five hours late, apparently due to unrest in Congress where lawmakers swore in earlier. Several international delegations wound up leaving before the actual ceremony as a result of the delays. (Reuters, El País)

Jimmy Morales, and former VP Jafeth Cabrera found a refuge from prosecution in the Central American Parliament, a regional body that grants immunity to deputies. Morales has been investigated for campaign finance violations, which he denies. Morales and Cabrera had to battle past protesters in order to swear in yesterday. After they were initially blocked from entering the building, National Civilian Police (PNC) dispersed protesters with pepper spray and beatings, reports Nómada. Six demonstrators were detained, reports Soy 502.

Giammattei dedicated his inaugural speech to tough-on-crime promises and corruption, which he said had kept Guatemala poor. “Today, we are putting a full stop on corrupt practices so they disappear from the face of this country,” Giammattei said. He encouraged police to use their guns against criminals when needed, saying the government would defend them if they protected citizens. And he promised a law that would make it easier to prosecute gang members, who will be classified as "terrorists," per a campaign promise. His platform also included reintroducing the death penalty. (Deutsche Welle)

Earlier in the day, Giammattei met with visiting U.S. officials earlier in the day to discuss immigration. One of his immediate challenges will be the implementation of an immigration agreement that allows the U.S. to send asylum seekers from other countries to Guatemala. (See yesterday's briefs.) There has been considerable national and international opposition to the agreement, under which the U.S. has already sent 120 Salvadoran and Honduran asylum seekers to Guatemala. U.S. officials have said the agreement could also include Mexican asylum seekers. Giammattei still hasn't taken an official stance on the agreement. (Associated Press, Al Jazeera)

The U.S. embassy promised a memorandum of understanding between the U.S. International Development Finance Corp and  Guatemala to spur $1 billion in private-sector investment and create jobs. And Giammattei told U.S. officials he will keep his country’s embassy in Israel in Jerusalem and plans to designate Iran-backed Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

Experts note that other challenges include pulling together a work team and a government plan, reports El País. Though he pledged to combat crime, his bid for the presidency "was backed by a battered elite that had seen its political influence decline, largely in response to criminal investigations," reports InSight Crime. Without a large political party of his own, Giammattei will continue to count on the support of those same elite groups.

"In his first one hundred days in office, it will be crucial for Guatemala to tackle its institutional and security challenges in tandem with any new economic plans," recommends the Atlantic Center, which also notes the difficulties of tackling corruption in a country where the last president dismantled the well-regarded international commission aimed at fighting impunity. In CICIG's stead, Giammattei has promised to create a special commission linked to the executive branch.

Giammattei served as the country's prisons director in the mid 2000's, during his tenure there were two notorious cases of prison killings, though Giammattei denies responsibility. (InSight Crime)

More from Guatemala
  • Among the new lawmakers sworn in yesterday was Aldo Dávila, Guatemala's first openly gay congressman, report Nómada.
  • Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele was a rock-star figure at the swearing in ceremony, according to Soy 502.

Colombian activists systematically killed

A new United Nations report said 107 human rights defenders were killed in 2019 -- a number that could rise to 120 as investigations are completed. Challenges in implementing the 2016 peace deal with the FARC, the presence of illegal armed groups in territory once controlled by the leftist rebels, and the government’s military-focused response are all partly to blame. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed alarm at the “staggering number” of social activists killed in the country, reports the Associated Press.

Last week the U.N. said 2019 was the deadliest year for ex-FARC combatants since the peace deal, with 77 former rebels killed over the past 12 months. Eighty percent of the attacks were related to criminal groups and organizations linked to drug trafficking and illegal mining. (See last Friday's briefs.)

Colombia was the most violent place in the world last year for community leaders, according to the new Front Line Defenders, which counts 106 assassinations for last year. Two thirds of the total killings of human rights defenders in 2019 took place in Latin America -- Honduras, Brazil and Mexico are the other leaders in the region of violence against activists. (Guardian)

News Briefs

  • Former Bolivian Government Minister Carlos Romero was detained today in a La Paz clinic where he was being treated for severe hypertension. Interim-government authorities accused him of corruption in relation to a drug trafficking program. Former president Evo Morales denounced the detention as illegal. (Página 12)
  • A decade after an earthquake caused massive destruction in Haiti -- more than 300,000 dead, 1.5 million people injured and another 1.5 million homeless -- the country is still dealing with extensive fallout. "For some Haitians, in addition to navigating the country’s current and chronic problems, the anniversary might make them feel as though they’re still being attacked, both literally and figuratively, by the soil," writes Edwidge Danticat in the New Yorker.
  • A Haitian Times video talks to citizens about how billions of dollars of aid failed to improve the country's prospects.
  • In the wake of the disaster, Americans made big promises they failed to deliver on, writes Jacob Kushner in a New York Times piece that looks at media responsibility as well as that of individual donors.
  • Reuters reports on Haitian farmers awaiting compensation for their land which was used to build an industrial park financed by international donors.
  • In response to U.S. pressure, Mexican authorities are stopping many migrants from passing through their country, stranding them in the city of Tapachula, reports PBS News Hour.
  • Mexican efforts increased deportations of would-be Salvadoran migrants by 67 percent in 2019, reports El Faro. It's part of a general increase of deportations to El Salvador from both the U.S. and Mexico, estimated to be about 41 percent last year.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's publicity ploy to sell off the country's presidential jet backfired: after a year on sale in the U.S. nobody bought it, and it piled up $1.5 million in maintenance fees, reports the Associated Press.
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández is angling to defer payments on $100 billion debt he inherited from his predecessor, but his plan B is a swift default if creditors don't agree, according to the Latin America Risk Report.
  • Peruvian authorities accused six tourists, from Chile, Brazil, France and Argentina, of damaging Incan ruins at Machu Picchu. Five will be deported and the Argentine, the self admitted ringleader, will remain in the country to face charges of "destroying Peru’s cultural heritage." (Reuters)

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


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