Monday, January 20, 2020

JOH ends MACCIH (Jan. 20, 2020)

Honduras' government abruptly announced the end of MACCIH, the OAS-backed international anti-graft mission in the country on Friday. It ceased operations yesterday. 

The foreign ministry said Honduras did not agree to the MACCIH's renewal, and cited concern in certain sectors of society that the mission had overreached its remit. In response, the OAS said the move was a "negative step," and that Honduran government had not matched the MACCIH's commitment to tackling corruption. (Reuters, AFP)

Negotiations to extend the MACCIH's original four-year mandate had been ongoing since late December. Univisión reports that the main issue was the investigative role of the mission and its coordination with a special prosecutorial unit, which the Honduran government wanted to strip from any new agreement. The anti-corruption prosecutorial unit is "highly effective," and without it the mission would join a long history of "meaningless advising projects," American University professor Chuck Call told Univisión.

About 800 protesters demanded Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández's ouster yesterday in Tegucigalpa. A coalition of social, business, union and student groups, that include the Platform for the Defense of Health and Education, seek to pressure the government and could call a strike. (Criterio) Business leader Pedro Barquero said MACCIH's closure would have negative impact on investment, and demonstrated the government's goal to defang anti-corruption efforts.

The episode shows that the fight against corruption is political, and that advances won't be made until corruption networks are pushed aside through organization and social pressure, said Gustavo Irias, director of the Centro de Estudio para la Democracia (CESPAD), on Twitter.

A group of bipartisan U.S. House of Representatives leaders condemned the decision: “With the stroke of a pen, President Juan Orlando Hernández had the opportunity to extend MACCIH – the mechanism put in place to strengthen Honduras’s capacity to address systemic corruption. Unfortunately, President Hernández chose not to exercise his authority and allowed MACCIH to expire."

Hernández, known by the acronym JOH, said he is as committed as ever to fight against corruption -- at a time when he is under increasing scrutiny after he was implicated in a U.S. drug trafficking trial against his brother. U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy referred to JOH as "an unindicted co-conspirator in the U.S. prosecution of his brother for drug trafficking" and said the move "to end the MACCIH, is the latest evidence that he is not serious about stopping the corruption that permeates his government from top to bottom."

Former MACCIH spokesperson Juan Jiménez Mayor said the failure to renew the anti-corruption mission responds to maneuvering related to the OAS leadership election in March. Mayor denounced an impunity pact between JOH and OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro a year ago, when he left his post. This weekend he said Honduras' termination of MACCIH is part of a negotiation between JOH and Almagro, who seeks reelection. (Criterio)

Other critics linked U.S. silence on the subject to JOH's cooperation with the Trump administration's immigration agenda. The U.S. State Department, which provided funding to the mission, or MACCIH as it’s known for its Spanish initials, remained silent throughout the crucial final weeks of negotiations between Honduras and the OAS.

News Briefs

  • Nearly 1,000 migrants clashed with Mexico's National Guard at the Guatemala-Mexico border on Saturday. Mexican police used pepper spray and closed the Suchiate River bridge when the group -- the vanguard of a new migrant caravan that set out from Honduras last week -- tried to rush across the border. After order was restored, small groups of migrants were allowed to cross and register with Mexican authorities, reports the New York Times. Guatemalan authorities say that more than 4,000 migrants, part of this scattered caravan, have entered Guatemala from Honduras since Wednesday. 
  • On Friday Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador had announced jobs would be offered to migrants. (See Friday's briefs.) A senior Mexican official said migrants would be required to stay in southern Mexico while their cases are adjudicated, reports the Wall Street Journal. Migrants can request asylum in Mexico, a process that lasts months, or receive visas allowing them to stay in four southern Mexican states. Those who travel north of the four states would be arrested, the official said.
  • The arrival of this new caravan shows the sea-change in Mexico's policies towards immigration since AMLO assumed office, reports Animal Político.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said it's now time for direct negotiations with the United States to end the political stalemate that has crippled the country. He spoke to the Washington Post, his first interview with a foreign media outlet in nearly a year. Maduro did not say he would be open to new presidential elections, a key demand of the political opposition and the international community. In the interview Maduro gives his version of last year's failed uprising against him.
  • Venezuela's embattled opposition leader Juan Guaidó defied a travel ban and crossed into Colombia yesterday. He is expected to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who is in Bogotá. It's the start of a push to shore up international support for Guaidó as his push to oust Maduro has lost steam locally. (New York Times, Financial Times, Washington Post, Wall Street JournalBBC)
Regional Relations
  • Newly sworn in Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei broke-off diplomatic relations with Venezuela, on Friday. (AFP)
  • JOH announced on Twitter that Honduras will officially designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization today. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Chilean protesters demonstrated on Friday, marking three months of intense social unrest. Among other things, they demanded the resignation of President Sebastián Piñera, whose popularity rating is at 6 percent. (France 24)
  • The U.S. State Department detected a pattern of Russian-linked Twitter accounts that supported protests across South America last year. "State Department analysts concluded that an influence campaign was underway, the latest evidence of a global disinformation war that is more insidious and efficient than traditional propaganda of years past," reports the New York Times. Diplomats say the efforts appear aimed at fomenting dissent in countries that oppose Venezuela's Maduro government. But it's not clear what impact the efforts had on protesters in each country. State Department officials said the vast majority of protest-related posts on Twitter and other social media appeared to be legitimate.
  • At least 75 members of the Brazilian First Capital Command Cartel escaped from a Paraguayan prison through a tunnel, yesterday. Paraguayan authorities said the breach was unprecedented, and analysts say it shows the extent to which the Brazilian organized crime group has penetrated Paraguayan security agencies. The Pedro Juan Caballero prison, near the Brazilian border, is considered one of the country's most corrupt. (New York Times)
  • A new IMF study finds that increasing economic output can reduce crime -- an important finding for Central America.

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


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