Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ex-Tijuana Mayor Walks Free

Jorge Hank Rhon, the former PRI Tijuana mayor who was arrested on charges of weapons possession and murder last week, was finally freed on Tuesday.  As El Universal reports, first a federal judge dismissed the charges of weapons possession, saying that prosecutors did not present enough evidence.

Then, Hank Rhon was turned over to state prosecutors in Baja California, who are investigating allegations that he was linked to the August 2009 killing of his son’s girlfriend, Angelica Munoz. According to El Milenio, this case hit a major roadblock when, despite the fact that the killer claimed to have acted under the ex-mayor’s orders, a state judge refused to hold him for 40 days so prosecutors could complete the investigation.

The release is particularly problematic for Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his PAN party, who now find themselves fighting back against their rivals’ allegations of abusing the justice system. El Universal reports that the 50th Inter-parliamentary meeting between U.S. and Mexico legislators today in Washington, the PRI Senate leader Manlio Fabio Beltrones called on the administration not to "politicize justice,” and said that Mexico was being plagued by abuse of authority.

For its part, the PRD has seized on this opportunity to strike out against both of the larger parties. In an interview with El Milenio, the PRD president Jesus Zambrano claimed that Hank Rhon’s release highlighted the "alarming crisis being faced by institutions of justice, which involves irresponsible behavior by the federal government and the Mexican military.” He also claimed that the case was influenced by the PRI’s notoriously corrupt political influence.

There is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence to support this theory. Not only is Jorge Hank Rhon one of the wealthiest businessmen in Mexico, he is also no stranger to legal controversy. As InSight’s Steven Dudley points out, as mayor of Tijuana he was linked to the Tijuana Cartel, was accused of murdering of a journalist, breaking customs laws by trafficking ivory, and numerous other shady operations.  In addition, Reuters claims that U.S. authorities suspect him of money laundering as well.

News Briefs
  • The LA Times has an optimistic piece on the future of public defense in Mexico City. Apparently a new clinic associated with the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE) is seeing promising results, especially among the country’s urban poor. So far the group has successfully represented indigenous residents of Chiapas, challenged a state ban on abortion in Guanajuato, and defended soldiers who were punished for speaking out against perceived injustice.
  • The fifth activist was killed this month on Tuesday in the Brazilian state of Para, a region that is increasingly becoming a hotspot for land conflicts. As the AP reports, the latest victim is a 31-year-old peasant who had lived with his family on a landless settlement on unused farmland since 2008. According to the local head of the Catholic Land Pastoral, a group that monitors the conflict, the region is home to "a really dangerous group of loggers."  The group apparently maintains a list of activists whose lives are threatened, which it says totals 125 people.
  •  Colombian defense minister Rodrigo Rivera presented a fifteen-point plan this week to strengthen the military’s compliance international humanitarian law. On Monday he told El Tiempo that the plan will speed up the country’s numerous unresolved cases of "false positive" killings, or extra-judicial killings of civilians by military forces. According to the newspaper, more than 3,000 soldiers are being investigated for these incidents.
  • The AP paints a sobering  picture of what it is like to live on the Amazonian frontier during the ongoing gold rush in Peru’s Madre de Dios region.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court reached a split decision on Monday in what had potential to be a landmark case on citizenship law.  Because of a 4-4 ruling (Justice Kagan dismissed herself from proceedings because she had previously worked on the case), the court did not overturn immigration charges against a man who was born in Tijuana to an American father and Mexican mother. As the AP notes, had his parents’ nationalities been reversed, he would be an American citizen. While American mothers only need to have lived in the United States continuously for a year before their child’s birth, this rule is longer for American fathers.
  • Salon has the latest on Alabama’s controversial new immigration law, and what exactly makes it the “harshest immigration law in the country.”
  • “A planned corporate merger between Peru and Colombia’s stock markets has been put on hold until Peru’s President-elect Ollanta Humala has a chance to look over the proposal, the two exchanges said in a joint press release Monday.”
  • A newly-released WikiLeaks cable cited by ElFaro offers insight into El Salvador’s political climate. According to El Faro, the cable claims that two months after the selection of Rodrigo Avila as the ARENA presidential candidate in mid-2008, part of the party gave up on the 2009 election and began to structure what a group of politicians and businessmen called a "plan B" strategy to prevent a possible FMLN government.
  • While the U.S.- Colombia FTA seems to have reached a temporary impasse over Republicans’ rejection of the inclusion of a job-training program in the bill, Colombia has moved its trade relationship with China forward. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Colombian lawmakers have passed the “Chinese Trade Promotion and Protection" bill, which affords China certain legal guarantees on its investments in Colombia and may propel talks with China to build a cross-county that could one day challenge commercial traffic through the Panama Canal.
  • Laura Chinchilla has signed into law Monday a free trade agreement with China, which now means that 70 percent of the country’s exports fall under free trade agreements. As Bloomberg News notes, trade between China and Costa Rica has grown 14-fold since 2000, reaching $1.3 billion last year, the government said.
  • Cuba’s highest court has granted a major victory to the Cuban Juridical Association (CJA), allowing them to take the first step toward officially registering their organization.  The Miami Herald reports that the CJA intends to provide free legal services to anyone who needs them, including dissidents. If the government approved their formation, it would make them the island’s first truly independent NGO.
  • IPS highlights Venezuela’s eco-woes, particularly focusing on the issues of deforestation and air pollution. According to environmental advocates in the country, although over 40% of the country has “protected” status, only one percent of the government budget is allocated to the Environment Ministry.