Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mexico to Limit Military Tribunals for Abuses Against Civilians

In a unanimous decision, Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación - SCJN) ruled yesterdaythat civilian judges in the country may prosecute members of the armed forces who commit human rights violations, according to El Universal. It also found that Mexican judges should seek to limit the number of cases tried in military courts in the future, advising justices to “apply criteria restricting the jurisdiction of military courts in future cases.”

The ruling was meant to bring the Mexican judicial system in compliance with the ruling in Radilla Pacheco v. Mexico, a 2009 Inter-American Human Rights Court decision which found that military courts should only handle internal military discipline cases, not cases of abuse against civilians.

While the ruling is a major human rights milestone, La Jornada points out that it only applies when the constitutionality of a military tribunal is in question, and will not automatically send all military abuse cases to civilian courts, as many human rights activists in the country would like.

Additionally, there may be loopholes in the decision for prosecutors, detectives and police, who are responsible for initially referring cases to the different courts. As Quetzalcoatl Fontanot -- spokesman for the Miguel Agustin Pro Human Rights Center -- told the Associated Press, these individuals might argue that the ruling does not apply to them since they are not part of the judiciary.

Still, according to the AP, the ruling does allow for victims to appeal to the Supreme Court to oppose the use of military trials in their cases, meaning that if enough of these appeals are successful, it would create a precedent under Mexican law which could severely limit their applicability.

Of course, as the  L.A. Times and BBC point out, the success of this ruling will inevitably be limited by the high level of impunity and corruption within Mexico’s judicial system, where only a fraction of crimes are followed by a criminal investigation, much less a conviction.

News Briefs

·         AP  profiles Mexican congresswoman Josefina Vazquez Mota, a member of President Calderon’s PAN party who will likely seek the nomination of her party in the presidential elections 2012. Despite lingering sexism in the country, Vasquez says Mexico is ready for woman a woman president.

·         The Council on Foreign Relations released an independent task force report on Brazil yesterday entitled “Global Brazil and U.S.-Brazil Relations.” The report highlights Brazil’s transition into a burgeoning world power, on track to become the world’s fifth largest economy within the next ten years. Although the country’s economy has been experiencing dramatic growth in recent years (it grew by 7.5% in 2010), its future will depend on how effectively it can address increasing exchange rates and growing inflation.

·         AP says Guatemala's Supreme Court has rejected an appeal filed by former First Lady Sandra Torres to let her run for president. The decision is a significant blow to her presidential campaign, and although Ms. Torres can continue the appeals process to the Constitutional Court (Guatemala’s highest court), it is unclear whether she will do so. According to the latest poll by Vox Latina, published in Siglo XXI, Otto Perez Molina now has a thirty-six point lead over his nearest competitor, Eduardo Suger.

·         Two suspects have been arrested in the weekend murder of Argentine folk singer Facundo Cabral in Guatemala. As AFP reports, one of the suspects was a manager of nightclub owned by Nicaraguan businessman Henry Fariña, who has been identified by authorities as the intended target of the attack. According to InSight Crime’s Steven Dudley, anonymous sources within the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), have said Fariña may have conducted money laundering for the Sinaloa Cartel.

·         The U.S. has extradited a former Guatemalan special forces soldier who is suspected of participating in the infamous 1982 Dos Erres massacre, in which 150 men, women and children were killed by security forces as part of a “scorched earth” counterinsurgency strategy.

·         IPS offers an insightful overview of El Salvador’s constitutional crisis, which the news agency claims is linked to efforts at repealing the country’s 1993 Amnesty Law.

·         At least outwardly, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez seems to be recovering from his cancer surgery. On Monday, state television released footage of the leader leading stretching exercises, and he was seen attending mass yesterday. According to AP, he has vowed not to let his health affect his agenda, promising to “accelerate his drive for socialism.”

·         Thousands of indigenous Colombians have been given voter registration cards with racist and humiliating names such as “Tarzan,” “Mariguana,” “Gorila” and “Payaso,” Colombia Reports and El Espectador report. The issue is the subject of a new documentary called  "We were born on December 31st," which highlights  the systematic exclusion of indigenous Colombians' by election officials. According to Efe Padilla, the film’s director, the names were assigned to them after indigenous individuals were asked to give their name in Spanish, and did not fully understand the question.

·         Depite the fact that Colombia’s Supreme Court has ruled that data from FARC computers is ineligible to be used as evidence in court, the State Council has denied ex-Senator Piedad Cordoba's request to be reinstated to her seat, according to El Colombiano. Cordoba was removed from office by the inspector general in 2010, when captured FARC computer revealed she had had improper contact with the guerrilla group.

·         Bolivian protesters have blocked a major highway in El Alto, demanding that the government invest in increased energy infrastructure in the region. La Razon and BBC have more on the protests, which are led by the so-called “guerreros del gas.”

·         James Scudamore, a regular visitor to Havana, reports in The Economist's Intelligent Life Magazine on how the city is changing as internet access is slowly becoming more available. While 21st century Cuba is much less politicized than it has been historically, there is still a major divide between the anti-Castro rhetoric of Miami exiles and those on the island who simply want more political opening.

·         National Defense University has published a new report in Joint Forces Quarterly on combating organized crime in Latin America, “A Roadmap for Beating Latin America's Transnational Criminal Organizations.” The report calls for an integrated approach by law enforcement, military, and intelligence organizations throughout the hemisphere. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report does not mention poverty eradication and economic development as methods of addressing the root causes of crime.

·         What lessons can Europe learn from Latin America in terms of handling its ongoing financial crisis? InterAm Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor highlights four expert answers to the question.