Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Colombia Dismisses Attorney General Amid Paramilitary Scandal

Colombia’s Attorney General Viviane Morales has been removed from her post, while her husband faces accusations that he had dealings with the paramilitaries.

The State Council voted to remove Morales on the grounds that her election in 2010 was illegitimate, as she only gained the support of 14 of 23 Supreme Court judges, when according to the constitution she would need that of two thirds. Morales argues that, as only 18 justices were present on the day of the vote, she did reach the legal threshold.


Her expulsion means that the fraught procedure of picking an attorney general must begin again. The position, which the Associated Press describes as the second most powerful in the country after the presidency, was held by an interim official for a year and four months until Morales was voted in in December 2010. The delay was due to the Supreme Court’s failure to reach the necessary consensus on any one candidate.


President Juan Manuel Santos will now present another shortlist of three candidates to the Supreme Court. Guillermos Mendoza, who was acting attorney general while the election took place, told the AP that Santos could choose Morales as one of his nominees.


Morales has been praised for her efforts to prosecute close allies of former President Alvaro Uribe, jailing his Agriculture Minister Andres Felipe Arias and chief of staff Bernado Moreno.


However, Morales’ re-marriage last year to ex-congressman Carlos Alonso Lucio led three of the country’s most prominent journalists to call for her resignation, on the grounds that Alonso has been accused of links to the guerrillas, the paramilitaries, and the Cali Cartel, as El Tiempo reports.


The attorney general’s recent issuing of an arrest warrant against former peace commissioner Felipe Carlos Restrepo for crimes including arms trafficking and working with the paramilitareis was viewed by some as overstepping the mark. Semana magazine argued that the charges did not fit with what is known of Restrepo, who played a major part in the demobilization of the AUC paramilitary group in the 2000s.


Restrepo has accused Morales of acting out of revenge, saying that her legal action against him came soon after he had accused her husband of dealings with paramilitaries. For Semana, the fact of bringing such heavy charges against an accusor of her husband looks very bad for the attorney general, regardless of whether they are justified.




News Briefs
  • Hamid Ghodse, president of the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), said that legalizing drugs was “not an option,” pointing out that, even with legal drugs, “crime related to the trafficking of tobacco and alcohol has not disapeared, and in fact is a large part of criminal activity,” reports Prensa Libre. His comments followed Guatemalan President Otto Perez’s calls for debate on the issue. Perez said he was glad that the UN had spoken on the matter, because “this is precisely what we want; to raise the debate.”
  • A Guatemalan air force helicopter crashed in the northern state of Peten, killing all 10 people on board. It had been on its way to help a civilian helicopter which crashed in bad weather. All three people on the first craft survived. In an indication of the difficulties Guatemala faces in fighting the war on drugs, Defense Minister Ulises Noe Anzueto said that with the crash, the army had lost one of its three functioning helicopters. He said that they had a few more that were out of service, but that the institution did not have the funds to repair them.
  • Venezuela’s vice president, Elias Jaua, said that President Hugo Chavez was in stable condition after Cuban doctors successfully operated to remove a tumor, though he did not say whether the growth was malignant.
  • A Puerto Rican congressman who had been running for mayor of San Juan has resigned from the House of Representatives and from the vice presidency of his opposition party, amid accusations of domestic abuse, reports the AP. Hector Ferrer has accused the government of political motives in pursuing the case against him, saying it was an “act of abuse and outrage on the part of the government branch.” He said his former girlfriend had been forced to make the accusations against him by a prosecutor, who threatened to take custody of their son away from her.
  • Argentina has called on 20 firms to stop importing British products, which Industry Minister Debora Giorgi said would “send a message to those who still use colonialism to get hold of other people's natural resources,” reports AFP.
  • The INCB report says that Mexico’s cocaine seizures in 2011 were less than a fifth of those in 2010, due to traffickers diverting their business through Central America and the Caribbean. However, seizures of marijuana and methamphetamine, which are produced in Mexico, remained stable.
  • The BBC has an analysis of the fight against Shining Path rebels in Peru, quoting expert Jaime Antezana who warns that the Peruvian government is focusing on the group as a terrorist threat rather than as a drug trafficking organization. "That means that they will just try to dismantle the armed structure [of the Shining Path]. Meanwhile, drug-trafficking keeps on going up."
  • Seven employees of  Casanare Avanzada, a construction company that was building an oil pipeline in east Colombia, have been kidnapped along with two drivers in the province of Arauca. The authorities said that their kidnappers were probably guerrillas. Both the ELN and the FARC operate in the area, andRCN said that the workers were “apparently” kidnapped by the FARC. If true, this would undermine the guerrillas’ promise just days ago that they would stop kidnapping for extortion purposes.
  • An opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle argues that the deadly conditions in Honduras prisons, where more than 350 inmates died in a fire this month, are caused by a culture of impunity amongst guards, and the failure to bring prisoners to trial, which leaves many languishing in jail for years without being convicted. The author criticizes the US government’s policy towards Honduras, saying that “the United States continues to send military and police aid to a government that violates inmates' human rights.”
  • The head of Haiti’s police force says that the institution is making progress on getting rid of corrupt police, reports the Miami Herald, stating that almost 1,000 officers were fired between 2005 and 2009. The statements were in response to complaints from a UN human rights official that the process of purging the police was not being carried out quickly enough.
  • The older sister of Raul and Fidel Castro has died in Havana at the age of 86, reports Univision.