Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In Cabral Murder Case, Plenty of Loose Ends

Nicaragua investigative journalism website Confidencial reports that as the trial against nightclub owner Henry Fariñas continues, the Attorney General’s Office faces the challenge of proving in court that Fariñas did in fact form part of a money laundering and organized crime network.

The trial, set to start on August 22, involves Fariñas and 34 other people accused of being involved in a drug trafficking ring.

Fariñas was transporting Argentine singer Facundo Cabral to the airport in Guatemala in July 2011, when their vehicle was attacked by gunmen. Fariñas was critically injured in the attack and Cabral was killed, setting off an international investigation that has connected criminal activites from Mexico to Guatemala to Colombia. After Fariñas returned to Nicaragua, he was arrested in April 2012 and charged with drug trafficking and money laundering.

As Confidencial reports, if prosecutors are to successfully carry out their case against Fariñas, they will have to use solid evidence in court. One 97-page police report, obtained by Confidencial,  describes 15 front companies that were allegedly used by Fariñas’ network to launder cash. However, he is only named as an official business partner in two of the companies: a music business and a nightclub.

Confidencial notes that while the 15 companies are listed as having handled some $6.4 million dollars and about 658 million cordobas between 2005 and 2012, much of that money cannot be accounted for. At the moment, none of the companies have any funds in their bank accounts, raising the question of where all the cash went.

One of Fariñas’ business dealings is reportedly behind the Cabral murder. Fariñas owned the Elite nightclub, which alleged Costa Rican drug trafficker Alejandro Jimenez, alias “El Palidejo,” wanted to buy. When Fariñas refused, Jimenez ordered the assasination attempt that accidentally killed Cabral, the theory goes.

In her first public interview, Fariñas’ wife told Confidencial that her husband was only the “manager” of Elite, not the owner, and that he obtained the position by “interviewing” for it. Jimenez was just a client at Elite, she added.

As the Confidencial report points out, there are plenty of loose ends about the case that prosecutors will have to wrap up when the trial begins. in a case that will likely be seen as a serious test for Nicaragua’s judicial insitutions.

The report includes a helpful 17-minute video giving background to the Fariñas-Cabral affair, as well as selections from Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports sent to Nicaraguan police about Fariñas’ alleged illicit activities.


News Briefs
  • The AP with a clarification on its report yesterday that the US is cutting security aid to Honduras. The US Ambassador to Honduras told the news agency that while overall aid is not being cut to Honduras, no US funds will be handled by controversial police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla, accused of once running a death squad. A US State Department report sent to Congress last Wednesday actually states that Honduras has met all its human rights requirements. But a portion of the $56 million in funds approved by Congress cannot go to Bonilla or his subordinates until he is properly vetted. 
  • Colombia’s Defense Minister has said the government will continue to revise its military strategy in the embattled Cauca department, where guerrilla group the FARC maintains its tough offensive, reports El Espectador. Adding to tensions in the department was the death of a Nasa indigenous leader by unidentified gunmen, reports the BBC.
  • An Op-Ed in the New York Times argues that Rio de Janeiro is carrying out illegal evictions in the name of prepping the country for the 2016 Olympics. Plans to redevelop the city’s port area puts its most historic favela, Providência (founded in 1897), at risk, the Op-Ed authors state. While the city has said that the redevelopment plans will ultimately benefit local residents, the city has pursued a “divide and conquer” approach, only negotiating with residents individually for their relocation rather than allowing entire communities to bargain as a group. “If Rio succeeds in disfiguring and dismantling its most historic favela, the path will be open to further destruction throughout the city’s hundreds of others,” the Op-Ed concludes.
  • Colombia newspaper El Tiempo on a new report, set to be released Wednesday by the Colombia Family Welfare Institute, that estimates some 18,000 minors currently form part of guerrilla groups or armed gangs. AlertNet has a profile of former child combatants that depicts some of the challenges of reintegration into civilian life. 
  • Ecuador will decide this week whether to provide asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, President Rafael Correa said Monday. From Reuters.
  • The LA Times notes that even though Brazil is technically in the middle of an economic slowdown, “the unemployment rate is still at a record low, wages have risen, and more than 1 million jobs have been created this year.” But there is still a threat of an economic crisis that could impact the nation’s middle class far more than the wealthy.  Mark Weisbrot of the the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington: "If growth doesn't start again, this will hit people in their daily lives.”
  • Chilean President Sebastian Piñera said Monday that he rejects decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession and growth for personal use, in light of a bill presented last week by opposition party lawmakers that would decriminalize such activities. “At this time in which some propose or promote legalizing drugs, I want to say the government of Chile is firmly committed to combating drug use,” said Piñera, after signing an anti-drug and alcohol education bill into law. Still, as InSight Crime points out, that opposition lawmakers attempted to push through a decriminalization bill at all is another indication of the increased resistance across the region to the traditional hardline drug laws. Uruguay is still leading the way with its proposal to legalize the marijuana trade. The bill was sent to Congress on August 8 and can be read in full, in English, at the Beckley Foundation
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the Wall Street Journal argues that her July 30 column made waves in El Salvador, even prompting President Mauricio Funes to send his foreign minister to Washington D.C. in July, to “advance [Funes’] version of events.” In her previous column, O’Grady called for the Obama administration to cut off Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) aid to El Salvador, if the Funes government did not comply with the constitutional court’s ruling on appointments to the Supreme Court. By not accepting the ruling, it would be possible to cut off MCC grants to El Salvador, which require that a government “respect the constitution,” O’Grady argues. 
  • Time magazine with a general overview of El Salvador’s gang truce, noting that “even the nation’s financial market has received the ‘peace accord’ with open arms.” The government, meanwhile, is still careful to distance itself from the truce, even as figures like Public Security Minister David Payes are sounding a more conciliatory note than their past anti-gang rhetoric. Payes, a retired general who once said that his security strategy would involve locking up an additional 10,000 gang members, told Time that the government was focused on gang prevention and job creation schemes in neighborhoods afflicted by violence. “We also think that former gang members could form part of this effort, so that they not only benefit but that they help us administer and develop antigang programs,” Payes told the magazine. 
  • Non-profit the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory reports that prison violence rose 15 percent compared to the same period last year, reports the AP. So far in 2011, “riots and clashes” between inmates has resulted in 304 deaths.
  • 13 years after the assassination of Colombian political satirist Jaime Garzon, the Attorney General’s office will charge paramilitary leader Diego Murillo, alias “Don Berna,” as one of the conspirators behind the crime, reports Verdad Abierta
  • The LA Times with an on-the-ground feature on a street protest led by student youth movement “I am 132” in Mexico City. The article describes the student movement as “at its moment of peak momentum and hype,” but notes that it is still struggling somewhat to find its voice. The movement “may end up being swallowed by the clamor of protest that is part of the country's daily dose of ambient noise,” the article states. “But like other outsiders who have stirred the Mexican moral imagination, it may also become something more.” 
  • The Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog examines the midpoint of President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration, describing the president’s policies as “modern and decent.” “Santos is a liberal, not a neoliberal,” the article states, citing some of the president’s policies aimed at combating inequality, modeled partly on Brazil’s experience.