Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mexico Supreme Court Ruling on Military Trials Not Yet a 'Binding' Precedent

In a key step towards changing the law that would allow Mexican military to face trial in civilian courts, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a portion of the military law on trial proceedings is unconstitutional. As noted in yesterday’s post, one section of the military justice code claims soldiers must be tried in military courts for crimes against civilians. But the Supreme Court ruled 8-2 that this is unconstitutional and wrongly extends the reach of the military courts.

Nik Steinberg of Human Rights Watch emphasized the ruling’s importance to the AP: “This is the most important step the Supreme Court has ever taken toward ending the longstanding practice of sending abuses by soldiers to military courts.”

As the BBC reports, Mexico’s Supreme Court has already ruled that civilian courts should handle accusations of military abuse. The July 12, 2011 ruling unanimously stated that members of the military accused of extrajudicial killings, torture, and other abuses should not be tried in military tribunals, where there have been few prosecutions and and even fewer convictions for such crimes.

But because the ruling was not based on an individual case, it did not set the precedent needed to actually change the law. Amnesty International urged for Wednesday’s ruling to become a “binding precedent” in Mexico. But according to Mexican law, four other separate rulings are needed before this is actually achieved.

Wednesday’s ruling was based on the case of 29-year-old Bonfilio Rubio Villegas. He was shot a military checkpoint in Guerrero state in 2009. As the LA Times reports, “Military authorities originally said the bus refused to stop for the soldiers and that they fired warning shots in the air. But four soldiers at the checkpoint later said the bus had indeed stopped and that soldiers had, in fact, fired on the bus.”



News Briefs
  • A decision by Paraguay’s electoral court set general elections for April 21, 2013, reports the BBC. President Federico Franco has said he will step down when the new president is elected and takes office on August 15, 2013. The Organization of American States (OAS) has already agreed to observe the vote, according to Mercopress. Senators, legislators of the lower house in Congress, and governors will also be elected next April. . 
  • A poll by one of Peru’s most respected polling firms found only 15 percent support for the controversial Minas Conga mining project in northern Cajamarca province, Peru. The poll surveyed 250 people in Cajamarca province; however, other nationwide polls have found much more split support for the proposed mine, with 45 percent of those surveyed in favor of the project and 40 percent against, according to Reuters. Cajamarca will remain under an official state of emergency until early September, due to the clashes between protesters and police in July, which left at least five people dead. In a move that coincided with the poll findings, Peru’s national mining association released a study Wednesday claiming that direct and indirect economic benefits resulting from mining investment could be as much as $54 billion, reports Dow Jones newswires
  • McClatchy newspapers take note that the Zetas appear to be splitting, with much of the fighting apparently concentrated in the central states of Zacatecas and San Luis de Potosi. Analyst Alejandro Hope cautions that the extent of the split is still unclear, and could have been triggered by the June arrest of the brother of Zetas leader Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, alias “Z-40.” Samuel Logan of Southern Pulse adds that the split “has been developing for awhile,” although it is only just becoming public. While Treviño Morales is thought to be confronting a rival faction led by Zetas commander Ivan Velazquez, alias “Z-50,” in Zacatecas and San Luis de Potosi, it is not yet clear whether the split extends to the Zetas’ other top commander, Heriberto Lazcano. 
  • Analysis by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs finds that the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) has done little to reduce poverty or improve food security in the region: the main beneficiaries are US exporters of cheap agricultural goods. Since the free trade agreement was imposed in 2002, Central America has been flooded with cheap grains and other products from the US, and seen their own rural economies badly debilitated as a result, the non-profit argues. 
  • According to Reporters Without Borders, a journalist who published an article in Colombia’s Semana magazine about Ecuador’s issues with free speech was attacked by a man carrying a steel bar. The journalist, Orlando Gomez Leon, who is also an editor at Ecuadorean newspaper La Hora, said that he’d previously received phone calls threatening him to “stop saying bad things about Ecuador.” Gomez was not injured during the attack, but the windows of his vehicle were smashed, according to the RWB account. 
  • The man accused of plotting the assassination attempt that killed Argentine singer Facundo Cabral may be extradited from Guatemala to Costa Rica, where he is wanted on money laundering charges, a Guatemalan judge ruled Wednesday. However, according to the ruling, the suspect, Alejandro Jimenez, alias “El Palidejo,” must first face trial in Guatemala, where is he being held on a more serious charge: ordering the attack that killed Cabral. The ruling highlights the international nature of the case and raises the question of what might end up happening to Jimenez after his trial in Guatemala . EFE reports. As Americas Quarterly notes, Wednesday also saw the beginning of the trial of nightclub owner Henry Fariñas in Nicaragua. Fariñas was driving Cabral’s vehicle and is believed to have been the intended victim of the assasination attempt. He is charged with drug trafficking and money laundering. 
  • A religious sect in Mexico is preventing the government from entering the community and running the school system, reports the AP. Followers of the sect are banned from using modern technological devices like cell phones, and must follow traditional Catholic doctrine. But it is the community’s resistance to formal schooling -- including government-imposed curriculum and teachers -- that has caused the sect to clash most strongly with state authorities. 
  • Infolatam argues that President Olllanta Humala’s family is turning into a political liability. His brother Alexis has been scrutinized by the press because he reportedly bid and won government contracts worth up to $190,000 -- even though under current law, relatives of the president are forbidden from doing business with the government. Both Humala’s recently appointed prime minister, Juan Jimenez, and Humala’s wife have implied that the president will do little to protect Alexis if he faces a formal investigation. Infolatam notes that this is only the latest family conflict for President Humala. Another brother, Antauro, is serving a 19-year prison sentence for temporarily occupying a police station and demanding the resignation of then-President Alejandro Toledo in 2005. Humala’s father, Isaac, has also attracted attention for publicly defending Alexis yet offering a harsh criticism of First Lady Nadine Heredia, calling her “drunk on power.” 
  • Three Republican lawmakers from Texas are continuing to lobby the Pentagon to hand over surplus military equipment from Afghanistan to law enforcement based along the US-Mexico border. From UPI. And as the AP reports, the US is already testing other defense technology that had previously proven effective in Afghanistan: namely, helium-filled balloons equipped with cameras, used for surveillance along the southwest frontier..  In other border news, the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has a working paper laying out a set of objective measures for appraising security along the US-Mexico border. 
  • The New York Times reports that eight former police and military officers in Chile have been charged in the disappearance of a hiker during the Pinochet regime, the only US citizen to have disappeared during the dictatorship.
  • A new study by the United Nations Agency for Human Settlements finds that Guatemala is the Latin American country with the widest income disparity, while Venezuela has the smallest, reports the BBC
  • Data analyst and blogger Diego Valle with some striking visuals illustrating the spike in Mexico’s murder rate, based on the most recent homicide statistics released by the national geography institute, known in Spanish as INEGI. 
  • The Miami Herald on the financial advantage enjoyed by President Hugo Chavez during his campaign. The opposition has also argued that Chavez has blurred the line between official campaign advertising -- which according to law should be limited to just three minutes of television spots a day -- and the government promotional spots. 
  • The former chief of Guatemala’s police was found guilty for orchestrating the disappearance of a university student in 1981, the highest ranking police official to ever be sentenced for crimes committed during Guatemala’s civil war. From the BBC.