Friday, February 8, 2013

Haitian Court Postpones 'Baby Doc' Hearing

A Haitian judge postponed a hearing on human rights abuse charges against Jean-Claude Duvalier, aka “Baby Doc” yesterday after the former dictator failed to appear in court. The Associated Press reports that Judge Jean Joseph Lebrun accepted the request by the defense team to reschedule the hearing because it fell on the 27th anniversary of Duvalier's February 7, 1986 ouster. His lawyers argued that the symbolic nature of the trial date could lead to riots and unrest if the judge ruled in his favor.

When Duvalier returned to Haiti in January 2011 after 25 years in exile, he was almost immediately charged with crimes against humanity and embezzlement. In January 2012, a court ruled that allegations that Duvalier ordered murders, disappearances and torture during his 15 years in power could not be prosecuted, because the statute of limitations had expired. The legal charges against him were reduced to the financial crimes only, and if convicted of these he would face no more than five years in prison.

Yesterday’s scheduled hearing was an appeal of the January ruling filed by victims’ groups in Haiti who want the crimes against humanity charges reinstated. As Amnesty International points out, crimes against humanity are not subject to statutes of limitations under international human rights law, and the evidence implicating Duvalier in these crimes is overwhelming.

While Judge Lebrun agreed to reschedule the hearing, he threatened to have the ex-dictator arrested if he failed to show up for the new hearing on February 21.

Unfortunately, this is likely an empty threat. Although "Baby Doc" had been placed under house arrest, he has in effect been allowed to travel freely throughout the country, so far receiving only a verbal warning from a judge for his actions. Last month the government even renewed his diplomatic passport on the grounds that it is standard procedure for all ex-presidents and former prime ministers.


News Briefs
  • Argentine President Cristina Fernandez on Thursday asked Congress to approve an accord with the Iranian government authorizing the creation of an independent commission to investigate the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires. None of the five members of the proposed “truth commission” would be citizens of either Argentina or Iran, and the accord grants them free rein to travel between the two countries to conduct the investigation. Clarin reports that many Jewish groups in Argentina are against the initiative, because courts have implicated Iranian officials in the attack and they fear Iran will manipulate the commission to clear its name.
  • As police officials in Acapulco continue to investigate the recent assault and rape of six Spanish tourists in the city, the Washington Post profiles the response to the incident in Acapulco’s hotel and resort district, which is generally considered much safer than the Mexican city’s more seedy areas.
  • Mexico’s El Economista interviews Haydee Perez of the Fundar research NGO on a bill currently under consideration in the Mexican Congress which would dismiss all of the commissioners of its highly-regarded public transparency agency, the Institute of Access to Information and Protection of Data (IFAI). Perez argues that while a congressional hearing into allegations of mismanagement and conflicts of interest in IFAI would be positive, replacing the entire commission would likely result in the major parties attempting to nominate their allies to the commission, damaging IFAI’s impartiality.
  • An autopsy has revealed that a Mexican teen killed by border agents near the Arizona border town of Nogales in October was shot in the back at least seven times, suggesting he had been attempting to flee or take cover when border officials opened fire. Although the U.S. Border Patrol maintains that the victim had been throwing rocks at agents, the teen’s family is planning on filing a lawsuit against them for excessive force.
  • AFP reports that Cuban officials have turned down dissident Gisela Delgado’s request for a passport, the first known case of the government keeping an anti-Castro activist from traveling abroad since travel restrictions were lifted last month. While dissidents and former prisoners Angel Moya and Jose Daniel Ferrer were denied passports last month, the government claimed this was because the two were technically on parole. Unlike them, Delgado says her request was rejected on the grounds that she is engaged in “counter revolutionary” activity.
  • The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a new report (.pdf) on Thursday which found that the U.S. Agency for International Development’s controversial democracy assistance programs in Cuba have improved somewhat in recent years after reports in 2006 and 2008 revealed weak oversight. The GAO found that democratization programs run by the State Department, however, were marked by little to no monitoring of contractors’ activities on the island. The Miami Herald has more on the GAO report and its recommendations.
  • The AP highlights a recent push among Haitian schools to abandon a longstanding tradition of teaching students in French in favor of the Haitian Creole more commonly spoken at home.
  • A new survey by polling firm Perfiles de Opinion has found that Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa is coasting to an even easier victory in the upcoming Feb 17 presidential election than many analysts predicted. The poll suggests 62 percent of the country backs Correa, while former banker Guillermo Lasso, his nearest rival, has an approval rating of just 9 percent. This week’s issue of The Economist has an insightful rundown on the factors behind Correa’s political success, which the magazine summarizes as “a mixture of luck, opportunism and skill.”
  • Venezuelan Prisons Minister Iris Varela announced yesterday that officials found 106 firearms, 12 grenades and more than 8000 rounds of ammunition inside the Uribana Prison after it was evacuated following a bloody January 25 riot in which 58 people were killed, according to El Nacional. Meanwhile, The Guardian offers a grim look at another large penal institution in the country, the Venezuelan General Penitentiary. Dubbed the “Beverly Hills of prisons,” the inside is almost entirely run by gangs and drug kingpins whose communication with the outside world is virtually unrestricted.
  • In order to stave off devaluation of its currency, the Venezuelan government has enacted a series of spending cuts in recent weeks. As Bloomberg notes, these are the same measures that President Hugo Chavez criticized the opposition for proposing in the lead-up to presidential elections last year.
  • Rebecca Hanson and David Smilde of Venezuela Politics and Analysis have posted the second in a series of posts (see the first post here) analyzing the Chavez government’s efforts at improving citizen security in recent years. The latest piece takes a look at the country’s relatively new civilian-run police academy, which took over training responsibilities from the military in 2008.
  • Cynthia Arnson, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Latin America Program, has authored an in-depth policy brief (.pdf) outlining the major issues in the hemisphere for President Obama to tackle as he enters his second term. Arsons argues that the administration must build a Latin American policy based on clear priorities in the region, including increasing diplomatic engagement with Venezuela and addressing the growing support for alternative drug policies in Latin America.
  • After a video showing Chilean Navy recruits chanting violent nationalist slurs against Argentines, Peruvians and Bolivians caused controversy earlier this week, La Tercera reports that a video has emerged in which Argentine police recruits in Mendoza repeat similarly violent, anti-Chilean chants. Ironically, the second video surfaced just after the Argentine Foreign Ministry sent a memo to the Chilean government expressing “uneasiness and shock over the violent and xenophobic chants.”