Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Guatemala's Rios Montt Trial Resumes

The Guatemalan tribunal overseeing the trial of former de facto leader Efrain Rios Montt and his former intelligence chief Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity is set to reconvene today, after a week of uncertainty initiated by a first instance judge who ruled in favor of annulling recent proceedings. Last week the Constitutional Court ordered the judge to return the case file to the tribunal by yesterday afternoon, and she has apparently done so.

Although there was talk of restarting the trial at an earlier point (the judge suggested winding it back to November 2011, to the pre-trial phase), it appears this will not happen. Hector Reyes, a lawyer who represents the human rights group prosecuting the case, told Reuters that he believed the trial would restart where it left off on April 18. The news agency claims that sources in the attorney general's office also said they expected the trial to resume from this point.

If true, this may mean that the trial is nearing its end, as the tribunal’s chief judge instructed the lawyers to begin preparing their closing arguments before it was suspended. However, last week the Constitutional Court accepted that some rights of the defendants had been violated. The Court left it to the tribunal to remedy this, so the trial’s timeframe may change somewhat as the necessary adjustments are made.

El Periodico reports that the defense team is arguing that resuming the trial today is illegal, as they have made several other appeals to the Constitutional Court on behalf of their clients which have not yet been settled.  Considering the drama that unfolded in court on April 18 -- when Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez’s lawyers walked out after reading a prepared statement to the press in which they characterized the trial as a sham -- it seems likely that a similar spectacle could be in store for today.

Another variable is the fact that the head of the tribunal, Judge Jazmin Barrios, will be investigated for abuse of authority due to her dismissal of Rios Montt’s defense attorney on the first day of the trial.

News Briefs
  • La Razon reports that the Bolivian Constitutional Court has ruled that President Evo Morales can legally run for a third term, despite the fact that the constitution restricts presidents to just two consecutive terms. Morales and his Movement towards Socialism (MAS) party argue that because the constitution was changed by a national referendum before he was re-elected in 2009, another term in office would technically be his second under the new constitution. A February poll found that 54 percent of Bolivians support Morales’ re-election, meaning that he will likely stay in power until 2020.
  • Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) has begun its audit of the April 14 elections, despite the fact that opposition leader Henrique Capriles characterized it as a “joke” last week because the election monitoring body refused to assess voter registries and fingerprint data.
  • El Universal and Animal Politico report that Mexico’s National Action Party (PAN) has threatened to end its participation in the Pact for Mexico (a December agreement among all three major parties to follow a common agenda) unless charges are brought against 57 members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the state of Veracruz who they accuse of using social programs to promote their party ahead of local elections in July. Video surfaced earlier this month of the officials discussing how to use the programs to their benefit, and seven local authorities have since been fired as a result of the scandal.
  • Peruvian Vice President Marisol Espinoza has publicly called on the country’s Foreign Ministry to request the expulsion of Ecuadorean Ambassador Rodrigo Riofrio, who has been accused of assaulting two women in a Lima supermarket. The women claim that Riofrio became enraged at not being attended to before them, and angrily said "That’s just like these Peruvians: they’re ignorant, that's why this country is not progressing, because it is full of Indians.” They say the altercation became physical, and the ambassador allegedly kicked them after they fell to the floor.
  • As neighboring Uruguay debates the merits of regulating cannabis cultivation, academics in Argentina have organized a roundtable discussion of relaxing marijuana laws in the country. Pagina12 reports that sociologists and legal experts have organized a two-day forum on the issue at the National University of Quilmes, south of Buenos Aires.
  • Colombian prosecutors have called on the country’s deputy director of intelligence to respond to allegations made by two journalists from Caracol Radio who say another high-level official informed them that they were being illegally monitored, El Espectador reports. The allegations have renewed a controversy over illegal wiretappings, a tactic employed by intelligence officials during the administration of previous President Alvaro Uribe.
  • With the Havana talks between the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) seemingly approaching a negotiated peace, El Tiempo has an interesting piece featuring interviews from ex-guerrillas elsewhere in Latin America on the benefits of participation in traditional politics.
  • Writing for Time magazine, Miami-based journalist Tim Padgett discusses homophobia and anti-gay discrimination among Latin American leaders. Padgett points out that the trend is not exclusive to the left or right, as recent remarks by Paraguay’s Horacio Cartes and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro have shown.