Friday, April 19, 2013

Judge Orders Rios Montt Trial Suspended

In a stunning turn of events in the trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, a judge has suspended the hearing and annulled all court proceedings since November 2011, before he had been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity.
On Thursday afternoon, a judge from a separate court granted an appeal from Rios Montt's defense team to annul the entire case based on unresolved inconsistencies in lower court proceedings. According to Prensa Libre, Judge Carol Patricia Flores said that she made her decision “not because I want to, but because it is mandated by the Constitutional and Supreme Courts.”
However, Plaza Publica reports that Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz said that Flores’ ruling is illegal, and amounts to overreach of her responsibilities outlined by the Guatemalan Constitutional Court. She announced that her office will challenge the ruling in the coming days.
In its rundown of court proceedings yesterday, the Open Society Justice Initiative notes that the trial became particularly heated, with members of the defense legal team reading a prepared statement which railed against the trial as a sham and eventually walking out, leaving their clients without legal representation. This drama occurred prior to Flores’ ruling, but appears to have been coordinated in anticipation of it.
Despite the ruling, it appears that court proceedings may continue today. Yasmin Barrios, head of the tribunal in charge of the case, told Prensa Libre that all parties involved had been informed they were obligated to attend proceedings today. Attorney Moises Galindo of the defense team told the paper that neither he nor his clients would be in court today because doing so would be supporting an “invalid” process.

News Briefs
  • After nine hours of internal debate, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) announced yesterday that it would accept opposition leader Henrique Capriles’ request for a full recount of all ballots. According to El Nacional, the process of reviewing sample ballot boxes will take roughly 30 days, and will take place in the presence of representatives from both candidates. Both Capriles and President-elect Nicolas Maduro have accepted the announcement.  
  • At the urgent Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) meeting organized in Lima yesterday by Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, the regional body released a joint statement endorsing Maduro as the legitimate president of the country and congratulating him on his electoral victory. The statement also encourages Venezuelan authorities to investigate reports of violence linked to post-election protests.
  • According to Telesur, representatives from some 47 countries will attend Maduro’s swearing-in ceremony today, including 17 heads of state (eight of them from South America).
  • Mexican newsmagazine Proceso has released a statement saying that one of its journalists had received death threats from government officials while investigating the death of a colleague in the state of Veracruz. While the government claims to have successfully tried the murderer, Proceso believes that the evidence against this suspect is flimsy at best. For an overview of the case, see this L.A. Times piece.
  • A judicial reform package proposed by the Argentine government has sparked massive protests in the country, which La Nacion characterizes as the biggest anti-government demonstration that President Cristina Fernandez has faced. Reuters and the Wall Street Journal report that tens of thousands of people marched through Buenos Aires yesterday to demonstrate against the proposal, which would allow voters to choose the judicial officials who appoint judges. While the government says the reform is necessary to take on powerful interests, critics accuse the government of trying to politicize the judiciary.
  • The protest comes just after a federal appeals court ruled against the government’s attempt to enforce an anti-media monopoly law which would have broken up the assets of the Clarin media group. The Fernandez administration says it will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
  • Reuters has an update on the intensifying conflict between indigenous Brazilian farmers and the farm committee in the Brazilian Congress, which is currently considering a bill which would require boundaries of indigenous land to be negotiated through Congress instead of only the federal government.  
  • The Economist looks at the recent ouster of unpopular Chilean Education Minister Harald Beyer, offering a defense of his policies and claiming that the recent congressional vote to remove him “smacks of revenge.”
  • The Haitian government has announced that it will change the name of its second-largest airport to Hugo Chavez International Airport, a nod to the deceased Venezuelan leader’s provision of oil on preferential terms to the Caribbean country.
  • The L.A. Times features an op-ed by Charles Shapiro on the domestic and international political actors who have “won” and “lost” as a result of Maduro’s narrow victory in Venezuela.

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