Friday, May 31, 2013

Director of Guatemalan Commission on Impunity to Step Down Amid Criticism from Government, UN

Francisco Dall'Anese, director of the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), has announced he will be leaving his post in September. While the news looked at first like the result of pressure from the administration of President Otto Perez, it turns out the UN may have been looking for a reason to dismiss Dall'Anese as well.

On May 28, Dall'Anese announced he would be leaving his position at the head of the lauded judicial reform commission in September. According to remarks he made to the press, he had asked the UN not to renew his contract in order to spend more time with his family in Costa Rica. However, newspaper El Periodico reported that the announcement came after the Perez administration met with UN officials to express concern about some of the CICIG director’s comments related to the Rios Montt genocide trial case. Specifically, the government was perturbed by an April CICIG press release which condemned a platform of opinion leaders who had come against the case as “an unjustifiable threat to the trial.”

This is not entirely surprising, as Perez is known to mistrust the CICIG. The president dodged questions about renewing the Commission’s mandate during his 2011 campaign, and his decision to do so in March 2012 came as a welcome surprise to many observers. He has also distanced himself from enterprising Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, raising questions about his commitment to cleaning up Guatemala’s notoriously corrupt judicial branch.

However, a report by Guatemala’s ContraPoder suggests this may not be whole story. Anonymous sources in the executive office and CICIG told the magazine that the UN had become increasingly dissatisfied with what it saw as Dall'Anese’s confrontational tactics. He allegedly lost access to key government partners, developed a reputation for failing to communicate with his superiors in New York, and had also become very close to El Periodico, a fact which particularly bothered Perez. An embarrassingly public dispute also broke out on his watch with two former employees, rasing allegations that CICIG was not complying with local labor laws.

According to an anonymous administration official, Perez’s statement of concern about Dall'Anese to the UN was “the straw the broke the camel's back.”

Hopefully Dall'Anese’s replacement will be able to establish better relations with the government, while continuing his penchant for openly confronting corrupt actors in the court system. CICIG is expected to finish its mandate in September 2015, meaning that it the next director will have just two years to consolidate gains made in strengthening the public prosecutor's office and other legal institutions.

News Briefs
  • The U.S. Department of State published its annual “Country Reports on Terrorism” yesterday, and as the L.A. Times notes, Cuba is still considered a state sponsor of terror. On a positive note, the report recognized that the Cuban government has distanced itself from terrorist activity by reducing support for Basque separatists and sponsoring talks with the FARC in Colombia. It also notes that there is "no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups." In response, Cuba has called its inclusion on the list “shameful,” Reuters reports.
  • Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez has now safely returned to Havana after a three month-long international tour which the AP claims has “cemented her status as the most internationally recognizable face of Cuba’s small dissident community.”
  • The fallout from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ decision to host Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles continues. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has now publicly questioned Santos’ commitment to peace talks with FARC rebels, as he weighs withdrawing his government’s support for the dialogue.
  • UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank William La Rue has an op-ed in Prensa Libre in which he identifies state weakness as one the biggest challenges to Guatemala’s democratic development and security. One effect of this trend, according to him, is the fact that the country now has 6 times more private security guards than police.
  • Wired looks at the U.S. Army’s recent request for proposals from contractors to produce a 20-part Spanish radio novela to promote demobilization and counter recruitment by illegal armed groups in Colombia. The radio series would be used by a Military Information Support Operations (MISO) team in the country in an apparent bid to help the government of President Juan Manuel Santos with the demobilization and reinsertion efforts which will be necessary if peace talks with FARC rebels succeed.
  • Though Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong has publicly defended the integrity of the government’s recently released homicide statistics (which suggest that the number of killings linked to organized crime is down), some are still suspicious of the data. Animal Politico has a post by Leonel Fernandez Novelo of Mexican transparency group Mexico Evalua which details the difficulties of obtaining reliable information on security issues in the country.
  • In an exclusive interview with AFP, the woman known as “Beatriz” who was recently denied a potentially life-saving abortion by El Salvador’s Supreme Court will be giving an early caesarian section next week.
  • The New York Times profiles a new Mexican hit movie, “We Are the Nobles,” the highest-grossing Mexican film ever in local cinemas. It is has become so popular largely because of  the way it lampoons the detached lifestyles of economic elites in the country, which has recently become a politically salient issue.

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