Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Guatemalan Court Annuls Rios Montt’s Genocide Conviction

Yesterday evening, Guatemala’s highest court overturned the recent 80-year prison sentence handed to former dictator Efrain Rios Montt for charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. According to El Periodico, the Constitutional Court ruled 3-2 in favor of a constitutional challenge presented by Rios Montt’s legal team which claims that his right to due process was violated when his lawyer was expelled from court on the first day of the trial, leaving him without a defense attorney for several hours.

As a result of the decision, the trial will now go back to April 19, the same day that it was briefly suspended after another judge took issue with the proceedings. This means that Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, Rios Montt’s intelligence chief and co-defendant who was absolved of guilt on the May 10 ruling, is due back in court as well.

For now, it is unclear whether the case will go before the same tribunal that issued the ruling. The New York Times reports that doing so could constitute a form of double jeopardy for Rios Montt. But according to legal expert Emi MacLean, the Constitutional Court has given the tribunal 24 hours to reconvene and take the case up again.

While the Constitutional Court’s decision will likely be viewed by some human rights advocates as a major setback, its consequences are not devastating, especially considering that the defense team sought to revert the case to 2011 status. By April 19 most of the prosecution’s testimony had been heard, leaving only some of the defense testimony and closing arguments. If the same tribunal is charged with overseeing the proceedings, another outcome is unlikely. And if a new tribunal is appointed, the amount of evidence already admitted prior to April 19 will make it difficult for judges to draw a different conclusion without being accused of political bias or corruption.

News Briefs
  • Venezuela’s opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) has released a recording which allegedly reveals a conversation between a Cuban intelligence officer and state TV personality Mario Silva, a prominent member of the United Socialist Party PSUV (PSUV). In the conversation (see recording and full transcript) Silva discusses division within the ruling PSUV, specifically between the camp of President Nicolas Maduro and those who are aligned more with National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. He calls Cabello corrupt and manipulative, and mentions “previous reports” that he has sent to the alleged agent. He also characterizes Maduro as weak but well-intentioned. After denying the accuracy of the tape, Silva announced on air last night that he would be temporarily canceling his show and going to Cuba “for health reasons.” El Nacional has a rundown of the 15 most controversial themes discussed in the tape, while David Smilde questions whether its release was a purposeful move by Maduro to try to rein in Cabello’s creeping influence. The government’s slow response to the release suggests otherwise.
  • On Monday Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto presented a five-year “National Development Plan” for his administration, which according to Proceso has five main goals: fighting violence, improving administration, protecting citizens’ rights and boosting the economy.
  • Amid reports of conflict between Mexico’s growing rural self-defense movement and security forces, the Associated Press gives an example of cooperation between the two. On Monday, the military sent in convoys to the western town of La Ruana, which has been effectively cut off from the outside world after the town kicked out a local drug trafficking organization in February. In response, the group blocked entry of food and supplies into the town. The AP reports that the local self-defense movement welcomed the troops, and has agreed to stop its patrols as long as the military is present.
  • Tensions within Mexico’s main opposition group, the National Action Party, have been rising in recent days, boiling over yesterday in a heated exchange between PAN President Gustavo Madero and PAN Senate leader Ernesto Cordero on live TV, the AP and L.A. Times report.
  • InSight Crime has released a new report on the possibility of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fragmenting and turning to organized crime. According to InSight Crime co-director and report author Jerry McDermott, while “there is no evidence of any overt dissident faction within the movement at the moment,” but there is a high chance that sections of the group will break away after a peace agreement has been signed and the demobilization process begins.
  • El Tiempo reports that Colombia’s prosecutor general has announced that an investigation has been opened into former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, after the ex-president tweeted the coordinates of areas in which the army was allowing FARC groups safe passage in order to allow rebel leaders to travel to Cuba for talks last month.
  • The Miami Herald looks at Colombia’s successful battle with coffee blight in recent years, asking whether it may provide a model for the Central American nations which are beginning to see their coffee crop affected by fungus. According to the Herald, between 30 and 50 percent of the Central American and Mexican coffee crop is expected to be affected in the coming years.
  • According to Ecuador’s El Comercio, 14 heads of state are expected to attend President Rafael Correa’s inauguration on Friday, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
  • After several days of massive protests organized by Bolivia’s main trade union, the Bolivian Workers' Center, La Razon reports that union representatives and the government of Evo Morales have resumed negotiations after they were suspended on May 13.
  • An autopsy of Argentine junta leader General Jorge Videla has revealed that the former dictator died as a result of injuries suffered after falling in the shower.