Thursday, June 27, 2013

Honduran Attorney General Resigns After Congress Recommends Impeachment

Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubí, whose office has been run by Congressionally-appointed oversight committee since April, resigned yesterday after Honduran lawmakers moved to impeach him for mismanagement and corruption.

El Heraldo reports that Rubí presented a letter of resignation yesterday, in which he said he was proud of his “tireless struggle for the preservation of the rule of law, democratic institutions, the independence and autonomy of the attorney general’s office.” The resignation came hours after a congressional committee on security recommended that both Rubí and the deputy attorney general, Roy Urtecho, be impeached over a lack of accountability in the office during their tenure.


Back when Congress first turned over temporary management of the attorney general’s office to a three-person oversight committee in April, Rubí himself acknowledged that there had been major failures. In congressional testimony, Rubí admitted that only 20 percent of murders are ever investigated by public prosecutors. Some of this is due to simple case overload. A January report by the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) found that 7,172 murders were committed last year, a record year for violence the country.


But mismanagement appears to be at the heart of the problem as well. The oversight committee found evidence of wasted funding, a lack of commitment to procedure, and substandard levels of coordination with police, resulting in higher acquittal rates.


There may also be deeper political interests at stake. Rubí is not the only Honduran official to temporarily relieved of duty by an oversight committee appointed by Congress (a new power granted to lawmakers by the passage of a controversial law in December, as explained by Honduras Culture and Politics). Health Minister Roxana Araujo resigned earlier this month after President Porfirio Lobo appointed a commission to investigate the ministry. But while the government claims she is guilty of administrative negligence, transparency NGO Transformemos Honduras claims she was forced out of office because of her denunciation of corrupt deals between the government and pharmaceutical providers.


Tiempo reports that President Lobo announced yesterday that he intends to name a new attorney general soon. Hopefully the replacement will be more successful than his predecessor at improving criminal investigations in the crime-plagued country, but there is little room for optimism on this front. An AP investigation published earlier this month found that only seven police officers were fired as a result of a police cleanup effort launched last year, and some of these have since been reinstated, illustrating an alarming lack of political will to seriously root out corruption in the police force.



News Briefs

  • On Wednesday, Ecuador’s Deputy Foreign Minister Galo Galarza told reporters that the country had not given a temporary travel document to former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, whose U.S. passport has reportedly been revoked. Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, who is currently on an official tour in Asia, told reporters that it could take weeks for Ecuador to decide whether to grant asylum to Snowden, claiming that the decision to shelter Julian Assange took two months to reach.
  • While Ecuador was reportedly be weighing granting asylum to Snowden against the potential damage caused by the U.S. not renewing trade preferences with the country, it appears that is no longer a factor for President Rafael Correa. El Comercio reports that the administration’s communications secretary announced this morning that it is pulling out of the ATPDEA trade agreement unilaterally, because "Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone, and does not negotiate its principles or submit them to the mercantile interests, as important as they.”
  • The Associated Press profiles an average middle class Rio de Janeiro family which has been swept up in the recent protests in Brazil against corruption and government mismanagement. While the head of the family, Paolo Cavalcante, says he campaigned for President Dilma Rousseff, now he is disillusioned in the ruling party. “We're killing ourselves to provide our kids with what the government doesn't,” he told the news service.
  • La Republica reports on a growing scandal in Peru involving former President President Alan Garcia, who allegedly made backroom deals to pardon jailed drug traffickers during his administration. The attorney general’s office has now opened a preliminary investigation against former justice minister Aurelio Pastor Valdivieso, who denies that such deals were made.
  • Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo told reporters yesterday that Costa Rica has “doubts” about Nicaragua’s plan build a massive rival to the Panama Canal. According to Castillo one of the proposed routes for the canal includes Lake Nicaragua, the country’s primary source of fresh water.
  • A major student demonstration was held in Santiago yesterday, in which over 100,000 students marched to demand education reform. The protests, which were timed to coincide with Sunday's presidential primaries, soon turned violent. According to El Pais and The Guardian. Small groups of “encapuchados” clashed with police, hurling Molotov cocktails and looting a restaurant to set up barricades.
  • The Avenida América blog hosts an interesting bar graph comparing murder rates per 100,000 residents in the biggest cities in the Western Hemisphere in 2011. As it turns out, a number of Latin American cities generally perceived as unsafe have lower homicide rates than many U.S. cities. Washington DC, for instance, registered a higher murder rate than Mexico City, and Sao Paulo saw a lower murder rate than either Indianapolis or Dallas.
  • The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has posted a thought-provoking video interview by Adam Isaacson of Ariel Ávila, a Colombian conflict analyst with the Fundación Paz y Reconciliación. Ávila discusses some interesting findings of his research in the course of the interview, including an assertion that -- contrary to popular opinion -- there is little hard evidence of fragmentation or internal division within the FARC at the moment. The bigger issue, according to Ávila, is the state’s inability to force large landowners and rural power networks to implement agrarian reform measures likely to be included in an ultimate peace agreement.
  • Latin America analyst James Bosworth looks at the ongoing conflict in the Mercosur bloc over the admission of Venezuela after Paraguay’s suspension last year. Although at first it appeared as though Paraguayan President-elect Horacio Cartes was open to Venezuela’s membership, pressure from lawmakers in his country has forced him to reject it. On Tuesday, ABC reported that Cartes announced that the rotating presidency of the trade bloc should go to him after a meeting in Montevideo next month rather than Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and said Paraguay will remain outside of Mercosur if it goes to Venezuela. Cartes also interested in gaining full membership for his country in the Pacific Alliance, though Bosworth notes that Paraguay’s reliance on Brazil and Argentina makes Mercosur membership strategically valuable.
  • Yesterday’s New York Times featured an opinion piece by Elio Gaspari, a columnist for the O Globo and Folha de São Paulo, in which the Brazilian journalist puts the demonstrations in perspective. Gaspari contrasts the price of public transportation in his country to the “lavish lifestyles” of public officials According to him, the cost of public transportation for a family in Rio or São Paulo is “proportionally, higher than in New York or Paris.”  He also compares the fact that none of the 25 high-level officials convicted of corruption in the mensalão case are behind bars to the Watergate scandal, writing: “To grasp the significance of this, Americans need only contemplate their rage if the Watergate scandal had dragged on, enabling Richard M. Nixon to finish his second term, help elect a handpicked successor from his own party in 1976 and then watch all those indicted, tried and convicted walk free eight years later.”