Friday, July 19, 2013

Appointment of Officials Stirs Controversy in Peru

After civil society groups protested the decision by Peru’s Congress to name a controversial new ombudswoman and appoint several questionable figures to the country’s top court, President Ollanta Humala has weighed in, calling for some of officials to resign.

On Wednesday, Peruvian lawmakers voted to appoint six new members to the Constitutional Tribunal, as well as the new head of the Defensoria del Pueblo, the office of the ombudsperson. Three new members to the Central Reserve Bank’s board of directors were also named. As the Wall Street Journal reports, these appointments were nearly two years because of lawmakers’ “wrangling” in Congress.

This appeared to have a clear effect on the process, and the affiliations of each appointee gave the impression that the offices had been divvied up among the country’s major political parties. According to El Comercio, each of the six officials named to the Tribunal had overt links to political causes, leaving Congress open to criticism of politicizing the court.

Among the appointees was Rolando Sousa, a lawyer who has consistently defended Alberto Fujimori, the imprisoned former president convicted of human rights violations. Sousa’s law firm has also come to the defense of a number of Fujimoristas accused of corruption, as well as soldiers linked to rights abuses. On the Monday prior to the vote, the National Coordinator of Human Rights (CNDDHH) -- an umbrella group of 81 NGOs working on human rights issues in Peru -- released a statement criticizing Sousa’s nomination as “contradictory, absurd and impermissible.”

The CNDDHH also condemned the nomination of Pilar Freitas as the new Defensoria, alleging that her selection was “accompanied by a series of irregularities that overshadow her candidacy, giving rise to an uncertain situation that does not favor democratic institutions.” Freitas is a member of the Peru Posible party of former president Alejandro Toledo, although on Wednesday she formally resigned from the party to take office.

On the evening after Congress approved the appointments, the Association for Human Rights in Peru (APRODEH) and other affiliates of the CNDDHH sponsored a march in downtown Lima, calling the incident a “national shame.” La Republica has video and photos of the demonstration, which drew hundreds of participants, and reports that police broke up the protests in the city’s main plaza.

Yesterday, President Humala echoed the concerns of the CNDDHH, telling reporters he was “dissatisfied” with Congress’ vote. El Comercio reports that Humala singled out Sousa and Freitas, saying, “There are two officials elected that don't meet the expectations of the population. I urge them to take a step aside.” According to La Republica, former Ombudswoman Beatriz Merino has backed Humala’s remarks, praising him for “deciding to take leadership and listen to the will of the citizenry.” So far, neither Sousa nor Freitas have signaled a willingness to step down, and the president of Congress has said the decision is up to them.

News Briefs

  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is demanding that U.S. President Barack Obama’s nominated ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, retract recent critical remarks aimed at his government. In a confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Power included Venezuela in a list of countries (along with Cuban, Iran and Russia) guilty of a “crackdown on civil society.” In response, Maduro called the remarks “despicable,” and claimed the recent ruling on the Trayvon Martin case and aggressive pursuit of Edward Snowden suggest there is harsher repression in the United States.
  • Panamanian authorities have arrested a retired former CIA base chief wanted in Italy for the 2003 kidnapping of a Muslim cleric targeted for “extraordinary rendition” by U.S. authorities. An anonymous Italian official told the AP that the ex-CIA agent, Robert Seldon Lady, attempted to leave Panama for Costa Rica, where he was sent back and detained by police. It is not known whether Italy will request his extradition.
  • In a piece questioning importance of the recent capture of Zetas leader “Z-40,” Vice interviews WOLA’s Adam Isaacson and InSight Crime’s Steve Dudley, both of whom agree that the arrest will not constitute a major turnng point in Mexico’s drug war.
  • According to the New York Times, a U.S. District Court judge has thrown out a civil lawsuit against former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo filed by 10 anonymous plaintiffs who identified as survivors of the 1997 massacre of some 45 people in the indigenous community of Acteal, in Chiapas state. The NYT reports that the judge deferred to a request for immunity that Zedillo filed with the U.S. State Department last year.
  • El Universal offers an interesting profile of Benjamín Medrano Quezada, Mexico’s first openly-gay mayor, who won local elections in the municipality of Fresnillo earlier this month. Despite his status, Medrano says he does not see gays as a vulnerable group in society, and rejects the idea of legalizing gay marriage.
  • On Wednesday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff doubled down on her previous proposal to hold a plebliscite on political reforms , which has seen opposition from Congress in recent weeks. Two recent polls, one by Datafolha and another by pollster MDA, show that over two-thirds of Brazilians support the president’s proposal, even though Rousseff’s popularity has been hard hit by the demonstrations.
  • Reuters reports that the sanctions committee of the United Nation Security Coucil, an eight-member panel appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, will assess the case of North Korea-bound, outdated Cuban weaponry seized in Panama earlier this week (which Cuba claimed was sent for repair), to determine if it violated international arms sanctions. Over at The Cuban Triangle blog, Phil Peters argues that, if the arms shipment was a strategic move on Cuba’s part, it was a massive blunder.
  • On Wednesday, Proceso Digital reported that Honduran President Porfirio Lobo celebrated the fact that in Tegucigalpa, there have been nine days this year where no homicides were registered (in total, not consecutive). Honduras Culture and Politics points out there is little room for celebration, as statistics cited by the director of the National Autonomous University’s Observatory of Violence this week suggest the country’s homicide rate has seen little to no change.
  • The NYT looks at Cuba’s first-ever participation in Israel’s Maccabiah Games, known as the “Jewish Olympics,” noting that the Casto regime has allowed “hundreds of Jews to emigrate to Israel in the past few years.”
  • Days before Pope Francis leads a six-day event in Rio de Janeiro next week in honor of the Catholic Church's World Youth Day, a protest in held in the upscale neighborhood of Rio state Governor Sergio Cabral on Wednesday night has caused officials to rethink security in the city. According to the WSJ, the looting and vandalism following the Wednesday protests prompted Cabral and top police officials to hold an emergency meeting last night to alter their security plans for next week.

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