Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Guatemala's New CICIG Director will Inherit Embattled Office

Ivan Velasquez, the new director of the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), is a Colombian prosecutor with a history of taking on criminal interests and corruption. Velasquez is widely known as a driving force behind the “parapolitics scandal,” a series of investigations which uncovered links between Colombian politicians and the paramilitary AUC. Prior to that, he presided over the public prosecutor’s office in Antioquia in the early 1990s, when notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar was at the peak of his power.

But for all his experience, heading the CICIG may be his toughest challenge yet, as Velasquez will start his new job at a very difficult moment for the commission. Guatemalan President Otto Perez has stressed that this will be the organization’s final two years in the country.  Its mandate expires in September 2015, and because new elections won’t be held until that month it is unlikely that this timeframe will change. This gives Velasquez two years to complete the CICIG’s mission of strengthening Guatemala’s judicial branch, or at the very least to ensure that the gains made so far are not reversed. According to the commission’s latest annual report (.pdf), impunity levels for murder cases have fallen from 95 percent in 2009 to 72 percent in 2012, a significant drop for the country’s notoriously rickety court system.

Velasquez’s first task will be to patch up relations with state institutions in Guatemala, which were damaged by the combative style of his predecessor, Francisco Dall'Anese. The former director famously fell out with the Perez administration over his outspokenness during the trial against ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt. On top of this, according to a May report by Guatemala’s ContraPoder, his confrontational tactics and perceived closeness to newspaper elPeriodico caused Dall'Anese to lose favor with the United Nations.

Dall'Anese has officially stepped down, but his legacy will not soon be forgotten. Last week Siglo21 broke the story that the current head of the country’s Constitutional Court, Hector Hugo Perez Aguilera, claimed he was the target of a potentially unlawful attempt by the CICIG to bully him into convicting former President Alfonso Portillo of corruption when he was on trial in September 2011. In a confidential complaint filed by Perez Aguilera, the judge said that Dall'Anese’s secretary, Thomas Pastor, had implied that the U.S. visas of him and his family could be revoked if he motioned to acquit Portillo. In spite of the threat, Portillo was found not guilty, though he was later extradited to the U.S. on money laundering charges.

In response to the allegations, on August 29, lawmakers of the conservative Institutional Republican Party (PRI) introduced a motion to immediately revoke the CICIG’s mandate. Although the initiative failed, it served as a reminder that Velasquez will have to overcome a hostile political climate as well as judicial corruption in the months to come.

News Briefs
  • The revelations that the NSA may have spied on the personal communications of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto sparked immediate reactions from both administrations yesterday. O Globo reports that the Brazilian president held an emergency cabinet meeting Monday morning to address the news, and the Ministry of Foreign Relations requested a written explanation of the incident from U.S. Ambassador Thomas Shannon. The New York Times notes that the development complicates Rousseff’s planned state visit to Washington next month, although her government did not say whether it was in danger of being called off. Meanwhile, the Peña Nieto administration has called on the U.S. ambassador to Mexico to explain the incident as well, El Universal reports. The L.A. Times notes, however, that the statement issued by the country’s foreign ministry does not mention Peña Nieto by name, only referring to reports of spying on “Mexican citizens.”
  • The L.A. Times has an overview of Peña Nieto’s first state-of-the-nation address on Monday, in which the Mexican president defended his reform agenda, which he characterized as part of a “demanding, arduous road.” The president also praised the passage of a controversial education reform bill in the lower house which will make teachers subject to regular evaluation. The Wall Street Journal, however, notes that the battle is not over as a large dissident faction of the national teachers’ union has planned a series of major nationwide demonstrations tomorrow.
  • In the latest sign that the Peña Nieto administration is continuing the “kingpin strategy” of his predecessor, Mexican security forces have captured the brother of the head of the country’s Juarez Cartel, Vicente Carrillo Fuentes.
  • September 10 will mark one year after Venezuela withdrew from the American Convention on Human Rights. After this date, the country will no longer be subject to the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court. In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais, Inter-American Court President Diego Garcia-Sayan claims that he is optimistic that the country will re-approve the Convention in the future.
  • Reuters has obtained a copy of a paper authored by former U.S. envoy to Cuba Michael Parmly, which is set to appear shortly in the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs. In it, Parmly argues that returning the naval base at Guantanamo Bay to Cuba would lay the foundation for a new relationship with the country. Parmly, who was the head of the U.S. interests section in Havana from 2005-2008, claims that “a similar bold step, akin to the Panama Canal, is called for regarding Guantanamo,” though he recognizes it would be extremely difficult in the current political climate in Washington.
  • The AP notes that ten years after an independent post-conflict Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Peru presented a report to the government, few of its recommendations have been heeded. According to the news agency, the state has not created any institution to find and catalogue the bodies of the disappeared, relatively few human rights abusers have been prosecuted and roughly 60 percent of those who have applied for reparations have received them.
  • La Nacion reports that former Argentine President Carlos Menem, who was convicted of facilitating illicit arms transfers to Ecuador and Croatia while in office, is facing another trial this week. This time it involves allegations that he failed to accurately report his wealth in a tax filing in 2000. The AP claims that he left out, among other things, “four bank accounts, two properties, two ultra-light airplanes, stock in telecom companies and two vehicles.”
  • Yesterday, the entire cabinet of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos resigned, though they offered their full support to the president. El Tiempo reports that the move is likely a response to the recent wave of agricultural protests across the country, as well as bid to allow him to select a new cabinet for his re-election campaign. One minister told news site La Silla Vacia that the cabinet’s decision to step down was part of an electoral calculation, calling it “a way of leaving him free to make the changes that he considers necessary.” Reuters notes that the reshuffle also fulfills one of the demands of the recent demonstrations: the resignation of Agriculture Minister Francisco Estupinan.