Thursday, October 31, 2013

Santos Asks Court to Annul Decision on Military Justice Law

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has announced he will submit a petition to the Constitutional Court requesting the annulment of a recent decision which found a controversial military justice reform law unconstitutional. It’s a long shot, and constitutional experts say it has almost no chance of happening.

El Tiempo reports that in a public address yesterday, Santos said his administration will argue that grounds for the ruling are questionable, and that the court has annulled its own decisions in similar situations in the past. As Colombian lawyer and human rights advocate Rodrigo Uprimny points out, the recent decision was based not on the content of the law, but on the manner in which it was approved by lawmakers. The court found that the bill was passed in a lower house committee at the same time as a full house session was scheduled, which violates Colombia’s constitution.

The administration claims that several other laws have been passed by Congress in a similar fashion, and while they were reviewed by the Constitutional Court, judges did not find fault with them. One of these is Colombia’s landmark transitional justice law, the Legal Framework for Peace, which the court approved in August.

According to legal specialists consulted by Semana, the odds that the court will grant Santos’ request are next to nothing. Former Constitutional Court Judge Jose Gregorio Hernandez told the magazine that while the constitution allows magistrates to annul prior decisions, this measure can only be used when due process is violated. Hernandez does not believe it applies in this case, and Alfredo Beltran, another former Constitutional Court justice, agrees with him.

In all likelihood, Santos knows this as well, and yesterday’s announcement is a calculated bid to appeal to the Colombian military. As La Silla Vacia noted last week, the military justice reform law was partially designed to stave off criticism of the peace process from members of the armed forces, who feared that the government would give amnesty to guerrillas while leaving them vulnerable to prosecution in civilian courts for human rights abuses.

With the law scrapped, Santos appears to be scrambling for other ways to keep the military on his side. One of these was unveiled earlier this week: a proposal which would authorize the state to foot the bill for legal costs of military personnel tried in court, which El Espectador referred to as a “Plan B” to military justice reform.

News Briefs
  • A new Centro de Estudios Publicos poll released on Tuesday shows that former Chilean president and current candidate Michele Bachelet continues to hold a strong lead in Chile's presidential race. The pollster found that some 47 percent of Chileans said they would vote for Bachelet, followed by 14 percent for conservative candidate Evelyn Matthei and 10 percent for economist Franco Parisi. Reuters notes that it appears Bachelet has a good chance of receiving the 50 percent of the vote she needs to win the election after the first round on November 17, which no candidate has done since 1993.
  • La Republica has a profile of former regional governor and newly-chosen Peruvian Prime Minster Cesar Villanueva, who was selected after his predecessor, Juan Jimenez, resigned on Tuesday. El Comercio notes that addressing the government’s handling of growing insecurity will be at the top of Villanueva’s agenda, as well as prioritizing foreign investment. Official sources have told Reuters that President Ollanta Humala will be replacing at least five of his 18 ministers in addition to Villanueva, though the details of the shakeup have not been announced.
  • The Economist highlights the political climate in Honduras ahead of the November 24 general elections, noting that whoever wins will have to face a budget deficit estimated at around 6 percent, on top of drug violence and police corruption. This will be complicated even more by the fact that Congress will likely be split among the major parties.
  • Following Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s dramatic threats to resign -- both from the presidency and his party --if lawmakers of his Alianza Pais party passed an abortion decriminalization bill, the party’s leadership has suspended the three female congressmen who supported the measure for one month, El Comercio reports.
  • Meanwhile, Correa has announced that he would still consider granting asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. In a press conference in Moscow, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Correa denied that granting asylum to Snowden was completely off the table. “If Mr. Snowden ends up in the territory of Ecuador at some point, for example, if he comes to a diplomatic mission in some country and asks for asylum, we will accept his application, look at all the legal aspects, and make a decision,” the president said.
  • InSight Crime’s Charlie Parkinson looks at a shadowy armed group in northern Nicaragua, which has been linked to the recent murders of a Sandinista politician and activist. The group operates under the leadership of leadership of an individual known as Gerardo de Jesus Gutierrez, alias "El Flaco," who was reportedly active in the Contra movement of the 1980s. Despite this, the federal government has dismissed El Flaco and his network as drug traffickers, downplaying the political undertones of the associated violence.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has once again invoked the image of his deceased predecessor Hugo Chavez to score political points, and once again he has done it in an odd, quasi-religious fashion. In a televised address yesterday, Maduro claimed that the face of Hugo Chavez had been spotted by workers on an excavation project meant to expand the Caracas metro system, pointing to images of a moisture stain on a tunnel wall.  
  • In a step towards normalizing relations after breaking diplomatic ties following the July 2012 ouster of then-President Fernando Lugo, La Nacion reports that the government of Paraguay has nominated a new ambassador to Venezuela. According to MercoPress, President Horacio Cartes’ pick of veteran diplomat Enrique Jara was personally approved by Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, a sign that both governments are eager to resume standard relations.
  • OGX Petroleo e Gas ParticipaƧƵes SA, the Brazilian oil company owned by ex-billionaire Eike Batista, has filed for bankruptcy protection in the country. The BBC and Wall Street Journal both have interesting profiles of the company and its embattled entrepreneur, who was once the richest man in Brazil. Batista’s decline also had an impact on Rio de Janeiro state’s Police Pacification Unit (UPP) program, as he was recently forced to pull out of an agreement under which he contributed roughly $8 million a year to the police unit. In August, O Globo reported Batista’s contribution amounted to nearly five times what the state allocated to the police units last year.
  • Spain’s El Pais has a story on Uruguay’s pending marijuana regulation bill, noting that it is comes in the wake of other liberal reforms such as abortion decriminalization and gay marriage legalization. Ultimately, the piece asks whether Montevideo could become “the next Amsterdam,” a comparison which drew the attention of the leading Uruguayan daily of the same name. Curiously, the Uruguayan paper left out its Spanish counterpart’s mention of a provision in the bill which explicitly restricts marijuana sales to Uruguayan citizens, a fact which has gone largely underreported.