Friday, February 7, 2014

Bill to Start Attorney General Nomination Process Fails in Guatemala

An effort to begin the search for Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz’s replacement hit a stumbling block yesterday, after the country’s Congress failed to pass a measure convening the committee to nominate a new attorney general.

Prensa Libre reports that yesterday’s session, which was meant as a simple procedural vote, turned into a major bone of contention between lawmakers of the governing Patriotic Party and the opposition. The measure received only 69 votes in its favor, with 30 opposition congressmen voting against it and 59 others failing to turn up for the vote. Because this fell short of the required 80-vote quorum, the bill failed to pass.

Roberto Villate, head of the Renewed Democratic Liberty Party (LIDER), cited the lack of decisiveness in the Constitutional Court’s decision as his party’s main reason for opposing the bill.  Even though Wednesday’s decision contained language calling on Congress to convene the nominating commission, it was a provisional endorsement of a constitutional challenge (an “amparo”), and its consequences are unclear. “This ruling is partial, not definitive,” Vilallte said. “We cannot go around addressing, and much less giving an ‘amen,’ to all Constitutional Court resolutions made by provisional amparo if it has not definitely resolved on the matter.”

Anabella Morfin, a Guatemalan constitutional scholar consulted by Plaza Publica about the ruling, agreed that the court order was unclear, as it “would not be the first time that the Constitutional Court gave a provisional ruling on something and then in its final judgment resolves something else.” Alvaro Castellanos Howell, another constitutional expert, disagreed, telling the news site that the language in the provisional decree was so firm that the odds it will ultimately decide against shortening Paz y Paz’s term are slim.

Writing for RiosMontt-Trial.org, the Open Society Justice Initiative’s Emi MacLean claims that that the ruling is ostensibly not subject to appeal, “but only ‘clarification’ or ‘amplification.’” However, this has not stopped Paz y Paz from challenging the decision in court. EFE reports that yesterday a spokesperson for the Public Ministry told the news agency that the attorney general’s office had presented an “appeal for annulment,” to the Constitutional Court. Its goal is for the court to revoke its previous decision to cut short Paz y Paz’s term, on the grounds that the Guatemalan constitution does not specify the dates the attorney general must take office, though it does lay out a four-year term.

Meanwhile, as the politics of Paz y Paz’s truncated term heat up, the day after the controversial ruling saw an outpouring of domestic and international support for the acclaimed judicial reformer. The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), the United Nations-backed anti-impunity commission in the country, praised the attorney general’s work and called for the debate around her term to be clarified soon. The CICIG was joined by the U.S. Ambassador Arnold Chacon, who released a statement saying that Paz y Paz is proof that “there are public servants in Guatemala who honest, capable and have integrity.” Chacon also said that the U.S. Embassy is studying the provisional ruling and “awaits a final decision” on the matter.

Human rights advocates have been decidedly more critical of the decision. The Washington DC-based the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) deplored the ruling, calling it unwarranted and noting that the move “could be considered as an implicit sanction of the attorney general, in retaliation for her work as an attendant of justice.” In remarks to the New York Times, Guatemalan human rights activist Helen Mack said the decision was “evidence that the court is under the power of entrenched powers from the private sector and the extreme right.” Paz y Paz, for her part, seems to be in agreement with this statement. In an interview with El Periodico yesterday, the attorney general suggested that the Constitutional Court ruling was about more than the legal scope of her term limits. “Those who have been affected by the advancement of justice are in a hurry for me to leave office,” she said.

News Briefs
  • After his initial outrage at revelations that military intelligence was spying on the communications of government negotiators in peace talks with FARC rebels, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has walked back his rhetoric somewhat, El Espectador reports. The administration has gone from blaming the operation on “loose wheels” in the military to assuring the public that it was in fact completely legal, a claim backed up by army General Juan Pablo Rodriguez, who said it was under his command. Nevertheless, the director of Semana magazine, which leaked the story, insists that he has proof that illicit wiretapping was used in the operation.  
  • In remarks yesterday at the inauguration ceremony for his country’s new UN ambassador, Maria Emma Mejia, Santos once again criticized the dominant global drug policy paradigm in strong language. Saying that the War on Drugs “has not been won,” the Colombian president again called for a global debate of the issue. Nevertheless, Santos stressed the “relative success” of his country’s counternarcotics efforts, and did not announce any domestic policy changes. As La Silla Vacia has pointed out, such big talk, accompanied by a lack of action in his own country, is a hallmark of his administration's drug policy.
  • The Wall Street Journal assesses the implications of a Cuban doctor’s asylum request submitted to the U.S. embassy in Brazil. The doctor, Ramona Matos Rodriguez, defected from the Mais Medicos program, citing insufficient pay to cover local expenses in Brazil. Matos has applied for asylum under the terms of a U.S. program designed to assist Cuban doctors sent to work abroad, known as the Cuban Medical Professional Program. Granting the request, the WSJ notes, risks sparking a political controversy for President Dilma Rousseff, and could further sour U.S.-Brazil relations.  
  • The newsprint shortage in Venezuela continues to look dire. El Nacional reports that with its own paper reserves running low and at risk of running out this month, members of the opposition have filed a claim with the Supreme Court to force the government to guarantee media companies access to the dollars needed to buy newsprint.  
  • With inflation on the rise in Argentina, the government is implementing a new, tech-savvy way to ensure compliance with price controls on basic goods in supermarkets. A new app, created by two local college students, allows people to report stores for selling items above set prices by notifying the consumer protection agency. Since its release the "Precios OK" has become a major hit, with downloads surpassing that of "Candy Crush" and "Instagram" in the Android store this week, according to the AP.
  • The foreign and defense ministers of the Chilean and Peruvian governments met yesterday in Santiago to discuss the recent ICJ ruling on their decades-old maritime border dispute. La Tercera reports that after 14 hours of dialogue, the meeting ended with both sides declaring that a preliminary implementation plan had been reached.
  • The Washington Post looks at an innovative social program being rolled out in Brazil, which will provide low-income individuals with a rechargeable coupon that can be used for admission to “cultural events” ranging from visits to the circus to movie tickets. Advocates of the program, like Culture Minister Marta Suplicy, argue that it is a way of ensuring cultural participation regardless of socioeconomic status. But the paper questions whether the “unsophisticated” tastes of some could lead to questions about whether “low culture” should be subsidized.
  • A protest in Rio de Janeiro against a 10-cent hike in bus fares turned violent yesterday as police clashed with demonstrators in the city’s main subway station. A cameraman for Band TV was hit in the head by either a police grenade or a projectile thrown by demonstrators, and G1 reports that he remains in grave condition. More on the protest from the Wall Street Journal.
  • The AP reports on the impact that government austerity measures are having on Puerto Rico’s retired community. As a result of increased prices for water, power and other public utilities, as well as reduced pensions, many retired Puerto Ricans are finding that life in the country is even more difficult than in the United States.
  • In an interesting twist to the recent Washington Post story on the American roots of Mexico’s vigilante groups, Fusion reports that residents of California, largely Mexican immigrants, are backing the militias. In recent months, locals have sent thousands of dollars’ worth of food and money to the “self-defense” groups, who are seen among locals as the most effective force against the Knights Templar Cartel in Michoacan.