Thursday, February 6, 2014

Guatemala’s Top Prosecutor Challenges Shortened Term

It looks as though the most well-known champion in the fight against impunity in Guatemala, Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, will see her tem end sooner than expected. Seven months sooner, to be exact. True to form, however, the intrepid prosecutor is not accepting the development without a fight.

Yesterday afternoon the Guatemalan Constitutional Court provisionally ruled in favor of a constitutional challenge filed by local telecommunications entrepreneur Ricardo Sagastume Morales, who argued that Paz y Paz’s term should expire in May 2014. While the constitution mandates that the attorney general serve a four year term and Paz y Paz took office in December 2010, she was only appointed after the Constitutional Court disqualified her predecessor, who was selected in May of that year. As such, Sagastume maintains that Paz y Paz is merely filling the term of a previous official, so a new attorney general must be named this May.  

He is not alone. As has noted, efforts to shorten Paz y Paz’s term have been in the works for some time:
Late last year, two legal analysts for the country’s Supreme Court who issued an internal opinion confirming that the attorney general’s term should last through the year were fired. In November, the Bar Association (Colegio de Abogados), which plays a prominent role in the nominating commissions, requested that Congress intervene to seek a constitutional ruling on the length of the Attorney General’s term.
According to elPeriodico, the Constitutional Court has sided with their arguments (see a copy of the ruling here). One anonymous individual within the court told the paper that the decision had more to do with constitutionally mandated deadlines than political concerns. “Conditional articles 24 and 25 of the Constitution state that for the appointment of the first attorney general in 1993, they were to take office on May 18, which indicates that the periods are institutional,” said the source.

The ruling also calls on Congress to convene the special nominating commission tasked with coming up with a list of candidates for the next attorney general. As with other, similar commissions used to name candidates for Supreme Court and appellate justices, it will be comprised of law school deans, representatives of the Bar Association, and judges. Their list will be sent to President Otto Perez Molina, who will make a selection based on their nomination.

Paz y Paz has not taken the news lying down. In an interview with Spanish news agency EFE yesterday, the attorney general said she would be appealing the ruling, which she described as a dangerous attack on the independence of her office. “Altering the constitutional terms of officials who must be autonomous in the exercise of their office weakens the rule of law. Therefore we do not agree with the ruling and we will appeal,” said the prosecutor.

If her appeal is unsuccessful, her options are limited. There is a remote chance that she could be nominated for yet another term, but whether she is even interested in doing so after consistently having to fight off critics over the past several years remains to be seen.

News Briefs
  • In other Guatemala news, Prensa Libre reports that President Perez Molina is chafing against language in the 2014 appropriations bill signed last month by President Barack Obama. As The Guardian has reported, the bill calls on the U.S. executive director of the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank to report on Guatemala’s progress toward implementing a 2010 reparations plan for victims of the massacres and forced displacement resulting from the construction of a dam of the country’s Chixoy river in the early 1980s. Another provision conditions aid to the Guatemalan army on the Secretary of State certifying that Guatemala is taking “credible steps” to implement both the reparations plan and investigations into corruption and child trafficking in its international adoption program. "We are not a toy for anyone. We are going to do things we have to do,” said the president, according to elPeriodico. Despite the grumbling, however, it’s worth noting that Perez Molina told reporters he was working on a new plan to provide reparations in the Chixoy case.
  • The Miami Herald’s Jim Wyss writes on the tongue-in-cheek official retraction by El Universo cartoonist Xavier “Bonil” Bonilla, who was ordered to publish a correction of a previous cartoon portraying a police raid on an opposition figure who had made allegations of government abuse. In the revised version, Bonila sarcastically shows the opposition figure inviting the officials in and warmly agreeing to hand over all of his electronic equipment to the police.
  • In Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos has sent a strong signal against his critics in the military in the wake of the latest wiretapping scandal. According to Semana magazine, the president has given the armed forces ten days to investigate the operation in which peace negotiators were being spied upon, and tasked the army inspector general with presenting a report on the legality of the incident to his office on February 15.
  • According to figures released by the São Paulo state Public Security Secretary and cited by Folha de S. Paulo, police killings in Brazil’s largest state are at their lowest in 15 years. In 2013, police in the state killed 335 individuals, compared to 546 the year before. As the AP notes, this 40 percent drop is attributed by security analysts to a new rule that forbids officers from moving or helping shooting victims. As a result of the policy, victims receive better care from ambulance crews that arrive on scene, and it is far more difficult for law enforcement officers to successfully cover up extrajudicial killings.
  • While the recent institutionalization of “self-defense” militias in the Mexican state of Michoacan has led to comparisons to Colombia’s paramilitary groups, there are both strong and weak points to this comparison. A new report out by the Wilson Center’s Latin America program, called “One Goal, Two Struggles: Confronting Crime and Violence in Mexico and Colombia,” features input from a range of experts around the hemisphere on the security lessons from both countries. Particularly interesting is the analysis of Marta Lucia Ramirez de Rincon, who argues that both Colombia and Mexico initially “misdiagnosed” their security crises, and suggests that Mexico could benefit by classifying drug traffickers as terrorists, a distinction which would give officials a wider toolkit to use against them.
  • El Salvador’s Supreme Court has ordered the attorney general’s office to reopen an investigation into a 1981 massacre of 45 people in the community of San Francisco Angulo. La Prensa Grafica reports that this is the third attempt to reopen the case, after previous investigations led nowhere. The ruling was unanimous, and orders public prosecutors to charge those responsible and publicize the results of the investigation.
  • The highest-level U.S. immigration court is due to hear an appeal from a former Salvadoran defense minister accused of who human rights abuses during his country’s civil war. Salvadoran General Eugenio Vides Casanova, who has lived in the U.S. since 1989, has been fighting his deportation since 2006. The Board of Immigration Appeals in Falls Church, Virginia is set to begin hearing his case today.
  • While the AP reports that work on the Panama Canal expansion project has been halted over a dispute between Panamanian canal authority and the construction consortium in charge of the project, the head of the Spanish firm heading the consortium has told reporters that there has been no date set for a halt in the work, according to the BBC.
  • While there has been plenty of largely positive coverage of Brazil’s plan to import Cuban doctors to address the health needs of poor and isolated communities, the most consistent criticism of the measure has been that the doctors are not compensated fairly for their work. G1 reports that one Cuban doctor stationed in the northern Brazil state of Para has defected, and is seeking asylum with the help of the opposition conservative Democratas party. Reuters notes that the party’s leader, Ronaldo Caiado, is using her case to attack the Rousseff administration for employing “slave labor.”

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