Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Guatemala's Paz y Paz Excluded From AG Nominee List

The commission tasked with vetting candidates for Guatemala's next attorney general has selected the list of names it will submit to the president for nomination. Claudia Paz y Paz, the country's highly-praised top prosecutor, isn't on it

Yesterday afternoon the nominating commission finished issuing scores to applicants based on a rubric that took into account their professionalism, experience and academic qualifications. Prior to the vote, supporters of Paz y Paz took solace in the fact that the current attorney general had received the second highest score, 69 out of 100. She had also been endorsed by the committee for her "honorability," along with other top candidates.

El Periodico reports that the motion to finalize the six-name list to send to President Otto Perez was a surprise, as the commission was not scheduled to begin voting yesterday. But even more surprising was the fact that, when the vote was complete, Paz y Paz was not among the applicants selected. She was backed by only four of 13 voting commission members.

This is despite her high score, and the fact that both the candidates above her (Judge Thelma Aldana) and below her (Judge Maria Consuelo Porras) made the cut. The list also ignores a petition compiled by a human rights coalition, signed by nearly 7,000 individuals calling for Paz y Paz's name to be included. Citing a contested law, the petition's organizers claim that a candidate must be included on the nomination list if they are supported by 5,000 people. Her exclusion also clashes with the findings of a report published this week by the Center of Justice Studies in the Americas (CEJA), which credited Paz y Paz with drastically improving the country’s justice system.

Civil society has been quick to react to the vote. El Periodico has a collection of reactions from various human rights advocates in the country, each of whom voiced degrees of discomfort with the news. Diego Alvarez, spokesman for the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), expressed surprise at the list’s makeup. “We do not understand the evaluation system,” Alvarez told EFE. “Civil society has been observing this election for two months, and in the end we do not understand if the scores are used or not.”

The exclusion of Paz y Paz is sure to fuel speculation that the nomination process was rigged against her from the start. And remarks from its president, Supreme Court Judge Jose Arturo Sierra, have done little to alleviate these concerns. When asked by Siglo21 whether there may have been an “arrangement” against Paz y Paz, the judge (who voted for her) responded vaguely: “It is possible. In these matters there is a bit of everything, we can’t prove or disprove it.”

Now that the current attorney general is out of the running, the question for champions of judicial reform in Guatemala becomes whether any of the six candidates can fill her shoes. Prensa Libre has a quick overview of the backgrounds of each, as well as a record of which commission members voted for them. News site Plaza Publica offers a more complete summary of each of their professional careers, as well as a complete list of the total 26 candidates, ranked by their scores.

The commission will submit the list to the president’s office today. El Periodico notes that it will be received by Vice President Roxana Baldetti, because Perez Molina is currently in Mexico on an official visit.

News Briefs
  • In a press conference yesterday, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa took aim at an indigenous community in his country’s Sarayaku territory, which has harbored three opposition figures wanted on defamation charges. El Universo reports that the president warned that sheltering the individuals could have “serious consequences,” and accused the group of seeking to provoke a violent reaction from the state. The AP notes that members of the Sarayaku community announced via Twitter that they had received news of a buildup of soldiers in the area, although this was categorically denied by the defense ministry.
  • The Miami Herald reports on growing international pressure on the Haitian government to hold long-overdue legislative and local elections.  The vote has been stalled due to a standoff between President Michel Martelly and the Senate, which has insisted that he name a new provisional electoral council to oversee the polls.
  • Authorities in Chile’s troubled Araucania region have announced they will not apply the country’s controversial “anti-terrorism law” against four cases linked to the Mapuche conflict there.  As La Tercera reports, the move comes a week after the government announced it would no longer use the law to prosecute such cases.
  • The northern Mexican city of Reynosa saw a wave of violence yesterday, with a total of 14 killed in various shootouts between gunmen and authorities, according to El Universal.  The AP places the incidents in the broader context of growing violence in the state of Tamaulipas, which officials say is the result of an internal feud between two figures in the Gulf Cartel.
  • Human rights groups in Mexico are criticizing the country’s Senate for proposing reforms to make it easier to suspend constitutional guarantees, which they say could lead to criminalizing protest. As an analysis by Animal Politico points out, the law would authorize the president to seek legislators to authorize a state of emergency in vague situations like “a violent social phenomenon” or “a serious danger or conflict.”
  • This author has an article published by InSight Crime on the city of São Paulo’s unique approach to crack use in a run-down area in the center widely known as Cracolândia. In January Mayor Fernando Haddad announced an experimental new harm reduction policy, “De Braços Abertos,” which provides housing, food and work opportunities to drug users living on the streets there. But while the program’s supporters say it is making an impact and changing the neighborhood for the better, health and NGO workers in Cracolândia are critical of a heightened policy of police monitoring and arrests of low-level users.
  • Doubts about Rio de Janeiro’s readiness to host the 2016 Summer Olympics have surfaced yet again, following public remarks by a member of the International Olympic Committee.  The New York Times and Reuters report that John D. Coates, the committee’s vice president, told reporters that Rio’s efforts to prepare for the games were “the worst” he had seen.
  • A new CNT/MDA poll released yesterday suggests that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s personal approval rating has continued to drop, falling from 55 percent in February to 47.9 percent this month. While she remains the likely winner of elections in October, her opponents have seen slight improvements in the polls, as the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • The government of Uruguay appears to be moving forward with plans to accept freed detainees of Guantanamo Bay. El Pais reports that Foreign Minister Luis Almagro told the Senate yesterday that the six individuals in question had already been interviewed by Uruguayan officials, and would be welcomed in the country as either refugees or standard immigrants.
  • Yesterday, officials from the European Union and Cuba began long-awaited talks to improve relations. The Associated Press reports that EU members insisted that while talks will touch on increasing trade and investment, they will also include a dialogue on human rights. The Cuban government, for its part, has signaled that it is willing to “discuss any and all issues on a basis of mutual respect,” according to the AP.

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