Friday, April 25, 2014

The Politics Behind Impunity in Guatemala

Guatemala has begun the process of selecting a new attorney general, and while Claudia Paz y Paz has reapplied for the job, the deck appears to be stacked against the pioneering top prosecutor.

This week the “Comision de Postulacion,” the commission tasked with vetting candidates for the position, finished interviewing 26 candidates including Paz y Paz. By the end of next week it is expected to turn over a list of the top six candidates, from which President Otto Perez will select his choice for the next attorney general. 

Plaza Publica has an analysis of the interview process, in which Paz y Paz's work became a target of criticism from each of the other candidates. Most of the attacks focused on one of the hallmarks of her tenure: designating separate prosecutors for building cases and conducting litigation. The news site notes that the attorney general, for her part, defended this division of labor but conceded that every model is “perfectible.”

Despite this criticism, Paz y Paz saw an outpouring of support from civil society yesterday, when a coalition of human rights organizations presented the commission with a petition calling for the attorney general's name to be on the final list, signed by nearly 7,000 individuals. Guatemalan law stipulates that a candidate must be included on the list if their candidacy is supported by 5,000 people. However the head of the commission, Supreme Court President Jose Arturo Sierra, has said that this law does not apply

Paz y Paz may be supported by civil society and international observers, but there are powerful interests in Guatemala that are lobbying for her ouster. The commission itself is comprised of representatives of the country’s bar association (which controversially suspended the judge who sentenced Efrain Rios Montt guilty of genocide), judges, and the deans of law schools. Many of these law schools exist only on paper, and have sprung up in recent years solely to exert influence on the judicial branch. 

There has been a good deal of reporting on the politics behind the nomination process this week. As El Periodico reports, general pressure is exerted by Guatemala's traditional power networks among the military, business elites and the executive branch. But Revista Nomada, an investigative news site still under construction, offers a more in-depth look at the power brokers behind the process, naming nine specific pressure groups that influence the process. These include organized crime, political parties and the domestic and international actors which support CICIG, the UN-backed anti-impunity commission. 

Contrapoder magazine has also highlighted the influence exerted by the Autonomous University of San Carlos (USAC). And as part of a series on the attorney general's accomplishments, InSight Crime's Steven Dudley points to businessman Gustavo Herrera as one of the primary lobbyists for anti-Paz y Paz interests. Yesterday, Prensa Libre provided a look into the kind of backroom dealings accompanying the process, publishing audio and a transcript of a conversation in which Presidential Secretary German Velasquez mentions  interference in the commission.


News Briefs
  • In a positive development for the human rights situation in Mexico, El Universal reports that the Mexican Senate voted unanimously yesterday in favor of a bill that would reform the military justice code, opening up soldiers who abuse human rights to trials in civilian court. As the AP notes, the reform -- which comes in the wake of a 2010 recommendation by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights -- must still be passed by the lower house.
  • Uruguay’s government is on the verge of announcing the specific regulations which will accompany its historic marijuana law. This week Presidential Secretary Diego Canepa told reporters that the regulations had been prepared, and will be made public either today or Monday, according to the AFP. Yesterday saw good news for the Uruguayan government on regarding the law’s public reception. While a new Cifra poll shows that roughly two-thirds (64 percent) of the country say they continue to oppose the law, a slim majority (51 percent) say they want it to remain in place in order to judge its impact.
  • NETMundial, a two-day conference on the future of internet governance held in São Paulo, came to a close yesterday with a final statement which praised the U.S. government’s recent announcement that it would turn over the ICANN to a multilateral organization. However, El Pais points out that the statement makes no mention of net neutrality, a concept which was enshrined in Brazil’s recently passed Marco Civil da Internet.  
  • The third round of ongoing dialogue between the Venezuelan opposition and government ended last night with the creation of three working groups, according to El Nacional. These were tasked with widening the truth commission to investigate recent violence, debating an amnesty for alleged political prisoners, and another to address the government’s attempts to undercut opposition governments with parallel structures. While hope for meaningful progress remains dim, the AP notes that both sides have expressed an interest in seeing concrete results.
  • Even though he reinstated Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro this week in compliance with a court order, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has announced he will support the Inspector General’s appeal of the ruling to the Supreme Court, El Espectador reports.
  • Bolivia’s armed forces have fired 702 enlisted men accused of participating in recent protests against alleged discrimination against indigenous soldiers in the army. La Razon notes that demonstrators, who refer to their demands as “decolonizing” the military, amount to roughly 7.5 percent of the lower ranks of the armed forces.
  • The Washington Post looks at the prevalence of domestic abuse in Brazil, and the unique ways that some women in the country are fighting for gender equality despite institutional and cultural obstacles.
  • The government of Ecuador has ordered all U.S. Defense Department employees in the embassy in Quito to leave the country by the end of the month, a move which follows President Rafael Correa’s complaints in January that U.S. military had “infiltrated” his government.
  • The Wall Street Journal profiles the Peruvian government’s efforts to crack down on illegal mining, which are expected to ramp up following last week’s deadline to participate in a program that would allow miners to formalize their work.  
  • Yesterday was the last day to publish public opinion surveys ahead of Panama’s May 4 elections, and polls show a tight race, Reuters reports. Juan Navarro of the center-left Democratic Revolution Party and Jose Arias of the president’s Democratic Change party are the two leading contenders, followed by current Vice President Juan Varela in third. Critics of President Ricardo Martinelli have pointed to Arias’ selection of First Lady Marta Linares as a thinly-veiled attempt to continue to exert power out of office.