Monday, May 12, 2014

New Attorney General Appointed in Guatemala

On Friday, President Otto Perez named Guatemala’s new Attorney General. Starting on May 17, former Supreme Court President Thelma Aldana will replace Claudia Paz y Paz as the country’s next top prosecutor. But whether she will be as reform-minded as her highly lauded predecessor remains to be seen.

When asked about the concerns raised by the international community regarding the nomination process in Friday’s press conference, Perez dismissed them offhandedly. “For anyone who wants to come to say things to our country, I wish they would say these to other countries as well,” he told journalists. The day before, representatives of a dozen foreign embassies and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) issued a joint statement in which they recommended changes to the system, including a revision of the nomination committee’s procedures and measures to prevent its members from voting based on partiality.

The president also denied that Aldana had any links to his Patriotic Party, stressing that she had been chosen for her more than 25 years of courtroom experience. He said the decision had ultimately been “difficult, because all six candidates meet the qualifications to serve as attorney general.”

But this contradicts previous reports that identified Aldana as the government’s favorite candidate from the start of the nominating process. Her candidacy had allegedly been supported by Gustavo Herrerra, a political operator linked to Perez and Vice President Roxana Baldetti. As a recent InSight Crime investigation revealed, Herrera is believed to have lobbied extensively on behalf of Baldetti behind the scenes of the nominating process, making backroom deals with the members of the commission tasked with naming Paz y Paz’s successor.

Plaza Publica even referred to Aldana as “the vice president's candidate.”  And while she may not be a member of Perez’s party, the news site found evidence that Aldana has ties to the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), the party founded by former dictator Efrain Rios Montt. These ties will likely be questioned when the genocide case against Rios Montt resumes in January 2015.

On top of the Rios Montt trial, Aldana will have plenty of other opportunities to prove her dedication to fighting impunity and improving the country’s rickety justice system. El Periodico has a helpful list of the cases the new attorney general will oversee when she takes office, which includes investigations into repression of anti-mining protests, powerful criminal networks and corruption allegations against a number of local and federal officials.

News Briefs
  • Coincidentally, Friday was also the one-year anniversary of Rios Montt’s conviction on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, a ruling that was subsequently overturned by the Constitutional Court. Plaza Publica marked the anniversary with an interview with Yasmin Barrios, the judge who issued the general’s guilty sentence and was recently suspended in what some see as retaliation.
  • After U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs Roberta Jacobson told Senators last week that some members of the Venezuelan opposition had asked the Obama administration not to pursue sanctions against government officials, her remarks set off a scandal among anti-Chavista groups.  Already facing criticism from its base for entering into dialogue with the government, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition coalition released a statement on Thursday categorically denying that it had ever made such a request. The State Department would later confirm this. But as David Smilde and Hugo Perez Hernaiz of Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights note, there are in fact opposition figures who are skeptical of sanctions, and plenty of reason to suggest that applying them would only strengthen the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Meanwhile, a House of Representatives bill that would trigger sanctions against any Venezuelan official accused of links to human rights abuses cleared its first hurdle on Friday, passing the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
  • Venezuelan authorities have freed all but 11 demonstrators arrested in massive police raids on protest camps in Caracas last week. Prosecutors in the country have announced that these 11 will be charged with crimes ranging from weapons possession to obstruction of public roads.
  • The L.A. Times profiles an ongoing mass occupation of an empty lot next to the stadium set to host the opening game of the World Cup in Brazil, organized by activists demanding that the government construct more affordable housing.
  • Uruguayan President Jose Mujica is in Washington today, where he is set to meet with President Barack Obama later this morning. El Pais reports that among the topics the two will discuss is trade relations and visa requirements for Uruguayan citizens. However, the Uruguayan leader said he did not intend to bring up his country’s offer to accept freed Guantanamo detainees, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • The deadline for the vigilante militias of Mexico’s Michoacan state to disarm and register with authorities as a newly-created rural defense force has passed, but the disarmament has not gone as planned. Animal Politico reports that so-called “autodefensas” have been spotted carrying weapons in at least eight municipalities in the state.  The Washington Post reports that the government of Enrique Peña Nieto has adapted a “patient” approach in an effort to avoid confrontation, though authorities have warned that militiamen risk arrest if they continue to carry weapons openly.
  • Following the arrest of four Florida residents accused of organizing attacks on military installations in Cuba, U.S. officials on the island confirmed on Saturday that Cuban authorities had briefed them on the arrests, the AP reports. The Miami Herald meanwhile looks at the fate of other exiles who have been arrested in Cuba on similar charges, many of whom have served their sentences and been denied return visas to the U.S. because of their use of political violence.
  • Reuters has a very useful overview of the various campaign scandal stories that broke in Colombia last week, which left both the reputations of President Juan Manuel Santos and his closest rival Oscar Ivan Zuluaga tarnished. Meanwhile, the latest chapter in the flurry of scandals came after former President Alvaro Uribe called on prosecutors to investigate Santos for allegedly receiving campaign donations from drug traffickers, funneled through Venezuelan political strategist Juan Jose Rendon. As El Espectador reports, on Sunday the Attorney General’s office has called on Uribe to present evidence of his claims this morning.
  • All of this mudslinging in Colombia is occurring just two weeks ahead of the first round of presidential elections on May 25. Interestingly, La Silla Vacia points out that the allegations that the Zuluaga campaign tried to sabotage the Havana peace process appears to have gotten far more play than the charges that Santos faces. The news site notes that while the major news media outlets in the country have long demonstrated a pro-government bias, it is more amplified in this case because of Santos’ personal and family ties with media heads.
  • Salvadoran news site El Faro has an interview with journalist Hector Silva Avalos, who discusses the entrenched level of police corruption in the country and the failures of outgoing President Mauricio Funes to commit to properly vetting it.