Thursday, June 26, 2014

Anti-Mining Governor Jailed in Peru

A Peruvian judge has ordered Cajamarca Governor Gregorio Santos to remain in pre-trial detention for 14 months as authorities investigate corruption allegations against hm. While the ruling comes amid a broader crackdown on corruption at the provincial level, Santos’ supporters claim he is being persecuted for his staunch opposition to a controversial mining project in Cajamarca.

In yesterday’s ruling, the judge ordered Santos’ detention while authorities investigate bribery and criminal conspiracy charges against him. He is accused of receiving money in exchange for favors to a wealthy local business owner.

The development comes amid an apparent push by federal prosecutors in Peru to go after corrupt regional officials. In the past month, two other governors have been arrested and a third has gone missing to escape charges. According to La Republica, prosecutors are investigating 19 governors linked to 158 separate corruption cases. The most well-known of these is Ancash Governor Cesar Alvarez, accused of ordering the assassination of a political opponent in March.

But Santos’ supporters are crying foul at the accusations against him. The official has been a leading critic of the Minas Conga project, a copper and gold mine owned by U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation.  Mass demonstrations in Cajamarca placed the project on hold and led President Ollanta Humala to declare a state of emergency there in December 2011, and the region has seen waves of protests against the mine ever since.  Santos has capitalized on the clashes to lash out at the president, accusing him of breaking his campaign promises to prioritize dialogue over the use of force to settle mining conflicts.

Administration authorities have insisted that the investigation against Santos is unrelated to the fact that he has been a major thorn in Humala’s side, but many in Cajamarca see his detention as political persecution. The governor recently launched a re-election campaign ahead of October regional and municipal elections, and polls indicated he was a leading candidate. While his detention does not automatically remove him from the race, as El Comercio notes, it will certainly make it more difficult for him to campaign.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that financial analysts in Peru have perked up at the news of Santos’ detention, with many interpreting it as a sign that Minas Conga and other stalled mining projects in the region might resume in the near future.

News Briefs
  • The defense lawyer for Alan Gross, the former USAID contractor serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba, released a statement warning the U.S. and Cuban governments that his client is despondent and “plans to end his life” to escape his situation. In a statement, his wife claimed she was concerned he was “going to do something drastic” following the recent death of his moth. Despite the announcement, the AP notes that neither American nor Cuban authorities had any immediate response.
  • Newly-launched Brazilian news site Ponte features a sobering analysis of police killings in São Paulo state since 1995, when authorities first began releasing the data to the public. According to official figures, over 10,000 people have been killed by military police personnel in the past 19 years. While abuses by Brazil’s military police have been in the news a fair amount recently, Ponte’s investigation suggests they employ particularly brutal tactics in São Paulo. From 2008 to 2012, the state military police killed almost 10 times as many people as all the police forces in the United States combined. Noting that Brazil’s Public Security Secretary (SSP) declined to comment on the story, Ponte has five unanswered questions regarding the trend, emphasizing the SSP’s apparent lack of action on the issue.
  • The L.A. Times looks at protests in the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife, one of the few places to draw sizeable demonstrations during the World Cup. There, locals are opposing a plan to build new high rises they say won’t benefit the current residents. Agencia Publica also reports on opposition to the World Cup in Recife, noting at least 20 cases where the estimated 200 families who were forced to relocate for development projects linked to the Cup -- some of which never materialized -- have not received compensation they were promised by the government.
  • Colombia’s Ideas for Peace Foundation has released a new study on the challenges that demobilization efforts face in the country. According to the authors, 36 percent of those who left illegal armed groups have been approached to rejoin them, and ten percent say they have been tempted to accept the offer.
  • Al Jazeera America has an in-depth report on the impact that a boom in drug trafficking through Honduras has had on indigenous communities in the remote northeastern La Mosquitia region. The increasing presence of criminal networks has contributed to deforestation and violence, and a lack of state presence in the area allows organized crime to operate with impunity there.
  • On top of contributing to backlog in the U.S. federal immigration court system, the influx of undocumented immigrants along the southern Texas border with Mexico has impacted the work of local law enforcement as well. The Wall Street Journal reports on the work of police in San Juan, Texas, where authorities say they are finding an increasing number of so-called “stash houses” used by migrant smugglers, many of whom abuse or extort migrants for extra cash.
  • Honduran First Lady Ana Garcia de Hernandez arrived in Texas yesterday at the head of a delegation tasked with studying the situation along the border. La Tribuna reports that the first lady will visit emergency shelters housing Honduran immigrants and border police facilities, as well as a desert crossing used by many immigrants. Honduran officials say some 13,000 Honduran minors are believed to be held in shelters along the border, according to EFE.
  • Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis, whose April election win broke a longstanding two-party tradition that dominated the country for decades, has continued to build a reputation for himself as an iconoclastic leader.  The president signed a decree yesterday which prohibits his name from being placed on public works projects -- a common practice in Costa Rica -- and bans public offices from hanging up his portrait. The AFP reports that Solis announced that the decree marked the end of the “cult of the presidential image, at least in my government.”  Additionally, while Solis was elected on an anti-corruption platform, he has rejected opening up an official probe into corruption under his predecessor, ex-President Laura Chinchilla. Instead, he has said he will address the public on the issue in a state of the union speech marking 100 days in office in August.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose administration has come under criticism from some figures in the ruling Socialist Party -- notably ex-Education Minister Hector Navarro and recently dismissed Planning Minister Jorge Giordani -- has hit back at his leftist attackers. Saying that this criticism comes mainly from the “outdated left,” the president accused them of attempting to divide the party and threatened to “unmask” them for serving the interests of the opposition, the AP and Ultimas Noticias report. Navarro, meanwhile, has confirmed that he was removed from the party for agreeing with Giordani’s criticisms of the Maduro administration.
  • Former Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Richard Mardo, who was stripped of parliamentary immunity last year, has been charged a host of crimes, including tax fraud and violating election campaign laws, according to El Universal. The opposition has framed the case as an attempt to silence criticism of the government.