Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Even Out of Office, Guatemala’s Paz y Paz is a Target

When powerful interests in Guatemala succeeded in ousting Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz from office before her term could expire in December, it sparked an immediate backlash from international civil society groups. The move was largely seen as retaliation for prosecuting corrupt officials as well as former dictator Efrain Rios Montt.  

After Judge Yassmin Barrios -- who presided over the Rios Montt trial and issued the May 2013 guilty verdict against him -- was suspended from the Guatemalan bar association on dubious grounds, it seemed to confirm that those who had pursued the case were facing retribution.

As it happens, there has been further evidence of this since. As newly-launched Guatemalan news site Nomada reports, Paz y Paz fell victim to a political attack even after she was forced from office. In June, a contractor filed suit against the attorney general’s office over an alleged failure to pay the company for certain equipment and services. Paz y Paz and three other individuals in her office were specifically named in the lawsuit, accused (among other things) of abuse of authority and breach of contract.

The problem with these charges, however, is that they stem from a contract signed in 2000, nearly a decade before Paz y Paz was appointed attorney general. The suit also ignored the fact that, as Nomada points out, Paz y Paz’s office requested the payments but was prevented from making them by tax and administrative procedures.

Regardless, on June 20 Judge Jisela Reinoso judge placed Paz y Paz under “arraigo,” freezing her accounts and preventing her from leaving Guatemala. Fortunately, she had already left the country by that point, and the ruling was lifted two weeks later after public prosecutors argued that Paz y Paz’s personal assets could not be legally subject to the freeze.  

Still the case smacks of political retaliation, as InSight Crime reports. Judge Reinoso, it turns out, has been identified by the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) as having potential ties to money launderers and corrupt officials. She is also considered one of the favored candidates for a seat at a top appellate court, or even the Supreme Court itself.

News Briefs
  • Also on Guatemala’s shaky justice system, El Faro’s Sala Negra published an excellent long read on Monday on the conditions that led up to Paz y Paz’s appointment, and the steep obstacles faced by her, Barrios and other judicial reformers. A follow-up piece is due today.
  • For the second time this year, Reuters reports that the private sector lending arm of the World Bank (the International Finance Corporation, or IFC) has been criticized by the bank’s ombudsman over its activities in Honduras. According to a new report by the watchdog, the IFC did not take into account environmental and human rights abuses when it approved a loan to Honduras’ largest bank, Ficohsa.
  • Bloomberg takes a look at the small group of wealthy businessmen and political allies of the late Hugo Chavez who have benefitted from lucrative government contracts under Chavismo, In their social circles, tastes and lavish lifestyles, the article notes, many of these resemble the same elites that Chavez railed against during his lifetime.
  • The L.A. Times reports on Venezuela’s recently announced, month long closure of the Colombian border at night, aimed at cracking down on illicit smuggling. According to Venezuelan officials consulted by the paper, the move is intended to force smugglers to cross the border during the daytime, making them easier to spot at checkpoints. As the AP notes, the operation has been deeply questioned by local authorities and residents on both sides of the border.
  • La Silla Vacia provides some insight into the lack of information on the makeup of the Colombian victims’ delegation that will begin providing testimony at the negotiating table in Havana this week. According to the news site, the identities of the delegates are being closely guarded by three intermediary organizations: the UN, the National University and the Catholic Church, as a means of avoiding outside interference with the peace process.
  • Semana magazine reports on the results of a new Cifras y Coneptos poll on using glyphosate to eradicate coca crops in Colombia, which found that 58 percent of so-called “opinion leaders” in the country oppose the practice. The poll also found that 21 percent of the sample population -- which included roughly five hundred academics, journalists, politicians and business leaders -- maintain that aerial fumigation should be reduced, 13 percent say it should be kept as is and just 7 percent say it should be increased.
  • According to Animal Politico, lawmakers in Mexico’s Chiapas state have repealed a controversial measure passed in May that allowed police to use non-lethal weapons -- like rubber bullets -- to disperse protesters. The law gained particular criticism after the state legislature in Puebla passed a similar bill that may have contributed to the death of a minor last month. The governor of the latter state has asked the Puebla Congress to repeal its law as well, though Proceso reports that it is not seen as a priority among state lawmakers.
  • Haitian authorities have captured alleged kidnapper Clifford Brandt, the wealthy businessman who is believed to have ordered the recent attack on the country’s main prison that freed 329 inmates, including himself.
  • The Miami Herald reports on reports that Chinese investors are interested in funding a new expansion of the Panama Canal, following a visit from a delegation of engineers last week. While the Herald frames the news alongside the nascent Chinese-funded project to build a rival canal through Nicaragua, James Bosworth notes that these are just two of several potential plans to link the Pacific and Atlantic via Latin America being studied by China. Still, he argues, for the moment none has proved to be a concrete proposal.