Friday, October 10, 2014

Top Guatemalan Court Suspends Judicial Appointments

The efforts of civil society in Guatemala have succeeded in pressuring the country’s Constitutional Court to suspend the appointment of top judges, due to concerns over irregularities in the nomination process.

El Periodico and Prensa Libre report that the court ruled four to one yesterday afternoon in favor of taking up challenges to the nominations presented by judicial reform and transparency advocacy groups like the Fundacion Myrna Mack and Accion Ciudadana.

These critics point to a lack of proper vetting of new Supreme Court and appellate court judges, noting that they were largely chosen as a result of backroom deal between the ruling Patriot Party (PP) and the opposition Renewed Democratic Liberty Party (LIDER). 

As mentioned in Wednesday’s brief, earlier in the week a group of around 50 judges attended a public display of support for Appellate Court Judge Claudia Escobar Mejia, who resigned her position in protest of the corrupt nomination process. With backing from international NGOs and UN allies, Escobar and her supporters called on the Constitutional Court to take up the challenges, threatening to hold a “partial” judicial strike if it failed to do so.

News site Nomada puts the civil society victory in further perspective, pointing out that anti-impunity activists have successfully frozen judicial appointments twice before, in 2009 and 2010. The latter instance caused the Constitutional Court to order the re-nomination of an attorney general, which led to the appointment of the celebrated Claudia Paz y Paz as the country’s top prosecutor.

Nomada also highlights a detail that went largely unnoticed in international coverage: the press conference in which Judge Escobar made her announcement was called by none other than the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Such boldly confrontational work, as well as its involvement in the prison corruption case of former army official Byron Lima Oliva, should put to rest fears that the CICIG is being sidelined in the final years of its mandate.

As a result of yesterday’s ruling, the planned October 13 inauguration of new Supreme Court and appellate court judges has been suspended for between 30 to 45 days while the Constitutional Court assesses the case.  In the meantime, the current judges will remain in their positions. Ultimately, if the Constitutional Court justices rule in favor of the civil society lawsuits, they will have to decide how far to wind the clock back. 

They could either force Congress to vote again on candidates selected by controversial “postulation commissions,” or force a restart of the entire four-month-long nomination process.

Not everyone is happy with the Constitutional Court decision. The Associated Press notes that the newly-nominated judges held a press conference yesterday to criticize the suspension as a de facto coup against the judicial system. And Prensa Libre reports that Orlando Blanco, congressional head of the center-left National Unity of Hope (UNE), claims that the ruling offers President Otto Perez an opportunity to lobby for more allies in the Supreme Court.

News Briefs
  • According to El Universal, Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam announced the discovery of four more mass graves in Iguala, Guerrero, where 43 students have been missing for the past two weeks. Murillo said neither the number of bodies found nor their identities could be confirmed. Animal Politico also notes that four more suspects have been arrested in the case.
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff seems to be facing greater competition in the second-round presidential race than expected from center-right candidate Aecio Neves. As O Globo reports, two new surveys from leading pollsters Ibope and Datafolha have produced the same results: 46 percent for Neves, and 44 percent for the president. Both polls have a two point margin of error, making the two candidates statistically tied.
  • As El Espectador reports, Colombian officials have confirmed that FARC guerrilla leader Timoleon Jimenez, alias “Timochenko,” has personally traveled to Havana two times since peace talks bega, in order to meet with rebel negotiators there. Semana magazine notes that the revelation could prove scandalous as it has been kept secret until now, but cites a government source who told the magazine that the visits were necessary due to the nature of the FARC’s internal leadership structure.
  • The attorney for recently-deceased Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has told the Associated Press that the former Haitian dictator was offered a state funeral by the administration of President Michel Martelly, but that this offer was eventually rescinded.
  • The New York Times looks at the Venezuelan government’s quiet embrace of partnering state-owned oil giant PDVSA with foreign oil companies operating in the country, giving foreign firms greater control of spending and profits.
  • The AP has an update on Cuban migration to the U.S. following the Cuban government’s decision last year to lift exit visa requirements and make it easier to leave the island. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol claims 22,000 Cubans arrived the country in the last fiscal year, more than double the number in 2012.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on the active role of Cuban medical workers in fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, noting that they make “unlikely partners” with the nearly 4,000 troops sent to the region by U.S. President Barack Obana.
  • Today’s WSJ also features an interesting profile of Bolivian Economy Minister Luis Alberto Arce, who “talks like a Marxist but acts like a neoliberal.” The paper credits Arce with embedding a sense of fiscal responsibility into the administration of Evo Morales, thus winning the Bolivian president the favor of international financial institutions while also allowing him to boost social spending and halve poverty since taking office.