Monday, November 24, 2014

Guatemala’s Supreme Court Judges Take the Bench

Despite allegations that backroom deals political interests played an overwhelming role in their nomination, the 13 judges who will serve on Guatemala’s Supreme Court for the next five years are set to take office today.

As mentioned in last Thursday’s post, the country’s Constitutional Court upheld the appointments of the Supreme Court and appellate judges in a 3-2 ruling. Nomada has extracts from the dissenting opinion in the case, which notes numerous conflicts of interests, the lack of clear standard to appoint candidates on merit, and the influence of favor-trading on the entire process.

For the civil society groups that supported a freeze on the nomination process over these irregularities, the decision represents a major blow to judicial independence. The Fundacion Myrna Mack, for instance, has issued a statement slamming the ruling as an attempt by the top Guatemalan judges to “ingratiate themselves with economic, political and military powers, with a view to consolidating conditions of impunity and protect the privileges of these powers.”

In spite of the defeat, the next step for anti-impunity advocates in the Central American country appears to be endorsing a proposal by the UN-backed Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to hold a series of technical conferences to put together a clear agenda for judicial reform. As Prensa Libre has reported, the CICIG is preparing to release a new report this week on the state of the many reform efforts that have emerged since the end of Guatemala’s armed conflict in 1996.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the CICIG initiative will succeed where previous efforts have failed. The stakes are high, as this may ultimately be the anti-impunity commission’s last opportunity. Its current mandate set to expire in September 2015, and President Otto Perez Molina has made it clear that he has no intention of renewing the CICIG’s mandate, saying the 2012 extension would be its last.

News Briefs
  • This morning, the Peruvian Supreme Court’s Permanent Criminal Chamber is set to hear arguments on the merits of a petition submitted by imprisoned former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori to review his sentence. La Republica reports that the Legal Defense Institute (IDL) will be observing the proceedings, with IDL’s Carlos Rivera telling the paper that the case has no merit and is merely an attempt to “keep the ex-president in the public spotlight.”
  • Brazilian paper Folha de S.Paulo reported on Friday that President Dilma Rousseff will choose Treasury Secretary Joaquim Levy as her administration’s new finance minister. While the decision has not been confirmed, it could be interpreted as a nod to the government’s critics of its economic policies, and Levy’s nomination has already been attacked by figures in Rousseff’s Workers’ Party.
  • Today’s U.S. headlines feature several analyses of President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration last week from a Latin American perspective. The AP profiles the positive responses to the move from the governments of Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador, though the latter is also cautioning its citizens that the order only applies to those who arrived before December 2009. The Washington Post reports on the hopeful reactions of Mexicans living along the U.S. border. The Pew Research Center meanwhile, has an interesting look at the demographic breakdown of the birth countries of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., noting that those born in Mexico will benefit the most from Obama’s plan, followed by Central Americans.
  • In a column for Mexican news site Animal Politico, Simon Hernandez Leon of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (Centro Prodh) has a useful breakdown of the top ten “lessons learned” from the Ayotzinapa disappearances. Especially noteworthy is the author’s justification of the protest chant “it was the state,” noting that while the federal government did not order the disappearance of the 43 students, it certainly failed to protect them or investigate their disappearance in a timely manner.
  • Last week Mexico quietly updated the official statistics on disappearances in the country, and the new figures are not encouraging. This year alone more than 5,000 people have been disappeared or gone missing, making 2014 the worst year on record for the crime.
  • Uruguayan President Jose Mujica’s characteristically candid media strategy has gotten him into trouble. On Friday, Foreign Affairs Latinoamérica published an interview with Mujica in which he was asked about his opinion on Mexico’s security and rule of law crisis. The president responded by saying that the Ayotzinapa case “gives one the sense, seen from a distance, that this is a kind of failed state, in which public authorities have completely lost control.” The Mexican government did not take kindly to the remarks, and the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called on the Uruguayan ambassador to the country to explain them. Mujica, meanwhile, has gone into damage control mode. Late yesterday his office released a statement by him which said that countries suffering from drug violence, like Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, "are not, nor will be, these nations, innocuous or failed states."
  • It appears that Friday’s reports that the FARC prisoners would be released in 48 hours were misinformed. As Semana reports, the rebels announced yesterday that the release of General Ruben Dario Alzate and his two companions was being hindered by the military’s continued operations in the area where they were taken. The army has responded by announcing a freeze on all operations in Choco province. Officials say, however, that they have received the coordinates of the location of two captured soldiers in Arauca, and that their release is underway, according to El Espectador.
  • After a three-year investigation, a Chilean judge has condemned two former military officials to jail for the 1974 torture and death of President Michelle Bachelet’s father, Alberto Bachelet Martinez, who died while being held in military custody by the Pinochet regime.
  • Over at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, Rebecca Hanson looks at President Nicolas Maduro’s appointment of a federal commission to fight corruption within the country’s police force. So far the commission has echoed past proposals to improve police professionalization, and there is no guarantee these will be heeded by the government, but Hanson argues that the commission’s investigation of visible cases of police violence is a positive step forward.