Christmas Pardons (Jan. 2, 2018)
Surprise pardon for Fujimori's causes storm in Peru
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) caused a firestorm with a Christmas Eve pardon for former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori. The 79-year-old was serving a prison sentence for human rights violations, but requested a humanitarian pardon for medical ailments including arrhythmia and tongue cancer.
Kuczynski said the choice to pardon was difficult, but necessary for national reconciliation, reports the Wall Street Journal. "I’m convinced that those of us who believe ourselves to be democrats should not allow Alberto Fujimori to die in prison," he said. "Justice is not revenge."
The timing was highly questionable, coming just days after Kuczynski survived an impeachment vote in Congress thanks to the strategic abstention from a faction of lawmakers following Fujimori's son, Kenji. (See post for Dec. 22, 2017.) Critics say the pardon appears to be a political reward.
"The transactional nature of this pardon is so evident," José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division, told the Washington Post. "The message is that if you have political influence, you can get special treatment before the law. It goes against the tide of progress against impunity in Latin America."
The U.N.'s human rights commission criticized the pardon, saying it was granted "on politically motivated grounds" and "undermines the work of the Peruvian judiciary and the international community to achieve justice." International experts said they were "“appalled by this decision. It is a slap in the face for the victims and witnesses whose tireless commitment brought him to justice."
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, criticized the pardon saying that it didn’t comply with due process and that the inclusion of Fujimori’s personal physician on a panel that recommended he be released from prison violated the council’s independence.
Jo-Marie Burt, senior fellow with the Washington Office on Latin America, PPK, had "bartered his political survival for the dictator’s freedom." She told the Guardian the timing of the pardon was "an incredible show of disrespect to the victims of Fujimorismo."
Fuerza Popular, which led the impeachment proceedings, is headed by Keiko Fujimori, the former president's eldest daughter. But there is a division within the party, and Kenji leads a faction more intent on obtaining a pardon for Fujimori elder, explained the New York Times. And his mutiny in the impeachment vote is likely to deepen the schism, according to the Post.
The backlash has left PPK politically isolated. Several members of Congress and senior civil servants resigned in the wake of the pardon, including interior minister Carlos Basombrío. The hashtag #PPKtraitor trended on Twitter, and even the president's lawyer, who days before mounted his defense in Congress, said he was surprised and rejected the pardon.
Last week thousands of protesters marched in Lima, and were dispersed with tear gas when they tried to march to PPK's house, reports the New York Times. In the midst of what was already a political crisis, the pardon could set the stage for even more confrontation within the country's politics, according to the Guardian.
Human rights advocates promised to fight the decision in Peruvian and international courts. Rights lawyers say pardons and sentence reductions are not permitted for people tried for rights violations under the rules of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which tried two of the cases against Fujimori. The NYT reports that the Institute for Legal Defense (IDL) asked the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to intervene -- though experts say there is little precedent when it comes to pardons.
Last week Fujimori appealed directly to Peruvians from his hospital bed. Though the video posted to Facebook did little to mollify anger, it was, nonetheless, "an exceptional moment for Peru," according to another New York Times piece. "I am aware that the results during my government on one side were well received," Fujimori said in the video. "On the other hand, I recognize that I have also disappointed other fellow Peruvians. I ask them to forgive me with all my heart."
Insulto Natalino in Brazil
Meanwhile, in Brazil, President Michel Temer set of his own Christmas pardon scandal -- that angry prosecutors dubbed "insulto natalino." Temer approved a Christmas decree that relaxed eligibility rules for nonviolent criminals seeking pardon, including extending presidential pardon powers to people convicted of corruption.
Key provisions of the decree, including one that would reduce the amount of a sentence that must be served before applying for pardon, were immediately suspended by the head of the Supreme Court. She ruled largely in favor of arguments by Attorney General Raquel Dodge that the decree is unconstitutional, reports Reuters. She also argued the measure would significantly hinder the massive Lava Jato corruption investigation by making plea deals less attractive to criminal, reports the New York Times, which notes the decree could potentially save Temer and allies from several years in jail.
Before the end of the year several politicians and businessmen under investigation for corruption were released from jail, increasing the perception that the strong anti-corruption efforts of recent years are being undermined, notes the Financial Times.
Venezuela pardons dozens of political prisoners
Eighty political opponents of Venezuela's government were released from prison on Christmas Eve, part of a broader prisoner release. Their jail terms were replaced with alternative sentences like community service. The best-known among the released prisoners were former provincial mayor Alfredo Ramos, opposition electoral adviser Roberto Picón and a dozen police officers who worked for the opposition-run Chacao district of Caracas, reports Reuters.
2018 will be an electoral super year in Latin America. Some 350 million voters are due to head to the polls in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Paraguay to elect new presidents, reports the Guardian. Though the region has been characterized by a right-ward shift in recent years, the key in many of these elections will be corruption and anti-establishment positions.
Hundreds of poor Venezuelans protested in Caracas last week over pork shortages. The so-called pernil protesters took to the streets when the holiday dish staple was not included in subsidized food supplies as promised by the government, which in turn blamed Portugal for delaying the shipment, reports Reuters. Pork leg may be a prosaic source of discontent, but "these protests show that support or tolerance of the Maduro government among the poorest and most dependent Venezuelans is indeed contingent on the government delivering the goods," writes David Smilde at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. "With Venezuela steadily sliding into default and an economic situation that will only get worse, will the government be as effective at putting down food protests as it has been with middle class democracy protests?" Separately, looting was reporting in Bolivar State, and 28 people were arrested. A Venezuelan soldier who shot dead a pregnant woman on Christmas Eve in the midst of the pernil protests has been arrested, reports the BBC.
Beyond the pernil troubles, some Venezuelans were already calling the season “Infeliz Navidad” — Unhappy Christmas — due to the difficulties caused by hyperinflation, reported the Washington Post recently. Though the government does not release inflation data, private estimates say the country slipped into hyperinflation — and hit an annualized rate of nearly 2,000 percent this year. President Maduro appeared on television to declare: "good news!" Venezuela is set to raise its minimum wage by 40 percent, a move that will likely further increase inflation, reports the BBC.
Deepening troubles in Venezuela's state-run oil company further threaten the country's crisis wracked economy, even as increased prices are boosting other oil producing countries, reports the New York Times. Facilities around the country are in such disrepair that the country has not been able to increase production to take advantage of better prices. Production has fallen to its lowest level in three decades.
This weekend, Venezuela's government downgraded diplomatic relations with Canada and Brazil, declaring their ambassadors personae non grata. And Constituent National Assembly president Delcy Rodriguez, former foreign minister, chided the new U.S. ambassador for starting off on the wrong foot. Todd Robinson, former U.S. ambassador to Guatemala and career foreign service officer, posted a video online in which he promised to "look for opportunities to help bring back democracy and prosperity" to Venezuela. In the midst of increased criticism from regional leaders, as voters in Latin America have swung to the right, Venezuela is becoming more dependent on Russia and China, reports the New York Times.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's government has spent an unprecedented fortune on advertising, permitting it to dominate media and suppress negative coverage, reports the New York Times. Transparency group Fundar said the government has spent $2 billion on advertising over the past five years. And state and municipal governments also exchange advertising funding for positive coverage. "The result is a media landscape across Mexico in which federal and state officials routinely dictate the news, telling outlets what they should — and should not — report, according to dozens of interviews with executives, editors and reporters. Hard-hitting stories are often softened, squashed or put off indefinitely, if they get reported at all. Two-thirds of Mexican journalists admit to censoring themselves." Though it is a problem common in countries around the world, what is occurring in Mexico is more marked, according to experts. The piece cites Animal Político, which has struggled to support itself without official funding. A recent letter of complaint from 39 news organizations about violence against journalists was not signed by Animal Político because it did not include a reference to the damage that official publicity does to free speech.
Central America angling for Trump's goodwill: Last week Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced the country would move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, following the U.S.'s polemic lead, reports the New York Times. The week before the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning Mr. Trump’s decision by a vote of 128 to 9, with 35 countries abstaining and 21 countries absent. Guatemala was one of the countries that joined the U.S. and Israel in voting against the resolution, along with Honduras. Trump had threatened to cut off aid to countries that did not take the side of the United States. But it also goes beyond aid, according to the Washington Post: "Guatemala and Honduras have a lot to lose by upsetting the Trump administration, as the crackdown on illegal immigration has raised the prospect of more deportations, and regional trade and foreign aid have been called into question. But analysts see their actions last week as more than just attempts to curry favor with Washington. Both countries have long-standing ties to Israel and are facing domestic challenges that are helped by aligning with conservatives in the United States and Israel."
The day after the U.N. vote, the U.S. government recognized President Juan Orlando Hernández as the winner in November's questioned presidential election, reports the New York Times. Opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla conceded, saying the U.S. decision put him out of the game, according to the Wall Street Journal. "Those who govern Honduras are criminals who depend on the United States," he said. In a statement that day, OAS secretary general warned that ignoring a negative report by the organization's electoral observer mission would set a "dangerous precedent" ahead of elections scheduled across the region in 2018. (See post for Dec. 18, 2017.)
Relatives of the 30 peoplekilled in post-electoral violence in Honduras fear there will be no justice, reports the Guardian. Amnesty International has accused the government of deploying “dangerous and illegal tactics to silence any dissenting voices”, while the United Nations and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have denounced torture of detainees in military installations and said they were “alarmed by the illegal and excessive use of force to disperse protests." But Honduran officials have rejected an OAS request to send a special delegation to investigate the abuses. Since 2009, the United States has provided at least $114m in security assistance to Honduras, according to Security Assistance Monitor.
Residents of the Caribbean island of Barbuda fear Hurricane Irma devastation could give the government a pretext to change a centuries-old system of communal land rights, reports the Guardian. The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda has been pushing for reform since most of the island's structures were destroyed by a storm last year, arguing that freehold tenure is the only way to finance Barbuda’s reconstruction. In the meantime the destruction is causing a rift between the two islands. Barbudans say the government should be doing more to rebuild, while Antiguans say that's not a fair use of resources, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Brazilian police say 77 inmates are on the run after escaping amid a riot at a jail in the central state of Goias, reports the BBC.
Brazil’s government issued a decree backtracking on plans to weaken the definition of slave labor in response to criticism and a court suspension of the original edict, reports Reuters.
The death of a Mexican television exec in November in the crossfire between assailants and his own bodyguards is drawing attention to the shadowy work of private security contractors in the country, reports the Wall Street Journal. Though bodyguards are ubiquitous in certain areas, they have a poor reputation and authorities are seeking to better control them.
An LGBT soccer league in Brazil is challenging the culture of machismo that surrounds the sport in the country, reports the Washington Post.