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Guatemala anti-corruption prosecutor ousted (July 26, 2021)
Juan Francisco Sandoval, a leading Guatemalan prosecutor who the U.S. State Department labeled an “anti-corruption champion,” was ousted from the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI) by attorney general Consuelo Porras. Sandoval fled to El Salvador early on Saturday, escorted by the ambassador of Sweden, human rights activists and journalists.
Hundreds of Guatemalans protested outside the presidential palace on Saturday in response to Sandoval's ouster, reports Reuters. People carried signs demanding Porras' resignation, as well as that of President Alejandro Giammattei, reports InSight Crime.
The FECI, the most independent wing of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, was widely considered the last bastion of anti-corruption efforts in a judicial system increasingly aligned with Giammattei, reports El Faro English. The dismissal "marks the formal end of efforts to strengthen anti-corruption bodies in Guatemala, reports InSight Crime. The unit is now headed by a Porras ally, reports Quorum. Sandoval's ouster prompted an international outcry, including criticism from high-ranking U.S. officials.
Sandoval said he was fired because of his investigations into top officials in the Giammattei administration. He said he had fled for his own safety, becoming the fifth law enforcement official in three years to do so, reports the Associated Press. "I am the latest in a string of prosecutors who have suffered the consequences for seeking truth and justice," he said. He accused Porras of asking his agency to seek her opinion on any case that involved the government.
Sandoval told El Faro that denunciations against officials, no matter how spurious, have become a tool to control potentially dangerous investigations, citing cases brought against other anti-corruption crusaders like Thelma Aldana and Claudia Paz, both of whom were forced to leave the country to protect themselves.
Sandoval also said Porras also tried to block investigations into political mafias seeking to stack Guatemala's courts by instructing prosecutors to avoid investigating certain individuals such as Néster Vásquez, a current Constitutional Court magistrate linked to the court mafias. (Quorum details Sandoval's accusations of wrongdoing against Porras.)
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights awarded precautionary measures to Sandoval and his FECI colleagues in April due to obstruction of his work and death threats tied to investigations of extrajudicial killings and torture committed by security forces in 2006 within the prison system, a case that originally implicated Giammattei.
Guatemala's most powerful campesino groups have called for a general strike today. The case comes as discontent is growing in Guatemala over surging Covid-19 cases and the lowest vaccination rate in all of the Americas, according to the Guardian. Prosectors are investigating alleged corruption related to test and vaccine procurement, and activists and opposition parties are calling for the president to resign.
The removal is a challenge to the country's relationship with the U.S. The Biden administration has sought to make battling corruption a cornerstone of its Central America policy, and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris stressed the FECI's importanc to anticorruption work during her recent visit to Guatemala. The State Department declared Sandoval an “anti-corruption champion” in a February award.
Lawyer Marco Aurelio Alveño Hernández, who denounced corruption acts involving government officials, fled the country with his family on Sunday, reports the Associated Press.
The funeral for Haiti's assassinated President Jovenel Moïse on Friday was marked by tensions that demonstrate the country's deep fractures and the challenges ahead. The event was held in Moïse's family compound, just outside the northern city of Cap-Haïtien. Protesters greeted attendees to the ceremony, which was punctuated by gunshots and accompanied by the scent of teargas and smoke from burning barricades. Protesters clashed with security forces outside the compound, and the U.S. and U.N. delegations cut their attendance short after gunfire was heard in the morning. After the ceremony, protesters threw rocks at a caravan of Haitian authorities and journalists that were leaving, reports the Associated Press.
Cap-Haïtien was marked by flaming tires lit by demonstrators demanding accountability, and illustrating the deep schism between Haiti's north and south, reports the New York Times. Moïse's family portrayed him as the victim of "the battle he was waging on behalf of the poor, to bring an end to the exclusion of Haitians from the countryside, known as andeyò, versus those from the capital of Port-au-Prince," reports the Miami Herald.
Martine Moïse, the president’s widow, spoke publicly for the first time since the president was killed in their bedroom, an attack in which she was also wounded. She implied that her husband had been killed by the country’s leading bourgeoise families, who she characterized as "oligarchs." Moïse said her husband had been “abandoned and betrayed.” The president’s son Joverlein said his father had been “living among traitors.”
In the aftermath of the killing, Haiti is returning to "what had already become a new normal of extraordinary hardship" and violence, reports the Washington Post. Gang violence has been building for years, but escalated sharply in recent weeks, prompting some experts to compare Port-au-Prince to a war zone. In June, the country recorded roughly 150 gang-related deaths.
The violence presents a significant obstacle to groups attempting to address Haiti's mounting humanitarian crisis. U.N. agencies say 46 percent of the population is already experiencing acute or severe food insecurity — among the highest in the world.
Haiti was already suffering a deep political crisis before Moïse's assassination. Last week the president's nominee for prime minister, Ariel Henry, was sworn in, with support from the international community, including the U.S. But democracy advocates are angered that Henry's authority derives from foreign support rather than domestic sources. "They say that a truly representative transitional government is needed to get to grips with Haiti’s priorities and re-engage a public that in many cases sees politics largely as a battle between men who ignore their needs while siphoning off cash," reports the Guardian.
Nicaraguan opposition politician Noel Vidaurre was arrested this weekend, the seventh presidential hopeful detained ahead of the country's November election. He was accused of "undermining the sovereignty," part of a broad crackdown against opponents and critics of President Daniel Ortega in recent months. Almost all were arrested under “treason” laws that Ortega has used against political rivals. (Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera)
Lawyer and presidential hopeful María Asunción Moreno announced she was leaving the country after receiving orders to present herself before the prosecutor general, and after police raided her home Saturday night and confiscated her car and drivers license, reports Confidencial.
Protesters took to the streets in several Brazilian cities on Saturday to demand the impeachment of President Jair Bolsonaro, reports Reuters.
Last year Bolsonaro claimed sarcastically that Pfizer’s shot might turn recipients into alligators. In response to that notorious remark, pro-science opponents, furious at Bolsonaro’s denialist conduct, have been getting vaccinated clad as different kinds of reptiles, reports the Guardian.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said that he was aiming to begin a dialogue with the country's political opposition next month in Mexico facilitated by Norway. He said he hoped the United States would support the process, reports Reuters.
Members of Venezuela’s opposition said they are open to a new round of political negotiations, but warned that there is no agreement on the terms of the talk yet, reports Bloomberg.
Venezuela's armed forces said on Friday that a U.S. military plane violated its airspace along Venezuela's border with Colombia in what it said was a "flagrant provocation." (Reuters)
Opponents of Maduro hope the Cuban protest movement will have impact in Venezuela -- but it is more likely that repression will increase in both countries, writes Ibsen Martinez in the New York Times Español. The Cuban protest example cannot fill in for the political opposition's lack of strategy, he argues.
Cuba's protests have spurred critics from the left, who say the government must seize the opportunity for reform, rather than simply blaming the U.S., reports the Guardian.
Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele called his immediate predecessor a “fugitive of justice” after an arrest warrant was issued for former president Salvador Sánchez Cerén. (See last Friday's briefs.) Police also arrested five former ministers from the FMLN administration of former president Mauricio Funes for “embezzlement and money laundering.” The detentions "dealt a significant blow to the old guard of the FMLN," notes El Faro English.
The warrants center on the issue of sobresueldos,” or hidden double-salaries paid to public officials. Though the practise has spanned three decades of government, Roberto Burgos, coordinator of the Anti-Corruption Legal Advisory Center, told El Faro English that the arrests — and their attending hearings — are part of an “instrumentalization of the fight against corruption."
Former Colombian soldiers who allegedly participated in the assassination of Haitian President Jovene Moïse earlier this month illustrates the country's role "as a recruiting ground for the global security industry — and its murkier, mercenary corners," reports the Associated Press.
Colombia approved exports of dried cannabis for medical and other industries, last week, the latest step the country's taken to develop its marijuana industry, reports Reuters.
Chile's Constitutional Convention representatives have established eight commissions so far as they inches towards a new national charter. The commissions include "Human Rights, Historical Truth and Bases for Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Repetition" and "Participation and Indigenous Consultation." (LaBot Constituyente)
There have been predictable schisms between Indigenous representatives and the right, for example, but representatives have also shown fluid alliances that factor in a desire for balance or to remain within a strict interpretation of the Convention's mandate, reports LaBot Constituyente.
Chilean senate leader Yasna Provoste will run for president in the country's elections later this year. The Christian Democrat party member is part of the country's traditional center-left alliance, reports Bloomberg.
Variations in Spanish dialects complicate emergency messaging in the U.S., reports the Washington Post.
I'm back at the Daily Briefing helm -- thanks to Eduardo Romero's expert work, I am rested (at least from the LatAm news cycle) and ready to face whatever news (hopefully mostly good) that the region has to offer. Thank you so much to Eduardo!