U.S. soft on Guatemala's anti-CICIG moves (Sept. 7, 2018)
The U.S. took a soft stance towards the Guatemalan government's efforts to disarm an independent U.N. anti-graft commission that has accused the president of corruption. The U.S. supports Guatemalan efforts to "reform" the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a call with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales yesterday. Pompeo referred to respect for Guatemalan sovereignty and "continued support of the United States for a reformed CICIG." The press release, and Prensa Libre's coverage.
But critics said the response fell far short of the support needed for anti-corruption efforts. The undermining of the CICIG could also have potentially grave effects for the U.S. as well as Guatemala they said. U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy witheringly criticized the weak U.S. response to Morales' moves, and will seek to block aid to Guatemala "until the fate of CICIG and Commissioner Velasquez is satisfactorily resolved." The letter. Yesterday U.S. Representative Norma J. Torres (D-CA) urged a strong U.S. policy response to Morales' anti-CICIG stance. "The stakes are high. If CICIG’s mandate expires, and Guatemala continues along its current trajectory, the country will, very likely, once again become a magnet for organized crime and money laundering," she wrote in a letter to Pompeo, warning of potential implications not just in the region, but for the U.S. The U.S. has invested $44.5m in Cicig since it was established a decade ago, and considered stability in Guatemala key to stemming illegal immigration, WOLA's Geoff Thale told the Financial Times.
In Global Americans Benjamin Gedan argues that the U.S. stance is counterproductive to its own central interests, though analysts point to other foreign policy goals -- such as the move of the U.S. Israeli embassy to Jerusalem and El Salvador's diplomatic rupture with Taiwan -- as a possible explanation.
The mixed messages coming from the U.S. open the door for Morales to continue his battle against the CICIG, argues InSight Crime.
The talk occurred shortly after a press conference in which Morales and members of his cabinet defended their decision to bar CICIG head Iván Velásquez from reentering the country, a move that has been strongly criticized by the U.N. and members of the international community, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.) Morales said Velásquez generated polarization and affected Guatemala's governability. (El Periódico)
Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel accused the CICIG of becoming a parallel structure like the illicit networks it aimed at disarming. Guatemalan experts take apart Jovel's characterization of the CICIG as a parallel structure in La Hora.
Last week Morales announced the non-renewal of the CICIG's mandate. He spoke flanked by members of the military. The announcement was accompanied by military jeeps which drove by the CICIG headquarters and the U.S. embassy, a move critics considered threatening. (See Monday's post.) Minister of Government Enrique Degenhart spoke yesterday, arguing that those movements were part of normal patrols, and not an act of intimidation. (El Periódico)
But observers say the military display -- along with the weak U.S. response -- had a chilling effect, and note the relatively quiet public response to the government's anti-CICIG moves. The CICIG is well regarded in Guatemala, and is one of the country's most trusted institutions. Advocates are also concerned about corruption fatigue, just a few years after former President Otto Pérez Molina was ousted in the midst of a massive corruption scandal uncovered by the CICIG. (Christian Science Monitor)
Morales' actions put him on collision course with the judiciary, potentially heralding a constitutional crisis. (See Wednesday's post.) Guatemalan activists are concerned it's a path towards Ortega-style authoritarianism, reports Brendan O'Boyle in Americas Quarterly. They point to a bill in Guatemala's Congress that would allow lawmakers to filter charges against government officials, sidestepping the Supreme Court -- part of a broader onslaught against the justice system that has accompanied the anti-CICIG actions. Acción Ciudadana filed a appeal in the Constitutional Court against the bill yesterday, reports El Periódico. (See yesterday's post.)
The actions take place as Degenhart carries out a systematic effort to dismantle Guatemala's national civil police force as an independent professional force writes Mark L. Schneider at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He cites a new study out this week by FOSS.
The CICIG has also been a beacon for anti-corruption efforts in the region, and what happens now could have implications for other countries in the region, notes the Los Angeles Times in a piece that reviews the CICIG's history and the current onslaught against it.
More on Guatemala's CICIG crisis
No word yet on the visa status for dozens of other foreign CICIG employees after their working papers expired on Aug. 31. (El Periódico)
Many analysts have pointed to Morales' backing of the U.S. decision to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem as a source of U.S. acquiescence for his moves against the CICIG. (See yesterday's post and Wednesday's.) Puerto Barrios in Guatemala is doubling down on Israel support, and will name all the streets in the city after Israeli communities. (Jerusalem Post)
Right-wing firebrand presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro was stabbed at a campaign event yesterday and hospitalized in intensive care. The attack was condemned by the other candidates from across the political spectrum, many of whom cancelled campaign events in solidarity. (New York Times and El País) Bolsonaro was being carried by supporters at a rally Minas Gerais state, when an attacker apparently stabbed him in the abdomen with a knife. (Washington Post and El País) He is reportedly in stable condition, but could take weeks to recover. The episode could feed into Bolsonaro's narrative that Brazil is in chaos and requires mano dura security policies, reports the Guardian. The presidential election is Oct. 7.
Voter anger at President Michel Temer's austerity agenda has fueled support for Brazil's Worker's Party, while anger at corruption in traditional political parties has favored Bolsonaro. Both are poor choices argues the Economist, which says voters are being blind to larger issues at hand.
Brazil's federal police said they have evidence that Temer accepted $300,000 in bribes from construction giant Odebrecht, and seeking to file charges that could lead to his suspension from office. Temer has already survived to previous such attempts to charge him with corruption. (Associated Press)
Several analysts have pointed to similarities in the challenges against U.N. authority posed by the Guatemalan and Nicaraguan government's separately over the past week. See for example Diego García-Sayan in El País.
Nicaragua's opposition called a 24-hour strike today against President Daniel Ortega and to demand the release of political prisoners. (AFP)
Nicaragua granted political asylum to a Guatemalan businessman investigated for corruption by the CICIG. The move is part of a trend in which Nicaragua is becoming a regional safe haven for wanted criminals, reports InSight Crime.
So-called "grand corruption" cases grab most of the headlines, but government red-tape is a serious and insidious problem in Latin America that creates space and incentives for small-scale bribery. (Americas Quarterly)
An Honduran court rejected evidence presented by Berta Cáceres' lawyers, aimed at proving her murderers acted as part of a criminal structure that included state, military and business actors, reports Pasos de Animal Grande. The Coalition against Impunity in the case's reaction.
Latin American countries were sympathetic to Venezuelan's fleeing their country's protracted crisis, but offered few concrete measures to help in a summit earlier this week in Quito, reports Bloomberg. (See yesterday's briefs.)
Immigration advocates are physically searching for Guatemalan parents who were separated from their children at the U.S. border. Most of the approximately 300 families that remain separated are Guatemalan, and the parents were deported without their children who remain in U.S. custody. Eighty parents still have not been found, reports NPR. (See Monday's briefs.)
The U.N. said six former FARC commanders have left reintegration camps for former fighters and failing to fulfill their obligations under the 2016 peace treaty, reports Reuters. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
Colombian President Iván Duque wants to keep a campaign promise to crackdown on drug users in Colombia. Though the move resonates with his electorate, targeting individual users is a failed strategy that does nothing to stem the broader problem of drug trafficking, writes Jorge Espinosa in a New York Times Español op-ed.
Riot police broke up a marijuana "smoke-a-thon" in Bogotá. (Associated Press)
Haiti's government said the fuel price crisis has been overcome, but lawmakers disagree. (Miami Herald)
The daughter of an El Mozote massacre survivor has been granted asylum in the U.S. She received threats after the case against soldiers accused of responsibility in the 1981 massacre was reopened a couple of years ago. (Latino Rebels)
The contours of a new NAFTA are emerging -- worst than the old free trade deal, but better than no deal at all, according to the Economist.
Mexican authorities said they found a mass grave with 168 human skulls in Veracruz State. Its one of the biggest clandestine graves found in recent years, in a country gripped by a massive enforced disappearance problem. (New York Times)
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission denounced 17 cases of illegal detention and torture, allegedly carried out by 32 marines between 2013 and 2017. (Associated Press)
Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador should look to Brazil's leftist history for "lessons on the risks of compromising to appease elites," according to NACLA.
Ecuador will resume an anti-drug air operation with the U.S. -- suspended a decade ago. (Associated Press)
Discourse aside, there's no threat to U.S. military preponderance in the region, despite Chinese and Russian interest, argues Juan Tokatlian in Defense One. According to the Washington Office on Latin America: 75 out of 107 U.S. global military assistance programs are operating in the region, while the last year alone saw 5,361 Latin American military and security personnel trained in the United States.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...Latin America Daily Briefing