Venezuelan officials target Luisa Ortega (Aug. 17, 2017)
Venezuelan officials accused two prominent political dissidents of running an extortion ring. Former attorney general Luisa Ortega was accused of turning her office into a blackmail center. Her husband, lawmaker Germán Ferrer, was accused of extorting millions of dollars from victims with the aid of corrupt prosecutors, reports the New York Times. Both are vocal dissident Chavistas who broke with the ruling party earlier this year.
Ortega denounced a police raid on the couple's home. Officials asked that Ferrer be stripped of parliamentary immunity so he could be arrested. Ortega said the accusations were vengeance for fighting against the country's totalitarianism, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
Current prosecutor general Tarek William Saab, appointed earlier this month by the Constituent Assembly (ANC) when it ousted Ortega, said he had received proof from ANC member Diosdado Cabello that Ferrer deposited $6 million in Bahamas bank accounts, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Ferrer denied the accusations and challenged Saab to compare the signature on Cabello's documents to his own.
The accusations come amid a broader crackdown on political dissent: At least five mayors have been sentenced to jail for permitting protests in their neighborhoods, and thousands of Venezuelans have been detained for participating in protests.
A new ANC truth commission will investigate opposition politicians running in gubernatorial elections later this year, specifically in reference to their participation in the ongoing protests against the government, reports Reuters. Critics say the commission is designed to sideline the opposition. The ANC is also considering a bill that would punish those who express "hate or intolerance" with up 25 years in jail, which the opposition fears will be used to silence criticism.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged Venezuela's government and the political opposition to re-start negotiations. He called for a brokered solution to the country's economic and political crisis, reports AFP.
Venezuelan prosecutors say at least 37 people have been killed in a prison riot in the country's south, reports the BBC.
Seven people were killed and a dozen more injured in a shooting in a Guatemalan hospital. The injured include a four-year-old boy. Police suspect Mara Salvatrucha street gang members attempting to free a jailed faction leader, reports the BBC. The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the attack was staged to free a gang member identified as Anderson Daniel Cabrera Cifuentes, reports the Los Angeles Times. He had been brought to the hospital for a blood test on a judges order, reports El Periódico.
The killings occurred as Guatemalan lawmakers are considering an anti-gang law that would allow gang members to be accused as "terrorists" and sentenced to 30 years in jail, reports El Periódico separately. The bill would modify the country's penal code and enter into effect immediately.
NAFTA trade renegotiation talks got off to a rocky start yesterday, with U.S. trade representatives arguing the agreement is skewed against the U.S., reports the New York Times. The U.S. has a $55.6 billion trade deficit with Mexico, and a historic imbalance with Canada, said officials. Canadian officials said trade balance wasn't an appropriate metric to evaluate the agreement's benefits, while Mexico says trade should be expanded, not restricted.
In the meantime, thousands of Mexican farmers and workers demonstrated yesterday against the free-trade agreement, reports Reuters.
The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) announced the list of finalists in this year's Excellence in Journalism contest, including coverage in El Confidencial, Animal Político, Factum, El Faro, Plaza Pública, Agência Pública, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The contest is held each year to encourage excellence in journalism, and the defense of freedom of expression throughout the Americas.
An Argentine court granted house arrest to social activist Milagro Sala yesterday. She has spent more than 19 months behind bars on suspicion of mishandling public funds, an accusation critics say is politically motivated, reports EFE. The tribunal in the northern province of Jujuy authorized the house arrest in response to a request from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (See July 31's briefs.)
A landmark bill that would allow abortion in limited circumstances in Chile is facing a final hurdle: the country's constitutional tribunal, reports the Guardian. The bill, backed by President Michelle Bachelet spent two years under debate in Congress. It would would permit termination of a pregnancy when a woman’s life is in danger, fetal inviability or in cases of rape.
About 2,500 police officers and military personnel were deployed in a crackdown in a Rio de Janeiro suburb, Niteroi, reports the BBC. At least 18 people were arrested, out of 26 targets, reports O Globo. Operation "Double Dose" focused on the Caramujo favela complex, and involved more than 3,000 police officers and soldiers, according to the Associated Press.
A crime map created by the Public Security Institute (Instituto de Segurança Pública - ISP) in Rio de Janeiro could help authorities carry out "hot spot" policing that targets specific areas. " But in order for this type of strategy to be successful, authorities will need to identify and address the specific risks and needs of these communities, rather than simply occupying them with militarized force," argues InSight Crime, referencing the failed community policing efforts of the Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (UPPs).
Brazil's Supreme Court ruled against a state that sought federal compensation for lands used to create three indigenous reserves, reports the Associated Press. The decision is seen as a defeat for groups trying to limit indigenous groups' claims.
Brazilian politicians strapped for campaign cash are proposing creating a taxpayer fund. Sources of revenue for election campaigns have been greatly reduced since the Supreme Court banned corporate donations to campaigns in 2015 and bribery scandals have reduced the under-the-table financing many parties used, reports Reuters. Most parties back the measure, which would aim at making politicians more accountable, but critics say it's a poor use of public funds in the midst of the country's budget crisis.
Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva launched his presidential campaign for next year's election early, embarking on a bus tour of around 20 cities through the country's northeast, reports AFP.
At least 14 people accused of running a corruption network manipulating judicial processes against criminals were arrested in El Salvador this week, part of an ongoing battle against corruption led by Attorney General Douglas Meléndez, reports InSight Crime.
Colombian officials announced a plan to send thousands of troops to protect the 26 FARC demobilization zones across the country, reports AFP. (See yesterday's post.)
Colombian miners have denounced police use of snipers against demonstrators, reports TeleSUR.
A country-wide ban on metal mining in El Salvador could create an opportunity for organized crime to move into the newly illegal industry, reports InSight Crime. (See March 30's post.) Artisanal miners, who have been grandfathered in for a two year period, will likely be the most susceptible to encroachment from illegal groups if the government fails to offer them economic alternatives.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence sought to soften the Trump administration's America First message in a whirlwind LatAm tour this week, reports the New York Times. "Under President Donald Trump, the United States will always put the security and prosperity of America first," he said yesterday in Chile. "But as I hope my presence today demonstrates, ‘America first’ does not mean America alone."
A potential U.S. invasion in Venezuela is, of course, risible. But Trump's bluster about a "military option" does have real diplomatic consequences in the region, argues Inter-American Dialogue President Michael Shifter in a New York Times Español op-ed. And likely it will be common Venezuelans who are hurt the most by the threat, which could strengthen the government's hand, he writes. (See Monday's post.)
Increased security spending over the past decade in Mexico has done little lower violence in the country, according to a study by the Ethos Laboratorio de Políticas Públicas. The problem isn't necessarily spending, but resource allocation, reports InSight Crime.
Experts in Bogotá are debating policies to supply drugs to addicts as part of a treatment program, reports El Espectador. (See yesterday's briefs.)
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski urged striking teachers to return to work, after clashes with security forces in a protest demanding higher wages, reports Reuters.
Peru declared a 30-day state of emergency in several towns to end a protest blocking trucks from the Las Bambas mine, reports Reuters.
There are reports that Argentina's soccer hooligan groups -- "barras bravas" -- are moving up the criminal ladder and serving as muscle for a Buenos Aires extortion ring, reports InSight Crime.