Friday, January 12, 2018

Peru: Splitting Heirs


Splitting Heirs

Peru President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was never going to have an easy time in office. He squeaked past a tough rival in the June 2016 election, only to face a legislature where that same opponent enjoyed a clear majority and was set on bringing him down.
That looked imminent late last year when 93 out of the 130 lawmakers who make up Peru’s Congress backed an impeachment vote against him over his association with Odebrecht – the Brazilian construction company whose admissions of paying bribes have brought down a series of politicians across Latin America.
At the eleventh hour, however, a family rift split the opposition Popular Force and the impeachment vote was defeated. But demonstrators took to the streets for the fourth time to protest his controversial pardon of longtime President Alberto Fujimori this week – and called for his resignation, the BBC reported.
Kuczynski reshuffled his cabinet to try to shore up support earlier this week. But his handling of the impeachment effort has fanned fears of a resurgence of the right-wing movement whose ruthless tactics defeated the Shining Path insurgency in the 1990s – and resulted in charges of crimes against humanity for Fujimori.
From the outset, Kuczynski raised the specter of that era by calling the impeachment proceedings a “coup disguised as supposedly legitimate legal interpretations.”
Then, many suspected him of offering a quid pro quo when he pardoned Fujimori halfway into a 25-year jail sentence for graft and human-rights convictions a week after the impeachment was defeated. The reason: Fujimori’s son Kenji split with the ex-strongman’s elder daughter Keiko – the leader of the Popular Force party – and abstained from the vote, along with nine followers.
“The pardon’s for President Kuczynski, it’s not for Fujimori,” leftist lawmaker Marisa Glave said on Lima television station Canal N.
While Kuczynski insisted there was no backroom deal, many remained convinced otherwise, Bloomberg reported.
Of greater concern to some observers, Kuczynski also defended Fujimori’s controversial reign as police fired tear gas to disperse crowds of protesters in downtown Lima on Christmas Day, according to Reuters.
Fujimori committed “significant legal transgressions regarding democracy and human rights,” Reuters quoted Kuczynski as saying in a televised address. “But I also think his government contributed to national progress.”
Where the controversy will lead is anybody’s guess.
Unlike a raft of politicians in Brazil, Ecuador and Peru itself, Kuczynski has never been accused of taking bribes.
Instead, he’s accused of lying about payments he received as an advisor for Odebrecht – at a time when he claims he was not the decision maker at his company Westfield Capital Ltd.
If he does go down and his fall triggers new elections, that could pave the way for Keiko Fujimori to replace him, noted the Economist. But her first name is also featured in the paper trail related to the Odebrecht scandal – though she insists it must refer to some other Keiko.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Latin America: Te Marrying Kind


The Marrying Kind

A human rights court established by the Organization of American States (OAS) has ruled that Latin American and Caribbean signatories to its convention on human rights must legalize same-sex marriage.
The rulings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights apply to countries that have signed the American Convention on Human Rights, such as Bolivia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Paraguay and Peru – which at present do not recognize either same-sex marriage or same-sex civil unions, the BBC reported. A response to a case brought by Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis two years ago, the decision applies to 20 countries in all, notedthe Advocate.
The ruling comes as various countries across the strongly Catholic region, such as Chile and Ecuador, have changed or are debating changing laws governing same-sex unions. The court recommended that nations that do not yet have marriage equality enact it by decree while working out legislative changes, the Advocate said.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Double-Edged Sword In Brasi And Colombia's Presidential Election

Ecuador: Worn-Out Welcome


Worn Out Welcome

Ecuador is looking for somebody – anybody – to help negotiate Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange’s exit from its embassy in London.
“We have an enormous interest in finding a definitive solution to the Assange case and for that to happen, we’re in a permanent dialogue with the government of the United Kingdom,” Bloomberg quoted Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa as saying in Quito on Tuesday. Mediation by a third country could be the answer, she said.
Awarded diplomatic asylum in mid-2012 on the grounds that his life might be in danger were he extradited to the US, Assange relations with Ecuador soured over the past year as he clashed with President Lenin Moreno over social media and caused trouble by leaking documents damaging to Hillary Clinton during the US presidential election and backed the Catalonian separatists in Spain.
Moreno has warned Assange not to get involved in the affairs of other countries.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Mexico: You Can't Handle The Truth


You Can’t Handle the Truth

The governor of the Mexican state of Chihuahua accused the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto of withholding federal funds in retaliation for a corruption investigation that reaches the highest ranks of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
Chihuahua Governor Javier Corral said Monday that the federal government had pledged millions of dollars to help alleviate an ongoing financial crisis, but the Ministry of Finance has refused to transfer some of the funds, the New York Times reported. An opposition politician, Corral claimed that the finance minister himself said the money would not be released unless Corral provided details about an investigation into corruption that occurred under the previous governor of Chihuahua. That investigation has already resulted in the arrest of Alejandro Gutiérrez – a top PRI official and ally of the president.
The ministry of finance said in a statement that nearly $4 million dollars was not paid to Chihuahua because of an incorrect bank account and a lack of available funds.

"Book Him Danno!" Major Corruption Arrests In Argentina

President Mauricio Macri of Argentina speaking at campaign rally for congressional candidates in Buenos Aires last year. CreditNatacha Pisarenko/Associated Press
BUENOS AIRES — Argentines are not used to seeing powerful people in handcuffs.
Yet in recent months at least five prominent former officials, including a vice president and a former planning minister, have been taken into custody to await trial on corruption charges. Several allies from the private sector who stand accused of misappropriating public funds have also been locked up.
The detentions come as President Mauricio Macri has vowed to upend Argentina’s culture of impunity in graft cases by reforming the penal code, making government contracting more transparent and carefully tracking the assets of public servants.
But his government is not exactly claiming credit for the crackdown underway, which so far has netted only political opponents, leading to accusations that Mr. Macri is using the judicial system to neutralize the opposition.
“Never in the history of Argentina have we had as many important people detained,” the justice minister, Germán Garavano, said in an interview. “The question we have to ask ourselves as we look to the future is whether this represents a change, a profound reform or merely a reaction to a public outcry right now. We’ll get that answer in a few years.”
Mr. Garavano and other senior officials on the forefront of the effort to root out public malfeasance describe their quest as a bold pursuit that may ultimately fail for one primary reason: judges.
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For decades, a dozen judges on the federal bench in Buenos Aires have let corruption cases languish without action, often running out the clock on the statute of limitations. Breakthroughs in high-profile cases often follow a reversal of political fortunes, calling into question the fairness of punitive measures. And even when prominent politicians have been convicted, they typically find a way to stay out of prison and keep their assets.
“My conclusion is that Argentines cannot trust Argentine justice,” said Laura Alonso, the head of Argentina’s anticorruption office, a once-obscure federal agency that has gained visibility and authority since Mr. Macri was elected in 2015. “It responds to political spasms.”
Former Vice President Amado Boudou, left, and a business partner were escorted to vehicles transporting them to court in Buenos Aires in November. CreditIvan Fernandez/Associated Press
Argentine prosecutors initiate corruption investigations by bringing forward allegations of wrongdoing. Judges have the authority to take or reject cases. In those that move forward, judges have the primary responsibility to investigate and decide whether a defendant should face trial.
The system does not subject judges to deadlines or much oversight. One of the 12 current federal judges in Buenos Aires, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that much of the criticism leveled against him and his colleagues was on point.
While each judge has his own style of working, some are influenced by politics, he said, adding that the system had been set up in a way that allowed judges to manage the timing of their cases without any consequences.
The early-morning detention of former Vice President Amado Boudou in November seemed to exemplify this dynamic as a federal judge ordered his pretrial arrest in a yearslong money laundering and illicit enrichment case. Video footage of a barefoot and sweatpants-clad Mr. Boudou in his apartment while a judicial official read the charges against him shocked Argentines.
Mr. Boudou’s arrest came shortly after a judge ordered the detention of a former planning minister, Julio de Vido, as part of two corruption-related investigations. The Oct. 25 detention took place days after Mr. Macri’s coalition won a resounding victory in the country’s midterm elections. Seemingly determined to avoid a perp-walk photo, Mr. de Vido turned himself in while law enforcement officers went to his apartment.
Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who was recently elected to the Senate, faces five sets of corruption charges. She has also been indicted on a treason charge, accused of conspiring with Iran to cover up that country’s role in a 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
She and several top officials in her administration charged in the Iran case, including former Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, were ordered detained while they await trial. Mrs. Kirchner enjoys immunity from detention as a sitting senator.
They have all denied wrongdoing.
“It is evident that the government uses the judiciary for political ends, specifically to tame and discipline the opposition,” said Alberto Fernández, who served as the head of cabinet for President Néstor Kirchner, Mrs. Kirchner’s late husband and predecessor.
Protesters outside the apartment of a former official, Julio de Vido, who has been ordered detained.CreditVictor R. Calvano/Associated Press
“It is very concerning,” added Mr. Fernández, who teaches criminal law at Buenos Aires University, “because what is now being used against members of the opposition could one day target regular citizens.”
Yet few Argentines doubt that corruption was rife during the Kirchner era. A former public works secretary, José López, was caught with almost $9 million in cash stuffed in duffel bags. A former transportation secretary, Ricardo Jaime, sailed on a yacht and flew on a private plane provided by industry leaders his department awarded contracts to.
To grasp just how pervasive Argentina’s culture of impunity has been, consider the case of former President Carlos Menem, who governed from 1989 to 1999. When he was questioned over the propriety of accepting a Ferrari from a government contractor, Mr. Menem responded defiantly, “The Ferrari is mine, mine, mine!”
A flurry of investigations into corruption during his time in power dragged on for decades until a court in 2015 sentenced him to four years in prison for embezzling public funds to dole out bonuses to others in government. Yet the continuing appeals and the immunity from incarceration provided by Mr. Menem’s Senate seat have so far allowed him to disregard the sentence.
Mr. Menem’s successor, Fernando de la Rúa, who was in power from 1999 to 2001, was prosecuted, and acquitted, over allegations that he had bribed lawmakers to pass a labor reform.
Macri officials and good-government watchdogs say corruption reached epic proportions during the governments of Mr. Kirchner and Mrs. Kirchner, his wife. The left-leaning Peronists governed from 2003 to 2015, an era that began with a windfall from a commodities boom and ended during a period of economic contraction.
“It began looking more like a kleptocracy,” said Natalia Volosin, an Argentine human rights lawyer who studied the history of corruption while obtaining a doctorate at Yale.
Mr. Macri came into office as corruption scandals were rattling several countries in the region, most notably Brazil, where a team of judges and prosecutors have recovered billions of dollars and sentenced scores of politicians and businessmen for their roles in kickback schemes. Those cases have made corruption a top concern among voters throughout Latin America.
Former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner waving to supporters as she left Congress last month.CreditVictor R. Calvano/Associated Press
Soon after taking office, Mr. Macri’s government expanded a public records policy and made government bids and contracts accessible online. It also increased the number of public officials who have to disclose their assets in public filings.
“We have a strong public demand in favor of public integrity,” said Ms. Alonso, the anticorruption official, who is a former lawmaker. “We’re not going to let a single one slip through.”
In 2016, at Mr. Macri’s urging, Congress passed a corporate responsibility law that subjects firms that pay bribes to fines and prosecution, and a change to criminal procedure that established a mechanism for plea deals.
Plea deals were decisive in getting a Brazilian corruption investigation known as Lava Jato, or Car Wash, off the ground in 2014. Defendants, in a break with the past, began being detained before trial, and trials began taking months rather than years.
Yet in Argentina only one low-level corruption defendant has sought a plea deal so far. The reason, according to experts and government officials, is that most defendants regard the possibility of being ultimately held accountable as remote.
It remains unclear whether the spate of arrests will change that calculus. After all, final convictions in corruption cases remain the exception.
Many within the judicial system are skeptical that there can be a fundamental change in the way things operate without a wholesale overhaul of the penal code and the judiciary.
Some judges sincerely want to clean up the judiciary, the federal judge said, but others who have grown used to the system have no interest in changing it.
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Sunday, January 7, 2018

A Fascinating Cuban Islands