On Monday, former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo was acquitted of embezzlement charges in a 2-1 decision by a three-person panel of Guatemalan judges. The New York Times describes the decision this morning as a major “setback” for the country’s UN-backed anti-impunity commission, CICIG, which had helped carry out the investigation of the former president, extradited back to Guatemala in 2008 after fleeing to Mexico (by way of El Salvador). Portillo was accused of aiding in the illegal transfer of some $15 million to the National Defense Ministry.
According to Guatemala’s El Periodico, former ministers of defense and public finances, Eduardo Arévalo and Manuel Maza, were also acquitted in the Guatemalan court’s Monday decision.
Nonetheless, Portillo, the leader of Guatemala from 2000 to 2004, still faces extradition to the US. Federal prosecutors in the state of New York say the former president used American banks to launder tens of millions of embezzled dollars.
On Tuesday CICIG, headed by former Costa Rican Attorney General Francisco Dall’Anese, said it would assist in any potential appeal against the former president and his associates. As quoted in the Times, the commission also expressed its disappointment, saying the decision “reflects real state of justice in Guatemala.”
That statement was followed by more disappointing news late Tuesday when, in a separate Guatemalan court ruling, all charges against the country’s director of prisons, Alejandro Giammattei were also dropped. As AP reports this morning, Giammattei was one of 19 people accused of planning the murder of seven inmates during a 2007 uprising at the country’s Pavon prison, as well as the alleged execution of three inmates who escaped from the prison in 2005. Former interior minister, Carlos Vielmann has also been charged in the case but his extradition from Spain remains pending. CICIG has accused Vielmann, Giammettei, and a handful of other former officials of collaborating with organized criminal groups who carried out the 2005 and 2007 prison killings.
Today’s bullet points:
· There’s a great deal more out today about the allegedly new information published in the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ (IISS) recent publication produced from late FARC commander Raul Reyes’ infamous laptops. AP highlights information alleging members of then-candidate Rafael Correa’s presidential campaign solicited funds from the FARC and that Correa was “aware of the solicitations.” Unsurprisingly, Correa denied those allegations on Tuesday, calling them “absolutely false.” Reuters reports more on what the new publication alleges about Venezuela-FARC links. At a presentation of the book Tuesday IISS’s Nigel Inkster, described the archive – specifically the story yesterday about alleged assassination plans discussed by Chavez government officials and the FARC – as “tantalizing but ultimately unproven suggestions.” Like Correa, the Venezuelan government, through its Embassy in the UK, reiterated their rejection of the authenticity of the FARC files Tuesday, calling them “unreliable” in a statement released Tuesday. In the Guardian, Greg Grandin and Miguel Tinker Salas offer a similar opinion. Meanwhile, perhaps the most interesting reaction of all has been that of Juan Manuel Santos’s government in Colombia. As reported by El Tiempo, the government of the man who, as Alvaro Uribe’s defense minister in 2008, carried out the strike against Reyes in Ecuador and then apparently recovered his computers, said Tuesday that it will join its neighbors, Ecuador and Venezuela, in “turning the page” on the entire matter. Vice President Angelino Garzón says the goal of the Santos government right now is to “strengthen its relations” with Venezuela and Ecuador while foreign minister Maria Angela Holguín said the government hopes the dossier does not “damage the path” currently being traveled by Colombia and its neighbors.
· The vote count in Ecuador goes on after last weekend’s referendum. While just 51% of the total votes have been tallied thus far, the Miami Herald this morning highlights the fact that two of the most controversial referendum questions – one on media regulation and another that would allow the government to create a commission to restructure the judiciary over the course of the next 18 months – are in jeopardy of not being approved. Both pollsters close to the government and Ecuador Gallup affiliate, Cedatos, have predicted the government would win on all ten questions, and in a video posted on the government’s website on Tuesday, Correa maintained that would still be the case once votes from provinces that have been traditional Correa-strongholds were finally tallied.
· In the northern Mexico state of Durango, BBC Mundo reports that the number of bodies at a mass grave there has jumped to 180 over the last week – a number almost identical to the San Fernando graves in Tamaulipas where 183 bodies have been discovered. The report says some of the bodies have been there for three or four years while others appear to have been buried in just the last few months.
· Earlier this week the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called on the Honduran state to give physical protection to former human rights commissioner Leo Valladares and his family, after on-going death threats and reports of being surveilled. Valladares personal office was recently broken into and ransacked, says El Heraldo.
· Also in Honduras, a group of Honduran teachers suspended from their jobs for going on strike last month now say will begin an indefinite hunger strike in front of the National Congress. Red Morazánica de Información reports.
· In Argentina, BBC on the arrest of three former policeman involved in the participating in late 1970s “death flights,” one of which involved throwing French nun Leonie Duquet and human rights activist Azucena Villaflor from a plane into the Rio de la Plata in 1977.
· In Uruguay, AP says there are new doubts about whether or not a controversial decision to annul Uruguay’s 1986 amnesty law will pass the lower chamber of the Uruguayan parliament. At least two Frente Amplio deputies now say they will vote against annulling the “ley de caducidad.” A vote on the matter – approved by the Senate one month ago – is currently set for next Thursday.
· In Chile, The Guardian on a new plan to build a $7 billion hydroelectric dam in Southern Patagonia and the opposition that decision is likely to be met with from environmental groups.
· In Brazil, Reuters with more on the claims of rights violations against favela residents in Rio as the city prepares for Olympic and World Cup infrastructure upgrades. Reuters: “Both Amnesty International and a United Nations rapporteur have condemned Brazil over evictions related to World Cup and Olympic building work, a potential embarrassment for centre-left President Dilma Rousseff who has vowed to eliminate dire poverty in Latin America's largest economy.”
· IPS reports on the public release of Cuba’s new economic guidelines (“Lineamientos,” available here as PDF) published by the Cuban Communist Party on Monday. Among the issues in the document which has been receiving most attention: a statement that Cuban authorities will “study a policy to facilitate travel abroad by Cubans as tourists.” According to IPS, the document also places particular emphasis on pursuing regional integration as a “strategic objective.”
· From Mercopress, new UNASUR Secretary General Maria Emma Mejia on the goal of making South America an integrated “continent of peace” by 2020.
· Venezuela’s El Universal interviews the early favorite to be the Venezuelan opposition’s presidential candidate in 2012, Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski.
· And Foreign Policy with still-image video highlighting the capture of the strangest looking “tank” I’ve ever seen – apparently the former property of a criminal organization operating near the northern Mexico town of Ciudad Mier.