By Chuck Call*
Juan Jiménez Mayor, Spokesman of the MACCIH Mission in Honduras, presented an update about MACCIH at the OAS in December 2016. / Juan Manuel Herrera, OAS / Flickr / Creative Commons
The OAS “Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras” (MACCIH) approaches its first anniversary in April with some gains and many challenges. Launched after months of negotiations with the government of President Juan Orlando Hernández, MACCIH was created partly in response to widespread street protests by the Indignados (the “Outraged”), angered that the president’s campaign had benefitted from $300 million embezzled by officials of the Social Security Institute (IHSS). Hernández was widely believed to accept the mission only because his tenure in office – and a possible second term – were in danger.
- MACCIH was inspired by Guatemala’s CICIG, the UN-backed commission supporting that country’s judicial institutions, but Hernández insisted on major differences. He consented only to a mission of the OAS, generally seen as weaker than the United Nations. MACCIH is weaker than CICIG in that it cannot initiate its own case investigations and must channel all its investigative and prosecutorial work through Honduran authorities. (CICIG enjoys full investigative police powers and can initiate its own wiretaps and surveillance.) MACCIH is headed in-country by a “spokesman” for the OAS Secretary-General, who nominally leads the mission from Washington, and its $2 million first-year budget has been only about one-sixth that of CICIG’s annual budget.
As a result, MACCIH opened to skepticism that its slow start hasn’t dispelled. Its investigations have produced virtually no corruption-related arrests or prosecutions. Setting up the office took much of 2016. The head of criminal investigations only arrived in the summer, and the public security office only opened this month. In contrast, a Honduran Police Reform Commission has sacked over 3,000 police officers. Civil society organizations complain of MACCIH’s lack of impact, and a novel “observatory” comprising academic institutions and civil society groups remains ill-defined. MACCIH’s decision not take up the investigation of the high-profile murder of environmental rights activist Berta Cáceres has seemed to sideline the mission from a case that emblemizes impunity, even if it seems not to involve far-reaching corruption.
- However, MACCIH has scored some wins. It has embarked on a handful of complex corruption cases, including the IHSS case that sparked its creation. The mission helped Honduran prosecutors prepare charges of arms possession against Mario Zelaya, the highest-profile suspect in the IHSS case, which kept him in jail long enough for more serious charges to be brought. It helped secure two laws – to regulate campaign financing and to create a nationwide anti-corruption jurisdiction with its own selected judges and prosecutors. MACCIH’s in-country leader, former Peruvian Prime Minister Juan Jiménez Mayor, has been forward-leaning in acting on his mandate.
- MACCIH gained support in an early test late last year. In November, its concerns about several Hernández nominees to the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas, an audit court with special powers over corruption investigations, earned the ire of Honduran senior officials who complained to Secretary General Almagro. The appointments were not altered, laying bare the mission’s limitations. But Almagro stood by his organization’s analysis and role, with Jiménez Mayor emerging stronger as his special representative, not just his spokesman.
- That same month, the board chair of Transparency International, José Ugaz, visited Honduras and urged civil society organizations to help ensure MACCIH’s success. Since then, they have showed a more positive attitude toward MACCIH, and more witnesses are now cooperating with the mission.
Comparisons between MACCIH with CICIG may arguably be unfair just one year out. Observers recall that CICIG had difficulty showing impact in its initial investigations and was criticized as ineffectual. Delivering on its ambitious mission to help curb corruption and impunity – in a country notorious for both – will be even harder. However, the mission has accomplished as much as CICIG did in its first year in case investigations and legal reform. Despite its limitations and slow start, MACCIH’s performance does not preclude obtaining far-reaching corruption convictions and strengthening the Honduran judicial system in coming years. As civil society groups seem to be getting past their disappointment that their country did not get a CICIG, their collaboration will be crucial to the mission’s success.
March 13, 2017
* Chuck Call teaches International Peace and Conflict Resolution at American University.
Posted by clalsstaff on March 13, 2017
By Matthew Taylor*
Brazilian President Michel Temer. / PMDB Nacional / Flickr / Creative Commons
Self-inflicted troubles are forcing Brazilian President Michel Temer into difficult choices between his party and an angry public. When he became president three months ago, his game plan was simple and bold: undertake legislative reforms that would put the government’s accounts back on track, enhance investor confidence, stimulate an economic recovery, and possibly set the stage for a center-right presidential bid (if not by Temer himself, at least by a close ally) in the 2018 elections. Allies in his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) would ensure that he had the backing of Congress to push through reforms that might not bring immediate returns, but nonetheless might improve investor confidence. Sotto voce, many politicians also assumed that the PMDB would be well placed to slow the pace of the bloodletting occasioned by the massive Lava Jato investigation and stabilize the political system.
Last week, the public’s worst suspicions of the PMDB-led government were confirmed by a two-bit scandal that claimed Government Secretary Geddel Vieira Lima, who was putting pressure – with Temer’s help – on a historical registry office to authorize construction of a Salvador building in which he had purchased an apartment. Temer sought to repair the damage by holding an unusual press conference Sunday in which he promised to veto a proposed congressional amnesty of illegal campaign contributions. But Temer now faces another important ethical fork in the road: how to respond to Chamber of Deputies approval of anti-corruption legislation yesterday that – while originally intended to boost efforts to clean up government – neuters the reforms and prevents judicial “abuses,” a move widely seen as an effort to intimidate judges and prosecutors. The bill now heads to the Senate, which seems unlikely to repair the damage and indeed, may further distort the bill in an effort to undermine Temer’s ability to resurrect the reforms through selective vetoes. The reform package had been a poster child for the prosecutors spearheading the Lava Jato investigation, and it was pushed by a petition drive that gathered more than two million signatures. Prosecutors have threatened to resign if Temer signs the severely mangled measure into law.
Despite Temer’s initial successes, the outlook for the remainder of his term remains grim. The bad news is going to continue, causing the Congress and Temer even more sleepless nights. A deal expected soon reportedly will require the Odebrecht construction firm to pay a record-breaking penalty for its corrupt practices (perhaps surpassing even the US$1.6 billion Siemens paid to U.S. and European authorities in 2008), and plea bargains by nearly 80 company executives might implicate as many as 200 federal politicians. It threatens to paralyze legislators and further weaken the PMDB’s already decimated crew, undermining Temer’s ability to coordinate with Congress. Economic forecasts now show economic growth of less than 1 percent in 2017 and, with 26 state governments facing budget crises, politically influential governors are begging for federal help. A much-needed pension reform promised by Temer has not yet been made public, much less begun the tortuous amendment process in Congress. Temer increasingly is being forced to choose between helping his allies and achieving reform, or satisfying a public fed up with politics as usual and baying for accountability and a political cleanup. It will take all of Temer’s considerable political skills and knowledge of backroom Brasília to revise his game plan for these challenging times.
December 1, 2016
* Matthew Taylor is Associate Professor at the School of International Service at American University and Adjunct Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This is adapted from this CFR blogpost.
Posted by clalsstaff on December 1, 2016
By Ricardo Barrientos*
Iván Velásquez, head of the UN International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Velásquez and his team face a difficult task of bolstering Guatemalan anti-corruption efforts. / US Embassy Guatemala / Flickr / Creative Commons
Anti-corruption efforts in Guatemala have suffered serious setbacks in recent months, and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president appears likely to hurt them further. A number of media reports have already documented that efforts by right-wing Army veterans accused of crimes against humanity during the civil war, politicians, and campaign financiers are seriously threatening anti-corruption efforts started in 2015, which swept former President Pérez Molina from office. President Jimmy Morales, who campaigned that he was “neither corrupt, nor a thief,” has failed to fulfill voters’ mandate to fight corruption, and instead has allowed Army friends to dominate his administration. Called la juntita, Morales’s closest advisors are former military officers who operate in the shadows, are widely suspected of crimes against humanity during the war, and are alleged to be using their influence for personal enrichment.
- The Supreme Court and Congress are also under pressure. Numerous media reports point to members of the Supreme Court, including its President, being tainted. One magistrate, whose son has already been convicted of illicit use of public funds, is widely suspected as well. In the legislature, the election of a new Directive Board increased the power of members long suspected of links with the mafias. (Some local observers speculate that the internal voting was conducted on the U.S. Election Day because U.S. Ambassador Todd Robinson, an advocate of anti-corruption initiatives, and his staff would be too busy to care about what was going on in the Guatemalan Congress.)
With the Central Square in Guatemala City empty and only memories remaining of the citizen mass demonstrations of 2015, the last line of defense against the “re-capture” of the Guatemalan State are Iván Velásquez, head of the UN International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Aldana. They have already started investigations and are prosecuting corrupt members of Congress, including members of the new Directive Board. U.S. government support has been crucial. Ambassador Robinson may have crossed the thin line between active diplomacy and intervention at times, but many observers note that – quite unusual in Latin America for a U.S. ambassador – he enjoys strong support and sympathy from Guatemalans, and he is disliked by the Army veterans and others who are part of what in Guatemala is known as the “old politics.”
Corrupt Guatemalans appear to believe that their first hope – to neutralize the U.S. Embassy – moved one step closer to reality with the election of Donald Trump last week. Politicians and commentators opposed to U.S. support for CICIG celebrated. One proclaimed that “Democrats shriek; Republicans vote,” while another interpreted the message of Trump’s victory for Ambassador Robinson: “You’re fired!” The mafias would not expect a Trump Administration to support them, but rather – interpreting the President-elect’s campaign statements – simply adopt a policy of indifference toward Guatemala and its internal affairs. The corruption networks of the “old politics” in Guatemala hope that Trump will stay focused on nothing in Latin America except stopping migration. Analysts who say that everyone in Latin America is regretting Trump’s victory are wrong. Trump’s election may help the corrupt win a battle or two, but the war against corruption in Guatemala is far from over.
November 18, 2016
*Ricardo Barrientos is a senior economist at the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies (Icefi).
Posted by clalsstaff on November 18, 2016
Daniel Ortega | Photo by: Presidencia de la República del Ecuador | Flickr | Creative Commons
Bilateral tensions going back to the Cold War have obscured the value of counternarcotics cooperation between the United States and one of its least-favorite governments in Latin America – that of former Sandinista guerrilla and three-term Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. The man who battled U.S.-funded proxies, the Contras, in the 1980s is now the most effective soldier against the drug trade in Central America, although Washington appears loathe to admit it and to imbue the cooperation with political good will. However, while closer U.S. allies such as Honduras and El Salvador have seen levels of violence climb, Nicaragua remains relatively safe. According to U.S. government estimates, Honduras (with vastly greater assistance) interdicted more cocaine than did Nicaragua in 2011 (22 v. 9 metric tons), seized one-tenth as much heroin (8 v. 86 kilograms) and arrested only half as many drug-related criminals (84 v. 168) – but had a homicide rate six times greater than Nicaragua.
Managua has achieved its relative success with an approach quite different from its neighbors’ –less costly in both dollars and bloodshed. Compared to the flow of allegations about human rights violations committed by the Mexican security forces, Nicaragua’s record appears clean and citizens feel relatively confident providing information to the police. Its armed forces have been involved in drug interdiction, focusing on coastal seizures, often in cooperation with the U.S. Navy. But the backbone of Nicaragua’s strategy has been a series of local initiatives such as community policing. These programs focus on “juvenile delinquency, education, and reintegration into society by gang members and other young offenders,” scholars noted in a recent special issue of the journal Policing and Society. Nicaragua’s geography may be a factor as well. The cartels’ main routes to Mexico are through the northern tier of the isthmus, and Nicaragua does not have the same sort of migration patterns that shaped Salvadoran gangs, as Insight Crime noted last year.
Scaling up Nicaragua’s local solutions to fit Mexico would be an immense challenge because of the disparity between the countries’ size and history. But elements of Managua’s approach could be tried and adapted in neighboring countries, particularly its emphasis on community policing and anticorruption efforts that help gain citizens’ confidence. Within Nicaragua itself, some observers argue that the government should do more to integrate its Afro-descendant Creole population into these supportive measures. Currently, these Creole coastal communities bear much of the effect of military-oriented U.S.-Nicaraguan counternarcotics cooperation, without the social assistance to deal with the underlying problems in the region. As the costs – and limits on effectiveness – of the full-frontal assault on cartels become ever clearer, Nicaragua’s relative success stands as an important reminder that other paths are possible.
Posted by clalsstaff on November 26, 2012