Domestic and International Pressure Builds Against the President of Guatemala

President Jimmy Morales is facing pushback at home and abroad after his recent attempt to expel Iván Velásquez, the head of a United Nations anti-corruption commission, from the country.

Velásquez was appointed by the UN Secretary-General in 2013 to head the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. His and the Commission’s efforts were critical in the investigation which led to the resignation and arrest of President Otto Pérez and Vice President Roxana Baldetti in 2015.

The Commission began in 2007 after a request from the Guatemalan government. Its three primary objectives are to investigate illegal groups that commit crimes that affect fundamental human rights of Guatemalans, collaborate with the government to dismantle these groups, and make public policy recommendations. Its original two-year mandate has been extended four times. The Commission’s current mandate expires in September 2019.

International

In an official statement, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein was “deeply disturbed” by President Morales’ attempt to expel Velásquez from Guatemala.

“Velásquez and the Commission, known by its Spanish initials as CICIG, together with the Attorney General, Thelma Aldana, and her office, play a critically important role in the fight against impunity and corruption in Guatemala,” said Hussein in the statement.

In the United States, Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement in reaction to President Morales’ action:

One of the bedrock principles of a constitutional system is that no one is above the law.  I urge President Morales to change course, respect the Constitutional Court, and allow Ivan Velasquez to continue his important work supporting Guatemalan authorities fighting high levels of corruption.

The U.S. Congress has spoken with one voice in support of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala.  We will continue to stand with the Guatemalan people, and especially those in poverty, who are hurt most by corruption.

In May, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that acknowledged the importance of the Commission and urged the government of Guatemala to work with the Commission to fight corruption.

Domestic

Local opposition to President Morales’ order forcing Iván Velásquez to leave Guatemala came from the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court, which is the final authority on questions of constitutionality in Guatemala, intervened and nullified the President’s order shortly after it was made.

Attorney General Thelma Aldana has been highly critical of the President’s action. Both Aldana and Velásquez have raised concerns over possible campaign finance violations during the 2015 presidential election. Aldana asked a court on August 25 to remove President Morales’ immunity from prosecution so an investigation could move forward.

The Attorney General and President have been at odds since the President’s son, José Manuel Morales, and brother, Samuel Morales, were arrested on fraud charges in early 2017.

An Uncertain Future

The current political crisis in Guatemala is reminiscent of the crisis that propelled Jimmy Morales to the presidency less than two years ago.

In April 2015, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala and the Attorney General’s office arrested or issued warrants for 22 people on corruption charges. The case, known as “La Línea,” revolved around a smuggling ring designed to avoid import taxes. The investigation’s net included Vice President Roxana Baldetti and President Otto Pérez, referred to as “la dos” and “el uno,” respectively.

In September 2015, after being stripped of his immunity from prosecution, President Pérez resigned from office. Vice President Baldetti had already resigned in May 2015 and Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, a former Minister of Education, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and constitutional judge, was selected to replace her. Maldonado served as acting president for five months until Jimmy Morales was sworn into office in January 2016 after a sweeping electoral victory in October.

Guatemalans face the very real and very familiar possibility that their President will not serve out his entire term because of a corruption investigation. Should that occur, the Vice President, Jafeth Cabrera, will have nearly two years in office before the presidential elections in 2019. During that time, Cabrera will have the unenviable task of leading a nation going through the difficult but necessary task of rooting out corruption in Guatemala.

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Peru and Australia Engage in Bilateral Trade Talks as Eleven Countries Meet in Sydney to Discuss Future of TPP

Officials from 11 of the countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership are meeting in Australia this week to discuss reviving the trade agreement between their countries. The original members to the TPP were Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.

In addition to trade liberalization, the TPP included articles related to labor, the environment, transparency and anti-corruption, services, and intellectual property.

As one of his first acts in office, President Donald Trump formally withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Article 30 of the treaty required ratification by at least six original signatories whose gross domestic product was greater than 85 percent of the combined GDP of the whole group for the TPP to enter into force. This article essentially gave the United States and Japan the power to kill the entire treaty.

Without the United States, the remaining 11 countries are re-examining many aspects to the treaty. As Reuters reports, Vietnam, in particular, is eager to remove provisions from the agreement that would have required significant policy changes, such as relating to labor and intellectual property rights. The United States during the Obama administration was the leading force behind these protections.

“There’s not much sense to agree to provisions they don’t really want such as stronger monopolies on medicines if they are not going to get access to the U.S. market,” said Patricia Ranald, a research associate at the University of Sydney.

A hope among the officials meeting in Australia is that a future administration will reverse President Trump’s decision to remove the United States from the TPP. A concern among some is that too many changes to the TPP will hurt that effort.

“The more you change the agreement, it is going to be harder to get the U.S. to sign on when it is ready to,” said Shiro Armstrong, a research fellow at the Crawford School of Economics in Canberra.

In addition to multilateral meetings like the one occurring in Australia this week, many of the 11 countries are also engaged in bilateral trade discussions. Two nations that have one of the best chances to sign a free trade agreement in the near future are Peru and Australia.

Peru

Peru currently has 16 free trade agreements including with Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, and the United States. In May 2017, officials from Peru and Australia announced that their countries would begin negotiations of a free trade agreement.

Peru exported $259 million and imported $102 million in goods from Australia in 2016. Although trade with Australia remained a fraction of Peru’s more than $70 billion trade with the rest of the world in 2016, bilateral trade between the two Pacific nations has more than tripled in the last decade.

Screenshot (201)
Source: UN COMTRADE

On Monday, the Deputy Commerce Minister of Peru, Edgar Vasquez, said he expects a “very ambitious” trade agreement with Australia could go into effect in 2018.

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Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales Tries to Remove UN Anti-Corruption Commissioner

Guatemala erupted in political crisis on Sunday after President Jimmy Morales ordered the head of a United Nations anti-corruption commission to leave the country. The Constitutional Court of Guatemala has since blocked the President’s order.

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala started in 2007 after a request from the Guatemalan government. The Commission’s three main objectives are to investigate illegal groups that commit crimes that affect fundamental human rights of Guatemalans, collaborate with the government to dismantle these groups, and make public policy recommendations. Its original mandate two-year mandate has been extended four times. The Commission’s current mandate expires in September 2019.

Ivan Velasquez was appointed by the UN Secretary-General in 2013 to head the Commission. He is a former magistrate of the Supreme Court of Colombia. Velasquez and the Commission’s efforts were critical in the investigation which led to the resignation and arrest of President Otto Perez Molina.

President Morales’ decision to remove Velasquez was not unexpected. Tensions in Guatemala were high last week when rumors emerged that Morales was going to seek Velasquez’s removal from the Commission. Thousands marched in the capital of Guatemalan last Wednesday and Saturday in support of the anti-corruption commission and to demand President Morales’ resignation.

Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Aldana asked a court on Friday to remove President Morales’ immunity from prosecution so an investigation could move forward. Both Aldana and Velasquez have raised concerns over possible campaign finance violations during the 2015 presidential election.

At the time of that election, Jimmy Morales was the leader of the National Convergence Front party. Morales ran on the campaign slogan “neither corrupt nor a thief.”

Domestic Reaction

Guatemalan Health Minister Lucrecia Hernandez Mack and her deputies resigned in protest after President Morales ordered Commissioner Ivan Velasquez to leave the country. In their letter of resignation, Lucrecia Hernandez Mack and her deputies said, “we consider that the work plan that we have been developing ceases to be ethically and politically viable in a government such as yours.”

International Reaction

Members of United States Congress expressed their support for Attorney General Thelma Aldana and Commissioner Ivan Velasquez. In a joint statement, Representatives Eliot Engel, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Albio Sires said:

Attorney General Aldana and Commissioner Velásquez have done extraordinary work combating corruption and impunity in Guatemala, and we urge President Morales to continue supporting these important institutions.

The three powerful members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee went further to imply that President Morales’ action to remove Velasquez could endanger United States foreign assistance to Guatemala.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was shocked by the news. In a statement, Guterres praised Velasquez:

Under Commissioner Velásquez’s leadership, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has made a decisive contribution to strengthening justice sector institutions in Guatemala, helping to ensure justice was done in numerous cases.  Mr. Velásquez has worked tirelessly to promote a culture that upholds the rule of law and rejects corruption.

Morales’ Fall from Grace

This is the latest in a series of controversies surrounding President Jimmy Morales.

Elected in 2015 by a wide margin, Jimmy Morales was seen as a political outsider who ran on the campaign slogan “neither corrupt nor a thief.” That election came on the heels of President Otto Fernando Perez Molina’s resignation from office and subsequent arrest on corruption charges.

This year began with the news that a judge ordered the detention of President Morales’ son and brother on fraud charges. Their alleged crimes are related to the scandal that brought down President Otto Perez and his Vice President, Ingrid Roxana Baldetti Elias, in 2015.

As the New York Times reports, President Morales stopped cooperating with Attorney General Aldana and Commissioner Velasquez after the investigation against his son and brother began.

Morales also faces tough questions related to campaign finance during the 2015 presidential election. As Prensa Libre reports, there are several active investigations related to campaign funds that may have come from Marlon Monroy Meoño, a narcotrafficker, and Alejandro Sinibaldi, the Communications Minister under President Otto Pérez who is accused of money laundering.

President Morales’ attempt to remove Commissioner Velasquez may mean the beginning of the end of his presidency. Less than two years after being elected to office, Jimmy Morales has created a political crisis that rivals the scandal that brought down his predecessor.

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Alzas de Violaciones de las Finanzas de Campaña Llegan al Presidente Morales de Guatemala

Los manifestantes marcharon en las calles de Ciudad de Guatemala esta semana después de que se informara que el presidente Jimmy Morales pediría al secretario general de las Naciones Unidas, Antonio Guterres, que retirara al jefe de la Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, Iván Velásquez.

Morales ganó la elección presidencial 2015 por un amplio margen. Como candidato, Jimmy Morales fue visto como un forastero político que corrió en el lema de la campaña “ni corrupto ni ladrón”. Esa elección se produjo después de la renuncia del presidente Otto Fernando Pérez Molina de su cargo y posterior detención por cargos de corrupción.

La Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala comenzó en 2007 luego de una solicitud del gobierno guatemalteco. Los tres objetivos principales de la Comisión son investigar grupos ilegales que cometan delitos que afectan a los derechos humanos fundamentales de los guatemaltecos, colaborar con el gobierno para desmantelar estos grupos y formular recomendaciones de políticas públicas. Su mandato original de dos años de mandato se ha ampliado tres veces. El actual mandato de la Comisión expira en septiembre de 2019.

Iván Velásquez fue nombrado por el Secretario General de las Naciones Unidas en 2013 para dirigir la Comisión. Es magistrado de la Corte Suprema de Justicia de Colombia. Velásquez y los esfuerzos de la Comisión fueron críticos en la investigación del presidente Otto Pérez.

Este año comenzó con la noticia de que un juez ordenó la detención del hijo y hermano del presidente Morales por cargos de fraude. Sus presuntos delitos están relacionados con el escándalo que derrocó a Otto Pérez ya su vicepresidenta, Ingrid Roxana Baldetti Elías. Poco después de que su hijo y su hermano fueron arrestados, el presidente Morales twitteó: “El imperio de la Ley debe prevalecer sobre todas las cosas”.

Mientras que Morales no estaba directamente implicado en los crímenes de sus familiares en ese momento, la noticia fue un golpe a su presidencia que no había logrado estar a la altura de las expectativas del público. El gobierno de Morales sufrió otro golpe en marzo cuando la Corte Suprema de Guatemala despojó a Édgar Justino Ovalle, aliado de Morales y miembro del Congreso, de su inmunidad de procesamiento. Ovalle es acusado de crímenes derivados de su tiempo en el ejército durante la guerra civil.

Más recientemente, surgieron acusaciones contra el Presidente Morales relacionadas con violaciones a las finanzas de campaña. Como informó Prensa Libre, cuatro investigaciones podrían llegar al presidente Morales. Tres investigaciones están relacionadas con el tiempo de Morales como secretario general de la FCN y los fondos de campaña que pueden haber recibido de Marlon Monroy Meoño, un narcotraficante, y Alejandro Sinibaldi, ministro de Comunicaciones del presidente Otto Pérez acusado de lavado de dinero. La cuarta es la investigación de fraude contra el hijo de Morales y su hermano.

Ayer, la Associated Press informó que la Fiscal General y jefa del Ministerio Público, Thelma Aldana, pidió a un tribunal que retirara la inmunidad del presidente Morales de enjuiciamiento. Aldana dijo que el partido FCN de Morales no había proporcionado una contabilidad completa de los fondos de campaña ni tampoco había proporcionado el partido informes de gastos de la campaña de 2015. Además, Ivan Velasquez dijo que se escondieron 825.000 dólares en fondos de campaña, así como otras discrepancias financieras.

Las últimas noticias no significan necesariamente que el final está cerca de la presidencia de Jimmy Morales. Sin embargo, muestra hasta qué punto el presidente Morales ha caído de su lema de campaña: ni corrupto ni ladrón.

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Allegations of Campaign Finance Violations Reach President Morales of Guatemala

Protesters marched in the streets in Guatemala City this week after it was reported that President Jimmy Morales would ask the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to remove the head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, Ivan Velasquez.

Morales won the 2015 presidential election by a wide margin. As a candidate, Jimmy Morales was seen as a political outsider who ran on the campaign slogan “neither corrupt nor a thief.” That election came on the heels of President Otto Fernando Perez Molina’s resignation from office and subsequent arrest on corruption charges.

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala started in 2007 after a request from the Guatemalan government. The Commission’s three main objectives are to investigate illegal groups that commit crimes that affect fundamental human rights of Guatemalans, collaborate with the government to dismantle these groups, and make public policy recommendations. Its original mandate two-year mandate has been extended four times. The Commission’s current mandate expires in September 2019.

Ivan Velasquez was appointed by the UN Secretary-General in 2013 to head the Commission. He is a former magistrate of the Supreme Court of Colombia. Velasquez and the Commission’s efforts were critical in the investigation into then-President Otto Perez.

This year began with the news that a judge ordered the detention of President Morales’ son and brother on fraud charges. Their alleged crimes are related to the scandal that brought down Otto Perez and his Vice President, Ingrid Roxana Baldetti Elias. Shortly after his son and brother were detained, President Morales tweeted, “The rule of law must prevail over all things.”

While Morales was not directly implicated in his relatives’ crimes at the time, the news was a blow to his presidency which had failed to live up to the public’s expectations. The Morales administration suffered another blow in March when the Supreme Court of Guatemala stripped Edgar Justino Ovalle, a Morales ally and member of Congress, of his immunity from prosecution. Ovalle is accused of crimes stemming from his time in the military during the civil war.

More recently, allegations against President Morales emerged related to campaign finance violations. As Prensa Libre reported, four investigations could reach President Morales. Three investigations are related to Morales’ time as Secretary General of the FCN party and campaign funds that may have come from Marlon Monroy Meoño, a narcotrafficker, and Alejandro Sinibaldi, the Communications Minister under President Otto Pérez who is accused of money laundering. The fourth is the fraud investigation against Morales’ son and brother.

Yesterday the Associated Press reported that the Attorney General of Guatemala, Thelma Aldana, asked a court to remove President Morales’ immunity from prosecution. Aldana said that Morales’ FCN party had not provided a full accounting of campaign funds nor had the party provided spending reports from the 2015 campaign. In addition, Ivan Velasquez said that $825,000 in campaign funds were hidden as well as other financing discrepancies.

The latest news does not necessarily mean that the end is near for Jimmy Morales’ presidency. However, it does show how far President Morales has fallen from his campaign slogan: neither corrupt nor a thief.

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Presidente Trump Coloca Sanciones Adicionales al Gobierno Venezolano

El presidente Donald Trump firmó hoy una orden ejecutiva que impone nuevas sanciones al gobierno de Venezuela ya la petrolera estatal PDVSA.

En una declaración a la prensa, la Casa Blanca echó la culpa de la actual situación económica y política de Venezuela a los pies del presidente Maduro.

La dictadura de Maduro sigue privando al pueblo venezolano de alimentos y medicinas, encarcelando a la oposición democráticamente elegida y suprimiendo violentamente la libertad de expresión. La decisión del régimen de crear una Asamblea Constituyente ilegítima -y más recientemente para que ese cuerpo usurpe los poderes de la Asamblea Nacional democráticamente elegida- representa una ruptura fundamental en el orden constitucional legítimo de Venezuela.

Las nuevas sanciones financieras frenarán el flujo de capital financiero en forma de deuda, bonos y pagos de dividendos al gobierno de Maduro. La sanción afectará tanto a los bonos nuevos como a los ya existentes.

Las sanciones permiten ciertas excepciones para “mitigar el daño al pueblo estadounidense y venezolano”. Una excepción es para “transacciones que involucran sólo a Citgo”, una subsidiaria de PDVSA con sede en los Estados Unidos que posee una cantidad significativa de infraestructura relacionada con el petróleo Industria en los Estados Unidos.

La secretaria de prensa de la Casa Blanca, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, continuó aclarando que las nuevas sanciones de los Estados Unidos estaban dirigidas a que los venezolanos ordinarios no tuvieran más dificultades.

Estas medidas se calibran cuidadosamente para negar a la dictadura de Maduro una fuente crítica de financiamiento para mantener su regla ilegítima, proteger al sistema financiero de Estados Unidos de la complicidad en la corrupción de Venezuela y en el empobrecimiento del pueblo venezolano y permitir la asistencia humanitaria.

Las tensiones entre Venezuela y los Estados Unidos han estado creciendo durante meses, cuando el presidente Nicolás Maduro convirtió a Venezuela en un estado autoritario. En un intento de usurpar la Asamblea Nacional, Maduro pidió la creación de una Asamblea Nacional Constituyente. Las masivas protestas sacudieron a Venezuela en la víspera de las elecciones del 30 de julio.

En respuesta a la creación de la Asamblea Nacional Constituyente, Estados Unidos impuso sanciones directamente al Presidente Nicolás Maduro. Según un comunicado de prensa, “todos los activos de Nicolás Maduro sujetos a la jurisdicción de los Estados Unidos se congelan, y se prohibe a los estadounidenses tratar con él”.

Desde que fue elegido, la Asamblea Constituyente despojó a la Asamblea Nacional de su autoridad legislativa y permitió que el Presidente Maduro gobernara por decreto.

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President Trump Slaps Additional Sanctions on Venezuelan Government

President Donald Trump signed an executive order today which places new sanctions on the government of Venezuela and the state-owned oil company, Petroleum of Venezuela (PDVSA).

In a statement to the press, the White House laid the blame for Venezuela’s current economic and political situation squarely at the feet of President Maduro.

The Maduro dictatorship continues to deprive the Venezuelan people of food and medicine, imprison the democratically-elected opposition, and violently suppress freedom of speech.  The regime’s decision to create an illegitimate Constituent Assembly—and most recently to have that body usurp the powers of the democratically-elected National Assembly—represents a fundamental break in Venezuela’s legitimate constitutional order.

The new economic sanctions will halt the flow of financial capital in the form of debt, bonds, and dividend payments to the Maduro government. The sanction will affect new as well as some existing bonds.

The sanctions allow for certain exceptions in order to “mitigate harm to the American and Venezuelan people.” One exception is for “transactions only involving Citgo,” a subsidiary of PDVSA based in the US which owns a significant amount of infrastructure related to the oil industry in the US.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders went on to clarify that the United States’ new sanctions were targeted such that ordinary Venezuelans would not face additional hardships as a result.

These measures are carefully calibrated to deny the Maduro dictatorship a critical source of financing to maintain its illegitimate rule, protect the United States financial system from complicity in Venezuela’s corruption and in the impoverishment of the Venezuelan people, and allow for humanitarian assistance.

Tensions between Venezuela and the United States have been mounting for months as President Nicolás Maduro has turned Venezuela into an authoritarian state. In an effort to usurp the opposition-led National Assembly, Maduro called for the creation of a National Constituent Assembly. Massive protests rocked Venezuela in the lead up to the July 30 elections.

In response to the creation of the National Constituent Assembly, the United States Treasury Department placed sanctions directly on President Nicolás Maduro. According to a press release, “all assets of Nicolas Maduro subject to U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are prohibited from dealing with him.”

Since it was elected, the Constituent Assembly stripped the National Assembly of its legislative authority and permitted President Maduro to rule by decree.

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