May 13, 2015
Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti resigned last Friday, ending a tumultuous three weeks of protests after an investigation raised questions about her possible involvement in a high-profile corruption scandal known as Caso SAT. Baldetti’s former private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón, was recently accused of organizing a corruption network targeting Guatemala´s tax collection agency—the Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria (SAT)—and is now at large.
President Otto Pérez Molina praised Baldetti’s “brave decision” in a press conference on Friday. He said, “This was a voluntary, personal decision of the vice president. It was thoughtful, difficult, courageous, but consistent with her principles and values.”
The vice president was facing a congressional impeachment hearing this week, after the Supreme Court unanimously ruled to send one of the four motions filed against Baldetti about her possible involvement in Caso SAT to Congress.
Baldetti’s resignation marked the culmination of a difficult period. In March of this year, she was left on the sidelines of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Guatemala. She received further scrutiny after the disappearance of Monzón, who is suspected of masterminding the SAT’s fraud. By the time Guatemala’s business elite from the Comité de Asociaciones Agrícolas, Comerciales, Industriales y Financieras (Coordinating Committee of Agriculture, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations—CACIF) withdrew their support for Baldetti, the writing was on the wall. A few days later, the Conferencia Episcopal de Guatemala (Episcopal Conference of Guatemala—CEG) publically condemned fraud committed by the SAT.
Monday Memo: Castro visits Pope—Chilean Cabinet—Colombian Coca—Guatemalan Corruption—Central American Geothermal
May 11, 2015
This week’s likely news stories: Raúl Castro has an audience with the Pope; Michelle Bachelet shakes up her Cabinet; Colombia bans coca spraying; a Guatemalan judge is linked to a corruption scandal; Germany will invest in Central American geothermal projects.
Cuban President Meets with the Pope: Cuban President Raúl Castro met with Pope Francis this Sunday at the Vatican and thanked the Pope for his assistance in improving relations between the U.S. and Cuba. On several occasions, the Pope has called on the U.S. to end its embargo on Cuba. Castro said he was so influenced by his audience with the Pope that he might return to the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope is planning to visit Cuba on his way to the U.S. in September 2015. Also this weekend, French President François Hollande travelled to Cuba in the first visit by a French leader since 1898. Hollande is expected to meet with Castro on Monday, although the Cuban government has not confirmed whether or not there will be a meeting. France hopes to benefit from new openings with Cuba, and Hollande is travelling with business leaders as well as ministers.
Bachelet Names New Ministers to her Cabinet: On Monday, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced changes to nine ministers in her cabinet, following her request last week that all of her ministers resign. New appointments include Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdés, Interior Minister Jorge Burgos, Minister of the Government Secretariat Jorge Inzunza, and government spokesperson Marcelo Díaz. Tiago Severo, Latin America economist at Goldman Sachs, noted that “Rodrigo Valdes is certainly going to be most likely perceived as a market-friendly new minister, who could perhaps instill a renewed sense of confidence in the outlook for the economy.” The reshuffling of the cabinet comes amid record low approval ratings for Bachelet after a number of corruption scandals marred the administration.
Colombia Announces Ban on Coca Spraying: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced this weekend the decision to stop using glyphosate in the country's coca spraying programs. On Saturday, he asked the National Drug Council to ban glyphosate sprayin gdue to the recent announcement by the World Health Organization that the substance is likely carcinogenic. The aerial spraying of coca fields, a program started in 1994 and backed by the United States, has been highly controversial. Farmers have claimed that the herbicides have killed their coffee plants and other crops, and citizens have called on the government to end the program due to the health risk. Santos stated that despite the decision, he will continue to fight drug trafficking in Colombia.
Guatemalan Supreme Court Justice Implicated in Corruption Scandal: On Monday, Guatemalan Supreme Court Justice Blanca Stalling was implicated in the corruption scandal that forced Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti to resign on Friday. Wiretappings uncovered by the AP include a conversation between lawyers, suspects, and businessman Luis Mendizábal that reveal a judicial bribery scheme to get suspects detained in the recent customs corruption scandal released. In the phone call, Mendizábal reportedly told defendant Javier Ortíz that he would be released soon, and mentioned Stalling. Stalling denies any wrongdoing.
Germany to Invest in Geothermal Energy in Central America: On Saturday, Nicaraguan news site El 19 reported that Germany will lend $112 million for geothermal energy projects throughout Central America. This weekend, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega met with Klaus Krämer, the head of the Division of Regional Development Policy for Central America and the Caribbean of the German Economic Cooperation and Development Ministry, to discuss the program and how Nicaragua can participate. Following the meeting, German Ambassador in Managua Karl-Otto König stated that there is a strong desire on both sides to continue collaboration. Last Thursday, the German Development Bank extended a line of credit of $6.71 million to Nicaragua for a water treatment project in Managua.
May 1, 2015
Tens of thousands of Guatemalans protested last Saturday, calling for the resignation of Vice President Roxana Baldetti for her alleged role in Caso SAT, a scandal involving the defrauding of hundreds of millions of quetzales from the Guatemalan government.
On April 16, Guatemalan authorities arrested 22 people in the culmination of an eight month investigation by the Fiscalía Especial contra la Impunidad (Special Anti-Impunity Prosecutor’s Bureau—FECI)—part of the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG) and the Ministerio Publico (Public Ministry—MP). A number of officials from the Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria (SAT), Guatemala’s tax collection agency, were detained, including the head of SAT, Omar Franco, his predecessor, Carlos Muñoz, and the private secretary of Baldetti, Juan Carlos Monzón.
CICIG was investigating an alleged corruption network called “La Linea” (The Line) that targeted Guatemala’s customs system. Businesses that had their goods in two ports, Puerto Quetzal or Puerto Santo Tomás, would call a certain cellphone number to negotiate the rate to have their property released after passing through Customs. A review of 500 containers revealed that 40 percent of customs taxes would be paid to the state, 30 percent to the fraudsters and the remaining 30 percent was a discount to the company.
Monday Memo: U.S.-Colombia Talks—Guatemala Protests—Buenos Aires Primaries—Puerto Rico Downgrade—Texas Delegation in Cuba
April 27, 2015
This week’s likely top stories: U.S.-Colombia Fifth Annual Bilateral Meeting; Protesters denounce corruption in Guatemala; Primaries for local elections held in Buenos Aires; S&P downgrades Puerto Rico; and Texas trade delegation visits Havana.
High-level Colombia-U.S. Talks on Mutual Cooperation: The U.S. and Colombia will hold high-level bilateral talks today in Bogotá, Colombia at the office of the Ministry of Foreign Relations. In the fifth annual bilateral meeting of its kind, discussions will be led by Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs María Ángela Holguín and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Agenda items include security, the environment, energy, education, trade and human rights. Alongside the meeting, over 100 officials from both countries will convene for a session of the steering committee of the U.S-Colombia Action Plan for Racial and Ethnic Equality, in which they will discuss democracy, culture and economic opportunities including innovation, academic exchange and immigration.
Protesters Demand Resignation of Guatemalan President: On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters met in Guatemala City to denounce the government and demand the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti after a corruption scandal surfaced last week. An investigation into the “La Linea” case has implicated various officials from the Guatemalan Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria (Superintendency of Tax Administration—SAT) for accepting bribes for reduced customs costs. The alleged leader of the corruption scheme is Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas, a former aide to Baldetti. Demonstrators claim that President Molina and Vice President Baldetti were aware of the corruption. More demonstrations are planned for coming days.
Primary Elections Held in Buenos Aires: On Sunday, the primary for the upcoming local government elections was held in Buenos Aires. This election marks the first time that porteños can vote to select the primary candidates following a 2009 electoral reform. According to exit polls, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta was nominated for the Propuesta Republicana (Republican Proposal—PRO) party, Mariano Recalde for the Frente Para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV) party, and Martin Lousteau was nominated to lead the Energía Ciudadana Organizada (Organized Citizen’s Energy Coalition—ECO). Citizens will vote for the mayor of Buenos Aires in July 2015.
February 27, 2015
Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti’s insensitive recent comments about planned changes to the country’s minimum wage were answered by nationwide demonstrations on February 22, organized by Guatemala’s Coordinadora Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas (National Coordination of Peasant Organizations—CNOC). In response to four accords approved at the end of 2014 to establish a lower monthly minimum wage of 1,500 quetzales ($196.6) in the municipalities of Estanzuela, Masagua, San Augustine and Guastatoya, protesters blocked at least 22 roads in various parts of the country, including border areas and major highways.
According to the government, a differentiated minimum wage would lower labor costs to encourage investment in the four municipalities. The new wages were set to go in effect in January, but the decision was suspended late that month after the Procurador de los Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Ombudsman—PDH) raised an injunction in the Constitutional Court, arguing that the measure violated labor rights of workers in those areas. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, also criticized the decision. “Having an exploited labor force is not a viable way to foster economic and social development,” he affirmed.
Responding to the controversy in a press conference last weekend, Baldetti defended the wage differential in a way that many Guatemalans found offensive. Baldetti claimed that if she lived in Estanzuela and had five children, she would be “blessed by God” if she was offered a job in a factory, “whatever the laws say.” “It’s better to have 1,200 quetzales [$157] in your pocket [than to have] nothing and have to eat […] once a day, tortilla with salt,” she said.
January 23, 2012
In a symbolic display of solidarity, roughly 12,000 Guatemalan citizens formed a human chain on Saturday around Volcán de Agua, one of Guatemala’s 37 volcanoes, to protest the high level of domestic violence throughout the country. This volcano, referred to as Hunapú by the Indigenous Mayan population, is extinct and its peak stands at 3,765 meters (12,352 feet) high.
Using the slogan “Rompe el Ciclo” (Break the Cycle), protestors spanned all ages and genders. The demonstration was well attended by foreign and domestic politicians, including Guatemala’s new president and vice president, Otto Pérez Molina and Roxana Baldetti. President Pérez Molina said, “We want violence to end in this country, we don't want Guatemala to be one of the most violent countries in the world.” Pérez Molina campaigned on a platform of drastically reducing violent crime.
The protest called to attention Guatemala’s rising rate of domestic violence. Government statistics indicate that 646 women were murdered in 2011—almost half of them inside their own homes. Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre notes that domestic violence is the crime most reported to the Ministerio Público (Public Ministry). The ministry is led by Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz and, despite showing signs of reform, Guatemala still holds one of the highest rates of impunity; less than 4 percent of crimes result in successful conviction of perpetrators.
Nonetheless, this weekend’s protest shows promising signs for the future, especially with the youth in attendance. British Ambassador to Guatemala Julie Chappell, who helped organize the human chain, commented, “We are trying to bring about a generational change of attitudes.”
January 13, 2012
Este 14 de enero, en Guatemala van a tomar posesión las nuevas autoridades quienes llevarán el rumbo del país. La población, como cada cuatro años, mantiene la esperanza de que las autoridades electas puedan responder a las principales demandas, especialmente de todos los sectores tradicionalmente marginados como el caso de los pueblos Indígenas y las mujeres.
Es importante destacar que en los últimos años ha existido una mayor participación de los sectores Indígenas en la elección de autoridades locales como el caso de las alcaldías municipales. Sin embargo en el caso de los principales puestos como la presidencia o las diputaciones, aun es muy marcada la discriminación y las pocas oportunidades que los partidos políticos brindan a los sectores Indígenas.
Por ejemplo en el departamento de Quiché, al noroeste del país y uno de los que tiene mayor caudal de votantes, elige un total de ocho diputados para el Congreso de la República. De las ocho diputaciones únicamente tres son Indígenas aunque no necesariamente identificados con las causas de este sector y solamente figura una mujer por lo que es otra clara muestra de la inequidad existente en el país.
En relación a la conformación del nuevo gabinete de gobierno, de los 14 ministros solamente figura un Indígena que es el Ministro de Cultura y Deportes que estará a cargo de Carlos Batzín y solamente figuran tres mujeres para dirigir los ministerios de: educación; medio ambiente y recursos naturales; y el nuevo ministerio de desarrollo social.
November 7, 2011
Guatemala and Nicaragua went to the polls yesterday to (re)elect their presidents; Otto Pérez Molina was declared the victor in Guatemala, while Nicaragua is still tabulating its votes. Pérez Molina, of the Partido Patriota (Patriot Party–PP) defeated Manuel Baldizón of the Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Freedom–LIDER) party in Guatemala’s runoff election. Neither candidate had secured a majority vote in the September 11 primary.
Guatemala’s election authority, the Tribuno Supremo Electoral, notes that the PP got 53.8 percent of the vote and LIDER 46.2 percent. Pérez Molina, a former army general, has pledged to tackle Guatemala’s widespread crime and insecurity with a mano dura (firm hand), partly through hiring and training roughly 10,000 additional police officers and 2500 more soldiers.
This year’s election was historic for Guatemala because a woman—Roxana Baldetti—will assume the vice-presidency for the first time. Baldetti, a sitting congresswoman, has been a driving force in the PP calling for transparency in Guatemalan politics. She and Pérez Molina have campaigned on the promise to continue the inclusive, pro-poor programs of Sandra Torres, Guatemala’s first lady, which are highly popular.
In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega and his Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista Front of National Liberation—FSLN) are leading in the vote count. Nicaraguan daily La Prensa is reporting that, with 38.8 percent of ballots counted, the FSLN is winning with 63.95 percent, compared to 29.09 percent for its nearest rival, Fabio Gadea of the Partido Liberal Independiente (Liberal Independent Party–PLI). Ortega, who served as president from 1985-1990 and again from 2007 through the present, is widely expected to prevail and assume a third term. Yesterday Ortega’s wife and spokeswoman, Rosario Murillo, proclaimed, “This is the victory of Christianity, socialism and solidarity.”