Sunday, September 13, 2015

Rule of Law Wins - For Once

guatemala otto perez molina
Guatemalan Pres. Otto Pérez in court.
Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, an ex-military officer allegedly linked to atrocities during the country's vicious civil war, tolerated protests against him after evidence appeared tieing him to a corruption scandal. And, when the public and political pressure against him became overwhelming, Pérez Molina resigned and went to jail, where he will be tried like a common criminal.

Guatemala's remarkable turn of events is a victory for civil society and its power to hold leaders accountable. And so is the investigation into a huge kickback scheme in Brazil's Petrobras state oil company, which now has that nation's president on the ropes.

Nevertheless, across Latin America, consolidation of power by many presidents is endangering systems of checks and balances, making leaders invulnerable to accusations of corruption and giving them authoritarian powers.

The most glaring example is Venezuela, whose pseudosocialist government just carried out a show
Imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.
trial which sentenced opposition leader Leopold Lopez to almost 14 years in prison, even tho human rights defenders say prosecutors offered no real evidence.

'The sentence of 13 years and 9 months in prison against a Venezuelan opposition leader with no credible evidence against him shows the complete lack of judicial independence and impartiality in Venezuela,' wrote Amnesty International.

Reeling from a shrinking economy, the world's highest inflation rate and soaring crime, while facing parliamentary elections in December, Venezuelan Pres. Nicolas Maduro is trying to muzzle the press and imprison opponents.

Maduro has also tried to scapegoat Colombian immigrants as the cause of his nation's profound problems, deporting hundreds of Colombians in brutal conditions.

Meanwhile, other, more competent Latin leaders have used their success to consolidate power. Ecuadorian Pres. Rafael Correa has used economic pressure, lawsuits and anti-free speech laws to intimidate and close critical media.

In Bolivia, Pres. Evo Morales controls more than two-thirds of Congress and plans to use this power to pass a bill enabling him to run for a fourth-consecutive term.

And in Nicaragua the Supreme Court ruled that Pres. Daniel Ortega, a one-time leftist guerrilla leader, could run for a third consecutive term even tho the Constitution clearly states that neither the sitting president nor someone who has held that office for two terms can run again.

Sadly, it's inconceivable that in any of these nations, the president would be prosecuted for corruption, no matter how shameless. And, most likely, the media would not even report such corruption.
Ernesto Samper survided
a huge scandal.

And how about Colombia? The history isn't encouraging.

President Ernesto Samper's (1994-8), was the last presidency threatened by scandal. Despite
overwhelming evidence of drug cartel money in his campaign, he pleaded ignorance and survived a political trial in Congress and finished out his term. (The U.S. appeared to consider him guilty and took away his visa.)  Samper now heads the leftist Unasur organization of Latin American nations.

Scandal couldn't touch Alvaro Uribe.
The 2002-8 terms of right-wing Pres. Alvaro Uribe were marked by military success against Colombia's guerrillas, but also horrendous human rights violations, including massacres of peasants by paramilitaries and the False Positives killings. Uribe's government also employed the DAS, Colombia's FBI, to spy on opponents, including journalists and even Supreme Court justices. Some called the scandal worse than Watergate. Uribe has been repeatedly accused of links to paramilitary death squads, but evidence has never stuck, and he is now in Congress, where he leads the opposition to Pres. Santos. (On the other hand, several high-ranking members of his administration are on trial or in prison for corruption and other crimes.)

Colombia will be better off it never has to test whether its legal system is strong enough to take down a president.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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