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Latam Brief: Colombia defends Velásquez (January 18, 2023)

A Guatemalan prosecutor announced “legal actions” against Colombian Defense Minister Iván Velásquez, a former U.N. anti-corruption investigator in Guatemala, on Monday. The announcement, by Guatemala’s Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) Rafael Curruchiche, that Velásquez is being investigated for “illegal, arbitrary and abusive acts” stemming from his investigation into an alleged bribery scheme involving Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, has caused diplomatic waves between Guatemala and Colombia.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro immediately recalled the country’s ambassador in Guatemala for consultations, saying Colombia will defend Velásquez. “He will continue to be our minister. If Guatemala insists on arresting just men, well, we have nothing to do with Guatemala.”

Curruchiche accused Velásquez of reaching “anomalous” agreements with Brazilian prosecutors, as head of the U.N.-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, in relation to the Odebrecht investigation. The case is baseless, Human Rights Watch’s Juan Pappier told El País, and instead demonstrates the worrisome situation of Guatemala’s justice system, coopted by corrupt interests.

Seven years after the CICIG’s work led to landmark cases against top Guatemalan politicians, including former President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti, Guatemala’s anti-corruption crusaders — judges, prosecutors, journalists, lawyers and activists — have increasingly been targets of judicial persecution that threatens them with prison. Many have been forced into exile.

Curruchiche also announced, on Monday, arrest warrants for several individuals recognized as anti-corruption crusaders in Guatemala, including the country’s former Attorney General Thelma Aldana, former Public Minister Mayra Véliz, and former CICIG head David Gaitán. Aldana has been living in exile since 2019, after facing legal persecution in Guatemala.

Brian Nichols, the U.S. State Department’s assistant secretary for Western hemisphere affairs, wrote in a post on Twitter that he was “disturbed” arrest warrants were issued “against individuals who worked to ensure accountability for corruption in the Odebrecht case.”

Guatemalan officials, including Curruchiche and Attorney General Consuelo Porras have been included on the U.S. Undemocratic and Corrupt Actors List, popularly known as the “Engel list,” saying that they “obstructed investigations into acts of corruption by interfering with criminal investigations.”

During her tenure Porras has undermined investigations into corruption and human rights abuses, according to Human Rights Watch’s 2023 World Report. “She transferred, fired, or, in some cases, promoted spurious criminal proceedings against independent judges, prosecutors, and journalists.”

Curruchiche has presided over the steady dismantling of FECI by removing prosecutors working on high-profile cases or slapping them with spurious criminal charges, noted InSight Crime last year.

And, while Curruchiche has announced the moves against anti-corruption leaders, Guatemala has moved to release people imprisoned for Odebrecht corruption. Former presidential candidate Manuel Baldizón was released from his sentence for money laundering for Odebrecht, and Alejandro Sinibald, the former Minister of Communications, Infrastructure and Housing, who is also imprisoned for connections to Odebrecht bribery, may be released soon, notes Transparency International.

(ReutersReutersEl PaísSoy 502El PaísAgencia OcoteEFE)


  • Lima is bracing for two days of anti-government protests starting today, President Dina Boluarte — who protesters want to resign — has called for peaceful demonstrations. (AFP)

  • Boluarte will have a difficult task addressing the country’s social unrest as “there is no clear agenda driving demonstrations,” according to the Latin America Risk Report. (See yesterday’s briefs.)}

  • Boluarte’s government has unleashed repressive measures against the protesters, and more than 47 people have been killed. Many of the people who have died in clashes with security forces are poor, rural and Indigenous. The government is committed to dehumanizing Indigenous citizens “in order to punish them, effectively, as if they were wayward cattle, without rights, without humanity,” writes Marco Avilés in the Post Opinión.


  • The United Nations called for an investigation into the killings of two Honduran environmental defenders this month, “which must take into account the possibility that they have been retaliated against for their work defending human rights.” And locals are questioning the government’s commitment to protecting environmental activists, reports Al Jazeera. (See last Friday’s post.)

  • “In this particular case, many people are feeling a little bit cynical because the same prosecutor who oversaw what many called the arbitrary imprisonment of the 33 and then the eight water defenders after 2018 has now been charged with investigating this case,” journalist Jared Olsen told WBUR.


  • Brazil’s prosecutor-general’s office presented charges against 39 people who allegedly ransacked Brazil’s congress building on Jan. 8. It is the start of efforts to prosecute the thousands of people who stormed government buildings in an effort to overthrow the Lula administration. The defendants have been charged with armed criminal association, violent attempt to subvert the democratic state of law, staging a coup and damage to public property. (Guardian)

  • The Jan. 8 Brasília attacks could be a window of opportunity for President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to reform Brazil’s military police, reports the Guardian. Almost two-thirds of Brazilians believe the capital police did not do their duty, according to a poll by Datafolha.
  • Lula fired 40 troops guarding the presidential residence, yesterday, after expressing distrust in the military for failing to act against the Jan. 8 rioters. (Reuters)

  • “The Brazilian insurrection — a violent threat against the country’s democratic institutions — has received global attention, with much reporting on the ties to its American antecedent. Yet an essential part of the story is being overlooked,” write Raimundo Barreto and João B. Chaves in the Washington Post. “The populist conservative political movements in both countries have been strengthened by major sectors of the same group: evangelical Christians.”

  • Activist group Mighty Earth is challenging Brazilian-based food giant JBS over “green bonds” linked to the company’s sustainability goals. (Washington Post)


  • Haiti’s Superior Council of the Judiciary informed the justice minister of 30 judges whose certification won’t be renewed for offenses that range from drunkenness and property theft to a lack of moral integrity and academic qualifications to abuse of authority and facilitating the release of notorious criminals. The move is “a historic blow to Haiti’s already dysfunctional judicial system,” reports the Miami Herald.


  • Migrants from Haiti and Cuba are crossing the Florida Straights in homemade “freedom boats” whose ingenuous construction speaks to the desperation pushing people to make the dangerous journey, writes Jacqueline Charles in the Miami Herald.

Critter Corner

  • Saint Maarten’s government has approved a controversial plan to cull its entire population of vervet monkeys, an invasive species that is an increasing nuisance on the Dutch island territory. But critics of the plan, which involves trapping and euthanizing the monkeys, say that sterilization and environment management are better alternatives, reports the Guardian.

Jordana Timerman / Latin America Daily Briefing

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