Alarm as Guatemala bans head of UN anti-corruption body from country

Human rights officials and activists have warned that the rule of law in Guatemala is under threat after a UN-backed special prosecutor was banned from re-entering the country – the latest in a series of clashes between the government and an international anti-corruption commission.

The country’s human rights ombudsman, Jordán Rodas, said in a statement on Tuesday that the government’s actions destabilize the rule of law, and expressed his dismay at “the arbitrary measures of the Government of the Republic that undermine democracy”.

Anti-corruption activists fear that the pioneering anti-corruption work of the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, Cicig, is now at risk.

Cicig has launched a string of prosecutions against high-level officials, including the former president Otto Pérez Molina.

Guatemala’s current president, Jimmy Morales, and his family are also the subject of multiple corruption investigations. On Friday, Morales announced he would not renew Cicig’s mandate, which ends in September 2019.

A staunch US ally, Guatemala was one of the handful of countries that backed Trump’s decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved its own embassy to the city just two days after the US relocated its diplomatic mission.

In the past, the US has been among Cicig’s strongest supporters, but it has not clearly condemned Morales’s recent attempts to derail the commission’s work. In May, Senator Marco Rubio placed a hold on $6m of US funding to Cicig, claiming the panel was being manipulated by radical elements.

Cicig’s success in bringing down corrupt officials, judges and lawyers has soared during the five-year tenure of the head commissioner, Iván Velásquez.

But on Tuesday, the government announced that Velásquez, currently in the US, would not be allowed back into the country, alleging that he was a threat to order and public security.

The decision to declare Cicig commissioner Iván Velásquez as a threat to national security is an absurdity. The only threat to national security is the arbitrary and illegal action of a ruler accused of accepting illegal financing,” Iduvina Hernández, the director of the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy in Guatemala, told the Guardian.

Morales, a former TV comedian, has been accused of illicit campaign financing during his 2015 run for president and is currently facing proceedings in congress that could strip him of his immunity from prosecution, though previous attempts to do so have failed.

Last year, Morales declared Velásquez persona non grata, but a successful constitutional court challenge filed by the ombudsman Rodas reversed the measure.

Oswaldo Samayoa, a constitutional lawyer and university professor, considers the ban of Velásquez to be a violation of the 2017 ruling.

“It’s a violation of the principle of constitutional legality. It involves the disobedience of the president and therefore a crime has been committed,” he told the Guardian.

The opposition congresswoman Sandra Morán shares the widespread view that Rodas and the constitutional court are the targets of legislative reform under consideration this week in congress. The reforms would transfer powers from the supreme court to congress that can facilitate the ousting of officials, including constitutional court judges.

“If they replace one judge, the balance of power shifts,” Morán told the Guardian. “It would mean that they would have total control.”

Guatemala has a long history of authoritarian rule, particularly during a 36-year armed conflict in which US-backed state forces carried out acts of genocide against the indigenous Mayan population. Despite a 1996 peace deal, the conditions that led to the conflict remain, and the country’s fraught peace has been plagued by organized crime, drug trafficking, violence and corruption.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, asked Velásquez to continue at the helm of Cicig from outside Guatemala until there is more clarity on the situation, the UN said on Tuesday.

But Jorge Santos, the director of Udefegua, a national human rights group, warned that there is a danger that Morales could disregard, dissolve or otherwise attack the constitutional court.

Right now in the country there’s a really major risk of a return to the old patterns that gave rise to the Guatemalan dictatorship,” he said.

Kelly calls some of Trump’s campaign pledges on immigration and wall ‘uninformed,’ meeting attendees say

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly told Democratic lawmakers Wednesday that some of the hard-line immigration policies President Trump advocated during the campaign were “uninformed,” that the United States will never construct a wall along its entire southern border and that Mexico will never pay for it, according to people familiar with the meeting.

The comments were out of sync with remarks by Trump, who in recent days has reiterated his desire to build a border wall that would be funded by Mexico “indirectly through NAFTA.”

.. “Certain things are said during the campaign that are uninformed,” Kelly said.

“One thing is to campaign, another thing is to govern. It’s really hard,” he added later, according to attendees.

“A concrete wall from sea to shining sea” is not going to happen, Kelly said. Instead, “a physical barrier in many places” is what the administration is requesting. Kelly used the term “physical barrier” several times during the meeting, attendees said.

.. Instead, “we need 700 more miles of barrier,” Kelly said — a concession that a physical barrier does not need to stretch the entire length of the border.

.. “Concrete wall would be good in only certain places,” he added, saying that manpower and drone technology should suffice in some parts.

.. Kelly also said that there will be no wall “that Mexico will pay for.”

.. “In one way or another, it’s possible that we could get the revenue from Mexico, but not directly from their government,” he said.

.. “Drug cartels will always find a way to get their drugs in so long as there’s demand in the U.S.,” Kelly said.

.. Kelly seemed unimpressed by the deal, attendees said, telling the group that Graham and Durbin have always agreed on immigration matters. What would be more impressive, Kelly suggested, is if Hispanic Caucus members worked with conservatives like Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who introduced a conservative-backed proposal on immigration reform last week.

 

Erik Prince: Trump’s ‘Instincts Are Good’ on Iran, but ‘He Gets Dragged Back by Some of His Advisers’

Erik Prince joined SiriusXM host Alex Marlow on Friday’s Breitbart News Daily to talk about the Iran nuclear deal, chances that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps will be designated a terrorist organization

.. Prince said failing to apply such a designation to the IRGC would be “ludicrous.”

“These guys have been killing Americans, specifically, since soon after they were formed in the early 1980s,” he pointed out.

  • “The Marine barracks in Beirut, 243 Americans in 1983; kidnapped, tortured, videotaped it,
  • the CIA station chief in Beirut in the 1980s;
  • blew up the U.S. embassy there,
  • Khobar Towers, and then even
  • the last ten years that the U.S. was in Iraq.”

.. All of the explosive formed penetrators, it’s a very very nasty roadside bomb,” he elaborated on Iraq. “It’s not an improvised explosive. It’s very much a manufactured explosive, designed to cut through even the very expensive armor on an Abrams tank. Literally, the IRGC is responsible for killing and maiming hundreds, if not thousands, of American soldiers in Iraq.”

.. “And we still don’t designate these guys a terrorist organization. Why? Because they’re worried that this terrorist organization might actually reciprocate and carry out a terrorist attack against America. It’s ludicrous,” he said.

.. “As part of this nuclear deal, they were supposed to make all nuclear facilities open to inspection. They’re cheating on that. They are continuing to develop their ballistic missile technology.”

“You also have to realize that Iran and North Korea, when it comes to nuclear weapons development, are totally in sync and in parallel,” he added. “When the North Koreans crank off a nuke underground, the Iranians are there observing it, and they’ve provided considerable funding for it.”

.. as recently as October 1, 12 days ago, an American soldier was killed in Iraq by an explosive formed penetrator. They have been sticking it to us since 1979 and will continue to do so. What’s announced today will not really reject the Iranian nuclear deal. It will dump it back on Congress, which really won’t do anything on it,” he predicted.

.. “What Congress should have done – what Senator Corker should have forced – is that when the Obama administration pushed the Iran nuclear deal, they should have forced a vote in the Senate,” he said. “If we’re going to treat it like a treaty, vote it up or down like a treaty.

.. If the president went with his initial instincts on this stuff, he’d be hitting it out of the park,” said Prince, who had proposed a plan to President Trump for using private security forces instead of more military personnel in Afghanistan. “Some of these very Establishment foreign policy advisers are giving advice indiscernible from what they’d be giving Hillary Clinton. It’s taken him off track.”

.. Prince described Iran as “a society that puts a thousand stitches into a square inch in a Persian rug.

They understand methodical. They are very patient, and very deliberate, and they continue to move the ball in their direction, as this so-called nuclear deal did.

.. “As part of the Obama nuclear deal with Iran, there are supposed to be complete inspections, but secret nuclear sites scattered about the country – it’s a very large country, a lot of remote, rugged terrain – certainly those aren’t being inspected,” he said.

.. “If we make deals with people who are actively trying to kill us, who continue to call the United States the Great Satan, that hasn’t changed. They continue to kill Americans, as recently as October 1. They are not our friends, far from it. If we’re not careful, they will continue to eat our lunch, one bite at a time,” he warned.

.. but will not “sanction the entire IRGC as a terrorist organization.”

“Those are the guys that are driving this nuclear program,” he said. “If you sanction the entire IRGC, you can then go after all of their front companies and money-making apparatus, which trades through the world, through West Africa, money laundering for the drug cartels to front businesses in Europe and elsewhere in the Middle East. You can start to crimp off their financing.”

.. “If you don’t do that, if you don’t call a terrorist a terrorist, you can’t really take action against them,”

.. Prince humorously identified it as the “bureaucratic SITS method: Show Interest, Then Stall.”

.. “They are desperately trying to secure the Shia Crescent that goes from Iran all the way to Lebanon, where they can continue to arm Hezbollah, their surrogate there, with larger and larger rockets to dominate Israel, and Jordan for that matter. They’re continuing to advance in their dominance in Yemen and elsewhere.”

.. “We don’t have a beef with the Iranian people, believe me,” Prince added. “The Iranian people want to be Western. They want to have freedom, and drink beer, and listen to rock and roll. They are effectively led by a government that looks more and more like the SS in Nazi Germany – an Iranian Shia fascist government that is far from elected, that imposes itself on every aspect of the Iranian citizen’s life, to the detriment of what should be a very proud and very prosperous country.”

.. Turning to Afghanistan, Prince said President Trump’s decision to send another 4,000 U.S. troops is “unlikely to move the needle.”

.. “When Secretary Mattis traveled to Afghanistan just a couple of weeks ago for an update, he landed in Kabul, and he has to get on a helicopter to fly one mile across the town to where the U.S. base is. He can’t get in a vehicle to drive, just like any person from the U.S. Embassy operating there has to take a helicopter from the Kabul airport into downtown, because it’s not safe to drive,” he observed.

.. “And within two hours of Secretary Mattis landing, 40 rockets hit Kabul airport, in a five-hour firefight to try to secure the airport again,” he added. “This is not what winning looks like.”

.. “I was there on the ball when the president said in his inaugural speech, ‘We’re going to drive Islamic terrorism off the face of the Earth.’ I don’t think he intended that means the terrorists are driving captured U.S. vehicles across the Afghan terrain,” said Prince.