Published On: Sat, Jun 27th, 2020

Honduras’ new penal code soft on corruption (June 26, 2020)

Honduras’ new penal code took effect yesterday despite a last-minute attempt by opposition lawmakers to repeal it. The legislation, which among other things will shorten sentences for some corruption-related crimes, has been heavily criticized by civic groups and international watchdogs. Among crimes receiving reduced sentences under the reforms are crimes involving the misuse of public funds, abuse of authority, influence trafficking, fraud and illicit enrichment, reports the Associated Press.

The change comes the same week that the Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ) reported new cases of alleged corruption in the purchase of materials to supply public hospitals in the pandemic context. The group, which is the local branch of Transparency International, detected a lack of transparency in the purchase of 290 respirators, 2.3 million biosecurity products, and seven mobile hospitals, reports EFE. (See also Proceso Digital, El Heraldo, and La Prensa.)

Human Rights Watch also warned this year that the new penal code could “criminalize the lawful exercise of the rights to protest and assembly” with vaguely worded definitions of crimes like public disturbances.

The Committee to Protect Journalists also voiced concern over criminal penalties for insult and slander, that are better addressed by the civil code. The code as passed yesterday does not include the crime of defamation, but does include insult and slander, which remain punishable by fines or up to a year in prison. (See also ConexiHon.)


More Honduras
  • The United States would be prudent to avoid sharing counter narcotics intelligence with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH), someone who could be tied to drug traffickers, argues Eric Olson in a Univisión opinion piece. At issue is a change to Honduras’ aerial sovereignty law, which will permit renewed counter-narcotics cooperation between the U.S. and Honduran security forces. It’s a bad idea though, given increasing evidence linking JOH to international drug traffickers. Beyond concerns over how the information might be misused, “in the process, the U.S. signals that it is not serious about upholding the rule of law and fighting corruption,” argues Olson.
News Briefs

Regional

  • The death toll from the coronavirus in Latin America is expected to reach 388,300 by October, with Brazil and Mexico seen accounting for two-thirds of fatalities, according to a new forecast from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. (Reuters)
  • Covid-19 cases are on the rise across the region, but it’s important to differentiate cases like Brazil and Mexico — where leaders have “have acted stupidly and irresponsibly” — from others like Peru and Chile where cases are rising now “due to some bad policy choices and bad luck,” according to the Latin America Risk Report. Countries that have seen slow but steady growth of coronavirus – including Argentina and Colombia – remain at risk for a sharp spike in the coming weeks.
  • “Covid-19 struck Latin America as it was already suffering political strains because of several years of slow economic growth and popular discontent over corruption and poor public services. This discontent manifested itself in the defeat of incumbent parties in many recent elections, the rise to power of populist outsiders in Brazil and Mexico in 2018 and a wave of street protests last year, notably in Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia. … When the pandemic ebbs but its economic consequences linger, anger is likely to resurface and may be directed at governments,” according to the Economist. “After three mainly democratic decades, the risk is of a return to authoritarian rule.”
  • The pandemic runs the risk of exacerbating social discontent in the region — rethinking components of state legitimacy is crucial at this time, particularly if the citizenry is asked to share the sacrifices necessary to avoid contagion, writes María Victoria Murillo in Clarín.
  • Former Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla will run to head the Inter-American Development Bank in September, challenging U.S. nominee Maurcio Claver-Carone. Claver-Carone’s nomination bucks the institution’s tradition of Latin American leadership, a move that demonstrates the U.S. Trump administration’s “disdain for regional norms and sensitivities,” Cynthia Arnson told the Latin America Advisor. Experts note that Claver-Carone’s credentials are not in question, rather the issue is of diplomacy and balance of power in international financial institutions.
  • Latin America’s challenge moving forward “is the generally weak level of tax revenue obtained by” countries in the region, argues José Antonio Ocampo in Americas Quarterly. The region relies heavily on regressive value added tax revenues, rather than income tax regimes with significant redistributive effects, he writes. But another major problem is, “as in the rest of the world, that the richest people and multinationals are champions of tax evasion and avoidance strategies that represent each year losses of at least $ 340 billion, the equivalent of 6.7% of Latin America’s gross domestic product (GDP). “
Diplomacy
  • The U.S. Trump administration is improving relations with Bolivia — currently governed by interim president Jeannine Áñez. But the U.S. is mischaracterizing the Bolivian government’s anti-drug efforts and has been silent regarding official “persecution of coca growers, human rights abuses, and attacks on those opposed to the current administration,” writes Parker Asmann in NACLA.
  • The association representing staff at the World Bank asked that Brazil’s nomination of Abraham Weintraub to be executive director be reviewed over his past racial comments and other concerns, according to a letter seen by Reuters. (See Monday’s post.)
Venezuela
  • The Guaidó era in Venezuela may be coming to a close — his legitimacy stems from leading the National Assembly, and lawmakers’ mandates end this year. With no plan for fair elections to replace them, the opposition will be severely constrained moving forward, notes the Economist. (See also yesterday’s briefs.)
  • The political fight over Venezuela’s $ 1 billion in gold savings held by the Bank of England has gone to court in the U.K. (Guardian)
Migration
  • “Under the guise of the pandemic, the Trump administration is turning back unaccompanied children at the border in violation of federal law,” writes Maria Woltjen in a New York Times op-ed.
Colombia
  • Seven Colombian soldiers have been charged in the rape of a 13-year-old indigenous girl. All seven pleaded guilty in an initial closed hearing, according to the attorney general’s office. The attack occurred this week, after the girl disappeared temporarily. The case is raising alarm bells in a country with a long history of military human rights abuses, including extrajudicial executions and allegations of sexual assault, reports the New York Times.
Brazil
  • Police abuse against blacks in Brazil is receiving greater scrutiny in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, reports EFE. There has been a sharp rise in law-enforcement-related violence in recent months and security forces are suspected of killing two black teenagers over the past five weeks.
  • Brazil’s economic growth and fiscal outlook this year are shaping up to be worse than official government forecasts, reports Reuters.
Nicaragua
  • Nicaraguan authorities have fired at least 10 health workers in apparent retaliation for voicing concern about the Daniel Ortega government’s management of the Covid-19 health crisis, Human Rights Watch reported this week.
Haiti
  • Haitian death-squad leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant was convicted of murder and torture, but in absentia. His deportation to Haiti this week “affords Constant the right to a new trial, which now will take place under a government that consistently undermines prosecutions of notorious human-rights violators,” write Mario Joseph and Brian Concannon in a Miami Herald opinion piece. (See Wednesday’s briefs.)
Peru
  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra threatened to temporarily take over the country’s private healthcare clinics if they failed to strike a deal with the government in 48 hours over fees for treating coronavirus patients, reports Reuters.
  • Despite rising Covid-19 cases, Peru is rolling back restrictions on movement — this week many of the country’s largest shopping malls opened, reports Associated Press.
Panama
  • New COVID-19 infections have surged in Panama since restrictions were loosened a few weeks ago, especially in the capital’s poorer neighborhoods, reports the Associated Press.
  • Panama’s government named a new health minister, Wednesday. (Reuters)
Mexico
  • Mexico City’s chief of police was shot and injured in an assassination attempt early this morning. Two of his bodyguards were killed in the attack in an upscale neighborhood of the capital, reports Reuters.

I hope you’re all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances … Comments and critiques welcome, always, as are Netflix recommendations.

Latin America Daily Briefing

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Honduras’ new penal code soft on corruption (June 26, 2020)