Weekly News Update on the Americas

Argentina: many are suspected in AMIA cover-up

While the US media focused on the late Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman's Jan. 14 charges against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, many people have been accused over the years of blocking the investigation into the deadly 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building. The people suspected include a former president, a judge, an intelligence chief, and officials of two foreign governments. After an inquiry that has gone on for 21 years under several different governments, Argentine prosecutors have still not won a single conviction in the case.

Mexico: more Pemex contract scandals exposed

Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Mexico's giant state-owned oil monopoly, signed contracts worth $149 billion with outside companies from 2003 to 2012, according to a Jan. 23 investigative report by Reuters wire service; about 8% of the contracts were cited by a congressional watchdog, the Chamber of Deputies' Federal Audit Office (ASF), as having irregularities "ranging from overcharging for shoddy work to outright fraud," Reuters wrote. The problems involved more than 100 contracts with a total value of $11.7 billion.

Guatemala: top cop convicted in embassy fire

On Jan. 19 Guatemala's High Risk Court B convicted former police chief Pedro García Arredondo of the deaths of 37 people in a fire at the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City on Jan. 31, 1980. García Arredondo was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the fire and 50 years for the deaths of two students; he is already serving a 70-year sentence for the killing of a student. The fire broke out when police stormed the embassy, which had been occupied by indigenous and campesino protesters from El Quiché department; the police blocked the doors and refused to let firefighters enter. The victims included the Spanish consul, two of his employees, a former Guatemalan vice president, a former Guatemalan foreign relations minister, and 22 El Quiché campesinos; one was Vicente Menchú, the father of 1992 Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchú Tum.

Haiti: deal fails, Martelly rules by decree

Haiti entered a long-threatened period of constitutional crisis on Jan. 12 when terms expired for all 99 members of the Chamber of Deputies and for 10 of the country's 30 senators; terms had already run out for another third of the senators. Since the government had failed to hold overdue elections for these seats, Parliament no longer had a quorum to pass laws and President Martelly was free to rule by decree in the absence of a viable legislature. He and the leaders of Parliament announced an agreement Dec. 29 that would extend the legislators' terms if Parliament met a Jan. 12 deadline to pass amendments to the electoral law, but the deal didn't win the agreement of the main opposition parties. The vote never took place.

Mexico: students' parents storm army base

At least seven were injured, some seriously, on Jan. 12 when dozens of protesters tried to enter a Mexican military post in Iguala de la Independencia, Guerrero state, saying they were looking for students who were abducted in the area the night of Sept. 26-27. The missing students had attended the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College in the town of Ayotzinapa, and the protesters were other students from the school and parents and relatives of the missing youths. The military post, staffed by the 47th Infantry Battalion, is near the sites where local police and other—possibly including soldiers and federal police—gunned down six people and abducted 43 students in the September violence. So far authorities have only identified the remains of one of the missing students, leaving 42 unaccounted for.

Puerto Rico: Machetero prisoner is released

Some 150 supporters greeted Puerto Rican independence activist Norberto González Claudio at San Juan's international airport on Jan. 15, hours after he was released from a federal prison in Coleman, Florida. González Claudio, a former member of the Boricua Popular Army-Macheteros, had served a three and one-half year prison term for his involvement in the group's 1983 armed robbery of $7.1 million from a Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford, Conn.—until then the largest heist on record. Arrested in May 2011 in the central Puerto Rican town of Cayey after 25 years as fugitive, González Claudio pleaded guilty in exchange for a shorter sentence. He was due to be released last September, but his time in Coleman was extended four months because of an alleged infraction. The activist's relatives and colleagues saw this as part of a pattern of physical and psychological torture they say he endured.

Haiti: US grants UN immunity in cholera suit

On Jan. 9 a federal district judge in New York, J. Paul Oetken, dismissed a lawsuit seeking compensation from the United Nations for a cholera epidemic introduced into Haiti in October 2010 by infected soldiers from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). "The UN is immune from suit unless it expressly waives its immunity," Judge Oetken wrote in his decision, which was based on the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN and a US appeals court ruling in a 2010 sexual discrimination case. Lawyers from the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), representing thousands of Haitian cholera victims, said they would appeal the decision, which came three days before the fifth anniversary of an earthquake that devastated much of southern Haiti.

Peru: Fujimori sentenced for tabloid bribery

After a trial lasting more than a year, on Jan. 8 a Peruvian court sentenced former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) to eight years in prison for embezzlement. The court found that between 1998 and 2000 Fujimori diverted some $43 million from the military to the National Intelligence Service (SIN) in order to pay tabloid dailies to follow the government's editorial line. The colorful tabloids—known in Peru as "diarios chicha" after a popular musical style—supported Fujimori's campaign for reelection in 2000 by characterizing his opponents as communists, homosexuals and spies; some of the papers were actually created by Fujimori's government for the purpose. The former president claimed in court on Dec. 29 that he didn't know about the diversion of the money. In addition to the prison sentence, Fujimori lost his right to hold public office for three years and was ordered to pay a fine of 3 million soles (about US$1 million). (RRP, Peru, Jan. 8; El País , Madrid, Jan. 8, from correspondent)

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