Honduras, Nov 30 (AP/UNB) — A Honduran court found seven people guilty of participating in the 2016 murder of prize-winning indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres, while acquitting an eighth suspect in a case that has drawn international attention.
In a unanimous ruling released Thursday, three judges found that Elvin Rapalo, Henry Hernandez, Edilson Duarte and Oscar Galeas carried out the killing of Caceres, who was shot inside her home in La Esperanza in western Honduras one year after winning the Goldman Environmental Prize for her leadership against a dam project.
They face up to 30 years in prison for the murder conviction, and their sentences will be announced Jan. 10.
The judges issued guilty verdicts on lesser charges for army officer Mariano Diaz, ex-soldier Douglas Bustillo and Sergio Rodriguez, a manager of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, which Caceres had opposed. Emerson Duarte, Edilson's brother, was acquitted. He had been accused of covering up the crime.
The ruling did not satisfy Caceres' family, which wants those behind the killing to be prosecuted as well.
Roberto David Castillo Mejia, who was executive president of the company leading the construction work, DESA, when Caceres was killed, is accused by prosecutors of organizing the logistics of the killing. He is in prison awaiting trial.
The company has said Castillo and its other employees were "totally unconnected" to the murder.
Friends, family, activists and members of Caceres' Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras demonstrated outside the court.
"We're going for them ... Capture the intellectual authors of this crime!" the protesters shouted.
Her organization released a statement saying the latest ruling only affects "the lowest link in the criminal structure."
"We regret that the actions so far have not been directed against those who ordered the death of Berta or those who paid for her murder," said Omar Menjivar, a lawyer for Caceres' lawyer.
Activists held up a banner reading "The Atala are missing," a reference to the Atala Zablah family, shareholders of DESA, which protesters accuse of being behind the actions against Caceres.
Caceres had reported receiving death threats and her family said there was collusion between the company and state security forces.
The Honduran government has been under significant pressure from abroad to solve the killing in a country where impunity runs high.
Mexico, Nov 23 (AP/UNB) — A small group of Central American migrants marched peacefully to a border crossing in Tijuana Thursday to demand better conditions and push to enter the U.S.
Mexican police watched closely as authorities from the National Human Rights Commission and the Grupo Beta migrant support agency told the migrants their needs would be addressed.
They urged them to apply for humanitarian visas in Mexico and seek work in Tijuana, where they said thousands of jobs were available.
But Oscar Rodriguez, 22, of Colon, Honduras, said he was still set on convincing "the United States to open its doors to us."
Several thousand Central American migrants arrived in Tijuana last week more than a month after leaving Honduras in a caravan.
The U.S. government only processes about 100 asylum applications per day at Tijuana's main crossing to San Diego and there were already several thousand migrants on a waiting list. Some outspoken Tijuana residents have given the migrants a cold reception leaving them stuck between the city, whose mayor said they aren't wanted, and a U.S. president who is trying to keep them out.
Rodriguez said U.S. meddling in Honduran politics had created conditions that made it impossible to him to live there.
"Thousands more people are going to continue coming because the United States is a government that sticks its hands into Central American governments," Rodriguez said. He said Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who was re-elected in a disputed result last year, is the United States-chosen president.
The U.S. government was quick to recognize Hernandez's victory despite widespread allegations of irregularities. Rodriguez, who works in private security, blamed Hernandez for violently repressing demonstrations against his government.
Bolivia, Nov 23 (AP/UNB) — A Peruvian Airlines Boeing 737 suffered a collapsed landing gear when it arrived at an airport in Bolivia, forcing closure of the runway for 10 hours. Officials say none of the 122 passengers or five crewmembers was hurt.
Officials say that they were unable to move the plane, prompting a 10-hour closure that delayed several other flights into and out of the El Alto airport near the Bolivian capital on Thursday
The plane was arriving on a flight from Cuzco, Peru.
The airline said in a statement that the cause of the incident is under investigation.
Rio De Janeiro, Nov 2 (AP/UNB) — The Brazilian judge at the center of one of the largest corruption investigations in history said Thursday he would become justice minister in the government of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, a decision that will be hailed by Brazilians eager for a crackdown on graft but also add to deep polarization after a bruising presidential campaign.
Moro is wildly popular among conservatives and loathed by many on the left, so his decision to join the incoming administration will feed the suspicion of many Brazilians that the judge was politically biased in jailing ex-President Luiz Inacio da Silva, a conviction that forced the poll-leading leftist out of the presidential race.
Moro met with Bolsonaro at the president-elect's home in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday. Upon emerging, Moro did not speak to reporters but soon put out a statement confirming he had accepted an offer to lead both the justice and public security ministries, which will be combined in Bolsonaro's government.
Moro said it would be hard to give up being a federal judge after 22 years, but he saw an opportunity to "implement a strong agenda of anti-corruption and anti-organized crime" in his new role.
"In practice, this will mean consolidating the advancements against crime and corruption the last years and remove any risks of going backward," he wrote.
He added that the sprawling "Car Wash" investigation would continue in the hands of local judges in the southern city of Curitiba, where Moro lives and many of the cases have been tried. He also said he would provide more details on his new role next week.
Launched in 2014, the "Car Wash" probe uncovered elaborate schemes in which construction companies received bloated contracts and then kicked back billions of dollars in bribes to politicians and other government officials over more than a decade.
The level of corruption was breathtaking for Brazilians long inured to graft, and the scandal has reverberated across several Latin American countries where Odebrecht, one of the companies at the center of the scandal, did business.
The investigation has led to the jailing of many of the country's biggest names. That list includes da Silva, convicted by Moro of corruption for trading favors with construction company Grupo OAS for the promise of a beachfront apartment. Da Silva began serving a 12-year sentence in April.
The cases made Moro a wildly popular figure with Brazilians exhausted by numerous stories of politicians plundering government coffers; Earlier this year, he tracked highly in presidential polls even though the judge, quiet and wonky, never expressed interest in running.
However, many of his tactics have been highly controversial, such as the use of extended pre-trial detentions and plea bargains, both aimed at getting high-profile suspects to talk.
On social media Thursday, many Brazilians shared a 2016 story in daily Estadao, which quoted Moro saying he had no political ambitions.
"No, never. Never," he said when asked about running for office or getting into politics. "I am a man of the justice system."
Moro has been accused of being partisan, with supporters of da Silva and the left-leaning Workers' Party claiming Moro was at the center of a conspiracy to keep da Silva, who Brazilians call Lula, from running for president this year. Even after being jailed, da Silva led preference polls. In September, his candidacy was barred.
"Moro will become Bolsonaro's minister after having a decisive role in his election (victory) by impeding Lula from running," tweeted Gleisi Hoffman, chairwoman of da Silva's Workers' Party, adding: "He helped elect. Now he'll help govern."
In reality, Moro has convicted politicians from across the political spectrum. But he has also made decisions that many interpret as biased, such as releasing wiretapped conversations between da Silva and then President Dilma Rousseff in 2016.
For Bolsonaro, a former army captain who ran on promises to crack down on graft and rising crime, landing Moro is a huge boon. Moro, who studied law in Brazil and did a special program at Harvard University, has received numerous awards and honorary degrees related to his work. He frequently speaks in the United States and other countries, and is arguably the world's most famous anti-corruption crusader.
Bolsonaro told reporters outside his home late Thursday that Moro had asked for "total liberty" to operate, and he would have it.
Still, the decision comes with huge risks, both for Moro personally — he now will become "political" as part of an administration — and the future of the "Car Wash" investigations.
Members of the "Car Wash" task force have said much work remains, but it's hard to imagine any judge having the gravitas of Moro, who rose to fame because of his ability to sort through complicated white-collar crimes and write decisions that are rarely overturned.
In leading the combined ministries of justice and public security, Moro will be ultimately responsible for areas that include intractable problems, such as security. Last year, nearly 64,000 people were killed in Brazil, a record for the country that has long been the world leader in annual homicides.
Moro will oersee the federal police, highway police, the penitentiary system, immigration and several other agencies that in total encompass thousands of employees.
"Moro is making a complicated bet" in taking on a political role, said Mauricio Santoro, a political science professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. "Every government in the world has corruption. How will Moro deal with that? What will he do?"
Sao Paulo, Oct 31 (AP/UNB) — The judge at the center of Brazil's sprawling investigation into kickbacks to politicians said Tuesday he would consider joining the Cabinet of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro if invited.
Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain who will take office Jan. 1, said during an interview after his Sunday election that he would ask federal judge Sergio Moro to be his justice minister or fill a future vacancy on the supreme court.
In a statement, Moro said he would be "honored" by such an invitation, and added that it "would be the object of careful discussion and reflection."
Moro leads the "Operation Car Wash" corruption probe, which was launched in 2014 and has led to the jailing of many business executives and politicians, including former President Luiz Inacio da Silva of the left-leaning Workers' Party. His supporters have accused the judge of bias against their leaders.
Bolsonaro ran on an anti-corruption, pro-gun and tough-on-crime platform.
In the interview with TV Record, he noted he held off on mentioning a role for Moro during the presidential race.
"If I had said that during the campaign that would be opportunistic," he said. "But now I can say I want to (invite Moro). Not only to the supreme court, but maybe to the justice ministry. I want to talk to him. For sure he will be a person of extreme importance."
Rosangela Wolff Moro, a lawyer married to the judge, has repeatedly suggested in her Instagram profile that she supported Bolsonaro against left-leaning Fernando Haddad, who was named the Workers' Party candidate after da Silva was barred by electoral authorities over his imprisonment.
Bolsonaro appeared in public Tuesday for the first time as president-elect. He visited a church led by ultraconservative pastor Silas Malafaia and spoke briefly to the faithful on stage.
"I am sure that I am not the most capable, but God capacitates the chosen ones," he said.
Bolsonaro's future chief-of-staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, said earlier that several current Cabinet positions will be merged into a single economy ministry, which will be led by economist Paulo Guedes.
"The minister of industry and commerce will be with economy. So, the minister of economy will include (fusion of) the finance, the planning and the industry and commerce ministry," Lorenzoni said.
Brazil's national industry confederation criticized the idea.
"We need a minister with a specific role, not linked to the economy ministry, which worries more about revenues and public finances," it said.
Most Brazilian business leaders endorsed Bolsonaro's candidacy.
The incoming administration also plans to merge the agriculture and environment ministries, a move that some farmers and many environmentalists oppose.
The nonprofit group Observatorio do Clima said the move aims to end any environmental regulation.
"Bolsonarism is showing his face: an ideological regime of violence and looting of natural resources, bending to the oldest forces of the producing sector," its statement said. "This undermines the competitivity of Brazilian agribusiness, which depends on strong environmental governance, and makes Brazil a pariah in the international scene."
Also on Tuesday, a few thousand people rallied in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to protest against the president-elect.