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Guatemala at the edge of the abyss | Latin America

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On Monday, the Guatemalan government announced its withdrawal from a treaty with the United Nations which created an International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

Although CICIG’s mandate in the country is set to expire in nine months, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales gave its international staff 24 hours to leave the country. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the decision, saying he expected “the Government of Guatemala to entirely fulfil its legal obligations under the Agreement”.

The expulsion of CICIG has being decidedly decried as illegal both nationally and internationally. In a place where the rule of law is an aspiration and the rule of incompetence – a reality, CICIG emerged as a beacon of hope. After 10 years of work, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) recognised the body’s “crucial role” in the in the fight against corruption in Guatemala, through the disbanding of criminal networks and organised crime structures together with local prosecutors.

The IACHR also highlighted the support CICIG provides by training local officials and pushing for legal reforms to improve the efficiency of the justice system. Furthermore, it is estimated that its work has contributed to a net reduction of 4,500 homicides between 2007 and 2017. So why would a government seek to shut down such a mechanism if it has clearly helped improve the capacity of the Guatemalan state to deal with crime?

Before being elected, President Morales, who was a comedian before entering politics, presented himself as a staunch supporter of CICIG. However, his supportive attitude drastically changed when criminal investigations started closing on him, his family and his own political party inner circle.

In 2017, two days after being criminally indicted for illegal campaign financing, President Morales announced his decision to declare Mr Ivan Velasquez, the CICIG’s chief, persona non grata. Tensions escalated when this decision was overruled by the Constitutional Court.

Subsequently, the government took several steps to dismantle and cripple CICIG’s operational capabilities. For example, the government removed police support for the commission, and more recently revoked visas for international investigators. However, the Constitutional Court has repeatedly overturned Mr Morales’ actions.

As these smaller attacks did not suffice to stop CICIG’s work, the Guatemalan president announced his decision not to renew CICIG’s mandate in August 2018. He did so at a press conference surrounded by military officials, which was a chilling statement in itself for a country that has suffered vastly from a string of military coups in the second half of the 20th century.





Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales gives a statement at the National Palace in Guatemala City on January 7, 2019. Guatemala announced that it is going to withdraw from UN-sponsored anti-corruption commission [AP/Moises Castillo]

While in theory, he was in his legal right to execute this decision, it was decried by members of the international community and local civil society. Local observers also saw it as a form of intimidation against members of the Constitutional Court as President Morales asserted he would not comply with “illegal orders”.

The rising tensions between the president and the CICIG reached a culmination on Monday, when the government announced its intention to expel the anti-corruption panel. Less than 24 hours, members of the prosecutor’s office had to arrest migration officials who were in breach of the Constitutional Court ruling that allowed a CICIG investigator to enter the country.

The real reasons behind the government’s haste to expel CICIG might be related to the upcoming general elections in June as well as the appointment of new judges to the Supreme Court and appellate courts.

Last time these processes happened, it was under CICIG’s watch and as a result, candidates were under heavy scrutiny. The anti-corruption panel uncovered intricate collusion schemes to appoint judges and ensure kickbacks.

At the same time, the largest scandals CICIG has uncovered relate to illegal campaign financing that have spattered prominent business leaders. This might explain why some members of the private sector were quick to support for Mr Morales challenge to the rule of law.

On Tuesday night, the Constitutional Court suspended the president’s decision. A stand-off between the court and the executive branch now seems inevitable. Its outcome could be disastrous for the young democracy as it could undo the current constitutional regime.

If the Guatemalan government is unwilling to comply with international law, it cannot be considered a trust-worthy member of the international community, trade partner or destination for foreign direct investment.  

There are also broader issues at stake for the United Nations. A corrupt, weakened government from a small Central American nation must not be allowed to disregard international agreements and “defeat” the UN. This would set a dangerous precedent and it must be avoided so as to preserve the legitimacy of the international legal system.

Central America is at the gates of a widespread democratic backsliding. Both Honduras and Nicaragua are ominous examples of the dire consequences of a collapse of the rule of law. In Guatemala, if Morales and his allies succeed in maintaining the corrupt status-quo, the world can be absolutely certain that Guatemalans will continue to flee from their country.  

The support of the international community to independent and brave judges, prosecutors, human rights defenders and transparency activists is needed now more than ever, as they are the ones who have kept Guatemala from slipping into the abyss.   .

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance. 

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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