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Guatemala’s President Stripped Of Immunity

President

 

Guatemala’s Congress on Tuesday stripped President Otto Perez of immunity, paving the way for prosecutors to charge him in a graft scandal that has engulfed his government.

The 132-0 vote was the culmination of a tumultuous five months since prosecutors revealed the existence of a customs fraud ring in April, describing how officials received bribes in exchange for discounted tariffs, a scheme that effectively stole millions from the treasury.

Perez, a conservative ex-military man, earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first president to have his immunity revoked in the Central American country’s history.

The case ignited a flood of protest from ordinary Guatemalans, who began staging weekly protests in Guatemala City’s central plaza, demanding the president’s resignation, although he had yet to be linked directly to the scheme.

But it was not until Aug. 21, when prosecutors announced that their evidence pointed to Mr. Pérez Molina as one of the scheme’s ringleaders, that Guatemala’s elite joined the calls for Mr. Pérez Molina to step down.

Perez, a 64-year-old retired general, denies any wrongdoing and has repeatedly said he will not resign over a scandal that has sent thousands of protesters onto the streets and gutted his cabinet in the run-up to Sunday’s presidential election.

The case against Mr. Pérez, which forced the resignation of his vice president, Roxana Baldetti, in May, was brought by a United Nations-backed commission of independent prosecutors that has been working alongside the Guatemalan attorney general’s office for almost a decade. The commission has brought down a series of corrupt officials, developing complex cases using wiretaps and other evidence.

He had survived a similar vote last month but that was before prosecutors and investigators from a special UN anti-graft commission had accused him of personally pulling the strings of the bribery ring.

Perez, who has been in power since 2012, is constitutionally barred from running for reelection. His term ends on January 14.

The leading candidate to replace him, Manuel Baldizon, had called for Congress to strip his immunity. Baldizon leads right-wing party Renewed Democratic Liberty which is the largest party in the Congress.

Some protesters are calling for Sunday’s elections to be postponed until sweeping political reforms can be implemented in Guatemala, a country of 15.8 million people that is troubled by poverty, drug trafficking and violent crime.

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Tropical Storm Erika Creates Havoc in the Dominican Republic

erika

 

Atleast 20 people were killed and another 31 missing on the small eastern Caribbean island of Dominican Republic after Tropical Storm Erika left a trail of destruction on Friday.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the system was expected to move north across the island of Hispaniola, where the high mountains would weaken it to a tropical depression on Saturday and possibly cause it to dissipate entirely.

There’s a chance it could regain some strength off northern Cuba and people in Florida should still keep an eye on it and brace for heavy rain.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the entire state, which could begin seeing the effects of the system late Sunday and early Monday. Officials urged residents to prepare by filling vehicle gas tanks, stockpiling food and water, and determining whether they live in an evacuation zone.

Before the storm reaches Florida, it’s expected to affect much of the Caribbean.

The tropical storm warning in place includes islands from Hispaniola to the portions of the Bahamas. Cuba’s government issued a tropical storm watch for some provinces Friday morning.

Erika’s heavy rains set off floods and mudslides in Dominica, where at least 31 people have been reported missing.  The island’s airports remain closed, and authorities have not yet been able to reach some communities cut off by flooding and landslides.

The main river that cuts through the capital overflowed its banks and surging water crashed into the principal bridge that leads into the capital city of Roseau, whose roads were littered with fallen trees and light poles. Some streets were turned into fast-flowing rivers.

Erika drenched the Dominican Republic after it slid south of Puerto Rico, where it knocked out power to more than 200,000 people and caused more than $16 million in damage to crops including plantains, bananas and coffee.

Authorities are focusing on search-and-rescue efforts, with other countries in the region providing helicopters and other assistance.

Separately, in the Pacific Ocean, Hurricane Ignacio strengthened into a hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 90mph, centred south-east of Hilo in Hawaii, and moving north-west.

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Colombia Condemns Deportations by Venezuela

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Colombia has expressed anger over the deportations of its citizens after Venezuela closed its border with its western neighbour last week.

Venezuela has announced a 60-day extension of its partial closure of the border with Colombia after President Nicolas Maduro said his country was under attack by neighbouring paramilitary groups, drug traffickers and black marketeers.

The move came after the governor of Tachira state in western Venezuela said more than 1000 undocumented Colombians had been expelled over the weekend for suspected black market activities. The expulsions followed an incident on Wednesday in which unknown gunmen wounded three National Guard members at an outpost near the border.

President Maduro last week closed a major crossing between the two countries and declared a state of emergency in several western cities after three army officers were shot and wounded by gunmen he said belonged to paramilitary gangs operating from Colombia. While the assailants have not been caught, the incident touched a nerve with supporters of Maduro’s socialist administration, who increasingly have placed blame for rampant crime and widespread shortages on Colombians.

As part of the state of emergency, Maduro deployed some 1,500 extra troops to the border to search house-by-house for smugglers who thrive on purchasing goods in Venezuela at low prices and reselling them across the border for huge profits.

Expulsions and deportations of Colombians from Venezuela have more than doubled this year to 3,800, according to officials from Migration Columbia.

Maduro also said Venezuela has been inundated by more than 100,000 Colombians in recent months, comparing it with mass migrations underway in the Middle East.

The two countries have been at odds over trans-border trade. Colombians have taken advantage of Venezuela’s government-subsidised economy to smuggle cheaper goods across the border for sale. That, in turn, has exacerbated severe shortages of basic food and household items in Venezuela.

The porous 2,219-kilometer (1,379-mile) border shared by the two countries is frequently traversed by smugglers moving price-fixed goods from Venezuela to Colombia for profit, as well as illegal armed groups.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Maduro’s dramatic actions would hurt communities on both sides of the border. An estimated 5 million Colombians live in Venezuela, many of them without permission, and the flow of people and goods across the border has been a fixture of daily life for decades, changing direction with the shifting fortunes of each nation’s economy.

Foreign ministers from both countries are expected to meet Wednesday in Cartagena, Colombia in a bid to resolve the crisis.

 

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