COLOMBIA: The former deputy chief of the state intelligence agency was sentenced to 30 years in prison yesterday for the murder in 1999 of popular comedian, television host and peace activist Jaime Garzón. José Miguel Narváez was at the time a professor in Colombia’s military school and several former paramilitary bosses have said he was close to Carlos Castaño, the late leader of the right-wing paramilitary umbrella organization AUC. It is said that he convinced Castaño to use illegal wiretaps that Garzón, a satirist and left-leaning political commentator, was a member of the FARC guerilla, knowing this would make Garzón a target of the AUC. Garzón had in fact been in communication with the guerrilla acting as an intermediary for the liberation of kidnap victims.
Narváez was later appointed as sub-director of the now disbanded Colombian intelligence agency by former president Álvaro Uribe. In 2016, Narváez was sentenced to eight years in prison for illegal wiretapping and persecuting journalists, judges and human rights defenders opposed to Uribe as part of the scandal that led to the dissolution of the agency.
Colombia’s top administrative court found the state responsible for Garzon’s killing in 2016 and the murder was catalogued as a crime against humanity by the General Attorney’s office. But yesterday’s ruling reclassified it as an ordinary crime arguing that it was not part of a systematic action by the AUC but the result of a personal dislike towards Garzón. Up until now the only person convicted for the crime was deceased AUC leader Castaño, but the investigation has also pointed towards retired Colonel Jorge Eliécer Plazas Acevedo and General Rito Alejo del Río, both of whom have decided to seek the special peace justice created in the peace process with the FARC for crimes committed during the armed conflict.
HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
MEXICO: Investigators from the Attorney General’s office for forced disappearances inspected a marine base as part of an investigation into the alleged forced disappearances of 36 people in the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo in the state of Tamaulipas. Some of the relatives of the missing people accuse marines of seizing them and served as observers during the inspection, which they said should have been made months ago.
PUERTO RICO: Power was finally restored to all of the island of Puerto Rico yesterday for the first time since Hurricane Maria hit the archipelago on September 20. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said the last neighborhood that had been offline was reconnected, although there are some costumers whose homes are still too damaged to be reconnected. Also, the smaller islands of Vieques and Culebra, with populations of 10,000 and 2,000 respectively, are not connected and will continue to rely on generators. After spending $3.2 billion or repairs, frequent power outages still affect the system and the new head of the electric utility estimates that up to one-quarter of the work was done hurriedly and will have to be redone.
CUBA: Opposition leader José Daniel Ferrer was arrested on August 3 after a traffic accident involving a plainclothes security official and has not been allowed to speak to a lawyer of his choice or to family members. According to Ebert Hidalgo Cruz, a member of opposition group Patriotic Union of Cuba of which Ferrer is the leader and who was also arrested but promptly released, the officer jumped in front of the car Ferrer was driving and was only grazed as Ferrer was able to swerve away. Ferrer, who spent between 2003 and 2011 in prison, is being charged with attempted murder. The Organization of American States, the U.S. State Department and Amnesty International have criticized the arrest.
COSTA RICA: After the assault and murder of two foreign women while on holiday in Costa Rica sparked outrage in their countries of origin, authorities in the Central American country declared yesterday the prevention of violence against women a priority. Spanish citizen Arantxa Gutiérrez and Mexican citizen María Trinidad Mathus were murdered less than 24 hours apart during the weekend of Aug. 4-5, leading Spanish authorities to update the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website to recommend that tourists “travel with caution” to Costa Rica.
HONDURAS: President Juan Orlando Hernández signed a decree on Monday that formalizes the beginning of a United Nations-mediated political dialogue between the government and opposition forces to find a solution to the political crisis of the contested presidential elections of Nov. 2017. Mass protests ensued after the reelection of Hernández was announced despite the fact that early vote count gave opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla the advantage; at least 30 people died during the protests. Former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in 2009, said he will not participate in the dialogue with a government he considers illegitimate.
VENEZUELA: Chief Prosecutor Tarek Saab announced yesterday that two high-ranking military officers were arrested over the alleged assassination attempt on President Nicolás Maduro, bringing the total number of detained suspects to 14. The list of suspects includes 34 people and the Venezuelan government is seeking arrests in Colombia, Peru and the United States. Col. Pedro Zambrano Hernández and Gen. Alejandro Párez Gámez of the National Guard appeared before court with opposition lawmaker Juan Requesens, who was arrested last week.
CHILE: The Supreme Court sentenced yesterday 24 former police agents to prison for the disappearance of Jorge Arturo Grez Aburto during the regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet. The sentences cannot be appealed and range from four to 13 years, while 44 other former agents were absolved for lack of evidence. Chile’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights says Grez Aburto was a leatherworker who had been active in a clandestine armed Marxist group before his arrest, torture and disappearance in July 1974.
URUGUAY: Popular former President José Mujica resigned yesterday to his seat in the Senate citing “exhaustion” and personal reasons. The 83-year-old former guerrilla leader had first announced his intention to resign in 2016 but had postponed it. Although Mujica has said he will not be a candidate in next year’s presidential election, he said he will not retire from politics and there is speculation he resigned from the Senate so he can run for the presidency again.
GOT NEWS? Send the editors tips, articles and other items for inclusion in Today in Latin America to email@example.com.