Monday, September 2, 2013

Honduras Wants A New Public Prosecutor In the Worst Way Possible

Here's how:

Back on June 25, the Public Prosecutor, Luis Rubi, and his deputy Public Prosecutor, Roy Urtecho, resigned from office, to avoid impeachment.  A committee appointed by Congress to investigate the Public Prosecutor's lack of progress on cases had found that prosecutors were complicit with organized crime, taking payoffs, and that a significant part of their budget was spent without accounting records.

The committee reorganized the Prosecutor's office and dismissed a handful of prosecutors. That created a situation where Honduras needed a new Public Prosecutor and deputy Public Prosecutor.

There was a procedure for this, a law spelling out the composition of a nominating committee that involved members of civil society representing churches, universities, and lawyers group.

A few odd things happened on the way to composing the committee. First, Congress hastily revised the composition of the committee, to include a new group, the Alianza por la Paz y Justicia. Then, Roy Urtecho, who had been forced to resign as deputy Public Prosecutor, was appointed by the Lawyer's Association (CAH) as their representative.

Urtecho's appointment gave some committee members pause, but they continued. Rather than debate names and select candidates proposed by members of the committee, they opened the process for self-nomination.  They established a procedure to review nominees that included a lie detector test and psychological evaluation, with failure of either test explicitly supposed to disqualify a candidate. In the end, fifty-one people nominated themselves for the two positions.

Things started to fall apart as soon as the nominations closed. Try to follow the timeline here:

The nominating committee met and disqualified candidates who were not licensed lawyers in Honduras, as well as those who lacked some legal qualification (such as age) to be considered, or whose application was incomplete.

With the announcement that candidates would have to submit to lie detector and psychological tests (the same being used to evaluate police), reportedly many candidates withdrew their names.

Oscar Fernando Chinchilla (Supreme Court Justice) was named as among those failing the psychological test, along with Doris Imelda Madrid, and Lino Tomás Mendoza.  Others signaled by the press as having failed one or the other of the tests include Manuuel Enrique Alvarado, Marco Antonio Zelaya, and Guillermo Escobar Montalván

Only 13 candidates passed both tests and the review of their application:

     1-Ivis Discua Barillas.
     2-María Antonia Navarro.
     3-Gina González.
     4-José Arturo Duarte.
     5-AnÍbal Izaguirre.
     6-Eugenio Edgardo Rivera.
     7-Rolando Argueta.
     8-Jair López.
     9-Mario Salinas.
    10-Rigoberto Cuéllar.
    11-Marcelino Vargas.
    12-Lisandro Sánchez.
    13-German Enamorado.

So the final candidates must be on this list, right?

Not so fast.

Julieta Castellanos, rector of the public university, complains that when Luis Evalin, representative of the private universities, came back after a week out of the country he sought to change the rules agreed to by the other six members of the committee. Evalin missed the meetings where candidates' education was being evaluated.  He also missed all the interviews

When the nominating committee reconvened last Tuesday, after the first round of tests had been administered, to see who had passed and who had failed, Evalin demanded a change in the way candidates were evaluated. He put forward a motion that called for  polygraph evaluations of the twenty candidates who had been eliminated either during review of their resumes, or by failing the psychological tests.

Roy Urtecho seconded the motion, and the nominating committee, perhaps overwhelmed by the small number of individuals remaining in the pool, agreed. Evalin's side prevailed, on a 4-3 vote.

So by Wednesday those who had failed one of the confidence tests were allowed to take the other test, rather than be eliminated. That put Oscar Fernando Chinchilla back into the running, despite having failed the psychological test.

Evalin later told the press, "I represent the 19 private universities, respect them."  Though Evalin was not present and therefore could not know what went on in his absence, he told the press that university faculty with international reputations had been rejected just for faults in their paperwork, and that there had been no interviews.  Evelin argued for using experience rather than the results of tests to evaluate the candidates.

Also on Wednesday, Mauricio Villeda, Liberal Party candidate for president, called on Liberal Party Congressmen to abstain from voting for any candidate coming out of the nominating committee, arguing that the election would be illegal, and should be held after the new Congress is seated next January. If the Liberal Party had followed him, it would have denied the National Party sufficient votes to approve any candidate.  PINU, another minority party in Congress, agreed with his position, as did Libre, which has no congress members currently.

Thursday the Alianza por la Paz y Justicia pulled out of the nominating committee.  Its representative, Carlos Hernandez, said that
"We are not going to participate in a process where they break the rules at the last minute, I don't know what their motivations are, but the rules were established and unfortunately they changed, and if this isn't undone, we won't participate."

Everything was transparent and agreed to up until Monday, according to Hernandez.

The same day, Ramon Custodio, Human Rights Ombudsman,  also pulled out, saying that he would not sully his good name.  Julieta Castellanos also withdrew, echoing Hernandez's call for transparency.  She continued:
"Everything that happened from Tuesday onward, that's the responsibility of four members...We cannot in conditions where there isn't a transparent explanation, of what has happened, continue the participation of the University"

So Thursday, the nominating committee met with three of its members missing (Hernandez, Custodio, and Castellanos).  Present were Jorge Rivera Aviles, Roy Urtecho, Luis Evalin, and Edith Maria Lopez Rivera. They agreed to consider 27 candidates and whittle the list down to 5 names.

Candidates began withdrawing their names from consideration.  Three candidates who had passed both tests withdrew early in the day: Jair Lopez, Jose Arturo Duarte, and Rigoberto Cuellar. Rivera Aviles later told the press that the nominating committee chose to ignore the withdrawal of candidates on Thursday.

By Friday morning, Rivera Aviles, as committee chairman, made it known that the nominating committee had settled on a list of five candidates, but was not releasing the names until later in the day in case any of the committee members who had withdrawn wished to vote their positions, possibly changing the outcome.

Nonetheless the list was leaked to the press from Rivera Aviles' Supreme Court staff:

     Oscar Fernando Chinchilla
     Maria Antonia Navarro
     Rigoberto Cuellar Cruz
     Ivan Discua Barillas
     Rafael Argueta

At that point it became obvious that Chinchilla, Rivera Avile's hand-picked candidate to control the Constitutional branch of the Supreme Court, was going to get the nomination.

The members of the committee who had withdrawn refused to legitimate the procedures used by the rest of the nominating committee. The five candidates selected by the remaining committee members were proposed to Congress on Friday night.  Interviews began the next day.

Saturday, while being presented to Congress for his inverview, Ivan Discua Barillas withdrew his candidacy, saying there was already a "fix" in for Chinchilla.  Addressing Congress, he said to their faces
"I don't have godfathers and I don't want them because I value my abilities; I want to tell you legislators that are here and don't bear the blame.  The decision over who will be Public Prosecutor was taken last night (Friday) at 9 pm by the [National] party leadership; and I tell you with conviction that to that class, Honduras isn't important."

Porfirio Lobo Sosa called Discua's reaction "logical" but dismissed it as political.

To the surprise of no one, Honduras awoke Sunday morning to the announcement that Oscar Fernando Chinchilla had been elected the new Public Prosecutor for a term of five years.

Rigoberto Cuellar was elected as deputy Public Prosecutor, despite having withdrawn his name from consideration on Thursday.

And we are sure that everyone who watched this sausage being made is reassured that the Public Prosecutor's office won't be corrupt this time around.

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