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Analysis: Parlacen, a den of corruption?

By MARCO JULIO OCHOA

GUATEMALA CITY, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Alfonso Portillo and Juan Francisco Reyes Lopez, who recently handed over the presidency and vice presidency to their successors, Oscar Berger and Eduardo Stein, are being accused of money laundering and of having several overflowing bank accounts during their time in office.

Even if the former Guatemalan president was a harsh critic of the Central American Parliament, known as Parlacen, the institution now serves as his refuge. His smile before the cameras is seen by his opponents and detractors as an evident sign of impudence and cynicism.

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"I'm going to wait for the result of the investigations, which are based on false accusations. I continue to be criticized and attacked, but the pro-government press does not say anything about this government," said Parlacen delegate Portillo told reporters who covered his swearing-in ceremony. "They do not say that the price of chicken, gasoline and medication have risen to frightening levels. None of that is bad news to the press, because they are on the government's side."

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During the swearing-in ceremony, Dominican Republic parliamentarian Taina Jotro said she did not want to share space with corrupt individuals, adding she felt offended by what was happening that day. She recalled the case of Arnoldo Aleman, former president of Nicaragua, now serving a sentence for corruption during his administration.

According to Jotro, who later chose to leave the chamber, Aleman looked for refuge in Parlacen, which nonetheless eventually stripped him of his immunity to restore its reputation as a parliament as well as that of Central Americans in general. Jotro's opinion was seconded by Panamanian representative Elsy Mackay.

The Central American Parliament's prestige has sunk lower and lower, however. Its president, Honduran Mario Facusee Nadal, has been accused of illegally appropriating urban and rural property, which is why the Honduran government is requesting Parlacen suspend his immunity to prosecute him.

Another incident that marred its reputation was the capture of Honduran representative Cesar Diaz in Nicaragua with 15.4 pounds of heroin. In December, the Honduran police also arrested Parlacen's official Jorge Alberto Caceres Gallan and charged him with cocaine trafficking.

Although they were not elected to Parlacen, representatives Portillo and Reyes Lopez, accused of corruption in Guatemala, enjoy the rights that the forum grants all of its members, including immunity, which allows them to elude the judicial processes.

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The solution to immunity for suspected criminals -- which accusers of Portillo and Reyes Lopez consider devious and problematic -- would be for the presidents of member states to draft and sign an amendment to Parlacen's treaty. Guatemalan President Oscar Berger believes such an amendment is a possibility following discussions with his colleagues. Critics fear the amendment would not be made retroactive and therefore not allow for the prosecution of Portillo and Reyes Lopez.

According to Berger, the issue will be added to the agenda he will discuss with other Central American heads of state in a meeting later this month. Berger wants such an amendment to make it impossible for former presidents to enter Parlacen as a form of protection from their previous bad governing. The proposed amendment would leave Parlacen with only popularly elected representatives instead of those automatically entering the Parliament because of previous state service.

For El Salvador's President Francisco Flores, the current situation favors making changes in the forum, to redirect it and improve its functioning for member states. Honduran President Ricardo Maduro insists the poorer member states must rein in the operations of an institution that is not currently producing positive results for Central Americans.

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Even stronger views are held by Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso, who believes Parlacen is a waste of time that she would be prepared to eliminate it. "Because it is ineffective, it should not be allowed to even exist," she insists.

Nicaragua's President Enrique Bolanos does not believe that questions concerning Parlacen should be resolved in haste. While Bolanos has said relatively little on the subject thus far, he maintains that all the mechanisms for integrating Central America need revision and, if possible, substantial restructuring.


(Marco Julio Ochoa is a writer with Tiempos del Mundo)

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