Friday, June 15, 2018

Colombia prepares to vote (June 15, 2018)

Colombia goes to the polls Sunday, in an election that La Silla Vacia describes as a choice between the political establishment, as represented by conservative candidate Ivan Duque (look no further than his recent endorsement by Colombia's largest newspaper, El Tiempo), or the "alternative forces" represented by progressive candidate Gustavo Petro. For an idea of how many votes either candidate needs to pick up from the first-round candidates (Fajardo, De la Calle, and Vargas Lleras) who are now out of the running, play around with a Silla Vacia tool that also lets you see how blank votes could impact the results. 

While Petro has argued that following in Fajardo's footsteps and casting a blank vote (like the one that Colombian journalist Camila Zuluaga says she is casting, in the Washington Post) is equivalent to handing the presidency over to Duque, fact-checking organization Colombia Check says this is a false assertion.  

Most polls put Duque as the favorite to win (see a helpful comparison of the projections at El Pais). As noted by an AP profile of Duque, a key question is whether Duque will "be his own man as president or a puppet of his both revered and vehemently detested political mentor"—former President Alvaro Uribe. The two have avoided campaigning together, with one political strategist telling the AP that Uribe—recently elected to the Senate—will not "get involved in anything Ivan doesn’t ask him to."

Whoever wins the presidency, the first item on the agenda will be an anti-corruption referendum, scheduled for August 26, some 19 days after the new president takes office at the Casa de Nariño. The referendum will ask voters to weigh in on seven measures, weighing from the salary of Members of Congress and government officials, to transparency in awarding government contracts (Colombia Reports).

According to political analyst Ariel Ávila of Colombian human rights NGO the Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation, a major test for the new president will be whether he merely makes a show of discussing the need to fight corruption, or whether he will follow talk with action. "They're going to be very careful in whoever they name to [government posts], because citizens are demanding transparency, meritocracy," he told El Pais

Another challenge will be navigating drug policy: the Colombian government just acknowledged that illicit coca cultivations increased just under 19 percent between 2016 and 2017 (Caracol Radio). 

Meanwhile, the country's troubled implementation of its historic 2016 peace deal shows little sign of improvement, prompting the country's inspector general to formally request that the government speed up its efforts to reintegrate former guerrillas into mainstream life (El Espectador). One major setback was the government's recent surprise move to suspend two of the 26 territories that were set aside for the reintegration of ex-combatants (Verdad Abierta). 

  • The New York Times profiles Mexican presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya. His was the "fastest-growing political candidacy" seen in Mexico's recent history, one political analyst tells the Times. "It might be the fastest dying.” The other money quote is arguably Jorge G. Castañeda's assertion that Anaya "screwed everybody over in order to get there." 
  • The mayor of a town in Mexico's Michoacan state was gunned down, the 16th candidate killed so far during the lead-up to the July 1 elections (AP). Animal Politico reports on the ground from Guerrero state about how criminal groups are controlling political activity in the region
  • The Conversation asks whether Mexico can indeed become a "country of refugees," given the abuse, violence, and lack of state protection that traditionally experienced by migrants in the country.  
  • The U.S. State Department said it pressured Cuba to find the source of the alleged "sonic attacks" in a recent high-level meeting (AP). The Cuban government has collaborated with U.S. law enforcement in investigating the incidents, and says it has no knowledge of what's behind the mysterious incidents.  

Central America
  • Yesterday's nationwide strike in Nicaragua may have cost the country $30 million (APConfidencialNew York Times). President Ortega meets today with Catholic Church leaders, but there are little details on how close they are to negotiating a solution to the political crisis (or whether that solution will involve Ortega committing to early elections). Violence continues to be reported in cities across the country, with at least four people killed Thursday in clashes with para-police forces (AFP). 
  • Given this week's revelations that El Salvador's former President Mauricio Funes and his relatives and associates are under investigation for embezzling some $351 million, El Faro reports on where that money went, based on witness testimony. A few figures: between $15,000-$17,000 a month to a couple charged with "looking after" one of Funes' sons. 
  • Ecuador's Congress rejected a request by the Attorney General's Office to investigate former President Rafael Correa, declaring it "inadmissible." (El Universo)
  • In a country where polio may be re-emerging (The Economist), protestors used the recent visit of the Pan American Health Organization director to draw attention to Venezuela's ongoing health crisis. (EFE)
  • Venezuela's new vice president, Delcy Rodriguez, is the head of the controversial Constituent Assembly, President Maduro's former minister of communications, and President Hugo Chavez's ex-chief of staff. A 2017 Caracas Chronicles profile provides some helpful additional context on her political career. (AP)
  • An opposition lawmaker who spent a year and a half in Venezuela's prison system told Reuters that he suffered starvation, abuse, and "total isolation" while incarcerated. He is among the dozens of opposition members that President Maduro has recently released from prison. 
  • A job with Venezuela's state oil company used to be a ticket to the "Venezuelan dream," but now the company is hemorrhaging thanks in part to desperate people who steal any material—such as the copper wiring on equipment—that can help them make some extra income. (New York Times
Southern Cone
  • After a 22-hour session, the lower house of Argentina's Congress narrowly approved legislation that allows abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. It remains to be seen whether it can pass the Senate. President Mauricio Macri has said that despite his personal beliefs on abortion, he will not veto the bill if it passes Congress. (WSJ)
  • AFP visits Colombia's remote Guaviare department, home to striking ancient artwork sites that date back 12,000 years.
Elyssa Pachico 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Major developments in CentAm corruption probes (June 14, 2018)

The past 24 hours saw two big breakthroughs in corruption cases in Honduras and Guatemala, respectively. 

In Guatemala, the country's top electoral authority announced they were initiating the process of canceling President Jimmy Morales' party, FCN-Nacion, following a request by Guatemala's Attorney General's Office and anti-impunity commission the CICIG. (Prensa Libre)

This follows findings by the Attorney General's Office and the CICIG—announced in late April just before Attorney General Thelma Aldana stepped down—that the majority of Guatemala's biggest businesses had illegally financed Morales' 2015 election campaign. (See the April 20, 2018 brief for more context).

What happens next? An arm of Guatemala's top electoral authority, known as the Citizens' Registry, is responsible for handling the process of canceling President Morales' party. elPeriodico notes that the current head of the Citizens' Registry is a well-known ally of the military elites who founded Morales' party. 

In Honduras, federal prosecutors and anti-corruption commission the MACCIH have accused 38 politicians, officials and private citizens of illegally funneling some $11.7 million in public funds to political parties, including President Juan Orlando Hernandez's 2013 election campaign (AP).

The funds were mostly diverted from Honduras' agricultural and finance ministries. The probe—dubbed the "Pandora" case—found that two major political parties in Honduras made use of the illicit funds, including Hernandez's party and the Liberal Party (a now-disbanded political party, FABER, also participated in the scheme). 

Southern Cone
  • Argentina's lower house of Congress votes today on its restrictive abortion laws. The proposed law would allow women to have abortions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy; under current laws, women who do so can be imprisoned for up to four years (CNN). The Guardian speaks with several women affected by the restrictive laws, with one woman noting, "People in Argentina are starting to recognize the importance of sex education, but there’s still a lot of prejudice against abortion.” El Pais has a photo gallery of protestors demonstrating outside Argentina's Congress. 
  • Chilean police carried out raids in two cities targeting the Roman Catholic Church, in connection to a massive sex abuse and cover-up scandal. Chile has been experiencing one of the Catholic Church's biggest shake-ups ever as a result of clerical sexual abuse: last month all bishops offered to resign after a Vatican report found that Chile's church hierarchy systematically covered up and destroyed evidence of sex crimes against children (AP). (See January 17, 2018 brief for more context).
  • The Conversation looks at some of the legal questions involved in U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' ruling that those fleeing domestic violence are not eligible for asylum under U.S. law. "Sessions’ June 11 ruling specifically rejects the Obama-era notion that women abused in a such a context—places with pervasive violence against women, which the government cannot or will not control—have a “credible fear” of violence," the article states. 
  • In a Washington Post op-edMichele Brané of the Women's Refugee Commission argues that Sessions' ruling constitutes " a fundamental misunderstanding of domestic violence." Sessions' argument is that victims of domestic violence shouldn't qualify for asylum as they are victims of violence committed by private rather than state actors. "Persecution, particularly against women and children, is often hidden behind so-called private acts, such as domestic violence," Brané writes. "And perpetrators are routinely protected by the government or state agencies such as the police."

Central America

  • Dialogue between Nicaragua's government and the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua will reinitiate on Friday (EFE). Today's 24-hour business sector strike caused a run on gas stations and stores across the country, while government-aligned social media accounts have launched a campaign with hashtags like #ParoNoTrabajoSi, arguing that small business owners can't afford to stop working for a day (UPI). The strike comes amid more reports of human rights abuses allegedly ordered by the state: about two dozen protestors said they were attacked with sulfuric acid while demonstrating on Sunday night (Confidencial).
  • InSight Crime breaks down the significance of the ongoing corruption investigation into El Salvador's former President Mauricio Funes and his family, who stand accuse of "embezzling $351 million, an amount equivalent to nearly 1.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017." The "large sums of money ransacked from the coffers of the region’s smallest country makes it at least equally relevant" as other corruption scandals that have attracted attention in Guatemala and Honduras, writes Hector Silva Avalos
  • The Guardian examines the significance of the recent ruling in Guatemala's Molina Theissen case, in which five ex-military and intelligence officers were found guilty of involvement in the disappearance of 14-year-old Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, and the sexual torture of his sister Emma. The question now is whether the family will be able to find and identify Marco's remains, in a case that is emblematic of the thousands of victims who disappeared during Guatemala's brutal civil war and who remain missing. 

  • In The Conversation, global business professor at Saint Mary's College of California Marco Aponte Moreno argues that the release of political prisoners in Venezuela is meant to distract from the Maduro regime's crackdown on "potential troublemakers" in the Venezuelan military. "Military officers seem to be the regime’s current target," Aponte Moreno writes. "Close to 100 have been jailed on conspiracy charges since the beginning of the year."

  • Haiti's government said they are permanently banning British charitable organization Oxfam from operating in the country, following allegations that staff hired prostitutes during a relief mission after the devastating 2010 earthquake (Reuters). 
  • Bolivia's opposition is up in arms, because one of the Constitutional Court judges who ruled last year to allow elected officials to indefinitely seek re-election—paving the way for President Evo Morales' planned 2019 run, his fourth term in office—was appointed to a diplomatic post in Switzerland. (La Razon). 
  • Yesterday's announcement that the U.S., Mexico and Canada would co-host the 2026 World Cup is representative of how current tensions between the country may be a "short-term political reality." (New York Times). 

Elyssa Pachico

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Mexico holds final presidential debate (June 13, 2018)

Mexico's third and final presidential debate before the July 1 elections focused on development and the economy. Candidates attacked each other on corruption, with left-right coalition candidate Ricardo Anaya (who is trailing frontrunner Andrés Manuel López Obrador by some 17 percentage points) asserting he would back the creation of a commission to investigate President Enrique Peña Nieto (AP). 

Anaya also attacked Obrador for alleged dirty dealings with city contracts when he was mayor of Mexico City in the early aughts. He encouraged viewers to visit a website that he said backed up his assertions; Reuters found that website was down due to what the Anaya campaign said was a cyber attack. (Anaya has faced his own corruption scandal in relation to a land deal, which has arguably hurt his image as an anti-corruption crusader.)

It was a heated debate mostly due to the back and forth between Lopez Obrador and Anaya, observed Animal Político. Other notable debate moments included López Obrador's assertion that a failed NAFTA negotiation would not be "fatal," and Anaya's promise that he ensure every Mexican would own a smartphone or tablet. Other policy proposals included Lopez Obrador saying as president he would eliminate the "gasolinazo" energy tax; all candidates spoke of raising salaries for teachers, a major voting bloc in Mexico. 

The key question is whether any presidential candidate was able to use debate to significantly advance their current standing. Analysis by BBC News noted that Lopez Obrador is not known for strong debate performances, which arguably could have given the other candidates an opportunity to make an impression in the minds of undecided voters. Post-debate, polls still showed Lopez Obrador in the lead with more than 50 percent of respondents saying they would vote for him. Proceso observed that, as with the previous two debates in which "no one remembers any of his proposals," Anaya proclaimed himself last night's winner.

  • The country's business sector will hold a 24-hour strike tomorrow, in order to demand an end to the state's repressive actions against protestors and thus create the conditions needed for a new round of dialogue (El Pais). President Daniel Ortega told Church leaders last Thursday that he needed several days of "reflection" to react to the proposals presented by the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, which outline demands for greater democratization in the country. According to Nicaraguan human rights group the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), over the weekend Ortega told the U.S. government (Confidencialhe is willing to hold early elections, although the potential date is unclear. The latest death count, according to CENIDH, is 146. 

  • A new Amnesty International report details how protestors unlawfully detained during the unrest that followed last year's contested presidential election were denied due process. The report found that over a 10-day period, the Honduran government detained more than a thousand people for "curfew violations." The United Nations says that at least 118 people were prosecuted for alleged crimes committed during the protests, and 21 people were held in pre-trial detention—with some people spending up to four months in prison.  
  • Honduras continues its selection process for a new attorney general: nine of the 18 nominees must respond today to allegations of corruption. (El Heraldo).

    • A U.S. court sentenced Mexican drug trafficker alias “La Barbie” to nearly 50 years in prison (New York Times). La Barbie was behind the wave of violence that broke out in 2009-2010, after he sought to control the Beltran Leyva Cartel. InSight Crime notes that La Barbie’s sentencing—almost certainly reduced from life imprisonment due to his collaboration with U.S. law enforcement—sends a strong message to his former ally and fellow U.S. inmate Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Both traffickers were extradited from Mexico to the U.S.: Barbie in 2015 and Chapo in 2017. 
    • A federal judge ordered the release of four detainees that the Mexican government blamed for the 2014 disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students. Three of the four detainees are facing criminal proceedings for alledged involvement in the Guerreros Unidos gang, but the court ruled that Mexico's Attorney General's Office has failed to present sufficient evidence tying them to the students' disappearance after being taken into police custody. This follows last week's ruling by another federal court that the government should reopen the Ayotzinapa case.
    • Former employees of a country estate owned by the family of former president Alvaro Uribe recently described the family’s ties to violent paramilitary groups in detailed testimony to a Colombian courtreports El Pais. The testimony was recorded as part of the ongoing case against Uribe’s brother Santiago, who has been fighting accusations of paramilitary ties in court for two decades. Witnesses describe Santiago as working closely with a paramilitary group, the 12 Apostles, responsible for at least 509 murders in the early 1990s, human rights groups say. The testimony could affect the outcome of the current investigation into Santiago Uribe’s paramilitary ties, and hypothetically could cause political problems for Alvaro—who was recently voted into Colombia’s Senate, receiving more votes than any other legislative candidate in the country. 
    • In an interview with Reuters, former guerrilla and leader of the FARC political party Rodrigo Londoño said he believed that conservative factions would not be able to do away with the country's historic 2016 peace deal, due to the support it receives from the international community. 

    Central America 
    • The son of former President Mauricio Funes is under investigation for mismanagement of some $376,000 in public funds, reports El Diario de Hoy. The funds were used for 63 personal trips abroad to counties like Panama, Germany and France. Mauricio Funes was among 16 other government officials arrested yesterday in a corruption probe. The presidency (which is still controlled by Funes' party the FMNL) released a statement yesterday saying they "condemned any act of corruption" and supported an independent, impartial investigation. 
    • Guatemala's Attorney General's Office has requested an increase of approximately 954 million quetzales (about $127 million) for next year's federal budget, for a total budget of approximately $373 million, representing an approximate 55 percent increase from current levels. 
    Southern Cone
    • The demand for legal cannabis in Uruguay is greater than what the country can currently produce, reports the AP

    • Puerto Rico released new data that supports “the growing consensus that hundreds or even thousands of people died as an indirect result of the storm,” reports the AP
    • New York Times en Español op-ed argues that a key legacy of powerful ex-presidents Chávez, Uribe and Lula was how they pursued the concentration of power and how they energized their political base by citing fear of an either abstract or tangible "enemy." Their political style is still having repercussions in elections across the region—the article interprets Colombian presidential candidate Sergio Fajardo coming in third place during the first-round May 27 vote as indicative of how voters aren't interested in centrist candidates who use moderate rhetoric. 
    • Variety looks at two growing entertainment industries in Brazil: gaming and children's animation, both of which are seeing a boost thanks to an influx of government funding. 
    • Place your bets: ESPN predicts Brazil will win the 2018 World Cup, which starts tomorrow in Moscow. 
    - Elyssa Pachico

    Tuesday, June 12, 2018

    Mexican congressional candidate killed (June 12, 2018)

    A Mexican congressional candidate was assassinated on Friday after an event in which he spoke of public security in his state. Security cameras captured how Fernando Purón was shot in the head after speaking to a supporter outside the debate hall, reports Animal Político

    The country is increasingly used to political violence -- a total of 112 candidates or politicians have been killed since last September, reports CNN based on a study by consulting group Etellekt. But Purón was the first candidate running on a federal level to be killed. 

    And the country is bracing for more bloodshed ahead of July 1's voting, reports the Guardian. On Sunday, Rosely Magaña, a PRI candidate for town council in Isla Mujeres, near Cancún, was shot and wounded when assailants on motorcycles opened fire on her home. 

    Some analysts point to the growing impact of organized crime on local government, but others also say its a corollary of the country's inability to uphold the rule of law.

    Other Mexico news
    • Andrés Manuel López Obrador remains firmly in the lead ahead of the July vote, according to the latest Mitofsky poll. He has 37.2 percent support, while his closest opponent, Ricardo Anaya, has 20 percent, reports Animal Político.
    • Several Mexican organizations of civil society denounced human rights abuses committed by the Mexican army before the International Criminal Court. The charges relate to the first phase of Operativo Conjunto Chihuahua (OCCH), carried out between 2008 and 2010, reports Animal Político. Their case involves 121 direct victims and documents the use of military infrastructure as sites of torture.
    • The Mexican government is sitting on corruption information linking officials to Odebrecht, but is avoiding pressing charges because it would hurt the ruling PRI party in an electoral year, according to the New York Times. The situation is common for politically sensitive cases in a country rife with corruption.
    News Briefs

    • Peruvian prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation into alleged money laundering against three former presidents -- Alan García, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, and Alejandro Toledo -- in relation to Odebrecht bribes, reports El País.

    • Crime cost Brazil an estimated $1.937 trillion in cumulative costs over the past two decades, according to a new government study. Homicide rates soared between 1996 and 2015, despite vast increases in spending on public safety, reports the New York Times. Brazil reached a record-high homicide rate of more than 30 per 100,000 residents in 2016, and black Brazilians are affected disproportionately and increasingly by lethal violence. Recommendations in the new government report seek to lower the costs of policing and incarceration, but avoid the drug policies and penal code that experts consider to be at the heart of the issue, notes NYT. The report does call on authorities to implement policies based on empirical evidence, and recommends constant monitoring and evaluation of how security resources are being spent in determining how to best use funding, reports InSight Crime.
    • Women in Guatemala play an increasingly visible role in extortion rackets, which have become a major source of informal employment for women in poor, urban neighborhoods, reports InSight Crime.
    El Salvador
    • Salvadoran prosecutors ordered the arrest of former president Mauricio Funes, along with 30 members of his inner circle, reports the Associated Press. Attorney General Douglas Melendez said Funes stole $292 million from El Salvador’s mortgage bank, including millions carried out as cash in plastic garbage bags.
    • Protesters' roadblocks along dozens of the Nicaragua's highways have impacted cargo truck transit through the country, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.)
    • The U.S. government announced it would ask immigration courts to stop granting asylum to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence. It's a dramatic policy shift and the latest in a series of hostile moves against immigrants -- including forcibly separating families -- by the Trump administration, reports the Guardian. Activists say the move will affect tens of thousands of asylum applications, reports the BBC.
    • A teen was killed just two weeks after moving to Mexico upon losing DACA protected status in the U.S., where he'd lived since the age of 3, reports the Washington Post, offering yet another glimpse of the difficulties faced by immigrants forced to return "home."
    • Paraguay is officially malaria free, the first country in the region to have eliminated malaria since Cuba in 1973, reports Reuters.
    • Thousands of Colombians have been displaced by a tunnel collapse at the country's biggest dam project, in the Cauca region -- affecting communities already hit by historic violence, reports the Guardian. The area of the Hidroituango dam, north of Medellín, was a clashing point between guerrillas and paramilitaries in the country's long conflict. But now locals point to problems with the state-owned company behind the dam, EPM, which hasn't compensated people displaced by the megaproject.
    • A swarm of angry bees attacked a campaign event and forced right-wing former president Álvaro Uribe to flee for cover. The bizarre incident led a Senator of candidate Iván Duque's to accuse leftist candidate, Gustavo Petro, of "bioterrorism," reports the Guardian. Petro responded: “So it turns out that african bees are Petro supporters,” he tweeted. “Could it be because they are workers?” A more likely explanation is that Uribe's helicopter disturbed the bees hive.
    I will be away starting tomorrow, until June 29. Elyssa Pachico will keep you all up to date in my absence.

    Monday, June 11, 2018

    Nicaragua's resistencia (June 11, 2018)

    The protest movement in Nicaragua is literally increasingly entrenched, behind barricades blocking streets around the country, many made up of paving stones pulled up from the streets. In fact, the Guardian says Nicaragua has become "a country of barricades," and notes that opposition newspapers now publish maps of road blocks on major highways. The barricades are also symbolic, echoing those made by guerrillas once led by now President Daniel Ortega.

    The children and grandchildren of Nicaragua's revolutionaries are now leading the current rebellion against the Sandinista governments, reports the Wall Street Journal. Students are playing a critical role in the uprising, and many have adopted noms de guerre in the tradition of the guerrillas who once fought to overturn a dictatorship. In the process, they have also become targets for repression. In Managua many university students have left their homes to avoid putting their families at risk, and have taken over college campuses which they have turned into fortresses, reports the Miami Herald. Organizers at UNAN believe there are about 500 students living there round the clock and bracing for potential government attacks, reports the Guardian.

    In Managua masked civilians block vehicular access to the capital city's main avenues, reports Confidencial. Masaya, a symbolic city for Sandinistas, has become a center for rebellion against them, reports Confidencial separately. (See Friday's post.) And in several masses around the country Catholic leadership exhorted the faithful to be brave and join the calls for democratization yesterday, reports Confidencial. But an afternoon Mass in Managua had to be cancelled due to "paramilitary" threats.

    The latest death count is 139, according to the Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos' tally. The latest four deaths occurred on Friday and Saturday in Managua, Masaya and Jinotega, and followed the pattern of high caliber bullet wounds to the head, neck and torso, reports Confidencial.

    News Briefs

    Sense of security
    • Residents of Latin America and the Caribbean are the least likely in the world to feel safe in their communities, according to the latest Gallup Global Law and Order report. The region’s "law and order index" score of 62 was the lowest in the world and slightly worse than what the region scored the year before, reports InSight Crime.
    • Whatsapp's crazy penetration in Brazil is nothing new (see briefs for May 4, 2016 for example), but the Washington Post reports on how the messaging app is helped striking truckers coordinate recently. And how it "is helping Brazilians undermine established power structures, injecting a level of unpredictability and radicalization into a country beset by economic and political crises." With the upcoming presidential election wide open, the piece also analyzes how the app could increase political outsiders' impact on the race.
    • The Workers' Party launched the campaign of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for October's presidential election. The theme was "Brazil happy again" and it calls for freedom for Lula, who has been jailed for two months, reports EFE. The corruption sentence against him will likely prevent him from actually running.
    • Even though he is in jail, Lula is a kingmaker -- in which he likely won't be allowed to run. A new poll found that Former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad would more than double his support to second place if Lula backed his candidacy, reports Reuters.
    • The OAS message to Venezuela last week -- to reestablish democratic order -- also applies to the opposition, writes Alberto Barrera Tyska in a New York Times Español op-ed. He argues that it's "inadmissible" that the opposition leadership remains fractured after 20 years, unable to construct a united platform aimed only at resolving the country's crisis.
    • Polio has reappeared in Venezuela, joining the ranks of other previously eradicated or controlled diseases such as diphtheria, tuberculosis, measles and malaria, reports Newsweek.
    • In Venezuela abortion is prohibited, and contraceptives are impossibly expensive, leading many women to seek sterilization even at very young ages and dangerous home abortions, reports the Intercept. They are also pushed by the increasingly desperate situation with food and medicine shortages, which have pushed up infant mortality rates.
    • Argentina's Chamber of Deputies will vote on an abortion legalization bill on Wednesday. And activists have denounced increasing pressure from the Catholic Church, including personal calls from archbishops to sway lawmakers who intend to vote in favor, reports Página 12. Pressure on lawmakers from the country's more conservative northern provinces has been particularly intense, and one has received death threats from "pro-life" groups. Polls show that the measure is widely supported in Argentina's urban centers and Patagonia, but more rejected in the north.
    • The U.S. extradited former Panamanian president Ricardo Martelli to face charges of espionage at home, reports El País.
    • Mexico City's new airport has become a contentious electoral campaign issue due to the project's over-costs, corruption and potential environmental impact. In the Conversation landscape architect expert Gabriel Diaz Montemayor recommends creating a nature reserve around the new airport, which would at least allay the environmental issues.
    • Two more U.S. diplomats in Cuba were affected by the sounds that apparently left them with health impacts -- the latest in about two dozen cases that have become a divisive point between the two countries, reports the Guardian.
    • At least 110 people died in the Volcán de Fuego eruption last week in Guatemala. Thousands of people protested in Guatemala City on Saturday night, accusing President Jimmy Morales' government of mismanagement of the disaster, reports BBC Mundo. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
    • Wondering why the Fuego volcano eruption was so lethal? Pyroclastic flows, explains the New York Times.
     Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

    Friday, June 8, 2018

    Nicaraguan president to consider early elections (June 8, 2018)

    • President Daniel Ortega initially refused to accept a negotiated constitutional exit from power after a two hour meeting yesterday with Nicaragua's Episcopal Conference. But he asked for 48 hours to reflect on the proposal to hold early elections, reports El País. The proposal would also include a complete changeover of electoral authorities and constitutional reform, aimed at ensuring free and fair elections, as well as deep police reform, reports Confidencial.
    • The talks were held even as repression of protests continued around the country. The latest statistics calculate over 130 dead over the past seven weeks. On Wednesday evening three people were killed with bullets in Chinandega, reports Confidencial.
    • The U.S. announced visa restrictions against "individuals responsible for human rights abuses or undermining democracy in Nicaragua." The U.S. State Department made reference to political violence by police and "pro-government thugs," reports CNN. The comunique doesn't specify the names of affected officials, but it includes National Police officers, reports El País.
    • The Ortega administration's brutal repression of protesters demonstrates the moral bankruptcy and political instability of the government's alliance with the business community that has permitted it increasingly subvert government institutions and the electoral playing field, according to the Economist. He is unlikely to succeed in perpetuating his rule as a dictatorship, however, in no small part because the business community is stronger than in Venezuela in 2013, according to an expert cited in the piece.
    • Economic losses have been steep as well, some estimates point to a loss of $600 million and potentially 150,000 jobs lost, reports Confidencial.
    • Masaya, once a Sandinista stronghold and a revolutionary symbolic locality, has become a hotbed of anti-government protest, reports the Guardian. The city has become a symbol of resistance, and resembles a war ghost town, reports the Miami Herald.
    • For those who have lost track of the crisis' timeline, BBC has a roundup.
    News Briefs

    • Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who casts himself as a political outsider, is dominating polls. But there has been less analysis of how Morena party might well win an absolute majority in both houses of Congress on July 1. That's a radical shift for a party that won 35 seats in the lower chamber in 2015 and none in the senate, writes Macario Schettino in Americas Quarterly. But while AMLO and Morena's strong position reflect a voter desire for change, their ascent "is less a fresh start than a return to the bad old days of the PRI," he argues.
    • YouTube videos purportedly link candidate Ricardo Anaya to corruption. The left-right coalition candidate, who is polling second, said he holds the Peña Nieto administration responsible for the attack, report El País.
    • Fuel theft, dubbed huachicoleo, increased 50 percent in the year's first quarter, and is moving towards the country's center, reports Animal Político.
    Regional diplomacy
    • Venezuela's collapse is attracting the attention of major international players, to the detriment of continental leadership, argues Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly. Russia, China, the U.S. and Cuba are the four most influential international actors in the country's fate, a dramatic change of fortune particularly for Brazil which sought regional leadership under Lula.
    • This year's electoral season was symbolically launchd by the ten-day trucker strike that brought the country to its knees, and bodes ill for economic stability under the next government, according to the Economist.
    • Right-wing candidate Iván Duque is expected to win the second round of presidential elections, raising questions regarding the influence of former president Álvaro Uribe in the government. Uribe remains a political heavyweight -- he was the most voted senator in the country's history in March's legislative elections. Duque is expected to be loyal to his political godfather, who plucked the candidate from virtual obscurity, writes Sylvia Colombo in a New York Times Español op-ed. (See yesterday's briefs.)
    • That the second-round is between a candidate from the left and from the right is significant in Colombia, where the competition has generally been between the right and the extreme right, writes Hernando Gómez Buendía, editor of Razón Pública. (See May 28's post.)
    • Argentina's government proudly announced a three-year deal with the International Monetary Fund for a $50 billion credit line. The amount was larger than expected, but demands sharper cuts in the country's fiscal deficit and decreases in inflation (Argentina's perennial scourge), reports the New York Times. The deal is good news for investors, and a vote of confidence in the Macri administration from the IMF, but ordinary Argentines resent the IMF's role in the catastrophic 2001 crisis, and are unlikely to welcome further fiscal austerity -- ultimately affecting Macri's chances at reelection next year, warns the Economist.
    • At the mercy of flakey international investors that respond to market expectations rather than underlying economic policy, Argentines are at least united by their hatred of the IMF, writes Ernesto Tenembaum in El País. So much so that both sides of the abortion debate are invoking it as the devil against which they struggle: this week a pro-abortion march also included opposition to the IMF in its call to demonstrators. While a priest speaking in Congress said that abortion is equivalent to the IMF, to explain his opposition to legalization.
    • Conservative attitudes towards abortion in Argentina have shifted thanks in part to publicity regarding the often lethal tragedies and injustices prohibition has caused for women, reports the Economist. The lower chamber of Congress is set to vote on a bill that would legalize abortion within the first 14 weeks -- it will be a close vote with enough undecideds to go either way.

    Thursday, June 7, 2018

    Consulta Popular Anticorrupción in Colombia (June 7, 2018)

    Colombia's Senate unanimously approved an anti-corruption referendum which will ask citizens to determine among seven measures aimed at reducing graft, reports EFE. They will be asked about reducing lawmakers' salaries, holding public audiences for citizens to determine and audit public spending, making public sworn declarations and conflict of interest for elected officials, and terminating contracts with people convicted of corruption, among others, explains Notimérica.

    Critics have pointed out that many of the points are covered by existing laws and regulations. But anti-corruption crusaders hope the referendum will strengthen implementation of the measures, which are often watered down with loopholes or exceptions, reports Silla Vacía

    A minimum of 12 million people must vote in favor of the measures for them to take effect, but the project's lead, Senator Claudia López, hopes to get at least 15 million to participate, reports El Tiempo. She points to anti-corruption as an issue that transcends party politics.

    The measure was led by López, of the Partido Verde, and supported by 4 million citizen signatures, reports El Espectador.

    The vote will likely take place in September, reports RCN.

    Colombia elections
    • A major takeaway from the Colombian presidential election last month is a shift "... from the stable traditional parties and the conservative side of the spectrum to less durable alliances and bureaucratic pacts," writes Julian Silva at the AULA blog. "Candidates focused on social issues, such as education and redistribution, are opposing these traditional structures."
    • The FARC has not officially backed a candidate for the second round presidential election, but the former guerrilla group's leadership has nodded towards Gustavo Petro, invoking the candidate that will back the implementation of the peace accords, reports la Silla Vacía.
    • And those concerned that likely winner Iván Duque will be a puppet of Álvaro Uribe shouldn't be, because the right-wing candidate already espouses the former president's central visions, argues Juanita León in Silla Vacía.
    News Briefs

    • Venezuela's government released dozens political prisoners from detention last week, but onerous restrictions mean it's hardly a full scale liberation -- and more than half weren't political prisoners at all, according to local NGO Foro Penal cited in El País. (See Monday's post.)
    • In the midst of Nicaragua's upheaval, the student-led anti-government movement is a bright spot, argues Tim Rogers in the Atlantic. He sketches out the roots of the upheaval, noting that while the country appeared relatively successful until recently, "democracy and rule of law died here a long time ago." El País also emphasizes the role of students in leading the uprising. Representatives of the student movement are in Washington to ask for the Trump administration's support against the Ortega government, reports McClatchy DC. (See yesterday's post.)
    • Business leaders, long allies of the Ortega administration, are now pushing for early elections, reports El País in an interview with Cosep's leadership. (See last Thursday's post.)
    • Guardian editorial offers little hope for a way out of Nicaragua's crisis. "Even if agreement for an early election could be reached, rigorous monitoring by international observers would be required to ensure it was fair – and the opposition is in disarray."
    • The region is well into an electoral marathon year, but is hard pressed by a combination of declining trust in elections and loss of effectivity of traditional electoral monitors such as the OAS or the U.N. writes Christopher Sabatini in a New York Times op-ed. He particularly emphasizes the situation of Mexico and Brazil, both voting this year, where lack of trust in electoral systems is stark. "Legitimate monitors must be invited into Latin American countries. Candidates and governments, including the United States, should pledge ahead of balloting to respect the judgments of these groups."
    • A new poll puts right-wing firebrand Jair Bolsonaro in the lead ahead of October's presidential elections, with 25 percent, followed by leftist Ciro Gomes with 12 percent, reports Reuters. The data points to a polarized election, support for centrist Gerardo Alckmin is at 7 percent. Voter favorite, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is likely out of the running due to a corruption conviction.
    • But not all is as grim as the recent truckers' strike and calls for military intervention would indicate, argues Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly. (See last Friday's briefs.) He points to advances in corruption cases and the increasing participation of young people in politics. (See Monday's briefs.)
    Disaster relief
    • Reconstruction in the wake of the hurricanes that devastated parts of the Caribbean last year is urgent, and enhances corruption that increases the costs of rebuilding even more than previously estimated write Juliet S. Sorensen and Elise Meyer in the Conversation. They also point to how better disaster preparedness "would minimize opportunities for the kinds of chaos-related corruption we documented across the Caribbean."
    • At least 99 people have died and about 200 remain unaccounted for in the eruption of Guatemala's Fuego volcano. Critics are now focusing on the national disaster response agency (Conred), saying it failed to heed advance warnings, reports the BBCNómada has a play by play of the disaster, and how the Conred assured volcano area inhabitants that evacuation would be unnecessary.
    • Recent attacks on the Guatemala's international anti-corruption commission -- the CICIG -- seem scripted in the Cold War: Kremlin thwarts foreign justice in order to further its interests. But in reality "the U.N.-sponsored anti-corruption body, set up in 2006 to investigate high-level corruption, has been maliciously attacked by groups seeking to degrade its mission," write Estuardo Porras Zadik and Pedro Pablo Marroquín Pérez in a Washington Post opinion piece.
    El Salvador
    • A new unit of El Salvador's attorney general's office will focus on combatting femicides, which are at a record rate in what is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women, reports the Guardian.
    • Mexican retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. are designed to hit Republican strongholds ahead of mid-term elections in November, reports the BBC. The tariffs on around $3 billion worth of American pork, steel, cheese and other goods were in response to the Trump administration’s steel and aluminum levies announced last week, reports the New York Times. The new trade war will likely further complicate already foundering NAFTA renegotiation talks. (See Monday's briefs.)
    • Cuba launched what is likely to be a gradual constitutional reform process that will ratify the economic changes in recent years, reports the BBC. Presidential term limits and gay marriage are also on the table.
    • U.S. President Donald Trump appointed a Cuba hardliner to head Radio and TV Martí, the U.S.-funded broadcast network that counters Cuba’s state-run media, reports Politico. It's a win Senator Marco Rubio who recommended former Miami mayor Tomás Regalado for the post and is influential in the administration's Lat Am policy.
    • Google is close to reaching an agreement with Cuba to expand internet access there, reports the Miami Herald.
    • The U.N. General Assembly elected Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces as its next president on Tuesday. She defeated Honduras’ U.N. Ambassador Mary Elizabeth Flores Flake to become the fourth woman to lead the 193-member world body, reports the Associated Press.
    • Thousands of Chileans marched to denounce sexual harassment and sexist behaviors in schools and universities, the latest in a string of protests since April, when allegations of sexual abuse by members of faculty and students first surfaced at a number of Chilean universities, reports the BBC