Friday, September 6, 2019

Proyecto Miroslava (Sept. 6, 2019)

A group of Mexican journalists, Colectivo 23 de Marzo, joined ranks with Forbidden Stories, Bellingcat and the Centro Latinoamericano de Investigaciones Periodísticas (CLIP) to investigate five deaths connected with the assassination of Mexican journalist Miroslava Breach in 2017.

Two years after the murder, the official investigation left a series of loose ends and unanswered questions in a country where at least 82 journalists have been killed in the past decade, reports El País. The Proyecto Miroslava reporting uncovered irregularities that seem to indicate authorities shied away from investigating leads that pointed to crime-affiliated politicians.

The reporting uncovered information about Los Salazares, an ally of the Sinaloa Cartel, and with strong connections to Chihuahua state's leading political parties -- a fact that Breach had denounced before her assassination. The Proyecto Miroslava series, out this week, questions the independence of Mexican authorities, and impunity even in the case of high profile case such as Breach's, writes María Teresa Ronderos in a New York Times Español op-ed.

The project builds on international reporting aimed at ensuring journalist's investigations don't follow them to the grave, writes Javier Garza Ramos in Post Opinión.

News Briefs

  • The Bahamas Hurricane Dorian death toll is at 30 people so far, but is expected to rise dramatically. In Abaco alone, the government has taken delivery of at least 200 body bags. (Guardian)
Climate Change
  • We are on the front line of the consequences of climate change but we don’t cause it,” Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley told the Guardian, while visiting the Bahamas as part of a delegation of Caribbean leaders.
  • Caribbean islands will need help fighting climate change as increasingly ferocious storms create an existential threat, writes Sloan Smith in the Guardian.
  • Climate change will increasingly be a critical driver of migration -- raising questions about how the international community will deal with such displacement, writes Miranda Cady Hallett at the Conversation. Around 2 million people are likely to be displaced from Central America by the year 2050 due to factors related to climate change, according to the World Bank.
  • Tension between Venezuela and Colombia (see Wednesday's post) regarding Colombian rebel groups is significant insofar as threats to regional security are a leading argument for military intervention against Nicolás Maduro, explain David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas in the Venezuela Weekly.
  • Venezuela's Maduro government deployed 3,000 troops to the Colombian border yesterday, reports EFE. (See Wednesday's post)
  • Verbal sparring between Venezuela and Colombia continued yesterday -- Colombian President Iván Duque said Maduro should spend money on food, not missiles. (Reuters)
  • Brazil criticized Venezuela's support of FARC dissidents. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • More from the Venezuela WeeklyJuan Guaidó announced the appointment of five new “presidential commissioners.” Several of the appointments aim to contain his coalition partners, a significant challenge as his National Assembly presidential term -- and thus his claim to the interim presidency -- ends in January.
  • Colombian authorities asked the U.N. to intervene in loosening migration regulations in the region, after Ecuador tightened visa requirements for Venezuelans. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • FARC dissident group's call to rearm betrays the principal of Truth and Non-Repetition enshrined in the 2016 peace deal with the guerrilla group, and betrays all the Colombians who were willing to move forward in exchange for truth, writes Juan Gabriel Vásquez in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • A Colombian military operation that killed 14 dissident FARC fighters days after the new call to arms hints at how Duque will respond to the threat, reports InSight Crime. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran prosecutors appealed the acquittal of a woman recently absolved of homicide in the death of her newborn. (El Diario de Hoy) The case of Evelyn Hernández, a young rape victim who didn't know she was pregnant when she gave birth in a latrine, is emblematic of the draconian implementation of El Salvador's total abortion ban. Hernández served nearly 3 years of a 30 year sentence, before being absolved this year in a retrial. (See Aug. 20's post.)
  • Coordinating an international anti-impunity commission between the U.N. and the O.A.S. would likely be complicated said American University expert Charles Call. Instead he recommended U.N. supervision of a planned International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES) and O.A.S. support for strengthening El Salvador's institutions. (El Diario de Hoy, see last Friday's post)
  • H&M has temporarily stopped purchasing Brazilian leather, citing concerns that the country’s cattle industry has contributed to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, reports the New York Times. It's the second such major company to announce such a move. Last week, VF Corporation, which includes international brands like Timberland and The North Face, announced a temporary suspension of purchases of Brazilian leather, until its suppliers could prove they weren’t connected to any environmental harm. (See Aug. 29's briefs on how leather and Amazon deforestation are linked.)
  • In a bid to battle Brazil's reputation amid international vilification and sinking approval ratings at home, President Jair Bolsonaro declared "Brazil Week" and called on citizens to show "the Amazon is ours." (Guardian)
  • O Reino Sagrado da DesinformaçãoA project by data journalism organization Gênero e Número mapped how the term "gender ideology" has been used in Brazilian social media, exploring how the concept is used as a vector for misinformation. The eight month investigation examines how social media users deploy the term, and what different media, social leaders and politicians mean when they use it for their audiences. The project uncovered a wide range of variation, from political to deeply religious. They complimented the mapping with stories and an exclusive interview with Judith Butler.
More Mexico
  • A prominent billionaire ally of Mexico’s president has financial ties to companies linked to a growing scandal involving the state-oil company, Pemex. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya -- ousted by a 2009 coup -- is pushing electoral reform in Honduras' congress, aimed at completely replacing the Supreme Electoral Tribunal criticized for validating questioned elections in 2013 and 2017, reports NACLA.
  • Celebrated Mexican artist Francisco Toledo died -- he was known for incorporating pre-Columbian techniques, shamanistic animal imagery and political iconoclasm into his work, reports the New York Times.
  • Jack Ryan races against time to stop Venezuela from obtaining nuclear weapons in the Amazon series' new season. In terms of diplomatic perspective, it's like "snorting 100 percent John Bolton," according to the Common Dreams review.
I'll be off next week -- no briefings in my absence this time. I'll resume posting on Sept. 16. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Guatemala declares state of emergency in north (Sept. 5, 2019)

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales declared a state of emergency in 22 northern municipalities after three members of a military patrol were killed by suspected gang members on Tuesday.

Authorities will send more military and police personnel to Alta Verapaz, El Progreso, Izabal, Peten and Zacapa provinces, a drug-trafficking corridor that runs from the Honduran to Mexican borders. The measure suspends the rights of assembly, transit, the right to carry arms and constitutional guarantees against arrest without a warrant for a month. Rights groups said the government's response was excessive. (Prensa LibreAssociated PressReuters and El País)

The killings, which took place in Izabal, were particularly violent, a fact the government emphasized in its declaration. Nine soldiers sent to detain an aircraft allegedly transporting drugs were ambushed, according to authorities. One victim was scalped, another's face was blown off. Two soldiers remain missing. (EFE)

Morales posited an "asymetrical fight between the State and drug traffickers." He also alleged that certain communities use women and children as "human barricades" to keep security forces from clandestine air strips.

Nómada, however, questions the justification for the scope of the measure in light of existing conflict trends and lack of information about the confrontation. 

Congress must ratify the state of emergency, which is already effective. Lawmakers are likely to support the move, which they urged the government to take yesterday. (Prensa Libre)

Bahamas devastated

The Hurricane Dorian death toll in the Bahamas is over 20, and likely to keep climbing. The country's prime minister spoke of "generational devastation" in Gran Bahama and Abaco islands. "A catastrophe unlike anything seen in this part of the world," according to the Washington Post.

Large areas remain inaccessible to rescue crews, which means the full scale of destruction remains to be assessed. The Washington Post's photo-essay illustrates the havoc caused by the storm, which hovered over the Bahamas for three days in some areas. (See yesterday's briefs.)

The U.N. estimates that around 70,000 people are in need of lifesaving aid on the affected islands. Nearly half of the homes on the two islands were either destroyed or severely damaged, according to some aid groups.

News Briefs

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro taunted the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, after she criticized the increase in police killings in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. “She is defending the human rights of vagabonds,” the Brazilian president told reporters on Wednesday. “Senhora Michelle Bachelet, if Pinochet’s people had not defeated the left in 73 – among them your father – Chile would be a Cuba today.” Bachelet's father was imprisoned and tortured for opposing the 1973 military coup led by Augusto Pinochet, and died of a heart attack in prison. Bachelet and her mother were also imprisoned by the regime. (Guardian)
  • The fires devastating Bolivia's Amazon are not only imperiling President Evo Morales' run for a fourth term, they are also evincing his lack of interest in the environment, argues Raúl Peñaranda U. in a New York Times Español op-ed.

  • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green and Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan announced more than $120 million in U.S. humanitarian assistance for countries in the region struggling with Venezuela's outpouring of refugees. (The Hill)
  • Colombian authorities asked Ecuadorean counterparts to reconsider visa requirements for Venezuelan refugees. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • U.S. First Daughter Ivanka Trump visited a Colombian shelter for Venezuelan migrants, reports McClatchy. She also met with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó. She called on female leaders in Venezuela to take a leading role in resolving the crisis there.
  • Influencers and satirists Joanna Hausmann y Ricardo O’Farrill joined forces in a new YouTube miniseries promoting Venezuelan unity and identity in support of "Alimenta la Solidaridad," a network of soup kitchens that feeds more than 8,000 Venezuelan children. (Su Noticiero)
  • Your cellphone could contain illegally mined gold from Colombia, where the precious metal has replaced cocaine as the main source of income for organized crime, reports the New York Times.
  • Marita Lorenz, the "patron saint of conspiracy buffs" who had affairs with Fidel Castro and Marcos Pérez Jiménez, died at the age of 80 -- New York Times.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...Latin America Daily Briefing

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

FARC dissidents cause tension between Colombia and Venezuela (Sept. 4, 2019)

The call to arms by a FARC dissident group seems unlikely to post an immediate threat to the Colombian state, but has fed into mounting tensions between Colombia and Venezuela. 

Last week several former FARC commanders called for a return to arms against the Colombian government, citing unmet peace agreement commitments. The video was believed to have been filmed near the Venezuelan border, and Colombia's government has accused Venezuela's of harboring Colombian guerrilla groups. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro had previously said that the dissident leaders would be welcome in Venezuela. (See last Thursday's post.)

"It is important to emphasize that Colombia is not facing the rebirth of a new guerrilla movement, as these criminals claim," writes Colombian President Iván Duque in the Washington Post. "This is a gang that has been emboldened, sheltered and supported in Venezuela by the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro."

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, considered the country's legitimate leader by a swathe of the international community, said he authorized the use of satellites to help locate guerrilla groups that may have crossed into Venezuela. Guaidó said the move is part of a collaboration between Venezuela's opposition and Colombian officials to collect intelligence on guerrilla camps. He didn't give further details and it's not clear how the opposition could implement such a plan. (Al JazeeraAFP)

Yesterday Maduro ordered the armed forces to be on alert for a potential attack by Colombia’s government and announced military exercises on the border, reports Reuters. He accused Duque of mounting false evidence regarding Venezuela's alleged harboring of guerrillas, reports AFP. The dramatic rhetoric is actually fairly usual between the two countries.  Colombian authorities have repeatedly denied planning to attack Venezuela.

Despite the new call to arms, and widespread discontent with how the peace treaty promises have (not) been implemented, most former FARC fighters seem unlikely to return to war, reports the Associated Press. About 13,018 ex-guerrillas are in the reincorporation process -- about a quarter of them live in 24 reintegration camps, according to think tank Ideas para la Paz. The rest live outside, where they went to rejoin with family or search for work. About eight percent are unaccounted for, though that does not mean they have joined dissident ranks. (ReutersLa Silla Vacía visited five demobilization camps last week, and said that most former guerrillas are unhappy with broken promises, but remain more interested in joining civilian society than taking up arms.

A group of opposition political parties, headed by former FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, rejected the new call to arms and called for renewed support of the peace deal, on Monday. (Semana)

Analysts say that the fragmented landscape of dissident guerrilla groups are unlikely to unite under a common front. Nonetheless, infighting among armed groups could further destabilize the fragile peace process, warns Matthew Charles in World Politics Review. And while many of the groups are engaged in drug trafficking, he cautions against discounting their political complaints entirely, as Duque has done. (Semana delves deeper into the various dissident factions, their leadership, and how they might collaborate or not.)

Dissident FARC groups and ELN guerrillas have made considerable territorial expansions throughout Colombia during President Ivan Duque‘s first year in office, according a new report from Fundación Paz y Reconciliación. (Colombia Reports)

  • A mayoral candidate in Colombia's troubled Cauca province was killed Monday, along with five other people in an attack government officials attributed to a dissident FARC group. A vehicle carrying Karina Garcia, a Liberal Party candidate, Garcia's mother, three local activists and a candidate for the municipal council, was shot at while it traversed a highway in the mountainous region, before being set on fire, reports Reuters. (See also Semana.)
  • Last week Colombian troops killed nine FARC dissidents in an air raid authorized by Duque after Márquez's declaration. The dead include a rebel known by his alias, Gildardo Cucho who Márquez sought to recruit, according to Colombian authorities. (Al Jazeera)
News Briefs

  • Hurricane Dorian left the Bahamas yesterday afternoon, after lashing the country for nearly three days. At least seven people were killed by the slow-moving storm, but more deaths are expected as relief enters affected areas. Nearly 75 percent of homes in Gran Bahamas Island are underwater, and Abaco Island is largely destroyed. Relief officials spoke of utter ruin and an imminent humanitarian crisis. Thousands of residents of Grand Bahama and Abaco islands are without shelter, stranded by flooding and are likely to suffer shortages of food, water and medicine that will worsen without quick action by the international community, according to coordinated messages from the United Nations, Bahamian officials and the U.S. State Department. (GuardianWashington PostGuardianAssociated Press)
  • The New York Times lists aid organizations working in the Bahamas for those seeking to donate.
  • A shocking video of security guards whipping a black teenager caught stealing chocolate bars from a São Paulo supermarket has sparked outrage in Brazil, where say it demonstrates deeply engrained racism and slave era legacies in the national psyche. (Guardian)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will miss an international summit on fires affecting the Amazon rainforest -- to be held in Bogotá on Friday -- because he will be preparing for a surgery. (BBC)
  • Fourteen indigenous groups and four riverside reserves living in the Brazilian Amazon's Xingu river basin have put aside long-running local conflicts to unite against Bolsonaro's environmental policies. (Independent)
  • Bolsonaro is refusing to give additional land to indigenous tribes who say they've been pushed off their traditional territories. (Al Jazeera)
  • Tackling corruption and impunity remains a priority for Mexico's government, said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during his first state of the union address on Sunday. “Nothing has damaged Mexico more than the dishonesty of its rulers — and this is the main cause of the economic and social inequality, and of the insecurity and violence, that we suffer,” he said. (Associated Press)
The Wall
  • The U.S. Defense Department approved  $3.6 billion to build U.S. President Donald Trump's pet project: a controversial border wall with Mexico. (Deutsche Welle)

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Dorian unusually strong and slow -- at least five deaths in Bahamas (Sept. 3, 2019)

Hurricane Dorian killed at least five people in the Bahamas and injured 21, though the toll is likely higher. The hurricane was one of the strongest on record in the Atlantic, but has combined the force with an unusually slow pace. It remained over Grand Bahamas Island this morning, complicating rescue efforts and causing "extreme destruction," reports the Guardian. Parts of Grand Bahamas Island and Abaco Islands were afflicted for more than 36 hours -- few places on the planet have experienced storm conditions as horrifically lengthy, according to the Washington Post.

Prime Minister Hubert Minnis called the devastation "unprecedented and extensive" and compared the situation to that of a war zone. (Guardian) The Red Cross estimates that 13,000 homes are damaged or destroyed. (BBC)

The Abaco Islands were particularly hard-hit -- and is where the known fatalities took place. Thousands of homes were hit, in that part of the Bahamas, where the local population usually rides out lesser storms, reports the New York Times. Throughout the area, residents were unprepared for the severity of the storm, which was far stronger than those experienced in recent years.

Experts are warning that climate change could be partially responsible. "Rising temperatures don’t make hurricanes more frequent, but they do help make them more devastating," writes Kate Aronoff in the Guardian. Adapting to already certain climate impacts will require trillions of dollars, and repairing the loss and damage of storms and other disasters is expected to cost $300 billionn a year by 2030, jumping to $1.2 trillion a year by 2060.

News Briefs

  • The UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) officially shuts down today. "Though it leaves a vital legacy, the commission’s exit risks strengthening the hand of criminal networks that operate with state complicity," according to a new International Crisis Group report. (See last Thursday's post.)
  • Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales turned against the CICIG after he and relatives faced criminal investigations. "His fear of the CICIG was a recognition of its efficacy. His ultimate success in driving the CICIG away offers a cautionary tale," writes the outgoing head commissioner, Iván Velásquez in the Washington Post.
  • Latin America's anti-corruption fight -- which five years ago was on a crest of success -- is foundering and discredited in several countries. "The risk is that the region returns to a status quo where impunity is accepted as the norm," write Brendan O'Boyle and Brian Winter in the Washington Post. They recommend reforms and stronger institutions.
  • Colombia's government must act swiftly to stop the country from backsliding back into war, writes Adam Isacson in a New York Times op-ed. A FARC dissidents' group threat to rearm, last week, might not amount to much. But if Colombia's government fails to get the peace accord back on track, a new guerrilla group could emerge. Efforts to reintegrate former FARC fighters into civilian life have been delayed, and the government has failed to provide protection for social leaders who confront a horrific wave of lethal violence. "The peace process isn’t dead, but Colombia will need changes to avoid joining the list of countries that relapse into war within five years. The government must disprove the extremist FARC faction’s narrative."
  • A growing number of Cubans are applying for asylum in Mexico, amid a clampdown on legal alternatives for reaching the U.S., reports the Guardian. In the first seven months of this year, 4,604 Cubans applied for asylum in Mexico, representing 10% of all applicants. In 2018, 218 Cubans sought asylum, representing 1% of total applicants.
  • A group of U.S. politicians wants to limit cultural exchange with Cuba, after a new decree requires artists to obtain governmental permission to perform. But critics say closing off cultural exchange won't promote change in Cuba, and will limit opportunities for engagement, reports Rolling Stone.
El Salvador
  • If El Salvador's relatively low murder rate for this August was maintained for a year, the country's homicide rate would be "only" 24 per 100,000. (See yesterday's briefs.) President Nayib Bukele is giving the credit for the reduction in violence to his Territorial Control Plan, and the people of El Salvador are agreeing with him, writes Tim Muth at El Salvador Perspectives. Though he argues it's still too soon to determine the factors behind the reduction.
  • Argentines react with shell-shocked panic to financial fluctuations -- but yesterday new currency restrictions implemented by the previously market-friendly Macri administration seemed to have imparted a modicum of calm, reports the New York Times.
  • An innovative drug smuggling trick uses divers to weld sealed packets of cocaine to the hulls of boats. Up to 600 kilos can be smuggled per ship without the crew's knowledge, and the technique has been detected in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, reports InSight Crime.
  • A Colombian gang leader has been accused of exporting the "gota a gota" extortion system to Chile, where people who have trouble obtaining credit are offered micro loans at extremely high rates of interest (as high as 20 percent per day), reports InSight Crime.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Monday, September 2, 2019

Guatemala's Sandra Torres arrested (Sept. 2, 2019)

Guatemalan police arrested former presidential candidate Sandra Torres in her home today. The attorney general's office said the charges include alleged violation of campaign finance rules during her 2015 presidential run. The warrant was issued Friday. 

The allegations implicating Torres and her UNE political party came to light earlier this year, but, as a presidential candidate, Torres enjoyed immunity from prosecution -- until her defeat in the August second round of election.

Torres, a former first lady and three-time presidential candidate has said the charges are politically motivated, and blamed president-elect Alejandro Giammattei for carrying out a witch-hunt. The UNE party said the detention was disproportionate and unnecessary. Last month Torres' lawyer had already handed her passport.

Guatemala's specialized anti-corruption prosecutorial unit asked the electoral tribunal to cancel the UNE political party, today in the wake of the arrest.

(El PeriódicoLa HoraReutersBBCPublinewsSoy 502Soy 502)

News Briefs

  • Nearly 5,000 bodies have been discovered in more than 3,000 graves since late 2006 in Mexico. The data regarding clandestine sites come from the government’s National Search Commission are well above previous estimates by academics and journalists, reports the Guardian. At least 40,000 people have disappeared in Mexico since 2006 -- though most are believed to be victims of organized crime, in many cases local or state authorities might have been complicit.
  • Nearly a year after assuming office, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's promised transformation has been more rhetorical than real, writes Diego Fonseca in the New York Times Español. AMLO still has time to change, but he will need to accept criticism and negative realities in order to implement lasting change.
Regional Relations
  • In Mexico, Trump's "Sinatra Doctrine" -- everything "my way" -- forces the country to face a triage decision and establish some red lines, writes former ambassador Arturo Sarukhán in a New York Times Español op-ed. Mexico must assert itself strongly on the war on drugs, arms trafficking, and migration -- all issues with strong impact on both sides of the border, he writes. "The time has come to be assertive to Washington: we can't keep eluding confrontation with Trump when it's necessary to do it."

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticized for his environmental policies in recent weeks -- the notable exception is U.S. President Donald Trump who wholeheartedly supported the Brazilian leader. In a Tweet, Trump praised Bolsonaro for "working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil," a sign of the close bond the two leaders have forged, reports the Washington Post.
  • Fires in Brazil's rainforest are just one part of a broader trend of deforestation in the region. "The push by land speculators, ranchers and miners into forests around the Amazon basin also shows how advances in political stability and economic integration can drive deforestation, especially when safeguards remain weak," reports the New York Times.
  • The Amazon crisis demonstrates "the damage that can be done when governments bow unequivocally to business interests. It also highlights an increasingly common phenomenon: the cynical manipulation of anti-corruption efforts to undermine democracy and advance an authoritarian political agenda," writes Kaushik Basu, former Chief Economist of the World Bank, in Project Syndicate.
  • Indigenous tribes in the Brazilian rainforest have set aside differences to unite against a common enemy: "the non-indigenous peoples who have invaded our lands and are now burning even those small parts of the forests where we live that you have left for us," writes Raoni Metuktire, chief of the indigenous Brazilian Kayapó people, in the Guardian.
  • In Bolivia furious locals in the Chiquitano dry forest region are blaming President Evo Morales for widespread destruction in the wake of legislation that encourages that encourages slash-and-burn farming, reports the Guardian.
  • Children in Rio de Janiero's favelas are, reasonably, terrified of military police operations against criminals. Police are responsible for 29 percent of the state's 3,048 homicides in the first half of 2019. Draconian security policies, like those promised and implemented by Governor Wilson Witzel, are a disaster, writes Carol Pires in a New York Times Español op-ed, in which she recommends policies aimed at reducing violence and building on local achievements in favelas.
  • In Salvador an international research program susses out the health issues in local favelas -- where problems are compounded by poverty, unemployment and poor sanitation. (Guardian)
El Salvador
  • August of this year was the least bloody month in El Salvador in recent years -- there were 131 homicides, part of a marked reduction in recent months, reports El Faro. If the rate for this month were sustained for a year, El Salvador's homicide rate would be almost halved, according to Roberto Valencia.
  • Gender inequality is a structural component of Cuba's government system, writes Wendy Guerra in a New York Times Español op-ed. "Endemic machismo in Cuba is politically correct," she says in a call to publicly debate women's rights.
  • The family of slain Honduran activist Berta Cáceres is asking a U.S. court to subpoena bank records linked to a $1.4m luxury house in Texas purchased by the alleged mastermind of the Cáceres' killing. (Guardian)
  • Hurricane Dorian hit northwestern Bahamas on Sunday, causing a “catastrophic” scenario. Three islands endured direct hits Sunday: Elbow Cay, Great Abaco and Grand Bahama Island. (Washington Post)
  • Two months until Argentines actually vote for the next president, but the economic crisis is moving faster than the campaigns. This weekend, President Mauricio Macri implemented currency controls in an attempt to stabilize the peso. But the measures are a particularly difficult move for the administration, which criticized similar practices under the previous government. The measure does not affect individual bank withdrawals, and some Argentines are withdrawing their savings amid fears of more widespread financial instability. (ReutersAssociated PressWall Street Journal)
  • This morning Argentina's international dollar and euro-denominated bonds fell to record lows and the official peso diverged from the black market. (Reuters)
  • Fentanyl has surpassed heroin and prescription pills to become the leading driver of the opioid crisis and is now the top cause of U.S. overdose deaths. The drug, known as "Mexican Oxy" is actually produced in China and smuggled from Mexico, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...
Latin America Daily Briefing

Friday, August 30, 2019

OAS announced anti-corruption mission for El Salvador (Aug. 30, 2019)

The Organization of American States (OAS) will back the creation of an international anti-impunity commission in El Salvador. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro announced via Twitter today that a technical mission will be sent to El Salvador next week, in order to advance towards the creation of the International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES). (Última HoraLa Prensa Gráfica)

Almagro met with vice president Félix Ulloa and foreign minister Alexandra Hill, but there is little information about what the commission will consist of or how the technical mission will proceed, reports El Diario de Hoy. President Nayib Bukele campaigned on the promise of creating a commission modeled on Guatemala's recently dismantled CICIG -- a an international commission with power to investigate and collaborate with national prosecutors on corruption cases. He also recently promised to create an international commission before Sept. 9, though he did not give more details. (See Aug. 13's post.)

Organizations of civil society note that a CICIG-style commission would necessarily require legislative approval, meaning Bukele would likely only succeed in announcing a plan by his self-imposed deadline. (El Diario de Hoy) La Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarrollo (FUNDE), the local branch of Transparency International, said the backing of an international organization is critical for the project, but that a CICIES would be better served by an alliance with the U.N. than the OAS, due to concerns regarding the latter's independence. (La Prensa Gráfica)

News Briefs

  • Colombian President Iván Duque said he will send a specially created army unit to track down a FARC dissident group that announced it was taking up arms again, reports Al Jazeera. Duque said there would be a $882,000 reward for the arrest of guerrilla leaders who appeared in a video relaunching the guerrilla group's struggle against the Colombian government. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Duque characterized the threat as a band of criminals, rather than a new insurgency. But there is danger that the FARC dissidents could unite other armed groups, including the ELN and FARC splinters. (Washington Post)
  • The FARC guerrilla forces' relaunching is not a complete surprise -- and for now appears to be more of a political than military move, explains La Silla Vacía. (And La Silla Vacía again.)
  • Nonetheless, the remobilization comes at a dangerous time in the region, particularly along Colombia's border with Venezuela, warns Alexander L. Fattal in a New York Times op-ed.
  • The rearming "is a wake-up call to the majority of Colombians and the international community who want peace: now is the critical moment to redouble efforts to ensure the full implementation of the peace accords," according to WOLA.
  • Dissident FARC leaders' return to arms is a wake up call for Colombia to rapidly patch up its faltering peace process, former Colombian president Ernesto Samper said in an interview with NODAL
  • "How did Colombia’s fragile peace unravel?" The Conversation gathers together a series of articles on the long process since the 2016 pact was signed in the first place. 
  • Collective land ownership is holding back Colombia's Pacific Coast, according to the Economist.
More El Salvador
  • El Salvador and the U.S. promised to cooperate in combatting irregular migration and transnational criminal organizations. Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele met with acting U.S. homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan in San Salvador on Wednesday, part of a U.S. diplomatic push for Latin American countries to slow migration flows. (Associated Press)
  • At least 25 people were arrested across El Salvador, yesterday. The detained include businesspeople, lawyers and a former police officer, as part of an operation to break up an alleged migrant smuggling network, reports the Associated Press. Authorities said the alleged smugglers charged migrants $8,000 to $12,000 to take them to the United States, though many were abandoned en route.
Climate Change
  • Central America is grappling with its worst outbreak of dengue fever in decades -- and the mosquito-borne disease could become a bigger problem as climate change fuels outbreaks, reports Reuters
  • The Amazon rainforest could soon reach a tipping point of deforestation, at which point it will self-destruct. Some scientists warn that this nightmare scenario is imminent, reports the New York Times. If this happens, the rainforest would start emitting greenhouse gases rather than absorb them.
  • Fires have been reported in indigenous protected territory of Brazil's Amazon rainforest, and activists fear those areas were specifically targeted by loggers and land grabbers, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazil banned most legal fires for land-clearing for 60 days in an attempt to stop the blazes decimating parts of the Amazon, reports the Associated Press. Yesterday's move coincides with the remainder of the dry period, when the rainforest is most at risk.
  • Despite the Brazilian government's recent moves to contain the environmental disaster represented by the fires, President Jair Bolsonaro has a long history of undermining environmental regulations, writes Carol Pires in the New Yorker.
  • And Brazil is facing increasing financial pressure to get the fires, and Bolsonaro's fiery rhetoric, under control -- Guardian.
  • The world is correct in worrying about the Amazon, but must show finesse in dealing with Brazil, according to the Economist.
  • The Intercept reports on links between a top Trump donor -- Blackstone -- and two Brazilian firms the U.S. investment company owns, which are drivers of Amazon deforestation.
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse is determined to finish out his mandate -- despite corruption allegations that have spurred massive protests demanding his resignation, rising violence, and dismal economic indicators. He also promised to respect the findings of a commission investigating the corruption allegations in an interview with the Associated Press.
  • Confidencial was nominated for a Reporters without Borders press freedom award: The independent weekly has made a name for itself with its investigative research and in-depth analysis of the political system - but also many enemies. After several death threats, editor Carlos Fernando Chamorro fled to Costa Rica to work from there.
  • Mexican feminists call out mainstream media for focusing more on material damages caused by their recent protests than the gender violence that spurred them on in the first place -- NACLA.
  • S&P Global Ratings downgrading Argentina’s debt to selective default yesterday, after the Macri administration moved to renegotiate debt. Presidential front-runner Alberto Fernández told the Wall Street Journal that he will eventually aim for a balanced budget, but first plans an ambitious program to restore purchasing power by increasing wages and government pensions, while containing inflationary pressures with a broad-ranging pact with employers.
  • It would be misguided to expect Alberto Fernández to be Nestor Kirchner 2.0. Not because of ideology, but because Fernández -- if he wins the October general election -- will inherit a drastically different economic and political landscape than the one Kirchner faced in 2003, writes Nicolás Saldías in Americas Quarterly.
  • If any conclusions are to be drawn from Argentina's recent primaries "the main would be that millions of voters have lost hope in the mandate for change of Cambiemos,but their faith in Peronism has hardly wavered," according to the New Yorker.
  • In the meantime, with nearly two months before October's general election, the Catholic Church urged President Mauricio Macri to declare a food and nutritional emergency, in light of the severe increase in poverty and the indiscriminate increases in food prices. (Página 12)

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, August 29, 2019

FARC dissidents call to arms (Aug. 29, 2019)

A group of former FARC guerrillas said they will resume armed conflict, after demobilizing in the wake of a landmark peace treaty signed three years ago. Two former FARC leaders, known as Iván Márquez and Jesús Santrich, announced the offensive in a 32-minute YouTube video. They were in combat uniform and flanked by other armed fighters. It is believed the force could be between 2,200 and 3,000 fighters strong. 

The announcement underscores the floundering nature of the FARC peace deal. Critics say the government has not fulfilled promises of protection and reintegration into civilian life for former guerrillas. At least 120 rebels have been killed since the peace deal was signed. And hundreds more social leaders have been assassinated by armed groups vying for power in former FARC territories.

"The state has not fulfilled its most important obligations, which is to guarantee the life of its citizens and especially avoid assassinations for political reasons," said Márquez in the statement.

Current President Iván Duque campaigned in opposition to the peace deal signed by his predecessor, and has sought to modify a special justice system that would keep rank and file rebels out of jail. This year his administration sought to imprison Santrich on drug trafficking charges, after the Supreme Court ordered his release. Santrich disappeared shortly after and reappeared in the video yesterday.

The group’s objective is the installation of a government that will support peace, Márquez said. It will fight corruption and fracking and demand payments from those participating in illegal economies and from multinational companies, he said.

Márqeuz said the new dissident group would not attack soldiers or police officers who were “respectful to popular interests,” and would avoid kidnappings -- but he also said he plans to cooperate with the National Liberation Army (ELN), which is known for violence.

Márquez was a key FARC representative in Havana, where the peace deal was negotiated. Yesterday two former negotiators from the government, Sergio Jaramillo and Humberto de la Calle, condemned the new call to arms, but also said the government was to blame in undermining the deal: “Again and again, we told the government that its permanent attacks on the peace process and the risk to legal stability that come with it, could push commanders to make wrong decision,” they said.

Former FARC commander Rodrigo Londoño, known as Timochenko, said on Twitter the “great majority” of ex-FARC fighters remain committed to peace “despite all the difficulties and dangers.” But increasing numbers have been abandoning peace initiatives, and some analysts say the new call to arms could unite a couple dozen splinter groups of dissident fighters.

The new rebel group said the video was filmed in the Colombian Amazon, but some security experts said many of the dissidents were likely on the Venezuelan side of the border, and that the new call to arms will not immediately alter Colombia's security risks.

  • Out of the frying pan: Tens of thousands of Venezuelans who fled their country's humanitarian crisis found refuge in Colombia, but many have instead found themselves in the middle of an ongoing armed conflict where they are particularly vulnerable to abuses by armed groups, write Human Rights Watch's Tamara Taraciuk and Juan Pappier. (Americas Quarterly) "Colombia should get full credit for keeping an open-door policy for Venezuelans ... But residents in these conflict-ridden areas need the Colombian government to increase its presence and reassert the rule of law." (See Aug. 8's briefs for the full Human Rights Watch investigation on Armed groups in Colombia's northeastern Catatumbo region.)

Guatemala controlled by mafia -- CICIG's parting words

Guatemala's corruption is structural -- the country's state is captured by a "mafia coalition," which seeks to perpetuate the status quo and impunity, said the CICIG in its scathing final report, presented yesterday. One of the reasons why corruption networks persist is that "they have distorted democratic institutionality in their favor and they have molded the political system and designed mechanisms that allow them to occupy positions of power, manipulating legislation."  The report said that profound government restructuring is required to combat the phenomenon. (Associated PressEFE)

The United Nations backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala formally ends its mandate next week. But head commissioner Iván Velásquez said yesterday's report would be the CICIG's final public act. He spoke via video conference, as he has been barred from entering Guatemala by the Morales government, which has focused on undermining the anti-impunity commission's work throughout its term.

The final report particularly focuses on illustrating how illicit networks co-opt the state through illicit campaign financing.

In theory the CICIG's work will be continued by Guatemala's public ministry, which has worked with the CICIG throughout its 12-years of operation. But attorney general Consuelo Porras has shown little inclination towards this direction reports Nómada. Today she will inaugurate the new Fiscalía Especial contra la Impunidad, the unit which had worked with the CICIG. But she has refused to hire the 60 Guatemalan investigators and prosecutors that had worked with the CICIG. Several soon-to-be former CICIG collaborators have voiced concern for their safety. The Nómada piece also explains why losing trained professionals, including specialized police, will significantly affect corruption investigations moving forward.

Guatemalan president-elect Alejandro Giammattei said earlier this week that he will propose a new anti-corruption body which, “unlike the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), will collaborate with fixing the system.” (Telesur)

The report was presented at the CICIG headquarters, which will be razed and replaced with a mall. (EFE)

News Briefs

  • The United States will not prosecute or otherwise seek to punish President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela if he voluntarily leaves power, according to the U.S.'s special envoy for Venezuela, Elliot Abrams. He clarified to the New York Times that he sees no indication that Maduro will step down, but that the U.S. is sending a message. He also said that high-level talks described by Maduro and U.S. President Donald Trump absolutely did not occur. There are no secret negotiations between the two governments he said.
  • Abrams also said Trump administration would not support new national elections with an incumbent — either Maduro or opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognized as the country's interim president by the U.S. — on the ballot.
  • The Organization of American States condemned “grave and systematic” human rights abuses in Venezuela and demanded an independent investigation, in a resolution passed yesterday by a 21 to three vote. (AFP)
  • The U.S. State Department opened a representative office in Venezuela in Colombia, yesterday. The Venezuela Affairs Unit (VAU) will be headed by James Story, the U.S. charge d’affaires to Venezuela, and will continue U.S. opposition to Maduro and support for Guaidó from Bogotá. (Reuters)
  • Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez asked his Canadian counterpart to help end U.S. sanctions on Venezuela. Rodríguez and Chrystia Freeland met yesterday in Havana, their third meeting since May regarding the Venezuela crisis, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuela's Central Bank reported a $700 million jump in reserves coming from state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, according to Bloomberg.
  • Retroviral drugs are increasingly impossible to obtain in Venezuela, which has become the only country in the world where large numbers of HIV patients have been forced to discontinue treatment for lack of medication, reports Foreign Policy. Desperate patients increasingly seek resources in Colombia.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump directed aides to fast-track billions of dollars’ worth of construction contracts, aggressively seize private land and disregard environmental rules in pursuit of rapidly constructing the oft-mentioned border wall between Mexico and the U.S., according to the Washington Post. He reportedly reassured  subordinates that he will pardon them of any potential wrongdoing should they have to break laws to get the job done.
El Salvador
  • At least 116 people were killed by police in El Salvador in recent years in cases involving excessive use of force and abuse of authority, the country’s human rights prosecutor said in a report published this week. One of the more disturbing findings was the level of police impunity, said Raquel Caballero, head of the Prosecutor’s Office for the Defense of Human Rights. In the 48 cases of excessive police force, only 19 were prosecuted and two cases led to convictions.(Reuters)
  • The fires raging in the Brazilian Amazon are likely to intensify over the coming weeks, reports the Guardian.
  • Hundreds of Brazilian governmental workers said their work enforcing environmental regulations had been hampered by the Bolsonaro administration. In an open letter, employees of the country's environmental agency warned that  Brazil’s environmental protection system could “collapse” if nothing changes. (New York Times)
  • Members of the Xirin indigenous tribe of northern Brazil have taken matters into their own hands, expelling the loggers and ranchers who illegally occupied their land and set fire to the forest in Pará state, reports the Guardian.
  • Though it hurts to admit it, Bolsonaro is not the only person responsible for Amazon fires. The global fashion industry -- and its consumers -- have a lot of blame to shoulder for the blazes consuming the rainforest, particularly leather products, reports the Guardian.
  • The world cannot demand that Brazil turn 61 percent of its national territory into an ecological reserve, efforts to protect the vital ecosystem must respect the country's sovereignty and seek sustainable development that builds on the rainforest's natural wealth, argues former Brazilian cabinet member Roberto Mangabeira Unger in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra and his Colombian counterpart, Iván Duque, called a meeting of Amazon countries to coordinate fire fighting strategies. (Reuters)
Argentina - sigue girando
  • Argentina's government announced a debt restructuring -- "reprofiling" is the spin term-- yesterday, a move that was widely expected but nonetheless left markets reeling. The peso weakened 2 percent against the dollar today. Country risk is at its highest level since 2005. The initiative seeks to extend the maturity for short-term debt issued in Argentina as well as bonds issued abroad without reducing the capital or the interest, explained Finance Minister Hernán Lacunza. (Wall Street JournalReutersForbesInfobae)
  • In a speech today President Mauricio Macri sought to blame the political opposition, the likely winner of October's presidential elections, for the financial unrest. He also lashed out at the electoral primary system, which at a national level has functioned as an elaborate opinion poll ahead of the general elections and left him in a tricky lame duck situation. (Infobae)
  • Earlier this week presidential candidate Alberto Fernández, widely expected to win in October, met with IMF representatives. He later lambasted the multilateral organization and Argentina's government, saying they are to blame for the country's "social catastrophe." "The loan received by the country and the raft of conditions associated with it has not generated any of the hoped-for results: the economy has not stopped contracting, employment and the situation for businesses and families has continued to get worse, inflation has not shown any sustained reduction, and public debt has only grown," said a statement from Fernandez's office. (Buenos Aires Times)
  • In a region where presidents often try to cling to power as often as possible, Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra wants to call early elections. It could be part of a strategy to go out with popular support, and also a reflection of his relative lack of power, reports the Financial Times.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...