Friday, October 19, 2018

Mexico pressured to stop migrant caravan (Oct. 19, 2018)

The migrant caravan that set out from Honduras towards the U.S. last week has grown to about 4,000 people, who were gathering near the Guatemalan border with Mexico this morning. Yesterday, about 300 police in anti-riot gear were sent to the Mexican side of the border. Some migrants already crossed over illegally yesterday and were in temporary shelters. (New York Times)

The Mexican government asked the United Nations Refugee Agency for help in assisting migrants filing for refugee protection. Mexico said anybody can file for asylum, but will have to wait at a migratory station for up to 45 business days. This is a change from previous policies in which migrants were offered transit visas. (Wall Street JournalCNN)

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been focusing on the caravan's progress all week -- and threatening governments along the way that do not stop the migrants -- thanked the Mexican government for its efforts. (Animal Político)
Mexico is under intense pressure from the U.S. to stop the caravan. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Mexico today. The caravan is on the agenda for his meetings with President Enrique Peña Nieto, Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray, and Foreign Secretary-designate Marcelo Ebrard. Nonetheless, Mexican officials have emphasized that they will focus on protecting the migrants' human rights, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The case catches Mexico at a strange time, notes the BBC, at the end of the Peña Nieto administration. Human rights groups have criticised the US and Mexican response to the caravan. Erika Guevara-Rosas of Amnesty International said in a statement: "Mexican authorities should not take a Trump approach treating people like a security threat."

A migration activist protesting in favor of the caravan in Mexico was detained by authorities on charges of damaging federal property, reports Animal Político.
The caravan in photos -- Huffington Post.
Trump's focus on the caravan is likely related to the upcoming midterm elections in the U.S., reports the Miami Herald. The New York Times analyzes the presidential obsession a bit more.

Many members of the caravan, in turn, blame Trump for fomenting conditions in Honduras that have pushed them to leave, including backing President Juan Orlando Hernández's questioned reelection last year. (AFP) The reasons for migrating are varied, but include fleeing gangs, finding stability, and searching for economic opportunities, reports the New York Times.

News Briefs

Venezuela
  • Venezuelan migration is also reshaping the region's diplomatic relations. Yesterday Ecuador ejected Venezuela's ambassador to that country, after Venezuelan Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez accused Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno of lying about the amount of Venezuelans who have left the country. The United Nations says more than 2.3 million Venezuelans are now living abroad, but Venezuelan officials insist the numbers are inflated. (Miami Herald)
  • Trump has called for international attention to Venezuela's humanitarian crisis, but in practice hasn't acted to ease the country's suffering -- and certainly isn't taking in more refugees, writes Marco Aponte-Moreno in the Conversation.
  • Catholic charity Cáritas released data showing that in some places in the country 53% of households recur to non-traditional sources, such as begging and the garbage, and 39% have had to sell assets to buy food. 48% of pregnant women show signs of severe malnutrition. -- David Smilde's Venezuela Weekly.
Brazil
  • Far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro is on course to win Brazil's presidency -- and he's gotten an illegal boost from a group of business leaders who have financed a multimillion-dollar “anti-Workers’ party campaign” of fake news on WhatsApp, reports Folha de S. Paulo. Bolsonaro denied any connection to the campaign, reports the Guardian.
  • Fake news has been a huge issue in this election season, and successful fact checking efforts on Facebook and Google seem to have pushed the phenomenon towards Whatsapp, warn Cristina Tardáguila, Fabrício Benevenuto and Pablo Ortellado in a New York Times op-ed. They analyze the different types of misinformation circulating on social media, and suggestions to limit their impact.
  • Among the many disasters observers are predicting for a Bolsonaro presidency is a "potential war on the environment," reports the Washington Post.
  • How dire is it? Well, the Economist considers his leftist opponent Fernando Haddad a relatively "reassuring figure," and characterizes Bolsonaro as a threat to the country's democracy. But it's probably too late for Haddad to convince an electorate that has rejected the Workers' Party.
Trade War
  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he warned President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama about doing business with China. (New York Times)
Drugs
  • Canada's legalization of pot this week is unlikely to have a major impact on Latin America's marijuana black market, reports InSight Crime -- but hopefully it will lead to a shift in international drug policies.
Mexico
  • Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador will poll voters over what to do about Mexico City's half-constructed new airport next week. For the Economist it's a dubious example of direct democracy.
  • Marbella Ibarra, a promoter of women's football in Mexico, was found dead this week near Tijuana. She had disappeared last month. (BBC)
Honduras
  • COPINH analyzes the flaws in Berta Cáceres' trial thus far.
  • Last week Honduran authorities arrested National Police Commissioner Lorgio Oquelí Mejía Tinoco and another 15 police officials. Several of the officers in question were supposed to have been let go already due to corruption, a sign of the ongoing challenges the country's police purge process faces, reports InSight Crime.
Urbanisms
  • Americas Quarterly's latest issue focuses on the region's "Urban Visionaries" -- and the policies they're implementing to policies make cities more sustainable, resilient and better prepared for tomorrow’s jobs.
Renewables
  • Uruguay and Chile are at the forefront of the Southern Cone's transition to non-conventional, renewable energy resources, writes Thomas Andrew O’Keefe at the AULA Blog.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Trump threatens to close border with Mexico (Oct. 18, 2018

The migrant caravan wending its way through Guatemala has grown to 4,000 people. Part of the caravan, which has split into two groups, is approaching the Mexico-Guatemala border, reports NBC. (See yesterday's and Tuesday's posts.) Mexico has sent 500 federal police to its border with Guatemala, and promises to deport people who enter the country illegally. However people with proper documentation will be allowed in, and those without have the right to apply for asylum, report the Guardian and the Washington Post

U.S. President Donald Trump has upped the ante, and is now threatening to deploy the U.S. military and close the border with Mexico to stop the group of would-be immigrants. This morning Trump fired off a series of tweets ratifying threats to cut off aid to Central American countries that do not stop the caravan and calling on Mexico " to stop this onslaught."
Trump's tweets warned that the group included "many criminals," though they don't seem very threatening at all in a Guardian report on the many people attempting the trek with young children in an attempt to escape from gang violence and crushing poverty.
Migration will certainly be on the agenda in a meeting tomorrow between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, notes the Washington Post. Since the U.S. stopped its policy of family separation in July, record levels of migrants have attempted to cross the country's southern border.

News Briefs

Nicaragua
  • Nicaragua's government has used weapons of war in its violent crackdown on protesters over the past six months, according to a new Amnesty International report. "Amnesty International believes that these violations were carried out not only with the knowledge of the highest authorities of the Nicaraguan state, including the President and Vice-President of the Republic, but also (in many cases) on their orders and under their command." Extrajudicial killings were carried out by police, in addition to violence by paramilitary pro-government groups, according to the report. (Guardian and El País)
  • Costa Rican vice president Epsy Campbell met with Pope Francis and expressed concern over the situation in Nicaragua. (Nuevo Diario)
Haiti
  • Tens of thousands of Haitians protested yesterday, demanding accountability for nearly $2 billion in funds from a Venezuelan sponsored development program. At least two people were killed yesterday, in a massive demonstration that got its start on social media, demanding to know “where is the PetroCaribe money," reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs.)
Guatemala
  • A recent landmark judicial ruling in Guatemala found that the army committed genocide against the Maya Ixil, but acquitted the army intelligence chief accused of criminal responsibility in the commission of these atrocities. Jo-Marie Burt writes about the historic trial in the Progressive
Venezuela
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro shares many characteristics with his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, argues Eva Golinger in a New York Times op-ed. The former Chávez advisor says both of them thrive on "deception, exaggeration and lies." Not the humanitarian crisis Venezuela is undergoing and that Maduro persists in denying is an excuse of a military invasion, she notes.
  • Trump talks tough on Venezuela, and has threatened military intervention, but the U.S. has actually increased purchases of Venezuelan oil recently, a key source of income for the Maduro administration, criticizes Andrés Oppenheimer in his Miami Herald column.
  • The White House said Cuba is responsible for propping up Maduro. (McClatchy DC)
  • Chinese investment in Latin America comes at too high a cost argues Shannon O'Neil in Bloomberg, focusing on the effects of loans to Venezuela.
Brazil
  • At least two people have died in a wave of politically motivated attacks this campaign season, reports the New York Times, based on an Agência Pública report. (See yesterday's briefs and Friday's.)
  • Haddad's campaign is emphasizing links between Bolsonaro and Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. (Guardian)
Environmental corner
  • Possible good news on Mexico's endangered vaquita porpoise. (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, October 17, 2018

Migrant caravan pushes on, despite Trump (Oct. 17, 2018)

Members of an Honduran migrant caravan traveling towards the U.S. hit the road again this morning in transit through Guatemala, reports the Associated Press. Hundreds hitched rides along the route, and received food and shelter from Guatemalan Catholic and Evangelical groups yesterday, reports El Periódico.

The estimated 1,600 to 3,000 people have attracted the ire of U.S. President Donald Trump, who yesterday threatened to cut aid funding to Honduras if it does not somehow recall its citizens who are attempting the trek north. He also said Guatemala and El Salvador would suffer financial consequences if they let the migrants cross through their territories, reports the BBC. (See yesterday's post.)

Caravan organizer and former Honduran lawmaker Bartolo Fuentes was detained in Guatemala yesterday and was to be deported to Honduras. And the Honduran government called on its citizens not to join the group. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández said some would-be migrants had returned home and would receive government support. (Reuters)

Mexico has promised to stop the caravan from entering its territory, reports the Washington Post.

The group, traveling together for safety along the dangerous trek, is expected to continue to grow as it continues towards the U.S. In April a similar caravan became an international spectacle thanks to Trump's focus on that group of migrants. (See April 4's post.) Similar caravans have been organized in recent years, mostly without attracting much attention, notes the Los Angeles Times. Many migrants plan to stay in Mexico rather than attempt asylum applications in the U.S.

Honduran activists blamed Donald Trump and the United States for the situation forcing thousands to flee Honduras -- noting U.S. recognition of Hernandez's controversial reelection last year despite broadly reported irregularities, reports Al Jazeera.

The Honduran migrant caravan defying Trump -- photos at the Guardian

News Briefs

Guatemala
  • Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales survived a third attempt to lift his immunity from prosecution. A congressional commission yesterday determined there wasn't enough evidence to start a criminal case against Morales, who is accused of accepting illicit campaign contributions for his 2015 campaign. (Associated Press and Nómada)
  • More bad news for the fight against corruption: the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) confirmed that several officials had their visas revoked or denied -- including Colombian lawyer Luis Fernando Orozco, who is investigating Morales in the alleged illicit campaign financing case. (Associated Press)(See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Four former Guatemalan Public Ministry officials rejected accusations from the current attorney general, Consuelo Porras, of improprieties under the administration of her predecessor in the post, Thelma Aldana, reports El Periódico. (See yesterday's briefs.)
Haiti
  • Haiti is gearing up for massive protests today in relation to alleged fraud and mismanagement in the $2 billion Venezuela-financed Petrocaribe program. CEPR explains the anger that has fueled the anti-corruption protests, fueled by a social media campaign using the hashtags #PetrocaribeChallenge and #KotKobPetwoKaribea (“where is the Petrocaribe money?”).
Brazil
  • Brazilian police asked prosecutors to charge President Michel Temer and ten close associates, including his daughter, with corruption, money-laundering and racketeering, reports Al Jazeera. The investigation is in relation to whether Temer took bribes to issue a decree in May 2017 to benefit companies in the port sector.
  • Infighting between leftist candidates in Brazil is hindering efforts at a grand coalition against far-right front-runner Jair Bolsonaro, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The stakes for democracy are pretty high according to many commentators -- but the elections will also be key for the future of the Amazon and Brazilian environmental protections. Bolsonaro has promised to eliminate the Environmental ministry, and lump those concerns into the Agriculture ministry, which would favor farmers over conservationists, reports the New York Times.
  • Bolsonaro did however reject an impromptu endorsement from David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. (New York Times)
  • Bolsonaro, who is leading in polls ahead of Oct. 28's second round election, plans a drastic change in the country's foreign policy, and would follow Trump's lead in the U.S. He has promised to rethink membership in developing nation blocs Mercosur and BRICS and move the country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. (Reuters)
  • There are mounting reports of political violence in Brazil -- including attacks on journalists, reports the Intercept. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • Bolsonaro will not participate in debates or campaign rallies ahead of the runoff vote, due to ongoing health problems after an assassination attempt last month. Congressman Onyx Lorenzoni, slated to become presidential chief of staff if Jair Bolsonaro wins the election, said the debates were pointless anyway, reports Reuters.
  • Yesterday Bolsonaro traded barbs on social media with his opponent, leftist Fernando Haddad, who he called a "puppet guided by a drunkard." (Associated Press)
Cuba
  • The United States launched a campaign called “Jailed for What?” at the United Nations to highlight the plight of an estimated 130 Cuban political prisoners. (Miami Herald)
Paraguay
  • "Paraguay’s public schools suffer from mismanagement, corruption and rural-urban inequality, but observers doubt that the new government is serious about addressing these issues," reports World Politics Review.
More migration
  • Most Venezuelan migrants are ending up in South American cities (see Oct. 4's briefs), but some are finding refuge in tiny rural communities such as remote Peruvian town of Iñapari in the Amazon. (Miami Herald)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Trump threatens new migrant caravan, Central American gov'ts (Oct. 16, 2018)

U.S. President Donald Trump has again fixated on a caravan of Central American migrants attempting to reach the U.S. On Twitter Trump threatened to cut aid to Honduras if the group of approximately 1,600 migrants was not deterred from crossing into Guatemala. Nonetheless migrants crossed into Guatemala yesterday, twice convincing police to allow them to pass, reports the Associated PressEl Periódico reports that the migrants sang the Honduran national anthem while walking at a deployment of Guatemalan police blocking the road ahead -- the officers parted to let them pass and escorted them along the walk. (See also Nómada.)

“The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the U.S. is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!” Trump said on Twitter.

The group started out from San Pedro Sula, one of the world’s most dangerous cities, on Friday, but grew in size since then, as migrants seek safety in numbers for the dangerous trek, reports the Washington Post. Some reports, including Reuters, have put the group's current number at 3,000.

Yesterday Mexico's immigration authority warned that migrants would have to individually meet legal requirements to enter the country.

Guatemala said in a statement on Sunday that it did not promote or endorse “irregular migration.” The Guatemalan government promised to comply with U.S. demands to halt the mass migration attempt. The Guardian notes that Guatemala's government is seeking U.S. support in its attempts to shut down the CICIG. (See below.)

News Briefs

Guatemala
  • Guatemalan Public Ministry head Consuelo Porras has remained publicly ambivalent regarding President Jimmy Morales' attempts to disarm the U.N. backed independent anti-corruption commission (CICIG). But in private she is opposed to their work continuing, and has taken steps to hinder the phased approach to taking down corruption networks, according to Nómada.
  • Yesterday Porras announced an investigation into the administration of her predecessor in the post, Thelma Aldana -- alleging improprieties in naming regional prosecutors, reports Nómada. In a press conference yesterday, Porras said eight promotions to regional prosecutor posts made Aldana were plagued with irregularities. Officials said they were pressured to resign from their posts, reports El Periódico. (See yesterday's briefs.) Porras said the investigation into Aldana would also include other alleged improprieties, reports República.
  • She also requested funds to pay for old contracts considered irregular by two of her predecessors. (Nómada)
  • There is talk of implementing a Fiscalía Transnacional in lieu of the current area of the public ministry that works with the CICIG, a way of undercutting corruption investigations, reports Nómada.
  • More CICIG officials were denied visas to work in Guatemala, reports CNN Español.
More on Migration
  • Would-be asylum seekers trying to cross from Mexico to the U.S. are stuck in physical limbo between the two countries -- thanks to a change in how the U.S. processes applicants, reports the Guardian.
  • Another part of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" regime towards migrants warps the intent of a visa aimed at helping undocumented immigrants who have been victims of violence and who cooperate with the investigation or prosecution of crimes. Now victims who are denied the visa are automatically deported, intolerably raising the stakes for those who seek justice, reports the Guardian.
  • A U.S. federal judge ordered the immediate reunification of an asylum seeking father who has been separated by immigration authorities from his two-year-old son for six months. (Guardian)
  • An increase in Chinese migration to the Caribbean -- where many immigrants open-family run business -- is reshaping the economies and societies, reports Ozy.
Nicaragua
  • Nicaragua's government freed 30 protesters who were detained Sunday while trying to participate in a protest march, reports AFP. (See yesterday's post.)
Peru
  • Two top aides to Peruvian opposition leader Keiko Fujimori were arrested while participating in a political demonstration yesterday. The detention deepens a political crisis, after the Popular Force leader was arrested on charges of corruption last week. The advisors were accused of participating in a criminal network led by Fujimori. (Reuters and La República)
Brazil
  • Far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro is maintaining his lead ahead of Oct. 28's run-off election. An Ibope poll released yesterday puts Bolsonaro at 59 percent of the vote, and his rival, Workers' Party candidate Fernando Haddad at 41. Haddad also has a higher rejection rate than the front-runner: 47 percent to Bolsonaro's 35. (Reuters)
  • PT expectations of a broad democratic front against Bolsonaro -- known for anti-democratic, mysogynist, and racist incendiary comments -- have not come to pass. Instead most major parties have opted for neutrality in the upcoming vote, reports Bloomberg.
  • Haddad must overcome voter anger at PT corruption and "persuade voters that he represents the hope of salvaging Brazilian democracy," writes Bryan McCann at Dissent.
  • Arnaldo Antunes published a broadly shared spoken manifesto against political violence.
  • Landless movement leader Aluisio Sampaio, known as Alenquer, was murdered in Brazil's Mato Grosso state last week. (Mongabay)
Venezuela
  • State-owned Venezuelan oil company PDVSA will pay holders of its 2020 bond some $950 million this month, after failing to make interest payments on most other bonds this year, reports Reuters.
  • The EU is not contemplating further sanctions against Venezuela at this moment, according to EFE.
Mexico
  • Mexican authorities detained a man accused of participating in the killing of activist Miriam Rodriguez on Mothers Day last year. (Associated Press)
Colombia
Chile
  • More than 700 residents of the Chilean coastal towns of Quintero and Puchuncavi have been hospitalized due to pollution in the past month and a half. (EFE)
  • Chile’s environmental court ordered Canada’s Barrick Gold Corp to definitively close the Chilean side of its stalled Pascua-Lama project, reports Reuters.
Barbados
  • Hundreds of government workers in Barbados will be laid off over the coming weeks as part of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) economic recovery and transformation plan. (Caribbean 360)
Argentina
  • The International Monetary Fund said it will reopen an office in Argentina, six years after leaving. (AFP)
Ecuador
  • Ecuador is setting stricter rules for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. (Guardian)
Left
  • NACLA has the English version of a piece in which Pablo Stefanoni argues that the region's left must devise new alternatives in the face of a rising right-wing fueled by the Pink Tides' successes and failures. 
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Monday, October 15, 2018

Nicaraguan gov't cracks down on protest (Oct. 15, 2018)

Thirty-eight people were detained yesterday in Managua for planning to participate in a protest against the Nicaraguan government. Police said 8 people were released, the other 30 remain in prison for "involvement in instigating or provocative activities," reports El Confidencial

The government characterized the arrests as part of an ongoing response to "terrorist groups." Organizers, faced with a deployment of 400 police and anti-riot officers throwing stun bombs and tear gas, cancelled the planned march. (More details on the repression, at El Confidencial.) 

On Saturday police said the march was illegal, and President Daniel Ortega criticized demonstrators saying they sought blood not peace. Anti-government demonstrations were declared illegal by Ortega on 28 September. (ReutersEl País, and BBC)

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said on Twitter that it was deeply worried by the arrests, and called on the government to guarantee the security of the protesters. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro demanded the government free detainees and stop repressing peaceful protests. And Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado called for "an urgent and immediate end to the repression in Nicaragua".

Yesterday Monsignor Silvio Baez, Managua auxiliary archbishop, lamented the repression, while Managua Archbishop, Cardenal Leopoldo Brenes, called for the government and opponents to return to a dialogue process. (Confidencial)

News Briefs

Colombia
  • Colombia's peace deal with the FARC lowered the country's homicide rates to the lowest level since 1975 -- but since 2016, social activists, mostly operating in former guerrilla territories, have been victims of violent attacks. At least 190 community leaders have been killed so far this year alone, according to Colombia’s Institute of Studies for Peace and Development. Most of the murders remain unsolved by authorities, but experts believe criminal groups consider the community leaders' development projects a potential threat to their illicit activities, reports the New York Times.
  • Colombian authorities seized more than 7 metric tons of drugs from users in the first nine days of a controversial new regulation that effectively eliminates a court ruling allowing for personal consumption. President Iván Duque's presidential decree allows police to confiscate and destroy even small quantities of drugs carried by people for "personal use." But the move "is more likely to affect low-level users than combat rising consumption and microtrafficking," reports InSight Crime, which classifies it as a throwback to historically unsuccessful hardline drug policies. (See last Wednesday's and Oct. 3's briefs.)
Guatemala
  • Guatemalan attorney general Consuelo Porras reported revoked the promotion of all the public ministry's regional prosecutors, alleging improprieties in their naming, reports Soy 502. She is expected to speak today about the measure which has provoked controversy, reports Prensa Libre.
  • Guatemala's Constitutional Court has served at the U.N. backed anti-corruption commission's principal protector from the President Jimmy Morales' attempts to disarm it. In retaliation, government officials have sought to portray the court as illegitimate. The court is paying a significant political costs just as several high-stakes cases are on the docket, reports Plaza Pública.
  • Nómada reports on the high-level officials who financed lobbying efforts against U.S. ambassador Todd Robinson and CICIG head Iván Velásquez.
  • Eleven CICIG employees still have not been granted visas from Guatemala's foreign ministry, reports El Periódico.
Venezuela
  • Venezuelan authorities insist -- contrary to all evidence -- that there is no humanitarian crisis going on in the country. A propaganda campaign portrays an alternative reality barely recognizable to citizens who cannot obtain vital medicines and food supplies. In part, the government is likely aiming to avoid potential justification for military intervention, WOLA expert David Smilde told the Washington Post.
  • Random: Donald Trump Jr. apparently enjoyed a dinner served by celebrity chef Salt Bae, who raised an outcry last month after serving Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in the midst of severe food shortages affecting Venezuelans, reports the Miami Herald. (See Sept. 20's briefs.)
Brazil
  • Brazilian far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro's history of mysogynist comments spurred an angry feminist backlash. Which in turn appears to have actually bolstered Bolsonaro's support among women who reject feminist protests and demands for equal pay, reports the Guardian.
  • In an interview with El País, Workers' Party candidate Fernando Haddad argues that Bolsonaro is indeed a threat to Brazilian democracy.
  • But bankers are thrilled at Bolsonaro's promise of liberal economic reform, reports Ozy.
El Salvador
  • Pope Francis canonized  the murdered Salvadoran archbishop Óscar Romero yesterday, reports the Guardian. Romero spoke out against military death squads and against social inequality. His assassination in 1980 helped spark El Salvador's 12-year civil war. His sainthood has long been opposed by conservative factions who say his activities were politically motivated, reports the New York Times. And thus Francis' sustained support for his canonization is also a powerful act of revindication, reports El País
  • But pride and joy in the official recognition of Romero is tempered by ongoing impunity for this and thousands of killings, reports the Guardian separately. (See Thursday's briefs.)
Migration
  • series in the Guardian focus on the ongoing impact of the U.S. zero tolerance immigration policy. One profiles Raices (the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) -- a little Texas not-for-profit that became the focal point for opposition to the Trump administration's family separation policy. Another piece profiles three father and son pairs, reunited by detained indefinitely -- far longer than the 20 legal limit for children. 
  • Months after the chaotic six-week policy that separated 2,654 children from their parents the Guardian analyzes the federal documents pertaining to a single week in May, showcasing how the overwhelming majority of individuals gave up their cases -- pertaining to low-level immigration offenses -- and pleaded guilty.
  • An estimated 1,600 people have joined a migrant caravan moving through Honduras towards Guatemala and, ultimately, the U.S. The group formed just one day after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to persuade their citizens to stay home, notes the Associated Press.
  • The numbers of Guatemalans seeking asylum in the U.S. has skyrocketed, surpassing applicants from El Salvador and Honduras, reports the Wall Street Journal. Food shortages, poverty and violence are motivating many of the migrants.
Diplomacy
  • Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador should avoid diplomatic isolation in Latin America, and should instead play a leadership role for leftist-democrats in a region increasingly led by conservative governments, argues Rafael Rojas in a New York Times Español op-ed.
Mexico
  • AMLO's incoming government should focus on justice for emblematic cases of human rights violations, reforming civilian police, and empowering victims to participate in truth commissions which in turn can help build peace in the country, argues a new International Crisis Group report.
China
  • Chinese economic investments abroad show a recurring pattern of human rights violations, according to the International Federation for Human Rights, which focused on projects carried out in South America. (El País)
Cuba
  • Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel joined the ranks of tweeting leaders, and an amassed more than 25,800 followers in the first week. (Miami Herald)
Uruguay
  • Difficulties implementing legal marijuana in Uruguay. (El País)
"I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. ... Plastics."
  • At least 20 Caribbean and Latin American nations -- including Jamaica -- either ban or are considering banning single-use plastic bags, straws and Styrofoam. (Washington Post)
Chile
  • Pope Francis expelled two retired Chilean bishops from the priesthood on Saturday. He made it clear that the two, who are accused of abusing minors, had no possibility of appeal. (New York Times)
Oct 12
  • October 12 is celebrated and reviled variously in Spain and the Americas as an opportunity to commemorate Columbus' arrival to the New World -- in a New York Times Español op-ed David Jiménez calls for a more inclusive historical perspective that reflects the deep wounds inflicted on indigenous Americans by Spanish colonizers.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Friday, October 12, 2018

Brazilian elections spur violent attacks (Oct. 12, 2018)

News Briefs

Brazil
  • It's tempting to draw comparisons between Brazil now and in 1964, when the military overthrew a leftist president. But presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro is a threat not because he is likely to actually implement authoritarian government, but because he espouses extreme views, argues the Economist. "... It is the quality of Brazilian democracy, rather than its survival, that is at more immediate risk."
  • For NACLA: "Brazil is unquestionably at a crossroads. If a pro-democratic front led by the Workers’ Party doesn’t hold back the conservative wave, Brazil will be the next victim of the reactionary- populist international groundswell."
  • And in the New York Review of Books, Vincent Bevins hazards that Bolsonaro "would reintroduce the dictatorship’s political ethos, preserved and intact, into modern Brazil."
  • Brazilians overwhelming opted for Bolsonaro, in rejection of scandal tainted political establishment parties and drawn to his tough on crime promises, reports the Economist separately. With a conservative leaning congress, Bolsonaro will likely be able to pass laws loosening gun ownership and lowering the age of criminal responsibility. But it's less clear he'll succeed at pension reform, warns the piece. In order to beat him in Oct. 28's second-round, Workers' Party candidate Fernando Haddad must convince voters that he is more of a centrist than a classic PT leader.
  • An Agência Pública investigation found a shocking level of electoral violence over the past 10 days -- at least 70 violent attacks. Though both candidates condemned the violence, most (50) were committed by Bolsonaro supporters against PT supporters, journalists, and members of the LGBT community. Activists say online threats have multiplied over the course of the campaign, and prosecutors have launched an investigation into an online game featuring a cartoon Bolsonaro who attacks feminists, leftists and political opponents, reports the Guardian.
  • The Bolsonaro campaign denied to former White House strategist Steve Bannon, contradicting claims by one of Bolsonaro’s sons, reports the Associated Press.
  • But it will probably surprise nobody that Bolsonaro is a Trump fan. (AFP)
Peru
  • Former dictator Alberto Fujimori was rescued from returning to prison to serve a human rights violations sentence by his party's lawmakers, who yesterday approved a law allowing for elderly prisoners to serve out their sentences from home, reports El País. (See Oct. 4's post.)
Nicaragua
  • Costa Rica granted political asylum to Nicaraguan human rights activist Alvaro Leiva. (Reuters)
  • The U.S. Senate is set to pass sanctions against Nicaraguan government officials and condition international lending to the country. (Rollcall)
Venezuela
  • The region needs to prepare for the arrival of even more Venezuelan migrants, as there are little signs the exodus from the country will stop anytime soon, warned the head of the United Nations refugee agency. (Miami Herald)
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused the U.S. government of seeking to assassinate him, yesterday. (Reuters)
  • France's foreign ministry summoned Venezuela's ambassador to France over the death of opposition councillor Fernando Alban while in custody on Monday, reports the Associated Press. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • Venezuela's government shut down a radio program that questioned the fairness of the country's elections. (El País)
Mexico
  • The new "Sistema Nacional de Búsqueda de Personas" started working this week in Mexico -- with the unenviable task of searching for at least 37,000 people officially recognized as disappeared by the government. But already the system is incomplete, reports Animal Político -- most of the state counterparts are not yet functioning, and the commission lacks the resources to carry out its work.
  • Mexico's incoming government will hold a four day consultation with citizens this month over whether to finish a partially built new Mexico City airport, or scrap it and upgrade an existing military base to complement the existing congested international airport, reports ReutersAnimal Político delves into the multiple issues over the various alternatives.
  • Mexico's outgoing Secretary of National Defense Salvador Cienfuegos joined a growing chorus of calls to legalize opium for medical purposes. (UPI)
Guatemala
  • InSight Crime has a podcast on CICIG head Iván Velásquez -- "giant-slayer."
  • In Guatemala, indigenous women are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth as non-Indigenous women, and Indigenous infants are two-thirds more likely to die than non-Indigenous infants, reports Al Jazeera in a piece on the shrinking presence of indigenous midwives. 
Urbanismos
  • The Israeli Embassy in Guatemala has urged mayors to name streets, squares and parks throughout the country with the name "Jerusalem the capital of Israel." (YNet)
  • The Guardian has a photo-essay of Mexico City's open-air markets pictured from above.
Correction: in yesterday's post I mistakenly said Keiko Fujimori was detained for allegations of money laundering in her 2011 and 2016 presidential campaigns. The charges relate solely to the 2011 campaign.

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

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Keiko Fujimori arrested in money laundering case (Oct. 11, 2018)

Peruvian opposition leader Keiko Fujimori was arrested in money laundering investigation yesterday. Prosecutors are investigating whether she accepted illegal campaign contributions during her 2011 and 2016 presidential campaigns. The arrest was unexpected: She was taken into custody after going to the chief prosecutor's office to provide testimony in the investigation, reports the Associated Press. Fujimori is considered a flight risk, and has been detained for ten days.

Prosecutors are investigating several large undeclared campaign donations and potential links to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, reports the Guardian.  Prosecutor José Domingo Pérez accused her of running a criminal network within the Fuerza Popular party, and accepting $1.2 million in illicit funding from Odebrecht, reports La República. (El Comercio has more details on the accusation.) The money was allegedly laundered as small contributions from supporters and income from fundraisers. (See La República for more details.)

Fujimori denies the allegations, and said the move is politically motivated judicial persecution, reports the New York Times. "Persecution is disguised as justice in our country," she wrote in a letter posted on Twitter.

Prosecutors ordered the arrest of 19 other people, including the heads of her 2016 presidential campaign. (El Comercio recounts the main events in the investigation.)

It's the latest dramatic twist in relation to the Fujimori's, who have dominated the country's political scene for decades -- and experts say it may be key in weakening a political dynasty that has weakened Peru's democratic institutions. 

The detention comes only a few days after her father, former dictator Alberto Fujimori was ordered back to prison to serve out the remainder of a 25-year sentence for human rights violations. (See Oct. 4's post.) Earlier this year, Keiko Fujimori, who leads the powerful Fuerza Popular block in Congress, played a key role in forcing former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to resign. (See March 22's post.) And in December of last year her brother, lawmaker Kenji Fujimori, apparently helped save Kuczynski from an impeachment motion in exchange for a presidential pardon for Alberto Fujimori -- which was revoked last week by a Supreme Court judge. (See posts for Jan. 2 and Oct. 4.)

Popular Force has been losing power, in part because of allegations of corruption which have angered citizens. An Ipsos poll published last month gave her an approval rating of just 13 percent, reports the Financial Times. Voters shunned the party in municipal elections on Sunday. A schisim between Keiko and Kenji has contributed to a split within the party. And Keiko Fujimori was implicated in a judicial scandal earlier this year in which leaked audios appeared to show high level judges peddling influence. (See July 20's briefs.)

The accusations and detention are likely a result of that loss of power and will further the phenomenon said analysts consulted by El Comercio.

Current president Martín Vizcarra has made combatting corruption a central cause, and has called for a December referendum on political and judicial reforms targeting graft. On Dec. 9, voters will be asked to decide on the reform of the national council of magistrates, measure to regulate political party financing, a ban on immediate reelection for lawmakers, and a return to a bicameral congress, reports La República. (See this recent Economist article on how Vizcarra's reform efforts have earned him popular support.)

News Briefs

Guatemala
  • Plaza Pública investigation found the Guatemalan government ordered military patrols in the areas surrounding the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the U.S. embassy in Guatemala City on Aug. 31. The military deployment, which involved U.S.-donated jeeps intended for combatting drug trafficking, occurred as President Jimmy Morales announced he would not renew the mandate for the CICIG. (See Sept. 3's post.) Morales and his officials have argued that the patrols were routine. The scandal "exposes Morales’ temptation to abuse his power in an effort to hinder both criminal investigations in Guatemala and the actions foreign governments have been taking to support those investigations," according to InSight Crime.
Venezuela
  • The death of a Venezuelan opposition councillor in government detention earlier this week -- ruled a suicide by authorities but assassination by government opponents -- has shaken up Venezuelan politics, writes Hugo Pérez Hernaíz at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. (See Tuesday's post.)
El Salvador
  • Oscar Romero will be canonized in Rome on Sunday by Pope Francis. The Salvadoran priest, a champion of social justice, was killed nearly 40 years ago by a right-wing death squad. Conservative factions have opposed his canonization because of his association with liberation theology, reports the Guardian.
  • In the National Catholic Reporter, Gene Palumbo explores the injustices on the ground in rural El Salvador pushed Romero to embrace land reform and oppose the country's military dictatorship.
Nicaragua
  • Despite government assurances of normalcy, "Nicaragua increasingly seems like a country on the brink of a breakdown," writes Christine Wade at World Politics Review.
Brazil
  • Roger Waters called Brazilian presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro a neo-fascist at a São Paulo concert. "... as a believer in human rights – and that includes the right to peaceful protest under the law – I would prefer not to live under the rules of someone who believes military dictatorship is a good thing," he told the crowd. "I remember the bad old days in South America – with the juntas of the military dictatorships – and it was ugly,” The comments divided the 45,000 strong audience: part cheered while others chanted "Fora PT," reports the Guardian. (See Monday's post.)
  • A Datafolha poll yesterday showed that Bolsonaro had 58 percent of voter support, compared to leftist runner-up Fernando Haddad’s 42 percent. (Reuters)
  • Brazilian prosecutors are investigating Bolsonaro's top economic advisor for an alleged investment fraud. Economist Paulo Guedes is considered a potential economy minister, and has made Bolsonaro a market favorite against leftist Fernando Haddad. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Bolsonaro's campaign promised to reduce punishments for farmers who break environmental laws, reports Reuters.
  • Nearly all of Brazil's left has united in support of Haddad ahead of Oct. 28's run-off vote. (EFE)
  • Bolsonaro attracted voter support in part by pushing the bugbear that Brazil could "become the next Venezuela," reports the Guardian.
  • Bolsonaro said he will skip tonight's scheduled presidential debate, due to health complications related to a stabbing last month. (Associated Press)
Uruguay
  • Uruguayan authorities will seek foreign investment in the country's legal marijuana industry. (EFE)
Security
  • U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will speak today at the second security conference with leaders of Mexico and Central America on ongoing concerns about illegal immigration, corruption and drug trafficking, reports McClatchy DC. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, Salvadoran Vice President Oscar Ortiz, Mexican Security of Foreign Relations Luis Videgaray and Mexican Secretary of Government Alfonso Navarrete are expected to attend. 
Mexico
  • Brazilian prosecutors accused their Mexican counterparts of holding up the investigation into bribes paid by Odebrecht in Mexico, reports the Associated Press.
  • Al Jazeera analyzes the controversy regarding Mexico City's new airport.
  • U.S. and Mexican authorities have discovered an incomplete cross-border drug smuggling tunnel complete with a rail track and a solar-powered lighting and ventilation system, reports the Guardian.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...