Monday, May 23, 2022

The Latin America Daily Briefing is Moving

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The Latin America Daily Briefing is moving to Substack, part of a broader redesign project that aims to get you the same content you know (and hopefully love) in better formats with fewer technical glitches. 

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Thank you all!

-- Jordana

Gang warfare in Haiti (May 23, 2022)

Gang warfare in Haiti's Port-au-Prince has reached new peaks of intensity and brutality. Experts say the scale and duration of gang clashes, the power criminals wield and the amount of territory they control has reached levels not seen before, reports the Associated Press.

The UN said that between April 24 and May 16, at least 92 people unaffiliated with gangs, and some 96 alleged gang members, were reportedly killed during coordinated armed attacks in the sprawling Haitian capital. Another 113 were injured, 12 reported missing, and 49 kidnapped for ransom, according to figures corroborated by UN human rights officers, although the actual number of those killed may be much higher. (See today's Just Caribbean Updates)

The United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, said last week armed violence has reached “unimaginable and intolerable levels” in Haiti and that the surge in violence is being fuelled by heavily armed gangs in Port-au-Prince. (United Nations)

Gangs also are recruiting more children than before, arming them with heavy weapons and forming temporary alliances with other gangs in attempts to take over more territory for economic and political gain ahead of the country’s general elections, reports the Associated Press.

The security situation has a direct impact on the country's political crisis, notes the Latin America Risk Report: "Even accepting some level of electoral weakness if Haiti holds elections this year, elections under the current levels of gang violence and influence would not be accepted by much of Haitian society. Solving the security situation must be a priority."


Haiti's Ransom

New York Times investigation -- The Ransom -- delves into the reparations paid by Haiti after it won its freedom from France. "What if? What if the nation had not been looted by outside powers, foreign banks and its own leaders almost since birth? How much more money might it have had to build a nation? Persistent corruption is one reason for Haiti's apparently perpetual crisis. But a history of crippling reparations and later extractivist policies by French financial institutions are critical to understanding Haiti's current woes.

For more than a year, a team of Times correspondents scoured long-forgotten documents languishing in archives and libraries on three continents to answer that question, to put a number on what it cost Haitians to be free. For generations after independence, Haitians were forced to pay the descendants of their former slave masters,  the world’s first and only country to do so. Loans from French banks were used to finance these payments, what became known as Haiti’s “double debt” — the ransom and the loan to pay it — a stunning load that boosted the fledgling Parisian international banking system and helped cement Haiti’s path into poverty and underdevelopment, reports the New York Times, based on original historical records.

New York Times investigation into historical records uncovers how Parisian bank Crédit Industriel et Commercial, which in 1880 set up Haiti's national bank, choked Haiti’s economy, taking much of the young nation’s income back to Paris and impairing its ability to start schools, hospitals and the other building blocks of an independent country. Crédit Industriel, known in France as C.I.C., is now a $355 billion subsidiary of one of Europe’s largest financial conglomerates.

And the history continues to have significant repercussions: French diplomats admit that Jean-Bertrand Aristide's sudden calls for reparations in 2003, a bombshell that became a hallmark of his presidency, played a role in his eventual ouster in a coup supported by France and the U.S., reports the New York Times.

News Briefs

  • There’s no single trajectory for how Latin American countries came to legalize abortion -- recent examples include laws passed by Congress, Supreme Court decisions and, soon, Chile might include the right in a new constitution, writes Omar G. Encarnación in The Nation. But, broadly speaking, Latin American activists have framed the question as one of human rights, rather than personal choice as in the U.S.

  • Despite these significant advances, millions still live in a horrendous reality, writes Diana Cariboni in Nacla. Abortion is completely banned in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Suriname. Raped girls and women are forced to give birth in the countries with total abortion bans, but also in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. There seems little hope of any change to abortion restrictions in Central America, but the next big win could come in the region’s most populous country, Brazil.
  • Cubans have been hit by mass shortages of basic goods as part of its pressing economic crisis -- lack of milk is one of the most potent symbols of the country’s precarious state, reports the Washington Post.
Regional Relations
  • The U.S. Biden administration is considering inviting a Cuban representative to attend the upcoming Summit of the Americas as an observer, reports the Associated Press. It’s unclear if Cuba would accept the invitation — which would be extended to someone in the foreign ministry, not the foreign minister himself — and whether that would assuage concerns among Latin American and Caribbean leaders who have threatened to boycott the meeting over Cuba and Venezuela's exclusion.

  • Guyana will be attending the upcoming Summit of the Americas to discuss high-priority matters, highlighting the dilemma countries in the region face, as they threaten a boycott over the likely exclusion by the U.S. of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. (NewsRoom)
  • Even if Brazilians deny President Jair Bolsonaro a second term in October, it will take a generation to dismantle his many negative legacies, from loosened gun regulation to attacks on democratic institutions. But the most serious is Bolsonaro's example of negationism, write Conrado Hübner Mendes, Mariana Celano de Souza Amaral and Marina Slhessarenko Barreto in the Post Opinión.

  • Some of the world’s biggest mining companies have withdrawn requests to research and extract minerals on Indigenous land in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, and have repudiated Bolsonaro’s efforts to legalize mining activity in the areas. (Associated Press)
  • Four of the six presidential tickets in Colombia's May 29 election have an Afro-Colombian vice-presidential candidate — a remarkable shift in a country historically led by men from a small group of elite families, reports the Washington Post. But Francia Márquez, a Black environmental activist who has never held political office is by far the most visible: she won the third most votes in the country’s March presidential primary, and is now running alongside leftist frontrunner Gustavo Petro.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Castillo named four new cabinet ministers yesterday -- including Interior and Mining. The latest of many Cabinet shuffles in less than a year in office comes amid rising tensions over protests in the country's mining regions. (ReutersInfobae)
  • Ecuador's former vice-president Jorge Glas, who served 4.5 years in prison on a bribery conviction before being released last month, was arrested on Friday by police under a court order to return him to jail. (Reuters)
Critter Corner
  • An international team of 120 institutions has collected a massive archive of Amazon camera trap data— with records for over 150,000 snapshots taken between 2001 and 2020. It’s an attempt not just to get the information in one place but to enable researchers to study some of the biggest challenges that face the region. Many — such as climate change, deforestation and fire — are human-caused, reports the Washington Post.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...Latin America Daily Briefing

Friday, May 20, 2022

U.S. navigates choppy diplomatic waters (May 20, 2022)

News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • U.S. failure to help Latin American democracies has contributed to the region's multiple democratic failures, and weakened U.S. influence, writes Scott Hamilton in Global Americans. Strengthening of democratic institutions and the promotion of democratic values should be the top U.S. national security priority everywhere in the region, he argues, which would align the U.S. with regional aspirations for democracy, economic opportunity, and social justice. "U.S. efforts to invest in security forces, nudge countries to “pick sides” in Great Power competition, or increase the use of sanctions for those that don’t follow its lead would only hasten the decline in U.S. influence."

  • The U.S. Biden administration has several reasons for its newly announced (marginal) shifts towards moderation in its policies towards Cuba and Venezuela -- including concerns over migration and oil shortages related to conflict with Russia. But officials could also be aiming to counteract the threat of a regional boycott of the upcoming Summit of the Americas, motivated by its stance towards these countries. "Even if the Biden administration does not end up including Cuba and Venezuela in the summit, these new policies show that Washington is not unshakably wedded to a hard-line position toward the countries," writes Catherine Osborn in the Latin America Brief. (See Wednesday's post.)

  • U.S. officials accused Cuba of creating controversy about its possible exclusion from the US-hosted Summit of the Americas next month to portray Washington as the “bad guy” and distract attention from Havana’s human rights record at home. Kerri Hannan, deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said countries that have threatened to skip the regional meeting if Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are not invited should attend or else they would lose an opportunity to engage with the United States, reports Al Jazeera.

  • The Biden administration appeared set to renew its assessment that Cuba is among a handful of countries "not cooperating fully" with the United States in the fight against terrorism, reports Reuters.
  • U.S. National Security Council Senior Director Juan González, one of President Joe Biden's top Latin America advisors, dismissed calls for the US to unilaterally lift sanctions against Venezuela, saying that any relief should be accompanied first by the Latin American government taking more democratic steps, reports Bloomberg. (See Wednesday's post.)

  • Britain said it was launching talks over a free trade deal with Mexico, reports Reuters.
  • More than 100,000 people have disappeared in Mexico since records started being kept in 1964 -- but most victims were added to the list after 2006. Activists, victims collectives and organizations of civil society reiterated calls to the government to respond to the crisis with integral policies, reports El País.

  • "Disappearances are the fear that sneaks in like fog and eats away at the social fabric." Quinto Elemento Lab illustrates the numbers and the deeper implications of Mexico's crisis of disappearances.
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's government negotiator with the MS-13, Carlos Marroquín, told the gang that he personally aided in the international escape of “Crook,” an MS-13 figurehead, despite a U.S. extradition request. The revelation is part of El Faro's investigation into the negotiations between the Bukele administration and the street gang, and how their breakdown led to a spate of record killings in March. (See Wednesday's post.)
  • Guatemalans are paying attention to the ups and downs of their country’s institutions like never before -- "a momentous change in public attitudes, with the potential to reorient the country’s politics," writes Claudia Méndez Arriaza in Americas Quarterly. President Alejandro Giammattei's decision to give attorney general Consuelo Porra a second term, earlier this month, has raised tensions among a public anxious to see the country's endemic corruption tackled, she writes.
  • A new InSight Crime investigation delves into the illegal trafficking of cattle from the natural reserves of Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala to Mexico. This trade has resulted in the deforestation of thousands of hectares and numerous acts of violence against Indigenous communities. The growing economy both satisfies the growing global demand for beef and helps to mask other criminal activities held in parallel, including cocaine trafficking and money laundering.

  • AS/COA looks at cryptocurrency proliferation and regulation in countries like Argentina, Brazil, and El Salvador.
  • Programmed testing of Brazil's electronic voting system -- a three-day battery of attempted assaults by 20 would-be hackers -- ended last week without succeeding at disrupting the system, reports the Associated Press. While the tests occur regularly, they have taken on particular relevance given President Jair Bolsonaro's insistent questioning of the electoral system's integrity.
  • A spate of gang-related killings in Uruguay’s capital of Montevideo, alongside violence throughout the country, is raising debate about the alleged success of the government's hardline security strategies towards microtrafficking, reports InSight Crime.
  • A landmark criminal trial in Argentina has found the state guilty of the massacre of more than 400 indigenous people nearly a century ago. (BBC)
  • Nearly 22% of Chile’s electricity is generated by solar and wind farms, putting it far ahead of both the global average. But natural gas companies obtained government priority in the power market, undermining the country's push to renewables, reports the Associated Press.

  • Chile's Constitutional Convention entered its final phase, a "harmonization" of the text put together by commissions and approved by the plenary of constitutional delegates. The delegates carrying out this final task did not form part of the other commissions that proposed norms for the draft magna carta, reports La Bot Constituyente.

  • Among the nerdier tasks, the Harmonization Commission heard from linguist Claudia Poblete who convinced delegates to jettison the legal text practice of excessive capitalization. (La Bot Constituyente)

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

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Brazil Supreme Court rejects Bolsonaro complaint (May 19, 2022)

A Brazilian Supreme Court judge rejected a complaint filed by President Jair Bolsonaro in which he accused another justice of abusing his authority, the latest in an ongoing battle between Brazil's executive and judicial branches ahead of October's presidential elections. 

Bolsonaro filed a complaint arguing that Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes is slow-walking an investigation to determine whether a group of Bolsonaro allies are running a social media network aimed at spreading threats and fake news against Supreme Court justices. He said the pace is aimed at hurting his standing in an electoral year. Supreme Court Justice Dias Toffoli denied the request, arguing that the facts described “do not bring evidence, even minimal,” of a crime. (Associated Press)

Bolsonaro and associates have continued to cast doubt on the integrity of the elections, particularly the country's long-established electronic voting system. His son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, said that a loss in Bolsonaro's reelection bid would not be credible, and castigated the country's electoral court for rejecting military suggestions to improve transparency. Earlier this month, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) said several of the suggestions were already in practice, reports Folha de S. Paulo.

Indeed, it is Brazil’s democracy and the independence of its judiciary are under threat from Bolsonaro's government, according to a group of 80 lawyers and legal experts, who yesterday appealed to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayan, to visit Brazil and report on attacks on the Supreme Court and the TSE. (Al Jazeera)

In a speech today, de Moraes said that the TSE currently has the same desire for democracy and the same courage to face those who do not believe in the democratic regime that it had when it was created 90 years ago. (Reuters)

More Brazil
  • Bolsonaro -- along with unlikely allies Google and Facebook -- successfully postponed in Congress an omnibus bill that would establish moderation and transparency requirements for the internet platforms and payment for news content. Which means the so-called Fake News Bill is unlikely to enter into play before October's elections, writes Patricia Campos Mello at Poynter. "Bolsonaro will likely head into the 2022 presidential campaign without any risk of restrictions on Telegram, WhatsApp and the social media platforms he uses to spread the Brazilian version of “Stop the Steal.”"
News Briefs

  • Covid-19 cases in the Americas surged 27.2 percent last week over the prior one. Central America saw the largest percentage rise in cases, with infections soaring by 80%. The Pan American Health Organization warned that Covid is on the rise again in the region as many countries have abandoned measures like masking and social distancing and many lag in vaccination rates. (Reuters)

  • Experts who track Conti -- the Russia-based ransomware gang that has held Costa Rica's tax collection and export systems hostage for over a month -- said the group had recently begun to shift its focus from the United States and Europe to countries in Central and South America, perhaps to retaliate against nations that have supported Ukraine, reports the New York Times.
Regional Relations
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has found an unlikely political lifeline thanks to geopolitical shifts caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Venezuelan political deadlock, which prompted a major policy rethink from the U.S. Biden administration, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)

  • Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said the country hopes to receive a response today or tomorrow regarding Mexico's proposal for all countries in the region to attend the Summit of the Americas, reports Reuters. A growing number of Latin American leaders have said they would not attend the conference or not attend if all countries in the region were not invited.

  • U.S. President Joe Biden’s new Cuba measures "appear driven by the confluence of the migration crisis and Latin America’s rebellion over U.S. Cuba policies," writes William LeoGrande in World Politics Review. (See Tuesday's post and yesterday's.)

  • The growing chorus of regional dissent regarding the U.S. decision to likely exclude Cuba from the Summit of the Americas is nothing new. "Obama’s 2014 decision to normalize relations was heavily influenced by the public scolding he received from Latin American heads of state at the Sixth Summit of the Americas in 2012. Even close U.S. allies warned that unless Cuba was invited to the 2015 summit, they would not attend." (World Politics Review)

  • U.S. First Lady Jill Biden is embarking on a high-stakes, six-day diplomatic tour of three Latin American countries: Panama, Ecuador and Costa Rica. (Washington Post)
  • Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry resumed negotiations with the opposition coalition, the “Montana Accord," which favors the creation of a transition government to bridge the gap between the Henry government and a government to eventually be democratically elected. Negotiations between the Haitian government and the group had been on hold since February 14, reports the Latin America Risk Report.
  • Chile's congress voted to approve a 14.3 percent increase in the minimum wage yesterday, as the country struggles with soaring inflation, reports Reuters.
  • Guatemala's congress approved a $500 million loan from the World Bank that the government has said will be used to pay down debt, freeing up funds for social spending, reports Reuters.
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's big bet on bitcoin has closed some potential off-ramps from a current fiscal crisis that includes an upcoming major debt repayment, reports Reuters.
  • Argentina carried out its postponed 2020 Census yesterday. Infobae reports on the adventure of reaching one of the country's most remote inhabitants. (Infobae)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

U.S. encourages Venezuela talks (May 18, 2022)

The U.S. Biden administration has slightly eased restrictions on Chevron's ability to negotiate with Venezuela's government. Senior administration officials said the move was intended to support talks between the government of President Nicolás Maduro and the U.S.-backed opposition, reports the Washington Post

Senior U.S. officials said resumption of the negotiations were expected to be announced by Venezuelan officials late yesterday, reports the New York Times. The chairs of the negotiating teams for the Maduro government and the opposition Unitary Platform met yesterday, and tweeted about "rescuing the spirit of Mexico," in reference to talks suspended last year. (Twitter)

The U.S. Treasury Department license for Chevron,  the main U.S. oil company with assets in Venezuela, is the first in what could be a series of steps toward oil sanctions relief, depending on the Maduro government’s cooperation, according to officials. Additionally, Carlos Erik Malpica-Flores — a former high-ranking PDVSA official and nephew of Venezuela’s first lady — will be removed from a list of sanctioned individuals, reports the Associated Press.

Delcy Rodríguez, a top senior Maduro administration official implied in a Twitter post that the sanction deal was broader than what was announced by the White House, and would allow foreign oil companies to restart operations in Venezuela.

It remains unclear whether the U.S.'s limited allowances will be enough to entice Maduro to offer meaningful political concessions to the opposition, notes NYT. Further sanctions relief would be tied to progress at the talks in Mexico City, reports the Miami Herald.

U.S. officials told reporters the tiny concessions were made at the request of the opposition Unitary Platform. For example, McClatchy reports that a senior U.S. official said "It is very important to stress that this was done in coordination with the interim president, Juan Guaidó, to move the talks forward. But the coalition denied the reports yesterday. (Efecto Cocuyo) The opposition said the request came directly from Maduro, reports the New York Times.

U.S. officials were emphatic yesterday that the phased plan leaves the sanctions regime against Maduro in place -- an attempt to placate critics who include U.S. lawmakers from both parties who are opposed to any deal with Maduro.

The move, along with Monday's decision to ease certain sanctions against Cuba (see yesterday's post), come as the U.S. Biden administration "is trying to take advantage of a closing window of opportunity in Latin America before midterm elections in November," and as Latin America shifts leftward, leaving the U.S. isolated in its approach to Venezuela and Cuba, reports the Washington Post.

Already the Biden administration is facing significant pushback in the region regarding the possible exclusion of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua from the upcoming Summit of the Americas. (See May 12's post, for example.) "Countries across the hemisphere are looking for ways to respond to the Venezuelan crisis that matches the reality on the ground, which is that Maduro retains de facto control of the territory," WOLA Venezuela analyst Geoff Ramsey told the WaPo. 

More Venezuela
  • Several international airlines are looking at restarting flights to Caracas, which has been significantly isolated in recent years, reports El País.

MS-13 confessed responsibility for March killings, response to breakdown of gov't negotiations

Extracts from El Faro's exclusive investigation.

High-ranking Mara Salvatrucha-13 (MS-13) sources confessed to El Faro their responsibility for the killings of 87 people between March 25 and 27 in El Salvador, including 62 of them on March 26, the most violent day in the past two decades. MS-13 spokespersons revealed that the murders were carried out in response to what they call a “betrayal” by President Nayib Bukele's administration of the covert pact that reduced homicides since 2019.

As proof of their dialogue with the Bukele administration, MS-13 provided El Faro with seven audio files in which Carlos Marroquín, one of the negotiators on behalf of the president, speaks with at least one member of the gang during and after the violent weekend in March. In the recordings, Marroquín, the administration’s Director for the Reconstruction of Social Fabric, details to his MS-13 counterparts his efforts during the spike in homicides to convince Bukele to keep the agreement alive.

The recordings detail how the killings in late March were the way the Mara Salvatrucha exerted pressure on the government after its members' arrests, explains El Faro.

In the six weeks following the spike in violence and the souring of the agreement between the Bukele administration and the gangs, authorities claim to have made over 31,000 arrests and the press has registered at least 11 in-custody deaths. Human rights groups  have reported widespread arbitrary detentions and Bukele announced he would severely ration and limit prison meals.

In one of the later recording Marroquín says: "Inside they’re torturing people, right? They’re suffering and being humiliated. They’re treating them like animals, and that’s not what we’ve been fighting for. We did it to generate better conditions for those inside and for the people on the street, the communities, the poorest people. Right now all I know, brother, from what they told me, is that it’s going to get worse in the communities. So yeah, put people on alert, brother, because things are going to get even more fucked."

Ruling party legislators have called for a second 30-day extension of the emergency measures, currently set to expire on May 27.

News Briefs

  • A UK deportation flight to Jamaica took off today with seven people onboard. Home Office deportation flights to Jamaica are among the most contentious carried out by the department, reports the Guardian, as many of those earmarked for removal have Windrush connections or have been in the UK since childhood, with children and other close relatives in the country.
  • This year is likely to be the seventh consecutive above-average Atlantic hurricane season. (Severe Weather Europe)

  • Early investigations and intelligence indicate that the Mexico's Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación is striking partnerships with drug rings in Guatemala – active on the Pacific Coast and the western border with Mexico – that receive shipments of cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela and deliver them to the cartel, reports InSight Crime.
  • Mexican farmers have travelled to London to demand that mining company Fresnillo compensate them for illegal mining on their land and explain violence against anti-mining activists. (Guardian)
  • A government proposal for Peru to purchase all the country’s coca production has generated fierce debate, but experts question whether it is even feasible, reports InSight Crime.
  • "Graphic Turn: Like the Ivy on a Wall" at Madrid's Reina Sofía explores how graphic art – whether on walls, posters, prints, flyers or fabric – has been used to confront political repression and demand social justice in Latin America and beyond over the past 50 years. (Guardian)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

U.S. to partially lift Cuba sanctions (May 17, 2022)

The U.S. Biden administration announced a partial lifting of sanctions on Cuba yesterday. Changes will include restoring flights to Cuban cities other than Havana and reestablishing a family reunification program suspended for years. The changes also include relaxing the ban on remittances. A ban on non-family remittances will be eased to allow payment to independent Cuban entrepreneurs, and the Treasury Department has issued at least one license to allow direct equity investment in a private Cuban firm. The Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which has not taken new cases since 2016 and left 22,000 pending applications in limbo, will also be reinstated.

The new policies follow the recommendations of a long-anticipated review of U.S. policy toward Cuba, launched after a Cuban government crackdown on widespread street protests on the island last summer, reports the Washington Post. The moves are part of U.S. President Joe Biden's campaign promise to return to the Obama administration's diplomatic thaw with the island, after a significant reversal by the Trump administration. However, the Biden administration’s policy review concluded that the best way to bring about change in Cuba was direct engagement with its people — not its government — which had also been the underlying logic of President Barack Obama’s opening to Havana, reports the New York Times.

“Fundamentally, these policies are ones that are designed to advance our own national interests” rather than establish any new relationship with Cuba’s communist government, one U.S. government official told the Washington Post.

Cuba is facing the worst economic crisis since the Soviet Union collapsed, with widespread shortages of food and medicines, and thousands of Cubans trying to reach the United States, notes the Miami Herald.

Other Obama-era policies, like Individual "people-to-people" travel will not be reinstated, for example. A senior administration official said the U.S. also would not remove entities from the Cuba Restricted List, the list of Cuban government- and military-aligned companies that U.S. companies are blocked from doing business with, reports NPR.

The United States will use "electronic payment processors" for remittances to avoid funds going directly to the Cuban government, officials said, adding that the United States had already engaged with the Cuban government "about establishing a civilian processor for this." (Reuters)

The changes elicited immediate backlash from U.S. politicians who believe that choking off the Cuban government's revenue is the best way to bring about democratization and respond to human rights violations.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguezcalled the Biden administration move "a limited step in the right direction." He added that the decision doesn’t change the embargo nor most of Trump's measures against the island. (Associated Press)

News Briefs

Costa Rica
  • A ransomware gang that infiltrated some Costa Rican government computer systems has upped its threat, saying its goal is now to overthrow the government, reports the Associated Press. The Russian-speaking Conti gang tried to increase the pressure to pay a ransom by raising its demand to $20 million.
  • Brazilian Senate leaders are stepping up support for the country's Supreme Court, which has been repeatedly attacked by President Jair Bolsonaro who questions the integrity of the court-run voting system ahead of October's elections. A group of senators has arranged meetings between lawmakers and senior justices, successfully pressing Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco to take a more forceful public stand, reports Reuters.

  • "There is little doubt in Brazil that the upcoming elections are the most momentous since the military dictatorship ended almost four decades ago," reports El País, describing "a duel of epic proportions" between incumbent Bolsonaro and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

  • Presidential front-runner Lula has launched a charm offensive aimed at winning over Brazil's business community, with delegates emphasizing in dialogues with executives that Lula is a known quantity whose tenure in government was good for financial markets and the broader economy, reports the Financial Times.
  • The U.S. has barred Guatemala's Attorney General Consuelo Porras from entering the country, accusing her of being involved in corruption, reports the BBC.

  • Guatemalan judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez received death threats after he ruled to send 9 military officials to trial in the 1980s "Death Squad Dossier" case, write Jo-Marie Burt y Paulo Estrada in El Faro, delving into the many details of the case and how it affects one of Guatemala's most powerful families.
Regional Relations
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will receive a delegation from the U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas organizers, in which his government will set out why it wants all countries in the region to take part. A chorus of voices in Latin America and the Caribbean has spoken out against U.S. plans to exclude Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. (Reuters)
  • López Obrador has too often overlooked the most basic steps necessary to ensure women’s safety­ – and in some cases has undermined them entirely, writes Cecilia Farfán-Méndez in Americas Quarterly. "The good news is that evidence-based solutions do exist, and there are steps the administration can take immediately to start to correct course."

  • Mexico will waive import duties for one year on a range of household staples, mostly food, in a bid to curb inflation, reports Reuters.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard announced yesterday that it suspended the search for potential survivors of a capsized boat near Puerto Rico after finding 11 bodies and rescuing 38 migrants from a vessel that had carried an estimated 60 to 75 passengers. (Associated Press)
  • The Venezuelan Unitary Platform opposition faction announced plans to hold a primary contest next year to choose a presidential candidate for the planned 2024 election. (Associated Press)
El Salvador
  • More than 30,000 people have been arrested under a “state of exception” in El Salvador, police said yesterday. (Al Jazeera, see yesterday's post.)
  • Ecuadorian gangs are stepping up targeted killings of police officers in drug trafficking hotspots, reports InSight Crime. "Ecuador’s criminal violence is rapidly outpacing law enforcement capacities, while bringing to light painful truths about corruption within their ranks."
  • Peru risks losing out on billions of dollars of mining investment if the government fails to defuse protests that are hitting the industry and denting production, according to Reuters.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Monday, May 16, 2022

El Salvador's crackdown strains prisons, gov't popularity

El Salvador authorities claim to have made over 30,000 arrests since roundups began March 27, the day El Salvador’s legislature approved emergency powers that loosened rules on arrests and curtailed civil liberties. The mass arrests are likely to strain El Salvador’s overstretched prisons and affect gang dynamics, though exactly how is difficult to discern from past crackdowns, reports InSight Crime.

El Salvador's homicide rate in 2022 is on track to be the lowest on record. But "state violence has clearly replaced traditional crime," notes the Latin America Risk Report. Over the past two months of a security state of emergency, rights groups have documented arbitrary arrests, excessive force by police and soldiers, enforced disappearances, deaths of detainees while in custody, among other wrongful acts. 

Thus far the offensive has resulted in overloaded prisons and courts and sent a shockwave of apparent human rights violations, uncertainty, and financial strain through the country’s lowest-income communities, reports El Faro. Human rights monitors and the press have documented the cases of at least five individuals who died in custody, one of them with signs of possible torture.

The mass arrests have left families reeling, with mothers massed outside the country's jails looking for their detained relatives. "But while the women searching for their sons in Salvadoran prisons are by no means an organized political group, their anger should not be underestimated," reports the New York Times. While mano dura was popular when the crackdown on gangs started, "the ubiquity of seemingly wrongful detentions is going to fray popular support for [President Nayib] Bukele," according to the Latin America Risk Report.

News Briefs

  • Nearly 150 people have been killed and scores wounded during gunfights between warring gangs in Haiti in recent weeks. Médecins Sans Frontières said that it had treated more than 96 people with gunshot wounds in its medical facilities in Port-au-Prince since 24 April. (Guardian)
  • Cuban lawmakers approved a new penal code on Sunday. Some rights groups have criticized the reform, arguing its clause on foreign funding could be used to stifle dissent and independent journalism. The government said the new code is in line with the country's new constitution approved by referendum in 2019, as well as international treaties. (Reuters)
  • Colombia's last remaining recognized rebel group announced a 10-day ceasefire to allow presidential elections on May 29 to pass off peacefully. The ELN said it had taken the decision in its own interests to generate a "better atmosphere... so that we can see who could be the winning candidate." (AFP)
  • Chile joined a growing chorus of regional voices calling for Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to be included in the upcoming Summit of the Americas hosted by the U.S. "Exclusion has not produced results in terms of human rights" in recent years, said foreign minister Antonia Urrejola. (Deutsche Welle, see last Thursday's post and Friday's briefs.)

  • Latin America's Pink Tide 2.0 is far greener than that headed by the original "resource nationalist" set of leftist leaders. Colombian presidential front-runner Gustavo Petro fits the mold of the new wave of environmentally-minded leaders, along the lines of Chile's Gabriel Boric, while Brazilian front-runner Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva remains more of a wild card, according to Reuters.
  • After 10 months of fraught negotiations, Chile's Constitutional Convention finalized the draft of a new magna carta that could replace the country's current dictatorship-era charter. María Elisa Quinteros, the president of the gender-equal, 154-member assembly will formally present the draft at a ceremony in the port city of Antofagasta today. "This is an ecological and equal constitution with social rights at its very core," she said in an interview with the Guardian.

  • Chilean Constitutional Convention delegates rejected multiple variations of a proposal that would have given the state exclusive mining rights over lithium, rare metals and hydrocarbons and a majority stake in copper mines.  A separate clause, article 25, which states that miners must set aside “resources to repair damage” to the environment and harmful effects where mining takes place, did get a supermajority on Saturday and will be in the draft constitution. (Reuters)
  • Many Brazilian agribusiness giants, who support President Jair Bolsonaro's October reelection bid, have rallied behind his proposal to mine Amazon potassium reserves in order to make up for potential fertilizer shortcomes related to the Ukraine conflict, reports Al Jazeera. (Though it's important to note that so far, the shortages have not materialized, see last Monday's briefs.)

  • Dazzling oratory has always been one of Lula's political strengths, but he has made a series of uncharacteristic gaffes in recent weeks, leading some to wonder if he's lost his touch, according to the Washington Post.

  • Brazil's access to information law (LAI) is a decade old today, and has taken root, despite significant challenges, write Gregory Michener and Francisco Gaetani in Folha de S. Paulo. Defending the law is more relevant than ever, they argue, as "never before has the LAI suffered assaults such as those undertaken during the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro." (In English at Brazil Research Initiative.)
Regional Relations
  • Lifting U.S. and European sanctions against Venezuela's Maduro administration would strengthen the country's autocratic government and, by extension, Russia, according to a delegation of Venezuelan opposition politicians currently touring Europe. Lifting sanctions must be tied to clear advances in negotiations for free and fair elections, they argue. (Guardian)
  • Nearly three-quarters of transactions in Venezuela are carried out in dollars -- what some have dubbed "improvised dollarization." Most purchases are made in cash, but increasingly buyers use electronic alternatives (such as wire transfers and Zelle), reports Forbes.
  • Honduran police captured Herlinda Bobadilla, accused of leading the Montes drug trafficking clan with four of her sons, after a shoot-out. Authorities said they received many tip-offs after the U.S. State Department offered the multi-million dollar reward two weeks ago, reports the BBC.
  • The identity of Mexico's Indigenous Seri people is integrally tied to their natural environment, which in recent years has been susceptible to an increasing number of existential threats, reports the New York Times.

  • Female-led projects are helping Mexican communities face an ongoing drought exacerbated by the climate crisis, reports the Guardian.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...Latin America Daily Briefing