Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Russian bombers carrying out exercises in Venezuela (Dec. 11, 2018)

News Briefs
  • Russia has landed two nuclear-capable “Blackjack” bombers in Venezuela. They are part of a joint training exercise,  Venezuelan and Russian officials say it is not intended as a provocation. But experts say it is intended to as a message of support for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro at a time of increasing tension with the U.S., reports the Guardian. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • Leaders of Colombian guerrilla groups -- FARC dissidents and the ELN -- met in Venezuela, where they apparently came to non-aggression agreement and are collaborating to smuggle cocaine, reports InSight Crime.
  • Anti-corruption efforts in Central America have significant popular support, but face powerful backlash from entrenched elites, reports Ozy. (Lots more corruption news in briefs below.)
  • Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro was elected in large part on an anti-corruption platform by citizens tired of graft scandals tainting all of the country's major parties. But already his appointments and allies betray those promises, reports The Intercept: Bolsonaro picked at least seven people tangled up in scandals, from lawsuits and official investigations to criminal convictions and even confession of guilt.
  • Brazil's incoming environmental minister, Ricardo Salles, said the country has too many environmental fines, many of which are "ideological." The former environment secretary for São Paulo state questioned new data showing record rates of deforestation in the Amazon. His selection was backed by the Brazilian Rural Society – an agribusiness group -- though he has been accused of altering plans for an environmentally protected area in order to favor businesses, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Tomorrow marks the 50 year anniversary of the Ato Institucional Número Cinco (Institutional Act Number 5, AI-5), a 1968 extrajudicial decree that deepened repression and violence under Brazil’s military dictatorship -- with important lessons for today, reports NACLA.
  • Two members of Brazil's landless workers' movement (MST) were killed this weekend in the northeast state of Paraíba. MST said in a statement that heavily armed men entered a rural camp set up by activists last year, and shot the two men dead on Saturday, reports Reuters.
Aid and Migration
  • The U.S. has invested significantly in combatting gangs in El Salvador, hoping to stem the violence that sends so many migrants fleeing from their country -- despite President Donald Trump's periodic threats to cut aid. But two years in, it's difficult to asses the impact of efforts to overhaul the justice system, reports the New York Times. Though officials believe aid has contributed to a decrease in homicides, critics say U.S. trained police officers have carried out acts of brutality and extrajudicial killings.
  • Cutting aid to Honduras won't reduce migration, but it will threaten fragile and hard-won progress in the region warn Kurt Alan Ver Beek and James D. Nealon in a Wilson Center article.
  • Both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are dominated by fear at the moment -- migrants pushed violence that threatens their lives, while nearly half of the U.S. considers the caravans to be a real danger to the country. Bridging the divide requires facing the issues caused by fear and insecurity, argues Patricio Fernández in a New York Times Español op-ed. The left has failed to grapple with the issue of criminality, a fact that condemns it to increasing irrelevance, he writes.
  • Mexico will dedicate $30 billion into development for the southern part of the country, part of an effort to deter illicit migration. Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said the focus on development is meant to counter other narratives about migration. (Los Angeles Times)
  • U.S. border patrol agents arrested 32 religious leaders and activists protesting in favor of migrants at the San Diego border. (Guardian)
  • A blanket amnesty for officials who committed acts of corruption in the past, as Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is a terrible idea. It is akin to his predecessor's failure to combat corruption, against which AMLO successfully campaigned this year, argues Luis Pérez de Acha in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • The new administration is taking aim at drug cartel finances -- it already filed a complaint against three businesses and seven people linked to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, reports Reuters. But it's not clear if the López Obrador administration has the institutional capacity and coordination to attack Mexican criminal groups' finances, according to InSight Crime.
  • British and Irish restaurants are increasingly leaving avocados off the menu, due to concerns that the imports are funding Mexican drug cartels, which have seized cultivation land in Michoacán. (Guardian)
  • Peru's anti-corruption prosecutor aims to to fine local companies, politicians and businessmen about $180 million for participating in Odebrecht's kickback schemes. Jorge Ramirez already obtained a promise from Odebrecht to pay back $180 million for having bribed local officials, but seeks to recoup the rest of the estimated $370 million owed to Peru for illegal cost overruns that resulted from Odebrecht’s bribes, reports Reuters.
  • Former Paraguayan president Horacio Cartes was subpoenaed yesterday by lawmakers in relation to money laundering allegations. (EFE)
  • Argentina President Mauricio Macri's father and brother have been called to court to testify in relation to the kickbacks case known as the "corruption notebooks." Franco and Gianfranco Macri are to testify on Thursday in a Buenos Aires court over the alleged payment of bribes by which their construction company, Socma, secured contracts to complete two stretches of a state highway, reports AFP.
  • Colombia 2020 is a journalism project that seeks to report on the country's transition from civil war to peace, and educate citizens about the roots of the Colombian conflict. (Guardian)
  • The weapons used by FARC guerrillas during the war, turned over as part of the peace process, have been turned into an "anti-monument" by artist Doris Salcedo. She melted down 37 tonnes of rifles, pistols and grenade launchers and -- with the help of conflict victims -- recast as tiles that line the floor of a new gallery space that will host two guest exhibitions every year related to the conflict. (Guardian)
  • Colombian President Iván Duque is pushing for a return to supply-side drug war policies, eradication instead of substitution as called for in the 2016 peace accord, according to NACLA.

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

Monday, December 10, 2018

Peruvian voters back anti-corruption referendum (Dec. 10, 2018)

Peruvian voters resoundingly backed most of President Martín Vizcarra's anti-corruption proposals in a citizen referendum yesterday. About 78 percent of voters (preliminary count, final numbers later today) approved three of the proposals, rejecting the fourth which would have established a bicameral congress. Participation was mandatory, and Vizcarra hailed a win for the entire country. The vote was held on international anti corruption day.

The other proposals will reform the council of magistrates that controls the judiciary, permit constitutional reform of political financing regulations, and prohibit the immediate reelection of lawmakers, reports La República.

In an editorial La República lauds the strong backing of the anti-corruption measures as a response to graft scandals affecting all of the country's major political parties and the judiciary. The exercise allows Vizcarra to consolidate power in the midst of a corruption crisis affecting the highest levels of government, including the last four presidents. Experts say the vote has given the "accidental" president the political capital he needs to actually start governing.  The proposal has proved popular, and Vizcarra's approval ratings climbed from 35 percent in July when he announced the consultation, to 65 percent last month. (El Comercio and Associated Press)

It will be a forcible breath of fresh air in the National Assembly, which has been dominated by the opposition Popular Force party and has complicated governance. None of the 130 lawmakers currently in the National Assembly will be able to run for reelection, some will be leaving after serving for nearly 20 years, reports El Comercio.

Vizcarra did not back the final referendum question, which would have created a second chamber of congress, saying it had been hijacked by lawmakers seeking to limit executive power, reports Reuters.


Extremely low turnout in Venezuela's municipal elections

Venezuelan municipal elections yesterday were marked by a very high abstention rate -- over 72 percent. Voters who did participate backed the ruling PSUV party, which won in 142 of 156 jurisdictions in play. The results were largely predictable. Experts pointed to widespread mistrust and exhaustion among citizens. And the four main opposition parties were banned from participating after they boycotted this year's May presidential elections, which they considered fraudulent. (AFP)

Efecto Cocuyo has more specific stats and also reports of irregularities, such as distribution of CLAP boxes in certain localities.

Though low, turnout was not as bad as some experts had predicted, and voters have not been enthusiastic about past municipal only elections, notes David Smilde at the Venezuela Weekly.

Despite the low turnout, government officials voiced satisfaction with the election, and lauded civic commitment. President Nicolás Maduro spoke on television and denounced an alleged U.S. plot to overthrow him. (Reuters)

More from Venezuela
  • Venezuela is in the midst of one of the worst human rights crises in the region, warns Amnesty International's Carolina Jiménez, calling on neighboring countries to grant Venezuelan migrants international protection. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • The Corporación Andina de Fomento (CAF) is considering a $500 million loan to Venezuela. Critics say the move will undercut international sanctions aimed at isolating the Maduro administration. But most of the funds will be used to pay back debts Venezuela has with the CAF, and the Wall Street Journal reports the development bank is seeking to avoid having to declare Venezuela in default.
News Briefs

  • Haitian police dispersed an anti-corruption protests yesterday in Port-au-Prince, reports EFE
  • Attacks against social activists in Colombia have continued -- two indigenous leaders were killed on Saturday and a third was targeted by an attack, reports AFP.
Justicia por mano propia
  • "Lynching is Latin America’s dark secret," reports the Wall Street Journal in a piece on the citizen mobs that increasingly kill and mutilate suspected criminals on the street.
  • Nicaragua's independent journalists have been the targets of harassment and police abuse in retaliation for their coverage of government and parapolice repression of protests, reports the Guardian.
  • Thousands of Central American migrants are coming to terms with a lengthy and uncertain process to apply for asylum in the U.S., and contemplating alternatives in Mexico, reports the Guardian.
  • Most of the caravan migrants have gathered in Tijuana, where many residents lives intersect and cross the border, reports the New York Times.
  • Chile joined the U.S. in pulling out of the U.N.'s migration pact, part of an increasingly hardline stance, reports Reuters.
  • Two new political parties in Guatemala are having trouble obtaining official status. Libre has pointed to bureaucratic obstacles in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). UNE challenged Movimiento Semilla's inscription, saying its logo is similar to that of another party. Though the TSE rejected the argument, it still delayed Semilla's inscription in order to give UNE time to appeal. Both of the new parties are up against firm deadlines to receive recognition and elect internal authorities in order to participate in next year's elections. (El PeriódicoPrensa Libre, and Publinews)
  • UNE's attack on Semilla falls into a wider pattern of legal challenges Guatemalan parties often throw at each other ahead of elections, explains Nómada. It will only get more intense as parties define candidates over the next couple months and compete for voters and financing.
  • A former Kaibile soldier who participated in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre was sentenced to 5,000 years on jail, based in part on the testimony of his adoptive son, whose family he helped kill, reports the BBC. (See Nov. 23's briefs.)
  • Cuba will gradually phase in a polemic law requiring government approval for artists, and will put off enforcement until regulations are made clearer, reports the Miami Herald. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • In an apparent nod to entrepreneurs, Cuba's government softened some tough new restrictions that were set to go into effect on Friday, reports Al Jazeera. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • Linda Loaiza writes in the Guardian about her long struggle to obtain justice in a case of kidnapping and brutal sexual abuse. After failing to obtain justice in Venezuela, she took her case to the Inter-American court of human rights. In November the court found the Venezuelan state guilty of negligence in the face of the torture and sexual violence against Loaiza, and for its inability to investigate the case. The case could set precedent for state responsibility in gender violence, which the court classified as torture in this case. (See Nov. 22's briefs.)
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales has governed for 12 years, and plans to seek a fourth reelection next year. But many of his indigenous supporters are now questioning whether their interests remain aligned, reports the New York Times.
  • Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro decided to abolish the country's human rights ministry. Instead he announced the creation of a new ministry, headed by a conservative evangelical pastor, which will oversee women, family and human rights – and also the country’s 900,000 indigenous people. The new minister, Damares Alves, opposes abortion and believes women are meant to be mothers, reports the Guardian.
  • Bolsonaro picked lawyer Ricardo de Aquino Salles to head his ministry of economy. Brazilian industry and agriculture groups had announced their support for Salles, reports Reuters.
  • Bolsonaro promised to fight communism in the region, reports EFE.
  • At least 14 people, including two children, were killed in a shootout between police and bank robbers in Brazil's Ceará state. (Guardian)
  • "... For all the greatness of its individual players, Argentinian football has increasingly become a metaphor for everything that is dysfunctional about Argentina," writes David Reiff in the Guardian.
  • Former Colombian president Belisario Betancur died at age 95. "In reality he was not a government leader who loved poetry," Gabriel García Márquez, once said of him. "He was a poet on whom fate imposed the penance of power." (New York Times and Guardian)
  • A new map reveals the scale of illegal artisanal mining in the Amazon rainforest -- identifying 2,312 sites in 245 areas across six Amazon countries. The operations are highly damaging to the environment, and indigenous and local populations who live or work near mine sites. The map was produced by a network of non-government, environmental groups in six Amazon countries – FAN in Bolivia, Gaia in Colombia, IBC in Peru, Ecociência in Ecuador, Provita and Wataniba in Venezuela, and Imazon and the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA) in Brazil, reports the Guardian.

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

Friday, December 7, 2018

U.S. donates more jeeps to Guatemala (Dec. 7, 2018)

The U.S. Trump administration donated 38 military jeeps to the Guatemalan government in October, just weeks after President Jimmy Morales used previously donated vehicles to intimidate anti-corruption investigators and U.S. embassy personnel, reports the Washington Post.

The J8 Jeeps were given to the Guatemalan Defense Ministry on Oct. 11 for use in anti-narcotics operations. But Democrat lawmakers questioned the handover, after the Guatemalan government deployed U.S. donated jeeps outside the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala headquarters, the U.S. embassy, and human rights activists' homes in August. The intimidation accompanied an announcement by President Jimmy Morales that the CICIG's mandate would be terminated, which he made flanked by members of the military. (See Sept. 3's post.)

The U.S. jeeps were provided to Guatemala only for use in anti-narcotics operations. A Pentagon spokesman told the Washington Post that apparent misuse on Aug. 31 was under investigation.

In November, The Intercept reported that Guatemalan police documents show a pattern of such misuse in the months leading up to and including the August 31 deployment in Guatemala City. "They were donated by the United States to combat drug trafficking on the borders and they were used [August 31] to intimidate CICIG, violating everything the agreement says," said Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman Jordán Rodas.

News Briefs

  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said that Russia will invest more than $5 billion in boosting Venezuelan oil production and additional investments for mining gold and diamonds, as well as providing about 600 tons of wheat next year. The announcements come after a meeting this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but some analysts are skeptical the investments will come through, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on the Honduran government to revoke a dam concession on indigenous lands, a project that was opposed by environmentalist Berta Cáceres who was killed in 2016. Commission president Margarette May Macaulay said the concession to DESA was legally invalid because it did not respect the will of indigenous communities who consider the river sacred, reports AFP. (See Nov. 30's post on the trial against Cáceres' murderers, who include former DESA executives.)
Northern Triangle
  • There are signs that "horrific and endemic" violence in Central America's Northern Triangle countries is decreasing -- homicides have gone down drastically in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, reports the Economist.
  • Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno said he has received assurances from the U.K. that Julian Assange will not be extradited to any country where he could face the death penalty. That guarantee should be sufficient to allow the WikiLeaks founder to leave Ecuador's London embassy, where he has lived under asylum since mid-2012. (Guardian and Associated Press)
  • Deforestation of Brazil's Amazon increased by 50 percent between August and October, over the same period in 2017. The period represents the final part of this year's presidential campaign, in which anti-environmental protection candidate Jair Bolsonaro was ascendant and eventually won, reports the Washington Post. And it's only expected to get worst when he actually takes office.
  • Thousands of Argentine women protested on Wednesday, following the acquittal of two men accused of sexually abusing and killing Lucía Pérez in 2016. The 16-year-old's death helped propel the Ni Una Menos movement at the time, and now activists are incensed at a judicial decision that found the extreme sexual violence inflicted on Pérez was "consensual." (TIME and Página 12)
  • Argentina's Supreme Court determined that a controversial law aimed at reducing pre-trial detentions cannot be applied to crimes against humanity, reports Página 12. The decision comes over a year and a half after another Supreme Court ruling incited widespread anger when it applied the so-called 2x1 Law to a man convicted of torture and kidnappings during the last military dictatorship, reducing his sentence from 13 to 9 years. Protests pushed lawmakers to immediately pass a law prohibiting this application. (See HRW's country report for 2017, the post for May 10, 2017, and briefs for May 11, 2017.)
  • New regulations in Cuba seem likely to harm the island's nascent private sector, reports the Economist.
  • A young generation of Cubans is leaving behind the old divisions between pro and anti revolutionaries -- they now dream of traveling rather than emigrating, and must confront the challenges of growing economic opportunity and inequality, writes Ruth Behar in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Chilean President Sebastián Piñera is attempting to govern from the center, using a model created by his previous opponents in the Concertación center-left alliance. But he may be thwarted by high expectations that cannot be met and social unrest, warns the Economist. (See Wednesday's post.)
  • Nearly a hundred years after the massacre of banana workers in Colombia, an often forgotten episode catapulted to fame by Gabriel García Márquez's portrayal of the killing and coverup in One Hundred Years of Solitude, Colombian workers still struggle for the right to protest and dignified working conditions, writes Nicolás Pernett in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • The constant protests in Colombia since President Iván Duque took office in August spell out trouble for the government, but may be an excellent sign for the country's democracy, argues Fabio Andres Diaz in the Conversation.
  • Drug traffickers are now using mules who swallow cash in order to move profits as well as drugs. Colombian authorities often swallow up to 120 pellets of cash, adding up to about $40,000 a person. (Guardian
  • Want to binge this weekend with a little less guilt? Check out InSight Crime's piece on the lessons to be gleaned from Netfix's latest season of "Narcos."
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Peruvians to vote in anti-corruption referendum (Dec. 6, 2018)

Peruvians vote on Sunday in a landmark anti-corruption referendum. Four constitutional amendments are on the ballot: they would prohibit reelection for lawmakers, create a bicameral congress, regulate political party financing, and reform the council of magistrates. Though President Martín Vizcarra announced the referendum in the midst of a corruption scandal rocking the judiciary months ago, since then the vote has not been much focused on in public discourse, according to CNN. (See August 13's briefs.)

The vote comes at a crucial time for Peru -- four of the past five presidents are under investigation in relation to Odebrecht bribes. The proposal to create a bicameral congress is expected to fail because citizens are unwilling to contemplate more political offices, according to the Miami Herald

A sign of what Vizcarra's efforts are up against: A new law passed by lawmakers this week would reduce sentences in relation to illicit party financing. The initiative was backed by members of Fuerza Popular, APRA, and Peruanos por el Kambio, all of whose leadership is under investigation. Several lawmakers as well as Vizcarra criticized the bill's timing, coming just days before a referendum that covers the topic. (El Comercio and El Comercio again)

News Briefs

  • The Chilean government's efforts to settle an ongoing conflict with indigenous Mapuche communities miss the target by failing to recognize the fundamentally territorial nature of the issue, writes Viviana Giacaman in Nueva Sociedad. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Cuban artist Tania Bruguera was arrested in Havana, along with two other artists. The three were planning a protest outside the ministry of culture, against a new law that will require all artists and musicians to apply for government-issued licenses. Instead they have gone on a hunger strike against the law which was described as dystopian by Amnesty International. (Guardian)
  • Cubans will be allowed full internet access on their mobiles starting this week, a novelty in a country where citizens have been restricted to state-run email accounts on their phones, reports the Associated Press.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is in Russia, seeking financial support for his country's collapsing economy. Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced support for the Venezuelan government, reports AFP. The Kremlin promised to analyze economic aid and condemned attempts to change the government by force, reports Efecto Cocuyo. (See this Al Jazeera piece on background.)
  • Earlier this week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Venezuela, where he said the country has been unfairly hit by international sanctions. (Associated Press)
  • Venezuela is in the midst of a severe humanitarian crisis -- 10 percent of its population has fled, and 90 percent of those who remain live in poverty. The Guardian travels across the country, finding deep anger among citizens along with lingering affection for Hugo Chávez.
  • There are municipal elections this Sunday in Venezuela. Felix Seijas of Delphos expects abstention to reach record heights, with no more than 20 percent of the population voting. That being said, most opposition parties don't have to debate whether to participate or boycott, since most have been banned by the National Electoral Council (CNE). In an interview with Efecto Cocuyo, Seijas said the opposition parties' error has been participating or not without a coherent plan.
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will hold an ex-officio hearing, "Human Rights Situation of the Persons that Make part of the Caravan of Migrants," supported by more than eleven civil society organizations from the United States, Mexico and Central America in the which representatives present the violations of human rights committed against migrants who are part of the exodus from the countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. It will be live streamed today at 3:45pm US EST.
  • The U.S. should be more aware of its contribution to the conditions pushing thousands of Central Americans to attempt migration to the U.S. writes Michael Deibert in the Guardian.
  • The mass of Central American migrants gathered in Tijuana has put migration high up on the Mexican agenda for the first time, challenging its relationships with Central American governments and the U.S., reports the New York Times.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador takes office with auspicious levels of popular support, but in a regional context dominated by the right. Though his discourse is populist and anti-neoliberal, his proposals are less radical than they might seem, argues Massimo Modonesi in Nueva Sociedad.
  • Five days into the AMLO era, the new president has made several stylistic changes, including daily press briefings and moving around in an old Volkswagen. More substantive change includes the creation of a truth commission to investigate the 2014 disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa, and the promise of a proposal for next week that would unravel the last administration's signature education reform. (Washington Post)
  • Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno released a list of candidates to replace the country's vice president who resigned earlier this week in the midst of corruption allegations, reports El Comercio. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping said Panama is a key ally in China's LatAm strategy. (EFE)
  • A Chilean judge convicted 53 former secret police agents from the country’s dictatorship for participating in the kidnapping and disappearance of seven communist leaders and the murder of the former Communist Party chief Victor Diaz, reports the Associated Press.
  • Jamaica is slowly becoming friendlier to its LBGT community, thanks to the painstaking work of activists, reports the Guardian.
  • Some Brazilians are hastening marriage plans out of fear that the incoming Bolsonaro administration will roll back LGBT rights. (EFE)
  • Incoming Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro plans to tackle pension reform with a series of piecemeal proposals that can pass in Congress, starting with an increase in minimum retirement age, reports Reuters.
  • Researchers in Brazil said a woman who received a uterus transplanted from a deceased donor has given birth to a healthy child. (New York Times)
  • Miss Talavera Bruce, a beauty pageant for prison inmates in Brazil, in photographs. (Guardian)

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

New rules for Carabineros after Mapuche killings (Dec. 5, 2018)

A new presidential decree regulates how Chile's Carabineros -- military police -- use force in their mission to guarantee public safety. The new rules are in response to an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ruling over a 2002 case in which the police killed a young Mapuche man in a protest. But they come in the midst of a more recent scandal over another killing of a Mapuche person by a group of Carabineros known as the "Jungle Command," reports La Tercera. (See last Friday's briefs, and Nov. 26's.)

CEJIL heralded the decree as an improvement, but insufficient to to meet international standards and specific issues within the Chilean context.

The Chilean government stood by Carabineros head Hermes Soto after one of the four police officers detained in relation to the November killing of  Camilo Catrillanca said they were forced to cover up the incident. (EFE)

A recent investigative journalism report found that Catrillanca was on Carabinero intelligence watch lists, because of his leadership role in student activist movements. (EFE)

More on militarization
  • Tomorrow 17 organizations of civil society will hold a regional audience before the IACHR on the issue of militarization of public safety. The group includes CELS, COFADEH, Justiςa Global, Conectas,  and the ACLU. It will be broadcast live tomorrow at 10.25 GMT -5.  
  • Bogotá could be next onto the military police bandwagon: Mayor Enrique Peñalosa wants to cover a police deficit with soldiers on the streets to reduce crime. (Caracol)
Ecuador's VP resigns

Ecuador's vice president resigned yesterday, in the midst of a corruption scandal in which she is accused of taking bribes while serving as a lawmaker five years ago. María Alejandra Vicuña said vía Twitter that the country did not deserve "instability" from the crisis. The move came a day after President Lenín Moreno suspended her from the post to fight the allegations. (AFP)

She is the second VP to leave the current administration -- her predecessor Jorge Glas left last year to face charges of corruption, and was later found guilty and sentenced to six years in jail on charges he pocketed a roughly $13.5 million bribe from Odebrecht. (Reuters)

On Monday, Moreno assigned Secretary-General Jose Augusto Briones to fulfill the duties of vice president.

More from Ecuador
  • Paul Manafort discussed a deal with Ecuadorean authorities to hand over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the U.S. in exchange for debt relief, reports the New York Times
News Briefs
  • The rising tensions at the San Ysidro border crossing between Mexico and the U.S. are not only affecting migrants attempting to apply for asylum. About 70,000 cars and 20,000 pedestrians cross the busiest land border crossing in the world each day -- and many people in San Diego and Tijuana communities work or have family on the other side of the border. (Guardian)
  • Mexico's proposal to legalize cannabis is generally well thought out and comprehensive, write Jonas von Hoffmann and Raúl Bejarano Romero in the Conversation.
  • Mexico's government postponed a planned auction of long-term clean-energy contracts yesterday. The new López Obrador administration will review the plan. (WSJ)
  • Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro appears to be following through on promises to veer the country's foreign policy towards the right, though he's framing it as a "liberation" of Itamaraty's previous alleged leftist bent. Gilberto M.A. Rodrigues analyzes his pick of an unknown to head the foreign ministry, and likely military influence on IR policy, at the AULA blog.
  • Though many experts are concerned about military appointments to Bolsonaro's cabinet, he is also playing it safe in the judicial area. The question is whether Sergio Moro, crusading anti-corruption judge, can exert a moderating force on what promises to be a mano-dura security policy, reports InSight Crime.
  • The next phase of Operation Car Wash is dubbed “Operation Without Limits” and will include scrutiny of oil deals by the commodity trading giants Glencore, Vitol and Trafigura with Petrobras. (Guardian)
Panama Papers
  • U.S. prosecutors announced the first criminal charges based on the massive Panama Papers' leak three years ago. They will charge four people, including a longtime lawyer for Mossack Fonseca, of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit tax evasion and money laundering. (Miami Herald)
  • Veronika Mendoza, who narrowly missed entering the runoff in Peru's last presidential elections, is expected to run again in 2021, and despite her leftist handicap, is on par with other presidential frontrunners. And with a major anti-corruption referendum coming up, her anti-graft platform is more relevant than ever. (Americas Quarterly)
  • Bolivia's electoral court said President Evo Morales can seek a fourth presidential term. Opponents say the move is unconstitutional, but last year, the country's constitutional court lifted term limits paving the way for Morales' bid to remain in power. (Al Jazeera)
  • Human rights activists are increasingly targets in Colombia, said the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights defenders, calling on the government to do more to protect them. (Reuters)
  • Twenty-five years after Pablo Escobar was killed, a lot has changed in the Colombian criminal underworld, not the least a shift from conspicuous consumption to extreme anonymity, reports InSight Crime.
  • The Guardian has a photo-essay on squats in Rio de Janeiro.
  • Cyclists attempt to set a Guinness world record for longest urban downhill race in Medellín. (Guardian)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

AMLO creates Ayotzinapa truth commission (Dec. 4, 2018)

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador ordered the creation of a truth commission to re-examine the case of 43 missing students, one of the most infamous crimes in recent years. AMLO promised that the commission will investigate the 2014 case, in which 43 students from an Ayotzinapa teachers' college disappeared after an attack in Iguala. The case, the botched government investigation, and lack of answers, has become emblematic of the previous government's tragic human rights record. (Guardian)

The new investigation will be carried out under a special prosecutor's office, and will be headed by Alejandro Encinas, the incoming deputy interior minister for human rights. The commission is supposed to consider all potential leads, even those discarded or ignored by the previous government, reports the New York Times.

Families of victims, experts, and members of the new government will form part of the commission, which is supposed to start working within a month. The presidential decree, signed two days into the AMLO presidency, also orders all areas of the federal government to cooperate with the new investigation. International organizations, including the U.N. and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights were also invited to colaborate. (Animal Político)

The announcement was made in the presence of relatives of the victims, who hope to finally obtain answers after the official government investigation was questioned by an international group of experts sent by the IACHR. The families will be at the center of the new policy, a complete turnaround from the previous investigation, fraught with irregularities and abuses, reports El País

Secretaria de Gobernación Olga Sánchez promised to adequately fund the commission in order to obtain answers within a reasonable time frame, and that former government officials will be investigated where relevant. (EFE) For the first time, the army will also be within the scope of the investigation, a key demand from the families, reports Reuters

Tackling the Ayotzinapa case is critical for AMLO's goals of pacification, argues an El Universal editorial.

Families of the Ayotzinapa disappeared said yesterday they hoped this would usher in a new period of hope, after the failure of the Peña Nieto administration. But outside the National Palace families of other disappeared demanded advances in all cases of enforced disappearances, reports Animal Político.

News Briefs

  • Over 8,000 migrants have crossed into Mexico since the caravan phenomenon gained strength in October. The Wall Street Journal focuses on women, profiling the migrants escaping from Central America, one of the deadliest regions in the world for women. 
  • Most of the migrants are in Tijuana and Mexicali, waiting to apply for asylum in the U.S. The Mexican government set up a new shelter near Tijuana in response to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in the city's existing migrant camp. (Washington Post)
  • The long wait to obtain an asylum appointment, and lack of clarify over where migrants will be staying after that, is pushing many to try to cross the border fence illegally, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Miami Herald correspondent Jacqueline Charles attributes Haiti's unrest to a young population and newly restricted migration to former destinations like the U.S., Canada and Chile. In Americas Quarterly's Deep South podcast she discusses the roots of the Petro Caribe scandal and how the corruption outrage in Haiti echoes other scandals in the region.
  • Cuban citizens made more than 659,000 proposals in a consultation process for the country's new constitution. The new constitution will be submitted to the National Assembly in January for approval, but it's not clear how public feedback will be incorporated, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Will Brazil's incoming president, Jair Bolsonaro, replace Argentine President Mauricio Macri as the U.S.'s closest ally in the region? (McClatchy)
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro must ultimately go for Venezuela to climb out of its humanitarian crisis, but emphasized that regime change is up to Venezuelans and neighboring governments, not the U.S. (Reuters)
  • The synthetic drugs smuggling market is booming in Colombia, reports InSight Crime.
  • Drug regulation is an increasingly hot topic in the Americas. In an interview with InSight Crime, former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos analyzes diverse approaches.
  • Uruguay turned down former Peruvian president Alan García's request for asylum, saying there is no evidence he is being politically targeted by a corruption investigation. (Associated Press)
  • Extractivist projects pushed by Ecuador's government have ignored indigenous groups' rights, according to the he U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. (Reuters)
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet calls for aggressive and comprehensive environmental policies to stave off climate change, pointing out that in Chile these have been economically profitable. (New York Times op-ed)
  • Banning plastic bags can only do so much say Chileans with mixed reactions to a ban on stores handing out free plastic bags. (BBC)
More from Mexico
  • Axolotis are iconic, but also increasingly endangered in their natural Xochimilco habitat. (Guardian)
  • Better than Netflix: The latest episode in the El Chapo trial, involves a Colombian witness who proudly detailed his obsession with producing cocaine, which he then sold to the Sinaloa cartel king-pin, Joaquín Guzmán. (New York Times)

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