Thursday, June 21, 2018

More furor over U.S. migration policy (June 21, 2018)

  • President Trump's executive order "replaces the cruelty of family separation with the cruelty of family detention," according to human rights advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). [Disclosure: I work as a communications consultant with WOLA]
  • Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández met yesterday with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, and, according to Hernandez, issued strong words about U.S. migration policy and its implications for Hondurans. 
  • The top Salvadoran official who handles migration affairs issued a harsh critique of conditions at shelters for migrant children in the U.S., and warned Salvadorans against attempting to migrate northwards. (Washington Post)
  • Guatemala has reversed its previous timid position on the U.S. family separation policy: the spokesperson who said that Guatemala "respected" the Trump administration's approach to immigration has been fired, and the government has since published various statements criticizing the U.S. on this issue.
  • The AP reports on how some migrant families were separated by U.S. immigration authorities prior to the official implementation of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy, profiling a Guatemalan father who petitioned for asylum at a port of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, and who nonetheless was separated from his two-year-old daughter even though he was not prosecuted for illegal entry into the U.S.
  • The Washington Post profiles a Mexican couple's attempts to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, noting that despite the Trump administration's harsh rhetoric, the president "has not managed to shut down the vast smuggling networks that funnel people across the border." 
  • The Trump administration's border and immigration policies will strengthen organized crime networks, says InSight Crime's Steve Dudley
  • Court documents reveal that teenage immigrants—many of them youths who had attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border alone—were severely beaten and abused by guards at a juvenile detention facility in Virginia (AP). Some reported being left naked in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time as punishment for minor infractions, others  “sustained significant injuries, both physical and psychological" as a result of “malicious and sadistic applications of force,” according to a lawsuit filed by a civil rights group. 

  • A Washington Post profile of Andrés Manuel López Obrador notes that "at this stage of the campaign, the candidate appears to be embracing a kind of centrism," even though some election observers still perceive him to be an "erratic populist, with proposals that could lead to economic turbulence."

Central America
  • Nicaragua will allow international human rights observers into the country, a point of negotiation that contributed to the breakdown of talks between the Ortega government and Church leaders (AP). The observers will likely include the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, and the European Union. 
  • After additional reports emerged regarding alleged sexual abuse committed by Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales (Prensa Grafica), he went on a tangent while delivering a speech on cybersecurity in order to complain about "fake news" in the country. He made several incorrect and false statements while doing so (elPeriodico). 
  • A court acquitted Gleisi Hoffmann, president of Brazil's Workers' Party, of corruption and money laundering charges in connection to the massive "Car Wash" graft probe. (AP
  • There is a chance that Lula could be released from prison next week (BBC Brazil). In the meantime, Uruguay's former President Jose "Pepe" Mujica will pay Lula a visit (EFE). 
  • President Maduro announced he is raising the minimum wage, the fourth wage hike so far this year according to Caracas Chronicles. According to the black market exchange rate, this means the Venezuelan minimum wage is now equivalent to about $2 a month. The announcement was made amid reports of further economic decline: Reuters reported that so far this month, oil exports have dropped 32 percent compared with May. Meanwhile, the government deployed the military to over 100 food markets to ensure that sellers weren't overcharging for price-controlled items (BBC). 
  • Ecuador has committed to setting up temporary shelters for migrant Venezuelans (El Comercio).  
  • WOLA's Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog analyzes the government's release of political prisoners, noting that some have "supported the releases as a pragmatic way to get rid of a distraction and focus on winning the 'economic war' the government claims is being waged by imperialist forces abroad."
  • Despite World Cup fever, Peruvians have few public parks where they can play pickup soccer games thanks to poor urban planning (AP). In working class neighborhoods, many have resorted to kicking a ball around on pre-colonial archaeological sites. 
  • State media controls are loosening somewhat under Cuba's new president, with the government recently implementing a new policy aimed at "giving state media more ability to report news like their colleagues do in other countries" (AP).  The policy was first approved when Miguel Díaz-Canel was still serving as vice president (and hence responsible for communications policy in the country), and just recently went into effect. 

  • The Reuters Institute's annual Digital News Report—which surveyed 74,000 consumers of online news in 37 countries—found that smartphones are by more the most popular means of accessing the news in Brazil, Mexico, Chile, and Argentina. Facebook is the top platform for reading the news in the four Latin American countries included in the survey. Among this group, Argentine respondents were the least likely to trust the news and Brazil the most likely.  
  • Piggish male fans are a bad look for Latin America at this year's World Cup (AP). Videos showing sexist and offensive behavior at soccer matches in Moscow have been widely circulated on social media and are attracting widespread condemnation, a possible sign that tolerance for boorish behavior at sporting events is changing. 
  • A giant oil find could make Guyana rich (WSJ). 
  • Some carnivorous (known popularly as "vampire") bats have found a home in a Mayan temple in Mexico's southern tropics  (National Geographic). 
Elyssa Pachico

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Violence surges in Nicaragua (June 20, 2018)

Working alongside paramilitary forces, Nicaraguan police launched a siege in the town of Masaya in order to take back control of a city that just a few days ago declared its intent to self-govern (see yesterday's brief). Authorities managed to rescue a police commander who'd been held hostage in a police station for weeks. "It took 400 heavily armed police and paramilitaries to rescue [the police commander] from an unarmed city," tweeted Nicaragua expert Tim Rogers. 

A Nicaraguan human rights group said that six people were killed and dozens wounded during the clash; according to the truth commission formed by the government on April 27, the total death toll is 173.  

Masaya—a former stronghold of the Sandinista revolution— wasn't the only city to see violence: towns south of Masaya also reported experiencing drive-by shootings, and late-night para-police assaults on roadblocks. 

While talks between Church leaders and the Ortega government have broken down (and are unlikely to re-initiate unless the government shows it is serious about inviting international human rights observers into the country), there are unconfirmed rumors of President Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo engaging in negotiations with the U.S.—lauded Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramírez repeated some of these in an interview with Confidencial, saying, "Maybe Ortega doesn't want to reveal that he agreed with the U.S. to hold early elections, because that could create panic and disorder within the faction that defends him."

As the New York Times reportsthe State Department voiced support for early elections in Nicaragua earlier this week; Church leaders have pushed for a vote in March 2019 (about two years early). 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will be presenting an updated report on the human rights situation in Nicaragua on June 29.

Latin America reacts to family separation in U.S.

As noted yesterday, Guatemala is the only Central American country to have remained tight-lipped about condemning the Trump administration's practice of prosecuting asylum-seekers for illegal entry then separating them from their children. "I can't shake the feeling that the Guatemalan government would happily sacrifice their citizens' best interest in return for the United States dropping its support for CICIG," writes Mike Allison at Central American Politics

According to the Mexican government, among the 21 Mexican children to have been separated from their parents is a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome. (WSJ). El Salvador's government says that it knows of at least 50 Salvadoran children separated from their families at the border; the number will likely be updated. (Diario de Hoy). Similarly to Mexico and El Salvador, Honduras called the practice "inhumane," but has not released an estimate on how many Honduran children may be in U.S. shelters. 

It remains to be seen whether, as intended, the practice will deter asylum-seekers fleeing violence in Central America. In Mexico, immigration advocates are predicting that the threat of family separation will help human traffickers charge more for their services, placing migrants in more vulnerable situations (New York Times). 

More reporting in the U.S. continues to shed light on how family separation works: the AP reported that "tender age" children—that is, infants—are being held in at least three shelters in South Texas. The Pope and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have also criticized the practice. 

Central America
  • A criminal court in Honduras will hear the case of murdered environmentalist Berta Caceres in September (Criterio). On trial are eight alleged conspirators of the crime, including former members of the security forces and employees of hydroelectric company DESA. 
  • Honduras anti-corruption initiative MACCIH has appointed a new leader:  Luiz Antonio Marrey Guimaraes of Brazil, a longtime Sao Paolo-based prosecutor. A ten-point agreement between the MACCIH and President Juan Orlando Hernandez (see them here) arguably limits the MACCIH's independence in investigating organized crime and corruption, with one part of the agreement asserting that the MACCIH must remain in "permanent communication" with the Honduran government
  • A new special project by Animal Politico found that Mexico lacks the resources needed to make a dent in the staggering number of unsolved homicides in the country. The report found that 20 of Mexico's 31 states lack the biological databases needed to identify unclaimed bodies. Another 21 states lack access to the national munitions database used to trace bullets and weapons. 
Southern Cone
  • Argentina issued its first criminal sentence under a new law on crimes against transgender people (BBC)

  • For the second time, Colombia's Senate has delayed a crucial vote on the implementation of its transitional justice system, arguing that the Constitutional Court first needs to weigh in on the system's legal reach. President Santos is pushing hard to get the bill passed; otherwise it will not come up for a vote again until mid-July (CNN). 

  • Diosdado Cabello is now the head of Venezuela's controversial Constituent Assembly (which the international community has refused to formally recognize). Caracas Chronicles predicts that this will move the Assembly towards a more "politically active" direction. 
Elyssa Pachico 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Anger grows over separation of migrant families in U.S. (June 19, 2018)

Recent reports have shed light on how the Trump administration's practice of separating children from their parents, upon prosecuting the parents for illegal entry into the U.S., is playing out on the ground. 

Pro Publica obtained a recording of sobbing children calling for their parents inside a detention center. During a White House press conference, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said that images and recordings "reflect the focus of those who post such pictures and narratives." She added that she had not heard the Pro Publica audio, but that the children taken into U.S. custody are being treated humanely (AP).

The AP described conditions inside a Border Patrol-run warehouse where children are being held in cages with foil sheets and no toys or books. Reporters were only allowed to briefly tour one section of the facility that held, according to Border Patrol, children who'd crossed the border without a parent and families.

A senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services told the Washington Examiner that the agency was already holding 11,500 children who have been separated from their parents, and taking in about 250 children a day. At this rate, the agency could be holding some 30,000 children by August.  

Two polls published Monday found that the practice is unpopular with U.S. voters: 66 percent of respondents told a Quinnipiac University poll that they opposed the practice. In an Ipsos poll published by the Daily Beast, 56 percent of respondents said they disagreed with the assertion that separating immigrant children from families is appropriate. 

Congress votes later this week on two hardline immigration bills that do not address family separation, although, as a New York Times editorial puts it, "By making the immigration topic even more radioactive, Mr. Trump has made a rational legislative debate much less likely."

The refugee crisis    

In its annual report, the UN Refugee Agency said that a record number of people were displaced in 2017; the largest increase of refugees were Venezuelans, with Venezuelans now comprising the fourth-largest nationality behind all new asylum claims. The number of fleeing Venezuelans caused asylum applications to rise dramatically in some South American countries, including Peru, where the number of asylum claims increased eight times between 2016-2017.  

The report also said that, for the first time in five years, the U.S. is receiving the highest number of new asylum applications in the world; 43 percent of those claims involved Central America's Northern Triangle region.  

Central America

  • Despite the apparent progress made during Friday's talks between President Daniel Ortega and Church leaders, the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua has once again suspended dialogue, citing the government's refusal to allow international human rights observers into the country, as well as the failure to disband para-police groups (BBC). The city of Masaya announced in a press conference that they refused to recognize the government and would begin a project of self-governance (Washington Post). Just south of Nicaragua's capital, the city has become a hub of fierce resistance to Ortega.  
  • From The Conversation: "Can Nicaragua, Latin America’s second poorest country, bring down its mighty regime by simply refusing to leave the streets? Local history suggests it can."
  • Following the release of an Amnesty International report looking at abuses committed by the security forces after last year's highly irregular elections, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with President Juan Orlando Hernandez about the need to hold those responsible accountable (AP). It is worth noting that while the U.S. condemned the violence used against protestors in the days following November's contested election, they also formally recognized the election results despite widespread evidence of fraud and calls by the Organization of American States for a do-over. While meeting with Pompeo, Hernandez also reportedly lobbied for the 57,000 Hondurans who lived in the U.S. under humanitarian program TPS until the Trump administration terminated it earlier this year. (EFE)
  • First there was the opening of a Guatemalan Embassy in Jerusalem, just two days after the United States did so. Now, President Jimmy Morales' government has made additional efforts to signal its willingness to back controversial Trump administration policies: the president's spokesperson said yesterday that Guatemala is "respectful of migration policy" when asked about the separation of Guatemalan children from the parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. (elPeriodico)
  • Business elites and presidential front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador—known for making statements that alarm investors—have reached "an uneasy truce," according to the AP. Members of the Mexican Business Council met with AMLO in June in order to raise their concerns and smooth over their differences; the two parties came away from the meeting willing to work together, the report says. 
  • Authorities arrested the former state prosecutor of Veracruz state, accused of ordering the disappearance of at least 13 bodies recovered from a mass grave in 2016 (Animal Politico). It's not the first time that state authorities have been implicated in Veracruz disappearances—in February, nearly the entire police leadership was detained on charges of carrying out forced disappearances. Veracruz has uncovered hundreds of mass graves in the state since December 2016, when its new governor took office. 
  • Mexico's national human rights commission said there has been an "unusual" increase in killings of police officers in recent months (EFE). Six police officers were recently killed in Puebla state in an alleged confrontation with oil thieves. 
  • Ecuador's Supreme Court ruled that former President Rafael Correa should be included in a probe into the attempted kidnapping of an opposition lawmaker in 2012 (EFE). A Colombian court had previously found that top intelligence officials under Correa had been involved in the kidnapping. The case is unfolding amid high political tensions in Ecuador, thanks to the schism that has developed between Correa and his successor, President Lenin Moreno, who has distanced himself from Correa's policies. 
  • Colombian drug trafficker alias "Mi Sangre"—whose arrest and extradition from Argentina was emblematic of how prominent Colombian narcos have heavily relied on the Southern Cone country as a safe haven—received a reduced U.S. prison sentence in return for substantial collaboration with law enforcement (Miami Herald). 
  • There is an "ugly," "angry" mood among voters regarding Brazil's upcoming election, reports the Financial Times. It remains to be seen whether voters will go for a centrist candidate, or support fiery, far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who is "a human grenade with the pin out." 
  • Can you blame Lula for becoming a World Cup pundit while in jail? (AP)
  • Afro-Brazilians are embracing natural hair and rejecting white standards of beauty (Washington Post)
- Elyssa Pachico

Monday, June 18, 2018

A Duque presidency in Colombia (June 18, 2018)

The votes are in—so what does an Ivan Duque presidency mean for Colombia? 

First: a possible return to the use of herbicide spraying on coca crops. Duque has said he is open to reinitiating Colombia's fumigation program, halted in 2015 due to concerns that the spray causes cancer. Given threats by the Trump administration to decertify Colombia as an ally in the "drug war," this arguably puts greater pressure on Colombia to resume spraying and thus "show results." 

Second: Duque could derail Colombia's historic 2016 peace deal by moving slowly (or not at all) to implement key aspects of the accord. This includes (but is not limited to) support for the newly-created transitional justice system, the pledge not to extradite FARC leaders or prosecute them for war or drug trafficking crimes, and efforts to reintegrate demobilized guerrilla fighters. 

Adding to the urgency around the peace deal is the fact that—while last year was Colombia's least violent since the 1970s—violence related to the conflict again appears to be on the rise (Washington Post). And as some Members of Congress have pointed out, the tide of killings and threats against community leaders in ethnic communities also remains a major concern. 

As the Washington Post points out, President Santos' inability to get key aspects of the peace deal approved by Congress highlights the importance of having Colombia's executive branch proactively and aggressively support the peace deal.

Still, it seems highly unlikely that Duque can do away with the peace deal altogether: while Duque could "implement changes by decree or constitutional reform, he would likely encounter pushback against any major changes" to a peace deal which continues to receive widespread international support, says the Associated Press.

Third: another major question for the Duque presidency is whether will he govern as a pragmatist or will he only further deepen divisions in a polarized country. Duque emphasized "uniting the country" in his victory speech, notes La Silla Vacia, but his policy proposals—emphasizing a "marriage" between agro-industry and the rural poor, talk of "security" —were straight out of a traditional Uribista playbook. Nonetheless, the FARC political party have offered to meet with Duque (EFE).

While Duque's victory marks a major win for his mentor, former President Alvaro Uribe, this year's election also saw a leftist candidate receive the highest number of votes in Colombia's recent history. Gustavo Petro won nearly a third of the country's 32 departments, performing strongly in areas with large Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. While the left-leaning candidates who lost the 2006 and 2010 elections earned 22 percent and 27.5 percent of the vote respectively, this year over 8 million Colombians—about 42 percent of voters—cast their ballots for a leftist candidate. This is a noteworthy political shift in a country where left-leaning candidates have typically been highly stigmatized, says the AP. 

History was made in other ways after Sunday's vote: Colombia will have its first female vice president. Additionally, despite several reports of voter fraud (Colombia Reports), it was the safest and most transparent election in decades, the government said (Miami Herald). There was violence reported in longtime conflict zones, however. (El Tiempo).

Central America
  • Dialogue continues in Nicaragua, with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expected to release an updated report on the human rights situation in the country possibly by the end of this week. While the government and the opposition said that they have agreed to a truce (BBC), grisly incidents of violence continue to be reported across the country, and there is no word yet on whether President Daniel Ortega has demonstrated further willingness to hold early elections, as has previously been reported. (Reuters)
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists documented an attack against a reporter for one of Nicaragua's biggest dailies, La Prensa. Various attacks—including the death of one journalist who was covering protests—and incidents of press censorship have been reported in Nicaragua since massive political unrest broke out in late April.
  • Guatemala has officially ended its search for potential survivors of the June 3 volcanic eruption (AP).
  • A Guatemalan political analyst and a former head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has accused President Jimmy Morales of "abusing young girls." (elPeriodico
  • With Mexico seemingly intent on continuing to lean heavily on its military to fight organized crime—as seen with the passage of the Internal Security Law last December—this raises serious questions about human rights abuses (LA Times).
  • Jon Lee Anderson profiles leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (who will almost certainly win the July 1 elections) for the New Yorker
  • A Mexican court sentenced two members of the military to 19 years in prison for sexually assaulting indigenous activist Valentina Rosendo Cantú in 2002 (La Jornada). The case is arguably representative of the abuses that can result from deploying Mexico's military in a policing role. 
  • 17 people died after a stampede at a Venezuelan nightclub (New York Times).
  • Polio has not returned to the country, says the World Health Organization (CNN).
  • With Lula banned from running for office, Workers' Party presumptive nominee Ciro Gomes may pick a wealthy steel tycoon as his running mate, which could help him pick up more votes in Brazil's industrial south (Mercopress).
  • The BBC profiles presidential candidate and environmentalist Marina Silva. 
Southern Cone
  • The campaign for less repressive abortion laws in Argentina represents the fight between two visions for the country: a "secular and progressive" Argentina, vs. an "obscurantist" Argentina that is stuck in the past (New York Times En Español).
  • Last week, Peru's Congress approved a law that bans state advertising in private media. This undercuts a source of funding for independent outlets, many of which have produced critical reporting on the Fujimorista bloc that supported the law. (IPYS
  • The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that Peru must review the pardon granted to former dictator Alberto Fujimori last December, and do so by October 29 (Ojo Publico)  
  • Celebratory Mexicans caused a small earthquake after their national team beat Germany in the World Cup (New York Times). Peruvians have been similarly enthusiastic in terms of World Cup spirit, although by contrast, Brazilians are "strikingly blasé," reports the Times.
Elyssa Pachico

Friday, June 15, 2018

Colombia prepares to vote (June 15, 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central America

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

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

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

Elyssa Pachico