Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Top Latin American Stories, March 4 2015

Women, narco-evangelicals, the Rainbow Tide? 

Only 5% of Cubans have a home internet connection so what kind of democracy will internet access promote in Cuba, asks Matías Bianchi (Asuntos del Sur; author or Democracy in the Margins of Democracy: Activism in Latin America in the Digital Era) in his column in Inter Press Service (3/3). The internet is a critical part the Obama administration's strategy to Cuba where it is supposed to "give a voice to new actors – supposedly at near-zero cost." However, "there are currently no groups on the island that can mobilize in the way some do in other countries and make use of political use of the new technologies." There are two few Yoani Sánchez’s (the Cuban blogger) or the Damas de Blanco (the opposition movement for jailed dissidents). In addition, the internet will also show Cubans how their Latin American neighbors "suffer from dismal inequality indexes, how drug trafficking is taking over their everyday lives, and how their murder rates are the highest in the world."

Look out for the narco-evangelicals in Mexico, argues Andrew Chestnut (Virginia Commonwealth University) in his assessment of the capture of the head of the Knights Templar drug cartel, which "reminds us that the lethal mix of religion and terrorism isn't peculiar to the Middle East," according to his oped in the Huffington Post (3/3). Mexico is has the world's second largest Catholic population and drug cartels have appropriated both folk saints, such as Santa Muerte (St. Death) and Jesus Malverde. "The Knights Templar developed a messianic ideology based on Old Testament principles and the Evangelical Protestantism to which both he and fellow Michoacan kingpin Nazario Moreno had converted while working in the U.S. in the 1990s."

The high-profile LGBT rights gains of the last decade remain inaccessible or irrelevant for much of Latin America’s LGBT population, according to Annie Wilkinson (FLACSO) in NACLA (2/23.  Though many have pointed to successes of the Rainbow Tide (cf “Why is Latin America So Progressive on Gay Rights?' in NYT in 2014), and about half a billion people in the Americas live in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legal, Wilkinson asks who is actually benefiting from these policy changes. There is "a long list of LGBT people in the region, particularly those who are poor, indigenous, Afro-descendent, gender non-conforming, or trans" who are waiting to see substantive changes and she particularly points to Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic as slow reformers.

Women are the critical actors in the future, according to the “Women in Power and Decision-Making: Building a Different World” convening last week in Santiago by United Nations Women, as part of Beijing+20. Gender equality must be be  cross-cutting target in the post-2015 development agenda, according to a report in Inter Press Service (3/3). "If you’re talking about poverty, you need voice, participation and leadership for women, if you’re talking about economy, if you’re talking education, you need women," said UN Dep Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at their convening. 

  • CICIG could be a condition for proposed US aid package to the northern triangle countries in Central America, according to Vice President Biden's remarks during his visit to Guatemala, where he met with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, according to El Periodico, other Guatemalan media (3/3), and a WOLA statement (3/2).
  • Alexander Main (CEPR) is deeply skeptical on the billion dollar U.S. investment in Central America, in an essay by published by NACLA (2/27). He suggests that U.S. investments should be to local human rights defenders and institutional reformers – particularly judicial and law enforcement reform. Instead, "plans for promoting governance and reform appear to rely largely on the political will of national authorities." He peels open the budget and gives examples like: "funding for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) assistance – much of which provides support to police forces – would jump from $100 million in FY2014 to $205 million." Main also expresses support for multilateral cooperation schemes like CICIG. 
  • The new Uruguayan administration will not be rushed in their drug policy, according to El Observador (Uruguay, 3/4).  Though it has been 987 days since Uruguay began to regulate marijuana sales, there seems to be a slowdown by incoming President Vázquez.  In addition, "medical marijuana will cost more than recreational weed," according to a review in Global Post (2/17). 
  • Several NGOs, unions academics and others sent a letter to Colombia's Unidad Nacional de Protección​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ (UNP) urging a response to the threats against human rights defenders, Afro-Colombian and indigenous activists, engaged in the peace process. Signatories included WOLA, Oxfam, CIP, AFL-CIO and many American professors. "In 2014, 55 defenders were assassinated and 488 received death threats." Separately: radio reporter Edgar Quintero became the second Colombian journalist to be murdered in three weeks on Monday, according to the Guardian (3/4) and Colombia Reports. "According to local journalists cited by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, he often criticized local government and police officials while discussing issues such as corruption."
  • While peace talks in Colombia are beginning to address transitional justice, especially the question of what to do with the armed conflict’s worst human rights violators, according to WOLA's Colombia Peace blog, the country's armed forces seem to be seriously assessing their post-conflict role, according to El Espectador (3/2).
  • Mexican President Peña Nieto has broken up the telecommunications oligopoly and opened up the oil industry but is at risk for ignoring public security and human rights, report the Financial Times (3/3). The article compares him to the failed leadership of former President Carlos Salinas and also suggests that Congress ban on re-electing deputies and senators created a baronial fiefdom. President Peña Nieto is getting some push back for his nominations for a new  attorney general - presumptive nominee Sen. Arely Gomez is a sister of top Televisa news executive Leopoldo Gomez, according to the AP (3/3). 
  • Brazil's attorney general is seeking to investigate top political figures for alleged involvement in the kickback scheme at state-run oil company Petrobras, according to the AP and BBC (3/3).  Names have not been released but "the scandal has exposed the structure of corruption in Brazil," according to Paulo Sotero (Woodrow Wilson Center).
  • Reporters Without Borders (2/27) reviews media freedom in Nicaragua where no journalist has been killed since 2007. However, "this should not divert attention from the fact that many journalists are the victims of stigmatization, threats and violence." Nicaragua is ranked 74th out 180 countries in RWB's 2015 press freedom index.
  • Police in Peru have shot down a drug plane in the notorious VRAEM region, according to InSight Crime (3/2) and El Comercio (3/3). "[It] signals the government’s return to a controversial shoot-down policy intended to impair illegal activity in one of the region’s most important drug trafficking hubs."
  • Andres Oppenheimer reacted to the study on China's state-owned bank loans to Latin America in his column in the Miami Herald. "Virtually all of Chinese banks’ lending went to raw material extraction-related projects in countries that have a hard time getting loans [like] Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador and Brazil." Latin America’s China dependence has made the region’s manufacturing industries less competitive in world markets.  In recent years, China’s massive purchases of Latin America’s primary commodities such as copper, iron and soybeans helped Latin America grow at record rates. But it also boosted world commodity prices, causing Latin American currencies to appreciate.

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