Friday, April 3, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, April 3, 2015


Mexico's Foreign Ministry is engaging in an increasingly louder spat with the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture who wrote a report last month saying that torture was a "generalized" practice among authorities in the country, according to Agence France Press. Yesterday, Mendez explained his methodology in a Skype interview with El Universal (4/2) and the newspaper's related editorial stated, "what is important: the content of the report is not questioned, only its extent. Torture does exist and the heated debate should be on how to eradicate it." (A columnist for Excelsior (4/3) had a different take: it is now simply shouting match, seeing who can yell loudest.)

Background: The U.N. official, Juan Mendez, released a report in early March concluding that torture was a "generalized phenomena in Mexico which take place within the context of impunity,” according to contemporaneous reports in La JornadaProceso, among others (3/9). Mexico's Foreign Ministry slammed the report for being "unethical" and "irresponsible," according to news reports (3/28).  Human rights groups quickly distributed a letter (3/31) expressing “profound disgust” over Mexico's pledge to stop working with the U.N. envoy for torture.  Mexico's UN Ambassador Jorge Lomónaco responded this week saying the report was "unfounded" and questioning the methodology because it relied on only 14 cases.
U.N. Rapporteur Mendez has now sent a letter (4/1) to the Mexican government writing "you had invited me to give you my honest assessment of the situation, and not to sugarcoat it." He know says that he received pressure to lighten ("minimizar") his report, according to La Jornada (4/2).

On a related note, human rights activists demonstrated in front of the U.S. State Department in Washington, on the six-month anniversary of the 43 missing college students near Ayotzinapa. One of their demands is an evaluation of the $2.3 billion Mérida Initiative, according to the Huffington Post (4/2).


  • On Monday, a congressional committee in Chile's Congress will vote on Ley 20.000, a proposal to depenalize private cultivation of cannabis for  therapeutic and recreational use, according to La Tercera and Emol (3/30). The Chairman guiding the proposal through the committee is Congressman Jose Luis Castro, a surgeon and physician by profession.  (According to El Tipografo, the law is "sobre tráfico ilícito de estupefacientes y sustancias psicotrópicas, con el objeto de legalizar el autocultivo de cannabis, para el consumo privado y despenalizar su expendio y cultivo para fines medicinales.")
  • The violence of Mexican rival drug gangs in Matamoros is seen through eyes of a kidnapping victim, on NPR (4/2). "Kidnapping is increasingly being used by the narco-traffickers as an income generator."
  • Former El Salvador Defense Minister, Gen. Carlos Vides, accused of numerous human rights’ abuses, will be deported from the U.S. back to San Salvador, according to Fox News Latino and the NY Times (4/1). Vides tried to leave the country on his own but was not allowed to do so - "It’s far less humiliating for a person to go back on his own than to go back as a formal deportee of the U.S. government," said Cynthia Arnson (Woodrow Wilson Center). Separately, El Salvador's Policía Nacional Civil registered 1,843 disappeared in 2014 - and as of February 22 of this year, there have been 243 registered, according to El Diario de Hoy (4/2).
  • Two years into Venezuela Pres. Maduro's administration, there are several retrospective articles including Michael Shifter (InterAmerican Dialogue) who writes that the U.S. sanctions on Venezuela are prompting Cold War memories, in Foreign Affairs (4/2); the editors of World Politics Review who assess Chavismo after Chavez.  Reuters TV (4/2) has a story on current anti-Maduro sentiment that is reaching "a new high" with a growing "resistance movement" but that still can't get critical mass.
  • Peru’s Pres. Humala named Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano to be his new prime minister and kept most of his cabinet, days after Congress fired former premier Ana Jara, according to the Wall St Journal (4/2) and the state news agency Andina. According to the WSJ, Mr. Cateriano "has clashed with opposition politicians leading some political analysts to say his appointment may be seen by some opposition lawmakers as a provocation." Cateriano's appointment shows that Pres. Humala will not be cornered or cowed by the APRA and Fujimori opposition, according to Augusto Álvarez Rodrich's column in La Republica (4/3).
  • Pope Francis announced travel plans to Colombia, according to Reuters and Semana (4/2). The Pope "is aware of the crucial importance of this time in which the Colombian people are seeking to construct a more just and fraternal society: a society in peace," reported  Vatican Radio (4/3).  Separately, Germany has appointed Tom Koenigs as Special Envoy for the peace process in Colombia, according to EFE and a press release from the German Foreign Ministry (4/2). "Koenigs will serve as the point of contact for the Colombian Government and is to coordinate and pool Germany’s efforts to support the peace process."
  • The U.S. Air Force is making its RQ-4 Global Hawks surveillance aircraft available to allies in Latin America, according to an official briefing FOIAd by Joseph Trevithick (Global Security) who writes about it in War is Boring (4/1). The aircraft has "a longer wingspan than a Boeing 737 airliner—is useful for finding drug fields and helping plan offensives against rebel groups." The article notes that "the briefing doesn’t offer any examples of actual RQ-4 missions."
  • How racial and ethnic identities shape 
the region’s politics is explored in an essay by Deborah Yashar (Princeton) in Foreign Affairs (March/April). Separately, the Project on Ethnicity and Race in Latin America (PERLA) published Pigmentocracies: Ethnicity, Race, and Color in Latin America (Univ of North Carolina, 2014) which reviewed "contemporary attitudes toward ethnicity and race in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, four of Latin America's most populous nations." 
  • New documents from Edward Snowden's files suggest that the British's spy service has maintained offensive cyber-operations to prevent Argentina from taking the Falklands/Malvinas islands, according to a collaborative investigative report between Todo Noticias in Argentina and The Intercept (4/2).  "A bold, covert plan called “Operation QUITO” has been involved in spreading misinformation," since at least 2009.
  • 'The Suffering of Others: The Human Cost of the International Finance Corporation’s Lending Through Financial Intermediaries' (32pp) critiques the World Bank's financing model by telling "the human story behind the high finance and statistics, and asks whether reforms to this model of lending have gone far enough to protect communities." The report was published by a collaboration of 10 NGOs including Oxfam and Global Witness according to a press release, a Huffington Post blog by Oxfam's president Raymond Offenheiser, and The Guardian. The report uses stories from Honduras (p. 7-10) and Guatemala p. 11-13) as case studies and concludes with recommendations on risk analysis, transparency, capacity building and institutional reform. "Funds would be better used to pursue development targets in areas such as education and public health." (The report has received attention in the BelgianGermanAustralian and Vietnamese press, but so far no U.S. publication has seemed to pick it up yet.)

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