Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, May 12, 2015

Marching for the disappeared in Mexico

Thousands of people commemorated Mother's day around Mexico with marches for disappeared family members. In México D.F. they marched from the Monumento a la Madre along the Paseo de Reforma, emphasizing the growing phenomenon of forced disappearances in the country and demanding response from the authorities for the estimated 25 thousand disappeared.

A new generation of families -- those who have lost loved ones to the war on drugs -- joins older generations demanding justice, such as the families of victims of femicide in Juárez, notes Proceso. Though the Ayotzinapa 43 are the best known case, marchers emphasized that the numbers are much higher. "Now count to 25 thousand for each of the others," was the response when chants made reference to the students who disappeared in Iguala.

Forty-three has proved to be a powerful number though, a symbol of a far more widespread problem. In February the U.N. Committee on Enforced Disappearances published a harsh report, which found that Mexico has "a context of generalized disappearances in a great part of the country, many of which could qualify as enforced disappearances." (Mexican government officials rejected the report's conclusions.) 

Citizens are rallying around the issue, and coming to the conclusion that "el estado" is responsible, reports The Intercept, in a two-part investigation (with a photo essay) into the Iguala case, published last week. There is still no conclusive answer as to what happened to the students who disappeared in September, despite government attempts to close the case. The families and human rights activists point to a broader government complicity, and The Intercept concludes that there are important "inconsistencies, obfuscations and omissions in the government’s account."

The dozens of clandestine graves that have turned up in the search for the missing students -- and the hundreds in recent years -- point to the much broader problem plaguing Mexico. Family members of Mexico’s missing have been trying to draw attention to the connection between U.S. aid and violence and impunity in Mexico, emphasizes another article in The Intercept. Often authorities connected to abuses continue to receive American funding, despite a U.S. law that prohibits assistance to foreign security forces credibly believed to have committed a gross human rights violation, according to the authors. The piece uses several National Security Archive documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.

News Briefs

  • Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's cabinet shakeup removed the Minister of the Interior -- under scrutiny for corruption -- along with four other ministers. She also shuffled another four to new positions.The cabinet shuffle was widely seen as a way of tightening her leadership within the governing coalition and boosting her own sagging popularity, reports the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal notes that the Minister of Finance was replaced by Rodrigo Valdés, a well-known economist with good relations with the business community.
  • The U.S. Ambassador to Colombia said he accepted the country's decision to suspend a long-standing program aerial sprayings of glyphosate to control illicit coca-cultivation fields, but that other tools must be implemented to combat the drug trade. President Juan Manuel Santos announced the suspension of the program yesterday, citing health risks and casting doubts on its effectiveness, reports the Los Angeles Times
  • Glyphosate isn't only used in Colombia though. Página 12 in Argentina reports on serious health concerns regarding its use on soy fields. The substance is classified as "low toxicity" in Argentina, so there are few provincial restrictions on its use. Fumigations can go up to residential areas, or be aerially sprayed over water sources and rural schools, despite increasing evidence of health impacts.
  • Four U.N. experts harshly criticized the Paraguayan government's refusal to permit an abortion for a pregnant 10-year-old girl, allegedly raped by her step-father. The case has sparked debate in the country, where rape is only permitted when the mother's life is endangered. Opposition parties in Congress have called for a relaxing of the law. Maternal death is four times higher among teenagers under 16 than women in their early twenties in Latin America, according to World Health Organization statistics, reports Reuters. The publicity is drawing attention to the problem of child-rape in Paraguay, which activists say is widespread. A rally yesterday in Ciudad del Este drew about 200 people calling for "No more abuse," reports theAP.
  • A convicted money launderer sentenced to three years of prison alleged that President Dilma Rousseff and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva knew about an alleged corruption scheme at Brazil's state run oil company, Petrobras. The allegations were made to a congressional commission investigating the alleged corruption. He had previously made made the allegations to investigators as part of a plea deal for a lesser sentence, reports the Wall Street Journal. Both Rousseff and Lula da Silva deny the accusations.
  • Venezuela’s economic woes are due to the nature of it's semi-authoritarian and hyper-populist political regime, argues Javier Corrales in Foreign Policy. The effect has disincentivized its leaders from competently managing the oil boom, and is now crippling the government’s ability to respond to the downturn, he says. The paradox, he concludes, is that now the government is being pushed towards its ideological nemisis: austerity.
  • Inditex, Zara's parent company, could be fined up to $25 million by the Brazilian government for employment abuses in its supply chain. Brazil's Labor Ministry found examples of 7,000 workers being mistreated in since 2012, despite an agreement signed with the company in 2011 to improve labor conditions, reports The Guardian.
  • Argentina debt holdouts yesterday asked a U.S. court to make more of the country's debt subject to a prior court order blocking the country from making payments on its obligations without paying the holdouts as well, reports Reuters. At issue are Argentina's BONAR bonds, which are denominated in U.S. dollars but governed by local law. The government issued $1.4 billion in bonds last month.
  • The Mexican government will publish bidding rules today for its first onshore oil and gas blocks, which they hope will boost the country's fledgling private oil industry, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Francois Hollande will visit Haiti this week, only the second time a sitting French president has gone to the former colony. For government authorities it's a chance to encourage foreign investment and highlight the advances made since the devastating 2010 earthquake, reportsthe AP. But for others the visit is a reminder of the crippling costs the island paid for its independence from colonial rule. In 1825 France demanded that Haiti compensate former slave holders by paying 150 million gold francs. Known as the "independence debt," it was later reduced to 90 million gold francs, the equivalent of $18.9 billion, which Haiti was still paying in the early 1940s, reports the Miami Herald.

  • Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will visit Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Chile next week. Though no details were provided, such visits are typically accompanied by "impressive deals," reports Reuters. In January, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged $250 billion in investment in Latin America over the next 10 years. China is seeking to boost its influence in the resource rich region. However, Chinese leaders are prizing pragmatism over ideological affinity, according to a Financial Times piece. Though nominally communist, the country prefers to invest in the region's more liberal economies, like Peru. China is growing increasingly worried about the model of lending secured against commodities, according to an analyst cited in the piece. International rail contracts are a political priority for Beijing, like a proposed trans-Andean rail link between Brazil and Peru, which would allow for Brazilian shipments to China to bypass the Panama Canal.
  • The Security Assistance Monitor tracks and analyzes U.S. security and defense assistance programs worldwide. It provides a daily update e-mail with news divided by country and region.

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