Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, May 20, 2015

Venezuelan government denies accusations of drug trafficking

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro rejected allegations that his political ally and the head of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello is involved in a cocaine trafficking network along with other prominent government officials.

"Whoever messes with Diosdado messes with me, we are going to defend him," he said on his weekly television program. He said the accusations are part of a new foreign "attack" on Venezuela, reports Reuters.

The allegations were aired by the Wall Street Journal (see yesterday's post), which yesterday reported that U.S. officials are investigating high-ranking Venezuelan officials -- including Cabello -- on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering.

Cabello yesterday said he was the victim of a personal attack that is part of a destabilization effort by the U.S. and foes of Venezuela’s government, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The report was widely circulated by Venezuelan media yesterday, according to the piece, despite government retaliation against earlier airing of the same accusations.

Cabello is suing three media outlets who published accusations by his supposed former bodyguard, who says he witnessed Cabello coordinating a cocaine shipment and receiving suitcases of cash from Venezuela's tax authority. “For all of those in Venezuela that reproduced the news, I say ’See you in court,’” Cabello has said.

But Cabello has taken it beyond a standard defamation suit: the directors of three of the most influential independent national media outlets in Venezuela are under legal prohibition to leave the country, explain Hugo Pérez Hernaíz and David Smilde in Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.

They note increasing concern among civil society groups regarding freedom of the press. One tactic of indirect censorship used by the government is restricting access to newsprint, they report. Several prominent papers have had to reduce their printed pages as a result of scarcity of paper.


News Briefs

  • Mexican authorities are investigating the disappearance of 15 people in Chilapa, in the Guerrero state -- where last year the case of 43 disappeared students made world headlines and called attention to the country's crisis of forced disappearancesReuters reports that the latest disappearances occurred last week, after armed groups disarmed municipal police in Chilapa. However, Animal Político notes there is considerable disagreement over the number of people reported missing. While local inhabitants say 30 people disappeared, the mayor says there are 12 documented cases, the Guerrero State Human Rights Commission says 13 people and the state prosecutor is investigating 15 cases. A spokesman for Chilapa's inhabitants says the discrepancies are due to underreporting of the missing by family members who are scared of retribution. The mayor has said that there is no common element among the missing, who include merchants, construction workers and young sportsmen.
  • Former Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana police chief Julián Leyzaola is under investigation for the murder of four youths in Ciudad Juarez, allegedly at the hands of agents under his command. Leyzaola is a polemic figure, though homicides were drastically reduced under his watch, he has been accused of torture, brutality and abuse of power by human rights organizations, reports AFP. Leyzaola was the gravely wounded in a shooting earlier this month.
  • The Mexican government said it regrets the Texan grand jury decision to not prosecute a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed Mexican earlier this year. The Mexican Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it would consult with the U.S. Justice Department about pursuing a civil rights case against the Grapevine Police Department, reports the Los Angeles Times.Garcia was one of three unarmed Mexican nationals killed by U.S. police within a month’s time. The piece notes that while similar killings of young black men have incited national anger, similar Mexican deaths have attracted little notice.
  • Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff is walking an economic fine line: her government is attempting to implement austerity measures in order to avoid losing investment-grade credit ratings. But while Rousseff said yesterday that the government "... will make the necessary cuts," she also said they would avoid excessive reductions to the budget, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced billions of dollars worth of financing and trade agreements during his visit to Brazil yesterday. The investments are largely aimed at infrastructure, and helping Brazil lower its commodity prices. Brazil has experienced economic gains over the past decade, in part due to Chinese demand for raw materials. However its expected to slip into a recession this year, and the Chinese economy has slowed down. While the Petrobras graft scandal has made some investors see Brazil as a risky bet, Chinese banks and companies don't seem to share that perception, reports the New York Times. However, theWall Street Journal notes that while grandiose announcements are now a standard modus operandi for Chinese official visits to the region, the actual investments don't always materialize. A Brazilian think tank, found that little more than a one-third of the $68.5 billion in Chinese investments announced between 2007 and 2012 were actually realized, according to the piece. The New York Times mentions particular skepticism in relation to a proposed transcontinental railway that would permit Brazil to ship freight directly to the Pacific, avoiding the Panama Canal.
  • Cuba has established a banking relationship in the U.S., although the formal announcement has not yet been made and it's not clear with which bank, reports the AP. Restoring banking operations was among Cuba’s demands as diplomats negotiate to restore embassies in Washington and Havana. Up until now Cuban diplomats in the U.S. had to pay expenses and salaries in cash.
  • The former Navy Mechanics School in Buenos Aires (ESMA), used as a secret detention camp for over 5,000 political prisoners during Argentina's 1976-1983 civil-military dictatorship has been turned into a museum and site of memory. Página 12 notes that the exhaustively researched and documented exhibits, placed in the very rooms where hooded prisoners did slave labor and where pregnant prisoners gave birth to babies that were wrenched from their arms, attempt to allow for reflexion as well as horror. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner inaugurated the space yesterday.
  • Uruguay's government announced a working group to investigate crimes against humanity committed during the country's civil-military dictatorship between 1973 and 1985. The focus will be on the estimated 200 victims of forced disappearances, reports EFE.
  • Argentina's government backed local soy producers yesterday in a royalties conflict with Monsanto. Monsanto has wanted farmer to pay a royalty if seeds carrying the company's Intacta technology are obtained from prior harvests. But Argentina's Agriculture Ministry says farmers should only have to pay Monsanto once, at the time of purchase, for the seeds. As a conciliatory measure the government is creating a registry that will track the amount of genetically modified soybean seeds reaped from farmers' crops in order to crack down on the illegal resale of seeds developed by Monsanto, reports Reuters.
  • The five former Guantanamo prisoners protesting in Uruguay reached an agreement with the Uruguayan government: they will obtain housing for the next year or so and a subsidy of approximately $550 a month (to be raised depending on the amount of family members who join them in Uruguay). A sixth former prisoner who did not participate in the protest also signed the same agreement, while a seventh refused to sign saying it was insufficient. The former prisoners have been protesting for nearly a month in front of the U.S. embassy, demanding some form of compensation for their 13 years in military prison, reports the AP.

  • The Bank of Mexico lowered its forecast for economic growth in 2015, yesterday, citing a drop in the country’s oil production and more modest expectations for the U.S. economy, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • International reports sometimes give a sense of repeated déjà vu: The World Bank suggests that Latin America adapt to slowing economies by flexibilizing its labor market and increasing government saving.

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