Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Corruption in Central America & The Andes (August 5, 2015)


Anti-corruption protests in Guatemala and Honduras sparked hope for the first time in decades, sparked by explosive revelations of bribery and graft schemes, according to the International Business Times. Both countries have challenging statistics: "around 66.5% of Hondurans and 62.4% of Guatemalans live below the national poverty line, according to United Nations figures from 2012. Honduras was also at the top of the U.N.’s list of global homicide rates in 2013, with Guatemala in fifth place." 

While the IBT piece is reluctant to label it a 'Central American Spring',” others are not so cautious including a late July story Inter-Press Service leading off with "a Honduran Spring is happening," as they reported on weekly anti-corruption rallys where "hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets in Tegucigalpa and 50 other cities around the country,"  many under the flag of the Oposición Indignados.  The OEA's Luis Almagro arrives in Honduras this week to support the national dialogue against corruption and impunity proposed by Honduran Pres. Juan Orlando Hernández, according to Criterio.  In June, Pres. Hernández announced the creation of the Sistema Integral Hondureño de Lucha contra la Corrupción e Impunidad (SIHCCI) which would be led by national and international judges, according to La Prensa. (A round up of recent related news from Honduras is gathered by Global Post.)

Guatemala is going through "one of its most tense moments in its history" with gang violence tearing apart its seams as it approaches the September 6 elections, according to La Prensa Grafica. The CICG has uncovered corruption in two main presidential slates, the Libertad Democrática Renovada (Líder) and the Unión Nacional por la Esperanza. Meanwhile, some groups, who hope for CICIG support, can't wait for the elections calling for Pres. Pérez Molina to resign and have made a call for a Constituent Assembly, according to El Periódico. The Open Society Justice Initiative is urging the international community "to make clear its support for the UN-backed commission fighting corruption and organized crime in Guatemala, as it faces growing political pressure in the run up to presidential elections."

A series of investigative reports shows the depth of corruption in Andean countries with respect to gold trafficking. How illegal gold travels from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia to companies in the United States was the focus of a two-part investigation by Peruvian journalism website OjoPublico in June, and recently re-published in English by Insight Crime. Part One zeros in on the companies accused of financing South America's illegal gold trade and includes a tour of the largest deforested area in Peru, Madre de Dios.  Part Two identified six foreign companies that bought gold in the Andean countries, some of whom are under suspicion for how they source their minerals. A few of the named companies have issued responses including  MetalorMKS Financial, and Kaloti, the latter accompanied by legal threats. 

  • Ecuador Transparente (aka as the Ecuadorian Wikileaks) released 31 documents that could prove systematic spying from the government of President Rafael Correa on opposition politicians, journalists, and activists, according to a thorough review in the PanAm Post. "The leaked documents from 2012 to 2014 - allegedly from Ecuador’s National Secretariat of Intelligence (SENAIN)" - include profiles of eight people including opposition politicians, environmental activists and a television anchor.
  • Daniel Alarcón writes in the New Yorker about his recent visit to El Salvador where, "since the collapse of the truce between local gangs and the government, the murder rate has risen by a staggering 52%. ... If this is peacetime, one shudders to think what a war would look like." (A large part of his story is pegged on this story La Policía masacró en la finca San Blas from El Faro.) He suggests that many people he spoke with were open to extra-judicial state executions and concludes that in a country where "proposed genocide has to be discussed in terms of its practicality, and not its immorality, tells you a great deal about the gravity of the situation in El Salvador."  Al-Jazeera reports that El Salvador gangs want to talk truce. In an interview with a gang leader, he says that "there are no football teams ... no boy scouts, nothing, just gangs.  ... They called the FMLN terrorists and negotiated with them. Now they call us criminals and terrorists." The FMLN who waged a guerrilla war in the 1980s is currently the governing party.
  • 65 U.S. Congressional Democrats sent Sec of State Kerry a letter yesterday to support the ongoing peace process in Colombia and to urge all parties at the negotiating table in Havana, to put victims’ rights and needs at the center of talks, according to a Congressman's press release. "Colombia does not need to add more victims to the toll accrued over half a century." Separately, peace may be closer than expected, according to the Washington Post. "Despite springtime violence, President Santos announced his intention to accelerate talks taking place in Havana while slowing down military operations against the Marxist- inspired guerrilla group. For its part, the FARC has called a unilateral cease-fire that runs through mid-August." El Nuevo Heraldo in Miami publishes an op-ed arguing that no matter what, the FARC has been ideologically defeated. Separately, the Colombian government and the ELN are set to start peace talks in Ecuador, according to Semana.
  • Uruguay's "more ordered, more predictable, more cautious government” government, led by 75-year-old Tabaré Vázquez, is reviewed by the Financial Times. "Among the more confusing examples of Uruguay’s attitudes is its apparently contrasting approach to cannabis, alcohol and tobacco."
  • Honduras' president and first lady launched a national program that aims to cut teen pregnancy by about 25%, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The Central American country has the second highest rate of teen pregnancy in Latin America.  Last October, the first ladies of Central America and the Dominican Republic signing a declaration in Honduras "committing to the prevention of adolescent pregnancies regionally."
  • 'Journalists are being slaughtered' in Mexico, headlines The Guardian's photojournalist, mourning the death of photojournalist Rubén Espinosa. "It was the first time a journalist has been murdered after fleeing to the presumed safety of Mexico’s capital city. ... there is nowhere safe to go in Mexico: impunity reigns.” The BBC posted some video of three suspects; Proceso has grisly details of the murders and offers some speculation on Veracruz' Governor Duarte's role. Duarte's profile on Wikipedia has had significant edits with some trying to add 'assassin' to his online biography. While Freedom House and the OAS issue press releases urging a thorough investigation, El Daily Post offers four theories to answer their question, "Why do Mexican journalists keep getting killed?" 
  • The case of the 43 missing students in Mexico is reviewed by the Huffington Post which says that "the government's version of events is riddled with conflicting testimonies, tainted evidence and coerced confessions" and points out that Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission recently listed 32 problems with the government’s investigation.
  • graphic non-fiction novel depicts Mexican human rights campaigner Lucha Castro's struggle to defend women's rights against horrific gender violence in Chihuahua, according to The Guardian. She says that "the book could not have come at a better time. 'It raises the cost to the state of anything happening to me. It also raises the cost of the kind of smear campaigns against human rights defenders that the government likes to do'.”
  • Seven Central American Attorneys General will be meeting today in Washington with the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs "to discuss justice and law enforcement issues, as well as ongoing reform efforts, in the region." This includes the Attorneys General of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, according to the State Department.
  • A Bogota mayoral candidate who once bought marijuana during an interview now wants to ban the drug in Colombia’s capital, according to Colombia Reports. "The first thing he wants to do if elected mayor of Bogota is promote a referendum that seeks the full penalization of marijuana smoking."
  • Venezuelan President Maduro seems to be as popular as the Pope - on Twitter, in terms of being 're-tweeted,' according to the Associated Press. "The socialist South American leader regularly sets social media afire with heavily trending anti-U.S. campaigns such as #ObamaYankeeGoHome and #ObamaRepealTheExecutiveOrder." However, the government may be artificially inflating its social media influence with fake accounts. Still, "one way or another, the government appears to be succeeding as ... the top Twitter trending topic in Venezuela is usually a government message, with opponents coming in a distant second."  The 2015 study by Twiplomacy cited in the article shows that in terms of 'followers' Mexico’s President Peña Nieto @EPN leads his counterparts in Latin American followed by Colombia’s President @JuanManSantos, Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner @CFKArgentina, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff @dilmabr and, finally, in fifth place, Venezuela’s @NicolasMaduro. Maduro's 2.5 million followers is dwarfed by Pres. Obamas 56 million followers.
  • The U.S. State Dept. (reiterated by Reuters) spoke out against Venezuela's 'Banning of Opposition Members from Holding Office' though the note seemed low key and expressed 'concern'.
  • The Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation says that Cuba arrested 674 dissidents in July, "the highest total since June 2014," according to Deutsche Welle.
  • The OAS has called for talks between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, regarding the formers policy of repatriation of the latter, according to the Miami Herald and the paper sides with Haiti in its' accompanying editorial.
  • Yesterday, Chile's congress started debating whether to allow abortions in extreme cases, despite significant religious opposition, according to The Guardian. Chile is one of six countries that outlaw abortion under any circumstance, a holdover from Pinochet's policies, reminds Bloomberg.  Pres. Bachelet made reproductive rights a pillar of her presidential campaign in 2013 but her sinking popularity complicates her involvement as she redefines her priorities, according to Reuters.

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