Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Violence and poverty in LatAm (Oct. 27, 2015)

Why is Latin America -- which finally left behind decades of military dictatorships to re-embrace democracy -- the epicenter of world violence and homicides? The disturbing numbers come as the region has made historic strides in reducing poverty, a confusing relationship.

In the 1960s and 70s the murder rate in the region was closer to the global average. Since then, rates in the rest of the world have fallen, but skyrocketed in Latin America, writes Robert Muggah in a recent Americas Quarterly piece.

He examines a long list of factors that help explain the regional crisis, including: persistent inequality, youth unemployment, "aspirational" crime, weak security and justice institutions, and (the regional scourge) organized crime.

On the positive side, he notes that initiatives to reduce poverty -- including conditional cash transfer programs in Mexico and Brazil, for example -- have reduced crime rates.

An interesting piece on recent elections in Guatemala, Colombia and Argentina in InSight Crimemakes the interesting observation that militarized approaches are employed in countries with governments that cover the range of the political spectrum, from Venezuela to Mexico. Though such policies are often linked to human rights abuses and don't seem to actually decrease violence, they play well with voters, and, thus, seem likely to continue.

On the issue of poverty, which was reduced in the region, versus inequality, which was not as much -- depending of course on how it's measured -- according to an interesting piece in Nueva Sociedad

And of course, it's always depending on how it's measured. The Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimerinterviews Nobel laureate Angus Deaton who says that Latin America has some of the most unreliable poverty statistics in the world.

News Briefs

  • One of the lead prosecutors in the case against Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López -- recently sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison for inciting violence in anti-government protests last year -- says the year-long trial was a sham. Franklin Nieves fled to the U.S. last week and apologized for his actions as the prosecutor who detained López and jointly supervised his trial. "This was a totally political trial which should be nullified. All of Leopoldo López’s human rights were violated because he was not able to present any witnesses or evidence," he told the Wall Street Journal. The dramatic defection is likely to further complicate the Maduro administration ahead of the December parliamentary elections that could give the opposition a majority in the National Assembly for the first time since Hugo Chávez reformed the body in 1999. Human rights groups had already denounced problems with the trial, including that most witnesses called by the defense were not allowed to testify and López's team was prevented from presenting most evidence. Venezuela's attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz denied the former prosecutor's accusations that officials had been pressured to provide false evidence at Lopez's trial, reports the BBC. She said Nieves was fired this week for abandoning his post.
  • The unifying themes of Latin America's Super Sunday of voting are peace and change, according to the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's post.) Voters in Argentina and Guatemala sought to reject the status quo of reigning politicians (albeit no necessarily in support of their actual proposals) while the polls in Haiti and Colombia were relatively peaceful.
  • Overarching peace not-withstanding, Colombia's second largest guerrilla force, the ELN killed at least 12 members of security forces yesterday as the officials accompanied an electoral commission near the town of Guicán, Boyacá. In addition three people were wounded and six people are missing, including two soldiers, one policeman, two civil-service officials and one indigenous guide, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Argentine politicians Daniel Scioli and Mauricio Macri, the two front-runners of Sunday's presidential election, are gearing up for a fight to the death in next month's run-off election, a first in Argentine history. (See yesterday's post.) They're fighting for the nearly 30 percent of the electorate who opted for other parties in the voting, especially dissident Peronist Sergio Massa's voters. He has announced that he will retreat for several days, draw up a list of priorities and then enter into negotiations regarding which side to support. Already they have agreed to at least one televised debate before voters head back to the polls. There are few predictions yet, but observers say the momentum is with Macri, who not only came surprisingly close to front-runner Scioli, but also routed him in his home state of Buenos Aires, a traditional Peronist stronghold. The New York Times' sources say it might presage a national political shift as "voting preferences in the province have historically foretold important shifts in Argentine politics." The Guardian wonders if the strong showing by conservative coalition "Cambiemos" is the beginning of the end for the Latin American "pink wave" of populist leftwing leaders who took power in Latin America in the first years of the 2000's. 
  • Most Brazilian's are opposed to President Dilma Rousseff's proposal to raise taxes in order to close the budget deficit, reports Reuters. Nonetheless her popularity has risen marginally from a low in July, from 7.7 percent to 8.8 percent.
  • Brazilian federal police, investigating allegations of tax fraud and influence peddling, searched the offices of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's son reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A report from El Daily Post last week clarifies how the Mexican government and a team of independent investigators from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) -- who up until now disputed divergent evaluations of what happened on the night last year when 43 teachers' college students disappeared --will collaborate on the recently reopened Iguala probe. The unexpected cooperation with the human rights organization comes as the Peña Nieto faces unprecedented national and international criticism regarding his handling of rights violations. "In the world’s eyes, Peña Nieto is no longer seen as a leader of a nation where accusations of human rights violations are common. He’s seen, fairly or not, as a violator of human rights."
  • The easing of tensions between Cuba and the U.S. has led to a slew of policy changes over the past year. In a move that is more symbolic than anything else, the second-ranking official at the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas will return to Havana for a visit. He fled with his family in 1960 and never returned since, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Birth rates in Cuba parallel those of far richer countries: the population is aging and declining at a record rate. Aversion to having children, chalked up to the difficult economic situation, is compounded by youths who prefer to leave the island however they can in search of other opportunities, reports the New York Times. The country's liberal abortion policy means it has one of the highest rates in the world, but the basic problem is people's perception that they cannot afford a child, according to the piece.
  • Tijuana is modernizing public transportation in the city. The first step will be a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is expected to start service to some 300,000 passengers a day next year, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Lest readers think Argentina is only focused on politics, The Guardian reports that the country's famed love-affair with meat (beef) is unlikely to be tainted by a recent WHO report that concluded concluded that red meat is "probably carcinogenic to humans."

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