Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cuban migrant impasse in Central America (Nov. 25, 2015)

Central American and Cuban officials met yesterday in El Salvador to seek a solution to the diplomatic impasse that has stranded between 2,000 and 3,000 Cuban migrants in Costa Rica, but failed to make headway, reports the New York Times. (See Nov. 16th's post and Monday's briefs.)

The migrants are making their way from Ecuador -- the only country in the region that doesn't require an entry visa for Cuban visitors --across Central America on their way to the United States, where they hope to make use of a beneficial fast-track asylum policy.

The number of Cubans using the overland route through Mexico has increased this year, as thawed relations between the U.S. and Cuba lead many to fear the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy will be revised.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data published by the Pew Research Center, 27,296 Cubans entered the United States in the first nine months of the 2015 fiscal year, up 78 percent from 2014.

Nicaragua accused Costa Rica of "blackmail" in allowing Cubans to amass at their shared border, while Costa Rica said its neighbor has refused to support "any solution" for the Cubans attempting to pass through the region on the way north. Ultimately, say the experts cited in the NYTimes, the question will be between the U.S. and Cuba.

Nicaragua is a close ally of Cuba, and President Daniel Ortega's administration has complained that by issuing the Cubans with transit visas, Costa Rica has violated its national sovereignty, reports Reuters.

The Associated Press reports that the El Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez said most officials in attendance said each country should be able to decide how and whether to receive the stream of migrants. There is an element of resentment in some parts of Central America as migrants from those countries do not enjoy the incentives given to Cuban migrants, explains the AP.

The case of course remits to issues with wider migrant policy, notes the New York Times.

Yet Cuban migrants count on many benefits that their Central American peers lack, including the beneficial U.S. policies and backup funds from prosperous relatives in the U.S. 

The Associated Press reports on how many migrants are plugging into social media to avoid making use of human traffickers on the 5,500 km overland journey. There is constant flow of information between migrants starting the journey and those who have just completed it, explains the piece. 

"The metallic "zing!" of a new message arriving in the Facebook Messenger app has become the soundtrack to this year's historic migration as Cubans consult friends further along the route for tips on bus routes, border closures, even how much to bribe the notoriously corrupt Colombian police."

New Briefs

  • Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) confirmed yesterday that the top vote getters in Oct. 25th's presidential election are the government-backed candidate, Jovenel Moïse, and a former state construction chief, Jude Célestin, reports the Associated Press. The two will compete in a run-off election on Dec. 27. However the announcement set off a new wave of protests around Port-au-Prince, as opposition candidates and their supporters have already been demanding an independent commission verify results which they say are marred by massive fraud. (See last Thursday's post.) The announcement came hours after the National Offices of Electoral Litigation (BCEN) rejected opposition demands to eject Moïse from the race due to the alleged fraud, reports the Miami Herald. The judges' panel did order order that 50 problematic and fraudulent tally sheets from polling stations across the country be removed from the final results. But that did not significantly change the provisional results. Yesterday supporters of Moise Jean Charles, one of the leading candidates denounced the results and took to the streets setting fire to tires. One person was reportedly wounded at the protests, shot by the police. And two police officers were also wounded, reports the Associated Press.
  • A team of U.S. electoral observers of the Haitian election say that there is mounting evidence demonstrating systemic fraud, voter confusion and intimidation and even disenfranchisement in some cases, reports the Miami Herald. (See last Thursday's post.) Increasing doubts regarding the election have triggered the protests that make endanger the December run-off, according to the paper.
  • Washington Post editorial from yesterday looks at the upcoming 6D National Assembly elections in Venezuela, and says: "What’s unclear is whether Mr. Maduro will resort to outright fraud or violence to prevent an opposition victory — and whether the United States and Venezuela’s neighbors, after years of silently tolerating the destruction of its democracy, will use their leverage to prevent that." The piece calls on authorities, including the Obama administration, to apply pressure over the next two weeks and to be prepared to respond to electoral disruptions with "censure and sanctions." David Smilde at WOLA's Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights has an excellent and nuanced response. He points out that bystanders -- including the U.S. -- have hardly been passive, and that American sanctions earlier this year backfired. "The emphasis should be on informed, multilateral engagement in cooperation with regional stakeholders," he writes. His post also looks at a number of "inaccuracies" in the Post's portrayal of the elections, especially clarifying the rural representation bias written into Venezuela's constitution, malapproportionmant similar to that seen in the U.S. Senate.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro warned citizens not to betray the legacy of the late leader Hugo Chavez in the upcoming elections, reports Reuters. Polls show the opposition coalition has the best chance in 16 years of winning control of the 167-seat National Assembly, though the government has strong advantages in the geographical distribution of seats plus superior mobilization capacity. "You would end up alone, alone, alone," Maduro told supporters at an event.
  • After the escape of drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán from a maximum security prison this year, the Mexican government has begun extraditing high profile drug prisoners to the U.S. The policy U-turn is just one example of how Latin American governments are using outside help to enforce laws, says The Economist. The piece cites other examples such as the CICIG in Guatemala and Honduran and El Salvadorean extraditions to the U.S. But extradition can also be dangerous, argues the piece: "Outsourcing justice abroad can also undermine it at home ... To serve as more than a stopgap solution, extradition must be part of a broader strategy. That should include attacking mob finances, professionalizing law enforcement, rooting out corruption and providing jobs for potential gang recruits." (The example of the CICIG actually doesn't make much sense: though the investigation was run by outside prosecutors, together with the Guatemalan Public Ministry, the corruption cases are then dealt with by the Guatemalan justice system.)
  • The Mexican state of Quintana Roo is undergoing a wave of femicides: seven in the past three weeks and 18 this year. Authorities in the tourist dependent state are keen to downplay the issue, and are colliding with activists against gender violence, reports The Guardian. At least two of the victims were strangled, and several had been sexually assaulted before their bodies were dumped in public places. All the women were Mexican.
  • A fire at a Pemex refinery injured eight people yesterday, reports the Associated Press. The news comes on the same day that Moody's Investors Services downgraded the company's foreign and local currency ratings in the face of continued low oil prices, falling production, high taxes and an expected deterioration of its credit situation. In a statement, Pemex noted in a statement that Moody’s move brings its rating in line with those of other ratings firms, reports the Wall Street Journal. The company also listed a number of measures it has taken to improve its financial position, including nearly $4 billion in budget cuts this year, the sale of noncore assets, and the search for strategic partnerships.
  • But it looks as if Mexico's program of annual oil hedges to partially protect the federal budget from sudden shocks in world oil prices will pay off well this year, according to the Wall Street Journal. Finance Minister Luis Videgaray estimated yesterday that the December payout at $6.4 billion.
  • It looks like the collapsed mining dam in Minas Gerais will constitute one of the biggest environmental disasters in Brazil's history. (See Nov. 18th's briefs.) A piece in The Guardian looks at whether the accident was a result of government and industry negligence. Brazilian prosecutors are focusing the investigation into the massive dam failure on a series of recently uncovered issues, including a a rapid scaling-up of the dam in recent years and instruments indicating "emergency" levels of pressure and stress prior to its collapse, reports the Wall Street Journal. They are also questioning whether a contract that allowed Vale to dump waste from its nearby Alegria iron-ore mine into the Samarco dam was properly licensed and monitored.
  • The BBC reports on gruesome horrors in Brazil's overcrowded prisons -- including reports of cannibalism in a Maranhão state jail. The number of inmates in Brazil has grown 575 percent in the past 25 years. There are nearly 608,000 prisoners, crammed into facilities with a capacity for 377,000 -- an occupancy rate of 161 percent. The piece references an October Human Rights Watch report on the prison crisis in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, where "the prisons hold more than three times as many inmates as their official capacity in conditions that are dangerous, unhealthy, and inhumane." Prisoners lack even floor space to sleep on and "the prevalence of HIV infection in Pernambuco’s prisons is 42 times that of the general population; the prevalence of tuberculosis is almost 100 times that of the general population. Prison clinics are understaffed, medication is scarce, and ill detainees are often not taken to hospitals for lack of police escort." (See Oct. 23rd's briefs.)
  • A cattle rancher accused of being a go-between for illegal payments to Brazil's ruling Workers' Party was arrested yesterday by police. José Carlos Bumlai was arrested on suspicion of corruption, money laundering and fraud in connection with a $1.6-billion contract to operate a drilling ship used by state-controlled oil company Petrobras. He is said to be a close friend of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a founder of the Workers’ Party who hasn't been implicated in the investigation, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • Federal police also arrested the chief executive of Brazilian bank BTG PactualAndre Esteves, and Sen. Delcidio do Amaral, the Workers' Party Senate leader, in connection with the Petrobras corruption investigation, reports the Wall Street Journal. They were arrested for allegedly obstructing the investigation into a corruption scandal at state-owned oil company Petrobras, according to the Associated Press.
  • Brazil's Senate a presidential decree aimed at helping hydroelectric producers affected by record droughts ahead of a power plant auction scheduled for today, reports Reuters.
  • Argentine President-elect Mauricio Macri's plan to transform Argentina's economy -- including curbing currency controls and restoring investor confidence -- is welcomed by business leaders. But they are concerned that some measures, including a widely expected devaluation could cause short-term pain, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • An op-ed in The Guardian discusses how climate change -- specifically rising sea levels -- are affecting female farmers in Grenada and calls on leaders at the Paris climate change summit to commit to legally binding emissions cuts and provide assistance to help climate-change vulnerable countries.

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