Friday, May 20, 2016

Reporting on Central America's ongoing gang crisis (May 20, 2016)

The flood of unaccompanied Central American minors fleeing to the U.S. in order to escape gang violence at home has receded since 2014. But the reduction belies "the gritty persistence of an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe," reports The Intercept.

The decline is largely due to a U.S. policy of subcontracting the job of turning back migrants to the Mexican government. Apprehensions in Mexico have gone up by 71 percent, without an accompanying expansion of screenings for legitimate asylum claims.

The piece goes in depth on the dangerous journeys taken by would-be migrants seeking asylum from gang violence at home.

The human cost of gang violence in El Salvador is excruciating, but the gangs also have an important financial toll: they cost the country up to 16 percent of its GDP, reports the Economist.

A vast network of gang organization is a central feature of life in El Salvador. Authorities estimate that up to 70,000 people belong to gangs, and that another half a million financially depend on them.

While the gangs are less wealthy and politically influential than their Mexican cartel counterparts, observers fear their influence could grow. Already Salvadorans pay $756 million a year, about 3 percent of GDP, to gangs, according to a study by the country's central bank and the UNDP.

And the extortion racket is intimately linked to the humanitarian crisis organizations are increasingly pointing to. "Salvadorans have always emigrated north in search of better paid jobs. But as the country struggles to contain ferocious gang violence, it is the threat of attack and the burden of extortion rackets that are pushing more of its citizens to flee, and their businesses to close," reports Reuters.

News Briefs
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has fended off protests and ouster attempts before, but this time he is increasingly relying on repressive measures rather than social programs to retain control, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Confused about Venezuela? Michael McCarthy summarizes the 6 things you need to know about the crisis in the Washington Post. They include a review of the country's dependence on oil and a presidential system lacking in checks and balances.
  • Leaked NSA documents show that the show that the agency aimed staff training on national security issues in Latin America at steering the region towards U.S. interests, reports TeleSur. The report is based on the latest batch of National Security Agency documents revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden this week, and released by The Intercept.
  • Brazilian acting President Michel Temer is shuffling top government jobs. His latest appointment is Pedro Parente, formerly the top executive at the Brazilian unit of U.S. agribusiness giant Bunge, to head state oil company Petrobras, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • That's not all though, in the week since he's taken the reins of government, Temer's administration has already started scaling back social policies enacted by the 13 years of Workers' Party government, reports the Guardian. "Moves are under way to soften the definition of slavery, roll back the demarcation of indigenous land, trim housebuilding programs and sell off state assets in airports, utilities and the post office. Newly appointed ministers also are talking of cutting healthcare spending and reducing the cost of the bolsa familia poverty relief system. Four thousand government jobs have been cut. The culture ministry has been subsumed into education." 
  • Rousseff's impeachment put the future of the country's democracy and its robust tradition of citizen participation and struggle at stake, argues Jeffrey Rubin at The Conversation. "Will the presence of newly empowered citizens claiming, voting for, and implementing inclusive policies continue through this tempestuous time? Or, will right-wing politicians and business people again succeed in turning back these achievements, at great cost to poor majorities and a democratic government," he asks. "The key issue right now is less who is governing than how they are governing. The prospects are not encouraging," he writes, predicting a rollback of economic and political rights.
  • At least somebody is happy though. Andrés Oppenheimer celebrates what he sees as a positive change in Brazil's foreign policy, a step away from the unconditional support of "Cuba, Venezuela and other authoritarian regimes."
  • In the lead up to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the New York Times has a "Room for Debate" feature over whether they should be postponed. Theresa Williamson of Catalytic Communities laments the damage already done, which includes 77,000 evictions and increased police killings. "The Olympics should not have been held in Rio in the first place. We could have foreseen such damage in a city that has a history of only building to show off and not serving its citizens," she writes.
  • In need of literary diversion? The English translation of Luiz Eduardo Soares' book on Rio is out. "The nine tales are all standalone but they have a lot of connecting tissue. As a body of powerful descriptive essays, they gradually reveal the violence and corruption that underpins so much of the quotidian experience of the Cariocas, as the inhabitants of Rio are known. The fabled party culture exists both despite and because of the lurking nightmares," writes Misha Glenny in a review for the Guardian.
  • A reporter killed this weekend in Mexico's Veracruz state became the sixth journalist to be assassinated in the country this year, and the second in the state, reports the Guardian's Roy Greenslade. "According to research by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least six journalists have been killed in direct retribution for their work since Javier Duarte de Ochoa became governor of Veracruz in 2010."
  • Last week's absolution of three soldiers accused of homicide in the so-called "Tlatlaya Massacre" in which at least a dozen alleged gang members were executed after they surrendered shows how even in an emblematic case, with clear proof about the crime, "Mexican authorities have failed to sanction perpetrators of extrajudicial killings," writes WOLA's Maureen Meyer. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Agricultural overexploitation of aquifers in Mexico's Guanajuato State is leading to water shortages and tainted supplies for locals, reports the New York Times.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri confirmed his veto of a law passed this week in Congress that doubled indemnities for layoffs, in an attempt to stem unemployment, reports La Nación. (See yesterday's briefs.) 

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