Thursday, July 28, 2016

Reports highlight rights abuses in Venezuela, Mexico and U.S. policy (July 28, 2016)

The case for diplomatic pressure on Venezuela, either contrasted or accompanied with mediation, has been a constant in regional forums this year -- with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, and increasingly certain Mercosur countries, namely Brazil and Paraguay, pushing to exclude Venezuela from multilateral organizations if the government doesn't move towards reform (ie: referendum).

Since May of this year the Venezuelan government has detained 21 people on allegations that they were planning, fomenting, or had participated in violent anti-government actions, according to a new report presented by Human Rights Watch in Buenos Aires this week. Most of those detained allege torture or abuse while in custody, and have been charged without credible evidence, according to HRW. 

HRW Americas Director José Manuel Vivanco called on OAS countries to "pressure Venezuela to stop jailing critics and end with repression of dissidence," reports El País. He said the government is currently holding some 90 political prisoners, notes AFP.

"In several cases, detainees testified in court that they had suffered physical abuse that could amount to torture, including brutal beatings, electric shocks, and threats of rape or murder," according to the report. "The patterns of maltreatment they describe are consistent with cases Human Rights Watch has documented during the past two years in Venezuela. Some detainees said that they were tortured to coerce them into confessing to crimes, and that SEBIN agents taped their coerced confessions."

Also in Argentina, a group of human rights organizations -- including CELS -- and "La Asamblea de Mexicanxs en la Argentina" have called for a march today in repudiation of the visit of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto tomorrow, reports Página 12. In a letter they sent to the Argentine government, they "express our concern regarding the structural human rights crisis that Mexico is undergoing today." Specifically they note the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, part of a wider pattern of "at least 150,000 deaths 1 , more than 28,000 disappearances, innumerable arbitrary detentions and the forced displacement of many populations, among other serious rights infringements."

And a new report by the International Crisis Group -- "Easy Prey: Criminal Violence and Central American Migration" --
documents how massive deportations of Central American migrants and inadequate asylum procedures by the U.S. and Mexico have fed a humanitarian crisis that fuels human smuggling and the criminal groups that increasingly control it.

As many as 400,000 undocumented migrants cross from Central America into southern Mexico each year, according to the International Organization for Migration, reports the Guardian. And they are increasingly being detained by Mexico, with growing pressure and funding from the U.S.

News Briefs

  • Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández praised changes to the U.S. asylum policy announced on Tuesday that will expand a program for Central American minors, reports EFE. (See yesterday's briefs.) He also praised Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's choice for running-mate Tim Kaine. Kaine worked as a missionary in Honduras in the 1980s. "I can say that we are personal friends," Hernández told EFE regarding Kaine. "He has been in Honduras many times and has been one of the promotors of the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity."
  • On the issue of Kaine's ties to Honduras, The Nation's Greg Grandin lambasts the Virginia Senator's support for "economic and security policies that drive immigration and contribute to the kind of repression that killed [environmental activist Berta] Cáceres." The piece is also critical of the politically neutral messages about happiness without material wealth that Kaine ascribes to his 9-months working with Jesuits in Honduras, which Grandin situates in the context of a Cold War political cauldron that swept Central America at the time.
  • Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales appointed Lucrecia Hernandez Mack, a self-described leftist and daughter of an human rights activist assassinated by a death squad in 1990, to head the national health ministry, reports TeleSUR.
  • Venezuela's opposition warned that government foot-dragging on a recall referendum on President Nicolás Maduro's continuity is pushing the country towards violent confrontation. In an opposition demonstration yesterday Miranda Gov. Henrique Capriles, warned the national electoral commission (CNE) to avoid further delays. “We will keep insisting on a peaceful solution, but the people who live in the slums know better than anyone else that if there’s no solution, anything can happen,” he said, according to the Miami Herald. Analysts expect that the opposition will be able to take the next step towards impulsing a referendum -- collecting the signatures of 20 percent of the electorate -- in September, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's post.)

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  • Pedro Pablo Kuczynski will swear in as Peru's president today, in "with a Cabinet that shares his Ivy League, pro-business pedigree — a reliance on technocrats that could become a liability as he deals with an unfriendly congress and a resurgent left," according to the Associated Press.
  • Anti-mining activist and former governor of Peru's gold-rich Cajamarca province Gregorio Santos was released from "preventive" prison yesterday, as prosecutors investigate corruption charges against him. Santos accused the government of locking him up for two years to keep him from power, reports Reuters.
  • Foreign Policy in Focus piece notes Mexico's protagonism in the U.S. presidential race -- and how it's impacting discourse on both sides of the border.
  • A year after photojournalist Ruben Espinosa and human rights activist Nadia Vera were killed in Mexico City, along with three other women, the investigation has not fully looked at their work covering Veracruz social movements as a possible motive for the murder says Espinosa's family, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune. Their work frequently cast Governor Javier Duarte in a negative light, notes the piece, and Vera said in 2014 that Duarte was directly responsible for repression in the state and for anything that "might happen" to her. That line of investigation was effectively shut down in August last year when Duarte denied any involvement in the case to prosecutors, according to the LAHT. (See post for August 20, 2015 on how Vera's murder drew attention to the issue of femicide in the region last year.) 
  • Duarte's mandate in Veracruz ends in December. Mexico's attorney general has launched an investigation into nearly 70 people close to him after several accusations of diversion of resources and illicit enrichment, reports TeleSUR.
  • Brazil's acting President Michel Temer is continuing suspended President Dilma Rousseff's second-term austerity program, argues a piece in The Nation. But the course of action threatens to wipe out "the very foundation of the Workers’ Party’s antipoverty program. One proposal would condition the funding of already beleaguered state and local governments on their ability to reduce the number of poor families receiving the antipoverty subsidy. Worse, a new proposed bill would set constitutional limits on spending, locking in austerity ad infinitum and eliminating the minimum allocation for education and health." And sell-offs in the name of budget deficit reduction -- including privatization of airports and postal service -- will cosmetically cut costs, but "will worsen public finances in the long run as dividends to the state disappear."
  • A new Ibope poll found 60 percent of Brazilians see the Olympics generating more losses than gains for the country, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Another piece in The Nation looks at how Latin American countries are fighting transnational junk food as they attempt to lower obesity. The piece focuses on Brazil, where 2014 Health Ministry guidelines "transcend a traditional nutrition-science frame to consider the social, cultural, and ecological dimensions of what people eat. They also focus on the pleasure that comes from cooking and sharing meals and frankly address the connections between what we eat and the environment."
  • In the ongoing battle between Brazil's judiciary and the Whatsapp messaging service, Reuters reports that an Amazonas state court froze $11.7 million in Facebook Inc's account for failing to comply with a court order to supply Whatsapp data on users are under criminal investigation.
  • Former Guantanamo bay prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab showed up in Uruguay's Caracas consulate, after disappearing last month from Uruguay. He told the consulate he wants to move to Turkey or somewhere where he can be reunited with his family, reports the Associated Press. (See July 7's briefs.) The Wall Street Journal notes that Dhiab has had health repercussions from his long Guantanamo detention, where he was force fed during a hunger strike. He was also angered when promises to be reunited with his family in Uruguay were not fulfilled.

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