Tuesday, July 11, 2017

#GobiernoEspia (July 11, 2017)

A member of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) received text messages aimed at infiltrating the target's cellular phone with government-owned spyware in March 2016, shortly after the group had criticized the Mexican government for interference in their investigation, and as they were preparing their final report, according to a new report from Citizen Lab.

The Canadian group -- working with Mexican collaborators R3D, SocialTic and Article 19 --  and the New York Times are behind the recent reports showing how Israeli developed software sold to the Mexican government has been used to spy on critical activists, journalists, opposition leaders, and, now, on members of an international team investigating the mass disappearance of students from Ayotzinapa and the government handling of the case. (See yesterday's briefs.)

The case has already been causing a scandal, but targeting foreign experts operating under the aegis of an international body marks an escalation, notes the Associated Press. The experts had been granted a form of diplomatic immunity, making the hacking attempt much graver.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is demanding an independent investigation into the alleged attempts to spy on members of the GIEI, reports Aristegui Noticias. Members of the PAN party, whose leadership were also targeted, joined calls for an independent, international group of experts under U.N. auspices to investigate the case, reports Aristegui Noticias separately.

The software was owned by the Mexican government, but its not clear who was using it in the illegal hacking cases. Last month, President Enrique Peña Nieto denied ordering surveillance of the targets. (See June 29's post.)

Though there is no proof that the government was directly involved in the attacks, Citizen Lab notes that the targeting of political leaders "makes it crystal clear that NSO has been used widely and recklessly across a swath of Mexican civil society and politics. Once again we see ‘government-exclusive’ spyware being used for seemingly political ends."

Aristegui Noticias -- founder Carmen Aristegui and her son were also targets of the spyware hacking attempts -- reports that the General Prosecutors' office invested in actualizing and expanding the Pegasus system, which was sold to the government to be used only in criminal investigations.

News Briefs
  • Deforestation in Colombia increased by 44 percent last year, mostly in remote jungle areas previously controlled by the FARC, reports the Guardian. Guerrillas traditionally imposed a strict environmental code on communities in their territories, in part to maintain their cover from air raids -- but demobilization has allowed criminal groups to take root in these areas, and promote illegal logging and mining and cattle ranching. Civilians have also used the opportunity to expand their farms beyond the land allowed by the guerrilla group. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a third amnesty decree, benefiting 3,600 members of the Farc rebel group. In total over 7,000 rebels have benefitted from amnesty and prison releases as part of the peace accord, reports the BBC. Last month the guerrilla group completed its disarmament process. And yesterday the United Nations Security Council voted to set up a new mission in the country, which from September will oversee the implementation of the peace deal.
  • The International Criminal Court is eying the cases of over two dozen current and former Colombian army officials implicated in the false-positives scandals. Twenty-three generals and six colonels are implicated in the cases of extrajudicial killings of civilians later passed off as enemy combatants, and an ICC report warns that it could take action if Colombia's justice system doesn't advance sufficiently, reports El Espectador. The report is based on Human Rights Watch reports, according to Semana which interviews Jose Miguel Vivanco.
  • Two European development banks have pulled out of a polemic dam project in Honduras following the murders of prominent environmental activists last year, including Berta Cáceres. The Netherlands Development Finance Institution and the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation announced last week that the decision to pull out of the Agua Zarca project was reached after extensive local and international consultations, reports the Associated Press. They had suspended their loans last year, after an employee of the development company behind the dam was arrested in connection with the murder. And the Guardian reported on international backers' intent to withdraw from the project last month. (See June 5's briefs.)
  • The Brazilian agency in charge of indigenous affairs is barely functioning budget cuts amounting to almost half its funding forced it to close dozens of regional offices, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)
  • After 13 years, the U.N. stabilization mission in Haiti is finally drawing to a close -- but a successor civilian program aimed at strengthening policing and institutions means the international organization will retain important influence in internal Haitian politics, argues Laura Moreno Segura in Nueva Sociedad
  • Chileans face a wealth of choice in the upcoming November presidential elections -- reflecting a new fragmentation of the political scene after decades of coalitions dating from the struggle against dictator Augusto Pinochet, according to Bloomberg. A quarter of the country's voters remain undecided, and many may choose to opt out altogether.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said he'll consult with a group of doctors to determine whether former dictator Alberto Fujimori should be granted a pardon for medical reasons. Fujimori is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses, corruption and sanctioning death squads, reports the Associated Press.
  • Ecuador's legislators approved a law aimed at prohibiting public officials from hiding wealth in offshore tax havens, reports TeleSUR. The law builds on a positive referendum result from earlier this year, in which citizens voted bar politicians and civil servants from having assets, companies or capital in tax havens, reports the New Internationalist.
  • While the U.S. government is considering sanctions against Venezuela's energy sector, the administration is unlikely to ban imports of Venezuelan crude, according to Bloomberg.
  • Florida Governor Rick Scott promised to move ahead with a plan to ban any organization that does business with the Venezuelan government from doing business with the state, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Will Argentina and Mexico dare to stand up to Trump in defense of the Paris climate agreements, asks Oscar Soria in a New York Times Español op-ed. "From the south, Latin America marked a moral north in the Paris summit, and now that north must be defended at all costs in the G20 summit. The presidents of Argentina and Mexico have the geopolitical opportunity and the historic responsibility to speak for a region whipped by the climate crisis and that calls for a future of peace with the Earth."
  • Former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has a wide lead in the upcoming October election for Senator in the Buenos Aires province, reports Reuters.
  • A U.S. federal judge in Florida has denied bond for former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, who is fighting extradition efforts in relation to charges of political espionage, reports the Associated Press.

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