International observers noted serious irregularities and the OAS recommended holding a new election. (See post for Dec. 18, 2017.)
The Society of Jesus has denounced threats against an Honduran Jesuit priest who has been outspoken regarding irregularities in the election, reports the Catholic News Service. A statement released last week said that the social media hostilities against Fr. Ismael Moreno Coto — better known as "Padre Melo" — were "reminiscent of the death threats which circulated in El Salvador before the murder of Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande," a Salvadoran Jesuit murdered in 1977.
And civil conflict, in the face of the ongoing electoral dispute, is a possibility, CEPR's Alex Main told the Daily Beast. "The possibility of a civil war is real given the level of outrage over the blatant electoral shenanigans that have taken place," he said.
- Honduras' government announced a significant reduction in homicides in 2017. The murder rate fell by more than a quarter to 42.8 killings per 100,000 people, reports Reuters.
- El Salvador's murder rate has also dropped, for the second consecutive year. But at 60.8 murders per 100,000 residents, the country is still among the world's most deadly, reports the Associated Press.
- The case of a Mexican journalist shot down while attending his son's school Christmas party in December highlights the difficulties of reporting in the country, one of the most dangerous in the world for the profession last year. Prosecutors allege Gumaro Perez was a drug cartel operative, who was killed by a rival cartel. Supporters say he was killed for his coverage of bloody crimes in Veracruz. "Either way, the brazen daylight killing underscored the blurred-lines nature of how journalism is practiced in much of Mexico, especially in the countryside and in areas where organized crime gangs hold sway over corrupt authorities, terrorize local populations and are largely free to harass and murder reporters with impunity," reports the Associated Press. "Reporting in such places often entails writing or uploading photographs to a rudimentary website or Facebook page, or working part-time for a small local media outlet whose meager salaries don’t cover expenses. Holding down a second job is essential. Some moonlight as cabbies or run small businesses. Others may work for a local government. And some, it’s widely believed — though it is said to be a small minority — go on the payroll of a cartel or a corrupt government."
- Brazilian authorities warn that prison officials should brace for more violence in penitentiaries, after a New Years riot in Goiás state resulted in nine deaths, reports the Guardian.
- Petrobras, Brazil's state owned-oil company, said it had agreed to pay $2.95 billion to settle a shareholder lawsuit in the United States over a high-level corruption scandal, reports the New York Times. The class action suit was brought by investors who said their holdings were damaged by a corruption scandal facing the firm, reports the BBC. A long-running investigation dubbed Operation Carwash has revealed a scheme involving top-level officials and politicians for kickbacks in exchange for public works contracts. The company said on Monday that it was a victim of the bribery scheme and had already recovered 1.475 billion Brazilian reais, or about $449 million, in restitution. Petrobras said it would "continue to pursue all available legal remedies from culpable companies and individuals."
- Ecuador's VP automatically lost his title yesterday, after an absence from his post for more than three months. Jorge Glas was detained in pre-trial detention earlier this year, and in December received a six year sentence in relation to corruption. Ecuador's Supreme Court found him guilty of receiving $13.5 million in Odebrecht kickbacks. He is the highest-ranking Latin American politician convicted in the massive Carwash scandal reports AFP.
- Ecuador launched a campaign for a popular referendum to be held next month, in which citizens will be asked to weigh in on reforms passed by former President Rafael Correa. Most social organizations favor an affirmative vote in the questions posed by President Lenín Moreno, reports EFE.
- The past year in the region was one of mediocre economies, political intensity and social complexity, writes IDEA Internacional's regional director Daniel Zovatto in Estrategia y Negocios. It was "characterized by a growing wave of demands and unsatisfied expectations of vast sectors of middle class, corruption scandals, fraud denunciations and conflictive reelections. This combination of factors provoked strong social tensions and political turbulence that complicated governability and eroded citizen support and the legitimacy of numerous presidents in the region."
- A Peruvian community leader was tortured and killed by a criminal gang, in retaliation for his opposition to land traffickers encroaching on an ecological reserve. José Napoleón Tarrillo Astonitas was attacked in his home, witnessed by his wife and local villagers in El Mirador, reports the Guardian.
- Bolivia's Lake Poopó is disappearing rapidly, and experts fear the indigenous Urus-Muratos whose communities depended on the ecosystem for survival will also disappear, reports the Guardian.
- Peace in Colombia has encouraged deforestation in the country's Amazon, as areas previously controlled by guerrillas who needed the trees for cover are liberated, reports the Guardian. Deforestation soared by 44 percent in 2016 with a rush of land-grabbing to plant coca and clear land for cattle ranches. Advocates are making efforts to provide incentives for reforestation and community environmental protection.
- Critics say Brazil's government has weakened critical environmental protection commitments. They largely blame President Michel Temer, who has traded favors with the powerful farming interest lobby in Congress as part of his bid to stay in power in the face of corruption accusations, reports the New York Times. The piece focuses on degradation in the Pantanal region, which straddles the Brazilian, Paraguayan and Bolivian border.
- At the other end of the country, on the far north-eastern corner of the Amazon, a recently discovered coral reef is threatened by oil company plans to drill in the ocean, reports the Guardian. "While some countries are backing away from fossil fuels, Brazil is heading in the opposite direction. Its business-friendly government encourages international oil companies to invest here and advocates development in protected Amazon areas."
- Guardian columnist George Monbiot tells how an adventurous investigation into land seizures in 1989 helped peasants near Manaus regain stolen land.
- Peru's government banned buses from a notorious stretch of highway known as Devil's Curve, where an accident Tuesday claimed 51 lives. The road along a cliffside is very foggy, full of curves and lacks a safety rail in many sections, notes the New York Times. Popular anger is mounting that no alternative route has been created over the years, despite numerous accidents. Fifty bodies have already been recovered from the wreck, reports the BBC.
- Trump's use of Salvadoran street gang MS-13 as an excuse for a crackdown on Latino immigrants is misguided and based on lies. But "there are some truths tangled in the midst of the Trump administration’s statements," writes Héctor Silva Ávalos at InSight Crime. "There’s no question that the MS13 is violent and dangerous. But separating political rhetoric from the reality of the gang is a much tricker subject."
- The situation in Venezuela is dire, but Professor Ricardo Hausmann’s proposal for military intervention in the country is misguided, argue Sean Burges and Fabrício Chagas Bastos in Americas Quarterly. A regime-change oriented invasion would necessarily depend on U.S. efforts, which have a negative track record in the region, they note. "At the end of the day, Hausmann’s idea would only create more internal turmoil in a country already plagued with a long-standing political and economic crisis. But these are not the reasons why Hausmann’s appeal for armed intervention will likely fall on deaf ears. Sovereignty is a sacrosanct principle in Latin American diplomacy, and consensual political accommodation its prayer. Inter-American affairs are consistently marked by the blocking of precedents that might allow any kind of future foreign intervention in domestic affairs."
- Cash-strapped Venezuela offered foreign pharmaceutical companies precious metals and diamonds in exchange for desperately needed medical supplies. It's not clear whether they accepted the alternative compensation, but its indicative of Venezuela's slide to a barter society, according to the Wall Street Journal.
- Russia and Venezuela are hoping to create state-sponsored cryptocurrencies to sidestep U.S. sanctions. "The Russian and Venezuelan plans may sound outlandish, even in the financial Wild West of Bitcoin and its online competitors. But they underscore how the rise of virtual currencies is pushing governments around the world to rethink the most basic elements of their own currencies and financial infrastructure," explains the New York Times.
- The international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) criticized Mexico's efforts to fight money laundering, reports Reuters. Money laundering "is not investigated and prosecuted in a proactive and systematic fashion.... Consequently, the number of prosecutions and convictions for money laundering are very low. Significant shortcomings were found in the way in which money-laundering cases are investigated," according to a report released yesterday.
- China is making increasing inroads in Latin America, assisted by the Trump administration's negative stance towards Latin immigrants and apparent diplomatic lack of interest, writes Antonio C. Hsiang in the Diplomat.
- Nonetheless, the U.S. administration is pushing back against Chinese economic influence in the Inter-American Development Bank, reports Bloomberg. The U.S. Treasury Department has raised questions about Beijing's influence in the lender and in the region's economies generally.
- Half of Puerto Rico's residents still don't have power, more than three months after Hurricane Maria destroyed swathes of the territory's infrastructure, reports the New York Times.
- Mexico City mayoral hopeful Salomon Chertorivski told Reuters he believes city residents should be permitted to grow marijuana for personal consumption.
- In the Guardian, Bogotá education secretary María Victoria Angulo details how transparency helped reveal cartelization among suppliers of fruit for schoolchildren's meals.
- A central problem in Latin American politics this year, and which impacted in 2017, is that of meddling former presidents, argues Javier Corrales in Americas Quarterly. "Latin America has a serious problem with ex-presidents. Too many of them refuse to retire from politics. While some leave office in opprobrium (e.g., Carlos Salinas de Gortari in Mexico), many others linger with renewed vigor, doing all they can to influence the status quo, and worse, plotting a comeback. ... Lingering ex-presidents prevent the nation from moving on. Thus, liberating countries from their influence is a collective good because it helps with leadership renewal. So I for one welcome the politics of Prexit. But Prexit, like all purges, can be carried out ineptly, and in the process produce more harm than good."