Tuesday, January 16, 2018

World Bank assessments of Chile were politically biased (Jan. 16, 2018)

News Briefs
  • An influential World Bank economic report may have been biased politically, particularly in the case of Chile. World Bank’s chief economist, Paul Romer, told the Wall Street Journal he would correct and recalculate national rankings of business competitiveness in the report called “Doing Business” going back at least four years. Repeated changes in methodology allowed World Bank staff to influence the results of the report, which ranks countries by the competitiveness of their business environment. Some of these changes had the effect of sharply penalizing Chile’s ranking under the recent term of Chile’s outgoing president, Michelle Bachelet. Methodological changes that precipitated large swings in Chile's ranking appear to have been politically motivated according to Romer.
  • Bachelet criticized the World Bank over the weekend, and demanded a complete investigation, reports the New York Times. The governing leftist coalition was defeated in elections last year, a race in which economic policy played a key role.
  • The OAS denounced irregularities in Honduras' recent presidential election, in which incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández was declared the official winner, despite significant questions regarding the vote count. OAS member states' failure to embrace the OAS call for new elections, however, could undermine "the credibility of OAS democracy protection instruments," writes Stefano Palestini Céspedes at the AULA blog.
  • A Guatemalan congressman of the ruling FCN party was arrested this weekend, on charges of masterminding the killings of two journalists in 2015. Prosecutors and investigators with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala accuse Julio Juarez Ramirez of involvement in the murders, though he says he is innocent, reports Reuters.
  • Guatemalan chief prosecutor Thelma Aldana told reporters that President Jimmy Morales "is not an ally" in combating corruption, reports AFP. Her comment was in response to a presidential address stressing transparency as a top government priority.
  • Venezuelan security forces took down a rebel group, officially characterized as a dangerous terrorist group, in a Caracas firefight yesterday. The band was led by Oscar Pérez, the mysterious former action film hero and helicopter pilot that starred in an alleged coup attempt last year. (See post for June 29, 2017) Special forces apparently captured five members of the rebel group, reports the Associated Press. Venezuelan officials report seven dead members of the group, including Pérez himself, according to Efecto Cocuyo.  Officials say two officers were killed and five wounded in the shootout. Diosdado Cabello tweeted that Pérez had opened fire on police, reports the BBC. Pérez himself made the assault public with a a series of videos on Twitter in which he is bloodied and under siege, reports the Miami Herald. In one video he said there are civilians with him and they wanted to turn themselves in, but that authorities sought his death. The episode had Venezuelans glued to social media as events unfolded yesterday, reports the New York Times. Though Pérez's calls for an uprising against the government have not been heeded in practice, he has tens of thousands of followers online, notes the AP. Members of the government posted negatively about Pérez yesterday, reports Reuters. "What a coward now that he’s caught like a rat!" tweeted Prisons Minister Iris Varela. The National Assembly might create a commission to investigate the episode, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Talks between the Venezuelan government and the opposition advanced well, but did not reach a final deal by Saturday. Talks will resume once more on January 18, reports Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. Nevertheless, Dominican President Danilo Medina, who led the negotiations, expressed optimism about the progress made during the round, reports Reuters. The MUD opposition coalition is angling for improved electoral conditions in a presidential election year. They are also seeking to push the government to permit humanitarian aid to enter the country, release of political prisoners, and recognition of the opposition-led National Assembly as a legitimate constitutional authority. The government, in turn, is seeking to ease international sanctions, and recognition of a supra-congressional National Constituent Assembly, which was chosen in questioned elections last year but has no international recognition.
  • Talk of military intervention in Venezuela keeps coming up, but "a military strike against Venezuela would be folly," warns David Smilde in a New York Times op-ed. "Venezuela in 2018 is not 1989 Panama, and an invasion would not be a surgical strike. ... Venezuela has 115,000 troops, in addition to tanks and fighter jets. It is a country of 30 million people, about 20 percent of whom still support the Maduro government. These supporters have an ideology — anti-imperialist socialism — which serves to coordinate their efforts and helps to explain Mr. Maduro’s resilience."
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced a new subsidy to pregnant women -- amounting to a total of $3.83 per month, reports CNN.
  • As the U.S. becomes increasingly hostile to Latin American migrants, Canada is working to disuade them from heading north in hopes of refuge, reports the New York Times.
  • Salvadoran deportees face dangers in their home countries. Women in particular are in danger, reports the Guardian. "As with most hostilities, women are routinely caught in the crossfire. Around 10 a day are subjected to violence and sexual assault, with many afraid to speak out. Others are silenced forever. El Salvador ranks among the world’s deadliest countries for women. During 2016, 524 were killed, one in every 5,000, although such figures document only bodies taken to morgues and not those discovered in hidden dumping grounds."
  • Clandestine transfers of capital -- "illicit financial flows," like those exposed in the Panama Papers investigation last year -- have an outsized impact on women and girls that often goes unnoticed, write Virginia Rodríguez and Corina Rodríguez Enríquez of  Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) in Open Society Foundation's Voices. A recent report from DAWN "shows how illicit financial flows from Latin America and the Caribbean undermine gender justice in a region that already suffers some of the world’s worst levels of economic inequality. The amount of capital that illicitly flows out of this part of the world is huge: at least $150 billion per year, or 14 times more than the official development aid that comes in to the region."
  • Pope Francis opened a three-day Chile trip by asking forgiveness for a local priest abuse scandal that has aroused tensions in his host country, reports NPR.  The pontiff is the target of anger for appointing a bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse by a priest. On Friday, ahead of the trip, several churches were targeted by firebombs, reports the New York Times. No organization immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. Other hot-button issues during the Pope's visit include the Mapuche indigenous group which has been struggling to reclaim ancestral land.
  • Catholics in the Pope's native Argentina feel snubbed, as he once again sidesteps country in a visit to the region, reports the New York Times. Analysts believe he has avoided Argentina since being named pontiff in an effort to stay out of the country's polarized politics.
  • Former Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou was freed from pre-trial detention on Friday, after an appeals court ruled that he was unlikely to interfere in a corruption case against him. Boudou, who was arrested in November, was one of several former cabinet members detained in recent months, reports Reuters. Critics have said there is a judicial vendetta against the political opposition to the current government. Former Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman was also released from pre-trial detention last week -- in a case regarding an alleged coverup for a 1994 terrorist bombing -- for humanitarian causes.
  • Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, a Mexico City suburb, has had remarkable latitude to experiment with security reform because of its relative freedom from Mexico's most established (and corrupt) political parties, argues a New York Times Explainer column. "Neza, as it is known, is gritty and working class, a sprawl of short concrete buildings. But it is a quiet success story. As crime and corruption skyrocket nationally, especially in surrounding areas, they’ve remained stable or even declined here." The secret lies not in the reforms themselves, which aim at increasing ties between police officer and the community, and rewarding good performance, but rather in freedom from corrupt party structures, argues the piece. But the lack of an institutional framework also makes the gains fragile, according to authors Max Fisher and Amanda Taub.
  • The UK’s judicial committee of the privy council (JCPC) has far-reaching jurisdiction in more than 30 overseas territories, dependencies and Commonwealth states, for which it serves as the ultimate court of appeal. The five British judges of the council will evaluate whether a prisoner who may be mentally ill should remain on death row, in response to a case in Trinidad and Tobago. Their decision comes as a spiraling homicide rate on there has reinvigorated calls for the death penalty, reports the Guardian.
  • A Mexican journalist was killed in Nuevo Laredo over the weekend, the latest victim of attacks on the press, though authorities are trying to determine whether the attack was related to his work, reports the Guardian.
  • A magnitude-7.1 earthquake of Peru's southern coast on Sunday killed one person and injured a dozen, reports Reuters.
  • In light of Trump's disparaging remarks about Haiti, the New York Times recommends several books that give insight into the country’s history of struggle and resistance. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • In the Conversation, Chantalle F. Verna discusses how "Trump’s statements and policies reflect not just disrespect for Haiti but also a profound ignorance about how migration occurs." ... "Outsiders head to the United States in times of crisis not at random but because historic ties point them in this direction. When nativists like President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions refer to immigrants as “criminal aliens” – perpetuating the idea that foreigners are “invading” the country – they ignore this key fact."
  • "Without Haiti, the United States Would, in Fact, Be a Shithole," writes Amy Wilentz in The Nation.
  • In a statement, WOLA profoundly rejected the remarks about Haitian, Salvadoran, and African immigrants. "They represent a profound affront to human dignity and human rights. It is this type of rhetoric and derogatory categorization of groups and countries that fuels societal divisions, pits people against each other, and leads to violence and conflict. Such sentiments coming from the highest level political official in the United States are extremely dangerous. They undermine the credibility and moral authority of the United States throughout the world."
  • A form of salmonella was likely responsible for wiping out 80 percent of the Aztec population in the 16th century, according to new research, reported by AFP.

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