Friday, February 9, 2018

Colombia and Brazil tighten border against Venezuela (Feb. 9, 2018)

Colombia announced measures to tighten border control as thousands of Venezuelans attempt to flee their country's crisis. Effective immediately, Venezuelans will need valid passports to cross the border legally, but obtaining a passport in Venezuela can be extremely difficult. More than 2,000 additional military officers will be deployed along the porous border between the two countries, and migration authorities are canceling temporary border crossing cards that allowed Venezuelans to come in for a short stay to purchase goods.

Brazil's defense minister said yesterday that the country is also exploring how to bolster border security. About 60,000 Venezuelans are now living in Roraima state. He said the country would seek to relocate refugees.

Colombia migration authorities say there are an estimated 600,000 Venezuelans currently in Colombia — double the number six months ago. The numbers might be even higher, reports the Associated PressAlmost 96,000 Venezuelans entered Colombia legally in November, more than double the amount in the same month of the previous year, according to BloombergAt least half of the Venezuelans living in Colombia are doing so illegally.

Many are arriving in need of medical attention, putting strain on Colombia as it attempts to implement a ground-breaking peace deal with the FARC. Colombian health services have vaccinated more than 112,000 people, attended more than 23,000 children and nearly 900 women about to give birth. About 10,000 minors have entered the public school system, reports El País.

The moves could eliminate an important social safety valve in Venezuela, where people are increasingly desperate for food and medication, reports Reuters. They also show mounting regional frustration with the Venezuelan government.

President Juan Manuel Santos yesterday emphasized solidarity with Venezuela, and urged his counterpart, President Nicolás Maduro to accept humanitarian aide to stop the flow of refugees. Santos remembered that millions of Colombians emigrated to Venezuela in the past, and called on Colombians to avoid xenophobia in the context of legislative and presidential electoral campaigns, reports EFE.

The Brazilian and Colombian announcements come after two attacks on migrants in Brazil this week, a sign of mounting frustration against the influx of migrants, according to Reuters.

On the subject of Venezuela's upcoming presidential elections (see yesterday's post): Peru called a meeting of the regional Lima Group to analyze the decision to hold them in April, and said conditions have not been met for a free and fair process, reports EFE.

The U.S. also criticized the unilateral call for elections, which occurred as negotiations between the government and the opposition fell apart in the Dominican Republic, reports EFE separately.

At Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, Geoff Ramsey analyzes the different proposals in the Santo Domingo negotiations. While the government was willing to pay lip service to transparency -- inviting international observation -- it did not accede to demands for actual monitoring, nor new electoral authorities. The opposition also demanded that bans on its most prominent leaders be lifted, and for strict electoral guarantees.

With the elections set to proceed, nonetheless, the debate is whether the opposition should participate, despite the lack of guarantees. David Smilde argues that they should in a Voice of America interview.

Reuters reports on increased looting of trucks carrying food supplies in Venezuela. And protesters in Caracas yesterday demanded access to medications, reports the Miami Herald.

Human Rights Watch lauded the International Criminal Court prosecutor's decision to open a preliminary examination into alleged human rights violations committed by Venezuela's security forces. (See yesterday's briefs.) "By opening a preliminary examination, the ICC prosecutor is sending a powerful message that her office is closely tracking the Maduro government’s egregious abuses," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "The Venezuelan judiciary has allowed impunity to flourish, but depending on the ICC’s decisions there may be another path for Venezuelan victims of abuse to have their day in court."

News Briefs
  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned regional leaders against Chinese imperialism last week (see Monday's briefs), but observers can't help but contrast the U.S.'s aggressive rhetoric with Chinese interest in investing, reports the Guardian. Experts say that the Trump administration is all but pushing governments towards China, but are also skeptical of the political influence Chinese investments might exert.
  • Cultural conservatism is changing Latin America's electoral map and will impact human rights in the region, writes Silvio Waisbord in a New York Times Español op-ed, noting the results of Costa Rica's presidential election last Sunday. (See Monday's post.) Recent social gains are at risk. "The continent's rightward swing and the growing influence of religion on politics gives tailwind to a cultural reaction that aims to rollback some major social achievements, including increased awareness of gender violence and the participation of transexual persons in politics."  The rather vague and opaque term "gender ideology" is increasingly lobbed by those who believe traditional values are being undermined by human rights talk, he writes.
  • Homicides are most certainly not going down in Mexico -- last year had the highest murder rate on record. Yet the issue has been somewhat under the radar in the presidential campaign, reports InSight Crime. The next administration should avoid a grand solution, and focus on policing itself, especially local strategies, rather than institutional reform, recommends the piece. On a more long-term scale, the piece also recommends judicial reform and targeting corruption.
  • Jalisco Cartel New Generation is an upstart criminal organization with increasing impact on the country's violent scene, reports InSight Crime, in a piece that looks at how the group is consolidating and expanding.
  • Oxfam denied covering up use of prostitutes by the organization's aid workers in Haiti, reports the BBC.
  • Anti-gay bills in Haiti have had a chilling effect on the LGBT community, despite not having passed, reports PRI.
  • Peruvian authorities want to shield companies collaborating with prosecutors on graft cases from financial restrictions, in a bid to keep Operation Car Wash revelations from paralyzing the construction sector and encourage them to share evidence of wrongdoing, reports Reuters.
  • More than a dozen indigenous families have been camped out in front of Paraguay's Congress for over two months, since being forced off their land by Brazilian soy barons, reports EFE.
  • Outrage about corruption in Brazil could give environmentalist Marina Silva a fighting chance of finally winning the presidency, after several failed runs in the past, reports Reuters.
  • The potential elimination of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from the running after a corruption conviction against him was upheld last month, together with 2015 electoral reforms limiting corporate donations to campaigns, throw Brazil's parties into uncharted waters, writes Paulo Castro at the Aula blog. "The final outcome of the Lula case and implementation of the reforms could ignite further political instability.  Lula’s arrest could very well spark a new wave of demonstrations, with possible violence.  Lacking resources, Bolsonaro – who has already advocated military intervention in civilian political affairs – will try to rally right-wing groups behind his candidacy.  Combined, these opposing movements create a dangerous political landscape that brings both sides of the spectrum to doubt the capacity of democratic institutions.  A recent survey by Latinobarometro already shows that only 13 percent of Brazilians are pleased with the current state of their democracy."
  • Cuban investigators say U.S. Embassy workers were definitely not the victims of "sonic" attacks, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Illegal immigration goes both ways: but Mexican authorities usually turn a blind eye to the U.S. senior citizens that increasingly move south, reports the Economist. Lack of healthcare will likely stop a massive migration, however.
  • Bogotá residents are holding their noses as trash piles up in the midst of a collectors' strike, reports the BBC.
  • Medellín university students -- male and female -- wore miniskirts to protest administration advice to women to avoid wearing short skirts that could distract fellow students and teachers, reports the BBC
  • Carnival revelers in Trinidad and Tobago must obtain consent from dance partners before grinding, reports the Miami Herald.

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