Thursday, March 29, 2018

Jail riot in Venezuela kills at least 68 people (March 29, 2018)

News Briefs
  • At least 68 people died in a fire caused by a jail riot in Valencia, in northern Venezuela. Anguished family members gathered outside the prison in the hours before the announcement and faced off against police, who used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Attorney General Tarek Saab said all the dead were prisoners, except for two female visitors. Local human rights organization, the Observatory of Prisons, said the death toll was even higher, placing it at 78,  reports the Washington Post. Preliminary accounts suggest the riot broke out when an armed detainee shot an officer, reports the Associated Press. Subsequently, prisoners lit mattresses on fire and the blaze quickly spread, reports the BBC. Though the facility had a capacity of 60 detainees, the New York Times cites InSight Crime research regarding the chronic overcrowding in Venezuela's prison system.
  • Two Mexican police officers have been sentenced to 25 years in jail for the 2015 killing of a journalist. It is a rare conviction in a country where journalists are regularly killed with impunity, reports the Guardian. Nonetheless, advocates and relatives of the victim, Veracruz newspaper owner Moisés Sánchez, point out that the local mayor – who is accused of ordering the murder – remains a fugitive, and six other police officers – accused of forming a drug-dealing gang and acting on the mayor’s orders – have not been prosecuted.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration has been marked by grave human rights violations, namely committed by security agencies, according to the national ombudsman. Luis Raúl González Pérez said the needs security, but not "at any cost," and that "without respect for human rights the security measures adopted cannot be accepted and will be like an authoritarian imposition," reports Animal Político.
  • There are indications that Mexico's most powerful criminal group, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, is fragmenting, which could mean even more violence in a country where homicides hit record levels last year, reports InSight Crime.
  • Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador made waves when he off-handedly proposed an amnesty for drug traffickers. The issue is polemic in a country where cartel violence is widespread. An amnesty for growers or foot-soldiers forcibly recruited has certain appeal, but the proposal would do little to actually reduce violence, argues Jorge Chabat in Nueva Sociedad. What is actually required, he posits, is a strengthening of Mexican institutions to effectively punish violent crime, and legalization of drugs in order to destroy the illegal market that fuels cartels.
  • Politics in Brazil are more polarized than ever, with less than a week to go before the Supreme Court determines whether former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva can remain out of jail while exhausting appeals on a corruption conviction. Magistrates have said they are receiving threats, while an army general warned in a tweet that the anger of the masses could be unleashed if the former leader -- a frontrunner for October's election -- is jailed, reports El País. In the meantime, Lula's campaign caravan was shot at this week and protesters have pelted it with eggs. Though President Michel Temer lamented the attack on Lula's campaign, other politicians effectively said that the Workers' Party got what was coming to it.
  • It is still not clear who was behind the assassination of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco earlier this month. Informally, Security Minister Raul Jungmann has floated the possibility that a "rotten" band within the police was retaliating against a federal military intervention. But Franco supporters dismiss this as conveniently supporting the government's criticized intervention. Other hypothesis blame militias operating in areas of the city. Franco was a long-time aide in a provincial legislature commission investigating their actions. But increasingly it seems that the killing was a hate crime, likely carried out by fascist members of the security forces, writes Bruno Bimbi in Nueva Sociedad. "After the crime, far-right politicians and fascist sectors of security forces, the army and the judicial power promoted an intense post-mortem defamation campaign against Marielle in social media, spreading fake news that linked her to drug trafficking and disqualifying her as a "defender of criminals." Threats against other legislators of her party intensified more than ever." (See Monday's briefs.)
  • Haiti police are investigating whether part of a body found in an area where a freelance Haitian photojournalist disappeared March 14 are those of Vladjimir Legagneur, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Colombian authorities dismantled an 11 person drug-trafficking network that used private planes and motorboats to transport drugs from southeastern Colombia to Mexico and the U.S. through Pacific routes, reports AFP.
  • Shipping food in Venezuela has become increasingly anarchic, as police stations along routes charge illicit commissions and even municipal governments attempt to commandeer parts of the shipments, reports El País.
  • The Trump administration's hostile stance towards immigration is having potential repercussion for baseball in the U.S., where about 31 percent of professional players are Latino. The number rises to about half in minor league baseball, whose players are now exempt from federal minimum wage laws. The Guardian details how all 30 baseball teams run dormitory style academies throughout Latin America, which allow them to skirt League rules about minimum signing age and pay players considerably less than their U.S. counterparts.
  • Wall Street Journal columnist Mary O'Grady accused the U.N. backed international anti-corruption mission in Guatemala of acting against Kremlin enemies. She said prosecution against three Russian nationals led by the Public Ministry and the CICIG was the result of a claim by a Russian state bank that it was owed money. Instead the Bitkov family was convicted for assuming false identities in Guatemala -- where they never presented claims for asylum -- where they purchased local citizenship papers from a criminal network operating within the country's migration authority, responded the CICIG. While the case against the three initially came to Guatemalan authorities' attention due to a Russian bank filing a report, the case was not pursued based on the VTB Bank's claims, explains the CICIG, which also notes that at no point in the case did the Bitkov family present evidence of political persecution. El Periódico notes that O'Grady's allegations were picked up by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio who is a supporter of Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, who in turn has attempted to oust the CICIG.
  • Ecuador cut off Julian Assange's internet access in its London embassy, where the WikiLeaks founder has been living for six years in order to avoid arrest, reports the Guardian. The Ecuadorian government said Assange violated an agreement to refrain from communications which might affect the country's diplomatic relations. Assange tweeted on Monday challenging Britain’s accusation that Russia was responsible for the nerve agent poisoning of a Russian former double agent and his daughter.
  • The tiny mummy found in a remote Chilean mining town is definitely not an alien. (See last Friday's briefs.) But Chilean scientists and authorities are denouncing that the stillborn child that forms part of a private collection in Barcelona were illegally smuggled out of the country and that the research conducted was unethical, reports the New York Times.
  • Up to 500 iguanas are consumed daily over Semana Santa in Juchitán, Mexico. Traditional iguana tamales are part of the Easter celebrations in the Oaxaca locality, despite environmentalist warnings that the animal is in danger of extinction, reports El País

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