Tuesday, March 13, 2018

U.N. says post-election repression in Honduras involved excessive lethal force (March 13, 2018)

The Office of the UnitedNations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Honduras found that the government's response to post electoral protests starting last November led to serious human rights violations. A new report details "that elements of the security forces, especially the Military Police of the Public Order and the Army, used excessive force, including lethal force, to control and disperse protests, leading to the killing and wounding of protesters as well as passers-by.

By the end of January, the OHCHR registered at least 23 people killed in the context of post-electoral protests, all but one were civilians. "Based on its monitoring, OHCHR considered that at least 16 of the victims were shot to death by the security forces, including two women and two children, and that at least 60 people were injured, half of them by live ammunitions. In addition, OHCHR found that mass arrests took place, and that at least 1,351 people were detained between 1 and 5 December for violating the curfew. OHCHR also received credible and consistent allegations of ill-treatment at the time of arrest and/or during detention. It also received reports of illegal house raids conducted by members of the security forces. Another concern during the period under review is the surge in threats and intimidation against journalists, media workers, social and political activists." 

The report indicates that all the deaths attributed to the security forces resulted from firearms wounds and could amount to extra-judicial killings. "The analysis of the type of injuries suffered by the victims32 indicate that the security forces made intentional lethal use of firearms, including beyond dissuasive purpose, such as when victims were fleeing. This was illustrated in particular by the case of seven victims who died as a result of the impact of live ammunitions in the head. These cases raise serious concerns about the use of excessive lethal force and may amount to extra-judicial killings." 

The report places the violations "in the context of a political, economic and social crisis, which can be traced back to the 2009 military coup d’état, and the subsequent delay in undertaking critical institutional, political, economic and social reforms."

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a statement that things were likely to get worse unless Honduras prosecuted people for the killings.

"The already fragile human rights situation in Honduras, which suffers from high levels of violence and insecurity, is likely to deteriorate further unless there is true accountability for human rights violations, and reforms are taken to address the deep political and social polarization in the country," he said.

News Briefs
  • The arrest last week of the alleged intellectual author of Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres' killing "offers a glimpse into the links between government, military and business elite in a culture of corruption," according to the New York Times editorial board. "Far less clear is whether the arrest represents a fundamental change in Honduras or merely the sacrifice of a scapegoat in a case that got too big." (See March 5's post.) The piece also criticizes U.S. support for the 2009 coup in Honduras and the aftermath, saying that President Juan Orlando Hernández "may not be directly involved in the murder of Ms. Cáceres. But for the United States to demand that her murder be solved while cynically enabling the corrupt politics behind it makes it more likely that hers will not be the last killing."
  • Mexican authorities said they detained a key suspect in the emblematic case of 43 students who were disappeared in 2014. Erick Uriel Sandoval is accused of forming part of the gang that is thought to have killed the trainee teachers and burned their bodies, reports the BBC. He was detained near Cocula in Guerrero, and is accused of playing a key roled in the disappearance of the students, reports Animal Político. Authorities say he is probably a member of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang with links to former Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca. Known as "La Rana" the suspect has been on the run for years, but sources found he had returned to Guerrero and was operating openly in Cocula, reports El Universal. Earlier this month a Mexican official told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that authorities hope to have the case solved by the end of President Enrique Peña Nieto's mandate in December.
  • Mexican presidential front-runner Andrés Manuel López Obrador tends to arouse strong emotions in observers (and hysteria among investors), who have compared him to everybody from Hugo Chávez to Donald Trump, passing through Lula and Jeremy Corbyn along the way. "These diverse and even opposing reactions speak to the anxieties of their authors—as well as to the ambiguities that AMLO himself has cultivated over his many years in politics," write Carlos Bravo Regidor and Patrick Iber in Dissent. "Still, these comparisons to foreign leaders are misleading and frequently superficial, focusing excessively on personality while neglecting the political conditions that have both made AMLO a viable candidate and will shape his presidency if he wins. As of late February, AMLO looks like the clear frontrunner, and the likely next president of Mexico. But the coalition he is assembling will probably not constitute a solid majority, and the political situation he is likely to enter into may make the transformative changes that people either expect or fear from him difficult to carry out." The authors situate AMLO within Mexican politics and trace his history of opposition to the PRI political machine, as well as his successful tenure as Mexico City mayor, though downplaying his radical credentials. "If AMLO’s detractors are unlikely to see their worst fears realized, his enthusiasts are almost certain to be unsatisfied as well," they write. AMLO’s critics portray him as a danger to Mexican democracy, and it’s true that his personal leadership style might test the strength of its institutions. But so would the election of any other candidate. AMLO’s election would also be a testament of democratic normalcy: he is the strongest opposition candidate confronting a deeply unpopular administration."
  • At Buzzfeed, Karla Zabludovsky details some of AMLO's unlikely alliances with ideological opponents that have alienated some of his base.
  • AMLO's alleged affinity with Venezuela's leadership is touted as a negative among his detractors. Verificado.mx, a new fact checking initiative, found that a popular video "proving" President Nicolás Maduro's backing of AMLO's campaign is false, reports Animal Político.
  • As Venezuelans increasingly flee their country's crushing crisis, the U.N. has asked countries in the region to treat them as refugees, rather than economic migrants, reports the Miami Herald. The UNHCR recommends countries that have received Venezuelans to not deport them, even if they entered illegally or lack proper identification papers. The guidelines are an apparent rebuke to Colombia, which has been struggling to manage the incoming flow and has implemented stricter policies. (See Feb. 9's post.)
  • Venezuela's new Frente Amplio opposition alliance asked the U.N. not to monitor upcoming presidential elections, to avoid legitimizing what it characterizes as a rigged process, reports Reuters. Venezuela's government asked the U.N. to send an observer mission, in an apparent bid to legitimize the process despite failed negotiations with the political opposition. But sending observers would require a mandate from the General Assembly or Security Council.
  • Francisco Rodríguez, an advisor to Venezuela's main opposition presidential candidate, Henri Falcón, argues needs to dollarize its economy, seek $15 billion to $20 billion a year from abroad, and ease oil sector taxes in order to climb out of its economic crisis, reports Reuters.
  • Outgoing U.S. ambassador to Panama John Feely has come to symbolize the depletion of the State Department under Trump, a situation that has particularly affected diplomats specialized in Latin America, reports the Washington Post. (Plus check out the endearing and humorous goodbye videos Feely posted online.)
  • In a year of key elections around the region, continuous setbacks could challenge the perception that democracy is more entrenched in Latin America than other developing regions, write Beverly Goldberg and Francesc Badia i Dalmases in Open Democracy. "Endemic corruption continues to penetrate society from its very roots up, and self-serving politicians, in a pursuit for power, have left a trail of devastation in their wake."
  • The MeToo trend of scandalization -- of beautiful stars denouncing powerful men, without criminal proceedings -- is dangerous in Latin America where femicides and gender violence remain alarmingly high, writes Alberto Barrera Tyszka in a New York Times Español op-ed. He points to the less sexy case of Venezuelan Linda Loaiza, who last month denounced the Venezuelan government for making it impossible for her to pursue justice in a case of a horrific abuse. (See Feb. 6's briefs.) "Catharsis is necessary, but insufficient. The reports of harassment cannot be the new reality TV. There are thousands of women in Latin America waging a daily battle, on all fronts, against sexual abuse and gender violence. Many of them could also be news. And journalism has a responsibility to this. It can impede showbusiness from kidnapping or frivolizing their struggles."
  • Univisión profiles Costa Rican lawmaker-elect Enrique Sánchez, the country's first openly gay congressman. Sánchez will take oath in May and form part of a political scene polarized by gay marriage. An ongoing presidential campaign was dominated by an evangelical candidate who opposes same-sex marriage. Activists have denounced an increase in attacks against the LGBT people in the context of the homophobic campaign, reports TeleSUR.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he'd resume peace talks with the ELN, suspended in January after a wave of attacks by the guerrilla group, reports EFE.
  • Chile's Congress was joined by the first two Mapuche women lawmakers, reports the BBC.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer announced two new marine protection areas that would ensure a quarter of the country's oceans are protected, reports Reuters.
  • Mistrust of the Brazilian government among citizens is hindering efforts to vaccinate against a deadly yellow fever outbreak, reports the Associated Press. Rumors and misinformation, particularly via Whatsapp, are impacting a public policy and could lead to an urban outbreak in the country's megacities.
  • Brazil’s Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles is analyzing a presidential run in October, reports Reuters.
  • Will it ever be possible to enjoy quinoa without guilt? A few years ago it was stories about how fashionable cosmopolitan consumers were pushing the Andean staple out of economic reach for its indigenous cultivators. Now the bust has dashed the dreams of small-scale farmers, reports Nacla. "The quinoa boom-bust trajectory also challenges the wisdom of commercializing so-called “traditional crops” as a sustainable development strategy. ... Although small-scale quinoa farmers benefitted early on from the commercialization of this “underutilized species,” once its price became attractive to non-Andean farmers, there were no institutional mechanisms in place to ensure that small Andean farmers could continue to reap their fair share of the benefits from “sharing” this food with the world.  Instead, farmers with no cultural link to quinoa but with more capital to invest and larger, more productive farms are now outcompeting the small farmers in the Andes that quinoa’s commercialization initially had the potential to benefit."

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