The U.S. government announced plans to crack down on illegal migration, including deploying the National Guard to the country's border with Mexico. Yesterday President Donald Trump again characterized U.S. immigration policy as lax, and said militarizing the southern border is necessary to prevent an influx of Central American migrants, reports the New York Times.
The statements followed several days of increased Trump rhetoric on the issue and add a new dimension to his strategy which has focused on a border wall and the threat of "tearing up" NAFTA, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's and Monday's briefs.)
Though the White House said the National Guard would be mobilized, there were no details as to how many troops would be sent or when -- a message the NYT characterized more along the lines of political messaging than real action. Trump's statements took many Pentagon officials by surprise, and its not clear what exactly he means, reports CNN.
In fact sending troops to the border is not unprecedented, and previous presidents including Barack Obama and George W. Bush each did so in specific periods, reports the Guardian. Though the U.S. Army and other main branches of the military can't be deployed for civilian law enforcement on U.S. soil without Congressional approval, the military can provide support services to law enforcement, explains Reuters.
But it's not clear why the move would be warranted at this point. While Trump characterized the policy as a response to an onslaught of immigration, the number of migrants detained while illegally crossing last year was at an all time low for recent years.
Analysts say Trump is responding to pressure from his political base after a recent spending bill did not include funding for his wall along the Mexican border nor other immigration policies.
The White House said that Trump and his advisers "also agreed on the need to pressure Congress to urgently pass legislation to close legal loopholes exploited by criminal trafficking, narco-terrorist and smuggling organizations."
Mexico is not wild about the idea and formally asked the U.S. government to clarify Trump's comments on the border.
The caravan halted at in a public park in Oaxaca yesterday, uncertain of how to continue, reports the Washington Post. Officials began a census and gave some migrants passes requiring them to leave Mexico within 20 days, and others received 30 day permits to apply for asylum in Mexico.
On Tuesday night, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said on Twitter that the caravan "dispersed gradually and at the decision of its participants." Mexican officials say privately that they believe Trump has exaggerated the caravan’s importance to renew pressure on Mexico over the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, reports Reuters.
Trump said he had pressured Mexico to break up a caravan of migrants moving through the country, grouped together for safety -- though White House officials said he had not in fact spoken to President Enrique Peña Nieto on Monday.
Trump also threatened on Twitter to cut foreign aid to Honduras.
The New York Times has video of the migrants, mostly families from Honduras seeking to flee violence there. Organizers expect about 15 percent of the group to apply for asylum at the U.S.
The number of unaccompanied minors and family units -- mainly from Central America -- seeking to cross the border has grown significantly in recent years. Most don't try to sneak across, rather they turn themselves in to U.S. authorities to seek asylum from lethal threats of gang violence in their home countries, notes the WaPo. The migrant advocate organizers of the caravan said the intention was never to descend en masse on the U.S. border, but rather divide into smaller groups focused on obtaining asylum. Many of the migrants said they would stay in Mexico if asylum in the U.S. were not an option.
- Overturning El Salvador's total abortion ban -- which is applied in a draconian fashion -- is a time sensitive issue. A bill in the National Assembly would legalize abortion if the mother's life is in danger or in cases where a minor has been raped. But an incoming conservative dominated legislature will not be likely to take the issue up, reports the Guardian. Proponents of the reform believe their critical window of time for obtaining 43 votes is between now and May 1, when the new legislators swear in. Two legislators backing different reform bills did not run for reelection and will leave the congress in May. Dozens of women in El Salvador have been imprisoned for obstetric complications and convicted of aggravated homicide. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recently criticized El Salvador's absolute ban on abortion, and questioning the fairness of trials against women accused of abortions. (See Jan. 30's briefs.) A recent Guttmacher Institute report found that Latin America and the Caribbean has the highest annual rate of abortion of any world region, with 44 per 1,000 women of reproductive age, compared with 36 in Asia, 34 in Africa, and 17 in northern America, reports the Guardian separately. Falling abortion rates around the world were driven by improved contraceptive use, rather than bans. "Legal restrictions do not eliminate abortion,” the report said. “Rather they increase the likelihood that abortions will be done unsafely, as they compel women to seek clandestine procedures. Indeed, abortion tends to be safer in countries where it is broadly legal and in countries with a high national income."
- Venezuela's public health crisis has become a humanitarian crisis that demands urgent support and attention from the international community, writes Silvio Waisbord in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. He reviews the dire circumstances faced by Venezuelans, particularly the most vulnerable parts of the population, ranging from lack of basic supplies to partisan distribution of scarce medicines and food. "Overall, Venezuela’s national health system – once praised as the jewel of revolutionary social policies achieved by the current regime during its eighteen-year rule – is in a state of collapse. A toxic combination of mismanagement, corruption, and inefficiency has spawned abysmal health conditions in a polarized political environment with strong authoritarian elements, including state censorship of health data. ... Until recently, experts believed that targeted actions by the government and civil society organizations could ameliorate this complex situation; yet it has since evolved into a humanitarian crisis. In recent months, conditions have worsened at a rate typically seen in countries devastated by war." He argues that the international community must step up its efforts to help -- focusing on an internal plan to help Venezuelans, as well as actions to address the growing diaspora, particularly in Brazil and Colombia.
- Venezuela's ousted attorney general, Luisa Ortega, made the case for President Nicolás Maduro's before arrest before a group of Venezuelan Supreme Court judges in exile. The group considers itself the country's legitimate Supreme Court, reports the Miami Herald. Ortega accused Maduro of “orchestrating” massive acts of corruption, including delivering bags full of cash and receiving at least $35 million in bribes from Odebrecht. The evidence she presented however was not made public. The judges said they'd determine on April 9 if a trial is merited. Ortega called on the Venezuelan armed forces to detain Maduro, and asked Interpol to issue an arrest warrant.
- Later today the Brazilian Supreme Court will decide whether former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva should go to jail on a corruption sentence, even as he continues to appeal the conviction in courts. The decision -- which could see the front-running in October's presidential election jailed -- is likely to further polarize an already divided country, reports the Guardian. Lula's supporters say the conviction was politically motivated to keep him out of the running for the election. El País analyzes the legal arguments on both sides. On Monday the chief justice of Brazil's Supreme Court urged calm and warned against violence, reports the AFP.
- The kidnapping of three Ecuadorian journalists near the Colombian border is evidence of a growing wave of violence spilling over from Colombia, reports the Washington Post. Analysts say its part of a surge of fighting in former FARC controlled areas in Colombia after the guerrillas demobilized as part of a 2016 peace deal with the government. In a 22-second proof-of-life video, the three men, chained together at their necks, relayed their captors' demands that Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno release three unidentified combatants and end anti-narcotics cooperation with Colombia in exchange for their freedom, reports the Associated Press. Authorities believe the kidnappers are a dissident FARC group.
- On Monday Moreno announced economic measures aimed at reducing government staff, liquidating several public companies and encouraging private investment, reports the Financial Times.
- Lost in the coverage of the Costa Rican election is the fact that voters also chose the region's first black female vice president, Epsy Campbell Barr, reports Newsweek. She is an economist who helped found the ruling Citizens' Action Party in 2000.
- Potential unification of Cuba's dual currency system has locals jumpy about how to preserve the value of their savings, reports the Miami Herald. Nonetheless, though the move is considered economically necessary, some analysts say the timing in the midst of economic uncertainty is bad.
- The Mexican town of Cherán, in Michoacán state, kicked out the mayor and banished political parties in 2011. Since then the town has been ruled by a 12-member council chosen by neighborhood assemblies. The Supreme Court ruled the mechanism to be constitutional. And though Mexicans will vote on July 1 for a new president, Cherán residents who wish to vote will have to travel to other localities, as ballot boxes will not be set up in the town, reports the Guardian. Political parties attempting to campaign in the town have been run out by the citizen-run security force. Studies show the town has managed to contain corruption in this way, and had success with environmental protection policies in a state dominated by cartel violence.
- Vacation with less guilt? Volunteers are needed for recovery efforts in parts of the Caribbean affected by hurricanes last year. And resorts, cruise lines and other organizations are offering vacationers the ability to roll up their sleeves and help, reports the New York Times. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton also announced aid measures for the Caribbean islands affected by the hurricanes, reports the Miami Herald. Modeled after the Clinton Foundation’s 2010 Haiti earthquake response, the initiative is aimed at helping the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands along with Dominica and other Caribbean territories obtain long-term investments to help with their recovery.