Friday, June 29, 2018
Thursday, June 28, 2018
Despite yesterday's federal court ruling mandating that the U.S. government reunite migrant parents who were separated from their children at the border within 30 days, it seems unlikely that efforts to do so will proceed in a timely or orderly manner (Vox). In one example of how the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy continues to place children in vulnerable or potentially traumatic situations, lawyers in two states and D.C. are reporting that toddlers have been ordered to appear in court for their own deportation proceedings (Texas Tribune).
Several reports shed light on the experiences of migrant parents who have been separated from their children and in some cases deported. “There’s no structure in place, no legal structure in place to actually reunify the parents who’ve already been deported,” one attorney told Reuters in a profile of a deported Honduran man whose 12-year-old daughter remains in Los Angeles. Similar stories have been reported by The Guardian, the AP, Washington Post, and Time. For a sense of the bureaucracy that parents must deal with when searching for their children, see the LA Times; for a sense of what children and employees at detention centers are experiencing, see Pro Publica.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Homeland Security Kristjen Nielsen are expected to discuss migration issues when meeting tonight with Central American leaders in Guatemala. Adriana Beltrán at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) argues that instead of pushing Northern Triangle nations to tighten their borders, the U.S. should be pressuring them to address the root causes of migration: corruption, impunity, and violence.
"They should see this meeting as an opportunity to reaffirm U.S. support for anti-corruption initiatives," writes Beltrán. "Most importantly, they need to underscore that the lack of willingness on behalf of these nations to tackle corruption, impunity, and violence is what is causing their citizens to flee their borders." [Disclosure: I work as a communications consultant at WOLA].
For a harsh critique of the implications of Pence's meeting with Central American leaders, see Martin Rodriguez's column at Nomada.
Colombia's Congress approved the law that essentially allows its transitional justice tribunals to become fully effective. However, critics of the peace deal—aka, the "Uribista" bloc—got what they wanted: first, the creation of a separate chamber that will hear testimony from members of the military about their participation in Colombia's conflict; and second, a rule that prevents the peace tribunals from presenting evidence in extradition cases.
The extradition rule could have implications should more FARC guerrilla commanders suddenly become embroiled in drug trafficking cases (see the April 10, 2018 brief).
As La Silla Vacia notes, while members of the military—or other powerful elites who backed Colombia's violent paramilitary groups—can still voluntarily testify before the UN-backed Truth Commission, they aren't mandated to provide testimony as they would if they were fully participating in the transitional justice system (Justicia Especial Para la Paz, JEP).
"Without the pressure of the JEP, it is less likely that members of the military and third parties reveal what they know," the article says, adding:
"This helps Uribismo reinforce the narrative that what Colombia experienced was criminal terrorism, not an armed conflict; and it will also help prevent the emergence of any other information that could put Uribe government officials or their allies in a tight spot."
- Campaign season is wrapping up in Mexico. The Washington Post notes that even supporters of Andres Manuel López Obrador are surprised that he seems poised to win the presidency by a significant margin.
- Mexico City police seized millions of dollars of cash in briefcases reportedly destined to the ruling political party's headquarters (Animal Politico).
- According to a survey by a civil society group, a third of respondents said they'd experienced vote-buying efforts (EFE).
- Bloomberg has the scoop on a failed military coup attempt which helps explain the Maduro government's crackdown on the military.
- Today is the ninth anniversary of Honduras' military coup, which Radio Progreso uses as an opportunity to critique international support for President Juan Orlando Hernandez following last year's highly controversial elections.
- Honduras' Congress is supposed to vote today to select an attorney general. Pulso has brief profiles of the final five candidates. InSight Crime argues that given the number of Members of Congress currently under investigation for corruption, this further comprises the integrity of the selection process.
- In El Salvador, protestors have been demonstrating against a proposed law that critics say could lead to water privatization. The bishop of San Salvador told EFE that he believed the proposed law went against citizens' rights to fair water access.
- Nicaragua will hold a march for those killed as a result of violence linked to political unrest this Saturday. The march had originally been planned for the previous weekend, but was called off due to fears over potential state repression, Confidencial reports.
- Coalition group the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders criticized the threats and lack of protection experienced by human rights activists in Peru (EFE), where some 119 activists have been killed in the past seven years. Following an observation mission, the group said that Peruvian media and political officials frequently referred to activists as "defenders of terrorism," creating an environment in which they are more vulnerable to threats.
- Uruguay has opened its first historical memory museum at a site used for detention and torture under its military dictatorship.
- Elyssa Pachico
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
In an interview with the Associated Press, Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos said he would encourage his successor, Ivan Duque, to focus on "other campaign" promises besides changing the fundamental terms of Colombia's peace deal.
"He shouldn’t wear himself out on something that was already negotiated, that’s working and that everyone agrees is in the country’s best interests," Santos said, adding that when he steps down from the presidency on August 7, he plans to stay out of Colombia's polarized political debates.
Santos described Duque, a former aide, as "smart and with sound judgment."
The AP noted that Duque will have a hard time changing the fundamentals of Colombia's peace accords so as to force the demobilized FARC guerrillas to accept a tougher deal: Colombia's Constitutional Court has ruled that the terms are binding for the next three administrations.
Vocal support for the peace deal from international organizations could also arguably act as a deterrent on Duque's coalition. Whether or not that actually works remains to be seen: yesterday the United Nations issued a statement encouraging Colombia's Congress to finally approve the country's transitional justice system, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Justicia Especial Para la Paz, JEP).
The JEP has been blocked by Duque's allies in Congress, who say they will only approve the special peace tribunals if they undergo certain reforms first—including one that would essentially give special treatment to members of the military who have confessed to crimes.
El Pais reports that Duque's political coalition in Congress rejected the UN's plea that Colombia move forward with the peace tribunals.
Other Colombia news briefs
- Colombia will use herbicide-spraying drones to eradicate coca crops, following a White House report that asserted Colombia had experienced "a record growth in cocaine production" (Reuters). Santos said that the coca-spraying drones would "simulate ground, not aerial, fumigation," thereby limiting the negative health effects associated with the herbicide.
- Asides from creating a "perverse incentive" for Colombia farmers to grow more coca crops, the peace deal may have had another inadvertent effect: after the FARC withdrew from forested territory they have controlled for decades, land speculators rushed in. Consequently, last year Colombia saw a worrying jump in forest degradation, satellite data shows. (AP)
- Vice President Mike Pence is in Ecuador today and arrives in Guatemala tomorrow as part of his Latin America tour. Speaking on Central America immigration, he said, "If you can't come legally, don’t come at all." (Reuters)
- "Citizens who could once be counted on to vote conservatively now appear ready to flip," reports the New York Times from Aguascalientes, one of Mexico's most prosperous cities.
- Polls show there are unlikely to be any big surprises come Sunday's presidential elections. (El Pais)
- The defense team of Sinaloa Cartel leader "Chapo" Guzman is preparing to argue that he was not, in fact, the head of the drug trafficking organization. (New York Times)
- Just before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrives Thursday to Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales said that he has formally petitioned the U.S. government to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Guatemalans—a humanitarian program in which the U.S. suspends deportations to a country affected by war or natural disasters, and allows those granted protection to live and work in the U.S. (AP)
- Legislation introduced by Democrats in Congress provides "the basis for a more humane and sensible policy" towards Central American migrantsarriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, argues Adriana Beltrán for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The Central America Family Protection and Reunification Act (CAFPRA) "recognizes the need to address the conditions of violence, corruption, and impunity driving Central Americans to flee in search of safety," and has been co-sponsored by more than 50 Members of Congress so far.
- The United Nations once again expressed concern over problems with Honduras' attorney general selection process, citing a lack of transparency over how candidates were selected. (Criterio)
- Illegal police executions have been widely documented in El Salvador, which makes the recent conviction of four police officers for the crime a positive, albeit small step forward. (InSight Crime)
- Mongabay profiles how the Afro-indigenous Garifuna group in Honduras is making use of radio to protect their culture and ancestral lands.
- The Dominican Republic said it will train 32 prosecutors to focus on human trafficking (EFE). The country has a poor record in securing convictions in human trafficking cases, or investigating officials complicit in forced labor or sex trafficking rings, according to the U.S. State Department.
- As Paraguay President Horacio Cortes—barred from re-election to the presidency— won a Senate seat in the country's April elections, he had previously signaled that he was going to resign the presidency early so that he could be sworn into Congress on July 1. (His successor, Alicia Pucheta, is supposed to take office in August). However, Cortes was unable to get the Congressional support that would have allowed him to take up his Senate seat in time. (AP)
- Argentina's Senate will debate a bill liberalizing abortion laws on August 8. (Clarin)
- Peru's Attorney General has initiated an investigation against three Members of Congress, including Kenji Fujimori, who were suspended earlier this month due to corruption allegations (Telesur). They are accused of attempting to buy votes to prevent ex-President Kuczynski's impeachment. Kuczynski is believed to have illegally pardoned disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori in exchange for Kenji Fujimori's breaking with the ranks and abstaining from voting on an impeachment attempt against Kuczynski in December 2017.
- Peru will no longer castrate those convicted of sexually assaulting minors younger than 14; instead, they may face life sentences. (EFE)
- Amid the release of dozens of imprisoned political activists in Venezuela, the opposition is now demanding the release of 152 "military political prisoners" (Efecto Cocuyo). As previously noted by Marco Aponte in The Conversation, the country has offered clemency to non-military political prisoners while seemingly cracking down on "potential troublemakers" in the military.
- A delegation of the European Union's legislative body is currently touring Venezuelan migrant camps along the country's borders with Brazil and Colombia, which could yet herald a European Union commitment to increase aid to Venezuelans who've fled abroad. (EFE)
- A BBC photo essay and accompanying article profiles children left parentless after their families left Venezuela.
Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Honduras has narrowed down its potential nominees for attorney general to five candidates, in a process that will have significant ramifications for the country's fight against corruption and organized crime. (EFE)
Critero predicts that Honduras' new attorney general will most likely be Solicitor General Abraham Alvarenga Urbina, a former Member of Congress and, according to Critero, a "loyal friend" to President Juan Orlando Hernandez. Criterio reports that technically Alvarenga shouldn't even be in the running for the AG position as he is still serving as solicitor general, which goes against the selection process laws.
This is just one example of the various problems that have been identified with Honduras' attorney general selection process. Last week, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers criticized Honduras for not involving civil society in the process. (See last Friday's brief for more context on the importance of Honduras' attorney general nomination process).
- Representatives of President Ortega's government refused to discuss the possibility of early elections, said civil society leaders who are currently in dialogue with Nicaragua's government in efforts to end the country's ongoing political unrest. (Confidencial)
- elPeriodico: Manfredo Marroquín, the head of anti-impunity and transparency group Accion Ciudadana, says that leaders in Guatemala's Congress are pursuing a political vendetta by "baselessly" accusing him of various crimes (see the June 22, 2018 brief). The head of Congress, Alvaro Arzú (one of Guatemala's most powerful politicians, who has been accused of corruption charges [see Oct. 6, 2017 brief]) filed the accusation against Marroquín in Congress' name, even though various Members of Congress said they had not been consulted first. Accion Ciudadana had recently petitioned Congress to take a harder line against political parties that fail to disclose how much money they raise and spend.
- A recent report published by a Jesuit research group and Oxfam described Honduras' political system as co-opted by political elites who focus on protecting their own special interests.
- Since Mexico's political campaign season kicked off in September 2017, 46 political candidates have been killed, reports El Pais, citing data from Mexican analysis company Etellekt. The company found that compared to the 2011-2012 campaign season, the number of people killed while aspiring to political office increased by some 4500 percent. The most recent victim is a mayoral candidate who was gunned down in Oaxaca on Monday during an ambush.
- Mexico's ruling PRI party has arguably politicized the office of the Attorney General and a special court meant to oversee the elections, as part of what some have described as a wider pattern of abusing state institutions for electoral purposes. "Hardball tactics are nothing new in Mexican politics, but the PRI’s abuse of state institutions are a staggering escalation for a party in power," reports the New York Times.
- Today is the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture; the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement condemning the widespread use of torture in Mexico criminal investigations.
- The WSJ looks at why Central American migration is not an issue in Mexico's elections.
- "Widespread voter rejection of the PRI" means the party is poised to see "the worst electoral result since it was created by the country’s rulers in 1929," reports the AP.
- According to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, coca cultivation in Colombia increased 11 percent between 2016 and 2017 (AP), which the head of the office called "unacceptable" during a press conference (Colombia Reports). President Juan Manuel Santos told the AP that because coca farmers qualify for subsidies if they commit to a crop substitution plan under the terms of Colombia's historic 2016 peace deal, this "had in some ways created a perverse incentive for peasants to grow more coca."
- A recent study by the Federal University of São Paulo sheds light on widespread extrajudicial killings committed by police over a bloody two-week period in 2006 in Sao Paulo. Over 500 civilians were killed during a wave of police and alleged gang violence, which officials have long maintained was instigated by the PCC prison gang. As EFE reports, the study, published in early June, found that based on forensics, most civilian victims had been killed execution-style by police or masked para-police groups. Families of the victims have reported receiving police threats over the years, and as a result, according to one of the study's authors, family members "have never dared to step foot in a police station and speak of the death of their children."
- Inconsistent water service is increasingly prompting wealthy Venezuelans to drill their own wells. (AP)
- Argentina protested a $50 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), approved by President Mauricio Macri earlier this month, with a 24-hour strike that virtually shut down the country. Many still blame the international lending institution for contributing to Argentina's economic collapse in 2001. (Al Jazeera)
- Vice President Mike Pence arrives in Brazil today, as part of his third tour in Latin America. He will also visit Ecuador and Guatemala (WSJ).
- Thanks to bold preservation efforts, the world's second-largest coral reef, off the coast of Belize, may be removed from UNESCO's list of threatened World Heritage Sites this week (AFP).
- Pope Francis officially confirmed the beatification of Paraguayan nun "Chiquitunga," which was celebrated by 40,000 Paraguayans in an Asunción stadium (EFE).
- An El Faro photo essay tracks the journey of young Central American migrants in southern Mexico
- Elyssa Pachico