Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Ecuadorean authorities arrest opposition prefect (Oct. 16, 2019)

Ecuadorean authorities arrested the opposition-party prefect of Pichincha state on Monday. She is under investigation for instigating acts of violence during the 11 days of protests against President Lenín Moreno that rocked the country. (El Comercio)

Authorities say Paola Pabón and two others of conspired with former president Rafael Correa, Venezuela's government, and FARC guerrillas to destabilize Ecuador's government.

 Former National Assembly President Gabriela Rivadeneira, another of Correa's allies, sought refuge in the country's embassy in Quito over the weekend. On Monday the Mexican foreign ministry said the embassy offered protection and shelter to six people, including legislators and their spouses. Lawmaker Soledad Buendía, also of the Correa faction, is among those staying in the Mexican embassy. Rivadeneira and Buendía sought to move forward elections during the protests.

The OAS permanent council stated the rejection of member countries of “any action aimed at destabilizing the legitimately established Government and the rule of law, as well as any kind of interference that alters democracy and peaceful coexistence in Ecuador,” and condemns “all acts of vandalism perpetrated” in recent days. (Relief Web)

Eight people died during the 11 days of protest, with Pichincha being the hardest hit locality, reports El Comercio. The deal reached Sunday evening was a bittersweet victory for indigenous groups, reports the Guardian, given the heavy police repression that marked the protests. In addition to the dead, more than 1,300 people were injured and nearly 1,200 arrested, according to the country’s human rights defender’s office. Jaime Vargas, the leader of the Ecuador’s indigenous confederation Conaie, sought to distance his followers from masked men who attacked two TV stations and the El Comercio newspaper, as well as journalists covering the protests.

Thousands of indigenous demonstrators, student volunteers, and local residents launched a mass cleanup on Monday in the Quito park that served as a focal point for protesters. Though Moreno survived the crisis, he comes out significantly weakened in the middle of his four-year-term after having to backtrack on fuel subsidy cuts, 
reports the Christian Science Monitor.

More Ecuador
  • Moreno's administration is expected to present a new plan this week to cut fuel subsidies while maintaining assistance for target communities, reports El Comercio. (See Monday's post.) The IMF applauded the government's move to take different communities into account in order to carry out macroeconomic reform, reports EFE.
  • Yesterday, Moreno and his administration were struggling to figure out how to stabilize the budget, reassure international lenders and put Ecuador on a path of economic sustainability, reports the Associated Press. Without a drastic improvement in 2020, Ecuador may have to start delaying payments to state workers and suppliers, say some analysts.
  • Fuel subsidies were the trigger for the protests against Moreno, but the underlying cause were austerity policies demanded by the IMF that favor the rich at the expense of the middle class and poor, explains Nacla.
  • It was also an opportunity for indigenous groups to demonstrate power and presence, according to New York Times' El Espace.
News Briefs

  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse said it would be irresponsible to resign, and blamed the country's constitution and Parliament for difficulties in governing. He spoke yesterday in an impromptu press conference, breaking weeks-long silence in the midst of intense protests demanding his ouster that have essentially paralyzed the country. Moïse argued that his leaving office would not solve the underlying problems afflicting Haiti, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The U.N. Security Council permanently ended its 15-year peacekeeping presence in Haiti yesterday. The move comes as the country is on the brink of collapse, reports the Miami Herald. The Haiti National Police force boasts 15,404 officers and a full-time police presence in every one of Haiti’s 145 counties, a per-population number below the U.N.’s objective and international standards.
  • The ambush that killed 13 police officers in Mexico's Michoacán state on Monday involved at about 30 gunmen and is believed to have been carried out by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, reports the Guardian. Mexico's government sent about 80 soldiers and an army helicopter to the western part of the state in the wake of the shooting, reports BBC. (See yesterday's post.)
  • The case has caused backlash against President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, provincial authorities and police commanders, reports the Associated Press. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called the attack “regrettable,” but said he remains committed to his security approach emphasizing tackling underlying social problems in the face of record homicide numbers.
  • Fourteen civilians and one soldier were killed in a separate incident in Guerrero state yesterday,  a shoot-out between the military and suspected cartel members. (Al Jazeera)
  • A new study looks at how community governance structures and a history of activism help some Mexican indigenous communities resist organized crime, reports InSight Crime.
  • El Faro and El País dive into the Guatemalan jungle along the border with Mexico -- considered a key corridor for drug smuggling. The latest installment in "Southern Border" project explores who controls the Petén department's 2.2-million-hectare jungle. "In Petén, everyone tells you to “stay in the center, don’t head to the outskirts, keep away from the jungle.” ... They tell you not to go, and then recite with great detail the names of hamlets, villages and natural areas that are off limits: Las Cruces, Bethel, La Técnica, El Naranjo, the jungle. However, when you ask them what they are so afraid of, all details disappear and everything becomes as dense as the depths of Lacandón. You get the impression that they fear anyone who lives in the jungle."
  • The U.S.-Honduras agreement to send asylum seekers to the Central American country will trap them in a country that has manifestly failed to protect its own citizens, particularly activists, writes Óscar Chacón in USA Today.
  • A year after migrant caravans started making world headlines two new books look at the phenomenon: Caravana, which compiles Spanish journalist Alberto Pradilla's dispatches for Plaza Pública, and Juntos todos Juntos, by El Faro's Carlos Martínez. (El País)
  • The European Union adopted a sanctions framework for Nicaragua over human rights abuses and repression under leftist President Daniel Ortega, reports AFP. The move does not immediately enact punishment on Nicaragua but allows targeted travel bans and asset freezes to be quickly imposed at a later stage.
  • The opposition said it was a significant political strike against the Ortega administration, reports EFE.
  • The lawyers' group Defensores del Pueblo advised exiled Nicaraguans against returning to the country at this time, reports EFE.
  • Lava Jato prosecutors used accusations against former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva to distract the public from a scandal involving then-president Michel Temer and then-attorney general Rodrigo Janot, reported The Intercept this week.
  • Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia declared a state of emergency after about 20 of its beaches were contaminated with oil sludge. Brazilian authorities believe the sludge, which has affected about 150 beaches in a total of nine Brazilian states comes from Venezuela, reports the Associated Press. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • Some of those beaches are sea-turtle nesting sites, and scientists report that 24 adult-sea turtles have been found coated in oil on Brazilian shores. (PRI)
  • Brazilian police launched a corruption probe into the head of President Jair Bolsonaro’s right-wing Social Liberal Party (PSL) Luciano Bivar, a police source told Reuters.
  • Brazil's central bank president told the Financial Times that Brazil wants to "democratize" the financial sector and usher in more private capital.
  • A seven-story building collapsed in Fortaleza yesterday, killing at least one person. Another 10 people were missing and seven people were found alive, reports Reuters. Collapses have become a recurring problem in Brazil, due to economic-distress related disrepair, reports the Washington Post.
  • In post-CICIG Guatemala, lawmakers are on a witch-hunt of former collaborators of the anti-impunity commission and citizens worry about corruption that affects critical institutions, reports PRI.
  • Chile will implement a blockade against Venezuela if President Nicolás Maduro does not hold free elections, reports the Financial Times.
  • India's Reliance Industries has resumed crude imports from Venezuela, bartering diesel exports to pay for them, reports AFP.
  • After three decades holding significant power, Popular Force is reeling in Peru. President Martín Vizcarra's dissolution of Congress could be a knock-out punch for the party founded by former dictator Alberto Fujimori. Some predict Fujimorismo could garner as little as 10 percent in new Congressional elections to be held in January, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...
Latin America Daily Briefing

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

14 Mexican police killed in ambush (Oct. 15, 2019)

Fourteen police officers were killed and three wounded in an ambush in Mexico's Michoacán state, which has been afflicted with a spike in violence reminiscent of the bloodiest parts of Mexico's war on drugs. The attack by suspected drug cartel members was the biggest attack on security forces in recent years, and cast doubt on President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's policies on the issue. 

There were 2,966 homicides in Mexico in August, the most ever recorded for that month. AMLO campaigned on a promise to demilitarize internal security. He then changed tack and created a new militarized security force, the National Guard. But the 70,000 strong force has been mostly deployed to deter migration, as part of cooperation agreements with the U.S.

(Washington PostAnimal PolíticoGuardianWall Street Journal)

News Briefs

  • A veneer of normality returned to Ecuador yesterday, in the wake of President Lenín Moreno's deal with indigenous protesters and rollback of fuel subsidy cuts. But both sides return to the negotiating table today, and must agree on an economic package that narrows the budget gap in order to meet IMF financing commitments, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Leftist parties' headquarters in Bogotá were attacked, two weeks ahead of Colombia's regional elections. The targeted parties were the FARC, and the Colombian Communist Party which shares an office with Unión Patriótica, reports El Espectador.
  • The United Nations Human Rights Council has been putting pressure on Venezuela over its abuses," writes Kenneth Roth in Foreign Policy. "Now, to subvert that effort, Venezuela is trying to get elected to the council." Costa Rica will contest the seat, but faces an uphill battle for votes.
  • Venezuela will owe $913 million on a Pdvsa bond payment at the end of the month. Bondholders are expected to go for Citgo if the country fails to pay. That would be bad news for the opposition—and the United States, argues Francisco Monaldi in Foreign Policy.
  • Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro ordered a 275 percent increase in the monthly minimum wage, yesterday. (Bloomberg) It's the third increase so far this year, though 2019 is the year with the least wage increases of the Maduro administration, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • The U.S. is an uncomfortable ally for Venezuela's opposition, and either clumsily or deliberately undercut the Barbados negotiations, reports the Globe Post.
  • The fiscal impact of Venezuelan migration to Peru has been positive, according to a new BBVA study that emphasized their tax contribution potential. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres selected Helen Meagher La Lime to head the U.N. Integrated Office in Haiti. The appointment of the current U.N. special representative in Haiti to the post comes just as the U.N.'s peacekeeping presence comes to an end today, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Brazil's Bolsonaro administration has dismissed mounting evidence that federal agents systematically tortured prisoners in the country's Para state, reports InSight Crime.
Climate change
  • Young women are at the forefront of environmental activism in Latin America, reports EFE.
  • Argentine feminist activists held the 34th Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres in La Plata this weekend, and gathered an estimated 200,000 participants. (Página 12Nodal)
  • Argentine presidential front-runner Alberto Fernández is running on a platform of unity -- and conflict-weary Argentines appear to support a shift toward moderation, I argue in a New York Times op-ed. Fernández’s strategy seems almost laughably optimistic: to convince diverse sectors with opposed interests that their only hope is to cede a bit to all pull in the same direction. Yet there are indications that key players are willing to play along, at least initially. “Creer o morir” — believe or die — as we say here.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Monday, October 14, 2019

Moreno revokes fuel subsidy cut decree (Oct. 14, 2019)

Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno revoked the controversial executive decree that cut fuel subsidies, and a replacement will be drafted with the collaboration of indigenous groups who had led 12 days of intense unrest in response to the measure. In a meeting with Moreno yesterday evening, representatives of the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador (CONAI) agreed to call off ongoing mobilizations. The discussions were mediated by the UN's representative in Ecuador and the national Episcopal Conference, and broadcast live online and on national TV.  (El ComercioAssociated Press)

Moreno deployed the army to enforce a 3 p.m. curfew in Quito, after protesters flouted the emergency measure and clashed with police -- continuing 11 days of unrest yesterday. Moreno said the military would patrol the capital's streets after incidents of violence -- including a group that set fire to the national auditor's office and reports of attacks on media outlets. (Reuters, Associated Press, Al Jazeera) "Explosions and clouds of tear gas engulfed much of the city Sunday afternoon," reports the New York Times.

 In a Saturday speech Moreno said that the protesters who have been causing damage to buildings and clashing with the security forces aren’t from indigenous groups but are instead vandals, members of criminal groups or linked to a former president, Rafael Correa. (Wall Street Journal)

The public ombudsman’s office said Sunday that seven people had died in the protests, 1,340 had been hurt and 1,152 arrested. (Associated Press) Protesters forced the state oil company to shut down several oil fields and pipelines, and paralyzed international sales of crude from Ecuador, a key component of government revenue. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the Washington-based Organization of American States, has expressed concern over “the excessive use of force on the part of the police,” while the Ecuadorean government rights ombudsman has denounced the “cruel, inhumane and degrading” treatment of protesters.

Though indigenous protests were influential in overthrowing three presidencies in the late 90s and early 2000s, Moreno managed to divide opposition against him, a key factor in his survival thus far, according to NYT. 

News Briefs

  • Thousands of Haitians joined a protest against Moïse called by the art community, yesterday, one of the largest protests against President Jovenel Moïse thus far in weeks demonstrations calling for his resignation, reports the Miami Herald. The massive protest was carried out peacefully and without police intervention, reports the Associated Press. Anti-government protesters promised to keep Haiti paralyzed until Moïse leaves office.
  • Clashes between Haitian protesters and police intensified on Friday, after a Haitian journalist was found shot to death in his car. At least 20 people have been killed in the current round of protests. (Guardian)
  • U.S acting Secretary of Homeland Security Ken McAleenan resigned on Friday -- the fourth person to leave the post in the Trump administration thus far. According to the New Yorker, he resigned on his own terms, after creating a set of international policies and agreements that effectively outsourced immigration enforcement and asylum obligations to Mexico and Central American countries -- the Migrant Protection Protocols (Remain in Mexico) and the network of safe third country agreements with Northern Triangle countries. Despite his position as a moderate, McAleenan carried out some of the most controversial immigration initiatives under the Trump administration, notes Buzzfeed.
  • U.S. immigration policy will likely fall to a hardliner now: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli is being seen as a likely replacement for McAleenan, reports Fox News.
  • The idea that Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are safe places and apt to receive refugees would be a bad joke, if it weren't exactly what the U.S. Trump administration succeeded in a spate of recent migration pacts, argues Nelson Rauda in El País
Political turmoil
  • A wave of political turmoil in Latin America reflects economic slowdown and perennially weak institutions, reports the Washington Post.
Trinidad and Tobago
  • Dozens of people were found last week in squalid conditions, chained and in cages in a Trinidad and Tobago rehabilitation center run by a religious group for ex-prisoners and drug users. Police said some were tortured and held for years, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuelan authorities denied Guatemala's president-elect Alejandro Giammattei entry into Venezuela on Saturday. He was scheduled to meet with opposition leader Juan Guaido, reports Reuters. Giammattei promised to lodge a complaint with the OAS, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Pamela Druckerman's take on Venezuela's political crisis, through the eyes of a Guaidó's envoy to France, part of a shadow diplomatic corps. "I don’t pretend to know what would happen if the opposition ran Venezuela, but it would have to be an improvement." (New York Times op-ed)
  • Women are taking on more prominent roles in Colombia's criminal drug organizations, but they face both the risks inherent to drug trafficking and those specific to the role women play there, according to InSight Crime.
  • An illegal mining crackdown in Colombia's Cauca may only stoke anger among the local Afro-Colombian community, reports InSight Crime.
  • U.S. oil sanctions against Cuba are testing the island's resilience. President Miguel Díaz-Canel has said the Cuba is currently operating with 62 percent of the petrol it needs and announced emergency measures aimed at prioritizing health and education needs. (Guardian, see last Thursday's briefs.)
  • Forest fires in Bolivia are threatening President Evo Morales' chances at reelection later this month (see Friday's briefs), but also demonstrate the unsound nature of his environmental approach in general, writes Nathalie Iriarte in the Post Opinión.
  • Secret recordings of Mexican state-oil company execs shed light on an elaborate pay-to-play system at Pemex, where bribes were accepted in return for contracts, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Argentine presidential front-runner Alberto Fernández hit hard against President Mauricio Macri in a presidential debate last night, but sought to court undecided, moderate voters in a bid to win the Oct. 27 election outright, reports Reuters.
  • Fracking at Argentina's Vaca Muerta site could be a key element to helping Argentina climb out of its economic crisis. But the extraction comes at a high cost for local Mapuche tribes, reports the Guardian.
  • An overwhelming majority of Peruvians support President Martín Vizcarra's recent move to dissolve Congress -- 85 percent. Vizcarra's own popularity soared since, up 31 points to 79 percent. (El Comercio)
  • The New York Times decision to close its Spanish language edition sends a troublesome message to the region's media: if they can't make a subscription-based system work in the region, who can, asks Diego Salazar in the Post Opinión
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...  

Friday, October 11, 2019

Ecuadorean protesters captured police officers (Oct. 11, 2019)

Indigenous anti-government protesters briefly captured ten police officers yesterday. They were held in a cultural center in Quito, which has been used as a base for indigenous protesters for the past week, in the midst of demonstrations against President Lenín Moreno's austerity measures. The officers were paraded on a stage in front of demonstrators, forced to remove their boots, and to carry the coffin of an indigenous activist allegedly killed during the unrest before being released. 

About 30 journalists covering the incident were temporarily prevented from leaving the building, and one local TV reporter was attacked by activists. Protesters said media coverage of the protests had ignored police brutality.

Protesters are furious at repression. The public defenders office says at least five people have been killed over the past week of violent demonstrations. This morning a large crowd in Quito held a funeral for an indigenous leader activists say was shot in the head on Wednesday night. Ecuadorean officials counter that he died from a fall on the street. There are indications that the death may have derailed behind the scenes negotiations between the government and protesters. (Al Jazeera, Proceso, see yesterday's post)

Former president Rafael Correa denied government accusations that he is orchestrating a coup from his current home in Belgium, but said Moreno should call new elections in the midst of intense unrest. (EFE)

The fuel subsidy cuts and the wave of protests is reminiscent of previous cycles in the 1990s and early 2000s that ousted several previous presidents. (Nueva Sociedad)

The Economist calls the situation in Ecuador "scarily volatile," but defends the broader wisdom behind Moreno's subsidy cuts, which studies suggest benefitted the country's wealthier population.

News Briefs

  • Since January, the U.S. government has ordered 13,000 migrants under 18, including more than 400 infants, to wait with their families in Mexico for U.S. immigration court hearings, reports Reuters, based on analysis of government data. These families are often living in crowded shelters or tents in high-crime border cities, where the risk of violence and illness runs high. (See yesterday's briefs, on a Human Rights First report on violence suffered by people in the Migrant Protection Protocols.) 
  • Increasingly restrictive U.S asylum policies are not deterring a soaring number of Honduran women fleeing gender violence -- and near-total impunity -- at home, reports The Intercept.
  • Given unsafe circumstances in El Salvador, a U.S. move to return asylum seekers there may violate an international law called “non-refoulement," argues Mneesha Gellman in the Conversation.
Regional Relations
  • The U.S. Trump administration will seek bilateral agreements with Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, rather than treating the so-called Northern Triangle countries as a block, said U.S. presidential advisor Mauricio Claver-Carone. The goal, he said in a telephone press conference, is to focus on the specific needs of each country. The move could indicate the eventual end of the Alliance for Prosperity initiative, and follows the Trump administration strategy of signing separate migration agreements with Central American countries. (El Diario de Hoy)
  • The U.S. administration promised to support the Brazilian bid to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) -- but appears to be first backing Argentina and Romania's bid, according to a leaked State Department letter. U.S. and Brazilian authorities downplayed the significance of the letter, reports Reuters.
  • Hundreds of protesters demanded Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández's resignation on Wednesday in Tegucigalpa, spurred by allegations of drug trafficker connections that have come to light in a New York trial against Hernández's brother, former congressman Tony Hernández. (Reuters) The sit-in was later broken up by police with tear gas, reports Deutsche Welle.
  • The Hernández trial is bringing to light several different criminal tendencies in Honduras and the region. (See yesterday's briefs.) A document from the case file reveals details of a drug trafficking connection involving one of Central America’s wealthiest and most politically connected families, the Rosenthals, reports InSight Crime.
  • As expected, Cuba's National Assembly ratified Miguel Díaz-Canel as head of the Cuban state. He is now technically the "President of the Republic," rather than the “President of the Council of State," reflecting changes under the new Cuban constitution. Only one candidate for each position, including that of the president, was nominated by an electoral commission composed of members of mass organizations controlled by the Communist Party, reports the Miami Herald. (See also EFE.)
  • Nineteen Cuban media outlets denounced government repression aimed at silencing them, and demanded more protection and respect for the press from government. The outlets that signed the statement, including 14yMedio and El Estornudo, say aggression against journalists has increased sharply this year. (Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas)
Latin American Left (again?!)
  • It seems like the requiems for the the Pink Tide have just subsided, but the region's rightward turn is not as broad as initially believed. Leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador won resoundingly last year in Mexico. And leftists are strong contenders in this months general elections in Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay. Santiago Anria and Kenneth Roberts analyze the phenomenon in the Conversation, and find that the strongest leftist governments maintained ties with social movements, which also constrained potential slides towards autocracy. 
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri's likely electoral defeat later this month raises the question about what space there is in Latin America "for a moderate, democratic center-right in an era of increasing polarization," according to Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly. "Macri's exit will thus leave a void for Latin America's liberal and ‘civilized right’, and its impact is already being felt outside of Argentina. ... it may also increase the risk of economically liberal candidates joining illiberal nationalist forces, as happened in Brazil."
  • The left, under the governing Frente Amplio coalition, heads to the Oct. 27 elections on the defensive, for the first time in decades. Though the FA will likely win the first round of voting, candidate Daniel Martínez is not expected to win outright, and would likely lose to the Partido Nacional in a second round of voting. Rafael Sanseviero delves into the context of the national elections and the impact of the regional right-ward swing in Nueva Sociedad.
  • Polls have varied wildly in the lead up to Bolivia's presidential elections, which will occur on Oct. 20. A few months ago, polls predicted that President Evo Morales would win outright, while now there are indications his nearest challenger, Carlos Mesa, might make it to a second round and potentially unify opposition to Morales, reports Americas Quarterly. However, an unusually high rate of undecided voters, sitting somewhere between 20% and 30%, depending on the poll, adds to the uncertainty. Devastating Amazon fires in Bolivia seem to have played a key role in denting Morales' popularity in recent months. The fires focused public anger on the president, and critics say the government responded too slowly to the environmental disaster, reports the Guardian.
  • Seven candidates have been killed and more than 60 others attacked in the lead up to Colombia's local elections later this month. The violence is in marked contrast to last year's relatively peaceful presidential election, reports Al Jazeera. Experts say the string of lethal attacks reflects the slow implementation of the FARC peace deal, which allowed illegal groups to move into former guerrilla-controlled territories.
  • Most former FARC fighters remain committed to the 2016 peace agreement, said Colombia's U.N. ambassador. This week the political party established by the former guerrilla force, also known by the FARC acronym, expelled a few former commanders who took up arms again earlier this year. (Associated Press)
  • A criminal case against former president Álvaro Uribe -- who testified this week before the Supreme Court -- "has serious implications for the independence of Colombia’s justice institutions, as well as the ongoing efforts to uncover the full truth about the powerful political networks that backed paramilitary death squads during Colombia’s decades-long conflict," write Elyssa Pachico, Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli and Adam Isacson in a WOLA analysis. (See yesterday's briefs and Tuesday's.) The case could also further polarize Colombia's bitter political divisions, they warn.
  • U.S. failure to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is "almost reminiscent of the Bay of Pigs" writes Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times op-ed. Indeed, today "Maduro appears to be further from being ousted than he was a year ago."
  • More vessel operators and energy firms are shunning Venezuelan oil and the tankers that have carried it, reports Reuters.
  • Indian refiner Reliance Industries will resume loading Venezuelan crude this month, after a four-month pause, reports Reuters.
  • The Guardian reports on how, a decade after the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, U.S. aid failed to rebuild as promised.
  • Brazil's battle over gay and trans rights is playing out in the country's courts, and pits a growing population of young, educated urban liberals against religious conservatives who say LGBT+ expression goes against traditional Brazilian values, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • A proposal to build an international airport at the Santa Lucia military base near Mexico City received a judicial green-light this week, reports BNAmericas. A large number of legal injunctions have delayed the controversial project championed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In response the government classified as secret all information about the airport construction project. (Proceso, Infobae)
  • Legalization of abortion in Mexico's Oaxaca state is on of the effects of the region's "green tide," according to NUSO. (See Sept. 27's briefs.)
Dominican Republic
  • Former President Leonel Fernández on Monday contested his apparent defeat in a primary vote by the Dominican Republic’s governing party to pick its presidential candidate for May’s election, reports the Associated Press.
  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra's dissolution of Congress was not a coup, but it could destabilize the country, warns the Economist. "... by blundering into what some consider an abuse of presidential power, Mr Vizcarra has thrown into question the rules of Peru’s political game. And he has set a precedent which may be copied by rulers whose intentions are far worse."
  • A U.S. federal judge said former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo could be entitled to bail while challenging his extradition to Peru on bribery charges. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Ecuador protests continue (Oct. 10, 2019)

At least one person was killed yesterday in the midst of a national strike and protests against Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno's austerity measures. Activists say more people were killed yesterday in clashes between indigenous protesters and police. (Reuters) The indigenous-led demonstrations were mostly peaceful, but clashes occurred yesterday in Quito and other cities. The national interior minister apologized after police fired tear gas near two universities and a cultural center in Quito where safe areas for protesters had been set up. (Reuters) Ecuador's Red Cross said it was suspending paramedic and ambulance services because of security concerns.

Photo-essay of protests and clashes at the Atlantic.

Protests have been ongoing for over a week, since Moreno announced cuts to fuel subsidies. Protesters have been marching and barricading roads with burning tires, while police in armored vehicles have responded with water cannon and gas. Over 700 people in a week of unrest. Some 86 police and 360 civilians have been wounded in the unrest so far, according to Ecuadorean authorities. “The Ecuadorian authorities must put an immediate end to the heavy-handed repression of demonstrations, including mass detentions, and conduct swift, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force, torture and other ill-treatment of those who have been detained in the context of the protests," said Amnesty International's Americas director, Erika Guevara-Rosas.

Indigenous protests played a key role in toppling Ecuadorean presidents in recent decades, notes the Guardian. The leader of the Ecuador’s indigenous confederation Conaie, said there would be no dialogue until the government rolled back its order ending the subsidies. Nonetheless, Moreno aides said they were engaging in early-stage negotiations with indigenous groups, with United Nations and Catholic Church mediation, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Though the fuel subsidy cuts are part of IMF agreement imposed austerity measures, the government has leeway to grant special credits to indigenous groups to help them cope with higher gasoline prices.

In Guayaquil thousands of demonstrators dressed in white held a "peace march," rejecting violent protest tactics. Moreno temporarily moved the seat of government to Guayaquil this week, but visited the capital, Quito, in the midst of yesterday's protests, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Military backing has been key for Moreno in the unrest, and warned protesters against resorting to violence yesterday, reports the Associated Press.

News Briefs

  • At least 18 people have been killed in Haiti's anti-government riots, which have been ongoing for over a month. The opposition has called for a march against President Jovenel Moïse for tomorrow, adding to the pressure against his paralyzed government, reports Vice News
  • In a last ditch effort at conciliation, Moïse yesterday named a team to lead negotiations with opposition leaders. Opposition figures rejected the move, saying the commission has no credibility. (Associated Press)
  • In the midst of the power vacuum, dozens of politicians are vying to become Haiti's next leader, reports the Associated Press. Though the opposition is unified by anger at Moïse, protesters say the absence of a charismatic leader and a clear strategy is fueling chaos and the sense of an unending crisis.
  • If you've forgotten what the crisis is about in the first place, the AFP has a handy overview of what's going on in Haiti.
  • A new report by Human Rights First revealed that there were at least 340 report of rape, kidnapping, torture and other violent attacks against people returned to Mexico while they wait for their case to be heard in US immigration court. Advocates say it's just a hint of the dangers faced by people in the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), known as Remain in Mexico program. (Guardian)
  • Dominican immigrants are subject to police profiling and brutality in Puerto Rico and are also being targeted for deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) on the island, reports the Guardian.
  • Foreign aid is ever more central to the battle for political power in Venezuela, according to the latest Venezuela Weekly. This week the U.S. Agency for International Development announced  $98 million dollars in development aid to Venezuela. (Associated Press) Added to previous commitments, the total amount will be $116 million. "The amount and the very public announcement of the aid will likely revive efforts by the Maduro government to restrict foreign funding for civil society," warn David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas.
  • The CAF development bank has proposed a $400 million loan to Venezuela that would be administered by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, considered the country's interim president by a chunk of the international community. (Reuters)
  • Russia is playing a key role in propping up Venezuela's Maduro administration, and undercutting the impact of U.S. sanction. Washington needs to change tack quickly, argues Ryan Berg in Foreign Policy.
  • The U.S. Trump administration is preparing new sanctions against Cuba over its support of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, reports Reuters.
  • U.S. sanctions, including those targeting Venezuela, have already caused severe fuel shortages and other difficulties in Cuba, reports the New Yorker. But experts say the U.S. hardline approach to Cuba is counterproductive in reaching a solution for the Venezuela crisis: “The Trump Administration has it backwards when it comes to the linkage between Venezuela policy and Cuba policy,” according to the International Crisis Group’s Venezuela expert, Phil Gunson. "By making it clear that once they have dealt with Maduro, their next objective is Cuba, they eliminate any incentive Cuba might have for contributing to a sustainable transition in Venezuela. And by defining the objective not as the promotion of democracy so much as the elimination of socialism, they alienate many other potentially useful allies."
  • Crude oil polluting more than 130 Brazilian beaches probably originated in Venezuela, according to the Brazilian government. Over the past month an estimated 100 tons of crude has drifted toward land, polluting pristine beaches and forcing the government to face another environmental crisis in the wake of the Amazon fires, reports the New York Times. Environment minister Ricardo Salles said a foreign ship near Brazil’s coastline appeared to have caused the spill “accidentally or not." The accusation will likely further strain relations between the two countries, reports the Guardian.
  • A federal judge determined that Brazil's government must resume funding for about 80 films including a handful with LGBT+ themes, halted in August after the country’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro criticized four LGBT+ themed films and said that supporting such movies was “throwing money away.” (Reuters)
  • Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called on Brazil's largest labor federation to expand the fight against Bolsonaro's administration, reports EFE.
  • Former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe testified before the country's Supreme Court on Tuesday. The closed door questioning lasted seven hours, reports Al Jazeera. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Heavy rains helped put out fires that have raged in Bolivia's Amazon for two months, reports Reuters. Complaints over the official handling of the environmental crisis have dented the popularity of President Evo Morales ahead of this month's general election.
  • Bolivians vote on Oct. 20, and no matter which candidate is declared winner in Bolivia’s presidential election this year, the opposite side is likely to contest the validity of the result, warns the Latin America Risk Report.
  • The Five Hundred Year Rebellion: Indigenous Movements and the Decolonization of History in Bolivia, looks at Morales' roots, rise, and presidency -- Nacla.
  • A new broad-based coalition including unions, professionals, students, feminists, farmers, and opposition parties is forging a sustained campaign of resistance in Honduras, reports The Nation
  • A confessed drug trafficker said he attended meetings with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández to discuss the use of drug money in his election campaigns. Alexander Ardon spoke this week in the New York trial of Hernández's younger brother, former lawmaker Tony Hernández, who is accused of large-scale drug trafficking, reports Univisión. (See last Thursday's post.)
Organized Crime
  • The ongoing Hernández trial in New York has provided a glimpse of how Honduran politics is infiltrated by corruption and organized crime. But it is also exposing the details of how the Sinaloa Cartel has operated in Central America over the past decade, according to the Latin America Risk Report.
  • Peruvians widely supported President Martín Vizcarra's move to shut down Congress last week, reports the Wall Street Journal. Peru's top court is expected to rule on the legality of the move in coming weeks. 
  • President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and other top officials met this week in Mexico City with a U.S. congressional delegation to lobby for U.S. approval of the pending USMCA treaty, reports the Associated Press.
  • A fact-checker sponsored "deep fake" video in Argentina aims to educate voters about how easily misinformation can spread, reports Poynter.
  • Archeology has been transformed by light detection and ranging, or lidar, technology, which permits researchers to scan entire regions for sites. (New York Times)
  • Colombian film director Alejandro Landes' Monos "comes off like Lord of the Flies in hell," according to the Guardian review. "The story is a nightmare in which nothing – gender, sexuality, political allegiance – is muddled or irrelevant."

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...