Thursday, July 18, 2019

'Chapo' sentenced; Ivan Duque talks achievements as president (July 18, 2019)

News Briefs
  • The general consensus to be drawn from the latest reporting at the U.S.-Mexico border is that the Trump administration’s asylum ruleby WOLA as “infeasible, inhumane, and illegal”) will “rip even more families apart” (Washington Post op-ed) as it leaves asylum seekers anxious and fearful (Reuters), amid “a chaos of rumours” (AP) from the border region to Guatemala (NPR). That chaos will likely only grow worse if U.S. immigration authorities start carrying out mass raids and begin sending deportees to Mexico. However, an unnamed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official confirmed to CNNthere’s been no uptick in arrests as of this week. 
  • The Pentagon is increasing the number of military personnel at the U.S.-Mexico border by 45 percent (that is, an additional deployment of 2,100 troops to join the approximately 4,500 already there) (NYTimes).
  • “Will any political leader figure out how to make a principled case for less immigration, rather than simply a racist one? So far, the answer is no” (NYTimes op-ed).
  • TheNew York Times profiles a 13-year-old girl who attempted suicide, reportedly after growing increasingly dispirited by her Honduran father’s failed attempts to cross the border, claim asylum and reunite with her.

  • As expected, Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” was sentenced to life in prison yesterday. He’ll likely be held in whatReuters has described as the most secure prison in the United States: a maximum security center in Colorado, currently home to the Unabomber, the Oklahoma City bomber, and the Boston Marathon bomber. It’s worth asking whether Guzman’s extradition and life sentence will actually impact Sinaloa Cartel operations. “In El Chapo’s absence, Mexico is more violent and its criminal landscape more fragmented than ever before,” notes InSight Crime. Security experts interviewed by BBC Mundoalso concurred that the sentencing is unlikely to dramatically alter criminal dynamics in Guzman’s home country.
  • A poll by Reforma shows President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at a 70 percent approval rating, although 52 percent of respondents said they thought the administration could be doing more to tackle crime rates (Reuters). Another noteworthy poll by Mexico’s national statistics institute had 74 percent of respondents asserting that they felt unsafe in the cities where they lived (Animal Politico).
  • “Mexico is doing Mr. Trump’s dirty work by agreeing to prevent desperate Central American migrants from traveling north,” argues historian Enrique Krauze in an op-ed for the New York Times.

Central America

  • The U.S. State Department was supposed to submit a report to Congress about human rights abuses in Nicaragua by June 19, but has not yet done so. However, last week State received a bipartisan letter, sponsored by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), requesting information about the role played by President Daniel Ortega and other top Nicaraguan officials in human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch notes that the U.S. government is required under the NICA Act (passed by Congress last December) to share information with Congress about “the participation of Nicaraguan senior officials in human rights abuses, corruption, and money laundering.” “The Trump administration should impose sanctions on Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and other top officials implicated in the brutal crackdown on protests that began in April 2018,” HRW stated.
  • Guatemalan Minister of the Interior Enrique Degenhart may have played a major role in guiding the now postponed “safe third country” deal between the U.S. and Guatemala, reports elPeriodico
  • A survey by civil society group El Salvador Cómo Vamos, a project of local think tank Fusades, interviewed over 3,000 people in three Salvadoran municipalities and found that 30 percent of respondents expressed interest in migrating abroad. Some 40 percent of respondents already had family members living overseas; within that number, 83 percent had family in the United States (El Diario de Hoy). 
  • Honduras’ national human rights commission counts at least 325 members of the LGBT community killed in the last 10 years (Deutsche Welle).
  • An Al Jazeera op-ed examines what may have turned Guatemala’s business elites away from supporting UN-backed anti-corruption commission the CICIG, asserting that the problem arose in 2016 when the CICIG began investigating illegal political campaign donations. “By investigating electoral finances, the CICIG was inevitably going to target the business community, as well as politicians and criminal organisations,” the article states.

  • In an extensive interview with EFE, President Ivan Duque cited economic growth and having stopped seven years of “exponential growth” in illicit crop production as major achievements of his administration. On the alarming rise in killing of human rights defenders and social leaders, Duque said that it was “difficult” to provide security to what he asserted were “over 7 million” people who met the definition of “social leader” in the country. (His answer did not reflect the fact that those facing the highest levels of risk are concentrated in specific communities and regions). In another noteworthy comment, Duque explicitly said that the Maduro regime in Venezuela is protecting leaders of guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN by its Spanish initials), as well as dissident FARC leaders. He described Venezuela as a “problem of criminality and terrorism.” Other subjects touched on in the interview include Colombia government relations with the Trump administration, the NYTimes report earlier this year on “false positive” killings, and his support for the usage of glyphosate—which the World Health Organization has linked to cancer—in spraying illicit drug crops.

  • On July 7, Nicolás Maduro shuffled the upper ranks of Venezuela’s military;InSight Crime found that several of those who received promotions have troubled pasts.
  • Opposition leader and president of the Venezuelan National Assembly Juan Guaidó said that ongoing talks in Barbados are drawing close “to a real solution” to Venezuela’s crisis (Efecto Cocuyo).

Southern Cone
  • Today marks 25 years since the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s deadliest ever terrorist attack. No one has ever been convicted for the bombing; in 2015, a chief investigator of the case was found dead the day before he was supposed to report on his findings. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to visit a commemorative photo exhibit in Buenos Aires today, as part of his trip through Latin America (Reuters). Argentina also marked the anniversary by announcing the creation of a new anti-terrorism database (EFE).

  • Nationwide blackouts in Cuba will be resolved by Saturday, the national minister of energy has asserted. (AP)
  • Building an international airport near Machu Picchu “would irreparably damage the heartland of the Inca civilization” (NYTimes op-ed).
  • The 2019 winners of the Columbia Journalism School Maria Moors Cabot prize for outstanding reporting on the Americas includes Venezuelan investigative website, Mexican journalist Marcela Turati of Quinto Elemento Lab, Confidencial cartoonist Pedro Molina, and New York Times en Español opinion editor Boris Muñoz, among others (full announcement here).
  • Chile, Mexico, and Brazil have taken measures against childhood obesity levels that could arguably be replicated successfully in the United States (Washington Post).
  • During July 17-19, Ciudad Juarez is hosting the Third International Conference for Latin American Border Cities; 25 mayors from 14 countries across the region will be in attendance (full announcement here).
--Elyssa Pachico

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

U.S. detains Peru ex-president wanted for corruption (July 17, 2019)

Peru's former president Alejandro Toledo was arrested and is being held in custody in California, after the Peruvian government requested his extradition on corruption charges for allegedly receiving $20 million in illegal bribes from disgraced construction company Odebrecht (BBC).

While Peru first issued the arrest warrant for Toledo in 2017, a lawyer for the former president told the New York Times that the U.S. had not yet approved the extradition request. Toledo had previously been temporarily detained by California police for public drunkenness earlier this year, in a wealthy San Francisco enclave. His lawyer in Peru told local media that the defense team planned to argue that the corruption charges were a matter of political persecution, an argument that Toledo himself has made in past public statements (the Guardian).

Toledo, president of the Andean nation from 2000-2006, is one of four Peruvian presidents linked to the massive Odebrecht corruption scandal—the company has admitted to paying some $29 million in bribes to Peruvian officials since 2005. Former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned earlier this year and is now being held in pre-trial house arrest; Ollanta Humala is also awaiting trial on charges that could result in over 20 years of prison time; in mid-April, former two-term president Alan Garcia committed suicide when police arrived to arrest him.

Peru still has a ways to go in terms of successfully prosecuting and convicting the powerful political figures linked to the Odebrecht scandal. Still, the number of previously untouchable Peruvian political elites implicated in the Odebrecht case can arguably be credited, in part, to the "fierce and competent" public prosecutors originally in charge of the investigation, according to The Conversation.

Other Odebrecht-related probes continue to advance in Peru—last week, prosecutors ordered a raid on the house of Humala's wife, former first lady Nadine Heredia, as well as several law firm offices and the homes of ex-government officials, in connection to an Odebrecht-linked corruption case (ICIJ).

In total, Odebrecht, which declared bankruptcy in Brazil earlier this year, is believed to have paid approximately $788 million in bribes across 12 Latin American and African countries in order to secure favorable contracts.

  • The Trump administration asylum rule (see yesterday's post) will increase the burden on the Mexican civil society groups providing shelter and other forms of support for asylum seekers at the border. In one example of how the Mexican government is unprepared for this new reality at the border, the WSJ notes that the country's official asylum agency doesn't even have an office in Juarez, where 9,000 people have been sent back to wait for U.S. court dates under the "Remain in Mexico" program.  
  • High-ranking employees at the contractor responsible for housing the children of migrants and asylum seekers earned seven-figure salaries, the Washington Post found in a review of recent tax filings. Overall, the contractor has earned $1 billion over a five-year period. 
  • ProPublica interviews a Border Patrol agency about the realities of guarding children in detention centers. 

  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico, Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico and El Salvador this week. (WSJ)

Central America 
  • A new probe by the anti-impunity office of Guatemala's Attorney General's Office, with support from the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, resulted in the arrest of at least 19 people, including the former vice minister of health. The three-year investigation found that some 100 people were involved in a corruption ring that embezzled funds from Guatemala's health sector (CICIG press release). The CICIG's mandate ends in September; Commissioner Ivan Velasquez met today with El Salvador's vice president to discuss the creation of a similar commission in that country. 
  • In a Monday evening press conference, President Nayib Bukele said El Salvador deserves to be treated differently than Honduras and Guatemala, citing what he described as advances in fighting drug trafficking and reducing homicides since he assumed office some 90 days ago. (APEl Faro). 

  • Venezuelans will not be granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a U.S. humanitarian program meant to prevent foreign nationals from being deported back to countries experiencing unrest or recovering from a natural disaster. (The Guardian
  • Reuters with an exclusive: "U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration plans to divert more than $40 million in humanitarian aid for Central America to support the U.S.-backed opposition in Venezuela."
  • International Crisis Group asserts that the "discreet Norwegian diplomatic effort represents the best hope for breaking Venezuela's political deadlock." Notably, senior officials of the International Contact Group met yesterday in Brussels to discuss ongoing developments in the country. 
  • Venezuela has freed a National Philharmonic musician jailed several weeks ago after publishing posts critical of the government on social media. (AP)


  • In comments before an Inter-American Development Bank assembly, Ecuador President Lenin Moreno said that half a million Venezuelans are now settled in the country (EFE). (See also Refugees International's recent report on the "fragile welcome" that Venezuelan migrants and refugees have received in Ecuador). 
  • President Moreno has extended the state of emergency declared for Ecuador's prison system, first decreed two months ago following a series of violent incidents in the national prison system. (EFE

  • President Bolsonaro's assault on LGBT rights continues, after the federal government blocked a university from reserving slots for transgender students. (Folha)
  • Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel said that the 714 people killed in his state so far this year—five deaths a day—was the "normal" result of the police "hitting hard against criminals." (AP) Witzel also remarked that he sees an extremely promising political future ahead for himself—aka, the presidency. (Reuters)
  • There's much the UN can do to stop the high rate of deforestation of the Amazon taking place under the Bolsonaro administration, argues The Conversation

Southern Cone
  • A city in Chile's Patagonia region has the distinction of enjoying the worst air quality in the world. (The Guardian)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Trump's new asylum rule (July 16, 2019)

The Trump administration's new asylum rule—which requires asylum seekers to first apply for protections in a transit country during their journey to the United States—drew widespread criticism, from Democratic presidential candidates to the UN to the Mexican government to the anonymous Department of Homeland Security official who called the rule "f*cked up" (Buzzfeed).

None of the 20,000 asylum seekers sent back to Mexico to await U.S. court dates under the "Remain in Mexico" program (which is being challenged in court) would be affected by the rule (WSJ). While the new rule would affect asylum seekers with a wide range of nationalities, it would most likely severely impact Central Americans. So far this year, Border Patrol has detained over half a million Honduran, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan family members at the U.S.-Mexico border (New York Times). Last year, the U.S. registered 162,060 asylum claims, an increase of approximately 350 percent from 2009 (AP).

The ACLU stated it would "sue swiftly" in reaction to this latest asylum rule. One likely basis for challenging the rule is the broad disregard it shows for U.S. obligations under international and domestic law concerning refugees and asylum seekers. As Human Rights Watch pointed out, the U.S. and Canada have a "safe third country" agreement—one that requires asylum seekers transiting through Canada to apply for protections there rather than the United States—that's based on "both countries having comparable asylum standards and procedures."  Under the Trump administration's new rule, asylum seekers would be forced to claim asylum in countries where they have little guarantee of a fair process. 

It's unclear whether U.S. immigration agencies received advanced warning of the rule. Buzzfeed reports that asylum officer authorities at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services were caught off guard

Previous attempts by the Trump administration to severely limit asylum stalled in the courts—lest we forget, in 2018 the administration tried to ban anyone who crossed into the U.S. between ports of entry from seeking asylum; the Supreme Court upheld a federal judge's order blocking the executive order. Last year also saw another federal judge block Attorney General Jeff Session's constraints on asylum seekers fleeing domestic violence or gangs.   


  • Pro Publica's reporting on Border Patrol misconduct has led to investigations opening into 62 current and 8 former employees (Pro Publica). However, as noted in a Politico analysis, the problems underlying Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection scandals run deep, and it's unclear whether the current CBP acting head is up for the task. NPR has another recent story about Border Patrol abuse, concerning agents who asked a three-year-old Honduran girl, Sofi, to choose between staying with her mother or father. 
  • The Trump administration announced the new asylum rule shortly after talks broke down with Guatemala over a "safe third country" agreement (see yesterday's brief). The deal fell apart after U.S. government officials "didn’t want to expose Trump to the fiasco of signing something that the Constitutional Court in Guatemala could have disallowed," reports the New Yorker
  • "Mike Pence’s border visit wasn’t sanitized, because the Trump administration wants its base to see brown people in cages." (The Nation)


  • Nomada report from the southern Mexico border tracks the stories of several Central American migrants, increasingly fearful of the 6,000 National Guard troops deployed to the area. 
  • Former Sinaloa Cartel leader "El Chapo" Guzman is expected to be sentenced to life in prison Wednesday. (AFP
  • "Mexican President López Obrador portrays himself as a defender of human rights, but he is militarizing the country’s borders north and south—and the Mexican people are behind him" (The Daily Beast).

Central America

  • At least 20 members of the LGBT community have been killed so far this year in Honduras, including the murder of three trans women in less than a week. (UN)
  • President Jimmy Morales is making "the wrong bet," says a Nomada op-ed. "He thinks he can negotiate with Trump on favorable terms that benefit [Morales] and are unfavorable to [Guatemala]; but the only thing that matters to the U.S. president are the 2020 elections."


  • Afro-Colombian leaders in the southwestern state of Cauca—long one of the most conflict-ridden areas of the country—are reporting receiving mounting threats from armed groups. (El Espectador
  • Who would benefit from the Centro Democratico's proposal—the party of ex-president and senator Alvaro Uribe—for a constitutional amendment that would make it easier for former government officials to appeal criminal convictions? (See yesterday's brief). According to La Silla Vacia's count, there's be around 200 beneficiaries, including multiple ex-ministers and Members of Congress convicted in the "parapolitica" scandal

  • Venezuelan NGO the Coalition for Human Rights and Democracy has registered over 250 cases of torture involving political prisoners. The defense attorney for  Venezuelan navy captain Rafael Acosta, believed to have recently died under torture while in state custody, told EFE that these cases have been "documented and denounced" before Venezuelan courts. 

  • Protestors are blocking highways to demand the cancellation of a billion-dollar copper mining project in the southern department of Arequipa (AP). 

  • Rio de Janeiro police are increasingly using helicopters in operations, with a 200 percent increase over 2017 (Extra via InSight Crime). 
  • Brazil will allow Huawei to expand ultrafast, 5G wireless networks across the country, in defiance of the U.S. government's blacklisting of the Chinese telecom company (Al Jazeera). 
  • Mining company Vale will pay $107 million to compensate the families of an estimated 247 people who died during last year's massive dam collapse (Reuters).


  • Cuban entrepreneurs "are facing a two-front attack from a U.S. executive branch resistant to commercial and travel ties to the island, and from Cuban officials" (Foreign Policy). 
  • Sweeping reforms to Cuba's fishing regulations—the first changes in 20 years—should help curtail illegal overfishing of certain fish populations (Miami Herald).  

— Elyssa Pachico

Monday, July 15, 2019

Guatemala's 'safe third country' deal blocked (July 15, 2019)

Guatemala's government has postponed President Jimmy Morales' summit with President Trump, originally scheduled for Monday, and is asserting that it had "never considered" signing a "safe third country" agreement with the United States. 

Should Guatemala establish this type of deal with the U.S. government, any asylum seekers who first transit through Guatemala en route to the U.S. would be obliged to seek asylum in Guatemala (see July 12's post). (Notably, the New Yorker, reviewed a draft of the deal that reportedly offered an exception to Guatemalan migrants). 

Guatemala's government cited "speculation and imposed legal actions" as reason for postponing the Trump-Morales meeting. This was a reference to the appeal that former members of government, a former presidential candidate, and others filed before the Constitutional Court, challenging any potential U.S.-Guatemala "safe third country" agreement. 

After meeting on Sunday, the Constitutional Court ruled to uphold the appeal, meaning Morales will have to get any "safe third agreement" approved by Congress before it can enter into force (La Hora)

Criticism of a potential Guatemala-U.S. "safe third country" agreement continues to mount. The national human rights prosecutor urged the Constitutional Court to "uphold rule of law" by deciding in favor of the appeal. Member of Congress and Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel (D-NY) pointed out that the agreement would go against U.S. law, based on the State Department's report on human rights conditions, security, and rule of law in Guatemala. The Catholic Church also expressed concern.  A former minister of foreign affairs said a "safe third country" deal would turn the country into a "massive concentration camp."


  • Asides from several "small-scale" enforcement actions in New York City over the weekend, there were few reports of mass ICE raids across the United States, as President Trump had threatened (WSJReuters). The Southern Poverty Law Center confirmed no mass raids took place in southern cities; likewise, there were no reports of mass arrests in Denver, Chicago, and other "sanctuary" cities. The Mexican government confirmed that, while no Mexican nationals were detained in the New York raids, it's expected that some 1,800 people who already have deportation orders to be returned to Mexico in the coming week (AP). 
  • The New York Times profiles how asylum seekers are coping with waiting for an appointment with U.S. asylum authorities in Mexican cities like Nuevo Laredo, the latest city added to the "Remain in Mexico" program. 
  • El Paso is one of the border cities that's most strongly experiencing a (possibly temporary) lull in migration (Washington Post). 


  • Alvaro Uribe's political party is proposing a constitutional amendment that would "retroactively allow all convicted politicians to appeal sentences imposed after 1991" (Colombia Reports). The party is taking up this fight just after Uribe's former minister of agriculture was extradited from the U.S. back to Colombia, in order to serve out a prison sentence related to corruption charges. 
  • Colombia and Ecuador are on the alert, after the national Colombian banana growers' association detected the possible presence of a soil-borne fungus, known as "Panama disease," that can wipe out entire banana crops. (Semana)


  • Colombian rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN) is given free reign by the Maduro regime to traffic drugs, kidnap and extort, and control mining operations in Venezuela, reports the Wall Street Journal. Colombian rebel and criminal groups—including the FARC and factions of right-wing, drug trafficking paramilitaries—have long used the Venezuela-Colombia border region as a base of operations. 


  • An NPR explainer provides context on immigration enforcement actions taken by the Mexican government since its June 7 deal with the U.S. 
  • President López Obrador's cost-cutting efforts involve auctioning off government airplanes, slashing federal jobs, and cutting his own salary (Washington Post). 

Central America

  • Evelyn Beatríz Hernández, sentenced to 30 years in prison in El Salvador after she delivered a stillbirth and was charged with having an illegal abortion, returns to court for a retrial today (EFE). It's the first major case involving abortion—illegal in El Salvador since 1997—since President Nayib Bukele took office in June. 
  • The OAS has submitted its report on recommended electoral reforms to the government of Honduras. The recommendations include creating a transparency unit within the national electoral council (the body that received strong criticisms of fraud after the contested 2017 presidential elections). 
  • July 14 marks one year since Nicaragua paramilitaries and security forces laid siege on students occupying the Church of Divine Mercy in Managua; family members of the deceased are still calling for justice (Confidencial). 
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has expressed concern about what's supposed to be the revised, final text of Honduras' new penal code. The Commission described the penal code as containing "disproportionate restrictions to freedom of expression [and] press freedoms," as well as other restrictions that could affect the right to protest, as well as human rights defenders. 


  • The prospect that President Bolsonaro might name his son ambassador to the U.S. has drawn strong criticism (New York Times). 


  • Saturday, Cuba passed a new electoral law that creates a new prime minister post (to be appointed by the president in December) and cuts the number of National Assembly deputies, among other reforms (AFP). 
  • The Cuban government is moving forward with overhauling its aged railway system, with help from China (AP). 

Elyssa Pachico 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Guatemala close to third country agreement, former officials file for injunction (July 12, 2019)

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales will travel to Washington next week, where he will meet with his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, to discuss migration, among other issues. They are expected to sign a safe third country agreement, though details are still being finalized, reports Reuters

"Every week it's closer," said an administration official, according to CNN. Other versions are less certain. A senior Guatemalan official said Morales isn’t planning to sign any such agreement during his visit, reports the Wall Street Journal

An agreement of this kind would oblige migrants planning to seek humanitarian asylum in the U.S. to apply in Guatemala if they pass through there on their way. Migrants from Honduras and El Salvador heading to the U.S.-Mexican border overland usually cross into Mexico via Guatemala. The agreement has been rumored for about a month, though Guatemalan officials were reportedly not on the same page as their U.S. counterparts, originally. (See June 17's post)

Experts criticize the plan, saying that Guatemala does not have the capacity to process this level of asylum claims, nor underlying conditions to guarantee their safety. Forcing asylum seekers to stay in Guatemala would likely present grave risks to their security and run afoul of international law, writes Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration.The United States currently only has a safe third country agreement with Canada.

In fact, three former Guatemalan foreign ministers asked the country's Constitutional Court to bar the potential agreement. They say the decision is incompatible with Guatemala's internal and international responsibilities. National human rights Ombudsman Jordan Rodas called on the president to respect migrant rights and said such an agreement would be harmful for Guatemala and its residents given the country's institutional precarity, poverty and other social problems. (Prensa LibreLa HoraAssociated Press) Former Transparency International Guatemala head Manfredo Marroquín also request for an injunction against such a policy, yesterday.

In the first five months of this year, Guatemala received just 172 asylum requests, according to the United Nations refugee agency, and has received about 1,300 since 2002. By comparison, some 259,000 people applied for asylum in the U.S. in 2017, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Nearly 74,000 of them were from Honduras and El Salvador. (Wall Street Journal)

Giovanni Filippo Bassu, the regional representative for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees said in June that Guatemala had a long way to go before it would be safe for asylum-seekers fleeing neighboring countries, reports Voice of America.

News Briefs

  • The U.S. Trump administration's lawyers defended its policy of forcing migrants back into Mexico to await their U.S. asylum hearings in court. They argued that advocates seeking an injunction against the Migrant Protection Protocols are intruding "on the Executive Branch’s ability to conduct foreign policy.” Rights groups, including the ACLU, say violates federal and international laws by sending migrants to Mexican cities where they are exposed to violence and lack access to lawyers, reports the Washington Post. (See June 28's briefs.)
  • The survivors of the horrific La Saline massacre in Haiti last year have no state support, medical services or psychological counseling available, reports AFP.
  • Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen will visit Haiti this weekend, part of a diplomatic tour aimed at shoring up Taiwan's few remaining allies in the region, reports the Miami Herald.
El Salvador
  • Civil society organizations led by victims and their families, as well as the international human rights community, succeeded in preventing Salvadoran lawmakers from voting on an amnesty bill earlier this year. But human rights advocates and the international community must remain watchful of ongoing attempts to legislate impunity, warns the Due Process of Law Foundation.
  • A Brazilian judge ruled that the mining giant Vale was financially liable for damages caused by a burst tailings dam in January that killed at least 247 people. It's the first decision by a court to formally hold the company responsible for the disaster, reports the New York Times. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
  • U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald is at the center of an explosive press freedom debate in Brazil, reports the Associated Press. (See July 4's post.)
  • President Jair Bolsonaro nominated his son, lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, to be Brazil's ambassador to Washington. (BBC)
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross said Colombia's humanitarian situation has worsened, and that conflicts in the country are ongoing. The U.N. Security Council gathered in Bogotá yesterday to assess the implementation of the 2016 peace deal with the FARC. The U.N. has voiced concern over the killing of at least 123 former guerrilla fighters since they laid down arms. (Associated Press)
  • The 15 Security Council member states and officials from the UN General Secretariat will begin a four day agenda with a meeting with President Iván Duque today, reports EFE.
  • The abrupt resignation of Mexico's finance secretary this week will be difficult for the López Obrador administration to bounce back from, according to the Economist.
  • The third round of Norway mediated talks between Venezuela's government and opposition ended Wednesday -- both sides said advances were made towards breaking the country's political stalemate, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The United States imposed sanctions against Venezuela’s military counterintelligence agency following the death of navy captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo in custody. (Reuters)
  • Venezuelan authorities are seeking the extradition from Spain of a man accused of burning another man to death during anti-government protests in Caracas in May 2017. (Guardian)
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales said hydrocarbons and lithium are two areas he would like to develop in collaboration with Russia. (EFE)
  • The Latin American Photo Festival in the Bronx features 10 photographers from eight Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Most use innovative visual approaches for their work on intimate facets of social issues. (New York TimesGuardian)
I will be off next week -- Elyssa Pachico will be keeping you all up to date on Lat Am news in the meantime.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Central America is the world's most dangerous region to live in (July 11, 2019)

Murder rates are far higher than armed conflict casualties worldwide, according to the newest United Nations' Global Study on Homicide. And Central America is the world's most dangerous region to live in -- homicide rates rise in some “hotspots”, to 62.1 per 100,000 people. The global average is 6.1 per 100,000 people, and the average in the Americas is 17.2 -- the highest recorded in the region since reliable records began in 1990. The total number of murders in the Americas, 173,000 in 2017 was also the highest in the world – 37 percent of the global total in a region that accounts for only 13 per cent of the world’s population.  

Some key findings:
  • The report notes that in the region "high homicide levels are clustered, with some local populations facing homicide rates comparable to death rates in conflict zones and others having a negligible risk." Interestingly, homicide rates actually dropped by an average of 29 per cent in the Americas' 17 largest cities, while national homicide rates rose by 2 percent. "These figures suggest that the increases in homicidal violence reported in some countries in the Americas have happened outside the big cities."
  • Teens in the Americas face a disproportionately high risk of becoming homicide victims: According to data from 15 countries in the region in 2016, the homicide rate for adolescents aged 18–19 years was 46 per 100,000 – far greater than in other parts of the world. Young men aged 15–29 years in the Americas are also disproportionately affected by homicide in comparison to their peers in other regions and worldwide
  • In the Americas, firearms were involved in roughly three quarters of homicides in 2017, which accounted for more than one quarter of the homicides worldwide that year.
  • El Salvador tops national homicide rates with 62.1 per 100,000. It's followed by Venezuela with 56.8 and Honduras with 41.7.
  • The study notes fluctuations in Central American high-homicide country rates, which "mainly serve to illustrate the unpredictability of homicide perpetrated by gangs and organized crime groups active in the subregion."
  • An entire section of the report focuses on femicides, the gender-related killing of women and girls, sussing out the difficulties of detecting and defining the category. Nonetheless, the news is not good: "Countries in Latin America have adopted legislation that criminalizes femicide as a specific offence in their criminal codes. Yet there are no signs of a decrease in the number of gender-related killings of women and girls."
  • Igarapé Institute contributed a part on hot-spot policing as a successful violence reduction public policy.
News Briefs

More murder
  • Police killings have reached record rates this year in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro state, according to a new study by the Observatório da Segurança RJ. Since January -- which coincides with the first six months of the current government in Brazil and Rio de Janeiro -- police killed 731 people in the state, an average of 121,8 victims per month.
  • Brazil's Chamber of Deputies approved a landmark pension reform bill yesterday by a far wider margin than predicted, a significant victory for President Jair Bolsonaro. (Al Jazeera)
  • A new generation of prominent Brazilian leftists and activists are seeking exile -- this time they are fleeing death threats from rightwing extremists and Bolsonaro supporters, reports the Guardian.
  • The Intercept released an audio of Lava Jato prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol celebrating a judicial ban on former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's interview with Folha last year. "Now let's not brag about it, let's keep it quiet, to avoid disclosure as much as possible, because the earlier it is released, the sooner the opposition will be able to fight it before it goes to plenary," he said in an audio to the corruption task force. It's the latest in a series of revelations that indicate political partiality in the landmark investigation. (Folha de S. Paulo)
  • Bolsonaro's attack on social sciences and the humanities is part of a broader attempt to the racial status quo intact, argues Rodrigo Serrao in Nacla.
  • Norway-mediated talks between Venezuela's government and political opposition this week in Barbados concluded yesterday with no announcement of a deal, reports Reuters. President Nicolás Maduro's representatives said the meeting was a "success," without more detail, reports Efecto Cocuyo. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Senior diplomats from the United States and Russia met in Helsinki, but failed to reach common ground on the Venezuela issue -- among the many driving a diplomatic wedge between the two countries, reports the Associated Press. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov emphasized the importance of the Norway talks in resolving the Venezuelan crisis. (TAAS) He also denied that Russia has troops on the ground in Venezuela.
  • Venezuelan credit holders pushed back against opposition leader Juan Guaidó's proposal for restructuring the country's debt after an eventual change in government, reports Reuters.
  • U.S. sanctions aimed at pushing Maduro out have instead worsened the country's humanitarian crisis, putting it at risk of "humanitarian catastrophe," writes economist Francisco Rodríguez in a New York Times op-ed. "Famines do not topple dictatorships. They only lead to loss of lives."
  • Latin American response to the Venezuelan migration crisis has been largely positive, despite the intense impact on countries with already strained resources. But signs of strain are increasing, writes Javier Corrales in Americas Quarterly. In a world more accustomed to crackdowns on migrants, Latin America's response has been overall positive, both on a legal level, popular response, and survival services provided. "Fortunately, the region is protected by pro-immigrant international norms, strong civil organizations and sympathetic politicians."
  • Three transgender women have been murdered in Honduras over the past week -- one of the victims was a journalist, reports the Washington Blade.
El Salvador
  • Three police officers in El Salvador have been charged with the murder of a transgender woman who was deported from the U.S. earlier this year, reports the Washington Blade.
  • A teenage rape victim who served a three-year sentence for aggravated murder in El Salvador after a stillbirth has been granted a retrial. The case is emblematic of how the country's restrictive abortion law is used to persecute women for obstetric complications, say advocates. (Reuters)
  • Faced with an unyielding dictatorship, young Cubans have chosen to leave the island in droves. The result is the region's most elderly population. The alternative is to keep pushing from change, and slivers of civil society are starting to find spaces to express dissent, writes Abraham Jiménez Enoa in a New York Times op-ed.
  • The United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) is investigating allegations that a reporter for its TV Marti service, mandated to broadcast objective news into Cuba, faked a mortar attack during a televised report from Nicaragua, reports Voice of America.
  • Colombia's government has failed in its obligation to protect demobilized guerrillas, said a FARC political party lawmaker in a complaint to the Attorney General's office. 140 former fighters have been murdered since laying down arms after the 2016 peace deal, and 31 family members, he said. (EFE)
  • A Mexican judge ordered the arrest of a prominent attorney on charges of organized crime and money laundering. Lawyer Juan Ramon Collado, who has represented important politicians, is accused of creating front companies to handle money from questionable land deals, reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is emphasizing oil over alternative energy sources, chilling the country’s up-and-coming renewable energy market, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Argentina hasn't had a non-Peronist president finish a term in nearly a century. (It's not really the Peronist's fault, the democratic failures preceded the movement by a couple of decades.) The last president to abruptly finish his term was Fernando de la Rua, who dramatically left the Casa Rosada in a helicopter in 2001. He died this week of cardiac arrest, a symbol of the failure of moderation in Argentina. (Washington Post
  • "His legacy is having invalidated the path of moderation for those who followed and continue today," who instead seek to fan the flames of polarization, writes Marcelo García in a New York Times Español op-ed
  • Some 17,000 Walmart Chile workers walked off the job, yesterday, after collective bargaining negotiations with the retailer collapsed, reports EFE.

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