Thursday, May 13, 2021

Venezuelan talks on horizon (May 13, 2021)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has indicated he is ready to restart talks with opposition leader Juan Guaidó. He spoke on national television yesterday, and said he would agree to the meeting with the help of the European Union and the Norwegian government. (AFP)

His statements came after Guaidó offered to work with Maduro's administration toward a “National Salvation Agreement,”  and called for an electoral accord, using sanctions relief as an incentive for the government's participation, reports Bloomberg.

In a video on Twitter, Guaidó said it is necessary to seek “realistic and viable solutions” to Venezuela’s social, economic and political crisis. (Associated Press)

The message appeared to signal a shift in tone from Guaidó, who has previously supported hardline policies against Maduro, reports the Miami Herald. He said that any agreement must include a road map toward “free and fair” elections supervised by the international community, open the nation to receiving international aid and COVID-19 vaccines, and provide protections for all political actors.

In recent weeks the Maduro government has made several bids to improve relations with the U.S., which has placed crippling sanctions on Venezuela. Gestures of goodwill include the naming of two opposition representatives to a new electoral council, last week, an agreement with the World Food Programme, statements that the government will work with the opposition to obtain Covid-19 vaccines through the COVAX mechanism, and the release to house arrest of six imprisoned Citgo executives. (See May 5's post.)

News Briefs

Colombia
  • Critics say violence over the past two weeks and mounting protest death toll indicate an urgent need for police reform in Colombia. The country's police force is one of few — if not the only — in the region that sits under the Ministry of Defense, alongside the military, reports the New York Times. (Violence against protesters, and calls for police reform, have been on the agenda in recent years, see, for example, post for Sept. 22, 2020)
  • This is the third wave of mass protest in Colombia since November 2019, and the current demonstrations are, in general terms, a continuity, in terms of actors, demands and methods, writes Juanita León in La Silla Vacía. But there have also been relevant changes, particularly unification against police violence, and an increased focus on immediate social needs -- food security, universal basic income -- over more broad demands like environmental regulations.
  • "Colombia can’t afford to see the clashes on its streets escalate, and Washington needs to help the country find a way out of the turmoil," writes Adam Isacson in a New York Times guest essay. "Demands need to be channeled into real dialogue between the protesters and the government. Dialogue has to be the priority before there’s more death, before the possibility of resolving differences peacefully is extinguished."
  • There are competing narratives about the protests, that will complicate dialogue moving forward, note experts. While activists are focused on human rights violations and social demands, the governing Centro Democrático party has focused on episodes of vandalism and has sought to leverage polarization ahead of elections next year, writes Isacson. 
  • "The challenge for [President Iván] Duque is that many in his party insist on a narrative that pushes the peaceful and violent protesters together and doesn’t acknowledge the legitimate grievances of the majority of the protest movement," wrote James Bosworth earlier this week in the Latin America Risk Report. "That is an attitude that will lead to worsening protests."
  • The government’s response to massive protests repeats old tropes of smearing the organizers as criminals. Labels like “urban terrorist” or “extreme vandals” aim to justify the excessive repression, according to La Liga Contra el Silencio. (Nacla)
Covid-19
  • Latin America has recorded 958,023 coronavirus-related fatalities, according to a Reuters tally, some 28% of the global death toll. But unlike wealthier regions, Latin American countries have lacked funds to blunt the pandemic's economic impact. People across the region are sliding deep into poverty; underfunded healthcare systems have strained and inoculation programs have stalled.
  • Taiwan condemned China for seeking to use vaccines for political gain after Taipei's diplomatic ally Honduras said it was considering opening an office in China in a bid to acquire much needed Covid-19 shots, reports Reuters.
  • Cuba started a mass vaccination campaign against COVID-19 yesterday in Havana, with the nationally developed Abadala, one of five Cuban vaccine candidates. Authorities aim to eventually vaccinate 1.7 million people. Late-phase trials for the Abdala, in more than 48,000 volunteers, have concluded but haven't been published yet. Nonetheless, authorities say the advantages of starting mass vaccination outweigh the risks. The move mirrors the early introduction of vaccines in Russia, China and India. (Reuters, New York Times)
Nicaragua
  • A key Nicaraguan opposition bloc, Citizens for Freedom, registered with election officials on its own yesterday, apparently torpedoing hopes for a grand alliance with the other main opposition grouping, the National Coalition. Nicaragua's opposition parties were thrown for a loop last week, when the country’s Sandinista-dominated congress chose new members of the Supreme Electoral Council, who immediately set the electoral calendar to make yesterday the deadline to register political alliances, reports the Associated Press. Intense negotiations among opposition parties failed, but there is the possibility of a political agreement moving forward, according to some leaders. (Confidencial)
El Salvador
  • U.S. special envoy for Central America, Ricardo Zuñiga, told El Salvador's president, Nayib Bukele that Washington considers the recent removal of top judges and the attorney general to be unconstitutional. Zuñiga warned that a lack of judicial independence would affect the investment climate in the country and said he would discuss "next steps" with the White House, State Department and U.S. Congress on his return to Washington, reports Reuters. (See May 3's post.)
Regional Relations
  • The Dominican Republic has already built 23 kilometers of fence on its border with Haiti. The work has been carried out discreetly by the army, and started before President Luis Abinader’s announcement of plans for a frontier-long barrier aimed at controling illegal immigration, cross-border trafficking, reports EFE. (See March 2's briefs.)
Mexico
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador welcomed a move by the United States against General Motors Co for alleged labor violations at a Mexican factory, saying the two governments had to work together to protect workers, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
Caribbean
  • CARICOM selected Belizian Carla Barnett to become the organization's next secretary general. She will be the first woman to hold the post. (Jamaica Gleaner)
Chile
  • Chileans flocked to withdraw money from their retirement funds this week, draining nearly $10 billion from the country's privatized pension system in a move some billed as a lifeline amid a fierce second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, reports Reuters.
Brazil
  • Only about 24% of Brazilians think the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro has been "good" or "great," his lowest popularity rating since taking office in 2019 and down from 30% in March, according to a new Datafolha poll. (Reuters)
  • Brazil's Bolsonaro administration is rushing to approve a long-delayed overhaul of Brazil’s tax code before next year’s election, in a bid to maintain its market-friendly angle alive, reports Bloomberg.
Analysis
  • If you're tired of actually reading the Briefing every morning, Bo Carleson and Lucy Hale have systematized the "types of Latin America analysis" -- I feel it pretty much sums up most of my daily content.

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Latin America Daily Briefing 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Colombia braces for strike today (May 12, 2021)

 Colombia is bracing for renewed protests today after talks between the government and strike organizers fizzled on Monday. Demonstrator demands have expanded to include a basic income, an end to police violence and the withdrawal of a long-debated health reform.


Colombian police have been widely criticized for deploying excessive force against protesters, fuelling further social unrest. (See yesterday's post.) The reported death toll from nearly two weeks of anti-government protests in Colombia is 41 civilians and one police officer.Colombia’s human rights ombudsman said 168 people had been reported missing during the protests. Local advocacy group Temblores says 40 protesters have allegedly been killed by police, while Human Rights Watch said it has received 46 credible reports of protest deaths and verified 13. (Reuters, Associated Press)

Major cities warned of a prolonged peak in Covid-19 cases due to demonstrations.

Severe clashes between police and protesters in many of Colombia's largest cities in recent weeks could severely impact security forces' ability to fight criminal groups in the future, warns InSight Crime. "The pattern of excessive force used by Colombian police ... has already undermined their legitimacy in carrying out operations against more severe threats to national security."

La Silla Vacía delves into the distribution of protesters deaths, and notes that there have been few in Bogotá and Medellin, though experts warn that there have still been abuses.

News Briefs

Argentina
  • Coronavirus lockdowns in 2020 were particularly devastating for women, whose labor force participation dropped drastically in Argentina in the second semester of 2020, putting female employment at a level from 20 years ago. More than one million women left Argentina's workforce last year, and monoparental homes were more affected, according to a new report produced by the Economy Ministry with UNICEF that looks at the pandemic's impact on female-headed homes. Investments in the care economy are vital to reduce inequalities, according to the report. They have the effect of facilitating women's participation in the workforce, improving care for children, and have an economic multiplying effect that reduces poverty.
  • Argentina was ranked by the United Nations as having the highest number of gender-sensitive Covid-19 responses in the world -- the New York Times profiles three of the “activists” that are driving the country's feminist agenda: Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, the country’s first minister of Women, Genders and Diversity; Vilma Ibarra, the president’s top legal adviser who has the authority to write bills and decrees (she wrote the country’s landmark abortion bill); and Mercedes D’Alessandro, the country’s first national director of economy, equality and gender within the Economy Ministry, and the author of “Feminist Economics.”
  • "We understand that the work done by women at home, including care work, is a fundamental pillar of social life and the economy," D'Alessandro told NYT. "Often, when you use the word “worker,” you think about someone collecting a salary. But here, we look at a “worker” as someone who does work, even if it’s unpaid, to support her family."
Amazon
  • Americas Quarterly's new issue looks at "The Case for Sustainable Development In The Amazon."
  • Maranhão state Governor Flávio Dino writes how Amazon local governments envision a win-win strategy that differs in many ways from the Bolsonaro administration's approach. "The region’s strategic resources stand to make it one of the planet’s wealthiest – if there is a thoughtful, planned and coordinated strategy."
  • The case of the pirarucu fish exemplifies many of the opportunities and challenges of sustainably exploiting Amazon natural resources, according to another piece. Politics, poor logistics and other challenges stand in the way of a product that could be a global sensation.
  • Law-abiding farmers strongly oppose illegal deforestation -- and "as a major economic force, we have a role to play in protecting the environment," argues Teresa Vendramini is president of the Brazilian Rural Society.
  • Afro-Brazilian communities have been historically overlooked in both the urban and rural Amazon. Along with racism, rural Black communities face environmental degradation inflicted by predatory approaches to development. Even so, their struggle — a fight for land rights and against discrimination — has become a powerful movement, writes Elza Fátima Rodrigues, an activist at the Center for the Study and Defense of Afro-Brazilians of Pará and the Network of Black Women.
Brazil
  • Illegal miners inside a protected area in the Brazilian Amazon opened fire on a Yanomami indigenous community using automatic weapons, local leaders say. JThe half-hour shootout happened on Monday in the Palimiú community in Roraima state, near the border with Venezuela. (BBC)
  • Brazil suspended the vaccination of pregnant women with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 shot, after an expectant mother in Rio de Janeiro died from a stroke possibly related to the inoculation. (Reuters)
Regional Relations
  • The U.S. Biden administration has formally asked the Mexican government to investigate reports of “serious violations” of worker rights at a General Motors plant in central Mexico. It is the first use of an innovative labor rights provision in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, which took effect last year, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's briefs.)
El Salvador
  • New measures passed by El Salvador's National Assembly make it impossible to scrutinize direct purchases related to the pandemic and shield officials from corruption allegations linked to acquiring COVID-19 supplies. (See Monday's briefs.) The move has heightened concerns that President Nayib Bukele plans to use his party’s dominance in congress to shelve corruption investigations that could hurt his administration, reports InSight Crime.
Dominican Republic
  • Operation Coral, a wide-ranging anti-corruption effort led by the Dominican Republic’s Specialized Office for the Pursuit of Administrative Corruption uncovered a scheme in which millions of dollars in state funds were allegedly laundered through a religious non-profit. Security officials, a pastor and others suspected in the scheme were placed in preventative detention this week, in a case that shows how minimal oversight of these faith groups makes them ideal vehicles for embezzlement, reports InSight Crime. (See April 30's Just Caribbean Updates.)
Regional
  • Dirty Gold: The Rise and Fall of an International Smuggling Ring, uncovers a smuggling operation rooted in Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, and Miami as deep and as vile as the more well-known African blood diamond trade. The book is a stark warning that gold smuggling is not only being funded by drug cartels as yet another way to launder money. It is also destroying the environment and the lives of people involved in mining it. (Americas Quarterly)
  • Is populism part of Latin America's DNA, asks Loris Zanatta in a New York Times Español guest essay screed that paints many of the region's current and historic leaders as messianic charlatans. "Enough of the cult of poverty," he urges.
Culture
  • Casa del Teatro Memorias, a Tegucigalpa theater company that has made plays an essential part of the Honduran capital's city life -- New York Times.

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

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Colombian protests continue (May 11, 2021)

Colombian President Iván Duque met with protest leaders yesterday, but no advances were made towards deactivating demonstrations that have been ongoing for two weeks. The National Strike Committee, made up of major unions and student groups, attended the meeting with Duque, other government officials and representatives from the United Nations and the Catholic Church, reports Reuters. "There was not empathy from the government with the reasons, with the demands that have taken us to this national strike," said Francisco Maltes, president of the Central Union of Workers (CUT).

Critics say that the president is as adverse to dialogue now as he was during the 2019 negotiations and that there are no safety guarantees for protestors, reports The Nation.

Duque made a rapid visit to Cali, which has emerged as the epicenter of unrest, with clashes between armed civilian groups as a new worrisome trend. (Al Jazeera, Guardian, see yesterday's post.)

Social unrest threatens to make the country ungovernable during Duque's last year in office, reports El País. He is increasingly facing criticism even from within his own Centro Democrático party.

Another national strike day is being planned for tomorrow, in what will mark the third week of ongoing protests. The dialogue between the government and the national strike committee faces the same difficulties as earlier efforts to address discontent in 2019, notes La Silla Vacía, which reviews proposals from diverse areas and notes there are few fresh approaches.
  • In the midst of protests and government repression, the gulf between popular needs and establishment practices is more evident than ever in Colombia, write María Fernanda Valdés and Kristina Birke in Nueva Sociedad. (In English at Nacla.)
News Briefs

Brazil
  • A deadly police raid in Jacarezinho last week resembled all out urban war, stunning even the veterans of countless gunfights and police incursions into favelas, reports the Guardian. (See last Friday's post.) The operation was the most violent ever, and claimed 23 lives, one a police officer. 
  • Police said the raid was the result of 10 months of intelligence gathering, and that 21 arrest warrants were issued. But only three people were actually arrested, and Brazilian supreme court judges questioned the raid. Supreme Court justice Marco Aurélio Mello said that the action in Jacarezinho cannot be classified as “intelligence work,” given how many deaths it produced. He said an investigation should be brought to the federal level, reports the Associated Press. Supreme Court Justice Edson Fachin requested investigations and said there were “indications of arbitrary execution.” (See last Friday's post.)
  • Several Brazilian Supreme Court justices said a ruling last year that banned police raids into Rio de Janeiro favelas must now be reviewed, as the pandemic context has stretched out longer than initially expected, reports the Associated Press. (See last Friday's post.)
  • Indigenous leaders in Brazil’s Amazon said that five people were wounded in a half-hour shootout that erupted after miners entered their land in Roraima state near the border with Venezuela. The report from the Yanomami-Yek’wana group sent to Brazil’s indigenous agency FUNAI, and obtained by The Associated Press said four miners and one Indigenous person were wounded.
  • Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged during the month of April, ending a streak of three consecutive months where forest clearing had been lower than the prior year. (Mongabay)
  • A new poll shows Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's approval rating increased slightly this month, and his disapproval decreased slightly. (El País)
Migration
  • U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris "would do well to acknowledge our country’s responsibility for the furnace of violence that Central America has become and adopt a humble posture with social movements there, which are clear on needed policy changes," writes Jean Stokan, justice coordinator for immigration for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, regarding the U.S. goal of addressing root causes of migration from Central America. (Washington Post, see yesterday's briefs)
Honduras
  • Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández is one of the difficulties the U.S. effort faces in coordinating new policies for Central America (see yesterday's briefs). The BBC reviews evidence from U.S. courts linking JOH to drug cartels and asks "Is Honduras a Narcostate?"
Regional Relations
  • The U.S. is undertaking a review of its policy to Venezuela, examining the sanctions to make sure they are in line with its objectives and waiting to see concrete steps from Maduro, reports Bloomberg. (See last Wednesday's post.)

  • U.S. labor unions filed a complaint with the U.S. Biden administration over claims of labor violations at a group of auto parts factories in Mexico. The move will pose an early test of the new North American trade deal and its labor protections, reports the New York Times.
Guatemala
  • The United States deported back to Guatemala a former "kaibile" soldier suspected of participating in the killing of more than 200 people in the village of Las Dos Erres in 1982. (Associated Press)
Argentina
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández is visiting Europe this week, lobbying for support in the country's debt renegotiation with the IMF, reports Reuters.
Haiti
  • Very few people in Haiti speak English, but many Haitian protesters are using English to make their demands known, with viral Twitter protest hashtags like #FreeHaiti and protest signs reading “Jovenel is a dictator.” They "are using English not only to draw Western attention to the crisis there, but also to indict the U.S. for its role in creating that crisis," argues Tamanisha John in The Conversation.

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

Monday, May 10, 2021

Clashes in Cali (May 10, 2021)

 At least ten members of an Indigenous minga --- a collective act of protest -- in the Colombian city of Cali were wounded in a face-off with armed civilians who shot at them, yesterday.   (CaracolSemanaLa Silla Vacía)  Protests, and repression by security forces, have been ongoing in Colombia for 13 days, but the latest escalation of clashes in Cali, between civilian groups, is a crisis within a crisis demonstrates a power vacuum, according to La Silla Vacía. President Iván Duque has resisted calls to visit the newest epicenter of tension, where protesters have been angered by deadly police violence, while other civilian groups have sought to forcefully counter demonstrations.

The scenes of urban violence, which also involve at least 4,000 security forces at this point, could be a harbinger of the worst-case scenario in Colombia, as Cali combines many of the issues underlying the unrest: illegal criminal groups, poverty, victims of of conflict, and Venezuelan migrants. (La Silla Vacía) Yesterday's episodes in Cali could push a new round of national protests, according to La Silla Vacía.

Duque and leaders of the Comité de Paro, the coalition of social organizations that called for last week's protests, today. Reports indicate they might be accompanied by representatives of the U.N. and the Colombian Episcopal Conference. (Semana)  

Nearly two weeks of unrest, sparked by a protest against a tax reform, has unleashed a wave of demonstrations and brutal repression many Colombians believed to have left behind, writes Javier Zamudio in a New York Times Español guest essay.

At least 47 people have been killed in protests, 39 of whom were victims of police violence, and more than 500 people have been declared missing after being detained by security forces, according to Temblores and Indepaz.


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AMLO questions U.S. aid to NGO

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador accused the United States of undue interference in the country’s internal affairs. He said the country sent a diplomatic note to the U.S. over aid given to Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI), a national NGO which the president has accused of seeking to undermine his government.  (El País)

AMLO has also recently accused the press freedom organization Article 19, whose work was cited in the U.S. state department’s annual human rights report on Mexico, of attacking Mexico's sovereignty. (Aristegui Noticias)

Article 19 responded that AMLO has sought to deflect attention from his government's failure to protect activists and journalists. Aggressions against the press increased by 13.6 percent in 2020 – Amlo’s second year in office, according to the organization. AMLO's attempt to restrict international financing of organizations of civil society is a blow against freedom of association and defense of human rights, said Artículo 19 in a statement. (Forbes Mexico)

Critics pointed out Amlo’s own interior ministry recently signed an agreement with USAid on human rights issues, while MCCI published investigations into graft before Amlo successfully ran for election in 2018, reports the Guardian.

It is not the first time Mexico's AMLO administration has focused on MCCI's financing, but the organization has previously emphasized that its funding is licit.

AMLO's accusations came shortly before a virtual meeting Friday with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • The U.S. and Mexico have a shared interest in addressing the root causes that push Central Americans to migrate, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said in a video call with AMLO on Friday. Harris said violence, corruption and impunity are among the prime issues to address, and called for the U.S. and Mexico to provide immediate relief in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. "Most people don't want to leave home and when they do it is often because they are fleeing some harm or they are forced to leave because there are no opportunities," she said. (ReutersWashington Post)
  • Harris faces a delicate diplomatic dance: the very leaders she must engage with are part of the problem. "Experts say the battle against corruption that is critical to success in Central America comes down to a grim choice of partners who rank from bad to worse," reports Foreign Policy.
  • Even as the U.S. has put Central American governance, particularly corruption, at the center of its discourse, in recent weeks political leaders in El Salvador and Guatemala have forced out several senior judges known for their independence and anti-corruption zeal. The issue highlights the complications for Washington's diplomatic agenda in the region, and, in part, could respond to pushback on the part of Northern Triangle entrenched elites, Geoff Thale, president of the Washington Office on Latin America, told the Washington Post.
Migration
  • Beyond politically polarized simplifications of migration issues, "the reality along the border is far more complicated than many would allow," reports the New Yorker. "At the heart of the debate around immigration in the Rio Grande Valley is a question of whether it’s best for the United States to let its southern neighbor deal with the problem."
More Mexico
  • The mayor of a town in the Mexican state of Oaxaca and two officials in her administration have been arrested over the disappearance of an anti-corruption activist who went missing after a protest outside the local town hall, reports the Guardian.
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's National Assembly -- in which the ruling political coalition holds a significant majority -- approved a decree that grants the health ministry to directly purchase pandemic related supplies and services. The decree permits such purchases retroactively, despite a constitutional prohibition, according to Salud con Lupa.
Argentina
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández announced the expansion of existing food aid schemes for the country's poorest, with some four million children set to benefit as inclusion age is expanded from six to fourteen years, reports the Buenos Aires Times. Inflation in the first quarter of 2021 reached almost 13 percent and the hikes show no sign of slowing down, with 42 percent of Argentina’s 45-million population now considered poor.
Brazil
  • Brazil's vaccination plan, released earlier this year, prioritized people in what it called situations of “elevated social vulnerability,” including Indigenous people, quilombo residents, the homeless and the incarcerated. But the government is struggling to keep that commitment in the midst of a sluggish vaccine rollout, reports the Washington Post.
  • The town of Serrano -- population 45,000 -- has become a unique experiment in Brazil: 98 percent of eligible adults have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Coronavirus cases and deaths plunged and life has started to return to normal, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazil "is a prime example of how populist governance in one country can threaten the whole world," according to Uri Friedman at the Atlantic
Regional
  • To Infinity (and Beyond): The Latin American and Caribbean Space Agency, or ALCE, is a regional space agency that will seek to unite resources­—budgetary, human, and technological. It will be led by Mexico and Argentina; Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Paraguay will also be involved, and although Colombia and Peru won’t be actively participating for the moment, they will be part of the group as observers. The move is an opportunity for technological independence in the region, and the chance to develop technology-based industries that could transform national economies, reports Slate.
Feminismos
  • Mother's Day was born as a pacifist protest -- it's time to recover that history of activism and dedicate the day to obtaining the policies and rights women need: from plans to end obstetric violence, to family leave, to abortion, argues Jazmina Barrera in a New York Times Español guest essay.

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

Friday, May 7, 2021

25 dead in Rio police favela raid (May 7, 2021)

 At least 25 people were killed in a violent police operative in Rio de Janeiro's Jacarezinho favela yesterday -- activists say the raid, carried out by 200 heavily armed civil police officers, is the city's deadliest ever. "Even in a city long accustomed to extraordinary police violence, where authorities frequently wage warlike operations inside neighborhoods under the control of criminal organizations, the death toll was shocking," reports the Washington Post. Photos and videos show corpses, bloodied people and homes, grenade explosions.(Globo)


A police officer was killed yesterday, and officials say all the other deaths are of suspected gang members. Experts are doubtful: Bruno Soares, a researcher from Rio’s Centre for Studies on Public Security and Citizenship, who was in the favela when the operation took place, said that it was unlikely that all the people killed in the operation were criminals.  Joel Luiz Costa, a lawyer from Jacarezinho, said he saw evidence that residents had been executed yesterday. Two passengers on the metro were hit by stray bullets. (Al Jazeera)

Police said the operation targeted the Comando Vermelho gang suspected of recruiting children and teenagers for drug trafficking, robberies, assaults and murders. But residents and human rights activists accused the police of using excessive force and questioned why the operation was launched at all, given a Supreme Court ban on law enforcement raids in the city during the pandemic, reports the New York Times.

"It’s completely unacceptable that security forces keep committing grave human rights violations such as those that occurred in Jacarezinho today against residents of the favelas, who are mostly Black and live in poverty," said Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty International Brazil.

The episode is yet another example of violence by security forces against favela inhabitants in Rio de Janeiro. “The slaughter in Jacarezinho is a typical example of the barbarities that happen in favelas in Rio,” Talíria Petrone, a federal lawmaker from Rio de Janeiro, said in a statement. “It’s the state doing the minimum to guarantee rights and doing the maximum to repress and kill.”

Human Rights Watch called for a proper investigation, and noted that it has conducted a number of surveys that reveal serious flaws in investigating deaths caused by police in Rio. 

The United Nations has voiced alarm over the episode and called for an independent investigation, reports AFP. The U.N. human rights office said it had received “worrying” reports that police did not take steps to preserve evidence of the crime scene, “which could hinder investigations into the tragic outcome of this lethal operation”.

Police apparently entered inhabitants' homes to carry out the raid, which can only be done with a warrant, and transported fatal victims in police vehicles, complicating forensic investigation, reports El País.

News Briefs

Colombia
  • As many as 37 protesters killed across the country over the past 10 days of protests in Colombia, and hundreds wounded as the government brutally cracks down on people nationwide demonstrating against poverty and inequality. (See yesterday's post.) Experts say the crisis demonstrates the government's disconnect from the population's economic distress, as well as a long-term need to reform a police force known for human rights abuses, reports the Guardian. Last year protests were galvanized by the killing of Javier Órdoñez by Bogotá police. (See post for Sept. 22, 2020)
  • Human Rights Watch denounced that security forces used arms, such as vehicle mounted multiple cartridge projectors against civilians, calling it a "dangerous and indiscriminate weapon."
Migration
  • Driven by U.S. pressure, militarized immigration enforcement continues in southern Mexico, reports Sandra Cuffe in The Intercept. It’s not just migrants and asylum-seekers transiting the country who are the targets of militarized immigration operations, but also people seeking asylum in southern Mexico.
Venezuela
  • "The U.S. supports a comprehensive, negotiated solution to the crisis in Venezuela that addresses all aspects of the conditions necessary for free and fair elections. It’s up to Venezuelans to decide whether the new National Electoral Council contributes to this end," Tweeted Julie Chung, Assistant Secretary in the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. (See Wednesday's post)
  • Foro Cívico, a broad civil society coalition made up of NGOs, academic organizations, faith groups, and human rights organizations, described the new CNE as “a first step towards the difficult recovery of democratic institutions in Venezuela.” (WOLA)
  • The new electoral council, with opposition representatives, is a notable achievement of the Foro Cívico civil society coalition, writes Geoff Ramsey of WOLA, and "underscores the growing importance of mobilized, independent civil society."
  • Venezuela is having a #MeToo wave, a painful landslide of online denunciation by victims of rape, abuse and sexual harassment over the past few days, reports El País. The domino effect started with the former lead singer of the rock band and accusations have been made against a slew of prominent figures, including poet Willy McKey admitted to statutory rape and committed suicide.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro received a samurai sword as a gift from actor Steven Seagal, who was visiting as a representative of Russia, reports Reuters.
  • Seemingly legitimate modeling agencies in Venezuela are repeatedly being linked to cases of human trafficking, reports InSight Crime.
El Salvador
  • Foreign diplomats in El Salvador have criticised President Nayib Bukele for broadcasting on national television a purportedly private meeting they held with the president, saying the broadcast came as a surprise, reports Reuters. (See Monday's post.)
  • The international community and civil society are concerned about Bukele's move against judiciary independence, the latest in a string of anti-institutional moves since taking office, but "the combination of concrete results and a relentless, crowd-pleasing social media presence has helped" Bukele's approval ratings stay sky high, writes Frida Ghitis in World Politics Review.
Mexico
  • A tragic subway accident that killed at least 24 people this week in Mexico City threatens to impact Mexico's leading leftwing politicians -- both of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's potential scions, Marcelo Ebrard (former Mexico City mayor) and Claudia Sheinbaum (current Mexico City mayor). A credible investigation is necessary not just because it's the right thing to do, but also the only way to salvage Mexico's left, according to Guillermo Osorno in a New York Times Español guest essay.
Ecuador
  • Ecuador and Chevron have been locked in a legal deathmatch for 28 years, over an oil pollution case -- but the years of international litigation, including the ongoing detention in New York of lawyer Steven Donzinger, have overshadowed the original plaintiffs, natives of the forested northeast of Ecuador, who say their drinking water and quality of life remain damaged by oil drilling, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Haiti
  • The European Union announced that it would neither finance the organization of a June referendum in Haiti nor send observers for this election, deeming the process insufficiently transparent and democratic in a country plagued by insecurity and political instability. (AFP)
More Brazil
  • Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva traveled to Brasília for the first time since his corruption conviction was annulled, and met with politicians, including several allies of President Jair Bolsonaro. (Folha de S. Paulo)
Argentina
  • In Argentina, the debate over when to send kids back to school has gone all the way to the Supreme Court, further polarizing a country reeling from a second wave and the worst inflation in 18 months -- the Americas Quarterly podcast talks with Eduardo Levy Yeyati.
Climate
  • Brazil, Colombia and Peru have all deployed troops to stop environmental crimes in the Amazon, but the most recent military operations in these countries seemingly have not made a measurable difference, reports InSight Crime, which explores why militarized attempts to stop deforestation in the Amazon so often fail.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Colombia brutally represses protesters (May 6, 2021)

 Colombian security forces continued their heavy handed response to ongoing, nationwide anti-government demonstrations last night, firing tear gas at protesters in Bogotá after crowds attacked police stations. What started as a protest against a tax reform proposal ballooned into a social explosion of anger over poverty and inequality, both worsened by the pandemic's impact. 

And the government's forceful response has also made police brutality a central issue of the ongoing protests: The clashes over the past eight days have left at least 24 people dead, most of them demonstrators, and at least 87 missing. Local NGO Temblores, which documents police abuse, estimates that 37 have been killed. (La Silla Vacía profiles the victims of police brutality.)

Rights groups and members of the international community -- including the U.S. Biden administration, the U.N. and the OAS --have denounced excessive use of force.The United Nations human rights office said it was “deeply alarmed” over violence against protesters in the Colombian city of Cali, where “police opened fire on demonstrators” and allegedly killed and injured several people Monday night. On-the-ground sources said police indiscriminately shot at demonstrators, even from helicopters.

Yesterday, demonstrators breached protective barriers around the nation’s Congress, attacking the building before being repelled by the police. Bogotá's mayor said Tuesday that a mob tried to “burn alive” 10 police officers by setting fire to a small police station.

Yesterday, President Iván Duque repeated government allegations that illegal armed groups are engaging in acts of vandalism and looting and he said more than 550 arrests had been made. There are calls from within Duque's party to declare a state of siege. But experts say that illegal groups are not directing the protesters, and that the characterization ignores a legitimate social movement. Duque's discourse is tonedeaf -- he hasn't addressed the issue of protester deaths, and his response to create a space of dialogue is woefully inadequate, according to La Silla Vacía.

The protests are, in many ways, a continuation of the massive demonstrations that rocked Colombia in 2019, with a broad array of grievances, including demands for better health and education services and policies to reduce violence. They show that discontent has only grown -- along with poverty -- in the past pandemic year.


More Colombia
  • "Duque’s hard line security policies have failed the Colombian people and undermined decades of professionalization among the security forces themselves," argues Paul J. Angelo in the Washington Post. He calls for independent investigations and prosecutions of police officers involved in human rights abuses, and civilianize the country's police force.
News Briefs

Covid-19
  • The pandemic has sent a wave of poverty across the region, reversing declines from the past decade. Latin America has been uniquely hard-hit due to the double whammy of pandemic intensity and economic recession. The region accounts for about 30% of the world’s Covid-19 deaths, despite having only 8% of its population. Its economy contracted 7% last year, more than double the decline of any other region, reports Bloomberg.
  • Younger people are increasingly being killed by Covid-19 in Latin America, as cases across the region rise and hospitals are increasingly overwhelmed, warned Pan American Health Organization head Carissa F Etienne yesterday. Scant vaccines mean that toughening restrictions and preventative measures are the only way to reduce contagion, but in many countries there is scant sign of authorities being willing to take such steps, reports the Guardian.
  • The rising rate of Covid-19 infections in Latin America poses a threat to the U.S., and experts are pushing for the region to be prioritized in the distribution of U.S. surplus vaccine stocks. (The Hill)
  • The U.S. Biden administration reversed course yesterday and came out in favor of suspending patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines. Support for patent waivers has been growing, particularly among developing countries, since South Africa and India introduced a proposal in the World Trade Organization -- but has been opposed by the U.S. and European countries until now. (See March 11's post.) The decision is a major change, but obtaining approval at the WTO will take time, and expanding vaccine production will be slow. (New York Times)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said that the U.S. will soon send doses of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine to Brazil, though the White House has said that no decisions had been made on which countries would receive any extra vaccine supplies from the U.S., reports Reuters.
  • Cuba's advances in developing five separate coronavirus vaccines -- two of which are in advanced trials -- build on a long history of biotechnology investments, reports Al Jazeera. Since the 1980s, Cuban scientists have developed vaccines for a whole range of ailments, including hepatitis, tetanus and the meningococcal meningitis
Regional Relations
  • The U.S. Biden administration plans to release by the end of June a list of corrupt Central American officials who may be subject to sanctions, reports Reuters. The U.S. government's special envoy for the Northern Triangle, Ricardo Zuñiga, also said the administration was considering further sanctions against officials in the region for alleged graft under the Global Magnitsky Act.
  • U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Mexico and Guatemala on June 7 and 8. (CBS)
  • "How the Biden administration should deal with the governments of Central America presents a dilemma. On one hand, it has to be careful of repeating Washington’s history of supporting repressive regimes," writes Ioan Grillo in the New York Times. "On the other hand, the United States needs to get to the root of what causes people to flee to its southwestern border ... a meltdown stemming from gang violence, climate-change-driven drought and economic hopelessness."
  • An ambitious and creative foreign assistance program could offer an historic opportunity to turn the Greater Caribbean Basin into a significant geographic asset for the United States, argues Richard Feinberg in Americas Quarterly.
Brazil
  • A Brazilian judge suspended a police probe into a top Indigenous leader who had criticized the government of President Jair Bolsonaro for its handling of the Covid-19 crisis, reports Reuters. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
Peru
  • Peru's upcoming presidential runoff is a faceoff between the country's rural population and Lima -- Historic disparities between the countryside and the capital have been compounded by the health and economic crises brought on by Covid, reports Americas Quarterly.
Argentina
  • Efforts to minimize the human rights abuses of Argentina's 1976-1983 dictatorship have shifted from a fringe view to the country’s conservative political elite. In response, a group of legislators from the ruling Frente de Todos coalition have introduced three separate proposals to punish the denial, apology, minimization or justification of the state terrorism committed by the dictatorship. They have modeled their bills after laws in Germany, France, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland against Holocaust deniers, reports Vice.
History
  • A small boatload of indigenous Zapatistas are making a journey across the Atlantic to “invade” Spain, five hundred years after Hernán Cortés violently conquered Mexico -- Guardian.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Venezuela names new CNE (May 5, 2021)

Venezuela’s National Assembly named two opposition stalwarts -- Enrique Márquez and Roberto Picón -- as election officials yesterday. The move is the latest indication that Nicolás Maduro's government is seeking to improve relations with the U.S. under the Biden administration. Both have significant political and technical experience, according to WOLA

It is the first time since 2005 that the Venezuelan opposition will have two seats on the five-person National Electoral Council (CNE), notes the Associated Press. The breakthrough agreement was hatched during weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations between representatives of the Maduro government and moderate opponents, some of them aligned with former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.

"While in itself insufficient to restore democracy, the new composition of the electoral authority marks an important step," according to WOLA, which recommends the U.S. government acknowledge the significance of Maduro's concessions "by engaging the Venezuelan government and opposition in ways that could lead to free and fair elections in the country."

The National Assembly’s decision has high stakes, as the Biden administration has indicated that the naming of a credible CNE may be considered a sign of ‘good faith’ from the Maduro government which could potentially lead to sanctions relief or a path to negotiations, noted the Venezuela Weekly last Friday.

Yesterday, the head of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee said recent actions by Maduro were creating a “window of opportunity” for engagement with the U.S. government. Rep. Gregory Meeks urged for some U.S. sanctions to be rolled back, saying they have hurt regular Venezuelans.

Other recent overtures from Maduro include: an agreement with the World Food Programme, statements that the government will work with the opposition to obtain Covid-19 vaccines through the COVAX mechanism, and the release to house arrest of six imprisoned Citgo executives.

Picón's appointment is particularly relevant, notes WOLA, as he is a former political prisoner and key figure in opposition electoral successes in the past. Picón was nominated for the position by the Foro Cívico (Civic Forum), an independent civil society coalition that brings together NGOs, labor unions, religious organizations, academic institutions, and business associations, and his appointment is a sign of the group's growing importance in mobilizing civil society.

Picón told Reuters in an interview that the new board was "the most balanced, in a way, in the past 17 years."

Picón said that the electoral body cannot by itself create conditions so elections are free and fair and that negotiations in other areas will be key. But, he told AP, he is hopeful that a pluralistic electoral board, if allowed to work independently, will help defuse the hostility of the past few years and serve as an example to political parties, civil society and state institutions.

The move promises to expose more schisms among the political opposition to Maduro. The opposition bloc led by Juan Guaidó rejected the new CNE appointments, arguing that the designation of new rectors requires national consensus and international participation. (Efecto Cocuyo

The council's new leadership, which also includes 10 substitute deputies, will oversee elections for state governors that are expected to be held in December, reports Reuters.

News Briefs

Colombia
  • Colombia's protests are tapping into deep anger over the country’s massive income and wealth disparity -- which has only grown worst with the pandemic. Analysts predict that the demonstrations could continue, similar to how 2019 protests over a transit fare hike in Chile evolved into a sustained national movement for social and economic justice, reports the Washington Post.
  • The United Nations has condemned the violent repression of protests in Colombia, after clashes between police and demonstrators left at least 18 dead and 87 people missing, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.) The European Union called on Colombia's security forces to avoid a heavy-handed response to street protests. (Reuters)
Mexico
  • After a deadly crash on that line this week killed at least 24 people and injured dozens more (see yesterday's briefs), two of Mexico’s brightest political stars -- Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum and Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard -- are facing scrutiny and anger regarding their possible responsibility in the tragedy. (New York Times)
  • The Mexico City subway's Golden Line has been plagued with structural weaknesses that led engineers to warn of potential accidents since it opened nearly ten years ago. But the warnings went unheeded, reports the New York Times. Mexican social media resurfaced old tweets and posts from people warning something was amiss with the elevated metro line, reports the Guardian.
Haiti
  • Haitian state officials and police assisted in gang attacks that left hundreds of people dead, according to a report published by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the Observatoire Haïtien des Crimes contre l’humanité. The researchers lay out how the government of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse allegedly took part in state-sponsored massacres by providing gangs with money, weapons, police uniforms, and government vehicles. These were used in three prolonged attacks on neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince between 2018 and 2020. (InSight Crime)
Migration
  • The U.S. Biden administration began a reunification process for families forcibly separated at the country's border by the former Trump administration -- in total, more than 1,000 families are expected to be reunited, reports the Washington Post.
Brazil
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro ignored repeated warnings that his anti-scientific response to Covid-19 was leading Brazil down an “extremely perilous path”, former health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said giving oral evidence to a senate inquiry into Brazil’s coronavirus management, yesterday. Bolsonaro's former minister said he believed the Brazilian president’s conduct had helped generate an unnecessarily large tragedy. (Guardian)
  • Mandetta also told lawmakers that the government knew full well that the chloroquine treatment they were advocating for Covid-19 patients had no scientific basis, reports Reuters. The Senate investigation has called up other former health ministers, including General Eduardo Pazuello, who was picked by Bolsonaro after two ministers were removed for not backing his chloroquine treatment plan.
  • Governments that ignore or delay acting on scientific advice are missing out on a crucial opportunity to control the pandemic, warns an editorial in Nature that uses Bolsonaro as an example.
  • A group of European companies including Tesco and Marks & Spencer have threatened to stop using Brazilian agricultural commodities if the country’s Congress passes a law expanding property rights for squatters on public land, reports Al Jazeera.
Bolivia
  • A U.S. Justice Department trial attorney repeatedly contacted Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers asking, eventually under threat of subpoena, about research they had conducted on the 2019 Bolivian presidential election, according to emails obtained by The Intercept, which says they add new evidence to support Bolivian allegations that the United States was implicated in the 2019 coup against Evo Morales.
Peru
  • Behind the left-right clash that is Peru's presidential runoff, a national popular-rural bloc clamors to be heard, writes Alejandra Dinegro Martínez in Nacla. "The political subject in Peru is not Pedro Castillo. The active political subject is a national popular-rural bloc that for decades has voted for social change and that ends up being betrayed and forgotten by those who occupy the seats of power."
  • Rural Peruvians feel left behind by two decades of national economic growth -- and the gap has only been widened by the Peru's brutal Covid-19 outbreak, reports the Guardian.
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