Friday, October 22, 2021

Bolsonaro announces welfare program (Oct. 22, 2021)

Four senior Brazilian Treasury officials resigned yesterday, after the government announced a new social welfare program that would exceed the government spending ceiling established by law. President Jair Bolsonaro's government said the program, Auxilio Brasil, would start next month with a 20 percent increase in benefits over the Bolsa Familia welfare program it will replace.

Bolsonaro has sought to increase social spending ahead of presidential elections next year in which he will seek to renew his mandate. The Bolsa Familia program was inaugurated by former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is currently favored by voters over Bolsonaro, according to polls.

The president made the announcements at a time when his popularity is at its lowest level since he took office in 2019, and amid high inflation and high unemployment. A Senate inquiry commission into the administration's handling of the pandemic recommended Bolsonaro be charged with "crimes against humanity" this week. (See yesterday's post and Wednesday's.)

Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said the government may try to exempt $5.3 billion of spending from its fiscal ceiling in order to boost welfare spending at Bolsonaro's request, a move supported by lawmakers but rejected by market investors and experts concerned it will fuel the country's already high inflation. Guedes plans to stay on.

News Briefs

More Brazil
  • Brazil's senate investigation committee into the Bolsonaro administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic didn't force Bolsonaro’s former chief of staff, retired Gen. Walter Braga Netto, to testify due to concern of antagonizing the country's armed forces, according to Bernardo Mello Franco in Globo. If so, it's an indicator of the limits of Brazil's democratic institutions, argues the Latin America Brief. (See yesterday's post and Wednesday's.)

  • A group of 63 U.S. members of Congress sent a letter to President Joe Biden, urging the administration to leverage its influence to confront Bolsonaro’s pursuit of policies that threaten the country’s democratic rule, human rights, public health, and the environment. (WOLA)
  • No country can enforce its way out of migration, instead Dan Restrepo calls for an "Americas Migration Accord, an ambitious, integrated, hemisphere-wide effort to bring order to the otherwise chaotic movement of people resulting from a cascading set of crises in the Western hemisphere." (Dallas News)
  • The head of the gang that kidnapped 17 members of Christian missionary group threatened to kill them if his demands aren’t met, according to a video that circulated online yesterday. Wilson Joseph, leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, was speaking to a crowd of hundreds of gang members in the open, on the streets of Croix-des-Bouquet, where the missionaries were abducted last weekend. (Miami HeraldWashington Post, Associated Press, New York Times, see Monday's post)
  • Haiti National Police Chief Léon Charles submitted his resignation to Interim Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who has been under pressure to oust Charles amid Haiti's surging insecurity, reports the Miami Herald.

  • The kidnapping underscored the growing power of Haiti’s gangs, reports the New York Times. By some estimates, gangs now control more than half of Haiti and in some places, they operate like de facto governments, with their own courts, “police stations” and residential fees for everything from electricity to school permits. (See Wednesday's briefs.)

  • Haiti's kidnapping surge has political as well as criminal causes, reports InSight Crime. These include a long period without elections -- which are a source of income for gangs that charge politicians for access to their territory.

  • The World Food Programme (WFP) is now using seafaring barges to ship supplies to earthquake victims in southern Haiti, after escalating gang violence made overland journeys unsafe for aid convoys, reports the Guardian.

  • A key suspect in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was arrested in Jamaica earlier this month. The detention of Mario Palacios Palacios, a former Colombian military officer, was secret until now, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Mercenaries involved the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July traveled to Bolivia ahead of the country’s election late last year, according to Bolivian authorities. (The Intercept, see Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Cuban prosecutors summoned dissident leaders from across the country who have called for protests on Nov. 15 over curbs to civil rights, and warned them against convening the rallies under penalty of the law, reports Reuters.

  • El Toque denounced harassment and threats from security forces against members of the media outlet's team.

  • A new generation of Cubans is using memes to criticize the government under the shadow of a repressive anti-free speech law, reports Rest of World.
  • U.S. federal prosecutors unveiled criminal charges against an alleged corruption ring accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes to a top ally of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to profit from lucrative contracts to import food and medicine, reports the Associated Press.

  • Maduro's swift and aggressive reaction to the extradition of Saab indicates that the Colombian businessman may hold financial secrets beyond the money laundering alleged by US prosecutors, reports InSight Crime. (See Monday's post.)
  • A new Wilson Center report looks at food insecurity and climate change in Central America’s Northern Triangle. “Poverty, food insecurity, and out-migration occur despite strong economic growth. The dynamics show how agro-export growth does not automatically nor necessarily benefit rural or poverty-affected populations.”  Shaping policies that address food insecurity in Central America’s Northern Triangle has become a key priority to limit outbound migration from the region to the United States.
El Salvador
  • The widespread theft of the $30 deposits used as an incentive by El Salvador's government to have citizens open digital wallets reveals that the government’s proprietary technology – which was rapidly rolled out – is not secure, reports InSight Crime.
Regional Relations
  • Many U.S. communities have sought to share unused coronavirus vaccines with Mexico, but have been blocked by the White House which said donation efforts must go through the federal government, reports the Washington Post.
  • Mexican public services are not keeping up with the country's ageing population, reports the Economist.

  • Mexican criminal groups are recruiting vulnerable young people through video games, reports InSight Crime.
  • Education often brings inequality to social classes, says Guatemalan tech entrepreneur Luis von Ahn, who founded Duolingo with the goal of disrupting that cycle by making education “universally available." Von Ahn has become a vocal advocate for the private sector’s active role in reducing inequality, writes Brendan O'Boyle in an Americas Quarterly profile.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Bolsonaro committed crimes against humanity, Senate Inquiry Commission (Oct. 21, 2021)

Brazilian senators decided not to recommend President Jair Bolsonaro should face homicide and genocide charges in order to strengthen the potential impact of a an inquiry commission into the Brazilian government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The commission's report, presented yesterday, recommends Bolsonaro be charged with crimes against humanity, and blames the president’s policies for more than half of the 600,000 deaths from Covid-19 in Brazil.

But while the report originally recommended charging Bolsonaro with homicide and genocide, some members of the commission were concerned the arguments might not hold up with prosecutors and judges, and would ultimately weaken the impact of their investigation, reports the New York Times

Nonetheless, experts emphasized the report is a major blow against Bolsonaro. Pedro Abramovay, a former national secretary of justice and the Latin America director for Open Society Foundations, told the New York Times that despite the late changes, the report was still bad news for Bolsonaro. “Again, we are talking about crimes against humanity.”

The crimes the report attributes to the president could result in more than 100 years of jail. (Washington Post)

"The last-minute shift, after some of the report’s details had already leaked, reflects the polarized and complicated political landscape under Mr. Bolsonaro, whose popularity has plummeted since he took office in 2019 but who still retains enormous power, making his adversaries tread warily," reports the New York Times.

The report looks at two kinds of misdeed: “ordinary crimes”, which can be prosecuted in the courts, and “crimes of responsibility”, for which the president might be impeached. Bolsonaro retains the loyalty of Brazil's attorney general and the Congressional lower chamber's leader, effectively shielding him from legal repercussions while in office. (Economist)

Nonetheless, the report has significant political impact on Bolsonaro, particularly as he heads into a reelection campaign next year. And members of the Senate inquiry commission have promised to seek other avenues for justice. (See yesterday's post.)

News Briefs

  • The OAS called for the immediate release of detained presidential candidates and political prisoners in Nicaragua, a month ahead of elections in which President Daniel Ortega seeks another reelection virtually unopposed after jailing prominent opposition politicians. The OAS resolution yesterday was backed by 26 votes, reports EFE. Mexico and Argentina were among seven countries that abstained, though their governments have recalled ambassadors from Nicaragua in response to political repression, reports Axios. (See Infobae also.)

  • With most of the other presidential candidates in jail, Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is also his wife, will try to beat the 72 percent of the vote they were said to have received in the prior presidential election in 2016—despite Ortega’s 30 percent approval rating, reports Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

  • The president of the Consejo Superior de la Empresa Privada (Cosep), Michael Healy, was arrested this morning, the government's latest arbitrary detention, reports Nicaragua Investiga.
Regional Relations
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned of an eroding trust in democracy in the Western Hemisphere and described challenges posed to open government by authoritarian leaders. "The question is: What can we do to make democracies deliver on the issues that matter most to our people?” he said, speaking on a visit to Ecuador. But he offered no specifics on how governments could embrace longer-term principles like ensuring fair labor standards and giving more people access to education and health care, reports the New York Times.

  • Blinken also went to Colombia yesterday, where he met with President Iván Duque, a meeting that evinced the struggles the Biden administration faces with allies in the region, reports the New York Times. The Duque administration has been criticized for brutally repressing protests earlier this year and for failing to protect social leaders from criminal groups' violence.

  • Latin American leaders had high hopes for the Biden administration, but "are frustrated by a U.S. foreign policy widely seen as crisis-driven and China-obsessed," argues Benjamin Gedan in a New York Times guest essay. Instead the U.S. should make bold announcements on trade and investment; policies to help countries struggling with migration -- from Colombia dealing with Venezuelan migrants, to Panama facing a flow of Haitians headed towards the U.S. and Costa Rica with Nicaraguans -- and support countries' efforts to cut emissions with big-ticket investments in renewable energy and energy storage and transmission projects, writes Gedan.

  • Former U.S. President Donald Trump's administration contemplated deploying 250,000 troops (more than half the active U.S. army) to secure the border with Mexico last year, and had to be talked out of it by top national security aides, who also convinced Trump not to launch military raids against drug cartels inside Mexico, reports the New York Times.
  • U.S. authorities detained more than 1.7 million migrants along the Mexico border during the 2021 fiscal year that ended in September, and arrests by the Border Patrol soared to the highest levels ever recorded, reports the Washington Post. Border enforcement has become a major political liability for U.S. President Joe Biden, and the president’s handling of immigration remains his worst-polling issue.
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's lawmakers approved legislation that would prohibit gatherings, days after anti-government protests, a move critics say aims to criminalize social protests. (El Diario de Hoy
  • Barbados elected its first president, Dame Sandra Mason, just weeks before the island becomes a republic and ceases to recognise Queen Elizabeth as its head of state. Mason, a judge and former ambassador, was elected almost unanimously by the parliament yesterday, reports the Guardian.
  • Alejandro Andrade, a former bodyguard to Hugo Chávez and later Venezuela's treasurer, who became one of the earliest and most-effective witnesses for U.S. investigations into corruption in Venezuela, is scheduled to be released from prison in the coming months, reports the Associated Press. Andrade's assistance allowed prosecutors to build cases against a number of insiders from the Chávez administration.

  • Spain’s highest criminal court agreed to extradite Venezuela’s former intelligence chief, Hugo Carvajal, to the United States, where he faces drug trafficking charges, reports the New York Times. Yesterday's ruling came after Carvajal was denied asylum in Spain.
  • Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso's decision to call a state of emergency this week responds to political concerns as well as security issues, according to the Latin America Risk Report. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • Chilean right-wing candidate José Kast's sudden rise in opinion polls ahead of next month's presidential election challenges Chile's shift to the left after broad social protests in 2019. Fears over migration, public security and shifting social values have boosted the far right, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador offered amnesty to the owners of millions of illicit American cars, known colloquially as "autos chocolates," a move criticized by auto dealers who say it undermines their legal business, and security experts who say it could give organized crime a pass, reports the Washington Post.

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Bolsonaro accused of "crimes against humanity" (Oct. 20, 2021)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with "crimes against humanity" according to a Senate inquiry commission charged with investigating the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic. A leaked draft report, that will be officially presented by senators today, paints a devastating portrait of the neglect, incompetence and anti-scientific denialism, reports the Guardian. According to the report, Bolsonaro intentionally let the coronavirus rip through the country and kill hundreds of thousands of people in a misguided attempt to reach herd immunity and protect Brazil's economy. 

The report blames Bolsonaro’s policies for the deaths of more than 300,000 Brazilians, half of the nation’s coronavirus death toll, and urges the Brazilian authorities to imprison the president, according to the New York Times. The report emphasizes the impact of Bolsonaro's “deliberate and conscious” decision to delay buying Covid vaccines and his “obstinate” promotion of ineffective remedies such as the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine.

The original draft reported on in the media included calls for authorities to indict the president, other senior officials and three of his sons on charges of mass murder and genocide against the Indigenous population, whose communities were particularly vulnerable to the virus, reports the Washington Post. But the allegations of homicide and genocide were removed yesterday evening.

Senator Renan Calheiros, the report’s lead author, said the document recommends criminal charges against 70 people, including former health minister Eduardo Pazuello.

Bolsonaro is unlikely to face prosecution for his alleged crimes, at least while he remains in the presidency. If the report is approved, Brazil’s attorney general will have 30 days to decide whether to pursue criminal charges against those named. Brazil’s lower house in Congress would also have to approve charges against the president. Both the attorney general and the president of the lower house are staunch Bolsonaro allies.

Nonetheless, the Senate findings have already significantly impacted his chances for reelection next year. And senators have said they would seek other potential legal avenues against Bolsonaro, including in Brazil’s Supreme Court and the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

More Brazil
  • The battle over what is true or false, who gets to decide, and whether and how to punish offenders, is tearing at the very fabric of Brazil's young democracy, reports Mariana Palau in Americas Quarterly. Fake news is at the heart of a constitutional crisis pitting Bolsonaro against Brazil's Supreme Court. "The question of how to deal with the tide of misinformation, while also not curtailing essential liberties, poses an extraordinarily difficult dilemma for policymakers, technology companies, the justice system and others, with no easy solutions in sight."
  • Environmental racism underlies Brazil's food contradiction: half of the agricultural powerhouse's population suffers from some kind of food insecurity, write Douglas Belchior, Thais Santos and Mariana Belmont in a Folha de S. Paulo piece. The price of the climate emergency is being paid by black, peripheral populations and native peoples, they argue.

Chileans protest anniversary

Thousands of Chilean demonstrators marked the second anniversary of massive social protests in 2019, this week. Most were peaceful, but authorities say two people died, and 450 were arrested in episodes of violence and looting. (CNN) Police said 10,000 people crowded into Santiago's Plaza Italia, which activists dubbed Plaza Dignidad during the 2019 protests demanding social policies to reduce inequality. (El País)

Chilean Constitutional Convention delegates began officially drafting a new magna carta on Monday, the anniversary of the protests that pushed Chileans to embark on a constitutional rewrite, after three months of establishing procedural rules, reports CNN. (See Oct. 1's post) Convention president Elisa Loncón said that "it is imperative that we keep up with the times, we must work hard to try to heal the scars of Chile. Let us do this work from reason, but also move, work from tenderness and from thinking." (See Loncón's interview with El Mostrador.)

A small group of protesters on Monday unsuccessfully tried to enter the vicinity of the former national congress building, where the constitutional convention is working, reports EFE.

Two years after the protests, victims of police violence are still waiting for justice, writes Yasna Mussa in the Post Opinión. The next government must end police impunity, she argues.

News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • The U.S. Biden administration has not defined a Latin America strategy, at a time when the region faces an unprecedented situation of difficulty and threats to the democratic and human rights system, said Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco in an interview with El País. He noted the dangers not only of the region's consolidated dictatorships, but also democratically elected leaders like El Salvador's Nayib Bukele who "believe that once you are elected to power, you can rule as you please."
  • Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso assured U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday that democratic principles would be upheld during a state of emergency that Lasso declared this week, Blinken said yesterday. (Reuters) Blinken met with Lasso in Quito, just after Lasso said he would deploy troops to combat drug trafficking and violence. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Blinken is due to give an address today in Ecuador about what the State Department calls “the challenges facing democracies in the region,” before traveling on to neighboring Colombia for talks with leaders there, reports Voice of the Americas.

  • Americas Quarterly delves behind the headlines about China's inroads (or not) into Latin America, and tracks how eight of the region's governments have managed their relationship to Beijing since the pandemic.
  • Pfizer negotiated hard for profit in secret vaccine contracts with governments around the world, according to by Public Citizen. A number of leaked, unredacted Pfizer contracts, sheds light on how the company uses that power to “shift risk and maximize profits,” the organization argues. Experts who reviewed the terms of contracts with foreign governments suggested that some demands were extreme. In contracts reached with Brazil, Chile, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, those states forfeited “immunity against precautionary seizure of any of [their] assets.” (Washington Post)
  • Former Guatemalan soldiers who are demanding they be paid a war-time bonus for serving in Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war burst onto the grounds of the country’s congress building yesterday and set several vehicles on fire, reports the Associated Press. Soldiers eventually showed up to force the protesters out. 
  • Cuban dissidents have called for an anti-government protest on Nov. 15, which the Cuban state has refused to authorise. Activists and observers warn that the incarceration and abuse that followed July protests in Cuba could keep prospective demonstrators indoors next month, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Gangs have become so powerful in Haiti that even simple government acts are now being held hostage by the country’s criminal groups, reports the Miami Herald. (See Monday's post.) Indeed, the gangs have made state authorities irrelevant in many cases, and the groups levy taxes and determine what citizens can and can't do in their territories.

  • The kidnapping of 17 foreign missionaries in Haiti is only a high profile example of a scourge hundreds of local residents (rich and poor) face: there have been at least 628 abductions so far this year, reports the Guardian. (See Monday's post.)

  • There, however, are few options for the international community to confront the deadly surge in gang violence and for-ransom kidnappings in Haiti, reports the Miami Herald.
  • A Colombian hotline aimed at fighting violence against women puts men at the center of the conversation, in an effort to teach them to understand their emotions and control their actions, reports the New York Times.
  • Because the U.S. doesn’t usually prosecute anyone under 18 for the crime of smuggling people illegally across the border from Mexico, tons of teenagers do it, for money. -- This American Life

  • Photographer Eva Lépiz followed families in Mexico's Oaxaca state, from where many relatives have migrated to the U.S. (Americas Quarterly)

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

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Lasso declares state of emergency (Oct. 19, 2021)

Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency to battle drug trafficking and other crimes in the country. The state of emergency gives the authorities the power to restrict freedom of movement, assembly and association. Lasso said the military and the police would patrol the streets to provide security. (Associated Press)

Violence has been spiking dramatically in Ecuador in recent months, reports AFP. Between January and October this year, the country registered almost 1,900 homicides, compared to about 1,400 in all of 2020, according to government statistics.

Lasso said Ecuador has gone from being a trafficking zone to one that also consumes drugs. “This is not only reflected in the amount of drugs consumed in our country, but in the number of crimes that today have a direct or indirect relationship with the sale of narcotics,” he said. 

The state of emergency imposed for 60 days allows the government to mobilize 3,600 soldiers and police to patrol 65 prisons nationwide. The country's prison system is grappling with a spate of bloody riots. So far in 2021, 238 prisoners have died in the riots. (See Sept. 30's post.)

The announcement came on the eve of an official visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (see Regional Relations section below).

News Briefs

  • "The Cuban government has systematically engaged in arbitrary detention, ill-treatment of detainees, and abuse-ridden criminal prosecutions in response to overwhelmingly peaceful anti-government protests in July 2021, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. "The consistent and repeated patterns of abuses by multiple security forces, in multiple locations across Cuba, strongly suggest a plan by Cuban authorities to repress and suppress the demonstrations."
  • The new issue of Americas Quarterly focuses on "the profound, and possibly terminal, threat that fake news and misinformation pose to the democracies of the Americas. ... the onslaught has accelerated a decade-long trend of declining confidence in democratic institutions, while costing countless lives during the pandemic. Disillusioned, many are putting their faith instead in authoritarian leaders, who are delighted by (and in some cases directly feeding) the confusion."

  • Governments and civil society have tried a number of different approaches to fight misinformation. But the region's high rates of social media use make its countries fertile territory for fake news. And several of the proposed solutions infringe on free speech or can be easily abused by authoritarian governments with their own agendas. (Americas Quarterly)
  • U.S. and senior Haitian officials worked Monday to free 17 members of an Ohio-based Christian aid organization kidnapped over the weekend in Haiti, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's post.) Members of the 400 Mawozo gang asked for $1 million for each hostage for their release, reports CNN.

  • Port-au-Prince streets were largely deserted yesterday due to a general strike in protest of insecurity, called before the kidnapping, reports the Washington Post. Unions and other groups vowed to continue the shutdown today, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.)

  • "Haiti’s spiraling mayhem, florid lawlessness and humanitarian meltdown were predictable following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July. In a country already crippled by governmental dysfunction, the vacuum of political legitimacy and authority after that murder left a breeding ground for anarchy," argues a Washington Post editorial that calls for outside intervention, despite the unintended consequences these actions have had historically.
Regional Relations
  • Members of a group involved in killing Moïse had conspired to assassinate Bolivian President Luis Arce ahead of the 2020 election that brought him to power, Bolivia's interior minister said yesterday. Eduardo del Castillo said at a news conference that the government had seen emails, audio recordings, immigration data and hotel stays that proved the failed plot against Arce, reports Reuters. (See also Caracol.)

  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to help the U.S. government push for stronger action on climate change. Speaking at an event with U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, López Obrador said that “we are going to support the plan President Biden is promoting” ahead of COP26. (Associated Press)

  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Ecuador today, where he will meet with President Guillermo Lasso. He will also travel to Colombia on this trip, where he will meet with President Iván Duque, a South America trip the U.S. has touted as a bid to support and broaden ties with Latin America's democracies, reports AFP. Blinken will meet human rights groups and will also address two key issues for the Biden administration -- climate change and migration.

  • The visit comes as tension spikes between the U.S. and Venezuela, after  Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman accused of money laundering on behalf of Venezuela's government, was extradited to the United States from Cape Verde. Venezuela's government immediately suspended internationally mediated negotiations with the political opposition. (See yesterday's post.) Yesterday a senior State Department official said Venezuela's government could demonstrate its seriousness about forging a better future for the Venezuelan people and alleviating the humanitarian crisis "by returning to the table" to continue talks, reports Voice of America.
  • Saab appeared for the first time in Miami federal court yesterday. Saab, who prosecutors say was a major conduit for corruption by Nicolás Maduro’s inner circle, was charged with eight counts of money laundering, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.) 

  • "Saab became infamous due to accusations of corruption surrounding the sprawling program to subsidize imports of food, but his name has been linked to deals in the oil industry as well," writes Francisco Toro in the Washington Post. "I don’t know what Saab knows. I do know that, whatever it is, the thought of it becoming public makes Maduro panic."

  • An unusual social reintegration project led by a local rum maker has brought relative calm to the town of Sabaneta as lawlessness engulfs much of Venezuela, reports the New York Times.
  • Colombia is responsible in 2000 kidnapping and rape of journalist Jineth Bedoya, according to a new Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling. The court found “serious evidence” of state participation in the attack, which it described as “torture,” reports the Washington Post. The court condemned Colombian officials, saying they delayed the investigation of the kidnapping, did not properly address the threats Bedoya received leading up to the assault and discriminated against the journalist on the basis of her gender.

  • Colombian President Iván Duque has extended welcome to Venezuelan refugees "with unparalleled humanity and compassion," even as the humanitarian crisis has dragged on and Colombia has faced challenges of its own, writes Americas Society/Council of the Americas chair Andrés Gluski in Americas Quarterly.
  • Brazil's government is considering combining pandemic relief payments and "Bolsa Familia" welfare programs into a monthly stipend of 300 reais next year, reports Reuters.
  • Development projects, many with international support, are driving Garifuna Indigenous communities off their land in Honduras, forcing them to become unwilling migrants, writes Miriam Miranda in Foreign Policy in Focus.
  • Guatemala’s expanding palm oil industry faces resistance from Indigenous people fighting for land rights, reports Al Jazeera. Oil palm plantations have nearly doubled in area over the past decade, sparking agrarian conflicts between companies and communities.
  • Nearly 68 percent of Chileans want to impeach President Sebastian Piñera, according the monthly Pulso Ciudadano poll. (Telesur)
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica was among the winners of the newly established Earthshot prize, that awards winners one million pounds for their sustainability and conservation efforts. The prize is presided over by Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge and intended to incentivize action around key environmental challenges the world faces over the next decade. (New York Times)

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

Monday, October 18, 2021

Saab extradition derails negotiations (Oct. 18, 2021)

 Venezuela's government suspended negotiations with the country's political opposition after a close ally was extradited to the U.S. this weekend. Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman and financial fixer for President Nicolás Maduro was extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S., where he faces charges of money laundering.

U.S. authorities believe Saab can shed light on how Venezuela has managed to violate U.S. sanctions to sell gold and crude oil. They also believe he knows how Maduro and close allies siphoned off millions of dollars in government contracts for food and housing amid widespread hunger in Venezuela.

But the extradition has also derailed advances towards a political solution for Venezuela's prolonged crisis. Jorge Rodríguez, who has been heading the government’s delegation, said his team wouldn’t travel to Mexico City for the next scheduled round of negotiations.

In response to the extradition, Maduro's government immediately re-apprehended six oil executives, including 5 American citizens, who had been under house arrest in Venezuela. The so-called "Citgo 6" have been in and out of jail since 2017, an indicator of Maduro's response to U.S. policies towards Venezuela.

More Venezuela
  • Iran will sign a 20-year cooperation accord with Venezuela "in the next few months," reports Al Jazeera.

  • Vaccination rates have steadily increased in Venezuela in recent months, with the assistance of the WHO-linked COVAX initiative and the support of multilateral institutions such as the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and UNICEF, reports the Venezuela Weekly.

Haiti's gangs kidnap missionaries

A notorious Haitian armed gang kidnapped 17 foreign missionaries, including five children. The brazen abductions put the country's insecurity crisis in stark relief, and pose a challenge for the government of interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry, as well as for U.S. President Joe Biden, reports the Miami Herald. Sixteen of the victims are U.S. citizens, and one is Canadian, they were seized as they paid a visit on Saturday to an orphanage outside the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, reports the New York Times. U.S. FBI agents arrived in Port-au-Prince yesterday to assist with hostage negotiations.

The gang believed to be behind the kidnapping is known as 400 Mawozo, which operates in the area of Croix-des-Bouquets along the route to the border Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic. The gang, which is responsible for about 80% of the kidnappings taking place in Haiti, has taken to snatching groups of people.

From Creole, the name loosely translates to 400 simpletons, or inexperienced men. But the group is widely feared for using rape and assassinations to maintain its grip of Haitian streets, businesses and power players, reports the Washington Post. It's also at the cutting-edge of a new kidnapping trend: abduction of groups from vehicles. And it has targeted clergy and churches 

Kidnappings in Haiti have increased 300% between July and September, when at least 221 abductions were recorded, according to the crime observation unit of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights in Port-au-Prince. President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July, an event that made a long-term political crisis more acute. According to some estimates, gangs now control roughly half of Port-au-Prince.

In an example of how the government has lost territorial control, Henry and his security detail were forced to flee an official commemoration in the capital, yesterday. Henry tried to carry out ceremony to commemorate the 1806 assassination of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, but was driven back by armed gang members firing their weapons, reports the Guardian. Later pictures showed the country’s most notorious crime boss, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, dressed in a white suit and shirt with a wing collar – the dress code for officials on national holidays – with his armed followers laying down a floral wreath at the monument.

Transportation workers called a strike for Today and Tuesday in Port-au-Prince to protest insecurity — an action that turned into a more general strike. Small peaceful protests erupted across the country this morning, reports the New York Times. Many stores in Port-au-Prince were closed, including gas stations.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Friday evening to extend the U.N. political mission in Haiti. The mission was extended by 9-months in a last-minute compromise between the U.S. and China just hours before the mission’s mandate was set to end. In the resolution, the council noted “with deep concern the acute political, economic, security, and humanitarian crisis in Haiti" and underlined the importance of addressing the recent rise in gang violence and its roots, reports the Associated Press. The resolution urges all Haitian parties “to commit to an inclusive inter-Haitian national dialogue to address longstanding drivers of instability” and to create a framework for free and fair presidential and legislative elections “as soon as technically feasible.”

More Haiti
  • The U.S. should take concrete steps to help Haiti: namely stop deporting migrants, and support local Haitian efforts in establishing a transition commission and to stop propping up the current government, argues Marcela García in the Boston Globe.
News Briefs

  • The U.S. Biden administration said on Friday it plans to reinstate the Trump-era border policy known as Remain in Mexico, reports  the Guardian.
El Salvador
  • About 4,000 people protested in El Salvador yesterday against President Nayib Bukele, who responded by changing his Twitter profile to "Emperor of El Salvador." It's the second large protest in a month against the leader, who critics say is dangerously concentrating power in the country, reports AFP. (See Sept. 17's post.)

  • Police barricades prevented buses from entering San Salvador yesterday, an obstacle to many demonstrators, reports El Faro.
Regional Relations
  • The U.S. Build Back Better World (B3W) is an initiative to finance development infrastructure in Latin America, a response to China's Belt and Road Initiative. But experts question how much impact the initiative will really have, reports the Financial Times

  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Colombia and Ecuador next week as he seeks to showcase democracy in Latin America, the State Department said Friday. (AFP)
  • Two more social leaders were killed in Colombia this weekend: Maria Pedroza stepped on a mine in Choco, and Garzon Manrique was killed by hitmen in Caqueta, reports Telesur. The Institute for Peace and Development  Studies (Indepaz) has reported 136 murders of social leaders so far this year.
  • Brazil’s Vice President Hamilton Mourão said on Friday that a deployment of soldiers to the Amazon rainforest will end, just ahead of the COP26 climate conference. Mourão, who coordinates the government’s Amazon Council, said the government decided to end the program because environmental authorities once again have the ability to carry out oversight. (Associated Press
  • A new Cadem poll puts Chile's conservative presidential candidate José Antonio Kast at a statistical tie with leftist frontrunner Gabriel Boric, each with about 20 percent ahead of next month's vote. Kast's ascent comes as center-right candidate Sebastián Sichel dropped in popularity, reports Bloomberg. If no candidate obtains 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will determine the next president.

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

Friday, October 15, 2021

Latin America Daily Briefing (Oct. 15, 2021)

News Briefs

  • The U.S. State Department said that the upcoming Nov. 7 presidential elections in Nicaragua “have lost all credibility” because of President Daniel Ortega’s arrests of critics and seven potential challengers. The country’s main opposition coalitions said last week that Ortega’s moves have “ended any vestige of real electoral competition," reports the Associated Press.

  • The Nicaraguan government's crackdown on political opponents ahead of elections has strained the country's regional and international ties. "To date, neither punitive measures from Western governments nor the more diplomatic approaches of left-leaning Latin American states like Mexico and Argentina have made inroads with Ortega, who has reacted furiously to what he perceives as interference," notes an International Crisis Group report. Ortega's nearly certain win will create conditions for "further instability, humanitarian crisis and emigration, and setting a dangerous precedent for a region seeing increasing movement toward greater authoritarianism."
  • Peruvian President Pedro Castillo is facing a governance challenge from his own allies: Perú Libre leader Vladimir Cerrón said the party's lawmakers won't support the president's new cabinet nominees. This means Castillo must obtain 66 votes from other parties in order to ratify his new team of ministers, reports the Associated Press. (See Oct. 7's post.)
  • A Brazilian congressional inquiry into the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to wrap up next week, with recommendations to indict more than 40 Brazilian politicians and officials, including President Jair Bolsonaro, reports the Financial Times.

  • The gigantic Itaipu hydroelectric dam straddling the Brazil-Paraguay border is feeling the heat of Brazil’s worst drought in nine decades, reports the Associated Press
  • Poorly placed studs, clear design flaws and deficient welding led to a collapse in Mexico City's metro system that killed 26 people earlier this year, according to the results of the official investigation. (New York Times)
Regional Relations
  • The United States needs to invest more heavily in Central America if it hopes to slow record levels of northbound migration, Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said this week. (Reuters)

  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will meet U.S. climate adviser John Kerry next week near Mexico's southern border with Guatemala, reports Reuters. They are expected to discuss a major tree planting program championed by the Mexican leader.

  • InSight Crime has an in-depth investigation into fighting between Colombian guerrillas and Venezuelan security forces in Apure earlier this year. "The fighting made one thing clear: The Venezuelan state can no longer control the criminal forces it has so long tolerated."

  • For decades, Venezuela has berated Colombia, as its civil conflict drove hundreds of thousands of desperate Colombians into the neighboring country. Yet today, the flow of criminality and displacement is moving in the other direction. And while in Colombia, the war was the product of generations of complex social, political, economic, and criminal factors, in Venezuela, the government had invited the warring factions into the country.

  • The killing of two Venezuelan boys in Colombia is rapidly escalating into a diplomatic row with neighboring Venezuela, reports CNN. (See Wednesday's briefs.) Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez cited the deaths as evidence of xenophobia and deadly persecution of Venezuelan migrants. 

  • The U.S. State Department called for an independent examination to determine the true cause of death of former Venezuelan defense minister and retired general Raul Baduel, considered a political prisoner by the opposition, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • There is a window of opportunity to organize a free and fair presidential election in Venezuela, opposition leader Freddy Guevara told Axios. He said the opposition recognizes that the upcoming November regional elections will be fraudulent, but believes they offer an opportunity to mobilize the Venezuelan population against Maduro.

  • The European Union's decision to send an observer mission to Venezuela's November election puts it on a potential diplomatic collision course with the U.S., reports CNN. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
  • A record number of children crossed on foot the treacherous stretch of jungle between Colombia and Panama known as the Darien Gap this year: 19,000, half of whom were under 5 years old, according to UNICEF. (CNN)

  • The Curaçaoan and Dutch authorities have violated the rights of Venezuelans seeking international protection in Curaçao, Amnesty International said in a new report.
  • A multi-media Washington Post feature details how vaccination teams in Colombia are trekking to remote areas to inoculate communities against Covid-19.

  • Colombia will hold presidential elections in May of next year -- with over 60 candidates currently in play, the country's "electoral season is better understood as a relay with four different legs, as opposed to a single event ending in a runoff election," writes Sergio Guzmán in Global Americans.

  • The governor of Colombia's central department of Meta has survived back-to-back assassination attempts, a rare case of a continued targeted assault against a senior public official by Colombian guerrillas, reports InSight Crime.

  • WOLA details attacks against social leaders in Colombia in recent months, as well as other human rights issues of concern.

  • "We’re doing old-fashioned human rights work again," writes Adam Isacson in a blogpost on Colombia. "For several years—from the latter moments of the FARC peace negotiations until quite recently—we had the luxury of advocating “state presence,” “crop substitution,” “rural reform,” “land restitution,” “restorative justice” and similar proposals typical of a country leaving a bitter history behind. Not anymore. There are too many new victims: victims of violence at the hands of state actors, displaced and confined communities. Too many people left unprotected."
  • COVID-19 has caused such extreme unemployment and poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean that a “statistical rebound” in economic growth this year will not be enough to overcome the pandemic's social and public health crises, according to a new ECLAC report. (Reuters)
  • Inflation accelerated in Argentina, prices increased 3.5 percent in September over August, and inter-annual inflation reached 52.5 percent, reports Bloomberg
  • Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso's center-right government faces the challenge of Pandora Papers revelations and a hostile legislature. (Americas Quarterly, Economist)
  • Black Brazilian jazz artists are using music to stake a claim for their heritage in a culture that often sidelines it -- Guardian.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Honduran opposition parties unite (Oct. 14, 2021)

Former Honduran presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla has endorsed Xiomara Castro de Zelaya for the November presidential elections, a union of the country's top opposition parties that presents a serious challenge to the ruling National Party, which has been in power since 2009. 

Nasralla narrowly lost to President Juan Orlando Hernández in 2017, an election marked by irregularities. Castro is the wife of former president Mel Zelaya, whose ouster in a 2009 coup was a watershed moment for Honduran politics.

A CID-Gallup poll last month showed that Castro and Nasralla had received 18% support. Nasry Asfura, mayor of the capital Tegucigalpa and candidate of the ruling National Party, led with 21%.

Castro has proposed some big changes for the crisis-stricken country, reports Brendan O'Boyle in an Americas Quarterly profile, including a referendum to propose rewriting the constitution, switching diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China, and the creation of a UN-backed anti-corruption commission similar to Guatemala’s once successful CICIG.

But she is unlikely to advance with sweeping change, and has instead focused on a big-tent political model for her campaign, writes O'Boyle. Castro has been meeting with business groups, promising collaboration if elected and better conditions for job creation and investment. “I want a social pact with every sector, the productive sectors, with business, with workers, with teachers, with farmers and campesinos, with the informal economy and small and medium-sized businesses,” Castro said when launching her campaign platform.

More Honduras
  • Libre party lawmaker Olivia Zúniga -- daughter of the assassinated Indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres -- was attacked in her home this weekend by four men who beat her. A Libre mayoral candidate, Nery Reyes, was killed on Friday. (ProcesoEl HeraldoDemocracy Now)
News Briefs

  • The United Nations human rights office urged Venezuela to conduct an “independent investigation” into the death of Raul Baduel, a prominent jailed dissident who was considered a political prisoner by the country’s opposition. Venezuela's government said Baduel, who served as defense minister under Hugo Chávez, died due to the coronavirus. (Al Jazeera)
  • Although the numbers of Covid cases in much of Latin America and the Caribbean are declining, several islands in the Caribbean are seeing increases. Many Caribbean countries are grappling with unequal distribution of doses and vaccine hesitancy, World Health Organization officials warned yesterday. An “important challenge that the Caribbean is facing — English-speaking countries and French- speaking countries and territories — is vaccine hesitancy,” said Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri, the Covid-19 incident manager at the Pan American Health Organization. (New York Times)

  • Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the World Health Organization should certify COVID-19 vaccines in public use, after the United States said it would only allow people inoculated by WHO-approved vaccines to enter its borders. Millions of people in Mexico, and the region, have been vaccinated with Russian and Chinese shots that do not fulfill that criteria, reports Reuters.

  • AMLO hailed a U.S. decision to open their shared border in November after more than 18 months of pandemic restrictions, though Mexicans inoculated with Chinese and Russian vaccines face being shut out, reports Reuters.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic and associated economic costs have pushed taxation to the forefront of national political agendas in Latin America, but recent experiences have shown that passing progressive tax initiatives can be tricky. "Programs that provide tangible benefits naturally draw greater interest and support from popular sectors than taxes targeting economic elites," writes Tasha Fairfield at the AULA blog.

  • Throughout the region, Evangelical participation in politics is growing. Though churches have generally aligned with right-wing parties, now many are aligning with the left despite their more conservative beliefs, reports Nacla.

  • Miami has witnessed a boom in real estate purchased by Latin Americans over the past year and a half -- unlike past investment booms, this time some of the region's wealthiest residents are actually moving there, reports El País.
  • Eight Brazilian soldiers were sentenced to 28 years in prison yesterday for the murder of two civilians in 2019, an emblematic case in which troops opened fire on a car carrying a family, riddling the vehicle with 80 rifle bullets. Musician Evaldo dos Santos Rosa, whose son, wife and father-in-law were in the car as well, was killed, as was Luciano Macedo, a pedestrian who tried to help. (Estadao

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has again doubled down on his anti Covid-19 vaccine stance. He announced this week that he will decline to be vaccinated, saying “it makes no sense” for him to do so because he has antibodies from a past infection. Experts say the opinion has little scientific basis, but that Bolsonaro's stance doesn't seem to be denting Brazilians' vaccine commitment: More than 72% of Brazilians, 154 million people, have received at least one shot and 47% have been fully vaccinated. (Guardian)

  • Time Magazine profiles Erika Hilton, the first trans woman elected to the city council in São Paulo. Hilton’s arrival on the front line of politics has coincided with a dangerous time for her community in Brazil. In 2020, murders of trans women surged by 45%, with Black women making up two-thirds of the victims.

  • Brazilian telecommunications regulator, Anatel, announced 5G spectrum tendering rules for the country’s highly anticipated November 4 auction -- Latin America Risk Report analyzes.
  • Cuba's government has launched a propaganda campaign on state news outlets and social media to portray the anti-government activists as agents in the service of the U.S. The move comes after officials denied the activists a permit to protest next month, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Migrants deported to Haiti in recent months often left a decade ago, and find themselves in the midst of a country on the brink of civil war due to gang violence, reports the Guardian.
  • A Colombian police captain who oversaw a unit that worked closely with U.S. anti-narcotics agents has pleaded guilty to charges that he sought to betray the Drug Enforcement Administration to the same traffickers they were jointly fighting, reports the Associated Press.
  • Argentina wants to tie up a new deal with the International Monetary Fund as soon as conditions allow, President Alberto Fernández said yesterday. (Reuters, see yesterday's briefs.)

  • Care work is not represented in most economic models, though it's an important part of any country's production sectors. The pandemic has exposed this shortcoming, and the task now for economists and policymakers is to devise ways to value this labor appropriately and support it adequately, write Mercedes D'Alessandro and María Floro at Project Syndicate.

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