Thursday, March 26, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, March 26, 2015


Colombian Pres. Santos proposed judicial reforms that included electoral reforms and "cutting the link between politics and justice," in a televised address (see transcript) that highlighted five main points (3/24). An explanatory essay in Silla Vacia (3/25) assesses Santos' reforms into 'The Good, The Risky and The Uncertain'. 

Unspoken but looming large in Santos' address was "the corruption scandal that has challenged the credibility of the Constitutional Court," according to EFEOne of the proposals is to create a Tribunal de Aforados, according to Radio Caracol, which is already being debated among Colombian Senators and rapidly gathering critics (Pulzo).  One thing that does not appear to be on the table: a Constituent Assembly, something sought by the FARC.

Separately, the Miami Herald and The Guardian write about the land-mine legacy and in particular HALO Trusts' work in mine eradication.  The Guardian has richer, contextualized report while the Herald includes a harrowing 3-minute video of ex-combatants doing humanitarian mine removal.

How Did Guerrilla Violence Shape the 2014 Presidential Election in Colombia?, asks an essay in Political Violence at a Glance (3/25). The authors are three professors, Michael Weintraub (Binghamton University)Thomas Flores (George Mason University), and Juan Vargas (Universidad del Rosario) who publish their findings in Research and Politics (Jan 2015). The article concludes that Santos (the peace candidate) "performed better in communities with moderate levels of insurgent violence and poorly in communities with both very high and very low violence."

  • U.S. soldiers raped over 50 Colombian children between 2003 and 2007, according to Contribución Al Entendimiento Del Conflicto Armado En Colombia (809pp), published by the Comisión Histórica del Conflicto Armado y sus Víctimas en Colombia, reports Colombia Reports (3/23) and El Espectador (3/25). The specific charges are found on p. 745ff, starting with the section, "Imperialismo Sexual."  The newspapers reports that "all cases have gone unpunished thanks to bilateral agreements and to diplomatic immunity of US officials." The report was published in February but this revelation seems to be new.
  • The Mexican government lacks an accurate, comprehensive tally of bodies found in mass graves, according to a 2-month investigation by Buzzfeed (3/25) which has "filed public records requests to all 32 states and the federal government, asking for a list of mass graves discovered since December 2006." The article includes a graphic mapping out how local, state, and Federal governments disagree on how many mass graves have been found, state by state.
  • Venezuelan Pres. Maduro's popularity rose slightly to 25% in a Datanalisis  poll, according to Reuters (3/24), which suggests that Obama's executive order from earlier this month may have given him "an unlikely helping hand." Separately, poverty is increasing in Venezuela, suggests the Christian Science Monitor, citing person-on-the-street interviews and experts like David Smilde and Mark Weisbrot, though no recent specific data or report. In unusual language for diplomats, Costa Rica "fired" its ambassador in Venezuela after he defended the Venezuelan government, according to Reuters (3/26).
  • Cuba's human rights record could be a sticking point in developing relations with the EU, according to Vice (3/25). "The shifting US policies will likely create stiff competition for Europe in the Cuban market, but ... the EU is not contending against the US." A related piece in EFE says the EU representative said negotiations were accelerating, before finishing her visit to Havana. Separately, talks in Cuba with the Federal Communications Commission and U.S. Commerce Department are ongoing, according to the Associated Press.
  • Cuban-American politics in Florida hasn't changed too much as the state's Senate voted almost unanimously to oppose the opening of U.S./Cuban relations, according to the Miami Herald (3/25).
  • Brazil's Solicitor General denies the government is trying to strike a "grand bargain" with construction and engineering firms implicated in the kickback scandal at Petrobras, according to Jornal do Brasil and Reuters (3/25). "Prosecutors say such leniency deals will hinder criminal investigations to punish corrupt executives." One of the challenges for the companies is that while they are under investigation, they cannot bid for contracts.
  • Striking farmworkers in Mexico's Baja California were offered "only a 6% wage hike," and labor negotiations appear to be coming apart, according to the LA Times (3/25). "The highly anticipated offer was made by an attorney for the Agricultural Council of Baja California, and was met with stunned silence from dozens of farmworkers."

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