Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, March 31, 2015


There are several assessments of the sex revelations of DEA agents in Colombia from last week. Insight Crime (3/30) suggests that the report gives "little indication that sexual misconduct by the DEA and other agencies overseas is a systemic issue. While the numbers will certainly raise some eyebrows, the report itself states that the number of allegations is 'relatively few'." 

However, the weekly Semana (3/28) conducted their own investigation (including video-taped interviews), and found several of the prostitutes involved in the matter and concluded that "what happened in the country is far more shocking than it is published in the report." Reports in the daily El Tiempo (3/28) focus on the parties that included DEA agents and their legal counsel.

Separately, Colombian Dairo Úsuga's career from being a soldier in the Ejército Popular de Liberación to working security for the Autodefensas Campesinas de Córdoba y Urabá (ACCU) and finally emerging as "one of Colombia's most powerful crime bosses,"(aka, 'Otoniel', or 'Gallo') is profiled in El Colombiano (3/30). "Copying the model of both the guerrillas and the paramilitaries, he distributed troops into blocks and fronts, and created strongholds in Antioquia, Chocó, Córdoba and Sucre," with cells in Venezuela and Spain.

Colombia's high court ordered the expansion of the current Victim Law to protect victims of abuse from neo-paramilitary groups, rather than just the FARC and the AUC, according to Colombia Reports (3/28) and Semana(3/25). However, a columnist for La Nacion (3/30) writes what is needed "is not a law but a strong state." Separately, members of the FARC have suggested creating a 'Día Nacional de Contrición y Reconciliación' according to El Pais.

  • Peru’s Congress voted to remove Prime Minister Jara (the count was 72-42) as opposition leaders expressed their anger over the country's spy agency gathering information on well-known Peruvians, according to the Wall St Journal and Reuters (3/31) . The spy story stemmed from a cover article in Correo's weekly magazine in mid-March. She was Peru's first Protestant Prime Minister and tweeted last night: "I thank the Lord Jesus for giving me this opportunity to serve my country. It's an honour that this Congress censured me." Government Members of Congress suggested that this move was an attempt to destabilize the government by the opposition parties of APRA and Fujimori, according to an essay in La Mula (3/31).  The WSJ speculated that the new PM could be Production Minister Piero Ghezzi or Housing and Construction Minister Milton von Hesse.  
  • Guatemala's El Periodico (3/30) makes an unequivocal endorsement of CICIG as does a columnist in PubliNews, while a column in the PanAm Post (3/30) does so with less enthusiasm. Pres. Medina doesn't want to be pressured into renewing CICIG, according to El Periodico. Separately, CICIG is participating as a financial fiduciary in the upcoming elections, according to La Prensa and El Periodico (3/30), which reports that political party LIDER (Libertad Democrática Renovada) handed over their financial documents for their evaluation. 
  • The U.S. and Cuba begin their first meeting on human rights today in Washington, according to EFE (3/27), in order to "discuss the methodology and structure of future conversations on the subject." These talks were announced first by the Cuban Foreign Ministry, according to the Miami Herald. "No one meeting will produce immediate results," notes a WOLA essay (3/30), but "a human rights dialogue can contribute to important changes." The Cubans will likely bring up Ferguson and police abuse, and the lack of access to education and health care, so "the U.S. should not approach this human rights forum from a position of moral superiority or self-righteous lecturing." The writer concludes that "it is the economic reforms underway in Cuba now that are most likely over time to help open political spaces, and generate greater internal debate." On a related note: European activities in Cuba will continue to be limited as long as the U.S. embargo lasts, according to Joaquín Roy (European Union Centre, University of Miami) in an op-ed in Inter Press Service (3/30). "Even in a relatively open relationship, the real possibilities for a European advantage remain largely speculative, and may even decline, especially in the area of trade and investments."
  • Venezuelan Pres. Maduro has not "benefited in any way from U.S. sanctions," according to Jose Cardenas (USAID, Bush Administration) in a counter-intuitive essay in Foreign Policy (3/30). "Venezuela under chavismo remains one of the world’s most dangerous countries ... turning ever more nasty and brutish." Separately, Leiver Padilla Mendoza, accused by Pres. Maduro of assassinating a Congressman last October, is profiled in the Miami Herald (3/30), through a phone interview from a maximum security prison in rural Colombia, where he’s awaiting extradition. Maduro has suggested that Padilla was part of a Colombian paramilitary gang, hired by Venezuela’s opposition, "to shock the state, society, and the country." The paper says "his alibi is complicated" and Padilla "does have a connection to the crime scene" and the congressman's security detail.
  • Mexico's 43 students missing from the Ayotzinapa School​ in Guerrero are highlighted in a New Yorker video (7min) through voices from their mothers, community police, and human rights leaders in the area (including Abel Barrera, Tlachinollan Human Rights Center). The Daily Beast's Mexico correspondent (3/30) accompanies members of the Committee In Search of the Other Disappeared of Iguala in their search for their children.
  • Mexican authorities keep capturing drug lords, but violence is spreading in new, dangerous ways, according to the Daily Beast (3/30) which names El Chapo, El Teo, La Barbie, El Amarillo, El Chango, and Tony Tormenta among the 25 of the 37 most wanted men in Mexico that former Pres. Calderón either captured or killed. However, the article concludes that Mexico has not been able to reduce drug-related crime nor "return the rule of law to those areas corrupted and terrorized by drug gangs."  
  • El Salvador's electoral tribunal is slowly making progress with election data, according to La Prensa Graficaand El Mundo (3/31), a process that has taken over a month, according to PanAm Post (3/26) as two parties battle for the final contested seats in Congress. Academics Scott Mainwaring and Aníbal Pérez-Liñán make their case that El Salvador is leaving behind an authoritarian political system and is emerging as a stable democracy, according to their essay in El Faro (3/30).  Part of their argument is that political actors have triumphed over structural factors.  (Their recent book is Democracies and Dictatorships in Latin America Emergence, Survival, and Fall, Oxford Press, 2014)
  • A long review in NACLA (3/28) anticipates the evolution of Bolivian Pres. Morales' MAS from a party of the social movements to a 'big tent' hegemonic power after his re-election to a third term with 61% of the vote last October. (The author does not acknowledge the regional elections from over the weekend where MAS was defeated in several prominent races - some in response to corruption, according to a Presidential press release, 3/30.) According to Bolivia Rising blog, "the aspirations of Bolivians today have less to do with ethno-cultural values than with education, entrepreneurship, and access to the more material aspects of de-colonization." A separate NACLA-related essay that questions the trade-off between social redistribution and socio-environmental impacts in Bolivia, was published on Global Voices (3/30).
  • Thousands of laborers in Mexico's Baja California have returned to the fields over the weekend after nearly two weeks of being on strike," according to the LA Times (3/30). "Talks on Friday ended in acrimony after labor leaders rejected an offer by agribusinesses to boost wages by 15%. But after growers offered the raise to anyone who returned to work, the fields filled with pickers."
  • Extractive industries in Central and South America are damaging much more beyond the environment, as a result of a lack of transparency and accountability, according to an Oxfam blog (3/30).  "The boom on investment in extractive industries is having a deep socio-economic and political impact in the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants in the region,” said Felipe Agüero (Ford Foundation). Oxfam will convene a related forum, 'Extractive Industries and Civil Society in Latin America' on March 20 in Washington DC. 

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