Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, April 15, 2015

Cuba's off the list

Obama has called for Cuba to be removed from the State Department's list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Cuba has been on the list -- which only has four countries -- since 1982, due to its support of FARC guerrillas in Colombia and Basque separatists in Spain, among others, reports the AP. Cuba's removal from the list has been a major sticking point in the diplomatic negotiations to reestablish relations between the two countries.
“The world has changed, and the world has changed particularly in Latin America,” said a senior official quoted in the New York Times. The official was alluding to an absence of the kind of insurgencies that Cuba once supported, activity that led to its placement on the list in 1982. The piece also notes that analysts have said the designation has more to do with politics than terrorism.
There will now be a 45 day period of review by Congress, after which the designation will become official. Though lawmakers can vote to block the White House initiative, Obama could in turn veto their stance.

The designation carries sanctions, including bans on U.S. foreign assistance, defense exports and sales, as well as controls on the exports of some goods and financial restrictions, reports the Los Angeles Times
The Miami Herald reports the move will receive heavy opposition in Congress. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said it was a “terrible” decision because Cuba remains a state sponsor of terrorism. And Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said the administration jeopardized U.S. national security with its action to absolve Cuba of its “anti-American terrorist activities” across the globe. “Once again President Obama has demonstrated his eagerness to capitulate to dictators has no bounds,” he said.

News Briefs
  • The Miami Herald has a piece on the confrontations between Cuban and Venezuelan government supporters and opponents at the Panama Summit of the Americas. There are videos of the encounters, in which civil activists were repudiated with shouts of "mercenaries" and "murderers."

  • Salvadoran women are persecuted for miscarriages and stillbirths, under a draconian abortion law that has no exceptions for rape, incest, malformed fetuses or danger to women's health. Officials accuse women of causing the death of their babies, and women face up to 50 years of jail, according to an feature in the Los Angeles Times. Activists in El Salvador are lobbying Congress to pardon the women who are jailed for miscarriages or stillbirths officials blame on them. Activist Sara Garcia said Salvadoran laws disproportionately harm women who are poor and uneducated, but also reflect a general "hatred of women." 
  • Over 500 gangs -- predominantly composed of youths -- are terrorizing cities across Colombia according to a piece from last week en El Tiempo. Many respond to larger criminal organizations which make use of the laxer punishment for minors, according to the piece. This week El Tiempo has an editorial saying youth are behind nearly 10 percent of crimes in Colombia. The piece says the situation is a ticking time bomb, and suggests lowering the age in which minors can be tried as adults as a possible strategy. Though there is little evidence that such a move impacts crime rates, its a perennial debate around the region. Uruguay's citizens rejected such a proposal last year, for example.
  • President Dilma Rousseff nominated, Luiz Edson Fachin, a law professor close to leftist social groups to sit on Brazil's Supreme Court as it begins to investigate dozens of ruling coalition politicians for corruption. Rousseff has been criticized for taking more than eight months to fill the 11th seat on the top court that will play a key role in a widening probe into a bigger scandal involving graft and political kickbacks at state-run oil company Petrobras, reports Reuters.
  • An operation to oust squatters from a Rio de Janeiro building ended in pandemonium and fires. An oil and mining magnate, Eike Batista, had intended to turn the apartment building into a luxury hotel before his businesses crumbled, according to the AP.
  • The Colombian government backtracked on proposed legislation that might have permitted "false positive" cases to be tried in military courts, which have been historically lax with human rights cases. The false positives cases (see yesterday's post) refer to military executions of civilians who were then passed off as guerrilla combatants to increase body counts. Critics of the legislation modified yesterday say the proposed wording would have denied victims justice, says the AP.
  • Migrant activists in Mexico hope to carry out the "Viacrucis" march demanding human rights that was cancelled last week due to intimidation from immigration authorities. AP reports that the protesters are calling for an end to immigration raids that have largely prevented them from the riding a freight train north toward the U.S. border. However, authorities are threatening to detain the owners of buses that will transport them, according to Animal Político.
  • A court ruling in Mexico could force a broadcaster to reinstate journalist Carmen Aristegui, who was fired last month after helping to uncover a scandal involving the president's family. MVS Radio says she was dismissed for offering, without prior authorization, the broadcaster's name and funding for a new platform for investigative journalism called Mexicoleaks, but Aristegui says her dismissal was politically motivated. The judge ordered a hearing for April 27, according to Reuters. Aristegui is arguing that the broadcaster is infringing on freedom of expression in changed editorial guidelines presented in March, according to Proceso.
  • The U.N. is calling for a swift investigation into the death of a Chilean peacekeeper in Haiti. He received a gunshot wound while on his way to administrative duty, as a second sergeant serving in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti known by its French acronym, MINUSTAH, reports the Miami Herald. It was apparently related to a violent demonstration over a lack of electricity, which comes as Haiti enters the electoral period.
  • Some social movements in Haiti feel it's time for foreigners to leave, according to an Haite Liberte piece, republished by Agência Pública. "Social movements in Haiti now often use the term "s elections," indicating that the election results are decided behind the scenes of foreign powers, especially Washington, and local elites through artifice at the polls and vote count. That is, in the view of many Haitians, applicants are selected, not elected."
  • Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa says a telephoned death threat forced the abrupt cancellation of a presidential lunch with citizens in a town near Quito, according to the AP.
  • In an interview on Yahoo News, Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez talks about the effects of technology for Cuban entrepreneurship, Cuba's USB information transfer network, and the challenges of being a woman in the region. She is optimistic about the political and economic changes the island is undergoing.

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