Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, April 21, 2015

The Inter-American Human Rights Court: Ayotzinapa, Extraordinary Sessions and Venezuela

The Inter-American Human Rights Court's Commission on Human Rights' five-person interdisciplinary group of experts studying the Ayotzinapa case in Mexico suggested new lines of investigation and the broadening of existing lines of inquiry, according to a report it submitted yesterday, reports CNN México. The group also requested they take declarations and analyze photographic, document and video evidence.

The group especially recommended the Mexican government respect the rights of the disappeared students' families, reports Página 12. In particular to investigate reports of coercion. 

Nearly seven months after the disappearance of the students in the municipality of Iguala, the group's advances were presented in four areas: search process, investigation, attention to victims and public policies regarding forced disappearances. This is the group's second visit to Mexico. Relatives of the disappeared students, together with human rights activists, are traveling through Europe to raise awareness of the case.

The Inter-American Human Rights Court is holding extraordinary sessions in Cartagena this week. Four cases -- none related to Colombia -- will be heard, and there will be a seminar on transitional justice on Friday. The four cases involve suits against Ecuador, Guatemala, El Salvador and Chile, covering HIV contagion, violence against women, gender discrimination, guarantees of due process for preventative imprisonment and acts of torture, according to El Universal

The Colombian Foreign Minister assured the court, at the opening of the session, that last weeks FARC attack that left 11 military dead is a cause of indignation and pessimism, but that the peace process will continue nonetheless.

The Court Commission issued injunctions yesterday to keep jailed Venezuelan opposition leaders safe. Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos are "in a situation of gravity and urgency, as their lives and personal integrity are at risk," said the court yesterday according to EFE.  The Venezuelan government has fifteen days to respond to the court regarding measures to keep imprisoned political leaders safe.

News Briefs

  • A federal prosecutor before the Argentine Court of Appeals dismissed the case accusing President Cristina Kirchner and her Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman of shielding Iranian officials accused of masterminding a 1994 terrorist attack on a Buenos Aires Jewish center, yesterday. Prosecutor Javier De Luca said there was no crime to investigate, in line with two lower court decisions that similarly dismissed the case. The accusation of a coverup centered around a congressionally validated memorandum between the two countries -- while a law can be unconstitutional, it cannot be a crime, said De Luca in a 27 page decision submitted to the court yesterday. As the drama played out over the last three months, each court decision has been greeted by supporters and detractors of Fernandez's administration accusing the other side of using Nisman's death for political reasons, reports the AP. The original case was brought forward by Alberto Nisman, prosecutor for the bombing investigation, who said he had come across proof of a conspiracy between Argentine and Iranian officials to cover up guilt in the terrorism case. He was found dead from a bullet wound to the head a few days later. His death, which is still under investigation, has polarized Argentine society. The New York Timessays the dismissal, by a prosecutor associated with a pro-government group in the judiciary, calls into question the independence of Argentina's courts. The Wall Street Journal notes that the evolution of the case through three courts reflects divisions in the judicial system. While a federal judge and three federal prosecutors argued that Nisman’s claims should be investigated, a lower court judge and two other federal appeals court judges argued that the accusations had no merit. The Argentine press is similarly divided. The conservative La Nacióncalled the decision "polemic," though it said the De Luca's case was "clear and didactic." Left-wing Página 12 emphasized that the position that Nisman's accusations lack legal merit has been backed by a wide arc of Argentina's judicial eminences, including former ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo and former Supreme Court Judge Raúl Zaffaroni. 
  • The former executive director of an Argentine Jewish group, DAIA, accused the organization of colluding with Nisman and international financial interests against the 2012 Memorandum of Understanding between Argentina and Iran. The polemic column published this weekend byPágina 12 details alleged conversations between Nisman and DAIA representatives offering backing from Paul Singer, whose NML Capital Fund is behind a long-standing and acrimonious dispute with Argentina over the payment of defaulted bonds. The piece was tweeted in Englishand in Spanish by Kirchner, prompting denials of the allegations by DAIA officials yesterday.
  • Kirchner is in Russia today, where she and President Vladimir Putin will sign a dozen commercial, energy and military agreements, reports La Nación.
  • The Miami Herald examines Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's position and trajectory as he begins his third year as president and faces National Assembly elections before the end of this year. The preceding years have been marked by turbulence, including social unrest, tanking oil prices that have hammered the national economy, rampant crime and (according to government versions) several coup attempts. As of 2016 the opposition will be able to call for a referendum on Maduro's presidency.
  • Berta Cáceres, a Honduran indigenous rights campaigner, has been declared the winner of this year’s Goldman prize – the world’s leading environmental award. It is recognition for the courage she has shown in a long battle to stop construction of the Agua Zarca cascade of four giant dams in the Gualcarque river basin, reports The Guardian. Cáceres received threats of rape and death, been followed, and several of her supporters have been killed, according to the piece. While the wrongdoers remain at large, Cáceres has been forced into hiding and courts have twice issued warrants for her arrest. 
  • The prize coincides with a new report that identifies Honduras as the most dangerous country in the world for environmental and land activists, particularly those from indigenous groups. Between 2010 and 2014, 101 campaigners were killed in Honduras, a higher death toll relative to population than anywhere else, according to the study How Many More? by NGO Global Witness. Latin America is in general dangerous for environmental activists, according to the report: in 2014 there were 116 murders of environmentalists in 17 countries around the world, nearly 75 percent were in the region. Brazil had 29 deaths, Colombia 25, 12 in Honduras, 9 in Peru, 5 in Guatemala, 3 in Mexico, 3 in Paraguay and one each in Ecuador and Costa Rica, reports EFE.
  • Mexico's government said on Monday it would investigate reports that federal police killed 16 unarmed people in two attacks in January, the latest allegations to raise the specter of abuses by Mexican security forces, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's post.) 
  • Washington Post piece examines the communities alongside the Carajás Railroad in the Brazilian Amazon. Residents try to stand up for their rights, amid severe environmental and health concerns. A project to expand the line, which carries iron ore, has provoked protests, blockades and court actions involving low-income communities along the route. It has acted as a lightning rod for the wider grievances of poorer Brazilians and sparked a new rural radicalism that employs direct action, creativity and the law to take on one of Brazil’s biggest companies, according to the piece.
  • Brazil's vice president has dismissed the possibility that President Dilma Rousseff could soon be impeached for breaking fiscal responsibility laws. A ruling by Brazil's Federal Audit Court on April 15 said her government had postponed transfers to state banks last year to make Brazil's fiscal accounts look better. Opposition leaders said last week this was grounds for impeachment, but the vice president countered that the ruling is insufficient for an impeachment case against the president, which would, anyway, take years, according to Reuters.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was reprimanded by protestors for the second time in two days. A crowd of about a hundred people booed the president at a public appearance, saying he is not doing enough to combat the FARC, reports EFE. Peace talks between the government and the FARC have been ongoing for two years, but were threatened last week after a FARC attack on a military camp left 11 dead.
  • BBC piece on Chinese foreign investment looks at funding of projects in Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil and Peru -- though the U.S. has been the main recipient of Chinese money in the past decade. Investments in Latin America aim at feeding Chinese energy needs, according to the piece, and include oil investments in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela and copper mining in Peru.
  • Peruvian President Ollanta Humala said that Peru is no longer the world's primary cocaine exporter nor coca producer, pointing to measures such as the revision of customs procedures, drug production seizure procedures and the reduction of coca cultivation, reports La República.
  • Pope Francis' appointment of Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, having shielded Chile's most notorious pedophile priest, has been met with anger, reports the AP. The priest has had to sneak out of back exits, call on riot police to shepherd him from the city's cathedral and coordinate movements with bodyguards and police canine units. More than 1,300 church members, 30 diocesan priests and nearly half of Chile's Parliament have sent letters urging the pope to reconsider.

  • But the game is far from over. Maduro's approval rating rose in March for the third consecutive month, reaching 28.2 percent according to local polling firm Datanálisis. American sanctions probably boosted his popularity, according to Reuters, which reports that Maduro's popularity hit rock bottom in December with only 22.8 percent.
  • A Peruvian anti-mining activist detained last week was released yesterday. An Arequipa regional strike has been announced for next week in protest of a massive copper mining project in the area, reports EFE. (See yesterday's post for more background on the Tía María project.)

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