Friday, February 19, 2016

Argentine government criticized for protest protocol (Feb. 19, 2016)

Argentine authorities announced a new protocol on police action during public demonstrations that aims to check a culture of road-blocking demonstrations, reports La Nación. Protesters will be given five to ten minutes, after which they will be forcibly removed, explained Security Minister Patricia Bullrich yesterday.
She expressed a conflict of rights -- on the one hand the right of people to protest against that of other people, unconnected to the demonstration, to move freely, reports Página 12.

Protests will be required to have permits and follow a pre-agreed route, she added. Police will not carry arms when they break up a legal protest, but can when the demonstration is carried out without warning, reports La Nación in a subsequent piece.

This is the most troubling part of the new policy, according to Argentine think-tank CELS. The organization said the move "gives the security forces broad powers to repress and criminalize social protests," and unconstitutionally exposes people to physical harm and limits their rights to protest and to freedom of expression.  

The protocol also limits where journalists can be during protests -- and their capacity to bring transparency to security forces' actions, said CELS. The regulations are contrary to international standards on freedom of expression and the right to protest, according to the organization.

Amnesty International asked Bullrich for a "serious debate" on the issue, and pointed to repeated cases of repression since Mauricio Macri's government came to power nearly three months ago.

Social organizations and left-wing politicians joined the chorus of rejection, and say it demonstrates a political will to "criminalize social protest," reports Página 12.

The new protocol gives security forces independence in establishing what criteria to use when facing protestors, notes Página.

The announcement comes on the heels of a day of protests around the country, in which about 200 manifestations cut roads demanding the freedom of policial activist Milagro Sala. The leader of the Tupac Amaru indigenous rights movement, was jailed in January on public disorder charges over a street demonstration in her northern province of Jujuy. She now also faces charges of drug-trafficking and of fraud related to her campaign's social welfare projects. (See yesterday's and Jan. 20's briefs.)

A UNDP report from a few years ago said that Bolivia, Peru and Argentina were the Latin American countries with the most protests in 2010, while Costa Rica, Chile and El Salvador had the least, according to Chequeado.

A bill a couple of years ago presented by the Kirchner movement also proposed requiring previous police notification of a planned protest, and would have forbidden completely cutting vehicular and pedestrian circulation. However it would have also mandated mediation before forced eviction by security forces, reported Chequeado in a 2014 piece.

News Briefs
  • Bolivians will vote on whether to allow President Evo Morales to run for a fourth term, this Sunday. Polls indicate voters are about evenly split — with some 15 percent undecided, reports the Associated Press. Latin Correspondent reviews the case in favor and against the proposal.  Supporters point to Morales’s track record of political and economic stability in addition to his reputation as a champion of indigenous rights. Those who are against say its a naked bid for power, and that no matter Morales' qualities, he shouldn't bypass constitutional limitations. Morales' bid for a fourth term is endangered by allegations that an ex girlfriend working for Chinese company has benefited from lucrative state contracts, according to a New York Times op-ed by Ernesto Londoño. Morales and he woman, Gabriela Zapata, gave birth in 2007 to a child who died as an infant. Earlier this week Morales said he was considering expelling Peter Brennan, the top American diplomat in La Paz, for allegedly feeding the inflammatory information to the journalist who broke the story. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Since his election as the head of Haiti's provisional government, Jocelerme Privert has been meeting with opposition and business leaders, political militants and economic experts, reports the Miami Herald. He has quieted the violent demonstrations that erupted at the end of President Michel Martelly's administration, but the search for a consensus prime minister continues. 
  • Tackling the rampant gang violence in Honduras requires security forces to understand what exactly they're fighting. Yet, authorities have a poor grasp on the differences between collaborators and full-fledged gang members, reports InSight Crime. This means they don't even know how many gang members there are, much less how to develop effective policies against them.
  • A new study in Mexican magazine Este País analyzes the dramatic drop in homicides in two Mexican states in recent years. Murders in Chihuahua and Nuevo Leon dropped over 75 percent in recent years. Crucial elements in the reduction include an active civil society and a focus on strengthening local government's role in protecting public security. "The importance of local government and an engaged civic community remains widely underappreciated, as public attention is far more likely to settle on the activities of the president," notes InSight Crime in a piece on the study. 
  • Over the past dozen years, 23 Mexican journalists have disappeared -- the most of any country in the world, according to the freedom of expression organization Article 19. This in addition to those who were murdered and whose bodies were found, reports El Daily Post. Most had been working on stories of corruption and/or crime, many touching upon possible involvement of government authorities.
  • El Daily Post's Alejandro Hope examines myths about heroin in Mexico, which has been a popular media topic as of late. 
  • Ciudad Juárez is surrounded by factories known as maquiladoras, where international brands produce goods under a system that lets them import tariff-free raw materials for manufacturing and then export the finished products. But protesters say the jobs offered by the industrial hub are a form of serfdom and are fighting (in difficult conditions) for raises and workers rights, reports the Guardian.
  • The Colombian government suspended visits by FARC leaders negotiating a peace agreement in Cuba. They say negotiators' showed up with weapons in a town's main plaza, which violated terms under which they were permitted to brief fighters on the talks, report Reuters and the Associated Press.
  • A recent investigation by Colombian think-tank Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP) warns authorities that "a new or renewed illegal order is being configured, with multiple illicit economies taking hold in the territories," in light of the imminent demobilization of the FARC. It warns authorities to adequately prepare its strategy in post-conflict regions as a power vacuum left by the FARC is already being filled by other guerrilla groups and criminal factions. InSight Crime translates an original piece on the subject from Verdad Abierta.
  • The chief of the Colombian police force, Gen. Rodolfo Palomino resigned earlier this week amid accusations of illicit enrichment and sexual misconduct. He is accused of part in a male prostitution ring that is said to have forced cadets to cater to high-ranking officers and even to lawmakers, reports the Associated Press. In relation to the case a secretly shot video in which former Sen. Carlos Ferro and a police captain discuss sexual encounters with men and trade kisses while driving together in a car in Bogota is prompting debate about homophobia and journalistic ethics, reports the Associated Press in a separate story.
  • The El Niño weather phenomenon will continue to have humanitarian impact for months to come, though it's passed its peak strength, according to the U.N. Torrential rains and flooding have already impacted parts of South America, and parts of Central America are affected by drought, reports the Guardian.
  • Under new guidelines intended to bring Brazil's Zika virus epidemic under control, health workers will be required to report cases of severe infection and deaths believed caused by the mosquito-borne disease. But the Wall Street Journal notes that most cases are mild and many victims never seek treatment.
  • A "humanitarian catastrophe" is taking place in the Brazilian Amazon, reports the Guardian, interviewing Felipe Milanez, a political ecologist at the Federal University of Recôncavo of Bahia, activist, film-maker, former deputy editor of National Geographic Brazil. He analyzes the case of Lindonjonson Silva Rocha was sentenced to 42 years prison for killing two nut collectors-turned-environmental activists, but escaped last year.
  • The former spokesman for the past two Guyanan presidents was detained in relation to the killing of a political activist before last year's general election, reports the Associated Press.

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