Monday, February 29, 2016

Human rights briefs from around the region:

  • Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights has an interesting analysis of a proposed amnesty law in Venezuela's National Assembly. (See Feb. 17's post.) Keymer Ávila looks at a lot of specific details of the bill, and compares it to other amnesty laws passed under Chávez, as well as those passed internationally in Chile, Spain, Argentina, Guatemala and Peru. While these aim at cooling down extremely tense political conflict, they are very questioned from a human rights point of view, he notes. He especially emphasizes that the law should only include offenses of a political nature, and that political will on both sides is fundamental if the tool is to work. 
  • Chile has been investigating human rights abuses committed under military rule. But progress is slow. More than 1,370 military, police and civilian agents have been indicted, charged or sentenced for human rights crimes. Of these, only 117 people have been imprisoned, reports the New York Times. Conscripts have not been incarcerated yet, and judges have treated them benevolently, hoping to encourage them to cooperate and share information about abuses.
  • The search for the bodies of unidentified victims of the Colombian conflict is part of the peace agreements between the FARC and the government, and it is hoped the efforts will contribute to a healing process and help reestablish faith in rule of law. In October the two sides agreed to establish a high-level agency to search for the bodies of the estimated 45,000 people who were believed to have been killed by one side or the other and whose bodies were discarded without record during the conflict. An additional 220,000 people are confirmed to have been killed, reports the Associated Press. (See Friday's post.)
  • Last week a Guatemalan court sentenced two former soldiers to 360 years in prison for crimes that included the sexual enslavement of women in 1982, during the country's civil war. "The Sepur Zarco trial was groundbreaking for three reasons," argues Catalina Ruiz Navarro in the Guardian. "Unlike other trials involving sexual violence during armed conflicts – such as the cases in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia – the proceedings were conducted entirely by a national court. The verdict has set a precedent for treating domestic and sexual slavery as war crimes – something that is crucial for the advancement of transitional justice in many Latin American countries. And it seeks to build a standard of proof based on the testimony of survivors – important because, in a case like this, where the events occurred more than 30 years ago, little physical evidence is available."
  • Estela de Carlotto, head of Argentina's Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo rights group, said she will petition U.S. President Barack Obama to declassify documents related to the country's last military dictatorship when he visits next month, reports AFP. His visit will overlap with a mass demonstration marking the 40th anniversary of the coup that led to Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
News Briefs
  • The populist leaders of Latin America's so-called "pink tide" may be failing at the ballot boxes, but their policies have taken a lasting hold in the region, argues a piece in the New York Times. "No leader in Latin America today can afford not to focus on inequality and go back to the neoliberal formulas of the 1990s," Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, told the paper. "Whatever criticism you might have of the leaders of the left, they put their finger on the legitimate grievance of Latin Americans: that they had been excluded from the political system." (The NYTimes has an accompanying photo series focused on Cobija, the Amazon Basin town favored by Bolivian President Evo Morales.)
  • Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he'd consider seeking another term in office in 2018, though his poll ratings have declined, reports the Associated Press. His comment was made at an event to mark 36 years of the governing Workers' Party. Lula said he would put himself forward as a candidate "if necessary."
  • Gabriela Zapata, the ex girlfriend of Bolivian President Evo Morales, has been arrested in an influence-peddling investigation. She's a manager at a a Chinese group that recently won a bid for a major railroad expansion project, reports AFP. The case was part of a series of scandals that affected Morales' popularity just before citizen's narrowly rejected a referendum proposal that would have permitted him to run for a fourth term in office. (See Feb. 22's post.)
  • A U.S. judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Venezuela's central bank against a prominent website that publishes information on the country’s currency black market, reports the Wall Street Journal. is registered in Delaware, and the Venezuelan government accused the site and the three U.S.-residing Venezuelan nationals behind it, of economic sabotage and "cyber-terrorism."
  • The mistreatment of a provincial Peruvian cop who actually pursued drug traffickers is an example of the difficulties faced by the country's poorly paid, notoriously neglected police force, according to the Associated Press.
  • Mexico City prosecutors say police have rescued 87 women, including three minors, who were being forced to work as prostitutes at illegal bars in a densely populated, poor district of the capital, reports the Associated Press.
  • U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump's inflammatory comments about migrants and promises to build a wall on the Mexican border could threaten twenty years of closer ties and economic integration brought about by the North American Free Trade Agreement, reports the Guardian. Even if the candidate's promises are never fulfilled, many in Mexico fear the discourse could lead to a more draconian border policy. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has rejected the views expressed in the Republican campaign and two former Mexican presidents have compared Trump's rhetoric to Hitler's, reports the Guardian. Many fear the campaign expresses sentiments that are shared by millions of Americans, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán says he'd be willing to accept extradition to the U.S. and to plead guilty to charges there if he can get an "unelevated sentence" in a medium security prison, according to his lawyers. He is trying to negotiate this course of action due to what he describes as rough treatment in Mexico's Altiplano prison where he is currently being held. He is being woken up every four hours to make sure he hasn't escaped and the stress and sleeplessness are giving him headaches, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Authorities in northwestern Mexico say eight adults and two children were killed when a bus carrying a group of evangelical Christians went off a mountain road and crashed down about 45 meters into a ravine, reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexican hibernating monarch butterfly population rebounded last year, indicating a possibility that the species might survive threats such as dwindling supplies of food, erratic weather patterns and illegal logging, reports the New York Times.
  • More from InSight Crime analyzing the MS13 gang. Gang expert Juan Martínez D'aubussion. He says the gang, and it's main competitor, Barrio 18,"are less vertical than before and during the truce. The unquestioned power of prison groups has given way to a greater degree of autonomy at the local level, at the level of cliques." (See last Friday's briefs for more analysis.)
  • Former Argentine president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was summoned by a judge, along with former members of her administration, to face questions about her government’s handling of the futures dollar market, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazilan Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardoso plans to quit in response to pressure from his Workers' Party over a police probe into the activities of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, reports Reuters based on Brazilian press.

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