Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Experts' Ayotzinapa probe shows government mishandling (April 26, 2016)

After a scathing report from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission group of independent experts investigating the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico in 2014, victims' parents lambasted the government yesterday. (See yesterday's post). They accused accused authorities of lying to them, planting evidence and not adequately investigating the case, reports the Associated Press.

The most important elements Sunday's report focus on the government handling of the investigation, notes El Daily Post columnist Alejandro Hope. As the GIEI mandate draws to a close, he notes that the experts will leave without having been able to answer key questions about the tragedy: what happened to the students and what was the motive for the attack?

"Yet, they provided an invaluable service to this country: they exposed as no one else the incompetence and malicious neglect of the authorities. There might a debate as to what exactly happened to the students and, yes, the GIEI did not offer an alternative to the "historical truth." But one thing is beyond doubt: the official story is built mostly on confessions, many of them extracted by means of torture, almost all without corroborating physical evidence. That is no way to conduct a supremely important investigation such as this one.  Showing that fact to the world could (maybe) shame Mexico into reforming its terribly flawed criminal justice and law enforcement institutions. If so, that would be an incredibly valuable legacy of the GIEI, no matter what happens to the Ayotzinapa case in the future."

The disappeared Ayotzinapa students might define the Enrique Peña Nieto's presidency, but the human rights scandal likely won't affect his party's electoral chances. The PRI will likely continue to be the dominant political force in the country, despite citizen rage and frustration over the case and human rights issues in general, reports the New York Times

Mexican officials seem more concerned with Donald Trumps defamatory comments about their citizens than the botched Ayotzinapa investigation and signs that the government is attempting to discredit the GIEI group's work, notes Pro-Publica journalist Ginger Thompson has a New York Times op-ed. (See yesterday's post.) Trump is a good distraction for cynical citizens who are tired of reports of corruption and abuse. "It's simpler to focus on foreign demons, rather than on internal ones, particularly when the foreigner spouts the racist attitudes they suspect many Americans share," she writes.

News Briefs
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday voiced "deep concern" after another deadline was missed to hold a presidential runoff in Haiti and called for the elections to take place, reports AFP. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced an anticipated cabinet shakeup, ahead of a peace deal with the FARC guerrilla group, reports El País. Seven new cabinet members include several women and representatives of all political forces except for opposition leader Álvaro Uribe's Centro Democrático. Santos said the new line-up would be "a cabinet of peace" and "one that would consolidate the economy," reports Reuters.
  • Violence is down in Colombia, unless you work in human rights. In 2015, the total of murdered rights activists was 63 — almost a 15 percent increase on the total for 2014, according to Colombia Reports.
  • Land restitution in Colombia is is failing to adequately process the return of land to victims of displacement, according to NGOs. A new report from the University of Antioquia and a series of NGOs says that little headway has been made over the past five years in reclaim around 8 million illegally stolen hectares, according to Colombia Reports.
  • Estimates about the FARC's hidden wealth, such as The Economist's recent estimation that they had assets worth $11.4 billion in 2012, draw attention to a crucial aspect of peace talks, explains InSight Crime. "Money and power can not only give an armed group increased leverage at the negotiating table, they also increase the risk that dissident factions will choose to maintain their criminal activities rather than demobilize."
  • Venezuela's Constitutional Court anticipated that a proposed constitutional amendment shortening the presidential term to four years would not be applicable retroactively to the current government, reports El País. The court is referring to an opposition proposal aimed at cutting short President Nicolás Maduro's mandate, and would seem to cut off legal strategies to oust him. It's the latest thwarting of opposition maneuvers against Maduro, which have included plans for constitutional reform or a recall referendum, reports Reuters. (See March 9's post.)
  • Rolling blackouts of up to four hours started yesterday in 18 of Venezuela's 24 states, reports the Associated Press. (See last Friday's briefs.) But electricity problems are only part of a wider infrastructure deficit, reports Atlantic's City Lab.
  • David Smilde on the drought affecting Venezuela (and spurring the energy crisis, according to the government).
  • El Salvador’s human rights prosecutor said that police and soldiers used excessive force or executed presumed street gang members during two supposed confrontations in 2015, reports the Associated Press. One of the cases involved the deaths of eight people in March 2015 at a ranch supposedly taken over by gang members. (See July 23's post.) The other case occurred in August 2015, when five gang members died in a supposed shootout with security forces, none of whom were injured.
  • The killing of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres has created a dilemma for the Obama administration: "The White House supports Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez — even as some U.S. officials suspect state or state-supported assassins killed the activist," reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her Workers' Party may be obliged to support a call for new elections if she is suspended for an impeachment trial in the Senate, reports Folha de S. Paulo.
  • "... The most important means for understanding the truly anti-democratic nature of what’s taking place [in Brazil] is to look at the person whom Brazilian oligarchs and their media organs are trying to install as president: the corruption-tainted, deeply unpopular, oligarch-serving Vice President Michel Temer," writes Glen Greenwald in The Intercept. "Doing so shines a bright light on what’s really going on, and why the world should be deeply disturbed."
  • The conservative BBB (bullets, beef and bible) bench in the Brazilian Congress stands to win if President Dilma Rousseff is impeached and Vice President Michel Temer steps up to the plate, reports El País. The Segurança Pública, Evangélica e do Agronegócio fronts have already been discussing their main demands with the VP and are critical regarding a "lack of dialogue" with the current administration.
  • Brazilian authorities are cracking down on illegal Amazon logging. Reuters reports on a five-day operation coordinated between the country's environmental agency and a foundation for indigenous peoples, carried out the Yanomami people's territory.
  • Brazil's Supreme Court revoked the house arrest of founder and former CEO of investment bank BTG Pactual, paving the way for André Esteves to return to his position, reports the Wall Street Journal. Esteves was arrested in November on charges of obstructing a federal investigation into corruption at state-run oil company Petrobras. The case is under seal, so the court did not reveal information about the decision.
  • Ecuadoreans use a referendum vote to revoke a constitutional law barring presidents from seeking a third term in office, according to a decision by the country's high court yesterday, reports TeleSur.
  • Cruel irony: Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa repeatedly demanded the release of the full archive of leaked "Panama Papers" documents, boasting that his government was unblemished by the scandal. But the documents actually show that the secret documents show that he and his estranged brother, Fabricio, caught the attention of anti-corruption authorities in Panama in 2012, reports McClatchy DC.
  • Getting over Zika panic? Read this Los Angeles Times feature on Brazilian parents confronting the tribulations of raising children with microcephaly and it will come rushing back.
  • Last week the U.S. wrapped up a four-day cultural diplomacy mission to Cuba that included representatives from U.S. government agencies, Usher and Dave Matthews, among others, reports the Miami Herald.
  • A Bolivian judge ordered DNA testing to prove the paternity of a boy allegedly fathered by President Evo Morales, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. The scandal when that paternity came to light may have cost him a referendum vote that would have permitted him to run for another reelection. (See Feb. 22's post.)
  • Waiting in the wings: Kenji Fujimori, the youngest son of imprisoned former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori said he will run for president in 2021 if his sister loses the upcoming runoff election, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico City is launching an innovative experiment in digital democracy: citizens can petition for issues to be included in a new constitution using Change.org, and can  annotate proposals by the constitution’s drafters via an editing platform, reports Quartz. It's worth noting, however, that the constitutional assembly is under no obligation to consider any of the citizen input.

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