Thursday, April 14, 2016

Mexico's prisons are dangerously overcrowded, and often run by inmates (April 14, 2016)

Mexico's poor human rights report cards keep piling up.

The country's human rights commission found that half of the national penitentiaries it analyzed are run by inmates, who control their jail-mates using violence, reports El País. The piece compares the situation to that of a black hole about to collapse, and notes that repeated promises to reform the system, which houses 250,000 inmates, have stalled for years. Last year there were 2,110 violent incidents recorded. Earlier this year, 49 inmates were killed in a prison riot in Topo Chico. (See Feb. 12's post.)

The institutions are also dangerously overcrowded, with as many as 30 inmates found in cells designed for four, reports the Associated Press. Of the 130 state prisons inspected, 95 lack adequate guards and staff and 104 fail to adequately separate convicted inmates from people facing trial.

The report said only one of Mexico’s 31 states had acceptable conditions at its prisons.

And a new U.S. State Department report, the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015, denounces ongoing impunity for human rights abuses across the country, with extremely low conviction rates, reports Animal Político.

Last month, a Human Rights Watch report denounced that Mexico is not complying with its own laws of how to treat unaccompanied child migrants. "By law, Mexico offers protection to those who face risks to their lives or safety if returned to their countries of origin. But less than 1 percent of children who are apprehended by Mexican immigration authorities are recognized as refugees, according to Mexican government data." The report notes that the amount of children apprehended by Mexican authorities is on the rise: more than 35,000 children were detained in 2015, nearly 55 percent more than in 2014, and 270 percent more than in 2013. (See March 31's briefs.)

And now the Mexican government is saying it does not want to renew the mandate of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights Commission group of independent experts investigating the Ayotzinapa disappearances, reports El País. The IACHR however has reminded the government that it is they who decide on the GIEI's mandate, reports El País. The group's mandate ends April 30.

The GIEI will present findings publicly on April 24, it's not yet clear if they will share them before that with the Mexican government, reports Animal Político.
Mexico is also going through a sexual harassment crisis: 44 percent of women have suffered aggression in their relationship, 60 percent on public transportation and 30 percent in school, report El Daily Post and Animal Político. There are approximately 68 sexual crimes committed every hour in Mexico. A march scheduled for April 24 aims to bring the issue of harassment and other forms of violence against women into the light.

El Daily Post columnist Alejandro Hope analyzes what slow justice in a Veracruz rape case, perpetrated by sons of the social and political elite, dubbed "Los Porkys" says about the country's justice system.

News Briefs

  • A Michoacán criminal gang, called Los Viagras, has torched vehicles and used them to block roads in at least 16 municipalities across the state over the past three days. The days of rage show the power of irregular armed groups in the area, which might not call themselves autodefensas anymore, but are still openly challenging the government, argues Alejandro Hope in El Daily Post.
  • Cuban farmers are angered by unfulfilled promises of market reform, reports the Reuters. Only a fifth of the reforms promised in the 2011 Communist Party congress, which included plans to allow farmers to buy pesticides, fertilizers and other supplies at wholesale markets instead of waiting for the government to assign them products, have been implemented. A congress this weekend has been hotly anticipated with an unusual level of publicly aired internal dissent. (See March 30's briefs.)
  • Panamanian prosecutors wrapped up a 27 hour search of law firm Mossack Fonseca's offices yesterday. They seized more than 100 computer servers as part of their search for evidence of illegal activity at the company, based on the "Panama Papers" leak, reports the Associated Press. Other groups of investigators also searched subsidiaries of the firm in Panama and a Panamanian telephone company's data support center, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Costa Rican authorities say some 1,200 migrants forced their way into the country at the border with Panama, after a group attacked a border immigration office, reports the Associated Press. There is a growing crisis of migrants from Cuba and other countries who are attempting to cross Costa Rica on their way to the United States (see yesterday's briefs). Panama says 2,329 more Cubans are in shelters near its border with Costa Rica.
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff pledged to form a government of national unity, as a string of defections from her coalition make her impeachment in the lower house of congress more likely, reports Reuters. Yesterday another member of her governing coalition, the Social Democratic Party, or PSD, decided to recommend its members vote in favor of impeachment, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Tuesday's post and yesterday's briefs.)
  • As legislators gear up for Sunday's vote on Rousseff's fate, the streets are filling up with demonstrators for and agains the government. Their makeup shows underlying social fissures, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The markets rally at every sign that Rousseff could be ousted -- and may well get their wish this Sunday -- but prospects for economic growth will remain dim, warns the Wall Street Journal.
  • Sports fans, fear not. The Rio Olympics will go on as scheduled, no matter what turns the political soap opera takes, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Known to rivals as "el gringo," Peruvian presidential hopeful Pedro Pablo Kuczynski must overcome perceptions that he is too foreign if he is to beat front-runner Keiko Fujimori in June run-off elections, reports the Wall Street Journal. But his main selling point will have to be representing the anti-Fujimori vote, say analysts who point to his difficulties in connecting with poor, rural voters. (See Monday's post.)
  • Marketplace piece quotes WOLA's David Smilde on Chávez's continued popularity in Venezuela. "Smilde said outside of Venezuela, Chávez supporters are often mis-portrayed by the international media and cast in 'instrumental terms' suggesting they only supported Chávez because he bought them off with welfare benefits. Another misperception, he said, is that devotees have an 'irrational' love for a leader they consider a messianic savior. Chávez pledged to represent this group that had long been ignored by elites, and improve their lives. 'And lo and behold, that’s what he did,' Smilde said." (Longer interview excerpt on Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.)
  • Human Rights Watch's Americas Directo José Miguel Vivanco has an op-ed in El País arguing that the Venezuelan Supreme Court's rejection of a political amnesty bill is absurd. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • It was expected to be an ignominious return for former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who returned to Buenos Aires this week in order to testify in an investigation into alleged misconduct at the Central Bank during the last months of her administration. But she turned expectations upside down, and used the public eye to claim political persecution and reignited a debate about judicial independence, reports the New York Times. "Every time a popular political movement leaves office or is thrown out of power, the authorities that succeed it systematically discredit its leaders, accusing them of grave crimes that are always linked to corruption, abuse of power and ill-obtained assets," she said in written testimony presented yesterday. She delivered her first public address since leaving office in December to thousands of impassioned supporters who gathered outside the courthouse yesterday, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.) 
  • The Guardian has an interesting piece on Latin America's geothermal power potential.

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