Friday, July 8, 2016

Another of Cáceres' colleagues killed in Honduras (July 8, 2016)

Yet another Honduran environmental activist has been killed. Lesbia Janeth Urquía's body was found in an abandoned garbage dump in Marcala, just four months after the murder of Berta Cáceres. Urquía was a member of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (Copinh) – the organization founded by Cáceres – and had been working to stop a hydro-electric projects in Honduras’s western La Paz department, reports the Guardian

She was killed with an ax or sharp machete. The case is making headlines because of her link to Copinh and the sadism inflicted on her body, reports La Tribuna.

The Public Ministry said yesterday that it had formed a special commission to investigate the killing, reports the Associated Press.

Copinh called Urquía's death "a political femicide that tries to silence the voices of women with courage and the bravery to defend their rights."

The group noted that Urquía fought against the construction of a dam owned by the husband of Congressional Vice President Gladys López and said it held them and the government responsible for Urquía's murder, reports Vice News.

The murder is being investigated as a family property dispute and as an extortion case, as Urquia was the owner of two hotels and a small market, reports Reuters. Local police say she had received extortion calls, reports Tiempo.

Urquía became a prominent community leader in the wake of the 2009 coup that deposed President Mel Zelaya, according to TeleSur.

The murder took place "suspiciously" as the government is carrying out a consultation processes for the approval of a billregulating the right of Free, Prior and Informed Consent indigenous tribes have on their lands under international convention, reports El Heraldo. Meetings were held in Marcala earlier this week.

The death comes as allegations that a hitlist with Cáceres' name and that of other activists was circulated among special forces units. (See June 21's briefs.) The U.S. government is investigating the allegations that the security forces agents were instructed to kill the activists, reports the Guardian in a separate piece.

Prominent members of the U.S. Congress are calling to suspend all aid to Honduran police and army units. “As long as the US funds Honduran security forces without demanding justice for those threatened, tortured, and killed, we have blood on our hands. It’s time to suspend all police and military aid to Honduras,” wrote representatives Hank Johnson and John Conyers.

Two weeks after Caceres’ death, Nelson Garcia, another indigenous environmental activist, was shot to death.


Cunha, implacable Rousseff foe, resigns as speaker

Brazilian congressman Eduardo Cunha -- a protagonist in the impeachment crusade against now-suspended President Dilma Rousseff -- resigned his post as speaker of the Chamber of Deputies yesterday, amid allegations that he took as much as $40 million in bribes, reports the New York Times

He will however retain his legislative post, which confers legal privileges that could keep him out of jail. The Chamber of Deputies is expected to expel him in upcoming weeks, however, which would expose him to a trial in lower courts without those privileges. The prospect will likely alarm former allies, notes the Guardian. He has supposedly warned that he will not go to jail alone and is thought to have amassed political power on the basis of knowledge of other politician's wrongdoing.

In his role as speaker, Cunha spearheaded legislative opposition to Rousseff's initiatives, and also managed impeachment motions that ultimately suspended her in April and sent the case to the Senate for trial. He is an ally of acting President Michel Temer and a member of the PMDB party that formed part of Rousseff's governing coalition.

The NYTimes notes that his resignation is a sign of ongoing instability in Brasilia. The Supreme Court suspended him in May from continuing his speaker duties, but he retained influence behind the scenes. A fact which was negatively impacting Temer's ability to govern.

He told reporters yesterday that he was under pressure to leave, and his exit could help Temer remain in office, according to the Wall Street Journal. "...The turmoil stemming from the former speaker’s struggles to keep his job were a distraction from the acting president’s agenda efforts to reignite economic growth."

Temer's administration is proposing a series of measures aimed at improving the economy next year. Some, such as a pension plan reform, are polemic and will require broad support in Congress to pass, explains the WSJ. Cunha's resignation clears the way for a new speaker to be elected in the lower chamber.

Brazil's government announced that it expects the budget deficit for 2017 to shrink and the economy to return to growth after a two year contraction, reports the Wall Street Journal separately. The improvement will be thanks to an “enormous effort” to keep spending under control said the finance minister yesterday.

The accusations against Cunha are directly related to the sprawling Operation Car Wash investigation into corruption schemes at Petrobras, the state-owned oil company, notes the WSJ.

News Briefs
  • The U.S. will not fund further voting rounds in Haiti this year, as authorities seek to redo a presidential and legislative election last year marred by allegations of widespread fraud and irregularities, reports the Associated Press. The U.S. will maintain assistance in other areas, but will not add to the $33 million contributed last year for three rounds of voting. It's not clear what the impact will be for the elections which are scheduled for October. U.S. officials are displeased with the decision to redo the election, notes the Miami Herald. U.S. election observers have been pulled out of the country, along with those from the European Union. Haiti will have to pull together approximately $55 million for two new rounds of voting. In the meantime, Haiti's parliament still has not decided whether to extend the expired mandate of interim president Jocelerme Privert.
  • The U.N. must acknowledge its role in starting the cholera epidemic that has killed roughly 10,000 people since 2010 and establish a system of compensation, argues a New York Times editorial
  • An Associated Press piece analyzes the possibility that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro would attempt a "self-coup" of shutting down the opposition-dominated National Assembly, despite the domestic anger and international condemnation such a move would incite. Yet, the piece notes that since the new National Assembly took power in January, swearing to oust Maduro, the result has been a sidelining of the body's power by the judiciary and executive powers. "The millions of Venezuelans who want the socialists out of power are growing frustrated. With the congress blocked from legislating and Maduro saying he will not allow a recall referendum to proceed this year, the opposition feels increasingly shut out of the political arena."
  • In an interview on PRI’s The World, David Smilde looks at the causes of inflation and scarcity of basic goods in Venezuela. Falling price of oil is one contributing factor, but the roots of the country’s problems can also be traced back to a set of macroeconomic policies inherited by Maduro, which relied on continual growth of income from oil. “These were policies that were completely unsustainable,” Smilde explains.  
  • Maduro reportedly asked Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to stop the extradition of an alleged member of the Cartel of the Suns, who could have knowledge of Venezuelan military officials involved in cocaine trafficking, reports InSight Crime.
  • Columbian security forces will continue to battle dissident FARC factions and armed criminal gangs, even after a peace deal with the guerrilla group is signed, said the head of the army yesterday. General Alberto Jose Mejia told Reuters that they will fight to ensure rebel territory is not taken over by other armed groups and criminal organizations, a post-conflict possibility touted by experts.
  • FARC commander Pastor Alape said the group's leadership is looking into opposition to the deal by a breakaway group. A statement from the  Armando Rios First Front, a 200-strong FARC guerrilla unit earlier this week rejecting laying down of arms raised fears that other factions could undermine the negotiation, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The mystery of the missing former Guantanamo Bay detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab continues, with several South American counties searched for the man who was one of six former prisoners resettled in Uruguay in 2014. Brazilian officials say he is not in the country, which has heightened security ahead of the upcoming Olympics Games, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • A new smartphone app by Amnesty International aims to help document use of firearms in Rio ahead of the games, reports InSight Crime. The application, named Cross-Fire, is designed to "allow people living across Rio de Janeiro to report incidents of gun violence, which have been increasing over the last few years."
  • Brazilian experts condemned a proposal by U.S. anthropologists to force contact with South America's "uncontacted tribes." The U.S. scientists argue that remaining hidden is unviable for these indigenous groups, and that controlled contact is their best bet at protection. But the Brazilian experts have countered that contact exposes the tribe members to greater risks, such as losing land and resources to outsiders, exposure to diseases to which they have no immunity and loss of autonomy and self determination, reports the Guardian.
  • A former Chilean army commander in chief was arrested yesterday on charges of complicity in the killing of 15 left-wing militants at the start of the military dictatorship in 1973, reports the Associated Press. Retired Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre led the army between 2002 and 2006 and has repeatedly denied charges of human rights abuses, including recent claims by two former political prisoners that he tortured them.
  • The Guardian has a photo-essay by photographer João Pina on the legacy of Operation Condor, an international pact between six South American right-wing authoritarian governments to violently repress opposition.

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