Thursday, August 18, 2016

Urban renewal attempt creates problems Bogotá (Aug. 18, 2016)

The polemic eviction of a crime and drug riddled slum in the middle of Bogotá -- known as the Bronx -- has created a shifting, NIMBY homeless population in other areas of the city, reports RCN Radio. Angry Bogotá residents accuse the Bronx intervention of pushing drug crime, as well as indigent residents, into surrounding neighborhoods, according Publimetro.

The city government is responding with a heavy hand. Merchant complaints led to forced evictions in other neighborhoods yesterday. About 500 police officers intervened in La Estanzuela, while 300 security agents formed a cordon around the Los Mártires neighborhood to prevent them from entering, reports El Tiempo.

About 400 of the displaced wound up living in a storm gutter yesterday, where 40 were swept up by water from heavy rains early this morning. The angry group attacked doctors sent by the city's health secretary and journalism teams, according to El Espectador.

Critical organizations have called on the mayor to cease displacing and persecuting the city's homeless and to establish a base for them, reports Contagio Radio.

Instead, Bogotá sub-secretary of security, Daniel Mejía, is reportedly seeking permission from Colombia's Constitutional Court to force drug addicted homeless people to enter rehabilitation treatment, according to RCN Radio

"Street inhabitants have the right to decide to be on the street, but they cannot invade others' rights. They might not want [government help], but they cannot be sacking commerce or pushing minors to take drugs," he said. Mejía lamented that alleged gang members captured by police and accused of inciting violence were released from detention by judges. 

Many observers already noted the similarities between the Bronx eviction plan and current Mayor Enrique Peñalosa's previous tenure in office. Notably, the 1998 intervention of "El Cartucho" neighborhood, which was turned into a park, as part of a revalorization plan for Bogotá's center. (El Tiempo has a photo-gallery.) 

Earlier this year La Silla Vacía reviewed the history of that project, noting the integral approach that was employed then, with extensive inter-agency resources and efforts dedicated to social programs for families living in the streets in the area.

A similar methodology was planned for intervening the "Bronx" in 2003, but the project was discontinued by his successor, according to La Silla Vacía. Subsequent interventions in the area have been exclusively police oriented, without the accompaniment of social programs. The Bronx population itself stemmed from the Cartucho displacement, according to Semana.

Colombia Reports describes the pre-intervention Bronx as "reeking of human excrement ... Controlled by local gangs, the open air drug market is one of the most dangerous and impoverished areas in Bogota."

The current government plan for the neighborhood involves the creation of commercial and residential areas as well as government buildings, reports El Tiempo. The location could be part of a new shopping mall, according to Colombia Reports.

The Defensoría del Pueblo has denounced a lack of integral planning in the Bronx evictions, and critics say the intervention focused only on police action without accompanying social actions, reports Contagio Radio.

The February Silla Vacía piece called for an integral approach to the Bronx, including a city-wide plan for intervention in areas affected by drug sales and sexual exploitation and noting former mayor Gustavo Petro's idea of creating an area dedicated to serving the city's homeless and drug addict population.

News Briefs

  • El Salvador's SupremeCourt ruled against extraditing army colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides to Spain, where he and three other former army officers are accused of massacring Jesuit priests in 1989. But magistrates also decided to return Benavides to jail to serve a 1992 30-year sentence for having organized the crime from the Escuela Militar, reports El Faro. He served 14 months of that sentence before being freed in 1993 under the general amnesty law, which was struck down last month. (See July 14's and July 15's posts.) It's not clear what will happen in the case of the other three extradition requests from Spain. Though the fifteen judges voted unanimously, they have different justifications for their vote -- some rest their decision on the fact that Benavides had already been condemned for his role in the case in El Salvador, providing exception to the extradition treaty between the two countries, while others point to a "double jeopardy" situation that extradition would create, reports La Prensa Gráfica. But the other three have not been sentenced nationally, notes El Faro. The trial against Benavides was a sham, according to the Spanish judge who ordered the capture of nearly 20 members of the Salvadoran military in 2011. Contrapunto says the magistrates vote against extradition, in light of the overturning of the amnesty law, could either be interpreted as a vote of confidence in El Salvador's justice system, or a bet that it could more easily be manipulated by the accused.
  • For the first time the United Nations has admitted playing a role in the cholera epidemic that started in 2010 in post-earthquake Haiti. The office of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said “significant new set of U.N. actions” will be needed to respond to the crisis. The U.N. has come under increasing criticism this year regarding the cholera outbreak (see March 2's briefs, for example). Most recently a confidential report by a long-time U.N. advisor laid the blame for the epidemic -- which has killed at least 10,000 people -- squarely at the organization's feet, reports the New York Times.
  • Sociologist Gabriel Hetland has an interesting analysis in The Nation on the causes of Venezuela's crisis. His nuanced perspective is increasingly missing from mainstream condemnations of Venezuela's government, and is worth a read. "To an agonizingly large degree, Venezuela’s crisis is of the government’s own making. Instead of easing or ending it, the government’s actions—and inactions—over the last several years have made it far worse. Yet, the government has not acted in a vacuum, but in a hostile domestic and international environment." Rather than resting on ideological arguments that Venezuela's economic crisis and shortages of basic goods have been caused by "socialism," he argues that the root of the problem has not been redistributive policies (which were insufficient or undermined by corruption), but rather incompetent monetary policy. He also gives an element of credence to the government's claim of economic warfare aimed at undermining the administration -- pointing to evidence of hoarding by private producers and the effects of U.S. sanctions. He is extremely critical of the Venezuelan government's lack of will to address rampant corruption. And sadly concludes that there is little reason to be optimistic about Venezuela's future.
  • Brazilian investigators say U.S. Olympics athletes who claimed to be assaulted at gunpoint by police officers this weekend made up the story as part of a coverup for an incident involving damage to a gas station bathroom door, reports the New York Times. The case touched a nerve in Brazil, where the idea that prominent athletes would be robbed by security forces was a huge embarrassment -- which turned into anger when inconsistencies in the athletes' stories started coming to light, reports the New York Times in an earlier piece.
  • Extreme weather has caused the price of beans to skyrocket in Brazil, forcing families to switch to less nutritious alternatives, reports Reuters.
  • The story of Guatemala's most notorious inmate, Byron Lima Oliva, provides a window into the intertwined world of the country's elite with the underworld, and an example of the country's "troubled transition between war and peace," argues Anthony Fontes in a New York Times op-ed. The "prison king," who was killed in a riot last month (see July 19's post), a death likely linked to the downfall of his protector, former President Otto Pérez Molina.
  • Donald Trump's political style has been compared to that of South America's populist, caudillo leaders. But Dinorah Azpuru makes the case in the Washington Post that his "law and order" approach is more in line with authoritarian leaders from the region Alberto Fujimori and Efrain Ríos Montt. She explains the longevity of Ríos Montt's strongman approach, well into Guatemala's democratic period and points to the popularity of "law and order" approaches among sectors afraid of crime.
  • Chile awarded several renewable energy contracts yesterday in the country's largest power auction ever, a move authorities say could reduce energy costs, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Bolivia's response to the "School of the Americas" is a new "anti-imperialist" military academy to counter US policies and military influence in Latin America, reports the Guardian.
  • Violence against women is a cultural problem that must be targeted with education, claims the government of Mexico's Morelos state, in response to accusations of rights groups that authorities aren't doing anything to prevent or investigate gender violence. Morelos declared a gender violence alert last year, but has nonetheless had over 59 cases of femicide this year, reports Animal Político.
  • Ongoing CNTE teachers strike in Guerrero, Michoacán, Chiapas and Oaxaca, Animal Político reports.

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