Thursday, October 13, 2016

Anger in Haitian communities desperate for supplies (Oct. 13, 2016)

Tensions in Haiti are on the rise, with people in some hurricane ravaged areas setting up road blocks to stop convoys of aid heading past, reports the Miami Herald. The U.N. has reported instances of looting of aid supplies headed to the most affected communities, reports the Washington Post. "Along the shattered coastal landscape of virtually flattened villages, angry residents have set up blockades of broken trees and branches to try to stop the trucks of food and other aid they have seen speed past them," reports Reuters. While aid agencies say they are rushing to get supplies to the disaster struck coast, but they're hampered by a focus on containing a surge in cholera cases. 

The Reuters piece looks at some of the pitfalls of the 2010 earthquake relief efforts, including food aid which undercut local production and an oversupply of tents and lack of building materials that kept people in shanty and tent cities for years.

This time around, foreign governments and aid groups are giving the Haitian government leadership in coordinating efforts -- donations are taken to a Port-au-Prince warehouse for distribution around the country. The government’s civil protection agency has been developing the hurricane response strategy, counting on foreign donors to bring supplies and carry out the actions, reports the Washington Post

But this approach too has its difficulties, as the government's reach in the provinces is limited and corruption is a concern. And delays caused by slow decision making could be lethal for isolated communities desperate for supplies. Tensions could lead to wider political and social unrest, as when rising food prices led to riots in 2008 and forced out a prime minister, notes the Miami Herald in a separate piece. 

In the meantime, there's still no date for the presidential elections that were scheduled for last weekend, though the provisional electoral council has held meetings in recent days, notes the WP.


Venezuela's Supreme Court to approve budget

Venezuela's Supreme Court removed budgetary power from the opposition-controlled National Assembly in a decision late Tuesday. The move allows the court itself to approve the budget President Nicolás Maduro is expected to present tomorrow. And culminates a long process of shifting power to the courts, reports the New York Times. The court has ruled the legislature in contempt, saying that subsequent laws it passes are unconstitutional.

Government opponents say it's an unprecedented assault on the legislature, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Prodavinci analyzes the legal nitty gritty of the decision, arguing that it's an unconventional move that doesn't have much legal basis.

The decision could also indicate a more aggressive government fight against a recall referendum effort led by the opposition, according to the NYT.

The opposition called for rallies across the country yesterday. Recall referendum proponents called supporters to the 1356 voting center where later this month they will have to gather 4 million signatures in three days in order to convoke a vote, explains Prodavinci. People yesterday were asked to sign largely symbolic petitions, reports AFP, though there don't seem to be a lot of numbers as to how many people turned out.

AFP reports clashes between recall referendum proponents and Maduro supporters yesterday on Isla Margarita.

The Guardian interviews proponents of the recall, noting that many have grown jaded with demonstrations and fear that they will turn violent.

New York Times op-ed earlier this week by Francisco Toro argues that most of the country now finds itself against the government, but without tools to fight it. "Venezuela is no longer a country split between roughly two antagonistic halves: a pro-government left and an opposition-minded right. Now, a small, heavily militarized state elite rules over a hungry, desperate mass of people who increasingly hate it." The danger he says is that "Venezuela’s fate once again may rest where it should never be: with the armed forces."

Interesting Prodavinci piece by Luis Vicente León on whether the government will attempt to use the Supreme Court to forbid a recall referendum. Such a decision would show the desperation of the government, and expose it to further regional and world rejection, he writes. Not to mention the further radicalization of the opposition which would have no institutional path left to fight against Maduro. "Annulling the recall referendum would be like disarming a time bomb by throwing a grenade on it." But that doesn't mean the government won't do it if it considers the move the lesser of two evils, he writes.

In other Venezuela news, if you were wondering what Maduro's take on the U.S. presidential election is: he thinks either candidate would be bad for Latin America, reports Reuters. "We can't expect anything good from either of them."

News Briefs
  • Increasingly brutal warfare between criminal gangs and security forces in Central America's Northern Triangle -- El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala -- is creating a refugee crisis as people flee for their lives. About 80,000 people from those countries, composed mostly of families and unaccompanied minors are expected to apply for asylum in other countries this year, reports the Guardian. That's a 658 percent increase since 2011. And tens of thousands more will be forcibly displaced without applying for international assistance. A new report by Amnesty International coming out tomorrow will make the case that they form part of the world's least visible refugee crisis. One migrant cited notes that while people used to leave in hopes of a better life, now they flee hoping save their lives. And while the U.S. remains the preferred destination, many refugees are also aiming for Mexico now.
  • Threats to environmental activists in Honduras continue -- this past week two indigenous activists survived separate assassination attempts, reports the Guardian. Both are leaders in the Civic Council of Popular Organizations and Indigenous Peoples (COPINH), an organization founded by Berta Cáceres, who was killed earlier this year. These are the latest developments in a wave of violence against environmental activists since the 2009 coup.
  • The head of Rio de Janeiro's UPP program, José Maríano Beltrame announced he will step down at the end of the month. The move comes after intense gun battles on Monday in UPP-occupied favelas close to the city's wealthiest neighborhoods, and in the midst of an escalation in violence in the city, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A massive student-organized rally in favor of peace gathered 30,000 people in Bogotá yesterday and honored thousands of conflict victims and indigenous marchers, reports La Silla Vacía.
  • One of the many failures of the "yes" camp in Colombia's plebiscite on the FARC peace accord earlier this month was an inability to convince evangelical voters that the pact would not "endanger the traditional family," reports El País. The approximately 10 million evangelical Christians in the country, many of whom have been angered by initiatives to legalize gay marriage, gay adoption and potentially abortion, have said the peace pact would also privilege a non-traditional gender perspective. Most of the faithful voted against the accord, say leaders. 
  • Indeed, now authorities say they are committed to "purging" the pact of the "gender ideology" encrypted into the text. But LGBT and women's groups say they will fight to maintain a perspective of equality in the pact, reports La Silla Vacía. Part of their efforts will be to explain the meaning of terms like gender and lgbt, in an attempt to show how the pacts don't impact on traditional family structures. Another potential tactic will be to sit down with the moderate wings of evangelical churches, say activists.
  • The FARC says it remain committed to peace, despite voters rejection of a pact that would have implemented an immediate demobilization for the guerrillas. This could buy Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos crucial time as he attempts to renegotiate, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The prospect of peace hinges on the FARC accepting tougher conditions, and hardline opponent of the pact, former president Álvaro Uribe softening his demands, according to the Financial Times.
  • Gender activists disappointed by the U.N.'s rejection of seven female candidates to lead the organization for the next five years are hardly likely to be mollified by the appointment of comic book character Wonder Woman as an honorary ambassador for "the empowerment of women and girls," reports the New York Times.
  • The highly questioned governor of Mexico's Veracruz state, Javier Duarte, presented his resignation, nearly two months before the end of his mandate, reports the New York Times. He is facing a series of accusations of rampant corruption, and an increase in homicides -- the state is the most dangerous for journalists in particular. However, the resignation is unlikely to represent a wider purge of corrupt politicians by the Mexican government, according to InSight Crime. The incoming governor said the oil-rich state will require a financial bailout because of its excessive debts, reports Reuters.
  • In the International Justice Monitor Jo-Marie Burt covers the latest developments of the Molina Theissen human rights trial in Guatemala, where Manuel Benedicto Lucas García, a former chief of the Guatemalan army, is accused of intellectual authorship of the illegal capture, detention and torture of Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen and the enforced disappearance of her 14-year-old brother, Marco Antonio.
  • The U.S. PROMESA Act (Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act) imposes an appointed committee over Puerto Rico's elected officials in order to supervise the territory's budget, reduce public spending and impose laws and regulations for a fiscal plan to get the island out of debt. The congress appointed junta implies a direct hit to Puerto Rican democracy, argues Pedro Reina Pérez in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • In Argentina President Mauricio Macri may be talking the way investors would like, but in effect his policies are far more similar to those of his market bad-mouthing predecessor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, according to critics. Of key concern for investors is government spending and an overvalued peso, reports the Financial Times.
  • VQR has a great piece on San Salvador's upstart mayor, Nayib Bukele, who is attempting to to implement change in the one of the region's most dangerous cities. In the midst of widespread disenchantment with the country's main political parties, Bukele is revered. In the midst of rampant violence on par with levels last seen in the country's civil war, Bukele's approach focuses on urban revitalization, projects like urban lighting that should help ensure safety for citizens. The piece is a rare in-depth window into the dynamics of Salvadoran politics, where Bukele is an anomaly within his ruling FMLN party.

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