Thursday, January 19, 2017

Mexican Goldman Environmental prize recipient killed (Jan. 19, 2017)

A prominent Mexican indigenous activist, Isidro Baldenegro López, was killed by a gunman Sunday in Chihuahua state. Baldenegro fought to protect his tribes ancestral old-growth forests in the western Sierra Madre from logging interests, reports the New York Times.

He won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2005, in recognition of his efforts to force the government to suspend logging licenses. Due to threats, Baldenegro no longer lived in the community, but had been visiting an uncle in Colorados de la Virgen, where he was shot on Sunday.

He is the second Goldman Environmental Prize winner to be killed in a year -- Honduran activist Berta Cáceres was murdered in March, 2016. The deaths highlight the increasing dangers faced by environmental activists in a region where native communities are in conflict with mining, energy, agribusiness and logging interests. Almost three-quarters of the known deaths of environmental activists worldwide occurred in Central and South America, according to a report by the organization Global Witness.

Violence in Sierra Madre area where the Tarahumara tribe's ancestral lands are has intensified since the Mexican government began a militarized crackdown on drug cartels in 2006. Baldenegro witnessed the assassination of his father, who also fought against logging, and dedicated his life to defending the increasingly small areas of land inhabited by the Tarahumara, reports the Guardian.


Guatemalan president's relatives arrested in corruption case

Guatemalan prosecutors detained President Jimmy Morales' son and brother yesterday in a case of alleged corruption. 

The U.N.'s anti-corruption commission -- the CICIG -- said they are suspected of submitting false receipts worth about $20,000 in an alleged tax fraud in 2013, reports the Associated Press. Guatemala's Attorney General Thelma Aldana ordered the president's older brother and close advisor, Samuel Morales, detained, reports Reuters. The president's son, Jose Manuel Morales Marroquín, turned himself in, as police could not detain him in his official residence -- the presidential palace, notes CNN.

The arrests are a major blow to an outsider candidate who ran on an anti-corruption platform, notes Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs on why Morales' administration has failed to follow through on promises to change the political elite status quo.)

CICIG commissioner Ivan Velázquez noted that Morales hasn't made requests or intervened in the investigation, reports the Associated Press.

It's complicated: El Periodico has the nitty-gritty of the accusations, which involve false receipts for breakfasts made out to the Registro General de Propiedad, apparently in order to mask a payment to the mother of José Manuel's then girlfriend for Christmas hampers. Nonetheless, neither Samuel nor José Manuel are accused of personally benefitting from the scheme, reports Prensa Libre.

News Briefs
  • Brazil's government authorized the country's military to help state prison authorities to search facilities for weapons, drugs and cell phones, in the midst of gang fights that have killed over 120 inmates so far this year, reports the Wall Street Journal. Critics said soldiers were not trained for such a mission, though direct contact with prisoners will continue to be through prison guards and state officials. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • Heavily armed police entered a prison where 26 inmates were killed and dismembered this weekend, in order to separate warring gangs, reports Reuters. But a bus transfer of 220 gang members to another prison took the violence out to the streets of Natal, where at least 15 of the buses and a government car were set on fire, reports El País. Family members of inmates to be transferred had set up barricades to stop the inmates from leaving, warning that it would lead to bloodshed.
  • At least one inmate was killed in a different prison riot this morning, also in Rio Grande do Norte state, reports Reuters.
  • Brazil's Worker's Party plans to nominate former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for the 2018 presidential elections, though he is facing five separate corruption trials, reports Reuters. He remains one of the country's most popular politicians. 
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the ELN guerrilla group will release a politician held hostage for nearly a year, clearing the way for peace talks to begin in Ecuador in February, reports the Associated Press. Though both sides have been in preliminary negotiations for three years, and formal talks were announced about a year ago, the Colombian government refuses to move forward until the ELN renounces kidnapping and frees former Congressman Odin Sánchez.
  • Afro-Colombian human rights activist Emilsen Manyoma and her partner are the latest human rights defenders killed in Colombia, part of a wave of killings threatening the foundation of the peace with the FARC, reports TeleSUR.
  • Haitian authorities are losing a battle against vigilante violence, and in some cases permitting mobs to take justice into their own hands, according to a by the U.N. stabilization mission there, reports the Associated Press.
  • In 2015, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said he might free jailed political activist Leopoldo López if the United States would free Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar López Rivera. This week U.S. President commuted López Rivera's sentence, leading López's supporters to demand his liberation, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Venezuela's new, higher denomination bills will make cash transactions simpler, but won't help with the country's serious inflation issue, according to David Smilde at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. In fact, it might worsen the problem, as people carry out purchases that were unmanageable with lower denomination bills and vendors jack up prices further. Though the printing of "inorganic" money is the problem behind Venezuela's sky-high inflation-rate, lack of confidence in the government's economic policy is a bigger underlying issue, he argues. "A lot of things need to be done, but the sin qua non is to get ahold of the foreign exchange chaos. ... Over the long term the overinflated currency has undermined local production by making exportation impossible and imports impossible to compete with. Doing so would provide some confidence in the government´s economic policy, facilitate national and foreign investment, and provide the groundwork for reactivating domestic production. No attempts at reviving the latter or diversifying the economy will get off the ground without first straightening out the foreign exchange market."
  • Bolivia's Environment and Water Minister resigned yesterday before she was scheduled to give testimony in the country's legislative assembly about crushing water shortages affecting the country, reports Reuters.
  • Former Salvadoran President Antonio Saca was transfered to an ordinary prison Tuesday, reports AFP. He is detained on charges of embezzlement and will now be held in the overcrowded Mariona prison -- which houses a population of 5,000 inmates, four times its capacity.
  • Igor Padilla, a reporter for the Canal Hable Como Habla (HCH) network, was killed in northern Honduras, becoming the 69th journalist killed in the country since 2003, reports AFP.
  • Violent incidents in Mexico's Quintana Roo state -- including two shootings this week in the popular resort towns of Cancun and Playa del Carmen -- are due to the operation of criminal gangs in the area, reports Animal Político. (See Tuesday's and yesterday's briefs.)
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is paying for gas price hikes of up to 20 percent with a popularity slump: 86 percent of respondents don't approve of his government, reports Animal Político based on a Reforma poll. The approval rating of just 12 percent is the lowest lowest level for any president in two decades of polling, notes Bloomberg.
  • And a Trump presidency -- with attendant threats to Mexican migrants and trade with the U.S. -- couldn't come at a worst time for Mexico, according to the Associated Press. "The looming crisis has broken down Mexicans into roughly three camps: a governmental and business elite that hopes for a pragmatic appeal to Trump's business background; farm groups that never liked NAFTA's huge imports of cheap U.S. grain and hope parts of the 1994 trade deal will be repealed; and another segment that wants its leaders to stand up to what Mexicans widely perceive as bullying by Trump."
  • Just when you thought there wasn't much more malfeasance that could be pinned on the rouge former governor of Mexico's Veracruz state, Javier Duarte, it turns out that his government purchased fake HIV tests and administered false chemotherapy meds to children, reports Animal Político.
  • A 15-year-old Mexican student shot his teacher and three classmates before killing himself yesterday, reports the Associated Press. Though drug violence is rampant in Mexico, the country has avoided the kind of school shootings seen in the U.S., notes Reuters. Leaked footage of the shooting, from a security camera, circulated Mexican media all day yesterday, reports the New York Times.
  • Brazil's healthcare regulator issued the country's first license for sale of a cannabis-based drug in the country -- the multiple sclerosis treatment oral spray Sativex, developed by GWPharma, reports Reuters.
  • A Chilean Senate committee narrowly approved a bill that would decriminalize abortion until up to 12 weeks if the mother's health is at risk, if the fetus would not survive the pregnancy and if the pregnancy is the result of a rape, reports Fox News. The proposed law was introduced by President Michelle Bachelet and will face a full Senate vote. Chile is one of six countries that don't permit abortions under any circumstances.
  • Bolivia's fragile salt flat ecosystems are a potentially vital resource for a booming electric car industry in need of lithium, but locals are concerned about environmental destruction, reports the Guardian.
  • Malia Obama managed to take a secret trip to Bolivia and Peru late last year, part of an educational travel tour for teenagers. Though Bolivia and the U.S. have a rocky diplomatic relationship, Obama reportedly requested and obtained President Evo Morales' cooperation in ensuring discretion, reports the New York Times.

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