OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro called on Venezuela's government to hold general elections within a month, free political prisoners, and take other steps to shore up democratic institutions. He asked member states to suspend Venezuela if not, citing "a total rupture of the democratic order," reports the Wall Street Journal. Though Venezuela has lost allied governments in the region, it's not clear that Almagro has the two-thirds votes needed to suspend Venezuela, notes the WSJ. His effort to invoke the OAS Democratic Charter in relation to Venezuela last year failed due to Caribbean countries' support of Venezuela, which have benefitted from the country's oil largesse.
Invocation of the Charter would be a positive form of diplomatic pressure, compared with unilateral U.S. sanctions, argues David Smilde in a New York Times op-ed. Unilateral moves from the U.S. strike a dissonant chord in a region wary of intervention, while working through the OAS necessarily entails debate and negotiation with a variety of political perspectives. "The current hemispheric situation is more fertile than ever for the United States government to pursue multilateral diplomacy on Venezuela. A significant deterioration in Venezuelan democracy over the past year, capped by the crass suspension of a recall referendum effort in October, followed by a failure of dialogue in December, should give pause to those countries that opposed invoking the democratic charter last June," he writes. Pointing to other potential avenues for engagement -- including South-South mechanisms such as Mercosur and UNASUR -- Smilde argues that "multiple initiatives on multiple tracks, carried out by multiple regional actors, could generate a web of effective engagement and give the Venezuelan people the relief they deserve."
- The Brazilian government flip-flopped, but appears to have ultimately backed an ordinance that would grant migrants from neighboring countries temporary residence, a move that particularly benefits Venezuelans crossing by land in the northern state of Roraima, reports El País. More than 1,000 Venezuelans have sought refuge in Roraima in the first three months of 2017, reports EFE. And the number could rise to 6,000 by the end of the year according to some predictions. And though migrants emphasize that there is food in Brazil, unlike the situation they're fleeing, many are living on the streets after crossing the border, reports El País separately.
- Venezuelans were the top asylum seekers to the U.S. in 2016. In recent years there's been a high rate of acceptance in the U.S. of asylum claims from Venezuela, though there are ongoing reports of border officials attempting to deflect potential claimants, writes Emilio Osorio Alvarez in the Conversation.
- Brazil's attorney general requested permission to investigate 83 politicians within the scope of the Operation Car Wash probe into corruption. The list likely includes important allies of President Michel Temer. The requests, to the Supreme Court which must grant permission for investigation into government officials including the president, members of Congress, senators and cabinet ministers, were sealed, but Attorney General Rodrigo Janot asked for them to be made public, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.)
- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' 2014 campaign manager admitted receiving irregular donations from Odebrecht, reports El País. Santos said he was unaware of the payments, apologized to Colombians, and condemned the funding.
- U.S. figures released yesterday show Colombian coca production rose to a record rate last year, reports the Wall Street Journal. The area of land dedicated to coca production increased by 18 percent, giving traffickers the potential to produce nearly 710 metric tons of cocaine annually, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. The estimates released yesterday are the highest ever production figures for Colombia, 188,000 hectares. That's nearly 80 percent higher than the average annual estimate from 2008 to 2015, emphasizes InSight Crime. Although, as InSight notes, high numbers have been warned of for a while, the increase is still likely to have a significant impact on the region's criminal dynamics. (See Monday's briefs on other analysis of the current boom.)
- Several Latin American countries called on the U.N. to focus drug strategies on prevention and treatment rather than militarized approaches, reports TeleSUR. Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico and Uruguay, among others, proposed this change in strategy at the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs on Monday.
- Several hundred children displaced by a fire in a Guatemalan shelter for minors last week have been placed in alternate institutions ill-equipped to receive them, leaving them at risk of suffering even more abuse, according, according a new report Disability Rights International will release today. The Virgen de la Asunción children’s home near Guatemala City where 40 girls died in a fire, apparently after attempting to escape, has been criticized by human rights authorities for years. Disability Rights International, which was on the ground at the time of the accident, "said they found alarming evidence of the severe neglect resulting from Guatemala’s policy of institutionalization, a policy that has been repeatedly criticized by advocacy groups," reports the New York Times. Three former officials were arrested in relation to the fire this week, reports EFE.
- A mass grave uncovered in Mexico's Veracruz state contained over 250 human skulls, likely victims of drug cartels, reports the New York Times. Jorge Winckler, the state attorney general, described the state as a "giant grave," and noted the remains indicated the victims might have been killed years ago. The first graves in the area were discovered last August with the help of a collective of women whose children are missing. Members of Colectivo Solecito were given a map of graves by cartel members, and raised funds for searches with bake sales and raffles. Authorities later discovered 125 clandestine graves over eight months across a large area known as Colinas de Santa Fe. (See March 1's briefs on a Crisis Group report that calls Veracruz a "state of terror.")
- Latin America's population suffers a disproportionate percentage of the world's homicides, as well as high victimization of assault, robbery and property crime. But most of the violence is concentrated in just a few urban areas, which means "hot spot" policing affords a unique opportunity to aggressively target violent crime, according to an Americas Quarterly article by Igarapé Institute's Robert Muggah, Katherine Aguirre, and Spencer Chainey. "Policing and prevention strategies that focus on “hot spots,” “hot people” and “hot behaviors” urgently need to be replicated and scaled-up." Reasons behind crime concentration that must be taken into account include underlying social conditions and neighborhood spatial design. The article is part of the pre-launch of the "Instinto de Vida (Instinct for Life) campaign, an effort by more than 20 civil society groups and international organizations to reduce homicide in seven Latin American countries by 50 percent over 10 years. Beginning in April 2017, the campaign will promote annual homicide reductions of 7.5 percent in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela - a reduction that would prevent the loss of 364,000 lives."
- After the murder of several transgender people in El Salvador last month captured headlines, the Daily Beast profiles activists working with the community through ASTRANS, one of El Salvador’s leading trans rights organizations. "A member of the trans campaigning and support group related the story of two female colleagues who had been attacked and assaulted. They were both raped, suffering fissures in their anuses. Gang members asked one of the victims where her family lived. 'That family had to move, far, far away, and the family completely disintegrated as a result. They took everything they needed to take, and left.'"
- The U.S. and Guatemala seem like polar opposites -- in fact, the American Dream lures hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans who seek to escape the poverty and extreme inequality of their own country. But the U.S.'s trajectory is one of increasing inequality and less opportunity for the poorest -- migrants and native-born workers, argues Anthony Fontes in a New York Times Español op-ed.
- Uruguay has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the region, and continues to improve, according to statistics released this week. Total births for 2016 were 47,049, down from 48,926 in 2015, a reduction authorities attributed to decreased fertility, particularly among teens, reports EFE.