Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Routine abuse of minors in Guatemalan institutions (March 21, 2017)

Two guards were killed and five more held hostage yesterday at a riot in a Guatemala youth detention center, reports the BBC. Inmates are demanding they be allowed to receive food parcels and cook their own meals, but, more broadly, the struggle appears related to gang loyalties.

The case comes less than two weeks after a massive fire at a youth shelter near Guatemala City killed 40 girls and drew attention to the dismal state of youth oriented institutions in the country.

A report from Disability Rights International (DRI) found that abuses at the Hogar Seguro (Safe Home) Virgen de la Asunción were rampant, but also detected cases of violence, neglect and forced prostitution at several state-run institutions, according to the Economist.

The fire led to protests and widespread criticism of the government and President Jimmy Morales, who named cronies to the Secretariat for Social Welfare and slashed its funding, reports the New Yorker.

The New Yorker piece goes into detail over the abuses suffered by the children in the Virgen de la Asunción home and testimony from victims that they were locked in a room by police and not permitted out even when it was on  fire. The Procuradería de Derechos Humanos received 28 reports of abuses over the past two years and a half, reports the BBC.

In the meantime, advocates criticize that survivors are not receiving trauma counseling and have been transferred to inadequate institutions. (See last Wednesday's briefs.) Nómada details the travails of family members seeking their children, with few answers from authorities.

The situation in Guatemala highlights a broken social services system that houses thousands of children in inadequate public and private institutions, notes the Economist. "Even the best do not provide a healthy environment for children to grow up in, say children’s-rights advocates. They have long urged Guatemala to replace them with a system of foster care like that in other countries."

And Nómada denounces that Morales is trying to shift blame on the human rights prosecutors' office -- which had previously denounced abuses -- and is sidelining the Public Ministry and CICIG in the case.

News Briefs
  • Carne Fraca: the investigation into major Brazilian meatpacking companies, accused of selling rotten and adulterated products, has led China to ban red meat imports from the country, and the EU has said it would stop buying from companies involved in the scandal, reports the BBC. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Crop-substitution programs for farmers growing illicit coca in Colombia are one of the least controversial aspects of the peace agreement with the FARC. But efforts to divert poor farmers into cacao, coffee and honey will bump up against difficult economic realities, namely that only illicit agricultural markets permit local producers to obtain a product that actually covers all the inputs required, according to Iban de Rementeria in the Conversation. "In a globalised world, illegal crops such as coca, cannabis and poppies are poor farmers’ rational response to the ruinously low prices of imported subsidised farm products." 
  • The Washington Post called for the Trump administration to support OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro's call to suspend Venezuela from the organization last week. The WP said it would be a chance to rectify the Obama administration's silence on the issue last year when Almagro led a similar move. (See last Wednesday's post.) But the U.S. fully supported Almagro's push against Venezuela, argues David Smilde at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The push failed last year because there was not enough support from member states to pass it. "Why does it matter to set the record straight? For the same reason it matters to distort it. Knowing what happened in the past helps orient what should happen in the future. The Democratic Charter was not invoked in June last year not because the United States did not support it but because many other countries, in a region that highly values sovereignty and is constantly on guard for U.S. intervention, were reluctant," writes Smilde. "Loud support by the Trump administration would turn off foreign leaders concerned about what their constituents might see as intervention. Wavering countries will be most convinced by other Latin American countries, and these latter should be given the space to lead."
  • Almagro's push against the Venezuelan government, if successful, would be the first time the OAS's "democracy clause" is used against an elected government, notes Stefano Palestini Céspedes at the Aula Blog, and "risks getting ahead of the organization’s member states and could ultimately hurt the credibility of the charter and OAS. "
  • Contentment in Venezuela has fallen faster than anywhere else in the world over the past decade, according to the 2017 World Happiness Report, reports the Miami Herald.
  • A new mass grave uncovered in Mexico's Veracruz state contains at least 47 skulls, reports the BBC. The discovery comes after authorities found 250 remains at another site in the state, prompting the Veracruz attorney general to call the state an "enormous mass grave." (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Protectionist policies don't work, said an Argentine official warning Trump against closing borders. The Mercosur and the E.U. are hoping to move forward with a free trade deal, reports the Guardian. Isolationist policies don't work, warned an Argentine official to Trump.
  • But, many sectors of Argentine workers would argue that neither does using labor as the fuse to control inflation. Teachers unions are in their third week of strike, challenging the Macri administration's attempt to keep inflation in check by capping salary increases, reports the Wall Street Journal. Macri has promised pro-business policies as he attempts to undo the populist legacy of his Kirchner predecessors. But in an election year he's bumping up against widespread popular discontent.
  • Argentine rights groups -- led by CELS -- and union representatives testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, outlining a a series of judicial persecutions towards workers and criminalization of protests, reports La Nación. Though the session was dedicated to the general topic of criminalization of protests in Argentina, the specific case of Milagro Sala, who has been in jail for over a year in relation to leading a social protest in Jujuy, came up, reports Página 12. Her arbitrary detention exemplifies the intimidatory use of power by government officials, said CEL's Horacio Verbitsky. He identified an "alarming divide" between the official discourse of respect for human rights and what is actually carried out, reports Perfil. A separate audience was dedicated to Argentina's much questioned changes in migratory policy, which make it easier to kick out migrants suspected of committing crimes. (See Feb. 1's briefs.)
  • A fire engulfed a popular market in Port-au-Prince yesterday. Wares belonging to impoverished vendors were lost, but there were no reports of injuries or deaths, according to the Associated Press.
  • Travel vicariously to Alter do Chão, one of the world's most alluring beach towns deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle, according to the New York Times.
  • Former Patagonia CEO Kristine Tompkins donated 1 million of those acres of land she and her late husband bought in Chile for conservation purposes. The land will go to the Chilean government, which agreed to add on 10 million acres of federally owned land for national park designation, reports the Los Angeles Times.

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