Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Argentines reject leniency for human rights abusors (May 10, 2017)

Argentine human rights groups are organizing demonstrations today against a Supreme Court ruling that would allow perpetrators of human rights violations to get out of jail early, reports Página 12

A court ruling last week reduced the sentence of Luis Muina, who in 2013 was condemned to 13 years in prison for kidnap and torture during the 1976-1983 dictatorship, based on a defunct law allowing time spent in pre-conviction detention to count double.

Argentines across the political spectrum have reacted with anger about the so-called 2 for 1 clause, which could potentially allow 750 detained former members of security forces to reduce their sentences, reported the Guardian last week. These include people who kidnapped babies born to "disappeared" women who were later killed, and torturers.

Advocates of the decision say it represents a strict application of the law, a victory for rule of law, regardless of outcome. Critics say the 2 for 1 law was never meant to be applied to crimes against humanity, which fall into a distinct category from common crimes. (COHA has a useful summary of the case.)

Political parties united yesterday in Argentina's lower chamber of Congress which passed a law limiting the applicability of the defunct law, reports La Nación. The bill, passed with near unanimity, is under debate in the Senate today, and is intended to allow the Supreme Court a way of backing out of the polemic decision.

"For the generation that suffered the dictatorship between 1976 and 1983, this result representa triumph for the repressors who show they still have power in the shadows. For my generation, which voted for the first time with the return of democracy in 1983 and celebrated the trial of the Juntas as a historical milestone in the country, it is another disillusion in a fragile democracy in which independence between government powers never really works," writes Teresa Sofía Buscaglia in the New York Times Español.

President Mauricio Macri is scheduled to hold a press conference shortly before the march. While his government initially stayed neutral on the decision when it was announced last week, members of the ruling party have since stepped up criticisms, reports La Nación.

Critics say the ruling is part of a consistent sidelining of human rights issues by the current government, and plays into a long-standing distrust of Argentina's judicial power, writes Martín Caparrós, also in the New York Times Español. The majority decision was joined by two new judges appointed polemically by Macri upon assuming. Human rights groups have denounced government officials -- including the President -- who attempt to minimize the extent of the military's violent repression.

Human rights aside: The Argentine government apparently desisted from a plan to honor former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for his defense of human rights in Argentina, after the Trump administration suggested postponing, according to CNN Español.

News Briefs
  • El Salvador's government celebrated a 53 percent reduction in homicides in the first trimester of 2017 over the same period last year. The Sánchez Cerén administration has implemented a "mano dura" military response to street gang violence, and has tripled the number of troops involved in public safety, reports El Faro. Authorities attribute the reduction to the extraordinary measures implemented a year ago to clamp down on jails with gang inmates. "These laws have converted gang jails into an extraordinary hell, aggravating unhealthy conditions and inmate isolation ... But in addition to the extraordinary measures, the government strategy has created special batallions -- composed of soldiers and police -- and has unleashed a police offensive towards territories controlled by gangs that has" resulted in a slew of human rights violations. The Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (PDDH) recognizes 37 cases of extrajudicial executions since 2015, the most recent of which occurred in March. Defense Minister David Munguía Payés minimized the claims, saying 80 percent of claims of human rights claims against the armed forces don't involve real violations. Last week Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco expressed concern over military involvement in internal security, in an interview with El Diario de Hoy. He noted that military training involves using lethal force, as opposed to police aims and methods.
  • The so-called "Nica-act," a U.S. bill which seeks to oppose most loans to the Nicaraguan government from international organizations, is more of a political than economic threat, according to President Daniel Ortega. The bill aims to condition international lending to Nicaragua to steps to hold fair and competitive elections, safeguard political rights, strengthen the rule of law and fight corruption, reports the Associated Press. Similar legislation failed in Congress last year.
  • Last week, Honduran activists failed to convince lawmakers to loosen up the country's abortion ban, to allow pregnancy termination in cases of rape, incest, and unviable pregnancies, or for health reasons, reports Vice News. (See yesterday's post on a bid to loosen El Salvador's abortion ban.)
  • Shit March: Venezuelan protesters have added feces bombs to their arsenal of rocks and molotov cocktails, reports Reuters. "They have gas; we have excrement," reads an image floating around social media to promote a march today. Critics, even those who oppose the government, note that the plans to use feces, both animal and human, are unsanitary and risk increasing infectious disease in a country where there are shortages of basic medicines. Messages have been going viral on Venezuelan WhatsApp groups giving step-by-step instructions and advice on putting together the poopootov cocktails.
  • Newly released government statistics -- published this week after a two year hiatus -- show that Venezuela’s infant mortality increased by 30 percent last year, maternal mortality by 65 percent and malaria cases by 76 percent, reports Reuters.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos hinted demobilizing FARC forces might not meet their end-of-May deadline for total disarmament. Though he expects fighters to hand over their weapons by the end of the month, it could take longer to uncover hidden caches of arms around the country, reports the Financial Times
  • U.S. Senator Marco Rubio praised Colombia's peace deal with the FARC, and emphasized the positive role of extensive U.S. aid to the country. His support is a possible sign that Trump will continue to contribute significant funding to the issue, despite a plan to slash foreign aid, reports the Miami Herald. Former President Barack Obama promised $450 million to the peace plan implementation efforts.
  • Colombia's government is calling for stricter controls on international gold sales as a way of fighting illicit mining -- similar to protocols against "blood diamonds." Less than a fifth of Colombia’s gold is produced legally, with much of the 60 metric-ton annual production controlled by illegal armed groups, reports Bloomberg.
  • Colombia's Choco department have called a strike for today,  in protest against rampant poverty and violence, reports TeleSUR. Residents say the government hasn't followed through on development promises made last year, and are also demanding greater security from paramilitary groups.
  • Homicides in Mexico are second only to those in Syria, and surpass those of other countries considered in "armed conflict," including Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the the International Institute for Strategic Studies' "Armed Conflict Survey 2017." Mexico's militarized drug battle increasingly resembles an armed conflict one of the authors told Reuters. The data is a set back for the unpopular Peña Nieto administration.
  • A fireworks explosion killed 14 people, mostly children, in a warehouse in Mexico's Puebla state, reports AFP. Last December 42 people were killed in a series of explosions in a fireworks market outside Mexico City.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer's administration has put off a vote on an unpopular pension reform bill, in an attempt to win over lawmakers scared of losing voters, reports Reuters. The proposal, which would force Brazilians to postpone retirement, could halve the country's current budget deficit. Investors are concerned that it could be diluted in negotiations with lawmakers.
  • Brazil's government plans to invest $18.50 billion in public funds over the next year and a half to accelerate the economic recovery and bolster aging infrastructure, reports Reuters. More than a third would be dedicated to transportation projects.
  • Tens of thousands of students marched in this capital and other Chilean cities yesterday to demand forgiveness of loans taken out to finance university education, reports EFE.
  • A Panamanian judge ordered house arrest for Former Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, whose health remains in “critical” condition, reports EFE.
  • The Cuban military's business arm has brought international luxury brands to the Manzana de Gomez mall, shocking Cubans who are seeing products worth more than a lifetime's state salary, reports the Associated Press. Luxury hotel development is also heating up on the island, seeking to lure U.S. tourists, according the New York Times

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