Monday, May 1, 2017

Brazilian unions protest Temer reforms (May 1, 2017)

Happy Workers Day!

Brazilian workers held the biggest strike the country has seen in decades on Friday, with protests reported in 26 states and strikes by teachers, bus drivers, healthcare providers, oil industry workers and public servants. Schools around the country were closed, traffic disrupted, and there were clashes with security officers in several cities, reports the Guardian. (See Friday's briefs.) Demonstrators in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo blocked key roads with barricades of burning tires on. Riot police used teargas and percussion grenades to try to disperse the crowds and open the routes.

Unions are fired up over a raft of economic reforms proposed by the Temer administration, including a labor reform passed by the lower chamber last week (see Thursday's post) and an extensive pension reform up for vote this week.

The unrest reflects the wildly unpopular administration's difficulty convincing a skeptical population that the austerity measures are necessary, reports the New York Times. A poll this month showed that 92 percent of Brazilians thought the country was on the wrong path, and Temer's approval rating is at just 4 percent. He's not at all helped by graft scandals hitting prominent members of the government, and also pushing to curb corruption investigations. (See Friday's briefs.)

The pressure of the strike could force the government to scale back some key reforms, according to the Wall Street Journal.

News Briefs
  • Over 100 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2006 -- while many were victims of the organized crime they covered, corruption is also a huge problem, and journalists complain of harassment from politicians, reports the Guardian. On the list of the world’s deadliest places to be a reporter, Mexico falls between the war-torn nation of Afghanistan and the failed state of Somalia. Last year, 11 Mexican journalists were killed, the country’s highest tally this century. And last month was the worst on record, reports the New York Times. At least seven journalists were shot. Veracruz in particular is the most dangerous place in the hemisphere for journalists.
  • Venezuela's opposition will take to the streets again today -- demanding clean elections and rejecting judicial actions in recent weeks, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Venezuelans from Chavista strongholds are increasingly joining in protests, often at great personal risk, a key difference from previous protest movements, reports the Washington Post. Poor residents say they are blackmailed by authorities who say they'll withdraw much needed food assistance, and threatened by armed pro-government gangs known as colectivos.(See Thursday's post.)
  • Protesters are increasingly driven by the conviction that the Bolivarian revolution has failed and left a broken country, writes Hugo Prieto in a New York Times Español op-ed. He also points to the increasing participation of the country's poor, and says there's still a small window for a negotiated exit -- and points to a military intervention to call for elections as an alternative. "It is very risky to permit the military to involve itself in political affairs, though it's happened before in our history, when a civic-military alliance overthrew the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez, in 1958. There is also the classic option of a communist dictatorship, whose model would be the Cuban regime. The political solution is an enormous risk, but it must be tried. Beyond that, we can only await a miracle."
  • And the opposition is pushing for an internationally brokered negotiation process, reports Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced a 60 percent raise in the minimum salary, yesterday, ahead of May Day. But the announcement merely highlights economic woes, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • The current situation in Venezuela shows the bankruptcy of two leading narratives about the country: "The first, prominent in mainstream western media, portrays the government as a dictatorial regime engaged in ruthless repression of a heroic opposition peacefully seeking a return to democratic rule. The second, put forward by the government and a small (and likely dwindling) group of international solidarity activists, portrays a democratically elected government besieged by a violent, unhinged opposition that (a) represents a small minority of wealthy elites; (b) enjoys full support from the US empire; and (c) will stop at nothing to achieve regime change, regardless of the legality or morality of its actions," writes Gabriel Hetland in an interesting analysis for NACLA. Rather, the government's actions since the December 2015 legislative elections have demonstrated a creeping authoritarianism, while the opposition has shown "willingness to use violent and unconstitutional means against the government." Venezuelans right now seem to be at the mercy of "a vengeful, reckless opposition, and an incompetent, unaccountable government. If any slogan captures the current mood of the popular classes living in Venezuela’s barrios and villages it is likely this: Que se vayan todos. Throw them all out.
  • The government's creep to authoritarianism, dubbed "El Madurazo" intensified noticeably last year when an opposition push for a recall referendum -- which likely would have ousted President Nicolás Maduro -- was abruptly cancelled by provincial judges, explains Tomás Straka in a piece for Nueva Sociedad that analyzes the past year and a half of government and opposition moves in more detail.
  • A combined Venezuelan and Colombian operation detained members of the ELN support network in Venezuela, reports Efecto Cocuyo. And Colombian authorities arrested an alleged intermediary of the EPL rebel group in charge of acquiring weapons from Venezuela's military, a sign the Venezuelan crisis' impact on regional crime dynamics, according to InSight Crime.
  • The Colombian government says a key faction of the ELN is opposed to peace negotiations, reports InSight Crime.
  • A breakaway faction of MS-13 is increasingly causing conflict. Gang leaders have called on members to crack down on MS503, reports InSight Crime.
  • And dissident factions of the FARC appear to have issued a statement condemning the ongoing peace process with Colombia's government, while asserting that they represent the real ideals at the root of the five-decade long rebellion, reports InSight Crime. The statement condemns the FARC leadership's "treachery" in signing the current agreement allegedly without ever consulting its ranks, and points to dissatisfaction with the peace agreement's implementation. The text also points to the spate of murders of community activists, that has accompanied the demobilization of the guerrilla force. (See last Tuesday's post.) 
  • And arrests in Bolivia point to increasing activity by Brazil's most powerful prison gangs there, also reported on by InSight Crime.
  • The trend towards relaxing term limits in Latin America is negative, according to the Economist, which points to unfair advantages for the incumbent -- including potential to abuse public resources and interfere with electoral authorities. The piece cites interesting academic studies, and calls Venezuela and Nicaragua virtual dictatorships, but it's less clear why reelection is negative only for Latin America.
  • A Trump effect seems to have drastically reduced illegal migration across the U.S. southern border -- apprehensions along the border with Mexico in March were the lowest since 2000, and represent a 64 percent decline from the same month last year. But experts say the policy of fear may already be running its course, and there are signs of a rebound -- because the situations people are fleeing in Central America are life and death and haven't waned, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said elements of the aborted Trans Pacific Partnership agreement could be recycled into Nafta renegotiations, reports the Financial Times. He pointed to agreements reached during the preparation of the TPP, including areas such as biotech, labour regulation, e-commerce and intellectual property. Using sections of TPP would offer the US president a quick and relatively easy victory on trade, he said, arguing that Mexico should be seen as a partner in competition with Chinese low-cost manufacturing. (See Friday's post.)
  • Trump's Nafta bluster is being closely watched by other governments in the region, which accounts for half of the United States’ free trade agreements, reports the Miami Herald. Nafta served as a template for the U.S.'s other free trade agreements, including 11 in the region. 
  • Fear of crime pushes well-to-do Mexicans to gated communities -- but the popular developments also attract cartel leaders
  • and could foster the very social divisions that increase insecurity in general, reports the Daily Beast in an article that could easily be extrapolated to other parts of the region.
  • Criminal groups use narco messages to gain "respect" and "build a reputation among their rivals and society as a whole," according to a study by the Center for Research and Economic Development (Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo Económico - CIDE). "The study notes that while the main motive in 44 percent of the messages analyzed was to send a threatening or hateful message to rival groups, the motive in 22 percent of the messages, identified as "messages of justice," was to single out the murdered person as an alleged offender," reports Animal Político. (InSight Crime has the English translation.)
  • The story of a Mexican university angling to become part of the N.C.A.A. shows the tangled web of relations across the border beyond just migration and economic transactions, reports the New York Times.
  • Puerto Rico is running out of time with its debt, and could face a flurry of lawsuits tomorrow after a Congressional stay of litigation passed last year runs out, reports the Financial Times.
  • Brazilian businessman Eike Batista was released to house arrest while he awaits trial on charges of corruption and money laundering, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Eight Cuban troops were killed in a plane crash in the western province of Artemisa, reports the Guardian.
  • It's not really Lat Am news, but Trump's "very friendly conversation" with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte could have vast implications for international drug policy. Trump invited Duterte, an authoritarian leader accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects, for a White House visit, a move human rights advocates criticized loudly, reports the New York Times. (See a recent NYT op-ed by Jorge Castañeda on why the U.S.'s moral standing matters, in last Thursday's briefs.)

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