Friday, May 26, 2017

Brazil's president calls off the army (May 26, 2017)

Brazilian President Michel Temer withdrew an order putting troops on the streets in Brasilia, just a day after calling on the armed forces to restore order after a protest demanding his ouster turned violent, reports the Financial Times. The decree, known as the law-and-order guarantee, is permitted under Brazil's constitution when police forces are overwhelmed.

However, the government of Brasilia complained that it had not been consulted and that the measure was unnecessary, reports the BBC. Brazilian authorities are investigating reports that police officers opened fire with live ammunition during the clashes, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
The latest corruption scandal which has flung Brazilian politics back into full-scale crisis "has struck at the core of the system of political patronage and corporate favoritism that has poisoned the country’s attempts to realize its full potential," argues the Financial Times. "Yet the unanswered questions are whether the spectacular results of these investigations, which have implicated a large swath of the political elite, will end up dismantling the corrupt nexus between government and big business, or whether it will leave the incentives that give rise to bribery in place."
Leaked recordings, like the one that appears to have implicated Temer last week, have been a game changer in Brazil’s fight against political corruption, argues Shannon Sims in a Washington Post World View. Yet, though they seem to promote transparency, experts say the leaking of secret judicial information is a huge problem around the country -- one that can be life or death for whistleblowers in small towns.

News Briefs
  • El Salvador's presidential offices siphoned off $322 million between 1994 and 2006, using a handwritten parallel accounting system. Handwritten entries in two notebooks detail how that amount of money was distributed in checks -- about half made out to the presidents in that time period, Armando Calderón Sol, Francisco Flores, and Antonio Saca, reports El Faro, which gained access to the data. The parallel accounting system -- called the "presidents' original sin" by one source -- was used to pay under the table bonuses to public officials, and other unauthorized use of public funds. Though the notebooks cover three Arena governments, El Faro reports that the practise continued under the subsequent FMLN government of Mauricio Funes.
  • Central American environmental activists are joining forces with rural communities in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua to create a new front of resistance against mining projects across the region, reports NACLA. Representatives from organizations and communities in all four countries met in Nicaragua last month to forge a new Central American Alliance Against Mining (ACAFREMIN).
  • U.S. President Trump's focus on forcing local law enforcement bodies to identify and arrest undocumented migrants is detrimental to the fight against Salvadoran street gang Mara Salvatrucha's U.S. incursions, said police chiefs from three different US counties impacted by MS13. The approach would force police to target the Latino communities that are their main source of information about the gang, said the police chiefs at a Senate hearing this week. They also spoke of some interesting dynamics between gang leaders back home and East Coast gang members, reports InSight Crime. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Gubernatorial elections in Mexico State are June 4, and the race is shaping up to be one of the country's most important in symbolic and political terms, ahead of next year's presidential elections, reports the Guardian. Delfina Gómez, candidate of Mexico’s National Regeneration party (Morena), could unseat the PRI, which has governed the country's most populous state for the past 90 years. The state "is considered the last bastion of PRI – the final block holding together a collapsing pyramid of economic and political power. If it too falls, the ramifications for the party, next year’s presidential elections and Peña Nieto’s inner circle would be profound."
  • The mayor of Chihuahua has fined a band $27,000 for a "narcocorrido," songs glorifying drug trafficking, reports the BBC. The singing of "narcocorridos" at live events has been banned by Chihuahua state law since 2011. The grammy-winning LLos Tigres del Norte say their ballads don't glamorize drug cartel culture, but, rather, reflex Mexican reality, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • The newly inaugurated government of Lenín Moreno in Ecuador represents an opportunity for the U.S. to reconstruct its relationship with the Latin American left, argues Evan Ellis in Latin America Goes Global. While Moreno was portrayed as a continuation of his predecessor Rafael Correa, he has already taken decisions that signal an alternate, leftist path. "President Moreno will likely pursue policies that give the Ecuadoran state a central role in advancing national development, addressing the needs of the socially and economically marginalized, and generally molding the country’s social and economic structure.President Moreno will also likely continue the government’s friendly disposition toward leftist governments and movements across the region, and a range of extra-hemispheric actors including Russia and China. Yet Moreno is notably more inclusive in his style, and does not bring to the presidency the deep personal resentment of the U.S. that shaped the posture and rhetoric of his predecessor, Rafael Correa ... In its orientation toward Latin America and the Caribbean, the U.S. needs to recognize that in the 21st Century its principal strategy challenge in Latin America and the Caribbean is not ideology, but criminality, poor governance, and those who seek to advance their personal agendas by exploiting the needs and frustrations of the region’s population. To this end, neither Ecuador nor any other government in the region should be considered an adversary of the U.S. simply for choosing a left-of-center approach to helping its people." (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Conflict and business are intertwined in Colombia -- "and for peace and economic cooperation to progress, the legacy of U.S. businesses in fueling the country’s decades-long conflict must be addressed," argue Tyler Giannini, MacKennan Graziano, and Kelsey Jost-Creegan in Americas Quarterly. They focus on the case of Chiquita Brands International, which admitted to paying $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004 to the right-wing Colombian paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC). Though Chiquita pleaded guilty in 2007, no corporate officials have been charged. However, Colombian attorneys are seeking justice, either through the country's criminal system or the newly created transitional justice mechanism. And last week a coalition of human rights organizations (of which the authors form part) also called upon the International Criminal Court (ICC) to examine the role of Chiquita’s executives in contributing to crimes against humanity.
  • Peruvian security forces will enter criminally controlled coca-growing areas for the first time, announced the government this week. It's part of an ambitious plan to halve the 50,000 to 55,000 hectares of coca grown in the country -- most of which is produced in a Puerto Rico-sized area of Amazon seen so far as too dangerous for police and soldiers to enter, reports Reuters. But the plan is unlikely to succeed unless a concerted effort is made to improve upon lackluster crop-substitution programs, argues InSight Crime. Without adequate compensation, farmers simply replant eradicated fields, and the re-cultivation rate has reached over 90 percent in some of the affected areas. 
  • The crackdown this week on São Paulo's Cracolândia -- described as an "atrocity," and a "massacre" by critics -- is unlikely to be effective at reducing microtrafficking, argues InSight Crime. Rather, the problem has merely been displaced, as buyers and sellers move to new locations. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Paraguay has had remarkable success in getting its population access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation -- more than 94% of its rural population now has access to safe water, compared with 51.6% in 2000, making more progress than any other country, reports the Guardian. The achievement is a combination of political prioritization, with innovative schemes, such as one that gives responsibility for water and sanitation to a volunteer board in rural communities. "The boards not only recover the maintenance and operating costs through setting water tariffs, but also repay a portion of the capital costs – used to build the infrastructure initially – to the national treasury. A rural family pays $3-5 per month for its water service, which is typically paid in cash to members of the board."
  • El Salvador's epidemic of violence is such that a story earlier this about the San Salvador zoo's hippo getting stabbed with an ice-pick seemed credible and telling of greater societal ills. (See Feb. 28's briefs.) Now some are casting doubt on that version of events, citing zoo operator negligence instead, and a potential conspiracy theory that business interests want to shut down the park and develop the property, reports the Washington Post.

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