Monday, May 15, 2017

Fuel theft and violence in Mexico (May 15, 2017)

News Briefs
  • Last year was the most violent in Mexico since 2011, an increase that is led by intra-gang warfare in cartels left leaderless by government crackdowns, according to the Economist. The new spike in fuel theft in Puebla is emblematic of the new modus operandi by gangs that lack the sophistication for massive drug operations. But violence has also been fueled by the rise in opium production to feed U.S. demand, notes the piece. (See last Friday's post and Thursday's briefs.)
  • Fuel theft is the new frontline of Mexico's war on crime, reports the Financial Times. Authorities are now urgently deploying more than 2,000 soldiers, plus helicopters, drones and GPS tracking, to close in on gangs after a confrontation a couple of weeks ago led to 11 deaths -- four soldiers and seven civilians. (See last Thursday's briefs on an alleged extrajudicial killing that could account for at least one of those deaths.)
  • Colombians head to the polls next year for legislative and presidential elections. The presence of the FARC as a political party rather than guerrilla force is a game-changer in the political scene, writes Sylvia Colombo in a New York Times Español op-ed. "The main beneficiary could be the left. Historically the average Colombian has mistrusted the left, associating it with the guerrilla. Now there isn an opportunity for candidates of the center-left, moderate left, and even radical left to run and have the opportunity to go to a ballotage. This last is unprecedented in Colombia." Already the FARC is producing slick marketing and bringing up topics related to corruption and the informal labor market that resonate among Colombians, but their proposals fall short, she writes. And a fragmented left could threaten the historic opportunity afforded by peace. In upcoming months, the FARC must decide whether to ally with traditional parties or seek votes alone -- should they decide the latter, they will wind up a minority voice in Colombian politics, she argues.
  • A year after Bogotá authorities cracked down on a central neighborhood known for "basuco" (crack) dealers, Security Secretary Daniel Mejía, maintains the operation was a success. Police found evidence of abuse of minors and vulnerable populations, large-scale prostitution, selective homicide, and arms trafficking, as well as a thriving illicit drugs market, reports El País. But critics maintain the Bronx operative violated the rights of inhabitants -- especially the area's homeless community, which was scattered as a result. And they point to increased land-value as an underlying motive for the government's actions. (See post for Aug. 18, 2016.)
  • Thousands of cars and motorcycles filled roads in Venezuela in a motorized protest against President Nicolás Maduro this weekend, reports the BBC. A bus was set fire in Caracas and clashes were reported in Valencia.
  • Venezuela's slide to collapse is surprising considering its vast oil wealth and long-established democracy, according to a New York Times "Interpreter" piece that analyzes past decades of the country's history. The piece focuses on how a limited, two-party elite system was overthrown by Hugo Chávez's populist victory in 1998, which he consolidated with purging of institutions. "Because populism describes a world divided between the righteous people and the corrupt elite, each round of confrontation, by drawing hard lines between legitimate and illegitimate points of view, can polarize society."
  • Regional pressure on the Maduro government is partially spurred by a growing wave of refugees, mostly affecting neighboring Brazil and Colombia, notes the Economist.
  • The media narrative about Venezuela often posits that poor sectors must join the middle class protests in order to overthrow the government. "This is actually a hypothetical that has been around since before Chávez, and in Venezuela takes the hypothetical form of “si bajen los cerros” (“if the hills come down”—most popular barrios in Caracas are on hillsides)," writes David Smilde at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. There have been various pieces during the recent weeks of protests over whether this has actually started to happen or not. The blog post -- a discussion between Smilde, Alejandro Velasco, Dimitris Pantoulas, Maria Pilar García Guadilla, and Mila Ivanovic -- gives a far more nuanced analysis. "I think this idea of “when the barrios come down” is journalistically attractive, but I think that in the current context the questions should be posed in a different way, corresponding better to the country’s political reality. Part of the barrios have already “come down” politically and demonstrated this with their votes in the 2015 elections, as well as with their participation in recent demonstrations, and even more importantly, with their absence in the counter-demonstrations organized by the Maduro government," notes Pantoulas. More broadly, Velsaco analyzes how "the distrust of the poor in relation to the wealthy is the most significant barrier for the population to unify against Maduro."
  • Increasing criticism from the left of the Venezuelan model includes three strains of argument: condemnation of both the government and the opposition; the view that Maduro’s policies depart from a rational socialist model; and a focus on international politics rather than the national and grassroots levels. Former Chávez advisor Heinz Dieterich espouses all three, writes Steve Ellner in NACLA. "...Criticism of the Maduro government’s shortcomings and errors should not be off-limits for progressives, nor should their seriousness be played down. Elsewhere, I have criticized those on the Left who caution against critical analyses by academics in the North of leftist governments in the global South. But criticisms of the government must be placed in the broader context of the continued, unproductive hostility coming from powerful groups both within and outside Venezuela. The most recent examples of the international campaign waged against the Maduro government include the OAS’s secretary general Luis Almagro’s insistence on the holding of general elections and the threat of Venezuela’s expulsion from the organization."
  • The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) said "right-wing invaders" burning crops to intimidate Indigenous Lenca land defenders, reports TeleSUR.
  • Haitians living in the U.S. are terrified of losing special immigration status, amid signs that President Donald Trump will end a long-standing humanitarian program and expose 58,000 people to deportation back to Haiti, reports the Guardian. This weekend hundreds of Haitians gathered in Miami to rally for the extension of Temporary Protected Status, reports the Miami Herald. A decision on extending TPS for Haitians can come as soon as this coming week, although the Department of Homeland Security has until May 23.
  • Argentines' mass rejection last week of a Supreme Court ruling that would effectively shorten prison terms for human rights abusers -- a march against the decision drew half a million people in Buenos Aires, and Congress almost unanimously passed a law to prevent any shortening of prison terms for those sentenced for crimes against humanity -- is characteristic of a historic pattern in which social activists pave the way for institutional advances, reports the New York Times, citing CELS's Gastón Chillier. Though President Mauricio Macri eventually came out against "impunity," his delayed reaction was criticized by the human rights community. He is seen as soft on the dictatorship, but has argued he is merely standing up for judicial independence.  (See last Wednesday's post and Thursday's briefs.)
  • A group of U.S. LGBTQ activists met in Havana with Cuban civil society leaders seeking recognition of same-sex marriage and legal protections for transgender Cubans, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Part of Managua's traditional Mercado Oriental was lost in a fire this weekend -- firefighters struggled to reach the central area of the market and access to many hydrants has been blocked by shops built illegally over the years, reports the BBC.

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