Friday, June 9, 2017

Environmental efforts mask business interests in Guatemala (June 9, 2017)

News Briefs
  • Guatemala's government portrays its efforts to clear squatters out of nature reserves as a bid to defend the environment. But the eviction efforts in Parque Nacional Laguna del Tigre often mask military, extraction, business and illicit interests, writes Greg Grandin for The Nation. Ostensibly environmental conflicts are increasingly deadly in the region. (See yesterday's briefs.) "Not just in the Petén, but throughout Guatemala—as in Honduras, especially in the Aguán Valley—land conflicts and evictions related to drugs, mining, biofuels, dams, and ranching are widespread and growing increasingly violent."
  • Yesterday the U.N. high commissioner for human rights' office that over the last 15 years, Brazil has seen the highest number of killings of indigenous, environmental and land defenders of any country, reports the Associated Press.
  • Venezuela's chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Díaz, urged Venezuelans to reject President Nicolas Maduro's push to rewrite the nation's constitution and urged the Supreme Court to annul the process immediately. She said a plan to elect members of a constituent assembly in July is unconstitutional, reports the Miami Herald. Her statements yesterday deepen a divide within the government, and are her strongest statements yet as a critical voice, reports the Associated Press. Ortega first broke with the government in March, when she criticized a Supreme Court decision attempting to nullify the National Assembly. (See April 3's post.) 
  • Venezuela's chief prosecutor's office will investigate death of Neomar Lander, 17, who was killed during an anti-government protest in Caracas, reports the BBC. Witnesses say he was killed by a tear gas canister, while the government ombudsman says it was a home-made explosive device. According to the chief prosecutor's office, 67 people have been killed in protest-related violence since a wave of anti-government demonstrations started on 1 April.
  • Brazil's political crisis -- affecting the conservative coalition that ousted Dilma Rousseff last year -- could be an opportunity for the country's left to show its muscle again, according to Brian Mier in Nacla. "On the ground in Brazil, some voices in the Brazilian media are clamoring to cancel next year's presidential elections in favor of an indirect process which would turn the power of choosing the next president over to Congress, nearly one-third of which is currently implicated in Operation Car Wash. They argue that austerity reforms are too important for the nation to risk not pushing them through – that austerity is more important than democracy. The organized Left has another opinion on this subject, though, and will take to the streets on June 30 for a two-day national strike."
  • International investors are apparently jittery about Venezuelan bonds, after the strong backlash of repudiation against Goldman Sachs's recent purchase of $2.8 billion of bonds. That is a victory for Venezuela's political opposition, which is seeking to stop international investors from injecting cash into an unpopular government, reports Bloomberg. (See May 30's post.)
  • Venezuela is closer than ever to potential default, reports the Financial Times, which reviews financial maneuvers of the past couple of weeks.
  • China's key role financing Venezuela's government means the country must be incorporated into the diplomatic efforts to resolve Venezuela's political and economic crisis, argues Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly. "... Any high-level regional debate about the future of Venezuela should involve China – if not in the hope of active assistance, at least to better understand the views of all the key players involved in a crisis that has increasingly spilled into other countries ..."
  • An Afro-Colombian human rights defender was killed by gunmen in Malambo, reports AFP. Amnesty International’s director for the Americas, Erika Guevara-Rosas, condemned Bernardo Cuero’s "brutal assassination," saying in a statement that "the government must take necessary protective measures to guarantee the life and integrity of people" fighting for the rights of Afro-Colombians in the country. About 156 activists have been killed in Colombia between January 1, 2016 and March 1 of this year, according to official figures.
  • A U.S.-Colombia diplomatic spat over the fate of a former FARC fighter convicted of kidnapping a U.S. citizen shows how tricky the implementation of peace agreements including amnesty for lesser crimes, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Proposed U.S. budget cuts could affect security in the Caribbean and pose danger for U.S. interests, reports the Miami Herald. The cuts would affect programs aimed at building law enforcement capacity, anti-money laundering efforts and efforts to halt terrorism financing in the Caribbean.
  • In the midst of Brazil's political crisis, state controlled companies at the heart of the current corruption scandals are seeking to reinvent themselves, reports the Financial Times.
  • Brazilians pay an enormously exorbitant tax on public debt, according to Mark Weisbrot, who argues in the Huffington Post that that is what high interest rates amount to. "These high interest rates are an enormous drag on the economy as it struggles to recover from a depression. They have also contributed substantially to the long-term sluggish growth of the Brazilian economy, since investors can choose to get a safe, high-yield return on government bonds that are often protected from inflation or exchange rate risk, rather than investing in productive activity. The interest burden on the debt is even more deadly now that the current government has ― some would say insanely ― passed a constitutional amendment freezing real spending for 20 years. If the country had normal interest rates on its debt, it would free up tens of billions of reais for an economic stimulus."
  • Ni Una Menos, a movement aimed at visibilizing and combatting femicides, has gathered hundreds of thousands in Argentina since its inception in 2015. Yet while the movement has spread to other countries in the region, femicides continue to rise and landmark protection legislation in Argentina continues to be haphazardly applied, writes Teresa Sofía Buscaglia in a New York Times Español op-ed. She calls for more funding for education and training.
  • Guatemala lacks high security prisons, and the penitentiary system is fraught with corruption, gang warfare and extrajudicial executions, writes Diego Fonseca in a New York Times Español op-ed
  • Former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D’Escoto died yesterday. He was president of the United Nations General Assembly from 2008-2009, the first Catholic priest to hold the position, reports EFE.
  • La Paz inaugurated an international forum to discuss proposals to make the city more accessible for people with disabilities, reports EFE. (See May 5's briefs on a Guardian documentary on protests for disability rights and benefits in Bolivia.)
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, where the two will discuss a "mutual political dilemma: [U.S.] President Trump," reports the Los Angeles Times. Merkel was in Argentina earlier this week, where she and President Mauricio Macri mutually praised their efforts on the Paris climate agreement and development of renewable energy, reports the Associated Press.
  • As Argentina heads towards August primaries and October mid-term elections, Macri's government faces significant challenges including: union disputes, anger over increased service tariffs, international criticism over the imprisonment of social activist Milagro Sala, and corruption allegations stemming from Brazil's Lava Jato investigation, writes Nicolás Comini at the Aula Blog. "The primary election will define how the pieces of the political chessboard are placed, and Macri’s handling of his economic, political, and social challenges will be decisive.  Achievement of his reform agenda – including the overhauling the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC, accused of cooking data during previous governments), an ambitious “Plan Belgrano” infrastructure program, and the end of currency controls – may not be enough.  The potential reunification of his key Peronist opponents, increased social unrest, splits in his own coalition, and the spillover from the Brazilian crisis suggest a sobering future.  True love cannot be achieved from one day to the next, but in the domestic political arena it is simple to lose it suddenly." (See Wednesday's briefs.)
  • One in three Mexican adults and three out of 10 children are obese or overweight, an  epidemic that has made diabetes the country's number one killer, reports the Financial Times. This has prompted the state health insurer to launch a new model of preventive care.

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