Thursday, July 20, 2017

U.N. experts call for independent investigation in Mexican spy scandal (July 20, 2017)

News Briefs
  • Four U.N. human rights experts called for the Mexican government to establish an independent investigation into allegations of monitoring and illegal surveillance against human rights defenders, social activists, and journalists. "We urge the Government to commit to cease the surveillance immediately," they emphasized. "Such commitment must include effective controls over the security and intelligence services in order to prevent unlawful use of the State's monitoring tools." The Mexican government has limited the investigation of allegations of spying using government owned software to the attorney general's office, which essentially means the government is investigating itself with no oversight. The government blocked a proposal for the country’s new anticorruption board to investigate the case, which would have added transparency to the investigation, reports the New York Times. (Among the targets was the then-16-year-old son of journalist Carmen Aristegui. "By targeting her family with tools designed to fight terror and crime, Aristegui told The Intercept, the Mexican government is treating its critics like “enemies of the state.” And she is demanding answers not only as a journalist, but as a parent as well.")
  • The entire scandal gives organized crime in Mexico a window into how the government works against it, and "represents a massive self-inflicted wound" for the government's efforts to combat illicit groups, reports InSight Crime
  • Large portions of Caracas appeared to be shutdown this morning, heeding opposition calls for a massive national strike against the government plan to rewrite the constitution, reports the Associated PressEl País has live updates. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • Earlier this week the U.S. threatened economic sanctions if Venezuela's government moves forward with a plan to rewrite the constitution. But unilateral sanctions are not the way to go, argues Andres Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald. "..Well-placed Venezuelan opposition sources tell me that cutting oil imports or suspending U.S. exports of light oils to Venezuela — which the country uses to mix with its own heavy crudes — would have a devastating impact on the Venezuelan people, who are already suffering from widespread food and medicine shortages." Instead he advocates incremental diplomatic measures, more sanctions for individual Venezuelan officials, and releasing information on extensive U.S. holdings by Venezuelan officials. "Most importantly, the Trump administration should condition future U.S. oil contracts with Venezuela on the approval of the National Assembly, which is controlled by the opposition after a landslide victory in the 2015 elections." (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel called on the government to suspend elections for a constituent assembly, in a New York Times Español op-ed. (See July 12's briefs for more on "El Sistema," and the country's classical musicians' relationship to the protests.) 
  • Two reports by Colombian civil society groups -- Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP) and Fundación Paz y Reconciliación (Pares) -- detail how the FARC demobilization is permitting the expansion of other illegal groups, and how the current peace transition phase is characterized by a continuity of organized crime, reports the BBC. Pares also emphasizes the murder of five FARC leaders, allegedly by new criminal structures operating in their territories, reports CNN Español.
  • A report by a Commission of Guarantors of the Referendum in Venezuela emphasizes the massive participation and calm environment it took place in -- "an indication of the organizational capacity of civil society—those who took on the cost of some of the activities and materials–and the democratic conviction of the citizens that understand elections to be a privileged of democracy." However, "despite these achievements, it should be stated that while the preliminary data does corroborate the qualitative impression of a large mobilization, the absence of an electoral registry reduced the technical precision of the popular consultation in establishing the level of participation. In addition, there was no guarantee of the secrecy of the vote. It was common for the citizens to vote in front of those in charge of the table. While this did not appear to cause discomfort–and reflected that the event was fundamentally an occurrence of citizens aligned with the opposition–it distanced the Referendum from one of the fundamental characteristics of an electoral event. The Referendum amounted to a relevant, political event."
  • Fighting the U.S. opioid epidemic means declaring war on Mexican cartels -- like actual, real war -- argues Matt Meyer in U.S. News and World Report. "By "go to war," I mean a formal declaration of war by Congress against Mexico in which we use the full force of our military might to destroy the cartels, the poppy fields and all elements of the drug trade. Ideally, as our fight is not with the Mexican government, its military or its people, which try to weaken the cartels, we would try to partner with those entities against the cartels, much as we partnered with the South Vietnamese government and military against the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army. It sounds crazy, I know – unless you acknowledge we are already fighting a war with Mexico."
  • Cubans caught off guard by the sudden termination of a favorable U.S. immigration policy in January are gathering in Mexico to seek alternatives, reports the Guardian. The piece contrasts the difference between Cuban migrants who legally travel through Mexico, and their Central American counterparts who are increasingly detained by Mexican authorities or face grave dangers traveling illegally through the country.
  • Two years after the U.S. and Cuba officially reestablished diplomatic relations, the Trump administration has somewhat changed the narrative, though extensive rollback of rapprochement policies has not taken place, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Former Peruvian strongman Alberto Fujimori openly sided with his son Kenji over his daughter Keiko, exposing a deep divide within the right-wing party he founded 30 years ago, reports Reuters. In a series of tweets, Fujimori backed his son for "building bridges" with the government of centrist President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Earlier this week, the Popular Force suspended Kenji from its activities for 60 days after he openly criticized the party and voiced support for Kuczynski's 1-year-old government. Fujimori's support for cooperation comes as Kuczynski is evaluating whether to whether to pardon and grant Fujimori early release from prison, where he has been serving a 25-year sentence for human rights violations and graft.
  • Haiti's government is taking advantage of reduced political polarization to initial steps aimed at overcoming longstanding problems of governance, rule of law and social and economic development, the U.N. envoy to Haiti Sandra Honore told the Security Council. But while she applauded an improved relationship between the executive and legislative branches, she said the judiciary still is not fully functioning, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazil's central bank has frozen four bank accounts belonging to ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva due to his recent conviction on corruption charges, reports the Associated Press.
  • Colombia is at risk of a credit rating downgrade. The country is struggling to meet fiscal targets and investors are tiring of overly optimistic government forecasts, reports Reuters.

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