Friday, September 22, 2017

Mexicans critical of officials after earthquake (Sept. 22, 2017)

News Briefs
  • The official death count of the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck Mexico this week is now 273, and officials said 1,900 people had been injured, while thousands have lost their homes. Though much of the media focus has been on destruction in Mexico City, the states of Morelos and Puebla have been particularly badly hit. The New York Times features a piece on the Morelos town of Jojutla, where nearly half of the 60,000 inhabitant town's structures were leveled by the quake. The entire town was basically destroyed, an official told the Wall Street Journal.
  • And citizens are critical of the military, which took over rescue operations initiated by volunteers, but reportedly began to demolish piles of rubble just 72 hours after the earthquake, reports the Guardian. Yesterday evening President Enrique Peña Nieto said search-and-rescue missions are continuing in collapsed buildings. Foreign rescue teams arrived in Mexico to help in efforts, reports the Wall Street Journal. Rescuers believe that people may still be trapped alive in as many as 10 buildings in Mexico City alone, reports the BBC.
  • Hope at the story of a 12-year-old girl supposedly alive under the rubble of a collapsed school turned to anger when officials admitted the story was false, reports the Guardian. The narrative of Frida Sofía, who rescuers were inching towards in the earthquake destruction of the Enrique Rebsámen school had become symbolic of a nation gathering together in the wake of a natural disaster. That it turned out to be false could now become a new symbol -- one representing the disgust many Mexicans feel towards government officials and mainstream media frequently accused of faking statistics. The outcome could "could turn into an emotional whipsaw for a country that had been fixated for over 24 hours on the search for a missing student following a devastating earthquake," reports the Washington Post. Some rescue volunteers remain convinced there are victims trapped in the school's debris, reports the Wall Street JournalProceso has a skeptical piece detailing the "reality TV" media show, especially pushed by Televisa with fawning coverage of official rescue efforts. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Mexico's leading political parties agreed to dedicate a portion of the public funds assigned to their 2018 campaigns to help with earthquake reconstruction, reports Animal Político. The donation follows a social media campaign calling for #PartidosDenSuDinero. 
  • Wars rarely end in clear victories or defeats nowadays, ongoing dialogue is really the only way to prevent ongoing conflict, argues Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in a New York Times Español op-ed. Listing several insights gleaned from the peace process with the FARC, he notes that "the perfect peace does not exist. After all, peace is made with enemies, not friends." He refers to the polemic issue of transitional justice in Colombia, which critics say is too lax in cases of crimes against humanity. "Like many Colombians, I too would have preferred more severe penalties. Nonetheless, I think in the future our children will be grateful we chose the path of a careful equilibrium between peace and justice."
  • Former Colombian Supreme Court Judge Francisco Javier Ricaurte Gómez was arrested earlier this week on charges of criminal association, bribery, influence peddling and abuse of privileged information. It's part of a larger investigation into an alleged network of high-level judicial officials accused of blocking progress in cases in exchange for money. Revelations appear to indicate other high-level arrests are imminent. "In addition to involving figures at the highest echelons of the judiciary, this unfolding case is concerning because the allegations suggest the repetition of a consistent pattern of corruption involving several top judicial officials, which could point to a long-running scheme operated by a structured network," explains InSight Crime.
  • At least 10 people have died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane María, which continued to cause rain on the island. Rain and flooding could also trigger mudslides, reports the BBC, which reports a death toll of 13. An estimated 3.4 million people were left without power, and the territory's energy grid was largely destroyed, reports the New York Times. The destruction compounds an already complicated situation for the island, including an extended debt and bankruptcy crisis, and recovery from the recent destruction of Hurricane Irma.
  • Hurricane warnings are in place for British territory the Turks and Caicos and the south-eastern Bahamas, where María is heading next, reports the BBC.
  • Irma destruction in Havana worsened an already grave problem of unsound housing, reports the Miami Herald. "... Falling architectural elements and collapsing buildings that splay bricks and timbers into the street are an all too common occurrence in Havana where some of the buildings people inhabit are centuries old and in poor repair. A good rain can cause a derrumbe (collapse)." Of the nearly 4,300 homes damaged in the capital, the government said 157 dwellings collapsed and were total losses, putting more pressure on Havana’s creaky and aged housing stock. There were 986 partial collapses, 818 homes lost their roofs, and 1,555 homes reported partial roof damage.
  • A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers questioned recently approved (and retracted) reforms to Guatemala's Penal Code on a visit to Guatemala City yesterday, reports El Periódico. Lawmakers were unable to carry out a planned visit to Guatemala's Congress due to ongoing protests outside the building. They also met with organizations of civil society campaigning against impunity in Guatemala, including Acción Ciudadana, Justicia Ya, and the Fundación Myrna Mack. (See yesterday's post.)
  • A branch of the Guatemalan Public Ministry dedicated to money laundering cases requested information regarding President Jimmy Morales from the national electoral authority yesterday, reports El Periódico. The request is part of an investigation into sources of funding for his 2015 presidential campaign.
  • The son-in-law of a key witness in the case of the San Blas massacre in El Salvador was killed, reports El Faro. Officials have offered protection for Consuelo Hernández, whose son was killed in a police raid, but can only house part of her family in a safe house. A sentence is expected next week in the case of 8 police in the case of alleged extrajudicial execution. (See post for July 18, 2016.)
  • El Salvador's governing FMLN party is heading towards a break with San Salvador's mayor Nayib Bukele, reports El Faro
  • U.S. officials have pointed to Colombia's cocaine output boom as a driver for U.S. increased consumption, while Colombian officials say production has been pushed by increased local and international demand. In fact, it's not at all clear that consumption has increased, "or that there is a causal link between production and demand within an illegal market in which an array of factors are at work," reported La Silla Vacía in June. (InSight Crime has the English translation.) "This is not to understate the serious public health issue that drug consumption represents. But oversimplifications should be avoided, especially when voiced in support of failed, repressive policy measures, such as coca eradication via aerial fumigation and harsher criminal sentences," warn Juan Carlos Garzón and José Luis Bernal.
  • Costa Rican authorities appear to have uncovered a major international organ trafficking ring operating in the country. " Costa Rica may be transforming from a tiny player in the global organ trafficking trade into an "epicenter" for illegal organ trafficking, in large part due to corruption that has helped fuel a sophisticated "transplant tourism" industry as well as the global imbalance between the limited supply of kidneys and the high demand for transplants," reports InSight Crime.
  • The closure of a Brazilian art exhibit featuring LGBTQ-themed work -- "the Queer Museum" -- "is only the latest conservative coup in a country that has been tacking markedly rightward since 2013," argues Marcia Tiburi in the Conversation. "Rather than ask what art’s social function is, why not query the social role of groups that, like Free Brazil, censor art? This reframing exposes why fascist movements have always sought to quash art when it makes people think. To better manage citizens’ desires – including the desire to push back against political overreach – authoritarian states must repress analytical and critical thinking."
  • Happy Friday: Radio-loving Latin Americans have jumped on the streaming bandwagon, and growth of Latin music is far outpacing that of other genres, reports the Economist. "As streaming services have tracked and monetised, labels have noted Latin music’s climb up the charts. ... Record labels are eager to tap a fan base that includes Latin Americans, Latinos in America (one of the country’s fastest-growing ethnic groups) and millions of teenagers worldwide drawn to reggaeton by “Despacito” and “Mi Gente”."

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