Monday, September 4, 2017

Where is Santiago Maldonado? (Sept. 4, 2017)

News Briefs
  • Tens of thousands of Argentines gathered on Friday asking for the whereabouts of Santiago Maldonado, a disappeared social activist last seen during a confrontation on Aug. 1 between police officers and supporters of a Mapuche indigenous community. The case, which is officially being treated as an enforced disappearance, has roused demons in a country where the memories of the mass disappearances of the last dictatorship remain fresh, reports the New York Times. Human rights groups have called on the Argentine government to conduct an independent investigation. "One month after Santiago's forced disappearance, the state continues to deny it. The only people they have questioned are his friends and family," said Maldonado's brother, Sergio, at the demonstration. Many believe security forces have a role in his disappearance, reports the BBC.
  • The former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia became the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC in Spanish) last week, at a party congress that officially launched the former guerrilla group as a political party. The logo for the new party is a stylized red rose with a five-pointed star in its center above the letters Farc in green, reports the Guardian. In the words of the Washington Post: "in a new era of peace, the battled-scarred leftists are launching a charm offensive — trading their guns and fatigues for the soft-lit ads and sport coats of 21st-century politics." Though anger at the violence carried out by the FARC is widespread in Colombia, there is evidence that the group is making some advances. A recent Gallup poll showed the group with 15 percent support, compared with 10 percent in June of last year. The latest numbers were only a few percentage points lower than the approval rating of Colombia’s congress. The decision to keep the FARC acronym, which conjures up negative feelings for many Colombians, was polemic, notes the Miami Herald. "But at the same time it represents our historical continuity, our past," explained FARC leader Iván Márquez on Friday. "We are going to continue our fight but only in the arena of legal politics."
  • Top Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives called for an inquiry into Drug Enforcement Administration-led operations in Honduras and Mexico that resulted in the deaths of dozens, possibly hundreds, of people who had nothing to do with the drug trade, reports ProPublica. The letter, from members of the House's foreign affairs and judiciary committees, refers to a ProPublica investigation into a 2011 massacre by the Zetas cartel in the Mexican state of Coahuila that was triggered after sensitive information shared by the DEA with its Mexican vetted police unit wound up in the hands of cartel leaders, who ordered a wave of retaliation against suspected traitors. (See June 13's post.) It also referenced a botched 2012 DEA operation in Honduras that led to four civilian deaths when police fired on a water taxi carrying people who were apparently unarmed and not connected to the drug trade. (See May 25's post.)
  • Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales lost the first round of his struggle against the U.N. corruption commission that is investigating him for money laundering. His attempt to expulse CICIG head Iván Velásquez was stopped by a Constitutional Court decision last week, affirming the international official in his place. But the face-off has exposed the country's "enormous institutional weaknesses ... and also the profound wounds of a conflict that trap it in an all-night ideological struggle," writes Claudia Escobar in a New York Times Español op-ed. "The defenders of the status quo consider the CICIG an instrument of the left, which attempts against national sovereignty and attempts to impose new rules of the game; while human rights defenders, who have denounced the excesses committed by the army during Guatemala's armed conflict, back the commission's work. It's time to remember that the fight for rule of law is not a question of ideology," she argues.
  • Girls are considered a problem in El Salvador, one of the world's deadliest countries for women, argues Catalina Lobo-Guerrero in a New York Times op-ed. Last year, 524 women were killed. But that isn't the main problem for El Salvador's machista society, she writes. "It is the women who survive violence and sexual assault — 10 per day — who pose a problem for Salvadoran society. Even more so when they turn to the police, the district attorney’s office or hospitals for help, or when they dare report their attackers." They are victims of gang violence, but also domestic attacks by relatives. And the country's draconian abortion ban means those who suffer obstetric complications can be jailed for homicide. "Thousands of women have fled El Salvador in the past few years because they don’t believe they can live peacefully in their own country. ... If society dismisses these patriarchal attitudes or excuses them as normal, programs by the public sector or civil society organizations geared toward changing the way women are treated will have little impact. Machismo and misogyny are not genetic traits. They are sexist behaviors that must be changed."
  • Today marks one month since Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly (ANC) was sworn in. "In the subsequent weeks the body has rapidly consolidated power, laying bare an authoritarian power grab," writes Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights post that reviews major actions taken, including extending its mandate and establishing a Truth, Justice and Victims’ Reparation Commission with broad authority to investigate "acts of violence for political and related reasons."
  • Julio Borges and Freddy Guevara — the president and vice president of the National Assembly -- are scheduled to meet tomorrow with with French President Emmanuel Macron. Later in the week, they expect to meet with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Madrid, German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, and British Prime Minister Theresa May in London, reports the Washington Post.
  • Activist Lilian Tintori -- wife of opposition leader Leopoldo López -- said her passport was seized on Saturday and she was barred from leaving the country to join Borges and Guevara on their planned meetings, reports the Associated Press.
  • Economic declines in Venezuela are worse than those in Mexico during its economic collapse in the 1990s, Argentina in the 2000s and Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union, according to Ricardo Hausmann, an economist at Harvard University and former Venezuelan planning minister. Tales of hunger are increasingly common, and citizens unable to obtain gas for cooking are using firewood to prepare food, reports the New York Times.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto promised he would not accept any proposals that go against national dignity, in negotiations with the U.S. Speaking at the annual address to Congress, Peña Nieto did not directly refer to the polemic border wall issue, but did say that Mexican consulates in the U.S. had been turned into legal advice centres in order to defend the rights of immigrants and to fight discrimination, reports the BBC.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump said he'd announce a decision about what to do with DACA on Tuesday. The Obama-era program shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation, reports the New York Times.
  • As technical teams from Mexico, Canada and the U.S. work through NAFTA renegotiation talks, focusing on the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico is the wrong metric to focus on, argue experts in the Washington Post.
  • The numbers of U.S. diplomatic staff members in Cuba affected by suspected acoustic attacks has risen to 19, and the latest incident was reported as recently as a month ago, reports the BBC.
  • Cuba's school system is suffering an acute teacher deficit -- about 40,000 docents have left the profession since Raúl Castro assumed the presidency in 2008, reports the Miami Herald. A key issue is payment, according to experts. Cuban-American economist Carmelo Mesa Lago has estimated that education spending dropped from 14.1 percent of the island’s GDP in 2008 to 10.2 percent in 2015. About 1,800 schools were closed during that period, according to official figures.
  • Car free days have become so popular in Bolivia that some cities have several, a moment when air pollution drops significantly, reports the Guardian.
  • Milan's "Cocaine King" was arrested in the Uruguayan beach resort of Punta del Este, after 23 years on the run, reports the Reuters.
  • Caribbean islands began preparing for Hurricane Irma this weekend -- the storm could hit tomorrow, reports the Associated Press.
  • A Colombian company is trying to open the U.S. market for stylish bullet-proof clothing, reports the Miami Herald.
  • And Argentine police shot down a carrier pigeon smuggling sedative pills, marijuana and a USB drive into a prison, reports the BBC.

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