Monday, October 2, 2017

Colombian rebels the ELN begin 'first-ever' ceasefire (Oct. 2, 2017)

Colombian guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN) began its first ceasefire in over half a century on Sunday, the BBC reported. The group has been in talks with the Colombian government, hosted in Ecuador, since February. Both the armed forces and ELN guerrillas have pledged to cease all operations during the ceasefire, which extends until January. 

Colombia's defense minister told Reuters that the army will respond if the guerrilla group "engaged in criminal activities such as illegal mining and drug trafficking." However, according to La Silla Vacia founder Juanita Leon, halting the criminal activities which help support the ELN -- including kidnappings and extortion -- aren't actually included in the ceasefire agreement. According to Verdad Abierta, the ceasefire will also include the creation of a monitoring committee, headed by indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders, in the conflict-ridden region of Choco, where the ELN maintains a strong presence in some areas.  

Part of the ELN's ceasefire demands include that the government improve conditions for imprisoned ELN guerrillas and step up protections for social leaders. La Silla Vacia has a special on the ELN talks which looks at the various rebel, government and international leaders who may or may not have a strong interest in seeing the eventual fulfillment of a peace deal.  

News Briefs

  • Reuters reports on how the U.S. travel advisory for Cuba, issued last week, could affect the island's tourism industry. This morning the Associated Press reported that the mysterious "sonic attacks" primarily targeted U.S. intelligence operatives, adding that American spies were among the first victims affected and have suffered some of the most acute damage. "The most obvious motive for attacking Americans in Havana would be to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Cuba," the AP observes. "If that's the case, the strategy appears to be succeeding."
  • El Faro and Univision Noticias collaborated on a longform special (available in English and Spanish) that uses on-the-ground reporting, photography, and other multimedia elements to profile Central American migrants who are applying for asylum in Mexico, after fleeing gang violence in their home countries. The 90-minute read, which is also available in audio format, visits a migrant shelter in Mexico's Tabasco state and various youth shelters in Mexico City, documenting the harrowing stories of those who count themselves among Mexico's refugee population. According to the story, the United Nations predicts that over 20,000 people will have applied for asylum status in Mexico by the end of 2017 -- an increase of about 128 percent compared to 2016. The article notes that "word-of-mouth" among migrant networks and an increasingly difficult journey northwards may have prompted this spike in asylum applications. Nevertheless, a higher number of Central Americans are deported from Mexico than are granted asylum status, the article found. 
  • The New York Times' Interpreter column on world affairs takes a look at the relationship between inequality and violence in Mexico, arguing that because the country's powerful elites increasingly rely on private security services, the government is under less pressure to tackle rising homicide and crime rates. As a result, Mexico's poor are left disproportionately vulnerable to crime and violence, which, in turn, has fed the rise of vigilantism. In fact, according to a 2016 study cited by the article, Mexican towns most likely to see the rise of a vigilante group are those with the widest gap between rich and poor -- not those with a higher crime rate or a weaker state presence. "Any social compact is built in part on the agreement that security is a public good, shared and maintained by all," write authors Max Fisher and Amanda Taub. "As Mexico’s rich effectively withdraw, the implicit arrangements that hold society together are breaking down."
  • The New York Times analyzes how the mysterious death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman could yet influence former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's run for a Senate seat. Sunday also saw more widespread protests in Buenos Aires by demonstrators demanding that the Macri government investigate the disappearance of a young man, Santiago Maldonado, who disappeared at the hands of police, according to local human rights groups. 
  • President Nicolas Maduro criticized the violent police crackdown in Spain during Catalonia's independence vote, asking, "Who's the dictator now?" during a state television program. In other Venezuela-related news, writer Alberto Barrera has a New York Times Español op-ed arguing that the Venezuelan military has accumulated an unprecedented amount of power and economic "holdings" under Maduro, and thus should be included in any negotiations between the government and the opposition.  
  • The Los Angeles Times has a dispatch on how rural Mexican communities have been affected by the Sept. 19 earthquake, alongside a report on how rebuilding efforts could actually help boost the national economy by next year. Compared to the 1985 earthquake that struck Mexico, the LA Times reports, "This time, economists hope the impact of the earthquake will be shorter-lived, since the damage and loss of life are much lower." 
  • The Miami Herald's weekend coverage of Hurricane Maria recovery efforts included a profile of celebrities, political groups, government agencies and others who are providing assistance to Puerto Rico, as well as an article looking at how the expected wave of Puerto Rican migrants would impact Florida. For another view of the damage that Hurricane Maria inflicted on the island, take a look at an aerial map created by federal agency the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • A Puerto Rican investigative news organization has reported that the number of deaths caused by Hurricane Maria is likely much higher than the current official tally (around 19). Bodies are piled up uncounted in hospital morgues across the island, and official numbers do not account for those who've died from a lack of essential health services, the report found. Elsewhere, an AP reporter who has covered several natural disasters wrote that he was "stunned" at the lack of federal and military response on the island in the days immediately after Hurricane Maria. 
  • In his most recent column for The Miami Herald, Andres Oppenheimer examines the "possible, yet unlikely" scenario that voters in Mexico, Brazil and Chile could swing for a populist candidate, similarly to the U.S. 2016 presidential election. 
  • Polls in Brazil continue to show former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva would be a competitive candidate should he run for the 2018 presidential elections, reports Reuters. While there is a two-term limit in Brazil, former presidents are allowed to seek office again once at least one term has elapsed. 
  • The New York Times profiles a São Paulo apartment building designed by Brazil's most famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer, which over the years has helped fuel the transformation of a working class neighborhood in decline.  
  • President Trump tweeted 18 times about Puerto Rico over the weekend, a response that Vox's Matthew Yglesias argues was driven by cable news, incompetence, and the U.S. culture wars. 
  • The latest issue of The Economist includes articles analyzing future outcomes for Cuba's economy and a look at a mobile app developed for waste collectors in São Paulo. 
  • Ojo Publico has mapped out the districts most vulnerable to corruption during Peru's mayoral and gubernatorial elections in 2018. 
  • InSight Crime reports on a Massachusetts case involving an alleged leader of a local MS-13 gang cell, accused of supervising the gang's expansion in Boston. 
  • The Guardian has an amusing profile of the self-dubbed "worst soccer team in the world," based in Brazil, which is infuriating fans with its current winning streak (three games and counting). “If we keep winning, we are going to lose our brand,” commented one player. 
- Elyssa Pachico 

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