Thursday, November 30, 2017

ESMA mega-case ends in 29 life-sentences (Nov. 30, 2017)

News Briefs
  • Argentine judges sentenced 29 former military officials with life sentences yesterday, the cap to a five year trial aimed at holding leaders accountable for human rights violations in the 1976-1983 dictatorship. Prosecutors tried 54 former Argentine officials in the deaths or forced disappearances of 789 people, and presented testimony from more than 800 witnesses, reports the New York Times484 cases corresponded to persons who were either murdered or made to “disappear” at the ESMA, while the remaining 305 involved survivors of kidnapping and torture as well as children born in captivity at the camp, reports the Guardian. A total of 48 defendents received sentences in the case focused on the infamous ESMA clandestine detention center, reports Página 12. The case also gave evidence and established as fact the "vuelos de la muerte" (death flights), in which prisoners were drugged and thrown off planes into the Rio de la Plata.
  • The judgements against perpetrators of violations are part of Argentina's large strides in the ensuing decades in defense of human rights. But the new CELS report on human rights in the country over the past year underscores potentially troubling government stances. "A number of decisions, measures and events have adversely affected critical items on the human rights agenda and protection mechanisms in Argentina. We do not aim to provide a full assessment of the governing Cambiemos alliance’s platform, but rather to underscore a troubling convergence of political and judicial actions and decisions that erode key aspects of the country’s human rights system," writes Gastón Chillier in a prologue released this week. Two cases from this year are particularly emblematic: the investigation into disappeared protester Santiago Maldonado and the ongoing imprisonment of social activist Milagro Sala. "Sala’s case is emblematic of the weakening of international human rights law in Argentina and, in particular, of the international protection mechanisms," writes Chillier. And "in a regional and international context that – political colors aside – is adverse to global agreements on human rights, the response by the Argentine government to Santiago Maldonado’s disappearance and death; the repression and discourse circulating about present threats and past events; judicial decisions that take aim at some of the pillars of Argentine democracy, such as the struggle against impunity for crimes against humanity and the commitment to international systems of protection – all of these put the core human rights agenda in Argentina on alert."
  • Honduras is on the cusp of a political crisis, reports the New York Times. Opposition presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla has said he will not recognize the electoral commission’s count, which has dragged on slowly since Sunday’s vote. (See yesterday’sTuesday’s, and Monday’s posts.) Nasralla was inititally five points ahead, but his lead has shrunk to a virtual tie with incumbent candidate President Juan Orlando Hernández. Nasralla’s declaration yesterday came just hours after he and Hernández signed an OAS brokered agreement to respect the commission’s results.
  • The New York Times magazine has an in-depth on the bloody conflict between El Salvador’s gangs and the police. “What is happening is like a war in nearly every way, but the vocabulary of war has no words to describe this new variation. The gangs look something like an insurgency, but they appear to have no political aim other than to avoid being killed.” Azam Ahmed points to a new dynamic among some gang sectors: a willingness to lay down arms in a negotiated settlement. The option however is unpopular within the ruling FMLN party and the general population – which approves of iron-fist policies against gang members, including torture and extrajudicial killings. The piece goes into gang history and dynamics in recent years – noting in particular the dynamics of violence with the police who are increasingly accused of extrajudicial killings and other violations against alleged gang members. The piece also discusses potential gang influence on electoral dynamics – traditionally carried out in exchange for money, but potentially wielded against the ruling party next year in retaliation for the security force crackdown on gangs.
  • Former Salvadoran army colonel  Inocente Orlando Montano has been extradited to Spain to face charges or allegedly helping plan the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests and two civilians. U.S. court documents say the killings were aimed at derailing peace talks during El Salvador’s civil war, reports the Guardian.
  • A “fast-track” period for Colombia’s Congress to approve laws needed to implement the FARC peace deal expired today. Lawmakers failed to pass a law that would created a framework to amnesty coca cultivators who eradicated their crops. This makes it unlikely that the 25,000 families who already signed voluntary crop-substitution agreements will follow through, as they are not assured of avoiding criminal prosecution, reports La Silla Vacía.
  • Mexican lawmakers are moving forward with a bill that would ratify the military’s role in the country’s drug war. Critics say the legislation will keep soldiers on Mexico’s streets indefinitely and lead to the suspension of basic civil rights, reports the New York Times. The proposal would put the military beyond civilian oversight and remove incentives for states and municipalities to build effective police forces, according critics, including human rights groups.
  • A police shooting of a well-known informal recycler in an affluent São Paulo neighborhood has drawn attention to the 20,000 people who collect 90 percent of the city’s recycling, which they sell to private scrapyards, reports the Guardian.
  • Inequality in São Paulo’s periphery affects women more than men. “At the same time, women are often leaders in these disadvantaged communities. From Paraisópolis to Cidade Tiradentes, they emerge as activists, educators, entrepreneurs and philanthropists, shaping their communities for the better,” reports the Guardian.
  • A lack of paper bills is inadvertently turning Venezuela into a cashless economy, reports the Guardian.
  • Argentina has evolved beyond populist Peronism, and ushered in a modern, pro-business era by ratifying President Mauricio Macri's Cambiemos alliance in this year's mid-term elections, argues Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Shannon O'Neil in a Bloomberg opinion piece. Voters chose good government, backed by good marketing she says. "Yet Macri’s win also came from Peronist failures. The movement has all but disintegrated, its factions losing ground in the midterms. Part of the problem is its leadership, or lack thereof. Despite her legacy of economic malpractice and deep ties to corruption, former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner remains its standard bearer, the most visible and popular among the unpopular. But Peronism’s slide into irrelevance also reflects a failure to adapt to structural economic change."
  • On that note, a piece from earlier this year by José Natanson in Página 12 masterfully susses out how Cambiemos represents a new right-wing: "democratic, willing to express economic differences with the 90's right, and socially not inclusive, but compassionate." Cambiemos has also latched onto a key concern by presenting itself as a modernizer of politics, he writes. The opposition response cannot be to decry right-wing neoliberalism, Natanson argues, because the narrative (though not necessarily the policies) are fundamentally different.
  • Yesterday evening Argentina’s senators approved a polemic pension reform that adjusts how retirement payouts are adjusted biannually, reports La Nación.

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