Friday, December 21, 2018

GIEI found evidence of crimes against humanity in Nicaragua - Dec. 21 addendum

An international group of experts determined that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and top police commanders should be investigated for hundreds of deaths that occurred during massive, anti-government street protests this year. They found Ortega and senior police officers had coordinated a repression campaign against civilians. Their actions, including assassinations, arbitrary detentions, and persecution qualify as crimes against humanity under international law. (Confidencial and El Nuevo Diario)

The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) was convened earlier this year by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in an agreement with the Nicaraguan government. But the GIEI carried out its investigative work without official cooperation, and members were summarily kicked out of the country this week, a day before the report was set to be released. (See Thursday's post.)

The report was presented in Washington D.C. earlier today. Far from an isolated episode, they point to a pattern of repression that fueled intense discontent that boiled over in the April protests this year. At least 325 people have been killed, thousands have been wounded and about 600 are still detained as a result of the political unrest that has engulfed Nicaragua since April. (Wall Street Journal)

The pattern of repression demonstrates that it was a government policy ordered by the maximum authorities, according to the GIEI.

The GIEI report examines 109 deaths that occurred between April 18 and May 30, and points to a high prevalence of shooting victims among the dead, many with high-caliber weapons of war. Most of the dead were killed by shots to the head, neck or thorax, proof that security forces were aiming to kill. Many public hospitals turned away demonstrators, and doctors were harassed for treating them. The report also recommended that Nicaragua’s health minister and the heads of state-run hospitals who turned away wounded demonstrators be investigated for their role in denying medical care to those in need, reports the WSJ.

The report also notes the high level of impunity -- the vast  majority of the deaths have not been investigated, and those that have been are carried out with major procedural irregularities.

The report debunks the government's claims that security forces used legitimate measures to defend themselves from "terrorist" attacks and coup attempts. Instead citizens were making use of their democratic freedoms, said the experts. (Univisión) They found no evidence of coup attempts, and emphasized lack of separation of powers in Nicaragua. (La Prensa)

The GIEI experts' "work in Nicaragua is an example to all who believe human rights transcend ideological and political divides, and that all governments, even progressive revolutionary or conservative military dictatorships, must be held to universal standards for treating their citizens," write Eric Olsen and James Feeley in an Univisión opinion piece.

The Latin America Daily Briefing will be taking a much needed holiday rest, and will resume publishing on Jan. 2. As always, feedback, comments, and articles are welcome.

Asylum seekers will have to wait in Mexico (Dec. 21, 2018)

The U.S. announced that it will require people seeking asylum at its southwest border to wait in Mexico for a court ruling on their cases -- which could take months or years. U.S.Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told lawmakers of the House Judiciary Committee about the plan yesterday, and said it could be implemented within days. DHS officials later said it goes into effect immediately. Immigrant advocates and human rights experts immediately denounced that the change is illegal and violates asylum seekers' rights. 

The policy will apply to migrants from Central American countries who request humanitarian protections at U.S. border crossings, as well as those who enter the country illegally. DHS officials say migrants who establish a fear of harm if they stay in Mexico will be allowed to enter the United States. Nielsen said the new policy will not apply to Central American unaccompanied children, who have some special protections under U.S. law.

Discussions between the two countries over the change of policy have taken place over weeks, though Mexico says change is a unilateral U.S. decision. The Mexican government said was informed of the change just yesterday. But the change comes just days after the U.S. $10.6 billion in aid for Central America and southern Mexico, in response to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's call for development programs to stop illegal migration. (See Wednesday's post.) 

Mexican officials said they will permit the U.S. to send back asylum seekers who have illegally crossed the border, and will provide them with work visas and humanitarian assistance. It is not clear where they will be housed or what resources will be made available. There are currently about 9,000 migrants awaiting asylum processing at the border with the U.S., reports El País.

Yesterday Mexico's migration agency said it didn't have the capacity to receive the U.S. asylum seekers and that the change will require a regulatory framework or legislative reform in Mexico. (Animal Político) Already humanitarian asylum applications in Mexico have increased exponentially as migrants seek alternatives to the U.S. "But for most Central Americans, Mexico really isn’t a country of destination. It’s a country of last resort," according to World Politics Review.

The proposal raises significant safety concerns. Migrant advocates say the measure will deter people legitimately fleeing for their lives. Mexican cities along the U.S. border are already extremely unsafe for migrants who are increasingly targeted by criminal groups, reports the Washington Post. Last week two Honduran youths staying in a Tijuana youth shelter were killed. (See Wednesday's post.) “Make no mistake — Mexico is not a safe country for all people seeking protection,” said Amnesty International Executive Director Margaret Huang.

U.S. officials said the Mexican government will allow asylum seekers access to U.S. immigration lawyers, but it was unclear where attorneys and their clients would meet, reports the Associated Press. They would be allowed into the U.S. for their court hearings.

Critics predict legal challenges in the U.S. will focus on the potential violation of Congress' intent to allow asylum seekers into the U.S. and international conventions that prohibit governments from returning refugees to places where they face a threat to their life or freedom.

About 75 percent of asylum seekers pass initial screening in the U.S., and are typically released to await court hearings which can take years. Only nine percent of cases are eventually granted asylum however, notes the Associated Press. Nielsen said there is a backlog of 786,000 asylum cases in the U.S., and that most are unfounded.

News Briefs

More from Mexico
  • Mexico's polemic National Guard plan passed its first congressional hurdle yesterday, in a seven hour session of the lower house marked by conflict, reports Animal Político. Modifications included by members of the lower house include civilian command of new force, which would include members of the armed forces.
  • It is unlikely that Lima Group countries will totally break of diplomatic relations with Venezuela ahead of President Nicolás Maduro's second mandate, which will begin Jan. 10, reports David Smilde in the Venezuela Weekly. However, preliminary meetings this week in Bogotá reached a consensus that there has been a break in democratic order in Venezuela, according to some reports. Smilde emphasizes that Mexico sent a representative to the meeting, a sign that the new López Obrador administration will continue to participate in the Lima Group, though it maintains relations with Venezuela and rejects intervention.
  • This week Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro said he would take all action “within the rule of law and democracy” to oppose the governments of Venezuela and Cuba, reports Reuters.
El Salvador
  • Audios reveal how former Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes' political operators conspired to attack political opponents, bribe, and manipulate prosecutors. The group plotted to illegally obtain classified material to use against former president Francisco Flores, reports Factum.
  • Ortega has "won" in the sense that he has effectively silenced street protests, and is cracking down on remaining voices of dissent. But the victory is pyrrhic and comes at a heavy economic cost in addition to the human toll, writes Kenneth M. Coleman at the AULA blog.
  • Splinter FARC groups are growing in Colombia though intelligence groups differ as to the exact numbers, reports InSight Crime.
  • Brazil's prosecutor general charged President Michel Temer with corruption and money laundering, the third time he is accused in relation to port concessions, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Brazilian police raided the home of the Science and Technology minister, following accusations that he received as much as $13.8 million in exchange for defending the interests of JBS food company during his tenures as mayor of Sao Paulo and as a congressman, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazilian authorities believe Rio de Janeiro councillor Marielle Franco was killed by a local illicit militia concerned about her potential to encroach on their land claims. (See Tuesday's briefs.) But its impossible to verify the revelations, which are politically timely, notes InSight Crime.
  • Bolsonaro's unexpected intellectual guru is Olavo de Carvalho, a 71-year-old who lives in the U.S. and champions individual liberties and Christianity, reports Americas Quarterly.
  • Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said the country's police chief and 10 other police commanders should resign following the widely protested killing of a Mapuche indigenous young man last month. He promised to to act against police officers responsible for the "credibility crisis," reports the BBC.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri froze funding for the Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense (EAAF). The cuts will affect the group's efforts to identify the remains of soldiers in unmarked graves in the Falklands/Malvinas, but not work in other countries which are financed by U.S. and European NGOs and government institutions, reports the Guardian.
  • Argentina is officially in recession, after its economy shrank by 3.5 per cent during the third trimester of 2018. (AFP)
  • This week the IMF approved the release of $7.6 billion to Argentina's government, bringing total disbursements so far to $20.21 billion. It also suggested capping public sector pay increases at 25 percent next year, rather than 34 percent as projected in the budget. (Reuters and Associated Press)
  • A new CEPR report argues that the policies that the IMF and Argentina's government agreed "are not worth the risks and human costs that they introduce."
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Nicaragua expels human rights experts (Dec. 20, 2018)

Nicaragua's government expelled two groups of international experts investigating allegations of human rights abuses by security forces during anti-government protests this year. The two groups affected are the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (Meseni) and the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, or GIEI. Both are under the aegis of the OAS, and the Ortega administration said the move was in response to antagonistic statements by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro. Technically they were suspended "until conditions of respect for sovereignty and internal affairs are re-established." However the experts were kicked out just a day before the GIEI was set to present a report on its findings. (Associated PressAFP and El País)

The experts were asked to leave the country immediately, and were accused of spreading false information by the foreign ministry. They “faced a government that blocked and boycotted their work, by closing down all spaces for dialogue and monitoring and by denying them access to essential information in fulfilling their mandates,” said CEJIL. (Confidencial)

Nonetheless, the IACHR promised to continue its work investigating rights violations in Nicaragua. It denounced the beginning of a new phase in Nicaragua's repression, aimed at silencing, intimidating, and criminalizing government critics.

More from Nicaragua
  • Journalists from Confidencial and Esta Semana, whose offices were raided and occupied by police last week, denounced the national police on charges that include organized crime, reports el Confidencial. (See Monday's post.)
  • The Washington Post editorial board criticized the ongoing crackdown which has intensified and focused on independent voices in Nicaragua.
  • The repression has hit Nicaragua's universities particularly hard, and university's are virtually held hostage, reports Science.
  • Argentina recalled its ambassador to Nicaragua, citing raids to organizations of civil society last week, reports Ámbito. (See last Friday's post.)
  • Two campesino leaders were condemned of terrorism and killing police officers in a proceeding plagued with irregularities, reports Confidencial.
News Briefs

  • Eleven investigators with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala were given 72 hours to leave the country, after their diplomatic status was not renewed and their visas expired. The move affects some of the professionals working on the commission's high-profile cases, including the investigation of corruption allegations against President Jimmy Morales' relatives, among others. (Concriterio and InSight Crime)
El Salvador
  • Backlash against Salvadoran attorney general Douglas Meléndez, who has targeted high profile cases of political corruption in his three-year tenure, could cost him a second term, reports Reuters. Lawmakers must vote before Jan. 5 on whether to renew his mandate, but he has earned powerful enemies in response to his work, another example of the hurdles the region's anti-corruption efforts must overcome.
  • Theater is therapy for the member's of El Salvador's El Cachada troupe, where real street vendors bare their darkest secrets on stage. (Wall Street Journal)
Militarization in Lat Am
  • Decades after Latin America embraced democracy, internal security is increasingly militarized in response to public safety crises. The latest issue of Nueva Sociedad focuses on the potential impact of military policing on democracy.
  • An Honduran migrant recently deported from the U.S. was shot and killed near his home in Tegucigalpa, reports Reuters.
  • Whatever the reality behind the mysterious symptoms suffered by U.S. and Canadian diplomats posted in Cuba -- the so-called Havana Syndrome -- it has had very real effects on diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, which has hurt ordinary Cubans economically, reports the Guardian.
  • Earlier this year Bolivia lost its latest bid to obtain sovereign access to Pacific ports, with a negative ruling from the International Court of Justice. (See Oct. 1's briefs.) Its landlocked condition does indeed come at a high economic cost, but instead of persisting in its quest to force Chile to negotiate, the Bolivia would be better served by constructing alliances with South American trade blocs, argue Belén Olmos Giupponi and Homagni Choudhury in the Conversation.
  • Brazil's chief justice put off till April a decision on whether to free former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from jail, reports Reuters.
  • A third of the medical positions opened in Brazil by the sudden termination of a Cuban program -- about 2,400 -- have not been filled, reports Reuters. (See Nov. 15's post.)
  • Brazilian took rare action against a group of illegal loggers and ranchers in a remote area of the Amazon where the Kawahiva tribe lives. (Reuters)
  • Jair Bolsonaro's rise in Brazil represents the disembarkment of the "alt-right" in Latin America, in juxtaposition to the republican conservative response to leftist populists exemplified by Argentina's Mauricio Macri. The danger is the "Bolsonarization" of political discourse, argues Pablo Stefanoni in Nueva Sociedad.
  • The Trump administration is considering an international challenge to Peru’s deforestation of the Amazon. The unusual defense of the environment is an overture to Democrats concerned about the new free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, reports the New York Times.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador backtracked on steep cut to higher education in next year's budget. (Reuters)
  • AMLO said the government does not engage in wiretapping, and urged citizens to use their phones freely. (EFE)
  • The online platform Foto Féminas brings together a virtual community of experienced and emerging female photographers, reports the New York Times.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

U.S. and Mexico promise aid to Central America (Dec. 19, 2018)

The U.S. government pledged $5.8 billion in investment and aid for Central America, and an additional $4..8 billion for Mexico. The plan is in support of a Mexican proposal for a massive development plan for the Northern Triangle, aimed at stemming illegal migration. 

Though announced with fanfare, the it appears to be a largely symbolic move. Analysts immediately pointed out that much of the funding announced yesterday in a joint U.S.-Mexico statement was previously committed or contingent on the identification of “commercially viable projects.” Much of the funding will be in the form of private-sector loans and guarantees and will have to be paid back, notes Adam Isacson. Most of the funding will be reallocated from existing programs. And $4.5 billion of that sum comes from new loans, loan guarantees and other private-sector support that could become available through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). (New York TimesWashington Post, and Associated Press)

The announcement is a vote of confidence in the new Mexican administration headed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and comes as Mexico and the U.S. discuss how to address the flow of undocumented Central American migrants crossing Mexico and trying to enter the U.S. The U.S. is interested in having asylum seekers stay in Mexico while their cases are processed. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador had proposed a $30 billion Marshall Plan for Central America and seeks development funding for Mexico's poorer southern region. (See yesterday's post and Nov. 30's briefs.)

IThe Mexican government said it would dedicate $25 billion to development in southern Mexico over five years -- and AMLO suggested it could serve as a potential source of employment for Central Americans, reports the Washington Post.

Within the U.S., Democrats were skeptical of President Donald Trump's commitment to additional aid for Central America, noting he has consistently tried to reduce funding and been thwarted by Congress. In the meantime, Congress and Trump are in a standoff over the $5 billion he wants to build a border wall between Mexico and the U.S., reports the Associated Press.

AMLO's long-term development strategy for the region should be lauded as a step in the right direction, and merits U.S. support, argues the Atlantic Council's Jason Marczak in USA Today. He notes AMLO's short term efforts to defuse the migrant crisis, including immediate assistance for migrants massing at the U.S. border, speeding up processing for humanitarian visas in Mexico, and assisting migrants who want to stay in Mexico to obtain jobs and support.

Rights groups have criticized U.S. efforts to keep asylum seekers in Mexico while their cases are processed, pointing to violence and criminal activity. This weekend, two Honduran youths moving between migrant shelters in Tijuana were murdered, apparently by people who intended to rob them, another example of the dangers faced by migrants attempting to enter the U.S. (Reuters)

News Briefs

More from Mexico
  • The "Mayan Train" route proposed by AMLO's government to boost tourism in the Yucatán peninsula will have full environmental impact assessment before proceeding, said authorities in response to criticisms that the 1,525 km railway will damage the area's pristine forests and jaguar habitat. On Sunday AMLO said there is already $296 million in Mexico's 2019 budget for the project, which he estimated would help to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, but called on investors to help provide the remaining $741 to $890 million needed. (Animal PolíticoBBC, and Voice of America)
  • Mexico's development agency denounced that the proposed budget for next year includes financing for inefficient and opaque social programs, and reduces funds for higher performing ones. (Animal Político)
  • Mexico's security secretary warned lawmakers that the military will be removed immediately from internal security duties if they do not approve a proposal that would regulate their policing activities by creating a National Guard, reports Animal Político. The proposal has been hugely polemic, as it ratifies the military role in internal security, contrary to AMLO's campaign proposals. (See Nov. 21's post.) Several lawmakers, including Tatiana Clouthier AMLO's former campaign manager, said the government was unfairly pressuring lawmakers with the threat to withdraw the military immediately.
  • The National Guard plan may seem appealing, but militarization of law enforcement has been counterproductive in Mexico and other places, explains Gustavo A. Flores-Macías in a Washington Post Monkey Cage piece. Military reliance on high-impact weapons and training to destroy enemies are counter to human and civil rights priorities. And the military's reliance on lethal force tends to escalate violence with organized crime groups, he writes.
  • Mexico's kingpin strategy that targeted major cartel leaders had the effect of fracturing big criminal organizations. However the schisms led to an explosion in violence and the creation of a pervasive extortion economy that is helping push desperate victims to migrate, reports the Wall Street Journal. Last year there were 6.6 million cases of extortion of individuals in 2017, according to a survey conducted by Mexico’s National Statistics Institute, plus 525,000 cases of extortion against companies. 
More on Migration
  • Migrants from Central America are pushed by entrenched inequality and violence, in which the U.S. has played a key role, reports the Guardian.
  • Remote indigenous Guatemalan villages have few economic options, pushing residents to migrate illegally despite the lethal risks they face, reports the New York Times.
  • The rise of gang violence in the Northern Triangle has had violent ramifications for women, who are increasingly victims of lethal violence perpetrated by gang members, reports the Wall Street Journal. Women often know their killers, and are victims of particularly vicious violence. More than a quarter of women in El Salvador reported being a victim of violence in their lifetime while 43% said they had suffered a sexual assault.
  • Cuba's government will remove legalization of gay marriage from a new constitution set to be approved by public referendum next year. Authorities cited broad pushback in months of public meetings soliciting feedback on the draft constitution, reports the New York Times. State media said that Cubans had made 192,408 comments on Article 68, which would have permitted gay marriage, with the majority asking to eliminate it, reports the Associated Press. Instead the new constitution would remain silent on the issue of marriage equality, permitting potential legalization in the future. (See July 23's post.)
  • Six people were murdered in Mapiripán, the site of one of Colombia's worst massacres during the civil war. Authorities speculate this latest atrocity is the result of warring drug trafficking gangs, and the case is exemplary of the new violence plaguing former FARC territories, reports the Guardian.
  • The murder of a transgender woman in Colombia has been punished as a gender-based hate crime for the first time. The ruling comes three years after Colombia passed a law specifically punishing femicide, and lawyers emphasized that the judicial proceedings recognized the victim as a woman. (New York Times)
  • The former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Colombia office has been cleared of wrongdoing following a probe of misconduct allegations. Richard Dobrich had been accused of including accusations that he used government resources to hire prostitutes, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazilian authorities arrested more than 50 police officers who patrolled the same area in São Paulo. Prosecutors accused them of taking bribes from the First Capital Command drug gang (PCC) in exchange for permitting sales of narcotics in the area. (Reuters)
  • Suicides have spiked in Brazil -- 73 percent since 2000 -- and have become the fourth leading cause of death among young people. But suicide and depression are taboo in Brazil's upbeat culture, leaving those with mental illnesses and their families isolated, reports the Washington Post.
  • Guatemalan authorities said they withdrew diplomatic immunity from 11 CICIG workers, the latest move in President Jimmy Morales' dispute with the U.N. backed international anti-graft commission. Those affected are investigators and litigators involved in high-profile cases, and the move undermines the commission's work, according to experts.  (Associated Press)
  • Venezuelan bond holders filed suit in New York federal court yesterday demanding payment on more than $34 million in unpaid debt, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Ecuador will slash gasoline subsidies and cut government workers’ salaries in a bid to reduce the fiscal deficit by $700 million, reports Reuters.
  • Citizens of Latin American countries have elected right-wing governments throughout the region, but still demand protectionist policies and government services, reports Bloomberg.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A Marshall Plan for Central America? (Dec. 18, 2018)

Over the past two years, the United States provided about $1.3 billion in aid to Central America, mainly to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The funding was aimed at development, with hopes of putting a dent in migration. But though there is evidence that conditions are improving, its not enough to tackle the systemic problems pushing migrants to move, write Maya Averbuch and Sarah Kinosian in Foreign Policy.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador envisions doubling down on aid, with a sort of Marshall Plan for Central America: $30 billion over five years in job-creating economic development assistance. He's trying to convince the U.S. to sign on, and could offer to keep Central American migrants in Mexico while they await asylum in the U.S. in exchange. It's a great idea, argues Washington Post editorial board.

It is in many ways the opposite of the Trump administration's crackdown approach, but is aimed at avoiding confrontation with the U.S., reports the New York Times. Should it fail, Mexican officials plan to use the threat of Chinese influence in the region as leverage, playing off another growing theme in Latin American international policy. They will seek to avoid handing the U.S. the win of accepting asylum seekers without anything in exchange.

News Briefs

More Migration
  • Over 49,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended at the U.S. border so far this year. Though they come from some of the most dangerous countries in the world, the journey from Central America to the U.S. border exposes them to new risks, including rape, murder, kidnapping and robbery. With increasingly long wait times to apply for asylum, they are spending longer in dangerous environments at the border. (Guardian)
  • While the U.S. considers Central American migrants to be a security threat, many Hondurans making the trek consider the journey to be a form of civil disobedience, writes Crystal Vance Guerra in Yes Magazine.
More from Mexico
  • Mexico’s wage commission plans to increase the national minimum wage about 16 percent, to about $5 a day. AMLO promised to tie further increases to inflation, reports Reuters.
  • Devaluation of Haiti's gourde has been devastating this year for the country's poorest, as well as the shrinking middle class. And the stress is likely to fuel further unrest, reports AFP.
El Salvador
  • Imelda Cortez was freed from jail after being found not guilty of attempted murder in a case that provoked international outrage regarding El Salvador's draconian anti-abortion laws. Cortez faced 20 years in prison after giving birth to a baby girl in a latrine, the result of sexual abuse by her step father. Cortez said she didn't know she was pregnant, but prosecutors charged her with attempted murder, reports the Guardian. (See Nov. 13's briefs.)
Mano Dura
  • Forty percent of the world's homicides occur in Latin America, where governments often opt for failed mano dura security policies. Success cases demonstrate the need to understand, and empathize the roots of violence, write José Luis Pardo Veiras y Alejandra Sánchez Inzunza of Dromómanos in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • A Brazilian indigenous leader asked EU to impose sanctions on Brazil in order to protect its environment and indigenous communities. Sônia Guajajara, the leader of Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil(APBI) which represents more than 300 Brazilian indigenous groups, said they are concerned about a social genocide under president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who has promised to roll back environmental regulations and called his opponents terrorists. (Guardian)
  • For example, Bolsonaro has said the 9.6 million hectare Yanomami reserve, which at 9.6m hectares was too big for its indigenous population. The Guardian explores the historic threats the isolated tribe has faced, including a road carved through their land by the 1970s military dictatorship, and the 1980s invasion of illegal miners.
  • Rio de Janeiro police foiled a paramilitary plan to assassinate state lawmaker Marcelo Freixas this past weekend. The lawmaker presided over an investigative commission about militia activities ten years ago, and since then, he has received multiple death threats, which required him to have police protection at all times, reports Folha de S. Paulo. Marielle Franco, a Rio city councilor who was killed earlier this year had worked with him. But El País notes that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg in what is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for rights defenders, especially those focused on the environment.
  • Rio State authorities said Franco's assassination in March was likely ordered by a militia seeking to protect control over land in Rio de Janeiro's favelas, reports AFP.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro warned potential military interventionists that foreign invaders will not make it out alive if they encroach on Venezuela’s "sacred soil." Ludicrous though it may seem, the speech to Venezuela's Bolivarian militia comes in the midst of rising tensions and rhetoric in the region, reports the Guardian. Last week  Russia landed two nuclear-capable bombers in Caracas in support of Maduro, while the U.S. labeled Venezuela part of a Latin America “troika of terror."
  • El Nacional's decision to end its print edition is just the latest in hits to press freedom in Venezuela. At least 30 papers have stopped circulating so far this year, writes Alberto Barrera Tyszka in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • A group of creditors has demanded payment on a $1.5 billion Venezuelan bond that is in default. The move could kick off a showdown between international investors and Venezuela's government, reports Reuters.
  • Caracas, once a thriving cosmopolitan city, is on the brink of collapse in the midst of Venezuela's crushing crisis. (Guardian)
  • Uruguay has presidential elections in October of next year. Though the country is far more stable and tranquil than many others in the region, the dynamics of corruption and increased crime could augur a turn to the right, writes Laurence Blair in World Politics Review.
  • A Colombian court ordered the government to suspend new mining licenses until it establishes protected areas. The government said it would appeal the decision, reports Reuters.
  • Remedios Loza, Bolivia's first female Aymara lawmaker, died of cancer. She was honored by officials and supporters who remembered her as the first lawmaker to wear the traditional Aymara pollera in the country's Legislative Assembly, reports EFE.
El Chapo
  • The hottest ticket in New York is the ongoing trial against Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán. Full of salacious details and cocaine smuggling facts, narco-tourists are standing in line for hours to get a coveted spot. (New York Times)

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Monday, December 17, 2018

Nicaraguan police beat journalists (Dec. 17, 2018)

Nicaraguan police beat at least seven journalists with batons on Saturday. The victims included Carlos Fernando Chamorro, one of the country's best known journalists and editor of Confidencial, a newspaper critical of the government. Journalists had gathered outside the Managua police headquarters to demand information about the confiscation of the newspaper's headquarters and material. Reuters reports that journalists were attacked by baton-wielding police, chased, and threatened with confiscation of cell phones and equipment. The group included journalists from Confidencial, Esta Semana, and other independent outlets, at least four were badly hurt, reports Artículo 66.

Chamorro denounced that Confidencial's offices were occupied by security forces who refused to let him in. (Confidencial and Associated Press) "They have taken our newsroom … They are physically closing down our offices by taking them militarily," Chamorro told the Guardian.

The move comes after they were raided last week, along with the offices of several organizations of civil society. On Friday, Nicaraguan authorities said they seized the assets of 10 blacklisted organizations, including that of Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh), one of the country's most prominent human rights groups, reports Reuters. (See last Friday's post, and Thursday's.)

No papers have yet been presented to justify the occupation, reports Confidencial.

The attacks against rights groups and el Confidencial represent a deepening Nicaragua's "state of exception," according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (Confidencial) The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called on the Ortega administration to cease aggressions against organizations of civil society and independent media. (Artículo 66)

José Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch’s Americas director, said that by attacking such well-known organisations Nicaragua’s president was making clear his intention "to rule by terror and intimidation." (Guardian)

More from Nicaragua
  • Hundreds of Nicaraguan dissidents set off in a caravan from Costa Rica's capital to protest against Ortega. (ReutersArtículo 66 reports that the group includes 500 leaders of the civil resistance and over a thousand supporters.
News Briefs

  • Lack of U.S. engagement in Latin America will strengthen the hand of China and Russia in the region, argues former U.S. vice president Joe Biden in Americas Quarterly. The Trump administration has needlessly undermined U.S. efforts in the region, including vital efforts to shore up democracy and reduce violence, he writes.
  • Mexico has been a particular target of U.S. President Donald Trump's rhetorical rage, yet Trump and his new counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, have an oddly friendly relationship, despite their ideological distance, reports the Washington Post
  • AMLO's first budget proposal came as a positive surprise to investors, according to Reuters.
  • "It is hard to overstate the singular importance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the Mexican identity", according to the New York Times, which reports on the annual pilgrimage to her shrine in Mexico City.  
  • Emma Coronel, the beauty queen married to Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán appears to be a devoted wife and mother, though some critics think her popular social media accounts (which she says she doesn't run) are being used as a distraction from the drug lord's New York trial. (Guardian)
  • Mexico is increasingly Plan B for Central American migrants stalled at the U.S. border, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The case of a young Guatemalan girl who died in U.S. Border Patrol custody last week has been seized on by both critics and supporters of the Trump administration's anti-immigration policies, reports the Guardian. (See Friday's briefs.) U.S. authorities say the girl was severely dehydrated when they took her into custody in New Mexico, but her family has disputed that, saying she was healthy, reports the Washington Post.
  • Political violence in Honduras is largely overlooked, though it's a contributing factor to the migration crisis on the U.S. border, reports Reuters.
  • The U.N. expected at least 2 million more Venezuelans to leave their country next year -- meaning about 5.4 million Venezuelans will be living abroad by the end of 2019. On Friday the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration launched a new program aimed at coordinating 95 organizations in 16 countries to provide aid to the migrants. They are also asking for $738 million in financing. (Miami Herald)
  • Some U.S. lawmakers are seeking to protect Venezuelans living in the U.S. from deportation by granting them Temporary Protected Status. (Miami Herald)
  • Venezuela's El Nacional newspaper abandoned its print edition on Friday, after 75 years of uninterrupted publication. The editors say they are victims of government pressures against free media, reports the Miami Herald. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • A German freelance reporter is being held by the Venezuelan intelligence police, Sebin, in the infamous Helicoide prison in Caracas. He is accused of espionage, rebellion and violation of security zones. (New York Times)
El Salvador
  • A Salvadoran court declared that the 1981 El Mozote massacre was a crime against humanity. The landmark ruling means perpetrators cannot benefit from amnesty or other measures protecting them from justice, reports EFE. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Murder rates in El Salvador are down, but disappearances are up, indicating that the government's celebration of a successful crackdown on crime is not very accurate, reports InSight Crime. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
Costa Rica
  • Homicides are increasing even in relatively peaceful Costa Rica, but unlike neighboring countries, the government there has implemented a security strategy focusing on citizen participation, modeled on Medellín's public security program, reports InSight Crime.
  • Recent changes to Colombia’s Public Order Law will further undermine the implementation of the peace agreement with the FARC and hinder efforts to reach a deal with the ELN, according to InSight Crime.
  • Colombian authorities promised to spend an additional $1.42 billion over the next four years in a bid to soothe a student strike that has lasted 10 weeks. (Reuters)
  • Colombia's foreign minister said Friday that bilateral ties with China are fundamental for the country’s growth in diverse fields, especially in food export, according to EFE. (See above Diplomacy section.)
  • Brazilian drug gang violence is spilling over the border to Paraguay, where Brazilian organized crime groups are exploiting their neighbors lax gun laws, weak justice system, and police corruption, reports the New York Times.
  • Brazil's relationship with Venezuela is definitely entering a more tense stage: incoming foreign minister Ernesto Araújo called on the international community to "liberate" Venezuela, and said President Nicolás Maduro will not be invited to president-elect Jair Bolsonaro's inauguration next month. The Maduro camp has retaliated saying they were invited, but didn't want to go anyway, and accuse Bolsonaro allies of plotting a coup. (Guardian)
  • Bolsonaro, has promised to extradite a former guerrilla, who is wanted in Italy for four murders committed in the 1970's. Bolsonaro said the extradition would be his "present" to Rome and would demonstrate his commitment to fighting terrorism, reports the Guardian. An arrest warrant has been issued for Cesare Battisti, who said he faces torture if sent back to Italy, reports the BBC.
  • Bolsonaro is just one of a wave of politicians around the world who has proved adept at using social media to bypass traditional media outlets, reports the Guardian.
  • And Brazilian activists are increasingly turning to anti-Trump strategies in their struggle to contain Bolsonaro's authoritarian tendencies, according to Americas Quarterly.
Climate change
  • Brazil took a recalcitrant stance in the latest round of U.N. climate change talks, that concluded this weekend in Poland, posing one of several problems that were postponed until next year's annual conference, reports the Guardian.
  • Costa Rica's cloud forest is one of the ecosystems under immediate threat from climate change. (Guardian)
  • #MiraComoNosPonemos: a young actresses account of how she was raped nine years ago by an older actor has gripped Argentina and launched a national reckoning akin to the MeToo movement elsewhere. Thousands of women shared their own stories of abuse on social media, and authorities say calls to abuse hotlines have soared since the story became public a week ago. Though activism for women's rights has been prominent in Argentina in recent years, this is the first time organizations have tackled the issue of sexual abuse in this way. (New York Times)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Friday, December 14, 2018

Nicaraguan police raid human rights groups, Confidencial (Dec. 14, 2018)

Nicaraguan police raided the headquarters of four organizations of civil society, as well as the offices of the newspaper Confidencial and television shows Esta Semana and Esta Noche, reports Artículo 66. The violent raids targeted the offices of ILLS, which was raided by 70 officers armed with AK-47s, Cenidh, Fundación del Río, and Fundación Popol Na, where civilian and uniformed officers beat and kidnapped the mothers of political prisoners who were staying there. At least three guards at the different facilities were attacked and kidnapped according to the organizations.

This morning the offices of the Instituto de Estudios Estratégicos y Políticas Públicas was raided for a second time, reports Artículo 66.

Confidencial editor Carlos Fernando Chamorro said all the newspaper's computers were taken in the raid, and all of the television editing equipment. He qualified it as an attack on freedom of expression, part of a growing harassment independent media has suffered from the government in recent months. Chamorro also heads the OSC Centro de Investigaciones de la Comunicación (CINCO), but the groups offices are in a separate location. (Confidencial)

The targeted organizations -- as well as CINCO -- were among those whose legal recognition was removed in recent weeks. Yesterday the National Assembly cancelled the legal recognition of five more groups, bringing the total up to nine organizations of civil society shut down within two weeks, reports Confidencial. The cancellations mean the groups cannot have bank accounts, receive funding, or carry out projects.

Authorities allege the organizations, which include some of the country's most respected human rights groups, were working to destabilize the government. But local and international human rights groups denounced the move is aimed at silencing organizations that have reported on widespread and ongoing human rights violations, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's post.)

News Briefs

  • That Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro remains in power despite the country's acute crisis "suggests that the unsustainable can endure for a very long time," according to the Economist. The regime is surviving economic collapse and the regime increasingly resembles its ally Cuba, according to the piece which notes the divisions within the internal opposition and the failure of international pressure on the government thus far.
  • El Nacional, Venezuela's last remaining critical nationally-circulated newspaper, will stop publishing its print edition today. (Associated Press)
  • Some Venezuelan dissidents hoped Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro would increase the chances of an international military intervention in Venezuela. But the incoming administration has softened its stance and say it is up to Venezuelans to resolve the crisis, reports the Guardian.
  • Police have served several arrest, search and seizure warrants in connection with the killing of Rio de Janeiro councillor Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes in March of this year. (Associated Press)
  • Brazil's financial crimes unit is investigating payments of over $300,000 made to Bolsonaro's wife and son by a former aide. (AFP)
  • Three quarters of Brazilians believe Bolsonaro is going in the right direction, and two thirds believe the economy will improve next year, according to a new IBOPE survey. (AFP)
  • Pension reform is at the top of Bolsonaro's to-do list, though its not clear how he will marshal the unpopular measures past Congress. Potential strategies will include subdividing the reform into smaller projects, or seeking to pass a number of other variations, reports the Economist.
  • Fortaleza is Brazil's youth murder capital: 414 teens were killed in 2017. The kids killed are generally poor and black, and residents are demanding social change to target the phenomenon, reports the Guardian.
  • Amid a far-right resurgence, some Brazilians celebrate black heritage and consciousness, reports the Huffington Post.
  • Graft allegations lodged by Brazilian prosecutors against against four of the world’s largest oil trading companies mark an explosive new phase to the already epic “Car Wash” corruption investigation, reports Reuters.
El Salvador
  • Former San Salvador mayor Nayib Bukele is maintaining his lead ahead of February's presidential election in El Salvador. A new poll puts him at 44.1 percent of voter intentions, 24 points ahead of his nearest rival, reports Reuters.
  • A seven-year-old Guatemalan girl died in U.S. border patrol custody eight hours after she was arrested in New Mexico. In a statement, customs and border protection authorities said the girl had not eaten or consumed water in several days. (Associated Press)
  • The Intercept has the English translation of an investigation into Mexico's clandestine graves. A journalistic investigation found 1,978 clandestine graves, the municipalities where they were located and the number of bodies and remains extracted — more than double the number reported by the federal government.  (See Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Argentina's austerity economic program is yielding results, according to the IMF anyway. (AFP)
  • Fifteen transgender women have receive reparations for persecution suffered under the 1976-1983 dictatorship in Argentina. (Reuters)
  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra will seek to relax the country's labor laws, reports Reuters.
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica will be the first country in the world to decarbonize its economy starting next year -- Democracy Now reports.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...