Wednesday, January 3, 2018

U.S. disinterest hinders LatAm corruption fight - InSight Crime

News Briefs
  • Years of political upheaval due to corruption and criminal investigations against politicians in the region were countered in 2017, when "some of the more corrupt regimes struck back, undermining investigations against them and even democracy itself, solidifying their grip on power," write Steven Dudley and Jeremy McDermott at InSight Crime. "Throughout the region, the criminal landscape fragmented further. Even the largest criminal groups now work more as federations than vertically integrated structures. Amidst it all, the US government moved from bold backer of anti-corruption and anti-crime efforts to a disinterested, disengaged party, often enabling reactionary and corrupt forces." Regional enthusiasm to take on corrupt relations between elites and organized crime are critically hindered by U.S. disinterest, they argue. "The Trump administration has gutted the State Department and has given little direction to those who are left. It also illustrated a disregard for the judicial institutions and the rule of law at home, which seems to be having a spillover effect on leaders such as Jimmy Morales in Guatemala."
  • Last year was the deadliest on record for Mexico, according to newly published government statistics. A total of 23,101 murder investigations were opened in the first 11 months of this year, surpassing the 22,409 registered in the whole of 2011, reports the Guardian. Reynosa, near the U.S. border, is one of the areas most affected by the surge in violence in recent years. Crime is so frequent -- and journalist self-censorship so frequent -- that most of it never makes the news. Instead, residents increasingly rely on social media to fill the information void, reports the Guardian in an in-depth piece.
  • At least five Mexican politicians were killed over the past week, a bloody inauguration to a heated electoral year. The violence is an example of the dangers inherent in politics in the country -- especially at the local level, where drug gangs vie to control officials, reports the Washington Post. Four of the five politicians killed were affiliated with the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The deaths have politicians from across the spectrum calling for improved security and justice.
  • Civil society efforts to control corruption in Mexico have been insufficient to contain abuses of power and staunch illicit flows of public funds. The question is whether any of the candidates in this year's presidential race will be willing to elevate the fight against corruption as a serious campaign promise, writes Luis Pérez de Acha in a New York Times Español op-ed. Pérez forms part of the citizen participation committee of the country's new Sistema Nacional Anticorrupción de México (SNA), and details why the vaunted reform has failed to meet high expectations. Key posts, such as the anti-corruption prosecutor, and 18 anti-corruption magistrates have not been named. Local anti-corruption systems that form part of the SNA are delayed and lack funding. Though the citizen participation committee is meant to work with anti-corruption officials, in practise, they are adversaries, according to Pérez.
  • Before the holidays, the Cuban government announced that President Raúl Castro would postpone his retirement, originally planned for February. Officials said Hurricane Irma damage delayed the single-party election process, reports CNN. The naming of Castro's successor is now scheduled for April of this year, though it's not yet certain, most analysts believe the post will be given to first Vice President Miguel-Diaz Canel. The Miami Herald notes that the delay will also give Castro time to close a deal with Russia's state-owned Rosneft oil company to take over Venezuela's stake in the Cuban-Venezuelan refinery in Cienfuegos. "Venezuela's political and economic crisis, plus Cuba's need for foreign investment, have opened the door to a stronger Russian presence in Latin America, a shift that has become part of a geopolitical game reminiscent of the Cold War."
  • An InSight Crime field research points to record highs in Colombian coca production, and potentially inflated forced eradication figures. "More importantly, there is little evidence that destroying coca fields will lead to a long-lasting reduction in cocaine levels. Many if not most farmers recultivate crops after they have been destroyed, and if no alternative income is available, they have little choice."
  • The apparent quid-pro-quo Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski engaged in over the holidays -- releasing former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori from a jail sentence for human rights violations, just days after Fujimori's son helped save him from an impeachment vote in Congress -- "has inflicted great damage on democracy in Peru and in the region," argues Sonia Goldenberg in a New York Times op-ed. "He has abandoned the moral high ground that would have enabled him to lead the fight against the biggest graft scandal in the history of Latin America. And more important, he has rehabilitated a man who has yet to apologize to relatives of the victims murdered during his 10-year rule."
  • Miguel Etchecolatz, an 88-year-old former police officer serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity committed during Argentina's dictatorship was transferred to house arrest in a beach resort. The decision was criticized by human rights groups, reports the Associated Press. During his time as chief of police investigations, Etchecolatz ran 21 clandestine detention centres where inmates where tortured and forcibly disappeared or killed, reports the BBC. In a book he wrote after the dictatorship he defends his actions during the infamous  "Night of the Pencils", when 10 students were abducted by security forces in the city of La Plata near Buenos Aires in September 1976. Six of the 10 were forcibly disappeared, their fate is still unknown. The four survivors said they were horribly tortured. "I never had, or thought to have, or was haunted by, any sense of blame. For having killed? I was the executor of a law made by man. I was the keeper of divine precepts. And I would do it again," he wrote.
  • Venezuela's humanitarian crisis disproportionately affects women, according to a new report by Asociación Venezolana de Sexualidad Alternativa, Asociación Civil Mujeres en Linea, the Centro de Justicia y Paz, and the Centro Hispanoamericano para la Mujer FREYA. Though of course both genders are affected, women are more likely to go without food and bear the burden of obtaining it for their families. And the scarcity of contraceptives affects them more as well, notes David Smilde in a review at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. Maternal mortality has skyrocketed, and women are subject to sexual abuse when they are detained in the context of protests.
  • Former Venezuelan oil minister and U.N. ambassador Rafael Ramírez lambasted President Nicolás Maduro in a newspaper column, accusing him of devastating the country's economy. Ramírez, who was ousted last month and fled to an undisclosed location, is a longtime political rival of Maduro within Chavismo. He accused Maduro of "killing the revolution," reports Reuters.
  • A prison riot in Goias state on Monday left nine dead and 14 injured, reports the Associated Press. It's the latest example of the difficulties Brazilian authorities are having in controlling the country's penitentiaries, according to Reuters.
  • Tens of thousands of indigenous farmers in Guatemala were forced into so-called model villages during Guatemala's civil war between 1960 and 1994, according to the Associated Press. The goal was to isolate them from guerrillas, and they were promised health care and services. But instead hundreds were left to die of malnutrition and treatable diseases, according to new reports from historic memory groups.
  • Revista Factum has a report on how Barrio 18, a Salvadoran street gang, is forcing women to serve as surrogate mothers to gang members' children. "Since 2000, the role of women in El Salvador’s gangs has been dwindling. Very few “clicas” or “canchas,” as the MS13 and Barrio 18 gangs call their small local cells, are initiating women anymore. Women’s current roles are mainly as “jainas” or girlfriends, collaborators and sexual slaves. However, a new phenomenon of “nannies” is emerging. These are women who have been chosen by the gang to be mothers. They have been subjected to a new form of slavery: to raise the children of gang members while under threat and without any legal recourse." (InSight Crime has the piece in English.)
  • The task of protecting Honduran coral reefs has largely fallen to local community groups supported by international non-profits, reports the Guardian. But the work can provoke backlash, say conservationists on the front lines.
  • At least 46 people died after a bus plunged off a cliff headed to Lima in Peru, reports the Associated Press.
  • Argentine economic officials significantly eased inflation targets for next year last week, sending the peso plunging just before the new year. The decision reflects the government's failure to meet this year's inflation target of 12-17 percent and reflects debate within the administration over how to lift the economy out of recession, reports Bloomberg.
  • The Macri administration's push for cheap airlines -- but not too cheap -- shows the difficulties of navigating between economic ideology and political reality, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The U.S. military still hasn't resolved what to do with three Marines involved in a Bogotá pub-crawl last year that involved prostitutes, drugs and the theft of government property, reports the Miami Herald
  • La Isla de la Juventud is an eccentric world apart, even by Cuban standards, according to a New York Times travel piece.
  • A newly published archive of Gabriel García Márquez's papers show his obsessive self-editing process, writes Álvaro Santana-Acuña in a New York Times Español op-ed. "As a born perfectionist, he did not doubt in crossing out complete paragraphs and pages, and even polishing the text word for word. ... Among the many great merits of the archive is the confirmation that to become one of the most successful writers of the past century was arduous work."

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