Monday, March 26, 2018

Corruption undermines democratic governance (March 26, 2018)

Peru's Congress accepted Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's resignation from the presidency Friday, and swore in first vice president Martín Vizcarra later that same day. (See Friday's post.) PPK is the first sitting president in the region forced out by the revelations of Odebrecht corruption, which has tainted almost all of Peru's major political figures. But he was further hurt by a tactical error -- an apparent negotiation with opposition legislators in December to free former dictator Alberto Fujimori from jail in exchange for votes against his ouster. With this he alienated the many members of the main opposition party, run by Fujimori's daughter Keiko Fujimori, and also his allies on the left, many who backed his ouster last week, reports the Guardian.

In his inaugural speech, Vizcarra said this was "a difficult moment" for Peru and vowed to fight corruption, reports the New York Times. He will face an uphill battle, with few political allies in Congress.

But corruption is undermining governance around the region. Faith in democracy is declining around the world, but is especially marked in Latin America, where support has fallen for five consecutive years. The latest Latinobarometro poll found that only 53 percent of the population supports democratic governance. And German think-tank Bertelsmann Stiftung says part of the reason is a lack of satisfactory solutions from the traditional political elite, reports El País. The crisis in faith is intimately linked to corruption scandals that have affected established political parties on all ends of the spectrum.

News Briefs
  • A police operation in a Rio de Janeiro favela has left at least eight people dead. There are allegations that some of the victims are innocent victims, killed in revenge after a police officer was killed in Rocinha favela last week, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazilians, tired of increasing violence, are welcoming heavy handed security tactics, despite human rights criticisms --- -- an increasing evidence that they don't work, according to the Washington Post.
  • But in part that support stems from a political discourse portraying all favela residents as criminals, and distracts from the less flashy policies that actually work, argue Pedro Abramovay and Manoela Miklos in Folha de S. Paulo. Fake news, linking assassinated Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco to organized crime is an example of how the government propagates the idea that all favela residents are linked to trafficking or consume drugs,  "The fake news about Marielle is another example of a story common to dwellers of favelas and Brazil's peripheries. It is the most serious "fake news" phenomenon in contemporary Brazil, because it illustrates the cruel relationship of the state with the most vulnerable part of the population. Make no mistake: this misinformation is not a product of the internet, Facebook, or the 21st Century. It's the result of something older: the war on drugs. ... Between populist politicians hunting for votes and technocrat recipes that don't produce media spectacles lives Rio's population (though not only them): dazed, repeating the mantra of "criminal favela dweller" and "fake news" about Marielle, without perceiving that this sustains the impossibility of constructing a safe city for all its citizens."
  • Militias composed of former and current security agents control territories in Rio de Janeiro with over 2 million of population, and could be behind the killing of Franco, reports El País. Little has been done to check their power over the years, and have not been confronted by successive interventions in the territory.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer, known for shockingly low approval ratings, has decided nonetheless to run for election in this year's presidencial race. Though he had frequently assured citizens that he had no intention to run, in an interview published this weekend, he appealed to the need to defend his legacy. A win would also allow him to maintain immunity from prosecution for crimes committed before he assumed office, notes the New York Times. His bid may also complicate efforts for a unified centrist candidate, as several Temer allies, including Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles and House Speaker Rodrigo Maia are also considering bids. Right-wing firebrand Jair Bolsonaro is currently polling second, while former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is first, but likely will not be allowed to run due to a corruption conviction.
  • A December law allows the Mexican military to be used against internal threats, such as organized crime. The  Internal Security Law ratifies the role the army already has, but has been questioned by human rights activists who point to gross abuses, mostly unprosecuted, reports The Intercept. U.S political posturing aside, Trump administration funding for Mexican security forces has continued, even while funding to strengthen the country's criminal justice system has been cut. "In standing staunchly behind Mexico’s war on drugs, Congress and the Trump administration are funding a force that has routinely been implicated in violence against its own people."
  • The incoming U.S. national security advisor, John Bolton will likely advocate a harder line against Venezuela and could raise fears in the region of a more intervention-inclined U.S. policy, reports the Miami Herald. He has consistently emphasized that Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua undermine national interests in the region, according to a senior government official cited in the piece.
  • The U.S. is considering contributing $10 million more to help Venezuelan refugees. The funds would go to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ $46 million special request to address what the UN group describes as the “biggest population movement in the Americas” in modern memory. It would be in addition to the $2.5 million in USAID support offered earlier this week, reports the Miami Herald.
  • U.S. Southern Command announced that it will be participating in military exercises just a few miles off Venezuela’s coast next month, as part of a multilateral exercise hosted by Trinidad and Tobago, reports the Miami Herald.
  • U.S. gun sales are not only a domestic policy matter. They are also fueling crimes in the region, particularly in Central America, where gun laws are strict, but homicides are very high, reports the New Yorker. In turn, the violence has fueled a massive refugee crisis that affects the U.S. "Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras do not have substantial gun industries of their own. The governments of these countries rely on imports from abroad to supply their militaries and security forces. Most of the guns otherwise in circulation on the street are illegal and unregistered—and many come from sellers in the United States. Seventy per cent of guns recovered by authorities in Mexico, for instance, were originally sold in the U.S.—most of them in Texas, California, and Arizona, according to a Government Accountability Office report. Forty-nine per cent of weapons recovered in El Salvador came from the U.S., compared to forty-six per cent in Honduras and twenty-nine per cent in Guatemala."
  • The New York Times has moving photos from a new book on the story of Latin American immigration to the U.S. While photographer John Moore has focused on the border, for him "immigration begins and ends well beyond the physical border — a line where fear and hope collide to shape American politics. ... Mr. Moore’s border drops down to the gang-controlled neighborhoods of Honduras, where violence and insecurity are forcing record numbers of families to flee. It stretches north for hundreds of miles, from the auburn deserts of Arizona into the farmlands of Colorado, where migrant workers grow and harvest organic kale."
  • Reintegrating into a country they have never known can be hard for Mexican migrants who spent most of their life in the U.S. before being forced back, reports the New York Times.
  • The Trump administration declined to donate $11 million in unspent funds for the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti to a fund to alleviate cholera impacts there. But the $1.3 trillion spending package that was passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump on Friday includes $10 million to help Haiti fight cholera, thanks to the efforts of Sen. Patrick Leahy who pushed to contribute to small, locally based projects in communities severely impacted by the deadly waterborne epidemic, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The government of former President Rafael Correa abused the criminal justice system to target indigenous leaders and environmentalists who protested mining and oil exploration in the Amazon, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The groups are operating more freely under President Lenín Moreno, but the abusive prosecutions set in motion by his predecessor remain unaddressed. A new report shows that prosecutors in three prominent cases failed to produce sufficient evidence to support serious charges or justify the years-long continuation of a criminal investigation.
  • A delegation of Amazonian indigenous women have asked Moreno to limit oil drilling and mining in their traditional territories, and to combat the risks environmental activists face. They said women are particularly at risk, and that sexual violence and death threats accompany the extractivist industries, reports the Guardian.
  • Some days in Argentina it's hard not to feel like you're trapped in an economic version of Groundhog Day. Periods of economic bonanza, chased by austerity, borrowing and neoliberalism. But the Macri administration is applying a form of gradualism that seeks to check the worst ramifications of economic austerity while breaking with recent populist governments, argues Richard Lapper in Americas Quarterly
  • An international effort to trace Argentine soldiers killed in the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War has succeeded in identifying 90 men buried in anonymous graves. The families of the fallen soldiers will visit the graves today, in a meticulously planned ceremony that will feature neither Argentine nor British flags, reports the Guardian.
  • José Abreu, the founder of a program that teaches music to poor Venezuelan children, died on Saturday, reports the BBC. El Sistema's focus is combat poverty through music, teaching classical works in free afternoon lessons in poor areas. Though Abreu started his program in 1975, it was heavily supported by the late President Hugo Chávez. Graduates of the system, notably Gustavo Dudamel, director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, have broken with the government in recent years, reports Reuters.

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