Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thirteen reported dead in Nicaragua's Mothers' Day protest (May 31, 2018)

At least 13 people were killed yesterday, in a crackdown on what was billed as a peaceful march in support of mothers of victims of repression, reports El Confidencial. Apparent government supporters opened fire on marchers in Managua, reports the Associated PressYesterday was Mothers' Day in Nicaragua.

Though violent confrontations between protesters, security forces and armed government supporters have become commonplace over the past month and a half in Nicaragua, the attack on a large peace oriented manifestation was unexpected according to El Confidencial.

Yesterday's violence comes even as President Daniel Ortega's government agreed to a four person international truth commission to investigate the crackdowns on protests, which have killed over 80 people thus far. The GIEI would be created in agreement with the OAS and in keeping with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommendations, reports El Confidencial separately. (See May 22's briefs.)

The Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference condemned yesterday's violence and said the process of national dialogue, which the organization is mediating, cannot be resumed under these conditions, reports El ConfidencialBishop Silvio Baéz noted on Twitter that they are not condemning generic violence, but rather "assassinations" carried out by "armed groups in support of the government against the civilian population.

Business leaders in the COSEP association urged Ortega to call early elections yesterday, urging the government to agree on a date with civil society, reports Reuters. In a speech Ortega retorted that Nicaragua "is not private property".

News Briefs

  • Nearly a quarter of Colombian voters opted for centrist presidential candidate Sergio Fajardo in last Sunday's elections. He did not make it to the second round, leaving voters to pick between the polarized far right and far left candidates. Fajardo is unwilling to play the kingmaker, and is apparently prioritizing maintaining his coalition for regional elections next year, reports La Silla Vacía
  • His voters will have to choose between the lesser of two evils -- or abstain and hope to temper the eventual winner, argues Héctor Abad Faciolince in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Both candidates, urbista front-runner Iván Duque, and leftist Gustavo Petro, must battle Fajardo voters' potential abstention. The keys of the second round, according to la Silla Vacía are: moral conservatism vs progressive social values; peace accords as are or reduced in scope; the economic model; and the engine for social transformations.
  • La Silla Vacía analyzes the results in post-conflict regions, which split between Duque and Petro, making it hard for either to make headway for next month's second round. (See Monday's post.)
  • Peace negotiations with the ELN are shaky, and the difficult implementation of the FARC peace deal has guerrilla leader wary of advancing, reports InSight Crime, which interviewed group members and communities where they operate.
  • A group of 73 U.S. lawmakers urged the U.S. State Department to act in the defense of Colombian human rights activists, who have increasingly been the targets of violence over the past year.
  • A legal analysis by Honduras' Congress found the OAS backed international anti-impunity commission created in 2016 is illegitimate. The document could form the underpinning for an eventual Supreme Court decision against the MACCIH, reports el Heraldo. The analysis released this week calls for the immediate suspension of the MACCIH as it was created "unconstitutionally," and interferes in the country's sovereignty. Reports suggest the court might chip away at MACCIH's investigative power, part of an onslaught against the anti-corruption body by the Hernández administration, reports InSight Crime. The piece cites the Woodrow Wilson Center's Eric Olsen, who notes that the court is packed with supporters of President Juan Orlando Hernández, and could leave a "toothless" mission.
  • A U.N. investigation points to Mexican security force involvement in a a wave of forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo over the past four months, reports the Washington Post. The UN Human Rights Office in Mexico has documented the disappearance of 21 men and two women between February and May -- a number local rights groups say is even higher.
  • Earlier this week Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto reiterated that the country will not pay for a border wall proposed by U.S. President Donald Trump, reports Reuters. His Tweeted statement was in response to Trump's comments at a Nashville rally that Mexico will pay for the wall and does nothing to stem migrants passing through the country on the way to the U.S., reports the Guardian.
  • Guatemala's Constitutional Court thwarted President Jimmy Morales' expulsion of Sweden's ambassador, reports the Associated Press. (See May 11's briefs.)
  • Cuba's new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, will make Venezuela his first international visit since assuming office, reports AFP.
  • Henri Falcón, who lost this month in a widely criticized presidential election, has asked the Venezuela's Supreme Court to order a new vote, citing deep flaws in the process, reports the Associated Press
  • Comprehending Cuban influence on the Venezuelan government is key to understanding the country's crisis, argues Craig Deare in Americas Quarterly. "As the decent into chaos has accelerated, Cuba now has “an occupation army” in Venezuela, according to Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States. De-facto ownership of Venezuela’s oil riches would be a lifeline to Cuba’s dismal economic model."
  • A new bill approved by Brazil's lower chamber of Congress this week would require consent for public and private companies to store users' private data. Regulations set out in the project would also require personal information to be destroyed after client or user relationships end. "If approved by the Senate, the new law will dramatically reshape the rules for government agencies and private companies alike," argues Igarapé Institute's Robert Muggah and Louise Marie Hurel in Americas Quarterly.
  • Paraguayan President Horacio Cartés' opponents refused to attend a Congressional session on his resignation, aiming to thwart his goal to assume a Senate seat, but it's considered a temporary setback in his ambition to extend immunity from prosecution, reports the Associated Press. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Political tensions in Argentina are running high. Today President Mauricio Macri vetoed a bill passed early this morning by the Senate, that would freeze utility prices -- a flashpoint in his fiscal austerity program, reports Reuters.
  • Argentine lawmakers will vote on a bill legalizing abortion next month -- a testament to the political strength of women's rights activists, argues Estefanía Pozzo in a New York Times Español op-ed. In particular in recent years, Ni Una Menos activists have had the support of female lawmakers from across the political spectrum, demonstrating the transversality of women's rights. 
  • Argentina's government is considering granting the armed forces internal security tasks, especially protection of natural resources. The project is controversial -- and prohibited by law -- and could put the military at the front of conflicts with indigenous communities opposing extractivist projects, notes Página 12.
Buenos Aires
  • Transport for London, the public owned operator, is bidding to manage Buenos Aires' subway, a contract potentially worth about $3.5 billion over a decade, reports the Guardian.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Mexican corruption affects campaigns (May 30, 2018)

  • For every peso spent on campaigning that political parties report to electoral authorities, another 15 flow under the table, according to a new study pointing to massive irregularities in Mexican campaign financing. The report by Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity comes a month before the presidential election and doesn't point to any one party, but rather a systemic issue, reports the Guardian. This week, Mexico's electoral authorities accused an independent candidate of irregular financing, including using citizens to front illicit contributions and using municipal employees to gather signatures in support of his candidacy. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Widespread corruption is a key issue in this year's electoral races in Mexico. At least 14 current and former governors are under investigation for corruption, and some are accused of cooperating with crime groups that have contributed to the country's rampant violence problem. "Although all of the presidential candidates have made comments about how they will combat corruption, a nascent structure for doing so already exists. A landmark anti-corruption reform package that created a National Anti-Corruption System (Sistema Nacional Anticorrupción, SNA) and laid the foundation for a tougher and more comprehensive approach to combating corruption entered into force in July 2016," explains WOLA.
  • Major Mexican business owners have been nudging -- or outrightly pushing -- their employees to vote against front-runner Andrés Manuel López Obrador, reports Bloomberg.
  • The latest Reforma poll shows AMLO winning 52 percent of the vote, the widest margin thus far in the campaign, reports the Dallas Morning News.
  • Animal Político and Univisión have teamed up with ProPublica to create a tool to track political ads on Facebook during Mexico's campaign.
Mexican violence
  • Reporter Héctor González Antonio was beaten to death in Tamaulipas, the sixth journalist killed so far in Mexico, reports Animal Político. He was the correspondent for national newspaper Excelsior, and his recent stories reflected the violence and corruption present in Tamaulipas state, reports the Associated Press. Artículo 19 said that 43 reporters have been killed in the nearly six-years Enrique Peña Nieto has governed the country, reports El País.
  • Mexican authorities detained the wife of Jalisco Cartel New Generation's leader, who allegedly helped manage the criminal group's finances, reports InSight Crime.
  • The introduction of military forces against organized crime in Mexico has been a major factor in criminal group fragmentation and drastic increase in violence in recent years, writes Evan Ellis in Military Review piece.
  • Nicaragua's government "adopted a strategy of repression, characterized by the excessive use of force, extrajudicial executions, control of the media, and the use of pro-government armed groups, to crush protests in which at least 81 people have been killed," Amnesty International said in a report yesterday. The report "documents the Nicaraguan police’s use of lethal weapons, the large numbers of people injured by firearms, the trajectory of shots fired, the concentration of bullet wounds in the head, neck and chest of those killed, and attempts to obstruct justice and cover up the nature of the killings. These patterns have led the organization to conclude that there is evidence that police and pro-government armed groups committed multiple extrajudicial executions." The report found that "the strategy for repression appears to have been directed from the highest levels of government." 
  • The AI team, currently in Nicaragua, was caught in an attack by pro-government gangs and security forces against one of the local universities involved in the protests, reports the BBC.
  • Oil workers threatened to go on strike today in Brazil, adding onto the chaos of a week-long truckers strike, reports Reuters. They are seeking to halt incessant price increases in fuel prices, explains El País.
  • The impact of week-long truckers strike in Brazil has been vast. The economic costs for farmers alone -- who have been slaughtering chickens prematurely because feed is unavailable -- is estimated at $1.76 billion, reports Reuters. And political observers are disconcerted by the banner of "military intervention," adopted by protesters this week, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • President Michel Temer promised not to deviate from his market  liberalization plan, despite the chaos, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The Organization of American States (OAS) will present evidence from an international panel of independent experts that Venezuela’s government under President Nicolas Maduro has committed “crimes against humanity” to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The experts' report found that that state security forces or militant grassroots groups known as “colectivos” had murdered 131 people between 2014 and 2017, and that more than 1,300 political prisoners had been detained in Venezuela, reports Reuters.
  • Two active generals with Venezuela’s National Guard were part of a group of 15 military officials detained in the context of presidential elections earlier this month. Reuters reviewed documents showing that the number of new detentions of soldiers for treason, rebellion and desertion rose to 172 in the first four months of 2018. (See Monday's briefs.)
El Salvador
  • U.S. funded elite police officers in El Salvador are accused of extra-judicial killings of alleged gang members. CNN reports on a United Nations report, set to be released next month, that found "a pattern of behavior by security personnel amounting to extrajudicial executions."
  • Street camera evidence could contradict the police version of how a protester in El Alto died last week, reports the Associated Press. Victim Jonathan Quispe's lawyer said he was shot by police in the midst of a protest over university budget last week. The police initially said he was killed by a marble fired by protesters.
  • Guatemalan authorities seized a coca field and cocaine lab in the country for the first time, part of a string of discoveries indicating drug trafficking expansion into Central America, reports Reuters.
Central America
  • Last week the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved an amendment aimed at identifying corrupt government officials in Central America's Northern Triangle countries, reports InSight Crime.
  • Cuba's top scientist has urged the US and Canadian national science academies for a joint scientific inquiry to examine the evidence behind alleged sonic attacks that affected diplomats from those countries posted in Havana, reports the Guardian.
  • In a rare move, Brazil's government has provided armed backup to protect an indigenous group threatened by illegal loggers, reports Reuters.
  • The efforts of philanthropists Doug and Kristine Tompkins to preserve large tracts of Chilean and Argentine Patagonia are a laboratory for rewilding efforts worldwide, reports the Guardian. (Yes, the piece defines rewilding.)
Word of the Week: Machirulo
  • President Mauricio Macri sparred with his predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, this week. In a televised speech, Macri urged lawmakers not to follow "Cristina's craziness," in reference to a plan to legislatively halt service tariff increases, reports Página 12. Fernández responded vía Twitter, saying that dismissing a woman as crazy is a typical stance for a "machirulo," a neologism used to refer to a machista who is proud of his stance.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Nicaraguan protesters repressed again (May 29, 2018)

Nicaraguan police detain protester in confrontations yesterday

Two people were killed yesterday in Nicaragua, and about 40 wounded, in the midst of confrontations between security forces, armed government supporters and anti-government protesters, reports El Confidencial. It was the bloodiest day since April, when protests led to at least 77 deaths over the course of a week, reports El País. The government ordered a crackdown after students took over the National Engineering University (UNI), up until now controlled by pro-government forces.

The Ortega administration said it would be willing to return to negotiations with the opposition Alianza Cívica. The talks, mediated by the Episcopal Conference, were suspended last week due to lack of progress. (See last Thursday's briefs.)

Yesterday the Alianza Cívica called for a massive peaceful protest, saying the government has not met the minimal demands for dialogue: stopping violent repression of protests and dismantling armed youth groups, reports El Confidencial.

The "thuggish" response by the government has eroded its traditional pillars of support in the Catholic Church and the business community, reports Reuters. On Sunday the leading private sector association called on businesses to join protests for justice.

EFE denounced that its team was harassed by police while covering repression of protesters who were shot at with rubber bullets.

At Slate, Cintia Membreño gives a first person account of how the Ortega administration has alienated youths.

Repression briefs
  • El Confidencial gathered x-rays of victims of repression showing precise bullet wounds to the head.
  • The family of Angel Gahona, a journalist shot in April while covering the protests live, believe police took advantage of the chaos to kill a reporter and send a message to his colleagues, reports the Guardian. He was known in his home city of Bluefields for brave investigative pieces into police corruption and drug trafficking.
News Briefs

  • The eighth day of a truckers' strike in Brazil kept the country paralyzed yesterday -- despite concessions on Sunday to lower the price of fuel, that initially seemed to have won over key unions, reports the Guardian. Over 600 roads remained blocked yesterday. São Paulo and Río de Janeiro operated on holiday schedule, with reduced bus frequency and many schools closed. Among the demands voiced yesterday by truckers still on strike: overthrow of President Michel Temer and a military intervention, reports El País. The strike is feeding into anger at the Temer administration -- 55 percent of the country disapproves of the strike, but 95 percent disagrees with how the government has dealt with it, reports the New York Times.
  • Mexico's National Electoral Institute (INE) has fined independent presidential candidate Jaime Rodríguez Calderón. The Nuevo Laredo governor, known as "El Bronco" is accused of a series of irregular campaign practices -- including using 652 municipal employees to gather signatures in support of his candidacy and using individual citizens as fronts for irregular financial contributions. The case has been elevated to the national prosecutor's office, reports El País. He is also accused of making irregular payments to campaign workers collecting signatures, reports Animal Político.
  • A leading Mexican business association, Coparmex, has asked the government to professionalize police and improve access to justice in the face of a rampant increase in violence that has affected many businesses, reports El País. Business leaders say the high levels of violence have become an obstacle to economic growth, and called on the government and candidates in July's presidential election to stem robberies, reports Reuters.
  • Paraguayan President Horacio Cartés resigned yesterday, three months before the end of his mandate. The surprise move, aimed at allowing him to assume a senate seat and maintain immunity from prosecution, is considered illegal by many jurists, reports El País. The resignation must however be approved by Congress. Approval seems likely, according to the Associated Press. The head of the Senate is former President Fernando Lugo, illegally ousted in 2008. Lugo has said he would not accept the resignation, nor would he swear in Cartés as senator because he considers the candidacy illegal.
  • Guatemala's government admitted that U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adleson flew the official delegation to Israel two weeks ago. (See May 17's briefs.) Manfredo Marroquin, director of civil society organization Citizen Action, said accepting such a gift is illegal under Guatemalan law, and the country's human rights prosecutor also voiced concern, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Peruvian government said it is formally requesting the U.S. to extradite former President Alejandro Toledo so he can face accusations of taking $20 million in bribes from the Brazilian construction firm, Odebrecht, reports the Associated Press.
  • Thousands of protesters demonstrated in Bolivian cities after a student was killed in a manifestation last week, reports the Associated Press.
El Mozote
  • The case of a 1981 massacre in El Salvador has been reopened, allowing the survivors of the infamous El Mozote executions to give testimony about the atrocities carried out by military forces in their village, reports the New York Times. Evidence is showing what happened, but has not yet shed light as to why soldiers were so brutal and who ordered the killings.
  • The Macri administration's "gradualist" approach to slashing spending has failed to address inflation, and has both investors and citizens angry. Economic experts urge further cuts, which will likely fuel discontent and strengthen the political opposition, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The community of Azacualpa in northwestern Honduras is divided over a gold mine expansion that is digging up the local cemetery, reports the Guardian.
War on Drugs
  • In the midst of record-rates of violence in the region, much of it linked to illicit drugs, the time has come for Latin American countries to consider legalizing narcotics, ECLAC head Alicia Barcena said in a Paris forum. "I’m going to be very provocative. Who would drug legalization be good for? Latin America and the Caribbean, for God’s sake. Because the illegality is what’s killing people," she said, according to Reuters. "It’s time to seriously consider legalizing drugs."

Monday, May 28, 2018

Duque and Petro to face-off in Colombia (May 28, 2018)

Colombian voters divided their backing between the right and left wing candidates yesterday -- setting the stage for a polarized second round of presidential voting next month. Conservative senator Iván Duque came in first, with just over 39 percent of the vote. He did not however obtain enough votes to win outright, and will face off on June 17 against former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro, who obtained 25 percent of the vote yesterday. Centrist Sergio Fajardo came in close behind, with 23 percent. He far outperformed polls, which had him at a distant 15 percent. (See last Thursday's post.) 

La Silla Vacía has the complete results for each candidate and broken down geographically. El Tiempo notes the record participation levels, surpassing 50 percent.

Duque and Petro beat out more centrist options, making the run-off a polarized competition between a candidate closely associated to former president Álvaro Uribe -- with a questionable human rights track record, and champion of the country's "war on drugs" -- and a former guerrilla.

Though Duque is expected to win handily, it's a face-off that would have been impossible before the signing of the 2016 peace accord with the FARC, say many observers. The guerrilla demobilization seems to have created an opening for the political left that was non-existent till now, notes Michael Shifter in the New York Times.

It's a historic run-off in a country where the left hasn't had a real shot at the presidency since Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was assassinated in 1948, reports the Washington Post.

The two will now be competing for the centrist vote, particularly Fajardo's electorate, while angling to not alienate their own bases, according to the Wall Street Journal. Duque will likely exploit the specter of Chavismo in order to scare voters towards him, while Petro's supporters will aim to portray Duque as an Uribe puppet. Both candidates made nods to Fajardo's campaign in their speeches yesterday. Petro, for example, focused on education, notes la Silla Vacía.

Though Duque is Uribe's protege, his support yesterday outstripped the former president's results in legislative voting earlier this year, and his own results in an open primary -- a successful result of building a broader coalition outside of traditional Uribismo, according to la Silla Vacía.

A separate Silla Vacía article focuses on Petro's campaign, and unprecedented success as a voice of leftist causes and disenchantment with traditional political elites. He has channeled the anti-establishment fervor noted in other elections in the region, wrote Cynthia Arnson and Jamie Shenk in an Americas Quarterly piece from before the election.

Though the leading candidates had divergent views on the divisive peace deal with the FARC, the presidential campaign didn't focus much on the peace deal itself, which was somewhat of a surprise for some observers. Most voters were more concerned with corruption, unemployment, health care and education, according to opinion polls. A March survey found that only 3 percent of Colombians considered implementation of the peace accord a top priority.

Nonetheless, the legacy of the deal -- and the security challenges that have arisen in the wake of the FARC demobilization -- will be a key challenge for the next president, notes the AQ piece. 

A final presidential debate on Friday did focus on the accord, however. Duque said it had "bamboozled the Colombians," while Petro countered: "The peace is not a problem of negotiation with the guerrillas, but an agreement with society to live without violence," reports the Guardian.

Duque has promised not to "tear up" the accord, but to water it down. He will seek changes to ensure that drug trafficking is not an amnestied crime and that guerrilla leaders who haven’t made reparations to victims are barred from political office, reports the Associated Press.

Newly declassified U.S. State Department cables accuse Uribe of ties to drug traffickers, reported the New York Times this weekend.

News Briefs

  • Former missionary Josh Holt, detained for two years in Venezuela on charges of espionage, returned home to the U.S. over the weekend where he met with President Donald Trump. Venezuelan authorities said the release was the result of negotiations with Washington and that it should be read as a gesture of goodwill, reports the Wall Street Journal. Last week Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro expelled the U.S. diplomats in the country, including top diplomat Todd Robinson, who pushed strongly for Holt's release. (See last Wednesday's briefs.) 
  • Maduro indicated last week that the government might release some of the hundreds of political prisoners currently detained. Foro Penal Venezolano says there are currently 355 political prisoners in the country, reports Noticiero Digital. The civil society group said 20 people detained in protests over lack of electricity this year were released in Zulia on Friday, reports the New York Times.
  • The European Union has agreed to more sanctions against Venezuelan officials in the wake of Maduro's questioned reelection last week. But the exact list of affected people likely won't be released until next month, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Yesterday eight military officials and a civilian were charged with rebellion, mutiny and treason in a military tribunal, reports Efecto Cocuyo. (See last Friday's briefs.) 
  • In the wake of the elections, the opposition remains divided and without a unity leadership, say experts in Efecto Cocuyo.

  • Brazil's government reached a new deal with truckers yesterday, after a week-long strike left much of the country without gas and businesses without necessary supplies, reports the Wall Street Journal. On Friday the government deployed the armed forces to clear roads blocked by protesters, but many truckers remained off the job, complicating businesses. By Saturday 11 airports were out of fuel, protesters were blocking hundreds of highways and supermarkets were rationing fruit, reports the Washington Post. Chaos: "Several McDonald’s restaurants ran out of hamburger buns and chickens ran out of feed and started eating each other."

Friday, May 25, 2018

Maduro rushes reinauguration (May 25, 2018)

News Briefs

  • President Nicolás Maduro was sworn in yesterday for a second, six-year term. The inauguration was moved up by eight months, after an election considered a sham by the country's political opposition and many governments world-wide, reports the Wall Street Journal. The ceremony was held before the National Constituent Assembly, a supra-congressional body created last year by Maduro and considered illegitimate by the opposition and many international observers. Maduro promised to released some jailed opposition activists, boost oil production and open dialogue with business leaders, reports Reuters.
  • Civil society group Foro Penal Venezolano said the government arrested 15 senior military officials around the election. The arrests came in the context of a government investigation into an alleged conspiracy, reports Reuters. Nine were charged Monday with military rebellion, treason, mutiny and crimes against military decorum. Yesterday Maduro said authorities have been dismantling conspiracies, including a plan allegedly financed by the U.S. and Colombia to divide the armed forces and avoid last Sunday's election, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • A central criticism of Venezuela's election on Sunday was government use of much needed aid to push people to vote -- Reuters reports that cash prizes and access to welfare programs were among the incentives.
  • A new InSight Crime investigation into Venezuela's criminal dynamics focuses on the border with Colombia, now one of the main territories for illicit groups in the region. The two countries' separate dynamics are working symbiotically to feed into criminal enterprises such as cocaine, contraband fuel, and illegal mining. Venezuelan border states have become sanctuaries, where Colombian guerrillas and criminal groups exercise considerable influence, according to the report.
  • Wall Street Journal correspondent Anatoly Kurmanaev reflects on Venezuela's crisis, through the lens of growing up in post-Soviet Russia.
  • For the Wall Street Journal Colombian voters will be choosing between "a law-and-order conservative versus a former guerrilla and admirer of the late Venezuelan strongman, Hugo Chávez," in Sunday's presidential elections. (See yesterday's post.) 
  • In the wake of the FARC demobilization, lethal violence against farmers seeking to reclaim lands by paramilitary groups has been a consistent issue, reports NACLA.
  • A landslide at Colombia's Ituango hydroelectric dam this week forced about 26,000 people to evacuate. Activists say the case highlights the project's risks to local communities and the environment, reports Reuters.
  • The Trump administration continues to conflate the MS13 street gang with illegal migration to the U.S. Speaking in Long Island yesterday, U.S. President Donald Trump insisted that gang members have "exploited glaring loopholes" to "enter the country as unaccompanied minors." The White House doubled down on the characterization of the gang members as "animals." The strategy, however, leads to ineffective policies that could actually hinder strategies to counter gang expansion, warns InSight Crime.
  • Alicia Díaz González was killed in her home in Nuevo León, the fifth journalist assassinated so far this year, reports Animal Político. She was found dead by her children with stabbing wounds in her neck, and evidence of beating on her face and head. Díaz González collaborated with El Financiero and the Grupo Reforma owned El Norte.
  • Legal gun sales are tightly controlled in Mexico -- on average 38 are sold each day to civilians. But an estimated 580 are smuggled in illegally from the U.S., a disparity feeding into Mexico's unprecedented levels of gun violence, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • The United Nations human rights office called for an investigation into the deaths of three indigenous men, killed by a military patrol in eastern Honduras, as well as the wounding of three children in protests in the area the next day, reports the Associated Press. Rights groups say the soldiers used unnecessary force.
  • Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli will stop fighting extradition from the U.S. to face charges in his home country of using public funds to spy on political opponents, reports Reuters.
  • Argentina's Chamber of Deputies will likely vote on a bill to legalize abortion next month. The proposed legislation has the support of over 70 lawmakers from several parties, but needs to obtain 129 votes to pass to the Senate, reports the Associated Press. The vote comes as activists have highlighted the case of a 10-year-old girl denied an abortion in the province of Salta. The pregnancy is the result of abuse by her step-father, but authorities refused to carry out an abortion (permitted in these circumstances by Argentine legislation) because the pregnancy was only detected at week 19 of gestation, reports Página 12.
  • Paraguayan Vice President Alicia Pucheta apologized on behalf of the state to relatives of four opposition activists who were “disappeared” by authorities during the 1954-1989 Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship, reports EFE.
  • Eighteen Waorani indigenous communities are petitioning to stop oil drilling in their territory in Ecuador's Amazon, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Wind-farms on Brazil's northern Atlantic coast could become a powerful industry -- now some authorities are proposing a tax, hoping to cash in on potential profits, reports the New York Times.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Colombians head to the polls Sunday (May 24, 2018)

Colombians head to the polls Sunday to pick a new president from five contenders. Iván Duque, anointed successor to former President Álvaro Uribe and opponent to the FARC peace deal is in the lead, though likely no candidate will obtain enough votes to avoid heading to a run-off vote in June.

Duque is projected to win about 41.5 percent, and his primary opponent is leftist former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro, with a predicted 29.5, reports Reuters. They are trailed in opinion polls by center-right ex-Vice President Germán Vargas Lleras, the center-left former Medellín Mayor Sergio Fajardo, and lead FARC peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle. As of the most recent polls, Duque would likely win in a second round of voting as well.

Americas Society/Council of the Americas has a roundup of all the polling, with the big caveat that predictions are notoriously unreliable in Colombia. (Anybody else recall choking on a sip of coffee the morning after the peace deal referendum?) 

La Silla Vacía analyzes how voters will lean according to their votes in this year's legislative elections -- a method which puts Germán Vargas Lleras, who resigned as vice president to run, in the lead, followed by Duque.

Most experts are surprised Petro, a former guerrilla, is even in the running, much less polling second, reports the Washington Post. For some, it's a sign of changing attitudes in the wake of the FARC peace process, reports the Guardian. The demobilization means the left has an opportunity for political play. Petro's found popularity as an economically progressive alternative to Duque's market friendly approach -- launching what might be called the great avocado vs oil debate -- reports Bloomberg, a more politically palatable expression of of the discontent previously expressed by the FARC.

In response, Duque is angling for centrist votes, but -- at least in the first round -- carries the burden of a strong portion of voters who reject Uribismo, reports la Silla Vacía

Polarization is a theme of the election analysis, as is the issue of misinformation. Open Democracy has a section dedicated to the issue, produced with Nueva Sociedad and Friedrich Ebert Siftung. 

In a piece delving into the issue of polarization, Sandra Borda analyzes two potential factors: "... that the peace process produced a counterintuitive effect: instead of uniting Colombian society around a common objective, it served only to profoundly divide in an almost irreconcilable way. ... My second argument suggests that we may be confusing polarisation with a phenomenon that appears similar but is also very different. I suggest that the end of the war with the FARC, a revolutionary Marxist guerrilla, opened up the political space for the left that had been politically locked away in the past and has now increased the political ideological spectrum within which Colombian electoral politics functions."

InSight Crime compares the candidates' actual proposals, noting the importance of new criminal dynamics in the wake of the FARC's demobilization.

Ahead of Sunday's vote, authorities insisted that there is no possibility of electoral fraude, reports El Tiempo, in response to Petro's allegations that electoral software has not been adequately audited.

Whoever wins will face an uphill political battle, warns Reuters. While Petro's plans to raise social spending have scared investors, even Duque's business-friendly plan to cut taxes is bad for the budget.

Wrapping up, Carlos Cortés' irreverent La Mesa del Centro round up of the candidates heading into the vote is well worth a few minutes.

News Briefs

  • Four former high ranking military officials were convicted in the landmark Molina Thiessen case. They were found guilty of aggravated sexual abuse against Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen in 1981, and three were found guilty of the enforced disappearance of her 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio, reports the Guardian. Two high-ranking officers previously thought to be untouchable, former Army Chief of Staff Benedicto Lucas García and former chief of military intelligence Manuel Callejas y Callejas, were among those found guilty, note Jo-Marie Burt and Paulo Estrada in the International Justice Monitor. They were sentenced to 58 years’ jail by the court. It is the first time senior military officers have been prosecuted for serious human rights violations since the 2013 genocide verdict against the former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was sent back to trial.
  • The Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference suspended the National Dialogue yesterday, after representatives of the government and the "Civic Alliance" failed agree on a work agenda, reports El Confidencial. The process has been suspended indefinitely due to lack of progress, reports the Associated Press. The foreign minister, in representation of the government, refused to discuss the a route to democratization, saying the agenda angles towards a coup against the Ortega administration.
  • The bishops who are serving as mediators had proposed an "agenda to guarantee democratization and justice" in the country, including electoral reform, new government authorities, an international truth commission, and guarantees and indemnization for victims of human rights violations, reports El Confidencial.
  • The U.S. Trump administration is preparing a range of responses, including sanctions, to pressure the Ortega government, reports the McClatchy DC. An administration source said U.S. officials are treading carefully to avoid accusations that the opposition responds to "imperialist" directives.
  • Several small road blocks around the country -- demanding President Daniel Ortega's resignation and in support of the dialogue process -- were attacked by paramilitary forces and members of the Juventud Sandinista yesterday, reports El Confidencial.
  • An InSight Crime investigation into organized crime in Venezuela outlines how the 2009 Honduran coup created an opening for criminal organizations, which created a major cocaine trafficking route from Colombia through Venezuela and Honduras.
  • Colombian authorities dismantled a sophisticated underground cocaine production laboratory in Nariño, suggesting the increasing capacity of dissident FARC criminal groups, reports InSight Crime
  • A charter jet flying from Texas split in half while landing in Honduras this week -- everybody survived. Check out the pictures on the BBC.
Environmental activists
  • The New Republic profiles indigenous women land activists in Ecuador. "Ecuador is unique in terms of oil and conservation; it’s an oil producing and exporting (OPEC) country, and its shaky economy depends on oil. But it also enshrines the rights of nature in its constitution, and many Ecuadoreans see themselves as the guardians of those rights."
  • The New York Times has beautiful pictures of natural diversity in Bolivia's Madidi National Park.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Venezuela expels U.S. diplomats (May 23, 2018)

News Briefs

  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro expelled the top U.S. diplomats in the country yesterday, giving United States Embassy’s chargé d’affaires Todd Robinson and his number two, Brian Naranjo, 48 hours to leave the country. He accused them of conspiring against the government, speaking two days after his reelection in a vote questioned internationally and criticized by the U.S. government, reports the New York Times. It's a sharp escalation of bilateral tensions in the wake of new U.S. sanctions against Venezuela, reports the Washington Post. While Robinson did not speak out regarding the election, he clashed with Venezuelan authorities last week regarding the case of an imprisoned U.S. missionary in a prison where political prisoners rebelled last week. In his announcement, Maduro referred to the U.S. administration as "the government of the Ku Klux Klan," reports the Miami Herald.
  • The legitimacy of the vote is not up for debate, rather, for the New York Times editorial board, the question is how to oust Maduro. The key, argues the piece, is collective pressure, led by regional government, and support for the opposition-led National Assembly. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Unilateral actions must be avoided at all costs, and the end goal must be setting the basis for actually free and fair elections, argues journalist Reynaldo Trombetta in the Guardian.
  • Sanctions won't be enough, and the window of opportunity for forcing elections is fast closing, warns Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald. He recommends doubling down on sanctions -- stopping short of a full oil embargo -- and warns that AMLO's election in Mexico bodes ill for regional pressure against Maduro.
  • Illustrating the country's inflationary scourge: it now takes 88 hours of work at minimum wage to buy a kilo of chicken, according to El País.
  • NAFTA renegotiation talks remain stalled on the issue of car production and America First clauses that the U.S. seeks to introduce, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • And infant was killed, 30 people were injured and a trendy neighborhood in Guadalajara resembled a war zone yesterday, in a shootout between hitmen and a former state prosecutor's bodyguards, reports the Guardian. At least 105 public officials have been killed in Jalisco state since 2013. 
  • Presidential candidates are not grappling with the situation of migrants living in the U.S., especially the so-called "dreamers" who have been living there since children but face deportation now, writes activist
    Antonio Alarcón in a New York Times Español op-ed.
Migrants and refugees
  • There has been an alarming spike in asylum seekers and refugees fleeing violence in Central America in recent years, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The UNHCR said the annual figures increased from 18,000 in 2011 to 294,000 at the end of last year. Last year's number represented a 58 percent increase over the previous year's. Most refugee applicants were escaping rampant gang violence in the region, reports the GuardianThe UNHCR also pointed to the changing role of Mexico, which is increasingly a country of destination rather than transit.
  • In El Salvador, gang members seeking a way out have few options. Increasingly turning to Evangelical churches is a way to exit the criminal organizations -- the Economist.
  • Twenty-five migrants from Cape Verde were rescued off the coast of Brazil's Maranhão state, after 35 days at sea, the last without food or water, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazil's progressive forces are in the midst of a potential realignment in the wake of former president Luiz Inácio Luiz da Silva's imprisonment reports Jacobin.
  • Truck drivers went on strike in Brazil yesterday over the cost of fuel, further punishing the country's fragile economy, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Guatemala's new attorney general, Consuelo Porras, takes office in a volatile situation for the country's landmark efforts to oust entrenched corruption. Though the case of a jailed Russian family has received international attention in recent months, it's just a sideshow in a pushback by elites seeking to shield themselves from future investigations, write Kate Doyle and Elizabeth Oglesby in World Politics Review.
  • Leftist former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro is unlikely to win the presidential race this Sunday in Colombia, but he is predicted to come in solidly second. The strong showing for a former urban guerrilla shows the country's current drastic polarization, according to the Washington Post. It's the first time in decades a leftist has had such a following, experts say. 
  • Colombia should move away from eradicating coca cultivation, and instead focus on the crop's lawful potential, according to a new report from Open Society Foundations' Global Drug Policy Program. It proposes building a coca leaf industry that  guarantees a sound income for farmers; provides good quality, sustainable raw materials for manufacturers; and ensures traceability, and control across the supply chain, with adherence to international laws. InSight Crime puts the report in the Colombian context of increased violence in the wake of FARC demobilization and unsuccessful eradication campaigns.
  • Colombian authorities captured one of the last remaining Urabeños, a blow to the drug cartel that could impact the group's power, according to InSight Crime.
  • Roadblock protests around Nicaragua are demanding the resignation of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, reports el Confidencial. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • In the third session of National Dialogue taking place today, participants will seek to force the government to follow Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommendations issued on Monday, reports el Confidencial(See yesterday's briefs.)
  • New President Martín Vizcarra aims to make his mark on anti-corruption measures in the country, after replacing a predecessor forced to quit in the midst of a graft scandal, reports the Economist.
Trans in Argentina
  • A new book by Kike Arnal documents in photographs the lives of Argentina's transgender community, reports the Guardian.