Friday, June 29, 2018

Pence in Guatemala (June 29, 2018)

Neither U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, and the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador emphasized combating corruption in order to deter one of the root causes of migration during their Thursday night meeting and press conference, notes an editorial by La Prensa Libre.

Instead, the emphasis was on how human traffickers, organized crime, and weak border control was behind the migration problem

Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez said that he would commit to "greater police presence" along the Honduras-Guatemala border. President Salvador Ceren of El Salvador said that anti-gang violence and public safety programs implemented in the country had reduced migration to the U.S. by 60 percent. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales asserted that his country would need to strengthen its police and military to exert stronger border control (Prensa Libre). 

"[T]old the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras: just as we respect your borders & your sovereignty, we insist that you respect ours," Vice President Pence later tweeted

During the meeting with the Northern Triangle leaders, Pence emphasized the need to educate Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorans on the dangers of migrating towards the United States. 

This overlooks other factors, such a strong U.S. economy (or an intolerable level of violence) that could be driving people to migrate, said Fernando Carrera, a former minister of foreign affairs in Guatemala. "[W]hat's happening isn't because people have gone crazy and want to run risks in order to get to the United States," he told Prensa Libre. (A Washington Post analysis piece discusses some of the other factors driving Central American migration in further detail). 

Immigration wasn't the only topic of discussion. In comments to President Hernandez, Pence said it was important to select a "solid and independent" attorney general in Honduras (elPeriodico). 

The original purpose of the meeting was to show solidarity with victims of the Fuego volcanic eruption, but this changed following the furor over family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border, as a result of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy. Karen Pence did make time to visit a shelter for those impacted by the disaster.

  • The Wall Street Journal proposes that presidential candidates Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Ricardo Anaya represent two sides of Mexico, as embodied in their home states: "one prospering from foreign investment and industrialization, the other struggling to survive on oil and other commodities as well as government-supported development."
  • Animal Politico analyzed 101 of the political murders that took place during the approximate 10-month campaign season, and found that Guerrero is the state with the highest number of reported murders and that the PRI is the party most affected
  • A Reuters special report looks at how soaring violence and plummeting oil prices made Tabasco state, formerly a stable and prosperous hub of Mexico's oil industry, "a hell." 
  • The BBC profiles a widow running for office after her husband was gunned down in central Mexico. 
  • In a sign of how much the country's security situation has changed, a radio show that allowed the families of kidnapping victims to call in and leave messages to their loved ones has gone off the air after 14 years (Americas Quarterly).(#FlashbackFriday to the 2010 This American Life story about this show). 
  • The U.S. State Department said they supported Colombia's decision to resume aerial fumigation of coca crops with drones (Colombia Reports). Other civil society leaders were more critical.
  • A Honduran pastor held in an ICE detention center is documenting the stories of other mothers who, like her, have been separated from their children and who now face a choice: "they can remain separated from their children while waiting for a court date—which could be several months away, at least—or they can withdraw their asylum claim in order to be reunited with their children sooner and face deportation together." (New Yorker
  • In a new podcast, experts at the Washington Office on Latin America discuss what they saw during a recent visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona: evidence that the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy is starting to overwhelm the system for processing migrants along the border, and has essentially created "a mess that is unlikely to be resolved any time soon."
  • Pence's rhetoric on Venezuela caused the expected back-and-forth, reports CNN
  • Asylum petitions and work visa requests are spiking in Peru due to an influx of Venezuelans (El Pais). 

Central America 
  • The U.S. government asked Nicaragua's police to return police vehicles that had been donated by the U.S., then used in the violent repression of protestors. Nicaragua's government said it had done so and was demanding "$16 billion" in a civil war reparation fund, citing U.S. involvement in the Nicaraguan conflict of the 1980s. Meanwhile, a delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was denied access to visit a Managua prison where they had intended to review detention conditions (Confidencial). Elsewhere, a new Americas Quarterly podcast asks, "How far is President Daniel Ortega willing to go to keep control?
  • Honduras' Congress postponed yesterday's scheduled election of Honduras' new attorney general for today (La Prensa). The National Autonomous University of Honduras asked that the Members of Congress who are implicated in corruption investigations withdraw from participating in the selection process (Pulso).
  • A company that won a lucrative contract to rebuild part of the highway destroyed by Guatemala's Fuego volcanic corruption is partly owned by a close friend of President Jimmy Morales (elPeriodico).
  • The number of U.S. diplomats affected by mysterious "sonic attacks" in Cuba has risen to 26 (Miami Herald).
  • A recent poll shows that most respondents still prefer Lula as a presidential candidate; the second most-popular candidate, with 15 percent of respondents expressing favorable views, was retired army captain Jair Bolsonaro (BBC Brazil). 
Southern Cone
  • Chile's minister of justice criticized the high recidivism rate in the country's penitentiary system, emphasizing that Chile must do more to rehabilitate inmates (Latin American Herald Tribune).
  • Uruguay's biggest labor union is mobilizing in order to demand greater resources to health and education, as the country's Congress meets to discuss the national budget (El Observador).
  • The popularity of Jair Bolsano in Brazil and Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico indicate that Latin America is not in the mood for politics as usual, argues The Economist"When voters choose candidates they normally wouldn’t, the negative consequences are long-lasting," the piece argues, citing the elections of Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), Alvaro Uribe (Colombia), and Alberto Fujimori (Peru) as examples of what happens when voters choose "savior" candidates. "The problem with saviors is that, sooner or later, countries have to try to save themselves from them," the article concludes. 
  • Manatees are dying mysteriously off Mexico's southern coast, prompting the national environmental protection agency to investigate possible causes (Proceso).
  • The first randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial of psychedelic Amazonian drink ayahuasca suggests it is an effective antidepressant (The Conversation).
  • "Bidding a loved one farewell is more painful than it should be" in Cuba, says The Economist.
Elyssa Pachico

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Central American parents struggle to reunite with kids (June 28, 2018)

Despite yesterday's federal court ruling mandating that the U.S. government reunite migrant parents who were separated from their children at the border within 30 days, it seems unlikely that efforts to do so will proceed in a timely or orderly manner (Vox). In one example of how the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy continues to place children in vulnerable or potentially traumatic situations, lawyers in two states and D.C. are reporting that toddlers have been ordered to appear in court for their own deportation proceedings (Texas Tribune). 

Several reports shed light on the experiences of migrant parents who have been separated from their children and in some cases deported. “There’s no structure in place, no legal structure in place to actually reunify the parents who’ve already been deported,” one attorney told Reuters in a profile of a deported Honduran man whose 12-year-old daughter remains in Los Angeles. Similar stories have been reported by The Guardianthe APWashington Post, and Time. For a sense of the bureaucracy that parents must deal with when searching for their children, see the LA Times; for a sense of what children and employees at detention centers are experiencing, see Pro Publica

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Homeland Security Kristjen Nielsen are expected to discuss migration issues when meeting tonight with Central American leaders in Guatemala. Adriana Beltrán at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) argues that instead of pushing Northern Triangle nations to tighten their borders, the U.S. should be pressuring them to address the root causes of migration: corruption, impunity, and violence

"They should see this meeting as an opportunity to reaffirm U.S. support for anti-corruption initiatives," writes Beltrán. "Most importantly, they need to underscore that the lack of willingness on behalf of these nations to tackle corruption, impunity, and violence is what is causing their citizens to flee their borders." [Disclosure: I work as a communications consultant at WOLA]. 

For a harsh critique of the implications of Pence's meeting with Central American leaders, see Martin Rodriguez's column at Nomada

Colombia Congress rules on peace tribunals 

Colombia's Congress approved the law that essentially allows its transitional justice tribunals to become fully effective. However, critics of the peace deal—aka, the "Uribista" bloc—got what they wanted: first, the creation of a separate chamber that will hear testimony from members of the military about their participation in Colombia's conflict; and second, a rule that prevents the peace tribunals from presenting evidence in extradition cases

The extradition rule could have implications should more FARC guerrilla commanders suddenly become embroiled in drug trafficking cases (see the April 10, 2018 brief). 

As La Silla Vacia notes, while members of the military—or other powerful elites who backed Colombia's violent paramilitary groups—can still voluntarily testify before the UN-backed Truth Commission, they aren't mandated to provide testimony as they would if they were fully participating in the transitional justice system (Justicia Especial Para la Paz, JEP).

"Without the pressure of the JEP, it is less likely that members of the military and third parties reveal what they know," the article says, adding: 

"This helps Uribismo reinforce the narrative that what Colombia experienced was criminal terrorism, not an armed conflict; and it will also help prevent the emergence of any other information that could put Uribe government officials or their allies in a tight spot."  

  • Mexico City police seized millions of dollars of cash in briefcases reportedly destined to the ruling political party's headquarters (Animal Politico). 
  • According to a survey by a civil society group, a third of respondents said they'd experienced vote-buying efforts (EFE).
  • Bloomberg has the scoop on a failed military coup attempt which helps explain the Maduro government's crackdown on the military. 
  • 11 state oil company employees were arrested for committing "irregularities" that affected oil production (Reuters). The Venezuelan Attorney General's Office said said 90 state oil company employees have been prosecuted so far as part of the corruption probe, including 23 executives. 
Central America 
  • Today is the ninth anniversary of Honduras' military coup, which Radio Progreso uses as an opportunity to critique international support for President Juan Orlando Hernandez following last year's highly controversial elections.   
  • Honduras' Congress is supposed to vote today to select an attorney general. Pulso has brief profiles of the final five candidates. InSight Crime argues that given the number of Members of Congress currently under investigation for corruption, this further comprises the integrity of the selection process
  • In El Salvador, protestors have been demonstrating against a proposed law that critics say could lead to water privatization. The bishop of San Salvador told EFE that he believed the proposed law went against citizens' rights to fair water access. 
  • Nicaragua will hold a march for those killed as a result of violence linked to political unrest this Saturday. The march had originally been planned for the previous weekend, but was called off due to fears over potential state repression, Confidencial reports
  • Coalition group the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders criticized the threats and lack of protection experienced by human rights activists in Peru (EFE), where some 119 activists have been killed in the past seven years. Following an observation mission, the group said that Peruvian media and political officials frequently referred to activists as "defenders of terrorism," creating an environment in which they are more vulnerable to threats. 
Elyssa Pachico

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Santos: Colombia peace deal is 'bulletproof' (June 27, 2018)

In an interview with the Associated Press, Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos said he would encourage his successor, Ivan Duque, to focus on "other campaign" promises besides changing the fundamental terms of Colombia's peace deal. 

"He shouldn’t wear himself out on something that was already negotiated, that’s working and that everyone agrees is in the country’s best interests," Santos said, adding that when he steps down from the presidency on August 7, he plans to stay out of Colombia's polarized political debates.

Santos described Duque, a former aide, as "smart and with sound judgment." 

The AP noted that Duque will have a hard time changing the fundamentals of Colombia's peace accords so as to force the demobilized FARC guerrillas to accept a tougher deal: Colombia's Constitutional Court has ruled that the terms are binding for the next three administrations. 

Vocal support for the peace deal from international organizations could also arguably act as a deterrent on Duque's coalition. Whether or not that actually works remains to be seen: yesterday the United Nations issued a statement encouraging Colombia's Congress to finally approve the country's transitional justice system, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Justicia Especial Para la Paz, JEP).

The JEP has been blocked by Duque's allies in Congress, who say they will only approve the special peace tribunals if they undergo certain reforms first—including one that would essentially give special treatment to members of the military who have confessed to crimes. 

El Pais reports that Duque's political coalition in Congress rejected the UN's plea that Colombia move forward with the peace tribunals. 

Other Colombia news briefs 
  • Colombia will use herbicide-spraying drones to eradicate coca crops, following a White House report that asserted Colombia had experienced "a record growth in cocaine production" (Reuters). Santos said that the coca-spraying drones would "simulate ground, not aerial, fumigation," thereby limiting the negative health effects associated with the herbicide.  
  • Asides from creating a "perverse incentive" for Colombia farmers to grow more coca crops, the peace deal may have had another inadvertent effect: after the FARC withdrew from forested territory they have controlled for decades, land speculators rushed in. Consequently, last year Colombia saw a worrying jump in forest degradation, satellite data shows. (AP)
  • Vice President Mike Pence is in Ecuador today and arrives in Guatemala tomorrow as part of his Latin America tour. Speaking on Central America immigration, he said, "If you can't come legally, don’t come at all." (Reuters)

  • "Citizens who could once be counted on to vote conservatively now appear ready to flip," reports the New York Times from Aguascalientes, one of Mexico's most prosperous cities.
  • Polls show there are unlikely to be any big surprises come Sunday's presidential elections. (El Pais
  • The defense team of Sinaloa Cartel leader "Chapo" Guzman is preparing to argue that he was not, in fact, the head of the drug trafficking organization. (New York Times)

Central America

  • Just before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrives Thursday to Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales said that he has formally petitioned the U.S. government to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Guatemalans—a humanitarian program in which the U.S. suspends deportations to a country affected by war or natural disasters, and allows those granted protection to live and work in the U.S. (AP
  • Legislation introduced by Democrats in Congress provides "the basis for a more humane and sensible policy" towards Central American migrantsarriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, argues Adriana Beltrán for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The Central America Family Protection and Reunification Act (CAFPRA) "recognizes the need to address the conditions of violence, corruption, and impunity driving Central Americans to flee in search of safety," and has been co-sponsored by more than 50 Members of Congress so far. 
  • The United Nations once again expressed concern over problems with Honduras' attorney general selection process, citing a lack of transparency over how candidates were selected. (Criterio
  • Illegal police executions have been widely documented in El Salvador, which makes the recent conviction of four police officers for the crime a positive, albeit small step forward. (InSight Crime)
  • Mongabay profiles how the Afro-indigenous Garifuna group in Honduras is making use of radio to protect their culture and ancestral lands. 
  • The Dominican Republic said it will train 32 prosecutors to focus on human trafficking (EFE). The country has a poor record in securing convictions in human trafficking cases, or investigating officials complicit in forced labor or sex trafficking rings, according to the U.S. State Department. 
Southern Cone
  • As Paraguay President Horacio Cortes—barred from re-election to the presidency— won a Senate seat in the country's April elections, he had previously signaled that he was going to resign the presidency early so that he could be sworn into Congress on July 1. (His successor, Alicia Pucheta, is supposed to take office in August). However, Cortes was unable to get the Congressional support that would have allowed him to take up his Senate seat in time. (AP
  • Argentina's Senate will debate a bill liberalizing abortion laws on August 8. (Clarin)
  • Peru's Attorney General has initiated an investigation against three Members of Congress, including Kenji Fujimori, who were suspended earlier this month due to corruption allegations (Telesur). They are accused of attempting to buy votes to prevent ex-President Kuczynski's impeachment. Kuczynski is believed to have illegally pardoned disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori in exchange for Kenji Fujimori's breaking with the ranks and abstaining from voting on an impeachment attempt against Kuczynski in December 2017. 
  • Peru will no longer castrate those convicted of sexually assaulting minors younger than 14; instead, they may face life sentences. (EFE)
  • Amid the release of dozens of imprisoned political activists in Venezuela, the opposition is now demanding the release of 152 "military political prisoners" (Efecto Cocuyo). As previously noted by Marco Aponte in The Conversation, the country has offered clemency to non-military political prisoners while seemingly cracking down on "potential troublemakers" in the military. 
  • A delegation of the European Union's legislative body is currently touring Venezuelan migrant camps along the country's borders with Brazil and Colombia, which could yet herald a European Union commitment to increase aid to Venezuelans who've fled abroad. (EFE)
  • Argentina scraped by into the next round of the World Cup, and football legend Diego Maradona was.... pretty emotional about it.
  • Mexico football fever could further drive the expansion of training academies like this one profiled by the New York Times
Elyssa Pachico

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Honduras nears attorney general pick (June 26, 2018)

Honduras has narrowed down its potential nominees for attorney general to five candidates, in a process that will have significant ramifications for the country's fight against corruption and organized crime. (EFE)

Critero predicts that Honduras' new attorney general will most likely be Solicitor General Abraham Alvarenga Urbina, a former Member of Congress and, according to Critero, a "loyal friend" to President Juan Orlando Hernandez. Criterio reports that technically Alvarenga shouldn't even be in the running for the AG position as he is still serving as solicitor general, which goes against the selection process laws.

This is just one example of the various problems that have been identified with Honduras' attorney general selection process. Last week, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers criticized Honduras for not involving civil society in the process. (See last Friday's brief for more context on the importance of Honduras' attorney general nomination process).

Central America
  • Representatives of President Ortega's government refused to discuss the possibility of early elections, said civil society leaders who are currently in dialogue with Nicaragua's government in efforts to end the country's ongoing political unrest. (Confidencial)
  • elPeriodico: Manfredo Marroquín, the head of anti-impunity and transparency group Accion Ciudadana, says that leaders in Guatemala's Congress are pursuing a political vendetta by "baselessly" accusing him of various crimes (see the June 22, 2018 brief). The head of Congress, Alvaro Arzú (one of Guatemala's most powerful politicians, who has been accused of corruption charges [see Oct. 6, 2017 brief]) filed the accusation against Marroquín in Congress' name, even though various Members of Congress said they had not been consulted first. Accion Ciudadana had recently petitioned Congress to take a harder line against political parties that fail to disclose how much money they raise and spend.  
  • recent report published by a Jesuit research group and Oxfam described Honduras' political system as co-opted by political elites who focus on protecting their own special interests. 
  • Since Mexico's political campaign season kicked off in September 2017, 46 political candidates have been killed, reports El Pais, citing data from Mexican analysis company Etellekt. The company found that compared to the 2011-2012 campaign season, the number of people killed while aspiring to political office increased by some 4500 percent. The most recent victim is a mayoral candidate who was gunned down in Oaxaca on Monday during an ambush.
  • Mexico's ruling PRI party has arguably politicized the office of the Attorney General and a special court meant to oversee the elections, as part of what some have described as a wider pattern of abusing state institutions for electoral purposes. "Hardball tactics are nothing new in Mexican politics, but the PRI’s abuse of state institutions are a staggering escalation for a party in power," reports the New York Times
  • Today is the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture; the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement condemning the widespread use of torture in Mexico criminal investigations.  
  • The WSJ looks at why Central American migration is not an issue in Mexico's elections.  
  • "Widespread voter rejection of the PRI" means the party is poised to see "the worst electoral result since it was created by the country’s rulers in 1929," reports the AP
  • According to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, coca cultivation in Colombia increased 11 percent between 2016 and 2017 (AP), which the head of the office called "unacceptable" during a press conference (Colombia Reports).  President Juan Manuel Santos told the AP that because coca farmers qualify for subsidies if they commit to a crop substitution plan under the terms of Colombia's historic 2016 peace deal, this "had in some ways created a perverse incentive for peasants to grow more coca."
  • recent study by the Federal University of São Paulo sheds light on widespread extrajudicial killings committed by police over a bloody two-week period in 2006 in Sao Paulo. Over 500 civilians were killed during a wave of police and alleged gang violence, which officials have long maintained was instigated by the PCC prison gang. As EFE reports, the study, published in early June, found that based on forensics, most civilian victims had been killed execution-style by police or masked para-police groups. Families of the victims have reported receiving police threats over the years, and as a result, according to one of the study's authors, family members "have never dared to step foot in a police station and speak of the death of their children." 
  • Inconsistent water service is increasingly prompting wealthy Venezuelans to drill their own wells. (AP)
Southern Cone
  • Argentina protested a $50 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), approved by President Mauricio Macri earlier this month, with a 24-hour strike that virtually shut down the country. Many still blame the international lending institution for contributing to Argentina's economic collapse in 2001. (Al Jazeera)
  • Vice President Mike Pence arrives in Brazil today, as part of his third tour in Latin America. He will also visit Ecuador and Guatemala (WSJ). 
  • Thanks to bold preservation efforts, the world's second-largest coral reef, off the coast of Belize, may be removed from UNESCO's list of threatened World Heritage Sites this week (AFP). 
  • Pope Francis officially confirmed the beatification of Paraguayan nun "Chiquitunga," which was celebrated by 40,000 Paraguayans in an Asunción stadium (EFE). 
Elyssa Pachico

Monday, June 25, 2018

Mexico's presidential race enters final phase (June 25, 2018)

Mexico's candidates have one week left to make their case before undecided voters. The latest polls show leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with support from about 38 percent of potential voters, with his closest rival Ricardo Anaya stuck at 20 percent (Reuters) and hoping that those who haven't yet made up their minds will swing his way (AP). 

Should AMLO go on to win the July 1 elections as has been widely predicted, it can best be interpreted as a sign that "Mexicans are fed up," says the Economist. The fact that a "happier, more relaxed, less angry" AMLO is now close to winning the presidency after two failed runs highlights how much better his message is resonating among voters tired of corruption and drug violence, writes Ioan Grillo in the New York Times

What are some of the possible implications of an AMLO presidency? A sure bet is educational reform, reports the AP. There will also likely be a battle with the U.S. over immigration and trade issues (Financial Times). Another question is what will happen to the uneasy coalition that AMLO has forged with more socially conservative factions, which has sparked some concerns in Mexico's LGBT community (Reuters). On the issue of organized crime and violence, AMLO's proposals to give some criminals amnesty and to host daily, early morning security meetings is no more "detailed and convincing" than the plans put forth by rival candidates, says the Guardian


A report released Friday by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said there have been 212 people killed 1,337 injured, and 507 arbitrary detentions since the outbreak of political unrest in Nicaragua on April 19. Following the report's release, OAS member countries condemned violence in the country, while the OAS secretary general said—echoing Church leadersthat elections should be held by March 2019 and no later than August 2019. A government spokesperson called the IACHR report "subjective, prejudiced and entirely biased." Amnesty International called the government's response "shameful." 

Civil society leaders told Reuters that there are still some internal disagreements among negotiators over the best way forward: "They have yet to agree on whether Ortega should leave office immediately or stay until early elections, and whether to pursue more aggressive strategies to force the government to halt the repression, members said."

A technical team from the IACHR is supposed to meet with government, Church, and civil society leaders today in order to support dialogue efforts. Without a negotiated peace, Nicaragua could face "a turn toward mob rule that could easily run out of control," says John Perry in The Nation.

Although a planned Father's Day March on Saturday was called off, incidents of violence continue to be reported around the country, with the city of Masaya holding on to its status as a center of resistance, as profiled by the Washington Post

  • A new law, approved by Congress on June 20, which allows armed groups to negotiate a collective surrender with the government in exchange for reduced sentences is unlikely to work as intended: InSight Crime
  • La Silla Vacia looks at the "techies," the "Uribista" traditionalists, and others who make up President-elect Ivan Duque's inner circle.
  • Protesters demanding legal abortion marched in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, in anticipation of a debate coming up in the lower house of Congress in August (AP).  
  • In an interview with Americas Quarterly, leftist presidential candidate Ciro Gomes discusses his stance on economic policy and foreign investment. 
  • Analysis by BBC Brazil asks why reforming the country's political system is so difficult. 
  • Calls for a return to military rule in Brazil have become much more mainstream, with some polls showing declining support for democracy, and increased support for having the military step in to "clean up" a government widely perceived as corrupt (AP). 
  • The European Union has issued sanctions against the country's new vice president and 10 other government officials (Reuters). 
Central America

  • An investigation by elPeriodico looks at the numerous family relatives of President Jimmy Morales and Vice President Jafeth Cabrera who are being paid the approximate equivalent of $2.9 million per year in salaries for various government jobs. 
  • El Faro with more details on the approximately $351 million in government funds misappropriated by the Mauricio Funes presidency. 

  • Are the elections in Colombia and Mexico evidence that populism is making a comeback in Latin America? "These movements may not kill democracy, as some critics contend, but they will strain democratic institutions," says a New York Times op-ed.  

  • Tomorrow is Argentina's last chance to save its World Cup hopes (AP). In contrast, Mexico's soccer fans are very happy with their team's performance, as are Colombia's.
Elyssa Pachico

Friday, June 22, 2018

Report: attorney general selection crucial for MACCIH's future (June 22, 2018)

report released yesterday by the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University said that given the challenges that anti-corruption initiative MACCIH has faced from Honduras' judiciary, Congress, and executive branch, this makes an independent, transparent selection process for a new attorney general all the more crucial.

The report describes Honduras' Attorney General Office as "one of the few potential mechanisms for holding the executive branch accountable," given the degree to which the office of the presidency has been able to influence Honduran lawmakers and courts. This makes the selection of Honduras' next attorney general—who must be selected before September—key to the success of the MACCIH's anti-corruption efforts in Honduras.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reiterated this yesterday in a statement that urged the Honduras government to follow an independent, impartial, and merit-based selection process when reviewing candidates. 

The American University report goes on to summarize some of the major successes and challenges that the MACCIH has faced, two years into its four-year mandate. Read a summary at AULA Blog

As noted by InSight Crime, another major take-away from the report is that one of the major challenges facing the MACCIH—asides from constant, relentless efforts by political elites to debilitate its work—is that the success of anti-corruption initiative CICIG in neighboring Guatemala helped create incredibly high expectations for the MACCIH. This has prompted some critics to bemoan that the MACCIH is "toothless" even as it has made important advances: "without the MACCIH, numerous cases would not have gone forward, suspects would have been released, and important laws — especially those regarding campaign financing — would not have been written."

Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador must all select new attorney generals this year (Guatemala has already done so), making 2018 a potential decisive turning point in how the Northern Triangle region can combat corruption, violence, and organized crime. 

  • report by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights documented extrajudicial killings carried out by Venezuelan security forces while conducting purported "crime raids" across the country. Between 2015 and 2017, some 505 people were killed during these supposed crime-fighting operations, the report found: "Witness accounts suggest a pattern: raids in poor neighbourhoods conducted to arrest “criminals” without a judicial warrant; the killing of young men who fit the profile, in some cases in their homes; and finally security forces tampering with the scene so that the killings would appear to have occurred in an exchange of fire." The U.N. human rights office said it had submitted its report to the International Criminal Court, which is looking into allegations of use of excessive force and other abuses committed by the Venezuelan government against protestors. 
  • Human Rights Watch urges the U.N. Human Rights Council to speak out against President Maduro's government, asserting, "A failure to adequately address Venezuela’s crisis during the current Council’s session would leave space for Venezuela’s government to depict a distorted version of events."
  • Two mayoral candidates were gunned down in Michoacan state over a 24-hour period, bringing the total number of people killed during the lead-up to the July 1 election to 18 (Animal Politico). 
  • Poppy growers say they are turning back to marijuana, as the widespread availability of synthetic opioids like fentanyl has forced opium prices down (AP).
  • Will Andrés Manuel López Obrador be able to control the political coalition that is on the verge of helping him win Mexico's presidential race? Reuters notes that AMLO is running on "a divergent platform with no clear center of political equilibrium," which could create conflicts with his various political allies further down the road

  • Colombian authorities may have found the bodies of murdered Ecuadorean journalists who were disappeared and then killed earlier this year, tweeted President Juan Manuel Santos. The journalists were allegedly killed by a dissident criminal group that broke away from the now demobilized FARC guerrillas. 
  • Verdad Abierta analyzes whether Colombia's transitional justice system—created to guarantee truth and justice to victims of the conflict—can survive an Ivan Duque presidency. 

Central America
  • The lawlessness, poverty, and violence that is driving thousands of Central Americans to flee their homes "show little sign of abating," even though homicide rates in the Northern Triangle region have dropped from their peaks, reports the AP
  • Guatemala's Congress has accused the leader of civil society group Accion Ciudadana—which works on anti-corruption and transparency issues, and which has been a fiery critic of President Jimmy Morales —of "ideological falsities," use of fake documents, and other charges. The head of Accion Ciudadana has called the accusations a "clumsy" and "sad" attack (elPeriodico). The accusations come as Guatemala's Congress is in the midst of debating a law that, if enacted, would force NGOs to register with the government and obtain "licenses" in order to remain active—which critics have described as an attempt to restrict the work of reformists. 
  • Pro Publica profiles the six-year-old Salvadoran girl—separated from her mother after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in search of asylum—who can be heard reciting her aunt's phone number in the recording of sobbing children in U.S. government custody published earlier this week (Video)
  • Army-backed police continue to carry out raids in Rio de Janeiro favelas, resulting in multiple civilian deaths from stray bullets (AFP).  


  • Another U.S. Embassy worker was reportedly affected by mysterious "sonic attacks" in Cuba (AP). 
  • "The United States today is largely sitting on the sidelines as the communist-ruled island faces potentially major changes in its economic and political relations with the region," argues the LA Times
  • There is no exact translation for "soccer ball" in Quechua, but that has not deterred an indigenous sports broadcaster who is part of efforts to revitalize the language. (New York Times
  • Argentina—who played in the 2014 World Cup final against Germany—is on the verge of being eliminated, which is causing some national anguish. (The Guardian)
-- Elyssa Pachico