Monday, July 30, 2018

Colombia's Urabeños put off surrender (July 29, 2018)

Gulf Clan members said they will not surrender immediately under a new law allowing paramilitaries to halve eventual sentences if they collectively turn themselves into authorities. The group also called the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia and the Urabeños said Friday they were analyzing the new law. (El Espectador and El Tiempo) It was rumored earlier this month that the group's surrender was imminent. (See July 12's post.)

La Silla Vacía reports from a San José de Uré, where three social leaders have been killed so far this year. The town is dominated by the Gulf Clan, which influences everything from drug sales to mediation between neighbors.

Several high-profile Colombian journalists have received death threats over their coverage of the country's peace process, a reflection of an "ugly and dangerous new atmosphere" since Iván Duque won the presidency last month, reports the Guardian. Journalists from Semana, El Tiempo and Silla Vacía have been threatened recently. (See July 18's briefs.)
People aren't the only ones threatened in Colombia. The Gulf Clan recently put a $7,000 bounty on a police dog responsible for sniffing out more than 2,000 kilos of cocaine. Officials quickly moved "Sombra" to a new post in Bogotá's El Dorado airport. (Guardian)
Colombia's anti-corruption referendum
  • There's just a month to go before Colombians vote in n anti-corruption referendum which will ask citizens to determine among seven measures aimed at reducing graft. (See June 7's post.) Though there was a high political cost for politicians to vote against holding the referendum, many parties are holding back from actively campaigning on the issue, explains la Silla Vacía.
  • The Consejo de Estado accepted a suit against the referendum last week. The case alleges that the vote is misleading, because voters will be asked whether they back a salary reduction for lawmakers, an issue that would actually require a constitutional amendment. (El Tiempo)
News Briefs

  • It's been a hundred days since protests against President Daniel Ortega swept the country and have been met with brutal repression, and the possibility of reach change has never been so close for Nicaragua, writes Carlos Chamorro in Confidencial. Though Ortega is, paradoxically, stronger now than he was in April, the cost of staying in power will be more repression. Eventually the military will have to pick a side, he warns.
  • In an interview with CNN and the Miami Herald, Ortega said he wants to strengthen a dialogue with protesters by adding international organizations to the mediation process led by the Catholic Church. He said he was in discussions with the U.N. secretary general and the European Union.
  • Thousands of Nicaraguans are fleeing political violence in their country -- most cross the country's southern border to refuge in Costa Rica, according to the Guardian. Activists denounce that people who have participated in anti-government protests are targets for paramilitaries and security forces. A new anti-terror law allows the government to broadly classify political dissent as terrorism.
  • A judge freed 24 people detained in the Pandora case, leaving just one person behind bars, reports Criterio. Judge Lidia Álvarez Sagastume requalified their crimes from money laundering to cover-up, reports el Pulso. The decision indicates that Honduras is a country of impunity, said the National Anti-corruption Council. (Tiempo)The case involves 38 politicians, officials and private citizens, who have been accused of illegally funneling some $11.7 million in public funds to political parties. (See July 24's briefs.)
  • The family of Berta Cáceres, an environmental activist assassinated in 2016, asked for the organization she co-founded -- Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras -- to be included as a victim in the case against the alleged material authors of the murder. (Pasos de Animal Grande) A hearing in the case scheduled for last Friday was postponed for a month, reports Proceso.
  • Former president Mel Zelaya told a visiting Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that Honduras faces grave issues of rights violations and impunity. In particular he pointed to fraud in last year's elections and repression of social protests. The OAS called for new elections at the time, but there has been no official move to do so. (Criterio)
  • Three women were stabbed at a Chilean pro-abortion march in Santiago last week. (Guardian)
  • Cuba's move towards legalizing gay marriage last week, with a draft constitution that would define marriage "the consensual union of two people, regardless of gender," has been coming for quite some time, WOLA's Geoff Thale told Newsweek. He referenced initiatives such as Mariela Castro's National Center for Sex Education in Havana.
  • Indeed, the new constitution's liberalizing reforms largely reflect the reality on the ground, notes the Economist.
  • A $50 million satellite and space mission control station built by the Chinese military in Argentina's Patagonia has raised questions over the risks and benefits of close relations with China, reports the New York Times. It's part of a broader debate in the region after a decade of increased Chinese investments and loans in Latin America. The capabilities of the Patagonia station could also be applied to military and intelligence objectives.
  • Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra challenged the opposition-run Congress to call a referendum on judicial and campaign financing reform. If lawmakers don't back the appeal, Vizcarra would have to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures in order to call the referendum. (Reuters)
  • Three farmers imprisoned in relation to the so-called Curuguaty massacre were released Friday when the Supreme Court overturned their convictions. They were serving 30 year sentences, reports EFE.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is under investigation as part of a U.S. probe into a massive scheme that authorities say has pilfered more than $1 billion from the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Slashing five zeros off Venezuela's ever-more worthless Bolivar currency, as the government intends to do, will not help much with the country's hyperinflation problem, reports AFP. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva promised to overturn privatizations if he is returned to office in October. (Reuters)
  • A Mexican journalist held in U.S. immigrant detention since last year was released, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Mexican president-elect Andres Manuel López Obrador announced a $16 billion investment plan to boost flagging oil production, refinery capacity and electrical generation. (Reuters)
  • AMLO has not yet outlined what his security strategy will look like. Based on what is known so far, it will likely comprise "three broad lines of attack: changing institutional structures; refocusing the strategy; and engaging in a broader public discussion on priorities," writes Eric Olson in World Politics Review. Controversial policy decisions, such as decriminalizing illicit drugs would likely be put to referendum.
  • Santa Muerte, a Mexican cult revering a folk saint by the same name, is the fastest-growing new religious movement in the region, reports the Daily Beast. There are are currently an estimated 10 to 12 million devotees, including "narcos."

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