Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Latin America deadliest region in the world for land activists (July 25, 2018)

Global Witness' latest report on killings of land defenders shows that 2017 was the deadliest year so far: at least 207 environmental activists were killed last year. The report “At What Cost?” shows that agribusiness has overtaken mining as the industry most associated with these attacks.

Latin America is particularly dangerous for indigenous leaders, community activists and environmentalists trying to protect their homes and communities from mining, agribusiness and other destructive industries, according to the report. Sixty percent of recorded murders were in the region. Brazil recorded the largest number of killings in the region with 57 -- the worst year on record for any country in the world. Nearly half died in three horrific massacres. Colombia and Mexico recorded the next highest with 24 and 15, respectively, according to the report. Mexico and Peru saw marked increases in killings, from 3 to 15 and 2 to 8, respectively. Nicaragua was the worst place per capita with 4 murders.

Interestingly, the report marks "a large decrease in killings of land and environmental defenders in Honduras, although repression of civil society in general is worse than ever."

InSight Crime notes the particular threats land defenders face when their activism threatens organized crime groups' economic activities. The Global Witness report links the increase in environmentalist murders in Mexico to the rise in organized crime murders generally. 

The Guardian has profiled several defenders at risk in the region this week. See this one on Maria do Socoro Silva, an activist in Brazil's Pará state.

Uribe investigated for witness tampering and bribery, resigns senate seat

Former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe resigned his senate seat yesterday. The Supreme Court called on Uribe to testify in an investigation into whether he participated in witness tampering and bribery. The case originated with Uribe himself, who accused leftist Senator Iván Cepeda of conspiring to falsely link him to paramilitary groups. But in February the Supreme Court determined that Cepeda had not pressured or paid former fighters for information incriminating Uribe.  (Reuters and El Tiempo)

The alleged crimes occurred after Cepeda was cleared and involves convincing witnesses to retract testimony incriminating the former president. The accusations --  including attempts to get witnesses to falsely implicate Uribe enemies in grave crimes -- were made in a series of columns by journalist Daniel Coronell in Semana. (La Silla Vacía and Semana)

On Twitter, Uribe said that the investigation had left him “morally impeded to be a senator” and that he was leaving Congress to prepare his defense. It is not the first accusation against Uribe, who has been accused of many crimes in the past, notes the New York Times.

Uribe is vastly influential in Colombian politics, where he has been a dominant figure for nearly 20 years. He was elected to congress in March with the highest number of votes in the country, and his backing catapulted Iván Duque, a relative unknown, to victory in this year's presidential election.

Some analysts -- including WOLA's Adam Isacson -- say Uribe's setback will give Duque an opportunity to govern more independently from his mentor's hardliners. It will however also remove an important source of support for the government agenda in Congress. (Bloomberg)

Duque refrained from attacking the court yesterday, and did not echo his party's accusations of politically motivated judicial persecution. However he did praise Uribe's "honorability, rectitude, patriotism, and unquestionable service to the country," reports la Silla Vacía, which praised his institutional tone. Nonetheless, Juanita León posits the case could lead to a break between Duque and his Centro Democrático party.

Uribe's resignation yesterday could send the case to the attorney general's office instead of the Supreme Court, with which the politician has often clashed, notes the Wall Street Journal. In fact, it is a strategy employed by several lawmakers accused of "parapolitics," according to La Silla Vacía and Semana

Colombia asides
  • Killing illicit coca crops with herbicides aerially sprayed by low-flying drones will not avoid the complicated ramifications of forced eradication programs such as cocalero protests, writes Vanda Felbab-Brown at the Brooking Institution's Order from Chaos blog.
  • The Special Jurisdicción for Peace (JEP) announced it will take on the so-called "false positives" case -- 2,000 extrajudicial executions of civilians presented as war casualties by the Colombian army. The majority of cases occurred under Uribe's presidency. It will be the third case taken on by the transitional justice system established by the 2016 peace treaty with the FARC. (El País)
  • Apologies for the late reporting on Antanas Mockus' latest public mooning episode, on the floor of the Senate where he took a seat on Friday. (BBC)
News Briefs

  • The Mexican government has repeatedly failed to make progress in respect for human rights, write eight civil society organizations in a memo to the U.S. State Department. The group, which includes Amnesty International, WOLA, and Centro Prodh, particularly notes "a continued failure to hold accountable members of security forces that perpetrate human rights violations."
  • The director of a Mexican news website has been shot dead in the beach resort of Playa del Carmen. Rubén Pat was the second employee of Semanario Playa News killed in under a month. (Guardian)
  • Venezuela's hyperinflation has made cash simultaneously worthless and hard to come by -- leaving many people either paying for transactions electronically or bartering, reports the Guardian, citing WOLA expert Geoff Ramsey. (See also yesterday's briefs and July 17's.)
  • Nicaraguan writer and former Sandinista Sergio Ramírez criticizes the "left's" continued support of the Ortega administration in light of ongoing repression of protesters. In a column in El País he contrasts the Sao Paulo Forum's defense of Nicaragua's government, contrasted to José Mujica's lament that President Daniel Ortega has lost his way. "The ethical job of the left was always to be on the side of the most poor and humble, with sentiment and sensibility, like Mujica. In contrast, the bureaucratic chorus winds up justifying crimes in the name of an ironclad ideology that doesn't accept narrative change. Defending Ortega's regime as leftist is just defending its alignment within what's left of ALBA, which isn't much, after the end of the golden age of free Venezuelan oil ..." (See yesterday's post.)

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