Friday, August 31, 2018

Peña Nieto defends "historical truth," despite lack of evidence (Aug. 31, 2018)

Mexico's outgoing president, Enrique Peña Nieto, publicly defended the government version of how the 43 Ayotzinapa students disappeared in 2014. There is clear evidence a criminal gang incinerated their bodies in a garbage dump, he said in a video promoting his administration's successes.

The thing is, that version of events is hotly contested by the families of the students, national and international human rights groups, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights independent group of experts that reviewed the case. They determined the government investigation was rife with violations, including torture and botched evidence.

The group concluded it wasn't possible to incinerate 43 bodies in accordance with the government's hypothesis. And the Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez notes that no evidence has been presented in court in support of the Cocula dump theory. (Animal Político) The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) said that 18 months of investigation yielded no evidence in support of the government theory, called the "historical truth."

Amnesty International criticized the message as another example of the political decision of Peña Nieto’s government to dedicate all available resources to hiding the facts rather than to guaranteeing truth, justice and reparation for the victims and their families."

The messaging this week confirmed Peña Nieto's distance from the Ayotzinapa case, emblematic of the country's massive enforced disappearances problem, according to El País. Peña Nieto never went to visit the families of the students who disappeared in Iguala, and now he leaves office chiding them for disbelieving the "historical truth" version of events.

More on Ayotzinapa

  • This week police detained an alleged participant in the deaths, Juan Miguel "N" in Coahuila. (Animal Político
  • And the National Human Rights Commission denounced that a teacher has been unfairly detained for 171 days in relation to the case. (Televisa)
News Briefs

  • Migrant children have permission to immigration court cases in the U.S., but no right to free council. Children who cannot speak are expected to defend themselves against government lawyers, writes Jennifer Anzardo Valdes in a New York Times op-ed.
  • The Guardian has a photo-essay following a Venezuelan family en route to Peru.
  • A February referendum gave Ecuador's congress power to appoint a new Citizens’ Participation and Social Control Council (CPCCS). The council was created by former President Rafael Correa, with the power to appoint key agency leadership, including attorney general and and the judicial council. Now President Lenín Moreno is employing it to unravel Correa's institutional legacy. Controversially, last week voted to remove the nine constitutional-court judges, a potential overreach even for those who advocate full housecleaning, reports the Economist.
  • Internal security is a key issue in the upcoming Brazilian elections. In Americas Quarterly's Deep South podcast, Igarapé Institute executive director Ilona Szabo suggests the country is at a crossroads.
  • But none of the candidates have a good plan to handle the issue, according to InSight Crime, which analyzes the main contenders' platforms.
  • A group coffee farm workers, victims of degrading labor conditions, formally accused McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Nestlé of failing to ensure that their Brazilian sourced coffee beans were free of slave labor. The complaint to the OECD asks that coffee companies be held responsible for their suppliers’ labor violations, reports the Washington Post
  • Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega might weaken due to economic decline, according to the Economist.
  • Colombian President Iván Duque's biggest challenge to governing from the center and by consensus may be his own Democratic Unity party, writes Wesley Tomaselli at World Politics Review.
  • Yesterday Duque demonstrated his cross-party ambition hosting leadership from across the political spectrum with the goal of creating a "national pact" against corruption, reports La Silla Vacía. (See Monday's post.)
  • A bill in Guatemala's congress would criminalize of abortion and could subject women who have miscarriages to prosecution, denounced Human Rights Watch. The new proposal defines abortion as the “natural or provoked death” of an embryo or fetus and establishes prison sentences of up to four years for women who have an “abortion by negligence.”  It also criminalizes the "promotion of abortion." The proposed “Life and Family Protection” also includes definitions of “family” and “sexual diversity” that are openly discriminatory and run counter to basic rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
  • A number of Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales' international flights have no recorded payment. A Nómada investigation into a trip he made last year to New York, to lobby agains the CICIG at the U.N., found no use of public funds or army resources to travel. And an investigation in May found Morales travelled to Israel on the private plane of Israeli-American Sheldon Adelson. (InSight Crime has the English translation.)
El Salvador
  • Former San Salvador mayor Nayib Bukele is the voter favorite for next year's presidential elections in El Salvador according to a new La Prensa Gráfica Datos poll. He was favored by nearly 22 percent of respondents, followed by 17.6 percent for the Arena party and 8.6 percent for the ruling FMLN party. 
  • Dominica was badly battered in last year's hurricane season, the Economist reports on its difficult road to recovery and aims to become a "climate-resiliant" nation.
  • Argentina is stumbling its way to a new financial crisis -- yesterday the Central Bank hiked inerest rates to 60 percent in an attempt to stop the peso's free fall. (Guardian) But the local causes of instability are more political than economic, argues Sergio Berensztein in La Nación. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The U.S. Trump administration is expected to name a Cuba hardliner as the new senior director of the National Security Council’s Western Hemisphere Affairs, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Condoms are cheap in Cuba, part of a government focus on family planning and sexual health. But ingenuous Cubans have found a variety of other uses for rubbers, reports the Economist.
  • U.S. jail sentences for corrupt LatAm Fifa officials probably won't rid the institution of corruption, argues InSight Crime.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Ortega wants names of Costa Rican asylum seekers (Aug. 30, 2018)

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega will ask Costa Rica's government to reveal the names of asylum seekers fleeing Nicaragua. Speaking at a Managua rally, Ortega said 26,000 people have left Nicaragua for Costa Rica, and that "those that feel free of sin" can return home without fear of persecution. (El País)

Ortega said the information would be used to inform the Costa Rican government of criminal charges against the Nicaraguans in question -- but Costa Rica's foreign ministry said the information is confidential. (Confidencial)

According to the U.N., 23,000 Nicaraguans have sought refuge in Costa Rica since the violent repression of anti-government protests started in mi April. Activists say official crossing points between the two countries are manned by Nicaraguan military officials with lists of opposition activists and orders to detain them and hand them over to the police.

U.N. Human Rights Office report presented yesterday emphasized the judicial persecution of demonstrators and those considered opposition activists. "These trials have serious flaws and do not observe due process, including the impartiality of the courts." (See yesterday's post.)

The Nicaraguan government has declared war on it's people, writes Gioconda Belli in Foreign Affairs. A wave of repression against protesters over the past four months -- claiming over 300 lives, wounding over 2,000, and harassing dissidents with arbitrary detentions and judicial persecution -- is like a return to the old Somoza dictatorship, she argues. "Civic, non-violent resistance can at times look useless before a well-armed dictatorship intent on holding its ground. It is not. Ortega has lost all legitimacy as a ruler. His wife has become a pathetic figure, weaving unbelievable and perverse tales. Repression might allow them to hold on to power a while longer, but it is clear they are standing on quicksand." (See yesterday's post.)

News Briefs

  • Colombia is the primary receiving country for the Venezuelan exodus, and has served as a kind of weathervane for the region's response to the refugee crisis. Though Colombia has allowed up to a million Venezuelans to enter the country, the refugees are in increasingly dire straights, write WOLA's Geoff Ramsey and Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli in a New York Times op-ed. They call on Colombia to show a more humanitarian response to the fleeing Venezuelans, and the international community to support those efforts.
  • At Americas Quarterly, Oliver Stuenkel argues for a coherent regional strategy to address the refugee crisis.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer said yesterday that the country might significantly reduce the number of Venezuelans permitted entry each day, but then backtracked. "... a sign of how fraught the issue has become as thousands flee political and economic turmoil in the neighboring country," according to the Associated Press.
  • Venezuelans are now the largest group by nationality of asylum seekers in the U.S. But increasingly they are denied asylum, despite the Trump administration's criticisms of the Venezuelan government, reports the Associated Press.
  • Venezuela's petro, the digital currency backed by oil reserves, is selling in billions and is used to pay for imports according to the government. But Reuters found that it's hard to spot anywhere -- "The coin is not sold on any major cryptocurrency exchange. No shops are known to accept it." Critics say the oil peg is fictitious, based on oil reserves the government can't afford to tap.
  • Subsidized fuel illegally smuggled from Venezuelan into Colombia has enriched a relatively new criminal group called Cartel de Contrabando. InSight Crime reports on how it works.
El Salvador
  • Police in El Salvador arrested more than 400 gang members this week -- the largest crackdown to date against MS-13, reports the Associated Press. The arrests include at least 18 leaders of the criminal organization. But the "Pacific Harpoon" operation also aimed to undermine the gang's financial network, and businessmen associated with gang leaders, reports Univisión. Prosecutors ordered over 600 detentions, reports AFP.
  • Former Salvadoran president Antonio Saca's trial over the alleged diversion of over $300 million during his term ended yesterday. Sentencing is set for Sept. 12, reports AFP. Prosecutors asked that former officials return funds to the state, reports La Prensa Gráfica. (See Aug. 15's briefs.)
  • Police should receive medals, not prosecution, for killing alleged criminals, said Brazil's polemic right-wing presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro. (Associated Press) Earlier this month, the Brazilian Public Security Forum reported that an average of 14 people died at the hands of police officers every day in 2017 – an increase of 20 percent from the previous year. (See Aug. 10's briefs.)
  • Gang war between the country's biggest criminal organizations -- the PCC and the CV -- will be a hot potato for Brazil's next president, according to El País.
  • Mexican president-elect Andres Manuel López Obrador will soon meet with the independent experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and will seek to resume their work on the landmark Ayotzinapa case, reports Reuters. AMLO has promised a truth commission for the case of the 43 teachers college students who disappeared in 2014. Yesterday outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto reiterated support for the government hypothesis that the students were murdered and incinerated in a garbage dump by a criminal gang. But numerous national and international experts have questioned this conclusion, and the IACHR experts said the government investigation was flawed, including the torture of witnesses who had allegedly participated in the disappearance of the students.
  • AMLO's proposed plans to reform Mexico's security agencies follow a long tradition of much heralded -- and failed --revolutions in the country's approach to national security, argues InSight Crime.
  • Mexico's new congress was sworn in yesterday -- AMLO's coalition has a majority in both chambers, the first absolute majority since 1994. (Jornada and AFP)
  • Former Mexican diplomat Andrés Rozenthal criticizes Mexico and Canada's lack of unity in renegotiating NAFTA, which he says played into U.S. President Donald Trump's strategy. (Globe and Mail)
  • Argentina's peso continued to lose value yesterday. President Mauricio Macri sought to reassure markets with a request to the IMF for early release of a $50 billion loan. But, the brief announcement decreased confidence and pushed the peso further down. It has lost more than 40 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar this year, and inflation is rampant in a country where the value of many goods and services tends to be tied to the dollar, reports the BBC. Appealing to the IMF in the midst of financial crisis brings back bad memories for Argentines scarred by the 2001 crisis, notes the Associated Press. The peso continued to drop this morning, and the Central Bank hiked interest rates up to 60 percent to try to stop the free fall, reports El País.
  • Haitian protesters in Port-au-Prince and Les Cayes demanded trials for government officials accused of embezzling funds from the Venezuelan PetroCaribe development program, reports EFE. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • A Florida murder tried in a Cuban court gave U.S. prosecutors an inside look at the socialist island's legal system, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Comando Plath, a group of Peruvian writers, actresses, and intellectuals, successfully campaigned to withdraw national honors from Reynaldo Naranjo, a Peruvian poet accused of sexual abuse by his daughter and stepdaughter. The favorable response from the Peruvian government is a landmark moment in a country where gender violence cases tend to go unpunished by the justice system, writes Gabriela Wiener in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Bolivia and Spain signed three agreements yesterday, including one related to the bi-oceanic railway corridor, reports Telesur.
  • Hundreds of olive ridley sea turtles have been found dead in Mexico in recent days. (BBC)
  • A soybean boom is destroying Brazil's tropical savannah, reports Reuters.
  • In Chile's Atacama desert, local indigenous groups, copper mines and lithium mines are all competing for increasingly scarce water sources. (Reuters)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Nicaragua's ongoing repression, U.N. report (Aug. 29, 2018)

A new scathing U.N. Human Rights Office report denounces ongoing repression and violence in Nicaragua -- carried out by state forces and pro-government armed elements that acted with the acquiescence of high-level State authorities and the National Police. The report covers the first four months of the Nicaraguan crisis, from the protests that started on April 18 through August 18. It calls on the government of President Daniel Ortega to immediately halt the persecution of protesters and disarm the parapolice groups responsible for much of the violence. (Associated Press)

During the course of the crisis, about 300 people have been killed and about 2,000 injured, according to sources. Most of the deaths occurred through mid July. The report divides the period in two phases: the initial violent repression of anti-government protests, and a second second “clean-up” stage, from mid-June to mid-July, when police, pro-Government armed elements, including those known as “shock forces” (fuerzas de choque), and mobs (turbas) forcibly dismantled roadblocks and barricades set up by protesters.

"...The third and current stage of the crisis has seen demonstrators and others regarded as Government opponents persecuted and criminalized. ... as of 18 August, at least 300 people were being prosecuted, including on charges of terrorism and organized crime, for having participated in or supported the protests. These trials have serious flaws and do not observe due process, including the impartiality of the courts," the report says. The report denounces official harassment of protesters and human rights defenders, who are characterized as "terrorists." "There are currently no conditions for the free and safe exercise of the rights to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association," according to the U.N. report.

Human Rights Watch has denounced the use of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions by the government. Protesters charged with terrorism have been denied due process and access to lawyers. HRW lauds the creation of an OAS working group to oversee the situation in Nicaragua -- the first such observation group created despite opposition from the government in question, and a potent tool for confronting authoritarian practices. "The OAS should ensure that the working group can rigorously monitor the human rights situation in Nicaragua and prevent Ortega’s government from using enforced disappearance and other aberrant crimes to perpetuate its own power."

The persecution has silenced many of the protesters, notes the report, which calls on the U.N. Human Rights council to establish an international inquiry or truth commission. (Reuters) A recent piece by the Associated Press reports on protesters forced into hiding after constant threats, uncertain as to how to maintain pressure on the government.

Ortega's tactics, such as denying responsibility for the pro-government shock-troops, mimic those of autocrats from abroad, writes Jon Lee Anderson in a New Yorker piece that references Russia's 2014 incursion into Crimea. The piece covers a similar time period as the U.N. report, providing on-the-ground detail and historical references.

Last night a judge convicted two young men for killing journalist Angel Gahona in Bluefields on April 21, during a protest. But his widow disputes the sentence, saying the men are innocent and her husband was killed by riot police, reports the Associated Press.

The report also notes some attacks on members of the ruling Sandinista party, government officials and security forces. Twenty-two police officers were killed, and some of the attacks were notably brutal, though the report emphasizes that cannot justify state human rights violations.

Anderson's New Yorker piece looks at the difficulties in exiting the crisis -- most analysts say Nicaraguan's will not be able to forgive the bloodshed, but Ortega might prefer to rule at gunpoint than step down and face justice or exile. Experts also point to the potential for criminal organizations to move into the destabilized country.

News Briefs

  • Two years after what became a major political gaffe, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto explained that he invited then-U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump to visit him in order to mitigate potential negative consequences for the country if he were elected president. Trump met with Peña Nieto in August of 2016, and then returned to the campaign trail where he promised to make Mexico pay for an unwanted border wall between the two countries. Peña Nieto was criticized at home for not standing up to a candidate that made bashing Mexicans a staple of his presidential run. The explanation has convinced few at home, reports the Los Angeles Times. (See posts for Sept. 1 and Sept. 8, 2016.)
  • Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has taken over 11 primary health clinics in Mexico's Guerrero state, where chronic gang violence has left many communities without access to medical services, reports the Guardian.
  • Reuters reports optimism over Canada reaching a deal with the U.S. by Friday in order to salvage a revamped NAFTA agreement. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Diosdado Cabello, Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly head, said images of the exodus from the country are being staged in order to discredit the government. Migration out of Venezuela is causing a refugee crisis in neighboring countries, which are increasingly unable to absorb the thousands of people who leave each day. Though the Venezuelan government has urged migrants to return, the exodus has also provided a pressure valve that benefits the Maduro administration, reports the Guardian.
  • Venezuelan migration is headed to a crisis point in the region, according to the United Nations. Yesterday Peru declared a health emergency at its northern border, citing "imminent danger" to health and sanitation due to immigration. (Reuters)
  • Last week, the Pan American Health Organization urged Latin American countries to boost measles vaccinations, as an outbreak in Venezuela has killed more than 60 people and threatens to spread in the region, reports the Miami Herald. The Americas became the first region in the world to be declared measles free in 2016 and the majority of nations in Latin America haven’t had endemic cases of the virus in almost two decades.
  • Brazil will deploy more military troops to the Venezuelan border in order to "guarantee law and order" as the influx of migrants continues to cause conflict with locals in Roraima state, reports the BBC.
  • Venezuela's indigenous Warao communities were among the first to flee into Brazil, reports AFP.
  • Proponents of Colombia's anti-corruption referendum, which narrowly failed to pass on Sunday, are asking officials to scrutinize results, reports EFE. (See Monday's post.)
  • La Silla Vacía analyzes the results of the referendum, which demonstrate a divide between urban and rural Colombia.
  • President Iván Duque's proposed changes to the peace accord with the FARC are more symbolic than substantial, according to La Silla Vacía.
  • Powerful former Guatemalan congressman Manuel Baldizón has withdrawn his asylum claim in the U.S. and will be deported to face criminal charges at home. He is accused of receiving illegal payments from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, and the case may draw other members of the political elite into the scandal, reports InSight Crime.
  • A legal battle over whether a little girl can wear dreadlocks to school went all the way to Jamaica's Supreme Court, which ordered she be allowed to start classes without cutting her hair. The case, a constitutional challenge made by a local human rights group, is of particular relevance in a country where Rastafarians -- who sometimes sport dreadlocks, have been discriminated against, reports the Washington Post.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

U.S. and Mexico agree to new NAFTA terms (Aug. 28, 2018)

Mexico and the U.S. reached a preliminary new trade agreement, that aims to replace or revamp NAFTA. The talks were part of a broader NAFTA renegotiation, and the big question yesterday was what will happen with the free trade agreement's third partner, Canada. (Guardian)

The deal was presented in U.S. President Donald Trump's classic showman style -- in a press conference featuring a glitchy speakerphone connection with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The new agreement increases the automobile content that must be sourced in North America in order to qualify for tariff-free treatment -- 75 percent, up from 62.5 percent currently. And the agreement stipulates that between 40 percent percent and 45 percent of auto content must be produced by workers earning at least $16 an hour -- which will either move production to the U.S. and Canada which have higher wages, or increase Mexican wages, explains the Wall Street Journal.

Trump indicated that Canada would be part of a separate negotiation, and could either be brought into the U.S.-Mexico agreement or be subject to a different bilateral deal. Experts say Trump is trying to force Canada to accept the terms of yesterday's deal, reports the Financial Times. But Peña Nieto emphasized Mexico's commitment to a trilateral agreement. (Aristegui Noticias

Nor is it clear that NAFTA can legally be replaced with bilateral deals, notes the Associated Press. Trump can't unilaterally scrap the deal -- all changes have to go through Congress. In the U.S., Congressional approval will likely be smoother if Canada is included. And Canada has to sign off on changes as well, reports Quartz. And existing supply chains under NAFTA encompass the three countries, which means bilateral agreements may not be practical.

In fact, the Atlantic calls the new deal more of a rebranding than a revolution. And the New York Times points out that the essential nature of the NAFTA agreement -- allowing U.S. companies to operate in Canada and Mexico without tariffs -- remains intact. 

Canada is expected to rejoin three-way talks today in Washington, reports the Washington Post. Canada has been excluded since Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sparred verbally at a recent G-7 meeting five weeks ago.

Though Trump heralded the preliminary agreement as a win, the Guardian that Mexico's congress will also have to approve the deal. Mexico's government changes in December, and it's not guaranteed that the incoming administration will accept the same terms. 

President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador celebrated that the agreement showed respect for Mexican sovereignty -- especially regarding the country's energy policies -- and raised automobile industry salaries. He also emphasized the importance of including Canada. (Aristegui Noticias and Reuters)

More from Mexico
  • AMLO backtracked on a campaign promise to immediately create a National Guard to replace military troops fulfilling internal security roles. He said instead the Armed Forces would temporarily continue working on the ground. The incoming administration's focus will be on combatting criminal organizations' financing, said AMLO's proposed head of security, Alfonzo Durazo. (Animal Político and Aristegui Noticias)
  • Last week authorities suspended the entire municipal police force of Tehuacán in Puebla State, due to suspected involvement in organized crime. The episode "demonstrates the level to which organized crime and corruption networks penetrate the state on a local level," says InSight Crime.
  • AMLO met with thousands of CNTE union teachers at a Chiapas forum to kick of a national consultation on education. He promised to modify Peña Nieto's signature education reform, but to replace it with new proposals from the consultation process. He promised an administration respectful of teachers and unions, but asked for "zero absenteeism" in return. The issues and location were flashpoints for the Peña Nieto administration. (Aristegui Noticias)
News Briefs

Latin America's Left
  • Latin America's mainstream leftists have proven unwilling to criticize human rights violations and authoritarian tendencies in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, a failure that speaks to broader need for reinvention, argues Gisela Kozak Rovero in a New York Times Español op-ed, calling for a left aligned with liberal values and social democracy.
  • About 100 Venezuelan migrants accepted a free flight home -- paid by their government -- from Peru, after encountering difficulties and hardships living abroad, reports the Associated Press. Nonetheless, the group is an outlier, and most incoming migrants said they preferred the challenges and even xenophobia they encountered in other countries to the crisis at home.
  • Venezuela's exodus (see yesterday's briefs) is increasingly carried out by migrants on foot, lacking money for any sort of transportation, reports Reuters. At the AULA blog, Michael McCarthy reviews the impacts of Venezuelan refugees in the region.
  • Venezuela announced new certificates backed by gold ingots, intended to be used as a savings mechanism, reports Bloomberg.
  • Nicaraguan foreign minister Denis Moncada met with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres regarding the Nicaraguan crisis, reports EFE.
  • InSight Crime has an in-depth report on Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales' alleged violations of campaign financing, the third in a series on illicit money in politics in Guatemala.
  • Coca cultivation and prices increased in Bolivia this year. The prices mean that manufacturing coca paste in Bolivia is not as profitable -- given far higher levels of production and significantly lower prices in Peru and Colombia --  and likely means farmers simply harvest and sell the leaves in the local market, reports InSight Crime.
  • An indigenous community in Peru has blocked a highway passing through its land, used by Chinese miner MMG to transport copper from the Las Bambas mine, reports Reuters.
  • Honduras' Garifuna minority -- descended from African slaves and indigenous tribes -- is struggling to defend its claim to ancestral lands, reports Reuters.
  • Former Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's lawyers said her apartment may have been contaminated with a toxic substance after a judicial raid last week. (Reuters)
  • Brazil’s Supreme Court will determine next month whether jailed former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will be freed in order to campaign for his presidential bid, reports Reuters.
  • A German shareholders association has urged companies to take a stronger stance against Brazilian far-right wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro. The Association of Ethical Shareholders Germany labeled the politician as "fascist" and urged companies not to repeat omissions of the past when they were indifferent to Brazil's military dictatorship. (Deutsche Welle)
  • Colombian President Iván Duque notified UNASUR of his country's decision to withdraw from the bloc due to the organization's failure to denounce Venezuela's "brutal treatment" of its citizens. (EFE)
  • Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez kicked off a four-country LatAm tour yesterday. He will visit Chile, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Colombia in a bid to strengthening relations with those countries and the region, reports TeleSUR. Speaking in Chile yesterday, he promised to support any effort to use dialogue in Venezuela to resolve the country's crisis. (Reuters)
  • Peruvian foreign affairs minister started an official visit to China yesterday, and met with Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan, reports EFE.
  • A Chilean court ordered the Pinochet family to return part of the late dictator Augusto Pinochet's fortune, stashed in the Caribbean. (Bloomberg)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

Monday, August 27, 2018

Colombia's anti-corruption referendum narrowly fails (Aug. 27, 2018)

Colombia's anti-corruption referendum fell just shy of passing yesterday. For validity, the consultation needed a third of Colombia's 36.4 million eligible voters to participate  -- 11.6 million people voted yesterday, just half a million shy of the 12.1 needed for quorum. (See Friday's post.) The vast majority of voters, 99 percent, backed the seven measures on the ballot -- including stricter sentencing for corruption crimes and salary reductions for lawmakers.  (Reuters)

Nonetheless, the turnout exceeded predictions from last week, when even some optimists were talking about a ceiling of 7 million voters, reports SemanaLa Silla Vacía notes that the referendum measures obtained more votes than President Iván Duque obtained earlier this year. Campaign leaders said the vote was still a success and put the topic of graft firmly on the legislative agenda, and experts say there is now a clear mandate for change. Lawmakers who campaigned in favor of the "Yes" vote promised to introduce bills based on the measures. (BBC) Last night Duque, whose party did not support the referendum's efforts, urged lawmakers to support anti-corruption reforms and citizens to report graft.

La Silla Vacía says the vote, along with other elections this year, shows voter fatigue with the political establishment. In another piece, La Silla Vacía also emphasizes the importance that the consultation was not pushed by the government, but rather through citizen support.

Urban voters were largely responsible for the turnout yesterday, 70 percent. In Bogotá 44 percent of voters participated, while in Medellín only a third came out. Semana emphasizes that nearly a third of voters participated, despite lack of traditional political machinery, and hypothesizes that had the referendum been held with the legislative or presidential elections held earlier this year, it would have easily passed the threshold. Another piece in Semana analyzes the obstacles in the path of the referendum, including high abstention rates in the recent second round of presidential voting (46 percent), lack of campaign funding, "electionitis" in a year where voters have already come out three times. It also notes that former presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, who obtained 8 million votes in the second round did not campaign strongly for the referendum.

Winners of the day include the consultation's promoters, Claudia López, Angélica Lozano, and Antanas Mokus, among others. But also Duque, who supported the measure despite opposition from his political mentor, former president Álvaro Uribe -- a fact that will help break the vision that the new president is an Uribe lackey and could provide a point to bridge Colombian polarization, according to SemanaLa Silla Vacía says the results position López, a former senator, as a potential future Bogotá mayor.

More from Colombia
  • Two former FARC fighters were killed in Cauca last week. (TeleSUR)
News Briefs

  • The U.N. estimates that 2.3 million people have left Venezuela since 2015, and Colombian authorities predict another 2 million could follow their footsteps by 2020 -- that would mean about 14 percent of Venezuela's population had fled, reports the Guardian. On Friday the U.N.'s International Organization for Migration said the Venezuelan refugee situation is nearing a "crisis moment" and called on Latin American countries to ease entry for Venezuelans, reports Reuters.
  • That the exodus has not yet reached crisis point is largely because of the productive stance countries in the region have already adopted though, note Benjamin Gedan and Nicolás Saldías in Foreign Policy, especially compared to the U.S.'s harsh stance.
  • Though neighboring countries have been generous, Venezuelan migration and the strain it places on scarce resources in host countries, is rapidly reaching a breaking point, writes Alberto Barrera Tyszka in a New York Times Español op-ed that recommends more stringent capital controls in addition to the stricter migration controls most countries are implementing.
  • An Ecuadorean judge temporarily suspended the country's new passport requirement for Venezuelan's, after it was challenged by the national ombudsman and human rights organizations. And Peru will exempt some Venezuelans from the passport requirement, including parents with children seeking to join the rest of their family, pregnant women and the gravely ill. (Reuters)
  • Venezuela's crisis is increasingly a challenge for Colombia, and will require state planning, fiscal resources, anti-xenophobic education, and special intelligence, writes Tulio Hernández in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Semana profiles the thousands of Venezuelans walking across Colombia after fleeing their home country's crisis. Many don't have a destination, can't afford buses, and will find cities already filled to capacity with refugees, according to the piece.
  • U.S. prosecutors are investigating whether Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's family benefited from an alleged plan to steal $1.2 billion from Venezuela's state-oil company, reports the Associated Press.
  • Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega claims to have quelled months of unrest against him, and appears intent on staying in office despite international calls for him to step down, reports the Washington Post in a piece examining the his path from revolutionary to autocrat.
  • Students have led months of protests against Ortega, and many have either paid with their lives or found them totally disrupted as a result, reports the Washington Post.
  • A 12-year prison sentence for corruption may keep former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for running in October's presidential election -- but the popular and charismatic leader could be kingmaker in Brazil's chaotic political season, reports Reuters.
  • After a year of controversy, the "Queer Museum" art exhibit has finally opened in Rio de Janeiro, reports the New York Times.
Food security
  • A drought affecting Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras affects crops and the food security of 2.1 million people warned the Food and Agriculture Organization and the United Nations World Food Programme. (AFP)
  • Ecuador withdrew from the Venezuela led ALBA regional bloc, reports the Associated Press.
  • Rumors of an imminent agreement on NAFTA renegotiation between Mexico and the U.S., reports Reuters.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales, is losing support among his traditional indigenous base, reports Reuters. Bolivians vote next year, and the opposition remains fragmented. Though Morales' support has dropped, he still has a 43 percent approval rating and about 29 percent voter support.
  • Paraguay's senators rejected pension reform, in response to roadblocks and strikes around the country. (TeleSUR)
  • Argentine's have been entranced by the soap-opera like "Cuadernos" corruption investigation, that has led to 26 high profile arrests, and dozen tell-all deals between prosecutors and leading businessmen. The latest installment last week was a raid on former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's properties. While optimistic observers talk of a sea-change in corruption prosecution, others are more concerned over the apparent political aims of the investigations, reports the New York Times.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 

Friday, August 24, 2018

El Salvador in the middle of China - U.S. diplomatic wrangling (Aug. 24, 2018)

The U.S. sternly rebuked El Salvador's decision to establish diplomatic relations to China this week. A White House statement yesterday said the U.S. would reevaluate its relationship with El Salvador, and accused China of interference in El Salvador's domestic affairs, reports the New York Times

The White House response is stronger than it has been towards other countries that have taken similar steps, the NYT ascribes it to the influence of John Bolton, who became Trump's national security advisor in April. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said he'll seek to end U.S. aid to El Salvador over the China diplomacy issue. (See yesterday's and Wednesday's briefs.) 

In July, the U.S. ambassador to San Salvador, held a series of meetings with national leaders to "warn" of the "risks" of accepting Chinese investment, reports La Prensa Gráfica. At the time, Jean Manes expressed concern over Chinese economic and military expansion in the area.

U.S.-El Salvador relations have been tense since U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to cut aid from countries that "do nothing" to stop street gang members from illegally crossing into the U.S., reports Reuters

More from El Salvador
  • Experts from the Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense testified in the El Mozote trial -- they said the evidence definitely proves there was a massacre in the village in 1981. (El Faro)

Colombia's anti-corruption referendum

Colombian voters head back to the polls Sunday in a popular consultation over seven anti-corruption measures that could potentially limit lawmakers' terms, pay, and financing. They will be asked to vote yes or no on seven measures, which include reducing lawmakers' salaries, ensuring full sentence fulfillment for corruption convictions, transparent public contracting and participatory budgeting, as well as accountability and term limits for lawmakers. (Telesur)  

One third of the country's registered voters -- at least 12 million people -- must participate in order for the referendum to have validity, and half the voters plus one must vote in favor for the measures to pass. Each of the seven measures can be answered yes or no separately. (RNC)

Even if they don't pass, popular support could pressure lawmakers to pass similar laws, writes Brendan O'Boyle at Americas Quarterly. La Silla Vacía is optimistic the measures will pass -- though it notes the political timing is poor, funding has been scarce and the threshold needed to validate the referendum is a far shot. A more conservative estimate from the yes camp said that even getting 8 million voters out should be considered a victory. Voters have already been to the polls three times this year, and voter exhaustion could hinder participation, writes Boyle. 

El Reguetón del Sí: The yes campaign is led by former senator Claudia López -- dubbed "7 veces sí." The consultation has support from across the political spectrum, although former president Álvaro Uribe and the ruling party oppose the vote. Popular YouTubers joined advocates from various parties and leaders López and Angelica Lozano in a reguetón-inspired video -- which rapidly became a social media hit -- to promote the referendum and invite people to vote. (Caracol and El Tiempo) The Catholic Church has also backed the consultation. (El Tiempo)

The AQ piece identifies fake news issues, including a rumor that López, would receive payments for votes case.

At La Silla Vacía Marcela Eslava argues in favor of some of the measures and against others, such as participatory budgets, due to likely implementation problems.

More from Colombia
  • Colombia's underworld continues to shift and restructure in the wake of FARC demobilization. Former guerrillas have emerged as central players in the criminal world, and use their criminal and military experience to take control of drug trafficking real estate and activities, reports InSight Crime.
  • The New York Times interviews Israel Ramírez, the ELN leader known as Pablo Beltrán. The ELN is the last major insurgent group in Colombia, a reminder that despite the peace accord with the FARC, internal conflict is still a pressing issue.
  • Authorities believe the ELN has taken over the heroin trade in south Colombia -- a potential game changer in the illicit business, reports InSight Crime.
News Briefs

  • Nicaragua's new police chief is on the U.S. sanctions list for alleged abuses against anti-government protesters.  Francisco Díaz is also related to President Daniel Ortega through the marriage of their children. (Associated Press)
  • Investigators raided three properties belonging to former Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner yesterday, in connection to the "Cuadernos" corruption case. She is a national Senator, which gives her a measure of immunity, but on Wednesday the body unanimously approved permission for a judge to search her properties. The vote occurred the day after thousands of Argentines marched demanding Fernández be investigated. Fernández spoke in yesterday's session, and accused the ruling Cambiemos alliance of engaging in "lawfare" against her. She said the case, which alleges a broad network of corruption in relation to public works under her and her husband's presidencies, is politically motivated. She drew connections to the case of former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and former Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa. (New York Times)
  • The attention the corruption case has attracted is a welcome respite for the Macri administration, which is coming under increasing flak for a worsening economic situation and promises of further austerity, reports Bloomberg.
  • Brazil's indigenous affairs agency released new drone footage showing members of an isolated Amazon tribe that has had no known contact with the outside world. The images show 16 people walking through the jungle and a deforested area in the Javari valley, near the Peruvian border, report New York Times and Associated Press. (See yesterday's and Wednesday's briefs for more on tensions in the area.)
  • Former Colombian President Ernesto Samper joined an international chorus of notables who urged Brazilian authorities to allow former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to run for president. (EFE)
  • TIME profiles right-wing firebrand Jair Bolsonaro, a potential presidential frontrunner. The dictatorship apologist's rise from the political fringe has been propelled by citizen rage and disgust at the Brazilian establishment, according to the piece.
  • Bolsonaro had said he would skip the remaining seven presidential debates before October's election, but now says he might participate in three, reports the Associated Press.
  • Migration from Venezuela is the biggest movement of people in Latin America's recent history, and increasingly refugees are meeting with more hostile locals and stricter regulations, reports the Economist. (See yesterday's briefs and Tuesday's post.)
  • The Economist analyzes Venezuela's new economic plan, sussing out aspects provided by economic experts and those that come from non-economic government priorities. "The rescue scheme mixes sensible ideas with Bolivarian barminess."
  • The Trump administration is considering further sanctions on Venezuelan oil -- seeking to hinder the country's industry but minimizing impact to its citizens, according to McClatchy DC.
  • A former Swiss bank executive has pleaded guilty to participating in a $1.2 billion money-laundering scheme involving PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-run oil company, reports the Associated Press.
  • Venezuela's economic downturn killed its influential "PetroCaribe" oil program, which offered discounted oil to neighboring countries. In Nicaragua, that money helped fund the Ortega government and has arguably contributed to the current crisis. (See Wednesday's briefs.) In Haiti, angry citizens are now demanding accountability for what happened to 1.7 billion in funding that was supposed to go to social and economic projects. (Miami Herald)
  • Chilean opposition lawmakers presented a bill broadening legal abortions -- a move President Sebastián Piñera has promised to oppose. (Telesur)
  • Former president José Mujica is rumored to be considering another presidential run, reports AFP
  • Indigenous crafts from southern Mexico have been the target of high and low end copies -- but local women are more concerned with capitalizing on the popularity of their traditional design than debating cultural appropriation, reports the Economist.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...