Thursday, August 9, 2018

Argentine senators reject abortion bill (Aug. 9, 2018)

Argentine senators rejected a landmark bill that would have legalized abortion until the 14 week of pregnancy. They voted 38 to 31 against, after a 16 hour debate. A painful setback for the vibrant grassroots movement that drafted and pushed lawmakers to pass the bill. The streets around Congress were inundated with demonstrators on both sides of the issue, split on two sides of the building and wearing green or light blue handkerchiefs identifying their leanings. (New York Times video

The abortion law squeaked through the Chamber of Deputies in June, raising hopes that Argentina would become a beacon for womens' rights in a region where most countries have restrictive abortion laws. But pressure from the Catholic Church on lawmakers intensified in recent weeks. Senator Pedro Guastavino, who spoke early in the morning, denounced intense religious pressure, saying he has spend days "dogging crucifixes." (Página 12) There are reports that Pope Francis personally asked anti-abortion lawmakers to lobby against the bill, and the clergy spoke forcefully against it from pulpits around the country. (Guardian) Yesterday a new handkerchief made an appearance on the streets: orange, demanding separation of Church and State.

But while activists were stung by yesterday's loss, the campaign has already succeeded in bringing about important changes in Argentina and the region. Several observers emphasized a new openness in discussing previously taboo topics, including abortion, but also domestic abuse and gender violence. (New York Times) Journalist and Ni Una Menos activist Mariana Carbajal emphasized that abortion has been socially decriminalized, even though the legal battle was lost.

Indeed, months of broad debate on the issue have created a feeling that things simply cannot continue as before, said several senators in their speeches yesterday. "What are we going to do tomorrow," asked Senator Beatriz Mirkin, visibly moved. Due to parliamentary procedure, the same bill cannot be presented in Congress for another year. But there is talk of pushing bills decriminalizing women who abort, and a penal reform project would grant judges broad power to pardon women who abort. Cabinet chief Marcos Peña denied rumors that a referendum on the issue is in the offing. Abortion opponents made frequent references to state failure to provide solutions for women, so there might be more focus on sexual education, for example, often opposed by the same factions who opposed abortion. (Página 12Infobae and La Nación)

In Congress the debate has lasted four months, in which hundreds of speakers presented their views to legislative commissions, and two marathon sessions that forced lawmakers to grapple with complex issues. In her speech after midnight, Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner -- who was a known opponent of legalizing abortion during her two presidential terms -- said her mind was changed by thousands upon thousands of young women in the streets. (Página 12)

The divide in the extremely polarized debate was more generational than hewing to political parties. Journalist Luciana Peker notes the divide between the sea of green painted young women inundating the streets outside of Congress and the relatively advanced age of the senators voting within its quiet walls. Indeed, lawmakers under 40 overwhelmingly supported the measure, reports the BBC. The debate also pointed to a schism within what is one of the region's more progressive countries, notes the Washington Post.

The anti-abortion camp's slogan focused on "saving both lives," while those arguing in favor of the law said the choice was between clandestine abortions -- and the mortality they cause among women -- or legal and safe abortions. One senator, who had been publicly against abortions during her campaign last year, gave a heartfelt speech detailing her change of heart. Moved to tears she said, "We want to save both lives, and we're not saving either."

More on abortion
  • An estimated 6.5 million abortions take place across Latin America each year, most are illegal and performed in unsafe conditions. The Guardian reports on the state of abortion in the region.
News Briefs

Human Rights
  • Former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet was tapped to become the U.N.'s new High Commissioner for Human Rights. She comes in at a contentious time for the office, which has very critical of governments around the world, including the U.S. Bachelet has a long history of fighting for human rights, and was a victim of torture under General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. (New York Times)
  • Venezuelan authorities ordered the arrest of opposition leader Julio Borges in relation to last weekend's alleged assassination attempt against President Nicolás Maduro. Borges, a former National Assembly president, is in exile in Colombia. Another opposition lawmaker, Juan Requesens, was detained in relation to the case late Tuesday. His party, Primero Justicia, said he was kidnapped by the Sebin secret police. The government has accused the two congressmen of being part of a network of at least 19 conspirators they say coordinated the attack. At least seven people have been detained.(New York TimesWall Street Journal, and BBC) Both lawmakers were stripped of their parliamentary immunity yesterday by the supra-congressional, pro-government National Constituent Assembly. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Ecuador declared a state of institutional emergency in provinces along the Venezuelan border, to deal with a migratory influx that has reached 4,200 people per day -- an increase partially attributed to fears that Colombia's new president, Iván Duque, will close off entry to Venezuelans. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Duque faces a series of security "hot potatoes," -- from a coca boom, to an increasingly weak peace process with the FARC -- reports InSight Crime.
  • Safety for Colombians should be his paramount concern -- especially for social activists who are being systematically killed in former FARC territories, writes Omaira Bolaños in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Juan Manuel Santos, who handed over the presidency this week, has been increasingly isolated politically, and despised by Colombians. But history will vindicate his efforts to disarm the FARC writes journalist María Jimena Duzán in a New York Times Español op-ed. She emphasizes the under appreciated aspect of the 2016 peace accord, which disproved the myth of FARC popular support. "Santos is one of the most complex political figures in Colombian history," she writes. 
  • A Mexican court dismissed charges against a former leader of the country's powerful SNTE teachers union. Elba Ester Gordillo spent five years in jail awaiting trial on accusations of stealing union funds. She denied the charges and said she was a political prisoner. (BBCAnimal Político reviews the finer points of the case.
  • México Evalúa found the implementation of Mexico's accusatory justice system has advanced very slowly and that most crimes remain unpunished. (Animal Político)
  • An Honduran lawmaker signaled by U.S. lawmakers for potential corruption accused the local chapter of Transparency International, Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ), of framing him. InSight Crime points to the verbal attack as a frequent strategy of elites accused of corruption.
  • Bolivia's emerald encrusted historic presidential medal and sash were stolen from a car. (BBC)
To end on a good note
  • You many never have heard of son jarocho, but the Mexican folk-music genre that inspired "La Bamba" is in the midst of a revival, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 

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