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 ...

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