Friday, September 28, 2018

Venezuela Briefs (Sept. 28, 2018)

Venezuela Briefs
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said that U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet was welcome to visit. (Reuters) He spoke in New York yesterday, after the U.N. Human Rights Council approved a resolution expressing serious concern about alleged human rights violations in Venezuela. (See yesterday's post.) Bachelet said a visit would be necessary to produce an impartial report on the situation in Venezuela. 
  • The latest round of U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan officials reached top officials and Maduro's wife. (See Tuesday's briefs.) The the list of Maduro government and military officials under US sanctions now totals 66 people, Maduro himself, reports InSight Crime.
  • The decision to sanction Jorge Rodriguez, Delcy Rodriguez, and Vladimir Padrino López seems to indicate that the US has given up on trying to fracture the highest levels of government, writes David Smilde in the Venezuelan Weekly.
  • This week was dominated by international discussion over what should be done regarding the Venezuela crisis. Smilde has more on that. (See also most of this week's posts.)
  • Yesterday OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro insisted on the international community's obligation to protect Venezuelans, and said the international community must exert maximum pressure to push for a transition. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Smilde also analyzes human rights violations allegations against the Special Actions Forces (FAES) of the National Bolivarian Police (PNB), including the charge that they act as an “extermination group.”
  • A new Amnesty International report charged Venezuela with violating hundreds citizens' right to life and physical integrity. On one level by failing to "guarantee the right to life in a context of violence between private individuals. And secondly, the state has implemented repressive measures, adopting military methods, in responding to crime, that have led to serious human rights violations, in particular extrajudicial executions. In addition, Amnesty International was able to identify how the repressive policies adopted by the Venezuelan authorities have resulted in the social criminalization of poverty."
  • Efecto Cocuyo reports on the "social trial" of a woman was evicted from her apartment on a public housing estate and lost her job for allegedly making anti-Maduro comments.
  • Maduro and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel addressed sympathizers in New York, but only after removing journalists from the gathering. (Miami Herald)
News Briefs

  • Several countries in the region -- including several with a generally good relationship with the U.S. -- refused to sign onto President Donald Trump's “Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem," suggesting a decline in the country's role as a global drug policy leader. (InSight Crime)
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on the Nicaraguan government to stop illegal detentions and "reconsider" accusations of terrorism against anti-government protesters. (Confidencial)
  • The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the “Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act” (NICA) yesterday. If the bill passes it will serve to pressure the Ortega government, reports Confidencial.
  • Speaking at the U.N., Costa Rican vice president Epsy Campbell Barr warned that the Nicaraguan crisis could have a direct impact on Central American stability. (AFP)
  • Nineteen U.S. lawmakers urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to support the CICIG's work against corruption. (El Periódico)
  • A draught in Guatemala has put 300,000 families in danger of starvation, reports El Periódico. The government blames delays on procuring supplies for them on a law requiring open bidding for public contracts.
  • Nómada reports on allegations of corruption against Evangelical church leaders.
  • Anti-corruption crusaders aren't the only ones not allowed in Guatemala -- Congress voted to ban a Swedish "black metal" band. The band is pretty unsavory, and has been criticized for pro-Nazi messages. Lawmakers appealed to Christian values to keep them out, but were challenged by Guatemala's human rights prosecutor who noted nobody would be forced to attend the concert. (El País)
  • Guerrero state security won't be much helped by a proposal to replace municipal police forces with a single unit, explains InSight Crime. Earlier this week Mexican authorities seized control of Acapulco's security in response to concerns that the resort city's police police force was infiltrated by organized crime. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
  • The Economist writes about Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra's efforts at judicial reform -- and how they have earned an "accidental" president popular support.
  • Presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro represents a real threat to Brazilian democracy. He seems to be paving the way, directly or indirectly, for potential military intervention in Brazil's government, writes Rodrigo Zeidan in Americas Quarterly.
  • Bolsonaro's running mate, retired General Hamilton Mourão probably won't help the ticket with its low female support with his explanation that women just take longer to make up their minds when it comes to voting. "You know, a man goes into a shop and buys, and that’s it. A woman takes time to buy. It’s the same logic," he said. (Reuters)
  • A devastating fire in Brazil's National Museum caused extensive soul searching over government spending priorities. (Washington Post)
  • A projected anual inflation rate of 34 percent for this year, rapid devaluation of the peso, and government austerity measures are hitting Argentina hard. (Washington Post)
Humble fliers
  • Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has made opposition to the presidential jet a central promise to voters. But he's not alone in a region where presidents increasingly fly commercial, or risk the wrath of voters. (Economist)
Archaeology corner
  • Aerial laser scans of Guatemalan jungle revealed the ruins of 61,480 structures that upend previous theories about ancient Mayan civilization. (Washington Post)
  • A new museum planned for Espiritú Pampa, the capital of a holdout Inca state that resisted conquistadores for decades, is bringing new attention to long-forgotten ancient city. (Guardian)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Six nations call on ICC to investigate Venezuela (Sept. 27, 2018)

Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru and Canada asked the International Criminal Court to consider prosecuting senior officials in Venezuela for extensive human rights abuses. It is the first time member nations have referred another member to the court.

The New York Times notes that the step is an extraordinary measure in a region where countries tend to avoid intervention in sovereign affairs. It is also a departure from the military solution that is increasingly mentioned in some U.S. circles. (See yesterday's post.)

"This unprecedented step reflects the growing alarm among other countries about the human rights catastrophe that has overtaken Venezuela," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro addressed the U.N. yesterday, speaking for 50 minutes mostly against the U.S. He reiterated his claim that the U.S. and Colombia were behind the Aug. 4 explosion of a drone at a military parade in Caracas where he was speaking. He also accused enemies of angling for Venezuela's oil and mineral wealth. Nonetheless, he said he'd be willing to meet with Trump. (Miami Herald)

Maduro had been expected to skip this week's General Assembly meeting. Ousted attorney general Luisa Ortega, called on the U.S. to arrest Maduro on charges of organized crime, corruption and genocide. (Associated Press)

The U.N.'s Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Venezuela yesterday, expressing deep concern about human rights violations in the country and calling on the government to open its doors to humanitarian assistance to address “scarcity of food and medicine, the rise of malnutrition” and “the outbreak of diseases that had been previously eradicated or kept under control in South America.” (Human Rights Watch)

Colombian President Iván Duque called for the "end of dictatorship, the return of democracy, and full freedom" in Venezuela in his his U.N. address yesterday. He also said Latin America needed the world’s help to deal with the estimated 1.6 million Venezuelans who have fled the country since 2015, many of whom are in Colombia. (El Tiempo and Miami HeraldSemana has an analysis of the whole speech.

News Briefs

  • Bolivian President Evo Morales lectured U.S. President Donald Trump on his country's long history of foreign policy failures. He also criticized Trump for threatening Venezuela and for the U.S. opposition to the International Criminal Court. Trump didn't engage, merely responding "Thank you, Mr. President." (Washington Post)
  • In his U.N. General Assembly address, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel said he represents a generational handover, but promised to continue the Castro brothers' project. (Reuters)
  • Nicaraguan officials are insisting -- in international interviews and public appearances in the U.S. this week -- that anti-government protesters are seeking to topple the democratically elected government of President Daniel Ortega, reports the Washington Post. That version runs counter to international criticism pointing to widespread human rights violations carried out by pro-government forces in repression of protests since mid-April of this year. (See Monday's post on the latest attacks on protesters.)
  • Following Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales' denouncement of the CICIG at the U.N. on Tuesday, four U.S. lawmakers voiced support for U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the anti-impunity commission, reports El Periódico. (See yesterday's post.)
  • At Nómada, Martín Rodríguez Pellecer defends the CICIG. (Nómada)
  • A Guatemalan court ruled that a counterinsurgency plan that killed at least 1,771 members of the Indigenous Ixil Mayans and displaced thousands more during former dictator Efrain Rios Montt’s 1982-1983 rule was part of a systematic extermination plan carried out by the military -- a genocide. But the court acquitted a former military intelligence chief accused in the case. Rios Montt himself was on trial, but died during the proceedings. In May 2013, a court found Rios Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, but the ruling was quickly overturned on a technicality. Though nobody was convicted, the case could pave the way for a policy of remembrance. (Nómada and Reuters)
El Salvador
  • At least 25 women in El Salvador have been incarcerated with decades-long sentences under the country's total abortion ban. Most of the women say they suffered from obstetric complications, and did not seek abortions. After two of the women successfully appealed their convictions this year, lawyers, activists and legislators, hope the rulings will pave the way to a more lenient law. (Washington Post)
  • Former San Salvador mayor Nayib Bukele is leading polls for next year's presidential election in El Salvador. It's the first time in three decades that a candidate from an outsider party has a real shot at the presidency, reports Reuters. Buekele has 45 percent voter support, a 25 percent lead over the ARENA candidate. The candidate for the incumbent FMLN party has only 7 percent.
  • Presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro is running his campaign from a São Paulo hospital bed, where he is recovering from a stabbing at a rally. The assassination attempt has "inoculated" the controversial right-wing candidate from negative attacks. (Guardian)
  • British comedian Stephen Fry became the latest star to oppose Bolsonaro in a Buzzfeed plea in which he calls Bolsonaro’s discourse against people of color, women and the LGBT community "genuinely terrifying," reports the Guardian. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Brazil's highest court ruled that 3.4 million people cannot vote in next month's national elections because they failed to register their fingerprints with authorities. The move could affect the outcome of October's election. Critics say many Brazilians were not properly informed of the fingerprint requirement. (Associated Press)
  • São Paulo mayor Bruno Covas is quietly returning to a harm reduction program for drug users scrapped by his predecessor, João Doria, who left the post earlier this year to run for state governor. Though Covas said he is maintaining Doria's hostile stance towards the city's crack users, in practice he is quietly returning to former mayor Fernando Haddad's "De Braços Abertos" policy, reports The Intercept.
  • Petrobras, Brazil's oil company, has agreed to an $853.2 million settlement with U.S. and Brazilian authorities to end investigations into a massive corruption scheme. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Four years after 43 students were forcibly disappeared in Mexico, president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to reopen the Ayotzinapa case. (Al Jazeera)
  • Former Veracruz governor Javier Duarte to nine years in prison for money laundering and links to organized crime. The case is infamous in Mexico, a symbol of egregious corruption. (Reuters)
  • Argentina and the IMF reached a $57.1 billion loan package, to be disbursed over the next three years. The loan comes with stringent conditions, including a commitment to a zero deficit for 2019. (Guardian)
  • Corruption is not a parallel path in Argentina, "it is the main structure of power," argues investigative journalist Hugo Alconada Mon, who says professionalized corruption impacts all political parties and all areas of government, including the judicial branch. (Guardian)
  • Díaz-Canel met with technology and other company executives and U.S. Congress members in New York. (Miami Herald)
  • Chile's environmental authority approved the development of the largest desalination plant in Latin America, with an initial investment of about $500 million. (Reuters)
  • A month into his presidency, Mario Abdo Benítez aims to enact comprehensive constitutional and judicial reform. But his efforts are already hampered by allegations of ties to drug trafficking and his family's anti-democratic past, writes Barbara dos Santos at the AULA blog.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Trump hits against Venezuela at U.N. (Sept. 26, 2018)

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would be willing to meet with his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro. Entering the U.N., Trump said all options are on the table when it comes to Venezuela. (Reuters

Yesterday he declined to answer reports' questions regarding potential intervention, saying he doesn't reveal military strategy. (Associated Press)  But, in a press conference with Colombian president Iván Duque, Trump appeared to encourage a military coup, saying "it’s a regime that frankly could be toppled very quickly by the military, if the military decides to do that." He also joked about the Venezuelan military's reaction to an attempted drone attack against Maduro in August, reports the Miami Herald. Troops participating in a military parade ran from the scene in reaction to sounds of explosions. (See Aug. 6's post.)

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza fired back, saying it was "grotesque" for Trump to talk about "coups and assassinations" at the United Nations. Maduro said the sanctions were an honor coming from an ideological foe like Trump, reports Reuters. Other reports say Maduro called Trump a coward for targeting his family. (Associated Press)

The statements come amid an escalation in international pressure against Venezuela. The U.S. announced sanctions against top Venezuelan officials yesterday, including Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores. (See yesterday's post.) The Associated Press analyzes the latest round of sanctions against Venezuelan leadership -- which deviates from a previous strategy of sparing key leaders like vice president Delcy Rodríguez, in hopes of sowing division within the government. The piece quotes David Smilde who says broad sanctions against all the Maduro leadership could unify the government. In the Miami Herald, Andrés Oppenheimer argues that Trump's statements at the U.N. yesterday were counterproductive and undermine regional efforts to restore Venezuelan democracy.

A military option for Venezuela remains a distinctly fringe view, and yet has been discussed with increasing frequency since Trump unexpectedly mentioned the possibility last year. (Business Insider) OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has said a military intervention cannot be ruled out, inciting debate over whether it would be legal under international law. (See last Friday's and Thursday's briefs.) Earlier this month the New York Times reported that Trump administration officials met with Venezuelan coup plotters. (See Sept. 10's post.) And yesterday Axios reported that a former senior Trump administration official, speaking at a Wilson Center event in Washington, said the White House National Security Council drafted a step-by-step “program of escalation” for Venezuela after Trump took office, including the grounds for military intervention.

However, the Trump nominee to lead U.S. military operations in Latin America said yesterday that there is no planning under way for any kind of military option to address the economic and political crisis in Venezuela. (Reuters)

Other countries in the region have strongly condemned a military option, as has Human Rights Watch. Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra was the latest to speak out against military solution in an interview with Reuters yesterday.

On a parallel track of international pressure, several governments in the region will present a request today to the International Criminal Court to investigate Venezuela’s government for crimes against humanity. (See yesterday's post.)

The Venezuelan crisis does not yet justify a military solution, and the international community must exhaust all other options on the table before contemplating one, writes Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times op-ed. He points to oil sanctions, which have been avoided thus far because they will likely increase shortages causing widespread suffering in Venezuela. 

Guatemala maintains battle against CICIG

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales used his U.N. General Assembly address yesterday to the U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), telling the gathered heads of state that the agency was a "threat to peace" in the Central American nation. (Associated Press and La HoraLa República has highlights from the speech.

"In essence, the CICIG has become a threat to peace in Guatemala. The CICIG has created a system of terror, a system wherein those who think differently are persecuted," he said, accusing the commission of abuses of power, violations of human rights and politicizing justice in Guatemala. He especially singled out CICIG head Iván Velásquez, who he banned from reentering Guatemala last month, and who's continued barring is the subject of what many consider to be a constitutional crisis. (El País and Nómada)

Though the Guatemalan constitutional court has insisted Velásquez be allowed to continue his work unimpeded, the Guatemalan government reiterated yesterday that he will not be permitted back into the country for now. (Associated Press) The court's decisions are legally binding. Nómada has the nitty gritty details.

In his U.N. speech, Morales attempted to blame deaths on the CICIG, saying that it had caused fatalities by pressuring judges to deny five unidentified suspects in custody proper medical treatment. (El Periódico and La Hora fact-checked the speech, including his (false) affirmation that the Morales administration hasn't been investigated for corruption.)

He also lashed out at U.N. Secretary-general Antonio Guterres, saying he showed “indifference and passivity” when presented with the Guatemalan government’s concerns about CICIG. Nonetheless, the two met yesterday behind closed doors, and foreign minister Sandra Jovel said there is goodwill to find a solution to the Guatemalan government's concerns. (El Periódico and La Hora)

Hours after Morales' speech yesterday, former attorney general Thelma Aldana called on him to "stop lying and submit to justice." (La República)

A former member of Morales' cabinet told Nómada that the president has been swayed in the CICIG crisis by officials who seek to duck corruption investigations.

In a recent interview, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú said Guatemala's current crisis is reminiscent of the 1980s, but emphasizes that mobilized citizens will not allow a backwards slide. (Nómada)

News Briefs

  • Latin America is in the throws of a migration crisis -- and refugees increasingly wind up in cities. Though municipal services are overwhelmed in many cases, cities are "comparatively well positioned to assist refugees", argues Robert Muggah in the Conversation.
  • The Mexican government disarmed Acapulco's local police force, in response to to suspicions that the city police force had been infiltrated by organized crime. Two police commanders were arrested on homicide charges and the rest of the force will face investigation. The Guerrero state government cited the city's rise in crime and "null" reaction of the municipal police. The resort city's security will be taken over by federal and state police forces, with the backing of the Mexican Army. (Animal Político and New York Times)
  • The Mexican National Commission of Missing Persons published photos of personal possessions found in a Veracruz mass grave, with hopes that it will allow people to identify missing loved ones, reports Al Jazeera. (See Sept. 7's briefs.)
  • Four years after 43 students were forcibly disappeared in Iguala, the Ayotzinapa case has become symbolic of collusion between Mexico's security forces and criminal gangs. But it's not clear whether the incoming government will be able to tackle the problem, reports InSight Crime.
  • Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez denounced the lack of investigation into the death of a man who died in police custody, in relation to the Ayotzinapa case. (Animal Político)
  • A Mexican government body acknowledged for the first time that the massacre of student protesters at the capital’s Plaza of the Three Cultures on Oct. 2, 1968, was a "state crime." (Associated Press)
  • Official statistics from last year show common crime increased in 2017. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Brazil's heated election campaign is rife with misinformation. In an effort to fight fake news, 24 media organizations – ranging from national newspapers and television networks to specialist and local publications – have joined forces under the name Comprova, or Prove It. The Guardian reports.
  • Colombian President Iván Duque has backed off from a campaign proposal to unify the country' highest courts into one single court. But his mentor, Senator and former president Álvaro Uribe, has presented a bill in Congress for the reform, which critics called authoritarian. (Semana)
  • Peru and China could update their bilateral free trade agreement by 2020. (Reuters)
More from the U.N.
  • Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez accepted an invitation to visit Cuba. (EFE)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Trump lambasts Venezuela (Sept. 25, 2018)

The U.S. sanctioned Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduros' wife, Cilia Flores today. Several top Venezuelan officials, including Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez, and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino were also targeted in the Trump administration's escalation of efforts agains the Venezuelan government. U.S. President Donald Trump said more sanctions were being considered "very strongly." (Bloomberg)
Speaking at the UN General Assembly, Trump said the U.S. was calling for "the restoration of democracy in Venezuela." He denounced Maduro's "socialist" government and called on the world to “resist socialism and the misery it brings to everyone.” (Washington Post and Reuters)

A former senior Trump administration official, speaking at a Wilson Center event in Washington, said the White House National Security Council drafted a step-by-step “program of escalation” for Venezuela after Trump took office, including the grounds for military intervention, reports Axios.
Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru and Paraguay said they will ask the International Criminal Court to investigate Venezuela’s government for crimes against humanity, a request that could be joined by Canada, reports the Financial Times. It would be the first time a country is referred to the ICC by another state, and the request builds on a dossier of alleged human rights abuses already submitted by the OAS and a report by the U.N. human rights commission. (EFE)
U.S. lawmakers were expected to unveil a comprehensive a $58 million plan aimed at further pressuring and isolating the Venezuelan government, reported McClatchy DC, which compares it to the landmark Helms-Burton Act.
More from Venezuela
  • Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno used his U.N. General Assembly speech to highlight the plight of Venezuelan migrants, many of whom arrive in Ecuador with significant health issues, he said. (EFE)
  • Venezuela accused embassy staff from Colombia, Chile and Mexico working in Caracas of potentially playing a role in an alleged assassination attempt against Maduro, and demanded the governments in question investigate. (Associated Press)
  • Venezuela's new digital fuel payment system got off to a slow start yesterday. (Reuters)
News Briefs
  • NACLA piece byJames Phillips explores some of the complexities of the Nicaraguan crisis narrative -- mooting the potential of U.S. influence among the anti-government protesters, or criminal gang involvement alongside student rebels. The piece also criticizes international human rights organizations for failing to explore alleged incidents of anti-government violence, or the potential for U.S. interests in regime change.
  • Speaking of regime change, Bolivian President Evo Morales told RT that the U.S. now attacks ideological opponents in the region through lawfare rather than military coups. Washington's "extensive political campaign" in Latina America is headed by US Vice President Mike Pence, he said.
  • Mexico's homicide rate has increased in recent years and broke records last year. And Mexico City is no exception in a country where violence is increasingly normalized, according to a new investigation by México Evalua, that analyzes the approximately 5,000 homicides in the city between 2009 and 2016. Working with media outlets, the report geolocalizes murders down to the street level to create a geography of crime. (El País)
  • Former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo said his prohibitionist drug policy was the wrong course of action, and lamented not focusing on regulating narcotics instead. He spoke at a Mexico City Global Commission on Drug Policy event. Former Colombian president César Gaviria also participated, and said regulation of certain drugs, rather than prohibition, would limit drug traffickers power in Mexico and permit authorities to reduce violence and corruption. (EFE and EFE)
  • The War on Drugs has come at an intense human toll: in the 12 years since Mexico launched its militarized war on drugs, more than 200,000 people have died and another 35,000 gone missing. The recent discovery that Jalisco state put hundreds of corpses that didn't fit in its overflowing morgue into trailers parked in suburbs is a testament to the magnitude of the crisis, reports the Guardian.
  • A man was detained in relation to the murder of a Mexican reporter last week. A Chiapas prosecutor said the detainee worked for a local drug gang, and three people involved in the gang are suspected of having ordered the killing, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.) 
  • With less than two weeks until Brazilians head to the polls, alarm bells about far-right wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro's strong lead are increasingly strong. Critics, from the Economist to Caetano Veloso are pointing to his admiration for authoritarian rule and derogatory statements about minorities and women. A manifesto launched yesterday by 150 prominent artists and thinkers, "Democracia Sim" has attracted more than 180,000 signatures. (Guardian) Separately, 2.9 million women signed up for a “Women United Against Bolsonaro” Facebook group. And #EleNão (#NotHim) is being used on social media by women mobilizing against him. High profile female pop stars have joined the movement, and Women against Bolsonaro marches are being planned. (New York Times)
  • The latest Ibope poll shows Bolsonaro maintaining his 28 percent voter support. But Workers' Party candidate Fernando Haddad gained three percentage points since last week, reaching 22 percent. (Reuters)
  • Speaking with CNN, businessman Luis von Ahn emphasized the CICIG's popularity in Guatemala and its importance in fighting corruption. (El Periódico)
El Salvador
  • Interpol will not issue a red notice for the capture of fugitive ex-President Mauricio Funes and three family members because they were granted political asylum in Nicaragua, reports the Associated Press. (See Sept. 17's briefs.)
  • Salvadoran activists say lawmakers are taking steps to privatize the country's scarce water supplies. (Guardian)
  • Semana's cover argues that military intervention in Venezuela would be catastrophic, and argues that Colombia must categorically oppose such action.
  • Argentina's biggest unions are on strike today, bringing the country to virtual standstill. (EFE and Reuters
  • The protest against austerity measures comes as the government is angling for an agreement for IMF financing, Reuters. The peso tumbled this morning when Argentina's central bank director resigned. (Reuters)
  • Corruption accusations against presidents are nothing new in Argentina, but the recent "notebooks" scandal has several first-time developments that make it unique, reports InSight Crime.
  • Chilean President Sebastian Piñera announced an $8 billion development plan for the southern region of Araucania, home to the indigenous Mapuche people. (Deutsche Welle)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Monday, September 24, 2018

Protester killed in Managua (Sept. 24, 2018)

A 16-year-old boy was killed in clashes between anti-government protesters and armed pro-Ortega paramilitaries in Managua yesterday. Though government officials characterized the clash as crossfire between security forces and "terrorists," witnesses said the demonstration was harassed and violently attacked by armed pro-government parapolice. (ConfidencialEl Nuevo DiarioReuters and El País)

Videos circulating on social media show men on motorcycles firing on protesters. At least seven people were wounded -- three of them reporters. One Nicaraguan journalist received a bullet wound in his arm. Protest organizers said at least 23 people were illegally detained by security forces in relation to the march, as of yesterday afternoon.

More from Nicaragua
  • Thousands of Nicaraguans have fled political repression in their home country, crossing illegally into Costa Rica to avoid security forces on the border. Their asylum requests have overwhelmed Costa Rica's migration bureaucracy and pose a significant challenge for the government, as well as the country's traditional narrative of hospitality and positivity, reports the New York Times.
News Briefs

  • The U.S. Trump administration's silence regarding Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales' slow motion self-coup is essentially support for transnational crime that takes advantage of the country's endemic corruption, writes Francisco Goldman in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Trump and Morales spoke informally this morning at a U.S. organized drug event, held ahead of the U.N. General Assembly this week, reports La República. (See last Thursday's briefs on the controversial event itself.)
  • Morales will be speaking about corruption in his address to the U.N. El Periódico reports that it's not yet clear whether he will meet with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
  • Guatemalan Human Rights Prosecutor Jordan Rodas said Juana Ramirez Santiago was shot to death Friday -- the 21st human rights activist to be slain this year in Guatemala. (Associated Press)
  • Thelma Aldana and Iván Velásquez won the Swedish 2018 Rights Livelihood Prize -- dubbed the "alternative Nobel prize" -- today. (AFP and El Periódico)
  • The United States is preparing a “series of actions” in the coming days to increase pressure on the Venezuelan government, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Friday. (Reuters)
  • U.S. officials are working with Mexico, Panama, and Colombia to target Venezuelan officials believed to be embezzling millions of dollars from a public food program. (Associated Press)
  • Spain will file a diplomatic protest with the OAS; after the organization's secretary general, Luis Almagro, criticized former Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's Venezuela mediation efforts. Though the Spanish government emphasized that Zapatero's diplomatic work with Venezuela is carried out on a personal basis, officials took issue with Almagro's advice to the former leader to "don't be an idiot." (EFE
  • Trump will meet with Chilean President Sebastian Piñera for talks on "efforts to restore democracy" in Venezuela. (AFP)
  • New York Times Español op-ed columnist Alberto Barrera Tyszka argues against a military option, but says new forms of pressure must be deployed to oust the Maduro government.
  • A Chinese hospital ship has docked in Venezuela where it will provide care to local patients for a week. (BBC)
  • Armed conflicts will increasingly involve criminal organizations -- from drug cartels to terrorists -- rather than national security forces. These wars defy existing international conventions, write Robert Muggah and John P Sullivan in Foreign Policy. "Situated at the intersection of organized crime and outright war, they raise tricky legal, operational, and ethical questions about how to intervene, who should be involved, and the requisite safeguards to protect civilians."
  • Mexican journalist Mario Gomez Sanchez was killed Friday, the ninth reporter killed thus far this year in the country. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Esquire profiles Javier Valdéz, a journalist murdered last year who was known for his coverage of the Sinaloa cartel's internal power struggles.
  • For austerity's sake, Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has vowed to sell the presidential jet and fly commercial. And he's sticking to the promise -- using a three hour delay on the tarmac last week to sell citizens aboard a low-cost flight on his views regarding humility for the politically powerful. (Guardian and New York Times)
  • AMLO and Trump are on a likely collision course on the issue of immigration enforcement, reports the Washington Post. The incoming government has rejected a U.S. offer to help fund deportations of undocumented Central American migrants, and plans to focus efforts on human rights rather than detention.
  • The far right frontrunner for Brazil's upcoming presidential election -- Jair Bolsonaro -- would be "a menace to Brazil and to Latin America," warns the Economist. It's latest cover piece makes reference to his "worrying admiration for dictatorship."
  • But Brazilians desperate for change will find difficulty not only in the slate of presidential candidates, but also in a twisted political system that gives legislators little incentive to take care of their constituencies and can hold a government hostage to strange alliances, notes the Economist separately.
  • Polls point to a likely run-off between Bolsonaro and Workers' Party candidate Fernando Haddad. The PT's continued popularity is definitive proof that attempts to route out the party by the Brazilian elite have failed, crows The Nation.
  • A Brazilian social network aimed at connecting black people is giving black candidates more visibility ahead of October's general election, and also emphasizing anti-racism initiatives. (AFP)
  • While the exact numbers of Colombia's coca cultivation are always disputed, increases in leaf and cocaine production recent years have fueled violence displacing Valle de Cauca communities from their ancestral lands, reports the Guardian. (See Friday's briefs.) Beyond drugs, illicit groups are battling for lucrative territories left by the now demobilized FARC. Guardian photo essay.
  • While Colombia focuses on the effects of Venezuela's crisis, Venezuela has urged Colombia work harder to combat cocaine production and assume the costs for the damage drug trafficking has caused in neighboring countries. (El Espectador)
  • A quarter decade after Pablo Escobar was killed, Medellín is still grappling with his legacy and dark allure. (New York Times)
  • Gustavo Petro -- who came in second Colombia's presidential elections this year -- is working to turn his political movement, Colombia Humana, into a political party. (El Espectador and Silla Vacía)
  • Peru's attorney general opened a preliminary investigation into former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and current vice president, Mercedes Araoz, for alleged vote buying to avoid impeachment. (Bloomberg)
  • A Paraguayan lawmaker and political ally of President Mario Abdo Benítez will face drug trafficking charges from behind bars. (EFE)
British Virgin Islands
  • Hurricane season is back in the Caribbean, but many islands are still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria and Irene battering last year. The British Virgin Islands suffered more than $3.6 billion in damages, or almost four times its gross domestic product. (New York Times)
  • Singer Rihanna will take on an ambassadorial role in her native Barbados, aimed promote education, tourism and investment in her home country. (Guardian)
Fraught local elections
  • Hitler vs Lenin: Peruvian style. A mayoral election in Peru is between two contenders with historical baggage carrying names -- though neither of the two hews at all to their eponyms' politics. (Guardian)

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

Friday, September 21, 2018

Nicaragua blocks IACHR prison visit (Sept. 21, 2018)

Nicaragua's government blocked jail visits for an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights commissioner. Joel Hernández, sought to visit prisons where political detainees are being held, but was prevented by the Ortega administration. The government said 204 people have been detained in relation to protests since April 18, but rights groups say over 400 people have been arrested for political reasons. (Confidencial)

Families of detainees have denounced legal irregularities and lack of access to medication. Several families also said that photographs shown by government officials of detainees visiting with family members have been misrepresented: they are not regularly allowed to visit the detainees. (Confidencial)

More from Nicaragua
  • Two estimates calculate a heavy economic toll from Nicaragua's unrest. One says about 347,000 jobs have been lost since April's protests started. (Confidencial) And a tourism association says the turmoil has cost the country about $400 million in tourism revenue. It will be the first time in 28 years that the sector will have no growth.(EFE and Confidencial)
News Briefs

  • Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets yesterday, protesting President Jimmy Morales' fight against the CICIG and demanding his resignation. (See yesterday's post.) University students who organized a march were joined by campesino and women's organizations, and called for Morales to be taken to court. Demonstrators took out their ire against piñatas of Morales and cabinet members. (La HoraEl Periódico and Al Jazeera)
  • CICIG commissioner Iván Velásquez and former Guatemalan attorney general Thelma Aldana were awarded WOLA Human Rights Awards yesterday in recognition of their efforts in the struggle against corruption and impunity. (El Periódico)
  • U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres reiterated the possibility of naming a deputy commissioner for the CICIG, a potential way out of the impasse with the Guatemalan government, reports El Periódico.
  • Americas Quarterly recaps Morales' varied efforts to oust the CICIG over the past year -- from doubtful decrees to Washington lobbyists. 
  • The Berta Cáceres postponed trial is unlikely to expose the links between Honduras' most powerful families and criminal networks, reports InSight Crime. (See Tuesday's and Monday's briefs.)
  • As noted yesterday, the latest UNODC report shows that Colombian land dedicated to coca production expanded 17 percent between 2017 and 2016. Not only that though, the plants themselves are a third more productive than in 2012. The figures show that the Colombian government failed to gain control of the former FARC territories after the 2016 peace treaty, according to the New York Times. The upward production trend since 2013 can partially be explained by difficulties implementing crop substitution programs, explains InSight Crime, which delves into specific localities' issues.
  • Former FARC rebel commander and Colombian senator Victoria Sandino traveled to Geneva to warn U.N. officials that the peace deal is in danger of derailment, and emphasized the need for more resources to integrate former fighters into civilian life. (AFP)
  • Colombia’s Cerro Matoso nickel mine will not be required to pay damages to indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities after winning an appeal in Colombia’s constitutional court. (Reuters)
  • OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro made waves last week when he said no option -- including military response -- should be off the table when it comes to resolving Venezuela's crisis. In an interview with Americas Quarterly, he qualified that assertion, but repeated his view that the international community "shouldn’t discard any option." Though he emphasized diplomatic means for the international community, he also spoke of preventing genocides and cited the historical examples of Rwanda and Cambodia. He also characterized Venezuela's actions as a sort of aggression against regional neighbors.
  • Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday that 34 supermarket managers had been jailed on charges of hiding food and gouging prices. (Reuters)
  • Pasión Petare is a group of community soccer schools offering training and meals for more than 2,000 children in one of the roughest parts of Caracas. (Miami Herald)
  • Brazilian women are mobilizing against the frontrunner for October's presidential elections, Jair Bolsonaro. A Facebook campaign opposing the far-right wing candidate with a history of denigrating women and minorities has attracted more than 2.5 million women in less than a month. Over the past week various female celebrities have joined the effort, posting on social media using the hashtag #EleNao (#NotHim). (Guardian and BBC)
Drug trafficking
  • Militarized crackdowns on criminal organizations tend to exacerbate violence, case in point, Mexico. But a new book profiled by InSight Crime, University of Chicago professor Benjamin Lessing's "Making Peace in Drug Wars," argues for targeting repression on more violent groups.
  • Were you wondering what Maradona is doing in Mexico? The Washington Post has the lowdown on the futbol legend's latest bizarre reinvention as a soccer coach for a Sinaloa state second-division team.
  • Musing how to get a major drug shipment across international borders this Friday morning? From ambulances to cyclists, InSight Crime covers some of the creative ways Latin American smugglers avoid authorities.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...