Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Migrant briefs (Oct. 31, 2018)

  • As the "original" migrant caravan moves north through Mexico, thousands of migrants face the difficulties of literally walking across thousands of miles without dependable sources of food, water and equipment. Theft and losing track of relatives are other major concerns, reports the Washington Post, which accompanied the group on one 28-mile portion of the trek.
  • Safety in numbers is proving to be a good bet, explains Oscar Martínez in a New York Times Español op-ed. Between 4,000 and 7,000 migrants successfully crossed Chiapas -- one of the most dangerous parts of the journey, where migrants often pay a violent toll -- and are now pushing through Oaxaca. The exodus shows the violence, misery, and desperation faced by people living in Central America, he writes.
  • The U.S. is preparing to receive the migrants, so to speak, with Operation Faithful Patriot -- 5,200 armed troops, helicopters, heavy equipment, and miles and miles of razor wire. According to the Washington Post, it's the largest peacetime mobilization at the border since the Mexican Revolution. The U.S. Trump administration is reportedly considering some form of legal ban to stop the migrants from crossing, but it's unlikely to significantly dent numbers of people attempting to enter the U.S.
  • The issue is only becoming more pressing, a smaller caravan of about 1,000 people crossed into Mexico yesterday and is following the other caravan north. (Wall Street Journal)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump's reaction seems to have more to do with domestic politics than any real threat posed by the migrants themselves. (Washington Post)
  • Trump's anger has contrasted with the welcome and assistance the migrants have received in Mexican towns, many dealing with their own significant problems of poverty. The Guardian writes about how the town of Niltepec, devastated by an earthquake last year, did its best to shelter the migrants for a night.
  • Central American migrants are pushed by a range of factors, but high up on the list are rampant crime and violence; broken institutions and impunity; and high level corruption. (InSight Crime)
  • A good portion of the migrant caravan moving through Mexico are minors -- UNICEF estimated that 2,300 children crossed the Mexico-Guatemala border last week. The Washington Post profiles a few who ran away from home to join the group.
News Briefs

  • Observers expect that Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro's fiery campaign ideology will be somewhat tempered by the realities of pushing legislation through Congress. But other key measures -- like reading material for school children or enforcement of environmental regulations -- can be determined more unilaterally by the executive, reports the Washington Post.
  • Bolsonaro spent decades on Brazil's political fringe, but was catapulted to the presidency by a crisis of faith towards the graft-tainted political establishment. But his discourse harkens back to Brazil's military past, reports the Washington Post.
  • "Bolsonaro surfed a tsunami of popular anger and despair that swept away the entire Brazilian political system, along with the old party leaders. He was able to do so because of the people’s growing suspicion that representative democracy is incapable of delivering what they need," explains former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. (Washington Post)
  • Leftists who accuse Bolsonaro of fascism are themselves fascists, said the president-elect in an interview yesterday, in which he compared himself to Churchill. (Guardian)
  • Bolsonaro urged the current administration to pass a controversial pension reform before he assumes office in January. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The election will transform local politics, but also Brazilian foreign policy, writes Robert Muggah in IPI Global Observatory.
  • Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised to cancel a massive airport construction project following a citizen consultation that had a one percent participation rate. Though his stance is in keeping with campaign promises and long-time concerns with the project, the cancellation will still cost Mexico $5 billion and comes at a significant business cost, reports the Washington Post. Analysts look at the case as an indicator of AMLO's economic policies, and some observers are concerned the direct democracy experiment will make policies erratic and unpredictable. (See yesterday's post.)
  • The decision forms part of a long string of "uncharacteristically ham-fisted choices" over the course of AMLO's long transition period since his election several months ago, writes León Krauze at Slate. The problem was not the referendum itself, he argues, but the "the shocking untidiness of the procedure." (See yesterday's post.)
  • AMLO's transition team promised a commission to discuss the impact of the cancelled project with contractors and investors, aimed at calming the waters. (Animal Político)
  • In the meantime, there's no environmental impact study to the proposed alternative to the new airport, a project to create complimentary runways in Santa Lucia. (Animal Político)
  • A project to green Mexico City and possibly clean up its infamous air pollution seems to have been more about greenwashing. (Guardian)
  • Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil are among the countries with the worst record of solving crimes against journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) 2018 Global Impunity Index found that 48 cases of reporters killed over the past decade remain unsolved in those countries -- 20 percent of all cases in the index. All three countries have or will soon have new governments, and none of the incoming leaders has given the issue much importance, notes InSight Crime.
  • Chavismo generally seems monolithic, but Efecto Cocuyo takes a closer look at the different currents coexisting under the umbrella.
  • Venezuelan authorities say Caracas homicides are down 35 percent, but there's little reason to believe them. (InSight Crime)
  • José Domingo Pérez, the young prosecutor investigating Popular Force leader Keiko Fujimori, has become an overnight sensation in Peru. (EFE)
  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been sheltered in Ecuador's London embassy since 2012, must follow new rules imposed by his host country, determined an Ecuadorean judge. (Guardian)
  • A new Jamaican music hit criticizes people of African descent who look down on those with darker skin -- colorism. (Washington Post)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...Latin America Daily Briefing

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Mexico airport showdown (Oct. 30, 2018)

Mexican citizens voted to shut down a partially completed Mexico City airport project. (See yesterday's briefs.) President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to shut down works at the Nuevo Aeropuerto Internacional de México (NAIM) in Texcoco.  The majority of about a million citizens (1.2 percent of registered voters) who participated in the consultation said they preferred the option to build new runways in Santa Lucia to complement the existing Benito Juárez airport. AMLO said studies for the Santa Lucia project and what to do with Texcoco will begin immediately. 

President Enrique Peña Nieto said the works at Texcoco, which are about 30 percent complete, will continue through the end of his mandate, next month. The project was intended to be his administration's signature public work, but AMLO has long questioned whether the contracts for its construction were awarded transparently. And environmental groups have raised concerns over the impact of the site.
The decision to suddenly cancel the $13 billion project angered the business community, which said it would affect the country's economic stability and allure for investors.The news impacted markets, pushing down the value of the peso and and the Mexican stock market.  

AMLO intends to seek citizen input for policy decisions. But critics say the consultation lacked rigor. Incoming interior secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero discounted issues of irregularities, calling the vote a political tool, not a legal one. But, investors fear such consultations could be used to justify other controversial economic decisions.

News Briefs

  • Mexico and the U.S. moved to fortify their respective southern borders as increasing numbers of migrants move north in large groups, dubbed caravans, reports the Wall Street Journal. Mexico sought to stop about 1,500 people, mostly from Honduras, who sought to push into Mexico from Guatemala on Sunday. Another group of about 500 Salvadorans entered Guatemala over the weekend. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Mexican authorities detained two young Hondurans -- a 22-year-old and a 17-year-old -- accused of firing at police. The Mexican Secretaría de Gobernación said criminals were infiltrating migrant caravans, and preparing Molotov cocktails to throw at police at the Guatemala-Mexican border, reports Animal Político. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Are we there yet? UNICEF Mexico estimates that a quarter of the migrants in the main caravan heading through Mexico are children -- they are more vulnerable to illness and more easily fatigued, while the adults accompanying them must bear the burden of carrying them often. (Animal Político)
  • Though the original caravan was mostly made up of Hondurans, they have been joined along the way by other Latin American migrants, mostly from Central America. (Al Jazeera)
  • Violence and poverty are the known drivers of migration from Central America -- one of their underlying causes is climate change, which is exacerbating existing issues of poverty and creating new ones, such as crop failures. A surge in migration in agricultural workers and farmers from Honduras' west can partially be traced to changing weather patterns, reports the Guardian.
  • And the violence Hondurans are fleeing is not just from gangs -- it's also the U.S. allied government, reports VICE.
  • Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro will give the military the most prominent role its held in government since Brazil's return to democracy. On Sunday he confirmed retired Gen. Augusto Heleno as his future defense minister, a break in a tradition of civilian leadership in that post. But polls show Brazilians trust the armed forces, in the midst of strong voter rejection of the political establishment, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • In a televised interview yesterday, Bolsonaro ratified his desire to make gun laws more flexible -- and his opinion that restricting gun ownership makes the country safer. He also said that violence goes down in regions where killings by police increase. (Guardian)
  • His proposals fly in the face evidence, and don't address the actual drivers of violence, reports InSight Crime. However most of the proposals would require congressional approval, which could stall or water them down.
  • That being said, Bolsonaro allies won a majority in the lower chamber of congress and possibly in the Senate as well -- which could help the president-elect push through legislation, reports the Washington Post.
  • Bolsonaro opponents have promised to make themselves heard, and are planning protests for this afternoon. (Guardian)
  • Thinkpol: A lawmaker-elect for Bolsonaro's party has launchd a campaign encouraging students to denounce teachers expressing anger over Bolsonaro's victory. (Guardian)
  • Chicago Boy: Bolsonaro will appoint University of Chicago trained Paulo Guedes to head the country's finance ministry, but experts question whether his neoliberal ideology will be a match for more statist minded members of the government and a congress filled with political newbies. (Americas Quarterly)
  • Bolsonaro promised to tackle pension reform, a key promise for the business community. (Associated Press)
  • Bolsonaro criticized China during his campaign, but Chinese analysts believe he will be more pragmatic when he's actually in government, writes Oliver Stuenkel at Americas Quarterly.
  • Nonetheless, Bolsonaro's affinity with U.S. President Donald Trump raises the potential to reshape politics in the region, notes the Guardian.
  • Colombia denied a report in Folha de S. Paulo that Colombian President Iván Duque suggested to Bolsonaro that the Brazil and Colombia undertake a joint military effort against Venezuela. (Caracol)
  • Human Rights Watch called on the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN) to unconditionally release all kidnapped people and reveal what happened to any who have died. 
  • The ELN is expanding into Venezuela's southern mining areas, and is responsible for the massacre of seven miners two weeks ago -- though the Venezuelan government denies the presence of guerrillas in Bolivar state, reports the Guardian.
  • Venezuela's government is seeking to return to a dialogue process with the political opposition, which is skeptical of negotiations, reports Reuters.
  • Russia sent a high-level delegation to advise Venezuela on economic reform. (Reuters)
More from Mexico
  • AMLO was criticized at home for including Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on the guest list for his Dec. inauguration. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Mexican fútbol player Marbella Ibarra was assassinated -- her body was found last week a month after her disappearance. In a New York Times Español op-ed Marion Reimers explores the overlaps of indifference faced by female sports players and femicide.
  • Guatemala's Public Ministry and the CICIG presented an investigation into three extrajudicial executions and four cases of torture, allegedly perpetrated by a parallel structure operating under the Ministerio de Gobernación between 2004 and 2007, reports El Periódico. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel will meet with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. They'll sign an agreement for Cuba to receive a $50 million loan to buy Russian military equipment, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Haiti incorporated the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (or PCV) into its national immunization program, aimed at reaching as many as 270,000 Haitian children each year. (Miami Herald)
  • Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City are members of the Urban 20, a group that brings together mayors of 26 global cities belonging to G20 nations. The inaugural summit takes place this week in BA. (Americas Quarterly)
  • Ana González, a Chilean human rights activist, died at the age of 93. (New York Times)
  • Cacao use is older and originated further south than originally believed. (Guardian)

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

Monday, October 29, 2018

Ordem e Progresso (Oct. 29, 2018)

Jair Bolsonaro won Brazil's run-off election yesterday, a sharp turn to the right for the country. He won handily, taking 55 percent of the vote to leftist Fernando Haddad's 45. (Maps at El País.) The Guardian chalks it up to a world-wide trend in embattled democracies, in which voters swap "the politics of hope for “anti-politics” – the politics of anger, rejection and despair."

Though Bolsonaro is known for incendiary remarks against women, minorities, democracy, and most progressive causes, he struck a conciliatory tone yesterday, notes the Wall Street Journal. “You are my witnesses that this government will be a defender of the constitution, democracy and liberty and this is not just the promise of a party, or the empty words of a man, but an oath to God,” he said after results confirmed his win. He promised an administration that "defends and protects the rights of citizens who comply with their duties and respect the law." (Video)

Analysts say Bolsonaro's election is not necessarily an indication of the public's ideological leanings. Bolsonaro's support is in large part a rejection of the Workers' Party and the political status quo by a public disgusted by corruption scandals tainting most major parties -- even by groups who have been the target of his prejudices. Pre-election polls showed that a quarter of Bolsonaro's voters did not admire him or his policies, but rather sought to punish the PT. Bolsonaro is the first presidential winner since 1989 who isn’t from the Workers’ Party or Brazil’s centrist PSDB Party. Though he has served in Congress for nearly 30 years, he ran and won as an anti-establishment candidate. (ConversationGuardian)

He also gained support from conservative groups, promising to support "tradition family values." And he was backed by minorities who chose to prioritize other issues -- crime and economics -- over identity politics, notes the Guardian.

Many voters were attracted to Bolsonaro's promises to forcefully respond to an uptick in violence that has claimed a record number of lives this year. There were 64,000 homicides last year, though most experts question the efficacy of Bolsonaro's proposals to allow police carte blanche to kill suspected criminals and arm civilians for self defense. Followers have started making hand-pistol signs in reference to his promises, notes the New York Times. He blames drug crime for the ongoing violence, and has spoken of deploying the military to combat it, but has given little detail of what such a policy would look like. In the past he's advocated to lower the age of criminal responsibility and to reinstate the death penalty. 

Markets embraced him against the Workers' Party thanks to his promises to cut public debt and open up the economy. Paulo Guedes, a University of Chicago-educated liberal, is his pick to head the finance ministry. The Wall Street Journal predicts a short-term boost at least, as markets free up investment that's been holding back awaiting the election results.

Though the concrete agenda is still unclear, there are numerous controversial fronts: Environmentalists and indigenous rights activists are concerned about his promises to open up reserves and reduce environmental fines. And for schools he has promised a focus on "traditional family values." (Guardian)

Human Rights Watch called on Brazil´s judiciary and other key institutions should resist any attempt to undermine human rights, the rule of law, and democracy under the newly elected government. Bolsonaro has a history of bigoted and anti-democratic statements

He was not, however, prolific at making laws in his decades in Congress, nor was he known for building consensus in a highly-fractured Congress, notes the New York Times.

Fake news has been a significant factor in the elections. A poll by Atlas Político attempted to suss out belief in fake news circulating, such as an assurance by a lawmaker-elect that a major magazine was paid to support the PT. Apparently 71 percent of voters heard the rumor, and about 35 percent believed it. (El País)

News Briefs

  • A 26-year-old Honduran man was killed in clashes at the Mexico-Guatemala border as a group of about 2,000 migrants reportedly rushed a fence blocking passage between the two countries. Migrants and members of Guatemala's Policia Nacional Civil were reportedly wounded. The migrants were ultimately stopped by Mexican security forces in anti-riot gear. Mexican authorities denied reports that their security forces used rubber bullets, and said the migrants were armed and had Molotov cocktails. There are reports of minors being affected by tear gas, and Guatemalan authorities said migrants had used children as human shields. (Animal PolíticoWall Street Journal)
  • Another group of more than 300 Salvadorans left the San Salvador yesterday. Inspired by the migrant caravan currently wending its way through Mexico, participants organized through social media, seeking safety in numbers for the trek to the U.S. El Salvador's government dispatched police to guard the migrants' gathering spot and emphasized their right to mobility. Last week President Salvador Sánchez Cerén rejected U.S. President Trump's demands to stop migration. "For us, migrating is a right, and so migrants’ rights have to be respected," he said.(Guardian and Washington Post)
  • The "original" migrant caravan is advancing about 43 miles a day through Mexico -- but exhaustion and grueling conditions on the road are taking a toll and a number are dropping out. Mexican authorities estimate about 3,630 people are still in the caravan, though local mayors put the estimate at 6,000. Along the way, migrants have been welcomed into towns along the way with aid from Catholic and evangelical groups, as well as locals and municipal governments. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The Washington Post accompanies the migrants for a portion of their walk north -- watched by reporters, Mexican migration officials who allow the large group to pass, and Red Cross volunteers treating the dehydration and blisters many of them suffer. Though the group has no strict leadership, several migrants have taken on a leadership role and Pueblo Sin Fronteras is helping to coordinate. The route is not fully planned and partially depends on what towns agree to help along the way.
  • In an effort to stop migrants from heading to the U.S., Mexico has offered temporary identification papers and jobs to migrants who register for asylum in the country, reports Reuters.
  • A secret condition of the renegotiated NAFTA (know called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) involves Mexico stopping would-be migrants and refugees aiming to enter the U.S., argues Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times op-ed. "No one knows for sure, but after nearly 40 years of being intimately involved, as an academic and public official, with these situations, I can offer an informed guess: The United States gave up most of its trade demands in exchange for a confidential commitment by Mexico to do Washington’s dirty work against would-be immigrants and refugees."
  • Former Guatemalan ministro de gobernación Carlos Vielmann was detained today, in relation to an investigation by the Public Ministry and the CICIG. The case has not yet been made public. Vielmann was tried and absolved in Spain on charges of creating a paramilitary group that executed seven inmates -- the Pavón case. Entering the courthouse, Vielmann said he would have presented himself willingly and accused the CICIG of mounting a political show. (PublinewsPrensa LibreSoy 502EFE)
  • About a million Mexicans participated in a consultation over the future of Mexico City's airport. Most, 69 percent, voted against a half-built $13.3 billion new airport project, instead backing a proposal to building up an military base airport near Mexico City to complement the existing Benito Juárez Airport. The issue has been fraught -- during his campaign, president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador opposed the project due to high costs. Other critics of the project emphasize its potential environmental impact. But business leaders say canceling the project will come at a high cost, and say the costs of changing projects midway could be even worst than continuing with the current construction. The implementation of the consultation was also criticized as insufficiently rigorous, though AMLO touted it as an example of his intent to referendum key policy decisions. (Animal PolíticoWall Street Journal)
  • An environmental activist was killed last week in Chihuahua -- part of a marked trend of  Julián Carrillo, was member of the Alianza Sierra Madre organization, the death occurred shortly after his community of Coloradas de la Virgen registered opposition to a mining concession that they say was located in their territory without their permission. (Guardian)
  • More than 50 U.S. lawmakers called on President Donald Trump to investigate a string of threats against journalists and human rights activists in Honduras. They list details of the threats and ask that aid to the Honduras government be tied to respect for human rights. (Guardian)
  • Spain’s High Court agreed on Friday to extradite a woman close to the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. Claudia Diaz served as Chávez's nurse, and is wanted in Venezuela on charges of money laundering and illicit enrichment. (Reuters)
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales a 14 point lead over former president Carlos Mesa ahead of January's presidential elections, according a new IPSOS poll. (TeleSur)
  • Chilean President Sebastián Piñera presented a proposal to boost pension payments. (Reuters)

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

Friday, October 26, 2018

Brazilians set to pick Bolsonaro (Oct. 26, 2018)

Brazilian election briefs
  • Brazilians head to the polls on Sunday in a run-off election to pick the next president. Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro is expected to win, though the latest poll published yesterday shows his lead over Workers' Party candidate Fernando Haddad is closing: Bolsonaro had 56 percent of voter support, compared to Haddad’s 44 percent. A week ago, the same Datafolha poll had Bolsonaro with 59 percent and Haddad with 41 percent. (Reuters)
  • Voters are attracted to Bolsonaro for a number of reasons: many want quick answers for record levels of violence and are expressing anger at the Workers' Party. Evangelicals, business leaders, and the farm lobby are hoping for policies favorable to their sectors. (BBC
  • The very disenchantment that will likely propel Bolsonaro to victory could also serve as a limit to his power once in office, argues the Eurasia Group’s Chris Garman in Americas Quarterly's Deep South Podcast.
  • Human rights groups -- including Human Rights Watch, Article 19, and Conectas -- called on candidates to denounce threats against journalists. The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) has documented 141 cases of threats and violence against reporters covering the elections. Most of them were allegedly carried out by Bolsonaro supporters. This week Folha de S. Paulo denounced threats against journalist Patrícia Campos Mello, who last week reported on a business group that allegedly financed a Whatsapp fake news blitz.
  • Hate crimes in general have increased during the campaign, critics say fueled by Bolsonaro's discourse. "In Brazil, which saw a record 64,000 homicides in 2017, Bolsonaro’s words will serve to pour gasoline on a fire that is already burning out of control," writes Will Carless in a Washington Post opinion piece that says Bolsonaro makes Trump look like Mr. Rogers.
  • Bolsonaro promised to keep Brazil in the Paris Climate Agreement, despite reservations about the deal. (TIME)
  • A Bolsonaro victory will likely affect Brazil's relations with African countries, which were a foreign policy priority under the Workers' Party governments. (The Conversation)
News Briefs

  • Venezuelan opposition leader María Corina Machado was assaulted in Bolívar state by a mob of nearly 80 people on Wednesday. She blames the attack on the government. Former Colombian president Andrés Pastrana said she became a target because of her ongoing opposition to political negotiations between some factions of the opposition and President Nicolás Maduro's administration. (Miami Herald and Univisión)
  • "Venezuela is a poor country and a failed and criminalized state run by an autocrat beholden to a foreign power," writes Moises Naím and Francisco Toro in Foreign Affairs. Though there is no simple solution, they urge Washington to increase pressure on Cuba, and further isolate Venezuelan officials. "Yet the prospects of such a strategy succeeding are dim."
  • A record surge in suicides is pushed by and compounding Venezuela's woes, reports Bloomberg.
  • Venezuelan history shows that the welcoming migrants and refugees allows the to contribute to local economies and communities more quickly. Recognizing fleeing Venezuelans as refugees is one way to do so that recognizes the magnitude of the current crisis, argues Dany Bahar in Foreign Affairs.
  • The migrants caravan is pushing on through Mexico, but nervousness, exhaustion, and illness are taking a huge toll on the people walking towards the U.S. border, reports the New York Times. At the current rate it might take two months for them to reach the border, a difficult proposition, reports the Washington Post. (And video here.)
  • The U.S. is deploying 800 troops to the border, but they're preparing for a humanitarian crisis rather than an invasion, reports the Washington Post.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump's threats to cut aid to Central America because of migration show "a fundamental misunderstanding of the underlying drivers of the migration," writes Fulton Armstrong at the AULA blog. He criticizes the minor reforms carried out by Central American governments. "The caravan’s provocations and Trump’s reactions could blow up the game that has allowed both sides to pretend the problem will go away with token programs, intimidation, and a wall."
  • Rumors aside, migrants travel in groups for a simple reason: safety, writes Karen Jacobsen at the Conversation.
  • The work of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has contributed to an annual five percent reduction in homicides, according to a study by the International Crisis Group. The study says the commission -- which will be terminated next year by President Jimmy Morales -- has played a key role in improving Guatemala's security.
  • Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador launched a four day referendum yesterday, asking citizens whether they wish to continue construction of a new $13.3 billion airport near of Mexico City. Critics say the project, which is about a third completed already, will have a significant environmental and economic toll. Markets are watching closely, and say a negative outcome for the airport would mean a poor start for AMLO's new government, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Already there are reports of irregularities in the polls, but AMLO says they won't affect the final results. (Animal Político)
  • The U.N. and the E.U. condemned the assassination of Gabriel Soriano, the tenth journalist killed this year in Mexico. (El País)
  • Ciudad Juárez is on track to having the deadliest year since 2011. Homicides were particularly high in June, July, and August, but dipped in September -- gang fragmentation is likely behind the increase, and a tenuous truce explains the sudden decrease last month, explains InSight Crime.
  • An international commission is considering creating vast marine reserves to protect Antartica's ecosystem. (New York Times op-ed)
  • Soy is the backbone of Argentina's fragile economy, but its cultivation is destroying the country's portion of the Gran Chaco forest, home to the indigenous Wichí people. (Guardian)
Conspiracy theory of the day
  • Angelina Jolie's recent Peru visit with Venezuelan refugees in her role as a UNHCR special envoy was a cover for her role as a CIA operative, alleged Venezuelan National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. (EFE) (See yesterday's briefs.) 
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Migrant caravan and regional politics (Oct. 25, 2018)

The migrant caravan wending its way from Honduras to the U.S. has attracted loads of international attention -- pushed largely by U.S. President Donald Trump. The headlines portray a looming hurricane, an unprecedented crisis, reports the Guardian

But it will take the estimated 7,000 migrants weeks to reach the U.S.-Mexico border, and absent organization, it's not clear what strategy the group will pursue. Unlike previous caravans, this one is not led by a specific organization, and its composition and ultimate goals are fluid, reports the Washington Post

In reality illegal border crossings remain lower than the record highs of 15 years ago, but the people detained have shifted from being largely Mexican to Central American families, explains the Guardian.

Though the caravan isn't led by an organization, it was born in part by an effort in Honduras to undermine President Juan Orlando Hernández and call attention to the plight of migrants, according to the New York Times. That it ballooned in this way however is due to the masses of people who spontaneously joined, seeing an opportunity for greater safety on the trek. 

Migrants scoff at theories linking their journey to political motives (see yesterday's post), but  politics in other countries has helped shape the case. The political timing in the U.S. suddenly made the caravan a campaign talking point ahead of the mid-term elections. The migrants are also helped by political timing in Mexico -- President Enrique Peña Nieto steps down on Dec. 1, he is already unpopular and has little incentive to repress poor Central Americans just to appease Trump, notes the WaPo.

The migrants have obtained the sympathy of many locals along the journey -- who have assisted with rides, food and donations along the way. Al Jazeera reports on the support of Guatemalans for Hondurans passing through. And in Mexico, locals treat poor Central American migrants more like pilgrims than criminals, reports the Washington Post.

And just because there's a lot of coverage and attention on the caravan, that doesn't mean stories circulating are true. The New York Times debunks several misleading images that are circulating, purportedly showing violence perpetrated by migrants, migrants traveling in vehicles, and receiving assistance from Democrats or George Soros.

Another rumor links the migrants to Venezuela. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez told him that the caravan was “organized by left-wing groups in Honduras, financed by Venezuela, and sent north to challenge our sovereignty and challenge our border.” The claim has been debunked by news organizations, however, notes Geoff Ramsey in the Venezuela Weekly. (See yesterday's post.)

News Briefs

  • Brazilian voters will likely pick far-right, anti-establishment presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Sunday's runoff vote. They are pushed by anger at the country's high rates of violence, poor economic situation, and the perception that political corruption is sapping the country's resources, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo asked police to investigate threats against a journalist who reported on how a business group allegedly financed a fake news campaign in support of Bolsonaro. The paper said Patricia Campos Mello has received numerous threats via WhatsApp and email and that there are indications Bolsonaro’s campaign is threatening freedom of the press, reports the Associated Press.
  • Bolsonaro owes much of his success to social media campaigning. David Nemer writes in the Guardian about how his supporters' Whatsapp groups harness popular anger and disseminate shocking lies that push voters towards Bolsonaro.
  • BBC investigation found that various parties and candidates in the October election used software that obtains people's phone numbers from Facebook and then then automatically sends them WhatsApp messages and adds them to WhatsApp groups. (See yesterday's briefs and Tuesday's post.)
  • Bolsonaro's stunning ascent is partially due to the how the country's center right, "in its reckless efforts to create instability and exploit institutional meltdown, has endangered the country's democracy and paved the way for the far right," argues Rodrigo Nunes in an Al Jazeera opinion piece.
  • But not all voters will support Bolsonaro -- BBC portrays some of the deep divisions in the country's north-east.
  • Jailed former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called on Brazilians to united against the "fascist threat" posed by Bolsonaro. (TeleSur)
  • Composer Caetano Veloso warns of "a wave of fear and hatred" ahead, but in a New York Times op-ed calls for a democratic resistance to an eventual Bolsonaro presidency.
  • And in the Guardian, Noam Chomsky, Celso Amorim and a dozen other notables warn of the hatred and violence stirred up by Bolsonaro's campaign. "If Bolsonaro is elected head of the Brazilian state, this hatred risks becoming institutionalised and this physical violence unleashed."
  • Environmentalists are concerned about Bolsonaro's agenda, but loggers, illegal miners and squatters are all supporting him, reports the Guardian.
  • And mining interests are excited about Bolsonaro's likely win -- "salivating," according to Bloomberg.
More on Migration
  • Bolsonaro's ascent could also bode ill for the region's Venezuelan migrant crisis. (World Politics Review)
  • Colombia dismantled three separate human trafficking groups targeting Venezuelans, a sign of how the Venezuelan exodus is fueling organized crime in the region, reports InSight Crime.
  • Angelina Jolie met with Venezuelan refugees in Peru, on behalf of the UNHRC -- see the Venezuela Weekly.
  • The Venezuela Weekly also reports on an agreement between Colombia and Peru to exchange information in order to establish a database of Venezuelan migrants in both countries -- an initial step towards a regional residency permit.
  • A U.S. mediation expert will hold several days of closed-door workshops with Venezuelan government officials and the opposition, in hopes of restarting political dialogue, reports the Associated Press. Harvard-trained Jim Tull, who speaks Spanish, helped ease tensions in Venezuela following a 2002 coup against then-President Hugo Chávez, but was cautious about the potential for success this time around.
El Salvador
  • Jon Lee Anderson writes in the New Yorker on the recent canonization of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, and its potential to help El Salvador create a post-conflict narrative that bridges left and right versions of the country's history.
  • Mexico rejected an offer from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht to pay $18 million and supply information related to graft cases. The company sought to have the government lift sanctions blocking Odebrecht from bidding on public works, and shield itself from future prosecution, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico's future foreign minister hinted the country could soon seek to legalize marijuana. Marcelo Ebrard spoke in Canada about the the need to reduce violence and the large number of prison sentences related to possession. El País reports that a legalization bill could be made public by the end of the year.
  • Former FARC leader Iván Márquez emerged from hiding yesterday in response to a request from the transitional justice court that 30 former guerrilla commanders reaffirm their commitment to the 2016 peace agreement. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) set a Tuesday deadline for the leaders, after which they would be judged by regular courts for crimes committed during the conflict. Márquez and other leaders have gone into hiding after denouncing the government is failing to uphold its side of the agreement. (AFP)
  • Colombian officials say the Australian owned Cerro Matoso nickel mine owes more than $56 million in unpaid royalties to Colombia. (Reuters)
  • Argentine police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and waters cannon at demonstrators protesting outside of Argentina's Congress yesterday, where lawmakers were debating an austerity budget. (Reuters)
  • Peruvian authorities tout an infrastructure project aimed at improving navigability on the Amazon River as a development tool. But locals fear the Amazon Waterway Project will have negative environmental impact for their communities, reports Al Jazeera.

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Caravan fueled by violence, poverty -- not politicians (Oct. 24, 2018)

The migrant caravan now numbers about 7,000 people and has advanced about 45 miles into Mexico. Though caravans are nothing new, this is by far the largest -- two last year each had 350 migrants, reports the New York Times. In April another caravan which drew U.S. President Donald Trump's anger had about 1,500 people at its peak, though many did not ultimately reach the U.S. border or apply for asylum there. Reports suggest the media attention garnered by that caravan helped pave the way for this one's explosion. (Washington Post)

Yesterday was Day 12 of the caravan, which set out from Honduras and has become and "avalanche" borne by hope as it wends its way north despite U.S. pressure and police barricades. (New York Times

Though Honduras and Guatemala are trying to limit passage of migrants, already another caravan of about 2,500 Hondurans has gathered on the Guatemalan side of the border to trek north, reports the Wall Street Journal. Advocates say this could become a new migration dynamic as people seek to alternatives to expensive human smugglers.

The latest canard regarding the origin of the caravan: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday that Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez told him the caravan is financed by Venezuela’s government and unspecified leftists, reports Bloomberg. In response, an activist and former Honduran lawmaker who helped organize the caravan in the first place explained that migrants used social media to coordinate travel plans. Honduran officials have tried to cast Bartolo Fuentes as a politically motivated actor, but in reality most-would be migrants connected by social media or found out about the group from media coverage, reports the Washington Post. Most of the Honduran migrants say they were pushed to make the arduous journey after receiving threats from gangs or suffering violence. (Guardian)

In the midst of ever increasing hype and rumors regarding the migrant caravan(s), Eric Olsen reviews the long-term causes pushing people to flee Central America, namely high rates of violence, poverty, and weak states coopted by powerful mafias. In Univisión he notes that migrants are well aware of the dangers they face along the way, and embark on the journey nonetheless. "The caravan is not a middle finger to the United States or Donald Trump – it is a rational and logical decision to protect oneself and one’s family from greater risk."

The caravans "are a natural reaction to the difficulties and dangers that lone travellers, especially women and children, face when they attempt to reach the prosperous world. The wise and sensible thing to do would be to treat them as an opportunity to manage migration – but the nativist reaction is to treat them as a giant jailbreak," argues a Guardian editorial.

In NACLA, Laura Weiss also looks at the background behind the caravan: "The caravans reflect both the ongoing nature of the structural problems compelling emigration from Central America’s northern triangle, the failures of U.S. migration and foreign policy, and the dwindling options for these refugees to seek safety in the region."

Instead of seeking ulterior motives behind the caravan, most migrants were drawn by the publicity around it and the possibility of safety along the perilous trek without paying $7,000 to a coyote, write Jeff Ernst and Sarah Kinosian at the Daily Beast. They also delve into the background behind the migration -- including U.S. support for Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández's questioned reelection last year -- and note that existing measures to reduce poverty are rife with corruption.

Rights groups are denouncing that migrants applying for asylum in Mexico are basically detained in shelters. Close to 1,700 Hondurans who requested asylum have been sent to a shelter run by Mexican migration authorities in the city of Tapachula. (Miami Herald has more detail.)

Other groups have denounced that Trump's demands that asylum seekers apply in Mexico without proceeding to the U.S. is illegal under international law. Trump's pressure has led Guatemala and Honduras to shut down their border crossings, another potential violation of international law, reports Al Jazeera.

The Honduran foreign ministry is investigating 30 complaints regarding the alleged disappearance of migrants who formed part of the caravan, reports EFE.

Open Society Foundations' president Patrick Gaspard responds to false accusations that the migrants were funded by George Soros and other attacks by U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

News Briefs

  • Brazil leftist presidential candidate Fernando Haddad said voters are on the verge of electing an extremist "barbarian" who represents "the dross of the dictatorship," in reference to far-right front runner Jair Bolsonaro. Brazilians will head to the polls Sunday. (Guardian)
  • Bolsonaro is widely expected to win the run-off election. Reuters writes about the group of former generals with active ties to the military who have helped propel the surprise front-runner.
  • His election is likely to have immense impact on environmental regulations in Brazil, which he has promised to loosen in favor of agricultural and mining interests. "History tells us that when environments deteriorate, societies turn to supposed strongmen and religious zealots rather than smart, pragmatic leaders," writes the Guardian's Jonathan Watts.
  • Whatsapp, the messaging app, has been a key vector for fake news in the Brazilian electoral cycle. Though critics say owner Facebook hasn't done enough to combat the phenomenon, but it might not be the company's fault really, according to the New York Times. Researchers for Comprova, a fact-checking project for social media, found that rumors on Whatsapp were not unique to the medium, but propagated far faster and wider.
  • One measure Whatsapp has implemented is to limit forwarding to 20 people. The company has declined calls from researchers to further restrict the number. But it also resisted calls from Bolsonaro to lift the restriction, reports Reuters.
  • The problem with democracy is that Bolsonaro is likely to be chosen by millions and millions of Brazilians, writes Martín Caparrós in a New York Times Español in which he argues that the rise of anti-establishment populism must be countered by a revalorization of politics.
  • Though many observers are horrified by Bolsonaro's offensive statements about minorities, about 47 percent of black and mixed-race voters plan to back him on Sunday. Voters are apparently willing to overlook his vision on minorities, and support his anti-establishment message, reports the Washington Post.
  • Colombian authorities arrested eight soldiers in relation to the assassination of a farmer earlier this year in Arauca. The killing did not occur as part of a confrontation said prosecutors, and they will be charged with "aggravated homicide and attempted aggravated homicide." (AFP)
  • Seven months after a three-person journalist team was killed in Ecuador, there is still little information of what happened to the men reporting in the border region with Colombia. Forbidden Stories tries to continue their work reporting on the lawless area. (Guardian)
  • Ecuador will no longer intervene with the British government in the case of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who has been sheltered at its London embassy since 2012, reports Reuters.
  • US indictments against top figures in the Jalisco Cartel show how the criminal organization has grown due to the Mexican government's oversight, according to InSight Crime.
El Salvador
  • A Salvadoran judge ordered the arrest of a former military officer suspected of ordering the 1980 killing of the recently beatified Archbishop Oscar Romero. (Romero)
  • Venezuela’s state-run oil company, Pdvsa, is preparing to make a $949 million bond payment next week, reports Bloomberg.
  • Miami Herald reports on how people in Venezuela have learned to cope with constant periodic blackouts.
  • Thousands of Argentines protested the 2019 budget proposal which they say will worsen poverty and hunger due to austerity measures. The lower chamber of congress is currently debating the bill. (EFE and Página 12)

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