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

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