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 ... 

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