Monday, October 22, 2018

The migrants push on (Oct. 22, 2018)

The latest migrant caravan to attract U.S. President Donald Trump's anger is pushing on towards the United States. The migrants, who set off from Honduras just over a week ago, clashed with Mexican police at the border with Guatemala. Many were prevented from passing en masse, and have been processed slowly by the Mexican government. But thousands more crossed illegally, and gathered with more migrants to continue the path towards the U.S. (The numbers vary tremendously from one story to another.)

Enduring intense heat in a six hour march yesterday to Tapachula, migrants accepted food and rides from locals, but rejected offers of assistance from Mexican authorities who said they must submit to migration controls, reports Animal Político.

The Washington Post and organizers estimate between 5,000 and 5,600 people are marching from Mexico's southern border, though it's not clear how they intend to gain entry to the U.S. Reporting last night, NBC put the tally at 7,000. The group includes many women and children. This weekend Trump promised to stop them: "I will seal off the border before they come into this country and I'll bring out our military, not our reserves. I'll bring out our military," reports CBS. And U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the migrants on foot of provoking violence and organizers of political motivation.

The scene at the Guatemala-Mexico border was tense Friday, as thousands of migrants gathered to cross and the U.S. pressured Mexican authorities to stop the flow of undocumented migrants. Mexican authorities started processing small groups of migrants on Friday. Some migrants pushed through the gates separating the two countries, facing off against Mexican police in anti-riot gear. At least six police officers were wounded in the confrontation in which migrants threw objects and police responded with tear gas, reports the New York Times.

The episode ended relatively quickly. Afterwards the migrants organized themselves in lines to enter Mexico. According to the Mexican authorities, migrants with valid documents and visas would be allowed in. Those seeking asylum or some other form of protection can request it but must wait in a migration center for up to 45 days, officials said. The United Nations refugee office was adding staff in southern Mexico to help process requests. Speaking Friday at a joint press conference with Pompeo, Mexican foreign minister Luis Videgaray said the Mexican government would enforce the country’s immigration laws, “in a humanitarian form, thinking first of the interest of the migrant,” reports the Washington Post separately.

Thousands of others opted to cross the river between Guatemala and Mexico illegally, and Mexican authorities seemed disinclined to stop them -- demonstrating both lack of resources and will power to do so, reports the Washington Post. Most crossed the river in fully view of authorities, who did not move to detain them, reports the Associated Press. The migrants regrouped in Ciudad Hidalgo and voted to press on towards the U.S., reports the Associated Press separately.

Central American governments are also under intense pressure from the U.S. to stop the flow of migrants. Honduras closed one of the main border crossings with Guatemala after the caravan burst through last week, reports the Wall Street Journal. Another portion of the caravan opted to return home from the Guatemalan border, transported by the Guatemalan government -- Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales estimated that 2,000 migrants were returning home in this fashion, reports La Prensa.

Over the weekend protests in support of migration have broke out in cities across Honduras, including outside the US embassy in Tegucigalpa, reports the Guardian.

In response to the U.S. characterization of the migrants, the director of the Americas for Amnesty International, Erika Guevara Rosas, tweeted: “Honduran migrant caravan is not a security threat, but an act of survival by 100s of people escaping extreme violence, poverty, exclusion, and the inability of their government to protect their rights. The response to this human drama should be one of solidarity and compassion.”
New York Times fact-check debunks false claims by Trump and Representative Matt Gaetz regarding alleged Democratic Party and Open Society Foundations funding of the migrant caravan.


Cáceres trial begins under questionable circumstances

The trial of eight people accused of murdering Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres started Saturday. The judges, who have been accused of bias and abuse of authority by Cáceres' family, ruled that the trial would open this weekend without legal representation for the victims, reports EFE. The family and the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras, which Cáceres co-founded and led, have promised to fight the decision, which leaves the eventual verdict vulnerable to appeal, reports the Guardian.

The judges considered that the victims' lawyers had abandoned the case because they presented the latest appeals in writing on Saturday, rather than physically presenting themselves, reports Proceso

The trial against eight suspects, including the former manager of DESA, a private company developing a dam Cáceres fought against, has been suspended since September. The victims have challenged the judges' competency, and say decisions in the pre-trial phase demonstrated bias. Key information has been left out of the trial and not shared with the victims' representation, according to Copinh.

Cáceres' allies fear the case is being presented as an isolated assassination, rather than a part of a campaign of terror against Cáceres and Copinh, explains the Guardian. Last year, a prominent group of international human rights lawyers critically reviewed the investigation. The Grupo Asesor Internacional de Personas Expertas (GAIPE) found the evidence was "conclusive regarding the participation of numerous state agents, high-ranking executives and employees of Desa in the planning, execution and cover-up of the assassination," reported the New York Times at the time. (See post for Oct. 30, 2017.) Earlier this year a former DESA executive was detained and accused of masterminding Cáceres' killing. (See March 5's post.) He however remains in pre-trial detention and it's not clear whether he will be charged.

Last month InSight Crime called the Cáceres trial a bellwether for the Honduran justice system. Though the case investigation has not yet involved DESA's powerful owning family, it has advanced much further than other murder cases, notes the piece.

News Briefs

  • Fiscal reality is forcing Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador to scale back on signature campaign promises, including removing the military from an internal security role, reports the New York Times.
  • Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, wrote a New York Times op-ed about Trump’s campaign to dismantle Nafta -- "a window into a chaotic decision-making style that has undermined America’s diplomacy and national interests across the globe."
  • Presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro's son was temporarily blocked from using the Whatsapp messaging app after reports last week that the far-right candidate benefited from a business-financed fake news blitz. A WhatsApp representative said it had “proactively banned hundreds of thousands of accounts during the Brazilian election period," reports the Guardian. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • On Saturday Bolsonaro promised to use the military for routine street patrols, and said Brazil was in a state of war. (Reuters)
  • And in a menacing video released on social media yesterday, Bolsonaro promised to send his Workers' Party opponents to jail or exile. "These red outlaws will be banished from our homeland. It will be a cleanup the likes of which has never been seen in Brazilian history," he said, also promising to designate members of the MST -- Brazil’s landless workers movement -- as terrorists, reports the Guardian.
  • His offensive views are often cast as honest by supporters, a trait he shares with Trump, notes a New York Times editorial that says "it is a sad day for democracy when disarray and disappointment drive voters to distraction and open the door to offensive, crude and thuggish populists."
  • Is fascism back? At Efecto Naím, Moisés Naím analyzes how the term is applied to Trump and Bolsonaro.
  • Bolsonaro's continuous offenses against minorities is counterproductive and could waste the chance to implement real liberal reforms in Brazil, argues Aquiles Esté in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • This video by the New York Times has clips of some of Bolsonaro's most polemic statements, including defense of the military dictatorship and telling a fellow lawmaker he wouldn't rape her because she didn't "deserve" it.
  • Survivors of the Brazilian dictatorship's torture struggle with Bolsonaro's ascendancy. (Guardian)
  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is suing Ecuador's government for limiting his contact with the outside world and censoring his speech. Assange has been living in Ecuador's London embassy since 2012, when he sought asylum there to avoid extradition to Sweden. The suit was filed in Quito, by a legal team led by the former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, reports the New York Times. The move comes after Ecuador's government sought to tighten the rules under which Assange can stay at the embassy. (See last Tuesday's briefs.) WikiLeaks said the Ecuadorean government is under increasing pressure from the U.S. to resolve the Assange case, reports the Guardian.
  • About 80 percent of the region's oldest human fossil was recovered -- albeit in pieces -- in the debris of Brazil's National Museum, after a fire gutted the 200-year-old institution in September. (Associated Press and New York Times)
  • The (merited) outrage spurred by the disappearance and death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi serves as a counterpoint to the scant international interest in the routine abuses and assassinations of journalists around the world, including Latin America, writes Silvio Waisbord in a New York Times Español op-ed. Calculating risks has become a fundamental part of journalism work in the region, he notes, calling violence against journalism freedom of expression's "canary in a coal mine," denoting dangers to democracy.
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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