Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Mexico's ongoing fuel theft crackdown (Jan. 16, 2019)

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the government was making progress in normalizing fuel supplies, in the midst of widespread shortages provoked by a crackdown on oil theft, reports the Associated Press. (See last Thursday's briefs.) 5,800 security officers have been deployed to protect the 11 most important pipelines, reports Animal Político.

Illegal taps of Pemex pipelines cost Mexico an estimated $3 billion in 2017. Fuel theft even reached to oil drilling platforms said AMLO yesterday. 

But the government's strategy of temporarily closing down major fuel pipelines -- and instead shipping gas to stations in trucks -- has left citizens facing long lines for fuel around the country. Queues at gas stations can extend for blocks, reports the Associated Press.  The measure has polarized the population, though more people support than oppose it, reports Reuters

But the situation is not as simple as AMLO is making it seem, reports InSight Crime. Oil thieves are just a part of the problem, which is related to criminal organizations controlled by Mexico's cartels and work with the complicity of engineers and workers at Pemex’s refineries.

The government has portrayed the policy as a crackdown on entrenched corruption as well though. Indeed, on Monday Mexico's attorney general said three top officials at state oil company Pemex will face trial for fuel theft. (AFP)

In a recent Washington Post opinion piece Francisco Toro and James Bosworth argue that the fuel shortage crisis is an example of how populist governments blunder.

No need to lose your sense of humor: NPR has some of the crisis' most amusing memes.

More from Mexico
  • A former Sinaloa Cartel operative alleged that drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán boasted of bribing former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto $100 million. (Washington Post)
  • Guzmán's detention and later extradition to the U.S. led to fracturing within the Sinaloa Cartel, part of a wider phenomenon of fragmentation in Mexico's criminal landscape that has led to increased violence and promises to be one of the most significant security challenges faced by López Obrador. (InSight Crime)
  • Mexico is taking positive steps towards a more human drug policy, stepping away from a prohibitionist stance, and pointing the way to alternatives for the rest of the region, write Aram Barra and Gabriel Santos Elia in Nexo.
News Briefs

  • Between 1,000 and 2,000 migrants departed from Honduras in a group dubbed the Jan. 15 Caravan. They hope to follow the footsteps of similar initiatives last year and travel en masse to the U.S. border. They face the ongoing enmity of U.S. President Donald Trump, who reiterated his calls for a border wall with Mexico this morning. But they also face attempts by Honduras' government and Mexico to crack down on illegal border crossings. Migrants are aware they have slim chances of obtaining asylum or otherwise entering the U.S., but cite impossible circumstances at home as reason enough to try. They have been organizing through social media for longer than a month, according to the Wall Street Journal. The migrants pushed pass 150 Honduran police posted to the Guatemalan border, though Honduran government said it stopped 60 minors without proper travel documents from crossing the Guatemalan border this morning. (Washington PostNew York TimesEl PaísEl País again, and AFP)
  • The Trump administration's insistence on a wall "ignores changing migrant demographics and leaves largely unaddressed an asylum system buckling under unprecedented strain," writes Dennis Stinchcomb at the Aula Blog.
  • Human smuggling operations between Venezuela and Colombia are using tourism agencies and taxi cooperatives as fronts for their criminal activities, reports InSight Crime.
  • Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly formally declared President Nicolás Maduro illegitimate, calling him a "usurper." Though the immediate impact of the measure is not clear -- the body has been largely powerless since 2017 -- the goal is to oust the current administration and implement a transitional government until new elections can be held under fair conditions. (New York Times and Reuters)
  • Lawmakers seek to undermine military support for Maduro with a proposed amnesty law that would offer guarantees to civilians and members of the military who "defend the Constitution," reports Efecto Cocuyo. (See Monday's post.)
  • National Constituent Assembly head Diosdado Cabello requested the judiciary and the prosecutor general to investigate crimes in relation to the National Assembly's declaration. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • The Trump administration is considering recognizing National Assembly head Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's de facto leader, according to the Miami HeraldReuters, and CNN. (See Monday's post.)
  • The U.S. is considering tougher sanctions against Venezuela's military and oil sector, reports the Wall Street Journal. Options include limiting Venezuelan oil sales to the U.S., which would severely affect the country's money supply.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro promised a "new monetary system" this week, that will be based on the national Petro cryptocurrency. Part of the announcement included hiking up the Petro's value for the second time in about a month. Annual inflation is nearly two million percent. (Efecto CocuyoAl Jazeera and Bitcoin)
  • "The scale of Venezuela’s current social, economic and political crisis is so severe it is difficult to comprehend," writes Anthea McCarthy-Jones in the Conversation. She delves into how, under Maduro, Venezuela has transitioned from authoritarian rule into a "mafia state."
  • For InSight Crime: "The co-opting of government institutions, direct links between the Maduro government and Venezuelan economic elites replete with ill-gotten profits, and the government’s open encouragement of armed groups to intimidate the population are three signs that Venezuela’s crisis is deepening. The situation has reached the point of a humanitarian emergency, and the government has degenerated into a mafia state."
  • Venezuela's public universities have been particularly hit by Venezuela's political machine over the past 20 years, writes Carlos Sandoval in a New York Times Español op-ed detailing the pauperization of professors who work without budgets and electricity, for laughable wages that aren't enough for even the basic food basket.
  • Former Venezuelan attorney general Luisa Ortega lodged complaints in the International Criminal Court in the Hague against the Venezuelan government over the alleged murder of councillor Fernando Albán and allegations by former Supreme Court judge Christian Zerpa who defected this month. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Russian officials are reportedly offering Venezuela an economic lifeline, reports Reuters.
  • Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern over talk of a possible U.S. military option in Venezuela, and accused Washington of influencing against discussions between the political opposition and Maduro. (Reuters and EFE)
Regional Relations
  • Colombian President Iván Duque proposed a conservative regional bloc alternative to Venezuelan-led Unasur. The group would be called Prosur, and he has discussed it with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, reports the Associated Press. Colombia withdrew from Unasur in August and five other countries have suspended their participation.
  • From opposite ends of the political spectrum, Mexico and Brazil's new governments are disengaging from multilateralism, writes Mac Margolis in a Bloomberg opinion piece.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri will visit Brazil today, where he will likely discuss trade issues with his counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro. (AFP)
  • Trump hearts Bolsonaro, according to AFP. Or as Nacla terms it: Trump’s New Authoritarian Bromance.
  • The Bolsonaro administration will seek to crack down on land invasions, with penalties akin to terrorism, reports Reuters.
  • Bolsonaro signed a presidential decree yesterday loosening gun ownership laws. (See yesterday's briefs.) The new policy eliminates a requirement asking potential owners to explain why they need a weapon and have that reason approved by police. Instead Brazilians have been presented with a list of conditions that justify the need for gun ownership. They include being responsible for a commercial or industrial establishment, being a gun collector or hunter, living in a rural area or living in a city with elevated crime rates — as the vast majority of Brazilians do, notes the New York Times. Critics say the measure will only worsen record homicide and violence rates in the country, reports the Washington Post.
  • The military has increased its presence in the Bolsonaro administration's economic arena, with several key appointments in government departments and state companies, reports Folha de S. Paulo.
  • Former FARC negotiator, Iván Márquez, said giving up arms was a mistake for the guerrilla group. His location has been unknown since he decided not to assume his senate seat last year. (France 24)
  • Duque never got a honeymoon -- his approval ratings are at 24 percent and he faces the challenge of governing a polarized country where protests are increasingly destabilizing his administration, writes Marcela Prieto in Americas Quarterly.
Human Rights
  • Front Line Defenders reports that 321 human rights defenders were killed around the world last year -- more than half in Mexico and Colombia.
  • The Haitian city of Canaan is home to about 320,000 people. It formed as a haven for people displaced by the 2010 earthquake, and has been largely left to its own devices ever since, reports U.S. News.
  • Honduras' Supreme Court confirmed a 2016 10-year defamation sentence for journalist David Romero Ellner. Romero said the case is politically motivated. Romero denounced a case of alleged misuse of Honduran Social Security Institute funds to finance President Juan Orlando Hernández's electoral campaign. (Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas)
  • A series of massacres so far this year in Honduras have claimed 30 lives -- casting doubt on the government's claims of security gains, reports InSight Crime.
El Salvador
  • Tim Muth breaks down data on political donations in El Salvador. Conservative ARENA party received the bulk of donations,  $44.5 million in donations between 2006 and 2017 compared to only $13 million for the FMLN. There is not yet a lot of public data on leading presidential candidate Nayib Bukele's funding, he notes.
  • Argentina's inflation rate last year was officially 47.6 percent -- the highest since 1991 and one of the highest in the world. (Associated Press)
  • Aurelius Capital is suing Argentina again. This time alleging the country miscalculated a payment and owes the hedge fund $83.7 million. (Bloomberg)
  • More than 10 percent of Latin Americans live in extreme poverty according to ECLAC. (EFE)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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