Monday, April 1, 2019

U.S. to suspend Northern Triangle aid (April 1, 2019)

The U.S. Trump administration announced to Congress that it intends to reprogram $450 million in aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, late Friday. (Or, three Mexican countries if you happen to watch Fox News.) The U.S. sends between $500 million and $750 million to those countries to support programs that combat drug and human trafficking, gang violence and promote good governance, the rule of law and anticorruption, according to the State Department. (Wall Street Journal) Though Trump has made threats regarding Northern Triangle aid, this time it has been accompanied by State Department actions, notes Politico.

The move surprised officials -- the Washington Post reports there was "chaos" in the State Department and U.S. embassies as officials tried to figure out whether they had to cancel existing contracts or simply not renew them.

If the move goes through, it would upend U.S. policy in the region -- including agreements like one on border security cooperation between those countries and the U.S. announced just last week. (Politico reported last week that already a significant portion last year's Congressional allocation for Central America has been in limbo -- see last Thursday's post and Friday's briefs.)

U.S. President Donald Trump's plan to cut aid to Central America's "Northern Triangle" as retaliation against the flow of undocumented migrants towards the U.S. runs counter to current theories that policies must address the root causes pushing immigrants. The Trump administration has questioned the efficacy of such programs, noting a historic rise of immigration from Central America. But experts say that an increase in U.S. aid, aimed at reducing such causes, effectively began only in 2017 -- a short period of time for results. And warn that the change could boomerang and eventually push more people to migrate. (New York TimesWashington PostBBCDeutsche Welle)

"You are shooting yourself in the foot. It’s an irresponsible policy that undermines efforts to help address the drivers of migration," Adriana Beltrán, of the Washington Office on Latin America, told the Wall Street Journal. "Instead of helping stabilize the situation, it makes it worse by gutting programs that had a positive impact."

Opposition U.S. lawmakers slammed the decision as "counterproductive." Senator Patrick Leahy, vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it was "foreign policy by tweet" and demonstrated Trump’s ignorance of the funds' purpose, reports Politico

It also contradicts the development focus urged by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, reports the New York Times. Trump has continued to threaten to close the border with Mexico, or chunks of it, which would have a significant economic impact.

And the Associated Press reports that the Trump administration plans to more than quadruple the number of asylum seekers sent back over the border to wait out their immigration cases.

And no, it's not clear that the U.S. administration really knows who it's targeting. Snopes reports that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on CNN that the cutoff of aid was justified because "Honduras could do more. Nicaragua could do more. El Salvador could do more." (Not April Fools.)

(Aside: The Trump era has turned news into a soap opera, journalist Alma Guillermoprieto said in an interview with Folha de S. Paulo.)


Nicaragua cracks down on protests -- a day after promising freedoms

Four people were hurt and ten detained in a Managua protest demanding freedom for political prisoners in Nicaragua on Saturday. The clash occurred before the march even started -- a group of Sandinista sympathizers, shielded by national police, threw rocks at protesters gathering inside a mall. One started shooting at protesters, reports Confidencial. Police stood by, arguing that protesters were responding with violence. Press workers denounced aggressions from the police. (See also AFP.)

The repression occurred the day after the government agreed to restore protest and press freedom rights, part of an ongoing negotiation with opposition civil society organizations regarding the country's political crisis. (Confidencial) The Alianza Cívica denounced that the government had violated the agreement, and called for international guarantors for the negotiating process to continue. (Confidencial and Associated Press)

The government responded that the demonstrators were violent -- and had attempted to lynch the gunman -- and asked the Alianza Cívica for responses.

Managua Archbishop, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, condemned Saturday’s violence on Twitter, and asked Nicaraguans to pray for peace. Bishop Silvio Baez, Managua’s auxiliary, said in his homily at Sunday Mass that the nation is still “caught up in a spiral of violence." (ConfidencialVatican News)

Student leader and former political detainee Levis Artola Rugama spoke with el Confidencial about the abuses prisoners face.

News Briefs

  • The Red Cross said it receive approval from Venezuela's government, and the political opposition, to start a major relief campaign. It is the first, albeit tacit, admission from the Maduro administration that there is a humanitarian crisis at all. The Red Cross plans to double its budget for Venezuela to an equivalent of at least $60 million this year. A sign of the depth of the crisis: the Red Cross said the scope of the effort would be similar to that carried out in Syria. It is a rare bipartisan agreement in Venezuela, where aid has become a political tool. (Wall Street JournalNew York Times)
  • As the crisis worsens, Maduro opponents are digging in and hoping the misery topples the government, reports the New York Times.
  • After a month of blackouts, President Nicolás Maduro announced a 30-day plan to ration electricity. (Al Jazeera)
  • At least 12 people were arrested for protesting lack of basic services, including electricity, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Russia's footprint in Venezuela is growing, reports the Washington Post. Military cooperation is just the tip of an iceberg that also includes medical aid and oil industry supplies.
  • Hundreds of protesters demanded Haitian President Jovenel Moïse's resignation in Port-au-Prince. The demonstration occurred peacefully, the first major mobilization since a week of violent protests in February, reports EFE.
  • At least 15 Haitian migrants died when their boat capsized in shark-infested waters off Turks and Caicos. (Miami Herald)
  • Thousands of Brazilians protested yesterday, on the 55th anniversary of a 1964 military coup that instituted a two decade dictatorial regime. (Associated Press)
  • The protests formed the counterpart to President Jair Bolsonaro's instructions for the military to commemorate the coup, while at the same time arguing that it was a beneficial episode in Brazilian history. Activists, historians, politicians, and even the attorney general's office were scathingly critical of Bolsonaro's attempt to excuse a military regime that brutalized thousands of victims. (GuardianNew York Times, and see last Tuesday's briefs.) Folha de S. Paulo also notes that Bolsonaro's stance differs markedly from historical memory policies in Southern Cone neighbors.
  • Bolsonaro's pledge to pass oft-delayed pension reforms is bumping up against partisan bickering in Congress, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave Bolsonaro a warm welcome, as the Brazilian leader contemplates moving the country's Israel embassy to Jerusalem, reports the Associated Press. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • China is open to trade and investment agreements with Brazil, reports Bloomberg.
  • Colombian indigenous groups called for broad protests after President Iván Duque suspended talks with Cauca groups. (Colombia Reports)
  • Violence in some parts of Colombia has actually worsened since the 2016 peace deal with the FARC, according to the Red Cross. The power vacuum created when the guerrilla group demobilized has caused a struggles between armed actors. (Reuters)
  • Prosecutors from Colombia's transitional justice system requested an investigation into ruling party lawmaker José Vicente Carreño in relation to an Arauca region paramilitary group. (Canal 1)
  • Trump criticized Colombia -- a major U.S. ally -- over its "failure" to stop illicit drug flows. (Miami Herald)
  • Chile's Catholic Church could face an onslaught of suits from sexual abuse victims, reports Reuters.
  • Argentina's presidential campaigns this year are poised to be the dirtiest in decades -- rife with false news circulating on social media, writes Hugo Alconada Mon in a New York Times Español op-ed.

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

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