Friday, May 31, 2019

U.S. slaps blanket tariff on Mexican goods over illegal migration (May 31, 2019)

U.S. President Donald Trump shocked markets yesterday with a surprise announcement that he will place a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican imports in order to pressure the country to do more to curb immigration into the U.S. The surcharge will apply to "every single good coming into the United States from Mexico" starting on June 10, it will hit millions of products like cars, machinery, fruits and vegetables. The tariff will rise by 5% each month until it reaches 25% in October unless the number of people crossing the Mexico-U.S. border illegally isn't "substantially" reduced. (Guardian and Guardian)

Such a blanket tariff against another country has never been implemented by the U.S., and Trump's legal authority to do so is untested, according to the Washington Post. It will exact a significant toll on U.S. consumers and businesses, who have raised objections, reports the New York Times. Needless to say, it could affect the implementation of the new NAFTA agreement, notes CNBC, though the White House insisted otherwise yesterday. (See Mexico briefs below.)

The sudden move threatens to upend relations between Mexico and the U.S. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador defended his administration's track record on immigration, and also the history of cordial relations between the two countries. “President Trump, social problems aren’t resolved with taxes or coercive measures,” he said in a two page letter.

Though the initial focus was on stopping illegal migration, in a series of Twitter posts today,  Trump "hit on so many themes that it was unclear what precisely he was demanding in exchange for waiving the penalties," reports the Washington Post

News Briefs

Venezuela diplomacy
  • After the Oslo discussions between Venezuela's government and opposition ended without an agreement this week, all eyes are on a New York ministerial level meeting between the European Union-backed International Contact Group and the Lima Group next week. Both sides indicated openness to another round of talks, eventually. (New York Times)
  • Early elections were on the table however, and the fact that Maduro administration representatives were even willing to entertain the issue is a promising sign, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Opposition leader Juan Guaidó's representatives met with Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Canada and the U.S. differed yesterday over Cuba's role in negotiating a solution to Venezuela's crisis. U.S. Vice President said the island's influence was malign, and called on Canada to do more to counteract it. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau countered that the Lima Group believes Cuba can play a positive role. (Efecto CocuyoReuters)
  • A failure in mediation by the regional Lima Group and the European Union backed International Contact Group for Venezuela could provoke a "violent" and "very dangerous" outcome for Latin America, warned Uruguay's foreign minister, who criticized the opposition's demands as unrealistic. (EFE)
  • An unnamed Norwegian official with inside knowledge of the talks between the Venezuelan opposition and government in Oslo said the opposition "needs to be more realistic," according to the Real News Network.
More Venezuela 
  • Univisión said it recovered footage of a contentious interview of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro by journalist Jorge Ramos. (Associated Press) The footage was confiscated during the interview in February, and Ramos briefly detained. (See March 1's briefs.)
  • Four children died in May awaiting bone marrow transplants at the J.M. de Los Rios children's hospital, a case that is raising public anger. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Judicial persecution is decimating the opposition-led National Assembly and could threaten its functioning, warns Efecto Cocuyo.
  • A third attempt to ratify a new government and prime minister in Haiti -- the country has been without a working government for more than two months -- ended in chaos yesterday. Four opposition senators interrupted a parliamentary vote dragging chairs, desks and other furniture onto the lawn. Police fired tear gas at protesters outside of Parliament, reports the Miami Herald. Significant amounts of aid, aimed at shoring up Haiti's deteriorated economy, is dependent on having a government and a budget approved by both chambers of Parliament.
El Salvador
  • Nayib Bukele swears in as El Salvador's new president tomorrow. The 37-year-old former mayor of San Salvador has promised an innovative agenda, but will have to work to convince lawmakers from other parties to back him, reports Reuters.
  • The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Salvadoran lawmakers to desist from an amnesty law that would eliminate jail penalties for perpetrators of grave human rights violations during the country's long civil war, reports Revista Factum. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
  • "The deeply flawed bill would deny meaningful accountability to thousands of victims of grave crimes," said Human Rights Watch, noting that justice has only recently become possible after the Supreme Court struck down an earlier amnesty law.
  • Nicaragua's Ortega administration released another 51 political prisoners to house arrest, as a June 18 deadline for releasing hundreds of political prisoners approaches. Civil society groups say 182 people remain behind bars in relation to anti-government protests, but the government does not recognize more than 90 as political detainees. (ConfidencialAl Jazeera
  • Honduran police forcibly broke up a protest of thousands of teachers and health workers in Tegucigalpa yesterday -- at least 25 people were injured in the clash. (Associated Press)
  • Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and some of his closest advisers were among the targets of a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation, according to U.S. federal court documents. (Associated Press)
  • Most of the recognizable names in Guatemala's presidential race have been barred from running, leaving Sandra Torres ahead of the pack a couple of weeks ahead of the June 16 vote -- Americas Quarterly has the rundown. (See May 16's post.)
  • A total of 3,182 licit businesses employ 9,371 people in Rio de Janeiro's Complexo da Maré favela. The data comes from a census organized by by Redes da Maré and Observatório de Favelas that aims to flesh out a part of the city usually left blank on the map -- a lacuna that contributes to invisiblizing its inhabitants. (Economist)
  • Norway and Germany might pull out of a fund aimed at reducing Amazon deforestation if Brazil's government unilaterally changes how the money is used. (Reuters)
  • Tens of thousands of students, academics and teachers protested around Brazil against the Bolsonaro administration's education cuts. (Guardian)
  • Mexico's government has begun the process of obtaining legislative ratification for the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement. The NAFTA replacement was negotiated between the three countries last year, and requires lawmakers' approval in each one. The government believes it will be passed quickly. (Wall Street Journal)
  • AMLO's push for government austerity could come at a significant social cost, and prove counterproductive, argues Valeria Moy in Americas Quarterly.
  • Newly declassified U.S. intelligence reports give grisly detail on how Argentina's last military dictatorship ruthlessly destroyed perceived enemies. (Associated Press)
  • Chinese understanding of the region lags behind the marked increase in economic cooperation over the past decade, writes Guo Cunhai in Americas Quarterly.
It's the Economy
  • Latin American economies have lagged for decades. New studies analyze why and leave lessons for both sides of the political aisle, explains the Economist: "The left should understand that fiscal discipline and exports are vital to achieve sustained income growth. But the right needs to learn that monopolies hold back economies, that workers should share in productivity gains and that taxes should be adjusted so that they do not fall disproportionately on consumption rather than income. Otherwise Latin America risks being trapped in a vicious circle of economic stagnation and social and political conflict."
  • A project by photographer Johis Alarcón looks at African culture in Ecuador and how the descendants of enslaved women maintained their their identity and dignity through their spiritual practices. (New York Times)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Nicaragua's government continues dialogue unilaterally (May 30, 2019)

Nicaraguan lawmakers loyal to President Daniel Ortega passed a reparations plan for victims of violence that occurred during anti-government protests over the past year. The law is also an amnesty for police and paramilitaries who committed human rights crimes against civilians, reports Confidencial

The law makes no mention of seeking justice or investigating those responsible for what the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said were at least 325 killings in 2018, notes the Associated Press.

Though the government is touting the move as a bid at reconciliation, it was passed urgently and without discussion or input from civil society -- part of a unilateral agenda since opposition groups withdrew from negotiations with the government.

Ortega's unilateral actions suggest the government is seeking to circumvent the opposition altogether, writes Fulton Armstrong at the AULA blog. (See yesterday's briefs.)

More from Nicaragua
  • A Mother's Day mass will be celebrated today in Managua, commemorating the 18 people who died in a massive anti-government protest last year honoring the mothers of state-violence victims (Madres de Abril). (Confidencial, see post for May 31, 2018)
  • In an interview with Esta Noche, Claudia Paz y Paz, a member of the IACHR's Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), said last year's attack on Mothers Day was not an "isolated" or "sporadic" episode, but rather "a coordinated action" between police and paramilitaries, with "intent to kill." (Confidencial)
News Briefs

  • Colombia's Constitutional Court overruled President Iván Duque's objections to the 2016 peace accord with the FARC guerrillas. The magistrates upheld lawmakers' rejections of modifications Duque wanted to make to a law codifying a transitional peace system, a critical part of the peace agreement. (ReutersCNN)
  • In another judicial blow to Duque, the Supreme Court ordered the "immediate release" of former FARC guerrilla leader Jesus Santrich. Santrich, whose real name is Seuxis Paucias Hernández Solarte, has been at the center of a legal tug-o-war: the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) rejected an extradition request to the U.S. and his release from detention, but he was immediately rearrested on new evidence that he committed crimes after the 2016 peace deal. (AFPEl País, see May 16's post and May 20's briefs.)
  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra called on lawmakers to pass five anti-corruption reforms, and threatened to use a constitutional provision that allows him to dissolve the congress if they do not. (Associated Press)
  • Peru's government promised to spend $140 million to protect 38 nature preserves in the Amazon covering a total of about 17 million hectares, reports EFE.
  • Talks in Norway between Venezuela's government and opposition factions ended without agreement yesterday, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuelan officials looking to turn on the Maduro administration will have to take bold tangible action if they hope to get off the U.S. sanctions list, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuelan military deserters who fled to Colombia hoping to take up arms against President Nicolás Maduro are frustrated that armed incursions don't seem to be on the menu, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • At least six children have died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention this year -- mortality is likely to keep climbing, "both due to draconian immigration policy and because so many are coming, whereas in the past a larger share of migrants were single men rather than children or families," writes Molly Molloy in a NACLA dispatch from the border purgatory.
  • Guatemalan authorities said they broke up a human trafficking network that allegedly moved 800 migrants per year through the country, netting about $10 million in the process. (Associated Press)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's major anti-corruption drive threatens to involve top officials in the last government, including former president Enrique Peña Nieto. A judge issued an arrest warrant this week for former Pemex head Emilio Lozoya, a close ally of Peña Nieto, in relation to alleged corruption. (See yesterday's post.) But Lozoya's lawyer warned yesterday that the government had to sign off on whatever Pemex did. (Reuters)
  • At least 21 people were killed and 30 injured in Mexico's Veracruz state in traffic accident involving a bus carrying Catholic pilgrims and a tractor-trailer. (New York TimesAssociated Press)
El Salvador
  • A Salvadoran prosecutor won a landmark conviction of seven gang members who forced women to marry and kill their husbands for life insurance. (Reuters)
  • Argentina was paralyzed yesterday by a national strike called by unions angered by incessant inflation and President Mauricio Macri's economic policies. Government officials said the move was politically motivated ahead of October's presidential elections. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Amazon basin countries - including Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia - have vowed to band together (political differences amongst their respective governments notwithstanding) against a decision to grant global retailer Amazon Inc the rights to the .amazon domain. (Reuters)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Arrest warrant for Lozoya in Mexico (May 29, 2019)

A Mexican federal judge issued an arrest warrant yesterday for former Mexican state-oil company head, Emilio Lozoya, on corruption charges, though it was temporarily suspended today. (NotimexAnimal Político) Federal authorities said they detected bank account movements that could indicate attempts to hide illicit funds, reports Animal Político. The head of Mexico's largest steelmaker was arrested in Spain on related charges, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Earlier this week authorities froze Lozoya's bank accounts. And last week he was barred from public office for ten years in relation to false wealth declarations. (See yesterday's briefs and Friday's.)

It is the López Obrador administration's boldest move against systemic corruption in his predecessor's government, reports the Washington Post. Lozoya was a prominent member of former President Enrique Peña Nieto's inner circle. It's also a step towards fulfilling one of AMLO's central campaign promises: to tackle Pemex corruption, reports the New York Times.

He is suspected of receiving about $10 million in bribes from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht and there have been allegations that he attempted to thwart the investigation int the case. (See post for Oct. 23, 2017) Yesterday a federal court denied Lozoya's request that the Odebrecht bribery investigation be kept in reserve. The prosecutor general's office will release public versions of the investigation today, reports Animal Político.

Authorities are investigating Lozoya's purchase of a luxury Mexico City home in 2012, possibly with funds from Odebrecht bribes. Authorities raided the home last night. (Animal PolíticoInfobaeReuters)

More from Mexico
  • President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's Morena party will likely perform well in gubernatorial elections in several states this weekend, reports Reuters.
  • AMLO's travel around the country on low-budget airlines has exposed him to citizen love and wrath, reports the Guardian.
News Briefs

El Salvador
  • A vote is expected on a controversial amnesty law in El Salvador that would shield former guerrilla fighters and military troops who committed human rights violations during the country's civil war. (See Friday's post.) The move has brought together a strange alliance of the left and right -- the political parties that stemmed from the guerrilla FMLN and the far-right Arena which had its own death squads -- writes Raymond Bonner in a New York Times op-ed.
  • A report by the U.N. Human Rights Office finds human rights defenders, minorities and indigenous people in Guatemala are subject to wide-scale, wanton attacks by state and non-state actors, reports Voice of America.
  • Venezuela’s central bank reported a sharp contraction of third-quarter gross domestic product, yesterday. The official 2018 inflation rate was 130,060%, reports Efecto Cocuyo. It was its first release of economic data in nearly four years, reports Reuters.
  • The European Union backed International Contact Group on Venezuela will meet in New York next week with representatives of the Lima Group. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said he will deploy militias to supervise government subsidized food boxes -- in defense of the internationally questioned CLAP program he said. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • "US policy towards Venezuela is not motivated by a concern for democracy or human rights. And its arrogant intervention is making the country's humanitarian crisis even worse," writes Gabriel Hetland in Jacobin.
  • U.S. border control policies have specifically pushed migrants to take more dangerous routes in their attempts to enter the country -- the idea was to deter migrants, but instead it has caused thousands of deaths, write Leah Varjacques and Jessia Ma in an interactive New York Times op-ed.
  • Four Latin American women -- from Nicaragua, Ecuador and Guatemala -- filed cases against their governments before the UN human rights committee. They were raped as young girls and denied abortions, they accused the governments of failing to provide appropriate healthcare and denying them abortions, even when it was their legal right to have one. (Guardian)
  • Argentine activists and lawmakers relaunched a bill to legalize abortion with a massive demonstration yesterday. The proposal, backed by lawmakers from across the political spectrum, failed to pass the Senate last year. (AFP)
  • Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's unilateral moves towards releasing prisoners and electoral reform, in the midst of a dialogue breakdown with the Civic Alliance, suggests the government is seeking to circumvent the opposition altogether, writes Fulton Armstrong at the AULA blog. "Ortega seems to think he can end-run a negotiated settlement and undermine his opponents at home and abroad."
  • Brazilian peacekeepers working with the U.N. mission in Haiti lacked clear human rights directives, reports Folha de S. Paulo based on confidential government and U.N. documents.
  • Brutal prison killings in Brazil -- 55 inmates were murdered earlier this week -- are part of a turf war within the country's third largest gang, the Familia do Norte, reports InSight Crime. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Brazil's economic woes are pushing income inequality, which has reached its highest level in recent years, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazil is suing Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco over the financial toll of smoking, reports CNBC.
  • Two Chilean lawmakers proposed labor regulations for app workers -- more than 120,000 people in Chile make a living this way. (Social Geek)

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

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

55 killed in Brazilian prisons (May 28, 2019)

At least 55 people (some reports say 57) were killed in violent clashes in Brazilian state of Amazonas prisons over the past few days. The deaths appear to be related to a power struggle within the powerful Northern Family gang.

On Sunday, 15 inmates were killed during a fight among inmates at Manaus’s Anísio Jobim prison complex, a notoriously violent penitentiary. Some inmates were reported to have been asphyxiated, and others were stabbed with sharpened toothbrushes. The outbreak spread to three other prisons in the same state yesterday, where at least 42-inmates died, most showed signs of asphyxia. 

Authorities said this morning they were were making plans to move inmates around the country's overcrowded prison system. Brazil has one of the world’s largest prison populations. More than 800,000 inmates are held in facilities with a combined capacity for half that number.

News Briefs

More from Brazil 
  • The pace of Amazon deforestation in Brazil increased 20% in the past nine months, compared the same period the previous year, reports the Associated Press.
  • New evidence links Colombian army head Gen. Nicacio Martínez Espinel to the alleged cover-up of civilian killings over a decade ago, reports the Associated Press. The so-called "false-positives" scandal involves up to 5,000 extrajudicial killings carried out in the mid-2000's by army troops pressured to inflate body counts, sometimes even passing off executed civilians as guerrilla fighters felled in combat. Earlier this year Human Rights Watch criticized Martínez Espinel's appointment, in relation to information linking him to false-positives investigations. The new allegations come in the midst of a scandal in which Martínez Espinel ordered military commanders to boost kill rates, in an episode many relate to the false-positives scandal and which some say already contributed to more extrajudicial killings. (See May 20's post.)
  • Health and education workers led demonstrations around Honduras yesterday, in protest of budget cuts. Anti-riot police dispersed protesters near the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa. (La PrensaNina LakhaniCNNAgencies) Similar demonstrations started a month ago, and were violently repressed, see April 30's post.
  • Former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo is being investigated on suspicion of involvement in laundering illegal drug money as part of a wider probe into his 2010-14 administration. The investigation by OAS backed Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) was spurred by Devis Leonel Rivera, a leader of the “Los Cachiros” drug cartel, who testified in a U.S. court that he had given money to Lobo’s 2010 election campaign. (Reuters)
  • Mexican authorities froze former state oil company head Emilio Lozoya's bank accounts, based on apparent illicit funds stemming from corruption. Lozoya has been mentioned, but not charged, in corruption scandals involving Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. (Associated Press and Milenio) Last week the government banned Lozoya and another former Pemex exec from holding public positions for 10 years. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to alleviate medicine shortages at public hospitals, even if it means buying drugs abroad. Health authorities have complained about fiscal austerity that is affecting their work, but AMLO said the problems stem corporate responses to a government crackdown on overpricing. (Reuters)
  • Mexico’s environment minister has been forced to resign after causing a flight she was about to miss to be delayed by 38 minutes, reports the Guardian.
  • Children are among the most affected by Venezuela's humanitarian crisis, reports the Washington Post.
  • A wealthy Venezuelan businessman wanted in Florida for allegedly laundering billions of dollars for top Venezuelan government figures, Raúl Gorrín, played a key role in the failed April 30 opposition uprising, reports the Wall Street Journal. Gorrín reportedly offered release from U.S. travel and financial sanctions key government figures willing to turn on President Nicolás Maduro.
  • The European Union assigned Spanish-Uruguayan former banker and diplomat Enrique Iglesias to spearhead diplomatic efforts to end the Venezuela crisis, focused on calling new elections. (Reuters)
Central America
  • U.S. aid cuts to Central American countries will likely strengthen criminal organizations, according to InSight Crime. (See April 2's post.)
  • The case of four youths who died in a police chase in Buenos Aires province -- two 13-year-olds, one 14 and one 22 -- has raised hackles in Argentina about a national policy that broadens the definition of self-defense for police, based on the case of an officer who lethally shot a suspect who was fleeing. (Página 12) So far 13 people have been detained in the case, which police initially attempted to portray as a car crash. (Infobae)
  • Argentine authorities insist that cases of corruption in the federal police force are just examples of bad apples, but experts say there is necessarily collusion between security forces and criminal organizations for the latter to flourish, reports InSight Crime.
  • Chile is debating a euthanasia bill, a surprisingly liberal turn for a traditionally conservative country. The secular shift in social mores was preceded by a massive expansion in wealth, writes Carlos Peña in a New York Times Español op-ed.
Sweet Spot
  • A Mexican venture turns wasted corn cobs into xylitol, a sugar replacement. The project tackles two problems -- agricultural waste and Mexico's rampant obesity, reports the Guardian.

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

Monday, May 27, 2019

Venezuela talks continue in Oslo (May 27, 2019)

Norway is hosting a second round of talks with representatives of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó. The delegations travelled Saturday. They are expected to meet face to face for the first time in Oslo, after an exploratory round in which Norwegian diplomats acted as go-betweens, reports Deutsche Welle. It is an indication that the negotiation track is gaining momentum after months of escalating tension between the two sides, according to the Associated Press.

Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez and Héctor Rodríguez, the governor of Miranda state -- both of whom participated in the earlier round of Oslo talks -- willlead the government delegation. Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza will also join. Maduro thanked Norway for its efforts. (Efecto Cocuyo)

The opposition delegation is being led by Stalin González, a senior member of the opposition-controlled congress, former Caracas area Mayor Gerardo Blyde and former Transport Minister Fernando Martínez Mottola. (Efecto Cocuyo)

The opposition has been wary of entering negotiations -- which the government has used as a dilatory tactic in the past. "This is not negotiation. This is not dialogue," Guaidó said yesterday. He emphasized that only solutions that lead to Maduro stepping down and new elections are acceptable. (ReutersEfecto Cocuyo)

More from Venezuela
  • At least 30 inmates died on Friday and 26 people were wounded in the midst of clashes between armed prisoners and guards Portuguesa state. Nineteen of those wounded were guards, according to the Venezuelan Prison Observatory. They were wounded with inmate detonated grenades. The disturbances began when the inmates -- who more than double the facility's capacity -- refused to let guards enter for fear of robbery. Authorities said the inmates were attempting to escape. (Efecto CocuyoAssociated PressReuters)
News Briefs

  • Colombian President Iván Duque said he'd appoint an independent commission to investigate the army's orders, manuals and operational documents. The focus of the commission, to be composed of prominent Colombian jurists, will be to ensure that the military’s orders conform to human rights law, said Duque. (New York Times) The announcement comes in the wake of a New York Times report on orders aimed at boosting kill rates that could lead to summary executions. (See last Monday's post.)
  • "People sometimes ask me why I like doing stories that are often violent and cruel, and the answer is that of course I don’t. This is not what I expected to do with my life," writes Alma Guillermoprieto in the New York Review of Books. "But I couldn’t stop writing just because the stories that turned up weren’t the stories that I wanted to write."
  • Rio de Janeiro police kill an average of five people per day -- a record breaking 558 people during the first four months of the year. State governor William Witzel was elected last year on a campaign platform promising heavy handed policing. This year he deployed covert snipers to "neutralize" armed suspects. But some local lawmakers and activists say officers are routinely carrying out extrajudicial killings, reports the New York Times. State representative Renata Souza called on the United Nations and the Organization of American States to investigate.
  • True crime footage is Brazilian television's latest sensation, in the midst of the national spike in violence, reports the Washington Post.
  • Pro-Bolsonaro rallies were reported yesterday in more than 300 towns and cities, including Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Brasília, though many appeared small, reports the Guardian. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • A San Pedro Sula community fighting street gang domination has been put at risk by a recent New York Times report, according to Revista Factum. Residents who banded together to confront the powerful MS-13 say their names and pictures were published without consent, and put their lives in greater danger than before. (See May 7's briefs on the original piece.)
El Salvador
  • An in-depth investigation by El Faro shows how former Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes and his wife, Vanda Pignato, diverted public money to fund a lavish lifestyle -- including luxury brands, flights in private jets, and support for an unacknowledged daughter.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's pragmatism -- albeit with admirable goals -- could put the country's institutional stability at risk, argues Luis Pérez de Acha in a New York Times Español op-ed
  • Over a dozen collectives in Mexico who search for their disappeared family members gathered to pool their knowledge and establish methodologies to cover ground where their loved-ones might be buried. (Pié de Página)
Regional Relations
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales and former Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner are making bids for new terms this year -- but the regional context has shifted significantly since the Pink Tide heyday, raising questions over how their administrations will relate to conservative governments in the region, writes Juan Pablo Tovar for Connectas.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted 50 Haitian migrants on an overloaded boat and sent them back to the island, reports the Miami Herald.
  • On the same day, another crew intercepted 10 Cuban migrants and two suspected smugglers 12 miles off of Villa Clara Province, Cuba, also Miami Herald.
El Chapo
  • Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán's lawyers say he is showing signs of psychological scarring from over two years of solitary confinement, but U.S. federal prosecutors are concerned its part of an escape ploy, reports the Washington Post.
  • Hand sewn traditional dresses are a symbol of resistance for Mexican Rarámuri indigenous women who are pushing back against assimilation, reports the New York Times.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Friday, May 24, 2019

Salvadoran lawmakers postpone war crimes amnesty bill (May 24, 2019)

Salvadoran lawmakers postponed a controversial amnesty bill that would prohibit jail time for former military personnel and leftist guerrillas accused of atrocities during the country's long civil war. Lawmakers from the ruling FMLN party (with roots in the guerrilla movement during the war) and the conservative Arena party (which favors the military) are in a race against time to approve the measure. President-elect Nayib Bukele opposes the measure and could veto it if the law is not passed before he takes office on June 1. (Reuters)

Following an outcry from victims' and their families, rights groups, international diplomats, and the United Nations, a 12-member congressional commission voted to review two other proposals and consult with members of civil society, the armed forces and the Catholic Church next week. A new proposal could be voted on by Wednesday.

The so-called "National Reconciliation Law" seems directly aimed at stopping the a long-delayed court case against the alleged perpetrators of the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which soldiers from an American-trained battalion slaughtered nearly 1,000 peasants, writes Raymond Bonner in the Atlantic. The trial was only able to get underway in 2017, after the Salvadoran Supreme Court struck down a 1992 amnesty law. (See post for July 14, 2016)

Indeed, the bill is a barely disguised attempt to revive the struck down amnesty law, argues El Faro in an editorial.

More from El Salvador
  • Salvadoran vice-president elect Felix Ulloa hinted that the country could reinstate diplomatic relations with Taiwan. (Taiwan News)

Nicaraguan opposition strike

An opposition-organized national strike yesterday in Nicaragua significantly impacted the country's activity yesterday, reports Confidencial. The opposition Alianza Cívica called the 24-hour strike in protest in order to pressure the Ortega administration into releasing hundreds of political prisoners. (See Tuesday's post and Wednesday's briefs.)

There was little traffic in Managua and other main cities yesterday, reports AFP. Some businesses and most supermarkets, except the biggest chains, remained closed, as well as schools and universities. Other stayed open in response to government threats of retaliatory sanctions. 

News Briefs

  • Norwegian officials invited representatives of both sides of Venezuela's legitimacy battle to a second round of talks in Oslo, that could take place next week. Bloomberg reports that despite scant advances in last week's discussions (see yesterday's post), the focus will remain on calling new elections in Venezuela.
  • Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro accused the U.S. of angling to destroy the country's food aid program. U.S. authorities are preparing anctions and criminal charges against Venezuelan officials and others suspected of using the food program to launder money for the Maduro government, reports Reuters.
  • Navy Adm. Craig Faller, head of U.S. Southern Command (Southcom), told The Hill this week that he views embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's influence in the region as a "significant threat" to democracy and stability.
  • A U.S.-made gun is more likely to murder a Mexican than an American, reports the Economist in a piece on how U.S. manufactured guns are flooding Latin America and boosting homicide rates in a violence-plagued region.
  • Hundreds of human-rights defenders have been killed in Colombia since the 2016 peace treaty with the FARC -- and afro-Colombians are a particular target, reports The Nation.
  • Colombian lawmakers from several political parties are working on a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana. (Colombia Reports)
  • Mexico's lower chamber of congress unanimously passed a bill regulating the use of force by the country's new National Guard, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs on the measure.)
  • Former Pemex head Emilio Lozoya was barred from public office for ten years in relation to false wealth declarations. (Animal Político) Lozoya has been investigated in relation to Odebrecht bribes in exchange for public contracts in Mexico. (See post for Oct. 23, 2017)
  • A quiet U.S. visa program allows elderly Mexicans to visit their undocumented offspring living in the U.S. (Washington Post)
  • Brazil's highest court voted that sexual orientation and gender must be included Brazil’s anti-discrimination law. The measure would give LGBT people legal protection in the midst of a reported spike in attacks since President Jair Bolsonaro started climbing in the polls during last year's presidential campaign. (Washington Post)
  • Bolsonaro won congressional approval for his reorganization of the executive branch, which reduces ministries from 29 to 20. It was a crucial test for his leadership, and a loss would have threatened to derail his agenda, according to Reuters. However lawmakers rejected his proposal to put he Council for Financial Activities Control (COAF)under the control of Justice Minister Sergio Moro.
  • They also rejected Bolsonaro's move to put indigenous territorial claims under the aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture. (Reuters)
  • Brazilian conservatives are increasingly critical of Bolsonaro, who they believe is failing to effectively govern in his first few months in office. Just five months in, there are already whispers of impeachment, reports Bloomberg.
  • Incensed at the friendly fire, Bolsonaro called on die-hard supporters to march in his defense. Critics say the move ratifies a dangerous tendency towards polarization, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazilian military judges ruled soldiers accused of homicide and negligence in an April shooting should be released from detention while they await trial, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazilian authorities are taking measures to keep violent soccer fan run gangs out of stadiums during the upcoming Copa América games. But the policies will have little impact on the criminal organizations' power, influence and reach, reports InSight Crime.
  • Rio de Janeiro grapples with how to represent its slavery past -- a tragic history that has often been glossed over in Brazil. (The Economist)
Central America
  • "Central America’s maras, or transnational gangs, are symptoms of societies suffering from legacies of Cold War-fueled atrocities and authoritarian rule, misguided law enforcement policies, and long-term entanglement with U.S. culture and foreign policy," writes Anthony Fontes at the Aula Blog.
  • Investigators say Nueva Concepción Mayor Otoniel Lima Recinos used his office to run a criminal enterprise that benefited a notorious drug trafficking group -- just one of a series of particularly egregious cases that mark Guatemalan politics in an election year. (InSight Crime/El Periódico)
  • What to expect from a potential Alberto Fernández presidency in Argentina? A return to the more pragmatic Kirchnerismo of the early 2000s, argues Bruno Binetti in Americas Quarterly.
  • Whatever the motive, former Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has struck a blow against noxious political polarization by (somewhat) stepping out of the electoral limelight, argues Marcelo García in a New York Times Español op-ed. (See last Monday's post.) 
  • Indeed, Cristina's feint towards the vice-presidency shifts the campaign focus towards the center, a potentially positive direction, according to the Economist.
  • This spring’s 13th Havana Biennial was chock-full of paintings and sculptures that subtly took aim at Cuban authority and society, according to Richard Feinberg in Americas Quarterly.
Words Matter
  • The Guardian has updated its style guide to better reflect environmental crises: "climate emergency, crisis or breakdown" instead of "climate change."
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Diplomacy efforts for Venezuela (May 23, 2019)

Diplomatic efforts at finding a solution to the Venezuela crisis -- mainly the International Contact Group and talks conducted in Norway last week -- have both avoided falling into a "dialogue trap," in which the parts can posture and avoid advancing on real issues, write Geoff Ramsey and Kristen Martinez-Gugerli in the Venezuela Weekly.
Four people familiar with the Venezuela talks that took place in Oslo last week said representatives for President Nicolás Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó never met directly, but rather exchange communications through diplomatic intermediaries, reports the Washington Post. U.S. officials are skeptical of Maduro's good faith and that the talks will lead to his removal from office.

At least a portion of Chavismo is open to exit negotiations, amid increasing internal friction and recognition that the status quo is untenable, according to Alejandro Arreaza in Americas Quarterly.
In the ICG meeting with Maduro last week he apparently seemed doubtful about free elections, but the ICG remained firmly committed that elections are the only path forward. (Venezuela Weekly)

The U.S. is increasingly leaning towards diplomatic efforts as well. Yesterday the  the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a bi-partisan bill supporting a strategy of nonviolent diplomatic pressure over the use of force. (Venezuela Weekly)

Though the goals are correct, the U.S. administration is mismanaging an international coalition seeking a democratic transition in Venezuela, argues Javier Corrales in a New York Times op-ed. He points to U.S. President Donald Trump's criticism of Colombia's drug strategies, hardened sanctions against Cuba, and failure to engage with Mexico as elements of the administration's alienation of key allies.

More from Venezuela
  • Maduro’s government is increasingly turning to allies Cuba, China and Russia to help offset a dire health crisis government authorities blame on U.S. sanctions, reports Reuters.
  • A deadly encounter between Venezuela's military and an indigenous Pemon tribe community on February 22 formed an under reported sub-story of the broader aid battle that took place between Venezuela's government and the opposition that week. Villagers intent on stopping troops on their way to block international aid clashed with the military. Dozens of villagers were wounded and three were killed by military shooting. A Reuters reconstruction of the day has surprising details: Pemon villagers held more than 40 members of the military hostage. Authorities detained 23 Pemon tribesmen, some of whom say they were beaten in custody. 
News Briefs

  • Mexican senators unanimously passed secondary legislation in support of the new National Guard project. It establishes rules of engagement for all of Mexico's security agents, including those participating in the new National Guard. But it does not address victims rights, as requested by international rights organizations, reports Animal Político.
  • Americas Quarterly looks at how lawmakers sought consensus on the law, compared to the contentious debate that characterized the original National Guard bill.
  • The National Guard is on the ground in eight of Mexico's most violent states, though secondary laws regulating their activity haven't been passed yet, reports Univisión.
  • Mexico's refugee agency is set to process 60,000 asylum applications this year -- double last year's number. Overwhelmed, and underfunded by a government with tight fiscal austerity goals, authorities have asked the United Nations Refugee Agency for help, reports Reuters.
  • A year after a young Guatemalan woman was shot in the head by U.S. Border Patrol, her family is still awaiting answers over who killed her and why, reports the Guardian.
  • Colombia's military commanders are attempting to identify the sources of a recent New York Times piece that revealed orders to boost army kill rates, according to El EspectadorHuman Rights Watch reacted with concern, saying retaliation against sources would be "grave." (See Monday's post.)
  • Photojournalist Federico Ríos said he was forced to flee his Colombia after being harassed online over comments by lawmakers in relation to the NYT piece, said the Committee to Protect Journalists. The author of the piece, Nicholas Casey also left the country. (See yesterday's briefs.) HRW and the Inter-American Press Association condemned possible retaliation against journalists. (Telam)
  • Brazil's judiciary has only recently started permitting media interviews with former president Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva -- jailed last year on a highly questioned corruption conviction. Glen Greenwald from The Intercept spoke to him for an hour, in which Lula said: "The only thing I really want, the only thing, is that my case be judged objectively. I don’t want anything else. I want the judges at some point to care about having hard evidence, either from the side of the prosecution or from the defendants."
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro backtracked on a portion of a gun ownership decree that would have allowed all people with gun licenses to carry semi-automatic weapons. However, the brunt of the loosened regulation remains in place, reports the Associated Press.
  • A case before Brazil's Supreme Court asks judges force lawmakers to criminalize violence against gay people, reports Reuters
  • Algeria and Argentina have been declared malaria-free by the World Health Organization, a "historic achievement." (Guardian)
  • An ultra-conservative anti-abortion bill under consideration by Guatemalan lawmakers threatens women suspected of having an abortion with prison sentences of six to twelve years -- which puts naturally occurring obstetric complications under suspicion, reports the Progressive. Furthermore, language aimed at defining families as heterosexual could also impact single-parent households, say activists. (See May 2's briefs on the bill.)
  • Guatemalan indigenous communities are doubling down to defend their right to consultation regarding development on their territories -- despite a government that has intensified attacks against environmental defenders and backed out of court-mandated consultations, reports Nacla.
  • Dream away Thursday afternoon with this account of Amazon eco-tourism in the New York Times.

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