Friday, June 28, 2019

Hondurans protest on coup anniversary (June 28, 2019)

Honduran authorities vowed to maintain order during protests called for today, the tenth anniversary of a coup against then-president Manuel Zelaya. (Proceso) Thousands are expected to participate in the mass protest, in the midst of two months of increasingly broad protests against the government and current President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH), which have been violently repressed in many cases. Three protesters were killed in clashes with police last week. (AFP) Various parts of Tegucigalpa were guarded by military troops this morning, including access to the international airport, reports Proceso.

The U.N. human rights office deployed special observation missions to observe security forces' behavior with protesters. (ConfidencialHN)

Politicians across the spectrum -- from Zelaya, who is now an opposition leader, to first post-coup elected president Porfirio Lobo, of JOH's National Party -- say the current crisis is the most acute since the 2009 coup. (See yesterday's briefs.) Protests initially started against health and education sector reforms, but have morphed into calls for JOH to resign. JOH was reelected in 2017 in elections marked by significant irregularities.

Recaps of the 2009 coup at Proceso and El Heraldo. In a new book on the coup, Zelaya said the current head of Honduran armed forces led the group of soldiers that forced him out of bed and onto a plane to Costa Rica at dawn on June 28, 2009. (Criterio)

The U.S. has been a stalwart supporter of the Honduran interim government that took Zelaya's place, and subsequent administrations -- including JOH. U.S. lawmaker Jan Schakowsky calls for the U.S. to suspend security aid, in particular, which "is being used to lift up a dictatorial president who abuses power and implicates our country in the human rights abuses of his regime." (The Hill)

News Briefs

  • Nicaragua's government refuses to liberate 83 remaining political prisoners -- whom authorities allege committed common crimes. The opposition Civic Alliance refuses to return to the negotiating table until the remaining political detainees are freed. And the country's crisis stagnates as the governing Ortega family resorts to increasingly Orwellian discourses, writes Gioconda Belli in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • U.S. asylum officers say the Trump administration's Migrant Protection Protocols threaten migrants' lives and is "fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our Nation." The asylum officers' union joined the ACLU and other groups legally challenging the program that has sent 12,000 migrants to await in Mexico while their asylums claims are evaluated in the U.S. (Washington Post)
  • U.S. lawmakers voiced opposition to "third safe country negotiations," and said that plans to force asylum seekers to apply for haven in Guatemala or Mexico -- as the Trump administration is seeking to do -- would be contrary to U.S. law since the countries do not have adequate asylum and protection processes in place. (U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs)
  • Guatemala is one of the biggest sources of undocumented migrants to the U.S. The Guardian reports that churches and clergymen are playing a key role in human smuggling networks.
  • The Atlantic has a photo essay on migrants caught in Mexico's crackdown on undocumented immigrants at its southern border with Guatemala.
  • A Mexican migrant shelter denounced an unauthorized attempt by Mexico’s National Guard to enter the facility and question migrants. The shelter director said the security force attempted to intimidate him. (ReutersAnimal Político)
  • A Guatemalan prosecutor raided the offices of the Supreme Election Tribunal to investigate alleged discrepancies in the vote count for the first round of a presidential election this month. The investigation was ordered by the attorney general's office, reports Reuters. The move comes in the wake of recognized data transmission discrepancies. Though the investigation is ongoing, experts interviewed by Nómada -- including Luis von Ahn -- say the preliminary evidence points to errors rather than intentional fraud.
  • All the general election candidates' immunity from prosecution officially ended after the June 16 vote. This includes the candidates who are expected to compete in the August second round, until they are officially proclaimed winners, reports El Periódico.
  • Aldo Iván Dávila Morales seems poised to become Guatemala's first openly gay elected lawmaker. (Associated Press)
El Salvador
  • Women prosecuted for obstetric complications in El Salvador -- condemned as assassins of their fetuses -- are invariably poor and give birth outside of hospital settings. Revista Factum has a feature on the dozens of women convicted to jail time for alleged abortions. More than half of the women prosecuted under the country's strict abortion laws gave birth in bathrooms or latrines -- and most of those were found guilty of aggravated homicide.
  • An amnesty bill in El Salvador's congress is likely to be vetoed by President Nayib Bukele. This means that people who committed human rights violations -- including wholesale massacres -- during the country's civil war can be prosecuted. But amnesties serve a purpose, and tearing them up can be counter-productive, argues the Economist's Bello column.
  • Peruvian indigenous communities are racking up court victories against mining and oil projects that didn't properly consult with local tribes, reports Reuters.
  • Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht payed former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, over US$32 million in personal bribes in exchange for state-funded infrastructure contracts, according to a former employee's testimony. (TeleSUR)
  • Anti-corruption investigations in Peru have seriously weakened the traditional conservative parties, opening up a tentative space for the left to gain traction in the 2021 elections, writes César R. Nureña in NACLA.
  • The U.N. Security Council will visit Colombia in July to look at the implementation of the 2016 peace treaty with the FARC, reports the Associated Press.
  • U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet visited Venezuela last week, and called for the immediate liberation of political prisoners. In a statement to the press she implicitly blamed Venezuela's government for the country's economic and humanitarian crisis, but she also unequivocally said that US sanctions on oil and gold exports exacerbated the situation, reports David Smilde's Venezuela Weekly.
  • The Venezuela Weekly also notes that the lack of announcements about further Norway facilitated talks isn't surprising: "Stops, starts and jostling over the shape of the process is par for the course in these types of negotiations."
  • Venezuela pulled out of the OAS -- but the regional organization recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó's appointed representative. (Miami Herald)
  • Uruguay withdrew from the Medellín General Assembly meeting yesterday in protest of the presence of what it said was an illegitimate delegation from Venezuela, reports Reuters.
  • Argentine pollsters are unusually quiet ahead of the August party primaries that serve as a sort of unofficial first round to the October general election. The result is an added layer of doubt on an already uncertain election, reports Bloomberg.
  • Argentine authorities have seized about 1,000 guns and hundreds of explosives from an international criminal gang, reports the Associated Press.
  • Revelations of apparent collusion between judge (and now Justice Minister) Sergio Moro and prosecutors in the case against former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva dealt a blow to Brazil's landmark corruption investigations and last year's presidential election, writes Fábio Kerche at the AULA blog.
  • Cocaine seizures along Paraguay’s border with Bolivia have tripled, reports InSight Crime.
  • Four men with suspected ties to the Islamic State (IS) group were arrested in Nicaragua after crossing illegally from Costa Rica, reports the BBC.
  • Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said gas pipeline contracts awarded under his predecessor were "abusive" toward the state and might not be honored. The statements have fanned concerns that contracts signed by the previous administration might not be honored, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico's Mayan Riviera tourism is threatened by foul-smelling seaweed, reports the Guardian.

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

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Venezuela claims to have thwarted internationally coordinated coup attempt (June 27, 2019)

Venezuelan authorities say they thwarted a complicated military coup plot against President Nicolás Maduro. Information Minister Jorge Rodríguez said the plan would have involved an invasion by Israeli, Colombian and North American agents, the seizure of military bases, a raid on the central bank and the assassination or kidnapping of several senior officials -- including Maduro. He claims it would have been carried out by active duty and retired military officers, and was to have been executed between Sunday and Monday this past weekend. (Washington Post and AFP)

Maduro said the government would be "relentless" in its response to a "fascist coup attempt." (EFE)

Rodríguez said the plan focused on springing former defense minister Raul Baduel from jail and proclaim him president. Rodríguez also accused Maduro's former intelligence chief Cristopher Figuera of seeking "hundreds of thousands of dollars" for supporting the abortive uprising. Figuera, who fled the country after an aborted uprising and is now in the U.S., denied the charges, reports the Washington Post. The allegations come after Figuera granted the Wapo an extensive interview in which he accused high level officials and family members of money laundering and corruption. (See yesterday's briefs.)

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó -- accused by the government of orchestrating the alleged coup -- dismissed the accusations as fantastical, as did the Colombian and U.S. governments. The opposition pointed to a long history of such claims, and said the Maduro administration uses such narratives to justify crackdowns on dissent, reports the Associated Press.

News Briefs

  • The Venezuela crisis is high on the OAS General Assembly meeting agenda this week. Colombian President Iván Duque said that ending Venezuela's dictatorship is a regional obligation, in his speech in Medellín yesterday. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro called on member states to avoid internal polarization and the "traps" created by authoritarian states to pit democracies against each other. (EFE) He also said it was “ridiculous” to blame U.S. financial and economic sanctions for Venezuela’s woes. A recent United Nations’ statement by human rights chief Michelle Bachelet that economic sanctions have exacerbated Venezuela's humanitarian crisis, only help prop up Maduro's dictatorial regime, he said. (Miami Herald)
  • The United States and Guatemala are close to reaching a safe third country agreement as part of an effort to curb U.S-bound migrants, said U.S. President Donald Trump yesterday. (Reuters)
  • The image of a drowned Salvadoran migrant and his toddler daughter have become a focal point in the debate over U.S. migration policy. (See yesterday's briefs.) They were victims of " fast-moving waters and an asylum system unprepared for the crush of Central Americans fleeing crime and poverty," writes the Washington Post. But they are just two of dozens of people who have drowned so far this year trying to cross the treacherous Rio Grande, reports the Guardian
  • Some analyses on what it means to use such images of personal tragedy in the media and to view them as spectators -- New York Times and Guardian.
  • Tomorrow is the anniversary of the 2009 coup against Honduran president Mel Zelaya. The country is in the midst of its worst crisis since, with violent street protests demanding the resignation of current president Juan Orlando Hernández, reports AFP.
  • The U.N. human rights office deployed special observation missions to diverse parts of Honduras to monitor use of force against protesters, reports Criterio.
  • Protesters were initially spurred by education and health sector reforms. Al Jazeera reports that 90 percent of public schools in the country are facing an infrastructure crisis and hospitals are turning away patients.
  • A sustained reduction in homicides in Honduras -- 47 percent between 2013 and 2017 -- has led to a decrease in the impunity rate -- from 96 percent in 2013 to 87 percent in 2017 -- according to a new report by Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa. Despite this bit of good news, other evidence, such as an alarming uptick in massacres this year, demonstrates a broad level of insecurity in Honduras, notes InSight Crime.
  • Riots, escapes, extortion rackets and killings are now common in Venezuela's police station jails, which are facing the same issues as seen within the country’s prisons:  overcrowding, violence, corruption and the rise of prison bosses, reports InSight Crime.
  • Jamaica passed a medical marijuana bill two years ago, but the nascent industry still faces significant regulatory hurdles, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Spanish police arrested a member of the Brazilian air force traveling with the Brazilian president’s advance party for the G20 summit in Japan after 39kg of cocaine was discovered in his luggage during a stopover, reports the Guardian. The episode is particularly embarrassing as President Jair Bolsonaro has promised to pursue drug traffickers and defends Brazilian military professionalism and integrity, reports the New York Times
  • Brazilian police are investigating whether mining company Vale SA carried out detonations that could have trigged a tailings dam collapse in January, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazil needs energy reform -- but Bolsonaro will have to work with Congress to achieve that, write Lisa Viscidi and Nate Graham in Americas Quarterly.
  • Chilean intellectual and activist Marta Harnecker died this month. She was perhaps one of the last remaining stars of the "hard" left in Latin America, writes Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times op-ed that recounts Harnecker's trajectory.

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

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

UN approves political mission for Haiti (June 26, 2019)

News Briefs

  • The U.N. security council approved a new political mission that will replace all peacekeeping missions in Haiti starting Oct. 16. The U.S. ambassador celebrated new realities in Haiti, but France expressed concern at political instability and deteriorated economic conditions. Haiti is in the midst of violent protests demanding President Jovenel Moïse's resignation and skyrocketing inflation. A recent U.N. report potentially links police to a Port-Au-Prince gang killing sprre last year that claimed at least 26 lives. (See Monday's post.) There was no mention of the report during yesterdays vote, reports the Miami Herald. The resolution was drafted by the U.S., and the Dominican Republic abstained, arguing that it’s wording isn’t robust enough to promote development and peace in Haiti, reports the Associated Press. The the representatives of Peru, Germany, France and the Dominican Republic all highlighted their disappointment on the lack of mention of climate change in the resolution, and its ramifications on Haiti’s security and stability.
  • Guatemala will start a vote-by-vote recount of the recent general election ballots, today. Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal says a software malfunction caused a counting error, reports the Associated Press. (Nómada reviews all the irregularity accusations.)
  • The choices in Guatemala's upcoming presidential run-off are hardly inspiring. Former first lady Sandra Torres is dogged by accusations of financial wrongdoing and illicit campaign financing -- though she claims she is cooperating with investigators and that the charges are politically motivated. Her opponent, Alejandro Giammatei is known as the eternal candidate, and represents a mishmash of right wing parties disbanded due to corruption scandals, reports CNN. He is being called Jimmy Morales 2.0 in some circles, due to his close relationship with the current president's closest advisors.
  • This is a valid take, but it's also important to note the increasing importance of grassroots movements in the recent election. Though Thelma Cabrera didn't make the second round, she showed the potential strength Indigenous-led grassroots campaign. Her MLP party was key in pointing out the irregularities that spurred the recount. (Conversation)
  • The U.S. will deploy 89 customs agents to Guatemala by the end of August, part of a joint agreement to curb illegal immigration. Reuters reports on a document signed by both countries on May 27, which makes no reference to Guatemala potentially serving as a third safe country. (See June 17's post.)
  • U.S. immigration authorities have nowhere appropriate to send children apprehended at the border -- Trump administration official said a $4.5 billion emergency spending package is desperately needed to provide safe shelter for minors. Lawyers who visited one Texas Border Patrol station described scenes of sick and lonely children without adult care. More than 100 children were moved back into the facility yesterday, which has become a focal point in the debate about U.S. immigration policies. (Washington PostNew York Times)
  • Sometimes it takes images to drive home a crisis. The photo of a Salvadoran man who drowned with his toddler daughter crossing the Rio Grande seems likely to become one of those -- some are already comparing it to the 2015 image of the drowned Syrian three-year-old. (GuardianWashington PostNew York Times) Photographer Julia Le Duc tells the Guardian: "You get numb to it, but when you see something like this it re-sensitizes you. You could see that the father had put her inside his T-shirt so the current wouldn’t pull her away."
Regional Relations
  • The OAS General Assembly meets in Colombia starting today -- issues on the agenda include Central American migration, Venezuelan migration, the Venezuela crisis, corruption crackdowns, and a region in search of elusive unity, according to Al Jazeera.
  • Nicaragua's crisis will also occupy a central place in the OAS agenda -- both the official gathering and parallel meetings, reports Confidencial. A working group has drafted a resolution that would sanction high level officials.
  • Human Rights Watch asked Colombia -- which holds the General Assembly presidency -- to pass a resolution pressuring Nicaragua's government. HRW proposes sanctions against President Daniel Ortega and high level officials, suspension of all cooperation with Nicaraguan security forces, urge Nicaragua to create a special investigation unit for political abuses, and to internationally pursue Nicaraguan officials responsible for torture.
  • Nicaragua's Ortega government freed hundreds of political prisoners under a much criticized amnesty law put together after dialogue with the political opposition failed. But the liberation has renewed activist vigor, and opposition leaders are returning to the streets to protest the government, writes José Luis Rocha Gómez in Nueva Sociedad.
  • The U.S. has not lost interest in Venezuela, said special envoy Elliot Abrams yesterday. The U.S. official also rejected a possible transition government that incorporates current Venezuela leader Nicolás Maduro, reports Reuters.
  • A major Venezuela-Colombia border crossing reopened this month for the first time since February, which will help keep Venezuelans off remote trails where they are easily extorted by illegal groups, reports InSight Crime.
  • Colombian President Iván Duque has not sought to implode the 2016 peace agreement with the FARC. Instead he's submitted the pact to a constant low-level contempt, and failed to fulfill most of the obligations it outlines towards former guerrilla fighters. The result has been an alarming "visibilization" of violence in Colombia, writes Jerónimo Ríos Sierra in Nueva Sociedad.
  • Bolivia's government plans to declare a national femicide emergency, faced with an unrelenting wave of gender-motivated murders, reports EFE.
  • Brazil's Supreme Court rejected a request to free former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva from jail while they evaluate accusations that the judge who convicted him acted with partiality. That case will be addressed later this year. Lula's lawyers based their arguments on recent reporting by The Intercept that reveals private messages between Judge Sergio Moro (now Justice Minister) and prosecutors. (Al JazeeraDeutsche Welle)
  • The revelations demonstrate what Lula supporters have long argued: that the case against him was politically motivated -- he is a political prisoner and should be freed, argues Bruno Bimbi in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Brazilian lawmakers nixed a presidential decree giving the Agriculture Ministry power over indigenous territories. The move comes the day after the Supreme Court also ruled against President Jair Bolsonaro's second attempt to grant land demarcation powers to the farm-lobby-dominated ministry, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Bolsonaro revoked a presidential decree loosening gun control ownership a day before the Supreme Court was due to debate its constitutionality, reports AFP.
  • Brazil’s government expects the lower house of Congress to vote on pension reform before lawmakers break for recess on July 18, reports Reuters.
  • Argentina's electoral campaign started the year with a hyper-polarized narrative -- but over the past month the main players have all swung strongly towards the center. Indeed, from either side, the name of the game is now unity, which will be key for whoever leads the incoming government, writes Andrés Malamud in Americas Quarterly.
  • This weekend candidates were required to finalize their nominations -- Americas Quarterly has the roundup.
  • An IMF delegation will meet with Argentine opposition presidential candidates, Alberto Fernández and Roberto Lavagna, both of whom have promised to renegotiate the terms of debt the country has with the organization. (BA Times)

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

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Honduran military police fire on students, wound five (June 25, 2019)

Honduran military police opened fire on hundreds of protesting students. They wounded at least five students at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH) -- some reports say eight. Forty military police officers, with about 300 police, clashed with about 2.000 students who blocked a road with the Tegucigalpa campus, demanding President Juan Orlando Hernández's resignation. Security forces said they responded to a hostage situation and that students threw Molotov cocktails. 

The incursion represents a violation of university autonomy, said UNAH rector Francisco Herrera. The University decided to suspend academic activity until further notice.

Hernández, often referred to as JOH, said an investigation into the episode was already underway, but downplayed its gravity: saying the clash originated between protesting students and others wishing to attend classes.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras expressed its "deep dismay over the consequences of the operation of the military forces".

Conflict in Honduras has been growing for nearly two months. Though it originated with austerity reforms for education and health sectors, the protests have morphed into calls for JOH's resignation and increasingly involve broader swathes of society. (See Friday's post.)

News Briefs

  • Former Venezuelan intelligence chief Gen. Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, who played a key role in the failed April uprising against Nicolás Maduro, arrived in the U.S. yesterday, after two months in hiding in Colombia. The Washington Post reports in depth on the conspiracy -- the timetable was moved up by Figuera -- and how a Chavista stalwart switched sides. Figuera said his investigations while in Venezuela uncovered evidence of extensive illicit activity by key government officials and family members, including illegal gold trade, money laundering, and apparent government protection of illegal groups operating in Venezuela.
  • Months into Venezuela's legitimacy crisis -- and with Maduro still firmly in power -- citizens of liberal democratic countries have shown a romantic misconception of how dictatorships are toppled, argues Raúl Gallegos in a New York Times op-ed. International policy makers must prepare for worst-case scenarios, including who might take control if the government does eventually fall.
  • Last week Mexico's new immigration chief -- the last one quit after the migration deal with the U.S. -- promised to reduce migrants entering the country by 60 percent. Over the weekend newly deployed National Guard troops stepped up containment efforts at Mexico's southern border -- on Saturday alone they reportedly detained nearly 800 migrants heading north. (Guardian)
  • The deployment has been less dramatic than some expected, but has, nonetheless, scared would-be migrants -- at least temporarily, reports the New York Times.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador admitted the National Guard may have committed "excesses" in the detention of migrant women in Ciudad Juárez. (Reuters)
  • Mexico's migration concessions to the U.S. were made without an integrated strategy or budget allocation, writes Alexandra Delano in a critical Aula Blog post. Conceding to U.S. President Donald Trump's demand was a strategic error for Mexico, she argues, and leaves the country in a weakened position for future negotiations.
  • In any case the joint U.S.-Mexico repressive strategy is unlikely to work because it ignores the significant pull and push factors driving migration, writes Sandra Weiss in IPS.
  • U.S. border patrol agents in south Texas discovered the bodies of four people near the Mexican border. A woman in her 20s, a toddler, and two infants, they are believed to have died of dehydration and heat exposure after crossing the Rio Grande. (Associated Press)
  • In a separate case, a Salvadoran migrant and his toddler daughter drowned crossing the Rio Grande. (La Jornada)
Regional Relations
  • New York Times series features "op-eds from the future." In one, Malka Older sketches out a future in which 20 Latin American countries plan a supranational political and economic union. "Latinamérica Unida," which will have a common currency pegged to the yuan, is vehemently opposed by the U.S. in this hypothetical scenario. But the piece is relevant for today, particularly Older's argument that economic union -- and the prosperity it would likely encourage -- would reduce the benefits of undocumented migration to the U.S.
  • In an opinion piece from the present, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden lashes out at Trump's Latin America policies -- particularly the vilification of immigrants in conjunction with policies, such as slashing aid to Central America, that seem likely to increase undocumented migration. (Miami Herald)
  • The United States and Canada slapped new sanctions on Nicaraguan officials close to President Daniel Ortega on Friday. They are accused of repressing dissidents and the press, enacting repressive laws, and denying people medical care, reports AFP.
  • The Bolsonaro administration has basically taken a wrecking ball to Brazil's highly regarded foreign office, Itamaraty, reports the Guardian. President Jair Bolsonaro has jettisoned decades of soft-power policy: cozying up to right-wing nationalists, giving up climate leadership, and irking China. The country's foreign relations head believes global warming is a Marxist conspiracy and that Nazism is a leftist movement.
  • A Brazilian Supreme Court judge suspended Bolsonaro's plan to transfer power over indigenous land to the country's agriculture ministry, reports Al Jazeera. (See last Thursday's briefs, and yesterday's.)
  • Another Supreme Court judge postponed a habeas corpus request from former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva that was scheduled for today. (Globo)
  • Remember Bolsonaro's "golden shower" porn video tweet during Carnival? (See March 6's briefs.) The alleged debauchery was actually performance art by a provocative collective with solid philosophic underpinings. The artists fled São Paulo after the president's Tweet, afraid of increasing violence against LGBT people, reports the Guardian.
  • Italian mob boss Rocco Morabito, better known as "the cocaine king of Milan" escaped from a Uruguayan prison, along with three other foreign prisoners. (Guardian)
  • The drug route you've never heard of goes from South America to Australia, passing through South Pacific islands better known for tourism than trafficking, reports the Guardian.
  • Latin America faces a grave obesity health crisis, in large part related to processed foods. Clear food labels could help citizens discern what they are eating, but industry lobbyists have systematically campaigned in favor of disinformation, writes Soledad Barruti in a New York Times Español op-ed. Chile implemented a paradigmatic warning system for junk food, but attempts to replicate it in other countries have foundered under industry opposition.
  • Small-scale fishermen in Peru have turned into avid conservationists of the giant manta ray, as eco-tourism provides better economic opportunities than declining fish stock. (Guardian)

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

Monday, June 24, 2019

At least 26 people killed in La Saline massacre last year -- U.N. (June 24, 2019)

At least 26 people were killed in a gang-killing spree in November of last year that has been dubbed the La Saline massacre.  A United Nations investigation found that a local government official and several police officers were linked to the two-day reign of terror by armed gangs in a poor neighborhood in Port-Au-Prince. 

People were killed with guns, axes, and machetes, their bodies carted away in wheelbarrows. The youngest victim was ten months old, and the oldest 72, there were at least two instances of gang rape. Haitian human rights organizations put the death toll at 71 and counted 11 gang rapes. The UN criticized police inaction during the violence, which gave gang members time to dispose evidence. 


Bachelet wraps up Venezuela visit with call for political prisoner release

Bachelet wrapped up a three day visit to Venezuela with a call for the government to release all political prisoners, reports Bloomberg. She denounced practices of torture and extrajudicial executions, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Bachelet said she had appointed two delegates to stay behind to advise the government and monitor abuses, reports Deutsche Welle. Venezuela’s government also agreed to an evaluation of the national commission on torture prevention and another study of the obstacles to accessing the justice system. (Al Jazeera)

She said humanitarian conditions had deteriorated "extraordinarily" in the country, and asked the government for data to adequately evaluate and support economic and social rights, report Efecto Cocuyo. (Full statement at Efecto Cocuyo.)

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the U.N.'s Venezuela office to denounce human rights violations on Friday, as Bachelet was leaving. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó called for a massive protest on July 5, when Bachelet is expected to present the report of her findings, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
Foro Penal director Alfredo Romero called Bachelet's position "timid," reports Efecto Cocuyo. More than 700 people have been detained in Venezuela for political reasons, including 100 members of the military, according Foro Penal. (BBC)

As if to belie Bachelet's influence, Venezuelan authorities arrested six members of the country’s military and police forces over the weekend, reports Reuters. Several were violently detained by intelligence police officers while U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet was still in the country, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

More Venezuela
  • Guaidó announced plans aimed at incorporating exiled Venezuelan professionals into a post-Maduro scenario. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) commander Admiral Craig S. Faller wrote to Venezuela's armed forces to congratulate them on the anniversary of a 1821 military victory, and expressed hope that the two countries' militaries will soon work together to face common challenges in the region. (EFE)
  • If Maduro doesn't fall soon, the U.S. will have to decide what to do with its sanctions against Venezuela and its leadership, writes James Dobbins in Foreign Affairs, writing about zombie sanctions that continue even after they are unlikely to achieve their original purpose.
  • Plans for U.S. military intervention or rapid regime change seem increasingly unlikely. Instead U.S. officials are now pinning transition hopes on multilateral negotiations that may include Maduro allies such as Russia, China and Cuba, reports the Financial Times. Indeed, Cuba is likely to be key.
News Briefs

  • Speaking of sanctions, and Cuba: Stiffened U.S. sanctions are hitting Cuba's already fragile economy hard. Measures aimed at retaliating against Cuba's support of Venezuelan Nicolás Maduro are affecting everything from food supply chains, to tourism, to energy supplies, reports the Washington Post.
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele is implementing a new gang crackdown. Last week he outlined a basic security policy that recycles previous government's failed strategies, criticizes InSight Crime. They include deploying security forces to regain control of gang territories in San Salvador and other cities. Investigation of gang finances and cracking down on jail corruption are other focuses. Last week, Bukele ruled out negotiations with the country's street gangs, and promised to strike at the criminal groups' finances, reports Reuters.
  • On Friday Bukele asked telephone companies to completely block cellphone signals inside the country’s prisons, a move aimed at limiting gang leader's from giving order from behind bars, reports the Associated Press
  • Colombian army leadership is cracking down on suspected whistleblowers. Semana reports that officers suspected of denouncing human rights violations and corruption -- in the wake of a New York Times report on orders to boost army kill rates -- are being harassed and threatened. (See May 20's post.)
  • About 30 high-ranking former FARC guerrilla leaders gathered on Friday to plan a response to the killing of at least 135 former fighters since the Nov. 2016 peace treaty, reports EFE. Last week former FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño called on Colombian President Iván Duque to stop the "systematic" killings of former guerrilla fighters. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
  • The power vacuum created by the FARC demobilization has put social leaders at risk, reports EFE. At least 285 human rights defenders have been killed in Colombia since January 2016. (See last Wednesday's briefs for Human Rights Watch's take on ongoing violence against activists.)
  • A new ranking looks at Latin American countries's ability to fight corruption, rather than perceptions of corruption. The AS/COA "Capacity to Combat Corruption Index" puts Chile at the head of the regional pack: meaning it's the country in the index where corruption most likely to be uncovered, punished and deterred. It's followed by Brazil. Venezuela is at the bottom of the index, which looks at 14 key variables, including the independence of judicial institutions, the strength of investigative journalism, and the level of resources available for combating white-collar crime. (Americas Quarterly)
  • Honduran teachers and health sector workers vowed to continue protests against President Juan Orlando Hernández. (La Prensa) The protests have been ongoing for nearly two months, spurred by an attempt to reform public education and health, but have morphed into broader anti-government demonstrations. Last week Honduras' government deployed troops to quell unrest after anti-riot police joined strikers, in demand of better benefits. (See Friday's post.) At least three protesters have been killed and more than 20 wounded last week in the midst of increasing clashes. Demonstrations that include road blocks around the country are hitting the Honduran business sector hard, and protests will likely maintain their intensity in the lead up to the anniversary of the 2009 coup on Friday, reports Al Jazeera
  • Corruption and impunity, the focal point for many protesters calling for the president's resignation, are part of what is pushing migration to the U.S. -- though the Trump administration continues to back JOH, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Migration from Central America's Northern Triangle countries is essentially encouraged by those countries' government's lack of social investment, according to Bloomberg. In turn, migrants send significant amounts of remittances that form a central pillar of these countries' economies. "When all of these elements are stitched together and viewed holistically, it can appear as if the economic model these governments have adopted is one based on exporting people. That might be an over-simplification -- and it may not be the governments’ intent -- but it is the net effect of the policy mix, according to longtime observers of the region."
  • Over the weekend Mexican authorities strengthened efforts to detain migrants crossing the countries southern border, in an attempt to reduce flows towards the U.S. border, reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexican police might be implicated in the death of a Salvadoran migrant teen in Veracruz state earlier this month, a shooting episode that illustrates civil society concerns about using ill-prepared security forces for migration control, reports the New York Times.
  • Mexico's new labor reform gives union workers freedom to choose leadership for the first time -- but actually transforming the system will be slow work, reports the New York Times.
  • Brazil's Supreme Court is turning out to be a significant obstacle to President Jair Bolsonaro's conservative agenda, reports the Wall Street Journal. Magistrates will hear a petition to release former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from jail tomorrow, and is expected to suspend a presidential decree loosening gun ownership regulations later this week.
  • Whoever wins in Guatemala's August presidential run-off, the loser is the country's anti-corruption efforts, argues Due of Law Foundation board president Naomi Roht-Arriaza in the Conversation.
Dominican Republic
  • A spate of tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic has caused anxiety, but they are likely all normal, reports the Washington Post.
  • El Salvador and Honduras will face off on the football pitch this week -- the Los Angeles Times revisits the Football War that started in 1969 when the two countries' teams competed to enter the World Cup.
  • The Womens World Cup in France this month has put a new spotlight on female footballers in Latin America, considered a (blasphemous?) novelty by many. Women have, in fact, played football in Latin America for nearly as long as the menfolk have. They were rapidly excluded by the mid-20th century because of its growing importance to national, virile identity. Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America, which I reviewed in Americas Quarterly, gives historical perspective to back up feminists who argue that conquering the field is a strike against the machismo that underpins gender violence. Even when playing wasn’t illegal outright -- as it was for forty years in Brazil -- women were told they had the wrong physique for soccer, that the sport was too violent, or that it would turn them into lesbians. “The threat (futboleras) caused to notions of appropriate womanhood, to masculine hegemony, and to perceptions of women’s public health were too much to be ignored,” write authors Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadel. Those who found a way to play regardless were, by definition, transgressors. Many still are.

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

Friday, June 21, 2019

Honduras deploys troops in midst of anti-gov't protests (June 21, 2019)

Honduras deployed its military across the country after anti-government protests left two dead. Protests have been growing in intensity in recent weeks, and were fueled by anti-riot police who chose to remain in their barracks starting Tuesday. Roads around the country were blocked with burning tires, and there were reports of looting and government buildings attacked in Tegucigalpa. (BBC)

Unrest continued yesterday, even after the government reached a deal with cargo transportation workers, whose strike affected fuel distribution. Today thousands of Hondurans blocked roads around the country, and were removed by police, reports La Prensa.

President Juan Orlando Hernández, whose resignation is demanded by protesters, vowed to guarantee freedom of movement and private property. But opponents say the decision to deploy troops is a sign of weakened legitimacy of a leader whose reelection in 2017 was widely questioned. (El País)

News Briefs

  • Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele met with his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in southern Mexico, where tens of thousands of Central American migrants have crossed the border fleeing violence and poverty. The two countries signed a cooperation agreement that includes a $30 million Mexican donation for reforestation in El Salvador. AMLO said creating opportunities is key to stemming migration -- a key concern after the U.S. threatened significant tariffs if migrant numbers at its southern border do not go down. (Associated Press)
  • AMLO accidentally hit Bukele's face while planting a tree together -- Bukele joked on social media that it was in response to a gibe about AMLO's age. (Milenio)
  • The program is the first step in a Mexican investment of $100 million in Central America, also part of its approach to reduce migrants, reports Animal Político. But the absence of Guatemala and Honduras in the Bukele-AMLO meeting raised questions and hackles.  (NotimexCNN)
  • A migrant woman from Honduras was kidnapped and sexually assaulted after federal police agents in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juárez abducted her and handed her over to a criminal group. The woman had applied for humanitarian asylum in the U.S. and was sent to Mexico to await her U.S. court hearings under the controversial "Remain in Mexico" program. The case highlights the dangers of the U.S. policy aimed at keeping migrants from de facto U.S. residence while they await asylum proceedings, reports InSight Crime.
  • Currently 14,000 asylum seekers are in Mexico awaiting U.S. court hearings said Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard. (Animal Político)
  • The Trump tariff threat was narrowly averted, but remains on the table. U.S. policies on migration -- the tariff threat and the economic cost of other impositions for Mexicans to reduce flows of Central American asylum seekers -- affects Mexico's economic stability and could, perversely, fuel more migration to the U.S. write María Fernanda Pérez Arguello and Nicolás Albertoni in a New York Times op-ed.
  • The U.S.-Mexico agreement is not a long-term strategy for migrant reduction, however, argues Andrew Selee in Americas Quarterly
  • Mexican researchers have confirmed the existence of 1,606 secret graves containing 2,489 bodies from 2006 to 2017 -- but that is likely just the tip of the iceberg. University investigators worked alongside local human rights’ groups to conduct the study that they say shows the “deterioration of security” in Mexico, reports the Associated Press.
  • Guatemala will hold a total vote recount after allegations of fraud in last Sunday's general election. Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) head Julio Solorzano ordered a recount of certified returns from each ballot box to "clarify disagreements" after the leftist Movement for the Liberation of Peoples - whose candidate Thelma Cabrera came fifth in the presidential race - denounced "evident electoral fraud." Multiple demonstrations yesterday protested against results in local elections. The OAS electoral observation mission rejected fraud but welcomed the TSE's decision in the name of transparency. (Prensa LibreAl JazeeraAFP)
  • Cabrera wound up representing the anti-system vote in Guatemala after former Guatemalan attorney general Thelma Aldana was blocked from participating in last Sunday's presidential election. Both the front runners for the August run-off -- center-left Sandra Torres and ultra conservative Alejandro Giammattei -- represent "authoritarian" visions, ensuring the likelihood that Guatemala's "democratic winter" will continue, according to Nómada's Martín Rodríguez Pellecer. The congressional results were more mixed however, he notes. Parties that participated in the so-called corruption pact -- measures aimed at shielding politicians from graft investigations -- were punished at the ballot box, though their replacements won't necessarily be much better. A small group of "reformists," who will likely favor the CICIG, adds up to about 23 percent of the new congress.
  • Aldana told Democracy Now that the country is "captured" by corruption. Democracy Now also interviewed Lucrecia Hernández Mack, one of the new reformers elected to Guatemala's congress in the election.
  • The U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy will publish its annual report soon, and there's a real risk that U.S. President Donald Trump will follow through on threats to “decertify” Colombia as a partner in the war on drugs. The move would go against State Department recommendations, and would force the U.S. to end most economic aid to its closest Latin American ally, reports Bloomberg.
  • Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for trade union members, reports IPS.
  • The latest Lava Jato leaks report from The Intercept shows how then-Judge Sergio Moro and prosecutors analyzed the political convenience of pursuing corruption allegations against former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
  • President Jair Bolsonaro thanked Evangelicals for their support at the "March for Jesus." Bolsonaro is the first president to attend the annual Sao Paulo event. (EFE)
  • Peru's crackdown on illegal mining could fuel other illicit activity, including violent crime, coca cultivation, and illegal logging, reports InSight Crime.
  • Ecuador’s Constitutional Court ruled against a request to require community consultations for a planned Australian owned mining project, reports Reuters.
  • A court in Ecuador freed a Ola Bini, a Swedish programmer close to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after more than two months in jail on suspicion of hacking, reports the Associated Press.
  • Petra Costa's new documentary "The Edge of Democracy" documents "a crisis erupting in slow motion at the heart of Brazilian politics," according to the Guardian.
  • A new drama-documentary focuses on Trinidadian Ulric Cross, an RAF pilot and diplomat who was a go-between in several African countries’ independence struggles, reports the Guardian.
  • A 1950's recording unearthed in the National Sound Library of Mexico may or may not have been Frida Kahlo. (GuardianNew York Times)

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