Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Venezuela talks to resume, soonish (July 31, 2019)

News Briefs

  • Talks between Venezuela's government and the political opposition will resume this week, according to opposition leader Juan Guaidó's Washington representative Carlos Vecchio. He would not specify exactly when or where the talks would occur, but said he expects a resolution to the standoff by the end of the year, reports the Associated Press. (Al Jazeera too.)
  • Guaidó himself said the next meetings would be announced by Norway, which is mediating the talks. (Venezuela Weekly)
  • Venezuela's government uses cryptocurrencies to evade U.S. sanctions -- though evidence suggests that international cryptocurrencies, such as  Bitcoin, are proving more useful than the Petro, according to InSight Crime.
  • The Venezuelan bolivar depreciated rapidly in July, losing in just four weeks more than 35 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar in the country's parallel market. (Miami Herald)
Regional Relations
  • Russia will not participate in an international meeting on the Venezuela crisis to be held in Lima next week, in part because President Nicolás Maduro's representatives were not invited, reports Reuters.
  • Colombian President Iván Duque accused his Venezuelan counterpart of turning Venezuela into a terrorist haven. The comment was in response to Maduro's statement that two missing former FARC guerrilla commanders are welcome in Venezuela, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Former Uruguayan president José Mujica called Maduro's government a dictatorship on Sunday, and was seconded by his party's presidential candidate Daniel Martínez. (AFP)
  • Latin America lacks a regional strategic vision to face the challenge of a "double external dependence" on China and the U.S., write Tomás Bontempo in Nueva Sociedad.
  • What nepotism? U.S. President Donal Trump celebrated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's decision to appoint his son, Eduardo, as ambassador to Washington. "I know his son. I find his son to be outstanding. He’s a brilliant, wonderful young man," Trump told reporters. (The Hill)
  • Trump said yesterday said he will pursue a U.S. trade agreement with Brazil and cited his good relationship with Bolsonaro. (Reuters)
    The United Nations High Commission for Refugees congratulated Brazil for recognizing (many) Venezuelan migrants as refugees, based on the Cartagena Declaration of 1984, reports the latest Venezuela Weekly. While fragile and exhibiting some rigidities, the current Brazilian response raises the bar for governments in the region, according to David Smilde.
  • Guatemala's government is moving to restrict access to the National Police Historical Archive, which has helped convict more than 30 military officers, soldiers  and paramilitaries of crimes against humanity committed during the country's bloody civil war. It is part of a broader battle against rule of law by President Jimmy Morales, writes Colum Lynch. Foreign Policy reports that the U.S. suppressed criticism of the archives move in the midst of negotiations for an asylum agreement with Guatemala. (See Monday's post.)
  • Canadian mining firm Tahoe Resources apologized to Guatemalan demonstrators shot and wounded during a 2013 protest against the company's Guatemalan gold and silver mine, reports AFP.
  • Colombia's homicide rate rose last year -- the first increase in a decade. The rise reflects conflict between criminal groups that seek to control former FARC territories in the wake of the guerrilla group's demobilization, reports InSight Crime.
  • Former Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes was granted Nicaraguan citizenship -- a move that will likely foil efforts to make him face charges of embezzlement and money laundering in El Salvador, as Nicaragua prohibits extradition of its citizens, reports Reuters
  • Some anti-corruption protesters in Haiti have lashed out against the U.S., which they accuse of supporting President Jovenel Moïse, reports Voice of America.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been criticized for lacking an economic plan. But he does have one -- to increase the purchasing power of the country's poorest. However, his strategy for achieving this end is wrong, argues Viridiana Ríos in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Ecuador's Azuay provincial government has proposed a popular referendum on the development of new mines in the region, a new obstacle to President Lenín Moreno's efforts to increase foreign investment in the sector, reports Reuters.
  • Argentina's political debate, less than a month before national primaries kick off a prolonged electoral season, remains superficially polarized, but masks a systemic shift to the right, argues Fernando Rosso in Nueva Sociedad. He cites a general agreement that external debt contracted by the current government must be honored and indications that a Fernández-Fernández government would take a conservative approach to stopping inflation.
  • The presidential candidates have been set for over a month, and the upcoming August 11 primaries won't actually determine the candidates for any major coalitions in the October election. But the vote could still have a big impact on the race by weeding out parties with low thresholds of support and providing campaigns with a benchmark moving forward. They also play a significant role for investors, and the results can destabilize markets ahead of October's election, writes Brendan O'Boyle in Americas Quarterly.
  • IPS reports on how a biodigestor at a Buenos Aires soup kitchen allows an activist to combine social work with environmental activism.

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Guatemala among most dangerous countries for environmental activists (July 30, 2019)

Guatemala is now among the most dangerous countries in the world for land and environmental activists, according to a new Global Witness report. 

The country experienced a fivefold increase in the number of murders of land defenders between 2017 and last year, with 16 deaths, making it one of the bloodiest countries in the world, per capita. Most of the Guatemalan land and environmental activists killed were indigenous. Many were community leaders affiliated with CODECA and CCDA, the Campesino Committee of the Highlands, reports Al Jazeera.

News Briefs

More from Guatemala
  • Guatemalan human rights prosecutor Jordan Rodas asked the Constitutional Court to nullify a new migration agreement between Guatemala and the U.S. The appeal argues that the deal was signed under threats from U.S. President Donald Trump, who’d warned of possible tariffs or other consequences for Guatemala if it didn’t get on board, reports the Associated Press. The court had previously ordered the government not to enter in a safe third country agreement without congressional approval, a directive government officials attempted to sidestep. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Trump threatened to impose tariffs on Guatemalan exports to the U.S. (which represent 5 percent of the GDP) and on remittances to Guatemala (which represent 12 percent of the GDP). But the agreement could force Guatemala to house 250,000 asylum seekers for an indefinite period of time, notes Nómada. (So far this year 235,000 Guatemalans have migrated out of the country.)
  • Guatemalan immigration officials say the deal is impossible to implement: the country has just four asylum officers and hasn’t resolved a case in nearly two years. But Morales might be looking for personal benefit beyond national -- critics say he's angling for an ally after he loses presidential immunity from prosecution in January, reports Vice News.
  • U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr ruled against admitting asylum seekers solely because their relatives have been persecuted in their home countries. The decision overturns a 2018 judgment by the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals and would affect migrants seeking asylum after their families were targeted by criminal organizations, such as gangs or drug cartels. Like most of the Trump administration's attempts to limit migration, it will likely face legal challenges in the U.S., reports the New York Times.
  • The story of Wendy García, who fled Honduras after police repressed her community's protest against a hydroelectric dam, helps illustrate the varied reasons migrants seek humanitarian asylum -- despite U.S. attempts to limit petitions. (Guardian)
  • Mexico will fund 20,000 jobs in Honduras in order to help stem outward migration. The agreement signed yesterday by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador with his Honduran counterpart, Juan Orlando Hernández, will extend a reforestation program already active in Mexico that pays farmers a stipend to plant trees. The same scheme will also be implemented in El Salvador, reports AFP. (See June 21's briefs.) 
  • López Obrador is under fire for supporting an anti-protest law in his home state of Tabasco -- a hypocritical stance for somebody who made his name blockading oil installations there, say critics. (Guardian)
  • AMLO abruptly fired the head of the agency charged with measuring poverty and evaluating the social programs last week, the latest in a purge of technocrats that has investors concerned about a turn towards demagoguery, reports the Financial Times.
El Salvador
  • Water shortages in El Salvador are helping fuel unrest and forced displacement, reports the Guardian. One study found the country will run out of water in about 80 years if management remains unchanged, and the issue is only exacerbated by corporate interests, corruption and the country’s vicious street gangs.
  • Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele is a Central American Trump, whose "hard-right bluster and media-centric populism threaten to deal a devastating blow to the country’s once-mighty left," argues Hilary Goodfriend in Jacobin. She emphasizes mass firings of public employees, harassment of journalists, security crackdowns, and a "scraping subservience to the United States."
  • Bukele has a penchant for tweeting orders to government officials -- but that doesn't mean those are legally binding. El Faro reports that his order to extend a state of emergency in the country's prisons was rejected in four cases by relevant judges.
  • Two months after taking office, Bukele has not yet moved forward on a key campaign promise: an international anti-impunity commission, writes Héctor Silva Ávalos in Séptimo Sentido.
  • Venezuela's collapse has affected indigenous Wayuu on both sides of the border with Colombia. Pushed by hunger, Wayuu communities on the Venezuelan side have moved to indigenous territories on the Colombian side, where they have come into conflict over already scarce resources, reports the New York Times.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro two former FARC guerrilla commanders -- Iván Márquez and Jesús Santrich, whose whereabouts are currently unknown -- would be welcome in Venezuela. The comment, made on Sunday alongside Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel at the close of the Sao Paulo Forum will likely fuel criticism that Venezuela is providing a safe haven for illegal armed groups, reports Reuters.
  • Also at the Sao Paulo Forum, Venezuelan Vice President Diosdado Cabello said U.S. Marines would "likely" enter Venezuela, but will have trouble exiting. (Reuters
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said negotiations to end Venezuela's crisis should have "no preconditions." (Reuters)
  • 52 inmates died in prison fight between rival gangs in Brazil's Pará state. At least 16 people were decapitated in the latest violent outbreak experts attribute to overcrowded and understaffed facilities. A government inspection of the Altamira prison this month found that the detention center was holding 343 inmates even though it had the capacity to house only 163, reports the New York Times. (In May at least 55 people were killed in various Amazonas state prison riots, see May 28's post.)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said there was no evidence that an indigenous chief murdered last week was killed by wildcat miners, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • U.S. agricultural giant Cargill has been on relatively good terms with environmental advocates in recent years, after agreeing to a moratorium on buying soybeans grown on deforested land in the Amazon rain forest. But the company has come under fire this month for refusing to a similar moratorium on soy grown on Brazil's endangered the Cerrado savanna, and, more broadly, for failing to meet deforestation targets, reports the New York Times.
  • The Bolsonaro administration's aggressive response to hackers who leaked secret conversations between justice minister Sergio Moro and corruption prosecutors shows why reporting on the material is so vital, argues The Intercept. (See last Friday's post.)
  • New regulations in Cuba, as of yesterday, will allow the creation of private wired and Wi-Fi internet networks in homes and businesses and importation of routers and other networking equipment — but will also maintain the government’s monopoly over commercial internet access, reports the New York Times. The measure allows the creation of private networks to download files, apps, games and antivirus updates as long as the content does not breach “moral or social customs," reports EFE.
  • "... More than 58 years of isolating Havana has shown that the strategy doesn’t follow any logical theory of regime change, even if it plays well in South Florida," wrote Christopher Sabatini in a recent New York Times op-ed. "Isolation has only reinforced the Cuban government’s effort to make its citizens economically dependent on the Communist state."
  • Paraguay’s foreign minister and three other officials resigned yesterday in relation to a growing scandal over the signing of an energy deal with Brazil, that officials and lawmakers said would be hugely harmful for Paraguay. Before his resignation, Foreign Minister Luis Castiglioni said Paraguay would ask to suspend the agreement, which would cost the state around $200 million. The deal was signed in May but was only made public last week, reports Reuters.
  • Argentina's leading presidential candidates are statistically tied -- making a November run-off between President Mauricio Macri and Alberto Fernández a likely scenario. The Washington Post chronicles how the Macri administration's "luckless handling of its economic overhaul" has propelled former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's "unlikely" political comeback as Fernández's running mate.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Monday, July 29, 2019

Guatemala and U.S. sign third safe country agreement (July 29, 2019)

The U.S. and Guatemala signed an agreement Friday that would require migrants fleeing persecution through Guatemala to apply for asylum there instead of the United States. Known as a "safe third country" agreement, the deal would largely affect people from El Salvador and Honduras, as well as asylum seekers from elsewhere in Latin America. It would not impact asylum seekers from Guatemala or those from Mexico, who do not cross Guatemala on the way to the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump signed the deal in Washington, accompanied by Guatemalan Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart, in a previously unannounced ceremony. (New York Times

Experts note that such agreements are rare -- particularly in the case of a country that is ill-equipped to offer basic security guarantees for asylum seekers. The United States and Canada signed a safe third-country agreement in 2002, and the European Union has one with Turkey, reports the New York Times

The deal could thrust Guatemala into a constitutional crisis, according to the Washington Post. The agreement will likely face legal challenges both in the U.S. and Guatemala that could delay, derail or significantly modify the deal. Yesterday Guatemala's constitutional court accepted two injunctions against the agreement, and gave the government 48 hours to give details regarding the deal. (EFEEl Periódico) Guatemalan human rights prosecutor Jordán Rodas said his team was studying the legality of the agreement and whether Degenhart had the authority to sign the compact, reports the Associated Press. Acción Ciudadana is among the groups challenging the legality of the deal, reports El Periódico.

The same court recently ruled that President Jimmy Morales would need congressional approval for such a deal. (See July 15's post.) The Guatemalan government's announcement on Friday seemed to seek to sidestep the ruling by calling the deal a “cooperative agreement regarding the examination of protection claims.” Officials emphasized that it is not a safe third-country deal, notes Buzzfeed

Guatemala's government was between a rock and a hard place, after the Trump administration threatened to implement trade tariffs if Guatemalan officials backed out of negotiations, reports the Guardian

On the U.S. side, hurdles include certifying that Guatemala has a “full and fair” asylum system, and is able to protect asylum seekers from other countries if the United States sends them there. Most experts agree that this is not the case. The U.S. State Department reports on Guatemala warn that "violent crime, such as armed robbery and murder, is common" and that "gang activity, such as extortion, violent street crime, and narcotics trafficking, is widespread." Indeed, Guatemala is the ninth most violent country in the world based on homicide rates, notes Carlos Mendoza of the Observatorio de Violencia. And it is situated within the most violent region in the world. (See July 11's post.)

Human rights groups protested the move. Amnesty International said that “any attempts to force families and individuals fleeing their home countries to seek safety in Guatemala are outrageous.” U.S. Democrat lawmakers also criticized the move: Congressman Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs, said Trump’s decision to sign the agreement was “immoral” and “illegal”, adding: “Simply put, Guatemala is not a safe country for refugees and asylum seekers, as the law requires."

But even if conditions on the ground in Guatemala were safer, there is little evidence that safe third-country deals are effective in deterring asylum seekers nor that they reduce pressure on overburdened asylum systems, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

If the deal is carried out, Guatemala would have little time to implement an asylum system capable of processing thousands of requests. Last year, about 62,000 people from El Salvador and Honduras petitioned for asylum in the United States, according to the United Nations. By comparison, a total of 257 people sought asylum in Guatemala.

Morales leaves office in January, and the two contenders to replace him expressed doubts about a hypothetical safe third-country agreement. 

News Briefs

  • Drought and famine are forcing Guatemalan families to choose between starvation or migration, reports the Guardian -- part of its "Running Dry" series. Violence, poverty and corruption are all significant push factors for Central American migration, but increasingly climate change, drought, famine and the battle for dwindling natural resources are all being recognized as part of the regional migration crisis.
  • Mexico has thus far resisted a third safe-country agreement with the U.S. -- but President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has drastically changed his migration policies to accommodate U.S. demands to reduce flows of asylum seekers, reports NACLA.
  • At least one indigenous community leader was killed by heavily armed miners dressed in military fatigues who invaded a remote Brazilian town last week. Miners and loggers are making increasingly bold incursions into protected areas, explicitly encouraged by President Jair Bolsonaro, reports the New York Times.
  • The rate of Amazon rain forest destruction in Brazil has increased drastically since Bolsonaro took office in January, and scaled back efforts to fight illegal logging, ranching and mining, reports the New York Times separately.
  • Brazil's minister for human rights, family and women Damares Alves was criticized for saying that girls are raped because they're too poor to afford underwear. She suggested a policy to bring underwear factories and sales to the Tapajos archipelagos in Para state, one of the Brazilian regions with the highest concentration of indigenous communities. (GloboLa Nación)
  • Iran threatened to slash imports from Brazil if two Iranian ships are not allowed to refuel. Brazil's state-run oil company, Petrobras said refueling the ships, which are stranded in Paranaguá port, would run afoul of U.S. sanctions, reports Newsweek. Last week Brazil's top court ordered Petrobras to refuel the ships, reports Reuters.
  • The U.S. Trump administration extended a license to let Chevron Corp. remain in Venezuela until late October. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra suggested moving up presidential and congressional elections in order to end what he called an institutional crisis -- a power struggle between the executive and legislative branches over anti-graft measures. Vizcarra's proposal would have to pass the opposition-controlled congress and a popular referendum. (AFP)
El Salvador
  • Strict abortion laws, lack of comprehensive sex education and violence contribute to the high level of teen pregnancy in El Salvador, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Thousands of Colombians protested the killing of social activists and human rights defenders since the 2016 peace deal with the FARC. The "march for life" protests took place on Friday in more than 80 cities in Colombia. (Al Jazeera)
  • Colombian President Iván Duque began his first official state visit to China yesterday. (EFE)
  • Colombian journalist Claudia Julieta Duque denounced a judicial gag order preventing her from issuing opinions and photographs in the context of a proceeding against Emiro Rojas Granados, former deputy director of the country’s now extinct intelligence department, accused of psychological torture against Duque. (Knight Center)
  • An oil spill dumped 40,000 liters of diesel into sea off Chile's Patagonia. (Guardian)
  • Cardinal Jaime Ortega, a key player in reestablishing relations between the U.S. and Cuba four years ago, died of cancer in Havana last week. (El País)

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

Friday, July 26, 2019

Brazilian police arrest alleged hackers (July 26)

Brazilian federal police arrested four people on Wednesday for allegedly hacking the phone of anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro, who is currently the Brazilian justice minister. Yesterday President Jair Bolsonaro said his own mobile phone was among hundreds of targeted by hackers.

Gustavo Henrique Elias Santos, Suelen Priscila de Oliveira, Danilo Cristiano Marques and Walter Delgatti Neto are accused of hacking the messaging app accounts of Moro, two federal judges and two federal police investigators. Leaks from those exchanges -- reported on by The Intercept, Folha de S. Paulo and Veja -- have formed the backbone of a scandal that appears to show significant improprieties in the landmark Lava Jato anti-corruption case.

Deglatti reportedly started the hacking scheme after a prosecutor accused him of drug trafficking, and he told investigators that he leaked material to The Intercept voluntarily, anonymously, and without seeking compensation. Journalist Glen Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept Brazil, said Deglatti's statements confirmed “everything we’ve said from the beginning about how we obtained this material: simply passively receiving the already-obtained information and then reported on it." Greenwald also said Moro could not credibly oversee the hacking investigation.

Anger at corruption schemes revealed by the Lava Jato investigation helped propel Bolsonaro to power last year -- particularly after his principal opponent, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was imprisoned. The hacked messages appear to reveal collusion between then-judge Moro and the prosecutorial team, as well as politically partisan scheming to hurt the Workers' Party's electoral chances. But the leaks have pushed public opinion against Moro. A recent poll found that 58 percent of Brazilians believed the exchanges between Moro and prosecutors to be “improper.”

The Workers' Party said the arrests were a farce and denounced efforts to link the party's leaders to the scheme.

News Briefs

  • Amazon deforestation in Brazil rose sharply in July, following previous increases in May and June. More than three football fields a minute are destroyed now, a number that pushes the world's largest rainforest closer towards the tipping point of no return, warn experts. (Guardian)
  • Environmental enforcement combined with economic incentives could provide a way forward for Amazon Basin countries falling behind deforestation targets, argued Lisa Viscidi and Enrique Ortiz in a recent New York Times op-ed.
Regional Relations
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodríguez, met in Havana this week. Lavrov promised to strengthen Russia's alliance with Cuba and Venezuela in the face of what he called US “impositions” and “neocolonialist methods.” (EFE)
  • Notorious Haitian gang leader Arnel Joseph was arrested this week, in a dramatic arrest while the fugitive was awaiting surgery on a leg wound in Les Cayes. (Voice of America)
  • Guatemala cannot be considered a safe haven for people fleeing violence in El Salvador and Honduras, argue Cecilia Menjívar and M. Gabriela Torres in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece.
  • Venezuelan doctors who have fled the country could play a key role in providing health care to their fellow exiles around the region, who are taxing host countries' hospital systems, writes Diana Montoya Maya in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Small businesses in Mexico face extortion from organized crime and corrupt officials -- but also red tape, regulations and fiscal system confusing enough to function as a prohibitive tax on small and growing businesses, reports Americas Quarterly.
  • A new round of U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan government allies targets three stepsons of President Nicolás Maduro and a Colombian business partner of theirs named Alex Saab. U.S. officials accused the men of a long-term plan to steal government funds, mostly from Venezuela’s state-run food program. (New York Times)
  • United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet's recent report on Venezuela "paints a devastating portrait of the country’s economic situation—but overlooks the US role in the suffering," argues Gabriel Hetland in The Nation.
  • Vulture strike: Funds from Europe and and Latin America are snapping up Venezuelan debt, which has dropped to record lows, reports Bloomberg.
  • The compliance industry is booming in Latin America, amid a spate of new corporate criminal liability laws in many countries that have put executives and board members on edge, reports Americas Quarterly.
  • A separate piece in Americas Quarterly looks at what anti-corruption measures have worked -- such as plea bargains -- and which haven't -- term limits. Campaign finance reform and pre-trial detention are indeterminate, according to the piece.
  • Campaign finance reform efforts are laudatory, but the proliferation of new norms hint at the real challenge in the region: bridging the abyss between the legislation and implementation, writes Kevin Casas in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra said the national government willre-evaluate its recent decision to grant a construction permit to Southern Copper Corp for its proposed mine Tia Maria at the request of local authorities calling for its annulment, reports Reuters.
  • Chilean lawmakers abolished an old law under which the country's state-run copper miner, Codelco, helped fund Chile's military. (Reuters)
  • Argentina's economic activity rose in May, for the first time in over a year, a timely boost for President Mauricio Macri ahead of the August primary vote that serves as a sort of general election first round. (Reuters)
Thank you to Elyssa Pachico for the amazing briefs during my break -- you always raise the bar. I'm back and, as always, welcome feedback, comments and suggestions.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Human rights complaints in Mexico; Guatemala lawmakers attack Constitutional Court (July 25, 2019)

News Briefs
  • The Trump administration is expected to appeal the federal court ruling that blocked the sweeping asylum rule which would have essentially banned most asylum seekers from petitioning for protection at the U.S.-Mexico border. Other restrictive anti-asylum policies remain in full force—under the "Remain in Mexico" program, the U.S. government is dumping multiple busloads of hundreds of asylum seekers in the Mexican border city of Monterrey, where, the AP reports, shelters are overflowing. 
  • Mexico's Attorney General's Office is investigating over 100 government officials and former state employees, including Mexico City's former attorney general, for fudging Mexico City crime statistics. Some 74 percent of the homicide, kidnapping, rape and robbery crimes had been registered incorrectly, a UN-supported audit found (La JornadaEFE).
  • The National Human Rights Commission filed six criminal complaints, as well as a dozen of administrative complaints, against nearly 400 public officials for human rights violations and lack of due diligence in connection to the 2014 disappearance of 43 students while in police custody (Animal PoliticoAP). It's up to federal prosecutors to decide whether or not to press charges. 
  • A joint investigation by Rutas del Conflicto and anti-censorship coalition Liga Contra el Silencio found that the joint "national security" agreements signed between Colombia's security forces, the Attorney General's Office, and mining and energy companies aren't exclusively focused on security issues. An examination of 200 of these agreements found that Colombia's extractive industry is paying for tourism trips and infrastructure projects that benefit the police and military. This could arguably represent a conflict of interest, the report states, given the role that the police and military has played in harassing and repressing protests by local communities against mining and energy projects. 
  • A day before tomorrow's planned march to call attention to threats facing social leaders,  Colombia police say they have arrested 8 of the top 31 suspects involved in killing community leaders and human rights activists (EFE). 
  • The FARC political party are taking a low-key approach to campaigning for October's gubernatorial and mayoral elections, with a focus on winning seats in local councils and assemblies, according to analysis by La Silla Vacia
  • joint investigation by, the Miami Herald, InfoAmazonia and others details how "corrupt military forces, Venezuelan gangs, and Colombia guerrilla groups benefit from a lack of government control and enrich themselves with illegal mining and trafficking Venezuelan gold." 
Central America
  • In a Washington Post op-ed, El Salvador President Nayib Bukele argues that his plan for stemming the flow of migration to the United States—with a focus on tackling organized crime and corruption—is already showing results. "We want to become a leading model on how to stop the flow of illegal migration north, and we want to do this through a close partnership with the United States," he stated, adding that El Salvador is "not looking for handouts but, rather, investments and great relations." 
  • In a worrisome sign of a growing culture of disregard for rule of law in Guatemala, members of Guatemala's Congress are taking aim at the Constitutional Court. Several lawmakers have filed a legal complaint against three Court magistrates, citing abuse of authority (elPeriodico); another congressional committee is moving on taking legal action against Court magistrates who blocked Guatemala's proposed amnesty law for ex-members of the military.  
  • Tomorrow, the Inter-American Union of Electoral Organizations will initiate its monitoring mission of Guatemala's top electoral authority, which has blamed software errors for discrepancies in voter data after the June 16 election. Guatemala's second round of presidential elections will take place on August 11; the electoral authority has stated it will use the same software to tabulate the votes (Prensa Libre). 
  • Tomorrow will see an important advance in Guatemala's selection process for 13 Supreme Court and 140 appellate court candidates: the national lawyers' association will vote on who will represent them on their respective selection process committee  (Nomada). The use of these committees to nominate Guatemala's high court candidates has received strong criticism from national and international observers, who cite a lack of transparency and describe the process as overly vulnerable to partisan influence. 
  • A prominent human rights defenders says there is a pattern of paramilitaries carrying out politically motivated assassinations in rural Nicaragua, with six deaths registered in the last two months (Confidencial). 
  • Former President Ricardo Martinelli's legal team will present their defense Monday, as the trial against Panama's former president—charged with misusing public funds and spying on the communications of some 150 people—continues (EFE). 
  • A judge has dismissed at least one of the eight criminal charges facing former President "Lula" da Silva; however, the ex-president will still face charges for corruption, influence peddling, and a money laundering charge (EFE). 
  • "Informal settlements [in Manaus] are expanding, with a new occupation attempt every 11 days, and the threat to the rainforest is severe" (The Guardian). 
  • Illegal gold mining operations continue to advance on indigenous land across Brazil (BBC Mundo)
  • President Bolsonaro claims his phone was hacked (AP). 
  • "The belief that a culture of violence within Jamaica’s households is at least partly to blame for the violence engulfing its streets is fueling a growing push to ban the use of corporal punishment in schools, and at home. The effort is finding support not only among child advocates and some educators, but in the United Nations" (Miami Herald). 
  • "More than 58 years of isolating Havana has shown that the [U.S.] strategy [of isolating Cuba] doesn’t follow any logical theory of regime change, even if it plays well in South Florida." (NYTimes op-ed)
-- Elyssa Pachico 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Guatemala reacts after Trump threatens tariffs (July 24, 2019)

What actions could the Trump administration actually take against Guatemala, given that President Trump has threatened tariffs and remittance fees following the Guatemalan Constitutional Court's ruling that any "safe third country" deal with the U.S. has to go through the Guatemalan Congress first?  

Guatemala's former ambassador to the United States told elPeriodico that while Trump could order the U.S. Treasury Department to tax remittances to Guatemala, it would be difficult to implement such a policy in practice. Currently, remittances from abroad—mostly from the United States—make up 12 percent of Guatemala's GDP, reports Quartz

The U.S. government would also have to navigate regulations in the Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) before moving ahead with tariffs targeting Guatemala, elPeriodico reported.

Political actors in Guatemala were quick to start pointing fingers about who should take the blame for the diplomatic spat with the United States. President Jimmy Morales blamed the Constitutional Court; the head of the Court responded by pointing out they hadn't blocked the executive branch from negotiating a "safe third country" deal with the U.S., as the ruling mandated the president to follow Guatemala's Constitution in getting Congress' approval for international treaties that would impact the country financially.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made no mention of any "safe third country" initiative in its latest joint statement with the Guatemalan government; the AP reports that DHS officials are meeting with officials from the Northern Triangle region (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) today. 

  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a statement expressing "deep concern about the situation of migrants and refugees in the United States, Mexico, and Central America," highlighting the deaths of children in U.S. custody, the inadequate and overcrowded detention conditions for migrants in Mexico, and the militarization of Mexico's southern and northern borders as areas of concern, among many other issues. The statement also noted that family separation is still happening under the "Remain in Mexico" program, in violation of the norms and standards of international law.  
  • The Trump administration had an "unusual" but "temporary" victory in court, reports the AP, after a federal judge upheld the government's new restrictions on asylum, meaning the U.S. government can continue denying asylum "to anyone who shows up on the Mexican border after traveling through another country." It's still possible that a San Francisco-based federal court hearing a similar suit will move to block the new asylum policies. 
  • Some 30,000 migrants have arrived to Ciudad Juarez so far this year; the city has also received the highest number of asylum seekers sent back to await their U.S. court dates under the "Remain in Mexico" program, reports BBC Mundo. The story highlights the high risk of kidnapping and extortion faced by migrants and asylum seekers in Juarez, and has local shelters and other migrant support organizations on record as saying they are unprepared to deal with the rising number of asylum seekers sent back from the U.S. under "Remain in Mexico." 
  • The 250,000 hectares of forest dispersed through Mexico City are increasingly under threat thanks to illegal loggers; an environmentalist known for his conservation efforts is now facing charges of illegal logging, which Greenpeace and Mexico's national human rights commission are calling false (Animal Politico). 
  • NGO the Foundation for Justice and Democratic Rule of Law is challenging the Mexico government's acceptance of the "Remain in Mexico" protocols in court (Proceso). 
  • The UN Security Council issued an official statement following its recent visit to Colombia, urging President Ivan Duque's government to fully implement the historic 2016 peace deal (via Colombia Reports). 
  • Colombia's national health system is suffering severe financial strain by offering limited free services to Venezuelan migrants and their children—not only is more support from the international community needed, but Venezuelan doctors who've migrated to Colombia could also form part of the solution, argues a NYT en Español op-ed. However, the Colombian government would have to expedite the process allowing those with Venezuelan medical degrees to practice in Colombia, the op-ed asserts. 
  • "The unveiling of a plan to protect community leaders involved in Colombia’s voluntary coca crop substitution program is not likely to alleviate security concerns, given the recent killings of such figures and the government’s poor track record in supporting crop substitution." (InSight Crime)
  • Multilateral body the Lima Group met yesterday in Buenos Aires; they issued a call for more international cooperation to support countries receiving large numbers of Venezuelan migrants, and called on the UN Security Council to discuss Venezuela (Al Jazeera). The Lima Group also stated it would support investigations into the connections between Maduro regime officials and illicit activities (EFE). 
  • WOLA's Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog has its latest summary of top news in Venezuela out today. 
Central America
  • El Faro analyzes the defense strategy taken on by the ex-military officials on trial for the 1981 El Mozote massacre, which centers around blaming the higher ranks of the military chain of command for one of the worst mass killings ever registered in modern Latin America.
  • President Nayib Bukele has signed a decree that asks the Salvadoran military to conduct nationwide joint patrols and detain suspected criminals until the end of the year, an echo of past failed strategies to use the military as police to fight insecurity in El Salvador, reports El Faro
Southern Cone
  • An NYT obituary honors the life of Dr. Joel Filártiga, a dissident under the Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship in Paraguay, who died on July 5. Filártiga's campaign for justice for his son's death under the regime led to a landmark human rights ruling in 1980. The decision allows those who've suffered human rights abuses abroad to sue for redress in a U.S. court (the scope of the ruling was later severely limited by the Supreme Court in a 2013 decision). 
  • Alarming levels of deforestation are taking place in the Amazon—"We must quickly reverse current trends and ensure that economic development is not at odds with conservation to avoid reaching the tipping point," states a NYT op-ed. 

-- Elyssa Pachico