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 ...

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