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 ...


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