Friday, August 30, 2019

OAS announced anti-corruption mission for El Salvador (Aug. 30, 2019)

The Organization of American States (OAS) will back the creation of an international anti-impunity commission in El Salvador. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro announced via Twitter today that a technical mission will be sent to El Salvador next week, in order to advance towards the creation of the International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES). (Última HoraLa Prensa Gráfica)

Almagro met with vice president Félix Ulloa and foreign minister Alexandra Hill, but there is little information about what the commission will consist of or how the technical mission will proceed, reports El Diario de Hoy. President Nayib Bukele campaigned on the promise of creating a commission modeled on Guatemala's recently dismantled CICIG -- a an international commission with power to investigate and collaborate with national prosecutors on corruption cases. He also recently promised to create an international commission before Sept. 9, though he did not give more details. (See Aug. 13's post.)

Organizations of civil society note that a CICIG-style commission would necessarily require legislative approval, meaning Bukele would likely only succeed in announcing a plan by his self-imposed deadline. (El Diario de Hoy) La Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarrollo (FUNDE), the local branch of Transparency International, said the backing of an international organization is critical for the project, but that a CICIES would be better served by an alliance with the U.N. than the OAS, due to concerns regarding the latter's independence. (La Prensa Gráfica)

News Briefs

  • Colombian President Iván Duque said he will send a specially created army unit to track down a FARC dissident group that announced it was taking up arms again, reports Al Jazeera. Duque said there would be a $882,000 reward for the arrest of guerrilla leaders who appeared in a video relaunching the guerrilla group's struggle against the Colombian government. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Duque characterized the threat as a band of criminals, rather than a new insurgency. But there is danger that the FARC dissidents could unite other armed groups, including the ELN and FARC splinters. (Washington Post)
  • The FARC guerrilla forces' relaunching is not a complete surprise -- and for now appears to be more of a political than military move, explains La Silla Vacía. (And La Silla Vacía again.)
  • Nonetheless, the remobilization comes at a dangerous time in the region, particularly along Colombia's border with Venezuela, warns Alexander L. Fattal in a New York Times op-ed.
  • The rearming "is a wake-up call to the majority of Colombians and the international community who want peace: now is the critical moment to redouble efforts to ensure the full implementation of the peace accords," according to WOLA.
  • Dissident FARC leaders' return to arms is a wake up call for Colombia to rapidly patch up its faltering peace process, former Colombian president Ernesto Samper said in an interview with NODAL
  • "How did Colombia’s fragile peace unravel?" The Conversation gathers together a series of articles on the long process since the 2016 pact was signed in the first place. 
  • Collective land ownership is holding back Colombia's Pacific Coast, according to the Economist.
More El Salvador
  • El Salvador and the U.S. promised to cooperate in combatting irregular migration and transnational criminal organizations. Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele met with acting U.S. homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan in San Salvador on Wednesday, part of a U.S. diplomatic push for Latin American countries to slow migration flows. (Associated Press)
  • At least 25 people were arrested across El Salvador, yesterday. The detained include businesspeople, lawyers and a former police officer, as part of an operation to break up an alleged migrant smuggling network, reports the Associated Press. Authorities said the alleged smugglers charged migrants $8,000 to $12,000 to take them to the United States, though many were abandoned en route.
Climate Change
  • Central America is grappling with its worst outbreak of dengue fever in decades -- and the mosquito-borne disease could become a bigger problem as climate change fuels outbreaks, reports Reuters
  • The Amazon rainforest could soon reach a tipping point of deforestation, at which point it will self-destruct. Some scientists warn that this nightmare scenario is imminent, reports the New York Times. If this happens, the rainforest would start emitting greenhouse gases rather than absorb them.
  • Fires have been reported in indigenous protected territory of Brazil's Amazon rainforest, and activists fear those areas were specifically targeted by loggers and land grabbers, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazil banned most legal fires for land-clearing for 60 days in an attempt to stop the blazes decimating parts of the Amazon, reports the Associated Press. Yesterday's move coincides with the remainder of the dry period, when the rainforest is most at risk.
  • Despite the Brazilian government's recent moves to contain the environmental disaster represented by the fires, President Jair Bolsonaro has a long history of undermining environmental regulations, writes Carol Pires in the New Yorker.
  • And Brazil is facing increasing financial pressure to get the fires, and Bolsonaro's fiery rhetoric, under control -- Guardian.
  • The world is correct in worrying about the Amazon, but must show finesse in dealing with Brazil, according to the Economist.
  • The Intercept reports on links between a top Trump donor -- Blackstone -- and two Brazilian firms the U.S. investment company owns, which are drivers of Amazon deforestation.
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse is determined to finish out his mandate -- despite corruption allegations that have spurred massive protests demanding his resignation, rising violence, and dismal economic indicators. He also promised to respect the findings of a commission investigating the corruption allegations in an interview with the Associated Press.
  • Confidencial was nominated for a Reporters without Borders press freedom award: The independent weekly has made a name for itself with its investigative research and in-depth analysis of the political system - but also many enemies. After several death threats, editor Carlos Fernando Chamorro fled to Costa Rica to work from there.
  • Mexican feminists call out mainstream media for focusing more on material damages caused by their recent protests than the gender violence that spurred them on in the first place -- NACLA.
  • S&P Global Ratings downgrading Argentina’s debt to selective default yesterday, after the Macri administration moved to renegotiate debt. Presidential front-runner Alberto Fernández told the Wall Street Journal that he will eventually aim for a balanced budget, but first plans an ambitious program to restore purchasing power by increasing wages and government pensions, while containing inflationary pressures with a broad-ranging pact with employers.
  • It would be misguided to expect Alberto Fernández to be Nestor Kirchner 2.0. Not because of ideology, but because Fernández -- if he wins the October general election -- will inherit a drastically different economic and political landscape than the one Kirchner faced in 2003, writes Nicolás Saldías in Americas Quarterly.
  • If any conclusions are to be drawn from Argentina's recent primaries "the main would be that millions of voters have lost hope in the mandate for change of Cambiemos,but their faith in Peronism has hardly wavered," according to the New Yorker.
  • In the meantime, with nearly two months before October's general election, the Catholic Church urged President Mauricio Macri to declare a food and nutritional emergency, in light of the severe increase in poverty and the indiscriminate increases in food prices. (Página 12)

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

Thursday, August 29, 2019

FARC dissidents call to arms (Aug. 29, 2019)

A group of former FARC guerrillas said they will resume armed conflict, after demobilizing in the wake of a landmark peace treaty signed three years ago. Two former FARC leaders, known as Iván Márquez and Jesús Santrich, announced the offensive in a 32-minute YouTube video. They were in combat uniform and flanked by other armed fighters. It is believed the force could be between 2,200 and 3,000 fighters strong. 

The announcement underscores the floundering nature of the FARC peace deal. Critics say the government has not fulfilled promises of protection and reintegration into civilian life for former guerrillas. At least 120 rebels have been killed since the peace deal was signed. And hundreds more social leaders have been assassinated by armed groups vying for power in former FARC territories.

"The state has not fulfilled its most important obligations, which is to guarantee the life of its citizens and especially avoid assassinations for political reasons," said Márquez in the statement.

Current President Iván Duque campaigned in opposition to the peace deal signed by his predecessor, and has sought to modify a special justice system that would keep rank and file rebels out of jail. This year his administration sought to imprison Santrich on drug trafficking charges, after the Supreme Court ordered his release. Santrich disappeared shortly after and reappeared in the video yesterday.

The group’s objective is the installation of a government that will support peace, Márquez said. It will fight corruption and fracking and demand payments from those participating in illegal economies and from multinational companies, he said.

Márqeuz said the new dissident group would not attack soldiers or police officers who were “respectful to popular interests,” and would avoid kidnappings -- but he also said he plans to cooperate with the National Liberation Army (ELN), which is known for violence.

Márquez was a key FARC representative in Havana, where the peace deal was negotiated. Yesterday two former negotiators from the government, Sergio Jaramillo and Humberto de la Calle, condemned the new call to arms, but also said the government was to blame in undermining the deal: “Again and again, we told the government that its permanent attacks on the peace process and the risk to legal stability that come with it, could push commanders to make wrong decision,” they said.

Former FARC commander Rodrigo Londoño, known as Timochenko, said on Twitter the “great majority” of ex-FARC fighters remain committed to peace “despite all the difficulties and dangers.” But increasing numbers have been abandoning peace initiatives, and some analysts say the new call to arms could unite a couple dozen splinter groups of dissident fighters.

The new rebel group said the video was filmed in the Colombian Amazon, but some security experts said many of the dissidents were likely on the Venezuelan side of the border, and that the new call to arms will not immediately alter Colombia's security risks.

  • Out of the frying pan: Tens of thousands of Venezuelans who fled their country's humanitarian crisis found refuge in Colombia, but many have instead found themselves in the middle of an ongoing armed conflict where they are particularly vulnerable to abuses by armed groups, write Human Rights Watch's Tamara Taraciuk and Juan Pappier. (Americas Quarterly) "Colombia should get full credit for keeping an open-door policy for Venezuelans ... But residents in these conflict-ridden areas need the Colombian government to increase its presence and reassert the rule of law." (See Aug. 8's briefs for the full Human Rights Watch investigation on Armed groups in Colombia's northeastern Catatumbo region.)

Guatemala controlled by mafia -- CICIG's parting words

Guatemala's corruption is structural -- the country's state is captured by a "mafia coalition," which seeks to perpetuate the status quo and impunity, said the CICIG in its scathing final report, presented yesterday. One of the reasons why corruption networks persist is that "they have distorted democratic institutionality in their favor and they have molded the political system and designed mechanisms that allow them to occupy positions of power, manipulating legislation."  The report said that profound government restructuring is required to combat the phenomenon. (Associated PressEFE)

The United Nations backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala formally ends its mandate next week. But head commissioner Iván Velásquez said yesterday's report would be the CICIG's final public act. He spoke via video conference, as he has been barred from entering Guatemala by the Morales government, which has focused on undermining the anti-impunity commission's work throughout its term.

The final report particularly focuses on illustrating how illicit networks co-opt the state through illicit campaign financing.

In theory the CICIG's work will be continued by Guatemala's public ministry, which has worked with the CICIG throughout its 12-years of operation. But attorney general Consuelo Porras has shown little inclination towards this direction reports Nómada. Today she will inaugurate the new Fiscalía Especial contra la Impunidad, the unit which had worked with the CICIG. But she has refused to hire the 60 Guatemalan investigators and prosecutors that had worked with the CICIG. Several soon-to-be former CICIG collaborators have voiced concern for their safety. The Nómada piece also explains why losing trained professionals, including specialized police, will significantly affect corruption investigations moving forward.

Guatemalan president-elect Alejandro Giammattei said earlier this week that he will propose a new anti-corruption body which, “unlike the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), will collaborate with fixing the system.” (Telesur)

The report was presented at the CICIG headquarters, which will be razed and replaced with a mall. (EFE)

News Briefs

  • The United States will not prosecute or otherwise seek to punish President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela if he voluntarily leaves power, according to the U.S.'s special envoy for Venezuela, Elliot Abrams. He clarified to the New York Times that he sees no indication that Maduro will step down, but that the U.S. is sending a message. He also said that high-level talks described by Maduro and U.S. President Donald Trump absolutely did not occur. There are no secret negotiations between the two governments he said.
  • Abrams also said Trump administration would not support new national elections with an incumbent — either Maduro or opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognized as the country's interim president by the U.S. — on the ballot.
  • The Organization of American States condemned “grave and systematic” human rights abuses in Venezuela and demanded an independent investigation, in a resolution passed yesterday by a 21 to three vote. (AFP)
  • The U.S. State Department opened a representative office in Venezuela in Colombia, yesterday. The Venezuela Affairs Unit (VAU) will be headed by James Story, the U.S. charge d’affaires to Venezuela, and will continue U.S. opposition to Maduro and support for Guaidó from Bogotá. (Reuters)
  • Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez asked his Canadian counterpart to help end U.S. sanctions on Venezuela. Rodríguez and Chrystia Freeland met yesterday in Havana, their third meeting since May regarding the Venezuela crisis, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuela's Central Bank reported a $700 million jump in reserves coming from state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, according to Bloomberg.
  • Retroviral drugs are increasingly impossible to obtain in Venezuela, which has become the only country in the world where large numbers of HIV patients have been forced to discontinue treatment for lack of medication, reports Foreign Policy. Desperate patients increasingly seek resources in Colombia.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump directed aides to fast-track billions of dollars’ worth of construction contracts, aggressively seize private land and disregard environmental rules in pursuit of rapidly constructing the oft-mentioned border wall between Mexico and the U.S., according to the Washington Post. He reportedly reassured  subordinates that he will pardon them of any potential wrongdoing should they have to break laws to get the job done.
El Salvador
  • At least 116 people were killed by police in El Salvador in recent years in cases involving excessive use of force and abuse of authority, the country’s human rights prosecutor said in a report published this week. One of the more disturbing findings was the level of police impunity, said Raquel Caballero, head of the Prosecutor’s Office for the Defense of Human Rights. In the 48 cases of excessive police force, only 19 were prosecuted and two cases led to convictions.(Reuters)
  • The fires raging in the Brazilian Amazon are likely to intensify over the coming weeks, reports the Guardian.
  • Hundreds of Brazilian governmental workers said their work enforcing environmental regulations had been hampered by the Bolsonaro administration. In an open letter, employees of the country's environmental agency warned that  Brazil’s environmental protection system could “collapse” if nothing changes. (New York Times)
  • Members of the Xirin indigenous tribe of northern Brazil have taken matters into their own hands, expelling the loggers and ranchers who illegally occupied their land and set fire to the forest in Pará state, reports the Guardian.
  • Though it hurts to admit it, Bolsonaro is not the only person responsible for Amazon fires. The global fashion industry -- and its consumers -- have a lot of blame to shoulder for the blazes consuming the rainforest, particularly leather products, reports the Guardian.
  • The world cannot demand that Brazil turn 61 percent of its national territory into an ecological reserve, efforts to protect the vital ecosystem must respect the country's sovereignty and seek sustainable development that builds on the rainforest's natural wealth, argues former Brazilian cabinet member Roberto Mangabeira Unger in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra and his Colombian counterpart, Iván Duque, called a meeting of Amazon countries to coordinate fire fighting strategies. (Reuters)
Argentina - sigue girando
  • Argentina's government announced a debt restructuring -- "reprofiling" is the spin term-- yesterday, a move that was widely expected but nonetheless left markets reeling. The peso weakened 2 percent against the dollar today. Country risk is at its highest level since 2005. The initiative seeks to extend the maturity for short-term debt issued in Argentina as well as bonds issued abroad without reducing the capital or the interest, explained Finance Minister Hernán Lacunza. (Wall Street JournalReutersForbesInfobae)
  • In a speech today President Mauricio Macri sought to blame the political opposition, the likely winner of October's presidential elections, for the financial unrest. He also lashed out at the electoral primary system, which at a national level has functioned as an elaborate opinion poll ahead of the general elections and left him in a tricky lame duck situation. (Infobae)
  • Earlier this week presidential candidate Alberto Fernández, widely expected to win in October, met with IMF representatives. He later lambasted the multilateral organization and Argentina's government, saying they are to blame for the country's "social catastrophe." "The loan received by the country and the raft of conditions associated with it has not generated any of the hoped-for results: the economy has not stopped contracting, employment and the situation for businesses and families has continued to get worse, inflation has not shown any sustained reduction, and public debt has only grown," said a statement from Fernandez's office. (Buenos Aires Times)
  • In a region where presidents often try to cling to power as often as possible, Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra wants to call early elections. It could be part of a strategy to go out with popular support, and also a reflection of his relative lack of power, reports the Financial Times.

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

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Barbados talks could resume soon (Aug. 28, 2019)

News Briefs

  • Barbados discussions between Venezuela's government and opposition could resume as early as this weekend, according to some sources. (Venezuela WeeklyGuiadó confirmed that there had been discussion with Norwegian diplomats to start up another round, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Migration out of Venezuela has spiked in the wake of new U.S. sanctions earlier this month, and ahead of Ecuador's requirement of a visa for entry. Forty regional human rights groups, members of the “Working Group on Venezuelan Human Mobility,” criticized the measure -- which requires Venezuelans to produce difficult to obtain official documents -- and suggest it is part of a regional trend that will make migration more difficult, reports the Venezuela Weekly.
  • Venezuelan migrants will be provided with a regional vaccination card beginning in October, part of a pact between ten countries in the region, reports Reuters.
  • Former Chávez supporters in Venezuela must grapple with a legacy that is very different from what they originally believed in, writes Nicmer Evans in a New York Times Español op-ed. "Today, with Venezuela in ruins, I admit it was a mistake thinking that a democratic left had arrived with Chávez ... It didn't. Instead, the foundations for an authoritarian regime were installed ..." He calls on former Chavistas to support reform of Venezuela's democratic institutions, and says the only hope for the movement's survival is to admit missteps and redefine its political project.
  • Venezuela's Maduro-loyal Supreme Court ordered new elections in the country's autonomous universities, long considered an anti-government bastion, reports El País.
  • Haiti's national police director's mandate ended this week, just a month after arresting one of Haiti’s most wanted gang leaders and exposing a troubling connection between gang leaders and a member of the nation’s parliament, reports the Miami Herald. The changeover in the police leadership occurs at a troubling time for the country -- President Jovenel Moïse is under considerable pressure from protesters, there is no functioning government, and the U.N. is preparing to permanently end its peacekeeping operation in October after 15 years.
  • A U.S. lawsuit against Carnival Corporation seeks to punish the cruise operator for using assets that were expropriated by the Fidel Castro government in Cuba. The suit is being carried out under a newly activated provision of the U.S. Helms-Burton act, and could be the start of lawsuits against dozens of U.S. companies operating in Cuba, reports the Miami Herald. (See April 18's post.)
  • Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has hit the highest August level since the current monitoring system began in 2015, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro promised a "zero-tolerance" approach to environmental crimes in the wake of international outcry about fires in the Amazon rainforest. But the discourse is at odds with his track record since assuming office in January. "He has worked relentlessly and unapologetically to roll back enforcement of Brazil’s once-strict environmental protections," reports the New York Times.
  • Bolsonaro's demand for an apology from French President Emmanuel Macron before accepting an aid package from the G-7 bodes ill on the whole environmental thing. (Wall Street JournalGuardian, see yesterday's post)
  • A new São Paulo publication, Samba Zine, features only L.G.B.T.Q. Brazilian individuals, communities and causes -- and is also produced by L.G.B.T.Q. Brazilian photographers, stylists, makeup artists, etc. In a country rattled by increasingly acrimonious political divisions and negative rhetoric about minorities, the magazine offers an optimistic vision, reports the New York Times.
  • Forest fires raging in Bolivia could impact President Evo Morales' chances at reelection in October -- and the government has gone into crisis mode to ensure it doesn't, reports El País. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Paraguayan police raids demonstrate how Paraguayan corruption has allowed smuggling to to flourish along the country's border with Brazil, reports InSight Crime.
  • The case of a baby who died of sudden death syndrome babysat by a twelve-year-old sister while their mother carried out sex work has caused controversy in Uruguay. The woman was condemned by a judge -- and exposed and excoriated by press and social media -- even though forensics determined the infant would have died regardless. (El País)

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

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Amazon on fire -- political and logistical challenges (Aug. 27, 2019)

The Amazon fires present dual political and logistical challenges. The political aspects have dominated thus far. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro initially rejected a $22.2 million package aimed at helping the country quell blazes burning through the Amazon rainforest. The aid package from Group of Seven nations has taken a back seat to an increasingly acrimonious dispute between Bolsonaro and French President Emmanuel Macron. Bolsonaro's chief of staff suggested the funds might be better used to reforest Europe yesterday, reports the Guardian

While the two bicker over whether Macron has a colonialist mentality, whether France's fire track record puts it in a place to criticize Brazil, and how Bolsonaro insulted the French first lady, Brazilian state officials in areas affected by fires said they might bypass the national government and seek international assistance directly, report the Washington Post and the New York Times. (See yesterday's post.)

But experts are more concerned about the operational difficulty of stamping out the flames consuming tracts of rainforest: there are hundreds of fires, burning simultaneously and far away from road networks. In this context, the resources pledged by the G-7 will be just a drop in the proverbial bucket. (Washington Post and Guardian)

Backlash against Bolsonaro has been massive internationally, but on the ground in many parts of Brazil affected by the fires, local farmers argue that fire and deforestation are essential to agricultural production, and strongly back Bolsonaro, reports the New York Times.

Brazilian prosecutors in Pará state opened an investigation into the case, after revealing that they warned national officials that local farmers had planned a "fire day" demonstration in the area, aimed at protesting environmental regulations. Environmental officials told the Guardian they were aware of the planned fires, but lacked police support and reinforcements. Brazil’s prosecutor-general Raquel Dodge said yesterday that there was a “suspicion of orchestrated action."

More fires

  • At first glance there is little in common between Bolsonaro and his Bolivian counterpart, Evo Morales. But fires in both countries' forests can be traced to policies that encouraged deforestation, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Initial estimates indicate 600 hectares of rainforest have been destroyed in Bolivia's north-eastern region of Bení, and indigenous populations are now threatened, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
News Briefs

  • Morales and his main opponent, Carlos Mesa, have temporarily suspended their presidential campaigns due to the fire crisis. Though Morales' bid for a fourth term is questioned by critics and legalists, he is the likely voter favorite and could win in the first round of voting on Oct. 20. The reasons behind his popularity are largely economic, explains Americas Quarterly, though Bolivia's growth masks underlying economic weaknesses.
  • Panama has become the latest battleground in the U.S. push to stop migrants headed for its border. The focal point in Panama, a longtime U.S. ally, is extracontinental migrants, who come from outside Latin America. U.S. officials seek to improve screening of migrants with potential terrorism links crossing through the dangerous Darien Gap, reports the Washington Post. Panama's president has rejected the possibility of a bilateral asylum agreement with the U.S., however.
  • Latin American leaders -- including all six Central American governments -- called for “shock” investment in infrastructure in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to reduce the number of migrants who leave the Northern Triangle headed towards the U.S. (Reuters)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the country is fulfilling its commitment to the U.S. to reduce the flow of migrants crossing Mexico. Mexico and U.S. officials will meet on Sept. 10 to evaluate measures implemented after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened Mexico with tariffs if it did not crackdown on migration, reports Reuters.
  • The U.S. onslaught against migration could be turned into a boon for Mexico's economy, if the López Obrador administration changes the country's focus from policing to integration focused on increasing productivity, argues Viridiana Ríos in a New York Time Español op-ed.
  • A post- Ortega democratic transition in Nicaragua must not be founded on amnesty, but rather justice without impunity, argues Carlos Chamorro in a call for an international commission modeled on Guatemala's CICIG and Honduras' MACCIH. (Confidencial)
  • Drug trafficking groups in Honduras have savvily added illegal logging to their economic portfolio. The two illicit businesses compliment each other, as cocaine and timber share clandestine shipping routes, reports InSight Crime
  • A notorious Venezuelan gang leader is reportedly operating from Colombia -- yet another demonstration of how Venezuela's increasing international isolation has helped protect illicit groups along the two countries' shared border, reports InSight Crime.
  • Violent Venezuelan deaths on the Colombian side of the border have increased sharply in recent years, an continue to grow, reports Reuters.
  • Hundreds of community leaders have been killed since Colombia's peace deal with the FARC -- in part due to warring illicit groups vying to control territory and illegal economies. The issue has become a political headache for the Duque administration, which says it has reduced violence. (Reuters)
  • Women's rights activists in Mexico are leading the "glitter revolution" (revolución diamantina) -- they demand government policies in response to violence against women. The demands aren't new, but protesters are angered by a perceived lack of response and new allegations that police officers raped teenage girls, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Cuba drastically reformed fishing laws, a major step in preserving marine ecosystems that will also promote scientific collaboration with the U.S. -- despite the Trump administration's rapprochement reversal, reports the Guardian.
  • The IMF "browbeats poor countries into accepting neoliberal measures that exacerbate inequality and economic distress," argues Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. He cites the case of Ecuador, which signed an agreement to borrow $4.2 billion from the IMF over three years in March.

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

Monday, August 26, 2019

Bolsonaro sends troops to fight Amazon fires (Aug. 26, 2019)

Fires and international pressure finally sent Brazil's government into crisis mode. This weekend President Jair Bolsonaro's administration began deploying a military operation aimed at combatting intense blazes in the country's Amazon. But the goal is dual: protecting the forest and Brazil's external image, reports the Washington Post. The military is aiming to put out widespread forest fires, but commanders also said an important part of the mission was creating "a positive perception of the country," reports the New York Times.

On Saturday Bolsonaro gave a speech promising a “zero tolerance” approach to environmental crimes -- a sharp about-face after social media threatened boycotts of Brazilian products and European countries said trade deals might be on the line. 

The crisis has brought to the fore a central tension over the Amazon -- which Brazil considers a matter of sovereignty, but is considered a global priority by international activists and some world politicians. How the international community phrases demands for environmental protection will be key in determining response, warn some experts. If demands veer towards interventionist, Bolsonaro might succeed in rallying nationalist response, according to the Washington Post.

This morning G7 countries announced an immediate $20m aid package to help Amazon countries fight wildfires and launch a longer-term global initiative to protect the rainforest. The plan would involve a reforestation program, details of which will be revealed at next month's U.N. general assembly meeting. But it was not immediately clear whether Bolsonaro will cooperate, reports the Guardian. On Twitter his first reaction was to criticize French President Emmanuel Macron for treating Brazil as if was "a colony or a no-man’s land."

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said G7 countries will be seeking a more collaborative approach on the issue, after diplomatic clashes on the Amazon fires last week. (See Friday's post.)

Funds will be made available immediately, to pay for fire-fighting planes, said Macron. He also promised to "offer concrete support with military in the region within the next few hours," reports the BBC.

The extent of the Bolsonaro administration's plan to undermine environmental protections is stunning. OpenDemocracy accessed a government powerpoint outlining a strategy to thwart international conservation efforts and sideline indigenous rights in the Amazon.

  • While international attention has focused on Brazilian blazes, Bolivia's unique Chiquitano forest is also being devastated by vicious forest firesPresident Evo Morales suspended his re-election campaign yesterday, after initially downplaying the crisis -- and asked for international aid to assist in combatting the flames which have destroyed 2.5 million acres of forestland in the eastern state of Santa Cruz. Morales critics say the destruction -- traced to illlegal fires started by small-scale farmers clearing land -- were encouraged by the Morales administration's push to capture votes by handing out land to peasants and opening up new areas to agribusiness, reports the New York Times. A month ago Morales announced measures aimed at increasing beef production for export -- 21 civil society organizations are now calling for the repeal of this decree, arguing that it has helped cause the fires and violates Bolivia’s environmental laws, explains Claire Wordley in the Conversation.
More Amazon on fire
  • The fires are real, but a lot of the pictures circulating on social media are not of the current blazes, and some are not even from the Amazon -- New York Times.
  • Not that the scope and severity of the fires is anything less than alarming. Satellite imagery paints a potent picture. (Washington Post)
News Briefs

  • The U.S. Trump administration backtracked on a plan to slash foreign aid, last week. (PoliticoNew York Times) The plan would have an cut estimated $4 billion in unallocated foreign aid funding this year. (See last Monday's post.)
  • Negotiating an exit to Venezuela's crisis is uncomfortable given the players at the table, but it's the only possible way out of the labyrinth, argues Alberto Barrera Tyszka in a New York Times Español op-ed. The Norway-mediated dialogue between the government and opposition is the best option, but talks have been undermined by U.S. sanctions that allow Nicolás Maduro to play the victim of imperialism.
  • An estimated 10,000 Venezuelan migrants crossed from Colombia to Ecuador this weekend, ahead of a new visa requirement that went into effect today, reports EFE. Local authorities voiced concern that the new regulation would push more migrants to cross illegally, with added risks, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Jamaica is afflicted by an outbreak of violence -- the government has responded by calling a state of emergency and sending troops onto the streets. The majority of the country's homicides -- 80 percent -- are carried out with firearms, most of which come from the U.S., where loose regulations make them easy to purchase. Jamaica is just one of the countries in the region where U.S. arms are fueling carnage, reports the New York Times.
El Salvador
  • Former Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes is accused of large scale corruption -- investigative reporting shows how he spent lavishly on his personal life even as social priorities in El Salvador languished due to lack of funding. He has received asylum in Nicaragua, and says the accusations are politically motivated. But efforts to bring Funes to a Salvadoran court go well beyond partisan bickering, writes Óscar Martínez in a collaboration between El Faro and El País.
  • Mexico is the second most dangerous country in Latin America for women -- and activists are angry that the López Obrador administration hasn't made gender issues a priority, despite campaign promises. Worst, austerity plans are affecting much needed initiatives including child-care and women's shelters, reports the Conversation.
  • Mexico's government reached a preliminary deal with four private energy companies that could resolve a months-long conflict over natural-gas-pipeline contracts, reports the Wall Street Journal. The issue is considered a test of the López Obrador administration's commitment to honoring existing contracts with the private sector.
  • Guatemalan president-elect Alejandro Giammattei will face a highly complicated security panorama, primarily regarding impunity, corruption and the country’s ever-present gangs, reports InSight Crime.
Brazil vs France
  • Bolsonaro and Macron sparred on a whole different issue on the side of the Amazon conflagration -- Bolsonaro made disparaging comments about French First Lady Brigitte Macron's appearance on Twitter. To which Macron responded today in a press conference: "I myself believe Brazilian women are probably ashamed to read that from their president. I believe the Brazilian people, which is a great people, are a bit ashamed of those kind of behaviors. ... I have a lot of friendship and respect for the Brazilian people, I hope they will very soon have a president that acts like one." (Washington Post)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Friday, August 23, 2019

Amazon fires burning Bolsonaro (Aug. 23, 2019)

Conflagrations in Brazil's Amazon rainforest have become a topic of high level international and national concern -- with backlash that could affect Brazil's global standing and trade. Dozens of fires are affecting different parts of the Amazon -- they are more severe than in previous years. In just a week, 9,507 new fires were detected and affected at least 32 natural reserves and 36 indigenous lands. Flights throughout the Amazon were suspended today because smoke affected visibility, and hospitals in the region are reporting an influx of patients with smoke inhalation related complications. (New York TimesWashington Post, Al Jazeera, see yesterday's post.) 

French president, Emmanuel Macron called for emergency talks on the subject at this week’s G7 summit. German chancellor Angela Merkel backed his call. (Guardian) UN secretary general, António Guterres, has also urged Brazil to take action. “In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity. The Amazon must be protected,” he tweeted. “The ongoing forest fires in Brazil are deeply worrying,” the European Commission said in a statement on Thursday. Leonardo DiCaprio and Ariana Grande have joined the critical chorus.

At home, Brazilians overwhelmingly support Amazon protections, according to polls. A petition by the campaign group Avaaz asking the government to halt illegal deforestation has received 1.1 million signatures in Brazil. On Wednesday the Brazilian environment minister was booed at an international climate event in Salvador state.

Indigenous leaders in the northern state of Rondônia countered official attempts to downplay the severity of the fires, and described watching wild animals dashing out of areas of the forest as the flames approached, reports the New York Times.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has sought to deflect criticism of his environmental policies -- he lashed out at world leaders, saying they are interfering in Brazil's domestic policies. He also said Brazil lacks resources to respond to the fires, and hinted he may deploy the army, reports Reuters.

What is causing the fires is also the subject of controversial debate. Experts link the massive increase in fires -- 85 percent this year over the last -- to deforestation, countering government attempts to link the flames to a supposedly more intense seasonal drought. (Buzzfeed) It's common for farmers to illegally clear land with fires during the dry season, but critics say they have been emboldened by the Bolsonaro administration's anti-environmental rhetoric and policies. (Economist)

This week Bolsonaro accused NGO's of arson aimed at embarrassing his government. (See yesterday's post.) Yesterday 118 organizations of civil society condemned his allegation: The president doesn’t need NGOs to burn the image of Brazil in the world,” they said.

The fires -- and calls for action -- come as experts warn that deforestation is pushing the Amazon closer to a tipping point of self-destruction. Data shows a surge of deforestation this year, and activists say illicit activity is fueled by the Bolsonaro administration's rhetoric, which is dismissive of environmental and indigenous rights, reports the Guardian.

Bolsonaro's policies could affect trade. Yesterday Ireland’s prime minister said the country will vote against an EU trade deal with the Mercosur trade bloc unless Brazil takes action to stop the burning of the Amazon. The UK, on the other hand, has focused on a post-Brexit trade deal and abstained from commenting on the Amazon this week. Germany and Norway are withholding contributions to Brazil's Amazon Fund, but have not said whether Brazil's environmental policies will impact their stance on the Mercosur trade deal. (Guardian)

Brazil's agricultural sector, in turn, is starting to voice concern that the Bolsonaro administration's stance will hurt their market -- and could push an unusual alliance between agribusiness and environmentalists, say some observes. A lawmaker from the ruralist caucus in Congress, which usually seeks to expand agribusiness into the Amazon, worried that environmentalist backlash could prove harmful to the sector.  And a group of governors have voiced concern over the potential impact on trade, and are asking international donors to bypass the federal government and work with state authorities, on conservation efforts. (GuardianNew York Times)

More Fires
  • The fires are spreading across borders. In Bolivia's fires have destroyed 650,000 hectares of tropical rainforest -- possibly set by local farmers. Bolivia and Paraguay said they were cooperating to extinguish fires along their joint border, and Bolivian President Evo Morales said the country had contracted a Boeing 747 ‘Supertanker’ to help extinguish Amazon forest fires spreading from Brazil. (ReutersPrensa LatinaTelesur)
News Briefs

  • A wireless network created by video-game enthusiasts in Cuba is the target of an official crackdown on private networks, reports the Miami Herald. New regulations have unleashed a broader wave of repression that has also targeted independent journalists, artists and academics.
  • A significant Zika virus outbreak in Cuba in 2017 was unreported by global health authorities, reports the New York Times.
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse survived an impeachment attempt yesterday in parliament. Opposition lawmakers have accused him of numerous constitutional violations. (Voice of America)
  • An Honduran court convicted former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo on charges of fraud and embezzlement. The case is the first major achievement of the OAS-backed Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) and a landmark case for the country's corruption prosecutors, reports InSight Crime.
  • Interpol issued a red notice for a fugitive Colombian lawmaker and former FARC rebel commander Seuxis Paucias Hernandez, known by the alias Jesús Santrich. The U.S. has accused him of conspiring to smuggle cocaine, which Santrich denied before going into hiding in July. (Reuters)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump's aggressive 2019 strategy for Venezuela is backfiring on numerous fronts, argues Oliver Stuenkel at Americas Quarterly. In fact, association with Trump has become a significant liability for presidential challenger Juan Guaidó.
  • A U.S. judge confirmed the Citgo Petroleum board of directors appointed by Venezuelan opposition politician Juan Guaidó, who the U.S. recognizes as the country's legitimate leader. (Reuters)
  • Revelations of significant wrongdoing in Brazil's landmark corruption investigation -- Lava Jato -- led credence to theories that "the misuse of judicial powers against perceived enemies, is the new mechanism through which conservative elites, or foreign governments, or international capital, undermine democracies, taking the place of the old-fashioned military putsch," reports the Atlantic.
  • Paraguay's lower chamber of congress rejected an impeachment motion against President Mario Abdo Benítez on Tuesday. The result was expected after the two warring factions of the governing Colorado Party united in defense of the president, reports EFE. Protesters and opposition politicians dubbed the move an "impunity pact" aimed at protecting the Colorado Party's grip on power in the wake of an energy deal scandal that has affected Abdo Benítez's popularity, reports Telesur.
  • A very detailed account of the secret Itaipú dam energy deal between Paraguay and Brazil that unleashed said scandal, by Christine Folch at Global Americans.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri's drubbing in this month's primary elections demonstrates the limits of technocracy for the Economist. With few successes, Macri is running for reelection with a fear based campaign -- he sought to convince voters of the dangers of returning to his predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. When she stepped aside, the vote became a referendum on the country's dismal economic indicators.
  • The Mexico City marathon is overrun by cheats -- the Economist.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...