Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Hondurans protest co-conspirator 4, JOH (Aug. 7, 2019)

Thousands of protesters in Tegucigalpa demanded Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández's resignation yesterday. U.S. prosecutors have accused him of using $1.5 million from drug traffickers in his 2013 election. "The narco must go, JOH must go!" protesters chanted. Riot police clashed with protesters, who they attempted to disperse with tear gas and water cannons. At least three businesses were set on fire, reports Reuters. (Photos at Criterio.)

Yesterday's protest was called by a coalition of health and education sector activists who have been protesting against Honduras' government for months -- but they were joined by students, workers, activists, and opposition parties, reports Criterio.

Hernández has been under increasing pressure since his brother, Tony Hernández, was arrested in Miami last year on drug trafficking charges. A U.S. court filing unsealed last week said some funds from Hernández's campaign came from drug proceeds that were used to bribe local officials in exchange for protection and the completion of public works. Some of yesterday's protesters called for "co-conspirator 4" to resign, in reference to how the U.S. documents refer to JOH.

The allegations may end U.S. support for JOH, who has been held up as a poster child for U.S. allies in the region who have sought to tackle drug trafficking, according to InSight Crime.

Corruption is a significant push factor for migrants leaving the country, a major U.S. concern (obsession?). But drug funds may be just the tip of the iceberg. A vast corruption scheme investigated by Honduras' attorney general and an international anti-graft commission directly links JOH and his family to embezzlement of public funds. Univisión reports that the investigation links 176 politicians to a corrupt network of at least 53 nonprofits which received more than $70 million over the last decade, most of which was used to influence elections and important votes. The majority of the funds involved in the alleged corruption schemes investigated by Univisión were authorized by Hernández’s office. Univisón's investigation delves into the depth of institutionalized corruption, and MACCIH's role in uncovering it.


Lima summit turns hawkish

This week's international conference in Lima was supposed to focus on political solutions for Venezuela's protracted crisis. Instead, the International Conference for Democracy in Venezuela became a platform for U.S. hardline policies to further isolate President Nicolás Maduro's legitimacy-challenged government in hopes of toppling it. (Efecto CocuyoNew York TimesDeutsche Welle)

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton warned foreign governments and companies that they could face retaliation in the U.S. if they continue to do business with Venezuela. He spoke the day after new U.S. sanctions froze all Venezuelan government assets in the U.S. on Monday, leading many reports to speak of an "embargo." “We take this step to deny Maduro access to the global financial system and to further isolate him internationally,” Bolton said.

But many analysts expect the new measures to interfere with a negotiated solution between Maduro and the Venezuelan opposition led by Juan Guaidó. Maduro officials yesterday said the U.S.'s goal was to sabotage ongoing negotiations between the two sides in Barbados, mediated by Norway, reports the Associated Press. Venezuela’s U.N. Ambassador called the measure an act of war, reports Reuters.

The new sanctions shouldn't be called an embargo however say analysts. (The Miami Herald analyzes the differences between the Venezuela measures and the Cuba embargo.) Trade with Venezuela isn't the focus, instead the measure aims to ensure Venezuela's opposition can eventually control Citgo, argues economist Francisco Rodríguez in the Washington Post. Indeed, Guaidó celebrated that the U.S. action would prevent Maduro from attempting to mortgage assets of the Houston-based oil company, which is Venezuela’s most valuable overseas asset.

However, Rodríguez notes that the term embargo comes with a slew of negative connotations that will allow Maduro to play the victim -- as has occurred for decades with the U.S. embargo on Cuba. In fact, Bolton mentioned Cuba nine times in 12 minutes in his speech yesterday, notes the NYT, saying that extreme economic pressure will "work in Venezuela and it will work in Cuba." The United States has banned most trade with Cuba since 1962, without toppling its government. Indeed, this is another limitation of the new move, which U.S. with limited diplomatic options if the current sanctions fail to topple Venezuela's government.

Criticisms of the humanitarian effects of sanctions has been constant, but yesterday 16 human rights groups expressed concern that the new measures could "aggravate Venezuela’s humanitarian emergency" and "inflict further suffering on the Venezuelan people." The signatories, including WOLA, Provea, and Dejusticia, call on the U.S. to respond to the crisis without worsening human suffering on the ground. "If there is no way to avoid the human cost of these measures and provide humanitarian assistance with the urgency and breadth that is required, then they should be lifted." The letter also makes reference to the Barbados negotiations, and says international efforts should be directed towards this approach.

Despite concern over the U.S. rhetoric, Maduro and Guaidó representatives said Barbados talks could continue this Thursday and through the weekend, reports El Pitazo.
News Briefs

  • "The violence in El Paso is not about immigration policy. It is about promoting the hate, fear and division sown by" U.S. President Donald Trump, argues UnidosUS president Janet Murguía in a New York Times op-ed. (See Monday's post.)
  • Indeed, international reactions to the shooting focused on the U.S.'s toxic mixture of racism, nationalism and terrorism and Trump's role in inflaming such divisions, reports the New York Times.
  • Trump and Republican's "poisonous anti-immigrant rhetoric" are only part of the story. Instead, the perpetrators of this weekends shootings and white nationalist policy makers should be seen as parallel actors, "both aiming in the same direction, both with the same goal: To maintain and ensure white dominance and white supremacy," argues New York Times opinion columnist Charles Blow.
  • Mexico will seek the extradition of the El Paso shooter, but is unlikely to convince the U.S., reports the Washington Post. (See Monday's post.)
  • The Brazilian gang leader who attempted to escape from jail last week disguised as his daughter (see Monday's briefs) was found dead in his cell. Authorities suggested he took his own life. (GuardianNew York Times)
  • An ambitious, $250m urbanization project aims to transform one of Buenos Aires' most recognized shantytowns, Villa 31, into an official neighborhood, with property titles, legal access (and corresponding payments) to utilities, and integration with city infrastructure. (Guardian)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...Latin America Daily Briefing

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