Friday, August 2, 2019

U.S. seeking migration deals with other Lat Am countries (Aug. 2, 2019)

The U.S. and Guatemala aim to implement a newly signed migration agreement later this month. The deal, which would force migrants who travel through Guatemala to apply for humanitarian asylum there rather than the U.S., faces significant legal challenges in both countries, however.

This week Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, visited Guatemala and attempted to sell the agreement, which is unpopular. He outlined a vision of expanded regional asylum capacities, in which migrants find protection "as close to their home as possible." In meetings with Guatemalan government officials and business leaders McAleenan said that the United States was lobbying Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama and Brazil to agree to similar deals. It is not clear, however, how close to realization any such deals would be. Mexican officials have repeatedly rejected the possibility of becoming a safe third country.

The agreement with Guatemala would mean that asylum seekers reaching the U.S. would be interviewed to determine if they passed through Guatemala on their way. If the migrant cannot prove a fear of persecution or torture if returned to Guatemala, he or she will be given the choice of of returning to Guatemala or their home country.

Experts have expressed concern that Guatemala's refugee system is woefully unprepared for the challenge such a policy will present. (See yesterday's briefs.) U.S. officials said this week that the Trump administration could $40 million to build up Guatemala’s ability to create an asylum system — case workers, shelters and so forth — for those who truly need protection. A draft plan circulating among U.S. officials suggests a slow implementation: several hundred deportees to Guatemala per month. McAleenan said that during the initial phase of the policy, it would be single men who are returned, followed by single women and subsequently families.

McAleenan also said the policy would be implemented with the support of the United Nations' International Organization for Migration and the High Commissioner for Refugees. But media reports note that support from the U.N. for the policy is not immediately clear.

However McAleenan also sought to reassure Guatemalan officials that most migrants from Honduras and El Salvador would likely choose to return to their home countries rather than seek asylum in Guatemala. He said the agreement is a way for Guatemala to do its share relative to the regional migration crisis, as 30 percent of the migrants detained at the U.S. border com from Guatemala and half have passed through Guatemala on their way to the U.S.

Guatemala's Constitutional Court had previously ruled that President Jimmy Morales would need congressional approval for such a deal. Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart said yesterday the deal it would be sent to Guatemalan lawmakers soon. Candidates in Guatemala's upcoming presidential run-off election, especially Sandra Torres, have criticized the nature of the deal and it's signature by an administration due to leave office in January. (See yesterday's briefs.)

But Guatemalan officials were pressured by tariff threats from the Trump administration. Once the deal is implemented, officials promised to reinstate more than $150 million in aid that Trump froze earlier this year.

Even without a safe third country deal with Mexico, the Guatemala deal and a previous program that allows the U.S. to send asylum seekers to Mexico to await adjudication, means that the U.S. will effectively be able to turn away almost everybody arriving on its southern border. The Washington Post describes how the U.S.'s current policies towards migration resemble "a complex, Rube Goldberg-esque system of enforcement and deterrence" and allow the Trump administration to use foreign governments to sidestep opposition from congressional Democrats.

News Briefs

  • Mexico's government opened a 3,500 person capacity shelter for migrants seeking asylum in the United States who have been sent back to Mexico to await the process in Ciudad Juarez. Government officials said said that similar shelters would open in the coming days in Tijuana and Mexicali and that there are plans for one in Nuevo Laredo. The U.S. has returned more than 20,000 asylum seekers to wait in Mexico since the program began in January, reports the Associated Press.
  • Corruption permeates every level of Hondura's institutions -- from health care, to police -- permitting gangs to flourish and causing enough desperation to push people to migrate, despite the dangers, writes Sonia Nazario in a New York Times op-ed that criticizes the Trump administration's aid cuts in retaliation for Central American migration.
  • The Economist tracks the sharp drop of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández's popularity and power in recent years -- particularly since his internationally questioned reelection in 2017 -- to the point where it is rumored he might not complete his current mandate which ends in 2022.
El Salvador
  • Washington Post photoessay shows gang members who have found salvation in El Salvador's prisons.
  • A young woman accused of inducing an abortion faces retrial, after El Salvador's Supreme Court ordered her released and re-tried because the original judge’s ruling of aggravated homicide was based on prejudice and insufficient evidence, reports Reuters.
  • Chile's landmark law permitting abortions in certain cases has been undermined by "conscientious objectors" in the medical establishment that make it difficult for women to actually terminate pregnancies. (BBC)
  • Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega officially ended talks with the opposition Civic Alliance in a letter to Vatican mediator Apostolic Nuncio Waldemar Somertag, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.)
  • The Amazon is reaching a tipping point -- if deforestation continues the rainforest might not be able recover, and instead will shrink no matter what people do. Though some of the Bolsonaro administration's efforts to undermine environmental protections were thwarted, the government is still indirectly encouraging deforestation by not enforcing regulations that prohibit it, explains the Economist. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro argues that what Brazil does with its natural resources are a question of sovereignty, but the implications for other countries are drastic, argues the Economist in a separate piece. "If Brazil were damming a real river, not choking off an aerial one, downstream nations could consider it an act of war."
  • The prison massacre earlier this week in which 57 inmates were killed demonstrates potential shifts in Brazil's criminal groups' alliances, reports InSight Crime.
  • The prison riot comes as Bolsonaro's tough on crime approaches put more people than ever in Brazil's overcrowded detention centers, reports the Associated Press.
  • Market reaction to the passage of pension reform in Brazil's Chamber of Deputies was muted -- but the implications are big, both for the economy and politics, writes Tony Volpon at Americas Quarterly.
  • Trump said that he is considering a quarantine or blockade of Venezuela, he spoke at a campaign rally and gave no further detail. (USA TodayReuters)
  • Trump's special representative for Venezuela says Canada and the U.S. are angling to convince the European Union to impose more sanctions on Venezuela's government. (CBC)
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro honored a group of U.S. protesters who occupied the country's Washington embassy for more than a month this year in an attempt to prevent Venezuela's opposition representatives from controlling the mission. (Washington Post)
  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra's surprising suggestion that lawmakers call for early elections next year -- which would effectively end their terms as well as his own -- is a sign of frustration with ongoing congressional intransigence, reports the Economist. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • Paraguay and Brazil canceled an energy deal that sparked controversy for Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez at home. Paraguayan lawmakers backed off from an impeachment threat after Abdo apologized for the handling of the scandal, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • CNN profiles a Haitian youth empowerment program called SAKALA in Cité Soleil that promotes peace through sports, gardening and education.
  • A newspaper in northern Mexico,  El Monitor de Parral said it will temporarily suspend its print edition after a gasoline bomb attack on its offices. (Guardian)
  • Criminal groups have resorted to hiding corpses in residential homes in Mexico's Jalisco state, which already has one of the highest numbers of bodies recovered from mass graves in recent years. (InSight Crime)
  • Muxes in southern Mexico show how gender norms are more fluid than expected, even in some traditional societies. (Washington Post photo-essay)
  • A grassroots movement fielding independent candidates in Mexico's election last year won about a million votes, but ended up with no representation in Congress because of rules surrounding independents. Now leader Pedro Kumamoto is founding his own political party and rethinking how to challenge the Mexico's electoral system -- Americas Quarterly.

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


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