Monday, September 30, 2019

Haitian protesters search for Moïse (Sept. 30, 2019)

Haitian opposition leaders are calling for further protests today -- tens of thousands of citizens are expected to paralyze the streets in demand of President Jovenel Moïse's resignation, building on weeks of demonstrations and political clashes that have claimed several lives, reports the Miami Herald. The immediate cause of unrest is gas shortages -- related to government insolvency. But the underlying issue is an inflation ridden economy and unanswered calls for an in-depth investigation into alleged government corruption that in the previous administration is accused of embezzling billions of dollars from a Venezuelan development program, Petrocaribe.

The past year has been marked by turmoil, and the country has been without a confirmed prime minister for over six months.

Opposition leaders asked supporters to keep the country shut-down until Moïse tenders his resignation, reports the New York Times. At a news conference yesterday opposition leaders called on supporters to block streets and help them look for Moïse, whom they contend has gone into hiding. Moïse last week insisted that he will not step down, instead calling for unity in a 2 a.m. televised address. He hasn't been seen in public since last Wednesday morning. On Thursday Moïse tweeted that he had asked Religions for Peace, an inter-religious group of Haiti’s principal religions, to play the role of mediator between him and the opposition pushing for him to resign. (See last Thursday's briefs.)

Protests last week became violent, particularly in the wake of Moïse's televised speech. Opposition leaders said the only dialogue the religious group can mediate is Moïse's exit. Protesters throughout the country burned tires, erected barricades and ransacked and pillaged police stations and set businesses on fire, reported the Miami Herald on Friday. In Port-au-Prince, hundreds of opposition supporters ransacked a police station and an Avis car rental office and Western Union branch were also attacked and burned, reports the Associated Press.

A spokesman for the police, told AFP that all measures were taken to "avoid clashes with the population."

Corruption, shortages, poor economic indicators and natural disasters have all played a significant role in Haiti's current crisis. But experts are also increasingly also pointing to climate change -- or climate injustice -- see for example this piece by Keston Perry at Al Jazeera.

News Briefs

  • A Washington Post photo-essay portrays two of Venezuela's most emblematic environmental disasters -- the Maracaibo and El Paují -- both victims of the economic crisis that has devastated the country. 
Regional Relations
  • On Friday the EU imposed travel bans and asset freezes on another seven people close to Maduro, four of whom are suspected of being behind the abduction of naval commandant Rafael Acosta, reports Deutsche Welle. The EU warned Venezuela that it could face further sanctions if the Maduro government does not move toward a timetable for presidential elections.
  • New U.S. sanctions block Raul Castro and his immediate family from entering the U.S., in retaliation for Cuban support of Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Colombian President Iván Duque gave the United Nations alleged photographic evidence proving Venezuela was sheltering ELN rebels. But media outlets disputed the location and timing of several shots, which were taken in Colombia previous to the current dispute, reports AFP.
  • Venezuelan foreign minister Delcy Rodríguez countered in the U.N. with the supposed coordinates of Colombian paramilitary camps where terrorists are being trained to attack Venezuela -- but two of the locations are at sea, while the other is unlikely to house a militant gathering spot, reports Infobae.
  • Venezuela's government accused Peru of fomenting xenophobia, after a series of reported anti-migrant incidents. (Reuters)
  • Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra announced on Friday that he would ask for a vote of confidence from the opposition-run Congress that would empower him to dismiss lawmakers if it is rejected. The move is in response to lawmakers' shelving of Vizcarra's proposal for early elections, last week. Under Peru’s constitution, presidents can dissolve Congress if the legislative body delivers two votes of no-confidence in his government or its proposed policies. The current Congress has already withdrawn its confidence in the government once. (Reuters)
  • Yesterday Vizcarra said that if lawmakers refuse to address the confidence measure, he would take that as a negative decision. (CNN)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump's migration focus has mostly been directed towards Central Americans, but crackdown measures carried out with Mexico and Central American countries have stranded asylum seekers from around the world, reports the Guardian.
  • The trio of migration agreements that would allow the U.S. to send asylum seekers back to Central American countries they transited through on their way north, along with crackdown measures in the region and policies in which asylum seekers must wait in Mexico, are a dangerous recipe for disaster for migrants fleeing violence at home. (Guardian)
  • The pact the U.S. and El Salvador signed last week regarding asylum seekers was purposely not called "safe third country" due to credibility issues -- but the content is essentially that. So far Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele hasn't paid a domestic political price for going along with U.S. demands, but without concrete gains to show exchange, that could change, according to World Politics Review.
  • In the meantime El Salvador has already deployed police and soldiers to its border to deter migrants, reports NPR.
  • Colombia's border czar said the country must have a development response to the influx of Venezuelan migrants. Colombia currently hosts about 1.4 million Venezuelans, and they are likely to stay for several years, reports Devex.
  • Lava Jato prosecutors are asking for former President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva to be released to house arrest, as he has fulfilled a sixth of his corruption jail sentence, and due to good behavior. Lula has not yet requested the move, and said he seeks to be declared innocent instead. (Bloomberg)
  • Environmentalists see the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha as an example of how to carry out green tourism -- but proponents of more massive development have a powerful ally in President Jair Bolsonaro, reports the Washington Post.
  • A caravan of indigenous protesters in Bolivia is marching hundreds of miles to ask President Evo Morales to declare a surge of wildfires a national disaster. Morales has reportedly been averse to the move in an electoral context -- the general election is next month -- but demonstrators are hoping the designation could lead to international aid, reports Reuters.
  • As tends to happen, Ecuador's recent approval of medicinal cannabis opens up a host of regulatory questions, reports EFE.
  • Argentines are quick to protest -- but the current electoral season has showcased new levels of street campaign creativity: Women dressed as Eva Perón, old political anthems blaring in the streets, flash-mobs with step-perfect choreography, reports AFP.
  • Embattled President Mauricio Macri is hoping to channel some of that energy himself and stage an unlikely comeback ahead of next month's general elections. This weekend he launched a series of 30 "Yes We Can" marches around the country. (Reuters)
  • Climate change doesn't just affect people in the Global South -- avocados are vulnerable too. Luckily, scientists are working on genetic modifications to save your toast. (New York Times)

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

Friday, September 27, 2019

UN Human Rights council to investigate Venezuelan abuses (Sept. 27, 2019)

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to create an independent fact-finding body to investigate extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture, and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment committed in Venezuela since 2014. The resolution was proposed by Lima Group countries and was approved with 19 votes, with seven against and 21 abstentions.

The resolution calls on Venezuelan authorities to cooperate with the fact-finding mission, as well as with the UN experts whom they have agreed to allow into the country. It condemned "widespread targeted repression and persecution" through what it called the excessive use of force by security agents against peaceful anti-government protesters, the closing down of media and the erosion of the rule of law.

It also condemned arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances carried out by security agencies, including the special force known as Faes, and pro-government civilian armed groups, called colectivos.

The decision follows concerns expressed by UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet during her June visit to Venezuela. (See July 4's post and July 5's.)

The measure stopped short of creating a Commission of Inquiry, the greatest level of scrutiny the council can authorize.

“The action by the Human Rights Council sends a clear message to the Venezuelan authorities that they will eventually be held accountable for their crimes," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "It was high time for the international community, led by countries in the Americas, to listen to the long-forgotten victims of what is an unprecedented human rights disaster in the region," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

More Venezuela
  • The European Union slapped sanctions on seven members of Venezuela’s security and intelligence services, today, on suspicion that they are involved in torture and other abuses, reports the Associated Press.
  • This week the U.S. banned senior Venezuelan officials and their families from entering the country. (BBC)
  • Maduro made a surprise Russia visit this week, probably aimed at showing the leaders gathered at UNGA that his government still has powerful allies, according to the Venezuela Weekly. US and European leaders tried to downplay the significance of Maduro’s visit, write David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas.
  • A group of Russian military specialists arrived in Caracas this week apparently in order to to carry out maintenance on Russian military hardware sold to Venezuela. (Reuters)
News Briefs

  • Former Honduran lawmaker Tony Hernández goes on trial next week in New York, where U.S. federal prosecutors have charged him with conspiring to import cocaine into the United States. He's the younger brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who prosecutors say is involved in the same drug trafficking conspiracy. They said that the president used drug money to help win elections in 2013 and 2017, and that he offered protection to drug traffickers who supported him, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's briefs on the opportune migration pact between the U.S. and Honduras signed earlier this week.)
  • In response to Central American cooperation on migration issues, the U.S. Trump administration is looking at ways to resume some foreign assistance to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. (Devex)
  • The U.S. refugee cap next year will be at an all-time low: 18,000. It's a drastic reduction from the Obama administration's 110,000, reports Buzzfeed. Of these, 1,500 spots would be for refugees from the Northern Triangle.
  • Fundación Gabo and Open Society Foundations launched a fund for investigations and new narratives on drugs for 25 journalists in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, México, Paraguay and Perú.
  • Drug traffickers moving cocaine from South America to the U.S. are increasingly creative in moving their product to market through circuitous routes -- and deploy sophisticated analysis of factors including state weakness, corruption and impunity to determine strategies, writes Carolina Sampó at the AULA blog.
  • Nicaragua's Nuevo Diario shut down its print and digital editions today due to "economic, technical and logistical difficulties." The announcement comes in the midst of ongoing repression by the Ortega administration against the press, including blocking access to paper, ink and other materials needed to print. (Confidencial, CNN)
  • Government opponents returning to Nicaragua from exile face persecution and harassment, aggression or even jail, reports Confidencial.
  • The regional push against corruption, fueled by public anger, is at a turning point after excesses that include overuse of preventive prison detentions and unethical processes. The Economist's Bello column argues that "the campaign should be sharpened, not abandoned."
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was among the absentees in New York this week -- skipping UNGA highlights AMLO's isolationist tendencies, according to the Latin America Risk report, which notes that AMLO has yet to leave the country as president.
  • The AMLO administration's efforts to relaunch the Ayotzinapa investigation (see yesterday's briefs and Sept. 19's) cannot succeed if old, failed methods are maintained. Citizen scrutiny is key to advancing in a sound investigation in this case, but there seems to be little political will towards this goal, write Mexican journalists Zorayda Gallegos and Silber Meza  in Post Opinión.
  • An amnesty law proposed by AMLO would exclude people accused of grave crimes for political reasons, as well as nearly 4,000 victims of arbitrary detention, argues Laura Castellanos in a Post Opinión piece.
  • Mexican women's rights activists celebrated Oaxaca state's decriminalization of abortion. (See yesterday's briefs) Advocates say illegal abortions are the third-largest cause of maternal deaths in the state, reports the Guardian.
  • Ecuadorean authorities want to double the Galapagos Islands visitor fee, in response to increased tourism and costs. (New York Times)

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

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Morales' lashes out at CICIG, UN at UNGA (Sept. 26, 2019)

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales lambasted the now disbanded U.N.-backed international anti-corruption commission in his General Assembly speech yesterday. Morales said the CICIG infringed on Guatemala's sovereignty and jeopardized "social peace." He called for an investigation into it and a detailed report on its spending, reports the Associated Press. Morales, who was investigated by the commission, as were close relatives, fought against the CICIG for much of his mandate, which ends in January. In his speech yesterday, he criticized the United Nations Secretary General for "polarizing" Guatemala with his defense of the commission, and said CICIG head Iván Velásquez abused the United Nations image to harass and selectively politically persecute people in Guatemala. (El Periódico, Nómada)

The tirade comes on the heels of a newly created congressional commission lawmakers created on Tuesday to investigate the CICIG's work over the 12 years of its mandate -- in particular whether illegal or arbitrary actions violated Guatemalans' rights, to systematize data about potential victims of the CICIG, and to denounce officials and government employees who may have carried out illicit actions in cooperation with the CICIG. Eighty-two deputies voted in favor of the new commission, which will just over three months to audit the CICIG's record. Just six voted against, and 70 were absent. Several of the lawmakers on the new commission are accused of wrongdoing in their parliamentary duties. (Prensa Libre)

The goal is essentially to start judicial processes against Velásquez, local and foreign CICIG employees, and eventually, Guatemalan corruption prosecutors, argues Plaza Pública.

Velásquez said lawmakers were moved by fear and the need to guarantee impunity, rather than sovereignty and dignity. U.S. House of Foreign Affairs Committee chair Elliot Engels tweeted that the efforts to delegitimize the CICIG "are outrageous. I’m keeping a close eye on this troubling development."

Acción Ciudadana asked the Constitutional Court to intervene, arguing that the new commission is unconstitutional and that such an investigation can only be carried out by the public ministry, reports El Periódico.

Earlier this month Velásquez wrote in the Washington Post that Morales' "fear of the CICIG was a recognition of its efficacy." (See also Aug. 29's post on the CICIG's final report on how Guatemala's state is captured by a "mafia coalition.")

More Guatemala
  • Lest anybody doubt Morales' absolute opposition to the United Nations, he also said in his speech that he will not allow the U.N. human rights office to carry out an independent investigation into the deaths of three soldiers that pushed him to declare a state of emergency in several parts of the country earlier this month. (La República, Plaza Pública, see Sept. 5's post.)
  • Before heading to New York, Morales said he would ask his successor to ban single-use plastics -- that's good, but Guatemala has more pressing environmental issues, including forest fires that appear to be linked to criminal groups, lack of water-use regulation, conflicts regarding extractivist projects, and record rates of assassination for environmental defenders, argues Nómada.
News Briefs

  • The U.S. announced a new migration deal that will allow immigration officials to send asylum seekers to Honduras if they crossed through that country en route to the U.S. It is the latest in a series of deals with Central American countries -- Guatemala and El Salvador so far -- aimed at permitting U.S. officials to deflect migrants, who overwhelmingly hail from this part of the region. (See Monday's post and Tuesday's.) None of the three agreements has been implemented yet, and they remain in a complex process of legal challenges and parliamentary ratification procedures, notes the BBC.
  • Though the term "safe third country" has fallen by the wayside, the deals effectively mimic those agreements in which migrants must seek asylum in the first countries they pass deemed adequate, reports Vox. Until recently, the US had this kind of agreement with just one country: Canada. Experts and advocates say the efforts display blatant disregard for U.S. obligations under international law and will put migrants at lethal risk in countries riddled with violence -- where institutions are woefully underprepared to assist and protect asylum seekers.
  • The Washington Post notes that the Trump administration's eagerness to advance in this vein has led it to negotiate with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who last month was named by U.S. prosecutors as a co-conspirator in a drug case. Hernández's brother is set to stand trial on federal drug trafficking charges in Manhattan within days. At the migration pact signing, U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Hernández who he said is doing a "fantastic" job, reports El Heraldo.
  • "Over the last four decades, a series of emergency stopgaps and bipartisan deals [in the United States] has created a new multibillion-dollar industry built on the incarceration of immigrants," reports the Guardian in an in-depth piece on the U.S. immigrant detention system.
Regional Relations
  • Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele has sought to establish a friendly relationship with the Trump administration -- the new migration pact is the latest in a series of measures aimed at cooperating with U.S. goals. In exchange El Salvador hopes to obtain protection for 200,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S. under the Temporary Protected Status program -- which Trump has sought to terminate -- and to attract foreign investment, reports the New York Times.
  • "...For us, the United States is not only a partner and an ally, but also a friend.  And we’re going to show that friendship — that’s one of the reasons we signed the agreement is because we want to show that friendship to our most important ally, which is the United States," said Bukele after a meeting with Trump yesterday in New York.
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse again refused to step down from his post, but said he would be willing to drop his prime minister candidate and form a unity government. The message was pre-recorded and released at 2 a.m. yesterday. Moïse called for dialogue, and hours later reshuffled his cabinet. But opposition politicians criticized Moïse for not taking any responsibility in his speech for the political and economic crisis shaking Haiti, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Critics have called for Haitian Sen. Jean Marie Ralph Féthière's immunity from prosecution to be suspended after he shot two people, including Associated Press photojournalist Dieu-Nalio Chéry, outside of Haiti's parliament on Monday, reports the Miami Herald. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • Five years after 43 students from Ayotzinapa disappeared in Iguala, the government offered a reward for information regarding the whereabouts of their remains. The new prosecutors special investigation unit will cite former officials, including former Guerrero state governor Ángel Aguirre, to declare. (Animal Político, El Universal)
  • Oaxaca state lawmakers decriminalized abortion, the second Mexican district to do so. (Radio Formula)
  • Venezuela's government may be gearing up for the massive expropriation of property from millions of Venezuelans living abroad, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The International Monetary Fund refused to say  when it will disburse the last $5.4 billion of a massive loan to Argentina that was originally planned for mid-September, reports the Associated Press. The delay will likely affect scheduled payments from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, according to Infobae.
  • Argentina's current economic crisis -- the country is running out of hard currency while grappling with high inflation and economic contraction -- is, unfortunately, a tired repetition of a 70-year-old pattern, explains the Wall Street Journal in a deep-dive.
Happy Thursday
  • A viral video circulating on social media appears to show an attempted robbery in Argentina -- thwarted when the would-be assailants realize they have pointed the gun at a friend's head. The parties hug and wave goodbye, no harm done. Perhaps what's most relevant is commentary demonstrating the perverse nature of Argentine pride our own perceived uniqueness.

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Lat Am climate change at the U.N. (Sept. 25, 2019)

Climate has been on the world stage this week, with the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday, and a sobering new U.N. report on the massive impact climate change is already having on the world's oceans and frozen regions. Within the region there are divergent visions, to put it lightly.

The U.N. Conference on Climate Change (COP25) will be held in Chile this December, amid a growing realization that voluntary emissions reductions won't be enough. In Latin America, only Costa Rica, Chile and Uruguay have pledged carbon neutrality, with the Uruguayans holding the most ambitious target for 2030. In the case of the U.S., advocates should focus on persuading leaders about the immediate impact of on the administration’s national security and migration agenda, writes Anders Beal in Americas Quarterly. Increasingly environmental change is affecting migration patterns in Central America, recent figures from the Global Index for Peace estimate that Latin America will experience an increase of 17 million migrants by 2050 due to the effects of climate change.

Not that the Trump administration seems very amenable to this line of argument. NBC reports that the Trump administration has ignored its own research demonstrating the link between climate change and migration. (See yesterday's briefs.)


Environmental concerns are not often cited in analysis of Venezuela's crisis -- but management of natural resources, including gold, is key to Venezuela's stability writes Bram Ebus at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.


Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro dedicated his General Assembly inaugural speech yesterday to rejecting data about increasing rainforest devastation under his watch. “Our Amazon is larger than the whole of western Europe and remains virtually untouched – proof that we are one of the countries that most protects the environment,” Bolsonaro claimed in a combative 30 minute speech. 

The problem is not the environment, but sovereignty, according to Bolsonaro.  He argued that the Amazon must be opened up for economic development, and that foreign NGOs and governments who opposed that view did so because they themselves had their eyes on the mineral wealth and biodiversity within Brazil’s indigenous reserves, reports the Guardian. He said Brazil will use the Amazon's riches as it sees fit. (See also Washington PostHuffington Post and Reuters.) 

Aos Fatos fact checked Bolsonaro's claims on the environment -- many of which turned out to be false or misleading.

Ahead of the speech indigenous leaders in Brazil have denounced Jair Bolsonaro’s “colonialist and ethnocidal” policies. (Guardian)

The Amazon is hardly likely to leave the international limelight, however. The Vatican's Synod for the Amazon, a three week conclave starting Oct. 6, will pit Bolsonaro's vision against that of Pope Francis, reports the Guardian.

News Briefs

More Brazil
  • Brazil's current democratic crisis began in 2013, and "only its ample civil society, if mobilized, can rescue it," argues Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira at the AULA blog.
  • "For normalcy to return to Brazil and for hope to be recovered, Lula's freedom—along with annulment of the faulty process by which he was condemned—is essential," writes Celso Amorim in Common Dreams.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is aware of Colombian guerrilla camp locations in Venezuela, according to former intelligence chief Gen. Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera. Figuera, who is now in the U.S., told the Washington Post that he personally handed details of the location of a guerrilla camp and the rough locations and activities of Colombian drug cartels and criminal gangs operating on Venezuelan soil to the Venezuelan leader last year.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin backed negotiations between Venezuela’s government and minority opposition groups in dissent from Juan Guaidó's leadership. (Reuters)
  • Mexicans say corruption is falling even as a third of them also report paying a bribe, according to a survey by Transparency International. (Reuters)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to gradually increase minimum wage, reports Bloomberg.
  • Eleven former FARC fighters acknowledged kidnappings and asked for forgiveness in the first joint, written testimony to the Colombian special jurisdiction for peace. (Associated Press)
  • Reuters photographer Andres Martinez Casares told BBC how he captured the image of Haitian Senator Jean-Marie Ralph Féthière opening fire outside the country's parliament on Monday. (See Monday's briefs.)
El Salvador
  • Media investigations linking Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele to payments from a company linked to a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PdVSA, have rung alarm bells about potential corruption in the country's new government, reports InSight Crime. (See last Wednesday's post.)
  • Salvadoran trans activist Bianka Rodriguez is the regional winner for the Americas of the 2019 Nansen Refugee Award from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). (EFE)
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri met with the IMF in New York yesterday, but there's no word on when the fund will advance with the next $5 billion tranche of funds that was expected for this month, reports Reuters.

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Rio Treaty agrees to sanctions, no military force -- for now (Sept. 24, 2019)

Sixteen Rio Treaty countries agreed to impose sanctions against the Maduro administration in Venezuela, but refused to consider using military force for the moment. The majority of the 18 countries that participated in the New York meeting yesterday approved  a resolution permitting member countries to sanction and extradite members of the Maduro government who participate in drug trafficking, terrorist activities, organized crime and human rights violations, as well as freeze their assets. Uruguay voted against, and Trinidad and Tobago abstained. The resolution adopted Monday establishes that member countries will share a list of people who would be sanctioned. They also agreed to set up teams of financial crime investigators.(Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times)

Use of force is permitted under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, better known as the Rio Treaty, but was not discussed at the meeting, due to opposition from Latin American countries. (Uruguay said it will withdraw from the treaty if it is used to approve military action in Venezuela, reports El Observador.)

Invoking the treaty had caused speculation of a military option, and some signatories had called for the insertion of language explicitly ruling out military action -- which the U.S. resisted. European governments are concerned that the invocation of the treaty could push Venezuela's neighbors to consider military interventions—potentially with U.S. approval, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Rio Treaty was created as a means of mutual defense for Western Hemisphere countries and was last employed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. It was invoked now by countries in the region arguing that Venezuela's crisis threatens the security of the entire region and requires a collective response, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Sept. 16's post.) 

More Venezuela diplomacy
  • U.S. officials lambasted Europe's response to the Venezuelan crisis at an Atlantic Council forum in New York yesterday. And U.S. President Donald Trump will will lead a meeting on Venezuela at the United Nations tomorrow, part of the push to convince world leaders to increase pressure against Nicolás Maduro's government, reports the New York Times.
  • The International Contact Group met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, and urged Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó to resume negotiations, reports EFE.
  • Maduro arrived in Russia today to discuss bilateral and international issues with President Vladimir Putin -- including interference by third countries in Latin American affairs, reports EFE.

U.S.-El Salvador agreement text is very broad

The new migration agreement between El Salvador and the U.S. contains sweeping language that could potentially allow U.S. officials to send any asylum seeker -- except those from El Salvador -- to seek refuge in the Central American country. (See yesterday's post.) Though officials said the agreement would apply to migrants who crossed through El Salvador en route to the U.S., the text of the agreement obtained by The Intercept makes no such distinction. Though the agreement claims to uphold international and domestic obligations “to provide protection for eligible refugees,” experts say it is undermining those very goals, part of a broader U.S. push to reshape its response to refugees. 

It is not yet clear what El Salvador will obtain from the deal -- press reports and officials spoke of investments and negotiations to extend Temporary Protected Status for 200,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S., but neither is part of the agreement signed on Friday.

El Salvador said President Nayib Bukele is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump tomorrow in New York, where both are attending the United Nations General Assembly -- migration is on the agenda, as well regional security and investment. "President Bukele has suggested that the United States could contribute by promoting investment and job creation, so that fewer Salvadorans see the possibility of emigrating to that country as the only way out of their economic problems and lack of opportunities," the statement said. (Reuters, La Prensa Gráfica)

News Briefs

More Migration
  • The Trump administration's broad asylum ban "will likely result in the death, kidnapping and torture of individuals seeking safety from persecution and torture in their home countries," writes immigration law expert Sarah F. Rogerson in the Conversation.
  • Despite -- or possibly because of -- the U.S. push to shut off migration flows, the number of family units and unaccompanied minors -- mostly Central American -- apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol has spiked this year, reports USA Today.
  • Central American migrants pay approximately $11,500 to reach the U.S. through Mexico, according to a study by BBVA and the Mexican government. Migrants, mostly from Northern Triangle countries, pay about $6,500 to cross Mexico, and an additional $5,000 to cross the U.S. border. (EFE)
  • Poverty and food insecurity -- in part fueled by climate change -- are major push factors for Central American migrants, particularly from Guatemala. NBC reports that the Trump administration has ignored its own research demonstrating the link between climate change and migration.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro opened up the U.N. General Assembly with a speech celebrating his fight against socialism in Latin America. On environmental issues, he criticized international response to Amazon fires as "colonialist" and said the rainforest must be open for economic development. "The Amazon is not being devastated, nor is it being consumed by fire, as the media says." He ended by thanking the “grace and glory of God.” (Guardian, New York Times)
  • Trump and Bolsonaro's penchant for looking to the past has both the U.S. and Brazil on the wrong track for facing present economic, environmental and security challenges, argues Albert Fishlow in Americas Quarterly.
  • Venezuelan pro-government lawmakers rejoined the opposition-dominated National Assembly today after a two-year boycott this morning, reports Efecto Cocuyo. The move is part of an agreement between Maduro's government and a minority group of opposition parties, reports Al Jazeera. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
  • The U.N. human rights office signed an agreement with Maduro's government to maintain continuous dialogue and work towards establishing a permanent human rights office in Venezuela, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Cuba has become a nation of entrepreneurship, democratic aspiration, even pro-Americanism -- "Anti-Americanism is still official Cuba policy. But now, for the first time in Cuba’s modern history, some people openly disagree," writes Joseph J. Gonzalez in the Conversation.
  • Twitter has taken down 1,019 accounts in Ecuador, saying they’re mostly fake and aimed at undermining President Lenín Moreno, reports the Associated Press.

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

Monday, September 23, 2019

U.S.-El Salvador migration agreement (Sept. 23, 2019)

A new agreement would allow the U.S. to send asylum seekers to El Salvador, one of the most dangerous countries in the world. There are few details regarding the memorandum of understanding signed by Kevin McAleenan, the U.S. acting homeland security secretary, with Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill in Washington on Friday. But it would apparently work in the same way that a series of other bilateral agreements aim to: by forcing asylum seekers to seek protection in countries they cross on their way to the U.S. In this case, asylum seekers from Nicaragua, Cuba would be among the most affected. 

The deal was characterized by McAleenan as an “asylum cooperation agreement,” rather than the "safe third country" deals the Trump administration originally sought -- the term "has been stigmatized in Central America, in large part because it would be difficult to consider the Northern Triangle region of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala safe," reports the Washington Post. McAleenan said the agreement is primarily focused on helping El Salvador develop its asylum system, with the intention that migrants should first seek protection there, reports Vox. The deal also includes promises of U.S. investment in El Salvador and efforts to allow 20,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S. with temporary permission (TPS) to remain. Hill portrayed the agreement as win-win, reports El Faro.

As with previous measures aimed at keeping asylum seekers out of the U.S., advocates objected that El Salvador can hardly be considered a safe place for people fleeing violence in their home countries. 

The measure likely won't affect a large number of migrants immediately, but forms part of what experts are characterizing as "layers of deflection" by the Trump administration -- a series of policies aimed at preventing asylum seekers from entering the U.S. A new rule implemented earlier this month already allows the U.S. to reject asylum seekers who have passed through any other country on their way to the U.S. -- which effectively limits applicants at the southern border to those of Mexican nationality. (See Sept. 16's post.) Immigration officials also are forcing more than 42,000 people to remain in Mexico as their legal asylum cases play out. (Associated Press)

There are reports of migration negotiations in the same vein with Honduras (see last Wednesday's briefs). Simultaneously, Honduras and the U.S. are reportedly also discussing how to increase temporary legal employment opportunities for Hondurans in the United States, according to Reuters. A similar migration deal was signed with Guatemala earlier this year, though it has been controversial, legally challenged and has not yet ratified by Guatemala's congress. (See July 29's post.)

Earlier this month Buzzfeed said the U.S. administration was angling for such agreements to be set up in Honduras and El Salvador by October.

Other countries in Central America -- Mexico and Panama -- have rejected "safe third country" style agreements, but have accepted other forms of cooperation that further U.S. migration objectives. Mexico has been particularly active, in response to U.S. tariff threats, among other measures. But Mexico's systems are under strain from U.S. policies and an influx of asylum seekers, "leading to measures that may violate international law," reports the American Prospect.

News Briefs

  • A Haitian senator shot and injured two men -- an AP photojournalist and a security guard -- outside the country's parliament on earlier today, as the government attempted to confirm the appointment of a new prime minister, reports the Guardian. Senator Jean Marie Ralph Féthière claimed to have defended himself from armed militants. Several hundred opposition supporters confronted ruling-party senators, reports the Associated Press. Haiti has been paralyzed for a week by anti-government protests in the midst of fuel shortages -- and President Jovenel Moïse has put off traveling to the U.N. General Assembly meeting this week as the government attempts to confirm the appointment of a new prime minister, Fritz-William Michel.
  • It's difficult to overstate the level of tension in Haiti at the moment, reports the Guardian separately. The protests have turned the streets into "obstacle courses of flaming barricades, parked cars, and shuttered schools and businesses as employees fail to show and public transport stops running," reports the Miami Herald's Jacqueline Charles. "... The crisis has become emblematic of all that ails the country."
  • It's the second time this year that fuel shortages have caused crisis in Haiti -- an ongoing phenomenon that is one manifestation of the political crisis that has destabilized the country since the violent 1991 coup d'etat, writes Vincent Joos in the Conversation.
More Migration
  • Senior Trump administration officials are considering a plan to again divert billions of dollars in military funding to pay for border barrier construction next year, reported the Washington Post last week.
Regional Relations
  • China has sought to expand its influence in El Salvador with offers of trade and loans. The U.S. has sought to counter the encroachment in its backyard with threats and attempts to turn public opinion against China, reports the New York Times.
More El Salvador
  • Alba Petróleos in El Salvador funneled at least 600 million dollars in funds from Venezuela to discretionary loans, many associated with the former ruling FLMN party, according to an ongoing investigation by Revista Factum. Funding for the loans came from Venezuela's state oil company Pdvsa, part of the Chavista government's soft-power program of subsidized oil for Central American and Caribbean countries. But in El Salvador the money was diverted by FMLN leader José Luis Merino, to a network of shell companies controlled by his brothers via bad loans or illegal contracts, according to Salvadoran prosecutors, and reported on by Factum. (See last Wednesday's post on accusations linking Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele to Alba funds.)
  • An 8-year-old girl was shot in the back and killed while traveling in the Complexo do Alemão on Friday in Rio de Janeiro -- the latest casualty in a growing number of children and adolescents killed by security forces in the state, reports the Washington Post. She was the fifth young child to be killed in Rio favelas this year, a victim of the shoot-to-kill policy of the Rio governor, Wilson Witzel say activists and opposition politicians. (Guardian) Hundreds of people protested in Complexo do Alemão this weekend, and the hashtag #aculpaedowitzel (it’s Witzel’s fault) led trending topics in Brazil.
  • Officials say militarized policing has driven down homicides, but critics are incensed by the deaths of children and civilians, many caught in crossfire. The phenomenon is redefining childhood in Rio's favelas, where parents are increasingly terrified to allow kids out of the house. The number of police shootings within 300 meters of schools and child care facilities in metropolitan Rio increased more than 50 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Rio-based think tank Cross Fire. “This is part of a genocidal policy, of genocide of black people," said Thainã de Medeiros, a member of the Complexo do Alemão’s Papo Reto collective, which documents police violence.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is set to make the opening speech at the UN general assembly tomorrow morning, where he is expected to push back against foreign criticism of his treatment of Brazil’s environment and indigenous communities, reports the Guardian. Today, 16 indigenous leaders from Brazil’s Xingu indigenous park denounced Bolsonaro’s “colonialist and ethnocidal” policies.
  • Brazilian police accused employees of the Vale mining conglomerate and the German safety-certification company TUV SUD of fraudulently attesting to the safety of a mining-dam near Brumadinho, in Minas Gerais state, months before it broke in January and killed hundreds of people. (Washington Post, New York Times)
  • United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet said she feels “sorry for Brazil,” under President Jair Bolsonaro. She spoke to Chilean media, after Bolsonaro praised the 1973 military coup that overthrew Salvador Allende in Chile. (Reuters) Bolsonaro said the defeat of Allende's supporters, specifically including Bachelet's father who was tortured and killed, was necessary to save Chile. (See Sept. 5's briefs.)
  • Bolsonaro is taking big steps to open up Brazil's economy: slashing import tariffs on more than 2,300 products and exposing local industries long accustomed to protectionism to the challenges of free trade, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Timoteo Zambrano, of the Cambiemos party, said the government will release 60 political prisoners within the next few days -- mainly those without a concrete accusation against them. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Graphic designer José Guillermo Mendoza, who was detained last week for carrying allegedly subversive print material for a human rights organization, was freed Friday, reports El Pitazo. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • Lima Group countries said they would be willing to adopt new sanctions against the Maduro government, in a new statement today that denounced the administration's links to "armed groups and terrorist organizations." (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Tattoos are losing their gang-related stigma in Honduras, where ordinary citizens are increasingly inking themselves with benign body art, reports the New York Times.
  • Police in Argentina have arrested members of a gang of drug dealers accused of smuggling cocaine hidden inside plastic penises, reports the Guardian.

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