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 ...


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