Thursday, October 31, 2019

Colombian response to indigenous killings insufficient say leaders (Oct. 31, 2019)

Colombia’s government has launched a military offensive -- 2,500 troops -- to hunt down the gunmen responsible for the massacre of five indigenous leaders in the south-western province of Cauca. An indigenous leader was killed, along with four unarmed indigenous guard members on Tuesday in Tacueyó, when assailants threw grenades and opened fire on a convoy of armoured SUVs carrying the indigenous leaders. Six more people were wounded in the aftermath, when attackers opened fire on an ambulance that arrived on the scene. (Onlookers captured part of the attack on video, Pulzo)

The government blamed dissident factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). An initial investigation suggested that the massacre came in response to the capture of three Farc dissidents by local indigenous guardsmen. President Iván Duque travelled to the region yesterday, with his defense and interior ministers, to condemn the massacre and oversee operations to root out armed groups.

But the gesture was deemed insufficient, activist criticize government inaction in the midst of persistent violence and threats against social leaders since the FARC peace deal in 2016. According to Colombia’s human rights ombudsman, 486 activists and human rights defenders have been murdered since January 2016. The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (or Onic), said that 121 indigenous people have been murdered since Duque took office in August last year.

The Onic called for a national demonstration asking the government for guarantees of safety and condemning the massacre. Leaders say they are being exterminated in their own territories and that their reports of threats from armed groups have been unanswered. (Caracol) Social leaders called for development policies to help shield the region from the drug trafficking that makes it a conflict point. (El Tiempo)

The armed guard are community leaders who mete out justice in their territories, they follow a pacifist philosophy and are unarmed.

Note: In a brief yesterday I incorrectly said authorities blamed "a small armed group (known as GAO)." The Colombian military term GAO stands for Organized Armed Groups. They are not necessarily small -- in fact the ELN is categorized as such -- and they are covered under the laws governing armed conflict (international humanitarian law), as opposed to smaller groups which are covered under human rights law. (Gracias Juan!)

More Colombia
  • Three years after the FARC peace deal was signed, the peace process is unravelling -- a victim of defunding and derailing of key provisions by the Duque administration, reports Foreign Affairs. The killing of human rights activists is the most egregious failure, but failure to fund development projects for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, as well as coca substitution programs has also taken a significant toll.
  • Semana reports in-depth how a group of military officers planned the extrajudicial execution of a demobilized FARC fighter, Dimar Torres.
  • Families will receive the remains of 72 victims of the 2002 Bojayá massacre, in which FARC combatants killed over 100 people in a church. (El País)
  • Alternative candidates pulled off surprise victories in Colombia’s local elections (see yesterday's briefs), but governing won’t be easy, writes Will Freeman in Americas Quarterly.
News Briefs

  • The United States has detained more children trying to cross the nation’s southwest border on their own over the last year than during any other period on record. The numbers surpass those of the Obama administration's unaccompanied minor crisis, reports the New York Times. American immigration authorities apprehended 76,020 minors, most of them from Central America, traveling without their parents in the fiscal year that ended in September — 52 percent more than during the last fiscal year. Mexican authorities, under pressure from the U.S. to stem migration, detained about 40,500 underage migrants traveling north without their parents in the same period — pushing the total number of these children taken into custody in the region to more than 115,000.
  • "U.S. efforts to pull the economic rug out from under Maduro are leading to a number of contradictions and complex situations," write David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas in the latest Venezuela Weekly. Though there have been reports that scarcities diminished and that the economy is increasingly dollarized, these scenarios are distant from the average person's reality, they warn.
  • Note: yesterday I said there have been 4.5 million Venezuelan refugees in recent years. This is incorrect, as many of the people who have left the country are not technically refugees. I should have said that 4.5 million Venezuelans have left their country, a number which includes refugees and migrants. (UNHCR)
  • The vast majority of false information shared on WhatsApp in Brazil during the presidential election favored the far-right winner, Jair Bolsonaro, a Guardian analysis of data suggests.
  • At least two people have died and six others were injured in clashes between supporters and opponents of Bolivian President Evo Morales following his disputed election victory earlier this month, the government said yesterday. (AFP)
  • Powerful Russian state-owned companies fear losing contracts in Bolivia if there is a change in government. So much so, that Rosatom, which runs all civic and military nuclear facilities in Russia, decided to support Morales' reelection bid with electoral specialists and covert spin doctors -- according to an investigation by The Project. (The report is from before the elections that were held last Sunday.)
  • Haitians on both sides of the country's political crisis believe the U.S. could be key to finding a resolution: President Jovenel Moïse wants material support, while his opponents just want the U.S. to stop backing him tacitly by abstaining from criticism, reports the Miami Herald. But the Trump administration appears to have little interest in getting involved in Haiti.
  • Chile's abrupt withdrawal from hosting two major upcoming international conferences has left the U.N. scrambling to organize the next round of climate negotiations and upended plans for an expected meeting between the U.S. and Chinese presidents. (New York Times, see yesterday's briefs) He made the decision after 17 days of protests, in which at least 23 people died, and which make hosting untenable, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The protests "are driven by deep-rooted disillusionment over inequality that has left millions of citizens frozen out of Chile’s economic rise," reports the Guardian, which interviews seven protesters.
  • In a bid for transparency, the Mexican government released a detailed report on the botched Oct. 17 operation to capture a Sinaloa cartel leader, Ovidio Guzmán López. Included is a video of how soldiers forced Guzmán to telephone his brothers and call off a rescue attempt by cartel gunmen. Instead fighting intensified. (Guardian, Washington Post)
  • There are calls to boycott "blood avocados" in response to cartel extortion of Mexican producers. But if avocados become unproductive, cartels will simply diversify, while farmers will be ruined. A more productive response to combat cartels would be to focus on U.S. gun control and ending the war on immigration that has fueled human smuggling, argues Adrienne Matei in the Guardian.
  • Mexico is one of the countries where the killers of journalists enjoy the most impunity, according to a ranking published Tuesday by the Committee to Protect Journalists. (EFE)
  • Brazil's tourism institute lobbied the national indigenous affairs agency to grant reservation land to a private luxury hotel project this year, reports The Intercept Brasil.

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

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Bolsonaro allegedly linked to Franco's killers (Oct. 30, 2019)

A witness has linked Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to Rio de Janeiro councillor Marielle Franco's alleged assassins. The investigation found that one of the suspected killers visited the other, hours before the March 2018 killing, in a Rio condo complex where then-lawmaker Jair Bolsonaro lived as well. A doorman alleges the killer in fact visited Bolsonaro. Official records show Bolsonaro was in session in Brasilia at the time. 

The president lashed out in a fiery social media address yesterday in which he denied the allegation and accused the media and rival politicians of trying to undermine his government. “You rascals … you scumbags! This will not stick!” he said. 

Though government officials sought to portray the report as a destabilizing attack aimed at causing protests like those elsewhere in the region, analysts say the allegations could cause trouble for Bolsonaro and could force the Franco investigation to the Supreme Court.

News Briefs

More Brazil
  • Brutal violence in Rio de Janeiro is partially fueled by police attempts to control drug traffickers with heavy-handed tactics that have been proven to backfire, instead of focusing on social welfare policies that have worked elsewhere, writes  Maurício Santoro in a New York Times op-ed
  • Amazon fires decreased by 34 percent between August and September, a reduction that seems to correlate with a fire ban enacted at the end of August by Bolsonaro, according to the World Resources Institute. That ban was scheduled to end on Monday, though Brazil’s fire season can continue into November ... 
  • Chile cancelled two prominent international conferences it was set to host in November and December -- Apec and the COP25. The announcement was made this morning in the midst of ongoing protests and riots. (Guardian)
  • Thousands of Chilean protesters demonstrated in Santiago yesterday -- the 12th day of demonstrations. Attempts to march to La Moneda, the presidential palace, were frustrated by police barricades. Many protesters are now demanding a new constitution. (Associated Press)
  • Indeed, Chile's institutional architecture -- governed by a dictatorship-era constitution -- presents significant obstacles to reform and marginalizes citizens from policy-making, argue Rodrigo Espinoza Troncoso and Michael Wilson Becerril in the Washington Post. "For now, the government has three alternatives: maintain repression, yield to constitutional change, or submit its resignation."
  • President Sebastián Piñera's newly appointed spokesperson, Karla Rubilar, said the first step is citizen forums (cabildos ciudadanos), but, unlike other government officials, she did not dismiss the possibility of a new constitution. (El Mostrador)
  • Underlying the inequality that has pushed people onto the streets is the privatized social protection systems that are also a dictatorship era legacy. 300 civil society leaders signed a letter demanding structural reform, but carrying it out will require a broad social pact, writes Kirsten Sehnbruch in the Guardian.
  • Feminist groups say 13 women have been missing (desaparecidas) since protests started on Friday 18. (Página 12)
  • A "solidarity conference" -- co-hosted by the EU, the UNHCR and the IOM -- has raised around $133 million in fresh money to help Venezuelans fleeing their crisis-wracked country, and in particular to assist neighboring communities struggling to host them, the European Union announced on Oct. 29. (Associated PressThe refugee wave in Latin America sparked by Venezuela's implosion will get worse next year, aggravating a regional crisis said Eduardo Stein, the special representative for the UN's refugee and migration agencies. (AFP) An estimated 4.5 million Venezuelan refugees have fled their country in recent years, and most are living South American countries. (El País)
  • The Honduran government blames criminal organizations for the assassination of a jailed alleged drug trafficker, while the victim's lawyer has suggested the government might be responsible. Nery Orlando López Sanabria was savagely killed on Saturday (see Monday's briefs) and was the carrier of secret ledgers implicating former lawmaker Tony Hernández of drug trafficking and containing the initials of his brother, President Juan Orlando Hernández, who is known throughout Honduras as JOH. (Associated Press)
  • A Cauca indigenous leader and five members of her community were assassinated yesterday in Colombia. Authorities blamed a small armed group (known as GAO). Human rights defenders say that the area has weak state presence, and the indigenous guard has become communities' best defense against illicit armed groups. (El País)
  • Colombia's leftist Alianza Verde garnered significant gains in local elections around Colombia on Sunday -- candidate Claudia López won Bogotá's mayorship, but the party also won important seats in Cali and Cúcuta, reports La Silla Vacía. Uribismo showed a significant decline in votes, on the other hand. (More from La Silla Vacía)
  • But the Left's largest victory in Sunday's elections came in the former paramilitary stronghold of Magdalena, where a growing progressive movement has taken control of both the capital city and governorship for the first time, according to Nacla.
  • There were other success stories for female candidates around the country -- in the traditionally conservative localities of Boyacá and Cauca, indigenous women won mayoral seats as well -- but 070 looks at how the gender agenda in local politics still has a long way to go.
  • Violent clashes between protesters and security forces continued in Bolivia yesterday, mainly in the cities of La Paz and Santa Cruz where demonstrators reject election results that grant President Evo Morales a fourth term in office. (La Razón) In La Paz, opposition protesters mounted road barricades of rope, wooden boards and sheets of metal. Rows of helmet-clad riot police lined some streets, separating Morales’ supporters from protesters opposed to the president. Tear gas was used in at least two locations to disperse protesters, reports Reuters.
  • The OAS will begin an audit of election results tomorrow, and the report resulting from the review would be "binding" for all parties, reports Reuters.
  • "But with the country divided almost right down the middle, no matter who eventually takes office will likely face the kind of social unrest that Bolivia hasn’t experienced since Morales took office in 2005," writes Linda Farthing in Americas Quarterly.
  • Runner-up, former president Carlos Mesa, is encouraging protests in demand for a run-off. Interestingly, Mesa himself was forced out of office in 2005 by demonstrations that Morales played a leading role in, notes the Wall Street Journal.
  • Hundreds of Panamanians protested against proposed constitutional reforms yesterday, the third straight day of demonstrations against changes that would increase Congress' power. Police used pepper spray yesterday to disperse a group that tried to storm Congress, and lawmakers suspended a session until today. (Associated PressEstrella de Panama)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has argued for a break with his predecessors' "war on drugs" security strategy. But the Culiacán shoot-out earlier this month, that killed eight people, is essentially the continuation of the failed kingpin strategy, writes José Luis Pardo Veiras in Post Opinón.  
  • A contrarian viewpoint in the Wall Street Journal argues that Mexico's problem is overly strict gun regulation, and that official statistics showing that most illicit weapons in the country come from the U.S. are misleading.
  • "Freelance journalists are at the center of covering many of the most important news stories in Latin America but face increasing threats to their security and well-being," writes Bill Gentile at the AULA blog.
  • The potential influence -- or control -- vice-president-elect Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will exert on Argentina's incoming administration is the subject of significant speculation, writes Hugo Alconada Mon in the Post Opinión. Argentine president-elect Alberto Fernández has taken pains to show independence from his running mate and former boss. His strategy moving forward -- particularly when it comes to naming a cabinet -- will involve playing off diverse elements of his coalition to ensure that no faction becomes dominant, he argues. 
  • Fernández's only child is Estanislao Fernández, a prominent drag queen with a significant social media profile featuring elaborate transformations. The new president-elect has said he is proud of his son's creativity and activism. (El País)
  • Dyhzy, as he is known on social media, was a non-issue during the campaign (though he criticized his father's staid ties). But now Brazilian lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, Jair's son, has picked a fight, posting an image of the younger Fernández dressed up as Pikachu alongside an image of himself toting a high-caliber gun and sporting a shirt of a dog defecating. "Son of Argentina's president/Son of Brazil's president" reads the caption. Yes. For real. (La Nación)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...  

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

U.S. extends TPS for Salvadorans, sort of (Oct. 29, 2019)

The United States extended protections for about 265,000 Salvadoran migrants who live in the country under the aegis of the Temporary Protected Status program, which shields them from deportation and allows them to work legally. TPS work permits will be extended until 2021. Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele is touting the deal as a significant achievement -- but it's not immediately clear to what extent migrants will actually gain extra time.

The current permits were set to expire in January 2020, but litigation is ongoing regarding the U.S. Trump administration's decision to terminate TPS for nationals of several countries, including El Salvador. Even if TPS termination is upheld, the administration had committed to granting migrants a wind-down period of time. It's not clear whether the year extension announced yesterday is part of that wind-down time or would be in addition.

Yesterday, Bukele and the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador spoke of an "extension" for Salvadoran TPS recipients. But Acting US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli said in a tweet that the move is not a formal extension of TPS, just that work permits will be extended for a year after the end of litigation.

Bukele is hard pressed to show advances after a controversial deal he reached with the U.S., which would force El Salvador to take asylum seekers from third countries. He announced the deal yesterday on Twitter: "We knew our allies wouldn't abandon us." In a press conference he said Salvadoran migrants would be granted more time than those of other nationalities whose TPS was revoked. (El Faro) The U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Ronald Johnson, said the agreement was "an acknowledgement of the achievements and the good work" of Bukele's government. (Voice of America) Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill Tinoco told reporters in Washington that the agreement gives Salvadoran community more time to lobby for a law that would permanently grant naturalization to the TPS holders.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also cited migration concerns in the announcement of the decision: "the sudden inflow of 250,000 individuals to El Salvador could spark another mass migration to the U.S. and reinvigorate the crisis at the southern border."

Vox explains that officially extending TPS would require justifying that conditions in El Salvador remain too unsafe for migrants to return, which would clash with the U.S. administration's move to send asylum seekers there -- a move that would be illegal if the country is considered unsafe. Indeed, migration advocates argue that El Salvador -- and Honduras and Guatemala, which have also reached similar agreements with the U.S. -- are neither prepared to protect returning migrants nor grant adequate conditions of asylum seekers from third countries.

News Briefs

More Migration
  • The Trump administration is moving forward with an agreement that would allow the U.S. to send asylum seekers to Guatemala if they transited through there on their route to the U.S. The Washington Post reports that the deal could be finalized this week. The U.S and Guatemala agreed to the move in July, but the deal was challenged in Guatemalan courts. The Guatemalan constitutional court has since allowed outgoing President Jimmy Morales to implement the deal without legislative approval. 
  • The American Civil Liberties Union said last week that the Trump administration separated 1,556 more immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border than has previously been disclosed to the public. This is in addition to the more than 2,700 children known to have been separated last year. The ACLU is trying to track down all the families to see if they have been reunited. (Washington Post)
  • A separate U.S. policy sends asylum seekers to Mexico to await their court dates -- but Mexican authorities are sorely underprepared to receive them. The Texas Tribune and the Pulitzer Center report on quickly deteriorating conditions in a makeshift Matamoros camp, by the border with Texas.
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse asked the U.S. government for humanitarian assistance, in the midst of the seventh week of protests demanding his ouster that have paralyzed the country. (Associated Press)
  • Turf wars between guerrilla groups and criminal organizations along the Venezuela-Guyana border are already spilling over, and could intensify if foreign powers intervene to topple Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro -- according to a new International Crisis Group report.
  • Tensions between Venezuela and Colombia have hit new heights. A planned military clash seems unlikely, but the uncontrolled stretch along the two countries' border is rife with illicit activity and groups, which could create a trigger incident. At Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, WOLA expert Adam Isaacson argues that border incidents are in fact frequent. "Most of those probably involved organized crime, and not any state forces. But, the fear is that one of these gets out of hand and Venezuelan forces actually do something that results in loss of life on the Colombian side. Or people who want a conflict actually manage to invent something, whether it happened in reality or not."
  • Chilean President Sebastián Piñera replaced eight cabinet members -- including the ministers of interior and finance -- and welcomed a team of United Nations human rights investigators yesterday. But protesters remained on the streets and critics note that the ministers of education, health and transportation -- flash-points in the protests -- remain. (BioBio) In Santiago, protesters lit bonfires on Alameda Avenue and clashed with riot police. There were reports of looting and mayhem in cities throughout Chile, reports the Guardian. Protesters marched under the slogan: "It's not over yet." (El MostradorHuman rights activists demonstrated outside the Supreme Court and demanded better regulation for security forces' crowd control tactics.
  • The National Institute of Human Rights tallied 3,535 people detained, as of yesterday evening, of which 375 are minors.The group also counts 1,132 wounded in hospitals, including hundreds with bullet, birdseed and balin wounds. A group of lawyers has complained that police are blocking access to registries of detainees, which are public according to Chile's constitution. (Cooperativa)
  • Nodal has a round up of more local coverage of the Chilean protests, including a report that 43 minors have been wounded or mistreated by security forces.
  • Protests against Bolivia's official election results -- which give incumbent Evo Morales a razor thin outright win -- entered their sixth day yesterday. Yesterday Morales said he "doesn't understand" those who don't recognize his victory -- Infobae.
  • Vice-president Alvaro García Linera blamed runner up Carlos Mesa for protest violence. (La Razón)
  • The Trump administration announced that it will cut U.S. flights to most Cuban airports -- except the main Havana international airport -- in December. The move was announced last week and is in keeping with the administration's policy towards the island, according to the State Department. (New York Times)
  • Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega aims only to stay in power, and has two paths for doing so, writes Carlos F. Chamorro in El Faro: He could attempt to reform the constitution and extend his mandate beyond 2021, or carry out non-competitive elections in 2021. His greatest risk, however, is total international isolation if he does so.
  • Peronist Alberto Fernández may have won Argentina's presidential elections -- but the president-elect now faces far greater challenges, including negotiations with the IMF, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Regional Relations
  • A number of regional leaders congratulated Fernández after his win. But the soon-to-be administration is already on a collision course with traditional-ally and neighbor Brazil: President Jair Bolsonaro lamented Fernández’s victory, saying he won’t congratulate the president-elect but won’t turn against him either (yet) -- Buenos Aires Times.
  • Fernández's victory is just one of a series of rejections of neo-liberal economic policies in the region, according to the Washington Post, which cites Ecuadorean and Chilean protests and suggests that Brazil's Bolsonaro could also face angry backlash. 
  • Bolsonaro was elected on an anti-corruption platform -- but he and his family "are now subsumed by multiple corruption scandals suggesting serious criminality," writes Brazilian lawmaker David Miranda in the Guardian. The most serious allegations link Bolsonaro's eldest son, Flavio, to shadowy Rio de Janeiro paramilitary militias
  • A Mexican judge released 27 of 31 suspected drug cartel members arrested last week, a high-profile blow for the government's anti-narcotics efforts according to Reuters.
Day of the Dead
  • Don't confuse Day of the Dead for a south-of-the-border version of Halloween -- the holiday can be traced back to the native peoples of central and southern Mexico, writes anthropologist Kirby Farah in the Conversation. Spanish conquistadores, unable to convince natives to give up rituals honoring death goddess Mictecihuatl, compromised by moving the festivities to coincide with Allhallowtide – the three-day Christian observance of All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. "With this move, the holiday was nominally connected to Catholicism. But many practices and beliefs associated with the worship of the dead remained deeply indigenous."
It's funny because it's true
  • Americas Quarterly profiles five Latin American satirists are using humor to shape the political conversation and hold the powerful to account. The pieces look at: María Paulina Baena, one of the original hosts of Colombia's "La Pulla;" Nicaraguan cartoonist Pedro X. Molina, the winner of the 2019 Maria Moors Cabot Award for Journalism; Venezuela's José Rafael Briceño; Brazilian  Gregório Duvivier and Argentine feminist Malena Pichot.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...  

Monday, October 28, 2019

Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia ... oh my! (Oct. 28, 2019)

Argentina's Peronist comeback

Peronist candidate Alberto Fernández won yesterday's presidential election handily, though by a far closer margin than expected against incumbent Mauricio Macri. (Can this finally be oft-reported but never-true end of pollsters?) Fernández, who ran with former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner obtained 48.10 percent yesterday, an outright win. Macri got 40.38, a surprisingly strong showing that means his Cambiemos alliance will remain a force to be reckoned with. Preliminary results at 9 p.m. yesterday confirmed Fernández's win, and there were no major reports of irregularities. Fernández's Frente de Todos coalition won by a landslide in the Buenos Aires province, while Cambiemos retained its traditional power district in the city of Buenos Aires.  (La Nación)

Moderate voices are optimistic that a positive bipartisan equilibrium might be in the offing. (Too soon?) Macri's concession speech last night was conciliatory, and he invited Fernández to a working breakfast this morning. (Currently happening.) The winners' speeches were less friendly, and warned the outgoing government that they are responsible for policy during the 40-day transition ahead. Frente de Todos has promised collaboration, but not "cogovernance." (Ambito)

This is in large part because the grim economic situation means that unpopular measures are inevitable. Victory speeches last night focused on hard times ahead and "hope," rather than immediate relief in a country where 35 percent of the population is under the poverty line and afflicted with inflation and recession. Indeed, the Central Bank announced stricter capital controls yesterday at midnight, severely reducing the amount of dollars citizens can buy per month (from $10,000 to $200) in an effort to stanch the foreign reserve hemorrhage -- $22 billion since the August primaries. (La Nación, Ambito)

Fernández was elected in great measure because of the economic crisis, but will of course now face the challenge of governing it -- and a repeat performance of Argentina’s 2003 economic turnaround unfortunately is unlikely, according to Jennifer Pribble at the Conversation.

Fernández's ability to bring politicians together will be sorely needed -- he faces a divided Congress that will require deal-making to pass legislation, notes La Politica Online.

Others: Expect a conflictive relationship between Fernández and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has threatened to kick Argentina out of the Mercosur. He wouldn't be able to do so easily, and there would be resistance from Brazilian interest groups, warns Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly -- but the threat is indicative of a new diplomatic tone between the neighbors and traditional allies. Fernández hasn't shied away either. Yesterday he wished former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva a happy birthday and flashed the “Lula Livre” sign in a social media picture with supporters.

Uruguayans voted too!

Uruguayan voters backed the governing Frente Amplio yesterday, but not by a large enough margin to avoid a run-off, which will be held on Nov. 24. Former Montevideo mayor Daniel Martínez obtained 39.17 percent of the vote, and the Partido Nacional candidate, Luis Lacalle Pou, came in second with 28.59 percent. Lacalle Pou, a senator and political family scion, is expected to attempt a broad opposition coalition aimed at displacing the Frente Amplio which has governed for 15 years. He immediately received support from the two main runners up in yesterday's election, Partido Colorado candidate Ernesto Talvi and Cabildo Abierto's Guido Manini Rios. (El País)

Voters rejected a security reform that would have created a militarized internal security force, and permitted night-time raids, among other mano-dura measures. A plebiscite on the "Vivir Sin Miedo" proposal obtained 46 percent support, but no the 50 plus required for the constitutional reform. (See last Thursday's post.) Nonetheless, the new right-wing party, Cabildo Abierto, received a strong showing of 10.88 percent and represents a new trend to watch for in Uruguay.

Cabildo Abierto increased its parliamentary representation, while Frente Amplio lost seats and the Partido Nacional basically remained static. The incoming government will face a split congress and will have to negotiate legislation with the Cabildo Abierto and Partido Colorado lawmakers. (Infobae)

Chileans unite against system

About 1.2 million protesters gathered in Santiago de Chile on Friday afternoon -- considered the most massive demonstration since the country's return to democracy. The peaceful march -- without leadership -- appears to have put a stop to a week of often violent demonstrations and security force crackdowns that killed several people and wounded hundreds. Joined by thousands of protesters around the country, the demonstrators left Chile's government with a clear message and little margin to maneuver, reports El Mostrador. (See also BBC)

President Sebastián Piñera lifted the state of emergency last night. On Saturday Piñera asked his entire cabinet to resign. "We're working to form a new team that represents change," he wrote. He has promised  increases in minimum wages and public pensions and the freezing of a planned increase in electricity rates. (NPR)

Nonetheless, protesters remain on the streets -- despite increasing reports of security force repression and rubber bullet, birdshot and other firearm wounds that have cost people eyes. (EFE)

The human rights toll of the protests thus far is alarming. Yesterday the National Institute for Human Rights (INDH) reported that there are 3,193 people detained in relation to the protests. There are 1,092 people wounded in hospitals -- 272 hit with birdshot, and 126 with eye wounds. The organization has lodged 88 complaints thus far, 5 homicide and 17 for sexual abuse allegations that include a case of rape. There are 72 reports of possible disappearances said INDH director Sergio Micco last night. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, announced last week that she will send a verification mission to examine allegations of human rights abuses.

The Guardian adds detail to the statistics, reporting on the difficulties many working-class victims face to obtain treatment for their wounds. "In the packed waiting room at Posta, groups of anguished protesters monitor injured friends. Shooting victims clad in bloodsoaked T-shirts, thick white bandages on their heads, wait to have bullets removed. Others carry deep gashes after being hit by metal teargas canisters blasted into crowds by riot police." Activists denounce that government officials have sought to cover up the extent of repression protesters face.

Piñera's announcements of new social programs are promising, but were clearly insufficient to defuse the crisis. This is because "Chile is experiencing social unrest, but also a cultural and political crisis, writes Carlos Peña in a New York Times op-ed. "Piñera must promote a more peaceful and effective dialogue without sacrificing the democratic process."

But the problem with that is that its not clear who Piñera should talk to. The protests do not have clear leadership, nor concrete demands. Instead they show the shortcomings of Chile’s unpopular, discredited political parties, according to Latinobarometro head Marta Lagos. (Guardian)

It's tempting to see reminders of Chile's history in the protests and government reactions -- but many Chileans who did not live through 1973 "seem tired of relitigating" the Allende-Pinochet battles of yesteryear, argues Lili Loofburow at Slate. Indeed, the current contingent of protesters is focused on the systemic failures of Chile's democratic rule, including several presidents from the left, she writes. Loofburow also points to several factors that complicate hopes for a neat resolution. Massive demonstrations in recent years failed to have significant impact, adding to frustration that likely fanned flames (literally) this time. Another difficulty is the lack of leadership to negotiate with. "This does not seem likely to be an “organized plan,” though the president and some members of his cabinet have suggested otherwise. ... No one knows what’s happening, but whatever it is, it seems less like a calculated plot than a garden gone to seed through neglect." 

Inequality is the central point, reports anybody who talks to protesters. The Associated Press gives a good look at how both poor and middle-class protesters expressed frustration with "a widely criticized private pension system, and two-tiered health and education systems that blend the public and private, with better results for the minority who can afford to pay." (Somebody should alert Mary Anastasia O'Grady, who says a devious Cuba-Venezuela plot is the only explanation for Chilean protests. And warns that the only reason for Argentina's calm today is that the right-wing doesn't set cars on fire when it loses.)

Regardless, don't expect anything to ever be the same again in Chile, warns Thomas Traumann, in an Americas Quarterly piece that looks at the long-term repercussions of Brazil's 2013 protest movement. "Street movements of such intensity are turning points for society's relationship with their elected representatives, but also for consumers with their favorite brands – and even for citizens with democracy. The new normal is more and more voices claiming their rights and reaffirming their positions - exercising a citizenship that screams loudly and does not always behave with good manners. It’s better to get used to it."

OAS to audit Bolivian vote

Bolivia's government is reportedly close to a deal for the OAS to audit Oct. 20's contested presidential election, according to Reuters. The OAS said on Saturday that it expected to begin the audit mid-week and government officials said negotiations were now focused on the terms of an audit, including the selection of chief auditors. President Evo Morales has said he would call a second-round run-off vote with his closest rival Carlos Mesa if the OAS’ audit turned up any evidence of fraud. He also invited countries in the region that have called for him to hold a runoff vote — the United States, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia — to take part in an audit of the official tally. (ReutersAssociated Press.)

Mesa called for a strike in La Paz today, continuing days of protests that have turned violent in several cities. Morales has threatened to urge his rural supporters to lay siege to cities where protests continue, and said unrest is part of an attempt to illegally oust him from office.

News Briefs

  • An Honduran prison inmate involved in the trial of the president's brother, Tony Hernández, was dramatically stabbed and shot to death in prison. Nery López Sanabria, also known as Magdaleno Meza Fúnez, was allegedly ambushed by other inmates in El Pozo prison on Saturday -- but his lawyer blames the Honduran government. Nearly a dozen notebooks belonging to López Sanabria appeared as evidence in the New York trial of Tony Hernández, who was found guilty of drug trafficking earlier this month. López Sanabria's lawyer said the evidence could implicate Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. Security camera footage (warning, graphic) purportedly of the killing showed a man being shot and then repeatedly stabbed by a group of men inside the prison some 100 miles (160 km) northwest of the capital Tegucigalpa. (Associated Press, Reuters)
  • Not to lose our protest theme of the month: last week Honduran security forces repressed thousands of protesters in Tegucigalpa with tear gas and water cannon. Protesters called for Hernández's resignation, and called him a "narcodictator." (Deutsche Welle)
  • Haiti is in its seventh week of anti-government protests. Two people were killed in Port-au-Prince protests yesterday, one man was beaten to death and then burned by some demonstrators who claimed that he opened fire on a crowd of marchers, reports AFP. Separately, Police and supporters demonstrated for the first time in the current crisis, and demanded better salaries, reports Al Jazeera. Police officers said they have not been paid for months, reports Voice of America.
  • Bogota residents elected Alianza Verde candidate Claudia López for mayor in Colombia's local elections yesterday. Anti-corruption crusader López will be the city's first female and first openly-gay mayor. The election was marked by violence during the campaign season: Seven candidates were killed, a dozen were attacked and more than 100 received threats across the country, according to the electoral observation mission. Centrist and progressive party candidates won several important posts yesterday, the first local elections since the signing of the 2016 FARC peace deal. (El País, BBC, Al Jazeera, Associated Press)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...  

Friday, October 25, 2019

Protests, everywhere (Oct. 25, 2019)

The briefing is starting to look like a compilation of protests in countries around the region. There is no single explanation for the upheaval that has distinct local factors in each country that is affected. But common threads include middle-class economic discontent, anger at political wrongdoing, and the example of global protests like those in Hong Kong and Barcelona, according to some experts.

Alma Guillermoprieto told the Guardian that she "saw the unrest as a mutiny of overworked and underpaid citizens pushed over the edge by what – from a middle-class perspective – might seem relatively trivial increases in transport costs. “Life is tough, and you put up with it, you put up with it, you put up with it, you put up with it – and all of a sudden this one small thing comes and you say: ‘Fuck this!’” she said."

Below a roundup of the latest news from protest movements throughout Lat Am (and the regular news briefs too).

News Briefs

  • Bolivian President Evo Morales narrowly won Sunday's presidential election outright, granting him a fourth mandate. But the close results and hiccups in vote count reporting have spurred days of angry protests in the country. Yesterday tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in La Paz and cities around Bolivia, reports the Guardian. Police fired tear gas in La Paz and there were clashes in Santa Cruz, reports BBC. The European Union joined OAS calls asking Morales to submit to a second round of voting, though he narrowly surpassed the 10 point lead threshold that makes him an outright winner. Though opponents point to a change in early result trends, Morales said he had more support from rural votes that came in later. (See this Twitter thread for a deep dive on the result trends.)
  • Regardless of whether Bolivians vote in a second round or not, the tug-o-war over Sunday's election results guarantee that one side or another will be unhappy and unlikely to recognize the next president's legitimacy, according to the Economist. Indeed, regardless of the result, Morales' legitimacy is compromised, writes Edmundo Paz Soldán in the Post Opinión.
  • Bolivias electoral court ordered a revote in four localities on Nov. 3, due to irregularities, but the number of affected votes is too low to change the result. (New York Times)
  • Note: yesterday I said vote tallies had Morales just below the 10 percent difference he needed to win outright -- I cited the official vote count, but mistakenly looked only at the Bolivia results, not those that incorporated expat votes that put Morales just over the 10 percent threshold.
  • The U.S. Trump administration is testing out a policy that would speed up deportation of asylum-seeking migrants once they cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Known as Prompt Asylum Claim Review, the program streamlines the asylum process so that migrants who are seeking safe refuge in the United States will receive a decision in 10 days or less. The main focus is whether the asylum seekers can be safely sent back to their home country, reports the Washington Post. Advocates say the program violates migrants' due process rights.
  • The UN high commission on human rights is sending a team to Chile to investigate allegations of human rights abuses against demonstrators, reports the Guardian. At least 18 people have died in a week of unrest -- Chile's National Human Rights Institute confirmed that it was compiling 55 legal cases related to five homicides and eight instances of sexual violence involving both police and military agents, which will be investigated by Chile’s public prosecution service. “Having monitored the crisis from the beginning I have decided to send a verification mission to examine reports of human rights violations in Chile,” the high commissioner and former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet announced on Twitter. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Protests aren't endangering Chilean democracy -- Piñera and his crackdown on demonstrators are, argues Oscar Guardiola-Rivera in the Guardian.
  • "The Chilean model can be improved with more social provision and a crackdown on oligopolies. It does not need reinvention," argues the Economist.
  • Ongoing protests in Haiti aren't carried out by thoughtless people who are just angry, demonstrators are rejecting a long-standing system, writes Amy Wilenz in The Nation. "The situation that has been unfolding over the past year is the long, drawn-out, tortuous result of a concerted attack on popular democracy, and of the Haitian elite’s reluctance to allow any political or economic space for the masses entrenched in generations of poverty."
  • Unfortunately, "unless something truly radical occurs," protesters' aspirations for a more egalitarian and rights-respecting society will likely "remain out of reach for the foreseeable future," writes Jon Lee Anderson in the New Yorker.
  • Unrest is spreading throughout the region, and increasingly governments in different countries are resorting to militarized responses aimed to a quelling protests. These are unlikely to be successful, argues Javier Corrales in Americas Quarterly. "Latin America used to be known as the land of the military junta. It is now at risk of becoming the land of militarized democracies."
  • Residents of Caracas' Petare neighborhood protested for two days against the operations of the Special Actions Force of the Bolivarian National Police (FAES) in their neighborhoods, reports the Venezuela Weekly. Following a recent FAES operation that killed seven people, including three children, protesters said they preferred the control of local gangs to that of security forces. The FAES  has been specifically linked to widespread human rights abuses in Venezuela. (See Sept 17's post on a Human Rights Watch report of how the FAES have been carrying out extrajudicial executions and arbitrary arrests in poor communities that no longer support the Maduro gov't, Sept. 24's post on the U.N. Human Rights Council decision to investigate Venezuelan abuses, and July 4's post on the Bachelet report that highlights FAES extrajudicial executions.) 
  • The U.S. Trump administration temporarily shielded the Venezuelan-owned refining company Citgo from creditors by blocking transactions on the bonds will be blocked for 90 days, reports the New York Times.
  • Colombians head to the polls for local elections around the country on Sunday -- but the campaign has been marked by a string of political assassinations of social leaders and candidates that is reminiscent of wanton political violence in the past, reports the Guardian.
  • Odd to be writing about protests and not include Argentina. (Let's hope that doesn't change next week!) Instead Argentines are gearing up for a presidential election on Sunday -- Peronist candidate Alberto Fernández is considered a shoo-in. Mrkets are already uneasy and the peso's value keeps slipping. Though Fernández's win was unlikely -- he was barely known outside of political circles until former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner tapped him to head her ticket in May -- he faces an even tougher task now as he inherits a country on the brink of default, with sky high-inflation and a tough recession that has 35 percent of the country in poverty. (Reuters)
  • President Mauricio Macri had no politically viable option to save the economy he inherited, argues Benjamin Gedan in Foreign Policy.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's policy towards cartels -- evinced by the botched Culiacán operative last week -- could temporarily lower violence by not challenging criminal organizations, but will lead to increases in the long-run, according to the Economist.
  • Droughts and other water-related challenges pose a rising threat to millions of Latin Americans -- and the issue is popping up in major trends throughout the region, as a push factor for Central American migration and as a cause of anger among Chilean protesters. Americas Quarterly's latest issue focuses on this "invisible crisis" and on realistic solutions for a region where water is an increasingly endangered resource.

  • Hippos descended from Pablo Escobar's private menagerie have Colombian authorities in a bind -- the giant animals are detrimental to the environment, but it's prohibited to kill them due to an animal rights activist spurred court ruling. (Economist)

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

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Uruguay's security plebiscite (Oct. 24, 2019)

Thousands of Uruguayan protesters marched against a constitutional reform that would created a militarized national guard for public security. The "Vivir sin miedo" proposal would also make some prison sentences more severe and would legalize night raids, which are currently illegal. The reform will be on the ballot on Sunday, when voters head to the polls to pick a new president. All seats of both chambers of congress are also up for grabs.

Protesters this week said the constitutional reform would only ratify mano dura policies which have failed to stem rising insecurity, reports EFE.

Public frustration with crime is high, and the reform is expected to pass, according to Americas Quarterly. Polls put support at over the 50 percent needed for the plebicite to pass, though opposition is also increasing. (El PaisEl Economista) Interestingly, the proposal came from far-right lawmaker Jorge Larrañaga, but has not been backed by any of the presidential candidates in the running this weekend.

Former Montevideo mayor Daniel Martínez for the governing Frente Amplio coalition is polling first for Sunday's election -- with a double digit lead according to some reports. But candidates need at least 50 percent of votes plus one to win the first round, and he is expected to face-off against conservative Partido Nacional candidate and political scion Luis Lacalle Pou in an eventual second round. (Americas Society/Council of the Americas)

Predictions for the ultimate winner are less clear. Martínez is not expected to add substantially to his support base, while Lacalle Pou will likely seek to unite opposition parties against the Frente Amplio. Frente Amplio has governed for the past 15 years, and has lost some of the broad support it enjoyed previously. (BBC)

EFE has a round-up of all 11 candidates in the running.

News Briefs

  • Chilean protesters remained unmoved by President Sebastián Piñera's apology and reform promises Tuesday. Yesterday, tens of thousands of protesters maintained barricades and clashed with police. Demonstrators were joined by unions, which called a two-day general strike. (Guardian
  • Emilia Schneider, president of the powerful University of Chile Student Federation, said Piñeras proposals were merely cosmetic changes, rather than the structural reform protesters seek. (Reuters)
  • Increasingly detailed reports show a trend of human rights violations by security forces -- including detention of minors, beatings and sexual violence. The National Human Rights Institute said yesterday that security forces are responsible for five deaths so far. In their report last night they identified 2,410 detainees, including 200 children. (INDHEFEPágina 12)
  • The situation is reviving ghosts of Chile's dictatorship for many -- songs by Victor Jara blare out along Alameda Avenue -- and many protesters say they represent a post-authoritarian generational shift. (Los Angeles Time)
  • The left-wing counter to conspiracies blaming Maduro for Chile's sudden eruption: that Chilean carabineros are responsible for some of the arson incidents that have marked the protests. (Página 12)
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales declared himself the outright winner of last Sunday's presidential election, reports the Associated Press. He said he has the 10 point lead required to avoid a second round -- though the official electoral authority website has him with a 9.51 point lead as of this morning.
  • But in the midst of accusations about irregular tallies, and violent protests, the OAS said yesterday that a runoff should be held even if Morales breached the 10-point margin. The difference will be statistically negligible, even if Morales wins, said Manuel González, the head of the OAS election observation team in Bolivia. Second place winner Carlos Mesa called for “permanent protests” until a second-round vote was confirmed, and said he would present evidence of electoral fraud. Analysts expect further upheaval, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post, Nodal)
  • Mexico's government accused the OAS of violating the principle of neutrality in the Bolivian elections. (Reforma, Red Uno)
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse still has no intention of resigning, though protests demanding his ouster have been ongoing for two months at this point and are spreading to groups well beyond the opposition. Moïse told AFP that he is not "attached to power" but rather "attached to reforms because this country has been suffering for decades." 
  • Ecuadorean indigenous leaders said talks with the Moreno administration are on hold due to government persecution in the wake of violent anti-austerity protests, report Reuters.
  • While U.S. President Donald Trump still hasn't built a physical border wall along the border with Mexico, his administration's immigration policies have instead forced Mexico to host asylum seekers and deter migrants, reports the Washington Post in a comprehensive roundup on the topic.
  • The Trump administration is close to implementing an agreement that would allow the U.S. to send some asylum seekers to Guatemala, according to CNN. Advocates say the plan is a disaster in terms of rights: VICE reported earlier this year that Guatemala has just four asylum officers and hasn’t resolved a case in nearly two years. 
  • Russia is considering sending a permanent delegation of economic advisers to Venezuela to help Caracas resolve issues with foreign creditors, reports Reuters.
  • The New York drug trafficking trial of former Honduran congressman Tony Hernández -- and brother to Honduras' president -- played out like a narco-novela come to life, except on Twitter, writes New York Times journalist Emily Palmer.
  • Former Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is poised for what seemed like an unlikely comeback at the beginning of the year. Most analysts believe Alberto Fernández and his former boss will win by about 20 points on Sunday's presidential election. Among other things, Cristina's feminism has become a counter point to current President Mauricio Macri's "reflexive sexism," according to the Guardian. In a radio interview last week, Macri said Fernández de Kirchner’s economic policies were like “handing over the administration of the house to your wife, and your wife, instead of paying the bills, uses the credit card, and uses it and uses it, until one day they come to mortgage your house”. As we say here: machirulo!
  • "In Argentina, this is the season of the Peronista renaissance, built on a coalition of a disillusioned middle class, the left-leaning young and an increasingly angry poor," according to a Washington Post piece that says a Fernández-Fernández win will be further proof that "only the rough-and-tumble, union-backed Peronista machine can truly rule unruly Argentina." Ideology aside, the piece notes that citizens are also voting with their pockets in the midst of a harsh economic crisis.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said a Fernández win could jeopardize the Mercosur trade bloc, reports Reuters.
  • A team of Zimbabwean experts has been working on clearing landmines in the Falklands/Malvinas since 2006. They are due to finish next year. (Guardian photo essay)

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