Friday, October 18, 2019

Mexican security forces clash with cartel -- and lose (Oct. 18, 2019)

Mexican authorities detained and then released a son of jailed drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, in the midst of intense fighting in the city of Culiacán. National Guard police came under attack from a house there, and, upon entering, arrested  Ovidio "El Ratón" Guzmán López, a leader of the Sinaloa cartel, reports the Guardian. But the patrol was quickly overpowered by cartel gunmen, and the decision was taken to withdraw to protect the lives of the National Guard, said Mexico’s security minister, Alfonso Durazo.

Cartel gunmen unleashed a staggering show of force in Culiacán, turning the city into an urban war zone -- they freed prisoners, shot rounds of automatic gunfire, burned cars and barricaded streets around the city. One suspected gang member and 21 civilians were wounded in the battle yesterday, reports Animal Político. Soldiers and cartel fighters battled in the streets into the night yesterday. Videos on social media shot by citizens trapped in fighting showed heavily armed men in ski masks blocking streets and halting traffic while plumes of black smoke filled the sky. Citizens describe a self-imposed state of emergency yesterday, with people locked down in their houses and public transportation suspended, reports the New York Times. Mexicans across the country watched online, a live-streamed glimpse into the cartel’s ability to overwhelm the state, reports the Washington Post. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Guzmán López was released “to protect the lives of the people."

The episode is a major embarrassment for López Obrador, whose security strategy is under fire amid record homicide rates. The kingpin strategy, in which cartel leaders are targeted by authorities, has been criticized by experts who say it leads to fragmentation of criminal groups and can actually increase violence. Ovido Guzmán López, along with his brother and two half brothers, face charges in the U.S. and were mentioned frequently in El Chapo's U.S. trial earlier this year. This morning AMLO said Guzmán López faces extradition to the U.S.

Analysts expressed concern that the show of weakness by the Mexican government could embolden the country's powerful criminal groups.


Venezuela wins U.N. Human Rights Council seat 

Venezuela won a seat in the United Nations Human Rights Council yesterday, along with Brazil. The two countries beat out Costa Rica, which had announced its candidacy earlier this month in an attempt to prevent Venezuela -- accused of significant human rights violations -- from occupying a seat on the council. Human rights organizations and activists lobbied against Venezuela's candidacy, pointing to the U.N.'s own negative assessment the country's human rights situation. (See yesterday's post.) Brazil won 153 votes and Venezuela 105 votes, while Costa Rica received 96 -- voting was by secret ballot. But the support of China, Russia, Cuba and other allies gave President Nicolás Maduro's government the win. (Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press, Reuters)

Human Rights Watch called Venezuela's "undeserved and narrow election" to the U.N. Human Rights Council "a slap in the face to the country's countless victims who've been tortured and murdered by government forces."

Maduro immediately celebrated a victory against international pressure headed by the United States and the Lima Group, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Maduro will use the position to shore up his much-degraded international standing. “They can say they were elected to the human rights council and from there have a voice to push back on their critics,” WOLA's David Smilde told the Guardian

Reports suggest Maduro could also attempt to thwart investigations against his government, though it's not clear he would be able to do so. Last month the Human Rights Council decided 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. (See Sept. 27's post.) Nonetheless, a seat on the council does not shield Venezuela from its human rights obligations, if anything, it somewhat raises the bar, Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco told Efecto Cocuyo. Maduro must answer to an investigation by the High Commissioner for Human Rights from earlier this year and, eventually, to the results of the Human Rights Council investigation. Indeed, the position might prove a double-edged sword, as the Venezuelan government will be more exposed, said other rights groups. (Efecto Cocuyo)

Vivanco admits that the election was frustrating, but that the Council's composition reflects that of the United Nations, where dictatorships and repressive regimes are also represented alongside democracies. "The bad news for Maduro is that there is still a majority of democratic governments in the Human Rights Council." In fact, experts have noted that serial human rights violators routinely seek to occupy seats on the council. (See yesterday's post.) Human rights organizations also voiced concern over Indonesia, Libya, Mauritania and Sudan, who all obtained seats yesterday. Before the vote, Human Rights Watch also criticized Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro for embracing "rhetoric hostile to human rights norms" and for giving "a green light to criminal networks destroying the Amazon rainforest."(Associated Press)

"The practical effect of the infestation of human rights abusers on the UNHRC is to shift much of the substantive work on human rights done at the United Nations to the Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR)" argues Francisco Toro in a Washington Post op-ed.

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó accused the Maduro administration of assassinating Voluntad Popular politician Edmundo “Pipo” Rada, who was found shot to death yesterday after missing for 24 hours. According to Guaidó Rada was shot in the back of the head by Special Action Forces (FAES), which have been linked to systematic extrajudicial killings. (Efecto Cocuyo, see July 4's post.)

News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • Washington's single-minded focus on Venezuela and Cuba ignores signs of trouble throughout Latin America, according to the Miami Herald, which cites "violent uprisings, congressional coups, alleged narco-presidencies, political assassinations, a resurgent left."
  • Bolivians head to the polls on Sunday -- they will decide whether to give President Evo Morales a controversial fourth term in office. Good economic results that have slashed poverty in Bolivia are balanced against growing dissatisfaction with the president's environmental record, allegations of corruption and discontent over the leader's attempt to remain in power. (Al Jazeera, Reuters)
  • Opinion polls put Morales in the lead with 36.2 percent. But he must secure the 40 percent to win outright. A second-round of voting could unite opponents behind his closest challenger, Carlos Mesa, who is polling at 26.9 percent. (Página Siete)
  • Morales is the region's longest-serving leader still in power and has brought relative stability to a previously politically volatile country, reports AFP in a general backgrounder.
  • If Morales holds on to power, it will be in part due to a divided and lackluster opposition, according to the Economist.
  • A sudden surge of Mexican asylum seekers attempting to enter the U.S. could cause a new migration crisis -- they are not covered by the broad migration regulations enacted by U.S. officials that aim to send asylum seekers to third countries, reports the Washington Post.
  • Central American asylum seekers sent to await U.S. court dates in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols are, in turn, being sent to the country's southern border -- with no solution as to how they can return to Texas for asylum hearings. (Los Angeles Times)
  • A Cuban asylum seeker committed suicide after months in U.S. detention, reports the Washington Post, part of a trend among Cubans stuck in detention after Obama administration policy changes.
  • The Dominican Republic is preparing to stop a potential wave of Haitian migrants due to the neighboring country's crisis, reports EFE.
  • Haitians face an imminent humanitarian disaster in the midst of anti-government protests that have paralyzed the country -- schools, hospitals, transportation, businesses and other services have been forced to shut-down and prices have skyrocketed as a result, said Catholic Relief Services.
  • On Wednesday police clashed with mourners at funerals for protesters who died in demonstrations against President Jovenel Moïse, reports the Associated Press.
  • This week the United Nations Security Council permanently ended its 15-year peacekeeping presence in Haiti. It was replaced by a new UN Integrated Office in Haiti, which is made up of about 30 high-level experts, who will work in an advisory capacity with the Haitian authorities and the UN Country Team, reports Haiti Libre. In light of ongoing unrest, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres promised “the continuous commitment” of the organization “to support the Haitian people on their path to peace and development”.
  • On Wednesday four members of the presidential commission for dialogue resigned, saying the president's press conference this week undermined their work, reports Haiti Libre. (See Wednesday's briefs on the conference.)
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele's anti-corruption commission -- the CICIES -- has already opened two cases. But confusion about the new body's jurisdiction, and the lack of participation of agencies responsible for criminal investigations, raises serious questions, says InSight Crime.
  • Nicaragua's attorney general accused a government official tied to the ruling Sandinista party of leading a sophisticated drug trafficking ring that moved cocaine through Central America. The allegation fuels longstanding suspicions of corruption and criminal ties within the ruling party, according to InSight Crime.
  • Unrest in Ecuador is just the latest example of a Latin American "tradition of blaming the IMF for unpopular measures their government would have to take anyway," according to the Economist.
  • On the other side of the spectrum, in The Nation, Mark Weisbrot warns that Ecuador's underlying problems remain, and that President Lenín Moreno may well become the latest example of a politician whose career was ended by IMF policy recommendations
More Venezuela
  • Citgo, the American subsidiary of the Venezuelan national oil company, is the focus of several competing groups of creditors -- even as the Venezuelan opposition seeks to avoid having the company broken up to pay bond debts. (New York Times)
  • Pope Francis seeks to suss out how the Catholic Church can respond to environmental challenges in the Amazon with a three week synod that ends on Oct. 27 -- the Conversation.
  • Alberto Fernández's likely government in Argentina will probably be less radical than that of his running mate, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, but less reformist than current President Mauricio Macri had hoped his would be, according to the Economist.
  • Ofelia Fernández is poised to become the region's youngest local lawmaker, at 19, if she is elected to the Buenos Aires city legislature on Oct. 27. Her candidacy represents a generational rift over abortion in Argentina, reports the Washington Post.

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

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