Friday, November 29, 2019

Lacalle Pou wins Uruguay election (Nov. 29, 2019)

News Briefs

  • Luis Lacalle Pou was formally declared the winner of Uruguay's presidential election -- the conservative candidate will take office in March, ending 15 years of Broad Front governments. He promised to unite Uruguayans after an exceedingly tight vote. (New York Times)
  • The specter haunting Latin America's protests is "inequality," but the term covers many demands and also has no clear counterpart -- but there is no clear equality counterpart to the inequality that is being rejected, writes Martín Caparrós in a New York Times op-ed
  • The protests are not a purely Latin American phenomenon -- an acute case of discontent is sweeping the world -- nor are they without precedent, explains the Economist. The question is what to do, and that is less clear: "Many of the problems are deep-rooted and their solutions long-term. Higher growth, more progressive tax, higher minimum wages and better social provision would assuage discontent. The problem is that growth depends on raising productivity, which requires unpopular reforms. And conservative elites resist paying more tax."
  • Colombians are on their ninth straight day of protests -- today the demands include protection for indigenous and afro-descendant communities, but also for climate justice, reports El Espectador.
  • Protests in Colombia are the indirect result of the FARC peace process, which has finally permitted Colombians to debate their social demands and dissatisfactions, writes Sinar Alvarado in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Implementation of that peace process, and also continuing discussions with the ELN, are among the demands the strike committee gave President Iván Duque yesterday to resume dialogue. The National Strike Committee also asked the government to discuss protesters' demands, not to follow its own agenda. (Caracol, El Tiempo)
  • The government accepted one of the student protesters demands: Duque objected to an article of next year's general budget that could have required public universities to pay off lawsuits against the state with their own funding. (RCN, Semana)
  • Brazilian lawyers and an influential human rights group including six former government ministers are seeking to indict President Jair Bolsonaro at the International Criminal Court for encouraging genocide against Brazil’s indigenous people, reports the Guardian.
  • The former head of Guatemala's police force, Erwin Sperisen, lost an appeal against a 15-year prison sentence for his complicity in the 2006 assassination of seven inmates in the Guatemalan Pavón prison. The legal proceedings have taken place in Switzerland because that is where he has lived since 2007 and Switzerland does not extradite its citizens. (Swiss Info, Nómada)
  • Guatemalan police were attacked by cops they were investigating for extortion, a sign of how deeply extortion rackets have corrupted the force, reports InSight Crime.
  • Migration is a human right -- but clearly some people need a reminder, according to When Feminists Rule the World, a new podcast hosted by Martha Chaves. The episode features Honduran sociologist and feminist activist, Neesa Medina.
  • "Borders were once where sovereignty ended, or began. Now they’re places where states partner with their neighbors to manage and monitor who and what moves between them," explains a New Yorker deep-dive on the changing nature of borders.
  • Despite languishing support for protests and opposition leader Juan Guaidó -- neither the U.S. nor the Venezuelan opposition are inclined to change their strategy, reports the Venezuela Weekly. The opposition’s current focus is on the meeting of the Rio Treaty countries next week.
  • There are growing calls for an oil-for-food humanitarian program for Venezuela, notes the Venezuela Weekly.
  • Venezuelan digital media outlets -- El Pitazo, Tal Cual and --  have banded together Alianza Rebelde Investiga, aimed at collaborating to overcome the many operational challenges they face in Venezuela. (Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas)
  • Severe medicine shortages in Venezuela has contributed to an escalating mental health crisis, reports the Washington Post. Crisis induced stress is another factor, and research suggests a skyrocketing suicide rate.
  • Former Ecuadorean foreign minister María Fernanda Espinosa is rapidly becoming the Latin American leftist's candidate for OAS Secretary General, in a bid to replace current leader, Uruguayan Luis Almagro. She is considered a supporter of Nicaragua's Ortega administration, according to Confidencial. She also has the support of Cuba, Venezuela, and some Caricom countries.
  • Argentina's likely incoming foreign minister Felipe Solá said the country will remain in the Lima Group, and that the incoming Fernández administration wants elections in Venezuela. He warned however, that the Guaidó alternative hasn't panned out and that an alternative solution must be sought. (Infobae)
  • A key witness has testified in the Italian trial of a former Argentinian army officer accused of murders and forced disappearances during Argentina’s 1976-83 military dictatorship, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexico needs a progressive security and anti-organized crime program, argues México Unido contra la Delincuencia director Lisa Sánchez in an interview with Nueva Sociedad.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has taken a personalized approach to anti-corruption policies, and it seems to be working, at least in terms of his own popularity, reports the Economist.
  • Indeed, in a region of protests, AMLO is wildly popular -- too much so? (Washington Post) Critics say AMLO has gone too far and is weakening checks on his power, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Changes to Mexico's judiciary -- some already completed and others on the horizon -- might be AMLO's longest lasting legacy, argues Benjamin Russell in Americas Quarterly.
El Salvador
  • Five months after Mexico's government announced a $30 million development program for El Salvador, aimed at reducing migration, the funding has not been disbursed yet. The obstacle is Salvadoran lawmakers, who have not been able to agree on an implementation plan, reports La Silla Rota.
  • Cuba has effectively reintroduced U.S. dollars -- and other strong foreign currencies -- as a third leg to its dual-currency system, reports the Economist.

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

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Colombians stay on the streets (Nov. 28, 2019)

News Briefs

  • Thousands of Colombians took to the streets yesterday for the seventh straight day of anti-government protests -- fueled by the death of a teenager who died after a projectile fired by riot police hit his head. Talks between strike organizers and the government have stalled. (Al Jazeera, Reuters)
  • President Iván Duque attempted to blame opposition senator Gustavo Petro for the mobilizations, but there is no evidence that he has been part of the organization, reports La Silla Vacía.
  • Outside help may be needed to investigate a “massive” number of human rights violations amid post-election violence in Bolivia, said Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Paulo Abrão. For findings to be credible and help bridge national divisions, he suggested Bolivia coordinate with an international panel of experts similar to one formed to investigate the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico. (Reuters)
  • Earlier this week about 20 members of the former Morales administration took refuge in Mexico's La Paz embassy. Five former officials wanted for arrest were within the group, which included former top cabinet minister Juan Ramón Quintana, accused by the interim government of sedition and terrorism, reports AFP.
  • Bolivia's interim government continues to forge its own diplomatic path: this week it appointed an ambassador to the U.S. -- the first in 11 years. (Al Jazeera, BBC)
  • Bolivian police are demanding salaries and retirement plans equal to those of the armed forces -- Unidad Democrática lawmakers presented a bill that would do that. (La Razón)
  • The New York Times travels behind the barricades to Morales' stronghold in Bolivia's coca-growing region, where farmers are determined to keep fighting for the exiled leaders' return.
  • A disproportionate number of the 250,000 Guatemalans who migrated to the U.S. over the past two years come from indigenous communities. It is the result of a long history of assault against indigenous rights, as well as attempts to rectify inequalities, often with U.S. cooperation in both cases, reports the Washington Post.
  • Cibaque is a space for Guatemalan political activists to promote a community that seeks social transformation -- their national meeting will be held starting tomorrow. (Nómada)
  • There are a number of reasons Mexico objects to the U.S. potentially labeling its drug cartels as terrorist organizations. These include symbolic issues, like loss of face, but also fear of a potential U.S. military operation on Mexican soil and effects on trade, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Mexico's economy is stalled, a potential sign that the AMLO administration's eclectic approach has not paid off. But a sector of business leaders have generally stayed positive about the leftist-president, writes Mario Maldonado in the Post Opinión.
  • Mexican feminists have pushed back against increasing gender violence in their country this year -- with activism aimed at showing the dangers they face in their every day lives, in subways and from police. Though their tactics have been criticized as vandalism by authorities, Lulú Barrera argues that they have also been effective in drawing official attention. (Post Opinión)
  • Violence against women is a warning against those who dare to defy traditional gender roles -- the advance of diversity has provoked increasingly virulent reactions, writes Gabriela Wiener in a New York Times op-ed that looks at how women have paid with their lives -- Marielle Franco and Berta Cáceres, for example -- but also how they are redefining political spaces.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's PSL party failed to declare all the funds used in its electoral campaign last year, reports Folha de S. Paulo.
  • Uruguayan authorities expect to confirm Luis Lacalle Pou as the next president, later today, after finishing up a hand count of challenged votes. (El País)
  • Lacalle Pou will likely name a cabinet prominently featuring leaders from opposition parties that supported his bid against the ruling Broad Front party -- former presidential candidate Ernesto Talvi is a potential foreign minister, and Jorge Larrañaga could be interior minister. (El País)
  • Cacerolazos have featured heavily in the recent spate of anti-government protests in the region, but the tradition of banging pots -- a racket presidents ignore at their own peril -- has a strong history in Latin America, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Violence flared up again in Chilean protests this week -- demonstrators' anger was exacerbated by reports of excessive police violence over the past month of protests, reports AFP.
  • Non-lethal weapons used by Chilean police have had very grave effects -- including 200 people who have been partially blinded by pellet guns. Human rights groups, including INCLO and Physicians for Human Rights, have found that around the world such weapons can be incredibly dangerous and have been used incorrectly by security forces, reports the Washington Post.
  • Volunteer paramedics in Chile play a critical role in keeping wounded protesters alive, report Al Jazeera.
  • The Mesa de Unidad Social proposed an inclusive model for a constituent assembly, reports El Mostrador.
  • Honduran journalist José Arita was assassinated shortly after leaving the Puerto Cortes television station where he worked, reports the Associated Press. The Inter American Press Association says that Arita was the fourth journalist killed in Honduras this year.
Climate Change
  • The world may already have crossed a series of climate tipping points, say experts. (Guardian)
  • Argentine president-elect Alberto Fernández said he will renounce the remaining $11 billion tranche of the country's International Monetary Fund loan when he takes office on Dec. 10. He has promised to pay off the current debt with the IMF, but will seek to renegotiate the terms of the loan."It's like a guy who drinks a lot and is a little drunk. The solution is not to continue drinking. The solution is to stop drinking," he said. (AFP)
  • J Balvin became the fifth most streamed artist on the planet without using English -- and is an example of how embracing national pride can be a force for cultural good, according to the Guardian.

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Trump to label Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations (Nov. 27, 2019)

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations. He made the comment in an interview with with the former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, posted online yesterday. The move would represent a significant shift in U.S. policy towards Mexico. Mexico's López Obrador administration seemed caught off-guard, and said yesterday it was reaching out to understand the scope of Trump's statements. (New York Times, Reuters)

The proposal comes on the heels of an ambush by an illegal group in northern Mexico that killed nine dual Mexican-U.S. citizens. But, there have been calls to designate Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) since earlier this year. And, experts have argued strenuously that using such a tool might well hinder the fight against organized crime, which sometimes uses tactics similar to terrorist organizations, but with different goals. 

FTO status subjects groups to immediate U.S. sanctions. It would permit the U.S. to seize or block all assets presumably related to the cartels, and to increase the government's ability to antagonize those under suspicion of abetting the cartel, wrote León Krauze in a recent Washington Post piece. It could well lead to an increase in deportations. FTO designations can also adversely affect humanitarian aid, charities and broader communities who fear prosecution for unwittingly aiding terrorist groups, warned Brian J. Phillips in a March Washington Post Monkey Cage article. In fact, treating organized crime as a terrorist group has backfired elsewhere in Latin America, he noted, and could significantly limit the Mexican government's policy options for reducing bloodshed.

FTO designation for Mexican cartels could also have broader impact trade and economic relations between the two countries, Arturo Sarukhán, told the Washington Post. The U.S. government could go so far as limiting cooperation with a country that is home to designated terrorist groups, reducing imports or refusing to vote for loans for that nation from multilateral organizations.

News Briefs

  • Chile’s national police, Carabineros, committed serious human rights violations, including excessive use of force in the streets and abuses in detention, since massive anti-government protests started on Oct. 18, according to a new Human Rights Watch report. HRW met with President Sebastián Piñera, yesterday, and recommended a series of reforms directed to help prevent police misconduct and strengthen oversight. The report exhaustively documents allegations of abuse, torture, and excessive use of force by security forces against protesters.
  • Despite the evidence of abuse, yesterday Piñera asked lawmakers to allow troops back on the streets to defend key public infrastructure, reports Reuters. He sent a bill to Congress that would to allow the military to protect transmission lines, electric plants, airports, hospitals and other public infrastructure in order to assure “basic services” -- freeing up police to protect citizen security, he argued.
  • Colombian unions and student groups will hold a national strike today -- the second in a week -- in honor of Dilan Cruz, a teenager who died after being struck by a police projectile during ongoing protests. They are also demonstrating against potential economic reforms, police violence, and corruption. (Reuters, New York Times)
  • Indignation at Cruz's death is a huge motivation, but protesters are also focused on a list of demands that range from rolling back proposed economic, labor and tax reforms, strengthen the implementation of peace accords with the FARC, and anticorruption measures. But though the Duque administration began negotiations with the national strike committee yesterday, an agreement will not be easy to come by, warns La Silla Vacía.
  • Latin America's protests have varied national causes, but across the region there's a clear theme of pent up demand from indigenous communities, and reactionary backlash against the expansion of their privileges under leftist governments, according to the Washington Post
  • Polarization has undermined the credibility of politicians and their parties across the region, regardless of ideology. With institutions in flux, "the only thing that remains intact is the repression," writes Alberto Barrera Tyszka in a New York Times op-ed. "Armies don't stop, the murders are always more."
  • Speaking of terrorism, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said protests in the region are "terrorist acts" and asked the National Congress this week for the authority to use the military to stop any violence that might arise in Brazil, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Brazilian police arrested four  volunteer firefighters and accused them of starting wildfires to raise international funding, yesterday. They also raided the Health and Happiness Project headquarters. The award-winning Brazilian NGO which works with remote communities in the Amazon is known by its Portuguese initials as PSA. It has close links to the Alter do Chão volunteer fire brigade, which in September helped battle huge wildfires raging through protected areas in this popular tourist region. (Guardian)
  • Brazilian authorities formally asked Paraguay to extradite former president Horacio Cartes to face money laundering charges related to Odebrecht. It is the first time a country in Latin America has requested the extradition of a neighbor’s former head of state, which suggests that Brazilian prosecutors have strong evidence, according to InSight Crime.
  • Iparapé Institute launched a new data visualization platform on sexual and gender based violence in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. The numbers are grim: 1.23 million women in Brazil report suffering some form of violence between 2007 and 2013; 71 percent of sexual violence victims in Colombia last year were under 14-years-old; 80 percent of violence against women in Mexico in 2018 was committed by their partners.
  • Venezuelan energy executive Alejandro Betancourt López hired Rudolph Giuliani, also U.S. President Donald Trump's personal attorney, to help him contend with an investigation by the Justice Department into alleged money laundering and bribery. The Washington Post reports on the convoluted case that also ties in to the Ukraine scandal.
  • Maracaibo gangs are taking extraordinarily violent measures against business owners who refuse to pay extortion fees: grenade attacks -- InSight Crime.
More Colombia
  • A Colombian investigation serves as compelling evidence of the links between Mexican cartels, Colombian gangs and their Venezuelan counterparts, according to InSight Crime.
More Mexico
  • The challenges Mexico's government faces -- drug violence and attacks on freedom of speech -- existed before Andrés Manuel López Obrador assumed the presidency. But "the bigger concern now is the way his government is seeking to address them," writes Paul Imison at World Politics Review.
  • AMLO's administration must legally recognize victims of internal displacement, whose lives are in limbo. The phenomenon is so under-recognized that there isn't even a definitive statistic, though officially there are an estimated 338,405 victims, writes Alejandra Sánchez Inzunza in the Post Opinión.
  • The proposed Honduran budget for next year reduces support for the country's poorest and protects security forces' funding. The bill "risks exacerbating already high political tensions and chronic economic mismanagement," according to an analysis by Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales  and the American University's Center for Latin American and Latino Studies. (AULA Blog)

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Dilan Cruz died, galvanized Colombian protesters (Nov. 26, 2019)

News Briefs

  • Colombians maintained ongoing street protests for the fifth straight day, yesterday. President Iván Duque met yesterday with business representatives, as well as the unions that organized the original march, reports Reuters. More meetings are planned for Tuesday, as is an announcement by unions and student groups about whether they will continue to back marches. Yesterday the National Strike Committee said conditions had not yet been met to call off protests and reiterated requests for a meeting with Duque, reports Semana.
  • A teen injured by police on Saturday -- who had become a symbol of the protests -- died yesterday, which is likely to fuel criticism of security forces' response to demonstrations, and increase tensions. It will also likely make an agreement today more difficult, as protest organizers called for new demonstrations today. Mourners gathered outside the Bogotá hospital where 18-year-old Dilan Cruz had been treated, and protesters held cacerolazos in his honor around the country. (La Silla VacíaReuters, Semana)
  • The outright killing of indigenous protesters in Bolivia is a sign of the return of a historic practice: "the collective punishment of the nation’s Indigenous majority for daring to defy a centuries-old racial order of apartheid and oppression," writes Nick Estes in a Guardian opinion piece. 
  • Indeed, many considered Morales' advances to be irreversible, but a resprouting of racism and intolerance in Bolivia and the rise of a new ultra-right opposition with fundamentalist religious narratives shows that it is not the case, writes Lorenza Fontana in the Conversation.
  • But admittedly poor outcomes -- like racist repression -- shouldn't eclipse the "righteous motives" that pushed Bolivians to oust Morales in the first place, writes Yascha Mounk in the Atlantic, doubling down on his earlier praise for the coup.
  • Don't be fooled by the "good coup" arguments, Latin America ignores the tragic lessons of its praetorian past at its own peril, warn Stephen Levitsky and María Victoria Murillo in a New York Times op-ed. "Military coups rarely lead to democratic transitions ... Coups against elected governments — even populist ones with authoritarian tendencies — almost always push countries in a less democratic direction." With coup-justification back on Latin America's radar, they revisit Alfred Stepan's scholarship, which in the 1980's said that the key to preserving the region's democracies was to ensure that no civilian group turns to the military for political solutions.
  • Even as Bolivia inches towards new elections, investigations into former Morales supporters threatens to derail the fragile truce, reports Reuters. For example, the combative interior minister, Arturo Murillo, yesterday ordered the detention of another former Morales cabinet member. (La Razón)
  • There is no chance of organizing new elections by January 22, when current electoral mandates for the executive and legislative branches end -- the target is 120 days, according to a newly appointed electoral tribunal authority. (La Razón, see yesterday's briefs.)
  • Chile's Piñera administration still hasn't managed to restore public order after 40 days -- despite a host of social measures and a broad political agreement to draft a new constitution. A Cadem poll found that 67 percent of the country agrees that protests should continue -- an 11 point increase over last week, reports El País.
  • A member of Kouraj, a Haitian LGBTQ advocacy group, was found dead, yesterday. (Associated Press)
  • The protest phenomenon is marked, but it's not yet understood why people have exploded in anger now when the social and economic conditions underlying their demands have been present for some time, Moisés Naím told El Tiempo.
  • Will Brazil be the next country to catch the protest bug? Unlikely, argues Brian Winter in Americas Quarterly.
  • Nonetheless, the possibility of massive protests has spooked investors and will likely slow the Brazilian government's economic reform agenda, writes Oliver Stuenkel, also in Americas Quarterly.
  • Two members of the indigenous Forest Guardians were killed in Brazil's eastern Amazonian state of Maranhão earlier this month. The volunteer force, composed of members of the Guajajara tribe, has clashed with illegal loggers previously, this is the first time they were attacked within their protected reserve, reports National Geographic.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s assault on the Amazon is an acceleration of patterns that have been in place for decades, reports The Intercept, which delves DEEP into how the administration is unravelling models of environmental and indigenous protection.
  • The Brazilian Bolsonaro administration's determination to open the Amazon to logging is endangering ancient artifacts along with trees and indigenous communities, reports the Guardian.
  • Rabbi Henry Sobel, a human rights leader in Brazil, died at the age of 75. (New York Times)
  • The Venezuelan NGO Alimenta Solidaridad assisted more than 12,800 children over the past year, through 187 soup kitchens in 15 Venezuelan states. (El Pitazo)
  • Venezuela is effectively governed by an "inverted rule of law" system, in which state organized crime actors use the law to repress opponents, but weaken it to guarantee themselves impunity. The Due Process of Law Foundation looks at international challenges that have arisen while seeking accountability abroad, and recommends that Spanish authorities ensure the country does not become a safe haven for former public officials seeking to evade criminal proceedings.
  • Peru's Constitutional Tribunal freed opposition leader Keiko Fujimori from preliminary detention while she is investigated for alleged corruption. The decision yesterday does not constitute a judgement on whether Fujimori received illicit campaign funds from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Fujimori was detained over a year ago. (Associated Press
  • Guatemalan judge Erika Lorena Aifán is a prominent face in the country's struggle against corruption -- a position that has garnered powerful enemies and credible threats to her life, reports the Associated Press.
  • Yesterday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women -- protests around the region rejected gender-based violence. In Mexico City, demonstrators smashed windows, spray-painted monuments and clashed with riot police to protest Mexican authorities' failure to stop a spiral of violence against women, reports AFP.
  • And in Chile, the Las Tesis collective catchily emphasized that the blame does not lie in where women found themselves or what they wore when they were assaulted. (La Razón)
  • The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reported yesterday that in 2018 at least 3,529 women were victims of femicide in 25 countries in Latin America. El Salvador, Honduras and Bolivia were the three nations with the highest proportion of homicides due to gender, with rates of 6.8, 5.1 and 2.3 women killed per 100,000, respectively. Guatemala, with a rate of two femicides per 100,000 women, and the Dominican Republic, with 1.9, completed the five countries with the highest percentage of deaths. (EFE)
Regional Relations
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been loathe to embrace a strong foreign policy stance, nonetheless, Mexico has taken a leadership role in the region this year, writes Genaro Lozano in Americas Quarterly.
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended detained migrants get influenza vaccinations last winter -- but newly released evidence shows that, in the midst of a flu outbreak in detention centers -- the Customs and Border Protection rejected the recommendation. (Washington Post)
  • The U.S. needs the "Dreamers" that President Donald Trump seeks to expel, writes former Mexican ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhán in the Post Opinión.
Climate Change
  • After Hurricane Maria devastated Dominica two years ago, the island has sought to become the world’s first climate-resilient nation, reports National Geographic.
  • The concentration of climate-heating greenhouse gases has hit a record high, according to a report from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization. (Guardian)
  • An Argentine court convicted two Catholic priests of sexually abusing deaf children in a Church-run school in Mendoza province. A man who worked at the institution as a gardener was also convicted of abuse, which occurred between 2005-2016. The case has raised questions over how Pope Francis responded to the crime. (New York Times, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal)
  • Remember Elián González? That was twenty years ago ... (Washington Post)

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

Monday, November 25, 2019

Uruguay too close to call (Nov. 25, 2019)

Uruguay's run-off election is too close to call, according to electoral authorities, who will delay the official result of yesterday's vote until later this week. Conservative candidate Luis Lacalle Pou has a razor-thin lead -- 48.71 percent over ruling Broad Front candidate Daniel Martínez, with 47.51 percent. There are over 35,000 challenged votes, which could theoretically swing the result, though most would have to be for Martínez for that to happen. (El País)

The results bucked pre-electoral predictions, most of which estimated Lacalle Pou would win with a comfortable seven point lead. Analysts yesterday were struggling to explain Martínez's last-minute vote surge. Some pointed a finger at far-right politician, former general Guido Manini Ríos, who exhorted the armed forces to vote for Lacalle Pou on Friday, and might have pushed disgusted conservative voters towards the Broad Front. Martínez warned about “fundamentalist” policies taking Uruguay sharply to the right. (Infobae, Reuters

Lacalle Pou gave a sort of victory speech, in which he said the trend was irreversible and called for unity, noting the close results. Martínez did not concede, and asked to await the final count. Martínez won the October election, but not by a strong enough margin to win the presidency outright. Lacalle Pou formed an alliance with conservative candidates who lost in October, a unity coalition against the Broad Front. (See Oct. 28's post.)

Unlike other countries in the region, the Broad Front has not been afflicted by corruption scandals and economic crises -- rather voters follow the pattern of dissatisfaction with the status quo that has brought down ruling parties around Latin America, reports the New York Times. The opposition capitalized frustration with growing crime rates, while the Broad Front was perceived as slow to respond to citizen concerns. Nonetheless, last month, voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have permitted a more militarized public security policy.


Colombian protests intensify

Colombians have been protesting for four straight days, after what was initially billed as a one day anti-government strike last Thursday. Protesters maintained significant presence in Bogotá, Medellín Cali and Baranquilla. (Semana, Semana, see Friday's post.) 

Three people have died so far in protests that started out peacefully, but were increasingly marked by excesses -- 300 people have been injured so far. Hundreds of people defied a curfew imposed on Friday. On Saturday security forces dispersed protesters in Bogotá with tear gas and seriously injured a teenage protester. Several videos circulating on social media show episodes of significant aggression by security forces against protesters. A car bomb in the western region of Cauca killed at least three police and left 10 others wounded on Friday, though authorities say the episode was unrelated to the protests. (El Espectador, El PaísAssociated Press, Wall Street Journal)

In the midst of unrest, Duque launched a process of national dialogue yesterday that he said will include citizens in a discussion of critical issues, including inequality and corruption. The conversation had originally been scheduled for later this week, but Duque pushed it forward in light of ongoing protests. (Associated Press, El País) Protest leaders rejected the move, saying that Duque has not addressed demands regarding protection for social leaders, economic reforms, and corruption. (Al Jazeera

News Briefs

  • Bolivians will hold a new presidential vote in 120 days, under a bill passed by lawmakers this weekend. Former president Evo Morales and his vice-president, Álvaro García Linera will not participate, but their MAS party will. The new law gives the Legislative Assembly 20 days to pick new electoral authorities, who would then have just 48 hours to approve a final electoral calendar. The new electoral authorities will have a six-year mandate. (La Razón)
  • A dialogue table agreed on the electoral law, but has stumbled on accords over the role of the armed forces moving forward and detainees. There are currently hundreds of detainees in relation to protests. The MAS party vice president and a provincial governor were arrested over the weekend. While some MAS lawmakers sought to shield former government officials from criminal prosecution, the interim government has promised to block any such attempt. (El PaísLa Razón, Infobae)
  • Bolivia's interim president Jeanine Áñez was virtually unknown before taking power earlier this month, but the story behind her rise is indicative of the stunted political parties and a bitterly divided society that gave rise to the country's current crisis, reports the New York Times.
  • Former president Evo Morales is living on a Mexican military base, where he spends most of his days fielding calls for Bolivians asking for help. Nonetheless, he seemed to acknowledge in a New York Times interview that his presidency is really over.
  • Not that discourse is calming down, Bolivia's interior minister promised to arrest Morales for life, reports the Guardian.
  • At least 23 people have been killed in Chile's ongoing protests, and 2,300 injured -- including dozens of people blinded by non-lethal projectiles. The carnage is such that experts say its part of a deliberate security strategy to quell unrest. Gen Enrique Bassaletti of the carbineros gave a radio interview on Friday in which he likened the use of shotguns to chemotherapy, saying that “they kill some good cells and some bad ones." (Guardian)
  • The Carabinero police force is increasingly questioned, and yesterday President Sebastián Piñera said he would ask lawmakers to approve a bill that would allow him to deploy the armed forces for internal security without declaring a state of emergency. (Ambito)
  • The makings of the current unrest have been in the works for years, and Chilean governments have tried and failed to address inequality problems, reports Foreign Policy.
  • Photojournalist Albertina Martínez Burgos was found dead -- brutally beaten and stabbed -- in her Santiago apartment. Friends and family said her equipment -- camera and computer -- were stolen, but it's not clear whether there is a relation to the protests. (Infobae)
  • Nicaraguan journalist Carlos F. Chamorro returned to his country, after 10 months in exile. Chamorro had been working from Costa Rica, after significant threats to his safety by the Ortega government last year. However, he is emphatic that the situation hasn't improved -- in fact, it has worsened in many ways. (ConfidencialArtículo 66)
  • A group of mothers on hunger strike in Masaya lifted their protest after nine days under siege in a church by government forces, due to health issues. (Confidencial)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro leads an authoritarian movement that seeks to endanger press freedoms and democratic order not just rhetorically, but also with violence, writes Glen Greenwald in a powerful New York Times op-ed.
  • U.S. Homeland Security officials will expand the Migration Protection Protocols -- known as Remain in Mexico -- to Tucson, one of the last areas of the border that has not been diverting asylum seekers to Mexico to await their U.S. immigration court hearings, reports the Washington Post.
  • In the meantime, migrants stuck in limbo on the Mexican side of the border have grown desperate in inhumane living conditions and are sending their children back across the border alone in hopes of obtaining refuge for them, reports the Washington Post.
  • A right-wing group led by Steve Bannon and other allies of U.S. President Donald Trump are building the much discussed -- but never approved -- border wall between Mexico and the U.S. They might not have permits, but We Build the Wall has been praised by senior Department of Homeland Security officials, reports the Washington Post.

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

Friday, November 22, 2019

Colombians protest -- mostly peacefully (Nov. 22, 2019)

An estimated 207,000 Colombians took to the streets yesterday around the country -- one of Colombia's biggest protests in recent history. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful, belying fears in some sectors of a "Chile" repeat. There were, however, clashes in some parts of Bogotá in the evening. In Cali there were clashes throughout the day, and authorities enforced an evening curfew after a series of social media messages about supposed attacks caused panic. At least eight civilians and 28 police officers were wounded in the clashes nationwide, according to authorities.

In the evening, residents kept up the protest from their homes in Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, Cartagena and Bucaramanga, with a Twitter-organized cacerolazo. There is a call for citizens to bring out pots and pans today, in a continuation of peaceful protest around the country. (Associated PressSemana, Semana, Semana, El Espectador, El Espectador, Wires)

Pensioners, students, unions and social groups marched for a plethora of reasons, but broadly against President Iván Duque's unpopular government, the peace process his administration isn't implementing, and against potential cuts to social programs. The strike was originally planned in response to a plan to cut pensions, though the reform hasn't been formally presented yet. But the day became a lightening rod for broader dissatisfaction with the government. The administration's failure to protect social activists, who have been assassinated at alarming rates, and recent revelations that the government covered up information about eight minors killed in a military operation also angered protesters. (Guardian)

The question is now whether Duque has heard the message, according to Semana -- and if he hasn't, whether indignation will keep people on the streets. The protests are undoubtedly Duque's greatest challenge thus far, but he doesn't seem to have realized it, according to La Silla Vacía. Duque said yesterday the administration believed in dialogue, and lauded those who marched peacefully. But he did not make reference to any concrete demands or possible responses, said critics. The strike's organizing commission asked for a meeting with Duque today.

More Colombia
  • Colombia's ambassador to Washington criticized the U.S. State Department's foreign policy clout in the Trump administration, in a secretly recorded private conversation with Colombia's designated foreign minister. (Associated Press)
News Briefs

  • Bolivian security forces broke up a funereal march protest with tear gas, yesterday in La Paz. Demonstrators carried the coffins of eight people killed in clashes on Tuesday in El Alto. At least 29 people have been killed in clashes since former president Evo Morales was ousted on Nov. 10.  (Al Jazeera, Reuters, see yesterday's post.)
  • Lawmakers are advancing towards a bill that would call new elections and includes a plan to review electoral roles and establish a new electoral tribunal. There is still disagreement over the mandate for the new electoral tribunal, and who will be able to field candidates in the new elections, reports La Razón.
  • Neither Morales nor former vice-president Álvaro García Linera will be candidates for their Movement for Socialism (Mas) party in Bolivia’s next elections. (Reuters)
  • There is truth in both the competing narratives over what happened in Bolivia: Morales was ousted by reactionary forces, and he had also become increasingly autocratic. "The danger today is that a post-Morales government will focus not on restoring the democratic principles that had eroded under his rule but on rolling back the inclusive policies that were the hallmark of his presidency," write Santiago Anria and Kenneth M. Roberts in Foreign Affairs.
  • Uruguayans will pick their next president in a second-round election on Sunday. Ruling Frente Amplio candidate Daniel Martínez will face off against Partido Nacional candidate Luis Lacalle Pou. Though Lacalle came-in second in October's election -- Martínez obtained 39.02 percent of the vote, over Lacalle's 28.62 -- the Partido Nacional candidate is expected to win thanks to a broad coalition with opposition parties. In a context of regional instability, Uruguay is a paragon of political stability and tolerance. (Washington Post, Associated Press)
  • Mexico's top military chiefs pledged loyalty to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador earlier this week, after an earlier critical speech from an army general raised fears of military dissent. (Reuters)
  • The U.S. will push Mexico to do more to stop migrants from reaching the countries' shared border, said the new U.S. acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. He praised the Migrant Protection Protocols (Remain in Mexico) as a successful tool to decongest Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities -- though the policy has led to assaults, kidnappings and extortion of migrants who are forced to wait in dangerous Mexican border cities. (Washington Post
  • Amnesty International denounced a deliberate policy of security force violence against protesters, aimed at intimidating people off the streets. "The intention of the Chilean security forces is clear: to injure demonstrators in order to discourage protest," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director.
  • Graphic videos and images appear show a car driving into a crowd of protesters in Antofagasta yesterday. (Washington Post)
  • Chile is likely stumbling towards a peaceful resolution after a month of intense protests -- but investment is unlikely to recover until the country's new model is clear, and "some fear a descent into fiscal populism," according to the Economist.
  • It would be a mistake, however, to believe that the mere announcement of a new constitution will resolve the underlying issues: the key is actually creating a new, more inclusive carta magna, with broad participation, writes Patricio Fernández in a New York Times op-ed.
  • The protest phenomenon in South America is, broadly speaking, a result of political system's inability to provide solutions perceived as fair, writes María Victoria Murillo in Americas Quarterly.
  • Brazilians must rebuild trust in political and legal institutions -- former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva writes in a Washington Post opinion piece. "In the Brazil I aspire to help rebuild, human and legal rights — including those of my political opponents — will be protected and strengthened."
  • Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro launched a new political party yesterday, the Alliance for Brazil (APB). The move reflects a break over control of the PSL party he traditionally formed a part of, but is risky and could fragment the president's electoral base. (Reuters)
  • Deforestation of the Amazon won't stop and is a cultural phenomenon, said Bolsonaro this week in response to data showing record rates of rainforest loss under his administration. (Washington Post, see Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Brazilian businesses can -- and should -- act as an ally in protecting the rainforest, argues Paulo Hartung in Americas Quarterly.
  • Bolsonaro's impact has, thus far, been mostly negative. But Congress has emerged as a surprising check on his power, reports the Economist. Optimists also say that the Bolsonaro culture wars have provided a smoke screen for economic reforms. 
  • A shootout in which a U.S. citizen killed a person in an Anguilla resort has put the two countries on a diplomatic collision course. (New York Times)
  • In Argentina, as elsewhere, it's trendy to aspire to "Nordic" public policies, with vague ideas of public schools or extended paternity leave. Historian Ernesto Semán recommends a far more concrete approach. The fundamental element of success for Norway's model is the government's use of oil extraction income to produce a model that makes that extraction obsolete and unnecessary, he writes in Panamá.
  • Speaking of which, president-elect Alberto Fernández should be wary about his approach to the oil sector -- Argentina's current strength is shale production, which will not weather an interventionist approach, reports Americas Quarterly.

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

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Funereal march protest in El Alto today (Nov. 21, 2019)

At least eight Bolivians were killed in El Alto on Tuesday, when security forces opened fire on protesters blockading a gasoline plant. Bolivia's defense minister maintained that "not one bullet" had been fired by the military at Senkata -- but his account was contradicted by dozens of witnesses, reports the New York Times.

The victims' community decided -- in a cabildo townhall meeting -- to march in protest against Bolivia's interim government today. They will be dressed in mourning and carrying the coffins of the victims. Their main demand will be the resignation of provisional president Jeanine Áñez. (La RazónGuardian)

Bolivian lawmakers are scrambling to find a legal solution to the country's turmoil by calling new elections. Former president Evo Morales' MAS party holds a majority in congress, and the Senate yesterday passed a bill that would annul the questioned Oct. 20 vote, appoint a new election commission and fast-track a new electoral process. But the path out of conflict is unclear: yesterday Áñez said she would send her own bill to Congress, also aimed at annulling the last election, appointing new authorities, and speeding up a new vote, but with greater control by her own cabinet, reports El País.

Ongoing protests have led to shortages of basic goods in La Paz and El Alto, including meat, chicken, gas and fuel.

More Bolivia
  • Morales' tenure is controversial, but it was also a rare period of political continuity for Bolivia -- a country historically marked by chronic instability, writes Jon Lee Anderson in the New Yorker.
  • Discussions of the Bolivian crisis are mostly based on oversimplifications, according to the Washington Post's Monkey Cage. It wasn't just the military that ousted Morales, nor are Bolivia's indigenous citizens a monolithic bloc. 
  • Rarely is a Bible just a book, and its prominent reappearance in Bolivian politics is part of a counter-revolution to Morales' secularization of the state and valorization of the country's indigenous traditions, writes Matthew Peter Casey in the Conversation.
News Briefs

  • Rio de Janeiro's official homicide rate dipped to its lowest point in 12 years, last month. (Globo, Rio Times) But the reduction comes with an important caveat: it doesn't include police killings, which are at a 20 year high in the state. (GloboEconomist)
  • A police officer fired a shot that killed an eight-year-old girl in a Rio de Janeiro favela in Sept, said authorities this week. It is a rare case of official recognition of police wrongdoing, and the finding strengthens claims from activists and human rights groups that point to unacceptable collateral damage from the government's crackdown on crime. (Associated Press, El País)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolosonaro's movement wants and encourages violence and disorder because "it is what they will use to justify a restoration of the repressive measures of the military regime," writes lawmaker David Miranda in the Guardian.
  • A Brazilian judge issued an arrest warrant for former Paraguayan president Horacio Cartés. The move is part of a new phase of the “Car Wash” probe –Patrón, targeting black-market money dealers. (EFE)
  • Colombia is braced for what is expected to be the country's largest national strike in years, today. Riot police and soldiers have been deployed, and border crossings have also been closed to prevent foreigners from joining in the anti-government protests, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Bogota storefronts seem prepared for a riot, and already public transportation has been affected by the stoppage, reports Semana.
  • La Silla Vacía has a massive "man on the street" as to why people are taking to the streets today, or not.
  • More broadly, the protests are a thermometer of President Iván Duque's early weathering, reports El País.
  • The image of a bandaged eye is now so common it has become a rallying symbol for the protesters in Chile, reports the New York Times. This week Chilean police suspended the use of birdshot rubber pellets during street protests amid an outcry over eye injuries suffered by more than 200 protesters, reports Al Jazeera.
  • The Trump administration should create an 'oil-for-aid' program for Venezuela, argues U.S. Senator Christopher Murphy at Univisión.
  • The opposition anti-government demonstration last Saturday was bigger than they have been in months, but not as massive as previous gatherings. The "march can be characterized neither as a failure nor a clear success," according to David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas. "It showed the opposition is still active and can rally its people, but only underlined the necessity of a political strategy beyond street mobilization." (Venezuela Weekly)
  • Other Venezuela Weekly tidbits: Mexico, Uruguay, and representatives of the Caribbean Community issued a statement calling all Venezuelan political actors to resume dialogue efforts -- Maduro has said he would be willing, but Guaidó said protests are the way forward now. 
  • Haiti's anti-government protesters are inspired by the revolutionary who freed the country from colonial rule in 1804, Jean-Jacques Dessalines -- The Conversation.
  • Cuba's Communist Party newspaper, Granma, attacked the country’s best-known political prisoner, José Daniel Ferrer, and the U.S. Embassy in Havana in an editorial yesterday. The move is unusual, explains the Miami Herald, because Cuban state media generally avoids naming dissidents in an attempt to deprive them of visibility. The Granma editorial is a response to an intense international campaign for Ferrer's liberation.
Climate Change
  • For the Caribbean's small island states, climate change is a real and current danger, not a future eventuality, warned Dominica foreign minister Francine Baron at a CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development meeting. (Kaietur News)
  • The IMF said it would continue to work with Ecuador, after lawmakers rejected President Lenín Moreno's economic reforms. (Reuters)
  • Vogue featured a Mexican indigenous transgender woman -- known as muxe -- on the cover o fits Mexico and British December editions. (Guardian)
  • A proposed Mexico City law would allow children and adolescents to change the gender listed on their birth certificates, reports the Associated Press.
  • Uber will allow passengers and drivers in Brazil and Mexico to record audio of their rides as it attempts to improve its safety record and image, reports the Associated Press.

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