Thursday, November 7, 2019

Colombian defense minister resigns (Nov. 7, 2019)

Colombian defense minister Guillermo Botero resigned last night, ahead of a likely censure motion in Congress. Botero is accused of covering up the deaths of eight minors in a recent bombing raid targeted at a dissident member of the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels. (El Tiempo)

Botero had previously reported only nine dead, but the Attorney General's office found that 14 people were killed -- including eight minors, reports AFP.  Botero said the military was unaware there were minors in the camp and that the attack was legitimate. Congressional opponents of the government and its security policies criticized Botero for keeping the deaths under wraps, reports the Wall Street Journal.

But the scandal added to other recent cases that have eroded support for Botero, who survived a previous censure movement in Congress in July, reports Reuters. Scandals in recent months include army directives asking officers to increase kill rates, the killing of a former FARC fighter by military officers, reports of generals profiting illicitly and a government report to the U.N. with false evidence purporting to show illegal Colombian groups in Venezuela. (Semana)

Two separate recent massacres in Cauca -- including one in which five indigenous leaders were killed -- have also caused outrage and highlighted security threats in areas where illegal armed groups are battling to control lucrative drug routes and territory, reports the Associated Press.


Bolivian protester dies in Cochabamba

A student protester was killed yesterday in ongoing street clashes between demonstrators demanding Bolivian President Evo Morales' ouster and his supporters, reports AFP. The 20-year-old student was killed in Cochabamba, and 20 more people were injured. (La Razón) Morales confirmed the death, saying the youngster was an "innocent victim of violence provoked by political groups encouraging racial hatred amongst our Bolivian brothers." 

Anti-government protesters captured the mayor of Vinto, in the Cochabamba province, dragged her through the streets barefoot, covered her in red paint and forcibly cut her hair. They eventually handed over the mayor, a member of Morales' MAS party, to police. (BBC, La Razón)

Right wing Santa Cruz civic leader Luis Fernández Camacho arrived in La Paz yesterday, where he plans to demand Morales' resignation. His arrival sparked clashes outside the airport that continued late last night, reports Reuters.

The OAS on Wednesday called for calm while it completed its audit. Local media reports that post-election violence has had an economic cost of $167 million so far since Oct. 28.


Venezuela's lawmakers start CNE renewal

Venezuela's National Assembly took the first steps towards renewing the country's national electoral council (CNE) on Tuesday. Lawmakers named nine delegates (of a total of 11) to a Preliminary Electoral Committee, the first step in the convoluted process to renew the CNE. The new committee has a majority of opposition lawmakers, loyal to National Assembly president Juan Guaidó, and a minority of Maduro administration partisans, in keeping with the National Assembly composition. Though there are procedural details that still have to be ironed out -- PSUV lawmakers want to coordinate with the supra-congressional National Constituent Assembly -- it is the first time Maduro-loyal lawmakers have collaborated with the opposition in the National Assembly in two years. The final two members of the committee will be selected shortly, pending political negotiations, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

The CNE is considered a key element in advancing towards a political solution to Venezuela's prolonged crisis, and was a negotiation point in the currently-suspended Norway-mediated dialogue between the two sides. The process to actually name new members of the electoral commission could take about three months, according to the Observatorio Electoral Venezolano.

Guaidó insists that the new CNE is the first step towards a new presidential election, as the opposition (and a chunk of the international community) consider Maduro's reelection last year illegitimate. The government, on the other hand, has called for new parliamentary elections for next year, which the opposition has rejected. That vote will be held even if the opposition decides to boycott the election, said PSUV vice president Diosdado Cabello yesterday. 

News Briefs

More Venezuela
  • Venezuela’s economy is increasingly dollarized, with more than half of retail transactions now being carried out in U.S. currency, reports Bloomberg.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador rejected U.S. calls to take a more aggressive approach against drug cartels, saying the war-on-drugs approach has been a “disaster” in the past, reports the Washington Post. Mexican authorities noted pointedly yesterday that the cartridges recovered from the attack on nine U.S. citizens earlier this week were made in the U.S.
  • The killing this week of three women and six of their children brings home the stark reality of Mexico's security problem:  "Drug gangs control huge swathes of the country, and the government in Mexico City is too often overwhelmed by the criminal firepower and money," according to a Wall Street Journal editorial.
  • AMLO has been heavily criticized for his security strategy -- both by military experts who say he is not doing enough to combat rising cartel violence, and from critics who say he didn't fulfill his promise to demilitarize the country's security strategy. The latest Latin America Risk Report looks at rumors of a growing cartel war, with potential alliances among criminal organizations to halt the spread of the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), CJNG is responding and Michoacán seems to be the center of territorial dispute. "The criminal groups view the Lopez Obrador government as weak and know they can move the president’s policy with acts of violence."
Regional Relations
  • Brazil is expected to vote for the first time against an annual U.N. resolution today condemning the U.S. economic embargo on communist-run Cuba, according to Reuters.
  • Hundreds of kilometers of mangroves and coral reefs, as well as humpback whale breeding grounds, are under threat from an oil spill that has polluted more than 2,400km of Brazil’s north-eastern coast in the last two months, reports the Guardian.
  • What was meant to be Brazil's biggest oil auction ever, yesterday, was a bust. Only Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras, and a couple of Chinese firms submitted bids, reports the New York Times.
More Colombia
  • The Colombian League Against Silence is a journalism cooperative aimed at restoring the investigative voice of the country’s muzzled press -- long quieted by a culture of violent threats against journalists, reports Poynter.
  • Argentine president-elect Alberto Fernández said abortion is a right and the state should guarantee access. "If someone thinks that abortion is not a good option, then she simply should not abort," he said in a speech at Mexico's National Autonomous University. (Telesur)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...  

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