Friday, December 20, 2019

Asylum seekers sent from U.S. to Guatemala (Dec. 20, 2019)

U.S. President Donald Trump met with his outgoing Guatemalan counterpart, Jimmy Morales, this week in Washington. Trump praised Morales' cooperation on migration issues. As the visit occurred, five Honduran and Salvadoran families were sent from the US to Guatemala under a new controversial asylum agreement, reports Al Jazeera. Among the families were five children, ranging from four to 11 years in age.

The Trump administration has not yet released any data on the number of migrants returned to Guatemala since a the agreement was signed in July. But immigrant advocates in the U.S. have confirmed in recent weeks that at least a few Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers have been sent to Guatemala from U.S. immigrant detention centers, reports the Associated Press.

Critics of the "safe third country" agreements argue that Guatemala (and other Central American countries that signed similar agreements, Honduras and El Salvador) do not have the capacity to meet the current population's security and economic needs, much less those of asylum seekers. In fact, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele said in a recent interview that El Salvador is unprepared. (See Tuesday's post.)

Indeed, asylum seekers seem to agree: U.S. asylum seekers sent to Guatemala under a new Trump administration program have mostly preferred to return to their country of origin, according to Guatemalan authorities. (Reuters)

In a new twist, Mexicans applying for asylum in the U.S. could be sent to Guatemala, according to Acting Deputy U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli. Guatemala’s Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart told Reuters that the idea of including Mexicans had not been implemented so far but could not be ruled out. The "safe third country" style agreements generally focused on forcing migrants to apply for asylum in countries they had actually transited to on the way to the U.S. This would, generally, not be the case for Mexicans reaching the U.S.

Details are sparse, but Fox News reports that Mexican nationals seeking U.S. asylum could be sent to await proceedings in Guatemala, if they fear persecution or violence if returned to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols.

News Briefs

More Migration
  • More than 57,000 people have been forced back into Mexico this year by an"innocuously named immigration policy that activists consider one of the cruelest and most ruthlessly efficient strands of Donald Trump’s anti-migration crusade," reports the Guardian. The Migration Protection Protocols -- also known as "Remain in Mexico" -- stipulates that asylum seekers must wait for their court hearings in Mexican border towns – several of which count among the most violent places on Earth.
  • Starting yesterday, U.S. authorities began deporting rejected Mexican asylum seekers to Mexico's interior, avoiding dangerous border cities and aiming to deter would-be migrants from immediately seeking to return to the U.S., reports Reuters.
  • Killings by police are at record rates in Brazil. But security experts also point to a parallel problem: police militias, composed of retired and off-duty police officers who kill at will, often with total impunity, reports the New York Times. In Brazil, as in other countries with high rates of violence -- Mexico and El Salvador -- there is widespread acceptance of heavy-handed security tactics, even when public statistics point to high rates of extrajudicial killings. Militias in the Brazilian cities of Belem and Rio de Janeiro benefit from that sentiment, but take it further and function as lucrative criminal organizations.
  • The case of musician Evaldo Rosa dos Santos, killed by soldiers on patrol in April, is emblematic of the impunity with which police routinely kill, reports the Washington Post. This time, however, 12 men are on trial and rights groups and attorneys are saying the inconsistencies, revisions of fact and claims of self-defense highlight endemic problems investigators face in holding police accountable.
  • The grisly murder of four ride-sharing service drivers may have been linked to revenge for a rejected ride, reports the Guardian.
  • More than three weeks after prominent Haitian gay rights activist Charlot Jeudy died under suspicious circumstances, he still has not been buried and no autopsy has been performed to find the cause, reports the Miami Herald.
Regional Relations
  • A new Wilson Center publication delves into the ties between Venezuela and Cuba. In one essay, Brian Fonseca and John Polga-Hecimovich explore evolution of their relationship over the past two decades. They argue that an expansive relationship that once included tens of thousands of Cuban doctors and medical personnel in poor Venezuelan neighborhoods is now centered principally on security and intelligence support. Currently, Cuban need for subsidized Venezuelan oil has given the government a “compelling interest” in the survival of the Maduro government and has therefore helped establish a “firewall” against internal and external threats, they write.
  • In the other essay, Richard E. Feinberg looks at the historical differences between Venezuela and Cuba -- including discrepancies in ideology, organizational structures, economic management, and leadership styles between Cuba’s fidelista Marxism and chavista populism -- and argues that U.S. hostility has drawn the two closer together. Feinberg argues that the international community could better play to each country’s strategic vision by recognizing the differences and inherent competition between them
  • "If I could start a newspaper, I'd call it Castrópolis News. It would cover an island of castaways, with the typical palm tree and empty horizon, surrounded by an ocean that extends for sixty years in all directions," writes Néstor Díaz de Villegas in a New York Times Español op-ed. "All Cubans live in Castrópolis, condemned to obsessively relive the history of an arbitrary system known as the 'Cuban Revolution'."
  • Unrest has paralyzed Chile's economy, which contracted 3.4 percent in October. The central bank cut its outlook for next year’s growth to between 0.5 percent and 1.5 percent, after previously projecting a 2.75 percent to 3.75 percent expansion. The protests have dissipated somewhat, but the economic fallout is just beginning, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Security force responses to Chile's protests -- there are serious accusations of human rights violations including torture and rape -- "suggests some soldiers never really adapted to democracy," according to Americas Quarterly, part of its newest issue on militaries in Latin America.
  • "Latin America is not short on indignation. We are not wanting for reasons to scream and yell. But we have yet to learn how to turn our protests into structural change — to get what we need before we grow hoarse and go quiet," writes Ana Paula Lisboa in Americas Quarterly.
More Guatemala
  • The ongoing struggle to identify the remains of Guatemalan civil war victims -- often exhumed from mass graves and exhibiting traces of horrific violence -- is part of the country's (and the region's) current debate over transitional justice and legacy of ongoing violence. (National Geographic)
  • A group of 300 academics criticized the New York Times' response to the November ouster of Evo Morales in Bolivia. An article in The Nation by Greg Grandin argues that "by endorsing a military coup against a democratically elected government, the Times betrayed its values and its journalists."
  • The Argentine government's attempt to boost economic growth and curb inflation won't be easy, warns the Economist.
  • Jamaica's increasingly warm economic ties to China have spurred criticism from the U.S., which, in turn, has generated pushback from Jamaicans. The case exemplifies "the shifting tides in Caribbean international relations, a region where the United States risks losing influence over players like China," according to 
  • Guatemalan artist Rina Lazo died at the age of 96. She lived and worked in Mexico, where she got her start as Diego Rivera's assistant. (New York Times)
The Latin America Daily Briefing will be off starting today until Jan. 2. I wanted to thank you all for reading, for your comments and corrections, and suggestions. Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

265 stories of Haitian children abandoned by UN fathers - The Conversation (Dec. 19, 2019)

U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti fathered hundreds of children, and then left the mothers to raise them alone. A new study by The Conversation interviewed 2,500 Haitians about the experiences of women and girls living in communities that host peace support operations. Of those, 265 told stories that featured children fathered by UN personnel. A frequency of ten percent in the study shows how common the experiences are. 

A telling factor is that interviewers did not directly ask about sexual relations with peacekeepers or children born through those relations. The interviewees brought those issues up on their own, said researchers led by Sabine Lee, a history professor at the University of Birmingham, and Susan Bartels, a clinician scientist at Queen’s University in Ontario. The resulting children are known as “petits minustahs," a reference to the French acronym for the U.N. peacekeeping force, notes the New York Times.

Interviews show how girls as young as 11 were sexually abused and impregnated by peacekeepers. They were then often abandoned because the fathers were repatriated once the pregnancy became known. "They put a few coins in your hands to drop a baby in you," said one interview subject. Though there are reports of sexual abuse, towards men and boys as well as women and girls, accounts of transactional sex are the most common, according to the report. Sometimes transactions involved small amounts of money, other times food, which highlights the context of extreme poverty the encounters took place in.

"Our research has underlined what is implied in much of the academic literature on peacekeeping economies – namely that poverty is a key underlying factor contributing to sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeeping forces."

In response to the report, the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations said it took the allegations seriously. The United Nations says it has received 116 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse since 2007, all of which concern Haiti peacekeepers, reports the Washington Post.

The United Nations has previously acknowledged that more than 100 Sri Lankan peacekeepers deployed to Haiti exploited nine children in a sex ring from 2004 to 2007, and the men were sent home, but were not punished.

News Briefs

  • 118 Venezuelan political prisoners require urgent medical attention, have judicial delays, or have a release order that hasn't yet been carried out, according to a new United Nations human rights office tally. They require an urgent response, said U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet yesterday. She also said that U.N. representatives have been able to interview 70 political detainees in private in recent months. She said they have continued to document reports of extrajudicial executions by security forces, and noted with concern the deaths of children in hospitals and critically urgent medical needs. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Existing sanctions have pushed Maduro to loosen economic regulations, but not his stranglehold on power, according to the Economist. The retreat from economic regulation increases the chasm between those who have access to dollars -- via savings or remittances -- and those who do not. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Senior U.S. officials met with Venezuelan opposition leaders in Washington to discuss plans to increase pressure on Maduro in 2020, reports McClatchy. The State Department hosted four of Venezuela’s largest opposition parties, starting with one-on-one sessions that began earlier this week before all the parties gathered together on yesterday. Options include stronger, more complex sanctions that will further isolate Maduro.
  • Nonetheless, it's a strategy that has run its course, WOLA expert David Smilde told the Latin America Advisor. "After almost a year of trying to push out Nicolas Maduro through a campaign of maximum pressure, it seems readily apparent that Maduro will maintain a solid grip on power over the coming year."
  • National Assembly lawmakers moved to allow absent members -- exiled due to concerns for their physical safety -- to vote in absentia vía internet. They are angling to ensure quorum on Jan. 5, when opposition leader Juan Guaidó will seek ratification as leader of the National Assembly. The post is what grants him claim to the interim presidency. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • The move was immediately challenged before the Maduro-loyal Supreme Court, not by chavistas, but by splinter opposition groups, reports El Pitazo. Several of the opposition lawmakers opposed to the move are accused of corruption.
  • Wondering why there is so much coverage of legislative wrangling in a country that much of the world considers an authoritarian regime? That's because "Venezuelan politics runs at two levels," according to the Latin America Risk Report. "There is a ‘model UN’ level in which politicians debate nuances of constitutional law as if the country is a quasi-normal democracy facing an institutional battle. And there is a brutal reality level in which Maduro retains authoritarian control through violent repression while Venezuelan citizens starve."
  • In the meantime, a generation of children is growing up hungry and stunted in Venezuela, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuelan intelligence agents raided the offices of media outlet Venepress yesterday. (Infobae)
  • Brazilian authorities are investigating whether Senator Flávio Bolsonaro -- a son of President Jair Bolsonaro -- oversaw a corruption racket during his 15 years as a Rio congressman, with the collaboration of a close friend of the president, Fabrício Queiroz. Yesterday, investigators raided Queiroz' home, as well as as well as addresses linked to Bolsonaro’s son and the president's ex-wife. Queiroz is being investigated on suspicion of helping skim phantom employees’ salaries, the Rio state prosecutor’s office said in a statement. Reports in the Brazilian press have also linked Flávio Bolsonaro to members of a notorious death squad. But critical voices note the long delay in the investigation, after reports of alleged wrongdoing broke a year ago. (Guardian, Reuters)
  • Cuba’s government accused the U.S. Trump administration of orchestrating the end of the island’s medical missions to several Latin American countries in order to cut one of the country’s main revenue sources. (Associated Press)
  • Mexico is about to become an economic lab test regarding the job impact of raising the minimum wage, reports Bloomberg.
  • Peruvian political leader Keiko Fujimori said she'd take a break from politics, a month after her release from pre-trial detention and in the midst of a massive corruption investigation. (AFP)
  • Argentina's new government is already battling the political opposition, over a series of emergency economic measures that would raise taxes in order to finance social spending -- several modifications are already being analyzed in order to obtain lower chamber approval today and a Senate vote tomorrow. (El País, Ambito, Reuters)
  • Bolivian prosecutors issued an arrest warrant against former president Evo Morales, accusing him of sedition and terrorism. The interior minister, Arturo Murillo, recently brought charges against Morales, alleging he promoted violent clashes that led to 35 deaths during disturbances before and after he left office. Morales, who was granted asylum in Argentina this month, called the arrest warrant 'unfair, illegal and unconstitutional'. (Guardian, Al Jazeera)
  • Bolivian interim president Jeanine Áñez handed out toys to children dressed as Santa Claus. (Publimetro)

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Colombia exhumes false positives graves (Dec. 18, 2019)

Colombian authorities are exhuming dozens of graves as part of an investigation into thousands of extrajudicial executions of civilians by security forces, who passed the dead off as combat kills between 1998 and 2014. Thousands of civilians were allegedly killed and portrayed as FARC guerrilla fighters in what Colombians have dubbed the "False Positives" scandal, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's briefs.)

Already 162 members of the military have given testimony to the special transitional justice tribunal examining the case, and another 40 have provided written testimony. In addition to facts about the crimes, they tell about ongoing intimidation, and say they feel at risk, even under protection in military barracks, reports Caracol. Authorities have moved to provide protection for witnesses and their families. Victims have asked for high level commanders linked to the false positives to be removed from their posts. (W Radio)

News Briefs

More Colombia
  • Claudia López married her partner in a civil ceremony this week. She will become the country's first openly lesbian mayor, as well as Bogotá's first female mayor, reports the Associated Press.
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development is providing an extra 2,200 metric tons of emergency food aid for Haiti, that will reach approximately 100,000 people. It is also donating an additional $1 million to the U.N. World Food Program to support its ongoing humanitarian operations, reports the Miami Herald. Last month, early warning systems showed that a growing number of Haitians, 3.47 million, were facing either a food crisis or emergency.
  • A year after Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó claimed the country's interim presidency, to international acclaim, his promise seems to have largely fizzled, reports the Washington Post. Venezuela's legitimacy-challenged President Nicolás Maduro remains firmly ensconced in power, and people have lost faith in Guaidó and his potential to oust Maduro's government.
  • In an extensive interview with El País, Guaidó said he is seeking to extend his base of allies, through conversations with other opposition parties. The solution lies with a renewed electoral authority he said, rejecting a formal military intervention.
  • Maduro has also backed the proposal to renew electoral authorities. (Ultimas Noticias)
  • Economic policy changes in Venezuela -- liberalization and dollarization -- have prompted a small recovery that alleviates some people, but has left others even worst off, according to the latest Venezuela Weekly.
  • Part of the economic change is coming from attempts to resurrect Venezuela's oil industry (also see the Venezuela Weekly), which involves covert international transactions to evade sanctions. InSight Crime reports on some of the strategies being employed, including "invisible" tankers to export oil.
  • "If you land in Rio these days, you won’t find tanks on the streets, nor will you hear about journalists being arrested. But don’t be fooled," writes film-maker Petra Costa in the Guardian. "The Brazilian far right, with the aid of the government itself, is executing a well-planned strategy to shrink the liberal democratic sphere. NGOs and civil society groups have been marginalized from policymaking. The rule of law faces death by a thousand cuts."
  • Two teenage McDonald's employees were electrocuted by a loose cable over the weekend in Lima, raising questions about the Peruvian franchise's safety. But it also spurred protests and anger over working conditions in the wider economy, which are viewed as exploitative and sometimes dangerous. Close to 70% of Peru’s workforce labours in unregulated conditions. (New York Times, Guardian)
  • Argentina's new security minister wants to focus efforts on complex, organized crime, rather than small-scale drug trafficking and consumption -- Página 12.
  • An Airbnb tour promising tourists the chance to live Chile's protests -- a bottle of water and protective eye goggles was included in the 19 pound cost -- was pulled after prompting outrage. (Guardian)
Literary corner

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

El Salvador is not quite ready for asylum seekers (Dec. 17, 2019)

El Salvador is not ready to take in asylum seekers from third countries deflected from the U.S., said President Nayib Bukele in a 60 Minutes interview this weekend. "We don't have asylum capacities, but we can build them," he said, in an interview in which he said Central American countries would have to be safer to comply with the asylum agreements signed earlier this year with the U.S. “The reality is that our whole economy is in shatters, nothing works,” he said, mentioning youth unemployment and gang violence. (CBS)

The piece depicts the September asylum agreement between the U.S. and El Salvador (see Sept. 28's post) as a maneuver for the smaller country to stay in the larger one's graces. "It's already paid off. The White House released $51 million of aid it was holding back. And despite all the violence, the state department lowered the threat level for Americans traveling to El Salvador. It was in the same category as the Congo and Sudan."

On the issue of the asylum agreements -- the Los Angeles Times reports that the September agreement between the U.S. and Honduras would not give asylum seekers a second shot at the U.S. That is to say, asylum seekers rejected in Honduras (after being sent there from the U.S. border) would not be given the opportunity to apply in the U.S.  Previously, the administration had suggested that if, say, a Guatemalan were forcibly sent to Honduras and denied asylum there, she might get another chance in the United States.

Immigrant advocates say the Trump administration could use the Honduran agreement to send Guatemalan asylum seekers there starting next month. Honduras is “a narco-state that is every bit as unprepared to participate as the other partner nations of Guatemala and El Salvador," said U.S. Rep. Norma Torres. “These agreements are anything but safe – the Trump administration is rejecting our moral obligations and shipping asylum seekers to the very same danger zones that they are fleeing.”

Trump administration migration policies this year have drastically changed the landscape for Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries, but have done nothing to change the push factors that keep motivating their journeys, reports the Associated Press.

News Briefs

More El Salvador
  • A Salvadoran court sentenced 373 convicted members of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang to prison terms of up to 74 years for crimes ranging from murder and arms trafficking to terrorist association. It was a mass trial, historic because of the number of defendants, reports the Associated Press.
  • Survivors of the brutal El Mozote massacre are still waiting on promised reparations, 38 years after Salvadoran soldiers murdered most of the town -- Al Jazeera.
  • A Guatemalan congressional commission investigating the CICIG is undermining the work the U.N.-sponsored anti-graft commission carried out for 12 years, before being terminated earlier this year, reports the Associated Press. The so-called "Truth Commission" appears to confirm human rights groups' concerns about a backlash against investigators who carried out corruption investigations.
  • Colombia’s special justice tribunal (the JEP) has begun to exhume bodies from a cemetery as part of an investigation into as many as 50 possible extrajudicial killings (false positives) allegedly committed by the army. The Defense Ministry said in a statement late on Saturday that members of the military are cooperating with the JEP. (Reuters)
  • Colombia's ongoing strikes are the largest in recent memory, and they might only be possible because of the 2016 FARC peace deal, writes Miguel Salazar in The Nation.
  • Bipartisan leaders in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives announced an appropriations deal, yesterday, that that rejects the use of force in Venezuela and endorses a negotiated solution to the country’s crisis. It is "a clear message that Washington is finally recognizing the reality: Venezuela’s crisis will be resolved through a combination of smart engagement and multilateral, targeted diplomatic pressure," said Geoff Ramsey, Assistant Director for Venezuela at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
  • At the start of 2019 it seemed as if Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro might be ousted during the course of the year. But heading into 2020, many of the factors keeping him in power remain relevant, according to the Latin America Risk Report. His eventual removal is contingent on a change of three, interrelated, factors, writes James Bosworth: cash flow, international alliances, and the views of his inner circle and security forces.
  • U.S. and Mexican negotiators smoothed over a last-minute dispute over labor inspectors that threatened to derail the trilateral trade agreement between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. Under the trade deal, only an independent panel chosen by both countries can visit factories to investigate alleged mistreatment of workers. U.S. negotiators assured their Mexican counterparts that new labor attaches at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City will not be inspectors and cannot conduct factory inspections, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Mexico raised its national minimum wage by 20 percent, yesterday, but it remains under $1 an hour, reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexican indigenous groups and social organizations -- such as the Zapatista National Liberation Army -- are gearing up to oppose President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's ambitious Mayan Train megaproject, writes Laura Castellanos in a Post Opinión piece.
  • Mexico's tourism board, the Fondo Nacional de Fomento al Turismo (FONATUR), has estimated the project will cost between $6 to 8 billion and will bring more than three million visitors a year to the region. But environmentalists are concerned over the impact to delicate ecosystems, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador hasn't had major catastrophes yet, but his administration is just cruising, writes Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times op-ed.Crime, economic stagnation and erratic government decisions signal a long and bumpy ride for his presidency — and his country.
  • AMLO is rhetorically against big business, but behind the scenes he is far more accommodating, reports Reuters.
  • 2019 will be remembered as the year that citizens took to the streets across Latin America to voice frustration at their governments and lack of satisfaction, writes Patricia Janot in Post Opinión.
  • But, "rather than turning in any clear direction, political winds in the region appear to be blowing in all sorts of directions, with the only discernible underlying pattern being anti-incumbent votes following periods of economic crisis or economic downturns," write Santiago Anria and Gabriel Vommaro at the AULA blog.
  • Americas Quarterly has a special on the region's armed forces. In one piece, Roberto Simon analyzes the enduring, and dangerous-for-democracy, myth that the military is a "non-corrupt" alternative to politics. "Like in all areas of government in the region, corruption is a critical challenge for the armed forces. The notion that civilian areas of government are more corrupt than the military throughout Latin America is not supported by the available evidence."
  • Chile's ongoing mobilization, the "tsunami of unrest," continues, and has the country "suspended between hopes of progress, and frustration over an elusive political solution," reports the Guardian.
  • A push to arrest energy executives in Haiti -- including the widow of late president René Préval -- is illegal harassment, according to lawyers. The case "has raised a number of questions about what is legal and what isn’t in Haiti’s already dysfunctional, and usually slow-moving judicial system," reports the Miami Herald.
Climate Change
  • Chile defended its international climate change negotiation leadership, and said that four big polluting countries got in the way of a stronger deal, reports Reuters.
  • Brazil is part of the problem, rather than the solution in international climate negotiations, according to some Brazilians who formed part of previous negotiations. (Associated Press)
  • A Portuguese-language Christmas special on Netflix  that depicts Jesus as a gay man has caused anger in Brazil, where almost two million people signed a petition calling on the streaming service to remove the show. Critics include lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of President Jair Bolsonaro. (Guardian, Washington Post)
  • Argentina’s government will send a bill to Congress today including an array of proposals to increase taxes, including on overseas transactions and personal property. The goal is to raise funds desperately needed to to bolster social spending amid recession and rising poverty, reports Reuters.

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

Monday, December 16, 2019

Prince's secret Caracas meeting (Dec. 16, 2019)

A controversial security executive and prominent Trump supporter -- Blackwater founder Eric Prince -- made a secret visit to Caracas last month, where he met with Venezuelan vice-president Delcy Rodríguez. He proposed a business deal and urged freedom for six imprisoned Citgo executives in the meeting, reports Bloomberg, which broke the story on Friday.

Prince made the trip on his own initiative. He notified at least one senior Trump administration official, but it was not known whether he asked for approval or advice. It's not clear whether he was carrying an official message or aiming for private contracts. One Reuters source described the meeting as “outreach” by Prince to Maduro’s government.

Bloomberg sources believe Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was later briefed on the meeting, and that it is a potential backchannel between Maduro and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Elliott Abrams, the State Department special envoy on Venezuela, denied any knowledge of Prince’s meeting. “Neither the meeting nor any offers made were on behalf of the United States Government and on their face such offers would appear to violate U.S. sanctions,” he said.

A meeting with Rodríguez, who is under U.S. sanctions, could raise questions about whether Prince might have run afoul of US law, which prohibits Americans from virtually any business dealings with sanctioned individuals and specifically with the Venezuelan government, reports the Guardian.

In any case, it's a 180 degree turn from Prince's push to send a private army of 5,000 mercenaries to topple President Nicolás Maduro in April of this year. At the time he sought investment and political support from influential Trump supporters and wealthy Venezuelan exiles, according to Reuters.

At the November dinner meeting with Rodríguez Prince is believed to have urged the release of six employees of Houston-based Citgo -- who were granted house arrest two weeks later. They have been held for more than two years on charges of embezzlement, reports the Associated Press.

On the side of the Maduro government, opposition leader Juan Guaidó believes the meeting shows the impact of financial sanctions. “Those secret meetings are part of the desperation,” Guaido said Saturday during a Caracas news conference.


USMCA -- Not so fast

Mexican officials expressed outrage at U.S. plans to send foreign labor inspectors to monitor compliance with local labor reform. Mexican officials say the U.S. unilaterally included the clause in an implementation bill sent to U.S. lawmakers on Friday, and that they were blindsided. Such monitoring would be a violation of Mexican sovereignty, they told the press vehemently overt the weekend. 

Mexican lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to approve the revamped treaty last week, but the labor issue has become a controversy at home. Some analysts blame Mexico's negotiators of carelessness. The Foreign Ministry noted in a communique that Mexico could reject any such diplomats the United States sought to post in the country.

News Briefs

  • Chilean police and army personnel violated international human rights norms during massive protests in Chile, and should be prosecuted, according to a new report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The 30-page report based on research during the first three weeks of November, extensively details multiple allegations, including torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence by the police against people held in detention. Overall management of demonstrations by the police “was carried out in a fundamentally repressive manner," mission head Imma Guerras-Delgado told journalists.
  • Police brutality is pushing calls for sweeping reform of the security force, reports the New York Times.
  • Chile is in a lot more trouble than foreign observers realize, writes Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly. He compares the situation to that of Brazil in 2013, and warns centrists to be wary of growing extremist appeal.
  • A 15-year-old indigenous boy was murdered on the edge of a heavily deforested indigenous reserve in Brazil's Maranhão state. The murder is the fourth from the Guajajara tribe in recent weeks, reports the Guardian. It ocurred in the midst of a wave of racist abuse against indigenous people on local social media.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's son said the country will move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem. Brazilian lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro spoke yesterday at the inauguration of a Brazilian trade mission in Jerusalem, and said "we want to move to Jerusalem not just for Brazil, but to set an example for all of Latin America." (Jerusalem Post)
  • Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon jumped to the highest level for the month of November since record-keeping began in 2015, reports Reuters
  • Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez met with Trump in Washington last Friday. Private talks focused largely on the fight against corruption and organized crime, reports the Associated Press. The White House announced after the meeting that the United States will offer two Special Forces training events in Paraguay in 2020 and 2021. It also said the U.S. Southern Command will condut a regional crisis response exercise in Paraguay in 2021.
  • Nicaragua's main opposition movements -- Alianza Cívica por la Justicia and Unidad Nacional Azul y Blanco -- will present a unified electoral reform proposal, with freedom for all political prisoners as the starting point -- Carlos Chamorro, Confidencial.
  • New U.S. sanctions against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's eldest son -- Rafael Ortega Murillo -- is part of an ongoing policy of "drip irrigation" pressure against the regime, argues Ivette Munguía in Confidencial. (See Friday's post and briefs.)
  • French authorities extradited an Argentine security expert who is accused of crimes against humanity, including torture, committed during the country’s last dictatorship. The question for many French people is why it took so long, reports the New York Times. (See also Guardian)

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

Friday, December 13, 2019

Nicaraguan detainees tortured, harassed -- report (Dec. 13, 2019)

Nicaraguan protesters have been tortured in jails, police stations and clandestine detention centers, since an outbreak of massive protests against President Daniel Ortega's government erupted in April of 2018. A new report by Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Nicaragua Nunca+ interviewed 56 former political detainees who spoke of mistreatment under detention, but also ongoing harassment and and official persecution since regaining freedom earlier this year. The report details sexual violations, suffocation with plastic bags, beatings and kicks, electric shocks, cigarette burns, use of “Russian roulette” and sustained verbal abuse. It includes four detailed testimonies of women who suffered serious sexual abuse during their detention. (AFPLa Prensa, Infobae)

“The repression has been monstrous, the resistance immense. Never in peacetime have the people of Nicaragua, their youth, suffered so much criminal repression,” said Gonzalo Carrión, director of the collective.

Experts say the cases, if verified, constitute crimes against humanity. Claudia Paz y Paz, a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' independent group of experts, lauded the new report's contribution to documenting human rights violations.

Nicaragua's Amnesty Law permitted hundreds of political prisoners to be freed earlier this year, but it also blocks investigations into human rights violations committed by security forces and paramilitary groups repressing anti-government protests. Over a dozen former political detainees have been returned to jail since release, accused of committing common crimes. (La Prensa)

Earlier this week human rights activist Vilma Nuñez denounced that the government has restructured its “paramilitary forces and espionage bodies, which act selectively and indicate to the shock forces who they should attack.” (Confidencial)

El País has several profiles of people tortured and jailed by the Ortega government. (Here, and Here and Here)

More Nicaragua
  • Nicaraguan riot police beat relatives of political prisoners who held an express protest yesterday. The police also stole the belongings of citizens and journalists as well as their equipment, reports Confidencial.
  • The U.S. Trump administration imposed sanctions on one of Ortega's sons, for his alleged role on money laundering and corruption, reports the Associated Press. The move is a heavy blow for the Ortega family's finances, according to Confidencial.
  • Organizations of civil society targeted by government officials last year have resisted, despite harassment, reports el Confidencial.
News Briefs

  • Latin America is closing the decade with its lowest growth period of the past forty years, reports El País.
  • The 2010s are starting to be dubbed a “second lost decade” for Latin America, but it's not nearly as bad, according to the Economist.
  • Former Bolivian president Evo Morales arrived in Argentina yesterday, where he requested refugee status. Argentine authorities welcomed him. (Reuters) The move will likely further complicate tense diplomatic relations between Argentina and Brazil, according to the Guardian.
  • Argentina's new health minister guaranteed access to abortion in cases where it is legal -- rape or threat to the life or health of the mother -- with a new protocol aimed at reducing hospital discretion over whether to carry out the procedure. Abortion rights advocates say the current law is applied unevenly across the country, where often local authorities deny or delay access to interruption. "Conscientious objection cannot be used as an institutional alibi for not complying with the law,” said minister Ginés González García. Amnesty International issued a statement celebrating the new protocol. (Reuters, El País)
  • InSight Crime reviews the outgoing Argentine administration's mixed security record.
  • Mexican authorities should accept U.S. help in battling criminal organizations, say members of the LeBaron family, who lost nine members in a barbaric attack in November. (León Krauze, Washington Post opinion)
  • Chihuaha state's Mennonite and Mexican communities have created a new Christmas tradition aimed at giving families a safe way to celebrate, amid growing violence, writes Rebecca Janzen in the Conversation
  • Mexico has been seeing a staggering rise in attacks on maritime oil infrastructure, reports InSight Crime.
  • The U.S. Defense Department’s inspector general’s office will audit a $400 million border wall contract that U.S. authorities awarded to a construction company run by a Republican Party donor whom U.S. President Donald Trump advocated for, reports the Washington Post.
  • Haitians are weathering the worst outbreak in lawlessness in more than a decade, after U.N. peacekeeping troops withdrew in 2017 and national police have focused on dealing with ongoing anti-government protests, reports Reuters. Low-income neighborhoods have become no-go areas where criminal groups fight for territorial control. And politicians across the spectrum are using the gangs to repress or foment dissent, providing them with weapons and impunity, according to human rights advocates and ordinary Haitians.
  • A local employee of the United States Embassy in Haiti is accused of running a criminal scheme to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash advances to members of the United States Southern Command, known as SouthCom. (Miami Herald)
  • The rise and fall of the CICIG is one of the past decade's major stories for Americas Quarterly, which looks at how the international anti-impunity commission took on entrenched corruption in Guatemala, and was then ousted.
  • In a region that is in upheaval, Uruguay's moderation is exceptional -- but president-elect Luis Lacalle Pou will have to work to avoid polarization, writes Sylvia Colombo in a New York Times Español op-ed.
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica is the other Latin American exception -- but the admired model is due for tweaks, particularly aimed at boosting economic growth, according to El País.
  • Costa Rican bugs are also victims of wildlife trafficking, along with the better known cases of turtles, reports InSight Crime.
Happy Friday!
  • A Brazilian man impersonated his elderly mother for a driving test, after she failed three times in attempts to renew her license. He was arrested for fraudulent misrepresentation, but even if he had remained undetected, his driving was so bad he wouldn't have gotten the license, said the driving instructor who unmasked him. (Guardian)

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

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Caribbean Investigative Journalism delves deep (Dec. 12, 2019)

The relaunched Caribbean Investigative Journalism site has a slew of amazing pieces that showcase the diversity of grave issues facing countries in the region. A selection:

  • On the surface, Chinese engagement with the Caribbean is focused on financing large-scale infrastructure projects. But an investigation reveals "a trail of official secrecy, questionable procurement processes, and the looming threat of potentially insurmountable debt."
  • And why oil-rich nation of Trinidad and Tobago is the western world’s highest per capita supplier of ISIS recruits.
  • A deep dive on Hugo Chávez's signature PetroCaribe program and the corruption that permeated it.
  • The impact of Venezuela's refugee crisis on sex trafficking rings in Trinidad and Tobago: "The illicit sex trade seems to span almost every district in Trinidad and Tobago, from rural villages to upscale neighborhoods, where sex slaves—some as young as 14 years old—are held against their will, locked in rooms and forced to have sex with men. Some victims are drugged so older men can take advantage of them. "
  • How Venezuelan migrants are exploited in Guyana, where refugees face restrictive labour laws, administrative obstacles, the threat of violence as well as discrimination.
News Briefs

  • The speed of displacement from Venezuela is historic -- if current trends continue, there could be as many as 6.5 million Venezuelans living outside of the country by 2020. This means it will outpace the Syrian refugee crisis, and become the largest and most underfunded refugee crisis in modern history, according to the Brookings Institution. And, regarding the terminology: "Unlike other refugee crises, the Venezuelan one is not the result of conventional war or conflict. But the conditions Venezuelans face daily are not much different than those in an active war zone."
  • Many of those who flee Venezuela are unaccompanied minors, who arrive in Brazil and Colombia on foot. A group of civil society organizations focused on children's rights asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to evaluate the impact of forced migration on Venezuelan children and teens. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Managing a refugee and migration crisis is, obviously, no easy task. "However, it is disturbing to find a set of policies that are at the same time cruel, ineffective and destabilizing. Yet that is what the U.S. has achieved at the southern border," writes International Rescue Committee head David Miliband in Newsweek. "The choice is not between migrants and asylum seekers arriving or not. It is between managing their arrival in an orderly, humane and regulated way or having them arrive in a disorderly, inhumane and dangerous fashion."
  • U.S. immigration officials deported approximately 12,000 family members and unaccompanied minors last fiscal year -- the number represents an increase in both categories, even as overall arrests dropped, reports the Washington Post.
  • Social media videos of police forcing Colombian protesters into unmarked cars have prompted outrage and accusations of excessive force against the Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron, reports the Guardian. The episodes strike a chord in a country that once suffered the highest kidnapping rate in the world, and whose security forces have been implicated in forced disappearances.
  • Colombian lawmakers will kick off debate on the government's fiscal reform proposal today. The bill includes a nod to ongoing protests, in the form of incentives for creating jobs for youths. It also reduces taxes for businesses and seeks to streamline worker registration in order to discourage informal labor, reports La Silla Vacía. Likely passage would be a win for President Iván Duque, but would demonstrate lawmakers' disconnect with social discontent, argues La Silla Vacía separately.
  • Even by the region's tumultuous standards, 2019 has been volatile in terms of social protests. Though the reasons vary according to local realities, but a new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (not publicly available) points to a broad commonality: the end of the commodities boom, which leftist governments used to alleviate poverty in the short-term, without implementing long-term sustainable growth policies. The result was frustration-causing austerity policies around the region. "Although the announcement of a new, regressive fiscal measure has often acted as the flash point for social unrest—as in Chile and Ecuador—the underlying issue at stake has been more structural: prospects of upward social and economic mobility are fading."
  • Another interpretation is that the mass protests are a sign that democracy is in trouble in Latin America, argues a Washington Post Monkey Cage piece by Dinorah Azpuru. Public support for democracy is down across the region, as is confidence in democratic institutions. Support for democracy is also lower among citizens who do not believe that “those who govern their country are interested in what people like me think." "This may be one of the keys for understanding how Latin Americans have lost faith in democracy," she writes.
  • Inequality has been identified as another unifying factor in unrest. A new study on life expectancy within various Latin American cities graphically demonstrates its impact: there is up to an 18 year difference in life expectancy between different neighborhoods of Santiago, Chile. (El País)
  • Furious protesters stormed a Mexico City art museum, where an exhibit featured a work of art depicting revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata naked in heels. Press pictures of the painting provoked strong reactions in Mexico, and some of Zapata's most fervent fans say they are considering legal action, reports the Guardian.
  • The arrest of former Mexican public security secretary, Genaro García Luna -- he is accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes while in office to protect the Sinaloa Cartel -- is stunning even in a country used to high levels of corruption. "It was as if Eliot Ness had actually been an accomplice of Al Capone," according to the New York Times. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • "The case confirms what we've known for a long time: "narcos have infiltrated and coopted the State at the highest levels. Correcting that will take many years, many lives and a lot of money," writes Adrián López Ortiz at Post Opinión.
  • The new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement might not be perfect, but Mexican businesses are grateful to have a free trade deal, after two years of uncertainty and Trumpian wrath, reports the Washington Post.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee held its first hearing on Haiti in six years amid ongoing political instability and widespread anti-government protests calling for President Jovenel Moïse to step down, reports the Miami Herald.
Regional Relations
  • The Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) board of governors will pick the organization’s next president in 2020. Mark Lopez argues that, given the relevance of the IDB in the region, a more transparent process is warranted. (Americas Quarterly, see yesterday's briefs)
  • An international group of 30 non-profit groups warned investors against buying shares in two Brazilian meat giants -- JBS and Marfrig -- due to their exposure to deforestation. The groups include Global Witness, Greenpeace Brasil and the Rainforest Action Network, amongst others, reports the Guardian. (See Tuesday's briefs on the links between the beef industry and deforestation.)
  • Chile's government remains under pressure from protesters, despite having made meaningful concessions over the past two months, according to the latest Latin America Risk Report. In fact, the protests are now being deployed as a way to keep pressure on the Piñera administration. There is enthusiasm for a constitutional rewrite, that will likely include significant (and expensive) pension reform, as well as education reform aimed at cutting costs for students, writes James Bosworth.
  • Chile's Air Force found debris believed to be from a cargo plane that crashed this week with 38 people aboard over the sea between South America and Antarctica. (Reuters)
  • Argentina is currently a poor country, with a poverty-afflicted population. The fact is key in understanding why former president Mauricio Macri lost October's elections. And how President Alberto Fernández responds in the short term will be critical for his new administration, argues Martín Caparrós in a New York Times Español op-ed. (See yesterday's briefs.)
El Salvador
  • The Rio Lempa massacre in 1981 was one of the three great massacre's of El Salvador's civil war, but it has been largely forgotten by history books -- though not by its survivors. El Faro reports.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...