Friday, January 31, 2020

Six indigenous people massacred in Nicaragua (Jan 31, 2020)

Six people were killed and ten kidnapped when 80 armed men attacked the Mayangna indigenous community on Nicaragua's northern Caribbean coast. The attackers then set fire to the community's houses, reports Confidencial. Local leaders said the attack in the Bosawas biosphere reserve was carried out by illicit settlers, who invade autonomous indigenous territories to illegally log their forests and convert them into pastures and fields, reports the Associated Press.

Police officially announced two deaths, the reason for the difference in the toll is unclear. (BBC)

Animosity has grown in recent years between indigenous groups and the settlers, reports Reuters. The Mayangna have been complaining since 2014 about living under siege from armed groups who are seizing their lands, and last year their leader said his people are facing an existential risk.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned the attack and said the government failed to protect the indigenous peoples and their territory. It noted such attacks had been occurring for years. Rights groups said there had been other attacks by settlers on Mayangna and Miskito peoples in the Caribbean coastal area and in another biosphere reserve near the Costa Rica border.

Some rights groups denounce systematic assassination of indigenous community members, that are carried out with complicity from Nicaraguan security forces, reports Confidencial.

News Briefs

  • The U.S. Trump administration is sending Brazilian migrants arriving at the southern border back to Mexico to wait for decisions on their asylum applications in the U.S. The move is an expansion of the existing, and controversial, Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), informally dubbed Remain in Mexico, reports Vox.  The number of Brazilian nationals apprehended at the Southwest border increased by more than eleven fold from FY2018 to FY2019, said the Department of Homeland Security this week. Immigrant advocates had initially believed that only Spanish-speaking migrants would be subject to MPP, but DHS clarified that it is not the case.
  • A year into MPP, "migrant and human rights groups have repeatedly condemned the policy," reports The Intercept. "Fewer than five percent of people subject to the MPP had access to legal representation. Children, LGBTQ asylum-seekers, and people with disabilities have all been sent back to some of the most dangerous cities in Mexico."
  • The wall the U.S. Trump administration is building along the border with Mexico will likely need hundreds of storm gates left open to resist flash-floods during summer months. In places where such gates are already in operation, they have already have allowed for the easy entry of smugglers and migrants into the United States, reports the Washington Post.(See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Mexico's National Institute of Migration (INM) temporarily suspended access by all religious associations and NGOs to the country’s migration detention centers this week, though government officials later denied the announcement. Amnesty International denounced that the "arbitrary decision ... hinders the fundamental work of legal assistance and verification of the situation of migrants and asylum seekers, and increases the vulnerability of these people."
  • The U.S.M.C.A. has the potential to become a powerful lever for Mexico's long-awaited modernization, but at a cost, warns Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's excellent symbolic strikes against economic neoliberalism have proved poor economic policy, writes Carlos Loret de Mola A. in the Post Opinión.
  • A half-million dollar fine against a well-known Mexican academic for slander -- commentary on a politician detained on massive corruption charges -- has press freedom advocates concerned about expression in Mexico, reports the Washington Post. A draft of an expected new judicial reform package obtained by journalists this month included a proposal that would make defamation a criminal offense. (See Wednesday's post.)
  • The leaked judicial reform drafts have outraged legal experts, who said the changes would effectively backtrack hard-fought due process guarantees and human rights protections, reports the New York Times. “It’s a complete reversal,” said María Novoa, director of the justice program at México Evalúa. “It’s a counter-reform.”(See Wednesday's post.)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump's transactional approach to foreign policy has weakened anti-corruption measures in the region, argue Michael Camilleri and Catharine Christie in Americas Quarterly.
  • InSight Crime's annual Homicide Round-up is out: Venezuela continues to lead the national pack in terms of homicide rates, though it dropped nearly 25 percent last year. Jamaica is second, and authorities have been unable to continue improvements that reduced murders in 2017. Chile has the lowest homicide rate of those surveyed by InSight Crime, followed by Argentina.
  • A fringe religious party's surprisingly strong showing in Peru's legislative elections (see yesterday's briefs), is part of a conservative creep in Latin American politics -- often not enough to win outright majorities, evangelical parties are increasingly influential, often through parliamentary pressure on specific policy sectors, argues Jonathan Castro Cajahuanca in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • "The noun Venezuela, the adjective Venezuelan, have been transformed, lately, into much more than mere description. They have lost, in many ways, their sense, and have gained others: condemnation, disqualification, fear," writes Martín Caparrós in a New York Times Español op-ed that captures how debates about Venezuela have become a proxy for a host of other issues.
  • Latin American governments will need to adapt regulatory environments in order to fully take advantage of fintech potential, argues Otaviano Canuto in Americas Quarterly.
  • Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, but the country's disappointing ranking in Transparency International's corruption perception index demonstrates the emptiness of his promises. "The result ... reiterates a lesson as simple as it is fundamental," writes TI Brazil's executive director, Bruno Brandão in Folha de S. Paulo. "Corruption is fought with better laws, better institutions, and better behavior."
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández met with Catholic Pope Francis this morning. (Associated Press)
  • Colombia rejected Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's proposal that the two countries resume diplomatic relations, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Colombia’s Supreme Court appointed Francisco Barbosa, a lawyer with close ties to President Iván Duque, as the country’s new attorney general, reports Reuters.
  • A U.S. law firm Foley & Lardner, which was hired for $12.5 million by a Maduro government official, has decided to dump the controversial Venezuelan client amid a major outcry by critics, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.)

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

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Peru's fractured congress -- with a twist (Jan. 30, 2020)

News Briefs


  • The official tally for Peru's legislative elections still isn't final, but the rapid count indicates that nine parties met the threshold to obtain seats in the unicameral congress, in what promises to be "the most pluralistic Peruvian legislature of the post-Fujimori era," reports Nacla. The Fujimorista Fuerza Popular was the clear loser of the election, but center-right neoliberal parties remained the default option for most voters -- with relevant wins by nationalist and evangelical parties.

  • The most unexpected twist was the success of the Agricultural People’s Front of Peru (Frepap), won the second largest share of the quick count vote, 8.9 percent, giving them one of largest blocs of lawmakers in Peru’s fragmented new congress, reports the Guardian. Frepap is the political party of the Israelites of the New Universal Pact, and their fundamentalist views have prompted concerns. A colorful detail: they dress like cast-members in a nativity play: the men with long hair and beards and the women in headscarves and robes.
  • Brazilian lawmaker David Miranda and his husband, journalist Glenn Greenwald, have endured vitriolic and escalating threats in recent years, but promise to maintain their mutual commitment to Brazilian democracy. "It is sometimes hard for citizens of centuries-old western democracies to appreciate how much easier it is for a young democracy like Brazil to easily slip back into full-scale tyranny, or to be violently brought back to it," they write in the Guardian. "That Brazil now has a president and is dominated by a political movement that openly seeks such a regression makes the threat all the more acute."

  • In the midst of heavy rains, people living near Brazil's mining dams are terrified, after a collapse last year killed 270. To make matters worst, Brazil’s mining regulator, ANM says its underfunded and understaffed, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.)

  • Former soap opera star Regina Duarte is Brazil's new culture minister. (Associated Press) In the midst of the country's increasingly heated culture war, President Jair Bolsonaro insists he is "curating" rather than "censoring," according to Latin America Reports.
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó is scheduled to appear in Miami on Saturday -- it's not clear whether he will head to Washington DC before. Guaidó needs to show he still has the Trump administration's support, in order to maintain his position, notes the Venezuela Weekly.

  • Guaidó is supposed to return to Caracas after Miami -- though he broke a judicial travel prohibition by leaving Venezuela, President of the National Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello, said that nothing would happen when Guaidó comes back to Venezuela. (Venezuela Weekly)

  • Venezuela's opposition-run National Assembly said it had set aside $20 million held in accounts in the United States to pay for litigation abroad as part of efforts to protect the country’s offshore assets from lawsuits by creditors, reports Reuters.

  • U.S. Senator Rick Scott irately announced he won’t take any meetings with lobbyists at the law and lobbying firm Foley & Lardner as long as the firm represents the Venezuelan Maduro government. (Politico)

  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is slowly relaxing the government's iron grip on the private sector in an attempt to stave off economic collapse, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Tuesday's briefs.)

  • Venezuela's oil exports have steadily risen in recent months, an unexpected lifeline for Maduro, reports Reuters.

  • Maduro said he was willing to re-establish consular relations with Colombia, in the midst of a standoff between the two countries about a fugitive Colombian former senator, reports Reuters. (See Tuesday's briefs.)

  • U.S. authorities discovered a 1.3 kilometer tunnel stretching from Tijuana in Mexico to San Diego in the U.S. It is the longest smuggling tunnel ever discovered on the south-west border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (Guardian) "For all the talk about a wall between the United States and Mexico, the proliferation of such subterranean passageways demonstrates that the problem with border security is as much below ground as above," notes the New York Times.

  • Speaking of which, a section of the controversial wall the U.S. Trump administration is building on the country's border with Mexico reportedly blew over onto the Mexican side due to high winds, reports the Guardian. Beyond the potential security implications, it feels like there might be a larger, biblical message in this news byte.
  • Homero Gómez González, a former logger who became one of central Mexico's most prominent defenders of the region's monarch butterfly population, was found dead yesterday, reports the Washington Post.

  • The Mexican López Obrador administration seems determined to block requests for official information, belying lip service to transparency, writes Daniel Lizárraga, of Mexicanos contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad in the Post Opinión.

  • Mexico's Senate is gearing up to discuss cannabis regulation next week. The government must comply with Supreme Court rulings decriminalizing cannabis by May, reports Infobae. A draft bill reportedly includes free distribution of the drug for medical use. But the majority Morena party is reportedly also interested in the enormous business potential of the cannabis industry, according to Salvador García Soto in El Universal.

  • European weapons makers are quietly supplying firearms to Mexico's drug wars, along with the illegal flow of guns from the U.S., reports Vice News.
  • A landmark U.N. ruling that governments cannot return people to countries where their lives might be threatened by climate change is a potential game-changer, writes Yvonne Su at the Conversation.

  • Criminal activity is destroying mangrove ecosystems on Guatemala's Caribbean coast -- which has a knock-on effect on those of Honduras, Belize and Mexico. Now, governments and environmental organizations from these countries seek to communicate, like their ecosystems, through a Regional Strategy for Conservation and Restoration of Mesoamerican Reef Mangroves, reports Nómada.
  • Reporting on the 1981 El Mozote massacre, and the U.S. government's response at the time, has relevant lessons for press today, reports the Intercept.
  • Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel is touring the island and meeting residents face-to-face, in an attempt to overcome his lack of name recognition, reports EFE.
  • Argentina's lower house of Congress approved a bill that would enable the government to handle a massive debt restructuring of bonds issued in foreign currency that it needs to negotiate with creditors. The bill is expected to pass in the Senate next week, reports Reuters.

  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández is set to meet up with Pope Francis tomorrow -- and hopes are high that the pontiff will help his home country out of its latest debt imbroglio. "It is improbable that the pope can perform the miracle of turning creditors’ cash gluttony into altruism overnight, but Argentina’s debt recidivism can nonetheless use the moral patina of Francis’ progressive economic language, especially as Mr. Fernández tries to garner support for the country’s case at the I.M.F. board," argues Marcelo J. García in a New York Times op-ed.

  • Its always hard for Peronists to explain themselves to international populist skeptics, but Ernesto Semán masterfully explains the party's perennial appeal in Argentina. "Each attempt at undoing the rights and policies that extended equality and freedom to the vast majority of Argentine society after World War II has been followed by a renewed allegiance of workers and the poor to the movement that materialized those ideals," he writes in Nacla. "The latest revival has little to do with the Peronist party itself or the bureaucracies that turned it into an efficient political machine. Rather, it reflects a vision engrained in social life, which considers that important parts of people’s lives belong to a non-commodifiable realm: health, education, housing, and even basic sustenance. At its core, the Peronist credo is not that different from the beliefs embraced today by democratic socialists in the United States."
  • Latin America's radical feminism -- and its demand for inclusion in politics -- is spreading, argues Vanessa Barbara in a New York Times op-ed.

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

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Keiko Fujimori back in jail (Jan. 29, 2020)

Peruvian authorities arrested opposition leader Keiko Fujimori yesterday. She faces up to 15-months in jail, as prosecutors investigate money laundering accusations against her. She previously served over a year in pre-trial detention, and was released from jail last November. Prosecutors appealed that decision, and argue that she could interfere with the probe. (Ojo Público)

In a pre-recorded video, Fujimori alleges political persecution and said she would give a "political response." She also said her husband would seek support from foreign governments and organizations to support her release. The tone marks a shift in her strategy -- last year she had said she would take a break from politics.

Fujimori is the leader of opposition party Fuerza Popular, and the daughter of former dictator Alberto Fujimori. She is accused of illicitly receiving $1.2 million from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht to finance her 2011 presidential campaign. Fuerza Popular leaders have been accused in high profile corruption and human rights cases that tarnished the powerful party, which was trounced in last Sunday's parliamentary elections. (See Monday's post.)

News Briefs

  • A 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck in the sea between Cuba, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands yesterday. Tsunami warnings for Cuba, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands were issued but lifted shortly afterward with no reports of major damage, reports the Guardian. Though there was shaking reported from Florida to Mexico, there are no reports of casualties. The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang has a freaky amount of technical detail, if you're into that sort of thing.
Inter-American Court on Human Rights
  • An Inter-American Court on Human Rights hearing yesterday -- involving the alleged sexual abuse of an Ecuadorian schoolgirl between the age of 14 and 16 by her vice-principal -- could establish the first international standards to protect girls from coercion and sexual violence in school for the region, reports the Guardian.
  • The global average score dropped last year for the Economist's annual Democracy Index. The decline in the average global score was driven by sharp regressions in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Intelligence Unit.
  • Leaked draft proposals for judicial reform in Mexico would endanger due process, the presumption of innocence, judicial independence and impartiality, and pose risks to human rights, writes María Novoa in Americas Quarterly.
  • Mexico's supreme court unanimously granted protections to Río Sonora communities affected by mining environmental damage, earlier this month. The ruling challenges mining company claims that the area has been restored, and that promises regarding access to potable water, healthcare and agriculture have not been met, writes PODER co-director Fernanda Hopenhaym in the Post Opinión.
  • Violent entertainment -- video-games, music or soap operas -- are indicative of a problematic environment, but not the driver of real-life violence, argues Alberto Barrera Tyszka in a New York Times Español op-ed that urges Mexican authorities to instead look at the country's tragic reality to explain a school shooting earlier this year.
  • That violence has had little government policy in response. Instead, victim activists -- like the poet Javier Sicilia -- have contributed to drawing attention to the grim panorama, writes Diego Enrique Osorno in the Post Opinión.
  • Chilean security forces carried out generalized violations of human rights in their response to anti-government protests that started in October of last year, according to a new report by an observation mission of human rights organizations. The mission, which includes Artículo 19 and CELS, notes that violence was exacerbated during a period in which the government declared a state of emergency.
  • An Inter-American Commission for Human Rights mission began work on Sunday in Chile in order to document human rights violations in the context of the protests, reports Aristegui Noticias.
  • Heavy rains in Brazil have already killed 53 people since last weekend, particularly in Minas Gerais state. Another Washington Post Capital Weather gang analysis for the scientific take.
  • Claudia Andujar's photographs of Brazil's Yanomami tribe show a culture increasingly under duress from disease, deforestation and climate change, reports the Guardian.
  • Audio recordings of an Argentine provincial judge, reported by Cohete a la Luna, appear to show political motivation for the ongoing detention of social activist Milagro Sala, who has been in jail for four years. In reaction, a group of Peronist lawmakers denounced lack of independence in the Jujuy province's judiciary, reports Ámbito.
  • Former Argentine president Mauricio Macri has been appointed executive chairman of the FIFA Foundation, an organization created by the world football’s governing body organization in 2018 to promote social change, reports Reuters.

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

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Guaidó says Cuba could be part of the solution (Jan. 28, 2020)

News Briefs

  • Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and backed Canada's efforts to work with Cuba towards a negotiated solution to Venezuela's crisis, reports El País. However Guaidó emphasized that up until now Havana has only supported Nicolás Maduro's government. (Also EFE)
  • Guaidó's international tour to drum up support is risky: it's not clear he will be able to return to Venezuela, note David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas in the last Venezuela Weekly.
  • Swedish oil refiner Nynas, which is owned by Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA and Finland’s Neste Oil, said it planned to reorganize its business in an attempt to disentangle itself from U.S. sanctions imposed on Venezuela, reports Reuters.
  • Maduro's government has proposed selling majority shares and control of its oil industry to big international corporations, a move that would forsake decades of state monopoly, but could give the embattled administration a measure of financial relief, reports Bloomberg. (Also Business Insider)
  • A rum distiller launched Venezuela’s first public share offering in 11 years this week, and some optimists are hoping for an economic transition along the lines of China or the Soviet Union, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuelan socialism has become a bogeyman for voters around the region, who are scared that the wrong choice at the ballot box could bring their countries to the brink of destruction. But "the deeper driver of Venezuela’s implosion isn’t Maduro’s doctrinaire adherence to socialism but, rather, the country’s slide into kleptocracy," write Moisés Naím and Francisco Toro in Foreign Affairs. "To focus on Venezuela as a failure of socialism is to miss the real story: the collapse of the Venezuelan state and the takeover of its resources by a confederation of ruthless criminals from both inside and outside the country."
Regional Relations
  • Venezuelan special forces captured a fugitive former Colombian senator, Aída Merlano, in Maracaibo. (BBC) Her escape from jail last October, where she was serving a 15-year sentence for vote buying was an embarrassment for Colombian authorities.
  • In a strange twist, Colombia's government said it will ask Guaidó's parallel government to extradite Merlano -- which means the chances of actually obtaining her return are slim, and the potential for diplomatic controversy are great, according to Semana.
  • Colombia's government refuses to face up to the gravity of the systematic murder of social leaders that has occurred in the wake of the FARC's cease-fire, writes Andrés Páramo Izquierdo in the Post Opinión
  • More than 30,000 people have been displaced by heavy rains in south-east Brazil (states of Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo and Rio de Janeiro)that have killed 54 people and left 18 missing -- Associated Press. At least 11 people are missing from the town of Brumadinho, where residents had gathered for the first anniversary of a dam break that left up to 270 dead, reports the New York Times.
  • Police in Rio de Janeiro state killed an average of five people each day last year -- 1,810 people, the highest number since official records began in 1998, reports the BBC.
  • The former Brazilian culture minister who caused a scandal by paraphrasing Joseph Goebbels in an official announcement is part of a broader trend of extremist tactics favored by the U.S. “alt-right” who are often referenced by powerful members of President Jair Bolsonaro’s government, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • An abstinence campaign led by Brazil's minister of human rights, family and women was developed in close consultation with evangelical pastors, and blurs the line between state and church, according to critics. (New York Times)
  • In another chapter of Brazil's ongoing culture wars, one of the country’s most celebrated research institutes announced plans to host a Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan week later this year. The  Rui Barbosa House Foundation, which receives government funding, will host a string of exhibitions and lectures about the rightwing 1980s icons, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Indigenous activists have vowed to sue Bolsonaro for racism, after he said “indigenous are increasingly becoming human beings just like us,” in a Facebook Live broadcast last week. (Guardian)
  • A new cacao agriculture project in the Yanomami indigenous territory seeks to provide an economic alternative to illegal gold mining in Brazil's largest reserve. (Guardian)
  • The dismantling of international anti-corruption commissions in Guatemala and Honduras has been a setback for Central American institutions, but citizens in both countries must stand firm and defend gains against impunity, argues Cespad director Gustavo Irías in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • "The essential question that confronts Chile is one that many other nations are grappling with today: Can the demands of a radicalized and disaffected movement of citizens, most of whom are young, impatient and social media-savvy, be channeled and resolved by a political elite that has shown itself, until now, blind to the needs of the great majority of its populace?" asks Ariel Dorfman in a New York Times op-ed.
  • More than 1,300 LGBTI people were violently killed in Latin America and the Caribbean over the past five years. That's an average of 4 LGBTI people assassinated per day in the region, according to a new report by Colombia Diversa.
  • A Guatemalan judge dismissed war crimes charges against Juan Alecio Samayoa Cabrera, a feared former military commissioner. She then ordered Samayoa’s immediate release, even though he had been a figutive of justice for 25 years and was only brought to trial after a lengthy deportation proceeding in the United States, and ordered prosecutors to continue investigating the crimes, report Jo-Marie Burt and Paulo Estrada in the International Justice Monitor.
El Salvador
  • A retired Salvadoran general acknowledged for the first time, last week, that the armed forces were responsible for the notorious 1981 El Mozote massacre of more than 1,000 people during the country's civil war. (Reuters)
  • The U.S. prosecution of Genaro García Luna, formerly a top Mexican security official, exposes the façade of the war on drugs, reports The Intercept.
  • A caravan of Central American migrants stopped from entering Mexico by the country's National Guard has exposed the contradictions between President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's rhetoric and his policies -- and the "extreme ideological promiscuity of Mexican politics," according to the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Impunity for human rights crimes, gender violence and crimes against migrants is nearly absolute in Mexico, reports Animal Político.
  • A Guatemalan seven-year-old has become the longest detained child migrant in the U.S., after seven months in a controversial detention center, reports the Guardian.
  • MAS party candidate Luis Arce said he will return to Bolivia today in order to run for president in May, though he denounced that members of former president Evo Morales' party are victims of political persecution that casts doubt on the election's legitimacy. (EFE)
  • Cuba's post-Castro era is "an opportunity to finally integrate black people into Cuban society and address the deep racial and economic inequality that persists today," argues Jean François Fogel in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Ecuadorean authorities should restore radio station Pichincha Universal’s broadcast license and should not penalize news outlets for their political coverage, the Committee to Protect Journalists said last week.
  • Déjà vu: A vulture fund lawyer who worked with Paul Singer is building up an Argentina bondholder group that now totals about 20 funds. They could potentially veto a restructuring deal, complicating Argentina's efforts to resolve its current debt crisis, reports Bloomberg.
  • Two major trade agreements in the region -- United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the EU-MERCOSUR Association Agreement --have recently struck blows against the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to keep drug prices high by limiting competition from generic medications, explains Thomas Andrew O’Keefe at the Aula Blog.
Literary corner
  • The brouhaha about "American Dirt" is, in part, due to "an extraordinary convergence of forces: Industry hype meets charges of cultural appropriation meets one of the most combustible political issues in America today, immigration," reports the New York Times.
  • New York Times Travel takes us on a tour of Costa Rica's coffee plantations. Cheers.

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

Monday, January 27, 2020

Peru elects fragmented congress (Jan. 27, 2020)

The vote count for Peru's legislative elections, held yesterday, are not final, but so far indicate a fragmented field that has favored centrist parties. At least 10 parties have won seats, none with more than 15 percent of the vote and many barely clearing the 5 percent threshold required for entry. Indeed, ahead of the vote many Peruvians were apathetic, and polls show that no party has been able to capture widespread anger at political elites and corruption, reports the Associated Press. (See Friday's post.)

A quick count carried out by Ipsos research firm suggest the Acción Popular party will emerge as the strongest, with just 10.2 percent of the vote. (BBC) The fragmentation means that President Martín Vizcarra will have to create alliances in order to pass anti-corruption reforms, but analysts are hopeful he will be able to push through proposals that include eliminating parliamentary immunity for lawmakers accused of crimes. (Financial Times)

If there is no clear winner, many articles agree that the clear loser is the main opposition party, Fuerza Popular, led by Keiko Fujimori. The Ipsos count suggests Fuerza Popular garnered 7 percent, which would mean about 12 seats out of the total 130 in Congress. The Fujimorista party had 73 seats in the previous congress, and used the space to block Vizcarra's reforms, ultimately pushing him to dissolve Congress last September. (See Oct. 1's post.)

The new parliament will govern for only 18 months, and new elections will be held next year. 

Even without final results, La República celebrated a bettered legislative body, and that voters punished parties that had obstructed legislative efforts in the last congressional cycle.

News Briefs

  • Bolivian interim-president Jeanine Áñez announced her intention to run in the country's May presidential election, backtracking on earlier promises to stay out of the race. She said she was moved to run due to the country's fragmented political scene in the wake of President Evo Morales' ouster last year. Her announcement sparked criticism, even among previous allies, as she had previously said she sought only to guide the country towards new transparent elections. “A presidential candidacy disrupts her historic role and the credibility of the transition,” Carlos Mesa, the runner-up in the Oct. 20 vote and former Áñez ally said. (Reuters, Reuters)
  • The move sparked a storm within the interim government. Áñez asked her entire cabinet to resign yesterday, hours after Communication Minister Roxana Lizarraga resigned in protest of Áñez's candidacy. Áñez "has decided to ask for the resignation of all ministers to approach this new stage in the management of the democratic transition," said the presidency's statement, which added that it was "usual" in an electoral cycle to have "adjustments in the working team of the Executive." (InfobaeAFP, Nodal)
  • Luis Arce, the presidential candidate of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), denounced that Bolivia's interim government is trying to obstruct his participation in the next elections by filing allegations of corruption against him -- TeleSur.
  • Religious right-wing leadership -- Catholic and Protestant -- in Morales' ouster gives a glimpse into Bolivia's future and the current clash with the former president's indigenous supporters, reports the Guardian.
  • Critics have noted the similarities between Áñez's efforts to legitimize her administration and the 2009 ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. "The parallels were apparently not lost on the Bolivia’s new rulers," according to The Intercept, which reports that the administration has retained the services of the same Washington, D.C., consultants hired by the Honduran interim government to build American support -- CLS Strategies.
Regional Relations
  • The United States announced that it will send an ambassador to Bolivia to help restore a "normal relationship" between the two countries for the first time in ten years, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale announced last week. (Reuters)
  •  Bolivia suspended diplomatic relations with Cuba last week. Cuba's government accused the Áñez administration of seeking to sabotage bilateral ties ever since it took power last year, partly under pressure from the Trump administration. (Reuters)
  • Mexico's "iron-fisted" crackdown on a migrant caravan of over 4,000 Central Americans, last week, "was perhaps the biggest and most dramatic test to date of Mexico’s new resolve to get tough on illegal migration" in order to please the U.S. Trump administration, reports the New York Times. (See last Friday's briefs, and last Tuesday's post.)
  • Mexican authorities say that there are 3,300 asylum seekers waiting in Tamaulipas, on the Mexican side of the border, for U.S. adjudication of their applications. (Nodal)
  • A Salvadoran court ordered the detention, last week, of a man accused of promoting the formation of the latest migrant caravan from Central America towards the U.S. It is the first detention of its kind -- formally on immigrant human-trafficking charges -- reports the Associated Press. If he is found guilty, Raul Ventura could face an 8-year jail sentence, according to Televisa.
  • Guatemala will continue to receive asylum seekers sent by the United States as part of a controversial immigration agreement signed by the previous administration, said the new foreign affairs minister last week. (Al Jazeera)
  • At least 46 people have died in Brazil and more than 25,000 have been displaced due to widespread flooding following storms and heavy rains this weekend, reports Reuters.
  • The criminal case against journalist Glenn Greenwald -- Brazilian prosecutors charged him with cybercrimes last week -- has set off alarm bells about press freedom in Brazil. (See last Wednesday's post.) "Politicians, lawyers and human rights groups call the case a worrisome development at a time when the Bolsonaro administration has raised alarm by targeting other Constitutional protections, including the land rights of indigenous people and the enforcement of environmental regulations," reports the New York Times. (Indeed, "the case might also serve as a model for other nations eager to clamp down on press freedom," writes James Risen in a New York Times op-ed.)
  • There is little risk that Brazilians will wake up to a military coup of tanks on the street, but the risk of authoritarian creep on the country's democratic institutions is real and must be acknowledged, argues Pedro Abramovay, Open Society Foundations' regional director of Latin America and the Caribbean, in El País. "There is a clear change in society. An explicit defender of torture, dictatorship and homophobia would not be elected in a relatively recent Brazil. Something has changed in our society's tolerance for these anti-democratic values. The latent authoritarianism in our history has again become shameless - perhaps the result of strong polarization ... and there is no denying that this represents a much more fertile ground for attacks on democracy to leave deeper marks on our institutions."
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is taking the country's democracy to the brink, writes director Petra Costa in a New York Times op-ed. Her documentary on Brazil's troubled politics is nominated for an Academy Award, but has been attacked by government officials. "The film criticizes leaders who attempt to silence divergent thinking. Maybe this is the reason some authoritarian far-right politicians, in Brazil and abroad, want to brand journalistic efforts to unveil the truth as fiction and fake news."
  • Criticism towards Costa's film is just one part of the Bolsonaro administration's ideological battle to overhaul Brazil's cultural sector, reports Americas Quarterly. (See Jan. 8's briefs for more on the country's culture wars, and Jan. 17's on the culture minister who resigned after evoking Joseph Goebbels.)
  • Further south, a couple of opinion columns grapple with politicization of Argentina's justice system and the panorama under the country's new administration (which has promised judicial reform). Graciana Peñafort argues emphatically that a strict interpretation of constitutional guarantees -- especially the presumption of innocence -- must be the foundation of a better justice, in Cohete a la Luna. And Sebastián Fernández writes in Nuestras Voces that semantics aside, there has been a clear trend in Argentina towards judicial persecution of former government sympathizers.
  • In a similar vein, a strict interpretation of the law -- avoidance of an apparent political vengeance -- will be key in a post-Ortega scenario in Nicaragua argues Charles Call in an interview with Carlos Chamorro in Confidencial. He analyzes the impact of international anti-corruption missions in Guatemala and Honduras, and says the tool could be helpful in such an scenario. 

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

Friday, January 24, 2020

Peruvian voters apathetic ahead of Sunday election (Jan 24, 2020)

Peruvian voters head to the polls on Sunday, in extraordinary legislative elections called after President Martín Vizcarra dissolved Congress last year, when lawmakers repeatedly refused to move forward with anti-corruption reforms. The entire 130 unicameral congress will be renewed on Sunday, and the elected lawmakers will serve for 18 months, until the current legislative term runs out in July 2021. Vizcarra is expected to forge a working relationship with the new congress in order to pass his signature anti-corruption reforms ahead of a general election set for April 2021.

Neither the lawmakers who were thrown out in September nor those who win on Sunday may run for reelection in 2021. Because of this, only 16 lawmakers are seeking re-election this time. Some experts say the extraordinary congress will be an opportunity for new centrist parties like Julio Guzmán’s Partido Morado and rebranded establishment parties such as Acción Popular to become relevant players. (AS/COA)

The main opposition party, Fuerza Popular, is set to be the major loser on Sunday, polls suggest it could lose dozens of seats -- up to 30 percent of the 73 seats it currently holds, reports AFP. Nonetheless, it is expected to win the second largest number of votes behind the centrist Acción Popular party. 

Gender and sexual diversity featured prominently in the campaign, but were overshadowed by scandals involving domestic violence and marital infidelity that have particularly tainted Vizcarra's closest ideological supporters, reports the Guardian.

But though citizens strongly backed Vizcarra's move against Congress last September, they are apathetic about the upcoming vote, reports the Washington Post.

Indeed, polls suggest that over 40 percent of voters (participation is compulsory) plan to vote blank or spoil their ballot. The result will likely be a split congress with no majority and little legitimacy, warns the Wapo. Though voters are expected to prefer centrist parties, many choose their party at the last minute, and Peru's controversial electoral list system redistributes ballots from parties that receive less than 5 percent of the vote to larger parties.

The fragmented political party scene -- 21 parties, none of which are polling in the double digits -- means "more than a quarter of voters are likely to vote for a party that does not reach the 5 percent threshold to receive seats," according to the Latin America Risk Report. Combined with the blank and spoiled ballots, "more than half of Peruvians will not have a representative who they voted for in the Congress. That is a problem for Peruvian democracy moving forward," wrote James Bosworth earlier this week.

The focus on gender issues is unprecedented: several candidates have described Peru’s increasing femicide figures as a humanitarian crisis. But it is perhaps matched by a strengthening of opposing views. “This is not only the campaign with most openly LGBT candidates but it’s also the campaign with the most candidates linked to evangelist churches with an anti-rights discourse,” Alberto De Belaunde, an openly gay lawmaker who is a candidate told the Guardian.

Full election coverage at Nodal.amEl Comercio and La República.

News Briefs

  • Mexican National Guard troops detained 800 Central American migrants near the town of Frontera Hidalgo, after they crossed into the country from Guatemala earlier in the day. Many of the people allowed themselves to be escorted to 20 waiting buses without resistance, but some resisted and were subdued by security forces, reports the Associated Press. Troops used shields and pepper spray to corral the caravan, reports Al Jazeera. The group had sought permission to pass through Mexico on the way to the United States, but became the latest example of Mexico's crackdown on irregular migration. (Wires)
  • "Violence" and "poverty," used to explain why thousands of people choose to flee their homes in Central America, barely scratch the surface of "of why people choose to hitchhike for thousands of miles and face an uncertain future at the U.S.-Mexico border," writes Melissa Vida in Global Voices. In Honduras the deeper causes include rampant government corruption and collusion with organized crime, a climate crisis that is compounding health and economic problems, and an ineffective education system.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been curiously callous about the suffering of migrants and violence victims writes León Krauze in the Washington Post. The reason behind his attitude is the politics of power, argues Krauze.
  • Mexican environmental activist Homero Gómez González disappeared last week, and many believe he was kidnapped by illegal loggers, reports the Washington Post.
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó spoke at the World Economic Forum yesterday, and urged the world not to turn its back on his struggling country and the millions of people who have fled across its borders to escape poverty and political turbulence, reports the Guardian. He called for increased sanctions against the Maduro government.
  • A year after Guaidó launched his initial challenge against the Maduro government, his main mistake has been over-alignment with the United States, WOLA expert David Smilde said in an interview with Efecto Cocuyo's Luz Mely Reyes. Guaidó's support for sanctions strengthened Maduro's hand, and Guaidó's withdrawal from Norway mediated negotiations also backfired, said Smilde.
  • Nicolás Maduro suggested the United Nations name a commission of observers for parliamentary elections that will be held later this year. (Anadolu)
  • A reported meeting between Venezuelan vice president Delcy Rodríguez and a key Spanish cabinet member triggered a political storm, yesterday, according to the Associated Press. Rodríguez s on a European Union sanction list barred from entering the territory of any of the bloc’s members, but apparently met with Spanish transportation minister José Luis Ábalos on the tarmac of Madrid’s international airport, while en route to Istanbul. 
  • Uruguayan president-elect Luis Lacalle Pou said his administration will not recognize Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate leader, but will support him in his role as president of the country's National Assembly, the "only legitimate power." (El EspectadorTal Cual)
  • Haiti must set a firm date for the next round of elections, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told the Miami Herald. His statement comes as Haitian President Jovenel Moïse seeks to reform the country's constitution by executive order, a move critics fear could prolong Haiti's political crisis.
  • Cuba’s state television showed documentary footage of four people arrested as alleged members of the ‘Clandestinos’ dissident group, which is accused of pouring pig’s blood on José Martí sculptures since the start of the year -- Miami Herald

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

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Guaidó, a year later (Jan. 23, 2020)

News Briefs

  • Efecto Cocuyo reviews the year since opposition leader Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself Venezuela's interim-leader, and rapidly obtained widespread international recognition but little more in terms of concrete power.
  • The Venezuelan opposition challenge to Nicolás Maduro's government has fizzled in the past year, leaving Venezuelans with the scourge of living with "two parallel States, different in essence, but identical in their absence and incompetence to resolve people's problems," writes Melanio Escobar in Post Opinión. "What was supposed to be the search for solutions before a human rights crisis, has become a power game, a continuation of the fight for the political over the human."
Regional Relations
  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to Jamaica yesterday demonstrated a schism between Caribbean countries with regard to the U.S., particularly its efforts to oust Venezuela's Maduro government, reports the Wall Street Journal. Barbados, which chairs the 15-country bloc of Caribbean countries known as Caricom, decided to skip the meeting, and denounced that some members of the bloc had not been invited. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Cuba and the U.S. are sparring over the the prolonged detention of a Cuban dissident -- but the story of José Ferrer is less obvious than it seems, reports the Conversation. The piece looks at Ferrer's story, but also how categories we use for Cuba such as "opposition" or "dissidents" are more nuanced than the Cold War terminology we rely on.
  • Polling in Peru suggests a broken political system, with no one party predicted to get more than 10 percent of the vote in Sunday's legislative elections, according to the Latin America Risk Report. In fact, the latest Ipsos poll found 43 percent of people plant to cast a blank or spoiled ballot.
  • Gunmen attacked Guadalupe Michel Lima in Mexico City yesterday, when she was on her way to testify regarding her sister's assassination. Lima is the daughter of a well-known activist, and the main witness of her sister's femicide. (Animal Político)
  • Members of the LeBarón family -- relatives of the nine women and children killed last year by gunmen -- have embarked on a quixotic quest for justice not just for the massacre victims, but also the many thousands of people murdered or vanished amid Mexico’s cartel violence, reports the Guardian.
  • A New York Times video shows the clash between Mexican National Guard troops and Central American migrants attempting to cross the Guatemalan border irregularly. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • El Faro has launched in English (for now in newsletter format, sign up here), bringing its in-depth investigative reporting to a broader audience. Check out this article by Carlos Martínez on how "the wall at Mexico’s southern border swallowed the last caravan in one fell swoop, leaving no trace." (See Tuesday's post.)
  • A new novel about a Mexican immigrant and her child fleeing violence at home -- American Dirt -- has raised controversy among critics who say the portrayal is inaccurate or question the writer's aptitude for the topic. (Guardian)
El Salvador
  • Also from El Faro's new English section, coverage of testimony by former soldiers against their superiors in the ongoing El Mozote case, by Nelson Rauda. "The direct naming of the suspects is an inflexion point in the case, which was reopened in 2016 and has been in the discovery phase for three years already. During this phase, the court will receive evidence and determine whether it is sufficient to take the case to trial."
  • Mass mobilizations are nothing new in Latin America, but "the depth and ferocity of the rage that spilled into the streets in 2019 in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, and Venezuela surprised leaders and long-time observers. The causes of this new wave of protests were diverse, defying easy generalizations," explains a new article from the Wilson Center -- Postcards from the Edge. "If 2019 will be remembered as the year the Latin American street exploded in anti-incumbent indignation, 2020 will be marked by efforts to put the genie back in the bottle, or at least constructively direct public anger to promote meaningful change."
  • Street protests in Latin America last year -- ongoing in some countries this year -- respond to government failures to address inequality, but also a "widespread perception of a lack of fairness," writes Michael Shifter in a New York Times op-ed. He calls for "sustained efforts to create paths of social mobility that are secure and stable," which "demands not only sound growth and redistribution policies, but also the opening up of greater access to economic and political power, breaking the nexus between private interests and the political class, and attaining equal justice under the law."
  • Chile's government might postpone regional elections, scheduled for October, after local governments said they are unprepared to hold votes, reports La Tercera.
  • Latin America's trend towards decentralization is driven by demands for increased government efficiency, but the evident benefits should not overshadow one big risk involved: a surge in corruption, write Roberto Simon and Emilie Sweigart in Americas Quarterly.
  • Brazil is teetering on the edge of authoritarianism -- a trend that precedes President Jair Bolsonaro, but which has been exacerbated greatly under his government, writes lawmaker David Miranda in the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)
  • The Real Academia Española has spoken, and ended the endless debate over how female presidents should be referred to in Spanish. "Presidenta." (Página 12)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...