Friday, January 3, 2020

The bigger picture -- looking back at the decade( Jan. 3, 2020)

It's been a heady decade in the region (aren't they all?), several recent pieces look at the broader picture on specific trends.

Regional Relations
  • Whether the U.S. -- the Trump administration specifically -- supports democracy in the region depends a lot on the loyalty of the national leader in question, reports the Los Angeles Times, contrasting how questioned elections in Honduras (2017) and Bolivia (2019) played out. Nothing new some might say, but pundits argue that U.S. foreign policy in Lat Am is less credible than before.
  • From Brazil to the U.S. -- passing through El Salvador and Mexico on the way -- we are firmly in the era of presidents who like to talk directly to their masses without intermediaries. The twitter presidents -- Jair Bolsonaro, Donald Trump, Nayib Bukele and Andrés Manuel López Obrador -- prefer to communicate via social media, and do so to the peril of democracy, argues Diego Fonseca in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Some argue that 2019 will be remembered as the year of the protest in Latin America -- this photo-essay in the Guardian makes a good case for that title. Across the region, issues that had been building up for years exploded in 2019, notes the International Crisis Group's Ivan Briscoe to the Guardian, in a separate piece.
  • Citizen anger propelled changes in governments across the region in recent years -- via the ballot box or street protests -- but the Economist believes there are reasons to doubt that 2019's "region-wide exercise of people-power" will "improve people’s lives and the quality of politics."
  • Five years after Lava Jato exploded onto the scene, corruption efforts across Latin America are faltering due to political pressure, reports the New York Times. And with that reversal, many of the most prominent faces of the anti-corruption fight, such as former Guatemalan attorney general Thelma Aldana, are facing retaliation.
  • The past decade was decisive for feminism in Latin America, writes Gabriela Weiner in a New York Times Español op-ed. "In the past ten years feminism became hegemonic: today it is revolution, but also a phenomenon of the masses ... feminism is, at once, mainstream and an inescapable political agenda."
News Briefs

  • Brazilian technocrats are eager to portray President Jair Bolsonaro's offensive style as a mere aesthetic issue that shouldn't cloud over a promising liberal economic strategy. But the Economist remains skeptical, both on the style and economic plans (as well as, you know, the administrations poor record on environment and police brutality).
  • Despite a few gains under the first year of the administration -- economic improvement and a reduction in violent crime -- "Mr. Bolsonaro has not put to rest the doubts raised by his unlikely rise to power. The provocateur has not become a statesman. Instead of strengthening Brazil’s democratic institutions, he is testing them," summarizes another Economist piece.
  • Brazil’s most venerated indigenous leader, Kayapó chief Raoni Metuktire, told the Guardian that Bolsonaro is the worst president in his 90-year lifetime.
  • Bolsonaro, his reactionary sons, and cabinet members have hogged outraged headlines in 2019 -- but the lower ranks of Brazil’s government apparatus are also being populated with less well-known characters who trumpet white supremacist slogans and rage against the left, reports the Guardian.
  • Venezuelan media reports show an apparent crackdown by the Special Action Forces (FAES) against two large criminal groups. The FAES attacks are unlikely to decrease violent crime, and the elite police unit has been accused of widespread extrajudicial executions. Instead, "The FAES’ selective and bloody actions against the gangs may have a more specific mission in mind: to displace the criminal groups and assert control of their territories and illegal economies," reports InSight Crime.
  • The future Honduras' international anti-corruption mission is in doubt. The OAS-backed MACCIH's mission expires in a month, and lawmakers officially advised President Juan Orlando Hernández not to renew it. Though there is considerable international pressure to maintain the commission, Hernández, who has also been accused of corruption, could decide not to, using the congress’ non-renewal request to support his decision, reports InSight Crime.
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse celebrated the country’s independence day in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 1 for security reasons following months of political turmoil. (Associated Press)
  • Bogotá's once-celebrated bus rapid-transit system -- the TransMilenio -- has fallen on hard times, and will be one of the challenges for the new mayor, Claudia López, reports the Economist.
  • The U.S. government has started sending asylum seekers back to Nogales, Mexico, to await court hearings that will be scheduled roughly 563 kilometers away in Ciudad Juárez, reports the Associated Press.
  • Another inmate was killed in a prison fight in Mexico's Cieneguillas prison, days after 16 people were killed in a confrontation there, reports Animal Político. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Press freedom activists suspect a connection between a young photojournalist's murder in November and her coverage of violently repressed protests -- Guardian.
  • Waste brine generated by Chile's desalination might be too high a cost for fresh-water, say fishermen and activists in the Antofagasta region. (Guardian)
  • Half of the extortion calls in Guatemala originate from the country's largest prison, a phenomenon that is confounding law enforcement authorities, reports InSight Crime.
Literary Corner
  • A new literary collection printed by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Vindictas, rescues out-of-print books by female Latin American writers. (Guardian)

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


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