Friday, February 28, 2020

Salvadoran lawmakers pass amnesty law (Feb. 28, 2020)

Salvadoran lawmakers approved a controversial "reconciliation law" that would reduce the sentences for former war crimes committed during the civil war and commute perpetrators’ sentences for reasons of “health or age.” Critics -- including the United Nations, national and international human rights organizations -- say it is a whitewashed amnesty law. President Nayib Bukele has promised to veto the measure, which was passed by ARENA, the National Coalition Party, and the Christian Democratic Party, without the participation of the FMLN.

The measure contradicts the United Nations, international human rights treaties, and El Salvador's Constitutional Court. Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas director of Amnesty International, commented, “El Salvador’s Congress didn’t pass a law, they passed a pact of impunity.” 

The law, nominally focuses on historical memory and reparations for victims of the country's civil war. It creates, for example, a National Council for Reparation. But it also includes limitations for transitional justice -- such as giving investigators only a year to develop a case -- that bely the seriousness of the crimes and the decades that have passed.

News Briefs

  • More than 100 human rights defenders and 66 indigenous people were killed last year in Colombia, according to a new United Nations report that signals an alarming 50 percent increase in the number of women killed while working in communities and defending human rights. (ReutersDeutsche Welle)
  • President Iván Duque has faced frequent criticism from the international community, non-governmental organizations and human rights activists for not doing enough to stop the killings of so-called "social leaders," reports Reuters. In turn, this week, Duque said the U.N. failed to recognize advances in that area and social investment in regions suffering violence.
  • Colombia's government is preparing a labor and pension reform -- the news is significant because just rumors of such a move were among the triggers for massive protests that started in the country last November, reports Americas Quarterly.
  • There are signs that Venezuela's opposition and the Maduro government could be negotiating a deal to name a new electoral authority, write Geoff Ramsey and Dimitris Pantoulas in the Venezuela Weekly. This week members of a multi-party National Assembly committee tasked with naming a new National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the names of 10 civil society representatives that will join the committee in evaluating candidates for a new CNE. The advance is particularly notable as the preliminary legislative committee includes the Guaidó faction of the opposition, the breakaway Parra faction of the opposition, and members of the PSUV.
  • In response to recent attacks on human rights group PROVEA from Chavista officials, 150 domestic and international civil society organizations demanded the immediate termination of the acts of “criminalization, intimidation, harassment, disqualification, and aggression” that the Venezuelan state exercises against the civil society organizations in the country -- Venezuela Weekly.
  • It is increasingly unlikely that the U.S. will renew Chevron’s sanctions waiver to continue operations in Venezuela, reports Bloomberg.
  • Indian refiners plan to wind down Venezuelan oil purchases in April, in response to U.S. sanctions. (Reuters)
  • Guyana heads to the polls Monday, a general election with unusually high stakes ahead of an oil bonanza expected to transform the country, reports the Economist. Voting is expected to follow ethnic lines, as it has for decades, but high on the list of concerns is how oil riches will be spent.
  • Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei signed into law new rules that increase government oversight of non-profit groups operating in the country. The law, passed by lawmakers earlier this month, has been criticized internationally. The U.S. State Department warned that it could limit freedom of assembly and efforts to improve democratic governance, potentially contributing to increased migration to the United States, reports Reuters.
  • A statistical study by the the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Election Data and Science Lab, commissioned by CEPR, challenges allegations of fraud in Bolivia's controversial presidential election last year. OAS auditors claimed to have found evidence of fraud following a halt in the preliminary count — the nonbinding election-night results meant to track progress before the official count. The MIT study challenges the irregularities premise with the argument that there does not seem to be a statistically significant difference in the margin before and after the halt of the preliminary vote. (Washington Post, Al Jazeera)
  • Political turmoil in Bolivia could shut down the country's legal coca industry, and harken a return to drug war bloodshed, reports Vice News.
  • More than 6,000 people in almost 80 villages stretching across 5m acres of the Ecuadorian, Colombian and Peruvian Amazon have tanks collecting rainwater, a response to environmental contamination that has affected waterways in Ecuador's north-east Amazon. (Guardian)
  • The campaign period for and against a new constitution in Chile officially began this week. Citizens will vote in a plebiscite in two months, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Mexico desperately needs statecraft, instead, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador offers theater, according to the Economist.
  • The International Monetary Fund will send another mission to Argentina, next week, reports Reuters.
  • South America is conspicuously absent from global geopolitics -- a negative for all involved, writes Oliver Stuenkel at Americas Quarterly.
  • Can Bernie Sanders reinvent progressive foreign policy? - Foreign Policy
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Mexico's women to strike (Feb. 27, 2020)

Mexican activists are gearing up for a massive women's strike on March 9. Tensions have been simmering for months, and a recent spate of gruesome femicides -- and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's infelicitous reaction -- have fueled an appetite for a high impact action. (See Feb. 19's post.) 

Though women's strikes have taken place in recent years in the region -- sometimes in response to gender violence as well -- this call aims to have women disappear from the public scene. March 8 is international women's day, and protests are expected in Mexico as well as around the world. And on March 9, women's rights activists are calling on women to simply stay home, reports the New York Times

Many business associations and companies are on board, and have promised not to penalize female employees who participate, as has Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum. This week the Supreme Court said women in the judicial system would be permitted to join, and the state governments of Jalisco, Oaxaca, Estado de México, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Michoacán, Colima, Estado de México, Nayarit, Querétaro, Durango and Aguascalientes are also on board. The education ministry has said teachers may join. Several political parties, the PRI, PRD, and Movimiento Ciudadano have also said they will join. Carmen Aristegui, a prominent journalist, and television presenters Pati Chapoy and Andrea Legarreta have promised to strike on March 9. (Infobae, Milenio, Infobae, Expansión, Reporte Indigo, Infobae

AMLO himself has said there will be no reprisals for federal government employees who join, but he has also continued his tone deaf response to women's rights activists by suggesting the strike might be politically motivated. He said that the "black hand" of conservatives is influential in the strike's organization. His wife, Beatriz Gutiérrez controversially said she would join and then later flipped her position and called for women to refrain from striking. (JornadaDebate, Informador)

News Briefs

Dominican Republic
  • Many Dominicans will celebrate their country's 176 independence day at demonstrations demanding greater monitoring and transparency for upcoming municipal and presidential elections. Protesters have taken to the streets with pots and pans since authorities cancelled a Feb. 16 municipal election due to glitches with electronic voting. Now citizens say they want the Dominican Republic's electoral board to resign, international and local monitoring of upcoming elections, and greater transparency from officials. (New York Times)
  • Last Sunday a dozen opposition parties united in protest, in defense of democracy. (El País)
  • Dominican President Danilo Medina will give his state of the union speech today, closing his second and final term as head of state. Presidential elections will take place in May. (Dominican Today)
Human Rights
  • "Inequality, corruption, violence, environmental degradation, impunity and the weakening of institutions continued to be a common reality across the Americas, resulting in daily human rights violations for millions of people," according to the new Amnesty International annual report on Human Rights in the Americas. (Full Report)
  • The persistence of high rates of violence, homicides and femicides, as well as discrimination, profound inequality, environmental degradation and exploitation, together with institutional weakening, corruption and impunity, show that Latin American governments are not capable of meeting their citizen's needs and demands, writes Amnesty International's Americas Director, Erika Guevara-Rosas in the Post Opinión.
  • The first known case of Corona virus in Latin America was confirmed yesterday: São Paulo man who returned recently from a business trip to Italy. Brazilian officials were scrambling to identify the other passengers on his flight, reports the New York Times.
  • Far-right demonstrators are planning massive protests in Brazil on March 15 -- and some are even proposing a return to military rule. President Jair Bolsonaro has provoked critics by sharing a video promoting the protests on his personal Whatsapp account. (Guardian)
  • Damares Alves heads the Brazilian ministry for women and family. Alves has promoted abstinence to combat teen pregnancies and has pushed for a full abortion ban. She is reviled by progressives, but has grown widely popular among poorer voters -- a sign of Brazil's cultural shift to the right, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Accelerating deforestation under the Bolsonaro administration has sparked violence in the Amazon, where indigenous communities are conservation's strongest advocates, reports the Conversation.
  • A group of Brazilian lawyers, Projeto Liberdade, have teamed up to defend victims of grave human rights violations, including emblematic cases of security force violence like the Massacre de Paraisópolis, last year. (Ponte)
  • The World Bank is under fire for a $55 million loan to aid fossil fuel extraction in Guyana, at the same time that it has pledged to stop direct funding of oil and gas production, reports the Guardian.
  • Human trafficking is largely unchecked in Bolivia, according to a new report by the country's Ombudsman’s Office. (InSight Crime)
El Salvador
  • Inhumane conditions and overcrowding in Salvadoran prisons -- Washington Post photo-essay by Thiago Dezan.
  • Cuba's government has gone from prohibiting internet to profiting -- economically and politically -- from it in just a few short years, writes El Estornudo director Abraham Jiménez Enoa in the Post Opinión.
  • Pushed by adverse climate change effects, some Colombian farmers are learning to work with nature, reports Reuters.
  • Brazilian journalist Lourenço “Leo” Veras was killed by armed men last week in Paraguay, apparently in retaliation for coverage of organized crime in the two countries' border region. Journalist assassinations are rare in Paraguay, but far from negligible, and Reporters without Borders has raised concerns about a “worrying lack of progress” in ensuring the protection of journalists operating in the country. (InSight Crime)
  • The long-lasting impact of the War of the Triple alliance on Paraguay is mind-boggling. The country lost two-thirds of its population and much of its territory 150 years ago, and has never really recovered, reports the Guardian.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...   Latin America Daily Briefing

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Indigenous defender murdered in Costa Rica (Feb. 26, 2020)

News Briefs

Costa Rica
  • An mob armed with sticks, machetes, stones and at least one gun killed an indigenous defender trying to reclaim ancestral land in Costa Rica. Monday's attack took place in Térraba, where human rights groups had warned authorities in recent days about non-indigenous groups violently confronting Brörán families reclaiming ancestral land. Though Costa Rica is Central America's safest country, the murder is part of a growing trend of violent attacks, racist harassment and trumped-up retaliatory lawsuits against the indigenous Bribri and Brörán people, reports the Guardian.
Regional Relations
  • The upcoming OAS elections showcase competing visions for the region, particularly over how to react to Venezuela's implosion, reports Americas Quarterly, which interviews candidates Hugo de Zela and María Fernanda Espinosa. (Incumbent Luis Almagro chose not to respond.)
  • Violence is increasingly used by diverse people with different motives in Mexico, part of the widespread failure of the militarized war against drugs. But the drug war has long been insufficient to explain the country's violence, write Alejandra Sánchez Inzunza and José Luis Pardo Veiras in a New York Times Español op-ed. "In reality, more than a war between cartels and the government, Mexicans suffer the consequences of a violent struggle for control and the conquest of territory and its riches in which legal and illegal powers are involved and often complicit."
  • In the midst of a prolonged political crisis that has Haiti's parliament shut-down, President Jovenel Moïse is ruling by fiat. The answer, he told the Financial Times, is a new constitution granting the executive broader powers.
  • Protest movements in Latin American countries have distinct national components that make generalizing hard. That being said, the Latin America Risk Report also notes that "these protests and the government responses to them are not happening in isolation. The protesters watch each other, learn from each other, take inspiration from each other. Governments monitor what sort of strategies work on the negotiation-to-repression continuum and also watch how strongly and consistently international criticism occurs in the wake of abuses by security forces." Demonstrations are in the works and likely to heat up the streets in Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guyana, Ecuador and Mexico in the next month.
  • Chileans are bracing for a return to bigger protests in March, a month in which people return from the Southern Hemisphere summer holiday and mark the anniversaries of victims of the 1973-1990 military dictatorship, and international women's day, reports Reuters.
  • A committee in Colombia’s lower house of Congress will investigate allegations by an ex-senator who fled the country that President Ivan Duque participated in vote-buying and sought to have her assassinated, reports Reuters.
  • Colombia's constitutional court is set to rule on whether women can seek legal abortions during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy -- it will be a landmark decision in a country with restrictive reproductive rights laws, reports Reuters.
  • China is betting hard on Colombia, reports Al Jazeera. In addition to gold mine purchases, a Chinese consortium won the contract to build Bogotá's new metro system.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court declined to revive a lawsuit by the family of a Mexican teenager killed by US border agent who shot him from across the border in Texas. The decision ratifies that foreign nationals cannot pursue civil rights cases in American courts, reports Reuters. But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in a dissent that “there is still no good reason why Hernández’s parents should face a closed courtroom door," reports the Washington Post.
  • The U.S. Trump administration will step up enforcement of its sanctions against Venezuela's Maduro government, reports Reuters.
  • This documentary embeds with the Guardians, an indigenous group taking up arms to hunt down illegal loggers and fight for their land. (Nightline)
  • Carnival is increasingly an act of resistance in Bolsonaro-ruled Brazil, reports the New York Times.
  • Evangelical groups are increasingly influential in Brazilian politics -- and, to a far lesser degree, Carnival too now! (Guardian)
  • Luis Lacalle Pou will swear in as Uruguay's president on Sunday, he told Americas Quarterly that he hopes he’ll be able to find some consensus within his coalition on three key issues: fiscal consolidation, tackling rising crime and turning the country into a magnet for migrants.  

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Aldana granted U.S. asylum (Feb. 25, 2020)

The U.S. granted asylum to former Guatemalan prosecutor Thelma Aldana, yesterday. Last week the current Guatemalan attorney general, Consuelo Porras, asked the U.S. to extradite Aldana, who has been living there for nearly a year. Aldana faces arrest in Guatemala on corruption charges she says are politically motivated in retaliation for her anti-corruption efforts, in collaboration with the U.N. backed anti-impunity commission, the CICIG. Aldana was leading in polls for last year's presidential election, but was blocked by a Guatemalan court from participating. (See last Friday's post.)

The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee announced Aldana's asylum on Twitter. "Thelma is a champion for justice and this is a major victory in the international fight against corruption," committee chairman Eliot Engel said. 

Last year the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency warned of credible threats to Aldana's life. Aldana garnered high-level enemies within Guatemala's political establishment for her work as attorney general, where she carried out high profile corruption probes in collaboration with the CICIG, including the investigation that landed former president Otto Pérez Molina in jail, after he was forced to resign in scandal.

The Movimiento Semilla party she participated in lauded the U.S. move as a recognition of the lack of due process Aldana would face in Guatemala.

News Briefs

  • A Haitian soldier was killed, and at least three more were wounded, in an exchange of gunfire between Haiti's army and police officers Sunday outside the National Palace. (See yesterday's briefs, Guardian) Caraibes, a local radio and television station also came under attack. Police protests this month are related to wages and working conditions, but they draw on the same widespread anger at corruption, government ineptitude, and economic woes, reports the Associated Press.
  • Thousands of protesters clashed with Chilean police on Sunday, at the opening of the Viña del Mar music festival. Security forces used water cannon and tear gas against demonstrators armed with sticks and Molotov cocktails, reports AFP.
  • In his Viña del Mar performance, Ricky Martin called on Chileans to demand human rights, and to never remain quiet.
  • Bloodied eye socket graffiti -- on statues and posters on Chile's streets -- are a stirring reminder of the violence unleashed against protesters since last October -- Guardian photo-essay.
  • Two months ahead of a plebiscite that could enable Chileans to rewrite their constitution, the path forward remains uncertain, writes J. Patrice McSherry in Nacla. "Chileans are very clear that they want a new political and socioeconomic model that assures their rights."
  • One of every three people in Venezuela is struggling to put enough food on the table to meet minimum nutrition requirements as the nation’s severe economic contraction and political upheaval persists, according to a new study by the UN World Food Programme, conducted at the invitation of Venezuela's government. The study found that A total of 9.3 million people – roughly a third of the population – are moderately or severely food insecure, reports the Associated Press.
  • A year after the world rapturously embraced opposition leader Juan Guaidó's claim to Venezuela's leadership, the Maduro "regime is firmly ensconced in Caracas even as the situation on the ground deteriorates further and whole tracts of the country are now in the grips of guerrilla groups and criminal outfits," reports the Washington Post
  • Legislative elections are legally mandated this year in Venezuela and put the political opposition in a difficult position with regards to participation. The government could easily exploit divisions between parties that have been unable to establish a unified strategy. But, "if the opposition chooses to boycott the elections, it would be the first time a country would lock in single-party rule not through resorting to political violence, but through the opposition’s self-imposed withdrawal," writes Ociel Alí López in NACLA.
  • Designing effective policies to stop violence against women in Mexico requires data, writes Mónica Meltis in a New York Times Español op-ed. Angry activists need more than symbolic political gestures, she writes, calling for evaluation and monitoring of policies, in addition to using information to shape anti-femicide measures.
Regional Relations
  • Last week Mexico extradited "El Menchito," allegedly a top figure in the Jalisco New Generation cartel. He is one of around 40 other alleged organized-crime figures have been sent to the United States since early December, when Attorney General William P. Barr visited Mexico to express concern over the government’s response to soaring violence, reports the Washington Post. Mexico has sharply increased extraditions of criminal suspects so far this year, in response to pressure from the U.S. Trump administration, reports the New York Times. The move also comes as the Mexican López Obrador administration struggles to show gains in the government's fight against organized crime and violence.
  • The flow of migrants sent back to Mexico from the U.S. has slowed to a trickle, and experts say the Trump administration phasing out its year-old Migrant Protection Protocols policy, also known as "Remain in Mexico." Instead the U.S. is focusing on restrictive asylum policies -- shunting seekers to Guatemala, for example, or fast-tracking deportation proceedings, reports the Washington Post.
  • Harsh U.S. immigration policies have pushed down legal migration by 11 percent, and new policies will push that number down further, reports the New York Times
  • U.S. authorities arrested a Drug Enforcement Agency special agent accused of laundering money for Colombian organized crime. (Washington Post)
  • Many Brazilians used Carnival celebrations to protest racial and gender inequality, as well as gun violence, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Public urination becomes a trending topic in Carnival season, but has more far reaching, structural problems all year round, reports the Washington Post.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Ceara police strike (Feb. 24, 2020)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro dispatched army troops to quell unrest in Ceará state on Friday, in the midst of a police strike that has caused a security crisis. The decision came after a senator, Cid Gomes, was shot while driving a digger towards a picket line. At least 122 people were murdered in four days of the Ceará strike. Masked officers forced businesses to close, occupied barracks and damaged police vehicles -- causing panic ahead of Carnival festivities this weekend.

In 2017, more than 3,000 troops were deployed in Espirito Santo state to quell unrest after a police strike produced a wave of violence, looting and burning of buses.

Such strikes, which are illegal in Brazil. Critics say officers were emboldened by Bolsonaro's harsh policing rhetoric, and growing prominence of politicians with police backgrounds. Indeed, Bolsonaro refrained from condemning the Ceará mutiny, and, last week, defended an amnesty that would shield officers who participated in the strike. Government officials, and Bolsonaro's son Senator Flavio Bolsonaro defended police shooting of Gomes as self-defense.

“The governor has made a lot of empty promises to the military police. At some point, that bomb can explode,” lawmaker Davi Maia told the Associated Press.

Analysts note that police unrest is most radical in states led by opposition governors, including Ceará, which is governed by the opposition Workers' Party. An editorial in the Folha de São Paulo newspaper called the Ceará strike “armed blackmail” that should be “contained” before it spilled over to other states.

In Minas Gerais, police obtained a 42 percent salary increase this year after threatening to strike, despite the state's dismal public finances.

“However legitimate the public security officers' salary demands are, it is unacceptable that bad policemen spread fear and panic among the population,” said the Brazil Forum of Public Security, last week.

More Brazil
  • The Tom Maior samba school in Rio de Janeiro paid tribute to Marielle Franco in its performance this weekend. (Reuters)
  • The Mangueira samba school parade was titled "The truth will set you free" and featured a female Jesus. (Globo)
News Briefs

  • Haitian police and soldiers shot at each other outside the country's national palace yesterday -- as officers demanded higher salaries and better working conditions. The episode, in which at least three police officers were wounded, pushed Haiti's government to cancel Carnival festivities in Port-au-Prince, "to avoid a bloodbath." Police protesters and their backers had burned dozens of Carnival floats and stands at recent protests. Police officers timed the protest for the first day of Carnival to criticize the government’s spending priorities. (Associated Press, Reuters)
  • Bolivia's interim government objected to two members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expert group that will investigation of acts of violence and human rights violations that occurred in the lead up and aftermath of former president Evo Morales' ouster, last November. The interim-government said two Argentine members of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) lack objectivity in the case because they have referred to the episode as a coup d'etat. (Página 12, La Razón)
  • An unlikely truce between Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and the country's leading businessman, Lorenzo Mendoza, is the cornerstone of Venezuela's recent transformation into a country "ruled by an autocrat willing to allow de facto capitalism in order to stave off collapse and assure his continued grip on power," reports the New York Times.
  • Nicaragua's Ortega government has shielded illegal landgrabbers who invade indigenous territory, reports El País.
Northern Triangle
  • The greatest risk for democracy in Central America's Northern Triangle is the "paradoxical combination of governments elected through democratic proceedings, but lacking legitimacy (supposing that legitimacy doesn't come only from votes) and the existence of powerful armed forces..." write Otto Argueta y Knut Walter in an extensive Contracorriente piece on military incursions on democracy in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
  • The U.S. Migrant Protection Protocols have exemptions for migrants who could establish a sufficient fear of torture or persecution or had known physical or mental health issues. But the exemptions were mostly ignored by authorities who returned 60,000 migrants to wait for asylum proceedings in Mexico, where there are few resources to care for asylum seekers with grave medical conditions, reports the New York Times.
  • Sonia Nazario shares her own family's experiences as refugees across generations to call for "an immigration policy that is both sane and humane," in the New York Times.
  • Brazilian authorities are reporting an increase in unaccompanied Venezuelan minors at the border. (Guardian)
  • Colombian and Venezuelan nationals are the top asylum seekers in Spain, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • El País profiles Ricardo Calderón, a Colombian journalist who flies under the radar but has carried out hard-hitting investigations into military corruption.
  • Women's rights activists are optimistic that 2020 is the year Argentine lawmakers could legalize abortion -- and they're pouring on pressure on the streets to help convince senators who are still on the fence, reports the New York Times.

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

Friday, February 21, 2020

Guatemala asks U.S. to extradite Aldana (Feb. 21, 2020)

Guatemalan attorney general Consuelo Porras said she would ask the U.S. to extradite her predecessor, anti-corruption crusader Thelma Aldana. Aldana fled to the country last year, after a judge requested her arrest in the midst of the presidential campaign in which Aldana was leading in the polls.

Aldana said the charges -- related alleged financial wrong-doing during her term as head prosecutor -- were politically motivated in retaliation for her anti-corruption work. She has denied any irregularities. Aldana worked closely with the United Nations-backed anti-impunity commission, the CICIG, which was terminated by Guatemala's president last year.

Aldana questioned Porra's motivation in this case on social media.

Aldana moved to the United States last year after the DEA revealed an assassination plot against her.

(Prensa Libre, NómadaAFP, La República, CNN, see posts for last May 16, and June 14)

News Briefs

  • Bolivia's electoral authorities rejected former President Evo Morales' senate candidacy, because the ousted leader is not residing in the country. Morales was granted refuge by Mexico in November, and is currently in Argentina. Tribunal head Salvador Romero said at a news conference the decision cannot be appealed with the electoral board. (Associated Press)
  • Morales is standing in the way of renewal within his MAS party, according to the Financial Times. Nonetheless, "a younger generation of MAS — which is an amalgam of social and indigenous movements — is gaining clout, backed by grassroots supporters who want a new start."
  • Nicaragua's government and paramilitary groups continue to carry out political kidnappings in order to quell dissent, reports InSight Crime. In one four month period last year, a report from the Political Prisoners Committee found that 10 political kidnappings were taking place every day.
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele drastically miscalculated his hand when he briefly took over the National Assembly chamber earlier in February. But "whatever its outcome, the crisis, calculatingly contrived by the president, marks the radicalization of his project," according to Hilary Goodfriend in Nacla.
  • Colombian public school teachers launched a two day strike yesterday, in protest against killings of social leaders and activists, as well as violence against the profession. More than 7 million students were left without school. The protest precedes a broader strike planned for March 25. (Reuters)
  • Government leaders and landowners in Colombia’s department of Guaviare have teamed up to illegally deforest the Amazon, reports InSight Crime based on Colombian media investigations.
  • The Victims Monitor informed that 896 people were murdered in Caracas from January to December 2019. There is a significant decrease in the number of deaths compared to 2018 by almost 30% (in 2018 took place 1,364 homicide). The Monitor mentions that police and military operations are responsible for at least 38% of the deaths in 2019. (Venezuela Weekly)
  • Guyana prepared to sell its first barrels of oil yesterday -- part of a deal with ExxonMobil Corp and partners including Hess Corp. Energy Department Director Mark Bynoe said he expected Guyana to directly earn $300 million from its share of oil sales this year. (Associated Press, Reuters)
  • There are pending enquiries from over 100 United States-based businesses about setting up operations in Guyana, according to government officials. (Stabroek News)
  • Uruguayan president-elect Luis Lacalle Pou will take office on March 1. His priority will be fighting violent crime, but he will also embark on relaxing immigration rules and cutting public spending, he told the Economist in an interview.
  • The IMF became an unlikely ally of Argentina's Fernández administration, which is in a race against time to renegotiate its sovereign debt, reports the AFP. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • It's Carnival season again -- and many prominent samba schools will use the festival as a platform to protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's divisive rhetoric, reports the Guardian.

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

Thursday, February 20, 2020

DR protests after botched election (Feb. 20, 2020)

News Briefs

Dominican Republic
  • Protests are building in the Dominican Republic after electronic voting system glitches forced authorities to cancel municipal elections last Sunday, reports the Miami Herald. Yesterday hundreds of people demanded the resignation of electoral board members, and on Tuesday police broke up a protest with tear gas. Authorities have already scheduled a new, manual vote for March 15. 
  • But questions regarding the veracity of the voting system -- there have been allegations of sabotage as well -- bode ill ahead of May's presidential election, which polls indicate will be a tight race, notes the Latin America Risk Report.
  • Mexican law-enforcement officers are investigating former President Enrique Peña Nieto. The probe is part of the broader case against his close ally, Emilio Lozoya, the former head of state-run oil company Petróleos Mexicanos. It's one of the highest-profile corruption cases the country has seen in years, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See last Thursday's briefs.) Government investigators say that Odebrecht paid Lozoya $9 million in exchange for Pemex contracts, while Lozoya was a top campaign official for Peña Nieto's 2012 presidential run.
  • Femicides and popular anger about them are fueling a major leadership test for Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador -- and he's mostly failing, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Kidnappers prey on migrants in Mexico with nearly total impunity, according a new MSF report that found that 80% of migrants waiting have been abducted by the mafia and 45% have suffered violence or violation. (Guardian)
  • Colombia has made herculean efforts to absorb the record flows of migration from Venezuela -- in part responding to an old debt of hospitality to a country that received Colombian migrants in the past. "Various generations of foreigners integrated into the Venezuelan scene and made contributions in diverse disciplines. This recent past offers a mirror for Colombia to look in," writes Sinar Alvarado, who migrated from Colombia to Venezuela and back again. "A certain xenophobe discourse says that attending migrants means postponing local needs. False." (New York Times Español)
  • Four Guatemalan media outlets joined to create GuatemalaLeaks -- a platform aimed at promoting transparency and accountability through sharing information of public interest. Agencia Ocote, Plaza Pública, El Intercambio, and Ojoconmipisto, are collaborating with Poder and Red Ciudadana on the new project which follows on similar experiences in Chile, Perú and Mexico. (Agencia Ocote)
Regional Relations
  • Eight Democratic party candidates are vying to to take on U.S. President Donald Trump in this year's election -- and they have a range of visions on what Latin America policy should be -- from Guaidó and elections in Venezuela to prioritizing trade or anti-corruption policies. Michael Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren answered an Americas Quarterly questionnaire. One thing they do agree on: aid to Central America should not be tied to the countries' government's slowing migration. 
  • The Coronavirus has economic impact on several aspects of Latin America's economy -- Americas Quarterly.
  • Bolivia's public prosecutor has opened an investigation into "electoral fraud" against former president Evo Morales and some of his closest allies. (AFP)
  • Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), which has been completely renewed since Morales' ouster last November, said it has not yet determined whether Morales is qualified to run for senator in May's election. The statement yesterday was in response to press pieces saying Morales was barred from participating. (AFPTelesur)
  • The International Monetary Fund said that Argentina’s debt was unsustainable and private creditors would need to make a “meaningful contribution” to help end the country's financial crisis -- meaning take a significant hit. However earlier this week, IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva said the fund expected to be paid back in full on a $44 billion bailout plan. (Financial Times, Wall Street Journal)
  • Argentine activists -- from several generations -- demonstrated, yesterday, in Buenos Aires and around the country in favor of legalizing abortion. (Al Jazeera)
  • Rival marches for and against abortion took place yesterday in Colombia, where the Constitutional Court will debate whether to allow the practice in the first three months of a pregnancy. Colombian President Iván Duque questioned whether his country was ready to fully legalize abortion. (AFP)
  • Colombian military leadership systematically abuse intelligence information in order to intimidate dissident officials, according to an explosive allegation made by an army colonel. Lieutenant Colonel Álvaro Amórtegui said he and his family have been harassed in response to his denunciations of irregularities. (Semana)
  • Venezuela's embattled leader Nicolás Maduro tapped Vice President for the Economy Tareck El Aissami to head a new presidential commission to restructure the country's oil industry. The move followed the U.S. decision to sanction Russian energy company Rosneft, a further hit to Venezuela's ability to raise cash. (See yesterday's briefs.) Maduro declared an “energy emergency,” and set a goal for Venezuela to raise crude output to 2 million barrels per day this year, more than double current levels, reports Reuters.
  • A Brazilian senator, Cid Gomes, has been injured after shots were fired at him during a stand-off with police. (BBC)
  • More than half of Brazil's population is of African descent, but black people are severely underrepresented in the country's corporate ranks, a statistic that is even worst for black women. (Americas Quarterly)

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

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

El patriarcado es un juez ... (Feb. 19, 2020)

Women's rights activists are doggedly calling attention to entrenched and growing gender violence in Latin America -- oftentimes clashing with leaders who seem determined to exemplify the machista perspectives that permit and foment such crimes. (Yeah, I know, that's a rough sentence.)

Mexicans are up in arms over a spate of particularly gruesome femicides -- in a country where gender killings are already common -- and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's tone-deaf response to reporters has added fuel to the fire. The body of 7-year-old girl -- Fátima Aldrighett -- who disappeared in Mexico City last week was found naked in a plastic bag. Last week a 25-year-old, Ingrid Escamilla, was stabbed to death, cut to pieces and partially skinned. Rather than discussing gender violence, AMLO lumped femicides into a larger crime context. At a press conference on Monday, he said that femicides are a product of the “selfishness and accumulation of wealth in a few hands left by neoliberal policies.” He further incensed activists by criticizing protesters who threw red paint at the National Palace in reference to femicides, and by chastising a reporter who asked about gender violence when he was discussing the sale of a presidential plane.  “I don’t want femicides to distract from the raffle.” (Washington Post, Associated Press, El País, Infobae, see Monday's briefs.)

The attitude horrifically misguided for Mexico's context, argues El País in a scathing editorial. "Gender violence in Mexico is a problem of such magnitude that it urgently needs an integral strategy. An average of ten dead women a day and 90 percent impunity are such hair-raising statistics that the government must react immediately with effective measures to stanch this bloodbath." Indeed, the depth of AMLO's insensitivity is opposite to his ideological stance, and cruel to victims, writes León Krauze in El Universal.

In contrast, Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum -- of AMLO's Morena party -- called Fátima's assassination “outrageous, aberrant, painful” and vowed the crime would “not go unpunished.” On Monday she accompanied Fátima’s mother to file charges.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro surpassed his own bar for inappropriate commentary: reiterating debunked allegations that Folha de S. Paulo reporter Patrícia Campos Mello exchanged sex for a scoop. Bolsonaro leeringly echoed a witness who last week testified in a congressional hearing that Campos Mello had insinuated an offer of sex in exchange for help with a story that triggered an investigation of Bolsonaro's campaign by Brazil's top electoral court. Folha quickly debunked the assertion by releasing transcripts, screenshots and recordings of their conversations. The Brazilian Press Association said Bolsonaro's "misogynous behavior is undeserving of the office of the President and an affront to the Constitution." (Folha de S. Paulo, El País, Associated Press)

But the anger in the streets isn't going away. Argentine activists are relaunching the bid to legalize abortion today, with a demonstration in front of Congress, which will vote on the issue this year. Activists are energized by support of Argentina's president, Alberto Fernández, who has stated that abortion should be considered a public health issue, and many prominent members of his government who sport the green handkerchief of the movement. However, early polls show that they will have to win over several senators, at least, in order to legalize abortion -- which lost in the senate in 2018.

The Chilean feminist group, Las Tesis, will perform at the demonstration, with an adapted version of "Un violador en tu camino," which spread from Chile's protests last year to become an international feminist chant against gender violence. (Página 12)

“El patriarcado es un juez,
que nos obliga a parir
y nuestro castigo
es la violencia que ya ves.
Es femicidio.
Maternidad como destino.
Es violación.
Es aborto clandestino.
Y la culpa no era mía,
ni dónde estaba, ni cómo vestía.
Y la culpa no era mía,
si me cuidaba, ni cómo vivía.

News Briefs

  • The United States levied tough new sanctions against a subsidiary of Russian oil giant Rosneft, in an attempt to further pressure Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro. Venezuela is exporting about 70 percent of its oil through Rosneft in what U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin described as the “looting of Venezuela’s oil assets by the corrupt Maduro regime.” (New York Times) Russia said yesterday that the new sanctions were a violation of international law and that they would not affect Moscow's ties with Caracas. (Reuters)
  • Venezuela's Special Action Force of Venezuela’s National Police has been widely linked to extrajudicial executions and torture. Now a new Reuters investigation found that its ranks include convicted criminals. Two of the FAES officers accused of killing two men last March served prison terms before joining the force, according to hundreds of sealed documents submitted by prosecutors in the case. It is both illegal and against national police policy for criminals to belong to the FAES.
  • Colombia is struggling to cope with the ongoing influx of Venezuelan migrants fleeing the country's economic crisis -- and it's only getting worst, reports the Financial Times. It is “the world’s largest forced migration crisis you have never heard of”, says Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.
More Brazil
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his eldest son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, criticized the investigation into the death of a hitman killed in a police shootout in Bahia state, which is governed by an opposition party. Flavio Bolsonaro suggested alleged "militia" leader Adriano Magalhães da Nóbrega was tortured, while Jair Bolsonaro called for an "independent" forensic investigation on Twitter. The Bolsonaro family has been under growing pressure to explain its ties to Nóbrega, who authorities sought in relation to the 2018 assassination of Rio de Janeiro councillor Marielle Franco. (Reuters, see Feb. 10's briefs.)
  • Al Jazeera reports on "the militia," the paramilitary groups that rival drug gangs in Rio de Janeiro's criminal underworld.
  • Bolsonaro is pushing a bill to allow commercial mining and agriculture on protected indigenous lands, and announced a credit line to support indigenous farmers who have developed soy plantations on their reservations. (Reuters)
  • Bolsonaro's ultra-conservative agenda is politically profitable -- a recent poll showed his approval rating jumped to almost 48 per cent from 41 per cent in August and Brazilians’ views on a spectrum of social issues, from abortion to gay marriage and the death penalty, have grown more conservative, reports the Financial Times.
  • Members of Haiti’s U.S.-backed and United Nations-trained police force are venting frustration over poor pay and work conditions by illegally firing their weapons in the air, vandalizing government property and reportedly setting fire to viewing stands ahead of this weekend’s three-day Pre-Lenten Carnival celebration, reports the Miami Herald. Police officers marched, on Monday, demanding the right to unionize while decrying the lack of pay, poor treatment and health insurance.
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele deployed 1,400 additional soldiers to fight street gangs, in the midst of controversy after he attempted to strong-arm lawmakers into approving a loan to finance his security plan. The troops will join about 8,600 soldiers already battling crime, an increase of about 16 percent, reports Reuters.
  • Families of men killed in Colombia's 'false positives' extrajudicial killings scandal accuse former army chief Mario Montoya of withholding information in a transitional justice court hearing that started last week. (Al Jazeera)
  • Right-wing Bolivian presidential candidate Luis Fernando Camacho called on rivals to form a unified block to oppose former president Evo Morales' MAS party in May's election, reports AFP. (See yesterday's briefs.)
More Mexico
  • Mexico’s lower house of congress approved an increase in prison sentences for crimes of femicide and sexual abuse of minors, yesterday, reports Reuters. (See main post.)
  • Amnesty International sent an open letter to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador expressing concern about the president’s statements against civil society and human rights defenders in Mexico, the role of the National Guard in issues related to migration and the violation of the right to asylum, the lack of results in terms of violence against women and femicides, and the need to protect human rights in the public security field.
  • Argentine creditors are increasingly concerned about a messy default -- and the government's saber-rattling is only making them jumpier, reports the Financial Times.
  • A dispute between Chinese mining consortium Ecuagoldmining and Ecuador's government over a gold mining project that has been halted by objections from community activists could lead to a $480 million arbitration fight, reports Reuters.
El Estado opresor es un macho violador,
El Congreso opresor es un macho violador.
El violador eras vos,
el opresor sos vos.