Thursday, July 30, 2020

Argentine gov't presents judicial reform (July 30, 2020)

Argentine President Alberto Fernández launched a judicial reform proposal yesterday. The bill the executive will send to congress this week would increase the number of federal courts from 12 to 46, a move aimed at diluting the power of federal judges who are widely perceived to wield their power with political motivation. Corruption investigations into former government officials are tainted by accusations of political persecution.

"Never again a Justice to settle political discussions," said Fernández, who framed the reform as an attempt to “overcome the crises that affect [the judicial system's] credibility.” He will also seek to implement the so-called ‘accusatorial’ (or adversarial) legal system, a move already approved by lawmakers that was blocked by former president Mauricio Macri. (Buenos Aires Times, Ambito)

But the proposal was received along heavily partisan lines: members of the governing coalition widely applauded it while the main opposition coalition, Cambiemos, said the move aims to get political allies out of ongoing corruption investigations. 

The government rejected the claims.

"We have heard the claims that this reform suits the government or the vice president's bids for impunity. Nothing is further from reality. Those currently in the system will continue to have their cases tried by the same judges," Justice Minister Marcela Losardo told Reuters.

More Argentina
  • Argentina's government is considering pushing back a deadline for creditors to respond to its foreign debt restructuring proposal until mid-to-late August, according to Reuters.
News Briefs

  • Cuban authorities committed numerous rights violations in June against people organizing a protest over police violence, effectively suppressing the demonstration, according to a new Human Rights Watch report. (See July 2's briefs.)
  • Colombia’s Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez has withdrawn a criminal complaint alleging InSight Crime Co-director Jeremy McDermott defamed her character in a series about a drug trafficker known as Memo el Fantasma. The decision came after widespread national and international outcry concerning the criminal complaint.
  • The region's coronavirus exacerbated economic crisis has more than 11 million people in Latin America "marching towards the brink of starvation," according to U.N. food agency chief David Beasley. (CBS News)
  • A new Inter-American Development Bank report marks that the coronavirus economic crisis in the Caribbean is unprecedented, and that its economic impact is likely to be severe for The Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago. Some Caribbean economies are among the most tourism -dependent in the world, notes the report.
Regional Relations
  • The Trump administration is readying a new initiative that would use financial incentives to encourage U.S. firms to move production facilities out of Asia and into the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, White House advisor Mauricio Claver-Carone told Reuters. He said the project could bring $30 billion to $50 billion in U.S. investment back to the Americas.
  • Claver-Carone is the U.S. candidate to head the IADB. If he is elected it will be a break with the institution's unbroken tradition of a Latin American head, which "would undermine its fundamental mission in a new inter-American system," argue Roberta Jacobson and Dan Restrepo in Americas Quarterly. "U.S. engagement and support for the bank is critical. It provides important leverage for U.S. taxpayer dollars devoted to economic and social development in countries that have a profound impact on the well-being and interests of the United States. But to be effective, to be an instrument of partnership in which each country carries its respective burden – and not be an antiquated instrument of implicit U.S. hemispheric ownership – the IDB cannot be reduced to a mere tool of U.S. policy."
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that former Haitian paramilitary leader Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, who was deported from the U.S. last month, must be held accountable for the gross human rights violations committed in the 1990s. Recent statements by judicial officials raised concerns that he might be released and evade justice. Constant was convicted in absentia in 2000 and sentenced to life imprisonment over his involvement in the 1994 Raboteau massacre when military and paramilitary forces attacked the Raboteau neighbourhood in Gonaïves. (OHCHR)
  • Bolivia's police are collecting corpses of people who have died in their homes or public spaces, as the country's health systems are overwhelmed by coronavirus. in La Paz and El Alto have collected since April more than 3,300 bodies of people who died at home or in public places, about 80 percent of whom are suspected of having been infected with Covid-19, reports Reuters.
  • Coca cultivation jumped 10 percent in Bolivia in 2019, the final year of President Evo Morales' government, partly because of reduced eradication efforts amid rising social and political conflicts, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (Associated Press)
  • Guatemalan hospitals have had to bury dozens of unidentified Covid-19 victims -- many who arrived too ill to give personal details -- though they are taking steps to create records in hopes that relatives will eventually come forward, reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexico's Supreme Court rejected an injunction that would have effectively decriminalised termination in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, reports the BBC. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Chile's government ruled out the privatization of state-owned mining giant Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, reports Reuters.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Brazil's foreign ministry requested Weintraub's U.S. visa (July 29, 2020)

Brazil's foreign ministry requested a U.S. visa for Abraham Weintraub, on the same day that he resigned from the Brazilian education ministry. (O Globo, Folha de S. Paulo) The timing is key, as the request was made using information from Weintraub's diplomatic passport, granted to members of the cabinet, and at a time when travelers from Brazil were banned from entering the U.S. due to coronavirus contagion concerns. The information was gleaned from responses to two Access to Information requests, which also showed the Weintraub never returned his diplomatic passport, adding to previous suspicions that he used it to subsequently enter the U.S. 

Weintraub left the government in disgrace in June -- after he was caught on tape at a cabinet meeting screaming that Supreme Court justices should be arrested. Some commentators linked his quick exit from the country to an ongoing Supreme Court investigation into online defamation and disinformation campaigns involving Bolsonaro allies and relatives. Weintraub retains President Jair Bolsonaro's firm support -- Bolsonaro has nominated him to an executive director position in the World Bank. (See June 22's post.) The association representing staff at the World Bank opposed the appointment due to Weintraub's past racial comments and other concerns. (See June 26's briefs.)

More Brazil
  • Brazilian music legend Caetano Veloso perturbed by Bolsonaro supporters' embrace of military dictatorship, reports the Guardian.
News Briefs

  • The coronavirus pandemic is undermining democratic norms that were already under strain in Latin America, according to the New York Times, which cites Bolivia, El Salvador, St. Kitts and Nevis, alongside Venezuela and Nicaragua. "Leaders ranging from the center-right to the far left have used the crisis as justification to extend their time in office, weaken oversight of government actions and silence critics — actions that under different circumstances would be described as authoritarian and antidemocratic but that now are being billed as lifesaving measures to curb the spread of the disease."
  • Across the region, governments are turning to pensions as a lifeline to deal with current economic pain, in the midst of recession and pandemic. "But experts caution that loosening pension withdrawal rules could carry significant long-term risks – and may be more a sign of increased political instability than a sound economic response to the crisis," writes Emilie Sweigart at Americas Quarterly.
  • A record number of land defenders were killed around the world last year -- and Colombia and the Philippines accounted for half of the 212 people murdered, according to this year's Global Witness Report. In addition, campaigners expressed concerns that slow or deliberate inaction from governments and corporations to protect vulnerable communities from Covid-19 has led to higher infection rates, raising fears of opportunistic attacks on defenders, reports the Guardian. Deaths more than doubled in Colombia, where 64 land defenders were killed last year. Though violence in Colombian overall has fallen since a 2016 peace deal between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels and the government, so-called "social leaders" continue to be threatened, attacked and killed - many in cases which remain unsolved, notes Reuters.
  • Colombian President Iván Duque rejected a call for Cuban medical aid by Medellín's mayor. Duque said Colombia is prepared to deal with the coronavirus pandemic with its own doctors, and said foreign doctors should only be called on in case of "extreme need." (Infobae)
  • "The Maduro regime has the opposition in a familiar bind: divided over next steps, with support for the leadership flagging," Geoff Ramsey told NPR. "While it’s in Maduro’s interest to weaken the opposition, he is also aware of the benefit of maintaining limited spaces for political participation. This stokes natural divisions among opposition parties, while also allowing Maduro to claim a veneer of democratic legitimacy." (Venezuela Politics and Human Rights)
  • Venezuelan opposition parties, judicially intervened and run by Maduro allies, are scrambling to find candidates to run in December’s congressional election, according to opposition leaders and activists, reports Reuters.
  • The U.S. warned yesterday that elections planned in Venezuela later this year would be deeply fraudulent, reports Reuters.
  • The U.S. imposed sanctions on two former Maduro government officials, barring them from traveling to the United States over accusations they were involved in significant corruption, reports Reuters.
  • At least 21 Nicaraguan doctors were purged from their jobs at public hospitals -- apparently in retaliation for calling attention to the coronavirus pandemic in the country. Nearly all of the fired doctors signed public letters asking the government to confront the coronavirus threat and calling for protective equipment for health-care workers, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Mexico's Supreme Court will begin hearing a potentially landmark case today that could lead to national decriminalization of abortion. The case involves an injunction granted in the eastern state of Veracruz, which ordered the local legislature to remove articles from its criminal code pertaining to abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, reports the Guardian. Pro-choice activists say the court’s ruling could set a precedent which would enable further injunctions ordering other state legislatures to take action on abortion.
  • The Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) head --  Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias "El Mencho" -- reportedly built himself a private hospital, reports the Guardian. The cartel has been flexing its muscles recently, with a brazen Mexico City attack on the capital's security chief and  a viral social media video purportedly showing scores of heavily armed gang members. (See July 14's post.)
  • Covid-19 has disrupted global food supplies -- rice particularly. The resulting volatility has created market opportunities for smaller producers, such as Guyana, to increase production to meet the growing demand, reports Forbes.
  • Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has reshuffled key parts of his cabinet, replacing his interior chief and five other ministers, yesterday. It's the second reshuffle in nine months, as the president faces the combined negative effects of massive social protests and the coronavirus pandemic, reports Reuters.
  • More than 1 million Santiago residents emerged from lockdown yesterday, reports EFE.
  • Ecuador is on alert due to the appearance of a huge fleet of mostly Chinese-flagged fishing vessels off its Galapagos Islands, reports the BBC. Their presence has already raised the prospect of serious damage to the delicate marine ecosystem, reports the Guardian.

I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Bolivia prison riots demand doctors, tests (July 28, 2020)

Prison inmates rioted in four of Bolivia's most populated Cochabamba region prisons over access to medical care, after an inmate suspected of having Covid-19 died. Local media showed images of inmates climbing to the roofs of the prisons, calling for medicine and access to doctors, reports Reuters.  Inmates held up banners calling attention to their plight, including one banner that read, “We want COVID-19 tests," reports Voice of America.

Authorities have reported more than 60 deaths due to the coronavirus in Bolivia's prison system, which is overcrowded at more than 240% capacity.

More Bolivia
  • Several MAS party associated social organizations organized protests against the postponement of September's presidential election, reports Nodal. (See Friday's briefs.)
News Briefs

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of "crimes against humanity" in The Hague's International Criminal Court over his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. A complaint filed on Sunday, the Brazilian Union Network UNISaúde, which represents tens of thousands of health workers in the country, accused Bolsonaro of "serious and deadly failures" in his leadership on tackling the pandemic, reports Newsweek.
  • Bloodshed in Brazil's favelas has continued despite a Supreme Court order last month that banned police raids in the favelas during the coronavirus pandemic, “except in absolutely exceptional cases,” writes Eliana Souza Silva in Foreign Policy.
  • The investment arm of northern Europe’s largest financial services group has dropped JBS, the world’s biggest meat processer, from its portfolio, over lack of commitment to sustainability issues, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazil's illegal wildlife trade is not taken seriously enough, with grave consequences for biodiversity, reports the Guardian.
  • Nicolás Maduro may have sidelined Diosdado Cabello, one of his biggest internal rivals within Chavismo, explains Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. Maduro's decision to allow Cabello's entire military cohort, Cabello included, to retire, may be one of several signs that Maduro has quietly boxed Cabello out of power, according to experts.
  • U.N. investigators monitoring compliance with sanctions on North Korea are looking into a possible military and technology deal between Pyongyang and Venezuela and have warned Caracas that it could be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, reports Reuters. In its latest annual report, on March 2, the panel said it had started probing a possible military and technological cooperation deal signed by Cabello, though Reuters could not verify whether a military and technological deal between North Korea and Venezuela exists.
Regional Relations
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó wants to set up an embassy in Jerusalem, reports the Jerusalem Post. In the meantime, he plans to launch a website next week that is meant to serve as a virtual embassy to Israel.
  • US policy towards Latin America should prioritize cooperation, rule of law and climate change, among other considerations, writes Juan S. González in Americas Quarterly.
  • The Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo organization —the small-scale farmer association of Catatumbo known as Ascamcat— announced the massacre of eight people on July 18 by the paramilitary group “Los Rastrojos” in the Municipality of Tibú, verified by the Ombudsman’s office the following day. (Latino Rebels)
  • Over 900 women and girls are missing and feared dead in Peru since the coronavirus confinement began, according to the National Ombudsman's office, reports the AFP.
  • Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei declared martial law in the northeastern provinces of Izabal and Alta Verapaz — both part of a major overland drug smuggling route that stretches from Honduras to Guatemala’s border with Mexico. But the limitation of civil rights hasn't been justified with concrete reasons, and some suspect the move is aimed at quashing local protests, reports InSight Crime.
  • Guatemala began reopening its economy yesterday, easing restrictions imposed four months ago to curb the coronavirus, although cases are still on the rise in much of the country, reports Reuters.
  • An initial court hearing into corruption charges against Emilio Lozoya, the former boss of Mexican state oil firm Petroleos Mexicanos, is scheduled for today, reports Reuters.
  • Post-pandemic university education must glean lessons from the good and the bad of the distance learning experience, argues Chilean professor Roberto Herrscher in a New York Times Español op-ed. Specifically, he appreciates how digital learning has broken down some barriers between teachers and students, while he decries how the loss of physical classrooms has heightened the impact socio-economic inequalities for students. 
  • Latin America will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with higher poverty rates as efforts to control the virus lead to spikes in unemployment and indebtedness, Inter-American Development Bank President Luis Alberto Moreno told Reuters.
  • Assessing how close Argentina is to exploding again is practically an amateur sport, both in Argentina and for experts abroad. But though the current situation is grim, the country is resisting another "2001," as we call it. In part this is because of significant cash transfer policies enacted after the 2001 crisis -- and sustained by governments of different ideological stripes. But it's also because of our potent political polarization -- we don't want all the politicians to leave, as we did then, just the ones from the other side of the "grieta." But this won't work forever, I argue in a New York Times Español op-ed written with Marcelo J. Garcia. Avoiding another explosion of the sort that made us infamous will require that "incipient attempts to transform our sectarian politics towards forms of greater cooperation be successful."
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.-- 

Monday, July 27, 2020

LatAm global coronavirus leader (July 27, 2020)

News Briefs

  • Coronavirus cases in Latin America for the first time have surpassed the combined infections in the United States and Canada, according to a Reuters tally yesterday. A surge of infections in Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Argentina make Latin America the region most impacted by the pandemic globally, with 26.83 percent of worldwide cases.
  • Economic recession coupled with pandemic pain threaten to unleash social unrest in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to several reports. (CNN)
  • More than 160,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus in the region, but from Mexico to Brazil, social networks are awash with quack cures and conspiracies, a tsunami of online disinformation designed to bamboozle and deceive, reports the Guardian. (See also last Friday's briefs.)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro brandished a box of hydroxycholorquine pills in his announcement that he is now Covid-19 free, nearly three weeks after he tested positive. Bolsonaro then met with supporters and rode a motorcycle in Brasilia, a demonstration that he will likely continue his cavalier treatment of the pandemic, reports the New York Times.
  • International and national backlash to Brazil's rising deforestation rates have forced the Bolsonaro administration to react, but officials are hindered by "a deep distrust of global heating, fed by a far-right ideology reluctant to admit that the climate emergency has a human cause," reports the Guardian.
  • New evidence appears to connect JBS, the world’s biggest meat company, to cattle supplied from a farm in the Brazilian Amazon which is under sanction for illegal deforestation, reports the Guardian.
  • Guatemalan migrants in Florida, often working through the pandemic, are among the hardest-hit populations in the state, reports the Washington Post.
  • Mexican coronavirus czar Hugo López-Gatell has lost the movie-star sheen he had at the beginning of the pandemic -- the cause is not only his own missteps, but also the failures of a government model that tends towards improvisation rather than planning, argues Diego Fonseca in the New York Times Español.
  • Human rights non-profit Stand Up For Jamaica has launched a campaign to cover the legal costs of prisoners incarcerated without trial in the Jamaican penal system, reports the Jamaica Gleaner. The issue, has taken on notoriety in Jamaica after an independent government report found that mentally ill people have languished in Jamaican jails for decades without trial, far beyond the maximum sentences for their alleged crimes. (Global Voices)
  • The Cuban government's recent announcement of market liberalization policies comes in a context of economic crisis, but many are "welcome steps that have the potential to set the country on a path to more sustainable growth," according to the Cuba Study Group. The measures aim to prioritize domestic food production, reduce imports, legally recognize micro, small, and medium-sized companies, legalize non-agricultural cooperatives, and expand self-employment. In general, there is a move to grant greater autonomy to private and state enterprises and foster a partnership between both sectors, explains the Center for Democracy in the Americas.
  • An extensive analysis of Cuba's recent economic moves at La Joven Cuba.
  • Cuba's international medical brigades are increasingly in the limelight, due to the pandemic and U.S. efforts to punish countries that receive them. (See last Thursday's post.) "Their high-profile work in wealthy western as well as poorer nations has sharpened a bitter international controversy over Cuba’s longstanding policy," reports the Financial Times.
  • Colombian armed groups are imposing new levels of control during the coronavirus outbreak, and enforcing some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world — with violent penalties for violators, reports the Washington Post. In part this is to protect their own ranks from contagion, but also to exert territorial control, according to experts. (See post for July 16.)
  • The Revolutionary Alternative Force of the Common (FARC) political party reported the murder of a former combatant of the former FARC-EP guerrilla group in a rural area of the municipality of Cartagena del Chairá in south-western Colombia, reports Telesur.
  • A new law allowing Chileans to withdraw funds from their pensions in response to the country's current economic malaise is just the beginning of reforms that will change the country's market-oriented system, say some activists who promise to "go for more." Reuters)
  • Honduran Garífuna indigenous groups protested this weekend, demanding the release of five leaders who were kidnapped over a week ago in the Triunfo de la Cruz area. Witnesses said they were taken by armed men wearing police uniforms, reports El Heraldo. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
El Salvador
  • Evangelical churches offer one of the only ways for Salvadoran gang members to defect. But research suggests"that the crucial point might not only be the religious orientation of churches, but their ability to share the social spaces that the gang inhabits. To the extent that other NGOs can also access those spaces and being accepted by the community, they may give gang members some additional opportunities for disengagement," write José Miguel Cruz and Jonathan D. Rosen at the AULA blog.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Munguía Payés arrested in El Salvador (July 24, 2020)

Former Salvadoran defense minister General David Munguía Payés was arrested yesterday on suspicion of unlawful association and other crimes linked to the arrangement of a 2012-2014 truce between crime gangs. An arrest warrant was also issued for former Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes. 

Attorney General Raúl Melara alleged that Munguía and Funez organized a pact between two rival gangs - Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 - in order to reduce the number of homicides between 2012 and 2014, in exchange for providing undisclosed benefits to the criminal organizations, reports Reuters.

When Munguía was previously called to testify in another case related to the pact, he said that it was public policy born in Funes’ security cabinet, reports the Associated Press. Munguía and Funes were not charged in a previous case that accused other officials of crimes in relation to the pact.

Melara said Munguía was preparing to flee ahead of yesterday's detention, reports El Diario de Hoy.

Funes, who has been in Nicaragua since 2016 and claims he is a victim of political persecution in El Salvador, denied any involvement in the gang pact. “I never met with gangsters and nor did I order any official to do so,” Funes wrote on Twitter. “I never ordered nor authorized prison privileges for any gang member.”

News Briefs

  • Climate change will almost certainly result in the greatest wave of global migration the world has seen, according to New York Times magazine. Climate change is behind a drought that is decimating agriculture in Central America. The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica joined with the Pulitzer Center created a model that predicts that migration from Central America will rise every year regardless of climate, but that the amount of migration increases substantially as the climate changes. The model offers "a detailed look at the staggering human suffering that will be inflicted if countries shut their doors."
  • Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal delayed the country's presidential election redo by more than a month due to the coronavirus pandemic. They had been rescheduled for September, and will now be held on Oct. 18. The president of the tribunal, Salvador Romero, told reporters that Bolivian and international experts had advised the body that the uncontrolled spread of the novel coronavirus in the country made holding the election in September unfeasible, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Chilean President Sebastian Piñera's government is teetering on the edge of collapse, as negative views of the administration's pandemic management pile onto previous discontent with the country's economic model, reports Deutsche Welle.
  • Aritana Yawalapiti, one of Brazil’s most influential indigenous leaders, arrived at a hospital after an arduous journey over rural roads in order to obtain Covid-19 treatment, reports Reuters.
  • So far, 542 Indigenous people have died from Covid-19 in Brazil, reports Telesur.
  • The sharp surge in Brazil's coronavirus cases this week is being driven by the outbreak in São Paulo, long Brazil’s coronavirus epicenter, but also new and sharply ascendant outbreaks that span the country, reports the Washington Post. More than 80 percent of Brazilian municipalities have reported cases of coronavirus.
  • Brazil's community journalists in the country's favelas are a lesson in journalism, writes Carol Pires in the New York Times Español. Not only do they speak directly to their public, but they are also more committed than mainstream publications with the most urgent issues in Brazil at the moment: pandemic and racism.
  • In the midst of the pandemic there are growing calls for debt relief in Latin America -- World Politics Review.
  • Interest in dubious Covid-19 remedies has been particularly high in Latin America, where the virus is raging uncontrolled, few people can afford quality medical care, and many political leaders on the right and left are promoting them, reports the New York Times. Hydroxychloroquine obviously leads the list, but there's also chlorine dioxide, a kind of bleach used to disinfect swimming pools; and ivermectin, which is used to treat intestinal worms.
  • Latin American democratic institutionality has taken steps backwards, according to presenters at Foro Cap, including Claudia Paz y Paz and José Miguel Vivanco, moderated by Carmen Aristegui. (El Faro)
  • Cases of pandemic corruption across the region -- ranging from local to national -- show how officials have taken advantage of relaxed procurement rules designed to speed up spending decisions in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, to award contracts to campaign donors and steal public money, reports the Wall Street Journal.
More El Salvador
  • Twenty-two percent of the medical masks the Salvadoran government purchased from a company owned by lawmaker Gustavo Escalante's family were faulty, reports El Faro.
  • Corrupt networks determined to regain control of Guatemala's institutions are focused on removing obstacles to their power, and also on sending a message that anti-corruption campaigns will not prosper in the country, WOLA's Adriana Beltan told World Politics Review.
  • Mexico’s anti-monopoly commission said it is looking into possible price-fixing or monopolistic practices in the medical oxygen market, after pharmacies reported a spike in prices and difficulties in getting tanks and refills, reports the Associated Press.
  • Covid-19 cases are surging in Mexico, but testing remains sparse, an approach that mystifies experts, according to the Guardian. The country performs just three tests per 100,000 people, with explanations ranging from cost-cutting to a push for herd immunity.
  • Rights groups are skeptical that an Italian United Nations volunteer who had been on a peace mission in Colombia killed himself as authorities claim, reports the Guardian.
  • In Venezuela the coronavirus pandemic is providing a cover for the Maduro government's increasing repression, writes Bibi Borges in Americas Quarterly.
  • Authorities in Colombia have seized a luxury mansion complete with a spa, tennis court and two pools allegedly belonging to businessman Alex Saab, reports the Associated Press.
  • Coronavirus exposed weaknesses that strong economic growth had concealed in Peru, reports the Economist.
  • An Honduran court ordered the release of former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo. Her 58-year corruption sentence and conviction was tossed out earlier this year and is awaiting a new trial, reports the Associated Press.
  • Barbados faces a significant tourism sector hit, thanks to its successful efforts to keep out the coronavirus. Prime Minister Mia Mottley aims to replace vacationers with remote workers, with a program aimed at attracting office workers who are now working from home. Bermuda has also announced a similar scheme, and the Economist reports that other Caribbean islands are looking at such options.

Cuba's controversial medical missions (July 23, 2020)

Cuba's medical missions -- a key source of income for the island's government and of health workers for recipient countries -- have come under increasing scrutiny in the coronavirus pandemic context. Since March, Cuba has sent roughly 1,500 medical professionals across the world to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic, joining approximately 30,000 Cuban health workers already deployed abroad. 

The draconian rules imposed by Cuba's government on the doctors deployed in medical missions globally violate their fundamental rights, Human Rights Watch said in a new report. The regulations severely restrict health workers’ freedom of expression, association, movement, and privacy. “Governments that accept Cuban assistance that includes the abusive conditions imposed by Cuba risk becoming complicit in human rights violations,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

Last month the U.S. described Cuba's international medical missions as an example of “forced labor,” and kept Cuba on the blacklist of countries that do not do enough to fight human trafficking. (Miami Herald)

The U.S. push to punish recipient countries, a move that could impact its relationship with Caribbean countries whose pandemic response has been significantly buttressed by Cuban doctors, argued Wazim Mowla in a recent Global Americans piece. (See Monday's briefs.) In June the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States criticized U.S. efforts to punish recipient countries, saying the move would undermine efforts to reduce actual human trafficking and also withdraw a key element of medical support in their countries. (Miami Herald, see June 24's briefs.) This week Barbados said it would not bow down to U.S. pressure to end its collaboration with the Cuban program. (See yesterday's briefs.)

In an alternative of sorts to the polarization the topic brings to regional diplomacy, the Human Rights Watch report suggests that: "Governments seeking support from Cuban health workers to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic should press Cuban authorities to modify applicable regulations and laws that violate the right to privacy, freedom of expression and association, liberty, and movement, among others."

News Briefs

  • "There is a humanitarian disaster developing today in Venezuela, driven in part by failed economic sanctions imposed by the United States. It is time for Washington to change direction, prioritize the lives of Venezuelans and support them in building a path toward free and fair elections," writes Open Society Foundations' President Patrick Gaspard in a CNN opinion piece. "The scale of Venezuela's crisis is shocking," he writes. "While Venezuela's dysfunctional economy is primarily the responsibility of the country's leader, Nicolas Maduro, the United States needs to acknowledge that its financial and sectoral sanctions have had a hand in Venezuela's undoing." He advocates using sanctions as a scalpel, rather than a sledgehammer, and argues that "the need to lift all sanctions contributing to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is clear. Remaining sanctions, targeting corrupt and abusive officials, should align with diplomacy."
  • Venezuela's government is discriminating against returning migrants, and violating their human rights -- Venezuela Weekly.
  • Former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón’s law firm will represent Alex Saab, a Venezuelan businessman close to President Nicolas Maduro detained in Cape Verde on corruption charges leveled in the U.S. (Reuters)
  • Five black indigenous men abducted in Honduras remain missing, and fears are growing about their safety. The five Garifuna fishermen were kidnapped by armed gunmen dressed in police uniforms, in the town Triunfo de la Cruz, a region where communities are embroiled in a longstanding struggle to save their ancestral land from drug traffickers, palm oil magnates and tourism developers aided by corrupt officials and institutions, reports the Guardian. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • The European Union has granted Honduras 80 million euros in aid to help the country's health system cope with Covid-19, reports Reuters. (See Monday's briefs on reports of significant corruption in the country's emergency response efforts.)
  • Bolivia's September presidential election redo is increasingly in doubt as coronavirus increasingly ravages the country, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs and Tuesday's.)
  • Police operatives have recovered the bodies of hundreds of suspected victims of the coronavirus from homes, vehicles and, in some instances, the streets in Bolivia. And hospitals are full of patients and short of staff, keeping their gates closed and hanging out signs that say: “There is no space," reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Arequipa suffering from crowded and oxygen-deficient hospitals and protests against authorities is Peru's new coronavirus epicenter, reports EFE.
  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra announced an emergency decree putting the city of Arequipa's health system under national control. The move comes after relatives denounced grim conditions in local hospitals where Covid-19 patients fight for their lives. The crisis is grim in Peru, reports the Guardian, noting lack of medical staff and basic supplies and the tortuous bureaucracy that families must negotiate in order to get sick relatives admitted to hospital.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has again tested positive for the new coronavirus, and will extend his two-week quarantine and suspend upcoming travel plans, reports AFP.
  • Brazil reported a record number of coronavirus infections, days after the World Health Organization said the country had reached a plateau, reports Bloomberg.
  • Brazilian Black rights activists are grappling with an openly hostile government official in charge of the national body tasked with preserving the country's Black culture, Sergio Camargo, reports Reuters.
  • Brazil and Argentina registered daily records for confirmed coronavirus cases yesterday, pushing the total number of cases in Latin America past 4 million, reports Reuters.
  • China plans to provide a $1 billion loan to make its coronavirus vaccine accessible for countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, according to Mexico's government. (Reuters)
  • Southern Hemisphere countries are reporting far lower numbers of influenza and other seasonal respiratory viral infections this year, due to coronavirus prevention measures, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Latin America's post-pandemic government's will be bigger. The region’s public sector will grow after the pandemic – and the temptation to undo market-friendly policies will be hard to resist, writes Patricio Navia in Americas Quarterly. "...Large fiscal deficits will likely be the norm over the next decade – and there is a risk that governments will step up efforts to increase the size of the state in ways that are both unsustainable and that fail to correct for the current absence of adequate social safety nets and public infrastructure."
  • Chile's Senate approved a bill allowing workers to withdraw part of their contributions to private pension funds, in response to the country's pandemic induced economic crisis. The measure returns to the lower chamber for approval due to modifications, but it is expected to pass. The bill is a blow against President Sebastián Piñera, a staunch opponent of the plan that would allow Chileans to withdraw up to 10 percent of their retirement savings from the pension system, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Haiti's energy crisis is increasingly acute: for weeks entire neighborhoods have been once again plunged into darkness and in recent days the distress has grown even more severe, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Haitian religious leaders are pushing back against a penal code reform that punishes marriage officiants who refuse to perform same-sex weddings, reports Voice of America
  • Yesterday was apparently the international day of domestic work -- and Revista Colibrí has some interesting interviews that point to the gender disparities in housework. The statistics are Argentina focused, but the general concept is applicable broadly in the region. During the coronavirus lockdown one study found that parents of both genders increased their childcare hours, but women slept less and cared more, while men slept more and had more leisure time in addition to doubling their childcare hours. A group of men who seek to rethink their privileges suggest honest conversations in the home, which can reveal hidden structural violence.


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Domestic workers and Covid-19 (July 22, 2020)

There are 67 million domestic workers around the world — 80 percent are women. In Latin America the sector employs about 18 million people, 93 percent female, the vast majority of whom are informally employed. (AFP) Throughout the region women are losing paychecks when they can't go to work due to coronavirus lockdowns, or are pressured into working and risk infecting themselves and their families. A Global Voices report looks at the situations domestic workers face in Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil and elsewhere in the world: "Workers clean, cook, take care of children or elderly family members, often without a contract or with poor legal protection. Despite being “at the frontlines” of COVID-19, they are rarely part of COVID-19 response plans."

News Briefs

  • Bolivian polls put MAS party candidate Luis Arce firmly in the lead for the country's oft-postponed election redo, to be held in September. The big question is whether he can muster up the points to win outright in the first round, and which of the other two leading candidates -- Carlos Mesa or interim-president Jeanine Áñez -- is better positioned to challenge him, explains the Latin America Risk Report. (See yesterday's briefs on how the interim-government's considerable missteps and rights violations favor the MAS party bid.)
  • A special police unit collected 420 bodies over the course of five days in two Bolivian cities, La Paz and Santa Cruz. The vast majority of the cadavers recovered from streets, vehicles and homes are believed to be Covid-19 related, reports the Associated Press. Bolivia's Institute of Forensic Investigations said that nationally from April 1 through Sunday, its workers had recovered 3,016 bodies of people in possible COVID-19 cases. 
  • An indigenous teen was killed in a police-led coca eradication operative in Colombia's Putumayo province on Monday. It's the second death during psolice operations to eradicate coca crops, reports Telesur.
  • The United States imposed sanctions on Venezuelan Chief Justice Maikel Moreno and announced a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction for allegedly participating in transnational organized crime, reports Reuters.
  • Upticks in Mexico's femicide rate and occupancy in shelters where women flee domestic violence contrasts sharply with the López Obrador administration's budget cuts to agencies charged with addressing women’s issues, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexican marines allegedly abducted 27 people in the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo in early 2018, 12 of whom were later found dead, according to Mexico's governmental human rights commission. The commission also said marines engaged in “illegal searches and arbitrary detentions," reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexico passed 40,000 coronavirus deaths, yesterday. The country has the fourth-highest Covid-19 death toll in the world, reports AFP
  • U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has assured Mexico it will get access to coronavirus treatments and vaccines developed by the U.S., according to local media reports. (Newsweek)
  • Honduras' Supreme Court denied an appeal by lawmaker María Luisa Borjas, who was convicted of defamation and sentenced to nearly three years in prison for naming Camilo Atala, a prominent local banker, as a suspected mastermind in the 2016 killing of environmental activist Berta Caceres. (Associated Press)
Indigenous Peoples
  • Indigenous peoples in several countries in the Americas are experiencing a rising number of cases and deaths from COVID-19. The Pan American Health Organization urged health authorities “to intensify efforts in order to prevent further spread of infection within these communities, as well as to ensure adequate access to healthcare services.”
  • Indigenous groups in Ecuador launched an information dashboard to monitor the coronavirus and identify contagion hotspots as the disease spreads through the Amazon. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) has aggregated coronavirus data by area and tribe since early May, reports Reuters.
  • Aritana Yawalapiti, one of Brazil's leading indigenous chiefs, is battling a severe case of Covid-19, reports AFP. In Brazil, more than 17,000 indigenous peoples have been infected and 544 have died, according to the Brazilian Indigenous Peoples' Association (APIB).
  • After ravaging major cities, the virus is spreading to Brazil’s sprawling interior, where people are dying in remote towns whose health systems can’t handle the caseload, reports The Intercept.
  • The Guardian profiles the grim situation of gravediggers who have been struggling with the country's 40 percent increase in burials.
  • Barbados says it has no intention of ending a Cuban medical mission program engaged in pandemic care on the island, despite a threat by the United States to target countries using the service, reports the Caribbean Media Corporation.
  • Black Barbadians are becoming more vocal about racism in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder, reports Stacey Phillips at Global Voices. "Social media in Barbados has become a crucial tool used by black Barbadians to speak out against the systemic and interpersonal racism that many attest have stained their psyche."
  • Protesters in Peru attacked and set fire to a convoy of vehicles from the Las Bambas mining group, one of Peru’s largest copper producers, reports Reuters.
  • Analysts believe Argentina and international creditors will reach a restructuring deal, despite a standoff this week over the government's last proposal, reports Reuters.
  • Uruguay's post-coronavirus school reopening gets an A plus for safety in The Conversation's comparison of international experiences.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.