Monday, August 31, 2020

IACHR calls for resolution (Aug. 31, 2020)

 The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called for a quick resolution to the rift that opened last week with the Organization of American States (OAS). At issue is OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro’s unilateral rejection of the candidate the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) appointed as its executive secretary, Paulo Abrão. (See last Friday's briefs and last Tuesday's post.) 

A growing international chorus has criticized Almagro's move. The OAS refusal to renew Abrão's contract undermines the IACHR's autonomy and "undercuts the commission’s credibility as an independent body, endangering its critical role in protecting fundamental rights and freedoms in the Americas without political interference,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch

United Nations human rights head, Michelle Bachelet, said the disagreement risks undermining the IACHR's "proven efficacy" as well as the OAS's reputation. (See last Friday's briefs.)

Infobae reports on anonymous allegations against Abrão by IACHR employees -- Almagro said Friday that Abrão has more than 61 complaints of against him related to alleged work mistreatment. But, in a press release, the IACHR said the allegations surfaced last month and that "the Commission immediately indicated to the Secretary General that it has the greatest interest in having the corresponding administrative investigations carried out by the competent body, in full compliance with the guarantees and inter-American standards of presumption of innocence, due process, duty to investigate and due diligence."

News Briefs

  • Covid-19 has laid bare and exacerbated structural inequalities and institutional weaknesses in Latin America, suggesting last year's protests will re-emerge eventually, with even greater force, writes Cynthia Arnson in Latin Trade. "As the region heads into the next super-cycle of presidential and legislative elections, chances are high that the public will opt for leaders pledging to address the broad economic pain, regardless of those leaders’ democratic credentials, or even how realistic their promises might be."
  • The Atlantic Center's "Aviso LatAm" reviews the latest Covid-19 data, and reviews how Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico continued their reopening plans last week, while Argentina and Bolivia maintained restrictive measures.
  • Coronavirus quarantines expose the region's class divide, reports EFE.
  • U.S. pandemic migration policy -- shut-doors to would be asylum applicants -- has sent Nicaraguans, many political protesters fleeing violent government persecution, straight back to their country this year, reports the Washington Post.
  • A prominent Haitian lawyer, Monferrier Dorval, was gunned down Friday night in Port-au-Prince, just hours after he called for “another kind of country, another state” during a radio interview, reports the Miami Herald. It was the fourth murder in 48 hours, and drew public attention to the armed gangs testing Haiti's rule of law.
  • Rio de Janeiro state governor Wilson Witzel was suspended from office Friday by a Brazilian court as part of a corruption probe into alleged kickbacks. Prosecutors charge that Witzel was at the “top of the pyramid” of a corrupt scheme of bribes and kickbacks for government contracts that included projects aimed at combating the coronavirus in Brazil, reports the Washington Post.
  • Expanding corruption investigations into Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his family are testing the independence and strength of the country's justice system, reports the New York Times. (See last Monday's post.)
  • Bolsonaro's “Green Brazil 2” operation, which put the army in charge of protecting the rainforest, has virtually halted investigation and prosecution of rainforest destruction. There have been no major raids against illegal activity since Bolsonaro required military approval for them in May, reports the Associated Press. Instead, the Brazilian army appears to be focusing on dozens of small road-and-bridge-building projects that allow exports to flow faster to ports and ease access to protected areas, opening the rainforest to further exploitation.
  • Venezuelan authorities released opposition lawmaker Juan Requesens to house arrest, two years after he was detained on accusations he was involved in an alleged drone attack on President Nicolas Maduro. Foro Penal reported that by the end of July, 382 people opposition leaders it considers political prisoners were being detained in Venezuela. They include other lawmakers and military officials, the group says. (Reuters, Associated Press, El País)
  • Maduro promised a series of decrees aimed at "national reconciliation" this week, ahead of the Dec. 6 legislative elections that the political opposition currently plans to boycott, reports Efecto Cocuyo. (See last Venezuela Weekly.)
  • More than 100,000 Venezuelans -- of the five million who have fled their country since 2014 -- have returned since coronavirus lockdowns destroyed the tenuous lives they were building in Colombia, Peru and other countries in the region, reports the Wall Street Journal. "What awaits in Venezuela is more hardship—state-run quarantine centers for returning migrants and, once released, the daily struggle to secure food in a country widely considered a humanitarian disaster."
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador accused several environmental groups of being paid by foreign foundations to oppose his controversial "Maya Train" project in the Yucatan peninsula. One group demanded he apologize, claiming the president was “criminalizing” environmentalists, reports the Associated Press.
  • Colombia's coronavirus quarantine has made children, particularly in remote parts of the country, more vulnerable to predatory recruitment into the Colombia's armed groups, reports InSight Crime.
Organized Crime
  • The U.S. and U.K. officially refuse to make concessions to kidnappers -- a Guardian Long Read asks whether it's time to rethink that policy.  
  • Fernando de Noronha, Brazil's island eco-tourist paradise, is reopening for business -- for visitors who have already had Covid-19. (Guardian)
  • Cabo San Lucas in Mexico -- where 80 percent of the economy depends on tourism -- is also trying to lure back visitors, with warnings to practice safety precautions, reports the Washington Post.
  • Regenerative travel, 2020's answer to sustainable travel -- or a way to fantasize about vacationing, ever again. (New York Times)
  • Illegal logging brought Covid-19 to Ecuador's Amazon indigenous Achuar people -- now they are asking the international community for much-needed aid, medical supplies, training and transport, reports the Guardian.
  • Ayahuasca, a substance people in the Amazon rainforest have imbibed for centuries, draws thousands of people each year — including former soldiers — to jungle retreats that have become an unlicensed and unregulated mental health marketplace, reports the New York Times.
  • An Ecuadorean man and wife are the world's oldest married couple -- Associated Press.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible (¿anybody else suffering insomnia?), given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Venezuela's Covid crackdown on dissent (Aug. 28, 2020)

Venezuelan authorities have cracked down on dissent and intensified their control over Venezuela's people under the guise of coronavirus control policies, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.

Since declaring a state of emergency to combat Covid-19 in mid-March, 2020, Venezuelan authorities have arbitrarily detained and prosecuted dozens of journalists, healthcare workers, human rights lawyers, and political opponents who criticize the government of Nicolás Maduro, denounced HRW. Many detainees are charged under an overly broad hate crimes law, before a judiciary that lacks independence. In  many cases the victims had dissented on social media or even in private messages.

In addition, the government is covering up the true extent of the novel coronavirus' spread in Venezuela, and has retaliated against attempts to share information about the epidemic. The report points to the case of a bioanalyst interrogated by the Sebin intelligence agency after sharing information about a Covid-19 patient with colleagues, and a journalist charged with “using false information to destabilize the government," after tweeting publicly available information about the epidemic.

More Venezuela
  • The U.S. has undermined the Venezuelan opposition's capacity to negotiate, to detriment of Venezuelan democracy, argues Geoff Ramsey in the Washington Post. The Venezuelan government is pushing forward towards rigged legislative elections in December, but, if Nicolás Maduro can be pushed back to the negotiating table, pre-electoral "sanctions relief could be conditioned on compliance with verifiable, specific electoral conditions sought by the opposition, with the threat of re-application if these conditions are violated in the lead up to the vote," writes Ramsey.


Quarantine Fever

Actual lockdowns in the region vary from Honduras and El Salvador, where restrictions on movement were strictest and lasted the longest, to Uruguay, Brazil and Nicaragua, where they have been lax or non-existent. El País, in a review of quarantine measures in Latin America notes that everybody seems to think their own country's restrictions are the worst, but that a region-wide measure has been the suspension of classes.

Quarantine fatigue is widespread, and leaders will be unwilling (or unable) to maintain widespread restrictions, notes the Latin America Risk Report. Even as contagion remains high, several countries are under significant pressure to ease restrictions. (France 24)

That fact, however, butts up against another fact noted in El País's piece: the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected poorer sectors of the population not only because of living conditions, but also because they are more likely to have been excepted from restrictions due to the categories of work they carry out.

Another interesting detail from El País: the virus affects the economy far more than lockdowns. That is to say, restrictions themselves have only a slight correlation to GDP.

More Covid-19
  • The places hardest hit by the pandemic will need more than virus-control to fully recover: "Mental-health professionals say that no single event since the second world war has left so many people in so many places traumatised at once. How people fare in the months and years ahead will depend partly on how their countries -- and more importantly, their communities -- respond," argues the Economist.

News Briefs

  • United Nations human rights head, Michelle Bachelet, urged the Organization of American States (OAS) to resolve its dispute with its autonomous human rights organ, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). OAS head Luis Almagro has refused to renew the contract of IACHR head Paulo Abrão, a move the independent commission rejected categorically. (See Tuesday's post.) Bachelet called for dialogue and said the disagreement risks undermining the IACHR's "proven efficacy" as well as the OAS's reputation. (Associated Press)
  • Argentina's foreign ministry criticized Almagro's stance, as did El Salvador's Universidad Centroamericana. (Página 12, EFE)
  • Bolivia's interim-government criticized the IACHR and accused its leadership of differential treatment of cases. (Página 12)
  • Former Guatemalan cabinet member and political operator Alejandro Sinibaldi turned himself in to Guatemalan authorities on Monday to face charges of illicit association, money laundering, and bribery. He has been a fugitive for four years, and his testimony could provide details on an array of corruption schemes, reports InSight Crime.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's government threatens the country's long tradition of critical intellectuals, writes Rafael Rojas in the New York Times Español.
  • Latin America's terrible track record with gender violence is not just the fault of machista perspectives -- policy makers and social groups must look at the broader systems that perpetuate these problems, like social, racial, and economic inequalities, family relationships and social mores, argues Lynn Marie Stephen in the Conversation.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always. Latin America Daily Briefing

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Chile launched constitutional referendum campaign (Aug. 27, 2020)

 Campaigning for a referendum on whether to reform Chile's constitution began yesterday. Chileans will vote on October 25 on whether to amend the country's dictatorship-era magna carta, which became the focal point of months of protests calling for greater social justice last year.

Proponents of reform see an opportunity to establish a more fair social order, while opponents fear the framework for the country's stability will be lost, reports AFP.

The vote was originally scheduled for April, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Advocates from both camps are forced to resort to creative campaigns in the midst of ongoing social distancing and lockdown measures. Much of the initial campaign is taking place online or video, reports La Tercera.

News Briefs

  • There are growing calls for Brazilian lawmakers to strip one of their colleagues of impunity, so that she can face murder charges. Flordelis dos Santos de Souza – a favela-born celebrity congresswoman -- is accused of masterminding the assassination of the husband who was once her adopted son. (Guardian and Guardian)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said he had rejected a proposal by his Economy Minister Paulo Guedes for a new cash welfare program called “Renda Brasil” because it would involve cutting other social programs. His statement highlights a rift between the president, whose popularity has benefited from aid programs, and Guedes who is struggling to control Brazil's fiscal deficit, reports Reuters.
  • Political pressure is growing in Brazil to disband the anti-corruption prosecutors team behind "Operation Car Wash," reports Reuters.
  • Bolivia's powerful social movements, who defied the interim-government's repeated postponement of a presidential vote scheduled for this year, have proved a far better guarantor of the country's battered democracy than the U.S. or the O.A.S., writes Gabriel Hetland in the Washington Post.
  • Five international organizations have documented human rights violations under Bolivia's interim-government, reports Nodal.
  • The bodies of three young men were discovered by a Colombian roadside on Tuesday -- it's the seventh massacre in two weeks. The wave of massacres, 46 so far this year, has raised fears that Colombia is unable to turn the page from its decades of civil war, reports the Guardian.
El Salvador
  • A Salvadoran judge convicted three police officers of killing Camila Díaz, a trans woman, in 2019. Though the prosecution could not prove her assassination was a hate crime, it is an important precedent against the impunity that LGBTI people generally face in El Salvador, reports El Faro.
  • The trial against the person who allegedly masterminded the 2016 asssassionation of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres started yesterday in Tegucigalpa. Daniel Castillo, a former executive at Desarrollos Energéticos, or DESA, which pushed for construction of the Agua Zarca dam that Caceres protested against, is accused of organizing the plot and was arrested in March 2018, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuelan activists and opinion-makers are expressing concern about the humanitarian implications of an impending tightening of sanctions that could impede importation of diesel fuel, according to the Venezuela Weekly.
  • Opposition leader Juan Guaidó is trying to rally a new “unitary pact” against the Maduro government -- Venezuela Weekly.
  • The corruption cases scandalizing Mexico currently implicate politicians from across the spectrum, but they aren't hurting President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's popularity, notes the Latin America Risk Report.
  • The Guardian profiles photographer Enrique Metinides, who documented car crashes, crime scenes and disasters for Mexico’s sensational nota roja newspapers.
  • Peru’s Congress passed a law that permits citizens to partially draw down their contributions to the state pension fund, a few months after doing the same with the private system.The government fiercely opposed the move, reports Reuters.
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández has promised to legalize abortion -- but the pandemic has thrown off the schedule for introducing the bill to Congress. But, the country's successful bid to legalize gay marriage a decade ago shows that government support is just one of the elements the project needs to succeed, writes Pablo Méndez Shiff in a Washington Post Opinión piece.
  • Argentina's government formally opened consultations with the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday to agree new terms on the repayment of a US$57-billion bailout agreed in 2018. (Buenos Aires Times)
  • A series in Anfibia documents the stories of migrants in Argentina, chronicles that show diversity of stories and origins.
  • A new bill in Argentina's Santa Fe province would provide free menstrual care products, a policy aimed at reducing health care gaps and gender inequality. Provincial lawmakers are responding to activist campaigns, like that of Economia Feminita, that have highlighted the economic and social costs of menstruation. (Página 12)
Correction: On Tuesday I cited a BBC article that mistakenly identified Juan Carlos Moreno as the mastermind of journalist Miroslava Breach's 2017 assassination. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Moreno shot Breach and killed her. Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative, noted to the press that the mastermind remains at large.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Venezuela's hidden Covid-19 pandemic (Aug. 26, 2020)

 News Briefs

  • Reports from Venezuelan hospitals suggest the true Covid-19 toll is far higher than the country's official statistics portray. The pandemic is combining with a broken health care system, with tragic and fatal results, reports the Guardian.
Regional Relations
  • Mexico and Argentina voiced concern over the OAS secretary general's refusal to renew Paulo Abrão's contract as head of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (See yesterday's post.) The IACHR said, yesterday, that it still considers Abrão its head, reports AFP.
  • The U.S. Trump administration's nomination of a U.S. candidate to run the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has caused a rift in Latin America, just as the region faces a coronavirus induced economic recession. Trump allies, like Brazil, Colombia and Bolivia are supporting the U.S. move, while critics, who include Argentina and Chile, are pushing to maintain the development bank's tradition of Latin American leadership. The possibility that Donald Trump might lose the November election adds another complication for his nominee, Mauricio Claver-Carone -- who could potentially be in a poor position to obtain bank funding, reports the New York Times.
  • Former Costa Rica president Laura Chinchilla could become a consensus candidate to lead the IDB, according to Benjamin Gedan. (La Nación)
  • Chilean police have used quarantine orders as a pretext to violently crackdown on protesters. Demonstrations over food shortages have been met with violence from security forces. It's not just protesters: Amnesty International has gathered numerous accounts of arbitrary detentions and abuse including the indiscriminate use of teargas and rubber bullets against people breaking curfew. (Guardian)
  • Ecuador's efforts to stand up to Chinese fishing boats off the Galapagos Islands demonstrates the vast reach of China's fishing fleet and how hard it can be for countries to control it from overfishing, reports the Guardian.
  • At least 30 people have been executed for "quarantine violations" in parts of Colombian territory controlled by armed groups, reports 070.
  • Mexico's army diverted $156 million dollars to ghost companies between 2013 and 2019, reports El País.
  • Distance learning is difficult, if not impossible, in Mexico's poor rural areas, where infrastructure for internet and television classes is lacking. (Americas Quarterly)
  • Indeed, because of bad internet access in many areas, the government is focusing on televised classes for the new school year, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.)
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's Bukele administration is making every effort to cover-up its spending tracks, even as local media uncovers evidence of corruption, including a $50,000 remodel of the health minister's offices during the pandemic. (InSight Crime)
  • Brazil's Bolsonaro administration is, by far, the most militarized since the country's return to democracy: The vice president is also a reserve general, and 10 of 23 Cabinet positions are held by either current or former military figures. The situation is provoking a backlash, however, and a new legislative proposal would limit the role of the armed forces in government, reports Americas Quarterly.
  • Folha de S. Paulo reports on drug policy around the world -- from zero tolerance to legalization and points in between.
  • Paraguayans reacted angrily to the loose enforcement of quarantine rules at the wedding of Sol Cartes, daughter of former president Horacio Cartes -- a stark contrast to the police’s strict enforcement of lockdown rules, which has included the use of physical punishment and tasers, reports the Guardian.
  • Ronaldinho is set to be granted his liberty from house arrest in Paraguay, six months he was detained for travelling with a fake passport, reports the Guardian.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

OAS vs IACHR (Aug. 25, 2020)

 The Organization of American States (OAS) did not renew the mandate of Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) head Paulo Abrão, a move that has caused a rift between the international organization and its independent human rights organ. (AFP)

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said he did not renew Abrão's contract in mid-August due to more than 60 complaints to the IACHR ombudsperson about Abrão's leadership. The complaints received by ombudsperson Neida Pérez, include allegations of "labor harassment" and hiring "manipulation," but the content is confidencial.

But the IACHR countered that Almagro's refusal to ratify the commission's decision to renew Abrão's mandate constitutes "a severe attack against its independence and autonomy." In a strongly-worded press release, the IACHR argues that external actors cannot determine the staff of the inter-American human rights system, "much less the moment of removal from office of such staff."

News Briefs

  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called for an investigation into a video that appears to show a Mexican soldier telling his colleagues to kill a survivor of a shootout with suspected cartel gunmen, reports Reuters. The footage, published by El Universal newspaper, shows an incident that the newspaper said came from a shootout in Nuevo Laredo last month, when 12 people who authorities said were drug cartel members were killed.
  • Mexico's school year started yesterday, but not physical classes. Instead authorities implemented a combination of online classes, instruction broadcast on television channels and radio programming in Indigenous languages reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexican health authorities will begin this week to use a broader definition to identify possible coronavirus cases, reports Reuters.
  • Emergency economic aid to Brazil's poor has translated into an unprecedented popularity boost for President Jair Bolsonaro in a voting segment that is traditionally not his base, reports the Washington Post. Aid packages, together with the president's recent moderate tone have worked in Bolsonaro's favor, though experts warn the effect might be temporary: When the payments stop, the population will absorb the full impact of the financial crisis. The problems of the poor, temporarily stalled, will surge back — and then be magnified.
  • Bolsonaro is suffering online backlash after threatening a journalist on Sunday, a startling reversal for the social-media savvy leader, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Coronavirus cases are waning in Manaus -- without interventions, like lockdowns, employed elsewhere. The question of why the Brazilian city, a global symbol of the diseases' devastation, has normalized is part of a broader debate among scientists and public health officials over the mechanics of herd immunity and the level of transmission that must be crossed before the disease starts to recede, reports the Washington Post.
  • Tropical Storm Laura battered Cuba with heavy rain and coastal swells yesterday, but did not cause the kind of catastrophic damage seen in Haiti and the Dominican Republic this weekend, reports the Miami Herald.
El Salvador
  • All businesses are free to reopen in El Salvador, after the country's supreme court ruled that a government decree regulating the reopening in five stages was unconstitutional. (Voice of America)
  • A spate of killings in Colombia has killed more than 35 people, many of them young, reports Al Jazeera.
  • The Colombian Duque administration's moves to reinstate aerial eradication of coca plants with glyphosate "has serious implications for ecosystems and is already showing toxic effects on many species of plants, many of which are endemic (unique) to Colombia, as well as insects necessary for ecological balance," according to the Aula Blog.
  • Chile’s Araucania, an area of conflict between security forces and indigenous Mapuche groups, has seen a spike in attacks on transport trucks and factories in recent months. Truck drivers called for a countrywide strike to begin Thursday if President Sebastian Pinera and Congress do not act immediately to stem a rising tide of attacks, reports Reuters.
  • Chile's constitutional rewrite is an opportunity to recognize the indigenous Mapuche communities that have been the object of constant violence throughout the country's history, argues Patricio Fernández in the New York Times Español.
Regional Relations
  • Foreign creditors are jumpy about investing in Argentina and Ecuador again without macroeconomic reforms and International Monetary Fund support, according to Reuters.
  • Argentina confirmed a record 8,713 new cases of coronavirus yesterday and 381 resulting deaths in just 24 hours. (Reuters)
  • Buenos Aires' emblematic "Caminito" has become a postcard of Argentina's current crisis: instead of restaurants crowded with tourists, unemployed people gather (with social distancing) to get food from soup kitchens, writes Sylvia Colombo in the New York Times Español.

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

Monday, August 24, 2020

Bolsonaro answers uncomfortable question with threats (Aug 24, 2020)

 “President Jair Bolsonaro, why did your wife Michelle receive 89,000 reais from Fabrício Queiroz?” The question forms part of a coordinated Twitter campaign Brazilian journalists launched after the country's leader ducked the query in person. 

Actually, Bolsonaro said that he would like to "smash in" the face of the journalist from O Globo who asked him about payments into his wife’s bank account by a former police officer with alleged links to Rio de Janeiro's criminal world.

Earlier this month, local media reported that a former aide to one of Bolsonaro's sons, Fabricio Queiroz, deposited 72,000 reais in checks in the first lady’s account between 2011 and 2018. Queiroz was an aide to now Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, the president’s eldest son, when he was a Rio de Janeiro state legislator. The former aide is under arrest in an investigation into bank deposits made at the time amounting to 1.2 million reais ($213,500).

(Guardian, Reuters, AFP)

More Brazil
  • "Coronavirus has proved an intensely political story, as well as a humanitarian one, and perhaps nowhere more so than Brazil," writes Tom Phillips in the Guardian.
News Briefs

  • The abduction of five Garifuna men from a town on Hondura's Caribbean coast has highlighted racial tensions in the area, and the increasingly repressive tactics used against local indigenous communities, reports Vice News. Locals think the kidnapping, carried out by armed men in police uniforms, was orchestrated by the powers behind efforts to seize land occupied by Garifuna communities like these.
  • Meteorologists say this might be one of Atlantic's worst hurricane seasons on record -- pummeling the Caribbean which is already reeling from Covid-19. (Guardian)
  • Eight people were killed this weekend when Tropical Storm Laura struck Haiti and the Dominican Republic, reports AFP.
Regional Relations
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro joked that buying missiles from Iran would be a good idea -- riffing off an accusation by Colombian President Iván Duque that Maduro is looking to buy Iranian missiles and is handing over weapons made in Russia and Belarus to Colombian armed groups. "It had not occurred to me, it had not occurred to us ... what a good idea, to speak with Iran to see what short, medium and long range missiles they have, and if it is possible, given the great relations we have with Iran.” (Reuters)
  • New mortality figures reviewed by the New York Times suggest that Bolivia's real pandemic death toll is nearly five times the official tally, indicating the country has suffered one of the world’s worst epidemics. About 20,000 more people have died since June than in past years, according to the NYT's analysis of civil registry data. Bolivia's ability to respond to the coronavirus pandemic was hindered by poor health infrastructure, but also political chaos.
  • Bolivia's justice ministry filed a criminal complaint against former president Evo Morales for statutory rape and human trafficking in connection to his alleged relationship with a 16-year-old girl. Morales said the case is politically motivated by the government ahead of upcoming elections in which interim-president Jeanine Áñez is running. The alleged victim, however, accused the police of forcing her to say she had a relationship with Morales, in a letter sent to Bolivia’s Ombudsman’s office, reports Reuters.
  • Corruption allegations -- and allegedly incriminating videos of cash payments to politicians -- are flying in Mexico. Though it's not clear whether any of the significant accusations, involving former presidents and high level aides, will stick, politicians across the spectrum are trying to leverage them to their advantage, reports the Washington Post.
  • While President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been able to exploit the accusations against his predecessors to political benefit, it is less clear that the legal case will proceed apace, argues Luis Pérez de Acha in the New York Times Español.
  • AMLO has sought to use the episodes to burnish his anti-corruption credentials, but was put on the spot on Friday after two videos emerged showing his younger brother accepting an envelope and a brown paper bag stuffed full of cash in 2015 for the president’s political movement, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Juan Carlos Moreno was sentenced to 50 years in prison in Mexico, for ordering the assassination of journalist Miroslava Breach in 2017. (BBC)
  • Check out Aviso LatAm, a new Covid-19 newsletter by the Atlantic Council.
  • There are signs that coronavirus is slowing in Mexico and Brazil. (Reuters and Reuters)
  • Latin America and the Caribbean are among the world regions most dependent on tourism, and they are feeling the economic impact of Covid-19 acutely, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Peru's Covid-19 economic crisis has pushed even more people into informal labor, reports EFE.
  • At least 13 people were crushed to death or asphyxiated during a police raid on a Lima nightclub over alleged violations of restrictions imposed to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Six more people were injured, including three police officers, reports Reuters.
  • Remittances to Guatemala totaled more than US $1 billion in July —a new historic record that indicates "the resilience of Guatemalans living abroad, and of their ability to reinvent themselves in a time of economic and social instability exacerbated by a still-raging pandemic," argues Mario Arturo García in Plaza Pública. (El Faro translation.)
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele is angling to revamp the military's image. He is not the first post-war leader to use the army as a political tool, writes Ruth Eleonora López in El Faro. But Bukele's administration has "been the first in El Salvador’s history to use the defense institution to usurp another government agency and later admit that the action was a means of applying political pressure," she argues, in reference to Bukele's brief military takeover of the National Assembly in February.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.

Friday, August 21, 2020

U.S. to finance Guaidó payouts (Aug. 21, 2020)

News Briefs

  • The U.S. Trump administration will use frozen Venezuelan government funds to strengthen efforts to oppose Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro. Though the U.S. has not allowed presidential challenger Juan Guaidó to freely access the approximately $300 in frozen funds, it is moving to provide two years of back pay to federal lawmakers whose salaries Maduro suspended in 2016. Additionally about $20 million will be used to send pandemic relief supplies to Venezuela via international health organizations, and payments to 65,000 front-line health workers, reports the Washington Post.
  • This morning there are reports that the Maduro government has blocked access to the site that would be used to pay the bonus to front-line health workers. (Infobae)
  • The United States is considering an October deadline for ending exemptions to Venezuelan sanctions that allow some companies and refiners to still receive the South American producer’s oil, reports Reuters.
  • With the December National Assembly elections looming, the question of whether the opposition should participate is increasingly fraught, reports the Venezuela Weekly. While the elections don't meet anybody's definition of "free and fair" an abstention strategy by itself is not enough, said Venezuela’s Episcopal Conference earlier this month.
  • Testimony by former Pemex head Emilio Lozoya accused three former Mexican presidents of corrupt acts, along with a laundry list of high level aides and lawmakers. The allegations against Enrique Peña Nieto, Felipe Calderón and Carlos Salinas appear in a leaked 63-page deposition that appears to be genuine. But critics say current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is using the investigation to eliminate powerful political opponents and bolster his corruption-fighting credentials, reports the Guardian.
  • AMLO's statements on the case have violated the most essential rules of due process, argue Juan Jesús Garza Onofre and Javier Martín Reyes in the Post Opinión.
  • The case against the alleged mastermind of Berta Cáceres' assassination is at a key moment, and faces concerning setbacks, warns WOLA.  Roberto David Castillo is accused of planning the environmental activists' 2016 murder, but dilatory measures have delayed the trial and are running the clock on Castillo's preventive detention.
  • The Caribbean's fight against the coronavirus has been helped by the islands' ability to seal themselves off from outsiders, but that hasn't shielded countries in the region from the pandemic's economic impact, reports the Economist. Most of the countries in the Caribbean depend on tourism, putting them at an agonizing policy crossroads.
  • Guyana's Environmental Protection Agency said it will take ExxonMobil to court over the oil giant's refusal to pay two fines related to minor spills of hydraulic fluid in recent months. Exxon said the spills had no environmental impact, and involved tiny amounts,2.5 liters in one instance. But the EPA is angling for a zero tolerance approach, reports Staebroek News.
  • The Brazilian government has not allowed Médecins Sans Frontières to provide assistance to prevent and detect suspected cases of COVID-19 in seven villages of the Terena indigenous tribe in southern Brazil, reports Reuters.
  • The ordeal of a 10-year-old girl who terminated a pregnancy resulting from rape (after years of abuse from her uncle) is sadly common in Brazil, reports Human Rights Watch: Studies estimate that every hour, 4 Brazilian girls aged up to 13 are raped. In most cases, the perpetrator is a relative. Even though they are entitled to a legal abortion, it can be nearly impossible to access one.
  • Colombian President Iván Duque insisted that the U.S. extradite notorious paramilitary warlord Salvatore Mancuso, who was convicted in Colombia of more than 1,500 murders and forced disappearances, reports the Guardian.
  • United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Diego García-Sayán emphasized that the case against former president Álvaro Uribe, currently in pretrial detention as part of an investigation into witness tampering, must be decided exclusively by Colombia's judges, not political and media influence. (El País)
  • Ecuador said that dozens of vessels from a predominantly Chinese fishing fleet that is operating near the Galapagos Islands have turned off tracking systems to prevent monitoring of their activities -- Reuters.
  • The U.S. and Panama will collaborate on a new anti-money laundering task force that will involve training for Panamanian prosecutors and regulators by personnel from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), reports Reuters.
  • Across Latin America, the pandemic has not stopped social movements from demanding justice for human rights abuses, writes Diana Ramos Gutiérrez in Nacla.
  • Social infantilization is behind the ongoing popularity of Latin America's badboy leaders in Brazil, Mexico and El Salvador -- despite their negative track record during the pandemic, argues Diego Fonseca in the New York Times Español.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Covid-19 increases women's unpaid work (Aug. 20, 2020)

 The pandemic crisis has increased the need for unremunerated care in families -- a load shouldered disproportionately by women, and in turn poor women, in Latin America and the Caribbean. Women in the region carry out three times the domestic workload of men. The situation demonstrates the importance of the care economy and how it's current distribution is unsustainable, according to a new report by ECLAC and UN Women. The document calls for integral systems of care that can overcome the current sexual division of labor, and become a driver of socio-economic regeneration in the region. (Full report.)

The Covid-19 economic crisis will be the greatest economic contraction the region has faced in a century, and women will be particularly affected: women living in poverty will increase 22 percent this year, warned ECLAC head Alicia Bárcena at the presentation yesterday. (El País)

Women's particular risk within the Covid-19 crisis is multipronged: women are more likely to work in economically affected industries, or in areas where they face health risks -- like nursing --, in addition to the opportunity cost of added non-remunerated care work created by the pandemic.

News Briefs

  • Nicaragua's Ortega administration has actively covered up Covid-19's spread in the country, according to documents obtained by the hackers group Anonymous. The data, analyzed by Nicaraguan doctors and released by Nicaragua's opposition coalition yesterday, indicates more than double the number of Covid-19 cases officially recognized: nearly 10,000 cases. Epidemiologist Álvaro Ramírez, who analyzed the data, said the true numbers are worse, given that the health ministry information only covers grave cases. In addition, Nicaragua has a particularly low testing rate. (EFE, La Prensa Gráfica)
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's Supreme Court ordered President Nayib Bukele to sign off on an emergency reopening law passed by lawmakers. The bill was passed in June, and was then vetoed by Bukele. The National Assembly subsequently overrode the veto. Yesterday's decision is in response to a subsequent legal challenge by Bukele who said the law is unconstitutional -- the judges said it isn't. (Infobae)
  • Former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe resigned his Senate seat on Tuesday. Uribe is in pre-trial detention, at home, while under investigation for alleged witness tampering by the country's Supreme Court. In the resignation letter, which he tweeted, Uribe accused judges of violating his rights by detaining him preventively. He backed a judicial reform proposed by his Democratic Center party that has gained steam amid his court case. (Reuters, Associated Press)
  • An Open Democracy series profiles social leaders in Colombia, who are targeted by mortal violence with disturbing regularity: as of June, 63 social leaders had been assassinated so far in 2020. The first article interviews Cauca region leader Yaneth Mosquera.
  • A video that went viral this week in Mexico shows plastic bags filled with cash bundles apparently being given to two then senior Senate staffers who worked for the opposition National Action Party (PAN) -- though the source, date and location of the filming is unclear. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador showed the full video in his Tuesday press briefing. AMLO wondered if it may have been given to prosecutors by the former chief of state-run oil company Pemex, Emilio Lozoya, who faces bribery charges in a major corruption trial that implicates former president Enrique Peña Nieto, reports Reuters.
  • Lozoya alleges Peña Nieto and his treasury secretary, Luis Videgaray, used the state-owned Pemex as a conduit to “fulfill promises made during the (2012) campaign” — one of many assertions in a leaked 60-page document whose authenticity was confirmed by Mexican authorities yesterday, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Guatemalan government said the United States has deported 127 detained migrants who had suffered from COVID-19 but recovered. The issue of deportations from the U.S. to Guatemala during the coronavirus pandemic has been controversial. (Associated Press)
  • Brazil's government seeks to work with the private sector -- investors and companies -- to help protect the Amazon, according to the country’s environment minister. The government said it will set up three different investment funds, which should provide about $250 million in environmental financing, and setting aside 15% of the rainforest for preservation, which could bring in another 630 million euros ($747 million) in private investor money per year. (Bloomberg)
  • Emergency payments to Brazil’s poor could be extended through the end of the year, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said yesterday, though payouts would be reduced. (Reuters)
    • Gang violence has persisted in Honduran jails, even in maximum-security prisons built specifically to curb criminal group's control, reports InSight Crime. Since November 2019, at least 55 killings have taken place inside Honduras’ prison system, according to InSight Crime’s count of murders by inmates reported in local media.
    • Former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa announced he will run for vice-president in the country's general election next year. He will share the ballot with economist Andres Arauz, a former minister in his own government, for the Union of Hope (UNES) coalition of left-wing parties, indigenous groups and unions. Correa resides in Belgium, and his candidacy could be complicated by a corruption conviction, though the former leader said he is the victim of political persecution. (AFP)
    • Venezuela's gold reserves are at their lowest point in 50 years -- Reuters.
    • Warm relations between Turkey and Venezuela are fueled in part by tensions with the U.S., reports the Associated Press.
    • Former soccer star, 38-year-old George Forsyth, could become Peru's president in next April's election. The mayor of a Lima municipality, Forsyth lacks a clear ideology, and plays the outsider card though he has a decade-long political track record, reports Brendan O'Boyle in Americas Quarterly.
    • Peruvian health authorities approved a Phase 3 clinical trial for a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by China National Biotec Group (CNBG). (Reuters)
    • "In spite of being hardest hit by Covid-19, Latin America is not going to be the first region to receive the vaccine in large quantities. Even in the best case scenario, vaccination rates for Covid-19 will probably be under 50% of the region’s population one year from today, but that rate will vary from country to country," according to James Bosworth at the Latin America Risk Report.
    • Haiti's school children missed class this year first due to months of violent unrest, then the coronavirus pandemic. Now, as schools are finally reopening, many parents can no longer afford it, reports Reuters.
    • Unemployment in Haiti has increased by 10 percent in the pandemic context -- Nodal.
    • The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EEAF) joined the investigation into the disappearance of a Buenos Aires province youth in April. Authorities are autopsying a body discovered this weekend that could belong to Facundo Astudillo Castro. President Alberto Fernández reportedly assured the victim's mother that there will not be a coverup if security forces were involved in the youth's disappearance. (Buenos Aires Times)
    I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.