Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Colombian massacres are territorial control tools (Sept. 30, 2020)

News Briefs

  • This year, so far, is Colombia's This year, so far, has been Colombia's most massacre filled on record since 2013 -- there have been 60 massacres that killed 246 civilians, and an additional 215 attacks against social leaders. Armed groups have historically used massacres as a form of territorial control, though the characteristic is particularly characteristic of the paramilitary groups, write Olga Behar and Carolina Ardila Behar in the Post Opinión.
  • Polarized views on accusations against former president Álvaro Uribe indicate a potential path towards fanaticism in Colombia. Instead institutions must credibly investigate allegations of witness tampering, argue Pedro Pizano and Andrés Manosalva in the New York Times Español.
  • Angry protesters in Venezuela are flouting lockdown rules to demand an end to worsening shortages of everything from electricity and water to fuel and household supplies, reports the Guardian. Since Sunday, more than 100 protests have broken out in at least 17 of the country’s 23 states, sometimes resulting in skirmishes with riot police.
Regional Relations
  • Many Venezuelan exiles in the U.S. will support Donald Trump's reelection bid because of his Venezuela policies -- though his style is reminiscent of what pushed them to flee their home country, reports the Washington Post.
  • A Canadian mining company used intimidation tactics and paid off Guatemalan government officials at the highest level to evict indigenous communities from a swathe of land the company had no legal right to, reports The Intercept based on Canadian court documents. The campaign culminated in two waves of evictions targeting several Indigenous villages on January 8, 9, and 17, 2007. Eleven women from Lote Ocho were allegedly gang-raped by police officers, soldiers, with dire, ongoing consequences to their health and wellbeing. They are suing the mining company, a case that could set a precedent, making it easier to hold multinational corporations accountable in their home countries for wrongdoing abroad.
  • Construction crews are adding as much as two miles per day to the U.S. Trump administration's wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, in a race to advance ahead of the November presidential election. (Washington Post)
  • A new report by AS/COA Anti-Corruption Working Group looks at three case studies in the region. Chile's bold reforms, which were still insufficient to regain citizen trust in politicians; corruption at the local level in Peru's Amazon, which has had devastating environmental impact; and the civil society-driven anti-corruption push in Mexico during the Enrique Peña Nieto administration, which the government was ultimately able to undermine.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has proposed a referendum to ask citizens on whether to indict former presidents if there is evidence of crimes that did grave harm during their administrations. While critics said the move is a distraction ploy, Ioan Grillo argues "a referendum could give citizen support to what may become very politically divisive cases ... Justice could help deter future leaders from succumbing to temptation, while acting as a catalyst in cleaning up the system, and pushing Mexico to finally live up to its great potential." (New York Times)
  • Mexico upped its “estimated” COVID-19 deaths to 89,612 on Monday, and boosted estimates of its total number of cases to 870,699, almost 137,000 more than it previously recognized -- Associated Press.
  • Brazilian state prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro on Monday brought charges against the president’s son, Flavio Bolsonaro, for alleged embezzlement, laundering and running a criminal organization, reports Reuters.
  • Brazilian authorities are targeting the country's leading gangs' finances -- a far less violent alternative to direct confrontation in favelas, but one that will likely only produce short-term gains, according to InSight Crime.
  • Data from Brazil shows that coronavirus impact on taste and smell can be long-lasting -- and that this is more relevant than it might seem initially. (Washington Post)
  • Gunmen riding on a motorcycle shot to death Honduran journalist Luis Almendares. Still alive, Almendares began taping the scene of the attack with his cellphone. He died later at a hospital in Tegucigalpa, the capital, reports the Associated Press. Known for his hard-hitting style, he frequently accused the police and the government of wrongdoing.
  • Panama's gendered lockdown rules -- that dictated days people could leave their houses based on their sex -- negatively impacted non-binary individuals. Trans activists recorded dozens of instances of discrimination and abuse by police and businesses. (Guardian)
  • Peru is pushing forward with reopenings -- international flights to countries in the region coming soon, if coronavirus cases continue to fall, reports Reuters.
  • Chilean President Sebastian Piñera announced the launch of $2 billion in subsidies aimed at creating new jobs or recovering those lost during months of coronavirus lockdown, reports Reuters
  • The Guernica land grab in Argentina's Buenos Aires province is the largest (about 2,000 families) of a trend that has intensified in the Buenos Aires metropolitan region in the pandemic months. Families face imminent eviction, but criminal justice is the wrong response for a knot that requires a political response that takes into account human rights. María Florencia Alcaraz writes about the issue from a feminist perspective, and notes that many women in Guernica were forced to choose between paying rent or buying food for their children, while others are escaping situations of gender violence. (Post Opinión)
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

International Safe Abortion Day (Sept. 29, 2020)

Yesterday was the International Safe Abortion Day. The day has roots in a regional campaign for the decriminalization of abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to Ms. Magazine. Across the globe, the pandemic has made it harder for women and girls to access reproductive services, as clinics close and barriers to medical care rise. The United Nations warned that millions of unintended pregnancies could result, with some 47 million women potentially cut off from modern contraception. (Washington Post) The region's already bleak situation regarding reproductive rights has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has limited access to contraceptives and medical care. (Amnesty International)

  • Women demanding that Mexico legalize abortion nationwide clashed with police in Mexico City, yesterday. (Voice of America
  • Activists in Argentina rallied (virtually) to pressure President Alberto Fernández to keep his campaign promise to legalize abortion. Campaigners have abstained from pushing Fernández on the issue in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but six months in, pressure is building, reports the Guardian.
  • In Colombia, protesters gathered on Sunday in front of the Palace of Justice in Bogota, where the Constitutional Court is located, to demand that abortion be legalized in Colombia. The demonstration, in which some 50 women participated, took place 11 days after 91 social organizations and 134 activists filed a lawsuit before the Constitutional Court to eliminate the crime of abortion from the Penal Code for “violating the fundamental rights of women and of health personnel.” (EFE)
Ayotzinapa anniversary, arrest warrants for police and soldiers

Saturday marked the sixth anniversary of the abduction of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers' college. Mexican authorities issued 25 arrest warrants for people accused of planning and carrying out the crime, including police and soldiers. It is the first time members of the military and police have been targeted in the investigation over the 2014 case that is emblematic of the country's forced disappearances and the government's failure to address them. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador marked the anniversary by apologizing to their parents on behalf of the government. The mass abduction “was a matter of state” because police and military personnel were involved in the crime, so the state “has to repair the damage and clarify what happened,” the president said on Saturday. Family members of the victims have long accused Mexican authorities, including the military, of complicity in the students’ disappearance. (EFE, Reuters, Associated Press)

A new report uncovered yet more negligence in Mexico's handling of the Ayotzinapa case. The report alleged that authorities in Mexico failed to send bone fragments found in connection to the Ayotzinapa investigation for analysis or further investigate the area where they were found, reports InSight Crime, "taking the scale of negligence in the government’s handling of the case to new levels."

News Briefs

El Salvador
  • The sentencing of former Salvadoran colonel Inocente Orlando Montano to 133 years in prison by a Spanish court earlier this month in relation to the massacre of eight people at Central American University in 1989 is raising calls once again for El Salvador to deal with the emblematic case, reports the Associated Press.
  • A huge Chinese fishing armada moving from the Galapagos towards Peru has become a diplomatic flashpoint between the U.S. and China. The U.S. embassy in Lima warned on Twitter that that “more than 300 Chinese-flagged vessels with a record of changing boat names and deactivating GPS trackers” were heading towards Peru. While China's embassy retorted that the fleet follows international and Peruvian laws, and expressed "hope the Peruvian public won’t be fooled by false information." The online spat put Peruvian authorities in an uncomfortable position, reports the Guardian.
  • Bolivia's exiled former president Evo Morales looms large over the country's upcoming presidential election. His MAS party candidate Luis Arce is ahead in polls, but could struggle to win in an eventual second round against a united opposition. The campaign shows a country divided mainly along ethnic, regional and socioeconomic lines, reports the Associated Press.
  • Money laundering has allowed Venezuelan "elites to drain the country of its wealth, turning it into a hellscape of hyperinflation, malnutrition and rampant violence despite vast oil reserves," reports the Miami Herald, based on data from the FinCEN Files.
  • A recent U.N. report on human rights violations in Venezuela "is an alarming snapshot of the reality of brutal repression" in the country, writes Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. "The Fact-Finding Mission’s report is important not only because of the specific cases its authors were able to document, but also because it explicitly establishes a link between these crimes and high-level officials." 
Regional Relations
  • The U.S. Trump administration accused the European Union of undermining its efforts to isolate Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, after the E.U. sent a pre-electoral mission to Caracas last week. The spat demonstrates an increasing divide between the U.S. and the E.U. over how to approach Venezuela. As currently organized, December's legislative elections do not meet minimum democratic conditions, but the E.U. has been in talks with Maduro’s government and dissenting members of the opposition on a way forward, reports the Washington Post.
  • The two person mission appears to be part of Venezuelan opposition politician Henrique Capriles' push to seek an improvement in electoral conditions, an approach rejected by Juan Guaidó's opposition coalition, reports the Venezuela Weekly. E.U. High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell and Capriles have suggested that elections would have to be postponed to meet minimum democratic conditions, a timeframe Maduro rejects as unconstitutional.
  • A key informant in a case against Venezuelan Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami has been accused of lying to his U.S. law enforcement handlers. The development strengthens the Venezuelan Maduro government's long-standing claims that the U.S. is resorting to trumped up charges against officials to support its ultimate goal of regime change in Venezuela, reports the Associated Press.
  • American rap star and third-party U.S. presidential candidate Kanye West visited Haiti last week. (Voice of America)
  • Covid-19 is threatening the ancient Yanomami tribe in Brazil's Amazon. Yanomami health authorities say a majority of those got the virus in the jungle, showing the pandemic has invaded forest communities where modern health care is inadequate, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The Brazilian city of Manaus reimposed Covid-19 restrictions, in the midst of an increase of coronavirus cases that may discredit theories that the area had achieved collective immunity, reports Reuters.
  • Lawmakers from Nicaragua's ruling Sandinista party proposed a new "cybercrimes" bill that would make disseminating "information that threatens the national security" punishable up to four years in prison. The proposed legislation sparked condemnation from journalism organizations and opposition activists. (Reuters)
  • Reporters without Borders and PEN International asked Nicaraguan lawmakers to reject a law that would make many press workers "foreign agents." The law proposed by Nicaragua's Ortega administration would target people working for foreign media, but also local media outlets and organizations of civil society that receive international funding. The bill would require anyone who receives funding from abroad to register with the Ministry of the Interior and explain the destination of the money. Critics say it is aimed at silencing independent voices ahead of next year's elections.
  • A large migration in Central America has been taking place under most people’s radar: from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, reports the New Humanitarian.
  • Chile announced a strengthening of border patrol in the country's north, aimed at dismantling human trafficking rings, reports Reuters. (See Sept. 15's briefs.)
More Mexico
  • Frente Amplio's Carolina Cosse won Montevideo's mayoral seat in Uruguay's local elections this Sunday. About 85 percent of voters participated in the elections marked by the coronavirus pandemic context, reports Deutsche Welle.
  • Argentines are sensitive to cases of forced disappearances -- a response to the trauma of the country's last military dictatorship -- but are less reactive to the frequent cases of police violence that violate human rights in the county, I write in a New York Times Español op-ed. Human rights organizations, including CELS, warn of a structural problem of violence committed by security forces, that particularly targets poor populations and indigenous communities.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

Trujillo refused to apologize (Sept. 25, 2020)

 Colombian Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo refused to apologize for police excesses against protesters last November, as ordered by the country's Supreme Court. Trujillo argued yesterday that appropriate apologies had been made earlier this month (before the Supreme Court ruling and in reference to separate cases of police violence). His stance was rejected by victims of violence and opposition politicians who called for his resignation. (El Espectador, EFE, EFE)

The government's refusal to embrace the spirit of the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in defense of the right to protest came as yet another incident of security force violence rocked the country: a soldier carrying out control duties killed Juliana Giraldo, a trans woman travelling with her husband and two others by car in the Cauca region. (EFE, El Tiempo, Semana)Protesters this week in Colombia have been galvanized by cases of police violence -- particularly the killing of Javier Ordóñez in Bogotá and the death of 13 demonstrators in ensuing protests. (See yesterday's post and Tuesday's.)

Analysts said the government's response is angled at galvanizing the Duque administration's conservative electoral base, as part of a growing battle with the judiciary in response to the detention of former president Álvaro Uribe, current President Iván Duque's mentor. (La Silla Vacía)

More Colombia
  • The prosecutor in Giraldo's death is investigating whether the killing was gender related -- El Espectador. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called on Colombian authorities to carry out the investigation with due diligence, reports Caracol.
News Briefs

El Salvador
  • President Nayib Bukele announced a money laundering investigation against independent newspaper El Faro in a nationally televised address last night. Much of the two hour speech was dedicated to discrediting media outlets that have published critical investigations about the government. (El Faro)
  • The environment for media outlets investigating the Bukele administration has been hostile for the past year -- a fact noted with concern internationally. (See Sept. 10's post and briefs, for example.) Journalists have filed three times as many reports about threatening behavior toward them in Bukele’s first year as president as they did during the last year of his predecessor’s term, reports Vice News.
  • A group of U.S. Republican senators voiced concern over El Salvador's "slow but sure departure from the rule of law and norms of democracy." (El Faro)
  • A recent report on alleged links between Bukele and a massive Venezuelan money laundering scheme add to a growing list of "suspicions surrounding Bukele, including the alleged corruption of administration officials during the pandemic, possible deals with the MS13 gang in exchange for electoral support and calls for attention regarding his flouting of freedom of expression, among others," reports InSight Crime. (See Sept. 14's briefs.)
  • A woman sentenced to 30 years in jail in relation to an obstetric emergency that resulted in a stillbirth has been released from jail in El Salvador. Cindy Erazo was granted conditional freedom on Wednesday after six years in jail. She is one of dozens of women have been convicted for manslaughter, homicide and aggravated homicide after having miscarriages, stillbirths and other obstetric emergencies since El Salvador introduced a total ban on abortion in 1998, reports the Guardian.
  • A Spanish court has convicted one perpetrator of the 1989 murder of Jesuit priests—but El Salvador itself is a long way from mounting a credible prosecution, reports The Nation.
  • Misinformation has become a massive threat to democracy, and it has found a perfect vehicle for dissemination in Whatsapp, writes Pedro Abramovay in Piaui. "Closed debate in WhatsApp groups makes it almost impossible to have a real exchange of ideas or a fair competition between candidates through public debate. The election becomes an effort to consolidate identities that can mobilize these groups, often based on disinformation and attacks that cannot be defended by the other party."
  • As of September 24, Latin America and the Caribbean remains the most affected region in the world by COVID-19 – home to over 8.85 million infections and eleven of the fifteen countries with the world’s highest death rates -- Atlantic Center's Aviso LatAm
  • The International Monetary Fund foresees a “partial and uneven” recovery in Latin America after the Covid-19 crisis, and it anticipates that countries will take years to stabilize economically. (AFP)
  • Sargeant Marine Inc., a major U.S. asphalt company agreed to pay $16.6 million in fines while pleading guilty to U.S. federal charges that it paid millions in bribes to officials in Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela for almost a decade to win lucrative contracts, reports the Associated Press.
  • A bill proposed by Nicaragua's ruling Sandinista party would categorize some citizens as "foreign agents," a move that would suspend their political rights and allow the confiscation of their goods and patrimonial rights, reports Confidencial.
  • The European Union has sent a mission to Venezuela in the run-up to parliamentary election scheduled for December. The country's political opposition is divided over whether to participate in the election, which are widely viewed as being neither free nor fair. The EU said it has received an invitation to observe the elections in Venezuela in December, but said President Nicolas Maduro’s government so far has not met “minimum conditions” to allow it to do so, reports Reuters.
  • Brazil's Pantanal, the world's largest wetland region, is suffering its worst wildfires in recent decades -- the unprecedented disaster results, in part, from the combination of climate change and human activity, reports EFE.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's popularity is higher than ever -- the number of Brazilians that rate his government as great or good has risen to 40% from 29% in December, according to the latest Ibope poll. (Reuters)
  • Rio de Janeiro's carnival parade will be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the city's samba schools. It's the first time the event has been cancelled in a 100 years. (Al Jazeera, Guardian)
  • The German carmaker Volkswagen has agreed to pay millions in compensation to former employees in Brazil who were persecuted during the country’s military dictatorship, reports the Guardian.
  • Bolivian interim president Jeanine Áñez criticized Argentina's government for harboring former Bolivian president Evo Morales, who she accuses of conspiring to foment unrest in her country in her recorded speech at this week's U.N. General Assembly. (Bloomberg, Infobae)
  • Áñez is out of the running for October's presidential elections, but survivors of human rights violations -- including killings of protesters by security forces -- committed under her government fear there won't be justice. (VICE News)
  • Mexico's homicide rate dropped slightly last year, but remains at historically high levels. The country registered 36,476 homicides in 2019, 209 fewer than in 2018. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said conservative protesters demanding his resignation are welcome to camp out outside his offices. AMLO himself led numerous protest encampments in his decades as an opposition leader, notes the Associated Press.
  • He has been far less welcoming of agricultural protesters in Chihuahua state, who are pitted against security forces over water supplies. AMLO is determined to meet Mexico's obligations to divert water to the U.S., even as farmers suffer severe water shortages, reports the Guardian.
  • "The pressure of public opinion was decisive in the failure of the attempt to remove Vizcarra from power" last week, Carlos Basombrío told the Wilson Center's Weekly Asado.
  • Nearly one third of Peru's gold exports are illegally sourced, according to a Reuters report on illicit mining causing environmental havoc in the country's Amazon.
  • Ecuador judicial authorities ordered the immediate detention of former president Rafael Correa, who lives in Belgium, following the confirmation of a corruption sentence. (Infobae)
  • The International Monetary Fund is engaged in a “very fluid and constructive dialogue” with Argentine authorities and is working on plans for a staff-level visit in early October, reports Reuters.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Colombia's court defends right to protest (Sept. 24, 2020)

Colombia's Supreme Court ordered the government to restructure security force responses to demonstrations in order safeguard the right to peaceful protest. The judges found that security forces' response to protests has been "systematic, violent, arbitrary and disproportionate," and ordered the government to maintain neutrality in the face of peaceful protests.

The 171 page sentence also orders authorities to create a protocol for protection of protesters and civil society verification of detentions during demonstrations. The judges also prohibited the use of 12 mm caliber rifles by anti-riot police until there are guarantees for responsible use of the weapon.

The landmark ruling comes after 13 people were killed in protests against police violence -- security forces used firearms against demonstrators -- earlier this month, and as demonstrations against the government are gearing up. (See Tuesday's post.) The case was brought to the court by activists and organizations of civil society during massive protests last November. The judges found that more than 1,600 people were illegally detained during last November's protests.

The sentence gives Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo 48 hours to apologize for excesses committed by security forces under his watch. Trujillo rejected the order, saying the excesses were the result of individual actions, not government directives. Experts say his refusal could put him in contempt of court.

Police violence in Colombia has been under increasing scrutiny this month. Colombia needs "a stronger civilian police force that reports to the Interior Ministry instead of the Defense Ministry, and less reliance on the military as the main representative of the Colombian state in rural areas," argued Human Rights Watch researcher Juan Pappier in an Americas Quarterly article this week (before the Supreme Court decision). (See Tuesday's post.) 

More Colombia
  • An alarming increase in violence signals a new phase in Colombia's long history of bloodshed, reports the Associated Press. Rather than confrontations between guerrillas and government forces, violence is now driven by criminal groups that fight over territories and illegal economies. Civilians perceived to be part of a rival group are caught in the crossfire -- there have been 230 massacre victims so far this year.
  • La Silla Vacía criticized President Iván Duque for not mentioning violence against social leaders in his U.N. general assembly speech this week -- 555 community leaders have been killed in the past four years, many in the above mentioned massacres.
News Briefs

  • Brazilian meat giant JBS promised to eliminate suppliers linked to Amazon deforestation, a major success for environmental campaigners, who, nonetheless, say the 2025 deadline is too distant. (Guardian)
  • Gun-related violence against Brazilian children and teenagers -- an issue that disproportionately claims Black lives -- has been alarmingly high for years, though it has received little attention from the government. A bill that would create a "National Plan to Combat the Killing of Young People" has been stuck in congress for years, write  Beatriz Rey and Estevan Muniz, who argue that mobilization could help obtain policy responses. (Aula Blog)
  • Former Mexican president Felipe Calderón, architect of the country's infamous crackdown on cartels, privately admitted the war was “unwinnable” and that legalising drugs was the only way out, reports Vice News.
  • Coronavirus devastation in Iztapalapa, in Mexico City, epitomizes the impossible choices the pandemic forces on Latin America's poorest populations, reports the New York Times. "For the vast majority of people, risking illness or death has simply become the price of survival."
  • Mexican authorities are preparing arrest warrants that could for the first time target soldiers in the investigation into the 2014 abduction and presumed massacre of 43 students, reports Reuters.
  • The recent attempt to unseat Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra is a return to the country's pattern of political chaos, writes Daniel Encinas in the New York Times Español. Though an impeachment attempt last week failed, the political crisis continues, he argues. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • Attempts to restart Venezuela's (literally) broken oil industry are spewing crude into the ocean, reports the Washington Post.
  • The United States imposed sanctions on Venezuelan lawmakers it accused of colluding with Nicolás Maduro to manipulate legislative elections scheduled for December, report Reuters.
  • Argentina’s intelligence service illegally spied on the families of crew members from a missing navy submarine in 2017. Three hard drives showing that family members’ activities and communications had been monitored were uncovered by investigators -- part of a probe into the intelligence agency’s role during the previous government. (New York Times
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Mexico's "forensic crisis" (Sept. 23, 2020)

 Mexico is in the throes of a "forensic crisis" -- nearly 39,000 corpses that passed through the country's morgues since 2006 were never identified. The problem has grown dramatically throughout the country's war on drugs, with a marked increase in recent years, according to a new report by Quinto Elemento Lab, based on freedom of information requests. (Aristegui Noticias, Guardian)

The report identifies about 1,000 of cases of "administrative disappearances" -- instances where authorities cannot specify what happened to corpses that entered their facilities.

In a country where thousands of families continue to search for disappeared loved ones, more than 27,000 corpses were buried without being identified, and morgues are saturated in many areas. About 289,000 people have been killed and another 70,000 disappeared since Mexico's governments launched an armed crackdown on the country's drug cartels. 

The report's authors put it in heartrending terms: "The paradox is that each day families of different geographies organize in collectives to go out and look for their disappeared relatives, often with pickaxes and shovels, digging with their own hands. Each year mothers of migrants roam Mexico looking for clues about their sons and daughters who never returned. Among those nearly 39,000 bodies held by the State could be the answer these families are missing. The State has them, but doesn't always have the will to return them home for a proper burial." (Diario Mx)

U.S. woos Guyana and Suriname

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Guyana and Suriname as part of a whirlwind tour last week, aimed at drumming up regional support for ousting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.  Caribbean nations neighboring Venezuela have been divided over the prolonged standoff between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó, backed by the U.S. and a chunk of the international community. Many Caribbean countries have maintained ties with Maduro’s government.

Pompeo also pushed Suriname and Guyana to favor U.S. companies as partners over Chinese investment, particularly in relation to both countries’ oil sectors. which has invited both Suriname and Guyana into its enormous Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative.

It’s the first time such a high-ranking U.S. official visited Guyana, a mark of the country’s increasing strategic importance due to oil and proximity to Venezuela.
(Miami HeraldKaieteurAssociated PressAFPGuyana Department of Public Information)

News Briefs

  • Amnesty International said in a new report published on Monday that authorities in Venezuela, El Salvador and Paraguay have held thousands of people in inadequate state-run quarantine centers, calling the use of those facilities a “form of repression.” (EFE)
  • Recent allegations of forced hysterectomies on migrant women in U.S. detention centers demonstrate the gender double jeopardy: women flee their homes in Central America, often due to gender violence, and are often victims of further violence in their attempt to find refuge elsewhere. (El Faro
  • Former Bolivian president Carlos Mesa has a shot of regaining the post in October's presidential election re-do. While MAS party candidate Luis Arce is leading in polls, Mesa could become a unity candidate in an eventual run-off. But there are many questions about where Mesa would try to take Bolivia, and how he would unite a country fragmented geographically, racially, economically and politically, reports Brendan O'Boyle in Americas Quarterly.
  • In the coronavirus context, patchy internet and poverty threaten to reduce the number of low-income youth that pursue higher education in Bolivia, reports Nacla.
More Mexico
  • Another Quinto Elemento Lab project documents what distance learning looks like in Mexico. (Washington Post)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's plan to investigate and possibly prosecute his predecessors for corruption is popular -- but critics say the president's referendum proposal would not likely lead to prosecutions, and is mostly a political ploy. (Washington Post, and see last Wednesday's briefs.)
El Salvador
  • A Univisión report on girls in El Salvador driven to suicide in response to violence won an Emmy award this week. (Diario El Mundo)
  • El Salvador's military refuses to open up its archives on El Mozote -- and President Nayib Bukele, who promised justice for the victims of the emblematic massacre, has remained silent, reports El Faro.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro blamed indigenous people for rainforest fires in his United Nations General Assembly speech. He also lashed out at the media for spreading panic about the coronavirus pandemic, reports Reuters.
  • But Bolsonaro is under considerable pressure to temper his climate change skepticism and improve his environmental policies -- not just from activists, but also from bankers, business executives and agribusiness firms calling for a greener economy. (AFP)
  • Brazil's political polarization has spilled out into a "battle of the billboards" between Bolsonaristas and opponents, reports the Guardian.
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica is providing satellite data on its fishing fleets, a move that buttresses efforts to stop illegal fishing in the area, reports InSight Crime.
  • Outgoing IDB head Luis Alberto Moreno warned that Latin America may be feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for years to come. Actions taken throughout the region to control not only the pandemic, but also “the spread of poverty [and] the spread of unemployment,” have “increased debt to households, to governments, and to businesses,” Moreno explained. But the pandemic has also spurred adaptation and presented new economic opportunities for the entire Western Hemisphere, Moreno argued at the Atlantic Council.
  • The U.N. General Assembly took place vía Zoom (essentially). The Guardian ranks world leaders' backdrops for their video addresses, and gives top marks to Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel who "chose to sit in front on a melange of striking palms and ferns (possibly fake?), which themselves are lit by green light."
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always. -- 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Colombian protesters return to streets (Sept. 22, 2020)

 Colombian protesters returned to the streets, resuming demonstrations that started last year and were dampened by coronavirus lockdowns that started in March. Protests in Bogotá yesterday were called by the Comité Nacional de Paro, an umbrella group that organized protests against the Duque administration's social and economic policies last year. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful, a noteworthy point after 13 people were killed and 200 wounded when security forces clashed with protesters earlier this month.

Demonstrators were also galvanized by the killing of Javier Órdoñez by police in Bogotá earlier this month, and the violent repression by security forces of ensuing protests. A sign in Bogotá yesterday asked: "Who ordered the massacre of Bogotá's youth," in reference to the protest deaths.

Bogotá mayor Claudia López compared Órdoñez's murder to that of George Floyd, and said it exemplifie "systematic police abuse." (Semana)

Colombians also mobilized to demand urgent action to stop rural violence -- so far there have been more than 60 massacres this year. (See this Nacla piece for more on the massacres.)

"All the bloodshed and instability underscore the urgent need to overhaul Colombia’s security policies," argues Human Rights Watch researcher Juan Pappier in Americas Quarterly. "The country needs a stronger civilian police force that reports to the Interior Ministry instead of the Defense Ministry, and less reliance on the military as the main representative of the Colombian state in rural areas."

News Briefs

  • A year after Evo Morales' ouster in Bolivia, his MAS party is leading in opinion polls and his successor is under fire for politically persecuting opponents. Ahead of an electoral re-do scheduled for October, the dominant international narrative about electoral fraud has come under scrutiny, reports the Washington Post. More than two dozen U.S. Democratic lawmakers urged the Trump administration “to use its voice at the OAS to advocate for a thorough, independent assessment of the OAS’s statements and reports regarding Bolivia’s 2019 elections,” not least because the OAS draws much of its funding from the United States and is also “poised to make a determination of the freedom, fairness, and integrity of the upcoming elections.”
  • MAS party youth said they were tear gassed at an event in El Alto, yesterday. Separately, MAS party canvassers said they were attacked by a shock group in Cochabamba this weekend. (Nodal, Telesur)
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse appointed a provisional electoral council tasked with preparing a constitutional referendum and organizing local, municipal, legislative and presidential elections in the country. He has been governing since January without a parliament, and last week the U.S. called on Moïse and the political opposition to work together towards a solution to the country’s political crisis. (Reuters, Miami Herald)
  • Venezuela's Chavista governments have always been dexterous at narrative. But the horrific human rights abuses documented by a U.N. report last week (see last Thursday's post) leave no room for manipulation, writes Alberto Barrera Tyszka in the New York Times Español.
  • The U.S. slapped new sanctions on Iran's defense ministry and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro under a contested U.N. authority, yesterday, and demanded that Europe follow suit. U.S. officials said Maduro was included in the sanctions for his role in aiding Tehran’s weapons programs. (AFP, CNBC, Reuters)
  • The protracted struggle to control Venezuela has only exacerbated the country's political and humanitarian crises. Now the country's political opposition is at a dead end ahead of December's legislative elections that promise to be neither free nor fair, writes Benjamin Wilhelm at World Politics Review
  • Homicide rates in Venezuela are among the highest in the hemisphere, driven in part by security force abuses. Organized violence in the country has also increased as criminal groups -- the ELN and FARC dissidents -- expanded into Venezuelan territory. Violence due to repression by security forces and clashes among criminal groups and regime forces may increase as the December elections and January power struggle occur, predicts the Latin America Risk Report.  
  • Brazilian former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, barred from elected office due to corruption convictions, said he is open to backing any candidate who can beat current President Jair Bolsonaro in the 2022 elections, reports Reuters.
  • Brazil’s central bank launched a new “sustainability agenda” that will incorporate into its policies efforts to protect the environment. The plan features initiatives such as the creation of a sustainable liquidity financing line for banks, including ones in the private sector. (Latin America Advisor)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to meet the country's water transfer obligations to the U.S., despite determined opposition from local communities, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico's pre-existing obesity epidemic has exacerbated the effects of the coronavirus epidemic, reports Al Jazeera.
  • A patriarchal obsession with female appearances -- "ugly" is a common disqualifier -- has real and harmful economic effects for women, writes Viri Rios in the New York Times Español. As Mexico battles high rates of gender violence, disarming "physical misogyny" is urgent, she argues.
  • Honduras hopes to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv by the end of 2020,  announced Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Reuters)
  • British Black Lives Matter activists are shining a strong light on British history and the choices made about how to remember it -- with relevant impacts for the Caribbean. (Guardian)
 hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Vizcarra survives impeachment vote (Sept. 21, 2020)

 News Briefs

  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra handily survived an impeachment vote Friday. Just 32 of Peru's 130 lawmakers supported the motion, which required two-thirds majority to remove the president. (See last Thursday's briefs.) Vizcarra's mandate ends next July, and he does not intend to seek another term in office. Opposition lawmakers accused Vizcarra of corruption in relation to a government contract with a singer, allegations the president denies. The episode has allowed a divided field of presidential hopefuls for next year to portray the traditional political class as distant from real problems as Peru battles a twin health and economic crisis, reports the New York Times.
  • Four Indigenous leaders in Peru’s Amazon have been murdered since the government declared a state of emergency over Covid-19. The cases demonstrate how activists opposed illegal logging, mining and drug trafficking are exposed to criminal groups, reports InSight Crime.
  • Latin American cities are rushing to reopen, pushed by quarantine fatigue and economic malaise. But Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Mexico and Argentina are all in the top 10 worst-hit countries in the world. The World Health Organisation warned that countries across Latin America, are rushing back to normality prematurely – a mistake that could prove catastrophic in a region that already accounts for a third of global pandemic deaths. Other experts note the false dichotomy between public health and the economy. "In the long term, there is no conflict between aggressive public health measures and economic recovery," Benjamin Gedan, deputy director at the Wilson Center’s Latin American program told the Guarrdian. "The region’s tourism industry, for example, will never recover if travelers do not see Latin American destinations as safe to visit." (BloombergGuardian)
Regional Relations
  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Venezuelan neighbors -- Guyana, Brazil's border region, Suriname and Colombia -- part of a whirlwind tour aimed at building support for efforts to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. In Guyana, on Friday, Pompeo and President Irfaan Ali signed agreements to strengthen U.S. investment and cooperation on energy and infrastructure while vowing to deepen cooperation on maritime security and drug trafficking interdiction, reports the Associated Press
  • In Brazil's Boa Vista, Pompeo said the U.S. was providing an additional $348 million to help Venezuelan refugees, including $30 million for those in Brazil, bringing total contribution to more than $1.2 billion. (Reuters)
  • In a bid to maintain Brazil's diplomatic standing with the U.S. Trump administration, President Jair Bolsonaro sidelined his own country's nominee to head the Inter-American Development Bank, reports El País.
  • A Trump defeat in November would be a disaster for Bolsonaro, argues Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly.
  • Mexico's government will avoid confrontation with the U.S. over a recent drug report indicating that Mexico must step up efforts to control drug trafficking, reports the Associated Press.
  • The New Yorker delves into the serious allegations about a U.S. Georgia state immigration center, including accusations that a  doctor who contracted privately with the facility had been performing hysterectomies on immigrant patients without their consent.
  • Colombian authorities arrested two police officers accused of killing an unarmed man they detained in Bogotá. The death of Javier Ordóñez, who was repeatedly tasered while pleading for mercy, sparked protests and repression around the country earlier this month. (Al Jazeera)
  • Lines at Cuba's new government run dollar stores can be hours long and prices are exorbitant. The government's emergency strategy, aimed at obtaining hard currency from citizens who have saving or get remittances, could also exacerbate social inequalities as the economy is hard hit by U.S. sanctions, Venezuela's crisis, and the coronavirus pandemic, reports the New York Times.
  • Uruguay has long been hailed as South America's "Switzerland." Now, in the pandemic world, it's "New Zealand" and wealthy Argentines are flocking to their smaller neighbor. About 15,000 to 20,000 Argentines are estimated to have moved to Uruguay since the pandemic began in March – a number equivalent to about 0.6% of Uruguay’s population of 3.5 million, reports the Guardian.
  • Argentina's proposed 2021 budget dedicates an unprecedented amount of funding to programs with "gender perspective" -- 3.4 percent of the GDP. The funding, which spans several different areas, far outstrips defense spending. The Economy Ministry's Director for Economy, Equality and Gender, Mercedes D'Alessandro, notes that it is an important step to rectifying significant economic disparities that correlate to gender. (Infobae)
  • Argentina's LGBTQI community hailed a new hiring quota that requires that 1.0 percent of all public sector jobs be set aside for transgender people. (AFP)
  • The Argentine government wants a one-time wealth tax to be extended to its millionaire citizens living outside the country, reports Bloomberg.
  • Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said Friday he has tested positive for the new coronavirus, reports the Associated Press.
  • Former Costa Rican first lady Henrietta Boggs is credited with pushing her husband, José Figueres Ferrer, to grant women and Black Costa Ricans the right to vote in the 1940s. (New York Times)
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always. Latin America Daily Briefing