Friday, October 30, 2020

Biden would change U.S. LatAm policies (Oct. 30, 2020)

Former U.S. vice president Joe Biden has spent decades working with Latin America. Should he win the U.S. presidential elections next week, many analysts expect a sea-change in the country's approach to the region. Biden's interest and experience in Latin America, particularly Central America's Northern Triangle during a migration surge that started in 2013, contrasts with the Trump administration's disdain for the region in general, and unprecedented hardline with regards to migration.

Biden's plan for the region would resurrect the Obama administration's efforts to counter migration with aid, aimed at addressing poverty, violence and corruption in Central America. Biden is proposing a $4 billion aid package for Central America to address the causes of unauthorized migration and help defuse a third rail in American politics.

A potential surge of migrants from Central America could pose an early test, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Latin America has a historic distrust of it's aggressive neighbor to the north, but the perception in the region of the U.S. is particularly negative right now. "Regional leaders have come to accept the ebb and flow of American engagement as a condition of living next to a superpower, but Biden could use Latin America to signal a restoration of Washington’s historic leadership, leveraging his existing relationships and focus on multilateralism to cement American primacy in a region largely eager for a respite from years of erratic diplomacy," writes Christian Paz in the Atlantic.

In addition to the change in policy focus, "a Biden White House would work more through persuasion than imposition," reports the New York Times based on conversations with advisors. 

"Still, while many Obama-era policies on immigration, the environment, and counternarcotics changed under Trump, a Biden agenda is not as simple as a return to a pre-Trump status quo," notes an AS/COA  analysis that has a country by country comparison of Trump and Biden's plans for Latin America.

Neither Trump nor Biden have acknowledged the link between immigration and the drug war: Increasingly, people are crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to escape a cycle of violence to which the United States continues to contribute, writes Luisa Farah Schwartzman in the Conversation. And immigration is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the region's tragically high homicide rates.

"Neither candidate has proposed significant U.S.-Colombia policy change, indicating that a militarized antidrug strategy will remain the centerpiece of the bilateral relationship," writes Cruz Bonlarron Martínez in Nacla.

More U.S. election and LatAm
  • The next U.S. administration will face a region transiting an economic and health crisis of massive proportions. Leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean are disunited and show little capacity for international coordination now, argued Michael McCarthy this week in Perfíl.
News Briefs

  • While Venezuela’s economic crisis began before the first U.S. sectoral sanctions were imposed in 2017, these measures “directly contributed to its deep decline, and to the further deterioration of the quality of life of Venezuelans," according to a new report by Venezuelan economist Luis Oliveros. (WOLA) Although sanctions do not impose explicit restrictions on the importation of food and medicine, foreign currency is needed to obtain these goods. With the fall in oil production, foreign currency revenues for the government have also fallen, generating a contraction in imports, and ultimately affecting the most vulnerable Venezuelans.
  • Half a dozen U.S. Christian right groups have poured millions of dollars into Latin America and have promoted misinformation about COVID-19 and other health and rights issues, according to Open Democracy. These groups are part of a bigger number of twenty Christian right groups that have spent at least $44 million of ‘dark money’ into Latin America since 2007. Several of them are linked to President Trump’s administration. At least three of these US groups have attacked the World Health Organisation (WHO) during the pandemic, claiming for instance that it is “using COVID-19 to spread abortion”. 
  • Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado renewed calls for a global economic recovery plan during his inauguration as president pro tempore of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. The plan would channel $516 billion toward developing countries. - Aviso LatA
  • The United States has a growing economic and commercial interest in the Caribbean region—going beyond Washington’s traditional emphasis on security and diplomatic issues, according to the Atlantic Center.
  • The U.S. Trump administration bills the 400 miles of wall it put up along the border with Mexico as a great achievement against migration. Instead it is "a monument to failure, xenophobia, human rights abuse, and environmental damage—and it must get taken down expeditiously," writes Adam Isacson at WOLA. "There is no evidence to suggest that the wall improved security or deterred migrants."
  • An assassination attempt against indigenous Colombian Senator Feliciano Valencia underscores the need to implement key aspects of the 2016 peace accord, designed to dismantle illegal armed groups and protect social leaders and ethnic minorities’ rights, said WOLA yesterday. The Duque administration has failed to advance in that direction, and a recent report by the Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA) found that authorities have taken actions that go against the Ethnic Chapter's intent.
  • A recent string of drug seizures linked to Nicaragua suggests smugglers are moving cocaine through the country, despite official rhetoric that it is not a transit hub, reports InSight Crime.
  • Mexican organized crime has diversified from drug trafficking into a broadening array of activities that include kidnapping, trafficking migrants, and extorting businesses. Today's criminals are reaching ever deeper into the country, infiltrating communities, police forces and town halls, reports the Washington Post.
  • Cemeteries in Mexico will be closed ahead of this year's Day of the Dead, starting this weekend. Other parts of the festivities, like Mexico City's parade, have also been canceled due to the pandemic. And even family gatherings are discouraged, all in a year when many Mexicans are mourning thousands of coronavirus deaths, reports the Washington Post.
  • Politics really does make for strange bedfellows, and some of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's supporters are hoping for Trump to win his reelection bid in the U.S. elections next week, due to the unlikely rapport between the two leaders from opposing ideological camps, reports the Guardian.
  • Coronavirus cases are spiking again in Brazil's north. This time, local governments face even more political pressure to lift restrictions, reports Foreign Policy. Yesterday President Jair Bolsonaro said it was “crazy” for countries to start locking down again to control second waves of the virus. (Al Jazeera)
  • Against all odds, Bolivia managed to pull off a free and fair vote this month. Political analysts say Bolivia’s improbable achievement is rooted partly in exhaustion with uncertainty, a well-received government plan for voting, and a pledge by the trailing candidate to respect the outcome, reports the New York Times.
  • Bolivian president-elect Luis Arce will take office on November 8 amid daunting political, social, economic, and public health challenges. "As former Minister of Economy and Public Finance, he built a reputation for pragmatism – such as measures to strengthen the internal market and to industrialize natural resources – but fear and distrust at all levels of society are formidable obstacles," writes Valery Valdez Pinto at the AULA blog.
  • Racial categories in Brazil are far more fluid than in other countries -- to the point where it is common for politicians to change the race they identify with from one election to another.  More than 42,000 candidates in local elections scheduled for November 15th are running as members of a different race from the one they declared in 2016, reports the Economist.
  • Candidates also change their names in an attempt to lure voters -- several candidates in the local elections have adopted the moniker "Trump" as part of their bid for office, though not necessarily his politics. (Guardian)
  • It is impossible for parents -- particularly mothers -- of young children to work without childcare. The pandemic has brought this truth home universersally, but millions across Latin America — particularly among lower-income families — were already all too aware of the drastic impact lack of early education has on mothers' careers, reports Americas Quarterly. The lessons of Chile and Colombia, which have, in different ways, each expanded childcare, provide useful lessons and expose the trade-offs that policymakers inevitably face, write Leonie Rauls and Roberto Simon.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Central American migrant surge building (Oct. 29, 2020)

News Briefs

  • U.S. officials and others say evidence is mounting that another surge of migrants is starting to build in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — Central America’s Northern Triangle. A renewed crisis of children and families coming to the border could provide an early test for Joe Biden if he wins next week's election, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • U.S. immigration authorities have radically stepped up deportation flights to Haiti this month ahead of the upcoming U.S. presidential election. But critics are concerned that deportees are spreading coronavirus in Haiti, as well as for asylum-seekers safety. Advocates said some of the deported migrants had been fleeing political and gang violence, and would be risking their lives to return to their homes, reports the Guardian.
  • "After the promising development of regional rules and norms starting with the end of the Cold War, Latin America has seen a shocking breakdown of regional coordination," writes Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly. And it's likely to get worst before it gets better.
  • The remains of 59 bodies have been discovered in clandestine graves in Mexico's Guanajuato state, where the homicide rate has surged amid a raging turf war between rival drug cartels, reports Reuters.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador considers organizations of civil society, media and opinion makers to be enemies of his administration, an issue of concern Lisa Sánchez of México Unido Contra la Delincuencia told El País.
  • Colombia's National Agrarian Coordinator (CNA) informed that Carlos Navia, a farmers' leader from the department of Cauca, was murdered on Monday. 243 social leaders have been assassinated so far this year, reports Telesur.
  • Women working at a grassroots level are key to Colombia's peace process. “Building peace isn’t only something that is done with accords, but with people on the ground, and of course women are key to that,” Sandra Vera, a former FARC fighter who works with the government agency responsible for reintegration, told the Guardian.
  • The case of the Amata logging company in Brazil, whose sustainable timber production was destroyed by illegal loggers, is emblematic of how the Bolsonaro administration has undermined efforts to sustainably exploit the Amazon, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • Brazil's government billed the antiparasitic drug nitazoxanide as a major breakthrough in the battle against Covid-19. Scientists are underwhelmed by the evidence. For critics, the episode is yet another example of how politics trumps science in the Bolsonaro administration, reports Science.
  • Bolivian president-elect Luis Arce must deal with national debt and poverty without the help of growing natural gas revenue, reports Bloomberg.
  • Crude inventories at Venezuela’s main oil export terminal, Jose, have hit their highest levels since August as customers shy away from state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela due to U.S. sanctions, according to Reuters.
  • Cuba's Western Union offices -- run by a military-controlled entity -- will shut-down due to widening American financial restrictions on the island. The move will severely restrict the flow of remittances from abroad and worsen a profound economic crisis on the island, reports the New York Times.
  • Hopes are high that the overwhelming vote to overturn the Pinochet-era constitution in Chile marks the beginning of a new era, writes Kirsten Sehnbruch in a Guardian opinion piece.
  • Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra faces new allegations of corruption and a potential impeachment inquiry. But most Peruvians want him to finish out his term, and even a significant portion of those who disapprove of Vizcarra still don't want to seem him impeached -- Latin America Risk Report.
  • "Song without a Name" is a desperately sad account of real-life events in Peru in the 1980s, when an indigenous woman has her newborn child stolen by a fake maternity clinic -- Guardian.
  • Argentine authorities moved quickly against the coronavirus in March, with strong support from the population. Eight months later the country is among the top five for coronavirus cases globally, and Argentines are grappling with a collective sense of exhaustion and demoralization, even disbelief, reports the Washington Post.
  • Argentina's perpetual cycle of economic crises is due to the country's recurring pendulum swing between inward-looking economic policies and an export-oriented strategy predicated on sweeping liberalization. In Le Monde Diplomatique, Carlos Freytes and Tomás Bril Mascarenhas of Fundar look at the structural shortcomings of both approaches and argue that sustainable and inclusive development in Argentina requires a dynamic, outward-looking development strategy to break this cycle, one that combines export goals with a strong government role.
  • Argentina's once-strong television industry is subject to the same swings as the rest of the economy, and is reeling from pandemic restrictions this year that have forced productions to get (even more) creative, I write in Americas Quarterly. The pandemic has all of us reconsidering what is "essential," and I was surprised to find that a corny game-show featuring socially distanced taxi drivers suddenly makes my list.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Nicaragua passes "Cyber Crimes Law" (Oct. 28, 2020)

 Nicaragua’s National Assembly passed the "Special Cyber Crimes Law" yesterday, mandating prison sentences for those who use online platforms to spread false information or information that could raise alarm among people. The law allows the government to define what information fits that description, reports the Associated Press.

Known as the "Gag Law" by critics, the measure aims to regulate internet content and silence adversaries of President Daniel Ortega, reports Confidencial. Press organizations say the definition of what constitutes "fake news" is completely discretional and that the bill will impede journalistic investigations. (Confidencial)

The law also penalizes those who use information systems to obtain data, documents or information about public institutions, reports AFP. The government has been accused of covering up the extent of the coronavirus pandemic's spread within the country, and 

The new law is one of several such recent measures that affect press freedom, including a bill that categorizes Nicaraguans working for international organizations as "foreign agents," aimed at limiting  (See Oct. 16's post.) Lawmakers are analyzing a constitutional reform that would punish "hate crimes" with life imprisonment. (AFP)

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, say the measures aim at eliminating political opposition and civil society criticism. Nicaragua will hold presidential and legislative elections next year.

More Nicaragua
  • The Alianza Cívica split off from the Coalición Nacional this week. (Confidencial)

News Briefs

  • The U.S. and Brazilian presidents -- Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro -- undermined Latin America's defenses against Covid-19, reports the New York Times. The two share an intense disregard for the virus, exemplified by a March visit to Florida, which resulted in 22 members of the Brazilian delegation testing positive. Trump also shared his vision of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, an approach wholeheartedly touted by Bolsonaro at home. But the two have also attacked Cuba's medical missions, leaving impoverished populations with inadequate health workers, and attacked the Pan-American Health Organization.
  • U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden and his team of foreign policy advisers have created plans for the region that are both a repudiation of the current administration's hardball approach and an attempt to resurrect Obama-era initiatives, writes Ernesto Londoño in the New York Times. Biden and his team of experts, which includes immigrants from Latin America, say they would take a broader approach to the immigration issue, among other things.
  • "In America through Foreign Eyes, academic and former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda turns a sympathetic outsider’s eye on Americans to offer an intriguingly positive interpretation of where the country is headed," writes Gregory Weeks in Americas Quarterly.
  • Chileans who voted to scrap their constitution on Sunday signaled a strong rejection of the “guardian” or “protected” democracy created by the dictatorship-era 1980 charter. Many Chileans view the existing constitution as a key obstacle for undoing entrenched inequities, indeed, it was drafted to do exactly that, writes Josh Frers-String in Nacla. It is tempting to view the current moment as a continuation of Salvador Allende's interrupted political process. "But the diversity of movements involved in the last year of protest is perhaps illustrative of an even more profound and democratic process than that which occurred in the early 1970s ... Chileans today are determined to reinvent how and where democracy is practiced. The focus on refounding Chile with a new, citizen-drafted is the centerpiece of that process."
  • The U.S. wants Haiti to hold parliamentary elections by January, in order to to renew the entire Lower Chamber of Deputies, two-thirds of the 30-member Senate and all local offices, including mayors. The dismissal of Parliament in early January of this year has left President Jovenel Moïse ruling by decree and the end of mayoral terms this past July, means that he’s now one of just 11 elected officials in the country of 11 million residents, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Kanye West revealed that he's planning on helping to build a smart city in Haiti -- "a city of the future." He said President Jovenel Moïse gave him an island to develop. But, apparently the island in question,  Île de la Tortue, actually belongs to a Texan lawyer. (Miami Herald, FNR-Tigg)
  • Haitian and Dominican authorities agreed to reopen the border between the two countries for trade. (Dominican Today)
  • The killing of ELN commander Uriel probably won’t have much impact on the guerrilla group as a whole, reports InSight Crime. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • Brazil's government will extend the military’s deployment to fight destruction of the Amazon rainforest by five months, reports Reuters.
  • Guatemalan health workers say they carry out duties in deplorable conditions, and face backlash for speaking out -- Al Jazeera.
  • A Bolivian court nullified an arrest order against former president Evo Morales on terrorism charges, reports EFE.
  • Screens -- our portal for books, meetings, movies, parties and newsletters -- are uniform, and lack the physical diversity of paper, actual meeting places and other people, which are key in creating memories, writes Jorge Carrión in New York Times Español.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Establishment politicians lost in Chile's referendum (Oct. 27, 2020)

 Chileans overwhelmingly voted to scrap their Pinochet-era Constitution on Sunday. (See yesterday's post.) 

"Sunday’s victory in Chile did not come easily or swiftly," writes Ariel Dorfman in The Nation. The change in the decades of post-dictatorship governed by a Magna Carta that "blocked all key efforts to create a more just and equitable society" was possible only because of the "startling revolt" that started in protests exactly a year ago. He celebrates Sunday's vote as the rebirth of a nation that seemed to have died in the 1973 coup against Salvador Allende.

Voters decisively rejected permitting acting lawmakers to participate in drafting a new charter, part of a broader rejection by citizens of the country's elite politicians -- those who are currently governing and opposition parties -- writes Patricio Fernández in a New York Times Español op-ed

"What is being demanded is not only the end of the neoliberal system imposed by the Chicago Boys during the Pinochet dictatorship and sweetened by the governments of the alliance of parties that conformed what was called the Concertación ... but also a democratic actualization in the broadest sense: a redistribution of power that recognizes the changes lived by our community throughout these decades," writes Fernández.

But the institutional design for the constitutional process -- which will take two years -- has many potential pitfalls, warns Patrio Navia in Americas Quarterly. Though voters have rejected political elites, the elected constitutional convention will be comprised mostly of career or aspiring politicians with enough clout to be nominated by political parties, or by people with strong name recognition – athletes, artists, television personalities and other well-known individuals with little constitution-writing skills or training. "There will likely be disappointment among many voters when they see that the composition of the constitutional assembly does not reflect the idealized conception of a representative group of Chileans from all walks of life meeting to deliberate on the framework of a more just and equitable society."

But the challenge for the 155 members of the future Constituent Convention will be to overcome the lasting legacy of Pinochet that not only structured the country's political system, but also many citizens' mental maps, writes Álvaro Ramis in Le Monde Diplomatique.

And nobody is sure the vote will calm the anger protesters demonstrated in Chile's streets over the past year. (See yesterday's post and Friday's.) Fifty percent of eligible voters participated in Sunday's referendum -- it is a very high percentage compared to recent elections, but also an indication that many voters did not feel the ballot box was a mechanism to resolve their dissatisfaction with the status quo, warns Yasna Mussa in the Post Opinión.

News Briefs

  • Luis Arce's landslide win in Bolivia's recent elections is not just a demonstration of Evo Morales' lasting legacy, but a lesson on how renewal is possible for the region's leftist movements, writes Brendan O'Boyle in a New York Times op-ed. "Morales resigned last year, after his attempt to win a fourth term sparked unrest and ended in a contested election, in what some have called a coup. But if leaders like him can pass the baton to less polarizing figures, they may be able to inject new life into their political movements." (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa tapped a virtually unknown 35-year-old economist as his candidate for the upcoming presidential election. Could Andrés Arauz become the latest loyal technocrat to help stage a comeback for a sidelined populist leader, following Bolivia and Argentina? Also by Brendan O'Boyle. (Americas Quarterly)
  • Forest fires raging across parts of Paraguay in recent weeks were likely started, at least in part, by criminal groups seeking to clear land for marijuana plantations, reports InSight Crime.
  • Beaches throughout the Caribbean are eroding as a result of rising sea levels and dangerous storms resulting from climate change. And many island nations lack the funding to invest in the infrastructure and innovation necessary to combat the changes. Jamaica recently became the first Caribbean nation to increase the ambitiousness of its plan under the Paris climate agreement to reduce its carbon emissions, reports the Guardian.
  • One more country in the region has to ratify the Escazú Agreement in order for the new environmental treaty to come into force. Supporters hail the treaty as a groundbreaking instrument for environmental protection and human rights -- it includes specific measures to protect environmental defenders -- but detractors voice concern over "sovereignty." -- Latin America Advisor (See Oct. 9's briefs on Escazú.) 
  • Latin America's capacity to position itself as a relevant actor in the international sphere is sorely lacking, an issue of particular relevance as the U.S. heads to its election next week, writes Michael McCarthy in Perfíl.
  • The U.S. ambassador in Bogotá warned Colombian politicians to "avoid getting involved in U.S. elections." The unusual warning comes as least three senior Colombian politicians have been accused of acting as Trump surrogates in Florida, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said it would be easier and cheaper to invest in a cure for Covid-19 rather than a vaccine. The president is increasingly positioning himself against inoculation programs, reports Reuters. Bolsonaro has positioned himself against a Chinese vaccine under trial in São Paulo, apparently because of political concerns. (See last Thursday's briefs and yesterday's.)
  • Mexican officials believe there have been 50,000 more Covid-19 victims than officially reported, which would mean the coronavirus has killed 139,153 people in the country. The new estimates are based on excess deaths, reports the Guardian.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines citizens head to the polls on Nov. 5. The incumbent United Labour Party (ULP), government of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, is running for its fifth consecutive term in office, but the contest is expected to be close, much like the last two votes in 2010 and 2015. (Global Americans)
  • To be politically active in Buenos Aires is to visit Plaza de Mayo often, particularly for Peronists who claimed the space as their own on an October day 75 years ago. The space is bursting with patriotic symbolism on every centimeter of sidewalk, but also quotidien transit. Like a space of worship, where prayers and gossip occur in tandem. I've always been drawn by the collective emotions there: outrage, desperation, pride, and joyful celebrations. The mood in Plaza de Mayo is like the pulse of our political condition. Today is the ten year anniversary of Nestor Kirchner's death. The evening of Oct. 27, 2010, Plaza de Mayo filled with people who trickled in on foot, silent and stunned, looking for company in the masses. Página 12 has a special supplement on Kirchner's lasting legacy.

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

Monday, October 26, 2020

Chileans vote to scrap Pinochet constitution (Oct. 26, 2020)

 Chileans overwhelming backed rewriting their country's constitution in a referendum held yesterday. Voters also chose for the new charter to be entirely drafted by elected representatives, meaning that no active lawmakers will participate in the process. The final count is 78.27 in favor of a new constitution, and 78.99 in favor of an elected constitutional convention.

Jubilant citizens gathered in Chile's streets last night as the results became clear, but President Sebastián Piñera cautioned it was only the start of a long process. (Guardian)

Voters will choose 155 members of the constitutional convention in April. It will be the world's first constitution to be written by a gender-equal group, as half the members of the convention must be women.They will draft the charter over nine months, with the option of a three-month extension. Once the draft is ready, voters must decide whether they accept the new charter in an obligatory exit referendum in 2022. 

Among issues likely to be at the fore are recognition of Chile’s Mapuche indigenous population, powers of collective bargaining, water and land rights and privatized systems providing healthcare, education and pensions, reports Reuters. Salvador Millaleo, a lawyer at the National Human Rights Institute, said indigenous groups, which represent about 13% of the population, see a chance to expand their legal rights over land ownership and cultural issues. (Wall Street Journal)

Yesterday's was the result of massive anti-government protests that started a year ago, made worst by violent state repression. Citizen discontent over structural social inequality eventually settled on the dictatorship-era 1980 constitution as a symbol for the many ills they were protesting over: including inadequate health care, pensions, education, and transportation. 

Until the protests last year, the idea of a new Constitution “wasn’t on anyone’s agenda,” Lucía Dammert, a political scientist and board member of the research center Espacio Público, told the New York Times. “The fact we are now discussing a new Constitution is a victory of the social movement.”

But critics are concerned the redrafting will open up a two-year period of further instability that could undermine the country's relative economic success. The writing of the constitution will coincide with next year’s presidential election, notes the Wall Street Journal.


Leopoldo López fled Venezuela

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López fled to Spain this weekend. He had spent the past six years in jail, house arrest and diplomatic asylum. Most recently, he had sought refuge at the Spanish ambassador’s residence in Caracas after he helped lead a failed uprising against Nicolás Maduro's government in April 2019. (Associated Press)

He appears to have slipped across the border to Colombia and went to Spain from there.  His protegee, opposition leader Juan Guaidó -- who is considered Venezuela's legitimate leader by a chunk of the international community -- claimed the escape as a coup against Maduro's government. "Maduro, you don't control anything," Guaidó wrote on Twitter, adding that the opposition had succeeded in "mocking your repressive system" by getting López out of the embassy.

It is unclear how López left the ambassador’s residence, given the heavy state security presence permanently stationed outside. After López fled, the Venezuelan police detained a security guard working at the Spanish embassy, reports the New York Times.

The move comes ahead of legislative elections scheduled for Dec. 6. They do not meet minimum requirements of freedom and fairness, according to international observers, but are constitutionally mandated. They will alter the composition of the National Assembly, the only opposition-dominated branch of government in Venezuela and a source of political legitimacy for Guaidó's claim.

Analysts say López's exile could be aimed at bolstering Guaidó's international standing, reports the Washington Post

But López’s flight is likely to be held up by the government as a trophy, according to the Associated Press. López had long stubbornly refused to leave, even when his wife and children fled to Spain last year. “It’s probably the clearest sign that the continued opposition effort to unseat Maduro has floundered that a committed stay-in-Venezuela leader like López has chosen to finally leave,” said Raul Gallegos, a Colombia-based analyst at Control Risks consultancy.

(See also AFP.)

News Briefs

  • Bolivian electoral authorities confirmed Luis Arce's landslide win in the Oct. 18 presidential elections. Arce won 55 percent of the vote, his closest opponent, former president Carlos Mesa had just under 29 percent. The results matched the exit polls and voters’ expectations. But the big winner was democracy according to many analysts. Just a year after contested elections ended in the ouster of former president Evo Morales and an interim government that violently repressed his supporters, the election went smoothly, and its results were quickly and widely accepted, reports the New York Times.
  • "A more stunning reversal and a more resounding victory for MAS – not to mention the prospects for democratic advance in South America – would be hard to imagine; no one forecast such margins," notes the London Review of Books. Arce will govern with a majority in both houses of the Plurinational Assembly. MAS held its 21 Senate seats (out of 36), and increased its share in the lower house to 73 seats (out of 130). "The election results demonstrate, not for the first time, that the western highlands and highland valleys, with their high concentration of rural and urban indigenous voters, ultimately determine the parameters of sovereignty and political representation in Bolivia."
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse ”declared Friday that there will be no elections until a new constitution is adopted. Moïse’s declaration during an address to the nation is the opposite of what the U.S. and the Organization of American States have been pushing ever since Parliament became dysfunctional in January, leaving Haiti to be ruled by decree, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Colombian security forces have killed a rebel commander known best by his nom de guerre Uriel, during an operation in the coastal Pacific province of Choco, announced president Iván Duque this morning. Uriel, whose real name was Andres Felipe Vanegas Londono, was a leader in the National Liberation Army (ELN) and was known for his media appearances, online videos and a Twitter account, reports Reuters.
  • Colombia reached 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, becoming the second country in Latin America to report that number in less than a week, reports the Associated Press.
  • Cycling is increasingly popular in Bogotá, and has gotten an extra pandemic boost: bike use is up 40% since last year. But cyclists are also targets for thieves and aggressive drivers, prompting a boom in self-defense classes, reports the Guardian.
  • Protests last week in Colombia, which culminated on Wednesday in a national strike, amount to "an extended, cooperative howl," over the thwarted peace process in Colombia's rural areas, and violence that threatens the lives of those who live there, reports the New York Times. Indigenous groups, who have been particularly affected by criminal groups' violence, have played a strong role in the recent protests. "Minga is an Indigenous word, one used long before the Spanish arrived in South America, to refer to an act of communal work, an agreement between neighbors to build something together: a bridge, a road, a government. But minga has also come to mean a collective act of protest, a call to recover what a community believes it has lost: territory, peace, lives." (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • A vibrant underground of rap, metal, folk and more is thriving among Brazil’s embattled Indigenous tribes. A long-existing scene, still little-known among non-Indigenous audiences, is gaining visibility with lyrics and videos that address Brazil’s alleged ecocide and ethnocide. By bridging ancestral and urban music with technology, Indigenous musicians are advocating for themselves and fighting for their existence, reports the Guardian.
  • A new study found that bird species are in decline even in the remote parts of the Amazon, far from human interference. (Guardian)
  • Brazilian regulator Anvisa authorized a São Paulo biomedical center to import 6 million doses of the Sinovac coronavirus vaccine, one day after President Jair Bolsonaro said Brazil would not buy the Chinese vaccine. São Paulo governor João Doria said Anvisa told him it will not bow to political pressure over the approval of potential coronavirus vaccines. (Reuters)
  • Tropical Storm Zeta formed in the western Caribbean very early Sunday morning, and was expected to become a hurricane on today as it heads toward the eastern end of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. Zeta is the record-tying 27th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, matching 2005 for the most names used in a season. Hurricane season still has five weeks left, and the record for most named storms could fall. Scientists link the increase in hurricanes to climate change. (Washington Post, Guardian)
  • Climate change -- rising temperatures and melting glaciers -- have altered Peru's Snow Star Festival of Qoyllur Rit'i -- New York Times photo essay. 
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Chileans to vote on constitution (Oct. 23, 2020)

 Chileans head to the polls on Sunday, where they are expected to approve a referendum question on whether to rewrite the country's dictatorship era constitution. They will also likely decide that the new charter should be drafted by an elected assembly (with gender parity), rather than a combination of elected delegates and lawmakers. 

Optimists hope for a new constitution that better defends social rights, while pessimists are concerned that a rewrite will jeopardize the underpinnings of Chile's economic strength. Others are worried that too much stock has been put into the constitutional solution, and that the process will be insufficient to quell the country's unrest. (Guardian)

The referendum stems from massive social protests that caused upheaval in Chile last year, broadly focused on the country's significant social disparities. Voters are interested in higher pay, gender equity, improved health care access and quality medical care, pension reform, more rights for Indigenous peoples, access to affordable public transportation and free public education. But on a deeper level, the protests and the referendum are about a thoroughly discredited status quo, wrote Michael Albertus in a recent New York Times op-ed

There is a significant risk that a new constitution will promise more than it can deliver, argued Patricio Navia in a recent Americas Quarterly piece. "The left-wing opposition has transformed the constitution into a scapegoat for all the shortcomings of Chilean democracy. For many voters, a new constitution is a short-cut for better pensions, health care, education and social services. ... the final document is likely to have an overwhelming number of unfunded mandates."

But others argue that such a constitution would strengthen the reforms needed to support protesters' demands. And the elected assembly option will incorporate women's and indigenous perspectives in ways that are unprecedented in Chile. Regardless of the results, it will be a constitution that results from a participative process, writes María Jaraquemada in a hopeful Americas Quarterly piece. "Chile shows that sustained protests can bring sweeping change," write Peter Siavelis and Jennifer M. Piscopo in the Conversation.

The final document will also be tempered by a two-thirds approval requirement for each clause, the constitutional convention will likely have a conservative, pro-business minority with blocking power, notes the Economist.

Protests last weekend in Santiago and other Chilean cities also point to the potential that the referendum and constitutional drafting process -- necessarily drawn out -- will not quell the massive unrest that caused upheaval in the country last year. (Associated Press)

News Briefs

Trinidad and Tobago
  • Trinidad and Tobago's government dismissed fears that a floating oil-storage vessel with nearly 55 million gallons of Venezuelan crude oil floating off its coast is a looming environmental disaster for the area. Authorities said the ship is not listing to the side and there is no threat of a spill, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Brazil joined the U.S., Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia and Uganda in a nonbinding international antiabortion declaration, the Geneva Consensus Declaration. The text also affirms the family as “the natural and fundamental group unit of society,” a statement with clear meaning for countries that restrict LGBT rights, notes the Washington Post. The Geneva Consensus formalizes a coalition united in opposition to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which forms the basis for the characterization of abortion and same-sex marriage as human rights under international law.
  • Pope Francis made waves this week in a documentary in which he said he supported same-sex civil unions in Argentina. But he did so in 2010, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as part of an effort to reject same-sex marriage, which was approved by lawmakers that same year, writes Bruno Bimbi in the New York Times Español. In Argentina, as in other countries, when marriage equality gained social and political traction "conservatives -- and, quietly, the Church -- offered civil union to impede it. It was a blackmail that bet on the urgency of many families to obtain basic rights..."
  • Three years after the demobilization of the FARC guerrillas, myriad armed groups have emerged in Colombia. This piece by Juan Pappier and Kyle Johnson discusses the challenges in characterizing these new groups through the lens of international humanitarian law -- a critical though largely ignored issue in the ongoing debates in the country about the government's military strategy. (European Journal of International Law, Silla Vacía)
  • Hundreds of social leaders have been killed in Colombia in recent years -- beyond the human tragedy, the deaths have significant costs for activists, who lose years of accumulated experience with each murder. Silla Vacía delves into the numbers a bit, and found that members of local community councils and indigenous people are disproportionately affected in the social leader homicides. Also: support for crop substitution is a ticking time bomb for advocates.
  • Former Mexican defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos is not the only high level member of Mexico's military suspected of colluding with drug cartels. At least five former generals have been implicated by testimony and are under investigation writes Omar Sánchez de Tagle in the Post Opinión. (See Monday's post.)
  • Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación's turf war with local rival Santa Rosa de Lima has turned Mexico Guanajuato state into a bloody battleground, reports the Associated Press.
  • There is also increasing evidence that CJNG is expanding its presence in Mexico City, largely by allying itself with the Fuerza Anti-Unión to take on the capital’s largest criminal gang, La Unión Tepito, reports InSight Crime.
  • State-supplied shelters in Caracas keep residents in squalid conditions -- vulnerable to Covid-19, but also any other number of diseases, reports AFP.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean is one of the most entrepreneurial regions in the world, but it also has one of the highest failure rates for female entrepreneurs. This is, in part, due to lack of funding opportunities, without which women-owned businesses are unable to grow beyond the category of a microenterprise or move out of the informal economy. "There is an opportunity for the private sector to advance equality by incorporating a gender lens in innovative financing," argues María Noel-Vaeza in Americas Quarterly.
  • Mentorship can a key role for women's professional development, but often the best relationships are those that grow organically, writes Susan Segal in Americas Quarterly
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Trump ally secretly met with Maduro associate in Sept. (Oct. 22, 2020)

 Richard Grenell, a close ally of U.S. President Donald Trump, secretly met with Jorge Rodríguez, a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, in Mexico City last month. Talks were officially aimed at negotiating a peaceful power transition in Venezuela, though they failed and it is unclear whether Maduro was actually open to the possibility. 

A person involved in the planning of the trip said that it was intended at least partly to negotiate for the release of American detainees in Venezuela, but the White House official and Mr. Grenell denied that, reports the New York Times. Under current U.S. policy, officials can only negotiate with Maduro's inner circle to discuss the terms of his departure.

Bloomberg broke the story last night, and reported that U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and the rest of the State Department weren’t told about the trip beforehand. 

It appears Grenell, the former acting U.S. Director of National Intelligence and former ambassador to Germany, was angling for a pre-election diplomatic victory for Trump, who has sought foreign policy achievements that he can tout in the campaign’s final phase. Trump has become increasingly frustrated over the failure of his policy of sanctions and diplomatic pressure to unseat Maduro, reports Reuters.

But the move also demonstrates a schism between the State Department, which has remained steadfast to opposition leader Juan Guaidó, and Trump, who has reportedly grown frustrated with Venezuela's ongoing political stalemate. The negotiations are certain to unnerve Guaidó’s opposition efforts, notes NYT.

In the U.S., Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden are battling over the Venezuelan vote in Florida: each struggling to portray the other as a totalitarian leader in the vein that migrants have sought to escape. (Politico)

News Briefs

  • Massive protests filled Colombian streets yesterday. Colombian activists protested the government's handling of the pandemic, as well as its faulty implementation of the 2016 peace deal with the FARC. Increased violence in the country's rural areas, particularly against social leaders in the Cauca region, is a central issue. A group of indigenous protesters, called a minga, joined Bogotá protesters and have unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Colombian President Iván Duque. The date for the national strike marked the one year anniversary of social protests that rocked the country last year but had few lasting policy effects. Protesters are demanding a variety of government concessions, including a guaranteed income for those who lost their jobs because of coronavirus, more funding for health and education and steps to stop gender-based violence. (Associated Press, EFE, see Tuesday's post.)
  • Femicides in Colombia hit a record last month: 86 women were murdered. Watchdogs said the spike in violence against women is a product of compounding long-term ripple effects of the pandemic – a resurgence of armed group violence and economic fallout – that disproportionately affect women, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Chile’s 1980 constitution has been criticized since its inception as fatally compromised by its links to a dictatorship guilty of political murder, torture and mass incarceration -- this weekend voters are expected to approve a referendum that would launch a rewrite. Surveys indicate they will likely choose to have the process led by a constituent assembly composed entirely of popularly elected representatives. (Guardian
  • The referendum, which was postponed from earlier this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, was called in response to massive social protests last year. But protests last weekend have raised concerns that the rewrite will not quell unrest, reports the Washington Post. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • But experts say the magnitude of Chile's exercise should not be underestimated: "Countries usually write new constitutions only when wars end or when transitioning to democracy. And constitutional conventions composed solely of citizens are practically unheard of," write Peter Siavelis and Jennifer M. Piscopo in the Conversation. "Chile shows what frustrated people in democracies can achieve when they rise up."
  • Ten years after cholera arrived in Haiti with U.N. peacekeepers, victims are still waiting for compensation, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The U.S. Trump administration's significant tightening of immigration rules has a notable exception: Latin American elites who are able to leverage their fortunes and connections to secure visas, green cards and asylum. An investigation by the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald, in conjunction with Mexico’s Aristegui Noticias and a group of independent journalists in Colombia, documents how rich foreign nationals from Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela, guided by a network of lawyers, real estate agents and bankers, have managed to stiff-arm U.S. immigration authorities and build up their financial portfolios while thwarting prosecutors back home.
  • "Democracy was one of the victims of this pandemic. In several countries there has been greater militarization, more use of rights restriction mechanisms. People who took advantage of pandemics to do this," Open Society Foundations' Director for Latin America Pedro Abramovay told Poder 360.
  • "Havana Syndrome" was not limited to Cuba, but U.S. diplomats who suffered similar symptoms in China say they have not been supported by the U.S. State Department. (New York Times)
  • A massive Chinese fishing fleet working off South America's coast is a diplomatic headache for Ecuador, Peru and now Chile. More than 250 Chinese ships were first detected in July as they skirted territorial waters off the Galápagos Islands, raising global concern about the practices of the world’s largest distant-water fishing fleet, reports the Guardian.
  • Hurricane Epsilon, was headed for Bermuda this morning. It is the 26th named storm, 10 of which were hurricanes, to form in the 2020 Atlantic season, one of the most active on record. Rapid intensification, like Epsilon's this week, is probably a product of warming waters in the face of climate change. And more storms are likely to undergo rapid intensification in the future, presenting predictive challenges to meteorologists.  (New York Times, Washington Post)
  • A Venezuelan oil tanker carrying nearly 55 million gallons of crude oil, abandoned off the country's northern coast nearly two years ago, could cause a major environmental crisis in Trinidad and Tobago. The Nabarima floating storage and offloading (FSO) facility, operated by a joint venture between Petroleos de Venezuela and Italy’s Eni, was abandoned in response to tightening U.S. sanctions. It is in a dangerous state of disrepair and threatens to spill 1.3 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Paria between both countries. (Miami HeraldGlobal VoicesReutersAssociated Press)
  • Luis Arce's landslide win in Bolivia's presidential elections on Sunday has "enormous potential implications not only for Bolivia, where it was a necessary step toward the restoration of democracy, but also for the region, in terms of democracy, national independence, economic and social progress, and the struggle against racism," writes Mark Weisbrot in The Nation. (See yesterday's briefs, Tuesday's post and Monday's post.)
  • The Puebla Group asked for the resignation of Luis Almagro from the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS) in relation for his role in the Bolivian elections last year. (Telesur)
  • The OAS general assembly adopted a resolution stating that Venezuela's upcoming parliamentary election lacks minimum democratic conditions. (OAS)
  • Guatemalan prosecutors are seeking the arrest of the former communications minister for ex-President Jimmy Morales on money laundering charges, in a case connected to a house in which authorities found about $16 million in various currencies last week, reports the Associated Press.
  • A top Brazilian football team, Santos Futebol Clube, suspended a contract with sports star Robinho, in the midst of a scandal over a 2013 gang rape. The case has pitted rights advocates against Robinho defenders, but also shows Brazil's polarized media landscape. Robinho claims he was being persecuted by the “demonic” press like Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Robinho, who claims his “contact” was consensual, also blamed feminists for his predicament, telling an interviewer: “Unfortunately there’s this feminist movement … lots of women who aren’t even women.” (Guardian)
  • A political dispute between Bolsonaro and São Paulo’s powerful state governor João Doria, could delay efforts to vaccinate the country's most vulnerable citizens against Covid-19. Bolsonaro said that the federal government won’t buy a vaccine being developed by Sinovac, a private Chinese company, in partnership with São Paulo’s state government, even though researchers into Covid-19 say it could be the first to be approved for use in Brazil. (Wall Street Journal)
  • A Brazilian who participated in the clinical trial of an experimental coronavirus vaccine has died, but the trial is continuing. Local media reported the volunteer did not receive the experimental vaccine. (Washington Post)
  • Ecuadorean authorities said they signed supply agreements with major pharmaceutical firms including Pfizer Inc and BioNTech to provide millions of COVID-19 vaccines -- Reuters.
  • Mexico has reached a deal to honor a 1944 bilateral water-sharing agreement with the United States, tapping international dams to make up a shortfall. The government announcement today saves Mexico from a growing conflict between local farmers and their U.S. counterparts in the midst of a draught that affects mutual water resources , reports Reuters. (See Oct. 14's briefs.)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's polarizing approach, particularly in promoting a narrative against corruption, impunity and “immoral privilege," is actually worsening the country's drastic disparities, argues Vanessa Rubio in Americas Quarterly.
  • Mexico City's foodie nature has combined with quarantine to create a thriving industry of so-called ghost kitchens — set up to make food exclusively for delivery, with the preparation often done in people’s apartments, reports the New York Times.
  • The story of Prudencia Ayala's presidential run in El Salvador in 1931 reveals the long history of feminist struggles in the region, and also the added obstacles for indigenous women. (Americas Quarterly)
  • Women and girls carry out three-quarters of the tasks needed for the everyday functioning of Latin American homes, according to data compiled by the United Nations. This has a very real effect on women's job opportunities, they are overwhelmingly working part time in the informal market, at a high cost. Hugo Ñopo calls for men to do their share of the housework in Americas Quarterly. Please do. Thank you.

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