Former Mexican defense minister, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, was arrested yesterday upon arrival at a U.S. airport, at the request of the Drug Enforcement Administration and will face drug and money-laundering charges. He is the first high-ranking military official to be taken into custody in the United States in connection with drug-related corruption in his country.
Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter that he was informed of the detention of Cienfuegos by the U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
Cienfuegos led Mexico's defense ministry from 2012 to 2018, under the government of former president Enrique Peña Nieto. His arrest is an indication of the high reach of government corruption during years when Mexico's government waged a "war on drugs." Mexico’s military has played a central role in public security since the crackdown on the drug cartels began in 2006, deploying soldiers to regions overrun by organized crime. The secretary of defense oversees that effort, reports the New York Times.
It is a significant blow to Mexico's armed forces, which are some of the few remaining respected public institutions, reports the Associated Press. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador campaigned on promises to return soldiers to their barracks, but has instead come to rely on the military more than any other president in recent history. more than any other president in recent history. (See this April piece from Americas Quarterly.)
Under Cienfuegos, the Mexican army was accused of frequent human rights abuses, though the Associated Press notes that was true of both his predecessors and his successor in the post. The worst scandal in Cienfuegos’ tenure involved the 2014 Tlatlaya massacre, in which soldiers killed 22 suspects in a warehouse. Though the deaths were billed as a shootout, a human rights investigation later showed that at least eight and perhaps as many as a dozen suspects were executed after they surrendered.
The high-level arrest comes less than three weeks before the U.S. presidential election. President Donald Trump, seeking a second term, has made clamping down on cartel activity a major policy objective, though with little major progress since he took office in 2017, according to Reuters.
Nicaragua passes controversial "foreign agents" law
Nicaraguan lawmakers passed a controversial law aimed at controlling internationally financed organizations of civil society. The so-called "foreign agents law" requires any Nicaraguan citizen working for “governments, companies, foundations or foreign organizations” to register with the Interior Ministry, report monthly their income and spending and provide prior notice of what the foreign funds will be spent on. The law would then allow the government to limit political activity of Nicaraguan citizens thus registered.
The United States and the European Parliament last week condemned the bill promoted by the Nicaraguan government on the grounds that it restricts public freedoms. Both also threatened new sanctions. The law passed yesterday included more exceptions to the measure than original drafts, and excludes correspondents for foreign media, a category that had initially been included. Still, the approved language notes that those receiving exemptions still can’t participate in activities that would meddle in Nicaragua’s affairs.
This and other measures aimed at restricting press freedom in Nicaragua, proposed by the Ortega government, are an admission that police repression of anti-government protests has failed to quash dissent over the past two years, argued Carlos F. Chamorro in Confidencial last week. "These punitive laws aren’t a symptom of strength, but rather of the political and moral defeat of a minority regime." Hypothesis of why the Ortega government is pursuing the "Gag Law" and the "Cybercrimes Law" "are based on the regime’s urgency to adapt the Cuban and Venezuelan “model” of repressive authoritarianism to Nicaragua."
- Bolivia's presidential election re-do on Sunday could spark violence, regardless of the results, reports the Washington Post. Each side has accused the other of planning to cheat, all against the backdrop of a prolonged political crisis since last year's disputed vote. MAS party candidate Luis Arce is consistently ahead in the polls, but it is unclear whether he will be able to win outright against the second-place favorite, former president Carlos Mesa. (See yesterday's post.)
- There are more than 6,000 excess deaths in Nicaragua between January and August this year -- deaths that correspond to unrecognized Covid-19 deaths, according to an analysis carried out by Confidencial.
- Support is waning for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó -- who as National Assembly president has been recognized as the country's legitimate head by dozens of countries. As his mandate ends in January, Kristen Martinez-Gugerli explores what the diplomatic status of countries around the world with Venezuela is, and notes that international support for Guaidó is less than robust. (Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights)
- Attacks against indigenous communities in Honduras and Nicaragua overlap with environmental issues and demonstrate the lack of rule of law -- Latin America Risk Report.
- The World Bank’s latest forecast predicts Latin American and Caribbean economies would not return to 2019 levels until 2023, a year behind most other countries -- Aviso Latam, Atlantic Council
- The coronavirus public health crisis has exposed the fragility of Latin America’s healthcare systems -- a problem that has always been made worse by corruption, now more than ever, writes Lucy Hale at the Wilson Center's Weekly Asado.
- Legal justifications for abortion are extremely limited in Brazil -- but even women meeting the narrow rape or risk to woman's life criteria find significant obstacles in the way of obtaining the proceedure, reports the BBC. And that has been made even more difficult by the coronavirus pandemic, during which many legal clinics shutdown.
- Mafalda was part of a golden age of satire used as a weapon against abuse of power in Latin America, writes the Economist in its obituary cartoonist Quino. The Guardian notes that Quino said that if Mafalda had been a real person “she would have been one of the thousands of the disappeared” ––a reference to the many people tortured and killed clandestinely during the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. (See Oct. 1's post.)
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.