Monday, October 5, 2020

Migrant caravan detained in Guatemala (Oct. 5, 2020)

 Guatemalan authorities detained and deported 3,500 Honduran migrants who were headed north towards the United States. The caravan posed a Covid-19 contagion risk, according to President Alejandro Giammattei. The group had entered eastern Guatemala last week, pushing over a military cordon on the Corinto border before splitting into groups to reach Mexico, which has closed its borders, reports AFP

Guatemalan authorities said the migrants "opted to return" to Honduras, but Al Jazeera notes that migrants were blocked by military and police forces before accepting transport back to the border in army trucks and other vehicles. A few hundred more were pushing on towards Mexico this weekend, reports Reuters

"Seldom since 2018 had the prospects for a migrant caravan been so discouraging," according to the Associated Press, citing ill will from the governments of Guatemala and Mexico, as well as a tropical storm along the migrants' path.

Members of the caravan cited violence at home and economic poverty, exacerbated by the pandemic and lockdowns aimed at containing contagion, as motivation for the arduous trek north. Many spoke of hunger and impossibly low wages. 

Though caravans crop up regularly, this is the first migrant group to travel en mass since the coronavirus pandemic hit the region in March, notes the Guardian. Many members of the groups wore masks in transit.

Migrant groups travel in numbers for safety, which saves the cost of paying human smugglers, coyotes, to assist them on the trip. But though the group travel mode has existed for years, they have become a perennial issue in regional politics -- since U.S. President Donald Trump accused a 2018 group of meddling in mid-term elections. That year he mobilized soldiers to the U.S. - Mexico border to meet a caravan and U.S. authorities tear-gassed a group that included women and children attempting to reach U.S. soil. (See post for Nov. 26, 2018)

Trump has since then pressured Mexico to stop migrant flows further south. Earlier this year, Mexican National Guard forces repelled a caravan group of thousands attempting to cross into the country from Guatemala. (See post for Jan. 21, 2020.) Mexico deployed its military along the southern border on Friday to block a migrant caravan, reports Deutsche Welle.

Conspiracy theories, espoused by high level politicians in some cases, have linked caravans to broader political ends. This time is no different, reports the Los Angeles Times. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Friday that there might be political motives behind the new caravan, though he acknowledged he did not have “all the elements” to support that belief. Members of the Honduran government have blamed diverse boogeymen -- including liberal nonprofits, criminal groups and philanthropist George Soros -- though, as the LA Times notes, "there is no public evidence that the latest caravan or any earlier iterations were organized by people or groups trying to influence U.S. elections."

A recent study by the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) defines forced migration as that which occurs when people face threats to their lives or livelihoods, that cannot be overcome except by displacement, internal or across borders. In Central America's Northern Triangle, motives for migration include job precarity, limited access to public services and poor government. Violence -- against the LGBTQI population, at home, from gangs, criminal groups or the state -- also figures high on the list. (El Faro)

Chile police accused of abuse -- anniversary of protests

Chilean authorities detained a police officer who allegedly threw a teenager from a bridge during a protest. Dramatic videos show how the 16-year-old boy fell from the Pío Nono bridge in Santiago into a riverbed. The incident emphasizes ongoing concerns about harsh police repression of protests that came to a fore during massive social unrest last year. On Friday, police used plumes of teargas and high-pressure water jets to disperse protesters congregating in Santiago's Plaza Italia.

The North Central Prosecutor’s Office of Santiago accused the police officer of “causing” the youth to fall, while police said the teen lost his balance and fell, reports the Associated Press. Chile’s public prosecutor has said that since last October 8,575 alleged human rights violations have been perpetrated by the Carabineros in the repression of protests, and only 16 police agents have been stood down as a result, reports the Guardian.

Analysts fear that the anniversary of the 2019 protests, set off last October by a rise in the price of public transport, will unleash a new wave of unrest, which has largely come to a halt in March due to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Reuters.

Last year's protests were nominally about a moderate hike in the capital's subway fare, but the slogan -- "it's not 30 pesos, it's 30 years" -- captured how citizens relate current social policy failures, like inadequate health care and education policies, to the 1980 constitution passed under dictator General Augusto Pinochet. The protests were defused, somewhat, by the promise of a referendum on whether to reform the constitution, which was postponed this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Polls consistently predict that voters will convene a constitutional convention. The vote is due to be held later this month. In the New Yorker, Daniel Alarcón analyzes how Covid-19 has impacted the protest movement and asks whether "a once-in-a-generation political revolution" can survive the pandemic?

News Briefs

  • The Amazon rainforest is on the brink of becoming open savannah as a result of climate change. Though the process takes years, once the change is underway it is hard to reverse, reports the New York Times. Rainfall in about 40% of the forest is now at a level where the rainforest could be expected to exist as savannah instead, according to a study in the journal Nature Communications, led by the Stockholm Resilience Centre and based on computer models and data analysis.
  • Two bills under consideration by Nicaragua's legislature would cripple independent journalism in the country, according to advocates. The measures would require journalists who work for international media to register with the government as foreign agents and establish jail terms of up to four years for those who used a computer to spread “false and/or misrepresented information which causes alarm.” Analysts say the measures could be deployed to silence critics, reports the Washington Post. (See last Tuesday's briefs.)
More Migration
  • "The pandemic has turned the binational family lives of Mexican-Americans upside down," writes Jorge Ramos in a New York Times op-ed. "The wall built by Covid-19, much more than President Trump’s wall, has succeeded in keeping us all apart."
  • "Telepresidents," like  U.S. President Donald Trump and Mexican Presidents Andrés Manuel López Obrador, should be interpreted through soap-opera lenses, writes Alberto Barrera Tyszka in the New York Times Español. "The communicative performance of leadership - fundamentally linked to the media sphere - now establishes a type of relationship with the audience that is closer to the rules of melodramatic emotion than to the debate of ideas, proposals and public actions."
  • Until last Friday, the Dominican Republic’s recently inaugurated president, Luis Abinader, was the only world leader known to have run an election campaign while infected with the novel coronavirus. He won with 53 percent of the vote, notes the Washington Post.
Island Life
  • El Faro relates the story of the Benítez family, who isolated themselves on a tiny island of El Salvador's coast well before social distancing was a thing. The family has lived on the island of Periquito for 30 years, the third generation is currently growing up there.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always. 


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