Friday, November 27, 2020

Cuba breaks up San Isidro Movement hunger strike (Nov. 26, 2020)

 Cuban authorities broke up a prolonged hunger strike by demonstrators of the San Isidro Movement yesterday. The standoff between Cuban security forces and SIM protesters had been escalating throughout the month, 14 activists have been on hunger strike since Nov.16 demanding the release of the musician Denis Solis González, a musician arrested earlier this month. Cuban officials said they intervened late yesterday in response to Covid-19 concerns, but activists dismissed that as an excuse. Most of the protesters were detained briefly and released to their homes last night. (Reuters, El País)

Writer Carlos Manuel Álvarez had joined the hunger strikers this week, after returning from Miami, and alerted yesterday that authorities would try to leverage Covid-19 concerns to disarm the group that has been increasingly visible in internationally. (CiberCuba) The SIM is a multifaceted group that has combined art and political activism in an irreverent key in opposition to Cuban government repression. (BBC) Though it has been active since 2018, SIM has gained international prominence this month. Numerous organizations of civil society and international groups had called on Cuba's government to guarantee their safety.(Amnesty InternationalHavana Times)

The siege of the activists by security forces "has been read by independent media and social media, in and out of the island, as a potent gesture against censorship and the systematic repression exerted by an authoritarian state that does not permit the free realization oas such of its citizens," according to El Estornudo.

"Both the danger that the members represent and the seduction they inspire can be explained by the fact that they are perhaps the only Cubans on the island today who are living in a democracy, exotic animals that no one has seen alive in the country in 60 years," wrote Álvarez in a recent Washington Post op-ed.

News Briefs

Trinidad and Tobago
  • Twenty-six Venezuelans who returned to Trinidad and Tobago in a small boat on Tuesday, following an initial deportation days earlier, will be permitted to stay temporarily pending legal challenges to the deportation. The group, which includes 16 minors and up to 13 adults, has attracted international attention, and demonstrates the difficulties faced by Venezuelans who continue to flee the crisis at home. The group initially arrived to TT in two small boats last Sunday and were escorted back to international waters by the Coast Guard. The whereabouts of the group, which included children as young as four months, were reportedly unknown for 24 hours, before they returned to Trinidad by boat on Tuesday, though the details are still unclear. (NewsdayTrinidad ExpressReutersCaracas ChroniclesAFPNewsday)
  • Heat and heavy loads combine to cause widespread kidney failure among Nicaraguan sugarcane workers, reports the Guardian. Chronic kidney disease of unknown origin (CKDu) is believed to kill roughly 40,000 people a year, primarily from marginalised agricultural communities living along the equator. After years of denying work-place causes for the disease, some Nicaraguan sugar mills are implementing measures like mandatory shade, rest, water and electrolyte breaks. Experts believe this could reduce CKDu incidence by 70%.
  • Venezuela's PSUV party will definitely win the upcoming legislative elections, widely denounced as rigged. But the results still matter, because it will cement Nicolás Maduro's hold on the last remaining branch of government with opposition leadership, "a big step in its march towards full dictatorship," according to the Economist. As a practical matter, the vote will strip Juan Guaidó of his claim to the interim presidency. And constitutional experts are divided over what occurs legally after the current National Assembly mandate ends if the election is considered illegitimate.
  • Guatemalan protests last weekend reflected citizen fury, not just discontent, writes Álvaro Montenegro in El Faro. And police repression only fanned the flames of their ire. (See Wednesday's briefs, and Monday's post.)
  • Mexican feminists occupied the national Human Rights Commission building in September, and have turned it into a shelter for women and children suffering domestic abuse. The Washington Post calls it "one of the most extreme acts of a feminist movement that has grown more aggressive amid the intensifying violence and what its members say is official inaction."
  • The economy is Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's Achilles heel when it comes to reelection, according to the Economist's Bello column. His best bet for a second term would involve an alliance with the centrão -- though it would undermine his position as a political outsider "it would offer the kind of political machine that historically helped to win Brazilian elections—useful since social media alone are unlikely to give him such a competitive edge twice."
El Salvador
  • Salvadorean attorney general Raúl Melara has asked lawmakers to create a specialized police force to support the general prosecutor's office. The new force would be independent from the National Civil Police, at a time when the national force has increasingly blocked prosecutors' attempts to investigate the Bukele government, reports El Faro.
  • Drones that rained contraband on Panama's largest prison complex -- including marijuana, cell phones and pistol parts -- challenge the success of recent penitentiary security reforms, reports InSight Crime.
  • Disturbances as tens of thousands of fans gathered to say goodbye to Diego Maradona yesterday are yet another sign of Argentine political polarization and lack of planning argues Hugo Alconada Mon in a New York Times Español op-ed. Indeed, images of soccer fans cooling their feet in the Casa Rosada fountains will be interpreted along the same emotionally polarized lines that have divided Argentines since 1945, when a massive group of workers first splashed in the outdoor Plaza de Mayo fountains. As Página 12 puts it: "Without organization, messy and sometimes excessive, but with fervor and unconditional love, the people sought a way to accompany their idol to the door of his final resting spot."
I will be off next week -- but Eduardo Romero will be sending out the Daily Briefing in my stead.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

¡Gracias Diego! (Nov. 26, 2020)


Soccer legend Diego Maradona died yesterday and the world paused for a second. In Argentina outpourings of grief and appreciation for Maradona filled streets and social media. The government declared three days of mourning, and fans are lined up in Buenos Aires' Plaza de Mayo to pay final respects to Maradona whose casket is in the Casa Rosada. The line currently stretches over seven blocks, and more than a million people are expected -- a challenge for social distancing measures that remain in place due to the coronavirus. (Infobae) The wake is reminiscent of former president Nestor Kirchner's funeral in 2010, he was laid in state in the same Sala de los Patriotas Argentinos in the Casa Rosada, as well as those of Juan Perón in 1974 y and Eva Perón in 1953.

The outpouring of grief was not limited to Argentina however. The Guardian has photographs of homages from around the world, and Infobae of Argentine fans saying goodbye.

Maradona is revered for is soccer skills, but also for his larger than life personality off the pitch. For Argentines and others abroad, he has come to symbolize "Argentineness" itself, as any Argentine who has ever taken a taxi in another country can attest to. "Diego Maradona was a passport ... that opened worlds, a noun that never needed translation, a country's definitive surname," writes Alejandro Wall in the Post Opinión. "His story is the story of inequality in Argentina and Latin America."

He was an iconic figure whose excesses rivaled his talents. "No other player has ever inspired such fierce devotion," writes Rory Smith in the New York Times. "He was, in Argentina and beyond, simply “D10S,” a mixture of the number he wore and the word for God in Spanish," notes the Washington Post.

Marcela Mora y Araujo's obituary in the Guardian is eloquent: "Diego Maradona was one of the most intelligent and astute beings to have graced the game. He was a perfect embodiment of the human ability to be contradictory, to do and convey ugly and beautiful at once, good and evil in the same stroke. His celebrity was not separate from his private self – he was achingly human in every way, yet a superstar at all times."

Many of his pithy frases have entered the quotidian Argentine lexicon. (BBC)

A lot of articles: Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, pretty much the entirety of Argentine media.

News Briefs

  • What has been billed as Peru's "awakening" is under threat from police abuses -- backed in many cases by politicians, writes Gabriela Wiener in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Peru's nascent youth movement has no plans to return home after successfully pushing back against the ouster of former president Martín Vizcarra. Peru's current president, Francisco Sagasti, announced an overhaul of the police force, appointing a new police chief and firing more than a dozen high-level officers. The move responds to heavy-handed repression of protesters earlier this month, reports the Guardian.
  • Sagasti has the unenviable task of leading a country hobbled by a pandemic and economic crisis, and saddled with a Congress where nearly 70 of its 130 members are under investigation for bribery, money laundering and other crimes, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The case of former Mexican defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos, who is accused by the U.S. of collaborating with a drug cartel, represents "a momentous opportunity for Mexico's national prosecutor's office to prove itself as operating above corruption and the political dynamics of Mexican justice," write Maureen Meyer and Moses Ngong at WOLA. The case will be a major test for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's government in terms of demonstrating its commitment to anti-corruption efforts and justice reforms, particularly in light of Mexican officials’ push to have more officials investigated and prosecuted at home and not the United States.
  • U.S. authorities shut down a Texas warehouse where chain-link enclosures for migrants were deplored as “cages." The chain-link partitions will be removed, and the warehouse will be redesigned to provide detained migrants with more humane conditions, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (Washington Post)
Central America
  • More than a week after the second storm, vast areas of Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala remain flooded. Some areas are accessible only by boat. Remote communities are relying on food dropped by Honduran and U.S. military helicopters, reports the Washington Post. Honduras, the hardest hit country, could take years to recover: at least 3.7 million people, or more than a third of the population, have been affected. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Nicaragua suffered more than $740 million in damage from Hurricanes Eta and Iota, the government said this week. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) promised $1.7 billion in aid for millions of people affected across Central America, reports Reuters.
Regional Relations
  • The incoming U.S. Biden administration will have to balance its desire to re-thaw relations with Cuba against the danger of ceding Florida to the Republicans in 2024, reports the Washington Post.
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó is hoping to maintain bipartisan support in the U.S. as Biden prepares to take office. (Reuters)
  • Brazil's Cerrado savannah has become an agricultural powerhouse, but environmentalists and local communities say the advances came at the price of roaring deforestation, land grabbing, violence and the loss of traditional lands. Nearly half of the Cerrado’s native vegetation, which includes scrubland, grasslands and forests, is already used for agriculture, and clearing is fast advancing, reports the Guardian.
  • Major U.K. supermarkets and fast food outlets are selling chicken fed on soya imported from the Cerrado savannah, reports the Guardian separately.
  • Brazilian volleyball star Carol Solberg has become a powerful symbol of opposition to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and an unlikely champion of free speech, reports the Guardian. She spoke out against what she considers "a nightmare – a government that shows such contempt for its people and for human life." In retaliation the Brazilian Volleyball Confederation accused her of “staining the sport” with her “thoughtless act” and threatened action. Solberg was cleared of all wrongdoing last week after a public outcry.
  • A group of Chilean lawmakers has proposed moving up presidential and legislative elections scheduled for November of next year, reports Telesur.
  • A “one size fits all” aid approach around the world leaves out older people, according to a joint report published on Thursday by HelpAge International and Age International. The problem for vulnerable older adults has only been made worst by Covid-19, with women bearing the brunt of the failures, reports the Guardian. In Venezuela 89 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million over 64s live below the poverty line.
¡Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Hurricanes could contribute to a migration surge (Nov. 25, 2020)

Massive hurricane destruction this month in Central America has compounded economic devastation from the pandemic and long droughts. The situation expected to spur many vulnerable populations to seek alternatives elsewhere. Tens of thousands of Central Americans remain in shelters after the Eta-Iota destruction of their communities, but those along the migration route have already started to see storm victims begin to trickle north, reports the Associated Press.

Felipe Del Cid, Americas chief of operations for the Red Cross, described a “triple emergency” in countries like Honduras and Guatemala, referring to Eta, the pandemic and the years-long drought that has made even subsistence agriculture impossible across a long swath of the region. He said the Red Cross was preparing for internal displacement, as well as migration to other countries.

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden's promise to reverse many of the current Trump administration's most controversial measures could add to a potential mass migration, according to some experts. "There are very real risks that sudden changes in policy could generate a surge of unauthorized migration," warned Andrew Selee of the Migration Policy Institute in an Americas Quarterly piece last week.

"Absent a short-term fix, the region is likely to see more migration as damage from the hurricanes makes a difficult region in which to live yet more uninhabitable," warns a Los Angeles Times editorial. Even before this month's storms, some experts were warning that a potential migration surge could be an early test for the incoming Biden administration. (See Oct. 29's briefs.)

Because of this, experts don't believe Biden will take drastic measures right off the bat. They also warn that policies in Mexico and Guatemala to stop migrant caravans are unlikely to change immediately. "It is likely that the new U.S. administration will have to maintain the CDC order for summary expulsions, at least for a few weeks or months, while also relying on the Mexican and Central American governments to limit the movement of caravans through their territory – but they must immediately begin to construct a new regional architecture for managing migration," writes Seele.

More Migration
  • The U.S. Trump administration expelled 33 children who came to the country without a parent back to Guatemala after a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the controversial practice last week, reports Buzzfeed.
  • "Although deep reporting of the family separation policy and Central American exodus has helped shed light on the complex problems pushing people to take perilous journeys, much of the major coverage of Central Americans and their homelands remains shallow or sensationalized. And Central American stories and geographies that fall outside limited migration narratives often don’t make the news at all." The latest issue of the NACLA Report, "reflects on Central America’s past, present, and uncertain future. Migration is interwoven in these stories, and many authors offer incisive analysis that can enrich understandings of why Central Americans leave their homes."

News Briefs

  • The deadly beating of a Black man, Joao Alberto Silveira Freitas, by white guards in Brazil last week exemplifies "the persistent structural discrimination and racism" faced by Afro-Brazilians, according to the U.N. rights office. (AFP, see Monday's briefs.)
  • Black political participation is surging in Brazil, especially in local government. Afro-Brazilian women won 14% of city council seats nationwide in this month's municipal elections, compared to 3.9% four years ago. Black women still hit a hard glass ceiling when aiming for higher office, though, writes Gladys Mitchell-Walthour in the Conversation. (See Nov. 13's briefs.)
  • Rio de Janeiro councillor Marielle Franco's 2018 assassination "could have had a chilling effect upon Black candidates, it instead inspired a wave of Black candidacies," wrote Dalila Fernandes de Negreiros in NACLA recently.
  • WOLA has a new podcast -- The Venezuela Briefing -- which will explore various aspects of Venezuela’s political, humanitarian, and migratory crises, and the prospects for change. In the first episode Geoff Ramsey and Kristen Martinez-Gugerli interview Feliciano Reyna, founder and executive president of Acción Solidaria, a humanitarian organization that advocates a peaceful and negotiated political solution to Venezuela's crisis.
  • Massive protests against a budget proposal in Guatemala last weekend build on the country's recent history of political activism, which ousted a president in 2015 and attempted to push back against the dismantling of the country's anti-corruption efforts. But anger has grown over the years, and the latest protests were more motivated outrage and ire against establishment politicians, writes Plaza Pública's Enrique Naveda in the Post Opinión. (See Monday's post.)
  • Bolivian President Luis Arce should resist the temptation to engage in revenge justice against his predecessor's questionable government and instead initiate broad reforms. Prosecutors should of course investigate evidence of corruption or other crimes. But Arce should stop any witch hunt, argue Human Rights Watch's José Miguel Vivanco and César Muñoz Acebes in Americas Quarterly.
  • Four years after a landmark peace deal, the security situation in several parts of Colombia -- particularly Cauca -- has deteriorated notably, reports Al Jazeera. Demobilized fighters and human rights defenders have been systematically killed, threatened, or attacked and dissident groups and other armed actors vying for illicit economies in former FARC territories.
  • Mexican security forces have arrested local drug cartel boss Roberto González Montes, nicknamed El Mudo, implicated in the 2019 massacre of 9 women and children from a remote Mormon community. Montes is allegedly the leader of a local section of La Línea, which is considered the armed wing of the Juárez cartel and is accused of running extortion rackets in the region, among other illegal activities. (Guardian)
  • A new national survey suggests a third of businesses have experienced corruption in the past year, reports the Latin America Risk Report.
  • FIFA, has banned the president of the Haitian Football Federation (FHF), Yves Jean-Bart, from the sport for life, following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and abuse, reports CNN. The decision should be followed by swift action to sanction other abusers and their accomplices, criminal prosecutions in Haiti and other jurisdictions, and ongoing therapeutic support for survivors, argues Human Rights Watch.
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Economic Rights (OSRESCER) have published a thematic report on trans and gender-diverse people and their economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights.
  • Argentina's women are held up to untenable standards of motherhood under a "patriarchal" judicial system, writes María Florencia Alcaraz in the Post Opinión. On the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women she holds up the case of María Ramona Ovando, an impoverished victim of systematic poverty and machismo who was first imprisoned after one of her daughters died of malnutrition and has now been jailed again for failing to prevent sexual abuse suffered by two of her daughters. "The presumption of innocence doesn't exist when it comes to situations related to conception, pregnancy, birth, and maternity."
  • Argentina's largest criminal group, Los Monos, seems to be behind a wave of violence in Rosario, part of a territorial war with rival clans contesting control of microtrafficking, reports InSight Crime.

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Ortega's grip on media (Nov. 24, 2020)

 News Briefs

  • A Reuters investigation details how President Daniel Ortega's family's media empire strengthens his regime and lines their pockets with state funds. Documents reviewed by Reuters show millions in state advertising at family broadcasters even as those channels dodge taxes. The Ortegas also deploy budget and tax laws to squeeze rival media and tighten their own grip on power by silencing dissent.
El Salvador
  • El Salvador authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the government’s coronavirus pandemic spending. It is the severest legal action to date taken against the administration of President Nayib Bukele, according to InSight Crime.
  • Police attempted to block prosecutors' raids on ministries earlier this month in relation to the investigation, the latest example of a political crisis that has been evolving during Bukele's presidency, argues El Faro in an editorial. "The government's efforts to hide irregularities in its purchases and contracting during the pandemic, which ascend to hundreds of thousands of dollars, are demonstrating its disposition to pervert all of the State's institutionality in order to shield itself."
  • Bukele has increased army operations along the country’s northern border with Honduras to combat transnational drug trafficking but this measure appears to overlook the primary entry points for cocaine, reports InSight Crime.
  • New evidence indicates most of the 24 inmates killed during a March riot in Bogotá's La Modelo prison were shot to death intentionally, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. Autopsy reports HRW commissioned from independent forensic experts concluded that none of the dead were shot in a way that indicates whoever fired only wanted to injure them. (Associated Press)
  • U.S. president-elect Joe Biden tapped Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the Department of Homeland Security, a choice that thrilled immigrant advocates, reports the Washington Post. Biden has pledged to reverse many — if not most — of President Donald Trump’s executive actions on immigration, and Mayorkas’s nomination signaled that the president-elect is looking for someone experienced in both immigration policy and politics.
  • The devastation of Eta and Iota's one-two punch in Central America will be long term. Otras Miradas gathers reports from independent journalists in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica.
  • Nicaragua Investiga documents the total destruction wrought in Bilwi area communities. Confidencial reports that Nicaragua's Ortega government abandoned opposition-led localities in the lead-up and aftermath of Iota.
  • Honduran coffee growers lost more than 5,000 blocks (manzanas) of crops in November's hurricanes, reports Criterio.
  • Olancho, a documentary about an Honduran musician forced to flee home when he writes a song that angers a local drug cartel, highlights the corruption and violence that plagues Honduras. Watch it through to raise funds for hurricane victims.
  • Housing rights activist Guilherme Boulos of the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL) won second place in São Paulo's mayoral elections on Nov. 15. His victory pushed this weekend's runoff election sharply towards the left, according to Jacobin.
  • Brazil has gathered enough infection data from a late-stage trial of an experimental Covid-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech and expects to have interim results on its efficiency in early December, reports Reuters.
  • After lawmakers ouster former Peruvian president Martín Vizcarra, earlier this month, Peruvian protesters "reclaimed Vizcarra’s mandate and articulated it as their own desire for a reckoning of the political system," writes Néstor David Pastor at Nacla. (See Nov. 16's post.) "Similar to Vizcarra’s lack of party affiliation, this decentralized, inclusive movement, led primarily by youth, is untethered to a particular ideology or political party. At least initially, it aims to guarantee a transition of power to the people through the ballot."
  • Chilean President Sebastian Piñera said his government will legally challenge a bill in congress that would allow citizens to draw down a second installment from their privately held pensions, reports Reuters.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s approval rating has risen to its highest level in a year, reports Reuters. The latest poll shows the president has the support of 64% of the population just six months ahead of legislative elections. 
  • Mexican authorities have recovered 113 bodies and additional human remains from a secret grave outside the western city of Guadalajara, reports the Associated Press.
Cayman Islands
  • A new report by the Tax Justice Network claims that globally countries are losing $427 billion each year to international corporate tax abuse and private tax evasion. According to the advocacy group’s analysis of country-by-country earnings reported by multinationals, the Cayman Islands tops the list by being responsible for 16.5% of global tax losses or more than $70 billion. (Cayman Compass)
  • InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was spearheaded by Co-director Jeremy McDermott.
  • Latin America has a strong shot to become a world leader in hydrogen production, a key pivot to clean fuel, argues Mauricio Cárdenas in Americas Quarterly.

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

Monday, November 23, 2020

Guatemalans protest budget cuts, Giammattei (Nov. 23, 2020)

 Thousands of Guatemalans protested against President Alejandro Giammattei and the legislature for approving a budget that cut educational and health spending this weekend. Hundreds broke into the National Assembly building on Saturday and set it on fire, and an estimated 7,000 people gathered peacefully in Guatemala city marches. Police arrested more than 20 people and almost 50 were sent to hospital injured, one of them in a serious condition.

The head of Congress announced today that the controversial budget will not be sent to Giammattei for signature and will not come into force.

Protesters were incensed by the budget that reduced spending on health and education but increased lawmakers' meal stipends. The proposal would also gut funding to combat malnutrition and slashed funding for the judiciary. Discontent had been growing for days in relation to the 2021 budget, which was negotiated in secret and approved by the congress before dawn Wednesday. Protesters say lawmakers schemed while Guatemalans were distracted by back-to-back hurricanes and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The indignation harkens back to 2015 protests that toppled then president Otto Pérez Molina, but there is an added component of exhaustion and irritation about the country's trajectory, explains Plaza Pública in an in-depth piece on the protests.

“It was a devious blow to the people because Guatemala was between natural disasters, there are signs of government corruption, clientelism in the humanitarian aid,” said Jordan Rodas, the country’s human rights prosecutor.

The budget lawmakers passed was almost $13 billion, the largest in the country's history. But, analysts say a third of the budget will need to be financed by debt, and most of the funds will go to infrastructure tied to big business which has angered citizens that point to the country's high level of poverty.

The Roman Catholic Church leadership in Guatemala called on Giammattei to veto the budget. On Friday, Vice President Guillermo Castillo said in a news conference that he had “little communication with the president” and offered to resign, but only if Giammattei stepped down with him. 

More Guatemala
  • The Guatemalan Congress’s efforts to press criminal charges against Constitutional Court judges over a recent court ruling are a flagrant assault on judicial independence, Human Rights Watch said last week.
News Briefs

  • A Black man died after being beaten by supermarket guards in Porto Alegre last Thursday, on the eve of Brazilian Black Consciousness Day. Footage showed João Alberto Silveira Freitas being punched in the face just outside the doors of a Carrefour supermarket, reports the Associated Press. Other clips showed Freitas’ being kneeled on. The two men who allegedly beat Freitas have been detained and are being investigated for homicide due to the victim’s asphyxiation and his inability to defend himself, according to the police.
  • The case ignited widespread outrage in a country that has been grappling with structural racism and the violent treatment of Black Brazilians by security forces, reports the Washington Post. Hundreds of protesters held demonstrations over the weekend outside Carrefour stores in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, as well as in the south and northeast of the country, reports the Wall Street Journal. More than 2,000 demonstrators staged a protest outside the Carrefour store Friday where Freitas died.
  • Pastors and politicians in Brazil are increasingly waging a legal crusade against journalists and critics reports the New York Times. The number of lawsuits against journalists and news organizations seeking the removal of content or damages for critical coverage has increased notably during the Bolsonaro presidency. The piece highlights the case of journalist J.P. Cuenca who has been sued for an acerbic Twitter comment by at least 130 Universal Church pastors, claiming “moral injury."
  • Digital misinformation is a major issue in Brazilian elections, including the second round of this year's municipal elections that take place next Sunday. "Social media is the dominant battlespace in which politicians mobilize their digital mobs for political advantage," write Igarapé researchers in an Open Democracy piece that explores how the government and companies have sought to counteract fake news.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro won office, in part, on his anti-corruption campaign. But two years into the job, Brazil appears to be regressing in its quest to stamp out the malfeasance, reports the Washington Post. And Bolsonaro and politician members of his family are under investigation for a variety of improprieties, including accusations of embezzlement and money laundering.
  • Brazil has been accused of obstructing United Nations biodiversity talks following a row over the use of virtual meeting technology to overcome Covid-19 restrictions. The dispute threatens a key conference next year which aims to set new targets to protect the Earth’s natural life support systems, reports the Guardian.
  • Venezuela will hold legislative elections on Dec. 6, though most international observers say the government has not come close to a minimum threshold for them to be considered "free and fair." Most prominent opposition parties have decided not to participate, and instead Juan Guaidó is promoting a parallel "citizen consultation" or referendum asking voters to reject the Dec. 6 legislative elections. Citizens will be able to cast votes online starting Dec. 5 and at some physical polling spots on Dec. 12. The referendum also asks whether voters believe "necessary measures with the international community" should be taken to defend Venezuelan democracy. The question is aimed at granting the opposition some sort of mandate to continue international lobbying after they lose their seats in the National Assembly, according to some analysts. (EFE, Venezuela Weekly, Caracas Chronicles
  • Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro has indicated a desire to establish "direct channels of dialogue" with the incoming U.S. Biden administration, while the Venezuelan opposition expects the future U.S. government to maintain pressure against Maduro. Biden advisors are limited in what they can say so far, but indicated support for a "negotiated solution to this crisis" during the campaign. (Venezuela Weekly)
  • Beyond whatever policy changes a Biden presidency could bring to regional relations, the domestic transformation promised by the next U.S. government could inspire reforms in Latin America, argues Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which lambasted parts of Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala in quick succession this month will have ramifications for years. Climate change induced factors, including more intense storms and droughts that are destroying crops in Central America, are a major push factor for migrants, reports the Daily Beast.
  • Hurricane destruction of infrastructure in Central America was widespread, reports the Washington Post.
  • At least 13 people died in two massacres in different parts of Colombia this weekend, reports AFP.
  • International stargazers who planned to watch a Dec. 14 total solar eclipse that will track across Chile and Argentina could be stymied by Covid-19 travel restrictions in both countries, though regulations are loosening, reports the Washington Post.

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

Friday, November 20, 2020

Mexican Senate approves cannabis bill (Nov. 20, 2020)

 Mexico's senate passed a bill yesterday that would make Mexico the third country in the world, after Uruguay and Canada, to legalise cannabis for recreational use nationwide. The bill passed by a landslide 82 votes in favor, and now passes to the Chamber of Deputies. Lawmakers are on a mid-December deadline to create a regulatory framework: The Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that recreational marijuana should be permitted, just one year after lawmakers legalized it for medicinal use.

The bill would let users carry up to 28 grams and grow as many as four plants at home. Sales to adults in authorized businesses would be allowed, provided the product abides by maximum levels of psychoactive ingredients.

Advocates were concerned that the proposals under consideration favors private companies over individual consumers. Clauses maintain criminalization of users, warn activists.

Advocates have argued that the legalization would dent the black market, in addition to the public health angle. But the move could have risky secondary effects, such as provoking cartel violence and diversification, warns the Economist.

News Briefs

  • Firearms trafficked from the U.S. to Mexico have given increasingly militarized drug cartels arsenals that rival the weaponry of the country’s security forces. In many cases, criminals outgun police, reports the Washington Post.
  • A shadowy military "brotherhood" apparently pressured Mexico's government to play hardball with the U.S. in order to obtain the release of former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos, who was arrested in Los Angeles last month and accused of collaborating with a drug cartel, reports Infobae. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Peruvian President Francisco Sagasti is a 76-year-old technocrat with decades of experience thinking about political problems -- and a demonstrated commitment to defending democratic norms, writes Jo-Marie Burt in Americas Quarterly. He faces an unenviable task: navigating between powerful lawmakers angling to protect themselves from prosecution, and a protest movement angered by systemic graft and recent police repression.
  • Nicaragua's ruling FSLN party is angling to replace Supreme Court judges and electoral tribunal authorities who have been operating well past their constitutional mandates. The move would give the Ortega administration the opportunity to replace the majority of the Supreme Court with amenable judges ahead of elections next year, reports Confidencial.
  • Nearly 100 major industrial river ports have been built on the Brazilian Amazon’s major rivers over the past two decades, many have been internationally financed and built by commodities companies with little government oversight. These ports have transformed the region, opening it to agribusiness and the export of commodities, especially soy, to China and the rest of the world. However, this boom in port infrastructure often came at the expense of the environment and traditional riverine communities, writes Manuela Andreoni at Mongabay.
  • Brazilian finance minister Paulo Guedes is stuck trying to figure out how to balance an expensive emergency aid program, growing market concerns, and his mercurial boss, President Jair Bolsonaro -- Thomas Traumann at Americas Quarterly.
  • Ecuador portrays itself as a victim of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing by Chinese trawlers near the Galapagos islands. But the country's own fishing industry is just as bad, warn activists -- Economist.
  • Guyana remains a crucial transit point for cocaine headed to the United States and across the Atlantic. InSight Crime looks at Guyana’s decisive role as a transit hub on drug trafficking routes linking Latin America to lucrative markets for cocaine.
  • There have been dozens of reports implicating Argentine police in human rights abuses since the country entered an extended coronavirus quarantine in March -- authorities should move beyond condemnation of such episodes and ensure that transgressors are duly sanctioned, writes Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco in El Post. Police repression is at its worst against residents of poorer neighborhoods, and there have also been cases of grave abuses against LGBTQI people under the guise of quarantine enforcement, he notes.
  • Covid-19 vaccines that require complex cold-chain infrastructure will be out of reach for two-thirds of the world's population. The next vaccine frontier is delivery mechanisms that don't require refrigeration, or even needles, reports the Guardian.
  • The back issues of a Mexican small-town newspaper, El Sol de Tampico, hold a clue that undermines theories linking JFK's assasination to Cuban spies -- Conversation.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Iota lashes Central America (Nov. 19, 2020)

Iota is the strongest hurricane ever to have hit Nicaragua, according to government officials. At least 16 people were killed by the Category 4 storm that hit the country this week, the second major hurricane in two weeks to hit Central America. 

In Nicaragua over 62,000 people moved into 683 government shelters following the storm. In Honduras Iota has destroyed many areas largely spared by Eta and increased the flood damage in already stricken areas.

Earlier this month, Eta caused more than 130 deaths as it triggered flash floods and mudslides in parts of Central America and Mexico. 

The double hurricane blow compounds Covid-19 pain in the region -- analysts compare the impact to that of 1998 Hurricane Mitch, but this time around international attention and aid are already focused on the pandemic.

News Briefs

  • The Venezuelan government has brutally cracked down on leftist activists who turned against Nicolás Maduro's government. Leftist parties have historically supported Chavista governments, but, disillusioned with the country's collapse, they have decided to field their own candidates in the upcoming legislative elections. Many have been harassed or violently repressed in response, reports the New York Times.
  • Creditors from hedge funds to oil companies are moving closer to seizing billions of dollars in Venezuela’s overseas assets. If they succeed it will be a blow to the country’s opposition movement that has sought to protect the assets for an eventual change in regime, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The U.S. Senate confirmed James Story's nomination as ambassador to Caracas, making him the first U.S. ambassador to Venezuela in a decade. (Al Jazeera)
  • Mexico's government threatened to expel U.S. federal drug agents from the country in retaliation for the U.S. arrest of former Mexican defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos, reports the New York Times. That would have jeopardized a decades-long partnership that has helped bring several top drug lords to justice, a possibility that apparently motivated the U.S. Justice Department to drop drug trafficking charges against Cienfuegos. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Mexico welcomed the U.S. about-face, but the dramatic reversal did not resolve a deeper tension that has crept into bilateral relations since Cienfuegos's arrest in Los Angeles last month, according to the Washington Post. For Mexicans the issue was one of sovereignty, and of honor for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador who has been accused at home of conceding too much to U.S. President Donald Trump. The case has also opened a rift within the U.S. government. The move was met with deep frustration by some investigators involved in the case, reports the Daily Beast.
El Salvador
  • El Salvador has awarded a $780,000 lobby contract to a three-week old Washington firm set up to promote investment as President Nayib Bukele, a staunch Trump ally, seeks to pivot toward Joe Biden’s $4 billion development plan to stop the flow of migration from Central America -- Associated Press.
  • Hundreds of Chileans protested yesterday in Santiago to demand the resignation of President Sebastian Piñera over police repression of the country's social protests, reports AFP.
  • Chilean police chief Mario Rozas resigned today following months of controversy over alleged rights abuses and excessive use of force by the country’s security forces. Police allegedly shot and wounded two boys during a raid at the offices of Chile’s child welfare service in Talcahuano yesterday, reports Reuters.
  • Peruvian protesters poured out in anger when lawmakers ousted President Martín Vizcarra earlier this month, but the underlying cause was rejection of decades of corruption and authoritarian governance in the country, writes Ñusta Carranza Ko in the Washington Post. This new generation of protesters sought to break with the past and claimed that the government "messed with the wrong generation." 
  • "Many Peruvians were under the impression that the return to democracy would automatically purge government institutions of their deeply ingrained corruption, generate stability and comity among political and social movements, and address some of the grievances boiling underneath the glossy economic statistics," writes Álvaro Vargas Llosa in the Washington Post. "But, 20 years after the return of democracy, Peru’s institutions and social and economic structures are as fragile as ever, and the economy, mired in crony capitalism and mercantilism, stopped shining years ago."
  • The protests were coordinated by hundreds of small, decentralized organizations formed through social media, reports Nacla. The week-long protests in Peru show new dynamics of social mobilization fostered during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Police clashed with protesters in Port-au-Prince calling for Haitian President Jovenel Moïse to step down amid corruption allegations, yesterday. (Voice of America)
  • At least five people were killed in a landslide caused by illegal mining in Esmeraldas in northern Ecuador. (New York Times)
  • The Guardian delves into the Colombian false positives scandal, and fallen military hero General Mario Montoya's role in the case.
  • Vaccinating 20 percent of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean against COVID-19 will cost more than $2 billion. But low income countries will be helped by the COVAX Facility led by the World Health Organization, announce the Pan-American Health Organization. (Reuters)
  • The Guernica land occupation on the outskirts of Buenos Aires showed the cracks in an increasingly unequal system and the resilience of community organization, reports Nacla.
  • Argentine reproductive rights activists are hoping for a “green” Christmas this year after President Alberto Fernández re-launched the country’s debate over legal abortion this week, with a bill that would permit women to voluntarily end pregnancies until 14 weeks and guarantees free access to the procedure. He is fulfilling what appears to be a heartfelt campaign promise, but the move is also politically pragmatic, I write in Americas Quarterly. Though abortion legalization is polarizing, Fernández has taken pains to frame the issue as one of public health, emphasizing that ultimately legalization will not lead to new abortions, but will make those that already occur safer.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

U.S. drops charges against Cienfuegos (Nov. 18, 2020)

 The U.S. Justice Department abruptly decided to drop drug trafficking and corruption charges against former Mexican defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos. Cienfuegos, who was arrested in Los Angeles last month, will be returned to Mexico in a stunning reversal that left observers reeling.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr portrayed the decision as "a recognition of the strong law enforcement partnership between Mexico and the United States, and in the interests of demonstrating our united front against all forms of criminality," and said Mexican officials will investigate Cienfuegos and charge him if appropriate.

Mexico’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, welcomed what he called a “gesture of respect” towards Mexico and its armed forces, not a “path towards impunity” for an alleged criminal, reports the Guardian.

The arrest was originally touted as a window into high level corruption and collusion with criminal organizations within the Mexican government. But diplomatic considerations appear to have played a strong role in the reversal. “The United States has determined that sensitive and important foreign policy considerations outweigh the government’s interest in pursuing the prosecution of the defendant, under the totality of the circumstances, and therefore require dismissal of the case,” wrote prosecutors asking a U.S. judge to dismiss the charges. (Aristegui Noticias)

Mexican officials voiced displeasure that they weren't warned of the arrest in advance, and received evidence against Cienfuegos only afterwards, reports the New York Times. Possible reasons for the reversal could also include preservation of military cooperation between the two countries. If the United States hadn’t agreed to drop the charges against Cienfuegos, “the army would have held off on any kind of cooperation with the U.S. for a decade," Alejandro Hope told the Washington Post

Other analysts pointed to the cozy relationship between U.S. President Donald Trump and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador who still hasn't officially recognized Trump's loss in this month's presidential election.

Cienfuegos would not necessarily be placed in custody in Mexico, reports the Associated Press. “In Mexico, he will be received by the Attorney General’s Office,” Ebrard said. “In what status will he come? That of a Mexican citizen who does not face charges in the United States at this moment.”

News Briefs

  • At least six people have been killed and more than 60,000 evacuated after Hurricane Iota struck Nicaragua yesterday. U.S. president-elect Joe Biden said the increasing frequency of powerful storms in the Atlantic this year is one reason fighting climate change will be a priority for his administration. (Guardian)
  • Hurricane Iota slowed yesterday as it moved across Nicaragua toward Honduras, but heavy rainfall could trigger life-threatening flooding in areas soaked by Hurricane Eta just two weeks ago. (New York Times)
  • The vast majority of infrastructure on the Colombian island of Providencia -- 98 percent-- was destroyed by Hurricane Iota, which hit with Category 5 force on Monday. At least one person was killed. The 17-square-kilometer island has about 5,000 inhabitants and is part of the San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina archipelago. The hurricane also caused great material damage on the island of San Andrés. (Al JazeeraDeutsche WelleQ24N)
  • Protesters in several Latin American countries last year met with heavy handed repression by security forces last year. Human Rights Watch documented dozens of cases of excess force and negligence in Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, Haiti, and Bolivia in the course of 2019. Police violence often exacerbated tensions with protesters in these countries and indicates the need for urgent reform, write Juan Pappier and César Muñoz Acebes in a New York Times Español op-ed. "Police abuses in Latin America tend to be the result of generalized impunity, lack of supervision and an institutional culture of opacity that tolerates, and, on occasion, encourages abuse," write the Human Rights Watch investigators.
  • Que sea ley: Argentine President Alberto Fernández re-launched the country’s debate over legal abortion yesterday, with a bill that would permit women to voluntarily end pregnancies until 14 weeks, and guarantees free access to the procedure. Fernández framed the issue as one of public health, aimed at preventing harm to women who seek abortions regardless of their legal status. He accompanied the proposal with a bill dubbed the “1,000 Day Plan,” a comprehensive welfare program to support women during pregnancy and the first few years of children’s lives. (Página 12)
  • Suriname authorities arrested former Vice President Ashwin Adhin in an investigation into the alleged destruction of equipment in the vice presidential office after his party lost power in the May elections. President Chandrikapersad Santokhi said that Adhin, who is a legislator, had been detained and questioned, reports the Associated Press.
  • Cuba has two coronavirus vaccines in clinical trials, and could become an important supplier to neighboring countries that might otherwise struggle to access vaccine supply as wealthy Western nations rush to secure doses, reports Reuters.
  • The theft of livestock, crops and farming equipment - known as praedial larceny - is on the rise in Jamaica. The practise has increased in response to the Covid-19 pandemic's economic impact, and women are more likely to be targets, reports Reuters.

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