Friday, January 15, 2021

First migrant caravan of 2021 heads out from Honduras (Jan. 15, 2021)

 The vanguard of 2021's first migrant caravan set out from San Pedro Sula in Honduras, yesterday, most wearing masks to help protect against the coronavirus. Thousands more were expected to join the initial 300 today. The charity Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano tweeted that some 3,500 migrants had gathered in the city on Thursday evening. Local media put the number at around 1,500. (Deutsche Welle) They are headed towards the Guatemalan border, and plan to make their way to the U.S.

The migrants -- many pushed by recent hurricanes that devastated Central America, in addition to Covid-19 economic repercussions -- leave with little certainty about how far they will make it. Regional governments appeared more united than ever in stopping their progress, reports the Associated Press. Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico issued a joint declaration earlier this week imposing coordinated health measures to deter migration, including requirements to produce negative coronavirus tests at border checkpoints, reports Reuters.

Guatemalan military spokesman Ruben Tellez said that up to 4,000 soldiers would be deployed to stop the migrants from entering en masse. (Reuters)

Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras have an agreement with the United States to stop north-bound migratory flows from the south of the continent. And periodic caravans of migrants -- who band together for safety and to avoid costly human traffickers -- have been deterred by soldiers at Mexico's border with Guatemala in recent years, reports AFP.

The caravan has set off just ahead of a new administration in the U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has promised a more human approach to migration. Vice president-elect Kamala Harris said a reform bill the incoming administration will present would eliminate controversial family separation policies enacted by the Trump administration. (Univisión)

News Briefs

El Salvador
  • U.S. prosecutors announced terrorism charges against top MS-13 leaders imprisoned in El Salvador, accusing them of ordering killings and other crimes by the notorious street gang from jail, reports the Associated Press. U.S. authorities said they were exploring ways to have the defendants brought to New York to face prosecution. Prosecutors said directives by the 14 defendants — members of an illicit commission known as “Ranfla Nacional” — have resulted in a wave of violence in El Salvador, the United States and elsewhere.
  • A group of international rights organizations -- including WOLA, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International -- denounced that "recent campaigns of stigmatization, harassment, and repression against the media in Venezuela constitute a clear attack against the freedoms of expression and of access to information and infringe upon the important contributions by these organizations to expose human rights violations committed by the Venezuelan authorities. The media outlet Efecto Cocuyo, community radio channel Fe y Alegría, as well as the National Press Workers Union, VPI TV, and news journal Panorama, among other media outlets, have become the target of stigmatization campaigns and legal scrutiny by the authorities that respond to Nicolás Maduro.
  • Lawyers for Venezuela’s central bank -- which responds to Maduro -- said opposition leader Juan Guaidó rejected a proposed deal to buy coronavirus vaccines in Britain, an assertion the opposition dismissed as false. The bank said it requested the support of an ad-hoc central bank board appointed by Guaidó to transfer $120 million in funds frozen in Britain to Gavi, an alliance seeking to improve poor countries’ vaccine access. (Reuters)
Regional Relations
  • Long standing tensions between Guyana and Venezuela, which claims an area that comprises two-thirds of the smaller English-speaking South American country, flared up again this month. While the area's riches include gold, diamonds and timber, the focus of Venezuela's claim is the massive offshore Liza oil field, reports Global Voices. The border dispute is before the ICJ, but Venezuela rejects the court's authority and demands a negotiated bilateral solution, reports Reuters.
  • "The current U.S. approach to China’s interest in the Caribbean has relied too heavily on a Cold War mentality in which Caribbean nations are viewed either as part of the United States’ backyard or proxies of China. This has led to the unfortunate habit of U.S. officials lecturing and threatening Caribbean leaders and their governments about the consequences of engaging with China," argues Wazim Mowla in Global Americans.
  • The presidents of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader, and of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, signed nine agreements in which they commit to confronting the irregular migratory flow and the issues of trade, maritime borders, sovereignty, health, and others common to both nations that share the island of Hispaniola. (Dominican Today)
  • U.S. president-elect Joe Biden is expected to implement a sea-change in policies towards Latin America, reports the Economist. "Bidenworld thinks it wrongheaded to confine democracy promotion to three countries. It shares the pre-Trump consensus that the neighbourhood’s stability depends on the rule of law, a strong civil society and fairer capitalism. It will seek more humane ways to control migration than bullying governments to block migrants as they pass through their countries."
  • Mexico published new rules regulating the activity of foreign agents, three months after a diplomatic spat with Washington over the arrest in the United States of Mexico’s former army chief, Salvador Cienfuegos. (EFE)
  • Mexican authorities say they will bring no charges against Cienfuegos, who was sent home by U.S. authorities at the request of Mexico's government. His complete exoneration in Mexico came as a shocking about-face after the authorities had promised to bring the full weight of the Mexican justice system to bear in the case, reports the New York Times.
  • Haiti is bracing for widespread protests today as opposition leaders demand that President Jovenel Moïse step down next month as an increasingly tired and angry population worries he is amassing too much power as he enters his second year of rule by decree. (See last Friday's post.)
  • Colombia's government is advancing with the reintegration into society of demobilized FARC guerrillas, and said that they should not be dissuaded from continuing in the process by attacks on former rebels. Over 250 have been killed since the landmark 2016 peace deal with the FARC. The Colombian government blames dissidents and illegal armed groups for the deaths, while former guerrillas say the government has dragged its feet on key parts of the peace deal. (Reuters)
  • Brazil's Amazonas state health system is collapsing under a second wave of Covid-19 infections that appears even more devastating than the first wave that struck last year, reports the Associated Press. There are reports of many patients dying after public hospitals and emergency care units ran out of oxygen, according to the Guardian. The state government said it would transport 235 patients to five other states and the federal capital, Brasilia.
  • Venezuela promised to send oxygen to Brazil, reports Reuters.
  • Paraguay is the eighth country outside Russia to approve the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine. It joins Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Algeria and Serbia. (Reuters)
  • Ecuador is headed for presidential and legislative elections on Feb. 7, and the spirit is apathetic, writes Iván Ulchur-Rota in a New York Times Español op-ed. Though there are sixteen candidates, only three have a chance and some polls found that 37 percent of voters will cast blank or annulled ballots. 
  • The three main candidates are Andrés Arauz (backed by former president Rafael Correa, who is his running mate), Guillermo Lasso (business friendly), and Yaku Pérez (an indigenous environmental activist popular among anti-Correa leftists) -- Americas Quarterly
  • Chile’s Congress began discussing the decriminalization of abortion within the first 14 weeks since conception, this week. The bill was presented in 2018 and is opposed by President Sebastian Piñera. Unlike the law approved in Argentina in December, the Chilean project is limited only to decriminalizing abortion and does not guarantee access to the procedure. (EFE)
  • Argentina's abortion legalization has spurred interest across the region, reports the Guardian.
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández reimposed limits on the country's military, which can only focus on external threats. It is a shift from his predecessor's policy that expanded military purview to internal threats, but is in keeping with Argentina's history of strict limitations on the military since the country's return to democracy in 1983. (Wilson Center Weekly Asado)
Caribbean News Updates
  • As some countries in the world launch coronavirus vaccination campaigns, and most others struggle to obtain jabs, Caricom expressed deep concern regarding inequitable access to vaccines.
  • This week's Caribbean News Updates looks at Cuba's vaccine development efforts, how litigation can be used to fight climate change, as well as other news from around the Caribbean.
Social Media
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador hopes to lead an international campaign against what he considers censorship by social media companies that deplatformed U.S. President Donald Trump. López Obrador says private companies should not have the right to decide who can speak. But the issue also displays his closeness to Trump, and his off-again, on-again love of social media, reports the Associated Press.
  • The issue of U.S. based companies' ability to moderate content takes on extra significance in sovereignty sensitive Latin America, noted James Bosworth at the Latin America Risk Report this week. 
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

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