Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Guatemalan forces forcibly break up migrant caravan (Jan. 19, 2021)


Honduran migrants clash with Guatemalan soldiers in Vado Hondo, Guatemala, on Sunday.

(Sandra Sebastian/AP)

Guatemalan police and soldiers broke up a group of hundreds of migrants who were traveling north from Honduras in a caravan formation. Security forces closed in on the migrants just beyond the village of Vado Hondo, some 55 km from the borders of Honduras and El Salvador. Some migrants threw rocks while authorities launched tear gas and pushed the migrants with their riot shields back down the highway. Migrants with children were more gently prodded back the way they had come, reports the Associated Press

The removal of the large group was the latest effort by Guatemalan authorities to break up the year's first migrant caravan, which departed from San Pedro Sula early Friday morning, reports Reuters. In total, some 8,000 to 9,000 Honduran migrants were believed to have entered Guatemala, but their push appears to have been largely deterred by Guatemalan forces. (See yesterday's post.)

Pedro Brolo Vila, Guatemala‘s foreign affairs secretary, criticized Honduras’ government for not doing more to dissuade the caravan, and said Guatemala was “totally surprised” by Honduras’ lack of cooperation, reports the Associated Press. Mexican authorities praised the Guatemalan government's forceful response to the migrants. Mexico beefed up security on its own southern border with Guatemala in anticipation of the caravan, reports NPR.

News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • Former Colombian peace negotiators emphasized Cuba's strong role in supporting talks with the FARC that ultimately resulted in the 2016 peace deal. "We say with total certainty: without Cuba’s commitment and contribution there would have been no peace agreement in Colombia." Humberto de la Calle and Sergio Jaramillo wrote in response to the U.S. inclusion of Cuba on its list of countries that sponsor terrorism, and emphasized the care Cuban authorities took to ensure that FARC guerrillas in Havana for negotiations stuck to the peace mission. (See Jan. 12's post.) "...Despite all the differences that we may have with the regime of Cuba, we are obliged to recognize and thank the generous spirit and the professionalism that Cuba deployed in favor of peace in Colombia." (In English.)
  • The U.S. Trump administration's push against Cuba has implications for the rest of the Caribbean, warns Sir Ronald Sanders. In a questionnaire the U.S. will use to compile its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, Caribbean countries were asked about workers from Cuba. "The objective appears to be the classification of Cuban medical personnel as ‘trafficked persons’, thereby implicating both Cuba and Caribbean governments in criminal activity." (Kaieteur News)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's ornery stance towards the incoming U.S. Biden administration is, at least partially, due to that the Democrats are more likely to intervene to promote labor rights and clean energy, mucking up AMLO's national agenda, reports the New York Times.
  • Mexico has reserved a tremendous amount of coronavirus vaccine doses -- 300 million for its 128 million inhabitants -- but its vaccination plan is far too slow, and seems to follow political priorities rather than epidemiological ones, writes Lucina Melesio in the Post Opinión.
  • As Latin American governments slowly roll out vaccination programs, criminal groups (especially in Mexico) are offering a range of scams from reserved vaccination spots to counterfeit vaccines – practices that may have serious public health implications, reports InSight Crime.
  • Brazil kicked off its coronavirus vaccination program yesterday. (See yesterday's briefs.) But rollout is expected to be painfully slow and the government is scrambling to buy more vaccines after months of taking a lackadaisical approach, reports the New York Times. The country is simultaneously battling two new variants of the virus. Prosecutors say at least 16 people died because hospitals ran out of oxygen amid a sharp rise in critically ill patients in Amazonas state last week.
  • Diplomatic "maximum pressure," has failed at ousting Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, but has contributed to the country's increasingly acute humanitarian crisis. The time has come to switch to a "food-for-oil" program, with the collaboration of Venezuela's battered political opposition, argues Ibsen Martinez in the New York Times Español.
El Salvador
  • The U.S. government’s terrorism case against the MS-13 opens a new frontier in fighting international street gangs, reports InSight Crime. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • "The recent decision by the US government to charge MS13’s top leaders in El Salvador with terrorism is either a sign of how little they understand the gang or a sign of how well they understand their own justice system," writes Steven Dudley in an InSight Crime deep-dive analysis of U.S. efforts to fight MS-13, from Los Angeles to El Salvador. 
  • Cuba is implementing a deep financial reform that reduces subsidies, eliminates a dual currency that was key to the old system and raises salaries. A key difference? The new system encourages people to work. The goal is to boost productivity and reconfigure a socialist system that will still grant universal benefits such as free health care and education, reports the Associated Press. But critics are concerned the plan will increase inequality without providing solutions for people without work.
British Virgin Islands
  • British-appointed British Virgin Islands governor Gus Jaspert established to a commission of inquiry to investigate concerns over governance, including specific allegations that point to possible corruption and infiltration by serious organized criminal gangs. He was pushed to take the extraordinary measure by allegations of widespread political corruption, misuse of taxpayer’s money and a climate of fear following a November discovery of a cocaine stash worth more than £190m., reports the Guardian. The decision to set up a commission is an acknowledgement that BVI’s own criminal justice system is not capable of mounting an effective and impartial investigation. It also throws the constitutional relationship between the UK and overseas territories into the spotlight.
  • Latin America's transition to democracy has not brought about less violent societies. "Instead, many of Latin America’s democracies have given rise to a plethora of nonstate armed groups including prison and street gangs, drug-trafficking cartels, smuggling networks, militias, and vigilante groups," write Juan Albarracín and Nicholas Barnes in the Latin America Research Review. According to the Brazil Research Initiative: Key takeaways include the incredible variation in forms of criminal violence in the region; the extent to which state-society relations are remade by criminal groups; the huge proportion of the region’s population who are directly impacted by criminal groups’ symbiotic but often antagonistic relations with the state; and the manner by which criminal groups “shift back and forth across the political/criminal divide.”
  • Caribbean artists, politicians and other luminaries from Antigua to Barbados to Jamaica feted Kamala Harris's historical rise as “America’s first Black Caribbean-American” vice president in a virtual celebration ahead of tomorrow's inauguration, reports the Miami Herald.
  • A small boat with 159 migrants ran aground near Turks and Caicos, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. (Miami Herald)
  • A collection of bright pink seesaws that allowed people to interact over the US-Mexico border has won the prestigious Design of the Year award, reports the Guardian. The creators said they hope the "Teeter Totter Wall" encourages people to build bridges between communities.
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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