Wednesday, February 24, 2021

U.S. could sanction JOH (Feb. 24, 2021)

 A bill in U.S. Congress would sanction Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and prohibit the export of defense items such as tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets that Honduran security forces have deployed in recent years against protesters. Allegations linking Hernández to drug trafficking make his close relationship to the U.S. increasingly problematic, especially as the new Biden administration seeks to emphasize combating root causes of migration in Central America. 

The Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act, co-sponsored by an influential group of Democratic senators, makes clear that migration cannot be tackled if the U.S. supports Hernández, reports the Guardian. In the past year alone, at least 34,000 citizens have been detained for violating curfew and lockdown restrictions including nurse Kelya Martinez, who earlier this month was killed in police custody.

The bill would start an investigation of Hernández, who has been identified as a co-conspirator in three major drug trafficking and corruption cases brought by New York prosecutors, under the Kingpin Act to determine whether he is a designated narcotics trafficker. Such a designation would be a tremendous reversal of fortunes for a president who frequently cites Honduras’ active participation in the U.S. war on drugs, notes the Associated Press.

The bill would also ban the export of munitions including teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, water cannons, handcuffs, stun guns, Tasers and semi-automatic firearms until the security forces manage 12 months without committing human rights violations. In order for the restrictions to be lifted, Honduran authorities would need to demonstrate that it had pursued all legal avenues to prosecute those who ordered, carried out and covered up high-profile crimes including the assassination of indigenous environmentalist Berta Cáceres, the killing of more than 100 campesinos in the Bajo Aguán, the extrajudicial killings of anti-election fraud protesters, and the forced disappearance of Afro-indigenous Garifuna land defenders.

Honduras will be a test for the Biden administration's corruption combating goals for Central America, writes Edmund Ruge in Americas Quarterly, noting particularly the challenge of presidential elections later this year in Honduras.

News Briefs

  • Sixty-two inmates have died in gruesome prison riots in three Ecuadorean cities that started Monday. The violence stems from a battle between rival gangs to control detention centers, and was precipitated by a search for weapons carried out by police officers, reports the Associated Press.
  • Videos recorded by inmates and shared on social media showed beheaded corpses and mutilated arms and legs, shocking a nation unused to massacre, reports the New York Times.
  • Colombia suffered 76 massacres resulting in 292 deaths last year, more than doubling the number in 2020 and the highest one-year total since 2014, according to a new report U.N. human rights office report. The report characterizes the violence as "endemic" and related to social and territorial control by criminal and armed groups. (EFE)
  • "Some coups are obvious, like the recent military takeover in Myanmar. Others are murkier. What constitutes a coup d’état is all too often in the eye of the beholder," writes Farah Stockman in the New York Times, about Haiti's current political crisis. (See Feb. 8's post.)
  • Latin America and the Caribbean countries, already hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, are now victims of slow inoculation campaigns, reports Bloomberg. Much of the Caribbean and Central America are still weeks away from kicking off their campaigns. Delays in deliveries have sent countries that relied heavily on particular vaccines, such as Mexico and Colombia, running to ink last-minute contracts with competitors. Argentina is trying to produce more shots locally. 
  • Eight Cuban migrants were rescued off the U.S. coast after their makeshift styrofoam boat capsized following 16 days at sea, reports the Associated Press.
El Salvador
  • Ahead of legislative elections in El Salvador next Sunday, Brendan O’Boyle speaks to lawyer and researcher Claudia Umaña about the stakes in the Americas Quarterly podcast., Bukele’s resilient support, and the implications of a new administration in Washington.
  • A Bolivian prosecutor charged the country's former police chief of being ultimately responsible for the death of nine citizens murdered during 2019 protests against Jeanine Ánez's interim-government. (Telesur)
  • Emma Coronel, the wife of criminal leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, could have critical information about Sinaloa Cartel operations. She was arrested in the U.S. and could be key in understanding the criminal organization's financial structure, writes Omar Sánchez de Tagle in the Post Opinión. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The expulsion of the European Union’s delegation chief in Caracas will not change the bloc’s efforts to mediate a way towards new presidential elections, EU sources told Reuters.
  • Bolsonaro presented a measure in congress related to his government’s plans to privatize state-run electricity provider Eletrobras, an effort to calm markets after announcing a shakeup at Petrobras that sent the oil company’s stock tumbling, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Petrobras' financial future is at stake, according to the Wall Street Journal. Yesterday, the board moved forward with plans to approve Bolsonaro’s controversial appointment of an army general to the company’s helm in an apparent bid to force the firm to subsidize fuel prices.
  • Bolsonaro’s approval rating slumped to 32.9% in February, from 41.2% in October, according to a poll published on Monday by transport association CNT. (Reuters)
  • The care crisis precedes the pandemic, but lockdowns over the past year have forced all of us to confront the magnitude of unpaid care work and the gender inequalities it generates, particularly for poor women, I write in a New York Times Español op-ed.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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