Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Brazilian military shakeup (March 31, 2021)

 The three commanders of Brazil's armed forces abruptly resigned yesterday, following President Jair Bolsonaro's ousting of the defense minister on Monday.  The shakeup has fueled rampant speculation about a breakdown in Bolsonaro's relationship with the military, a key part of the president's political alliance. Analysts expressed fears that Bolsonaro, who is increasingly unpopular and under political pressure, was moving to assert greater control over the military. (See yesterday's post.)

Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has repeatedly said the military was on his side in political disputes. Earlier this month, he called it “my military.” The outgoing defense minister, Fernando Azevedo e Silva, said in his resignation letter that he had “preserved the armed forces as state institutions,” a nod at his effort to keep generals out of politics. (Associated Press

Leading centrist and leftist politicians came out in support of the former military chiefs Tuesday, saying their departures marked a step backward for Brazilian democracy, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Several analysts noted that support for Bolsonaro is stronger among lower rungs of the military, rather than the top leadership, and speculate that Bolsonaro's actions could aim to co-opt the armed forces. (New York Times and Página 12) The simultaneous resignation of all three commanders, apparently unprecedented since the country's return to democracy, came after they met with the new defense minister yesterday, Gen. Walter Souza Braga Netto. It’s unclear whether they resigned or were forced out, notes the Washington Post.

Ominously, Braga Netto's first statements in his new post celebrated today's anniversary of the 1964 military coup, which launched two decades of dictatorship that killed and tortured thousands of Brazilians. “The armed forces ended up assuming the responsibility for pacifying the country, facing the challenges to reorganize it and secure the democratic liberties that today we enjoy,” said Braga Netto.

Bolsonaro has given the military significant leadership roles in his administration, the "most militarized" since the country's democratization in 1985, reported the Washington Post last year. But military leaders have failed at several missions entrusted to them by Bolsonaro -- including overseeing the country's pandemic response and protecting the rainforest. And many senior figures within the military have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the identification between the military and the Bolsonaro government.

Beyond the military, Bolsonaro's cabinet changes this week suggested mounting political desperation in the presidential palace, as Brazilians increasingly blame the government for the sweeping Covid-19 crisis that has overwhelmed the country's health systems, reports the Washington Post.

More Brazil
  • Brazilian democracy is not the same for all its citizens. The term “disjunctive democracy” is used to describe the political democratization of the 1980s and 1990s because it contained both increased political rights and a continued violation of human rights. This disjunctive democratization was experienced differently according to race and class. -- The Conversation.
News Briefs

  • Nearly 5,000 Venezuelan refugees have crossed the Colombian border in the past week, fleeing intense and continuing armed clashes between Venezuela’s armed forces (FANB) and Colombian rebel groups. Witnesses have described human rights abuses at the hands of the FANB soldiers, including home break-ins and forced disappearances, though independent observers have so far not been able to verify the claims, reports the Guardian. Colombian officials say the clashes between the FANB and illegal armed groups is over drug trafficking routes, while Venezuelan authorities say Colombian guerrillas are part of a foreign offensive against Venezuela.
  • More armed clashes are to be expected, according to InSight Crime's Venezuela Investigative Unit. A history of armed clashes between Venezuela's military and armed groups "reflect a relationship marked by criminal gains and losses."
  • U.S. political realities mean "a peaceful and democratic solution in Venezuela is unlikely without some significant, public concessions from [President Nicolás] Maduro in the short term," argues Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights
  • Possible routes for Maduro to demonstrate "good faith" could involve: Naming a more credible National Electoral Council (CNE); Agreeing to come to terms with the opposition on COVAX; Broadening access to humanitarian assistance, including for the World Food Programme (WFP). "On their own, none of these partial agreements will restore democracy in Venezuela. But concessions from Maduro on one or all three of these points could allow the Biden administration to justify taking a bigger policy risk."
  • Diesel shortages stemming from harsh sanctions introduced at the end of the Trump administration threaten to paralyze Venezuela, warns Ociel Alí López in Nacla.
  • Tony Hernández, brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, has been sentenced by a U.S. court to life in prison after he was convicted over what prosecutors described as "state-sponsored drug trafficking." U.S. prosecutors said that Hernández fueled a flood of cocaine shipments into the United States by paying millions of dollars to top Honduran officials like his brother. (Guardian)
  • Honduran police turned back a U.S.-bound caravan of hundreds of migrants yesterday. The Honduran police set up a checkpoint near the Guatemalan border. Migrants who did not have the required paperwork were driven back to San Pedro Sula, reports Reuters. It is the second large caravan to set out from Honduras (and be thwarted) this year.
  • U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei yesterday on the issue of migration, the beginning of an announced outreach effort to tackle root causes of migration in Central America. (Reuters)  The choice of Northern Triangle leader -- neither Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele nor Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández -- is telling writes journalist José Luis Sanz. (See yesterday's post on the diplomatic challenges the White House faces on this initiative.)
  •  Some 300 residents of a remote stretch of the Mexico-Guatemala border held 15 Mexican soldiers captive for hours after one of the soldiers shot and killed a Guatemalan citizen at a checkpoint, reports the Associated Press.
  • Child migration is a vexing, bipartisan quandary for several reasons, writes Ediberto Román in the Conversation, analyzing the current U.S. border crisis.  The main four can be summed up as: children need care; care is costly; care is complicated; migrant's aren't anybody's constituents.
  • The Guatemalan judiciary system's independence has been fatally undermined by Giammatei, whose pressure led to a majority of the incoming Constitutional Court's magistrates having connections to corrupt interests, writes Alvaro Montenegro in El Faro
  • The coronavirus pandemic has dominated Peru's presidential debates ahead of the upcoming April 11 elections, reports Reuters.
  • Peruvian presidential candidate Veronika Mendoza is the only progressive leftist candidate competing in the elections. Mendoza, who has handily won recent debates simply by dint of sanity in a group of candidates defined by bizarre takes on pandemic realities, represents a chance to exit Peru's eternal political crisis, argues Gabriela Wiener in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • A 2018 waste spill at the Fortuna silver mine impacted a stream in Oaxaca State. The event sparked an intense controversy, documented by the media, over whether or not the mining waste had contaminated communities’ soil and water. A journalistic investigation by Avispa Midia, Aristegui Noticias, and Pie de Página, in alliance with CONNECTAS uncovers the original official reports, which indicate exceedingly high presence of toxic materials. It also shows how Mexican authorities and the company kept these documents under wraps in order to let Fortuna off the hook for the effects of its contamination. (English translation at Nacla.)

  • "However modest, marijuana legalization would be a symbolic milestone for Mexico, a country immersed in an unforgiving drug war." writes Luis Gómez Romero on Mexico's likely imminent cannabis legalization. (Conversation)
  • Ecuador’s health system is under severe strain from a spike in coronavirus infections, reports Reuters.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Salazar's killing spotlights gender violence and migrant rights (March 30, 2021)

 The death of Victoria Esperanza Salazar Arriaza, a migrant Salvadoran woman killed while being detained by Mexican police who kneeled on her spine, has put a spotlight on Mexico's crisis of violence against women, as well as the regular abuses faced by Central Americans traversing Mexico in hopes of reaching the U.S. 

Salazar died on Saturday after being detained by the police in Tulum. Videos shared on social media show an officer kneeling on the woman’s back as she cried out. Officers can later be seen dragging her limp body into the back of a police truck. (See yesterday's briefs.) 

Many are comparing the case to George Floyd's killing last year by police in the U.S. Óscar Montes de Oca Rosales, the attorney general of Quintana Roo state, said that four municipal police officers – three men and one woman – had been charged with femicide after an autopsy concluded that Salazar’s neck was broken. "The police restraint technique was applied with a disproportionate and excessive force," he said. (Guardian)

Salazar was granted refugee status in Mexico in 2018, and was in the country on a humanitarian visa, according to Mexican immigration officials. She fled gender based violence in El Salvador, reports El Faro. There was no indication that she was bound for the United States, reports the New York Times. Mexican security forces have a dismal human rights record, particularly when it comes to migrants. A dozen police officers were arrested last month in connection with the January massacre of 19 people, most Guatemalan migrants.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador lamented the episode of police violence. “She was brutally treated and murdered … It is an event that fills us with pain and shame," he said, speaking at the opening of a United Nations summit focused on gender equality co-hosted by Mexico. AMLO has repeatedly clashed with women's rights activists, who have become some of his most dogged opponents in Mexican politics. On Sunday night, family members of women killed in Mexico held an all-night vigil outside the National Palace to demand justice for victims of gender based violence. 

The Mexican authorities must ensure the protection of Victoria Esperanza Salazar’s two daughters and inform her family of the whereabouts of her eldest daughter, who remained unaccounted for, said Amnesty International.

U.S. border migration surge

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is deploying more agents to the US-Mexico border as the agency continues to face a growing number of migrants, reports CNN. The number of unaccompanied migrant children in border facilities on Sunday, 5,767, was the highest since the federal government began releasing data last week, though the overall number of unaccompanied migrant children in US government custody, however, ticked down slightly from a high last week.

"The word “crisis” is both an overstatement and an understatement of the situation," writes Jonathan Blitzer in the New Yorker. "The situation is worse than much of the public understands, because the issues involved are genuinely complex and nearly impossible to settle as long as policymakers in Washington continue to regard decency as a sign of political weakness rather than of moral strength."

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will start diplomatic outreach to Mexico and Northern Triangle leaders this week, as part of her new mission of tackling the root causes of the migrant surge to the United States and to oversee the flow and use of US aid, reports the Washington Post. (See last Thursday's post.)

Opposition politicians in the U.S. have portrayed the current migrant surge as a result of the Biden administration's efforts to revert the previous government's hardline immigration policies. But the real cause is a long-term humanitarian crisis in Central America, compounded by the devastation of back-to-back hurricanes that hit the region last November, reports Vox.

In the short-run, the U.S. must dissuade migrants with immediate assistance at home, including large scale food assistance for those impacted by Hurricanes Eta and Iota, argues Dan Restrepo at The Hill.

The Biden administration's work with Central American governments will be complicated by mounting evidence presented in U.S. courts linking Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández to criminal organizations, notes the Financial Times. Given the allegations against him by U.S. prosecutors, some analysts say it is hard to see how Hernández can be part of the White House effort to tackle the root causes of migration in Central America. It is not clear whether JOH will be among the leaders Harris will speak to this week, reports ABC News

The U.S. government has pledged $4 billion in aid to Central America, but administration officials have said they will limit how much will go to governments in the region. (El País, and see March 10's briefs.) A recent Wilson Center report on aid to Central America under the Obama and Trump administrations recommends future programs have more realistic goals, describing a suite of aid programs where outcomes and metrics were not always clearly defined.

Comments by Biden administration officials in recent weeks "suggest that those recommendations inform an evolved U.S. strategy in the region—namely, a prioritization of good governance reforms ahead of other types of interventions and a new wariness of corrupt local elites," writes Catherine Osborn in Foreign Policy's Latin America Brief.

"It’s not just about prioritizing governance, but about doing so smartly. That requires a granular approach," writes Naomi Roht-Arriaza in Just Security. "The Biden administration is already signaling that it will aim to funnel the funding to reliable partners and require transparency in accounting as well as progress on anti-corruption." She recommends concrete measures, including conditioning aid to implementing anti-corruption recommendations, and implementing strict accountability for organizations of civil society as well as governments.

More Migration
  • Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei decreed a “state of prevention” along the country’s border with Honduras, yesterday, amid reports that a new migrant caravan may be forming in Honduras. The emergency decree would restrict open-air gatherings and demonstrations without permits, and will be in effect for two weeks in the five Guatemalan provinces along the border with Honduras, reports the Associated Press.
  • While many of the migrants who reach the U.S. border come from Central America, others come from farther afield, they start their journey across Central America at the Panama-Colombia border, with a fraught journey across the Darien Gap -- BBC.
  • Reuters photo-essay on Central American migrants journey to the U.S. border.

Bolsonaro shuffles cabinet, armed forces leadership

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro unveiled a deep cabinet reshuffle yesterday, amid rising anger in the country at the overwhelming Covid crisis. He ousted Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo -- who is under fire by lawmakers who blame him for scuppering vaccine supply deals, reports the Wall Street Journal.

He also fired Defense Minister Gen Fernando Azevedo e Silva yesterday, which provoked the subsequent resignation of the heads of all three branches of the armed forces today, reports the Guardian. Folha de São Paulo said that never before in Brazilian history had the heads of all three branches of the military resigned out of disagreement with a president. Brazilian media reports say the break with Azevedo e Silva came after the minister made clear that the armed forces owed loyalty to the constitution and were not Bolsonaro’s personal force. Some analysts indicate that Bolsonaro might be seeking to install more pliable military leaders in case his bid to secure a second presidential term in 2022 fails.

Bolsonaro's dramatic cabinet shuffles seem designed to ensure support from his closest allies, and, especially, trying to ensure he has the support he needs from Brazil’s military, writes Brian Winter in Americas Quarterly. "Most of Bolsonaro’s Cabinet changes were designed to shore up the alliance with the Centrão" political coalition. "But if the gambit fails — and history shows it might — Bolsonaro’s clear backup plan is to have as many men with guns on his side as possible in the event of an impeachment or an adverse result in the 2022 election."

More Brazil
  • People are dying in line for intensive care unit beds in Brazil, reports Reuters. Across the country there are over 6,000 people waiting for an ICU bed, according to government data. In 15 of Brazil’s 26 states, ICU capacity is at or above 90% full.
News Briefs

  • About 4,700 Venezuelans have been displaced to Colombia during the past week, according to Colombian government figures, after the Venezuelan military launched an operation against armed groups near the border, reports Al Jazeera. The Venezuelan defence ministry said on Saturday that six fighters from those Colombian armed groups had been killed in the fighting, while 39 others had been taken into custody. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • Venezuelans fleeing to Colombia to escape clashes between the Venezuelan military and irregular armed groups have accused soldiers of abuses, including killing civilians, reports Reuters.
  • Colombian officials say thousands of Venezuelans are fleeing over the Colombian border to escape a dispute over control of drug trafficking between the Venezuelan military and illegal armed groups in Venezuela's Apure state. (Reuters)
  • Haiti's democracy seems to be increasingly slipping away, according to Reuters.
  • Last week, Cuba started vaccinating 150,000 health care workers with its Soberana 2 vaccine that is still in the third phase of clinical trials. And, yesterday, the island nation started giving its Abdala vaccine to 124,000 health care workers—Abdala is likewise still in phase 3 of vaccine trials, reports AFP
  • Cuba has four vaccines currently at various stages of clinical trials, including two in the final phase three: Soberana 2 and Abdala. On the basis of as-yet-unpublished results from early-stage clinical trials, Vicente Verez-Bencomo, director-general of the Finlay Institute, expects the Soberana 2 to show an efficacy in the region of 80–95%, reports The Lancet.
  • Cuba's long-standing commitment to health has led to a successful COVID-19 pandemic response, but it is threatened by financial and supplier issues, notes The Lancet.
  • Brazil is increasingly shunned by panicked neighbors worried that more contagious Covid-19 variants in the country will collapse their already-creaking health systems. (Guardian)
El Salvador
  • El Salvador has some of the most draconian abortion laws in the world, so much so that miscarriages and stillbirths land women in jail. The Talk About Power podcast talks to human rights activists fighting to change "El Salvador's Handmaid's Tales abortion laws."
  • Ecuadorean airport officials seized 185 baby tortoises wrapped in plastic and being smuggled from the Galapagos Islands in a suitcase. A dozen of the tortoises died, and veterinarians said the remainder were not in good condition. (New York Times)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...


Monday, March 29, 2021

Chile to postpone constitutional assembly elections (March 29, 2021)

 Chilean President Sebastián Piñera proposed postponing constitutional assembly elections scheduled for next month, due to a surge in coronavirus cases. Chile implemented strict new coronavirus lockdowns last week in the midst of a deadly second wave of cases that has 95 percent of the country's intensive care capacity occupied. 

More than 80% of the country’s 19 million inhabitants weren't able to leave their homes at all over the weekend. During the week, each person is allowed two short-term permits to leave the house to buy essentials and can exercise outdoors between 7am and 8.30am.

This despite the fact that Chile has mounted the world's fastest per-capita Covid-19 vaccination campaign, reports the Guardian. Nearly half of the country’s population has received at least one vaccine dose.

Piñera's proposal to move elections from April to May would need Congressional approval, reports AFP. The vote is to elect not only members of the Constituent Assembly, in charge of writing a fresh constitution, but governors and mayors as well. Congressional and presidential elections scheduled for November of this year would not be affected, reports Reuters.

News Briefs

  • The U.S. government is weighing whether to temporarily lift intellectual property protections on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. (CNBC) The U.S. has, until now, resisted pressure from developing nations that a small group of wealthy countries hold the right to a disproportionate amount of the global supply. (See March 11's post.)
  • Colombian President Iván Duque called on the U.S. to help Western Hemisphere countries obtain Covid-19 vaccines, reports Reuters.“The distribution of vaccines has been pretty much unequal and we have countries that have bought vaccines but they haven’t been able to receive not even one (dose),” Duque said during a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council.
  • Cuba has five vaccine candidates in development; two in late-stage trials with the goal of a broader rollout by May. Success could be a game changer for other developing nations, as the jabs would be cheap and easy to store. They could also make Cuba the pharmacist for nations lumped by Washington into the “Axis of Evil” and “Troika of Tyranny," reports the Washington Post.
  • Brazil unveiled its first two domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine candidates for human trials on Friday. (Reuters)
  • Brazil is now reporting more new cases and deaths per day than any other country in the world. Intensive care units around the country are full, and contagion continues to increase -- the situation is "dire," reports the New York Times. "The breakdown is a stark failure for a country that, in past decades, was a model for other developing nations."
  • Brazil’s more than 300,000 deaths from COVID-19 amount to the “biggest genocide” in the Latin American country’s history, according to former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. (Al Jazeera)
  • Mexico's government revised its Covid-19 toll to include excess deaths. The official number of Covid-19 deaths is now above 321,000, almost 60 percent more than the official test-confirmed number. The higher toll would exceed that of Brazil, which has the world’s second-highest number of deaths after the US., though Mexico’s population of 126 million is far smaller than those of either of those countries, notes the Associated Press.
  • Mexico's election agency withdrew the ballot registration of Félix Salgado, who was running for Guerrero State governor, on technical grounds. Salgado's candidacy has been controversial, as he was nominated by the ruling Morena party despite accusations of rape against him. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's continued defense of Salgado has pitted AMLO against Mexican women's rights groups. However, election authorities' struck his candidacy on technical grounds, not because of the allegations. (Guardian)
  • Four police officers in the Mexican city of Tulum have been charged with femicide after a Salvadoran woman died while being restrained. Social media videos of the Saturday night incident appear to show a female officer kneeling on Victoria Salazar’s back while she was being arrested. An autopsy concluded that Salazar’s neck was broken. “The police restraint technique was applied with a disproportionate and excessive force,” according to the attorney general of Quintana Roo state. (Guardian)
Regional Relations
  • The presidents of Mexico and Bolivia signed a joint statement warning Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Luis Almagro to stay away from their countries' domestic matters. (Mercopress)
  • The U.S. blocked Venezuela from proceeding with its dispute over Washington’s sanctions at the World Trade Organization, on Friday. (Reuters)
  • Facebook froze Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s page for 30 days for violating its policies against spreading misinformation about Covid-19. Venezuela’s government accused Facebook Inc of "digital totalitarianism," reports Reuters.
  • Paraguay's political system has been dominated by the Partido Colorado for decades. Recent citizen protests against the government, fueled by the pandemic and reports of corruption, have the potential to create change, but require astute leadership from civil society and a united opposition alliance, writes Sylvia Colombo in New York Times Español.
  • Armed groups in Colombia are recruiting children, a return to a common feature of the country's decades long civil war with guerrillas. Young people — "trapped between an often absent state, the aggressive recruitment of armed groups and the firepower of the military" — are the most vulnerable targets in Colombia's renewed armed conflict, reports the New York Times.
  • A 9-year-old migrant girl drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande into Texas with her family. It is the first reported death of a child in a new surge of migration along the U.S. southwestern border, reports the New York Times.
El Salvador
  • FOCOS TV, an independent television program in El Salvador, announced the end of its run with Canal 33, which formally said it will be focusing on educational programming. The announcement came as a surprise to the project's leadership, but which promised to continue on digital platforms. (El Diario de Hoy)
  • Journalist Saúl Alfaro, FOCOS founder, wrote that independent journalism is more important than ever in El Salvador, and that "without criteria, audiences are manipulable by the propaganda of the government in turn." (El Diario de Hoy)
  • A Brazilian court has ordered President Jair Bolsonaro to pay compensation to journalist Patricia Campos Mello after he made degrading comments about her, reports the BBC.
  • The story of a Brazilian pilot who survived a plane crash and a month in the Amazon rainforest has heartened a country besieged by bad news, but the case "also put a spotlight on Brazil’s illegal mining industry, which has flourished in recent decades in Indigenous territories and other parts of the Amazon that are supposed to be sanctuaries," reports the New York Times in partnership with the Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Investigations Network.
  • Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies passed a bill that would exempt about 1.3 million citizens from paying income taxes, a move aimed at boosting the country's economic recovery from the pandemic, reports Bloomberg.
  • Argentina's lower chamber of congress also passed a bill that would create a national environmental education plan. (Página 12)
  • Colombian singer Karol G is challenging outdated views of women in Latin pop – but her naive racial politics have sparked controversy, reports the Guardian.
  • Inclusive language doesn't resolve exclusion, but it highlights the need for effective policies of inclusion, writes Jorge Carrión in the New York Times Español. "I don't think it matters if you are in favor or against the increasingly common use of neutral words. What matters is that nobody forgets that inclusion is still pending."

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

Friday, March 26, 2021

U.S. plans anti-corruption taskforce in Central America (March 26, 2021)

News Briefs

  • Central American migration to the U.S. is pushed, in part, by "a predatory elite" tied to a host of problems in their home countries — not because of the current U.S. government's easing of its predecessor's hardline immigration policies, according to Juan González, a top aide to U.S. President Joe Biden on immigration. (See yesterday's post.) "Migration is essentially a social release valve for migrants," he said. 
  • The U.S. will work to create a regional anti-corruption taskforce in Central America, González said, a move that would fulfill a Biden campaign promise, reports NPR. The taskforce would cooperate with civil society, the private sector, and willing governments, he said in a press conference with Central American journalists. (La Prensa)
  • Covid-19 "has shattered Latin America to a greater degree than many appreciate," and current optimism that the worst has passed "may be dooming the region for years to come," writes Brian Winter in Americas Quarterly. The pandemic has deepened already gaping disparities within the world's most unequal region, and poor economic growth means much of the population will be living worse than before in the near future. 
  • About 114 million students in Latin America and the Caribbean don't have face-to-face schooling due to total and partial closures, according to UNICEF’s latest estimates. It is the region in the world with the largest number of children still missing out on in-person classes.On average, children in this region have lost 158 school days of face-to-face schooling.
  • A U.S. intelligence agency recommended the country support South American efforts to fight Chinese illegal fishing and trade practices, according to a document obtained by Axios. Last year, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru stated they would join forces to defend their territorial waters from incursions by Chinese vessels. (See briefs for Nov. 2, 2020)
  • Thirteen countries in Latin America have changed health ministers at least once since the start of the pandemic: in all, 25 ministers have resigned or been fired, reports the Wilson Center's Weekly Aasado.
  • Authorities in Argentina’s northern province of Formosa have employed often abusive and unsanitary measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch and the Johns Hopkins University’s centers for Public Health and Human Rights and for Humanitarian Health. People held in mandatory isolation and quarantine centers in Formosa have, in many cases, been under circumstances that amount to arbitrary detention. Formosa authorities adopted a new protocol this week, complying with a federal judge's order to end the mandatory quarantine for people entering the province with a negative PCR test.
Regional Relations
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández's warm relationship with Mexico's Andrés Manuel López Obrador "is offering Latin America an alternative pole of power and influence, based on a vision of regional autonomy and solidarity," argues Antonio Huizar in World Politics Review.
  • Argentina will withdraw from the “Lima Group” of Latin American countries united by the goal of helping to restore democracy in Venezuela through a "peaceful and negotiated solution." Argentina’s foreign ministry said it agreed with the group’s mission but said that the “participation” of the Venezuelan opposition, led by Juan Guaidó, in the bloc had "led to the adoption of positions that our government has not and can not stand by." (Reuters)
  • There is growing pressure for the US to allow diesel trade with Venezuela to resume. The assumption among energy industry analysts is that it’s going to happen this year, according to the Latin America Risk Report.
  • A Venezuelan military operation against a dissident FARC group in Apure, on the Colombian border, is the first open rebellion of a dissident group against Chavismo, reports la Silla Vacía. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Venezuela's largest business organization presented a proposal to buy 6 million Covid-19 vaccines to inoculate private sector workers and families, reports Reuters. The plan that would require approval from Nicolás Maduro's government. Venezuela has received 700,000 vaccine doses, of which 500,000 were donated by China's Sinopharm and the rest are Russia's Sputnik V. Opposition leaders are separately negotiating to buy vaccines via the COVAX program using funds frozen in the United States.
  • Recent weeks have seen credible reports of quiet talks on electoral reform in Venezuela, WOLA is tracking these developments closely.
  • Venezuelan opposition and civil society actors should maintain efforts to negotiate regarding elections and vaccines: "Flexible and soft efforts to find pragmatic solutions to Venezuela's problems can force Maduro into tough decisions where he is likely to make costly political errors," writes Boz at the Latin America Risk Report.
  • Venezuela has recently seen a spike in Covid-19 cases, which the government has partially attributed to the so-called Manaus variant. Medicos Unidos de Venezuela, an organization established to protest the longstanding shortage of medical supplies in the country’s hospitals, warned that intensive care capacity -- both public and private -- is insufficient for patients needing ventilators. (Associated Press)
  • Brazil's neighbors and trading partners are taking steps to limit contact with the country - and contemplating more draconian ones. They fear new waves of infection from Brazil, particularly the so-called Manaus variant, reports Reuters.
  • Brazil registered a record 100,158 new coronavirus cases within 24 hours, and 2,777 Covid-19 deaths, yesterday. The health situation is rapidly becoming a political crisis for President Jair Bolsonaro, reports Reuters.
  • Brazilian meat giant JBS promised to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 -- and record profits announced yesterday mean it has little excuse not to do so, say activists. (Guardian)
  • Organized crime in Latin America rapidly adapted to pandemic conditions, according to a new report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. (InSight Crime)

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

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Harris to oversee U.S. border crisis (March 25, 2021)

U.S President Joe Biden tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to oversee efforts to slow the rush of migrants to the country's southern border, yesterday. The move comes amid rising alarm in the U.S. over a surge of migrants -- including an increase in unaccompanied children -- as the Biden administration seeks to reform many of the previous president's immigration policies. Biden called Harris “the most qualified person” to lead the U.S. dialogue with Mexico and Central American countries “that are going to need help in stemming the movement of so many folks.” Speaking yesterday, Harris reiterated the administration's warnings to migrants not to attempt the journey to the U.S., and promised to tackle root causes of migration in Central America. (Washington Post)

Media coverage of the migrant crisis at the U.S. border "fails to provide one crucial piece of the puzzle: the very concrete context of human suffering," writes León Krauze in the Washington Post. "People from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador don’t migrate in search of a better life. They are looking for a shot at survival ... If the alternative was famine, gang violence, kidnapping, rape or sexual slavery, wouldn’t you bet it all on the journey north?"

The current U.S. policy regarding migrants with children who arrive at the border is unclear: criteria to be allowed into the U.S. are a closely held secret, reports the Associated Press. The asylum system arose from an emergency measure enacted during the coronavirus pandemic by the Trump administration that is being applied unevenly by Biden, Title 42, that permits the summary expulsion of migrants because of the supposed health risk they posed during the Covid pandemic. Biden has kept Title 42 in place as he designs what he promises will be “a humane asylum system.” Citizens of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are usually back in Mexico within two hours, while other nationalities are held in the U.S. to be flown home without a chance at asylum.

The U.S. Biden administration has so far deported more Haitians in a few weeks than the Trump administration did in a whole year, according to a new report, The Invisible Wall, published by a coalition of immigrant rights groups. The deportations have taken place under Title 42, reports the Guardian. In part at least, the rise in expulsions mirrors an increase in arrivals of Haitians at the border, misled by rumors and deliberate disinformation from people smugglers. (See Tuesday's briefs.) 

News Briefs

  • U.N. Security Council issued a unified call for Haitian President Jovenel Moïse to tackle the country’s deepening security and institutional problems while advancing preparations to ensure that free, fair and credible legislative and presidential elections take place this year, reports the Miami Herald. Observers say the U.N. statement shows that the U.S., under the Biden administration, is growing more critical of Moïse. For some it also shows that the international community is equating democracy to elections, missing other crucial good governance factors. “People need to realize that elections are not inherently equivalent to democracy,” Jake Johnston, a research associate for the Center for Economic and Policy Research told the  New York Times.

  • Many Haitians agree that the country needs a new constitution, but many observers are concerned about Moïse's determination to unilaterally draft it, reports the New York Times. Moïse is increasingly unpopular, and critics say elections scheduled for this year under his tight control are not a path to democratic legitimacy. (See yesterday's briefs and Tuesday's post.) 
Regional Relations
  • More than 3,000 Venezuelans crossed the border with Colombia since Sunday in search of protection from clashes between Venezuela’s military and a Colombian armed group in the Venezuelan border state of Apure. Venezuelan Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino López said Monday in a statement the clashes that began Sunday resulted in the arrests of 32 people, the destruction of six camps and the seizure of weapons, but he did not name the armed group involved, reports the Associated Press.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is the biggest obstacle to implementing Colombia’s peace deal because of the protection afforded to rebels residing in his country, Colombia’s high commissioner for peace Miguel Ceballos told Reuters.
  • Colombia faced a resurgence of violence last year, according to a new Red Cross report. The group recorded higher cases of disappearances, killings, and sexual attacks, as well as a rise in the number of people being killed or injured by explosive devices in 2020. The group also noted a rise in the number of attacks on healthcare workers and facilities, reports Al Jazeera.
  • The sheer size of Colombia’s reserves -- the country boasts 14 hectares of national parks -- makes them a target for the illegal clearing, appropriation and sale of protected land, reports InSight Crime. Land grabbers, often orchestrated by “invisible” criminal actors who employ local communities, illegally clear remote forest reserves, after which they set up agricultural activities and plant illicit coca crops during its occupation.
  • "Unpeopled lands like nature reserves are fertile ground for criminal activities," notes Nacla, in a report on Mexico's Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, and it's vulnerability to illegal groups. "By prohibiting human presence in the reserve’s core areas, and undermining local governance institutions, the reserve has replaced a managed forest with a sort of “frontier”: the perfect home for illicit activities." Now Indigenous towns are organizing autonomously to defend themselves.
  • Brazil passed 300,000 Covid-19 deaths yesterday -- exactly a year after President Jair Bolsonaro claimed the pandemic was being exaggerated "and soon it will pass." Some Brazilians are so crestfallen they have begun draping black cloths from their windows to mourn victims and demand Bolsonaro’s impeachment, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Brazil's healthcare system is collapsed by coronavirus patients, running short of everything from hospital beds, oxygen to doctors. Healthcare workers are overwhelmed, reports the Washington Post. Researchers in one recent study found that nearly 9 out of 10 health-care workers reported being “emotionally shaken” by working conditions during the pandemic.
  • Photographer Claudia Andujar is using her archive to bring visibility to the Yanomami Amazon rainforest Indigenous tribe -- at a time when their survival is under renewed threat, reports the Guardian.
  • China denied offering Paraguay Covid-19 vaccine supplies in exchange for the country cutting ties with Taiwan. Paraguay said its government had been approached by unofficial brokers with such a deal. (See yesterday's briefs.) "Vaccine diplomacy" is flourishing, but such an offer appeared to represent one of the most heavy-handed attempts yet to use jabs for leverage, according to the Guardian.
  • Taiwan donated helicopters and Covid-19 drugs to Paraguay, its one remaining South American ally this week, and is helping the country's authorities “find channels” to negotiate access to vaccines, reports Bloomberg.
  • The painful testimony of Linda Loaiza López, a Venezuelan who was kidnapped and sexually tortured for months, casts light on the depth of gender-based violence, but also the failure of the Venzuelan state to respond to it, writes the editor of her new book, Sergio Dahbar, in a New York Times Español op-ed. After failing to obtain justice in Venezuela, Loaiza took her case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which in 2018 found the Venezuelan state guilty of negligence in the face of the torture and sexual violence against Loaiza, and for its inability to investigate the case. (See briefs for Dec. 10, 2018.)
  • Two 1970s letters by Argentine journalists contain lessons applicable to today's landscape of misinformation and hate, writes Roberto Herrscher in the New York Times Español. Rodolfo Walsh's 1975 "Carta abierta a la Junta militar" denounces the horrors of Argentina's military dictatorship, and the economic motivations behind the assassinations, torture and disappearances it carried out. And María Elena Walsh's “Desventuras en el país-jardín-de-infantes” calls out people's willingness to self-censor under an authoritarian regime.

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

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Brazil breaks new Covid record (March 24, 2021)

Brazil reported 3,251 Covid-19 deaths yesterday, a new grim pandemic record for a single day in the country. Brazil's health systems are nearly collapsing. Many state governments have implemented restrictions on activities, even as President Jair Bolsonaro resists quarantine measures.

In a 4-minute presidential address on TV and radio yesterday, Bolsonaro did not comment on the new record and said Brazilians will "very soon return to normal life." Pot-banging protests erupted across the country as he spoke.

Brazil’s Supreme Court refused to hear Bolsonaro's appeal against several states’ measures restricting economic activity to slow contagion, yesterday.

Experts say Bolsonaro's dichotomy between health and economic survival is false, and there are mounting calls for government coordination to lessen the impact of the coronavirus crisis. Hundreds of Brazilian economists, including former finance ministers and central bank presidents, urged the Brazilian government in an open letter to speed up vaccination and adopt tougher restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus, including possible lockdowns.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional director for the Americas, Carissa Etienne, said the virus is surging “dangerously” across Brazil, and urged all Brazilians to adopt preventive measures to stop the spread.


Moro was biased

Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that former judge Sergio Moro was biased in the way he oversaw former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s corruption trial. Yesterday's decision backs Lula's long standing claim that corruption cases against him were politically motivated. It also further tarnishes the emblematic Operation Car Wash corruption investigation that Moro presided over for years, reports the Associated Press.

Leaked messages published by The Intercept Brasil in 2019 showed apparent collusion between Moro and Car Wash prosecutors in the case against Lula, which put him in jail and removed him from the 2018 presidential race that put Bolsonaro in office. 

“In this case what is discussed is something that for me is key: everyone has the right to a fair trial, due legal process, and the impartiality of the judge,” said Justice Carmen Lucia, who cast the tie-breaking vote.

Yesterday's ruling is separate from the decision earlier this month that anuled two convictions against Lula and permit him to run for political office again. But while that decision established that Lula could be retried in federal court, yesterday's 3-2 decision prohibited evidence gathered in the Car Wash probe about da Silva’s alleged ownership of a triplex in the beach town of Guaruja from being used in any eventual trial. The justices didn’t rule whether evidence gathered previously could be used when retrying da Silva’s other conviction, or in his other two unresolved criminal cases. 

More Brazil
  • Bolsonaro's controversial plan to protect the rainforest with Brazil's military has failed, predictably according to experts. Government data show that deforestation last year surged to a 12-year high, reports Reuters. Late last year, Vice President Hamilton Mourao, a retired Army general and Bolsonaro's deforestation czar, announced that efforts to protect the rainforest in April will revert to the country's civilian environmental-protection agency, Ibama.
News Briefs

  • Formal charges by U.S. federal prosecutors against Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández may be on the horizon, after testimony in a New York trial against an Honduran drug lord has added to the growing mound of evidence linking Hernández to Honduras’ drug-trafficking industry. (New York Times)
  • U.S. prosecutors identified Hernández more than 50 times in the March 16 sentencing submission of the Fuentes Ramírez trial, accusing JOH of prolonged involvement with prominent drug traffickers who contributed to his campaigns in exchange for protection and immunity. It is a distinct break with tradition, reports InSight Crime, as U.S. prosecutors usually avoid naming sitting presidents in criminal cases. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Allegations linking JOH to criminal organizations have been made for years, nonetheless, the U.S. has continued to treat Honduras' government as a close ally in the region. That could change in light of mounting evidence, growing calls from Democratic lawmakers to sanction Honduras' government for human rights violations, and the U.S. Biden administration's goal of targeting corruption in Central America, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexico is taking high-profile actions to stop the growing surge of migrants trying to reach the U.S. border -- but it's not clear they are having much effect, reports the Washington Post. The Mexican government's plan to send additional National Guard troops to the country's borders to stop irregular migration doesn't amount to a significant increase. Mexico also announced it was shutting down its southern border with Guatemala and Belize to non-essential travel, but migrants continue to stream through informal crossings.
  • A U.S. delegation led by Roberta Jacobson, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and the White House’s top adviser on border issues, and Juan González, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Western Hemisphere traveled to Mexico and Guatemala this week to discuss migration policies and root causes of migration. (Wall Street Journal, see yesterday's briefs.)
  • Yesterday Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said during a news conference that the best way to reduce migratory pressures was to improve living standards in countries where people are leaving for the U.S. “People don’t go to the United States for fun, they go out of necessity,” López Obrador said. “There needs to be support for the development of Central America and the south of Mexico. Particularly Central America.” (Al Jazeera)
  • In Guatemala, decades of migration to the U.S. left generations of children behind for whom gangs are substitute families, reports the Guardian.
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse is cementing his grip on the country, despite widespread unrest. Haitian democratic instability is closely linked to the international community, writes Pooja Bhatia in the London Review of Books. "The US exercises influence without acknowledging it; subverts genuine democrats and then claims they lacked popular support; props up autocrats and ignores both the letter and the spirit of the law in the name of stability and ‘what’s best for Haitians’; preaches self-reliance while flooding Haitian markets with rice grown in Arkansas; evangelises human rights while denying asylum-seekers a chance to show credible fear; propounds elections instead of democracy."
  • Moïse has called for a constitutional referendum in June, and a general election later this year, but opposition leaders and legal experts say the whole process is a farce, reports CNN.
Regional Relations
  • U.S. Senator Chris Murphy urged the Biden administration to lift a ban on diesel fuel swaps with Venezuela, the latest in a chorus of Democrats and aid workers who say sanctions are worsening Venezuela's dire humanitarian crisis, reports the Associated Press.
  • Taiwan will help its handful of remaining diplomatic allies buy Covid-19 vaccines but on the condition that Taiwanese money is not used to obtain Chinese vaccines, reports Reuters.
  • The Paraguayan government has been approached with offers of Chinese-made vaccines in exchange for breaking ties with Taiwan, the country’s foreign ministry said in statement earlier this week. (Bloomberg)
  • Colombia will impose new restrictions on movement and enact nightly curfews in municipalities with high occupancy levels in intensive care units as it tries to avoid a severe third wave of COVID-19, President Ivan Duque said yesterday. (Reuters)
  • Colombian authorities should respect the right of peaceful assembly and ensure independent and impartial investigations of police use of force, including killings against protesters, Human Rights Watch and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights said as they submitted an amicus brief to the country’s constitutional court. The amicus brief supports a petition to transfer the criminal investigation into the 2019 death of an 18-year-old protester, Dilan Cruz, at the hands of police to the ordinary justice system from the military courts, where it currently stands.
  • International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva said she held a "very good meeting" with Argentine Economy Minister Martín Guzmán but gave no details about concrete progress as talks over a new loan program continue. (Reuters)
  • Today marks 45 years since Argentina's 1976 civilian-military coup, an estimated 30,000 people were forcibly "disappeared" during the ensuing dictatorship. The National Security Archive is today posting declassified documents revealing what the U.S. government knew, and when it knew it, in the weeks preceding the overthrow of Isabel Peron’s government. The documents provide evidence of multiple contacts between the coup plotters and U.S. officials.
  • Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo called for people to plant trees (#PlantamosMemoria), in lieu of the traditional demonstration carried out by human rights organizations on this date, which won't be held due to coronavirus concerns.
Nunca Más.