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 ...

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