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 ...


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