Friday, April 30, 2021

Revisiting the Venezuelan opposition's 2019 efforts (April 30, 2021)

 The Venezuelan opposition dramatically fell from grace in recent years, from a high point in 2019 when Juan Guaidó challenged Nicolás Maduro's legitimacy as president, to the current situation in which they have been pushed off the main scenery. 

Two new articles take a new look at emblematic episodes in the Venezuelan opposition's struggle to oust Maduro in recent years -- the 2019 aid standoff at the Colombian-Venezuela border, and the failed April uprising that same year.

In February 2019, Guaidó, at the time recently recognized as Venezuela's legitimate leader by a significant portion of the international community, attempted to lead caravans loaded with U.S. aid into Venezuela, but was blocked by security forces. (Travel in time with this post from Feb. 25, 2019.) The standoff was an early harbinger that Maduro wouldn't topple as easily as the opposition sometimes predicted. 

A new report by the inspector general at the U.S. Agency for International Development raises doubts about whether the deployment of aid was driven more by the U.S. pursuit of regime change than by technical analysis of needs and the best ways to help Venezuelans, reports the Associated Press. While international aid workers at the time issued similar warnings about the risks of assistance being politicized the findings of a U.S. agency tasked with auditing how U.S. tax dollars are spent carries additional weight.

And another piece, by Axios, looks back at the failed April uprising of 2019. At dawn of April 30, opposition leader Leopoldo López sprung out of house arrest and appeared with Guaidó and called on citizens to come out on the streets in a show of non-violent force against the regime. The plot involved the U.S., high level Maduro officials, and supposedly counted on military support to topple the government. But several steps failed, the military remained loyal to Maduro and protests were violently repressed. (See posts for May 1 and May 2, 2019.)

Two years later, even those close to the effort to oust Maduro remain unsure whether the would-be turncoats double crossed them, hedged their bets, or simply got cold feet, reports Axios. Then-national security adviser John Bolton partly blames Trump, who he says was ready to rally behind Guaidó one moment and abandon him the next, affecting U.S. efforts.

The piece also cites Carlos Sandoval, a writer and literature professor at the Central University of Venezuela, who points to the day as a turning point in the opposition's credibility. 

"From that day on, I felt cheated," Sandoval said. "I felt like I was just another one of the bunch, another Venezuelan that wrongly believed in the opposition ... Now, for someone to convince me to go to a march, to listen to some politician, it's almost impossible. You can't even pay me to do that because I don't believe in anything anymore."

News Briefs

  • The coronavirus crisis in Latin America — and in South America in particular — is taking an alarming turn for the worse, potentially threatening the progress made well beyond its borders, reports the New York Times. The region, already one of the hardest hit by Covid-19, accounted for 35 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the world, despite having just 8 percent of the global population.
  • The crisis partly responds to predictable forces, including limited vaccine supplies, weak health systems, and poverty that makes staying at home inviable. But Brazil's laissez faire approach to the pandemic has added significantly to the region's woes, according to the New York Times.
  • The international community has taken few steps to help Brazil, a sign of the Bolsonaro administration's diplomatic missteps and also a criticism of his approach to the pandemic, reports the Washington Post. "Still mired in the deadliest days of its outbreak ... a country that has long prided itself on being friends with almost everyone finds itself largely friendless."
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has both international and domestic reasons to embrace environmental policies, writes Brian Winter in Foreign Affairs, though Bolsonaro's track record until now has been one of wanton destruction of the Amazon and conservation efforts. "But even if Bolsonaro sincerely wants to reduce deforestation, it seems highly questionable that he can." The annual fire season begins in July, and Bolsonaro will face significant pressure within Brazil and from the U.S. to meet his recent promises to tackle deforestation, writes Winter. 
  • Latin American leaders raised a lack of financing as a major hurdle to combat climate change and curb deforestation at last week's Leaders Summit on Climate. A financial tool -- launched at the conference by a public-private coalition called Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance (LEAF), created with the goal to end tropical deforestation by 2030 -- could significantly help translate promises into effective initiatives when it comes to tropical forests, reports Americas Quarterly
  • Ecuador's Constitutional Court decriminalized abortion in cases where the pregnancy results from rape. They responded to a claim of unconstitutionality brought by women's rights groups. (El UniversalThe ruling makes abortions marginally more accessible, in a country where they are currently allowed only when a woman’s life or health is at risk or if a pregnancy is the result of the rape of a woman with a mental disability.
  • Ombudsman Freddy Carrion announced the court’s decision on Twitter, and said the ruling “was possible thanks to the women and feminist groups who have consistently battled for a more fair and egalitarian society," reports Al Jazeera.

Dominican Republic
  • Dominican Republic lawmakers took the first step in permitting abortion under certain, limited circumstances. In the Dominican Republic abortion is currently forbidden in all circumstances. The Chamber of Deputies voted on a penal code reform on Wednesday that would allow abortion when the woman's life is in danger. Lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected feminist demands that rape, incest and fetal inviability also be circumstances in which abortion would be permitted. (EFE, see last Thursday's briefs)
  • The United States will not provide financial support for a constitutional referendum in Haiti, the U.S. State Department told reporters yesterday. (Reuters
  • A boat carrying 24 Venezuelans capsized en route to Trinidad and Tobago, last week. At least two people died, and 15 are still unaccounted for. The tragedy is the latest of several incidents involving the capsizing of boats carrying Venezuelan refugees and migrants towards Caribbean islands. (United Nations)
  • All signs point to Latin America’s start-up ecosystem continuing its steady growth of the past few years, writes Catherine Osborn in Foreign Policy's Latin America Brief.
  • Colombian protests against a tax reform this week could derail an ambitious effort to expand and make permanent a basic income support program introduced during the pandemic, known as Ingreso Solidario, writes Leonie Rauls in Americas Quarterly. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Colombia is an early example of the fiscal dilemmas Latin American governments will soon face in the midst of the worsening pandemic crisis, reports the Economist.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Colombians protest tax reform proposal (April 28, 2021)

 Thousands of Colombians protested against a controversial tax reform proposal, answering calls from the Comité Nacional de Paro to take to the streets. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful in cities around the country, though there were incidents of vandalism in Bogotá and Cali. It is a return to the social unrest that exerted considerable pressure on President Iván Duque's government in 2019 and 2020, before coronavirus lockdowns dissipated the protest movement, reports El País. The movement has demands beyond the tax reform proposal, including policies to address the unceasing murder of social leaders, police abuse, implementation of the peace accords, and welfare.

The gatherings defied calls to avoid crowds, even as coronavirus contagion hit peak levels in Colombia.

The proposed tax reform by Duque's government would increase taxes on individuals and businesses and eliminate many exemptions, and was originally meant to raise about $6 billion. Among the topics that have provoked popular anger are clauses that would tax basic services in middle class neighborhoods, funerals and an income tax on people earning $656 a month in a country where minimum wage is $248. (EFE)

The proposal has met stiff resistance in Congress, including from a coalition of parties that supports Duque’s government. Opponents argue the changes would unnecessarily burden taxpayers already stretched by the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Yesterday the government lowered the amount of money it hopes to raise from the reform, in hopes of making it more palatable for lawmakers, reports Reuters.

Union leaders called for marches to continue on Thursday and announced another protest for May 19.

More Colombia
  • Some 1,600 former FARC guerrillas will have been murdered by the end of 2024 if current levels of targeted killings continue, Colombia's transitional justice tribunal said yesterday. Between April 14 and 21, seven former fighters were killed, or roughly one every 24 hours, according to a report from the investigative unit of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) tribunal. (Reuters)
News Briefs

  • Eight Venezuelan soldiers were killed in combat amid continuing clashes between the armed forces and illegal armed groups along the border with Colombia, according to the country's Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino. (Reuters)
  • A new Crisis Group report delves into the dynamics of guerrillas, criminals and shadowy state elements who jostle for illicit profits on the Venezuela-Colombia border. The Venezuelan offensive against a dissident FARC group in the border state of Apure draws attention to what is happening more quietly along much of the border: Colombian guerrillas are penetrating deeper into Venezuelan territory. Venezuelan locals say guerrilla presence in their area began to grow in 2016, when Colombia's peace accord came into effect. (See Monday's post on Venezuelan security force abuses in the Apure operation.)
  • The Crisis Group report emphasizes the turbulence of the guerrillas’ relations with locals. Both the FARC and the ELN have acted as quasi-government's in areas of Colombia without state presence, but efforts to provide public services in southern Venezuela are "rarely undertaken in a way that wins much affection among the locals." (Earlier this week the New York Times reported that some residents have welcomed the guerrillas' "protection," see Monday's post.)
  • Peru faces a nightmare presidential runoff scenario, pitting the ideological heir to the Shining Path insurgency against the literal heir of the dictator who crushed it, write James Bosworth and Francisco Toro in the Washington Post. "To be blunt, neither candidate is fit to be president, but one of them will be."
  • A resurgence of tuberculosis is an unexpected side effect of Peru's coronavirus epidemic, as lockdowns affected treatment last year and could, around the world, propagate strains that are resistant to treatment, which also tend to be the deadliest, reports NPR.
  • An analysis in Science found a strong association between socioeconomic status and both COVID-19 outcomes and public health capacity in Santiago de Chile. The results highlight the critical consequences of socioeconomic inequalities on health outcomes.
  • Chile has designated pregnant women a Covid-19 vaccination priority and this week began issuing Pfizer doses to those with underlying health issues in their second or third trimesters. (Reuters)
  • Mexico’s electoral tribunal upheld a ruling which disqualified gubernatorial candidates Félix Salgado Macedonio in Guerrero and Raúl Morón in Michoacán from June elections because they had failed to file campaign expense reports. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador railed against the decision, calling it “a blow to democracy." (Guardian)
  • Gains in Amazon protection have been reversed under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and poses a deadly threat to the Awa Indigenous people, reports the BBC.
  • Coca-Cola agreed to sponsor a protected reserve in the Amazon rainforest, joining beer maker Heineken and a growing list of global corporations signing up to the Brazilian government’s “Adopt a Park” program, reports Reuters.
Animal Planet
  • Guyanese finches, a songbird, have become a valuable commodity in parts of the U.S., where the caged birds are pitted in competition against one another, often in parks. The fashion has promoted a boom in bird smuggling from Guyana, with finches concealed in hair curlers, reports the New York Times.
  • International animal trafficking rings often cash in on global demand for smaller, lesser-known species. The case of killifish trafficking out of Brazil shows that even lower-priced species have caught the eyes of smugglers, reports InSight Crime.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

U.S. advisor at El Mozote massacre (April 28, 2021)

 "There is no military honor in killing children," said expert witness Terry Karl, wrapping up her testimony at a pretrial hearing in El Salvador in the case of the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which soldiers killed nearly 1,000 villagers, half of whom were children.

Karl said a United States military advisor, Sergeant Major Allen Bruce Hazelwood, was in Morazán with Coronel Domingo Monterrosa, commander of the Atlacatl Battalion, during the killing. Her revelation this week expands the known scope of U.S. involvement in the Salvadoran civil war and the reasoning behind the United States covering up the massacre perpetrated by the Salvadoran Army, reports El Faro. (See yesterday's briefs.)

One of the pieces of evidence that Karl presented about Bruce Hazelwood’s role in the massacre was a statement from Aryeh Neier, who was director of Human Rights Watch, then known as America’s Watch, in 1982. In an interview given in 2019, Neier told Karl that Elliot Abrams, then Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, complained to him about a January 11, 1982 New York Times article written by Raymond Bonner, in which he described the participation of an American advisor in a torture session that took place in El Salvador. Abrams denied that there was an advisor at the torture session, but he said to Neier, “I’d like to be able to say the same about El Mozote.” He was referring to Hazelwood.

Karl spoke about a pattern of massacres to show that the events at El Mozote fit within a strategy of terror advanced by the hard-line military leadership in control in El Salvador in 1980-81. And she spoke about a pattern of operations in the department of Morazán in northeast El Salvador where El Mozote is located. According to Karl, an order to “leave no witnesses” could not have been given to the troops on the ground without the authorization at the highest levels.

Karl's conclusion tied the massacres of the early 1980s to the present day. These campaigns of terror she said, forced people to flee, and they began fleeing north to the United States, starting a process of migration that continues. (El Salvador Perspectives)

News Briefs

  • Brazil's Congress launched a parliamentary inquiry into President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the coronavirus epidemic. The politically charged investigation will be conducted by 11 of the country’s 81 senators, including several of Bolsonaro’s fiercest opponents, reports the Guardian. Bolsonaro opponents hope the inquiry will undermine his reelection bid next year. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Brazil’s researchers blame the government's anti-science stance for the country's devastating Covid surge. (Nature)
  • In Brazil, where out-of-control infections have given rise to a more transmissible and deadly variant, pregnant and post-partum women are showing higher death rates from COVID-19. Last week, Brazilian officials took the unusual step of asking women to avoid getting pregnant -- and it appears Brazilian women are already doing just that, reports the Conversation.
  • As global activists and policymakers celebrate the conviction of George Floyd’s murderer, Brazil — where police kill nearly six thousand people per year, some 80% of them black and brown — has yet to begin its own reckoning with police violence, according to Edmund Ruge in Americas Quarterly.
  • Fahd Jamil Georges, a veteran drug trafficker along the Paraguay-Brazil border, said he surrendered to authorities after being threatened by the PCC — a reminder of how completely the Brazilian gang has come to rule this frontier, reports InSight Crime.
  • P.1, an aggressive Covid-19 variant from Brazil is now raging across this continent. Countries that recently had pandemic under control, including Uruguay and Chile, are now seeing surging hospitalizations and deaths, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The case of Chile, which is a regional vaccination super star, indicates that jabs alone aren't enough to overcome the pandemic, reports IPS.
  • Chilean authorities announced they would extend the closure of the country’s borders for another 30 days as hospitals remain near-full and Covi-19 cases high despite a gradual improvement in recent weeks. (Reuters)
  • Chilean President Sebastian Piñera will sign into law a bill allowing billions of dollars in early pension withdrawals after the Constitutional Court threw out his bid to block the proposal, reports Bloomberg.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador thanked his Cuban counterpart, Miguel Díaz-Canel, for sending about 1,000 health workers to help Mexico respond to the coronavirus pandemic. (Al Jazeera)
  • Lawmakers from López Obrador’s party have triggered outrage by voting to add two years to the four-year term of the Supreme Court chief justice, Arturo Zaldívar. Zaldívar is generally regarded as sympathetic to the president, reports the Washington Post.
Regional Relations
  • The U.S. enables corruption to flourish in Honduras, notably through its close collaboration with President Juan Orlando Hernández, despite insistent protests locally and abroad that Hernández oversees a repressive and corrupt regime -- Alexander Cockburn in Harpers.
  • Of the 68,000 asylum cases processed in the U.S. under the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols, the policy also known as “Remain in Mexico,” 28,000 were closed because asylum seekers didn’t present themselves. Many missed their court dates because they were kidnapped and held hostage, or detained by Mexican officials, or because they couldn’t find a safe way to get to the border in the middle of the night, when most were told to arrive for their hearings, reports the Washington Post.
  • Haitian asylum seekers, unable to obtain entry to the U.S. and facing discrimination in Mexico, say they have nowhere to go and are losing hope. (Al Jazeera)
  • More than two weeks after winning Ecuador’s election, President-elect Guillermo Lasso’s transition appears prepared and professionally managed, according to the Latin America Risk Report. "The one clear point that comes through in everything Lasso has done is that he is focused on pro-business policies."
  • Blockades of roads to Argentina’s shale fields in Patagonia are set to enter their fourth week as health workers on the front lines of the pandemic demand salary increases to keep pace with one of the highest inflation rates in the world, reports Bloomberg.
  • Colombia’s peso suffered the biggest sell-off in emerging markets as lawmakers threaten to scupper the government’s attempt to raise taxes, reports Bloomberg.
More El Salvador
  • Eduardo Rogelio Rivas Polanco, who, as Minister of Justice and Public Security, oversaw a historic reduction in homicides, was removed from his position at the end of March. The reason for his ousting, reports El Faro based on state intelligence, was that he was building a political plan to become the Nueva Ideas (NI) party’s presidential candidate for the 2024 elections.

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

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Maduro courts Biden (April 27, 2021)

 Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government is intensifying efforts to court the U.S. Biden administration, reports the Associated Press. A series of gestures, including allowing the World Food Program back into the country, come as senior U.S. officials are reviewing policy toward Venezuela.

“All this recent movement points to Maduro trying to get Washington’s attention,” said Geoffrey Ramsey, a Venezuela watcher at the Washington Office on Latin America. “The question is whether the White House is ready to commit to a full-fledged negotiations strategy, or whether it will continue to play it safe and keep the policy on the back burner.”

In the short-term, more gestures could include permitting opposition rectors on the National Electoral Council, which could pave the way for Maduro’s opponents to participate in mayoral and gubernatorial elections later this year, reports the Associated Press.

Last week after actors in the U.S. government spoke out in support of the deal reached between WFP and the Maduro government, Maduro’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza responded on Twitter demanding that the U.S. lift “criminal” sanctions on Venezuela. In response, Assistant Secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung responded with a list of specific actions that the Maduro government must take for the U.S. to lift sanctions. These are: hold free and fair elections, respect human rights and a free press, release “all 323 political prisoners” (a reference to the Foro Penal list), stop persecuting the opposition, and stop harassing NGOs. (Venezuela Weekly)

News Briefs

More Venezuela
  • Venezuela’s socialist-led National Assembly will ratify a law passed last year by the parallel National Constituent Assembly that let the government confidentially sign deals with private firms because of U.S. sanctions. (Reuters)
  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned Colombian law enforcement several times that a Florida resident tangled up in last year’s failed Operation Gideon coup attempt in Venezuela may be part of an international arms smuggling ring, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The United States will give $310m in humanitarian relief to Central America, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said in a video call with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei. “The United States plans to increase relief to the region, strengthen our cooperation to manage migration in an effective, secure and humane manner,” Harris promised Giammattei. (Al Jazeera)
  • The U.S. will train members of a Guatemalan task force responsible for protecting the country’s borders and putting a brake on uncontrolled migration. The U.S. offer came during the video call between Harris and Giammattei, reports the Associated Press. The United States will also help Guatemala to build shelters for returned migrants and help the migrants transition back to life in their home communities.
  • There is unbearable heartbreak in "Identifying Features," a migrant drama from first-time Mexican film-maker Fernanda Valadez – and also a vision of real evil -- Guardian.
  • Salvadoran attorneys have accused a pupusera, a watchman and a farmer of organizing migrant caravans. The threehave been arrested on charges of promoting human trafficking, though there is no evidence they obtained any material benefit, reports El Faro.
El Salvador
  • Court hearings in the El Mozote massacre case will be happening all week, and are being broadcast live. (El Faro) The testimony this week is important for pinning responsibility on individual members of the high military command and their specific responsibility in the horrific 1981 massacre, in which soldiers killed nearly 1,000 villagers, including children and elderly people, explains Tim Muth at El Salvador Perspectives.
  • A U.S. military advisor was present at El Mozote and witnessed the bloodshed, Stanford University professor Terry Lynn Karl said during her testimony yesterday in court. Former Master Sergeant Bruce Hazelwood's presence on the ground was illegal, and he is the only U.S. person who can know the verbal orders given to security forces during the massacre, according to Karl. (EFE)
  • “The U.S.'s insistence on elections at all costs in Haiti” later this year risks exacerbating the country’s cycle of political instability and violence, warned 69 U.S. House Democrats in a letter to the Secretary of State, calling for “a significant review of U.S. policy in Haiti” by the Biden administration. The U.S. lawmakers said the administration of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, who has been ruling without a parliament for over 15 months, not only “lacks the credibility and legitimacy” to administer elections that are free and fair but also a constitutional referendum scheduled for June 27. (Miami Herald)
  • More than 27,000 people have been displaced in Colombia in the first quarter of 2021 in the midst of a surge in violence, according to the country’s human rights ombudsman. People have been forced from their homes amid threats, murders, forced recruitment by armed gangs and clashes between armed groups in rural areas, reports Al Jazeera.
  • A Congressional inquiry into Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the coronavirus pandemic probably won't oust the president before his term ends, though it could significantly harm his attempt at reelection next year, writes Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly.
  • Brazilian health regulator Anvisa rejected importing the Russian-made Sputnik vaccine requested by state governors battling a deadly second wave of the virus, saying technical staff had highlighted “inherent risks” and “serious” defects. Sputnik V's developers criticized the decision as politically motivated, reports Al Jazeera.
  • The small socialist-run Brazilian town of Marica, 60 km from Rio de Janeiro, is forging its own path in the midst of the country's pandemic chaos, reports Al Jazeera. "The recipe for Marica’s success story includes millions of dollars in oil revenues and the decision to invest part of that money in healthcare, education, social programmes and a virtual currency called mumbuca."
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador defended a vote by Mexico’s congress to extend the term of the Supreme Court chief justice, saying the judge needed more time to oversee reform of a compromised judiciary. (Reuters)
  • Mexico's Tren Maya project, that will connect different locations in Mexico’s touristic Yucatan Peninsula, was suspended in response to a judicial injunction requested by the Regional Indigenous and Popular Council of Xpujil (CRIPX). But the halt has caused a bitter fight in Xpujil – a town of 4,000 people with limited resources, reports Al Jazeera.
  • "Environment and development are not irreconciliable antagonisms, but do present a tension that must be confronted in order to achieve truly sustainable and inclusive development," writes Elizabeth Möhle in El Diplo.
  • The Inter-American Press Association signalled Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Nayib Bukele, Jair Bolsonaro and Alberto Fernández as the regional leaders most hostile to the press. (Univisión
  • Former Bolivian president Evo Morales announced the creation of RUNASUR, a Bolivia-based integration mechanism for Indigenous peoples and social movements. (Telesur)
  • As Latin American governments struggle to address the public health and economic fallout from COVID-19, the United States and China are providing a range of assistance. The Wilson Center has a new tracker that summarizes their contributions to each country in the region, including grants and shipments of personal protective equipment, as Washington and Beijing compete for influence in the region.
  • The Real Academia Española added "covidiota" to its lexicon. (Telam)

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

Monday, April 26, 2021

Venezuelan security force abuse in Apure -- HRW (April 26, 2021)

 Venezuelan security forces have committed egregious abuses against local residents during a weeks-long operation against armed groups on the border with Colombia, according to a new Human Rights Watch report.

Venezuelan security forces opened the offensive in Apure state on March 21, 2021, with the alleged purpose of combating armed groups in Venezuela. The operation led to the execution of at least four peasants, arbitrary arrests, the prosecution of civilians in military courts, and torture of residents accused of collaborating with armed groups. The abuses follow a pattern similar to that of systematic abuses that have led to international inquiries into possible crimes against humanity in the country.

The conflict has highlighted the extent to which Colombian guerrillas have penetrated Venezuela, by some estimates, illegal armed groups now operate in more than half of Venezuela’s territory.

Venezuela’s economic collapse has so thoroughly gutted the country that members of Colombia's Marxist guerrilla group the ELN have embedded itself across large stretches of its territory, seizing upon the nation’s undoing to establish mini-states of their own. And many residents in the Venezuelan borderlands have welcomed the terrorist group for the kind of protection and basic services the state is failing to provide, reports the New York Times.

A January Human Rights Watch report detailed how armed groups use brutal violence to control peoples’ daily lives in the eastern Colombian province of Arauca and the neighboring Venezuelan state of Apure. (See Jan. 22's post.)

News Briefs

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro approved a 24 percent cut to the environment budget for 2021 from the previous year’s level. The move comes just one day after he promised to increase spending to fight deforestation at an international summit hosted by the U.S., reports Reuters. Bolsonaro vetoed a list of environmental budget provisions worth 240 million reais, including outlays for environmental enforcement. (See last Thursday's post.)
  • Bolsonaro said on Friday that if he were to order the military to take the streets and restore order, "the order will be followed," again raising questions about his politicization of the armed forces, reports Reuters.
  • An epidemic of abductions is compounding Haiti's political and economic crises. Kidnappings last year tripled to 234 cases compared to 2019 -- but real figures are likely much higher because many Haitians don't report abductions, fearing retribution from criminal gangs, reports Reuters.
  • At least 31 indigenous people were wounded in an attack on Caldono, in Colombia’s Caucaregion, after an illegal armed group opened fire on them while they destroyed coca crops. Indigenous governor Sandra Liliana Peña Chocue – who opposed coca crops in indigenous lands – was assassinated in the same region last week, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico is suffering “critical” failures in law enforcement and some of the worst levels of journalist killings outside a war zone, according to the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights. A new report by the commission highlighted lack of access to justice, weak police forces and the militarization of law enforcement. (Associated Press
El Salvador
  • Pacts between gangs and public officials to lower homicides in El Salvador are promoting the wider use of forced disappearances, showing how gangs are still using violence to maintain political and territorial control, according to a report by Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho (FESPAD). Carrying out forced disappearances serves a dual purpose for El Salvador’s gangs -- enforcement of territorial control and political capital, reports InSight Crime.
  • Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo pulled far ahead of his opponent, right-wing Keiko Fujimori in an opinion poll published this weekend by La República. The union leader is ahead in most parts of the country, and is predicted to obtain 41.5 percent, compared to Fujimori's 21.5 percent in the June runoff election. The race is closer in Lima, where another poll gives Fujimori 31 percent to Castillo's 29 percent, reports El País.
  • The poll suggests that Peru’s economic model is at the center of this election, according to Bloomberg.
  • A new report by the Atlantic Council identifies key factors shaping the region’s post-COVID-19 outlook -- health outcomes, societal agency, and Latin America and the Caribbean in the global landscape -- and and offers three plausible 2025 scenarios for the region: COVID’s Lasting Toll, Regionalisms on the Rise, and The Great Divide. 
  • Chile’s congress gave final approval to legislation permitting workers to withdraw as much as 10% of their retirement savings for the third time since the pandemic started. The bill's passage on Friday set up a showdown with President Sebastian Piñera that’s likely to compound political tensions, reports Bloomberg.
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica's debt burden, approaching 70 per cent of gross domestic product, has proved unsustainable in the midst of a Covid-19 economic slump, forcing President Carlos Álvarado to deliver long overdue fiscal reforms and pursue an IMF loan, reports the Financial Times.
  • Argentina's government will inoculate some members of social organizations running soup kitchens against Covid-19, an effort to keep essential food assistance running in the midst of a deadly second wave of coronavirus contagion, reports La Nación.
  • Argentina has rolled out more gender-sensitive Covid-19-response measures than any other country, according to the U.N. That’s thanks partly to Mercedes D’Alessandro, the nation’s first director of economy, equality and gender, reports TIME magazine. The economic argument for better incorporating women into the economy is clear, but D'Alessandro argues there is also a moral component: after a year that has underscored how essential women’s labor is to the economy—from unpaid care work to frontline health care roles—she says governments owe it to women. “Without all the work that women did this year, there’d be no economy to rebuild.”
  • A political tug-o-war over in-person teaching in Argentina has Buenos Aires students hostage in a pyrrhic battle that is worsening the country's incipient governability crisis, Marcelo J. García and I argue in a New York Times Español op-ed. The dispute has little to do with actual education, but deepens political trenches that make it impossible to manage Argentina's pandemic and economic crises.

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

Friday, April 23, 2021

Vaccine diplomacy in a world of shortages (April 23, 2021)


  • The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating again in South America, including in Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela and Uruguay -- many are convinced the apparently more contagious P1 variant linked to Brazil bears much of the blame, reports the Guardian.
  • Half the countries of Central America are facing a new Covid-19 wave with record numbers of people in intensive care units in Costa Rica and a growing number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Guatemala and Honduras, at the same time that the entire isthmus is clamoring for equitable and faster access to vaccines, reports EFE.
  • U.S. officials criticize Chinese vaccine diplomacy in Latin America as "ham-fisted" and plan to deploy surplus vaccines more strategically in the future, but in the meantime, China is winning over hearts and minds in the region. Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin considers Chinese "encroachment" in the region damaging, but observes that "Latin American countries will continue to seek Chinese trade and investment — and vaccines — as long as they are offered no good alternative." (See Wednesday's post.)
  • Latin America’s dispiriting regional anomie on Covid has had disastrous consequences, writes Andre Pagliarini in the Guardian, where he notes the deterioration of the cooperation that characterized the Pink-Tide governments.
  • Latin Americans -- those with means and visas, that is -- are flocking to the U.S. to get vaccinated, in light of the lack of jabs at home, reports the Associated Press. Inequality fuels vaccine tourism, said Ernesto Ortiz, senior manager of programs at Duke University’s Global Health Innovation Center.
  • One in four people in rich countries has been vaccinated, compared with one in every 500 in low-income nations, according to WHO estimates. (Al Jazeera)
  • The U.S., Canada and U.K. are among some of the high-income countries actively blocking a patent-waiver proposal backed by more than a hundred (mostly developing) countries. Members of the World Trade Organization started informal talks yesterday on whether to temporarily waive intellectual property and patent rights on Covid vaccines and treatments. The landmark proposal was submitted by South Africa and India in October, but has been opposed by the U.S. and Europe, home to major pharmaceutical companies. (CNBC, LatFem, see March 11's post.)
  • Three of the leading Covid vaccine manufacturers have paid out $26bn in dividends and stock buyouts to shareholders in the last year – enough to cover the cost of vaccinating the population of Africa, according to the People’s Vaccine Alliance. (Guardian)
  • The Guatemalan attorney general's office that former president Jimmy Morales be stripped of immunity so that prosecutors can then decide if he committed an illegal act by ousting the director of an international anti-corruption commission while in office. Prosecutors said Morales violated constitutional norms in 2017 by announcing the removal of Iván Velásquez, the then-head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), reports InSight Crime.
  • Resistance to anti-corruption crusading judges in Guatemala is growing, and Congress' latest advances against the country's highest court -- including refusing to reconfirm Judge Gloria Porras -- will further weaken rule of law in Guatemala, strengthening a migration push factor, reports the Economist. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
  • The Biden administration is considering creating a task force of officials from the U.S. Justice and State Departments and other agencies to help local prosecutors fight corruption in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, said Ricardo Zuñiga, U.S. special envoy for the Northern Triangle. (Reuters)
  • The U.S. plan to deploy aid to help address the root causes of Central American migration -- namely, violence, crime, chronic unemployment and lack of basic services -- "is based on a sound analysis of Central America’s dismal socioeconomic conditions," writes former Costa Rican president Luis Guillermo Solis in The Conversation.
  • Title 42 allows US authorities to rapidly expel most migrants who arrive at the US border on the pretext of public health. But the policy exposes migrants and asylum seekers to serious danger, according to a new report by Al Otro Lado, Human Rights First and the Haitian Bridge Alliance. (Al Jazeera)
Regional Relations
  • Climate and migration, two of the U.S. Biden administration's major issues, overlap in Central America, where climate change impacts are a push factor for migration to the U.S. "Making climate change a central theme of a renewed US focus on the root causes of migration from the Northern Triangle presents an opportunity for the Biden administration to address its border dilemma while simultaneously advancing its climate-related foreign policy goals," according to The Dialogue.
  • The Biden's administration plan to work with Mexico and Colombia on counter-drug policies, among other partners, presents challenges for the government's new reformist strategy for illicit drugs, warns Vanda Felbab-Brown at the Brookings Institution.
    • The World Food Program announced an agreement with Venezuela's Maduro government, after over a year of negotiations, to supply food to young children in need. Human Rights Watch lauded the agreement as "a huge step toward mitigating Venezuela’s spiraling humanitarian emergency, a crisis that predates the Covid-19 pandemic and for which Venezuelan authorities are largely to blame."
    • Former Venezuelan attorney general Luisa Ortega, who defied President Nicolás Maduro by siding with his opponents, has been implicated in a major corruption case involving a Venezuelan businessman who this week pleaded guilty to paying $1 million in bribes, reports the Associated Press.
    •  About 19 million Brazilians have gone hungry over the past year — nearly twice the 10 million who did so in 2018. For the New York Times, scenes of people begging for food are stark evidence that President Jair Bolsonaro’s bet that he could protect the country’s economy by resisting public health policies intended to curb the virus has failed.

  • Brazil's Supreme Court upheld last month's ruling by one of its chambers that former judge Sergio Moro was "biased" in convicting ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of corruption in 2017, reports AFP.
  • Peru
    • Peruvian presidential front-runner Pedro Castillo has proposed nationalizing mining and redrafting the country’s Constitution, raising risks to mining investment that could put upward pressure on copper prices, reports Reuters.
    French Guiana
    • In the four years since demonstrations and protests brought French Guiana to a standstill, there have been marginal improvements, but many of the French territory’s structural problems persist, according to Scott MacDonald at Global Americans.

    Happy Friday Y'all (and apologies for the late sending today)

    Thursday, April 22, 2021

    Earth Day -- Leaders Summit and Escazú (April 22, 2021)

    U.S. President Joe Biden's virtual Leaders Summit on Climate starts today, Earth Day. The event aims to relaunch U.S. climate change leadership, and Biden is expected to announce a new goal for the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions -- reportedly by perhaps as much as 50 percent by 2030. (ABC, Washington Post)

    Forty countries will participate in the summit. Seven Latin American and Caribbean countries were invited: the five largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the region—Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia— and the Caribbean nations of Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda. Latin America is a critical region to any climate change accord, according to AS/COA. It is home to extraordinary levels of biodiversity, but also has a dependency on more destructive economic activities, such as agriculture, oil and gas production, mining, and logging. The region is also particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change-intensified natural disasters like floods, droughts, and hurricanes. Many actors are also concerned at the economic opportunity cost of environmental protections.

    Initial rumors that the U.S. would announce a bilateral climate change agreement with Brazil at the summit have dissipated, among a wave of criticism regarding Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's environmental record and credibility. Bolsonaro's new promise to reduce deforestation -- which effectively reinstates a commitment by the Brazilian government that his administration had abandoned -- has been met with skepticism by Brazilian activists and the international community. And Bolsonaro's attempt to obtain cash upfront in order to curb rainforest destruction failed, reports the New York Times. (See last Thursday's post, and briefs on Tuesday and Monday.) U.S. officials have indicated they are looking for tangible evidence of environmental commitment ahead of any financing, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See also El País.)

    Instead there are rumors that the U.S. is pursuing a bilateral deal with Colombia -- Biden’s top Latin America aide, Juan González, met with Colombian President Iván Duque last week to discuss the country’s regional climate leadership. Or that the U.S. will strike multiple deals with several Amazon countries, including governments in Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, rewarding conservation efforts there. (Inside Climate News, Time Magazine)

    But Brazil has 60 percent of the Amazon, and despite the risks, now may be Biden’s best chance of engaging Bolsonaro’s administration on the environment, according to Time.

    Environmental aid is a crucial pillar for international conservation efforts, but "deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is not the result of a lack of money, but a consequence of the government’s deliberate failure of care," warn former Brazilian environment ministers Marina Silva and Rubens Ricupero in the Guardian. "What the government is missing is not cash, but a commitment to the truth."

    An environmental agreement between Brazil and the U.S. should be preceded by confidence-building measures, including dialogue with civil society groups that could assist Brazil to fulfill its climate commitments, argue Jeff Burnam, Jorge Tortos and Ryan Berg in The Hill

    And the issue is broader: Brazil's request for cash is likely just among the first of many similar to follow as developing nations start to negotiate with industrialized countries about who pays for costly programs to address climate change, reports the Wall Street Journal.

    • A new regional pact, the Escazú agreement, comes into force today for Latin America and the Caribbean. It is the first to require member nations to provide legal protections to environmental defenders, in one of the most dangerous places on earth for conservationists.The agreement also aims to make environmental regulation more responsive to communities facing harm. The accord has been signed by 24 of the region's 33 countries, so far, and formally ratified by 12. Nicaragua is among the dozen nations that have agreed to make it legally binding. (Reuters)
    • In countries that have ratified, "the real work begins this week, when local environmental justice movements will start pushing for effective implementation," writes Vivek Maru in the Los Angeles Times.
    • Rights advocates say the pact's success will depend on the commitment of governments and big business, reports Reuters.
    • Recognizing Indigenous land rights is a way out of the false protection-development dichotomy when it comes to conservation, writes Julio Berdegué in the Washington Post. Deforestation rates in Indigenous Naso lands in Panama are one-tenth of those in government conservation areas --  scientific research from across Latin America, suggests that granting the Naso and other Indigenous and tribal peoples territorial rights is an affordable and effective solution for meeting a country’s climate action goals.
    • A coalition of conservation organisations bought 950 sq km of the Belize Maya Forest in order to save one of the world’s last pristine rainforests from deforestation. Combined with the adjacent Rio Bravo Reserve, Belize Maya Forest creates a protected area that covers 9% of Belize’s landmass, a critical “puzzle piece” in the Selva Maya forest region, helping secure a vital wildlife corridor across northern Guatemala, southern Mexico and Belize, reports the Guardian.
    • Uruguay continues to be Latin America's leading country regarding energy transition towards renewable sources, according to an index released jointly this week by the World Economic Forum and the Accenture consultancy firm. (Mercopress)
    • Anybody unconvinced that Amazon preservation is a priority (what rock are you living under, anyway?) should look at the work of photojournalist Richard Mosse, who uses a multispectral camera to show the multilayered destruction happening to the rainforest right now, even if the numbers attached to the climate crisis and deforestation are hard to fathom. (Buzzfeed)
    News Briefs

    Dominican Republic
    • Dominican Republic reproductive rights activists say police broke up a lawful protest they held this week outside of Congress, which is considering a slight relaxation of the country's total abortion ban. Lawmakers are debating whether to permit abortion when woman's life is in danger, the pregnancy is not viable or in cases of rape or incest, as part of a Penal Code reform. A vote is expected today. (CNN, La Diaria)
    • Abortion activists have been demonstrating for over a month, since lawmakers on the justice commission rejected the proposed modifications to the penal code. (NBC
    • The Dominican Republic is one of six countries in the world that maintains a total abortion ban, along with Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Malta and the Vatican. President Luis Abinader said he supports the modifications, but cannot impose them on lawmakers, reports El País.
    • In February of last year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights admitted for review the case of “Esperancita”, a 16-year-old girl who died in 2012 after being denied life-saving treatment for leukaemia because she was pregnant, noted Amnesty International in its annual report.
    • The U.S. government is invoking a Trump-era health policy to turn back migrant families with older children at the border, reports the Guardian.
    • "Brazilian police kill six times more people than the US ... in Brazil and the US, what we're asking is that the police take their knee off our necks," writes Thiago Amparo in response to the Derek Chauvin verdict. (Folha de S. Paulo)
    • Covid-19 is ripping through Brazil, and citizens who are angry about their government's pandemic policy have little recourse, writes Vanessa Barbara in a New York Times op-ed.
    • Business jets are on the radar of European authorities after the dismantling of a ring that used private aircraft to smuggle cocaine from Brazil to Portugal, reports InSight Crime.
    • In some parts of rural Colombia, teachers are the last line of defense against forced recruitment of children by armed groups, reports InSight Crime.
    • Slow-moving lava flows from Guatemala's Pacaya volcano threaten the local communities of El Patrocinio and San José el Rodeo. (Associated Press)
    • As the pandemic’s impact on jobs and income lingers – and looks likely to do so through 2024 – Latin American governments should start taking steps to improve their reputation and business climates by settling the many disputes that have languished in international arbitration tribunals, argues Arturo Porzecanski in Americas Quarterly.
    Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...