Monday, May 31, 2021

Colombian protests enter second month (May 31, 2021)

Colombian President Iván Duque promised to send troops to the city of Cali this weekend, to support police after deadly clashes between protesters, security forces and armed civilians. (Reuters) At least 13 people were killed Friday, though Mayor Jorge Ivan Ospina specified that it was unclear whether all the deaths “are fully linked and associated with the protests”. (Al Jazeera)

Cali has become an epicenter of unrest and police violence in the month of anti-government protests that has roiled Colombia. In separate episodes, police in riot gear fought against protesters and there were reports of the officers continuing to use live rounds, and deliberately injuring protesters. In the city’s wealthy southern reaches, gunmen in civilian clothing joined the fray, firing on protesters, as police looked on, doing little to stop the violence, reports the Guardian. A representative from the Cali prosecutor’s office said an off-duty investigator had shot at a crowd, killing a civilian, before being lynched by protesters.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on Sunday called for those responsible for the violence in Cali to be held accountable. Human Rights Watch has warned the military deployment to counter ongoing protests in Colombia could increase "unrest and human rights violations" in the country. Colombian security forces have "a very poor record with regard to the use of force," HRW Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco told Deutsche Welle.

Thousands of white-clad protesters marched in Bogotá yesterday to demand an end to protests and roadblocks, as well as to express support for security forces, reports Reuters.

While a "pre-agreement" to further negotiations was reached on Monday, strike organizers have since accused the government of deliberately stalling talks by not signing the deal. The government says protest leaders must condemn roadblocks as part of the pre-agreement, calling the point non-negotiable. (El TiempoLa Silla Vacía delves deeper.)

More Colombia protests
  • Dominant polarized interpretations of Colombia's ongoing protests reflect an expired vision of the country's politics and democracy -- new social movements don't find any sense in the old mode of ideological confrontation that the country's political class keeps reverting to, writes Omar Rincón in a New York Times Español guest essay.
  • New York Times profiles Bogotá's "voguing" protesters: Piisciis, or Akhil Canizales; Nova, or Felipe Velandia — both of whom identify as nonbinary — and Axid, or Andrés Ramos, who is trans. Their drag ballroom dance surrounded by riot police in Plaza Bolivar allowed them to demand international visibility in a country hostile to their identities, they said.
  • La Silla Vacía has a podcast with Cali's grassroots protest leaders.
News Briefs

  • Sixteen people died in a massacre in a remote coca-growing region of Peru that authorities blamed on a dissident faction of the Shining Path, a Maoist rebel group. The Shining Path terrorized Peru before it was brutally repressed by President Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s. Now the deaths threaten to shakeup the political landscape ahead of June 6's presidential runoff, in which Fujimori's daughter, Keiko, faces off against Pedro Castillo. (New York Times)
  • Peru’s joint command of the armed forces said the attack was led by Víctor Quispe Palomino, alias “Comrade José” – the last living sibling of a family clan which has allied the remnants of Shining Path with drug traffickers in the valley of the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro rivers, a high jungle zone better known as VRAEM, reports the Guardian.
  • The killings seemed to boost Keiko Fujimori’s efforts to link Castillo to the political violence that claimed nearly 70,000 lives in Peru between 1980-2000. But before the massacre in Vizcatan, the official narrative was that Shining Path remnants in the VRAEM – source of 70 percent of the 400 tons of cocaine produced annually in Peru – had abandoned political struggle to work as hired guns for drug cartels, notes EFE.
  • The motive of the killers remains unclear. And the mayor of Vizcatán del Ene district, where the massacre took place, told reporters that he thought drug traffickers were more likely to be responsible (though both could be true), notes the Economist.
  • The two presidential candidates sparred in a debate marked by offers of increased public spending yesterday. Fujimori offered cash handouts and bonuses, while Castillo proposed increased universal pensions. 
  • A poll from Ipsos Peru yesterday showed the two candidates within 2 percentage points of each other, and the gap between them narrowing. Another poll, by the Peruvian Studies Institute (IEP), showed the share of those intending to vote for Castillo dropped to 40.3%, from a previous 44.8%, while support for Fujimori advanced to 38.3% from 34.4%. (Reuters)
  • Cuban performance artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara lives in San Isidro, one of Old Havana’s poor and majority-Black barrios. He has faced significant government harassment, particularly intense in recent months, for his role in the San Isidro Movement, a group of writers, artists and intellectuals who are openly challenging the state’s claims that the Castro-led revolution eliminated racism and that Cuba’s particular brand of socialism has served the poor more than the state, writes Lillian Guerra in a New York Times guest essay. 
  • (Amnesty International named Otero a prisoner of conscience, earlier this month. An unprecedented international media unleashed campaign of support for the artist after he was detained in a military hospital in May, reports Global Voices.)
  • Ultimately, Otero "embodies everything the regime claims to promote and defend, but in reality doesn’t: He is a poor Black artist who wants to express himself freely and have a dignified life," wrote Abraham Jiménez Enoa in the Washington Post earlier this month. "This is what the dictatorship hates the most: his dignity in struggle."
  • Hundreds of wildcat miners attacked Brazilian police who were trying to halt illegal mining in Para state. Prosecutors said they then raided an Indigenous village, setting houses on fire. The clashes came days after a Supreme Court justice ordered the government to protect Indigenous populations threatened in recent weeks by illegal miners, reports the Associated Press.
  • Activists believe as many as 20,000 garimpeiro (wildcat) prospectors are operating within the Yanomami reserve in northern Brazil using speedboats and light aircraft to penetrate the vast expanse of jungle near the border with Venezuela. Disturbing aerial photographs have laid bare the devastation being inflicted on the country's largest reserve, reports the Guardian. Illegal activities have accelerated under the Bolsonaro administration.
  • Tens of thousands of Brazilians protested against President Jair Bolsonaro on Saturday. In over 200 cities and towns, they demanded Bolsonaro's impeachment over his catastrophic pandemic response. Many marchers carried homemade placards remembering loved ones they have lost to an epidemic that has killed nearly 460,000 Brazilians, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro threatened, last week, to involve the military against any local governments announcing new lockdowns in the midst of a new, brutal wave of Covid-19. Bolsonaro reiterated that freedom in Brazil is in the hands of the military, adding to concerns about his attempts to politicize the armed forces, reports Reuters.
  • Livestreamed online and broadcast on TV, the Congressional inquiry into Bolsonaro's pandemic management "is a weirdly fascinating display of evasion, ineptitude and outright lies," writes Vanessa Barbara in a New York Times guest essay.
  • Former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso said he would support his successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's bid for a new presidential term. The potential political alliance against current President Jair Bolsonaro is a surprising cooperation between former rivals, reports Folha de S. Paulo. (See also Reuters.)
  • Unemployment in Brazil hit a record 14.7 percent in the first quarter of this year. (AFP)
  • The Red Cross warned that several Latin American countries' health systems are close to collapsing under the weight of Covid-19. “Newly confirmed cases in the region continue to rise; ten of the fifteen countries that reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases worldwide are in Latin America and the Caribbean. Uruguay, Argentina, and Costa Rica top the list. , followed by Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Brazil, where cases are spiraling upward." (EFE)
  • Dozens of countries face severe oxygen shortages because of surging Covid-19 cases and low vaccination rates. As of this month, 19 countries around the world – including Argentina, Colombia, Iran, Nepal, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Pakistan, Costa Rica and South Africa – need more than 50,000 cubic meters a day for coronavirus patients, reports the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
  • Frustrated with the lagging pace of vaccinations at home, well-off Latin Americans have been flying to the U.S. for a shot -- raising new issues of vaccine inequality, reports the New York Times.
  • Armed groups have asserted control of working-class Caracas neighborhoods, evidence that Venezuela's government is losing its grip, reports the New York Times. Though Nicolás Maduro's administration has gradually abandoned basic government functions across much of the country, it had, up until now, poured dwindling resources into the capital.
Regional Relations
  • The U.S. national security community is monitoring two Iranian naval vessels whose ultimate destination may be Venezuela, reports Politico. Iran’s intent in sending the vessels in the direction of the Western Hemisphere remains a mystery, as does their cargo. The two countries — both of them facing severe U.S. sanctions — have developed closer ties over the last few years.
  • The U.S. government withdrew financial support last week from a proposed dam in Honduras. The Jilamito Hydroelectric Project has been a source of conflict between local residents and developers. Two opponents of the project have been killed, reports Vice News.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will attend a meeting in Costa Rica of the Central American Integration System this week. The U.S. is navigating complicated diplomatic waters with El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The three Northern Triangle countries are the targeted recipients of the U.S.'s $4 billion commitment to help address the “root causes” of migration. But the Biden administration has sought to funnel funding around the countries' governments, due to significant governance concerns. Northern Triangle countries' leadership has pushed back against U.S. criticism, reports the Washington Post.
  • Former prosecutor and tax agency director Juan Francisco Solorzano Foppa, a prominent opponent of Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, said his arrest was politically motivated. Solorzano was part of the corruption probe that led to the 2015 ouster and subsequent criminal conviction of then-President Otto Pérez Molina. The attorney and 11 other people are accused of falsifying documents when they sought to register a new political party last year, reports EFE.
  • Guatemalan authorities arrested 10 people accused of abductions, torture, rape and killings in 1984. The crimes came to light because of a police document covering that year dubbed the “Military Diary,” which surfaced in 1999 and describes the disappearances, abuse and deaths of more than 190 people during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war. (Associated Press)
  • Argentina's government, in collaboration human rights groups and investigators from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), has launched a campaign aimed at putting a name to every woman, man and child killed by Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship. (Guardian)
  • Copa America is without a host country only two weeks before kickoff. Co-hosts Colombia and Argentina were dropped due to anti-government protests and skyrocketing coronavirus rates, respectively. (Associated Press)
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica officially became the 38th member country of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development last week. (Tico Times)
El Salvador
  • The discovery of up to 40 cadavers, mostly female, in the house of a former policeman in El Salvador has sent shock waves through the country and cast a spotlight on the femicide emergency raging across Latin America, reports the Guardian.
  • Newly inaugurated Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso has inherited a pandemic-triggered economic crisis -- he must now guide the country towards recovery ward off simmering social conflict, reports EFE.
  • Mexico's vaccine distribution priorities have left many doctors, dentists and medical workers in private medicine waiting for jabs, and raised criticisms that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador prioritized education staff for political reasons. (Guardian)
  • Chile's new constitutional assembly ushers in a period of political renewal -- but the wide-open field ahead of November's presidential elections will also be a challenge for candidates. "The most important role of the assembly will be to show that it can function and produce workable results," argues Kirsten Sehnbruch in the Guardian. "This means representing the interests of the electorate without destroying the existing political and socio-economic stability that Chileans have come to value."
Happy to be back with the Daily Briefing -- I'll be playing catch up over the next few days to cover all the news that's happened over the past few days. Please do point out any inadvertent gaps in coverage you might notice. Comments and critiques are always welcome. (I missed you.) Latin America Daily Briefing

Friday, May 21, 2021

Nicaraguan police raid independent media offices (May 21, 2021)

 Nicaraguan police targeted two prominent opponents in raids yesterday, siblings Carlos and Cristiana Chamorro, children of former president Violeta Chamorro.

Nicaraguan police raided the offices of independent television programs -- Esta Semana and Esta Noche, directed by journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro. The staff had temporarily settled in the Invercasa corporate center, after the raid and confiscation of their offices, as well as that of Confidencial, in December 2018. (ConfidencialConfidencial)

Cameraperson Leonel Gutiérrez was detained for seven hours yesterday as part of the raid, and AFP photographer, Luis Sequiera, was also temporarily detained by the police, while he was trying to cover the assault.

During a live broadcast of the Confidencial program on Radio Corporacion, Carlos Chamorro stressed that “they are not going to silence us, they can steal other television cameras, other equipment, they can occupy a room where we had made some productions, but we will continue to inform, they will not silence our journalists,” he stressed. (Confidencial)

Police also surrounded the offices of a the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation for Reconciliation and Democracy, and the foundation's former director, Cristiana Chamorro was accused of money laundering, yesterday. Cristiana Chamorro has publicly announced her intention to run against Ortega, who is trying for a fourth consecutive term in November, the charges could disqualify her candidacy, reports NPR.

“It seems to me that it is a macabre accusation, part of the monstrosity that this regime mounts to prevent citizens from working for Nicaragua and ultimately to prevent us from voting freely in November,” Cristiana Chamorro told journalists outside the Interior Ministry. (Reuters)

News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • Though far from revelatory, a new list of officials the United States government suspects of corruption and drug trafficking in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras may further roil Washington’s relationships in Central America, reports InSight Crime. The list, which was prepared by the State Department, names 12 current or former senior officials in Guatemala and Honduras, and the other names five from El Salvador. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Already, the U.S. focus on targeting corruption in Central America is pushing El Salvador's government closer to China, reports El Faro. The day after media reported the U.S. list of corrupt officials, which includes Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele's chief of staff, Bukele-loyal legislators approved a cooperation deal with China for investments worth about $62 million. (See yesterday's briefs and Tuesday's.)
El Salvador
  • Peruvian history -- specifically Alberto Fujimori's 1992 self-coup -- could be a cautionary tale for El Salvador, argue Manuel Meléndez-Sánchez and Steven Levitsky in the Washington Post's Monkey Cage.
  • Authorities in El Salvador are excavating a clandestine cemetery at the house of a former detective which is believed to contain as many as 40 bodies – most of them thought to be women. (Guardian)
  • Haiti's long-running political crisis is hitting a boiling point: The latest concern is President Jovenel Moïse’s call for a controversial constitutional referendum, scheduled for June 27. Haitian legal experts and critics call it illegal and few have confidence the vote can be pulled off democratically, reports Americas Quarterly.
  • A Washington Post analysis of video evidence in four cases of protester deaths in Colombia shows the extent to which police appear to have overstepped their rules of engagement. Dozens of deaths, including those of a police officer and 14 civilians whose killings Human Rights Watch investigators have linked to excessive police force, are putting the nation’s militarized security forces under a global microscope.
  • Will Social Unrest in Latin America Lead to Populism, asks yesterday's Latin America Advisor. That depends on what government's do moving forward. “Latin America is in a crisis in which ‘fiscally responsible’ reforms are both bad politics and bad policy," argues Latin America Risk Report's James Bosworth.
  • The uneven vaccine rollout in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean is fueling a budding vaccine tourism industry where the privileged with access to U.S. visas and money for airfare are flying thousands of miles for jabs, reports the Miami Herald.
  • If there is a Covid silver lining, it is that the pandemic has highlighted the transformative power of technology for Latin America and the Caribbean, and accelerated its digital transformation, not only in leading start-up markets like Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, but throughout the entire region, according to Global Americans.
  • Amazonian urban areas and their people, mainly Indigenous people and Afro-Descendants, are critical to preserving the rainforest, argues Iago Hairon in Open Society Foundations' Voices. These groups are increasingly emphatic that "it is necessary to implement new ways of development for the region, promoting climate and social justice, and scaling green jobs and the “bioeconomy.”" (The latest issue of Americas Quarterly makes the case for sustainable development in the Amazon.)
  • In an interview with the Guardian, Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva stopped short of explicitly confirming he would run. But he said he had the experience and desire to lead Brazil’s “recovery” after the damage inflicted by current President Jair Bolsonaro’s incompetence, and would do so, if his party and voters wished.
  • Venezuelan companies that are holding cash in dollars to protect themselves from hyperinflation have started paying as much as 7 percent to have those funds transferred into overseas bank accounts, reports Reuters.
  • Chile's constitution will be drafted largely by political newcomers, according to an analysis by Jennifer Piscopo and Peter Siavelis for Americas Quarterly. "The overall newness of the delegates lends the constitutional process legitimacy in the eyes of those seeking a more inclusive Chile. And for the delegates, the hard work of earning voters’ trust is just beginning." (See Tuesday's post.)

The Latin America Daily Briefing will take a break next week. I'll be back on May 31. Hope you are all well and staying safe and healthy. -- Latin America Daily Briefing

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Root causes run deep (May 20, 2021)

News Briefs

  • The United States has urged would-be Central American migrants to stay home. But, the situation for many is profoundly desperate, writes Carlos Martínez in a stirring chronicle for El Faro. "Honduras is a poor, deeply inequitable, and violent country. Its soul has been possessed by criminal organizations. On top of it all, last year the country was ravaged by two hurricanes in less than a month. How can you stay home when you don’t have one?"
  • The U.S.-Mexico border "is the place where two worlds collide. The desperation of Central American migrants and the politics of the United States," reports the Washington Post in a multimedia essay with testimony from migrants.
Regional Relations
  • U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris met with a group of Guatemalan anti-corruption leaders -- two former chief prosecutors, Thelma Aldana and Claudia Paz y Paz, and two former judges, Gloria Porras and Claudia Escobar. They spoke about Guatemala’s troubled justice system, sending yet another signal to Central American governments that the U.S. government is interested in addressing the region’s corruption, reports the Associated Press. Harris is scheduled to make her first trip abroad as vice president to Guatemala and Mexico on June 7 and 8.
  • Guatemalan judges dropped a graft charge against former president Otto Pérez Molina yesterday, and police arrested Juan Francisco Solorzano Foppa, a former prosecutor who was part of a team that revealed the first case of corruption against Pérez Molina. (Reuters)
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele said geopolitics is behind U.S. accusations that senior officials in his officials are corrupt. He also lauded China’s US$500 million investment in public investments in El Salvador “without conditions," even as the U.S. is conditioning aid on good governance, reports Reuters. (See Tuesday's briefs.) 
  • Former Brazilian Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello denied that President Jair Bolsonaro had overturned his efforts to buy the Chinese-made Sinovac coronavirus vaccine. "The president never told me to undo any contract or agreement with Butantan," Pazuello, a three-star general in active duty, told a Senate commission investigating the handling of the pandemic in Brazil. Senators reminded the general that he had announced plans to buy the Chinese vaccine in October, only to reverse himself after Bolsonaro dismissed the idea publicly the next day, reports Reuters.
  • Brazilian federal police raided the environmental minister's home yesterday, part of an investigation into the illegal export of Amazon timber. (See yesterday's briefs.) Federal police said they had launched their investigation – named after the indigenous deity Akuanduba – in January after receiving information “from foreign authorities suggesting the possible misconduct of Brazilian civil servants in the export of timber," reports the Guardian. (See also Veja.)
  • Haiti has authorized the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as COVID-19 cases surge following months of delays in getting jabs, reports the Miami Herald.

  • The anti-kidnapping unit of Colombia's national police hopes to help Haiti tackle its epidemic of abductions for ransom, reports Reuters.
  • The New York Times Interpreter looks at how police violence can turn protests into mass movements, as has happened in Colombia.
  • Ecuadorian Indigenous politician Yaku Pérez, who came in third in this year's presidential elections, said he is stepping down from the Pachakutik movement he has led. He said he will return to activism, and criticized his party's alliance with president-elect Guillermo Lasso, reports AFP. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • The incoming president’s market-friendly agenda will face strong headwinds, Lasso will enter the presidential palace with a weak mandate, limited fiscal resources and plenty of opponents in Congress, reports Americas Quarterly.
  • Isolated indigenous and afro-descendent families in Ecuador were particularly affected by pandemic school closures. The lack of smartphones, internet connectivity and a drop in income for their parents became a major obstacle to their children's continued schooling. The response was to relaunch community schools that promote their cultural identity and language, the protection of the local environment and whose teachers are also part of the community, reports the Guardian in a photo essay.
  • Relative to population, Argentina now has the highest number of Covid deaths per day in the world, with 16.46 Covid fatalities per million on Tuesday, far exceeding its giant neighbour Brazil, which saw 11.82 per million. ICUs are already stretched to breaking point across Argentina, with more than 90% of ICU beds occupied in the main provinces of Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Neuquén and the nation’s capital. (Guardian)
  • Thousands of Peruvian indigenous people living near major mining projects face a health crisis after testing positive for high levels of metals and toxic substances, according to a new Amnesty International report. (AFP)
  • Pie de Página reports how an Indigenous group destroyed a gas pipeline built on their territory without proper consultation. "After an assembly, the entire community went to where the pipeline was being laid. There, they excavated and cut out with a blowtorch nearly ten kilometers of pipeline, which they then took to Ciudad Obregón to sell as scrap metal."
  • Mexico City is the fastest sinking urban area in the world -- Mother Jones.
  • Darwin’s Arch, an iconic rock formation that for years was a much-photographed destination for tourists visiting the Galápagos Islands, collapsed due to natural erosion. Some locals who work in the tourism and dive industry have now nicknamed the remaining rock towers the “Pillars of Evolution." (Washington Post)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Jesús Santrich killed in Venezuela (May 19, 2021)

FARC dissident leader Seuxis Hernández -- better known as Jesús Santrich -- was killed in Venezuela yesterday. The Segunda Marquetalia, a dissident FARC group, said the attack was carried out a Colombian commando unit that illegally entered Venezuelan territory. Yesterday Colombia's Defense Minister Diego Molano said the government was working to confirm if Santrich had been killed in Venezuela, and that, "if confirmed, it proves Venezuela harbors narco-criminals."

(Associated Press, Reuters)

Other versions of the attack, published by Colombian media, say mercenaries were behind the attack on Santrich. The U.S. State Department put a $10 million bounty on Santrich last year. Other reports say the Venezuelan government is behind the attack, or ascribes it to fighting among guerrilla groups. (InSight Crime)

The Segunda Marquetalia said Santrich was riding in a vehicle in the western Venezuelan state of Zulia when he was attacked with grenades and gunfire by Colombian soldiers. The troops cut off Santrich's pinky finger before returning to Colombia in a yellow helicopter, according to the group. They provided no evidence for their claims, which, if true, would constitute a major breach of Venezuela's sovereignty and heighten tensions between Venezuela and Colombia, notes the AP.

The death has the "potential to destabilize underworld dynamics in both countries, fueling an already raging conflict along their shared border," warns InSight Crime.

Adam Isacson, a Colombia expert for the Washington Office on Latin America, said that the death of Mr. Hernández was a “symbolic blow” to the Segunda Marquetalia — and that the rebel leader’s presence in Venezuela shows how deeply the dissidents had penetrated the country. (See April 26's post.)

The Venezuelan military has been fighting a separate FARC dissident group, the 10th Front, in the border state of Apure. The 10th Front’s leaders and their allies have accused the Segunda Marquetalia of being behind the conflict, claiming they have been coordinating the attacks against the group with corrupt Venezuelan officials.

Santrich was one of the negotiators of the landmark 2016 peace deal between the FARC and the Colombian government, but later took up arms again. He "was, in many ways, a symbol of the difficult balance Colombia has had to strike as it works to leave behind the bloody conflict that displaced millions, killed at least 220,000 and defined the nation for generations," according to the New York Times. Peace deal critics saw Santrich as proof the FARC would never give up fighting, while supporters said he was a sign of the government's failure to hold up its end of the deal.

Santrich's group was widely rejected by former FARC leaders who stuck with the peace deal and have now formed a political party that has 10 seats in Colombia’s congress.

News Briefs

  • Fighting between Indigenous protesters and armed civilians in Cali show that Colombia’s social classes are as bitterly divided as they ever were, reports the Guardian. Colombia's right wing politician insist ongoing protests are spurred by dissident leftist groups, a stance that ignores how persistent inequality is fueling broad calls for change in society, say experts. (See May 10's post.)
  • There have been hundreds of reports of "disappearances" during the weeks of protests in Colombia. The term is used, in this case, generally for people who have been detained arbitrarily, maintained without communication by police, and often suffered torture and sexual abuse by security forces, reports El Armadillo. (Cosecha Roja)
  • Brazil's Federal Police carried out searches to investigate whether key figures within the Environment Ministry, including Minister Ricardo Salles, facilitated illegal timber exports to the U.S. and Europe, reports the Associated Press. The operation stems from a decision of Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who ordered the investigation of 10 officials at the ministry and the regulatory agency, the Environment and Natural Resources Institute.
  • Three of the world’s biggest food businesses bought soya from a farmer linked to illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, according to a new investigation by Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Unearthed and Repórter Brasil. Cargill, Bunge and Cofco sourced beans from companies allegedly supplied by a farmer fined for destroying swathes of rainforest, reports the Guardian.
  • A severe drought in Brazil could affect food production, a time when agricultural crops are rallying to multiyear highs, which has fanned fears of food inflation. (Al Jazeera)
  • Brazilian senators accused former foreign minister Ernesto Araujo of undermining efforts to obtain Covid-19 vaccines after he used anti-China rhetoric during the pandemic. In a parliamentary inquiry into President Jair Bolsonaro’s pandemic policies, senators blamed the president and his inner circle for delays in deliveries from China of active ingredients to make Sinovac Biotech’s vaccine in Brazil. (Reuters)
  • Senator Katia Abreu, a farmer and former agriculture minister, said Araujo’s views and those of the Bolsonaro government had hurt exports to China, where the approval of dozens of Brazilian meatpacking plants had been held up in Beijing. (Reuters)
Regional Relations
  • Honduras, of Taiwan’s few remaining allies has warned it may be forced to switch diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing to gain access to Chinese coronavirus vaccines. (Financial Times)
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández said that Venezuela's human rights problems have been disappearing, and defended dialogue solutions to the country's crisis. (Infobae)

  • Argentina reported a record one-day coronavirus death toll of 745 yesterday. According to data compiled by Reuters, the daily average of infections and deaths reported by Argentina places the country among the worst five countries in the world.
  • The U.S. vaccination campaign could be a major factor in Mexico's declining Covid-19 cases, along with high rate of Mexicans with antibodies after wide coronavirus circulation in the country over the past year, reports the Washington Post.

  • The U.S. shelter system for migrant children has wildly varying conditions, some of which are far below the standard that the U.S. Biden administration has promised, reports the New York Times.
  • Independent, left and center-left candidates secured a combined 101 seats, more than two-thirds of the Chile' new Constitutional Convention. (See yesterday's post.) They will have enough power to propose broad economic reforms to land and water rights, the pensions system and the exploitation of natural resources. "All signs indicate that the foundational document they will draft will enshrine principles of civic participation, justice, gender equality and Indigenous rights that have long eluded this South American nation," writes Ariel Dorfman in the New York Times.
  • Constitutional reform will be on Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo's agenda if he win's next month's runoff election, according to the Latin America Risk Report. Both candidates, Castillo and Keiko Fujimori, have shifted towards the center since the first round. The move is partially about the election and voters, but also looks ahead at the reality that passing legislation through the Congress will require moderation and compromise as well.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Chilean independents to rewrite constitution (May 18, 2021)

Chilean's choice of Constituent Assembly members demonstrates a broad rejection both of the ruling right-wing coalition, and of traditional leftist parties associated with the country's transition to democracy, the Concertación. The results ratify the demands of social protests that rocked the country and put a new constitution firmly on the national agenda in 2019. It is the continuation of a long crisis of establishment political parties, which have had scant generational renewal, reports El País.

The 155-member assembly will include 47 independent candidates and 17 representing the country’s 10 indigenous groups, whose participation was guaranteed for the first time in Chile. (Guardian) Depending on how you count it, 64 percent of the new assembly could be considered independent, reports El País.

Many of the political outsiders in the new assembly have made their mark as activists -- in social protests or within their communities. Several articles with profiles of a new generation of Chileans: here, here, and here

Chile in 1988 demonstrated that a dictatorship could be overthrown by election. In 2021, Chile is demonstrating how popular demands for social transformation can be channeled through the ballot box, writes Pedro Abramovay, Open Society Foundations' Latin America Program director in Estadão. The assembly's composition is promising for those who advocated change, but only the results of the difficult negotiations ahead "will show whether politics still has the capacity to hear the calls for profound transformations that the streets have called for."

But the hard work has just begun, and "there is an extensive record of disappointing constitution writing processes in Latin America," warns Patricio Navia in Americas Quarterly. "Chileans might be in for a rude awakening when the new constitution turns out not to be the magic pill that ends persistent inequality and generates the conditions for a more sustainable, gender-equal, environmentally friendly and inclusive kind of economic growth."

News Briefs

El Salvador
  • A U.S. State Department list includes five senior Salvadoran officials deemed credibly suspected of engaging in or facilitating corruption or drug trafficking. They are key allies of President Nayib Bukele, including his chief of staff. The list, obtained by the Associated Press, was originally included as a classified annex of a report sent to Congress in April. That report also contained the names of 12 Honduran and Guatemalan politicians accused of corruption or believed to have ties to drug trafficking organizations.
  • The list of five Salvadoran officials deemed to have “engaged in significant acts of corruption” during their terms in offices was declassified May 4. This list has no legal implications for those named, but the fact that the section on El Salvador was declassified sends a clear political message at a time of tense relations between the Bukele and Biden administrations, reports El Faro.
  • El Faro looks at previous reports of wrongdoing linked to the officials on the list.
  • The world is no longer just at risk of "vaccine apartheid" - according to the WHO, we've reached it. "The big problem is a lack of sharing. So the solution is more sharing," said World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. (Reuters)
  • Just about a tenth of the Latin America and the Caribbean's population of over 653 million has received at least one dosage of the vaccine. The Pan American Health Organization says at least 500 million people need to be vaccinated in the Americas to control the spread and achieve “herd immunity.” An analysis by the Miami Herald found that a region already in trouble is falling further behind, with the poorest suffering the deadliest consequences as new contagious variants emerge.
  • Colombian President Iván Duque ordered the public forces to deploy their “maximum operational capacity” to dismantle road blockades erected by protesters during the past 20 days of demonstrations. The president said he based his decision on the fact that peaceful protest is allowed in Colombia, but illegal roadblocks have affected millions of citizens who have not been able to get their products, reports EFE.
  • The protests began three weeks ago, with demands for a repeal of the tax proposal, which the president granted. But they have grown over time to include calls for the government to guarantee a minimum income, to prevent police violence and to withdraw a health reform plan that critics say does not do enough to fix systemic problems, reports the New York Times.
  • One interpretation is that Colombia is undergoing a post-peace deal democratic spring, Rodrigo Uprimny told El País.
  • Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro, a leftist rabble-rouser politician, has taken a low-key approach to the protests, apparently believing that he must win over some of his many conservative skeptics to prevail in what would be his third run for Colombia’s presidency, next year, reports the Associated Press.
  • "People across Latin America are watching the protests in Colombia," writes Ian Bremmer in Time Magazine.  Public anger boiled over in many countries in the region in 2019. "The coronavirus has exacerbated the economic stagnation that drove much of that anger and done nothing to help address problems of government corruption. Governments across Latin America are short of cash, people are short of patience, and COVID will make both problems worse."
  • For the first time, a portion of the population that supports the impeachment of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is greater than that who opposes his removal, according to the Datafolha survey.
  • Argentina is mired in counter-productive political polarization that distracts from its economic and social crises, laments Hugo Alconada Mon in a New York Times guest essay. He argues that political reform could offer a serious path out of the morass.
  • It would be a mistake to see Argentina's current conflict over in-person schooling conflict purely as an education debate, writes Eduardo Levy Yeyati in Americas Quarterly. "At a time in which a largely token opposition lacked an appealing message — and appealing candidates — education became a political banner for families that have been so far politically underrepresented." But, it could also be an opportunity to spur much-needed pro-education policies, he argues.
  • Argentina suspended foreign sales of beef for 30 days to combat price increases on the domestic market. (AFP)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's so-called "fuel-fixation" relates to a struggle for "energy sovereignty," an idea with roots in anti-colonialism, explain Patricia Narvaez Garcia and Aman Abhishek in Al Jazeera.
  • Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim's construction group faces scrutiny for the possible role it played in the building of a metro railway line that collapsed earlier this month, killing 26 people, reports Reuters.
  • Vietnamese and Taiwanese demand for sea cucumber is financing a thriving black market for the in-demand echinoderm in small Honduran fishing villages, reports InSight Crime.

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

Monday, May 17, 2021

Chilean voters punish political parties (May 17, 2021)

 Chilean voters punished traditional political parties in this weekend's election for representatives to rewrite the country's constitution. President Sebastián Piñera said his government and other traditional political parties should heed the “loud and clear” message that they had not adequately responded to the needs of citizens.

The results reshuffled Chile's political scene, and will impact November's presidential election, reports La Tercera.

Preliminary results indicate that independent candidates picked up 30 of 155 seats. The anti-party Lista del Pueblo, which built on demands from the 2019 protests and social unrest, obtained 22 seats. The ruling right-wing coalition obtained 39 seats. A leftist coalition that includes the Communist Party and the Frente Amplio obtained 28 seats, while the Apruebo list -- which many of the leftist Concertación participated in -- obtained 25 seats. The results put the Frente Amplio at the head of the country's leftist forces, reports La Tercera.

About 43.4 percent of eligible voters participated, more than in recent municipal elections, but less than the amount that voted in the plebiscite that launched the new constitutional process last October. (La Tercera)

The Constituent Assembly's diversity will present a challenge in putting together a new charter for the country, as proposals will need two-thirds approval in order to pass, reports El País. This means Piñera's coalition will have to forge new alliances in order to reach the one-third of delegates required to block new proposals.

The result – and defeats for Chile Vamos candidates in mayoral, gubernatorial and municipal elections held at the same time – bode ill for the ruling coalition ahead of general and presidential elections in November, reports Reuters.

For the first time, a national constitution will be drafted by a body that has gender parity. (AFP, see Friday's post.)

News Briefs

  • Colombian national strike leaders, unions, university students and other social movements presented a list of demands to the government over the weekend, including an end to violence against demonstrators by police and security forces, as well as to sexual violence against women. Thousands of people marched again, peacefully, in Colombian cities yesterday. The country is entering its third week of protests. The National Strike Committee was expected to meet with government representatives again this afternoon, reports Deutsche Welle.
  • Entering the third week of protests, demonstrators and human rights groups have repeatedly accused police officers of killing civilians, excessive use of force, sexual abuse and the use of firearms, both during current protests and previous ones. Members of Colombia's national police force who are responsible for abuses or acts of violence amid ongoing protests will be punished to the full extent of the law, the head of the force said, yesterday. (Reuters)
  • In recent gruesome episode, a young girl accused police of sexual violence while they detained her in Popayán -- the next day she killed herself. (La Silla Vacía)
  • Colombia's violent response to the protests has tarnished its international image,and the diplomatic disarray is compounded by the exit last week of foreign minister Claudia Blum, reports La Silla Vacía.
  • Fifty-five U.S. lawmakers called on the U.S. government to denounce police brutality in Colombia, and suspend direct aid to Colombian National Police. They also called for an end to U.S. commercial sales of weapons, equipment, services, or training to ESMAD (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios) riot police; and a freeze on any grants or sales of riot or crowd control equipment to all Colombian public security forces, police, and special units until concrete and clear human rights benchmarks are established and met.
  • The protests also underscore "the urgent need to help Latin America return to growth and bring the pandemic under control," according to a Bloomberg editorial.
  • U.S. President Joe Biden must drop his opposition to engagement with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in order to take advantage of a rare diplomatic opportunity that has emerged in the years-long standoff between the two countries, according to U.S. Representative Gregory W. Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Meeks told the Washington Post he would be willing to make contact with the Maduro government on behalf of the Biden administration in order to broker a dialogue that could lead to free and fair elections in the country.
  • Opposition leader Juan Guaidó confirmed that the Norwegian government had visited Venezuela twice this year, and suggested that Norway may be well positioned to mediate potential negotiations with the Maduro government. Italian news agency Agenzia Nova reported that the Vatican may be willing to act as an intermediary in political negotiations between the Maduro government and the Guaidó opposition. (Venezuela Weekly)
  • Maduro said the opposition's continued control of Venezuelan-owned U.S. refiner Citgo would be a key point in any eventual dialogue process, reports Reuters.
  • Peru's presidential runoff candidates -- union-leader Pedro Castillo and right-wing Keiko Fujimori -- are virtually tied, just three weeks ahead of the June second round vote, according to an Ipsos voter simulation. Castillo, virtually unknown before coming in first in April's first round, has sought to soften his stance, after causing market jitters with promises to nationalize mineral resources. Fujimori has pulled ahead in urban areas, while Castillo is strongest with rural voters. (Reuters)
  • "The public perception that there is disorganization within the Castillo campaign and rivalries among potential advisors is absolutely true," according to James Bosworth's Latin America Risk Report. But the plan Castillo's campaign released yesterday for his first 100 days in office shows the center and center-left won the internal battles. The plan "is significantly more moderate than the one Vladimir Cerrón wrote and published prior to the first round. In a change many will find positive, unlike the previous plan, the first paragraph of the new plan doesn’t defend Marxism."
  • Castillo said, yesterday, that he would raise mining sector taxes and royalties, and renegotiate the tax contracts of large companies if elected in next month's runoff, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico is facing an escalating humanitarian emergency caused by what authorities and advocates call an unprecedented increase in migrant families traversing its territory, reports the Los Angeles Times. The Mexican government has failed to develop a strategy to care for the tens of thousands of migrants, instead authorities have relied on an over-stretched patchwork of private and religious charity outfits, medical aid organizations and sundry good Samaritans.
  • Violence against women in Ciudad Juárez has gotten worse during the pandemic, the issue is considered the “Achilles heel” of public policy in Chihuahua, reports Pie de Página.

  • Shocking images shared on Brazilian social media this week have cast a spotlight on a spiral of violence, malnutrition and disease that threatens fresh devastation for the Yanomami people and their ancestral territory in the Amazon state of Roraima, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazil is struggling to secure enough Covid-19 vaccine doses to cover its population, and failing in its race against the pandemic clock, reports AFP. President Jair Bolsonaro's government is facing criticism for failing to secure more vaccines, including its refusal of offers to purchase millions of doses and diplomatic tension with China that may be slowing the import of vaccine ingredients.
  • Covid-19 appears to be killing babies and small children at an unusually high rate in Brazil, a new twist in the pandemic nightmare. Since the start of the pandemic, 832 children 5 and under have officially died of the virus. The number is probably a substantial undercount, as a lack of widespread testing means many cases go undiagnosed, reports the New York Times.
  • A new experiment will vaccinate the entire adult population of the Brazilian city of Botucatu, population 150,000, with the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, to analyze the efficacy of mass-vaccination. (Infobae)
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s approval ratings have hovered around 90 percent, even as he has veered toward autocracy. The key, according to the Los Angeles Times, is his efficient distribution of food and vaccines, as well as a reduction in homicides that experts say is based on a secret deal with the country's violent street gangs.
  • Ecuador's National Assembly elected  Guadalupe Llori, a representative of the Pachakutik indigenous political party,  as its president for the next two years, with the support of allies of conservative President-elect Guillermo Lasso. The alliance between Pachakutik and Lasso's CREO party effectively sidelined the left-wing UNES party, which won the most seats in the congress in elections earlier this year but fell short of an outright majority, reports Reuters.
  • President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will mark the 1911 massacre of 303 Chinese people in the city of Torreón, a chapter that history has glossed over. -- Guardian 

Friday, May 14, 2021

Chileans vote for Constitutional Convention delegates (May 14, 2021)

Chileans head to the polls this weekend to pick 155 citizens to rewrite the country's constitution, a document that will replace the current dictatorship-era charter. The constitutional convention will have gender parity, 17 seats reserved for Indigenous representatives, and at least five percent of each list is for people with disabilities. The vote, which will take place over two days, is a step towards meeting the demands of the 2019 protest movement, but it is less clear whether a new constitution will be able to remedy the deep causes of social unrest. (El PaísEl País)

It is not clear how many people will participate in this weekend's vote, a plebiscite last year on whether and how the constitution should be rewritten had 51 percent participation. (El PaísAFP) "The legitimacy of the constitutional convention now depends on the distance delegates can set between themselves and the Chilean politicians of the past," according to Jennifer M. Piscopo in Nacla.

Delegates will spend a maximum 12-month period debating and crafting the new text, with a two-thirds majority required for each key decision. (Reuters)

There are 1.373 candidates, 649 who are women and 629 men. There are 95 Indigenous candidates competing for 17 seats that will be chosen solely by Indigenous voters. Seven of those seats will be held by members of the most numerous Mapuche ethnic group. The candidates are grouped in lists and seats will be distributed by the D'Hondt system. Some experts have voiced concern that the lists don't have clear platforms, and that most voters will be choosing individuals. Most of the candidates to the convention do not respond to any political party, but are not necessarily independent either. A significant number of politicians have resigned their positions to be able to run. Though "the notion of citizen-delegates conjures images of a process open to everyday people, ... that’s not quite the case," explains Piscopo. "Most candidates are running in pacts formed by political parties, meaning parties could filter out certain candidates."
The convention will need two-thirds majority for each norm to be included in the new text, so the balance of who is voted this weekend will determine the tone of the process to come. Further, it is unclear how the people elected to the assembly will write the new constitution to translate citizens’ desires into constitutional language and institutions, adding another layer of uncertainty to the process, notes the Latin America Risk Report. Achieving a supermajority in the Assembly will be especially difficult as Chile selects a new president and representatives in November, a process likely to feed political polarization that could spill over into Assembly debates, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera's extended lame duck period comes at precisely the time when the country is in need of firm leadership to guide the constitutional process, writes Paula Schmidt at Americas Quarterly. "The hopes that a new constitution would be enough to heal Chile’s wounds and right the wrongs was always a bit naïve, but without a strong leader to steer the ship, the process is now in peril of succumbing to a fragmented political landscape – and a tough puzzle for the next president Chileans will elect in November."

Women's rights activists have high hopes that gender-parity in drafting, which will take place in the midst of significant feminist movements in the region, will contribute to an inclusive perspective for all minorities. (Guardian) Indigenous rights activists hope the new constitution will define Chile as a plurinational state, as regional countries like Bolivia and Ecuador and other nations around the world have done. (EFE) Indigenous peoples are unrecognized in the present charter and communities are seeking changes including the teaching of indigenous history in schools and greater recognition for traditional medicine, reports Reuters.

News Briefs

  • Venezuela will hold regional and local elections on Nov. 21, announced its electoral authority (CNE) yesterday. (Efecto Cocuyo) The mayoral and gubernatorial elections will be the first overseen by the new council, named earlier this month, which includes three members linked to President Nicolas Maduro's ruling Socialist Party and two members close to the opposition, reports Reuters. (See May 5's post.)
  • Maduro's recent moves with the CNE and other concessions to international demands should not be characterized as "goodwill" argues Francisco Rodríguez. "What has changed is not the willingness of Maduro to make overtures, but the willingness of the opposition and the United States to accept them." (See yesterday's post.)
  • Uruguay has gone from regional coronavirus control model to the highest Covid-19 death rate per capita in the world last week. Vaccination is proceeding rapidly, but Uruguayans are reluctant to return to strict lockdown, complicating efforts to reduce contagion. (Washington PostNew York Times)
  • Eyewitness testimony from a violent raid in Rio de Janeiro's Jacarezinho last week indicates a police-led massacre, and caused an outcry, nationally and internationally, but that is unlikely to change the state's dynamic of police lethal violence, reports InSight Crime. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Residents and witnesses are being threatened to remain silent about the incident, in which 27 people died. Police claim the deaths resulted from confrontations with alleged gang members, but locals reported that some of the men were unarmed and  trying to escape as the police entered, reports VICE. (See Friday's post.)
  • The latest Datafolha poll gives former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva a significant edge over incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in a hypothetical second round vote in 2022. Increasingly cornered politically, Bolsonaro is rallying his base, literally, reports AFP.
  • Food insecurity—a lack of consistent access to enough food—affected over half of homes Brazil's homes, or 117 million Brazilians, during the first year of the pandemic -- Economist.
El Salvador
  • The El Mozote massacre trial in El Salvador has put the country's civil war atrocities, and U.S. involvement "into the open, offering a different lens through which to view Central Americans’ migration to the United States and the debate about U.S. border and immigration policy," write Nelson Rauda and John Washington in the Washington Post. "News out of Central America rarely appears in U.S. media. Central Americans fleeing the carnage are only seen as embodying the border crisis and domestic issue, with little regard as to what sent them north. Rarely acknowledged is the past and current role of the United States in Central America."
  • A still-unknown number of teenagers have been sent by U.S. authorities to juvenile jails that are often thousands of miles away from their families, and where there are no safeguards in place to guarantee that they were represented in court for the months—and in some cases, years—of their detention, reports The Nation. Advocates say the practice is illegal.
  • Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturned an earlier ruling that stopped controversial legislation targeting non-governmental organizations. The new law will give the government the right to pry into the affairs of and even dissolve non-governmental organizations. The move is likely to alarm rights groups and the United States, reports Reuters. Lawmakers blocked Judge Gloria Porras from re-appointment to the Constitutional Court, apparently in retaliation for her anti-corruption rulings. (See April 14's post.)
Regional Relations
  • There have been more than 130 incidents of unexplained brain injury known as Havana syndrome among U.S. diplomats, spies and defense officials, some of them within the past few weeks, reports the Guardian. The new total adds cases from Europe and elsewhere in Asia and reflects efforts by the U.S. Biden administration to more thoroughly review other incidents amid concern over a spate of them in recent months, reports the New York Times.
  •  The Paris Club is willing to delay a $2.4 billion debt payment from Argentina due this month if the country meets certain conditions, reports Bloomberg.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic provoked the deepest global recession since the second world war, but Latin America has fared particularly badly. The reason is a combination of factors ranging from public health, to lockdowns, to domestic employees, to fiscal management, according to the Economist.
  • Faced with pandemic economic recession, Latin American countries must decide whether to turn to unpopular tax reforms or unsustainable debt, reports El Pais.
  • A decade after the launch of the Istanbul convention, the landmark human rights treaty to stop gender-based violence, women are facing a global assault on their rights and safety that qualifies as its own pandemic, according to Dubravka Šimonović, UN special rapporteur on violence against women. (Guardian)