Monday, May 3, 2021

Bukele's "auto golpe" (May 3, 2021)

 El Salvador's Legislative Assembly removed all five magistrates of the constitutional chamber of the country's Supreme Court, replaced them with new magistrates from a pre-determined list without debate or discussion. The surprise moves on Saturday took place on the first day of the new legislative session, in which President Nayib Bukele's Nuevas Ideas party and allies hold a super majority. Both the election and dismissal of its magistrates must have the support of two thirds of the lawmakers. The lawmakers later removed Attorney General Raúl Melara.

Many in El Salvador are describing the move as an "autogolpe" or "self-coup" and as an attack on the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, write Tim Muth at El Salvador Perspectives. José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division, wrote on Twitter that “Bukele is breaking with the rule of law and seeks to concentrate all power in his hands.”

The vote to oust the judges was quickly criticized by Juan Gonzalez, U.S. President Joe Biden's senior Latin America adviser. "This is not what you do," he wrote in a post on Twitter in Spanish. ("Así no se hace.") U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke to Bukele yesterday about the previous day's vote, saying ″that an independent judiciary is essential to democratic governance,″ the State Department said.

The assembly voted 64 to 19 with one abstention to oust the five magistrates on the chamber. They were were charged with obstructing Bukele’s handling of the pandemic by hindering health ministry policies with their rulings.

Melara was accused of having a previous political party affiliation. He had been set to indict several high-ranking government officials for pandemic-related corruption scandals. 

Although there was a push by civil society and opposition parties not to recognize the new justices and attorney general, as of late Sunday, three of the five justices and Melara had presented their resignations.

Duque withdraws tax reform, six people dead

Colombian President Iván Duque withdrew a controversial tax reform proposal, after at least six people died in days of massive protests against the government. While the vast majority of demonstrations were peaceful over recent days, there were violent confrontations with security forces, and small groups of looters and vandals, according to reports. 

Human rights groups, including WOLA condemned the disproportionate use of force employed by the anti-riot police (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios, ESMAD) and other police units against protestors, as well as the hostile words of high-level officials and influential politicians.

Demonstrations continued yesterday Colombian cities, despite Duque's promise to backtrack on some parts of the bill, including a sales tax on public services and some food. Many working-class Colombians, already struggling under a coronavirus-related economic downturn, said the reforms would hit them too hard, reports Al Jazeera.

In a video, Duque said he would ask Congress “to withdraw the law proposed by the finance ministry and urgently process a new law that is the fruit of consensus, in order to avoid financial uncertainty." (See last Thursday's post.) In fact, the bill had null political support, even from within Duque's Centro Democrático party, reports EFE. (La Silla Vacía has a political post-mortem.)

The central bank warned on Friday failure to approve the reform could have a negative impact on the economy, reports Reuters.

  • Venezuela's government released a group of U.S. oil executives from prison to house arrest in Caracas on Friday. The "Citgo 6" were arrested more than three years ago on corruption charges, their release seems to be a gesture of goodwill towards the U.S. Biden administration. The men are generally viewed as negotiating pawns as the relationship between the United States and Venezuela has worsened in recent years, reports the New York Times.
  • Last week senior Biden officials from several federal agencies were scheduled to meet to weigh U.S. options, including whether to ease up on crippling oil sanctions it inherited and take steps to support an uncertain attempt at dialogue between Maduro and his opponents, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said that his government had opted to reduce the number of environmental fines handed out to ranchers in order to bring "peace and tranquility" to the countryside. Environmental specialists have attributed a reduction in environmental fines in Brazil in recent years to the diminished capacity of federal environmental regulator Ibama, reports Reuters. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • Several thousand Brazilians marched Saturday in support of Bolsonaro, despite the surging Covid-19 pandemic. Many government opponents took their own protests online, reports AFP.
  • Members of the Congressional inquiry into Bolsonaro's handling of the pandemic expect the investigation to produce impeachable evidence of his malfeasance, reports The Intercept. (See Wednesday's briefs.) The piece also delves into how Bolsonaro's efforts to ensure legislative support from the fair weather Centrão bloc come at a huge public policy cost, but could protect him from being ousted by Congress.
  • South America is a Covid-19 nightmare -- Last week the continent, home to 5.5% of the world’s population, suffered nearly 32% of all reported Covid deaths.  This is partly the result of longstanding structural problems, including underfunded health systems and poverty that make effective lockdowns impossible. (See Friday's briefs.) But political chaos has also been crucial to the virus’s spread, reports the Guardian.
  • Experts warn that the Covid-19 pandemic will overwhelm health services in many nations in South America, Asia, and Africa over the next few weeks, unless world leaders invest massively in aid and vaccine exports. Thirty percent of recorded deaths from Covid-19 worldwide are now occurring in poor and lower-middle income countries – a month ago they accounted for only 9.3 percent of global deaths. -- Guardian
  • The U.S. announced last week that it would share up to 60 million doses of U.S.-produced AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. "The first priority should be our own hemisphere, where the United States is stuck playing a game of catch-up in vaccine diplomacy," argue Jason Marczak and Cristina Guevara in the Miami Herald. "This is a defining moment for a U.S. partnership strategy in the region."
  • AstraZeneca's Latin America vaccine production -- in which a Mexican company processes active ingredient produced in Argentina -- has been significantly delayed, leaving many countries in the region in the lurch and hoping the U.S. can help fill the gap. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said on Friday the U.S. will probably send his country 5m more doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, reports Reuters.
  • At least 803 pregnant and postpartum women have died from Covid-19 since the pandemic hit Brazil last February, according to a Brazilian taskforce that is studying Covid’s impact on pregnancy. More than half of those deaths, 432, happened this year, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexico City vaccination centers have deployed a variety of entertainment strategies aimed at calming a very frightened elderly population eligible for the jabs -- the slate includes dancing, yoga, live operatic performances and the chance to watch large, bare-chested Lucha Libre wrestlers do the limbo, reports the New York Times.
  • Citizen sleuths around the world have uncovered the pandemic’s true toll, exposing thousands of uncounted Covid-19 deaths in their countries. The Washington Post reports on the methods used by two math geeks who uncovered Mexico City's "excess" deaths over the first year of the pandemic.
  • The U.S. remains dependent on Mexico to carry out immigration enforcement functions at a time when such measures are subject to frequent legal challenges in U.S. courts or politically unpalatable to Democrats, reports the Washington Post. The issue will likely dominate a virtual meeting on Friday between U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Mexico’s ability to limit migration will give it significant leverage in discussions with the U.S. Biden administration. 
  • Four migrant parents separated from their children at the U.S. border under the Trump administration and deported alone will be allowed to return to the United States this week. The reunions will mark the beginning of a process that will stretch on for months and possibly years, reports the Washington Post.
Regional Relations
  • A group of former Latin American foreign ministers, including José Miguel Insulza (Chile), Celso Amorim (Brazil), Rafael Bielsa (Argentina) and Jorge Taiana (Argentina), called on the U.S. to shut down its maximum security prison in the Guantanamo military base. (Página 12)
  • The costs to the U.S. of the Guantanamo prison " — both reputational and financial — are exorbitant, and the facility remains a recruitment tool for extremists and a blot on our national character," writes Lee Wolosky in a New York Times guest essay.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on 60 Minutes that the Biden Administration did intend to close the Guantanamo military prison  in Cuba, and would “bring some focus” to the issue in the coming months.
  • The New York Times delves into the tangled espionage-love story of dual Cuban and U.S. citizen Alina López Miyares, who is serving a 13-year sentence in a Cuban prison. Supporters hope the U.S. Biden administration will usher in a new detente with Cuba that will permit an opportunity to revisit the case.
  • The case of Vicky Hernández, an Honduran transgender woman assassinated twelve years ago, is before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The court will decide whether the Honduran government was responsible for Ms. Hernández’s death and owes her family reparations. The decision could be a legal turning point, the first time the court will rule on whether governments have done enough to protect transgender people, reports the New York Times.
  • Peruvian presidential election front-runner Pedro Castillo, said he would, if elected, review contracts with foreign miners. He also promised to seal a deal for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, reports Reuters.
  • Do Brazil and India's pandemic situations prove Frances Fukuyama's latest prediction of the end of an era? -- Washington Post Today's WorldView on populism and Covid-19.

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

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