Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Colombian protests brutally repressed (May 4, 2021)

 At least 19 people were killed and hundreds injured in Colombian protests against a tax reform which "have morphed into a national outcry over rising poverty, unemployment and inequality set off by the arrival of the coronavirus last year," reports the New York Times.

President Iván Duque already promised to withdraw the proposal, which would apply a sales tax to food and public services, and yesterday the country’s finance minister said he would resign.But the moves have not quelled anger, stoked in large measure by the government's heavy handed response to protests over the past week, which included calling in troops as protests swelled across the country on Saturday. 

Several instances of police abuse have been captured on video in recent days, including one in which an officer shoots a 17-year-old who kicked his motorcycle. The boy, Marcelo Agredo, is one of the fatal victims of the protests. Other videos shared on social media show police ramming crowds with motorcycles, and bashing demonstrators with their shields. Rolling Stone Colombia features citizen reports of police abuse.

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) said it is receiving reports of grossly excessive use of police force from several Colombian cities. Cali is the most severe, but incidents are reported in Barranquilla, Bogotá, Bucaramanga, Manizales, and elsewhere. "The vicious and indiscriminate use of force against participants in national protests is not new: similar abuses took place in November 2019 and September 2020. The events of the past few days, though, appear even more severe than these earlier examples of police brutality."

For the Guardian, "the drama of the weekend was encapsulated in a shocking TV news clip in which a live shot of the central city of Ibagué captured the moment in which a woman learnt that her 19-year-old son had died after being shot by police."

At least 540 police officers have been hurt during the demonstrations, according to the national police, while more than 100 buses have been vandalized or burned. Colombia's defense minister blamed illegal armed groups for looting and vandalism during the protests. (Reuters)

Strike leaders say that demonstrations will continue this week and that another national strike will be held tomorrow. Resentment at the president, who currently has approval ratings of 33% and is already viewed as a lame duck ahead of elections in a year, means that unrest is likely to continue, reports the Economist.

Virtually the whole Colombian congress, including Duque’s own Centro Democrático party, opposed the government’s initial tax bill because it raised levies on the middle class before a contested presidential election next year. But the case demonstrates the difficulty poor nations face in sustaining subsidies aimed at cushioning the pandemic economic blow, reports Bloomberg. The reform would have sustained cash subsidies implemented during the pandemic for the country's poorest. (See Friday's briefs.)


Int'l community criticizes Bukele

The sudden ouster of five Salvadoran Supreme Court judges and the country's attorney general this weekend by the new Legislative Assembly loyal to President Nayib Bukele was broadly criticized yesterday by the international community, rights organizations, and Salvadoran civil society, reports El Faro. (See yesterday's post.) 

Yesterday U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted: "We have deep concerns about El Salvador’s democracy, in light of the National Assembly’s vote to remove constitutional court judges. An independent judiciary is critical to a healthy democracy – and to a strong economy."

The Organization of American States (OAS) said it "rejects the dismissal," urging respect for the democratic rule of law and separation of powers. The United Nations special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayan, also condemned the move which aimed to "dismantle and weaken the judicial independence of the magistrates." International rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, also decried the removals as a dangerous power grab. (Deutsche Welle)

But despite the mountain of criticism, Bukele has no plans to reverse course, and there appears to be little reason to believe that those removed from their posts could ever be returned, notes Tim Muth at El Salvador Perspectives. Resignation letters tendered by several judges and former attorney general Raul Melara declare that the actions to terminate them were unconstitutional and improper. But a group of lower court judges say the letters were coerced by "threats of capture and processing made known to them on social networks affiliated with the Executive Branch, as well as the presence of police patrols outside of their houses."

Bukele has definitively pushed aside doubts regarding his affinity for democratic rules, writes Oscar Martínez. After a string of episodes like the military takeover of the Legislative Assembly last year, and systematic flouting of constitutional norms during coronavirus quarantines, "it is possible that history will signal this weekend as the formal start of [Bukele's] regime," argues Martínez in the New York Times.

The Biden administration plans to engage with Bukele to encourage "more constructive behavior," a senior White House official told Reuters yesterday. The White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not address a Reuters question of whether El Salvador’s government would face any consequences if such actions continue.

Bukele's moves against the judiciary also fanned calls for a reassessment of an expected deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and sent sovereign debt tumbling, reports Reuters.

News Briefs

  • An elevated section of the Mexico City metro collapsed and sent a subway car plunging toward a busy boulevard late Monday, killing at least 23 people and injuring about 70. It is one of the deadliest accidents for the city’s subway system, which is among the busiest in the world, reports the Associated Press.
  • Videos on Mexican television and social media showed train cars hanging in mid-air as sirens blared nearby, reports the Guardian. Footage from security cameras showed the overpass collapsing onto a busy thoroughfare as a pair of wagons fell onto passing traffic. (Pictures)
  • There was concern about the integrity of the elevated tracks after a powerful earthquake hit the city in 2017, reports the New York Times, which says Mexico City's subway system has "become a symbol of urban decay."
  • Efforts to create a new union for automobile factory workers in northern Mexico have faltered, despite reforms implemented under the new North American trade deal, which enshrined workers' rights to choose which union administers their collective contract, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico marked the anniversary of a 1901 battle that ended one of the last Indigenous rebellions in North America, by issuing an apology for centuries of brutal exploitation and discrimination, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Mexican government has promoted tourism as a route out of poverty, but the profits from the industry are flowing away from local communities, reports Jacobin.
  • Brazilian federal police subpoenaed the head of Brazil’s largest indigenous umbrella organization APIB to explain her criticism of President Jair Bolsonaro's government and the impact its handling of the COVID-19 crisis has had on native people, reports Reuters. APIB rejected the move to silence the indigenous leaders.
  • Argentina's Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Buenos Aires city, in the opposition mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta's challenge to the national government's school closures to prevent coronavirus. (Infobae)
  • The pain of prolonged family separations is pushing some parents to reattempt a desperate journey to the U.S. in hopes of reuniting with the children they were deported away from under a draconian Trump era migration policy. According to a 2020 investigation by Physicians for Human Rights, many children separated from a parent at the border exhibited symptoms and behavior consistent with trauma, reports the New York Times.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has been “sending signals” to the U.S. Biden administration, but Washington will not ease sanctions without concrete steps toward free elections, a senior White House official told Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The Bolivian government launched a request for proposals from companies interested in industrializing the country's vast reserves of lithium, reports EFE.
  • Peru’s presidential election race is tightening. With a month to go until June's run-off vote, frontrunner Pedro Castillo garnered 43% of voting intentions in a new Ipsos poll, while Keiko Fujimori took 34%. (Reuters)
  • The polarization of Peru's presidential race, the repetition (once again) of a clash between left and right, "no longer contributes anything and, on the contrary, obviates or eludes the complexity of our societies and the process the continent is undergoing," writes Alberto Barrera Tyszka in a New York Times Español guest essay. 
  • Pfizer reported $3.5 billion in revenue in the first three months of this year from its highly effective coronavirus vaccine. But the company’s vaccine is disproportionately reaching the world’s rich. The massive profits, coupled with comparatively small sales to poor countries suggest that profits have trumped other considerations, reports the New York Times.
  • Of the 27 coronavirus vaccines in final stage testing around the world, two are Cuban. The island could become the smallest country in the world to develop its own jab, a testament to the island's top scientists, many trained in the Soviet Union, reports the Guardian.

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


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