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

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