Friday, July 30, 2021

Castillo's controversial PM (July 30, 2021)

Peru's new president, Pedro Castillo, named far-left lawmaker Guido Bellido, as prime minister yesterday. The appointment of Bellido, a member of the Marxist Peru Libre party, is a rapid blow to hopes that Castillo would lead a moderate government.  (See yesterday's post.)

Bellido is being investigated for alleged “apology for terrorism”, a crime in Peru. In an interview with local media in April, he defended members of the Shining Path, the Maoist rebel group that killed tens of thousands of Peruvians in the 1980s and 90s in an attempt to seize power. The choice has alienated potential political allies, which will further complicate matters for Castillo, who faces a fragmented, opposition-dominated Congress.

The appointment is a clear signal of the power Vladimir Cerrón, the controversial Marxist leader of the Peru Libre party, could wield in the new government, reports El Comercio. The choice is a "low blow for those who, from progressive, anti-Fujimori, and politically centrist positions, backed Pedro Castillo in the second round," laments La República in an editorial.

He swore-in an incomplete cabinet last night that includes several figures from the far left and only two women, reports the Guardian. Castillo did not appoint a finance minister, and Pedro Francke, the favorite for the post, was seen leaving the venue minutes before the ceremony began, sparking questions over whether he had rejected or lost the job at the last minute, reports Reuters.

News Briefs

  • Many mayors in Latin America provide a respite from their countries' hyper-polarized national politics -- and will lead the region's Covid-19 recovery, argues Rugene Zapata-Garesché in Americas Quarterly's new "Mayors Issue." "As the pandemic transforms almost every aspect of urban living, mayors are realizing this might be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a more resilient long-term transformation."
  • Law enforcement across Latin America is breaking into dissidents’ phones, often forcing them to turn over their passcodes or fingerprints, reports Rest of World. "Seized smartphones have become a trove of information for law enforcement officials hoping to build cases against social movements and opposition leaders."
  • Moïse's widow, Martine, spoke to the New York Times, her first interview since the attack. The Haitian government's official story involves an elaborate plot by doctor and pastor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, who officials say conspired to hire the Colombian mercenaries to kill the president and seize political power. But many Haitians, including Moïse say the story doesn't explain how the plot was financed, and believe there must be a mastermind who gave orders and money.
  • "More than three weeks after Mr. Moïse was shot to death at his residence near Port-au-Prince, apparently by Colombian mercenaries, the motives, financing and authors of the plot to murder him remain opaque, fueling anger that is deepening the country’s social rifts and instability," argues a Washington Post editorial.
  • A group of people allegedly linked to Haitian President Jovenel Moïse's assassination apparently participated in a meeting discuss an elaborate (and fictitious) U.S. government plan to bust drug trafficking Haitian government officials using Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration agents. The plan was apparently bogus, reports the Miami Herald, which follows the "ongoing multinational whodunit investigation that so far has not revealed who is behind the murder or who financed it."
  • Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry will need international support to guide the country out of its acute crisis, but even that may not be enough, experts told the Latin America Advisor. "Henry sits atop a political and social volcano, and he lacks the government, police and judiciary tools with which to prevent further eruptions," writes Fulton Armstrong, senior fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American & Latino Studies
  • "Without radical improvements in security, safe elections are impossible," argues the Washington Post editorial board, while noting the dangers of even short-term international intervention.
  • Cuban protests this month respond to the government's hardening of political restrictions, President Miguel Díaz-Canel's autocratic backsliding, argue Javier Corrales and Scott Brasesco in Americas Quarterly. "Díaz-Canel is not only re-autocratizing Cuba, he is also reinforcing Cuba’s system of white supremacy" and backtracking on LGBTQ rights.
  • Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso's attempts to return the country towards neoliberal economic policies will be challenged by the country's "underlying political and economic pathologies," which "bode ill for its governability and democratic stability," write John Polga-Hecimovich and Francisco Sánchez at the Aula Blog.
  • Chile’s government has allowed people to withdraw funds from their pensions to weather the coronavirus crisis, but the decision could leave millions without a lifeline in old age, reports Al Jazeera.
  • A groundbreaking study of around 700 Brazilian municipalities found that those with female mayors had, on average, at least 37 percent fewer COVID-19 deaths per capita than those with male mayors, reports Foreign Policy's Latin America Brief. Along with seeing fewer of their constituents die from COVID-19, female mayors were found to have implemented non-drug interventions like mask-wearing and social distancing requirements more than their male counterparts did.
  • Karapiru Awá Guajá, among the last of the hunter-gatherer Awá tribe, died recently of Covid. Survival International, a group working for the rights of indigenous people, describes Karapiru’s “extraordinary warmth and kindness," despite surviving a massacre that killed most of his family -- Guardian
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Castillo, Peru's first campesino president (July 29, 2021)

Pedro Castillo became Peru's president yesterday, wearing his characteristic broad-rimmed straw hat. The ceremony coincided with  Peru’s bicentenary of independence from Spain. Castillo, previously obscure rural school teacher, said colonization's wounds run deep and are the basis for the country's "caste system." He promised to to govern "with the people and for the people." 

"This is the first time that our country will be ruled by a peasant," Castillo said. “I want you to know that the pride and pain of deep Peru runs through my veins. That I, too, am the son of this country founded on the sweat of my ancestors, built on the lack of opportunity of my parents and that despite that, I also saw it resist,” he said. “That my life was made in the cold of the early mornings in the field, and that it was also these hands from the countryside that carried and rocked my children when they were little. That the history of this long-silenced Peru is also my history.”

He said his first priority as president would be to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Castillo declared a state of emergency in public education and pledged to boost its budget. He vowed to create a ministry of science and technology and rename the ministry of culture as the ministry of cultures to reflect Peru’s many indigenous peoples.

Castillo also said he would not govern from the capital’s presidential palace, known as the “House of Pizarro," which would be ceded to the new ministry of cultures, reports the Guardian.

Castillo tried to strike a conciliatory tone for investors, walking back on campaign rhetoric about nationalizations, reports Reuters. He pledged to respect private property and establish clear rules for miners, a critical sector of the economy. He has maintained his pledge to rewrite the constitution. (Associated Press)

Castillo is a social conservative, who has opposed marriage equality and abortion. He said yesterday that unemployed youth who were not in school would be conscripted by a military redeployed for engineering and public works projects.

Castillo's rise "to Peru’s highest office is the most glaring example yet of the power of the pandemic to upend politics in Latin America," according to the Washington Post. He will govern a deeply divided country. Television commentators yesterday denounced a wave of “racist” vitriol circulating on social media against Castillo, who has described himself as a “campesino” — a member of the largely Indigenous and mixed-race rural farming class.

The country has had years of political instability: Peru has had four presidents in five years. Two were forced out amid corruption allegations, and another over the use of excessive force against protesters. Castillo faces an opposition dominated Congress with a history of impeaching presidents and obstructing their agendas. 

He also faces internal divisions within his own Peru Libre party, and has not yet announced his cabinet. The ministerial swearing in was postponed until Friday -- it was unclear if Castillo has already finalized his picks or if political wrangling is still going on, reports Reuters.

More Peru
  • In an interview with the Conversation, the Peruvian historian Cecilia Méndez Gastelumendi suggests Castillo’s unconventional background could work to his benefit but says he has “enemies,” too – and they are already gunning for him.
Pandemic spurs other health crises

The coronavirus pandemic is interfering with routine inoculations and medical treatment in Latin America and the Caribbean, possibly paving the way for a surge in other preventable diseases in the region, warned the Pan American Health Organization yesterday. 

There has been a sharp decline in measles vaccinations throughout the region and a recent survey by the PAHO found the pandemic has disrupted diagnosis and treatment of viral hepatitis B and C infections in Latin America and the Caribbean, slowing progress on the goal of eliminating these infectious diseases by 2030.

"If we do not reverse these trends, we risk an avalanche of worsening health issues," said PAHO director Dr. Carissa F. Etienne.

News Briefs

  • More than 10,000 migrants from Haiti, Cuba and several African countries, many trying to reach the United States, are overwhelming Necoclí, a town on Colombia’s north coast on the way to the dangerous Darién Gap. Migrants are spurred by worsening conditions in Haiti and Cuba, and the recent reopening of South American borders. But officials say the surge is creating a public health emergency in the midst of the pandemic, reports the Washington Post.
  • The U.S. could soon be facing dual migrant crises stemming from unrest in Haiti and Cuba. In response, the Biden administration has preemptively warned migrants not to try to come to the U.S. by boat, reports Vox.
  • The Chilean government should stop summary deportations of Venezuelans and ensure that any deportations comply with international human rights law, said Human Rights Watch yesterday. "A series of rulings by Chile’s Supreme Court and various courts of appeal have recently ordered authorities to stop, in specific cases, numerous deportations, citing the heightened risks deportees would face in Venezuela. The rulings have also exposed violations of due process, including the right to be heard and to present evidence, before deportations are carried out."
Regional Relations
  • Mexico's government wants to overhaul the Merida Initiative, a $3 billion U.S. aid program that’s been the centerpiece of security cooperation between the two nations for more than a decade, arguing that it has failed to stem cartel violence. “The Merida Initiative is dead. It doesn’t work, okay?” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told The Washington Post. Despite the billions of dollars in aid, there has been a “huge, huge increase in violence” since the initiative was announced in 2007, Ebrard noted.
  • Ebrard said Mexico’s priorities included a greater focus on reducing homicides, rather than capturing cartel kingpins; stepped-up efforts to seize chemicals used to make fentanyl and other drugs; and slashing the number of U.S. guns trafficked illegally over the border.
  • U.S. federal agents served Florida search warrants related to assassination of Haiti’s President Moïse  yesterday. The federal investigation is trying determine whether the local businesses conspired to provide “material support” that resulted in the killing of Moïse or any other lesser crimes, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry said the government plans to create conditions for elections as soon as possible. Henry said he would be working to restore confidence in the government, and that there would be dialogue with civil society and political leaders to reach consensus on how to move forward, reports Reuters.
  • Cubans who dared to protest against the government two weeks ago are terrified in the wake of a crackdown that is not yet over. Advocates estimate that 700 people remain in government detention, and police have gone door-to-door making detentions.The draconian response has dampened the rebellion, and many protesters are terrified, reports the New York Times.
  • Five Cuban generals died during nine days this month, sparking a wave of discussion and rampant speculation among analysts and exiles. There is no suggestion of foul play in the deaths of the five, but some observers suspect a link to the country's Covid-19 surge, reports the Guardian
  • William LeoGrande, a Cuba expert at American University, said the deaths in Cuba may not have much practical impact on the government, but it was “a stark reminder that the ‘historic’ generation of leaders that made the revolution and founded the revolutionary regime is quickly passing from the scene.” (Washington Post)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's plan to construct a 1,000km railway system extending right into the heart of the Amazon rainforest is one of his most destructive projects yet, and would rapidly deforest large areas of the Amazon, writes Brazilian lawmaker David Miranda in the Guardian. " Yet it is not enough for western governments and environmental NGOs to lecture Brazil; they should compensate us for the economic costs of the environmental protection we must undertake on the whole planet’s behalf."
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Castillo's uphill battle (July 28, 2021)

Pedro Castillo will become Peru's president today -- an abrupt rise from rural origins to the country's leadership. Castillo's victory was an unexpected electoral outcome that responds to Peruvians' disillusionment with the political establishment, and also demonstrates the country's deep polarization, which in turn will be one of the incoming government's greatest challenges.

An opposition-led alliance won a vote on Monday to lead Peru’s Congress, a significant setback for the incoming Castillo administration's plans to redraft the constitution and increase mining taxes. Centrist legislator María del Carmen Alva from the Popular Action party will preside over a fractured Congress, where no single party has a majority. A list of candidates proposed by Castillo’s Free Peru party was rejected over procedural issues.

Alva won with support from the right-wing Popular Force party of Keiko Fujimori, who narrowly lost the election to Castillo.

U.S. suspends cooperation with Guatemala attorney general

The U.S. suspended cooperation with Guatemala's Public Ministry, in response to the attorney general's ouster of a top anti-corruption prosecutor last week. (See Monday's post, explainer at Quorum.)

The U.S. State Department said that the decision by Guatemala Attorney General Consuelo Porras to fire Juan Francisco Sandoval, the special prosecutor against impunity, “fits a pattern of behavior that indicates a lack of commitment to the rule of law and independent, judicial, and prosecutorial processes.” (Associated Press)

The United States was a vocal supporter of Sandoval's work, which included investigating and litigating cases against former officials, presidents and business leaders in Guatemala, reports Reuters. The United Nations also voiced concern over Sandoval's ouster, reports Quorum.

Sandoval's dismissal is part of a series of attacks on Guatemala's anti-corruption system, carried out by the current Giammattei administration, that of the previous government, and lawmakers. "I am the victim of a criminalization campaign that has accelerated since 2016 and grew stronger with the CICIG’s departure," Sandoval told El Faro in an interview after fleeing the country on Friday.

Calls are growing in Guatemala for Porra's dismissal, and there are growing calls for a national strike tomorrow, reports Quorum.

News Briefs

  • Mexicans will vote on Sunday in the country’s first national referendum to decide whether past presidents should be judged for their alleged misdeeds. But the “popular consultation” has been designed to fail, as it is unlikely to obtain the 40 percent participation required for the result to be legally binding, argues Denise Dresser in Americas Quarterly. "AMLO hopes to garner political points for promoting popular participation while seeking political cover for his refusal to truly investigate Peña Nieto and the military’s top ranks."
  • "Victims’ right to justice cannot legally be put to a popular vote," notes WOLA in a recent analysis. "Still, a “yes” result, even if not binding, would generate broad expectations for López Obrador to uphold his commitment to take into account the will of the voters."
  • The referendum ignores the elephant in the room, the country's "overwhelming impunity," writes Arturo Angel in New York Times Español. The vast majority of crimes committed in Mexico, 92 percent according to official statistics, are not ever resolved.

  • The U.S. Biden administration unveiled an outline of its full strategy on immigration yesterday. The 21-point plan is being criticized from both ends of the political spectrum -- activists and advocacy groups object to a new push for expedited removals, while Republicans decry the increase in migrants at the southern border, reports The Hill.
  • A record number of child migrants have arrived alone at the U.S. border this year --the Conversation tracks what happens to them from entry until they turn 18.
Regional Relations
  • Colombian President Iván Duque urged the United States to declare Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism for allegedly shielding dissident fighters thought to be behind an attack on his helicopter last month. Duque has on numerous occasions accused Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro of harboring FARC dissidents and ELN fighters in his country — claims Caracas denies. (AFP)
  • Ecuador revoked the citizenship of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who is currently in a British prison. Ecuadorian authorities cited unpaid fees and problems in Assange's naturalisation papers, reports the Associated Press.
  • The arrest of an Evangelical pastor in relation to Haitian President Jovenel Moïse's assassination has sparked a dangerous backlash against Haiti’s Protestant preachers, who were among Moïse's most vocal opponents, reports the Washington Post.
  • London’s court of appeal agreed to reopen a $7 billionn lawsuit by 200,000 claimants against Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP, reviving a case over the Fundão tailings dam rupture behind Brazil’s worst environmental disaster. The lawsuit is the latest battle to establish whether multinationals can be held liable for the conduct of overseas subsidiaries on their home turf, reports Reuters.
  • Brazil's Supreme Court is expected to rule, next month, in two landmark cases that could significantly impact Indigenous people’s rights and the protection of demarcated lands -- Latin America Risk Report.
  • Residents of one of Caracas' Cota 905 neighborhood are caught in the crossfire between gang and police violence, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Latin America -- particularly Chile and Uruguay, have become massive testing grounds for China's Sinovac coronavirus vaccine. The results have been initially suboptimal, though other factors, such as accelerated reopening, have also impacted infection rates, reports the Wilson Center's Weekly Asado.
  • As Mexico’s reservoirs run dry, the fishermen, farmers and ranchers stuck on the drying lake beds wonder how they will survive -- Al Jazeera.
  • A lagoon in Argentina's southern Patagonia region has turned bright pink, a phenomenon experts and activists blame on pollution by a chemical used to preserve prawns for export, reports AFP.
  • The 2,300-year-old archaeological ruin Chankillo, the oldest solar observatory in the Americas, has been awarded Unesco world heritage status and dubbed "a masterpiece of human creative genius." The site lies in a desert valley in northern Peru and features 13 stone towers built in 250 to 200 BC that functioned as a calendar by marking the rising and setting arcs of the sun, reports the Guardian.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Moïse's security chief arrested (July 27, 2021)

Haitian authorities arrested the presidential security coordinator, National Police Divisional Commissioner Jean Laguel Civil, yesterday. He is among the individuals President Jovenel Moïse contacted on the night he was assassinated in his bedroom, reports the Miami Herald

He is one of 26 suspects arrested by Haiti National Police so far, reports the Associated Press.

Haitian authorities also issued an arrest warrant for Supreme Court Justice Windelle Coq Thélot but have not detailed why she is wanted in connection with Moïse's killing. She is one of three justices forced into retirement earlier this year by Moïse, a move of dubious legality.

The probe into the murder itself has been hampered by death threats against officials and judicial investigators, as well as series of unusual roadblocks, including difficulty in accessing crime scenes, witnesses and evidence, reports CNN. "The result is an investigation that has repeatedly veered from established protocol, according to both insiders and independent legal experts."

More Haiti
  • More than 1,000 white-clad demonstrators gathered around Jimmy Chrizier, one of Haiti's most notorious gang leaders, to commemorate Moïse, yesterday. Cherizier is a former police officer who now leads “G9,” a federation of nine gangs that officials have blamed for a spike in violence and kidnappings in recent months, reports the Associated Press.
News Briefs

  • The apparent involvement of Colombian mercenaries in Moïse's murder "has opened a rare window into a murky private security world that extends from the U.S. into Latin America and the Caribbean, highlighting the outsize role that veterans of Colombia’s security forces play in the global mercenary sphere," reports The Intercept. "Through three of the most consequential conflicts of the past century — the Cold War, the drug war, and the war on terror — the interlocking relationship between U.S. and Colombian security forces has produced a generation of hired guns, some of whom, for the right price, can turn an entire country upside down."
  • Four years after the U.S. Trump administration's brutal migrant family separation policy, the Biden administration is trying to track down 275 parents deported alone from the U.S. border. Much of the work of tracking them down has been delegated to small civil society organizations, reports the Washington Post
  • Dozens of Cubans have received sentences of up to one year in prison or house arrest in summary trials without due process in retaliation for participating in mass anti-government protests, reports the Wall Street Journal. “This is a complete farce of any type of due process,” Human Rights Watch's Juan Pappier told WSJ. “They accuse people of crimes that aren’t crimes, they don’t have any defense lawyers and the judges have no independence.”
Regional Relations
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called on U.S. President Joe Biden to make a decision about the embargo against Cuba. Cuban families should also face fewer restrictions on receiving remittances from those who live in the United States or any other country, López Obrador said. (Reuters)
  • Meanwhile, back at home, Biden gets no credit from Republicans for his hardline stance against Cuba, argues Max Boot in the Washington Post.
  • Biden should "give the island’s internal opposition more high-profile recognition and turn it into a key player in any dealings with the regime," argues Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald.
  • The Biden administration has pledged to donate 580 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide over the next two years in its efforts to advance international vaccination campaigns -- AS/COA tracks how many have been delivered to Latin America already.
  • Separately AS/COA tracks how Latin American inoculation efforts are advancing (or not).

  • Workers in Mexican maquiladoras are getting vaccinated in the U.S., a cross-border effort aimed at protecting the two countries' closely intertwined economies, reports the New York Times.
  • Mexico has flung open its doors to tourism, despite its heavy pandemic death toll, in a dangerous bid to salvage wounded economies, writes Diego Fonseca in the New York Times Español.
  • El Salvador was scheduled to receive a batch of 1 million Chinese Covid-19 vaccines yesterday, allowing the country to cover the remainder of the 4.5 million population it aimed to inoculate, reports Reuters.
El Salvador
  • The International Monetary Fund is warning that some of the consequences of a country adopting Bitcoin as a national currency “could be dire.” (CoinTelegraph)
  • Pedro Castillo will become Peru's president tomorrow, after months of post-election uncertainty. He has called for unity, but will have to lead a fractured country in which far-right opponents refuse to recognize his legitimacy, reports the Guardian. He will have to finesse between supporters' high expectations and market fears that he will implement radical reforms.
  • third cold wave is set to hit Brazil's agricultural areas this week, threatening further damage to coffee and sugar cane crops. Brazil has already been suffering through one of its worst droughts in 90 years, reports Reuters.
  • Argentina's government declared a water emergency in the Parana river valley, due to historically low water levels that constitute an environmental disaster. The lack of water could imply shortages for cities, forest fires, impact shipping, and affect hydroelectric production. (Página 12EFE)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...
Latin America Daily Briefing

Monday, July 26, 2021

Guatemala anti-corruption prosecutor ousted (July 26, 2021)

Juan Francisco Sandoval, a leading Guatemalan prosecutor who the U.S. State Department labeled an “anti-corruption champion,” was ousted from the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI) by attorney general Consuelo Porras. Sandoval fled to El Salvador early on Saturday, escorted by the ambassador of Sweden, human rights activists and journalists.

Hundreds of Guatemalans protested outside the presidential palace on Saturday in response to Sandoval's ouster, reports Reuters. People carried signs demanding Porras' resignation, as well as that of President Alejandro Giammattei, reports InSight Crime.

The FECI, the most independent wing of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, was widely considered the last bastion of anti-corruption efforts in a judicial system increasingly aligned with Giammattei, reports El Faro English. The dismissal "marks the formal end of efforts to strengthen anti-corruption bodies in Guatemala, reports InSight Crime. The unit is now headed by a Porras ally, reports Quorum. Sandoval's ouster prompted an international outcry, including criticism from high-ranking U.S. officials.

Sandoval said he was fired because of his investigations into top officials in the Giammattei administration. He said he had fled for his own safety, becoming the fifth law enforcement official in three years to do so, reports the Associated Press. "I am the latest in a string of prosecutors who have suffered the consequences for seeking truth and justice," he said. He accused Porras of asking his agency to seek her opinion on any case that involved the government.

Sandoval told El Faro that denunciations against officials, no matter how spurious, have become a tool to control potentially dangerous investigations, citing cases brought against other anti-corruption crusaders like Thelma Aldana and Claudia Paz, both of whom were forced to leave the country to protect themselves. 

Sandoval also said Porras also tried to block investigations into political mafias seeking to stack Guatemala's courts by instructing prosecutors to avoid investigating certain individuals such as Néster Vásquez, a current Constitutional Court magistrate linked to the court mafias. (Quorum details Sandoval's accusations of wrongdoing against Porras.)

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights awarded precautionary measures to Sandoval and his FECI colleagues in April due to obstruction of his work and death threats tied to investigations of extrajudicial killings and torture committed by security forces in 2006 within the prison system, a case that originally implicated Giammattei.

Guatemala's most powerful campesino groups have called for a general strike today. The case comes as discontent is growing in Guatemala over surging Covid-19 cases and the lowest vaccination rate in all of the Americas, according to the Guardian. Prosectors are investigating alleged corruption related to test and vaccine procurement, and activists and opposition parties are calling for the president to resign.

The removal is a challenge to the country's relationship with the U.S. The Biden administration has sought to make battling corruption a cornerstone of its Central America policy, and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris stressed the FECI's importanc to anticorruption work during her recent visit to Guatemala. The State Department declared Sandoval an “anti-corruption champion” in a February award.

More Guatemala
  • Lawyer Marco Aurelio Alveño Hernández, who denounced corruption acts involving government officials, fled the country with his family on Sunday, reports the Associated Press.

The funeral for Haiti's assassinated President Jovenel Moïse on Friday was marked by tensions that demonstrate the country's deep fractures and the challenges ahead. The event was held in Moïse's family compound, just outside the northern city of Cap-Haïtien. Protesters greeted attendees to the ceremony, which was punctuated by gunshots and accompanied by the scent of teargas and smoke from burning barricades. Protesters clashed with security forces outside the compound, and the U.S. and U.N. delegations cut their attendance short after gunfire was heard in the morning. After the ceremony, protesters threw rocks at a caravan of Haitian authorities and journalists that were leaving, reports the Associated Press.

Cap-Haïtien was marked by flaming tires lit by demonstrators demanding accountability, and illustrating the deep schism between Haiti's north and south, reports the New York Times. Moïse's family portrayed him as the victim of "the battle he was waging on behalf of the poor, to bring an end to the exclusion of Haitians from the countryside, known as andeyò, versus those from the capital of Port-au-Prince," reports the Miami Herald.

Martine Moïse, the president’s widow, spoke publicly for the first time since the president was killed in their bedroom, an attack in which she was also wounded. She implied that her husband had been killed by the country’s leading bourgeoise families, who she characterized as "oligarchs." Moïse said her husband had been “abandoned and betrayed.” The president’s son Joverlein said his father had been “living among traitors.”

In the aftermath of the killing, Haiti is returning to "what had already become a new normal of extraordinary hardship" and violence, reports the Washington Post. Gang violence has been building for years, but escalated sharply in recent weeks, prompting some experts to compare Port-au-Prince to a war zone. In June, the country recorded roughly 150 gang-related deaths.

The violence presents a significant obstacle to groups attempting to address Haiti's mounting humanitarian crisis. U.N. agencies say 46 percent of the population is already experiencing acute or severe food insecurity — among the highest in the world.

Haiti was already suffering a deep political crisis before Moïse's assassination. Last week the president's nominee for prime minister, Ariel Henry, was sworn in, with support from the international community, including the U.S. But democracy advocates are angered that Henry's authority derives from foreign support rather than domestic sources. "They say that a truly representative transitional government is needed to get to grips with Haiti’s priorities and re-engage a public that in many cases sees politics largely as a battle between men who ignore their needs while siphoning off cash," reports the Guardian.

News Briefs

  • Nicaraguan opposition politician Noel Vidaurre was arrested this weekend, the seventh presidential hopeful detained ahead of the country's November election. He was accused of "undermining the sovereignty," part of a broad crackdown against opponents and critics of President Daniel Ortega in recent months. Almost all were arrested under “treason” laws that Ortega has used against political rivals. (Deutsche WelleAl Jazeera)
  • Lawyer and presidential hopeful María Asunción Moreno announced she was leaving the country after receiving orders to present herself before the prosecutor general, and after police raided her home Saturday night and confiscated her car and drivers license, reports Confidencial.
  • Protesters took to the streets in several Brazilian cities on Saturday to demand the impeachment of President Jair Bolsonaro, reports Reuters.
  • Last year Bolsonaro claimed sarcastically that Pfizer’s shot might turn recipients into alligators. In response to that notorious remark, pro-science opponents, furious at Bolsonaro’s denialist conduct, have been getting vaccinated clad as different kinds of reptiles, reports the Guardian.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said that he was aiming to begin a dialogue with the country's political opposition next month in Mexico facilitated by Norway. He said he hoped the United States would support the process, reports Reuters.
  • Members of Venezuela’s opposition said they are open to a new round of political negotiations, but warned that there is no agreement on the terms of the talk yet, reports Bloomberg.
  • Venezuela's armed forces said on Friday that a U.S. military plane violated its airspace along Venezuela's border with Colombia in what it said was a "flagrant provocation." (Reuters)
Regional Relations
  • Opponents of Maduro hope the Cuban protest movement will have impact in Venezuela -- but it is more likely that repression will increase in both countries, writes Ibsen Martinez in the New York Times Español. The Cuban protest example cannot fill in for the political opposition's lack of strategy, he argues.
  • Cuba's protests have spurred critics from the left, who say the government must seize the opportunity for reform, rather than simply blaming the U.S., reports the Guardian.
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele called his immediate predecessor a “fugitive of justice” after an arrest warrant was issued for former president Salvador Sánchez Cerén. (See last Friday's briefs.) Police also arrested five former ministers from the FMLN administration of former president Mauricio Funes for “embezzlement and money laundering.” The detentions "dealt a significant blow to the old guard of the FMLN," notes El Faro English.
  • The warrants center on the issue of sobresueldos,” or hidden double-salaries paid to public officials. Though the practise has spanned three decades of government, Roberto Burgos, coordinator of the Anti-Corruption Legal Advisory Center, told El Faro English that the arrests — and their attending hearings — are part of an “instrumentalization of the fight against corruption."
  • Former Colombian soldiers who allegedly participated in the assassination of Haitian President Jovene Moïse earlier this month illustrates the country's role "as a recruiting ground for the global security industry — and its murkier, mercenary corners," reports the Associated Press.
  • Colombia approved exports of dried cannabis for medical and other industries, last week, the latest step the country's taken to develop its marijuana industry, reports Reuters.
  • Chile's Constitutional Convention representatives have established eight commissions so far as they inches towards a new national charter. The commissions include "Human Rights, Historical Truth and Bases for Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Repetition" and "Participation and Indigenous Consultation." (LaBot Constituyente)
  • There have been predictable schisms between Indigenous representatives and the right, for example, but representatives have also shown fluid alliances that factor in a desire for balance or to remain within a strict interpretation of the Convention's mandate, reports LaBot Constituyente.
  • Chilean senate leader Yasna Provoste will run for president in the country's elections later this year. The Christian Democrat party member is part of the country's traditional center-left alliance, reports Bloomberg
  • Variations in Spanish dialects complicate emergency messaging in the U.S., reports the Washington Post.
I'm back at the Daily Briefing helm -- thanks to Eduardo Romero's expert work, I am rested (at least from the LatAm news cycle) and ready to face whatever news (hopefully mostly good) that the region has to offer. Thank you so much to Eduardo!

Friday, July 23, 2021

Democracy in Brazil, Nicaragua and Mexico (July 23, 2021)

Democracy in the region seemed relatively unquestioned just a few short years ago. But democratic rules and values are openly being questioned and today's top section features Brazil, Nicaragua and Mexico though Cuba, Haiti and Peru could fit in this section as well. Two weeks ago Mark Malloch-Brown wrote about important work on renewing the fight for democracy. This 24-hour news cycle affirms that in spades.

  • Brazil's Bolsonaro may be laying conditions for a coup, reports the Washington Post and echoed in Foreign Policy. (Earlier this week O Estadão reported on Brazil's Secretary of Defense making provocative comments about the upcoming elections. The Ministry of Defense questioned the reporting on Twitter and the newspaper held firm on their reporting.)  Several prominent Brazilian politicians spoke out firmly against any talk of coups and expressed full-fledged support of democracy, according to Reuters. Brazil is "no banana republic," said the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate "assured Brazilians that the 2022 election will take place, either with printed or electronic ballots.".
  • The Washington Post emphasizes: "Bolsonaro’s increasingly brazen comments escalate a months-long, Trump-style campaign to erode faith in the electoral system and transform its processes into a high-stakes political struggle. ... [Brazil] confronts a paradox that will be familiar to Americans: The man leading the assault on its electoral process is the very person most recently awarded its highest office." 
  • The Wilson Center held a forum with Berta Valle and Victoria Cárdenas, the spouses of two jailed Nicaraguan presidential candidates, on "Nicaragua's Simmering Crisis and the U.S. Policy Response" in anticipation of the November 7 elections. Both Valle and Cárdenas met with U.S. members of Congress on Capitol Hill, according to Confidencial. It has been 45 days since Juan Sebastián Chamorro and Félix Maradiaga were arrested; four other candidates have been detained.
  • U.S. foreign policy is promoting failure in Nicaragua, according to CounterPunch. "Out of $88 million in cash and other aid sent to Central American countries to tackle COVID-19, Nicaragua’s government received nothing. Nicaragua is also one of the few Latin American countries to have received no U.S. vaccine donations so far. Instead, U.S. sanctions deterred international bodies like the World Bank from investing in the country until they restarted in response to the pandemic."
  • Mexico’s electoral agency fined the party of Nuevo León gubernatorial candidate $2.75 million because "he got prohibited support from his influencer wife’s social media posts," according to the Associated Press and El Universal. She has almost 2 million followers on Instagram; she posted at least 1,300 posts about her husband during the campaign. "The electoral agency says Rodríguez’ social media accounts are a business, and the law forbids businesspeople from making in-kind donations. The analogy would be if a candidate’s spouse owned a trucking or catering firm, they would be prohibited from donating food or transportation to the campaign." President López Obrador said it was "normal" for a wife to speak glowingly of her husband, according to El Financiero. "The dispute has raised questions of electoral fairness, freedom of speech and women’s rights," according to the Associated Press.


  • Violence has returned to Haiti as the country proceeds with today's state funeral for the slain president, according to the New York Times and the Washington Post. The White House announced the U.S. delegation which includes Juan Gonzalez, President Biden’s top adviser on Latin America; Rep. Jeff Fortenberry; Amb. Michele Sison; Rep. Gregory Meeks; and Daniel Foote, who yesterday was named special envoy for Haiti. These very signatures have had to "rush for cover" this morning as a result of the ongoing violence, according to Reuters. (Earlier today, The Times had reported that "there were no signs of the protests that had raged in the city the previous evening, and the streets were clear but dark — there was no electricity." 
  • The Colombian wives of the accused assassins of President Moïse are trying to repatriate their husbands bodies, according to interviews by the Washington Post. "Such hires are common among former Colombian soldiers ... who are often willing to work for low salaries, in international terms."

  • The Biden administration's responses to the Cuba protests and the crackdown were detailed in a Fact Sheet and reported on by the Miami Herald. This will include sanctions on the 'Black Berets' (Boinas Negras) unit deployed to curb unrest, according to the Financial Times and the New York TImes.
  • "Flat Footed Democrats let Florida Republicans steal the spotlight on Cuba," is the headline of a Miami Herald editorial. "Florida's top-ranking Republicans were center stage Wednesday night during a live town hall broadcast nationwide on Fox News. ... Republicans grasp the historical significance of the street demonstrations. For his part, Sen. Marco Rubio said yesterday that "all of the impediments to remittances to the people of Cuba are not on our side of it. It's on the Cuban side, on the regime side,” in an interview on NBC. Florida's Governor De Santis' hits Biden on Cuba suggestion, "he's basically sitting there, doing nothing, reports The Independent. Spain isn't doing anything either, according to a column in the El Nuevo Heraldo in Miami.
  • The Mexican Navy is sending supplies and relief to Cuba, according to Reuters. And former Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba accused some in Latin America of having a double standard when they "minimize the mass protests in Ecuador and Colombia, [but] put a magnifying glass on the demonstrations in Cuba and Florida," according to her column in Las 2 Orillas and Cuba's state agency Prensa Latina.
  • Cuba's protests have indeed dissipated but the worsening economy ensures they will return quickly unless there are structural changes in the economy, according to the Washington Post's Nick Miroff.

  • Mexico's Attorney General is coming under significant scrutiny for not speaking truthfully about the deleterious impact of Pegasus on the Mexican government, according to La Jornada and Proceso based on Citizen Lab research. Some past government officials are being caught in apparent lies, according to Animal Político.
  • Animal Político is investigating the web of who was responsible for purchasing and using Pegasus. The spying and eavesdropping scandal in Mexico may go far beyond Pegasus and includes up to seven malicious software companies like FinFisher, Galileo and DaVinci, reports Sin Embargo.  Pegasus is simply the Trojan horse that proves how fragile our digital world is, argues a column in El Economista.

  • Colombian senator María Fernanda Cabal wants to legalize guns as a response to crime, according to Vice. The "Trump-loving" senator from Cali believes the U.S. is a model for gun violence: more guns. (The article does not mention that she has all but announced her candidacy for the presidency, according to Radio Caracol.)
  • The U.S. Army's website reports that "commanding generals from U.S. Army South and the Colombian Army are meeting in Bogotá" in what appears to be a protocol setting.

El Salvador
  • An arrest warrant has been issued by El Salvador's Attorney General for former President Salvador Sánchez Ceren and nine other top officials from a past administration as a result of a money laundering and corruption investigation, according to Reuters and Al Jazeera. So far five have been detained but Sánchez Ceren is out of the country.


  • The New York Times fills in the backstory on Argentina's push for gender equality where you can now have your "gender marked as an X on their national identity documents and passports if they do not identify as either female or male." President Fernández acknowledged that this is not a perfect solution, tipping his hat to those who say, "we are not ‘X’.” Ferrnández imagined the day when "everyone would be referred to in gender-neutral terms." This is not a stand-along measure: "Late last year, Argentina made history by becoming the most populous country in Latin America to legalize abortion,; it has also legalized marijuana cultivation for medicinal use."
  • Argentina's Foreign Minister says that Brazil has done all it can to stifle Mercosur, in an interview with Brazil's O Globo and highlighted in the Buenos Aires Times.

  • Russia owes Argentina 18.5m doses of the Sputnik vaccine, "leaving Argentina in a ‘very critical situation’ with only 12% fully vaccinated," according to The Guardian.
  • The efficacy of China's Corona-Vac is questioned, according to a Wilson Center blog. (The article is a lot more categorical than it probably should be: "The reason for Chile’s unexpected struggles? Its reliance on the CoronaVac vaccine, produced by the Chinese company Sinovac, as well as a rushed reopening and a premature tapering of social distancing."

U.S. - Mexico Border
  • An asylum seeker from El Salvador talks about getting "stuck in a Mexican border camp," in a Washington Post podcast.
  • U.S. military veteran Ramon Castro is walking the 2,000 miles of the Mexican-U.S. border "to draw attention to the plight of U.S. veterans sent back to their countries of birth, some as a result of infractions like drug use that Castro said are associated with mental health struggles," according to Reuters.
  • Texas has begun arresting migrants on trespassing charges as part of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's new charges, according to the Associated Press

  • Pedro Castillo's chances at success are assessed by Renato Cisneros, a Peruvian journalist based in Spain in an op-ed in the NYT Opinión. His tepid conclusion: Castillo only has a chance if he governs for all. 

  • The Olympics in Japan started this morning and Axios highlights an array of athletes from all around Latin America. 

Drones, Drugs and Jails
  • Narco Drones Got Caught Delivering Drugs to a Prison in Chile, according to Bio Bio and followed up on by Vice.

Jordana takes back the reins of this news summary on Monday. 
Thank you all for your comments and suggestions these past two weeks. Eduardo

Latin America Daily Briefing