Friday, October 29, 2021

ICC closes Colombia case (Oct. 29, 2021)

The International Criminal Court said it would close a 17-year preliminary examination into Colombia for war crimes and crimes against humanity in recognition of efforts to combat impunity and guarantee justice for victims. The preliminary examination, opened in 2004, was the longest in the court's history, reports Reuters.

The ICC can only officially step in if a state is unwilling or unable to prosecute war crimes in its jurisdiction. ICC prosecutor Karim Khan cited the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) transitional justice tribunal, created as part of the 2016 peace accord with teh FARC, as evidence that Colombia has stepped up to its international obligations. He said a new cooperation agreement between the government and the ICC would ensure the JEP, which is trying ex-rebels and military officials for crimes related to the conflict,  could function without political interference.

But Human Right Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco criticized the ICC prosecutor's decision, saying it is "premature, misinformed, and detrimental to justice. The country’s transitional justice system may now be an easier target for attacks against its independence." Vivanco detailed the judicial reasoning behind his position in a recent letter to Khan, noting that "despite the recent progress, or precisely because of it, the transitional justice process itself remains fragile."

More Colombia
  • "New documents in the case against accused paramilitary drug lord Guillermo León Acevedo, alias “Memo Fantasma,” reveal that former top Colombian paramilitary commander Salvatore Mancuso spoke to prosecutors about Acevedo, and that convicted traffickers transferred properties worth millions to him," reports InSight Crime.
News Briefs

  • The U.S. Biden administration is working with international partners to prepare new sanctions that could be levied in response to Nicaragua’s Nov. 7 election, that President Daniel Ortega is expected to win after imprisoning all of his likely opponents and dozens of critics. (Reuters)
  • Violence against Indigenous people in Brazil surged by more than 60 percent last year, according to the Catholic Church’s Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), a rights group faulted increased land invasions of Indigenous territories and the government failure to provide protection. There were 182 murders of Indigenous people in 2020, compared with 113 murders in 2019, and 263 reported land invasions of Indigenous territories, an increase of 137 percent over the previous year. (Al Jazeera)
  • The mostly Mayan Indigenous inhabitants of El Estor, in eastern Guatemala, are living under a "state of siege", watched over by armed soldiers after police clashed with protesters demonstrating against a nickel mine they say is polluting the country's largest lake, reports AFP. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Ecuador's largest indigenous group, the CONAIE, temporarily suspended protests against fuel price rises, yesterday, after President Guillermo Lasso offered to meet with leaders in two weeks. (Reuters, see yesterday's briefs.)
  • Countries in the hemisphere are failing to provide international protection and safety for Haitians on the move, exposing them to a range of human rights violations, including detentions and illegal pushbacks by authorities; extortion; anti-Black racial discrimination; abuses by armed groups, including gender-based violence; and lack of access to adequate housing, healthcare, and employment, said Amnesty International and Haitian Bridge Alliance in a new briefing. (El País)

  • "With migration increasing throughout the Americas, border policy is no longer a sufficient means to control immigration," writes Andrew Selee in a New York Times guest essay. "The United States must enlist other countries in the hemisphere to become partners in measures to prevent recurrent political and humanitarian crises that force people to flee their homelands."
  • European Union election observers began their mission in Venezuela yesterday, as campaigning kicked off for regional elections on Nov. 21. It is the first time in 15 years the EU has sent observers to Venezuela. Opposition parties are participating after boycotting elections in 2018 and 2020. (Reuters)
Regional Relations
  • Over 80 percent of U.S. Agency for International Development programs in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala experienced adverse effects due to the suspension of aid to the region in March 2019 under former President Donald Trump, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released this week. (Devex)

  • If you thought Operation Gideon couldn't get weirder, VICE delves into the backstory and proves that it can: "What has emerged is a portrait of a mercenary mission more ramshackle than even the original reporting of it indicated, the half-baked brainchild of a variety of truly powerful people urging it along or declining to do anything about it for their own reasons."

  • China is now Colombia’s second most important trading partner, and an expected surge in Chinese investment may bring Bogotá even closer to Beijing, writes Luis Fernando Mejia in Americas Quarterly.

  • Wilson Center report by Detlef Nolte examines rising trade tensions between the European Union and Mercosur related to Brazil's controversial environmental policies. 
El Salvador
  • The Salvadoran government acquired 420 more bitcoin this week, President Nayib Bukele announced on social media. The latest purchase of bitcoin, worth nearly $25 million at current prices, marks the first government acquisition of the cryptocurrency since Sept. 20, when Bukele said it had bought 150 bitcoins. (Reuters)

  • El Salvador’s digital Bitcoin wallet Chivo removed a pricing feature that allowed users to make rapid profits on trades as it steps up efforts to crack down on speculation involving the cryptocurrency recently adopted as legal tender in the country, reports Bloomberg.
  • Former Argentina president Mauricio Macri briefly appeared before a judge yesterday in an investigation into claims his government spied on relatives of 44 sailors who died in the 2017 sinking of a navy submarine the ARA San Juan. Family of the crew told investigators they were followed and wiretapped, filmed and intimidated into abandoning any claims related to the incident. Macri is accused of ordering the espionage, reports AFP.

  • Twitter has suspended a hacker who allegedly stole all of the data from Argentina's database holding the IDs and information of all 45 million citizens of the country. (ZDNet

  • The Economist slams Argentina's price control policy aimed at containing inflation.
  • The Mapuche leader of Chile's constitutional convention, Elisa Loncón, wants the new document to reflect Indigenous thinking on how to coexist with the natural world. “There’s a development model that’s based on seeing nature as a resource for humans—especially men—to exploit and dominate,” she told TIME. “But Indigenous people have always had the philosophy that humans are interdependent with nature and must conserve nature as a mother.”

  • The convention, convened as an answer to popular unrest, is unlikely to help, according to the Economist.
  • Yachts have become a favored modus operandi to move cocaine between Latin America and lucrative European markets, reports InSight Crime

  • The Covid-19 pandemic pushed millions of Latin Americans back into poverty. Reversing this pattern requires addressing the region’s vulnerability to economic shocks and strengthening countries’ resilience, argue Carlos Jaramillo, Otaviano Canuto, and Pepe Zhang at Project Syndicate.

  • Latin America's socioeconomic disparities have been exacerbated by coronavirus and pressure is growing on elites to share more of their wealth and open up greater opportunities to marginalised groups — or risk social unrest, reports the Financial Times.
  • Peru’s government is seeking to increase taxes on top salaries and stock market profits, Finance Minister Pedro Francke said yesterday. (Bloomberg)
  • Netflix's "Maid" series shows Latin American viewers the sorry state of the U.S. social safety net. (Americas Quarterly)

  • A documentary by Alonso Ruizpalacios, Una película de policías, delves into Mexico City's police force, showing corruption, but also the human face of officers -- El País
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Honduras' climate change vicious cycle (Oct. 28, 2021)

Honduras is one of the most unequal, corrupt and violent countries in Latin America, that, coupled with its geography, make it one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to extreme weather events like which are increasing in intensity due to global heating, reports the Guardian. And it's a vicious cycle, because as climate impacts worsen in Honduras, migration increases and that puts many in danger of gang violence, reports The Nation.

Honduras is getting hotter and drier. The average temperature there has increased by more than 4 degrees Celsius since 1960, and the country is caught in a severe drought cycle. The World Bank estimates that Central America and Mexico could produce up to 2 million climate migrants by midcentury.

And environmentally destructive megaprojects -- including dams, tourist resorts, mines and African palm plantations -- have exacerbated climate change impacts, leading to worse flooding and water shortages.

More Climate
  • The intense drought affecting South America has hit landlocked Paraguay particularly hard, making the country an example of what climate change could look like in vulnerable countries, reports the Wall Street Journal.
More Honduras
  • Leftist Honduran presidential candidate Xiomara Castro has surged to the front of the pack ahead of next month's election, according to a new Center for Democratic Studies (CESPAD) poll that gives the former first lady 38% support, while ruling party pick Nasry Asfura came in second with 21%. Another 30% were either undecided or do not plan to vote, according to the survey. (Reuters)

  • Honduras, one of the last countries in Central America to receive COVID-19 vaccine, has designated a portion of its stockpile for citizens of neighboring Nicaragua, reports the Associated Press. Nearly 8,000 Nicaraguans received Covid-19 vaccines at two customs border crossings, reports Reuters.
News Briefs

  • Covid-19 is slowly retreating across most of North, Central and South America, the Pan American Health Organization said yesterday. Last week the continent’s death and infection figures were the lowest in over a year. Many of the larger Caribbean islands are seeing downward trends, including Cuba. Nearly 44% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have completed their Covid-19 immunizations. (Reuters)

  • Latin American countries have widely ratified International Labor Organization Convention 169 – requiring that governments consult Indigenous communities before approving projects that may detrimentally impact them. Yet, the region is plagued by social conflicts involving Indigenous peoples who feel they were never adequately consulted. One reason is that ILO 169 offers no definitive answer as to what happens if an Indigenous community vetoes a proposed project, explains Thomas Andrew O’Keefe at the AULA Blog. Human rights due diligence standards adopted by companies involved in investment projects are proving much more effective in guaranteeing adequate and effective consultations, he writes.
  • Venezuela’s government quietly offered last year to release imprisoned Americans in exchange for the U.S. letting go of a key financier of President Nicolás Maduro, reports the Associated Press. The offer, which was rejected by the Trump administration, has taken on new relevance following the extradition of Alex Saab this month. In retaliation, Venezuela reimprisoned six executives of Houston-based Citgo. (See Oct. 18's post.)

  • Saab's extradition has shed a light on the enormous and transnational scale of corruption in Venezuela. The approval of a country visit by the ICC Chief Prosecutor is significant in this sense; but given the implications of the Saab case, it would seem that a limiting factor of any negotiation is the lack of accountability for acts of corruption being investigated in other jurisdictions. -- Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights
Regional Relations
  • Nicaragua has become a diplomatic headache for the U.S. Biden administration. The Ortega government is defying Washington’s warnings, sanctions and visa bans, ignoring the objections of other neighboring states, and aligning more with Moscow, reports Politico.

  • The White House released details on the new, holistic U.S.-Colombia counternarcotics strategy developed by the Counternarcotics Working Group between the United States and Colombian governments. New strategy broadens focus to include specific actions on rural security and development, environmental protection, and supply reduction.
  • In the latest Venezuela Briefing, WOLA’s Kristen Martinez-Gugerli talks with Lucía Ramírez of Dejusticia and Livia Lenci of Missão Paz to discuss the response to Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Colombia and Brazil.
  • Peru's finance minister said the government has no plans to take over the natural gas industry, in an attempt to calm fears after President Pedro Castillo talked about nationalization earlier in the week, reports Reuters. "To nationalize the gas (sector) means to put it in the service of all Peruvians," Finance Minister Pedro Francke said in a tweet. "It does not in any way mean to nationalize private enterprise." (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Brazil’s central bank has announced its biggest interest rate rise since 2002, lifting the benchmark Selic rate to 7.75 per cent. The move aims to tame double digit inflation in the midst of market fears over government plans to increase social welfare spending ahead of next year's elections, reports the Financial Times. (See last Friday's post.)

  • Brazilian Senate commission presented the prosecutor general’s office with recommendations to criminally charge President Jair Bolsonaro for alleged errors that cost Brazilian lives, yesterday. Prosecutor-General Augusto Aras, an ally of Bolsonaroy, is not expected to charge him, however. (Reuters, see yesterday's post.)

  • If Bolsonaro doesn't face justice locally, "it now falls to international bodies, like the International Criminal Court, to hold him to account," argues Vanessa Barbara in a New York Times op-ed
  • The Haitian government is working to extradite a former Colombian military officer who is a key suspect in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse from Jamaica, reports the Miami Herald.

  • Businesses in Haiti face an impossible equation regarding criminal gangs -- whether they pay extortion or resist, the their work is at risk, reports the Associated Press.

  • Haitian gang leader Izo 5 Segonn released a rap song over the weekend, an example of how the country's gangs are on the verge of becoming a proto-state, reports the Miami Herald.
  • A U.S. federal judge set a trial date in the high-profile prosecution of Genaro García Luna, former top-ranking Mexican federal police official of accepting millions of dollars in bribes to allow Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera’s Sinaloa drug cartel to “operate with impunity in Mexico” for more than a decade, while at the same time working side by side with U.S. officials. The advance comes amid rising concerns over DEA operations abroad, reports The Intercept.
  • Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso called for dialogue following a second day of demonstrations by Indigenous and civil society groups against gasoline price rises. He said his government would keep security forces on highways to maintain order, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)

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

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Senators accuse Bolsonaro of crimes against humanity (Oct. 27, 2021)

 A Brazilian Senate investigative committee voted 7-to-4 to recommend nine criminal charges against President Jair Bolsonaro for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including "crimes against humanity." The committee approved a report that also alleges that 77 additional people, including the president’s three sons, and two companies committed crimes, based on six months of explosive testimony that has shocked Brazilians. The committee hearings, broadcast live, have featured emotional witness statements and chilling revelations about the use of ineffective medication on "human guinea pigs."

"The chaos of Jair Bolsonaro's government will enter history as the lowest level of human destitution," said Senator Renan Calheiros, rapporteur of the report, adding that the president was "on the side" of dictators, including Adolf Hitler and Augusto Pinochet.

Final changes to the report released last week include recommending charges for 13 additional people, many of them current or former Health Ministry employees, as well as Amazonas state governor Wilson Limas. 

The panel also voted to ask Brazil’s Supreme Court to request that Bolsonaro be banned from social media for the “protection of the population.” The addition comes after the president suggested during a weekly social media livestream that the coronavirus vaccine could cause AIDS. Facebook and YouTube removed the video, and YouTube froze Bolsonaro’s channel for a week. (See yesterday's briefs.) The senators agreed to ask Google, Facebook, and Twitter to send data on the president's internet activity since April 2020 to the Prosecutor General's Office and the Supreme Court.

Bolsonaro is unlikely to face formal charges as president -- they would have to be brought by Brazil's prosecutor-general, whom the president appointed and is widely viewed as protecting Bolsonaro. Sen. Omar Aziz, the chairman of the inquiry, said he would deliver the recommendation to Prosecutor-General Augusto Aras this morning. Aras’ office said the report would be carefully reviewed as soon as it is received.

The report also contains recommendations for two counts of “crime of responsibility,” which are grounds for impeachment. But impeachment proceedings would have to pass Lower House Speaker Arthur Lira, an ally of Bolsonaro who is currently sitting on more than 120 other impeachment requests.

Nonetheless, the report highlights Bolsonaro's increasing isolation ahead of presidential elections next year.

More Brazil
  • International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva defended the fund’s actions in changing language on Brazil’s climate risks in response to staff demands for answers on the topic, reports Reuters. Bloomberg reported this month that the final language on climate change economic risks to Brazil in the report was “softened” from an initial draft.
News Briefs

  • Haiti's acute fuel crisis is the latest emanation of the country's security vacuum -- gangs currently control about half of Port-au-Prince. And, in turn, the fuel crisis is exacerbating the country's humanitarian crisis, including food shortages that grow more severe each day, reports the New York Times

  • Schools and businesses have been shuttered due to a lack of fuel, and hospitals have issued SOS, warning that patients will die if fuel is not forthcoming. Cellphone service has also been affected, reports the Miami Herald.

  • Jimmy Cherizier, one of the country’s most feared gang leaders, gave a news conference yesterday, in which he said his criminal network was blocking the delivery of fuel with  the goal to pressure Prime Minister Ariel Henry to resign. But the fuel shortages are endangering the lives of the country's poorest in myriad ways, reports the New York Times.

  • Haiti's Senate leader Joseph Lambert called Prime Minister Ariel Henry to resign, reports CNN. He proposed a new transition government should be installed until elections can be held next -- with himself as the interim president.

  • U.S. President Joe Biden is directly engaged in an effort to rescue 17 missionaries kidnapped 11 days ago by a Haitian gang, reports the Miami Herald.

  • The Biden administrations expulsions of Haitian migrants are an abandonment of its principles – and its friends – in a doomed effort to placate extremist voices, writes Brian Concannon at Al Jazeera.
  • Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel warned the U.S. embassy in Havana against fomenting protests by dissidents planned for Nov. 15. Authorities have denied permits for the protests, planned for the same day the country reopens to tourism, and say the demonstrations are underwritten by the U.S., reports Reuters. Cuban authorities have threatened organizers of a pro-democracy march called for November with legal charges and have sought to intimidate potential participants, according to activists. (See yesterday's briefs.)

  • "Washington’s active support for dissidents puts everything in peril, most importantly, the people it wants to help," writes William LeoGrande at Responsible Statecraft. "The United States and Cuba are on a collision course over U.S. diplomats’ support for “democracy promotion” programs, and Cuban dissidents may end up as collateral damage, spending years in prison as a result."
Regional Relations
  • Two top police commanders in Colombia and Mexico have recently admitted to filtering sensitive information to drug traffickers while working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. There are growing calls for scrutiny of the agency's actions in Latin America, reports InSight Crime.
  • Dozens of demonstrators were arrested in Ecuador in mass Indigenous-led protests against President Guillermo Lasso's economic policies, reports Al Jazeera. Under pressure from CONAIE and Indigenous legislators, Lasso announced last week he was freezing the monthly increases of fuel prices, but fixed new prices slightly higher than those that had been expected to go into effect in October.
  • Far-right Chilean presidential candidate José Antonio Kast's rise has been fueled by a backlash against politics as usual, strong rhetoric against immigrants, and his ability to channel the simmering anger of Chile’s middle class, writes Robert Funk in Americas Quarterly. "Indeed, he could be described as the true populist in the race," writes Funk. "But this is 2021, and this is not your grandparents’ pinochetismo. Kast criticizes immigration, downplays the demands of the country’s indigenous communities, and promises to combat 'gender ideology.'"

  • The recent death of a Chilean protestor at the hands of the police is yet another example of the country’s pattern of responding to civil unrest with force, and is part of an increasingly repressive environment, reports Nacla.
  • A proposed energy constitutional change proposed by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador would undo the reforms made under his predecessor and likely weaken Mexico's electricity sector, according to the Latin America Risk Report.

  • Mexico plans to seek the arbitration of a panel of experts to resolve a simmering dispute with the United States over the interpretation of rules of origin in the automotive industry, according to Reuters.
  • Protests against copper mines in Peru have been ongoing since President Pedro Castillo took office in July, reports Reuters.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Brazil heads to COP26 (Oct. 26, 2021)

Brazilian officials seek to burnish the country's tarnished international climate reputation heading into the COP26 global conference.

Brazil plans to bring forward its 2030 goal of ending illegal deforestation by two or three years, Vice President Hamilton Mourao said yesterday, ahead of COP26. He said forest fires in the Amazon region had dropped significantly, by about 40% this year, and that the Brazilian government will reaffirm its commitment to international environmental goals. The most recent satellite data on Amazon deforestation from national space agency INPE shows it rose slightly, by 2%, in September from a year ago. (Reuters)

Activists warn that the government's numbers are misleading, deforestation is higher now than it was under previous administrations, and Bolsonaro's government has undermined conservation legislation, narrowing the scope of what can be considered "illegal" deforestation. (Mongabay)

Brazil has been promising zero deforestation by 2030 for six years consecutively, ever since the former president, Dilma Rousseff, first pledged it at the UN General Assembly, but Brazil hasn't presented a path on how it will achieve this, warns Juanita Rico at Open Democracy. And Brazil will not present a new NDC (a nationally determined contribution to the global effort to slash emissions) in Glasgow.

But the country's top diplomat for climate talks, Paulino de Carvalho Neto, said Brazil will step up its Paris Accord targets at COP26. Brazil will formally lodge with the Paris Accord secretariat its commitment to bring forward to 2050 from 2060 its target for carbon neutrality, or net zero gas emissions, he said. (Reuters)

Environment Minister Joaquim Leite, who will head Brazil's delegation, is expected to raise to 45% from 43% the country's target for reducing emissions by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. (Reuters)

News Briefs

More Brazil
  • Facebook and Instagram have removed from their platforms a live broadcast that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro delivered in which he said people in the U.K. who have received two coronavirus vaccine doses are developing AIDS faster than expected. Its the first time Facebook removed one of Bolsonaro’s weekly live broadcasts that serve as a direct channel of communication with his supporters and tend to rack up hundreds of thousands of views. (Associated Press)

  • Bolsonaro repeated that he is considering the privatization of state-run oil company Petrobras, yesterday. (Reuters)
  • Cuban authorities have threatened organizers of a pro-democracy march called for November with legal charges, while conducting a vast security operation to intimidate ordinary Cubans who express support of the initiative or criticize the government on social media, reports the Miami Herald. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • Peruvian President Pedro Castillo asked Congress to pass a law to nationalize the Camisea gas field and called for major reforms to the constitution in speeches at separate political rallies on Monday. (Bloomberg) A call to nationalize Camisea by former prime minister Guido Bellido spurred a break within the Castillo administration and a major cabinet reshuffle earlier this month. (Foreign Policy, see yesterday's briefs.)

  • Yesterday the new cabinet head Mirtha Vásquez presented Castillo's new cabinet to Congress for a confidence vote. (La República, see yesterday's briefs.) She told lawmakers the administration is seeking a new "governability pact," though her speech lacked significant new proposals, reports Reuters. Lawmakers pushed back a confirmation vote on the country's new Cabinet until next Thursday, in order to mourn the death of a lawmaker who suddenly died on Monday, a move that will prolong uncertainty over the new cabinet.

  • A nationalist turn among Peru’s right-wing parties — and some sectors of the population — points to increasing polarization, reports Andrea Moncada at Americas Quarterly.
  • Nicaragua will technically hold a presidential election on Nov. 7, but President Daniel Ortega is certain to claim victory, having jailed potential opponents, writes Alma Guillermoprieto in the New York Review of Books. "The state’s intelligence-gathering operations are nonpareil, and the Ortegas can have no illusions about how unpopular they truly are."
  • Guatemalan security forces carried out searches at homes and offices looking for protest leaders in El Estor, while those targets went into hiding, following the government imposition of martial law in the area after violent clashes between police and Indigenous protesters over the weekend. (Associated Press, see yesterday's briefs.)

  • Regional expansion of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele's political project seems to have started. Relatives of a Guatemalan publicist and Bukele business partner began the process to found a political party in Guatemala called “Nuevas Ideas,” the same name as that of President Nayib Bukele in El Salvador. The new party’s cyan logo is identical to that of the Salvadoran party, reports El Faro.

  • If they manage to gather signatures by January 2023 from 0.30 percent of all registered voters — some 24,600 signatures — then they will become a political party able to compete in the presidential, legislative, and municipal elections in June 2023 in a political landscape without a dominant party, reports El Faro.
El Salvador
  • Two and a half years into Bukele's mandate, El Salvador's institutional framework has been increasingly put to the test, but the crises unleashed by the new president have barely dented his popularity. The backbone of his "millennial authoritarianism" is not just the promise of political renewal after four decades of reign of the parties born of the civil war, but also as the "avenging arm" that would liquidate the political "old world," writes Benjamin Moallic in Nueva Sociedad.
  • Though gangs have long been powerful in Haiti, and symbiotic with some politicians, their power only grew under the country's last elected president, Jovenel Moïse. In the wake of his July assassination, they have become even more powerful, a contrast with the police, who are dependent on an increasingly depleted state, leaving officers even more underfunded, underequipped and severely underpaid, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The arrest of Clan del Golfo leader "Otoniel" this weekend will have little impact on those living on the frontlines of the drug war, say experts, pointing to historic arrests of drug kingpins that only increased cocaine production and violence. (Guardian, see yesterday's post.)
  • Millions of students are back to class in Venezuela after a long closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, reports Al Jazeera.
  • The results of Paraguay’s municipal elections showcase the dominance of the Colorado Party and the persistence of an unequal two-party system, reports Nueva Sociedad. (In English at Nacla.)
  • Relatives of the victims of the 2019 Senkata and Sacaba massacres marched to La Paz, where they demanded prosecution of interim-government officials involved in the episodes, reports Telesur.
  • Chile’s main conservative daily newspaper, El Mercurio, has been accused of publishing “an apology for Nazism” after running an illustrated article commemorating the life of Hermann Göring. (Guardian)
  • A bill that would grant the Mexican state authority to regulate and control the practice of indigenous medicine could violate the country’s constitution and international conventions on the rights of ancestral communities, academics and traditional medical groups have warned. (Guardian)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...  Latin America Daily Briefing

Monday, October 25, 2021

Otoniel captured in Colombia (Oct. 25, 2021)

Colombian armed forces captured the country's most-wanted drug lord, Dairo Antonio Úsuga, widely known by his alias, Otoniel, in a rural area of Colombia's Uraba region, Antioquia province. The operation involved more than 500 members of Colombia's special forces and 22 helicopters. Colombia's government promised to swiftly extradite Úsuga to the United States, and said the process could take a month to complete. (Reuters, Washington Post)

Úsuga is accused of sending dozens of shipments of cocaine to the United States. He is also accused of killing police officers, recruiting minors and sexually abusing children, among other crimes. The Clan del Golfo uses violence and intimidation to control drug trafficking routes, cocaine-processing laboratories and clandestine airstrips, according to the U.S. State Department. (New York Times)

Colombia’s military presented Úsuga to the media in handcuffs and wearing rubber boots preferred by rural farmers, reports the Associated Press. The leader of the drug-trafficking group Clan del Golfo, or Gulf Clan reportedly told security forces: "You beat me." Colombia's police chief, General Jorge Vargas, said much of the information leading to Otoniel's capture came from Clan del Golfo members.

Colombian President Iván Duque likened Úsuga’s arrest Saturday to the capture of Pablo Escobar three decades ago. Experts caution that the capture is hardly likely to reduce violence: such captures of kingpins often lead to violent power struggles to replace them and fragmentation that increases bloodshed.

“This is not going to move the needle in terms of the war on drugs. … What happens next is different pieces of the puzzle aligning to fill the vacuum of power left by Otoniel,” Sergio Guzmán told the Washington Post. And his successor will have cause to demonstrate power by force, both within the criminal group and outwards, warns International Crisis Group's Elizabeth Dickinson in BBC.

More Colombia
  • The FARC’s inclusion on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations restricts U.S. officials from funding programs aimed at advancing the peace accords in which former combatants participate or benefit -- which has significantly impacted the implementation of the 2016 peace deal between the guerrilla group and the Colombian government, reports the Washington Post
News Briefs

  • Haiti is in the midst of an acute fuel crisis linked tu surging insecurity: fuel deliveries have been interrupted for over two weeks by gang blockades and abductions of fuel truck drivers. Drivers responded with a strike last week, protesting insecurity, and angry motorcyclists locked down the capital with fiery barricades. The fuels are widely used to run generators needed to compensate for the country’s unreliable electrical system. (Associated Press,  Miami Herald)

  • An ongoing fuel crisis in Haiti, linked to surging insecurity that has affected petrol deliveries, is likely to lead to a loss of lives if fuel doesn’t arrive at hospitals and health clinics by tomorrow, warned the United Nations. Hospitals over the weekend began refusing admissions and shortening the stay of patients over the lack of fuel, reports the Miami Herald

  • Some 165 gang factions operate in Port-au-Prince, the epicenter of Haiti’s crime wave. This year, gangs conducted at least 628 abductions — more than a threefold increase from last year’s total. Today, collusion between armed groups and political elites and the Haitian police's shortfalls have allowed Haiti’s gangs to supplant the state, writes Paul Angelo in a New York Times guest essay.
  • The Guatemalan government declared a month-long, dawn-to-dusk curfew Sunday and banned public gatherings in the northern coastal province of Izabal, following two days of protests against a mining project, reports the Associated Press. Security forces clashed with Indigenous groups protesting the Fénix mine. Human Rights Ombudsman Jordán Rodas expressed concern over police repression of Indigenous communities and said the mine functions illegally. (Deutsche Welle)

  • Guatemalan spiritual guide Domingo Choc Che, a member of the indigenous Maya Q’eqchi community, was tortured and burned by neighbors who accused him of witchcraft last year. Though three people were sentenced to 20 years in prison for their part in the killing, indigenous spiritual guides and herbalists say that the judge reduced the charges from murder to homicide, ignored Choc Che’s status as a spiritual leader and downplayed the influence of Christian extremism in his killing, reports the Guardian.
  • About 3,000 migrants from Haiti, South America and Central America set off from southern Mexico headed north on Saturday, clashing with law enforcement trying to hold the caravan back, reports Reuters
  • Many of the migrants say they have been stuck in legal limbo, waiting for asylum applications to be processed for as long as a year. The bottleneck in Tapachula — the main point of entry into southern Mexico by land — reflects the country’s struggle to manage the number of migrants arriving in recent months, reports the Washington Post.

  • A record 1.7 million migrants from around the world, many of them fleeing pandemic-ravaged countries, were encountered trying to enter the United States illegally in the last 12 months, reports the New York Times. It was the highest number of illegal crossings recorded since at least 1960.
  • Interest rate increases are expected to continue across Latin America as the region reacts to inflation pressures, even as economies operate below their potential, the International Monetary Fund said last week. (Reuters)
Regional Relations
  • Argentine Secretary for Strategic Affairs Secretary Gustavo Beliz met with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Washington last week. Ahead of this week's COP26, they focused on joint efforts to address the climate crisis and leveraging international financial institutions to promote a sustainable and equitable economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the White House. (See also Infobae.)

  • A central figure in former US president Donald Trump’s bid to create a new social media platform is a Brazilian parliamentarian and self-proclaimed prince, Luiz Philippe of Orléans-Braganza, who has put forward the idea of creating an unelected head of state with powers to veto the legislature’s decisions, reports the Financial Times.
  •  Chilean right-wing presidential candidate José Antonio Kast got 23 percent of voter intention in a new Cadem poll released yesterday. That is an increase over the 21% in last week's survey, while leftist favorite Gabriel Boric remained at 20 percent. (Bloomberg)

  • Kast's surge largely builds on a drop of support for Sebastian Sichel, a conservative candidate from outgoing President Sebastian Piñera's ruling coalition. Sichel spoke out against a measure Congress passed that allowed citizens to withdraw a portion of their pension funds, yet when the measure was approved, he himself withdrew the maximum permitted. Sichel has also been affected by the government's unpopularity, including its response to violence in this week's protests, reports AFP. (See last week's Chile Constitutional Updates for more analysis.)

  • Chilean Constitutional Convention delegates started drafting a new magna carta last week. Opening speeches by delegates were light on actual constitutional proposals, but a couple, including Convention Vice President Jaime Bassa, advocated ending Chile's presidential system in favor of a parliamentary one. (LaBot Constituyente, see last week's Chile Constitutional Updates for more.)
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's lawmakers banned mass gatherings to prevent the spread of Covid-19 for 45 days— but exempted sporting and cultural events, reports the Associated Press. The new rules basically ban demonstrations, on the heels of large anti-government protests, say critics. Lawmakers loyal to President Nayib Bukele said protests would still be allowed with social distancing, full vaccinations and face masks. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • Argentina's government sent national security forces to aid Rio Negro province, in the wake of several arson vandalism attacks allegedly carried out by self-identified Mapuche groups. Long-simmering tensions regarding land and Indigenous rights in Argentina's Patagonia region have been exacerbated by political parties ahead of next month's midterm elections and the upcoming expiration of a law that shields Indigenous communities from eviction. Many Mapuche groups reject any link and many communities have vehemently rejected the use of violence. (InfobaePágina 12)
  • Alex Quiñónez, one of Ecuador's most famous athletes, was killed Friday evening along with another person outside a Guayaquil shopping center. The motives for the killing are unclear, but the death prompted an outpouring of grief -- and put the country's rising drug violence in relief. Official figures suggest the number of murders in the first eight months of this year are double those in the same period last year, and last week President Guillermo Lasso declared a two-month state of emergency. (AFPBBC, see last Monday's post)
  • Mexico's government said that it has established a working group to investigate allegations of forced labor at two tomato export firms, after the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it would bar imports from those companies, reports Reuters.
  • Peru’s President Pedro Castillo challenged the constitutionality of a recently approved law that left him even more politically vulnerable by limiting his power to dissolve congress. Last week lawmakers passed a law that makes it harder for the government to invoke a constitutional mechanism known as vote of confidence. The president can dissolve congress if lawmakers twice deny him such vote. At the same time, lawmakers ignored a bill presented by the government that would restrict their ability to impeach the president, reports Bloomberg. (See also La Política Online)

  • Peruvian Vice President and Minister of Development, Dina Boluarte, has been implicated in an investigation into illicit campaign financing for the ruling Free Peru party, reports La República.

  • Cabinet head Mirtha Vásquez is presenting Castillo's new cabinet to Congress today for a confidence vote. (La República)

  • A few months into his government, Castillo is navigating tricky political waters. His own party's lawmakers turned against him after a recent cabinet reshuffle, and many of the conservative opposition parties that dominate the 130-member legislature are viscerally hostile to the new government. "That’s a risky position for any leader in a political system that established the precedent ... that presidents can, effectively, be impeached without cause," explains Simon Tegel in Foreign Policy. (See Oct. 15's briefs and Oct. 7's post.)