Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Lasso declares state of emergency (Oct. 19, 2021)

Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency to battle drug trafficking and other crimes in the country. The state of emergency gives the authorities the power to restrict freedom of movement, assembly and association. Lasso said the military and the police would patrol the streets to provide security. (Associated Press)

Violence has been spiking dramatically in Ecuador in recent months, reports AFP. Between January and October this year, the country registered almost 1,900 homicides, compared to about 1,400 in all of 2020, according to government statistics.

Lasso said Ecuador has gone from being a trafficking zone to one that also consumes drugs. “This is not only reflected in the amount of drugs consumed in our country, but in the number of crimes that today have a direct or indirect relationship with the sale of narcotics,” he said. 

The state of emergency imposed for 60 days allows the government to mobilize 3,600 soldiers and police to patrol 65 prisons nationwide. The country's prison system is grappling with a spate of bloody riots. So far in 2021, 238 prisoners have died in the riots. (See Sept. 30's post.)

The announcement came on the eve of an official visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (see Regional Relations section below).

News Briefs

  • "The Cuban government has systematically engaged in arbitrary detention, ill-treatment of detainees, and abuse-ridden criminal prosecutions in response to overwhelmingly peaceful anti-government protests in July 2021, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. "The consistent and repeated patterns of abuses by multiple security forces, in multiple locations across Cuba, strongly suggest a plan by Cuban authorities to repress and suppress the demonstrations."
  • The new issue of Americas Quarterly focuses on "the profound, and possibly terminal, threat that fake news and misinformation pose to the democracies of the Americas. ... the onslaught has accelerated a decade-long trend of declining confidence in democratic institutions, while costing countless lives during the pandemic. Disillusioned, many are putting their faith instead in authoritarian leaders, who are delighted by (and in some cases directly feeding) the confusion."

  • Governments and civil society have tried a number of different approaches to fight misinformation. But the region's high rates of social media use make its countries fertile territory for fake news. And several of the proposed solutions infringe on free speech or can be easily abused by authoritarian governments with their own agendas. (Americas Quarterly)
  • U.S. and senior Haitian officials worked Monday to free 17 members of an Ohio-based Christian aid organization kidnapped over the weekend in Haiti, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's post.) Members of the 400 Mawozo gang asked for $1 million for each hostage for their release, reports CNN.

  • Port-au-Prince streets were largely deserted yesterday due to a general strike in protest of insecurity, called before the kidnapping, reports the Washington Post. Unions and other groups vowed to continue the shutdown today, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.)

  • "Haiti’s spiraling mayhem, florid lawlessness and humanitarian meltdown were predictable following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July. In a country already crippled by governmental dysfunction, the vacuum of political legitimacy and authority after that murder left a breeding ground for anarchy," argues a Washington Post editorial that calls for outside intervention, despite the unintended consequences these actions have had historically.
Regional Relations
  • Members of a group involved in killing Moïse had conspired to assassinate Bolivian President Luis Arce ahead of the 2020 election that brought him to power, Bolivia's interior minister said yesterday. Eduardo del Castillo said at a news conference that the government had seen emails, audio recordings, immigration data and hotel stays that proved the failed plot against Arce, reports Reuters. (See also Caracol.)

  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to help the U.S. government push for stronger action on climate change. Speaking at an event with U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, López Obrador said that “we are going to support the plan President Biden is promoting” ahead of COP26. (Associated Press)

  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Ecuador today, where he will meet with President Guillermo Lasso. He will also travel to Colombia on this trip, where he will meet with President Iván Duque, a South America trip the U.S. has touted as a bid to support and broaden ties with Latin America's democracies, reports AFP. Blinken will meet human rights groups and will also address two key issues for the Biden administration -- climate change and migration.

  • The visit comes as tension spikes between the U.S. and Venezuela, after  Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman accused of money laundering on behalf of Venezuela's government, was extradited to the United States from Cape Verde. Venezuela's government immediately suspended internationally mediated negotiations with the political opposition. (See yesterday's post.) Yesterday a senior State Department official said Venezuela's government could demonstrate its seriousness about forging a better future for the Venezuelan people and alleviating the humanitarian crisis "by returning to the table" to continue talks, reports Voice of America.
  • Saab appeared for the first time in Miami federal court yesterday. Saab, who prosecutors say was a major conduit for corruption by Nicolás Maduro’s inner circle, was charged with eight counts of money laundering, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.) 

  • "Saab became infamous due to accusations of corruption surrounding the sprawling program to subsidize imports of food, but his name has been linked to deals in the oil industry as well," writes Francisco Toro in the Washington Post. "I don’t know what Saab knows. I do know that, whatever it is, the thought of it becoming public makes Maduro panic."

  • An unusual social reintegration project led by a local rum maker has brought relative calm to the town of Sabaneta as lawlessness engulfs much of Venezuela, reports the New York Times.
  • Colombia is responsible in 2000 kidnapping and rape of journalist Jineth Bedoya, according to a new Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling. The court found “serious evidence” of state participation in the attack, which it described as “torture,” reports the Washington Post. The court condemned Colombian officials, saying they delayed the investigation of the kidnapping, did not properly address the threats Bedoya received leading up to the assault and discriminated against the journalist on the basis of her gender.

  • Colombian President Iván Duque has extended welcome to Venezuelan refugees "with unparalleled humanity and compassion," even as the humanitarian crisis has dragged on and Colombia has faced challenges of its own, writes Americas Society/Council of the Americas chair Andrés Gluski in Americas Quarterly.
  • Brazil's government is considering combining pandemic relief payments and "Bolsa Familia" welfare programs into a monthly stipend of 300 reais next year, reports Reuters.
  • Development projects, many with international support, are driving Garifuna Indigenous communities off their land in Honduras, forcing them to become unwilling migrants, writes Miriam Miranda in Foreign Policy in Focus.
  • Guatemala’s expanding palm oil industry faces resistance from Indigenous people fighting for land rights, reports Al Jazeera. Oil palm plantations have nearly doubled in area over the past decade, sparking agrarian conflicts between companies and communities.
  • Nearly 68 percent of Chileans want to impeach President Sebastian Piñera, according the monthly Pulso Ciudadano poll. (Telesur)
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica was among the winners of the newly established Earthshot prize, that awards winners one million pounds for their sustainability and conservation efforts. The prize is presided over by Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge and intended to incentivize action around key environmental challenges the world faces over the next decade. (New York Times)

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


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