Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Xiomara poised to win Honduras election (Nov. 30, 2021)

News Briefs

  • The vote count in Honduras is stalled at just over half the ballots cast -- opposition candidate Xiomara Castro is leading by 20 points over ruling party candidate Nasry Asfura and appears poised to become the country's first female president. Though the final result is expected to be tighter when rural votes, which tend to favor the National party, are counted, "the tide in favour of Castro, a leftist who represents a coalition of opposition parties, appears unstoppable," according to the Guardian.

  • Asfura has not conceded, in fact, his party declared him the winner on Sunday. But third place candidate Yani Rosenthal conceded to Castro, and said the Liberal Party's goal of ousting the government had been met. (Contracorriente)

  • Former Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis, chief of the Organization of American States' observer mission in the country, said yesterday he saw nothing untoward in the vote-count delay and expected the electoral council would clear up matters soon. (Reuters)

  • The European Union's electoral observer mission pointed to an increase in social security payments before the vote and violent discourse against candidates. (Contracorriente)

  • "The congressional elections remain a fight. The National Party probably can’t steal the presidency at this point, but they can steal a few seats in Congress," writes James Bosworth at the Latin American Risk Report. Castro's running mate, Salvador Nasralla has denounced irregularities in the congressional vote count. (El Heraldo)

  • Nasralla said that the presumptive president-elect's call for dialogue does not mean impunity for corruption and drug ties in the current government. The country's justice is currently "in the hands of organized crime," he said in an interview with El Faro, emphasizing that the incoming Congress will select Supreme Court judges and a new attorney general.

  • The results of Honduras' vote this weekend appeared to show "a stunning repudiation of the National Party’s 12-year rule, which was shaped by pervasive corruption, dismantling of democratic institutions and accusations of links with drug cartels," reports the New York Times.

  • Castro's major challenges include corruption, migration, drug trafficking and the relationship with China and the U.S., reports El Heraldo.

  • The vote was carried out peacefully, with the highest participation rate in 12 years and broke with the country's long-standing bipartisanism, reports Contracorriente.

  • But the election season was violent: The National Autonomous University of Honduras’ Violence Observatory counted 20 murdered politicians between last Dec. 15 and Sept. 15 of this year. This month, there have been four murdered politicians, all from the Liberal party. (Associated Press)
  • Barbados officially became a republic today -- with a midnight swearing in of President Sandra Mason in a Bridgetown ceremony. “Republic Barbados has set sail on her maiden voyage,” Mason said in her inauguration speech as the first president of the country, recognising the “complex, fractured and turbulent world” it would need to navigate. Barbadian singer Rihanna also attended the ceremony and was declared a national hero. "The republic is part of a wider agenda building steam across the Caribbean to forge a future outside a British framework," reports the Guardian. (See also New York Times.)
  • A number of large fashion brands are at risk of contributing to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, based on their connections to tanneries and other companies involved in the production of leather and leather goods, according to a new report by Stand.earth, a supply chain research firm. More than 50 brands, including H&M, Zara, Adidas, Nike, New Balance, Teva and UGG, have multiple connections to an industry that props up Amazon deforestation, reports the Guardian.

  •  São Paulo Governor João Doria won the primary election this weekend to become the PSDB candidate for president in Brazil's 2022 elections. Doria was formerly an ally of President Jair Bolsonaro, but became a vocal critic during the coronavirus pandemic. “Bolsonaro sold a dream and delivered a nightmare,” Doria said in his victory speech Saturday. (Bloomberg)

  • Doria told CNN that an alliance with former justice minister Sergio Moro, who has sought to portray himself as a third-way candidate, is possible.
  • The U.S. began deporting a record number of Nicaraguan migrants this year, reports Reuters, though people are fleeing the country to escape a crackdown against dissent by President Daniel Ortega, head of a government Washington has accused of civil rights abuses, corruption and holding sham elections.
Regional Relations
  • The United States revoked its designation of Colombia's FARC as a foreign terrorist organization, today. Removing the terrorist designation will make it easier for the United States to support the implementation of the 2016 peace accord between Colombia and the then-guerrilla group, said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (Reuters, see yesterday's briefs.)

  • U.S. officials say removing the former rebel group from the terrorist list five years after Colombia's historic peace accord allows it to focus on current terrorist groups, including FARC dissident groups that were designated terrorist organizations today. "“If a guerrilla group through an accord disarms and demobilizes and gets involved politically, that’s ultimately what you want to happen and what you want to encourage, and it sends a signal that these processes can produce an outcome that can lead toward peace," Juan S. González, the senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council, told the Associated Press.
  • Chile's parliament is set to approve a long-awaited bill to legalize same-sex marriage today. (AFP
  • The president of the U.N. Committee on Enforced Disappearances said there is an "almost total, structural" lack of punishment in Mexico for the crime of abducting and disappearing people. (Associated Press)

  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced the deployment of the National Guard to Zacatecas last week. But the move will do little to stem worsening cartel violence in the state, according to the Latin America Risk Report
  • Communities in Peru's Ayacucho region say they will resume protests against the mining sector if the Castillo administration breaches what they call a signed agreement to shutter mines, reports Reuters.

  • A team of experts has found a mummy estimated to be at least 800 years old in Peru, inside an underground structure found on the outskirts of Lima. (Reuters)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

Monday, November 29, 2021

Castro leads by 20 points in Honduras (Nov. 29, 2021)

 Xiomara Castro is strongly in the lead to become Honduras' next president, after an election day that was largely peaceful and orderly. Castro declared herself the winner last night, despite orders from the National Electoral Council to political parties to await official results, reports the Associated Press

As of this morning, Castro has a 20 point lead over second-place candidate Nasry Asufra, the National Party candidate who also declared himself victor last night. (La Prensa) With more than 1.8 million votes counted, Castro held a margin of more than 350,000 votes. A landslide win could be key in avoiding accusations of irregularities.

If Castro wins, it will be the first time in 12 years the country is not governed by the National Party -- since Castro's husband, former president Mel Zelaya, was ousted in a 2009 coup. Castro won the support of a broad swathe of Hondurans tired of corruption and the concentration of power that grew under the National Party, reports Reuters.

“We’re going to form a government of reconciliation, a government of peace and justice,” she said in a speech to cheering supporters last night. She also promised to work “hand in hand” with the private sector, and to enlist help from the UN to strengthen the fight against corruption. She has vowed to legalise abortion in some cases.

Today Castro said she wanted to open conversations with all sectors of society and international organizations to seek solutions for the Central American country.

Electoral authorities said turnout was more than 68 percent, a turnout 10 points above that in 2017. The chief of the Organization of American States’s electoral observation mission, Costa Rica’s former president Luis Guillermo Solís, called the vote “a beautiful example of citizen participation,” noting the high apparent turnout.

Many analysts concur that the elections represented a sort of "referendum." For the Guardian, it is a response to the "corruption that has allegedly permitted drug traffickers to infiltrate the government all the way to the top," while for Foreign Policy it is a referendum "on the chaos that has ensued since the 2009 coup." The three presidents who have governed since then, as well as local mayors, legislators, police and military commanders have been linked to drug trafficking in what U.S. prosecutors have described as a narco-state, reports the Guardian.

"The elections represent a chance to reinstate the rule of law after eight years of systematic dismantling of democratic institutions by the departing president," reports the New York Times.

For the U.S., migration is a major point of concern, and a lot of analysis has focused on whether the election results would increase flows of people seeking to enter the U.S. After the 2017 election, in which JOH won a second mandate in elections marred by irregularities and followed by massive protests and repression, migration to the U.S. spiked, and the caravan format became more common, reports Foreign Policy.

Yesterday's smooth elections are in marked contrast to the 2017 vote, notes Reuters. The peaceful voting was marred by the outages of the electoral council’s website, which was down for most of the day, breeding fraud conspiracies among the already suspicious population, reports the New York Times.

Though the results of congressional elections also held yesterday are not clear yet, there have been no preliminary results published, but the outcome will be significant for Honduras: The next congress will have the opportunity to reshape a troubled justice system by electing a new supreme court, attorney general and state auditors, all of whom will serve for terms that extend beyond a single election cycle. (Guardian)

If she wins, Castro could face a congress controlled by the opposition National Party, or could be forced to make alliances with other parties.

News Briefs

  • The latest Cadem poll in Chile put Gabriel Boric ahead of rival José Antonio Kast by 6 points -- 39 to 33 -- ahead of next month's second round presidential vote. The poll found that 38 percent of people who voted for third-way candidate Franco Parisis are now favoring Boric, 23 percent Kast, and 39 percent are undecided, reports EMOL. (See last Monday's post.)
  • The United States will revoke its designation of the FARC as a foreign terrorist organization tomorrow, while two breakaway groups -- La Segunda Marquetalia and FARC-EP --  would be designated as foreign terrorist organizations as such, the U.S. State Department announced on Friday. (Reuters, see last Wednesday's briefs.)

  • More than 100 people sustained eye injuries in a violent crackdown on mass protests this year by the Colombian security forces, notably the country’s anti-riot squad (ESMAD), according to a new report by Amnesty International. More than 80 people – mostly young student protesters – were killed and many others suffered serious injuries in clashes between protesters and security forces at demonstrations that started in late April and lasted over a month. (Al Jazeera)
  • Peruvian opposition lawmakers presented a motion to impeach President Pedro Castillo last Thursday. The petition, supported by Keiko Fujimori's Fuerza Popular party, cited “moral inability” to govern. It will need 52 votes from the 130-seat body to begin impeachment proceedings. A vote is not yet scheduled. A final vote to remove Castillo would eventually require 87 votes. (Al Jazeera)

  • A 7.5 magnitude earthquake shook the remote Amazon region of northern Peru yesterday. It destroyed 75 homes but no deaths were immediately reported. (Reuters)

  • Peru's federal public prosecutor's office opened an investigation into Ernesto Cabral, a journalist for the award-winning investigative outlet OjoPúblico, last month. The office alleges that Cabral, whose work exposed Peruvian prosecutors’ misconduct in the sprawling Car Wash probe, committed a crime by revealing the identity of a protected cooperating witness, a crime that could carry a six-year prison sentence. (The Intercept)

  • Peru's per capita death rate from COVID is now the worst in the world, twice the rate of the United States. A "perfect storm" of factors contributed to the pandemic's impact on the country, including Peru's dependence on imports, report NPR.
  • Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is poised for a dramatic comeback to politics. Blocked from his presidential bid in 2018 due to a controversial corruption sentence, judicial rulings returned his political rights, allowing him to "again make the case that he’s the only way forward for a nation grappling with rising hunger, poverty and a deepening political divide," reports the New York Times.

  • Physical violence against Indigenous communities in Brazil, fomented by the Bolsonaro administration, comes at a huge environmental cost in addition to the human toll, reports The New Republic.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has dismissed as “spies” members of a European Union electoral observation mission sent to observe last week’s regional polls, reports Al Jazeera. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Former Nicaraguan vice president Sergio Ramírez’s latest novel, Tongolele no sabía bailar "is a grim, wildly funny, surrealistic account of the grievous events of the spring of 2018, when student protests broke out in Managua and other cities around the country, and the repression served up by Ortega and Murillo left three hundred dead," writes Alma Guillermoprieto in the New York Review of Books. "The novel’s account of the events of May 2018 is accurate, but it is when Ramírez’s narrative invention runs wildest that his portrayal of Nicaragua under the thumb of the improbable Ortega-Murillo duumvirate is most truthful."
  • Barbados is set to become a republic tomorrow, the 55th anniversary of its independence from the United Kingdom. It is the first Commonwealth realm in nearly three decades to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, reports the Washington Post. The move from constitutional monarchy to republic enjoys broad support on the island, and gained momentum last year amid the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and growing demands for reparations for slavery on the island.
  • A stowaway hidden in the landing gear compartment of an American Airlines jet survived a flight from his home country of Guatemala to Miami, where he was turned over to U.S. immigration officials and taken to a hospital for evaluation, reports Reuters.
  • Argentine Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said approval of a potential debt renegotiation deal between Argentina and the IMF will depend on Congress. She appears to be distancing herself from the decision to approve the government’s proposal to reschedule payments for a loan amounting to more than US$40 billion, reports Bloomberg.

  • She made the statements in an open letter, her first statement since Argentina's governing coalition lost mid-term elections earlier this month, and emphasized that President Alberto Fernández is in command of the government. (Infobae)

  • Argentina’s judiciary has agreed to open a genocide case brought by Rohingya victims of atrocities committed by Myanmar’s military. The case was brought under universal jurisdiction, the principle under which exceptionally grave crimes can be tried anywhere. “We will be looking for concrete results in terms of accountability and punishment for those who participated directly and indirectly in the genocide,” Tomás Ojea Quintana, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, told the Financial Times.
     (See also Infobae and Nov. 19's briefs.)

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

Friday, November 26, 2021

Hondurans head to the polls (Nov. 26, 2021)

Hondurans head to the polls on Sunday to choose a new president, new lawmakers, new mayors and new city council members. A lot is riding on the outcome, but analysts warn that the results might be close and challenged, possibly leading a repeat of violently repressed post-electoral protests in 2017. (See Tuesday's post and Wednesday's.)

The winner-take-all competition for presidency on Sunday is between Xiomara Castro, who represents a broad coalition of leftist parties, and ruling party candidate Nasry Asufra. If Castro wins, she will upend Honduras' establishment parties' grip on the presidency, and will become the country's first female leader.

But "opinion polls point to tight races for both the presidency and Congress," warns a Crisis Group report, and "it is unclear whether the recently reformed electoral system will effectively ensure transparency or resolve disputes."

Castro rose to prominence in politics when her husband, former president Manuel Zelaya, was ousted by a military coup in 2009. Her campaign bid this year was boosted by the support of Salvador Nasralla, who nearly won the 2017 presidential election (current President Juan Orlando Hernández's reelection, which was tarnished by accusations of significant irregularities and post-election repression of protests) and backed Castro's bid in an effort to oust the ruling National Party. (Reuters)

Castro's promise to switch Honduras' diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China has provoked diplomatic jostling between Beijing and Washington, reports Reuters. An aide backtracked on a campaign platform promise to do so, this week after a visit from a high level U.S. state department official, and said Castro hasn't made a final decision on China. China’s Foreign Ministry accused the United States of “arm-twisting” in Honduras ahead of the vote.

“There’s a competition underway in the Americas for influence,” said Dan Restrepo, who was U.S. national security adviser for Latin America under former President Barack Obama.

More Honduras
  • The youth vote could prove particularly important in Sunday's election, reports El Heraldo.
News Briefs

  • Haitian Interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry named a new cabinet on Wednesday. Ministers will be tasked with assisting Haiti to adopt a new constitution and elect a new president, parliament and local mayors, said Henry, who obtained the country's leadership following a power struggle after the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. “With the installation of a new government, we are entering a decisive new stage in the interim period,” he said. (Miami Herald)

  • But the new list consists of only eight new changes in the 18-member cabinet, leaving some to speculate that two months after the signing of a political pact between Henry, political parties and other organizations, he still has not fully found a consensus on who should be in his interim government, reports the Miami Herald.

  • Key files in the Moïse murder investigation are missing, unknown individuals broke into the Court of First Instance of Port-au-Prince and carted away a heavy safe in the clerks’ vault, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Covid-19 cases are climbing back up in the Americas; there was a 23 percent spike in coronavirus cases across the region last week. Health leaders called for caution ahead of the holidays, and pointed to a surge in Europe as a potential "window into the future for the Americas." (Washington Post)

  • Tourism plays a big role in most of the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean, until it returns, their finances will suffer, warns the Economist's Bello column.
  • Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva received an exuberantly warm welcome from European leaders during a visit last week, who treated the likely presidential candidate "as if he were a leader in power," according to former foreign minister, Celso Amorim. “I think if they could vote, they would vote for Lula,” Amorim told the Guardian, and believes it is likely a desire for stable diplomatic relations in reaction to tension with the current Bolsonaro administration.
  • Carlos Arthur Nuzman, the head of the Brazilian Olympic Committee for more than two decades, has been sentenced to 30 years and 11 months in jail for allegedly buying votes for Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 Olympics, reports the Associated Press. Former Rio governor Sergio Cabral, the businessman Arthur Soares and Leonardo Gryner, who was the Rio 2016 committee director-general of operations, were also sentenced to jail in the case.
  • Chile's presidential and legislative elections last weekend will have a moderating effect on the ongoing Constitutional Convention, according to La Bot Constituyente. The incoming Congress, which will be fractured and evenly split between right and left-wing lawmakers, will be in charge of creating regulations based on the new constitution.

  • Should conservative José Anontio Kast win the presidency, the situation could be even more complicated for the new constitution, as the next president will be in charge of the transition to a new constitution and the implementation of its norms, according to La Bot Constituyente. Kast, who opposed efforts to rewrite the magna carta, said he would not hesitate to oppose approval of the new constitution in a plebiscite, if "the project is bad."

  • This week constitutional delegates held sessions in Bío Bío region, focused on how to implement plurinationality, a change with broad support in the convention, reports La Bot Constituyente.

  • The finalists in Chile's presidential election come from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum (see Monday's post) what they "have in common is that they reject the centrist consensus that has held sway since the dictatorship," reports the Economist.
  • Five years after Colombia signed a peace deal with the FARC, violence has gone way down in the country. But armed groups continue to cause havoc as they fight over former guerilla territories, and government bungling and political chaos encourage lawlessness, reports the Economist.

  • U.S. court found that Colombian paramilitaries operated in a “symbiotic relationship” with U.S.-funded Colombian security forces, a landmark ruling reports The Intercept.
  • Argentine cabinet officials said they would support Economy Minister Martín Guzmán's negotiations with the IMF, aimed at reaching a deal to restructure debt payments. (Ámbito)
  • Martha Izquierdo is an unlikely TikTok star: the 49-year-old journalist, survived sexual abuse, kidnapping, two bouts with cancer and two heart attacks, has taken the social media network with messages about positive attitude, reports the New York Times. "In a digital era where everything is photoshopped glamour, Ms. Izquierdo’s very ordinariness, whether exercising, driving to work or dancing to cumbia music in her backyard, has made her extraordinary."

  • Only about 10 vaquitas remain in the world -- scientists say the survival of Mexico's elusive porpoises depends on Mexico's government effectively limiting use of illegal gill nets that entangle the vaquitas and drown them, reports the New York Times.

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

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Aquatic gold rush in Amazon (Nov. 25, 2021)

News Briefs

  • Environmentalists are demanding urgent action to halt an aquatic gold rush along one of the Amazon River’s largest tributaries, reports the Guardian. Hundreds of illegal goldmining dredges have converged on the Madeira river after rumours earlier this month that a large gold deposit had been found in the vicinity. Footage of the brazen illegal operation has provoked outrage, and shows the expansion of illegal extraction in Brazil. 

  • Brazil has lost nearly 16% of its surface water in the past 30 years - and scientists warn rising rates of deforestation will further affect power generation and food production. Climate change is already cutting into the volume and variety of crops Brazil's farmers can grow, and has affected the double-cropping system the country relies on to maintain its status as a major soy and corn exporter, reports Reuters.

  • Two giant U.S. commodity traders bought soybeans in Brazil from farmers trying to evict a traditional community from South America's largest savanna, where deforestation is hastening global warming, according to Global Witness. (Reuters)

  • Eight bodies were found in a mangrove swamp near Rio de Janeiro on Monday, with signs of torture. (See yesterday's briefs.) The apparent massacre occurred during a Military Police special forces operation Sunday, likely in retaliation for the death of a policeman on a patrol the day before. Public security specialists in Brazil have noted the revenge factor for years, reports Folha de S. Paulo. One study found that when a police officer is killed on the job, the chances of a civilian being killed by police on the same day by 1,150 percent. The odds increase 350 percent on the next day, and a 125 percent in the following week.
El Salvador
  • Apple alerted over two-dozen reporters, activists, and political opposition leaders in El Salvador this week of potential government surveillance of their iPhones. The U.S. tech giant sent warnings to 14 El Faro staff members warning that “state-sponsored attackers may be targeting your iPhone.”

  • That same day, Apple sued private Israeli spyware contractor NSO Group for helping governments conduct illegal espionage. In recent years, independent investigations found evidence that the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, among others, are NSO clients. (El Faro)
  • The Venezuelan government's sweep in Sunday's regional elections leaves the country's fragmented opposition with difficult choices moving forward, reports the Financial Times. Juan Guaidó's mandate as National Assembly head ends in January, and most countries will no longer view him as Venezuela's interim president. And negotiations in Mexico between Maduro's government and some opposition representatives have stalled after the U.S. obtained the extradition of a Colombian businessman accused of collaborating with Maduro to steal public funds.
  • Record numbers of Venezuelan migrants have been crossing into the United States in recent months, posing a new border challenge for the U.S. Biden administration, reports the Washington Post. The new migration pattern is different from previous waves of Venezuelan arrivals because it is occurring along the U.S. southern border and includes a large share of migrants who left their country years ago.

  • Mexican authorities say a group of hundreds of mainly Haitian and Central American migrants who had started walking north earlier this month have agreed to be separated and taken by bus to several cities to apply for humanitarian visas. The caravan set out from Tapachula, where many say they can't find work while enduring long delays in granting visas, reports the Associated Press.

  • Mexican officials say an agreement with the U.S. to restart Remain in Mexico likely won't be reached this week, despite earlier reports that the program officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) could restart as soon as next week. Mexico is insisting Washington provide more support against COVID-19 for migrants, such as vaccinations, more legal aid for asylum seekers, and acceleration of hearings for those taking part in the returns program, reports Reuters.
  • Since the 2009 coup, Honduran elections have been marred by allegations of fraud and political violence, notes El Faro, ahead of Sunday's presidential vote. More than 70 percent of Hondurans surveyed in a CESPAD poll said they believed there will be some level of fraud in these elections. (See Tuesday's post and yesterday's.)
  • Three women who have spent years investigating the cases of Mexico's approximately 93,000 “disappeared” found out that they themselves had been placed under investigation by prosecutors. This week journalist Marcela Turati, lawyer Ana Lorena Delgadillo, and Mercedes Doretti, the co-founder of a forensic investigation team, said the investigation against them posed a threat to the rights of victims to be represented and to find out the truth, reports the Associated Press.

  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador nominated Deputy Finance Minister Victoria Rodríguez as the next governor of the Bank of Mexico. The move sparked a sharp depreciation of the peso. Investors and analysts expressed concerns about whether she was sufficiently qualified for the post, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Many Latin American economies bounced back strongly this year. Still, 2022 is likely to provide a reality check, Goldman Sachs economist Alberto Ramos said in this week's AQ Podcast. "The outcome will have consequences for elections in Brazil and Colombia, as well as social stability everywhere."

  • The coronavirus pandemic has made women feel more vulnerable to abuse, sexual harassment and violence, which is in turn harming their mental health and emotional well-being, according to a new report by U.N. Women. Countries surveyed included Colombia and Paraguay. (New York Times)
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Hondura heads to tense, high-stakes election (Nov. 24, 2021)

Hondurans head to the polls on Sunday in a country where democracy is a guise, writes CESPAD head Gustavo Irías in Newsweek. (See yesterday's post.) It "may be Honduras’s most consequential election since the country’s return to democracy in 1982," according to the Guardian

But, while the presidential vote is a chance to restore democracy, "there is concern about recent fear tactics intended to intimidate voters. More than 30 people were murdered this year alone for political reasons, including four political leaders," writes Irías.

Polls favor Xiomara Castro, who is heading a broad opposition coalition aimed at ousting the National Party that has ruled the country since her husband, former president Mel Zelaya, was ousted in a 2009 coup. It is a winner takes all election, if results are close, there could be a repetition of violently repressed protests that followed the 2017 presidential election in which President Juan Orlando Hernádez was declared the winner despite serious allegations of irregularities. (See yesterday's post.)

Former Partido Liberal candidate Luis Zelaya urged supporters not to vote for his party's candidate -- Yani Rosenthal, who recently completed a prison sentence in the U.S. for money laundering -- and instead support Castro. He specifically suggested that people vote for candidates who can govern "without links to the drug trafficking and corruption that has done so much damage to the country." (El Heraldo)

"Hondurans’ enthusiasm about this election—and democracy—are low," notes an AS/COA explainer out this week.

More Honduras
  • Rosenthal said if he becomes president he would be open to extraditing the current leader to the U.S., where he was cited as co-conspirator in various drug trafficking trials. (CNN)

  • Hernández could be shielded from extradition if his National Party wins, or by taking shelter in one of the Zones for Employment and Economic Development (a kind of private city) his government has fostered, explains a Crisis Group report.

Argentina newspaper attacked

A group of hooded attackers threw eight Molotov cocktails at the entrance of Argentina's largest media conglomerate, Grupo Clarín, on Monday evening. No people were injured, nor was the building significantly damaged in the attack, which was repudiated by all of Argentina's leading political figures. (ClarínInfobaePágina 12)

The attack against a major newspaper with a track record of conflict with the governing Frente de Todos coalition -- particularly vice president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whose government spearheaded an anti-monopoly media law that directly impacted Clarín -- caused concern, though nobody has claimed authorship. President Alberto Fernández condemned the attack, and said that "violence always alters democratic coexistence." The Kirchnerist Campora political movement also condemned the attack and the promotion of "hate speech," a message retweeted by Fernández de Kirchner. (Infobae)

The case is under investigation under the crime of "public intimidation." Perfíl reports that one hypothesis links the attack to the killing last week of a young footballer, Lucas González, who was shot by plainclothes police in a case that has sparked outrage and questions regarding Buenos Aires city police violence. Clarín had reported on the modus operandi of plainclothes officers with the city force that regularly harass residents in poor neighborhoods. This week an opposition lawmaker elect, Leandro Santoro, requested a judicial investigation into a possible illicit association between police and Buenos Aires city officials.

La Nación said investigators hypothesize a link to anarchist groups, and mentions an attack in August against a gendarmerie building in relation to a protest against previous episodes of alleged security force involvement in the disappearances of Santiago Maldonado and Facundo Astudillo.

More Argentina
  • A Mapuche Indigenous man, Elías Garay, was killed and another gravely injured in a clash related to Quemquemtreu community protests over land, this weekend. The shots were fired by two men in civilian clothing, though some in the community say there was involvement by local police. There have been rising tensions in relation to Mapuche Indigenous land claims and territorial occupations in Argentina's Rio Negro province, in recent months. (La NaciónLa NaciónPágina 12)
News Briefs

El Salvador
  • Prosecutors raided the offices of seven charities and groups in El Salvador, a move rights activists say is meant to intimidate them and forms part of a broader crackdown by the Bukele administration against civil society. Officials said the raids, which took place at the offices of charities working on education, human rights and women’s rights on Monday, were part of an inquiry into the embezzlement of public funds, reports the Guardian

  • The raids on Monday came as the country’s Legislative Assembly ​​considered a bill that would require any groups or individuals who receive funding from abroad to register with the Interior Ministry as foreign agents, reports the New York Times. The bill would impose a 40 percent tax on foreign donations for these groups, which could silence critical voices like El Faro. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The U.S. is expected to remove the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) from its international terrorist list. The move comes five years after the guerrilla group demobilized, after a peace accord with the Colombian government, and formed a political party. The announcement is expected to bolster the struggling peace process, reports the Guardian.

  • The U.S. designation of the FARC as a Foreign Terrorist organization has complicated the implementation of the peace accord. U.S. officials have been prohibited from funding programs aimed at advancing any accords in which former combatants participate or benefit. The U.S. will issue new designations for at least one of the splinter groups that have broken with the FARC and still consider themselves at war with the government, reports the Washington Post.
  • United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is visiting Colombia ahead of the peace deal's fifth anniversary this week. He visited Llano Grande, the site of a reintegration centre for former members of the FARC, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Venezuela’s regional elections on Sunday were distorted by an uneven playing field, violence and injunctions against opposition leaders, European Union election observers said, though they noted they were conducted under the best conditions in years. The leader of the European Union observation mission, Isabel Santos, said she could not say whether it was free and fair. But asked if the results of the election were “technically” reliable, Santos replied that based on “the voting system, the conclusion of everything we’ve studied … yes.” (Washington PostNew York Times, see Monday's post.)
  • Chile's lower chamber of Congress approved a measure to legalize marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. The bill already has Senate approval, and now awaits only final modifications related to the rights of same sex couples. President Sebastián Piñera has indicated he will publish it into law, reports the Associated Press.

  • Chile's presidential election on Sunday showcased a culture war with similar themes to those that took Trump to the White House, writes Anthony Faiola in the Washington Post. (See Monday's post, and yesterday's briefs.)

  • The results of the congressional elections are comparatively much more moderate than the presidential vote on Sunday, according to the Latin America Risk Report. The center right and center left coalitions (Chile Podemos and Nuevo Pacto Social) performed the strongest overall, far better than the coalitions for Kast or Boric. Both houses of congress are split relatively evenly between parties on the left and right.

  • A Chilean court increased the prison sentence for six former soldiers convicted in one of the most notorious killings by the former military dictatorship — the kidnapping, torture and murder of folk singer Víctor Jara— as well as that of a government official, reports the Associated Press.
  • Guatemala has decreed a state of emergency in El Estor, an eastern town of mainly Indigenous people in conflict with a Swiss-owned nickel mine they accuse of polluting their lake. (AFP, see Oct. 29's briefs.)
  • Peruvian prosecutors found $20,000 stashed in a bathroom inside the presidential palace. Bruno Pacheco, who resigned from his post as President Pedro Castillo's chief of staff on Friday, told investigators that the money was his but denied any wrongdoing. (BBC)
  • A Mexican government measure to expedite infrastructure projects will undermine the public tender process, according to critics. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador defended the move, which he said aims to streamline bureaucracy. (Reuters)
  • Supporters of Bolivian President Luis Arce set out on a march to La Paz that is meant as a show of strength in the face of recent opposition protests, reports EFE.
  • There's been a lot of media coverage of China's pandemic medical diplomacy in Latin America, but the press has "oversold its impact compared to the United States and obscured varying levels of support between countries," writes Christopher Kambhu at the Aula Blog. In fact, Washington has provided more regional assistance than Beijing.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Fraught elections coming up in Honduras (Nov. 23, 2021)

Hondurans vote in general elections next Sunday in a climate marked by uncertainty and volatility generated by political violence, and strong links between some candidates and corruption or organized crime. Citizens will choose the next president, but also a new Congress that will have significant impact on key upcoming judicial appointments (Supreme Court seats and attorney general), as well as the potential to launch an internationally backed international anti-corruption commission, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Candidates closed their campaigns on Sunday in boisterous rallies, reports Reuters. Xiomara Castro, of the leftist opposition Libre Party, is ahead in polls, against ruling National Party's Nasry Asfura. Castro is running on an anti-corruption platform, while also favoring a partial legalization of abortion and a diplomatic opening to China.

Honduras "risks repeating the destabilising protests that followed its disputed 2017 elections," warns the Crisis Group. President Juan Orlando Hernández is reportedly looking into ways to protect himself from possible prosecution in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges. He and the ruling National Party thus have a huge stake in polls. 

"New electoral bodies appear ill prepared to deal with disputes in what could be a tight contest. To reduce risks of post-election unrest, the main parties’ representatives on those bodies should take decisions by consensus, if at all possible. Political leaders should pledge to respect the outcome, look to institutions to address challenges to results and keep protests by supporters peaceful," recommends the report.

Brian Nichols, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, arrived in Honduras on Sunday and met with a local elections watchdog prior to holding talks with election officials yesterday, a fresh sign of American interest in the vote, according to Reuters.

News Briefs

El Salvador
  • Interim U.S. ambassador to El Salvador Jean Manes will leave her post this week. She cited the Bukele administration’s lack of interest in crossing “a bridge” of dialogue, as well as El Salvador’s refusal to extradite senior MS-13 leaders wanted on terrorism charges and concerns about a proposed foreign agents law. “When El Salvador wants to converse, our door will be open," Manes said yesterday. (El Faro)

  • The departure of Jean Manes, who was once seen as a potential bridge to better relations, appears to emphasize the deteriorating ties between the two countries as Bukele gathers increasing power, reports the Associated Press.

  • El Salvador's lawmakers have postponed voting on the controversial foreign agents law that would require non-profit organizations and independent media who “are directly or indirectly funded by a foreigner” to register as foreign agents, submit to government inspections, and pay 40 percent tax on all foreign income. (El Faro)

  • International investors are skeptical of El Salvador's new plan to finance a "bitcoin city" with a cryptocurrency bond, saying the scheme could push the country further from access to traditional debt markets, reports the Financial Times. Experts said the new bitcoin bond offering might struggle to attract investors, especially because it appears to pay interest at a lower rate than the country’s conventional dollar-denominated bonds, reports Coindesk.
  • Two of the 17 foreign missionaries kidnapped last month in Haiti were freed -- the rest of the group remains in the hands of one of the country's most feared gangs, reports the New York Times. The Miami Herald reports that no ransom was paid and the hostages are two adults who were freed because of illness. The leader of 400 Mawozo gang has threatened to kill the hostages unless the gang’s demands are met, notes the Associated Press.
  • Nicaraguan authorities detained the country's former ambassador to the Organization of American States, Edgar Parrales, on Monday. The 79-year-old was a vocal critic of the Ortega regime, and shouted to his wife that he was being taken against his will by civilians, reports Confidencial.

  • The Nicaraguan government announced it will begin the two-year process of breaking ties with the OAS, on Friday. Cuba and Venezuela are the only other non-member countries in the hemisphere. Nicaragua’s exit comes at a moment when the OAS has been “strongly criticized for partiality and ineffectiveness in guaranteeing democratic stability in the region,” Salvadoran human rights advocate Celia Medrano told El Faro.

  • President "Daniel Ortega has succeeded in completely isolating Nicaragua," Chilean senator and former OAS secretary general José Miguel Insulza told Confidencial

  • Confidencial turns 25, with its offices occupied by the police twice, and with a staff in exile, doing journalism in resistance. Carlos F. Chamorro tells the story of the magazine.
  • Chile's presidential election results are confusing for outsiders: ultra conservative José Antonio Kast, a proponent of order and security, came in first -- only a year after voters chose to rewrite the country's constitution and elected a slate of independent and leftist delegates to do so. "There is no confusion or repentance," argues Patricio Navia in Americas Quarterly. (See yesterday's post.)

  • Most Chileans want "pragmatic and moderate change in social policies and economic inclusion, but they do not want to throw out the baby with the bathwater," he writes. "While people want a new constitution that will give them more social rights, they also want to maintain many aspects of the economic model that has brought that country so much prosperity over the past three decades. Chileans want the new constitution to entrench more social rights, but they also want a law-and-order government. The presidency will likely go to whomever is best able to articulate that balance." (See yesterday's post.)
  • "The Brazilian government’s apparent decision to hide data showing a massive 22% increase in Amazon deforestation until after the COP climate summit in Scotland ended is a major development, one that will permanently change how the international community deals with President Jair Bolsonaro," argues Americas Quarterly editor-in-chief Brian Winter. (See Friday's briefs.)

  • At least eight bodies, including some showing signs of torture, have been found in a mangrove swamp outside of Rio de Janeiro. Residents said they expect more bodies will turn up following an “intense” gun battle in the community involving police, reports Al Jazeera.

  • Brazilian Amazon deforestation is tied to growing agriculture in recent decades, and has accelerated in recent years, driven in part by international investors, reports The Intercept.

  • Brazilian coffee co-op monteCCer received a price premium in its first sale of a batch of carbon-neutral arabica coffee that was nearly double what an equivalent product certified as sustainable but not carbon-neutral would obtain, reports Reuters.
  • Colombia’s long-running failure to define who owns what land, and to record the limits of protected areas is a driver of conflict in the country's Amazon. In the peace accord with the FARC the government agreed to distribute land titles, in part to prevent such disputes. But delays in fulfilling that promise are pitting vulnerable populations against each other, reports the Washington Post.

  • Local community leaders have provided the last line of defense against the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, write Blanca Lucía Echeverry and Andrew Miller in a New York Times essay. But President Iván Duque "has done little to protect them" from attacks and threats against their lives.
  • Deforestation doesn't only impact climate change, it also makes viruses more likely to spread among humans. Some experts say a lethal virus originating in the Amazon rainforest, linked to its high rate of deforestation, is only a matter of time, reports Foreign Policy's Latin America Brief.
  • Ecuador's longnose harlequin frog is about to play a central role in a legal battle to stop a mining project in the Intag valley in Imbabura province, which campaigners say would be a disaster for the highly biodiverse cloud forests, reports the Guardian.
  • Armed Paraguayan security forces faced off against Indigenous villagers in the country's latest clash over land rights. Police in riot gear tore down a Hugua Po’i community's homes and ripped up crops, in an eviction of land which is claimed by a Mennonite soybean farmer, reports the Guardian. It is part of a wave of rural evictions this year in Paraguay, which has one of the highest inequalities of land ownership in the world.

  • A new history of the 19th-century War of the Triple Alliance makes the case that Britain did plot to overthrow Paraguayan ruler Francisco Solano López, reports the Guardian
  • Anti-vaccine mandate protests in Guadeloupe turned violent over the past week, fueled by long standing social and economic frustrations in the French territory over inequality with the mainland, reports the New York Times. Protesters burned cars, looted businesses and clashed with riot police officers, who responded with tear gas. More than 30 people have been detained, and French President Emmanuel Macron appealed for calm and order.
  • The UK metals company Hochschild Mining promised to fight the Peruvian government's plans to hasten the closure of several mines in the southern Ayacucho region because of concerns over their environmental impact. (Guardian)
  • The gunning down of a young footballer in Buenos Aires has sparked outrage and renewed debate over crime, insecurity and trigger-happy policing in Argentina, reports the Buenos Aires Times. (See Friday's briefs.)

  • Nine officers were charged in a separate case of a person who died in custody in a Buenos Aires province police station. (Infobae)

  • Clarín reports how plainclothes police regularly harass residents of Buenos Aires poor neighborhoods. 

  • A photography project about long hair by Irina Werning morphed into La Promesa, a series that portrays Argentina's education crisis and the inequality gap exposed by the pandemic through the story of Antonella Bordon. -- The Guardian

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