Thursday, March 31, 2022

Differing views on LatAm and Russia (March 31, 2022)

Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues to raise questions over how Latin American countries will position themselves on the newly volatile global geopolitical map -- with varied interpretations from analysts who diverge on the relevance of Russian influence in the region and how Latin American governments could ally themselves in a standoff.

The U.S. government remains vigilant to the movements of Russia and China: last week, during a hearing before the U.S. Senate, General Laura J. Richardson, commander of U.S. Southern Command, warned about the “aggressive expansion” of both countries in the region. (Voice of America)

Latin American government's have been lukewarm in their criticisms of Russia, according to Andrea Moncada, who argues the stance reflects Russia’s growing influence in the region. A new “Pink Tide” will only make it more difficult for the U.S. and the West to counter Russia’s inroads in the region, she warns in Americas Quarterly.

Such fears have proven to be unfounded, more than a month into the war, counters Benjamin Gedan in World Politics Review, pointing to region-wide condemnation of Russia at the U.N. General Assembly. "Indeed, if anything, Latin America’s response to Putin’s brutality reinforced shared hemispheric values with the United States, suggesting that the United States still has ample diplomatic opportunities in this region."

Most countries in Latin America backed the March 24 U.N. resolution condemning Russia's violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. During the debate last week, Mexico’s delegate said his country and France introduced a humanitarian resolution in the Security Council, while Ecuador and Costa Rica drew attention to the plight of refugees and the broad humanitarian repercussions of the conflict, including famine and food insecurity. (United Nations)

It's not just Russia that some U.S. officials consider a threat: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said the real strategic threat is posed by China, and will co-chair a hearing today with U.S. officials and experts to discuss China’s deal making and diplomacy in the region. (Associated Press)

News Briefs 

  • Paris climate agreement goals will fail unless the rights of Indigenous people who protect rainforests are honoured, according to a new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Climate Focus. Forest lands stewarded by Indigenous people and communities in countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru sequester about twice as much carbon as other lands. (Guardian)
  • Four Yanomami Indigenous men were killed by Venezuelan soldiers earlier this month in what was apparently a dispute over a shared WiFi router password. The incident reveals the Venezuelan state’s lack of understanding when dealing with Indigenous cultures in a military-controlled territory that is rife with illegal mining, reports the Washington Post.
  • Among pregnant and puerperal people affected by Covid-19 in Brazil, a disproportionate number have been Black, according to a new report in Gênero e Número.
El Salvador
  • Judges in El Salvador say they have been locked out of the online penal information system, which means they cannot immediately access information about detainees and their whereabouts -- of particular concern in the midst of mass arrests carried out under a state of emergency this week, reports El Faro. (See Monday's postTuesday's and yesterday's.)
  • Daily extortion fees have turned into a fixed operating cost for restaurants in Mexico's Quintana Roo restaurants, reports InSight Crime.
  • The frequency and size of cocaine seizures off the coast of Colombia’s San Andres island suggest that the Caribbean drug trafficking route remains a preferred option for Colombian traffickers, despite a heavy law enforcement presence, reports InSight Crime.
  • Marijuana plantations in central Chile reveal the country is no longer just a major destination point for cannabis but a producer as well. Large scale marijuana cultivation in Chile points toward domestic production becoming an alternative to importing cannabis to feed the country's lucrative local market, reports InSight Crime.
  • "The Murders of Moisés Ville: The Rise and Fall of the Jerusalem of South America," by journalist Javier Sinay tells the story of an Argentine Jewish immigrant settlement in the 1920s and 1930s. (NBC)

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Haitians protest insecurity (March 30, 2022)

Thousands of Haitians took to the streets yesterday to denounce crime, inflation, and political paralysis in the largest episode of unrest since President Jovenel Moïse's assasination last year. Demonstrators protested against rising insecurity and called for an end to kidnappings

The Port-au-Prince demonstration was largely peaceful, but one person died after being shot by police in Les Cayes, reports EFE.

Domestic and charter airline operators temporarily halted local flight service in Haiti after protesters in Les Cayes tore apart and then burned a plane used by a Florida-based charity, reports the Miami Herald.


El Salvador's gang crackdown criticized by rights groups, families

Security forces intensified operations against El Salvador’s street gangs yesterday with mass arrests, the cordoning off of neighborhoods and house-by-house searches under a state of emergency, reports the Associated Press. Family members have denounced arbitrarities in the detention of alleged gang members, and say relatives were wrongfully arrested, reports El Diario de Hoy.

The state of emergency measure has raised concerns that it could enable human rights abuses, but President Nayib Bukele has doubled down, and yesterday said that he had asked lawmakers to give him more legal tools to take on gangs. (See yesterday's post and Monday's.)

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the government should confront gang violence, but while respecting rights. “Instead of protecting Salvadorans, this broad state of emergency is a recipe for disaster that puts their rights at risk,” the organization said. And the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned measures that keep incarcerated gang members inside their cells 24 hours a day and reduce their food to two meals a day. (See yesterday's post and Monday's.)

News Briefs

  • Mexico’s armed forces knew that 43 student teachers from Ayotzinapa who disappeared in 2014 were being kidnapped by criminals, then hid evidence that could have helped locate them, according to a report by independent international experts released on Monday, reports the Guardian.

  • The group of independent experts (GIEI) appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights  found evidence that authorities withheld or falsified evidence from the start of the search. (See yesterday's post.)
  • The number of people crossing the Darien Gap, one of the most dangerous and impassable regions of Latin America, has almost tripled compared to the same period last year, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said, yesterday. The total number of people crossing the lawless stretch of mountainous jungle between Colombia and Panama went from 2,928 in the first two months of 2021 to 8,456 in the same period of 2022. (Reuters)
Regional Relations
  • U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will host Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness at the White House today as part of an effort to improve the United States’ relationship with Caribbean nations, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Cuba’s government is seeking to rally support for a new family code that would open the door to gay marriage and boost women’s rights. But support among the population is tepid, and an an upcoming referendum vote may not back the government's reform plans, reports Reuters.
  • Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou and Peruvian President Pedro Castillo both obtained narrow political victories this week -- the first in a referendum on Sunday (see Monday's briefs) and the second in an impeachment motion on Monday (see yesterday's briefs and Monday's). James Bosworth analyzes shared lessons that can be gleaned from both cases. (Latin America Risk Report)
  • A Guatemalan court sentenced eight people to long prison sentences for the 2019 murder of three soldiers in an indigenous community after the soldiers arrived to investigate drug trafficking, reports Reuters.

  • A trove of internal documents related to the Fenix mine in Guatemala reveals bribery, pollution, and troubling efforts to repress dissent, reports The Intercept. Subsidiaries of the international company that owns Fenix failed to report pollution and used a host of troubling methods to exert influence over local politics and repress dissent, according to an investigation by international media companies.
  • Victims of Bolivia's dictatorships are aging -- most are now in their 70s and 80s -- but they seem no closer to obtaining justice for human rights crimes committed between 1964 and 1982, reports the Guardian.
  • Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso said on Tuesday he would implement economic policies by decrees, referendums and other tools in response to lawmakers' rejection of his proposals. The national assembly last week voted down an investment bill which Lasso’s opponents decried as privatization of public assets, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico’s Supreme Court dealt a sharp rebuff to the country’s attorney general, ruling that his efforts to lock up his in-laws were unconstitutional. (Associated Press)
  • Colombia's environmental regulator gave the green light for state-run oil company Ecopetrol to advance with an exploratory pilot project using hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - despite resistance from environmentalists, reports Reuters.
  • Brazilian Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said that a privatisation of oil giant Petrobras was not on the agenda after the government said it would appoint a market-friendly consultant as new chief executive, reports Reuters.
  • If you ever enjoyed any classic sci-fi lit (not that I ever spent recesses devouring Asimov), you'll like reading about these domes in Argentina's La Rioja province that will simulate conditions on Mars for future space missions -- Primera Mañana.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Mass arrests in El Salvador (March 29, 2022)

El Salvador's government said it arrested more than 1,000 alleged gang members in response to a sudden surge in homicides, after 87 people were killed between Friday and Sunday. Authorities said soldiers and police had raided gang strongholds around San Salvador, and that food for gang inmates at Salvadoran prisons would be reduced to two meals per day, apparently to stretch current food supplies to feed the new detainees as well, reports the Associated Press.

But it's not clear the government's response will do anything to reduce violence, and its heavy handed policies have raised questions about whether the government is leveraging the situation to consolidate power even more. “The suspension of certain constitutional rights in El Salvador opens the door to all kinds of abuses,” Human Rights Watch's Juan Pappier told El Diario de Hoy.

The pro-government Legislative Assembly enacted a 30-day state of exception on Sunday that suspends the right to association and legal defense, increases the period of detention without cause from 72 hours to 15 days, and allows the government to intercept communications without a warrant, reports El Faro. (See yesterday's post.)

The state of emergency has raised questions about the measure's constitutionality, and its usefulness in combating gang violence -- particularly given the Bukele administration's already worrisome authoritarian slide, according to many commentators. Human rights groups have pointed out that the restrictions do not enhance police capacity to rein in the violence. And constitutional experts warn that the restrictions infringe on critical due process rights such as habeas corpus, which cannot be suspended. (El FaroEl FaroEl Diario de Hoy, New York Times)

“There is no great evidence that there is a connection between many of the detained people and the murders on Saturday,” said the International Crisis Group's Tiziano Breda told the New York Times.

Bukele posted a video showing guards with billy clubs roughly forcing inmates to walk, run and even descend stairs with their arms held behind their necks or backs. (Associated Press) The president responded dismissively to human rights concerns:  “And if the ‘international community’ is worried about their little angels, come and bring them food, because I will not take funding away from schools to feed these terrorists.” (El Diario de Hoy)

While the state of exception does not restrain freedom of movement, security forces clamped down on movement in gang strongholds. The police and military prevented residents from leaving the community after returning home. (El Faro, El Diario de Hoy)

The spate of killings adds to evidence of President Nayib Bukele's secret gang negotiations -- and points to an, as-yet-unknown -- demand from gangs that the government did not meet, argues El Faro in an editorial. Media reports and U.S. officials have accused the administration of negotiating a secret deal with gang leadership, exchanging financial incentives to the gangs and preferential treatment for gang leaders in prison for reductions in violence. (See posts for Dec. 9, 2021 and Sept. 4, 2020.) 

This weekend's killing spree seemed to be pressure to renegotiate the terms of the purported arrangement, reports the New York Times

El Salvador's gangs now appear to favor short bursts of indiscriminate violence, which typically occur when there is a rupture in negotiations between the government and the gangs, with the gangs using bodies as bargaining chips, explains InSight Crime. This weekend's record-killing spree comes just months after a rampage left a trail of 46 bodies in a 72-hour period in November 2021. Another sudden spike in murders in April 2020, when dozens were killed, was the first sign of major gang unrest during Bukele's time in office.


GIEI says Mexican military planted Ayotzinapa evidence

A group of international experts says the Mexican government falsified its investigations into the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa. They released video footage that appears to show the military planting evidence at the scene where authorities later said the students were killed. The group said the Mexican government, from the start, withheld or falsified evidence as it probed what happened to the students, who vanished after they were detained by local police in Iguala in the southern state of Guerrero. (Al Jazeera, Aristegui Noticias)

The evidence was shared yesterday by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), which showed a video in which members of Mexico's Navy appear to be actively manipulating evidence at a waste dump where bodies of the victims were said to have been incinerated. (EFE)

It was part of the third report the independent group of experts presented, yesterday. “We knew there was the participation of the Defense Secretariat (Sedena) and the Navy Secretariat (Semar), above all in the arrests (of suspects), but we were unaware of the content of this video,” Claudia Paz, a GIEI member, said at a press conference.

The group also said a military intelligence operation in the days leading up to the disappearance indicates likely infiltration of the student group by intelligence officers, reports La Jornada.

More Mexico
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador brushed off comments by a senior U.S. military official who said there are more Russian spies in Mexico than anywhere else in the world. (Associated Press)
News Briefs

  • Honduras' Supreme Court unanimously ratified the United States' extradition request for former president Juan Orlando Hernández, yesterday. The decision sets the stage for what could become the highest profile drug trafficking case in New York since the trial of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, reports the New York Times. Sporadic fireworks went off in different parts of Tegucigalpa as some residents celebrated the decision.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Castillo survived an impeachment motion in Congress, yesterday. Fifty-five lawmakers voted in favor of his ouster, 54 against and 19 abstained. The impeachment motion needed 87 votes in favor to pass, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Colombian vice presidential candidate Francia Márquez denounced having received death threats and called on President Iván Duque to guarantee her safety. “Slander and racist demonstrations were not enough. In less than a month, they have threatened me with death twice,” Márquez Tweeted, with photos linking the Black Eagles paramilitary organization to the threats. (Telesur)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro launched his re-election campaign on Sunday, telling thousands of cheering supporters that opinion polls were wrong and he is sure to win this year’s election -- despite months of polls to the contrary. (AFP)
  • A Russian oil company used to provide a workaround to U.S. oil trading sanctions on Venezuela is attempting to avoid another set of sanctions, in relation to the Russian aggression against Ukraine, reports Reuters.
  • A Bolivian court decided to suspend the start of the oral trial against former de facto president,Jeanine Áñez until next week. (Telesur)
  • Disney's Encanto won the Oscar for best animated film on Sunday. It was a moment of pride for many Colombians who revelled in the positive portrayal of the country's culture and references to magical realism. The movie bravely confronts Colombia's history of violence and forced displacement, themes that reverberated intensely in the country, notes the Guardian.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

Monday, March 28, 2022

El Salvador declares state of emergency (March 28, 2022)

El Salvador's National Assembly declared a state of emergency yesterday, following a gang killing spree that killed 62 people on Saturday. The killings mark the highest daily toll of homicides so far this century, and threaten to tarnish President Nayib Bukele's claims of successfully reducing the country's rates of violence. (El Faro)

Fourteen people were killed on Friday, in addition to the killings on Saturday. By comparison, there were 79 homicides in the entire month of February. The National Police reported they had captured five leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13, who they claimed ordered the weekend killings. (Associated Press)
The measures passed yesterday are valid for 30 days, and suspend some civil liberties guaranteed in the constitution, loosening conditions for arrest, restricting free assembly and allowing the government to intercept the communications of citizens. It is the first time such a measure has been passed in response to violence since the 1992 Peace Accords ended El Salvador's civil war, and the only similar precedent is a pandemic-era measure passed by the Bukele administration in 2020, reports El Faro

Bukele requested the state of emergency on Saturday, accusing the measures' opponents of supporting the country's notorious street gangs. The government has locked down prisons and no inmates are allowed to leave their cells in keeping with the state of emergency.

Bukele's success in combating gang violence has been questioned -- media reports and U.S. officials have accused the administration of negotiating a secret deal with gang leadership, exchanging financial incentives to the gangs and preferential treatment for gang leaders in prison for reductions in violence. (See posts for Dec. 9, 2021 and Sept. 4, 2020.) Bukele vehemently denied the accusation when it was reported in August 2020 by the local news site El Faro.

The killing spree on Saturday, in which alleged gang members randomly opened fire on street vendors, bus passengers and market goers, could be a pressure tactic by the gangs to renegotiate the terms of the purported deal, reports the New York Times.

News Briefs
  • Uruguayans voted to maintain a raft of reforms passed by President Luis Lacalle Pou's government in 2020, including controversial security measures such as lengthening prison sentences and granting the government greater power to dismantle protests. A slight majority of voters, 49.86 percent, favored maintaining the reforms, known collectively as the LUC, versus 48.82 percent who sought to overturn the changes. Blank votes favored the "no" vote, and pushed that total up to 51.68 percent, reports Uruguay's El País. (See also this AS/COA explainer from last week, and last Monday's post.)
  • Fighting between armed groups on the Colombia-Venezuela border has caused a dramatic increase in violence in the early months of 2022 causing thousands to flee, reports Human Rights Watch. Guerrilla fighters have committed a range of abuses including killings, forced recruitment, including of children, and forced displacement. Members of Venezuelan security forces have conducted joint operations with ELN fighters and been complicit in their abuses.

  • Human Rights Watch has received credible allegations about multiple killings of civilians by armed groups in Arauca and Apure. In most cases, armed groups accused them of supporting an opposing group, a common practice by armed actors in Colombia for decades.

  • “Armed groups are committing brutal abuses against civilians in the Colombia-Venezuela border area, in some cases with the complicity of Venezuelan security force members, while Colombian authorities haven’t done enough to respond,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, acting Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

  • A royal Caribbean tour marketed as a "charm offensive" badly misjudged sentiment on the ground, and may have accelerated moves among Caribbean Commonwealth countries to ditch the UK Queen as the head of state, reports the Guardian. Calls for slavery reparations and the enduring fury of the Windrush scandal followed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge across Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas -- and the optics of the visit has been described by local campaigners as a throwback to colonialism. (See last week's Just Caribbean Updates.)

  • "Though republican camps in the Caribbean have long cited the impact of colonialism and slavery on the contemporary fortunes of their countries, a new reckoning is afoot, against the backdrop of the global Black Lives Matter movement and renewed conversations about the legacy of empire," reports the Guardian.

  • The protests highlight royalty’s pivotal role in the slave trade, writes Trevor Burnard in the Guardian. "Jamaica is a poor country. It would be a good thing if Britain recognised its historical responsibility for creating those conditions of poverty, while benefiting from Jamaican wealth."

  • Prince William signalled on Friday that the UK would support with “pride and respect” any decision by Jamaica, Belize or the Bahamas to break away from the British monarchy, after Jamaica indicated it might follow Barbados' path and become a republic. (See last Thursday's briefs.) He also issued a statement acknowledging the tour had brought into "sharper focus questions about the past and the future," reports the Guardian.
  • Pressure is increasing for the U.S. Biden administration to stop using Title 42, public health order deployed to turn away migrants at the U.S. border in relation to Covid-19. Congressional lawmakers, public health experts and immigration advocates say the expulsions are not being used to keep Covid-19 out of America but to stop migrants from coming in, reports Politico.
  • A Brazilian electoral judge ordered one of the country’s biggest music festivals to outlaw “political demonstrations” by performers after a legal challenge from President Jair Bolsonaro’s Liberal party. The request from Bolsonaro's lawyers came after Brazil’s far-right leader was pilloried by pop stars and rappers at this weekend’s Lollapalooza event in São Paulo. Many public figures said Judge Raul Araújo's order amounts to an act of censorship, reports the Guardian.
  • The Venezuelan government is investigating an allegation that a Portuguese company funneled millions in unexplained payments to government officials to obtain a contract to revamp and then operate the country’s second-largest port, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Nineteen people were killed yesterday when gunmen burst into a clandestine cockfight in Mexico's Michoacán state, reports the Associated Press.
  • Student strikes have forced a string of school closures across Santiago de Chile amid growing anger over sexist and violent behavior only weeks after the country returned to in-person classes after two years of Covid-19 lockdowns, reports the Guardian. According to the government’s education department, schoolchildren’s sexual harassment complaints have increased by 56% in 2022 compared with the same period in 201.
  • Peru's Congress will debate the latest impeachment motion against President Pedro Castillo today. It is the second time in Castillo's eight-month mandate that he faces a motion accusing him of moral incapacity, which would need 87 votes to effectively oust him from office. The motion was admitted two weeks ago with 76 votes. (El Comercio, see March 15's briefs.) 

  • Since taking office last July, Castillo has gone through four cabinets, four prime ministers, three foreign ministers, two finance ministers and three justice ministers. No Peruvian president has made so many cabinet changes in their first year in office, reports the Financial Times.

  • Peru has gone beyond political instability, and might be considered politically dysfunctional, according to the Financial Times piece. Castillo is unable to appoint a lasting cabinet, and the Congress is focused almost exclusively on ousting him.

  • In order to understand Peru's current political situation, it's "useful to distinguish the economic and political variants of antifujimorismo," writes Paulo Drinot in New Left Review. The impeachment attempt is unlikely to prosper, "but without a dramatic political realignment," neither Castillo's "economic and constitutional reforms, nor Peru’s desperately needed fight against corruption, will make much headway."
  • Rodolfo Hernández has emerged as an unlikely political challenger in Colombia's upcoming presidential elections. Hernández is relatively unknown nationally, and his popularity among TikTok using youths reflects the deep discontent in Colombian politics, reports Americas Quarterly.
More El Salvador
  • Crypto-enthusiasts should heed a number of red flags and avoid El Salvador's bitcoin-backed "volcano" bond, argues Frank Muci in CoinDesk.

  • The bond would be used, partially, to fund Bitcoin City,a place with zero taxes and powered geothermally by a volcano. But locals are skeptical, reports CoinDesk.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

Friday, March 25, 2022

Deportations to Haiti are life-threatening -- HRW (March 25, 2022)

News Briefs

  • The United States and all other countries should stop expelling or deporting people to Haiti, where they face a high risk of violence and have no effective access to protection or justice, according to Human Rights Watch, which emphasized that returns to Haiti are life-threatening now, and will continue to be so, until security conditions in Haiti improve. The organization called on the U.S. to immediately stop its inappropriate use of Title 42, a section of US health law, to expel people to Haiti and elsewhere.

  • Migration through Mexico and Central America, and people who go missing on their journeys, will increase in 2022 due to high levels of violence in the region, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. “In many countries, violence is wreaking more and more havoc, and that’s why there are more and more migrants,” ICRC representative Jordi Raich told Reuters.
  • Latin American economies will grow an average of 2.3 percent this year, according to a revised UNCTAD estimate that lowered its outlook due to the negative effects of the Ukraine war on the global picture. However, the rise in fuel and food prices could benefit raw material exporting nations. (EFE)

  • Understanding the environmental impacts of China’s trade and investment in Latin America requires nuance, argues Monica Nuñez Salas in a Wilson Center Report. She maintains that “there is not enough evidence to argue that Chinese demand for natural resources is uniquely unsustainable or that China’s foreign direct investments adopt worse practices than other actors” in the extractives and agricultural sectors.
Regional Relations
  • Countering Russian aggression in Ukraine, as well as rejecting a Sino-Russian partnership that wishes to weaken the status of democracy worldwide, can include U.S. and European efforts to instill a sense of common purpose and solidarity in confronting the climate crisis, argues Anders Beal in Global Americans.

  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought about varied and counterintuitive reactions from Brazil's political class, which illustrate the limited value of traditional definitions of “right” and “left,” and show how relations with Russia muddle partisan and ideological lines, writes Fernando Brancoli in the Wilson Center's Weekly Asado.

  • Washington’s most receptive rapprochement, in the wake of the Russian aggression in Ukraine, is taking place in Venezuela, which has been a Russian ally in the region, reports the Washington Post. Though talks have focused on oil, the U.S. diplomatic about-face is also about geopolitics, and countering the Russian-Venezuelan alliance.
  • Russian tourists had helped breathe an unlikely new life into Venezuela’s idyllic island of Margarita, following a deal between the two allied governments that has permitted more than 10,000 Russians to visit Margarita since September on direct charter flights from Moscow, in what was the island’s only international connection. But the island's new tourist surge has been cut short by Russia's aggression against Ukraine, reports the New York Times.

  • Venezuela's beleaguered bolivar has, against all odds, managed to stabilize since October. That is thanks to a $2.2 billion investment by the government in a bid to slow down inflation, which remains the world's highest 686 percent in 2021, reports AFP.

  • Venezuela's Maduro government bet big on mining after its oil sector collapsed in the past decade, but the rapid expansion of mining operations in the country’s south are tainted by human rights violations
    and illegality, according to a Wilson Center report.
  • Nicaragua's Ortega government expelled the representative of the International Red Cross Committee in the country. The ICRC said the reason behind the decision was not clear, and no government agency would confirm the expulsion. (Associated Press)
  • Uruguay's referendum on a penal code reform this Sunday is unusual in that it encompasses a wide raft of issues, and has been treated by both advocates and opponents as a plebiscite of President Luis Lacalle Pou's government, explains the Latin America Brief. (See Monday's post.)
  • IMF board directors meet today to review a $45bn debt deal with Argentina, which the country's Congress has already ratified. The agreement in principle refinances $45bn in debt outstanding from a record $57bn that Argentina borrowed from the IMF in 2018. Once the IMF board gives the green light, as it is widely expected to do, the country is due to receive $9.8bn of funds, reports the Financial Times.
  • Former Haitian senator John Joël Joseph, who is one of the main suspects in the slaying of former President Jovenel Moïse, agreed to be extradited from Jamaica to the U.S. to face charges, reports the Associated Press.

  • A Haitian police investigative report obtained by the Herald describes Joseph as playing a key role in the plot to kill Moïse, reports the Miami Herald. Haitian authorities requested he be deported there in hopes that he can shed light on the motive behind the killing. 

  • The U.S. has been conducting its own investigation into Moïse's killing, under the U.S. Justice Department’s expansive view of its criminal jurisdiction, explains the Miami Herald
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gained slightly in Datafolha's latest poll, up to 26 points for October's presidential election. But he remains far behind former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who would get 43 percent of the votes if the election were today. (Reuters)

  • Armed militias in many of Rio de Janeiro's favelas are setting exorbitant prices for gas cylinders and other basic goods, knowing residents have little choice but to pay up, reports InSight Crime.
  • A potential leftist victory in Colombia's upcoming presidential elections is unlikely to upset the country's growing, but still incipient startup ecosystem, reports Rest of World.
  • The United States government has taken major actions against one of Guatemala’s most enduring drug clans – the "Huistas," reports InSight Crime.
  • Ecuadorean lawmakers rejected a bill that would create public-private partnerships to facilitate infrastructure projects. The proposal was backed by conservative President Guillermo Lasso, who said it would attract investment, but opposed as a privatization of public assets by critics, reports Reuters.
  • Chinese owned MMG Ltd said it has secured approval from Peru’s Ministry of Energy and Mines to expand its Las Bambas copper mine despite ongoing outrage from local indigenous communities, reports Reuters.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Nicaragua's OAS ambassador denounces Ortega (March 24, 2022)

Nicaragua’s ambassador to the Organization of American States has launched an extraordinary verbal attack against the Ortega administration he represents internationally. "It’s not easy to denounce my country’s dictatorship – but to carry on in silence and defending the indefensible is impossible," said Arturo McFields Yescas during an online OAS session yesterday. (ConfidencialGuardian)

The Nicaraguan diplomat said he was speaking out "in the name of the 177 political prisoners and the more than 350 people who have lost their lives" since the failed 2018 uprising against President Daniel Ortega and his vice-president and wife Rosario Murillo. "I must speak out, despite the fear. I must speak out even though my future and that of my family are uncertain. I must speak out otherwise the stones themselves will speak for me." (Guardian)

McFields also said he had resigned as ambassador. The diplomat also pointed to the closures of nongovernmental organizations and curbs on the media, and said elections in the Central American country were "not credible." (Reuters)

The startling denunciation followed the sentencing by a Nicaraguan judge this week of two opposition leaders and political scions: Cristiana Chamorro, a journalist, potential presidential contender and daughter of former President Violeta Chamorro and her brother Pedro Joaquín Chamorro. Cristiana was sentenced to eight years in prison and her brother to nine, reports the Associated Press. (See March 14's post on their convictions.)

The sentences are part of a broad crackdown against political opponents and critics that put Ortega's challengers behind bars last year. Nicaraguan judges have sentenced several opposition leaders, including former high-level officials of the governing Sandinista movement and former presidential contenders, to prison terms for “conspiracy to undermine national integrity.”

Two Nicaraguan foreign service "advisors," daughters of Sandinista lawmaker Wálmaro Gutiérrez, resigned their posts this week. (Artículo 66)

News Briefs

  • The number of migrants crossing the U.S. southern border illegally has jumped again in recent weeks -- authorities are on pace to make more than 200,000 detentions along the Mexico border in March, the highest monthly total since August, reports the Washington Post. Authorities are bracing for a “mass migration event,” as the Biden administration considers lifting pandemic-related restrictions that permit agents to bypass standard immigration proceedings and rapidly deport most migrants to their home countries or to Mexico.

  • A trove of newly uncovered U.S. border patrol internal documents offer an unprecedented view of the lengths the U.S. and Mexican governments went in 2019 to surveil, detain, and deport migrants on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border, reports The Intercept. It was, as Human Rights Watch researcher Ari Sawyer put it, a “transnational effort to shut down asylum.” And the U.S. government’s militarized response to the 2019 crisis made it much worse, advocates say.

  • Tens of thousands of Cubans have left the island since mass anti-government protests last July but many face life in limbo in Mexico, reports the Guardian.
Regional Relations
  • Cuban life is dominated by the U.S. embargo and the shortages it causes in vital necessities -- such as milk. Some in Washington and Miami worry that lifting any restrictions now would reward the Cuban regime, but the members of Congress urging Biden to suspend the sanctions say they are not giving the Cuban government a pass," just recognizing the deleterious effects of the policy on Cuban lives, writes Anthony DePalma in a Los Angeles Times op-ed.

  • The U.S. Biden administration is listening closely to Chevron, which says it can help double Venezuela’s oil production within months. That could replace the loss of oil the U.S. was importing from Russia before it attacked Ukraine, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Russia’s war in Ukraine could fan Venezuela's territorial aspirations in Guyana's Essequibo region, argue Paul Angelo and  Wazim Mowla in Foreign Policy. "Maduro has pursued volatility as a matter of policy. We should take his threats toward Guyana over the Essequibo at face value." Preventing conflict over the Essequibo in the long run requires ramping up disincentives for Venezuelan cross-border aggression today, they write.

  • UK Prince William expressed “profound sorrow” for the “appalling atrocity of slavery” during an address to Jamaica’s prime minister and other dignitaries that stopped short of the apology activists had demanded, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.) William also made reference to the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which is tomorrow.

  • But much more than lip service is needed, writes Jamaican MP Lisa Hanna in a Guardian op-ed, calling on the U.K. to seriously engage on the issue of reparations, specifically on Caricom Reparations Commission's 10-point-action plan. "Flowery words and artful symbols not only do not placate us, but words without action will also offend us. We need leaders in civil society, in politics and in the monarchy to not only acknowledge historic exploitation and the consequences thereof but to begin to make concrete steps to rectify it."
  • Jamaican prime minister, Andrew Holness, surprised many when he greeted the royals saying  the visit provided an opportunity to address “unresolved” issues, likely including reparations and the removal of the Queen as the head of state. (Guardian)

  • Jamaican officials have previously said the government is studying the process of reforming the constitution to become a republic. Experts say the process could take years and would require a referendum, reports Reuters.
  • Black Colombian environmental crusader Francia Márquez could be on the verge of becoming Colombia’s next vice-president after the leftist frontrunner, Gustavo Petro, picked her as his running mate. The move is particularly noteworthy in Colombia, where politics remain dominated by wealthy white men, reports the Guardian

  • Márquez came in third overall in the presidential primaries earlier this month, and second in the Pacto Histórico coalition headed by Petro. A political novice who has never held electoral office, she handily beat political veterans like Sergio Fajardo, Alejandro Gaviria and Carlos Amay. (See March 15's briefs.)

  • Petro's running-mate choice fulfills an agreement made among parties of the Pacto Histórico coalition -- that the primary second-place winner be the VP candidate -- but he had initially appeared likely to instead select a candidate who could broaden his voter base. (See March 16's briefs.)

  • Petro told The Washington Post he envisions a progressive “axis” between Chile, Colombia and Brazil. He said he aims to usher in a new Latin American left, built not on extracting natural resources like governments past but on protecting the environment and advancing industrialization.
  • Chile's government says it will send a long-awaited bill to reform the country's controversial private pension system to congress next year. Reforming the current system was one of the biggest demands demonstrators had during the 2019 protests, reports Reuters.
  • Rampant gang violence and crime has rocked the Haitian suburb of Croix-des-Bouquets, pushing hundreds of residents to flee the criminal stronghold on the outskirts of capital city Port-au-Prince that has been pivotal to the rise of feared street gang, the "400 Mawozo," reports InSight Crime.
  • Machu Picchu has been known by the wrong name since its "rediscovery" over a century ago, according to a new academic paper that argues that the Unesco world heritage site was known by its Inca inhabitants as Huayna Picchu – the name of a peak overlooking the ruins – or simply Picchu. (Guardian)
Today is Argentina's National Day of Memory for Truth and Justice, which marks the anniversary of the 1976 civilian-military coup, launching a de-facto government under which 30,000 people were forcibly disappeared. Nunca Más.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Royal visit fans protests in Caribbean (March 23, 2022)

A weeklong visit to Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas by UK Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton -- aimed at boosting royal relations with the remaining Caribbean Commonwealth countries -- has instead stirred up protests and debate about colonialism, reparations and an apology for slavery in some corners of the countries they are touring, reports the Miami Herald. (See Monday's briefs.)

Republican sentiment has long brewed in the Caribbean Commonwealth, but it has recently gained momentum amid worldwide protests against racism and police violence against Black people and calls for Britain to atone for the ugly legacy of colonialism, including by paying reparations for the slave trade, reports the Washington Post.

Yesterday, in Jamaica, protesters welcomed them with a list of 60 reasons why they should apologize for slavery and begin a process of reparations. Jamaican campaigners have accused British Queen Elizabeth of perpetuating slavery, and, in a letter, urged the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to atone for colonialism during their ongoing Caribbean tour, reports the Guardian. (See also Petchary's Blog)  

News Briefs

  • Colombia's ruling Democratic Center has pushed for a ballot recount of votes in March 13's legislative elections, after the leftist Pacto Histórico garnered a few hundred thousand more Senate votes in the final tally than it had in the rapid count on election day. Most political parties and experts say the request has no legal basis and risks delegitimizing the electoral process ahead of the May presidential election. (El PaísBloomberg)
  • Guatemala’s Supreme Court of Justice said it has suspended Judge Pablo Xitumul, who is known for his fight against corruption and handling high-profile cases against the military and former government officials, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's post on the Guatemalan government's increasing attacks on anti-corruption judicial officials.)
  • YouTube said it would remove videos with unfounded accusations of fraud in Brazil's 2018 elections, reports AFP. President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly claimed (without evidence) that his margin of victory would have been bigger that year  if not for widespread fraud in Brazil's electronic voting system. Political analysts have warned that Bolsonaro could challenge an electoral defeat later this year with allegations of vote rigging.

  • Mining companies are joining environmental groups and members of the public in opposing a bill backed by Bolsonaro that would permit mining on protected Indigenous territories in the Amazon. Yesterday, iron ore giant ​Vale SA called for free, prior and informed consent by local communities. (Bloomberg)

  • Brazilian center-right politician Geraldo Alckmin is joining the Brazilian Socialist Party in a step that puts him closer to becoming the running mate of his ex political rival,  former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in this year’s elections, reports Bloomberg. (See yesterday's briefs.)
Regional Relations
  • Venezuela's opposition is pushing the U.S. to condition any easing of oil sanctions on political concessions, reports Reuters.

  • UK officials are discussing how to implement sanctions against Russian oligarchs in the British Virgin Islands, reports the Guardian. The talks follow reports that a succession of oligarchs appeared to have hidden their assets in trusts based in the BVI in a bid to put them beyond reach of UK sanctions.

  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador criticized the United States for its swift action to approve aid to Ukraine even as investment in Central America is stalled over "bureaucracy," reports Reuters. He also said Mexico will get an investment boost on the back of the Ukraine war. (Reuters)
  • Femicides and other cases of gender-based violence have been on the rise in Mexico in recent years. Government figures for 2021 recorded 969 cases of femicide last year, but human rights activists say there were more, with estimates of an average of 10 femicides per day in Mexico. The Latin America Advisor explores the government's (insufficient) response.

  • AMLO inaugurated a new airport serving Mexico City, more than three years after he scrapped a separate partly built multibillion-dollar construction project by the previous government that he said was a symbol of corruption. (Al Jazeera)
  • Haitian authorities want to cremate the bodies of three former Colombian soldiers killed shortly after the slaying of President Jovenel Moïse, nine months ago. But, other detained former Colombian soldiers say the men who were killed were executed by Haitian police after they launched a nationwide manhunt for Moïse’s assassins, and that the corpses are evidence that should be preserved, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Chile’s new President Gabriel Boric signed onto the United Nations Escazu Agreement, overturning the policy of the previous Chilean government that had held back from supporting the environmental treaty, reports Al Jazeera.
  • A top Colombian drug trafficker walked out of a maximum-security prison in Bogotá without ever being challenged, last week. The case exposes deep-seated corruption and threatening important criminal cases, according to InSight Crime.
  • Landmine deployment now appears a routine tactic for Colombian guerrilla groups operating in Venezuela, especially in border zones. Political turmoil and the ever-growing presence of Colombian guerrillas in Venezuela will make it tough to reverse the spread of landmines, creating a problem with grim long-term implications, reports InSight Crime.

  • Geoff Ramsey and Kristen Martinez-Gugerli interview Francisco Monaldi in the Venezuela Briefing, and discuss the state of Venezuela’s oil sector, the recent visit of U.S. officials to Caracas, and the potential return to negotiations in Venezuela.

  • Venezuela remains on a shrinking list of South American countries that do not allow same-sex marriages, reports the Associated Press. This despite the fact that Venezuela’s highest court has had seven years to rule on a key case and President Nicolás Maduro has asked lawmakers to consider the matter.
  • Rampant piracy along Ecuador’s coastal provinces is forcing hundreds of fishermen to leave their profession and the sea out of fear for their lives, reports InSight Crime.
Critter Corner
  • An angry mob chased after sharks -- protected species -- in Colombia's San Andrés island after an attack killed an Italian tourist last week. Animal protection groups say the approach is misguided -- and illegal -- but also point to problematic tourist practices like diving groups that feed sharks meat in order to generate photo-ops. (El País)

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