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

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