Wednesday, April 6, 2022

New El Salvador law raises censorship fears (April 6, 2022)

El Salvador's Legislative Assembly approved a measure to punish anyone who shares information about gangs with up to 15 years in prison, yesterday. (El Faro) Observers say the penal code reform could lead to the censorship of journalists and more mass detentions. Opposition lawmakers warned that the reforms are a clear violation of freedom of the press, but President Nayib Bukele has a supermajority in the unicameral congress, which rubber stamps his directives.

The Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES) "expressed concern" about the reforms, which it described as a "gag" measure, since they threaten jail time to journalists "who report on a reality that the current administration, obsessed with propaganda and misrepresentation, seeks to hide." (El Diario de Hoy)

The change, apparently aimed at penalizing people who pass on gang messages, paired with the government’s ability to intercept the correspondence and communications of Salvadoran citizens without a court order under a state of emergency, could lead to thousands of detentions, reports the New York Times.

Human rights groups yesterday criticized the Bukele administration's ongoing crackdown on gangs, in which thousands of people have been detained under a state of emergency that suspends due process, reports El Diario de Hoy. (See yesterday's post.)

Castillo lifts curfew

Peruvian President Pedro Castillo lifted the curfew he imposed in an attempt to quell violent protests, after demonstrators in Lima flouted the lockdown order and to participate in protests demanding his resignation. Clashes between protesters and police continued yesterday evening, after Castillo reversed the measure, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's post.)

Castillo enacted the curfew for Peru's capital on Monday, in the second week of massive protests against inflation and rising fuel prices. Like many countries, Peru was battling high inflation before Russia invaded Ukraine, but the conflict has accelerated a surge in the price of food, fuel and other essential items, reports Reuters.

The situation demonstrates how little political capital Castillo has left, eight months after taking office and having weathered two impeachment attempts already from a virulent opposition, reports the New York Times. The move was widely criticized as excessive and improvised, reports the Guardian. His measure also grated in a county where nighttime curfews were routine in the 1980s as the government cracked down on leftist insurgencies.

News Briefs

  • Brazilian "President Jair Bolsonaro could, despite everything, still find a way to win this October's election – or at least make things close enough to be messy," writes Americas Quarterly editor-in-chief Brian Winter. The race is still wide open, but "for now, the ground seems to be shifting in the incumbent’s favor."

  • Moderate presidential candidates look increasingly far from posing a challenge to Brazil’s most polarizing political figures, Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in the October elections, reports Bloomberg. Bolsonaro's bid for reelection has been boosted by friendly fire among center-right rivals, reports Reuters. (See Friday's post.)

  •  Last week's deadline for candidates to affiliate with the party they plan to run with in the upcoming October elections also gave Bolsonaro a boost: the right wing Liberal Part (PL) that he joined last month attracted a wave of Bolsonarista lawmakers, making it the largest party in the lower house of Congress with 75 seats – up from just 33 seats after the 2018 election. (Reuters)

  • The PLs gains largely came at a cost to the conservative União Brasil party -- a union of Bolsonaro's former PSL party and the Democratas -- which lost 32 seats in the lower house, falling from the first- to fourth-largest party. But the growth of the should not be misinterpreted as growing support for the president in his re-election bid, warns the Latin America Risk Report. The changes "simply reflect candidates vying for greater campaign finance benefits in the months ahead."
  • Attacks against the press in Mexico have increased by 85 percent since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office, according to a new report by press freedom group Article 19. Violence against journalists has been mounting over the past two decades -- the country is perennially one of the most dangerous in the world for reporters -- but has soared under López Obrador, who frequently attacks journalists and independent news outlets during his morning briefings, reports the Guardian.

  • AMLO said yesterday his government would channel a quarter of its publicity budget into paying for health insurance and pensions for poorer journalists, a move that may affect the income of Mexico's traditional media workers, reports Reuters. Just before the announcement, AMLO launched another broadside against a prominent reporter who has published a series of critical stories about him, questioning his wealth.

  • The deaths of 20 people at a clandestine fight in Mexico’s Michoacán state has revealed how a fairly small criminal group, the Correa, is seeking to stand up to the firepower and resources of the much larger CJNG, reports InSight Crime.
  • Young Cubans are leaving their country in an exodus that has already eclipsed the balsero crisis of 1994, when more than 35,000 Cubans took to the sea in makeshift rafts. They are driven by a government crackdown on dissent, widespread poverty and a lack of opportunities, reports the Miami Herald. In the five months between October and the end of February, 47,000 Cubans arrived at the Mexico-U.S. border, according to the latest U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics.
  • Cuba is struggling to cover a fuel deficit as imports from Venezuela and other countries remain below historical levels and global prices boosted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine make purchases almost unaffordable, reports Reuters.
Regional Relations
  • A U.S. federal appeals court has ruled that the World Health Organization branch for the Americas is not immune from being sued for its alleged role in a scheme to traffic Cuban doctors for the benefit of the island’s government, the first decision of its kind upholding a suit against an international organization for allegedly violating U.S. law, reports the Miami Herald.

  • Lawyers for Bolivia said Monday that Chile’s decision to file a case at the United Nations’ top court about a dispute about a river that crosses their border in the Atacama Desert has hampered diplomatic efforts to resolve the disagreement, reports the Associated Press.
  • Argentina is pushing China to fully finance a new $8.3 billion nuclear power plant in the country, reports Reuters.
  • Chile's constitutional rewrite could fail in a referendum vote in Sept, after opinion polls this week showed for the first time that more Chileans would reject the new text than approve it. That would be a major blow supporters, including President Gabriel Boric, who hope it will underpin major economic and social reforms, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • In filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Memoria,” Jessica, a British botanist in Colombia who awakens one night to a mysterious, loud boom that seems to haunt her, both figuratively and literally -- Washington Post.

  • Lygia Fagundes Telles, one of Brazil’s most popular writers, died at the age of 98. Her "stories of women trapped in unsatisfying relationships could also be read as allegories of her country’s political situation," according to the New York Times.

  • The shirt worn by Diego Maradona when he scored his (in)famous “hand of God” goal at the 1986 World Cup is estimated to sell for at least 4 million pounds, reports the Guardian.

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

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