Friday, March 16, 2018

Colombia's Special Peace Jurisdiction kicks off (March 16, 2018)

Colombia's transitional justice system officially opened up yesterday, fulfilling a key measure of the peace deal with the FARC, reports the Associated Press. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) will try cases considered most representative of the war’s violence, committed by guerrillas and government soldiers, reports Reuters

It will consist of three chambers where magistrates will examine case files gathered from years of investigations by various government agencies and humanitarian groups as well as victim accounts and compare them with testimony provided by offenders. More than 4,600 former FARC fighters and nearly 1,800 members of the armed forces have already submitted testimony for the JEP to process.

A special investigative unit will get involved when there is a discrepancy to help determine the truth. Human Rights Watch's America's director José Miguel Vivanco criticized the ambiguities of the system, which he said risks letting war criminals off the hook.

News Briefs
  • In the wake of the peace accord, the Colombian government must combine military action with development projects to reclaim territories that have been affected by decades of conflict. InSight Crime reviews some of the key challenges, including security, coca eradication and substitution, and rural development.
  • The Colombian government announced a new program to protect community social leaders, after acknowledging that at least 150 have been killed since 2016, reports Caracol.
  • Colombian negotiators resumed peace talks with the ELN guerrilla in Ecuador, reports EFE.
  • Mexican cartels are increasingly present in Colombia according to the country's attorney general, reports Reuters.
  • Colombian authorities detected more than 50,000 cyber attacks against the country's voter registration system in the lead up to last Sunday's election. Some originated in Venezuela which experts say is a proxy for Russia, reports Voice of America.
  • A new report by DeJusticia details cases of "corporate complicity" with human rights violations committed by paramilitary groups between 1970 and 2015 in Colombia. Despite the perception that foreign multinational actors played a dominant role in financing Colombia’s conflict, 98 percent of the cases included in the report involved Colombian economic actors, notes InSight Crime.
  • Colombian authorities detained a Cuban man accused of plotting to kill U.S. diplomats in the name of ISIS, reports the Associated Press.
  • Protests were held around Brazil after a Rio de Janeiro council member and her driver were killed on Wednesday, reports the Guardian(See yesterday's post.) Marielle Franco's home city, where she was known as a human rights defender and representative of the city's poor favela residents, turned out in anger at the deaths. She was a vocal critic of police brutality in a city where killings at the hands of security forces have risen sharply in recent years. The assassination has rattled a country that is somewhat inured to violence, reports the New York Times. And the crowds are a challenge to President Michel Temer's controversial military intervention of Rio de Janeiro state's security, reports El País. Franco and her party, the PSOL, had been highly critical of the president’s decision, which many considered politically motivated and likely to increase violence against favela residents, notes Americas Quarterly. Its the first politically motivated death since the Rio intervention started a month ago. "Marielle’s murder comes at a tense moment in Rio. The investigation of her death will test the military intervention she opposed; the state police she had often denounced; and the resolution of civil society, which will have to remain engaged to ensure a resolution," writes Maurício Santoro in another Americas Quarterly piece.
  • The past month of military intervention in Rio de Janeiro "has been a mixture of promising moves from the military, and troubling echoes of previous deployments," according to InSight Crime. Though the government initially promised a significant show of force, there hasn't been a general deployment of federal forces in the city. "However, the main military deployment into Villa Kenedy has seen the rights of local residents waived in a way that would unlikely be seen in richer parts of the city. The extended placement of military personnel in communities like Villa Kenedy is the same tactic used previously in Rocinha, Maré and countless other favelas before that, and will likely have the same outcome once federal forces leave. A return to lawlessness and a spike in crime."
  • Rising violence has some Brazilians nostalgic for military dictatorship. The country's authoritarian past violated human rights, but is also credited by admirers with maintaining public order. The result could be dangerous for the country's wobbly institutions, according to the Washington Post.
  • A community organizer in the Brazilian state of Pará was killed earlier this week. Fellow activists believe Paulo Nascimento was shot in retaliation for his participation in a campaign against a Norwegian owned aluminium factory in the area, that the community believes is damaging their environment and health, reports the Guardian.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski will against face impeachment charges in relation to alleged improper payments from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. (See yesterday's briefs.) Though he survived a similar ouster attempt in December, this time around analysts say he is far weaker, reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexico's lower chamber of Congress picked David Rogelio Colmenares, an economist, to head the Federal Audit Office (ASF). The process was criticized by anti-corruption groups who said the selection of candidates was not transparent, reports Reuters.
  • Artículo 19 criticized a bill intended to regulate government publicity, saying it ratifies current poor practices, reports Animal Político.
  • Mexican authorities arrested 18 people in relation to the case of two prosecution agents kidnapped and later killed, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Groups of migrants who have lost temporary protected status (TPS) in the U.S., along with advocacy groups, are legally challenging the Trump administration. All of the lawsuits raise similar claims that the decision to end TPS violated procedures and TPS holders’ due process, and question President Donald Trump's attitude towards people of color, reports the Miami Herald. One of the complaints presented this week raises the issue of children of TPS holders, U.S. citizens who must decide whether to leave their country or grow up without their parents, reports the Guardian.
  • Recent U.S. governments have lacked vision when it comes to Latin American diplomacy, allowing a narrow security agenda to dominate, argues Thomas O'Keefe at the Aula Blog. "While broad policies and political commitment behind them have been lacking, Washington has run a number of security programs in the region.  This focus, however, has often turned out to be problematic."
  • Former President Michelle Bachelet may not have fulfilled her ambitious campaign promises, but her government took important steps to channel citizen mobilization, especially in the case of a project for a new constitution, writes Patricio Fernández in a New York Times Español op-ed. In Americas Quarterly, Beryl Seiler and Ben Raderstorf also argue she deserves more credit than pundits are giving now. "All told, Bachelet’s second government was arguably the most impactful – in a purely ideological sense, for good or ill – of any in Chile’s post-dictatorship history."
  • Protests against urban regeneration plans in Panama's Colón turned violent, reports the BBC. Four police officers have been injured and 45 people arrested.
  • ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Barcena called for a "Latin America First" strategy at the World Economic Forum being held in Brazil, reports EFE.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

#JustiçaParaMarielle (March 15, 2018)

A Rio de Janeiro council member and her driver were shot dead yesterday in an apparent targeted assassination. Police sources say gunmen opened fire on her car, but nothing was taken, reports El País.

City council member Marielle Franco was a vocal critic of police violence and recognized for her human rights trajectory. She was a member of a city commission monitoring the federally decreed military intervention of Rio de Janeiro's security, reports El País. Last weekend, she had criticized security forces for harassing favela residents -- a common issue worsened by the intervention, she tweeted.

Amnesty International urged that the investigation be rigorous and focus on "the context, motive and responsibility" for the killing.

President Michel Temer said the shooting was an attack against democracy and called an emergency meeting regarding the federal intervention in Rio, according to El País

In a city increasingly used to shooting deaths, this attack stands out as it wasn't a shootout between gangs or security forces, but rather appears to be an execution of a politician. The word "mexicanization" began to appear in social media in the hours following the attack, reports El País separately.

Protests were called for today against the genocide of black youths in cities around the country.

Franco grew up in the Maré favela, and criticized deaths of residents ascribed to security forces, reports the BBC. Defense of favela inhabitants' rights was a key part of her 2016 campaign platform, when she was the city's fifth most voted council candidate, reports O Globo. As president of the council's Commission for the Defense of Women she presented a project for the municipal government to compile data on gender violence. She also questioned the lack of female representation in city politics.


Ayotzinapa investigation marked by torture of detainees

Mexico's investigation into the disappearance of 43 students who disappeared in 2014 was marked by "a pattern of committing, tolerating and covering up torture," according to a new report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The report draws on judicial files, interviews with authorities, detainees and witnesses to conclude that there is evidence that at least 34 of the individuals prosecuted in relation to the Ayotzinapa case were tortured.

The report states that the internal oversight unit of the Office of the Attorney-General of the Republic (OAG) appeared to have made a genuine effort in 2016 to address some of alleged torture or other human rights violations, but this internal investigation was subsequently thwarted by the replacement of the officials in the unit. To date, there has been no prosecution and sanction for the acts of torture or other human rights violations, the report says. 

The report identifies extensive physical torture, including electrocution and anal penetration, as well as threats to rape detainees' families and mock executions, reports El País.

On Monday authorities said they had detained a key suspect in the case, with links to a drug gang. (See Tuesday's briefs.) But an independent group of experts and local human rights groups have questioned the government's account of what happened to the Ayotzinapa students, reports Reuters.

Another report by Mexican human rights groups, including Fundar and Centro Prodh, looks at the aftermath of the disappearances for victims' families. On the whole, they are poorer and sicker than they were four years ago. Many are afflicted with "survivors guilt" or "frozen mourning," reports El País.

News Briefs
  • Nicaragua's powerful vice president and first lady, Rosario Murillo, said Nicaraguans are "negatively influenced" by social media. On her daily television program she announced a project to target "fake news," shorthand for censorship of critical voices, reports El País.
  • Not that fake news and misinformation aren't also threats to democracy, note the participants of a World Economic Forum and El País organized round table.
  • Peru's Congress approved a motion to impeach President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who must now defend himself against allegations of impropriety for a second time in a few months, reports La República.
  • Sources say Vice President Martin Vizcarra would not resign in order to spur early elections if PPK is impeached, according to Reuters.
  • Corruption allegations have essentially kept PPK's government on hold, a fact that is intimately related to Peru's institutional oddities, argues Simeon Tegel in Americas Quarterly. "Peru’s peculiar democratic framework – a presidential-parliamentary hybrid unique in Latin America – serves both to institutionalize conflict and prevent fresh voices with public backing from entering the political arena."
  • At Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights David Smilde responds to critics who feel the U.S. has no moral standing to pressure Venezuela. "The only reason I would oppose a Trump policy regarding Venezuela is because I think it would worsen the situation. The only reason I would support a Trump policy regarding Venezuela is that I think it could improve the situation. I am not willing to use nor dismiss the plight of Venezuelans for other political ends, however noble these latter might be. I understand politics and coalitions, and how one battle might be sacrificed for a larger battle. But people’s basic human rights serves as a check on the play and conflict of politics. They point to the areas in which people must be treated as ends in themselves."
  • Pentacostalism is helping members of El Salvador's street gangs escape their commitment to the bloody groups, writes Sarah Maslin in 1843. "Rehabilitating gang members demands filling the void that drove them into gangs. Pentecostalism offers a compelling mix of boot-strapping individualism and tight-knit community. Some swear it is the only way. Gangs stay in power by maintaining a large standing army; defectors undermine their projection of strength. Members know sensitive information: the location of weapon stashes and clandestine graves, the gang’s leadership structure and its extortion network. ... Gangs need to manage this risk, so leaving entails a delicate process of negotiation. Older gangsters who have proved their trustworthiness have an easier time, as do churchgoers who avoid alcohol, drugs and other activities associated with la vida loca. Religion serves as a kind of ankle tag that lets the gang keep an eye on its former members."
  • Diplomatic observers are holding their breaths after former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's surprise ousting. But the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Lima could provide a good forum for U.S. President Donald Trump to favorably engage with regional leaders. A wave of conservative leaders could be more accommodating to the U.S. president, if he can avoid bluster aimed at impressing his domestic audience, argues Richard Feinberg in Americas Quarterly. "The assembled Latin American leaders will avoid warm embraces that would be unpopular with their voters back home, but they will not seek to ignite inter-American warfare. Possibly, the Lima summit might even make some substantive progress on salient regional issues. The Latin American leaders might persuade Trump to return, at least partially, to the more open trade policies of his predecessors. There should be pre-negotiated documents that advance national battles against corruption in public life.  And the search will continue for a mediated, diplomatic solution to the deepening crisis in Venezuela."
  • Six people died and 20 more were wounded in a police operative to reestablish control over a Bolivian jail, reports El País. A group of inmates attacked police officers engaged in unraveling gang control over the prison with lit gas canisters and firearms. Earlier this week a couple of inmates escaped during a mutiny in the same prison.
  • Brazil could take Trump's steel tariffs to the WTO, reports El País.
  • The daughter of two victims of Argentina's last military dictatorship, Paula Mónaco Felipe, ponders the death of Luciano Benjamín Menéndez, a prominent member of the regime that killed an estimated 30,000 people, in a New York Times Español op-ed. "We don't celebrate death, we are not them. He went in cowardly silence, without saying where he hid the remains of our loved ones. But his family could bury him, because he died in a different Argentina than the one he terrified, he died in a more just country, which, among other things, is what our parents wanted." His death has helped reignite old debates about justice and punishment in Argentina, writes Sylvia Colombo in another New York Times Español op-ed. Rather than pushing for former torturers to continue accruing life sentences, she argues, perhaps prosecutors should seek a sort of plea bargain system in order to obtain information about the victims whose whereabouts have never been discovered.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Salvadoran court commutes 30 year abortion sentence (March 14, 2018)

A Salvadoran woman convicted of aggravated murder after suffering a stillbirth has been released from jail after 15 years. The Salvadoran Supreme Court commuted her 30 year sentence, calling it excessive and immoral, reports the Guardian

It's the second such reduction for sentences in alleged abortion cases in a country known for its draconian anti-abortion laws, reports the BBC. (See Feb. 16's briefs.) Not only is the procedure banned in all cases, but enforcement is particularly harsh. In many cases where obstetric complications lead to fetal or newborn death, women have been charged with aggravated homicide, with a minimum sentence of 30 years.

A recent Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report highlighted the issue: "These sentences are said to be occurring in the context of proceedings that allegedly fail to respect the right of the accused to a fair trial by not recognizing the principle of presumption of innocence and not assessing the evidence in accordance with inter-American standards on due process protections. Moreover, negative stereotypes around the concept of the “bad mother” and the “murderous mother” are said to prevail in these sentences." (See Jan 30's briefs.)

News Briefs
  • Support for legal abortion through the fourteenth week of pregnancy is swelling among Argentines -- led by comedians and cultural referents who have changed the conversation, especially among the younger population, reports the Guardian. That being said, women often find it nearly impossible to obtain an abortion now, even in the limited cases where it is legal -- rape, and when the women´s life or health is in danger. Amnesty International said over half the provinces in the country don't have regulations ensuring access, and the situation on the ground is often similar to countries where the procedure is totally banned. "During the last 30 years, complications related to risky abortions have been the main cause of maternal death, accounting for a third of total deaths59. The 2007-2011 statistics show that 23% of maternal deaths were a consequence of unsafe abortions."
  • Venezuelan authorities arrested a former cabinet member turned prominent government critic. Former interior minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres was arrested yesterday and accused of plotting violent acts, the latest in a string of opposition figures targeted by the government, reports the New York Times. Allies say he was detained without a warrant while participating in a political act in a Caracas hotel, reports Efecto Cocuyo. He was arrested by the Sebin, the intelligence agency he headed between 2002 and 2013, notes Efecto Cocuyo separately.
  • The United Nations is considering Venezuela's request for election monitoring in the upcoming May presidential vote, reports the AFP. UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman met for two hours at UN headquarters with opposition candidate Henri Falcon, Venezuelan Ambassador Samuel Moncada and other opposition representatives to discuss the request. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The withdrawal of former FARC commander Rodrigo Londoño from Colombia's upcoming presidential race may actually good news for the peace process, argues Fabio Andres Diaz in the Conversation. (See last Friday's briefs.) "As a scholar of civil conflict, I believe this ex-guerrilla’s withdrawal from public life could be good news for Colombia," he writes. "His withdrawal spares the volatile young party the embarrassment of being crushed in next month’s presidential primary and gives the transitional justice system time to do its job before the FARC faces voters again for 2019’s mayoral races. Londoño’s campaign was an important step in the FARC’s transition from armed rebellion to political party. But it was a powder keg. His retirement averts the risk of a big explosion."
  • Peru's highest court ruled in favor of asking the U.S. to extradite former President Alejandro Toledo, who is accused of taking a $20 million bribe from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, reports EFE.
  • Senator Romero Juca, a key ally of Brazilian President Michel Temer, has been indicted on charges of corruption and money-laundering, reports Bloomberg.
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed its concern about reports that Chilean police spied on reporters as part of an intelligence operation in the southern La Araucanía region.
  • The sudden replacement of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday with former CIA director Mike Pompeo likely won't signal a major policy shift towards Latin America, reports InSight Crime. Nonetheless, it may be aimed at bringing diplomacy in the region more in line with President Donald Trump's personal preferences, according to experts consulted.
  • Mexico's Veracruz state is suing Florida state in an attempt to recover public funds allegedly stolen by former Governor Javier Duarte and invested in Florida properties, reports Bloomberg.
  • Violence in Mexico's resort cities is threatening tourism, which accounts for accounts for about 8 percent of the country's GDP, reports the Guardian.
  • A powerful Mexican business lobby asked presidential frontrunner Andrés Manuel López Obrador to stop questioning the government's economic agenda for fear of damaging investment, reports Reuters. The CCE lobby specifically referred to AMLO's proposals to scrap a new Mexico City airport already under construction and review oil and gas exploration and production contracts.
  • Candidate Ricardo Anaya, who polls second after AMLO, has promised to push corruption investigations for President Enrique Peña Nieto and members of his government, reports Bloomberg.
  • Curious about earthquakes in Mexico? This piece in the Conversation tells you more than you ever thought possible about how tectonic plates bend and what that means for Mexico City, which authors Diego Melgar and Xyoli Pérez-Campos say is at risk for another large quake.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

U.N. says post-election repression in Honduras involved excessive lethal force (March 13, 2018)

The Office of the UnitedNations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Honduras found that the government's response to post electoral protests starting last November led to serious human rights violations. A new report details "that elements of the security forces, especially the Military Police of the Public Order and the Army, used excessive force, including lethal force, to control and disperse protests, leading to the killing and wounding of protesters as well as passers-by.

By the end of January, the OHCHR registered at least 23 people killed in the context of post-electoral protests, all but one were civilians. "Based on its monitoring, OHCHR considered that at least 16 of the victims were shot to death by the security forces, including two women and two children, and that at least 60 people were injured, half of them by live ammunitions. In addition, OHCHR found that mass arrests took place, and that at least 1,351 people were detained between 1 and 5 December for violating the curfew. OHCHR also received credible and consistent allegations of ill-treatment at the time of arrest and/or during detention. It also received reports of illegal house raids conducted by members of the security forces. Another concern during the period under review is the surge in threats and intimidation against journalists, media workers, social and political activists." 

The report indicates that all the deaths attributed to the security forces resulted from firearms wounds and could amount to extra-judicial killings. "The analysis of the type of injuries suffered by the victims32 indicate that the security forces made intentional lethal use of firearms, including beyond dissuasive purpose, such as when victims were fleeing. This was illustrated in particular by the case of seven victims who died as a result of the impact of live ammunitions in the head. These cases raise serious concerns about the use of excessive lethal force and may amount to extra-judicial killings." 

The report places the violations "in the context of a political, economic and social crisis, which can be traced back to the 2009 military coup d’état, and the subsequent delay in undertaking critical institutional, political, economic and social reforms."

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a statement that things were likely to get worse unless Honduras prosecuted people for the killings.

"The already fragile human rights situation in Honduras, which suffers from high levels of violence and insecurity, is likely to deteriorate further unless there is true accountability for human rights violations, and reforms are taken to address the deep political and social polarization in the country," he said.

News Briefs
  • The arrest last week of the alleged intellectual author of Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres' killing "offers a glimpse into the links between government, military and business elite in a culture of corruption," according to the New York Times editorial board. "Far less clear is whether the arrest represents a fundamental change in Honduras or merely the sacrifice of a scapegoat in a case that got too big." (See March 5's post.) The piece also criticizes U.S. support for the 2009 coup in Honduras and the aftermath, saying that President Juan Orlando Hernández "may not be directly involved in the murder of Ms. Cáceres. But for the United States to demand that her murder be solved while cynically enabling the corrupt politics behind it makes it more likely that hers will not be the last killing."
  • Mexican authorities said they detained a key suspect in the emblematic case of 43 students who were disappeared in 2014. Erick Uriel Sandoval is accused of forming part of the gang that is thought to have killed the trainee teachers and burned their bodies, reports the BBC. He was detained near Cocula in Guerrero, and is accused of playing a key roled in the disappearance of the students, reports Animal Político. Authorities say he is probably a member of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang with links to former Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca. Known as "La Rana" the suspect has been on the run for years, but sources found he had returned to Guerrero and was operating openly in Cocula, reports El Universal. Earlier this month a Mexican official told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that authorities hope to have the case solved by the end of President Enrique Peña Nieto's mandate in December.
  • Mexican presidential front-runner Andrés Manuel López Obrador tends to arouse strong emotions in observers (and hysteria among investors), who have compared him to everybody from Hugo Chávez to Donald Trump, passing through Lula and Jeremy Corbyn along the way. "These diverse and even opposing reactions speak to the anxieties of their authors—as well as to the ambiguities that AMLO himself has cultivated over his many years in politics," write Carlos Bravo Regidor and Patrick Iber in Dissent. "Still, these comparisons to foreign leaders are misleading and frequently superficial, focusing excessively on personality while neglecting the political conditions that have both made AMLO a viable candidate and will shape his presidency if he wins. As of late February, AMLO looks like the clear frontrunner, and the likely next president of Mexico. But the coalition he is assembling will probably not constitute a solid majority, and the political situation he is likely to enter into may make the transformative changes that people either expect or fear from him difficult to carry out." The authors situate AMLO within Mexican politics and trace his history of opposition to the PRI political machine, as well as his successful tenure as Mexico City mayor, though downplaying his radical credentials. "If AMLO’s detractors are unlikely to see their worst fears realized, his enthusiasts are almost certain to be unsatisfied as well," they write. AMLO’s critics portray him as a danger to Mexican democracy, and it’s true that his personal leadership style might test the strength of its institutions. But so would the election of any other candidate. AMLO’s election would also be a testament of democratic normalcy: he is the strongest opposition candidate confronting a deeply unpopular administration."
  • At Buzzfeed, Karla Zabludovsky details some of AMLO's unlikely alliances with ideological opponents that have alienated some of his base.
  • AMLO's alleged affinity with Venezuela's leadership is touted as a negative among his detractors., a new fact checking initiative, found that a popular video "proving" President Nicolás Maduro's backing of AMLO's campaign is false, reports Animal Político.
  • As Venezuelans increasingly flee their country's crushing crisis, the U.N. has asked countries in the region to treat them as refugees, rather than economic migrants, reports the Miami Herald. The UNHCR recommends countries that have received Venezuelans to not deport them, even if they entered illegally or lack proper identification papers. The guidelines are an apparent rebuke to Colombia, which has been struggling to manage the incoming flow and has implemented stricter policies. (See Feb. 9's post.)
  • Venezuela's new Frente Amplio opposition alliance asked the U.N. not to monitor upcoming presidential elections, to avoid legitimizing what it characterizes as a rigged process, reports Reuters. Venezuela's government asked the U.N. to send an observer mission, in an apparent bid to legitimize the process despite failed negotiations with the political opposition. But sending observers would require a mandate from the General Assembly or Security Council.
  • Francisco Rodríguez, an advisor to Venezuela's main opposition presidential candidate, Henri Falcón, argues needs to dollarize its economy, seek $15 billion to $20 billion a year from abroad, and ease oil sector taxes in order to climb out of its economic crisis, reports Reuters.
  • Outgoing U.S. ambassador to Panama John Feely has come to symbolize the depletion of the State Department under Trump, a situation that has particularly affected diplomats specialized in Latin America, reports the Washington Post. (Plus check out the endearing and humorous goodbye videos Feely posted online.)
  • In a year of key elections around the region, continuous setbacks could challenge the perception that democracy is more entrenched in Latin America than other developing regions, write Beverly Goldberg and Francesc Badia i Dalmases in Open Democracy. "Endemic corruption continues to penetrate society from its very roots up, and self-serving politicians, in a pursuit for power, have left a trail of devastation in their wake."
  • The MeToo trend of scandalization -- of beautiful stars denouncing powerful men, without criminal proceedings -- is dangerous in Latin America where femicides and gender violence remain alarmingly high, writes Alberto Barrera Tyszka in a New York Times Español op-ed. He points to the less sexy case of Venezuelan Linda Loaiza, who last month denounced the Venezuelan government for making it impossible for her to pursue justice in a case of a horrific abuse. (See Feb. 6's briefs.) "Catharsis is necessary, but insufficient. The reports of harassment cannot be the new reality TV. There are thousands of women in Latin America waging a daily battle, on all fronts, against sexual abuse and gender violence. Many of them could also be news. And journalism has a responsibility to this. It can impede showbusiness from kidnapping or frivolizing their struggles."
  • Univisión profiles Costa Rican lawmaker-elect Enrique Sánchez, the country's first openly gay congressman. Sánchez will take oath in May and form part of a political scene polarized by gay marriage. An ongoing presidential campaign was dominated by an evangelical candidate who opposes same-sex marriage. Activists have denounced an increase in attacks against the LGBT people in the context of the homophobic campaign, reports TeleSUR.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he'd resume peace talks with the ELN, suspended in January after a wave of attacks by the guerrilla group, reports EFE.
  • Chile's Congress was joined by the first two Mapuche women lawmakers, reports the BBC.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer announced two new marine protection areas that would ensure a quarter of the country's oceans are protected, reports Reuters.
  • Mistrust of the Brazilian government among citizens is hindering efforts to vaccinate against a deadly yellow fever outbreak, reports the Associated Press. Rumors and misinformation, particularly via Whatsapp, are impacting a public policy and could lead to an urban outbreak in the country's megacities.
  • Brazil’s Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles is analyzing a presidential run in October, reports Reuters.
  • Will it ever be possible to enjoy quinoa without guilt? A few years ago it was stories about how fashionable cosmopolitan consumers were pushing the Andean staple out of economic reach for its indigenous cultivators. Now the bust has dashed the dreams of small-scale farmers, reports Nacla. "The quinoa boom-bust trajectory also challenges the wisdom of commercializing so-called “traditional crops” as a sustainable development strategy. ... Although small-scale quinoa farmers benefitted early on from the commercialization of this “underutilized species,” once its price became attractive to non-Andean farmers, there were no institutional mechanisms in place to ensure that small Andean farmers could continue to reap their fair share of the benefits from “sharing” this food with the world.  Instead, farmers with no cultural link to quinoa but with more capital to invest and larger, more productive farms are now outcompeting the small farmers in the Andes that quinoa’s commercialization initially had the potential to benefit."

Monday, March 12, 2018

Colombians lean to the right in Congressional elections (March 12, 2017)

Colombia's voters punished supporters of the FARC peace deal, and favored right-wing parties in congressional elections yesterday. Nonetheless, the vote was fragmented, with no one party obtaining more than 16 percent of the vote. No party won a majority in either chamber, reports Reuters.

President Juan Manuel Santos' party, the biggest in the outgoing Congress, passed to fifth place. Former President Álvaro Uribe's Centro Democrático party will be the biggest bloc in the Senate, reports the Associated Press. (El Tiempo has the complete breakdown of what the new Congress will look like.)

The fractured vote is indicative of deep polarization in Colombia for the New York Times.

Polling was more peaceful than usual, notes the BBC.

Support for the FARC even lower than predicted, though the former guerrilla group has 10 guaranteed spots in Congress as part of the peace deal reached in 2016. It's list for the Senate did not obtain more than 80,000 votes, about half what some experts predicted, reports La Silla Vacía.

Open primaries, held yesterday, indicate broad support for candidates campaigning against the peace deal. The three "no" candidates obtained about 5.5 million votes. The Centro Democrático's presidential candidate for May, Iván Duque, was the main winner, with about 4 million votes, 68 percent of the supporters of the "no," reports La Silla VacíaThe results mean he could in a second-round of presidential voting, and might win in a first round.  If no one wins an outright majority in the presidential vote in May there will be a run-off on June 17, explains the Financial Times.

Duque has promised to modify certain key parts of the peace accord, such as the ability of former FARC leaders to participate in politics, according to the AP.  Other provisions, such as incentives for coca cultivators to substitute illicit crops could also be in danger, reports the New York Times.

Of the left, former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro won yesterday's primary with 2.8 million votes, making him a top presidential contender after Duque, according to the AP. He trailed Duque by just over a million votes, a stronger showing than expected. "In this consultation, Petro managed to embody the unrest of many Colombians, who feel excluded for one reason or another, and see in Petro the banner of change," according to La Silla Vacía.

The results put pressure on the other supporters of the peace deal, such as its chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle and former Medellín mayor Sergio Fajardo, to join forces. 

At la Silla Vacía, Juanita León extols the strategic wisdom of open primaries heading towards May's election, which permitted Duque and Petro to gain media attention and momentum for their candidacies yesterday. In general, the electoral participation also improved thanks to the consultations, nearly 3 million people more participated yesterday than in the last election -- nearly double the amount of new voters.

She also looks at the FARC (lack of) votes, noting that the results indicate the former fighters don't have a broad social base for elections, and that the results disprove the Uribe allegation that the FARC would win elections with "rivers of money" poured into campaigns.

For the BBC the FARC's poor showing underlines "that no matter how much influence they used to exert over the country during the conflict, now they've laid down their weapons, their power has all but disappeared."

News Briefs
  • Cubans went to the polls yesterday to ratify two official lists of candidates for the national and provincial assemblies in the country's one party system, reports Reuters. The novelty is that the new National Assembly will soon pick a new president, the first non Castro leader of the island in nearly 60 years. First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel is expected to be chosen. President Raúl Castro will likely retain significant power at the helm of the country's Communist Party.
  • Pedro Kumamoto, a young independent politician running for Mexico's Senate, is emblematic of the country's voters' rejection of the political status quo, reports the New York Times. He is part of Wikipolítica, a leftist youth movement founded in 2013, that is fielding 16 candidates in federal and state races this year. Many, including Kumamoto, are under 30. However, the candidates themselves say the biggest challenge is convincing voters that change is possible. They must also deal with a political system that favors established political parties with funding and airtime. "While many of the independents may struggle to win their elections, Mr. Kumamoto has established himself as a rising force, at least in Jalisco. ... Now Kuma, as he is known among his peers, enjoys a kind of celebrity in Guadalajara."
  • Leftist Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised jumpy investors that he would not nationalize, expropriate or drive the country deeper into debt, reports Reuters.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump will travel to Peru next month for the Summit of the Americas, his first Latin America trip since taking office last year, reports the New York Times. He will also swing through Colombia, where he will visit President Juan Manuel Santos. The visit "may underscore tensions in the region over the administration’s policies on immigration and trade," according to the Washington Post. The Peruvian government has said that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is not welcome, which means that's one adversary Trump wouldn't meet up with in Lima. But regional allies have called on Peru to reconsider (see last Wednesday's briefs).
  • A majority of Peruvians want President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to resign or be forced from office by Congress, according to a new Ipsos poll, reports Reuters. Congress is preparing to vote on PPK's ouster later this week. (See Friday's briefs.) On Friday PPK appealed to citizens to stop the process, which he said will make the country look foolish ahead of April's Summit of the Americas meeting in Lima, reports La Mula.
  • While PPK is in the spotlight for alleged improper payments from Odebrecht, the main opposition party, Fuerza Popular, allegedly received campaign donations from the questioned Brazilian construction giant. An Ojo Publico investigation, reported in La Mula, found that contributions from individual donors at fundraisers suspiciously match the funds a former Odebrecht exec claims to have contributed to the Fujimori family party's 2011 campaign. In fact, Fuerza Popular received up to 30 percent of its funding between 2011 and 2016 from anonymous private donors, an anomaly in the region, according to Ojo Publico's report.
  • Speaking of crop substitution, Colombia is seeking to become the world supplier of legal marijuana, reports the Washington Post.
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López has been under more extreme surveillance and could be returned to prison following the publication of an in-depth profile in the New York Times Magazine, in violation of the terms of his house arrest. But the increased repression could correlate with a broader crackdown against Voluntad Popular party members, argues author Wil S. Hylton in a subsequent New York Times Magazine piece. "In light of the crackdown on opposition figures, many people close to López suspect that the raid of his home was unconnected to my article. In fact, they wonder if the agents from Sebin learned about the story only when it appeared online in the middle of the raid, and if the article might even have complicated their plans to arrest him."
  • Poor voters in Venezuela could be very influenced by the government's monthly distribution of subsidized basic food supplies, a lifeline for many, reports Reuters.
  • Haiti's cash-strapped government has hired an international PR firm with ties to a former Hillary Clinton staffer to boost the country's image in Washington. Critics have questioned the use of scarce resources by a country that lacks funds to pay its teachers, reports McClatchy DC.
  • Sebastián Piñera assumed the Chilean presidency yesterday. He took over from Michelle Bachelet, who replaced him four years ago, reports the Associated Press. It is in fact the second time Piñera takes over from Bachelet, as he also succeeded her after her first term as president, which ended in 2010. As the New York Times put it: "For the third time in 12 years, Chile’s two towering political figures will trade the powers of the presidency." He was welcomed back in office by street demonstrations demanding education and social services reform. Piñera will likely usher in a more conservative period after Bachelet, who succeeded in passing legislation permitting abortion in limited circumstances and advocated social reform.
  • Outgoing Bachelet signed a decree creating 9 marine reserves in the waters along Chile's its 6,400km coastline, reports the BBC.
  • Efforts to speak out about gender violence and sexual abuse, embodied in the global "#MeToo" movement, must be accompanied in Mexico by penal reform to create a system that does not re-victimize women who seek redress, argues CIDE researcher Estefanía Vela Barba in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Diplomatic efforts between British and Argentine campaigners permitted the DNA identification of fallen Argentine soldiers from the Falklands/Malvinas war in 1982. Later this month, families will go to put names on 88 graves in Darwin cemetery, reports the Guardian.
  • The latest in the "travel to Cuba before it's too late" journalism genre: in the New York Times novelist Reif Larsen captures a potentially fleeting moment on an island where time is mixed up, and juxtaposes the alleged "sonic attacks" on U.S. diplomats with its distinctive collage of sounds.: "Never have I been to a place whose identity is so entangled in its auditory fingerprint. The guttural putt putt of eight cylinder Cadillacs built before my father was born; the ocean rising and slapping at the Malecón like a newborn babe; the dip and pull of the timbale’s bell chattering at a bar across the street, tin tin — tin tin tin; the shuffle of a man demonstrating salsa for you on the sidewalk; the swish and chop of a broom on a doorstep; the plush boom of the ceremonial cannons fired every evening from the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña; the clink of ice cubes in the most delicious mojito de piña you will ever taste."

Friday, March 9, 2018

Venezuelan opposition, dissident chavistas create Frente Amplio against Maduro (March 9, 2018)

News Briefs
  • Venezuelan opposition parties and dissident chavistas united in a broad umbrella group in opposition to President Nicolás Maduro's reelection bid. The newly created Frente Amplio Venezuela Libre doesn't lack for internal tensions, however, notes Efecto Cocuyo. The main points of agreement are to boycott the upcoming presidential elections, reports Reuters. (Efecto Cocuyo presents the new group's main faces.)
  • Boycott advocates are critical of opposition candidate Henri Falcón who has decided to run against Maduro, despite a lack of guarantees regarding the electoral process. They say Falcón is lending a veneer of legitimacy to rigged elections. Falcón supporters counter that abstaining doesn't solve anything, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Severe violations of the right to health, as well as difficulties accessing food and other basic services, are putting thousands of people’s lives at risk in Venezuela and fueling a regional forced migration crisis, Amnesty International said today. The organization launched a new digital platform on the Venezuelan exodus spurred by lack of medical and basic food supplies. "Local human rights organizations have said that Venezuela is suffering from an 80% to 90% shortage in medicine supplies; half of the nation’s hospitals are not functioning; and there has been a 50% drop in the number of medical staff at the public centers that provide 90% of health services."
  • The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said his office received credible reports of "hundreds of extra-judicial killings in recent years, both during protests and security operations," in Venezuela. He urged the U.N. Human Rights Council to create a commission to investigate allegations of violations by security forces, reports Reuters. Zeid called on the government to allow U.N. investigators into the country, reports EFE. The High Commissioner also criticized the upcoming presidential election, which he said "does not in any way fulfill minimal conditions for free and credible elections."
  • The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said that preliminary data indicates that hunger in Venezuela continued to grow last year, reports Runrunes.
  • Over thirty Peruvian lawmakers from across the political spectrum supported a motion to debate the impeachment of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski yesterday. He is accused of dishonesty regarding consulting contracts with companies under investigation for corruption, especially Odebrecht, reports La Mula. Several parties are awaiting PPK's testimony to the Lava Jato commission before deciding whether they would support his ouster, reports La República. His fate could be determined next week. At least 87 votes would be needed to impeach Kuczynski, reports Reuters. A motion to impeach him in December, in relation to alleged impropriety in relation to Odebrecht, failed. (See yesterday's post.) 
  • Odebrecht and Lava Jato corruption seems to have implicated all of Peru's recent leadership. While the initial response might be to renovate the political elite, the answer lies in institutional reform, argues Alberto Vergara in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • The FARC political party's sudden exit from Colombia's presidential race -- after candidate Rodrigo Londoño underwent heart surgery this week -- is a setback for the peace process, according to the New York Times. (See yesterday's briefs.) Though Londoño bowed out because of health concerns, the party suspended campaigning over a month ago due to lack of security guarantees.
  • Londoño voters will likely opt for Gustavo Petro instead, increasing his popularity but also saddling him with what critics call "castrochavismo," reports La Silla Vacía.
  • Colombians head to the polls for legislative elections this Sunday. La Silla Vacía reports on the local battles.
  • Cuba and the U.S. are increasingly distanced diplomatically, ostensibly over "sonic attacks" on U.S. embassy personnel. However, Cubans increasingly see the incident as an excuse by the Trump administration to rollback Obama administration rapprochement, and the less diplomatic contact the two countries have, the harder it will be to resume relations, warns William LeoGrande in Americas Quarterly. "The United States and Cuba made surprisingly fast diplomatic progress in the last two years of the Obama administration, signing two dozen bilateral agreements and dramatically expanding trade and travel. Ending the Cold War in the Caribbean was overwhelmingly popular among ordinary citizens in both countries. The current freeze in relations puts those gains at risk, giving both governments good reason to re-double their efforts to find a way out."
  • Paraguayan authorities arrested 15 Curuguaty police officers for allegedly attempting to steal illegally logged wood seized in a police operation. According to InSight Crime, the arrests "highlight a perennial regional problem — police corruption — as well as the relatively low risks and high rewards associated with illegal logging in Latin America."
  • U.K. scientists have started on £4.7 million project to develop a Zika vaccine, reports the Guardian.
  • The U.S. closed its consular office in Playa del Carmen and warned travelers to avoid the Mexican resort city, reports the Washington Post.
  • An "Oceans Eleven" worthy heist in a Sao Paulo airport this weekend highlights the growing issue of cargo theft in Brazil. Renato Lima of the the Brazilian Forum on Public Security told the Guardian that it's an example of how organized crime is spreading everywhere, and points to the inadequacy of the militarization of Rio de Janeiro as a public policy response.
  • While there is a focus on urban violence in Brazil, rural assassinations are on the rise, writes Gregory Morton in the New York Review of Books. " ... And these assassinations take place against a background of economic crisis and political malfeasance. As corruption trials generate a crescendo of public attention on law and order, the countryside becomes bloodier." He links the killings, often tied to land disputes, to a general right-ward shift in Brazilian politics. "Operation Car Wash signals a new emphasis in the exercise of state power: prosecutorial action, rather than welfare provision. The law-and-order state currently enjoys tremendous popularity. With more and more elected politicians facing allegations of corruption, judges and police emerge as the heroes of the day. ... As many in Brazil have come to associate “big government” with corruption, the country’s new emphasis on law-and-order has given some cover to a conservative challenge to the welfare state." He notes critically, that while financial malfeasance is increasingly scrutinized, the killings of rural activists remain largely impune.
  • Public debate about the Brazilian military is largely focused on its new role in Rio de Janeiro internal security. But in Americas Quarterly Oliver Stuenkel analyzes the diplomatic ramifications Brazil's participation in an upcoming U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic. "Despite the risks, a more careful analysis shows that Brazil’s decision to send approximately 750 soldiers to Central Africa is one of the Temer administration’s more far-sighted foreign policy decisions," he writes.
  • Hundreds of thousands of women marched in favor of a bill legalizing abortion in Argentina, reports Página 12.