Friday, May 26, 2017

Brazil's president calls off the army (May 26, 2017)

Brazilian President Michel Temer withdrew an order putting troops on the streets in Brasilia, just a day after calling on the armed forces to restore order after a protest demanding his ouster turned violent, reports the Financial Times. The decree, known as the law-and-order guarantee, is permitted under Brazil's constitution when police forces are overwhelmed.

However, the government of Brasilia complained that it had not been consulted and that the measure was unnecessary, reports the BBC. Brazilian authorities are investigating reports that police officers opened fire with live ammunition during the clashes, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
The latest corruption scandal which has flung Brazilian politics back into full-scale crisis "has struck at the core of the system of political patronage and corporate favoritism that has poisoned the country’s attempts to realize its full potential," argues the Financial Times. "Yet the unanswered questions are whether the spectacular results of these investigations, which have implicated a large swath of the political elite, will end up dismantling the corrupt nexus between government and big business, or whether it will leave the incentives that give rise to bribery in place."
Leaked recordings, like the one that appears to have implicated Temer last week, have been a game changer in Brazil’s fight against political corruption, argues Shannon Sims in a Washington Post World View. Yet, though they seem to promote transparency, experts say the leaking of secret judicial information is a huge problem around the country -- one that can be life or death for whistleblowers in small towns.

News Briefs
  • El Salvador's presidential offices siphoned off $322 million between 1994 and 2006, using a handwritten parallel accounting system. Handwritten entries in two notebooks detail how that amount of money was distributed in checks -- about half made out to the presidents in that time period, Armando Calderón Sol, Francisco Flores, and Antonio Saca, reports El Faro, which gained access to the data. The parallel accounting system -- called the "presidents' original sin" by one source -- was used to pay under the table bonuses to public officials, and other unauthorized use of public funds. Though the notebooks cover three Arena governments, El Faro reports that the practise continued under the subsequent FMLN government of Mauricio Funes.
  • Central American environmental activists are joining forces with rural communities in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua to create a new front of resistance against mining projects across the region, reports NACLA. Representatives from organizations and communities in all four countries met in Nicaragua last month to forge a new Central American Alliance Against Mining (ACAFREMIN).
  • U.S. President Trump's focus on forcing local law enforcement bodies to identify and arrest undocumented migrants is detrimental to the fight against Salvadoran street gang Mara Salvatrucha's U.S. incursions, said police chiefs from three different US counties impacted by MS13. The approach would force police to target the Latino communities that are their main source of information about the gang, said the police chiefs at a Senate hearing this week. They also spoke of some interesting dynamics between gang leaders back home and East Coast gang members, reports InSight Crime. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Gubernatorial elections in Mexico State are June 4, and the race is shaping up to be one of the country's most important in symbolic and political terms, ahead of next year's presidential elections, reports the Guardian. Delfina Gómez, candidate of Mexico’s National Regeneration party (Morena), could unseat the PRI, which has governed the country's most populous state for the past 90 years. The state "is considered the last bastion of PRI – the final block holding together a collapsing pyramid of economic and political power. If it too falls, the ramifications for the party, next year’s presidential elections and Peña Nieto’s inner circle would be profound."
  • The mayor of Chihuahua has fined a band $27,000 for a "narcocorrido," songs glorifying drug trafficking, reports the BBC. The singing of "narcocorridos" at live events has been banned by Chihuahua state law since 2011. The grammy-winning LLos Tigres del Norte say their ballads don't glamorize drug cartel culture, but, rather, reflex Mexican reality, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • The newly inaugurated government of Lenín Moreno in Ecuador represents an opportunity for the U.S. to reconstruct its relationship with the Latin American left, argues Evan Ellis in Latin America Goes Global. While Moreno was portrayed as a continuation of his predecessor Rafael Correa, he has already taken decisions that signal an alternate, leftist path. "President Moreno will likely pursue policies that give the Ecuadoran state a central role in advancing national development, addressing the needs of the socially and economically marginalized, and generally molding the country’s social and economic structure.President Moreno will also likely continue the government’s friendly disposition toward leftist governments and movements across the region, and a range of extra-hemispheric actors including Russia and China. Yet Moreno is notably more inclusive in his style, and does not bring to the presidency the deep personal resentment of the U.S. that shaped the posture and rhetoric of his predecessor, Rafael Correa ... In its orientation toward Latin America and the Caribbean, the U.S. needs to recognize that in the 21st Century its principal strategy challenge in Latin America and the Caribbean is not ideology, but criminality, poor governance, and those who seek to advance their personal agendas by exploiting the needs and frustrations of the region’s population. To this end, neither Ecuador nor any other government in the region should be considered an adversary of the U.S. simply for choosing a left-of-center approach to helping its people." (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Conflict and business are intertwined in Colombia -- "and for peace and economic cooperation to progress, the legacy of U.S. businesses in fueling the country’s decades-long conflict must be addressed," argue Tyler Giannini, MacKennan Graziano, and Kelsey Jost-Creegan in Americas Quarterly. They focus on the case of Chiquita Brands International, which admitted to paying $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004 to the right-wing Colombian paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC). Though Chiquita pleaded guilty in 2007, no corporate officials have been charged. However, Colombian attorneys are seeking justice, either through the country's criminal system or the newly created transitional justice mechanism. And last week a coalition of human rights organizations (of which the authors form part) also called upon the International Criminal Court (ICC) to examine the role of Chiquita’s executives in contributing to crimes against humanity.
  • Peruvian security forces will enter criminally controlled coca-growing areas for the first time, announced the government this week. It's part of an ambitious plan to halve the 50,000 to 55,000 hectares of coca grown in the country -- most of which is produced in a Puerto Rico-sized area of Amazon seen so far as too dangerous for police and soldiers to enter, reports Reuters. But the plan is unlikely to succeed unless a concerted effort is made to improve upon lackluster crop-substitution programs, argues InSight Crime. Without adequate compensation, farmers simply replant eradicated fields, and the re-cultivation rate has reached over 90 percent in some of the affected areas. 
  • The crackdown this week on São Paulo's Cracolândia -- described as an "atrocity," and a "massacre" by critics -- is unlikely to be effective at reducing microtrafficking, argues InSight Crime. Rather, the problem has merely been displaced, as buyers and sellers move to new locations. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Paraguay has had remarkable success in getting its population access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation -- more than 94% of its rural population now has access to safe water, compared with 51.6% in 2000, making more progress than any other country, reports the Guardian. The achievement is a combination of political prioritization, with innovative schemes, such as one that gives responsibility for water and sanitation to a volunteer board in rural communities. "The boards not only recover the maintenance and operating costs through setting water tariffs, but also repay a portion of the capital costs – used to build the infrastructure initially – to the national treasury. A rural family pays $3-5 per month for its water service, which is typically paid in cash to members of the board."
  • El Salvador's epidemic of violence is such that a story earlier this about the San Salvador zoo's hippo getting stabbed with an ice-pick seemed credible and telling of greater societal ills. (See Feb. 28's briefs.) Now some are casting doubt on that version of events, citing zoo operator negligence instead, and a potential conspiracy theory that business interests want to shut down the park and develop the property, reports the Washington Post.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

DEA lied about operations in Honduras that killed four civilians (May 25, 2017)

The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) planned and led a 2012 anti-narcotics operation in Honduras that killed four innocent civilians. The agency then lied about the episode to Congress, the Justice Department and the public, according to a scathing report released yesterday by the inspectors general of the Justice and State Departments.

The 2012 operation carried out on May 11 killed four people traveling in an unarmed taxi boat, and seriously injured three others. Seven children were orphaned as a result of the confrontation, which the DEA had claimed was in self-defense, reports the Guardian. But the inspectors general found no evidence to back the claim. "Not only was there no credible evidence that individuals in the passenger boat fired first, but the available evidence places into serious question whether there was any gunfire from the passenger boat at any time," according to the report.

The investigation heavily cites a report by Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which drew on eyewitness testimony to contradict the DEA version of events.

DEA agents in a program known as Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST) were involved in two other deadly shootings in Honduras that year before it was shut down, reports the New York Times. FAST was originally used to combat Taliban-linked opium traffickers in the Afghanistan war zone and later expanded to Latin America in 2008 to help fight transnational drug smugglers.

The three incidents analyzed were part of Operation Anvil, a 90-day pilot program designed to disrupt drug flights from South America to Honduras, reports Reuters. At the time Honduran protesters burned government buildings and demanded the expulsion of DEA agents. The controversy temporarily derailed U.S.-Honduran anti-drug efforts, reports the Los Angeles Times.

"Anvil, like many of its predecessors, combined the legal framework of a police action with the hardware and the rhetoric of war. Honduras is often referred to as 'downrange'; drug traffickers are 'the enemy'; the Mosquito Coast is a 'battlespace,'" reported the New Yorker in 2014. "In a broad sense, FAST was nothing new. What is remarkable is how many times the U.S. has tried such militarized counter-narcotics programs and how long it has been apparent how little they amount to."

The report released this week found that the DEA poorly planned the operation, failed to fully investigate the incidents and gave inaccurate information to Justice Department officials and Congress, notes the Associated Press.

The report rejected DEA's claim that the missions were led by Honduran law enforcement officials. The review "concluded this was inaccurate" and said D.E.A. agents "maintained substantial control," notes the NYT. Agency leaders made critical decisions and directed the mission's actions, according to the report. Only D.E.A. agents, not the Hondurans, had the necessary equipment to command the operation and had direct access to intelligence.

The DEA further refused to cooperate with the embassy, the state and justice departments, and the Honduran government.

"Many elements of the report suggest the DEA doctored its post-shooting reports and applied aggressive and sometimes fatal counterterrorism tactics to a law enforcement operation. At best, the agency had a severe case of confirmation bias," reports the Intercept.

"This report is nothing less than a wholesale indictment of the DEA and Honduran police for three poorly planned operations that resulted in the use of deadly force -- in one case, the shooting deaths of four innocent civilians -- and of incompetent investigations that never seriously pursued the truth," said U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy. "DEA, Honduran, and State Department officials provided Congress with incomplete, inaccurate, and misleading information in order to perpetuate a self-serving narrative that was fundamentally flawed and demeaned the lives of the victims and the reputation of the United States.  I am deeply concerned about the uninformed arrogance at these agencies that produced these failures.  This raises serious questions whether these cases are isolated incidents."

"The IG report makes it clear that DEA agents abroad can literally get away with murder. In this case, not only did the DEA fail to hold agents accountable for their role in the killing of innocents, they appear to have knowingly deceived the public about what actually occurred during the Ahuas operation," said Alexander Main, coauthor of CEPR's two reports on the incident. "Alarmingly, despite these revelations, there is no indication that the agents or those that protected them within the DEA will be sanctioned in any way."

The victims of the crime have yet to receive compensation or justice, notes the Guardian. The report does not make any recommendations regarding compensation or help for the victims.

"There have been no convictions against US or Honduran agents involved in the operation. There have been no remedies for the victims’ physical and emotional injuries, or for the resulting social and economic hardships sustained by the victims and their families," Karen Spring of the Honduras Solidarity Network told CEPR.

The report "confirms our worst suspicions," WOLA's Adam Isacson, told the LA Times. "I don't want to use the word 'coverup,' but [DEA officials] strongly discouraged, perhaps even impeded, efforts to investigate what happened ... I don't see any guarantee that another incident like this won't happen tomorrow."

News Briefs
  • The last eight weeks of anti-government protests in Venezuela have killed at least 55 people. Attorney general Luisa Ortega, who has been a critical voice of dissent within the government, issued a report detailing that the vast majority of those who have died during the protests — 38 — were killed by gunshots and projectiles, reports the Miami Herald. Many of those killed were teens or in their 20s. She accused security officers of excessive force and condemned the use of military tribunals to judge protesters, reports Reuters.
  • Most of the protests follow a pattern -- they begin with thousands of people in a peaceful march towards Caracas government buildings. They are then intercepted by security forces armed with rubber bullets and teargas, and backed by water cannon, reports the Guardian. Then commence the clashes between youths, known as los chamos, or la Resistencia, and security forces. (See Monday's briefs for David Smilde's account of how the protests unfold and criticisms.)
  • Protests continue in Venezuela, but the crisis appears deadlocked, writes Francisco Suniaga in a New York Times Español op-ed. "The opposition protests have been enormous, brave and fervent. But turning them into a popular rebellion that could force Maduro out would demand a greater level of organization and mobilization," he writes. The military will play a key role moving forward -- either maintaining loyalty to the government as it has done until now or defecting. And internationally, diplomacy is needed to help guide the two sides out of conflict, though there are no promising efforts on the horizon, he concludes. 
  • The latest round of protests in Venezuela is different from previous ones, argues Rachelle Krygier in a Washington Post World View. She points to broader participation -- numerically and across economic classes; divisions within the ruling party; increased international isolation of the government; and increased unity among the opposition coalition.
  • On the issue of dissent within the government: two Supreme Court magistrates said they were against the measure to convene a Constituent Assembly, decreed earlier this week. (See yesterday's post.) They said the attempt to rewrite the constitution was not an appropriate way out of the country's current crisis, reports el Nuevo Herald. Their criticisms join those of attorney general Luisa Ortega, who voiced opposition to the government plan. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • An enraged opposition said the Constituent Assembly convoked this week is a stalling tactic to delay regular elections it would lose, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Greater criticism from the left, and increased social cohesion in Venezuela point to change, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The intensity of the crisis is forcing people to look past years of chavista-opposition polarization, according to the piece. The piece quotes Dmitris Pantoulas, who points to "more voices bridging" the country’s two political poles. 
  • Food shortages in Venezuela would seem an excellent opportunity for the country's agricultural production. But producers find themselves unable to increase production, thanks to a combination of price controls and lack of hard currency to pay for imported feed, fertilizer and spare parts -- which are no longer produced by the country's failing industries, reports the Washington Post.
  • Brazil deployed federal troops to contain violent clashes between protesters and security forces in Brasilia, reports the New York Times. Officials say about 35,000 people protested in demonstrations demanding President Michel Temer's ouster -- setting fire to on ministry building and vandalizing other government buildings. Videos circulating on social media show mounted police advancing on a crowd as tear gas canisters fly through the air, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Temer lost another close aide yesterday, after former lawmaker Sandro Mabel resigned yesterday. Mabel is one of several linked to corruption allegations, reports the Guardian.
  • Lenín Moreno took office as Ecuador's president yesterday and promised more subsidies for the poor and a major social house-building program which would create millions of jobs, reports the BBCHe has promised more dialogue and a more conciliatory style, compared to his predecessors polarizing stance, reports Reuters. But former President Rafael Correa used the last month of his administration to hit hard against the opposition, media and civil society, writes Fundamedios' César Ricaurte in a New York Times Español op-ed. "Correa wants to mark his successor's territory. Leave him corralled, in the middle of two disputing forces, which adopt violent and exclusive language towards each other, making the dialogue and consensus Moreno promised, nearly impossible."
  • The United Nations said it would not be able to maintain essential operations if Trump's proposed budget cuts for next year are carried out. The White House submitted a budget for the 2018 fiscal year that would reduce funding of the State Department by roughly a third and cut foreign assistance by about 29 percent, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's briefs on how the cuts would impact aid to Mexico and Central America.)
  • USAID programs in Cuba would be cut under the proposed budget as well, reports the Miami Herald. There are no economic support funds for Cuba in the State Department’s 2018 budget proposal. (See yesterday's briefs on how the cuts would impact aid to Mexico and Central America.)
  • Over 40 leading U.S. travel companies and associations sent a letter to Trump, urging the administration not to rollback expanded U.S. travel to Cuba. The letter, organized by Cuba Educational Travel, additionally asks President Trump to support private sector growth in both the U.S. and Cuba by removing inefficient and unnecessary government regulations in order to further expand U.S. travel to Cuba.  
  • Former Haitian President Rene Preval showed the leader died of heart disease in March, according to an "eagerly anticipated" autopsy, reports Reuters.
  • Argentine authorities raided Odebrecht's Buenos Aires offices, as part of an investigation into alleged bribes in the granting of construction contracts for a water treatment plant, reports the Associated Press.
  • Amid Brazil's political turmoil, a local Uber competitor -- 99 -- raised $100 million from a Japanese bank, reports the New York Times.
  • Looking for a mouthwatering review of Noma Mexico, chef René Redzepi's seven-week Tulum pop-up? The New York Times' critic explains why he is staying away from the "the meal of the decade."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Brazil engulfed in scandal (May 24, 2017)

The corruption scandal that has engulfed Brazilian politics has spilled over into government functioning. A Brazilian Senate committee hearing on labor reform was suspended yesterday amid shouting, shoving and physical blows, reports Bloomberg. Opposition supporters vowed to obstruct a reading of the government’s bill on labor reform and eventually came to blows with government supporters.

The political crisis is threatening business interests -- just as investors were "tantalizingly close" to long-sought reforms to scale back labor regulations and overhaul pensions, reports Bloomberg separately.

"Brazilian politics have been thoroughly discredited. The revelations that have emerged since Dilma Rousseff was forced out last year have highlighted the hypocrisy of those who brought her down," argues a Guardian editorial. But persuading President Michel Temer to quit in the face of scandal -- which would allow Congress to pick his successor -- is not a way out of the current problem, according to the piece. "... Polls show overwhelming demand for an election. An already disenchanted public may otherwise sink into apathy or in the longer run, turn to an authoritarian, far-right figure such as Jair Bolsonaro playing the anti-politics card. Brazil’s politicians got the country into this mess: they should let the 143 million voters have a say in how to get out of it."

Senator Renan Calheiros, of Temer's PMDB party, said the president needs to "facilitate an exit" from the crisis, reports EFE. "I would not say that I am in favor of a resignation," the senator said, though adding that the best prospect for a rapid resolution of the crisis would be for Congress to designate a new head of state.

And the plot keeps thickening (though with too much anarchy for a Netflix narrative arc): Yesterday police arrested a close aide of Temer's, Tadeu Filippelli, for an alleged kickback scheme involving the World Cup stadium in Brasilia, reports the Guardian. He was arrested, along with two other senior politicians, and accused of deliberately inflating the cost of the Mane Garrincha stadium in return for bribes from the construction company.

Construction of the National Stadium of Brasília was originally estimated to cost 690 million reais, but the final price tag rose to 1.5 billion reais, making it the most expensive of the 12 Brazilian stadiums that hosted World Cup games, reports the Wall Street Journal.

But it's all relative: Brazilians are shocked at the case of a poor mother who stole an Easter egg for her children in 2015 was condemned to a harsher jail sentence than corporate executives and politicians who cheated the public of millions of dollars, reports the Guardian. She was kept in pre-trial detention for five months, and sentenced to over three years in prison. She has been serving time since November of last year, giving birth to her fourth child behind bars. The overly harsh sentence has drawn condemnation and comparisons to lenient plea-bargain deals for corruption convicts.


Maduro convenes Constituent Assembly

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro issued a decree to convene a constituent assembly, reports the BBC. The vote for the assembly would be held in July. He also announced that delayed state elections would be held in December, reports Reuters. But the announcements failed to appease an angry opposition that says the government is just playing for time. (Attorney General Luisa Ortega spoke out against the plan to rewrite the constitution, see yesterday's briefs.) 

The proposal submitted by the Maduro administration doesn't clarify a time frame for the new constitution, but the Constituent Assembly in 1999 had a six month deadline, notes Efecto Cocuyo. Current legislation puts the decisions of an assembly outside the purview of state organisms.

Increasing violence in Venezuela's seventh week of protests points to "spreading anarchy in Venezuela, as both the government and opposition leaders - who urge nonviolence - appear to be losing control," reports the Washington Post.

Currency exchange: the Venezuelan economy ministry announced a new foreign exchange auction mechanism the fifth such plan in four years, reports Reuters.

News Briefs
  • Salvadoran officials are worried that U.S. plans to deport gang members could further increase violence in a country already in the midst of a homicide epidemic, reports the Washington Post. Government authorities and lawmakers have already held emergency meetings to discuss responses, including proposed legislation to monitor returned gang members closely. (See May 8's briefs.) Gang members make up a small fraction of deportees, but experts are concerned that returned migrants could swell the ranks of existing street gangs and strengthen offshoot cliques. Another proposal would have deported gang members interned in centers that would function as half-way houses -- though human rights organizations have questioned the legality of holding citizens who are not charged or convicted of crimes in El Salvador.
  • Pope Francis named Salvadoran auxiliary bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez cardinal. He was close to the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed by a right-wing death squad in 1980 during El Salvador's civil war and beatified in 2015. As a papal advisor he could strengthen the role of the Roman Catholic Church in responding to El Salvador's gang violence. He has said that he would support a dialogue between the government and the country's powerful street gangs under the right circumstances, according to the Associated Press.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump's budget proposal for next year proposes a drastic reduction in  foreign aid spending in Mexico and Central America, reports Reuters. The proposal submitted yesterday foresees 2018 Mexican aid of $87.66 million, down more than 45 percent from the 2016 outlay. Aid for Guatemala would drop by 40 percent and in Honduras and El Salvador it would fall nearly a third.
  • Haitians living in the U.S. under temporary protected status face an uncertain future after the Department of Homeland Security advised them to get their affairs in order and extended the end date of the program only through next January, reports the Miami Herald. Many argue they have no job prospects back home on an island that has yet to recover from a series of natural disasters and political upheaval. And their return en-mass will also remittances, which account for 20 percent of the income of people in Haiti annually. Yesterday the Trump administration proposed cutting the $191 million in assistance it gave to Haiti in the 2016-2017 budget by $33.4 million next year. That’s on top of drastic reductions in the U.S. contribution to the United Nation’s peacekeeping operations and humanitarian programs around the globe, including Haiti, notes the Herald.
  • U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is asking member states to transfer $40.5 million in unspent funds from Haiti's peacekeeping mission to help communities and victims of a cholera outbreak that has afflicted over 800,000 people, reports the Associated Press.
  • Demobilized FARC fighters have given up armed struggle, but the danger of retribution from angry citizens is very real: According to the Colombian Agency for Reintegration, one in 10 reported cases of violence against demobilized fighters involves homicide or attempted homicide, reports the Guardian. Newly unarmed guerrillas will also face temptation from criminal gangs, which are reportedly offering good salaries for former fighters. Cali, already volatile from criminal gangs, is expected to receive up to a quarter of all former Farc combatants.
  • Mexican journalist Javier Valdez was attacked by two gunmen, who fired 12 shots at him, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office said. Valdez was killed last week. (See May 16's post.) Investigators re-enacted the hit yesterday in Culiacan in the presence of the special prosecutor for crimes against journalists, Ricardo Sanchez; the AG’s office representative in Sinaloa, Gerardo Rodriguez; and Sinaloa Attorney General Juan Jose Rios, reports EFE.
  • Mexican and Canadian officials say NAFTA renegotiations should be trilateral, and replacing the deal with bilateral pacts doesn't make sense, reports the Wall Street Journal. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has said that the reworking of Nafta could be as the existing trilateral pact or a series of bilateral agreements with symmetrical provisions.
  • Polls say upstart leftist MORENA party could wrest Mexico state governor elections in June from the PRI, which has governed the most populous state for the past 90 years, reports Reuters. A victory there would significantly increase momentum for MORENA candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador's presidential bid next year.
  • Several Mexican organizations of civil society will pull out of a government organism dedicated to the "Alliance for Open Government," after a report earlier this year about surveillance of NGOs, announced Fundar
  • A Bolivian congressional committee approved a bill aimed at decriminalize abortion in the first eight weeks of pregnancy, easing restrictions for when the mother is in extreme poverty or doesn't have sufficient resources to support a child, reports TeleSUR.
  • Barrick Gold Corp's Veladero mine in Argentina's San Juan province could resume full operations next month, after the provincial government approved an improvement plan for the mine, following its third spill of cyanide solution in 18 months, reports Reuters.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Haitians in U.S. granted temporary reprieve, warned to get affairs in order (May 23, 2017)

News Briefs
  • The Trump administration granted a stay of reprieve for about 58,000 Haitians living in the U.S. under temporary protected status. The program permitted Haitians to live and work in the U.S. in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake. Yesterday the Department of Homeland Security announced the program would be extended through next January, but warned people to "get their affairs in order," reports the BBC. "This six-month extension should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced. An internal government memo recommended ending the scheme in January, though lawmakers and activists say conditions on the ground in Haiti are not adequate for the migrants to return. The issue became the focus of social media and letter writing campaigns across the U.S., reports the Miami Herald. Though the extension was welcomed, it's too short a time period to give migrants reasonable security, said advocates. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Observers expected Trump to announce his administration's Cuba policy this weekend, but the approach has yet to be finalized. Instead Trump spoke on Saturday, the country's 115th anniversary, promising to work for a Cuban government that respects democracy and civil liberties, reports the Miami Herald. The Cuban government, which does not consider the anniversary relevant, lashed out, calling the message "controversial" and "ridiculous," reports the Miami Herald separately. In the meantime, Cuban diplomats in the U.S. are on the road around the country seeking local allies against a potential return to combative relations, reports the Miami Herald in another piece.
  • Central America's rampant street gangs -- behind much of the violence spurring massive illicit migration towards the U.S. -- are commonly believed to be a result of U.S. deportations in the 1980s. Now U.S. authorities feel migrants, specifically unaccompanied minors, are bringing the problem back to the U.S., where there are increasing reports of gang violence in areas where Salvadoran immigrants live. But experts question the "mano dura" approach that would round-up and deport gang members again -- pointing to failing safety nets that push kids towards gangs, writes Sarah Maslin in a Vice feature.
  • Another feature in The Intercept on a deported Salvadoran man separated from his family in Houston. "After 17 years in Houston, [José] Escobar became one of more than 40,000 people arrested for deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement between January and May under President Trump’s “bad hombres” pledge. But Escobar, like nearly 11,000 others who were arrested, had no criminal record. He was a prominent member of the local community, and his wife and children are U.S. citizens."
  • A Colombian Constitutional Court ruling last week would permit lawmakers to modify laws or reforms required by the peace accord with the FARC, potentially permitting opponents to sabotage the agreement's implementation, reports InSight Crime. (See last Friday's briefs.) The first law facing Congress that could be affected by the decision is one creating special peace constituencies in 16 areas of the country that lacked legal representation because of the conflict, reports la Silla Vacía.
  • The FARC's weapons are now words. A Silla Vacía feature looks at how former fighters are reaching out to dissidents who won't lay down arms, seeking to convince them through dialogue.
  • Venezuelan Chief State Prosecutor Luisa Ortega criticized a government plan to convene a Constituent Assembly, a lone voice of dissidence, reports Reuters. "Instead of bringing stability or generating a climate of peace, I think this will accelerate the crisis," she said, mentioning it would heighten uncertainty and alter the "unbeatable" constitution launched under late leader Hugo Chavez.
  • Protesters set fire to late President Hugo Chavez’s childhood home in western Venezuela yesterday, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer now wants a Supreme Court investigation against him for obstruction of justice and corruption to continue. Over the weekend he asked for the probe to be shelved, but now says the evidence has been manipulated and a full investigation will clear his name, reports the BBC
  • (See yesterday's post.) "I will not resign. Oust me if you want, but if I stepped down, I would be admitting guilt," Temer said in an interview with Folha de S. Paulo. Chief Justice Carmen Lucia ruled on yesterday that the court would not take up the recording issue until Brazil's federal police finished their examination of the tape and determined if it had been edited, possibly making it inadmissible as evidence in the investigation, reports Reuters. (See last Thursday's and Friday's posts.)
  • Wondering how the political scandal might end? Temer could be forced out through five ways, including impeachment, electoral court and massive protests, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Shares in the JBS meat processing giant at the heart of the latest Brazilian corruption scandal dropped 31 percent yesterday, after Brazilian authorities announced an investigation into potential insider trading and Moody's downgraded the company rating, reports the Financial Times. (See yesterday's post.)
  • About 500 armed Brazilian police officers led a crackdown in São Paulo's Cracolândia, in which about 40 people were arrested. Dozens of locals reacted in anger, vandalizing shops and burning cars, reports the BBC. Mayor João Doria said the operation is a blow against impunity, but critics say it will push drugs problems to other parts of the city.
  • Megadams around Latin America, but especially in Brazil are a subject of intense controversy. Proponents argue they're a critical source o renewable energy, while critics say "an unaccountable industry, encouraged by governments to steamroll over environmental and human rights laws, and sweep aside evidence of ecological damage, has worked with dictators and corrupt governments to destroy vast swaths of forest and ruin livelihoods, penalizing people who live in the world’s untouched regions where rivers are most suitable to be dammed," reports the Guardian.
  • Former Peruvian President Ollanta Humala said on Monday that neither he nor his party received campaign contributions from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, reports EFE.
  • Corruption is very much in vogue in Latin America, but are struggles against entrenched political corruption equal opportunity? A piece in Equal Times explores whether female leaders and certain parties are singled out more than their counterparts.
  • Curbing illegal financial flows -- tax dodging -- "could revolutionize and dramatically transform the story and history of development. And it would certainly be one of the best sources of financing for development which is the big thing," argues Ecuadoran foreign minister Guillaume Long in an interview with IPS.
  • The narrative that NAFTA has moved manufacturing jobs from the U.S. to Mexico is a myth. Rather the deal "has played a supportive rather than a transformational role in its member economies," argues a Financial Times editorial. "But its importance in building valuable cross-border supply chains means that trying to amend the pact to return jobs to the US would be counterproductive."
  • Asia-Pacific trade ministers have agreed to resuscitate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) without the U.S., reports the BBC. The representatives also agreed to help the US rejoin the deal at any time.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri returned from an China tour with 16 agreements worth at least US$17 billion in areas such as energy and transport infrastructure, reports Mecropress.
  • Cannabis activists in Chile are urging patients with chronic pain to grow their own marijuana plants for medical use, despite occupying a legal gray area, reports Reuters.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Temer asked Supreme Court to shelve investigation (May 22, 2017)

Brazilian president Michel Temer says evidence allegedly linking him to obstruction of justice in a broad corruption scandal has been falsified. He called on the Supreme Court to stop an investigation opened last week, until the question of manipulation of evidence could be resolved, reports the Financial Times. (See last Thursday's and Friday's posts.) 

Temer spoke out aggressively about billionaire, Joesley Batista this Saturday. In a televised address he accused the beef empire heir of insider trading and the manipulation of audiotapes, reports the New York Times. Secret recordings submitted by Batista to prosecutors as part of a plea-bargain appear to implicate Temer in a broad corruption scandal and have fueled calls for the president's resignation. 

Temer called Batista a criminal and accused him of carrying out lucrative trades in futures markets after negotiating a plea deal with investigators. Brazil’s securities regulator said Friday night that it was investigating alleged irregularities by JBS, including the possible crime of insider trading. Temer said JBS made money from the latest scandal by buying $1 billion in dollar contracts and selling the company’s shares before leaking the allegations to the press. If they are found guilty prosecutors may ask for even more than the $3.4 billion they currently demand as part of a promised leniency deal, according to the Wall Street Journal.

An article in Valor argues that the Batista brothers' plea-bargain is part of a scheme to get in the U.S. Department of Justice's good graces and move the company to New York. JBS is planning a U.S. initial public offering of its international unit, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Temer has sought to paint himself as indispensable for unpopular economic reforms considered vital to pull the country out of a long recession, reports the Financial Times. Temer told the media that he would not resign, even if he is indicted. Analysts are speculating that if he is pushed out however, Congress would pick a reform-minded replacement to finish out the term and that this successor might keep the economic team valued by international investors, according to FT. There are even some rumors that finance minister Henrique Meirelles could be appointed caretaker president.

Yesterday Brazil's bar association voted to back impeachment, citing what it said was the president’s failure to denounce criminal activities and improper promises of favors, reports the Financial Times separately.

But also yesterday Temer gained a brief respite, when a major coalition partner, the PSDB social democrats delayed a decision on whether to pull out of the government, reports Bloomberg.

Protesters defied heavy rain yesterday to call for Temer's ouster, reports the Los Angeles Times. Organizers say they gathered 20,000 in São Paulo. The protests gathered people from across the political spectrum, according to the piece. In Rio de Janeiro protesters gathered in front of House speaker Rodrigo Maia's house, also accused of corruption.

"To say that this situation — Temer’s ongoing presidency — is unsustainable is an understatement. How can a major country possibly be governed by someone who everyone knows just months ago encouraged the payment of bribes to keep key witnesses silenced in a corruption investigation? The sole rationale for Temer’s presidency — that he would bring stability and signal to markets that Brazil was again open for business — has just collapsed in a heap of humiliation and destruction," writes Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept.

The Batista brothers' testimony includes the confession of buying 30 deputies' votes for Dilma Rousseff's impeachment, notes Página 12.

Página 12 notes the divide in Brazil's mainstream media: Folha and Estado are playing down the charges, while Globo is pushing hard for his resignation.

News Briefs
  • A broad leftist coalition in Honduras chose a television star as presidential candidate. Salvador Nasralla will represent the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship in November's election, and will face off against incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez. The coalition includes the leftist Liberty and Refoundation Party, LIBRE, of ousted ex-president Manuel Zelaya, Nasralla's centrist Anti Corruption Party, PAC, and other groups, including a dissident from Hernandez's center-right National Party, reports TeleSUR.  Xiomara Castro, Zelaya's wife and former presidential candidate, will be Nasralla's running mate. The coalition platform promises a constituent assembly, cheap petrol and free public services for the country's poorest, reports el Heraldo. Several promises pick up on Zelaya's "citizen power" policies, according to the piece. Hernandez is favorite to win re-election, though he was well short of an outright majority in an opinion poll published last week that gave him 36 percent support among voters, reports Reuters. The same poll saw Castro with 12 percent support and Nasralla 11 percent, and it is believed together they could pose a challenge to Hernadez's bid to become the first president to hold a second term.
  • Opposition protesters in Venezuela set fire to a man during a demonstration this weekend. The government says the victim -- who survived -- was a Chavista, but witnesses said the crowd accused him of being a thief, reports Reuters. The daily demonstrations demonstrate creativity -- some featuring candles in honor of the 40 plus victims of violence in recent weeks, other musicians, and still others the elderly, reports the Financial Times. The themed protests are a way of keeping momentum going, putting the onus on different groups to get crowds out. But most demonstrations are also turning violent towards the end, when security forces block their path and masked youths retaliate with rocks and Molotov cocktails. 
  • Ongoing protests in Venezuela -- well into their seventh week -- are playing a critical role in battling an increasingly undemocratic government, writes David Smilde in a Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights post. But he also questions why the political opposition is not taking a stronger stance against violence. While he lauds the commitment of the thousands of people who are marching -- most are doing so peacefully -- he questions the encouragement of the young men (mostly) who are facing off against security forces in makeshift armor. "... The violence protestors are subject to works in the opposition’s favor as it creates spectacular national and international coverage, shows this government to be undemocratic and repressive, and galvanizes national and international opinion against it. Put differently, the only way these “muchachos de la resistencia” contribute to the opposition’s cause is by becoming victims of government violence. There is no other manifest function of their violent clashes with security forces. Of course human beings often make such sacrifices for the greater good. However, it is not clear to me that these young people understand the logic of what they are doing, while I suspect that many professional politicians do." He makes it clear that there is no moral equivalence -- the government is responsible for the conflict. But he also calls on opposition politicians and the international community to do more to protect average citizens. And an interesting more broad observation on the protests as a pressure mechanism: "When you take a democratic population, immiserate them and take away their right to hold their leaders accountable and choose who they want to govern them, violence should be expected. In most times and most places in human history, the question of “whose in charge” has been decided through violence. Only relatively recently, and never universally, has this question been decided through electoral mechanisms. When you withdraw these mechanisms, you should expect violence to reemerge as the preeminent mechanism of social control, sorting and hierarchization. The violence that has occurred so far is relatively small scale. It is what has been called by some scholars “uncivil society,” i.e. uncivilized actions by a population subject to oppressive rule. ... And we should not be surprise that if this situation continues on, things could get much worse."
  • President Nicolás Maduro told the U.S. to stop meddling in Venezuelan affairs and get out of the country, reports Reuters. The statements, which included the phrase "get your dirty hands out of here," come after the U.S. announced sanctions against members of the Venezuelan supreme court last week. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • The leaders of Mexico's two main opposition parties -- the center-right PAN and the center-left PRD -- are floating the idea of allying in next year's presidential elections with the aim of defeating the incumbent PRI party. The proposal could also pressure outsider candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the Morena party, reports Reuters. The PRD lost much of its support last year to Morena, when AMLO broke with the party. The two parties have divergent ideologies, and if they succeed it would be the country's first coalition government, notes the Financial Times.
  • Mexican migrants returning home -- by choice or deportation -- often find the difficult return journey complicated by their U.S.-born children. Families face separation or relocation to a country some of them have never been in, reports the New York Times. Back in the U.S., crackdowns have Latino families scared to spend in case they face deportation, reports the Financial Times.
  • U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is expected to announce whether temporary protected status for Haitians in the U.S. will be extended or terminated in July. The program recognizes the difficulties facing Haiti after a 2010 earthquake and permits registered Haitians to live and work in the United States until conditions back home improve, reports the New York Times. Last month the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services recommended the designation be extended only until next January. If the program is ended, about 58,000 Haitians could be forced to return en-masse. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and rights groups have protested, arguing that dire conditions in Haiti justify the program's extension.
  • At least 10 people were injured and 40 arrested in clashes in Colombia's Buenaventura port city. The looting and violence followed four days of peaceful protests in which residents demanded better infrastructure, a decent hospital service, more safeguards against rampant crime, and drinking water, reports the Financial Times
  • "Human rights groups in Colombia are calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate executives from Chiquita Brands for alleged complicity in crimes against humanity as a result of payments made to paramilitary groups more than a decade ago," reports the Associated Press.
  • El Salvador has given the country's artisanal miners two years to transition to other jobs, after becoming a mining-free territory. But the miners don't believe the government will follow through on creating alternative livelihoods for them, and activists worry that the small-scale operations will be allowed to continue indefinitely, removing the teeth from a measure aimed at protecting the country's limited water supply, reports the Guardian. (See March 30's post.)
  • Opposition to teaching sexual equality runs deep in some parts of Peru. Deutsche Welle reports on resistance to the new school curriculum that states that men and women should have the same rights and should be treated equally and their sexual choices respected.
  • Outgoing Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said today that his country had “done its duty” by granting asylum in 2012 to Julian Assange, and said he was glad Sweden had closed its rape case against the WikiLeaks founder, reports AFP.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Temer insists on innocence (May 19, 2017)

Brazil's Supreme Court approved an investigation into allegations that President Michel Temer encouraged a business executive to pay a jailed-former ally hush money. Temer insisted yesterday that he was innocent and refused to resign. Opponents called for impeachment and financial markets plunged, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The authorization of a Supreme Court investigation comes a day after O Globo ran an explosive story that JBS executives presented plea-bargain testimony implicating Temer. (See yesterday's post.) The court released the audio of the recording, in which Temer allegedly pushes Joesley Batista to maintain payments to former House speaker Eduardo Cunha. The payments could be aimed at keeping Cunha from reaching a plea bargain himself and implicating Temer or close associates, according to speculation.

However some observers, including Folha de S. Paulo found the tape to be inconclusive, noting inaudible stretches in the recording and a lack of clarity in the part of the dialogue dedicated to Cunha. (The piece has a transcription of the auido.) The WSJ also says the recording doesn't really show Temer approving bribe payments, it does not that "Temer can be heard murmuring expressions of solidarity throughout the recording, even as Mr. Batista describes things like obtaining confidential information about the investigation from a federal prosecutor."

In a televised speech yesterday Temer was defiant and appeared under stress, according to the New York Times. He emphasized the risk to his economic platform, aimed at getting Brazil out of a long recession. He also demanded a rapid investigation, reports the Financial Times.

Politicians across the spectrum called for his resignation yesterday. This marks a whole new turning point in Brazilian politics -- which in recent years has been defined by corruption scandals, amid the ever-growing Operation Car Wash investigation into graft at state-owned oil company Petrobras that has implicated dozens of prominent politicians from all major parties.

Impeachment -- it would be the second in two years -- is unlikely for now as Temer's coalition enjoys a large congressional majority, according to the Guardian. But there is intense pressure on him to step down, and already one party -- with 13 deputies -- has announced it's withdrawal from the coalition.

If Temer is ousted, he would be succeeded by House speaker Rodrigo Maia, himself facing corruption inquiries. But Maia could only hold the post for a month, after which Congress would elect a new president to serve the remainder of Mr. Temer’s term, through 2018, explains the NYT. Analysts say Congress would likely lean towards another reform-minded leader, according to the WSJ.

So many lawmakers are implicated in the corruption scandal however, that some factions are pushing to elevate chief justice Carmém Lúcia to the presidency because a majority of congressmen are implicated in the corruption scandal, reports the Guardian.

However, there are also calls for simply having new elections -- though that would require Congress to pass a constitutional amendment. (Presidential elections are scheduled for October, 2018.)

In the meantime, the scandal will likely affect Temer's ability to push through unpopular reforms aimed at jumpstarting the economy. Already the Podemos Party, with 13 deputies, announced it would be leaving the governing coalition.

The reforms the Temer administration is focused on include a wildly unpopular pension reform bill -- aimed at reducing public debt -- and loosening labor regulations, in order to entice investment. Though they lack public backing, the proposals "have helped to restore confidence to an economy that remains mired in its worst-ever recession," argues the Economist. "The Globo revelations will delay the reforms, if they do not stop them altogether."

The plea bargain reached between prosecutors and seven executives of JBS and J&F Investments, involves paying fines of R$225m, reports the Financial Times. (The piece includes interesting background on the meatpacking giant "one of the most important Brazilian companies most people have never heard of.") Their revelations  this week have had other prominent targets: Senator Aécio Neves, runner-up in the 2014 presidential race, allegedly figures asking for about $600,000 in bribes to pay for legal fees. He was suspended from the Senate yesterday by a Supreme Court magistrate. Neves’s sister, who worked with him on the 2014 campaign, was detained yesterday.

Congressman Rocha Loures -- a Temer confidant -- was also removed from office yesterday following reports that he negotiated bribes worth 500,000 reais a week for 20 years from JBS, notes the Guardian.

The new focus on the inquiries on parties other than the Workers' Party could raise perceptions of the judiciary as impartial -- even as it finishes torpedoing most political parties' legitimacy, according to the Guardian.

The impact of the latest scandal has been such that satirical website Sencionalista said it followed the "Netflix model" of releasing an entire season of episodes at once. "The acclaimed series "Brasil", available in all media since June 2013, has been a time of doubt before the debut of the new season. ... What the fans did not expect was that the new season would be released so fast and with all the episodes at once. Focused on President Temer and Senator Aécio Neves, the season was released early yesterday with all the chapters."

News Briefs
  • The U.S. government announced announced sanctions against eight members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court. The administration said the measures, which freeze any assets they hold in the U.S. as well as bar U.S. citizens from doing business with them, are intended to pressure the court to stop its efforts to obstruct the National Assembly, reports the New York Times.
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles said he was barred from leaving the country yesterday. Authorities seized his passport while en route to the United Nations to denounce government rights abuses, reports the Wall Street Journal. He said he would return to street protests in Caracas. U.N. High Commissionerfor Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said he hoped the passport revocation was not a "reprisal" linked to his scheduled meeting with Capriles today, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with Trump yesterday in Washington. The Colombian leader was seeking assurances that millions of dollars of aid for the peace process will continue, reports the Los Angeles Times. But Trump did not publicly commit, though he praised Santos' efforts to make peace. Instead Trump focused on fighting drug trafficking and on potential trade deals, as well as the wall he has promised to build along the border with Mexico, according to the LA Times. Santos spoke of Colombia's post-war reconstruction needs. The meeting shows that the relationship between the two countries has changed significantly under Trump and indicates a more difficult situation for the peace agreements, according to la Silla Vacía. U.S. funding is likely to hinge on Colombia focusing on combatting illicit coca cultivation, cracking down on transnational crime and creating a credible transitional justice system, according to experts cited in the piece.
  • "The agreement sets out to bridge the historic divide between the Colombia of developed urban centers and that of the vast, impoverished interior, where historically there has been little or no government presence and, as a result, limited security, weak rule of law and deficient health care and education," writes Santos in a New York Times op-ed. "To close this gap, my government has committed itself to a far-reaching program of rural development for the largely low-income population, including land, titles, credit, roads and crop substitution programs."
  • A key deadline for the implementation of Colombia's peace plan with the FARC is fast approaching: D-180 at the end of May. It's the six-month mark at which the approximately 7,000 demobilized FARC fighters should be disarmed and certified as civilians, that is to say, free to leave the camps they've concentrated in as part of the process. This is unlikely to happen in time -- FARC guerrillas are reluctant to hand over their weapons until the government follows through with certain provisions of the agreement. Nonetheless, both sides appear committed to continuing the process and to not allow delays to impact the implementation, reports the Economist.
  • Silla Vacía reviews how Congress is passing the laws that enact various parts of the agreements, noting that many have scraped through.
  • On the issue of U.S. aid -- WOLA launched the "Central America Monitor," aimed at following U.S funded assistance programs that aim to reduce violence, strengthen law enforcement and the rule of law, combat corruption; and evaluating the progress that Central America is making in the fields of transparency, corruption, violence reduction, and justice and security reform through the use of a series of indicators. "In 2015, the U.S. Congress approved a US$750 million aid package to implement a new multi-year strategy of engagement with Central America designed to help address the underlying conditions driving Central Americans to leave their countries. While former assistance to the region focuses primarily on strengthening security, the aid package recognizes, in principle, the need to reduce violence, strengthen institutions, combat corruption, and expand economic opportunities. The aid package includes a set of requirements for recipient countries concerning improvements in accountability and transparency, reforms of public institutions, anti-corruption, human rights, and participation, which the countries must meet in order to obtain the aid. The requirements are important and reflect a belief that international assistance will not make a difference unless these countries demonstrate a firm commitment to strengthening the rule of law, tackling corruption, and to addressing poverty and inequality. The majority of the assistance began to make its way to the region in early 2017, and in May the U.S. Congress approved another $655 million."
  • The White House formally notified Congress that it will aims to renegotiate the NAFTA, but gave no details of what sort of changes it will seek, reports the New York Times. On the campaign trail last year Trump threatened to tear up the deal altogether, but in April agreed with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts to a renegotiation instead. (See April 27's briefs and April 28's post.) The short letter sent to Congress yesterday by Robert Lighthizer, the newly confirmed United States trade representative, differs drastically from an eight-page draft that circulated in March, which would have allowed for tariffs if a flood of imports threaten a local industry and changed the agreement’s rules of origin, notes the NYT. (See March 27's post.)
  • A growing number of U.S. companies are avoiding ad-campaigns targeting latino consumers, for fear of angering Trump followers, reports the Financial Times.
  • Most aggressions against journalists in Mexico come from public servants, according to government statistics, reports Animal Político. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • The only way to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise in Mexico is a total ban on gillnet fishing in the Gulf of California, enforcement against illegal fishing, and the development of alternate fishing techniques, according to a new World Wildlife Fund report. The porpoise could be extinct by next year if not, reports Animal Político.
  • More people have died attempting to illegally cross the Mexico-U.S. border in the past 16 years than the total victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. According to Border Patrol, the number is 6,023 deaths. The time has come to honor them with a cenotaph on the Washington Mall, argues Ilan Stavans in a New York Times op-ed. A way of "immortalizing the fornteir victims through which we not only return their lost identity, but also the place they deserve in our national mythology. Along with them are the Cuban balseros who died in the Florida Straights. Or the Puerto Ricans who succumbed during the odyssey from the Caribbean island to Manhattan during the 'great migration' of the 50s."