Wednesday, November 30, 2016

New peace deal approved by Colombian senate (Nov. 30, 2016)

The Colombian Senate approved the new peace accord with the FARC late last night. The Lower Chamber is expected to vote likewise today, reports la Silla Vacía.

The marathon session lasted 13 hours, and senators voted 75 in favor and none against, though Álvaro Uribe's Centro Democrático left the session. La Silla Vacía has specific details such as constitutional challenges and how the new timeframe for implementation could work.

News Briefs
  • Losing factions of Haiti's latest presidential election 10 days ago quickly questioned preliminary results anointing Jovenel Moïse the winner against 26 candidates, reports the Associated Press. Second place finisher Jude Célestin, along with the candidates that came in third and fourth, rejected the results and said they'd file challenges. Despite "tepid" protests against Moïse, the country remained calm, notes the Miami Herald. And the OAS issued a statement supporting the outcome. Célestin came in second to Moïse in last year's elections, which were scrapped after major allegations of fraud and irregularities. Marysse Narcisse came in fourth, with 8.9 percent. Supporters of the Fanmi Lavalas party, founded by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have insisted that only "massive fraud" would keep Narcisse from the presidency and have protested repeatedly over the past few days. Reuters notes that three of the nine members of the Provisional Electoral Council did not sign off on the results. Voter turnout was low and 10 percent of the sheets tallying votes were thrown out because of irregularities. Up to 80 percent of the electorate chose not to participate Jake Johnston, a Haiti expert with the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington told the Wall Street Journal. But the Herald emphasizes that authorities "defended the results and went to great lengths to detail how the votes were tallied." Haiti has been run by an interim government for almost a year. 
  • The U.S. government will not send a formal delegation to Cuba for Castro's funereal. Top White House aide, and key interlocutor in negotiating the détente, Ben Rhodes will attend, along with the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, reports the New York Times.
  • A procession carrying Castro's ashes has set out from Havana, eastward towards Santiago de Cuba where he will be interred on Sunday morning, reports Reuters. Last night hundreds of thousands of Cubans and foreign dignitaries from allied countries gathered for a commemoration service. But the absence of heads of state from around the world was notable, according to the Wall Street Journal. The U.S., Canada, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Russian heads of states all were absent. The Guardian has a video of Raúl Castro's eulogy. He spoke dressed in military uniform, and his words emphasized the polarizing influence of his iconic brother, according to the Guardian. He gave few hints as to how Cuban policy will proceed from here, reports the Los Angeles Times, though the elder Castro stepped down a decade ago.
  • President Raúl Castro has promised to step down in 15 months, and attention will now likely focus on his heir apparent: Miguel Díaz Canel, who has made press and internet freedom his signature concerns. At 56 he is a relative youngster by Communist Party standards and has kept a low profile, even with regards to the economic reforms implemented by the younger Castro brother, reports Reuters.
  • Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was paid $4.3 million in 2002 to consult for the government and police force of Mexico City, then led by up-and-coming politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador. That could be a problem now that Giuliani is a possible nominee for secretary of state and López Obrador is likely to run for president in 2018 -- on an anti-Trump, Mexico first platform, reports the Washington Post. The alliance between the two was always curious, considering their ideologies are at odds, and there's still debate over whether Giuliani's "broken windows" approach helped or hurt the situation. Some petty crime numbers went down after the city implemented a large number of his recommendations, but violent crime either stayed the same or rose slightly over the following five years.
  • Inter-American Court of Human Rights will hear its first case related to a forced disappearance in Mexico in the context of the "drug war," reports InSight Crime. The case, submitted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights relates to the 2009 disappearance of cousins Rocío Irene Alvarado Reyes, Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza and José Ángel Alvarado Herrera at the hands of military agents. The case comes as Mexico faces intense international scrutiny regarding its spotty human rights record, especially the issue of forced disappearances.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto submitted a constitutional change to Congress, that would modify a recent judicial reform to have the Senate appoint the country's first independent prosecutor. The proposal seeks to address criticism that a presidential appointee would undermine the office's autonomy and shield the current president from corruption investigations moving forward, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Nov. 2's briefs.)
  • Confused over all the Trump promises to deport millions of immigrants and what crimes they've committed? The New York Times has a cool infographic that explains the numbers and notes that the last time the U.S. carried out mass deportations was under Eisenhower, and the military-style roundups of hundreds of thousands of Mexicans was controversial then too.
  • Thousands of demonstrators in Brasilia yesterday protested President Michel Temer's austerity proposals, as the Senate was gearing up to approve a constitutional amendment to cap government spending for the next 20 years. Protesters turned over cars and attempted to enter the Senate, and were met by tear gas and what appeared be rubber bullets, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Cocaine smuggling through Peruvian ports has risen in recent years, as criminal organizations make inroads among dockworkers, according to the country's new anti-narcotics agency, reports Reuters.s
  • Thousands packed into Chapecó's church and stadium to mourn the death of 71 people in a plane crash, including 19 members of the Brazilian city's soccer club, reports the Associated Press.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Trump threatens a Cuba détente rollback (Nov. 29, 2016)

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump reiterated threats to rollback the Obama administration's relaxing of regulation on trade with Cuba. He tweeted yesterday that "If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal," reports the Guardian

The first scheduled commercial flight between Miami and Havana landed yesterday. Passengers applauded and Cubans welcomed the plane with water from firetrucks, reports the Associated Press. Though it was a moment of celebration of renewed relations between the two countries, but the American Airlines flight landed in a capital subdued by mourning, reports the Guardian

The threat comes two days after Fidel Castro's death, and as experts debate to what extent Trump would be willing to jeopardize businesses who invested time and money in Cuba based on the current administration's policies. (See yesterday's post and Nov. 11's.) 

Obama's signature foreign policy initiative was carried out largely by executive action, making it vulnerable to reversal. But changes stemming from relaxed restrictions and a focus on engagement have been widespread and won't be easily undone, say others. Yesterday Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary pointed to concrete business deals, including 110 daily flights between the two countries and investments by cruise, tour and hotel operators. It could be legally difficult to reverse the policies which permitted these investments.

And business leaders have asked for a more measured stance, reports the Financial Times.

But Trump's words could restart the hostilities between the two countries that engagement aimed to end, reports the New York Times.

Trump's stance could also drive a wedge between Latin American leaders and the U.S., reports the Wall Street Journal. Undoing the detente would be negatively viewed by the region's conservative governments as well as leftists and could complicate regional cooperation, according to the piece. A history of U.S. interference in the region has fostered resentment and solidarity among Latin American countries, and many could view a rollback as offensive to countries that promoted normalization.

Additionally, the tactic of demanding more of Cuba has traditionally backfired on the U.S., Eric Olsen, Associate Director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center told the WSJ.

Henry Godinez defends engagement as the best way to help Cubans in a New York Times op-ed, and calls on Cuban Americans to let go of demands for reparations for properties confiscated in the Revolution. "Nothing is more threatening to a totalitarian regime than the unfettered flow of information and ideas."

Castro's death occurs just as the incoming Trump administration is expected to throw regional policy for loop. The fraught waters promise to challenge Cuban President Raúl Castro. But the younger Castro brother has shown his own distinctive brand of leadership over the past decade of rule, notably maintaining Communist Party control despite a program of economic reforms, reports the Guardian.

Castro's upcoming funereal presents a diplomatic dilemma for world leaders -- with the exception of Latin American leftist governments, most are sending mid-level delegations to represent them, reports the Guardian. In the U.S., Republican leadership is pressuring Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to skip the event. On a broader level, world leaders have struggled to find words honoring Castro's legacy yet condemning his human rights record, reports the Financial Times

Castro is iconic in Latin America, but his legacy is increasingly mixed and fading, argues John Paul Rathbone in the Financial Times.

Dignitaries expected to participate and arrive later today include Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto and Spanish King Juan Carlos, reports the Miami Herald.

Tens of thousands of Cubans have lined up in Plaza de la Revolución in Havana to pay their final respects, and the mood yesterday was sombre and respectful, according to the Miami Herald. The ashes will remain there till Tuesday night, when they will be taken on a three day procession east across the island until reaching Santiago de Cuba, their final resting point. 

The government has banned sales of alcohol and closed down the Havana nightlife scene, reports the Wall Street Journal.

And while Fidel long handed over the reigns of government, an entire generation of Cubans has never known a world without him. "Fidel embodied the best and worst of us. We loved his smarts. And his defiance. And when he imagined our tiny little island as a continent, we shared his delusion. We hated his ambitions and loved that he had them. Hang out with a bunch of Cubans, and the minute someone gets imperious, someone else will call her out for “the little Fidel” in her; in all of us, really," writes Achy Obejas in a New York Times op-ed.

"There has been plenty of history in Castro’s Cuba since 1959, much of it deplorable," writes Roger Cohen in another NYT op-ed. "Fidel was a flawed giant. By the end the only idea of his still standing was the anti-American nationalism taken on by the late Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. However, this is certainly not the moment to say his stand for the disinherited of the earth was unimportant. Nor, at a time when the United States has elected a charlatan as president, is it the moment to overlook the fact that Fidel was a serious and uncorrupt politician. Nor to leave unsaid the suffering he inflicted."

News Briefs
  • Preliminary results in Haiti declared Jovenel Moïse the outright winner of the Nov. 20 presidential election, reports the Wall Street Journal. Moïse was the candidate of former President Michel Martelly's Tet Kale party, and obtained 55.6 percent of the vote according to yesterday's results. He is a banana plantation owner with no political experience, reports the Miami Herald. Should the results hold, it will mean the country will have an elected president for the first time in a year -- without the need for a second round of voting. But three of the nine members of the provisional electoral council refused to sign off on the results. There have been violent clashes in the wait for results, notes the BBC. Some experts say a second round would permit greater political stability. Second-place candidate Jude Célestin of the Lapeh political party had 19.5 percent in the preliminary count announced by electoral officials. The third place finisher, Moïse Jean-Charles, got 11 percent.
  • Mexico's Colima state, specifically Manzanillo, has the dubious distinction of being the country's "murder capital." The violence marking relatively small population of 700,000 is part of a national realignment of organized crime, and a struggle between the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels to control the biggest port on the country's Pacific coast, reports the Guardian.
  • Strong private-sector growth in Mexico has pushed the country's unemployment to its lowest level in nine years, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazil's opposition sought yesterday to have President Michel Temer investigated and impeached for pressuring a former minister to override preservation rules in Salvador to favor another cabinet member with interests in a luxury apartment development. (See yesterday's briefs.) The demand is unlikely to advance, nor will it likely affect the approval of a signature Temer proposal to cap government spending -- due for Senate consideration today. But it has cost his government a cabinet member and adds to the country's political uncertainty, according to Reuters.
  • A charter plane carrying the Brazilian Chapecoense soccer team crashed on the outskirts of Medellín crashed killing 76 people, authorities said earlier today. Search and rescue operations have been hampered by low visibility, reports the Associated Press. The team was traveling from Bolivia to play in the final of Copa Sudamericana, which has been suspended, reports the New York Times.
  • As Trump gears up to fight free trade, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski promises to fight back against protectionism, reports the Financial Times. As an alternative to the U.S., the country's main trading partner, PPK is looking to deepen ties with Beijing.
  • The drought that currently has Bolivia in a state of emergency is due to rapidly shrinking glaciers that supply the country with water, a sign of how climate change is already affecting one of the region's poorest countries, according to the Guardian.
  • Five new national parks in some of the wildest parts of Chile and Argentina will be created within the next year or so, thanks to the joint conservation efforts of former outdoor-clothing giants Doug and Kris Tompkins, reports the Guardian. The two bought up 2.2 million acres of land and have modeled their conservation efforts on the U.S. national park system.
  • Liberal democracies around the world may be at serious risk for decline, according to political scientists Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa. Their early-warning system uses the case of Venezuela to demonstrate indicators of deconsolidating democracies, reports the New York Times.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

"Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me." Castro dies at 90 (Nov. 27, 2016)

Iconic Cuban leader Fidel Castro died on Friday at 90 years old. A master of stagecraft till the very end, his Nov. 25 death occurred on the sixtieth anniversary of the evening he boarded the Granma yacht along with Ernesto "Che" Guevara and started a guerrilla war that led to revolution in Cuba, notes the Miami Herald. He lived to see the many tributes carried out in his honor this year to celebrate his ninetieth birthday in August.

He "was at once idealistic and pragmatic, sharply intelligent and reckless, charismatic and intolerant," writes Reuters.

The New York Times obituary calls him "the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war ..." It notes that he stayed in power longer than any other living national leader, with the exception of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Guardian's editorial calls for context, arguing that"one should situate him in the political and intellectual setting of 20th-century Latin American anti-colonialism rather than seeing him through the eyes of the 21st century. Castro’s passing sees the departure of one of the giants of the cold war era and a revolutionary guerilla leader. He must be judged by the conditions that made him possible, but not indulged by them. He emerged victorious in a battle against a brutal and corrupt US-friendly regime at a time when democracy had yet to reach most of the Caribbean or indeed what we now know of as the developing world."

The government declared nine days of mourning, which will conclude on Dec. 4 with a burial in Santiago de Cuba. A two day memorial starting Monday will give Cubans a chance to pay their last respects. In the meantime, Cuban exiles literally danced in the streets of Miami.

In Havana reactions were more muted and uncertain, according to the New York Times. Cubans have been in a "collective haze" since receiving the news, reports the Wall Street Journal.  El Estornudo has a more local, colorful account of how the news hit. And the Guardian has pictures.

Castro's death comes two years after a historic change in U.S.-Cuba diplomacy -- in which a half-century of Cold War policies were rolled back to permit incipient investment on the island and broadened opportunity for travel. But the election of Donald Trump earlier this month throws that legacy in question. He has rhetorically opposed the rapprochement, and the language used by the president elect and his transition team suggests he might be serious about rolling back the executive actions that have been the primary vehicle for changing U.S. policy in this area over the past two years, reports the Miami Herald. Trump called Castro "a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades."

He named a prominent critic of rapprochement to his Treasury Department transition team, but has not yet named a secretary of state, who would play a major role in developing Cuba policy, according to Reuters.

Castro's death puts pressure on Trump to follow through with his campaign promises to unravel diplomatic advances, reports the Wall Street Journal. Top aides said on Sunday that that he would demand the release of political prisoners held in Cuba and push the government to allow more religious and economic freedoms. Nonetheless many analysts say a full roll-back of relaxed regulations is unlikely, reports the Guardian.

On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times argues that the death is likely to shield the Obama reforms, giving the incoming Trump administration a politically acceptable way to maintain them.

And while the Financial Times notes Trump's desire to pander to anti-detente Republicans in Florida, it also notes the U.S. business sector that wants to pursue opportunities in Cuba.

Read more here:

In anycase, Cuban leaders say they've already weathered countless other political upheavals in other countries, notes the New York Times. The revolutionary leader's death comes a decade after he stepped down from the presidency, ceding power to his brother Raúl. Since the government has slowly transformed the island in many ways -- while still maintaining  a firm grip on power. It means his passing will have more of an emotional than policy impact, according to the NYT.

Yet his legacy will continue to loom large on the island, emphasizes the Wall Street Journal -- though there are no statues of him on it.

(More interesting memories of Castro by Reuters correspondents ...)

"Fidel Castro’s impact on Latin America and the Western Hemisphere has the earmarks of lasting indefinitely. The power of his personality remains inescapable, for better or worse, not only in Cuba but also throughout Latin America," notes the NYT obit.

And the outpouring of tributes from the regions' leftist leaders, and criticisms from the right, show the divisive nature of his legacy, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Sunday's Página 12, for example.) Around the world, leaders of all political stripes praised the man who championed the cause of anti-colonialism and backed the sentiment with troops and medics, reports the Guardian.

It's the climax to a year of change, in which the political left has ceded to the right around the world, writes the Financial Times' John Paul Rathbone.

News Briefs
  • In Venezuela, Castro's death was mourned by the government, but celebrated as a potential sign of a further shift rightward internationally by the opposition, reports Reuters.
  • Civil society groups in Guatemala called on Congress to approve judicial and constitutional reforms, set for a third legislative debate today. In a press release, JusticiaYa voiced fears that lawmakers would attempt to water down the provisions aimed at strengthening institutions, judiciary independence, and permitting investigation of public officials. The initiative under consideration is the result of a seven month long "national dialogue" that took into account over 245 proposals from diverse citizen groups, academic institutions, think tanks, and organizations. The reforms are critical to preserving the anti-corruption achievements of 2015, argues JusticiaYa on Nómada. Another Nómada piece has details on the reform itself. And in a broader analysis, Martín Rodríguez Pellecer has a column in Nómada that argues the heads of Guatemala's executive, judiciary and legislative branches are well intentioned, but allied to corrupt and criminal groups that represent a danger to the ongoing work of the CICIG and Public Ministry. He also emphasizes the critical importance of the proposed reforms to create an independent judiciary capable of building on the CICIG and Public Ministry work.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer promised to veto any bill passed by lawmakers seeking to grant themselves amnesty from corruption investigations, reports the Wall Street Journal. Congress is set to vote this week on legislation that could grant amnesty to politicians who accepted campaign funds stemming from Petrobras corruption. (See Sept. 21's post.)
  • Temer himself is in the corruption crosshairs, after a former colleague said the president pressured him to bend regulations in order to give a construction in Salvador the greenlight, reports the Guardian. The scandal led to the resignation of a top aide, and the opposition is threatening to use the case for impeachment proceedings, though it's unlikely the move would prosper. Still, the controversies could affect Temer's push for reforms aimed at pulling the economy out of recession, according to the Financial Times.
  • Protesters gathered on Sunday in Sao Paulo demanding Temer's ouster, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazil's anti-corruption judicial crusades have created utter upheaval in the country's political class. But with plea deals taking down an ever widening web, a music icon argues that innocent people are being caught up, John Neschling told the New York Times.
  • FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño promised to back a presidential candidate who would seek to defend the peace accord with the guerrilla group, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Christopher Dickey has a piece in the Daily Beast on how Salvadoran death squads started targeting Americans during the Carter-Reagan transition --"It’s a cautionary example now as we look at the kind of Neo-Nazi crazies who claim to have found in President-elect Donald Trump a kindred soul, and the tyrants (Assad, Putin) who may think Trump will give them a pass on their ferocious repression."
  • Should Trump follow his campaign promises with regard to Mexico -- to build a wall between the countries and make them pay for it; rip up NAFTA; and intercept the remittances that give many families a lifeline -- the effects could be disastrous for Mexico, reports the Guardian.
  • An Argentine media report that Trump asked President Mauricio Macri for help obtaining permits for a luxury project in Buenos Aires doesn't appear to have any factual basis -- but the case Trump's family business ties in Argentina, show how his election could help favor partners, even without actual requests for favors, reports the Washington Post.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Colombia's new deal will be sent to congress, despite opposition rejection (Nov. 23, 2016)

The new deal between the Colombian government and the FARC will be signed tomorrow, reports La Silla Vacía. The accord will then be fast-tracked in Congress, where legislators will vote on whether to approve it on Tuesday. The move reflects a desire for a speedy implementation, and technically legislators will be asked to respond to a motion, not a bill.

The signing will be far more subdued than the symbolically charged event that celebrated the conclusion of the original deal, which was attended by local and international dignitaries to great fanfare, notes the Guardian.

The signing occurs despite a rejection by opposition groups after a marathon meeting Monday evening. (See yesterday's briefs.) Opposition groups say the modifications don't go far enough in punishing rebels for human rights abuses, reports the BBC. Former President Álvaro Uribe says the changes are largely cosmetic.

The new agreement modifies one narrowly rejected by voters last month, which was the result of four years of negotiations between the two parties. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this week, Santos defended the new deal, saying it incorporated significant demands made by Colombians. The FARC will be required to declare and deliver all of its assets to repair and restore victims, for example. And more precisely defines the transitional justice system to be used for war crimes.

(Semana has a point by point analysis of the changes.)

Criminal groups are increasingly moving into vacated FARC territory. The issue has been noted by top Colombian officials and international rights groups, which have dubbed them "neo-paramilitary groups," reports InSight Crime. The issue was expected in advance of a peace accord, as FARC movements to pre-concentration areas leave power vacuums in communities where the state was largely absent. But the problematic start to the peace accord has made the problem worst, according to InSight. It has delayed the implementation of rural development programs that would help displace illegal economies in those areas. "It is becoming increasingly clear that criminal groups are expanding to absorb the FARC's illegal economies and territorial control."

Increasingly, social organization leadership has become the target of homicides, spurring fear of a return to the assassinations of thousands of left-wing Union Patriótica party members in the 80's and 90's, reports the Miami Herald. Since January, 70 leaders have been targeted and murdered, mostly rural organizers, land-rights advocates and people who have campaigned in favor of the peace deal. Yesterday Santos ordered stepped-up protection for community leaders and called the attacks against them "dramatic evidence" of the risks of not "implementing the peace deal."

La Silla Vacía reports that there have been at least 20 deaths since the August bilateral ceasefire of regional social leaders, social organizations, leaders of displaced groups, and human rights associations.

On Monday the FARC asked Santos to respond to the killings, saying some 200 people have been killed "under a complete cloak of impunity" and "a new genocide is now underway against social leaders and peasants," reports EFE.
News Briefs
  • Security forces continued to clash with protesters in Haiti yesterday, two days after presidential elections were held. (See yesterday's briefs.) Police used tear gas to disperse supporters of presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse in Port-au-Prince yesterday, reports Reuters.
  • Videos of high level Salvadoran officials discussing deals with street gang leaders were published by InSight Crime, El Faro and Revista Factum earlier this year. (See for example Oct. 31's briefs, and May 9's post.) The implications have been important for the FLMN Sánchez Cerén government, which promised to distance itself from the previous administration's truce approach with the gangs, now deeply unpopular among citizens. But not only are the videos a blow to the government's credibility, InSight's sources say the talks may have been used to gather information on the gangs that is now being used in a violent crackdown. 
  • Sky-high gang violence in El Salvador -- an average of about 18 murders per day -- is creating a humanitarian crisis, writes Celia Medrano for Open Society Foundations' "Voices." And its creating a wave of migration to other countries, as well as a high rate of internally displaced people in the country. Medrano, chief program officer at Cristosal, says the Salvadoran government does not officially recognized forced displacement by violence. "Durable solutions for displaced persons require a broad, long-term vision based on institutional coordination with active participation from affected communities, state authorities, and the victims themselves. Forced displacement and migration must be addressed with a human rights–based approach to the development and implementation of security policies," she writes.
  • In the Conversation, Adriana Éstevez argues that the wave of Central American and Mexican migrants fleeing their countries is spurred not only by violence, but also policies aimed at clearing population from areas with rich natural resources. "This isn’t a conspiracy theory, and this hypothesis is not mine alone. Data indicates that in resource-rich countries, the concurrence of forced displacement with criminal, misogynistic and political violence cannot be a coincidence. ... This “necropolitics” - the politics of death – is the violent core of what scholar Bobby Banerjee defines as necrocapitalism, that is, profit-driven deaths."
  • There are signs of increased demand for "coyotes," human smugglers, in Honduras in the wake of the Trump election in the U.S. The reports suggest the election is already having an impact on organized crime and migration patterns in the region, according to InSight Crime. (See yesterday's and Monday's briefs.)
  • CICIG commissioner Iván Velásquez has been penally denounced by a right-wing group accusing him of involvement in the death of a former finance minister -- who supposedly died in a suicide -- reports Prensa Libre. (See Sept. 23's post on a malicious wave of litigation against human rights advocates seeking justice for civil war crimes, brought forth by the Foundation against Terrorism.
  • Jamaican police commit hundreds of summary executions each year, according to Amnesty International. A new report out today says officers have created a culture of fear that allows them to cover-up evidence of police killings, reports the Guardian. "Information gathered … points to a strong likelihood of the existence of individual police officers or even units tasked with carrying out extrajudicial executions on the orders of some governmental authorities or with its complicity or acquiescence."
  • Latin America's right-ward swing from the "pink tide" governments of the past decade might be better characterized as a tun towards hypercorrection of the messy policies of the era, argues Javier Corrales in a New York Times op-ed. While there is some room for optimism, he fears the current lot of leaders in the region will repeat the mistakes of the past because "the politics of hypercorrection, regardless of what policies are adopted, are prone to overreach. Fixating on huge crises prompts politicians to go overboard, become too improvisational and ignore other issues." He traces the pendular swings of the past decades, from decentralizing, democratic transition governments, to neoliberal economics, to the last period of leftist leaders intent on tackling inequality with state expansion. "And now it’s time for post-left presidents. An encore performance of overcompensation and neglect is in the works." Rather than focusing on rolling back the state, he urges governments to focus on rule of law, and strengthening courts. And he cautions that "hypercorrection comes from crises and is prone to crises."
  • Latin America faces significant challenges in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also good opportunities for achieving climate goals, argue Lisa Viscidi and Rebecca O'Connor in a New York Times Español op-ed. Most countries in the region, including the biggest emitters, Brazil and Mexico, signed the Paris Accord, but only Costa Rica is on track with reductions. But many of the region's commitments are dependent on financial assistance and technology transfers, issues which will be addressed at the upcoming Marrakesh meeting, they writes.
  • Latin America's burgeoning prison population is clearly exemplified by Brazil, where preventative detention and arrests for possession of small amounts of drugs have created a prison crisis, argues Elizabeth Leeds at WOLA. Temer's new administration has said it will prioritize "law and order" initiatives over a more multi-disciplinary approach favored by the previous government. Leeds calls for civil society organizations to defend meager advances and oppose jail privatization, which would provide economic incentives for further overcrowding.
  • Evidence presented in the so-called "narco nephews" case suggests the complicity of high level Venezuelan officials in the drug trade, reports InSight Crime. Last week the nephews of first lady Cilia Flores were convicted of conspiring to smuggle 800 kilos of cocaine to the U.S. in a New York court. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • An Associated Press feature looks at how the families of disappeared people in Iguala have gathered to provide each other with moral support and press authorities to help them find their missing family members.
  • Brazilian authorities are preparing for a long-term battle with Zika virus public health problems as previously undetected brain damage begins to surface in apparently unaffected babies, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • At least four people have already died in Panama from Hurricane Otto, and Costa Rica and Nicaragua are under threat, reports the BBC.
  • Schools will end the year two weeks early in several Bolivian regions due to the severe and prolonged drought the country is enduring, reports the BBC. (See yesterday's briefs.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Global Commission calls for market drug regulation (Nov. 22, 2016)

The Global Commission on Drug Policy recommended ending all penalties – both civil and criminal – on people who use drugs in their new annual report released this week. The report calls for the implementation of alternatives to punishment for all low-level, non-violent actors in the drug trade, and to consider market regulation as the next logical step.

The report notes "a significant shift has taken place in global drug policy, both in terms of public discourse, scientific evidence and policy implementation," over the past few years. "It is, however, time to challenge more fundamentally the way societies view drugs and those who use them," writes chairman Ruth Dreifuss. "As long as drugs are considered as evil, and thereby criminalized, they will remain in criminal hands. Because they are potentially harmful they must be regulated by responsible governments, who are in charge of the well-being of their population. Exploring models of regulated production and markets is necessary and these experiences have to be scientifically monitored and the results made available. It is time for States to assume their full responsibility and to remove drugs from the hands of organized crime. It is time to take control."

The report calls for the urgent decriminalization of drugs. "The harms created through implementing punitive drug laws cannot be overstated when it comes to both their severity and scope. On a daily basis, human rights abuses—from the death penalty and extrajudicial killings, to inhuman and coerced drug treatment—are committed around the world in the name of drug control, while strict drug laws have escalated public health crises in the form of HIV and hepatitis C epidemics. Furthermore, in a number of countries drug laws have caused severe prison overcrowding. These extensive damages wrought by a punitive approach to drugs and drug use fundamentally undermine the principle of human dignity and the rule of law, fracturing the relationship between States and their populations."

Former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria cited the U.S. election, where voters in several states legalized marijuana as an example of how drug policy can fall outside of partisan lines, according to the Guardian. But Gaviria also warned that the U.N. is not the global leader to steer the issue. "The only answer they have for everything is: the conventions, the conventions, the conventions," Gaviria said.

In fact the report singles out U.N. special drug sessions as creating conditions where billions of people around the world suffer from inadequate access to pain relief medication because of restrictions placed on prescribing them. "This lack of access violates the international right to the highest attainable standard of health."

News Briefs
  • FARC leadership arrived in Bogotá yesterday ahead of the signing of a new peace accord with the Colombian government, reports Reuters. There are expectations that the signature could take place this week, though there's no confirmation, reports the Miami Herald. The accord is expected to be presented to congress tomorrow. Over the weekend, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he would allow the agreement to be debated by legislators before they vote, reports Reuters.
  • However, following a six hour meeting with government delegates, the Colombian opposition rejected the new deal, which modifies the one narrowly rejected by voters last month, reports AFP. It's very bad news, according to La Silla Vacía, which has details on the hours of fighting yesterday that led to the break. There is the possibility of a direct meeting between opponents of the agreement and FARC leadership, though the government rejects that tactic.
  • Over the past 45 years, a stunning 60,630 people were disappeared in Colombia, according to a new report Colombia's National Center for Historical Memory. The report says Colombia's armed actors -- from state security forces, to paramilitaries and guerrilla groups -- used forced disappearances in a massive and systematic manner, according to TeleSur.
  • Wonderful in depth piece by Sarah Maslin for Colombian Journalism Review on El Faro, the pioneering Salvadoran digital newspaper. El Faro has changed the landscape of reporting in the region, and has gained unprecedented access to the street gangs behind the country's horrific violence. But critics say its long-form narrative style is not the best way to get information to readers. Others in El Salvador accuse the journalists of being gang spokesmen. Maslin delves into the workings of the paper, and details how journalists became closer to their sources. "The more time they spent in the slums, the more they understood that for a poor kid in a violent country, the only real question was this: Do you want to be a victim or a perpetrator?"
  • The foreign ministers of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras met yesterday to form a joint strategy to protect their citizens trying to get to the U.S., in the wake of Donald Trump's election victory, reports Reuters. The Central American countries asked Mexico for help to create a migrant protection network, liaise for coordination with U.S. authorities, and to meet regularly for regional talks. 
  • Trump named a Cuba embargo hardliner, Mauricio Claver-Carone, to his transition team. Naming one of the harshest critics of Obama's rapprochement policy could signal a change in policy, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Trump's promise to withdraw from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership on his first day in office effectively scuttles the trade deal that was to be the Obama administration's signature trade policy, reports Reuters. Instead countries, including Chile and Peru, are looking to potentially enter into tariff reduction agreements with China.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Peru yesterday, where he signed several pacts with President Pedro Pablo Kyczynski. They include plans to promote mining projects, including one postponed due to deadly protests in 2009, reports Reuters.
  • Bolivia's government declared a state of emergency related to water shortages throughout the country, and will make alleviation funds available to families and the agricultural sector, reports Reuters.
  • Two nephews of Venezuela's first lady have been convicted in a U.S. court of conspiring to smuggle 800 kilos of cocaine into the U.S., reports the BBC. Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores were arrested a year ago in Haiti by a DEA sting operation and were accused by U.S. prosecutors of plotting to use a Venezuelan airport's presidential hangar to send the drugs to Honduras and on to the U.S. The verdict will likely support U.S. allegations that Venezuela's government has ignored drug smuggling and could worsen already negative relations between the two countries, according to the Miami Herald.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said he hopes for better relations with the U.S. under a Trump presidency, though he called the real estate tycoon a "bandit and thief" last year, reports Reuters.
  • A corruption trial against former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is set to start this week, and is causing even deeper rifts in an already hyper polarized society, reports the Financial Times. The court case against the wildly popular ex president "promises to be Latin America’s trial of the century," and will call his legacy of combatting poverty into question.
  • Brazilian economic officials continue to call for austerity measures to combat the country's worst recession on record -- amid further difficulties in emerging markets caused by Trump's election, reports the Wall Street Journal. National debt could reach the equivalent of the national GDP, said President Michel Temer, urging a reform that would cap spending, reports Reuters.
  • Tensions are running high in Haiti as citizens await results from Sunday's presidential election. Though final results could take a week, already various candidates were claiming victory and shots were fired outside the presidential palace yesterday, reports Reuters.
  • CEPR has a five part election primer on Haiti. The final installment yesterday argues that the election, which was held against the wishes of major international donors, could be an evolution in the island's foreign dominated political cycle.
  • Will Chile be the next country to jump on the populist bandwagon? Widespread anger by protesters who say they have been failed by the establishment indicate that the normally staid and conservative country could head that way, according to the Financial Times.
  • Fourteen bodies were found in Mexico's Guerrero state this weekend, including 9 decapitated men found by the roadside with visible signs of torture, reports the Guardian

Monday, November 21, 2016

Haiti elections smooth, results delayed (Nov. 21, 2016)

Haiti's oft-delayed presidential election (see Friday's post) went off smoothly yesterday, though results could take up to a week, reports the BBCReuters however says there could be early results later today. 

After polls closed in the late afternoon, election workers began counting paper ballots by hand in voting centers lit by candles, lanterns and flashlights due to a temporary blackout in the capital, reports the Associated Press.

But the Miami Herald celebrated that the election day "was much improved over the last year’s," and incorporated measures such as new fraud-deterrent purple indelible ink.

A few "hitches" included rising rivers that delayed voting in two centers and prevented it at two others, along with general rain and problems with voter registration lists, according to the Herald.

While voter turnout was reportedly low in the Hurricane Matthew ravaged southwest, citizens lined up to participate in voting centers in the rest of the country.

But political party poll watchers, a major issue in last year's botched elections were not as much as an issue this time around, according to the Herald.

News Briefs
  • El Salvador's destructive street gangs are "mafias of the poor," in a far different league from the sophisticated, transnational criminal networks they are equated with internationally, according to a collaborative feature between El Faro and the New York Times. "El Salvador has been brought to its knees by an army of flies," write by Oscar and Carlos Martínez, Deborah Sontag and Efren Lemus. "Unlike other groups considered global organized crime syndicates, the Salvadoran gangs do not survive on the international trafficking of cocaine, arms and humans. While they dabble in small-time drug dealing, gun sales and prostitution, they engage primarily in a single crime committed over and over within Salvadoran territory: extortion. Inside El Salvador, they hold the reins of power largely because of a chilling demand repeated — or implied — daily across the country: Pay or die." In the context of an unprecedented crackdown on the gang's financial network earlier this year, the attorney general emphasized the difference in the lifestyle of gang leadership and rank and file, intending to drive a wedge within the gangs. Yet, according to the piece, while leaders' families have slightly more resources, they are hardly living lives of luxury. The piece has incredible insights to a phenomenon that has been reported on broadly. For example, transportation companies have become particularly vulnerable to extortion, and "over the last five years, it has been more dangerous to drive a bus than to fight gang crime."
  • Violent shoot-outs between police and residents in Rio de Janeiro left at least 12 deaths this weekend, reports the Wall Street Journal. Most of the deaths occurred in the City of God neighborhood on Saturday, where a police helicopter crashed in the evening, killing four police officers. Authorities say there is no evidence it was shot down, reports the BBC. The bodies of seven youths were found with indicators that they were summarily executed in the wake of a massive security operation in the favela, reports El País. Authorities have chosen to remain in the neighborhood indefinitely, and the federal government has offered national force officers to assist. Crime and violence are increasing in Rio: the 2016 murder rate through Sept increased nearly 18 percent over the same period last year, while street clime increase by 44 percent, reports Reuters.
  • A Brazilian federal judge has ordered 21 people linked to mining companies to answer to homicide charges related to the Samarco tailings dam accident last year. The accident is considered the country's worst-ever environmental disaster -- a wave of toxic mud killed at least 19 people, razed villages and polluted an estimated 400 miles of waterway, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A Venezuelan Supreme Court decision last week regulates the right to protest, outlining "that demonstration, in Venezuelan law, is not an absolute right understood as that class of law that admits of no restriction, for example the right to life." But critics say the ruling is ambiguous, leaving it unclear which authorities must determine when a manifestation has the potential to disturb public order nor what criteria should be used in making the call, writes Hugo Pérez Hernáiz in Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
  • President-elect Donald Trump's promises to build a wall to stop immigration from Lain America has fed into a surge of migrants hoping to make it to the U.S. before regulations become even tougher -- and are proving a valuable selling point for human smugglers, reports the Washington Post. But a point that is often lost in the debate is the changing face of who is trying to cross the border, notes the piece. The number of Mexicans seeking to cross illegally has dropped significantly since 2010, while the number of migrants from violence-plagued El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala has nearly quadrupled in the same period, to almost 179,000.
  • The threat of U.S. withdrawal from the region has Latin American leaders looking to strengthen ties with China, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Friday's briefs.) At the end of a summit in Lima on Friday, Apec leaders reaffirmed their commitment to free trade, reports the BBC, though it appears the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be dead in the water without U.S. support.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama sought to assuage fears of a U.S. trade turnabout while in Lima on Friday. "There are going to be tensions that arise, probably around trade more than anything," he told an audience of students and young leaders from Latin America, reports the New York Times. “Because the president-elect campaigned on looking at every trade policy and potentially reversing those policies ...But once they look at how it’s working, I think they’ll actually determine that it’s working for both the United States and our partners."
  • U.S. advocates for closer relations with Cuba are preparing for a far less receptive administration, reports the Miami Herald. The piece goes into the theory of promoting democratic change through closer engagement, as espoused by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the Brookings Institution and WOLA among other groups.
  • "Rudolph Giuliani's controversial prior work on behalf of an opioid pain medication manufacturer helped facilitate an explosion of drug violence in Mexico," reports InSight Crime.
  • Interesting piece by political scientist Javier Corrales in Americas Quarterly analyzing Trump's election within the context of a regional trend towards electing political outsiders (or pseudo-outsiders, as he argues.)

Friday, November 18, 2016

Haitians to finally head to polls (Nov. 18, 2016)

Haitians head to the polls again to pick a president -- a re-do election after last year's results suffered from widespread fraud and irregularities. Haiti has been struggling for  a year to resolve a political impasse that has left it under the administration of an interim-government that has failed to meet several deadlines for holding elections.

the election is taking place amid the rubble of widespread Hurricane Matthew destruction, which led to the most recent postponement of voting, scheduled for last month. But interim president, Jocelerme Privert urged citizens to go to the polls, calling the exercise vital for the country's stability, reports the Guardian.

Voting will have to be conducted at fewer polls, due to storm destruction. Many other schools, used as voting centers, are being used as emergency shelters for displaced people, notes the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. Other voters will face difficulty having lost their identification cards (along with all their belongings) in the storm.

There are 27 candidates for president in this Sunday's election, but only six are actively campaigning and have a shot governing for the next six years, according to the Miami Herald. (The article has useful bios of the six.) 

The leader of the pack is Jude Célestin, who has the unprecedented support of a coalition of former presidential candidates, according to the Herald.

The Guardian cites polls putting Jovenel Moïse ahead, and another showing strong support for Maryse Narcisse.

The top contenders include two women. Most of them have strong links to former presidents Michel Martelly, René Préval and Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Aristide's campaigning on behalf of his Fanmi Lavalas political party pick, Narcisse is a departure from his habitual isolation. (See Sept. 27's briefs, for example.) 

All of the candidates have made promises that experts say would be difficult -- if not impossible -- to carry out, such as a 12 percent annual growth rate, 100,000 jobs in 100 days, a metro system, according to the Miami Herald.

News Briefs

Read more here:
  • A 22-year-old activist was killed in Guatemala City last weekend. Jeremy Barrios, who had survived a previous assassination attempt, worked as an assistant to the general director of the Guatemalan environmental and human rights group CALAS, which has denounced abuses at the hands of mining corporations in the country, reports TeleSur.
  • Mexico's central bank raised interest rates yesterday in an attempt to counter the peso's plummet following Trump's election last week, reports the Guardian. Trump's promises to tear up NAFTA have caused deep concern in Mexico, which sends 80 percent of its exports to the U.S., reports the Wall Street Journal. (See pretty much most posts and briefs for this week.)
  • NAFTA is a disaster, as Trump has argued, but it's negative effects are worst for poor Mexicans than anyone else, argues Guardian special correspondent Felicity Lawrence. Mexican manufacturing initially won, but only remains competitive if wages are cripplingly low. "As with subsequent bilateral free trade agreements, this one was rigged in favour of American and Canadian business. ... The balance of power in negotiations is always with the richer countries and with transnational corporations and elites."
  • A curious ramification of Trump's promised pulling out of the global climate agreement would be that the U.S. and Nicaragua would be the only countries to formally oppose the Paris Agreement adopted by almost 200 other states, notes Reuters.
  • Expectations of a U.S. economic retreat from the region has leaders looking to China to help in the midst of a negative outlook, according to the Associated Press. That approach however has pitfalls for countries which have discovered the downside of relying heavily on commodity exports, and would prefer the manufacturing jobs that could by supported by exports to the U.S.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping is setting off on a LatAm diplomatic tour today, with visits scheduled in Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, reports TeleSur. The three countries are China's largest economic trading partners in Latin America.
  • Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega won a larger majority in Congress in elections two weeks ago in which he was reelected for a third consecutive term, reports Reuters. The national electoral authority took over a week to announce the final results of the legislative elections as it tallied results from isolated communities. Ortega's Sandinistas won 71 of the 92 seats in Congress, up from the 63 seats they won in the 2011 election. Critics however say the ruling party is unfairly consolidating power and weakening institutional structures. (See Nov. 4's and Nov. 8's posts.)
  • InSight Crime has a two part series analyzing cocaine output figures for Bolivia and Colombia. In the case of Bolivia, the numbers published by the UNODC and the U.S. government have been sharply divergent: while the U.N. numbers show a downward shift in coca cultivation, suggesting the country is a decade-long low, U.S. data posits that the country hit a 15-year coca growth peak last year. These numbers have been questioned by experts who point to methodological problems and say the numbers are likely inflated. However, there is also another problem which is cocaine production in Bolivia using coca paste from other countries like Peru, notes the piece.
  • In the case of Colombia, authorities have seized a record amount of cocaine this year, a number likely linked to a recent boom in coca leaf production, explains InSight. By UNODC figures, Colombia has seized nearly half of its estimated pure cocaine production, and even by U.S. calculations of output. The numbers seem unrealistic, considering that countries generally seize an estimated 10 percent of production, according to InSight. This could point to less pure cocaine being produced, or far greater quantities than either the U.S. or the U.N. are estimating, according to the piece. "In sum, it is nearly impossible to determine the true extent of Colombia's cocaine production when official figures from various sources differ greatly and reveal potential flaws in their methodologies. Still, it is probably safe to say that the volume of cocaine the country is feeding into the global market is at or above the highest estimates available."
  • Graciela Mochkovsky has a piece in the Atlantic analyzing Henry Kissinger's lack of repentance for U.S. actions in Latin America during the Cold War.
  • New aerial pictures taken along the Brazil-Venezuelan Amazon border show an apparently healthy and growing community, one of three un-contacted Yanomami tribes in the area, reports the Guardian. The groups have been monitored remotely after rebuffing approaches from outsiders, but indigenous rights advocates have been concerned about the encroachment of illegal mining on their lands. "But relief at finding the tribe has survived is mixed with worry that they have moved even closer to the miners, who bring diseases, contaminate water sources with mercury and often carry – and use – guns." The images were taken as part of surveillance preparation to remove an estimated 5,000 illegal miners from the area. Advocates note that the National Indian Foundation (best known by its Brazilian acronym Funai) has been hard hit by Temer administration austerity budget cuts, and say it could endanger efforts to protect un-contacted and recently contacted groups.
  • On the topic of Brazil's rainforest, the New York Times has a feature on the "pirates of the Amazon River." "Piracy has long been a fact of life on the rivers of Brazil’s anarchic wilderness. But as the population in the Amazon surges and drug gangs expand their sway over the region, hijacking opportunities have flourished. And police forces are struggling to keep up with the crime, culminating in a series of recent attacks that have terrorized riverboat crews and their passengers."

Latin America Daily Briefing