Wednesday, May 31, 2017

U.S. opioid epidemic and poor Mexican law enforcement are fueling gang violence (May 31, 2017)

The U.S. opioid epidemic is fueling cartel violence in Mexico, where opium poppies are cultivated. While the plant has been cultivated for decades, the heroin boom in the U.S. and poppy expansion in Mexico are driving new turf wars among increasingly small and fragmented gangs.

An in-depth Washington Post piece and a Brookings Institution report out this week both look at the phenomenon. The WP ascribes "a breakdown of order in rural areas," to the heroin epidemic. Joshua Partlow likens heroin to "steroids for drug gangs, pumping money and muscle into their fight to control territory and transportation routes to the United States." The piece focuses on social breakdown along the "heroin highway" through Tierra Caliente, where criminal groups impinge on residents lives through extortion, kidnapping and robbery. More than 200 schools have closed periodically in recent months as striking teachers protested rampant criminality. And businesses are being choked to death by gangs.

"Heroin, per kilo, is more lucrative than cocaine, and easier logistically to transport to the United States. Unlike cocaine, which originates in South America and is moved by sprawling Mexican cartels, heroin is made right in Mexico. Smaller drug gangs, sometimes just a handful of friends or relatives, have sprung up to compete for profits. With the marijuana business slowing as U.S. states allow more production, heroin has become even more important for the gangs’ bottom line."

In the Brookings report Vanda Felbab-Brown also points to the relevance of U.S. opioid consumption, and advocates policies to reduce that demand through strategies such as treatment for hardcore addicts, and mild, swift, and certain punishments amounting to a night or a few days in prison, but no more.

But Felbab-Brown pins the intensity of Mexico's drug-related violence, which has claimed more than 177,000 lives over the past decade, on "the inability of Mexico’s law enforcement agencies to deter the violence." She notes that most drug peddling in the U.S. -- as well as Western Europe and East Asia -- is peaceful, because "law enforcement and justice systems have deterrence capacity to prevent violence among organized crime groups." She contrasts this with Mexico where she says deterrence collapsed in the 1980's after criminal groups infiltrated high levels of law enforcement. Subsequent efforts at police reform proved inadequate, she writes.

Felbab-Brown points cartel fragmentation and turf wars as drivers of violence -- pinning their increase on decapitation policies by Mexico's government. "Merely breaking up cartels neither establishes the rule of law, nor strengthens the state, nor creates deterrence capacity. ... And the opportunistic high-value-targeting policy, although relatively easy to implement, only makes things worse because it constantly generates leadership succession struggles and encourages new turf wars. A different targeting pattern is needed: one that seeks to both generate stability in the criminal market and weaken criminal groups, as well as seeks to create deterrence by anticipating where violence may break out as a result of arrests."

Self Defense: Ten towns in Guerrero have formed local self-defense groups to defend themselves from the growing gang warfare in the area, reports TeleSUR.

News Briefs
  • OAS foreign ministers are meeting today to discuss the Venezuelan crisis. The 20 ministers will seek to find a strategy to get the government and the opposition to sit down at a negotiating table, reports the Miami Herald. But good faith is in short supply: the opposition says it won't call off protests until the government meets its demands to release political prisoners and hold general elections. And the government says the opposition is angling for a coup and accuses the OAS of meddling.
  • On that topic, a group of Venezuelan scholars created Venezuela Dialogue, a space for discussion and debate of the country's economic and political crisis. The first post is dedicated to whether the OAS is playing a constructive role in Venezuela, and what it could be doing differently. David Smilde defend's OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro's push to invoke the Democratic Charter, though it "could have been done in a more diplomatic way and with a different time frame." 
    • For Smilde, "it has been a net positive in generating international attention to a rapidly deteriorating situation in Venezuela." On the other hand, Miguel Tinker Salas argues that "Almagro has pursued policies that aggravate the current crisis in Venezuela. Almagro adopted a hostile attitude toward Venezuela since assuming the post that has removed the OAS as a potential mediator in the current crisis." 
    • In a similar vein, Mark Weisbrot says the OAS is aligned with those who seek regime change in Venezuela, and warns that "that the organization is currently an instrument of those who simply want to use the current crisis to topple the Venezuelan government." Using the OAS to pressure the Venezuelan government will likely backfire and cause it to dig in its heels, he argues. 
    • Steve Ellner takes a balanced view of the errors both sides have committed in Venezuela, "the good guy- bad guy narrative is simplistic and does not stand up to the facts." Nonetheless, "in spite of the nebulousness and complexity, important international actors such as the OAS as well as the U.S. mainstream media have failed to achieve even a modest degree of impartiality. Specifically, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has failed to place himself above Venezuela’s internal politics and to facilitate a peaceful and constructive resolution of the conflict. Instead, his statements without exception have been unequivocally in line with the opposition’s narrative and demands." 
    • In her post, Jennifer McCoy delves into the history of the OAS's defense of democracy in the region. "It is constrained by politics and its own habits of consensus decision-making, but it has important leverage in granting or withdrawing legitimacy from any government or actor in the hemisphere. And legitimacy is crucial in this democratic age."
  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that Secretary John Kelly will travel to Haiti where he will discuss  international cooperation and issues related to repatriation with government officials. The focus on repatriation follows hints earlier this month that the temporary protected status for Haitians in the U.S. will likely be terminated in January. (See May 23's briefs.) The visit will apparently last just four hours, and will include "no visits to post-earthquake tent cities, cholera treatment centers, or the hurricane-ravaged and famine-plagued southern coast," reports the Miami Herald. The limited nature of the visit is particularly relevant as justification for ending TPS is that conditions on the ground in Haiti have recovered sufficiently to receive Haitians living abroad. But advocates counter this vision. Yesterday, 38 humanitarian and development organizations wrote to Kelly with a list of individuals and organizations -- including the post-earthquake slum of Canaan -- he should talk to about conditions in Haiti.
  • The Haitian government had requested an 18 month extension to TPS, rather than the six months granted last week. The government has argued that "it is ill equipped to manage an influx of returnees, and that the remittances provided by those in the TPS program are vital to Haiti’s continued recovery," writes Emma Fawcett in an Aula Blog post. The potential end of TPS, along with the end of the 13-year U.N. peace keeping operation this year, "portend a rocky road ahead for a new government that is just barely getting some traction.  The end of both forms of support for Haiti represent donor fatigue – not Haitian achievement of benchmarks of progress," she writes. "While both the UN peacekeeping mission and U.S. immigration policy have been at times poorly executed, their absence will be a major blow, if nothing else because changes on both fronts are proof that Haiti is no longer anyone’s priority.  Moïse’s administration has much to tackle – bolstering the national police force and preparing for the arrival of potentially tens of thousands of TPS returnees without adequate resources for either task – while he addresses 14 percent inflation and a bloated civil service.  Looking for homegrown solutions would be a huge challenge for any country, especially one struggling with as many fundamentals as Haiti."
  • Historically Belize has welcomed Central Americans fleeing violence at home. And the regional refugee crisis led the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to reopen an office in Belize last year, after an absence of almost 20 years. But the influx has to the sparsely populated English speaking country has prompted an anti-Latino backlash and a hardline stance against asylum seekers, which the government claims threaten Belize’s security, economic stability and cultural heritage, reports the Guardian.
  • Honduras is a prime example of a country governed by a "kelptocratic operating system" according to a new report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace by Sarah Chayes. It is one of about five dozen countries around the world where "corruption can no longer be understood as merely the iniquitous doings of individuals. Rather, it is the operating system of sophisticated networks that cross sectoral and national boundaries in their drive to maximize returns for their members," she writes. "This case thus illustrates core features of the way apparently open or chaotic economies are in reality structured worldwide—and some of the dynamics that are driving climate change, persistent inequality, and spiraling conflict." In Honduras the system is devastating the environment, with "deliberate “development” policies—whose primary purpose is actually to funnel rents to network members." And repression -- like the assassination last year of Berta Cáceres -- "is carefully targeted for maximum psychological effect." Chayes emphasizes that "kleptocracy benefits from significant external reinforcement, witting or unwitting, including not just military assistance, but much international development financing," and says recognition of outsiders' role in reinforcing the system is key to disarming it.
  • A scathing report last week on DEA operations in Honduras -- which led to civilian deaths and subsequent coverup of the agency's role -- is "a strong reminder of the need to have a clear mandate, avoid improvisation and make room for oversight," argues InSight Crime. (See last Thursday's post.)
  • Gubernatorial elections in Mexico State are this weekend, and polls show Morena and PRI candidates neck-to-neck, reports Animal Político. Delfina Gómez, candidate for Morena, leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador's new party, has 31.9 percent in a Reforma poll, and the PRI candidate Alfredo del Mazo has 30.7. The election is considered a proxy for Morena's chances in next year's national election. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • A new report from the Andean Information Network advocates Bolivia's strategy to reducing coca production as a potential policy for Colombia, where cultivation of the plant has boomed in recent years. The report reviews failed approaches to alternative development strategies in both Colombia and Bolivia, and instead advocates Bolivia's policy of permitting limited coca cultivation among registered growers, which "provides farmers with a steady subsistence income as they risk investing in other economic activities, which usually take up to two years to become economically profitable." But, while the Bolivian approach has important lessons for Colombia about respecting farmers' livelihoods and human rights, the situation in Colombia is too different for the strategy to be applicable, according to InSight Crime's critical review. InSight points to a struggle among illegal armed groups to control coca cultivation -- making state intervention dangerous -- and a lack of traditional (ie legal) uses for the plan in Colombia.
  • Among former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega's many crimes was opening the country's door to drug traffickers in the 80s. InSight Crime explores why Panama remains a drug trafficking haven for the successors of the Colombian criminals that Noriega helped make rich. (See yesterday's briefs.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Goldman bought Venezuelan bonds, lifeline for Maduro (May 30, 2017)

Venezuela's opposition is accusing Goldman Sachs of propping up an unpopular government, after the bank confirmed the purchase of $2.8 billion worth of bonds, reports the Guardian. “It is apparent Goldman Sachs decided to make a quick buck off the suffering of the Venezuelan people," wrote National Assembly President Julio Borges in a letter to the bank's CEO. He also said he'd recommend "any future democratic government of Venezuela" not recognized the bonds' validity. 

The opposition had previously asked international financial institutions to avoid transactions that would help the government, notes the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the bond sale on Sunday.

Goldman said the bonds were bought on the secondary market, and involved no interaction with the Venezuelan government. The New York-based bank’s asset management division paid 31 cents on the dollar for Pdvsa bonds issued in 2014, "a lifeline to President Nicolás Maduro’s embattled government," reports the Wall Street Journal. The price represents a 31 percent discount to trading Venezuelan securities that mature the same year—and would imply an annual yield of more than 40 percent.

Venezuelan activists are calling for a protests of what they are labelling support of Maduro's "dictatorship," reports the Miami Herald. "If there were a gold medal for corporate social irresponsibility, it should be awarded to the Goldman Sachs investment bank," writes Andrés Oppenheimer, also in the Miami Herald.

News Briefs
  • Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega died yesterday at 83. He was ousted in 1989, in what was then the largest American military action since the Vietnam War, notes the New York Times obituary. The Guardian traces Noriega's path from "valued CIA cold war asset and go-between in Central America’s dirty wars" to "a monster US spy bosses could no longer control." And another piece in the Guardian recalls the role of blasted rock music used by the U.S. military to get Noriega out of the Papal Nunciatura where he took refuge in 1989. "At the time, President George Bush considered the tactic excessive, but use of it only grew." The former dictator surrendered to U.S. troops in 1990, later spending time in U.S., French and Panamanian prison, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Miami Herald republished a report on Noriega's entry into a Miami jail that year.  Noriega later insisted he fell afoul of U.S. interests by refusing to permit the U.S. military’s School of the Americas to operate in Panama, and for the country to be used as a staging base for the Salvadoran death squads and the Nicaraguan contras, notes the Washington Post. Noriega was released from Panamanian jail in January, in preparation for brain surgery. "Once a feared dictator whose political enemies were liable to go falling from helicopters or be found headless in remote jungle clearings, Noriega had been reduced by the hardships of jail and the harsh vicissitudes of time to a palsied old man in a wheelchair in the final years before his death," reports the Miami Herald.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the FARC will have an additional 20 days to disarm, and an extra two months to reintegrate into society, as delays beset the implementation of the country's landmark peace deal. Tomorrow was the original deadline for about 7,000 former fighters to hand over their weapons, and also the day the 26 concentration zones set up around the country were set to lose their special legal status -- though many camps remain incomplete, reports the Miami Herald. Key issues in the disarmament process include problems installing the shipping containers where weapons will be stored in the camps, and difficulty reaching isolated weapons caches in the jungle. In the meantime, delays notwithstanding, the country's homicide rate is at its lowest in decades, notes the piece.
  • U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Jeff Flake reintroduced a bill last week that would eliminate all travel prohibitions to Cuba. The bill, which only had 8 co-sponsors when it was originally introduced in 2015, now has the support of 55 senators from both parties, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Another U.S. bill seeks to strike a balance between farming states that want to export food to Cuba, and Cuban Americans who are still angry about property expropriated by the Revolution: a 2 percent user fee on agricultural products sold to the island that would be used to compensate those who have certified claims of properties confiscated by the Cuban government, reports the Miami Herald.
  • São Paulo's City Hall is seeking to intern drug addicts involuntarily, a strategy that has prompted the World Health Organization and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to voice concern, reports O Globo. A court decision this weekend did not allow compulsory internment in treatment programs for people arrested in a crackdown last week in a city neighborhood known for harboring crack-addicts, Cracolândia. Experts dispute whether the strategy will be effective. Last week InSight Crime argued the problem has merely been displaced, as buyers and sellers move to new locations. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • The crackdown has a certain resemblance to the eviction of Bogotá's El Bronx last year. (See post for Aug. 16, 2016.) A year after the Peñalosa administration's intervention in the neighborhood, two organizations of civil society criticize the local government for persecuting homeless people in the name of recovering public space, reports El Espectador. The 100 page report by Pares en Reacción y Acción contra la Exclusión Social (Parces) and the Centro de Pensamiento y Acción para la Transición (CPAT), denounce violent and excluding policies that violated the rights of people living on the streets, dispersed by last year's crackdown. (See May 15's briefs.) As "La Pulla" colorfully put it: the Bronx was split like a piñata, and now there's candy all over Bogotá.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer insists he's not going anywhere, corruption scandal, rock-bottom approval and massive protests not withstanding. Data this week will show the country is emerging from a deep recession, and he plans to push ahead with key labor and pension reforms, reports the Wall Street Journal. Even if he is ousted, the economic agenda will continue, said Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles yesterday, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Several experts say it's not about whether he leaves before the end of his term in 16 months, but how, according to the Washington Post. Potential scenarios include impeachment, resignation, a judicially annulled mandate and a Congressional decision to call new elections.
  • Should Temer be ousted, his next in line -- and several following -- are implicated in corruption investigations of their own, reports the New York Times. Lacking in political options, Brazilians are increasing turning towards gallows humor. Running jokes about who should run the country include the national football team coach or citizens governing directly via Whatsapp. Yet the danger is real. The fastest-rising candidate in opinion surveys this year is right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro, with a fondness for military dictatorship and abhorrence of homosexuality. (See May 24's post.)
  • Brazil's ongoing corruption crises represent an opportunity to root out entrenched graft, but could also be a threat to the country's political stability, argues a New York Times Interpreter piece. "... Experts worry that each round of allegations, prosecutions and impeachment ultimately weakens the political system and diminishes public trust. That makes it more difficult for the country’s political institutions to regain credibility and maintain stability.In other countries, similar situations have proved to be an opportunity for populist leaders who promise to throw the whole flawed system out and start over."
  • The current Brazilian crisis represents "graduation dilemma," argues Carlos Milani in the Conversation. "We argue that graduation is not a result but a process – one that requires making difficult foreign policy decisions that interact, in sometimes complicated ways, with domestic politics."
  • At least seven people died and tens of thousands were left homeless by flooding in Brazil’s northeastern states of Pernambuco and Alagoa, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Fact-checking sites are all the rage, but "it's a mistake to believe that they inevitably oblige politicians to speak the truth, correct ample citizen misinformation or eliminate false news from the internet," writes Silvio Waisbord in a New York Times Español op-ed. "Recent studies show the limited effects of verification. For example, it's unusual that corrections modify incorrect perceptions sustained by certain ideological groups with strong believes on various political issues. Preexistent incorrect perceptions are relatively armored against contradictory information. On the contrary, there are cases of "boomerang effect," when, far from modifying incorrect opinions, corrections strengthen false beliefs." In an era of false news proliferation, he advocates the importance of a commitment to truth. 
  • Media watchers in Ecuador hope newly sworn in President Lenín Moreno will follow through on promises to reform a polemic communications law used to launch hundreds of lawsuits against private media. He is expected to have a softer stance towards the press, and his approach will determine whether the country is indeed setting off in a new direction, according to the Guardian. (See last Friday's and Thursday's briefs.)
  • A young Mexican reporter who sought asylum in the U.S. after facing threats and harassment from corrupt cops was forced to return home after living in detention for 100 days and being twice refused bail, reports the Guardian
  • Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Suriname in recent weeks, protesting economic upheaval -- though few have paid attention, argues Rosemarijn Hofte in the Conversation. She links the Suriname situation with the Venezuelan protests, and compares President Desiré (Desi) Delano Bouterse to Hugo Chávez, also noting the parallel effects of the oil price decline.
  • Uruguay's regulated cannabis market is set to enter its final phase of implementation, with pharmacy sales of marijuana for registered users in July. While the legislation is among the most liberal in the world, cannabis activists say it also unfairly stigmatizes a substance that is less harmful than alcohol, reports the Guardian.
  • Martín Caparrós has a long lament about the Argentine decline over the past forty years, in the New York Times Español. Stories about our national decline are pretty much an Argentine national custom -- basically on par with ñoquis on the 29 and asado on Sundays -- but this one is a colorful read. 
  • A charming piece in the Atlantic reviews "One Hundred Years of Solitude," 50 years after it came out, looks at the factors that made the book a publishing blockbuster and brought "magical realism" into the world's lexicon. While it is "now seen as a story that speaks to readers around the world, One Hundred Years of Solitude was originally received as a story about Latin America," writes Alvaro Santana-Acuña. "Perhaps even more surprisingly, respected writers and publishers were among the many and powerful detractors of this novel."
  • A new book by a former Cuban CIA operative links the U.S. intelligence agency with JFK's assassination -- possibly a reaction to his "soft" stance towards the Communist-run island. In "Trained to Kill: The Inside Story of CIA Plots Against Castro, Kennedy, and Che" Antonio Veciana also recounts his attempts to subvert the Cuban government from within, stealing state money from the Che Guevara run Finance Ministry and using the money to fund attacks on government offices, security outposts, factories and warehouses, reports Newsweek.

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.