Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Fujimoristas angle to oust Peru's head prosecutor (Nov. 22, 2017)

An attempt by right-wing Fuerza Popular party in Peru to oust the country's head prosecutor has been strongly criticized by other parties and protested by the judicial sector, reports La República.

On Monday the Congressional Permanent Commission voted to investigate head prosecutor Pablo Sánchez for alleged mismanagement in relation to details of political corruption stemming from Brazilian testimony in the Lava Jato case. But the move, pushed only by the Fujimorista Fuerza Popular party has been criticized as politicized and unfounded, reports La Mula.

Gustavo Gorriti calls the accusation a "monument to hypocrisy, lying, and political duplicity," in IDL Reporteros. Instead, he points to allegations that Fuerza Popular leader Keiko Fujimori received illicit campaign contributions in her 2011 presidential run, as well as investigations into an important Fuerza Popular advisor, as a possible motives for the sudden opposition to Sánchez. 

La República reports that Fujimori herself ordered the accusations against Sánchez in retaliation for investigations against her and associates.

And Allan Wagner of Transparencia, in an interview with El Comercio, warned that the move against Sánchez could in fact hinder the Lava Jato investigation.

Gorriti, and others, point to the similarities between Fuerza Popular's current attempt against Sánchez and the coup by party leader President Alberto Fujimori in 1992. However, actually ousting Sánchez will require a two-thirds vote by the entire Congress. Fuerza Popular would have to attract some other party, which currently seems unlikely, according to La Mula.

The move is part of a broader push against the Executive branch and independent agencies like the Public Ministry, argues a lawmaker from Pablo Pedro Kuczynski's party, in La Mula.

News Briefs
  • Last weekend's elections have thrown Chilean politics for a loop. Candidates must now simultaneously try to pick up votes from candidates further towards the extremes of the political spectrum, while also attracting voters from the center, writes Juan Aedo Guzmán in La Mula. (See Monday's post and yesterday's briefs.)
  • While most of the focus has been on the presidential race, parliament has changed significantly, writes Javier Sajuria in the Washington Post's Monkey Cage. The new insurgent left coalition founded just this year, Frente Amplio, obtained a Senate seat and 20 seats in the lower chamber of Congress. It's part of a shift away from the dominance of traditional parties, he writes. Sajuria also notes the improved gender balance thanks to a new quota electoral system, and a younger, more diverse crowd of lawmakers. "Whoever gets elected president in December, the challenge will be to operate in a Congress that is less experienced, more socially diverse, and much more complex in political terms than previously. Chile will prove a significant test case for proponents of deep electoral reform around the world."
  • Cuban President Raúl Castro is supposed to step down next February, the first time in more than 40 years that the island would not be led by one of the Castro brothers. But three months away from the supposed transition, the question is whether negative conditions spanning from renewed U.S. hostility under President Donald Trump and economic troubles due in part to dwindling Venezuelan oil will delay Castro's retirement, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The chief U.S. NAFTA negotiator decried stalled talks and said Canada and Mexico are refusing to  “seriously engage” on controversial U.S. proposals, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • An anti-hatred law passed last month by Venezuela's questioned National Assembly continues a media war waged over the past 18 years of Chavismo, argues Marianela Balbi in a New York Times op-ed. Its purported goals are to promote peace, tolerance, and diversity. But, "establishing a normative about hate leaves it clear that the government's objective is to silence through fear those who wish to exercise their right to free expression of their opinions and thoughts," she writes.
  • Illegal logging practices continue in Peru, despite regulations and mechanisms aimed at ensuring the traceability of timber, reports La Mula. A report from the new Center for International Environmental Law reveals how exporters send products of dubious legal origin to markets that don't prohibit illegal wood, thus indicating they might be aware of its questionable provenance. (A recent Global Witness report also focused on illegal logging in Peru, revealing evidence that major Peruvian timber exporters are aware they are dealing illegal products and shield themselves with falsified documents used to launder illicit timber. See Friday Nov. 10's briefs.)
  • A person of color is killed in Brazil every 13 minutes, reports Aos Fato using new Igarapé Institute data. In 2000, the homicides rate of persons of color was 12.53 percent more than that of whites. In 2015 that difference reached nearly 47 percent.
  • Hundreds of Florida hospitality workers protested outside of U.S. President Donald Trump's private beach club in Florida, Mar-a-Lago, as South Florida community leaders denounced the administration's decision to end immigration protection for 59,000 Haitians, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Improved building codes are increasingly drawing attention as a potential tool to improve Caribbean island's hurricane preparedness. While they are "indeed are a key driver of resilience, their impact should not be overestimated," writes Michael Donovan in Americas Quarterly. In order to be effective, regulations must be regularly revised; climate-smart coastal development must be implemented; and existing buildings must be climate proofed.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

TPS for Haitians to end in 2019 (Nov. 21, 2017)

As many as 59,000 Haitians living in the U.S. under a provisional immigration program will lose that protection as of July, 2019, reports the Miami Herald. That gives Temporary Protection Status recipients 18 months to prepare their return to a country U.S. officials argue has recovered sufficiently from a devastating 2010 earthquake. 

"Since the 2010 earthquake, the number of displaced people in Haiti has decreased by 97 percent," acting homeland security secretary Elaine Duke said in a statement. "Significant steps have been taken to improve the stability and quality of life for Haitian citizens, and Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens."

But advocates insist that Haiti is not prepared to accept this influx. Earlier this year human rights organizations and the Haitian government urged the U.S. to grant a longer extension of the program -- pointing to inadequate conditions on the ground for returnees and the vital role of remittances. (See May 31's briefs.) Though Haiti has rebuilt since the earthquake, it has also been hit by successive natural disasters, including widespread devastation from Hurricane Matthew last year. More than 2.5 million people, roughly a quarter of the population, live on less than $1.23 a day, considered extreme poverty, reports the Associated Press.

In addition, the country will be hard-hit by lost remittances from returning immigrants. Money sent from the Haitian diaspora totaled $2.36 billion in 2016, an increase of 7 percent over the previous year, reports the New York Times based on World Bank numbers. That's more than one-fourth of the country's national income.

The effects will also be disastrous for U.S. communities: "According to a recent study by the Center for Migration Studies, Haitians on TPS have been living in the United States on average for 13 years, and have 27,000 U.S.-citizen children among them. More than 80 percent are employed, while 6,200 have mortgages," notes the Herald. The decision will be devastating for families who must decide whether to leave their children behind in the U.S. or take them to a country that offers far less opportunity, notes NPR.

Two weeks ago, the Duke decided to end protection for Nicaraguan immigrants, but postponed a decision on Hondurans. (See Nov. 7's post.) Now this decision bodes ill for the approximately 320,000 recipients of TPS from all countries. The biggest group is El Salvadorans. The TPS program shielding about 195,000 Salvadorans from deportation expires next year and DHS is expected to make a decision on whether to terminate the program by January, 2018.

Several lawmakers point to the Haiti decision as evidence that a legislative solution protecting migrants from ten different countries permitted to stay after catastrophes at home must be found. They also accuse the Trump administration of mischaracterizing the conditions on the ground in Haiti, reports the BBC.

But the Trump administration says TPS was never meant to be an avenue for permanent residency, and the decision must be based on whether the original justifications for protection still exist, reports the Washington Post.

The looming threat of TPS termination has already sent thousands of Haitians across the Canadian border, where they hope to apply for asylum, though it's unclear they will be permitted to stay there. (See Aug. 4's and Aug. 14's posts.)

News Briefs
  • Chavismo has made serious inroads into journalism outlets in Venezuela. In the 18 years since Hugo Chávez was elected, "five television channels have been closed and nine removed from cable television subscription services; 62 radio stations have gone off the air because of official prohibitions; and the government has fined media outlets 32 times," according to Nieman Reports. Digital media outlets have stepped up to fill the void, aiming to inform audiences of issues -- like social protests -- that are ignored by traditional media threatened by censorship and economic policies. The piece reviews several key players in Venezuela's new media scene including Efecto Cocuyo, Prodavinci, El Pitazo, Armando.info and Runrunes.
  • Chile's surprising election results -- particularly the accedence of the Frente Amplio which garnered 20 percent of the vote -- point to an increasingly polarized political playing field and an uncertain result for December's presidential runoff, reports the Guardian. The left-leaning Frente Amplio is characterized as a "reluctant kingmaker." Candidate Beatriz Sánchez must decide whether to throw her weight behind Nueva Mayoría candidate Alejandro Guillier or focus on strengthening her radical independent movement. (See yesterday's post.)
  • "Officially, the Mexican government acknowledges the disappearances of more than 30,000 people — men, women and children trapped in a liminal abyss — neither dead nor alive, silent victims of the drug war," reports the New York Times. "But the truth is no one knows how many people are missing in Mexico." Both drug cartels and security forces have disposed of murdered people in unmarked graves, generating an even crueler situation for relatives who cannot even mourn a definitive death. "To search for a missing loved one in Mexico is to inhabit a life of desperate entrepreneurialism. Families, resigned to looking on their own, build coalitions, pressure and cajole officials, and cling to every shred of hope."
  • Mexicans sick of cartel violence and ineffective state protection have formed their own self-defense collectives, some of which have, in turn, also become criminal organizations. In Guerrero, where over half the municipalities have community police forces, the citizens find themselves battling the government as well as drug gangs, reports the New Yorker. The piece focuses particularly on the case of Nestora Salgado, one of several self-defense activists accused by the government of murder, kidnapping, organized crime, and robbery. Though she was ultimately cleared of the charges after nearly three years of jail, many of her colleagues are similarly accused. The piece quotes Steven Dudley on the evolution of the "auto defensas."
  • El Salvador's hardline policy towards gangs has been a disaster, and has made an already tragic cycle of violence even worst, writes Efrain Lemus in Nueva Sociedad. He compares the relatively successful homicide reductions of a gang truce with the effects of mano dura. While the former was politically unpopular, the latter has made security forces targets of gang violence, and led to human rights violations including police death squads reported on earlier this year.
  • One of the unsung heroes of the so-called "Medellín Miracle" are the hip-hop collectives that took on social-development initiatives, reports the Guardian. Crew Peligrosos, one of the country's most popular groups, for example, focuses efforts on classes for under-privileged youth. 
  • Two months after Hurricane Irma knocked down most of Barbuda's structures, most of its small population remains evacuated and reconstruction efforts are hindered by lack of residents, reports the Guardian.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Piñera wins first round by smaller margin than predicted (Nov. 20, 2017)

Former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera won the first round of an election to reclaim his old post on Sunday. With 36.6 percent of the votes, he will face off against Alejandro Guillierme of the ruling Nueva Mayoría coalition, who won 22.7 percent, reports El Mercurio (full breakdown of votes). 
Though Piñera's was not expected to pass the fifty percent threshold needed to win outright, he performed less well than expected. Analysts had predicted an easy win in December's second-round for Piñera, but yesterday's results point to a potentially closer result if leftist voters back Guillier, reports the Wall Street Journal. Yesterday Guillier called for a broad alliance to win the runoff. 
Leftist candidate Beatriz Sánchez obtained 20.3 percent of the votes, far more than predicted before the election. Though Sánchez didn't endorse Guillier during a concession speech yesterday, she said that Piñera's re-election would be a setback for the country. 
Her voters are largely youthful, and could hold the decision regarding the next Chilean presidency in their hands, according to the BBC."The surge from the left, more relevant than in any other presidential elections since 1990, may change the political map, or at least influence the agenda of the future president," agrees the New York Times. Votes from yesterday demonstrate a generational shift, 
Investors are hoping for Piñera's economy boosting policy promises -- including pledges to reduce corporate tax rates and simplify the tax code -- according to the WSJ. Guillier, though initially independent, has promised to continue President Michelle Bachelet's ambitious goals of progressive reform.
The Chilean constitution prohibits consecutive presidential terms, but some analysts see the election as a referendum on her legacy, reports U.S. News and World Today.
As Bachelet prepares to step down, she ends an era of female presidents across the region -- one that she herself ushered in with her initial 2006 election, notes the Christian Science Monitor. Though Bachelet and her regional counterparts were symbolically important, critics say they did not do enough to advance women's rights in their countries, according to the piece. But even the gains such as Chile's new law permitting abortion in limited circumstances could be challenged by her successor.
A new gender parity law was in effect for the first time this year, fomenting female participation on party slates. And female lawmakers increased to 21.4 percent, up from 15.8 percent, reports El Mercurio.
News Briefs
  • The exodus of Venezuela's citizens -- to other countries in the region and the United States -- is difficult to quantify, though tens of thousands seek asylum, many more migrate for economic reasons to countries that have seen a massive influx in recent years, including Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago, writes David Smilde at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. He notes the relative lack of official crackdowns on these migrants, as well as efforts by civil society groups to pressure their governments to meet immigrants' needs. "In Colombia, human rights group Dejusticia has launched a campaign called #VenezuelaBienvenida, which combats discrimination against Venezuelan immigrants in the country. As the group puts it, the campaign is a “call for solidarity,” and one of its aims is to showcasehow many of these are descendants of Colombians who originally fled the armed conflict. In Brazil, Conectas has been especially involved in advocating for more resources for the crisis, and for local governments along the Brazilian border to treat Venezuelans who arrive with dignity and respect for their rights."
  • Efforts to find a negotiated solution to Venezuela's crisis are increasingly central to avoiding a Syria-like flood of refugees, writes Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald
  • Five regional human rights groups - CELS, Conectas, Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos, Dejusticia and WOLA -- condemned Argentine President Mauricio Macri's call for a U.S. oil embargo on Venezuelan crude. "As organizations devoted to advancing human rights, the signing groups express our deep rejection of these remarks. We urge the international community to find a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Venezuela by refraining from supporting sanctions that would worsen the grave humanitarian situation faced by Venezuelans." Restrictions on oil sales would affect the Venezuelan government's ability to import much needed food and medicine, as well as worsen the above mentioned migration crisis, they argue. "Finally, economic sanctions would go against public opinion in Venezuela, where a majority of Venezuelans reject such measures. For this reason and because of the frequent invocation by the Maduro government of an alleged international plot to justify policies that violate human rights, sanctions could even be counterproductive and end up contributing to those policies."
  • Escaped Venezuelan political prisoner Antonio Ledezma arrived in Spain on Sunday, reports the Associated Press. (See Friday's post.) Ledezma is one of the country's most recognized political prisoners, reports the Miami Herald
  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, concluded a visit to El Salvador. He criticized the mano dura approach to gang violence, urging preventive policies as well. "The level of violence in El Salvador remains shockingly high. According to civil society groups, from January 2015 to February 2017, more than a thousand civilians and 45 police officers were killed in armed confrontations between the police and alleged gang members. There are also alarming reports of extrajudicial killings and the return of death squads. No matter how serious the human rights violations committed by violent gangs, all perpetrators of violence need to be held fully accountable for their actions through judicial mechanisms. Victims on all sides deserve justice." He also said he was "appalled" by punishments women face for complications in pregnancy under the country's draconian abortion prohibition. He called on authorities to review all cases of women detained for offenses related to abortion, including miscarriages and obstetric complications, reports Reuters.
  • Surging violence in Rio de Janeiro has officials hostage, reports the New York Times. Teachers find themselves perfecting the art of determining when gun-battles merit canceling classes, and police officers face rising levels of mortality as well. But it also affects ordinary citizens who use apps to glean information about ongoing gunfights. Rio is facing a "rise in lawlessness reminiscent of its darkest periods in the 1980s and 1990s," according to the piece, which cites the Brazilian Forum on Public Security.
  • The UK's trade minister successfully lobbied the Brazilian government on behalf of BP and Shell. The oil giants were concerned over Brazilian taxation, environmental regulation and rules on using local firms, according to documents revealed by a Greenpeace investigation. Greenpeace accused the department of acting as a "lobbying arm of the fossil fuel industry," reports the Guardian.
  • Fifty years after Caetano Veloso's "Tropicalismo" album earned him fame and detention by the country's military dictatorship, he has now emerged as the leader of a resistance against Evangelical and rural movements in Brazilian politics, writes Carol Pires in a New York Times Español op-ed. In the midst of a sort of conservative counter-revolution, he and his partner Paula Lavigne have organized artistic protests.
  • Mexican officials promised a new capital city airport would be a conservation lodestone. But critics say the environmental efforts associated with the new airport are suspiciously devoid of detail, reports the New York Times. It's yet another potential failure for President Enrique Peña Nieto, notes the piece.
  • Public sector reform remains a challenge, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the Miami Herald, saying that borrowing to pay for a sector that does not produce value makes no sense. He also highlighted the need to tackle violence -- homicides so far this year have increased by 25 percent over the 2016 total.
  • Argentine officials said the odds were increasingly grim in the search for a missing submarine and its 44 person crew. The  San Juan, which went missing on Friday, is the focus of an international search to locate the vessel, reports the New York Times. Assistance from the U.S. and the U.K. have raised some eyebrows in Argentina, where critics say it indicates a lack of investment in the military, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The Trump Ocean Club tower in Panama was apparently used by many condo-owners to launder illicit funds, report NBC and Reuters. Their investigation "shows that the project was riddled with brokers, customers and investors who have been linked to drug trafficking and international crime." A Global Witness investigation on the issue, also released Friday, argues that "Trump may not have deliberately set out to facilitate criminal activity in his business dealings. But ... licensing his brand to the luxurious Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama aligned Trump’s financial interests with those of crooks looking to launder ill-gotten gains. Trump seems to have done little to nothing to prevent this. What is clear is that proceeds from Colombian cartels’ narcotics trafficking were laundered through the Trump Ocean Club and that Donald Trump was one of the beneficiaries."
  • Latino, Latina, Latinx? In a New York Times Español op-ed, Ilan Stavens explores attempts to make Spanish gender neutral, and in the process also explores the history of the term Latin America.
  • Rat soup anybody? It's a delicacy in Mexico's Zacateca state, and crusade for a local lawmaker attempting to rescue the tradition, reports the Guardian.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Ortega accuses Maduro of crimes against humanity in ICC (Nov. 17, 2017)

Ousted Venezuelan chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega accused President Nicolás Maduro and other top officials of crimes against humanity. She asked the International Criminal Court to capture and try them in relation to approximately 8,290 deaths between 2015 and 2017 at the hands of officials who received instructions from the government, reports Reuters

Ortega appeared at the Hague-based tribunal, yesterday, to turn over more than 1,000 pieces of evidence including forensic reports, witness interviews and expert testimony linking security forces to more than 8,000 murders since 2015, reports the Associated Press

The accusation refers to incidents of torture, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrest -- some during repression of anti-government protests this year, and others during polemic police raids known as "Operations to Free the People." The AP notes that the ICC receives hundreds of fillings each year, the complaint does not mean the case will be taken up by the court's chief prosecutor.

In two closed-door OAS sessions yesterday, relatives of victims of alleged extrajudicial executions in Venezuela's protests gave testimony. A group of three international experts named by Secretary General Luis Almagro are evaluating taking another case to the Hague, reports EFE. Cases of political persecution -- towards opposition legislators and mayors -- also came up in yesterday's sessions.

Almagro said Ortega's decisión to present a complaint in the ICC strengthens the OAS's case.

Talks with opposition: Though an official dialogue meeting to be held in the Dominican Republic this week was cancelled (see yesterday's post), opposition and government delegations held a preparatory meeting yesterday that both sides considered positive, reports Efecto Cocuyo. The meeting would be held at the beginning of December and aims at guaranteeing free elections. Foreign ministers from Latin American countries would attend the December meeting as guarantors.

In turn, Maduro said he was asking for opposition support in seeking the end to international economic sanctions, reports Efecto Cocuyo separately.

Political prisoners: A former Caracas mayor under house arrest fled to Colombia. Antonio Ledezma travelled overland with his family, reports the Miami Herald. As of this week, there are 342 political prisoners in Venezuela, according to Foro Penal, cited in a separate Miami Herald piece.

Debt: Yesterday, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association has ruled that Venezuela and its state oil company PDVSA have defaulted on their debts, reports the Financial Times. But investors said they did not expect a significant market reaction, as Venezuela is making efforts to pay and holders have so far been tolerant of delays, according to Reuters. (See Tuesday's post.)

While China yesterday voiced certainty that Venezuela would meet its debt obligations, it did not provide refinancing as Russia did on Wednesday, reports El Nacional. (See yesterday's post.)

Venezuela aside: The economic crisis and shortages affecting the country have led university students to drop out in droves and top-professors to join emigrating Venezuelans. But not all schools have been affected equally, and some of the top institutions -- perceived as bastions of the wealthy elites -- appear to have been specifically targeted by the government, reports the Washington Post.

News Briefs
  • Former Nicaraguan VP Sergio Ramírez Mercado became the first Central American to win the prestigious Cervantes prize for literature, reports the Associated Press. Though he was key member of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional and Daniel Ortega's VP between 1985 and 1990, Ramírez doesn't consider himself a "political animal," reports El País in a piece that reviews his literary and political trajectory.
  • Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres' killing has been internationally condemned, but fellow activists in the Copinh organization she co-founded continue to face threats and harassment, reports the Guardian.
  • A group of Haitian government officials and business heads are accused of embezzling $2 billion in Venezuelan oil loans. A special Haitian Senate commission concluded that charges should be filed against two former prime ministers, several ex-ministers and the owners of private firms for stealing funds that left post-earthquake Haiti with unfinished government buildings, poorly constructed housing and overpriced public works contracts, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Colombia's Senate approved a transitional justice law that forms the cornerstone of the peace accord with the FARC, reports Reuters. The lower chamber of Congress is expected to vote next week. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Chileans head to the polls on Sunday. The strong favorite to win is conservative former president Sebastian Piñera, and, journalist Alejandro Guillier is expected to come in second. The two would theoretically face off in a Dec. 17 run-off election, reports Reuters. Piñera promises to revive slow economic growth, while Guillier has promised to deepen current President Michelle Bachelet's tax, labor and education reforms. (A Reuters factbox on the candidates.) The Economist is betting that "Chileans do not want to break with the liberal economic model set up under Pinochet and refined by his elected successors." Turnout in recent elections has been low, notes TeleSUR: only 43 percent of voters participated in 2013's general elections and only 13 percent went to polls for the recent primaries.
  • A general election later this month in Honduras could potentially undermine the work of a police reform commission, reports InSight Crime. While incumbent (and frontrunner) José Orlando Hernández has been a champion of the commission's work, his opponent, Salvador Nasralla has said he would revisit layoffs of police.
  • Cuba's government is turning to scientists in an attempt to disprove accusations that its behind an alleged "sonic attack" against U.S. diplomats on the island, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Many residents of San Luis de Potosi, a Mexican city considered to be a "free-trade miracle" believe they can survive the demise of NAFTA, but other communities are not so sure, reports the Washington Post.
  • Residents in Mexico's Chiapas state took matters into their own hands, and used picks and shovels to restore one of the country's best known waterfalls after it was affected by earthquakes in September. Locals were concerned about potential impact to tourism, which they depend on, reports the BBC.
  • "Democratizing coups," like the one a group of soldiers in Zimbabwe claim to have carried out against despot Robert Mugabe, are largely fiction, warns Argentine scholar Rut Diamint in the Conversation. She says Latin America's history of dictatorship shows that military juntas often claim to be patriotic, they mostly excel at violence. And though the region has made huge democratic inroads in the decades since, "ridding countries of their militaristic culture, though, has been tougher. That’s another lesson for Zimbabwe: After one military coup, civilian control over the armed forces is never again a done deal."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Venezuela gets debt leeway from Russia (Nov. 16, 2017)

Yesterday, Russia announced a deal to restructure $3.15 billion in debt owed by Venezuela, giving the South American country some breathing room, reports the BBC. The debt will now be repaid over 10 years, with minimal repayments during the first six years, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The move will allow Venezuela some lee-way in meeting other debt obligations, as a credit rating agencies declared it in "selective default." It also highlights the role of Russia as Venezuela's main backer, according to the Financial Times. (See Tuesday's post.) Assistance from China and Russia has been increasingly vital for Venezuela in recent years, especially as relations with the U.S. worsened, notes the WSJ. Separately, China also expressed confidence in Venezuela's financial situation. 

The U.S. and the E.U. have sanctioned Venezuelan officials and denounced lack of democracy -- along with a dozen Latin American nations.

Venezuela is broke and it's Chavismo's fault because it strangled entrepreneurship, argues a Wall Street Journal editorial. "Faced with expropriation, hyperinflation, price controls and rampant corruption, human and monetary capital has fled Venezuela."

Negotiations

An attempt at talks between the Venezuelan government and the political opposition scheduled to take place yesterday in the Dominican Republic was called off because the Maduro administration would not accept the presence of several Latin American foreign ministers as "guarantors," according to Efecto Cocuyo. President Nicolás Maduro did meet with former Spanish President  José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero who has been acting as a mediator in the crisis.

Earlier this week, Geoff Ramsey noted at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights that the scope of these talks, unlike previous iterations, was far more limited, focusing on how to achieve a relatively clean presidential election next year. But even though National Assembly President Julio Borges and Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Luis Florido said the MUD coalition parties were largely behind the efforts, the announcement that they would occur was immediately criticized by prominent opposition leaders including María Corina Machado and Antonio Ledezma. He analyzes the ongoing schism within the opposition between those who seek to participate in politics and those who favor boycotting. "Underlining this tension within the MUD is the fact that its members appear to be jockeying for nomination as the opposition presidential candidate. While presidential elections are due in late 2018, many believe that the government is likely to move them up to early in the year, perhaps as soon as March."

News Briefs
  • Violence in Mexico's Guerrero state has overwhelmed morgues, where infrastructure is inadequate for the flow of homicide victims. Workers have complained that bodies are decomposing, reports the Guardian. Between eight and 10 bodies have been arriving daily at morgues in the state, according to Reforma, while the state has registered 1,919 homicides so far this year – already at least 100 more than last year.
  • A recent report by independent experts (GAIPE) regarding the investigation into Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres' assassination emphasizes the participation of security forces and business interests in the killing. More broadly, "As with anything in Honduras, the United States looms large in this case," reports The Nation, reviewing the recent GAIPE report. (See Oct.30's and Nov. 2's posts.) The piece examines the U.S. role in permitting ongoing human rights abuses in Honduras. "Since the coup, a small number of US lawmakers have expressed concern about the human-rights situation in Honduras, sending multiple letters to the State Department, but their admonitions and entreaties seem to spark little meaningful action. The State Department has continued to employ an opaque process to certify that Honduras complies with human-rights conditions despite clear evidence to the contrary, (including its own reports), such as its summary dismissal of credible evidence that Cáceres had been on a military hit list."
  • Honduras appears poised to end 2017 with a significantly lower homicide rate than it started with, reports InSight Crime. The government estimates that the 2017 homicide rate will be 42 per 100,000 citizens by the end of the year, compared to 59 per 100,000 registered in 2016. The drastic reduction -- about half the rate registered in 2012 -- is due to seven factors, according to InSight, including a focus on fighting crimes like extortion in the country's most violent neighborhoods. The piece cites Omar Rivera, the advocacy coordinator for the Association for a More Just Society (Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa - ASJ) who also emphasizes the capture of criminal organization leaders. Other sources point to police reform and prison modernization, as well as cooperation between government institutions and international organizations.
  • In the U.S., a congressional hearing on the effectiveness of the Kingpin act showed the benefits and pitfalls of the 1999 law used to sanction individuals suspected of involvement in the drug trade, reports InSight Crime. Though a former DEA official said the law was tremendously effective, other witnesses criticized parts of its implementation. For example, Eric Olson, the deputy director of the Wilson Center's Latin American Program, cited the case of the Rosenthal family in Honduras to illustrate how the sanctions "risk of collateral damage that can potentially undermine legitimate sectors of the financial system and ultimately the economy."
  • Another Colombian social activist was killed in Tumaco -- just hours after participating in a protest regarding the killings of 130 community leaders in the region this year, reports TeleSUR.
  • Mexican police detained the alleged mastermind of a 72-person massacre in Tamaulipas state. The victims were mostly migrant workers from Central and South America, who appeared to have been tied up and blindfolded before being executed, reports Reuters.
  • A Brazilian proposal to subsidize off-shore oil fields would increase emissions, in direct opposition to the country's stance in international climate change forums. Environmental groups say the government is unfairly providing relief to big oil in order to increase revenue before shrinking global carbon budgets push down demand and prices, reports the Guardian.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has denied receiving any campaign donations or bribes from the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, reports the BBC. (See yesterday's post.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Odebrecht waves continue, Ecuador's VP to stand trial (Nov. 15, 2017)

Ecuador's Vice President Jorge Glas was ordered to stand trial over corruption allegations. He is the highest ranking politician to be indicted in the transnational Odebrecht bribery scandal. Prosecutors accuse Glas of taking $13.5 million in bribes from the Brazilian construction giant, reports the BBC. The vice president denies the charges and says they are politically motivated.

A former Odebrecht executive in Ecuador said the company paid  $33.5m in bribes since 2007 to secure infrastructure contracts in the country. Prosecutors accuse Glas and a dozen others, including the VP's uncle, of illicit association, reports El Comercio. He is accused of charging up to 1.3 percent of contracts for five public works. Evidence given by U.S. prosecutors demonstrates how an offshore account controlled by Glas' uncle received a $150,000 transfer from an Odebrecht subsidiary.

Glas and 12 other defendants could face up to 5 years in jail if convicted, reports the Associated Press.

Odebrecht executives' plea-deal testimony continues to complicate high level politicians around the region. This week Peruvian media reported that Marcelo Odebrecht told prosecutors that the company hired President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to work as a consultant a decade ago, reports Reuters

IDL Reporteros has an in-depth report on the revelations, which allege that Kuczynski was hired after his opposition to a project made him a thorn in Odebrecht's side. He was allegedly paid under the table. Odebrecht's testimony also includes allegations that Odebrecht contributed to the 2011 presidential run of Keiko Fujimori. 

In Peru, lawmakers voted last week to restrict local Odebrecht partners, part of the country's response to revelations of graft last year.The financial restrictions aim to limit the transfer of company assets abroad until civil reparations have been paid, reports Reuters.

News Briefs
  • Colombia's Constitutional Court unanimously approved the creation of a transitional justice system to try atrocities committed during the country's long civil conflict, reports La Silla Vacía. The unified decision also gives the polemic plan political legitimacy and does not modify the structural backbone of the Jurisdicción Especial de Paz (JEP), explains the piece. The decision also clarifies that former guerrillas can indeed run for office and participate in politics. They will however have to agree to submit themselves to the JEP when it is up and running. (See Nov. 2's post.) Their decision also shields former presidents, namely Álvaro Uribe, from facing proceedings in the JEP over their policies. And runs counter to Human Rights Watch's recommendations regarding military officials' responsibility for atrocities committed under their watch. Colombian lawmakers must now approve legislation regulating the transitional justice system, reports El Tiempo.
  • A Venezuelan sovereign debt default on the horizon (see yesterday's post) is sending traditional investors running, and attracting the so-called "Vulture Funds" that specialize in in the debts of near-bankrupt nations, reports the New York Times.
  • About two million Venezuelans are estimated to have left since Hugo Chávez came into power in 1999 -- an exodus roughly double that from Cuba in the twenty years after its revolution, according to the Wall Street Journal. (No clarification regarding whether this statistic takes into account the relative populations of the two countries.) And, in the wake of violently repressed opposition protests this year and a looming debt default, the drain of the well-educated middle class is only likely to continue, argues the piece. 
  • A Venezuelan shipping magnate with close ties to the government is funding the defense of a former Mormon missionary jailed in Venezuela on accusations of stockpiling weapons. Joshua Holt's defenders say the bizarre case was set up to retaliate against the U.S. What is strange about tycoon Wilmer Ruperti's financial defense of the U.S. citizen is that he is also funding the defense of President Nicolas Maduro’s two nephews in a separate, politically-charged U.S. narcotics trial, reports the Associated Press. Though Ruperti is keeping quiet, sources indicate he believes both cases are politically motivated. "Ruperti’s seemingly contradictory positions offer a window into the tangled and often perplexing web of political and business connections that dominate decision making in Venezuela," writes Joshua Goodman.
  • Dominant northeast Mexican criminal organizations, the Gulf Cartel and los Zetas, have declined, but their rivalry continues to foment violence in the region, reports InSight Crime in a piece that analyzes the specific dynamics in different states.
  • Mexican foreign minister Luis Vidigaray reiterated that a poor NAFTA renegotiation outcome would affect other areas of U.S. - Mexican cooperation, including security and immigration, reports Bloomberg.
  • Costa Rica plays an important and growing role in the transit of South American cocaine headed for North America, Europe and beyond, reports InSight Crime, based on an investigation by local news outlet La Nación. Regional criminal networks have taken advantage of the country's strategic location and local conditions, according to the report, which also looks at negative impacts from the illicit trade on a country traditionally considered relatively secure and stable. "Multinational criminal groups, primarily Mexican and Colombian ones, have been known to have a presence in Costa Rica in the past. But the La Nación investigation underscores the importance of local support for the smooth operation of transnational criminal schemes. According to the report, foreign drug trafficking groups often subcontract Costa Ricans to help with local logistics. Costa Ricans will pick up cocaine shipments at strategic points throughout the country, particularly along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, then store and transport them domestically for re-shipment."
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer is planning a cabinet shakeup in order to muster up support for an unpopular and oft-delayed pension reform bill, reports Bloomberg. The move comes as major ally PSDB angles to exit the ruling coalition ahead of next year's elections.
  • Argentine online retail-service giant Mercadolibre is threatening to decamp from the country if a dispute with tax authority continues, reports the Wall Street Journal. The government is anxious to attract tech investment, and officials have said they will urge the tax agency to back off a plan to charge Mercado Libre about $28 million in tax benefits obtained through a law aimed at benefiting software companies.
  • A former Argentine football official, Jorge Delhon, appears to have committed suicide yesterday, just hours after being accused of taking bribes. An Argentine sports marketing executive giving testimony in a U.S. Fifa corruption trial accused Delhon of taking $2 million in payments in exchange for rights for broadcasting football games, reports the BBC. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Uber promised to play by the rules in El Salvador, after a high level official warned that services provided by the ride-sharing company are not covered by existing regulations, reports the Associated Press. Just six months after launching in El Salvador, the service has grown to nearly 1,000 drivers and more than 33,000 users in the country. A bill in Congress would allow for Uber-like services.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Venezuela in "selective default" (Nov. 14, 2017)

Venezuela is in selective default according to Standard & Poors, an international credit ratings agency. "Selective default" is used when a country has failed to pay one or more of its financial obligations when it came due, reports the BBC. Venezuela's state-run oil company PDVSA has also been declared in default by rating agencies Fitch and Moody's.

A meeting with creditors yesterday in Caracas was brief and lacked concrete proposals for restructuring debt, reports the Wall Street Journal. Most major investment funds skipped yesterday's meeting, some citing concern over meeting with head negotiator, Vice President Tareck El Aissami, who is blacklisted by the U.S. for alleged drug trafficking. Some bondholders stayed out of the room while El Aissami and Economy Minister Simon Zerpa, who is also the target of U.S. sanctions, were present. (See yesterday's post.)

The "short and confused meeting" offered no plan for restructuring or refinancing the country's $60 billion in debt, though investors were gifted boxes of chocolate, notes Reuters.

Venezuela continues to divide the international community. (See yesterday's post.) Yesterday, the U.S. denounced Venezuela as a global threat in an informal U.N. Security Council meeting yesterday on the deteriorating situation in the country, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Russia, China, Egypt and Bolivia refused to attend and said the body should stay out of the situation, related to the country's domestic affairs, reports Reuters. Venezuela's U.N. ambassador denounced the meeting as "hostile act" in violation of Venezuela's sovereignty, reports the New York Times. Uruguay sent a representative, but clarified that it does not believe the situation in Venezuela is a threat to international peace and security.

Julio Henríquez, representing local rights group Foro Penal, spoke at the meeting about the dramatic increase in political prisoners and use of force against anti-government protesters. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein also mentioned abuses against protesters, documented by his office, and voiced concern that human rights violations in Venezuela could have a destabilizing effect on the region, according to Efecto Cocuyo.

Venezuela aside: There are all kinds of medicine shortages affecting the country. A woman who gave testimony about lack of medication to prevent rejection of her transplanted kidney died shortly after, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

News Briefs
  • Candidates for promotion in Colombia's army include five officers linked by strong evidence to extrajudicial killings that are under criminal investigation, denounced Human Rights Watch. Four colonels and one army general on the list of 22 have been credibly linked to “false positive” killings and other abuses under their watch, according to HRW. The Colombian Senate is set to decide the promotions in the next few weeks, but resumes released by the Defense Ministry were incomplete about these officers' records. "False positives" refers to the systematic killings of innocent civilians between 2002 and 2008 to boost body counts in the country’s long-running armed conflict. "Human Rights Watch research has shown that patterns in false-positive cases – including their systematic nature and the implausible circumstances of many of the reported combat killings – strongly suggest that commanders of units responsible for a significant number of killings knew or had reason to know about them." 
  • Human Rights Watch has reported on a military directives linking honors and advancement to enemy combatant deaths. Most recently the organization discovered a 2003 formula requiring 150 enemy combatant deaths and another 500 captured in order for a brigade captain to receive a medal for distinguished services, reports Semana.
  • A soda tax aimed at reducing consumption of sugary beverages in Colombia became a fierce battle between rights groups and soda corporations, reports the New York Times in a feature piece that goes in depth on the threats faced by activists and pressures on media outlets.
  • About 90 percent of cases of child rape remain unpunished in El Salvador, where judges have leeway to pardon the crime even when its proved. Magistrates often appeal to character traits or try to force the victim and aggressor to form a home together, reports El Faro.
  • "Online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries over the past year, including the United States," according to a new Freedom House report. In Latin America, Venezuela was "among 30 countries where governments were found to employ armies of 'opinion shapers' to spread government views, drive particular agendas, and counter government critics on social media." 
  • U.S. prosecutors accused three former South American football officials of taking millions of dollars in bribes as part of a broad corruption network within Fifa, reports the Guardian. The former heads of the football federations of Brazil, Paraguay and Peru denied the charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering. It's the first trial since a high profile arrest of football officials in Zurich in 2015. The trial will focus on how marketing and sponsorship rights were sold for two major South American tournaments, the Copa América and the Copa Libertadores, as well as the Brazilian domestic tournament Copa do Brasil. US Assistant Attorney Keith Edelman told jurors the evidence will show abuse over 20 years, reports the BBC.
  • A German court granted a Peruvian farmer's demand to sue energy giant RWE for damages related to climate change threatening his Andean home. Though the victory is small -- the case will be permitted to proceed -- it is significant, reports the Guardian. It could potentially grant precedent for plaintiffs around the world.
  • The "Weinstein Effect" is spreading around the globe, as women and men emboldened by reports of sexual harassment come forward with stories of their own. Nearly half of the “#metoo” mentions since the movement has been launched have come from outside the U.S., reports the Associated Press, referencing Peruvian beauty contestants decision to cite gender violence statistics instead of their body measurements. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)