Friday, June 27, 2014

Escaping Crime and Gang Violence

 "More often than not, their neighborhood has become so dangerous or they have been so seriously threatened, that to stay is to wait for their own death or great harm to their family. Their neighborhoods are full of gangs. Their schools are full of gangs. They do not want to join for moral and political reasons and thus see no future,  -Elizabeth Kennedy, author of a study on Central American minors emigrating to the U.S.
Casa de Belen Posada del Migrante, Saltillo, Coahila (Photo by Chuy Mendez Garza via Wilkimedia Commons
Immigration (or emigration) is an important theme in three of the articles in our newsletters this week. The airwaves, the front pages of daily newspapers, and popular Internet sites in the United States and elsewhere have been filled with images of minors who have been caught after crossing into Texas. According to the White House, a record number of unaccompanied minors (more than 52,000 in the first five months of the year) were detained in U.S. border communities.

There are many factors prompting the young people to make the long and treacherous journey from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala through Mexico to seek a better life in the U.S. Economics and a desire to reunite with relatives (many times parents) certainly play a significant role in that "better life," but the children and teens are also seeking to escape out-of-control violence and crime that has ravaged their communities. Elizabeth Kennedy, a researcher at San Diego State University and University of California Santa Barbara, tells us more in a study entitled "Refugees from Central American gangs."

We covered the topic in SourceMex, weaving in the point of view of Mexican authorities and non-governmental organizations,  We also discussed a summit on the crisis in Guatemala City that included Presidents Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala and Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador, US Vice President Joe Biden, Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, and Honduran Government Coordinator Jorge Ramón Hernández Alcerro. Read More

A second article in SourceMex reported on an increase in remittances sent by Mexican expatriates to relatives back home during the first quarter of 2014. This is despite adverse economic conditions during that period in the country where most expatriates reside: the US. 

Map of Hatian migrants in Dominican Republic (Wikimedia Commons)
In NotiCen, we covered the new plan by the Dominican Republic to regularize the migratory status of "illegal aliens." The plan will benefit between 500,000 and 700,000 people, most of whom have ties to neighboring Haiti. While a percentage of those affected are recent immigrants, many others have lived their entire lives in the Dominican Republic, even though parents or grandparents came from Haiti.  Read more

Also in LADB this week
NotiCen also covered the case of former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo, who was sentenced by a US court to five years and 10 months in jail for accepting US$2.5 million from the Taiwanese government and attempting to launder the illegal money through US banks.

In NotiSur, our two articles dealt with land issues and indigenous rights. One article tells us how citizens of Ecuador adversely affected by Chevron's operations in the South American country managed to organize a protest at multinational company's annual shareholders' meeting.  This is despite Chevron's decision to move the meeting from the San Francisco Bay area to a more isolated location in Texas in order to avoid the protestors.  The second article looks at the five-year anniversary of the Bagua massacre in Peru, and how nine legislative decrees by ex-President Alan Garcia led to violent conflict. The decrees, related to energy projects, infringed on the ancestral right of indigenous communities to their land. Several trials related to the conflict are proceed slowly.
 -Carlos Navarro
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Friday, June 20, 2014

The Ball Rolls in a Different Direction

Image by Pumbaa80, on Wikimedia Commons
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff appeared  on national television to defend the World Cup against the principal critiques from protesters, that the money spent on the mega-event should have been used for education and health care, among other needs. She  said public resources for the tournament stadiums amounted to R$8 billion (US$3.6 billion), while national, state, and local investments in education and health care from 2010, the year stadium construction began, through 2013 amounted to R$1.7 trillion (US$76.2 billion), or 212 times as much.

Michael Amaro, a programmer from Itaborái, a municipality in greater Rio, was unconvinced. "The government spent R$1.3 trillion on health care and education and it’s still as bad as it is? It’s not 10% as efficient as it should be," he said.  -from NotiSur, June 20, 2014

Chances are most of the fans of fútbol in the United States who are watching the 2014 FIFA World Cup associate the event with the great play on the field, especially the Latin American teams.  Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica have played especially well, and Mexico scored some points with the fans back home by earning a tie with the host country Brazil (one of the favorites to win the tournament). Brazilian fans are somewhat disappointed with their team's performance, but the host country remains in good shape to advance to the next round, as does its chief rival and neighbor Argentina.

Outside of its soccer fortunes, Brazil has earned mixed marks when it comes to organizing the event.  The South American country was late with completion of many of its sports venues, and there were numerous complaints that some of the infrastructure that caters to tourists was subpar. And yet, the actual games have been well organized, so the image that Brazil is presenting to the world on balance appears to be positive.

For ordinary Brazilians, there are also mixed feelings. The intense pride in their team is unmistaken, with many Brazilians wearing green and gold and blue on the streets and in the dozen or so venues where the games are being played. But there is discontent below the surface. In his article in NotiSur entitled "World Cup Begins with Diminished Protests, Increased Security, and Debates Over Legacy," Gregory Scruggs discusses how many ordinary Brazilians continue to protest the government's decision to spend money on the World Cup instead of devoting resources to education, health care and other social services.  Read More

Also in LADB this week...
Across the continent in Chile, President Michelle Bachelet has been very busy during her first three months in office. The center-left leader has already submitted a bill to overhaul the national tax system and another to do away with Chile’s much-maligned parliamentary election rules, and she has proposed a handful of education reforms. In May, she traveled to Argentina. The month before, she coordinated responses to not one, but two natural disasters: a powerful April 1 earthquake in the north followed two weeks later by a devastating firestorm in the port city of Valparaíso. 

Another newly installed president is Salvador Sánchez Cerén, El Salvador’s first "guerrilla" president, Sánchez Cerén takes over a a deeply divided country that is facing a resurgence of crime.  Crime is also major topic in the other article in NotiCen, which examines the increase in the increasing deaths of journalists in Honduras.  In SourceMex, we review the decision of state-run oil company PEMEX to sell off most of its shares in Spanish oil company Repsol and the ongoing efforts in Mexico to address gun-related violence (A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court might help).

-Carlos Navarro
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Friday, June 6, 2014

Political Right versus Political Ultra-Right

"For the Colombian far right,  [Iván] Márquez and [Nicolás] Maduro are the living image of the devil," analyst Federico Larsen wrote in the Argentine daily Tiempo.
Billboard in Colombia ahead of runoff election
The simplest way to frame an election in Latin America is left versus right.But it's never really that simple, is it?

In the case of Colombia, where the election is between right and extreme right, the latter campaign (of ultra-right candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga) is attempting to frame the former (incumbent Juan Manuel Santos) as a candidate of the "left." 

Santos, a conservative, is the first Colombian president to take the bold step of entering into a dialogue with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). The peace process is grinding along slowly, but progressing nevertheless. Still, because of that effort, the Zuluanga camp has portrayed Santos as a leftist of sorts. Zuluanga, a close ally of ex-President Álvaro Uribe, shows  posters contained images of Iván Márquez, second-in-command in the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) guerrilla army, and President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, along with a message:“Ellos quieren que gane Santos, ¿y usted? (They want Santos to win. How about you?)

Check out the Campaign Web Sites of the two candidates:  Santos    Zuluanga

For some analysts, the battle of ideology is only one aspect of the Colombian runoff election, which will be held on June 15. "The Santos-Zuluaga runoff will cap an election season that many observers say has weakened the country’s democracy. Analysts—from across the political spectrum—have used terms like "democracy deficit" or "low-intensity democracy" to describe the current situation in Colombia, where legislators and other elected officials are less and less representative," Andrés Gaudín says in the June 6 issue of NotiSur.   Read More

NotiSur also contains a piece about Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's Op-Ed piece in The New York Times and how students are searching for creative ways to continue their protests, which seemed to have fizzeled.

In NotiCen (June 5), Ben Witte-Lebhar writes about the outcome of a meeting between the Nicaraguan Catholic Bishops and President Daniel Ortega, and George Rodriguez tells us about the continuing conflict between teachers and the Costa Rican government, which is now led by President. Luis Guillermo Solís.

In SourceMex (June 4), we examine two court decisions favoring indigenous rights, and how the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) played a role in changing the Mexican government's attitudes toward indigenous communities. A second article in SourceMex examines judicial corruption, and how a casino magnate used the courts to advance his interests.

-Carlos Navarro
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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Judicial Independence Under Attack in Guatemala

"This jeopardizes judicial independence and the rule of law. It means that anyone can, without grounds, accuse a judge to avoid being prosecuted. This opens the door to impunity and corruption. … Judicial independence is a guarantee, more than for the judge, it is a guarantee for Guatemalans to be able to depend on honorable and dignified judges."  -Guatemalan Judge Yassmín Barrios

Photo by Nerun (Wikimedia Commons)
Judge Yassmín Barrios has presided over some of Guatemala’s most sensitive cases, such as the trial of the Army officers accused of murdering Bishop Juan Gerardi in 2001, the Dos Erres massacre case and a number of high-profile cases involving gangs and drug cartels.

One of her most recent cases involved the trial of former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983), who faced charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Although Ríos Montt was found guilty in 2013, the Corte de Constitucionalidad (CC), under pressure from Guatemala’s conservative business establishment, controversially overturned the verdict.

 Local and international human rights organizations strongly condemned the reversal and have argued that it runs contrary to the principle of judicial independence.

And the concept of judicial independence also came under attack with an action directed against Barrios herself. In April of this year, the Tribunal de Honor of the Colegio de Abogados y Notarios de Guatemala (CANG) temporarily suspended the judge from practicing law for one year and ordered her to pay a US$650 fine. The tribunal's decision was based on a complaint filed by attorney Moisés Galindo, defense counsel for José Mauricio Rodríguez, director of intelligence under the Ríos Montt regime and his co-accused in the genocide trial.

Barrios appealed the suspension, and a few weeks later, the Asamblea de los Presidentes de los Colegios Profesionalesr uled that Judge Barrios had acted wrongly by ordering Galindo to represent Ríos Montt but that the alleged misdemeanor was not serious enough to require her suspension and resolved that both the fine and the suspension should be revoked. Read more from Louisa Reynolds in this week's issue of NotiCen.

NGOs Weigh In
Is the legal system in Guatemala (and elsewhere in Central America) too politicized?  At a hearing held by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the politicization of judicial branches in Central America, the petitioner from Guatemala argued that the upper level courts in the regions are influenced by political party interests as a result of the political commitments judges assume when appointed because the legislature appoints upper level judges in most countries. The criteria that the legislature uses are not based on a judge’s judicial record but on their political allegiance.

Some organizations like Impunity Watch (IW) suggest that problems with the judicial system in Guatemala are compounded by systemic flaws. It is well known that the design of the justice system in Guatemala has flaws that favour impunity. Some initiatives for reforming justice in stitutions have been promoted by national and international, state and non-state act ors. Initiatives for constitutional reform have focused on two major areas: improving the Guat emalan justice institutions and improving the domestic legal provisions by correcting loopholes, as well as changing troublesome laws.  Read IW's full brief posted in March 2013.

Other articles in the Latin America Data Base newsletters for May 28-30 address two livestock-related issues.  In Cuba, the livestock industry is in disarray, and in Mexico, a deadly virus has been detected among hog herds in 17 states. Poverty is a theme in three other articles. In Mexico, the Catholic Church is challenging President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration to ensure reforms benefit the poorest segments of the population.  In Peru, expatriates are helping support the economy with remittances. Elsewhere in South America, the countries of the Southern Cone have done a good job in reducing hunger and poverty, according to experts from several multilateral institutions.

 -Carlos Navarro

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