2015 themes in Latin America (Dec. 24, 2015)
To close off 2015, a few topics that have been big this year to keep an eye out for in 2016. The list is meant to be a starting point, not an exhaustive review of every topic nor every aspect of the topics mentioned ...
As world policy makers prepare for the U.N. General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs in a few months, several Latin American countries took a step back from the "war on drugs" approach this year and are at the fore with countries looking to change the policing paradigm for one of public health and human rights. See May 1st's post on seeking alternatives to incarceration and May 4th's post on perspectives on drug reform. Also check out a CELS led report on the negative effects of the "War on Drugs" paradigm on human rights in the region, Sept. 16th's post. And a series of studies by the Mexican Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derecho (CEDD) that show an increase in widespread incarceration for non-violent drug crimes around the region, Nov. 3rd's post.
In August UNASUR affirmed that South American countries are seeking a new "integral" approach to replace the punitive strategies against drugs.
Colombia took a huge step back from the U.S. backed "war on drugs" approach: see May 15th's post on the end of aerial spraying of glyphosate to control illicit coca cultivation, Oct. 1st's post on eradication programs after the prohibition, and yesterday's briefs on this week's presidential decree legalizing medical marijuana.
On the issue of marijuana, a Mexican Supreme Court decision might pave the way for decriminalization in that country, but it has certainly opened the flood gates of debate over what the approach to regulating the drug should be. See Nov. 5th's, Nov. 17th's, and Nov. 30th's posts. And Chile is also moving forward with it's first medical marijuana crop, see Oct. 13th's briefs.
But all is not rosy. InSight Crime notes the popularity of militarization of domestic security, especially in reference to combatting drug trafficking and crime. "Evidence suggests the militarization of domestic security -- a popular choice among governments across Latin America -- is detrimental to human rights and has little overall impact on crime and violence in the long term."
Militarized approaches are often a response to organized crime, as has happened in El Salvador, where gang violence has reached record levels this year. See April 22nd's post and August 14th's post.
For those looking for more in-depth reporting on the gangs, check out Oct. 30th's post on the NarcoData project in Mexico and Dec. 11th's post on InSight Crime's and Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa's study on Honduran gangs.
And the entertaining story of the year, though with chilling implications for Mexico's capacity to combat it's drug cartel problem is the escape of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán. See July 13th's post and July 14th's. As a result Mexico has started to extradite high-profile criminals wanted by the U.S.
One year after Mexico's Tlatlaya Massacre and the Iguala disappearances, little headway has been made on these and thousands of less known cases of summary executions and enforced disappearances. See July 2nd's and Oct. 14th's posts on Tlatlaya, where last year 22 suspected gang members were killed in a shoot-out with the army. Testimony and forensic evidence suggest that at least 15 were summarily executed. On the 43 missing teachers college students, see Sept. 25th's post and Sept. 28th's post on the issue of enforced disappearances in Mexico.
In Brazil there's increasing noise regarding shockingly high levels of police brutality, often aimed at poor black youths. See Nov. 4th's post, for example.
Much attention has been paid to the issue of refugees in the world this year, but less to the growing mass of Central Americans attempting to escape the war-like levels of homicide and crime in their countries. See Oct. 13th's post on how the migrant crisis has been outsourced from the U.S. to Mexico and the human rights costs of the policy.
And in the Dominican Republic a crackdown on undocumented migrants, many who have lived most of their lives in the country, has over 3,000 refugees living in camps along the Haitian border after fleeing threats of violence and deportation earlier this year after the government began a crackdown on illegal migrants. See June 17th's post on the issue and July 7th's for more analysis.
And a wave of Cuban migrants attempting to reach the U.S. via Central America is creating diplomatic headaches. See Nov. 16th's post.
Central American Spring
For corruption policy buffs, the months-long fraud scandal in Guatemala that concluded with the forced resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and the subsequent election of political outsider Jimmy Morales was a fascinating theme this year. See Sept. 2nd's, Sept. 3rd's and Sept. 8th's posts.
In a promising sign, demands for similar external investigation bodies for corruption, like the CICIG in Guatemala, have spread to neighboring countries, especially Honduras. See June 8th's and Oct. 16th's posts.
Though it's not in Central America, and it's not really (only) corruption focused either, it's interesting to look at how protests in Brazil are demanding government accountability on issues from reproductive rights (see Nov. 9th's post) to schools (see Dec. 2nd's post). In a New York Times op-ed, OSF fellow Pablo Ortellado makes the case that protesting students are part of a wider problem in which Brazilian authorities are unresponsive to social demands, creating protest movements that spiral out of control as in the 2013 transportation fare protests or the 2014 World Cup eviction protests. "One begins to wonder whether it will always take a major national crisis initiated by street protest for the Brazilian people’s voices to be heard."
The big story this year was Venezuela's parliamentary elections: whether they would happen at all, under what conditions, whether negative results for the government would be recognized, and, finally, whether the government will seek to undermine the opposition led National Assembly which is due to swear-in on Jan. 5.
In Haiti the initially lauded October elections (see Oct. 26th's briefs) have turned into a royal mess. Opposition presidential candidates -- including the second-place finisher who should be participating in the now delayed run-off election -- are denouncing fraud and demanding an independent verification commission. See Dec. 18th's post.
And my personal favorite ... The End of the Pink Tide?
Commentators are making much of Latin America's potential swing-rightward. See Nov. 6th's post and Nov. 23rd's.
Writing in The Atlantic, Moisés Naím examines the potential political perils facing Latin America, where a generation of newly empowered middle classes -- a result of an unprecedented period of social spending and reductions in the region's entrenched inequality -- face a period of economic slowdown that threatens their recent gains.
A recent NYTimes piece looks at anti-leftwing government sentiments around the region and makes perhaps the most relevant observation of the whole "end of the pink tide" commentating going on: the region's left-wing governments came to power during a commodities boom that brought prosperity to South America in the century's first decade. They were elected in a wave of popular indignation after a period of economic stagnation -- and now they are being rejected as international prices leave governments with fewer resources to meet heightened demands. And another interesting point made by Brian Winter, vice president of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas, suggests a more lasting policy shift: even many conservative politicians who hope to replace the long-running leftist governments in the region acknowledged the need to continue such policies because of lasting concerns over inequality.
In a great piece for the New Yorker Graciela Mochkofsky notes that the "self-declared right-wing, pro-business" leader has "put together an administration that is largely devoid of career politicians." She makes the case that he might represent the new crop of right-wing leaders replacing the left-wing governments in the region. Post-neoliberals, they have incorporated social concerns into their discourse and in some cases -- such as gay marriage for Macri -- tend to follow the polls more than a specific ideology.
NOTE: Latin America Daily Briefing will be off until Jan. 4. Very happy holidays to all!