El Salvador's abortion law on trial (March 12, 2021)
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights heard arguments in Manuela v El Salvador this week. It is a landmark case that could shape policy and debate on abortion across Latin America. Manuela was a 33-year-old Salvadoran woman who, in 2008, fainted in a latrine while having a miscarriage (she did not know she was pregnant). She awoke handcuffed to a hospital bed and accused of having an abortion, which is illegal in El Salvador. Manuela was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Around the same time she was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. Two years later, she died of her illness in prison. (María Florencia Alcaraz's Lat Fem newsletter covers the details of Manuela's case.)
The plaintiffs – a group of reproductive rights groups including the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Feminist Collective for Local Development – are asking for reparations for Manuela's family, but are also asking the court to mandate that the state take responsibility for failing to guarantee Manuela’s rights to health and life. "With this case, the Court—for the first time--will have the opportunity to recognize how the absolute denial and criminalization of reproductive health services in El Salvador discriminates against and causes violence against women who suffer obstetric emergencies, denying them due process," according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
It is the first time that an international court has had the opportunity to challenge El Salvador's famously draconian abortion law (not permitted in any circumstances) and the country's aggressive prosecutorial approach to abortion, reports the Guardian. Over the past two decades, about 181 women who experienced obstetric emergencies were prosecuted for abortion or aggravated homicide, according to rights groups. The court’s decision, expected later this year, could have a sweeping effect throughout the region.
The Center and its partner organizations are asking the Court to direct El Salvador to establish public policies to ensure that this kind of discriminatory prosecution of women like Manuela ends; arguing for an urgent review of the sentencing of women criminalized for obstetric emergencies; calling for legislative measures to adequately regulate the Health Code so that the treatment of obstetric emergencies by medical personnel does not give rise to criminal liability; and seeking reforms of the deficiencies of the criminal and prison system, among others.
They also call on the Court to recognize that "a total ban on abortion further develops a culture of systemic discrimination and gender-based violence, as it disproportionately impacts women in vulnerable situations and encourages the criminalization of their reproductive processes."
Drug trafficker said he bribed JOH
A convicted Honduran drug trafficker and former leader of a cartel testified in United States federal court yesterday that he paid now-President Juan Orlando Hernández $250,000 to secure government contracts as well as protection from capture and extradition to the United States. (Associated Press, Reuters)
Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, former leader of the Cachiros cartel, testified that he made the payment in cash in 2012 through one of Hernández’s sisters, Hilda Hernández (now deceased), in exchange “for protection so that the military police and preventive police didn’t capture us in Honduras.” At the time JOH, as the president is known, was head of Honduras’ Congress, he won the presidency in 2013.
Maradiaga testified in the trial of alleged drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez, in which Hernández appears as a co-conspirator, though he has not been charged. JOH maintains his innocence. (See Wednesday's post.)
Prosecutors are "definitely working hard to try to establish links between Hernández and Fuentes, and both families. We have seen pictures of Fuentes' brother with President Hernández, at least two fotos, one of which was at President Hernández's birthday party in 2017, which one would think is an exclusive event," explained investigative journalist Jeff Ernst who has been following the trial. (France 24)
Hondurans vote in presidential primary elections on Sunday. Nine candidates are competing for three slots, and will then face off against candidates from 12 more parties in the November general elections, though party alliances or coalitions could change the final competition. (El Heraldo)
Experts predict low turnout amid voter disenchantment with politics. The last presidential elections, in which JOH obtained a second term, were widely denounced as fraudulent. (Deutsche Welle)
Daily anti-government protests in Paraguay this week have been fueled by frustration at graft as coronavirus infection rates soar and medical supplies run short. The situation is a reversal of the beginning of the pandemic, a year ago, when Paraguay was lauded for taking swift and decisive actions that contained the outbreak for months, reports the New York Times.
"The unrest in Paraguay is a snapshot of the massive challenges Latin America faces as the virus continues to take a heavy toll, while governments struggle to provide adequate health care and acquire enough vaccines," reports the New York Times.
Latin America, where countries are seeing a mix of reopening and new waves of COVID-19, has been hard hit by the pandemic, with 22 million people pushed into poverty and weak social safety nets, according to an annual U.N. report released last week. It said the number in extreme poverty was at a level not seen for 20 years, and it pointed to deep structural inequalities, a sprawling informal labor market and a lack of effective health care coverage - meaning many people end up paying for treatment out of pocket. (Reuters)
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres criticized the “many examples of vaccine nationalism and vaccine hoarding” as well as side deals with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers that undermine access to all people in the world, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.)
Crimes related to the illegal purchase of coronavirus vaccines, including the sale of pilfered or fake doses, have surged, along with online scams, reports InSight Crime.
Brazil’s hospitals are faltering as a highly contagious coronavirus variant tears through the country, reports the Associated Press. The country reported nearly 2,300 deaths Wednesday, a new grim record after more than 10,000 deaths last week. And President Jair Bolsonaro's refusal to take measures to contain the pandemic have hobbled an effort by governors to implement restrictions such as a curfew, prohibition of crowded events and limits on the hours nonessential services can operate.
"It would be hard to script a better moment for Lula to return to the political scene," writes Boz at the Latin America Risk Report. A Supreme Court justice's decision to toss out criminal convictions against the former president comes at a low point for current President Jair Bolsonaro, and entails a political earthquake for Brazil ahead of presidential elections next year. (See Tuesday's post.)
At first glance, Lula’s eligibility is a boost for Bolsonaro, who won his 2019 presidential bid due to a wave of voter anger at the political establishment. Nearly three years later, Brazil remains polarised, but antibolsonarismo may have surpassed antipetismo (opposition to the PT), reports the Economist. (See yesterday's briefs on Lula's comeback speech.)
Guatemala’s president chose his chief of staff and one of his closest advisers to fill a seat on the country’s highest court this week. The move raises questions about President Alejandro Giammattei's commitment to combating corruption, according to the Associated Press.
United Nations human rights experts said they were looking into allegations that Venezuelan police forces had killed 200 people this year and investigators raised concerns about possible summary executions, reports Reuters.
Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele is a hugely popular president who is criticized by groups like Human Rights Watch over concerns that he’s put the country on the path toward dictatorship. The mix poses a unique challenge for the new U.S. administration's goal of helping Central American governments strengthen democracy and fight corruption so as to tackle the root causes of migration, reports the Christian Science Monitor.
U.S. gun laws are easily exploited by traffickers and cartels in Mexico, who have caused devastation in their wake. Vice News has an adapted excerpt from Ioan Grillo’s latest book, Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels.
Mexico's path to marijuana legalization was unique, notes Foreign Policy's Latin America Brief. Mexico’s legislature was required to legalize marijuana by the country’s Supreme Court after a series of lawsuits there. (See yesterday's briefs.)
A presidential decree in Bolivia -- which provides a blanket amnesty to people prosecuted during the previous government for crimes related to the “political crisis” that started in October 2019 -- opens the door to impunity for serious crimes, according to Human Rights Watch.
Forests in Colombia are being ravaged by illegal mining, a criminal economy that has come to rival the drug trade for profits, reports InSight Crime.
Meghan Markle's account of questions from the British royal family about the skin tone of her unborn son sparked recognition and discussions about the persistence of racism on Latin American social media this week, notes Foreign Policy's Latin America Brief.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...
Latin America Daily Briefing