Guatemalan security forces repress migrant caravan (Jan. 18, 2021)
Guatemalan military and police have blocked thousands of mostly Honduran migrants traveling towards the U.S. with truncheons and tear gas. Hundreds of migrants managed to push through military and police lines on Saturday, but others were stopped by force on Sunday morning. Some migrants were visibly injured by baton strikes, reports the Associated Press. (See the Guardian also.) The caravan, which left Honduras last week, has an estimated 7,000 people loosely travelling together. (See last Friday's post.)
An initial group of several thousand migrants and asylum seekers made it 43 km on foot into Guatemalan territory before soldiers and police blocking the highway stopped them. About 3,000 people who entered Guatemala on Saturday caught up on foot by Sunday morning, reports Al Jazeera.
Central American countries have been under considerable pressure from the U.S. to stop migrants traveling north. This is the first major caravan since last January, when about 4,000 people were stopped by Mexican authorities at the border with Guatemala. Caravans have become a fixture in recent years, and a predictable political flashpoint. (New York Times)
Government's in the region are determined not to let the current group pass. The Guatemalan government enacted emergency measures last week in seven departments, restricting freedom of assembly and movement in response to the planned migrant caravan – the first of 2021. The country also deployed about 2,000 soldiers and police officers, while Mexico has sent hundreds of troops to its southern border, 432 km away. Guatemalan authorities have already sent back approximately 1,000 people to Honduras.
Many migrants are hoping for a more humane response from the U.S. under the incoming administration. U.S. president-elect Joe Biden has promised to ask Congress for a broad overhaul of immigration laws, but has also sought to caution migrants against banking on immediate change. A Biden transition official, speaking on background, advised people not to make for the United States. “Overcoming the challenges created by the chaotic and cruel policies of the last four years, and those presented by COVID-19, will take time,” said the official, according to Reuters. “In the meantime, the journey to the United States remains extraordinarily dangerous, and those in the region should not believe anyone peddling the lie that our border will be open to everyone next month,” the official added.
The Trump administration's controversial approach to migration has been widely questioned by experts, and evidence is mounting that the policies enacted by the U.S. government have been adverse for asylum seekers forced to wait in Mexico or sent to third countries. A year after the Trump administration started sending asylum seekers (mostly from Honduras and El Salvador) to Guatemala, not a single one has been granted asylum there. Since November 2019, the Trump administration has sent at least 945 asylum seekers to Guatemala -- of these, only 34 began applications, of those, 16 abandoned their cases. The remaining 18 have still not received an asylum decision, according to a soon-to-be-released U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report obtained by the Washington Post. U.S. president-elect Joe Biden has promised to unravel the so-called asylum cooperation agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
A recent Human Rights Watch report found that the Trump administration's “Migration Protection Protocols” have exposed asylum seekers to considerable risk of serious harm. Known as "Remain in Mexico," authorities used the policy to send more than 69,000 people back over the border, sometimes into ramshackle refugee camps. Biden has also promised to scrap this policy, but warned that implementing an alternative system could take up to six months. (See Jan. 6's post.)
Radio Progreso writes about the factors pushing people to migrate from Honduras, the economic effects of the pandemic, along with the destruction of hurricanes Eta and Iota, have added to the long-standing issues of state corruption that stymie development. (H/T Daniel Langmeier's Honduras Daily) The only option is moving forward, said one desperate father, carrying his paralyzed son north in hopes of obtaining adequate health care, after years of failing in Honduras.
U.S. lawmaker Norma Torres explores the long-term roots of Honduran migration in this interview with the Los Angeles Times.
Venezuelan National Assembly head -- and a close ally of President Nicolás Maduro -- said he is hopeful the incoming U.S. Biden administration will roll back crippling economic sanctions against Venezuela, reports the Associated Press. Rodriguez, extending an olive branch to the incoming U.S. president, said the ruling socialist party is eager for a new start after four years of conflict with current President Donald Trump.
Mexico's government decided not to pursue drug-trafficking charges against former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos. Cienfuegos was detained in Los Angeles three months ago, and subsequently released to Mexico which said it would pursue the case with evidence sent by U.S. authorities. But Mexico's attorney general concluded that Cienfuegos had no meetings or communications with any criminal group, a quick investigation analysts said would do little to assuage doubts about the case, reports the Washington Post. (See Friday's briefs.)
Mexico's move is a bombshell for frayed security cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico -- angry U.S. officials saw the exoneration of Cienfuegos as a stunning breach of trust by Mexican officials, reports the New York Times. And Mexican government critics say President Andrés Manuel López Obrador bowed down to military power.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is moving to disarm the Instituto Nacional de Acceso a la Información Pública y Datos Personales (INAI), part of a broader series of attacks on autonomous agencies aimed at serving as a counterweight to presidential power, writes Arturo Angel in the New York Times Español.
AMLO's hope to create an international coalition to push back against social media company regulation of content, notably the deplatforming of U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month, will likely founder in international forums, according to the Washington Post. (See Friday's briefs.)
Twitter has suspended accounts linked to FARC dissidents, shortly after Colombian police requested they be taken down for inciting violence, reports Reuters.
Years of lower-than-expected growth and now the economic contraction brought by the COVID-19 pandemic will force governments in the region to focus on their own domestic economies and political futures, writes Christopher Sabatini in a Chatham House round-up of LatAm expert opinions for 2021. For Arturo Sarukhan "seeing how nations across the region respond to the economic, social and political pressure points that will be uncorked this year will be essential. Watching which governments understand that the key to addressing this issue and other challenges will be cooperating globally and regionally to solve those problems locally will be telling."
Kidnappings for ransom have surged in Haiti, from a total of 39 in 2019 to nearly 200 in 2020 -- and experts believe there are political motivations in addition to financial ones, reports Vice News. An unexplained shift to kidnappings in opposition strongholds has led many to believe the government is working with gang members , neglecting official police departments and allowing gangs to serve as de-facto security forces.
Guatemalan government data show acute malnutrition among the under-fives rose by 80% in the country last year compared to 2019. Data gathered by Oxfam last year also showed large increases in families facing food shortages, including a four-fold jump in severe shortages in the province around La Palmilla, reports Reuters. Successive droughts in Central America's "Dry Corridor" have created food shortages and push migration.
Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele has ridiculed the landmark 1992 Peace Accords that ended El Salvador's protracted civil war. He has also been an obstacle in attempts to bring justice to the victims of the emblematic El Mozote massacre. Yet "his decision to denigrate the accords probably had the impact of increasing the number of events [commemorating the Peace Accords] and people talking about their importance," writes Tim Muth at El Salvador Perspectives.
Argentina is the first major country outside Russia to begin inoculating against Covid-19 with the Sputnik V vaccine on a large scale. But the rollout has highlighted questions concerning the lack of transparency about the efficacy of the Russian state-sponsored jab, viewed as a cheaper alternative for developing countries desperate to obtain vaccines, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Brazil started Covid-19 vaccinations yesterday, with the Chinese CoronaVac. The São Paulo ceremony was a victory for governor João Doria, whose state spearheaded the partnership with Sinovac. (Guardian)
Brazil’s government will not seek to bar Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei from 5G network auctions slated for June this year, reports Reuters.
Women in the Dominican Republic go to extreme lengths to self-induce abortions, often in secrecy and without clear medical guidance. The DR is one of four countries in Latin America – along with Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador – where abortion is illegal in all circumstances, reports the Guardian.
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