Hemispheric call for Venezuela to release political prisoners (March 23, 2017)
A group of 14 countries -- including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile -- plan to issue a joint statement in coming days calling on the government of President Nicolás Maduro to release political prisoners, return full powers to the National Assembly and set a timetable to hold regional elections that Venezuela has indefinitely postponed, reports the Wall Street Journal.
In a region where countries tend to refrain from interfering in each others' sovereign affairs, such a move is unusual, notes the WSJ. Countries close to Venezuela, such as Bolivia, Nicaragua, and El Salvador have refused to sign onto the initiative. But the tide has shifted in the region, replacing previously friendly governments with center-right administrations. The 14 nations hope to submit the statement for a vote as a resolution at the Organization of American States. (See March 15's post, and Tuesday's briefs.)
Earlier this week relatives of imprisoned opposition politicians asked OAS member states to follow Secretary General Luis Almagro's recommendation to suspend Venezuela, reports Voice of America. Venezuela's OAS ambassador interrupted the press conference held by Almagro and families, denouncing the event as political proselytization, reports Voice of America separately.
The U.S. case for defending human rights in the region -- especially the Venezuelan case -- has been weakened by the Trump administration's unusual decision to boycott Inter-American Human Rights Commission sessions dedicated to the immigration ban, argues Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald. "The Trump administration's decision to stay out of the hearings put the United States in the odd situation of being in same category as Cuba and other systematic human rights abusers, which often boycott the IAHRC hearings, other commission officials told me."
Venezuela aside: The government has stopped publishing money supply data, eliminating key information used for determining inflation after the country quit issuing inflation data more than a year ago, reports Reuters.
Latin America's leadership in global lethal violence is partially du to a high level of impunity, argue Igarapé Institute's Robert Muggah and Ilona Szabo de Carvalho in Foreign Affairs, where they tout evidence-based and data driven strategies targeted at homicide hotspots. "In Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, and Venezuela, at least 90 percent of capital crimes go unpunished. Since most victims are poor black men from low-income neighborhoods, their deaths are considered a low priority. Investigations are sloppy, if they are conducted at all. As a result, people’s faith in the police and criminal justice systems has collapsed." (See March 15's briefs.)
Venezuelan authorities have arrested six children in connection with the murder of two off-duty soldiers, reports the BBC. The minors range from six to 15 years, and are said to belong to a gang called Los Cachorros.
Rapidly deteriorating conditions in Venezuela are pushing thousands of citizens across the Brazilian border in search of sanctuary from criminal violence, food and medicine shortages, and rampant inflation. Though its not clear that these reasons qualify migrants for refugee status, it hasn't stopped people engaging in what one expert calls "survival migration." But migrants find themselves in only marginally better circumstances than at home, and Brazilian authorities have been slow to respond, write Igarapé Institute's María Beatriz Bonna Nogueira and Maiara Folly in America's Quarterly. New legislation allows citizens from border countries to apply for a two-year temporary resident status, an attempt to keep Venezuelans from overwhelming the national asylum system. But the efforts lack resources and have left local, state, and federal governments squabbling over who must provide shelter, access to health, the provision of food, or other basic requirements of the migrant population, they write. "What is required is a comprehensive approach to asylum that simultaneously provides for the essential social and economic requirements of new arrivals."
Brazil's government struggled to convince international markets that meatpacking industry bribes to sanitation inspectors were merely aimed at moving produce faster, not to sell rotten meat, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Monday's briefs.) At least 17 import markets took steps to limit Brazilian meat exports, a key national industry. The government criticized police handling of the case, saying the companies in question did not sell tainted meat. Officials also said that some of the information appears to have been misinterpreted and actually referred to legal practices. The agriculture minister called it a "punch to the stomach" for the meat industry, reports the New York Times. Meat exports on Tuesday fell to just $74,000, compared with a daily average for March of $63 million. President Michel Temer took ambassadors from meat-importing countries to a steakhouse, but according to Brazilian media, much of the meat sold there was imported. "Weak Flesh" is just the latest in a series of damaging revelations to shake the Brazilian corporate sector, already struggling with the worst recession to hit Latin America's biggest economy, notes the Financial Times, pointing to the still ongoing Petrobras and Odebrecht scandals.
Momentum is building in support of a proposal to loosen El Salvador's famously draconian abortion policy. A bill in congress would the procedure in cases of rape or human trafficking; when the foetus in unviable; or to protect the pregnant woman’s health or life. And could mitigate the often tragic effects of the current total ban, which has forced women to carry to term pregnancies that were unviable, dangerous, or the result of rape, reports the Guardian. Women have been forced to face life-threatening medical complications, or denial of treatment in order to protect the fetus. And dozens have been imprisoned for murder after suffering obstetric complications.
Guatemalan Congressman Edgar Justino Ovalle has not been seen publicly in over a month, and is believed to have fled the country in the wake of a Supreme Court decision impeaching him and allowing the attorney general's office to formally initiate judicial proceedings against Ovalle in a major human rights case. The Attorney General’s Office seeks to charge Ovalle in relation to several crimes that occurred in 1983 in the CREOMPAZ case, a major case of enforced disappearance in the country's civil war, explains Jo-Marie Burt at the International Justice Monitor. (See March 16's briefs and post for Jan. 7, 2016.)
Chile's high court has sentenced 33 former intelligence agents for the disappearance of five political activists in 1987, reports the BBC.
A rare opinion survey found that many Cubans long for a stronger economic future, reports the New York Times.
Teacher participation in a massive general strike against pension reform in Brazil earlier this month was underreported, according to an account by Stanford Post-Doc scholar Rebecca Tarlau at Education in Crisis. "On March 15 one million workers took to the street across Brazil, the largest national mobilization since the new conservative government took power. A large portion of these workers were teachers; teachers who not only initiated the strike, but who had done the hard work to mobilize their base to participate.
Two teenage sisters fleeing violence in Guatemala were sexually assaulted by a U.S. border agent after crossing into Texas from Mexico last year, according to a suit filed by the ACLU, reports the Guardian.
The numbers of people crossing over to the U.S. from Mexico are at an all-time low, reports the Financial Times, citing new research to be presented at the Brookings Papers conference this week. Apprehensions at the Mexican border, considered a proxy for how many people are attempting to migrate, has dropped to 1970s levels. Recently the Center for Migration Studies reported that up to 66 percent of migrants living illegally in the U.S. had overstayed valid visas. (See March 10's briefs.)
Uncertainty over Trump and his plan to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, as well as destroy the NAFTA cornerstone of trade between the two countries, has settled and tension is easing in Mexico, reports the Financial Times. "Higher prices and borrowing costs, plus the prospect of slower growth and the political uncertainty attached to Mr Trump’s policies, sound like a sentiment-crushing combination. Yet consumer confidence rallied in February after the government backpedalled on additional petrol price rises, the hedging programme strengthened the peso and fears of Nafta being scrapped receded."
Haitian police reject claims that former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was the target of an assassination attempt earlier this week, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.)