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Around Latin America

March 18, 2013 Comments off

-While many in the Americas celebrated the announcement of the first American pope last year, not all citizens (including Catholic clergy) in Francis I’s home country are pleased with Bergoglio or the Catholic hierarchy in Argentina.

-It appears the long national mourning of Hugo Chávez may have hindered plans to embalm the late Venezuelan president.

- José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz, the first economics minister of Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, has died at 87. In a pattern that was not uncommon throughout the region, Martínez de Hoz garnered praise in the international community at the time for his imposition of neoliberal policies (policies that ultimately led to deindustrialization and privatization in Argentina), but whose imposition of such policies was accompanied by crackdowns on labor, repression, and human rights violations.

-In Brazil, former soccer player and current politician Romário is calling on Brazil’s Truth Commission to investigate Brazilian Football Confederation official Jose Maria Marin for his possible role in the murder of journalist Vladimir Herzog in 1977 during Brazil’s military dictatorship. Meanwhile, in another reminder of how broken Brazil’s legislative branch is, evangelical minister and congressman Marco Feliciano, who has openly made racist and homophobic comments in the past, was chosen to head Congress’s Human Rights Commission.

-Several Nobel Peace Prize winners recently wrote in support of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an organization that had been under criticism from member countries recently.

-It’s been more than 40 years since the assassination of Rafael Trujillo, the brutal dictator of the Dominican Republic for more than 30 years, and activists, scholars, and others are calling on the Dominican government to form a truth commission to fully investigate and officially address the regime’s brutality (including the murder of 25,000 Haitians in 1937 alone).

-Speaking of Truth Commissions, last week marked the 20th anniversary of El Salvador’s Truth Commission; Tim has a nice summary of its findings.

-The US military has acknowledged that prisoners at Guantanmo are on a hunger strike, though it denied that the strike was “widespread.”

-The trial of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier for human rights abuses continues, and the defense seems to be struggling a bit. Duvalier’s attorneys asked one witness if she may have been arrested by mistake, her reply? “If I was arrested by mistake, I was imprisoned by mistake and forced into exile by mistake.”

-Activists in Argentina are pushing for judicial reform to make the system more transparent and “democratic.”-Guyana’s Parliament rejected a law that would have made it illegal to carry disassembled gun parts into the country, a law designed to reduce gun smuggling and gun violence in the country.

-Great Britain’s plan to require Brazilian tourists to acquire travel visas on hold for now.

-Finally, IPS had a fascinating story on how indigenous women in Chile are helping bring solar energy and clean energy into communities in the Atacama desert, one of the driest places on the planet.

Drones in Latin America

January 15, 2013 Comments off

While drones a topic of discussion and debate among military analysts, civil libertarians, and scholars in the US, the unmanned aircraft are certainly not strictly the domain of the US alone. Many Latin American countries are developing their own “drone” technology for a variety of purposes, from monitoring favelas in Brazil to monitor drug cartels in the Dominican Republic, from protecting pipelines in Colombia to patrolling borders in Chile. Anna Kroos at Just the Facts has an excellent rundown on drones, their uses, and their development in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela, a rundown that is required reading for anybody interested in Latin American military technology, politics, and society.

Around Latin America

July 27, 2012 Comments off

-In the wake of violent suppression of growing protests, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala shuffled his cabinet again, picking as prime minister former human rights lawyer Juan Jimenez to replace ex-military officer Oscar Valdes. The move is likely designed at least in part to signal a more peaceful treatment of protesters going forward.

-On the sixtieth anniversary of the death of Eva “Evita” Perón, Argentina announced she will become the first woman whose image will appear on currency, with Evita appearing on the 100-peso bill.

-In the ongoing devastation of climate change, scientists suggest that rising ocean waters pose a serious threat to the world’s coral reef habitats, even while increasingly unstable temperatures in the atmosphere and ocean waters have led to a growing threat to sea turtles.

-Tim has this sobering reminder that there continues to be an “epidemic” of femicides in El Salvador, with 186 women murdered in the first four months of 2012 alone in a country with only roughly 2.3 million women citizens 15 or older.

-Meanwhile, São Paulo has witnessed a “surge” in murders and other violent crimes, with some analysts suggesting the socioeconomic inequalities and high cost of living in South America’s largest city as contributing factors.

-A pregnant teenager diagnosed with leukemia has again stirred the debate over women’s reproductive rights in the Dominican Republic, where abortion is illegal even in the case of saving the mother.

-Venezuela has announced it will be leaving the OAS’s American Convention on Human Rights, as well as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, putting the issue of human rights in Venezuela in a more precarious position.

-Speaking of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, it recently ruled in favor of indigenous peoples in Ecuador who had said that the government had ignored their autonomous rights when approving an energy project on the lands of the Sarayaku peoples without their consultation.

-In Argentina, the legal system is speeding up the trials of men charged with human rights violations during the so-called “Dirty War” dictatorship of 1976-1983 in an attempt to force aging perpetrators to serve time for their past crimes before they die. And former military leader and convicted human rights violator Jorge Videla said that the Catholic Church was aware of the regime’s use of “disappearances” of political opponents and “advised” the regime on the matter.

-Finally, members of the FARC in Colombia blew up a major pipeline, not only disrupting production but also causing pollution that will have a significant long-term impact on the environment and rivers near the pipeline.

Student Protests in the Dominican Republic

July 11, 2012 Comments off

Students at the Dominican Republic’s largest public university, the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo (Autonomous University of Santo Domingo; USAD), accused police of shooting three students during a protest. Dominican students had taken to the streets protesting an hike in tuition rates and speaking out against what they fear is the impending privatization of the university, claims university’s rector denied. Students also occupied the campus, holding a vigil to protest the increase in the cost of higher education, even as reports circulated that the school was going to shut off power to break up the protest, reports that the rector also denied. The students at USAD join their counterparts in Guatemala, Chile, Mexico, and even Canada, in taking to the streets to demand improvements and reform in their educational systems and to protest broader social inequalities.

Was the Impeachment of Fernando Lugo a Coup?

June 23, 2012 2 comments

As mentioned late yesterday, Paraguay’s Senate had voted to remove President Fernando Lugo from office barely 24 hours after the Chamber of Deputies had brought forth articles of impeachment. Although Lugo had originally appealed to the Supreme Court, saying the impeachment was unconstitutional as he had not been given due process and time to adequately prepare his defense, after the Senate’s ruling, Lugo said he would respect the decision, and Vice-President Federico Franco assumed the office of the Presidency. Many people in Paraguay were understandably outraged; Lugo had in particular championed for the rights of and equality for the landless and the poor, positions that ultimately played no small role in his impeachment. There were clashes in the streets through the night, as police used tear gas and water cannons against those who protested the removal of the democratically-elected president. (AS/COA has a great roundup on the events and of some of the long-term causes behind Congress’s sudden impeachment.) Meanwhile, the region quickly condemned the Congress’s actions, and Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Venezuela have already announced they will not recognize the new government, while it is unclear as yet what position the United States will take. Suffice to say, the removal of Lugo from office more than a year before the next president is scheduled to take office has thrown the country in turmoil, to say nothing of the sudden exertion of authority from Paraguay’s Congress.

All of that said, in the immediate fallout of the impeachment, the question has emerged: Was the impeachment effectively a coup?

Some say yes. Twitter was abuzz with the word “coup” last night, with some even saying Paraguay shows the Honduras coup having hemispheric impact. I don’r really buy that latter argument – in Honduras, the military forced President Manuel Zelaya out of the country at gunpoint and then had Congress and the Supreme Court retroactively legalize the action; even the internal Truth Commission’s investigation in Honduras ruled that Zelaya’s removal was a coup. By contrast, in Paraguay, the military sat on the sidelines awaiting the results, and Lugo was not forcefully exiled out of the country. However, that does not mean it wasn’t a coup.  Beyond Twitter comments and speculations, Brazilian magazine Carta Capital  made a more compelling case that it was a coup, in that Congress undid the will of a plurality of electors and undermined the very basic operations of politics and political power in presidential models.

Others are more circumspect, with Boz arguing it technically isn’t a coup, as Congress followed the letter, if not the spirit, of the impeachment law. Technically, that is true – Congress did not once waver from the process of impeachment as outlined in the Constitution. However, Lugo did not do anything unconstitutional (as the Paraguayan constitution defines executive powers), so while the impeachment was technically legal, the motivations behind his removal were clearly partisan and not based on any real constitutional violations of powers. That Congress can now remove a president in just over 24 hours reveals there are some gaping loopholes in that law as it’s currently defined.

Additionally, as I said yesterday, the impeachment has revealed a true institutional threat to electoral politics and checks and balances in Paraguay; if Congress can remove somebody they do not like that quickly, it not only undermines the people’s power in choosing their presidents; it also undermines the power of the president himself, at least greatly reducing (if not eliminating) the checks and balances that are constitutionally supposed to define the dynamics of power between the Paraguayan President and Congress. The fact that this impeachment was successful simultaneously establishes the precedent for Congress to annul the people’s choice for president and grants Congress considerable power over the President.

So….was it a coup? I’m inclined to say “no” – at least, not in the traditional sense, generally associated with the overthrows of democratically elected governments that took place in Brazil in 1964, Chile in 1973, or even Honduras in 2009, to give just a few examples. However, I think the idea of an “internal coup” here might also be useful. While we tend to refer to military regimes as monolithic, unified, monodimensional entities, scholars of military dictatorships often point out that military regimes themselves are full of competing and differing voices, and that the power struggles and dynamics of dictatorships are not just a case of a repressive state over dissenters, but also military officials and their allies jockeying for power behind the scenes. There are numerous examples of these types of power struggles – Pinochet’s marginalization of the commanders of the other armed forces in Chile after 1973 is a good example. However, these power struggles could and did lead to what are known as “internal coups,” in which one faction effectively maneuvered (again, usually behind the scenes) to remove their opposition.

Brazil’s military dictatorship is a particularly useful case in understanding these processes. The so-called “moderate” wing of the military governed from 1964-1967 [though it still employed torture, censorship, manipulation of laws, removal of political rights, etc.]. However, in 1967, the “hard-liners” took over and governed until 1974. In 1968, as street protests and opposition increased, the hard-liners used an incidental speech from  Congressman Marcio Moreira Alves to usher in the most repressive phase of the dictatorship, in what came to be known as the “coup within the coup,” or, put another way, an “internal coup” that fundamentally shifted the direction of the dictatorship.  when “moderate” Ernesto Geisel became president. By 1977, the hard-liners were concerned about Brazil’s gradual return to democracy as Geisel had envisioned it, and some armed forces, led by Army Minister Silvio Frota, planned a revolt that would overthrow Geisel and return the hard-liners to power – thus, an “internal coup.” However, Geisel managed to outmaneuver Frota, ultimately preventing the planned internal coup and removing Frota from office, preventing the hardliners’ internal coup from removing the moderate wing, and Geisel and his hand-picked successor, João Figueiredo, governed Brazil until the end of the military regime in 1985.

While Paraguay is certainly not a military dictatorship, I think the institutional dynamics of Brazil’s internal coups, which were simultaneously legal from a technical perspective but had the express intent of removing those in command at the time, provides a useful means to understand what happened in Paraguay. Indeed, I think what we’re seeing in the case of Paraguay is what an “internal coup” looks like in democratic (but still elite-dominated) politics in Latin America in the early-21st century.

Certainly, I could be convinced otherwise – these are just early observations on a process that will play out across the following months and even years – but I think understanding this as an example of how an internal removal of an elected official over partisanship can occur in a democratic system is useful, as it also allowing for an understanding that, even if Congress technically did not violate the constitution, neither did Lugo; Congress simply used the vagueness in its constitutionally-defined power to impeach to overthrow a man whose (legal) policies it did not like – an “internal coup” in democratic Paraguay.

Around Latin America [2]

May 23, 2012 Comments off

Given the eventful and busy week and light blogging, this is the second update on news stories from around Latin America today. (You can read the first one from earlier today here.)

-The Dominican Republic held elections this weekend, with Danilo Medina defeating former president Hipolito Mejia in a hotly-contested election.

-A loophole in Chilean electoral law has allowed over 1,000 people whom the dictatorial state of Augusto Pinochet “disappeared” to vote. A new law that does not require people over 18 to register to vote in person has led to rights activists registering the victims of the regime, creating a new space and arena in which the ongoing struggles over human rights and nation and efforts to remember the regime’s repressive past can take place in Chile.

-Subway workers in São Paulo have gone on strike, demanding a pay raise for their work and leading to a shutdown of a subway system that serves more than four million people each day in what is South America’s largest city.

-Meanwhile, in Canada, nearly 4,800 railroad workers have walked out on negotiations, leading to a shutdown of the Canadian Pacific Railway. While the walkout’s causes are as yet unclear, the move will certainly impact the Canadian economy, which depends heavily on railway transportation to transport goods.

-Argentine police found and disarmed a small bomb that was left in a theater where Colombian ex-president Álvaro Uribe was set to talk. The discovery came less than one week after another bomb attack that wounded 39 people, including Uribe’s former Secretary of the Interior, and killed two more.

-In a busy day in national police forces, both Honduras and Bolivia named new national police chiefs  yesterday.

-A Brazilian pilot ejected a passenger who made sexist and offensive remarks upon learning that his pilot was a woman. One can’t help but think that, of all the people you might want to anger, the person in charge of safely flying the jet you are in is not one of those people.

-Three Guatemalan prosecutors and four police officers have been arrested based on allegations of having ties to the drug cartels that are increasingly expanding in Guatemala. (H/t to Mike.)

-Brazil’s Congress has passed a new slave labor law that allows for harsher punishments for landowners who force poor Brazilians to work in slave-like conditions. The new law allows the government to confiscate the property of, fine, and even imprison for eight years those found in violation of labor codes in Brazil.

-Colombia and Venezuela are working together to strengthen the militaries’ presence in the border region between the two countries in an attempt to track down Colombian guerrillas who attacked and killed 12 Colombian soldiers this week.

-The UN is attempting an investigation of Cuba regarding the deaths of prisoners and repression of opposition groups in Cuba and is demanding the country provide information on its prison system and its treatment of prisoners and dissidents.

-In the ongoing struggle over citizenship rights of Brazil’s urban poor, Rio de Janeiro’s government is finally giving land titles to residents of favelas for their homes.

Around Latin America

April 29, 2012 Comments off

-It has been a terrible week for journalists in Latin America. Earlier this week, a Brazilian journalist from the country’s Northeast who often covered crime was shot six times and killed while eating dinner at a restaurant, marking the fourth murder of journalists in the country this year.  And yesterday, police found a Mexican journalist who investigated the drug trade dead in her home even while in Colombia a French journalist (and five state agents) went missing and another four died in a battle with guerrillas. And while not nearly as severe as murder, Panamanian President apologized to a reporter after calling him a drug addict.

-Scott and Brandi may have more to say on this, but tens of thousands of students in Chile peacefully returned to the streets to demand free public education, even as embattled President Sebastián Piñera announced tax reforms to fund the educational reforms that the government has slowly begun to implement after months of protests that threaten the right-wing going into next year’s presidential elections (elections that at least some right-wing military members guilty of ex-torture are attempting to influence).

-It has been a busy week full of social mobilizations in Bolivia. First, miners joined teachers in protests for better pay in demonstrations that turned violent. And yesterday, indigenous peoples again marched to protest the construction of a road through a national park in the Amazonian lowlands. Similar protests led President Evo Morales to cancel the plans last year, but counter-protests saying the road would lead to economic development led Morales to resume plans for the road.

-Brazil’s Congress passed a highly controversial land law that opponents say does nothing to penalize people responsible for deforestation. While the bill passed Congress, Dilma Rousseff may still use her line-item veto powers on provisions that in previous bills she described as too “lenient” to those guilty of environmental destruction.

-In a move designed to make things official, the Argentine Senate approved the nationalization of YPF, the recently-expropriated oil company, and at a well-attended political rally, President Cristina Kirchner thanked the opposition for supporting the move.

-While it is the Secret Service scandal involving Colombian prostitutes that has captured the headlines in the United States, it is an isolated incident. A Brazilian ex-prostitute is threatening to sue the United States embassy and five officials for injuries she sustained when a van picking up United States Marines from a strip club ran over her and left her behind with a broken collarbone and punctured lung in a parking lot late last year.

-Allegations of child labor and slave-like conditions on sugarcane plantations in the Dominican Republic have spurred the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate.

-A drug-trafficking suspect in Venezuela has accused former Supreme Court justice Eladio Aponte of having close ties to drug traffickers while he served on the country’s highest court, allegations judge Aponte denies.

-In a case of life imitating art, two Cuban actors who were the stars of a movie about defectors have themselves defected to the United States, taking advantage of a film festival in New York to go missing and seek asylum while in Miami.

-Austria is set to return to Mexico a headdress that allegedly belonged to Motecuhzoma, (aka Moctezuma), the emperor of the Mexica (Aztec) empire when the Spanish arrived to what is now Mexico in 1519.

-Tiago Klimeck, he actor who accidentally hanged himself while portraying Judas in a passion play during holy week, died last week, two weeks after going into a medically induced coma.

Around Latin America

December 6, 2011 1 comment

-Brazilian Labor Minister Carlos Lupi has resigned amid allegations of corruption. Lupi’s departure is the sixth from the Rousseff cabinet this year (out of 32 positions), and the fifth due to allegations of corruption. I’ll have much more on this in a separate post later this week, but the resignations are not really hurting Rousseff’s reputation (she was named the Woman of the Year in Brazil this week), in part because she’s seen as not tolerating the corruption that previous presidents from both the left and right let slide.

-Spain has asked the U.S. and El Salvador to extradite fifteen Salvadoran military officials for their roles in the murder of six Jesuit priests in 1989. This story comes on top of this weekend’s news that Chile seeks the extradition of an ex-U.S. officer for his role in the murder and disappearance of American victims of the 1973 military coup that installed Augusto Pinochet.

-Peru has declared a state of emergency in the face of protests over a multi-billion dollar gold mining project in the northern highlands of Peru.

-Disabled Bolivians recently marched to protest discrimination towards the disabled community in their home country.

-Uruguayan vice president Danilo Astori’s took Argentina to task for what the vice president views as protectionism and proclaimed that Mercosur “is currently going through an extraordinarily difficult time.” This isn’t the first time the two countries have sniped at each other over economic and environmental issues; in recent years, the two countries were at loggerheads over two pulp mills on the Uruguayan side of the Uruguay-Argentina border, a dispute that only ended last year.

-A new report suggests that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon reached its lowest levels this year, dropping to “only” 2,410 square miles of deforestation. While a reduction is good, it does not mean Brazil deforestation is no longer an issue, and Brazil’s Amazonian basin continues to face very real environmental threats.

-The Chilean Communist Party has requested the exhumation of Pablo Neruda’s remains to investigate allegations he was poisoned. Neruda died only 12 days after the September 11 coup in 1973. (H/t to Lillie.)

-An evangelical leader in Brazil has become the new face of reactionary social attitudes in Brazil, speaking out against gay rights, women’s rights, and even those who advocate the decriminalization of marijuana.

-Dominican human rights activist Sonia Pierre has died at the age of 48.  Pierre fought against discrimination towards Haitian descendants in the Dominican Republic. Pierre died of a heart attack, a condition at least one of her colleagues says was only made worse by threats against Pierre’s life.

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