1. The Colombian government and FARC announced last night they had reached a peace deal. Long delayed, several important steps still remain including the ratification of the deal by a plebiscite, the passing of an amnesty law by the Congress and the disarmament and demobilization of the FARC. Countless informal steps and individual struggles also remain including the reintegration of FARC combatants into society and some sort of reconciliation, or at least peaceful co-existence, among combatants, civilians and victims.

    It’s always dangerous to spike the ball too early, but it’s fair to say that these negotiations have been different and have already radically altered the course of Colombia’s history, whatever the outcome of the next steps. Unlike previous attempts at peace, it is almost unthinkable at this point that the FARC could return to combat if the peace deal were to now fall apart or that the government could somehow imprison or militarily target the thousands of FARC members who have stopped engaging in violent action in recent months.

    Colombia’s conflict is over, even if the details remain unclear or roadblocks appear ahead. That’s actually been true for several months, even before last night’s announcement. Future challenges should be seen as part of a new era, not a continuation of 50 years of fighting.

    The above paragraph is a bold statement that will probably generate some significant disagreement. Not everyone is ready to declare themselves in a post-conflict mindset yet. Maybe you need to see the plebiscite vote or another handshake or the first symbolic laying down of weapons. But I think we’ll all get there soon enough.
  2. AQ looks at a small but significant change in Argentina's anti-corruption laws. Currently, only individuals can be prosecuted for corruption offenses. New legislation will make businesses liable if they benefit from corruption.

    Key point:
    Finally, the new system would seek to level the playing field between national companies and the subsidiaries of multinational enterprises, which are obliged to fulfill similar rules in their countries of origin but often adapt their anti-corruption measures to local realities.
    This is a top complaint that I hear from many businesses operating in Latin America. Multinationals are bound by FCPA or other anti-corruption rules and have a hard time competing with local businesses that can break the rules with impunity.

    Step one is getting the legislation in place. Hopefully Argentina will move forward with this reform. Step two will be enforcement, which will depend on the willingness of local authorities to go after some powerful local business interests.
  3. NYT:
    Suspected killers, kidnappers and others facing federal felony charges, no matter their ages, are entitled to court-appointed lawyers if they cannot afford them. But children accused of violating immigration laws, a civil offense, do not have the same right. In immigration court, people face charges from the government, but the government has no obligation to provide lawyers for poor children and adults, as it does in criminal cases, legal experts say.

    Having a lawyer makes a difference. Between October 2004 and June of this year, more than half the children who did not have lawyers were deported. Only one in 10 children who had legal representation were sent back, according to federal data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research group connected to Syracuse University.
    Every person standing in front of a judge and facing deportation deserves legal representation, especially children. All three branches of government should work towards that goal. Congress in particular must pass a law that guarantees all children the right to legal representation and funds that representation for those who cannot afford it.

  4. The Miami Herald covers the growing flood of refugees from Venezuela into neighboring countries including Brazil, Guyana, Aruba and Curacao. The flow into these four countries is fairly new and demonstrates that Venezuela's conditions have significantly worsened. Until recently, nobody would have suggested Guyana or Curacao would offer better living conditions than Venezuela. Similarly, the border region with Brazil was certainly not better than Caracas. The refugees now crossing into those regions searching for better conditions gives a hint as to how bad things have gotten in Venezuela.

    In recent years, the combination of Colombia's improvements and Venezuela's degradation has reversed a longtime flow of refugees and displaced populations, with more people now going from Venezuela to Colombia.

    While there has long been a Venezuelan expat community in the US, the United States has seen a sudden increase of asylum applications from Venezuelans who feel they can rightfully claim they are fleeing violence and persecution.

    For all of these countries, there is a humanitarian and diplomatic challenge in how to handle the refugees and how to process asylum requests vs treat those leaving for economic or general human security concerns.

    The New York Times looks at how the combination of economic crisis, illegal mining and a collapsed health care system have led to the rise of malaria in Venezuela. For Venezuela's neighbors and the entire hemisphere, this story should be a high concern. The quick spread of malaria hints that other more dangerous diseases could spread with minimal notice or response in Venezuela, creating a threat to the hemisphere's health.

    We see plenty of debates over the philosophical or political issues about democracy and human rights, but for realists who need more concrete reasons to care about the ongoing collapse of the state institutions, these stories are important examples of the real world effects of the political and economic crises in Venezuela. Growing refugee issues and potential public health concerns mean that Venezuela's crises aren't just sovereign national issues.
  5. Brazil's Senate voted 59-21 to move forward with the impeachment trial of suspended President Rousseff. The vote only required a simple majority (if it had failed, Rousseff would have immediately returned to the presidency), but the fact it topped the 54 vote requirement for a two-thirds majority signals that the impeachment votes are there.

    At the same time, polling and protests during the Olympics show a widespread disapproval of Temer's administration. The general public is not happy with his presidency. While that disapproval of Temer does not equal approval of Rousseff (it largely equals support for new elections), it does suggest that the interim president could lose support in the coming weeks due to pressure from the public. Temer and his allies are going to push for a quick process following the Olympics to make sure public opinion does not catch up with the half dozen Senators they need to keep on board to succeed in impeaching Rousseff.

  6. Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay appear likely to demand that Venezuela is demoted from full Mercosur membership as of 12 August. As I wrote last month, while the public debate is over human rights and democracy, there is also a technical case that Venezuela never implemented all the trade and economic regulations that Mercosur membership requires.

    The Mercosur demotion is a compromise position based on those technical failings of Venezuela. Implementing Mercosur's democracy clause (Ushuaia Protocol) against Venezuela would have been controversial and likely blocked by Uruguay. But nobody can argue that Venezuela has fully allowed free trade within Mercosur or is abiding by the rules to pay the debts of Mercosur companies. Even Venezuela recognizes that it never implemented Mercosur's trade requirements, always arguing that it needed more time. Uruguayan companies in the food sector have been hit hard by Venezuela failing to pay on time and in full, which places pressure on the government to acknowledge this measure.

    For Argentina and Brazil, this is also largely about economics. Venezuela owes billions to companies in each country and this is a lever of pressure that can be used to force payment. For Paraguay, this is about revenge. Paraguay was controversially suspended from Mercosur in 2012 following Lugo's impeachment and then Venezuela's ascension was approved while Paraguay's membership was suspended. The powerbrokers in Paraguay are still angry about that, they view Venezuela's current human rights and democracy situation as much worse than Paraguay's, and this is their opportunity to get back at a perceived injustice to them.

    The demotion will justify Venezuela not having the Mercosur rotating presidency and will remove Venezuela's veto authority at the organization.
  7. ICG published a strong report last week on Central American migrants and refugees. A high percentage of those fleeing the Northern Triangle face abuse by criminal groups. The ICG argues that increasing restrictions and deportation pushes the migration networks further underground, benefiting the criminal groups' profits and harming the ability of migrants to move safely.

    The report calls for the US and Mexico to do more to offer asylum processing and other human rights protections to refugees. Specific to the US, the group calls for for some form of Temporary Protected Status for those fleeing violence in the Northern Triangle. The report also calls on Guatemala to do more to protect those fleeing from Honduras and El Salvador.
  8. An Ipsos poll shows that 52% of Brazilians want new elections and 34% want Dilma Rousseff to return to the presidency either temporarily or permanently.

    A recent DataFolha poll showed 62% of Brazilians want new elections and only 50% want Temer to remain in office, though it took a bit of pressure to get those numbers published.

    That same Datafolha poll shows Lula, Marina Silva and Aecio Neves leading a hypothetical 2018 election with 22%, 17% and 14% of the vote.
  9. About a month ago, the NYT published a fantastic in-depth investigation into the contracts and construction of the new Panama Canal. Among the many points, the construction of the canal, the conditions including the wind and low water levels and the issues with the tugboats chosen mean that ships are more likely to collide with the canal walls.

    Since the new canal lane opened, three ships have collided with the walls of the canal, damaging the ships in the process. That is a rough first month.

    On the positive side, the first LNG tanker transited the new canal in recent days, fulfilling expectations that the canal will change some of the transport details for energy markets.
  10. El Pais reports on nine municipal candidates or officials killed since last November in one area of Rio de Janeiro. Some of the crimes point to a political motivation or the involvement of militias. Municipal elections are in October.

    Brazil has gone through a series of corruption scandals in the past two years, but nearly all those scandals were high-level political scandals and not related to what we would consider typical organized crime. Yet, as seen elsewhere in Latin America, Brazil's organized crime can and does co-opt local officials to protect themselves and make a profit. Some of these local killings are part of the corruption problem, different than the Petrobras scandal, but equally damaging to Brazil's democracy.

    The country's economic crisis is likely to further hit the funding of security programs once the Olympics and local elections are over. That is going to make it more difficult for these municipal officials to avoid the threats and attacks.