1. 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.
  2. The United States government has suspended financial support for Haiti's election process. Having provided about a third of the $100 million spent in last year's elections that have now been annulled, the US is saying they are not going to fund future rounds of elections that may not be completed.

    Elections cost money to operate and money to monitor. Haiti's first round presidential election scheduled for 9 October will cost over $50 million and several million more will be needed by international organizations that will monitor the conditions, verify the results and report the irregularities.

    The US is in a tough position. Everyone agrees it would be better for Haiti to hold elections this year rather than postpone them yet again, but the US doesn't want to provide funding that may justify the events of the past 12 months, nor risk that the funding is once again wasted on an electoral process that isn't completed.

    Haiti defended its new election process at the OAS yesterday, but its defense was controversial as the interim president continues without a democratic mandate, an unintended coup caused by its own political disfunction.
  3. Venezuela's Congress has voted to annul the designation of 13 Supreme Court justices and will likely reinstitute the three congressional deputies removed by the court earlier this year. The government has suggested they will not allow the legislature to act and may arrest the three deputies or even use the court to shut down the Congress if they move forward. Bloomberg calls it a likely constitutional crisis.

    The MUD did not fight the removal of the three members of Congress in January that would have provided them a 2/3 supermajority. That failure to fight for what they had won has allowed the government to block every action the Congress has attempted for the past seven months. At the same time, the Congress has a surprisingly strong approval rating and is now in a better position for this constitutional clash than they were in January.

    The MUD must be focused on on the government's threat to overreact and arrest legislators or shut down the Congress. A government overreaction would increase international pressure at the cost of domestic repression.
  4. It's a near certainty that the FARC view El Salvador's FMLN as one of their key models moving forward. The FMLN's transition from armed insurgency to civilian political party to the elected presidency is a model for success. The FARC are less likely than the FMLN to see electoral success in the coming two decades, but they are certainly going to attempt it.

    At the same time, the FARC must be aware that across much of Latin America, the amnesty laws passed after dictatorships, insurgencies and peace processes have often fallen in the decades that followed. Colombia's current peace process includes a level of forgiveness for crimes, though it is supposed to exclude significant human rights abuses.

    A portion of Colombian society, led by President Uribe, opposes the peace process and would like to see the FARC leadership and membership either jailed or defeated militarily. The chances that Uribe and his allies gain power is higher in the short term than the FARC gaining the presidency. They will certainly attempt to role back any amnesty the FARC have received, even if the process is approved in a plebiscite later this year.

    All of this means that the recent ruling by El Salvador's Supreme Court declaring the post-war Amnesty Law unconstitutional is an uncomfortable event for Colombia's peace process. It is a poorly-timed reminder to the FARC that the promises made during the peace process may not hold up in the coming years and decades. That means the group may look for further guarantees from the government. Worse, the group may quietly hold some arms in reserve in case things turn out poorly, which would be a problem for the long-term success of peace process, which goes well beyond the signature of the agreement.
  5. In December 2011, I wrote a post titled "Will Venezuela follow Mercosur's rules?" Key point:
    Mercosur has rules. Those rules aren't just the democracy clause that so many analysts have brought up, but actual economic regulations with real impact.
    Venezuela is now a full member of Mercosur and is scheduled to receive its rotating presidency, but that leadership position has been postponed by requests from Brazil and Paraguay.

    The big public debate is over Mercosur's democracy clause, Venezuela's authoritarian tendencies and its political prisoners. However, and this is important, Brazil's request to postpone Venezuela's taking of the Mercosur presidency is based on the country's failure to complete all of its economic requirements as a member of Mercosur.

    Since I wrote that blog post in December 2011, Venezuela has never implemented all the free trade regulations that Mercosur's rules require. While Rousseff and Kirchner were willing to overlook Venezuela's failures to meet the economic requirements, Temer and Macri appear eager to make Maduro follow the rules of the governing free trade agreements.

    The economic issues are just as (or perhaps more) important to Brazil and Argentina as Venezuela's democracy and human rights. Both of Mercosur's largest countries are in a recession. Both have billions of dollars locked up in Venezuela and need the country to pay its bills. Both see a potential export market if the country can stabilize its situation. Both understand they will face an economic backlash if a default or a collapse occurs.
  6. Following up on the late June report, here is today's Guardian:
    US officials have been in contact with counterparts in the Honduran government, as well as individuals and groups that monitor human rights in the country, to look into the allegations of a hitlist that were first reported in the Guardian.

    The US ambassador to Honduras, James Nealon, told the Guardian that “we take allegations of human rights abuses with the utmost seriousness. We always take immediate action to ensure the security and safety of people where there is a credible threat”.
    It took pressure from NGOs, the media and Congress, but good to see that an investigation may be active.


  7. Have you investigated it, or are you just waiting for credible evidence to land in your lap?
    That question by a reporter was the highlight of a contentious exchange over Honduras at yesterday's State Department press briefing. Earlier this week, The Guardian reported that a defected Honduran soldier claimed that Berta Caceres's name appeared among the names on a hit list of social activists and protesters ordered killed by an elite military unit.

    The Guardian report is single sourced to a First Sergeant using the pseudonym Rodrigo Cruz, who makes a number of significant claims. He says he was shown a hit list by his commanding officer, who then defected because he refused to follow orders. He says he briefly saw a similar hit list fall out of the pocket of a commanding officer. He also says he saw a “torture room” and was forced to transport plastic bags with human remains and dispose of them in the Bajo Aguan region. Having defected, Cruz now worries for the safety of his family. Amid these allegations is the fact that the units that have allegedly committed these abuses receive training and funding from the United States.

    Cruz’s story has some holes in it and it is only a single source. However, the accusations made within are damning and deserve investigation, especially given how these accusations line up with the large number of activists including Caceres who have been killed or threatened in the past decade and the claims made by social movements about military abuses. Five people implicated in Caceres’s murder have been arrested, including a former military officer, but the question of whether her death was part of a wider repression strategy with government involvement remains very relevant among the social activists in the country.

    The State Department responded that, "We haven’t seen, in our view, credible evidence to back up these allegations. If we do, we’ll take it seriously.” And that led to the brilliant question of "Have you investigated it, or are you just waiting for credible evidence to land in your lap?” Unfortunately, the spokesperson answers the question by saying, "if any additional information comes to light that proves there’s credibility to these allegations, obviously, we’re going to take that very, very seriously." Which means they are waiting for it to fall into their laps.

    Investigating these allegations of specific officers and units doesn't mean that we should cut off all cooperation with Honduras or its security forces, as some activists have argued. There are reasons we should want to maintain communication, cooperation and training to help Honduras improve its security. However, we can't legally or morally train those officers who commit or order significant human rights abuses. Turning a blind eye to allegations of abuse, refusing to investigate numerous allegations by dismissing the credibility of report after report, is a foreign policy mistake that will come back to haunt us.

    Yesterday, right before this press briefing occurred, US government officials testified in Congress to defend the sanctions that have been placed on Venezuelan military officials implicated in abuses. A representative for OFAC indicated that the flexibility of the sanctions has allowed the US to remove visas and/or freeze assets due to human rights abuses and corruption. At least 60 individuals have had their visas revoked. “The resulting flexibility to respond to repression in real time is crucial, both as a symbolic deterrent and as a practical matter if circumstances require swift action,” is what a Treasury Department official testified.

    I’m supportive of the Obama administration’s policy in Venezuela, where they have actively investigated abuses to target repressive military officers for sanctions. They haven’t waited for media reports to name specific names or list specific abuses. Unlike in Honduras, US government agencies aren't waiting for credible evidence to fall into their laps. A media report that the Venezuelan military had a “hit list” of opposition activists would never be dismissed as lacking credibility at a State Department briefing.

    The US government should should be as or more interested in investigating the forces who we train and fund, to cut them off and punish them when we find abuse, as we are those of an antagonistic government. In Honduras, the US government needs what Treasury called the "flexibility to respond to repression in real time." We won’t be able to build a safer and more democratic Central America until we are as eager to investigate and punish the abuses and corruption of the Honduran military as we are the Venezuelan military.
  8. There will be an event tomorrow to announce that the Colombian government and FARC have reached a deal to end the conflict. The agreement between the two sides should be signed in the coming two months. There will be a national vote before the end of the year on the deal. The FARC will disarm and demobilize.
  9. NYT:
    A staggering 87 percent of Venezuelans say they do not have money to buy enough food, the most recent assessment of living standards by Simón Bolívar University found.

    About 72 percent of monthly wages are being spent just to buy food, according to the Center for Documentation and Social Analysis, a research group associated with the Venezuelan Teachers Federation.

    In April, it found that a family would need the equivalent of 16 minimum-wage salaries to properly feed itself.
    Plenty of other countries in this hemisphere have food security issues, but these numbers out of Venezuela are worse than I've seen elsewhere. The situation has moved from shortages of some food supplies, which was an annoyance, to a majority of the population reporting that they are skipping meals due to poor distribution or a lack of money or availability.
  10. The headlines about the most recent Datanalisis poll are about the rejection of Maduro and the rest of the PSUV government. Maduro has a 23% approval rating against a 74% disapproval rating. 63% of Venezuelans would vote in favor of a recall referendum. 95% of Venezuelans think the country is moving in the wrong direction.

    However, the numbers that should stand out are the support for Maduro's opponents.

    58% of Venezuelans have a positive view of the national assembly. That is a majority positive view of a national institution in an environment where 95% of people say things are moving in the wrong direction. That almost never happens in polling.

    Leopoldo Lopez has 55% approval, Henrique Capriles has 56% approval and Henry Ramos Allup (I can't believe I'm about to write this) has a 60% approval rating. The MUD has a 59% approval rating.

    After years of a deadlocked public full of a Ni-Ni plurality who didn't like any politicians, the MUD now has the support of a majority of the population. That isn't just a majority who dislike the Chavista government, which has happened at times in the past and is generally given as the reason for the MUD's legislative win in 2015. This is a majority of citizens who actively say they approve of Maduro's opponents and their actions in the National Assembly.

    The MUD's majority support is a very different political environment. Citizens aren't angry at all politicians. A majority supports a specific direction that they think the country's leadership should go.
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