1. Deportation doesn't just happen. There is due process and people have a right to go through the process. Asylum applications, in particular, require significant time, effort and evidence. Today's NYT reports on the backlog of immigration cases that is causing the entire court system to buckle. There are too many cases and not enough judges.

    When it comes to the logistics of Trump's plan for massive deportations, the court system is a bottleneck that can't simply be overcome by hiring more enforcement officers to make arrests.

    Speaking of arrests, a case (Jennings vs Rodriguez) in front of the Supreme Court will determine whether immigrants detained for six months must receive a hearing on their detention or be released. With so many cases backed up in the system, many arrests are leading to prolonged detentions without hearings, which violates some basic human and constitutional rights that every human, whether or not they are a US citizen, is guaranteed.
  2. Brazil's Congress passed a corruption law last night. It was previously an anti-corruption law. Then they amended it. Via the WSJ:
    Lawmakers approved the original bill right after midnight. But they waited until hours later, when most Brazilians were asleep, to radically change the proposed legislation. In addition to establishing potential jail time for judges and prosecutors who act too aggressively, they stripped out a whistleblower clause and weakened authorities’ ability to seize suspected illegal assets from defendants in corruption cases.
    Also see NYT and Bloomberg for more English language coverage.

    Representatives of the judicial branch claim this bill violates separation of powers and could provoke a constitutional crisis. Prosecutors are threatening to resign over the changes. There are planned protests that I would expect to grow if this bill moves forward. Rather than working on fixing the country's problems, Brazil's Congress is likely to provoke a national political crisis in their attempt to protect themselves from corruption investigations.
  3. The Colombian Senate passed the new FARC peace deal by a vote of 75-0.

    The Uribista opposition to the agreement chose to abstain rather than vote against the measure. Uribe said the abstention was an attempt to protest the fact he believes the Congress doesn't have the right to make this decision, which he says should go to yet another public vote. Colombia's courts have given an initial approval for the Congress to take these votes (the Congress is a legitimate and democratic representative of the public), but some judicial fights may remain. A draft opinion of a court ruling suggested that a public referendum may be necessary for the Congress to fast track the agreement.

    That said, this initial easy passage through the Senate certainly increases the likelihood that the new peace deal will go through and the FARC will demobilize in the first half of 2017.
  4. I'm quoted in today's Latin American Advisor about Honduras President Hernandez running for a second term. Here are my comments:
    Hernández is popular, and it’s been known for months that he would likely run for a second term, in spite of the constitutional restrictions that should limit his ability to do so. His National Party controls nearly all the levers of power in the country, having won the recent elections and having manipulated institutions to prevent the opposition from providing a significant check on them. During his term in office, crime is down and the economy is marginally better, making Hernández a favorite to win against a divided opposition. For Honduras’ international partners including the United States government, Hernández’s decision to run for re-election presents a clear challenge. He is an eager partner who has persuaded many in the international community that he has the political will to improve Honduras’ security situation. Still, the United States, OAS and the rest of the international community need to strike a balance, pushing back against the weakening of Honduras’ democratic institutions and continuing the fight against corruption without alienating Hernández, who may be president for the foreseeable future.
  5. NYT:
    The former minister, Marcelo Calero, who was in charge of culture, told federal investigators that Mr. Temer had pressured him to overrule a heritage preservation measure halting the construction of a luxury tower in the northeastern city of Salvador. The ally of Mr. Temer, Geddel Vieira Lima, who held the title of government secretary, had invested in an apartment in the development. Mr. Vieira Lima submitted his resignation on Friday morning, apologizing and explaining in a letter to Mr. Temer that he was leaving the government for the good of the nation.
    Calero may have recorded his conversation with the president, which would be a significant piece of evidence.

    Several members of Congress have called for Temer's impeachment. The case could be investigated by prosecutors. And it's just one of several scandals Temer faces.

    Still hanging over the president's head is the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) investigation into the financing of the 2014 Rousseff-Temer campaign. Lawyers for former President Rousseff filed documents earlier this month they claim prove Temer received a check for a million Reais. If the financing for the campaign is found to be illegal, the 2014 election can be overturned and Temer can be removed.
  6. Jovenel Moise, the handpicked successor to former President Martelly, won 56% of the vote in the first round and will avoid a runoff according to preliminary election results. The results are not final and can be challenged.

    Only 21% of voters turned out, a remarkably low number that allowed Moise to win. Ten percent of votes were thrown out during the vote counting process. Lawyers and supporters for other candidates are arguing that additional votes be thrown out due to lack of verification of identities.
  7. Fidel Castro's death this weekend has led to yet another round of debate over the man's legacy as a leader and dictator. Within those arguments, the name "Batista" gets thrown around often to justify Castro's actions.

    Fulgencio Batista was Cuba's president in the early 1940's and took over in a military coup in 1952. It was really convenient for the US to support Batista in the 1950's because he was pro-US, he wasn't a communist and we didn't have the time, bandwidth or political capital to spend promoting democracy in every country in the hemisphere. Batista would just be one more unremarkable name in the long list of Latin American dictators backed by the United States if it weren't for the man who took over after he was overthrown.

    I don't think overthrowing a dictatorship justifies decades of political repression, but the political argument worked for Castro. A significant portion of Castro's domestic and international 'legitimacy' for decades, even up into the second decade of the 21st century, was based on the fact that he had overthrown a dictator himself.

    The historical lesson here is that Batista mattered. A dictator who should have been a minor footnote in history gave way to a leader who helped define a number of the hemisphere's conflicts in the late 20th and even early 21st century. And Castro's legitimacy rested partially on the fact that he had overthrown a dictatorship. The US's inability to force Castro from power in spite of decades of effort was partially due to the fact that the US had backed the dictatorship that preceded him, a fact that undermined the international legitimacy of any efforts by the US to promote democracy in Cuba for decades. That result wasn't inevitable. It couldn't have been predicted beforehand. But it happened.

    Batista is the name that should come up when a military coup, rigged election or constitutional manipulation puts a pro-US leader in place anywhere in the world.  It shouldn't be ignored out of convenience or because we have more pressing international concerns. The mistake of Batista shows it would be a lot easier for the US to make the case for democracy and human rights when it's done on a consistent basis. Successfully opposing the future Castros requires that we oppose the Batistas.
  8. Haiti held its long delayed presidential election on Sunday. A number of Senate and lower House seats in Congress were also on the line. Results are going to take several days (to be fair, we're still counting votes in the US too). Though turnout was low, initial reports about the conditions of the election were relatively positive given the challenges Haiti faces. However, it's worth remembering that the most egregious abuses of the previous election (which is now being rerun) took a few weeks to receive notice and be understood.

    Once the results are published, it is likely there will be a second round. There will almost certainly be protests from losing candidates who will then unearth claims of how the election was rigged. The OAS is on the ground observing the election, but as usual refused to release anything but happy and positive statements immediately following the vote.

    For all the criticisms Haiti could face, Sunday's election is a step in the right direction away from the current situation of having an unconstitutional interim government. It's important for the hemisphere that Haiti returns to an elected democracy, even if that election process has some flaws.
  9. The NYT and El Faro collaborate to produce an excellent article on the finances of the gangs in El Salvador. The anecdotes about the lives of the gang members and how little money they make are critical. Many of the street level gang members are making less than the minimum wage or even work for free, hoping to move up the chain. Even some of the mid to upper tier leadership are driving used vehicles. That anecdotal reporting, which takes up the majority of the article, is fantastic and worth your time to read to the end.

    The analysis part of the article is going to cause a lot more disagreement. The key paragraph is this:
    Unlike other groups considered global organized crime syndicates, the Salvadoran gangs do not survive on the international trafficking of cocaine, arms and humans. While they dabble in small-time drug dealing, gun sales and prostitution, they engage primarily in a single crime committed over and over within Salvadoran territory: extortion.
    The reporters cite one intelligence document speculating that MS-13's annual revenue is only US $31 million, a remarkably low sum. They use that document plus their portrayals of poor gang members to argue that the MS-13 do not deserve to be placed at the same level as other transnational criminal organization, particularly the Mexican cartels, the Russian mafia or the Japanese Yakuza.

    There are three ways to argue against this. First, you can show evidence of where El Salvador's gangs engage in very profitable cross border trafficking either alone or in cooperation with another criminal organization. Second, you can argue that domestic extortion and other local criminal activity is more profitable for the gang than the estimates given. Third, you can argue that regardless of dollar amounts, El Salvador's gangs exercise a significant level of sovereign control over territory and networks of corruption. Government weakness combined with the violence, economic control and political control of territory by criminal groups makes the gangs every bit as dangerous as the other international criminal groups with whom they are sometimes compared.

    This NYT article also hints at the recent government crackdown against the gangs that was more extensively reported by the Washington Post last month. Government security forces are hitting the gangs harder in recent months, at the cost of significant human rights violations but at the alleged benefit of helping drive down murder rates.

    That Post article also suggests a bold analytical claim: El Salvador's violence is more similar to a war than a criminal issue. Viewing El Salvador as an internal armed conflict rather than a country facing gang violence changes how the country and its international allies view the potential solutions.  Gang violence is criminal with no justification other than economic while internal conflict suggests two sides, each with some political vision or ideology. Gang violence simply requires better police and social programs to avoid gang recruitment and growth in the first place. Internal conflict, which threatens the stability of El Salvador's government, may have a role for a military, but also a role for negotiations.
  10. I plan to start my own company in early 2017. While the details are still being worked out, the general goal will be to provide data and risk assessments in emerging and frontier markets. The product will be a technology to improve geopolitical analysis that I believe fills a gap in the current market.

    Founding a startup company is a new challenge for me. I will leave Southern Pulse at the end of this month and spend several months speaking with everyone I can while I put together a business plan. I’ll also do some freelance writing and consulting in the coming months while I get the new business set up.

    I’ll have a more formal update in the new year once the new company has officially launched. As always, I appreciate the comments and support from readers of this blog.