1. Journalist Miroslava Breach was killed yesterday at her home in Chihuahua. She had been reporting on organized crime in the state of Chihuahua and had recently reported on the locations of mass graves used by criminal groups.

    Breach was the third journalist killed this month in Mexico. The other two were Cecilio Pineda Birto of Guerrero and Ricardo Monlui Cabrera of Veracruz.

    Organized crime thrives when journalists are killed with impunity, silencing those who would report on crime and corruption. Protecting journalists and investigating their murders is a security issue for Mexico and the hemisphere as well as part of promoting democracy. The government of President Peña Nieto needs to investigate these murders and find the killers and the intellectual authors of the crime. Other governments around the hemisphere should pressure the Mexican government to do so.
  2. Yesterday was World Water Day and I wanted to highlight this article from earlier in March about water issues affecting political instability in Latin America. The article focuses on the Andes, specifically Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. There is little doubt that water issues are directly related to the political debates and protests in those countries.

    Water also has a direct or indirect impact in much of the other violence and instability seen in Latin America. Berta Caceres's murder in Honduras was over the construction of a hydroelectric dam. Some of Venezuela's problems are both caused by and lead to poor management of the Guri reservoir, which supplies a significant portion of the country's electricity. There is some correlation between water shortages and criminal violence in Mexico, though the causation mechanisms are very complex.

    As I wrote in 2012, "nobody is going to claim that the current violence in Brazil and Mexico is caused by the long term climate change and short term drought cycle, but it aggravates an already difficult situation."

    Water shortages do not automatically equal criminal violence or political instability, but some connection among the issues certainly does exist. As climate change exacerbates water shortages in some countries, it is likely that the connected violence and political instability will also increase.
  3. Cedatos published a poll showing the second round race as Guillermo Lasso 44, Lenin Moreno 43, with 13% casting a blank or spoiled ballot. 18% of voters remain undecided.

    That is as close as it gets. The other polls in Ecuador are all over the place, with various polls showing large leads by either candidate. Based on the first round and on previous elections, I trust Cedatos to be doing a professional job. So if they say the race is a virtual tie, then it's a virtual tie.
  4. Late last week Brazilian investigators revealed that JBS and BRF, Brazil's largest meat producer and poultry exporter, were accused of bribing inspectors in order to allow poor quality or expired food into the market.

    Though corruption fatigue may be setting in for some, this isn't "just another corruption scandal" in Brazil. Most of the recent scandals in Brazil have involved briberies and illegal uncompetitive coordination around public contracting. The new scandal suggests that the bribes allowed unclean food into the supply chain for human consumption. That hits Brazil's reputation in ways that go well beyond the previous scandals.

    Brazil depends on commodity exports, largely food exports. Europe and China, both of which import significant amounts of Brazilian food, have asked Brazil for assurances about the food supply chain.

    A scandal in one part of the supply chain is bad enough, but this scandal involving some of Brazil's biggest companies will cause everyone doing business with the country to question whether the products they are importing don't meet the standards required. That is a different and in some ways more difficult reputation issue than those scandals accusing some company of bribery to win a contract.
  5. The NYT has an excellent front page article on the criminal code reforms proposed by Mexico President Peña Nieto and his allies in Congress. The proposals would undo many of the positive reforms taken by Mexico over the past decade, and instead hand greater powers to the police and military while making defendants guilty until proven innocent. If these counter-reforms pass, it is likely that arbitrary arrests will increase and even fewer investigations or prosecutions of abuses by police and military will occur. Those measures will not make Mexico more secure.
  6. Reuters:
    Brazil's top public prosecutor asked the Supreme Court to open 83 new investigations into senior politicians on Tuesday, reportedly including five ministers and leading lawmakers, in a dramatic escalation of a graft probe threatening the government.
    The list, which is not yet public, allegedly includes many of the government's top allies in the Congress. The immediate impact is on the ability of President Temer to govern. The longer term impact appears to be an entire generation of politicians implicated.

    UPDATE: Reuters has updated their story with the following:
    A top Brazilian prosecutor said more than 350 new investigations will spring from a trove of testimony by executives of construction firm Odebrecht, revealing how corruption cut across the political spectrum from the smallest cities to the highest levels of government.
    The mention of "smallest cities" also reminds me of a recent WSJ article on how the corruption probes have hit small town politics across Brazil. It isn't just a national issue.
  7. Public health analysts are monitoring an outbreak of yellow fever in southeast Brazil that is being called the worst in decades. While it is still confined to rural areas, if it moves to Brazil's urban centers, it could spread along the same vectors as Zika and Chikungunya have done in the past decade.

    The similarity is that the virus is spread by mosquitos, making mosquito abatement a continued priority in the hemisphere. Given the diseases already out there including dengue, this shouldn't need a new threat to be a public health priority.

    A difference is that there is a very effective vaccine for yellow fever that is already available, but it is one that most people do not receive. However, with proper planning, vaccine production could be ramped up and a vaccine drive across major urban areas of the hemisphere could potentially save a lot of suffering.
  8. Cultivation of coca in Colombia is up.

    Cocaine trafficking through Central America is up.

    Cocaine use in the US is up.

    Decades later, analysts still debate what causes what in this chain. Does cocaine demand in the US drive coca growth in Colombia or does coca growth in Colombia create cheaper cocaine that leads to increased use in the US? Does coca growth in Colombia lead to insecurity and poverty or do insecurity and poor economic development create an environment where illicit coca is the cash crop of choice? Is cocaine trafficked through Central America due to a lack of governance there or does cocaine trafficking harm the governance and security in Central America?

    I don't think any of those questions has a clear unidirectional answer. But thinking those questions through is important to figuring out the correct policy option.

    In Colombia, options including aerial spraying, manual eradication, support for security forces, support for economic development, economic incentives for alternative crop substitution or outright legalization of coca. In Central America, limited resources are spread across interdiction, law enforcement and strengthening governance. In the US, the debate swung towards health policy solutions and away from police action in the past eight years, but now border security is being increased while money for healthcare is being cut.

    The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission should begin meeting later this year to assess how the US has done and options for the future on these exact questions. As it meets, the fact that cocaine is once again on the rise will certainly impact its discussions.
  9. This entire article on the challenges for Mexicans being deported and the Mexican government is well reported. Anyone who has dealt with Latin American bureaucracy, from car registrations to schools to bank accounts to taxes can relate. Yet, the stress of it must be so much more for those who have been uprooted from their homes, detained for weeks or months, and forced to move.

    This article shows what happens when the US's dysfunctional immigration system meets Mexico's dysfunctional education system. Students are being asked for translated and notarized transcripts of multiple grades in the US, a requirement that can take months and sometimes cannot be completed at all. High school graduates can't apply for university because they don't have their middle school transcripts. Children of deported Mexican nationals, some US citizens and some Mexican citizens, are being denied entry to the school system or being forced to repeat lower grades due to a lack of paperwork. While there are some legislative and administrative efforts to ease these requirements, they are being blocked by lawmakers and teachers' unions that financially benefit from the current system's red tape.

    A "show me your papers" mentality exists in the Mexican education system and Mexican bureaucracy in general. The Mexican government's anger at the fact its citizens are deported for lacking paperwork should direct some anger and resources towards fixing the problem of children who are being denied education in their own country for lacking the right paperwork.
  10. One year after the murder of Berta Caceres, many activists are pointing to her case as a sign of continued impunity in Honduras. See Amnesty, the NYT and the Guardian for more.

    Let me offer a slightly different view. The Caceres case is much further on its way to seeing some justice than I would have thought one year ago and we should offer some minor praise for that. There are eight people detained including a current military officer, two retired military officers and a manager at the company building the hydroelectric dam opposed by Caceres. Prosecutors have managed to piece together a conspiracy including text messages as evidence that shows she was murdered for her activism. The trial of the accused men is moving forward, slowly, painfully and with odd twists (including losing the evidence file at one point), but moving.

    Those arrests and prosecution did not come easily or eagerly by the Honduran state. The Honduran government tried hard to whitewash this murder early on. They said it was a lovers' quarrel. They said it was a local gang just robbing her for money. Both explanations were absurd given the known threats against Caceres. It was only due to the pressure of domestic and international human rights groups that the Honduran government was forced to arrest some people who were actually involved in her murder, people who would have usually been untouchable in Honduras in spite of their mid-ranking status.

    So take a bow human rights groups. You got something done here that is rarely accomplished in Honduras. Some well connected people who committed a crime will likely face justice. That looked unlikely a year ago and it's happening now.

    I understand why outrage remains high. Human rights groups are rightfully wondering who ordered those suspects to commit that conspiracy to murder Caceres. There is a very understandable feeling that this murder was ordered at a higher level within politics, the military or the business community. But nobody will arrest those higher ups without first getting the lower level people involved.

    For me, the bigger concern is that the Caceres murder is an ultra-rare example of minimal success amid a string of other murders that have not received the same attention or pressure. Human rights defenders, indigenous leaders, environmental activists and journalists continue to be threatened and killed at dangerously high levels, even as homicides in Honduras have gone down. None of the dozens of other cases in the past year nor the hundreds of targeted attacks in previous years have seen anywhere near the levels of attention or arrests that the Caceres murder has.

    If you can step back and see the Caceres investigation as a minor success rather than a massive failure, then you can see the advantage in using this case to push for eight more mid-ranking suspects investigated and arrested in each of those other murders. Justice can't always be about getting the military general or the business executive (or the president or member of Congress), as satisfying and ultimately necessary as that is. Getting the army major or the business middle manager who got their hands dirty in the killing is an important first step to reducing impunity. Multiple cases in which low and mid-level bad guys face justice is what leads to the evidence that eventually takes down the criminals responsible.

    None of this is to suggest that continued outrage about the Caceres murder isn't necessary or justified. But those people and organizations who brush off the eight arrests made as not important do a disservice to the ultimate cause of justice in both this case and in general in Honduras. Slow progress matters. Thanks to the attention given that has pressured the Honduran government, slow progress is what we have seen in the past year.