Bogota street art. Anna Vogt
The News Roundup is a regular feature of the blog where we select a number of news articles from various sources around the web, with the goal of providing an overview of the weekly conversation about the countries where MCC works in the region. Quotes in italics are drawn directly from sources and do not necessarily reflect the position of MCC.
Mexico Election Scandals Spotlight Importance of Local Corruption
Whether the current turmoil in Tamaulipas is a political smear campaign or real criminal ties, the involvement of organized crime in local-level politics is a very real concern. There are many examples in Latin America that illustrate the trend, and a number of reasons organized crime goes to the effort to corrupt the lower rungs on the political ladder. One of the most important attractions of corrupting local government is that it affords criminal groups a measure of territorial control. Dominating areas without the collusion of local authorities can require high levels of violence or sticking to ungoverned spaces where state forces are irrelevant. This is especially true for trafficking organizations, which can more easily carve out drug corridors if local authorities are on board.
Portrait of a people smuggler (video, photos and text)
When he is not on one of the three or four trips he takes to the border each year, he spends his time looking for those who might have the $6,000 to $7,000 required for his services. That is not easy in a country where the minimum wage is about $330 a month. Many rely on relatives already in the US to help them come up with the huge sum, while selling all they have in Honduras to get the rest together. The fee covers a package deal – the smuggler, like many others, offers three shots from Honduras to cross the US border. Migrants who do not make it in their allotted number of attempts often have nothing to return to. “Those people end up in the street, because even if you want to, you can’t keep taking them. The money they pay you is just enough for the three attempts.” It is getting ever more difficult to make it – and not just because of the gangs. After alarm in the US over the growing number of child migrants reaching the border in 2014, Mexico put in action “Plan Frontera Sur” – a programme, part funded by the US, to prevent Central Americans passing through. It has worked. Roving checkpoints and a constant watch on the cargo train used by migrants have led to a 70 percent rise in deportations.
Appraising Violence in Honduras: How Much is ‘Gang-Related’?
Determining what motivates the gangs to violence is difficult in the best of circumstances. In Honduras, it is made more difficult because of unreliable data, the limited number of judicial cases, and holes in government intelligence. Using the best available data on the most reliable proxy — homicides — as well as qualitative research, one can only theorize about the extent of violence and how it relates to gang activity in the country. The notion of which gang is more violent is also subject to widespread speculation and hearsay. The general perception is that the Barrio 18 is more violent than the MS13. Proxies, however, show no difference between the two gangs in terms of violence in their neighborhoods. For a report on gangs in Honduras, for example, InSight Crime examined homicide statistics for Tegucigalpa over a five-year period between 2008 and 2013, and compared them to areas where the two gangs are believed to be predominant. However, we found little correlation was found between the number of homicides and which gang controlled a particular area. Barrio 18 areas had more total homicides, but in both Barrio 18 and MS13areas, there was an average of 11 homicides per area over that five-year period.
Human rights body makes rare bid to halt Salvadorian woman’s deportation
The deportation of a woman and her 12-year-old daughter from the US to El Salvador should be halted because their lives are at risk, a human rights monitoring body has said in an unusual intervention. “After analyzing the legal arguments and facts,” the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that the mother and daughter “are facing a situation of seriousness and urgency, since their lives and personal integrity would be at risk if they were deported”. The mother, who asked that her name not be published out of fear of retaliation in her home country, claims she fled to the United States in March after she endured multiple gang rapes by members of a gang called “Mara 18”, who also killed her brother-in-law and threatened to attack her daughter. But she says has not been able to explain her ordeal to US authorities, who have since rejected her request for asylum.
In beautiful, beleaguered Nicaragua, a democracy lies dormant (Part 1)
But simmering discontent has been spilling on to the street, in the form of a weekly “Wednesday Protest” series, and demonstrators were hopeful that Ortega might recognize an easy opportunity to appease his critics. Instead, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) proposed and elected two of its own activists, both ex-members of the government, one the sister of a high ranking Sandinista in Managua’s city hall. Such audacity is characteristic of the caudillo (the term for Latin America’s strongman demagogues), Daniel Ortega. The management style employed by the former comandante and his wife, Rosario Murillo, is more akin to that of a family business than a nation state. Observers and opponents have long grown accustomed to nonsensical turnarounds and impenetrable governance. Some decisions, such as the weekly deployment of over a hundred heavily armed police in Managua to cordon off the CSE building from that small group of protesters, are drenched in 1980s paranoia, and might almost warrant pity. Others, like one to declare Cardinal Obando y Bravo (previously branded “the arch-enemy” by Ortega’s revolutionary government) a national hero, are practically laughable. But though it is only sporadically revealed, there also exists a much more sinister nature to this power couple’s rule.
Moving Closer to Justice for the Victims of Cholera in Haiti
As a result of these efforts, governments appear to be taking a new interest in the issue. At the UN Security Council in New York and Human Rights Council in Geneva, several governments made public statements in support of reparations for cholera victims. For example, Malaysia urged the UN to consider remedies and compensation for victims. Importantly, the Haitian Ambassador in Geneva welcomed a recommendation by the UN’s human rights expert in Haiti that the UN promptly establish a commission to provide reparations to victims of cholera. These statements by UN member states have in turn spurred several candidates for the next Secretary-General to speak in favor of justice. As Secretary-General Ban’s term comes to an end this year, renewed UN leadership may bring new opportunities for justice.
The Beginning of the End of Colombia’s War: Agreement on Minors Reached in Havana
This past Sunday, May 15, the parties in Havana announced further agreements that signal the imminent end of the war. In Joint Communiqué #70, the parties announced a plan for separating minors from the battlefield and reintegrating all minors under age 15 currently in FARC camps into civil society. (Read the joint communiqué here.) The agreement represents a “crucial advance” and a “final stop” in the process of ending the war, noted Humberto de la Calle, the government’s lead negotiator. (Read de la Calle’s statement here.) Under this agreement, a road map and protocol will be established for the progressive separation , from armed life of every minor in the FARC rank-and-file, beginning with those under 15 years of age. (See Q&A here.)
Firm economics help Bolivia buck commodities downturn
Under Mr Morales, GDP has almost tripled and more than 2.6m people joined the middle class, according to Bolivia’s social and economic policy analysis unit (UDAPE). Annual household consumption expenditure per person rocketed from $930 in 2006 to $2,027 in 2014. Last year, the finance ministry announced that restaurant and supermarket takings had grown 718 per cent from 2005 to 2014. Mr Morales used state hydrocarbon revenues to fund “gas to cash” bonds, conditional transfer schemes benefiting pensioners, expectant mothers, schoolchildren and families. This revenue transfer boosted social welfare spending by 45 per cent from 2005-12, contributing to a halving of poverty rates between 2006 and 2013, according to the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). So for the first time since the Spanish conquistadores arrived, Bolivia’s Aymara and Quechua indigenous populations are enjoying the benefits of the country’s resource wealth. This makes any reversion to the bitterly polarised politics of earlier years less likely in 2019 when Mr Morales’s term ends, should he or his ruling Movement Towards Socialism party fail to name a left-leaning successor.
Against the grain
If that happens, the marginal producers likely to be pushed out of business by the glut are the original ones: poor Andean farmers. They grow quinoa because little else thrives on their steep, barren plots. Their new competitors, tilling better soil with modern farming equipment, manage yields that are up to eight times higher. An ox takes six days to plough land a tractor can handle in two hours, explains Mr Livingstone-Wallace. “With their current methods, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to compete on price,” he says. The “Fairtrade” price of quinoa (which is meant to correspond to the minimum required to give farmers a decent standard of living) is around $2.60 a kilo; the current market rate is less than $2, suggesting that Andean growers are already struggling. The idea that the Andes might cease to be the world’s main source of quinoa is not far-fetched. The potato, after all, originated there, but now 15 other countries, including Bangladesh and Belarus, produce more potatoes than Peru does.