Last week was bookended by alarming human rights developments in Latin America. On the weekend of April 25 El Salvador's president showed horrific Abu Ghraib-like photos on his Twitter account of half-naked gang members forced to huddle together in prisons. On the weekend of May 2 we learned that Colombia's army has been building illegal dossiers about reporters (including from U.S. outlets), human rights defenders, politicians, and others who pose no military threat. And meanwhile we're seeing alarming indicators that COVID-19 has begun spreading very fast in some countries, notably Brazil and Mexico. The coming week is going to be rough.
Here is some content I produced last week. This e-mail is lighter because I'm mid-project, putting together a report on how the region's militaries' roles are changing as a result of the crisis. I look forward to sharing it in next week's e-mail.
WOLA Podcast: COVID-19, anti-democratic trends, and human rights concerns
Podcasts are coming back after a two-week break. There’ll be a few over the coming week.
For this one, I wrangled together four of my WOLA colleagues to take the temperature of politics and human rights in the region a month and a half into the COVID-19 lockdown. It’s really grim, and challenging to end on an optimistic note. But listen to it and you will learn a lot. Here’s the description from WOLA’s website:
COVID-19 threatens to take many lives in Latin America. It also threatens to leave behind a less democratic, less rights-respecting, more unequal, and more violent region.
An April 13 WOLA commentary laid out many of these concerns. If anything, they’ve grown more urgent since then. Here, five WOLA program directors gather for a discussion of where things stand in several countries in the region.
- Director for Defense Oversight Adam Isacson talks about El Salvador.
- Director for the Andes Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli discusses Colombia, Brazil, and Haiti.
- Director for Venezuela Geoff Ramsey covers Venezuela.
- Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights Maureen Meyer provides an update about Mexico and the border.
- Director for Drug Policy and the Andes John Walsh explains drug trafficking trends and the situation in Bolivia.
Five WOLA program directors talk about how COVID-19·and governments· response·are hitting Latin America. We discuss dangers to democracy, rights, economics, and marginalized people, focusing especially on Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Bolivia, and Brazil.
5 links from the past week
- Congressional Research Service posted a new update to its report on Mexican politics and U.S.-Mexican relations. A masterful overview by longtime researcher Clare Ribando Seelke. (Also recommended: CRS’s report on Honduras, also updated this week. Both reports are excellent sources of U.S. aid numbers.)
- Spain’s El País published a series of essays about how COVID-19 is affecting Latin America, with contributions from noted reporters in El Salvador, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Nicaragua, Mexico, and at the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s anchored by a great piece by Alma Guillermoprieto.
- At El Faro, Carlos Martínez, Óscar Martínez, and Efren Lemus try to get at the reasons why gang-related homicides jumped in El Salvador in late April after spending much of the Bukele government’s months in office near longtime lows. It’s apparent that the gangs, especially MS-13, can turn violence on and off like a switch. It’s likely that they’re contesting control of the streets with the armed forces during the COVID lockdown.
- At Animal Político, Cecilia Farfán of USCD’s U.S.-Mexico Center reflects on underlying causes of Mexico’s persistently high violent crime. She suggests looking beyond “illegality versus illegality” or “social fabric” narratives, going more local to look at the semi-legal origins of the barrios currently suffering the worst violence.
- Marta Ruiz, a veteran investigative journalist at Semana magazine who is now a commissioner on Colombia’s Truth Commission, “reflects from quarantine” on the country (and world) that may emerge after the current crisis ends.
Government reports relevant to Latin America obtained in April
There were only a few: the two Congressional Research Service reports linked above, and:
The Government Accountability Office found that Customs and Border Protection wildly overspent on a tent facility to house apprehended migrants during late 2019.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Management of a Temporary Facility in Texas Raised Concerns about Resources Used (Washington: U.S. Government Accountability Office, April 9, 2020) https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-20-321R.
Latin America-related online events this week
Monday, May 4
- 9:00 at [follow instructions in tweet]: Protección y Defensa de los DDHH en el contexto del COVID-19 (RSVP required).
Wednesday, May 6
- 11:00 at padf.zoom.us: Desafíos de seguridad y convivencia en zonas rurales de Colombia en tiempos de pandemia (RSVP required).
- 1:00–2:00 at wilsoncenter.org: COVID-19’s Impacts on Large Companies in Latin America
Thursday, May 7
- 4:00–5:00 at wilsoncenter.org: Technology, Borderlands, and the Future of U.S.-Mexico Ties (RSVP required).
Here are some mostly indie-pop songs I listened to quite a bit last month, as an Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, and YouTube playlist.