Center for Economic and Policy Research

LANR [June 13, 2024]: Argentina’s Senate Passes Milei Reforms as Protests Rage

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New Haiti Government Formed alt_text LATIN AMERICA NEWS ROUND-UP ARGENTINA’S SENATE PASSES MILEI REFORMS AS PROTESTS RAGE CEPR has launched two newsletters, one on Haiti and one on Ecuador. You can sign-up for future editions as well as other newsletters here. Brazil and Southern Cone Brazilian Markets Sink After Lula’s Comments on Fiscal Balance. Bloomberg Brazil Finance Chief’s Star Fades as He Faces Worst Moment of Tenure. Bloomberg Brazil police accuse Lula minister of corruption, sources say. Reuters ‘Lives at play’: Argentina’s Senate passes Milei reforms as protests rage. Al Jazeera 'Eating is a luxury': Argentina inflation falls but shoppers still feel squeezed. Reuters China overlooks Milei's rhetoric, hands Argentina US$35 billion lifeline. SCMP Northern Andean Region Foreign credit card transactions add scarce dollars to Venezuela circulation. Reuters NYT Ramps Up Venezuela Propaganda Ahead of Elections. FAIR Western Andean Region ‘The cocaine superhighway’: how death and destruction mark drug’s path from South America to Europe. The Guardian A New Chinese Megaport in South America Is Rattling the U.S. Wall Street Journal Bolivian President outlines scope of partnership with Russia. Mercopress Bolivia Deploys Military to Gas Stations Amid Fuel Shortage. Bloomberg Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean The US Must Own Up to Its Human Rights Crimes in El Salvador. Jacobin Russian Warships Enter Havana Harbor as Part of Planned Exercises. New York Times BRAZIL AND SOUTHERN CONE [CONTENTS] Brazilian Markets Sink After Lula’s Comments on Fiscal Balance Andrew Rosati and Leda Alvim. Bloomberg. June 12, 2024 Brazilian markets sank as President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva added to growing fiscal jitters just after the Senate shot down his government’s latest proposal to boost public revenue. “The increase in tax collection and the decline of interest rates will allow the reduction of the public deficit without compromising the capacity for public investment,” Lula said Wednesday at a Saudi Arabia investor forum held in Rio de Janeiro. Traders, who are increasingly skeptical about government plans to increase public revenue and the central bank’s ability to cut interest rates, immediately reacted to his comments. The Brazilian real weakened more than 1% while the nation’s benchmark Ibovespa stock index fell 1.3%. Swap rates jumped more than 20 basis points across the curve. The short-end of Brazil’s swap curve no longer prices in Selic cuts. Instead, traders price in almost 70 basis points in hikes by the end of the year. _______________________________ Brazil Finance Chief’s Star Fades as He Faces Worst Moment of Tenure Martha Viotti Beck. Bloomberg. June 13, 2024 After 18 months walking a delicate tightrope between a president who wants to spend and investors demanding fiscal discipline, Brazil’s Finance Minister Fernando Haddad is starting to lose his balance. In recent weeks, Haddad has repeatedly run into the reality that his plan to shore up public accounts primarily through new revenues is likely unfeasible. While doubts about his ability to control fiscal deficits have roiled Brazilian assets, even more worrisome for the minister is that Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s confidence in his economic strategy now appears to be wavering as well. That has plunged the finance chief who had become an unlikely darling of Brazilian investors into the worst moment of his tenure, as one person close to him described it this week. The situation may further deteriorate as Lula demonstrates that he has no interest in cutting spending, particularly as his approval ratings fall. “The message that there will be no control in spending is becoming increasingly clear,” said Leonardo Monoli, chief investment officer at Azimut Brasil Wealth Management. “The finance minister seems increasingly isolated.” Haddad suffered a major blow Tuesday, when Senate leader Rodrigo Pacheco swatted down a proposal to limit tax credits to cover the cost of an exemption from payroll levies. The plan, announced last week while Haddad was in Italy, drew severe backlash from Congress and industries that rely heavily on such credits — especially in Brazil’s agribusiness sector. Its demise increased the odds that Haddad will have to ease the government’s fiscal target for 2024, and highlighted that he is running low on ideas for how to avoid that outcome: The Finance Ministry, he told reporters Tuesday night, has no Plan B for covering the 26.3 billion-real ($4.9 billion) cost of the payroll exemption. The Brazilian real has weakened more than 10% this year, as deepening fears about the nation’s fiscal outlook turn it into one of the world’s worst-performing major currencies. Swap rates jumped more than 20 basis points across the curve after Lula spoke about the situation Wednesday, and the short-end of Brazil’s swap curve no longer prices in cuts to the central bank’s benchmark interest rate. A ‘Weakening’ Minister The defeat also suggested that Haddad is suddenly in a shakier position inside Lula’s government. Since taking office in the beginning of 2023, Haddad was able to convince his political mentor to support the creation of a new fiscal framework to limit spending, and later won a battle to maintain his ambitious budget target. But now he is struggling to rack up victories on any front. As uncertainty swirled around the tax measure Tuesday, Lula held a meeting with businessman Ricardo Alban, the head of the National Confederation of Industries, one of the many entities angry over the proposal. With Haddad pondering his next move, Alban left the presidential palace with Lula’s blessing to announce that the measure would be killed, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, who like others requested anonymity to discuss it publicly. Alban did so minutes later. Jaques Wagner, the government’s leader in the Senate, then said in a speech that Lula hadn’t been “comfortable” with the plan, and that its rejection by the Senate chief had prevented an “endless tragedy.” Spokespersons for Lula, Haddad and Alban did not immediately respond to requests for comment. While investors have never quite fallen in love with Haddad, many have come to see him as the best option in a leftist government and are fearful of what comes next if he fails. “The main point of concern is that Haddad is weakening,” said Priscila Araujo, a portfolio manager at O3 Capital. “He was basically the pillar of this government’s fiscal sustainability.” No Plans to Leave The pressure of pleasing both markets and Lula is clearly taking a toll on the minister, who last Friday told investors that he recognized the need for a structural review of government spending but was unsure if he could convince the president to make the changes needed to keep the fiscal framework intact. But while Haddad is fatigued, he is committed to remaining in the post, people familiar with the situation said. Lula continues to have “deep trust” in the minister he has long viewed as the best-prepared of a new generation of leaders on the Brazilian left, allied lawmaker Randolfe Rodrigues said on the Senate floor Tuesday night. Wagner dismissed the possibility of Haddad leaving the ministry, telling reporters Wednesday that lawmakers must find a way to offset the payroll exemption. Haddad intends to keep pushing to balance the budget even if Lula resists the plan. The minister this week announced that he will soon present ideas to control spending as Brazil approaches the Aug. 31 deadline to deliver its 2025 budget bill to Congress. “During the budget discussion, we will take some proposals to the president,” Haddad told reporters Tuesday. Lula, he added, “may or may not accept them.” _______________________________ Brazil police accuse Lula minister of corruption, sources say Ricardo Brito. Reuters. June 12, 2024 BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's federal police have formally accused Communications Minister Juscelino Filho of passive corruption and other crimes, sources said on Wednesday, making him the first member of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's current cabinet to face such allegations. Police investigated Filho in a probe of alleged corruption at Codevasf, a government-linked development agency for the Sao Francisco and Parnaiba region in northeast Brazil. Filho in a statement denied any wrongdoing, calling the federal police's probe politically motivated. In Brazil, police can make accusations based on their investigations before public prosecutors present charges in courts. According to two people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity to discuss the investigation, the minister was formally accused of accepting bribes, laundering money and participating in a criminal organization, opening the door to criminal charges. Originally a lower house lawmaker representing the state of Maranhao, the minister has been serving in Lula's cabinet since the leftist leader took office in January 2023 for his third non-consecutive term. Filho is a member of the center-right Brazil Union party, which got key roles in Lula's cabinet as he sought to build a broader coalition to secure support in Congress, where his leftist allies are in the minority. Lula's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The minister had already made the headlines in early 2023 when he allegedly used an air force plane to travel to a horse auction. The president at the time decided to keep him in the job despite pressure to fire him from some allies, including the head of Lula's Workers Party. Lula's first two terms as president from 2003 to 2010 were marred by graft scandals. The leftist leader himself was jailed in 2018 on corruption charges, but his conviction was later annulled by the Supreme Court. _______________________________ ‘Lives at play’: Argentina’s Senate passes Milei reforms as protests rage Al Jazeera. June 13, 2024 Argentina’s upper house has narrowly passed a controversial bill key to libertarian President Javier Milei’s economic reform plans as thousands of protesters clashed with police in the streets. Senators voted 37 to 36 late on Wednesday to give provisional approval to the plan, embarking on an all-night marathon sitting, extending into the following day ahead of votes on each article of the package, which includes radical measures on privatisation and tax breaks for investors. The Senate had been divided down the middle over the bill, which was eventually decided by a tie-breaking vote from the head of the chamber, Vice President Victoria Villarruel. “Today, there are two Argentinas,” Villarruel said at the session. “A violent Argentina that sets a car on fire, throws rocks and debates the exercise of democracy, and another Argentina with workers waiting with great pain and sacrifice for the change that they voted for.” As the senators voted, thousands of protesters poured into the streets, burning cars and throwing Molotov cocktails as hundreds of federal security forces pushed back with rounds of tear gas and water cannon. Seven people, including five lawmakers, were treated at hospital after being pepper-sprayed, according to the Ministry of Health. Dozens of others received medical attention at the scene. At least 10 people were arrested and nine police officers were injured, according to a spokesman for the Ministry of Security, quoted by the AFP news agency. ‘Anarcho-capitalist’ The vote delivered a major boost to Milei, a self-declared “anarcho-capitalist”, whose efforts to overhaul the government and economy have run into tough resistance in Argentina’s opposition-dominated Congress, which he has dubbed a “nest of rats”. A political outsider with just two years of experience as a lawmaker, his three-year-old party, Liberty Advances, holds only 15 percent of seats in the lower house and 10 percent in the Senate. “Tonight is a triumph for the Argentine people and the first step toward the recovery of our greatness,” Milei posted on X, calling his bills “the most ambitious legislative reform of the last 40 years”. The bill is central to Milei’s plans to overhaul an embattled economy. Executive measures imposed so far, which include slashing subsidies and firing thousands of public sector employees, have deepened a recession, increased poverty to 55 percent and sent annual inflation surging 300 percent. Right-wing and left-wing lawmakers clashed over various parts of the 238-article reform bill, which includes the declaration of a one-year state of economic emergency allowing Milei to disband federal agencies and the privatisation of about a dozen public companies. Other measures deal with reducing access to minimum retirement allowances and weakening labour protections – slammed by left-wing opponents as a licence to fire workers. The provisions also envision tax, customs and foreign exchange incentives to encourage investment in the country racked by economic crisis. Prior to the bill’s preliminary Senate approval, opposition lawmakers took to the floor claiming it would reverse decades of progress. Opposition senator Mariano Recalde said the labour reforms in particular “take us back to the last century when the employee had no labour rights”. The bill was passed by the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, in April. If approved in a full vote by the Senate, the measure will return to the lower house for a final green light. The measure is opposed by a broad swath of society, including social organisations, left-wing political parties, retirees, teachers and labour unions. Protesters fear the bill will leave them further exposed to rising unemployment and consumer prices. “Argentine people’s lives are at play,” said protester and social leader Luis D’Elia. “This poison has failed several times in Argentina, and we won’t allow this to carry on.” Miriam Rajovitcher, a 54-year-old teacher, said if the law passed, she would lose many of her labour and pension rights. “I am so much worse off,” she said. _______________________________ 'Eating is a luxury': Argentina inflation falls but shoppers still feel squeezed Miguel Lo Bianco. Reuters. June 13, 2024 BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina's monthly inflation rate in May was likely the lowest since 2022 amid a tough austerity drive by libertarian President Javier Milei, but with annual inflation still near 300% many Argentines say they can't yet feel the benefit as food prices outstrip salaries. Annual inflation is still the highest in the world, even as the monthly rate has slowed, with rising food, utilities, and transportation costs making the minimum monthly wage in Argentina of 234,315 pesos ($260) feel insufficient. "I still don't understand how inflation can be going down," said Silvia Castro, a 65-year-old retiree shopping for her groceries at a market on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. "Taxes are very expensive, services and gasoline are expensive, insurance is expensive, the social work (health service) that was meant to go down is the same or has risen." Argentina's government touts its success taming inflation with tough measures to reduce central bank money printing, focus on rebuilding reserves and cut spending. But it faces a challenge to keep voters on-side with the economy stalling and poverty levels rising. The monthly inflation rate is set to have fallen for a fifth straight month in May to likely under 5%, down from a peak over 25% in December when Milei took office and sharply devalued the local peso currency. But Laura Basualdo, a 53-year-old merchant, said many people were struggling to buy things as their earning power had been eroded by constantly high inflation. "I'm a merchant and I often see the customer on the other side who, clearly, if my prices don't work for them, they go out to look for other offers," she said. "We all have to shop around today. It's terrible, constantly the money in our pockets gets lighter, less and less each time. Nowadays it feels like eating is a luxury." _______________________________ China overlooks Milei's rhetoric, hands Argentina US$35 billion lifeline South China Morning Post. June 13, 2024 China has agreed to renew currency swap tranches worth 35 billion yuan (about US$5 billion) with Argentina's central bank until July 2026, the South American country's monetary authorities announced on Wednesday. According to a statement from the Central Bank of Argentina, the institution will gradually reduce the activated value of the swap over this period, with the aim of deactivating it completely by the end of the contract. The authorities emphasised that the agreement - originally signed in 2020 and activated last year - is crucial for managing the balance of payments flows at a critical time. Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team. China first signed a renminbi-based swap agreement with Argentina in 2009 and has since expanded the arrangements on at least three occasions. When Beijing agreed to activate the swap in 2023, Argentina was facing a severe dollar shortage exacerbated by a devastating drought that severely affected soya plantations and caused exports to fall to their lowest level in 20 years. However, there was uncertainty about whether China would authorise another renewal because of the contentious relationship between the two countries since the self-described "radical libertarian" Javier Milei took office as president in December. Milei previously vowed to sever ties with Beijing in favour of what he described as the "civilised side of the world." He has also broken off negotiations to buy Chinese JF-17 fighter jets in favour of second-hand US F-22 fighter jets from Denmark. The swap's imminent expiry with no details on its renewal intensified market turbulence in recent weeks. The tense relationship between Milei and the Chinese government left open the possibility that Beijing could delay the renewal and force Argentina to pay at least part of the US$5 billion. Without the swap renewal, Buenos Aires would have to cover at least part of the amount, depleting the country's already low foreign exchange reserves and hampering the Central Bank's ability to receive new disbursements. These fears interrupted the upwards trend of Argentine bonds, which had performed well since the beginning of the year, causing them to fall by more than 10 per cent between the end of May and the beginning of June, local newspaper Clarin reported. "The extension until July 2026 of the activated portion of the currency swap will allow the Central Bank of Argentina to continue to reduce the risks it faces during the current economic transition, which began in December 2023, towards a consistent and sustainable monetary and exchange rate regime," it said. "In this way, cooperation between the two monetary institutions, which began in 2009, has been renewed and the financial and economic ties between the two countries were strengthened." Argentina's Foreign Minister Dina Mondino reacted briefly to the news on social media platform X, announcing the renewal of the swaps and adding Chinese and Argentina flag emojis, as well as a handshake emoji. Mondino visited Beijing in April, where she met China's Vice-President Han Zheng, primarily to discuss the swap agreements. NORTHERN ANDEAN REGION [CONTENTS] Foreign credit card transactions add scarce dollars to Venezuela circulation Mayela Armas. Reuters. June 13, 2024 CARACAS, June 13 (Reuters) - Transactions paid with foreign credit cards are helping circulate more foreign currency in Venezuela, where the government has locked in an exchange rate as part of efforts to control double-digit inflation, four public sector and finance sources said. The transactions have been growing steadily since the government of President Nicolas Maduro, who is running for reelection in July, loosened currency controls five years ago, allowing an expanded use of U.S. dollars alongside the local bolivar currency. When Venezuelans with bank accounts abroad use foreign cards, their bank outside Venezuela sends the funds to its local intermediary bank in dollars. The local bank can then sell the dollars, adding to the limited supply of foreign currency and helping the government to keep the exchange rate at 36.4 bolivars to the dollar and control inflation, which was 59.2% in the 12 months to May. Maduro's government is seeking to raise its tax take so it will have funds to direct toward public workers, sources told Reuters, as it seeks to win their support at the polls. "This foreign currency helps support the exchange market," said a public sector source who asked not to be named. About 11% of transactions at supermarkets, pharmacies and other businesses are made with international cards, up from 8%last year, local analyst Ecoanalitica said in March. Some $60 million per month from transactions on foreign credit and debit cards is sold by local banks, according to finance industry estimates. Buyers are often retail or industrial businesses in need of foreign currency to pay for imports. Other dollars come from the central bank and from export earnings from Chevron (CVX.N), opens new tab, which operates in the country with a special license from Washington. Both those sources contribute about $200 million each per month, according to calculations from local analysts firm Sintesis Financiera. Although the dollars circulating via foreign card transactions was less than from other sources, banking sources said the funds help ease pressure on the market. The central bank did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the finance ministry. In 2023, foreign exchange from international cards reached $900 million, according to banking sources. U.S. sanctions have halted some international transfers, as the central bank and some local banks were left without partner banks that would allow them to move money in and out of Venezuela. Other banks still have partners abroad. U.S. sanctions are largely focused on members of Maduro's government and the oil industry and do not restrict private Venezuelan businesses from operating abroad. Foreign cards "offer a bit of oxygen because many people can't access bolivars," said economist Jesus Palacios, referring to credit restrictions on bolivar-denominated credit cards. _______________________________ NYT Ramps Up Venezuela Propaganda Ahead of Elections RICARDO VAZ. FAIR. June 12, 2024 Venezuelans will head to the polls on July 28 to choose their president for the 2025–30 term. Incumbent President Nicolás Maduro faces nine challengers as he runs for a third term. Over the past 25 years of US-sponsored coups and economic sanctions, Western corporate media have always proven a reliable source of regime-change propaganda to back Washington’s policies (FAIR.org, 12/17/18, 1/25/19, 8/15/19, 4/15/20, 5/11/20, 1/11/23). Coverage builds to a frenzy around elections, whether driven by a (misguided) hope that US surrogates will win, or by a desire to delegitimize anticipated Chavista victories. With two months to go, Western outlets are busy crafting familiar narratives, and leading the charge is the New York Times. Not busy enough with its genocide-endorsing coverage of Gaza, the paper of record was keen to back yet another key US foreign policy interest. In a flurry of recent articles, the Times laid down plenty of bias, distortions and outright lies. Rigged reporting In less than one week, the New York Times published three articles about the upcoming Venezuelan election, all of which referred to Maduro as “authoritarian” in the headline, rather than by name, so readers immediately take note of the “bad guy”: “Meet the Candidate Challenging Venezuela’s Authoritarian President” (5/6/24) “Reality Show Contestants Compete for an Authoritarian’s Campaign Jingle” (5/9/24) “Can Elections Force Venezuela’s Authoritarian Leader From Power?” (5/11/24) The Times’ Julie Turkewitz opened the third piece by claiming that Venezuelans are voting “for the first time in more than a decade…in a presidential election with an opposition candidate who has a fighting—if slim and improbable—chance at winning.” This framing reinforces the common trope that Maduro’s May 2018 victory was “a sham” (New York Times, 5/11/24; Reuters, 5/17/24), “rigged” (New York Times, 5/6/24), “neither free nor fair” (BBC, 3/6/24) or “widely considered fraudulent” (France24, 3/12/24). Most outlets have never bothered to back up the claims, but Turkewitz argued it was due to the opposition’s “most popular figures” being barred from running. What she did not mention was that the highest-profile of these figures, far-right politician Leopoldo López, had been convicted of trying to violently overthrow the elected government (Venezuelanalysis, 6/13/17, 2/16/15). The other candidate the Times was presumably referring to, Henrique Capriles—who lost elections in 2012 and 2013—was banned for administrative malpractice while holding public office (Venezuelanalysis, 4/11/17). The hardline opposition, in coordination with Washington, was wedded to election boycotts and insurrection efforts. The Trump administration reportedly went so far as to threaten to sanction opposition frontrunner Henri Falcón if he did not boycott the election. Juan Guaidó, tapped a few months later to lead a self-proclaimed, US-backed “interim government,” was perfectly free to have run for president in 2018. Assured victory Fast forward six years, and the New York Times (5/11/24, 5/16/24) and other establishment outlets (Miami Herald, 5/6/24; Bloomberg, 5/17/24) seem excited by the hardline opposition’s electoral prospects, telling readers that candidate Edmundo González is leading in the polls, but that the Venezuelan government will not accept the results. In fact, the track record of the past 25 years is that Chavismo has always conceded in the contests it has lost, whereas the opposition and its media backers, when they are defeated at the polls, inevitably cry fraud, to the tune of zero evidence (FAIR.org, 1/27/21, 12/3/21, 11/20/20, 5/23/18). Pundits are basing their current optimism for their candidate on a historically biased and unreliable polling industry, ignoring polls that predict a similarly lopsided victory for Maduro. The New York Times (5/11/24) also made reference to the “enormous” turnout in the opposition’s October primaries, suggesting that this presaged a large anti-Maduro vote in the general election. Put aside the fact that the primary figures were shrouded in doubt, and that the organizing commission never released detailed results; the turnout claimed by the opposition was 2.3 million people, in a country with an adult population of 20 million. The governing Socialist Party, by comparison, has 4 million registered members. Finally, there is also wonderment at the size of opposition rallies (AP, 5/18/24; New York Times, 5/16/24). Not only is crowd measurement a very inexact science, the context is erased by ignoring the constant, massive pro-government mobilizations taking place as well. Shifting democratic goalposts Alongside prematurely cheering an opposition victory, the paper of record has been preparing arguments to dismiss the results should Maduro win. The key one is centered on US favorite María Corina Machado, who is said to be “barred by the government”—or by Maduro himself—from running, a lazily dishonest description common to many corporate outlets (New York Times, 5/11/24, 5/16/24; AP, 5/18/24, 2/28/24; Bloomberg, 3/16/24; Washington Post, 4/17/24). A far-right zealot and heiress from Venezuela’s elite, Machado has long been a corporate media favorite (New York Times, 11/19/05). She has always been depicted as a champion of democracy despite participating in coup attempts, going on record as endorsing a foreign invasion, and allegedly receiving direct funding from the US. Machado’s disqualification is the smoking gun used to justify Washington’s reimposition of oil sanctions (more on that below), and to prove that Maduro has not followed through on supposed commitments to hold the “free and fair elections” agreed to with the US-backed opposition in Barbados in October 2023. This is false on two counts. For starters, many Western sources blatantly lie by stating that the Barbados Agreement allowed Machado to run for president (Washington Post, 4/17/24; New York Times, 4/17/24; Reuters, 4/17/24, 4/12/24; CNN, 1/27/24; BBC, 1/30/24). What the document explicitly says is that anyone could be a candidate, provided that they fulfill the requirements established by Venezuelan law and the constitution to run for office. In Machado’s case, she was already serving a political ban, and there was nothing in the agreement suggesting it would be lifted. Secondly, the Venezuelan government and opposition delegations from the Barbados accords agreed on a procedure for disqualified candidates to appeal before the Venezuelan Supreme Court (Venezuelanalysis, 12/1/23). Machado—under pressure from the US, it’s suspected—filed her appeal. And an appeal, by definition, can be rejected. The Supreme Court pointed to corrupt actions and the jeopardizing of Venezuelan assets abroad to uphold her exclusion (Venezuelanalysis, 1/27/24). The ‘grip’ of poor journalism Apart from misrepresenting the case of one of Venezuela’s most anti-democratic figures, the New York Times (5/11/24) marshaled other arguments to dismiss a potential Maduro victory in advance: Ahead of the July 28 vote, Mr. Maduro, 61, has in his grip the legislature, the military, the police, the justice system, the national election council, the country’s budget and much of the media, not to mention violent paramilitary gangs called colectivos. Leaving aside the demonized colectivos and the misconceptions surrounding Venezuelan media (FAIR.org, 5/20/19), the rest of the list is astounding. The legislature was won by the Socialist Party in the 2020 elections, and has the prerogative to appoint Supreme Court justices and the Electoral Council. Corporate pundits would presumably never write that a US president “has Congress in his grip.” What is worse is Turkewitz’s dismay at Maduro wielding the constitutional responsibilities belonging to the president. The Venezuelan president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and appoints the interior minister who runs the police. And somehow media stenographers expect Venezuela’s elected leader to share control of the budget with the US’s chosen surrogates. A recycled misrepresentation But the pinnacle of poor journalism in the May 11 Times piece was the following paragraph: Mr. Maduro has hardly indicated that he is ready to leave office. He promised a large crowd of followers in February that he would win the election “by hook or by crook.” It is unclear why the New York Times writer would expect someone campaigning for reelection to “indicate…he is ready to leave office.” However, it is the second sentence that is an absolute fabrication. In said rally, Maduro is clearly talking about defeating US- and opposition-led coup efforts “por las buenas o por las malas”—the Spanish idiom the Times translates as “by hook or by crook.” In the video linked, uploaded by a Venezuelan journalist precisely to clarify the context of those words, Maduro lists anti-democratic plots going back to 2002, and vows that the country’s “civilian-military” unity will defeat any possible coup attempt “por las buenas o por las malas”—”by any means necessary,” one might say. There is no reference to the upcoming elections at all. The Associated Press (2/9/24) had months ago misused the Venezuelan president’s words in the same way. After widespread criticism, the news service attached a note to the Spanish-language report: “The Associated Press improperly used a quote from President Nicolás Maduro as if he had said it in connection with the upcoming presidential election.” That didn’t stop the Times from committing the exact same misrepresentation three months later. Intensified dishonesty The US is not only pushing opposition candidates in Venezuela; it’s also using economic sanctions to undermine Maduro’s presidency. Following the Barbados agreement in October, the US agreed to allow transactions with the Venezuelan oil sector for six months. But US officials claimed that the Maduro government had not fulfilled its commitments and reimposed its sanctions against Venezuela’s oil industry on April 18. In tandem, corporate media reintroduced its whitewashing and endorsement of deadly coercive measures (FAIR.org, 6/13/22, 6/4/21). The New York Times and Turkewitz (5/11/24) rolled out some of the main tropes that downplay those sanctions, writing that “Maduro blames sanctions” for the country’s economic troubles. This formulation places the idea that sanctions hurt the Venezuelan economy in the mouth of the demonized Maduro, when even US officials are on the record saying that sanctions are meant to cause economic pain. The Times went on to say that “the government has been choked” by US sanctions. The implication is that only Venezuela’s leaders are affected by sanctions. But as the Center for Economic and Policy Research (4/25/19) has demonstrated, they are a “collective punishment” that has caused tens of thousands of deaths per year. Yet Turkewitz failed to explain their economic impact on Venezuelans, who widely condemn them—as does most of the international community. One coordinated mistruth spread by the Times (4/17/24, 5/16/24) and others (e.g., Reuters, 4/17/24, 5/11/24; BBC, 1/30/24) is that crushing US sanctions against Venezuela only began in 2019. In fact, the Trump administration levied financial sanctions against the oil industry in mid-2017 that sent output plummeting. The goal of that media obfuscation is far from subtle: absolve Washington of responsibility for Venezuela’s economic troubles, especially the fall in oil production. Turkewitz’s article matter-of-factly stated that a Maduro victory on July 28 will “intensify poverty” in Venezuela. Turkewitz is either taking for granted that US economic aggression will continue—without explaining that to readers—or is convinced that Washington’s adversaries are predestined by nature or fate to ruin their economies. Venezuela is in fact set for a fourth straight year of economic growth, despite the multi-billion dollar impact of US sanctions. The only thing that seems to always intensify is the New York Times’ imperialist propaganda. WESTERN ANDEAN REGION [CONTENTS] ‘The cocaine superhighway’: how death and destruction mark drug’s path from South America to Europe Tom Phillips. The Guardian. June 12, 2024 Asign on the doorway said “For rent” and the house’s lights were out. But the assault team were convinced a group of armed gang members lurked inside and they were determined to smoke them out. As darkness enveloped Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, six truckloads of military and police troopers screeched to a halt in front of the seemingly vacant home. Some pummelled its front and side entrances with steel battering rams, crowbars and fists. Others scrambled up its outer wall. Soon their hunch was confirmed. One suspect leapt from a second-floor window and ran across a corrugated roof. As the security forces finally stormed the house, a second man was wrestled to the ground inside a bedroom. A third suspect was bundled to the living-room floor as the masked squad demolished the house’s interior in search of hidden guns and drugs. “Where’s the rifle?” one soldier bellowed as a half-naked prisoner was thrashed with a pole, leaving red streaks across his back. Minutes later, the weapon was found stashed inside a child’s ransacked bedroom, along with a pistol and another US-made Mac-10 submachine gun. The girl sat at the kitchen table with her mother, fiddling anxiously with a toy. The disturbing scenes unfolded in January, just a few hours after Ecuador’s president, Daniel Noboa, vowed to wage an unflinching “war” to prevent Ecuador becoming “a narco-state”. The two captured men were allegedly members of Los Águilas (the Eagles), one of 22 gangs and organised crime groups that Noboa accuses of bringing carnage to what was until recently one of South America’s most peaceful countries. The raid was an unmistakably Latin American spectacle: the kind of scene that has played out in recent years from Tijuana, on the Mexican-US border, to Rio de Janeiro as part of a bloody and largely ineffectual battle against the illegal drug trade. But it was also a scene umbilically linked to European cities thousands of miles away, where soaring demand for cocaine from South America has helped make cities such as Guayaquil some of the most violent on Earth. Ecuador is not a cocaine producer – that work is performed almost entirely in three other South American nations: Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. But over the past five years, Ecuador’s bustling Pacific ports have become a crucial shipment point for cocaine-filled containers being smuggled to the US and Europe, turning Ecuador into a “cocaine superhighway”. Bob Van den Berghe, deputy head of the passenger and cargo border team at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, says people in Europe need to wake up to the pain they are causing on the other side of the world. “If someone is consuming one gram of cocaine [they should be] aware that it doesn’t end up on the market just like that. There’s a story behind it – which is not a very nice story. In fact, it might even be quite a bloody story.” Van den Berghe says that of 220 tonnes of cocaine seized last year by authorities in Latin America and the Caribbean, 84% was bound for Europe and about 37% was recovered in Ecuador. About 45 tonnes were heading to the port of Antwerp, which in recent years has become the European capital of cocaine smuggling, while 40.5 tonnes were going to Rotterdam in the Netherlands, 38.5 tonnes to Hamburg in Germany and 34 tonnes to Valencia in Spain. “These are the four main ports,” says Van den Berghe, a former member of Belgium’s federal police, who trains police and customs officers to identify “high-risk consignments” before they set off for Europe. Rising cocaine consumption in Europe, which Belgian authorities have called a “tsunami”, has brought violence to several of the European port cities where such illegal shipments arrive. Over the past five years in Antwerp, where a record 116 tonnes of cocaine were seized at the port last year, there have been shootings, arson attacks and bombings as organised crime groups vie for control. In a sign of mounting European concern over the impact of organised crime, the mayors of Antwerp, Hamburg and Rotterdam recently travelled together to Ecuador’s capital, Quito, to discuss the fight against drug-related crime. “Your problem is also our problem,” Bart De Wever, the nationalist mayor of Belgium’s second-largest city, told Noboa, admitting European drug use was “at the root of criminality” in Ecuador. For all the problems that drug trafficking is causing in Europe, the violence blighting the streets of Guayaquil is undeniably worse, as gangs such as Los Águilas battle it out for control of the streets and smuggling routes. In recent years scarcely a day has gone by without corpse collectors picking up at least one body from the streets. Luis Chonillo, mayor of the neighbouring port city, Durán, has spent almost a year moving between safe houses after an attempt to assassinate him on the day of his inauguration last year. “Today we are facing a second major nationwide pandemic – which is called insecurity,” he says, speaking from a refuge in the mountains outside town. Ecuador’s murder rate almost doubled between 2022 and 2023, when more than 8,000 murders made it the most violent country in Central and South America. Glaeldys González, an International Crisis Group expert, says Guayaquil’s highly strategic location – and longstanding trade ties with Europe – have placed it and the surrounding province of Guayas in the eye of Ecuador’s storm. At least six criminal groups have spent recent years fighting over access to the region’s ports, from which huge shipments of bananas are sent to Europe each year – and with them large stashes of cocaine. That strategic position has attracted the attention of two of Mexico’s most powerful cartels, Sinaloa and the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which have allied themselves with Ecuadorian partners through which they are fighting a proxy war in the streets of cities such as Guayaquil. The Sinaloan group has reportedly thrown its weight behind an Ecuadorian faction called Los Choneros while the Jalisco cartel is said to have backed a rival called Los Lobos (The Wolves). In April, Noboa named the head of the Sinaloa cartel, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, as one of the top military objectives of his fight against “narco-terrorists”. González says it is unclear how Mexican cartel bosses would react to Noboa’s crackdown, Plan Phoenix, in which more than 18,000 people have been arrested and nearly 5,000 guns seized, according to government figures. “We don’t know if these Mexican groups are still going to want to be involved [with their Ecuadorian partners] because this obviously affects their business and it affects shipping, it affects the flow of money,” she says. For now the bloodshed goes on. After a lull in the weeks after Noboa declared a 90-day state of emergency in January, there has been a rise in violence with scores of killings over Easter, including a massacre during a game of volleyball in Guayaquil in which 10 people were killed. As he tours Socio Vivienda, one of the poor Guayaquil communities controlled by another of Noboa’s targets – the leader of the Los Tiguerones (The Tigers) gang, nicknamed Commander Willy – a local police officer, Jorge Alexander Masache Novillo, 29, urges European drug users to think about the impact of their habit. “They need to understand the damage their consumption is causing and the damage they are doing to our country,” he says. _______________________________ A New Chinese Megaport in South America Is Rattling the U.S. Ryan Dubé and James T. Areddy. Wall Street Journal. June 12, 2024 CHANCAY, Peru—In this serene town on South America’s Pacific coast, China is building a megaport that could challenge U.S. influence in a resource-rich region that Washington has long considered its backyard. The Chancay deep-water port, rising here among pelicans and fishermen in small wooden boats, is important enough to Beijing that Chinese leader Xi Jinping is expected to inaugurate it at the end of the year in his first trip to the continent since the pandemic. Majority-owned by the giant China Ocean Shipping group, known as Cosco, Chancay promises to speed trade between Asia and South America, eventually benefiting customers as far away as Brazil with shorter sailing times across the Pacific for everything from blueberries to copper. As nations around the world shudder at a new flood of cheap Chinese manufactured goods, the port could open new markets for its electric vehicles and other exports. China is already the top trade partner for most of South America. The U.S. worries that China’s control over what could become South America’s first true global commercial hub will allow Beijing to further strengthen its grip over the region’s resources, deepen its influence among America’s closest neighbors and eventually plant its military nearby. “This will further make it easier for the Chinese to extract all of these resources from the region, so that should be concerning,” Army Gen. Laura Richardson, who heads the U.S. Southern Command, said last month at a Florida International University security conference. Former American officials say the project highlights a diplomatic void that the U.S. has left in Latin America as it has concentrated resources elsewhere, most recently in Ukraine and the Middle East. “This changes the game,” said Eric Farnsworth, a former high-ranking State Department diplomat who now leads the Washington office of the Council of the Americas think tank. “It really platforms China in a major new way in South America as the gateway to global markets. It is not just a commercial issue at that point, it is a strategic issue.” Located 50 miles north of Peru’s capital, Lima, the $3.5 billion port—funded by Chinese bank loans—will be the first on South America’s Pacific coast able to receive megaships because of its nearly 60 feet of depth, though other ports in the region have large container-handling capacity. That will allow companies to send cargo on those vessels directly between Peru and China rather than on smaller ships that must go first to Mexico or California. Cosco says Chancay is purely intended to boost commerce. A mile-long Chinese-built tunnel for cargo trucks will link the port with roadways that avoid the city center. “This is a commercial project to promote development,” said Gonzalo Rios, Cosco’s deputy general manager in Peru. “There is nothing to hide here.” Soon after the port was agreed to in 2019, Chinese state media gushed with predictions of Peru’s future as a hub in Chinese-South American trade and suggestions it could help Beijing with other priorities, such as a submarine cable link. “Peru could be the anchor for such a corridor not only because of its geographical location, but also because of its relations with China,” said an English-language commentary published in China Daily. Peru has brushed aside U.S. concerns. Congress in Peru, a country of 33 million that is far from any potential global conflicts, has to approve the arrival of foreign military, not a port operator. Peru’s Foreign Minister Javier González-Olaechea said that if the U.S. is concerned about China’s growing presence in Peru, then it should step up its own investments, adding that “everyone is welcome” to invest. “The United States is present almost everywhere in the world with a lot of initiatives, but not so much in Latin America,” González-Olaechea said in an interview. “It’s like a very important friend who spends little time with us.” China’s president is expected to inaugurate the Chancay port late this year. Chancay is an echo of a Cosco port in Greece in 2016 that gave China a foothold in southern Europe. Today, Chinese companies control or operate terminals at roughly 100 foreign seaports. According to AidData, a research lab at the Virginia university William & Mary, they have financed almost $30 billion of work in at least 46 countries between 2000 and 2021. Port investments have provided China diplomatic leverage with investment-hungry nations. Chinese navy ships have called at over a third of the ports its companies own or operate around the world. But the ports haven’t emerged as stealth Chinese military bases, instead playing host to ceremonial naval port calls. And the commercial cost-benefit analysis of China’s port building push won’t be known for some time, since it will take years to establish trading hubs in new markets. More immediate concerns about its ports, from debt loads in Mozambique to signs of environmental damage in Kenya, are already in evidence, along with signs in Europe that the local interests are secondary to China’s. The U.S. has discussed concerns with Peruvian officials about China’s control over vital infrastructure, including Chancay, said a former U.S. official and ex-Peruvian official with knowledge of the talks. What worries Washington is the interplay between China’s commercial companies and the government—specifically the military. Ports, and the equipment in them, can have both commercial and military uses. China’s domestic law requires its companies to consider national defense needs in their operations, which could mean providing preferential access to military vessels at port terminals, sharing potentially valuable information and otherwise supporting defense and mobilization, said Isaac Kardon, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The Americans have been somewhat asleep,” said John Youle, a prominent businessman in Peru and former U.S. diplomat. “Suddenly they’ve woken up.” That shift could be on display in mid-November when Xi is expected to be in Peru for an Asia-Pacific summit. Whether or not President Biden attends the summit—scheduled shortly after November’s election—the Chinese leader is likely to steal the show with a project designed to strengthen Beijing’s influence in the Western Hemisphere. The port has put Peru squarely in the middle of the rivalry between the two superpowers in South America. Brazil, Latin America’s biggest economy, wants to develop semiconductors with China after rebuffing U.S. requests to exclude Huawei Technologies from 5G networks. Chinese companies are building a metro in Colombia’s capital, Bogotá. Honduras cut ties with Taiwan, hoping to receive a flood of Chinese investments. And in Argentina, China is buying up lithium mines, an essential component in EVs. Peru has welcomed Chinese investments in everything from ports to copper mining and electricity, which will give China firms control over virtually all of Lima’s power distribution. “Peru is further increasing its economic dependency on China and making itself vulnerable to potential Chinese economic coercion,” said Leland Lazarus, an expert on China-Latin America relations at Florida International University. Port investments have provided China diplomatic leverage with investment-hungry nations. Peru is ranked fifth among the most China-influenced nations in the world, according to an indicator produced by two organizations critical of Beijing, Doublethink Lab and China in the World Network. Chinese-made vehicles are ubiquitous in the country. In the capital’s leafy Miraflores neighborhood, not far from a park named after John F. Kennedy, local authorities inaugurated a so-called China Park overlooking the Pacific, with a pergola and lion statues brought from China to celebrate the deepening ties. At the port, where there are signs in Spanish and Chinese, a mile-long tunnel will give cargo trucks access without going through the town. Automated cranes and driverless vehicles will move cargo onto some of the world’s biggest shipping vessels, ships as long as the Empire State Building is high. The construction of Chancay brought so much noise and shaking to a once sleepy fishing community that locals blamed it for cracks in the walls of their homes, the collapse of a road and the decline of the area’s fisheries. Cosco says it has repaired homes and the road and worked to mitigate the impact on fishermen. “Fishing isn’t what it was before,” said Hugo Pasache, a Chancay fisherman. “In a year, I’ll sell everything and do something else.” Daniel Bustamante expects the port will open new Asian markets for the blueberries and avocados he grows on Peru’s coast and that he now mostly ships to Europe and the U.S. The current shipping routes between Peru and China—about 35 days—take too long for most perishable foods to reach markets. Chancay will help cut that time by a third, reducing business costs. “This will be a window into Asia,” said Bustamante. “Our expectation is to be able to grow a lot in that market.” Particularly tantalizing for China is getting Brazil to use the port. Since China overtook the U.S. to become Brazil’s biggest trading partner in 2009, one major obstacle remains: Brazil faces the wrong ocean. Shipping exports to China, which now buys some two-thirds of Brazil’s iron ore and soybeans, involves either going east via the Atlantic or north to access the Pacific via the Panama Canal. With Chancay, Brazilian exporters as far away as the jungle city of Manaus could cut their shipping time to China by half, says Omar Narrea, an economist at Peru’s University of the Pacific. But reaching a port on the other side of the Amazon rainforest and Andean mountains remains a major challenge. Peru has one highway in its far south connecting to Brazil and says new highways and railways connecting to Chancay are on the drawing board. “This is the kind of project where everyone wins,” Brazilian Transport Minister Renan Filho said. “But some parts are extremely complex.” _______________________________ Bolivian President outlines scope of partnership with Russia Mercopress. June 12, 2024 Bolivian President Luis Arce Catacora reviewed with his Russian colleague Vladimir Putin the joint lithium and nuclear projects with which the South American country consolidates its position from a geopolitical and strategic viewpoint given the presence of Iranian facilities and equipment. Arce told reporters in La Paz Tuesday that all these matters were discussed during his recent meeting with the Russian leader in St. Petersburg on the occasion of the International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in the former imperial capital. According to Arce, the project involving Russia's Uranium One company regarding direct lithium extraction in Bolivian salt flats “must start operating in 2025” while that company and the state-owned Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos (YLB) “are going to take all the necessary measures to achieve this.” The same will happen in the case of the Center for Research and Development in Nuclear Technology (CIDNTN) set up in the city of El Alto, neighboring La Paz, and whose operation contemplates three phases, the president recalled. The first phase was the nuclear medicine and radiotherapy center inaugurated in 2022 and the second, the irradiation center for seed improvement and pest control launched last year, Arce also explained. “These are the two stages that are complete and we have the third stage, which is the tempering of the nuclear reactor. Undoubtedly this is the most delicate and the longest. And we have also agreed with President Vladimir Putin that this project will be completed by June 2025,” he added. Hence, the entire nuclear complex is expected to be “fully operational by the middle of next year.” Other agreements reached between Arce and Putin include Russian support for Bolivia's purchase of liquid hydrocarbons to ensure domestic supply, and the expansion of the South American nation's export “commercial base” to the Russian market with products such as coffee, pineapple, quinoa, heart of palm and chocolate, among others. Arce also pointed out that Russia was willing to supply medicines to Bolivia. Moscow also offered scholarships for Bolivians wanting to study in that country, including a year to learn the language while teachers from the University of St. Petersburg are to work at the Bolivian state language institute to further develop these allignments. Cooperation with Russia will also reach sports to improve the performance of Bolivian athletes, Arce also explained. During his participation at the St. Petersburg forum, Arce spoke about the so-called “Social Community Productive Economic Model” he developed with other leftist economists to be implemented in Bolivia under the ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS). With this model, Bolivia was “showing the world” that it is possible to have economic development and “reduction of poverty and inequalities” in an adverse world context. Bolivia and Russia have a strong political affinity that has even led the South American country to abstain from voting in the United Nations resolutions regarding the condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. _______________________________ Bolivia Deploys Military to Gas Stations Amid Fuel Shortage Sergio Mendoza. Bloomberg. June 12, 2024 Bolivia is sending its military to gas stations in a bid to curb the smuggling of subsidized fuel that, according to the government, is causing gasoline and diesel shortages across the country. Soldiers will make sure that only vehicles registered in a digital system are allowed to fill up their tanks, Deputy Civil Defense Juan Carlos Calvimontes said on Wednesday. Protests against fuel as well as dollar shortages have been growing louder in the Andean nation, with trucker unions threatening road blockades if the situation persists. Bolivia has been struggling with falling oil production and a chronic lack of foreign currency that make it increasingly difficult for the government of leftist President Luis Arce to import the fuel that’s sold domestically at below-cost prices. “We have instructed the Armed Forces to assist in the fuel supply,” Arce told reporters Tuesday night. “Much of the current excess demand is due to fuel being diverted.” The president said he will meet with truck drivers over the weekend in a bid to appease them. A group of street vendors is also marching toward La Paz with similar demands. It is expected to arrive by Monday. Falling oil production has forced the country to import 56% of the gasoline and 85% of the diesel it consumes, according to Arce. The president has also sought to import oil from Russia during a recent visit to Moscow. MEXICO, CENTRAL AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN [CONTENTS] The US Must Own Up to Its Human Rights Crimes in El Salvador LORENA VALLE CUÉLLAR. Jacobin. June 12, 2024 On July 28, 1982, three people were illegally captured and violently disappeared by Salvadoran military and state security agents: Patricia Emilie Cuéllar Sandoval, a US and Salvadoran citizen; her father Mauricio Cuéllar; and Julia Orbelina Pérez, a household worker in the Cuéllars’ home. Had Patricia survived the dictatorship, she would have been my aunt. Forty-two years after their disappearance, our families still have no answers as to their whereabouts or the location of their remains. All we have left to remember them is their names, along with those of twenty-five thousand other victims of the armed conflict, in the Monument to Memory and Truth in San Salvador. Like thousands of Salvadoran families, for decades, the family of Julia Orbelina and our own have sought truth and justice without finding answers in the Salvadoran judicial system. Finally in 2024, after a lengthy and arduous judicial process, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) declared the Salvadoran state responsible for the forced disappearances of Patricia, Mauricio, and Julia Orbelina Pérez. The IACHR ruling marks a crucial milestone on the road toward justice in cases of forced disappearances during the civil war. Nevertheless, the Salvadoran state’s policy of impunity persists as President Nayib Bukele’s government denies the history of civil war, refuses a transitional justice law for the victims, and blocks investigations related to war crimes by the military. The United States is also guilty of contributing to this culture of impunity. The US government, which played a role in and condoned the atrocities committed during the military dictatorship, is withholding crucial information that could offer additional insight into the case. Where are Patricia, Mauricio, and Julia Orbelina? Patricia Emilie Cuéllar Sandoval was born in the United States in 1958 to Salvadoran parents, who later relocated to El Salvador. Patricia was actively engaged in Catholic youth movements and basic ecclesial communities, grassroots organizations linked to the Catholic Church. She worked as a human rights defender at Socorro Jurídico Cristiano, an organization founded by Jesuit priest Segundo Montes and closely supported by Moseñor Óscar Romero. These activities were deemed reasons to label Patricia as a subversive and communist, and, as a result, she was disappeared and possibly tortured, raped, and murdered by the repressive forces of the Salvadoran state. Years before the disappearance, Patricia and her family were subjected to military operations that involved several raids in their homes, interrogations, persecution, and intimidation by both military and state security agents. Just days before her violent detention and disappearance, Patricia informed the offices of Socorro Jurídico Cristiano that she had been followed by police officers dressed in civilian clothes. In the afternoon of July 28, 1982, a group of members of the army and Salvadoran state security agents intercepted and illegally captured Patricia. Alerts that something had happened to her were raised when she failed to pick up her children from kindergarten that afternoon. That same night, between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m., another combined group of about ten military and security forces raided the home of Patricia’s father, Mauricio Cuéllar, in San Salvador. After ransacking his house and retrieving documents and belongings, they violently took him and Julia Orbelina Pérez, who was working as a housekeeper in the Cuéllar home. The case of Patricia, Mauricio, and Julia Orbelina is one of thousands of cases of forced disappearances and human rights violations committed by state forces during the civil war in El Salvador. Patricia’s case, in particular, is an example of the systemic practices of persecution and political violence exercised by state security forces and death squads that at the time acted in a joint and coordinated manner, with the protection and tolerance of the Salvadoran state. The El Salvadoran state is not solely accountable for the thousands of cases of human rights violations during the war. For decades, different US administrations trained, advised, funded, and supported the military dictatorship in El Salvador as part of their counterinsurgency strategy aimed at hindering the spread of communism and maintaining political hegemony in Latin America. For instance, the School of the Americas, created by the United States in 1946, was instrumental in indoctrinating military forces in the region with an anti-communist agenda. Thousands of security and military agents involved in death squads and emblematic cases of human rights violations during the war were trained in this institution. Also, from 1980 to 1992, the United States spent billions of dollars in military aid and economic assistance to support the dirty war in El Salvador. With the money, training, and complicity of the United States, the repressive forces of the Salvadoran state kidnapped, disappeared, tortured, raped, and murdered thousands of people for political reasons, including Patricia, Mauricio, and Julia Orbelina. These crimes have left a lasting impact on Salvadoran society, resulting in persistent migration waves to the United States as the country struggles to address the wounds of the war. IACHR Court Ruling: 42 Years Seeking Justice and Fighting Against Impunity For twenty years, Patricia, Mauricio, and Julia Orbelina’s families sought justice from El Salvador’s legal system without success. In 2004, they took their case to the IACHR in Washington, DC, and after a long legal process, the IACHR scheduled a hearing for November 2023. On May 16, 2024, the IACHR found the El Salvadoran state responsible for the forced disappearances of Patricia, Mauricio, and Julia Orbelina, bringing a glimpse of justice and hope to their families and victims of the armed conflict in El Salvador. The court also concluded that the disappearance of Patricia constituted a violation of the right to defend human rights, which sets a significant precedent in a context where the Bukele-led government is, once again, committing grave human rights violations and criminalizing human rights defenders and organizations. The US government, which has never admitted to or publicly acknowledged its involvement in the atrocities committed during El Salvador’s civil war, is also accountable and owes explanations to the families of Patricia, Mauricio, and Julia Orbelina. Francisco Álvarez, Patricia’s husband, disclosed during his testimony before the IACHR that he discovered approximately twenty thousand declassified and digitized CIA documents, which named Patricia, during a visit to the National Security Archive in Washington, DC. These documents show that the CIA, FBI, and US State Department conducted confidential investigations into her disappearance. In one of the documents dating from November 1983, the State Department alleges that Patricia was murdered, and years later her name would be included on a commemorative plaque at the US Embassy in San Salvador, In Memory of Those Americans Who Lost Their Lives in El Salvador. However, much of the crucial information about the case in the documents discovered by Álvarez is redacted, and despite his request for the release of the uncensored documents four years ago, the US government has not responded, perpetuating its habit of involvement and concealment of notable cases of human rights violations, such as the El Mozote massacre or the assassination of the US Maryknoll nuns. In his testimony before the IACHR in November 2023, Álvarez stated: I would ask the court to urge the US agencies involved at that time in the investigation to release the information and contribute to the clarification of the truth. For us, the families of the victims, the fundamental thing is to put an end to impunity and to know where our dead are. Statements are not enough, a monument is not enough. As I write this piece, I think of Patricia and the new authoritarian government in El Salvador, which continues to violate human rights and persecute those who defend them — mirroring the practices of the 1980s — and which has decided to uphold a policy of impunity for war crimes. To break this historical cycle of impunity for the case of Patricia, Mauricio, and Julia Orbelina, as well as thousands of others, the US government can play a vital role by releasing the unretracted archives related to Patricia’s case and initiating the declassification process for all other archives that could shed further light on the crimes committed by the Salvadoran military dictatorship. This includes information on who was responsible for these crimes and what happened to many of the victims. It is the US government’s historical duty and moral responsibility to the victims and their families to take action. _______________________________ Russian Warships Enter Havana Harbor as Part of Planned Exercises Eve Sampson. New York Times. June 12, 2024 Russian warships arrived in Cuban waters on Wednesday as part of planned military exercises that experts say were a symbolic show of strength in reaction to continued U.S. support for Ukraine, and a reflection of growing ties between Russia and Cuba. The four-vessel group poses no real threat, U.S. officials said, despite tensions between the United States and Russia over the Ukraine war. The group includes the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan and the frigate Admiral Gorshkov, and contains no nuclear weapons, according to Cuban officials. The warships, which performed military exercises before their arrival in the Caribbean, will remain in Havana until June 17 while the crew meets officials and visits cultural and historical sites, according to Cuba’s foreign ministry. Capable of engaging in surface warfare, using land attack missiles and defending against maritime and aircraft attacks, the Admiral Gorshkov flew both Cuban and Russian flags, according to news reports, and was greeted with a 21-gun salute as it sailed into Havana Harbor. The Kazan was expected to follow, lurking below the surface. Are the Russian ships a cause for alarm? The U.S. Department of Defense considers the ships’ arrival routine activity that represents no threat to the United States, a spokeswoman said. The department has been monitoring the progress of the ships in the Atlantic Ocean, she added. On the voyage to Havana, crews on the warships carrying hypersonic missiles practiced locating targets, and using high-powered precision missiles to simulate destroying those targets, at distances of over 600 kilometers, or more than 350 miles, according to Russia’s Ministry of Defense. Though it may cause discomfort to the United States and other allied nations, Russia is breaking no international laws by voyaging through the Caribbean, experts said. “They’re operating in international waters, which they have every right to do,” said Samuel Cox, a retired rear admiral in the U.S. Navy. “We do the same.” “They’re using a routine deployment to make a statement that they are operationally relevant beyond their own waters,” he said. How often have Russian warships been to Cuba? Russian ships have traveled to the Caribbean before, including visits to Cuba and the Venezuelan coast in 2008 for planned exercises with the Venezuelan navy, and near Cuba, in 2015. Cuba and Russia have historically been friendly. Though Cuba is not a key player in Russian foreign policy, the island is important because “Cuban friendship offers Russia entry to the Global South, where Cuba remains respected and influential,” said William M. LeoGrande, an expert on Cuban affairs at American University in Washington. In 1962 the threat of nuclear catastrophe reached an all-time high during the Cold War when the Soviet Union answered the American installation of missiles in Turkey with its own deployment of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in Cuba, igniting a 13-day standoff known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Crisis was averted when the Soviet Union removed the missiles, but Cuba and Russia have maintained close ties. Does timing matter? The rift between Russia and the United States has deepened recently with President Biden’s authorization for Ukraine to use American-supplied weapons for limited strikes inside Russia, reversing what had been the administration’s longstanding policy. Still, experts did not read much into the maritime voyage. Though the show of force likely is a reaction to continued U.S. support for Ukraine, Mr. LeoGrande called the visit largely “symbolic,” an opportunity for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to wave his country’s flag “in the U.S. sphere of influence.” The exercise serves, Mr. LeoGrande said, “as a reminder that Russia, too, can project its military power globally.” alt_text The Latin America News Round-up is a daily email digest featuring a free compilation of articles with the latest English language news on economic and political developments in Latin America. The newsletter is produced by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), and is aimed at educating people on current trends and what policies will best improve the quality of life for Latin Americans. You can subscribe to the Latin America News Round-up and other CEPR updates here. The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) is an independent, nonpartisan think tank that was established to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. CEPR was co-founded by economists Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot in 1999. CEPR's Advisory Board includes Nobel Laureate economists Robert Solow and Joseph Stiglitz; Janet Gornick, Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and Director of the Luxembourg Income Study; and Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics at Harvard University. 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