Summit of the Americas weak on corruption (April 16, 2018)

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  • Latin American leaders promised to take on corruption on Saturday at the eight Summit of the Americas, held in Lima. (See last Friday’s and Thursday’s posts.) The joint declaration signed by all participants includes 57 action points aimed at preventing future corruption. But many of the governments represented at the summit are facing significant allegations of graft, and experts were skeptical that the agreement would lead to any real change, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Venezuelan crisis dominated the Summit, but faces Latin American leaders with a conundrum: how to oppose an increasingly authoritarian government in a region allergic to intervening in each other’s internal affairs, reports the New York Times. Sixteen of the 33 participating nations issued a side statement calling on Venezuela to hold free and transparent elections and allow international aid to the enter the country. But again, the statement didn’t differ significantly from previous statements from the mostly conservative-governed countries that signed on, notes the Associated Press.
  • U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with Venezuelan opposition leaders on Friday and promised a contribution of an additional $16 million in humanitarian aid for people fleeing Venezuela, reports the Washington Post.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales made a pit stop in Caracas to give embattled President Nicolás Maduro a rare show of international support, reports AFP.
  • Corruption headlines in Latin America have reached a fever pitch, leading the New York Times to ask: “In a region where graft is so entrenched, who will be left to govern if the swamp is fully drained?
  • In the wake of the corruption scandals rocking the region’s political establishments, it is worth asking if the push against graft is weakening democratic institutions rather than strengthening them, writes Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times op-ed. He points to the jailing of Brazilian presidential frontrunner, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the resignation of Peruvian Pedro Pablo Kuczynski as potential examples of this vision. But “no matter the inconveniences and dangers of the anticorruption strategy currently employed in the region, they are preferable to the alternative: an intolerable status quo,” he writes.
  • Reforming regulation on how political parties and campaigns are financed is key in targeting corruption, says former Peruvian prime minister Juan Jiménez and former head of the OAS backed international anti-corruption commission in Honduras, reports Univisión.
News Briefs
  • Mexico’s Congress will regulate government spending on advertising. But critics say the legislation is insufficient to control a system in which government officials have substantial impact on news reporting, according to the New York Times. Last year the Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to regulate official advertising spending so that it is distributed in an unbiased way. The court’s decision responded to a case brought by Article 19, which sued the government over its ad-spending practices. But instead of promoting equitable distribution of ad spending, the bill legalizes discretionary spending, say critics, including Jan Jarab, the Mexico representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Peña Nieto administration spent more than twice its budget in 2016 on public-service ads, according to Fundar, a transparency group that examines government data.
  • Trump’s harsh rhetoric regarding Mexico could endanger a number of security oriented joint initiatives between the U.S. and Mexico, including efforts to pinpoint poppy and heroin production, reports the Washington Post.
  • A pending Supreme Court ruling could free Lula imminently. Justices are set to revisit a 2016 decision that allowed defendants to be jailed if their graft convictions were upheld on a first appeal. It is that decision that sent Lula to jail 10 days ago. Critics say the decision denies defendants the constitutional right to exhaust the appeals process before being jailed. And several justices say they would overturn the ruling, reports Reuters. But a reversal would deal an important blow to anti-corruption efforts in Brazil, say some experts. (See the issue of ADC’s discussed in April 5’s post.)
  • Even jail isn’t enough to deter Lula’s voters. A new poll released Sunday by the Datafolha institute found that 30 percent of voters would still back him, and two-thirds of his supporters would vote for whoever he endorses if he can’t run, reports the Associated Press. The poll also found that 54 percent of Brazilians consider Da Silva’s arrest to be fair, while 40 percent disagree. Six percent did not respond.
  • Brazil’s attorney general Raquel Dodge charged lawmaker Jair Bolsonaro for inciting hatred and discrimination against blacks, indigenous communities, women and gays. The far-right firebrand presidential candidate has been running second place in polls for October’s election. If convicted, Bolsonaro could face up to three years in prison and a $117,000 fine, reports the New York Times. The charging document notes several passages from a speech Bolsonaro gave last year in Rio de Janeiro, in which he spoke disparagingly of traditional Afro-Brazilian communities, women, and gay people. Dodge also charged Bolsonaro’s son, also a lawmaker, with threatening a journalist. However, both Bolsonaro’s are protected by parliamentary immunity, which means they can only be tried by the Supreme Court. The highest court has a long backlog of cases, making it unlikely they will be tried before the election.
  • Guatemalan prosecutors and the CICIG complained that information leaks thwarted several corruption related arrests. On Friday police and prosecutors were ready to arrest seven people linked to a Social Security corruption scandal, but four were out of the country and three were alerted ahead of time with phone calls. It is the first time the operations coordinated between the Public Ministry and the U.N. backed international commission have suffered information leaks, reports Reuters.
  • Womens rights campaigners in Argentina are celebrating a bill that would legalize abortion within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. If the legislation passes Congress, Argentina would become the most populous country in Latin America to allow women to terminate pregnancies — in contrast to most of the region which has strict limitations. The New York Times reports on how the momentum behind the proposal is a direct outgrowth of anti-femicide and gender violence campaigns, notably “Ni Una Menos.”
  • Indeed, the region’s draconian abortion policies have resulted in thousands of needless deaths, said Amnesty International’s secretary general, Salil Shetty after meeting with Argentina’s president. “The criminalization of abortion is an extreme form of violence against women. It doesn’t reduce abortions – it just makes them unsafe,” Shetty told the Guardian. He also warned that political polarization, economic decline and a growing disenchantment with democracy has led to a crisis of human rights across the region.
  • Latin America is traditionally a Catholic bastion, and is home to 40 percent of the religion’s faithful. But Evangelical churches are increasingly impacting on politics in the region, and have pushed back against attempts to liberalize abortion restrictions and legalize gay marriage, reports El País.
  • And Evangelical churches are not immune to the corruption plague, reports the Washington Post. Though many grass-roots churches are credited for filling in for insufficient state efforts, in some cases”the faithful have been exploited by some leaders, who may take advantage of religious-freedom laws to hide illicit activity.”
  • Laws prohibiting gay sex between consenting men were found unconstitutional by a Trinidad and Tobago court, paving the road for decriminalization and similar decisions elsewhere in the Caribbean, reports Reuters.
  • Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno confirmed that three kidnapped people were killed by a dissident FARC group operating near the Colombian border, reports the New York Times.
  • A journalist working for El Salvador’s La Prensa Gráfica group was kidnapped and killed this weekend, reports the Associated Press.
  • Caribbean Commonwealth countries are calling for a new international system of relief for natural disasters. In a letter to the Guardian Keith Mitchell Prime minister of Grenada and Gaston Browne Prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda note that “The growing severity of hurricanes in the Caribbean is related to climate change, a major global threat primarily caused by countries far richer and larger than our own. … We should not have to bear these extra costs ourselves through climate risk insurance.”
  • Panama is considering building a passenger train to Costa Rica with China, a project that would require an initial investment of $5 billion, reports Reuters.
  • “Anglicismos,” usage of English words or phrases in Spanish, are common but sporadic in much of the hispanic speaking world. Not in the U.S. though, where Spanglish is a force to be reckoned with, writes Ilan Stavans in a New York Times Español op-ed. “Here Spanish lives cannabilizing English, reconfiguring and reinventing itself, even as it breaks its syntactic structure. Establishing what is a hispanism and what is an anglicism is a byzantine labor. … Today we live in a world in which migrations are unceasing and languages enrich and stop pertaining to one side or another of the border. Marginalizing words, like anglicisms, doesn’t make sense: they are words that are used in the streets in all of America.”
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