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Haiti amid “humanitarian catastrophe,” says UN representative

Lucas Berti
Sep 29, 2022 10:29

The UN Special Representative for Haiti, Helen La Lime, told the organization’s Security Council on Monday that the Caribbean nation is beyond what she called a “humanitarian catastrophe,” caused by a combination of crises in the economic, security, and political sectors. 

“We must not lose hope, but rather combine our efforts to find a pathway to a better tomorrow,” said Ms. La Lime, urging the Council to mobilize “urgent measures” to support Haitians. The speech came a few days before a draft resolution is expected to be issued by the U.S. and Mexico on ways to address these challenges.

Latin America’s poorest nation, Haiti has been in turmoil since the unsolved assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. Since then, Haitian cities have been overtaken by gang violence, which has driven “more than 20,000 people from their homes,” UN data shows. 

The UN also reports that soaring gender-based violence has been impacting up to 1.5 million Haitians, with rape “being used systematically.” 

The country is also haunted by food insecurity, especially as increasing violence has  “severely trimmed humanitarian access,” says Deputy Executive Director at the World Food Programme Valerie N. Guarnieri. It is reported that UN agency storehouses have lost supplies to feed 200,000 people after recent looting.

“We expect food security to further deteriorate this year,” Ms. Guarnieri said, projecting a record of up to 4.5 million Haitians to face acute malnutrition soon.

S&P Global Ratings: Economic storm to hit Latin America as early as Q4

Fabiane Ziolla Menezes
Sep 27, 2022 16:44 (Updated: Sep 27, 2022 16:45)

While most of the major Latin American economies performed better than expected in 2022, S&P Global Ratings predicts a shift towards low-trend growth by year-end and into 2023, “as more challenging external dynamics weaken exports and waning confidence takes a toll on domestic demand.”

That is the assessment of the leading economist of the credit rating agency’s research division for the region, Elijah Oliveros-Rosen. “We now project Latin America (six major economies) to expand by 0.9 percent in 2023, compared with our previous 1.8 percent assumption,” writes Mr. Oliveros-Rosen, for whom the uncertainty over the trajectory of the U.S. economy in the first half of next year is a major concern.

For 2022, S&P has revised its GDP growth forecast for Latin America up to 2.8 percent, from 2.0 percent previously. This result was mainly driven by resilient growth in domestic demand and an export boost, especially in food and energy-related commodities.

By the end of the year, however, the scenario will be different. By then, the effects of the monetary tightening policies around the region will have kicked in. Moreover, central banks in the region’s major economies will not lower benchmark interest rates until the second quarter of 2023.

And even when rates start to fall, it will be at a more gradual pace than usual because of the U.S. tightening.

Also, inflation is expected to remain high for some time as higher energy and food prices are passed through to core prices, especially those in the services sectors. 

“We believe (Y-o-Y) inflation already peaked in Brazil (Q2 2022); will peak in the current quarter (Q3 2022) in Chile, Mexico, and Peru; in Colombia, it will reach its highest point in Q4 2022; and in Argentina, it will peak in the first quarter of 2023,” says Mr. Oliveros-Rosen.

While developed countries had enough fiscal space to delay the withdrawal of stimulus measures as much as possible and make an effort to put the supply-demand relationship back on track post-pandemic, emerging economies were forced to ratchet up interest rates to counter soaring prices. 

Low investment and a fragile fiscal situation have become constant structural challenges for Latin America over the last decade, which led the region to grow much less than other emerging markets and the rest of the world.

Both domestic demand and exports are expected to fall below 2022 levels next year. “One notable exception is Colombian thermal coal, which has been surging, arguably partly resulting from concerns over energy shortages in Europe. Colombian coal exports to Europe have doubled since the onset of the Russia-Ukraine crisis,” notes Mr. Oliveros-Rosen. 

Only in 2024 would Latin America head back towards consistent growth, with S&P projecting 2.2 percent expansion.

Petro faces first street protests since taking office

Ignacio Portes
Sep 27, 2022 10:24

Elected in June and sworn in a month later, Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro is still in his honeymoon period, with two-thirds of the population backing him. However, the first signs of adversity have emerged, with his administration facing sizable protests yesterday against Mr. Petro’s first reform package. 

A bid to overhaul the tax system would raise taxes on individuals’ wealth and personal income, as well as exports such as coal and oil, part of a plan to expand the country’s welfare state as well as contain its worrying fiscal deficit.

But protest leader Pierre Onzaga claims he is fighting Mr. Petro’s “pre-dictatorial” reforms, arguing that a simultaneous plan to reform the country’s electoral system could hand the government power to go after the opposition’s political rights.

Mr. Petro responded by saying his critics’ “rights to freely express themselves will always be respected,” but that his government will also “have the right to inform in response to misinformation.”

Mr. Petro is the first left-winger to be elected president in Colombian history, and is facing pushback from a part of the population. He will meet with former president Álvaro Uribe today, whom most analysts see as the real leader of Colombia’s political right.

This will be the second Uribe-Petro meeting after a decades-long rivalry, with the leaders accusing each other of promoting or tolerating paramilitary and guerrilla violence, respectively.

According to Colombian media, Mr. Petro’s reform agenda will be at the center of discussions, with Mr. Petro looking to gain centrist credibility while Mr. Uribe tries to rebuild his image after a historic electoral defeat.

Reopening of Bolívar Bridge marks new era in Colombia-Venezuela relations

Ignacio Portes
Sep 26, 2022 19:53 (Updated: Sep 26, 2022 20:02)

Colombia and Venezuela took a big step towards the normalization of bilateral relations on Monday, after the conflictive border crossing across the Táchira River was reopened for trade amid a big display of rapprochement from both nations — although with the notable absence of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

His recently-elected Colombian counterpart Gustavo Petro was joined by Venezuela’s Ambassador to Colombia, Félix Plasencia, and Táchira Governor Freddy Bernal, who all witnessed the passage of two trucks, one from each side of the border, over the Simón Bolívar International Bridge.

“We stood by our word. I hope the opening of the border foreshadows a future of prosperity for Colombia, Venezuela, and all of America,” said Mr. Petro, who promised to normalize relations during his campaign.

The presence of both presidents was a matter of speculation over the last few days, but the two sides wanted to downplay the event somewhat, as a Petro-Maduro photo-op would have sparked too much controversy for the young Petro administration.

Mr. Petro is not just the first openly left-wing president in Colombia’s history, he also came to power after two decades of fierce rivalry between Colombia’s right-wing administrations and the authoritarian leftist regime now led by Mr. Maduro in Venezuela.

Colombia’s border city of Cúcuta and Venezuela’s Táchira state were often at the center of conflict, as the Bolívar bridge was used by Venezuelan migrants to escape the country’s economic crisis, as well as by smugglers looking to bypass bans on trade or get hold of some hard cash to combat hyperinflation.

Traffic through the border had been closed since 2015, after Venezuela denounced the presence of Colombian paramilitary officers on their side of the river.

In 2019, Colombia and the U.S. joined forces to organize a concert with leading Latin American artists near the border demanding it be reopened to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuela, but the efforts stalled after a truck attempting a crossing ended up being set on fire by anti-Maduro protesters.

While individuals on foot had been intermittently allowed passage during the seven-year crisis, today’s reopening is the first step in a broader agenda of border normalization that should include the passage of ambulances, public transport, and private vehicles over coming months, although the latter remains a complicated subject.

Peru declares state of emergency after Amazon oil spills

Lucas Berti
Sep 26, 2022 16:17

The government of Peru on Saturday declared a 90-day state of emergency in the Peruvian Amazon communities of Cuninico and Urarinas, two indigenous-inhabited areas whose rivers have been affected by oil spills. Official information shows that the zones are home to some 2,500 native individuals who depend on artisanal fishing.

The decision comes less than a fortnight after a rupture was reported in the Petroperú-controlled Norperuano Pipeline (ONP, in Spanish), a 40-year-old construction that is 1,106 kilometers long and takes oil from the Northeastern department of Loreto to the Pacific coastal port of Bayóvar, in the Piura province.  

It is estimated that about 2,500 barrels of crude oil were spilled into local rivers as of this week, affecting at least six indigenous communities of the Kukumas ethnicity. According to state-owned Petroperú, the accident was caused by an intentional 21-centimeter-long cut in the pipes, the 11th “attack” suffered by the structure since January. 

Peru’s National Society of Mining, Petroleum, and Energy (SNMPE) says the Norperuano Pipeline has been the target of at least 29 acts of sabotage since 2014. Peruvian special environment prosecutors have already opened a new investigation.

As The Brazilian Report has previously explained, the 782,880 square kilometers of Peruvian territory considered part of the Amazon rainforest are threatened by climate change.

Cubans vote in favor of same-sex marriage

Lucas Berti
Sep 26, 2022 15:14 (Updated: Sep 26, 2022 15:50)

Cuba’s electoral oversight board on Monday confirmed that a new family code, which introduces same-sex marriage in the country, was massively approved in a popular referendum held on Sunday. Almost 67 percent of voters (3.9 million people) supported the code.

The new code reforms the family law, in force since 1975, and embraces several civil rights advances for LGBTQ groups. It also bans child marriage and enacts new policies against gender violence.

Sunday’s process is also the first in which citizens were directly consulted on a specific law since Cuba’s socialist revolution triumphed in 1959.

“Starting today, we will be a better nation,” said President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Backing the new legal modifications, the president said the new code reflects “diversity.” 

He also mentioned that the approval of the family code “pays off a debt with several generations,” a reference to a shady past — during the 1960s and 1970s, LGBTQ groups were persecuted on the island and even accused of being “counterrevolutionary.”

In 2010, former leader Fidel Castro took the blame himself for the persecutions, calling them “moments of great injustice.” Nowadays, Mr. Castro’s niece Mariela Castro, president of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (Cenex), has become one of the country’s strongest voices in favor of progressive civil rights advances. 

The approval of the new code, however, faces widespread resistance among conservative groups, especially in Cuban evangelical movements. The Cuban government is also accused of committing human rights violations when it comes to political issues, reports by Human Rights Watch show. 

CNN becomes latest victim of escalating authoritarianism in Nicaragua

Lucas Berti
Sep 26, 2022 12:34 (Updated: Sep 26, 2022 16:03)

The Daniel Ortega government in Nicaragua included CNN’s Spanish-language subsidiary CNN en Español on its list of media outlets to face political censorship, the news company confirmed last week. 

CNN en Español was seen as Nicaragua’s last operating TV station critical of the Ortega government. Channel representatives complained that the administration “pulled our television signal, depriving Nicaraguans of news and information.” The government hasn’t commented on the decision. 

Far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who uses the Nicaraguan regime as a central example of his anti-left messaging, said he “doesn’t want the same to happen in Brazil.” 

The new decision follows a series of authoritarian attacks against the Nicaraguan press, a wave of repression in which journalists and media workers have been detained or arbitrarily investigated for doing their jobs. 

Last month, 95-year-old Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa was forced to exile its entire operation and work in Costa Rica. 

Pedro Vaca, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), said “censorship in Nicaragua has reached a critical point for journalism.” 

UN report: Venezuelan intelligence officials repressed dissent

Lucas Berti
Sep 23, 2022 16:30

A new report published by the UN on Tuesday highlights that Venezuelan officials, security services, and intelligence agents “committed crimes against humanity and repressed dissident” voices, in order to silence opposition efforts. It cites actions orchestrated by President Nicolas Maduro himself, as well as other “high-level individuals.” 

The new document was conducted by the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (FFMV) and mentions cases of “arbitrary arrest” since 2014 — when the country’s economic and humanitarian crisis went into full swing.

The report was based on hundreds of in-person and remote interviews and also uncovered over 77 cases of “torture, sexual violence and/or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” against people detained by both the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) and the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN), bodies that became feared repression tools under the left-wing regime. 

UN FFMV chief Marta Valiñas concludes that the Venezuelan State “relies on the intelligence services and its agents to repress dissent in the country,” he says, adding that “these practices must stop immediately, and the individuals responsible must be investigated and prosecuted in accordance with the law.”