Thursday, August 30, 2012

'Anti-Terrorism' Bill Sparks Controversy in Peru

While activists generally point to the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela as the worst threats to freedom of speech in the region, Peru may soon join that list. On Tuesday, the administration of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala introduced a new anti-terrorism bill to Congress which is bound to raise a few red flags. If passed into law, the bill would mandate a four to eight year prison sentence for those who “publicly approve of, justify, deny or minimize the acts of terrorist organizations.”

Administration officials say the bill is necessary to combat the political work of Shining Path rebels. Although the guerrilla group today bears little resemblance to the peasant army that controlled large swaths of Peru in the late 1980s, it has proven difficult to eliminate entirely.

But the proposal has generated controversy, with critics pointing out that it could have serious consequences for freedom of expression in the country. Sociologist Carlos Tapia, a former member of Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and early advisor to the Humala administration, told RPP News that he saw the bill as "useless, clumsy and above all dangerous to freedom of the press and opinion." Opposition congressman Javier Díez Canseco criticized it as “poorly thought out,” because it does not address those who justify human rights abuses committed by the state during the bloodiest years of the country’s internal conflict.

Humala’s own vice president, Congresswoman Marisol Espinoza, distanced herself from the bill before it was even submitted to Congress. On Monday Espinoza called for a wider discussion of the proposition, saying that it is “dangerous” and could potentially be used for political purposes.

The administration has stood by the bill despite this criticism, however. On Tuesday recently-appointed cabinet chief Juan Jiménez, himself a former human rights lawyer, insisted that it posed no danger to Peruvian society and urged lawmakers not to criticize the proposal before reading it.

Peruvian Ombudsman Eduardo Vega Luna has announced that his office will review the bill for any potential human rights violations.

News Briefs
  • After initially downplaying reports of riot police forcing detained student protesters to strip naked, the Chilean government has announced that it will discipline four police officers implicated in the incident, according to La Nacion. Police Chief Gustavo González said that the officers in question will face administrative sanctions for their actions, but said nothing about legal charges.
  • One of the largest public workers’ strikes that Brazil has ever seen has mostly come to an end. Reuters reports that some 90 percent of the public workforce on strike, which have been protesting since May, accepted the “tough terms” offered by President Dilma Rousseff.  These terms amount to a 15.8 percent pay raise, which the news agency claims will barely cover the predicted inflation during that time. The government will continue negotiating with the unions still on strike, which include those representing federal police, central bank and tax authorities. The BBC notes that Rousseff’s handling of the strike may have damaged the historically strong relationship between her ruling Workers’ Party and trade unions at a particularly vulnerable time, with municipal elections coming up in October.
  • President Rousseff signed a bill into law on Wednesday which will reserve at least half of the places in state universities for applicants from public secondary schools, in an effort to boost the number of black, indigenous and mestizo college graduates in the country. The affirmative action bill was finally passed by the Senate earlier this month after 13 years of debate, but has been controversial amongst Brazilians across the political spectrum, as The Economist pointed out in January.
  • The L.A. Times has a withering critique of police reform efforts in the last six years under Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Most Mexicans, the paper reports, believe that “Calderon's new and improved federal police force is just more of the same.”  Last week’s shooting of two US officials in the country (believed to be CIA agents) at the hands of federal police is only the latest of many examples of the shortcomings of security forces in the country, illustrating the colossal task awaiting incoming president Enrique Peña Nieto.
  • Colombia’s RCN Radio gained access to the text of the preliminary agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government to hold future peace talks. The agreement centers around six points: guarantees of rural development, participation in democratic institutions, demobilization, addressing the problem of drug trafficking, reparation to victims and implementation. It also reveals that official dialogue between the rebels and the government began in February of this year, despite President Juan Manuel Santos’ repeated denials of secret talks.
  • Indigenous rights advocacy group Survival International has received reports that a community of some 80 members of the Yanomami tribe based in a remote part of the Venezuelan Amazon were massacred by gold miners in July. The only remains of the victims, according to witnesses who visited the area after the incident, were “charred bodies and bones.”
  • The Miami Herald speculates on whether a series of recent disasters (prison riots, a collapsed bridge and a deadly explosion at the country’s largest oil refinery) will affect the re-election prospects for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
  • AP reports that Mexico’s Federal Electoral Tribunal has heard all of the challenges to the results of the July 1st  presidential election, and will issue a ruling on the matter by Friday.

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