Friday, January 10, 2014

Ecuador Investigates Indigenous Leaders Following Protests

El Universo of Ecuador reports that Deputy Energy Ministry Gustavo Donoso asked judicial officials to launch a criminal investigation into ten leaders of the country’s largest and most significant indigenous organization, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). El Comercio notes that the public prosecutor’s office has accepted the request and opened a preliminary investigation into the accused -- which include CONAIE President Humberto Cholango -- over their alleged organization of unlawful protests and threats of violence against officials.

The charges stem from environmental and indigenous demonstrations outside the 11th Oil-Licensing Round in Quito in November, in which Chile’s ambassador to Ecuador and a Belarusian businessman were swarmed and briefly assaulted by protesters. Following the incident, the government ordered the immediate closure of the Pachamama Foundation, an environmental NGO which helped promote the protests.  
Like the Pachamama Foundation staff, the CONAIE leaders argue that they had no part in the violence. Cholango maintains that, for his part, he was not even present at the protests when the assault on the officials occurred. In remarks to El Comercio, he claimed that the judicial inquiry was merely a front to “continue criminalizing indigenous leaders” in the country.

The investigation is just the latest demonstration of the government’s apparent crackdown on dissent. Spain’s El Pais has a round-up of other similar incidents that have occurred recently, including a December 26 raid on the houses of lawmaker Clever Jimenez and journalist Fernando Villavicencio. The two are leading opposition figures that have accused the government of corruption, and in turn been denounced as spies by officials. The paper also details a clash between El Universo political cartoonist Xavier Bonilla and Ecuadorean officials who object to Bonilla’s depiction of the raid.

Still, it’s worth remembering that opposition to the government of President Rafael Correa is not a static, uniform bloc, as it is often portrayed by international media. CONAIE was in fact a vocal supporter of the Ecuadorean government’s controversial media reform law passed in June, which a number of international outlets and advocacy groups condemned as a restriction of press freedom. In a statement following its passage, CONAIE praised the law’s anti-discrimination language as well as its calls for redistribution of broadcast frequencies.

News Briefs
  • Cuban ex-leader Fidel Castro made a rare public appearance in Havana on Wednesday night, his first since last April. The Washington Post and Spain’s La Vanguardia have a collection of photos of the 87 year-old’s appearance, which took place at the unveiling of a nonprofit cultural center and art gallery in Cuba’s capital. The Miami Herald reports that Castro walked with a cane, and the burly man seen hovering near the frail-looking former leader was his personal doctor.  
  • The Associated Press has an update on the U.S.-Cuba migration talks which took place in Havana yesterday. According to the news agency, Cuban officials said the talks covered a series of migratory accords reached in the 1990s in which the U.S. agreed to issue 20,000 immigrant visas a year to Cubans. However, the Cuban government maintains that special exemptions from U.S. immigration law for Cuban immigrants such as the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy are a threat to orderly migration, and should be discontinued.
  • The Financial Times’ Beyond Brics blog looks at the various border disputes with Argentina, Peru and Bolivia that Chilean President-elect Michelle Bachelet will have to deal with upon taking office, on top of the domestic reforms she is expected to announce.  
  • Americas Quarterly features two opposing views on the peace talks between Colombia’s FARC rebels and the Colombian government in Havana, Cuba. While Aldo Civico asserts that both sides have demonstrated helpful pragmatism at the negotiating table, Alfredo Rangel points to the guerrillas’ ongoing attacks and “arrogant” negotiation style as barriers to a lasting agreement.
  • After the Colombian government revoked its extradition request for alias “'Julian Conrado,” the FARC political leader and musician captured in Venezuela in 2011, Semana reports that officials in Caracas have freed him from prison, paving the way for him to join the guerrillas’ delegation at the peace talks in Havana.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a cabinet reshuffle yesterday, after declaring that his entire cabinet had offered to resign. The president named replacements to head seven civilian ministries, as well as a number of military agencies, El Nacional reports.
  • According to The Washington Post, the Mexican government has acknowledged deploying federal police to guard hospitalized Michoacan vigilante leader José Manuel Mireles, who was seriously injured in a plane crash this week. The Post points to this protection as an illustration of federal authorities’ awkward relationship with vigilante militias, which often puts it at odds with local governments.
  • Local townspeople are protesting the recent seizure of the Michoacan town of Paracuaro by vigilante “self-defense” forces, Mexico’s Excelsior reports. According to Milenio, the town’s mayor has called on the federal government to assist in forcing the withdrawal of the armed vigilante group, and the AP notes that local rumors are circulating which link the self-defense group with the New Generation cartel.
  • Following up on recent prison violence in Brazil in an op-ed for O Globo, Robert Muggah and Ilona Szabo de Carvalho of the Rio de Janeiro-based Igarape Institute argue that a “drastic change” in public attitudes is necessary for prison reform in the country. The two assert that this would hardly require the “reinvention of the judicial system,” bit could instead be complemented by a shift in drug policies and greater federal commitment to improving prison conditions. In a separate column for the Huffington Post, Muggah and Daniel Mack advocate for a "smarter" policing strategy in Brazil, one which targets illicit arms trafficking networks and crime prevention in at-risk communities.
  • The New York Times reports on the personal library of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, which he donated to the country’s military academy before leaving power in 1990. The collection, which includes some 50,000 books and has been valued at around $3 million, was amassed using public funds. According to investigative journalist  Cristóbal Peña, who has written a book on the collection, “Pinochet was tormented by an intense inferiority complex, which he tried to deal with by collecting books."