Thursday, May 15, 2014

Anti-Terrorism Legislation Under Scrutiny in Argentina, Brazil

For the first time since its passage in 2011, a federal prosecutor in Argentina has invoked a controversial anti-terrorism law against a media professional. The case, which involves a journalist accused of inciting violence by filming an act of protest, has civil society groups sounding alarm bells.

La Nacion reports that Juan Pablo Suarez, director of news site Ultima Hora, has been charged by federal prosecutor in the northern province of Santiago del Estero with "sedition" and "incitement of collective violence against institutions," under the provisions of the law. If convicted, he could face up to 12 years in prison. The allegations stem from Suarez’s decision to record and publish footage of the arrest of a protesting police officer during the wave of police strikes that swept the country in December. 

The case has been widely criticized this week by both international (see Reporters Without Borders, the Inter-American Press Society) and domestic (the Center for Legal and Social Studies and Argentine Press Forum) press freedom advocates.

Coincidentally, human rights groups in Brazil are also challenging similar anti-terrorism legislation, which lawmakers have been debating since a series of violent demonstrations last year. Last week Conectas, Article 19 and the Institute for Development and Human Rights and other groups presented senators with a joint report challenging the bill’s potential to criminalize legitimate protest. The report was cited by lawmakers in a Senate Justice Committee meeting yesterday, contributing to a lack of consensus that ultimately postponed a committee vote on the bill by one week.

Despite the worrying status of repressive anti-terrorism legislation in these two countries, there is some positive news on that front elsewhere in the region. It's worth pointing out that Chile, which has long relied on a Pinochet-era anti-terrorism law to prosecute Mapuche activists despite condemnation from UN human rights officials, appears to have turned a corner.

During her campaign for a second term, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet admitted that applying the law in the Mapuche conflict during her first presidency was a mistake. And after she took office in March, Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo announced that the administration would not use the law to prosecute offenders, and expressed optimism for "a new spirit of dialogue" with the Mapuche. When a protestor in Santiago was charged of violating the law last month, the administration swiftly condemned this and dismissed the prosecutor responsible.

News Briefs
  • In Venezuela, uncertainty over the continued participation of the opposition MUD coalition in talks with government officials continues. El Nacional reports that in a meeting with the UNASUR delegation today, the opposition is expected to insist that its presence at the negotiating table will depend on whether the government honors alleged agreements regarding freeing political prisoners. Foremost among these is police commissioner Ivan Simonovis, who was jailed over the death of protesters in the April 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez. The Vatican observer to the talks, Aldo Giordano, has expressed his “concern” over their suspension, according to El Universal.
  • Meanwhile, opposition protests have heated up, with hundreds of Venezuelan students holding a rally in Caracas yesterday to call for the release of opposition activists who have been arrested in recent demonstrations. According to the BBC, police detained at least 80 demonstrators yesterday.
  • Ecuador’s Yasunidos coalition, which organized the signature drive behind the failed bid to trigger a referendum on oil drilling in the Yasuni Amazon reserve, is fighting electoral authorities’ decision to reject the signatures presented last week. According to El Universo, the group has submitted an appeal of the decision to the National Electoral Council (CNE), calling for a recount. Members of the coalition also told the Wall Street Journal that they intended to petition the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of their request is denied.
  • The Guardian’s David Hill looks at a new report documenting the increasing influence of Canadian mining companies in Latin America, which was submitted to IACHR by the Due Process of Law Foundation. Hill cites extensively from the report, which finds that Canadian firms are taking advantage of weak legal systems in the region at the expense of local communities, violating indigenous rights and environmental standards in the process.
  • Members of the LIBRE political party of former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya were forcibly expelled from the country’s congress building yesterday. The AP claims that the LIBRE activists were protesting recent supreme court nominations, as well as the recent shooting of one of its members, but El Heraldo reports that the protests were caused by a change in security measures at the congressional building.   
  • A trial of some of the country’s foremost indigenous leaders has begun in Peru, over a 2009 anti-extraction protest turned into a bloody conflict that left 22 police officers and 10 civilians dead. La Republica notes that a motion to compel then-President Alan Garcia to testify regarding an alleged government order for police to open fire on demonstrators was denied.
  • The Miami Herald reports on dissatisfaction with the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement in the South American country, noting that while U.S. exports to Colombia are up, the flow of Colombian goods north fell 12 percent last year. And while the government claims it is still too early to judge the benefits of the trade deal, the perception among many in Colombia is that they have been largely one-sided.
  • Today’s New York Times features an op-ed by Anita Isaacs, who offers a dim forecast of the potential for democratic governance in Guatemala. Pointing to the recent nomination of a new attorney general with ties to the party founded by former dictator General Efrain Rios Montt,  she writes: “Abandoned and isolated, Guatemala’s poor have been left to fend for themselves against the people who see any steps toward a fairer, more functional system as a threat to their fortunes and their legacies. Without a watchful eye from abroad, they have been able to revert to their old behavior, making sure the unjust structures that serve their needs stay in place, even at the expense of rising unrest, polarization and violence.”
  • The AP has an interesting report on the role of foreign campaign strategists in the recent presidential elections in Panama. While his main opponents relied on two of the most well-known campaign consultants in the region -- Brazil’s Joao Santana and Venezuela’s J.J. Rendon -- President-elect President Juan Carlos Varela hired American Christian Ferry, a former deputy campaign manager for John McCain.
  • A new report by the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) has raised questions about the impact of the public education overhaul launched by President Enrique Peña Nieto last year. As Animal Politico reports, the IMCO found that despite efforts to bring accountability and transparency to the public teacher salary system, it still shows evidence of widespread fraud. For instance, some 70 teachers receive salaries higher than Peña Nieto’s own monthly income of roughly USD $20,000, an exorbitant figure. McClatchy has more of the IMCO report’s findings, noting that hundreds of “ghost schools” receive public funds despite only existing on paper. 

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