Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bachelet Reaches Out to Chile's Indigenous

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has announced a new plan to deepen land restitution to the country’s indigenous communities and better incorporate them into the political process.

The president made the announcement in a speech yesterday to commemorate Chile’s National Indigenous People's Day. Noting that nearly 25 years had passed since the country’s return to democracy, Bachelet said that even after five successive democratic administrations, the government “remains in debt to indigenous peoples.”

El Mercurio reports that the president did not provide specifics about her proposal, but that it included three main elements: creating a new institutional framework (including a new Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, a Council of Indigenous Peoples and a Council of Culture and Heritage), strengthening the government’s land restitution program, and granting indigenous communities greater representation in Congress.

Any eventual reform initiatives will not be unilateral. The government has signaled that it is entering into a six-month process of consultation with indigenous organizations. Restitution is sure to be an especially contentious issue. As La Tercera notes, the government has purchased and turned over land to indigenous communities since 1994, benefiting some 16, 000 families over the last twenty years. Still, many indigenous Chileans, especially Mapuche groups in the troubled Araucania region, are dissatisfied with the slow progress of this program.

While no concrete legislation has yet been presented, Bachelet’s speech offers the latest sign that her government is interested in moving indigenous rights forward in Chile.  It comes in the wake of repeated promises by administration officials -- most recently before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva  -- not to invoke a Pinochet-era terrorist law to prosecute Mapuche activists. It also follows up on her appointment of part-Mapuche politician Francisco Huenchumilla as the government’s top official in Araucania, and his historic apology to the Mapuche in March for over a century of land theft and displacement.

News Briefs
  • Mexican authorities have confirmed the capture of the head of the Tijuana Cartel, one of the oldest criminal organizations in the country. Security forces arrested Fernando Sanchez Arellano, alias "El Ingeniero," in Tijuana on Monday as he was watching Monday’s Mexico vs. Croatia World Cup match, El Universal reports.  Reuters notes that a photo released by officials after the arrest shows Sanchez Arellano still in a soccer jersey and with his face painted in Mexico’s national colors. InSight Crime’s James Bargent suggests that a bloody power struggle in Tijuana is unlikely to follow the arrest, as the mighty Sinaloa Cartel is believed to have already solidified control over the Tijuana “plaza.”
  • While a Mexican law aimed at protecting human rights defenders and journalists threatened in the course of their work has been on the books since last year, the government of Enrique Peña Nieto has been criticized by civil society groups for not providing the program with enough resources or staff to be effective. El Universal reports today that the Interior Ministry has proposed regulatory changes to allow it to obtain necessary funding more easily.
  • The Associated Press has picked up on the story -- noted in yesterday’s brief -- of the first marijuana club in Uruguay taking a first step towards legal recognition under the country’s marijuana law.
  • The AP also has a long investigation based on interviews with Central American migrants, who indicate that in the debate over whether endemic crime and violence or the belief that U.S. policies are more lenient toward children and their mothers is responsible for the ongoing surge of unaccompanied child immigrants on the U.S.-Mexico border, both sides are right.
  • U.S. lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing yesterday on the increased immigration flow, and remarks by some legislators  showcase the challenges faced by advocates of comprehensive immigration reform. One Republican committee member called for aid to Central America should be cut, arguing that the region needed a “whack” to understand that “we're not the ATM machine.” Ultimately, the main target of the hearing was President Barack Obama and his record on immigration, as the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • These U.S. lawmakers are not alone in the hemisphere in supporting a hostile approach to immigration policy. In the Dominican Republic for instance, where Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent have long faced discrimination, one legislator recently called for the construction of a “border fence” along the Haitian border. As EFE reports, the proposal has been criticized by progressive sectors in the country.
  • São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad’s unique approach to crack use in the city’s center, the harm reduction-oriented "De Braços Abertos" program, is expected to receive an endorsement today during a visit by the UK’s Prince Harry. O Estado de S. Paulo reports that Harry, who is in Brazil for the World Cup, will visit Cracolândia today alongside Haddad. The paper notes that the officials say the prince himself requested the visit, out of a desire to see how one of the largest cities of the world addresses drug use.  
  • Ecuador’s legislative assembly approved a law yesterday which will allow state control over water resources in the country. Indigenous groups have been critical of the measure, recently organizing a national march calling for it to include protections of the rights of indigenous communities living near water reserves. As the WSJ reports, supporters of the measure in the ruling Alianza Pais party say they have included most of the demands made by indigenous activists.
  • Venezuelan newspaper Ultimas Noticias has won critical acclaim for its coverage of the official crackdown on student protests in February this year, particularly of a video analysis of demonstrations which proved that security forces had fired on protestors. On Monday, the investigative team behind the report received a first place prize in an investigative journalism contest held by the Venezuelan Press and Society Institute (IPYS). It’s worth noting, however, that the head of Ultimas Noticias’ investigative unit, Tamoa Calzadilla, resigned in protest in March after the paper pulled an article of hers on the demonstrations.
  • After the UN released its estimates of coca cultivation in Bolivia on Monday, showing a dramatic reduction in coca crops, Bolivian officials provided some sobering figures to complement the news. Felipe Caceres, Deputy Minister of Social Defense, told journalists that 47 percent of the total coca crop in the country is diverted to drug trafficking networks, La Razon reports.
  • El Pais reports on a symbolic change made last week to the clock mounted over Bolivia’s legislative assembly building, which was replaced with a modified clock with hands and numbers designed to be read counterclockwise, or to the left. In a press conference yesterday, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca dubbed it the “clock of the south.” The BBC notes that reception of the clock among locals in La Paz has been mixed.

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