Friday, August 22, 2014

Mexico Revises the Number of 'Disappeared' (Again)

Three months after Mexican authorities triumphantly announced a dramatic reduction in the officially-recognized number of disappeared, they have walked this back significantly.  

Yesterday, Assistant Attorney General Mariana Benitez announced to reporters that the number of Mexicans who disappeared since the country’s drug war began in 2006, according to official calculations, is 22,322.

In May, Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong put the figure at 8,000. So which is it, and why the seemingly massive difference? The AP explains:
Assistant Attorney General Mariana Benitez said 12,532 people went missing during the 2006-12 administration of President Felipe Calderon, who declared war on drug traffickers. An additional 9,790 have disappeared since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office on Dec. 1, 2012. 
Benitez said that the list of people reported missing during Calderon's government had gone up to 29,707, but that authorities arrived at the figure of 12,532 still missing after finding the rest alive or confirming their deaths. 
She said a second list started with the Pena Nieto government showed 23,234 people reported missing between Dec. 1, 2012, and July 31, 2014. She said 13,444 of those had been located, leaving 9,790 still missing.
Of course, the news suggests that Osorio Chong provided a completely misleading account of the number of new disappearances since Enrique Peña Nieto took office (in May, he said roughly 3,000 had gone missing in 2013 and early 2014 ). Under normal circumstances this would be scandalous, but the plain truth is that that the Peña Nieto administration, like the Calderon administration before it, has consistently relied on using misleading statistics to cast its security strategy as a success.

But even setting this aside, the new numbers are unsettling on their own terms. Assuming Benitez’s account is accurate, 23,234 people have been reported missing in less than two years under Peña Nieto, compared with 29,707 over the course of six years under Calderon. That means that disappearance reports, if they remain stable, are on track to more than double those under the previous government. 

Obviously reports of disappearances have limited empirical value, but these figures, paired with the fact that the country saw a record number of kidnappings last year, don’t bode well for insecurity in Mexico.

News Briefs
  • After announcing her official presidential run this week, environmentalist Marina Silva appears to be consolidating her control over the joint Socialist Party-Sustainability Network campaign. Folha de São Paulo reports that the PSB has chosen former São Paulo Mayor Luiza Erundina to serve as the party’s representative on the joint campaign coordinating body, alongside the RS’s Walter Feldman. Folha notes she does not have strong party roots and has long been closer to Silva than her predecessor Carlos Siqueira, who resigned after publicly breaking with Silva yesterday.
  • The Economist has an analysis of Brazil’s galvanized presidential race, noting the recent Datafolha poll as well as Datafolha head Mauro Paulino’s firm belief that support for Silva is not merely a radar blip that will fade in the aftermath of Campos’ death.
  • El Tiempo reports that in a joint communiqué yesterday, Colombian authorities and FARC rebels identified the academics and conflict experts who have been selected to serve on the so-called “Historic Commission for Peace,” tasked with authoring a conclusive report on the historical causes of the country’s armed conflict and its impact on the population. Semana has the names of those chosen, and Reconciliacion Colombia has more about their academic backgrounds. Also in the peace process, El Espectador reports that a delegation of five Colombian military officials has been sent to Havana to dialogue with FARC leaders as part of preliminary discussions about how to begin a ceasefire.
  • In other Colombian news, the country’s new Justice Minister Yesid Reyes Alvarado is set to appear in Bogota at the first of a series of nationwide forums on drug policy, co-sponsored by the government, the Ideas for Peace Foundation and the UNODC. Reyes just started his post on Thursday, so the fact that a forum on drug policy is his first public appearance is a good omen for drug policy reformers in the country.
  • As the Listin Diario reports, an official ethics commission in the Dominican Republic has banned a public concert in the country by singer Miley Cyrus slated for September 13, on the grounds that she frequently "undertakes acts that go against morals and customs, which are punishable by Dominican law." The AP notes that Cyrus’ act has been criticized for her “onstage antics, including twerking and crotch-grabbing,” and that the same commission has previously banned radio stations from playing songs by artists like Calle 13. However justified Dominican authorities are in their moral outrage, the ruling unquestionably raises questions about the state of prior censorship in the country.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced a new plan to combat the scarcity of consumer goods: requiring public and private stores to install fingerprint scanners, meant to catch those who take advantage of subsidies by selling items on the black market. As BBC Mundo reports, the opposition has criticized the plan, calling it a violation of privacy and a form of rationing.
  • Venezuelan human rights advocates say that 276 protesters arrested during the wave of demonstrations in the country earlier this year have been released and will not face any charges, according to the AP. But El Universal, citing Nizar El Fakih of the Human Rights Center of Andres Bello Catholic University, puts the figure at 212, and notes that the Venezuelan Penal Forum claims this represents just ten percent of the total of people arrested during four months of antigovernment protests.
  • Santiago saw a large-scale protest yesterday, organized by the Chilean university students union (CONFECH) and opposed to the content of President Michelle Bachelet’s education reforms. Organizers say the turnout was 80,000, while authorities put it at 25,000. El Mostrador casts the march as a “key moment” for the future of education reform in the country, noting concerns by CONFECH and other groups that their demands are not being taken into account by the government.
  • As the Wall Street Journal reports, U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa ruled yesterday that Argentina’s attempt to pay bondholders in Argentina rather than through U.S. intermediary banks is illegal, and cannot be carried out.
  • Uruguay’s El Pais reports that the National Party presidential candidate Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, whom polls show is gaining momentum in the race against the Frente Amplio’s Tabare Vazquez, addressed his position on marijuana regulation to reporters yesterday. While he said he opposes the country’s new law and believes it will never be fully implemented, Lacalle Pou confirmed that he supports keeping sections of it in place which allow home cultivation of the drug.