Mexico marked the 104th anniversary of the start of its revolution yesterday by holding protests around the country, with largely peaceful demonstrators demanding an end to corruption and the return of the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa. The largest were held in Mexico City, where tens of thousands of protesters converged on the city’s central square.
President Enrique Peña Nieto, however, chose to mark the occasion by presiding over a military decoration and promotion ceremony, where he gave remarks along similar lines as his recent condemnation of violent protests. While he did not specifically mention the day’s massive demonstrations, Proceso reports that the president said that violence was “unacceptable, regardless of its origin,” and that “an attack on [the country’s] institutions is an attack on all Mexicans.”
According to El Universal, Peña Nieto also took the opportunity to praise the military’s commitment to maintaining order “with full respect for human rights,” saying that this “could not be questioned under any circumstances.” And in a clear reference to the alleged army massacre of 22 suspects in Tlatlaya earlier this year, the president asserted that “the greatness of a century-old institution, the work of more than 212,000 Mexican soldiers, should not be judged based on the few elements that may have strayed away from the principles and the spirit of their service.”
What is ironic about this remark is how much Peña Nieto himself is guilty of judging the recent wave of anti-government demonstrations by the violent actions of a tiny minority. In a statement earlier in the week, the president labeled demonstrators as “violent movements” and accused them of having no clear goal other than “generating destabilization” and “us[ing] the shield of sorrow as cover to carry out protests” against his government. He made no mention of the largely peaceful marches that have occurred in recent weeks.
By all accounts, yesterday’s protests were overwhelmingly nonviolent as well. Reforma reports that Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong even described the march in Mexico City as “peaceful and orderly,” and the AP claims it was “mostly peaceful” despite some masked youths battling with police in its aftermath. According to the wire service: “Whenever masked protesters tried to join Thursday’s march, demonstrators shouted them down with chants of “No violence!” and “Off with the masks!” According to Milenio just 31 people were arrested for violent acts, a surprisingly low figure considering the size of the crowds.
- While yesterday’s demonstrations saw a large turnout, it remains to be seen whether the current wave of protests will succeed in forcing meaningful judicial reforms and anti-corruption measures where similar movements -- like Javier Sicilia’s Caravan for Peace -- have failed in the past. El Universal notes that one of the proposals made by relatives of the missing students in yesterday’s rally was the creation of a civil society committee against disappearances. The suggestion is vague, but it points to holes in state’s efforts to meet the demands of drug violence victims and their relatives. This was illustrated earlier this week by Peña Nieto’s own Executive Commission on Victims (CEAV), which issued a press release on November 18 claiming that it is keeping in touch with organizations “working with the victims” of the Ayotzinapa case. However, one of the groups named is the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH), which has in turn claimed that the CEAV mischaracterized the NGO’s work with victims, noting that the CEAV’s communication with the CMDPDH is “is not relevant” to caring for the relatives of the disappeared students.
- Also on the Ayotzinapa case, InSight Crime has an excellent overview of the “culture of fear and complicity” that prevailed in Iguala long before the recent disappearances. This culture permitted former Iguala MayorJose Luis Abarca to get away with allegedly ordering the disappearance of other local activists, allowing him to stay in office until the recent case gained more media attention.
- Following the Guatemalan Constitutional Court’s Wednesday decision to uphold recent controversial judicial appointments despite objections from civil society, Guatemalan news site Nomada has extracts from the dissenting opinion voiced by two of the five judges on the panel. Among the irregularities identified by the judges are several instances of conflict of interest, a lack of standardized measures to judge candidates based on merit, and the influence of apparent favor-trading on the entire process.
- Yesterday brought further indications of ongoing the militarization of citizen security in Honduras. El Heraldo and the AFP report that the country’s National Police director, Gen Ramon Sabillon, was demoted by President Juan Orlando Hernandez as an apparent result of Sabillon’s opposition to Hernandez’s reliance on a newly-created military police force.
- Colombia’s peace talks appear to be on their way to overcoming the crisis posed by the FARC’s capture of army general Ruben Dario Alzate on Sunday. El Espectador reports that yesterday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that the operation to free the general, his companions, and two soldiers captured in a separate incident in Arauca province was “under way.” Semana claims that the captives could be freed today at the earliest.
- While the terms of the prisoner release remain unclear, the FARC are claiming that they are not seeking to use it to improve their leverage at the negotiating table. In an interview with Radio RCN, FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo said that the guerrillas are working to release their prisoners “as fast as possible” to get peace talks back on track. “From the beginning we have said that this is a gesture of goodwill, a contribution that seeks to create an environment that improves the situation to allow the talks to proceed more calmly,” the rebel said.
- Reuters has an analysis on the state of the Venezuelan opposition, noting that while it remains badly fractured and disorganized, President Nicolas Maduro’s flagging popularity and worsening economic conditions may work in its favor in legislative elections next year.
- The White House appears to be gearing up to take a harder stance on human rights abuses in Venezuela. On Wednesday, Deputy National Security Adviser Antony Blinken said the administration “would not oppose to moving forward with additional sanctions.”
- El Ciudadano and the BBC report on a landmark ruling published on Wednesday, in which a Chilean court ordered the state to pay roughly $7.5 million to 30 former political prisoners held by the Pinochet regime in a prison on Dawson island in the Tierra del Fuego region.
- Vice Magazine highlights Chile’s experiment with medical marijuana, noting that despite government approval for a groundbreaking program that provides 200 cancer patients with access to cannabis oil, users of medical cannabis are still being arrested in the country. This may change soon, however, as on Tuesday lawmakers in the lower house’s health commission began debating decriminalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational use.
- On Wednesday, thousands of people marched in Quito and other major cities in protest of the constitutional reforms being prepared by President Rafael Correa’s ruling Alianza Pais party. AFP and El Universo report that the demonstrations brought together indigenous groups, students, teachers and unions, many of which were protesting a recently-passed package of labor reforms. The Wall Street Journal notes that Correa has said demonstrators are looking to destabilize the country.