The News Roundup is a regular section of the blog, featuring news articles from various sources around the web, with the goal of providing an overview of the weekly conversation about the countries where MCC works in the region. Quotes in italics are drawn directly from sources and do not necessarily reflect the position of MCC.

Hooked: Mexico’s violence and U.S. demand for drugs

Acknowledging responsibility and committing the United States to reduce demand is praiseworthy. It is certainly better than promoting aggressive eradication in Mexico, as the United States is also considering, in the absence of alternative livelihoods for poor farmers in there. Such eradication will only drive poppy farmers further into the hands of Mexican cartels and encourage greater violence; and it won’t curtail production in a lasting way. But how the United States goes about reducing demand matters. Bringing hardcore addicts into treatment substantially reduces demand, since outside of treatment they consume 80 percent of drugs, with casual users consuming the rest. Mounting an abstinence campaign does little good, and imprisoning users causes tremendous social harm without cutting down use and demand. Yet in policy after policy the Trump administration is repeating the ineffective and counterproductive punishment route: increasing penalties, including incarceration, for users and non-violent dealers (which  the Obama administration finally backed away from), repealing Obamacare provisions that enabled addicts to access medical treatment for their addiction as well as mental health problems, and slashing the budget of the Office on National Drug Policy Control which (with all of its problems and challenges) is a crucial source of data.

American Guns Drive the Migrant Crisis That Trump Wants to Fix With a Wall

Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador each tightly restricts civilian gun ownership. The smaller Central American nations have no domestic firearms industries to speak of. But over the past few decades, guns have poured into the region, sourced from the vast civilian gun market in the United States and smuggled to Central America in the trunks of cars or sneaked into packages alongside common household items. In one recent bust, an Ohio gun shop owner was caught selling dozens of guns — including 62 Barrett .50 caliber rifles, the same weapons used by Navy SEAL snipers, at approximately $8,000 apiece — to a group who drove them down to McAllen, Texas, and across the Rio Grande. Played out by hundreds of similar trafficking syndicates, such schemes form a trans-border, southbound equivalent to the “Iron Pipeline,” the busy smuggling route from states in the American South with loose gun laws to states like New York that more strictly regulate firearms.

Central America’s refugee crisis fuels anti-Hispanic backlash in neighborly Belize

This is not the first time this tiny country has harboured victims of neighbouring conflicts. In the 1980s and 1990s, Belize was an oasis of peace amid Central America’s interlocking civil wars between US-supported despots and leftwing guerrillas. It was widely praised for welcoming about 30,000 Spanish-speaking refugees – a 10% increase in the population, which changed the country’s ethnic mix. But its reputation as a safe haven is under threat amid government claims that the new wave of asylum seekers threaten Belize’s security, economic stability and cultural heritage.

Guatemalan deportees get fresh start as volcano guides

Aprode was formed shortly after the Postville deportees returned to San Jose Calderas. The association sought to start a chicken hatchery or meat processing plant to use the skills they had acquired in Postville. However, they struggled to finance the project and the organisation stalled. Most of the deportees returned to eking out a livelihood from agriculture, and others tried to return to the US. In 2015, Soy Sologui and Hernandez decided to re-invigorate Aprode. Ovidio’s son Elvin was studying for a tourism degree, and he helped them strategise how to become guides on the nearby volcano, Acatenango. They contacted the National Commission for Attention to Migrants (Conamigua), which helped pay the Guatemalan Tourism Institute (Inguat) to provide a tour-guide certification course in San Jose Calderas. Tour companies in the city of Antigua, Guatemala, began sending groups to Aprode.

Romero assassination case re-opened in El Salvador

Reopening the Romero case also has the potential of paving the way for the highly polarized country to confront its past, joining the ranks of countries like Chile, Guatemala and Peru that abolished amnesty laws and prosecuted high-ranking war criminals. “The Romero case is unlikely to have a live defendant, but it has extraordinary symbolic power,” Stanford University Professor Terry Lynn Karl said. “It involves an archbishop, who’s about to become a saint, and the founder of the ARENA party,” said Karl, who’s been an expert witness in a number of human rights and war crimes trials, including a 2004 civil trial of Saravia, filed by the Center for Justice and Accountability.

Don’t compare Trump’s Paris decision to Nicaragua’s; they’ve embraced renewable energy

Nicaraguan leaders said they declined to enter the agreement not because they didn’t want to abide by new emissions standards, but because those standards weren’t strict enough and didn’t require enough sacrifice from wealthier countries with larger economies, according to Reuters.  At a U.N. climate meeting last year, Paul Oquist, head of the Nicaraguan delegation, also complained about the agreement restricting his country’s ability to litigate over climate disagreements. “Nor is it either ethical or congruent to invoke human rights in the Agreement and at the same time to ask developing countries to renounce their legal rights including the right to compensation for damages and the right to litigate over legal responsibilities,” Oquist said.

Manuel Noriega: feared dictator was the man who knew too much

Two years after his overthrow, Noriega was put on trial in Miami. Sitting glumly in the dock day after day, he cut a much-reduced figure compared with the bumptious dictator who strutted outside the comandancia. Noriega was convicted on a restricted list of charges including money laundering and drug trafficking, and sentenced to 40 years in a maximum security jail. The court refused to allow Noriega’s defence to present any evidence relating to his work for the CIA, his payments from the US government, his knowledge of US subversion in Central America, his contacts with senior figures such as Bush, and their knowledge of his activities as Panama’s dictator. His lawyers protested, but in vain. In many respects, the Miami proceedings resembled an east European show trial, with the outcome never in doubt. Bush got his man, Noriega was silenced, nefarious US behaviour in Central America was effectively concealed, and the concept of justified, forcible regime change was fatefully reinforced.

Trump Won’t Pay a Penny For U.N. Cholera Relief Fund in Haiti

The Trump administration will rebuff a recent U.N. appeal to contribute millions of dollars to a cash-short trust fund established last year to provide relief to victims of a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 9,000 Haitians and sickened more than 800,000 more, according to U.S. and U.N. officials. The move will be the latest blow to U.N. efforts to raise $400 million dollars from member states to provide assistance to the Haitian victims of cholera. The disease is widely believed to have been introduced into Haiti more than six years ago by infected U.N. Nepalese peacekeepers. Since the fund was set up in October, the U.N. has collected only a pittance, about $2.7 million, from Britain, Chile, France, India, Liechtenstein, South Korea and Sri Lanka.

Colombian strike: ‘To live with dignity, our people don’t give up’

Under the banner ‘to live with dignity in our territory – our people don’t give up’,an alliance of over 100 community and grassroots organisations came together around demands concerning healthcare, housing, clean water, jobs and conserving the environment. Buenaventura is the port through which it is estimated 75 percent of Colombia’s imports and exports pass, generating huge corporate profits and a large chunk of the country’s tax revenue. The wealth that passes through the city and the world-class port facilities makes for an uncomfortable contrast with the city’s social realities.  Whilst negotiations slowly progress, human rights monitors report that each night long lines of trucks carrying goods out of the port are escorted out of the city by heavily armed forces firing live firearms and teargas at protestors and into neighbourhoods as they go, causing many injuries and spreading panic. In a symbolic demonstration of where the government’s priorities lie between the port operations and the local population, the government flat out refused the proposal of strike organisers of a 72-hour suspension of the circulation of trucks in order for negotiations to progress. The government is quite literally bypassing the strike, the different community’s needs, their safety and their well being; in order to continue responding to the needs of global markets which have a marked interest in Buenaventura’s port, but not its people.

What Can Bolivia Teach Post-Conflict Colombia about Coca Reduction?

The Bolivian model does indeed provide some important lessons for Colombia, such as the importance of respecting human rights and protecting the livelihood of coca farmers. But there are key differences between the coca dynamics in Bolivia and Colombia that would likely prevent Colombian authorities from adopting a strategy resembling Bolivia‘s “cato” policy. Unlike in Bolivia, illegal armed groups in Colombia are fighting for control of coca crops, making it much more difficult — and dangerous — for state actors to intervene. And there is not a substantial internal market for traditional uses of coca in Colombia as there is in Bolivia, so it would be hard to determine the legal rationale for government regulation of coca. 

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