Economist 6/16/16

  1. A report on poverty published on June 14th by the United Nations Development Programme found that between 2003 and 2013 nearly half the population in Latin America moved up the income ladder, and one in five joined the middle class, defined as having between $10 and $50 a day of purchasing power. Conversely, only 1% dropped into a lower group, and the share of people living on less than $2.50 a day fell by half, to 11.5%. As a result, Latin America’s Gini coefficient, which runs from zero (where everyone earns the same) to one (where a single fat cat gets all the cash), declined from 0.55 in 1994 to 0.49 in 2013.It lists four factors that prevent downward mobility. Not all jobs are created equal: formal employment with benefits and severance provides a better cushion than piecemeal gigs. Owning assets, such as a car or house, is another buffer. Help with caring for children and old people is essential, whether by friends, family or the state. And formal safety nets, like pensions and unemployment insurance, do their jobs as advertised.
  2. In Mexico, the popular perception is that the country’s courts fail to convict enough people. Around three-quarters of murders go unsolved, and the public has grown inured to the spectacle of masked soldiers parading recently arrested “traffickers” or “hit men” before the cameras, only to see them released days later.Historically around 95% of criminal verdicts in Mexico have been convictions. And 90% of those have been based on confessions, which police have a nasty habit of beating out of prisoners.Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s conservative president from 2006 to 2012, is best known for deploying the country’s army against its drug gangs. But he simultaneously took these arguments to heart by launching a root-and-branch transformation of its courts, which is scheduled to be fully implemented by June 18th.
  3. The new system scraps the “inquisitorial” approach, in which a prosecutor presents written evidence that the defence has little opportunity to contest, in favour of a more transparent “adversarial” model, where lawyers argue their cases orally before a judge. It establishes basic rights for defendants, like the presumption of innocence and the provision of a lawyer, and excludes confessions from court unless a defence attorney was present when they were given.The policy has been a long time coming. It became law in June 2008. When Mr Calderón left office in 2012, just under 30% of Mexicans lived in areas covered by the new rules. His successor, the centrist Enrique Peña Nieto, belongs to a different political party, but has proved an eager reformer.By June 7th 93% of Mexicans lived in regions where the new model has taken effect; the government says that figure will reach 100% by June 18th.
  4. Evidence from states that have instituted the changes is encouraging. In particular, they seem to have streamlined the judicial process: the average time to resolve a case has dropped from 180 days to 34. In Mexico City, prison overcrowding fell by 70% in the system’s first four months, mainly because many types of crime could be dealt with through mediation rather than by the courts.
  5. Organised religion has historically played a much larger role in Catholic Latin America than in the English-speaking Caribbean. But the islands are far less gay-friendly. Trinidad & Tobago and Belize prohibit homosexuals from crossing their borders (though they seldom check). Eleven countries in the region ban gay sex, and attacks on gay people often go unpunished.Gay male sex in Jamaica carries a ten-year prison sentence, though the country graciously tolerates rainbow flags.Politicians in many countries admit in private that these laws are antiquated, and that openness is needed to fight HIV. But efforts to modernise them have flopped. In 2001 Guyana’s legislature passed a constitutional amendment banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, but the president blocked it. In a referendum on June 7th in the Bahamas, voters refused to ban discrimination by sex.The political power of Caribbean churches frustrates gay-rights activists. Fundamentalist Protestants are well-organised and sometimes publicly subsidised

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