Thursday, August 17, 2017

Venezuelan officials target Luisa Ortega (Aug. 17, 2017)

Venezuelan officials accused two prominent political dissidents of running an extortion ring. Former attorney general Luisa Ortega was accused of turning her office into a blackmail center. Her husband, lawmaker Germán Ferrer, was accused of extorting millions of dollars from victims with the aid of corrupt prosecutors, reports the New York Times. Both are vocal dissident Chavistas who broke with the ruling party earlier this year.

Ortega denounced a police raid on the couple's home. Officials asked that Ferrer be stripped of parliamentary immunity so he could be arrested. Ortega said the accusations were vengeance for fighting against the country's totalitarianism, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Current prosecutor general Tarek William Saab, appointed earlier this month by the Constituent Assembly (ANC) when it ousted Ortega, said he had received proof from ANC member Diosdado Cabello that Ferrer deposited $6 million in Bahamas bank accounts, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Ferrer denied the accusations and challenged Saab to compare the signature on Cabello's documents to his own.

The accusations come amid a broader crackdown on political dissent:  At least five mayors have been sentenced to jail for permitting protests in their neighborhoods, and thousands of Venezuelans have been detained for participating in protests.

A new ANC truth commission will investigate opposition politicians running in gubernatorial elections later this year, specifically in reference to their participation in the ongoing protests against the government, reports Reuters. Critics say the commission is designed to sideline the opposition. The ANC is also considering a bill that would punish those who express "hate or intolerance" with up 25 years in jail, which the opposition fears will be used to silence criticism.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged Venezuela's government and the political opposition to re-start negotiations. He called for a brokered solution to the country's economic and political crisis, reports AFP.

News Briefs
  • Venezuelan prosecutors say at least 37 people have been killed in a prison riot in the country's south, reports the BBC.
  • Seven people were killed and a dozen more injured in a shooting in a Guatemalan hospital. The injured include a four-year-old boy. Police suspect Mara Salvatrucha street gang members attempting to free a jailed faction leader, reports the BBC. The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the attack was staged to free a gang member identified as Anderson Daniel Cabrera Cifuentes, reports the Los Angeles Times. He had been brought to the hospital for a blood test on a judges order, reports El Periódico.
  • The killings occurred as Guatemalan lawmakers are considering an anti-gang law that would allow gang members to be accused as "terrorists" and sentenced to 30 years in jail, reports El Periódico separately. The bill would modify the country's penal code and enter into effect immediately.
  • NAFTA trade renegotiation talks got off to a rocky start yesterday, with U.S. trade representatives arguing the agreement is skewed against the U.S., reports the New York Times. The U.S. has a $55.6 billion trade deficit with Mexico, and a historic imbalance with Canada, said officials. Canadian officials said trade balance wasn't an appropriate metric to evaluate the agreement's benefits, while Mexico says trade should be expanded, not restricted.
  • In the meantime, thousands of Mexican farmers and workers demonstrated yesterday against the free-trade agreement, reports Reuters.
  • The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) announced the list of finalists in this year's Excellence in Journalism contest, including coverage in El Confidencial, Animal Político, Factum, El Faro, Plaza Pública, Agência Pública, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The contest is held each year to encourage excellence in journalism, and the defense of freedom of expression throughout the Americas.
  • An Argentine court granted house arrest to social activist Milagro Sala yesterday. She has spent more than 19 months behind bars on suspicion of mishandling public funds, an accusation critics say is politically motivated, reports EFE. The tribunal in the northern province of Jujuy authorized the house arrest in response to a request from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (See July 31's briefs.)
  • A landmark bill that would allow abortion in limited circumstances in Chile is facing a final hurdle: the country's constitutional tribunal, reports the Guardian. The bill, backed by President Michelle Bachelet spent two years under debate in Congress. It would would permit termination of a pregnancy when a woman’s life is in danger, fetal inviability or in cases of rape.
  • About 2,500 police officers and military personnel were deployed in a crackdown in a Rio de Janeiro suburb, Niteroi, reports the BBC. At least 18 people were arrested, out of 26 targets, reports O Globo. Operation "Double Dose" focused on the Caramujo favela complex, and involved more than 3,000 police officers and soldiers, according to the Associated Press.
  • A crime map created by the Public Security Institute (Instituto de Segurança Pública - ISP) in Rio de Janeiro could help authorities carry out "hot spot" policing that targets specific areas. " But in order for this type of strategy to be successful, authorities will need to identify and address the specific risks and needs of these communities, rather than simply occupying them with militarized force," argues InSight Crime, referencing the failed community policing efforts of the Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (UPPs).
  • Brazil's Supreme Court ruled against a state that sought federal compensation for lands used to create three indigenous reserves, reports the Associated Press. The decision is seen as a defeat for groups trying to limit indigenous groups' claims.
  • Brazilian politicians strapped for campaign cash are proposing creating a taxpayer fund. Sources of revenue for election campaigns have been greatly reduced since the Supreme Court banned corporate donations to campaigns in 2015 and bribery scandals have reduced the under-the-table financing many parties used, reports Reuters. Most parties back the measure, which would aim at making politicians more accountable, but critics say it's a poor use of public funds in the midst of the country's budget crisis.
  • Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva launched his presidential campaign for next year's election early, embarking on a bus tour of around 20 cities through the country's northeast, reports AFP.
  • At least 14 people accused of running a corruption network manipulating judicial processes against criminals were arrested in El Salvador this week, part of an ongoing battle against corruption led by Attorney General Douglas Meléndez, reports InSight Crime.
  • Colombian officials announced a plan to send thousands of troops to protect the 26 FARC demobilization zones across the country, reports AFP. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Colombian miners have denounced police use of snipers against demonstrators, reports TeleSUR.
  • A country-wide ban on metal mining in El Salvador could create an opportunity for organized crime to move into the newly illegal industry, reports InSight Crime. (See March 30's post.) Artisanal miners, who have been grandfathered in for a two year period, will likely be the most susceptible to encroachment from illegal groups if the government fails to offer them economic alternatives.
  • U.S. Vice President Mike Pence sought to soften the Trump administration's America First message in a whirlwind LatAm tour this week, reports the New York Times. "Under President Donald Trump, the United States will always put the security and prosperity of America first," he said yesterday in Chile. "But as I hope my presence today demonstrates, ‘America first’ does not mean America alone."
  • Increased security spending over the past decade in Mexico has done little lower violence in the country, according to a study by the Ethos Laboratorio de Políticas Públicas. The problem isn't necessarily spending, but resource allocation, reports InSight Crime.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski urged striking teachers to return to work, after clashes with security forces in a protest demanding higher wages, reports Reuters.
  • Peru declared a 30-day state of emergency in several towns to end a protest blocking trucks from the Las Bambas mine, reports Reuters.
  • There are reports that Argentina's soccer hooligan groups -- "barras bravas" -- are moving up the criminal ladder and serving as muscle for a Buenos Aires extortion ring, reports InSight Crime.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The new FARC: Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria de Colombia (Aug. 16, 2017)

Colombia's demobilized FARC handed over the last of their weapons to U.N. monitors yesterday. The U.N. mission head Jean Arnault said a total of 17 containers of arms had been handed over over the past year, reports the BBC. They will be smelted down and made into three monuments to be installed in Bogotá, Havana and New York. 

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos declared the conflict officially over and called it "a historic day for the country" at a ceremony to mark the occasion in Fonseca, on the eastern border with Venezuela, reports Deutsche Welle.

With the completion of the FARC disarmament, the concentration zones become centers where the former combatants are to receive job training and other assistance to ease their return to civilian life, explains EFE.

The former Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia handed over 8,112 weapons to monitors, ending 53 years of armed insurgency. However, there are still numerous weapons caches around the country that the U.N. has been unable to secure, notes InSight Crime. 

In September the FARC will launch a political movement dubbed the Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria de Colombia -- a name that preserves the recognized acronym, reports Semana. The guerrillas were also supposed to hand over a definitive list of patrimony to be used for reparations to victims.

The example of verified disarmament has been an international example, but now begins a period of short-term uncertainty for the former guerrilla fighters, according to la Silla Vacía

Though the gathering of FARC members in concentration zones was carried out relatively well, the process now gives fodder both to the Uribista opposition and to the FARC force itself. The spots seem likely to become permanent FARC enclaves, raising the specter of independent zones where the former guerrillas have territorial and political control. The still incomplete villages also give the FARC arguments about the unfulfilled government promises, notes la Silla Vacía. As of yesterday, the U.N. monitoring and verification of these concentration zones has ended, and Colombian security forces assume responsibility for these areas. The infrastructure also becomes public space, that can be used by local citizens as well as former fighters. 

The public policy focus is now on reincorporating former fighters into society, reports Semana separately. Key issues include education -- most of the demobilized fighters have only a primary level education -- and community support for fighters without family ties. 

The possibility for former fighters to make a living is a key issue say experts."... The former FARC rebels are more vulnerable than ever. It is largely up to the government to provide what they most need to survive and integrate into civilian life and society in order to dissuade them from falling back into crime," argues InSight Crime

Just this past weekend an alleged FARC leader was assassinated just outside of a camp, and scores of social leaders have been killed so far this year, notes InSight. (See Monday's briefs for an Americas Quarterly piece by Robert Muggah and Katherine Aguirre on how peace has pushed up homicides and criminal gang activity in certain areas of Colombia.)

The newly created Unidad Nacional de Protección (UNP) is working on schemes to train former guerrilla's to protect FARC leaders considered under threat, reports El Espectador.

In the meantime the FARC is making efforts to become more relatable and enjoy the fruits of peace, including potentially launching a futból team, La Paz Fútbol Club reports la Semana.

News Briefs
  • Several armed Venezuelan soldiers were caught begging for food in neighboring Guyana, a sign of the country's growing hunger problem, reports the Miami Herald. Though shortages have been occurring for a long time, the military has had privileged access to scarce basics. Lately there have been reports of soldiers in outposts going hungry though, according to the Herald. 
  • U.S. President Donald Trump is cutting off a pathway allowing Central American youths who have been denied refugee status to temporarily live in the U.S., reports the New York Times. The parole program was established by the Obama administration in 2014 as a way of dealing with the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America arriving at the U.S. border. "Parole will only be issued on a case-by-case basis and only where the applicant demonstrates an urgent humanitarian or a significant public benefit reason for parole and that applicant merits a favorable exercise of discretion," said the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Deportations of undocumented migrants under the Trump administration have actually slowed down compared to his predecessors tenure, reports Politico. This doesn't necessarily reflect the administration's priorities, as deportations lag  behind arrest rates or removal orders -- which have apparently increased greatly. Instead, it is due to a backlog of cases in immigration courts, and Trump's decision to eliminate prioritizing apprehension of migrants with criminal records.
  • Recreational sales of marijuana in Uruguayan pharmacies, the recently implemented final stage in the country's landmark cannabis legalization, is under threat from U.S. banking regulations prohibiting national banks from taking money coming from legal cannabis enterprises, reports El Observador. Several banks have already closed down the accounts of businesses working with cannabis. Several pharmacies have said they would desist from selling rather than be shut out from the banking system.
  • Permitting drug addicts to consume in shelters, or even provide them with coca paste, were among the policy proposals aired by Bogota's Security Secretary Daniel Mejía in a recent forum. He proposed harm reduction policies for users of coca paste, known locally as bazuco, and said that providing users with high quality substances was part of the path to helping them, reports El Espectador.
  • Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS's CEO, Wesley Batista, may cling to his post, even after admitting to participating in a multimillion-dollar bribe scheme, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A protester who disappeared nearly two weeks ago in Argentina was last seen in the midst of a violent police crackdown against an indigenous group, reports Página 12. (See last Friday's briefs on Santiago Maldonado.)
  • Ecuadorean authorities have detained the crew of a Chinese fishing boat suspected to have caught endangered sharks in the Galapagos Islands, reports the BBC.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trump's threats strengthen Venezuelan government's hand (Aug. 15, 2017)

Venezuela's military is preparing for a potential U.S. invasion. (See yesterday's post.) "Civic-military" exercises are due to take place next week, reports the BBC

Though few expect an actual military operation against Venezuela, the threat has hit hard in a region with a bloody history of U.S. intervention, reports the New York Times. A fragile regional alliance against authoritarianism in Venezuela has been imperiled by Trump's tempestuous threat -- and countries that last week were condemning President Nicolás Maduro's government (see last Wednesday's post) are now warning against military solutions. 

The threat has also permitted Maduro to frame the debate in terms of pro and anti imperialism, asking the national political opposition whether they support U.S. intervention, notes the BBC. It's pure propaganda gold for the regime, which could use the threats to rationalize a greater crackdown on political dissent, according to the Miami Herald. Anti-imperialist rallies were held across the country yesterday.

Yesterday, Maduro asked the polemic pro-government constitutional assembly to investigate the opposition for allegedly supporting Trump's remarks, reports the Associated Press.

This weekend, 33 Venezuelan human rights organizations signed a joint statement rejecting Trump’s threat of a possible "military option" to address the situation in Venezuela, reports Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. A military intervention would likely aggravate human suffering at a time when the country is already grappling with a severe economic crisis, note the signing organizations, which reject economic sanctions on the same grounds. They urged the international community to respond with diplomatic efforts in support of a "peaceful, negotiated solution."

The remarks were also poorly received in Washington, where where members of Congress from both parties who have backed sanctions on Venezuela said they would not support going to war there, reports the Los Angeles Times.

U.S. intelligence sources received uncorroborated information that Maduro hired a hitman to kill Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a high-profile critic of the government. While the threat is not corroborated, it was enough to warrant a security detail for several weeks, reports the Miami Herald.

News Briefs
  • Emilio Lozoya, the former chief executive of Pemex, received about $10 million in bribes allege former Odebrecht SA executives. The accusations were made to Brazilian prosecutors, and involve the head of Mexico's state run oil company at a time when he was a top campaign official for current President Enrique Peña Nieto, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • When Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was elected in 2012, he announced education reforms intended to be his administration's flagship policies. They included efforts to eradicate corruption from the country's main teachers' union, improve teaching standards, and create a modernized education model, reports the Guardian. Some progress has been made, but millions of dollars are still misspent -- including salaries to teachers who never set foot in the classroom according to analysis by Mexico Evalúa watchdog and Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education. In the meantime, demonized teachers are working in situations of rampant poverty in which many children go to school hungry.
  • "... Institutionalized public malfeasance is pretty old news in Mexico," writes Luis Gómez Romero in the Conversation. "And yet, by any measure, graft in Mexico has reached stunning new highs this year. Over the past five months, three state governors have been arrested abroad while trying to escape justice, and fully eleven of the country’s 32 total governors are currently under investigation or fighting prosecution for corruption." The salacious tales are yet another blow to Peña Nieto's legacy and his promises to combat graft. "... Political analysts in Mexico are now considering the current political class a lost generation of public servants."
  • Mexico's ruling PRI party has been heavily hit by Peña Nieto's flagging popularity ratings, and recently implemented rules allowing nonmembers to run for president on the party ticket. (See last Friday's briefs.) The PRI's president said the changes are necessary to stop leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from winning office next year, reports Reuters.
  • Nafta renegotiation talks begin tomorrow in Washington. While Mexico will bear the brunt of the U.S. administration's reform efforts, Canada is concerned that it's neighbor to the south will attempt to gain concessions in such politically contentious sectors as lumber, dairy and wine, reports the Washington Post. All three countries seek to modernize the agreement to deal more adequately with trade in services and the digital economy.
  • U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is in Argentina today, where he is expected to praise the government's economic reforms, reports the Associated Press.
  • Argentina's Buenos Aires province senatorial primary remains undetermined -- 4.31 percent of polling booths remain uncounted, and could throw the results in favor of former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, reports La Nación. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Bolivia's President Evo Morales approved a controversial highway that would cut through an Amazon biodiversity hotspot that is home to 14,000 mostly indigenous people, reports the Guardian. The 300 km road will cut through the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park and strip it of the protections won in 2011. The legislation passed through Bolivia’s Senate last week where Morales’ governing Movement Toward Socialism party holds a two-thirds majority, and was enacted on Sunday. Rival political parties and the Catholic church opposed the law, joining activists and indigenous groups who marched in several cities across the country. Opponents of the road say it will open up the park to mining and oil and gas exploration, as well as loggers and coca farmers.
  • Finding ways to reduce illicit coca cultivation is a key challenge for Colombia's government. In some areas, like Putumayo, that will mean rethinking the entire local economy, reports the BBC. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Colombian authorities discovered an arms cache belonging to members of the FARC rebel group who reject the peace accord, reports EFE.
  • Brazilian police arrested a man suspected of involvement in the shooting of a British tourist, during an operation in which two other men were killed, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Another 24 former agents of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship have been sentenced by the Court of Appeal of Santiago in Chile after being proven guilty in two criminal cases, reports TeleSUR.
  • Archbishop Óscar Romero was born 100 years ago this day, on August 15th 1917. He was murdered by El Salvador’s state forces on March 24th, 1980, reports the Irish Times.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Trump's military bluster hinders regional Venezuela diplomacy (Aug. 14, 2017)

U.S. President Donald Trump set off a diplomatic storm on Friday evening, when he explicitly included a "military option" among potential U.S. responses to the Venezuelan crisis, reports the Guardian. "We have many options for Venezuela and by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option," he said. "We’re all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very very far away, Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary."

The White House also released a statement saying it had rejected a request from Maduro to speak by phone with Trump. The statement said: "Trump will gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country."

Predictably, Venezuelan officials considered the statements a threat to national sovereignty.

Critics of the Venezuelan government immediately noted that such an approach is a boon for the Maduro government. Venezuela's government has long accused the U.S. of imperialist conspiracies aimed at toppling it -- and Trump's threat could breath new life into those wild claims, reports the New York Times. "Maduro’s theory of war will be much more concrete and believable," WOLA analyst David Smilde told the NYT. "This will undoubtedly galvanize his coalition."

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, tweeted: "Perhaps since [Hugo] Chávez named him his successor, no one had helped Maduro as much as Trump and this nonsense he said today."

WOLA  Associate for Venezuela Geoff Ramsey noted that the statements threaten to "undermine diplomatic efforts to address Venezuela’s crisis, led by governments in Latin America. While a growing group of countries in the Americas have taken serious steps to pressure the Venezuelan government to abandon its authoritarian slide, President Trump’s suggestion that the United States might exercise a military option appears to dismiss these efforts."

Countries in the region, many of which united in rejected a pro-government Constituent Assembly, rejected Trump's statements. Peru, Mexico, Colombia, and the Mercosur trade bloc, all critical of the regime, rejected the use of force. Peru, which on Friday expelled Venezuela's ambassador from Lima, noted Trump's threats ran counter to United Nations principles, reports Reuters.

"Every country in Latin America would not favor any form of military intervention," warned Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in a joint press-conference with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence yesterday in Cartagena. Pence played down the threat, saying Trump's statement merely reflected the importance he has granted the crisis, reports the Wall Street Journal. "We have many options for Venezuela, but the president also remains confident that working with all of our allies across Latin America we can achieve a peaceable solution." Pence also emphasized that the "full range of additional economic sanctions" was still under consideration.

Most analysts believe there is little likelihood that the U.S. will use military force against Venezuela. Still, yesterday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo says Venezuela could "very much" become a risk to the United States, reports Voice of America. "The Cubans are there; the Russians are there, the Iranians, Hezbollah are there. This is something that has a risk of getting to a very very bad place, so America needs to take this very seriously."

Even by Venezuela's crisis-beset standards, the economy has gotten worst in recent weeks, reports the Washington Post. Local currency depreciated 45 percent against the dollar after the July 30 Constitutional Assembly vote. Street prices for staples such as bread and tomatoes have doubled in less than two weeks. And a sovereign debt crisis could further intensify the pain later this year.

Information about British weapons sales to Venezuela over the past decade -- despite official concerns over human rights -- has prompted calls for Theresa May to suspend controlled export licenses, reports the Guardian. Overall, £2.5m of military goods have been sold to the country since 2008, including components for military radar, weapon sights and military aircraft engines. In the last year of figures, to March 2016, licenses for goods worth more than £80,000 were approved, including equipment for crowd control to be used by law enforcement agencies.


El Salvador's political parties accused of buying votes from gangs

El Salvador's two main political parties -- the FMLN and ARENA -- bought electoral backing from gang leaders in the 2014 presidential elections, according to testimony from a former gang leader. Carlos Eduardo Burgos Nuila, a former Barrio 18 Revolucionarios leader said FMLN paid the country's three leading gangs $250,000 to ensure the votes of members and families. And that ARENA paid $100,000 with the same intent, reports El Faro.

ARENA has denied the payments, but admits to meeting with gang leaders, while the governing FMLN has not responded to the allegations, reports Factum.

Nuila, known as Nalo de Las Palmas, testified in the fourth day of a trial against 18 former government officials involved in negotiating a gang truce between 2012 and 2014. (See last Friday's briefs.) The accusations of vote buying and voter intimidation are not actually related to the current trial, which is focused on benefits granted to jailed gang leaders such as transfer to minimum security facilities and allowing prohibited objects such as cell phones into the prisons. 

 Prosecutors would not say whether there is an active investigation regarding the vote buying allegations, which throw the 2014 election of current President Salvador Sánchez Cerén into doubt.

In testimony last year, accessed by El Faro, Nuila detailed how government officials bartered improved jail conditions in exchange for homicide reductions, and cash in exchange for votes and intimidation of citizens planning to vote against the parties in question.

Nalo specifically mentioned former Justice Minister Benito Lara and current Government Minister Arístides Valencia as participants in the 2013 vote buying meetings, according to Factum. The $150,000 handed over by the FMLN was divided among the gangs, and part of the portion taken by Barrio 18 Revolucionarios was used for a weapons buying fund, said Nuila.

By the second round of voting, FMLN leadership again paid the gangs for support. But opposition ARENA leaders, including current legislator and San Salvador mayoral candidate Ernesto Muyshond, also vied for gang support offering money and the promise of another truce if they won.

Nuila testified that mediator Raul Mijango provided assistance both negotiations.

Nalo's testimony also sheds light on how gang leaders used homicide counts to pressure government officials during the truce.

News Briefs
  • Trump's Venezuela comments have complicated Pence's Latin America tour, originally intended reinforce relations with four U.S. allies -- Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama. Now "he has to spend all of his time not contradicting Trump, but reassuring Latin American countries that the United States will not intervene militarily," Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America program at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Center told the Wall Street Journal. All part of the delicate balancing act that has defined Pence's term so far, according to the Associated Press.
  • The issue of Colombia's booming coca cultivation also came up, notes the WSJ piece. Colombia's government is determined to maintain a ban on aerial fumigation of the illicit crop, in favor of voluntary eradication efforts. The U.S. is pressuring the country to resume polemic aerial spraying, which, with U.S. sponsorship, reduced production for over a decade, though at questionable health and political costs. Coca reduction efforts represent a potential diplomatic problem between the two countries. (See last Tuesday's post.)
  • The dividends of peace in Colombia have actually been a rise in homicides in some cases, write Robert Muggah and Katherine Aguirre in Americas Quarterly. "While lethal violence is falling in most urban centers and even some individual areas traditionally affected by conflict, homicides in former conflict zones overall have increased by 15 percent. As the FARC withdraws from these areas, new criminal factions are filling the void," they explain. And social leaders have been particularly targeted, over 50 have been assassinated this year.
  • A closely watched primary race in Argentina's Buenos Aires province yesterday ended in a technical tie between former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the governing Cambiemos coalition's candidate. The two will run against each other for Senate seats in October, but the race was widely seen as a gauge of popular support for President Mauricio Macri's economic reform agenda and Fernandez's chances of staging a presidential comeback in 2019, reports Reuters. The vote will likely be interpreted positively by investors who were scared of a change in course, reports the Wall Street Journal. Nonetheless, investors will likely hold out until October's elections, hindering Macri's campaign, which depends on investment to reactivate the economy, reports the Financial Times.
  • Though details of a supposed sonic attack against U.S. diplomats in Havana are still unclear, the incidents "could cause further disruptions in U.S.-Cuban relations, already on shaky ground after President Trump’s June 16 declaration that he was “canceling” President Obama’s policy of normalization," writes William M. LeoGrande at Aula Blog. Nonetheless, "speculation that this was a Cuban “attack” intended to injure the diplomats does not make sense, either. U.S. diplomats in Havana have faced petty harassment over the years, but even when relations were at their worst, there was never an attempt to inflict physical harm," he writes. Yet "the impact of the alleged attacks and U.S. retaliation on the bilateral relationship has been minimal so far.  Senior diplomats on both sides seem reluctant to allow the incidents to put a brake on improvements in areas of mutual interest.  The fact that both countries agreed to keep the alleged attacks and the expulsion of Cuban diplomats quiet suggests neither wanted the issue to get out of hand."
  • Gang controlled areas can be deadly for the occasional tourists who accidentally wander there in Rio de Janeiro state. A recent shooting involving a British family near Angra dos Reis could affect tourism which is vital for the local economy, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazil’s democracy is at risk if the armed forces are not properly funded to fight organized crime, Defense Minister Raul Jungmann told Bloomberg. The army is participating in operations against organized crime in Rio de Janeiro -- earlier this month a joint task force of around 5,000 military personnel and police officers targeted factions involved in drug-trafficking and cargo theft.
  • Ciudad Juárez's violent history has left it with a legacy of empty houses. Some community efforts to combat youth gang membership have centered around turning the abandoned spaces into gathering spots in a city with few options for the young, reports the Guardian.
  • Part of the reason for the avocado shortage in Mexico is local mafia control of commercialization, reports a Guardian reader in response to a piece last week on how Mexico might have to start importing the key guacamole ingredient. (See last Monday's briefs.)
  • Chewing gum, in its modern form, originated in Mexico -- and in Mexico City, the task of removing discarded bits from public spaces is a monotonous battle, reports the Guardian.
  • A Chilean judge is charging six people in connection with the 1982 death of former President Eduardo Frei Montalva, reports the Associated Press.
  • Chile's clean energy grid "is one of the most ambitious in a region that is decisively moving beyond fossil fuels," reports the New York Times. Big hydropower projects have already made Latin America a leader in renewable energy, but investment in the sector in Latin America has increased 11-fold since 2004, nearly double the global rate. Chile, Mexico and Brazil are now among the top 10 renewable energy markets in the world.

Haitian asylum seekers complicate Canadian gov't (Aug. 11, 2017)

Canadian authorities are building a 500 person camp at the border with New York State to accommodate asylum seekers fearful of deportation from the U.S., reports the Guardian. As many as 250 migrants a day have arrived in Montreal in recent weeks, adding to the more than 3,300 asylum seekers who crossed into the province in the first six months of the year. Most of those crossing into Canada in recent days are Haitians who have been living in the US for years, according to Canadian officials. (See Aug. 4's post.) 

The migrants are taking advantage of a loophole in an agreement between Canada and the U.S. that allows them to apply for asylum if they don't arrive at a legal port of entry. But the influx is putting the Canadian government in a difficult spot, as it attempts to balance a narrative about compassion towards refugees with a strict immigration system, reports the New York Times. While Haitians are concerned that the U.S. will end an immigration program providing them with protected status, Canada itself lifted a similar program in 2014, and there's no guarantee that the Haitians will be allowed to stay. 

News Briefs
  • Around the region, there is a judicial onslaught against current and former leaders accused of corruption and other crimes. InSight Crime has a comprehensive roundup, from Guatemala's Otto Pérez Molina to Argentina's Carlos Menem.
  • Odebrecht SA, the Brazilian corruption giant pops up constantly in regional news about corruption, implicating very high level officials in a slew of countries."InSight Crime takes a deep dive into the nature of Odebrecht's corrupt activities in Latin America, the extent of its illicit practices, the state of the various ongoing investigations into the company and its projects, and the web of corruption that continues to engulf some of the region's most powerful political elites."
  • Argentina's government offered a reward for information about the whereabouts of a missing activist, a day after a United Nations committee said the disappearance required urgent official action, reports the Guardian. Santiago Maldonado was last seen when security forces evicted a group of Mapuche Indians from lands in Patagonia owned by Benetton about 10 days ago.
  • Argentines will vote in primaries for mid-term elections this Sunday. Because most candidates are running unopposed within their party, the primary effectively becomes an unofficial first round or giant poll, providing a strong indication of who the eventual winner will be, explains Bloomberg. Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is running for Senator of the Buenos Aires province, and a good showing could portend a presidential comeback in 2019. The campaign has also become a measure of voter support for President Mauricio Macri's economic program focused on reducing costs and business-friendly reforms. Fernández enjoys enthusiastic backing from the province's poorest inhabitants, which contains almost 40 per cent of the national electorate, notes the Financial Times. While she has framed the election as an opportunity to reject Macri's austerity measures, he is emphasizing that her return to politics will jeopardize the country's market stability, reports InfoBAE.
  • Salvadoran Defense Minister David Munguía Payés testified that a gang truce between 2012 and 2014 was a state policy of violence prevention, reports El Diario de Hoy. He said the idea stemmed from an advisor, Raúl Mijango, and was approved by then-President Mauricio Funes. Eighteen officials are on trial, accused of illicit activity in relation to the truce, explained InSight Crime earlier this week. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • El Faro has a photo essay on the experience of one former gang member, Raúl Valladares, who spent about 15 years as a member of Barrio-18. He became an Evangelical Christian and is determined to leave behind his criminal history, but reinsertion is no easy task.
  • Mexico's ruling PRI party decided yesterday to allow non-members to vie for the party's presidential ticket. The move is expected to benefit Finance Minister José Antonio Meade who could attempt to represent the party in next year's election. The PRI is plagued by scandal and needs a fresh face to attract independent voters in what promises to be a close election, reports the Wall Street Journal. Polls show leftist nationalist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leader of the Morena party, as the early front-runner among possible candidates for next July’s election.
  • Most of Venezuela's opposition parties plan to participate in upcoming regional elections, though they maintain that the country is under a dictatorship. The decision has proved controversial, and could divide the MUD opposition coalition, reports the Miami Herald. María Corina Machado head of the Vente Venezuela political movement said the decision to participate will help "normalize" a "dictatorship," and announced her party's withdrawal from the coalition. Others, such as Leopoldo López's Voluntad Popular agreed that the elections are an attempt to distract from the country's crisis, but said that it had agreed to field candidates, including political prisoners, "in a clear message of resistance, solidarity and as a permanent reminder that we are living under a dictatorship."
  • Earlier this week the New York Times made the case that Venezuela's military unity might be cracking and that a rebellion could be in the works. (See Tuesday's briefs.) But the small signs of rebellion don't add up to an actual schism, argues InSight Crime. Rather the increasing divide between dissident Chavistas and government loyalists might be more relevant.
  • Ousted attorney general Luisa Ortega, a leading dissident Chavista figure, is forging ahead with her work. While it is likely to be ignored in Venezuela, she could take data on human rights violations and corruption charges to international courts, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A diplomatic spat between Cuba and the U.S. -- involving severe hearing loss due to some sort of sonic device and the expulsion of other diplomats -- seems more appropriate for the 1960s than current times, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs.) "Anti-Castro elements of the U.S. government, including Republicans from Miami, are capitalizing on the latest news as a sign that Havana cannot be trusted, even though it isn’t clear yet that the Cuban government tried to harm U.S. diplomats."
  • Shame and fear are silencing hundreds of indigenous people, including children, across Ecuador who are trafficked each year, reports Reuters. Most are forced into sex work, and fear of traffickers threats to harm their family keeps women from reporting the abuses. Forced child begging on the streets and forced labor of men are also problems, according to experts.
  • Images of Latin American migrants in the U.S. tend to focus on the tragedy of their situations now. "Today, immigration porn is ubiquitous. You are many times more likely to see a deportee on the TV news than a Latino doctor or teacher. Images of immigrants facing deportation have accumulated in our collective national consciousness as the essence of the Latino experience," writes Héctor Tobar in a New York Times op-ed. "But the humiliated and hunted people you see in coverage of the deported are not the whole person. Tenacity and stubbornness are the defining qualities of undocumented America. This is precisely what is absent in the media’s depiction of the more than 11 million people who live there."
  • Honduras is still working on plans to implement "employment and economic development zones" (ZEDEs) -- sort of investor paradise city states within the country. Charter cities had an international moment a few years ago, but the Honduran plans are also reminiscent of the country's history of ceding territory to international businesses like the United Fruit Company, writes Sarah Maslin in the Economist. Hondurans living in the territories would lose some rights -- including constitutional guarantees underwriting press freedom and habeas corpus. Though their exact mechanism for working remains vague, the zones would have some sort of a parallel court system.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

More U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan officials (Aug. 10, 2017)

The U.S. announced new sanctions on members of Venezuela's government, targeting eight allies of President Nicolás Maduro involved in the creation of the Constituent Assembly, reports the Miami Herald. The assembly is accused of aiding in what Washington said are dictatorial moves by the Maduro administration

Yet those affected are mostly second-tier officials, according to the Wall Street Journal. Officials playing a leading role in the constituent assembly have not been affected.

Officials hit with Treasury sanctions that froze U.S. assets, banned U.S. travel and barred Americans from doing business with targets include a sitting governor, a federal agency chief and a member of the country’s elections authority. Former President Hugo Chávez's brother is on the new list, joining 20 other current and former members of the Venezuelan government, including Vice President  Tareck El Aissami.

So far the U.S. has not followed through on threats of broad economic sanctions, a measured approach that has earned praise from regional leaders. But the Trump administration will face pressure from Miami Republicans to follow through with economic sanctions, according to the Herald. Officials told Reuters that those sanctions are still on the table.

Unilateral sanctions won't work, but targeting individual officials could be effective if other Latin American countries follow suit, WOLA's David Smilde told the WSJ. For Venezuelan officials, the costs of not being able to travel or hold money anywhere in Latin America could outweigh the benefits of sticking with Maduro, he said.

Earlier this week, a group of over 50 independent Venezuelan civil society organizations countries of the hemisphere to refrain from adopting unilateral or multilateral sanctions which could “elevate the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela,” a clear reference to recent proposals to sanction the country’s oil sector, reports Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.

At least five options exist for new U.S. sanctions, according to a new Atlantic Council report -- more sanctions on individual officials; limiting access to financing for state oil firm PDVSA; ban U.S. exports to Venezuela; ban Venezuelan oil imports; and -- the most severe -- add PDVSA to the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List).

The  the U.S. oil industry has opposed such a step, arguing that a potential ban on Venezuelan oil imports would hurt U.S. jobs and drive up gas costs, reports the Associated Press.

Venezuela's crisis -- and the steady news of human rights erosions -- has the region's left divided, reports the Guardian. Venezuela used to garner the broad support of left-wingers. Now some hardliners continue to argue that the crisis is an example of class warfare, while others focus on the unacceptable violent clampdown on dissent.

Perhaps that's because both are true simultaneously. "There are signs that repression and intolerance toward dissent are growing," notes Gabriel Hetland in The Nation. "While the government deserves criticism for its recent actions, the international frenzy concerning Venezuela is unwarranted and reeks of hypocrisy," he argues, advocating a negotiated solution in order to avoid civil war.

"The agony of the crisis consists of this: Millions of Venezuelans are suffering profoundly. They cannot feed themselves properly or obtain the medicine they need. They have very limited access to basic goods like shampoo, diapers, and toothpaste. This makes daily life a struggle. The primary reason for this situation is the government’s inability or unwillingness to take the necessary steps (in particular, desperately neededcurrency reform) to ease the crisis. There is little reason to think that the Constituent Assembly will do anything useful, since it is led by the same people who have presided over Venezuela while the crisis has deepened. Most people inside and outside the country, including many Chavistas, seem to agree that the PSUV’s top leadership is rotten. The idea that this group will “deepen” the Bolivarian Revolution seems highly improbable.

"And yet it is far from clear that Venezuela’s popular sectors would fare any better under an opposition-led government, which would be likely to privatize state-owned resources, deepen the current de facto austerity regime (arising from government policies that make the poor bear the brunt of the crisis), and quite possibly engage in vindictive action against Chavistas, real and alleged. This is why millions continue to support the government, despite significant misgivings. "

News Briefs
  • Tired of Venezuela news? Why aren't international leaders more concerned with the democratic transgressions of Brazilian President Michel Temer, asks Julia Blunck in a Guardian op-ed.(Hetland's piece above also notes the same double-standard.) "... It’s easy to see that concern about Maduro’s undemocratic abuses don’t necessarily come from actual concern for the welfare of Venezuelan people. Nearby neighbour Brazil has not been analysed or debated at length, even as it demonstrates similar problems. The country’s president, Michel Temer, recently escaped measures that would see him put to trial in the supreme court by getting congress to vote them down. The case against Temer was not a flimsy or partisan one: there was a mountain of evidence, including recordings of him openly debating kickbacks with corrupt businessman Joesley Batista. That a president put into power under circumstances that could be, at best, described as dodgy, manages to remain in power by buying favours from Congress, even as he passes the harshest austerity measures in the world should be enough to raise a few eyebrows internationally. But that has not happened, and Brazil has carried on as most stories about Latin America do: unnoticed and uncommented on."
  • Evidence against former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is flimsy, and mostly stems from the testimony of one confessed, convicted criminal, writes Mark Weisbrot in The Nation, where he also comments on international media bias.
  • The Intercept has an in-depth piece on the increasing behind-the-scenes regional presence of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a leadership-training nonprofit now known simply as the Atlas Network. The current rightward shift in regional politics "might appear as part of a larger regional rebalancing, merely economic circumstances taking hold. And yet the Atlas Network seems ever-present, a common thread nudging political developments along. ... Over the years, Atlas and its affiliated charitable foundations have provided hundreds of grants to conservative and free-market think tanks in Latin America, including the libertarian network that supported the Free Brazil Movement and organizations behind a libertarian push in Argentina, including Fundación Pensar, the Atlas think tank that merged with the political party formed by Mauricio Macri, a businessman who now leads the country. The leaders of the Free Brazil Movement and the founder of Fundación Eléutera in Honduras, an influential post-coup neoliberal think tank, have received financial support from Atlas, and are among the next generation of political operatives that have gone through Atlas’s training seminars. The Atlas Network spans dozens of other think tanks across the region, including prominent groups supporting right-wing forces behind the unfolding anti-government movement in Venezuela and the campaign of Sebastián Piñera, the right-of-center candidate leading the polls for this year’s presidential election in Chile.
  • On the subject of the waning Pink Tide, Next System Project commissioned a series of essays on what can be learned from Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador's experiences in terms of creating system change. Three essays describe some of the institutional innovations implemented in these countries during this time, and to reflect on the relationship between organized citizenry and the state in these transitions in order to elicit lessons learned. "In his essay, pre-eminent Venezuela scholar Steve Ellner explores the radical social programs of the Chávez government and the flexibility that, while allowing for broad-based participation of traditionally marginalized sectors of society, may have inhibited the institutionalization of said programs. In “Evo’s Bolivia: The Limits to Change,” journalist and Bolivia scholar Linda Farthing analyzes the relationship between social movements and the state throughout the Evo years and explores how that relationship may have helped or hindered attempts at land reform, participatory politics, drug policy and environmental protection. Finally, Next System Project Deputy Director, Dana Brown, takes a critical look at the Rafael Correa presidency and Ecuador’s “citizen revolution”comparing the top-down and bottom-up approaches to change that lead to some of Ecuador’s most innovative programs and policies."
  • Reports of killings of community activists continue to be high in Colombia, reports Human Rights Watch in a Submission to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Advance of its Review on Colombia. The report also focuses on the malnutrition crisis affecting the Wayuu indigenous people in the province of La Guajira; and child recruitment and interference with education. "Numerous abuses against rights activists have been committed in areas where FARC used to have military presence. As FARC demobilizes, crime and activities by other armed groups have surged in many of these areas, especially where illegal mining and drug trafficking are profitable."
  • Social leader Nidio Davila was killed on Sunday  in the department of Nariño and according to witnesses, it was the work of paramilitary forces who wanted to intimidate the community, reports TeleSUR.
  • Several Salvadoran officials are on trial for their alleged illegal activity related to a controversial gang truce between 2012 to 2014. "The trial over alleged illegal activity related to El Salvador's controversial gang truce has already begun to shed light on new details about the connections between the country's politicians and its gangs, and promises to reveal more in the coming days and weeks," reports InSight Crime.
  • The U.S. Treasury department also sanctioned Rafael Márquez, the captain of Mexico’s national soccer team, for allegedly acting as a frontman for a drug trafficker, reports the Wall Street Journal. One of the country's most popular players, he was among 21 people named by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control for ties to alleged trafficker Raúl Flores Hernández and his organization. The Treasury characterized the sanctions as the largest ever single Kingpin Act action against a Mexican drug-cartel network. The Mexican Attorney General’s Office also seized related assets, including the Grand Casino near Guadalajara, Márquez categorically denied the allegations, reports the Associated Press.
  • The U.S. state department has expelled two diplomats from the Cuban embassy in Washington. This is related to incidents in Cuba that have physically affected U.S. officials there. Investigators were looking into whether elements of the Cuban government placed sonic devices that produce non-audible sound inside or outside the residences of roughly five US embassy staffers with the intent of deafening them, according to the Associated Press.
  • Mexico's ruling PRI party is evaluating allowing an outsider to head the party's presidential ticket, a move that would likely benefit Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade, reports Reuters.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Growing international isolation for Venezuela (Aug. 9, 2017)

U.N. human rights office denounced “widespread and systematic use of excessive force” against demonstrators in Venezuela, yesterday. Separately, a dozen countries from the region agreed not to recognize the country's new Constituent Assembly.

"Witness accounts suggest that security forces, mainly the national guard, the national police and local police forces, have systematically used disproportionate force to instill fear, crush dissent and to prevent demonstrators from assembling, rallying and reaching public institutions to present petitions," the U.N. rights office said in a report released yesterday based on an investigation conducted in June and July, reports AFP.

UN rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein,deployed a team of human rights officers to monitor the country remotely after being denied access to Venezuela to investigate the situation in the country. The investigators conducted 135 interviews between 6 June and 31 July with victims and their families, witnesses, civil society organizations, journalists, lawyers and doctors, among others.

The U.N. report also speaks of other human rights violations, including "violent house raids, torture and ill-treatment," notes the BBC.

"Since the wave of demonstrations began in April, there has been a clear pattern of excessive force used against protesters. Several thousand people have been arbitrarily detained, many reportedly subjected to ill-treatment and even torture, while several hundred have been brought before military rather than civilian courts," said Hussein. The UN human rights team said that estimates suggested that more than 5,000 people had been arbitrarily detained between 1 April, when the protests began, and 31 July.

In a meeting in Peru, foreign ministers and top officials from 12 countries including Canada said the decisions by Venezuela’s 545-member constituent assembly (ANC) will be considered illegitimate, reports the Wall Street Journal. Officials said they supported ousted attorney general Luisa Ortega and will continue to recognize the opposition-controlled Congress.

Even Uruguay, a staunch supporter of engagement and dialogue, has shifted against the Venezuelan government, reports Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa said Uruguayan officials had reached out to their "Venezuelan counterparts 22 separate times to enter into talks with the opposition, to no effect."

International condemnation has been too weak, argue Robert Muggah and Adriana Erthal Abdenur in Foreign Affairs. "Venezuela is dangerously close to slipping over the precipice. Many of the world’s most intractable armed conflicts were triggered by far less dramatic circumstances than the current crisis in Venezuela. The consequences of a full-blown civil war would be dramatic for the region, with potentially dramatic spillover effects. As hard as it is to imagine, there is still a window of opportunity for preventive diplomacy."

The Trump administration is preparing sanctions against another group of Venezuelan officials linked to Maduro, reports Reuters.

Yesterday members of the ANC took control of a legislative chamber and put up pictures of the late President Hugo Chávez. The assembly declared itself above all other government institutions, including the opposition-controlled congress, reports the Associated Press. (See Monday's post.)

Yesterday Venezuela's Supreme Court sentence an opposition mayor to 15 months in jail, reports the New York Times. Ramón Muchacho, mayor of the wealthy Caracas Chacao district, was also stripped of his position and barred from holding public office. A second opposition mayor, David Smolansky, has been ordered to appear before the court today. They were among 13 mayors who had been ordered by the judges in May to halt anti-government protests that involved erecting barricades to block traffic. But the protests continued and some mayors argued citizens have a right to peaceful protest. At least three other mayors have been sentenced to 15 months in jail for failing to comply with the order.

President Nicolas Maduro’s government disqualified candidates of the main dissident parties from running in seven gubernatorial elections this year, without explanation, reports the Los Angeles Times. Officials said disqualifications were the results of “decisions taken” in those states Zulia, Apure, Monagas, Bolivar, Trujillo, Aragua and Carabobo.

News Briefs
  • Hernán Capriles, a prominent member of Venezuela's opposition, told the Financial Times that the ranks of dissident Chavistas -- who disagree with the current president but retain loyalty to his predecessor -- are growing. He is seeking to join forces with them. Capriles met with former interior minister Miguel Rodríguez and hopes to reach out to the newly ousted attorney general, Luisa Ortega.
  • Venezuela is increasingly an international pariah, defended only by China and Russia, argues Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez in a Financial Times opinion piece examining China's increasing distance and the interests behind Russian support. "The Kremlin ... provides Mr Maduro with Kalashnikovs, not tear gas. It potentially stands to gain more from increased Venezuelan isolation, more sanctions, and the regional spillover effects of implosion — a South American Syria, rather than its Zimbabwe — providing both catalyst and justification for a more visible Russian presence in the Caribbean, to protect its growing interests. The real losers will be the Venezuelan people and their neighbours."
  • A counter perspective in the Guardian, which interviewed Chavista Ruben Ávila, who said this weekend's attack on a military base "was nothing but a media show” put on by “mercenaries and paramilitaries commanded by a officer who deserted, a traitor and coward linked to the same rightwing that we rose up against." (See yesterday's briefs and Monday's post.)
  • A bill approved by Haiti's Senate prohibits any public support or advocacy for LGBTQ rights and bans gay marriage, reports the Associated Press.
  • A group of U.S. senators voiced frustration with the Trump administration's efforts to address violence and corruption in Honduras, and comes months after they urged U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to take a tougher stance. The Democrats said there is "credible evidence" that not all Honduran officials support serious efforts to combat organized crime and corruption. They also told Tillerson that social activists continue to be the target of threats and attacks and the government of Honduras' "engagement with civil society has not materially improved," reports the Associated Press.
  • Last week Paraguayan president Horacio Cartés vetoed a bill to subsidize the debts of thousands of small producers, reports EFE. Campesino associations announced they will continue to pressure for Congress to repass the bill and bypass the veto.
  • Peru's melting "tropical glaciers" make it a test spot for climate change adaptation -- so far, it's not going well, reports the Washington Post.
  • Members of Mexico's Comité de Participación Ciudadana del Sistema Nacional Anticorrupción have taken legal recourse to try to pressure states to implement the system, reports Animal Político. One suit seeks to have a federal judge force states that haven't conformed to reform their legislation meet the national legislation.
  • Mexico state's electoral authorities have declared PRI candidate Alfredo del Mazo the definitive winner of June's contested gubernatorial race, reports Animal Político. Opposition parties Morena and PRD denounced electoral irregularities favoring Del Mazo and undue use of social programs. (See June 6's post.)
  • U.S. negotiators may push for better working conditions and wages for Mexican workers in upcoming NAFTA renegotiations, part of a bid to make the country less enticing for U.S. firms, reports Bloomberg.
  • The U.S.'s America First rhetoric is causing trouble for U.S. ethanol producers who are trying to avoid a trade spat with Brazil over biofuel, reports Bloomberg.
  • Brazilian Attorney General Ricardo Janot heavily criticized the recent Congressional vote against putting President Michel Temer on trial for corruption. He also said plea bargains being negotiated could lead to charges of racketeering and obstruction of justice, reports the Associated Press.
  • Temer's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to remove Janot yesterday, arguing he is overstepping limits in pursuing cases against the president, reports EFE.
  • U.S. health officials say more than 100 people have contracted salmonella after eating papaya traced to a farm in southern Mexico, reports the Associated Press.
  • Word geeks will like Larousse's Mexico City anti-machista campaign, designed on the premise that language influences how we behave, reports Animal Político.