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GUATEMALA: Guatemala swore in Alejandro Giammattei, a conservative physician, as its new president yesterday, while the country’s outgoing leader faces allegations of illegal campaign financing. Giammattei, 63, won the presidency on his fourth attempt in August for Vamos, a party founded in 2017 on the promise of “battling poverty and providing better opportunities.” Giammattei’s anti-corruption platform included the proposed “Mayan Train” bill —a high-speed rail through Central America— as well as an opposition to gay marriage and abortion. After the ceremony, the U.S. Embassy announced it would sign a memorandum with Guatemala for $1 billion in private sector investments.

Meanwhile, Guatemalan civil society groups demanded that authorities arrest the country’s outgoing President Jimmy Morales for corruption as soon as his successor took office. Morales has dodged corruption allegations for the last two years of his term, but was immune from prosecution. This immunity ended yesterday afternoon, prompting many activists to protest outside of the Office of the Public Prosecutor.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

SOUTHERN CONE

ARGENTINA: Buenos Aires is on the verge of a debt default of $275 billion. Governor Axel Kicillof announced through a press release that he could not pay the debt scheduled for Jan. 26 and urged creditors to accept an extension until May. “On January 14, the province of Buenos Aires announced that it will request the consent of bondholders of 10.875 percent bonds due in 2021 to approve certain amendments to its terms and conditions,” said Kicillof. This week Sergio Chodos, director of the International Monetary Fund’s Southern Cone, is in Washington, D.C., to meet with the institution’s director, Kristalina Georgieva. He will present her with President Alberto Fernández’s proposal to renegotiate the debt. Argentina already owes the IMF approximately $47 million and has a public debt close to 98 percent of the country’s GDP.

THE ANDES

COLOMBIA: Yesterday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern at the “staggering number” of social activists killed in Colombia, particularly in the rural provinces of Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca and Caquetá. According to the U.N., 107 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, and the number could increase to 120 as investigations are carried out. Just in the first two weeks of 2020, at least 10 activists have been reported killed. Even though the 2016 peace accord was aimed at improving conditions in rural areas, most of the killings have taken place in such areas. The U.N. points to challenges in implementing the accord, the presence of illegal armed groups in territory that was previously controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the government’s military-focused response as causes. “We acknowledge some positive steps,” said Marta Hurtado, spokesperson of the high commissioner, regarding a recent security meeting. “However, the number of killings clearly shows much more needs to be done.”

PERU: Yesterday, Peru’s Constitutional Court supported President Martín Vizcarra’s choice last year to dissolve the country’s legislature. Magistrates voted yesterday to sanction Vizcarra’s controversial decision and dismissed a complaint by opposition lawmakers. Although polls indicate the decision was popular, critics argued it was beyond his executive powers. The dissolvement of the legislature paves the way for elections to vote for a new group of lawmakers on Jan. 26. Almost every former Peruvian president is currently under investigation for alleged bribery in connection with the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

THE CARIBBEAN

PUERTO RICO: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo visited Puerto Rico yesterday to survey damage caused by a series of devastating earthquakes that have rattled the island for weeks. Cuomo criticized the Trump administration’s response to the emergency, saying “the federal government hasn’t showed up the way they should.” The governor visited a power plant that was damaged in the southern part of the island and put the state’s resources available to the local government to assist in Puerto Rico’s recovery. The local government is waiting for President Donald Trump’s response to a major disaster declaration that would provide additional aid.

HAITI: Haitian President Jovenel Moïse could be ruling by decree this week. On Monday, Moïse said the mandates of lower house deputies and most senators had expired because successors were not elected in October after Haiti failed to hold elections. The president ushered his one-man rule by declaring that he will build 10 schools around the Caribbean country with the salaries of the former members of Parliament. Last year, thousands of Haitians took to the streets for months to protest against the government.

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: The Legion of Christ has removed Father Fernando Martínez Suárez, after finding him guilty of sexual abuse against minors. The former priest was found to have abused at least eight young girls, between the ages of six and 11 years old. The Legion of Christ has released documents detailing claims of abuse from as early as 1969, with the most recent reports coming from last year. While the Catholic Church removed him from his position as priest, he has been allowed to continue as a member of the Legion of Christ and the church. Victims of Martínez have criticized the decision.

UNITED STATES: U.S. Federal Judge Dana Sabraw ruled that the Trump administration’s policy of family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border is being carried out properly, with respect to the “rights to family integrity and the Court’s orders.” Sabraw, who had previously ordered the administration to find and reunite separated families, did not find that the administration was abusing its discretion to separate families in situations where parents were considered unfit or dangerous, or in situations where parents had criminal history or communicable diseases. The judge also ruled that the administration must use DNA testing to resolve parentage disputes. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which brought the case over the “zero tolerance” policy in 2018, is considering its next action in the case.

UNITED STATES: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the Senate is expected to pass the U.S. trade deal with Mexico and Canada this week, before the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump begins. He said that he expects the deal to receive bipartisan support, and added that its passing will be “good news for the Senate and the country.” Several other senators have said they expect the vote to take place tomorrow.

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