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VENEZUELA: During a televised event promoting women’s reproductive health and a new healthcare plan, President Nicolás Maduro urged women to have “at least 6 children” in order to curb the flow of Venezuelans fleeing the country. “Every woman is to have six children! Every one! For the good of the country… Let the homeland grow!” Maduro told attendees.

The comment sparked outrage for many, who called it “irresponsible” and “cynical” in light of the country’s economic crisis. According to figures from UNICEF, child malnutrition in Venezuela has reached 13% and infant mortality increased by 30% in 2017. The UN World Food Program recently said that more than 9 million Venezuelans are currently unable to meet standard dietary needs. Shortages of food and medical supplies continue to be widespread as well. Women’s rights groups were outraged by Maduro’s suggestion with one group stating that women are “more than a womb.”

Supporters of the president say that efforts by Maduro to improve the country’s current condition have been obstructed by countries such as the U.S. Critics of Maduro say his tactics have become increasingly authoritarian in recent years. The country’s current economic crisis and political divide has resulted in 4.5 million Venezuelans fleeing the country since 2015.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

SOUTHERN CONE

ARGENTINA: A federal court ordered the prison release of former government planning official Julio De Vido, who is currently being investigated for allegedly diverting public funds. The court also ruled that another official involved in the scandal be released. The judge claimed that their release would not “hinder” the progress of the corruption investigation. The case currently does not have a date for when trial proceedings will begin.

THE ANDES

COLOMBIA: During the murder investigation of a prominent drug trafficker, investigators discovered a phone call that alleges former president Álvaro Uribe was involved in vote-buying for President Iván Duque, a close friend of the deceased trafficker. In the recording of Jose Hernando Hernández, known as Ñeñe, he admits to stealing a portion of funds given to him by Uribe to convince businesses to support Duque. The investigation also discovered Prosecutor Ricardo Bejarano advised the trafficker of deals and warned him of federal investigations. Ñeñe was an honored guest at Duque’s inauguration ceremony in 2018.

ECUADOR: After confirming three more cases yesterday, health authorities announced that Ecuador now has 10 positive coronavirus diagnoses, the highest number in South America. Authorities said the new cases were in direct contact with the first patient diagnosed, and another 21 people were added to the Ministry of Health’s monitor list. More than 120 people displaying symptoms are still under observation.

PERU: A U.S. judge in California denied bail to former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, who applied for release on the grounds of “psychological deterioration” while in custody. The judge ruled that Toledo’s defense failed to provide evidence of extreme mental distress and posed too much of a flight risk to be released. Toledo fled Peru in 2017 and was arrested in California in 2019. He was accused of receiving $35 million from construction giant Odebrecht in exchange for federal contracts, and faces extradition back to Peru.

THE CARIBBEAN

PUERTO RICO: The island’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority estimates that earthquake damage totals at around $782 million after a 6.4 magnitude quake rattled Puerto Rico on January 7, followed by thousands of aftershocks. While the agency estimates that 2,500 residences are now inhabitable, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has received over 30,000 requests for aid, a large percentage of them for home repairs. As of early March, over 90% of the island’s public schools have passed safety inspections and reopened.

CENTRAL AMERICA

COSTA RICA: Pressure mounts against President Carlos Alvarado as a federal investigation into a data analysis unit leads to four high-level resignations within his administration, including Minister of the Presidency Víctor Morales. Costa Rica’s Prosecutor’s Office is investigating Alvarado and seven government officials for violation of personal data and abuse of authority after their creation of a data analysis unit that has allegedly been collecting private personal information from citizens for a year and a half without any legal permission. Though Alvarado authorized the creation of the Presidential Data Analysis Unit back in October of 2019 to guide public policy, his administration did not make the decree public until last week, which gave the unit access to confidential information “when so required.” The decree was repealed on February 20.

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: Four Mexican bishops are being referred to their superiors for alleged sex abuse cases, according to the Vatican’s representative in Mexico on Tuesday. Nuncio Franco Coppola did not disclose any details on the bishops, but referred to an email address opened in January and December that received abuse allegations. Top sex abuse investigators will be sent to Mexico in late March. Currently, 217 priests are being investigated, but the number of accused may be higher since complaints are also being sent to Rome. Charles Scicluna and Jordi Bertomeu, the Vatican’s appointed investigators, will be in Mexico City March 20-27, meeting with religious leaders, bishops, and victims. The number of total victims remains unknown.

MEXICO: Germán Abraham Loera Acosta, a Mexican YouTuber, has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for the kidnapping of a Mexican woman in February 2018. Loera Acosta was one of the six men who captured 33-year-old lawyer, Thalia Denisse, in Chihuahua and forced her into a car. The YouTuber was the mastermind behind the woman’s kidnapping, renting the house where she was held captive and demanding more than $102,000 in Bitcoins for her release. Police rescued Denisse two days later and arrested four members of the group, one of which was Loera Acosta. Prosecutors say that Loera Acosta organized the entire operation, despite having no prior criminal history and calling himself a “full-time entrepreneur.”

U.S.-MEXICO: President Trump said Tuesday that he will not close the southern U.S. border as coronavirus spreads. “We’re not looking at that very strongly,” he told reporters at the National Institutes of Health Vaccine Research Center. Trump considered the possibility of shutting the border in a Feb. 29 press conference. His administration will likely avoid this course of action given the high number of transit and legal crossings that occur at the border.

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