REGION: A study commissioned by the Canadian government concluded that the mysterious illness known as the “Havana syndrome” that affected 50 U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba was caused by mosquito fumigations. Researchers associated with the Brain Repair Center at Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia Health Authority were the first to study Canadian victims who had medical testing done before their postings in the Havana embassy. The study found that neurotoxins in pesticides sprayed in the embassies in response to the Zika outbreak in 2016 may have blocked a vital enzyme in the brain.
The incidents took place between 2016 and 2018, with diplomats describing symptoms including memory loss and sleep disturbance after hearing a ringing noise. In 2017, President Donald Trump reduced the Cuban embassy staff to the bare minimum and the Canadian government reduced its Havana embassy staff by half as a result of the incident.
HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
ARGENTINA: Following mass protests, the Senate unanimously declared a food emergency until 2022 due to growing poverty amid an ongoing economic crisis. The new law amps up Federal expenses in public canteens by 50 percent until December 2022, adding $175 million to their budget. The country is facing an extreme financial crisis with around 32 percent of the population living in poverty. Yesterday afternoon, the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses of the Republic (INDEC) released data that showed that 10.6 percent of Argentinians, or more than 2 million people, are unemployed.
BRAZIL: Former Odebrecht executive Henrique Valladares, who was one of the main whistleblowers in Operation Car Wash corruption probe, was found dead in his Rio de Janeiro apartment on Tuesday. According to an email the Brazilian Police sent to the Associated Press, the cause of his death remains “undetermined.” Valladares, former vice president of Odebrecht, confessed in the probe that the company paid about USD $12.2 million to the then senator and former presidential candidate Aécio Neves. He also said that Edison Lobão, former President Dilma Roussself’s Energy and Mining Minister, also requested brives to benefit Odebrecht.
VENEZUELA/COLOMBIA: Two new photos of opposition leader Juan Guaidó with an alleged member of a paramilitary group were released yesterday afternoon. The pictures appear to show Guaidó with Zambrano García, whom the Venezuelan government claims is a key member of the drug trafficking group “Los Rastrojos.” However, the Colombian government claims García “does not figure among the structures of this group.” Last week, two pictures of the self-proclaimed President of Venezuela hugging the two Rastrojo leaders alias “Brother” and “El Menor” were leaked.
NICARAGUA: Nicaraguan plantation workers and their families are seeking compensation from the French government after thousands were sterilized by pesticides in the 1980s. The victims were awarded compensation in Nicaragua over a decade ago and have filed lawsuits in the United States, but they are now turning to French company Dow Chemicals to pay out the awards. French courts froze $110 million worth of Dow Chemical shares on Tuesday, anticipating a trial set for January.
HONDURAS: United States officials met with Honduran delegates yesterday to sign new immigration agreements between the two countries. A press conference is to follow today at noon CST. The agreements are part of a broader initiative between the United States and Central American countries to create “safe third countries” that will accept migrants heading to the United States. Acting Secretary of National Security Kevin K. McAleenan and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández met late August to discuss the agreements. Discussions continued into September as delegations from both countries finalized the terms.
BERMUDA: Category-3 Hurricane Humberto caused no deaths as it passed by the island Wednesday night, resulting in only structural damage to buildings and roads, as well as a brief power outage. By midday yesterday, power had been restored and government offices were set to reopen. The storm continued north, expecting to kick up high surf and strong winds in Bermuda and along the eastern coast of the United States.
MEXICO: Tropical Storm Lorena is expected to intensify into a Category 1 hurricane as it makes its way to Baja California Sur, according to La Comisión Nacional del Agua (Conagua). Governor Carlos Mendoza Davis announced that shipping activity in Los Cabos would be suspended starting at 1 p.m. yesterday in a preventive measure. The nearby states of Michoacan, Nayarit, Colima and southern parts of Sinaloa will face heavy rain.
UNITED STATES: The U.S. Treasury is working with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s envoy to the United States as well as the FBI and Italian police to track down pieces of European and Latin American artwork that they suspect have been stolen by the Venezuelan government, according to the Associated Press. Some of the pieces in question include three Venezuelan paintings that hung in the Venezuelan ambassador’s residence in Washington D.C. but went missing after Guaidó’s envoy began running the diplomatic mission in May. The three works together are believed to be valued at around $1 million.
Four years ago, Senator Bernie Sanders began a long-shot campaign for the presidency. Until then, Sanders was a relatively unknown independent senator from Vermont, with some very progressive ideas. His 2016 campaign, it turns out, came close to “stealing” the nomination from Hillary Clinton, who was widely expected to become the Democratic nominee.
This election cycle is a very different story. Bernie Sanders is one of the front-runners, and the field of candidates is so large you can barely fit them in one debate stage.
But it has been a long road to this moment for Senator Sanders. He is the son of an immigrant from Europe, who emigrated to the U.S. at 17 years old. That influenced Bernie Sanders’ childhood, which was marked by scarcity.
A self-described socialist, Bernie Sanders held public office for the first time when he became the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1981. He then went on to be elected to the House of Representatives in 1990, and finally he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006, always running as an independent.
Latino USA‘s Maria Hinojosa sits down with Senator Sanders to talk about his decision to run for the presidency one more time, growing up in a working class family, and his ideas on immigration.
QUITO, Ecuador — Pamela Troya was preparing for an interview with a human rights defense organization in Quito in June when a fellow LGBT activist burst into the studio screaming.
“Pamela, you did it!” the activist said.
In response, Troya grabbed her phone, logged onto Twitter and saw the news she’d been waiting for the past six years. The Constitutional Court of Ecuador had just approved the Equal Civil Marriage Act. Tears began to flow down her cheeks as she dialed her girlfriend, Gabriela Correa. With Correa on the other end of the line, Troya had no words. She felt out of breath from crying.
It would be hours before Troya found the words she wanted to say. In the Plaza Foch in Quito, surrounded by LGBT rights activists and supporters and a giant rainbow flag waving on the street, Troya hugged Correa and said, “This fight was not in vain. We made it, my love. We will finally get married.”
Flameando la bandera LGBTI en la Plaza Foch, estamos celebrando que hoy Ecuador es un país un poco más justo e igualitario que ayer.#MatrimonioIgualitarioEC
Troya and Correa spent six years fighting Ecuador’s justice system for the right to marry. Their legal struggle started on Aug. 5, 2013, when they became the first gay couple in Ecuador to request marriage from the Civil Registry. Their request was flatly denied by then-judge Gloria Pillajo, who cited religious arguments and the Constitution of 2008. Pillajo ruled that civil marriage was only permitted between men and women, and she described their petition as illegitimate and unconstitutional. But Troya and Correa didn’t give up.
After Pillajo refused their marriage request, they founded the collective “Matrimonio Igualitario EC.” Then, in 2014, with dozens of activists backing them up, they filed a lawsuit in the Constitutional Court against the Ecuadorian state for the denial of a right, demanding them to reinterpret articles 11 and 67 of the Constitution, which recognize equal rights for all people without distinction of sex, race or religion, as well as the family in its variety of types. Thanks to their dedication to the pursuit of justice, exactly six years after their fight began, they got married. Their marriage marked a milestone in the LGBT rights movement in Ecuador, and their struggle opened the door for other couples to marry. During Troya’s and Correa’s six-year fight, eight other gay couples requested marriage.
Finally on June 12, 2019, the Constitutional Court approved the Equal Civil Marriage Act in Ecuador, allowing them to marry. Bernarda Ordóñez, a human rights lawyer and advisor to the National Constituent Assembly of Ecuador, said the decision of the judges is in accordance with the principles of equality established in the Constitution. “The judges who voted in favor did a great job in determining the most suitable way to act according to the spirit of the Constitution,” Ordóñez said. “When a right is a right for one, but not for another, it is not a right, but a privilege.”
The win in the Constitutional Court marks a major victory for the LGBT rights movement in Ecuador. Until 1997, Ecuador considered same-sex relationships a crime, with a penalty of 4 to 8 years in prison. After its decriminalization, Ecuador became the first country in the Americas, and the third in the world, to include sexual orientation as one of the categories protected against discrimination. Ten years later, in the Constitution of 2008, the de facto union between same-sex couples was legalized. This meant gay couples could legally live together as a couple and receive some of the same benefits as married couples, such as receiving their deceased partner’s social security pension, but they couldn’t actually marry. Finally, in 2019, Ecuador became the 27th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, joining Argentina, Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay in Latin America.
“Our goal was to call each other wives,” Correa said. “Beyond a personal whim, there is a symbolic value. An LGBT person may or may not consider marriage, but at least he or she must have the right to choose, just like a heterosexual couple.”
Before submitting their application to the Civil Registry in 2013, the couple had planned to marry in Argentina, where gay marriage had been legalized since 2010. However, after Correa was fired from her former job because of her sexual orientation, they decided to assume activist responsibility. “It has been exhausting to have to fight to prove that we are human beings, but someone had to do it,” Correa said.
Although the ruling of the Constitutional Court was applauded by international organizations, including the United Nations, it was met with some resistance at home. Mass mobilizations of conservative and fundamentalist groups claiming to “defend the traditional family” and threatening “do not mess with my children” have been demanding a repeal of the ruling. Days after the decision, conservative activist Fernando Balda presented a referendum request calling on Ecuadorians to decide whether or not to accept gay marriage in the country. Troya, who is an active Twitter user, said she has had to block 1,200 accounts from people who were sending her messages of hate, calling her abnormal and unnatural and even mocking her weight.
“This fight has not been easy,” Troya said. “We have been the target of homophobia and aggression, especially online. The biggest challenge has been to endure all of the harassment on social media that sometimes shows what society is really like.”
Ordóñez said Ecuadorian society is still very polarized between advancing rights and respecting traditional values, but despite the counterarguments like Balda’s, the ruling is clear. “The decision of the judges is irrefutable, and progress is only made when it most respects diversity,” Ordóñez said.
In recent years, younger generations have shown greater acceptance of diversity and its visibility in the public sphere. Pride marches, for example, have been taking place in Quito and Guayaquil since 2013. This year, for the first time, marches were held in smaller cities, too.
Others have channeled their activism through the media. Pedro Gutiérrez, a 24-year-old gay man from Cuenca, a city known for its marked Judeo-Christian tradition, participates in “radio activism,” as he describes it. In 2016, he founded “Sin etiquetas” (Without Tags), a weekly radio program also broadcast on Facebook Live that addresses issues in vulnerable communities, including the LGBT community. Gutiérrez uses his own media to combat so-called “fake news” from anti-LGBT rights groups. These groups have created disinformation campaigns on social media and WhatsApp, spreading hateful messages, such as that same-sex couples want to adopt children for perverse ends.
“It is necessary that the responsible media create digital platforms to check fake news and that the pro movements can continue to educate” Gutiérrez said.
Gutiérrez was selected as one of the 29 global leaders for equality to participate in the 2019 Human Rights Campaign Global Summit in Washington in April, where he took part in intense discussions on trends and innovative ways to advance LGBT equality around the world. He now plans to organize workshops with more activists in Ecuador to find ways to educate people through media storytelling. Similarly, other groups like Guayaqueercity, Proyecto Zoom, VulgA and Maricas Unidas, have used digital platforms as a vehicle for their activism.
According to the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC), 9 out of 10 Ecuadorians claim to belong to a religious affiliation, primarily Catholic. Both Gutiérrez and Ordóñez agree that now the biggest challenge is cultural change. The rewritten law allows them to address other challenges now. “If you do not have a decent life with the minimum rights, you will not be thinking about adopting, or getting married,” Gutiérrez said.
Despite the struggles that the LGBT community still faces, activists had something to celebrate when Troya and Correa finally tied the knot in August. At 4 p.m. that day, about 60 people gathered to share the happiness of Troya and Correa, who had just been declared “legally married.” Troya arrived with her sister and 12-year-old nephew, who said that his dream of finally seeing his two aunts marry had come true. Once the ceremony was over, outside the Civil Registry with their new IDs, Troya shouted, “My love with Gabby is proof that real love can endure anything. We fought against presidents, constitutions, but more than anything, we know that we have positively impacted not only one person but a whole country.”
BERMUDA: Bermuda braced for Hurricane Humberto as the category 3 storm passed 100 miles north of the British territory. With reports of strong winds of up to 104 mph across the island and forecasts of up to 6 inches of rain, Governor John Rankin urged residents to stay indoors and ordered early closings of schools, clinics and government offices. The director of the Bermuda Weather Service expected the storm to pass as close to the northern coast as 80 miles last night, which could produce tornadoes and floods. The hurricane was expected to lash the island until early this morning.
BRAZIL: Five people have been accused of obstructing the investigation into the murder of politician Marielle Franco. Among those accused are two court officials and two police officers. Prosecutor Raquel Dodge claims the accused attempted to prevent investigators from identifying what criminal group was responsible for Franco’s death. Franco had been critical of police raids in rural areas of Brazil and paramilitary groups before being shot by an unknown shooter in Rio de Janeiro last year. The motive for the murder has still not been determined.
VENEZUELA: A Venezuelan police group has been targeting and killing young men in poor neighborhoods, according to the nonprofit Human Rights Watch. The group has documented nine cases involving the torture and murder of young individuals. The killings are believed to be part of the efforts of President Nicolás Maduro’s administration in going after opposition groups and leaders. Edgar Zambrano, a deputy of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, was recently released from detention after being detained since April. Zambrano said he was “kidnapped and almost annihilated” for “thinking differently” than the Maduro administration.
ECUADOR: Pro-choice demonstrators and police clashed outside Ecuador’s national assembly after lawmakers rejected a bill that would decriminalize abortion in all cases of rape. Abortion is currently illegal in Ecuador except for cases where the life of the mother is in danger or if the pregnancy resulted from the rape of a woman with mental disabilities. Activists say the alarming number of rapes in the country will continue to put women’s lives at risk. Illegal abortions accounted for more than 15% of maternal deaths in 2014.
GUATEMALA: Guatemala has 14.9 million people, according to Guatemala’s latest National Statistics Institute (INE) population census. The INE data shows that 51.5% percent of the population is female while 48.5 percent is male with 61 percent of the population between the age range of 15 to 64 years old. The census revealed a significant change in where the population lives: 54 percent of the population lives in urban areas and 46% live in rural areas, whereas the last census in 2002 reported that 53 percent of the population lived in rural areas compared to 47 percent living in urban areas. Additionally, the country’s literacy rate rose to 81.5 percent, a 10-point increase from the 2002 census.
EL SALVADOR: Bianka Rodríguez was awarded the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award for her commitment as an advocate of the LGBTI and trans communities in El Salvador. As the regional winner for the Americas, Rodríguez was chosen for her work as president and executive director of COMCAVIS Trans, a Salvadoran NGO dedicated to shining a light on trans issues and establishing support networks within the Salvadoran trans community to ensure trans individuals are aware of their rights. The award is given to individuals and organizations who “go to extraordinary lengths to protect refugees, displaced and stateless people.”
U.S.-MEXICO BORDER: President Donald Trump’s 30-foot border wall could destroy archaeological sites in Arizona. According to an internal National Park Service report, the destruction of up to 22 historical sites will take place within the coming months. U.S. Customs and Border Protection hopes to accelerate the process so that 500 miles of barrier are completed by next year’s election. New construction within Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument began last month, despite being one of the busiest areas for migrant border crossings. Environmental groups will continue to fight against construction in protected areas.
MEXICO: A shooting in Mexico City has resulted in the killing of four men and the wounding of three women and a 7-year-old girl. Prosecutors say a woman and a 14-year-old boy are among four arrested suspects. The shooting allegedly occurred before dawn Wednesday in a downtown low-income neighborhood. The prosecutors’ office says the suspects were carrying two guns and a bag of marijuana.
MEXICO: Mexico was unable to stop a pre-Colombian art auction in France. Yesterday’s collection included around 120 pre-Hispanic artifacts, ranging from clay fertility figurines to pottery. A French couple began the collection in the 1960s, but Mexico passed a law in 1972 banning the export of said artifacts. Mexico said some of the artifacts are fakes and others are emblematic of the country’s cultural ancestry. Mexico’s ambassador to France, Juan Gomez Robledo, said, “We will take the necessary actions to stop this sale.”
Daymé Arocena’s voice is one of the most powerful and captivating on the scene. With vocals that are hypnotizing and a vibrating confidence that radiates across the stage, the Cuban jazz artist has captured the souls of those tuning into her music. This month, she dropped her album Sonocardiogram, where she bares her heart for listeners with a celebration of love and santería.
“This record’s intention isn’t to make people happy, it’s very intimate,” Arocena told Latino USA, “I know that what I share in that record are feelings that can be shared by many. They’re very intimate concepts, but also universal.”
The album, produced by Arocena and her Havana-based band, is a dive into Afro-Cuban jazz, starting with three songs dedicated to the santería goddesses Oyá, Oshún and Yemayá, before turning to themes of love. The genre is tinted with nostalgia, and Arocena leans into its spontaneity—recording in an unconventional studio in order to stay true to jazz’ live-stage essence.
“All of the musical production was done by us. It felt very familiar and yet it was a process of personal self-discovery and collective discovery,” she said.
Her previous album, Cubafonía, was a compilation of popular Afro-Cuban music, delivered with a talent that mirrored that of past Cuban women who obtained international acclaim, like La Lupe and Celia Cruz. Yet while Arocena pays tribute to roots music (and these very artists like in a song where she makes a plea to La Lupe), she is giving Cuban folklore new life and set to make her claim in the world of Latin music at large. In Sonocardiogram, the 27-year-old continues to leave her mark and share her own power and uniqueness, it is now up to the music industry and audiences everywhere to witness it.
Arocena spoke with us at Latino USA about her trajectory thus far, her music-making process, her personal life and what inspired her latest creation.
Amanda Alcántara: Okay, so let’s start off with the music recording process. You’re in Havana right? Do you make music out of there? And who do you work with?
Daymé Arocena: I’ve worked with the same band for about four years. It’s a band of Cubans who live right here in Cuba, and all of our productions are out of here.
AA: How did you begin making music?
DA: So I started singing when I was very little. My parents noticed my inclination towards art and music, so they had me singing in a community chorus in the community Diez de Octubre, which is where I’m from in Havana. They also had me take piano lessons and all these other things to prepare me to start music school when I was 10. I began studying music in the Conversatorio Alejandro García Caturla from the age of 10 to 15. Then I passed on to the Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán. And that’s more my academic formation. I studied chorus direction so I’m basically a chorus leader but I don’t practice that often.
AA: I listened to your album, Sonocardiogram and I loved it. When I was little, my mom would always take me to these Latin jazz concerts in the Dominican Republic, though they were small and local. Jazz is not really part of the so-called folklore of our Caribbean countries but it actually is part of us, of the Caribbean and it has a way of waking the spirit.
DA: Yes, especially because you have the tool of improvisation which let’s you approach a song in different ways each time. The song you performed today, there’s no reason for it to sound the same tomorrow because the interruption gives you elements to change or transform the song, every time you play it.
AA: That’s right! And you can listen to the public or what’s happening in the room and be led by that too.
DA: Yes, the public influences your interpretation of the piece, and so does each musician who is part of the interpretation. For example, when I’m singing, I can’t sing while being distant from my musicians or band members. I have to pay attention to everything that they’re doing, and that gives me information and elements about how I will perform the song. I myself am an element too.
AA: So then, knowing that jazz is spontaneous, what’s your recording process?
DA: We have used very conventional methods, for the most part, but with this last album, we decided to break some rules of the game and use a home studio that was improvised. So it wasn’t a recording studio per se. It was a painting studio that is now a local rehearsal space belonging to a Cuban family, la familia López. We would hear dogs and cats while we recorded and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, quite the opposite. It was interesting that we weren’t recording somewhere isolated like when you record in a studio and can only hear yourself. That’s like being in a bubble, and our intention was to shift that and be more connected to the environment because jazz also lives and breathes through that.
AA: Now that you mention discovery process, the album feels like it comes in two parts, it’s a spiritual praise and a praise to love. Did you ever feel scared of sharing such intimate parts of yourself?
DA: No. I’m very spontaneous and very open, and I’m not afraid of opening my heart for others. Why would I? I’m not foreign to what human beings experience. I feel blessed because all of these negative or positive experiences have always given me inspiration for a new song. So I’d say the opposite, I feel like a keeper and like a channel of inspiration. I know there are many musicians who don’t like to do songs that talk about emotional or intimate subjects but I feel that it’s my mission to put out music that life and the spirits have given me. I believe that that’s why they chose me. In the end, music is a universal language and my story could serve as inspiration or help for someone with a similar experience.
AA: Let’s talk about the first part, the “Trilogía” (“Trilogy”) which are three songs to Yemayá, Oshún, and Oyá. Why did you choose to release those first and what has it been like to share that part of yourself?
DA: My music has always been inspired by folkloric Cuban music. Of course, how I view religion doesn’t have to be the same way my parents, or friends or even my godmother sees it. Every person sees religion differently. I fell brutally in love with religious music before I became a practitioner. I discovered religious music when I was 17. At that age was when I actually wrote “Trilogía” and it became my first time approaching folklore from the perspective of classic music. That’s why I chose to incorporate it in this album, because Sonocardiogram is a record where I speak from the bottom of my heart. Sound is what makes my heart keep beating. To talk about my essence, I had to talk about what inspires me the most, which is folkloric music, with all of its diverse rhythms and melodies, and its complexities and mysteries.
I took the leap into practicing religion at 22 years old. So it took me around five years to go from loving the music, to loving the spiritual practice and the religion. It’s transformed the music I did before and the one after.
AA: In the second part of the album, you have songs like “Porque Tú No Estás” (“Because You’re Not Here”) and “Para El Amor: Cantar” (“For Love: Sing”). Where did you draw inspiration for those?
DA: These songs are from five different phases in my life. Each song touches on a relationship that didn’t work out. And each song tells a story, no? From the Daymé who I was a few years ago to the Daymé I am now. There are songs like “Porque Tú No Estás,” which I wrote about five years ago and I finished it for this record. “Para El Amor: Cantar” is a song about break-ups, but from the position of “Why am I stuck feeling this way? I don’t need to give into this feeling, the only thing I need to do is sing and be happy.” It’s an ode to women, women who give so much to relationships and sometimes it doesn’t work out. Almost like saying, “If it didn’t work out, there’s more paths, dance, and have fun.” (laughs)
The last song is one where I say I’m not going through this anymore. And I partly sing it to my husband, who I married a few months back, and I feel happy and I feel like I’m in a comfort zone that I’ve never been in before. And that’s why in the song I say, “I need you more than ever.” Sometimes in our relationship, I have reactions that are defensive, and he has to tell me “I’m not one of the men in your past.”
AA: Right now, we’re in a time where people are talking about the lack of representation of Afro-Latinas in music. And it’s interesting because in the past we did have women like Celia Cruz and La Lupe. How do you feel knowing that there’s women who look to you as that needed-representation of black women in music?
DA: First, I will say that I’m happy that this movement is happening. I’m not a leader, and there’s women who came before me, like you said, Celia Cruz. There’s even Omara Portuondo, Angélique Kidjo, Concha Buika. There’s too many beautiful black women making phenomenal music.
My advice is that we should never get into a comfort zone. I’m all about supporting women who look like me and who need space in society. But I always make clear that I don’t like that women think that just because we’re women and we’re black, that we need to be given everything—that makes me feel as if because we’re women and we’re black then we’re lesser than, as if we’re less intelligent, less musically talented, less attractive and that we have to make a lesser effort.
Almost as if we’re limited and that that limitation won’t allow us to reach the place where other women or men of other skin colors are artistically. I’m all about studying, all about personal growth. I support everyone who wants to fly and who wants to make music but they have to do it well. You have to work and you have to study for that, and that’s how you’ll get my unconditional support. I would never want to undervalue the music and work of my colleagues from Nina Simone to the youngest girl being born today. Women, we’re talented and ingenious and as creative as men. So we have to realize that we have to win through our creation, our talent, and our culture—beyond our skin color.
AA: What do you hope comes of this album and this new project?
DA: This baby is now born, and what I hope is that people open their hearts to the album just like I opened my heart to people.
I hope whoever takes it home will also carry it through their lives.
BRAZIL: A Human Rights Watch report released yesterday found that more than 300 environmental and land rights activists were killed in Brazil in the last decade. The report, titled “Rainforest Mafias” and based on more than 170 interviews, documented how illegal logging and forest fires are linked to violence against activists in the region. Only 14 cases have gone to trial, according to the report.
Sixty percent of the Amazon rainforest is under Brazil’s jurisdiction. Under President Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation has doubled compared to last year—culminating in August’s unprecedented rainforest fires. The HRW report found that protections for the Amazon and environmentalists have deteriorated under Bolsonaro, who slashed funding to Brazil’s environmental agency.
HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
CHILE: UN Human Rights Chief and former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet denied being involved in Brazil’s Operation Car Wash corruption scandal. Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo published a story Monday that said Brazilian businessman Leo Pinheiro told prosecutors he paid Bachelet’s 2013 presidential campaign $141,000 to cover debts. Chilean authorities said they are waiting for Brazilian prosecutors to confirm Pinheiro’s statements, which were part of a plea agreement, before they take any action.
VENEZUELA: Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly voted yesterday to give Juan Guaidó its “unrestricted political support” until the end of President Nicolás Maduro’s regime. The vote followed the decision by four minority opposition parties to break rank with Guaidó and negotiate with Maduro’s government. In January, the National Assembly declared Guaidó interim president until new elections can be held. The young politician has yet to dislodge Maduro from power or garner the support of the military.
ECUADOR: Nearly every citizen of Ecuador was impacted by a massive data leak discovered Monday. The leak exposed the personal data of more than 20 million people. Ecuador’s population is only 16.5 million. The unprotected information was found on a server of Novaestrat, an Ecuadorian consulting and analytics firm. VpnMentor, which discovered the breach, said that virtually all of the population is now at risk of identity theft, financial fraud and other crimes. Authorities raided the home of William Roberto G., the legal representative of Novaestrat, on Monday. They later detained him.
PUERTO RICO: A former marine and DEA agent pleaded guilty yesterday to taking part in a drug ring that smuggled cocaine from Puerto Rico to New York. Fernando Gomez, who served in the law enforcement agency for nearly a decade, helped move thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States. Gomez will face sentencing in Manhattan in November. He faces up to 20 years in prison.
REGION: Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador lost power for hours Monday, after a regional electrical grid failed. EOR, the Salvadoran electricity operator, said that El Salvador and Guatemala experienced partial outages. Nicaragua and Honduras faced a total blackout. The outages wiped out traffic lights, internet service and water pumps for two hours.
MEXICO: Forensic examiners in the Mexican state of Jalisco announced yesterday that they reassembled the remains of 41 bodies found in a well in early September. The remains, found separated into 119 black bags, were discovered when residents reported smells coming from the well. Four of the bodies have been identified. More than 3,000 mass graves have been discovered in Mexico since 2006.
MEXICO: The Mexican government is demanding that an auction house in France return some of its pre-Hispanic artifacts. Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department said some of the items, which the auction house intends to sell in Paris today, belonged to the Olmec, Teotihuacan and Maya cultures. Other items in the collection, the department said, might be fakes. The auction house recently removed another Mayan artifact that was likely stolen from Guatemala after it sparked a similar controversy.
VENEZUELA: Yesterday, a minority group of the already divided Venezuelan opposition agreed to negotiate with President Nicolás Maduro. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó has not agreed to participate in the talks. The agreement focuses on reforming the country’s electoral board and improving relations between a pro-government assembly and the opposition-controlled congress.
The minority group, which represents less than 10% of the seats held in the National Assembly, signed the agreement while appearing on state television. At a separate event yesterday, Guaidó fired back saying that these negotiations are a plot by Maduro’s government to further divide members of the opposition.
HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
US-MEXICO BORDER: The Trump administration announced this week that it is planning to build 450 to 500 miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border by the end of 2020. In Arizona, construction of a 30-foot wall has begun. Currently, the Pentagon has begun construction on two wall segments: one in New Mexico and the other in Arizona. A project in Yuma, Arizona aims to account for the increase in the number of families seeking asylum crossing into the U.S. from Mexico. The Trump administration still faces significant opposition to border wall construction from landowners, environmentalists and the Cocopah and Tohono O’odham Native American tribes in Arizona.
UNITED STATES: Yesterday, the United States opened immigration courtrooms in tents in two Texas cities: Brownsville and Laredo. An immigration judge in a brick courthouse in San Antonio will hear the cases of migrants via video conferencing. The courtrooms are closed to the public, except for journalists who may only enter the San Antonio courthouse. The majority of the immigrants whose cases will be heard in the tent courtrooms have been impacted by the “Remain in Mexico” policy.
UNITED STATES: A Spanish court has rejected a U.S. request to extradite former Venezuelan military intelligence chief General Hugo Armando Carvajal on the basis of drug-trafficking charges. Instead, the court has ordered his release. Carvajal, who served under Hugo Chávez for almost a decade, has been in Spanish detention since his arrest mid-April in Madrid. During his court hearing last week, the United States asked the Spanish court to extradite Carvajal because of his knowledge of Venezuela’s armed forces. Carvajal faces up to 10 years in prison and the full judgment on his case will be released today.
HAITI: Haitian Senator Youri Latortue accused Prime Minister Fritz William Michel of overbilling the sale of goats to the state as part of an agricultural project. Michel allegedly sold 200 goats for $65,000, which Latortue said did not match normal prices. Latortue said the goats were sold through a company Michel owned between 2017 and 2018 while he was a senior official in the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
PANAMA: The Sixth Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office announced yesterday that an investigation into the company Blue Apple revealed $78 million in money laundering, of which $25 million has been recovered. The case centers around the creation of the Blue Apple company to funnel bribe money and accelerate state contracts. So far, 50 people have been accused of money laundering and 10 have been accused of corruption of government officials.
HONDURAS: Protesters demanded the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernández and clashed with riot police during Independence Day celebrations in Tegucigalpa on Sunday. Former President Manuel Zelaya led the protests and called the current administration a “criminal dictatorship.” U.S. prosecutors have previously accused Hernández of accepting money from drug cartels to finance his election campaign in 2013 while protesters called his re-election in 2017 fraudulent.
ECUADOR: The Ecuadorian marketing and analytics company Novaestrat made available online personally identifiable information of 17 million Ecuadorians, including the information of 6.7 million minors. This major data breach could have allowed criminal gangs to perform robberies and identity thefts. Ecuador’s Computer Emergency Response Team removed access to the information once it was alerted by reporter Catalin Cimpanu, who broke the news of the data breach on ZDNet’s website.
GOT NEWS? Send the editors tips, articles and other items for inclusion in Today in Latin America to [email protected].
Over the last year, images of people leaving Central America to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border have inundated the news cycle. Many of those images have been made by journalists and photographers who are not from Central America, and some of those images have been criticized for focusing on misery and trauma, more than on humanity.
Tomas Ayuso is a Honduran writer and photographer who decided to change that by documenting the lives of individuals across Honduras, in his project “The Right to Grow Old.” In this segment of “How I Made It,” Tomas shares how he met Moises and Meya, two of the people he documented for his project, and how he followed them from Honduras as they made their way to the U.S.-Mexico Border.
LOÍZA, Puerto Rico — Standing on the windswept beach, Guillermo Carmona looked out at the white-capped cerulean blue ocean and the hulk of a building that was once a beloved community center hosting town meetings and dances. Today, its scalloped roof slumps and its walls are pocked with gaping holes. The floor is littered with broken glass, sea bird droppings and trash. Nearby buildings are similarly decrepit; they once housed a fish market and an early childhood education program.
The structures are victims of Hurricanes Irma and María and —before that— the island’s struggling economy, forces that have devastated the homes and lives of many residents in this small community of Parcelas Suárez and across the island.
Many wealthier areas, like beachfront San Juan neighborhoods just 15 miles west, have rebuilt and even prospered since the hurricanes.
But the largely Afro-Caribbean community of Parcelas Suárez is starved of economic resources and faces another major challenge: drastic coastal erosion from strong Atlantic currents, made worse by sea-level rise and increasingly strong storms linked to climate change.
The beach alongside the destroyed community center is scarred by the relentless sea. Palm trees tilt toward the water, their roots naked and dangling. Concrete benches and picnic tables are crumbling, used only as shade by stray dogs. Carmona and other locals had hoped to rebuild the community center, originally opened in 1976 by a popular former mayor. But the building’s current state, the encroaching sea and the scarcity of money make that goal seem distant.
The Army Corps of Engineers is planning to build a 10-foot-high barrier of rocks to protect a 1,050-foot stretch of coast including the former community center, at a cost of $5 million in federal dollars. Erosion has been eating away at the beach since long before Hurricanes Irma and María, and since 2010, the Army Corps has been studying ways to curb the destruction. It studied “hard” options like a rock barrier and “soft” solutions like new dunes and vegetation. Scientists worldwide generally recommend soft solutions since hard infrastructure often changes the local ecology and can worsen erosion in adjacent areas, as currents are funneled to the sides of seawalls or barriers.
Parcelas Suárez residents and Loíza mayor Julia Nazario have long felt that the Army Corps was leaving residents out of the process and making decisions without seeking their input or informing them, with planned public meetings canceled and delayed. Nazario said she would like to explore dune rebuilding and other options. “If I had money, I would have looked at mountains of different proposals,” she said. “But I don’t have money, so I have to convince the Army Corps to look for other options.”
Nazario said last spring that she would only consent to an erosion control plan approved by the community. For years, residents felt caught between skepticism of the Army Corps’ plans, frustration at the lack of information, and desperation for something to happen to protect them.
“They study and study,” and don’t do anything, said Evelyn Allende, who grew up in Parcelas Suárez six decades ago and still lives here. “How long are they going to study? For a poor community like Loíza, we see this as discrimination, all this bureaucracy.”
In July, the Corps released a proposal updating its April 2018 plan, and noted that erosion had become so much worse in the past year that the rock barrier will need to cover a greater area of beach than previously planned. The Corps said that without a barrier, the beachfront road and the community center and adjacent building will be destroyed, and residents will be at risk. An educational graphic included in the Army Corps’ 2018 draft plan shows the results if “no action” is taken—a home enveloped by a towering wave.
On July 17, a community meeting was finally held where the Corps presented its plans and promised that construction will start in January 2020. Army Corps spokesperson Catalina Carrasco said that the $5.17 million for the project has been appropriated and is available for work to begin.
Nazario said residents feel they have no choice now but to let the Army Corps move forward, given the situation made only more dire by near misses like Hurricane Dorian in September. But she and residents are upset that the Army Corps plan prioritizes protecting the former community center and adjacent structures, and the planned rock wall doesn’t extend far enough to protect the beach in front of a number of private homes. The community center and other buildings are already destroyed, she noted, yet the slow-moving, bureaucratic Army Corps project seems to place more value on them than homes where people still live.
“I explained the situation to the residents, and coordinated the meeting between the Army Corps of Engineers and community members,” Nazario said. “I explained what my worries were for this project, but I also have to say, we have to start somewhere.” Now, the goal of Nazario’s administration is to identify funds that will allow the project to expand so the rock-wall can protect the residential area of Parcelas Suárez as well.
Maritza Barreto, a marine ecologist from the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras who has studied erosion island-wide, said it’s important that the Army Corps project not happen in isolation. She has recommended that any solution be expanded to cover Villa Cristiana and Villas del Mar, adjacent communities with erosion that could even be made worse by the Parcelas Suárez rock wall.
“The erosion there is more severe than Parcelas Suárez, and socioeconomically and demographically, the social vulnerability is worse,” she said.
She said federal, state and municipal agencies need to work together with communities to come up with comprehensive solutions that are integrated with policy, like zoning, and that in some cases land use must be revised so that buildings are not continually rebuilt in vulnerable areas. She said she’s observed that in Parcelas Suárez, as in other places she’s studied, the beach may actually be “migrating” with sand moving further inland.
While erosion makes the beachfront areas of Parcelas Suárez and other communities more vulnerable to flooding, Loíza residents further inland are also at risk. Most of Loíza sits within what FEMA designates a flood zone, and while surges from the ocean could flood Parcelas Suárez and nearby communities, swollen rivers could inundate communities throughout Loíza.
The Army Corps has proposed a separate $250 million plan to prevent flooding that could endanger 5,000 families in the 310-square-mile Río Grande de Loíza basin, which includes Loíza and other towns. The Corps proposes to canalize the Río Bairoa and Río Cagüitas rivers and build levees along the Río Grande de Loíza and Río Gurabo. But money has not been authorized for that plan, according to Carrasco, and it is part of a massive backlog of proposed Army Corps flood control projects nationwide for which funding has not been secured.
If Loíza residents’ homes are severely damaged by flooding or storms, it’s highly likely they’ll have to move. Federal CDBG grants now being distributed for recovery from Hurricanes María and Irma in most cases do not allow people to get aid to rebuild in flood zones. Vivienda, the island’s housing authority, has already been proposing to relocate about 20 Parcelas Suárez households living along the beach, according to Nazario.
Antonia López, 84, has lived on the beachfront in Parcelas Suárez for 60 years. When her house was built, she says, the beach was separated from the road and its strip of ocean-facing homes by a palm grove. “We had to walk a long way to go bathe in the water,” she said.
Now, the palms are gone, and the ocean “is eating the sand fast, so fast.” During María, her house was inundated with water, and sand piled up outside. Even without a storm, notes her daughter Elizabeth, sometimes the water rises as much as 20 feet.
“I have tremendous fear,” López said. “I want to die, but I don’t want to die like that.” But still, she, like many elderly residents, does not want to leave.
“They were born there, their children were born there,” said Nazario. “To take people away from there is psychological and emotional for them. You have to respect that.”
Erosion from waves and storms is a crisis in various parts of the island, including the surfing mecca of Rincón on the west coast and the relatively upscale neighborhood of Ocean Park in San Juan. A recent story in Primera Hora newspaper quoted Puerto Rico natural resources official Jorge Díaz saying that 60 percent of the island’s 1,225 beaches show severe signs of erosion. Ocean Park in August sought a declaration of emergency that can help with instituting erosion mitigation measures, and the Army Corps of Engineers is studying measures to take there. The Army Corps process is further along in Parcelas Suárez, but since there are no hotel companies, wealthy residents or powerful public officials to push such measures there, some fear they will see the same disparity in erosion control that has been seen in aid and investment for rebuilding after the hurricanes.
Throughout Parcelas Suárez and nearby communities, homes are still badly damaged from the hurricanes and blue tarps still cover roofs. FEMA granted aid to cover just over 60 percent of total hurricane damage, by dollar amount, in the region of Loíza, according to an analysis of FEMA data. $10.6 million in FEMA aid was approved, with total damage pegged at $17 million, according to the data. The San Juan area, by contrast, got about $33 million in aid according to the same data.
Carmona’s house just off the beach was made unlivable by the hurricanes. During a January visit, he walked through the rooms pointing out exposed ceiling beams, buckled floors and damaged drywall. He and his wife had lived there since their marriage in 2003, and the home had been in his family for years before that. Their belongings were stacked in corners, and the water-stained walls still displayed proud mementos: a certificate for helping during an oil refinery explosion, another celebrating his church “baptism by water.” Carmona’s 8-year-old daughter’s room had butterflies on the walls and “Te Amo Dariana, Tu Papa” (“I love you Dariana, Your Papa”) inscribed in the concrete door jam.
Carmona had hoped to move into a development of brightly painted, modern stucco homes just inland of Parcelas Suárez, built with funding from an anonymous donor subsidizing $50,000 of the $80,000 asking price for each unit. But those aspiring to move in were required to get a $30,000 mortgage from Banco Popular, Carmona explained, and since his wife had no credit they were found ineligible. During the January visit, the homes were finished but almost entirely unoccupied—an example of the bureaucratic snafus and inertia that have exacerbated recovery in many parts of the island.
If Parcelas Suárez residents are unable to rebuild their homes or suffer damage from future hurricanes, they may take the route many have already: leaving Parcelas Suárez for other parts of the island, or leaving the island altogether. But that is a drastic and painful move for the many families who have lived here for generations, since the land was allotted to people displaced from the interior in the mid-1900s under Operation Bootstrap—a sweeping plan imposed to industrialize the agricultural economy.
The median household income in Loíza (which includes Parcelas Suárez) is less than $12,000 compared to $19,000 island-wide (and $60,000 in the U.S. as a whole). The community is a short drive from wealthy areas of San Juan, and some wonder if developers and public officials would like to see the community uprooted to make way for tourist hotels and more upscale development. But residents are determined to hold on.
Fighting To Rebuild And Remain
In 2016, the local school in Parcelas Suárez was closed, one of the more than 300 schools across the island shuttered in recent years as a result of population loss and the fiscal crisis. But residents refused to lose the community anchor, and occupied the closed school. Alexis Correa Allende, leader of the community organization Centro Comunitario Gregorio, remembers a night-time stand-off when police stormed in.
After that, community leaders negotiated with officials and eventually won the right to reopen the closed school as a community center.
Today they run a Head Start program and various other programs out of the building. One former classroom is full of clothes and shoes available for residents in need. A water purification system, donated after the hurricane, sits in the courtyard. One day in February, community leaders held a health fair, where government health officials, NGOs and a solar energy company offered advice and resources to residents, while Evelyn Allende —Alexis’ mother— served steaming plates of rice and stew.
The wide, gnarled tree providing precious shade in the school’s courtyard is more than a century old, Allende noted. She reminisced about attending the school herself as a child in the 1960s. Many of her former classmates have passed away, or fallen victim to drug addiction. But some are still working alongside her.
Even before the government officially granted the community rights to the school, residents spent hours pitching in to scrub the patio, trim the tree, fix the roof. They’ve also recruited lawyers to help people seeking FEMA aid, connected locals with medical help, served food, celebrated Mother’s and Father’s Day and the Day of the Child.
“Everything depends on us, not the government,” said Evelyn Allende, in Spanish. “Little by little we’re becoming re-established, [going] back to normal.”
The cohesion that residents built around the battle to save the school could be crucial to helping them save the community as a whole, starting with the eroding beachfront.
“The fight for the school built more power, more energy,” said Correa, in Spanish. “We continue fighting, the struggle continues.”
Today Carmona and his family are back in their home near the damaged community center. That’s thanks to a grant from the Ricky Martin Foundation, which helped them rebuild. The home could be destroyed by flooding in a future storm surge, though Carmona notes that the hulk of the community center actually affords some protection.
The situation of Parcelas Suárez could be seen as symbolic of the struggles of many communities in Puerto Rico, and the history of resistance that reached a boiling point this summer with the massive protests that ousted Governor Ricardo Rosselló and continue to demand wholesale political and economic change.
Puerto Ricans have had to develop resiliency over decades in the face of colonialism, poverty, and racism, developing strong community networks as government bureaucracies, physical structures and the very land erode around them.
“I have much faith in the people here in Loíza,” said Carmona, against the roar of crashing waves. “This is a community who studies, who works. Nothing is impossible.”
Support for this story was provided by the Pulitzer Center.
BRAZIL: The United States and Brazil held their first high-level strategic dialogue in seven years on Friday. Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo represented Brazil in the talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo commended Brazil for supporting Israel and the opposition party in Venezuela. Araujo said the talks would result in “economic growth, security and development in the Amazon.”
After the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that both countries agreed to increase trade and invest in biodiversity in the Amazon. Araujo plans to address the United Nations at this year’s General Assembly and told reporters he had discussed a potential free trade agreement with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
COLOMBIA: Colombia’s Special Peace Jurisdiction announced that the rebels Jesús Santrich and El Paisa have been expelled from the transitional justice system and will lose protections guaranteed by the peace accord. Santrich and El Paisa participated in a video calling for war against Colombia’s government and could be extradited now that they have broken the agreements of the country’s peace deal.
BOLIVIA: Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the country’s highest electoral court, has threatened sanctions against the Higher University of San Andreas. The university published a survey that shows President Evo Morales polling significantly below the percentage he will need for reelection at this year’s Oct. 20 elections. The survey has Morales polling at 31.1% (the minimum Morales will require for reelection is 40%). The Tribunal announced that the survey was “invalid,” but did not indicate what rules the university had broken. Constitutional lawyer Iván Lima told Bolivian media that the Tribunal may be referring to the law that polls cannot be funded by public institutions.
VENEZUELA: Opposition leader Juan Guaidó responded to accusations this week as photographs of him posing with Colombian gang members surfaced on social media. The photographs show Guaidó with members of the Rastrojos on Feb. 22, when he visited Colombia for a concert to raise aid money for Venezuela. President Nicolás Maduro’s administration has said that the photographs prove Guaidó conspired with the Rastrojos. Meanwhile, Guaidó told Colombia’s BLU radio, “That day I took photos with many people. Evidently it’s hard to know who is asking you for a photo.”
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Dominican officials announced new safety measures on Thursday after at least 10 American tourists died in several resorts on the island. Dominican Republic’s Minister of Tourism Francisco Javier García, who spoke at an event in New York, said a National Committee of Tourism Security has been established by the government to develop strategies to detect and prevent threats. The minister also said they have reinforced rules that now require emergency information in every room and have expanded security forces.
PUERTO RICO: Civic groups in Puerto Rico are urging the U.S. Senate to approve $10 million for the clean up of Puerto Rico’s most hazardous waste site. The amendment, approved by the House of Representatives in July, is part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) helped propel the language through Congress. The money would be used to facilitate “closed detonations” of hazardous munitions that are still stored by the U.S. Navy on the island of Vieques. A recent change.org petition calls on the Navy to “stop poisoning the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico.”
NICARAGUA: The Nicaraguan government banned seven officials from the Organization of American States on Saturday who were scheduled to arrive in Managua. The diplomats were set to travel to the country to try to dialogue with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to address the country’s ongoing political crisis. Unrest in Nicaragua began in 2018, and hundreds have been killed in government crackdowns.
UNITED STATES: Protesters blocked traffic near the 5th Avenue Microsoft store in Manhattan on Saturday to call out the company’s contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Seventy-six people were arrested during the protest, which was organized by the Close the Camps coalition. The store was closed for the rest of the day. Microsoft has a $19.4 million contract with ICE that supports artificial intelligence and data processing technology. Those inside Microsoft have even protested the deal, with over 100 employees signing an open letter in June 2018. The company’s CEO Satya Nadella said that Microsoft does not work on any projects with ICE related to separating children at the border.
MEXICO: A judge freed 24 suspects in the Ayotzinapa case on Saturday night, after he determined that the suspects’ due process rights were violated. Deputy Interior Secretary Alejandro Encinas gave a press conference on Sunday, calling the decision a “mockery of justice.” Encinas says the Attorney General’s Office will investigate any illegal actions by officials and judges in the Ayotzinapa case. Approaching the five-year anniversary, no one has been charged for the forced disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa teachers college students on Sept. 26, 2014.
MEXICO: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sent the proposal for an Amnesty Law to Congress yesterday. The law would provide amnesty for certain non-violent crimes, including low-level drug trafficking and women who were jailed for having miscarriages. López Obrador promised to turn away from the punitive measures adopted during the Drug War during his 2018 campaign. The amnesty deal will not apply to violent crimes such as murder, kidnapping and any crime involving firearms.