Venezuelan Opposition Leader Accused Of Being Tied To Crimes

VENEZUELA: Yesterday, Attorney General Tarek William Saab denounced opposition leader Juan Guaidó of allegedly leading a corruption scheme that misappropriated funds in February. The crime reportedly occurred after Guaidó called on Venezuelan soldiers to abandon the military and join him in delivering humanitarian aid in the Colombian border town of Cúcuta. Two other members of the opposition have been accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid earmarked for soldiers who defected into Colombia. Saab, an ally of President Nicolás Maduro, said that the leader of the National Assembly is leading the “mafia of corruption.” Guaidó has ordered a probe into the allegations and vowed to clarify the case of military officers in Cúcuta.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

NORTH AMERICA

UNITED STATES: El Museo del Barrio, the oldest Latinx and Latin American art museum in the United States, celebrated its 50th anniversary this past week. Founded in 1969 by a collective of Puerto Rican parents, educators, and community activists from Central and East Harlem, the museum began in a public school classroom and became one of the founding cultural institutions at the Museum Mile of New York City in 1979. Recently, El Museo has become the object of criticism as many believe it is excluding the community it was intended to serve. At a celebratory event on June 11, a group of Latinx activists protested at the event, saying that the museum neglects its history as a community-based institution, made for and by “El Barrio.”

THE CARIBBEAN

HAITI: A delegation from the Organization of American States (OAS) arrives in Port-au-Prince today. Amid ongoing violent protests, Haiti asked if the OAS could help facilitate a dialogue between President Jovenel Moïse and those demanding his ouster on June 14. Officials included in the “fact-finding” mission are Carlos Trujillo, U.S. Ambassador to the OAS, and Gonzalo Koncke, Chief of Staff for OAS Secretary Luis Almagro.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Yesterday, police arrested the eleventh suspect in David Ortiz’ murder attempt. Alberto Miguel Rodríguez Mota, identified by Dominican media as a drug trafficker, is believed to have paid hitmen to murder the former Boston Red Sox slugger. Dominican police also believe Rodríguez Mota also rented the car used in the attack against the baseball player on June 13.

CENTRAL AMERICA

GUATEMALA: U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted yesterday that Guatemala is “getting ready” to sign a safe third-country agreement.


Contrary to what Trump said, Minister of Interior Enrique Degenhart announced that Guatemala has “not agreed” to host asylum-seekers and that both countries are currently working through viable options. Degenhart said Guatemala would “not allow mafia structures” to take children illegally, implying that collaboration on migratory matters with the U.S. will deepen.

NICARAGUA: The Nicaraguan government says they have liberated all political prisoners arrested during the 2018 protests. Although the administration of President Daniel Ortega did release many of the leaders of those nationwide protests, the opposition maintains that there are 85 Nicaraguans who are still wrongfully imprisoned. The government adamantly denies this claim, saying that they will not free any other individual. The Organization of American States (OAS) announced yesterday that Nicaragua would be one of the main items on the agenda during the General Assembly taking place on June 26-28.

THE ANDES

PERU: Yesterday, Peruvian prosecutors demanded former President Alejandro Toledo gets 16 years and eight months in prison for allegedly laundering money during his time in office. Moreover, authorities have demanded that Toledo and his wife, Elena Karp, be extradited from the United States back to Peru to face justice. The case involves granting favors to construction conglomerate Odebrecht in return for $20 million in bribes.

GUYANA: The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) upheld the Guyanese Parliament’s no-confidence vote against President David Granger, meaning that the country will have new elections within three months unless Parliament asks for an extension. The Granger administration accepted the ruling of the CCJ, a regional court based in Trinidad and Tobago. Guyana will go to the polls before oil production begins in early 2020, potentially running the risk of renegotiating contracts for offshore gas and oil exploration.

SOUTHERN CONE

CHILE: After inaugurated all the newly-appointed ministers, the administration of Sebastián Piñera unveiled a $4 billion infrastructure plan to reinvigorate Chile’s economy. Highways, reservoirs, and airports are included in the program, said to allocate $2 billion in the next two years. Piñera said that the policy would increase Chileans’ wages and create jobs across the country. The labor minister, Nicolás Monckeberg, also revealed that the government would push pension reform plans through Congress with “extreme urgency.”

BRAZIL: Marta Viera da Silva became the top scorer in the history of the FIFA World Cup after netting her 17th goal in yesterday’s 1-0 win against Italy. Marta surpasses Miroslav Klose, a German striker who scored 16 goals in the men’s tournament. Playing her fifth World Cup, the six-time FIFA Player of the Year is considered by many to be the greatest woman ever to play the game.

City Of Oil

In 2010, Nalleli Cobo was just nine years old. She and her mom, Monic Uriarte, had moved to University Park, a predominantly Latino neighborhood in South Los Angeles. One day, Cobo started getting sick out of nowhere. She went from one doctor to the next, trying to figure out what was causing her nosebleeds and heart palpitations. But Cobo wasn’t the only one in her neighborhood who was experiencing mysterious symptoms.

Cobo’s doctor eventually determined the reason she and others were getting sick, is that her family lived across the street from an active oil drilling site.

Not everybody knows it, but Los Angeles sits on top of the largest urban oil field in the country and it has been the site of oil extraction for nearly 150 years. Today, nearly 5,000 oil wells remain active in Los Angeles County alone, many operating in communities of color, often very close to homes, schools and hospitals.

In the wealthier areas of the city, like Beverly Hills, you’ll find drill sites that are cleverly disguised as office towers or other buildings. But the reality is that not all the drill sites in Los Angeles are so aesthetically pleasing, or guarded by four walls to redirect toxins away from residences, like the site in Cobo’s neighborhood.

Now at 18, and with the help of her mom, Cobo has organized her community to demand that the City of Los Angeles begin to make their health a priority over big oil money. Their long-term goal is to shut down every oil well in the city. But the oil industry isn’t going to let that happen without a fight.

Latino USA visits South Los Angeles, the epicenter of an anti-oil-drilling movement that is gaining momentum and threatening an oil industry with deep roots in the city.

Featured image of Signal Hill oil field, Long Beach, April 14, 1936. Courtesy of UCLA Department of Geography, The Benjamin and Gladys Thomas Air Photo Archives, Spence Air Photo Collection.

Thousands Of Asylum Seekers Left Waiting At The US-Mexico Border

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Latino USA.

By Savitri Arvey, University of California San Diego and Steph Leutert, University of Texas at Austin

Over the past three months, the number of Central Americans arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border has jumped exponentially, and total border crossings have reached levels last seen in 2006.

Yet, while the number of families arriving between official border crossings has skyrocketed, the number of migrants seeking asylum at official border crossings has remained relatively constant, at around 4,200 per month.

It’s not that these families prefer to cross the Rio Grande or scale the border wall. Instead, our research shows that at least part of this pattern can be explained by a U.S. policy that has left thousands of individuals waiting to request asylum in Mexican border cities since the summer of 2018.

A Shift In US Policy

In May 2018, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials began a practice known as metering across the southern border.

This means that officials are stationed at official ports of entry along the border to notify arriving asylum seekers that U.S. border crossings are full due to “limited processing capacity” and they will have to wait in Mexico until space becomes available. Previously, officials processed all asylum seekers that showed up at crossings.

At the same time that the metering process began, these U.S. officials started coordinating with Mexican officials to alert them of their capacity and how many asylum seekers the ports could accept per day.

As metering spread across the border, the number of asylum seekers in Mexican border cities increased. Yet it wasn’t clear exactly how many people were left waiting. When we started our research in November, no one had reported the numbers across the entire border or how the waitlists worked.

In December, we published a report with four colleagues that documented the spread of metering along the U.S.-Mexico border and responses within Mexican border cities.

Soon after the report was published, new migration dynamics began to shift what metering looked like in these border cities, so we published an update in February and another in May.

These reports draw on dozens of interviews with Mexican government officials and civil society representatives, as well as in-person observations at ports of entry.

Our reports show that the number of people waiting in border cities to seek asylum at ports of entry has increased – from approximately 6,000 in November 2018, when the Honduran migrant caravan arrived in Tijuana, Baja California, to 19,000 in May 2019.

The increasing numbers have resulted in longer wait times along the entire border. In November 2018, most asylum seekers waited a few days or weeks for their turn on the list to request asylum at the port of entry. Now, asylum seekers wait one to two months in most cities for the chance to ask for asylum at a port of entry. In Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua and San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, they wait over four months.

Waitlists

A growing numbers of Mexican border cities have developed waitlists to organize the lines of asylum seekers, coordinating with Customs and Border Protection officials on how many are accepted per day.

While all major border cities have waitlists, smaller cities now also have started their own waitlists. These lists are managed by a range of administrators, including Mexico’s National Migration Institute, state and municipal governments, civil society organizations and asylum seekers themselves.

The list logistics also vary. They may include writing name and nationality in a notebook; sending personal contact information through social media, such as a private Facebook group; or sending a Whatsapp note to the list officiator.

This lack of standardization is not only confusing for asylum seekers, but can create nontransparent processes that foster corruption. For example, we and others have heard allegations of list administrators charging bribes to add asylum seekers to their list.

The increase in the number asylum seekers and longer wait times has put a stress on shelters in Mexican border cities, which all reported to us that they were over capacity.

As a result, asylum seekers rent hotel rooms and apartments or sleep on the streets. This increases their risks for being preyed upon by organized criminals or other opportunistic actors.

Creating New Issues

The nonstandard waiting list process, long wait times and security threats in Mexican border cities have pushed some individuals to cross without authorization between U.S. ports of entry to request asylum.

An October 2018 Department of Homeland Security report documented this trend, noting that metering “may have led asylum seekers at ports of entry to attempt illegal border crossings” after being turned away at ports of entry. It has also created confusion with the waitlists in Mexican border cities, as some asylum seekers do not show up for their turns.

We believe the challenges are likely to only worsen in the coming months. According to a June 7 agreement with Mexico, U.S. authorities have promised to begin sending back more people to Mexican border cities under the Migrant Protection Protocols, a program that began in January to send asylum seekers to Mexico for the duration of their U.S. asylum case proceedings.

With larger numbers of people waiting to seek asylum and others waiting during their asylum cases, Mexican border communities will likely continue to feel the strain.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original articleThe Conversation

Brazilian Construction Giant Odebrecht Files For Bankruptcy Protection

BRAZIL: Construction conglomerate Odebrecht S.A. filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday in a São Paulo court. The group is seeking to restructure 51 billion reais ($13 billion) of its overall debt, which allegedly reaches up to 98.5 billion reais ($25.3 billion), a move that would become Latin America’s largest-ever in-court debt restructuring. The procedure would allow the construction giant to continue operating while granting a six-month period to settle with its creditors.

Founded in 1944 in the northern state of Bahía, Odebrecht, which employed 180,000 people five years ago, faces a string of financial difficulties since the uncovering of the high-profile corruption scheme known as Lava Jato (‘Operation Car Wash’). According to the U.S. Justice Department, between 2004 and 2014, Odebrecht allegedly paid around $788 million in bribes to governments in Perú, México, Brazil and nine other countries to receive state contracts.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

NORTH AMERICA

U.S.-MEXICO BORDER: A New York Times investigation has found that the youngest child separated from his parents at the U.S.-Mexico border was only four months old. Border authorities in Texas sent baby Constatine Mutu to a foster home in Michigan for five months after his father Vasile Mutu, a Romanian national, was allegedly forced to withdraw his request for political asylum given his criminal background and was deported back to his home country. The separation took place months before the Trump administration publicly launched its ‘zero tolerance’ policy. The Mutus, who identify ethnically as Roma, are back together and live a nomadic lifestyle in Europe, according to the Times.

MEXICO: A Mexican court handed a 55-year sentence to cartel boss Servando Gómez, known as ‘La Tuta.’ Prosecutors in Michoacán convicted Gómez, the current leader and one of the founders of the Knights Templar, for kidnapping a businessperson in 2011 near the city of Uruapan. Mexican security forces arrested Gómez in 2015 and placed him in preventive prison until yesterday’s conviction. ‘La Tuta’ was a teacher, then a farmer who subsequently worked at centers for young drug addicts and later became a narcotics dealer, according to federal authorities.

THE CARIBBEAN

CUBA: The captain of the Cuban national soccer team, competing in the regional Gold Cup in the United States, has reportedly defected after Sunday’s game against Mexico. Yasmani López, 31, “disappeared” after the 7-0 loss in Pasadena, California. However, the Cuban delegation has not commented on the midfielder’s possible desertion. Recently, on November 2018, twelve Cuban youth players defected after an under-20 tournament held in Florida.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Hotel authorities in Punta Cana found another American tourist dead in her room, bringing the count to eight deaths in the last year. Staten Island-native Leyla Cox reportedly died of a heart attack on June 10 at the Excellence Resort in the Dominican beach town a day after her birthday, her family said. The FBI is currently investigating the causes of these eight mysterious deaths.

CENTRAL AMERICA

REGION: The United States has decided to restore $432 million in aid to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, making the disbursement of a remaining $185 million conditional on the countries’ efforts to slow the surge of migrants. The State Department announced yesterday that if these countries do not take concrete measures to stem “illegal migration coming to the U.S. border,” funding would be permanently cut. The policy decision has its roots back in March of this year when President Donald Trump said that $615 million would no longer be sent to the Northern Triangle countries.

THE ANDES

ECUADOR: The U.S. has received permission from the Ecuadorian government to question Ola Bini, a Swedish programmer who is Julian Assange’s close associate. Jailed for over two months without charges against him, Bini will be interrogated on June 27 according to the Associated Press. Ecuadorian officials believe Bini, arrested at the Quito airport on April 11, collaborated with two Russian hackers in an attempt to release compromising documents about President Lenín Moreno.

VENEZUELA: A new poll suggests that President Nicolás Maduro, although highly unpopular, has benefited the most from this stalemate with the opposition in terms of public opinion. The survey published by Datincorp shows that 41 percent consider Maduro as the country’s “constitutional leader,” up from 34 percent in February. Conversely, 36 percent recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate ruler, down from 49 percent in February. Moreover, the Maduro regime is widely rejected by a vast majority of the country, according to the Datincorp poll: 78.83 percent of surveyed Venezuelans evaluate his tenure as “negative.”

SOUTHERN CONE

PARAGUAY: A confrontation among inmates left at least nine dead in a Paraguayan jail located in the central department of San Pedro. According to Blas Martínez, director of Criminal Institutes of Paraguay, eight prisoners were also injured during yesterday’s clash. Reports have emerged saying that the riots occurred as rival gangs from Brazil and Paraguay, the Primer Comando Capital and the Clan Rotela, engaged in a massive brawl on Sunday night.

BRAZIL: Yesterday, The Vatican opened the debate about the abolishment of priest celibacy and the possibility to grant more leadership roles to women. The working document released yesterday suggests ordaining old married men in remote parts of the Amazon, where there is a registered shortage of clergy. Moreover, The Vatican mentioned that the committee convened for Oct. 6-27 should also identify “the type of ministry that can be conferred to women,” although falling short on specific roles.

How I Made It: Apple Emojis

When Angela Guzman started her internship at Apple back in 2008, she had no idea her first project would have a resounding impact. Guzman was finishing college when she went to a job fair and became interested in an internship at Apple. Soon after being hired, she was assigned to help draft a set of nearly 500 emojis from their original Japanese versions into something new. Emojis are tiny icons used in text messages. At the time, Angela had never heard of them.

Guzman was born in Colombia, but moved to Florida as a kid. Learning English as a second language meant she had a hard time communicating with other students. In this edition of our “How I Made It” segment, Guzman explains the process of co-designing this first set of emojis, what they taught her about communication and some of the real-life inspiration behind some of your favorite emojis.

Featured image by Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images.

Guatemalan Elections Yield Run-Off Between Former First Lady And Prison Director

GUATEMALA: Marked by allegations of corruption and political uncertainty, the country’s general election took place yesterday. Among a crowded field of 19 presidential candidates and following the barring of several contenders, Sandra Torres and the National Unity of Hope (UNE) party accrued 24.35 percent of the total vote. Torres, who is running on her third time, is best known for serving as the first lady during the administration of her then-husband Álvaro Colom between 2008 and 2012. Alejandro Giammattei, a former prison director running with the Vamos party, polled second at 14.46 percent. Given that no candidate secured the majority vote yesterday and with 80% of tables counted, the run-off between Torres and Giammattei will take place on August 11.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

NORTH AMERICA

U.S.-MEXICO BORDER: Yesterday, large crowds gathered in front of the nation’s largest detention facility for unaccompanied migrant minors in Homestead, Florida, to demand its closure. In a demonstration coordinated by immigrant advocacy groups and religious organizations, protesters sang Civil Rights-era songs and called the detention of underage children “a moral outrage.” Advocates have filed court papers with “prison-like” descriptions of the facility, which allegedly holds over 3,200 unaccompanied minors.

MEXICO: As the National Guard began to patrol the southern border with Guatemala over the weekend, Mexico detained 741 migrants on Saturday, one of the largest apprehensions in recent months. Federal agents arrested the foreign nationals as they traveled in the eastern state of Veracruz in four trucks. Authorities reported 381 children under the age of eight were included in the mass detention. On Friday, the Director of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute resigned amid the increasing crackdown on immigrants from Central America. Tonatiuh Guillén did not present a reason for his departure.

THE CARIBBEAN

CUBA: Expedia Group, the online booking agency and digital travel conglomerate, agreed to pay over $325,000 to the U.S. government after violating travel restrictions to Cuba. A memo released by the Treasury Department said that Expedia assisted 2,221 persons with Cuba-related travel services between 2011 and 2014. The sales breached the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, introduced in 1963 and eased until the Obama administration brokered a diplomatic breakthrough in Dec. 2014.

JAMAICA: The ad-hoc board of Venezuelan state-owned oil giant PDVSA, appointed by opposition leader by Juan Guaidó, has asked the government of Jamaica not to expropriate the company’s shares in the island. The formal request sent on Saturday attempts to stop the sale of the shares, warning that Jamaica “cannot maintain any arrangements” made with President Nicolás Maduro. In February, the Jamaican Senate approved legislation to unilaterally retake ownership of 49 percent of Petrojam, Jamaica’s state refinery acquired by Venezuela in 2006 as part of late president Hugo Chávez’s foreign policy in the Caribbean.

CENTRAL AMERICA

GUATEMALA: Authorities arrested a former military chief accused of committing genocide and crimes against humanity during the country’s 36-year civil war. Yesterday, Guatemalan police apprehended Luis Enrique Mendoza García after he left a polling station in Salamá, Baja Verapaz, a locality in northern Guatemala. Mendoza García, a former lawmaker, had an arrest warrant since 2011.

THE ANDES

PERU: record number of Venezuelan migrants entered Peru over the weekend as the country prepares to tighten its border. The United Nations refugee office (UNHCR) announced that around 8,000 Venezuelans crossed the Ecuadorean-Peruvian border in Tumbes, with almost 4,700 of them requesting asylum. Both statistics were single-day records, according to the UNHCR. New migratory rules imposed on Perú on Saturday stipulate that Venezuelan migrants attempting to enter the country must have valid passports and visas, negating access to many Venezuelans who cannot afford the costs.

ECUADOR: The Ecuadorean government has allowed the U.S. military to use the Galápagos Islands as an airfield for future drug enforcement operations in the region. The volcanic archipelago, which lies about 1,000 km (621 mi) off the country’s coast, will now be accessible to intelligence-gathering airplanes after President Lenín Moreno signed a controversial ‘cooperation’ agreement that detractors have labeled “unconstitutional.”

Former president Rafael Correa has also harshly criticized the decision, saying that the archipelago is “not an ‘aircraft carrier’ for gringo use.”

SOUTHERN CONE

ARGENTINA/URUGUAY: Massive blackouts hit large parts of Argentina and Uruguay yesterday. Around 50 million people were left without electricity after a power grid that serves both countries experienced a technical failure. Argentinean President Mauricio Macri called the blackout an “unprecedented event” and announced that further investigations would be launched into the causes of the total disconnection.

On late Sunday, utility companies in Argentina and Uruguay said that 98 percent and 88 percent of the power loss had been restored, respectively. The outage also affected parts of Paraguay, Chile, and Brazil.

PARAGUAY: Marihuana seeds were distributed at no cost by a local nonprofit on Saturday. ‘Mama Cultiva,’ the Asunción-based organization, gave away around 500 growing kits to mothers of chronically-ill patients so that cannabidiol (CBD) oil, said to alleviate pain and relieve anxiety, can be produced at home. The event, which took place at a public square in the Paraguayan capital, seeks to pressure the government of President Mario Abdo Benítez to authorize the home cultivation of the plant. Former President Horacio Cartés created a legal framework to legalize cannabis production and use, but its ratification on the legislature has been delayed since 2018.

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Puerto Rican Governor Backtracks On Controversial Religious Freedom Bill

PUERTO RICO: Yesterday, Governor Ricardo Rosselló decided to remove consideration for a  bill that would have allegedly allowed for discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity under the guise of “protecting” religious freedom. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives on the island passed the Religious Freedom bill, which allows government officials to refuse service to constituents if they believe it clashes with their religious beliefs. Government officials have denied the law is discriminatory, which Rosselló initially supported.

The Religious Freedom bill has sparked widespread condemnation. Over 40 human rights and civil society organizations denounced the passing of the bill at the end of April. Hours before Governor Rosselló backtracked, Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin, who published an open letter yesterday criticizing the measure, labeling the motion as a “hate bill” that projects Puerto Rico “as a backward country” to the world. Three Democratic presidential candidates —Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Bernie Sanders (D-MA), and Julián Castro— have also spoken against the controversial bill.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

NORTH AMERICA

U.S.-MEXICO BORDER: On Wednesday morning, Border Patrol agents found the body of a 7-year-old girl believed to be from India near the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. A press release published yesterday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said the remains were recovered near Lukeville, a town 150 miles southwest of Tucson. CBP apprehended two women from India, who told them they had been separated from another woman and two children earlier that day. Agents searched the terrain near the border, finding the girl’s remains. Helicopters were sent to look for the two missing migrants and found footprints that indicate they crossed back to Mexico, according to the CBP press release.

MEXICO: The National Sound Library of Mexico unearthed an audio recording thought to be the voice of Frida Kahlo. Taken for the pilot episode for the radio show “El Bachiller” (“The Bachelor”), the recording features Kahlo reading a profile of his husband, muralist Diego Rivera, whose voice can also be heard during the clip. Estimated to have been taken in 1953 or 1954, the audio is the first known recording of Kahlo’s voice.

THE CARIBBEAN

REGION: A U.S. medical ship sails today from Norfolk, Virginia in a five-month trip throughout the Caribbean basin. The U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort will make stops in the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago, providing six clinical days in each nation. The $34 million operation includes over 200 military medical professionals and a hundred health practitioners from nongovernmental groups, including dentists and optometrists. The Comfort, which went on a relief mission to Puerto Rico after Hurricane María in 2017, will also dock in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama.

HAITI: President Jovenel Moïse finally addressed the nation yesterday, saying he would not step down from his position. The embattled president defended his record, saying he is not corrupt, and called for calm in Haiti. Yesterday, demonstrators attempted to storm the Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince, prompting more clashes with police. Another protest is scheduled for today.

CENTRAL AMERICA

GUATEMALA: The general election takes place this Sunday, with half the electorate uncertain of their vote. Out of a candidate field with over 20 options, former first lady Sandra Torres leads the presidential poll with 22 percent of the vote share, followed by Alejandro Giammattei, polling at 14.4 percent and running for office for the fourth time. Four years after uprisings toppled former president Otto Pérez Molina, Guatemalans still grapple with pervasive corruption and rampant violence, which has resulted in 470,000 migrants apprehended at the border since incumbent president Jimmy Morales assumed office. If no candidate reaches over 51 percent of the vote share on the first round, the top two will face off on August 11.

PANAMA: With an ongoing trade dispute between Washington and Beijing, Japan has overtaken China as the second-biggest user of the Panama Canal. The Canal’s administrator, Jorge Quijano, said that the increase is due to more “liquefied petroleum, gas and liquefied natural gas from the United States to Japan,” combined with a “substantial reduction” in sales of these petroleum products from the U.S. to China. The U.S. still accounts for over 60 percent of the maritime traffic that uses the inter-oceanic route.

THE ANDES

VENEZUELA: Sweden is hosting representatives from the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, the Vatican, and Cuba to discuss the Venezuelan crisis. A European diplomat said that the talks in Sweden are “for backing the dialogue in Norway,” which produced no outcome after they ended on May 30. The talks, allegedly being held in private, will intentionally keep president Nicolás Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó outside of the multilateral meeting.

SOUTHERN CONE

CHILE: President Sebastián Piñera announced six changes to his cabinet yesterday to renew confidence in his administration. Piñera sacked the ministers of Foreign Affairs, Health, Economy, Public Works, Social Development, and Energy in an effort to kickstart the economy. A slump in mining and manufacturing, coupled with global trade tensions, has hindered the growth of the Chilean economy. The center-right Piñera currently holds an approval rating of 25 percent.

REGION: The 46th edition of the Copa América begins today in Brazil when the hosts face off against Bolivia in São Paulo. The oldest tournament in international football gathers all ten teams from the South American football federation (CONMEBOL) with guest teams Japan and Qatar also participating this year. Brazil has won every Copa they have ever staged, but with a 12-year trophy drought, the performance bar for this year is set at nothing less than victory. Kick-off will be overshadowed by Neymar’s rape allegations. Najila Trinidade, a 26-year-old model, is accusing the captain of the Brazilian national team of forcing himself onto her at a Paris hotel room in May, which the footballer vehemently denies.

GOT NEWS? Send the editors tips, articles and other items for inclusion in Today in Latin America to [email protected].
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A Conversation With Cory Booker

Latino USA continues its coverage of the field of candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination with a conversation with Senator Cory Booker.

Booker has come a long way since 1995 when, while attending law school at Yale, he moved to Newark to help the community, later moving to a housing project where he lived for a number of years before it was demolished. He went on to run for mayor of Newark in 2002, lost the election at his first try, then in 2006 finally unseated the incumbent.

From there, Booker went on to become a United States senator, and now a candidate for the presidential nomination for the Democratic Party. In the senate, Booker has one of the most progressive records, but has also faced criticism over his past connections to the pharmaceutical industry.

Latino USA‘s Maria Hinojosa sits down with Cory Booker for a candid conversation. They talk about Booker’s passion for grassroots organizing, his views on immigration, his response to critics, and he even shares with us his feelings for his current girlfriend, actress Rosario Dawson.

Featured image by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

Guatemalan Democracy in Crisis as Elections Approach

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the authors and do not reflect the views of Latino USA.

By Jeff Abbott

This article was originally published in NACLA. Read the original article here.

Uncertainty hangs over the upcoming election in Guatemala. On June 16, the country will go to the polls to elect a successor to former comedian Jimmy Morales, who rode a wave of anti-corruption protests to office as an outsider candidate in 2015. They will also elect some 158 congressional representatives, 338 mayors, and 20 parliamentary members for the Central American Parliament. The process has been marred by lawsuits and violence, including the assassination of a left-wing mayoral candidate, part of a string of attacks against Indigenous and rural organizations in the country.

The elections stand against a backdrop of a growing constitutional crisis as the ongoing struggle between the president and the UN-backed anti-corruption body, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) continues. With major presidential candidates like former Attorney General Thelma Aldana and Zury Ríos —the daughter of dictator Efraín Ríos Montt— barred from running, Sandra Torres, a center-right candidate who faced Morales in 2015 in the second round, is widely seen as the frontrunner. If no candidates win a majority in the first round, the elections will go into a second round on August 11, 2019.

At the beginning of the campaign, which officially began on March 18, 2019, 26 political parties announced they would present presidential candidates. But according to the Guatemalan daily newspaper, Prensa Libre, at least 150 candidates for Congress alone face accusations or injunctions, some of which could bar certain contenders from running.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of questionable candidates,” Renzo Rosal, a Guatemalan political analyst and columnist, said. “There are candidates with accusations of different legal cases, investigations against them for human rights violations, accused of violence against women, dark military forces, narco-candidates, etc. They have coopted many parties.”

For example, on April 17, Mario Estrada, the presidential candidate for the Unión de Cambio Nacional (National Change Union, UCN) party was arrested on accusations of conspiring to collaborate with the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel to import cocaine to the United States and to assassinate political rivals. The charges came after Estrada was caught on tape requesting funding from the cartel and requesting the assassination of rivals in exchange for allowing the cartel to cross the country in a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-funded operation. He was extradited to the United States where he faces felony charges. Congressional candidate Julio José Rosales Morales and Ayulta mayor Erick Salvador Súñiga Rodríguez are both facing extradition charges for crimes related to drug trafficking.

The election is occurring in a period of crisis and change. In 2016, the Guatemalan Congress passed a series of reforms in the wake of a corruption scandal unearthed by the CICIG and the Guatemalan Public Prosecutor’s office, which led to the resignation and prosecution of former president Otto Pérez Molina. The 2016 reforms to the political parties and electoral laws shortened the campaign period, placed more oversight on campaign financing, and limited the ability of candidates to switch parties upon gaining office, and prohibited the practice of gift giving in exchange for votes.

The stated goal of these reforms was to improve confidence in the electoral process by eliminating illicit influences from organized crime, drug traffickers, and private businesses from the elections. Another reform that did not end up being implemented was a ban on candidates who switched parties in the middle of their terms. Switching parties, which Plaza Pública described as “a practice adverse to democracy,” is common in Guatemala. Yet the Supreme Electoral Council accepted the candidacies of many congressional representatives that switched parties prior to the 2019 election.

According to Claudia Samayoa, the founder of the Human-rights organization Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos en Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), efforts to improve the electoral system remain incomplete and unclear. “The result is that no one really knows anything,” she said. “They do not know the proposals, they do not know their candidates since there is no clarity still. This means that populations are lacking information.”

According to the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies (ICEFI), as of June 3, only 13 of the 19 political parties with presidential candidates have presented their governance plans to the public. While candidate proposals vary widely, candidates have focused on addressing insecurity, corruption, and infrastructure, as well as controversial topics such as abortion, which 15 candidates, including frontrunner Sandra Torres, signed a conservative agreement to protect “the traditional family and life.” Left-wing candidates for Covergencia, Winaq, Movimiento de la Liberación de los Pueblos (Peoples’ Liberation Movement, MLP), and the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (Guatemalan National Revolutionary UnityURNG) did not sign the agreement; rather these candidates have continued to propose development and fully complying with the 1996 Peace Accords.

Barring Candidates

Several frontrunners have been barred from running in the election, throwing the potential election results into chaos. Just 12 days before Guatemalans go to the polls, the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that Edwin Escobar, the presidential candidate for the Citizen Prosperity party was ineligible to run. The ban followed the May 13 ruling that Zury Ríos Sosa, presidential candidate for the Valor Party and daughter of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, would not be allowed to run for office because her candidacy violates Article 183 of the Constitution, which bars those who achieved power through a coup d’état and their family members from running for president. The court also ruled that Mauricio Radford, a minor presidential candidate for the Fuerza Party, was ineligible.

And on May 15, the court ruled against the eligibility of Thelma Aldana, running with the Semilla (Seed) Party. Aldana gained notoriety and acclaim for overseeing the investigation into corruption within the administration of Otto Pérez Moina. The court ruled six to one that she was ineligible to run due to the failure to meet prerequisites for office due to the revocation of documentation required to run as a result of a pending investigation into accusation against her by right-wing members of Congress for the purchase of a building in Guatemala City during her time as Attorney General.

In addition, the presidential candidate for the ruling FCN-Nación party, Estuardo Galdámez, faces accusations of corruption in a bribery scandal, along with six other congressional representatives and the current Finance Minister. The accusations follow an investigation by the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the CICIG, which continues its investigations in spite of Morales’ decision to expel it, but Galdámez has not been removed from the ballot. Both Estrada and Galdámez have denied the accusations.

Guatemalan candidate for the National Union of Hope (Union Nacional de la Esperanza) party Sandra Torres speaks during a campaign rally in Mixco municipality, outskirts of Guatemala City on May 25, 2019. (Photo by Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images)

Torres has also faced challenges for alleged illegal campaign financing in her 2015 bid for president, but the Constitutional Court chose to return the case to the Supreme Court, leaving the results in limbo. Torres has also faced widespread criticism due to accusations of corruption and misusing femicide laws to derail investigations into campaign corruption and to silence criticism from the national media.

A State of Unrest

Adding to the general atmosphere of uncertainty and doubts surrounding the electoral process and its candidates, some running for office have faced threats and violence. The Guatemalan Supreme Electoral Council issued a warning on May 24 on the risk of conflict during the electoral process. Officials identified 41 at-risk municipalities that it recommended take particular caution.

According to a report by Mirador Electoral, an NGO that monitors elections in Guatemala, observers documented 12 cases of intimidation or threats since the campaign began on March 18 to mid-April. There have been at least five murders of candidates, party members, and election officials since the report was issued, including two candidates for the left-wing MLP. Prior to the beginning of the campaign, there were at least five murders of potential candidates or registered candidates associated with the political parties MLP and Fuerza between May 2018 and March 2019.

Such acts of violence and intimidation are not new in Guatemala. In 2015, Mirador Electoral identified 20 deaths of candidates for mayoral and municipal seats, party members, or voters between March to October 2015, which were attributed to the election.

The assassination of MLP candidates is especially concerning because the left-wing party was formed in 2018 as the political arm of the Comité de Desarrollo Campesino, (Campesino Development Committee, CODECA), an organization that represents the concerns of rural campesinos in 20 of Guatemala’s 22 departments. CODECA has long been a thorn in the side of the Guatemalan government because of their protests against corruption and demands to form a plurinational and to nationalize electricity.

The economic and political elite has aimed to delegitimize the party through spreading misinformation about their various actions and protests. In 2012, former president Pérez Molina referred to the organization as a “social cancer” for the movement’s struggle against high energy costs. In 2014, the Public Prosecutor’s office filed charges against three leaders, but all were cleared of wrongdoing.

The assassination of Luis Marroquín, an organizer with CODECA and a potential candidate for mayor of San Pedro Pinula, occurred the very same day that the party registered with the TSE on May 9. Marroquín was the first killed in a campaign of violence against campesino organizations.

Samayoa suggests that the attacks on campesino leaders that began in May 2018, when voter registration began, are intended to undermine confidence in the election and discourage the population from voting for candidates on the Left. “All this violence is occurring in order to scare the people so they do not vote, or so they vote for the right-wing candidates of the criminal alliance,” Samayoa said. “They are trying to guarantee that the Left does not receive any more representation in congress.”

Beyond the candidates themselves, election season has come alongside other kinds of unrest throughout Guatemala. On May 20, for example, a group of former paramilitaries who had fought during the country’s civil war blocked highways to demand pensions and other benefits for former militants. They threatened to use bombs and weapons to undermine the elections if their demands aren’t met—or at the very least, boycott.

The Organization of American States (OAS) quickly condemned their actions.  There are mixed messages about whether the uprising of sorts has been subdued: According to the Presidential Commission for Dialogue, an agreement was made with the former soldiers and paramilitaries to avoid any disruption of the election. Yet according to Vice President Jafeth Cabrera, no deal has been made with the former soldiers. On June 7, the former soldiers and paramilitaries returned toGuatemala City to demand payments.

A Constitutional Crisis Unfolds

Meanwhile, the administration of Jimmy Morales has also shown contempt for the electoral process. In April, he openly met with certain presidential candidates, including Torres, Estrada, and other candidates, an act that is prohibited for sitting presidents.

“We have never had a president who has met with candidates,” Samayoa said. “The law obliges the independence of powers. This includes independence in the electoral process.”

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales in Guatemala City on June 5, 2019. (Photo by Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images)

However, Samayoa warns that Guatemalans should not heed to pressures to not participate in the elections, or decline to participate due to electoral irregularities. “We must support the elections,” she said. She adds, “They are looking for an excuse to annul the elections in order to spark a further Constitutional crisis in order to change the constitution, but one that limits human rights.”

The election is occurring in the wake of the constitutional crisis manufactured by President Morales after he unilaterally declared that he would not be renewing the contract of the UN-backed anti-graft body, CICIG, last summer. Morales then stepped up his attacks on anti-corruption efforts by barring the lead CICIG investigator, Colombian lawyer Ivan Velásquez, from the country, and then declared in January 2019 that the anti-corruption body would be expelled from Guatemala.

Morales and his family were subjects of investigations into illicit financing of the 2015 campaign, and acts of corruption in his administration. While Morales has essentially eliminated and derailed future investigations into corruption and illicit association, the CICIG has continued to work with the Public Prosecutor’s office in their investigations until their mandate is terminated in September 2019.

The threats posed by the election cut to a deeper issue within Guatemalan society. “There are regressive forces trying to retake power,” Rosal, the Guatemalan political analyst, said. “The struggle against corruption hit these structures of power, which have now strengthened again.”

Their actions can be seen as none other than a revanchist elite takeover of forces that might be able to curb their power. “We are seeing a reconfiguration of the far-right groups which is trying to limit civil rights, leave aside the human rights agenda, and that will permit the expansion again of corruption,” Rosal said.