Tensions Between Brazil And Argentina Continue To Rise, Affecting Mercosur

BRAZIL: The continuity of the trading bloc Mercosur is at risk, some of its members expressed at the biannual summit held in the southern Brazilian city of Bento Gonçalves, the AP reported. Lucía Topolansky, president of Uruguay, said that countries couldn’t pretend that “Mercosur is paradise,” referring to the precarious social situation prevailing everywhere in South America. Paraguayan President Mario Abdo asked the six countries to integrate the economic alliance to “win people’s trust back.”

The tensions in the most important trading bloc of the region started when ultra-right President Jair Bolsonaro refused to invite representatives of Argentina’s newly elected president, center-left Alberto Fernández. Bolsonaro, according to El País, hasn’t even addressed Fernández’s victory and according to the AP, probably won’t attend his inauguration. During the meeting, Bolsonaro said if Argentina “causes trouble, Brazil will leave Mercosur,” The Financial Times reported. Fernández, in turn, has said he wishes Mercosur will “build a common market that enables us to confront the challenge of globalization with another force.”

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

THE ANDES

ECUADOR: Chancellor José Valencia complained about the United Nations’ preliminary report addressing human rights violations in the protests that erupted in October, according to El Comercio. In a letter, Valencia said the report “doesn’t stick to facts” and “reflects only the opposition’s views or of those close to the violent ones” during the demonstrations against a new tax for gas. After the riots, the UN interviewed 373 officials, citizens, indigenous leaders and journalists, and the commission concluded that arbitrary arrests, violations of due process and excessive police repression frequently occur during the protests.

BOLIVIA: The prosecutor investigating the alleged electoral fraud of the October 20 elections said that he will include as a “key part” of his inquiry the OEA report in which the international agency confirms that “fraudulent manipulation” took place to re-elect former president Evo Morales, La Razón reported. The report, which was released last Wednesday, said Morales’ triumph was “statistically impossible” and identified at least 20 forms of misconduct, including the redirection of data flow to two hidden servers outside the national electoral entity, the TSE. Ronald Chavéz, the prosecutor in charge, told La Razón that he will interview María Eugenia Choque, former president of the TSE, to find out who was behind the hidden servers from which the data would have been manipulated.

THE CARIBBEAN

DOMINICA: A High Court judge denied an injunction to postpone today’s election after members of the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) filed a request to move the election to February 2020, according to Caribbean360. Justice Bernie Stephenson ruled that the request was outside of the jurisdiction of his court, and that while the group may have “legitimate concerns,” the court cannot “intrude on the elections once the writ has been issued by the President.” The CCM filed the injunction citing election form irregularities and a general lack of fairness in the election process. Protests have continued this week.

CAYMAN ISLANDS: Environmental activists allege that a new project by two major cruise lines —Royal Caribbean and Carnival— is jeopardizing the health of coral reefs and threatening endangered marine species in the area, according to the BBC. The Verdant Isle consortium, a joint venture by the companies, will invest $250 million to build new jetties and docking sites on Grand Cayman. According to scientists and tour guides on the island, the construction will not only harm wildlife, but may also impact the local economy, which relies on privately booked tours and scuba diving excursions. Residents will vote on a referendum addressing the consortium early next year.

CENTRAL AMERICA

NICARAGUA: A member of the European Parliament has called for the Nicaraguan government to release political prisoners and supported protesters calling for fair and free elections. Alicia Homs, a Spanish representative for the Socialist Party of the Balearic Islands, discussed the status of Nicaragua with other EU leaders at a Foreign Affairs Committee meeting and focused on the detention of political dissidents and the rising number of Nicaraguan exiles outside the country. Following the meeting, Homs tweeted that “the only possible solution is to hold free elections, with guarantees for all candidates and with international observation.”

NORTH AMERICA

UNITED STATES/MEXICO: United States Attorney General William Barr met with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador behind closed doors and discussed “establishing a common front” against Mexican cartels, according to reporting by the Associated Press. “Among other things, they spoke about cooperating on weapons trafficking, money laundering, international drug trafficking and how to form a common front against international trafficking and crime,” Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department said in a statement. The meeting comes after President Donald Trump suggested that the cartels be classified as terrorist organizations.

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Trump’s Border Wall Threatens An Arizona Oasis With A Long, Diverse History

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 Jared Orsi, Colorado State University

A few hundred yards from the Mexican border in southern Arizona lies a quiet pond, about the size of two football fields, called Quitobaquito. About 10 miles to the east, heavy machinery grinds up the earth and removes vegetation as construction of President Trump’s vaunted border wall advances toward the oasis.

I’m a historian and have studied Quitobaquito for six years. When I first started writing about this area, it was remote and little known, even though the land is part of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. But for the last few months, the park has headlined national news.

This spot is an occasional crossing point for transborder migrants, and some of the wall’s first stretches will traverse the national monument within steps of Quitobaquito. Many observers fear that the 30-foot wall with nighttime floodlighting will harm wildlife, lower the water table and destroy archaeological treasures. Crowds are visiting the site to protest the concrete and steel barrier.

Trump’s promise to build a wall began as a rhetorical flourish during the 2016 presidential campaign. But in May 2019, his administration announced that it would waive 41 laws to construct a high barrier. I believe this project could destroy an area with a diverse, multicultural history that challenges today’s border debates.

Border wall construction in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, photographed in November 2019. (Jared Orsi, CC BY-ND)

Erasing Cultures

In my research on Quitobaquito, I’ve noticed that while its waters have attracted a wide array of peoples for more than 10,000 years, each wave of newcomers tends to erase the evidence of those who came before them.

Beginning in the late 17th century, Spanish missionaries tried to entice native peoples in this area to abandon their traditions in favor of Christian agricultural life. Then, in the early twentieth century, Americans confined indigenous peoples to reservations. For most of the 20th century, the National Park Service managed this swath of southern Arizona as an uninhabited wilderness.

These actions have erased Quitobaquito’s history. The border project is the latest phase of this rewrite.

A Farm That Straddled The Line

Here’s some back story on the diverse cultures that have occupied this oasis.

Around 1860, a newcomer from Georgia named Andrew Dorsey dammed and enlarged the pond, and a small agricultural settlement grew at Quitobaquito. M.G. Levy, the German-educated son of a Jewish immigrant, kept a small store there, employing a French shopkeeper and doing business with American and Mexican suppliers. Chinese and Japanese migrants stopped there after crossing the border from Mexico to evade America’s Asian exclusion laws.

Sometime in the 1880s, Luis Orozco brought his family to Quitobaquito. They identified as members of the nomadic indigenous group Hia C’ed O’odham, who had moved throughout southern Arizona and northern Sonora long before there was a border. But their surname attested to generations of colonial Hispanicization of the region’s native peoples.

The Orozco homestead, which spanned the U.S.-Mexico border in what became Organ Pipe National Monument, was demolished by the National Park Service in the late 1950s. (National Park Service)

For three generations, the Orozcos homesteaded a plot that spanned the U.S.-Mexico border. They tended livestock, built structures and dug wells. Using a network of ditches, they planted and irrigated melons, figs, pomegranates and other non-native species. Like everyone else, they cut trees for firewood, fencing, and construction and hunted wild animals for food and materials. Nobody got rich, but they got by.

Whose Land?

Over time, almost everybody but the Orozcos drifted away from Quitobaquito. But the family still lived there in 1937, when the U.S. government designated Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Luis’s son Jose Juan and grandson Jim were farming on public lands, but they could not prove title to the land or document their citizenship in either the U.S. or Mexico.

National Park Service officials believed that the ramshackle Orozco homestead undermined the wilderness ideals that had inspired designation of the area as a national monument. They harassed the family for cutting wood, constructing buildings and hunting deer—longstanding practices that now violated park rules.

After an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in the mid-1940s, the agency began to fence the border to keep out Mexican cattle. The barrier severed the Orozco homestead.

Through a white rancher friend, Jim Orozco enlisted the aid of U.S. Sen. Carl Hayden, an Arizona Republican, who brokered a compromise: The Park Service built a gate allowing the family to move back and forth across the border. A decade later, in 1957, the government bought the Orozcos’ interest for $13,000 and then bulldozed their buildings.

The grave site of Lorenzo Sestier, a French shopkeeper who worked at M.G. Levy’s general store in the late-1800s, overlooks Quitobaquito. (Jared Orsi, CC BY-ND)

By the 1970s, national sentiment started to place greater value on historic preservation—especially of ordinary, or vernacular, landscapes like the Orozcos’ homestead. In response, Organ Pipe National Monument began sponsoring archeological and historical studies of Quitobaquito.

The park restored the graves of the Orozcos and other indigenous people who had lived at the oasis. Today it works with Hia C’ed O’odham and Tohono O’odham tribes to provide access to Quitobaquito and the national monument for ceremonial purposes and collection of plants.

History Resists Caricatures

Today, iron vehicle barriers and the dust and rumble of Border Patrol trucks intrude on visitors’ experience at Quitobaquito. The site lacks signs or historical markers, and the park’s visitor center does not detail the pond’s history. The Orozcos’ story is hard to discern.

But I believe Quitobaquito’s history is worth preserving. It reveals an American past populated by people who do not fit into current rhetorical boxes: Indian homesteaders, families living on both sides of the border, white ranchers who protect indigenous resource use and Republican Senators defending the rights of Arizonans who can’t prove their citizenship. These stories are part of this site—and they are incompatible with a wall.

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

Colombians March In A Third Strike Against The President

COLOMBIA: Thousands of Colombians occupied the streets of different cities in the third strike against President Iván Duque in the past two weeks. Protesters formed a National Strike Committee that organized the protests around 13 demands, including better protection of Indigenous people and the government’s full commitment to the terms established in a 2016 peace treaty with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a decision that ended a 50-year-old civil war. Duque said he is open to speaking with the protesters through a “national conversation” regarding the committee’s demands. His approval ratings have dwindled during his presidency, with 69 percent of Colombians disapproving of his actions.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

SOUTHERN CONE

BRAZIL: Despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that his government will impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from Brazil and Argentina, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said he will not “turn his back” on Trump. The country’s minister of economy, Paulo Guedes, said Trump committed “a brutal mistake” when saying Brazil is manipulating the currency to get economic advantages. Since his inauguration in January, Bolsonaro has been prioritizing the United States in Brazil’s external relations.

CHILE: The House of Representatives approved a law that turns disruption of peace into a crime in Chile. Examples of disruption listed in the law include barricades, looting and public disorder. This comes seven weeks after the beginning of a series of protests that took millions of people to the streets of Santiago, the country’s capital. What started as a protest against a subway fare hike has led to an agreement for a referendum to decide if Chileans want a new constitution.

THE ANDES

VENEZUELA: The United Nations appealed for almost $30 billion from donors for humanitarian aid in 2020, with Venezuela expecting to receive the greatest increase in anticipated humanitarian aid costs at a total of $1.38 billion. Most of the aid is expected to go towards assisting the 4.5 million Venezuelans who have fled the country since 2015 due to the ongoing humanitarian and economic crisis. The total appeal from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is $1.5 billion more than the amount requested last year. Other countries that have been budgeted for large amounts of humanitarian aid include Yemen, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

THE CARIBBEAN

PUERTO RICO: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development assigned $277.9 million in disaster recovery funds to Puerto Rico as part of their Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program. The funds allocated to the island, which are part of over $2.3 billion in HUD recovery funds approved for states and territories on Tuesday, is the largest allocation to jurisdictions affected by the 2017 storms, according to Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González. In discussing the island’s recovery after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, González also called on the federal government to disburse previously approved funds.

CENTRAL AMERICA

EL SALVADOR: China signed on to a “gigantic” investment plan for El Salvador, including a stadium and water treatment plant as well as a boost for El Salvador’s coastal cities. Though the total amount has not been disclosed, President Nayib Bukele described the agreement as a sign of “non-refundable cooperation” between the two countries. In a joint statement with the Chinese government, Bukele reaffirmed that El Salvador recognizes a unified China and rejects the idea of independence for Taiwan. El Salvador previously severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan in August of last year.

GUATEMALA: The United States flew three Central American asylum seekers to Guatemala to seek asylum protections there under the Guatemala-United States asylum cooperative agreement. The July deal requires migrants who pass through Guatemala on their way to the U.S. border to seek asylum in Guatemala instead of the United States. The group of migrants, with two Hondurans and one Salvadoran, marks the second Guatemala-bound flight of asylum seekers the United States has sent back to the Northern Triangle after a Honduran asylum seeker was sent to Guatemala in November. The Tuesday flight also had 84 Guatemalans onboard.

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: United States Attorney General William Barr is set to meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador following Trump’s suggestion that Mexican cartels be categorized as terrorist groups. Mexico has expressed concerns that the U.S. would violate its sovereignty, and López Obrador has said “no” to any interventionism from the United States. Barr is also expected to meet with Mexico’s foreign minister, attorney general and representatives from law enforcement to discuss “joint security issues.” The meeting comes as the homicide rate rose to historic levels in the country.

MEXICO: Homicides in Mexico reached record levels this year, as Dec. 1 saw 127 dead in one day. The regions with the highest rate of homicides on the first of the month were Mexico state, with 14, and Coahuila, where 21 people were killed in one mass attack. The country has struggled with high homicide rates for years. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has proposed a new Civilian National Guard and alternative approach to combating violence, with “Hugs, not bullets” becoming one of the campaign slogans.

U.S.-MEXICO BORDER: The Trump administration has ordered park rangers throughout the United States to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. National park officials say that they’ve been told to send rangers to the border through September 2020. This plan is part of a controversial policy from 2018, as the administration diverts rangers to the border and avoids the need for congressional approval. The administration has used this policy to increase security at the border after President Trump failed to gain funding for a border wall after declaring a national emergency at the border earlier this year. Critics say that park rangers are untrained and unequipped for border security operations and expressed concern that national parks are already understaffed and underfunded.

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Pompeo: US To Prevent Protests From ‘Morphing Into Riots’ In Latin America

UNITED STATES: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the United States will help Latin American countries prevent protests from “morphing into riots.” Pompeo also accused Cuba and Venezuela of “hijacking” regional protests and promised to work with “legitimate (governments)” to prevent interference.

Pompeo’s statement comes amid months of demonstrations across Latin America. The United States’ relationships with Cuba and Venezuela have grown increasingly tense since President Donald Trump took office. The Trump administration walked back Obama-era negotiations with Cuba and recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Based on historical U.S. intervention on the continent, some Latin American activists have raised concerns that the U.S. may support military coups.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

SOUTHERN CONE

CHILE: The U.S. Geological Survey reported yesterday that a 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck Chile off the north coast of Arica. The earthquake hit during the early morning 20 miles under the Pacific. No damage or deaths were reported.

BRAZIL: Brazil’s regulatory body for public health approved guidelines for the sale of medicinal cannabis products yesterday. The organization outlined how it planned to also regulate prescriptions and oversight. Brazil has also undertaken steps to decriminalize private possession of marijuana.

THE ANDES

VENEZUELA: Signatories of the 1947 Rio Treaty, a Cold War-era self defense pact, agreed to pursue further sanctions on officials and allies of the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro yesterday. Over a dozen countries committed themselves to sanctioning and restricting the travel of Maduro’s allies in a meeting in Bogotá. They stand accused of drug-trafficking, corruption, human rights violations and money laundering. But South American leaders ruled out the use of force to expel Maduro.

COLOMBIA: Mass marches are expected to continue in Chile today, after the first day of negotiations with President Iván Duque yesterday reached no agreement to end protests. Thousands of Colombians have been protesting since Nov. 21. Until yesterday, Duque refused to negotiate with social leader and address their list of 13 grievances. The government plans to meet again with protesters tomorrow. Organizers asked the government to not use riot police during the organized march, but the request was denied.

THE CARIBBEAN

DOMINICA: Protesters calling for the cancellation of this Friday’s parliamentary elections blocked roads to Dominica’s main airport yesterday, forcing passengers to walk more than a mile to get to their flights. The protesters claim the elections unfairly favor current Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and his administration, who they say have failed to carry out necessary election reforms recommended by the Organization of American States earlier this year. Protesters have been demonstrating for weeks, clashing with police who have fired tear gas and bullets at them.

SURINAME: Suriname President Dési Bouterse insisted that he’s innocent after being sentenced to 20 years in prison on Friday for ordering the killing of 15 political opponents in 1982 after a coup. Bouterse was in China when the court sentenced him, and opposition leaders called for his resignation upon his return. He arrived back in Suriname Sunday, however, and maintained his innocence, saying the charge is part of a “political game.” Bouterse has two weeks to challenge the decision. He still plans to run for re-election in May.

CENTRAL AMERICA

HONDURAS: Seven men were sentenced to 30 to 50 years in prison on Monday for the murder of Berta Cáceres in 2016. Last year, a court ruled that executives from the dam company Desa ordered her murder. Four hitmen, two former Desa workers and a U.S.-trained special forces major were sentenced. Cáceres was an Indigenous environmentalist and winner of the Goldman prize for environmental defenders. She was killed after she tried to stop construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River. International financial institutions that had been backing the dam withdrew from the project after Cáceres was killed.

NORTH AMERICA

U.S.: The U.S. Department of Treasury blacklisted six Venezuelan vessels yesterday. The department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control stated that Venezuela’s state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. shipped oil to Cuba, a move they said equates to Cuban support of President Nicolás Maduro’s government. The United States also blacklisted one Cuban vessel, Caroil Transport Marine Ltd’s Esperanza.

MEXICO: The Coahuila state government raised the death toll from last weekend’s gunfight to 23 people yesterday and announced that 10 suspects had been arrested. A shootout between cartel forces and state police brought chaos to the small city of Villa Union on Saturday. Coahuila state governor Miguel Riquelme said that the majority of detained suspects are minors.

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The Clinic

This week, Latino USA goes to the doctor.

We spend three days inside CommunityHealth in Chicago—the largest free health clinic in the country, which serves only people without insurance.

Free clinics have only been around in the United States starting in the 1960s and 1970s. They began as places to support a growing number of young people who ran away from home, were not insured, or were addicted to drugs.

Today, there are nearly 28 million uninsured people in the U.S., and for some of them, free clinics are their safety net. When it comes to undocumented people, they generally have no access to health insurance and so their healthcare options are very limited.

It’s very difficult for journalists to get behind the scenes access to medical centers because there are a lot of laws protecting patient privacy. So when CommunityHealth told us they would give us full access to their facilities, we saw it as a rare opportunity to observe the daily dramas that unfold there. We spend several days sitting in on doctor’s exams and talking to patients, interpreters, and staff—all to try to capture a snapshot of how life as an undocumented person can affect an individual’s physical and mental health.

NOTE: This is a bilingual episode, where some of the audio is untranslated. More than half of the clinic’s patients speaks Spanish, and we have decided to not translate these interviews into English, because we want to preserve the voices of the people we spoke to and let them communicate their stories in their own words. We think even if you don’t understand every single word, you will get a lot from this story. A transcript of the story with full English translation is available below:

The Clinic by Latino USA (Transcript) by Latino USA on Scribd

Transcript prepared by Adriana Tapia. 

Featured image by Alex Charner. 

As Protests Against Local Governments Flare Up Across Paraguay, A 17-Year-Old Student Leads The Charge In One Town

This article was originally published in Latin America News Dispatch. View the original story here.

By William Costa

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay — In recent weeks, the town of Mayor Otaño in southeastern Paraguay has been the scene of a dramatic protest over alleged misuse of public funds by local authorities. And high school students, with 17-year-old activist Nelson Maciel at the helm, have been leading this protests—just one in a series of local movements against perceived corruption erupting in Paraguayan towns and cities.

Maciel, already a seasoned campaigner with numerous national and international youth organizations, said that he and other members of the student union at Mayor Otaño’s public school became deeply concerned about the town hall’s finances after hearing municipal councilors mention irregular spending practices on a local radio show in August.

“Hearing that woke us up,” Maciel said at a restaurant in central Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, shortly after a meeting with the Attorney General to discuss events in his hometown. “We decided to ask those same councilors for documents from the town hall so that we could take action regarding the situation. They gave us enormous amounts of papers. It took us around a month to study them and draw our conclusions.”

He said that their analysis uncovered what they believe is proof of massive inconsistencies in public spending. For example, they claim that large contracts for road maintenance were given to a business owned by Mayor Pedro Chávez’s brother, who went on to invoice the municipality for nonexistent costs.

Another large point of suspicion was apparent misuse of funds from the National Fund for Public Investment and Development (FONACIDE). FONACIDE is a large public pot originating from the sale of electricity from the Itaipú Dam to Brazil. Municipal governments receive a portion of this money and are required to spend 80 percent of it on projects related to education.

“The money reserved for education was used to build a bridge—a bridge leading to the mayor’s farm,” Maciel said. “The rules of FONACIDE say that all infrastructure projects must be within two kilometers of a public school. In this case, the nearest school was 10.5 kilometers away.”

In September, they decided to act on their discoveries, positioning the misuse of FONACIDE money as the central point of their campaign. They began protesting outside Mayor Otaño’s town hall, demanding that authorities make their spending accounts publicly available. They also called for the mayor’s resignation and asked the town council to request an audit from the National Comptroller General’s Office. These demands have not yet been met.

Criminalizing Young Activists

Since taking action, the students have faced a strong reaction from Chávez and his allies. Tension between critics and supporters of the mayor has manifested in an eruption of physical violence. Maciel himself suffered a head injury during a scuffle involving a police officer outside the town hall.

The young activist also said that he has received death threats and must now rely on private vehicles and drivers to guarantee his safety. His mother was told by the president of the local association of the Colorado Party —Chávez’s political party— that she would lose her job as a cleaner at the Mayor Otaño’s public health center if she did not intervene in her son’s activism. Maciel has not slowed down, and she was subsequently fired. The Ministry of Health offered her a new position only after an intervention from Paraguayan president Mario Abdo Benítez.

In addition, Chávez and other local figures from the Colorado Party, have brought a total of four libel actions against Maciel for his role as leader of the protest.

Student protesters bear the Paraguayan flag in a protest against alleged corruption in the office of Mayor Pedro Chávez. (Photo by Diego Pusineri)

Walter Isasi, a lawyer for the Paraguayan Human Rights Coordination Group (CODEHUPY), said, “These legal suits are really just a form of intimidation being used to block Nelson’s right to demand transparency. Free access to public information is a universal human right.”

Isasi claimed that the tactic of criminalizing activists has been used in other cases against young people who have taken a stand against authority in Paraguay. In August, a long battle saw student activist Ernesto Ojeda absolved of charges brought against him for participating in a protest that pushed for improvements in the education system in the city of Fernando de la Mora in 2017. He said the government has not moved to defend Maciel from the danger surrounding him.

“I don’t have knowledge of actions taken by the state in response to the violence that Nelson has experienced,” Isasi said. “Only the Ministry for Childhood and Adolescence has taken a stand.”

The Ministry for Childhood and Adolescence published a press release in the aftermath of the protest in which Maciel received a head injury. The state institution denounced the use of “intimidation” to block the youth leader’s expression of his rights.

Despite this adversity, protesters have pushed on. The National Comptroller General’s Office did carry out an audit —without the approval of the town council, according to Maciel— and found that there had been a possible misuse of 1 billion guaranies (USD 154,466) of public funds. The report, which was submitted to the public prosecutor’s office, includes a list of 15 serious signs of embezzlement within the municipality. Mayor Chávez denies wrongdoing.

Beyond Corruption

The protest in Mayor Otaño is by no means unique. Other towns and cities across Paraguay have been witnessing upheavals in response to perceived wrongdoing by local authorities.

Citizens egged the mayor of Arroyito and complained about “ghost projects”—initiatives that were paid for but that only appear on paper. In early November, councilors in the city of Lambaré requested an intervention in the administration of Mayor Armando Gómez due to multiple financial irregularities that left the municipality with no funds to pay its employees.

The Paraguayan news media also frequently publish articles on municipalities’ mass failings to properly administer funds. For example, it was reported this year that over 97 percent of municipalities did not acceptably justify their FONACIDE spending.

The town hall of Mayor Otaño following one of a series of protests led by student activists. (Photo by Diego Pusineri)

Mariela Centurión, director of the independent Center for Investigation and Studies of Public Administration and Governability (CIAG), said these figures should not lead people to jump to generalized conclusions about the honesty of Paraguay’s municipal administrators. She said that while corruption is undoubtedly a large and important factor that must be addressed in places like Mayor Otaño, other elements are at play in hindering the effective administration of municipal budgets.

“The message that these articles put across, which I think is extremely severe, is that municipalities are incapable of managing their own resources and fulfilling their functions,” she said.

Centurión points to figures from FONACIDE that, if accurate, indicate that the misuse of funds is nowhere near as endemic as is often implied. Over the period of 2013 to June 2019, municipal governments received USD $365.5 million from FONACIDE. Of this total, just 0.69 percent was  employed illegally, according to FONACIDE. Centurión said that the worrying figures reported in the press can be attributed to other factors besides corruption, such as widespread administrative errors.

Paraguayan municipalities have largely been victims of a poorly executed plan to decentralize power that began with the new constitution of 1992, Centurión added.

“There’s a contradiction. On the one hand, the constitution mentions a mandate of decentralization, but there are no laws, no regulations nor resources to drive the process of strengthening municipal governments,” she said. “There is no training for municipal employees. Work from the executive branch to fulfill its responsibility of working with municipal staff to modernize municipal management is entirely absent.”

This lack of support leads to poor performance in local governments, including the frequently botched reporting of spending. The executive branch, she said, has set municipal governments up as its scapegoat.

Centurión expressed worry that the portrayal of municipal governments as innately corrupt institutions threatens their ability to work with local communities. She said that municipalities are unrivaled in their capacity to identify the needs of residents: if their responsibilities are taken away from them as a result of this perception of ineptitude, this great benefit will be lost.

The very low participation of citizens in the day-to-day running and decision-making processes of local government is another concerning factor, according to Centurión. She claimed that beyond participating in elections, there is  limited interest in using the mechanisms available to allow locals to form part of the workings of their institutions and regulate public spending to deter corruption.

“I think that in Paraguay, we haven’t been able to develop the ability to hold a dialogue and debate,” she said.

Centurión said that this lack of regular involvement can lead to lowered trust in institutions and, in cases where corruption is present, a vital filter is lost. This disconnect can lead to a buildup of tension, with consequent explosive reactions from citizens. She said that the multiple protests of recent weeks should be a wake-up call to the Paraguayan government: citizen participation must be encouraged at all levels of local government in order to empower residents to regulate and shape municipalities’ activities and spending.

According to Nelson Maciel, the low participation of the population of Mayor Otaño in vetting the running of its town hall has allowed for all types of wrongdoing over the years. The current protests, he said, are the first step in changing this.

“Mayor Otaño is a submissive town in which people don’t challenge the status quo,” Maciel said. “There has never been a citizen protest in response to the actions of a politician. People have been put to sleep by so much fear and injustice. Now, we, the young people, are working with the community. It’s only a question of igniting the flame so that they can go out onto the streets to demand what is theirs.”

US Imposes Steel And Aluminum Tariffs On Brazil, Argentina

REGIONAL: U.S. President Donald Trump announced yesterday that his administration will impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from Brazil and Argentina. Trump tweeted that “Brazil and Argentina have been presiding over a massive devaluation of their currencies,” before stating, “I will restore the Tariffs on all Steel & Aluminum that is shipped into the U.S. from those countries.”

It remains unclear what prompted Trump to reverse the agreements that had been set; Brazil and Argentina were exempted from steel and aluminum tariffs in March 2018. The move would expand a global trade war which appeared to be ending.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro faced backlash from Trump’s announcement. Bolsonaro has maintained a friendship with Trump and special alliance with the United States. Insper University professor Carlos Melo told the Associated Press, “Brazil’s president thought he had a big brother. Now he realizes he does not.”

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

SOUTHERN CONE

CHILE: The Chilean Central Bank reported yesterday that the country’s GDP contracted by 3.4 percent in October, and analysts expect that November figures will be worse. Economy Minister Lucas Palacio tweeted that the numbers “reflect the social impact of violence in our country.” Chileans began protesting a subway fare increase in mid-October, and many stores closed for weeks at the peak of the demonstrations.

ARGENTINA: Vice President-elect Cristina Fernández de Kirchner appeared in court yesterday to defend herself against corruption charges that allegedly took place during her time in office. Fernández, who will become vice president on Dec. 10, is charged with leading a criminal association that illegally granted public works projects in the southern province of Santa Cruz  during her presidency. During yesterday’s hearing, Fernández shouted at times, denying the accusations and denouncing them as political persecution. “History has absolved me, and history is going to absolve me,” she told the judges at the hearing. The former president faces four other legal proceedings for alleged crimes.

THE ANDES

COLOMBIA: Yesterday, President Iván Duque’s government offered to begin separate talks on the demands of the student groups that have organized recent protests in Colombia. Administrative Director Diego Molano announced that the government would be willing to negotiate on 13 points identified by the National Strike Committee, including preventing changes to tax, labor and pension laws. Molano asked the committee to refrain from leading a protest scheduled for tomorrow, but committee members said they plan to carry out the demonstration. Molano did not clarify if the government would still hold talks with the committee if it proceeds with the strike.

THE CARIBBEAN

HAITI: After months of violent unrest, thousands of Haitian children returned to school yesterday protected by police patrols. Schools, private businesses and government offices stopped their activities during the months of protests against President Jovenel Moïse as a way to pressure him to leave office. The protests, which involved roadblocks, clashes with police and the ransacking of local businesses, made it difficult and dangerous for children to travel to school. With Moïse refusing to leave office, the Education Ministry called for the reopening of public and private schools last week. However, attendance levels remain low and in some neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince administrators declined the government’s call for classes to resume.

PUERTO RICO: A team of U.S-based scientists is working to document Indigenous sites along Puerto Rico’s coast before rising sea levels destroy that heritage. The sites date back a thousand years, but scientists fear that climate change may wash them away before they can be recorded. The scientists plan to use 3D images to identify the island’s most vulnerable sites and begin documenting those areas. Scientists have discovered large settlements and ceremonial centers used by the Taíno people dating back nearly 2,000 years scattered across the island.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Former Prime Minister Kam­la Per­sad-Bisses­sar announced yesterday that her party’s lawyers are investigating possible irregularities at polling stations across the country. Her party, the United National Congress (UNC), is now working in several municipalities to find out more about the inconsistencies. Persad-Bissessar stated that several polling agents were approached by representatives of other political parties and were offered “inducements to stand down.” UNC Public Relations Officer Anita Haynes said that a senior official from another party offered $200 bribes to the people of Embaccadere, San Fernando, for their votes.

NORTH AMERICA

U.S.-MEXICO BORDER: CNN has obtained letters written by migrants living in Mexican border towns as they wait on asylum pleas in the United States. The letters recount a consistent threat of violence, sexual assault and kidnapping from cartels, which are known to target newly arrived Central American migrants. Migrant rights advocate Denise LaRock coordinated sharing the letters with CNN in hopes that these firsthand accounts will bring attention to the dangerous conditions facing migrants outside the United States. Nearly 60,000 migrants have returned to Mexico since the “Remain in Mexico” policy was implemented for migrants filing asylum claims.

MEXICO: Mexican authorities made “several arrests” yesterday, following the November murders of nine U.S. citizens in the state of Sonora. The Mexican Army, Navy, National Guard and intelligence officials collaborated to make the arrests. The country’s attorney general’s office did not provide a number or the names of people arrested. Mexican authorities have been under immense international pressure to make arrests after the murders involving a Mormon family.

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Live From Latino USA: Renee Goust (Ft. Audry Funk, Sonia De Los Santos & Diego Cebollero)

When Mexican-American folk-pop singer and songwriter Renee Goust got called “feminazi” on YouTube, she decided to do something about it. She composed “La Cumbia Feminazi” in 2016 as a response—a statement declaring the right to speak up for women.

In this edition of our series Live From Latino USA, Goust teamed up with Mexican rapper Audry Funk, Latin Grammy-nominated singer Sonia De Los Santos and guitarist Diego Cebollero for a unique take on her feminist anthem.

AMLO Celebrates One Year In Office As Protesters Decry Homicide Rate

MEXICO: Yesterday, thousands of people filled Mexico City’s central plaza, the Zócalo, to celebrate President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s first year in office. In a speech to the crowd, AMLO insisted he had achieved a more equitable distribution of wealth in his first year, as well as success in expanding social programs benefiting Indigenous groups, children and the elderly. He said it would take only one more year to complete the “fourth transformation” he promised during his campaign. Recent polls show approval ratings between 59 percent and 72 percent for his presidency thus far.

At the same time, a similarly sized group took to the streets to protest López Obrador, including members of the Lebarón family, whose relatives were massacred in November in the northern state of Chihuahua. Dressed in white, the protesters chanted the names of victims and decried “increased violence, a stagnant economy and deepening political divisions.” López Obrador has not put forward a comprehensive security plan, and Mexico is on track for a record high number of homicides this year.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

SOUTHERN CONE

BRAZIL: On Friday, President Jair Bolsonaro accused actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio of funding nonprofit groups that contributed to fires in the Amazon. Al Jazeera reported that Bolsonaro was referring to social media posts claiming that the World Wildlife Fund paid for photographs of the fires to solicit donations. DiCaprio heads the environmental organization Earth Alliance, which pledged $5 million to protect the Amazon from wildfires, but DiCaprio has since explained that the alliance had not donated to any of the organizations Bolsonaro referred to.

THE ANDES

BOLIVIA: Bolivian interim Foreign Minister Karen Longaric announced on Thursday that Bolivia will reinstate diplomatic ties with Israel—a first since former President Evo Morales ended relations after an Israeli military operation in Gaza 10 years ago. Bolivia called for Israel to face an international court for crimes against humanity in 2009, and Morales declared Israel a “terrorist state” in 2014. The announcement comes alongside other changes to Bolivian foreign policy following the turbulent end of Morales’s presidency; the interim government has named Walter Oscar Serrate Cuellar as the first ambassador to the United States in 11 years.

PERU: Two-time presidential candidate and former first daughter Keiko Fujimori was released from prison on Friday. Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal ordered Fujimori’s release last week, 13 months after she was detained on charges of corruption. Supporters gathered outside the women’s prison in the Chorillos neighborhood of Lima to watch Fujimori leave the prison and reunite with her husband.

THE CARIBBEAN

CUBA: Cuban state television aired a video on Wednesday of political prisoner José Daniel Ferrer apparently agitated in a police interrogation room. The footage shows Ferrer banging his head on a metal table, throwing furniture and shouting. The United States has claimed Ferrer is a victim of abuse. The Cuban government claims the United States is funding Ferrer’s “illegal” activities. Ferrer was arrested on October 1 on suspicion of kidnapping and assault, charges his supporters deny. Late November, Granma, Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper, dedicated an editorial to attacking Ferrer and said he was “a salaried agent serving the United States.”

PUERTO RICO: A Republican politician withdrew from a commission race in Florida after a confrontation with two Puerto Rican teenagers in a tennis club in Sarasota. A video that gained attention last Friday shows someone accusing Martin Hyde of racism for allegedly berating them for speaking Spanish. The young men allege Hyde told them to go cut grass. The video also shows Hyde trying to have the person recording kicked out of the club. Hyde denied he made racist comments.

CENTRAL AMERICA

NICARAGUA: Five people died this weekend in Masaya, Nicaragua, in confrontations between police and citizens. An officer died during a shooting on Saturday and two other policemen were injured. The police said they arrived to the scene because of a call reporting a group of armed criminals robbing residences. One of the civilians who died was identified as José Isaías Ugarte López, known as Chabelo, who was supposedly the leader of a criminal gang in the area. The unrest was reported by La Prensa as conflict between Orteguista police and “fearful” citizens.

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: Between Saturday afternoon and dawn yesterday, 21 people were killed in a series of shootouts in Union Villa, Coahuila, a town near the border with Eagle Pass, Texas. The Cartel of the Northeast, which split off from the Zetas, is suspected to have carried out the attack. Security forces killed 10 armed gunmen on Saturday after they had opened fire on the town hall. Four police officers were also killed in the confrontation. The state government of Coahuila posted on Twitter that in the early hours of Sunday morning, security forces killed seven people suspected to have participated in the attack, bringing the total to 21.

It is unclear why Union Villa was targeted.

MEXICO: High-level officials met in Washington on Wednesday to discuss the details of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), set to replace NAFTA. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Undersecretary for North America Jesús Seade met to reach agreements that would allow for House Democrats to vote on the deal. Only Mexican legislators have ratified the deal so far, but Nancy Pelosi says Democratic lawmakers are close to reaching an agreement. Enforcement of labor provisions in Mexico has been a sticking point in the negotiations. Mexican Undersecretary for North America Jesús Seade told reporters after the meeting, “We’re reaching understandings. We’re now looking at very specific details, but I think we’re heading towards a deal.”

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