INTL Latin America and the Islands: Politics, Economics, and Military-April 2021

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB
March thread is here:

Main Coronavirus thread is here beginning page 1337:

Tweets at link.

In Paradise" - Mexican Tourist Mecca Descends Into Chaos As Cartels Wage War During Spring Break
Tyler Durden's Photo

WEDNESDAY, MAR 31, 2021 - 10:40 PM
While popular Instagram influencers and millennials flooded beaches, resorts, clubs, cenotes, and the Mayan ruins in Tulum, Mexico, during spring break, the up-and-coming paradise town on the Caribbean coastline of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula is descending into chaos.

These days, Tulum to Cancún (Cancún is about a 73-mile drive north) is flooded with spring breakers, millennials, and anyone trying to escape the virus pandemic in the US and Europe. Tulum is a coastal town. Known for its beautiful beaches and party vibe, but it's gaining a reputation for crime and violence.

Homicides in Tulum jumped 109% in 2018, surging to 23 from 11, then increasing 47.8% in 2019 to 34. The upward trend continued last year, with homicides up 44.1% to 49. This year, homicides and other violent crimes are expected to hit record highs.
Tulum is undergoing a dangerous turf war among drug cartels. Six cartels operate in the resort town, including the powerful Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the Zetas Vieja Escuela (Old School Zetas), and the Sinaloa Cartel. The main reason cartels operate in this area is because some tourists want party drugs.
For a town of about 80,000 residents, there are only 150 police officers, said James Tobin, a Quintana Roo-based citizens' representative on the federal government's National Security Council, told the local newspaper Reforma.
This week, a cartel shootout occurred in downtown Tulum. A Spanish tourist was "seriously injured" during a shootout, according to El Sol de Puebla.
In the last 24 hours, three cartel shootings have occurred within city limits, killing two and wounding eight.

Baltimore native Alastair Williamson captured the aftermath of one of the shootings in Tulum.

Twitter user Joey Sutera responded to the chaos unfolding in Tulum. He said:
To all my friends heading to Tulum this month for Zamna & beyond: There is a real problem in this moment that the media is not covering. The cartels are fighting for turf and control even at venues on the beach road and people are getting shot almost daily.
As of now, most of them are gang shootings, but there is always a risk of getting in the middle of a crossfire. Tulum is beautiful, and hopefully it will pass. Just exercise more-than-usual caution.
But it's not just drug cartels that are dangerous - so are the police.

While drug cartels waged war, demonstrators all week, mainly in the evenings, have flooded the streets in protest against police corruption.
The demonstrations began when a woman in Tulum was killed George-Floyd style last weekend. The video is graphic but has ignited small pockets of social unrest of residents who are absolutely fed up with cartels, police, and the corrupt government.

For days, mainly in the evenings and on the downtown strip, young locals protested the police killing of the unarmed women.

While cartel wars and one protest must be strainful for police and local officials who need to keep the beach town in pristine condition to sucker Americans into paradise to blow their stimulus checks, another protest was seen this week with dozens of demonstrators holding signs such as this one, that read: "Tourist You Are Not Safe In Tulum." The sign is hard to read, but it appears to say tourists are not safe from "corrupt police officers."

Last week, one American tourist, who was ruffed up by corrupt police, said:
"I was absolutely scared when a Tulum police officer pulled me over. I was threatened with 36-hours in jail, but there was no way that I was speeding because other cars were going faster than me. Maybe it was the rental car that flagged the officer that I was a tourist. As soon as I grabbed my license from my purse, the officer noticed I only had American dollars and demanded money. If I didn't pay the fine - he threatened me with jail," said American tourist Melinda Lewis.
One tourist reached out to us and said their Airbnb host in Tulum warned about a possible cartel war in the beach town.

Other tourists are panicking as they're being warned about an impending cartel war.

With Instagram influencers flocking to the tiny beach town, there's a dark secret they won't share with you on their feed, that is, Tulum is a chaotic hellhole full of corrupt cops and daily shootings as cartels wage war against each other.

Plain Jane

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Bolsonaro picks Army chief to ease tensions with military

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ADDS LAST NAME TO NEW ARMY CHIEF - Brazil’s new military commanders, Navy commander Admiral Almir Garnier, left, Army commander General Paulo Sergio Nogueira, center, and Air Force commander Brigadier Carlos de Almeida Baptista Jr., right, stand during their presentation ceremony at the Ministry of Defense headquarters in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, March 31, 2021. The new leaders of all three branches of Brazil's armed forces were named after the previous ones jointly resigned following President Jair Bolsonaro's replacement of the defense minister, causing widespread apprehension of a military shakeup to serve the president's political interests. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

The appointment of the Brazilian army’s former chief health officer as the new army commander is an effort by President Jair Bolsonaro to heal a rift created by his firing of the defense minister and the subsequent removal of the top generals of all three military branches, analysts said Thursday.

Gen. Paulo Sérgio Nogueira, responsible for the army’s human resources, was appointed army chief Wednesday following the hasty departure of the leaders of Brazil’s army, navy and air force. The three men were forced out a day after Bolsonaro summarily fired retired army Gen. Fernando Azevedo e Silva as defense minister.

There has been little transparency around this week’s events, as neither the president nor the Defense Ministry explained what caused the change in leadership. Military and political experts said the unexpected firings, which some described as a “bomb,” were partly the result of the commanders’ reluctance to serve Bolsonaro’s political interests.

The reshuffle generated a deep — if brief — crisis within the military. Never since the return of democracy in 1985 had a president fired all the leaders of the military’s three branches, analysts said. The move caused uneasiness and great uncertainty as to the future of Brazil’s armed forces as the far-right president struggles with declining popularity and COVID-19 batters the country.

But the tapping of Nogueira as army chief was widely seen as an attempt by the president to ease tensions.

“The choice was to lower the tone,” said Juliano Cortinhas, who coordinates the research and study group on international security at the University of Brasilia.

Inside the military, Nogueira has a reputation of being a conscientious, reliable officer. He is also the man behind the military’s pandemic contingency plan, based on social distancing.

In a rare interview with Correio Braziliense on March 28, Nogueira praised the results of the measures he implemented to limit the spread of the coronavirus among military personnel and said he was preparing for a third wave of infections.

“The figures are relatively good in comparison with the population in general because of the prevention we have,” Nogueira said. “If this improved in Brazil, the number of people infected would probably be smaller.”

The lengthy interview was said by experts and the media to have greatly displeased Bolsonaro, who has strongly opposed the imposition by states and localities of strict health measures for the pandemic, arguing their economic damage will be more harmful than illnesses.

Brazil is currently battling with a fierce resurgence in coronavirus cases. The country reported a new daily high of nearly 4,000 deaths Wednesday, raising the toll for March above 66,000 deaths. That is more than double the number of deaths reported last July, which had been Brazil’s worst month in the pandemic.

“We have to be ready in Brazil. We can’t waver,” Nogueira said in the interview. “We have to work, improve the structure of our hospitals, have more beds, human resources so we can react if there’s a stronger wave.”

In the list of possible candidate for the army’s top post, he was among the oldest serving generals on active duty, which preserves military traditions and hierarchy.

For Cortinhas, the University of Brasilia professor, the changes in the military will not alter profoundly their relationship with Bolsonaro, at least in the short term.

“There was a name change, the game goes on,” he said. “The military continues to make a very important part of the Bolsonaro government.”

Other experts, however, said the crisis revealed a split in the ranks.

Eduardo Munhoz Svartman, president of the Brazilian Association for Defense Studies, stressed the distinction between active-duty members of the military — a contingent of about 300,000 men and women — and retired members.

Those who have entered the Bolsonaro government, including the new defense minister, former Gen. Walter Braga Netto, are usually retired military members and support the president.

But among active-duty military personnel, “there is a part that doesn’t want the armed forces to be used as a tool by the president,” said Svartman, who also teaches at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. “There is growing internal polarization.”

Some active-duty generals are also eager to distance themselves from Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic. Most of Brazil’s 320,000 deaths occurred under the watch of active-duty Gen. Eduardo Pazuello, who was the federal health minister from May until last month. Pazuello is being investigated by a federal court for his handling of the collapse of the public health care system in the Amazonian city of Manaus.

While tensions have waned, João Roberto Martins Filho, a military expert, said things might never be the same between Bolsonaro and active-duty generals because of the removal of the three commanders.

“He crossed a dangerous line, and lost,” Martins Filho said. “This left a scar.”

Plain Jane

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In ghostly border video, dangers for migrant kids revealed

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This Tuesday, March 30, 2021 photo taken from night video provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows a smuggler dropping children from the top of border barrier in Santa Teresa, N.M. Video released Wednesday, March 31 by federal authorities show the two Ecuadoran children being abandoned by smugglers after they were dropped over a 14-foot-high barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities said Santa Teresa border agents were able to find the 3- and 5-year-old sisters after being directed by the camera operator to the remote location in New Mexico, just west of El Paso, Texas. The girls were alert but were taken to a hospital to be checked out and cleared. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection via AP)

PHOENIX (AP) — A border wall. Smugglers. Small children being dropped into America in the darkness.

A grainy video released Wednesday by authorities — its figures visible only in ghostly white outline, its stark storyline dramatic and obvious — captures, in mere seconds, the dangers for migrant children at the southern U.S. border.

A man straddling a 14-foot (4.3-meter) barrier near Santa Teresa, New Mexico, lowers a toddler while holding onto one arm. With the child dangling, he lets go. She lands on her feet, then falls forward face first into the dirt. The smuggler does the same thing with a slightly larger child, who falls on her feet and then her bottom. Then the smuggler and another man run off into the desert, deeper into Mexico.

The simple scene caught by a remote camera is an extreme case. But it embodies so much of the saga playing out on the border amid a spike in migrant arrivals, particularly children.
There is implied desperation — a family willing to subject their children to such risks in hopes of changing their future. There is the callousness of the smugglers handling kids like rag dolls.
And there is that barrier over which so many have fought — a symbol of American strength for some, a decidedly un-American thing altogether for others. A fence that, despite its height, is relatively easily overcome.

Youtube video thumbnail

For immigrant advocates, scenes like this underscore why immigration laws need to be overhauled with a focus on unifying families and making legal immigration easier. For many opponents of such reform, scenes like this are confirmation that the nation’s rule of law isn’t being respected, that a reform of immigration policies could never even be contemplated while such things are happening. And Americans of all political stripes may debate what circumstances, if any, justify parents taking such actions.

While such debates happen, thousands of migrants from Mexico, Central America, and countries further south are arriving every day to the Mexico-U.S. border. Many are fleeing violence or other hardships in their home countries. Others are simply looking for better economic opportunities. They arrive by boat or wade through the Rio Grande River in Texas, or come on land into California, Arizona and New Mexico.

Many are children traveling alone. Border authorities encountered more than 9,000 children without a parent in February, the highest single month since May 2019, when more than 11,000 unaccompanied minors came to the border.

Unlike their parents in many situations, all unaccompanied minors are allowed to stay in the U.S. That dynamic has prompted many parents to either send kids on the journey to America alone, or get to the border and let them go the rest of the way. Most end up at least temporarily in shelters that are currently way beyond capacity.

Full Coverage: Immigration
Border authorities said the children caught on video were sisters, ages 3 and 5, and from Ecuador. They were found alert, taken to a hospital and cleared of any physical injuries. As of Thursday, they remained at a Border Patrol temporary holding facility pending placement by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

The girls’ mother is in the United States and authorities are in contact with her, Roger Maier, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told The Associated Press on Thursday. Maier couldn’t provide more details.

Many children arriving alone have relatives in the United States. If they are too young to remember names or phone numbers, as these girls likely were, they may come with contact information written down on paper or directly on their bodies. After being processed by the Border Patrol, they are transferred to Health and Human Services. Eventually they will be released to a sponsor, usually a parent or close relative.

The hope of those who send the children is that they will eventually be reunited with family in the U.S. But the risks to get to that point are enormous.

They can come from traveling without parents. They can come from the actual crossing, whether by river, crammed into a vehicle or on foot through the desert and traversing a wall; last year, a woman died after falling from a barrier in the Santa Teresa area where the girls were found. Finally, the risks can come from unscrupulous smugglers.

“People considering using the services of smugglers need to know that smugglers don’t have the kids’ best interest at heart. It’s entirely too dangerous,” said Maier, who added this about the girls being dropped: “Had it not been an area that was monitored, these children would have been fending for themselves.”
Peter Prengaman is the Associated Press’ news director for the western United States. Follow him on Twitter at

Plain Jane

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Argentine leader’s test shows COVID; awaits confirmation

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FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2021 file photo, Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez speaks during Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador's daily, morning news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City. Fernandez says he had an initial positive test for COVID-19, despite having been vaccinated in January. Fernandez sent a tweet late Friday, April 2, saying took a quick antigen test for the virus after feeling a headache and experiencing a fever of 37.3 Celsius (99.1 Fahrenheit). (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentine President Alberto Fernández says he had an initial positive test for COVID-19, despite having been vaccinated in January.

Fernández sent a tweet early Saturday saying he took a quick antigen test for the virus after feeling a headache and experiencing a fever of 37.3 Celsius (99.1 Fahrenheit). He said he otherwise has light symptoms, is isolating and is “physically well.”

He said he is awaiting a confirmation of the result using a more rigorous PCR test.

The president, who turned 62 on Friday, received a dose of the Sputnik V vaccine on Jan. 21 and a second dose a few days later.

None of the vaccines used against the new coronavirus completely eliminate infections, though they have been shown to sharply reduce the rate of infection and its severity.

The Russian Gamaleya Institute that produced the vaccine tweeted that it wished the president a quick recovery, and said the vaccine has a 91.6% rate of effectiveness against infection and 100% against critical cases.

“If the infection is confirmed and occurred, the vaccination assures a rapid recovery without severe symptoms,” it said.

More than 650,000 people in Argentina have received both scheduled shots of the vaccine and only about 1,000 of those have been found to be infected more than 14 days after the final dose, according to national health statistics.

“It is totally plausible, probable, logical and expectable that people are infected with the virus” even after two shots, said virologist Humberto Debat of the National Institute of Agroindustrial Technology in Cordoba, Argentina. He noted that the main purpose of the vaccine is to prevent serious illness and deaths.

Argentina recently tightened border restrictions due to an upsurge in cases. The nation of some 45 million people has recorded nearly 2.4 million infections, with 56,000 deaths. It has administed more than 4 million doses of vaccine against the disease.

Officials said several people were also in isolation after recent close contact with the president, including his spokesman, the secretary-general of the presidency and the head of his party in the lower house of congress, Máximo Kirchner, the son of Vice President — and former President — Cristina Fernández.

Plain Jane

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Venezuela seeks UN help in clearing landmines near Colombian border
Venezuela says many of its soldiers have been killed by landmines deployed by armed groups. A military offensive along the Colombian border has led to a humanitarian crisis in the area.

Venezuela Präsident Nicolas Maduro
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused the armed groups of having ties to the Colombian government.

Venezuela announced on Sunday that it will ask the United Nations for aid in clearing landmines in the southeast of the country that Caracas says have been placed by Colombian armed groups.

The Venezuelan government is preparing "to ask for immediate emergency aid from the UN... to defuse minefields left by these illegal groups of murderers and drug traffickers from Colombia," President Nicolas Maduro said in a televised broadcast.

Authorities said that 15 people — six Venezuelan soldiers and nine members of armed groups — were killed on Sunday.

Clashes between Venezuelan troops and armed groups have taken place near the border with Colombia since March 21 following a military offensive in Venezuela's Apure state.

More than 30 people have been arrested and drugs, explosives, and weapons were seized since the fighting began, they added.

"We have dislodged (these groups) from several camps. They left a mined territory behind... We have lost several soldiers with these mines," Maduro said on Sunday.

He also accused the groups of having ties to the Colombian army and the government. "They are dressed as guerrillas to serve the drug trafficking routes," Maduro added.

Colombia blames FARC dissidents
Colombian President Ivan Duque, in turn, has accused Venezuela of sheltering members of the National Liberation Army, or ELN, and the dissidents of the now-disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group.

FARC signed a historic peace deal with the Colombian government in 2016, but some guerilla fighters refused to join the peace process and have continued fighting.

Watch video02:02
Utility costs in Venezuela skyrocket
Maduro recently admitted that FARC dissidents could be responsible for the killing of civilians and clashes with Venezuelan armed forces in the border area.

Humanitarian crisis
More than 4,000 people have fled Venezuela since the fighting broke out, according to Colombian officials.

Human rights groups from both countries called on the UN earlier this week to appoint a special envoy to address the humanitarian crisis on the border.

The border between the two nations has been for years a center of drug trafficking and smuggling.
adi/aw (AFP, Reuters)

Plain Jane

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Chile's Senate agrees to postpone new constitution election due to Covid-19
Issued on: 06/04/2021 - 02:00
Le président du Chili, Sebastián Piñera, propose le report des élections constitutionnelles lors d'une réunion d'urgence dimanche 28 mars au palais présidentiel de La Moneda à Santiago.

Le président du Chili, Sebastián Piñera, propose le report des élections constitutionnelles lors d'une réunion d'urgence dimanche 28 mars au palais présidentiel de La Moneda à Santiago. © Présidente chilienne, Marcelo Segura, AFP
3 min
Chile's Senate on Monday agreed to postpone by five weeks an election to choose a commission to rewrite the country's dictatorship-era constitution, due to a surge in coronavirus infections.

The election was originally due to take place on Sunday until President Sebastian Pinera proposed the delay a week ago.

The Senate's decision must still be approved by the lower house of Congress.

If it does, the election to decide the members of a Constituent Assembly that will rewrite the constitution -- which has been in effect since the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-90) -- will now take place on May 15 or 16.

Campaigning would also be suspended until April 28.

Passing the bill through Congress has taken longer than expected with the opposition putting on pressure for an increase in social measures to help people mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

The Senate debated the proposed delay alongside a raft of economic assistance measures.
But due to changes to the original text, the bill must now return to the Chamber of Deputies for final approval.

In announcing his proposition, Pinera had said on May 28 that "the health of all the inhabitants of Chile" was the priority.

Chile has recorded record new daily infections recently, regularly topping 8,000 -- a much higher number than during the first wave of the pandemic.

Chile's intensive care units are running at 95 percent occupancy.

Some 90 percent of the 19 million population has been put under lockdown for the last 10 days despite Chile making great strides in its immunization program, with seven million people receiving at least one vaccine dose.

Experts have blamed the surge in cases on a false sense of security from the arrival of vaccines, a number of new virus strains and a hasty slackening of containment measures.

Last October, Chileans voted overwhelmingly in favor of rewriting the constitution.

It had been one of the major demands when social unrest broke out in October 2019 and lasted for months.

Mayors and governors will also be up for re-election during the vote.

One of the main sticking points in reaching an agreement on the delay surrounded whether or not mayors could return to work during the hiatus.

The mayors insist they need to carry out their duties but their opponents claim it will allow them to circumvent the ban on campaigning.

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Mexico says outsourcing to be strictly limited

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican government said Monday it has reached an agreement with business and labor groups to strictly limit outsourcing of jobs.

Under the agreement, companies will be able to outsource only non-core activities, like auxiliary services.

Employers will have to put all essential, core positions on their payroll within three months. Though the labor department did not provide a list of permitted job categories for outsourcing, they often include activities like specialized engineering, catering, cleaning and maintenance.

Outsourcing firms will have to register with the government, and pay all benefits. In addition, companies will have to give better accounting of mandatory profit-sharing schemes, a move the Labor Department said could increase the payments by 156%.

Many companies in Mexico have registered core workers as employees of third-party contractors to avoid labor and wage regulations reduce mandatory benefit payments.
In November, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador had proposed legislation that would have effectively banned most subcontracting or outsourcing of jobs by private companies.
The Labor Department has estimated that Mexico’s outsourced or subcontracted workforce grew from about 1 million workers in 2003 to about 4.6 million by 2018.

The government says the practice has been abused to avoid paying employees the benefits they are due by law. The department cited the case of a hotel in the resort of Cancun that had 802 workers, but only two registered as its employees. Many of the other workers were kept on fictitious three-month contracts, then were rehired every three months by a different front company to prevent them from accumulating seniority, and other workers had their salaries falsely registered at the minimum wage, reducing the amount of benefit contributions owed by the employers.

The secretary said some companies fire workers before Christmas and rehire them in January or February to avoid paying year-end bonuses. In 2019 alone, authorities say that appeared to have happened to over 380,000 workers.

While Mexico’s minimum wage is a low as $5.50 a day, benefits are proportionally more generous, leaving some companies a financial incentive to avoid them. Mexico requires companies to pay into health and retirement plans for their employees as well as provide annual year-end bonuses and profit-sharing, where applicable.

Plain Jane

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Major Fire At Pemex Refinery In Mexico Leaves Seven Injured
Tyler Durden's Photo

WEDNESDAY, APR 07, 2021 - 11:28 PM
A massive fire erupted on Wednesday evening at an oil refinery operated by Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) in the city of Minatitlan in the eastern Mexican state of Veracruz, reported Reuters.

"Specialized staff of Pemex attends a fire in the transfer pump house of the Gral. Lázaro Cárdenas from Minatitlán," Pemex tweeted.

Pemex went on to say that "seven were injured with minor injuries: a worker for burns and one for poisoning; and five firefighters who participated in controlling the incident."

According to Mexican newspaper Reforma, the fire began around 5 pm and was "caused by a leak in the plant's charge pump."

Reforma continued: "the pumps have a mechanical seal that in this case failed and there was a leak, which caused the fire. The plant receives gasoline to produce benzene, toluene, and xylenes, products known as aromatics."

Allegedly, someone snapped a picture of a Pemex oil worker closing values during the explosion. The picture has an unknown author and yet to be confirmed.

The executive director of Mexico's safety, energy, and environment regulator ASEA, Angel Carrizales, tweeted:

"The ASEA agency is tackling the incident that is currently ongoing at the Lazaro Cardenas oil refinery in Minatitlan, the state of Veracruz. The incident is associated with the inflammation of a fuel pump."
Footage posted on Twitter showed a massive column of black smoke rising from the refinery.

Reuters notes the refinery is one of six operated by Pemex and has a capacity of around 285,000 barrels per day.

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AP Sources: El Salvador president snubs visiting Biden envoy

FILE - In this Feb. 17, 2021 file photo, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele speaks before the start of vaccination of medical staff with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Atlacatl Medical Unit of the Salvadoran Social Security Institute in San Salvador, El Salvador. Bukele who became president by defeating both the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, FMLN, and the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance, ARENA, party, was bounced from the FMLN in October 2017, accused of violating the party's principles. Now he has swept both parties again in congress by controlling 56 of the 84 seats. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez, File)

MIAMI (AP) — El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele refused to meet with a visiting senior U.S. diplomat this week over what he sees as a pattern of slights from Democrats and the Biden administration, according to two aides of the Central American leader.

Bukele’s decision not to meet with Ricardo Zuniga, the Biden administration’s envoy to the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Central America, follows a similar snub he allegedly received from U.S. officials during an unannounced trip to Washington in February.

It also comes just days after Bukele’s government awarded $1.2 million lobbying contract to the State Department’s former top career diplomat in a bid to improve ties with the new American president.

Zuniga traveled Wednesday to El Salvador following talks in Guatemala focused on immigration amid a surge in child migrants on the U.S. border. Upon arrival, he immediately announced a $2 million U.S. contribution to an international commission seeking to strengthen the fight against corruption, which Biden officials see as one of the root causes of illegal immigration.

Zuniga had hoped to see Bukele before heading back to Washington on Thursday, according to a State Department spokesman.

But Bukele has told aides that he won’t meet with any Biden officials until the U.S. softens criticism raising doubts about his commitment to democracy and the rule of law, according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity given the diplomatic sensitivities.

Specifically, the two said Bukele was angered by State Department spokesman Ned Price’s comments Monday that the U.S. looks forward to Bukele restoring a “strong separation of powers where they’ve been eroded and demonstrate his government’s commitment to transparency and accountability.”

The Salvadoran presidential press office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Price’s comments followed a spat between Bukele and one of his fiercest U.S. critics, Rep. Norma Torres, a Democrat who co-chairs the Central America caucus in Congress.

In a series of Tweets last week, Torres accused Bukele of behaving like a “narcissistic dictator” indifferent to the plight of Central American migrants who undertake great risks to reach the U.S.

She attached a photograph that was widely circulated in 2019 showing the bodies of a Salvadoran migrant and his daughter laying lifeless in the Rio Grande on the Texas border.
“Send me a pair of glasses so I may see the suffering of your people through your eyes,” wrote Torres, who came to the U.S. as a child from Guatemala.

Bukele pointed out that he wasn’t even in office at the time of the deaths, which came during a previous surge in Central American migration under the Trump administration. He urged Salvadoran and other immigrants living in Torres’ Southern California district to vote her out of office.

“She doesn’t work for you, but to keep our countries underdeveloped,” he wrote.

For all his combativeness, the 39-year-old Bukele is by far the most popular politician in Central America, a region plagued by corruption and criminality. His New Ideas party swept legislative elections by a landslide last month and Bukele, who cultivates the image of a hip pragmatist, has sought to leverage China’s growing influence in the region to court new foreign investment.
But he’s struggled to draw close to the Biden administration, which is seeking to undo Trump’s hardline immigration policies restricting asylum requests, which Bukele embraced in exchange for strong U.S. support for his tough governing style.

With the U.S policy under review, El Salvador last month hired former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon to engage Bukele’s many critics, according to foreign lobby records with the U.S. Department of Justice disclosed this week.

The one year, $1.2 million contract with Arnold & Porter, which was signed by Bukele’s office on March 25, aims to strengthen El Salvador’s relations with the U.S. and multilateral institutions at a time the country is reportedly negotiating $1.3 billion in assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

“President Bukele is the most successful, politically stable and important leader in Central America,” Shannon said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday. “It behooves the U.S. and El Salvador to have strong and positive working relations. It is my hope to be able to help build those relations.”

Shannon, who served as acting secretary of state for two weeks before Rex Tillerson took up the post at the start of the Trump administration, retired from the State Department in 2018 after a career that included long stretches working on Latin America. He is close to Zuniga from their days together in Brazil, when Shannon from 2010 to 2013 was U.S. ambassador and Zuniga served as a political counselor.

Respected by both Democrats and Republicans, Shannon has brought Arnold & Porter a roster of lobbying clients that includes the governments of Argentina and Ecuador.

The law firm was also hired in 2019 by Honduras’ government in what federal prosecutors say was an attempt to push aside an investigation into drug trafficking by President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s brother. Shannon played no role in that contract, whose stated aim was to provide legal advice to Honduras concerning financing in the international market. But shortly after the deal was signed, Honduras’ lawyers reached out to New York prosecutors to warn of potential “collateral consequences” for their case on U.S. relations with the country, according to recent court filings.

El Salvador’s hiring of Shannon took place before the latest row with Washington.

The two Salvadoran aides said they trusted that Shannon will be able to build support in Washington by highlighting the enduring ties between the two countries. Foremost among them are the more than 3 million Salvadorans living in the U.S., many of whom fled during the U.S.-funded Civil War in the 1980s and who send back home money that is a major driver of the dollarized Salvadoran economy.

The contract with Arnold & Porter was first reported Wednesday by Foreign Lobby Report, an online publication that tracks the influence industry in Washington.

The State Department said Zuniga had sought a wide range of meetings in El Salvador, including with Bukele. In the end he met with Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill, Attorney General Raul Melara — a sharp critic of Bukele — as well as business leaders and representatives of nongovernmental organizations. It said the meetings were aimed at laying the foundation to build on already strong dialogue with the Bukele administration at all levels and civil society.

Bukele swept into office in 2019 as an independent vowing to rescue El Salvador from the deep divisions left by uncontrolled gang violence and systemic corruption in both right- and left-wing governments that followed the end of a bloody civil war in 1992.

But increasingly Democrats — and some Republicans — have criticized him for strong-arm tactics like sending troops to surround Congress last year to pressure lawmakers to vote on funding for the fight against the gangs.

Relations with the Biden administration got off to a rocky start when U.S. officials refused to see him when he traveled unannounced to Washington in February, according to three people familiar with the decision.

Bukele has vehemently denied he was seeking a meeting with Biden officials during what he characterized as a private visit, which only came to light when it was reported by the AP.
Bukele has gone on something of a lobbying spree since last fall, signing contracts worth more than $2.8 million with four lobbyists, including now Arnold & Porter.

But he allowed one of those, a $450,000 lobby contract with Sonoran Policy Group, to expire on Feb. 14, foreign lobby records also show. Sonoran is run by Robert Stryk, who built one of the most successful lobbying firms during the Trump presidency representing clients facing sanctions or with bruised reputations in Washington like the governments of Venezuela and Somalia and backers of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

AP Writer Marcos Aleman in San Salvador contributed to this report.
Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

St. Vincent awaits new volcanic explosions as help arrives

1 of 7
Plumes of ash rise from the La Soufriere volcano as it erupts on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, as seen from Chateaubelair, Friday, April 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Cots, tents, and respirator masks poured into the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent as officials expected to start distributing them on Saturday, a day after a powerful explosion at La Soufriere volcano uprooted the lives of thousands of people who evacuated their homes under government orders.

Nations ranging from Antigua to Guyana offered help by either shipping emergency supplies to their neighbor or agreeing to temporarily open their borders to the roughly 16,000 evacuees fleeing ash-covered communities with as many personal belongings as they could stuff into suitcases and backpacks.

The volcano, which last erupted in 1979, kept rumbling as experts warned that explosive eruptions could continue for days or possibly weeks. A previous eruption in 1902 killed some 1,600 people.

“The first bang is not necessarily the biggest bang this volcano will give,” Richard Robertson, a geologist with the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center, said during a press conference.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves asked people to remain calm, have patience and keep protecting themselves from the coronavirus as he celebrated that no deaths or injuries were reported after the eruption in the northern tip of St. Vincent, part of an island chain that includes the Grenadines and is home to more than 100,000 people.

“Agriculture will be badly affected, and we may have some loss of animals, and we will have to do repairs to houses, but if we have life, and we have strength, we will build it back better, stronger, together,” he said in an interview with NBC Radio, a local station.

Gonsalves has said that depending on the damage caused by the explosion, it could take up to four months for life to return to normal. As of Friday, 2,000 people were staying in 62 government shelters while four empty cruise ships floated nearby, waiting to take other evacuees to nearby islands. Those staying in shelters were tested for COVID-19, and anyone testing positive would be taken to an isolation center.

The first explosion occurred Friday morning, a day after the government ordered mandatory evacuations based on warnings from scientists who noted a type of seismic activity before dawn on Thursday that meant magma was on the move close to the surface. The explosion shot an ash column more than 33,000 feet (seven kilometers) into the sky, with lightning crackling through the towering cloud of smoke late Friday.

The volcanic activity forced the cancellation of several flights while falling ash limited evacuations in some areas due to poor visibility. Officials warned that Barbados, St. Lucia and Grenada could see light ashfall as the 4,003-foot (1,220-meter) volcano continued to rumble. The majority of ash was expected to head northeast into the Atlantic Ocean.

La Soufriere previously had an effusive eruption in December, prompting experts from around the region to fly in and analyze the formation of a new volcanic dome and changes to its crater lake, among other things.

The eastern Caribbean has 19 live volcanoes, including two underwater near the island of Grenada. One of those, Kick ’Em Jenny, has been active in recent years. But the most active volcano of all is Soufriere Hills in Montserrat. It has erupted continuously since 1995, razing the capital of Plymouth and killing at least 19 people in 1997.

See this thread also:

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Peru, Ecuador set to elect new presidents amid fresh lockdown measures
Issued on: 10/04/2021 - 16:00
Peruvian presidential candidate for the radical leftist party Peru Libre (Free Peru), Pedro Castillo, gives the thumb up as he holds up a giant pencil during the closing rally of his campaign in Lima on April 8, 2021.

Peruvian presidential candidate for the radical leftist party Peru Libre (Free Peru), Pedro Castillo, gives the thumb up as he holds up a giant pencil during the closing rally of his campaign in Lima on April 8, 2021. © Gian Masko, AFP
5 min
A surging coronavirus pandemic that has brought on new lockdown measures and exacerbated fatigue in Ecuador and Peru has left many voters generally indifferent to the names they will see on the ballots Sunday, when the neighboring South American nations are set to choose new presidents.

No candidate in each nation has garnered enough support to be a clear favorite, and after a year of collective suffering and corruption scandals, voters seem to be hoping for a winner who can pull them out of the pandemic’s economic mess with the least stumbles possible.
Ecuadoreans face a runoff between conservative businessman Guillermo Lasso and Andrés Arauz, a disciple of former leftist President Rafael Correa. The winner will succeed President Lenin Moreno — a former Correa ally who turned against him while in office and who is not seeking reelection.

Peruvians, meanwhile, face a tangled field of 18 candidates following years of political turmoil that have seen a series of presidents and even the whole congress itself ousted over corruption scandals. A runoff in June is virtually assured. All seats in congress, too, are being contested.

The country is among those hardest hit by COVID-19, with more than 1.5 million confirmed cases and over 53,400 deaths.

“There is no work, there are no opportunities in the countryside, so we migrate to the city and many people are already in the city,” said Hernaldo Carbajal, who came from Peru's hinterlands to seek work in Lima, the country’s capital. “In my opinion, may the best man for peasants and provincials win.”

Amid the pandemic, Peru faced political chaos in November, when it cycled through three presidents in a week after one was impeached by Congress over corruption allegations and protests forced his successor to resign.

Economic crashes
Ecuador meanwhile saw an Indigenous uprising in October 2019 that paralyzed the country for several days and forced the government to back down on a move to end fuel subsidies.
The pandemic paralyzed 70% of businesses in Ecuador last year and brought the country’s unemployment rate to almost 68%. The country already had been in an economic slowdown that began in 2015, largely driven by the drop in oil prices. Similarly, in Peru, the world’s second largest copper producer, the economy spiraled downward when a lockdown of more than 100 days early in the pandemic left about 7 million people unemployed.

Arauz advanced to Ecuador’s runoff with more than 30% of votes in the Feb. 7 election.

Officials several days later declared Lasso the second-place finisher after all votes were tallied and about half of a percentage point separated him from environmentalist and Indigenous candidate Yaku Pérez.

Arauz is backed by Correa, a former ally of Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and who remains heavily influential despite a corruption conviction that sent him fleeing to Belgium, beyond the reach of Ecuadoran prosecutors. Arauz, 37, has proposed making the wealthy pay more taxes, backing away from agreements with the International Monetary Fund and finding legal mechanisms to force the repatriation of deposits that Ecuadorians have abroad.

A former banker, Lasso has lost the last two presidential contests. He favors free-market policies and Ecuador’s rapprochement with international organizations. He tweaked his previously conceptual messaging since advancing to the runoff, offering specific proposals like raising the minimum wage to $500, finding ways to include more youth and women in the labor market and eliminating tariffs for agricultural equipment.

But no matter who wins, Ecuador’s battered economy will stand in the way of any promises made to the nation of about 17.4 million people where voting is mandatory.

'Dispute between neoliberalism and post-neoliberal'
“The followers of Arauz and Correa say that it is a dispute between neoliberalism and a vision of a more state-driven management of public resources, post-neoliberal they call it,” said Carlos de la Torre, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida in the Unitede States. “I don’t know how much they can do with such depleted resources. It’s honestly a total disaster, and there’s a lot of anger, a lot of contained anger.”

Peruvians are also angry. The prolonged public health crisis has exposed long-existing inequities, most recently when a list that included former President Martín Vizcarra revealed that hundreds of wealthy and well-connected individuals secretly received COVID-19 vaccines before anyone else.

In November, Vizcarra was impeached by Congress over bribes that he allegedly took from a construction company while he was a state governor. He was replaced by congressional president Manuel Merino, who lasted less than a week in office as big protests forced him to resign. Congress then appointed Francisco Sagasti as president.

To win outright and avoid a runoff, a candidate needs more than 50% of votes. Recent polls show the leading candidate, centrist Yonhy Lescano, with roughly 15%. He is followed by center-right George Forsyth, conservative Rafael López Aliaga and Keiko Fujimori, the powerful opposition leader and daughter of the polarizing former president Alberto Fujimori.

One Peruvian candidate has taken time to talk about his habit of wearing a wire chain, known as a cilice, every day to flagellate himself. Another has asked Chile to return to Peru the Huáscar ship, a war trophy captured in the 19th century and kept as a historical relic. But their plans to address the pandemic and the country’s worst economic crisis in decades remain unclear.

“What is striking is how the issue of the pandemic has not been the No. 1 topic,” said Fernando Tuesta Soldevilla, a political analyst with the Pontifical University of Peru. “That is what is surprising as the candidates have talked about everything, but we have the worst wave (of COVID-19 cases) and the highest level of contagion with all that we unfortunately have in front of us.”

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Ecuador election: Ex-banker Guillermo Lasso wins presidency
Lasso, a proponent of tax cuts and austerity, has defeated socialist economist Andres Arauz in Ecuador's presidential runoff, with the majority of ballots having been counted.

Ecuador's president-elect, Guillermo Lass
Ecuador's president-elect, former banker Guillermo Lasso

Conservative ex-banker Guillermo Lasso won Ecuador's presidential runoff on Sunday with 52.5% of the vote, declaring himself president-elect with more than 96% of ballots counted. His opponent, socialist economist Andres Arauz, received 47.4% of the votes and conceded the race.

"It's a day in which all Ecuadoreans decided their future, they have used their vote to express the need for change and the desire for better days," Lasso told supporters in a victory speech.

"I congratulate him on his electoral triumph today and I will show him our democratic convictions," Arauz said in comments conceding the race to Lasso.

Arauz previously declared victory earlier in the day, citing an exit poll that showed him with a 1.6% lead. He won in the first round of the election in February but failed to win enough of the vote to avoid a runoff.

Watch video01:53
Close race in Ecuador presidential runoff vote
What are the political views of Lasso and Arauz?

Lasso believes in tax cuts to boost the economy, and is also a proponent of measures to reduce public debt. He has previously ran for the presidency two other times.

Arauz believes in raising taxes on the wealthy, and wished to renegotiate Ecuador's debt with the International Monetary Fund. His mentor is former leftist President Rafael Correa, who is living in exile in Belgium with his wife after receiving an eight-year prison sentence on corruption charges in his home country.

What's the political situation in Ecuador?
Lasso will succeed current President Lenin Moreno, who is deeply unpopular. In 2019, protests rocked Ecuador, due to Moreno's decisions to implement austerity measures and cut oil subsidies.

Moreno congratulated Lasso in a tweet and wished him success.
The election comes as Ecuador grapples with the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. So far, more than 17,000 Ecuadorians have died of the virus, straining the country's healthcare system.
wd/sri (Reuters, AFP)

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Catholic priests and nuns kidnapped in Haiti, says church spokesman
Issued on: 12/04/2021 - 00:37
Demonstrators hold Haiti's national flag during a protest against the government of President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince on March 28, 2021.

Demonstrators hold Haiti's national flag during a protest against the government of President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince on March 28, 2021. © Estailove ST-Val, Reuters
3 min
Seven Catholic clergy, including two French citizens, were kidnapped Sunday in Haiti, said the spokesman of the Bishop's Conference for the island nation, which has been rocked by unrest.

Five priests and two nuns were abducted in the morning in Croix-des-Bouquets, a commune northeast of the capital Port-au-Prince, while they were "on their way to the installation of a new parish priest," Father Loudger Mazile told AFP.

The kidnappers had demanded a $1 million ransom for the group, which includes one French priest and one French nun, he added.

Haitian authorities suspect an armed gang called "400 Mawozo" -- which is active in kidnappings -- is behind the abduction, according to a police source.

Four of the priests are Haitian, and one of the two nuns.

The French embassy in Haiti did not respond to AFP's request for comment.

Kidnappings for ransom have surged in recent months in Port-au-Prince and other provinces, reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the Caribbean nation.

Gangs on the rise
"This is too much. The time has come for these inhuman acts to stop," Bishop Pierre-Andre Dumas of the Haitian commune Miragoane told AFP.

"The Church prays and stands in solidarity with all the victims of this heinous act."

In March, the Haitian government declared a month-long state of emergency to restore state authority in gang-controlled areas, including in the capital.

The measure was motivated by the actions of armed gangs who "kidnap people for ransom, openly declaring it, steal and loot public and private property, and openly confront the public security forces," according to the presidential decree.

The rise in gang violence and political instability have recently drawn protesters onto the streets of Port-au-Prince.

A week ago, hundreds of female protesters rallied in the city against the growing power of gangs, which has led to a spike in kidnappings for ransom.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, has also been in a months-long political crisis.
President Jovenel Moise maintains that his term of office runs until February 7, 2022, but others claim it ended on February 7, 2021.

The disagreement stems from the fact that Moise was elected in a vote that was cancelled for fraud, and then re-elected a year later.
Without a parliament, the country fell further into crisis in 2020, and Moise is governing by decree, fuelling growing mistrust of him.

Amid the instability, Moise has said he plans to hold a constitutional referendum in June.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Socialists vs Fujimori: Peru vote sets stage for polarized presidential run-off
By Marco Aquino

LIMA (Reuters) -Peru is set for a divisive presidential run-off between the Andean country’s ascendant socialists, buoyed by voter discontent over the economy and pandemic, and the conservative heir of the powerful and polarizing Fujimori dynasty.

The first-round vote on Sunday took a surprise turn when socialist Pedro Castillo, a 51-year-old union leader and primary school teacher who was largely unknown before polling day, jumped into the lead.

The official count on Monday showed Castillo with 18% of the vote, with over 80% of ballots counted, followed by conservative Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of imprisoned ex-leader Alberto Fujimori who herself faces corruption allegations, with 13.2%.

That result, with both candidates well short of the simple majority needed to win outright, would mean the pair go head-to-head in a June 6 second-round vote.

Both candidates are divisive for different reasons. Castillo plans to rewrite the constitution and take the world’s No. 2 copper producer sharply to the left. Fujimori faces a probe over alleged money laundering for which prosecutors are seeking a 31-year prison sentence. She denies the charges.

“If we vote for Keiko we will return to the same old things,” said Luis Rojas, a voter in Lima, referring to citizen anger about corruption among the political elite. He was not convinced by Castillo either, who he said was a “communist.”

“If we vote for Pedro Castillo it will change all of Peru.”

Goldman Sachs’ Alberto Ramos wrote after the vote that no pollsters had modeled a run-off between the pair because it had appeared so unlikely, adding both had many critics.

“Keiko Fujimori had the highest rejection rate among all major candidates but on the other hand Ms. Fujimori will be facing a candidate espousing radical leftist polices,” he said.


Castillo, whose Free Peru party terms itself “socialist left,” has emerged from relative obscurity. In pre-election polls just a month ago he had been trending at under 4% of the vote - outside the leading six contenders most had focused on.

In the past four weeks his rise had been rapid, with exit polls showing support for his policies, which include rewriting Peru’s constitution, strong in poor areas of the country hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The surprise could give investors a jolt in the country, which while long politically turbulent has been one of the more steadfast and reliable markets in the region, attracting inflows into its bonds and sol currency.

Alejandro Arevalo, emerging market debt manager at Jupiter Asset Management, said investors were used to political volatility in Peru after years of turmoil but some of Castillo’s policies were “pretty scary” for the market.

“He’s talking about nationalization, about the government taking control of the economy ... so it’s something that could bring significant volatility to the market.”

The sol currency initially fell but recovered to be up 0.1% against the dollar for the day. Stocks and bonds dipped.


Amid a crowded pack of candidates, Castillo had tapped in to public anger which has been fired up in Peru over the last year.

The economy crashed its hardest in three decades in 2020 as the pandemic hammered the major copper-producing nation. Tough lockdowns failed to stem the spread of COVID-19, with Peru one of the hardest hit in the world per-capita.

Meanwhile, politicians have come under fire. President Martin Vizcarra, who had been popular, was impeached by Congress last year over allegations of corruption. His successor resigned shortly after, following deadly street protests, when many called for an overhaul of the political class.

Voter Jessica Jiménez said she did not support Fujimori, but thought that Castillo posed a “danger” to the country.

Jhony Paucar said he did not agree with most of Castillo’s policies but thought that Peru needed a sharp new direction.

“We are tired of so much corruption and the same way of governing, it’s time for Peru to change,” he said. “I don’t agree so much with Castillo for what he says but I think this is a clear rebuke from Peruvians - we are outraged with corruption.”

Reporting by Marco Aquino in Lima and Tom Arnold in London; Writing by Adam Jourdan;Editing by Angus MacSwan, Matthew Lewis and Andrea Ricci
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


Contributing Member
I think we all know what would happen to any American parents who did something like this.

Link: Toddler sisters abandoned by smugglers are released from Border Patrol custody to HHS care | Daily Mail Online

Toddler sisters dropped over border wall and abandoned by smugglers are released from Border Patrol custody to HHS care and hope to soon be reunited with parents in New York
  • Three-year-old Yareli and sister Yasmina, five, were dropped over the border
  • The two little girls were abandoned by smugglers on March 30 in New Mexico
  • On Monday they were transferred from CPB to Office of Refugee Resettlement
  • The parents, Yolanda Macas Tene and Diego Vacacela Aguilar, live in New York
  • Last week Ecuador's consulate in Houston confirmed the family situation

  • The official told the girls will be reunited with their parents

  • VP Kamala Harris has not yet visited the border amid surge in children crossing
PUBLISHED: 13:02 EDT, 13 April 2021 | UPDATED: 13:52 EDT, 13 April 2021

The toddler sisters who were cruelly dumped over the southern U.S. border wall and abandoned by human smugglers have been released from Border Patrol custody.

Three-year-old Yareli and sister Yasmina, five, were released on Monday and placed in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, a federal official told WATE-TV.

'A case worker from HHS will begin to work with them. Most of the time they reach out to family members for interviews and vetting to make sure there's a safe place for the child,' said a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman.

'Most of the time they try to place them with a family member – a parent, an uncle or somebody else. And if that's not available, they try to place them in foster care,' the spokesman said.

The sisters could soon be reunited with their parents in New York City, an official with Consulate of Ecuador in Houston told last week.

The case shocked the world after surveillance video footage released by Border Patrol showed the moment when a human smuggler dropped Yareli, three, and her five-year-old sister Yasmina over the 14-foot high border wall in New Mexico on March 30.

Another smuggler was waiting on the American side to catch the girls, who were then tossed to the ground. Both smugglers then fled, abandoning the children.

The surveillance camera operator immediately alerted Santa Teresa Border Patrol Station agents and directed them to the remote location.

The girls' mother, Yolanda Macas Tene, and father, Diego Vacacela Aguilar, had left their Ecuadorean home not long before, relatives said, and were awaiting their daughters in New York City.

Their paternal grandfather, Lauro Vacacela, told Telemundo from the family's hometown of Jaboncillo that the couple were desperate to be reunited with their children.

'Their parents really wanted to be with them, and the mother was suffering immensely, so they sent for them,' he said.
The family comes from a community of indigenous people in the south of Ecuador.

Neighbor Luz Macas told Telemundo affiliate Hoy Dia that people pay smugglers between $17,000 to $20,000 to get them across the U.S. border illegally.

The girls had lived with Vacacela, and their brightly-painted pink bedroom still had all their toys and clothes.

Vacacela did not know how the girls arrived at the border, or how much was paid to the people traffickers, known as 'coyotes'.

Asked if he was concerned, he replied: 'Yes, it can be rather risky, you could say.'

The girls' maternal aunt, Rosa Macas, said she was horrified when she saw what happened to the two.
'Maybe if they had been with me, they would never have left,' she said.

Manuel Macas, their maternal grandfather, begged Joe Biden to allow the family to be reunited in New York.

'Help us - let these two innocent girls be with their parents in New York, so they can be loved' he said.

Magdalena Núñez told that Consulate of Ecuador officials had a chance to speak with the girls via a videoconference call last Monday.

'The girls are in excellent health,' she said in phone interview.

The number of migrants crossing into the United States has skyrocketed to the highest levels in at least 15 years, it emerged this week, and record numbers of teenagers and children arriving without parents have overwhelmed the government's ability to care for them.

Vice President Kamala Harris was placed in charge of the situation three weeks ago, but has yet to visit the border.
U.S. agents took more than 171,000 migrants into custody last month, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures.

Last month, CBP took in more than 18,800 unaccompanied minors - a 99 per cent increase from February and a figure far above the previous one-month high of 11,861 in May 2019.

President Joe Biden's Department of Health and Human Services is spending $60 million a week to house the child migrants in 10 shelters across the country.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

How Cubans earn a living from standing in line
Unending lines in front of stores are a typical phenomenon in Cuban commerce. But, during an economic crisis that has led to shortages of basic supplies, some Cubans have made lining up a lucrative profession.

People wearing face masks line up to buy food in Havana
Long lines outside Cuban stores are the result of limited merchandise that rarely responds to the needs of the population

Shopping for groceries has long been a nightmare for most Cubans. Although buying basic food has slightly improved recently, Ricardo Barragan told DW that "everything is difficult" when it comes to providing his family with the fundamentals of daily life.

"If you want to buy chicken, it can well happen that you need to line up for seven or eight hours," he said, adding that 200 or 300 people lining up outside grocery stores is nothing unusual.
A group of Cubans waiting in line at a supermarket in Havana
Cubans often spend hours or entire days to get a sack of rice or a chunk of meat

Like all protagonists in this article, Ricardo Barragan is not the real name of the 59-year-old Cuban, because none of them wanted to see their names published.

An artisan by profession, Barragan used to do arts and craftworks to earn a living. But since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Cuba, his market, mostly tourists, has crumbled, forcing him to do casual jobs to sustain his family.
Man wearing a tank top with a design of the US flag sits on the doorstep of a decrepit building In Havana and watching a riksha drive by
The Cuban economy is in dire straits hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and US sanctions

Hard currency: A must-have in Cuba
In Cuba, the virus pandemic has aggravated an already precarious economic situation marked by low growth and a widening financial crisis. Tourism as a main money spinner for the island's communist government has virtually collapsed and remittances from exiled Cubans have almost ceased to flow in the wake of tighter US regulations for money transfers to Cuba.

Earlier this year, the government in Havana tried to stem the economic decline with wage and price reforms, including a currency reform that scrapped the so-called convertible peso (CUC), leaving the nonconvertible Cuban peso (CUP) as the only legal tender.

Watch video01:48
Cubans wrestle with complex currency reform
As the freely convertible CUC has ceased to exist, the US dollar has become the currency of choice for both Cubans and their government. In October 2019, the communist rulers opened hard currency stores where you can buy household appliances and car parts with dollars.

Since June last year, Cubans can also buy their groceries and sanitary products there provided they have a foreign currency account with a bank and a debit card.

At the same time, shops charging only in nonconvertible CUP are struggling amid falling supply — and as lines have been getting longer and longer, they've become graphic reminders of Cuba's worsening economic situation. "Today it's chicken meat, the next it's cooking oil — standing in line never ends," says Barragan.
A woman holding CUC notes in one hand and CUP notes in the other
Cuba has decided to ditch the strong CUC (right) in favor of the weaker CUP. Now the US dollar is king on the island

The coleros alternative
Waiting for hours to be able to do your daily shopping is a hassle especially for the elderly. In times of a pandemic it is downright dangerous, increasing the risk of spreading the virus.
Since Cubans are used to dealing with economic hardship, some of them have turned a problem caused by the government into a private business model, becoming coleros by profession — people who provide others with a service in exchange for a remuneration.

The colero, which is the derogatory term used by the government, sells a place at the front of the line, which assures the buyer that he can get what he wants. But in order to formalize this transaction, the colero has to claim the space by spending the night outdoors in the line and sacrifice hours of his leisure time.

Marco Jimenz is a colero. He told DW that he once was employed at a state-run optometric laboratory where he earned 280 CUP ($11.67, €9.79) a month. He sometimes sold spectacle glass on the black market to improve his salary, he says, until he was laid off because "there wasn't any glass anymore and we were all sent home."

"We received salaries for another two months, and that was it." One day a friend had come up with the idea of standing in line for other people to earn some money, he told DW.
A line of a dozen people in front of a Cuban store
What may look like a short line can suddenly swell bigger upon opening hours of stores

Cuban lines grow upfront
During the pandemic, social distancing rules require shopkeepers to allow only two people into their stores at the same time, further swelling the ranks of those waiting outside. A night curfew limiting opening hours had made matters worse, said Jimenez.

From 5 a.m. in the mornings, people are allowed to leave their homes, and the first thing they do is mark down their place in the line and leave again, he said.

"When the stores open at 9 a.m., they return to the marked spot, so that lines grow upfront. It can well happen that suddenly you find 70 people in front of you instead of the 10 who actually lined up when you came."

Reserving a place for someone else earns a colero 50 CUP per client, said Jimenez, which is quite a small income for the time they spend. This is why he's decided to buy the groceries himself and resell it for double the original price. "I buy chicken, minced meat, mayonnaise, spaghetti — whatever is available," he says, noting that about 80% of the coleros, meanwhile, are resellers.
People stand at the door of their houses that were cordoned off amid quarantine measures in a restricted area of Havana
Cuban authorities imposed sweeping measures to control a surge of the coronavirus

Dismal job
The communist rulers have imposed stiff fines to curb the practice of reselling basic food and sanitary products. Under a new law, shopkeepers are obliged to scan buyers' personal ID documents to prevent people from lining up twice or more times over.

Jimenez claimed that he only went on his shopping sprees "twice or three times a week maximum" to avoid raising the interest of the authorities. He's got a list of fixed clients that reduces the risk of getting caught, he said.

The job earns him between 750 CUP and 1,000 CUP a week — the equivalent of a little over $40 (€33). He had enough money to make ends meet, he said, given that a government job he started about two months ago added a little more to his overall income. He's been hired as a pesquisa — someone who knocks on people's doors to find out if quarantine rules and stay-at-home rules are adhered to.

However, all he's hoping for is to return to his former job as soon as possible. "Standing in the line at shops has helped him survive," he argued, but he's grown tired of doing it, and "won't miss standing in line" once these trying times are over.
This article was adapted from German.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Haiti’s government resigns, president appoints new PM
Issued on: 14/04/2021 - 13:46
File photo of Haiti's President Jovenel Moise taken in Port-au-Prince on January 7, 2020.

File photo of Haiti's President Jovenel Moise taken in Port-au-Prince on January 7, 2020. © Chandan Khanna, AFP
Text by:FRANCE 24Follow
42 min

Haiti's government has resigned and a new prime minister has been appointed, President Jovenel Moise announced on Wednesday, saying the change was aimed at tackling insecurity in the country.

"The resignation of the government, which I accepted, will make it possible to address the glaring problem of insecurity and continue discussions with a view to reaching the consensus necessary for the political and institutional stability of our country. Minister Claude Joseph has been appointed PM," Moise tweeted.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is plagued by poverty, insecurity and natural disaster.

Kidnappings for ransom have surged in recent months in Port-au-Prince and other provinces, reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the Caribbean nation.

'Descent into hell'
Anger has been piqued by the abductions on Sunday of 10 people in Croix-des-Bouquets, a town northeast of the capital Port-au-Prince.

They include seven Catholic clergy five of them Haitian, as well as two French citizens, a priest and a nun.

France has opened an investigation into the kidnapping and the case has been entrusted to the Central Office for the Fight against Organised Crime (OCLCO), which has jurisdiction over crimes committed against French citizens abroad.

On Monday Haiti's Catholic Church slammed the government's failure to act over the unrest, with stinging comments decrying Haiti's "descent into hell".

Gang violence, political stand-off
The rise in gang violence and political instability have recently drawn protesters onto the streets of Port-au-Prince.

A week ago, hundreds of women protesters rallied in the city against the growing power of gangs, which has led to a spike in kidnappings for ransom.

The US has warned of the risk of kidnappings as it reissued advice to citizens to avoid all travel to Haiti.

The unrest comes as the government remains mired in a political stand-off.
Moise maintains that his term of office runs until February 7, 2022, but others claim it ended on February 7, 2021.

The disagreement stems from the fact that Moise was elected in a vote that was cancelled for fraud, and then re-elected a year later.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

A page turns in Cuba as Raul Castro makes way for next generation
Issued on: 16/04/2021 - 06:46
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel (with his arm raised) stands next to Raul Castro, first secretary of the island's Communist Party, on May 1, 2019 in Havana.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel (with his arm raised) stands next to Raul Castro, first secretary of the island's Communist Party, on May 1, 2019 in Havana. © AFP
Text by:Cyrielle CABOT
6 min

Raul Castro is due officially to step down from Cuban political life during the country's Communist Party congress that begins Friday. He is expected to cede the post of party secretary-general, the country's most powerful role, to Miguel Diaz-Canel, who took over from Castro as Cuba's president in 2018. The move represents a new step in the transition of power from the Castro family to a new generation born after the 1959 revolution.

More than 60 years after Fidel Castro entered Havana and took power, Cuba is poised for public life without a member of the Castro clan. The 89-year-old Raul, a fellow leader of the 1959 revolution who first took over Cuba's presidency from his ailing older brother in 2006, will attend his final Communist Party congress as secretary-general this weekend. At the close of the four-day event, Castro will hand over the reins to its freshly elected chief, with his protégé Diaz-Canel the favourite in line for the role.

"Raul Castro's departure from political life has been expected for a long time," Cuba specialist Stéphane Witkowski, of the Institute for Higher Learning on Latin America (IHEAL) in Paris, told FRANCE 24. "It represents a step in the process of generational transition between those who lived through the 1959 revolution and the new generation."

"Indeed, the date surely wasn't chosen randomly," the specialist noted, coinciding as it does with the 60th anniversary of the failed landing attempt at the Bay of Pigs by 1,400 anti-Castro paramilitaries trained and financed by the CIA. "It's highly symbolic," said Witkowski.

The transition between generations
Cuba's political transition had already seen a decisive line crossed in 2018 when Castro ceded the country's presidency to Diaz-Canel. The former minister for Higher Education, who turns 61 next week, incarnates a new generation that came of age after the revolution.
That succession, under Cuba's one-party system, was meticulously prepared and, significantly, Castro retained a political role. He remained secretary-general of the Communist Party, a post that had until then been combined with the country's presidency.
A woman wearing a face mask as a precautionary measure against Covid-19 walks by a banner with pictures of leaders of the Cuban Revolution and President Miguel Diaz-Canel (L), in Havana on March 3, 2021.

A woman wearing a face mask as a precautionary measure against Covid-19 walks by a banner with pictures of leaders of the Cuban Revolution and President Miguel Diaz-Canel (L), in Havana on March 3, 2021. © Yamil Lage / AFP

And yet, according to Cuba's constitution, the Communist Party is the ultimate political force governing society and the State. "It is really the supreme authority that defines political directions during its congress, which is held every five years," Witkowski explained. So even with the powers separate, the party under Castro retained control of Cuba's progress.

Over the past three years, Diaz-Canel's presidency therefore represented continuity, following Castro's lead. His government carried on with the principal reforms begun previously, for instance in moving to end Cuba's dual currency system. In January, Diaz-Canel's government went ahead with vast economic reforms aiming to unify the two local currencies while significantly revaluing wages, pensions and consumer prices.

>> Flashback: Miguel Diaz-Canel, the face of post-Castro Cuba

Diaz-Canel is the favourite to take on the role of new party secretary after Castro. "Nothing is decided. It happens by vote, during the congress," Witkowski explained. "But in all likelihood, it will be him."

What role for Raul Castro?
It remains to be seen what role Castro will occupy going forward. During the party's last congress, in 2016, when asked about his plans for life after politics, he said he wanted to retire to "look after the grandchildren" and "read books like the rest of the historic generation".

Still, it is difficult to imagine Fidel Castro's younger brother completely disappearing from the political stage. "He seems to be in tune with his brother's model," Witkowski said of Raul.

"Fidel Castro also gave up his political roles one after the other. He then adopted a neutral status, as an advisor. Indeed, he presented himself as 'a wiseman'. So perhaps Raul Castro will also take on an advisory role, but his intentions so far have not been made clear."
Raul Castro and Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Raul Castro and Miguel Diaz-Canel. © Ismael Francisco, AFP

Former diplomat Carlos Alzugaray, for his part, finds it impossible to imagine Castro totally withdrawing from Cuban political life. "He will always be there,' Alzugaray told Agence France-Presse. "It could become a model similar to what happened in China when Deng Xiaoping no longer had a position but he was still alive and so he had to be consulted on everything. He had the last word."

The most serious economic crisis in 30 years
The new generation at the helm in Cuba will have its work cut out with the island nation facing challenges on multiple fronts amid its most serious economic crisis in more than 30 years.

Weakened by the Covid-19 pandemic that has brought valuable tourism to a halt, and amid US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, Cuba's GDP plunged 11 percent in 2020. In recent months, Cubans have been waiting hours for supplies as supermarkets suffer shortages.

The country's leadership will also be dealing with growing opposition spurred along by the late-2018 arrival of mobile internet via 3G. In a nation that had previously been among the least connected in the world, the Internet has unleashed expression in Cuba, allowing the population to voice its demands and to take to the streets to demonstrate, phenomena previously unseen on the island. Indeed, one point on the agenda at this weekend's Communist Party congress is exploring a way to be "more efficient in fighting against political-ideological subversion" on social media.

>> Cuba may soon become smallest country to develop its own Covid-19 jabs
"There will be many challenges," Witkowski explained. "In terms of the economy, they need to manage this reform ending currency duality, to reduce agricultural dependence and to keep attracting further foreign investment.

"And they will also, of course, need to continue coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, even though, from a public health perspective, the experience has been relatively positive."

Cuba regularly lauds its management of the crisis, having registered only 88,445 cases, including 476 deaths, among its population of 11.2 million.
"What will also need to be determined is what's next in the revolutionary process. What will become of the process of institutionalising the 1959 revolution?" asked Witkowski.

"Raul Castro is a figure who had an impact on an entire people," said Witkowski. "From now on, Cuban politics enters a new phase. It will be up to this new generation to take up the torch and prove its legitimacy."
This article has been translated from the original in French.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Venezuelans try to beat hyperinflation with cryptocurrency revolution
With Venezuela's official currency plummeting for years, both the government and cryptocreators are trying to stem the rot with digital tokens. For ordinary Venezuelans, the cryptoboom also means regaining freedom.

Customers stand in lines at the cashiers of a store that accepts the Venezuelan cryptocurrency Petro
Hyperinflation caused by a massive economic crisis has boosted the use of cryprocurrencies in daily life

Returning to his home country of Venezuela would be dangerous for Gabriel Jimenez. The 31-year-old programmer has been living in exile in the United States for two years now, from where he is striving to push a cryptocurrency revolution in his country with a digital coin called Reserve.

The cryptocoin is intended to circumvent Venezuela's notoriously high inflation and has been in circulation since March this year. The socialist politicians ruling Venezuela "have no solutions for our country" and its depreciating legal tender, the bolivar, he told DW.

Officially charged with designing Venezuela's first cryptocurrency three years ago, Jimenez — then a youthful startup founder at the age of 27 — saw a chance for both beating hyperinflation and taking clandestine revenge on the country's detested socialist government.
AS picture of Gabriel Jimenez in front of his home in the United States
The story of the life of now exiled cryptocurrency creator Gabriel Jimenez is one of big hopes and high treason

Before the government of leftist leader Nicolas Maduro approached him about creating a digital coin, Jimenez was part of Venezuela's anti-government movement and took part in several street protests. At the time, the economy of the oil-rich South American country was already in free fall.

Petro: the world's first state-backed cryptocurrency
Jimenez saw an opportunity to change his country from within. If a Bitcoin-like cryptocurrency was done right, he believed, he could give the government what it wanted — a way to bypass excruciating financial sanctions imposed by the Trump administration — while also stealthily introducing technology that would give Venezuelans a measure of freedom.

The perilous ride transported Jimenez from the life of an activist to the center of Venezuela's dark institutions of power. However, the world's first state-owned digital coin, the Petro, he helped create didn't become the kind of revolution he had hoped for.
The logo of the Petro is displayed next to images of Venezuelan late President Hugo Chavez and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in a building in downtown Caracas
Venezuelan strongman Maduro (rigth) hopes the Petro can blunt the effects of US sanctions and a homemade economic crisis

As the Petro is backed by Venezuela's oil reserves, it breaks the tenets of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, whose values don't derive from a natural resource or government fiat money, but only the laws of mathematics. Before and after Petro's launch in February 2018, Jimenez was also repeatedly forced to change the token's so-called white paper, stating on which blockchain platform the coin runs.

"I was naive at the time, and it's still hurting me to see how the petro is being misused as a political weapon by the government," he said, adding that eventually he was forced to flee into exile to escape arrest and punishment.

Inflation and digital coin usage going through the roof
Jimenez's former dealings with the Maduro government have made him a controversial figure, who's lost much trust within the global cryptocommunity. And yet, he says, he's still determined to fight his country's spiraling inflation that forced the government just in March to issue a 1 million bolivar note — worth about half a US dollar.

Watch video02:02
Utility costs in Venezuela skyrocket
Last year alone, the annual inflation rate reached 6,500%, causing Venezuelans' lifetime savings to go up in smoke, and accelerating their flight to the US dollar. According to Venezuelan think tank Ecoanalitica, some 66% of all financial transactions in the country are already made in the US currency. At the same time, cryptocurrency trades paid for with Venezuelan bolivar have been surging, data from cryptotrading platform LocalBitcoins shows.
Venezuelan bolivar

Blockchain analysts from New York-based Chainalysis also say cryptotraders from Venezuela are among the most active in the world, ranking close to those in the US and Russia when it comes to peer-to-peer (P2P) dollar-based cryptotrading.

Jose Maldonado, a journalist who writes for crypto news platform Cointelegraph, says it's even possible to pay street vendors with digital coins in some bigger Venezuelan cities like Caracas, Maracaibo or Valencia. The trend was also spreading to traditional brick-and-mortar stores, he told DW in an email.

"Whether it's furniture, clothing or groceries — virtually everything can be purchased with cryptocurrencies," he said, adding that Venezuelans' coins of choice are mainly Bitcoin, Ether, Dash and Eos. Cryptocurrency exchange Binance, he noted, had meanwhile become as well known as the country's biggest commercial bank, Banco de Venezuela.

Watch video01:48
Venezuela looks to digital solution for cash crisis
Plaything of the well-heeled, expats and the government

In Venezuela, it's primarily the elites and members of the upper middle class who can afford to dabble in cryptocurrencies. Internet connections in many parts of the country are often too poor to allow access to coin trading. "For a majority of the population, using digital currencies remains an illusion," said Maldonado.

Still, cryptocurrencies are a financial lifeline for many Venezuelans, as they are an easy and affordable way for their relatives in exile to send money home. Widespread discontent with the country's socialist rulers has forced 5 million Venezuelans, out of an overall population of 30 million, to leave their country.
Venezuelan president is holding up the so-called white paper for the launch of the Petro cryptocurrency in 2018
The Venezuelan president is using the Petro as a propaganda tool to boost public support for his social policy

Petro struggling for recognition
At the end of last year, about 8 million public workers were paid half a Petro each, roughly $30, as a Christmas bonus. Those who wanted to get it had to register on an internet platform of the government. Since this year, tax payments can also be made using Petros.
The government's drive to promote the usage of its digital token seems to be bearing fruit.

Gas station operators reported in mid-2020 that about 15% of all fuel payments were made with the Petro. There are, however, also reports that state officials are increasingly using the token to transfer their riches abroad, because, similarly to Bitcoin, digital coin trades are an ideal way to secretly stash away ill-gotten money.

Watch video02:29
Are cryptocurrencies the answer to Venezuela’s woes?
Gabriel Jimenez thinks working on the Petro project was a mistake — one that pushes him to "work harder" to make up for it. The only good thing that has come out of it, he said, was a wider acceptance of cryptocurrencies in Venezuela. Although growing slowly among the population at large, those who are using digital coins are gradually regaining ever bigger parts of their financial freedom. And even if the risk of wild swings in their value is high, he said, cryptocurrencies are still a worthwhile investment, given the seemingly never-ending slide of Venezuela's official currency.
This article was adapted from German.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Covid-19: France to impose quarantine on arrivals from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and S. Africa
Issued on: 17/04/2021 - 22:47
French health workers at a Covid-19 testing centre at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport on February 5, 2021.

French health workers at a Covid-19 testing centre at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport on February 5, 2021. © Gonzalo Fuentes, AFP
Text by:FRANCE 24Follow
2 min

France will impose a 10-day mandatory quarantine on those arriving from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and South Africa over concerns about variants of the coronavirus stemming from the region, the office of Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Saturday.

Although flights from Argentina, Chile and South Africa will not be suspended, all arrivals from those countries will have to submit to the quarantine or face fines.

Flights from Brazil were already suspended until at least next Friday over concerns about the P1 variant of the coronavirus, which is more contagious than the original strain and can also re-infect those who have had the original virus.

"We have observed that the situation is worsening and that is why we have decided to suspend all flights between Brazil and France until further notice," Prime Minister Jean Castex told parliament as the decision was announced on Tuesday.

Justifying the decision not to ban flights from the other three countries, officials said the other variants were not as dangerous as the one observed in Brazil. Health officials say the Brazilian variant is particularly virulent.

The new quarantine measures will be gradually introduced over the coming days until they are fully enforced by next Saturday.

The new measures will also restrict arrivals, mainly to French citizens or residents of France and their families as well as other EU nationals.

Arrivals from French Guiana and the Antilles will also be subjected to tests before and after their flights, the statement said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)