INTL Latin America and the Islands: Politics, Economics, and Military- July 2020

Plain Jane

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June's thread:

Main Coronavirus Thread beginning page 1264:

JUNE 30, 2020 / 3:26 PM / UPDATED 4 HOURS AGO
Mexican prosecutors seek arrests of 46 officials in student disappearance probe


MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican prosecutors have requested 46 arrest orders for public officials over charges of forced disappearance and organized crime as part of a renewed probe into the disappearance of 43 student teachers, the attorney general said on Tuesday.

The warrants are for officials from Guerrero state, where the students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College disappeared in a 2014 case that became a crisis for the administration of then-President Enrique Pena Nieto and triggered international outrage.

Authorities under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took a renewed push at solving the case, after independent experts picked holes in the official version. Beyond a single bone fragment, the students’ remains were never found.

Attorney General Alejandro Gertz said the new probe, which on Monday led to the arrest of a leader from a Guerrero gang accused of involvement in the disappearance, opened up new theories overriding what the past administration dubbed the “historical truth.”

“All of the proceedings undertaken during this new investigation period... have let us establish a chronology of what happened, as well as the participation of those who committed these crimes,” Gertz told reporters. “The historical truth is finished.”

Remains found during the current administration’s probe have been sent to Austria’s University of Innsbruck for analysis, and Gertz said he hoped to provide more information at the end of the week. He added he expected to soon press charges against public officials of various ranks.

An Interpol red notice issued in March for the arrest of Tomas Zeron, a former official who has been accused of manipulating the probe, is still active along with warrants for other former officials, he added.

Zeron, who has denied wrongdoing, had fled the country, Gertz said. He also accused former investigators of violations and missteps in handling of the case, including torture, arbitrary arrests and hiding evidence.

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and Diego Ore; Editing by Aurora Ellis
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Plain Jane

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JUNE 30, 2020 / 5:39 PM / UPDATED 13 HOURS AGO
Peru's biggest LGBTQ nightclub reopens as grocery store to survive pandemic


LIMA (Reuters) - As Peru begins to ease its strict coronavirus lockdown, the country’s biggest LGBTQ nightclub opened its doors on Tuesday, but there will be no nighttime revelers; its dance floor will instead be filled with shelves stocked with groceries.

Instead of slinging cocktails at the bar or dancing on stage, ValeTodo Downtown’s famed staff of drag queens will sell customers daily household products as the space reopens as a market while nightclubs are ordered to remain closed.

The Peruvian government will lift the lockdown in most regions of the country at the beginning of July, but will keep borders closed, as well as nightclubs and bars.

The lockdown has been a struggle for the club’s 120 employees like drag queen Belaluh McQueen. Her life completely changed when the government announced the quarantine. Her nights were spent at home, rather than performing as a dancer at the club in vivid-colored costumes.

“I was very depressed because I have been doing this art for years, but you have to adapt to new challenges for the future,” said McQueen, who is identified by her stage name.

Now McQueen is back to work as a grocery store employee, wearing a sequined suit, high heels and a mask. A DJ will play club music as patrons shop.

“We have a new job opportunity,” McQueen added.

Renamed as Downtown Market, the club, which has been a mainstay hallmark of the local LGBTQ community, ushered in its reopening with an inauguration ceremony.

“Before, I used to come here to dance and have a good time, but now we come to buy,” said Alexandra Herrera, a regular attendee of the club. “The thing is to reinvent yourself.”

The club’s general manager, Claudia Achuy, said that the pandemic impacted the heart of Lima night life, but she chose to reopen as a market rather than risk cutting staff.

If we had just stayed as a nightclub we did not have a close horizon or a way of working,” Achuy said.

Peru’s confirmed coronavirus cases rose to 282,364 with 9,504 associated deaths on Monday, according to government data. It has the second highest outbreak in Latin America after Brazil, according to a Reuters tally.

Reporting by Reuters TV; writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Aurora Ellis
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


Disaster Cat
Now THAT is an example of a business thinking on its feet and keeping its employees working even in really harsh times!

Plain Jane

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Paraguay controls coronavirus, while its neighbors struggle


ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — As nearby nations grapple with uncontrolled spread of the novel coronavirus, the poor, landlocked nation of Paraguay appears to be controlling the disease, with just a few thousand confirmed cases and a few dozen deaths.
Along with Paraguay’s relative isolation, experts credit the country with creating a network of quarantine centers in military academies, motels, and religious institutions where citizens arriving home must isolate for at least 14 days and pass two consecutive coronavirus tests before being able to move about the country freely.

A youth rests on a bed with his cellphone at school turned into a government-run shelter where citizens returning home are required by law to quarantine for two weeks and pass two consecutive COVID-19 tests, as a preventive measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, Thursday, June 24, 2020. The youth said he was quarantined for 70 total days before he left. As nearby nations grapple with uncontrolled spread of the novel coronavirus, the small, poor, landlocked nation of Paraguay appears to be controlling the disease, with just a few thousand confirmed cases and a few dozen deaths. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

A youth living in quarantine drinks "mate," a traditional herbal drink as he peers from the door of a gym at a school being used as a government-run shelter where citizens returning home are required by law to quarantine for two weeks and pass two consecutive COVID-19 tests, as a preventive measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

A woman in quarantine looks through the window to watch members of the National Mechanism to Prevent Torture (MNPT) visiting a school turned into a government-run shelter where citizens returning home are required by law to quarantine for two weeks and pass two consecutive COVID-19 tests as a preventive measure amid the COVID-19 in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, Thursday, June 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

With only 7 million people, a stagnant economy, high poverty and a weak public health system, Paraguay moved to slow coronavirus in March by closing borders and imposing the quarantine restrictions, along with closing schools and public events and declaring a nighttime curfew.

Some 8,500 have passed through the quarantine system already, some complaining about poor food and housing and the requirements that the 14-day clock starts again for everyone in a shelter if one person tests positive for the coronavirus. There are also complaints of delays from many of the 15,000 Paraguayans still waiting outside the country in neighboring nations like Brazil and Argentina.

“It was a horrible experience the entire time,” said a 21-year-old who insisted on speaking anonymously out of fear of being discriminated against for having been infected. “There were 100 men together in my (quarantine) center, of all ages. When I arrived home my mother was excited to see me but didn’t touch me. She first disinfected me all over with alcohol and a home remedy. I bathed and only then did she hug me.”

A young man talks on his cellphone in the patio area of a school being used as a government-run shelter where citizens returning home are required by law to quarantine for two weeks and pass two consecutive COVID-19 tests, as a preventive measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)<

Paraguay built two hospitals to handle a possible surge in coronavirus cases, but a recent visit by an Associated Press journalist showed both are empty, which authorities cited as evidence of their success in slowing the spread of the virus.

“Striking a balance is a great challenge for the government,′ presidential adviser Federico González said. “The shelters are full and the population is safe.″

Observers worry, however, that the uncontrolled surge of cases in Brazil, many close to Paraguay’s border, means the smaller country’s success may be short-lived.

Adding to concerns are a predicted 5% drop in gross domestic product for an economy that was already struggling, and a health system that remains unprepared for a large-scale epidemic.

“I think the government’s measures have been the right ones,″ said leftist Sen. Esperanza Martínez, a former health minister. “The problem is that they haven’t been accompanied by longer-term solutions ... I think we’re going to have problems in the next months that it will be hard to reverse, and the health system isn’t prepared.”

Associated Press photojournalist Jorge Saenz reported this story in Asuncion and AP writer Andrea Rodríguez reported from Havana.

Plain Jane

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Peruvians fill streets as lockdown ends despite infections

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People wait in line for some businesses to reopen in downtown Lima, Peru, Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Major cities including the capital, will begin allowing for public transportation and certain businesses to reopen, but will still restrict the movement of the elderly and young children. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Blocks-long lines formed at bus stops, food markets and shopping centers in Peru’s capital Wednesday as people left their homes en masse to go to work or shop as a 106-day coronavirus lockdown ended in many parts of the country.

For the first time in months, food vendors offered breakfasts for 50 cents from street carts covered in clear plastic in Lima’s historic center. Vendors hawked face shields and disinfectants outside crowded public markets. City workers cleaned statues with jets of water.

“God always accompanies me,” said 73-year-old newspaper deliverer Segundina Lolo when asked if she feared the virus with infection rates in the country still high and scientists warning against ending three months of strict stay-at-home orders too soon.

Peru has been hit hard by the coronavirus and is still reporting 400 new confirmed cases a day. Until recently it had been following international advice on dealing with the pandemic but the measures didn’t stop one of the world’s worst outbreaks.

The Andean country is also facing one of the worst econonic forecasts, with the World Bank projecting a 12% drop in GDP in 2020. The 106-day lockdown devastated Peru’s economy, causing thousands of businesses to go under and unemployment to soar. Many of the jobless and poor turned to selling goods in the street to survive despite the stay-at-home orders. An estimated 70% of Peru’s work force is employed in the informal economy.
President Martin Vizcarra said the goal of easing the lockdown is to “reactivate the economy” and generate jobs. Shopping centers reopened a week ago.

Vizcarra said if the virus returns in force “the most severe measure would be to resume quarantine, but it would be the last option.”

Lockdown measures have been lifted in Lima and other parts of the country where authorities say the rate of virus transmission is decreasing. But tough measures will remain in place in seven regions in central Peru where infections are on the rise.

Health Minister Víctor Zamora told the newspaper La República the lockdown that began March 16 saved 145,000 lives and prevented more than a million hospitalizations.
“It would have been a real massacre without quarantine,” Zamora said.

With more than 285,000 confirmed infections, Peru has the seventh highest case count in the world. It has reported 9,677 deaths from COVID-19, the disease that can be caused by the coronavirus.

Plain Jane

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JULY 5, 2020 / 1:17 PM / UPDATED 16 HOURS AGO
China halts imports from two more Brazil meat plants amid COVID-19 concerns

Ana Mano, Jake Spring

SAO PAULO/BRASILIA (Reuters) - China has suspended imports from two Brazilian pork plants owned by meatpackers JBS SA (JBSS3.SA) and BRF SA (BRFS3.SA), according to the Chinese customs authority, as it cracks down on meat shipments amid concerns about the new coronavirus.

China is temporarily halting imports from a BRF plant in Lajeado and a JBS-owned Seara brand plant in Tres Passos, both in Brazil’s southern Rio Grande do Sul state, according to a posting dated Saturday on the General Administration of Customs China (GACC) website.
The posting, which only identified the plants by registration numbers, gives no reason for the suspension. But Brazil is reeling from the second worst COVID-19 outbreak in the world behind the United States.

China is the largest buyer of Brazilian pork, beef and chicken. It has requested that meat exporters globally certify their products are coronavirus free, which BRF, JBS and other Brazilian meatpackers have already done.

A total of six Brazil meat plants have now been blocked from exporting to China amid rising concerns over thousands of cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, among slaughterhouse workers in the country.

BRF said it was not given a reason for the suspension, which it only discovered via the GACC website. But the company said it was already working with Brazilian and Chinese authorities to reestablish exports from the facility as quickly as possible.

JBS said in a statement it would not comment on the decision. It was taking various measures to ensure its food is of the highest quality and that its workers are protected, JBS said.

Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry said it would only comment after it received an official communication from China on the matter, which it has not received.

Reporting by Ana Mano and Jake Spring; Editing by Tom Brown and Daniel Wallis
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Plain Jane

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Virus fear prompts Mexican town to block road from US border

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Residents of the town of Sonoyta, across from Lukeville, Arizona, briefly blocked the main road leading south from the U.S. border over the weekend over fears of coronavirus outbreaks.

Arizona has seen a major upsurge in infections and there were worries about intensified contagion during the July 4 weekend.

The mayor of Sonoyta, José Ramos Arzate, issued a statement Saturday “inviting U.S. tourists not to visit Mexico.”

Local residents organized to block the road with their cars on the Mexican side Saturday.
Video posted by residents showed several travelers complaining that they had a right to cross because they were Mexican citizens. The road is the quickest route to the seaside resort of Puerto Peñasco, also known as Rocky Point.

Ramos Arzate wrote that people from the United States should only be allowed in “for essential activities, and for that reason, the checkpoint and inspection point a few meters from the Sonoyta-Lukeville AZ crossing will continue operating.”

“We had agreed on this in order to safeguard the health of our community in the face of an accelerated rate of COVID-19 contagion in the neighboring state of Arizona,” Ramos Arzate wrote. “It is our duty as municipal authorities to protect the health of our town.”

Mexico and the United States agreed previously to limit border crossings to essential activities, but up until this week, that had mainly been enforced for people entering the United States, not the other way.

Residents of Sonoyta demanded health checks on incoming visitors, better health care facilities and broader testing.

There has been some resentment that tourists, but not local residents, had reportedly been allowed into Puerto Peñasco, where many banks and other services are located.

In view of continued high infection rates and deaths in Mexico, some state are backpedaling on reopening businesses. For example, the Mexico City government said Sunday that more streets in the city’s colonial-era downtown would be closed to traffic but open to pedestrians.
The city already allows businesses with even-numbered addresses to open one day, and odd-numbered businesses the next.

But on Sunday the city proposed a new, voluntary measure to reduce crowds downtown: officials asked people whose last names begin with the letters A to L to shop on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Those whose names begin with the letters M to Z would be encouraged to shop Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. There was no proposal to enforce the rule.


Plain Jane

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President Jair Bolsonaro Tests Positive For COVID-19: Brazilian Media
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by Tyler Durden
Tue, 07/07/2020 - 09:45

Brazilian media is reporting early Tuesday that President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for coronavirus, but the country and local media are still awaiting official confirmation.
CNBC reports Tuesday morning that "Brazilian news sources, including an affiliate of CNN — report that Bolsonaro has tested positive for the virus, but this has not been verified by CNBC or officially confirmed."

The prior day Bolsonaro had been feeling unwell and running a high temperature, his office said. The 65-year old leader was described by CNN as having a fever over 100 degrees, and reportedly began taking the anti-malaria pill hydroxychloroquine to help treat the virus.

He went to the hospital Monday night for a lung scan and said he would get tested for conoronavirus, results of which are expected back this morning.
As recently as this weekend he was photographed enjoying festivities with cabinet members at a July 4th gathering at the American ambassador's residence, where as is typical for Bolsonaro and his entourage, no one was wearing a mask.

The Brazilian president was siting next to US Ambassador to Brazil, Todd Chapman, during the party, raising concern. The New York Times reports the potential exposure has prompted Chapman to get tested:
Also on Monday night, the U.S. embassy signaled concern that the ambassador might have been exposed to the virus, saying that Mr. Chapman does not have any symptoms but intends to get tested and “is taking the proper precautions,” including following contact tracing protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control.
All of this comes after early in the pandemic crisis multiple aides of the Bolsonaro tested positive after a trip to meet with President Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate.

Since then the Brazilian president has tested negative for COVID-19 three times. He's also come under intense criticism locally and internationally for a seemingly cavalier approach to the virus.

According to CNBC this instance, and with symptoms present, is enough to prompt prompt cancelling all presidential events: "Local media reported Bolsonaro has canceled all his official activities until he gets the results of his test for Covid-19."

Brazil still ranks second in the world behind the United States in both confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths.


Plain Jane

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During pandemic, Nicaraguan doctors face political pressure
July 6, 2020

FILE - In this May 11, 2020 file photo, a medical worker wears a mask and face shield at the entrance of the SERMESA hospital in Managua, Nicaragua. While the Pan-American Health Organization urges Nicaragua to take more aggressive measures against the coronavirus pandemic and neighboring countries warily eye its outbreak, President Daniel Ortega’s increasingly authoritarian government seems more focused on hiding the virus than treating it. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga, File)

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Inside Nicaragua’s public hospitals, the walls are plastered with political propaganda, ruling-party activists ensure no information leaks out, and doctors were once forbidden from wearing masks.

While the Pan-American Health Organization urges Nicaragua to take more aggressive measures against the coronavirus pandemic and neighboring countries warily eye its outbreak, President Daniel Ortega’s increasingly authoritarian government seems more focused on hiding the virus than treating it.

Schools remain open, and the government has threatened to ban baseball players who refuse to play — at games that still draw fans. And everyone is warned to keep quiet.

“Inside, everything is secret,” Dr. María Nela Escoto, an anesthesiologist with 24 years of experience, told The Associated Press of her work at a hospital. “They don’t allow suggestions, and you can’t question anything because they’re watching. It’s a very hostile environment.”

At the Lenín Fonseca hospital in the capital of Managua, pro-government activists outside make sure no one who shouldn’t is entering and administrators prevent anyone inside from taking photos. The walls are covered with images of national heroes and martyrs and photos of Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, said Escoto.

Frightened that the government’s attempts to deny the severity of the outbreak would doom many in this Central American country, 600 medical workers signed an open letter in May asking for protective equipment in public hospitals. Within weeks, more than a dozen were fired.

Escoto was among them. She said the director of human resources handed her a letter dismissing her and told her it came “from above” — understood in Nicaragua to mean that the government had ordered it.

With their jobs already gone, several of the doctors are now describing the repression they faced and how it is hampering the country’s response to the virus. The government did not respond to a request for comment on the doctors’ dismissals and the allegations of repression.

While the government has reported more than 2,500 confirmed infections and 83 deaths, a grassroots group that is tracking the virus says the death toll may be more than 25 times that. The Citizen Observatory has recorded more than 7,400 suspected cases through July 1 and and 2,087 deaths — 133 of which were categorized as pneumonia and the rest as suspected to be from COVID-19. In serious cases, the coronavrius can cause pneumonia.

Relatives of people who were hospitalized have described “express burials,” performed by men in full-body protective gear — even as officials denied the deceased had COVID-19.
Doctors have confirmed the relatives’ suspicions, saying hospital administrators order virus deaths be categorized otherwise to keep official numbers low.

“The diagnoses have been altered,” Dr. Fernando Rojas, an anesthesiologist and outspoken government opponent who also signed the letter and was fired, told The AP.

So fervent were the government’s efforts to downplay the outbreak that hospital administrators forbade medical personnel from wearing masks when health facilities first started seeing coronavrius cases in March, saying that would make patients nervous.

At Lenín Fonseca, a ward to treat the coronavirus opened in April — but Escoto, who used to work at the hospital, says it had little equipment and, at times, the number of patients swelled so much that some were put in the emergency room.

Health workers are being squeezed on all sides, said Rojas, who used to work at the Bertha Calderón Hospital for Women, also in Managua.

“The people are depressed and scared,” he said. “They’re afraid to get infected and afraid of losing their job.”

Rojas had been reprimanded several times by his hospital’s administrators for insisting that staff needed masks and gloves; one of his colleagues was fired for doing the same. Recently, the hospital authorized masks, but only gave each doctor two tight-fitting N95 masks.
The result has been dozens of sickened medical workers and more than 70 deaths, according to a count kept by the Medical Associations of Nicaragua.

In Rojas’ hospital alone, he said at least 250 of the 800 employees have been sent home since the outbreak began because they had symptoms of COVID-19.

Even after Dr. Adán Alonso died from the coronavirus last month, the government was wary of him. He had been voluntarily treating COVID-19 patients who were turned away from hospitals in León and Chinandega, in western Nicaragua. Alonso had accused Ortega of “lying” when the government denied the virus’s presence in the country.

At Alonso’s funeral, anti-riot police blocked the entrances to León, pursued vehicles taking part in the procession and confiscated the Nicaraguan flags Alonso’s daughters carried in protest.

Doctors not known as government opponents have also lost their jobs for speaking up.
Dr. Fulgencio Báez — a renowned pediatric oncologist who initially supported Ortega’s Sandinista party — lamented the government’s actions.

“We have reached levels of repression and revenge for even your thoughts,” Báez wrote on Facebook. “They don’t respect study, the years of dedication nor the sacrifices made anymore.”

Dr. María Isabel Selva, a gynecologist in the northern city of Condega, lost her job after writing on social media in defense of doctors who were fired. She’s the daughter of doctor and Sandinista hero Eduardo Selva, whom Ortega posthumously awarded the Military Health medal in 2015.

’’I feel a tremendous pain because I feel like the revolution has been betrayed ... pain that we have a government that doesn’t hear criticism,” she said. “The biggest losers are the people of Nicaragua.”

Plain Jane

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Justice secretary resigns as Puerto Rico turmoil deepens
By DÁNICA COTOyesterday

FILE - In this July 29, 2015 file photo, the Puerto Rican flag flies in front of Puerto Rico's Capitol as in San Juan, Puerto Rico. A federal control board that oversees Puerto Rico’s finances approved on Wednesday, July 1, 2020, a new budget that largely suspends austerity measures and government cuts for one year as the U.S. territory struggles to recover from hurricanes, earthquakes and the pandemic. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo, File)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s political turmoil deepened Thursday as the island’s newest justice secretary resigned in the wake of an investigation targeting the U.S. territory’s governor, who remains under scrutiny.

Wandymar Burgos, who took over the position a week ago, said the prudent thing to do was step down.

“I have my head held up my high,” she said in a letter. “All my actions have been motivated by my ethical and upstanding work style.”

The resignation comes a day after several top legislators who are members of the governor’s party threatened to vote against her nomination and demanded she resign, given her actions in recent days.

Burgos on Monday identified herself as the person who recalled six files about to be delivered to Puerto Rico’s Special Independent Prosecutor’s Panel for further investigation. One of the files names Gov. Wanda Vázquez, according to Dennise Longo, the island’s previous justice secretary who recommended that the case involving the alleged mismanagement of disaster supplies be further investigated. Longo was asked to resign on Friday.

Vázquez has denied she made that request out of alleged retribution, instead accusing Longo of improperly intervening in an unrelated federal investigation into alleged Medicaid fraud. Vázquez also said the investigation targeting her is rigged and vengeful and comes as she prepares for her party’s Aug. 9 gubernatorial primary. Vázquez had defended Burgos’ actions, saying that while they might seem unusual, they weren’t wrong or illegal.

However, Nydia Cotto, president of the Special Independent Prosecutor’s Panel, told The Associated Press that the agency had never seen that happen before.

Burgos said earlier this week that she requested the six files be returned to the island’s Department of Justice because she had just found out about them and needed to know what they were about.

Her explanation was questioned by legislators, including Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz.

“It may have been inadvertent, or inexperience, or out of good faith, or whatever the reason, but the simple fact of suggesting that the files going toward the panel be returned at the very least raises doubts about the reasons behind it,” he told radio station Z-93 on Wednesday.


Plain Jane

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COVID hits dozens of Latin leaders, including presidents

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FILE - In this May 25, 2020, file photo, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, wearing a face mask amid the coronavirus pandemic, stands among supporters as he leaves his official residence of Alvorada palace in Brasilia, Brazil. Bolsonaro said Tuesday, July 7, he tested positive for COVID-19 after months of downplaying the virus's severity while deaths mounted rapidly inside the country. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File)

HAVANA (AP) — The COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping through the leadership of Latin America, with two more presidents and powerful officials testing positive this week for the new coronavirus, adding a destabilizing new element to the region’s public health and economic crises.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro, 65, announced his illness Tuesday and is using it to publicly extol hydroxychloroquine, the unproven malaria drug that he’s been promoting as a treatment for COVID-19, and now takes himself.

Bolivian interim President Jeanine Añez, 53, made her own diagnosis public Thursday, throwing her already troubled political propects into further doubt.

And in Venezuela, 57-year-old socialist party chief Diosdado Cabello said Thursday on Twitter that he, too, had tested positive, at least temporarily sidelining a larger-than-life figure considered the second-most-powerful person in the country.

Another powerful figure, Venezuela’s Oil Minister Tarek El Aissami, announced Friday he has the bug.

An Associated Press review of official statements from public officials across Latin America found at least 42 confirmed cases of new coronavirus in leaders ranging from presidents to mayors of major cities, along with dozens, likely hundreds, of officials from smaller cities and towns. In most cases, high-ranking officials recovered and are back at work. But several are still struggling with the disease.

Many leaders have used their diagnoses to call on the public to heighten precautions like social distancing and mask wearing. But like Bolsonaro, some have drawn attention to unproven treatments with potentially harmful side effects.

El Salvador’s Interior Minister, Mario Durán, was diagnosed on July 5, becoming the second Cabinet member there to fall ill.

“I am asking you, now more than ever, to stay home and take all preventine measures,” he said after his diagnosis. “Protect your families.’’

Durán was receiving treatment at home on Friday.

Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández announced June 16 that he and his wife had tested positive, along with two other people who worked closely with the couple.

The following day the 51-year-old Hernández was hospitalized after doctors determined he had pneumonia. The president’s illness came as the pandemic spread from an early epicenter in the northern city of San Pedro Sula to the capital of Tegucigalpa, where cases surged.

Hernández said he had started what he called the “MAIZ treatment,” an experimental and unproven combination of microdacyn, azithromycin, ivermectin and zinc that his government is promoting as an affordable way of attacking the disease. He was released from the hospital July 2.

The revelation that Cabello – whose commanding voice resonates from Venezuelan airwaves every Wednesday on his weekly television show – has COVID-19 will likely have a sobering impact on the many people who thought their isolated country was relatively shielded from the virus, said Luis Vicente León, a Venezuelan political analyst.

Venezuela – already largely cut off to the outside world before COVID-19 – has had far fewer registered cases than many other countries in Latin America, though in recent weeks the number of new confirmed infections has been steadily increasing.

Cabello said he was in isolation while getting treatment. A day earlier, he’d canceled his regular TV appearance, telling followers he was battling “strong allergies.”

No information has been released on whether Cabello is hospitalized or what type of medical care he is receiving. Venezuela is considered one of the least prepared countries in the world to confront the pandemic. Hospitals are routinely short on basic supplies like water, electricity and medicine.

“I think this shows Venezuela is on the same route all the other countries,” León said.
In the Caribbean, Luis Abinader, the newly elected president of the Dominican Republic, contracted and recovered from COVID-19 during his campaign.

Like Bolsonaro, many Latin leaders have kept up a schedule of public appearances even as the region has become one of the hardest-hit in the world.

That poses a growing risk to governance in the region, said Felicia Knaul, a professor of medicine who directs the Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas at the University of Miami.

“We’re trying to keep our health providers safe. It’s the same for our government leaders. We don’t want a Cabinet ill and in hospital. It would be tremendously destabilizing in a situation that’s already extremely unstable,” she said. “That’s a reason why being out in public unless everyone around you has masks on is dangerous. They have to be responsible.”

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei placed his entire Cabinet and their staff in quarantine Thursday after one of his ministers tested positive.

In Bolivia, officials said the interim president Añez, had not been been displaying symptoms and was in good spirits in her official residence on Friday.

At least six other Bolivian ministers and vice ministers have been infected, and at least eight staff members.

COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in Bolivia, overwhelming the already weak medical system and funeral services to the point where families in the central city of Cochabamba have been holding funerals in the street.

With the country in crisis, some polls have shown Añez in last place in a three-way presidential race leading to September elections. Añez, who took office after President Evo Morales was ousted during national unrest last year, does not have a vice president and, if she could no longer serve, the next in the line of succession is Senate President Eva Copa, a member of Morales’ party and a bitter opponent of Añez.
Biller reported from Rio de Janeiro. Also contributing were Marcos Aleman in San Salvador, Christine Armario in Bogota, Christopher Sherman in Mexico City, Carlos Valdez in La Paz, Bolivia, and correspondents around the region.


Plain Jane

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Trump: Something Big Will Happen With Venezuela & "We'll Be Very Much Involved"
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by Tyler Durden
Sat, 07/11/2020 - 15:30

Currently the United States is looking to seize gasoline aboard the next group of Iranian tankers bound for Venezuela, after the last delivery by five sanctions-busting tankers last month were successful despite being accompanied by similar US threats.
President Trump on Friday signaled the US is indeed about to "move" on Venezuela and its sanctions thwarting activities with the help of 'rogue states' like Iran. He told the Spanish-language American channel Noticias Telemundo on Friday that
“Something will be happening with Venezuela” and that the United States will “be very much involved.”

The president was also asked about the future of election in the country, especially related to US-backed opposition leader and self-styled 'Interim President' Juan Guaido.
Trump said the US would “take care of the people of Venezuela” and ultimately support whoever was legitimately elected. But of course, it remains that the US deems any support to Nicolas Maduro by definition "illegitimate".
The interviewer, Jose Diaz-Balart, asked Trump point-blank: “For you, Venezuela, is it Guaido, is it Maduro, is it U.S. intervention?
Trump said in response:
“It’s freedom for their people. It’s freedom. Venezuela was a rich country 15 years ago, and it’s been destroyed by two people, but a system, a horrible system. … And something will happen with Venezuela. That’s all I can tell you. Something will be happening with Venezuela.”
And when pressed over precisely through what route this "something big" will occur in Venezuela, Trump responded:

“We’ll be very much involved.”
“We’re going to take care of the people of Venezuela,” Trump emphasized.

Since last year the president has reportedly been pressing his generals and admirals on enacting some kind of naval blockade off Venezuela's coast.

However, top Pentagon leadership has reportedly been by and large against the idea, citing the impracticability of such an operation, and likelihood of unnecessary escalation without clear overall goals of how far US military force would be willing to go against pro-Maduro forces.

Washington reportedly does have naval ships in the Caribbean Sea, however, to crack down on what the White House previously described as Maduro's "narco-trafficking" as well as illegal sanctions-busting activities.

Plain Jane

Veteran Member

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As virus spreads, Bolsonaro ties with military under strain

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FILE - In this May 18, 2020, file photo, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wears a mask due to the coronavirus pandemic as he talks with supporters upon departure from his official residence, Alvorada palace, in Brasilia, Brazil. The logo on the mask reads "Military Police. Federal District." After 35 years of civilian-led democracy, Bolsonaro has created the most militarized Brazilian government since the fall of the country’s army-led dictatorship. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File)

SAO PAULO (AP) — After 35 years of civilian-led democracy, President Jair Bolsonaro has created the most militarized Brazilian government since the fall of the country’s dictatorship.

Packing his Cabinet with retired and active-duty generals and giving more than 3,000 government jobs to soldiers, Bolsonaro has prompted criticism from political opponents that he is co-opting the prestige of the Brazilian military in order to erode democratic institutions.
In recent weeks, however, influential figures in military spheres have begun a pushback against his use of the armed forces. A series of high-ranking retired officers, who historically give voice to the views of active-duty leaders, have begun expressing concern about Bolsonaro’s governance and heavy reliance on the military. Experts see those statements as a way of undermining any presidential schemes to unconstitutionally assert his dominance over other branches of government.

The statements have come as Brazil is swamped by the coronavirus, which Bolsonaro has consistently downplayed as a threat as he undermined shutdowns and other preventive measures. Bolsonaro, himself a former army captain, said last week that he had contracted the virus and was taking unproven malaria medication to fight it.
Both Bolsonaro’s handling of the outbreak and his own illness have been seen as embarrassing by high-ranking military leaders. The actions have weakened his relationship with the armed forces, experts and former military officials said.

It also prompted an attack from Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes, who has a history of dialogue with the high command. He said Saturday the army has associated itself with genocide during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, Bolsonaro’s defense minister, Gen. Fernando Azevedo, said in a statement Monday that the armed forces are fully engaged in trying to preserve lives, and he asked the country’s top prosecutor to investigate Mendes’ comments.

Two retired generals who served as Bolsonaro’s ministers told The Associated Press this month that the administration lacks leadership and organization, and can’t rely exclusively on the military to succeed.

Brazil traditionally has allowed the armed forces to temporarily loan service members of all ranks to work in civilian jobs for limited periods. Officers and troops who want to serve longer terms come under pressure to retire from the military first, although they generally retain close ties to serving members.

Retired Gen. Carlos Alberto Santos Cruz was Bolsonaro’s government secretary, but quit after six months over a rift in communications strategy. He spent 47 years in the army and commanded U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti (2007-2009) and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2013-2015).

He said high-ranking military officers were becoming uncomfortable with Bolsonaro’s blending of the military with his civilian administration.

“It is not good to have such a strong (military) representation. It is better society be represented in a diverse manner,” he said. “That may be intentional to transfer the armed forces’ prestige to the administration. But it is not for lack of technocrats elsewhere.”

Bolsonaro has frequently bristled at rulings from the independent judiciary, and his biggest objection came after the Supreme Court blocked his pick to head the federal police April 29. He joined supporters who protested the court’s action in the capital of Brasilia and called on the military to assume a greater role. One activist group launched fireworks in the court’s direction.

Full Coverage: Virus Outbreak
Bolsonaro told supporters May 3 at the presidential palace that he had the military’s backing.
The next day, the defense minister published a rare statement saying the armed forces believe the independence of government branches is “essential for the country’s governability.″

Retired Gen. Maynard Santa Rosa, who was Bolsonaro’s strategic affairs minister for nine months, said the military will avoid drawing closer to him, but officers won’t leave the Cabinet unless there is a major scandal like the corruption cases that have marred previous administrations.

“Then there is the possibility of a step back,” Santa Rosa said.

An active-duty air force brigadier, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the press, said many military officials agree with Bolsonaro’s criticism of the Supreme Court, but the high command won’t support any authoritarian moves such as openly disobeying its rulings.

He added that top leaders of the armed forces are pressuring active-duty appointees to retire so the military isn’t confused with the administration.

“It is clear that those (military ministers) in the Bolsonaro administration are in a difficult position,” Aldo Rebelo, a civilian former defense minister, said in an interview. “They have to accept a president who threatens other branches of government, who attends protests in front of the army headquarters. It is not a comfortable position.”

The president’s press office told the AP it would not respond to questions about the military’s role in government nor about critiques of former officers.

Brazil’s military mostly kept out of politics since the end of the dictatorship in 1985, focusing on border control, security operations and logistics in remote areas.

Now, almost half of the Cabinet is comprised of former military officers, many of whom left the armed forces to work for Bolsonaro.

On Thursday, Azevedo tried to dispel fears of a de facto military government, saying none of the other ministers speak for the high command despite their long careers in the armed forces.

“There is no one else,” Azevedo said in a live broadcast.

Bolsonaro has doled out hundreds of other lower government jobs to military personnel, with many aimed at controlling Amazon deforestation in order to shield the country from environmental criticism

Bolsonaro also looked to Gen. Eduardo Pazuello, an army logistics expert with no health experience before April, to lead Brazil’s fight against the coronavirus.

The president ordered the army to mass produce the anti-malarial drug, chloroquine, which hasn’t proven to be effective against the coronvavirus. Pazuello, who remains interim health minister almost two months on, distributed more than 4 million pills nationwide.

The virus has killed more than 70,000 people in Brazil, most of them on the general’s watch.
Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, said the military has increasingly shown its discomfort with the president’s actions and poor management of the health crisis.

Even before Bolsonaro caught the coronavirus, the commander of the army’s COVID-19 center refused to shake the president’s hand during a meeting broadcast live, instead offering his elbow. Four others, including two generals, subsequently did the same.

“It is an embarrassment for them that the president caught the virus,” Melo said. “Bolsonaro doesn’t follow rules, which are dear to military leaders who see this crisis as the challenge of their generation.”

Plain Jane

Veteran Member

Mexico’s president turns attention to cartel-plagued states

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Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gives his daily, morning news conference at the presidential palace, Palacio Nacional, in Mexico City, Monday, July 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is traveling to three of Mexico’s most violent states this week to counter what many call a “hands-off” strategy toward drug cartels that has exacerbated tensions with state governors.

A surge in cartel killings in Guanajuato, Colima and Jalisco - all states governed by opposition parties - is threatening to become a political quagmire of finger-pointing for López Obrador ahead of 2021 midterm elections.

Together with Mexico’s rising death toll from the coronavirus pandemic, the violence could bring an end to a honeymoon for the president who famously promised to tame organized crime with “hugs not bullets” and said Mexico is no longer in the business of detaining drug capos.

With an army and National Guard distracted by the coronavirus pandemic, construction projects and dozens of other tasks that López Obrador has assigned them, it is unclear how much the president can bring to the table to fight the cartels.

“I am going to these states because they have the toughest problems with violence and especially homicides,” López Obrador said. “I am going to support the people with my presence and tell them that despite the public, notorious differences we have with the state governments, this is a matter that concerns everyone and we have a duty to act together.”

Mexico’s president has swung between blaming governors for the country’s problems - at times even accusing them of being in cahoots with cartels - and embracing them.

A group in Guanajuato called “A Tu Encuentro” or “Finding You,” which is fighting to find at least 135 people who have disappeared during the drug violence, released a video Tuesday asking for a meeting with the state’s governor and the president on Wednesday. It called for the two to set aside their differences.

“I hope he (López Obrador) comes to help, and that his visit helps solve the violence problem, and not just pour more fuel on the fire of the political confrontation between the state and the federal governments,” group leader José Gutierrez said earlier.

All three of the states are seeing vicious cartel turf battles.

In Guanajato, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the local Santa Rosa de Lima gang are engaged in a fight that has left over 1,900 people dead in the first five months of this year, including the slaughter of 27 recovering addicts at a rehab center in Irapuato on July 1.

The federal government has installed National Guard barracks at several points in Guanajuato, but the guards and the army just conduct periodic patrols. The tough work of investigating, serving arrest warrants and responding to emergency calls has been left largely to state and local police, who are clearly outgunned. In the first six months of this year, about 60 police officers have been killed in Guanajuato, according to the civic group Causa en Común.

“The problem grew and has been allowed to grow, and we have to look at whether there has been collusion, that is, criminal conspiracy, between the criminals and officials,” the president said after the massacre at Guanajuato rehab center.

While López Obrador points toward the opposition governors for the violence, the opposition cites his “hands-off” policy with cartels. In October, federal authorities ordered the release of a captured Sinaloa cartel leader after gunmen staged a massive attack to win his freedom. And homicides in the first year of his administration have run at about the same record levels of 35,620 as the last year of his predecessor’s term.

Guanajuato Gov. Diego Rodriguez, of the conservative National Action Party, said that “coordination between all levels of government is indispensable in order to reduce the violence.”

Guanajuato is the biggest exporting state not located on the U.S. border and has tried to keep its industry untouched. But it may have become the epicenter of a much larger, titanic struggle between Mexico’s two most powerful cartels: Jalisco and Sinaloa.

In a video posted in June, José Antonio Yépez, the leader of the Santa Rosa gang, spoke about allying himself with the Sinaloa cartel to fight off the incursion by Jalisco, which experts say may have already created a kind of proxy war in Guanajuato.

“Even though it rankles me to work for these guys from the border or the guys from Sinaloa ... I will serve any of those guys, before I let the other ones come in,” said a man identified as Yépez. While authorities would not verify the authenticity of the tape, Yépez has been known in the past for posting such videos on social media sites.

López Obrador has also had public differences with the governor of Jalisco state, Enrique Alfaro, over everything from measures to limit the spread of coronavirus, to how to handle dissent and drug violence.

Alfaro has claimed the federal government has sought to destabilize Jalisco and threatened him.

Jalisco state has accounted for about 29% of all bodies pulled from clandestine burial pits since the start of López Obrador’s administration. A total of 487 bodies were found in the state between Dec. 1, 2018 and the end of June.

“Our country faces a common enemy, organized crime groups that seek to defeat the government,” Alfaro wrote recently. “Now is the time to close ranks.”


passin' thru


‘Inexcusable Act of Provocation’: Caracas Denounces US Navy Destroyer Steaming in Venezuelan Waters ‘Inexcusable Act of Provocation’: Caracas Denounces US Navy Destroyer Steaming in Venezuelan Waters:

‘Inexcusable Act of Provocation’: Caracas Denounces US Navy Destroyer Steaming in Venezuelan Waters
Petty Officer 3rd Class Erick Pa
Latin America
22:54 GMT 16.07.2020Get short URL
The Venezuelan government has denounced a “freedom of navigation operation” performed by the US Navy on Thursday, calling the violation of Venezuelan waters by a US warship ostensibly defending the freedom of the seas “erratic and childish.”
US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) announced on Thursday that a US Navy destroyer, the USS Pinckney, had “challenged Venezuela’s excessive maritime claim in international waters during a successful freedom of navigation operation in the Caribbean Sea.”
“The illegitimate Maduro regime improperly claims excessive controls over those international waters, which extend three miles beyond the 12-mile territorial sea, a claim that is inconsistent with international law,” SOUTHCOM said.
The US has maintained since January 2019 that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is not the legitimate leader of Venezuela, instead championing an unknown politician named Juan Guaido, who never ran in a presidential election.
Freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) are one tactic adopted by the Pentagon to challenge territorial claims around the world, but especially in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. Such operations involve sailing straight through claimed waters as if those claims did not exist, all while posturing as defenders of the “right of nations to access, transit and navigate international waters,” as SOUTHCOM commander Adm. Craig Faller put it in the news release, even if that right was never in question.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza denounced the FONOP in a Thursday statement, calling it “an inexcusable act of provocation” and “erratic and childish.”
Arreaza noted the USS Pinckney sailed at a distance of 16.1 nautical miles from the Venezuelan coast, well within the country’s contiguous zone, which extends up to 27.6 miles from the coast and where, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a nation “may exercise the control necessary to (a) prevent infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations within its territory or territorial sea; (b) punish infringement of the above laws and regulations committed within its territory or territorial sea.”
“The entry of the American boat in a sneaky manner into Venezuela's jurisdictional waters is a totally clear violation of International Maritime Law and can qualify as an inexcusable act of provocation,” Arreaza said. He attributed the maneuver to US President Donald Trump’s “desperate campaign to attract the Latin American vote” in Florida “in exchange for the permanent and illegal aggression against Venezuela.”
“The institutions of the Republic of Venezuela, and especially the naval forces, will enforce the sacred sovereignty and territorial integrity of Venezuela in total conformity with international laws, looking at all the actions that are considered necessary, without falling for absurd provocations that are intended to affect the peace and tranquility of Venezuelans as well as the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean,” Arreaza said.
A squadron of US Navy ships, including the USS Pinckney, was dispatched to the Caribbean in May as a quintet of Iranian fuel tankers set sail for Venezuela, bringing much-needed gasoline to offset an acute fuel shortage. The tankers ran the blockade as the US ships did not try to stop them.
The warships ostensibly formed part of a larger “counter-narcotics” operation opened up by the Trump administration as the COVID-19 pandemic set in; however, the effort has mostly focused on disrupting Venezuela. The Trump administration charged central Venezuelan government figures, including Maduro, with drug trafficking earlier this year, putting out bounties for their capture.

Plain Jane

Veteran Member

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Puerto Rico rolls back openings amid spike in COVID-19 cases
By DÁNICA COTOJuly 16, 2020

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Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced offers a press conference to announce the extension of the Covid-19 curfew until June 15, while detailing the new sectors of the country that may resume operations from May 26 as part of a new executive order, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thursday, May 21, 2020. Puerto Rico is cautiously reopening beaches, restaurants, churches, malls, and hair salons under strict conditions as the U.S. territory emerges from a two-month lockdown despite dozens of new coronavirus cases reported daily. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) PUERTO RICO OUT-NO PUBLICAR EN PUERTO RICO

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor on Thursday announced major rollbacks including the closure of bars, gyms, marinas, theaters and casinos and restricted the use of beaches as the U.S. territory is hit by a spike in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez said the changes and an ongoing curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. will remain in place until July 31.

“We’ve reached a level where we need to take more restrictive measures,” she said.
Other changes include the prohibition of alcohol sales after 7 p.m., limiting the capacity of restaurants to 50%, and barring tourists from traveling to the popular nearby islands of Vieques and Culebra. Only those who are exercising will be allowed on beaches, including joggers, swimmers and surfers.

Vázquez said that $100 million will be released to help municipalities affected by the pandemic and another $150 million to aid private hospitals. She also announced that she has asked the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to temporarily suspend flights from Texas and Florida, noting they’re struggling with their own spike in COVID-19 cases.

The rollbacks are expected to deepen the island’s economic crisis and lead to a drop in tourism as more visitors flocked to the U.S. territory in recent weeks, angering some who note they don’t always use face masks or take other precautionary measures, like a portion of those who live in Puerto Rico or visit family members on the island.

As of Wednesday, all visitors are required to wear a mask and must take a molecular test 72 hours prior to their arrival and submit the results to officials at the airport. Those who refuse to do so, or tested positive, or do not have the test results available, will be forced into a two-week quarantine.

Many have criticized the governor, saying she waited too long to make the announcement, which comes roughly a month after she reopened beaches, churches and gyms despite warnings from a government task force created to advise her on such issues.

The island of 3.2 million people has reported more than 3,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, more than 7,450 probable ones and at least 172 deaths, including that of a 13-year-old child.
Since the end of June alone, the percentage of positive cases in Puerto Rico increased 10-fold, according to Dr. José Rodríguez Orengo, executive director of The Puerto Rico Public Health Trust.

“If we don’t take the necessary measures, this is going to keep going up,” he said in a phone interview.

The actions of Puerto Rico’s governor mirrors those that many officials are taking in some U.S. states and around the world in an effort to contain a resurgence of the coronavirus. More than 13 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed globally, with more than 580,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The actual numbers are thought to be far higher in part because of limited testing.

In recent days, mayors in cities and towns across Puerto Rico took their own action ahead of the governor’s announcement, concerned about the spike. Some, like the popular tourist town of Rincón, closed beaches while others limited restaurants to take out and delivery, and launched their own contact tracing efforts, noting that the central government is not properly keeping track of cases.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz took it one step further Wednesday. She banned anyone who is not a resident, worker or tourist staying in a hotel or Airbnb from entering the historic part of the capital known as Old San Juan from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. In addition, she announced fines for anyone not wearing a face mask in public places.

Meanwhile, the town of Añasco made it mandatory for anyone living in that municipality to register any friends or family who visit from outside the island. Also, the northern town of Vega Baja went as far as canceling all recreational and sporting events for the rest of the year, including a popular downhill skateboarding competition.

Daniel Colón-Ramos, co-founder of CienciaPR, a nonprofit group of Puerto Rican scientists, praised the mayors for their actions.

“This is the type of mentality that we need,” he said by phone. “It’s evidence-based.”

He noted that while Puerto Rico’s government has updated its coronavirus data, improved its contact tracing efforts and is now reporting an average of up to 4,000 molecular tests performed a day, more is needed.

“What we’re seeing in the data is not good,” he said. “There’s been an exponential increase. That is worrisome.”

Plain Jane

Veteran Member
This is not good.

JULY 17, 2020 / 11:25 PM / UPDATED 17 HOURS AGO
Mexican cartel shows its might as president visits its heartland

Julia Love

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A video depicting a sprawling military-style convoy of one of Mexico’s most powerful drug cartels circulated on social networks on Friday just as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador visited the group’s heartland.

In the two-minute clip, members of the fearsome Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) stand in fatigues alongside a seemingly endless procession of armored vehicles.

“Only Mencho’s people,” members of the cartel shout, pumping their fists and flashing their long guns. The cry was a salute to their leader, Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera, one of the country’s most-wanted drug lords.

The video’s release coincided with Lopez Obrador’s visit to the states of Guanajuato, Jalisco and Colima, some of the cartel’s strongholds.

“They are sending a clear message... that they basically rule Mexico, not Lopez Obrador,” said Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

A spokesman for Lopez Obrador’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It was unclear when the video had been filmed, but it appeared to be authentic, Vigil said.
CJNG is regarded as Mexico’s strongest gang, along with the Sinaloa Cartel formerly led by jailed kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. It is often credited with infiltrating poorly paid and trained police departments across the country to protect its wide-ranging criminal rackets.

In late June, the cartel was quickly fingered as the probable culprit in a brazen attack on Mexico City security head Omar Garcia Harfuch that took place in broad daylight in a posh neighborhood in the capital.

Unlike his predecessors, Lopez Obrador has taken a less confrontational approach on security, preferring to attack what he describes as root causes like poverty and youth joblessness, via social spending.

But the strategy, branded by Lopez Obrador as one of “hugs, not bullets,” has emboldened criminal groups, many security analysts say.

The president’s approach “has only led these cartels to operate with more impunity,” Vigil said.

Reporting by Julia Love; Editing by William Mallard
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Plain Jane

Veteran Member

JULY 18, 2020 / 8:47 PM / UPDATED 12 HOURS AGO
Seven Panama youths killed in brutal attack near lake


PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Panamanian authorities on Saturday were investigating the murder of seven young people near a lake about 80 km (50 miles) north of the capital, a prosecutor said.

The bodies of the victims, four women and three men ranging in age from 17 to 22 years old, were found on Saturday, homicide prosecutor Adolfo Pineda told reporters. Some people in the group managed to escape the attack and are assisting authorities with the investigation, Pineda added.

Some of the dead had injuries consistent with gunshot wounds, but the cause of death has yet to be determined, Pineda said. The motive for the attack is also under investigation.

"It really is a shocking occurrence from all points of view,” Pineda said.

Local media reported that some of the victims’ family members had reported them missing on Friday. The group had gone out to swim, according to local media.

The attack took place near Gatun Lake, a scenic man-made lake that forms an important part of the Panama Canal.

Reporting by Elida Moreno; editing by Jonathan Oatis
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Plain Jane

Veteran Member

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In French Guiana, virus exposes inequality, colonial legacy

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A woman sells vegetables in the slum district of Mont Baduel, in Cayenne, French Guiana, Friday, July 10, 2020. France's most worrisome virus hotspot is in fact on the border with Brazil - in French Guiana, a former colony where health care is scarce and poverty is rampant. The pandemic is exposing deep economic and racial inequality in French Guiana that residents say the mainland has long chosen to ignore. (AP Photo/Pierre Olivier Jay)

PARIS (AP) — When white doctors walked into Camopi, a majority Indigenous town in French Guiana near the border with Brazil, townspeople felt worry instead of relief.

With French Guiana facing a wave of coronavirus infections, the doctors from the French mainland were there to administer tests and treat the sick. But for residents of the former colony, few of whom have internet or television or knew about COVID-19, the appearance of the health workers carried echoes of the arrival of Europeans in South America and the disease and exploitation they brought.

“There is still in the minds the time of colonization and the havoc wreaked by viruses brought by colonizers,” Jean-Philippe Chambrier, a member of the Arawak tribe and representative of Indigenous communities in French Guiana, told The Associated Press. “So when they saw white people from the mainland, they made the link.”

France’s most worrisome virus hot spot is on the northern coast of South America: French Guiana, a territory of about 300,000 people where poverty is rampant and health care is scarce. Its outbreak has exposed deep economic and racial inequality that residents say leaders in Paris have long chosen to ignore.

Months after the virus stabilized in mainland France, it grew in French Guiana. For weeks in June and early July, about a quarter of new daily infections reported in all of France were in French Guiana, which has just 0.5% of the French population. More than 6,500 cases have been recorded in the territory, although officials fear the number of infections is estimated to be much higher.

Its hospitals reached capacity in June, and the French military intervened to ferry patients to the French Caribbean island of Martinique. The national government sent 130 reserve health care workers to French Guiana, with more on the way.

Local officials say a porous border with Brazil and the rapid virus spread there was just part of the problem. They decry a lack of concern from the French mainland for a region where more than half the population lives under the national poverty line — some 10% don’t even have running water — and where it took more than a month to translate the government’s original COVID-19 guidance into all the local languages.

French Guiana was colonized in the 1600s, and became a French “department” in 1946, making it an integral part of France that uses the euro currency and answers to political leaders in Paris, 7,000 kilometers (4,300 miles) away. It’s a multi-ethnic society with multiple Indigenous communities, descendants of Black slaves, descendants of settlers, and immigrants. And although it represents one-seventh of French territory, it is rarely mentioned in French politics and news.

The virus has changed that, at least temporarily. For weeks, it’s been the top priority for France’s national health agency. New Prime Minister Jean Castex made a rare trip to French Guiana’s capital of Cayenne this week to offer moral support -– but little else.

In the slums ringing Cayenne, aid groups stepped up food distribution efforts during a lockdown that has devastated the livelihoods of those working in the informal economy. Many of them didn’t have access to temporary unemployment benefits.

Things are similarly bad in villages like Camopi, which has just one doctor for 2,000 people. Camopi detected 61 cases in May and June, and although no one died, the challenges illustrate some of France’s most pressing inequalities.

Its residents speak Wayampi, Teko, Portuguese, Creole and French. When doctors come from France, they need mediators and translators.

Silvain Louis has been a volunteer mediator in Camopi for four years. He says residents long remained ignorant about the virus and how to protect themselves. “They knew they were under lockdown, that there was a disease,” said Louis, who is of mixed Creole, Chinese and Indigenous heritage. “but there was no prevention to explain things.”

The first case Louis found was a grandmother living in his neighborhood. “She’d been lying in her hammock for two days” with a headache, sore throat and fever, he said. Like the other first cases in Camopi, she didn’t immediately think it was COVID-19.

“She thought it was fatigue or maybe the flu,” Louis said. She tested positive and was taken to Cayenne by helicopter to be hospitalized in case her condition worsened.

Because internet access, electricity and TV reception is limited to the center of Camopi, few know about the virus, Louis said, and health care workers must go “door-to-door.”

When the first additional doctors arrived, people didn’t feel safer. “From one day to the other, you see teams of doctors everywhere. It’s scary,” Louis said.

In 2016, there were 55 general practitioners for every 100,000 people in French Guiana, with most concentrated in Cayenne. That compares with 104 per 100,000 in the French mainland.
The last time French Guiana drew national attention in France was in 2017, when tens of thousands organized strikes and protests to demand better health care facilities and resources to fight crime. The state promised a new hospital, 40 million euros to help the existing Cayenne hospital and 120 new health professionals.

“We were fooled,” Gabriel Serville, one of French Guiana’s two lawmakers in the French National Assembly, told the AP. He said the money was sent only after he filed a lawsuit, while the hospital has yet to be built and the 120 health care professionals haven’t all arrived.
In January, before the virus was a major concern, Serville raised alarms about the low number of doctors, and he asked for help from Cuba.

“A lot of families live in makeshift homes where people don’t have access to water,” Serville said. “When people don’t have running water and no money because they have to feed and clothe their children and pay their rent, buying hydroalcoholic gel (hand sanitizer) is not a priority.”

Since February, Serville has been asking that pandemic measures used in the mainland be applied differently in French Guiana. Annick Girardin, the French minister of overseas territories, visited French Guiana in late June with cases there exploding, and she finally proposed measures similar to what Serville had requested.

Serville said the government uses a management style in which decisions are dictated from above, as “in the times of the colonies.” He wants that to change, so that actions are taken based on local needs instead of directives from Paris.

“The participative mode we’ve been pleading for over and over is very far from being implemented in Guiana,” Serville said.
Pierre-Olivier Zay in Cayenne, French Guiana, and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.
Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at and Understanding the Outbreak


Plain Jane

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JULY 20, 2020 / 6:38 AM / UPDATED AN HOUR AGO
Dutch military helicopter crashes in Caribbean, two killed


AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A Dutch military helicopter crashed in the Caribbean Sea near the island of Aruba, killing two of the four people on board, the Dutch defence ministry said on Monday.

Rob Bauer, the Dutch armed forces chief, said it was not clear what caused the helicopter to crash some 12.5 kilometres (7.77 miles) off the coast of the Dutch island at the end of a coast patrol surveillance flight on Sunday.

The helicopter’s 34-year-old pilot Christine Martens and 33-year old tactical coordinator Erwin Warnies were killed. The other two crew members were not seriously injured, Bauer said.

Pending an investigation into the crash, all Dutch NH90 helicopters will be grounded until further notice.

There was no immediate comment from NHIndustries, the helicopter’s manufacturer based in Aix en Provence, France.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was shocked by the crash and offered his condolences to the victims’ families.

Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Mark Heinrich
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Panama charges man in killing of 7 youths

Prosecutors in Panama said Monday they have brought murder charges against a man in the slaying of seven young people whose bodies were found near Lake Gatun, which forms part of the Panama Canal.

Prosecutors did not provide details about the suspect, who was detained Sunday and is the only one arrested so far in the case. Investigators have said there is evidence other people may have been involved.

The rare mass slaying of four men and three women has shocked Panama, in part because the victims were so young, aged 17 to 22.

The victims were part of a group of 13 local youths who set out for a hike last Friday; six escaped and made their way home. Five of the bodies were found Saturday in an abandoned military bunker probably dating from the time of U.S. control of the waterway.

Plain Jane

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JULY 21, 2020 / 9:44 AM / UPDATED AN HOUR AGO
Peru protesters attack Las Bambas mining group's convoy, burn vehicles

Marco Aquino

LIMA (Reuters) - Protesters in Peru attacked a convoy of vehicles from the Las Bambas mining group, one of Peru’s largest copper producers, and set fire to some of them, underscoring tensions in the country that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The miner, owned by Chinese firm MMG Ltd, said in a statement late on Monday the convey had been moving through a mining area near the city of Espinar in the Cusco region when the vehicles were intercepted, stoned and two were burned.

Peru is the world’s no. 2 copper producer and its economy relies heavily on exports of the red metal, especially to top buyer China. The Andean country’s economy has been one of worst affected in the region by the coronavirus outbreak.

The protesters “are violently demanding an economic benefit that is not linked to Minera Las Bambas, and that has caused riots in the area,” Las Bambas said.

They sprayed gasoline on the vehicles and proceeded to set them on fire. The drivers of both units, who were threatened by the protesters, suffered personal injury and are currently in a safe place, being treated to verify their state of health.”

Las Bambas produces some 400,000 tons of copper per year, or about 2% of global extraction of the metal.

Communities near Espinar launched a protest last week against the Antapaccay copper miner, controlled by Glencore, and yesterday blocked sections of a mining corridor in the southeast of the country, according to reports by non-governmental organization the Mining Conflict Observatory.

The public ombudsman office separately said in a recent report that Espinar social organizations were planning to start a protest on July 15 demanding a solidarity bond of 1,000 soles ($285) from the Antapaccay mining company.

Reuters could not immediately reach representatives for Antapaccay for comment.

Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Bernadette Baum
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Child abduction, forced labor scandal widens in south Mexico

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Juana Perez, whose 2 1/2 year-old son Dylan is missing, holds a poster of him outside of the presidential palace that asks for President Manuel Andres Lopez Obrador to help her find him, in Mexico City, Wednesday, July 22, 2020. The search for Perez's boy who was led away from a market in southern Mexico's Chiapas state three weeks ago led police to a horrifying discovery: 23 abducted children being kept at a house and forced to sell trinkets in the street. Pérez said officials told her that her son had not yet been found. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A scandal involving the abduction and exploitation of young children in a colonial Mexican city popular with tourists widened Wednesday when prosecutors released additional evidence that an adult apparently used other children to help kidnap a missing 2-year-old boy.

The search for Dylan Esaú Gómez Pérez led prosecutors in southern Chiapas state, on the Guatemalan border, to a house in San Cristobal de las Casas where 23 abducted children were being kept in deplorable conditions and forced to sell trinkets and handicrafts in the street.

But Dylan, who turns 3 in November, was not among them.

Reviewing surveillance cameras, state prosecutor Jorge Llaven said that a boy and a girl, both apparently around 12, were seen talking to a woman who is a suspect in the June 30 abduction. Llaven identified the woman as only as “Ofelia,” and offered a $13,500 reward for information about the location of her or the missing boy.

In photos from cameras, the boy and the girl enter the public market where Dylan’s mother worked in the colonial city. Dylan appears to follow the boy, and then the girl takes Dylan by the back of the jacket and walks out of the market with him. The girl is later seen returning alone, apparently having handed the missing boy over to someone else.

Llaven said Tuesday that a search carried out Monday, apparently related to Dylan’s disappearance, had revealed a house where children — most between 2 and 15 years old, but three infants aged between 3 and 20 months — were forced to sell things on the street.

“Moreover, they were forced to return with a certain minimum amount of money for the right to get food and a place to sleep at the house,” Llaven said.

San Cristobal is a picturesque, heavily Indigenous city that is popular among tourists. It is not unusual to see children and adults hawking local crafts like carvings and embroidered cloth on its narrow cobblestone streets.

But few visitors to the city suspected that some of the kids doing the selling had been snatched from their families.

The Chiapas state prosecutors’ office said in a statement the children “were forced through physical and psychological violence to sell handicrafts in the center of the city,” adding the kids showed signs of “malnutrition and precarious conditions.”

According to video presented by the prosecutors, many of them slept on what appeared to be sheets of cardboard and blankets on a cement floor. Three other women have been detained in that case and may face human trafficking and forced labor charges.

Dylan was with his mother, Juana Pérez, at the market on the day he was snatched.
Pérez, who traveled to Mexico City to ask President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to help find her son, works at the market selling fruit and vegetables. She said her son would sometimes wander off to play, but that no children had ever been snatched from the market before.

The boy’s father emigrated to California to find work, and thus Pérez, 23, has had to care for Dylan and his sister by herself.

Plain Jane

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Bolivia delays presidential election due to pandemic

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Healthcare workers lift a man who was lying on the ground outside the General Hospital into a wheelchair to be taken to the emergency room that treats people suspected of having COVID-19 in La Paz, Bolivia, Thursday, July 23, 2020. Police in Bolivia’s major cities have recovered the bodies of hundreds of suspected victims of the coronavirus from homes, vehicles, and in some instances, the streets. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivia’s highest electoral authority on Thursday delayed presidential elections by more than a month due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal moved the election date from Sep. 6 to Oct. 18, the third time the vote has been delayed.

The president of the tribunal, Salvador Romero, told reporters that Bolivian and international experts had advised the body that the uncontrolled spread of the novel coronavirus in the country made holding the election in September unfeasible.

The party of former President Evo Morales, who was ousted last year and replaced by an interim president, objected to delaying the vote and insisted that Bolivia’s Legislative Assembly must approve any change in the date.

Morales’ party, the Movement Toward Socialism, controls the Assembly. Romero insisted that legislative approval was not necessary.

Morales has said vote delays would extend the country’s crisis of legitimacy, make it even harder to govern, and would worsen the pandemic.

Bolivia has more than 64,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 2,300 deaths, a toll that is overwhelming its hospitals and other infrastructure. Romero said cases could be peaking between now and September.

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Plain Jane

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JULY 24, 2020 / 6:16 PM / UPDATED 13 HOURS AGO
Norway reps to visit Venezuela after failed political dialogue: Venezuelan opposition


CARACAS (Reuters) - Norwegian government representatives plan to visit Venezuela again, the South American country’s political opposition said on Friday.

The visit comes almost a year after the end of an attempt by Oslo to mediate between Venezuela’s bitterly divided government and opposition.

In a statement, the opposition said Norway had informed it that the representatives would arrive “in the coming hours” and would observe the country’s “political and humanitarian” situation.

Norway’s foreign ministry last year facilitated several rounds of dialogue between Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition, led by National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido, who is recognized as Venezuela’s rightful leader by the United States and dozens of other countries.

The opposition declared those talks dead in September, stating that Maduro - a socialist who is accused of rigging his 2018 re-election vote and has overseen a six-year economic crisis - was unwilling to seriously negotiate for a new election.

In its Friday statement, the opposition said it reiterated to the Norwegian representatives that the dialogue process ended last year.

“There is not any dialogue process underway at this moment, and we reiterated to the Norweigian delegation that only free and fair elections can solve this crisis.

Neither Norway’s foreign ministry nor Venezuela’s information ministry immediately responded to requests for comment. Maduro calls Guaido a U.S. puppet seeking to oust him in a coup.

The visit comes ahead of an expected Dec. 6 parliamentary election, which the opposition has warned that Maduro is trying to rig. The government-friendly Supreme Court has ousted the leaders of prominent opposition parties, and replaced them with politicians seen as shadow allies of the ruling socialists.

Earlier this year, allies of Maduro and Guaido secretly began exploratory talks about as concerns grew about the spread of the coronavirus in Venezuela.

Reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas and Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by David Gregorio
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Plain Jane

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Number of fires more than doubles in Brazil’s Pantanal

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — The number of fires in Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s biggest tropical wetlands, more than doubled in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period last year, according to data released by a state institute. Officials said it was the largest number of fires in a six-month period in the last two decades.

The sharp increase in fires comes amid domestic and international concern over Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s calls to clear land in order to drive economic development, and follows a surge in fires, many set to make land available for farming and other industry, in the Amazon last year.

There were 2,534 recorded fires in the Pantanal between January and June, the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research said. Between January and June 2019, the institute recorded 981 fires. The 2020 numbers represent a 158% increase than the 2019 numbers.
As of Saturday, the institute had registered another 1,322 fires in July, for a total of 3,856 blazes in the wetlands that extend through the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, in central-western Brazil.

Until the end of last month, technicians from the institute estimated the total area of the Pantanal burned this year at 1,969 square miles (5,100 km²).

On July 16, the Brazilian government issued a decree banning burning in the Pantanal wetlands and the Amazon forest for four months. However, in the Pantanal alone, 1,002 fire spots have been identified since the decree came into force.

Mato Grosso do Sul state has declared a state of environmental emergency. It says the critical period of seasonal forest fires is just beginning and cites extreme conditions such as high temperatures, strong winds and low air humidity.

It also said health clinics around the state registered an increase of patients complaining about diseases related to air quality, aggravating a health system already dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

The National Institute for Space Research has reported nearly 8,000 fires in the Amazon first half of the year, and another 3,326 in July. The numbers are still lower than in 2019. Last year, there were 10,606 fires reported between January and June.

Bolsonaro defended his government’s environmental policies last week and said Brazil is the target of an international campaign to harm its economy. He said other countries should focus on their own problems.

“When some talk about reforestation, they could start reforesting Europe to set an example for us,” Bolsonaro said.

Plain Jane

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Indigenous leader Raoni recovers from illness in Brazil

FILE - In this May 17, 2019 file photo, Brazil's rainforest activist Chief Raoni Metuktire attends a march for climate in Brussels. The 90-year-old leader who has become a symbol of the fight for Indigenous rights and preservation of the Amazon rainforest has been hospitalized, his institute and a relative confirmed Saturday, July 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Chief Raoni Metuktire, an Indigenous leader who has become a symbol of the fight for Indigenous rights and preservation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, has recovered from an illness after being hospitalized for 10 days, a doctor said Saturday.

Raoni had been taken to a private hospital in Sinop, a city in Mato Grosso state in western Brazil, from his home in the Xingu Indigenous reservation after suffering diarrhea and dehydration, said his great-nephew, Patxon Metuktire. Raoni had tested negative for the new coronavirus.

“Now I’m healed. I wanted to tell you that disease comes at any time. Think about it and love and respect each other because we don’t know tomorrow. The disease does not warn when it comes,” Raoni, the nearly 90-year-old Kayapó ethnic leader, said at a press conference.

Raoni “is still a little weak, but already strong enough to continue to lead his people,” said Dr. Douglas Yanai, adding that Raoni had been formally discharged. Raoni later left the hospital after logistics for his trip home were arranged.

According to the doctor, Raoni had been suffering low blood pressure and anemia. He had ulcers and had to undergo two blood transfusions. The Indigenous leader was very upset by the recent death of his wife.

Raoni has campaigned for decades for the protection of Indigenous territories in the Amazon and for the rainforest itself.

A 1978 documentary, “Raoni: The Fight for the Amazon,” helped make him famous, as did a 1989 tour with the musician Sting.

He has been an outspoken critic of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and visited European leaders last year to denounce Bolsonaro’s calls for developing Indigenous lands in the rainforest. Bolsonaro, who has rejected a call by French President Emmanuel Macron to meet Raoni, has said developing land is key to Brazil’s economic prosperity.

Plain Jane

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JULY 28, 2020 / 2:28 PM / UPDATED 40 MINUTES AGO
COFCO, Bunge grains plants hit in Argentina after COVID-19 cases detected

Hugh Bronstein, Maximilian Heath

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Grains operations of Chinese food giant COFCO and U.S. agribusiness firm Bunge Argentina have been hit by the detection of cases of COVID-19 among workers, underscoring a challenge for the South American country as infection numbers rise.

COFCO has temporarily suspended operations at its Timbues grains plant after 12 employees tested positive for the virus, a spokesman told Reuters on Tuesday. The first case was detected at the plant on Saturday.

“We tested 24 people who had been in contact with the initial person, and 11 of those tested positive,” said Allan Virtanen, global communications director at COFCO International.

The outage at the plant, which employs 350 workers and has an annual grains and oilseeds capacity of 6.5 million tonnes, started Monday and was expected to last about one week, Virtanen added.

U.S.-based Bunge said in a statement that one employee at its facility in Puerto General San Martin had tested positive for COVID-19. Others who had been in contact with the person had been isolated and tested, though these had come back negative.

“Because the regional union has interrupted plant operations, Bunge has redirected soybean deliveries to other locations in Argentina so that we can continue to serve our customers,” Bunge said, adding it had strictly followed all health and safety protocols.

Daniel Succi, an official with one of Argentina’s unions of oil seed workers, said activity at the Bunge plant in Puerto General San Martín has been on hold since Saturday. “Until we are sure we will not go to work,” he added.

Like Timbues, Puerto General San Martin is part of Argentina’s Rosario grains export hub along the Parana River.

Argentina is the world’s No. 1 exporter of soymeal livestock feed, used from Europe to Southeast Asia to fatten hogs, poultry and cattle. The country is also a major world supplier of raw soybeans, corn and wheat.

COFCO’s exports from Argentina were not expected to be affected by the suspension of Timbues operations, Virtanen said.

“We will replace the plant’s export program with other COFCO ports and third-party facilities. We expect no significant delays,” he said.

Preventive measures being taken at the Timbues plant include social distancing, body temperature checks at entrances, and the distribution of hand sanitizers and face masks.

“The plant will remain inactive until we can guarantee employee safety,” Virtanen said.

Gustavo Idigoras, head of the CIARA-CEC grains exporting and crushing chamber, said the cases were the first confirmed within Argentina’s port facilities.

“We are reinforcing these rules in all grains terminals and processing plants. But we may expect more cases in coming days,” he added.

Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Maximilian Heath; additional reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; editing by Adam Jourdan and Leslie Adler
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Ecuador on alert over huge Chinese fishing fleet off Galapagos Islands

Ecuador is on alert due to the appearance of a huge fleet of mostly Chinese-flagged fishing vessels off its Galapagos Islands.

Patrols are trying to ensure the fleet - which is made up of around 260 vessels - does not enter the delicate eco-system from international waters.

Chinese vessels travel to the region each year in search of marine species.

In 2017, a Chinese vessel was caught in the marine reserve with 300 tonnes of wildlife, most of it sharks.

"We are on alert, [conducting] surveillance, patrolling to avoid an incident such as what happened in 2017," Ecuadorean Defence Minister Oswaldo Jarrin told reporters.

There was no immediate comment from the Chinese authorities when contacted by BBC News.

The ex-mayor of Quito, Roque Sevilla, told The Guardian that a "protection strategy" was being designed for the islands.

"Unchecked Chinese fishing just on the edge of the protected zone is ruining Ecuador's efforts to protect marine life in the Galápagos," he said.

Image copyright EPA Image caption Defence Minister Oswaldo Jarrin says the country is on alert
President Lenin Moreno has said that Ecuador will hold consultations with other Latin American countries with a coastline on the Pacific - Colombia, Peru, Chile, Panama and Costa Rica - in order to form a joint regional position concerning the "threat".

"Because of that [natural] wealth in that area, we suffer immense pressure from international fishing fleets," he was reported as saying in El Universo newspaper.

The Galapagos Marine Reserve boasts large numbers of shark species, including endangered whale and hammerheads.

The Galapagos Islands are a Unesco World Heritage site renowned worldwide for their unique array of plants and wildlife.

Charles Darwin made observations critical to his theory of evolution on the islands.


Plain Jane

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JULY 29, 2020 / 4:39 AM / UPDATED 3 HOURS AGO
Colombia was deadliest country for land rights activists in 2019

Oliver Griffin

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia was the deadliest country for land rights activists in 2019, as killings of environmental defenders soared in the Andean country, according to a report published by advocacy group Global Witness on Wednesday.

The report found 64 land rights activists were killed in Colombia last year - up from 25 in 2018 - the highest level Global Witness has ever recorded in the country.

Globally 212 environmental and land defenders were registered killed in 2019, the highest number in a single year, though Global Witness warned the real figure is likely much higher as many cases are not recorded.

Though violence in Colombian overall has fallen since a 2016 peace deal between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels and the government, so-called “social leaders” continue to be threatened, attacked and killed - many in cases which remain unsolved.

Hundreds of social leaders have been killed since the deal was signed, though counts vary widely. Earlier this month 94 U.S. lawmakers signed a letter condemning the killings.

Environmental defenders in Colombia fear threats and attacks, said Angelica Ortiz, who lives in desert province La Guajira and is the secretary general of indigenous group the Association of Wayuu Women.

“The threats and intimidation have been very severe,” she said.

Wayuu communities in La Guajira are locked in long-running disputes with coal miner Cerrejon over water use and pollution, dust, noise and health issues.

Global Witness found one environmental defender was killed in La Guajira in 2019. Colombia’s Cauca province saw the highest number of killings last year, with 24 land defenders murdered.

A report from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) this year found 44% of attacks from 2015 to 2019 connected to businesses in Colombia were against defenders who raised concerns about five companies including Cerrejon, which is jointly owned by BHP, Anglo American and Glencore.

In responses to the BHRRC report, four of the companies - including Cerrejon - rejected violence against activists and any link to threats. Cerrejon told Reuters in an email that it was “profoundly concerned” by the situation facing social leaders in Colombia.

Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Alistair Bell
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