Venezuela's VP Tareck El Aissami described his blacklisting by the United States on drug charges as an "imperialist aggression," reports Reuters. (See yesterday's post.)
President Nicolás Maduro defended his second-in-command yesterday, after the U.S. accused him of trafficking, saying he would demand apology, reports the New York Times. Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez said the accusations constituted "an international crime" and "an action without precedent in our bilateral relations," reports the Miami Herald. It's not yet clear whether Venezuela will retaliate diplomatically. The two countries haven't exchanged ambassadors since 2010, but the U.S. chargé d'affaires of attempting to instigate a coup.
The case has put "a spotlight on the son of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants who rose to become the country’s second-most-powerful figure, former associates say, through business pragmatism and political ruthlessness," reports the Wall Street Journal.
"El Aissami's new appointment signals a habit of President Maduro's of appointing individuals indicted or sanctioned by the United States for drug trafficking, money laundering and other related crimes to high government positions. Maduro is surrounding himself with cronies who have a vested interest in ensuring the political opposition does not take power, and El Aissami is just one of many individuals with such interests." (See yesterday's post.)
- Ecuador's upcoming presidential election this weekend will indicate whether the region's pink-tide of leftist governments has really turned, according to the Guardian. The piece is a good review of the campaign and situation in Ecuador -- international media coverage has tended to skew against the incumbent party. Allianza País candidate Lenín Moreno has a strong lead but is unlikely to win outright on Sunday. Moreno, a former vice president for President Rafael Correa, maintains the incumbent's leftist politics, but differs greatly in style and humor, according to the piece. The likely second-place winner is former banker Guillermo Lasso, who represents the right-wing Creo-Suma alliance.
- After 13 years, the U.N. multilateral military mission in Haiti could finally be ending, reports the Miami Herald. The U.N. secretary-general for peace keeping plans to recommend ending the military component of the $346-million-a-year stabilization mission in Haiti.
- A 23-year-old Mexican man, brought illegally as a child to the U.S. and covered by the Obama DACA program, has been detained by immigration officials. Lawyers defending him say it's the first time under U.S. President Donald Trump that a person in the program has been detained, reports Reuters.
- America’s abuse of Mexico is an assault on free trade, argues former Mexican President Felipe Calderón in the Financial Times.
- Guatemalan legislators are scheduled to discuss today a constitutional amendment that recognize indigenous justice as part of the country's judicial system, reports the Associated Press. The project has the support of Attorney General Thelma Aldana and CICIG head Iván Velásquez An attempt to pass the measure last year narrowly lost due to opposition resistance. (See Dec. 13's briefs for reactions.)
- Velásquez said recently dismantled criminal networks have launched a smear campaign against him, and are attempting to discredit the CICIG's work, reports InSight Crime. Velásquez responded to false rumors that he is wanted for arrest in his native Colombia and that he has been removed from the international commission.
- Two assassinated boys were buried in Guatemala City this week, an apparent case of kidnapping that has shocked this violence weary country, according the Associated Press.
- Argentine President Mauricio Macri earned comparisons to Trump this month with an executive order cracking down on migration. Now prosecutors are after him for potential conflict of interest after his government forgave a $128m debt owed by his family’s company -- a glimpse of what might happen in the U.S.? The Guardian reports on the case which involves the Macri family firm and its concession of the Argentine postal service. Federal prosecutor Juan Pedro Zoni says the settlement did not protect the public interest adequately and the officials should be investigated, reports the Associated Press.
- New labor laws in Chile could spell out a long strike for workers renegotiating contracts at BHP Billiton's Escondida mine, reports Reuters. The new labor code was passed last year by President Michelle Bachelet, seeking to return power to organized labor.
- A Guardian Long Read piece on the families of missing migrants seeking their loved ones. "There is a corner of the internet, a big one, devoted to efforts to track down missing would-be immigrants – or to find the families of people whose bodies have been discovered but not identified – by sharing photographs and ages and information about last known whereabouts as widely as possible. Seventy thousand people like a page called, in Spanish, Following Their Footsteps. One hundred and forty thousand follow one that translates as Missing and Unclaimed on the Border. The group Searching for the Disappeared on the Border, with more than 125,000 members, lists its purpose as supporting searches for “loved ones lost while pursuing the American dream”."