Thursday, February 15, 2018

Corruption, violence Carnival themes (Feb. 15, 2018)

News Briefs
  • Brazil heads into an electoral year marked by voter anger at corruption. The samba school Beija-Flor de Nilópolis won the parade title on Wednesday in Rio’s Sambadrome, with a float showing the country in charge of a rat and politicians as wolves in sheeps clothing holding briefcases lined in gold, reports the BBC. The winning school also represented the wave of violence affecting Rio de Janeiro, showing school-children affected by a shoot-out, reports Reuters.
  • With former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva apparently out of the race, Brazil's presidential candidates must battle voter rejection of politics and the political class, reports El País. A new poll shows that if Lula can't run, a third of voters would prefer to cast blank votes than to support another candidate. Marina Silva (former senator), Geraldo Alckmin (governor of São Paulo), and Ciro Gomes (former Ceará governor) are all following firebrand Jair Bolsonaro in the polls. And television presenter Luciano Huck could become the outsider alternative.
  • Carnival celebrations in Rio were marred by increased violence, reports the New York Times.
  • Brazil’s government will declare an emergency in its northern border state of Roraima to boost funding and troops to help control an influx of Venezuelan refugees into the country, reports Reuters.
  • The strange "sonic attacks" that affected over a dozen U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba have defied FBI investigators, but nonetheless have propelled U.S. policy towards the island, notably a rollback of the Obama administration's rapprochement. ProPublica reports in-depth on the little that is known of the "attacks," which seem to have focused on undercover CIA agents initially, and the lack of credible candidates for carrying them out -- from the Cuban state, to a rouge faction, to the Russians. In the meantime, the withdrawal of most of the U.S. embassy staff from Havana has complicated carrying out policies and diplomacy, notes the piece.
  • Former Guatemalan president Álvaro Colom and 10 members of his cabinet were detained on Tuesday in a case regarding $35 million stolen in public funds ostensibly to be used to modernize the capital's bus system. (See yesterday's post.) Nómada has more details on the Public Ministry and CICIG investigation into shell companies used to obtain the funds, which were allegedly disbursed without following proper procedure. The case hits at the UNE government, a response to critics of the CICIG and MP who say it only targeted other parties' leaders, according to Nómada. Also, stay tuned, in January attorney general Thelma Aldana promised 10 major cases before leaving her post in May -- so far this is the third. More to come ... 
  • After 18 years of democracy in Peru, the Fujimori family continues to wield a strong political presence. The legacy of former autocratic leader Alberto Fujimori is now disputed by his two feuding offspring, Keiko and Kenji. In turn, ahead of the next presidential election in three years, they must figure out how to combat the country's other major political force, anti-fujimorismo, which has prevented the family from regaining power in the second round of recent elections, explains Diego Salazar in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • The International Criminal Court's preliminary examination of alleged human rights abuses committed by security forces in Venezuela is an important mechanism for international pressure on the Maduro government, and could help raise the cost of repression in line with Robert Dahl's theory of democratization of authoritarian regimes, argues José Ignacio Hernández in a New York Times Español op-ed
  • There's been a lot on the deterioration of the U.S. - LatAm relationship recently. But Americas Quarterly editor-in-chief Brian Winter argues that the region is actually quietly "trumpista" in many ways. "Indeed, if you really look around the region, what you see are an increasing number of fellow travelers."
  • U.S. President Donald Trump will meet soon with his Mexican counterpart, Enrique Peña Nieto, in upcoming weeks, ending a year of cool relations after a war of words over the U.S. leader's insistence on a border wall to be paid for by Mexico, reports El País. The announcement comes as Mexico's foreign minister Luis Videgaray is in Washington where he is meeting with several cabinet members. 
  • An analysis of pro-Kremlin media in Latin America by the AtlanticCouncil's Digital Forensic Research Lab found that the largest players -- Sputnik and RT -- have expanded their reach in the region. But they do not appear to be backing specific candidates in Mexico and Colombia's upcoming presidential elections, though they do espose an anti-U.S. bias and support Nicolás Maduro's run for reelection in Venezuela. The report indicates a slight bias in favor of Mexican front-runner Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) in less known portals.
  • AMLO remains in the lead according to the latest poll, by Mitofsky and published in El Economista. He has 27.1 percent voter intention, while Ricardo Anaya of a left-right coalition comes in second behind him with 22.3 percent, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico's first indigenous presidential candidate, Marichuy Patricio, was hurt in a car accident that killed a member of her staff and wounded eight others, reports El País.
  • An amendment under consideration in Brazil's Congress would completely outlaw abortion, in all cases, reports PRI. Currently it is only legal in cases of rape, threat to mother's life or a fatal brain defect in the fetus.
  • Residents of the Caribbean and certain parts of the U.S. share a vulnerability to increasing hurricanes due to climate change -- but the two hold very different views on the relevance of the problem, write Elizabeth Zechmeister, director of Vanderbuilt University's Latin American Public Opinion Project, and Claire Evans in the Conversation. The latest AmericasBarometer survey found that between 56 percent and 79 percent of respondents in the Caribbean believe that climate change is a very serious problem for their country. In contrast, in the U.S. the issue is divided along partisan lines.
  • The newly created Yaguas National Park in Peru will protect millions of acres of roadless wilderness and the indigenous tribes that inhabit it, reports the New York Times.
  • In the wake of the U.S. abandonment of global free markets, Chile has "stepped up as a surprisingly effective global player in advancing free trade," write Anders Beal and Benjamin Gedan in Global Americans. The piece analyzes how Chilean diplomacy was critical in salvaging that Trans-Pacific Partnership after the U.S. pulled out of the agreement, and argues that "moving forward, it is likely Chile will continue to wield outsized influence on trade issues in the Western Hemisphere."
  • A devastating fire earlier this week in Port-au-Prince's "Iron Market" destroyed one of the city's principal tourist attractions and the livelihoods of many merchants, reports the BBC.

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