- Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro expelled the top U.S. diplomats in the country yesterday, giving United States Embassy’s chargé d’affaires Todd Robinson and his number two, Brian Naranjo, 48 hours to leave the country. He accused them of conspiring against the government, speaking two days after his reelection in a vote questioned internationally and criticized by the U.S. government, reports the New York Times. It's a sharp escalation of bilateral tensions in the wake of new U.S. sanctions against Venezuela, reports the Washington Post. While Robinson did not speak out regarding the election, he clashed with Venezuelan authorities last week regarding the case of an imprisoned U.S. missionary in a prison where political prisoners rebelled last week. In his announcement, Maduro referred to the U.S. administration as "the government of the Ku Klux Klan," reports the Miami Herald.
- The legitimacy of the vote is not up for debate, rather, for the New York Times editorial board, the question is how to oust Maduro. The key, argues the piece, is collective pressure, led by regional government, and support for the opposition-led National Assembly. (See yesterday's post.)
- Unilateral actions must be avoided at all costs, and the end goal must be setting the basis for actually free and fair elections, argues journalist Reynaldo Trombetta in the Guardian.
- Sanctions won't be enough, and the window of opportunity for forcing elections is fast closing, warns Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald. He recommends doubling down on sanctions -- stopping short of a full oil embargo -- and warns that AMLO's election in Mexico bodes ill for regional pressure against Maduro.
- Illustrating the country's inflationary scourge: it now takes 88 hours of work at minimum wage to buy a kilo of chicken, according to El País.
- NAFTA renegotiation talks remain stalled on the issue of car production and America First clauses that the U.S. seeks to introduce, reports the Wall Street Journal.
- And infant was killed, 30 people were injured and a trendy neighborhood in Guadalajara resembled a war zone yesterday, in a shootout between hitmen and a former state prosecutor's bodyguards, reports the Guardian. At least 105 public officials have been killed in Jalisco state since 2013.
- Presidential candidates are not grappling with the situation of migrants living in the U.S., especially the so-called "dreamers" who have been living there since children but face deportation now, writes activist
Antonio Alarcón in a New York Times Español op-ed.
Migrants and refugees
- There has been an alarming spike in asylum seekers and refugees fleeing violence in Central America in recent years, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The UNHCR said the annual figures increased from 18,000 in 2011 to 294,000 at the end of last year. Last year's number represented a 58 percent increase over the previous year's. Most refugee applicants were escaping rampant gang violence in the region, reports the Guardian. The UNHCR also pointed to the changing role of Mexico, which is increasingly a country of destination rather than transit.
- In El Salvador, gang members seeking a way out have few options. Increasingly turning to Evangelical churches is a way to exit the criminal organizations -- the Economist.
- Twenty-five migrants from Cape Verde were rescued off the coast of Brazil's Maranhão state, after 35 days at sea, the last without food or water, reports the Guardian.
- Brazil's progressive forces are in the midst of a potential realignment in the wake of former president Luiz Inácio Luiz da Silva's imprisonment reports Jacobin.
- Truck drivers went on strike in Brazil yesterday over the cost of fuel, further punishing the country's fragile economy, reports the Wall Street Journal.
- Guatemala's new attorney general, Consuelo Porras, takes office in a volatile situation for the country's landmark efforts to oust entrenched corruption. Though the case of a jailed Russian family has received international attention in recent months, it's just a sideshow in a pushback by elites seeking to shield themselves from future investigations, write Kate Doyle and Elizabeth Oglesby in World Politics Review.
- Leftist former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro is unlikely to win the presidential race this Sunday in Colombia, but he is predicted to come in solidly second. The strong showing for a former urban guerrilla shows the country's current drastic polarization, according to the Washington Post. It's the first time in decades a leftist has had such a following, experts say.
- Colombia should move away from eradicating coca cultivation, and instead focus on the crop's lawful potential, according to a new report from Open Society Foundations' Global Drug Policy Program. It proposes building a coca leaf industry that guarantees a sound income for farmers; provides good quality, sustainable raw materials for manufacturers; and ensures traceability, and control across the supply chain, with adherence to international laws. InSight Crime puts the report in the Colombian context of increased violence in the wake of FARC demobilization and unsuccessful eradication campaigns.
- Colombian authorities captured one of the last remaining Urabeños, a blow to the drug cartel that could impact the group's power, according to InSight Crime.
- Roadblock protests around Nicaragua are demanding the resignation of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, reports el Confidencial. (See yesterday's briefs.)
- New President Martín Vizcarra aims to make his mark on anti-corruption measures in the country, after replacing a predecessor forced to quit in the midst of a graft scandal, reports the Economist.
Trans in Argentina
- A new book by Kike Arnal documents in photographs the lives of Argentina's transgender community, reports the Guardian.