Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Over 200 dead in Mexican earthquake (Sept. 20, 2017)

At least 217 people were killed in a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that rocked Mexico, flattening buildings in the capital. The death toll was expected to continue rising as emergency crews and citizens attempted to rescue people from the rubble. 

The powerful earthquake hit shortly after noon yesterday, on the anniversary of a 1985 quake that devastated Mexico City and killed 5,000 people, reports the Guardian. It was the second large earthquake to hit the country in two weeks, and appeared to have triggered an eruption of Mexico’s Popocatépetl volcano.

Mexico City’s mayor, Miguel Ángel Mancera, said buildings collapsed at 44 different locations in the capital, with many high rises swaying after the quake, reports the New York Times. The New York Times has a map and photos of the destruction.

Citizens worked throughout the night, often without light, and with their bare hands attempting to rescue people from the rubble, reports the Washington Post. The plight of a collapsed school where over 20 children were killed has particularly horrified people.

Yesterday, President Enrique Peña Nieto urged calm in a video message, saying "the priority at this moment is to keep rescuing people who are still trapped and to give medical attention to the injured people."

Mexico is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes, and the one in 1985 wound up sparking major political change, reports the Washington Post separately. "Many people were incensed by the lackluster response of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and real political opposition formed to challenge Mexico's entrenched one-party system, ultimately leading to the PRI's ouster in 2000."

News Briefs
  • U.S. President Donald Trump used his address to the U.N. General Assembly to threaten Venezuela with "further action" if the government "persists on its path to impose authoritarian rule," reports the Guardian. However he stopped short of repeating threats of a military operation, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Russia will supply around 600,000 tonnes of wheat to Venezuela over the next year, reports Reuters.
  • Caribbean leaders appealed to international organizations to provide funding to help recover from climate-change wrought disasters in their region. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres convened a special session yesterday, in which leaders called for the General Assembly to rethink humanitarian aid. "They asserted that because climate change is fueling more intense storms, vulnerable countries must have a better way to recover than to beg for money with each new devastation," reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's post.)
  • "While it doesn’t make for catchy headlines, the reality is that as the Caribbean has been hit by stronger and stronger storms in recent decades, while state capacity to respond to natural disasters has diminished due to increased levels of debt, reduced government revenue and lower development aid. This has led to skyrocketing rates of food insecurity, poverty, and unemployment. On their own, the Caribbean cannot adapt fast enough to face the relentless destruction brought about when climate change is thrown into the mix," argues Kevin Edmonds in NACLA, criticizing international coverage of Irma's aftermath in the Caribbean.
  • Cuba is postponing municipal elections -- originally scheduled for October -- by a month due to the destruction wrought by Hurricane Irma, reports Reuters. It was not immediately clear whether yesterday's announcement would also have the effect of delaying provincial and national elections. President Raúl Castro has promised to pass on the mantle of presidency next year, the first time in 40 years that the country is led by a non-Castro. (See Feb. 22's briefs.)
  • At least 6 people were killed by Hurricane María in Dominica, and Puerto Rico is bracing for a direct hit by the Category 5 storm, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Guatemalans are gearing up for a national strike today, organized against government impunity by #JusticiaYa. Organizers have emphasized the protest is apolitical and asked demonstrators to remain peaceful, reports El Periódico. Hundreds of protesters were already gathering this morning, reports Prensa Libre.
  • In the midst of an ongoing political crisis, three cabinet ministers resigned, saying they have been unable to carry out their programs, reports El Periódico. One of the three, Francisco Rivas Lara, the Ministro de Gobernación, is considered a key ally of the CICIG and the Public Ministry, who are pitted against President Jimmy Morales, reports Plaza Pública. Rivas remained in the government after Morales' failed attempt to kick out U.N. anti-corruption commission head Iván Velásquez three weeks ago, in part at the request of civil society organizations who sought to ensure guarantees for protests, according to Plaza Pública.
  • Speaking at the U.N. yesterday, Morales pledged the firmest intention to strengthen and support the International Commission against Impunity of Guatemala (CICIG), while stressing that no institution should interfere in the country’s administration of justice.
  • A Brazilian federal judge approved "conversion therapy" for gay people, a widely discredited treatment aimed at "curing" homosexuals. Waldemar de Carvalho's decision overruled a 1999 decision by the Federal Council of Psychology that forbade psychologists from offering such "treatment," reports the Guardian. The judge  backed a psychologist who had her licence revoked for offering so-called "conversion therapy," reports the BBC. The decision provoked widespread backlash and fears of a conservative turn against progressive social policies.
  • A huge nature reserve in Brazil's Amazon rainforest that the government wants to open to foreign mining companies already suffers from illegal mining activity, according to Greenpeace. Investigators flying over the Renca reserve found at least 14 illegal mines and eight clandestine landing strips used by miners, reports the AFP.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales is pushing ahead with a polemic road project through the protected Tipnis reserve, expected to have grave repercussions for the environment and indigenous groups that live there. Critics say the road serves the interests of coca cultivators, and that the president is courting their support ahead of an attempt to run for office for a fourth term, argues Raúl Peñarada U in a New York Times Español op-ed. The project would be destructive for the fresh water system in Bolivia, as well as for the significant biodiversity in the area. (See Sept. 11's briefs.) Activists are now focusing on attempting to shift the project to circumvent the national park in the east, reducing the potential devastation. 
  • The U.S. is contemplating closing its Havana embassy in the wake of mysterious "attacks" on personnel (see Monday's briefs), but such a move makes little diplomatic sense and would "seriously damage U.S. interests," argues William M. LeoGrande in the Huffington Post. Experts don't believe the Cuban government is responsible for the sonic incidents that seem to have harmed U.S. and Canadian staff. "Regardless, closing the U.S. embassy in Havana would be a self-inflicted wound, reversing not just Obama’s policy, but the policies of the previous six presidents, three of them Republicans, all of whom saw the value in maintaining the U.S. diplomatic mission that President Jimmy Carter established in 1977 as an Interests Section (one step short of a full-fledged embassy)."
  • The United States and Cuba held their sixth Bilateral Commission meeting — the first of the Trump presidency. The Cuban delegation complained that the meeting occurred against the backdrop of a "reversal" in Cuba-U.S. relations. It also protested the U.S. president's “the disrespectful, unacceptable and meddling statements" at the U.N., reports the Miami Herald.
  • The ongoing drama between Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno and his predecessor, Rafael Correa, continues. Moreno accused his former boss of planting a hidden video camera in his office so that he could spy on him remotely, reports the Associated Press.
  • An average of one person per day died in detention or in encounters with security forces in Buenos Aires province last year, according to report by a local organization. The Comisión Provincial por la Memoria (CPM) said at least 20 percent of the 109 deaths from police firearms were minors, reports La Nación.
  • Climate change is also affecting farmers in Argentina, where increased rainfall in some areas and droughts in others are wrecking agricultural output, reports Bloomberg.
  • Confident of a win in next month's mid-term elections, the Argentine government is preparing bills aimed at enticing investment, including cutting subsidies and reforming the fiscal and tax systems, reports Bloomberg.
  • Uruguay announced a change to its legal marijuana market, in response to banking obstacles created by international financial laws prohibiting money tied to the drug. Pharmacies selling the product have faced threats to have their accounts shut down. So instead Uruguay will set up shops to sell marijuana for cash, reports the Associated Press.
  • Peru’s opposition Popular Force party opened a disciplinary investigation against Kenji Fujimori, son of jailed former dictator Alberto Fujimori, reports EFE. The probe was initiated to address Kenji Fujimori’s open defiance of the party’s decisions, said Popular Force officials. The younger Fujimori is seeking a pardon for his father, who  has been serving a 25-year jail sentence for crimes against humanity.
  • Mexican leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who leads the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party, is the front-runner ahead of next year’s presidential election, according to a newspaper poll published on Monday, reports Reuters.
  • A new poll found that former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva remains strongly in the lead for next year's presidential elections, with a projected 32 percent of the vote, compared to just under 20 percent for his nearest rival, the right-wing dictatorship apologist Jair Bolsonaro, reports AFP.

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