Friday, September 29, 2017

U.S. pulling half its diplomats out of Cuba (Sept. 29, 2017)

News Briefs
  • The U.S. is pulling out more than half of its embassy staff from Cuba and warning citizens not to travel to the island. The diplomatic measures take place in the wake of sonic attacks that have harmed 21 American diplomats and family members, reports the Guardian. The Cuban government has denied involvement in any attacks, that appear to have been carried out in a targeted fashion against U.S. citizens. Earlier this week U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, the highest level official contact since Trump assumed office, reports EFE.
  • The United Nations Independent Expert on the Promotion of Democratic and Equitable International Order Alfred de Zaya announced an official visit to Venezuela in November, in which he will listen to the government and the political opposition regarding the country's pressing crisis, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • More forest fires were detected in Brazil this month than any previous month since 1998. They are almost exclusively due to human activity, and can be blamed on the expansion of agriculture and a reduction of oversight and surveillance, reports the Guardian. Fires are used to deforest land and use it for cattle, agriculture or mineral extraction. Confused by corporate deforestation pledges? The Guardian has a handy piece on why deforestation matters and the difference between "deforestation free" and "zero net deforestation."
  • Modern day slavery is another fixture of Brazil's beef export industry. And the country's "once famously tough anti-slavery laws are being grossly undermined by powerful politicians and business interests," reports the Guardian.
  • And a growing number of Cuban doctors working in Cuba have filed suits in Brazilian courts demanding to be treated as independent contractors. Cuba's government effectively exports medical services around the world, but the thousands of doctors only receive a small portion of what foreign governments pay for their services. At least 150 doctors working in Brazil are seeking legal redress, reports the New York Times. Though the courts have mostly ruled against the doctors, some have sided with them, calling the contracts a form of modern day slavery. The move comes after the U.S. cancelled a long standing policy allowing doctors to defect to the U.S. earlier this year. It also jeopardizes a program that the U.N. helped broker, that is credited with lowered Brazil’s infant mortality rate and extended care to indigenous communities.
  • Brazil's government said interest in offshore drilling rights was encouraging, after a first auction for foreign companies, reports the New York Times.
  • Evidence suggests that the Mexican school that collapsed in last week's earthquake killing 19 children and seven adults continued operating despite orders to close because of the irregular construction of a fourth floor, reports the Wall Street Journal. District head Claudia Sheinbaum, of the Morena party, filed a criminal complaint against two former district officials who were responsible for enforcing the closures, and against the principal and owner of the school, yesterday.
  • The two major earthquakes that struck Mexico this month, damaged or destroyed more than 150,000 homes, thousands of schools and hundreds of historical buildings, according to government estimates. More than 24,500 homes were destroyed in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Mexico, Morelos and Puebla, while another 46,000 were left uninhabitable and more than 82,000 suffered partial damage, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Spending cuts and a failure by Mexico’s president to upgrade an earthquake alert system hurt life-saving prevention programs and amplified recovery costs after the earthquakes, according to Reuters.
  • Civilian response to the earthquakes has received much attention, especially in contrast to official efforts, but grassroots efforts have also been critical in confronting human rights abuses in Mexico, argues Dawn Paley in NACLA.
  • The U.S. Ambassador to Colombia criticized the implementation of the peace deal with the FARC (see yesterday's briefs) but failed to note key positive aspects of the deal and how its being carried out, argues WOLA's Adam Isacson. "The interview was remarkable for what the Ambassador did not say," including: praise for the number of weapons handed over by the FARC, the U.N. verification mission, the deaths and injuries prevented by the ceasefire. Nor did he criticize the Colombian government's failures to comply with the agreement, notes Isacson. "Coming a week after the White House’s near-decertification of Colombia, whose bombastic wording did needless harm to an unraveling bilateral relationship, the glaring omissions in Whitaker’s interview strengthen and enable the new hard line in Washington."
  • Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa ordered over a dozen crackdowns on "ollas," open air drug scenes. The violent raids, followed by investment and gentrification are not the answer to the city's organized crime and homicides, however, argues Amy Elizabeth Ritterbusch in the Conversation. She advocates harm reduction programs, noting that "there are ways to promote progress in cities while respecting the rights of the most marginalized. Programs that offer social services, health care, housing and employment can help transform the lives of drug users. In the meantime, harm reduction services like needle exchange and peer education can reduce risky behaviors."
  • Rio de Janiero's evangelical mayor Marcelo Crivella is using his position to push the interests of his evangelical church, perhaps at the cost of Rio's rich funk and samba cultures, argues Carol Pires in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Argentine poverty rates are inching down thanks to the Macri administration's tough economic measures, including a steep devaluation that fueled inflation, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • A scientific study suggests how a single genetic mutation could have transformed the Zika virus, present for decades elsewhere in the world, into the devastating disease that hit Latin America, causing abnormally high rates of birth defects, reports the New York Times.
Note: I will be off from Oct. 2 through Oct. 13. Elyssa Pachico will be taking over the briefing in my absence.

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