Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trump blamed Cuba for alleged sonic attacks (Oct. 17, 2017)

News Briefs
  • U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Cuba for the mysterious sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats posted to the island, reports Politico. In a Rose Garden press conference, he said at the very least the government could have prevented them. "I do. I think Cuba knew about it, sure," Trump said. "I do believe Cuba’s responsible. I do believe that, and it’s a very unusual attack, as you know, but I do believe Cuba’s responsible, yes." The Cuban government has repeatedly denied involvement in the attacks or knowledge about them, notes the GuardianThe alleged attacks have been used "opportunistically" as an excuse to overturn the Obama administration's rapprochement policy, criticized the Brookings Institution last week. (See Oct. 12's briefs.)
  • Mexico's attorney general, a close ally of President Enrique Peña Nieto, resigned yesterday. A broad coalition of social organizations have demanded an autonomous prosecutor. Attorney General Raúl Cervantes, a former PRI senator, was viewed by anti-corruption activists as a shield for corruption investigations into the ruling party, reports the New York Times. His leaving could remove "a key obstacle to the overhaul of a dysfunctional judicial system," reports Wall Street Journal. He announced the surprise move in the Senate yesterday. It's a victory for the approximately 300 organizations—from government-accountability nonprofits to universities and business groups— that had campaigned against Cervantes in recent months. Civil society organizations were particularly concerned that Cervantes' term would extend for nine years, potentially protecting the PRI even under another presidency. Peña Nieto said he will not name a new attorney general until after next year's elections, in a bid to depoliticize the appointment, reports Animal Político.
  • Venezuela's opposition is alleging fraud in the regional elections this weekend, but without hard evidence will have a difficult time making their case, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's post.) Opposition leaders rejected the results of gubernatorial elections in which they lost, counter to all predictions, but offered no concrete evidence of fraud. They pointed to irregularities, such as delayed voting, non-functional voting machines, or moved polling stations, causing difficulties for opposition voters, reports the Associated PressEfecto Cocuyo reviews what the opposition must do to legallly verify fraud. Experts say the results bode ill for the opposition MUD coalition. "This is a catastrophe for the opposition," WOLA's David Smilde told the NYT. "I think they’re going to pay a real price with Venezuelans." The CNE has released the official numbers of votes, down the electoral table. The MUD must now quantify the votes it will challenge, explains Smilde at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. "If it turns out that the election was actually decided by the opposition’s failure to convince its base to turn out, or their lack of message and concrete proposals, that should lead to a round of reflection and reformulation. Stringing-along with ambiguous, unconvincing claims of fraud will generate disillusionment among average citizens and ambivalence within the international community," he writes.  The results make negotiations between the opposition and the government increasingly unlikely, reports the Wall Street Journal. The calculated risk the opposition took in participating in the election at all seems to have backfired for them, and has left them in "a deeper rut," according to the Washington Post
  • The real winner of Venezuela's contested elections is organized crime, according to InSight Crime. As long as the Maduro government maintains power, so will the criminal elements with ties to high level officials. Additionally, the economic and social crisis pushing many Venezuelans to flee is fueling contraband and human smuggling, as well as providing criminal organizations with cheap labor.
  • Mexico is increasingly preparing for the possibility that NAFTA will fall apart, reports the New York Times. Chile, Argentina and China could potentially replace some of the trade with the United States. But the collapse of the free trade deal could also impact national politics ahead of the presidential election next year.
  • Most gang members in El Salvador contemplate leaving at some point, but actually doing that is a hard process. The most effective method is by becoming an evangelical Christian said José Miguel Cruz, the lead investigator of a recent Florida International University report on the subject. However the government is doing almost nothing to support rehabilitation for former gang members, he said in an interview with InSight Crime. "The prevailing sense among law enforcement -- which at the moment is most in charge of gang policies -- is that gang members cannot be rehabilitated, so why waste resources in trying if these guys have no redemption?"
  • Brazil's landmark Operation Car Wash investigation -- which has led to over 160 convictions in the past three years -- is drawing to a close. But, crusading Judge Sergio Moro told the Wall Street Journal that ending corruption will ultimately depend on politicians.
  • The number of dead in Colombian security forces' repression of demonstrating coca farmers in Nariño last week remains in dispute -- the Prosecutor’s Office puts the number at seven dead and 30 wounded. Rights groups representing the farmers put the tally at 16 dead and more than 50 wounded. At heart, the bloodshed responds to pressure from Washington to cut cocaine production levels, according to the Daily Beast.
  • Puerto Ricans who still lack access to water are turning to environmentally hazardous sources, reports the Washington Post.
  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange -- who has been sheltered in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 -- is fighting with Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno, reports the Washington Post. Moreno has asked Assange, who is wanted in Sweden for alleged sex offenses and potentially in the United States for publishing state secrets, to keep quiet on the Spanish-Catalan constitutional crisis. The piece quotes César Ricaurte, head of Fundamedios, who said the government may be seeking a way out of the Assange impasse, part of Moreno's distancing from his predecessor's policies.
  • Ecuador’s jailed vice-president, Jorge Glas, said he is a victim of revenge by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Glas is a suspected recipient of illegal kickbacks, but denies the charges and said Odebrecht is getting even for getting thrown out of Ecuador in 2008, reports AFP.
  • A regional leftist leader in Mexico's Guerrero state was killed over the weekend, along with his mother and driver, reports the Associated Press. Ranferi Hernandez Acevedo was a founding member of Mexico’s main leftist party, Democratic Revolution, but broke away in 2015 and has been a key supporter of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
  • Though Brazil has a gay-friendly reputation, "researchers say the growing power of evangelical Christian groups is fueling prejudice and intolerance in the country’s political, professional and cultural circles. Increasingly, those outside of the heteronormative or religious mainstream are becoming targets for intolerance," reports PRI.
  • Uruguay’s first batch of medical cannabis oil for export will be ready in December, reports Reuters.
  • The Chilean government began a process of consultation with nine indigenous groups in relation to the country's new constitution, reports EFE.
  • A South Korean energy project in Chile will combine conventional solar panels and thermal technology that will generate electricity at night, reports Bloomberg.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's approval rating bumped up eight points to 30, helped by a reduction in tensions in the opposition dominated Congress and hopes that the national team will qualify for the World Cup, reports Reuters.

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