Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Honduras education and health sector protests continue (June 4, 2019)

Honduran educators and health workers are on their sixth straight day of protests featuring occupied public buildings, blocked highways and, now, transportation strikes. Around the country, road blocks have been met with tear gas from security forces.(La Prensa and La Prensa)  Demonstrations have gained in intensity over the past week, drawing tens of thousands of people, reports Reuters.

The protests began over a month ago -- and public schools and hospitals have been affected since, classes have been suspended for about three weeks, as have consultations at public health centers. (See April 30's post.) More than 34,000 consultations and 600 surgeries have been cancelled as a result, say authorities. (La Tribuna and La Tribuna)

Protests continued despite President Juan Orlando Hernández's (JOH) decision to revoke the decrees that sparked the protests. Health and education sector advocates said the decrees that restructured those areas of government could lead to privatization of services and would involve massive layoffs. (Associated PressEl Heraldo, and BBC) Demonstrators said the manifestations will continue until the government accedes to requests to facilitate dialogue for both health and education sectors in tandem.

Over the past few days symbols of U.S. power have drawn protestors ire. (See yesterday's post.)

More from Honduras
  • The Honduran government says that U.S. federal court documents show no incriminating evidence against JOH, despite listing him as being a target of a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation, reports the Associated Press. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • In fact, three separate court cases "paint a damning picture of drug traffickers coopting one presidency and trying to influence another" in Honduras, reports InSight Crime.

Mexico and U.S. will talk, but Trump still wants tariffs

U.S. President Donald Trump insisted today that he will apply a blanket five percent tariff on Mexican goods starting next week. The move is in retaliation for increasing numbers of migrants attempting to cross the border between the two countries. (See last Friday's post.) 

Trump said he would move forward, even as Mexico expressed willingness to negotiate on the issue, reports the Washington Post. High-level delegations from both countries are scheduled to meet tomorrow in Washington to try to reach an agreement. "We are going to see if we can do something, but I think it’s more likely that the tariffs go on," said Trump. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard expressed optimism about reaching a deal to avoid the tariffs. (CBS News)

Mexico warned that the duties on Mexican goods could actually worsen illegal immigration to the U.S. (BBC) If that doesn't work, Mexico could hit back with tariffs of its own on U.S. goods. (Wall Street Journal)

In fact, Trump's threat comes as Mexico is already taking significant moves to crack down on migrants traveling through the country, reports the New York Times

News Briefs

  • AMLO consolidated his already considerable political power this weekend -- his Morena party won two governorships and a slew of local legislature seats on Sunday. The regional elections were considered a referendum on his six month presidency, and Morena performed well, reports the Washington Post.
  • Mexico state oil company Pemex's purchase of a defunct fertilizer factory in 2013 is at the heart of the country's biggest corruption scandal in years, reports the Wall Street Journal. The case against corruption at the oil giant could be a turning point in Mexico's efforts to tackle graft, which lag behind other countries in the region. (See last Wednesday's post.)
  • A group of Mexican hackers known as the "Bandidos Revolutions Team" infiltrated Mexico’s banking system to transfer millions of dollars to bogus accounts and then made cash machines shell out the money. The case reveals the country’s structural vulnerability to cyber crime, according to InSight Crime.
  •  A panel of Haitian judges accused President Jovenel Moïse of being at the center of an "embezzlement scheme" that defrauded the country of Venezuelan aid money meant for fixing roads. The accusations precede Moïse's 2016 election -- they look at a rural road improvement contract that was awarded twice, once to a company headed by the president. The accusations stem from the second installment of a government audit of Venezuela’s PetroCaribe oil program. The ongoing investigation looks at how the country managed billions of dollars in savings from the oil program between 2008-16. (Miami HeraldAFP)
  • Guatemalan's vote for president in less than two weeks. But one of the leading candidates, anti-graft crusader Thelma Aldana, has been blocked from running by a series of judicial maneuvers that appear aimed at ensuring the end of a U.N. backed international anti-corruption commission. The case should be of interest for U.S. policy makers, argues the New Yorker, as failure to tackle rampant impunity in Guatemala is pushing migration to the U.S.
  • As of a few weeks ago, three women were leading polls in Guatemalan elections. Along with Aldana, Zury Rios' candidacy was also blocked by courts, leaving former first lady Sandra Torres in the lead. But though she is the front-runner in a big pack of relative unknowns, it's not clear she will win -- half the country's voters have said they will never vote for her, reports Americas Society/Council of the Americas.
  • Trump tweeted yesterday that Russia said it was pulling out staff from Venezuela. But the Kremlin denied sending any such message today. (Washington Post) A spokesman said Trump may have referred to a Wall Street Journal piece yesterday on defense contractor staff, which Russian sources also denied. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The Lima Group regional bloc and EU-led International Contact Group on Venezuela met yesterday in New York. A statement yesterday called on Latin America and the broader international community to play a more active role in restoring democracy to Venezuela and warned against politicizing humanitarian aid. (Reuters)
  • The U.S. government announced new restrictions on travel to Cuba. (Miami Herald)
  • As much as 28 percent of Colombia's fuel is potentially going to organized crime. Colombian authorities suspect rural gas stations are selling fuel to criminal groups to be used in coca paste processing, reports InSight Crime.
  • Brazilian deforestation surged to the highest level recorded for the month of May, last month. The increase bolsters concerns that President Jair Bolsonaro's promises to relax environmental regulations are strengthening illicit logging, farming, and mining, reports the Guardian.
Easter Island
  • A British Museum delegation arrives on Easter Island today aiming to discuss how to help preserve more than 1,000 of the island’s renowned statues. But islanders hope to convince museum representatives to return one of the most well known statues, which has been in England for the past 150 years. (Guardian)
Mexico City
  • Mexico City students will be able to wear pants or skirts as part of their school uniforms, regardless of gender. (Animal Político)

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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