Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador suggested the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) should carry out an internal investigation into the conduct of its case against former Mexican defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos.
The case has strained relations between the U.S. and Mexico, and now the ongoing fall out threatens to cloud the relationship with new U.S. President Joe Biden. Tensions rose initially, in November, when U.S. authorities detained Cienfuegos in Los Angeles, and then this month when Mexico's attorney general dropped the charges against Cienfuegos and released a confidential dossier of evidence shared by the U.S.
U.S. authorities returned Cienfuegos to Mexico after his arrest in response to significant diplomatic pressure, and Mexican authorities promised to pursue the case. But Attorney General Alejandro Gertz rapidly dismissed the case, saying the evidence was inconsistent and questionable.
Literal translations of intercepted messages that U.S. prosecutors used to charge Cienfuegos of collaborating with drug traffickers are being ridiculed in Mexico for being laughably off base. Other translations are nonsensical and miss key words in Spanish, reports Vice.
- AMLO has coronavirus, and said via Twitter that he is experiencing mild symptoms. “As always, I am optimistic,” he said. AMLO has consistently played down the pandemic, and has refused to wear masks in many public appearances, reports the New York Times. At 67, and with hypertension, López Obrador could be at risk of developing complications from the virus, notes the Washington Post.
- Warmer relations between AMLO and Beijing could create a security conundrum for the U.S., according to Roman Ortiz at Americas Quarterly.
- "A new era of United States-Latin America relations must make the protection of democracy in the hemisphere a top priority. And Latin Americans should welcome this. A weak democracy is a threat to all nations in our hemisphere," writes Boris Muñoz in a New York Times op-ed. The United States must actively engage with Latin American countries to protect human rights, help fight corruption and strengthen the rule of law in the region -- but to promote democracy south of the Rio Grande, President Joe Biden must first lead by example by re-establishing a functional democracy at home, he argues.
- At least 51 coronavirus patients asphyxiated to death when Manaus hospitals ran out of oxygen earlier this month. Brazil's Amazonas state is in the midst of a deadly second wave that has overwhelmed hospitals, many of which are turning away patients, reports the Guardian. Distressing stories of suffocating patients and the evacuation of premature babies have generated a public revolt against Amazonas’s leaders who critics accuse of failing to plan for, let alone prevent its second cataclysm in a year.
- The misery belies what some scientists heralded as the first city to reach herd immunity to Covid-19, last year, after a deadly wave of infections in April abated by June. The reasons for the spike in Manaus are unclear, reports the Economist. It could be related to a new coronavirus variant that is more contagious, or that antibodies offer less protections against this variant. Or that the study that proclaimed herd immunity was not robust. In anycase, "Manaus will get worse before it gets better."
- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's support is slipping, voters from across the political spectrum increasingly reject his handling of the pandemic. This weekend, thousands of Brazilians participated motorcades demanding Bolsonaro's impeachment, organized by centrist and leftist political parties, reports the Guardian. Rightwing groups held their own pro-impeachment events, yesterday.
- China's coronavirus vaccine effort was supposed to spearhead a diplomatic goodwill campaign, but has been marred by spotty disclosures, and slow shipments. Indications that the vaccine is less effective than Western-developed jabs is bad news for developing countries that have been largely locked out of the market by their wealthier counterparts, reports the New York Times.
- Jamaica is seeking Covid-19 vaccines from Cuba, China and India, after accusing rich nations of “hoarding” medicine, reports Bloomberg. Authorities say Jamaica might not get its first batch of vaccines under the COVAX Facility until April, making it necessary to look beyond the program.
- New U.S. coronavirus travel restrictions are likely to have an outsized impact on tourism to Mexico, reports the Washington Post. The move could help nudge the country's officials to implement more coronavirus containment measures, in the midst of soaring contagion, reports the Guardian.
- Colombian rights groups are concerned about women and girls as authorities renew coronavirus lockdowns in the country, reports the Guardian. There have been 18 documented femicides this year, and 13 more awaiting verification. Though confirmed cases did not increase last year, rights groups say the true level of gender violence is underreported.
- Puerto Rico governor Pedro Pierluisi declared a state of emergency over violence against women, and signed an executive order that allocates public resources to address the crisis of gender violence. Activists and groups on the island, which had 60 femicides last year according to a watchdog organization, have been demanding an emergency declaration from the government for years, reports the Miami Herald.
- With Venezuela’s opposition political parties effectively marginalized, the Maduro government now appears to be setting its sights on repressing independent civil society, with a particular emphasis on NGOs, media outlets, and humanitarian organizations, write Dimitris Pantoulas and Geoff Ramsey in the Venezuela Weekly.
- There are several proposals espoused by Venezuela's political opposition, reports the Venezuela Weekly. Henrique Capriles set three priorities for the opposition: address the humanitarian crisis/pandemic, press for a credible electoral timetable, and reconnect with the interior outside Caracas. Other voices ask for an oil-for-food exchange program that could help the country to mitigate its humanitarian crisis.
British Virgin Islands
- The British Virgin Islands have been plunged into a constitutional crisis, after the outgoing British-appointed governor accused the country’s government of overseeing a “plague” of corruption, interfering in the criminal justice system and attempting to silence anyone who raised concerns about the misuse of funds, reports the Guardian. Gus Jaspert claimed that the BVI government had deliberately delayed legal reforms and hindered local inquiries into a string of corruption allegations. The allegations will now be examined in a commission of inquiry, a formal process overseen by a British high court judge.
- The European parliament is pushing for UK overseas territories and crown dependencies, including the British Virgin Islands, Guernsey and Jersey, to be added to an EU tax havens blacklist after the conclusion of the Brexit deal, reports the Guardian.
- The mostly Indigenous population of the impoverished northeast Caribbean coast of Nicaragua depends on fishing for economic livelihood -- but deep sea dives for spiny lobster, carried out with subpar gear, is a stunningly deadly pursuit, reports the New York Times.
- Juan Guzmán Tapia, a Chilean judge who was the first person to prosecute the country’s onetime military ruler, Augusto Pinochet, using novel legal strategies to hold him and members of his regime accountable for killings and human rights offenses in the 1970s and 1980s, died Jan. 22 at age 81 -- Washington Post obit.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing