Monday, August 16, 2021

Haiti hit by 7.2 magnitude earthquake (Aug. 16, 2021)

Haiti was hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on Saturday, compounding the country's many woes, that include a deep political crisis, the recent assassination of its president, a food crisis, and widespread gang violence.

The death toll yesterday was nearly 1,300, but could increase as rescue efforts continue. At least 5,700 people were injured. The quake overwhelmed hospitals, flattened buildings and trapped people under rubble in the cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie in the western part of the country’s southern peninsula. Tropical Depression Grace was expected to hit Haiti today or tomorrow with torrential rains, and could cause mudslides, flooding and further devastation. (Washington Post, CBS, Associated Press, New York Times, Associated Press)

Saturday's earthquake was stronger than the one that killed more than 220,000 people in 2010, but it was centered farther from Port-au-Prince, in an area with less population density. Officials and witnesses said the southern and western areas of the country sustained devastating damage. Doctors  said the two main hospitals in Les Cayes and the main hospital in Jeremie had been  overwhelmed.

Yesterday the main airport of the city of Les Cayes was overwhelmed with people trying to evacuate their loved ones to Port-au-Prince, reports the New York Times.

Much of the initial information about the quake came via social media postings and phone because of the security dangers in traveling to the affected area, reports the New York Times.

Aid efforts have also been hindered by violent gangs. An official at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Haiti said a freshly struck deal for a one-week cease-fire with the gangs could open a humanitarian corridor.  Emergency teams and medical supplies were initially being flown into the hardest-hit areas by helicopter and a test land convoy was scheduled for yesterday.

The potential spread of coronavirus in a disaster situation adds a further complication.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced yesterday that it had deployed an urban search-and-rescue team to join the disaster assistance response team mobilized a day earlier.  (Washington Post)

Venezuela talks underway

Representatives of Venezuela's government and political opposition showed eagerness to reach an agreement that could serve as a roadmap out of the country's prolonged crisis. They met on Friday in Mexico City, where they signed a memorandum of understanding for negotiations that will start in three weeks, on Sept 3. (Associated Press, Efecto Cocuyo, Efecto Cocuyo)

Venezuelan opposition leader Freddy Guevara was released from prison yesterday, a month after his arrest. Guevara said he had been in isolation until several days ago and did not have any further details about his release. (Reuters, Efecto Cocuyo)

Some sources report that Guevara may replace Carlos Vecchio, Guaido’s ambassador in the U.S., on the opposition negotiating team. Maduro’s negotiators had objected to Vecchio’s presence on Friday. They demanded he resign his post as ambassador if he continued as a negotiator, a condition the opposition ultimately refused, reports Bloomberg.

News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • Nearly 20 United States Democrat lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week demanding the U.S. remove sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicol├ís Maduro ahead of the Mexico City talks, reports Politico. They also want the U.S. to help the Norwegian-led diplomatic efforts and “[e]ngage in direct dialogue with the Maduro government” along with other Venezuelan politicians.
  • The ninth Summit of the Americas — initially scheduled for this year — is now set to take place in mid 2022. It will be held in the U.S. for the first time since the inaugural 1994 meeting. (Politico)
  • Nicaraguan police raided the offices of the main opposition newspaper La Prensa on Friday. The national police said the raid was part of an investigation into “customs fraud and money laundering”, and the newspaper’s offices remained under police custody. La Prensa suspended its print edition last week because the government withheld newsprint paper, reports the Associated Press.
  • Police detained one of La Prensa's top editors, Juan Lorenzo Holmann, on Saturday. He was first taken to a Managua jail, allegedly to sign documents, his cousin and journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro said on Twitter. Police later announced that Holmann is being investigated for customs fraud and money laundering, reports AFP. Holmann is the thirty-third detainee in a broad crackdown against government critics in Nicaragua.
  • The actions against La Prensa aim to shut down an independent newspaper and impose censorship, writes Chamorro in El Confidencial.
  • Covid-19 orphanhood is a “hidden pandemic”, say researchers -- and Peru has been particularly affected. By the end of April this year, almost 93,000 Peruvian children – more than one in 100 – had lost a parent, according to a study published in the Lancet. (Guardian)
  • The Biden administration's "root causes" migration strategy "reflects a more nuanced and clear-eyed understanding of the structural fragility at the heart of migration from Central America," according to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Additionally, the root causes strategy differs from past efforts in several important ways. In stark contrast to the previous administration, it places paramount importance on the protection of human rights and the humanity of migrants themselves."
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele traveled to Ibiza in August with his family, and close associates, including Erick Vega who is accused in the U.S. of laundering money. (El Diario de Hoy)
  • A new report by the digital rights organization Access Now looks at how foreign companies, mainly from China and Israel, have driven increased demand for surveillance technology in Latin America over the past decade. Practices include offering equipment and software at discounted prices or, sometimes, giving it away for free, reports Rest of World. "Despite the well-documented history of misuse by government and companies, the rapid expansion of surveillance technology has not met much popular resistance in Argentina, Brazil, and Ecuador," which are highlighted in the report.
  • Coronavirus vaccine resistance is limited in Brazil -- despite the best efforts of President Jair Bolsonaro who has promoted skepticism at every turn. The challenge has been obtaining jabs, not convincing Brazilians to get them, reports the Washington Post.
  • Vineyards are blooming in Mexico's Coahuila state desert, but vintners must make do with increasingly scarce water, reports the Guardian.

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