Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Brasil: On The Move


On the Move

While migrants fleeing conflicts in Africa and the Middle East have drawn most of the world’s attention, tens of thousands fleeing the economic meltdown and political turmoil in Venezuela also threaten to overwhelm Brazil.
Already, as many as 40,000 Venezuelans have arrived in Brazil, a bit more than half of whom have applied for asylum, said George Okoth-Obbo, operations chief for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.
“Shelters are already crowded to their limit,” Reuters quoted him as saying. “It is a very tough situation.”
Hundreds of thousands have also fled to Trinidad and Tobago and Colombia. There are no official numbers on the total number of migrants. But some sociologists put the figure as high as 2 million of Venezuela’s 30 million residents.
The city of Boa Vista is struggling to accommodate the flood, housing some migrants in impromptu facilities like a local gym, while others remain homeless or turn to prostitution and other crimes to survive, the agency said.

Cuba: Meeting Minds


Meeting Minds

The discovery of brain damage in diplomats formerly posted in the US embassy in Cuba has reopened arguments about the risks associated with the communist island.
A “high-pitched chirp or grating metal” sound sometimes accompanied by vibrations woke up American officials in the embassy starting last year, the Associated Press reported, citing doctors who have treated the victims and expect to publish their findings in a medical journal soon.
The alleged sonic attack altered the white matter that carries communication signals in the embassy staff’s brains, harming their hearing, memory and vision.
Denying any role in the sicknesses, the Cuban government released a report claiming the damage was technically impossible. Instead, Cuban researchers posited that staffers suffered a “collective psychogenic disorder” stemming from stress. Columbia University neurologist Stanley Fahn thought that argument was compelling, telling Science magazine that “it could certainly all be psychogenic.”
But whether American diplomats fell victim to a James Bond-like tech attack or not, the incident has likely fueled President Donald Trump’s skepticism toward his predecessor’s openness toward Cuba.
Trump has appointed a new ambassador to Cuba. But only a skeleton crew of workers remain behind in the embassy in the wake of the alleged attacks. Administration officials have even discussed closing the facility entirely.
More American antagonism is bad economic news for Cuba, whose main trading partner, Venezuela, is suffering economic collapse. As Venezuela has demanded more money for its oil, Havana is facing a cash crunch and an onerous debt burden, forcing the island to import less from China, its other important trading partner, Voice of America explained.
Cruise lines that have announced expanded service to the island provided an economic uplift, USA Today reported. Those ships’ passengers have plenty to do onshore. A travel piece in Canada’s Globe and Mail described a thriving Centro neighborhood as a must-see for tourists. VICE also published an electrifying photo essay on Cuba’s music scene.
But more tourists might exacerbate tensions, too.
The Washington Post recently told the story of an American woman and a Cuban man who fell in love when she visited the island on vacation. The couple wanted to obtain a K-1 visa, which lets fiancés into the US for 90 days so they can marry and apply for a green card. But the shortage of diplomats has forced the US embassy to halt issuing visas, preventing Cubans from receiving permission to visit the mainland.
It would be a shame if differences between high-level leaders prevent ordinary people from forging peaceful ties on their own.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Argentina: Dredging Up The Past


Dredging Up the Past

A crusading Argentinian judge issued an arrest warrant for former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in connection with allegations that she covered up Iranian involvement in the country’s worst-ever terrorist attack in 1994.
Judge Claudio Bonadio issued an arrest warrant for Kirchner on charges of “treason against the fatherland” on Thursday and asked for Congress to remove the immunity from prosecution she has as a senator, the Telegraph reported.
To date, no one has ever been successfully prosecuted for the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish cultural center, AMIA, which killed 85 people. However, the Argentinian prosecutor leading the investigation in 2015 filed a criminal claim accusing Kirchner and others of secretly negotiating a deal with Tehran to offer immunity for Iranian suspects in the bombing in exchange for Iranian oil – the prosecutor was found dead in his apartment with a gunshot wound to the head the day before he was to present his findings before Congress.
Kirchner called the charges part of an international conspiracy to undermine her presidency, and her supporters say it’s part of an ongoing campaign against opposition politicians.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Cuba: Sonic Mystery


Sonic Mystery

New medical evidence has heightened skepticism that US embassy staff in Cuba were targeted by some kind of sonic device. That doesn’t, however, eliminate the possibility of some other kind of attack.
Seeking to explain hearing, vision, balance and memory damage, doctors treating the victims have discovered physical damage to their brains, the Associated Press reported. Tests revealed the embassy workers developed changes to the white matter tracts that let different parts of the brain communicate. Acoustic waves have never been shown to cause such damage.
Though the victims reported hearing loud, mysterious sounds before experiencing hearing loss and ringing in their ears, US officials now suspect that noise might have been the byproduct of something else that actually caused the damage.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday he’s “convinced these were targeted attacks,” but the U.S. doesn’t know who’s behind them. Cuba has denied responsibility.
The mystery may never be solved where we’re concerned, as any information about who might be responsible will not be made public. Most patients have fully recovered. About one-quarter had symptoms that persisted for long periods or remain to this day.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Venezuela: Cryto President


The Crypto President

Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro won’t hold fresh elections until the US lifts its “vulgar sanctions” against him and his allies. In the meantime, he’s creating a cryptocurrency in hopes of providing some relief.
Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said Mondaythat any deal with the opposition will depend on “the lifting of the vulgar sanctions the Venezuelan right wing’s leadership requested of Donald Trump’s Treasury Department as well as Spanish, Canadian and other authorities,” Bloomberg reported.
Under its constitution, Venezuela must hold a presidential vote every six years. But electoral authorities have yet to establish a date for 2018 elections, despite opposition demands and widespread public protests. To exert added pressure, the US and the European Union have levied a series of sanctions against top Venezuelan officials and on certain financial transactions.
On Sunday, however, Maduro said the country would create an oil-backed cryptocurrency called the petro that would allow it “to make financial transactions and overcome the financial blockade,” Public Radio International reported. The country’s national currency, the bolivar, is in freefall.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Honduras: Secret Ballots


Secret Ballots

Huge protests snaked through the streets of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa on Sunday as demonstrators demanded a partial recount of ballots in the country’s controversial presidential election.
Relative calm has prevailed in the large cities, but the political crisis is escalating, the New York Times reported. Following violence and looting last week, the government responded with a crackdown and sent soldiers into the streets to enforce a 6 pm to 6 am curfew. But that has only granted credence to opposition claims about a lack of transparency.
The electoral commission “has no legitimacy. How can they be counting under a curfew?” the paper quoted a human rights lawyer and former judge as saying.
The furor resulted after counting was suspended for a day and a half last week after partial results indicated that the main opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla, had a lead of five points. When counting resumed, incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández was reported to be back on top, with almost 95 percent of the polling places counted.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Argentina: Behind Bars

Behind Bars

Argentina sentenced 29 people to life in prison for the kidnapping, torture and murder committed during the country’s 1976-1983 dictatorship.
Involving some 800 criminal cases, the trial featured many defendants, such as former Navy Captain Alfredo Astiz and Captain Jorge Acosta, both of whom are already serving life sentences for crimes committed during Argentina’s so-called Dirty War, Reuters reported.
However, the ruling marked the first convictions for “death flights” in which people were drugged and their bodies dumped in the River Plate.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the federal courthouse in Buenos Aires to listen to the convictions – which took more than three hours to read out. Apart from those sentenced to life, 19 people received jail terms of eight to 25 years. Six others were declared not guilty, including former Finance Minister Juan Alemann.
Human rights groups estimate that around 30,000 people were killed during the dictatorship, when the US provided technical support and military aid to Operation Condor – a regional campaign of political repression and state terror justified as a fight to prevent the rise of communism.