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Weekly Report - 27 February 2020 (WR-20-08)

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“A warlike situation” and “an attack against democracy”. This was the authorities’ response to unprecedented scenes of Haiti’s national police (PNd’H) and newly reconstituted military (FAd’H) exchanging gunfire for over six hours near the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince on 23 February. The violence, which left at least two dead and resulted in the cancellation of Haiti’s Carnival, the country’s biggest annual celebration, to avoid a further “bloodbath”, is the latest sign of the deteriorating security situation facing President Jovenel Moïse. Across the border in the Dominican Republic, meanwhile, daily pots-and-pans protests have been organised by youth movements in Santo Domingo, blaming the government led by President Danilo Medina for the suspension of municipal elections. Political opposition parties, seeking to capitalise on public indignation over suspected electoral fraud, staged a joint protest march.

Police rebellion lays bare new challenges for Moïse

While President Moïse faced mass protests last year over alleged corruption, high fuel prices and spiralling inflation, the latest unrest signals a further twist: it was the PNd’H staging the protests, over demands for better pay and the ability to unionise. The police rebellion comes as security concerns are already rife amid a power vacuum which has intensified following Moïse’s announcement last month that legislators’ terms had lapsed after elections in October 2019 failed to materialise [WR-20-02], leaving the deeply unpopular head of state ruling by decree.

In an initial statement following the 23 February incident, the FAd’H denied any clashes between the police and the military, claiming soldiers fired shots in response to an attack on its headquarters by “hooded individuals with firearms” who then tried to set the building alight. A subsequent FAd’H press release identifies the “hooded individuals” as claiming to be members of the police. Meanwhile, the media reported that the fire fight broke out as police protesters made their way onto the Champ de Mars (near the presidential palace) and were met with gunfire coming from a tower in the defence ministry.

The violence raises further questions over Moïse’s decision to revive the military, disbanded in 1995 by former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991; 1994-1996; 2001-2004), which was already controversial due to its poor human rights record. Maintaining that such a move was necessary ahead of the withdrawal of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (Minustah) in October 2017, Moïse had said its work would involve responding to natural disasters and controlling the border with the Dominican Republic.

The violence also highlights a major concern for Moïse – police discontent. While police demands emerged in November last year [WR-19-46], anger has since intensified and the use of public funds for the Carnival, due to take place from 23 to 25 February (rather than to boost their meagre salaries), served as the latest rallying point.

Carnival stands were set ablaze in major protests on 7 February, when PNd’H officials waved banners complaining there was “no money for police officers but enough money for Carnival”. They also set fire to the PNd’H general inspectorate. Then, on 17 February, protesters firstly fired shots outside the PNd’H headquarters in Pétionville, a suburb of the capital, and then the Champs de Mars. The dismissal the following day of five PNd’H officials involved in efforts to unionise the force (despite this being prohibited by internal regulations), served to inflame tensions further.

Moïse has since offered concessions to the police. On 22 February he announced, among other things, a compensation fund for relatives of police officers killed on duty; plans to double a monthly police debit card from G5,000 (US$51) as of 1 March; the launch of a social housing programme; and a special fund for insurance cover.

However, these stop short of any pay rises and have yet to quell unrest which also stems from the vexed security situation with which the institution is faced. This was laid bare in a report released by the United Nations Secretary General on 13 February – the first such report to be issued since the departure of Minustah’s successor operation, the Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (Minujusth) in October 2019, effectively ending the UN’s peacekeeping presence after 15 years. The report showed a 42% rise in the number of reported intentional homicides in Haiti in 2019, compared with 2018, with 910 recorded cases involving 1,081 victims.

Marie Yolène Gilles, the executive director of the non-profit Fondasyon Je Klere, recently warned that “armed gangs now control around a third of the country”. The precarious situation facing the police itself was illustrated in figures cited by the UN Secretary General which showed a 147% increase in killings of police officers in 2019, with 42 registered compared with 17 in 2018 – the highest number since the inception of the PNd’H in 1995.

Police concerns

The police unrest comes as the institution itself was criticised in a joint report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UN Integrated Office for Haiti (Binuh – which replaced Minujusth), released on 18 February. The report examined the outbreak of gang violence in Bel Air, a Port-au-Prince neighbourhood, from 4-6 November 2019 which left at least three dead, six injured, and 30 families homeless after their houses were set on fire. It found that a notorious gang leader, former police officer Jimmy Cherizier, who was issued with a warrant of arrest in February 2019, was the main actor in the attacks. Cherizier was wanted for his alleged involvement in another massacre, in the Grand Ravine neighbourhood in November 2017 [WR-19-44] and has also been implicated in the La Saline massacre in November 2018 [WR-19-34].  

The OHCHR-Binuh report more generally warns that “far from being an isolated incident, the Bel Air attack illustrates the recent evolution of the current context in Haiti, mainly characterised by generalised insecurity in working-class neighbourhoods…the impunity of…gang members who commit human rights abuses, alleged collusion between them and certain political and economic actors, links between gang members and certain PNd’H officers, as well as the police’s failure to protect the population”.

Electoral protests

The Dominican Republic, like Haiti, is also in the grip of protests and political volatility. In many ways the two countries sharing the island of Hispaniola are strikingly different. The Dominican Republic lacks the widespread grinding poverty present in Haiti, and is at the forefront of regional economic growth. Indeed, the economy ministry released figures on 21 February showing that GDP expansion of 5% in 2019 was the highest in Latin America (albeit down on economic growth of recent years in the country, including 7% in 2018).

But there are similarities between the two neighbours. One of them is a deep-rooted public distrust of politicians. This was exacerbated in the Dominican Republic by the corruption scandal involving the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, which exposed bribes to the tune of some US$92m doled out to Dominican officials to secure public works contracts. As such, when the Dominican electoral authorities (JCE) suspended municipal elections on 16 February after the automated voting system malfunctioned, it caused a public outcry, fuelled suspicion of sabotage, and spawned daily protests [WR-20-07].

Young Dominicans led the way. Feeding off recent protests across the region, in which social media has played a pivotal role, they coordinated a series of ‘cacerolazos’ outside JCE headquarters in central Santo Domingo. The police have employed heavy-handed tactics to disperse protesters, but the pots-and-pans protests have continued unabated despite the fact the JCE swiftly announced that the municipal elections would be restaged on 15 March with a full manual count. As we go to press young adults are organising a ‘march for democracy’ to coincide with Independence Day on 27 February when President Medina is due to deliver his eighth and last state-of-the-nation address. Dominican singers Juan Luis Guerra and Rita Indiana have said they will join the marchers, who are demanding explanations from the JCE; a guarantee that upcoming elections will be free and fair; and that Medina address the matter in his speech.

While the protests are directed at the JCE, they constitute a wider expression of disillusionment with the political class and ruling elite. Youth activists have refused to allow opposition politicians to participate in their protests. This has not stopped opposition parties, however, from trying to take advantage of the protests to ratchet up the pressure on the Medina administration as they seek to end the stranglehold on power exercised by the ruling Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD) since 2004. Presidential and congressional elections are due to take place on 17 May, two months after the rescheduled municipal contests.

The presidential candidate of the main opposition Partido Revolucionario Moderno (PRM), Luis Abinader, led a march on 23 February in central Santo Domingo in which 13 political parties took part, including Fuerza del Pueblo (FP), the electoral outfit led by thrice former president Leonel Fernández (1996-2000; 2004-2012), who abandoned the PLD last October citing electoral fraud after he was narrowly defeated in primary elections by Medina’s chosen successor, Gonzalo Castillo. PRM vice president Faride Raful read out a joint manifesto demanding that the government and JCE oversee “free elections, with fairness, objectivity, and transparency”. “The public is tired of state abuses, public insecurity, the growth in inequality, and the highest levels of corruption and impunity,” she read, while blaming the government for the suspension of the elections.

  • Cedeño

Dominican Vice President Margarita Cedeño announced on 24 February that she would be the running mate of PLD presidential candidate Gonzalo Castillo in May’s general election. This means that Cedeño will be standing against her husband former president Leonel Fernández. Cedeño said she would not “lose any sleep over being wrongly judged by some people for staying in my party”.

The manifesto makes 10 demands “to recover credibility and confidence” in the elections: that the government stop misusing public funds to gain an electoral advantage for PLD candidates; an end to all clientelism and politicised state publicity; and that electoral crimes, such as vote buying, be properly punished.
Acknowledging public distrust of Dominican institutions, the JCE has suspended its technical director, Miguel Ángel García, and the government has dropped an investigation into the electoral debacle by the attorney general’s office and instead enlisted the support of the Organization of American States (OAS) on 21 February to lead an audit of the automated voting system.

Unrest

Indicative of other, more general, challenges facing Haiti’s police, the report published by the UN Secretary General on 13 February tallied at least 1,341 demonstrations, roadblocks, and barricades between 1 September and 30 November 2019 – when most of the country was in lock-down amid calls for President Moïse to resign.

Andean Countries

The opening of a preliminary investigation into accusations of corruption and electoral fraud against Colombia’s President Iván Duque, announced by the attorney general, Francisco Barbosa, on 24 February, represents an unwelcome additional challenge for a government already struggling to juggle a diverse array of crises and criticisms.

When former legislator Aída Merlano, currently detained in Venezuela after escaping from a Colombian prison in October 2019, accused President Duque on 6 February of being involved in a plot to assassinate her, even his most vociferous critics were sceptical [WR-20-06]. But Merlano’s subsequent, less farfetched allegations, presented to Semana magazine last week - that Duque had been associated with the same vote-buying practices for which she had been imprisoned- received considerably more attention, including, unexpectedly, from Duque’s own attorney general.

  • Merlano allegations

Aída Merlano claimed that the leaders of a vote-buying network centred in Colombia’s Atlántico department spent Col$6bn (US$1.76m) to help Iván Duque secure victory in the second round of the 2018 presidential elections. She alleges that the network is led by businessman Julio Gerlein and the influential Char family, but insists that Duque was aware of this operation, and even met with those involved. Vote-buying is generally understood to be widespread in Colombia, but few convictions have ever been achieved.

The investigation will be handled by the congressional accusations committee, as the only body entitled to investigate the president. This immunity also means that if any charges were to be presented, Duque could only be tried by the legislature. Barbosa was quick to emphasise that the investigation was opened in response to a complaint by David Racero of the left-wing opposition party Colombia Humana rather than Merlano’s testimony, and that its focus will be to analyse the accusations rather than to investigate Duque himself. In practice, however, these distinctions will be of minimal significance to Duque, as the investigation represents yet another angle of attack against his government, with new challenges continuing to emerge.

Security struggles

After last week’s ‘armed strike’ by the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) guerrilla group [WR-20-07], Duque sought to respond with a decisive demonstration of military capability. Two high-profile arrests were widely publicised by the government and security forces – of prominent drug trafficker José Albeiro Arrigui (‘Contador’) on 21 February, and demobilised former ELN leader Gerardo Antonio Bermúdez (‘Francisco Galán’) on 23 February. But the constant flow of security issues shows no signs of abating, and there is little indication that arrests like these can turn the tide.

On 23 February, some 863 people were displaced from their homes in the municipality of Ituango, in the north-western department of Antioquia, in response to threats from illegal armed groups. The mayor of Ituango, Mauricio Mira, of the Partido de la U, blamed this displacement on drug-trafficking interests. Colombia’s security forces have been tackling a related issue in Serranía de la Macarena national park, in the south-eastern department of Meta, where fires burning since 22 February have been attributed by the defence minister, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, to dissident remobilised guerrillas of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc), to facilitate illicit coca production.

Trujillo went on to announce a “military offensive” against drug trafficking in Colombia’s national parks, once again demonstrating Duque’s determination to tackle the country’s security crisis with military muscle. This approach has attracted plenty of critics, amongst them the demobilised former combatants of the Farc. Protests in Bogotá on 25 February demanded that the government balance its aggression against dissidents with protection for those who have observed the terms of the 2016 peace accord, calling for Duque to hold up his end of this bargain.

Rodrigo Londoño (‘Timochenko’), the Farc leader who oversaw the transition from armed group to political party (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común), urged the government to “escape the inertia that makes it complicit”, and to “put an end to this bloodbath”, in reference to the murder of 183 former combatants since demobilisation in 2016. The government was, in turn, required to provide protection, centred on safeguarded reintegration zones, but these efforts have had little success – 120 demobilised guerrillas were amongst the displaced in Ituango, and three recent murders have brought the figure up to 12 this year already.

The killings of demobilised combatants have generally inspired less sympathy in Colombia than those of social leaders and human rights defenders, especially from key figures in government and the armed forces, who remain suspicious of former guerrillas. But cases like Ituango highlight that the majority of these demobilised combatants are relatively indistinguishable from the people they live alongside, and are no less victims of violence and insecurity in Colombia than anyone else.

  • Daniel Palacios

On 21 February the Farc joined the list of political and social organisations criticising the appointment of Daniel Palacios as head of the national protection unit (UNP), responsible for co-ordinating security provisions for former combatants. Palacios has previously voiced strong criticisms of the peace accord and questioned the government’s obligation to protect former guerrillas. A Farc statement suggested he lacked “the sensitivity to understand the political and human dimensions of the conflict”.

The demands presented by the Farc-led ‘cacerolazo’ (pots-and-pans protest) in Bogotá had a great deal in common with those championed by other protest groups and civil society critics. The issues facing the government may appear diverse, but a great many of them are pushing in the same direction. So far Duque’s response has been to double down on his preferred strategy of fighting fire with fire, but the pressure for change is only likely to amplify in March, with the promise of further protests on the scale seen in late 2019.

Duque forges key alliance

Duque has acquired a powerful new political ally, however, in the form of Germán Vargas Lleras, the leader of the right-of-centre Cambio Radical (CR). Vargas Lleras served as vice-president under Duque’s predecessor Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018), and, as such, is reviled by the Uribista wing of the ruling right-wing Centro Democrático (CD). During his failed bid for the presidency in 2018, Vargas Lleras attacked Duque’s lack of experience, famously asserting that “the presidency is not the time to learn on the job”. Vargas Lleras has been a fierce critic of Duque since he took office in August 2018 and discovered some of the truth behind this dismissive quip. Given their enmity, and with Duque’s popularity at a nadir, why has Vargas Lleras decided to ride to his rescue?

It is precisely Duque’s loss of popularity, and the threat of more damaging protests, that has presented Vargas Lleras with an opportunity. From the moment he came to power Duque was adamant that he would eschew the practice of ‘mermelada’ that has prevailed in Colombian politics, insisting he would build consensus without recourse to pork-barrel deals. But without a congressional majority, and an unreliable party in the CD to boot, Duque has struggled to advance his legislative agenda, and his weakness has made him vulnerable to popular protests.

Vargas Lleras provided Duque with a hint of what an alliance with the CR could do for him by playing a pivotal role in the approval of an unpopular tax reform by congress last December. Duque picked up the hint. Earlier this month he announced the appointment of Fernando Ruiz Gómez, a medical surgeon and close associate of Vargas Lleras, as health minister. When congress returns from recess in March, CR is expected to weigh in behind government initiatives, its 16 senators and 40 deputies potentially supplying crucial votes to drive through unpopular labour and pension reforms. In return for his party’s support Vargas Lleras will want some of his failed electoral campaign agenda, on health and judicial reform, for instance, adopted by the government.

As Bolivia’s multitude of presidential candidates fight to make their mark in a crowded electoral contest, their efforts continue to be overshadowed by the political narrative surrounding former president Evo Morales (2006-2019). More than three months after he was forced to resign, agreed not to run for re-election, and even left the country, Morales continues to dominate the headlines in Bolivia. The 20 February announcement by the electoral tribunal (TSE) that Morales had been disqualified from running to become a senator came as little surprise, but nonetheless delivered yet another round of drama.

This focus on Morales can to some extent be explained in reference to the ongoing presidential contest. With no candidate demonstrating a particularly strong personal appeal, and the rushed campaign providing little opportunity to do so, most of the frontrunners have defined themselves primarily in relation to Morales’ presidency. Luis Arce, the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) candidate whose simultaneous approval by the TSE was somewhat overshadowed by his colleague’s exclusion (despite both having their candidacies challenged on similar grounds), reacted to the news by condemning the “illegal disqualification” of Morales, and seeking to rally discontented MAS supporters around his own presidential campaign.

Arce’s challengers, most notably interim president Jeanine Áñez (Juntos) and October 2019 runner-up Carlos Mesa (Comunidad Ciudadana), have similarly defined their campaigns in relation to Morales, albeit by positioning themselves oppositely to him; both celebrated the news of Morales’ disqualification, but were quick to emphasise that he remained a threat until the MAS had been defeated, keen to hold on to their primary electoral weapon. An opinion poll published by Mercados y Muestras on 24 February showed that Arce remains the frontrunner with 32%, but that neither Mesa nor Áñez are far behind, on 23% and 21% respectively.

Morales’ reaction to the TSE’s verdict suggests he is more than happy to remain at the centre of attention. His team of lawyers threatened an appeal to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), arguing that the residency requirement should not be applied to candidates living outside of Bolivia “out of necessity”. Morales himself sparked further controversy on 21 February, allegedly threatening a violent response should he be prevented from running in the election, echoing his comments in January about creating “armed militias” [WR-20-02].

  • Military threat

Evo Morales denied having said “if I cannot run for candidate, know that in Bolivia I have contact with patriotic military”, a comment attributed to him by Argentine news website Infobae. Bolivian daily El Deber also reported that Morales had discussed being contacted by “patriotic military” concerned by the actions of the interim government, but suggested that Morales had not claimed any influence over them, or implied any plans for military action.

The announcement that the Bolivian attorney general’s office has opened an investigation into Morales for electoral fraud will provide yet another channel for his public stand-off with the interim government. An earlier report by the Organization of American States (OAS) had found irregularities in the annulled 2019 election, and Áñez-appointed attorney general Juan Lanchipa confirmed just hours after the TSE’s candidacy announcement that a formal investigation would be launched. Morales’ lawyers have previously insisted that he had presidential immunity at the time, and so any investigation or prosecution must go through the legislative assembly.

The interim government also faced international criticism for its role in the events of late 2019, with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemning excessive violence by state security forces in November. Another IACHR delegation will visit the country next week, upon the interim government’s request, but the justice minister, Álvaro Coimbra, has already drawn criticism for suggesting that two members of the group of independent experts “have a biased background in favour of authoritarian governments”, and should be withdrawn. The experts in question had been part of the previous delegation which criticised two “massacres” of protesters by state security forces, and one subsequently described the removal of Morales as a “coup”.

Venezuela’s de facto president Nicolás Maduro has declared an emergency in the state-run oil company Pdvsa. Maduro made the announcement directly after the US government slapped sanctions on the trading arm of Russia’s state-owned oil producer Rosneft last week [WR-20-07]. Pdvsa is no stranger to emergencies. Twice in 2017 Maduro announced a decisive restructuring of Pdvsa to much fanfare. Then, it was ostensibly designed to snuff out rampant corruption but was motivated by a clear political agenda. It was the first time the armed forces had been put in control of the state cash cow, but the promised surge in oil production has not been forthcoming, declining even further. Now, Maduro is empowering civilians to try and set things straight, albeit with a strong military presence.

“I declare an energy emergency in the hydrocarbons industry with the aim of adopting urgent and necessary measures to guarantee national energy security and protect the industry from imperialist aggression,” Maduro said at Pdvsa headquarters in Caracas on 19 February. Maduro said the oil industry would be transformed in accordance with “a new model of 21st-century socialist management”. Creating new layers of bureaucracy to carry the nation to a great victory is the customary response of the Bolivarian government to recurrent emergencies in Venezuela. But this change is more eye-catching because the military, essential to keeping Maduro in power, has seen its wings clipped.

Maduro designated the economic vice president, Tareck el Aissami, as the head of a presidential commission that will have full powers to restructure the oil industry, with former oil minister Asdrúbal Chávez serving as his deputy. This is an indirect acknowledgement that the military has failed to turn Pdvsa’s fortunes around. Maduro was naturally keen not to present it as such. Indeed, he pointed out that the defence minister, Vladimir Padrino López, and his number two, Remigio Ceballos, would both sit on the commission, “in order to harness all of the power of the armed forces”. The current oil minister and president of Pdvsa, Major General Manuel Quevedo, who has presided over a sustained slump in oil production, will also sit on the commission but this is technically a demotion.

Oil production

Nicolás Maduro said the presidential commission would start work immediately and begin a process of “revision and recovery”. Maduro said there would be no more excuses, crude production would be lifted to at least 2m barrels per day (bpd), a figure which would once have been disappointing but which now is a pipe dream. According to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), citing secondary market sources, oil production in Venezuela last December stood at just 714,000 bpd. Even by the government’s own inflated figures oil production was only 907,000 bpd.

PERU | Exports. Peru’s President Martín Vizcarra revealed on 20 February that Peru reached a historic record in non-traditional exports in 2019, mainly linked to the fishing and agro-export sectors. Vizcarra said it was quite a feat given “global uncertainty and tensions”.

Exports reached a total of US$45.98bn, of which US$13.79bn were non-traditional, an increase of 4.1% on the previous year. Peru became the world’s biggest exporter of blueberries in 2019 as well as asparagus, and the second largest exporter of mandarins, cuttlefish, and scallops.

According to Peru’s association of exporters (Adex), shipments of fruits and vegetables increased by 10.8% and 2.9% respectively in 2019. Fruit exports amounted to US$3.54bn, with grapes leading the way, making up US$875m, 25% of total fruit exports, closely followed by blueberries, which increased by 51% on the previous year to US$825m.

There are concerns, however, that exports could be affected in 2020 by the coronavirus outbreak in China, which is Peru’s number one destination for fruit exports.

Brazil & Southern Cone

A number of cities in Brazil’s north-eastern state of Ceará cancelled Carnival celebrations over the weekend of 22-23 February, as protests by members of the military police (PM) demanding a salary increase jeopardised the guarantee of public security there.

As Ceará’s legislative assembly has been considering a proposal to increase police salaries, the state’s PM had voiced demands and called for protests on several occasions over the past few months. The situation came to a head last week as small groups of hooded individuals, many identifying as police officers, began committing what authorities have described as acts of mutiny.

Protesters vandalised police vehicles, blocked police stations, ordered businesses to remain closed, and in one case, even fired gunshots at a senator, Cid Gomes, as he confronted a picket-line of masked protesters with a digger in his hometown of Sobral.  

Brazil’s constitution prohibits the country’s security forces from unionising and striking, and the demonstrations in Ceará have been denounced as dangerous and illegal by members of the supreme court (STF). As of 25 February, a reported 47 PM officers had been arrested for desertion or mutiny, and in excess of 200 officers have been suspended while they face disciplinary proceedings. Earlier attempts to reach an agreement between the PM and state authorities over the pay rise have failed, and Ceará state governor Camilo Santana, from the leftist Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), has indicated he will not give amnesty to the mutineers.

Federal reinforcements have been sent to Ceará, with Justice & Public Security Minister Sérgio Moro allowing the deployment of the Força Nacional de Segurança Pública (FNSP) national guard for 30 days from 20 February. President Jair Bolsonaro, meanwhile, signed off on a Garantia da Lei e da Ordem (GLO) decree – at Santana’s request – which sends in the army until 28 February.

While visiting Ceará on 24 February alongside Defence Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva, Moro gave assurances that “the situation is under control.” Nevertheless, homicides have spiked since the police protests began in earnest last week; 170 were recorded between 19 and 24 February. Nine municipalities were reported to have cancelled Carnival celebrations amid concerns that the authorities would be unable to guarantee carnival-goers’ security.

Although technically illegal, police strikes are not infrequent in Brazil. In 2011 and 2012, Ceará’s PM staged a week-long strike, also demanding salary increases. More recently, in 2017, the state of Espírito Santo saw its Carnival overshadowed by one of Brazil’s largest PM protests ever, which lasted a full three weeks.

However, the political background has since shifted. Brazil’s police forces in general gained a political voice in the 2018 general elections, with the election of four federal senators and 32 deputies linked to either federal or state police forces.

President Bolsonaro is an unquestioning supporter of the police and its actions – he once again advocated in favour of legislation protecting security forces when they kill in the line of duty when he announced the GLO on 20 February – and his presidential discourse has potentially emboldened some members of the force to make demands in defiance of their constitutional duty to provide security.

Discussions over state police salary increases are not limited to Ceará, and there are concerns that the unrest could spread to the police forces in other states. The issue risks becoming politically charged; although fragmented, the Ceará movement appears to have won the support of some local right-wing politicians, and it is deemed to be deepening disagreements between the federal government and state governments led by opposition parties, as is the case with Ceará’s Santana.

Milícias

The police mutiny in Ceará has fuelled discussions over the proliferation of ‘milícias’, violent vigilante groups often composed of members of the state security forces and with links to local politics. Well-established in the states of Pará and Rio de Janeiro, they appear to be growing in number and influence across the country. In Ceará, some of the revolting PM officers’ actions, such as intimidating local residents while keeping their faces covered, have been described as typical of vigilante groups.

Brazil’s Petrobras posted a record profit in 2019, according to the state-owned oil company’s CEO Roberto Castello Branco. Marking a second consecutive year of net profits, this appears to suggest that Petrobras has begun to overcome the difficulties which emerged over the course of the last few years from declining global oil prices, Brazil’s 2015-2016 recession, and the ‘Lava Jato’ investigation, which uncovered deep-rooted corruption within the company.

Petrobras’ net profit jumped 55.7% in 2019, to a total R$40.1bn (US$9.14bn), while its adjusted Ebitda (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) grew 12.5% to R$129.2bn.

The company attributes these results to improved oil margins, a reduction in its financial expenses, and an increase in capital gains through the sale of exploration and production assets. Indeed, in spite of an increase in exports of oil and derivatives, and in natural gas sales, net revenues fell by 2.6% in 2019, due in part to a decrease in the Brent’s price in reais.  

Commenting on these results, Castello Branco said that Petrobras’ divestment programme brought in US$16.3bn in 2019. The company is planning to continue its divestment plans, hoping to close the sale of eight of its 13 refineries in 2020. Castello Branco did note, however, that Petrobras remains one of the most indebted oil companies in the world (net debt increased to R$317.87bn by year’s end 2019, from R$268.82bn at close of 2018).

The start of 2020 has brought other challenges for the company also, as Petrobras workers across the country staged strikes during the first 20 days of February. The strike was sparked on 1 February by the planned closure of a nitrogen fertiliser plant (Fafen) owned by a Petrobras subsidiary in the state of Paraná, which would leave around 400 direct and 600 indirect workers out of a job, reportedly disrespecting a collective labour agreement with trade unions. The plant’s owner, Araucária Nitrogenados (Ansa), denies this.

The industrial action rapidly became a wider movement in protest at changes to workers’ schedules, Petrobras’ divestment plans (part of the federal government’s privatisation drive), and demanding lower fuel prices. Strikes continued, reportedly mobilising 21,000 employees, in defiance of rulings issued by a supreme labour court (TST) judge, Ives Gandra Martins, who on 4 February declared that at least 90% of Petrobras workers should maintain their normal duties (a ruling which was upheld by the supreme court [STF] on 12 February); and who declared the strike illegal on 17 February, authorising Petrobras to sanction any employee who did not return to work.

Despite reassurances from both Petrobras and the national oil regulator, the Agência Nacional do Petróleo, Gás Natural e Biocombustíveis (ANP), that oil production and distribution were not affected, there were concerns that there might be disruption to the distribution chain as the strike entered its third week. Petrobras had begun contracting emergency personnel on 7 February to ensure its operational capacity. 

The strike was suspended on 19 February for negotiations between oil workers’ unions, including the Federação Unica dos Petroleiros (FUP) umbrella organisation, and Petrobras, which resulted in a preliminary agreement being struck the following day. Amongst other things, Petrobras agreed to reduce the sanctions it was going to apply to workers who took part in the strikes.

Dismissed Fafen workers have been reinstated pending further negotiations. However, the respite could be short-lived and the risk of renewed strikes remains, with the FUP insisting that the strike has merely been suspended temporarily, not cancelled.

Petrobras ratings

Petrobras reported its 2019 results on 19 February, and two days later, the oil company reported that the international ratings agency Fitch Ratings had upgraded the company’s stand-alone credit profile (SCP) by two notches from BB+ to BBB, the second level in the investment grade scale. Petrobras reported Fitch as citing, amongst other factors, improving capital structure, robust liquidity, and expectations of further improvements. Petrobras’ overall rating is maintained at BB- with a stable outlook.

Following months of debate, and amid public pressure, Paraguay’s congress has approved a new bill that seeks to stop the financing of political campaigns with ‘dirty money’ - funds obtained from dubious sources. This has been hailed as a major step forwards in the fight against corruption and money laundering and in the strengthening of Paraguay’s democracy. It should also help to improve Paraguay’s international image at a key moment for the country.

The ‘political campaign financing control’ bill was promoted by the small opposition Partido Patria Querida (PPQ). The issue of irregular campaign financing has long been a bone of contention between the country’s smaller and main political parties. The smaller parties repeatedly accuse the traditional parties of resorting to irregular and even illegal sources of financing to the detriment of political pluralism. But taking advantage of the fact that one of the recommendations by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as part of its current review of Paraguay’s efforts to combat money laundering was to tighten the rules on political campaign financing, the PPQ presented a bill to this effect in November 2018.

Initially the bill was given short shrift by the ruling Asociación Nacional Republicana-Partido Colorado (ANR-PC). But, with the country threatened with being blacklisted by the FATF the government led by President Mario Abdo Benítez eventually came out in support of the PPQ initiative and urged congress to approve a bill on the matter.

The bill tabled by the PPQ proposed the establishment of a new publicly available political campaign financing register to which all candidates would have to submit information, including their sworn declaration of assets. The register is to be maintained and supervised by the electoral and tax authorities and the national secretariat for the prevention of money and asset laundering (Seprelad), a government agency. The idea is that Seprelad will supervise the sources of financing for all electoral campaigns from general elections to party primaries.

However, legislators from various parties (but mainly from the ANR-PC) had some reservations about the PPQ’s proposal and introduced modifications to the bill before approving a version of it on 4 February by the chamber of deputies. This version of the bill stipulated that the proposed rules would be applied to all national electoral campaigns but not to party primaries. Crucially, it also proposed that the entities in charge of monitoring financing sources should be the electoral and tax authorities but not Seprelad.

The modifications to the bill were rejected by supporters of the original PPQ initiative, including the Comisión de Escrache Ciudadano protest group, which has been leading public campaigns against political corruption. They argued that the changes introduced by deputies betrayed the spirit of the original bill.

  • Comisión de Escrache

The Comision de Escrache Ciudadano was created in July 2018 after a group of self-convened demonstrators, outraged by the numerous corruption allegations against national legislators, decided to organise and lead public derision (‘escrache’) campaigns targeting individual legislators. After naming and shaming them, the group stages noisy demonstrations outside individuals’ homes and calls on local firms to refuse to serve them and their families. The actions of the Comisión de Escrache has succeeded in forcing the impeachment or resignation of various legislators accused of corruption.

The Comisión de Escrache staged a series of demonstrations outside congress to pressure senators to reject the modified bill and to approve a new version that includes all the main aspects of the original bill. The pressure exerted by the Comisión, the government, and the legislators from the PPQ and other parties had an effect.

On 14 February the senate unanimously approved a new version of the bill that more closely resembled the original during an extraordinary session. Moreover, in another extraordinary session on 17 February, the chamber of deputies unanimously approved the bill after several (mainly ANR-PC) legislators changed their minds and backed the incorporation of some aspects that just a few days earlier they had decided to remove.  

The approval of the bill was celebrated by its supporters. They maintain that the initiative will help to improve the transparency of electoral campaigns significantly to the benefit of democracy. They urged President Abdo Benítez to sanction the bill into law before 7 March - the deadline set by the electoral authorities to introduce any legislative changes that are to be implemented in the municipal elections scheduled for November. Abdo Benítez also hailed the approval of the bill and pledged to promulgate it as soon as a copy of it is placed on his desk.

Abdo Benítez described the bill as “another tool” that would allow the authorities to clamp down on criminality and money laundering. In fact, Abdo Benítez said that with approval of the bill a total of 13 separate legislative initiatives have been approved under his administration to improve the fight against money laundering, including the 12 initiatives presented by the government in response to the FATF recommendations.

Cuevas case ramps up pressure

The case of ANR-PC deputy Miguel Cuevas, who has been formally accused of various acts of corruption by the attorney general’s office, most likely also influenced the decision by ANR-PC legislators to vote in favour of the ‘political campaign financing control’ bill.

Cuevas, a former president of the chamber of deputies (2018-2019), has been accused of illicit enrichment, influence trafficking, and of lying in his declaration of assets, with the accusations dating back to the time when he was mayor of the city of Sapucái (1996-2010) in Paraguarí department, and Paraguarí governor (2013-2017).

Cuevas disappeared from public view after the chamber of deputies voted to lift his immunity from prosecution in August 2018. However, he turned himself in to the authorities on 20 February after the courts dismissed his habeas corpus appeal and a judge issued an arrest warrant against him. Cuevas was then placed in preventive detention pending trial.

Cuevas’ arrest served to focus public attention on the numerous corruption cases affecting national legislators and the need to ensure that there are higher standards for those elected to public posts.

Dengue emergency

In addition to approving the ‘political campaign financing control’ bill during its 17 February extraordinary session, Paraguay’s chamber of deputies also approved the resolution declaring a national emergency over the outbreak of dengue fever passed by the senate a week earlier. The current dengue outbreak has left a toll of 20 dead and over 5,000 confirmed cases (among which were President Mario Abdo Benítez and his wife) so far this year, the worse dengue outbreak in the country in recent years. The approval of the opposition-sponsored resolution was controversial as the government did not consider it to be necessary, arguing that it was addressing the situation. But legislators agreed that the government’s response has been inadequate and that more needs to be done.    

After securing the support of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for its plans to seek a write-down of the debt owed to Argentina’s private creditors [WR-20-07], the government led by President Alberto Fernández is stepping up efforts to try to secure a debt renegotiation deal. Fernández and his economy minister, Martín Guzmán, have been busy flying around the world to talk to the IMF and foreign bondholders about their debt restructuring proposals. A general agreement appears to have been reached with the IMF. But it is far less clear that an agreement can be reached with bondholders to ensure that Argentina avoids another debt default.

The Fernández government’s debt renegotiation strategy appears to consist of first reaching a deal with the IMF over the US$44bn it owes to it as part of the Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) signed under the Mauricio Macri administration (2015-2019) in order to secure its backing in the separate negotiations it will need to engage in with foreign bondholders. The Fernández government calculates that if it can convince the IMF that it will get back the money that it has lent to Argentina, it can then ask it to pressure foreign bondholders to accept write-offs based on the argument that Argentina is currently in no position to honour these debts.

  • Working with the IMF

According to the Argentine press, the Fernández government has reached a general agreement with the IMF over how to resolve Argentina’s debt problems. This would involve allowing the IMF to conduct an Article IV consultation of the country’s finances to show just how precarious these are in a bid to convince foreign bondholders that the government is not playing hardball with them in demanding write-offs but that these demands are based on a justified need. The Article IV consultation, which has not taken place in Argentina since 2015, would also allow IMF officials to determine what sort of repayment extension plan could be offered to Argentina. 

As part of this strategy, Fernández has been holding discussions with the heads of state of key IMF member countries in recent weeks to explain the plan. This appears to have paid dividends as the Fund has accepted his government’s argument that Argentina’s current debt levels are unsustainable and that creditors should forgive part of it. However, the IMF itself has been clear that due to internal rules it cannot forgive the debt principal it is owed and the best it can offer is to adjust the debt repayment schedule. But IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva has been clear that in order to reach an agreement with the IMF and bondholders the Fernández administration must negotiate in good faith and make reasonable offers.

Georgieva warned the Fernández administration against using its self-imposed deadline to conclude the debt renegotiations by the end of March to pressure its creditors into reaching a deal. Georgieva’s comments came ahead of the 22 February summit of G-20 finance ministers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where she was scheduled to meet Guzmán to discuss the debt renegotiation efforts. Guzmán is the man in charge of leading the debt negotiations and, like Fernández, he has embarked on various international trips since January to present Argentina’s negotiating position to IMF officials and foreign bondholders. In fact, after his meeting with Georgieva at the G-20 summit, Guzmán travelled to the US to hold yet more meetings with IMF officials in Washington DC and with bondholders in New York City.

The speculation in Argentina was that Guzmán’s trip to the US was a sign that significant progress had been made in the meeting with Georgieva and that he was seeking to make headway in negotiations with bondholders. From the US, Guzmán himself said that a “critical moment” had been reached. However, since returning to Argentina on 25 February Guzmán has not made any announcements. This has led the Argentine media to speculate that Guzmán’s talks with bondholders did not go as well as expected and that the government’s confidence that the IMF’s call for a debt write-off would facilitate the negotiations with bondholders had been misplaced. Guzmán is expected to unveil Argentina’s debt renegotiation offer in the second week of March, when a clearer picture of the state of the negotiations should emerge.

Mexico

The public wave of indignation caused by the brutal recent murders of women and girls is still dominating the headlines in Mexico. Not since the concept of femicides was introduced in the country has it received anything like this much attention. Opposition parties that had previously shown little interest in violence against women are now speaking as one with feminist groups. They are determined to seize upon the best opportunity yet presented to them to exploit a clear disconnect between President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the general public, accusing him of callous indifference and demanding a coherent strategy to combat the problem. The issue, which has divided his party, has the potential to do more damage to López Obrador’s popularity than the increase in violent homicides and shrinking economy.

Feminist groups announced on 19 February that a ‘national women’s strike’ would take place on 9 March (the day after International Women’s Day, which falls on a Sunday). “¡El nueve ninguna se mueve!” (‘Nobody moves on the ninth’) and the hashtags #UnDíaSinMujeres and #UnDíaSinNosotras has received extensive social media coverage.

Mexico’s bishops’ conference (CEM) released a statement on 23 February describing the gruesome recent femicides [WR-20-06] as a “crisis of humanity”, while the Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico offered its support for the ‘national women’s strike’, saying that it was “wonderful that there are women, through their commitment and activism, who are helping to wake the conscience [of the Mexican people]”. The private sector lobby Consejo Coordinador Empresarial (CCE) called for companies to “show empathy for women who choose not to work” on 9 March.

The political opposition, meanwhile, with more than a hint of opportunism, is suddenly embracing the cause of feminist groups. On 24 February the president of the right-of-centre Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), Marko Cortés, launched a fierce attack on President López Obrador for the increase in the number of femicides and gender violence in Mexico. He called for a new strategy to combat gender violence, advocating the creation of a public prosecutor’s unit specialising in femicides, with its own staff, building, equipment, and budget. Cortés blasted López Obrador’s response as “frivolous and insensitive to the reality”. On the same day, the president of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) in the northern state of Coahuila, Rodrigo Fuentes Ávila, took aim at López Obrador: “In Mexico between 10 and 11 women are killed everyday due to the lack of federal public policies to eradicate violence against them…the government clearly doesn’t care about women in Mexico”.

  • Opposition attacks

The PRI president of Coahuila, Rodrigo Fuentes, said that, according to official figures, 3,825 women were killed in 2019 “a crisis of hitherto unseen proportions”. He claimed that only one in five murders of women in Mexico were investigated as possible femicides, while the killing of girls doubled in 2019. “President López Obrador has not grasped the fact that women feel threatened simply by walking out onto the street,” he concluded.

López Obrador has appeared out of step with the public, responding to the outcry over the brutal recent murders not by promising urgent action but by stressing that his government’s nebulous strategy of creating “a fairer and more equal society” would ultimately address the problem. He blamed neo-liberal governments, responding to criticism by maintaining that “conservatives are becoming feminists”. López Obrador has a point. The issue has become highly politicised. Opposition groups are intent on exploiting a chink in his armour. But López Obrador and his government have not helped their cause by abandoning and denigrating erstwhile feminist allies, ducking responsibility, and disregarding the strength of feeling about the issue.

Internal divisions

The issue has caused sharp divisions within the ruling left-wing Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (Morena). Some, like Morena leader Yeidckol Polevnsky, are backing López Obrador to the hilt. In a press conference on 18 February, Polevnsky denied there had even been an increase in femicides. “There is much more openness and transparency now,” Polevnsky maintained. “Before figures were manipulated and information concealed…under López Obrador there is total openness,” she added.

Others have not concealed their disquiet. Citlalli Hernández, a Morena federal senator, said “I think that [López Obrador] is sensitive to what is happening, but he is a man, who like all those of his generation, perhaps doesn’t understand the feminist fight”. While echoing his remarks about the “evils of neoliberalism”, Hernández clearly found it galling that it is traditional conservative parties, not the López Obrador administration, offering progressive proposals to combat gender violence. With pointed understatement Hernández said that it was up to “the women of the ‘fourth transformation’ to make him see that maybe some of his responses are not the responses the feminist movement was hoping for”.

Death penalty for femicides?

Five Morena federal deputies took up the fight on 25 February, the very day after Hernández’s comments. They tabled a motion along with the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM) in the lower chamber of congress to punish perpetrators of femicide (as well as rapists who kill their victims and those found guilty of aggravated murder) with the death penalty.

The initiative would reform four constitutional articles; Article 22, for instance, outlaws the death penalty in Mexico. The PVEM coordinator in the lower chamber, Arturo Escobar y Vega, argued that “criminals without scruples” had carried out “abominable [recent crimes]…showing absolutely no remorse [and] should pay with their lives for the lives they took away”. He argued that Mexico was in a state of exception which required exceptional measures. “These criminals are not afraid of spending the rest of their lives in prison, because they know that as a result of the weakness of our justice system…they could be released much earlier than they should be and can even continue committing crimes from behind bars,” he added.

The PVEM has sought the reintroduction of the death penalty intermittently since 2009. Only in 2018, it called for the death penalty for kidnapping, rape, and homicide. The party clearly hopes that the public outcry over femicides will help carry its proposal, but it is unlikely the majority of Morena members of congress will defy López Obrador.

Gender equality

The violence against women has also opened a much wider debate about gender equality. The Confederación Patronal de la República Mexicana (Coparmex) employers’ confederation, demanded “justice, peace, and equality” for women. Speaking on ‘Flag Day’ on 24 February, the president of the supreme court (SCJN), Arturo Zaldívar, went as far as to say that there would be “no justice if Mexico remains indifferent to the barriers that society imposes on women”, adding that “Mexican society urgently needs to unite to fight to allow women to live the life that they want to have”.

MEXICO | Current account deficit narrows as economy slumps. Mexico registered a current account deficit of just US$2.44bn in 2019, down 89% on the US$23.00bn deficit in 2018, according to figures released by the Banco de México (Banxico) on 25 February. The 2019 current account deficit equates to 0.2% of GDP, the lowest figure as a percentage of GDP recorded in Mexico since 1987.

The decline in the current account deficit owes to the domestic economic slowdown. The national statistics institute (Inegi) confirmed on 25 February that GDP contracted by 0.1% in 2019, the same as the preliminary figure it released on 30 January.

Imports were down significantly from US$464.3bn in 2018 to US$455.3bn in 2019. The trade war between the US and China also allowed Mexico to become the main trade partner of the US as exports rose to US$461.bn from US$450.7bn the previous year.

Central America & Caribbean

While human rights groups have been focusing on the crackdown which the government led by President Daniel Ortega has been carrying out on its political opponents since April 2018, attacks targeting indigenous groups have attracted fresh concerns from institutions such as the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

The most recent attack denounced by the OHCHR, IACHR and local human rights groups took place on 16 February on the indigenous Miskitu community in Waspam municipality, in Nicaragua’s North Atlantic Autonomous Region (Raan), in which a 14-year-old girl was shot in the face. The attack was widely attributed to settlers from other parts of Nicaragua known as ‘colonos’, who invade indigenous land for illegal logging and cattle-raising. Just over two weeks earlier, on 29 January, an attack by dozens of armed men, also believed to be colonos, targeted the indigenous Mayangna community in the Bosawás biosphere reserve, also in the Raan. According to a 7 February press release by the OHCHR, this left four dead, two others injured, while 16 houses were burned down, forcing “hundreds of people from the village and surroundings” to flee.

These incidents have reignited concerns about violence targeting indigenous groups in Nicaragua, which, along with Afro-descendent peoples, currently occupy 31% of national territory. With most of these attacks perpetrated by colonos, the OHCHR notes that the State has granted land rights to these groups through the adoption of Law 445 in 2003, but highlights the State’s failure to protect these rights. Further underlining the vulnerability of this sector, figures from a local human rights NGO, Centro por la Justicia y los Derechos Humanos de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua (Cejudhcan), show that since 2015, some 40 indigenous people have been murdered, 47 injured, 44 kidnapped, and four remain missing in cases related to the invasion of land.

  • Deforestation

In its 7 February statement, the OHCHR cites a joint assessment by a Danish NGO and the Mayangna Territorial Government which found that from 1999 to 2015, an average of 600 hectares of the Bosawás biosphere reserve were deforested per year, with the deforestation rate doubling from 2010 to 2015. In the area where the latest killings happened, the number of non-indigenous households doubled from 2009 to 2015, to almost 200.

So far the response by the national police (PNN) to the attacks has provided little reassurance to human rights groups. On 20 February the PNN issued a statement denying that the Miskitu attack took place at all, adding that, following an investigation, it had concluded that the girl’s injury was sustained as a result of an accident. Similarly, with regard to the Mayangna incident, it initially denied that the four deaths had occurred.

Bolstering the police

Criticism from local human rights groups regarding the PNN’s response to these latest attacks comes as the Ortega government announced further plans to boost the force which, along with government-sponsored paramilitaries, institutions like the OHCHR and IACHR largely hold responsible for the human rights violations committed during the ongoing crackdown.

On 18 February Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo announced that 708 new police officers would swell the ranks this year. The latest recruits bring the total number of PNN officials to 17,574, up steeply from 14,946 in 2018. The local investigative publication Confidencial claimed the government has been allocating more funds to the police, despite the economic slowdown as a result of the crackdown. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Eclac) forecast last December that GDP would contract by 5.3% in 2019 and by 1.4% in 2020.

Postscript

Ecuador’s mining sector as well as the government led by President Lenín Moreno will have breathed a collective sigh of relief on 21 February when the constitutional court (CC) rejected a request by the prefect of Azuay, Yaku Pérez Guartambel, to stage a referendum on whether the province should be declared a mining-free zone.

If the CC had accepted that a local referendum could be held on a matter of such national importance it would have opened a can of worms for the Moreno administration as other provinces would have followed Azuay’s lead. An unfavourable ruling would also have jeopardised the government’s fiscal commitments as mining is a major source of foreign direct investment (FDI) and economic growth in Ecuador.

Pérez represents Pachakutik, the political arm of Ecuador’s largest umbrella indigenous organisation Conaie which led last October’s uprising over fuel subsidies. In September last year Pérez went to the CC in order to present legal arguments to back up his demand for a popular consultation on mining, but the magistrates turned it down. His second attempt, presented last month, which was similar but provided two, more detailed, questions, was unanimously rejected.

The CC concluded that the two questions contained within the proposed consultation did not comply with “constitutional parameters” to provide voters with the requisite clarity to make a free decision. It also resolved that the cancellation of mining licences that had been previously awarded would “affect the constitutional right to juridical security”.

The ministry of energy and non-renewable resources issued a statement saying that the CC ruling reaffirmed its commitment to upholding rights and was in the national interest. Pérez, meanwhile, responded to this latest setback by saying that he was at pains to understand how “a genuinely democratic initiative” could be “blocked by the mining empire”. But he is promising not to give up the fight. Pérez said that he would pursue “action at a national and international level”. He did not elaborate upon what this would entail, but he has previously suggested he might push for a national consultation, which could increase the number of provinces in which mining would be prohibited.

“The popis don’t vote, they only want their ‘likes’ for participating in the protests.”

Bolívar Valera, a congressional candidate for the ruling PLD, posts a tweet (rapidly deleted but already captured and since gone viral) dismissing growing protests by young Dominicans he referred to as ‘popis’, a derogatory term meaning ‘stuck up’.


“I won’t accept any more excuses we either produce or we produce.”

Venezuela’s de facto president Nicolás Maduro on ever-declining oil production.

 

“[Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador] should take action instead of regurgitating fallacious and ideological arguments to justify [his government’s] incompetence, such as blaming the past or neoliberalism for the violence against women.”

The president of Mexico’s main opposition right-of-centre Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), Marko Cortés.