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Catch up on the news with Open Americas! 

In the headlines: Argentina's vote on abortion, Brazil's presidential race, NAFTA talks continue, Chile investigates sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and much more.

On August 8, Argentina’s Senate voted against decriminalizing abortions 38 to 31. Abortion has been severely restricted in Argentina since 1921, but the new bill sought to allow abortions up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. Argentine law currently allows abortions only in the case of rape or when the mother’s life is at risk. The bill narrowly passed in the nation’s house last month by 129 to 125 votes, but failed to clear the Senate. The push to decriminalize abortions came from the Ni Una Menos movement that responded to high rates of killings of women in Argentina. Despite the massive support from women and feminists, the bill has faced significant opposition from the nation’s Catholic church. Nevertheless, Argentine women have started a movement and many were proud the bill nearly passed. Many are not giving up hope, claiming that “sooner or later, [the bill] will be law.”

Following the worst drought Argentina has seen in decades, the country has fallen into a recession and accepted a $50 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Thousands of Argentines have taken to the streets to protest President Mauricio Macri’s decision to accept the loan, fearing the austerity measures Macri is taking to fulfill the IMF’s terms will further damage the country’s economy.

Many of Brazil’s political parties have announced their candidates for the upcoming October elections ahead of the August 15 official registration date. The Worker’s Party (PT) nominated Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva despite him serving a 12-year prison term and the likelihood of the Supreme Court barring him from running due to his corruption conviction. Nevertheless, Lula remains the face of PT and is widely supported throughout Brazil, with 30% of Brazilians saying they will vote for him and 47% saying they will vote for whichever candidate he endorses. Lula has also received widespread international support for him as a presidential candidate from Michelle Bachelet, Evo Morales, François Hollande, and numerous US lawmakers. The other candidates nominated are former senator and environmental minister Marina Silva for the Brazilian Sustainability Network Party (REDE), four-time governor of São Paulo Geraldo Alckmin for the center-right Brazil Social Democracy Party (PSDB), and far-right Jair Bolsonaro for the Social Liberal Party (PSL). Alckmin is backed by a 9-party coalition that will give him an advantage in radio and television advertising time. Bolsonaro leads polls that exclude Lula, but his candidacy has caused significant controversy due to homophobic remarks and statements defending the past military dictatorship.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) talks have officially reached a year, beginning in August 2017. Mexico and the United States have most recently stalled the negotiations as they work out bilateral differences, specifically regarding automobiles. Mexico has said that an agreement could be reached by the end of August, and Canada’s foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland says she is “very, very keen” to finish the talks as soon as possible.

Following 144 reports of sexual abuse accusing 158 church workers has led Chilean authorities to open new investigations into 36 bishops, clerics, and workers in the nation’s Roman Catholic Church. Previously, when sexual abuse had been reported, the cases would fall into the country’s statute of limitations and left to the church to handle, often with insignificant punishment if any. Already, 108 cases have been closed, ending with 22 convicted, 2 exonerated, and 22 sent to different judicial offices because the crimes were committed before 2000, some dating as far back as 1960. Of those accused, 139 are bishops, priests, or deacons. Of the victims, at least 178 out of the 266 were children or teenagers. Pope Francis summoned 34 Chilean bishops to Rome in May to challenge them on reports of their “grave negligence” handling the sexual abuse accusations. Francis has now recognized the nation’s effort and vowed to exchange information and assist prosecutors investigating the allegations.

In June, Iván Duque was elected Colombia’s President after winning 53.9% of the vote in a second-round runoff election. Tuesday, Duque was officially sworn in as the country’s President. Duque promised in his campaign to lower taxes for businesses, fight corruption, and crack down on crime and armed groups. Duque is known to oppose the 2016 peace  with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), but maintains that he is committed to bringing peace to the nation. He now pledges to improve economic growth and unite the country. Duque has become the nation’s youngest president, and his vice president, Marta Lucía Ramirez, is Colombia’s first female vice president. As he left office, former President Juan Manuel Santos condemned the growing violence against human rights leaders, calling for an agreement to protect activists. Since January 2016, 311 rights activists have been murdered in Colombia, and the United Nations stated the new government must act to “consolidate peace” and address the increased violence.

El Salvador
A month-long drought has caused the El Salvadoran government to declare a “red alert” emergency on the nation’s crops. No rain for 33 days and temperatures reaching 41℃ resulted in the loss of the equivalent of 1.5 million 60-kg bags of corn. The Ministry of Agriculture and Cattle announced it will aid producers recover their crops and use public funds to ensure food supplies.

Former President Antonio Saca pled guilty to embezzlement and money laundering of over $300 million while in office. Saca, along with 6 other former high-level public officials are accused of diverting treasury funds into personal bank accounts in order advertise for the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, and benefit individuals and companies connected to the former president. Originally, Saca was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but is looking for 10 years following the plea deal. Saca is one of three consecutive former presidents accused of diverting public funds.

Haiti’s Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned last month following days of violent protests over fuel price increases. Under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to get rid of the fuel subsidies Haitians rely on, the Haitian government had announced a rise in fuel prices of up to 50%. This announcement led to widespread unrest as Haitians took to the streets, setting up roadblocks, lighting tires on fire, looting businesses, and firing bullets. At least four people died during the unrest despite the government immediately suspending the fuel price increases.

Mexico elected Andrés Manuel López Obrador as its new President early last month. López Obrador’s win signals a new wave in Mexican politics, as he intends to bring leftist policies to the country that differ from those of the previous right-wing administration. The new president has promised “profound change” by addressing the nation’s corruption and violence issues. López Obrador has also promised to double pension for the elderly; end presidential immunity; reduce compensation for top public officials; increase wages for teachers, doctors, police, and armed forces; and increase the minimum wage near the US-Mexico border in an effort to lower migration and ease bilateral tensions. Additionally, López Obrador has announced he will end fracking in the country and free up public funds to bring high-quality free healthcare to Mexicans. The new administration will also demand higher labor standards for foreign companies and adopt a “hands-off” policy towards other nations in the region, specifically Nicaragua and Venezuela.

According to the Organization of American States (OAS), the death toll in the Nicaragua protests has reached 317 since the protests began in April. President Daniel Ortega’s government recognizes only 195 deaths, while the Nicaraguan Pro-Human Rights Commission totals 450 killed. The prominent Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights estimates that around 600 people have also gone missing since the violence began. However, the organization closed its Managua office last week following numerous death threats towards its workers. Similarly, doctors, health workers, and teachers have been fired for “political reasons.” Around 23,000 Nicaraguans have fled into neighboring Costa Rica, seeking refugee protection from the violence. The United States has sanctioned several top Nicaraguan officials, restricted visas, taken back vehicles it donated to Nicaraguan police, and offered financial assistance to the opposition groups against Ortega.
Paraguay’s Agriculture Minister Luis Gneiting and Vice Minister Vincent Ramirez died in a plane crash late last month. The two government officials, along with the plane’s pilot and co-pilot, died when the plane crashed only 6 kilometers from the Ayolas airport where the plane took off. Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the crash.
United States
Following the controversial practice of separating families as they reach the US border trying to seek asylum, President Donald Trump reversed his policy, promising to reunite children with their parents. Nevertheless, around 2,500 children were separated from their parents while the policy was in effect, and even when the court-ordered date for family reunification came, only 1,400 children were successfully reunited with their families. Central American officials pressure US officials to provide more information on the children still separated from their families. In many cases, parents were deported back to their home countries while the children remained in detention centers. Now, the US government, under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, are seeking to make it harder for immigrants to gain asylum in the United States. Sessions has directed asylum officers to make the “credible fear” test harder to pass, and to reject asylum to immigrants fleeing domestic abuse and gang violence. Sessions has taken initiative by reversing domestic violence asylum claims himself, and ordering judges to follow his precedent in their rulings. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration for removing asylum protections from victims of gang violence and domestic abuse. Further, Sessions is being threatened with contempt after attempting to remove a woman and her daughter from the United States while her deportation is undergoing an appeals hearing. Following the government’s actions, a US District Court Judge granted the ACLU’s request for an emergency halt on all expedited removals of immigrants seeking asylum from domestic abuse and gang violence.
Last week President Nicolas Maduro was the target of an assassination attempt while he addressed the National Guard at an outdoor ceremony. Two drones loaded with explosives exploded near where the President was speaking, causing troops to flee the area and injuring seven soldiers. Maduro was quick to blame Colombia for the attack, but opposition groups have claimed responsibility for orchestrating the assassination attempt. Venezuelan authorities have arrested six people allegedly involved. Meanwhile, Venezuelans continue to flee into neighboring countries as the nation’s economic crisis continues. Colombia granted over 400,000 Venezuelans temporary permission to stay in Colombia for two years and promised access to social services. The north-western Brazilian state of Roraima has received the majority of Venezuelans fleeing into Brazil, which has overwhelmed social services and increased crime in the poor and sparsely-populated state. The government closed the border briefly last week, but reopened it only hours later.
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