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Catch up on the news with Open Americas! 

Protests in Brazil, a devastating volcanic eruption in Guatemala, election updates on Mexico, Nicaragua, and Paraguay, and more. Read on.

A 10-day protest over rising oil prices undertaken by truckers and oil workers halted Brazil’s economy last week. Truckers blocked roadways, bus and metro services were reduced, several flights were cancelled, and the CEO of the state-owned oil company Petrobras, Pedro Parente, resigned. The strikes led to shortages of perishable foods, fruits, and vegetables, and cities in the interior of the country were hit the hardest. While the protest started over rising oil prices, unemployed oil workers, motorcycle couriers, and public transportation workers joined the protests to express similar grievances to the government. President Michel Temer threatened military intervention but the protests continued. A Datafolha poll found that 87% of Brazilians supported the strike, but were against paying for tax increases or spending cuts to pay for fuel subsidies. Rather, Temer took money from sectors like health and education to pay for the new fuel subsidies. Parente resigned in protest of these subsidies, seeing them as “a sign of new, unwelcome interference.” Food has returned to store shelves, but Brazilians throughout the country feel the aftershocks of the economic halt and uncertainty surrounding how the new subsidies will play out persists.

The Fuego volcano, sitting less than 30 miles from Guatemala City, erupted Sunday. The death toll from the eruption is up to 65 and is expected to rise to “probably in the hundreds.” The eruption buried towns and the number of people missing is still unclear. The volcano released high volumes of pyroclastic flows, or mixtures of rocks and hot gas, creating new risks for eye infections, respiratory illnesses, and acid rain. Over 3,000 people have been evacuated from the area as rescue crews try to reach remote areas in search of survivors.

Mexican reporter Hector Gonzalez Antonio, known for his writing on security and politics, was beaten to death in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas last week. Gonzalez is the third reporter to be killed in Mexico in the past three weeks, and the sixth this year. Many blame the violence on impunity and the spike has hurt President Enrique Peña Nieto’s popularity, fueling support for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftist presidential hopeful leading the polls. However, reports show that the presidential election, only a month away, is filled with dirty money and fake social media bots. The anti-graft group Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity found that for every peso spent by political parties on campaigning and reported to electoral authorities, an additional 15 pesos is unreported. Similarly, studies show that every political party uses fake social media accounts to boost their online presence and to spread fake news. These electoral tactics are not unique to this election and have been an issue in Mexico for years.

Peace talks between President Daniel Ortega and protesters broke down last week as anti-government protests continue. Protesters call for Ortega and his wife to step down as President and Vice President, accusing them of political repression. Ortega maintains that the opposition is being taken over by criminals and gang members. The Organization of American States (OAS) called for early elections last week, and Nicaragua’s main business lobby joined them in urging early elections following more deadly protests; the death toll now stands at over 110 people. Vice President Rosario Murillo called for new peace talks on Monday, but student protesters and the Catholic Church refuse to resume talks while Nicaraguans “continue to be repressed and murdered.” The OAS announced Friday it would be sending negotiators to Nicaragua to discuss electoral reforms with the Ortega administration, but Nicaraguan discontent continues to mount as killings continue and signs of state-complicit torture emerge.

In order to take an active voting seat in the Senate, President Horacio Cartes recently offered his resignation to Congress. This came two months before the end of his 5-year term. Under Paraguayan law, Presidents get a permanent Senate seat with a voice but no vote after their term in office. Cartes ran and was elected to a Senate seat in the April elections, but in order to secure a voting position in Senate, he must end his presidency early. Congress has yet to accept or decline the Cartes’s resignation, as his opponents boycotted and prevented the vote from happening. According to the Associated Press, if Cartes does not start his Senate term, he could possibly be subject to a corruption investigation, although he has until June 30 to leave office. Vice-President and former Supreme Court judge Alicia Pucheta will assume the presidency once Cartes resigns. Pucheta will be the first woman in history to lead Paraguay and will hold office until president-elect Mario Abdo Benitez takes office on August 15.

United States
The Trump administration announced new US tariffs on aluminum and steel coming from the European Union, Mexico, and Canada that took affect on Friday. The tariffs, which will be 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum, are part of Trump’s plan to gain leverage in trade negotiations. However, these countries almost immediately retaliated, drafting counter-tariffs on US goods and vowing to bring the tariffs before the World Trade Organization. Trump has received criticism from politicians, businesses, and economists for the decision to impose tariffs on key allies. Mexico announced Tuesday that it will impose tariffs on US steel and farm products, ending the countries’ preferential tariff treatment. The tariffs threaten  talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but the Trump administration has revived the idea of replacing NAFTA with bilateral agreements with Mexico and Canada - despite opposition from both Mexico and Canada.

The Venezuelan government released political prisoners on Friday in an effort to ease tensions following the presidential vote in May. President Nicolas Maduro claims responsibility for the prisoners’ release, asking for “no more violence, please. No more war.” A total of 79 prisoners were released, but over 300 political prisoners remain in jail. The released prisoners remain under watch and are forbidden from using social media, talking to the media, or leaving the country.


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