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Catch up on the news with Open Americas! 

In headlines: Petrobras payout, death of human rights activists in Colombia, killings of Mexican politicians, and Guatemalan and Honduran support for U.S.-proposed change of Israel's capital.


On Wednesday, Brazil’s state-owned oil company, Petroleo Brasileiro (Petrobras), agreed to pay a $2.95 billion settlement to US shareholders - the largest payout in the United States by a foreign entity. The settlement comes after top officials at Petrobras have been accused of accepting almost $3 billion in bribes for public projects. Despite agreeing to paying the settlement, Petrobras ensured that “the settlement did not constitute an admission of wrongdoing or misconduct, and that it ‘expressly denies liability.’” The settlement still has to be approved by the US District Courts for the Southern District of New York. Should the settlement be approved, it will represent another step as Petrobras tries to emerge from the Operação Lava Jato scandal. However, the settlement will also reduce the chances of Petrobras investors receiving a 2017 dividend, and will make the third year the company has not paid a dividend.

According to the UN’s Human Rights Office in Colombia, 105 human rights defenders were killed in the country in 2017. Over half of these activists were killed by hit men hired by organized crime groups, and most of the killings occurred in areas vacated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) since the peace agreement was signed last year. In 2016, 127 human rights defenders and community leaders were killed, in comparison to 59 in 2015 and 45 in 2014. In 2017, most of the victims were from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. Worldwide last year, 3 out of 4 recorded murders of human rights defenders occurred in the Americas.

In the past week, 5 Mexican politicians were killed, ahead of the upcoming elections this summer. This summer, there are over 3,400 positions at all levels, including the presidency, up for election. The recent killings are just another reminder of the violence associated with Mexican politics, where drug gangs regularly hold influence, particularly at the local level. Since President Enrique Peña Nieto became president in 2012, 61 current and former mayors were killed - up from 49 in the previous administration. Four out of the 5 politicians killed in the last week were associated with the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and were “taken as a warning against participating” in the upcoming elections. The motives to last week’s killings remain unknown.

United States

In the December 21 United Nations vote, initiated by the United States, for unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, 128 countries voted in support of maintaining the international consensus that Jerusalem’s status can only be settled with a peace deal. The countries that supported the US initiative were Israel, Guatemala, Honduras, Togo, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and the Marshall Islands. Guatemala responded to its vote by announcing that it too would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Both Guatemala and Honduras have long-standing ties with Israel, and want to maintain good relations with the United States as Washington cracks down on illegal immigration, regional trade, and foreign aid. Furthermore, Guatemala’s support comes from the influential evangelical community, who has consistently advocated for Israel’s right to have Jerusalem as its capital. Honduras’s recently re-elected President Juan Orlando Hernández also wants to remain in good relations with the United States, as Washington officially recognized him as President following the contentious election and is still debating deporting 57,000 Hondurans living in the US under temporary protected status.


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