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Catch up on the news with Open Americas! 

Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Haiti, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, United States, Venezuela

After a three-week trial in Florida, a US jury returned a guilty verdict against former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and his defense minister Jose Carlos Sanchez Berzain for murders committed by security forces in 2003 protests. The lawsuit had been filed in 2007 by relatives of Bolivians who died during the period of conflict, known as the “Gas War.” The jury declared the two defendants guilty for authorizing the use deadly force during street demonstrations, leading to deaths of mainly indigenous Bolivians. At minimum, according to The New York Times, 64 died; 400 harmed.The defense can still appeal the decision, but even President Evo Morales praised the plaintiffs for their “perseverance” in attaining justice.

Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva may be put in jail while he appeals his corruption conviction, declares Brazil’s Supreme Court in their Thursday 6-to-5 decision. Under Brazilian electoral law, no candidate who has been convicted of a crime upheld on appeal can run for elected office for 8 years after the sentencing. Therefore, Lula’s conviction leaves the October presidential election wide open as he had been leading in the polls. Lula turned himself in to police on Saturday, beginning his 12-year sentence. Protesters gathered outside of federal police headquarters upon the former president’s arrival, but no other large demonstrations have occurred throughout the country. However, lawyers continue to push the Supreme Court to free the former president.

Costa Rica
Carlos Alvarado Quesada won Costa Rica’s presidential election last week, signifying progress for LGBTQ rights in the country. Alvarado Quesada ran on a platform to legalize same-sex marriage, contrary to his opponent Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz who promised to halt sex education, limit abortion access, and pull Costa Rica out of the Inter-American human rights court. Alvarado Quesada’s running mate, Epsy Campbell Barr, became the country’s first female black vice president.

Three Ecuadorian journalists were kidnapped while investigating rising violence along the Colombian border. Authorities believe the journalists were kidnapped by a “FARC dissident group” led by a former guerilla “El Guacho.” Last week, the journalists appeared in a brief video with chains around their necks. They relayed their captors’ demands that President Lenin Moreno “release three unidentified combatants and end anti-narcotics cooperation with Colombia in exchange” for the journalists freedom. 

Haitian freelance journalist Vladjimir Legagneur disappeared on assignment earlier in March in an area of Port-au-Prince known as Grand Ravine - “one of the poorest and most dangerous districts,” according to The Washington Post. After weeks without news on Legagneur, hundreds of Haitian journalists took to the streets asking for police inquiry into Legagneur’s disappearance. Police found a body in the area where Legagneur disappeared, but it is unclear if it is the journalist until DNA tests are done.
Mexican prosecutors arrested six individuals for the death of journalist Carlos Dominguez Rodriguez in Nuevo Laredo. It remains unclear why Dominguez Rodriguez was targeted and violently stabbed in front of family. In addition, two ex-police officers received guilty verdicts related to the 2015 killing of journalist Moises Sanchez Cerezo.

Elections are set to occur April 22nd. We expect the historic Colorado Party to prevail with its candidate, Senator Mario Abdo Benitez. Our overview is available here.
Facing impeachment, Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned after tapes were leaked of the President’s allies attempting to buy votes. Kuczynski was already under investigation for corruption linked to Brazilian corporation Odebrecht. Martin Vizcarra, Kuczynski’s first-vice President and Canadian ambassador, was sworn into the presidency on March 23.
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico’s Department of Education announced on Thursday that it will be closing 283 schools this summer. Hurricane Maria, combined with years of economic downturn, has led many Puerto Ricans to flee the island - with about half a million heading northward to the U.S. Since last May, school enrollment has dropped by 38,700 students and almost half of schools are operating at 60% capacity.
United States
Without the US Congress or Mexico paying for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, President Donald Trump announced he will send National Guard troops to provide assistance to the US Customs and Border Protection. The Mexican government responded asserting “that if the announced deployment of the National Guard turned into a mobilization of the border, that would gravely damage the bilateral relationship.” Mexico’s Senate called for the government to “end cooperation with the US on migration and security,” and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who currently leads in the presidential polls, stands firmly against Trump’s decision to deploy the National Guard. Trump is not the first US President to send the National Guard to the US-Mexican border -  every President since Ronald Reagan has called the National Guard for “temporary missions."

Donald Trump was set to start his tour of South America on Friday, but cancelled it Monday. The White House cited the need for Trump to be in the US to respond to the suspected and deadly chemical attack in Syria. Trump proved more concerned with the FBI raiding his personal lawyer’s office.
A jail fire broke out at a Venezuelan jail in Valencia, killing 68 people late last month - one of the worst prison fires in the country’s history. The death toll was higher than it might have been due to rampant prison overcrowding in Venezuela. In 2015, almost 50,000 people were held in prisons designed to fit 19,000 inmates. When the inmates’ families came to determine if their loved ones were among the dead, they were met with tear gas.
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