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Catch up on the news with Open Americas! 

Read about a devastating bus crash in Ecuador, the crisis in Venezuela, Brazilian electoral politics, and more below. 

Brazil's Workers Party (PT) officially registered former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as its presidential candidate in the upcoming October elections. Tens of thousands of supporters were in Brasilia when PT announced his registration last Wednesday, many having traveled there from all around the nation. Lula currently leads election polls, and has seen his lead increase since the last poll in May. However, as he is serving a 12-year sentence for money laundering and corruption, it is likely electoral judges will declare Lula ineligible to run for president. Brazil’s “clean slate” law states that anyone convicted of a crime that is upheld on appeal cannot serve in public office for eight years. Lula has spoken out against his imprisonment, calling it “the latest phase in a slow-motion coup designed to permanently marginalize progressive forces in Brazil.” The United Nations Human Rights Committee issued a statement to the Brazilian government on Friday requesting it does “not prevent [Lula] from standing for election in the 2018 presidential elections.” The UN committee stated that Lula cannot be barred from running “until his appeals before the courts have been completed in fair judicial hearings.” Brazil’s UN delegation agreed to pass on the recommendations to the country’s judiciary, but insisted that the committee’s conclusions are not legally binding. The top electoral court is expected to decide on Lula’s candidacy in the next three weeks. Meanwhile, candidates have started campaigning, and President Michel Temer publicly endorsed the Brazilian Social Democracy Candidate Geraldo Alckmin as his own party, Brazilian Democratic Movement, candidate has tried to distance himself from the unpopular president.

Residents of Pacaraima, the border town between Venezuela and Brazil that has become the main entrypoint for Venezuelans fleeing their country, attacked migrant camps this weekend following a reported assault on a local merchant who was stabbed, beaten, and robbed by Venezuelan immigrants. What began as a peaceful protest from residents against the toll the immigrants have taken on their quality of life became violent as the protestors assaulted the immigrant camps by burning tents, bulldozing informal shelters, and chasing Venezuelans. As many as 1,200 Venezuelans fled back into their own country, fearing violence from the Brazilians. The Brazilians government stated Saturday that it would send 60 more soldiers to Roraima, the state along the Venezuela-Brazil border, to monitor the refugee situation. However, the main cause of the protest and violent outburst is discontent from the residents of Pacaraima, who see money being used for the migrant crisis, but not to help the Brazilians affected by the immigration surge.

Around 3:00 am last Tuesday morning, a Colombian-registered bus lost control along a highway outside of Ecuador’s capital Quito, killing at least 24 people and injuring 22. It is believed the bus lost its brakes, hit an oncoming all-terrain vehicle, and rolled down a hill into houses along the highway. The victims included mainly Colombians, Venezuelans, and the Ecuadorians in the oncoming vehicle. This crash is the second deadly highway crash in less than three days in Ecuador. Last weekend a bus filled with fans of Barcelona FC, the nation’s most popular football club, ran off the highway and flipped, killing 12 people and injuring 30. The cause of last weekend’s crash is still under investigation. Car crashes are among the top causes of death in the country.

Puerto Rico
Almost a year after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, the government is beginning to recognize an official death toll count. In a report posted in July, the Puerto Rican government acknowledged over 1,400 deaths were likely caused by the hurricane. The report is a preliminary document and the government is waiting on official numbers to be released from a George Washington University study that is expected to come out within weeks. Nevertheless, Puerto Rico’s federal affairs administration expects the 1,427-person estimate to be a “realistic estimate,” far exceeding the original count of 64 people. The 1,427-person estimate was calculated based on deaths in the last four months of 2017 compared to average deaths for the same period over the last four years. The Puerto Rican government is also requesting $139 billion in recovery funds as the country still struggles to restore electricity.

United States 
Defense Secretary James Mattis is on a tour of Latin America in an effort to “deepen relations with hemispheric partners.” Mattis is visiting Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Chile. In Brazil, Mattis spoke about the necessity for the US and Brazil to work together on security relations and space research, an area where China has growing influence in South America. In Argentina, Mattis met with Argentine Defense Minister Oscar Aguad, and the two agreed on pursuing closer cooperation on military education and training. Mattis is set to visit Chile and Colombia this week. Overall, the US goal for Mattis’s visit to Latin America is to encourage partnership with the hemispheric neighbors based on building trust and listening to ally advice.

President Nicolas Maduro put a new currency into circulation on Monday in an effort to fight inflation facing the country, where the currency has increased 32,714% and is predicted to reach 1,000,000% by the end of the year. The new currency introduced to Venezuela is intended to cut five zeroes from the existing currency and will be called the “sovereign bolívar.” The “sovereign bloívar” will be backed by the petro, the nation’s cryptocurrency that is backed by oil reserves. However, much of Venezuela’s oil is pledged to pay off debts to Russia and China, and the international price of oil is volatile. As Maduro moves to solve his nation’s inflation crisis by printing more money, he receives international concern and Venezuelans struggle to calculate their new earnings. Maduro will also be raising the minimum wage 60-fold and increasing the price of gas to international prices for Venezuelans who do not sign up for government identification cards and register their cars with the government.

Fourteen people have been arrested following the attempted drone assassination of Maduro earlier this month. Of those arrested there are two high-ranking military officials, a lawmaker, and several young men. Twenty suspects remain at large, likely in neighboring Colombia and the United States. Under the impression that two suspects were hiding in Peru, Maduro asked the Peruvian government to help locate the two suspects. The Peruvian government responded that there is no evidence that either suspect entered or exited the country. Similarly, Maduro asked for FBI help capturing suspects. US National Security Advisor John Bolton responded that if Venezuela presents hard information that people on US soil are violating US criminal law, then they will join the investigation. Meanwhile, Venezuelans continue to flee the country, mainly due to malnutrition, to seek refuge in neighboring countries. As of last Tuesday, an official estimate from the United Nations calculated that 2.3 million people had fled Venezuela as of June.

Open Americas (OA) is a platform for sharing content that engages with contemporary social issues issues facing the Western Hemisphere. We advocate a diversity of thought through research, literature, reviews, and photographs. OA does not strictly adhere to any political or religious doctrine and encourages open, respectful debate and critical thought. Visit us at 
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