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Catch up on the news with Open Americas! 

In the headlines: Brazil's elections are heating up, Colombian peace talks still on hold, Ecuador loses a 25-year lawsuit to Chevron, mass grave found in Mexico, and more.

Brazil’s presidential race continues to evolve. Last week, presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro was stabbed during a campaign rally and underwent emergency surgery on Thursday. Bolsonaro is unlikely to be cleared to resume campaigning prior to the October vote, but saw a 2% increase in the polls following the incident. Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was given the final blow in his bid for presidency, and has now officially succeeded his candidacy to Fernando Haddad. However, Haddad has also been charged with corruption. While this accusation will not affect his ability to run for president, it could be used against him in his candidacy. Haddad is not the only candidate being charged with corruption. Presidential candidate Geraldo Alckmin is accused of receiving illegal campaign contributions from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Similarly, President Michel Temer is facing the third charge against him since he became president in 2016, this time for receiving over $300,000 from Odebrecht. Meanwhile, presidential candidates continue to campaign and frame debate around violence, corruption, radicalization, and public services. Bolsonaro still leads in the polls, but support for Haddad is increasing and is quickly catching up to the right-wing candidate.

Peace talks with Colombian rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN) have been suspended since August. President Ivan Duque has made it clear that talks will only resume once the ELN ceases all criminal activity - including holding hostages, kidnapping, and attacking oil pipelines. The ELN says these conditions are “unacceptable,” but states that it intends to free its current hostages anyway. The rebel group has released six captives so far, but still has around 10 civilians in captivity.

In the culmination of a 25-year lawsuit against Chevron, an international court in The Hague ruled in favor of the US company. The lawsuit began in 1993 by around 30,000 Ecuadorians in response to the environmental degradation and health effects on indigenous tribes associated with Texaco’s oil drilling in northeast Ecuador. Texaco (later acquired by Chevron) began operations in Ecuador in 1967 and was charged with spilling 18 billion gallons of toxic waste water and 17 million gallons of crude oil into the Amazon rainforest. In 2011, Chevron was found guilty for “extensively polluting” by an Ecuadorian judge, which was upheld by Ecuador’s Supreme Court last year. However, The Hague ruled in favor of Chevron on the grounds that Texaco paid $40 million to clean up their damage in the 1990s and that the Ecuadorian ruling was obtained by fraud. Chevron is now being awarded hundreds of millions of dollars by The Hague.

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ordered President Jimmy Morales to allow Ivan Velasquez, the head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), back into Guatemala after Morales banned the head of the United Nations anti-corruption body from re-entering the country two weeks ago. Morales argued that Velasquez is a threat to Guatemala’s “governability, public order and justice,” and ordered he be denied entry upon his return from the United States. Morales also announced last month that he would not renew CICIG’s mandate, which is set to end September 2019. Velasquez has been a pioneer in fighting corruption in Guatemala by launching prosecutions against numerous high-level officials and former President Otto Pérez Molina. Even Morales and his family have been subject to multiple investigations under Velasquez’s orders. Many politicians and activists see the expulsion as unconstitutional and a threat to fighting corruption in the country. Morales’s statement asked the United Nations to replace Velasquez, but the UN Secretary General ordered Velasquez to continue running CICIG from outside of the country for now.

The discovery of 166 skulls in mass graves in Veracruz state two weeks ago brings the number of corpses found in mass graves throughout Mexico to 696 since the beginning of 2017. The grave recently found is believed to be two years old and comprised of 32 different burial pits. The bodies are believed to be victims of kidnappings and killings by Mexican gangs, who are known for extortion. The site of the latest discovery is also where 47 bodies were found last year, causing civilians and reporters to question the abilities of the excavators, investigators, and law enforcement.

Nicaraguans throughout the country are calling for the release of political prisoners who are detained as criminals and terrorists by the government. Families of activists marched in Managua on September 9, but organizers of sister marches were prevented from taking to the streets in León and Masaya by groups of pro-government supporters. The opposition Civic Alliance also called for a general strike before the march in an effort to demand the release of activists and push for continued dialogue with the government. The strike was supported by private business leaders as the nation’s economy and private businesses struggle to survive within the unrest.
Less than four months after moving its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, President Mario Abdo Benitez announced that Paraguay will move its embassy back to Tel Aviv. The embassy move was made under the previous administration of Horacio Cartes and was widely criticized in the country. Israel responded to the decision by closing its embassy in Asunción and issuing a statement saying the move will strain ties between the two countries.
United States
The United States has recalled its ambassadors from El Salvador, Panama, and the Dominican Republic due to their decisions to end diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favor of China. The ambassadors will work with the State Department to “discuss ways in which the United States strong, independent, democratic institutions and economies throughout Central America and the Caribbean.” While the United States does not formally recognize Taiwan, it is one of its strongest international backers. The United States warns that China is using economic incentives to lure countries into economic dependency rather than form partnerships.

The Trump administration is struggling to subdue immigration into the country, as shelters are running around 90% capacity and the number of detained migrant children has reached the highest number ever recorded. Earlier this month, the government proposed removing court-ordered time limits on detaining migrant children in an effort to dissuade families from crossing the border. For 20 years, a consent decree has prevented families and children from being held indefinitely in secured facilities; it sets a 20-day limit for detention due to harmful psychological effects the shelters have on children. However, this change does not address the capacity of shelters, which are becoming overcrowded due to reduce number of children being released into the custody of sponsors or family already in the United States. The Trump administration also tried to move deportation efforts into Mexico by offering to pay Mexico to help deport undocumented migrants. The idea was to prevent migrants from reaching the US-Mexico border by deporting them from Mexico first, but the proposal was largely criticised by US representatives and rejected by Mexico’s incoming government.
Venezuelans continue to face harsh economic realities within their country. Many struggle to find food to each eat day. Some have chosen to return to Venezuela through President Nicolas Maduro’s offer to pay for flights back to Venezuela. However, many remain discontent with the economic situation. Maduro continues to explore new economic measures and opportunities, and visited China last week in an effort to acquire more loans. The meetings ended with Venezuela giving China more stake in the country’s oil sector, but further financial support for Venezuela was not mentioned. Meanwhile, international discussion of Venezuela has centered around the revelation that rebel Venezuelan military officers met with a US representative to discuss plans to overthrow Maduro. While the United States never officially supported or aided the coup plans, the US participation in the meetings was seen to represent an approval of the plans. The head of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, also stated last week that the option of military intervention cannot be ruled out. In response to Almagro’s comment, 11 of the 14 nations that make up the Lima Group, which was founded last year in response to the situation in Venezuela, issued a statement rejecting the military intervention and pressing for a peaceful resolution.
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