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Venezuela election: Fourteen ambassadors recalled after Maduro win

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Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro is facing an..

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Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro is facing an international backlash after winning his second six-year term, in a landslide vote marred by an opposition boycott and claims of vote-rigging.

Fourteen countries including Argentina, Brazil and Canada have recalled their ambassadors from Caracas in protest.

The US has imposed new economic sanctions after Sunday's election.

Venezuela is suffering from food shortages stemming from its economic crisis and voter turnout was low.

However Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Mr Maduro on his re-election on Monday, wishing him "success in resolving the social and economic issues facing the country" in a statement.

What was the result?

With more than 90% of the votes counted, Mr Maduro had 5.8 million votes, or 67.7% of the total, the electoral council announced. The main opposition candidate, Henri Falcón, stood on 1.8 million votes or 21.2%.

What has the international reaction been?

President Donald Trump has imposed new economic sanctions on Venezuela, aimed at preventing its officials from selling off state oil assets in return for kickbacks.

The US Vice President Mike Pence earlier denounced the election as a "sham" and "illegitimate".

The US had already slapped sanctions on Mr Maduro and his senior aides, as well as banned US companies from buying any more debt from Caracas or the state oil company.

"The United States stands with democratic nations in support of the Venezuelan people and will take swift economic and diplomatic actions to support the restoration of their democracy," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

Even before the election took place, the United States, Canada, the European Union and a dozen Latin American countries said they would not recognise the results.

Now Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Panama and Peru are among those scaling back their diplomatic relations with Caracas.

But as well as Russia, El Salvador, Cuba and China congratulated President Maduro on his election win.

Beijing said the parties should "respect the choices made by the people of Venezuela".

Why is there a row about the turnout?

The National Electoral Council (CNE) put it at just 46% but the opposition alleges it was even lower.

Mr Falcón rejected the result soon after the polls closed and called for new elections.

"We do not recognise this electoral process as valid… we have to have new elections in Venezuela," he said.

Due to the opposition boycott, a win by Mrt Maduro had been widely expected. What observers were more interested in was to see how many Venezuelans would turn out to vote.

The CNE said turnout would probably rise to 48%, still well below the figure in the 2013 presidential election, when almost 80% of eligible voters cast their ballots.

The opposition, however, accused the CNE of inflating its figures and claimed the real number was closer to 30%. A source within the CNE told Reuters that only 32.3% of eligible voters had cast their ballot by 18:00 local time, when most voting stations closed.

What was President Maduro's reaction?

Mr Maduro and his supporters were jubilant. The 55-year-old told cheering crowds outside the presidential palace in Caracas that "the revolution is here to stay!".

His supporters chanted "let's go, Nico!" as fireworks went off and confetti was fired in the air.

He also mocked his rival, saying Mr Falcón had been left "groggy" by the knockout victory Mr Maduro had achieved.

And while on the one hand he called for dialogue with the opposition, he also told supporters that "the opposition must leave us alone to govern".

Previous attempts at dialogue between the opposition and the government have failed.

Why is the opposition crying foul?

The main opposition coalition had warned that the election would not be free and fair.

It said the poll had been brought forward from December 2018 to take advantage of disarray within opposition ranks and that some of the most promising candidates had been banned from standing or jailed, while many others had fled the country.

That is why it called for a boycott. Mr Falcón however broke ranks, arguing Venezuelans should be given a chance to vote Mr Maduro out of office.

How did people react in Venezuela?

By Katy Watson, BBC South America correspondent, Caracas

Such was the expectation that Nicolás Maduro would win that his rivals admitted defeat, denouncing the result before it had even been announced. There was never going to be any result other than a Maduro victory – and Venezuelans knew that.

It feels like most people here are no longer outraged. Disappointed, maybe, but it's par for the course in a country where political freedom feels increasingly limited.

Mr Maduro has promised change in Venezuela – why he needed a second mandate to do that is anyone's guess. He's already been in the job five years. Added to that, change for the better under Mr Maduro is unlikely. With international pressure likely to build after these results, and with a crumbling economy, his job is harder than ever – as are the lives of Venezuelans.

What next?

As well as the US, the European Union and Latin American countries had also warned ahead of the vote that they would take further measures against the Venezuelan government if it went ahead with the election.

The exodus of Venezuelans leaving their country is expected to speed up further. According to International Office of Migration figures, the number of Venezuelans living abroad increased to an estimated 1.6 million in 2017 from 700,000 in 2015.

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They have been driven out by Venezuela's severe economic crisis which has led to shortages of food and medicine and the world's highest inflation rate.

Those leaving speak of the struggle to feed their families and growing levels of child malnutrition which have hit 70% in some rural areas.

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Latin America

Coronavirus: What’s behind Latin America’s oxygen shortages?

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Before the clinic ran out of oxygen, Maria Auxiliadora da Cruz had been showing encouraging signs of progress against Covid-19. On 14 January, her oxygen levels had been above the normal level of 95% but, within hours of being deprived of that vital resource, her stats plummeted to 35%.

At this point, patients would normally be given intubation and oxygen by machine. Instead, the 67-year-old retired nurse died. “It was horrible,” her grieving daughter-in-law Thalita Rocha told the BBC. “It was a catastrophe. Many elderly patients began to deteriorate and turn blue.”

In an emotional video that went viral on social media, she described what was happening at Policlínica Redenção in the northern Brazilian city of Manaus. “We’re in a desperate situation. An entire emergency unit has simply run out of oxygen… A lot of people are dying.”

Brazil has the world’s second-highest Covid death toll with more than 221,000 fatalities. In Manaus, the health system has collapsed twice during the pandemic and deaths doubled between December and January.

Now there are fears the lack of oxygen supplies seen there could unfold elsewhere in Brazil and even in other parts of Latin America, where a second wave of Covid-19, in many countries, is proving to be worse than the first one.

In Peru, some hospitals have been unable to meet the demand brought by a steep rise in cases in recent weeks. As a result, patients’ relatives have had to hunt for oxygen in the black market. In some cases, they come back with nothing.

A black market is also thriving in Mexico, where more than 155,000 have died in the pandemic. To make things worse, there have been reports of thieves taking oxygen cylinders from hospitals and clinics.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) one in five Covid-19 patients will require oxygen. In severe cases, this rises to three in five. The organisation says some hospitals have seen demand for oxygen increase between five and seven times above normal levels because of the influx of patients with severe and critical disease.

The most dramatic situation in the world is in Brazil, where nearly 340,000 oxygen cylinders are needed every day, according to the Covid-19 Oxygen Needs tracker. The online tool helps estimate the scale of the challenge for policymakers and was developed by the Covid-19 Respiratory Care Response Coordination partnership which includes Path and Every Breath Counts.

Also according to the tracker, Mexico and Colombia each need more than 100,000 cylinders daily.

So how does a hospital run out of oxygen?

Oxygen has been considered an essential medicine by the WHO since 2017, but Lisa Smith, from Path’s market dynamics program, says ensuring adequate supply depends on many “components” falling into place.

This includes not only sources of production, but also training to enable medical staff to monitor and manage oxygen levels.1px transparent line

Medical oxygen is produced in large quantities at plants and delivered to hospitals in two ways: either in bulk in liquid tanks or as pressurised gas in cylinders containing smaller volumes.

Liquid oxygen is the cheapest and best technology available but it requires hospitals to have the right infrastructure to pipe oxygen to the patient’s bedside. This is common in developed countries such as the US and those in Europe.

Cylinders do not require pipes and can be delivered to clinics without a sophisticated infrastructure. However, their distribution on a smaller scale means they are less cost-effective, in addition to being cumbersome to transport and handle, which also carries an increased risk of cross-contamination.

Another source of production is on-site oxygen plants, which produce oxygen to be piped or compressed into cylinders. The WHO says it is currently trying to map how many such plants exist in the countries.

After Manaus reached crisis point, oxygen donations were sent from the federal government and other states – as the local providers said they were unable to increase production – and across the border from Venezuela. But even transporting them became a problem.

Jesem Orellana, an epidemiologist at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, said the risk of shortage continued and was exacerbated by global demand.

According to Path, medical oxygen accounts for just 5-10% of the world’s oxygen production. The rest is used in various industries, such as mining, chemical and pharmaceutical.

“We need to think about oxygen as much as we think about electricity, water or other essential utilities,” says Ms Smith. “This can’t be something that we’re only concerned about when it’s bad, because when it’s bad, people will die.”

In the meantime, there are concerns that the strain of Covid-19 on oxygen supplies could have a knock-on effect for the treatment of other diseases.

“Covid has shown us just how essential it is in countries where there is no vaccine against Covid, no medicines,” says Leith Greenslade, who leads the Every Breath Counts Coalition. “Often, it’s down to whether you get oxygen or not, whether you live or die.”

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-55829424

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Latin America

Honduran abortion law: Congress moves to set total ban ‘in stone’

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Parliament in Honduras has initially approved a bill that will make it virtually impossible to legalise abortion in the country.

The new measure will require at least three-quarters of Congress to vote in favour of modifying the abortion law, which is among the strictest in world.

Honduras forbids abortion under any circumstance, even rape or incest.

Its latest move comes in response to Argentina legalising abortion last month.

Across Latin America, there has been increased pro-choice campaigning, known as the “green wave”, based on the colour worn by protesters.

The new legislation in Honduras hinges on an article in the constitution that gives a fetus the same legal status of a person. Constitutional changes have until now been permitted with a two-thirds majority, but the new legislation raises that bar to three-quarters within the 128-member body.

The measure still needs to be ratified by a second vote. However, support was clear on Thursday: with 88 legislators voting in favour, 28 opposed and seven abstentions.

Honduras has a stanchly conservative majority, which referred to the measure as a “shield against abortion”.

“What they did was set this article in stone because we can never reform it if 96 votes are needed [out of 128]”, opposition MP Doris Gutiérrez told AFP news agency.

Mario Pérez, a lawmaker with the ruling party of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, formally proposed the change last week, calling it a “constitutional lock” to prevent any future moderations of the abortion law.

“Every human being has the right to life from the moment of conception,” said Mr Pérez.

Ahead of the vote, UN human rights experts condemned the move, saying in a statement: “This bill is alarming. Instead of taking a step towards fulfilling the fundamental rights of women and girls, the country is moving backwards.”

Abortion has been constitutionally banned in Honduras since 1982.

In 2017, lawmakers voted on decriminalising it in the case of rape, incest or when there was danger to the mother or the fetus, but the move was roundly rejected.

Nicaragua, El Salvador and Haiti also have complete bans on abortion, but Honduras is the only country to also prohibit the use of emergency contraceptives in all cases, including after rape.

Cuba, Uruguay, Guyana and Argentina are the only Latin American countries to permit abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-55764195

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Latin America

Mynor Padilla: Killer of anti-mining activist pleads guilty

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The ex-security chief at a mine in Guatemala, Mynor Padilla, has pleaded guilty to killing an anti-mining activist in 2009.

Adolfo Ich was killed at the Fénix mine, which was owned at the time by a subsidiary of Canadian mining giant Hudbay Minerals.

He had been campaigning against the mining project and for his community’s land rights.

Germán Chub, a bystander, was also shot, leaving him paralysed.

The guilty plea comes at a retrial after Padilla was cleared of murder at a previous trial.

What happened in September 2009?

The Fénix nickel project was owned by the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN), a subsidiary of Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals.

CGN wanted to develop the mine, but the indigenous Maya community objected, arguing that much of the company’s land belonged to them.

The company said it engaged in talks to negotiate their resettlement but members of the Maya community said they were threatened with forced evictions.

On 27 September 2009, security guards at the mine attacked members of the community with machetes and firearms, according to witnesses.

Adolfo Ich was killed, Germán Chub was left paralysed, and at least seven more people were injured.

What was Mynor Padilla’s role?

Mynor Padilla was the chief of security at the Fénix project and witnesses said he was the key man in the attack on 27 September 2009.

Hudbay defended its personnel, alleging that members of the Maya community had turned on each other and that their security staff had acted in self-defence.

Following a three-year murder trial Padilla was acquitted, much to the outrage of the victims’ families who launched an appeal.

What’s the latest?

The court of appeal overturned the acquittal and ordered a retrial which began in December 2020.

After having for years maintained his innocence, Mynor Padilla entered a guilty plea which was accepted by the court on Wednesday.

A lawyer for Adolfo Ich’s widow in a civil lawsuit against Hudbay Minerals in Canada called it a “momentous day”.

Why does it matter?

There are three civil lawsuits under way against Hudbay Minerals in Canada, in connection with the Fénix mine.

One of them was filed by Adolfo Ich’s widow, Angélica Choc, who alleges that the company failed to take adequate precautions to ensure that human rights abuses would not be perpetrated by Hudbay’s security personnel.

In 2013, a court in Ontario allowed the lawsuits to proceed, making it the first time that foreign claimants were allowed to pursue a lawsuit against a Canadian company in Canada for alleged human rights abuses.

Cory Wanless, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, said that following Mynor Padilla’s guilty plea “it will be difficult for Hudbay to continue to argue that it does not bear responsibility for the killing and shooting”.

Hudbay Minerals has released a statement saying it would “review the court’s decision once it is released”, which is due to happen later this month.

The company, which sold the Félix mine to Swiss-based Solway Group in 2011, also stated that “any agreements made in the Guatemalan court do not affect our view of the facts of Hudbay’s liability in relation to civil matters currently before the Ontario court”.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-55573682

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