The US government has separated more than 2,000 children from their parents, while it prosecutes people suspected of entering illegally from Mexico. What's the reaction been like in Latin America?
Even for an administration as craven to Washington as Guatemala's, it was an extraordinary admission.
"The Guatemalan government is respectful of US immigration policy," said the president's spokesman, Heinz Hiemann, when asked about the Trump administration's controversial practice of separating immigrant children – many of them Guatemalan – from their parents.
It would prove to be his final act in the job.
He was unceremoniously sacked the following morning with a statement clarifying that his comments "did not represent the position of President Jimmy Morales".
Amid the international outcry over the "zero-tolerance" policy – under which adults who cross the US-Mexico border face prosecution for illegal entry, meaning they are separated from their children – even the White House's closest allies in Central America abandoned them over the measure.
In fact, such was the furious reaction across Latin America that it is hard to think of a single issue which has galvanised the region in this way. Leaders from the far right to the hard left, from Brazil to Venezuela, from Honduras to Mexico, have lined up in opposition to the move.
Conservative newspaper columnists and left-wing lobbyists alike have expressed a combination of anger and disgust, adding their voices to the chorus demanding the measure be overturned.
"Family separation is intolerable," wrote Guatemala's conservative daily, Prensa Libre, in an editorial.
For many readers, that pretty much summed it up.
Even the Mexican Foreign Minister, Luis Videgaray, a politician who has been badly damaged by his close relationship with the Trump administration, called the practice "cruel and inhumane" and a "violation of their human rights".
It was further than the Mexican government had gone in some time in criticising Washington.
Mr Videgaray also gave the crisis a human face: a 10-year-old Mexican girl with Down's syndrome was separated from her mother earlier this year, he told the gathered media. He urged the Trump administration to set up a register as soon as possible to prevent minors from being lost in the system.
"I understand that every sovereign nation has the right to dictate its own laws as they see fit," Norman Quijano, president of the Legislative Assembly in El Salvador, told the BBC. "But immigration is a worldwide phenomenon – the United States itself is the product of generations of flows of immigrants."
As an influential member of the conservative Arena Party, Mr Quijano has been a long-standing partner of the US Republican Party. He says he recognises that his "compatriots have violated US migration laws" and that this was largely a result of the "incapability of our country to help them realise their dreams here at home, in El Salvador".
But nothing could justify putting kids in cages, he adds.
The description of those heading north as solely economic migrants fails to address the asylum question which many of them raise on reaching the US border.
"It's not political asylum in the traditional sense, in that they're not persecuted for their beliefs," says Salvadoran political analyst Alberto Arene. "But being a young person in those countries today is fraught with danger because of the gangs which control their neighbourhoods."
Violence continues to plague swathes of Central America. Successive governments have mainly responded with a policy of mano dura or "iron fist" – giving the security forces free rein to engage in open warfare with the gangs in many poor neighbourhoods in the country.
"There are two Central Americas moving at two different speeds," Mr Arene argues. Countries in the south of the region – Costa Rica and Panama – enjoy more economic opportunities than those in the "Northern Triangle" – Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – which are "verging on failed states", he says.
"Institutions are weak, investment is low, social systems aren't working," Mr Arene adds.
Add to that the extensive police repression, including widespread violations of human rights, and the asylum claims of those parents carrying their children over the border are legitimate, he argues.
The Trump administration – which has argued that splitting up families at the US-Mexico border serves as a deterrent against illegal immigration – has begun to unpick the policy since the president signed an executive order not to separate families at the border any longer.
But it has been a time of mixed messages from Washington, further alienating their neighbours to the south.
"Mexico does nothing" to stop undocumented immigrants travelling north, said Mr Trump again this week, one of his constant refrains.
Given the extent to which Mexico tightened its southern border with Guatemala at Washington's behest during the Obama administration, that won't have gone down well.
Still, the clear front-runner in Mexico's presidential election, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, applauded Mr Trump's reversal on the separation policy. "It's good to hear because it was a racist and inhumane measure" he said at a rally.
"It's always wise to change your mind, especially on humanitarian issues", he added, possibly with an eye on the future.
If the polls are right, he will soon become the next president of Mexico and the two men will presumably have to try to find a solution to these thorny cross-border issues.
After a particularly divisive week, which showed that even unwitting children can be thrust into the game of political brinkmanship, that just became a little harder.
Coronavirus: What’s behind Latin America’s oxygen shortages?
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.
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
Honduran abortion law: Congress moves to set total ban ‘in stone’
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
Mynor Padilla: Killer of anti-mining activist pleads guilty
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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