La Señal Informativa de América Latina <![CDATA[Brazil Poll Shows Lula Extending Lead for October Election]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 23:11:00 -0400 Jailed former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has increased his support by 5 percentage points and would win Brazil's October presidential election if he was allowed to run, a poll by CNT/MDA showed on Monday.

14 Killed by Rio Military Police Operations: Reports

The survey, which was last taken in May, found that almost half of the leftist leader's supporters would transfer their votes to his running mate Fernando Haddad if Lula is disqualified from Brazil's most uncertain race in decades.

The Brazilian real led losses among Latin American currencies after the poll showed investors' favorite Geraldo Alckmin, the candidate most likely to enact fiscal reforms, lagging far behind his rivals.

Electoral authorities are expected to bar Lula from the election due to a controversial corruption conviction. Despite that, he took 37.3 percent of voter intentions in the latest poll, up from 32.4 percent in the same poll in May.

His nearest rival was far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro with 18.3 percent, followed by evangelist Marina Silva with 5.6 percent and business-friendly Alckmin with 4.9 percent.

Support for Marina Silva and center-left candidate Ciro Gomes has slipped since the May poll, while support increased for Bolsonaro. Alckmin, a former governor of Sao Paulo state, has also gained ground marginally.

Lula's supporters were asked who they would back if he is out of the race and 17.3 percent of the people surveyed said they would cast their vote for Haddad, a former Sao Paulo mayor who would head the Workers Party ticket.

Another 11.9 percent of the voters surveyed would migrate to Marina Silva, 9.6 percent to Gomes, 6.2 percent to Bolsonaro and 3.7 percent to Alckmin.

Lula, Brazil's first working-class president and whose social policies lifted millions from poverty in Latin America's largest nation, was jailed in April to start serving a 12-year sentence for receiving bribes.

The nationwide survey of 2,002 people was carried out by pollster MDA for the transportation sector lobby CNT between Aug. 15-18 and has a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points.

<![CDATA[Peru President Wants Bicameral Legislature To Rid Gov't Of Graft]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 22:05:00 -0400 Members of Peru’s congress will begin debating on Tuesday whether or not to allow a public referendum to decide if the nation should return to a bicameral legislative system, taking up the proposal introduced by President Martin Vizcarra on August 10.

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Bill No. 3185/2018, which seeks to change several constitution articles to divide the current unicameral government into an upper and lower house, will head to the congressional Constitutional Commission on Tuesday where members debate sending the bill to a public vote on the issue.

The bill, spearheaded by President Vizcarra from the minority party Peruvians For Change, outlines how many elected officials each house can have, and the necessary qualifications to run for each — senators must be at least 35 years of age and have 10 years of work experience, and house member must be 25 years or older and are not required to have a minimum work experience.

Officials will be elected to a five-year term. Vizcarra has said he would like to cap term limits to one electoral cycle. The number of 130 elected officials would remain the same, but they would be divided - 30 in the Senate and 100 in the house of representatives.   

Politicals parties would have to nominate 50 percent female and 50 percent male candidates to ensure gender parity. The president’s proposal would also realign voting districts.

The proposal is Vizcarra's attempt to distance himself from a government infused with institutionalized corruption. The president’s former running mate and predecessor, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, resigned in March after continually lying under oath that he had not accepted over US$800,000 in Odebrecht kickbacks. The country is currently facing a judicial crisis after supreme court member, Cesar Hinostroza, was suspended in July on corruption allegations in a far-reaching case that involves the nation's attorney general and former presidential candidate, Keiko Fujimori.

Thousands of Peruvians have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest systemic graft, with many calling for fresh elections.

A majority of Peruvians now disapprove of Congress, the government, the judiciary, and prosecutors, according to a recent Ipsos poll.

"My government is making a decided bet on strengthening the state as a whole in order to defeat the criminal and corrupt mafias that feed off our country," Vizcarra said before Congress in late July.

"We need the input of all citizens. That's why we're convinced that a referendum is healthy for our democracy."

Constitutional lawyer Cesar Landa told local media that the criticism of the bicameral project should not be focused by the number of legislators.

"We have to look at the qualitative benefits of the change. We hope the change makes (the legislator) better and that there are senators of quality," said Landa.

Lawyer Anibal Quiroga said that creating a bicameral system, “is a favorable thing, but the problem is that the project modifies almost a third of the Constitution."

"This crisis has reached a breaking point," Vizcarra said. "That's why, as president of the republic, I've decided, with the support of the citizenry, to lead a change long sought by honest Peruvians."

The country’s bicameral legislature was dissolved by the convicted former president Alberto Fujimori en 1992.

<![CDATA[Chinese Officials Capture Tomb Raiders]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 20:14:00 -0400 China announced it arrested 26 suspects and retrieved nearly 650 cultural relics stolen from an ancient burial site in northwestern Qinghai province, the Ministry of Public Security said.

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Chinese experts believe that many of the recovered items are of "tremendous historical value" that demonstrate cultural interactions between the East and the West during the early days of the Tang Dynasty (619-907 A.D.) state media Xinhua stated.

The arrests follow an investigation that began last year. Investigators say they believe that the alleged criminals illegally excavated the items from the Dulan tombs, located along the ancient Silk Road, subsequently selling the cultural artifacts on the black market.

A police official told China's CCTV on Sunday that the criminals, two of whom were on the police's "most wanted" list were asking for 80 million yuan ($11.6 million) for the stolen treasures.

Of the 646 items found, 16 were categorized as first-class cultural relics, according to a government official.

The World Monuments Fund says that ancient silks textiles and clothing have been found within the Dulan tombs. Precious metal artifacts made from gold, silver, and bronze have also been excavated among the 2,000 tombs since 1982.

China has announced it wants to revitalize its portion of the Silk Road was a trade and cultural route that linked civilizations from China, Korea, Japan, India, Iran, Europe, northern Africa and Arabia starting 2,000 years ago until its decline in about 1700. 

<![CDATA[Pope Condemns 'Atrocities' of US Clerical Child Abuse]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 20:02:00 -0400 Pope Francis condemned Monday the "atrocities" revealed by a far-reaching U.S. report into clerical child sex abuse in the state of Pennsylvania issued last week.

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"In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors... the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests," the pope said in a letter made public by the Vatican. "Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims."

"We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death," he added.

A devastating U.S. grand jury report published last week decried a systematic cover-up by the Catholic Church. The grand jury said that more than 1,000 child victims were identifiable, but that the actual number was "in the thousands." 

Calling for "solidarity" with the victims and a fight against "spiritual corruption", Pope Francis said, "no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient." "With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives," he said.

The Vatican had already expressed its "shame and sorrow" after the publication of the US report, but Pope Francis's letter on Monday went further.

"No effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated," he said. Pope Francis ended the letter by exhorting Catholics to "fasting and prayer", in order to "open our ears to the hushed pain felt by children, young people and the disabled."

It's not the first time that Francis, who became pope in 2013, has had to react to the scandal of child abuse within the Church.

At the end of July, he accepted the resignation of prominent U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who has been accused of sexually abusing a teenager nearly five decades ago.

Among senior church members in the U.S. forced to resign for protecting pedophile priests were the late cardinal Bernard Law in Boston and Cardinal Roger Mahony in Los Angeles. The case of Cardinal Law was the subject of a huge investigation by the Boston Globe, which won the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize and was subsequently turned into an Oscar-winning film, "Spotlight".

<![CDATA[Argentine State Company Lays Off Workers, Looming Privatization]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 19:54:00 -0400 Argentine workers at the Military Industries (FM) say the Mauricio Macri administration is trying to “privatize" the 77-year-old state-run arms and petrochemical operation.

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Hundreds of employees from the FM Rio Tercero plant located outside of Cordoba denounced the government’s layoff of 59 employees at its plant last week. Last week the government dismissed 42 workers at the Villa Maria plant with no prior notice. Union members say this trend means that the government is trying to sell off the state company.

Military Industries began producing military weapons in 1941. Over the years the company, based in Buenos Aires, has entered into the mining, petroleum and petrochemical industries, as well as farm equipment production.  

Trade union spokesperson Emiliano Campos said that President Mauricio Macri and his aligned congress are laying off FM employees little by little in order to cover up the plan to privatize the plant.

Campos told local media, "The plan is for FM … to depend less and less on the Ministry of Defense,” which currently heads the company, and to be “self-sustained by 2020."

The union leader says the layoffs are happening because the Rio Tercero plant, which produces nitric acid because it’s operating "at a loss." He says this is because the government is selling chemicals at below market prices. "There is a loss. … It’s crazy what they're doing."

In total, the ministry of defense has let go 544 FM jobs across the country since last year.

Campos says the firings are "systematic" and that small towns such as Rio Tercero and Rio Turbio are suffering the economic impact. "With the layoffs, there are 17 million fewer pesos entering the city" of Rio Tercero.

He added that the president’s Cambiemos political party "has come to steal our dreams and projects."

In private company layoffs, Paqueta, which produces shoes for Adidas, announced on Monday it would lay off 600 employees at its Chivilcoy location, outside of Buenos Aires. Business leaders there said it was because of low demand for Adidas products in the domestic market.

Local media says that the announcement came days after the Extreme Gear plant, which also produced for Adidas in another Buenos Aires suburb, closed its doors for good.

In July Argentina’s Political Economy Center (CEPA) released a report showing that in 2018, on average, 4,368 workers were fired each month nationwide. According to the report, the most affected were public sector workers, who accounted for 46 percent of all the layoffs, and industrial workers, who account for 38 percent.

<![CDATA[UK Private Prisons Under Fire After 'Crisis' Jail Takeover]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 18:45:00 -0400 The British government seized control of a squalid contractor-run prison on Monday where inspectors said officers were locking themselves away as protection from prisoners, raising questions about its privatization programme.

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The justice ministry was forced to take over HMP Birmingham from private security company G4S, following a damning inspection that reported "squalor, violence and the prevalence of drugs and looming lack of control."

"This is the shocking situation... which is why we've taken the step, an unprecedented step, of moving in," Prisons Minister Rory Stewart told the BBC. "If conditions have not returned to what we want... we would continue to run that prison," he said.

The move was seized upon by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, a fierce privatization critic who has pledged a programme of re-nationalizations if his Labour party regains power. "Another week, another privatisation crisis," he wrote on Twitter. "This government's obsession with selling off our public services has been a total failure."


PAO, the trade union for prison workers, said the case highlighted the need to keep prisons publicly run. "Once again, the public sector is sent in to bail out the private sector when they have difficulties," said national chair Mark Fairhurst. "The days of private companies putting profits before staff and prisoner safety must stop."

British prisons are predominantly state-run, with 17 of the country's 123 institutions managed by a handful of private contractors. The entire system has been beset by rising violence and drug-use, amid severe funding cuts over the last decade. According to the Institute for Government think-tank, spending on jails has fallen by 22 percent since 2009, amid austerity measures introduced by successive Conservative-led governments. It calculated there are now a quarter fewer prison officers, while the number of assaults on officers has spiked 124 percent.

Birmingham — a facility for medium-risk inmates built in 1849, with a big population of 1,269 at the end of July — had the largest volume of assaults (1,434) of all Britain's jails, in the year to July.

A scathing critique from the Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke, warned it had "slipped into crisis."

Among the incidents of violence reported was an arson attack during the week of the inspection that destroyed nine staff vehicles, including two being used by the inspectors. Clarke identified other issues ranging from widespread drug-use and dilapidated buildings to vermin and uncollected rubbish, with staff found asleep or locked in offices during an inspection.

"I was astounded that HMP Birmingham had been allowed to deteriorate so dramatically," he wrote in a letter last week to Justice Secretary David Gauke calling for urgent action.

Clarke noted recommended reforms following a December 2016 riot had not been fulfilled and "inertia" appeared to have gripped both G4S and the government department. "There can be little hope that matters will improve until there has been a thorough and independent assessment of how and why the contract between government and G4S has failed."

The justice ministry has appointed a new prison governor and management team, deployed 30 extra officers and begun reducing the jail's population by 300 inmates to tackle the problems. The department has also hired 2,500 prison officers to reverse previous system-wide cuts, which Stewart admitted had left the system short of manpower.

He blamed an increase in drugs inside jails, especially spice, for causing "crazy aggressive behaviour" and said additional funding would target smuggling. "I believe we have a very clear understanding of... what's going wrong in this prison," he said, adding G4S ran other prisons successfully.

The company welcomed the intervention at Birmingham, describing it as facing "exceptional challenges".

<![CDATA[Myanmar Judge Set To Announce Verdict In Reporters Case ]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 18:21:00 -0400 The judge hearing the trial against two detained Myanmar reporters working for Reuters said on Monday he’ll announce a verdict in one week.

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The two journalists, Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, are accused of breaching national security for obtaining secret state documents. The two were formally charged in July with violating the colonial-era law, Official Secrets Act, which protects the state against any person who obtains any government or military documents, records or information, "which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy."

At the time of their arrest last December, Lone, and Oo were investigating government-led killings and crackdowns against Rohingya Muslims in the Inn Din village during August 2017. If convicted they may face up to 14 years in prison.

The case has attracted international attention and outcry demanding that the Myanmar government, plaintiff in the case, drop all charges against the two investigative reporters saying the allegations violate international human rights and press freedom accords.

The judge set the August 27 date to after hearing closing arguments on Monday from both sides. The defense lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, says police planted documents on his clients that prosecutors now say contained information that, if revealed, could threaten national security. Zaw said at the hearing this was a tactic to upend their research into last summer's massacres.

"The duty of the reporter is to reveal the truth," said the lead defense lawyer. "Some people may not be okay with that truth."

Zaw reiterated that two police officers unexpectedly handed the journalist documents in a rolled-up newspaper at a Yangon restaurant just prior to the arrest of Lone and Oo. Police captain, Moe Yan Naing, testified during the trial that a superior officer instructed his subordinates to "trap" the reporters by giving them the documents.

During Monday’s court hearing Zaw said the prosecution hadn’t established that the documents given to the reporters had information that threatened state security.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were investigating the murders of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in Inn Din, Rakhine state. The killings occurred amidst while the Myanmar government directed its military to rape and pillage the region, forcing approximately 700,000 Muslim Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, according to the U.N.

Lead state prosecutor Kyaw Min Aung said the journalists "intended to harm" the country. Aung claimed that the two reporters could have exposed the documents to extremist groups, which could have caused harm to the state. He added that the pair were working for the benefit of Reuters rather than for the national interest.

"Reuters is a foreign news agency that pays its reporters in dollars. It was found from the reporters that they sent their news to Reuters and their own evidence shows that Reuters sells news for money," said the state prosecutor.

Zaw said it was obvious Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were reporters and the court had heard no testimony to suggest they were spies.

"The government has not designated Reuters an enemy of the nation," he added.

The government spokesperson could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Reuters said in a statement: "The evidence before the court is clear: Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are two honest reporters who did not commit a crime. Imprisoning them for even one more day would be unlawful retribution for their truthful and important journalism."

Speaking to reporters, Wa Lone said he hoped the court would rule in their favor.

"We firmly believe that the court will make a fair decision and will free us," Lone said outside the courtroom.

<![CDATA[14 Killed by Rio Military Police Operations: Reports]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 17:22:00 -0400 At least 14 people were killed Monday in Rio de Janeiro during operations by soldiers and police in impoverished favelas and a suburb, officials and media reports said.

Brazil: One Inmate Dies Every 48 Hours in Rio de Janeiro Prisons

The military command heading security in Brazil's second-biggest city said eight people died in the sweep of favelas "and there could be more." No details were given on how the people were killed or who they were.

In a separate incident in the Rio suburb of Niteroi, six suspected armed criminals were shot dead by police after a rush-hour car chase that briefly caused traffic chaos near one of Rio's main bridges, Agencia Brasil and G1 news site reported.

Brazil's military took over all security in Rio de Janeiro six months ago in the face of escalating violent crime and the local police's inability to combat the well-armed drug gangs because of corruption.

Just over six months ago, President Michel Temer announced emergency measures authorizing the army to take command of police forces in Rio de Janeiro state, where warring drug gangs and militias have triggered a sharp rise in violence.

Since the operation began, both murders and the number of people killed in police confrontations have risen, casting doubts on a strategy criticized for relying on military tactics, a lack of transparency and unclear goals.

Nearly 64,000 people were murdered in Brazil in 2017, a record high, and the rise in violence has become a key issue ahead of presidential elections in October. Candidates across the political spectrum are trying to play up their crime-fighting credentials and appeal to an electorate fed up with a weak economy and endemic graft.

<![CDATA[Palestinian Teen Artist Denied Visas to France, UK to Attend Exhibits of Her Own Work]]> Palestinians, and the ambition to keep us from traveling and living Normal lives, is shared by more than just Israel," said the Palestinian artist Malak Mattar.]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 14:16:00 -0400 Young Palestinian Artist Malak Mattar from Gaza said Monday that she was refused a visa to France and to the U.K., in order to be present at exhibitions of her own paintings in the European countries.

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Malak is a young Palestinian artist who has had exhibitions of her paintings in several countries around the world but has not been able to attend one outside of Palestine. "It seems that the hatred of Palestinians, and the ambition to keep us from traveling and living Normal lives, is shared by more than just Israel. However, I will never stop creating Art," she wrote in a Facebook post denouncing the denial of her visa applications.

"My dream is to just have the ability to be present with my paintings and attend my exhibition," Mattar said after complaining that she was falsely accused of lying on her visa application for the U.K., "including the accusation that I was not a real student and that they didn't believe my intentions."

She started her visa application to France, in order to attend two exhibitions, in Paris and in Avignon and to paint in a studio. "I knew I would've had a great and warm welcome from my friends in France," she emphasized. However, despite having handed every required document her visa was denied. "It seemed as if they did not even try."

As she stresses in her Facebook post, "I had another invitation from the Greenbelt Art festival in England." So, with the help of the festival organizers, she presented all the U.K. visa required documents, including university and formal invitation letters. "I was so happy and had been dreaming of this chance, everything was perfectly arranged, but then I received my passport," which is when she found out that, again, her visa for a European country was refused. 

Malak Mattar ends her Facebook post asking people to protest the U.K. decision by sending emails to the consulate and asserting that she will never stop creating art, even if "I haven’t been able to see my paintings outside Palestine, and I’m afraid I won’t ever be able to."


<![CDATA[Ecuador: Traditional Fishing Sector Protests Gov't Inaction]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 13:08:00 -0400 The traditional fisheries sector in Ecuador is protesting against what they have called governmental inaction to protect the sector. Traditional fishery workers are protesting the lack of maritime security and the presence of ships of the industrial fishing sector in waters that are exclusively for traditional fishing.

Ecuador: Poverty Increases by 3% in Just Six Months

Fishery workers are demanding the ousting of the Agriculture and Fishing minister, Ana Katuska Drouet. The Ecuadorean Federation of Traditional Fishing Cooperatives (Fenacopec) is leading the protests, which are also asking the government to declare a state of emergency for the sector, "due to the economic, productive and security crisis in which we are at the moment," said Gabriela Cruz president of the Fenacopec.

Gabriela Cruz has stated that the fishery workers are suffering from robberies in the sea and that industrial boats entering the 8 nautical miles circle which is exclusive to the traditional fishing sector.

"We also ask that all ministerial agreements that threaten marine resources be repealed and that the issue of mangroves is investigated because every day there are more disasters from the shrimp farms that affect the crabbers," she added.

Between December 2017 and June 2018, Ecuador has seen an increase in poverty to 24.5 percent from 21.5 percent, the country’s National Institute of Statistics and Census (Inec) said in a report on July 16.

<![CDATA[Colombia's Duque Expands Taxes to Lower Classes, Breaking Campaign Promise]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 11:44:00 -0400 During his first public meeting with business representatives, Colombian Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla announced a tax reduction for companies in order to "increase competition, formal employment and to boost entrepreneurship," as part of the economic reactivation plan of the Duque administration, which will also see the government imposing an income tax on people making less in monthly salaries. 

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These declarations prompted applause from the business sector audience. It has also created an uproar in social media and opposition sectors as the minister explained that in order to achieve this target the country must change the tributary system to one tuned with the international standards, in which the middle class "must be part of the solution."

"In the United States, the income tax is contributed by 85 percent by natural persons and by 15 percent by companies, while in Colombia the opposite happens," explained Carrasquilla in comments that made people angry on social media, as one of Duque's most important campaign slogans, was "Fewer Taxes, More Minimal Wage For A Solidary Country."

The Finance Minister announced that the new Colombian government is evaluating the possibility of increasing the number of people that contribute with taxes, which will allow lowering taxes on companies. The measure will allow charging over 4.5 million people with Income Taxes, instead of the 2.6 million people that are currently paying this specific tax.

Right now people who pay Income Taxes are those who earn 3.5 million Colombian Pesos (US$1156) and with the reform people with incomes over 1.9 million Colombian Pesos (US$627), which is the average income in Colombia, would have to pay income tax as well.

On May, 15, the then-presidential candidate of the Uribe camp, Ivan Duque said "What Colombia needs now is a reform to the public administration, a reform to expenses that eliminates unnecessary expenses, to face the corruption and the evasion, to generate the savings that allow us also to lower the VAT (...) I do want to do the tax reform that allows us to lower taxes so that this economy recovers."

The new Colombian government, that came to power on Aug. 7, has already been challenged on several occasions. First, the new Defense Minister Guillermo Botero announced the plan to “regulate” anti-government protests by only allowing demonstrations if they are previously approved by authorities.

Afterward, the Southwestern bloc of the Colombian narco-paramilitary group Aguilas Negras, or Black Eagles, issued a flyer on Aug. 9, endorsing the government of president Ivan Duque.

Another outrage was sparked over the appointment of former president of the Senate Nancy Patricia Gutierrez as the minister of the interior, who was investigated by Colombia’s Supreme Court for links to paramilitary groups in 2008. Among other incidents that have sparked the concerns of several social and political organizations in Colombia.

<![CDATA[Social Movements To Guatemela Gov't: Stop Murdering Human Rights Defenders]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 10:14:00 -0400 Over 40 social organizations, in a press conference Sunday, demanded the Guatemalan government to put a stop to the murder and criminalization of human rights defenders.

Guatemala: UN Calls for Action on Murders of Human Rights Activists

In a statement, the groups said that during the Jimmy Morales government, which came to power in 2016, the criminalization of social leaders who defend their land and resources has been expanded. 

So far this year, 18 social and community leaders and human rights activists have been murdered, according to the Protection Unit for Guatemala's Human Rights Defenders (Udefegua). The last being the Ixil leader Juana Raimundo, who was murdered on June 28 in the Quiché department.

The social organizations, in the statement, asked for the "immediate stop" to the murders and that the state "doesn't allow actions that violate the rights and freedoms of the Guatemalan population."

"We reject the repression of the government and the crimes against human rights defenders," read the statement. Furthermore, the organizations demanded that the Public Ministry closes the criminal process opened against human rights defenders and Indigenous and Campesino leaders.

A group of United Nations human rights experts expressed, in a statement released on Aug. 9, their deep concern over the number of assassinations, assaults, and threats against human rights defenders in Guatemala. These social leaders are suffering under "an increasing environment of stigmatization," they said. 

<![CDATA[Venezuela's Sovereign Bolivar, Economic Reforms Go Into Effect]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 09:26:00 -0400 The monetary measures announced by the Venezuelan government, as part of the Recovery, Growth and Economic Prosperity Program, went into effect Monday, as the circulation of the Sovereign Bolivar began around the country.

Venezuela's Monetary Revolution Vis-a-Vis Economic Sanctions

The new Venezuelan currency known as the Sovereign Bolivar, whose symbol is Bs.S., has five fewer zeros compared to the current Bolivar, which will coexist for retail operations or smaller amount.

A week ago, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro indicated that Monday, which was declared a public holiday so citizens could adapt to the new monetary reforms. which the government is referring to as "monetary reconversion and integral economic reconversion".

In President Maduro's opinion, the date is a "turning point" for Venezuela, due to the economic circumstances. "We are going to dismantle the perverse war of neoliberal capitalism to install a virtuous, balanced, sustainable, healthy and productive economic system," Maduro said Sunday on Twitter.

The new bills (2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500) are already in the hands of public and private banks. The Sovereign Bolivar will be anchored to the cryptocurrency Petro, which is backed by the oil reserves of the Caribbean country.

These measures are supplemented by a new redesign of fiscal and tax policy, a new policy of subsidizing gasoline, an increase of four percentage points to the Value Added Tax (IVA),  and the establishment of a single exchange rate, which will fluctuate according to the Dicom auctions under Venezuelan Central Bank (BCV) regulation.

Why is it anchored to the Petro?

The economists Tony Boza and Elio Córdova indicated that the measure of anchoring the Sovereign Bolivar and salaries to the Petro seeks to avoid the depreciation of the monetary currency and protect the purchasing power of the Venezuelans.

In an exclusive interview with teleSUR, both specialists pointed out that the governmental objective is to stop the imbalance, a product of the economic war, induced from abroad.

The outstanding offer of the Sovereign Bolivar will be subject to the amount of Petros available and would act as a conversion box. At the same time, it will be associated with the value of the price of Venezuelan oil, according to the state news agency AVN.

Each unit of the cryptocurrency will be the equivalent to 3,600 Sovereign Bolivars and will be the reference to fix the value of work, the price of services and consumer goods, as one of the accounting units that will govern the Bolivarian nation.

<![CDATA[Spanish Pigs Outnumber Population, Pose Environmental Threat]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 07:02:00 -0400 The number of pigs slaughtered in Spain was recorded at about 50 million for the first time, according to a 2017 government report. The figure surpasses the human population of the country, which is currently registering at 46.5 million. However, Denmark tops Spain overall with about 215 pigs for every 100 residents, Eurostat figures disclosed.

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Spain's total production of pork has grown by 20% in the past five years to reach 4.3 million metric tons. Spain's annual average personal pork consumption is 21 kilograms, according to the government. Meanwhile, the increase in pork exports specifically addresses China's demand for the meat.

The boom in Spain's livestock farming makes agriculture the fourth-largest producer of carbon emissions, with 10% of the national total. The figure trails transport, electricity generation and industry.

However, the Spanish Government pledges to address a potential environmental threat posed by the surge in the meat industry. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has made environment policy a priority since taking office in June, setting up an independent ministry of environment separating it from the previous joint portfolio with agriculture.

Environmentalists have also chimed in warning of serious damage if factory farming is allowed to continue to grow. One pig is estimated to consume 15 liters of water a day or more water than the cities of Seville, Alicante and Zaragoza combined.

“We’ve moved to an industrial and intensive model with grave consequences for water resources and the atmosphere,” Dani Gonzalez from Ecologists in Action told Publico.

Additionally, nitrates from animal waste are contaminating groundwater. Over 84 million cubic meters of liquid manure runs out of the pig factory farms, yearly.

Last year's figures show that there is about 30 million factory-farmed pig being fattened at any given time in the US$6.8 industry.

<![CDATA[Chinese Media Pressure Apple to Remove 25,000 Illegal Apps]]> Apple offers more than 1.8 million apps in China, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Mon, 20 Aug 2018 06:18:00 -0400 Apple has removed 25,000 illegal apps from its Chinese store, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal citing state broadcaster CCTV.

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“Gambling apps are illegal and not allowed on the App Store in China,” Apple told CNBC in a statement. “We have already removed many apps and developers for trying to distribute illegal gambling apps on our App Store, and we are vigilant in our efforts to find these and stop them from being on the App Store.”

CCTV confirmed that Apple had recently removed more than 2,000 apps related to gambling and more than 500 apps with the keyword “lottery.” Apple came under fire from Chinese state media for allegedly allowing illegal content on its platform.

“Apple itself has set up the rules on how to allow apps onto its store, but it didn’t follow that, resulting in the proliferation of bogus lottery apps and gambling apps,” CCTV said.

Apple offers more than 1.8 million apps in China, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

The 25,000 apps that were removed are about 1.4% of the total contents of the App Store in China.

Last year, Apple removed many virtual private network (VPN) services from the Chinese App Store for not meeting Beijing's “new regulations.” The VPNs are used to bypass China's “Great Firewall” which restricts internet access to foreign sites.

<![CDATA[Officials: Militants Kidnap 100 Afghans From Buses]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 05:33:00 -0400 The Taliban has taken more than 100 people hostage in their hunt for government employees or members of the security forces, according to Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, head of the provincial council in Kunduz.

Afghanistan Announces Muslim Eid Holiday Ceasefire with Taliban

“So far, there is no news on the fate of the passengers, but tribal elders and local officials are trying to negotiate with the Taliban,” Ayubi said. The council head said the attackers stopped three buses on a road near Khan Abad district and forcibly took the passengers.

Takhar province police chief, Abdul Rahman Aqtash, said the passengers were headed to Kabul from Badakhshan and Takhar provinces.

The ambush took place despite Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's declaration of a conditional ceasefire, with the Taliban, for the Eid holiday. The head of state said, “the ceasefire should be observed from both sides, and its continuation and duration also depend on the Taliban’s stand.”

Ghani made the announcement during celebrations of the 99th anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence.

The fate of the hostages is not immediately known and there has been no statement from the insurgents.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of militants seizing Afghan districts as well as carrying out bombings and other attacks.

Earlier this month, the Taliban launched a major assault on the eastern city of Ghazni, just 120 kilometers from Kabul.

Afghan security forces battled the militants inside the city for five days. The fight resulted in the deaths of at least 100 members of the Afghan security forces and 35 civilians, according to Afghan officials.

<![CDATA[French Audit Shows 840 Bridges at Risk of Collapsing]]> “Insufficient technical staff” to maintain the structures, the report says, is also a major issue. The names of the vulnerable bridges were not disclosed.

Mon, 20 Aug 2018 05:05:00 -0400 Some 840 bridges across France are vulnerable and at risk of collapse in the coming years, according to the French government.

Italy Motorway Bridge Collapses Over Genoa in Heavy Rains, 'dozens' Feared Dead

The audit found that one-third of the country's 12,000 state-maintained bridges required repairs, Journal du Dimanche newspaper reported Sunday. The government of President Emmanuel Macron has placed blame on previous administrations citing inconsistent and inadequate road funding.

The current administration promises new infrastructure to address increase traffic and extreme weather which have compounded the problem. “Insufficient technical staff” to maintain the structures, according to the report, is also a major issue.

The names of the at-risk bridges were not disclosed.

Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said, last week, that bridge “maintenance is our priority” and announced plans for a US$1.14bn plan to “save the nation's roads.”

The French Government attracted particular scrutiny after Tuesday's bridge collapse in Genoa, Italy. At least 43 people were killed after a large section of the Morandi Bridge collapsed. The bridge was built by Autostrade per L'Italia in the 1960s.

The audit did not include thousands of other French bridges maintained by private companies or local authorities.

<![CDATA[Palestinians to Sort 10.5 Tons of 8-Y-O Israeli-Rejected Mail]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 03:53:00 -0400 Palestinian postal workers in the Occupied West Bank are tasked to sort through eight years of mail after Israel withheld delivery of postal shipments to Palestinian territories since 2010.

Israel to Close Gaza Crossing Despite Hamas Talks

“We received tons of Palestinian mail because of the intolerance of the occupation authorities who refused to bring it through Jordan and as it is stamped for the Palestinian postal destination,” Hussein Sawafta, the director general of the Palestinian post service, told reporters Sunday.

The backlog was created following Israeli's rejection of the mail which reportedly violates a 2008 send-and-receive agreement with Palestinians, according to Palestinian postage official Ramadan Ghazawi.

“It was blocked because each time they (Israel) used to give us a reason and an excuse. Once they said the terminal, the building that the post was supposed to arrive to is not ready and once (they said) to wait, they're expecting a larger checking machine (security scanner),” Ghazawi explained.

The Palestinian ministry of telecommunications posted photos of the mail on its Facebook page. The tons of undelivered mail include letters, boxes and a wheelchair. 

“After eight years it didn't come categorized as it is supposed to be, with lists and categorized. We got it all mixed.”

Cogat, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs in the West Bank, said there is no current agreement for this category of mail adding that the one-time release of the tons of mail was a “gesture.”

“About a year ago, an in-principle agreement was signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The memorandum of understanding has not yet resulted in a direct transfer, and the subject is in the advanced stages of being worked through. There is, therefore, no direct mail transfer at this time,” the COGAT statement said.

“However, as a gesture, and in a step that went beyond the letter of the law, COGAT, with the assistance of the Ministry of Communications and the Customs Authority, allowed a one-time transfer of approximately ten-and-a-half tons of mail that had been held in Jordan.”

Letters or packages addressed to the West Bank and Gaza Strip are subject to Israeli security inspection.

<![CDATA[Minister: US 'Addicted to Sanctions' Seeking to Overthrow Iran]]> Mon, 20 Aug 2018 02:56:00 -0400 Iran says the United States has a sanction “disease” adding that Tehran signing the nuclear agreement may have been a grave mistake, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told CNN citing Washington backing out of the deal.

US Accuses Iran of Threatening Behavior, Reimposes Sanctions

“Even during the Obama Administration the United States put more emphasis on keeping the sanctions that it had not lifted rather than implementing its obligations on the sanctions that it lifted,” Zarif said.

U.S. economic sanctions that were previously suspended under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement are now taking effect.

Zarif further explained that though inking the agreement “may have been one of the mistakes. But the problem was that we felt that the United States had learned that, at least as far as Iran is concerned, sanctions do produce economic hardship, but do not produce the political outcomes that they intended them to produce. I thought the Americans had learned that lesson. Unfortunately, I was wrong.”


The foreign minister quipped that the United States was "addicted to sanctions." Washington has reimposed the sanctions citing “threatening, destabilizing behavior" from Iran.

Additionally, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently announced the establishment of an Iran Action Group to counter the Iranian Government's “malign activity.” Zarif tweeted that the “Action Group” only aims to disrupt Iran's sovereignty through "pressure, misinformation & demagoguery."

European governments had pledged to maintain oil and banking ties with Iran after the second phase of U.S. sanctions in November, but Zarif said Europe was not truly prepared to “pay the price” for defying the United States to maintain the terms of the nuclear deal.

U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 deal in May and began reimposing sanctions that attempt to block other countries from trading with Iran. The Iranian First Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri countered that Iran is looking for solutions to continue the sale of crude oil and get money back to the country.

<![CDATA[Korean Families Separated by War Reunite Briefly After 65 Years]]> Sun, 19 Aug 2018 23:24:00 -0400 Some 180 families torn apart by the 1950-53 Korean War will be temporarily reunited in North Korea starting Monday after the two Koreas renewed exchanges this year.

Ecuadorean City Names Kim Jong-un Honorary Citizen

The reunions, the first in three years, will take place in the North’s tourist resort on Mount Kumgang, as agreed by the North Korean head of state Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in during their first summit in April.

More than 57,000 South Korean survivors have registered for a brief family reunion, which lasts only 11 hours and often ends in painful farewells.

“I’m over 90 so I don’t know when I am going to die. I am very glad that I have been selected this time, I’m walking on air now,” 91-year-old Moon Hyun-sook told Reuters on Sunday, a day before meeting her younger sisters in North Korea.

South Korean family members arrived at the coastal border city of Sokcho on Sunday to be briefed by officials on the reunion and for a brief health check-up, before crossing the border on Monday.

Ninety-three families from both sides of the border were initially scheduled for a three-day gathering from Monday, but four South Korean members canceled their trip to the North at the last minute due to health conditions, the Red Cross said.

Starting Thursday, there will be a meeting of another 88 groups of relatives, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

The brief family reunions, which began in 1985, can be a traumatic experience for the aging survivors, they say. And time is running out, with many of them aged 80 or older.

Around 132,600 individuals are listed as separated families as of end-July. Of the 57,000 survivors, 41.2 percent are in their 80s and 21.4 percent are in their 90s, according to government data.

The oldest South Korean participating in the latest gathering is 101 years old.

“Most participants are elderly and many of them are suffering from hypertension, diabetes and have underlying medical conditions. Ahead of the reunions, we are thoroughly checking their health conditions so that they can attend the events as planned,” said physician Han Sang-jo.