La Señal Informativa de América Latina <![CDATA[Venezuelan Government and Opposition Inch Closer to Unity]]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 21:16:00 -0400 Dialogue between the Venezuelan government and opposition aimed at promoting peace and unity has made "great progress" and the talks are set to resume in the Dominican Republic on January 11 and 12, it has been announced.

Venezuela Govt. Advances Dialogue With Opposition

President of the Dominican Republic Danilo Medina, who has been hosting the negotiations, held a press conference late Friday at the Convention Center of the Chancellery in Santo Domingo.

"There are six major issues that we are discussing," Medina told the assembled international media. "Each issue has a number of subtopics. We must continue discussing some technicalities... We cannot announce the results until an agreement is reached on everything."

Medina confirmed that on January 11 a working meeting will be held, and on January 12 the dialogue table will once again be installed in the presence of several international observers.

The talks concluding on Friday established that only two official spokesmen will be permitted to make declarations at the dialogue table: Venezuelan Vice-President Jorge Rodríguez and, on behalf of the opposition, Julio Borges.

Mexican Chancellor Luis Videgaray commented on the apparent weight of the negotiation process. "Both parties were extremely serious about the size of the challenge facing Venezuela," he said.

Videgaray described advances in the dialogue progress as "partial and relevant," but warned that no definitive agreement has so far been reached. "Both parties have agreed on time and methods to peacefully solve the problems," he said.

Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz said: "There have been significant advances, although there is still technical work and a little more time is needed." He also cited "hopes that next January 12 the agreement will be finalized and the process will be closed."

"We have noticed a willingness to negotiate seriously," Muñoz told reporters. "There is concrete work and we value it. It is not finished, but we are close to the goal and that is why we will be back in the Dominican Republic, so that the Venezuelans themselves reach a desired agreement and a peaceful exit."

US Tacitly Threatens Venezuela With Fresh Sanctions

Venezuela's government spokesman, Jorge Rodríguez, said the meeting was "a constructive event," and stressed that the parties involved would reject any foreign interference in the process.   

"We are happy that words and dialogue are being used to resolve the political issues in Venezuela, and we reject the U.S. communique that tries to boycott the dialogue process," he said in response to a statement from the U.S. State Department threatening fresh sanctions against Venezuela.

"Politics must be the instrument with which we settle our issues; not weapons, economic wars or blockades. It must be with words."

The initial December 1 and 2 negotiations between the Venezuelan government and the opposition were a watershed moment in the country's recent political history. President Maduro had called for peace talks more than 300 times since he took office in 2013.

After the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela swept the municipal elections in October, the opposition finally agreed to negotiate.   

<![CDATA[US Tacitly Threatens Venezuela With Fresh Sanctions]]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 20:29:00 -0400 The United States has tacitly hinted that it could impose fresh sanctions against Venezuela in response to the ongoing "humanitarian crisis," prompting an immediate backlash from the United Nations and ALBA nations.

Act of Solidarity With Venezuela on XIII Anniversary of Alba

The U.S. State Department issued an official statement on Friday in which it said it remained "deeply concerned that the Venezuelan people are experiencing dire humanitarian conditions, to include lack of access to affordable food and vital medicine, medical supplies, malnutrition, and a rise in malaria cases, among other harsh realities."

The statement reiterated earlier calls for President Nicolas Maduro to "stop denying the needs of its people and to allow aid from the international community to reach them."

"U.S. sanctions are not directed at the people of Venezuela," the statement, posted on Twitter, continued. "Sanctions need not be permanent. Our sanctions can be adjusted for those who support Venezuela’s return to a democratic and constitutional path. However, additional measures remain under active consideration."

UN special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who recently visited Venezuela, immediately condemned the language used by the United States. The United Nations has already denied that any such crisis exists in the Latin American nation. 

"I do not like exaggerations," de Zayas told teleSUR. "Humanitarian crises exist in many countries: in Africa, the Middle East. In Venezuela there are shortages, but we must know the causes of these problems. To what extent are they the result of an economic war from abroad, of sanctions, of the fall in the price of oil, of inflation?"

The term "humanitarian crisis" is being deployed by the United States in a bid to justify foreign intervention and overthrow Venezuela's constitutionally elected government, de Zayas said.

He also noted that the allegations of a humanitarian crisis were being used as a distraction tactic: "There are other problems – in Brazil, in Honduras, in Argentina – of which there is very little talk."

Cuban Chancellor Bruno Rodríguez was also quick to respond, posting on Twitter: "We reject the interventionist actions of the Organization of American States and of groups of countries for their continuous aggressions against the sovereignty, self-determination and constitutional order of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela."

Likewise, ALBA countries reiterated their "support and solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution, led by President Nicolás Maduro, before the interventionist and unilateral actions that threaten the government and people of Venezuela.

"We condemn the illegal sanctions imposed by the United States, Canada and the European Union on Venezuela, all for political purposes, which affect the people and the enjoyment of their rights," the regional integration agency said in a statement.

<![CDATA[Argentine Activist Returned to 'Uninhabitable' House Arrest]]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 18:47:00 -0400 Indigenous Argentine activist Milagro Sala, recently acquitted of criminal charges involving alleged threats against law enforcement in the country's Jujuy province, is to be returned to "house arrest" – at a location deemed uninhabitable.

Argentina's Milagro Sala Acquitted of All Criminal Charges

In response to an order by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), Judge Pablo Pullen Llermanos ruled on Friday that Sala – head of the Tupac Amaru Neighbourhood Organization, which has spearheaded numerous protests against President Mauricio Macri's government – be allowed to return to El Carmen.

The IACHR had previously claimed Sala's life was in danger in the El Carmen building, where she had been detained for almost two years and which the organization has described as "unfit for human habitation."

But despite a Supreme Court ruling on December 6 that Sala should be relocated to her usual place of residence, which is in the Cuyaya neighborhood, Judge LLermanos – in an apparent act of defiance – has instead ruled that she should be sent straight back to El Carmen, where she will be electronically monitored with restricted visitation rights.

Speaking after the hearing, Sala said: "It is surprising that they shit on everything… they again violated the orders of the Inter-American Court. They move me from one prison to another prison."

The Tupac Amaru Neighbourhood Organization also denounced the ruling, posting on Twitter that it "continues to fail to comply with the provisional measure" of both the IACHR and the Supreme Court. It also hinted at possible legal action against the judge.

The case against Sala was launched more than three years ago by the son of now-governor Gerardo Morales. Charges were first brought in December 2016, when she was accused of threatening two policemen by phone in the Alto Ventadero neighborhood.

Earlier this month, Argentina's Oral Court No. 2 absolved the social leader of all charges due to a lack of merit in the submitted evidence.

<![CDATA[Peru: Lawmakers Launch Bid to Impeach President Kuczynski]]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 18:39:00 -0400 Peru's opposition-led Congress has initiated proceedings to impeach President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on charges of alleged corruption.

With Congress dominated by right-wing opposition group Fuerza Popular, led by Keiko Fujimori, the motion to launch the impeachment process was approved by 27 out of 130 members.

Peruvian President Rejects Calls for His Resignation

"The permanent moral incapacity of the president of the Republic, citizen Pedro Pablo Kuczynski Godard, is declared, according to that established by paragraph 2 of Article 113 of the Constitution of Peru," the motion reads.

Kuczynski stands accused of involvement in the sprawling Odebrecht corruption scandal, namely that he awarded the Brazilian company a large highway contract in exchange for a payment of US$782,000 to his consulting firm.

Kuczynski denies occupying any management roles in the firm at the time the money was received, insisting that on the relevant dates he was a Cabinet minister in the Peruvian government.

On Thursday, amid calls for his resignation, the president claimed via his Twitter account that he is innocent and said he would not be resigning or running from the accusations. "I am here to face this. I neither run, nor hide, nor do I have any reason to do so," Kuczynski said.

"I will not abdicate my honor, nor my values, nor my responsibilities as president of all Peruvians."

If the impeachment process moves through the legislature on Friday, the vote to remove the president from power will be held next Thursday on Dec. 21. At that time Kuczynski will be granted the opportunity to defend himself before Congress.

Authorities across Latin America have moved swiftly to charge politicians accused of taking some $800 million in bribes that Odebrecht acknowledged paying in a 2016 plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department. 

The graft included some $29 million paid in Peru during the 2001-2006 administration of President Alejandro Toledo and two of his successors. Kuczynski served as Toledo's finance chief and prime minister.

The Odebrecht scandal has rocked Peruvian politics across party divisions. Keiko Fujimori herself is under investigation, and former President Ollanta Humala is currently in prison on Odebrecht-related charges.

The last president to be impeached in Peru for "moral incapacity" was Keiko Fujimori's father, Alberto Fujimori, who was sentenced to 25 years on a host of corruption and human-rights abuse charges.

<![CDATA[Venezuela Denies Detained Joshua Holt's Life 'in Danger']]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 17:45:00 -0400 Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza has denied that the life of a jailed U.S. citizen charged with weapons offenses is in danger, accusing the United States of turning the man at the centre of a judicial case into a political pawn.

Venezuela Govt. Advances Dialogue With Opposition

Joshua Holt, a 25-year-old former Mormon missionary from Utah, was arrested 18 months ago in Caracas while waiting for a U.S. visa for his new Venezuelan bride, fellow Mormon Thamara Candelo, and her two young children.

Police raided Candelo's apartment on June 30, 2016, later claiming they had found illegal weapons and that the couple are linked to an opposition paramilitary gang, according to PJ Media.

Thamara's mother, Maria Caleño, told NPR that she witnessed the raid and saw police officers slip weapons into Holt's luggage before declaring they had found them at the scene.

A witness told the Miami Herald that police were conducting door-to-door searches when they took issue with Holt filming them on his mobile phone.

Two hours later, masked officers who may have been military intelligence came back, "found" the weapons and arrested Holt and his wife. Both were finally charged on Tuesday and are now awaiting trial.

Posting on Twitter on Friday in response to allegations by the U.S. State Department that Holt's detention was politically motivated, Arreaza insisted that Holt had been granted access to legal representation and that U.S. criticism of the proceedings amounted to "political interference."

"It is false that Holt's life is in danger due to lack of or insufficient medical attention," Arreaza wrote in his official statement. "Proof of this is that on December 12, the judge was able to confirm his state of health, so there are no grounds to grant a humanitarian measure.

"We regret that the U.S. government intends to turn a judicial case into a political issue with unspeakable purposes since, in the past, similar cases have been handled – as they should be – within the consular sphere by the authorities of both countries, in accordance with the respective legal procedures and without any type of conflict.

"We reiterate that Venezuela complies with its international commitments, including consular access to foreign citizens in detention situations, as well as due process, which is guaranteed by the constitution.

"For this reason, we demand respect for Venezuelan institutions and legal processes, as well as the immediate cessation of the campaign of distortion that attacks our judicial system."

On Monday, Holt's mother had released an audio recording of her son complaining of poor health, and pleaded for his release.

"I'm very dizzy and I can't think and my stomach hurts," Holt says in the 40-second voicemail message. "It hurts bad, and I don't know what to do. I've never felt like this before."  

U.S. State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said embassy personnel were prevented from observing Holt's hearing on Tuesday. "The United States remains extremely concerned for Mr. Holt's health and welfare, which continues to deteriorate under the custody of SEBIN, the Venezuelan intelligence agency," she said in a statement.

"We call on the Venezuelan government to grant immediate consular access to Mr. Holt. We remind the Venezuelan government that pursuant to its international obligations, Venezuela must grant Mr. Holt fair trial guarantees.

"His life should not be jeopardized under SEBIN's custody. Therefore we renew our call for Mr. Holt's immediate release on humanitarian grounds."

<![CDATA[Israeli Forces Kill 4 in Palestine During Clashes]]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 14:27:00 -0400 Thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem are continuing mobilizations against U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Muslim Nations Converge, Call Trump's Jerusalem Decision 'Null and Void'

The clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces  left four dead and hundreds wounded Friday by live ammunition and rubber coated steel bullets. Six more have been killed during clashes this week, bringing the total death toll to 10.  

In the Gaza Strip, protesters gathered by the northern border with Israel to hurl rocks at Israeli forces. Israeli soldiers opened fire, killing two protesters, including Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, a 29-year-old man who lost his two legs during a 2008 israeli missile strike on Gaza, and leaving 150 wounded. 

Clashes also took place across the West Bank, where Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinian men.

The Palestinian Health Ministry confirmed the death of 18-year-old Muhammad al-Adam, who was shot multiple times by Israeli forces after an alleged stabbing attempt in al-Bireh, near the city of Ramallah. In the Jerusalem governorate town of Anata, on the border with the Jerusalem municipality, 29-year-old Bassel Mustafa Muhammad Ibrahim died after being shot in the chest by Israeli forces. 

In East Jerusalem, Palestinians marched from the Al-Aqsa compound in the Old City towards Damascus Gate after Friday prayers. They were met with riot police mounted on horses.

Wounded Palestinians were also reported in the West Bank towns of Qalqilya, Nablus and Tulkarem.

<![CDATA[Spain Could Lose Its Spot in the 2018 World Cup — Here's How]]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 14:13:00 -0400 FIFA has announced that Spain could lose its spot in the 2018 World Cup in Russia if the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy doesn’t stop “meddling” in the presidential elections of the Spanish Football Federation, RFEF.

Puigdemont: Catalan Independence is the 'Best' Option

The RFEF is presided over by interim President Juan Luis Larrea until 2020 given that former President Angel Maria Villar was jailed earlier this year on corruption charges.

FIFA has found out that the governmental National Sports Council, NSC, has been pushing the RFEF to hold new presidential elections, taking both Larrea and Villar out of their respective positions. Larrea, from the Basque region, has said in past interviews that he has no intention of stepping down prematurely. According to FIFA, the NSC interference in RFEF affairs is against the international federation’s rules.

FIFA said in a letter to RFEF that they are “worried” about the federation’s situation. FIFA said it is “reminding RFEF of its agreement to FIFA statues, that all member federations need to administer their issues in an independent way that does not include any interference on part of third parties in internal issues.”

For FIFA, the NSC interference "puts the (Spanish) federation’s autonomy at risk, and would be a serious violation of its own statutes.”

Rajoy said Friday in response to the FIFA warning that he’s dismissing the accusations.

"I’m absolutely convinced that Spain will go to the World (Cup) in Russia and what’s more, we’ll win,” he said. According to Rajoy, the government received a summons for a FIFA hearing. 

<![CDATA[Researchers Find New Exoplanet Using Artificial Intelligence]]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 13:54:00 -0400 On Thursday, NASA announced the discovery of an eighth exoplanet circling Kepler-90, a sun-like star with its own planetary system. The discovery tied Kepler-90 to our Solar System.

Could Mysterious Cigar-Shaped Comet Be Alien Spaceship?

The discovery of Kepler-90i was possible using artificial intelligence technology from Google.

"(It was) an approach to artificial intelligence in which computers 'learn,'" NASA explained in a press release

"In this case, computers learned to identify planets by finding in Kepler data instances where the telescope recorded signals from planets beyond our solar system."

Researchers Christopher Shallue, a senior software engineer with Google’s research team, and Andrew Vanderburg, a NASA Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow and astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin, were responsible for developing the artificial intelligence capable of sifting through data obtained by the Kepler space telescope, launched in March 2009. 

Jessie Dotson, Kepler’s project scientist at NASA, said she is certain that this discovery signals similar ones to come in the future.

"I’m sure there are more firsts in the data waiting for people to find them," she said.    

NASA will host a Reddit Ask Me Anything at 3 p.m. EST today on this discovery.

<![CDATA[Pre-Hispanic Temple of the Wari Civilization Found in Peru]]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 12:07:00 -0400 Peruvian archaeologists have found a pre-hispanic temple of great proportions used by the Wari civilization in the Espiritu Pampa archeological site in Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire.

An 'Underworld' Discovered Beneath Mexico's Teotihuacan Ruins

According to Javier Fonseca, the lead archaeologist in the site, the temple is a D-shaped structure. At its center, another D-shaped structure was uncovered.

"Due to its symbolic and expressive location, it is considered that the small structure served as astronomical observatory or a place where ancient Waris made magical-religious rituals," the Cusco Direction of Peru's Ministry of Culture reported.

Within the Temple, archeologists found animal teeth, needles, silver crowns, brooches, bottles and ceremonial ceramic vessels. Next to the D-shaped structure, they uncovered evidence of Inca structures that have cuadrangular and rectangular shapes.  

The objects found will be subjected to a conservation process in Cusco. 

<![CDATA[Mexico Senate Approves Internal Security Bill]]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 11:32:00 -0400 After a 15-hour overnight session, the Mexican Senate has approved the final version of the Internal Security Bill. It passed 71 to 34, with three abstentions.

Mexico One Step Closer to Legalizing Military State

The bill was fast tracked to the Senate yesterday after it was approved by a special committee within the national deputy chambers.

During last night’s marathon negotiation, senators critical of the bill accused its supporters in the majority coalition — the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and the National Action Party, or PAN — of legalizing and normalizing a militarized state in Mexico and of disregarding human rights.

Protesters were out en masse Thursday night to demonstrate their opposition to the bill.

The Senate changed the bill minimally so that it reads that authorities cannot criminalize “peaceful” protest. Critics say that “peaceful” is open to interpretation and may legitimize military crackdowns on public demonstrators.

This final version, which still needs to be signed into law by President Enrique Peña Nieto, has received heavy criticism from national and international human rights organizations.

Essentially, the law legalizes state militarization — something it has been doing, de facto, for the past decade, when Former President Felipe de Jesus Calderon began using military forces as street police in 2006 as part of its “War on Drugs.”

In a joint statement on Wednesday, the National Commission of Human Rights, NCHR, and the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in Mexico, UNHCHR Mexico, said the bill is “highly worrying to the respect for human rights in Mexico.”

The new law will allow the president, as commander in chief, to order the military to perform police duties, such as conducting raids and arresting civilians, at the state and municipal levels.

The executive would not be required to disclose information regarding these deployments meant to “combat organized crime and terrorism” or anything else that threatens “national security.” The state can also “suspend human rights” if “society is in serious danger or conflict.”  

Mexico Congress Approves Bill Granting Military Police Privileges

“At the core (the law permits) a lack of civil (society) control, transparency and accountability regarding the use of military forces to function as regular police,” said Amnesty International Mexico official Tania Reneaum.

The NCHR and UNHCHR Mexico said that the bill shouldn’t be passed “under these conditions.” They called for “national dialogue regarding security in Mexico that doesn’t delegitimize the government, but also preserves and guarantees the people’s fundamental rights.”

Thousands of national activists under the hashtag "Seguridad Sin Guerra," or "Security Without War," add that the law would “perpetuate (the societal) violence it seeks to revert.”

The final bill is particularly worrying because, according to a Washington Office on Latin America, WOLA, investigation published in November,  military street forces are committing high incidences of violence against civilians.

WOLA found that between 2012 and 2016, there were 268 reported cases of “torture”, 121 cases of “abuses by the authorities,” 37 “forced disappearances” and 31 cases of sexual violence filed against military street forces. Seventeen people were killed by the military. The study also indicated that the overwhelming majority of reported cases go unpunished.

<![CDATA[Honduras: Opposition Supporters Hold Nationwide Protests]]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 11:18:00 -0400 Opposition Alliance supporters in Honduras are out on the streets in a nationwide protest after presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla and former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya called for the people to begin a “peaceful” and “permanent” national demonstration and labor strike. 

UN: Honduras Must Guarantee Rule of Law, Human Rights

The protests are directed at the probable fraud that has marked the country’s presidential elections and ballot counting process since polls closed Nov. 26. National and international electoral observers registered countless polling irregularities that have left the Central American country without a conclusive presidential winner.

"We declare ourselves ready for a general and permanent mobilization in all regions of the country until the regime that has created a spurious and disgraceful (electoral) fraud is defeated for good," Zelaya told reporters.

The director of Opposition Alliance added, “on behalf of our supporters, we are ready to forcefully and patriotically make decisions that our country needs to end this dark hour. Until victory, always.” 

Demonstrators are blocking streets throughout several cities across the country, La Prensa reported. Roads are blocked and protesters are out in the capital of Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Puerto Cortes, La Ceiba, Choloma and Choluteca, as well as in the rural department of Olancho.

Military and police forces continue the practice of throwing tear gas into crowds. So far, police and military have killed at least 16 people and wounded over 600 in the several national protests for electoral recounts.

Since the nearly three weeks of electoral limbo began, Nasralla has formally denounced the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, TSE, and its director, David Matamoros, for several counts of electoral fraud. The Opposition Alliance claims Matamoros is “stealing” Nasralla’s “victory” and is working to keep incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez from the National Party in power for another term.

Hondurans Launch a National Protest Against Election Results

International observers from the European Union and the Organization of American States, OAS, have documented numerous irregularities and a lack of transparency throughout the electoral process. Just days after the election, EU observers said the TSE needs to “depoliticize” from the National Party. More recently, they have called for the administration to respect the Honduran rule of law and to respect citizen’s human rights to safely demonstrate.

So far, the EU and OAS have observed the TSE recount of over 30 percent of registered presidential ballots.

The count remains stalled with Hernandez ahead by 1.53 percent in popular votes.

<![CDATA[Venezuela Govt. Advances Dialogue With Opposition ]]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 10:31:00 -0400 Representatives of the Venezuelan government are meeting with leaders of the country's opposition in the Dominican Republic to continue dialogue aimed at promoting peace and unity.

Act of Solidarity With Venezuela on XIII Anniversary of Alba

Delegates from both sides are resuming talks after a two-week hiatus. Members of the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition are representing the opposition.

"The Venezuelan government is absolutely willing to dialogue," Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said.

"We are committed ... this is an obligation and hopefully the opposition will continue to take part in the talks."

After previous two-day discussions ended on Dec. 2, Dominican President Danilo Medina, a lead broker in the negotiations, said "the government and the opposition declare that there has been significant progress in the search for an agreement that peacefully resolves the situation in Venezuela.”

“It's better to go slowly so that things go well," he added.

Representatives from Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, will continue to observe the talks.

Negotiations will focus on six pending agenda points that include, on the part of the government, that the opposition recognize the legitimacy of the freely-elected National Constituent Assembly, ANC, in place since August. They also want the opposition to stop working with the U.S. government to enact strict economic and political sanctions against the Venezuelan government.  

The opposition, lead by Simon Calzadilla, is looking to install a new National Electoral Council, CNE, to agree upon special conditions on the 2018 presidential elections, and to replace the ANC with a new National Assembly.

Dominica Thanks ALBA Countries for Hurricane Maria Aid

Opposition leaders also want to open the country to "humanitarian aid," which could potentially happen if U.S. sanctions are lifted.   

Arreaza told EFE that the government hopes to "guarantee a peaceful coexistence where the law is respected and where violence is left out of any political game,” referring to opposition-incited riots last April that left over 100 dead and caused millions of dollars of damages to public and private properties.

The Dec. 1 and 2 negotiations between the Venezuelan government and the opposition were a watershed moment in the country’s recent political history as President Nicolas Maduro had called for peace talks to begin over 300 times since he took office in 2013. After the government’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela swept the country’s municipal elections in October, the opposition conceded to talk.   

“We’ll be at the meetings with the opposition," Arreaza said.

"After so much insistence, we’ve been able to get them to sit ... at the dialogue table to settle and resolve the social, economic and political problems in Venezuela.

<![CDATA[Bolivia's Evo Morales Meets Pope Francis in European Tour]]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 10:23:00 -0400 As part of the final stop in his tour of Europe, Bolivian President Evo Morales has met with Pope Francis in the Vatican. There, they discussed his country’s campaign demanding access to the Pacific Ocean.

Bolivians March to Demand Access to Sea

Since taking office in 2006, Morales has intensified the Sea for Bolivia campaign, which calls on Chile to return Pacific-bordering lands stolen from the landlocked country during the 19th Century. Now, the case is being arbitrated by the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Morales expressed gratitude for his fifth visit to Pope Francis on Twitter.

"Very grateful and with much humility, we had in the Vatican our fifth meeting since 2013 with our brother Francisco, the Pope of the poor,” Morales said.

“Bolivia still keeps emotional memories of his visit on July 2015 and his support for the process of change and for Sea for Bolivia.”

Bolivia's delegation to the Vatican included Minister of Foreign Affairs Fernando Huanacuni, Minister of Justice and Transparency Hector Arce, Maritime Cause in the Hague Tribunal official Eduardo Rodríguez and Emerson Calderon, advisor to the Strategic Management for Maritime Vindication.  

The meeting in the Vatican was Morales' last stop in his European tour, which began on Dec. 12, to attend the One Planet Summit in Paris, France.

After Paris, Morales traveled to Austria, where he signed an agreement with the University of Graz to help train Bolivian professionals who will participate in the construction of the Central Bi-Oceanic Railway. He also traveled to Switzerland, where he signed a memorandum for technical cooperation for the aforementioned project.

The Central Bi-Oceanic Railway seeks to connect ports in Santos, Brazil and Ilo, Peru, cutting through Bolivia. It is one of Unasur's seven prioritized infrastructure projects for regional integration.

<![CDATA[Puerto Ricans Protest Lack of Electricity]]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 09:41:00 -0400 Puerto Rican community groups have called for nationwide actions against inadequate electrical services on the island in the wake of Hurricane Maria. 

Puerto Rican Officials Demand Equality over Tax Reforms

Residents of a neighborhood in Trujillo Alto have commemorated their 100th day without electricity with a birthday cake and a message to their government: "Christmas in this little town will receive Jesus in sadness, because the government has forgotten us and we continue without light." Protests are set to take place in San Juan and Guaynabo.

Hurricane Irma struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 8. A week later, Hurricane Maria made its way across the island.

Both decimated the island's electrical grid along with water infrastructure, internet connectivity and housing. They also deepened ongoing economic and social issues related to austerity measures.

After Puerto Rico was hit by the hurricanes, Governor Ricardo Rossello promised that 95 percent of the Island would have electrical services restored by Dec. 15. However, vast sections of the island remain without power. On Thursday, the director of Technical Operations for the Electrical Energy Authority said the utility will be re-established between December and January of next year, depending on the availability of materials. 

Puerto Rico remains a U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. However, the U.S. government's emergency response revealed the lower status granted to residents there. As U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing Leilani Farha put it, "We can’t fail to note the dissimilar urgency and priority given to the emergency response in Puerto Rico, compared to the U.S. states affected by hurricanes in recent months.”

The lack of adequate response garnered criticism at home and abroad, especially after U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed Puerto Rico's tragedy, comparing it with Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, which he called "a real catastrophe."   


<![CDATA[Peruvian President Rejects Calls for His Resignation]]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 08:41:00 -0400 Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has said he will not leave office and rejected accusations against him for alleged acts of corruption. 

Peru's President Signs Bill Legalizing Medical Marijuana

In doing so, he asked the State Prosecutor's Office to lift his bank secrecy.

"I am here to face this. I neither run, nor hide, nor do I have any reason to do so," Kuczynski said on Thursday after circulation of a report on payments he allegedly received from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

Kuczynski came under scrutiny on Wednesday, after the Congressional Commission investigating Odebrecht's network of corruption revealed he had received payments by Odebrecht when he was a state minister. The payments were made to Westfield Capital Ltd, a company owned by Kuczynski.       

"The President is no longer in the moral or ethical capacity to continue leading the country," said Daniel Salaverry, spokesman for the main opposition party, in a press conference on Thursday.

In response to the calls for his resignation, Kuczynski pleaded via Twitter, "recovering this democracy was difficult. Let us not lose it again.

"I will not abdicate my honor, nor my values, nor my responsibilities as president of all Peruvians," he added.

Other political actors across party lines are also involved in the Odebrecht corruption scandal. Former President Ollanta Humala is currently in prison, while former President Alan Garcia and opposition leader Keiko Fujimori are under investigation.  

<![CDATA[Income of World's Top .001% Skyrockets by 636%: Report]]> Thu, 14 Dec 2017 23:06:00 -0400 Global Economic Inequality is surging, further widening the pay gap between the haves and have-nots, according to a new World Inequality report.

50% of World's Wealth Is Controlled by Wealthy 1%: Report

The report highlights the growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots, and was compiled by five economists, including scholars Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty.

The top .001 percent of earners in the United States, consisting of almost 1,300 households, have seen their earnings skyrocket by 636 percent in the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, the average annual income for the bottom 50 percent of earners has stayed constant at US$16,000 over the last four decades, adjusting for inflation.

In 2016, the richest one percent of U.S. residents held 39 percent of the country's wealth: 15 percent more than they controlled in 1980.

"In 2016, the share of total national income accounted for by just that nation's top 10% earners (top 10% income share) was 37% in Europe, 41% in China, 46% in Russia, 47% in the U.S.-Canada, and around 55% in sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil and India," the report revealed.

"In the Middle East, the world's most unequal region according to our estimates, the top 10% capture 61% of national income." 

The news comes a day after the WHO and the World Bank reported that nearly 100 million people are forced to choose between healthcare or food and basic living amenities due to extreme poverty.         

"Some 800 million people spend more than 10 percent of their household budget on health care, and almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty each year because of out-of-pocket health expenses," the WHO-World Bank study noted.        

"Recent research shows that there can be an enormous gap between the public discourse about equal opportunity and the reality of unequal access to education," the Economic Inequality report concludes. 

"Democratic access to education can achieve much, but without mechanisms to ensure that people at the bottom of the distribution have access to well-paying jobs, education will not prove sufficient to tackle inequality. Better representation of workers in corporate governance bodies, and healthy minimum-wage rates are important tools to achieve this."


A November report published by Credit Suisse revealed that an alarming 50 percent of the world's wealth is controlled by just one percent of the global population. The income gap in the United States has widened since the 2008 financial crisis, when the world's richest people held 42.5 percent of global wealth, compared to 50.1 percent in 2017.  

"The share of the top one percent has been on an upward path ever since, passing the 2000 level in 2013 and achieving new peaks every year thereafter," the annual report noted. "Global wealth inequality has certainly been high and rising in the post-crisis period." 

The report also revealed that nearly 3.4 billion lower-income people live in developing nations – 90 percent of those in India and Africa – on less than US$10,000 annual income. 

"In some low-income countries in Africa, the percentage of the population in this wealth group is close to 100 percent," the report stated. "For many residents of low-income countries, life membership of the base tier is the norm rather than the exception." 

The world inequality study's authors concluded: "If in the coming decades all countries follow the moderate inequality trajectory of Europe over the past decades, global income inequality can be reduced — in which case there can also be substantial progress in eradicating global poverty." 

The study reveals the share of total national income accounted for by each nation's top 10% of earners
<![CDATA[Native American NFL Hoax: 'Redskins Renamed Redhawks']]> Thu, 14 Dec 2017 22:50:00 -0400 Tired of the racist name and mascot of the National Football League's Washington Redskins, Native American advocates produced an elaborate hoax reporting that the Redskins had changed their name to the Redhawks.

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The online campaign, led by a group called Rising Hearts, created a Twitter account and five web pages made to resemble the real pages of The Washington Post, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report, as well as a website for the fictional team that bore the burgundy and gold of the Redskins with the new Redhawks logo.

The "fake news" included quotes from Redskins coach Coach Jay Gruden and team owner Daniel Snyder, as well as a number of fans, activists, politicians and others commenting on the fictitious name change.

In one fabricated quote, team owner Dan Snyder said the Redhawks are "a symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage, pride, and respect — the same values we know guide Native Americans, and which are embedded throughout their rich history as the original Americans." 

A poll by the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University, San Bernardino, found that 67 percent of Native Americans considered the name 'Redskins' to be racist.

"We created this action to show the NFL and the Washington Football franchise how easy, popular and powerful changing the name could be," Rebecca Nagle, of the Cherokee Nation, said in a news release that identified her as one of the organizers of the stunt.

"What we're asking for changes only four letters. Just four letters! Certainly, the harm that the mascot does to Native Americans outweighs the very, very minor changes the franchise would need to make."

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The fake websites fooled many, but they also included disclaimers identifying them as a parody that was neither endorsed by nor affiliated with the sites they were imitating.

"We are sorry for the disappointment and confusion many will feel learning that Snyder has not changed the name yet," a Rising Hearts press release said.

"The purpose of this action is to show that the need for a new mascot is real and immediate. This online campaign is one of many direct and confrontational tactics that we as Native people have to use to demand our human dignity."

ESPN and The Washington Post, however, failed to see the funny side. The media giants are reportedly exploring legal options to protect their respective intellectual properties.

The Redskins themselves have long opposed a name change, citing the fans' preference, but campaigners plan to continue piling on the pressure with a news conference in Washington on Thursday, and a pre-game rally on Sunday at FedEx Field.

"We need to see now how we can make a viral social-media campaign turn into a viral physical movement where people show up, put their time on the line, their bodies on the line to stand against something that's unjust," hoax co-organizer Sebastian Medina-Tayac told The Washington Post.

Regardless, the Redskins management insist the name will remain in use indefinitely.

"This morning, the Redskins organization was made aware of fraudulent websites about our team name," Tony Wyllie, the team's senior vice-president for communications, said in a statement. "The name of the team is the Washington Redskins and will remain that for the future."

<![CDATA[Chile: Patch Adams Denies Support For Sebastián Piñera ]]> Thu, 14 Dec 2017 22:42:00 -0400 In the final stretch of the election Chilean campaign, Sebastian Piñera has caused a media stir in Chile with the supposed support that famous American doctor Patch Adams gave to the flag bearer of the right, who is facing a presidential second round in Chile against center-left candidate Alejandro Guillier. But in a strongly worded statement on his Twitter Patch Adams categorically denied campaigning for Piñeraa:"To be clear, I do not support him"

"Thanks to Dr. Patch Adams who with his example and career has taught us to look with love at the simple things of life, to thank those who are by our side and to enjoy laughter. I appreciate your support and your confidence in a Chile with better times for health. Let's go forward!"



Patch Adams responded quickly and categorically via his own Twitter: "Chilean friends, I am preparing a statement, but I want you to know that I do not support, in ANY WAY, the candidacy of @sebastianpinera and much less his political proposals for Chile. Your use of my image has been deceptive and I ask that you stop using it for your campaign"

This is not Sebastian Piñera's first media gaffe, earlier in the campaign he received the support of infamous Narco Pablo Escobar's main sicario, Jhon Jairo Velasquez, a man responsible for the deaths of over 250 people, who warned against the impending danger of "communism" if Piñera's opponent Alejandro Guillier were to win the election.

<![CDATA[Canada Allowing US Border Officers Expanded Powers]]> Thu, 14 Dec 2017 22:35:00 -0400 Canada is expanding the powers of U.S. customs and border officers in the country — prompting resounding concern from civil liberty groups.


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Bill C-23, also known as the Preclearance Act of 2016, will give U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers the ability to carry firearms and conduct strip-searches in Canadian airports, in addition to being able to detain Canadians if they decline to participate in preclearance procedures.

Currently, several major airports in Canada allow Canadians to clear U.S. Customs and Border Protection procedures before they fly to the United States.

"Our concern is that it's really coming at the cost of the rights of travelers," said Tim McSorley, national coordinator for the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), a national coalition of civil society organizations, reported Al-Jazeera.

According to the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association (CMLA), the new law "provides explicit blanket immunity" to U.S. officers "from anything done or omitted" in the exercise of their powers and duties, the group stated in a recent report.

"Travellers have no actual mechanism through which they can hold (U.S. officers) or the United States accountable for breaches of their rights under the (Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedom), including discrimination," the CMLA said.


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The United States has said the new law will make “national security” efforts more enhanced.

"The expansion of preclearance in strategic locations will further strengthen our ability to identify those who may pose a national security threat prior to encountering them on US soil," R. Gil Kerlikowske, the commissioner of the customs and border agency, told The New York Times.

First tabled in July of last year by the Canadian Parliament, the bill was signed by U.S. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in February, receiving royal assent this week, to soon become law.

<![CDATA[Dominican Feminists Mobilize Against Criminalization of Abortion]]> The Dominican Republic has one of Latin America's highest rates of maternal mortality, with 106 deaths for every 100,000 births.

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 22:04:00 -0400 The Investigation Center for Feminine Action (CIPAF) in the Dominican Republic is calling for public support for its bid to legalize abortion when a mother's life is at risk, when a fetus is deformed, or when a pregnancy is caused by rape.

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The CIPAF's demands have been heard by lawmaker Magda Rodriguez, head of the legislative commission on gender equality, and representatives of the Women Ministry, who have previously "showed interest" in the campaign.

On Sunday, the organization of sex workers in Dominican Republic (Otrasex) organized a sit-in in front of the National Congress to protest against the criminalization of abortion, on the International Day of Human Rights.

“In the name of what is the Dominican state — which fails to protect women from rapes — claims to compell a woman to bear the child of her rapist?” said the sex workers in a statement.

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Otrasex spokesman Soranyi Martinez said that forced pregnancy resulting from a rape is considered "cruel" and "inhumane" under human rights laws.

In 2015, the Attorney General's Office registered more than 6,700 complaints about sexual crimes, including more than 1,200 rapes.

About 13 percent of maternal deaths during birth occur during illegal abortions, according to the movement's spokesman Arelis Ferrer. An estimated 35,000 abortions are carried out every year in the Dominican Republic.

In December 2015, the constitutional court decided to reinstate a total ban on abortion, meaning that any woman or doctor found carrying out an abortion can be sentenced to between two and 10 years in prison.