Argentine President Courts Controversy With Tweet From China

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Argentine President Cristina Fernández on Wednesday attracted renewed controversy with a social media post mocking the speech of Chinese people, her hosts on a trip taken in an effort to build bilateral trade ties as she faces sharp questions about the death of a crusading prosecutor at home in Argentina.

Fernández’s Twitter post, sent on Wednesday, suggested the Chinese trade in “lice” and “petloleum,” a reference to stereotypes about the pronunciation of Chinese speakers. Following an immediate outcry, she tweeted that “when ridiculousness and absurdity are so severe, they can only be digested with humor.”

The controversy followed a major revelation on Tuesday concerning the death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman: that he had issued an arrest warrant for Fernández and others for their alleged role in covering up a 1994 terror bombing. Nisman was found dead by members of his security detail on Jan. 19 of a single gunshot wound to the head. He had been set to testify on the following day regarding his 300-page accusation that Fernández had worked to conceal Iran’s role in the deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in exchange for access to oil, a commodity Argentina pays to import. Fernández has been asked to testify in Nisman’s case, and a judge must now determine whether to formally compel the president to testify.

Fernández’s social media scandal follows a similar public relations challenge for Mexico’s president. Enrique Peña Nieto was widely ridiculed on social media after making an off-the-cuff remark at the end of a news conference on Tuesday, following his announcement about a government probe into allegations against him and a member of his administration.

After Peña Nieto said a probe will be set up to investigate possible conflicts of interest concerning real-estate purchases made by his family and the finance minister, he walked away from the podium, saying, “Ya sé que no aplauden,” or “I know they don’t applaud,” when his announcement was met with silence by the journalists in attendance. The hashtag #YaSeQueNoAplauden became the highest-trending topic on Twitter in Mexico over the next several hours.

Tuesday’s announcement of a government probe relate to a series of potential conflict-of-interest scandals uncovered by Aristegui Noticias and the Wall Street Journal that show contractors who sold private residences to the president and finance minister went on to receive lucrative government contracts. The charges of favoritism, along with the ongoing crisis surrounding the alleged massacre of 43 teacher-trainee students in Iguala, have caused Peña Nieto’s approval ratings to plummet.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

  • “Rolling gun battles” between Mexican government forces and gunmen between the border cities of Matamoros and Reynosa left at least nine dead and were expected to persist beyond the issuance of an emergency message by U.S. officials on Wednesday.
  • An ad on the Mcdonalds fast food chain’s Mexico Facebook page that read, in Spanish, “Tamales are a thing of the past” in order to promote an alternative menu item sparked controversy and public outrage, causing McDonald’s to take down the ad and post an apology.
  • Mexican authorities deported more than 50,000 women and children to Central America last year, a new record and a response to U.S. pressure to reverse a trend influenced by rising crime and meager economic opportunities.
  • As investigations into a June incident between military personnel and alleged gang members in Mexico that left 22 dead continue, testimonies suggest that high-level military officials knew about the situation and possibly even contributed to a cover-up, adding weight to suspicions that the victims were executed rather than initial accounts of a shoot-out.

Caribbean

  • Two Cuban baseball players abandoned their teams in the middle of the Caribbean Series tournament in Puerto Rico, apparently in order to stay on U.S. soil after the MLB announced on Tuesday that Cuban players no longer need to obtain a special license from the U.S. government in order to sign with professional teams.
  • U.S. officials said on Wednesday that the status of Guantánamo Bay will not factor into continued diplomatic talks with Cuba, even though President Raul Castro demanded that the U.S. return the base last week.

Central America

  • Salvadoreans have rallied around national recognition of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assasinated in 1980 for criticizing right-wing military opression during El Salvador’s civil war and was declared a martyr by Pope Francis earlier this week.
  • Guatemala’s President Otto Perez Molina blamed his country’s increase in violent deaths in January on rivalries between the MS13 and Barrio 18 gangs, both of which are blamed for widespread extortion of legitimate businesses and private citizens.

Andes

  • As murder and kidnapping rates have declined across Colombia over the past decade, violent extortion has dramatically increased, with close to 90 percent of small business in the city of Medellin paying protection money, according to a police official.
  • Colombian drug cartels have begun to increasingly rely on smuggling coca paste rather than the finished product of powder cocaine, according to a report in Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, demonstrating the evolving economics of the regional drug trade.
  • Colombian authorities say they have seized 16 anti-aircraft rockets en route to FARC rebels, despite the guerrilla group having declared a unilateral ceasefire.

Southern Cone

  • Brazilian scientists and officials are concerned that golden mussels — an invasive species of Chinese origin that is devastating ecosystems in the Amazon River — will move into the Amazon rainforest and wreck havoc in one of the most biodiverse regions of the world.

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