Former U.S. Envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote. Photo: U.S. Department of State
This Week in Latin America

US Envoy to Haiti Resigns Over Biden Administration’s Handling of Haitian Migrants at the Border

September 27, 2021 By Staff

THIS WEEK IN LATIN AMERICA

US Envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned on Wednesday over what he considered President Biden administration’s “inhumane” mass deportation of Haitian migrants seeking asylum at the US – Mexico border. Foote stated in a letter to the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, that the deportation policy would exacerbate the already dire situation in Haiti and in turn, drive more migrants to the border. 

Foote also accused the US Government of ignoring his recommendations to improve the situation. This claim was refuted by the State Department in a response issued Wednesday, which stated that Foote’s proposals were considered “harmful… to the promotion of democracy in Haiti.” Deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, added in a later interview that Foote had suggested deploying US troops to Haiti.

Foote wrote in his letter, “The collapsed state is unable to provide security or basic services, and more refugees will fuel further desperation and crime. Surging migration to our borders will only grow as we will add to Haiti’s unacceptable misery.”  His decision to step down as US Envoy comes days after the horrific photos of border patrol agents on horseback chasing Haitian migrants were published. 

SOUTHERN CONE

ARGENTINA/BRAZIL: Two laboratories in Argentina and Brazil have been selected to develop and produce mRNA vaccines for the Americas to protect against COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) announced on Tuesday that the Buenos Aires-based Sinergium Biotech and the Rio de Janeiro-based Bio-Manguinhos Institute of Technology on Immunobiologicals at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ) would be entrusted with this responsibility.

The initiative is a result of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and PAHO calls for expressions of interest earlier in the year directed at medical research institutions and manufacturers willing to develop and share mRNA technology with the region. The COVID-19 vaccines produced by US-based companies Pfizer and Moderna were the first to adopt this technology.

CHILE: Thousands in the northern coastal city of Iquique staged a protest on Saturday against the presence of undocumented Venezuelan migrants. Marchers chanted “no more illegal immigration” and sang Chile’s national anthem. There were also reports of attacks on migrants and the burning of migrant tents and personal belongings.

The demonstration came one day after police cleared an ad-hoc migrant camp that had been installed in the city’s Plaza Brasil. A local government official informed that the approximately 100 families that were camped in Plaza Brazil have been left wandering the city searching for a new location.

ANDES

PERÚ: The body of Shining Path leader and founder, Abimael Guzmán, was cremated on Friday morning in Lima. The cremation closes two weeks of controversy over how to handle the remains, with authorities raising concern that a gravesite would attract followers of the terrorist group. Guzmán died on September 11th at the age of 86 in a maximum security prison where he was serving a life sentence. 

The President of Perú, Pedro Castillo, passed a law last week enabling state prosecutors to authorize the cremation and disposal of the bodies of individuals convicted of terrorism. According to the Attorney General, the ashes have been discarded in an undisclosed location. Guzmán’s widow, Elena Iparraguirre, also a former Shining Path leader serving a life sentence, had sought to obtain the remains after her husband’s death.

Guzmán, a former philosophy professor, launched a Maoist insurgency against the Peruvian state in 1980. The ensuing conflict led to the death of over 70,000 people over two decades, with highland indigenous citizens making up the bulk of the victims. Guzmán was captured in Lima in 1992.

VENEZUELA: Negotiations between Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó have been suspended in Mexico after government delegates failed to appear. Officials did not provide a reason for the absence, but anonymous sources connected to the process indicated that talks would resume on Saturday. 

Last week, the government delegation announced that Alex Saab – a Colombian businessman close to Maduro and currently jailed in Cape Verde – would be joining the negotiations. Saab is awaiting extradition to the United States where he faces money laundering charges connected to a food import program that he ran on behalf of Maduro’s government that bypassed US sanctions. Officials did not explain how Saab would join the negotiations. 

Issues on the agenda at the Mexico negotiations include a pathway to elections, social protections for Venezuelan citizens, and the lifting of US sanctions. The first round of talks, mediated by Norway, took place from September 3 to 6 in México City.

CARIBBEAN 

BARBADOS: Prime Minister Mia Mottley reaffirmed her government’s stance against COVID-19 vaccine mandates at a press conference held during the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly last week. Mottley explained that her administration has instead focused on sensitizing the population on vaccination while ensuring that free testing is available. She also pointed out that almost half of the population had already received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Other governments of the Southern Caribbean, including Guyana, St. Vincent, and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago, have faced significant public pushback over their decisions to implement vaccine mandates.

PUERTO RICO: Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, on Tuesday, signed into law the first federal minimum wage increase on the island in 12 years. Starting January 1, 2022, the minimum wage will be raised to $8.50 per hour, from the current rate of $7.25. Pierluisi noted that the increase would represent an additional $2000 in the coming year for full-time minimum wage workers. 

Two further increases are scheduled for July 1, 2023, to $9.50 per hour, and July 1, 2024, to $10.50 per hour. These increases are subject to change based on decisions by the Minimum Wage Evaluating Committee of Puerto Rico’s Department of Labor.

CENTRAL AMERICA

PANAMA: Half of Panama’s population of 4.2 million people have been vaccinated against COVID-19, leaving the country weeks away from herd immunity, President Laurentino Cortizo said during his address to the UN General Assembly on Thursday.  Panama at 56%, now stands much higher than most Latin American nations in terms of fully vaccinated people. According to data from the ​​Ministry of Health, Panama has administered 5.3 million doses of vaccines out of the 7.2 million which the nation received from Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and AstraZeneca Plc.

NICARAGUA: Nicaragua went before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), on Monday,  accusing Colombia of violating its maritime sovereignty in the West Caribbean. That same court made a 2012 ruling in favor of Nicaragua, awarding them a large portion of the Caribbean waters, which increased Nicaragua’s continental shelf and economic exclusion zone, providing access to underwater oil and gas deposits, along with fishing rights. Nicaragua claimed that Colombia repeatedly violated the ruling by placing naval patrol boats within these waters to prevent vessels with Nicaraguan fishing permits from operating. 

Lawyers representing the Colombian Government, on Wednesday, dismissed Nicaragua’s claims, maintaining that the 2012 ruling respected international law. Attorney Manuel Jose Cepeda stated that Colombia’s naval presence respects international law, arguing that the vessels were needed for international duties such as environmental preservation and anti-drug trafficking.

The ICJ is the United Nations’ highest legal authority.  Both nations’ arguments will be heard in hearings planned to run through Oct. 1.

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: Mexico again requested the assistance of Israel’s government on Friday with extraditing former Mexican official, Tomás Zerón, wanted for the mishandling of a controversial investigation into the disappearance of 43 student teachers back in 2014.  Zerón, former head of Mexico’s criminal investigation agency, evaded authorities last year by fleeing to Israel, according to Mexican officials. 

Mexican authorities and relatives of the missing accused Zerón of planting evidence to distort events that took place on Sept. 26, 2014. The student teachers were reported missing in the southwest city of Iguala. Government officials allege that they were kidnapped by police officers who were working with a local drug gang.  Only the remains of two of the 43 teachers-in-training have been identified.   

On the campaign trail in 2018, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to resolve the case of the missing 43 once in office.

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