Relatives and friends of people who were poisoned with adulterated cocaine cry after talking to doctors outside the emergency room of a hospital in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina,(AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
This Week in Latin America

Contaminated cocaine kills 24 in Buenos Aires

February 6, 2022 By Staff

THIS WEEK IN LATIN AMERICA

ARGENTINA: Authorities in Buenos Aires informed that at least 24 people have died since Wednesday as a result of a contaminated batch of cocaine. Over 80 persons were said to have been hospitalized, with some requiring the life-sustaining support of mechanical ventilators.

Police have identified a drug gang operating in marginalized communities on the western outskirts of Buenos Aires as the primary suspects. Residents of these communities are also the majority of victims of the corrupted batch of cocaine.

Toxicology investigations have yet to identify what the cocaine was laced with, but experts have said that it is likely to be a synthetic opioid like fentanyl.

United Nations statistics place Argentina as the third-highest consumer of cocaine in the Americas, after the U.S. and Uruguay.

SOUTHERN CONE

BRAZIL: Anti-racism protests took place in various cities on Saturday following the brutal murder of a Congolese refugee on Jan. 24 in Rio de Janeiro.

The protest in Rio began at the beach kiosk where Moïse Mugenyi Kabagambe, 24, was employed as a waiter and near where he was killed. Security camera footage released by the police on Wednesday showed three men beating Kabagambe to death. His family said that he went to demand unpaid wages from the kiosk’s operators.

Protests across the country called for justice to be served, and also highlighted wider issues of xenophobia and anti-Black violence in Brazil.

ANDES

PERU: President Pedro Castillo on Tuesday overhauled his cabinet for the third time in six months, raising concerns about political instability. Four days later, the newly assigned prime minister, Hector Valer, announced his resignation amidst a scandal involving past domestic violence complaints made by his wife and daughter. 

In addition to Valer, Castillo reassigned half of the 18-member cabinet. The changes were sparked by the resignations of Interior Minister Avelino Guillén the previous Friday and Prime Minister Mirtha Vásquez on Monday, both of whom cited inaction on widespread corruption.

Castillo has not addressed the criticism. According to Peru’s Constitution, Valer’s resignation requires the entire cabinet to step down until a replacement is named and a new cabinet is selected. 

ECUADOR:  A landslide in Quito killed at least 24 people Monday following nearly 24 hours of rainfall. The heaviest rain in nearly two decades flooded a dam near the neighborhoods of La Gasca and La Comuna, causing a hillside to collapse. Some 50 people were injured and six are reported missing.

Local authorities reported 75 liters of rainfall per square meter in the area, the highest since 2003. Videos captured on Monday night show mud and water washing away cars and infrastructure. 

Soldiers and firefighters aided the relief effort, and Quito’s mayor, Santiago Guarderas, declared three days of mourning.

Severe rainfall has affected 22 of Ecuador’s 24 provinces in recent months, intensified by a warming climate that traps more water in the atmosphere. 

CARIBBEAN 

CUBA/US: The U.S. State Department announced on Thursday that visa processing services would resume at its Embassy in Havana in the near future. A senior official said that additional consular staff would be sent to the Embassy, but a spokesperson later declined to specify when.

The announcement came on the same day three Cuban-American Republican lawmakers wrote to President Joe Biden requesting that “human rights and pro-democracy activists” be prioritized for visa applications. In a Foreign Affairs committee meeting, Democratic Rep. Joaquín Castro also supported restarting visa processing, as well as loosening restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba.

The former Trump administration withdrew Embassy personnel in 2017 on unsubstantiated claims that a mystery illness that befell multiple staff members was a targeted attack. 

JAMAICA/TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: The two Caribbean countries will compete in this month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.

For the first time since 1998, Jamaica will participate in the four-man bobsleigh event. Jamaica will also field a two-man bobsleigh team and an athlete in the women’s monobob, as well as a male alpine skier. The country’s historic qualification for the 1988 edition of the Games in the four-man event inspired the 1993 film “Cool Runnings”.

Trinidad and Tobago makes its first appearance at a Winter Olympics in 20 years with a two-man bobsleigh team. The team was officially formed in August 2021.

CENTRAL AMERICA

GUATEMALA: Guatemalan prosecutors charged 10 members of a migrant smuggling ring on Friday who were accused of killing 15 Guatemalan citizens in northern Mexico. 

The 10 suspects were apprehended in January of this year during an investigation into the January 2021 killings that took place in the state of Tamaulipas, México.  The prosecutors charged the smugglers with conspiracy, human trafficking, money laundry, and obstruction of  justice. 

The organized group known as “los coronado” arranged trips for migrants headed to the United States. The group includes a dozen members of elite police units in northern Mexico.  

NICARAGUA: President Daniel Ortega’s National Assembly on Wednesday banned four more private universities.  

According to Congress, the institutions – host to academics who are critics of Ortega – failed to comply with financial reporting obligations.  The decision has also affected six aid groups linked to the Roman Catholic Church. 

Ortega’s regime has been known to ban other organizations on the same grounds as the recent crackdown on universities and aid groups continues. Critics of Ortega argue that the political strategy  not only cleared the path for a nearly uncontested November 2021 re-election, but has also reshaped the country’s society.

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: Drug cartels operating in Mexico’s western region have incorporated the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on roads, and drones retrofitted to drop small bombs to continue their gang warfare. 

An unnamed spokesman of a self-defense group in the town of Tepalcatepec, in western Michoacan state, said last week that the IEDs have severely damaged Mexican Army armored vehicles.

Drug cartels have utilized explosives and projectiles against police and military, but the use of IEDs and drones was unknown in gang conflict.  

The government’s scarce resources to combat drug wars and control the expansion of drug cartels worry the region’s inhabitants who also criticize what they see as President López Obrador’s lack of serious effort to confront the gangs.

UNITED STATES: A panel of U.S. Intelligence experts said on Wednesday that it has not identified the responsible offender behind the brain injuries reported by U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers that may be linked to the mysterious “Havana syndrome” illness. 

CIA Deputy Director David Cohen assembled the intelligence panel in charge of explaining the plausible causes of the syndrome. Wednesday’s report did not focus on who is responsible, but did emphasize the importance for U.S. officials to immediately report health concerns. 

The CIA released a report stating that it is an unlikely Russian or foreign adversary attack.  The U.S. personnel could have been targeted by energy pulses.