British Virgin Islands Premier Andrew Fahie. Photo: Government of the British Virgin Islands
This Week in Latin America

British Virgin Islands’ head of government arrested for drug trafficking

May 2, 2022 By Staff

BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS:  The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) on Thursday arrested the British Virgin Islands’ head of government, Premier Andrew Fahie, in South Florida on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. DEA agents also detained the director of the territory’s port authority and her son on similar charges.

After a months-long undercover sting operation, the DEA gathered evidence that the premier, the port authority director, and her son offered the island of Tortola as a storage and transit point for shipments of cocaine from Latin America to the U.S. in exchange for money from drug cartels. The three also allegedly set up shell companies to facilitate payments.

The territory had also been subject to an unrelated probe by the U.K. government into suspected widespread corruption within the local administration. In a report released on Friday, the commission of inquiry responsible for these investigations recommended that the U.K. government re-impose direct rule over the territory. The British Virgin Islands are a British Overseas Territory but maintain self-governance of internal affairs.

SOUTHERN CONE

BRAZIL: A federal court on Monday upheld a 2017 ruling which suspended permissions for the development of potentially the largest open-pit gold mine in the Brazilian Amazon. The court determined that the Canada-based mining company behind the project had not appropriately consulted indigenous communities who would be affected. However, it stopped short of granting regional authorities’ request to cancel the company’s contract.

The Belo Sun Mining Corporation planned to develop a gold mine along the Xingu River in the northern state of Pará. The Belo Monte hydroelectric dam about 12.5 miles upstream – one of the world’s largest – has already caused problems with Amazonian indigenous communities due to its restriction of the river’s water flow and adverse effect on fish populations.

URUGUAY: Montevideo police on Thursday arrested a man suspected of murdering and dismembering 44-year-old car salesman Martín Migal Sobrales earlier in April.  A day later, the suspect was charged with obstruction of justice.

Security camera footage showing two men pushing a shopping cart with what appeared to be a body inside led investigators to a house in southeast Montevideo. Police believe that the men then threw the body into the Rio de la Plata. Various body parts have been found floating in the river and washed up on shores across the capital.

Law enforcement suspect that the murder is linked to money owed to drug dealers in western Montevideo.

ANDES

COLOMBIA: Large drifts of toxic, foul-smelling foam have blown from a contaminated river into the Colombian city of Mosquera, covering homes and businesses and disturbing local residents. Authorities attribute the foam to a nearby industrial zone and chemicals and detergents that have been deposited into the river. Aggravated by heavy rains, the foam has spread through the town multiple times in recent years. 

Local residents say the contamination is causing respiratory issues and skin irritation among children. A water treatment plant was installed in 2020 to mitigate the problem, and Mosquera’s mayor, Gian Gerometta, said via Twitter that local authorities are monitoring the issue and working to reduce the foam.

ECUADOR: The ministers of defense, energy and mines, agriculture, and human rights resigned over the past week in Ecuador at the request of President Guillermo Lasso. Lasso will complete his first year of office in May, and according to the General Secretariat of Communication of the Presidency, is carrying out a general restructuring of his cabinet.

The four resignation letters thank President Lasso and list different reasons for stepping down. Ecuador’s presidential advisor Diego Ordonez told the press that the cabinet is not in crisis, and the resignations serve to strengthen Lasso’s governing team. The changes come as Ecuador faces increases in crime and gang-related violence, and production and export crises in the agricultural sector.

CARIBBEAN

ST. VINCENT & THE GRENADINES/VENEZUELA: Vincentian Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, on his return from Venezuela this week, said that President Nicolás Maduro had agreed to cancel St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ debt under the PetroCaribe oil agreement. The two leaders met on Monday to discuss areas of “strategic alliance” between Venezuela and the Caribbean, according to a press release by Venezuela’s foreign ministry.

Gonsalves estimated that his country owed Venezuela about US$70 million, approximately 9% of public debt. He also stated that Maduro would halve the debt of other Eastern Caribbean countries involved in PetroCaribe. 

Through the PetroCaribe agreement established in 2005, Venezuela sold discounted oil to Caribbean countries. A significant decline in Venezuela’s oil production in recent years has negatively affected this trade. 

CENTRAL AMERICA

HONDURAS: The government on Monday repealed a law that authorized self-governing economic zones known as ZEDEs. This decision forced foreign investors in Honduras to pause plans to develop in these zones. President Xiomara Castro said that Monday’s repeal was “historic” and the country was “recovering its sovereignty.”

ZEDEs appeared after they were authorized by a constitutional amendment and an enabling law passed in 2013. As a way to bring foreign investment to impoverished areas of Honduras, libertarians and free-market thinkers sought to set up the self-governing zones. 

Prospera, a 58-acre project is set to develop on the Caribbean island of Roatan. Its U.S. backers intend to proceed with development. 

NICARAGUA: Michael Healy and Alvaro Vargas, two top executives of Nicaragua’s largest business association were convicted on Friday of “undermining national integrity.”  

The Nicaraguan Center for Human rights demanded the immediate release of the executives in a statement. More than 40 opposition officials in Nicaragua have been convicted of crimes such as laundering money, property, and assets. Ortega’s government has been condemned internationally for its actions against the media and opposition leaders.

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: President Manuel Andres Lopez Obrador (AMLO) and members of his cabinet on Thursday proposed an electoral reform that will change the way in which voters select their representatives.

The president said that this reform is not intended to create a “single-party” system. The proposal would create a new federal elections authority and eliminate several state-level bodies, as well as include changes to 18 constitutional articles.

This is AMLO’s second-largest reform as president after failing to receive sufficient votes on his energy sector proposals. Mexico requires a two-thirds majority in Congress to make constitutional changes, which AMLO and his party don’t have. 

US/REGION: Leaders from Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba might not receive an invitation to this year’s Summit of the Americas hosted in Los Angeles, said a U.S. state department official on Wednesday. The official refused to answer whether Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó would be invited. 

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols said that it would be up to the White House to extend an invitation to Guaidó. The U.S. and several other countries recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s leader. Nicaragua’s and Cuba’s participation in the summit is also unlikely due to Washington’s tense relationship with their governments. 

The summit will invite several leaders from the Western Hemisphere to mainly address climate change, migration, and response to COVID-19.

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