Tesla Starts Production of Solar Cells in Buffalo, New York

Tesla Inc. is starting production of the cells for its solar roof tiles at its factory in Buffalo, New York.

 

The company has already begun installing its solar roofs, which look like regular roofs but are made of glass tiles. But until now, it has been making them on a small scale near its vehicle factory in Fremont, California.

 

Tesla’s Chief Technical Officer, JB Straubel, says the company now has several hundred workers and machinery installed in its 1.2 million-square-foot factory in Buffalo.

 

“By the end of this year we will have the ramp-up of solar roof modules started in a substantial way,” Straubel told The Associated Press Thursday. “This is an interim milestone that we’re pretty proud of.”

 

The Buffalo plant was originally begun by Silevo, a solar panel startup, on the site of an old steel mill. Solar panel maker SolarCity Corp. bought Silevo in 2014. Then Tesla acquired SolarCity for around $2 billion late last year.

SolarCity was run by cousins of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who sat on SolarCity’s board.

 

“This factory, and the opportunity to build solar modules and cells in the U.S., was part of why this project made sense,” Straubel said.

 

Tesla’s partner, Panasonic Corp., will make the photovoltaic cells, which look similar to computer chips. Tesla workers will combine the cells into modules that fit into the roof tiles. The tiles will eventually be made in Buffalo as well, along with more traditional solar panels. Panasonic is also working with Tesla at its Gigafactory battery plant in Nevada.

 

Straubel says Tesla eventually hopes to reach 2 gigawatts of cell production annually at the Buffalo plant. That’s higher than its initial target of 1 gigawatt by 2019. Straubel said Tesla has been working on making the factory more efficient.

 

One gigawatt is equivalent to the annual output of a large nuclear or coal-fired power plant, Straubel said, “so it’s like we’re eliminating one of those every single year.”

 

Straubel wouldn’t say how many customers have ordered solar roof tiles, but said demand is strong and it will take Tesla through the end of next year to meet its current orders. Both he and Musk have had the tiles installed on their roofs.

 

Tesla shares were up less than 1 percent to $355.65 in afternoon trading.

Chilean Economic Officials Resign in Blow to Center-left Coalition

Chilean Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdes and two other senior economic officials resigned on Thursday in a blow to President Michelle Bachelet’s center-left coalition months before presidential and parliamentary elections.

Valdes, an economist who has led the finance ministry for two years, told a press conference some members of the government did not share his sense of urgency to promote growth.

This week he had criticized a controversial decision by the government to reject a $2.5-billion copper and iron project on environmental grounds, a decision Bachelet backed.

“To advance sustainably toward greater growth requires discipline and the conviction of the government to open spaces so that the private sector can roll out its initiatives with clear rules,” Valdes said, adding: “But I believe I wasn’t able to make everybody share this conviction.”

Bachelet said she had accepted the resignations of Economy Minister Luis Felipe Cespedes and Finance Undersecretary Alejandro Micco shortly after Valdes resigned. She said Valdes will be replaced by Nicolas Eyzaguirre, an economist in charge of legislative affairs for the president, while Cespedes will be replaced by Jorge Rodriguez, president of Banco del Estado de Chile.

“I don’t think development is something to be done with your back to the people, where only the numbers matter and not what’s happening to families,” said Bachelet.

The president did not give a reason for the resignations for Cespedes and Micco, though both had been critical of the government’s decision to cancel the Dominga copper and iron project, owned by Andes Iron.

Eyzaguirre and Rodriguez, both centrists, served under Ricardo Lagos, a moderate who was president from 2000 to 2006.

Valdes’ resignation, ahead of the November elections, was seen by some as a blow to the center-left and its candidate Alejandro Guillier, who is generally supportive of Bachelet, and a boost for conservative frontrunner Sebastian Pinera.

Bachelet has faced criticism that her government is poorly organized and lacks unity. Her approval rating has risen slowly in recent months after a series of legislative wins but remains in the low 30s.

“She showed a bit of momentum, but this is something of a reversal,” said Kenneth Bunker, head of an elections unit at the Universidad Central de Chile.

Venezuela’s Government Reports Nearly 10,000 Homicides in 2017

Venezuela’s government has tallied nearly 10,000 violent deaths nationwide this year through mid-August, a grim figure some observers contend is a serious undercount.

The Venezuelan Security Observatory, part of the federal Ministry of the Interior, Justice and Peace, recorded 9,927 homicides from January 1 through August 13, it said in a report released Monday.

Opposition lawmaker Simón Calzadilla expressed skepticism, citing figures from the nongovernmental Venezuelan Violence Observatory group that show Venezuela’s homicide rate has been increasing in recent years. It reported 27,875 violent deaths in 2015 and 28,468 in 2016.

 

“And this year it seems that we are going to break all the records,” Calzadilla said at a Tuesday news conference, predicting the homicide count could top 33,000.

Why the wildly disparate numbers? In part, it’s because Venezuela’s government does not include extrajudicial killings in its homicide totals, though human rights group do, two experts with the Brazilian think tank Igarapé Institute wrote in the Los Angeles Times earlier this year.

The institute tracks homicides globally.

UN finds policy to curb dissent

The Venezuelan government said its current toll excludes deaths linked to mass street demonstrations for and against President Nicolas Maduro’s government that began in early April. Its attorney general’s office is investigating 124 such deaths.

On Wednesday, the United Nations human rights office released a report suggesting that Venezuelan security forces were tied to 46 of those deaths and pro-government armed groups, or colectivos, to another 27.

“Responsibility for the remaining 51 deaths has not yet been determined,” the United Nations said in a news release on its report, which found “the existence of a policy to repress political dissent and instill fear in the population to curb demonstrations.”

Upon the government report’s release, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said Venezuelan authorities were working to reduce violence. More than 9,000 uniformed security forces have been deployed nationwide, he said on social media, to improve public safety and to “defend the sovereignty and independence of the country.”

Fear about security stalks many of the South American country’s 31 million residents. Only 12 percent of Venezuelans reported feeling safe, according to Gallup’s Law and Order Index. The results, released in August, show the South American country was considered the least secure among 135 countries in the ranking.

Gallup said almost four out of 10 Venezuelans 38 percent had had money or property stolen last year. At least one out of five 22 percent reported being assaulted or mugged. Venezuela was the only Latin American country to have at least 15 percent of respondents claim they were assaulted or mugged in 2016.

​Fright prompts flight

Growing insecurity has prompted countless Venezuelans to flee the country.

Pedro Zerpa, interviewed on Caracas’ Sabana Grande pedestrian thoroughfare, said his college-student son left for Chile two years ago after being “robbed at the door of the house” by pistol-wielding men.

The 56-year-old shoe repair specialist said his son completed his economics studies in Chile and had found work there.

Amelis Durán, interviewed in east Caracas’ Chacaito neighborhood, said her two grown sons and daughter also had moved abroad.

“They had to migrate from the country,” the woman said, declining to give their destinations.”They left too much insecurity in any part of Caracas.”

The government report attributed most homicides to firearms, used in 92 percent of all cases.

Carol Guensburg contributed to this report.

UN Committee: Britain ‘Going Backwards’ on Rights of Disabled

The U.N. Committee on the rights of disabled people said on Thursday it had more concerns about Britain – due to funding cuts, restricted rights and an uncertain post-Brexit future — than any other country in its 10-year history.

The committee, which reviews states’ compliance with the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, published a 17-page report with recommendations about how Britain could do better.

“The UK is at the moment going backwards in accordance to the information that we have received,” committee member Stig Langvad told a news conference in Geneva.

Britain said it was disappointed by the report. It said it did not reflect the evidence it had provided to the committee, nor did it recognize progress that had been made.

The U.N. committee’s chairwoman Theresia Degener has described the situation in Britain as a “human catastrophe.”

“The austerity measures that they have taken – they are affecting half a million people, each disabled person is losing between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds per year, people are pushed into work situations without being recognized as vulnerable, and the evidence that we had in front of us was just overwhelming,” she said.

The most acute concern was the limitations on independent living.

“Persons with disabilities are in our view not able to choose where to live, with whom to live, and how to live,” Langvad said.

Britain was also not fulfilling its commitment to allow inclusive education, and there was a high incidence of bullying at schools. A growing number of disabled people were living in poverty.

Budgets for local authorities had not only been slashed, but they were no longer ear-marked for disabled people, another committee member, Damjan Tatic, said.

Langvad said people with disabilities should be involved in preparations for Britain’s Brexit talks with the European Union, to avoid losing protections that historically came from the EU.

“Persons with disabilities are afraid of the future since they do not know what is happening and since they do not feel that they are involved in the discussions on how to secure the rights of people with disabilities afterwards,” he said.

Britain’s government said it was a recognized world leader in disability rights, and almost 600,000 disabled people had moved into work in the last four years.

“We spend over 50 billion pounds a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions — more than ever before, and the second highest in the G7,” a government spokesperson said.

Debbie Abrahams, the opposition Labour party’s spokeswoman for Work and Pensions, said the “damning” report was a vindication of Labour’s criticism of the government’s policies.

“This confirms what Labour has been saying all along, that the lack of progress on all convention articles, including cruel changes to social security and the punitive sanctions regime, are causing real misery for sick and disabled people.”

A Labour government would incorporate the convention fully into British law, she said in a statement.

Reporting by Tom Miles, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Richard Balmforth

Huge WWII Bomb to Be Defused Close to German Gold Reserves

Frankfurt’s city center, an area including police headquarters, two hospitals, transport systems and Germany’s central bank storing $70 billion in gold reserves, will be evacuated on Sunday to allow the defusing of a 1.8-metric ton World War II bomb.

A spokesman for the German Bundesbank said, however, that “the usual security arrangements” would remain in place while experts worked to disarm the bomb, which was dropped by the British air force and was uncovered during excavation of a building site.

The Bundesbank headquarters, less than 600 meters (650 yards) from the location of the bomb, stores 1,710 metric tons of gold underground, around half the country’s reserves.

“We have never defused a bomb of this size,” bomb disposal expert Rene Bennert told Reuters, adding that it had been damaged on impact when it was dropped between 1943 and 1945. Airspace for 1.5 kilometers (nearly a mile) around the bomb site will also be closed.

Frankfurt city officials said more than 60,000 residents would be evacuated for at least 12 hours. The evacuation area will also include 20 retirement homes, the city’s opera house and the diplomatic quarter.

Bomb disposal experts will use a wrench to try to unscrew the fuses attached to the bomb. If that fails, a water jet will be used to cut the fuses away, Bennert told Reuters.

The most dangerous part of the exercise will be applying the wrench, Bennert said.

Roads and transport systems, including the underground, will be closed during the work and for at least two hours after the bomb is defused, to allow patients to be transported back to hospitals without traffic.

It is not unusual for unexploded bombs from World War II air raids to be found in German cities, but rarely are they so large and in such a sensitive position.

Del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’ Makes Waves in Venice

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is an aquatic Beauty and the Beast, a transgressive fairy tale about a young woman’s love for a scaly creature from the Amazonian depths.

Like the best fables, it’s also rooted in the real world: the story of a migrant from the south facing a hostile reception in a security-obsessed United States.

“I think that fantasy is a very political genre,” del Toro said Thursday at the Venice Film Festival, where The Shape of Water had its red-carpet world premiere. It’s one of 21 films competing for the coveted Golden Lion, the festival’s top prize.

“Fairy tales were born in times of great trouble. They were born in times of famine, pestilence and war,” he added.

Part monster movie, part noir thriller, part Hollywood musical, the film defies categorization, though Del Toro took a stab, suggesting it’s “like Douglas Sirk rewriting Pasolini’s Theorem with a fish.”

Some critics are calling it del Toro’s best film since Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006. The Daily Telegraph summed it up as “an honest-to-God B-movie blood-curdler that’s also, somehow, a shimmeringly earnest and boundlessly beautiful melodrama.” Screen International called it “exquisite … del Toro at his most poignant and sweet.”

Set in early-1960s Baltimore, the film stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa, a mute orphan who works as a cleaner at a high-security lab. She forges a bond with a captured creature who is at the center of a Cold War tug-of-war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

“It’s a movie set in 1962, but it’s a movie about today,” del Toro told reporters at a Venice news conference. “It’s about the issues we have today. When America talks about America being great again, I think they are dreaming of an America that was in gestation in `62 — an America that was futuristic, full of promise … but at the same time there was racism, sexism, classism.”

Del Toro said the creature — played with fittingly fluid movements by Doug Jones — is the only character in the film without a name, because he represents “many things to many people.”

For lonely Elisa, “it’s the first time somebody, something is looking at her, looking back the way you look back at the person you love.” For Michael Shannon’s ruthless U.S. government agent Strickland, the creature is “a dark, dirty thing that comes from the south” and must be eliminated.

“I am Mexican, and I know what it is to be looked at as `the other’ no matter what circumstances you’re in,” the director said — and the character of the creature embodied that otherness.

The film features warm performances from Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s friends — and a mesmerizing turn from Hawkins, who creates a character of depth, passion and compassion without saying a word.

Hawkins said that when del Toro first told her about the movie, she was working on her own project about “a woman who doesn’t know she’s a mermaid.” Some of those ideas fed into the character of Elisa.

“It was just synchronistic,” she said. “It was very odd. Those things rarely happen and when they do you know it’s something special.”

The Shape of Water features del Toro’s usual rich mix of ingredients: everything from Russian spies to musical interludes. Its overriding message, the director says, is “to choose love over fear.”

“We live in times where fear and cynicism are used in a way that is very pervasive and persuasive,” del Toro said. “Our first duty when we wake up is to believe in love.

“It’s the strongest force in the universe,” he said. “The Beatles and Jesus can’t be wrong — not both of them at the same time.”

US Demands Russia Close San Francisco Consulate, Annexes

The United States has ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco and two other annexes by this weekend, the State Department said Thursday.

The move was in response to a demand from Moscow that Washington reduce its diplomatic staff in Russia.

“In the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians, we are requiring the Russian Government to close its Consulate General in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement Thursday, adding that the deadline for the closures is September 2.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed his “regret” about the closures shortly after the announcement was made.

Thursday’s announcement marked the latest chapter in a diplomatic spat largely caused by new U.S. sanctions on Russia put in place last month.

Turkey on Diplomatic Push to Close Schools Linked to Influential Cleric

Turkey has been pressuring countries around the world to close or hand over control of schools linked to an influential Muslim cleric who was a close ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before becoming his most worrisome foe.

Influential and polarizing, Fethullah Gulen has been accused of being behind a corruption probe of Erdogan’s government in 2013, which shattered their friendship. He also is accused of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey that left 250 people dead and 2,200 injured.

The reclusive 76-year-old cleric denies those allegations. He espouses a moderate form of Islam with an eye on political clout, and he built a financial empire in Turkey that included banks, media, construction companies and schools. He is reported to have 3 million to 6 million followers in Turkey, including high-ranking government and military officials.

The schools began expanding internationally in 1993, and at one point there were Gulen-linked schools, cultural centers or language programs in more than 100 countries. In the United States, it’s the largest group of so-called charter schools, which receive tax funds. It has about 140 schools in 28 states, taking in more than $2.1 billion from taxpayers.

While some schools include teaching Islam, others reportedly have no religious content. Generally focused on math and science, the schools have earned praise from some parents, often because the quality of education is better than is generally available in some poverty-wracked countries.

Accused of hidden agenda

In Pakistan, for instance, they provide an alternative to the madrassas that have been accused of breeding extremism. The schools also are popular among Africa’s middle class.

But they have been accused of having a hidden agenda: instilling a sense of deep loyalty among students that is part of an alleged long-term strategy of infiltrating governments, starting with Turkey, to spread a socially conservative agenda. The schools typically pursue visas for Turkish nationals — almost all men — to teach and even populate the school boards.

Gulen’s critics point to a video that surfaced in 1999 that purportedly came from a speech he gave.

“You must move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence until you reach all the power centers,” he said in the video. “If they do something prematurely, the world will crush our heads, and Muslims will suffer everywhere… You must wait for the time when you are complete and conditions are ripe, until we can shoulder the entire world and carry it.”

Gulen has said the video was manipulated and that the only purpose of the schools is education.

In the United States, there are allegations that some Gulen schools were involved in improper contracting and ordered teachers to kick back part of their salaries to the organization. While the FBI wouldn’t say if it is investigating the schools, there have been several news reports saying they were being probed, going back to 2011.

The Gulen organization, also known as the Hizmet movement, denies those accusations.

“We are very disappointed that in a quest to consolidate power and cast aspersions on Mr. Gulen, the Erdogan regime has decided to target K-12 schools that provide education, opportunity and hope to tens of thousands of students around the world, many of whom lack access to quality education in a safe environment,” said Alp Aslandogan, executive director of the Alliance for Shared Values, a nonprofit that serves as a voice for cultural organizations affiliated with Hizmet.

“Especially in countries such as Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where violent radical groups targeted girls attending schools, these schools have been offering life-changing opportunities to both boys and girls. These schools operate completely independent of Mr. Gulen, as he has said many times, and in targeting them, Erdogan is only intensifying his cruel crackdown and robbing young girls and boys of a chance for a better life.”

Extradition demands

The Turkish government wants Gulen extradited from the United States — he has lived in a guarded compound in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania since 1999. Turkey says his Fethullah Gulen organization (FETO) is a terrorist group.

Ankara has shuttered thousands of schools, foundations and organizations linked to Gulen since the coup attempt. Turkish authorities have fired more than 100,000 government workers alleged to have ties to Gulen, and imprisoned about 50,000 people. Five hundred people, including top army generals, are on trial for Gulen links; Gulen himself is being tried in absentia.

The campaign against Gulen’s enterprises has expanded outside the country, too. On virtually every foreign trip by Erdogan, reports have emerged that he has pressed for Gulen schools to be closed or handed over to a Turkish foundation.

“These schools are one of the ways for FETO to finance its operations,” an official at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., told VOA. “They are a source of money. They can also be used as a source to recruit followers.”

The Turkish effort has resulted in the closure of schools in more than a dozen countries.

Turkey has begun denying visas to Kyrgyzstan citizens who study at schools affiliated with the Gulen movement; their families also are being denied.

Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Education and Science responded by saying the restriction was an attempt to discredit the educational institutions known as Sapat.

“Placing Sapat schools on the same footing as terrorist organizations and imposing certain sanctions on students and members of their families only on the grounds that they are studying in Sapat schools are unacceptable and the statements of Turkish officials are irresponsible,” the ministry said.

In Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, Turkish teachers and staff have been deported to Turkey, where they appeared likely to be arrested.

In February, Turkmenistan court sentenced 18 men to up to 25 years in prison — and confiscated their property — on offenses relating primarily to incitement to social, ethnic, or religious hatred and involvement in a criminal organization. Most were affiliated with Gulen schools.

Rights groups have called on the Turkmen government to free the men and quash their sentences.

“The way Turkmenistan’s courts prosecuted and tried these men bears no resemblance to justice,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Ankara turning up the heat

During his visit to Albania in 2015, Erdogan asked authorities to close down the network of Turkish colleges that was the biggest private educational group in Albania. Since the failed coup, the pressure from Ankara has increased.

Several countries, including Angola and Uzbekistan, have cited unspecified “national security reasons” in shutting down Gulen schools and expelling the Turkish staff and their families.

Some countries appeared to choose closure rather than get involved in the hassles of overseeing a switch in who runs the schools.

Rwanda’s Ministry of Education ordered the Gulen-affiliated Hope Academy to close on June 2, just over two months after it had been granted permission to open. The ministry cited Turkey’s request to transfer control of the school to a Turkish foundation.

Other countries have resisted Turkey’s pressure. While accreditation was halted for one school in Georgia, at least six others remain open, with some education experts urging the country to defend its national interests because the schools have good reputations. But several schools are said to be likely transferred to the Turkish-government-owned Maarif Foundation, sources told VOA.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, some Gulen schools work with the nation’s Bosna Sema educational institutions, which employ about 500 Turks. Turkish Ambassador CIhad Erginay urged the government to close down the schools, calling Gulen’s movement a terrorist organization.

VOA’s Africa, East Asia Pacific, Eurasian, South and Central Asia divisions contributed to this report.

NAFTA Nations Plan Talks Progress Under Barrage of Trump Threats

Trade negotiators plan to take small steps forward in a second round of talks to rework the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) this weekend, trying to ignore daily threats from U.S. President Donald Trump

to tear it up if he does not get his way.

Trump has used Twitter, press conferences and speeches to attack NAFTA in recent days, a ploy Mexican and Canadian officials regard as a negotiating strategy to wring concessions, but which has heightened uncertainty over the accord.

“Hopefully we can renegotiate it, but if we can’t, we’ll terminate it and we’ll start all over again with a real deal,” Trump told cheering workers at a factory in Missouri on Wednesday, as Mexico’s foreign and trade ministers met their U.S. counterparts in Washington to keep relations on track.

Away from the diplomatic noise, trade experts from the three NAFTA nations hope to advance the revamp during the five days of talks in Mexico that start on Friday by working through areas of greater consensus before turning to trickier issues.

“We want to see positive signs of progress at the

negotiating tables,” said Moises Kalach, head of the

international negotiating arm of Mexico’s CCE business lobby, which is leading the private sector in the talks. “Hopefully we’ll get it, even if it doesn’t have to be stated publicly. Hopefully we’ll start getting closure on some issues.”

Overall, the Mexican round, which follows talks two weeks ago in Washington, is expected to define more clearly the priorities of each nation rather than yield major breakthroughs.

The emergence of detailed positions on the tougher points looks less likely in this round, officials said.

Kalach and one Mexican negotiator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, saw broad agreement between the NAFTA members on how to improve conditions for small businesses, as well as in salvaging elements of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade accord that Trump ditched after taking office.

Some agreement but hurdles remain

Some consensus was forged between the three countries when the TPP was finalized in 2015 on issues including the environment, anti-corruption, labor rules and digital trade.

More divisive issues that could enter the talks range from exploring the scope to raise NAFTA content requirements for autos to the contested U.S. demand to scrap the so-called Chapter 19 dispute settlement mechanism for resolving complaints about illegal subsidies and dumping, officials say.

A key plank of the U.S. strategy is how to reduce its trade deficit with Mexico, which has sent negotiators scrambling for creative ways to rebalance trade, Kalach said.

One hope is that Mexico’s incipient oil and gas sector opening will result in more imports and infrastructure investment from U.S. companies, some of which have already entered the market, such as Exxon Mobil Corp and Chevron Corp.

Folding that reform into NAFTA in a way that would make any attempt to unwind it politically costly for a future Mexican government would give U.S. and Canadian investors more security, Kalach and the Mexican negotiator said.

The risk the reform will stall has preoccupied officials in the region because the current front-runner for Mexico’s July 2018 presidential election, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, opposed the opening of the energy industry.

“The best thing [the United States and Canada] can do is protect NAFTA because this essentially protects their investments,” said Kalach.

Throwing words around

Trump has accused Mexico and Canada of being “very difficult”, and officials from both countries say his words come as little surprise given his confrontational negotiating style.

Still, Mexico’s government has touted a back-up plan, seeing a “high risk” that NAFTA could unravel.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday shrugged off the threats and Canadian officials close to the process said they remained fully focused on the talks.

“There are always going to be words thrown about here and there but … we will continue to work seriously and respectfully to improve NAFTA to benefit not just Canadians but our American and Mexican friends as well,” Trudeau said.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer declined to comment directly on how Trump’s comments would affect the talks. However, trade experts say they are unlikely to foster a spirit of cooperation.

“I think his tweets and statements are just complicating what’s already a difficult negotiation,” said Wendy Cutler, a former deputy USTR and lead U.S. negotiator for the TPP. “I think it will embolden the naysayers in Canada and Mexico who don’t want to move in certain areas by telling the negotiators, ‘don’t move on these issues because the president has already said he probably won’t sign off on this deal’.”

Trial Against Guatemalan President’s Brother, Son Begins

A fraud trial against the brother and son of Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales began on Wednesday amid a scandal touched off by the president’s attempt to expel the leader of a U.N.-backed anti-corruption unit investigating the case.

Guatemala’s top tribunal, the Constitutional Court, ruled definitively on Tuesday against Morales’ internationally criticized push to expel from the country Ivan Velasquez, the Colombian who leads the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

The CICIG and the prosecutor’s office accuse Samuel “Sammy” Morales, the president’s brother and one of his closest advisers, and Jose Manuel Morales, one of the leader’s four sons, of facilitating false receipts that defrauded the national property registry in 2013, two years before Morales was elected.

They deny any wrongdoing.

Neither of the two gave a declaration before a judge on Wednesday, where they appeared together with another 20 other defendants.

The scandal has hurt the popularity of Jimmy Morales, a former comedian, who won election in late 2015 after riding a wave of public discontent over the corruption scandals that brought down his predecessor Otto Perez Molina.

The president has said the investigation into his family was not related to his controversial decision to declare Velasquez “persona non grata.” Last week, Velasquez and Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Aldana asked to remove Morales’ immunity, in order to investigate him for accusations of illegal campaign financing.

The case involves payments linked to the mother of Jose Manuel Morales’ then-girlfriend in 2013.

She allegedly sent the national property registry a $12,000 bill made out in the name of a local restaurant for 564 breakfasts, according to the attorney general. The breakfasts were never delivered.

Samuel Morales recognized the acts as a “favor” to his nephew, but he denied that he had benefited or been implicated in the network of fraud that deprived the institution of thousands of dollars.

Both were detained in January, then put under house arrest and barred from leaving the country.