Journalist Slain Ahead of Mexican Elections

A Mexican journalist was slain in the southern state of Quintana Roo, authorities said Saturday, in the latest case of a reporter being killed before a presidential election riddled with violence.

Jose Guadalupe Chan was killed in the village of Saban, in the municipality of Jose Maria Morelos, the state government said. Local media reported that he was shot dead in a bar around 10 p.m. Friday.

“We condemn this incident and ask that the state attorney general’s office investigate,” the government statement said. “We reiterate our commitment to guaranteeing a peaceful election on Sunday, July 1.”

Voters head to the polls Sunday, with leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador widely seen as the likely winner.

Mexico’s 2018 election campaign has been one of the most violent in modern history, with dozens of politicians killed across the country.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists — 45 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992, according to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Quintana Roo was previously one of Mexico’s safest states, full of tourists and Caribbean resorts, but security has deteriorated rapidly in recent years as gangs have fought over lucrative drug markets.

Trump, Trudeau Discuss Economic Issues by Phone

U.S. President Donald Trump discussed trade and other economic issues late Friday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Saturday.

The phone call between the two leaders was the first to be publicly disclosed since Trump blasted Trudeau as “very dishonest and weak” at the end of the Group of Seven leaders meeting in Canada this month.

Trump has repeatedly suggested Canada was profiting from U.S. trade, and his blistering comments after the G-7 meeting drove bilateral relations to their lowest point in decades.

On Friday, Canada struck back at the Trump administration over U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs, vowing to impose punitive measures on $16.6 billion ($12.6 billion U.S.) worth of American goods until Washington relents.

During the call, Trudeau told Trump that Canada had no choice but to announce reciprocal countermeasures to the steel and aluminum tariffs, according to a separate statement issued by Canada late Friday. The two leaders agreed to stay in close touch on a way forward, the statement added.

Trudeau also expressed his condolences for the victims of the shooting at The Capital Gazette, a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, the Canadian statement said.

Separately, Trudeau also spoke with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Friday to discuss the Mexican elections set for Sunday. The two leaders also discussed the North American Free Trade (NAFTA) negotiations and agreed to continue working toward a mutually beneficial outcome.

Negotiations to modernize NAFTA started last August and were initially scheduled to finish by the end of December, but the three countries have yet to reach a deal.

Italy, Malta in Fresh Standoff Over Boat Carrying 59 Migrants

A rescue boat saved 59 migrants at sea off Libya on Saturday and Italy immediately said it would not welcome them, setting up a fresh standoff with Malta and adding to tensions among European governments over immigration.

The migrants on board Open Arms, a boat run by the Spanish Proactiva Open Arms charity, include five women and four children, said Riccardo Gatti, head of the organization’s Italian mission.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing League Party, said there would be no exception to his policy of refusing to let humanitarian boats dock in Italy and added that Malta was the nearest port of call.

“They can forget about arriving in an Italian port,” he tweeted.

Maltese Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia, shot back on Twitter that the rescue had taken place closer to the Italian island of Lampedusa than to Malta. He told Salvini to “stop giving false information and involving Malta without any reason.”

Gatti told Italian radio broadcaster Radio Radicale that the migrants on board included Palestinians, Syrians and Guineans and were all in good condition.

He later told Reuters that Open Arms had received no authorization from any country to dock and did not know where it would take the migrants.

German ship docked

On Wednesday, Malta let the German charity ship Lifeline dock in Valletta with 230 migrants on board, after it was stuck at sea for almost a week following Italy’s decision to close its ports to rescue vessels run by nongovernmental organizations.

However, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the gesture was a one-time solution, and the following day Malta announced it would not allow any more charity boats to dock.

European Union leaders on Friday came to a hard-fought agreement on migration that Salvini and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said was positive for Italy.

However, the agreement does not oblige other EU states to share the burden of sea rescues.

More than 650,000 migrants have come ashore in Italy since 2014, mostly after being rescued at sea off the Libyan coast by private and public groups. Italy is sheltering about 170,000, but the number of arrivals has plummeted this year.

Despite the decline in arrivals, there are still daily stories of disasters as migrants make the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe. The Libyan coast guard said around 100 were thought to have drowned off Tripoli on Friday.

That tragedy raised the political temperature in Italy, where the government dismissed opposition accusations that it was responsible because of its crackdown on NGOs and said the best way to save lives was by preventing departures from Libya.

“The fewer people set sail, the fewer die,” Salvini said.

Merkel Secures Asylum Seeker Return Deals With 14 EU Countries

Fourteen European Union countries have said they are prepared to sign deals with Germany to take back asylum seekers who had previously registered elsewhere, part of an effort to placate Chancellor Angela Merkel’s restive Bavarian allies.

 

In a document sent to leaders of her coalition partners, seen by Reuters, Merkel listed 14 countries, including some of those most outspoken in their opposition to her open-door refugee policy, which had agreed to take back migrants.

Under the EU’s Dublin convention, largely honored in the breach since Merkel’s 2015 decision to open Germany’s borders, asylum seekers must lodge their requests in the first EU country they set foot in.

Merkel needs breathing space in her standoff with Bavaria’s Christian Social Union, whose leader, interior minister Horst Seehofer threatened ahead of this week’s Brussels summit to defy Merkel by closing Germany’s borders to some refugees and migrants, a move that would likely bring down her government.

EU leaders agreed at the summit to share out refugees on a voluntary basis and create “controlled centers” inside the European Union to process asylum requests.

According to the document seen by Reuters, the bilateral agreements will make the deportation process for refugees who have earlier registered elsewhere far more effective.

“At the moment, Dublin repatriations from Germany succeed in only 15 percent of cases,” the document says. “We will sign administrative agreements with various member states… to speed the repatriation process and remove obstacles.”

Among the countries that have said they are open to signing such agreements are Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, countries which have opposed any scheme to share out asylum seekers across the continent.

The other countries named are Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Lithuania, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden. Austria, where new Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is an immigration hard-liner who governs in coalition with the far right, is absent from the list.

US Ambassador to Estonia Resigns Over Trump Comments

The U.S. ambassador to Estonia says he has resigned over frustrations with President Donald Trump’s comments about the European Union and the treatment of Washington’s European allies.

In a private Facebook message posted Friday, James D. Melville wrote: “For the President to say EU was ‘set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank,’ or that ‘NATO is as bad as NAFTA’ is not only factually wrong, but proves to me that it’s time to go.”

Melville is a senior U.S. career diplomat who has served as the American ambassador in the Baltic nation and NATO member of Estonia since 2015. He has served the State Department for 33 years.

The U.S. Embassy in Tallinn did not immediately comment.

As Mexican Election Looms, Voters Ready for Change

Mexico will have its presidential election Sunday, and voters appear to be heading to the ballot box with sweeping change in mind.

Polls consistently show the left-leaning Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador — widely known as AMLO — with a double-digit lead. Voters also will pick candidates to fill 128 seats in the country’s Senate and 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies — the country’s higher and lower legislative bodies, respectively.

Outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto, first elected in 2012, sports a historically low approval rating — slipping as low as 17 percent last year, according to Pew Research Center polling. The Mexican constitution restricts candidates to one six-year term, with no chance of re-election. And Pena Nieto’s six years were marked by social and economic turmoil.

In 2012, Pena Nieto came to power in a country dealing with violence — much of it linked to the country’s notorious drug cartels — and a sluggish economy. Pena Nieto’s critics have said he has done little to address those ills, with some insisting he has made them worse.

In 2017, Mexico saw more than 25,000 homicides — the highest number since the country began recording data on homicides in 1997. According to CNN, officials attribute the increase to a surge in drug-related crimes since 2014, when 15,520 people were slain.

That was the year notorious drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was captured in Mexico. In July 2015, he escaped from a Mexican prison for a second time, after Pena Nieto rejected an offer by the U.S. to prosecute Guzman after his first escape. Guzman has since been recaptured and extradited to the U.S.

“Pena said it wasn’t necessary to send him because our system works,” political analyst Jose Antonio Crespo told the Los Angeles Times. “When he escaped, the whole world saw what we already know: that the level of corruption is extremely high.”

Such allegations of corruption have long plagued Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The party held virtually uncontested control of the country from 1929 to 2000. PRI recaptured the presidency in 2012 and is apparently fighting to hold on to it.

“The machinery seems to have completely broken down as local operators are deserting the party,” Mexico scholar Michael Lettieri told Forbes. “The party’s best efforts to mobilize deeply priista groups of government employees and peasants have not provided a meaningful push for the PRI’s presidential, legislative or gubernatorial candidates.”

Economically, 2017 saw historical devaluations of the Mexican peso, as well as widespread protests over gasoline price hikes, colloquially known as the “gasolinazo.”

U.S. President Donald Trump rose to power in 2016 after campaigning on a key promise — to build a wall along the border with Mexico and make Mexico pay for it. The rhetoric offended many Mexicans, who questioned Pena Nieto’s decision to invite then-candidate Trump to a meeting. Trump also has threatened to pull out of NAFTA, a trade agreement involving the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

The candidates

These issues have made the ground fertile for Lopez Obrador, 64, who has campaigned on a platform of sweeping change and has been described as a nationalist. Indeed, this is the first presidential election for Lopez Obrador’s party, the National Registration Movement (MORENA), which is running in coalition with the left-wing Labor Party and right-wing Social Encounter Party.

This is not Lopez Obrador’s first time running for Mexico’s highest office; he has run twice before, in 2006 and 2012, losing both times. In the 2006 election, his opponent Felipe Calderon compared him to then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a socialist. Calderon won the election, and Lopez Obrador has found it hard to shake off the label.

Lopez Obrador has rallied against the political and economic elites of the country, referring to them as a “power mafia.” His campaign has reflected that, pledging to fight against corruption in the country and bolster social mobility.

“In the main, it’s an anti-PRI vote and, by extension, the PAN [National Action Party], which has certainly been fairly close to the PRI in terms of governing these past six years,” Lettieri told CNN.

Previously, he served as executive of Mexico City, the country’s capital and largest city.

Lopez Obrador’s greatest competition is expected to come from Ricardo Anaya, PAN’s presidential nominee. The right-leaning party was the first to break PRI’s hegemony in 2000, when Vicente Fox was elected president. Polls have shown Anaya, the former leader of PAN within Mexico’s lower legislative chamber, consistently in second behind Lopez Obrador.

Anaya, 39, has developed a reputation as a technocrat. He supports NAFTA, which Lopez Obrador has said needs renegotiation, echoing Trump’s stance on the trade agreement.

Jose Antonio Meade, the nominee of the incumbent PRI party, has consistently polled third, arguably because of Pena Nieto’s unpopularity. Meade, 49, has held several Cabinet positions in the Mexican government, including foreign affairs secretary in Calderon’s government, and finance secretary in Pena Nieto’s.

Meade is an independent and not officially a member of PRI — perhaps a reflection of Pena Nieto’s, and the party’s, deep unpopularity.

“The best thing that happened to Lopez Obrador is the Pena Nieto administration,” Carlos Bravo Regidor, an analyst at Mexico’s Center of Economic Investigation and Studies, told The Washington Post. “AMLO’s stance is the same, but now people are angrier and more eager for change.”

EU Leaders Reach Migration Deal During Difficult Summit

European Union leaders meeting Friday in Brussels hailed progress in reaching at least a partial deal on migration. But there appeared to be little breakthrough in two other key subjects: Brexit and reforming the eurozone financial union.

It took marathon talks lasting until early Friday for EU leaders to reach a partial and vaguely worded agreement on migration, a subject that bitterly divides the 28-member group.

EU chief Donald Tusk acknowledged a long road ahead.

“As regards our deal on migration,” he said, “it is far too early to talk about a success. We have managed to reach a deal in the European Council, but this is the easiest part of the task.”

The toughest part, Tusk said, will be in its implementation.

The leaders agreed to tighten the EU’s external borders, set up centers inside and outside Europe to screen asylum-seekers and more rapidly process their claims. But the centers are voluntary and it is not clear which countries would be willing to host them.

Many analysts say the deal merely papers over deep divides that have seen Italy insisting other countries take in more migrants — something Eastern European countries, in particular, refuse to do.

Still, a number of European leaders were upbeat about making any headway.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the agreement was a good signal. While more needed to be done to create a common asylum process, she said she was optimistic the EU could continue its work.

Merkel has been under pressure to come home with some kind of deal or face the possible collapse of her coalition government.

President Emmanuel Macron of France said the deal reflected European cooperation and values and that protected European citizens.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also seemed satisfied, saying his country was no longer alone in dealing with floods of migrant arrivals.

The number of migrants arriving in Europe has plummeted in recent months, down from more than a million in 2015 to tens of thousands so far this year. Many Europeans continue to view migration as a crisis — sentiments partly fueled by populist politicians and fears of Islamist extremism.

Humanitarian group MSF, or Doctors Without Borders, has sharply criticized the migrant deal as inhumane, claiming it would block people escaping horrors at home from reaching Europe.

It is clear the migration crisis is not going away. A pair of ships carrying migrants were at sea for several days until bickering countries finally gave them safe harbor. On Friday, Libya’s coast guard announced roughly 100 migrants were missing at sea and feared dead.

EU leaders failed to make headway on two other issues — closer integration of the eurozone monetary union, and Brexit, which is the term used to refer to Britain’s decision to leave the EU. As for the latter, EU chief Tusk said the most difficult issues in reaching a deal between the EU and Britain by October remained unresolved.

Mexico Election Factbox

On Sunday, Mexicans head to the polls to elect a new president, 500 members of Congress and 128 senators amid mounting discontent over rampant corruption and increasing violence.

Presidential candidates:

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador: Front-runner with a substantial lead in the polls. He is the former mayor of Mexico City and the leader of the leftist National Regeneration Movement.

Ricardo Anaya: A conservative representing the National Action Party, which ruled Mexico for 12 years before it was ousted from power by the election of current President Enrique Pena Nieto. He trails Obrador in the polls.

Jose Antonio Meade: The candidate of the ruling International Revolutionary Party (PRI), which is as unpopular as its current leader, the president.

Jaime Rodriguez: Polling in single digits, independent candidate Jaime Rodriguez currently ranks last in polls.

The election:

— Nearly 90 million Mexicans are eligible to vote.

— Plurality of votes determines the winner. There are no runoffs.

— Winning candidate will be sworn in on December 1.

Key issues:

Violence: Mexico has seen a huge spike in violence, especially against politicians and journalists. More than 500 politicians have been attacked since campaigning began last September. At least 130 have been killed.

Government statistics show there have already been more than 20,000 homicides so far this year.

Corruption: Long a problem in Mexico, corruption has soared under the presidency of Pena Nieto. A number of senior lawmakers and even the first lady have been involved in high-profile graft cases.

NAFTA and immigration: Tensions with U.S. President Donald Trump have emerged as an election issue. The renegotiating of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the border wall, U.S. tariffs on Mexican goods and the “zero tolerance” immigration policy are all in play.