Federal Forces Intervene, and Rio de Janeiro Homicides Rise

Six months after Brazil sent in federal forces to take control of security in Rio de Janeiro state, murders and the number of people killed in police confrontations have risen, official data shows, raising questions about the strategy.

President Michel Temer on Feb. 16 announced emergency measures authorizing the army to take command of police forces in Rio de Janeiro state, where warring drug gangs and militias have driven a sharp rise in violence.

In the first six months of the federal intervention, however, there were 3,479 murders in the state, up nearly 5 percent compared with the same period last year, according to official state data.

Between February and the end of July, 738 people were killed in confrontations with police, the data examined by Reuters shows, up more than 35 percent from the previous year. Between February and last month, 16 police officers were killed, one fewer than in the 2017 period.

​Worrying scenario

“It’s very worrying, this scenario, in which the most sensitive indicators are getting worse, and we have a security policy that is focused on deepening the very issues that cause violence, such as confrontations and gun battles,” said Silvia Ramos, a coordinator of the Center for Security and Citizenship Studies in Rio de Janeiro.

Growing violence has become a key issue ahead of October elections, with candidates from across the political spectrum seeking to play up their crime-fighting credentials and appeal to an electorate fed up with a weak economy and endemic graft.

Although polls show most people in Rio de Janeiro state support the federal intervention, few discern much improvement since it began, and it has been widely criticized for a lack of transparency and unclear goals.

Feds urge patience

In a statement, the federal intervention office highlighted crime statistics that had fallen, such as cargo and car thefts, adding that “the tendency is for the reduction of the indices to proceed in the coming months.”

In an interview before the six-month anniversary, the federal intervention’s spokesman, Roberto Itamar, said much of the government’s work had focused on administrative and logistical fixes that would take longer to be perceived.

He added that the hardest part of the government’s work in the state was to repair relations between the people and their police.

“Over the course of various years (that relationship) has been weakened,” he said. “Mutual trust needs to be built.”

Ecuador, Peru Tighten Entry Requirements for Venezuelans

Venezuelans entering Ecuador and Peru will soon be required to show their passports, rather than national identity cards, the Ecuadorean government and Peruvian official sources said Thursday, amid concerns over an influx of economic migrants.

Ecuador and Peru have hitherto allowed Venezuelans to enter using national ID cards, providing desperate Venezuelans with an easier route out of their crisis stricken homeland.

“As of this Saturday the government will require that anyone entering Ecuador present his or her passport,” Ecuador’s Interior Minister Mauro Toscanini said. The Foreign Ministry later said it would apply specifically to Venezuelans.

State of emergency

Ecuador declared a state of emergency in three provinces this month after a spike in Venezuelan migrants crossing the Ecuadorean-Colombian border high in the Andean mountains.

Authorities said up to 4,500 Venezuelans were crossing daily, compared with around 500 to 1,000 previously.

An official at Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry told local radio that about 600,000 Venezuelans had entered the country so far this year, with around 109,000 staying on.

Unable to afford flights and often earning a minimum wage of just a few dollars a month, Venezuelans have been taking days-long bus rides across South America, many passing through Ecuador on their way south to Peru or Chile.

Peru to crack down

Peru is also planning to require passports from Venezuelans soon, two government sources said on condition of anonymity ahead of a pending announcement.

Immigration officials estimated that there are nearly 400,000 Venezuelans in Peru, most of whom entered this year.

About 20 percent of Venezuelans enter Peru without a passport, Peru’s interior minister said earlier this week.

Venezuelans selling food or knick-knacks on the streets have become a common sight in Lima and Quito, raising fears among locals that the migrants could take their jobs and increase crime.

Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno is left-wing like his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro, but he has distanced himself from Caracas since taking office last year.

Centrist Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra took office in March after his predecessor, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a vocal critic of Maduro, resigned in a scandal.

Chilean Authorities: 9 Planes Grounded by Bomb Threats in S. America

Nine planes were forced to make emergency changes to their routes within Chilean, Argentine and Peruvian airspace on Thursday because of bomb threats issued to Chile’s civil aviation authority, its director general told journalists.

At least two of the planes were operated by LATAM Airlines and three by Sky, a low-cost Chilean airline, the companies confirmed.

Victor Villalobos Collao, the director general of Chile’s civil aviation authority (DGAC), said 11 threats were made in total on Thursday, two of which were “fictitious” and nine of which related to existing flights.

All of the planes were declared free of explosives, and at least one plane was later allowed to resume its flight, he said.

He said calls warning of bombs onboard flights were made to LATAM’s offices, and the civil aviation authority, and police were now trying to trace their origin.

“We always have an abandoned suitcase or two, that’s normal,” he told journalists in a briefing at Santiago airport.

“But this is a totally exceptional case.”

For four of the flights, Santiago, Chile’s capital, was either the origination or the destination, the DGAC added in a statement.

One flight, Sky 162, took off from Santiago’s Arturo Merino Benítez airport and was headed to the northern city of Antofagasta when it was instructed to return to Santiago, the statement said.

Flight LATAM 2369, originating from Lima, the capital of Peru, and heading for Santiago, was forced to land in the southern Peruvian city of Pisco, it added.

Peru’s transport ministry said no one had been injured and a team for deactivating explosives has been notified. “Right now the situation is under control,” it said on Twitter.

Another Sky flight, Sky 524, is understood according to flight schedules to have taken off from the Argentine city of Mendoza. It made an emergency landing in Santiago before proceeding to Rosario in Argentina, the DGAC said.

Sky said another of its planes, Flight 166, was prevented from taking off from Santiago because of a bomb threat.

In addition, LATAM 800, which according to flight schedules took off from Auckland, New Zealand, performed an emergency landing in its destination of Santiago. That flight was still undergoing security checks, the DGAC added.

Collao said other flights were checked in Iquique, another city in northern Chile, Antofagasta and Mendoza, without giving further details.

LATAM confirmed that at least two of its planes had been affected. “The affected passengers will be transferred by LATAM onto other flights,” it said. “The authorities have not at this moment found any evidence that might put passengers at risk.”

Chilean police did not respond to a request for comment.

Taiwan President Arrives in Belize to Reaffirm Alliance

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in Belize Thursday as she seeks to shore up dwindling alliances in the face of pressure from China to stamp out the island’s international recognition.

Belize is one of 18 countries that recognize Taiwan, with Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic shifting diplomatic ties to China earlier this year.

The Caribbean country’s decision to ditch Taiwan came after Panama, which turned from Taiwan to Beijing in June 2017.

Order of Belize

Tsai arrived in Belize for her first state visit to the tiny Central American country after a stop in the United States and Paraguay. She met privately with Belize’s foreign minister and other government officials.

Later she was expected to receive the “Order of Belize,” an honor awarded to foreigners, before speaking Friday to Belize’s House of Representatives.

In a statement issued before Tsai’s visit, the Taiwanese embassy emphasized that the trip would reaffirm the strength of the island’s relationship with Belize, with which it has maintained diplomatic ties since October 1989.

Belize “remained Taiwan’s staunch ally in its bid for participation in U.N. agencies,” the statement said, adding: “Taiwan is Belize’s loyal and trustworthy ally.”

Comfortable relationship

Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington told Reuters this month that he was “very content with the relationship we have with Taiwan.”

Taiwan offers Belize financial aid in the hundreds of millions of Belize dollars, ranging from scholarships to agricultural aid and health care, Elrington said.

Taipei has struggled internationally to maintain diplomatic relations with an increasingly assertive China, despite efforts in recent years to strengthen ties with generous aid packages.

Ag Minister: Ban on Glyphosate Would Be ‘Disaster’ for Brazil Agriculture

A potential ban on the popular herbicide glyphosate in Brazil over concerns it may cause cancer in humans would be a “disaster” for the country’s agricultural industry, Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said on Thursday.

A Brazilian court ruled on Aug. 3 that new products containing the chemical could not be registered in the country and existing registrations would be suspended starting from September, until health authority Anvisa issues a decision on its re-evaluation of glyphosate’s safety.

Maggi said that glyphosate is used on around 95 percent of soy, corn and cotton harvested in the country and that there is no readily available substitute. Brazil is the world’s top exporter of soy and a major producer and exporter of corn.

“Glyphosate makes it viable for us to plant and grow crops.

What is the alternative?” Maggi said at an event in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil’s Solicitor General’s office has said it is preparing an appeal to the court decision with the Agriculture Ministry’s backing. Maggi said he is confident the ruling will be overturned on appeal.

The Brazilian court case is part of a global pushback against the chemical. A U.S. judge ruled last week that Monsanto must pay $289 million in damages to a man who alleged its glyphosate-based products like Roundup caused his cancer.

Monsanto, taken over earlier this year by Bayer AG , said in a statement that more than 800 reviews, including those by the U.S. environmental and health authorities, support that glyphosate does not cause cancer. The company is appealing the U.S. court ruling.

Brazil federal prosecutors brought the case to force Anvisa to make a decision in its re-evaluation of glyphosate, which it started in 2008, said Marco Antonio Delfino de Almeida, a member of a prosecutors’ working group on pesticides.

A 2015 assessment by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer determined glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans, which provides a basis for reconsidering its safety, Almeida said.

If the Brazil ban on existing product registrations goes into effect, it could disrupt farmers who are set to begin planting soy in September.

The sale of glyphosate products would be halted and farmers who use products with suspended registrations could face legal risks, said Brazil-based agribusiness lawyer Frederico Favacho.

Anvisa told Reuters it is prioritizing its re-evaluation of glyphosate but did not give a timeframe for announcing its findings.

Mexico Unsure If It Will Finish NAFTA Talks with US in Aug.

Mexico’s economy minister on Wednesday said that Mexico and the United States may not meet an August goal to finish bilateral talks to revamp the NAFTA trade deal, which is beset by disagreements over automobile trade rules and other issues.

Top Mexican officials started their fourth week of talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington over a new North American Free Trade Agreement.

Asked if the August goal was still viable, Guajardo said, “That is why we are here. We are fully engaged. We don’t know if there will be a successful conclusion.”

The U.S.-Mexico talks resumed in July, without Canada, after negotiations involving all three members of the $1.2 trillion trade bloc stalled in June.

Guajardo said on Wednesday that he had spoken with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on the telephone and was “hopeful” Canada could soon hold trilateral NAFTA talks with the United States and Mexico.

Guajardo was joined by Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, Mexico’s chief NAFTA negotiator Kenneth Smith, and Jesus Seade, the designated chief trade negotiator of incoming Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Smith said Mexico and the United States were “working well” on the most difficult issues.

Mexico and Washington have been discussing rules for the automotive sector, which has been a major point of contention between the two countries.

The United States has sought tougher rules on what percentage of a vehicle’s components need to be built in the NAFTA region to avoid tariffs, as well as demanding that a certain number of cars and trucks be made in factories paying at least $16 an hour.

New sticking points emerged last week over President Donald Trump’s threat to impose steep automotive tariffs.

Guajardo said the teams had not yet touched the issue of a U.S. proposed sunset clause that would kill NAFTA after five years if it is not renegotiated again. Both Mexico and Canada have said they reject the measure.

Foundation: Brazil’s Samarco to Pay $512.5M to Disaster Victims

Brazil’s Samarco Mineração SA expects to pay up to 2 billion reais ($512.5 million) this year to 19,000 families affected by the 2015 mining disaster in the

state of Minas Gerais, the foundation created to pay the  victims said Wednesday.

The first families to receive payments will be “the most vulnerable,” said Roberto Waak, president of the foundation.

The disaster, Brazil’s worst environmental catastrophe, occurred when a dam designed to hold back mine waste burst in November 2015, killing 19 people and leaving a trail of destruction for hundreds of kilometers.

Samarco and parent companies Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd. said in June that they had signed a deal with Brazilian authorities that settled a 20 billion-real ($5.30 billion) lawsuit related to the accident.

Waak, speaking on the sidelines of a mining event, estimated the total number of families entitled to receive damages would eventually rise to 60,000, but he did not say how much the remaining families would receive or when.

So far the foundation has spent 4.2 billion reais to repair damage, according to information posted on its website.

Around 500 houses built by the foundation are expected to be delivered early next year, Waak said.

Samarco’s operations have been halted since the disaster.

Brazil’s Jailed Lula Registered as Presidential Candidate

Brazil’s Workers Party registered imprisoned former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Wednesday as its candidate for the October presidential

election, despite his serving a 12-year sentence for corruption and facing several more graft trials.

Several thousand supporters marched to Brazil’s top electoral court chanting “Free Lula” and “Lula for President” as they accompanied top members of his PT party to register his candidacy just hours before the deadline.

While he was nominated earlier this month to be his party’s candidate, Lula is expected to be barred from running by the country’s top electoral court since Brazilian law bars candidates whose conviction has been upheld on appeal, which is Lula’s situation. Lula has been jailed since April but still leads all election polling.

The PT will use all appeals to delay any final ruling on Lula’s registration, and says he is its only candidate. Lula has chosen former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad to lead the PT ticket when he is likely barred, according to party sources.

Police said 10,000 people participated in the march. No incidents or arrests were reported.

Lula governed Brazil for two terms from 2003 to 2011 and left office with a record approval rating of 87 percent due to a booming economy and social programs that lifted millions of Brazilians from poverty.

His popularity has been hurt by corruption indictments and scandals involving his party, which was ousted from power in 2016 when his handpicked successor was impeached for breaking budget rules.

Still, polls show about one-third of Brazilians would vote for him if he is allowed to run, almost double his nearest rival, far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, and many of his supporters are expected to vote for whoever replaces him in the race.

Exiled Jurists Symbolically Sentence Maduro to 18 Years

A panel of self-exiled Venezuelan judges holding a symbolic trial in Colombia has found President Nicolas Maduro guilty of corruption and sentenced him to more than 18 years in prison.

Ousted Venezuelan chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega accused Maduro of accepting $35 million from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht to finance his 2013 campaign in exchange for a leg-up on public works contracts.

Over two dozen jurists who fled Venezuela after Maduro’s socialist administration refused to recognize their appointment to the Supreme Court by the opposition-controlled National Assembly found him guilty Wednesday of corruption and money laundering.

Maduro was ordered held for 18 years and three months at the Ramo Verde prison outside Caracas where opposition leaders have been jailed.

Ortega asked for the strongest sentence “in the name of all Venezuelans.”

US, Mexico to Set Up Joint Team to Fight Drug Cartels

U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities will set up a joint team based in Chicago targeting the leaders and finances of drug cartels that ship opioids into the United States, aiming to stanch a spike in overdose deaths, officials said Wednesday.

The announcement of a fresh effort at cooperation on security issues comes at a time of strained relations between the neighboring countries and around four months before President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a left-leaning nationalist, will take office in Mexico.

Lopez Obrador has vowed to shake up Mexico’s war on drug cartels and wants to rewrite the rules, aides have said, suggesting negotiated peace and amnesties rather than a hard-line strategy that critics say has only perpetuated violence.

He has also said he wants to reset relations with the United States, which have been rocky since Donald Trump became U.S. president.

“We are sure the next president of the republic will be willing to collaborate in the fight against organized crime,” Felipe de Jesus Munoz Vazquez, Mexico’s deputy attorney general for the Specialized Investigation of Federal Crimes unit, told a joint U.S.-Mexican news conference in Chicago.

There was no immediate comment on Wednesday from Lopez Obrador’s team, but his future security minister, Alfonso Durazo, has said all co-operation agreements between the two countries will be reviewed.

That includes the decade-old $2.9 billion Merida Initiative that directs aid from U.S. agencies to Mexico to fight organized crime and drug trafficking, Durazo said earlier this month.

Lopez Obrador wants to refocus aid to social and economic projects, he said.

All about the money

Targeting cartel finances was key in stopping the flow of drugs because “the sole purpose of these entities is one thing and one thing only — money,” Anthony Williams, chief of operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said Wednesday.

Mexico remains the principal highway for cocaine to the United States and has become the top source of heroin, which is fueling a surge in opioid addiction in the United States. It is also a major supplier of  methamphetamines.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Mexican cartels were responsible for much of the illegal drugs flowing into the nation’s third-largest city, which has been plagued by gang violence and shootings.

Officials and security experts in the United States have applauded long-running bilateral efforts to crack down on drug gangs during the administration of outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and previously.

For the past 12 years, Mexico has fought the violent cartels by deploying thousands of police, soldiers and intelligence officers.

On Wednesday, Mexico said it was offering a 30 million-peso ($1.6 million) reward for information leading to the arrest of Nemesio Oseguera, whose cartel is blamed for driving heroin shipments to the United States.

Known as “El Mencho,” Oseguera has risen to become Mexico’s most-wanted drug lord after Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was extradited to the United States last year to face trial.

In March, U.S. agents in Chicago named El Mencho public enemy No. 1 and blamed his gang for using “extreme violence” to expand its share of the heroin trade. The United States is offering $5 million for information leading to his capture.