ECUADOR: After weeks of uncertainty, the first-round Ecuadorian election results are in: Andrés Arauz will face Guillermo Lasso in the second round of Ecuador’s presidential election on April 11. Arauz, a left-wing economist, was the clear frontrunner in the first round of voting on February 7, receiving 32.7% of the votes. He is supported by Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador from 2007 to 2017. After a corruption scandal, Correa was banned from holding office for 25 years, but Arauz has said he will make the former president one of his top advisors.
Lasso, a conservative banker, came in second place with 19.7% of the vote, followed by indigenous activist Yaku Pérez with 19.4%. The tally came down to a difference of only 33,000 votes between Pérez and Lasso, and both candidates requested a recount of all the votes in the coastal province Guayas and half of the votes in the rest of the country. On February 16, the electoral council voted against holding a recount. Claiming election fraud, Pérez rallied his supporters for a cross-country march in protest. The march began in the southern city of Loja on February 17 and should arrive in Quito on Tuesday. The attorney general is investigating the allegations of fraud.
HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
ARGENTINA: Argentina’s Health Minister Ginés González García resigned on Friday after being accused of reserving 3,000 vaccine doses to distribute preferentially, rather than following the vaccine guidelines for prioritizing high risk and essential worker groups. García resigned upon President Alberto Fernández’s request, but insists that there has been a misunderstanding and that all those vaccinated were eligible. The scandal broke when Horacio Verbitsky, a journalist friendly with the government, let slip on a talk show that he had gotten a vaccine after asking for one from the health minister. González García now faces criminal prosecution. In Peru, a similar vaccine scandal in which government officials were vaccinated ahead of healthcare workers and high-risk groups led to public outrage and the resignation of the Peruvian foreign minister last week.
BRAZIL: Brazil plans to vaccinate the entire city of Serrana as an experiment to determine the effect of mass vaccination on infection rates. All residents over the age of 18 will be eligible for the vaccine in Serrana, meaning about 30,000 people will receive the vaccine during the next two months. Based on registration rates, high participation levels are expected in the vaccination campaign. Researchers will monitor recipients for a year to determine the vaccine’s effects, as well as looking at the effects on the economy and hospitals. Serrana is receiving a special batch of vaccines to ensure everyone who registers is vaccinated.
Meanwhile, a new strain from the Amazon has caused a rise in cases and in other cities, vaccine shortages and eligibility violations are preventing the vulnerable from getting inoculated. In Rio de Janeiro, all new vaccinations have been paused. Since the inoculation campaign began in January, there have been reports of thousands of wealthy and well-connected people receiving vaccines meant for high-risk populations. As a result, the Brazilian Congress passed a bill on February 11 to make “skipping the line” punishable by up to three years in prison that is awaiting Senate approval.
COLOMBIA: An inquiry by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) determined that more than 6,400 civilians were killed by the Colombian military between 2002 and 2008. The civilian killings took place during former president Álvaro Uribe’s presidency. These killings are part of the “false positives” scandal that took place during Uribe’s tenure, in which the military, in order to meet “kill-quotas” in their war with the leftist groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerilla group, kidnapped and killed men and then dressed the bodies in military uniforms to increase the count of enemies killed in combat.
As part of the 2016 peace treaty with the FARC, the JEP is investigating and trying crimes committed by members of the military, as well as guerilla and paramilitary groups during the conflict. The JEP arrived at the 6,400 figure, which is nearly three times higher than previous estimates, after exhuming multiple mass graves during the last two years. While many lower-level soldiers have been convicted for their crimes, families of victims want those who gave the orders to also face justice.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Salsa icon and one of the “fathers of salsa” Johnny Pacheco died at 85 on February 15 after a lifetime marked by musical accomplishment. He was born in the Dominican Republic in 1935 to a family of musicians. When Pacheco was 11, the family moved to New York City, and Pacheco went on to study percussion at the Juilliard School. He became an international star with his debut album Pacheco y Su Charanga in 1960.
In 1964, he co-founded his own label called Fania Records, later referred to as the “Motown of Salsa,” which gave rise to salsa music known for musical intensity and political lyrics. The label featured the biggest names of the 1960s and ‘70s, including Rubén Bladés, Willie Colón and Celia Cruz, with whom Pacheco created a chart-topping gold album.
In 1968, Pacheco united the era’s biggest salsa stars into the Fania All-Stars group. Pacheco led the group, composing, performing, and managing their shows and recordings. During his lifetime, Pacheco wrote more than 150 songs and received many awards for his musical achievements. He was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame in 1998 and received a lifetime award at the Latin Grammys in 2005. His death came after a short battle with pneumonia. He is survived by his wife and four children.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: The Congress of the Dominican Republic is considering legislation to relax the country’s strict prohibition on abortion. The bill would reform an 1884 law that bans abortion in all cases, allowing termination of pregnancy in cases of incest or rape and cases where the pregnancy is not viable or the mother’s life is at risk. Honduras is one of four countries in Latin America that prohibit abortion in all cases, the others being Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
President Luis Abinader has expressed his support for the legislation, which will be voted on in the coming days. Meanwhile, a Catholic Church group announced 40 days of fasting, prayer and “peaceful protest” against the legalization of abortion.
NICARAGUA: The creation by Nicaragua’s Congress of a new Ministry for Extraterrestrial Space Affairs, The Moon and Other Celestial Bodies is drawing criticism from some who think the resources could be better spent improving the education and health systems in Latin America’s third-poorest country. President Daniel Ortega requested the creation of the ministry last month, and Congress, which is dominated by Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front, approved it in a 76-0 vote with 15 abstentions on Wednesday. The Nicaraguan Army will be in charge of the new ministry, whose mission is “the defense of supreme national interests and the search for opportunities to which the country should aspire.”
EL SALVADOR: El Salvador received its first shipment of 20,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine last week and has begun inoculating healthcare workers. In a message posted to Twitter, President Nayib Bukele clarified that this shipment does not correspond to the almost 400,000 vaccine doses set aside for the Central American country under the United Nations’ COVAX program, which will arrive in March.
Estas no son las vacunas que recibiremos del programa #COVAX.
Esas vendrán en la primera semana de marzo.
Estas son de las que adquirió el Gobierno.
— ?? (@nayibbukele) February 17, 2021
The COVAX program is intended to reserve vaccine doses for poor countries and hopes to deliver 100 million doses by the end of March. El Salvador is one of four Latin American countries chosen to participate in the first wave of the program, the others being Bolivia, Peru and Colombia.
MEXICO/UNITED STATES: President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is calling on Mexicans to reduce their consumption of electricity after 5 million people in the north and central parts of the country suffered power outages due to cold weather causing interruptions in the delivery of natural gas from Texas to power stations in northern Mexico.
The Mexican government also hopes to reverse a move by Governor Greg Abbott of Texas that restricts natural gas exports from the state. Mexico depends on the United States for natural gas: in 2019, around 96% of natural gas imported to Mexico came from the United States.
Following the outages, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro offered to supply natural gas to Mexico in a speech at the state oil company’s headquarters.
“We must speak with Mexico’s government because I have seen the problem with gas supply and the effort that President Lopez Obrador is making to resolve it,” he said.
MEXICO: Mexico’s vaccine rollout continues with shipments of the Chinese Coronavac vaccine and the Russian Sputnik V shot, each consisting of about 200,000 doses. The shots will be used in low-income parts of the Mexico City area.
Earlier this week, six people were arrested in Nuevo León for allegedly trafficking fake coronavirus vaccines. Authorities said the shots were falsely presented as Pfizer vaccines and were applied to around 80 people, who paid as much as $2,000.
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