EL SALVADOR: The party of President Nayib Bukele and its allies swept legislative elections on Sunday, winning a supermajority of at least 61 out of 84 seats in the country’s Legislative Assembly, with around half of the votes counted. This election was the first test for the Nuevas Ideas party, which was founded by Bukele in 2018 but didn’t obtain official status in time for the election of that year.
Although Bukele’s name was not on the ballot, Nuevas Ideas candidates relied on their connection to the conservative president, and his image was plastered on campaign posters around the country.
The elections completely upended the political system that has governed El Salvador since the peace agreement of 1994. Never before has a single party won such a resounding victory. The elections also represent the collapse of the two-party system that has governed El Salvador since 1994, with the traditional conservative ARENA party winning only 14 seats and the left-wing FMLN winning three.
With the added votes of the GANA party, a small party that has pledged loyalty to the president, supporters of Bukele will control over 70% of the legislature, effectively removing all limits on the 39-year-old president’s ability to implement his agenda.
A Nuevas Ideas-GANA coalition also won a majority of the 20 seats designated to El Salvador in the Central American Parliament.
HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
ARGENTINA: Argentina will begin producing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine later this year, as a result of an agreement reached on Friday between the Argentine company Laboratorios Richmond and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF). Developed by Russia’s health ministry, the Sputnik V vaccine was initially met with international skepticism when Russia authorized its use before performing clinical trials. It has since been recognized as an effective preventative measure against COVID-19. The deal includes plans to build, within the next year, a vaccine production plant in the province of Buenos Aires, a project that will cost $60-90 million. Argentina was one of the first countries in Latin America to buy the Sputnik V vaccine, which it has distributed since late December 2020. The country applied its millionth vaccine dose on Sunday.
BRAZIL: The daily COVID-19 death toll in Brazil surpassed 1,582 deaths on February 25 in what was the deadliest 24 hours in the country since the pandemic began. Since the pandemic began, more than 251,000 people have died from the new disease in Brazil, making it the country with the second-highest death count after the United States. Hospitals throughout the country are overwhelmed, and a new and seemingly more contagious variant is circulating rapidly. In response to the situation, Brasilia entered a two-week lockdown on Sunday. Seven other states have also recently adopted curfews and restrictive measures. President Bolsonaro has criticized these actions on Twitter and threatened to suspend emergency federal funds to states who impose lockdowns.
COLOMBIA: A United Nations report released last Tuesday shows that in 2020 the number of murdered human rights defenders increased 23% and mass killings “almost doubled” in Colombia compared to the year before. Since the 2016 peace agreement, armed groups have been fighting to control the rural territories and coinciding illegal economies ceded by the FARC. The report also calls on the government to increase its efforts to implement the processes agreed upon in the peace deal with the FARC, a deal which the current president, Iván Duque, has criticized. Duque took office and inherited the peace deal from former president Juan Manuel Santos. Other research organizations report even higher death counts, and critics say Duque’s administration has been reluctant and slow to implement many aspects of the treaty, calling for increased protections for residents in conflict areas.
ECUADOR: Riots broke out in prison facilities in three Ecuadorian cities last Monday, leaving at least 79 inmates dead.The riots, which appeared to be coordinated fights between rival gangs, were the deadliest prison insurgencies the country has seen, with more inmates killed than in the last two years combined. Police and military troops were sent in and said the situation was under control by Wednesday. Officers seized weapons and cellphones and other prohibited objects, demonstrating the lack of control in Ecuadorian prisons which are routinely overcrowded and underfunded. The killings were related to a conflict between two organized crime groups. Since 2019, Ecuador has twice implemented emergency measures in its jails in response to outbreaks of violence. In a speech on February 24, President Lenín Moreno promised to provide more funds to the prison system as a solution.
HAITI: Hundreds of inmates escaped from the Croix-des-Bouquets prison in Haiti on Thursday in a bloody mass jailbreak. According to prison officials, over 400 inmates escaped in the riot, and 25 people were killed. Among the dead are the director of the prison and at least six inmates.
On Saturday, police announced that they had killed Arnel Joseph, a high-profile inmate who was one of the escapees. Joseph was a longtime gangster whohad previously served a six-year sentence for killing several police officers, and when he escaped was awaiting trial for several crimes including rape and murder. Police said they shot him after he pulled a gun at a roadblock.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC/HAITI: The Dominican government will build a border fence along its 234-mile border with Haiti, according to an announcement by President Luis Abinader. Speaking on Saturday, which was the anniversary of the Dominican Republic’s independence from Haiti, Abinader said that the fence is necessary to reduce illegal immigration and drug trafficking. About half a million undocumented Haitians currently live in the Dominican Republic. Construction will start sometime in the second half of 2021, and the fence will be completed within two years, Abinader added.
HONDURAS: A group of Democratic members of the United States Senate introduced a bill that would impose sanctions on the government of Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández. Hernández is being investigated by United States federal prosecutors, who say that he used his position as president to protect drug traffickers, and that he accepted a $1 million bribe from notorious kingpin Joaquín “el Chapo” Guzmán.
Senator Jeff Merkley, who sponsored the legislation, cited the corruption allegations against President Hernández as well as widespread human rights violations in the Central American country. The legislation would place sanctions on Hernández and suspend security aid to the Honduran military.
MEXICO/UNITED STATES: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced on Saturday that he will propose a “Bracero” style immigrant labor program to U.S. President Joe Biden when the two heads of state meet on Monday.
The Bracero program allowed Mexicans to work temporarily in the United States during World War II and after. Millions of Mexicans took advantage of the program and came to the United States to work mostly in agriculture.
López Obrador proposed that 600,000 to 800,000 Mexican and Central American immigrants be given permission to work in the United States every year.
Biden had previously proposed a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people in the United States.
MEXICO/UNITED STATES: Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, was arrested at Dulles International Airport in Virginia last Monday. Coronel is accused of participating in the operations of her husband’s Sinaloa Cartel and of involvement in his 2015 escape from a Mexican prison.
The former beauty queen, who is a dual citizen of Mexico and the United States, has been charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana. She is expected to appear in federal court by videoconference on Tuesday afternoon.
Prosecutors also say that Coronel was involved in planning the construction of the tunnel used by Guzmán to escape from the Altiplano prison in 2015.
The case against Coronel relies heavily on information provided to U.S. prosecutors by a “high-ranking associate of Guzmán” who had previously pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges, and agreed to cooperate in the investigation in exchange for a reduced sentence.
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