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In the headlines: Deforestation in the Amazon increases under Bolsonaro, Ecuador fights illegal mining, Haitians demand President step down over corruption, Italian court sentences 24 to life sentences in Operation Condor trial, and more.

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Brazil

Brazil’s Amazon saw an 88% increase in deforestation in June compared to the same month last year. Since Jair Bolsonaro became president in January, he has supported development in the Amazon and criticized the environmental ministry’s harsh fines for deforestation. June was the second month in a row of high deforestation numbers, and in the last 11 months, deforestation is up 15% from the same period the previous year. While the Bolsonaro government seems to be supporting deforestation, international pressure to implement anti-climate change measures has increased. In the new European Union-Mercosur free trade agreement, members are required to implement the Paris Agreement provisions.

After The Intercept Brasil announced it received recordings between Lava Jato prosecutors and Justice Minister Sergio Moro, there have been widespread calls, from both the left and right, for Moro to step down. The leaked messages reveal Moro influencing the prosecutors as they convicted high-level politicians. Following the publications by The Intercept, Moro and Economy Minister Paulo Guedes were accused of launching an investigation into the news outlet’s co-founder and asked to clarify their actions before the Senate.

A Brazilian Air Force member was arrested in Seville, Spain for possession of 39 kg of cocaine. The airman was arrested on drug trafficking charges, and Bolsonaro, who has vowed to pursue drug traffickers in Brazil relentlessly, ordered complete cooperation with the Spanish police. The airman landed in Seville hours before the President’s scheduled stopover on the way to the G20 summit in Japan. 

Ecuador

In a new effort to improve the country’s economy through mining projects, Ecuador’s government has mobilized hundreds of police and soldiers to the northern town of Buenos Aires. The deployment of troops to Buenos Aires comes after months of confrontations between illegal miners and gangs, who use the area for human trafficking, prostitution, money laundering, and more. The day before the occupation, President Lenín Moreno declared a state of emergency in the area due to the severe environmental devastation caused by the illegal mining and the influx of around 10,000 people to the area, originally a town of 2,000.

Haiti

Haitians from various political parties, religious groups, and community organizations took to the streets last month in a call for President Jovenel Moïse to resign. A recently released report cited Moïse at the center of an “embezzlement scheme” involving subsidized oil shipments from Venezuela through the Petrocaribe program. The program was supposed to use the money saved from the subsidized oil to pay for development projects to help the country’s poorest. Instead, the report shows, Moïse pocketed much of the money. Moïse stated that he “will not leave the country in the hands of armed gangs and drug traffickers” and has refused to step down.

Honduras

Protests in Honduras broke out in response to President Juan Orlando Hernández’s laws to transform the national health education system. The recent wave of protests started in May and increased in April after the laws were approved, totaling over 300 protests throughout the country between May and June 25. Even though the laws have been repealed, Hondurans continue to protest, calling for Hernández to step down. The government has responded with violent crackdowns on protesters. Since April, six people have died and around 80 injured by security forces. In the most recent case, security forces responded to a protest at the National Autonomous University of Honduras by open-firing on the protesters, injuring at least four people. While teachers and health workers initially started the protests, they have now been joined by rural and indigenous communities, social organizations, and neighborhood collectives. 

Nicaragua

In June, Nicaragua passed an amnesty bill in an effort to seek “reconciliation with society” and end the political conflict that began in April 2018. Upon passing the bill, the government released over 100 political prisoners, but more remain in prison. While the prisoners’ release is celebrated, the amnesty law is seen as controversial as it prohibits the freed prisoners from participating in future anti-government demonstrations and offers amnesty to the security forces, who have been criticized for using disproportionate force, leading to the killing of over 320 people and injuring of more than 2,000 in the last 14 months.

Operation Condor

In an Italian trial that began in 2015, 24 South Americans were given life sentences for crimes committed during the military dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s. Those sentenced include former presidents, foreign ministers, and intelligence officers. Operation Condor was a conspiracy between six South American countries who worked together to kidnap and assassinate left-wing political opponents in each others’ territories.

United States

President Donald Trump has maintained his sense of determination to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. After the Supreme Court blocked the question on June 27, Trump announced he would consider issuing an executive order to add the question and attempted to replace the entire legal team defending the administration in courts, only to have a federal judge block the request citing lack of “satisfactory reasons” for changing the council. Opponents say adding a citizenship question will scare many immigrants out of participating in the census, thus lowering the population count in many immigrant communities. The government argued that adding the question will allow for better data to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The US Supreme Court decided it will rule on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in its next term, which begins in October. Since Trump ordered the program be terminated in 2017, around 700,000 people in the United States have been living in uncertainty about their future. The Supreme Court’s verdict is expected in June 2020, giving Congress time to pass legislation on the program.

Multiple reports released last month show concerning and inhumane conditions within US migrant facilities. The Department of Homeland Security released a report citing “dangerous overcrowding” and “prolonged detention of children and adults.” Lawyers called the conditions an “emergency public health crisis” after witnessing inadequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, and food and water for migrant children. Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, was cited saying the centers could be violating international law. The Trump administration has dismissed the reports, calling them “phony and exaggerated accounts of the Border Detention Centers,” and blaming the current situation on a lack of funding for the facilities. However, activist organizations claim the conditions are due more to a lack of “intention” as opposed to resources.

Venezuela

A United Nations report based on 558 interviews with victims of political violence, witnesses, and other sources accuses Venezuela of “grave violations of economic, social, civil, political, and cultural rights.” According to the report, last year saw over 5,000 killings of people resisting arrest and over 1,500 up until May 19 this year. However, the witnesses reported accounts of the Special Action Forces (FAES) manipulating crime scenes and evidence to suggest confrontation as if the victim “resisted authority.” This report comes after the death of a navy captain arrested for the attempted assassination of President Nicolás Maduro. The autopsy report shows the captain had been subjected to extreme force, starved of oxygen, severe beatings, and electrocution. Maduro responded to the report saying that it ignores official information and that the interviews lack objectivity. 

Days after the UN report was released, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) published a report stating the rule of law in Venezuela has crumbled and called on the government to reinstate democratic institutions. The report is based on the government’s usurpation of the legislative and judicial branches after the 2017 Constitutional Assembly, which has yet to issue any article of the new Constitution to the Venezuelan people.

After the first round of negotiations failed to bring resolution, opposition leader Juan Guaidó announced the Norway-mediated talks will resume in Barbados. Guaidó maintains that the goal is to “establish a negotiation on the end of the dictatorship,” with the opposition seeking to end Maduro’s “usurpation of power,” establish a transitional government, and hold free elections monitored by international observers.

Image via Wikimedia