Xpat Weekly Update: The 5 Most Important Latin American Stories This Week

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1. Mexico: Pope Francis Embraces Indigenous Culture and Bashes Donald Trump

Pope Francis visited Mexico this week. The pontiff received a warm welcome in the Presidential Palace and held a meeting with President Peña Nieto.

Francis’ commitment to Indigenous people was worth noticing. He held a mass for indigenous people, in which he apologized for the Church’s past discrimination and abuses. Then, the pontiff authorized for the mass to be officiated in native languages.

The Pope took advantage of his visit to criticize the Mexican clergy. It is known that the clergy is tied up with the elite to oppress the poor. The Pope addressed the clergy thus: “Do not allow yourselves to be corrupted by trivial materialism or by the seductive illusion of underhanded agreements. Do not place your faith in the chariots and horses of today’s Pharaohs.”

After leaving Mexico, the Pope criticized Donald Trump, specifically for his proposal for building a wall on the US-Mexico border. Pope Francis said: “a person who only thinks about making walls..is not a Christian”

New York Times

2. Cuba: Obama Scheduled A Visit to Cuba in March

Barack Obama has scheduled a visit to Cuba in March. The White House announced Obama’s visit is the first stop in a longer trip around Latin America. Obama posted a tweet indicating his intentions “to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people.”

The last US president who visited the island was Calvin Coolidge in 1928. After a hiatus of 88 years, Obama will be the second U.S president to ever visit Cuba. Yet, the announcement has enraged Cuban conservatives. Republican Presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz labelled Obama’s upcoming trip as a big mistake. They condemned Obama’s actions as soft, and “apologetic” of the dictatorial Cuban regime.

Obama’s visit to Cuba reveals that diplomatic relations are slowly improving. Last Tuesday, the US and Cuba reestablished commercial air traffic after half a century. However, the US embargo is still in place. Its chances for being revoked are minimal, since Congress is controlled by Republicans.


3. Venezuela: President Maduro Raises Petrol Prices

President Nicolas Maduro had recently assigned a new economic minister. Last week Maduro got rid of him and nominated another. Miguel Perez Abad, the new minister, is friendlier to business interests. Perez Abad appeared to have convinced Maduro to adopt drastic economic measures.

President Maduro has announced that he will hike the price of gasoline from $0.01 to $0.60 a liter. Venezuela’s oil is heavily subsidized, and it is the cheapest in the world. But the new increase in oil price will save the government $800 million a year. Maduro said it is “a necessary measure, a necessary action to balance things, I take responsibility for it.”

Considering the imposed price cuts, Venezuela’s oil is still the world’s cheapest.

Venezuela is on the verge of economic collapse, as world oil prices keep decreasing. Venezuela’s Central Bank recently reported that inflation had increased to 180% in 2015. In the same time period, the prices for food and beverage also skyrocketed to 315%. The Wall Street Journal affirms that Venezuela’s inflation is the highest in the world.


4. Colombia: FARC Ex-Rebel Struggle To Find Jobs

As everything indicates, the Colombian peace talks have been succesful. But now there are more problems to address. The conditions sought for the future trials of FARC leaders has brought some discord. But the reintegration of FARC soldiers into civilian life is a bigger issue.

An approximate of 9,000 FARC soldiers will soon lay down their weapons. Most of the soldiers are illiterate, lack basic skills and carry psychological trauma. The “Government Reintegration Agency” has set up a detailed program of support for them. Ex-soldiers are paid a monthly stipend of $140 if they attend college, and also have free psychological counseling. But former soldiers already in the program believe this help is insufficient.

Yaimi Diaz, an ex-rebel, says it may take as long as six years for a soldier to adapt. Many are released into society lacking the basic skills. Boris Folero, another ex-soldier, made their case very clear: “Leaving the group was painful. My personal identity was shaped there. I was formed as a man in the FARC. Before it was us, the collective. Now it’s just me. You have to reconstruct yourself, find a new identity, find out who you really are. It’s been difficult…”

Only 30% of soldiers enrolled in the Government Reintegration Agency had been able to find jobs. As the FARC soldiers massively reintegrate into society, it would be interesting to learn what the Colombian government plans to do.


5. Peru: Presidential Candidate Julio Guzman May Be Forbidden To Run

The upcoming Peruvian presidential race has drawn public attention. Julio Guzman, the candidate regarded as an outsider, may not be allowed to stay in the race.

Last month, Guzman had rapidly climbed in the polls and reached the second place in less than three weeks. He had gained the support of the Peruvian youth, who pushed his candidacy through social media. Suddenly, on February 16, the electoral court stated that Guzman’s party, TPP (Todos por el Peru) failed to comply with electoral rules. The court announced that Guzman’s candidacy is illegitimate.

The National Jury of Election assigned a separate board to decide if Guzman can still run. The decision process has ignited public opinion and boosted Guzman’s popularity. Peruvian lawyers argue that, although Guzman failed to comply with the rules, he still retains the citizen’s constitutional right to run for president. Guzman has taken advantage of the situation to back his argument that the establishment has strong ties to the same political sectors who seek to retain their power.

Guzman has been marching through the streets, organizing rallies and insisting that his campaign will continue no matter what.

The Economist

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