Another Former Salvadoran President to Face Corruption Charges

Top Story — The Salvadoran Supreme Court ordered a civil prosecution Wednesday of former President Mauricio Funes on corruption charges. Though the case does not include drug charges, justices voted to freeze Funes’ personal bank accounts in light of his inability to explain the source some $728,000.

The prosecution is the most recent in a string of prosecutions against former Central American heads of state. Last month, another former Salvadoran president, Francisco Flores, died while under house arrest on charges of allegedly embezzling $15 million in donations meant for earthquake survivors. In September, former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina resigned from office, was arrested and indicted on corruption charges, all in one week following widespread protests calling for his ouster.

Funes’ election in 2009 was momentous, ending two decades of conservative rule. He is a member of the FMLN party, which was formed by guerrilla rebels during the Salvadoran Civil War. His government was also involved in the historic 2012 truce between El Salvador’s two largest gangs, Barrio 18 and the Mara Salvatrucha 13, though he denies any other association beyond mediation. Negotiations broke down in 2013, leading to record escalations in violence.

Taking to Twitter to denounce the ruling and allegations, the former TV journalist claimed that his lawyers had already proven to the court that the funds came from a legitimate source. He also said that this was not his first time being targeted by four of the justices involved with the case.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

A prison riot early this morning has left around 50 people dead in the northeastern Mexican city of Monterrey, local media organizations have reported. The causes of the riot were not immediately clear, and earlier news reports suggested that a fire had broken out at the prison.

The director for the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Tom Frieden, told a congressional panel on Wednesday that the identification of the Zika virus in two Brazilian babies who died from microcephaly presents “the strongest evidence to date that Zika is the cause of microcephaly.”

An indictment unsealed on Wednesday made public the arrest of John Feit, a former priest, for the 1960 murder of Mexican-American schoolteacher Irene Garza in Texas, a crime that shook the Hispanic community of McAllen, Texas, more than half a century ago.

The New York Times reports on the increased demand for maize from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, which has been fueled by high-end restaurants in places like New York and Los Angeles.

Caribbean

Two planes transporting 236 Cuban migrants left Costa Rica on Wednesday, en route to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, as part of an agreement to facilitate the migrants’ trip through Central America on their way to the United States.

Central America

Scientists are investigating whether the Zika virus or any other disease that could be passed to humans is behind the recent die-off of monkeys in Nicaragua.

Guatemala’s Fuego Volcano erupted on Wednesday, spewing ash on a popular tourist destination and other neighboring towns.

Andes

Shopping malls in Venezuela will be decreasing their hours by four a day due to a widespread government electricity rationing order.

Bolivian President Evo Morales will be asking auditors to investigate contracts given to the Chinese CAMC Engineering Company, whose senior executive in Bolivia, Gabriela Zapata, happens to be the president’s former girlfriend.

After Peru began operating its new Las Bambas copper mine last month, the country is set to increase its copper output by 19 percent in 2016, thus likely surpassing China as the world’s second-largest copper producer.

Southern Cone

Argentina’s newly elected President Mauricio Macri is facing growing tensions with Pope Francis over the arrest on charges of fraud and extortion of the prominent activist Milagro Sala, the leader of the immensely influential Túpac Amaru political organization in the northern province of Jujuy.

The spread of the Zika virus may actually help President Dilma Rousseff’s dismal approval ratings, since her government initiatives against the spread of the virus were met with approval among Brazil’s population, Bloomberg reports.

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DC Diversity Group Says Clinton and Sanders Campaigns Showed ‘No Progress’ in Hiring

Diversity hiring initiative INCLUSV said this afternoon that the campaigns for Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders earned a “no progress” classification for increasing staff diversity since last October.

According to the INCLUSV release, the initiative said it was “disappointed” that new diversity numbers from the two Democratic campaigns “show a decline in racial diversity on both campaigns.”

INCLUSV indicated that “30.9% of Sanders’ 418 overall staff, and 36.4% of his senior staff are people of color” and that “the Clinton campaign reports that ‘greater than 30%’ of their staff, and 37% of their senior staff identify as staffers of color.” It also added:

This is especially troubling given that African Americans are expected to be over 50% of the turnout in South Carolina’s February 27 primary, and Super Tuesday will include states with high percentage.

A 2013 Gallup poll said that non-Hispanic whites account for 60% of Democrats, as opposed to 89% of Republicans.

Alida Garcia, INCLUSV’s executive director, called the latest efforts “frustrating,” saying that “at a time where campaigns are increasing endorsements and pushing surrogates to describe their efforts to engage America’s diverse electorate that only 30% of their staffs are people of color.  They can do better and they should do better.”

When releasing its diversity data to INCLUSV, the Clinton campaign also submitted a statement from Bernard Coleman, Hillary for America’s chief diversity and human resources. In that statement, Coleman said that the Clinton campaign is “committed to diversity, inclusion and equity.”

“We are proud of the world class team we’ve assembled and diversity is a core belief of the Hillary for America campaign,” Coleman said. “As we’ve grown so have our staff of color and women– as of December 31, 2015, greater than 30% of total staff are people of color and over 53% are women.  Of note, nearly 37% of our senior staff are people of color and over 51% are women.”

The Sanders campaign shared this additional diversity data with INCLUSV:

Total % of POC on staff: 30.90%
Total % of POC on senior staff: 36.40%
Total African American: 13.4%
Total Hispanic/Latino: 11.70%
Total AAPI: 3.8%
Total Native American: 1%
Total Arab American: 1.9%

The following chart is the diversity data shared last October by each of the three Democratic campaigns active at the time:

Candidate

White Campaign Staff

Campaign Staff of Color

Clinton

67.8%

32.2%

O’Malley

82.9%

17.1%

Sanders

67%

33%

According to the October charts, both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns saw decreases in diversity hires, when compared to the new data provided by INCLUSV today.

Last July, each of the campaigns filed diversity data with the Federal Election Commission:

Candidate

White Campaign Staff

Campaign Staff of Color

Clinton

68%

32%

O’Malley

91%

9%

Sanders

90%

10%

In response to the FEC data from July, the Sanders campaign said at the time that of the “51 people on their staff, 13 are minorities including African-Americans, Latinos and Asians. That’s more than 25 percent.”

Internet Gives a Perfect 10 to Sophina DeJesus’ Viral Gymnastics Routine

While most of the country’s politics fans were following election results from New Hampshire, the rest of the world was sharing a Facebook video of UCLA gymnast Sophia DeJesus taking the sport to a whole new level of hip-hop goodness.

As of this posting, the video showing DeJesus’ floor exercise from Saturday has eclipsed 25 million views on Facebook and another five million on YouTube. It even led to another video from the PAC 12 where DeJesus explains her routine and the online reaction to it:

As DeJesus’ Internet fame grows, people are getting to know more about her. According to her own Ask.fm profile, DeJesus identifies as Black and Puerto Rican. In addition —and this is perhaps the coolest tidbit— as child DeJesus was a dancer on the show “Hip Hop Harry.”

DeJesus might have gotten a score of 9.925 on Saturday, but so far it’s been all 10s for her this week.

Food Insecurity Soars in Haiti as Drought Worsens

Top Story — The United Nations World Food Program announced Tuesday that the number of severely food insecure people in Haiti has reached 1.5 million people, a subset of the nearly 3.6 million Haitians suffering from food insecurity.

That total has more than doubled in the past six months as subsistence farmers there face the third year of drought conditions that have been worsened by El Niño weather patterns.

A U.S. forecasting program estimates there is a 100 percent chance the El Niño patterns will continue until April, further threatening the crucial rainy season, worsening agricultural production in the country where 50 percent of the workforce farms and some farmers are already losing 70 percent of their crops.

While Haiti is not yet experiencing famine, experts warn that the current food insecurity rates are higher than those that followed humanitarian crises after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and a series of hurricanes in 2008. Food shortages in 2008 saw Haitians riot in the streets, and led to the ouster of Prime Minister Jacques-Édouard Alexis.

When coupled with pressing questions surrounding the transfer of the presidency and rising inflation, rising food insecurity could serve to further impoverish the average Haitian family that spends more than 50 percent of its income on food.

In response to the impending crisis, the U.N. has promised to increase its direct food aid programs to 1 million people and increase the enrollment of a program that pays workers for infrastructure projects.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

Mexican authorities said Tuesday that a journalist from Veracruz abducted from her home early on Monday has been found dead in the state of Puebla, highlighting the often grave risks taken by members of the media there.

Three suspects in the murder of a 7-month-old baby and his parents in Mexico’s Oaxaca state, a case that generated indignation after a picture of the baby’s corpse was shared widely online, were arrested Monday night following a raid.

An Argentine forensics team has found remains from 19 people in Guerrero state, where 43 students disappeared in 2014, but the team has said the remains bear no evidence of having been burnt, further contradicting a controversial account by the attorney general’s office.

Pope Francis’ visit to the border city of Juárez, Mexico is being viewed as an opportunity to rebrand the city, which has seen a marked drop in homicides since having been one of the most dangerous in the country just a few years ago.

The Wall Street Journal examines the complicated economic effects of illegal immigration, using the state of Arizona as an example of how many businesses rely on migrants for their labor force but also how a curb in migration would help other low-wage workers.

Caribbean

An annual report by the U.S. intelligence community published Tuesday said Cuba is preparing for a “probable presidential transition in 2018,” adding that ongoing economic reforms will continue at a slow pace but senior leaders will focus on maintaining political control for the time being.

The Dominican Republic’s plans to award Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa a literary prize have generated criticism within the country, including from a member of President Danilo Medina’s cabinet, because of critical comments Vargas Llosa made regarding the controversial 2013 court ruling that stripped citizenship from many Dominicans of Haitian descent.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposed $4.1 trillion budget released on Monday calls for a “broad legal framework” that would allow Puerto Rico to restructure its debt and boost healthcare coverage, a move unlikely to be approved outright by the Republican-controlled Congress.

Central America

As many as 60 Central American migrants were able to escape from captivity when a gas explosion hit the home where a Mexican gang had been holding them captive, highlighting the vulnerability of migrants to criminal groups.

A Mexican company is planning to build a $200 million government complex in Honduras’ capital Tegucigalpa, which will house the majority of the country’s government agencies and, if constructed, would be one of the most modern facilities in Central America, generating thousands of jobs.

Honduran health officials have registered 35 cases of the Guillain-Barré nerve disorder, which in extreme cases can cause paralysis and which is strongly believed to be linked to the Zika virus, although the World Health Organization has cautioned against hastily linking the two without definitive proof.

Efforts to combat Zika in Central America have been hamstrung by the criminal gangs who control wide swaths of territory, and often deny access to health workers they suspect of being working with police or rival gangs, The Associated Press reports.

Andes

Colombia’s constitutional court has decreed that mining in the country’s moorlands will now be banned, citing environmental concerns for the high-altitude shrub plains, a key source of water for the capital Bogotá and other cities.

In Colombia, health authorities have associated almost 100 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare nerve disorder, with Zika.

Southern Cone

In addition to the Zika virus leading to microcephaly in small children, researchers in Brazil have also concluded that the virus might lead to eye damage.

According to The Guardian, many Latin Americans doubt their governments’ abilities to contain and stop the Zika virus, but nonetheless agree with the authorities’ advice to delay having children.

The Brazilian newspaper Globo reported Tuesday that Rio de Janeiro’s Governor Luiz Fernando Pezão wants to use funds set aside to clean up the state’s badly polluted waterways to instead pay the pensions of state government workers, as an economic crisis has left a $3 billion budget deficit.

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Maria Hinojosa Discusses New ‘Republican & Black’ Video on Shift by MSNBC

As part of the new Humanizing America digital video series produced by the Futuro Media Group, Latino USA anchor and Futuro Media president Maria Hinojosa made an appearance this morning on Shift by MSNBC to talk about her team’s latest offering and why it decided to do a profile about a young black Republican.

In the MSNBC segment, Hinojosa, who is also Humanizing America‘s executive producer, described her time with Brandon Washington, a 25-year-old from East New York who became president of the Brooklyn Young Republican Club in 2015. This week, NBCBLK included Washington as part of its NBCBLK28 series.

Washington’s story is Humanizing America‘s second episode. In January, “Undocumented & Asian” premiered on NBCNews.com through NBC Asian America. It has gotten more than 210,000 views on Facebook.

You can follow Humanizing America on Twitter and Facebook. The series’ third episode is expected to premiere next week.

Undocumented Parents Face Unequal Volunteer Opportunities in Pennsylvania Schools

Written by Joanna Bernstein for LatinoRebels.com

For some undocumented parents living in Pennsylvania, the opportunity to volunteer at their children’s schools is a privilege, not a guarantee.

In Philadelphia, the state’s largest city, the public school district explicitly states undocumented parents can volunteer inside their children’s schools, provided they pass necessary background checks. District policy continues to be that undocumented parents must obtain the same Pennsylvania State Criminal History Record Check and Child Abuse Report as documented parents. Most important, the district does not require parents of any immigration status to obtain a background check from the FBI, provided that no previous convictions show up in the those two checks. Only if a previous conviction is revealed from the two primary background checks is the parent’s information turned over to the FBI for federal investigation.

Some 300 miles west, however, lies the state’s second largest city, Pittsburgh. Its public school district does not afford undocumented parents the same opportunities as their counterparts in Philadelphia, and are prohibited from volunteering.

During the planning of a “Know Your Rights” event which involved a Pittsburgh school partnering with Friends of Farmworkers, a legal advocacy organization for immigrants based in Philadelphia that just recently opened an office in Pittsburgh, I asked the school’s administration if they had many Latino parents volunteer at the school, hoping to gauge the current level of civic engagement taking place at the education level. The answer was essentially no, but there was an asterisk: “because they can’t.”

“What do you mean they can’t?” I immediately retorted, both confused and surprised.

A long-time social worker from the school and a community organizer from another local group working directly with the district explained that it was literally not possible for the district to conduct the necessary background checks on undocumented parents because “they don’t have driver’s licenses or Social Security cards.” The organizer added on a separate occasion, “We don’t want to send any undocumented people’s information to the feds.”

Read more at Latino Rebels

While FARC Rebels Balk at Referendum Plan, Colombia Increases Attack on ELN

Top Story — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos gave the military orders to increase its operations against the second largest guerilla group in the country, the ELN, in response to an alleged attack by the rebels on a military brigade on Monday. Meanwhile, Iván Márquez, the chief FARC negotiator at peace talks in Havana, read an open letter to the government rejecting congressional intentions to bring the prospective peace deal to a referendum.

The developments come less than a week after U.S. President Barack Obama celebrated with Santos the 15-year anniversary of Plan Colombia—the controversial military and diplomatic aid package given to Colombia to help the country combat FARC rebels. During the festivities, Obama announced his request for $450 million in new aid to continue Plan Colombia under the new title Peace Colombia.

Increased military operations against the ELN is just the latest development in the gradual breakdown of exploratory peace talks that began over two years ago. Last Tuesday, the government negotiator Frank Pearl issued a warning to the group that, “Time is running out for the ELN to form part of a political solution to the armed conflict in Colombia.” The rebel group says that it has been ready to engage in dialogue since April, but Santos said that his government will not consider opening talks until they release two hostages.

The Santos government has been engaging in promising peace negotiations with FARC rebels in Havana since 2012, yet in the letter, the rebel group’s negotiators made it clear that they expect all parties to be involved in the process of deciding how a prospective deal would go into effect. FARC leaders have also expressed willingness on the part of the ELN to begin negotiations. Márquez insisted on the importance of including them in talks, saying, “The ELN cannot stay outside the peace process.”

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

There were several cabinet changes in Mexico on Monday, with economist José Antonio González Anaya sworn in as the head of state oil company Pemex, which is embarking on an overhaul in light of plummeting global oil prices. A new social security chief and health secretary were appointed as well.

Obama is going to request over $1.8 billion dollars in emergency funds from Congress in order to fight the spread of the Zika virus and research a vaccine, though the president assured the public that there “shouldn’t be panic on this.”

Crime reporter Anabel Flores Salazar was kidnapped from her home in southern Mexico by armed assailants early Monday and is still missing, authorities said, the latest case in a disturbing trend of journalist killings and disappearances in the region.

Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón ridiculed U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposed plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, saying in an interview with CNBC that Mexico would not “pay any single cent for such a stupid wall,” adding that the wall would be a failure and that Trump is “not a very well-informed man.”

Caribbean

Star brothers from Cuba’s national baseball team, Yulieski Gurriel and Lourdes Gurriel, abandoned their teammates while on tour in the Dominican Republic, in what is assumed to be a move to defect and join Major League Baseball in the United States, adding them to a record-long list of 150 baseball defectors from Cuba in 2015.

Tattoo parlors are once again thriving in Cuba, according to Fox News Latino, after decades of operating in the secret of the black market as the revolution equated tattoos with capitalism and immorality.

The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources is set to hold a hearing on Feb. 25 regarding the U.S. Treasury’s analysis of Puerto Rico’s economic situation, another step in coming up with a solution for the debt-riddled territory.

Central America

The New York Times traveled with 10 Central American migrants for two-days on their dangerous journey to Mexico amid crackdowns from authorities, providing a unique look into the experience of a record number of migrants fleeing a surge of gang violence in their home countries. The article was also released in Spanish as part of the unveiling yesterday of The New York Times en Español, which Nieman Journalism Lab says “is one of the latest steps in a larger effort from the paper to grow its international audience.”

Despite financial turmoil in China generating speculation that the funding for Nicaragua’s proposed $50 billion dollar canal project will fall through, the head of Nicaragua’s Canal Authority remains confident construction will continue as planned and is unperturbed by the stock market, according to Bloomberg.

Andes

A Peruvian man who tried to illegally cross into Chile died after stepping on a land mine, one of the many leftover weapons from Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s rule in the 1970s.

Angela Villón, a Peruvian sex worker and activist, is running for a seat in congress in Peru’s April elections, and plans to increase advocacy for women’s and sex workers’ rights.

Venezuela is suffering from a shortage of medication due to legislation that regulates the distribution of hard currency to pharmaceutical manufacturers, making it harder to produce medication domestically.

Southern Cone

Reuters takes a look at several Brazilian scientific studies that are attempting to find out whether the Zika virus causes an increased risk of the birth defect microcephaly. The evidence so far is mostly circumstantial, but compelling enough to drive regional governments and organizations to declare the virus a public health crisis.

After a promising end to Argentina’s ongoing debt crisis, the country’s biggest holdout creditor, Elliott Management and partners, declined President Mauricio Macri’s payment offer, further stalling debt negotiations.

Chile’s inflation was much higher than expected in January —consumer prices rose by 4.8 percent— which the country’s central bank says was caused largely by an increase in stamp duty on financial transactions.

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In the Heat of New Hampshire Primary, Rubio Campaign Downplays Candidate’s Latino Roots

GOFFSTOWN, NEW HAMPSHIRE — In a 2016 election where Marco Rubio is one of two leading Republican candidates who could make history as the country’s first Latino presidential nominee, a spokesperson for the Rubio campaign downplayed the Florida’s senator background, instead emphasizing Rubio’s appeal to a broader group of voters.

“He’s running as someone to unite all Republicans,” Rubio campaign communications director Alex Conant said in the spin room after Saturday’s Republican debate at Saint Anselm College. “Our focus is on winning the Republican primary, uniting Republicans, and then inspiring the nation and beating Hillary [Clinton].”

Conant’s comments were in response to a question about whether the Rubio campaign thinks about the possibility that Rubio could become the first Latino presidential nominee in the history of the United States or that he is a Latino candidate in the top tier of GOP candidates, a point Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus called a “big deal” after Texas senatorTed Cruz won the Iowa Caucus last week and Rubio placed in third.

The Rubio campaign, Conant said, is focusing first on trying to secure the nomination before it can address the historical moment of it, if indeed Rubio were to become the nominee. However, Conant added, that doesn’t mean that the Latino vote is not important.

“We want to win as many votes as we can and that includes winning as many Latino votes as we can,” Conant said. “And obviously Marco speaks Spanish, does Spanish-language media regularly. He’s always done well with Latino voters in Florida. I can tell you this: Hillary Clinton doesn’t want Marco Rubio to be the Republican nominee, in part because she knows he will do very well with Latino voters.”

In a December poll that focused on the Latino vote, Rubio, who is Cuban American, had the highest marks among Republican candidates.

“I think he’s going to be the Republican nominee because his life story is one all Americans can relate to,” Conant added.

In contrast to the Rubio campaign, a spokesperson for the Cruz campaign said that the Texas senator has acknowledged the possibility that Cruz could become the country’s first Latino presidential nominee if he were to win the GOP race.

“If we’re able to capture the nomination and go up against Hillary in the general election, I think there are a number of different groups where Ted Cruz has a story to tell,” Cruz spokesperson Jason Miller said. “Hispanics definitely would be a large bloc. Having the opportunity to be the first Hispanic president… I think there are a number of other groups that he could do very will with. Talk about Millennials. Talk about Jewish American voters. You can talk about Reagan Democrats. I think there’s a good case as to why Ted Cruz will do well with women.”

“Obviously, he’s proud of his heritage and this historic opportunity,” Miller added, saying that Cruz talks about his family history “all the time” and “it is something that’s important to him.” Cruz’s father is of Cuban descent.

Miller emphasized that people should look at how in Cruz outperformed Mitt Romney in the 2012 election with Latino voters in Texas. Romney received 29% of the Texas Latino vote in his race against President Barack Obama, while Cruz earned 35% of the Texas Latino vote against his Democratic opponent.

A new poll out has Cruz and Rubio tied for second place in New Hampshire, the day before the state’s primary.

Democratic National Committee communications director Luis Miranda said that despite talk about two Latino candidates performing well in Republican contests, both Cruz and Rubio are supporting policies that are not aligned to the Latino community.

“[Cruz] himself has rejected the Latino label pretty strongly,” Miranda said. “More importantly, it’s the policies [Cruz and Rubio] are advocating that are bad for the country generally, but particularly harmful to minorities and the Hispanic community.”

Miranda cited Cruz’s positions on immigration and the economy that he finds problematic.

“I don’t think Cruz’s background plays much of a role here, considering his extreme positions,” Miranda said.

Miranda did acknowledge that Cruz’s Iowa win was a historic moment for Latinos but that the historic moment was not the “overarching factor.”

“If we are trying to look for a Latino candidate who’s Latino, that’s the wrong approach,” Miranda explained, “I frankly don’t think that’s useful in either party. I think the issue with Cruz is the policies that he takes and how problematic they are for Latinos of course, but plenty of other communities across the country.”

Miranda also added that in his travels across the country, people are telling him that “by and large, what you hear is that [Cruz and Rubio] don’t really seem to want to be Latino. They seem to be running away from their heritage to be able to win a Republican primary, or maybe that’s just who they are. But it’s certainly not inspiring confidence.”

Haiti’s Martelly Exits Office, Leaving Country in Hands of Prime Minister

Top Story — Haiti’s President Michel Martelly left office on Sunday, leaving power in the hands of the prime minister until the legislature can choose an interim president.

In his farewell speech, Martelly insisted he was “leaving office to contribute to constitutional normalcy.”

The decision to hand power to Prime Minister Evans Paul was made early on Saturday, reports the Miami Herald. The agreement was made in an effort to quell unruly street protests and to avoid creating a dangerous power vacuum. A new Provisional Electoral Council plans to hold a runoff on April 24 and install a newly elected president on May 14 for a regular five-year term.

The first round of presidential polling on Oct. 25, won by Martelly’s chosen successor Jovenel Moïse, prompted widespread accusations of fraud and mismanagement; the runoff vote was postponed twice.

One man was killed during clashes in Port-au-Prince on Friday, as protesters faced off against ex-soldiers supportive of Martelly. The first day of Carnival celebrations were cancelled in light of the violence and political turmoil.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

Pope Francis is planning to visit some of the most violent and impoverished parts of Mexico, as well as head to the northern border to speak on immigration issues, during his first-ever visit to the country as pontiff. Francis will also visit the largely indigenous state of Chiapas in what appears to be an effort to celebrate the country’s “Indian church,” which mixes traditional Catholicism and indigenous culture and which the Vatican has traditionally discouraged.

An investigation by crusading reporter Carmen Aristegui in partnership with the magazine Proceso accuses the Mexican Catholic church of bending marriage rules in 2010 on behalf of President Enrique Peña Nieto by expediting the annulment of his famous actress wife’s prior marriage in order to facilitate their own marriage and boost Peña Nieto’s image ahead of elections.

41 percent of U.S. citizens aware of the Zika virus said they are now less likely to travel to Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, further evidence that the rapidly spreading mosquito-borne virus could affect tourism in the typically popular cold winter months.

Caribbean

Puerto Rico argued for a restructuring of its $72 billion debt in front of the U.S. Congress on Friday, warning that without action major defaults would likely occur in the coming months and acknowledging that such restructuring would mean the island would have to submit to a federal control board.

Latino USA explores exactly how Puerto Rico’s government debt reached $72 billion in a radio story as part of a larger series on the territory’s debt crisis.

Central America

El Salvador’s police arrested four of the 16 former military officers accused of killing six Jesuit priests, a housekeeper and her daughter in 1989, one of the most shocking cases from the country’s civil war. The arrests were met with a range of happiness, frustration and cynicism, according to the Los Angeles Times, which suggests the case will test the country’s porous judicial system.

A group of 184 Cuban migrants arrived in Mexico Saturday without issue after traveling from Costa Rica, the second journey of migrants completed since a deal was reached among El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico on the status of 2,000 Cuban migrants.

Poet Rubén Darío was named a Nicaraguan “national hero” on Saturday for defending his country’s “national language”, during a special legislative session on the 100th anniversary of his death.

Andes

Retail stores in Caracas, Venezuela have suggested cutting four hours from the start of the workday in order to comply with state-imposed energy rationing amid nationwide power shortfalls.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that there is no evidence to suggest that the Zika virus has caused the birth defect microcephaly in the country, even though 3,177 pregnant women have been diagnosed with the virus.

Southern Cone

The Argentine government has offered to settle a longstanding debt dispute by paying back 75 percent of $9 billion originally ordered paid to bondholders by a U.S. judge, allowing the country to return to global capital markets.

A Chilean man claiming to be a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a notorious priest has publicly asked Pope Francis to remove a recently appointed bishop accused of protecting the priest.

Putting aside fears of contracting the Zika virus (and the woes of a bruising economic recession), millions of Brazilians began carnival celebrations over the weekend.

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Why Is Puerto Rico Billions of Dollars in Debt?

Puerto Rico is drowning in $72 billion of debt. Over the last few years, an accelerating fiscal crisis has brought an unusual amount of attention to the U.S. territory and the unique issues it faces. News media has been calling it the “Greece of the Caribbean.” But for those that aren’t experts in municipal finance, it can be all a little abstract. How did Puerto Rico rack up such a huge bill, and how is it affecting life on the island?

Latino USA answers that question, with help from a few experts: Robert Smith of NPR’s Planet Money, economist Rosario Rivera from the University of Puerto Rico and Hector Cordero-Guzman of Baruch College.