Drought-Hit Mexicans Demand that Water Sharing with US Ends

Protesters gathered on Sunday in drought-hit northern Mexico in an attempt to retain control of a dam key to government efforts to diffuse tensions over a water-sharing pact with the United States.Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has been working to maintain a good relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump, said on Friday that Mexico must comply with its obligations.Under the 1944 treaty, Mexico must deliver 1.75 million acre-feet of water to the United States over a five-year period.Mexico also gets U.S. water from the Colorado River.Texas Governor Greg Abbott last week asked the State Department to help enforce the agreement. Mexico has until October 24 to meet a five-year quota, and owes nearly a year’s supply of water, Abbott said.Protesters took control of the La Boquilla dam in Chihuahua, which borders New Mexico, in September. A week ago, a protester was killed in gunfire from the Mexican National Guard after the early protest.Anger boiled over amid plans to divert additional water at the dam due to obligations.Several protesters told Reuters the water is being “stolen” and that they had gathered because they worried the National Guard would recover control of the dam.”We’re here united to defend Chihuahua, defend the water they’re stealing from us,” said Marisa Flores, 60.The National Water Commission of Mexico shows in its drought monitor that large parts of Chihuahua have suffered moderate and severe drought for more than six months. Neighboring states Sonora and Coahuila are also affected. Along the U.S. border in Chihuahua state, several areas on the commission’s drought monitor are marked as in severe drought. Much of the rest is marked as abnormally dry. 

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Peruvian President Defends Himself Against Impeachment

Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra told lawmakers Friday that he had committed no crime and would not be cowed ahead of an impeachment hearing. “I am here, with my head high and my conscience clear,” Vizcarra said in a speech to Congress, adding that the country should not be “distracted” from real challenges. “Let’s not generate a new crisis, unnecessarily, that would primarily affect the most vulnerable,” he said.  Peru has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, along with an economic contraction. Lawmakers planned to vote later Friday on whether to oust Vizcarra from office. The impeachment proceeding is centered on the president’s relationship with a little-known singer, Richard Cisneros, who was given $50,000 in government contracts.  FILE – Event organizer Richard Cisneros arrives to the National Congress to deliver documents for an ongoing investigation into his hiring at the Ministry of Culture, in Lima, Peru, Sept. 11, 2020.Most experts expect Vizcarra to survive the vote. Two-thirds of lawmakers would need to approve the vote to remove him from office. Congress voted last week to begin impeachment hearings against Vizcarra on the ground of moral incompetence, following allegations he tried to interfere in a probe into government contracts given to Cisneros.  The move by Congress was fueled by opposition legislators airing secretly recorded audio that appears to show Vizcarra orchestrating a strategy with his aides to answer questions about his meetings with the singer.  Cisneros claims the $50,000 worth of contracts were legal, according to media reports.  Earlier this week, the country’s top court rejected a request by Vizcarra to stop the impeachment proceedings.  

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Asset Freeze Threatens to Silence Independent Nicaraguan Broadcaster

Journalists at Canal 12 News, one of Nicaragua’s two remaining independent news broadcasters, face an uncertain future after a court in the capital, Managua, ordered the station’s assets seized as part of a tax case that one of its editors says is political retaliation.The freeze affects Nicavision S.A., which operates Canal 12. The court order enforces a demand by the country’s tax agency that Canal 12 pay more than U.S. $500,000 in taxes due from 2011 to 2013, according to Managua weekly newspaper Confidencial.Judge Luden Quiroz García’s September 11 order to seize the broadcast facilities, station vehicles and the owner’s personal estate is the latest in a series of audits and asset seizures faced by news organizations that report critically on the government of President Daniel Ortega.“The government is going to try to silence the few TV stations that are left and telling the stories they don’t want to hear,” Canal 12 News director Marcos Medina told VOA.In Nicaragua, the majority of large media outlets are owned by members of Ortega’s family or his political allies.“This perverse action threatens freedom of the press and expression,” tweeted the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights. “We demand that the regime desist from its strategy of intimidating journalists and destroying independent media.”FILE – Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega.Officials at the Nicaraguan General Income Directorate, the country’s tax agency, and Managua’s embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment. The Ortega government, which is currently observing a weeklong holiday, has not commented on the court order, although sources close to the ruling party told VOA’s Latin America division that the decision was justified. They did not elaborate.Silencing last independent voicesCanal 12 News director Medina said the decision, which creates uncertainty for more than 20 staff at the station, mirrors harassment of other outlets.”The same type of pressure was faced by 100% Noticias and La Prensa,” he said, referring to outlets that faced Ortega government-led actions after reporting on the 2018 demonstrations.La Prensa, Nicaragua’s longest-running and best-known daily broadsheet, nearly folded after an 18-month government-enforced blockade of newsprint supplies, resulting in massively diminished circulation and newsroom-wide layoffs. The government lifted the blockade in February amid international pressure and calls from the Vatican.In December 2018, 100% Noticias, also known as Canal 15, had its operating license revoked and its offices confiscated by Nicaragua’s National Police. The channel’s director, Miguel Mora, and journalist Lucía Pineda Ubau both served six-month jail sentences for inciting terrorism.”Now the same is happening to Canal 12,” Medina said. “They don’t like the type of journalism we do, especially since April of 2018.”Tabloid newsroom taken overAlso commandeered by police was the newsroom of weekly tabloid Confidencial, whose publisher, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, fled to Costa Rica, where he spent 10 months operating the publication in a digital-only format. Chamorro returned to Nicaragua in November 2019 to run Confidencial from a new building.In January, Nicaraguan Supreme Court Magistrate Francisco Rosales told VOA a verdict on the police-confiscated outlets would soon be issued, but the court has yet to rule.If Canal 12 doesn’t survive, Canal 10, which boasts Nicaragua’s largest television audience, would remain the country’s sole independent broadcaster. On September 13, Managua-based news site Articulo66 reported that Canal 10 received a tax assessment declaring it more than $3 million in debt to the tax agency.Some already speculate that the Canal 10 assessment is also politically motivated.”[Canal 10] has fulfilled [all of its tax obligations], but you know how this is,” said a source who spoke with VOA on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.Washington imposed sanctions on the Ortega government and national police for human rights violations following the anti-government protests in 2018 and urged Managua to ease restrictions on other organizations. In May, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Nicaraguan army commander Julio Cesar Aviles Castillo and Finance and Public Credit Minister Ivan Adolfo Acosta Montalvan for human rights abuses and “seeking to silence pro-democracy voices in Nicaragua.””Daniel Ortega strangles dissent and denies Nicaraguans access to information,” Michael G. Kozak, acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, tweeted Sept.13. “On the eve of Nicaraguan independence day, his regime is using spurious tax measures to close two vital independent TV broadcasters. Until Ortega releases his grip, Nicaraguans will not be free.”Daniel Ortega strangles dissent and denies Nicaraguans access to information. On the eve of Nicaraguan independence day, his regime is using spurious tax measures to close two vital independent TV broadcasters. Until Ortega releases his grip, Nicaraguans will not be free.— Michael G. Kozak (@WHAAsstSecty) September 13, 2020This story originated in VOA’s Latin America division.

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Pompeo Lands in Brazil on Third Stop of Latin American Tour

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived Friday in Brazil and visited a Venezuelan refugee processing center, while calling for democracy and for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down.About 250,000 Venezuelan refugees are now in Brazil, with about 600 arriving daily before the border was closed because of the coronavirus. Pompeo visited the center alongside Brazil’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo.During a joint press conference in Guyana earlier in the day, Pompeo and Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali discussed the need for democracy in Venezuela.”We know that the Maduro regime has decimated the people of Venezuela and that Maduro himself is an indicted narcotics trafficker. That means he has to leave,” the secretary of state said, referring to U.S. drug trafficking charges against Maduro. “The United States and dozens of countries have made clear that Juan Guaidó is the duly elected leader of Venezuela. This is the objective — we want democracy and freedom and the rule of law.”Suriname’s President Chan Santokhi and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walk together, in Paramaribo, Suriname, Sept. 17, 2020.The visit to Brazil comes after a historic first-ever trip to Suriname and Guyana by a U.S. secretary of state. There, he met with those nations’ leaders to discuss economic development in the wake of recent oil discoveries in both countries.Pompeo met Thursday with the president of Suriname, Chan Santokhi, before heading to Guyana. Both presidents are newly elected.In 2015, Exxon announced it had discovered a large oil reserve off the coast of Guyana, South America’s second-poorest nation. The BBC has reported that the 5.5 billion barrels’ worth of crude could make it the continent’s wealthiest nation.Exxon is already working in Suriname.During a brief appearance Friday, Ali and Pompeo both said they had not discussed Exxon’s deal with Guyana.“We did not discuss this. But I want to say that we are open to investment,” Ali said. “We are open to investors. … As we have said, prior to the elections, there are issues that we’ll have to review.”Pompeo said the negotiations were between Exxon and the Guyanese government, something he called “the American model.”China has been courting both Guyana and Suriname as they seek foreign investment.

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Pompeo Wraps Up Historic Visits to Suriname, Guyana

In a historic first-ever trip to Suriname and Guyana by a U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo met with those nations’ leaders to discuss economic development in the wake of recent oil discoveries in both countries. Pompeo met Thursday with the president of Suriname, Chan Santokhi, and on Friday with the president of Guyana, Irfaan Ali, both of whom are newly elected. In 2015, Exxon announced it had discovered a Suriname’s President Chan Santokhi and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walk together, in Paramaribo, Suriname, Sept. 17, 2020.Pompeo said the negotiations were between Exxon and the Guyanese government, something he called “the American model.” A State Department official told reporters that Pompeo “will highlight through these meetings how U.S. companies throughout the hemisphere invest responsibly and transparently.” “This draws a stark contrast with China, whose predatory loans and vanity projects saddle countries in the Western Hemisphere with unsustainable debts,” the official said. China has been courting both Guyana and Suriname as they seek foreign investment. Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and a former State Department official, told AFP that getting a U.S. secretary of state to visit Latin America or the Caribbean was “a heavy lift.” “For him to go to both of these countries is extraordinary and shows that something big is happening.” During a joint press conference Friday, Pompeo and Ali also discussed the need for democracy in Venezuela, reiterating the call for that country’s President Nicolas Maduro to step down. “We know that the Maduro regime has decimated the people of Venezuela and that Maduro himself is an indicted narcotics trafficker. That means he has to leave,” the secretary of state said, referencing U.S. drug trafficking charges against Maduro. “The United States and dozens of countries have made clear that Juan Guaidó is the duly elected leader of Venezuela. This is the objective — we want democracy and freedom and the rule of law.” From Guyana, Pompeo travels to Brazil later Friday for talks with the Brazilian foreign minister. 

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Nicaraguan Government Threatens to Close Independent TV Station

Canal 12 is one of the few independent TV stations in Nicaragua. But it could be forced to shut down if the Nicaraguan Justice Department seizes what it says is some $350,000 the station owes in taxes. If that happens, observers say it will continue a trend by the government of President Daniel Ortega of censoring the media and harassing journalists who are critical of the government. VOA’s Donaldo Hernandez in Managua filed this report, narrated by Cristina Caicedo Smit. 

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