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LANR [March 4, 2024]: Haiti Declares State of Emergency After Gangs Overrun Two Largest Prisons

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Haiti Declares State of Emergency After Gangs Overrun Two Largest Prisons

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Haiti Declares State of Emergency After Gangs Overrun Two Largest Prisons alt_text LATIN AMERICA NEWS ROUND-UP HAITI DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY AFTER GANGS OVERRUN TWO LARGEST PRISONS CEPR has launched two newsletters in recent weeks, one on Haiti and one on Ecuador. You can sign-up for future editions as well as other newsletters here. Brazil and Southern Cone Brazil’s economy grows 2.9% in Lula’s 1st year, beating expectations. AP Argentina’s Milei vows to push economic reforms with or without parliament. Al Jazeera Argentina: Javier Milei Will Close Télam News Agency. TeleSUR Chile’s President Stung by Rising Disapproval Ahead of New Reform Push. Bloomberg Yellen sees big jump in US imports from Chile, eyes progress on green transition. Reuters Northern Andean Region ICC Rejects Venezuela Appeal Against Protest Probe. AFP Venezuelan dissident found dead in Chile as Nicolás Maduro tests US resolve. Financial Times U.S. anti-drug policies caused Latin American 'genocide': Colombia's Gustavo Petro. AFP Western Andean Region Ecuador Bonds Jump After President Noboa Tells Investors He Sees IMF Deal in Two Months. Bloomberg Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean Why Mexico’s Ruling Party Candidate Is Already Dominating the Presidential Race. New York Times Honduras moves to exit World Bank arbitration body. Reuters UN experts accuse Nicaragua’s government of abuses ‘tantamount to crimes against humanity’. AP Inmates Escape After Attacks on Two Prisons in Haiti’s Capital. New York Times Haiti orders a curfew after gangs overrun its two largest prisons. Thousands have escaped. AP Progressives defend Cuba trip as ‘productive’ amid GOP backlash. Politico Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration Migration From South America Through the Perilous Darién Gap Resumes. New York Times BRAZIL AND SOUTHERN CONE [CONTENTS] Brazil’s economy grows 2.9% in Lula’s 1st year, beating expectations AP. March 1, 2024 SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil’s economy grew 2.9% in 2023, beating expectations in the first year of the administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, according to the government statistics institute Friday. The number announced by IBGE impressed many economists, whose overall forecaste early last year was for only 0.8% growth in 2023. Brazil’s economy grew 3% in 2022, partly due to government spending programs pushed by then-President Jair Bolsonaro amid his failed reelection bid. The credit rating agency Austin Ratings said Brazil’s economy is now the ninth biggest in the world, based on the preliminary gross domestic product numbers announced Friday. Reaching $2.17 trillion in GDP last year moved the South American nation ahead of Canada and Russia, it said. The Brazilian statistics agency said Brazil’s record production of soybeans and corn helped the overall results. “Agriculture represented about a third of all the growth of Brazil’s economy last year,” Rebeca Palis, a coordinator at IBGE, said in a statement. The government said after the results that it expects 2024 growth to be at 2.2%, which would again above market expectations. Lula has said in public forums he wants to push the number above 3% this year by drawing more foreign investment to Brazil. _______________________________ Argentina’s Milei vows to push economic reforms with or without parliament Al Jazeera. March 3, 2024 Argentina’s libertarian President Javier Milei has promised to keep pushing his agenda of radical economic liberalisation with or without the support of parliament. In a state-of-the-union-style address to lawmakers on Friday, Milei said he would “keep pushing forward” with a package of sweeping economic reforms aimed at jolting the country out of decades of dysfunction and decline. “We are going to change the country for good … with or without the support of political leaders, with all the legal resources of the executive,” Milei said. “If you look for conflict, you will have conflict.” Milei laid down the gauntlet to parliament after lawmakers last month rejected his omnibus reform bill despite tough negotiations with the opposition that reduced the number of proposed changes by nearly half. In more conciliatory remarks to local governors, Milei called for a 10-point “social pact” that would overhaul the framework for distributing tax funds between the federal government and provinces. Milei, who was elected resoundingly in a run-off election in November, began his term by devaluing the peso by more than 50 percent, slashing state subsidies for fuel and transport, cutting the number of ministries by half, and scrapping hundreds of regulations. His government has claimed credit for tentative signs of economic revival, including the country’s first monthly budget surplus in 12 years and growing foreign currency reserves. But sky-high inflation and Milei’s austerity measures have weighed heavily on Argentinians, prompting strikes and protests. Milei, a self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist who has pledged to restore the dynamism of Argentina’s “golden age” during the early 20th century, took office warning Argentinians to prepare for a “shock adjustment” to fix the economy. “I ask for patience and trust. It will be some time before we can perceive the fruit of the economic reorganisation and the reforms we are implementing,” Milei said in his address on Friday. Argentina, Latin America’s third-largest economy, has stumbled between economic crises for decades, beset by enormous debt, widespread poverty and triple-digit inflation. _______________________________ Argentina: Javier Milei Will Close Télam News Agency TeleSUR. March 3, 2024 During the inaugural speech of the ordinary sessions before the Legislative Assembly, the President of Argentina announced on Friday that he intends to close the public news agency Télam, founded 73 years ago. The libertarian highlighted the closure of the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (Inadi), which he called "police of thought", and in the same line will close the agency Télam, the president said without offering more details of the operation. Founded in April 1945, the Argentine public news agency Télam was in the crosshairs of the libertarians already since the electoral campaign, during which several leaders referred to its possible privatization or closure, as with the rest of public media. On February 5, the Argentine Government published in the Official Gazette the decree of intervention for a year of all state media within its policy of "reorganization of public enterprises". Unions and civil press organizations in Argentina have rejected the closure of the news agency, "we reaffirm our commitment to defend" Télam, and they "will do it with all the legal, trade union and political actions that are necessary to safeguard both its social role in democracy," warned the Argentine Federation of Press Workers (Fatpren) and the Press Union of Buenos Aires (Sipreba) in a statement. "The closure of Télam would not only be illegal but also illegitimate," the Argentine press unions said, regarding the agency that has about 700 employees and correspondents in all provinces. The Forum of Argentine Journalism (Fopea) ratified this Saturday in a statement its "position in favor of the existence of non-governmental public media, aimed at respecting freedom of expression and the right to information of citizens". _______________________________ Chile’s President Stung by Rising Disapproval Ahead of New Reform Push Matthew Malinowski. Bloomberg. March 4, 2024 Chile President Gabriel Boric’s disapproval rating rose at the end of February according to two new polls, highlighting the challenges facing his administration as it readies another push of its key reforms. Roughly 66% of voters reject Boric’s management, the most since September and up from 61% the week prior, according to a Cadem poll published late Sunday. A survey released the same day by Pulso Ciudadano put his disapproval at 62.2% — that’s the worst since December, 2022. The timing isn’t good for the leftist president as his administration prepares for new negotiations with lawmakers over marquee proposals to increase pensions and raise tax revenues. Boric has been bogged down by concerns over crime, clandestine migration and corruption. Complicating matters further, his government has a limited window to muster support and pass legislation before October’s local elections dominate the political agenda. In January, the lower house of Congress approved the base text of the pension reform while also rejecting several key articles, setting the stage for tense debate in the Senate in March. The government is also seeking backing for measures including an anti-evasion plan to raise tax income. While Boric is struggling for support two years into his mandate, his disapproval levels are lower than those of former President Sebastian Pinera at the same point during his second administration, according to Cadem. They are roughly the same as Michelle Bachelet’s just before the halfway point of her second term. The Cadem poll surveyed 704 people between February 28 and March 1, and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. Pulso Ciudadano surveyed 1,213 people between February 28-29 and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. _______________________________ Yellen sees big jump in US imports from Chile, eyes progress on green transition Andrea Shalal. Reuters. March 3, 2024 LA NEGRA, Chile (Reuters) -U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Saturday predicted expanding demand for lithium - a core component needed in batteries for electric vehicles - would boost U.S. imports from Chile substantially in coming years. Yellen toured U.S. lithium producer Albemarle in northern Chile on Saturday as she wrapped up a visit to Chile that included meetings with President Gabriel Boric, Economy Minister Mario Marcel and business executives in Santiago. She told reporters after visiting the Albemarle site in La Negra, about 30 minutes southeast of Antofagasta, that rising demand for clean energy could generate some $3 trillion in global investment opportunities through 2050. Yellen said the U.S. was keen to expand domestic production and find other sources of critical minerals like lithium needed to power electric vehicles. "We want to certainly acquire minerals from our free trade partners, especially a country like Chile that is producing with great environmental sensitivity and has its own strong climate agenda," Yellen said. She said increased purchases of lithium would likely increase U.S. imports from Chile and increase its share of Chilean exports. China is now Chile's biggest export market. "I can't tell you numbers, but I imagine that we will be expanding substantially our purchases from Chile," she said. Yellen's visit to Chile is part of a broader push dubbed "friendshoring" to diversify U.S. supply chains by bolstering ties with key allies and partners such as Chile. Washington has a strong interest in Chile as the world's largest producer of copper and the second largest producer of lithium, both components critical to the green transition. EXPAND TRADE FLOWS She told reporters on Friday that the U.S. wanted to expand its own trade flows with Chile, not dissuade it from trading with China, its biggest trading partner, adding, "It's not a competition." Yellen said Chile's lead production role in copper was critical, noting that demand is projected to double by 2035, since the metal is required for everything from electric vehicles to offshore wind turbines and transmission networks. With 30% of global market share and the largest lithium reserves, Chile is also the world’s second biggest producer of lithium, which is expected to see a tripling of demand by 2030 given its key role in energy storage, such as for EV batteries. Chile's 20-year-old free trade agreement with the United States means critical minerals from Chile help vehicles qualify for clean vehicle tax credits under the Inflation Reduction Act, which Yellen said would boost industries in both countries. She said Albemarle's investment in Chile showed the benefit of expanded ties, noting the North Carolina-based company had two sites in Chile that employ 1,000 people: a production site in Salar de Atacama and a conversion plant in La Negra. There would be shifts in the medium to long term as the U.S. ramps up lithium production in the United States, Yellen said, citing a planned Albemarle lithium mine due to open in North Carolina by 2030 and a separate mine and processing facility in Nevada that broke ground one year ago. Yellen said Chile was working on recommendations as part of a new national lithium strategy, and said its goal was to ensure "they don't end up in a situation where any one country totally dominates the production." She said she could not comment on the details of the emerging regulatory framework, but noted that companies like Albemarle saw "a very bright future" ahead in Chile. NORTHERN ANDEAN REGION [CONTENTS] ICC Rejects Venezuela Appeal Against Protest Probe AFP. March 1, 2024 Venezuela lost an appeal Friday against the resumption of an International Criminal Court investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed in 2017, opening the way for the inquiry to resume. "The Appeals Chamber... rejects the arguments brought by Venezuela. It rejects the appeals and confirms the impugned decision," Judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut told the Hague-based court. In April 2022, Caracas had asked ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan to halt his probe into a government crackdown on protests against President Nicolas Maduro, in which over 100 people died. It had said it would carry out its own investigation. But in June last year, the ICC pre-trial judges authorised Khan to resume. "It appears that Venezuela is not investigating the factual allegations... of crimes against humanity," they said. Venezuela was appealing that decision. On Friday, the appeals judges agreed with the court's original findings, dismissing Venezuela' appeal. "The Appeals Chamber finds no convincing reason to depart from the Pre-trial Chamber's ruling," Judge Perrin de Brichambaut said. The investigation is into a crackdown on protests sparked by the arrests of several opposition leaders and the decision of Venezuela' supreme court to dissolve the opposition-dominated National Assembly. Five South American countries and Canada referred the situation in Venezuela to the ICC in 2018, and the court launched a preliminary investigation. The ICC's Khan began a formal investigation in November 2021, signing a deal with Maduro saying Venezuela would ensure the court could work properly there. Venezuela said it would launch its own inquiry and asked the court to suspend the probe, as it is entitled to do under the ICC's complementarity rules. But Khan then asked the court to resume the investigation. Since 2017, more than 200 members of the police and military have been charged or sentenced for human rights violations, Caracas said in April 2022. The opposition claims those actions were taken merely to avoid an ICC investigation. Operating since 2002, the ICC is the world's only independent tribunal, set up to investigate the world's worst crimes. It is a "court of last resort" and will only investigate and prosecute cases if countries are unable or unwilling to do so themselves. _______________________________ Venezuelan dissident found dead in Chile as Nicolás Maduro tests US resolve Joe Daniels. Financial Times. March 2, 2024 Ronald Ojeda, a 32-year-old former lieutenant in Venezuela’s military, had been living in exile in Santiago de Chile since 2017 — until he was found dead on Friday, 10 days after he was abducted. On Friday night, Chilean authorities confirmed that they had found Ojeda’s body in a suitcase, buried beneath a cement structure in a Santiago suburb. A 17-year-old Venezuelan in the country illegally has been detained in connection with the case, Chilean prosecutors said. “The approximate date of death was between seven and 10 days ago, coinciding with the date on which the kidnapping occurred,” Héctor Barros, the prosecutor leading the case, said on Friday. CCTV footage appears to show three men in Chilean police uniforms and riot gear arriving at Ojeda’s 14th-floor flat at 3.15am on February 21 and marching him, barefoot and in his underwear, down the hallway. A fourth man in uniform stood with the doorman as a grey vehicle waited outside. With no ransom demand, Chilean authorities had said the abduction of Ojeda — who had protested against the revolutionary socialist government of Nicolás Maduro — may have been the work of Venezuelan agents. That would represent a new frontier in repression from Maduro, who is expected to run in elections later this year. Chilean interior minister Carolina Tohá told local media before Ojeda’s body was discovered that if Venezuela were responsible, “it would be an unprecedented situation, of the greatest severity, unprecedented with respect to relations between Latin American countries”. Ojeda’s disappearance follows a series of moves by Maduro against political opponents despite a decision by the US last year to lift some of its sanctions on Caracas in exchange for concessions such as releasing political prisoners. Maduro’s crackdown poses a challenge for the US, which must decide in the coming weeks whether to restore sanctions and risk effects such as lower oil availability and greater migrant flows at a time Washington is also preparing for elections. Ojeda had protested against Maduro before and after fleeing his home country. “To the people of Venezuela, keep spirits up! We have been knocked down but we will get back up,” he said in a video posted on Instagram in January last year, wearing a T-shirt with “Freedom” written on the collar and prison bars drawn over a map of Venezuela. “The regime in Venezuela are a bunch of imbeciles, a pack of weak men.” On January 24, Ojeda’s name was included on a list of 33 active and former soldiers accused of plotting “criminal and terrorist” activities against Maduro and charged with treason. Before the body was discovered, Santiago had instructed its ambassador in Caracas to meet with the Venezuelan government over the kidnapping. Venezuela, however, has denied involvement. Diosdado Cabello, a grandee of the ruling United Socialists of Venezuela party, said on his regular TV programme that “Venezuela has nothing to do with the kidnapping, nothing”. The assassination of a dissident on foreign soil would resemble the behaviour of Russia’s Vladimir Putin or China’s Xi Jinping, both allies of Maduro, according to observers such as Richard Kouyoumdjian, vice-president of Chilean security consultancy AthenaLab. Already this year Venezuela has arrested Rocío San Miguel, a prominent opposition military analyst and lawyer, while members of her family briefly also went missing. It has expelled all staff at the UN Human Rights Commission in Caracas and upheld a ban on opposition contender María Corina Machado standing in the presidential election. Local pollsters suggest that in a fair contest, the market-friendly Machado would beat Maduro with 70 per cent of the vote. “The Maduro regime is clearly playing its own game and sending the message that continuing its hold on power is more important than any economic incentives or international legitimacy that it might get from a more free and more fair election,” said Ryan Berg, director of the Americas programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The crackdown comes as Maduro flouts a US-backed deal reached in Barbados last October with a faction of the opposition, in which his government pledged political reforms and releases of political prisoners ahead of an election expected this year. In response, the US lifted sanctions on Venezuelan energy, mining and secondary debt trading, but said the relief would be cancelled if the Barbados deal was not honoured. Last month, Washington reimposed sanctions on state-owned gold miner Minerven, and said oil and gas sanctions would be next if progress on reforms was not made by April 18. But Caracas has done little to suggest it will change course. On Wednesday the government said it was in talks with a larger group of opposition politicians, including some believed to be in Maduro’s thrall, about 20 possible election dates, ranging from mid-April to early December. Analysts worry that the new potential deal — described by Maduro as “more inclusive” than its predecessor — is an attempt to wrongfoot politicians who oppose the regime. “They’re going to continue playing this game of trying to split the opposition,” Berg said. “It’s divide and conquer.” Maduro, who assumed power after the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013, has overseen an economic contraction of about 70 per cent despite Venezuela boasting the world’s largest proven oil reserves. Like Chávez, he has kept a tight rein on dissent. Some 7.7mn Venezuelans have fled the repression and economic hardship, with many making their way north to the US. Lifting US sanctions on Venezuela’s critical oil industry was thought to be a help to President Joe Biden’s re-election prospects by freeing up oil in a tight market and stemming refugee flows by boosting the Venezuelan economy. That US approach now appears to be backfiring. Maduro last week appeared to exploit his leverage over migration by refusing to receive repatriation flights from the US, according to US media. One of the key architects of the US strategy, Juan González — Biden’s top Latin America adviser at the National Security Council — will step down this month. An NSC spokesperson said Gonzalez’s departure was at his own request to spend more time with his family. “Our approach has always been to encourage and promote democratic governance,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve taken action in January, we revoked one of the general licences and, absent progress from Maduro and his representatives, the United States is unlikely to renew [the oil and gas sanctions exemption]”. But despite the failure to nudge Maduro towards reform, analysts say the US may be hesitant to fully reimpose the sanctions on state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela that compounded the country’s economic decline. “The Barbados deal was signed without any promises to lift Machado’s ban, but the deal went ahead because it contained agreements on migration, prisoner release and oil, which rather than a concession to Maduro was of mutual benefit to the US,” said Luis Vicente León, who runs Datanálisis, a Venezuelan pollster and think-tank. “If the US suspends the licences it has granted, it will own whatever happens next.” _______________________________ U.S. anti-drug policies caused Latin American 'genocide': Colombia's Gustavo Petro AFP. March 2, 2024 U.S. anti-drug policies have caused a "genocide" of Latin Americans, Colombia's Gustavo Petro alleged Friday at a meeting of regional leaders on the Caribbean island of St Vincent and the Grenadines. "We have lived through a genocide of a million Latin Americans in the last half-century," the Colombian president told the annual summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). He blamed the United States for basing its drug strategy on "repression" and not on "prevention and public health." "The result could not be more dramatic, more failed," Petro, the first leftist president of Colombia -- which is the world's largest cocaine producer and exporter -- told the summit in Kingstown. The meeting was also attended by other leftist leaders, such as Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, as well as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Countries governed by right-wing leaders sent lower-level emissaries, such as Ecuador, represented by an ambassador. Guterres praised the region's peace efforts, amid tensions between Venezuela and Guyana over the sovereignty of the oil-rich Essequibo territory. But he warned about spiraling violence in Ecuador as it fights to rein in drug traffickers. And he reiterated calls for aid to Haiti, the most impoverished nation in the Americas, as it combats a surge in conflict from armed gangs, which now control large swathes of the country. WESTERN ANDEAN REGION [CONTENTS] Ecuador Bonds Jump After President Noboa Tells Investors He Sees IMF Deal in Two Months Maria Elena Vizcaino. Bloomberg. March 1, 2024 Ecuador bonds jumped on Friday after President Daniel Noboa met with investors in New York and told them his government expects to reach a deal with the International Monetary Fund in about two months, according to a person who attended the meeting. Notes gained across the curve, with those due in 2030 rising 2.7 cents on the dollar to around 63.7 cents, the highest level in more than a year, according to indicative pricing data collected by Bloomberg. Noboa told money managers that talks with the Fund were ongoing, according to the person, who asked not to be identified describing the private meeting. The 36-year-old leader was making the rounds in New York after raising taxes at home and pledging to narrow the deficit in the 2024 budget. Representatives for Noboa, the Finance Ministry and the IMF didn’t immediately reply to messages seeking comment about the remarks. Noboa was meeting with local officials and investors to pitch economic reforms and discuss his efforts to fight drug gangs, according to a statement from his office. He planned to speak with Ecuadorian migrants before making stops in Toronto and Ottawa over the coming days. The heir to a banana fortune, Noboa has tried to leverage his popularity since taking office three months ago to wield support to tackle dual security and fiscal crises. His efforts have caught the attention of the market, with debt from the South American nation handing bondholders returns of 36.5%, according to a Bloomberg index. Still, the notes trade deep in distress, with investors pricing in an 80% chance of a default within five years. MEXICO, CENTRAL AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN [CONTENTS] Why Mexico’s Ruling Party Candidate Is Already Dominating the Presidential Race Simon Romero and Emiliano Rodríguez Mega. New York Times. March 2, 2024 With Mexico’s presidential election just three months away, one thing is clear: The candidate for the governing party appears to be running away with it. Claudia Sheinbaum, a physicist and protégée of the current president, holds a commanding lead of about 30 percentage points in the polls over the opposition’s Xóchitl Gálvez, a tech entrepreneur, as campaigning officially starts on Friday. Playing it safe at a time when the departing president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, remains broadly popular, Ms. Sheinbaum has kept so closely to his policies and persona that she not only vows to adopt his priorities, she also sometimes imitates his slow-paced way of talking in appearances across the country. But while Ms. Sheinbaum’s exceptionally disciplined campaign has cemented her front-runner status, the candidate who could be Mexico’s first female president remains something of an enigma to many Mexicans. “Claudia Sheinbaum is still the great mystery of this election,” said Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez, a political scientist at Mexico’s Monterrey Institute of Technology. “We know she’s a scientist with a different way of thinking. Sooner or later she’ll have to remove her mask showing her as the mimic of López Obrador.” For now, the race highlights how Mr. López Obrador, a combative politician blending leftist and nationalist rhetoric with policies that are socially, environmentally and fiscally conservative, has so dominated Mexican politics since taking office in 2018 that a splintered opposition is struggling to find its footing against his would-be successor. Ms. Gálvez, a senator with Indigenous roots who represents a coalition of mostly conservative parties, made a splash last year when she entered the race. But she has not gained much traction at a time when Mexico’s economy is benefiting from a shift in manufacturing from China, making Mexico the United States’ top trading partner. Ms. Sheinbaum, who is a member of Morena, the governing party, and is a former mayor of Mexico City, has steadily emphasized her closeness to the president, who is universally known by his initials, AMLO. Born to Jewish parents in Mexico City, she became an expert on energy issues after studying physics and energy engineering in Mexico and doing doctoral research at California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Despite Ms. Sheinbaum’s lead, experts say that polls could be misrepresenting voter sentiment and that the race, which culminates in the election on June 2, remains far from over as the candidates spar over their plans for the world’s largest Spanish-speaking country. “There is a good percentage that’s only now going to start making decisions about which candidate they’re persuaded by,” said Lorena Becerra, a pollster and political analyst. Ms. Gálvez could not be reached on Thursday, and a spokesman for Ms. Sheinbaum said that for now they would not comment on the voting trends. But as March begins, Ms. Sheinbaum is backed by 63 percent of people enrolled to vote, according to a tabulation of polls by Oraculus, an organization that standardizes and aggregates the country’s voting surveys. Ms. Gálvez, her main opponent, has 31 percent — or a difference of the equivalent of nearly 20 million votes. A third presidential candidate, Jorge Álvarez Maynez, who is from the Citizen Movement party and is a progressive politician, has lagged with 5 percent. “Morena arrives in unbeatable condition,” said Carlos Pérez Ricart, a political scientist at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City. Reflecting on Mexico’s recent election cycles, he added, “Never has the official candidacy had so much wind at its back as it has now.” Several factors favor Ms. Sheinbaum and her party; above all, perhaps, are Mr. López Obrador’s high approval rating, which surpass those of any other president in the country’s past four administrations. About 25 million families have benefited from direct cash transfers. The government has increased subsidies to lower fuel prices and electricity bills. And it has developed major infrastructure projects, including an ambitious train line in the Yucatán Peninsula, as a way to develop historically poor regions. While Ms. Sheinbaum has not played a role in creating these policies, she has pledged to follow Mr. López Obrador’s steps, in large part by consolidating some of his major infrastructure projects, carrying out his austerity measures and keeping his popular social welfare programs. But unlike her mentor, said Mr. Pérez Ricart, the political scientist, “we can, for sure, expect a candidate who is much more detailed in execution. If it was López Obrador’s charisma that kept his numbers up, she’s going to have to replace that with efficiency.” There is already some evidence that a Sheinbaum administration could differ from her predecessor’s in some key ways. When she was mayor of Mexico City, her management of the pandemic differed drastically from the federal government’s response. Ms. Sheinbaum tried to follow the science as Mr. López Obrador downplayed the risks. She has also said that she would focus on renewable energy in contrast to Mr. López Obrador’s prioritization of fossil fuels. Then there’s the persistent issue of security. He has trusted the armed forces to deal with rising violence; Ms. Sheinbaum vowed to improve the training of the police, increase their salaries and invest in intelligence, measures she put in place while mayor of Mexico City. Each strategy’s results are in. While reports of extortion and disappearances have shot up across the country, homicides, theft and other crimes in Mexico City have dropped by about 60 percent. “The differences are in front of us,” Mr. Pérez Ricart added. “She clearly has a different way of governing and has demonstrated that over the last few years.” Ms. Gálvez has also hinted at some proposals, including allowing private investments to modernize the country’s indebted oil company and promoting renewable energy sources. She would also create a national investigative police force and reduce the military’s power. Concerns over security are part of the campaign conversation as Mexico prepares for its largest ever election, with voters choosing national offices all the way down to the municipal level. Since June, Laboratorio Electoral, an independent research institute focused on democracy and elections, has documented at least 67 attacks, threats, kidnappings and killings related to the elections. At least 39 people have been slain, 19 of them candidates for local positions. A significant portion of the violence is linked to cartels and other criminal groups seeking to influence who holds office. Looming over the race is the presidential campaigning unfolding in the United States. While President Biden’s re-election would signal continuity, a victory by Donald J. Trump, the Republican front-runner, could upend Mexico’s politics by making the country’s reliance on trade with the United States into a source of vulnerability. Mr. Trump’s campaign is pursuing a proposal for a universal tariff of 10 percent on imported goods. Such a tariff would “present the next president of Mexico, whomever she is, with a challenge that AMLO and his predecessors didn’t face,” said Andrew Rudman, director of the Mexico Institute at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Mr. López Obrador himself could be another destabilizing factor if his protégé wins the presidency. His plan, as he has claimed multiple times, is to disentangle himself from politics and move to a ranch in Palenque, in the southern state of Chiapas, that his parents left him and his siblings. Many in Mexico have a hard time believing that Mr. López Obrador could just fade into the sunset. “A character the size of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the capacity that he had to mobilize emotions and, with that, make up for many of his government’s shortcomings — well, Claudia Sheinbaum is not going to have that,” said Blanca Heredia, a political analyst. “And it will be difficult not to compare her, especially at the beginning, with him.” _______________________________ Honduras moves to exit World Bank arbitration body Reuters. March 1, 2024 TEGUCIGALPA, Feb 29 (Reuters) - Honduras on Thursday took steps to exit a World Bank settlement body that is assessing a dispute with an autonomous zone claiming close to $10.8 billion in compensation from the government for alleged damages. The World Bank's International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) is assessing a complaint made by Honduras Prospera, an autonomous "free zone," or ZEDE, on the Central American nation's Caribbean coast. Honduras' Zones for Employment and Economic Development (ZEDEs) are special economic zones exempt from some national laws and taxes that were established to encourage investment. President Xiomara Castro says she does not recognize the ZEDEs and in 2022 backed an attempt to repeal the law that created them. The law has been only partially repealed, but further steps to do away with the ZEDEs could come in 2025. The World Bank on Thursday said it had received a "written statement of denunciation" from Honduras against the ICSID over the dispute settlement process, and that the country could now leave the body in late August. Honduras Prospera had appealed to the ICSID in late 2022 after congress partially approved the repeal bill, with executives from the ZEDE saying they had exhausted attempts to negotiate with the government. The ZEDE, which remains autonomous, is claiming $10.8 billion in damages arguing that legal uncertainty over the zone and the partial repeal discouraged past investments and hindered its future prospects. Honduras Prospera in 2013 received a 50-year concession to manage around 157 hectares (388 acres) in the coastal region of Le Ceiba and about 23 hectares in Roatan, where it has been given administrative, fiscal, justice and security autonomy. "The agreement still stands," Jose Luis Moncada, former head of Honduras' financial watchdog CNBS, told a local radio station on Thursday. Honduras "is obliged to respect the result of this arbitration and any others that are presented before the end of August," Moncada said. _______________________________ UN experts accuse Nicaragua’s government of abuses ‘tantamount to crimes against humanity’ MEGAN JANETSKY AND GABRIELA SELSER. AP. February 29, 2024 MEXICO CITY (AP) — A panel of U.N.-backed human rights experts on Thursday accused Nicaragua ’s government of systematic human rights abuses “tantamount to crimes against humanity,” implicating a range of high-ranking officials in the government of President Daniel Ortega. The allegations, fiercely rejected by Nicaragua’s government, follow an investigation into the country’s expanding crackdown on political dissent. The Ortega government has gone after opponents for years, but it hit a turning point with mass protests against the government in 2018 that resulted in violent repression by authorities. In the past year, repression has expanded to large swaths of society with a focus on “incapacitating any kind of opposition in the long term,” according to the independent group of U.N. experts investigating the issue since March 2022. The experts do not speak for the world body, but work under a mandate from the Human Rights Council. Nicaragua shuts down scouting association and several other social and religious groups “Serious systematic human rights violations, tantamount to crimes against humanity, continue to be perpetrated by the Nicaraguan government for political reasons,” the group said in a statement. Jan Simon, an expert who headed the investigation, said at a news conference Thursday in Geneva that the Nicaraguan government’s persecution targets “all forms of opposition, whether real or perceived, both domestically and abroad.” The state has targeted civilians, including university students, Indigenous and Black Nicaraguans, and members of the Catholic Church. Children and family members are now targeted simply for being related to people who raise their voices against the government. Ortega’s government has repeatedly said that the mass demonstrations against it in 2018 constituted a failed coup attempt orchestrated by the United States, and typically defends any repression as a crackdown on anti-government plots. The government responded to the report Thursday by saying it was “manipulated” by a group of imperialist powers paid to “distort the reality of our country.” “We will not accept these self-proclaimed human rights experts,” Attorney General Wendy Morales said in a video, accusing them of bias and of basing their conclusions on “unreal and irrational” criteria. The human rights report, which came after hundreds of interviews, implicated a number of high ranking officials in crackdowns that have firmly consolidated power in the hands of Ortega and his Vice President Rosario Murillo. The report says Gustavo Porras, the head of the country’s National Assembly, pushes through legislation to facilitate repression. It says Marvin Aguilar García, the head of the Supreme Court, takes direct orders from Ortega’s government, and commands lower level judges to fall in line. Meanwhile, Chief Prosecutor Ana Julia Guido Ochoa’s office fabricates evidence against real or perceived opponents, the report says. The experts also cite high-ranking officials in the country’s interior ministry, the governmental body regulating migration and the body regulating non-governmental organizations. Yader Morazán, an exiled former official of the Nicaraguan judiciary, hailed the report saying it could help combat impunity in Nicaragua. “This report presents a well-documented work that for the first time identifies the main perpetrators of abuses and crimes against humanity” and “reveals the structure and chain of command of the repression from State institutions,” Morazán said. ln December, police charged the director of the Miss Nicaragua pageant of a “beauty queen coup” plot, saying she rigged the competition against pro-government beauty queens. In February, the government shut down yet another round of social groups, including the country’s scouting organization and a rotary club. The report says the crackdown has expanded past Nicaragua’s borders to the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled government repression, largely landing in the United States and Costa Rica. Hundreds of Nicaraguans have been stripped of their citizenship and left stateless, unable to access fundamental rights. The U.N. report urges the Ortega government to release “arbitrarily” detained Nicaraguans and calls on global leaders to expand sanctions on “individuals and institutions involved in human rights violations.” _______________________________ Inmates Escape After Attacks on Two Prisons in Haiti’s Capital Andre Paultre, Emiliano Rodríguez Mega and David C. Adams. New York Times. March 3, 2024 Gangs attacked two prisons in Haiti, including the country’s largest penitentiary, and allowed prisoners to escape on Saturday night, according to Haitian officials, the latest instance of escalating violence and disorder in the country’s capital, which has been ravaged by gang violence for more than two years. While details of the attack remained murky, the government of Haiti released a statement Sunday saying that police officers were unable to prevent gang members from releasing “a large number of prisoners,” adding that several inmates and prison staff were injured. Haiti’s national penitentiary held nearly 4,000 inmates at the time of the attack and the other facility, the Croix-des-Bouquets Civil Prison, held roughly 1,400, according to local human rights groups. At least two of the country’s police unions went on social media on Saturday requesting that all police officers report to the national prison in Port-au-Prince, the capital, to help control the situation and prevent the inmates from fleeing. “If we let gangs take the penitentiary we are done,” the national police union SNPH-17 said in a post on X. “No one will be spared in the capital.” Haiti’s national penitentiary — built to hold only 800 — houses several high-profile inmates, such as the Colombian commandos accused of being part of the group that killed Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, in 2021. A Haitian lawyer for several of the soldiers accused in the assassination, Samuel Madistin, told The New York Times that he had spoken to his clients who said the national prison was nearly emptied of inmates. Only those who were too old or disabled to flee and those accused in the Moïse killing remained, Mr. Madistin said, for fear of being hunted down if they left the prison. Videos circulating on social media on Sunday appeared to show journalists wandering through parts of the penitentiary mostly empty of prisoners. “The attack was obvious,” said Lionel Lazarre, coordinator of the National Union of Haitian Police Officers, adding that gang members did not try to hide their plans to close in on the penitentiary. “There is a lack of care from police authorities who did not take these messages seriously or take enough measures to strengthen security.” Commissioner Ernst Dorfeuille, a senior police officer in charge of operations in Port-au-Prince, said that the internet had gone out so it was difficult to get a situation assessment. Still he said it appeared that most of the prisoners had escaped. “I don’t think there’s an inmate left down there,” he said, adding, “The gangs got together so the attack force was in their favor.” The Haitian government said it would track down the escaped prisoners and arrest those responsible for the attack. Haiti has spiraled into a state of extreme unrest after Mr. Moïse’s assassination led to widespread gang violence and the near-complete collapse of security. Out of a force of about 15,000 officers, nearly 3,000 police officers have abandoned their posts in the past two years, according to police figures. The country has no president nor any other elected national officials, and gangs — which have seized control of much of Port-au-Prince — terrorize thousands of people every day. Last year at least 5,000 people were killed in Haiti, according to the United Nations. Violence in the country escalated last week after Prime Minister Ariel Henry traveled to Kenya to finalize an agreement under which that country would send 1,000 police officers to help restore order to Haiti. The assault on prisons is part of a wave of attacks that armed gangs have carried out in recent days while Haiti’s prime minister is out of the country. The goal, according to Jimmy Chérizier, a gang leader known as Barbecue, is to overthrow what remains of the government. In a video message on Thursday, Mr. Chérizier said, “With our guns and with the Haitian people, we will free the country.” On Sunday, the U.S. Embassy in Haiti issued a security alert warning American citizens to leave the country as soon as possible. It is unclear whether an international police force led by Kenya, which has drawn criticism from human rights groups, could help check the violence. The recent attacks constitute a clear display of force in the gang-ravaged nation, experts say. “The gangs seem to be sending an intimidation message to the troops that might be deploying soon in Haiti, saying, ‘Well, we are forming a united front and we can strike simultaneously,’” said Diego Da Rin, a Haiti expert with the International Crisis Group. Romain Le Cour, a security analyst at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, said, “It’s honestly a situation in which you have absolute absence and silence of the state,” adding that some of the violence had probably been planned for weeks, while some was spontaneous. Though the authorities in Haiti have been losing ground for years, Mr. Le Cour said, the past few days have shown the armed gangs have achieved a “crucial shift” in the balance of power. “It is probably one of the first times that you have these directed, targeted attacks. It’s not like before,” he added. “Now they’re just going for it.” _______________________________ Haiti orders a curfew after gangs overrun its two largest prisons. Thousands have escaped EVENS SANON AND PIERRE-RICHARD LUXAMA. AP. March 4, 2024 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Authorities have ordered a nighttime curfew in an attempt to regain control of Haiti’s streets after an explosion of violence during the weekend, including gunmen from gangs overrunning the country’s two biggest prisons and freeing their inmates. A 72-hour state of emergency began Sunday night, and the government said it would set out to find the killers, kidnappers and other violent criminals that it reported escaped from prison. “The police were ordered to use all legal means at their disposal to enforce the curfew and apprehend all offenders,” said a statement from Finance Minister Patrick Boivert, who is serving as acting prime minister. Prime Minister Ariel Henry traveled abroad last week to try to salvage support for bringing in a United Nations-backed security force to help stabilize Haiti in its conflict with increasingly powerful crime groups. The emergency decree was issued after a deadly weekend that marked a new low in Haiti’s downward spiral of violence. At least nine people had been killed since Thursday — four of them police officers — as gangs stepped up coordinated attacks on state institutions in Port-au-Prince, including the country’s international airport and the national soccer stadium. But the attack on the National Penitentiary late Saturday was a big shock Haitians, even though they are accustomed to living under the constant threat of violence. Almost all of the estimated 4,000 inmates escaped, leaving the normally overcrowded prison eerily empty Sunday with no guards in sight and plastic sandals, clothing and furniture strewn across the concrete patio. Three bodies with gunshot wounds lay at the prison entrance. In another neighborhood, the bloodied corpses of two men with their hands tied behind the backs lay face down as residents walked past roadblocks set up with burning tires. Among the few dozen that chose to stay in the prison are 18 former Colombian soldiers accused of working as mercenaries in the July 2021 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. Amid the fighting Saturday night, several of the Colombians shared a video pleading for their lives. “Please, please help us,” one of the men, Francisco Uribe, said in the message widely shared on social media. “They are massacring people indiscriminately inside the cells.” On Sunday, Uribe told journalists who walked into the normally highly guarded facility, “I didn’t flee because I’m innocent.” Colombia’s foreign ministry called on Haiti to provide “special protection” for the men. A second Port-au-Prince prison containing around 1,400 inmates was also overrun. Gang gunmen also occupied and vandalized the nation’s top soccer stadium, holding one employee hostage for hours, Haiti’s soccer federation said. Gunfire was reported in several neighborhoods in the capital. Internet service for many residents was down as Haiti’s top mobile network said a fiber optic cable connection was slashed during the rampage. In the space of less than two weeks, several state institutions have been attacked by the gangs, which are increasingly coordinating their actions and choosing once unthinkable targets like the Central Bank. As part of coordinated attacks by gangs, four police officers were killed Thursday. After gangs opened fire at Haiti’s international airport last week, the U.S. Embassy said it was halting all official travel to the country and on Sunday night urged all American citizens to depart as soon as possible. The embassy said it would also cancel until Thursday all consular appointments. The Biden administration, which has steadfastly refused to commit troops to any multinational force while offering instead money and logistical support, said it was monitoring the rapidly deteriorating security situation with grave concern. The surge in attacks follows violent protests that turned deadlier in recent days as the prime minister went to Kenya seeking to move ahead on a proposed U.N.-backed security mission in Haiti to be led by that East African country. Henry took over as prime minister following Moise’s assassination and has repeatedly postponed plans to hold parliamentary and presidential elections, which haven’t happened in almost a decade. Haiti’s National Police has roughly 9,000 officers to provide security for more than 11 million people, according to the U.N. They are routinely overwhelmed and outgunned by gangs, which are estimated to control up to 80% of Port-au-Prince. Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer known as Barbecue who now runs a gang federation, has claimed responsibility for the surge in attacks. He said the goal is to capture Haiti’s police chief and government ministers and prevent Henry’s return. The prime minister, a neurosurgeon, has shrugged off calls for him to resgn and didn’t comment when asked if he felt it was safe to come home. _______________________________ Progressives defend Cuba trip as ‘productive’ amid GOP backlash MATT BERG and ERIC BAZAIL-EIMIL. Politico. March 2, 2024 Progressive lawmakers hit back on Friday against criticism of their recent trip to Cuba, arguing the pushback largely from Cuban-American Republicans was “hyperbolic and meritless.” Last week, Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) visited Havana to meet with Cuban officials, including President Miguel Diaz-Canel, as part of an effort to mend ties with Washington. They also met with relatives of those imprisoned for protesting against the government. News of the trip only broke publicly this week in a report from the Miami Herald. That prompted criticism from Republican lawmakers, including South Florida’s Cuban-American representatives, who slammed the pair for not disclosing the trip publicly before going — and questioned why they went at all. Jayapal told POLITICO the visit was not disclosed beforehand for security reasons, while Omar said it was necessary for informing legislative decisions. “Their reactions are hyperbolic and meritless,” Omar said. “For them to infer that we would need permission from them to do the work that we think is necessary as members of Congress, again, it’s ridiculous.” Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.), who was born in Havana and fled the island as a young child, told POLITICO he was “offended” that the two went to meet with an “oppressive” regime. “Supposedly they’re on the side of the people. Well, the people of Cuba have been trying to escape Cuba for 60 years,” Gimenez said. “If it’s so great there, why are they going here?” Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.), who represents Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood in Congress, said she wished they had consulted her before going. “I wanted them to have told me about it, so I could tell them some of the items that maybe you should have put on the agenda,” Salazar said. “I never knew about it. I heard through some sources. I didn’t want to believe it. But why were they there?” Jayapal told POLITICO she has since had an amicable conversation with Salazar about the trip. The visit came as Cuba navigates economic stagnation, attributed to knock-on effects from the political and financial turmoil in its ally Venezuela, as well as U.S. sanctions and economic mismanagement from the central government that have created widespread shortages of basic goods and blackouts on the island. Those conditions sparked nationwide demonstrations in 2021, when the Cuban government arrested thousands of protesters calling for an end to the island’s communist regime. Hundreds remain in state custody, according to human rights group Amnesty International, and hundreds of thousands of Cubans have fled the island for the United States in the past two years. President Joe Biden is facing pressure from progressives to adopt a warmer policy toward the Cuban government after his predecessor, Donald Trump, undid many of the Obama-era efforts to thaw relations. Trump also redesignated Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. The Biden administration has unveiled new efforts to support Cuban entrepreneurs, reopened the U.S. Embassy in Havana and relaxed some travel restrictions, but has largely kept Trump-era sanctions in place. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has been advocating stronger ties with Cuba for years, but members have ramped up their efforts in the past six months during meetings with the State Department and the Cuban government, Jayapal said. They say, however, that progress has been limited. In particular, progressives want the administration to remove Havana from the state sponsors of terrorism list, which includes Iran, Syria and North Korea. Lawmakers were previously under the impression the White House was working to do that, but Jayapal said “that is not underway.” The State Department declined to comment on whether it is reviewing Cuba’s designation. Critics of the Cuban government have strongly opposed efforts to change the designation, pointing to Havana’s support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah as well as its intelligence-sharing with Russia, China and other U.S. adversaries. “[The Cuban government] is a symbol of anti-Americanism, of antisemitism … 90 miles away,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said in a brief interview Thursday. Despite the pushback, Jayapal and Omar said they plan to work with a wider range of progressives and continue to push the administration to further warm relations with Havana. Meetings with Cuban leadership were “really productive,” Omar said. “It was frank, honest conversation … We were able to challenge them on some of the concerns that we have that might continue to hinder the possibility of having a more productive relationship.” REGION: TRADE, SECURITY, ECONOMY AND INTEGRATION [CONTENTS] Migration From South America Through the Perilous Darién Gap Resumes Julie Turkewitz. New York Times. March 2, 2024 Migration toward the United States through the perilous jungle known as the Darién Gap returned to normal on Friday, with hundreds of people from Venezuela, Ecuador and beyond entering the jungle following a roughly five-day pause in which migrants could not begin the trek. The pause in this increasingly large migration flow was the result of an arrest operation led by the Colombian prosecutor’s office, in which two captains driving boats full of migrants headed to the jungle were taken into custody, where they remain, according to the prosecutor’s office. The office said that the captains had been transporting the individuals illegally, in part because the migrants did not carry proper documentation. The captains worked for two boat companies — Katamaranes and Caribe — that for years have been playing an essential role in carrying migrants from the northern Colombia community of Necoclí about two hours across a gulf to the entrance to the jungle, which they must then cross to get to Central America and eventually the United States. The boat companies have been doing this openly — something documented extensively by The New York Times — and the arrests seemed to signal a shift in policy by Colombian authorities. But in retaliation for the arrests, the boat companies paused transport, and the number of migrants waiting around in Necoclí and another exit town, Turbo, swelled quickly to several thousand people. That posed an enormous challenge to both towns, which do not have the resources or infrastructure to house and feed so many people for an extended amount of time. The arrests of the boat operators came after months of pressure by the United States on the Colombian government to do more to limit or stop migration through the Darién. In a recent interview, Hugo Tovar, a Colombian prosecutor, said his office was working diligently, with the help of the United States, to investigate and arrest human traffickers. On Friday, Johann Wachter, secretary of the Necoclí municipal government, said that the boat companies decided to restart operations after a meeting between representatives from the boat companies, local governments, the Colombian national migration office and other agencies, including someone from the U.S. Embassy in Colombia. In the meeting, said Mr. Wachter, representatives of Colombia's migration office assured the boat companies that “there would be no problem” as long as the migrants they transported “fulfill the requirements.” In this case, Mr. Wachter said, each person seeking to cross into the jungle would have to fill out a form on a mobile phone application called Secure Transit. A State Department spokesperson confirmed that the United States was present at the meeting and said it continues to “follow developments in Colombia related to irregular migration very closely.” The Darién jungle is the strip of land connecting South and North America. It must be traversed to get to the United States from South America by foot. Once rarely crossed, it has become a major migrant thoroughfare in the last three years, with nearly a million people risking the journey since 2021. This has posed an enormous challenge to President Biden, who has seen a record number of arrivals at the United States’ southern border during his presidency. The fallout in Necoclí from the decision by the boat companies to shut down operations after just two arrests shows just how difficult it is for U.S. and Colombian officials to stop the multimillion-dollar people-moving business that operates in the open in northern Colombia. Any efforts to halt it using the law are likely to have unintended consequences, including the agglomeration of thousands of people in poor Colombian towns that do not have the ability to care for them. Mr. Wachter, for his part, called the restart of migrant transport a positive move. “Our capacity is limited,” he said, “so this gives us a good deal of peace.” alt_text The Latin America News Round-up is a daily email digest featuring a free compilation of articles with the latest English language news on economic and political developments in Latin America. The newsletter is produced by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), and is aimed at educating people on current trends and what policies will best improve the quality of life for Latin Americans. You can subscribe to the Latin America News Round-up and other CEPR updates here. The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) is an independent, nonpartisan think tank that was established to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. CEPR was co-founded by economists Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot in 1999. CEPR's Advisory Board includes Nobel Laureate economists Robert Solow and Joseph Stiglitz; Janet Gornick, Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and Director of the Luxembourg Income Study; and Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics at Harvard University. CONNECT WITH US TwitterFacebookFacebook 1611 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 400 Washington, DC 20009 (202) 293-5380 [email protected] If this email was forwarded to you, subscribe to CEPR's email lists here. If you believe you received this message in error or wish to update your subscription, click here:
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