Central Americans arrive
Thousands of families fleeing Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua are turning to Europe for refuge instead of the U.S. Nearly 7,800 Central Americans applied for asylum in Europe last year, up from 4,835 in 2017. Migrants say it’s safer to take a $2,000 flight to Madrid than to pay a smuggler $8,000 to get across Mexico. “It is more expensive to go to the U.S., and in the end you’re not sure you’ll arrive,” said Salvadoran migrant Alejandro Hernández, 25, who now works on a pig farm near Barcelona. Most Spanish-speaking migrants to Europe try their luck in Spain, but Spain rarely recognizes gang victimization as legitimate grounds for asylum. With 8,000 cases pending, fewer than 15 Hondurans or Salvadorans were granted asylum there in 2018.
What’s killing tourists?
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Death in paradise
At least six Americans have died mysterious deaths at Dominican resorts in recent months, sparking an investigation by the FBI. In May, three Americans died within five days of one another at the Bahía Príncipe resort; they all suffered pulmonary edema and respiratory failure. At least one of the tourists, Pennsylvania psychotherapist Miranda Schaup-Werner, died after having a drink from a minibar. Another American’s death at the resort last year is also under the spotlight. Meanwhile, in April, a California man died suddenly after drinking from the minibar in his room at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana. After seeing news reports of that death, the widow of a Maryland man said her husband died at the same hotel last July of what authorities said was a heart attack. Dominican officials insist the island is safe for tourists.
Governing by tweet
San Salvador, El Salvador
El Salvador’s brash new president, Nayib Bukele, started his first week in office by firing people via tweet. The 37-year-old former mayor of San Salvador, now the hemisphere’s youngest leader, used Twitter to ax several relatives of former President Salvador Sánchez Cerén as well as figures from the outgoing ruling political party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. Older politicians are not amused, saying Bukele is acting like an autocrat. Bukele, a leather jacket–wearing conservative who formed his New Ideas party to disrupt El Salvador’s old two-party system, pledges to seek closer relations with the U.S., home to some 2.5 million Salvadorans, and to create youth programs to combat gang recruiting.
‘Big Papi’ shot
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Ortiz: Target of a hit
Former Red Sox slugger David “Big Papi” Ortiz was shot and seriously injured this week in an apparent assassination attempt outside a bar in the Dominican Republic. The gunman calmly got off a motorcycle driven by another man and then shot Ortiz in the back at point-blank range. The shooter escaped, but the motorcycle’s driver—Eddy Feliz Garcia, 23—was beaten by the surrounding crowd and handed to police. Ortiz, 43, was rushed to the hospital, where his gallbladder and part of his intestine were removed; he was then transported to Boston for more surgeries. Police said the shooting appeared to be a contract hit but didn’t know who ordered it. Garcia’s lawyer said his client was simply paid to pick up a fare and didn’t know the identity of his passenger.
Thanks to an inconclusive election three months ago, the tiny ex-Soviet republic of Moldova now has two rival governments. Facing a deadline to form a government this week, the pro-Russia Socialists and the pro-EU Now Party united in an unlikely coalition to keep the Democrats—led by oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, who is accused of corruption—out of power. Legislators picked a Socialist to be president and a Now Party member as premier. But in a dubious ruling, Moldova’s Plahotniuc-aligned high court said the coalition deal hadn’t been made in time and appointed the Democrats’ outgoing prime minister, Pavel Filip, as acting president. Filip promptly dissolved Parliament and called new elections, but Parliament refused to accept his orders.
Cuban docs: No replacements
Brazil’s poor are once again suffering an acute shortage of doctors, thanks to a spat between President Jair Bolsonaro and Cuba. Under a program set up in 2013 by a leftist Brazilian government, some 8,500 Cuban doctors were deployed to favelas and remote, indigenous villages to provide health care to Brazil’s poor. But last fall, after then–President-elect Bolsonaro complained that the bulk of the doctors’ salaries went to “feed the Cuban dictatorship” and threatened to change the terms of the program, Cuba recalled its medics. Bolsonaro said they would be replaced by Brazilians, but nearly 4,000 spots have yet to be filled. Health officials say up to 37,000 young children could die in the next decade if health-care access isn’t restored.
In a rare reversal, Russian authorities dropped charges against a journalist this week after a groundswell of public outrage. Ivan Golunov, an investigative journalist with Latvia-based news site Meduza.io, had been arrested for alleged drug dealing, charges his colleagues said were revenge for his reporting on corrupt Moscow city officials. Russian journalists, including many pro-Kremlin reporters, sprang to his defense. Only one-person protests are allowed without a permit, so reporters stood in a long, single-file line, taking turns holding up placards in front of the Interior Ministry. After five days of demonstrations, Golunov was freed—though with a concussion and broken ribs sustained in custody—and authorities said the officers who arrested him will be investigated. “This is the result of an unprecedented international campaign of journalistic and civic solidarity,” Meduza said.
Tokayev: Rightful leader?
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was sworn in as Kazakhstan’s new president this week, after an election marred by fraud and mass arrests. Tokayev, 66, is the handpicked successor of longtime authoritarian leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, who stepped down in March after nearly 30 years in power. Riot police were deployed throughout major cities during the vote, and more than 500 people were arrested in protests. Activists posted images on social media that appeared to show ballot boxes being stuffed and voters being given pens with ink that disappeared when exposed to heat. Tokayev seemed to allude to the protests in his inauguration speech, saying, “Dialogue between the authorities and the people is needed.”
Pig disease epidemic
Chinese swine in peril
The African swine fever that has ripped through pig herds across China is now infecting pigs in other Asian countries. Since last summer, about 20 percent of China’s 440 million pigs have been lost to disease or culling. The virus is harmless to humans but lethal to pigs, and it spreads rapidly, through contact with infected live or dead pigs and even contaminated pork products. In recent weeks, the disease has been found in Vietnam, Mongolia, Cambodia, and North Korea, forcing those countries to implement stringent checks at borders. “There’s never been anything like this in the history of modern animal production,” said agrifinance analyst Christine McCracken.
Trump vs. CIA
President Trump said this week that he opposed the use of CIA informants to spy on North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, after it was revealed that the despot’s half brother—Kim Jong Nam—may have been an asset of the U.S. agency. Kim Jong Nam was assassinated at a Malaysian airport in 2017 in a suspected North Korean hit. A new book by Anna Fifield, Beijing bureau chief for The Washington Post, says Kim Jong Nam might have been returning from a meeting with his CIA handler when he was killed. Sources told The Wall Street Journal that Kim Jong Nam, who lived most of his life outside North Korea, also met with intelligence agencies from China and other countries. Trump, who has tried to strike a denuclearization deal with Kim Jong Un, said such spying “would not happen under my auspices, that’s for sure.”
Uprising over extradition
Police and protesters face off.
Violent clashes erupted in Hong Kong this week as riot police used rubber bullets, tear gas, and batons to push back tens of thousands of demonstrators who were rallying against a bill that would allow city residents to be extradited to mainland China for trial. The protesters, furious at Beijing’s attempt to curtail the city’s legal autonomy, hurled bricks and bottles at the officers. Violence on the street prevented the legislature from debating the bill, but Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, vowed to push forward with the law despite the days-long demonstration, the largest since the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997. Lam likened the protesters to spoiled children and said the extradition law was vital to prevent the city from becoming a “haven for criminals.”
Child rape, murder case
Six Hindu men were convicted this week in connection with the 2018 rape and murder of an 8-year-old Muslim girl, in a case that horrified the country. Three of the men, including a 61-year-old temple priest, were sentenced to life in prison. The others, all police officers, were given five-year terms for destroying evidence. A member of a tribe of Muslim herders, the girl was abducted while tending her family’s horses, held in the temple for days, drugged, raped, and ultimately bludgeoned to death. Prosecutors said the grisly crime was meant as a warning to her tribe, which had been arguing over land with the Hindu-majority community in Kathua. Outrage over the case prompted the government to add the death penalty as an option for child rapists last year, and many Muslims are now asking why the attackers won’t be executed. ■