A day without women: strikes in Mexico and Argentina follow huge rallies

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Millions of women in Mexico and Argentina will stay away from offices, school and government offices on Monday, stepping up historic protests against gender violence that saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets over the weekend.

The one-day action dubbed “a day without us” is intended to show what life would be like if women vanished from society. In Mexico, the strike stems from a surge in disappearances of women and femicides, or gender-motivated killings of women.

FILE PHOTO: Women protest against gender violence and femicides at Angel de la Independencia monument in Mexico City, Mexico, February 22, 2020. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

Femicides in Mexico jumped 137% in the past five years, government statistics show, as gang violence pushed the national murder tally to record heights. Most violent crimes go unsolved.

On Sunday, women took to the streets in unprecedented numbers across Latin America as part of International Women’s Day, demanding abortion rights and action from leaders to stem the violence.

The mostly peaceful protests saw anger boiling over into some outbreaks of violence, such as Molotov cocktails thrown at Mexico’s national palace, after the killing of a 7-year-old and the murder and skinning of a young woman shocked the nation.

The impact of Monday’s strike, in contrast, will stem from the absence of women in businesses, universities and government ministries. Not all women, however, will take part.

“We are tired of being victims, of being abused and mistreated. Enough is enough,” said Alma Delia Díaz, 45, a beautician in the Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec.

Diaz said she supported women making their voice heard, but personally could not miss a day’s work.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said government employees are free to join the walkout. But he has also accused political opponents of seeking to exploit Mexico’s security problems to undermine his administration.

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

U.S. appeals court blocks Trump policy forcing migrants to wait in Mexico

By Mica Rosenberg

(Reuters) – A U.S. federal appeals court in San Francisco on Friday blocked a Trump administration policy that has forced tens of thousands of migrants to wait in Mexico for months for hearings in U.S. immigration courts.

A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel found the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their argument that the program violated U.S. immigration law and international treaty obligations on the treatment of asylum seekers.

The program, which began a year ago and is called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), is one of the most dramatic immigration policy changes enacted by the Trump administration.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has made cracking down on immigration a central theme of his more than three years in the White House, has sought through a series of new policies and rule changes to reduce asylum claims filed mostly by Central Americans arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment but the administration is likely to quickly appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court as it has done with other rulings.

Some 59,000 people have been sent back to Mexico under the program, which started in San Diego before being expanded to other ports of entry all across the U.S-Mexico border. [L2N25W1G1] It was not immediately clear what would happen to people already in the program.

Migrants, many of them children, have faced violence and homelessness as they wait for their court dates in dangerous border cities. At least 1,000 people returned under the program were violently attacked or threatened in Mexico, according to a Feb 28 Human Rights Watch report that documented kidnappings, rapes and assaults.

The Trump administration argued the program did not violate a principle in international law known as non-refoulement, which says asylum seekers should not be returned to places where they face danger. The administration has said migrants could tell officials at any point in the process they had a fear of returning to Mexico.

But the panel concluded that plaintiffs in the case, which included 11 individual asylum seekers and several immigration advocacy groups, “had shown a likelihood of success on their claim that the MPP does not comply with the United States’ treaty-based non-refoulement obligations.”

The Trump administration has said most asylum petitions are ultimately denied by immigration courts and releasing migrants into the United States to wait for hearings encourages people to disappear into the country. Officials say forcing migrants to wait in Mexico is a way to cut down on fraudulent asylum claims.

In a separate ruling on Friday, the 9th Circuit left in place a lower court’s block on a Trump administration regulation that barred migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border between ports of entry from seeking asylum.

A three-judge panel in that case found the regulation – issued in November 2018 and swiftly enjoined by a federal judge in the Northern District of California – conflicted with federal immigration statutes that govern asylum and amounted to “a categorical ban” on certain asylum seekers.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, Ted Hesson in Washington and Kristina Cooke in Los Angeles; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)

Trump says U.S. may give farmers more money until trade deals ‘kick in’

Trump: U.S. may give farmers more aid until trade deals ‘kick in’
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States may give American farmers additional money until trade deals with China, Mexico, Canada and other countries fully go into effect, President Donald Trump said on Friday.

“If our formally targeted farmers need additional aid until such time as the trade deals with China, Mexico, Canada and others fully kick in, that aid will be provided by the federal government,” Trump wrote in a Twitter post entirely in capital letters.

It was not immediately clear how large the aid package would be or how long it would last.

The Trump administration set aside a $16 billion aid package to farmers in 2019, and $12 billion a year earlier. In January, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said farmers should not expect another bailout package in 2020.

Trump is seeking re-election in the Nov. 3 presidential election. Farmers form a key part of his electoral base, but they have been badly bruised by low commodity prices and Trump’s tit-for-tat tariff dispute with China.

The White House declined to comment. The Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Last month, Trump signed a trade deal with Canada and Mexico into law, along with a separate Phase 1 accord with China that went into effect in mid-February.

Canada has not yet ratified the deal and experts had been skeptical that China, which had pledged to increase its purchases of U.S. goods by $200 billion over two years, would be able to meet the goal even before a coronavirus outbreak hit the country’s imports and exports.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; editing by Susan Heavey and Bernadette Baum)

Migrants raped and trafficked as U.S. and Mexico tighten borders, charity says

By Christine Murray

MEXICO CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Central American migrants are being kidnapped, raped and trafficked in Mexico as they seek to enter the United States amid a migration crackdown, a medical charity said on Tuesday.

In Mexico’s Nuevo Laredo city – separated from the United States by the Rio Grande – almost 80% of migrants treated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in the first nine months of 2019 said they had been victims of violence, including kidnapping.

“They’re treated as if they aren’t really people,” Sergio Martin, Mexico coordinator for MSF, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “They’ve suffered violence … and what they find on their journey is more violence.”

Mexico has ramped up efforts to stop Central American migrants, often fleeing violent crime and poverty, reaching the U.S. border under pressure from President Donald Trump who threatened to put import tariffs on its goods.

It has deployed the National Guard to stop migrants crossing northwards and increased detentions and deportations.

Mexico’s immigration authority and interior ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said he wants to apply immigration laws while respecting migrants’ human rights.

The United States has sent 57,000 non-Mexican migrants back to Mexico to await their U.S. asylum hearings, restricted asylum criteria and limited the number of claims it receives daily at each port of entry.

In September, 18 of 41 patients in Nuevo Laredo who had been sent back to Mexico to wait for U.S. asylum processing told MSF they had recently been kidnapped.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We think that as a direct result of many of these policies there are people who are suffering more violence,” said Martin.

“It’s easier for them to fall into human trafficking networks or into extortion networks, and no one look for them.”

MSF found 78% of almost 3,700 patients in Mexico who sought mental health care in 2018 and 2019 showed signs of exposure to violence, including assault, sexual violence and torture.

Some patients said they had been kidnapped in Mexico for long periods for forced labour, sexual exploitation or recruitment to work for criminal groups.

Almost one in four female migrants told MSF they had experienced sexual violence on their journeys.

The MSF data was based on some 26,000 health consultations with migrants in 2018 and 2019, testimonials and a survey.

(Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

‘Under Siege’: desperate Mexico region uses guns, children to fend off cartels

By Alexandre Meneghini

RINCON DE CHAUTLA, Mexico (Reuters) – When the 56-year-old mother-in-law of David Sanchez Luna was tortured and killed after venturing out of her small Mexican community encircled by drug cartels, he let his seven- and ten-year-old daughters receive military-style weapons training.

Unable to send their children to school and too afraid to step out of their enclave of 16 mountain villages in the violence-plagued southwestern Guerrero state, residents say they have been left with little choice.

“They do this to prepare themselves to defend the family, their siblings and defend the village,” said Sanchez Luna, a corn farmer in a rugged region which five years ago formed a self-defense “community police” militia to protect itself.

The move by the villagers to offer arms training to school-age children shocked the nation and made global headlines last month after local media broadcast images of children as young as 6-years-old toting guns and showing off military maneuvers.

While elders in the mainly indigenous community near the city of Chilapa privately concede young kids would not be used to fight cartel gunmen, they say their gambit to get the help of far-away officials in Mexico City is borne of desperation.

Ten musicians from the area were ambushed and killed last month by suspected Los Ardillos cartel members after stepping out of the territory guarded by their self-defense militia, known as CRAC-PF. Their bodies were burnt, officials said.

The attack followed a spate of murders in recent year, including a beheading, that rattled the 6,500 residents whose lush land sits amid fertile poppy-growing farmland that feed Guerrero’s heroin trade and supply routes to the United States.

The grisly murders and siege-like conditions facing residents go to the heart of cartel power and state failure in modern Mexico, where runaway violence tears at society’s fabric.

“This is a public cry for help by a community that’s been cornered,” said Falko Ernst, an International Crisis Group (ICG) analyst. “They’ve been trying to get assistance by federal and state government, unsuccessfully, so they’re trying to escalate the language to try to negotiate and get help.”

President Manuel Andres Lopez Obrador said those who arm children “should be ashamed of themselves” and denounced the use of children to grab attention.

Lopez Obrador’s government has struggled to get a grip on gangs and violence, with a record 34,582 murders last year.

Residents remain deeply suspicious of regional authorities and the smattering of local policemen in their villages, who they accuse of being the eyes and ears of the Los Ardillos.

Parents say their children are forced to stop formal education once they reach about 12 years of age, as the middle schools are in territory controlled by the cartel.

Abuner Martinez, 16, stopped attending school a year ago after his father was kidnapped outside CRAC-PF territory, tortured, and then beheaded.

“I got scared at that moment. I didn’t want to go to school,” said Martinez, who now wields a shotgun as he guards a checkpoint.

The Los Ardillos want to extort the farmers and force them to grow opium for the cartel, said Sanchez Luna’s brother, Bernardino, who founded the CRAC-PF.

“We find ourselves under siege,” he said.

CRAC-PF repelled a major attack by Los Ardillos in January 2019, but residents live in fear of the siren, a community alarm system, going off again.

Farmers tend their corn fields with shotguns slung on their backs, while armed CRAC-PF militiamen keep guard and patrol their territory round the clock.

David Sanchez Luna’s wife, Alberta, sobbed as she described receiving her mother’s body riddled with torture marks.

“It’s terrible what’s happening to us,” she said, wiping away tears.

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Trump signs USMCA, ‘ending the NAFTA nightmare’; key Democrats not invited

By Jeff Mason and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a new North American trade agreement during an outdoor ceremony at the White House attended by about 400 guests – but not the key Democrats who helped secure congressional passage of the deal.

Trump, on trial in the U.S. Senate on charges of abusing power and obstructing Congress, welcomed Republican senators at the South Lawn event by name. Other guests included lawmakers from around the country, workers, farmers and chief executives, as well as officials from Mexico and Canada, the White House said.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will replace the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, including tougher rules on labor and automotive content but leaving $1.2 trillion in annual U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade flows largely unchanged.

“Today, we are finally ending the NAFTA nightmare and signing into law the brand-new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” Trump told the crowd. Flanked by a group of American workers wearing hard hats, Trump said the agreement would bolster U.S. economic growth, benefiting farmers, workers and manufacturers.

He said his concerns about NAFTA-triggered outsourcing had triggered his run for the presidency in 2016.

A wide array of business groups welcomed the agreement, which must still be ratified by Canada’s parliament before it can take effect. Mexico has already approved the deal.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking in Ottawa, said his minority government would continue to answer questions posed by various industries and other groups.

“We have questions and we have a process for ratification. I just look forward to getting, getting through it responsibly and rapidly because it’s so important for Canadians,” he said.

NO DEMOCRATS

Excluded from the event were House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal and other Democrats who negotiated with the Trump administration for months to expand the pact’s labor, environmental and enforcement provisions and pave the way for its approval by the Democratic-controlled House.

Trump did not mention the work done by Pelosi or other Democrats on the trade pact, but U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, in his remarks at the ceremony, acknowledged the role that House leaders played in getting the deal done.

The event came as U.S. senators will start to pose questions in Trump’s impeachment trial and ahead of a key vote later this week on whether to allow the calling of witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton.

Trump lashed out against Bolton on Twitter on Wednesday after Bolton wrote in an unpublished book manuscript that the president told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until Kiev pursued investigations of Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, a top contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in this year’s election.

Pelosi told reporters that Democrats had ensured “vast improvements” to the USMCA before it was approved, despite their absence from Trump’s White House event, adding, “I hope he understands what he’s signing today.”

Neal told reporters some Republican senators thought the deal was “too Democratic.” He said the final accord won stronger protections for workers, better enforcement of environmental provisions and steps to prevent higher drug prices.

Representative Rosa DeLauro told reporters in a separate teleconference that Democrats would remain vigilant on oversight of the improved trade deal and would fight for even better climate protections in future trade deals.

The U.S. Senate this month overwhelmingly approved legislation to implement the USMCA, sending the measure to Trump for signing into law.

U.S. lawmakers said it was unclear when the accord would take effect, since Canada’s main opposition Conservative Party had expressed concerns about aspects of the deal and there was no exact timeline for ratification there.

Even after Canada ratifies the accord, implementation could take several more months since the three countries must show they are meeting their obligations before the clock starts ticking on an effective date.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, David Shepardson and Alexandra Alper in Washington, and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Dan Grebler and Jonathan Oatis)

Caravan of hundreds of Central Americans moves into Mexico

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Hundreds of Central Americans crossed the Guatemalan border into Mexico early on Thursday, testing the Mexican government’s resolve to stem the movement of people north under pressure from the United States.

Television footage showed a caravan of migrants moving towards the southern Mexican city of Tapachula, after crossing the Suchiate River that divides Mexico and Guatemala.

Most want to reach the United States. However, U.S. President Donald Trump has put pressure on the Mexican government to adopt more restrictive measures to reduce the migrant flows.

Many of the Central Americans migrants heading north are fleeing economic hardship and violence at home.

Migrants, mainly from Central America, marching in a caravan cross the Suchiate river on the outskirts of Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico January 23, 2020. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

The current group of migrants is the largest surge of people to test Mexico since its president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and some Central American governments, made various agreements with Trump to reduce pressure on the U.S. southern border.

Trump has threatened to punish Mexico and Central American nations economically if they fail to address the migrant flows.

Migrants crossing into Mexico earlier this week faced tear gas from security forces, who delivered a firmer response than in previous mass crossings of the border.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said several hundred of the new arrivals were immediately deported.

(Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Mexico says border clash with migrants was isolated case

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday that clashes between migrants and members of the National Guard on the border with Guatemala were an “isolated case”.

Speaking at a regular government news conference, Lopez Obrador said some of the Hondurans in the migrant caravan were returning to their homeland voluntarily.

(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic and Noe Torres; Editing by Dave Graham and Andrew Heavens)

Central American migrants clash with Mexican forces

By Roberto Ramirez

SUCHIATE RIVER, Guatemala/Mexico (Reuters) – Mexican security forces fired tear gas at rock-hurling Central American migrants who waded across a river into Mexico earlier on Monday, in a chaotic scramble that saw mothers separated from their young children.

The clashes between hundreds of U.S.-bound Central Americans and the Mexican National Guard underscores the challenge President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador faces to contain migration at the bidding of his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump.

The mostly Honduran migrants numbered around 500, according to Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM). They were part of a group of several thousand people that had set off last week from Honduras, fleeing rampant gang violence and dire job prospects in their homeland.

Video footage showed scattered groups of migrants throwing rocks at a few members of the National Guard militarized police who were on the banks of the river attempting to thwart illegal crossings, while hundreds of others ran past into Mexico.

Five National Guard police were injured in the clashes, the INM said.

“We didn’t come to stay here. We just want to cross to the other side,” said Ingrid, 18, a Honduran migrant. “I don’t want to go back to my country because there is nothing there, just hunger.”

A Reuters witness spoke to at least two mothers whose young children went missing amid the chaos, as the migrants on Mexican soil scattered in an attempt to avoid being detained by Mexican officials.

The INM said it had detained 402 migrants and transferred them to immigration stations where they will receive food, water and shelter. The INM will return them to their home countries via airplane or bus if their legal status cannot be resolved.

A spokeswoman at the INM said the institute had no reports of children going missing amid the clashes.

The Reuters witness said that several kilometers from the border, Mexican immigration authorities had filled a bus and pickup trucks with detained migrants.

The Honduran Ambassador to Mexico, Alden Rivera, said that Mexican authorities have some 1,300 Hondurans in migration centers and will start deporting them back home by airplane and bus on Tuesday.

Trump has threatened to punish Mexico and Central American countries economically if they fail to curb migrant flows, resulting in a series of agreements aimed at making good on Trump campaign promises to curb immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

WADING ACROSS THE RIVER

Over the weekend, at least 2,000 migrants had been camped in the Guatemalan border town of Tecun Uman, opposite Ciudad Hidalgo on the Mexican side.

The migrants appeared to grow impatient on the bridge over the Suchiate River that connects the two countries, after some were denied permission to cross by assembled Mexican migration officials.

The INM said it informed the migrants it could not allow them to cross into Mexican territory to “transit” through and blamed the group’s organizers for “ignoring the risk to minors and at-risk people” by crossing the river.

Mexico has offered migrants work in the south, but those who do not accept it or seek asylum will not be issued safe conduct passes to the United States, and most will be deported, the interior ministry said.

Mexican authorities had already received nearly 1,100 migrants in the states of Chiapas and Tabasco, the ministry said on Sunday.

According to Guatemala, at least 4,000 people entered from Honduras since Wednesday, making for one of the biggest surges since three Central American governments signed agreements with the Trump administration obliging them to assume more of the responsibility for dealing with migrants.

(Reporting by Roberto Ramirez; Additional reporting by Dave Graham and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; Writing by David Alire Garcia and Anthony Esposito; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Christopher Cushing)

Central American migrants ford river into Mexico, chuck rocks

By Roberto Ramirez

SUCHIATE RIVER, Guatemala/Mexico (Reuters) – Hundreds of Central Americans waded across a river into Mexico on Monday, some clashing with waiting security forces, in a new challenge for President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s efforts to contain migration at the bidding of the United States.

Scattered groups launched rocks at a few members of Mexico’s National Guard who were on the banks of the river attempting to thwart any illegal crossings, as hundreds of others ran past into Mexico, video footage of the scene showed.

The mostly Honduran migrants appeared to grow impatient on the bridge over the Suchiate River that connects the two countries, after some were denied permission to cross by assembled Mexican migration officials.

“We didn’t come to stay here, we just want to cross to the other side,” said Ingrid, 18, a Honduran migrant. “I don’t want to go back to my country because there is nothing there, just hunger.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to punish Mexico and Central American countries economically if they fail to curb migrant flows, resulting in a series of agreements aimed at taking pressure off the United States in absorbing the numbers.

At least 2,000 migrants had been camped in the Guatemalan border town of Tecun Uman, opposite Ciudad Hidalgo on the Mexican side.

Mexico has offered migrants work in the south, but those who do not accept it or seek asylum will not be issued safe conduct passes to the United States, and most will be deported, the interior ministry said.

The ministry said in a statement on Sunday that Mexican authorities had already received nearly 1,100 migrants in the states of Chiapas and Tabasco and set out various options to them in accordance with their migration status.

“However, in the majority of cases, once the particular migration situation has been reviewed, assisted returns will be carried out to their countries of origin, assuming that their situation warrants it,” the ministry said.

According to Guatemala, at least 4,000 people entered from Honduras since Wednesday, making for one of the biggest surges since three Central American governments signed agreements with the Trump administration obliging them to assume more of the responsibility for dealing with migrants.

In late 2018, a large caravan of migrants sought to break through the Tecun Uman border. At that time as well, many crossed via the Suchiate River dividing the two countries.

(Writing by David Alire Garcia in Mexico City. Additional reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Bernadette Baum)