Albania Seeks Arrests for Guake Deaths in Collapsed Buildings

Albanian prosecutors have issued a series of arrest warrants on charges including murder and abuse of office over the deaths of 51 people killed when a 6.4-magnitude earthquake toppled dozens of buildings last month, police said on Saturday.Police and prosecutors said initial investigations showed “the loss of life in the collapsed buildings came also because their builders, engineers and owners had failed to observe the rules, norms and standards of safe constructions.”Prosecutors issued 17 warrants in total, police said. Two of the nine people detained on Saturday on murder charges were the owners of two hotels that collapsed, killing four people in Durres, Albania’s second-biggest city and main port.A third was the manager of a police vacation hotel where a high-ranking police officer was killed under the rubble.During the three decades since toppling communism in 1990, many Albanians have moved nearer cities, squatting on land and building with little supervision by authorities.Many of the buildings have been legalized since then by governments eager to get votes but also seeking to urbanize such areas by putting in sewage systems and roads.Both hotels on the 10-mile long beach on the Adriatic Sea south of Durres port were built illegally, police said, and the second had also been legalized illegally.Police said that some of the 17 people being sought by prosecutors had fled after the Nov. 26 quake.The high-rises built during the post-Communist boom along the beach are mostly apartments and hotels catering to both Albanians and foreigners, including ethnic Albanians from the Balkans and the Diaspora. Most suffered no damage.Albania has yet to calculate the cost of rebuilding housing for the 14,000 people left homeless by the quake.

Frustrated Climate Activists Dump Manure Outside Madrid Summit

Green activists dumped horse manure and staged a mock hanging outside the venue of a U.N. climate summit in Madrid on Saturday, airing their frustration at the failure of world leaders to take meaningful action against global warming.Led by grass-roots group Extinction Rebellion, the actions were timed to coincide with the closing of the COP25 summit, where negotiators have been unable to agree on how to implement the 2015 Paris climate agreement.”Just like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, this COP’s fiddling of carbon accounting and negotiating of Article 6 is not commensurate to the planetary emergency we face,” Extinction Rebellion said in a statement.Twelve members of the group stood on melting blocks of ice, nooses drawn tight around their necks to symbolize the 12 months remaining until the next summit, when the Paris deal enters a make-or-break implementation phase.Attached to the pile of manure was a short message to leaders saying, “The horses— stops here.”In contrast to a protest held last weekend, in which hundreds of demonstrators blocked one of Madrid’s central shopping streets for a mass disco dance, the mood at the gathering was subdued.’Nothing has really changed'”Even if they reach an agreement, it’s still not enough. This is the 25th COP they’ve had and nothing has really changed,” protester Emma Deane told Reuters from her perch atop an ice block, holding her young daughter in her arms. “She’s going to grow up in a world where there’s no food on the shelves, and that breaks my heart.”Still, Extinction Rebellion spokesman Ronan McNern stressed the importance of humor in the face of the climate crisis.”Out of s— comes the best roses. We hope that the international community comes together to create a beautiful future,” McNern said.

Mexico Disputes Language in US Bill on Ratifying Trade Pact 

Just days after agreement on a pact to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico objected Saturday to legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress as part of an eventual ratification of the deal. Jesus Seade, the Mexican Foreign Relations Department’s undersecretary and chief trade negotiator for North America, said most of the bill is in line with the typical process of ratification, but it also adds the designation of up to five U.S. labor attaches in Mexico tasked with monitoring the implementation of the labor reform that is under way in our country.'' Seade said that was not part of the agreement signed December 10 in Mexico City by Mexico, the United States and Canada to replace NAFTA, but was rather the product ofpolitical decisions by the Congress and administration of the United States.” Mexico should have been consulted but was not, Seade said, and, of course, we are not in agreement.'' Mexico said that it resisted having foreign inspectors on its soil out of sovereignty principles, and that the agreement provided for panels to resolve disputes pertaining to labor and other areas. The three-person panels would comprise a person chosen by the United States, one by Mexico and a third-country person agreed upon by both countries. Seade called the designation of labor attachesunnecessary and redundant” and said the presence of foreign officials must be authorized by the host country. “U.S. officials accredited at their embassy and consulates in Mexico, as a labor attache could be, may not in any case have inspection powers under Mexican law,” he added. Sunday trip to WashingtonSeade said that he sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer expressing Mexico’s surprise and concern'' over the matter and that he would travel to Washington on Sunday to convey the message personally to Lighthizer and U.S. lawmakers. The elements of House Resolution 5430 in questiondisplay a regrettable mistrust” in the treaty, which was negotiated in the spirit of good faith,'' the letter read. We reserve the right to review the scope and effects of these provisions, which our government and people will no doubt clearly see as unnecessary,” it continued. “Additionally, I advise you that Mexico will evaluate not only the measures proposed in the [bill] … but the establishment of reciprocal mechanisms in defense of our country’s interests.” Mexico’s Senate approved the modifications to the agreement Thursday evening 107-1. 

Johnson’s Win May Deliver Brexit But Could Risk UK’s Breakup

Leaving the European Union is not the only split British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has to worry about.Johnson’s commanding election victory this week may let him fulfill his campaign promise to “get Brexit done,” but it could also imperil the future of the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland and Northern Ireland didn’t vote for Brexit, didn’t embrace this week’s Conservative electoral landslide — and now may be drifting permanently away from London.In a victory speech Friday, Johnson said the election result proved that leaving the EU is “the irrefutable, irresistible, unarguable decision of the British people.”Arguably, though, it isn’t. It’s the will of the English, who make up 56 million of the U.K.’s 66 million people. During Britain’s 2016 referendum on EU membership, England and much smaller Wales voted to leave bloc; Scotland and Ireland didn’t. In Thursday’s election, England elected 345 Conservative lawmakers — all but 20 of the 365 House of Commons seats Johnson’s party won across the U.K.In Scotland, 48 of the 59 seats were won by the Scottish National Party, which opposes Brexit and wants Scotland to become independent of the U.K.SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said her party’s “emphatic” victory showed that “the kind of future desired by the majority in Scotland is different to that chosen by the rest of the U.K.”The SNP has campaigned for decades to make Scotland independent and almost succeeded in 2014, when Scotland held a referendum on seceding from the U.K. The “remain” side won 55% to 45%.At the time, the referendum was billed as a once-in-a-generation decision. But the SNP argues that Brexit has changed everything because Scotland now faces being dragged out of the EU against its will.Sturgeon said Friday that Johnson “has no mandate whatsoever to take Scotland out of the EU” and Scotland must be able to decide its future in a new independence referendum.Johnson insists he will not approve a referendum during the current term of Parliament, which is due to last until 2024. Johnson’s office said the prime minister told the Scottish leader on Friday that “the result of the 2014 referendum was decisive and should be respected.”The Scotsman newspaper summed up the showdown Saturday with front page face-to-face images of Sturgeon and Johnson: “Two landslides. One collision course.””What we’ve got now is pretty close to a perfect storm,” said historian Tom Devine, professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh. He said the U.K. is facing an “unprecedented constitutional crisis” as Johnson’s refusal to approve a referendum fuels growing momentum for Scottish independence.Politically and legally, it’s a stalemate. Without the approval of the U.K. government, a referendum would not be legally binding. London could simply ignore the result, as the Spanish government did when Catalonia held an unauthorized independence vote in 2017.Mark Diffley, an Edinburgh-based political analyst, said Sturgeon “has said that she doesn’t want a Catalonia-style referendum. She wants to do this properly.”There’s no clear legal route to a second referendum if Johnson refuses, though Sturgeon can apply political and moral pressure. Diffley said the size of the SNP’s win allows Sturgeon to argue that a new referendum is “the will of the people.”Sturgeon said that next week she will lay out a “detailed democratic case for a transfer of power to enable a referendum to be put beyond legal challenge.”Devine said the administrations in Edinburgh and London “are in a completely uncompromising condition” and that will only make the crisis worse.”The longer Johnson refuses to concede a referendum, the greater will the pro-independence momentum in Scotland accelerate,” he said. “By refusing to concede it, Johnson has ironically become a recruiting sergeant for increased militant nationalism.”Northern Ireland has its own set of political parties and structures largely split along British unionist/Irish nationalist lines. There, too, people feel cast adrift by Brexit, and the political plates are shifting.For the first time this week, Northern Ireland elected more lawmakers who favor union with Ireland than want to remain part of the U.K.The island of Ireland, which holds the U.K.’s only land border with the EU, has proved the most difficult issue in Brexit negotiations. Any customs checks or other obstacles along the currently invisible frontier between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland would undermine both the local economy and Northern Ireland’s peace process.The divorce deal struck between Johnson and the EU seeks to avoid a hard border by keeping Northern Ireland closely aligned to EU rules, which means new checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.”Once you put a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland’s going to be part of a united Ireland for economic purposes,” Jonathan Powell, who helped negotiate Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord, told the BBC. “That will increase the tendency toward a united Ireland for political reasons, too.”I think there is a good chance there will be a united Ireland within 10 years.”In Scotland, Devine also thinks the days of the Union may be numbered.”Anything can happen,” he said. “But I think it’s more likely than not that the U.K. will come to an end over the next 20 to 30 years.
 

Chile Security Forces Accused of Gross Violations in Quelling Protests

UN investigators accused Chile’s police and army of indiscriminate violence and gross violations, including torture and rape, in crushing recent mass protests over social and economic grievances.An investigative team from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights produced a 30-page report expressing alarm at the excessive use of force by security agents.     It said Chile’s violent crackdown on protesters resulted in the reported deaths of dozens of people, a high number of injuries, and the arbitrary detentions of thousands of demonstrators.Chile’s Office of the Public Prosecutor says it is investigating 26 deaths.   The report holds state agents responsible for many of these deaths, noting that live ammunition was used in some cases.  The Chilean Ministry of Justice reports that nearly 5,000 people, more than half of whom were police officers, have been injured during the protests.  UN sources say the number of injured is higher than that cited by government officials.  They accuse state agents of unnecessary and disproportionate use of less-lethal weapons, such as anti-riot shotguns, during peaceful demonstrations.Imma Guerras-Delgado headed the mission to Chile, which took place in the first three weeks of November.  She said the demonstrations that have been occurring since mid-October were triggered by multiple causes, including social and economic inequality.”The majority of those who have exercised the right to assembly during this period have done so in a peaceful manner,” Guerras-Delgado said. “We have found that the overall management of assemblies by the police was carried out in a fundamentally repressive manner.”  Guerras-Delgado said the mission is particularly concerned by the use of pellets containing lead.  She said hundreds of people suffered eye injuries, causing blindness in a number of cases, and condemned the brutal suppression of peaceful nationwide protests by the police and army.”Human rights violations documented by OHCHR [Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights] include the excessive or unnecessary use of force that led to unlawful killings and injuries, arbitrary detentions and torture and ill treatment,” she said.   Among its recommendations, the report urges Chile to immediately end the indiscriminate use of anti-riot shotguns to control demonstrations.  It also calls on the government to make sure security forces adopt measures to guarantee accountability for human rights violations and to prevent the recurrence of similar events.

‘Let The Healing Begin,’ British Prime Minister Says After Election

Britain “deserves a break from wrangling, a break from politics and a permanent break from talking about Brexit,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday, after his Conservative Party won what Johnson described as an “extraordinary” election.””Let the healing begin,” the prime minister said.Johnson focused his campaigning efforts on the slogan –  “Get Brexit Done.”  He said the parliamentary majority for his Conservative Party will allow him to push through a previously rejected divorce deal with the European Union and carry out Brexit by January 31, 2020.He thanked Labour Party supporters who voted for the Conservative Party for the first time and promised a “One Nation Conservative government.”  “I say thank you for the trust you have placed in us and in me and we will work round the clock to repay your trust and to deliver on your priorities with a Parliament that works for you,” Johnson said.The British leader, who accepted the Queen’s offer earlier Friday to form a government, said there is no one definition for one nation conservatism, “but broadly it refers to the idea the Conservative Party should act for everybody in the UK. That means policies that work for people from different economic backgrounds, from different regions and from the different nations of the UK.”The win gives the Conservatives their biggest margin in parliament since the 1980s.

Amazon Deforestation Climbs More Than 100% in November over Same Month Last Year, Report Says 

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon jumped to the highest level for the month of November since record-keeping began in 2015, according to preliminary government data published Friday.Destruction of the world’s largest tropical rainforest totaled 563 square km (217.38 square miles) in November, 103% more than in the same month last year, according to the country’s space research agency INPE.That would bring total deforestation for the period from January to November to 8,934 square km, 83% more than in the same period in 2018 and an area almost the size of Puerto Rico.The data released by INPE was collected through the DETER database, a system that publishes alerts on fires and other types of developments affecting the rainforest. The DETER numbers are not considered official deforestation data. That comes from a different system called PRODES, also managed by INPE.PRODES numbers released last month showed deforestation rose to its highest in more than a decade this year, jumping 30% from 2018 to 9,762 square km. Deforestation usually slows around November and December during the Amazon region’s rainy season. The number for last month was unusually high.Researchers and environmentalists blame right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro for emboldening ranchers and loggers by calling for the Amazon to be developed and for weakening the environmental agency Ibama.Bolsonaro and Environment Minister Ricardo Salles have said previous governments played a role in deforestation’s increase, saying policies including budget cuts at agencies like Ibama were in place well before the new government took office on Jan. 1.Brazil’s Environment Ministry had no immediate comment Friday on the DETER data for November.

Brazilians Arrive in Waves at the US-Mexico Border

Growing up along the U.S.-Mexico border, hotel clerk Joe Luis Rubio never thought he’d be trying to communicate in Portuguese on a daily basis.But with hundreds of Brazilians crossing from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, each week, the Motel 6 by the airport has become a stepping stone for thousands of the Portuguese speakers on a 6,000-mile (9,500 km) journey from Brazil to El Paso to America’s East Coast.“Thank God for Google Translate or we’d be lost,” says Rubio.The quiet migration of around 17,000 Brazilians through a single U.S. city in the past year reveals a new frontier in the Trump administration’s effort to shut down the legal immigration pathway for people claiming fear of persecution.Like hundreds of thousands of families from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, known collectively as the Northern Triangle, Brazilians have been crossing the border here and applying for asylum. They now make up a quarter of immigrants apprehended in El Paso, the most commonly apprehended migrants after Mexicans.Nationwide, some 18,000 Brazilians were apprehended in the fiscal year ending in October, a 600% increase from the previous high in 2016. Brazilians crossing in the El Paso Sector, which covers southern New Mexico and west Texas, accounted for 95% of the apprehensions nationwide, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.On Monday, acting CBP chief Mark Morgan vowed to try to shut down asylum for migrants from outside Spanish-speaking Central America and South America.“We’re seeing, again, individuals from extraterritorial countries, extra-continental, come in from Brazil, Haiti, Africans,” said Morgan.He pledged to implement rules to bar migrants from those countries “with the same level of commitment that we came up with initiatives to address the issue with the Northern Triangle families.”Those initiatives included making families wait in often dangerous Mexican border towns for months to apply for asylum, returning them to Mexico to await court hearings and a recent rule that effectively rejects nearly all asylum claims regardless of merit . The result has been a mishmash of pseudo deportations to countries where migrants have never lived and where they face barriers to work or access to basic social services.Brazilian families are not held indefinitely in detention but instead released to Annunciation House, a network of shelters, where they can stay for a few days while they arrange flights to other cities in the U.S.They’re often taken to the airport in a minivan driven by Phil Porter.“It takes a lot for somebody to pack up and leave their country, especially when they’re family oriented,” says Porter, 72, who estimates he’s ferried around 200 Brazilians. “These are economic refugees.”Brazil plunged into its worst-ever recession in 2015 and 2016 and is headed toward its third consecutive year of roughly 1% growth. The economy’s persistent failure to gain steam means joblessness has remained stubbornly in the double-digits, with the most recent reading at 11.6%. Adding underemployment, the figure more than doubles to almost one quarter of the work force, or 27 million people.Massachusetts officials and community leaders say they’ve felt the surge in Brazilian migrants this past year, with more families seeking immigration services and enrolling their children in public school. The state has the second largest population of Brazilians in the U.S. after Florida, according to 2015 U.S. Census data.Recent immigrant Helison Alvarenga says he started working the day after arriving in Massachusetts. The 26-year-old from the state of Minas Gerais arrived in August with his wife and young son after crossing into El Paso. They now live in Brockton, an old factory city 20 miles south of Boston. Already, he says, he’s earning three times more than what he earned as a mechanic in Brazil.“Things are in pretty bad shape in Brazil right now. The only way to have a better life in Brazil is to go to college, but college is very expensive,” said Alvarenga, speaking in Portuguese through a translator.The New England winter has also been tougher than he expected, he admits.“It makes me homesick. I miss the warmth and the sun,” he said. “If I won enough on a scratch ticket, I’d go back tomorrow.”Many coming from Brazil are petitioning for asylum, citing the country’s high unemployment and persistent corruption and violence, says Luciano Park, an immigration lawyer in Waltham who came from Brazil to attend law school in Boston.But Brazilian asylum seekers face an uphill climb. Simply seeking to escape Brazil’s chronic, gang-related violence often isn’t enough to claim asylum, Park said.Women citing domestic violence reasons are also less likely to win their cases under tougher asylum rules imposed by the Trump administration.“Before these were good cases,” Park said. “But it’s just become tougher to argue.”Tourist and student visas have been more difficult for Brazilians to get as more clamored for them in the recent economic downturn, says Francis Brink, an immigration lawyer in Orlando, Florida.He has taken a few clients who were persecuted by the government because they were police officers or military officials resisting corruption. But he turns most asylum seekers away, not wanting to give them false hope.Many single adult Brazilian migrants are being held in immigration detention while their asylum claims are processed. Others have tried to dodge detention by pretending to be a parent or a minor, often using IDs fraudulently obtained in Brazil. Homeland Security Investigations agents have been filing allegations of so-called “family fraud” by Brazilians at least a few times per month.On a recent Tuesday, the Motel 6 is half empty, with only two Brazilian families staying there.In room 127, a 42-year-old mother from the northeastern state of Maranhão is in bed watching TV. She’s waiting with her 16-year old son for a flight to Philadelphia, where they have family.She said they spent four days in a Border Patrol tent detention camp before being released.“It was miserable,” she said.While stays at the Motel 6 are down, more migrants are staying for longer at Annunciation House, according to the shelter’s director, Ruben Garcia.“One of the things that may have changed is we have Brazilians that don’t have some of the financial resources that some of the Brazilians did a while back,” Garcia said.

Indigenous Groups Rally to Protect Latin America’s Threatened Forests

Central American countries are teaming up to conserve the region’s five great forests as part of a regional climate action plan released at U.N. climate talks in Madrid this week, the alliance behind the effort said.The coalition of governments, indigenous people, green groups and others announced a plan to protect 10 million hectares of forests and degraded land inside those forests — an area roughly the size of Guatemala — by 2030.In the last 15 years, three of the forests have been reduced by almost one-quarter in size, with illegal cattle ranching responsible for more than 90% of recent deforestation, it said.Measures planned to safeguard the forests include bolstering agencies that look after protected areas, tracing beef to verify it has been legally produced, cracking down on cross-border cattle trafficking, helping ranchers find other ways to earn a living, and reforesting land where trees have been cut down.Jeremy Radachowsky, regional director for the Wildlife Conservation Society, a partner in the project, said financing would come from multiple sources, including Central American countries, donor governments and a dedicated fund that will be created for indigenous and community forests.The five forests, spanning from Mexico to Colombia, are key to curbing climate change as they sequester carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels that would otherwise heat up the planet.”Nearly 50% of the carbon in Mesoamerica is stored in the five great forests,” said Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Costa Rica’s environment minister, adding he hoped they would not be fragmented by deforestation.The forests also provide habitat for wildlife such as the jaguar and scarlet macaw, the alliance said. The initiative aims to ensure no species go extinct.The forests include the Maya Forest in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize; the Moskitia in Nicaragua and Honduras; the Indio Maiz-Tortuguero in Nicaragua and Costa Rica; the Talamanca region in Costa Rica and Panama; and the Darien in Panama and Colombia.They provide water, clean air, food security and other natural resources to 5 million people, the alliance said, noting that indigenous and local communities manage nearly half of the forest area.Candido Mezua  of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, said it was sad to see the forests of the Amazon burning — and the impact that was having on indigenous people.“In Mesoamerica, we have our five forests. They still exist. We can still protect them, and even expand them,” he said in a statement.Amazon summit Amazon indigenous leaders, meanwhile, said this week they would host a world summit in Ecuador next August aimed at protecting the Amazon rainforest and other ecosystems in “response to the environmental crisis in the basin and abroad”.Leaders representing 20 indigenous groups from Ecuador and Peru also called for global support to stop oil drilling and mining in the Amazon “Sacred Headwaters” region, an ecosystem rich in biodiversity that spans 30 million hectares in the two countries.Deforestation in Brazil’s huge tract of Amazon rainforest rose to its highest level in over a decade this year, government data showed in November.The data confirmed a sharp increase in deforestation under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s government, which is considering permitting commercial agriculture and mining on native reserves.Risks to Brazil’s forests drew global concern in August when fires raged through the Amazon.Scientists link the fires to deforestation, with people and companies cutting down the forest for timber and then setting fire to the remains to clear the land for ranching or farming.Gregorio Mirabal, general coordinator of COICA, the biggest indigenous federation in the Amazon, said new ways were needed of dealing with threats to the Amazon, including the “devastating effects” of climate change.At the U.N. climate conference, states “are making decisions for companies and not for the people”, he said.”The inability of our governments to solve this (climate) crisis is calling us to do this ourselves, hand in hand with the youth and any others in goodwill who want to join,” he added.Many indigenous groups are opposed to credits for forest protection being included in carbon trading markets, arguing it would damage their sacred lands and livelihoods, as governments haggle over new rules for those markets at the Madrid talks.”We do not allow the commodification of nature or that it has a price. For us nature is of value as itself. It is our Mother Earth,” Mirabal said.According to the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative, which works on forest issues, up to 65% of the world’s land is communally held by indigenous peoples and local communities and contains 80% of the world’s biodiversity.But only 10% of those groups’ land rights have been legally recognized, it said.“The local cultures and indigenous peoples are the ones that have best preserved nature, and we do not believe that solutions can exist without us,” said Mirabal.Indigenous groups — officially represented at the U.N. conference for the first time — have pushed for language on protecting their rights to be included in the text on carbon market rules that is under negotiation in Madrid.But it is not in the latest draft as the talks near an end.Indonesian indigenous activist Ghazali Ohorella said the rules should ensure safeguards for forest people’s land and rights, as well as a complaints mechanism and opportunities for them to participate in decisions on carbon offsetting schemes. “If not, it will create so much trouble further down the line,” he told journalists at the talks.