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Latin America's Big Stories You Might Have Missed in 2017

Latin America's Big Stories You Might Have Missed in 2017

A man reads a newspaper in Mexico. (AP)

December 20, 2017

Bolivia's drought, suicide among Brazil's indigenous, Latin America's surge in malls—some #LatAm2017 stories you might have overlooked

The year has been a deluge of headlines, and there were probably hundreds, if not thousands, of stories from the hemisphere that flew under the radar. From cyborgs in Brazil to water shortages in Bolivia, we take a look at some of the stories we read in the last 12 months that we’re still thinking about at the end of the year—and ones we expect to be hearing more about in 2018.

Women activists get up, stand up in Peru
#RompeSilencio #NoEsNo #NiUnaMenos #MeToo: Feminist movements fighting violence against women took flight in 2017. It was in Peru where protests in person, social media, and on the stages of beauty pageants symbolized the battle for women's rights throughout the region, as Ricardo Martinez reports for Ozy.

The bots from Brazil
As Brazil prepares to head to the polls in 2018, an army of social media-savvy youth could influence the outcome. BBC Brazil talks with "cyborgs," people hired by PR companies during the country's last presidential race to manage fake social media profiles and drive votes to particular candidates. The report traced more than 100 fake accounts influencing the political debate at that time and discovered that a little more than $350 could get an 18-year-old to manage more than 20 fake profiles. (In Portuguese too.)

High and dry in La Paz
The water shortages in Bolivia’s lofty capital are a declared emergency. A water-rationing system controlled by the military continues to underperform, sparking riots, protests, and disruptions to the economy. La Paz’s failures and successes coping in the “post-water world” are instructive for the rest of us in dealing with climate change, as Leslie Kaufman reports in Popular Science.

On socialism as a scapegoat
It’s easy to blame Venezuela’s struggles on socialism, but Bolivia’s economic and social successes as a socialist government show how that conclusion is misinformed. Bolivia’s socialist policies reduced deficits, increased surpluses, and supported a burgeoning middle class. Fiscal imprudence—not socialism—led to Venezuela’s economic downfall, writes Caracas Chronicles Executive Editor Francisco Toro in The Washington Post.

Mapping Odebrecht
In another year of Latin American discontent over corruption, no scandal linked so many countries as did the Odebrecht case. An El País interactive maps out how the scandal spread through Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, and Peru and puts a dollar amount to each.

Inside an endemic suicide crisis
Brazil’s indigenous peoples take their own lives at a rate 22 times higher than non-indigenous citizens—and it’s almost entirely adolescents who are killing themselves. Chronic disease, drug abuse, disruption of traditional life and agro-industrial presence are culprits for the trend, as Stephanie Nolen covers for The Globe and Mail, also drawing parallels to a Canadian crisis. (In Portuguese too.)

Paraguayan presidential reelection goes up in flames
Paraguay’s 1992 Constitution only permits presidents single, five-year terms, but in March the Paraguayan Senate—in a closed-door meeting—approved a measure that would allow President Horacio Cartes to run for reelection in 2018. This sparked controversy figuratively and literally as protesters took to the streets and set the national Congress on fire. An opposition leader was killed and hundreds were arrested. Cartes announced he would not seek reelection a few weeks later.

Trump’s big data gurus come to Mexico
Cambridge Analytica is now in Mexico. Ahead of the 2018 presidential race, the London-based firm, which is funded by the family of billionaire Robert Mercer, is partnering with a phone app to mine data from potential voters. “Several political parties have already expressed interest,” reports Nacha Cattan for Bloomberg.

Moscow meets Managua
Decades after the Cold War, Russia is planting its flag in Nicaragua. From wheat to taxis to war tanks, Russian contributions to the Central American country during the Ortega presidency challenge the region's geopolitical paradigm, reports Wilfredo Miranda Aburto for Univision.

A healthy game of one-upsmanship in energy
Over the past year, Mexico and Brazil, two of the world’s most attractive offshore markets, have been duking it out to court investors. Mexico ended 2016 with a lucrative bid round for deepwater blocks—its most successful fruition to-date of landmark energy reforms that open the sector to private investment. Brazil, reforming its own energy sector with Mexico in mind, followed suit with two offshore auctions in 2017 that both drew strong interest. Mexico had planned to auction a deepwater project with Pemex in January 2018, but cancelled the bidding this month because of low investor interest. Pemex specifically cited the deflating effect of Brazil’s recent bids. A continuous raising of the bar that sweetens investment terms and opens industries is a good thing. Protected energy markets should take notice.

Looking for Mexico’s missing
December marked 11 years since Mexico kicked off its drug war offensive. While the skyrocketing homicide rate has gained international and national coverage ever since, that’s less true for the thousands who have disappeared. The government estimates the tally runs around 33,000. “But the truth is no one knows how many people are missing in Mexico,” writes The New York Times’ Azam Ahmed, who weaves the gut-wrenching story of a father searching for his daughter with reportage on what it takes to find the country’s drug war desaparecidos. (In Spanish too.)

Peace gets a reprieve
Colombia’s next three governments must comply with a 2016 peace deal signed with the Marxist FARC rebel group, the Constitutional Court ruled in October, shielding the accord from potential changes should the opposition win the 2018 election.

Be careful what you tweet
Venezuela’s Constitutional Assembly passed a wide-reaching law in November that orders prison sentences of up to 20 years for anyone who instigates hate on social media or broadcast networks. The law also threatens political parties that promote “fascism, intolerance, or national hate,” with de-certification by the country's electoral agency.

Among other Orwellian developments
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is now collecting, not just the social media of anybody looking to enter the country, but that of green card holders and naturalized citizens, relatives of immigrants, their doctors and attorneys, some law enforcement officials, and “others who assist immigrants.”

End of an era
Cuban migration to the United States dropped in fiscal year 2016–2017 for the first time since 2009. The 64 percent drop in apprehensions the State Department reported this December is especially notable after migration more than doubled from 2014 to 2016, a period that saw 123,843 Cubans enter the United States. One reason for the drop is Obama’s cancellation of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy in January 2017, a last-minute agreement he made with the Cuban government before leaving office, and one of the few aspects of the Obama-era Cuba rapprochement not attacked by Trump and Republicans like Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Hanging at the (Latin American) mall
An unprecedented surge in mall construction is underway in Latin America, even as shopping malls become a thing of the past in the United States. What's the appeal? Convenience and a sense of security from violent crime, in a region where e-commerce has yet to take hold.

Kariela Almonte, Julia d’Amours, Elizabeth Gonzalez, Luisa Leme, Naki Mendoza, Rodrigo Riaza, Holly K. Sonneland, and Carin Zissis contributed to this roundup.