This Latino Week

Venezuela launches new 'petro' currency, Mexico Shook by 7.2 Magnitude Earthquake, Brazil Army Takes Control of Rio's Security. Mexico's Olympic Skier Wins Worldwide Support
Jim McKenna

Venezuela launches the 'petro' a new currency designed to raise hard currency and to function as a payment method for foreign suppliers now that most transactions have been stymied by financial sanctions imposed by Washington last year. The launch on Tuesday comes amid a deep economic crisis and a crackdown on democratic freedoms that have left President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government politically isolated and cut off from most international financing.

Maduro claims that each petro token will be backed by one barrel of the oil-rich nation’s petroleum, and claims that about 100 million petro tokens worth some $6bn will be issued. But some analysts see the petro as a desperate move to secure cash amid an unprecedented economic meltdown brought about by Maduro’s socialist policies.

Venezuelans are now suffering from widespread food shortages, hyperinflation that could hit 13,000% this year according to the International Monetary Fund, and the collapse of the traditional currency, the bolívar. Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress has declared the petro illegal because, under the law, the legislature must approve any government borrowing, a step Maduro has ignored.

The petro “is not a cryptocurrency. This is a forward sale of Venezuelan oil,” lawmaker Jorge Millan complained in a recent speech. Critics predict that the petro could become what’s known in the trade as a shitcoin – digital currencies that become worthless over time or are considered scams.

Mexico Shook by 7.2 Magnitude Earthquake

A massive earthquake has struck a large part of Mexico this week, raising fears that there could be a repeat of last September, where two devestating earthquakes killed hundreds of people. The epicentre of the earthquake was in Oaxaca - specifically the town of Pinotepa de Don Luis - but the effects of the quake could be felt as far away as Mexico City, which is 217 miles from the state. Although there are currently no reported deaths from the earthquake itself, there have been incidents related to the disaster which have killed civilians. Most notably, a military helicopter carrying Mexico's Interior Minister and governor of Oaxaca State crashed while assessing the damage, with 14 people believed to have died as a result. 

The quake shook buildings already affected by last September's earthquake, and the repeated event calls into question various aspects of Mexico's emergency response units and infastructure construction. The low death count indicates that one of the most seismically volitile regions in the world has improved, with buildings largely uncollapsed even near the epicentre. The most important aspect now is to ensure that Mexicans can return to normality. Power has been lost in around 100,000 homes, which requires immediate assistance.
Brazil Army Takes Control of Rio's Security

General Walter Souza Braga Netto, the head of the Eastern Military Command in Rio de Janeiro, has took up a role overseeing security in the region, after Carnival celebrations were marred with violence linked to the local cartels which dominate the area. Rio's governor had issues a call for wider help, and President Michel Temer decided to introduce a greater military presence in response, describing the recent violence as a "cancer" that must be eradicated.

Three police officers died in violent clashes during Carnival, and there were many more cases of tourists and civilians being robbed and confronted by local gangs. The increased violence has been linked by many to the reduction in Rio's police budget in recent years, with an 8% rise in killings from 2016 to 2017 corresponding to a decline in security budgets. 

For now, the army will oversee all security and police responses, and there is no clear end date for military presence within Rio. General Braga Netto has experience in such cases; he was the head of security for the 2016 Rio Olympics, which was widely considered to be a success in terms of violence and gang warfare. 


Mexico's Olympic Skier Wins Worldwide Support

German Madrazo, a Mexican cross-country skier who only took up the sport in 2017, proudly carried his nation's flag as he crossed the finish line in the Men's 15km Freestyle event, to confirm his last-placed finish in the event. Despite the certainty that he would not trouble the medal standings - he ended with a time of 59:35.4, over 25 minutes behind the Swiss winner Dario Cologna - his beaming smile and endeavor earned him plaudits from a wide range of neutral observors, who admired his tenacity and ability to actually finish within a reasonable distance of the rest of the lower-placed finishers, which included individuals from Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia and Chile.

Madrazo, aged 43, was previously a triathlete who resided in Texas, before reading about cross-country skiing and deciding to take it up. He was the flag bearer for Mexico during the opening ceremony, and his personality has charmed his competitors and viewers. 

Although no Latin American nation has yet won a medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics, stories such as Madrazo's have continued to emerge. One of the more interesting events during the Olympics has concerned the Jamaican women's bobsleigh team, who had faced potential disaster when their former manager walked away, and took the team's sled with her. A beer company stepped in and donated a replacement vessel, meaning that they should now be able to compete. The Jamaican bobsleigh team has had a long and varied history, and reached global attention in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, which later served as the inspiration for the film Cool Runnings.