US Lawmakers Seek Posthumous Medal of Honor for Black D-Day Medic

A yearslong campaign to award a Black D-Day medic the Medal of Honor — the United States’ highest military award — received a boost this week after a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers announced legislation to make that happen.  

The June 6, 1944, invasion at Normandy, France, known as D-Day, was a critical turning point in World War II. Tens of thousands of Allied forces stormed an 80-kilometer stretch of beaches that had been fortified by German soldiers and artillery. More than 4,000 Allied troops died, and nearly 10,000 others were injured in the assault, according to the National D-Day Memorial Foundation.  

Waverly Woodson’s first Army portrait. (Courtesy of Joann Woodson)

Cpl. Waverly Woodson Jr., a U.S. Army medic who had been wounded before he reached the shore, spent 30 hours caring for injured troops, according to official records. He cleaned wounds, amputated a man’s right foot, distributed blood plasma and pulled four drowning men out of the English Channel, avoiding Nazi machine-gun fire as he went.  

Woodson, who eventually settled in Maryland, learned decades later that he had been recommended for the Medal of Honor. He died in 2005. 

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who has been involved with Woodson’s case since 2015, told reporters, “We’re coming together on a bicameral and bipartisan basis to correct a historical injustice. He was denied that Medal of Honor because of the color of his skin.”  

Van Hollen, a Democrat, was joined by Sen. Pat Toomey, the Republican co-sponsor of the bill, and Democratic Congressmen David Trone and Anthony Brown, both of Maryland.  

In 1997, President Bill Clinton awarded seven Black service members the Medal of Honor after an investigation found that a culture of racism prevented Black soldiers from receiving the honor.   

”History has been made whole today,” Clinton said then, according to The New York Times

Paper trail 

Woodson made the shortlist of candidates for the Medal of Honor, but his case did not have enough of a paper trail, or any witnesses, to meet the Army’s records requirements for the award, author Linda Hervieux wrote in a 2019 Time magazine article

Hervieux spent years researching Woodson’s case for her 2015 book about the all-Black unit. “Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War” gave greater visibility the campaign for recognition by Woodson’s widow, Joann Woodson.   

FILE – Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., questions a witness on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 16, 2019.

In 2019, Van Hollen and 51 members of the Congressional Black Caucus asked the Army to consider Woodson’s case but were again rejected due to a lack of documentation.

Millions of old military records were destroyed in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Woodson’s records were presumably among them, Hervieux and lawmakers said Tuesday.  

“The problem is, they need a clear records trail, and those records are gone,” Hervieux told History.com in 2019. “They need a firsthand witness, and they’re never going to get it, because these men are all dead.” 

In her Time article, Hervieux highlighted news coverage dubbing Woodson the “No. 1 invasion hero,” and an Army press release noting his treatment of more than 200 men, recognition that was rare for a Black soldier.  

She also found a note from 1944, believed to have been written by an assistant director in the Office of War Information, which mentioned that Woodson had been recommended for the Medal of Honor.  

“Here is a negro from Philadelphia who has been recommended … for a big enough award so that the president can give it personally, as he has in the case of some white boys,” the note to a White House aide said.  

Trail leads to legislation 

Lawmakers said Tuesday they believed Woodson deserved the posthumous award.  

“Our country and armed forces have for too long overlooked the service of Black soldiers. It’s vital that this generation tell their stories and celebrate heroes from all races, backgrounds and walks of life,” said Brown, himself a Black Army veteran.  

“While he did receive other honors — the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart — this man deserves the Medal of Honor,” Toomey said.  

Lawmakers said the legislation, which would authorize the president to award Woodson the medal, was expected to receive unanimous support in both the House and Senate.  

“He deserves it,” Joann Woodson said Tuesday. “History has to be as correct as it possibly can.” 

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Wildfires Rage in California and Other Western US States

About 14,000 firefighters are continuing to battle 25 wildfires in the western U.S. state of California that have burned more than 890,000 hectares. 

Authorities have warned that gusty winds Wednesday could further fuel the fires that have already grown significantly as record-breaking heat settled in across the western part of the country.  

Two of the three largest fires in recorded state history are burning north of the San Francisco Bay area, although the fires have been largely contained after burning for three weeks. 

Tim Lesmeister, right, and Rick Archuleta, of the Clovis Fire Department, put out hot spots left behind by the Creek Fire in Tollhouse, Calif., Sept. 8, 2020.

Over the past couple of days, helicopters rescued hundreds of stranded people from the burning Sierra National Forest in central California, where 365 buildings have been destroyed, including 45 homes. 

The U.S. Forest Service said 14 firefighters were forced to go to emergency shelters Tuesday after flames destroyed a fire station in the Los Padres National Forest on California’s central coast. 

Forecasters predict hot, dry wind could reach more than 80 kilometers per hour Wednesday in Southern California, where fires have burned in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. 

The fires have forced thousands of Californians to evacuate their homes. The U.S. Forest Service closed all eight national forests in the southern half of California and all campgrounds throughout the state.  

Vehicles destroyed by a wildfire are shown in Malden, Wash., Sept. 8, 2020.

Wildfires are also raging in the western states of Washington and Oregon. A firestorm destroyed 80% of the homes in the small Washington town of Malden, along with the fire station, the post office, city hall and the library. The fire erupted around noon Sunday and engulfed most of the town in about three hours. 

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Goats Enlisted to Trim Grass in NYC Park

One New York City Park is getting some non-human help maintaining its green space this week, as a herd of goats has been brought in to help trim the lawn.

The managers of Stuyvesant Cove Park on Manhattan’s East River brought in 20 goats to clear invasive weeds and brush that had built up over the summer. Staffing and budget cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic left the area overgrown.

Park service officials say as New York residents turned to parks as safe outlets for socialization and recreation, during the pandemic, they also left excessive trash and trampled plantings in their wake.

So, the managers of Stuyvesant Cove turned to a nonprofit group and rented 20 goats, which began chewing their way through the weeds and long grass on Tuesday.  

Park manager Candace Thompson says the goats are more efficient and environmentally friendly than hiring a team of gardeners.

“These goats, in a matter of three days, are going to take all of this plant matter, eat it, and poop it out as fertilizer that’ll make this garden perfect for growing a bunch of native, edible plants next spring,” she said.

The park is a few blocks from the United Nations headquarters and the largest commercial district in the U.S., which makes it an unlikely spot for farm animals.  

But city residents who frequent the park have been positive, saying the goats provide a calming respite from the city around them.  

After the goats have eaten their fill, Thompson says the space will be rehabilitated for next year’s growing season.

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CENTCOM: US Will Cut Troop Levels in Afghanistan to 4,500

The U.S. military is reducing troops in Afghanistan from 8,600 to about 4,500 by early November, the head of U.S Central Command said Wednesday, hours after he announced the withdrawal of more service members from Iraq this month.  

“At 4,500 we’re still going to be able to accomplish the core task that we want to accomplish, and we’ve shown more than ample goodwill in our willingness to demonstrate that we don’t want to be an occupying force in this country, but we do have strategic interests, vital interests, that compel us to be certain that these entities such as al-Qaida and ISIS can’t be guests there to attack the United States,” Marine Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie told VOA and two other media outlets in an interview.

In July, the CENTCOM commander told VOA that inter-Afghan dialogue would need to begin and the U.S. would need to be confident that the Taliban would not host Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaida terrorist groups before U.S. troops could be greatly reduced in Afghanistan. 

When asked what has changed, McKenzie on Wednesday acknowledged the Taliban “has still not shown conclusively that they are going to break with al-Qaida” and have “continued to go after the Afghan security forces.” 

Afghanistan’s warring factions were expected this week to begin their first direct peace talks in Qatar amid U.S.-led international calls for them to seize the “historic opportunity” to end the country’s long war.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Fox News last month that the U.S. planned to go down to fewer than 5,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of November.

FILE – U.S. soldiers wearing protective masks are seen during a handover ceremony of the Taji military base from U.S.-led coalition troops to Iraqi security forces, at the base north of Baghdad, Iraq, Aug. 23, 2020.

Iraq troop presence

Earlier on Wednesday, McKenzie announced during a visit to Iraq that the U.S. troop presence in the country would be cut from 5,200 to 3,000.

McKenzie later told reporters the reduced footprint in Iraq would not affect the U.S. ability to protect its remaining troops.
“Nothing we’re pulling out is going to affect our ability to defend ourselves. And I won’t go into the tactical details, but it will not affect Patriot (missile defense) capability, or any other short-range defense capability in any of our bases. All of those will remain,” the CENTCOM chief said.
Attacks from Iranian-backed proxy forces have continued in recent weeks, McKenzie added, but “none of them have caused any U.S. casualties and no significant Iraqi casualties.”

He said the remaining forces would continue advising and assisting Iraqi partners in “rooting out the final remnants” of the Islamic State terror group in Iraq and “ensuring its enduring defeat.”
“This decision is due to our confidence in the Iraqi security forces’ increased ability to operate independently,” McKenzie said during his remarks in Iraq.
Bradley Bowman, a defense expert with the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, raised concerns Wednesday that the two announcements could be due to “a calendar or political motivation with respect to the (U.S. presidential) election.”

“This announcement appears to be larger and faster than anticipated,” said Bowman. “This does smack a little bit of a calendar-based withdrawal that we’ve seen time and again is a mistake, but I am pleased that it is not a complete withdrawal.”

FILE – President Donald Trump meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in the Oval Office of the White House, Aug. 20, 2020, in Washington.

U.S. President Donald Trump said while campaigning for president in 2016 that he wanted to end what he called the country’s “endless wars.”

“We have been taking our troops out of Iraq fairly rapidly, and we look forward to the day when we don’t have to be there,” Trump said last month as he hosted Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at the White House. “And hopefully Iraq can live their own lives and they can defend themselves, which they’ve been doing long before we got involved.”

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US Considering Sanctions Against Belarus After ‘Unjustified Violence and Repression’ Pompeo Says

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday the United States is deeply concerned about attempts by the government of Belarus to forcibly expel opposition activist Maria Kolesnikova. The top U.S. diplomat said the United States and other countries are considering bringing sanctions in response to recent events in Belarus. 

“We commend the courage of Ms. Kalesnikava and of the Belarusian people in peacefully asserting their right to pick their leaders in free and fair elections in the face of unjustified violence and repression by the Belarusian authorities, which included brazen beatings of peaceful marchers in broad daylight and hundreds of detentions (on) September 6, as well as increasing reports of abductions,” Pompeo said in a statement. 

He said the potential sanctions would be aimed at promoting “accountability for those involved in human rights abuses and repression in Belarus.” 

Kolesnikova was detained Monday along with two other opposition movement members, Anton Rodnenkov and Ivan Kravtsov, and on Tuesday they were driven to the border between Belarus and Ukraine where Kolesnikova tore up her passport and was held on the Belarusian side.

FILE – Maria Kolesnikova, one of Belarus’ opposition leaders, gestures during a rally in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 30, 2020.

Rodnenkov and Kravtsov did cross into Ukraine. 

“She was shouting that she won’t go anywhere,” Rodnenkov said at a news conference in Kyiv. “Sitting in the car, she saw her passport on a front seat and tore it into many small fragments, crumpled them and threw them out of the window. After that, she opened the back door and walked back to the Belarusian border.” 

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement expressing his concern about “the repeated use of force against peaceful protesters, as well as reported pressures on opposition civil society activists.” 

Thousands of people have taken part in five weeks of protests following the August 9 election in which longtime President Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner, but opposition parties, the United States and European Union allege was rigged. 

More than 7,000 protesters have been arrested, and widespread evidence of abuse and torture has been reported in the month of protests. At least four people are reported to have died during the demonstrations. 

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Gusty Winds Pose Continued Wildfire Threats in California

Wildfires raged unchecked throughout California Wednesday, and gusty winds could drive flames into new ferocity, authorities warned. 

Diablo winds in the north and Santa Ana winds in the south were forecast into Wednesday at a time when existing wildfires already have grown explosively. 

On Tuesday, 14 firefighters were forced to deploy emergency shelters as flames overtook them and destroyed the Nacimiento Station, a fire station in the Los Padres National Forest on the state’s central coast, the U.S. Forest Service said. They suffered from burns and smoke inhalation, and three were flown to a hospital in Fresno, where one was in critical condition. 

In the past two days, helicopters were used to rescue hundreds of people stranded in the burning Sierra National Forest, where the Creek Fire has destroyed 365 buildings, including at least 45 homes, and 5,000 structures were threatened, fire officials said. 

Flames threatened the foothill community of Auberry between Shaver Lake and Fresno. 

In Southern California, fires burned in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, and the forecast called for the arrival of the region’s notorious Santa Anas. The hot, dry winds could reach 50 mph at times, forecasters said. 

People in a half-dozen foothill communities east of Los Angeles were being told to stay alert because of a fire in the Angeles National Forest. 

“The combination of gusty winds, very dry air, and dry vegetation will create critical fire danger,” the National Weather Service warned. 

The U.S. Forest Service on Monday decided to close all eight national forests in the southern half of the state and shutter campgrounds statewide. 

More than 14,000 firefighters are battling fires. Two of the three largest blazes in state history are burning in the San Francisco Bay Area, though they are largely contained after burning three weeks. 

California has already set a record with nearly 2.3 million acres (930,800 hectares) burned this year – surpassing a record set just two years ago – and the worst part of the wildfire season is just beginning. 

“It’s extraordinary, the challenge that we’ve faced so far this season,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. 

The threat of winds tearing down power lines or hurling debris into them and sparking a wildfire prompted Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility, to shut off power to 172,000 customers over the weekend. More outages were expected Wednesday, with power not expected to be completely restored until Wednesday night. 

To the south, Southern California Edison warned roughly 55,000 customer accounts may lose power while San Diego Gas & Electric said 16,700 customers are at risk of a preemptive outage.  

In the Sierra National Forest east of Fresno, dozens of campers and hikers were stranded at the Vermilion Valley Resort after the only road in – a narrow route snaking along a steep cliff – was closed Sunday because of the Creek Fire. 

Well before dawn Tuesday, the sound of helicopter blades chopping through the air awoke Katelyn Mueller, bringing relief after two anxious nights camping in the smoke.  

“It was probably the one time you’re excited to hear a helicopter,” Mueller said. “You could almost feel a sigh of relief seeing it come in.”  

The use of military helicopters to rescue a large number of civilians for a second day _ 164 before dawn Tuesday and 214 people from a wooded camping area on Saturday _ is rare, if not unprecedented.  

“This is emblematic of how fast that fire was moving, plus the physical geography of that environment with one road in and one road out,” said Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College who has written extensively about wildfires. “Unless you wanted an absolute human disaster, you had to move fast.”  

Numerous studies in recent years have linked bigger wildfires in America to global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas, especially because climate change has made California much drier. A drier California means plants are more flammable. 

“The frequency of extreme wild fire weather has doubled in California over the past four decades, with the main driver being the effect of rising temperature on dry fuels, meaning that the fuel loads are now frequently at record or near-record levels when ignition occurs and when strong winds blow,” Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh said in an email. 

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US Blacklists Ex-Lebanese Ministers Over Hezbollah Ties, Vows More Action

The United States expanded its sanctions related to Lebanon on Tuesday, blacklisting two former government ministers it accused of enabling Hezbollah and warning that more actions targeting the Iran-backed Shi’ite group were coming. 

In a statement, the U.S. Treasury Department said it had designated former Lebanese Transport Minister Yusuf Finyanus and former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil for engaging in corruption and leveraging their political power for financial gain. 

“Finyanus and Khalil were involved in directing political and economic favors to Hezbollah and involved in some of the corruption that made Hezbollah’s work possible in Lebanon,” David Schenker, a senior State Department official for the Middle East, told a briefing call. 

“This should be a message both to those who cooperate with Hezbollah, those who enable Hezbollah, but also Lebanon’s political leaders,” Schenker said. He added that “everyone should absolutely expect” more sanctions. 

The Wall Street Journal in August reported that some U.S. officials wanted to designate Gebran Bassil, the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun and a former foreign minister who heads the largest Christian political bloc in the sectarian power-sharing system. 

Asked by reporters if Bassil and Riad Salama, Lebanon’s central bank governor, were next to be sanctioned, both Schenker and senior U.S. government officials declined to comment. 

Mohanad Hage Ali, a fellow at Carnegie Middle East Center described the U.S. move as one to give a message to Lebanon’s current political establishment. “This is a kill the chickens to scare the monkey situation, where second rank members of the political elite are placed under sanctions to get things moving on the political level,” he said. 

French initiative

Tuesday’s sanctions freeze any U.S. assets of the two blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them. 

Heavily armed group Hezbollah has risen to become the overarching power in a country that is now badly struggling under a series of crises. 

Lebanon’s banks are paralyzed, its currency has crashed and sectarian tensions are rising. A port blast last month smashed a large swath of Beirut, killing more than 190 people and causing huge economic damage. 

U.S. officials said Washington was coordinating with France on Lebanon but voiced criticism over a recent meeting French President Emmanuel Macron held in Beirut with Lebanese politicians, including a member of Hezbollah, seen as a terrorist organization by the United States. 

“We don’t believe that people should be meeting, attempting to legitimate or otherwise these organizations or individuals. That said …we think that the French initiative has a lot of merit.” 

Macron, whose pressure prompted Lebanon’s bickering leaders to agree on a new prime minister, has spearheaded international efforts to set Lebanon on a new course after decades of corrupt rule led to its deepest crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war. 

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Despite Trump Tweet, Order to Dissolve Stars and Stripes Not Yet Rescinded

Despite a tweet from President Donald Trump vowing to reverse his own administration’s budget plan to cut government funding for an independent military newspaper, Stars and Stripes employees say they remain worried because the order to defund the news outlet has not yet been rescinded by the Pentagon. 

“There’s a great deal of anxiety in the staff,” Max Lederer, the publisher of Stars and Stripes since 2007, told VOA Tuesday. “A little less anxiety since Friday, but since it (the funding decision) is still not final, there’s a lot of concern.” 

The Department of Defense spending plans, released in February, cut out all government funding for the paper for the 2021 fiscal year, which begins on October 1.  

On Friday, President Trump tweeted that he planned to reverse the planned Pentagon budget cuts that would have ended the Stars and Stripes publication. 

“The United States of America will NOT be cutting funding to @starsandstripes magazine under my watch. It will continue to be a wonderful source of information to our Great Military!” Trump tweeted.

The United States of America will NOT be cutting funding to @starsandstripes magazine under my watch. It will continue to be a wonderful source of information to our Great Military!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 4, 2020

The tweet came mere hours after media outlets reported on the Pentagon’s plans to dissolve the publication. 

But the president’s tweets alone do not indicate policy or dictate law, and Lederer said the Pentagon is “still discussing” the status of the budget order. 

The House of Representatives passed the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2021 on July 31, 2020, which included additional funding for the publication. The Senate did not include funding for the publication in its defense spending bill, but both houses of Congress have resolutions supporting its mission. 

A Defense Department memo by Defense Media Activity Acting Director Army Col. Paul Haverstick last month instructed the Stars and Stripes publisher to provide a plan of action “no later than September 15” to discontinue Stars and Stripes publications and dissolve the news organization “no later than January 31, 2021.” 

In the case of a continuing resolution (CR) from Congress, which would prevent a government shutdown and extend funding temporarily, the memo (obtained by VOA) instructed the publisher to plan the “last date for publication of the newspaper” “based on the end of the CR or other circumstances.” 

A bipartisan group of 11 Democratic and four Republican senators sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week, calling on the Department of Defense to maintain funding for the publication, which has more than 1 million readers.  

“The $15.5 million currently allocated for the publication of Stars and Stripes is only a tiny fraction of your Department’s annual budget, and cutting it would have a significantly negative impact on military families and a negligible impact on the Department’s bottom line,” said the letter, signed by the senators. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, also sent a letter opposing the budget cut, citing strong support for Stars and Stripes in Congress. 

“As a veteran who has served overseas, I know the value that the Stars and Stripes brings to its readers,” Graham wrote.  

Stars and Stripes started during the Civil War as a publication for Union troops. Today, it distributes to U.S. service members stationed across the globe, including in war zones. 

Most recently, the publication shed light the Defense Department’s failure to shut down schools on U.S. military installations in Japan during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite Japanese public schools ruling shutdowns as necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

“Stars and Stripes tells the military’s story like no other publication can. It was held by GIs in the trenches of World War II and held by special forces members at remote outposts in Syria after being flown in by Osprey in the battle against ISIS,” Tara Copp, a reporter for McClatchy who was the Pentagon correspondent for Stars and Stripes from 2015-2017, told VOA. 

“It is a rounding error (an inconsequential amount) to DOD, but it is much, much more than that to the men and women and their families who read it,” she added. 

Copp said that the publication provides the time and resources to look into stories many other outlets do not.  

For example, her in-depth investigation into the 2000 Osprey crash at Marana Regional Airport near Tucson, Arizona, for the publication in 2015 led to former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work exonerating the two Marine Corps pilots who had been blamed for the crash. 

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Transgender Americans Face Voting Barriers in 2020 Presidential Election, Study Finds  

One segment of the electorate may be unable to vote if poll workers are not able to certify their identity. 

It is the reality facing hundreds of thousands of transgender Americans in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.  

An estimated 378,000 eligible transgender voters do not have identification such as a driver’s license that reflects their name, appearance or new gender identity, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.   

“If those poll workers decide that those ID’s don’t adequately or accurately reflect the person who is standing in front of them, they wouldn’t be able vote,” said Jody Herman, a research scholar and co-author of the report.  

The Los Angeles-based organization founded in 2001 conducts independent nonpartisan research on sexual orientation, gender identity law and public policy. 

Registered voters in states with strict identification laws must produce a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot at polling locations.  

“Trans people in general are frequently placed under immediate suspicion if they don’t conform visually to what their ID shows,” Sasha Buchert, a senior lawyer with Lambda Legal, told VOA Lambda Legal, founded in 1973, focuses on the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and individuals living with HIV. 

Buchert identifies as a transgender female. “They’re placed under higher skepticism, whether it’s opening a bank account, trying to get a job or at the voting booth.”  

Some transgender voters are rushing to obtain new identification documents before Election Day.  

“I made an appointment for a new photo ID at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and couldn’t get an appointment until January 2021,” said Buchert. “I think with the coronavirus pandemic, we’re going to see problems across the country as trans people try to update their IDs in time for the election.”  

To avoid potential confusion with ID requirements, Buchert will vote by mail in Washington, D.C.  

Research suggests 260,000 transgender people without IDs live in one of 35 states that require voters to show a photo identification before they can vote. Political analysts say the requirements could impact Democratic Party turnout, as most transgender voters are Democrats.  

Backers of voter ID laws say the laws are intended to combat fraud. Voter rights advocates contend the number of actual voter fraud cases is small and restrictions disproportionately affect poor and minority voters.

In this Friday, Feb. 28, 2020 photo, pedestrians pass signs near a polling site in San Antonio.

Obtaining ID documents 

Some states have made it easier to make changes in identification documents such as gender markers on birth certificates, a process that varies state by state. Name changes can cost $500, in addition the costs of hiring an attorney. Advocates say in some states, transgender people must undergo gender affirming surgery that many consider invasive before their birth certificates and other identification documents can be updated.  

“The process can be very costly and sometimes even impossible for trans people to complete,” Herman, the report co-author, said. “Ohio and Tennessee don’t allow any changes to a birth certificate at all.”  

Advocates say transgender people of color are likely to be more impacted than white voters because they have more difficulty in obtaining a proper ID. They believe the measures could have a chilling impact and keep people from voting, especially if they cannot vote by mail. 

“We found just under a million trans adults would be eligible to vote in the 2020 election, but about 900,000 of those voters reside in 45 states where they do not conduct elections entirely by mail,” Herman told VOA. “Voters in those places would have to show up for in-person voting.”  

Political observers predict an unprecedented number of Americans will vote by mail because of the coronavirus. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia allow excuse-free absentee voting, according to state websites.  

If transgender voters are turned away at the polls, they could be made to vote on a provisional ballot instead of a regular ballot. Provisional ballots are only counted if certain requirements are met in strict voter ID states. That means they would have to come back to the election officials within a certain amount of time with an acceptable ID for their vote to be counted, according to the Williams Institute.   

Increasing voter participation 

Nationwide, there are an estimated 11 million LGBTQ voters, of which 1.4 million are transgender, according to surveys by Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based organization. According to its U.S. transgender survey, the party affiliation for the respondents was heavily Democratic.  

“Keeping trans people from voting could favor the Republican Party that is more conservative than its Democratic rival,” said Professor Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine.  

In 2016, the outcome of the presidential election was decided by fewer than 80,000 votes in three states. 

“Transgender people should not be denied their opportunity to participate in our democracy because laws and regulations around identification documents haven’t kept up with reality,” said Mara Keisling, head of The National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund.  

While some transgender Americans report progress in obtaining updated ID’s, human rights advocates maintain transgender people of color, young students, low income, and those with disabilities are overrepresented among those who would face barriers to voting.  

“We hear about folks in our community who feel so uncomfortable or who are made to feel so uncomfortable that they simply give up when they are challenged on their own identity,” said Tori Cooper, a Black transgender woman and director of community engagement for Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative.  

“I know someone who is listed on a voter registration form as female, which does not accurately reflect their current gender identity, which is male. He’s afraid the way he looks and presents himself could actually keep him from being able to vote in person,” Cooper told VOA. 

“Voting is not about challenging people on their identities. It is giving people an opportunity to express their constitutional right to vote,” she said. 

Election observers say mail-in voting will remove possible negative interactions between transgender voters and poll workers.  

“We are trying to break down barriers, making sure folks have the tools they need to get to the polls safely or get their mail-in ballots,” said Jay Brown, senior vice president of Human Rights Campaign Foundation. “We are empowering trans people to do whatever they can and vote.” 

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Trump Defies North Carolina COVID Guidelines With Large Outdoor Rally

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. President Donald Trump attracted a crowd of thousands to his latest political rally at a North Carolina airport Tuesday evening.     

Trump marveled at a crowd he said totaled 15,000 people –- a number that reporters on site said was exaggerated.  

The rally was attended by 14,600 people and several thousand more either wanted to attend or were nearby, according to a senior administration official who spoke to reporters on Air Force One on the flight back from North Carolina.    

Journalists also noted the lack of social distancing among those seated and standing. Many of the attendees did not wear masks and some who did let them droop down below their noses.  

It was a crowd clearly in defiance of state guidance limiting outdoor mass gatherings to 50 people with social distancing and cloth face coverings.   

Trump contended again on Tuesday that his campaign has found a loophole to avoid violating such state regulations because “we decided to call all our rallies peaceful protests” – a reference to criticism from those on the right that some anti-racism protesters amid the pandemic have been hypocritical by not wearing masks.    

The president contrasted his rallies with those of challenger Joe Biden, mocking the socially distancing circles in gymnasiums that have been a feature of the Democratic Party nominee’s relatively few appearances.     

“Did you ever see the gyms with the circles? That’s his crowds,” Trump said.   

It was Trump’s third visit to North Carolina in two weeks. He won the state by four points in 2016 against Hillary Clinton, but polls show him virtually tied in the state with Biden.

Supporters cheer as President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Smith Reynolds Airport, Sept. 8, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The former vice president did not make a public appearance on Tuesday, but his campaign released two new television advertisements in North Carolina during the day.  

One of the commercials, a narrator implored: “We need to get control over the virus. Donald Trump failed. Joe Biden will get it done.”   

Trump, in his Tuesday evening rally, accused Biden and running mate U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of trying to spread “anti-vaccine conspiracy theories” because they have questioned his claims that a COVID-19 vaccine is near.   

Biden and Harris released a joint statement on Tuesday “laying out three questions this Administration must answer to assure the American people that politics will play no role in the approval and distribution of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.”   

The Democrats are asking the Trump administration to state what scientific criteria will be used to ensure safety and efficacy of the vaccine; who will validate an official decision greenlighting the vaccine; and what is the plan to allocate and distribute the vaccine to Americans “cost-free, safely, equitably and without politics.”   

Trump has been hinting that a vaccine for the coronavirus could be ready by Election Day on November 3.   

Nine drugmakers issued an unusual pledge on Tuesday, vowing to uphold the highest ethical and scientific standards in developing their vaccines.  

The announcement follows concern that Trump will pressure the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve a vaccine before it is proven to be safe and effective.  

As Trump began his evening rally, confirmation came from the developer of one of the vaccines, AstraZeneca, that it was halting late-stage studies of its vaccine candidate developed at Oxford University due to “a potentially unexplained illness” suffered by one patient in Britain.     

The “standard review process triggered a pause to vaccination to allow review of safety data,” the British-Swedish drugmaker said in a statement. “We are working to expedite the review of the single event to minimize any potential impact on the trial timeline.”     

The United States has reported the most infections and deaths from the coronavirus.   

More than 6.3 million cases have been reported in the country, with deaths totaling slightly more than 189,500 according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University.

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Venezuelan Opposition Leader Urges Military to Back Election Boycott

Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido is urging military leaders to support a boycott of the country’s December 6 legislative elections.
In an address Monday on social media, Guaido said he values each sector of society and invited the Armed Forces to a “unity pact” of opposition forces to block the upcoming poll and escalate international pressure on President Nicolas Maduro.  
He said his team is willing to sit down once again with those who are needed to achieve a transition.
Since Guaido declared himself interim president last year, accusing Maduro of rigging the vote to win the 2018 election, he has been unable to muster enough support inside the country to remove the president from office.  
Additionally, some well-known opposition figures, including Henrique Capriles, a two-time presidential candidate, have rejected Guadio’s boycott of the December election.
So far, international sanctions against Maduro’s government, including U.S. sanctions against 150 Venezuelans or persons linked to Venezuela, have not produced any discernible impact on the socialist leader’s standing.

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California Authorities Identify Remains of Americans Found in Baja, Mexico Well

Authorities in southern California have identified the bodies found in a well in northern Mexico as American tourists Ian Hirschsohn and Kathy Harvey.

In a statement, the Baja California state prosecutor’s office said the retirees were reported missing last Wednesday. Local media reports say both are from nearby San Diego, California.

The remains of the victims were recovered over the weekend after searchers covering an area south of the port city of Ensenada spotted human remains at the bottom of the well.

Authorities have not released any details of the circumstances surrounding their deaths.

Separately, the Associated Press reports 65-year-old Craig Harrison was found stabbed to death on the beach in Cabo Pulmo over the weekend.

Harrison, a longtime resident of Cabo San Lucas, held dual citizenship in South Africa and Canada.

Harrison had been missing since August 29.

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Jamaica Launches New Initiatives  to Control Spread of Coronavirius

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness has announced new measures aimed at containing the spread of the novel coronavirus on the island nation. 

In an address Monday inaugurating his second term in office, Holness announced new curfew hours of 8:00 pm to 5:00 am beginning September 8 through September 23. 

He said Jamaica is also reducing the permitted number of people in public gatherings from 20 people to 15. 

Senior citizens 70 and older are now only permitted to leave home just once a day for critical necessities. 

The government will continue to permit religious groups to conduct normal services as long as they follow protocols.  

Funerals are still not permitted, and burials are allowed with no more than 15 people, including mourners. 

Prime Minister Holness’ administration also urges business owners to allow their staff to work from home if possible.  

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Trees, Birds, Ponds: Mexico City’s Ancient Lake Reclaims Scrapped Airport

Bright green stalks of weeds are sprouting from the ground where planes were supposed to take off at a new Mexico City airport as officials let nature take over in their bid to transform the marshy swath of an ancient lake into a giant park. 

The ghostly skeletons of a partly built control tower and flight terminal are recognizably in the style of Norman Foster, the British architect commissioned by Mexico’s last president to build a futuristic international airport at a cost of $13 billion on 4,800 hectares just east of the capital. 

Upon taking office in December 2018, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador axed the project, citing the results of an informal referendum, after arguing it would be costly to prevent sinking on the waterlogged soil. 

Instead of the slick design from Foster, whose award-winning glass and steel weblike buildings dot the globe, Lopez Obrador opted to expand an existing military airport. 

Workers prepare native plants at the garden center near the canceled airport zone as part of a project to conserve 12,200 hectares of land in Texcoco on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico, Sept. 3, 2020.

The abandoned construction zone is now part of a project to conserve 12,200 hectares of marsh on what was once massive Lake Texcoco before Spanish colonizers in the 1600s began draining the water to prevent flooding in their burgeoning settlement. 

About half that area is slated for public use, including sports and events space more than twice the size of New York’s Central Park. 

Architect Iñaki Echeverria, who is overseeing the project, aims to open a portion of the park by March next year and offer full access by 2024. 

“The restoration began the moment the construction stopped. This shows nature’s incredible resiliency,” he said. 

Officials point to recent flooding as proof that maintenance would have been difficult and say less than 20% of construction was completed. They paid about $603 million to cancel more than 600 contracts left in limbo. 

During a recent visit, a moat of green water had risen around a flying-saucer-like building where a control tower juts 20 meters high, less than a third of its intended height. 

Unfinished parts of the flight terminal at an abandoned construction site of a Mexico City airport are now flooded by summer rains, in Texcoco on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico, Sept. 4, 2020.

Birds glided in a pond beneath columns of crisscrossing steel bars that were meant to become a terminal greeting 70 million passengers a year. The steel will be sold as scrap. 

Conservation efforts in the area date to the 1970s, when the government grappled with how to contain dust storms that swept from the dry lake basin over Mexico City. 

The current project has been hailed by Lopez Obrador as a “new Tenochtitlan,” referring to the centuries-old Aztec capital built in the middle of a sprawling lake, where Mexico City is today. 

Part of Echeverria’s work is convincing city dwellers that the wetlands are worth visiting. 

“People who think there’s nothing there, don’t know it well,” he said.  


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Quarantine-Weary Brazilians Head to Beaches Despite Warnings

Suellen de Souza could no longer endure the confinement. After six months of precautions, the Brazilian nursing technician decided that Sunday would be her first day at the beach since the pandemic began.

“This week it was very hot … the truth is I really wanted to come” to the beach, said the 21-year-old at Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema beach, which is technically still closed to sun-bathers though few respect the prohibition and authorities seldom enforce it.

Under a burning midday sun, she had difficulty finding an empty space in the sand as thousands crowded the famed beach, which was dotted with hundreds of umbrellas and families sunning themselves. Beach-goers were packed close together with few wearing face masks.

With tentative signs the coronavirus pandemic is easing, Brazilians exhausted with quarantine measures and social distancing are increasingly relaxing precautions and flooding beaches as if the pandemic were over. They are being urged to do so – and violate the recommendations of health experts – by President Jair Bolsonaro, who has resisted many lockdown measures and pressed for a return to normal life from the beginning, famously calling the novel coronavirus a “little flu.”

“It is like a rain that is going to reach you,” Bolsonaro said of the virus on July 7, the day he confirmed his own infection from which he has since recovered.

In Rio, recommendations by health experts to remain isolated are being challenged even by people like Souza, a nursing technician who worked in a field hospital for coronavirus patients.

“The coronavirus is being controlled a little more, that gave me security to go out,” she said.

The same scenario is playing out in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s worst-hit state with more than 855,000 confirmed infections and 31,000 deaths. Thousands of residents took advantage of the long weekend to travel to the coast.

“If you stay indoors for a long time, you will go crazy. I was like that. The moment I found out the beach was open, I decided to come,” said Josy Santos, a 26-year-old teacher who spent the day in Guarujá, a seaside resort an hour from Sao Paulo.

With more than 4,100,000 confirmed infections and 126,000 deaths from the virus, Brazil has the second highest totals in both figures behind only the United States. In recent weeks, Latin America’s largest country has left a new case number plateau that had dragged on from almost three months and started seeing a reduction in the number of new confirmed cases. But with an average of 820 deaths per day, its numbers are still considered high by health experts.

Patricia Canto, a pulmonologist at Brazil’s premier biomedical research and development lab, the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, or Fiocruz, warned that if Brazilians are negligent the country could see a repeat of what happened in Europe, especially Spain, where second waves of new cases were seen.

“Spain controlled the pandemic, but there were new outbreaks when many young people were negligent during the summer,” Canto said. If Brazil’s “population is not conscientious and continues to frequent beaches and bars without precautions, it might mirror this.”

Geraldo Tadeu, political scientist and coordinator of the Center for Studies and Research on Democracy, said the lack of coordination among levels of government in the COVID-19 fight demoralized many Brazilians.

“After six months, no one can stand to stay indoors seeing how there are no clear guidelines for fighting the virus,” said Tadeu. “As there is no serious policy, the population is exhausted. People head out to the streets when they see that others are not complying and the effort of staying home is no longer worth it.”

More than 6 months after the start of the pandemic, Brazilians seem increasingly relaxed about taking precautions to fight the virus’ spread. Some attribute this to Bolsonario’s denial rhetoric.

Souza said many do not believe in taking precautions because “Bolsonaro did not believe in the disease … He did not set an example.”

But Sao Paulo Gov. Joao Doria, who clashed with Bolsonaro over quarantine measures, does not think this is necessarily the case. The congestion and vehicle flow on Sao Paulo’s highways this weekend exceeded that seen during Carnival in February.

“We see the same problem (of full beaches) in Spain, the United States and England, which do not see these speeches against social distancing,” Doria told The Associated Press.

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El Salvador President Denies Allegations of Negotiations With MS-13 Gang

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele vehemently denied allegations of collusion Friday after a report circulated by the online media outlet El Faro said his government had been engaging in talks with one of the country’s most prolific gangs.

El Faro reported Friday that it had obtained a cache of government documents, including prison logs and prison intelligence reports, that show government officials engaging in talks with members of the MS-13 gang since last June.

The report alleges Bukele’s involvement with the gang stems from an effort to lower the country’s notoriously high murder rate and boost support for his campaign before the midterm elections in exchange for privileges in prison.

Attorney General Raúl Melara, whose office is independent of the Bukele presidency, said in an interview with a local television station that his office would be investigating the claims.

The 39-year-old former businessman won the race for the presidency in 2019, despite not being from either of the country’s historically dominant parties, after campaigning as a law-and-order candidate. He quickly earned recognition for the steady decline of El Salvador’s murder rate.

Imprisoned gang members, wearing protective face masks, look out from behind bars during a media tour of the prison in Quezaltepeque, El Salvador, Sept. 4, 2020.

El Salvador’s homicide rate has declined steadily from 104 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015 to 36 per 100,000 in 2019. The 2019 rate is still seven times the rate of the United States, according to U.S. State Department data.

Bukele took to Twitter to proclaim his innocence and target his critics, who he said “invented a novel” with the story after exhausting other attacks against him. As a means of disputing the allegations of collaboration with the gangs, Bukele cited criticisms that his administration was a dictatorship that has committed human rights violations against gangs in the region.

“The Salvadoran people are happy that after a civil war and 30 more years of crime, they can live in a much safer country than before,” he tweeted Friday. Bukele says his critics are just changing the narrative. “Now, the government is not bad with the terrorists, but good.”

The allegations against Bukele’s administration are not the first time Salvadoran officials have been accused of engaging with the country’s gangs. Former President Mauricio Funes was granted asylum in Nicaragua in 2016 after facing similar accusations. Funes has denied he negotiated with MS-13.

On Friday, Melara said on a local news show, “There are politicians and ex-politicians prosecuted for negotiations with the gangs. Rumors have arisen that this situation is happening again, and we are going to investigate. No one can take advantage of the institutionality to negotiate with terrorists.”

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Suspects Arrested in Colombia Linked to Failed Attempt to Overthrow Venezuelan President

Four Venezuelans are under arrest in Colombia for their alleged roles in a botched attempt to remove Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power a few months ago.

Colombian officials announced Thursday the suspects are accused of arming and training mercenaries who in May invaded Venezuela by boat.

The amphibious attacked dubbed “Operation Gideon” was carried out by three former U.S. Special Forces soldiers acting as mercenaries.

Venezuelan soldiers arrested former Green Berets Luke Denman and Airan Berry, who were sentenced to 20 years in prison in Venezuela.

The third former soldier is back in the United States.  Jordan Goudreau, who operates a Florida security firm, has claimed responsibility for the failed attack. 

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Jamaica’s Ruling Party Claims Landslide Victory in Thursday’s General Election

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ Jamaica Labour Party won a decisive victory in Thursday’s general election, retaining power by claiming 49 seats compared to the People’s National Party’s 14 seats in the preliminary tally.

The final ballot count from all 63 constituencies will continue Friday.

Speaking from the JLP’s headquarters in Kingston, Holness said the opposition leader, Peter Phillips, conceded the election and congratulated him on the landslide victory.

The prime minister attempted to strike a unifying tone, urging supporters of the People’s National Party to join in celebrating the country’s victory.

He also warned members of his party not to take the citizens for granted after winning the election in which many Jamaican did not participate for various reasons, including fear over the coronavirus.

The JLP’s victory marks the first time the party has won consecutive elections in more than 50 years. 

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Colombia Struggles to Get Past Months-long Quarantine

When Juan José Hincapié opened his small pizza restaurant on his street corner, the 46-year-old achieved his lifelong dream.

But after five months of quarantine in Colombia, his dream, like those of many people in this nation still recovering from decades of civil war and cartel violence, is in danger of evaporating.

The country is beginning to emerge from one of the world’s longest coronavirus quarantines, which has had devastating effects in regard to poverty, mental health, violence, the economy and small businesses like Hincapié’s.

Now, health experts warn it will have to strike a careful balancing to not spiral out of control.

Two months ago, Hincapié made a snap decision to transform his restaurant in Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city, into a fruit and vegetable stand. He replaced heavy stoves and tables with plastic bins holding piles of tomatoes, pineapples, potatoes, avocados and other produce.

“If we didn’t make that change, we would have had to close because our sales dropped 80% — even more,” he said. “We couldn’t sustain our staff with that.”

He watched as neighborhood shops around him shuttered for good, “for rent” signs began to pop up, and a growing number of people walked the streets begging for money from apartments looming above.

Unemployment has surged and Colombia’s economy contracted nearly 17% in May compared with the same month in 2019. Meanwhile in June,  the World Bank said Latin America would lose 20 years of progress in poverty reduction because of the pandemic.

Cases still rising

Despite the lockdown, cases in the South American country continue to soar.

Colombia now has one of the highest infection rates in the world. As of September 3, the country has reported more than 633,321 confirmed cases and 20,345 deaths.

Luis Jorge Hernández, a public health researcher, sees the rising numbers as a sign that the quarantines have started to do more harm than good.

“We can’t continue with more lockdown, we have to work on mitigation, using face masks, washing hands and social distancing,” Hernández said. “It was effective in the beginning, but now it’s not effective.”

Colombian President Ivan Duque announced the national quarantine in late March, and for the first weeks, even months, that lockdown appeared to be effective. As cases in other Latin American countries like Mexico and Brazil soared, the infection rate in Colombia stayed comparatively low.

Passengers sit on a bus at the terminal for long-distance travel in Bogota, Colombia, Sept. 1, 2020. Airports, land transport, restaurants, and gyms are reopening in most of Colombia this week.

But Colombia, along with other nations with emerging economies in Latin America, faces a set of challenges that makes the pandemic all the more difficult to control.

Extending the quarantines pushed poorer and working-class Colombians to the brink in large part by forcing informal workers – street vendors or laborers who survive on day-to-day wages – to go to work or go hungry.

At the same time, densely populated cities and ill-equipped medical systems fueled pessimism from the beginning about Colombia’s ability to contain the spread of the virus.

As the months went by, the quarantine was lengthened while enforcement grew more flexible and more sporadic. Some cities took a militarized approach, enlisting the help of police to contain the spread, while others experimented with phased lockdowns.

The country is now set to begin reopening this month. Hernández worries about the consequences of relaxing measures too early.

In Medellín, the government announced it would reopen churches, gyms and motels, including some that charge by the hour, this month. Local leaders in Cartagena, a coastal city popular among tourists, have called for the resumption of international flights.

To reopen or not reopen

Health experts warn that the moves could fuel a surge in cases.

“We’re at this epidemic peak. If they open too fast, we’re going to have another epidemic peak that’s worse than the first one,” he said.

Meanwhile, some of the quarantine’s ripple effects may have longer-term implications.

Already, cases of domestic violence have surged, and armed groups have taken advantage of an absence of security forces in key drug routes to wage territorial wars. In recent weeks, rural Colombia has seen a growing wave of massacres, suggesting the country could be reversing significant gains it made over the past two decades in combating drug violence that traumatized generations of Colombians.


Reports show enormous jumps in symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia and post-traumatic stress reactions. Calls to the national psychological attention line have tripled since April, according to Colombia’s Health Ministry. In the country’s capital of Bogotá, the mayor’s office reported a 21% increase in suicide attempts since the start of the quarantine.

Hernández said he also worries about a deteriorating physical and cardiovascular health of Colombians, which could make individuals more vulnerable to COVID-19.

A man wears a face mask and shield in the Chorro de Quevedo tourist area in Bogota, Colombia, on Sept. 3, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Single mother Nataly Uribe Franco lives with that anxiety every day.

The 34-year-old works at a family’s ice cream business, Cremas Doña Alba, in Medellín’s Comuna 13. The neighborhood was once ravaged by violence, but in recent years has become a hub for tourists. That tourism provided a key economic lifeline for many working-class families in the zone.

It allowed Uribe Franco’s family to leave their jobs at a plastic bag factory and start their own business. With it, she was able to support herself and two children, now 14 and 16 years old.

But that disappeared along with the tourists.

“There are weeks and months where we don’t sell a lot, so I have to ask the owner of our house to wait for me to pay rent,” she said. “I’m so stressed, and I try not to stress too much, because that only makes things worse.”

Painful future

Analysts like Ariel Ávila, deputy director of the Colombian research group, the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, say while the country struggles to establish its new normal, the quarantine’s effects will span far beyond it.

“The next year is going to be a very tortuous one,” Ávila said, “for the government and all of Colombian society.”

Uribe Franco, too, dreads what lies ahead.

The family had to cut their staff from 15 to five. Promised government aid never arrived, she said. Food distributions from large companies and NGOs that came at the beginning of the pandemic slowly trickled away. Uribe Franco has watched helplessly as other members of the community go hungry.

“People lose hope, they don’t know what to do or how to get out of this,” she said. “With a quarantine so long, you begin to feel hopeless.”  

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Mexican Police Search for Gunmen in Deadly Mass Shooting at Funeral 

Mexican police are seeking the gunmen who stormed a funeral service late Tuesday and opened fire, killing at least eight people and wounding more than a dozen others in the city of Cuernavaca.

Interior Minister for Morelos State Pablo Ojeda said according to the initial witness accounts, the gunmen arrived in different vehicles, with weapons that are for the exclusive use of the armed forces.

The mass shooting is the latest in a country plagued by drug-related gang violence.

Mexico’s murder total reached a record 34,582 last year, more than 1,000 more killings than the previous year.

Reuters reports the number of murders in Mexico was up slightly, 1.6%, the first seven months of this year compared to the same period in 2019.  

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