Arbolillo, Sept 8 (AP/UNB) — A day after authorities in the Mexican state of Veracruz announced the recovery of at least 166 skulls in mass clandestine graves, journalists who arrived at the site Friday discovered it was the same location where officials reported finding 47 bodies in 2017.
Veracruz state prosecutor Jorge Winckler had said Thursday that authorities had been working at the site for 30 days and in that time found 32 burial pits containing 166 skulls. He said the burials were at least two years old, but made no mention that he had announced previous discoveries at the very same site in March 2017.
An Associated Press photographer walked to the site with other journalists thinking they would be stopped at a security perimeter, but instead they found themselves in the middle of active excavations. All around them 40 to 50 people worked at grave sites, setting remains on white sheets and eventually placing them in red plastic bags. Many other still unopened graves were taped off.
The site is on a narrow isthmus between the Gulf of Mexico and the Alvarado Lagoon about an hour southeast of the port city of Veracruz. The nearest community is Arbolillo, a tiny fishing village.
Access required a 20-minute walk through tropical vegetation and mangroves. The graves were spread out under palm trees in a site that was possibly accessed by boat by those burying the victims.
Only days before his 2017 announcement of the discovery of 47 skulls, Winckler said at another mass grave site, "There are pits where we are not working because we don't have space to put the bodies that we might find."
It was not immediately clear if that was why authorities did not return to Arbolillo until last month. The state prosecutor's office did not respond to The Associated Press' request for comment.
Under pressure from collectives of relatives of the state's disappeared, authorities began Friday afternoon to show families the photo albums of clothing, IDs and other items recovered from the site to see if they recognized something belonging to a loved one. Such access had originally been offered for next week.
Mexico's National Human Rights Commission said Friday that the latest Veracruz discovery brought to 696 the number of corpses found in mass graves since the beginning of 2017. The government agency said 163 clandestine burial pits had been found, mainly concentrated in states like Veracruz, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Zacatecas and Jalisco.
The commission said the existence of such burial pits shows the lack of effective law enforcement. The mass graves are often dug by drug and kidnapping gangs to dispose of the bodies of their victims or rivals.
The pace of such discoveries does not appear to have slowed much since the height of Mexico's drug war. The commission said that between 2007 and 2016, 3,230 bodies were found in mass graves.
On Friday, as the journalists were shooed from the grave site authorities began taping off a security perimeter.
Rio De Janeiro, Sep 7 (AP/UNB) — Jair Bolsonaro, a leading presidential candidate whose heated rhetoric has electrified some voters and angered others in a deeply polarized Brazil, was stabbed at a campaign event Thursday and suffered serious abdominal injuries.
Police said the suspected attacker was in custody.
Dr. Luiz Henrique Borsato, who performed emergency surgery, said Thursday night that the right-wing candidate was in serious but stable condition and would remain in intensive care for at least seven days. The first round of Brazil's presidential election is Oct. 7.
The doctor said the two-hour procedure stopped serious internal bleeding and repaired most of the damage from the knifing. The candidate will need further surgery within months for a part of his intestines that was temporarily fixed with a colostomy, the surgeon said.
"We can't say when he will be able to leave hospital," Borsato said. "But in the first hours after the surgery his recovery has been very satisfactory."
Numerous videos on social media showed Bolsonaro, who has promised to crack down on crime in Latin America's largest nation, being stabbed with a knife to the lower part of his stomach while campaigning in Juiz de Fora, a city about 125 miles (200 kilometers) north of Rio de Janeiro.
At the moment of the attack, Bolsonaro was on the shoulders of a supporter, looking out at the crowd and giving a thumbs up with his left hand.
After the attack, he is seen flinching and then goes out of view. Other videos show supporters carrying him to a car and hitting a man who was apparently the suspect.
Police spokesman Flavio Santiago confirmed to The Associated Press that 40-year-old Adelio Bispo de Oliveira had been arrested in connection with the incident.
De Oliveira was beaten badly by Bolsonaro supporters after the attack. The man was arrested in 2013 for another assault, police said.
Luis Boudens, president of the National Federation of Federal Police, told AP that the assailant appeared to be mentally disturbed.
"Our agents there said the attacker said he was 'on a mission from God,'" Boudens reported. "Their impression is that they were not dealing with a mentally stable person. He didn't expect to be arrested so quickly; agents reacted in seconds."
Bolsonaro's son, Flavio Bolsonaro, initially posted on Twitter that the injury was superficial and his father was fine. However, an hour later he posted another tweet saying the wound was "worse than we thought."
He arrived at the hospital "almost dead," Flavio wrote. "His condition now seems stabilized. Please pray."
A statement from federal police said the candidate had bodyguards. In the videos, Bolsonaro does not appear to be wearing a protective vest. Such measures are rare for candidates in Brazil.
"This episode is sad," President Michel Temer told reporters in Brasilia. "We won't have a rule of law if we have intolerance."
Bolsonaro, a former army captain, is second in the polls to jailed ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has been barred from running but continues to appeal.
Despite being a congressman since 1991, Bolsonaro is running as an outsider ready to upend the establishment by cracking down on corruption in politics and reducing crime, in part by giving police a freer hand to shoot and kill while on duty.
While Bolsonaro has a strong following, he is also a deeply polarizing figure. He has been fined, and even faced charges, for derogatory statements toward women, blacks and gays.
He speaks nostalgically about the country's 1964-1985 military dictatorship and has promised to fill his government with current and former military leaders.
Earlier this week, Bolsonaro said during a campaign event that he would like to shoot corrupt members of the leftist Workers' Party, which made da Silva its candidate. The comment prompted an immediate rebuke from the attorney general, who asked Bolsonaro to explain that comment.
His vice presidential running mate, Hamilton Mourao, is a retired general who blamed leftists for the knife attack.
Underling Brazil's divisions, people took to Twitter to either to decry the stabbing and ask for prayers for Bolsonaro or to say the candidate had brought it upon himself and even may have staged it.
The top five trending topics in Brazil were related to the stabbing.
Other presidential candidates quickly denounced the stabbing and many of them decided to suspend their campaign events Friday.
"Politics is done through dialogue and by convincing, never with hate," tweeted Geraldo Alckmin, former governor of Sao Paulo who has focused negative ads on Bolsonaro.
Fernando Haddad, who is expected to take da Silva's place on the Workers' Party ticket, called the attack "absurd and regrettable."
The attack comes at a time of increasingly heated rhetoric, and sometimes violence, related to campaigns and candidates.
In March, while da Silva was on a campaign tour in southern Brazil before his imprisonment, gunshots hit buses in his caravan. No one was hurt, and da Silva, who is in jail on a corruption conviction, was not in the vehicles that were hit.
Also in March, Marielle Franco, a left-leaning black councilwoman in Rio de Janeiro, was shot to death along with her driver after attending an event on empowering black women.
It wasn't immediately clear how the attack on Bolsonaro might reshape a presidential race very much up in the air with the front-runner, da Silva, in jail. In many ways, the incident feeds Bolsonaro's narrative that Brazil is in chaos and needs a strong hand to steady it.
"It's likely that Bolsonaro will use the attack to argue his opponents are desperate, that they had no other way to stop him," said Mauricio Santoro, a political science professor at Rio de Janeiro's state university.
A handful of Bolsonaro supporters held a vigil in São Paulo on Thursday night, and briefly exchanged insults with leftists. 'They made Bolsonaro a martyr,' said Jonatan Valente, a student. 'I think the left shot itself in the foot because with this attack they will end up electing Bolsonaro.'"
Rio De Janeiro, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) — Brazil's National Museum said Wednesday that centuries-old Torah scrolls, considered to be some of Judaism's oldest documents, had been moved before a massive fire ravaged the place and gutted much of the largest collections of national history artifacts in Latin America.
Questions about the fate of the scrolls had swirled since Sunday night's blaze at the museum, which used to be the home of Brazil's royal family. Amid an ongoing investigation and unable to access much of the now destroyed museum, officials have been reluctant to give any account of how specific artifacts fared in the fire or disclose information on other material that may have been in other locations.
"The Torah is being kept in a safe place," according to a museum statement sent to The Associated Press on Wednesday, adding it had been removed nearly two years ago. The statement did not say where it had been transferred.
A spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in the capital Brasilia said it didn't have more information on the Torah, Judaism's holy book.
Brazilian scholars have said the scrolls originated in Yemen and possibly date back to the 13th century.
The museum's website says the nine scrolls, written in Hebrew, were acquired in the early 19th century by the country's last monarch, Dom Pedro II. The website, which had apparently not been updated, also said the scrolls were not part of an exhibit, but rather kept in a safe in the director's office.
Avraham Beuthner, from the Jewish organization Beit Lubavitch in Rio de Janeiro, told the AP that university officials told him the Torah was being housed at a university library near the museum. The museum is part of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Beuthner said he had been fielding calls from Jews in Israel and several Latin American countries since the fire inquiring about the relic.
"Thank God it's safe," he said, adding that university officials had promised to soon allow Jewish community leaders to see where the Torah is being held.
The good news came as museum officials said they feared as much as 90 percent of Latin America's largest collection of treasures might have been lost in the fire. Aerial photos of the main building showed only heaps of rubble and ashes in the parts of the building where the roof collapsed.
Firefighters on Tuesday "found fragments of bones in a room where the museum kept many items, including skulls," said Cristiana Serejo, the museum's deputy director. "We still have to collect them and take them to the lab to know exactly what they are."
In its collection of about 20 million items, one of the most prized possessions is a skull called Luzia, which is among the oldest fossils ever found in the Americas.
With the cause of the fire still under investigation, the disaster has led to a series of recriminations amid accusations that successive governments haven't sufficiently funded the museum, and it has raised concerns that other institutions might be at risk. Officials have said it was well known that the building was vulnerable to fire and in need of extensive repair.
A UNESCO group of specialists in recovery and reconstruction are expected to arrive in Brazil next week, according Maria Edileuza Fontele Reis, the organization's ambassador in Brazil.
The group "has experience working with pieces of national heritage in areas of war, such as in Iraq, and areas impacted by fire," Fontele Reis told the AP in a phone interview.
Washington, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) — Diplomats from more than 30 Western Hemisphere countries are meeting in Washington to discuss Venezuela's migrant crisis, with tens of thousands of desperate people fleeing the economically imploding oil state to nearby nations.
Members of the Organization of American States plan to discuss potential solutions to the migrant crisis Wednesday, including a possible resolution urging Venezuela to end its refusal to accept international aid.
The United Nations estimates more than 1.6 million people have left Venezuela since 2015 as the country is beset by hyperinflation and severe shortages of food, medicine and other goods.
Human rights groups have called on South American countries to suspend the deportation of Venezuelans and also to ratchet up sanctions against Venezuelan officials who are guilty of human rights abuses.
Sao Paulo, Sep 1 (AP/UNB) — A majority of justices on Brazil's electoral court voted late Friday to bar ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from running in October's presidential election, virtually ending any chance that the front-runner will get on the ballot.
The decision, while long expected, leaves tens of millions of voters without a candidate and adds uncertainty to the race to lead Latin America's largest nation.
After several hours of debate late Friday, five justices had voted against da Silva's candidacy and just one in favor. One more was still to vote, though the majority was enough to seal da Silva's fate.
Da Silva was wildly popular as president of Latin America's largest nation between 2003 and 2010. U.S. President Barack Obama once called him the "most popular politician on earth." But da Silva and his Workers' Party have lost much of that appeal over the last several years amid a sprawling corruption probe that has ensnared many top businessmen and politicians, including da Silva.
Da Silva, serving a 12-year-sentence for corruption and money laundering, is the front-runner despite being in jail. Under Brazilian law, da Silva is ineligible to run because his conviction was upheld on an initial appeal. But da Silva and supporters had hoped the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which makes final decisions on candidacies, would allow him to run.
Da Silva has long argued that he should be allowed to run because his conviction was a sham. Judge Sergio Moro convicted da Silva of trading favors with construction company Grupo OAS in exchange for the promise of a beach house apartment.
Supreme Court Justice Luis Roberto Barroso cast the first vote, saying barring da Silva was "very simple" due to the conviction and upheld appeal.
He said the Workers' Party should replace da Silva within 10 days, and he should not appear as a presidential candidate in free airtime that is given to political parties on nationwide TV and radio starting on Saturday
Da Silva's lawyers complained the court was rushing a decision because they submitted their defense only on Thursday, noting that the court rarely holds sessions on Fridays.
With da Silva out, former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad was expected to take his place on the Workers' Party ticket. Currently Haddad is candidate for vice president. Polls show tepid support for his bid as replacement, but the party hopes da Silva's popularity could boost the former mayor's hopes.