Mexico

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It’s been 27 years since an incumbent U.S. president lost re-election, and judging by the health of the economy and other traditional metrics, Donald Trump looks unlikely to break the trend.

In addition to presiding over sustained growth and low unemployment, Trump enjoys a nation at relative peace, a well-funded campaign and the strong backing of the Republican Party. And yet, as he prepares to formally kick off his 2020 re-election bid with a prime-time speech in Florida, he has reason to be circumspect, Shannon Pettypiece and Mike Dorning report.

Most private forecasters expect the economy to slow entering the election year, as U.S. trade disputes threaten global commerce — hurting core voters like farmers — and the fiscal stimulus from Trump’s 2018 tax cut fades.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into election meddling by Russia, alongside other controversies that have dogged Trump’s administration, are also potential liabilities.

Trump trails six of his Democratic rivals in hypothetical head-to-head contests, a poll showed last week. And no president since 1952 has been re-elected with an approval rating below 48%. Trump has not exceeded 46% in Gallup polls since taking office.

Much hinges on the Democrats. The question is whether they can select a challenger able to attract the funding and support in battleground states needed to deny Trump a second term.

Global Headlines

Iran under pressure | The Pentagon plans to send about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East, even as Trump described as “very minor” the recent attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman that the U.S. has blamed on Iran. The Pentagon also released new photos and a timeline it said bolstered the case that Iran was behind the incidents. Tehran denies any involvement.

Click here to read how Trump’s campaign vow to get the U.S. out of costly foreign entanglements is colliding with the messy reality of commitments in the Middle East.

Trade turmoil | The chairwoman of the world’s biggest bicycle maker delivered an ominous message to China that its days as a global manufacturing hub may be numbered. Giant Manufacturing started rolling production of its U.S.-bound orders back home to Taiwan when Trump made his tariff threats last year, Cindy Wang reports. Trump’s top trade envoy, Robert Lighthizer, is due to appear before Congress this week to account for the trade conflict.

Scottish dilemma | Scots didn’t vote for Brexit and neither did they elect the Conservatives. So the likelihood of a Brexiteer such as Boris Johnson winning the race to succeed Theresa May as Tory leader and prime minister is forcing some hard choices north of the border. As Alan Crawford and Rodney Jefferson report, the sense in Edinburgh is that another referendum on Scottish independence is now inevitable.

As the Conservative field narrows further today, Alex Morales profiles Rory Stewart, the lesser-known candidate suddenly making waves.

Fall from grace | The holding company of the Brazilian construction and energy giant at the center of a massive Latin America graft probe has filed for bankruptcy protection. Odebrecht has struggled since the “Carwash” investigation, which started in 2014 and brought the construction industry to a halt as access to government projects was cut and executives jailed. The political fallout is still reverberating from Ecuador to Mexico, Peru and Brazil.

Waiting game | Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi still hasn’t named a cabinet five months after taking office, leaving investors in the mineral-rich nation facing endless delays. After a disputed election, Tshisekedi’s protracted talks with his coalition partner have almost paralyzed a nation ranked by the World Bank as one of the most difficult and corrupt places to do business.

What to Watch

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam today apologized for backing a bill to allow extraditions to China, as she seeks to defuse protests that have rocked the city. She declined to resign or withdraw the bill completely — key demands of protest leaders. Rights groups have urged a transparent probe into the death of Mohamed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood foot soldier who became Egypt’s first freely elected civilian president. He collapsed during a court hearing over an espionage case, with state-run media saying he suffered a “sudden heart attack.” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s candidate to head the European Commission — Manfred Weber, a German lawmaker in the European parliament — is struggling for momentum, which means she may need to instead focus on getting her preferred person into the European Central Bank’s top job. U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo meets today with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Washington. Mogherini said yesterday the EU will not support Jared Kushner’s Middle East peace plan without a two-state solution included.

And finally…You used to catch only rare glimpses of them in public — a waiter willing to risk jail time might accept them for the right price, street hawkers making offers for them under their breath. Today, U.S. greenbacks are widely used in Venezuela’s supermarkets and bodegas. As Andrew Rosati reports, with the bolivar devalued into irrelevance by Nicolas Maduro’s regime, the cash printed by the gringos he rails against is king. 

 

–With assistance from Karl Maier and Jon Herskovitz.

To contact the author of this story: Kathleen Hunter in London at khunter9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net, Alan Crawford

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(Adds Guatemala, background)

WASHINGTON, June 17 (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday that U.S. authorities would begin next week removing millions of immigrants who are in the United States illegally.

“Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States,” Trump tweeted, referring to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. “They will be removed as fast as they come in,” he said. He did not offer specifics.

There are an estimated 12 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally, mainly from Mexico and Central America.

Under a deal reached earlier this month, Mexico has agreed to take Central American immigrants seeking asylum in the United States until their cases are heard in U.S. courts.

The agreement, which included Mexico pledging to deploy National Guard troops to stop Central American immigrants from reaching the U.S. border, averted a Trump threat to hit Mexican imports with tariffs.

Trump also said in the tweet that Guatemala “is getting ready to sign a Safe-Third Agreement.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence suggested last week that Guatemala could receive asylum seekers from its neighbors as a so-called safe third country.

Details of the plan have not been made public, and Guatemala has not publicly confirmed talks that the U.S. State Department said were taking place in Guatemala on Friday.

U.S. rights group Human Rights First said, however, it was “simply ludicrous” for the United States to assert that Guatemala was capable of protecting refugees, when its own citizens are fleeing violence.

Mexico has agreed that if its measures to stem the flow of migrants are unsuccessful, it will discuss signing a safe third country agreement with the United States.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Peter Cooney)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is threatening to remove millions of people living in the country illegally on the eve of formally announcing his re-election bid.

In a pair of tweets Monday night, Trump said that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would next week “begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.”

“They will be removed as fast as they come in,” he wrote.

An administration official said the effort would focus on the more than 1 million people who have been issued final deportation orders by federal judges but remain at large in the country. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to explain the president’s tweets.

It is unusual for law enforcement agencies to announce raids before they take place. Some in Trump’s administration believe that decisive shows of force — like mass arrests — can serve as effective deterrents, sending a message to those considering making the journey to the U.S. that it’s not worth coming.

Trump has threatened a series of increasingly drastic actions as he has tried to stem the flow of Central American migrants crossing the southern border, which has risen dramatically on his watch. He recently dropped a threat to slap tariffs on Mexico after the country agreed to dispatch its national guard and step-up coordination and enforcement efforts.

A senior Mexican official said Monday that, three weeks ago, about 4,200 migrants were arriving at the U.S. border daily. Now that number has dropped to about 2,600.

Immigration was a central theme of Trump’s 2016 campaign and he is expected to hammer it as he tries to fire up his base heading into the 2020 campaign.

Trump will formally launch his re-election bid Tuesday night at a rally in Orlando, Florida — a state that is crucial to his path back to the White House.

Establishing free and fair trade agreements between the United States and other nations has been a challenging task for President Trump. But in recent weeks, the Trump administration took a critical step forward when it brokered agreements with Mexico and Canada to lift steel tariffs and avoid costly quotas. The deal is a major step forward in the move to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that the President and his team negotiated.

With a narrow window of opportunity, the tariffs, or quotas, on steel were a serious roadblock to finalizing this important trade deal. The tariffs were strongly opposed by many free-trade supporters in Congress and created a standoff with our trading partners. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer referenced this impasse and told lawmakers, “If the USMCA doesn’t pass, it would be a catastrophe across the country.”

One year ago, the Trump administration decided to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum on a number of trading partners, including the European Union, Canada, and Mexico. The international response was unanimous; many in the trade community regarded the tariffs as an unprecedented strike against good faith efforts to reduce trade deficits among historically strong allies. The White House should be commended for trying to recover lost manufacturing jobs and protect national security interests, but extensive tariffs and quotas have proven to be a bridge too far and have resulted in a bitter standoff. They have resulted in retaliatory actions by our trading partners and have raised prices for numerous U.S. industries which use imported steel.

The protectionist route of tariffs and the application of strategic trade, not free trade, matches Trump’s populist “America First” message. There is certainly justification for addressing various concerns about our trading allies and modernizing certain trade deals (such as NAFTA) to look out for America’s interest. However, there is growing recognition that widespread tariffs, especially on steel and aluminum, is causing harm and undermining President Trump’s thriving economy.

American economic interests have been damaged by the past year’s tariff war. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that U.S. businesses and consumers saw an increase in the price of goods to the tune of at least $6.9 billion. A recent study from Trade Partnership Worldwide shows that while steel workers have experienced increased levels of employment, a far greater number of workers in steel-consuming sectors have lost jobs. An estimated 126,900 workers gained jobs because of the tariffs, but an astounding 1,061,400 people lost employment.

It’s also impossible to ignore the effect of tariffs on a variety of industries. The oil and gas industry uses specialty pipeline-grade steel in nearly every aspect of the energy production process. Drilling rigs, pipelines, production facilities, refineries, and petrochemical plants all need highly specialized imported steel. Tariffs ultimately mean higher production expenses which ultimately translates into higher energy costs for consumers. Construction, automobile, machinery, and many other steel-consuming industries also rely on competitively priced sources of steel.

While tariffs increase the cost of production, replacing them with a hard quota, as some in the administration had floated as a compromise, would have made it impossible to obtain at any price some of the specialty steels required for U.S. energy projects. As Kyle Isakower of the American Petroleum Institute pointed out, “to replace tariffs with quotas is to exchange the frying pan for the fire.”

Beyond the economic damage was the political damage of the tariffs. A failure to resolve the steel tariff issue was putting the USMCA deal in serious danger. Opting to save the USMCA, the Trump administration eliminated these barriers, giving the regional partners hope of ratifying what would be the largest trade deal in U.S. history. The White House deserves credit for working to recover lost manufacturing jobs and protect national security interests.

The USMCA is a modern, rebalanced trade agreement with our strongest regional partners, and removing these trade barriers will ultimately advance the interests of American workers and businesses. It’s a good deal for all countries, and for Trump it would represent one of his most significant economic achievements to date.

Gerard Scimeca is vice president of Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, a free-market consumer advocacy organization.

President Trump said Monday on Twitter that Immigration and Customs Enforcement will begin deporting “millions” of illegal migrants next week.

“Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in. Mexico, using their strong immigration laws, is doing a very good job of stopping people…” the president tweeted.

“…long before they get to our Southern Border. Guatemala is getting ready to sign a Safe-Third Agreement. The only ones who won’t do anything are the Democrats in Congress. They must vote to get rid of the loopholes, and fix asylum! If so, Border Crisis will end quickly!” he added.

The president did not offer specifics on what his claim entails.

The news comes the same day as the State Department announced it would be cutting foreign aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras for failing to take proper steps to curb illegal migrants coming to the United States.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees arrive at FCI Victorville federal prison in Victorville
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees arrive at FCI Victorville federal prison in Victorville, California, U.S. June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon

June 18, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday that U.S. authorities would begin next week removing millions of immigrants who are in the United States illegally.

“Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States,” Trump tweeted, referring to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. “They will be removed as fast as they come in,” he said. He did not offer specifics.

There are an estimated 12 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally, mainly from Mexico and Central America.

Under a deal reached earlier this month, Mexico has agreed to take Central American immigrants seeking asylum in the United States until their cases are heard in U.S. courts.

The agreement, which included Mexico pledging to deploy National Guard troops to stop Central American immigrants from reaching the U.S. border, averted a Trump threat to hit Mexican imports with tariffs.

Trump also said in the tweet that Guatemala “is getting ready to sign a Safe-Third Agreement.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence suggested last week that Guatemala could receive asylum seekers from its neighbors as a so-called safe third country.

Details of the plan have not been made public, and Guatemala has not publicly confirmed talks that the U.S. State Department said were taking place in Guatemala on Friday.

U.S. rights group Human Rights First said, however, it was “simply ludicrous” for the United States to assert that Guatemala was capable of protecting refugees, when its own citizens are fleeing violence.

Mexico has agreed that if its measures to stem the flow of migrants are unsuccessful, it will discuss signing a safe third country agreement with the United States.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Peter Cooney)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: The corporate logo of Odebrecht is seen inside of one of its offices in Mexico City, Mexico
FILE PHOTO: The corporate logo of Odebrecht is seen inside of one of its offices in Mexico City, Mexico May 4, 2017. Picture taken on May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso/File Photo

June 17, 2019

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht SA filed on Monday for bankruptcy protection, aiming to restructure 51 billion reais ($13 billion) of debt in what would be one of Latin America’s largest-ever in-court debt restructurings.

The bankruptcy filing comes after years of struggles for Odebrecht, the biggest of the Brazilian engineering groups caught in a sweeping political corruption investigation that has rippled across Latin America.

In the filing, the company asks the judge to bar the group’s seven largest creditors – six banks and an investment fund – from taking possession or selling shares in the group’s crown jewel, its controlling stake in petrochemical company Braskem SA.

Shares in Braskem are pledged as collateral to the creditors. But Odebrecht says the Braskem stake is essential to its restructuring, as the petrochemical company was responsible for nearly 80% of the conglomerate’s revenues in 2018.

Odebrecht said the bankruptcy protection was the best way to conclude its debt restructuring as creditors have sought to seize assets pledged as collateral for unpaid loans.

The debt restructuring relates to the parent company Odebrecht SA and a network of holding companies.

The group’s main operating businesses are excluded, including Braskem, construction unit OEC, oil company Ocyan, shipbuilder Enseada, Odebrecht Transport and homebuilder Incorporadora OR. Sugar and ethanol subsidiary Atvos Agroindustrial Participacoes SA, which already filed for a separate bankruptcy protection, is also excluded.

Odebrecht said its total debt reaches 98.5 billion reais, including intercompany loans and debt that is not subjected to in-court restructuring.

FALL FROM GRACE

Odebrecht expanded from its construction roots into one of Brazil’s biggest conglomerates but began its fall from grace in 2014, when it became a principal target of the country’s largest-ever corruption probe.

Former chief executive Marcelo Odebrecht, grandson of the founder, was arrested in 2015 and later sentenced to 19 years in jail for corruption. He has been under house arrest since 2017, barred from having any say in the company’s running.

In 2016, Odebrecht agreed to the world’s largest-ever corruption leniency fine with prosecutors in Brazil, the United States, and Switzerland, paying at least $3.5 billion. The scandal over bribes for public works contracts spread to other countries where Odebrecht did business, including Peru, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia.

Since then, the group has been selling assets to raise cash as borrowing costs climbed. It sold Brazilian sanitation company Odebrecht Ambiental to Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management for $800 million and Peruvian hydroelectric plant Chaglla to China Three Gorges Corporation for $1.4 billion.

Still, some of the group’s businesses have been forced to restructure debts as their revenues dwindled.

Odebrecht’s construction unit OEC is in talks to restructure $3 billion of debt with bondholders. The company proposed a 70% haircut, which was rejected by its creditors.

After a failed attempt to negotiate an out-of-court solution with its creditors, ethanol unit Atvos filed for bankruptcy protection in May.

Odebrecht had been negotiating a sale of Braskem to LyondellBasell Industries NV for a year and a half, but talks ended with no deal earlier this month.

The conglomerate’s largest creditors are Brazilian state-owned lenders Banco do Brasil SA, Caixa Economica Federal and BNDES, as well as private-sector lenders Banco Bradesco SA, Itaú Unibanco Holding SA, Banco Santander Brasil SA and an investment fund, totaling 33 billion reais in debt.

The group is being advised by financial restructuring firm RK Partners and law firm E. Munhoz Advogados.

(Reporting by Aluisio Alves, Carolina Mandl and Tatiana Bautzer; Editing by Brad Haynes and Rosalba O’Brien)

Source: OANN

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Mexican officials detained nearly 800 undocumented migrants in eastern Mexico in four trucks on Saturday, the government said, in one of the biggest swoops against illegal immigration in recent months.

Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) said in a statement late on Saturday that 791 foreign nationals were found in the trucks stopped in the eastern state of Veracruz, confirming earlier reports about a mass detention.

The apprehension came as Mexico steps up efforts to reduce a surge of migrants toward the U.S. border under pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump, who has vowed to hit Mexican goods with tariffs if Mexico does not stem illegal immigration.

Mexico made a deal on June 7 with the United States to avert the tariffs, setting the clock ticking on a 45-day period for the Mexican government to make palpable progress in reducing the numbers of people trying to cross the U.S. border illegally.

Read More

Source: The Washington Pundit

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — The lights were back on Monday across Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay after a huge blackout that affected tens of millions people, but authorities remained in the dark about the cause of the grid collapse and continued to calculate the economic damage.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri promised a thorough investigation into what he called an “unprecedented” outage, one that raised questions about flaws in South America’s power grid, which connects many of the region’s largest countries.

Energy officials said the results of the investigation would be available in 10 to 15 days, and they could not immediately provide details on the economic impact of the outage, which happened on a Sunday, a day before a national holiday in Argentina.

“From zero to 10, there is zero chance that this will repeat itself. It can’t repeat itself,” Argentine Energy Secretary Gustavo Lopetegui said Monday.

The blackout originated at an electricity transmission point between the power stations at Argentina’s Yacyretá dam and Salto Grande in the country’s northeast “when the system was getting too much power” Lopetegui said. Although these types of failures have happened in other countries as well, he said a chain of events took place that caused a total disruption.

A massive blackout left tens of millions of people without electricity in Argentina and Uruguay on Sunday after an unexplained failure in the neighboring countries' interconnected power grid. (June 16)

“This is an extraordinary event that should have never happened,” he said. “It’s very serious. We can’t leave the whole country all of a sudden without electricity.” He did not discount the possibility of a cyberattack but said it was unlikely.

The collapse began at about 7 a.m. Sunday, with Argentina’s population of 44 million and residents of neighboring Uruguay and some parts of Paraguay waking up to Father’s Day in the dark.

Public transportation halted in Buenos Aires, while phone and internet communications were disrupted, water supplies were cut off and shops were forced to close. Patients dependent on home medical equipment were urged to go to hospitals with generators.

Power was restored by Sunday night. But the outage ignited questions about the vulnerability of Argentina’s power system at a time when the country is going through a deep economic crisis with soaring inflation, a tumbling of the currency and a spike in utility bills fueled by Macri’s decision to cut subsidies as part of his austerity measures.

The conservative leader has seen his popularity ratings plunge during the crisis. Argentines have demonstrated against the rise in utility bills, and the blackout could trigger more such protests against Macri’s government just as he seeks re-election in October.

“The country is already in a weird moment and then you wake up and can’t see anything,” said Julieta Dodda, 27, a saleswoman at a clothing store in downtown Buenos Aires. “Many people were going to meet for lunch to celebrate the day. I saw many online who joked: ‘Happy Father’s Day from Edesur and Edenor, which are our electricity companies.’”

Energy officials defended the Argentine power system as “robust.” But the grid had been known for being in a state of disrepair, with substations and cables that were insufficiently upgraded as power rates remained largely frozen for years.

Outages were once more common, especially during Argentina warm summer months, but had been reduced after Macri came to power in 2015 promising to reinvest in the grid and end what he called the failed energy policy of his predecessors.

After Sunday’s embarrassing outage, his rivals jumped at the chance to criticize the conservative leader.

“Millions of people who have had to pay astronomical rates for electricity to benefit those in power are still waiting for the energy to return to their homes,” Alberto Fernandez, a center-left presidential candidate who is seen as Macri’s top rival, said on Twitter. “Just days ago, they were boasting about ‘exporting energy.’” He added a recent tweet from Macri in which the president said: “From darkness to exporting energy.”

An Argentine independent energy expert said that systemic operational and design errors played a role in the grid’s collapse.

“A localized failure like the one that occurred should be isolated by the same system,” said Raúl Bertero, president of the Center for the Study of Energy Regulatory Activity in Argentina. “The problem is known, and technology and studies (exist) to avoid it.”

Although Brazil was spared this time, a similar outage in the region’s largest country left more than 60 million in the dark in 2009, just as authorities scrambled to boost confidence in its infrastructure before soccer’s 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Three months ago, crisis-torn Venezuela suffered its worst power outage, with the lack of electricity endangering hospital patients.

Other parts of the world have also been hit by major outages. Bertero said that about 50 million people were affected by a blackout in the U.S. and some provinces in Canada in 2003, and about as many were hit by another in Italy that same year.

Argentina has had a history of blackouts, but none like Sunday’s failure. Only the southern archipelago of Tierra del Fuego was unaffected because it is not connected to the main grid.

Uruguay’s energy company UTE said all of Uruguay lost power for hours, and it blamed a “flaw in the Argentine network.”

In Paraguay, power in rural communities in the south, near the border with Argentina and Uruguay, was also cut. Authorities said service was restored by afternoon by redirecting energy from the Itaipu hydroelectric plant the country shares with neighboring Brazil.

Many residents of Argentina and Uruguay took to social media to post pictures of their cities in the dark. Others blamed the electricity companies or the government or simply lamented that their plans had been disrupted.

Several Argentine provinces had elections for governor on Sunday, which proceeded with voters using their phone screens and built-in flashlights to illuminate their ballots.

“I don’t remember anything like this in Uruguay,” said Valentina Giménez, a resident of the capital, Montevideo. “What is really striking about this is that no one understands well what really happened.”

___

Associated Press writers Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires, Patricia Luna in Santiago, Chile, and Natalie Schachar in Mexico City contributed to this report.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — The lights were back on Monday across Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay after a huge blackout that affected tens of millions people, but authorities remained in the dark about the cause of the grid collapse and continued to calculate the economic damage.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri promised a thorough investigation into what he called an “unprecedented” outage, one that raised questions about flaws in South America’s power grid, which connects many of the region’s largest countries.

Energy officials said the results of the investigation would be available in 10 to 15 days, and they could not immediately provide details on the economic impact of the outage, which happened on a Sunday, a day before a national holiday in Argentina.

“From zero to 10, there is zero chance that this will repeat itself. It can’t repeat itself,” Argentine Energy Secretary Gustavo Lopetegui said Monday.

The blackout originated at an electricity transmission point between the power stations at Argentina’s Yacyretá dam and Salto Grande in the country’s northeast “when the system was getting too much power” Lopetegui said. Although these types of failures have happened in other countries as well, he said a chain of events took place that caused a total disruption.

A massive blackout left tens of millions of people without electricity in Argentina and Uruguay on Sunday after an unexplained failure in the neighboring countries' interconnected power grid. (June 16)

“This is an extraordinary event that should have never happened,” he said. “It’s very serious. We can’t leave the whole country all of a sudden without electricity.” He did not discount the possibility of a cyberattack but said it was unlikely.

The collapse began at about 7 a.m. Sunday, with Argentina’s population of 44 million and residents of neighboring Uruguay and some parts of Paraguay waking up to Father’s Day in the dark.

Public transportation halted in Buenos Aires, while phone and internet communications were disrupted, water supplies were cut off and shops were forced to close. Patients dependent on home medical equipment were urged to go to hospitals with generators.

Power was restored by Sunday night. But the outage ignited questions about the vulnerability of Argentina’s power system at a time when the country is going through a deep economic crisis with soaring inflation, a tumbling of the currency and a spike in utility bills fueled by Macri’s decision to cut subsidies as part of his austerity measures.

The conservative leader has seen his popularity ratings plunge during the crisis. Argentines have demonstrated against the rise in utility bills, and the blackout could trigger more such protests against Macri’s government just as he seeks re-election in October.

“The country is already in a weird moment and then you wake up and can’t see anything,” said Julieta Dodda, 27, a saleswoman at a clothing store in downtown Buenos Aires. “Many people were going to meet for lunch to celebrate the day. I saw many online who joked: ‘Happy Father’s Day from Edesur and Edenor, which are our electricity companies.’”

Energy officials defended the Argentine power system as “robust.” But the grid had been known for being in a state of disrepair, with substations and cables that were insufficiently upgraded as power rates remained largely frozen for years.

Outages were once more common, especially during Argentina warm summer months, but had been reduced after Macri came to power in 2015 promising to reinvest in the grid and end what he called the failed energy policy of his predecessors.

After Sunday’s embarrassing outage, his rivals jumped at the chance to criticize the conservative leader.

“Millions of people who have had to pay astronomical rates for electricity to benefit those in power are still waiting for the energy to return to their homes,” Alberto Fernandez, a center-left presidential candidate who is seen as Macri’s top rival, said on Twitter. “Just days ago, they were boasting about ‘exporting energy.’” He added a recent tweet from Macri in which the president said: “From darkness to exporting energy.”

An Argentine independent energy expert said that systemic operational and design errors played a role in the grid’s collapse.

“A localized failure like the one that occurred should be isolated by the same system,” said Raúl Bertero, president of the Center for the Study of Energy Regulatory Activity in Argentina. “The problem is known, and technology and studies (exist) to avoid it.”

Although Brazil was spared this time, a similar outage in the region’s largest country left more than 60 million in the dark in 2009, just as authorities scrambled to boost confidence in its infrastructure before soccer’s 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Three months ago, crisis-torn Venezuela suffered its worst power outage, with the lack of electricity endangering hospital patients.

Other parts of the world have also been hit by major outages. Bertero said that about 50 million people were affected by a blackout in the U.S. and some provinces in Canada in 2003, and about as many were hit by another in Italy that same year.

Argentina has had a history of blackouts, but none like Sunday’s failure. Only the southern archipelago of Tierra del Fuego was unaffected because it is not connected to the main grid.

Uruguay’s energy company UTE said all of Uruguay lost power for hours, and it blamed a “flaw in the Argentine network.”

In Paraguay, power in rural communities in the south, near the border with Argentina and Uruguay, was also cut. Authorities said service was restored by afternoon by redirecting energy from the Itaipu hydroelectric plant the country shares with neighboring Brazil.

Many residents of Argentina and Uruguay took to social media to post pictures of their cities in the dark. Others blamed the electricity companies or the government or simply lamented that their plans had been disrupted.

Several Argentine provinces had elections for governor on Sunday, which proceeded with voters using their phone screens and built-in flashlights to illuminate their ballots.

“I don’t remember anything like this in Uruguay,” said Valentina Giménez, a resident of the capital, Montevideo. “What is really striking about this is that no one understands well what really happened.”

___

Associated Press writers Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires, Patricia Luna in Santiago, Chile, and Natalie Schachar in Mexico City contributed to this report.


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