BUENOS AIRES — During a recent visit to Argentina by the prime minister of Spain, President Alberto Fernández tried to connect with his guest by paying homage to Argentina’s European immigrant heritage.
Instead, with a statement that was widely seen as xenophobic and offensive, Mr. Fernández managed to cause offense at home and across Latin America — including in the region’s most powerful nations.
“Mexicans emerged from Indigenous people, Brazilians emerged from the jungle but we Argentines arrived on boats. On boats from Europe,” Mr. Fernández said on Wednesday, during a televised appearance next to Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, who was visiting Buenos Aires.
The video of the statement, which Mr. Fernández said was a quote of the Mexican Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz, went viral on social media, generating widespread news coverage as well as a deluge of criticism and astonishment from politicians and ordinary citizens in neighboring Brazil and in Mexico.
“He forgets the millions of people who were abducted from Africa over the course of three years, precisely by the Europeans that Fernández is so proud to be a descendant of,” Jeff Nascimento, a human-rights activist and lawyer in São Paulo, Brazil, wrote on Twitter.
Eduardo Bolsonaro, a member of Congress and a son of President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, called the statement racist and mocked the state of the Argentine economy, which has been in a recession for years.
“Argentina is a sinking ship,” he wrote.
The president, Mr. Bolsonaro, also responded with mockery by tweeting the word “JUNGLE!” and the Brazilian flag along with a photo of himself and a group of Indigenous people.
Argentines have long had a reputation in Latin America for regarding themselves as distinct from others in the region, in part because of the large percentage of the country’s population that traces its ancestry to European settlers, mainly from Spain and Italy. Its neighbor, Brazil, is a majority Black and Indigenous country.
Now a generation of young researchers in Argentina, including Black scholars, are questioning their country’s national narrative, and saying it is both racist and erases the presence of Argentines of Indigenous and Black roots.
The Mexican actor Gael García Bernal said Mr. Fernández’s remark “perpetuates the noxious narrative of extractivist colonialism,” and lamented that it reflected a view that “unfortunately is very common.”
Mr. Fernández, a leftist leader who was elected in 2019 and has drawn criticism over gaffes in the past, attributed the quote to Mr. Paz.
The actual quote from Mr. Paz is: “Mexicans descended from the Aztecs, Peruvians from the Incas and Argentines from boats.”
Mr. Fernández appears to have confused the Paz quote with the lyrics of a song made popular in the 1980s by the rock singer Litto Nebbia, whom Mr. Fernández admires and has described as a “friend.” The president’s quote was taken almost verbatim from the song.
The remark overshadowed the agenda of the meeting between heads of state, which focused on trade negotiations and vaccine diplomacy.
After the criticism, Mr. Fernández wrote on Twitter:
“I didn’t set out to offend, but in any case, if anyone felt offended or made invisible, I offer an apology.”
But he added, “It’s been said more than once that “‘Argentines descended from boats.’” Mr. Fernández continued: “In the first half of the 20th Century, we received more than five million immigrants that lived among our native people. Our diversity is a source of pride.”
Daniel Politi reported from Buenos Aires. Ernesto Londoño reported from Rio de Janeiro.
Indigenous People Advance a Dramatic Goal: Reversing Colonialism
When an Indigenous community in Canada announced recently that it had discovered a mass burial site with the remains of 215 children, the location rang with significance.
Not just because it was on the grounds of a now-shuttered Indian Residential School, whose forcible assimilation of Indigenous children a 2015 truth and reconciliation report called “a key component of a Canadian government policy of cultural genocide.”
That school is in Kamloops, a city in British Columbia from which, 52 years ago, Indigenous leaders started a global campaign to reverse centuries of colonial eradication and reclaim their status as sovereign nations.
Their effort, waged predominantly in courts and international institutions, has accumulated steady gains ever since, coming further than many realize.
It has brought together groups from the Arctic to Australia. Those from British Columbia, in Canada’s mountainous west, have been at the forefront throughout.
Only two years ago, the provincial government there became the world’s first to adopt into law United Nations guidelines for heightened Indigenous sovereignty. On Wednesday, Canada’s Parliament passed a law, now awaiting a final rubber stamp, to extend those measures nationwide.
It was a stunning victory, decades in the making, that activists are working to repeat in New Zealand — and, perhaps one day, in more recalcitrant Australia, Latin America and even the United States.
“There’s been a lot of movement in the field. It’s happening with different layers of courts, with different legislatures,” said John Borrows, a prominent Canadian legal scholar and a member of the Chippewa of the Nawash Unceded First Nation.
The decades-long push for sovereignty has come with a rise in activism, legal campaigning and historical reckonings like the discovery at Kamloops. All serve the movement’s ultimate aim, which is nothing less than overturning colonial conquests that the world has long accepted as foregone.
No one is sure precisely what that will look like or how long it might take. But advances once considered impossible “are happening now,” Dr. Borrows said, “and in an accelerating way.”
A Generational Campaign
The Indigenous leaders who gathered in 1969 had been galvanized by an array of global changes.
The harshest assimilation policies were rolled back in most countries, but their effects remained visible in everyday life. Extractive and infrastructure megaprojects were provoking whole communities in opposition. The civil rights era was energizing a generation.
But two of the greatest motivators were gestures of ostensible reconciliation.
In 1960, world governments near-unanimously backed a United Nations declaration calling to roll back colonialism. European nations began withdrawing overseas, often under pressure from the Cold War powers.
But the declaration excluded the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, where colonization was seen as too deep-rooted to reverse. It was taken as effectively announcing that there would be no place in the modern world for Indigenous peoples.
Then, at the end of the decade, Canada’s progressive government issued a fateful “white paper” announcing that it would dissolve colonial-era policies, including reserves, and integrate Indigenous peoples as equal citizens. It was offered as emancipation.
Other countries were pursuing similar measures, with the United States’ inauspiciously named “termination policy.”
To the government’s shock, Indigenous groups angrily rejected the proposal. Like the United Nations declaration, it implied that colonial-era conquests were to be accepted as forgone.
Indigenous leaders gathered in Kamloops to organize a response. British Columbia was a logical choice. Colonial governments had never signed treaties with its original inhabitants, unlike in other parts of Canada, giving special weight to their claim to live under illegal foreign occupation.
“It’s really Quebec and British Columbia that have been the two epicenters, going back to the ’70s,” said Jérémie Gilbert, a human rights lawyer who works with Indigenous groups. Traditions of civil resistance run deep in both.
The Kamloops group began what became a campaign to impress upon the world that they were sovereign peoples with the rights of any nation, often by working through the law.
They linked up with others around the world, holding the first meeting of The World Council of Indigenous Peoples on Vancouver Island. Its first leader, George Manuel, had passed through the Kamloops residential school as a child.
The council’s charter implicitly treated countries like Canada and Australia as foreign powers. It began lobbying the United Nations to recognize Indigenous rights.
It was nearly a decade before the United Nations so much as established a working group. Court systems were little faster. But the group’s ambitions were sweeping.
Legal principles like terra nullius — “nobody’s land” — had long served to justify colonialism. The activists sought to overturn these while, in parallel, establishing a body of Indigenous law.
“The courts are very important because it’s part of trying to develop our jurisprudence,” Dr. Borrows said.
The movement secured a series of court victories that, over decades, stitched together a legal claim to the land, not just as its owners but as sovereign nations. One, in Canada, established that the government had an obligation to settle Indigenous claims to territory. In Australia, the high court backed a man who argued that his family’s centuries-long use of their land superseded the government’s colonial-era conquest.
Activists focused especially on Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which each draw on a legal system inherited from Britain. Laws and rulings in one can become precedent in the others, making them easier to present to the broader world as a global norm.
Irene Watson, an Australian scholar of international Indigenous law and First Nations member, described this effort, in a 2016 book, as “the development of international standards” that would pressure governments to address “the intergenerational impact of colonialism, which is a phenomenon that has never ended.”
It might even establish a legal claim to nationhood. But it is the international arena that ultimately confers acceptance on any sovereign state.
Steps Toward Sovereignty
By the mid-1990s, the campaign was building momentum.
The United Nations began drafting a declaration of Indigenous rights. Several countries formally apologized, often alongside promises to settle old claims.
This period of truth and reconciliation was meant to address the past and, by educating the broader public, create support for further advances.
A sweeping 1996 report, chronicling many of Canada’s darkest moments, was followed by a second investigation, focused on residential schools. Completed 19 years after the first, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission spurred yet more federal policy recommendations and activism, including last month’s discovery at Kamloops.
Judicial advances have followed a similar process: yearslong efforts that bring incremental gains. But these add up. Governments face growing legal obligations to defer to Indigenous autonomy.
The United States has lagged. Major court rulings have been fewer. The government apologized only in 2010 for “past ill-conceived policies” against Indigenous people and did not acknowledge direct responsibility. Public pressure for reconciliation has been lighter.
Latin America has often lagged as well, despite growing activism. Militaries in several countries have targeted Indigenous communities in living memory, leaving governments reluctant to self-incriminate.
In 2007, after 40 years of maneuvering, the United Nations adopted the declaration on Indigenous rights. Only the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada opposed, saying it elevated some Indigenous claims above those of other citizens. All four later reversed their positions.
“The Declaration’s right to self-determination is not a unilateral right to secede,” Dr. Claire Charters, a New Zealand Māori legal expert, wrote in a legal journal. However, its recognition of “Indigenous peoples’ collective land rights” could be “persuasive” in court systems, which often treat such documents as proof of an international legal principle.
Few have sought formal independence. But an Australian group’s 2013 declaration, brought to the United Nations and the International Court of Justice, inspired several others to follow. All failed. But, by demonstrating widening legal precedent and grass roots support, they highlighted that full nationhood is not as unthinkable as it once was.
It may not have seemed like a step in that direction when, in 2019, British Columbia enshrined the U.N. declaration’s terms into provincial law.
But Dr. Borrows called its provisions “quite significant,” including one requiring that the government win affirmative consent from Indigenous communities for policies that affect them. Conservatives and legal scholars have argued it would amount to an Indigenous veto, though Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, and his liberal government dispute this.
Mr. Trudeau promised to pass a similar law nationally in 2015, but faced objections from energy and resource industries that it would allow Indigenous communities to block projects. He continued trying, and Wednesday’s passage in Parliament all but ensures that Canada will fully adopt the U.N. terms.
Mr. Gilbert said that activists’ current focus is “getting this into the national systems.” Though hardly Indigenous independence, it would bring them closer than any step in generations.
As the past 50 years show, this could help pressure others to follow (New Zealand is considered a prime candidate), paving the way for the next round of gradual but quietly historical advances.
It is why, Mr. Gilbert said, “All the eyes are on Canada.”
U.S. Ends Trump Policy Limiting Asylum for Gang and Domestic Violence Survivors
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick B. Garland reversed on Wednesday Trump-era immigration rulings that had made it all but impossible for people to seek asylum in the United States over credible fears of domestic abuse or gang violence, marking one of the Justice Department’s most significant breaks with the previous administration.
His decisions came in closely watched cases where his predecessors, the former attorneys general Jeff Sessions and William P. Barr, broke with precedent to overturn decisions by immigration appeals judges that would have allowed such asylum claims.
The decisions — applicable to all cases in the system, including appeals — will affect tens of thousands of migrants. Hundreds of thousands of Central Americans fleeing gang extortion and recruitment and women fleeing domestic abuse have arrived in the United States since 2013, and many cases are still being adjudicated, given an enormous backlog in immigration courts.
In vacating the Trump administration’s stance, Mr. Garland said the Justice Department should follow the earlier precedent.
“These decisions involve important questions about the meaning of our nation’s asylum laws, which reflect America’s commitment to providing refuge to some of the world’s most vulnerable people,” the associate attorney general, Vanita Gupta, wrote in a memo to the Justice Department’s Civil Division.
Ms. Gupta asked the Civil Division’s immigration arm to review pending cases that could be affected by Mr. Garland’s reversal.
The move is the administration’s latest reversal of a Trump-era policy. It has also defended the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, a position that officials had abandoned during the previous administration. The Biden Justice Department also sided with unions in a case that could affect restrictions on organizing workers.
Proponents of asylum seekers cheered Mr. Garland’s reversal on Wednesday.
“We’re really heartened by this decision,” said Karen Musalo, a lawyer representing one of the asylum seekers and a professor at the University of California, Hastings, College of Law. “It restores the possibility of protection to those whose very lives are in the balance.”
Previous administrations had agreed that people fleeing domestic abuse and gang violence could be considered people who have been persecuted on account of their membership in a “particular social group,” a definition that allows them to seek asylum in the United States.
But attorneys general can overturn decisions made by immigration judges because their courts are housed under the Justice Department, not the judicial branch.
In the case of A-B, named for the initials of the woman seeking asylum, the department’s Board of Immigration Appeals found in 2016 that she was part of a particular social group, saying that the government of El Salvador does little to protect people in violent relationships. That assessment qualified the woman for asylum, but Mr. Sessions overruled it in 2018.
Mr. Sessions declared that asylum claims had incorrectly expanded to include victims of “private violence,” like domestic violence or gangs. Mr. Garland vacated that decision.
In a case called L-E-A, the initials of another asylum applicant, the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that an immediate family member could be considered part of a particular social group in a case where a Mexican man was targeted by a drug cartel after his father refused to let the gang sell drugs from his store.
Mr. Barr reversed that board ruling in 2019. Mr. Garland vacated it.
Among those who stand to benefit from Mr. Garland’s actions is Leticia, a 40-year-old Guatemalan who has a pending asylum case in San Francisco.
“I feel like God is giving me another chance to live with this decision,” said the immigrant, who asked to be identified by only her first name to protect relatives in her home country.
Leticia said she endured years of abuse at the hands of her former husband. Then, after she witnessed the murder of two men in a tortilla shop, gang members who controlled the area began stalking and threatening to kill her.
Two men on a motorcycle had shown up and gunned down two men inside the shop. Later, the assailants tracked down Leticia, who worked at a bakery, she said. “They threatened to finish with me,” she said.
The relentless threats prompted her to journey over land to seek safety in the United States with her 6-year-old son in 2019.
The Trump administration’s decisions to narrow opportunities for asylum were widely regarded as attempts to curb immigration at the southwestern border by eliminating protections guaranteed by U.S. and international law.
Relatively few asylum seekers receive permanent residency in the United States. But they often live freely in the United States as their cases wend their way through the courts over months, or even years.
In particular, the policies targeted Central American families and unaccompanied minors, typically teenagers, who former President Donald J. Trump said included gang members exploiting the immigration system to gain entry into the United States.
To qualify for asylum, applicants must establish that they have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Before the decisions by the Trump administration, victims of domestic abuse and other violence were eligible for protection, on an individual basis, by meeting the standard for membership in a particular social group and other requirements for asylum.
When Mr. Sessions argued that asylum claims had expanded too broadly, human rights groups fiercely criticized him as many judges ruled against claims that involved gang and domestic violence, without a case-by-case analysis.
In the year after his decision, rates of asylum granted to people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras plunged 38 percent.
Mr. Garland’s move to vacate the decisions underscores the importance of analyzing each case on the merits, lawyers said.
“Every woman fleeing domestic violence and every individual fleeing gang violence now has the opportunity to have their case decided fairly, applying the law to their facts without having the dark cloud of bias and prejudgment” imposed by the Trump administration’s decisions, Ms. Musalo said.
President Biden promised a more humane approach to immigration than his predecessor, and his administration continues to grapple with a large volume of migrants arriving at the southwestern border, many of whom are fleeing violence.
“This decision will save thousands of lives,” said Malena Mayorga, director of leadership development at Mujeres Unidas y Activas, a grass-roots organization of Latina immigrant women in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“The majority of women with asylum cases we see have claims based on domestic and gender-based abuse or organized-crime violence,” she said.
Many of the asylum seekers participate in a support group that has been campaigning to reverse the decision, she said.
The number of immigrants detained at the southwestern border has climbed for 13 consecutive months, according to Customs and Border Protection data. From Oct. 1 through May 31, the United States took into custody 898,949 migrants crossing the border, compared with 859,501 in the 2019 fiscal year, during the last surge.
But encounters with unaccompanied minors and families from Northern Triangle countries dropped last month. A total of 10,765 children were taken into U.S. custody in May, down from 13,940 in April. About 22,600 people in families from the region were processed by the Border Patrol, compared with about 32,600 the previous month.
Construction Flaws Led to Mexico City Metro Collapse, Independent Inquiry Shows
MEXICO CITY — Construction errors led to the May collapse of an overpass in Mexico City’s subway system that killed 26 people and injured scores more, according to the preliminary results of an independent investigation released by the city’s government on Wednesday.
The report, produced by the Norwegian risk management company DNV, suggests that serious problems with the welding and placement of metal studs, linchpins of the entire structure, directly contributed to the collapse.
“We can preliminarily state that the incident was caused by a structural failure,” the report said, citing “deficiencies in the construction process.”
The results support the findings of a New York Times investigation that highlighted shoddy construction on the metro line. Some of the studs holding the structure together appeared to have failed because of bad welds, The Times found, a crucial mistake that probably caused the overpass to give way.
Engineers consulted by The Times pointed to the presence of ceramic rings, or ferrules, left in place after the welding process, and to irregularly placed studs as evidence of subpar workmanship — findings that were confirmed by the DNV investigation.
Its report documented a “failure to remove the protective ceramic” around the studs, which “reduced the area of adhesion” with the concrete that held up the tracks. Too few studs were used to fuse the structure together, and their placement was inconsistent, something that “contradicts the design” of the overpass, the report said, echoing another finding of the Times investigation.
The investigators for the DNV also noted that different types of concrete had been used to build the overpass, possibly because workers had to make adjustments on site during construction. On the steel beam underneath the overpass, the report found poorly planned, problematic welding.
DNV said its report was based on “the field investigation and the laboratory testing of samples from the accident” and that it “only contains DNV’s hypothesis at this point.” The full investigation will be finished later this year, the company said in a statement.
Mexico City’s government, which hired DNV to examine the causes of the crash, is also conducting its own investigation into the accident.
“We promised to provide comprehensive care to the victims and to hire a specialized company to understand with technical professionalism and, based on scientific evidence, the root cause of this terrible tragedy,” Claudia Sheinbaum, the mayor of Mexico City, said during the presentation of the DNV report.
The results of the independent inquiry could spell trouble for two of Mexico’s most powerful figures: Marcelo Ebrard, the foreign secretary, and Carlos Slim, one of the world’s richest businessmen.
Mr. Ebrard, the mayor of Mexico City when the line was built, wanted it completed before he left office in 2012, according to multiple people who worked on the project. He is seen as a powerful contender to succeed President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico’s next presidential elections in 2024.
In response to the release of the preliminary report, Mr. Ebrard said in a statement that determining the cause of the crash would require both a technical investigation and “an inquiry that reviews the entire decision-making process in the design, layout, supervision and maintenance” of the metro line.
Mr. Slim’s conglomerate, Group Carso, built Line 12 — the part of the metro that collapsed — to expand the company into the lucrative rail industry.
On Wednesday, Ms. Sheinbaum said she would “contact the companies that were part of the construction consortium that built Line 12 to set up a technical dialogue.”
In response to earlier questions from The Times, Antonio Gómez García, chief executive of Group Carso, suggested that maintenance failures may have been to blame for the subway’s collapse. Mr. Ebrard had previously said that it was impossible to know whether his successor had “conducted all of the maintenance” required after large earthquakes.
But the preliminary report from DNV found that the tracks and their mechanical components were “in normal conditions” and met with “routine maintenance protocols.” Mexico City metro workers also said they carried out “daily preventive maintenance activities,” according to the report. Investigators will continue to analyze whether the structure was subjected to abnormal weight that could have caused the beams to buckle.
Carso is now building a significant part of the Tren Maya, a 950-mile railway intended to bolster the economy of southern Mexico — one of the country’s poorest regions — and stand as Mr. López Obrador’s legacy project.
Some engineers and architects working on the Tren Maya have complained of problems similar to those faced when they built the subway: a rushed, disorganized process that has no master plan to guide construction. And Mr. López Obrador has insisted that he wants the Tren Maya to be finished before he leaves office in 2024.