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This newsletter, edited by Astrid Galván, is 1,307 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: 🇪🇨 Gains, strains of a war on gangs

Military guards at a friendly match in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Feb. 17. Photo: Franklin Jacome/Agencia South Press via Getty Images

Authorities in Ecuador have arrested more than 10,000 people and seized record amounts of cocaine since launching an all-out offensive against criminal groups in January, but experts worry the crackdown is not sustainable over the long term, Marina writes.

The big picture: Violence in the South American nation has soared in the past few years, driven by criminal gangs with international links, lured by global cocaine demand. President Daniel Noboa just months after taking office declared an internal armed conflict and a state of emergency that allowed him to mobilize more military and police.

What they're saying: "In the short term we've seen positive consequences to this approach" of a state of emergency and troop mobilization, Will Freeman, fellow for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells Axios Latino. Freeman says homicides fell from 27 to 11 per day by the end of January.

  • "But there's a couple things that make it not so sustainable and which are cause for concern," he adds, including that the "issue of cocaine demand" abroad is beyond Noboa's power.

Another major problem is that Ecuador's economy is barely chugging along and the deployment of security forces is expensive.

  • Noboa is trying to work around the financial challenge with a bill to levy more taxes, some of which would hit regular Ecuadorians hard. Lawmakers rejected it initially but are debating another similar draft bill.
  • "Some might be willing to endure [paying more taxes] if the funds go to fighting crime," says Beatriz García, a Guayaquil-based analyst and associate for the Wilson Center.
  • "But while there is a sense of uneasy calm at the moment, it could still be that criminal groups start pushing back much more strongly and things and Ecuadorians' feelings change," she adds.

Zoom out: The security situation is being felt regionally and in the U.S., where southern border encounters with Ecuadorians have increased 300%.

  • Noboa's strengthening of regional alliances to aid his security measures is smart, García says.
  • That includes an agreement, signed in October, for U.S. troops to train their Ecuadorian counterparts.
  • The U.S. also provided Ecuador with bulletproof vests, ambulances and other equipment in January.

What to watch: Noboa plans a referendum to ask voters whether the country should end its ban on extraditions, add more military checkpoints on roads leading to prisons, increase prison sentences for certain crimes and facilitate the seizure of illicitly obtained assets.

  • The referendum is scheduled for April 21.

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2. 🇲🇽 President's stunt shows journalists' peril

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador speaks during his daily morning news conference Feb. 9. Photo: Alex Dalton/ Eyepix Group/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's repeated claims that he has a "political right" to dox a journalist is indicative of the safety issues that reporters and activists face in the country as it heads into presidential elections, Marina writes.

Why it matters: Mexico has long been one of the deadliest countries for journalists.

  • "That means murdered journalists, but also intimidation," says Mariana Suárez, lead for press freedom protection at defense group Article 19's Mexico and Central American bureau.
  • "On average, there's an aggression against a journalist every 16 hours … and during electoral times, that violence tends to increase," Suárez tells Axios Latino.
  • In most cases, it's not just criminal groups that are behind those aggressions, but public officials, too, be it at the local, state or federal level, she adds.

Driving the news: Last week, López Obrador read aloud the cellphone number of a New York Times reporter during his widely broadcast morning presser, in which he usually speaks uninterruptedly for hours and sometimes presents what he calls "alternative data."

  • The reporter, Natalie Kitroeff, had reached out for comment before running a story saying U.S. authorities had looked into allegations that people close to López Obrador met with suspected cartel leaders to get campaign money in 2018 — the year the president was elected.
  • ProPublica last month published a story on a similar U.S. inquiry into López Obrador's unsuccessful 2006 campaign.
  • López Obrador says the stories amount to slander.

Mexican law requires authorities to protect people's personal data.

  • When criticized for sharing Kitroeff's cell number, López Obrador said Friday his "moral and political authority are above the privacy act" and claimed reports of risks to journalists are mostly hearsay from "special interests groups."
  • Yes, but: When Claudia Sheinbaum, López Obrador's protégé and a current presidential candidate, and one of his sons said this weekend they received threatening messages after their phone numbers were apparently leaked, the president said that was "shameful." It's unknown who leaked their information.

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3. Immigrants as an answer to tight labor market

President Biden walks along the Rose Garden colonnade today. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Immigrants are coming to the rescue of employers struggling with a historically tight labor market, and their arrival helps lower inflation, Axios' Hans Nichols and Stef Kight report.

The big picture: Foreign-born workers now constitute nearly 19% of the labor force, up from 17.3% when Biden took office.

Zoom in: More than 3 million immigrants who were encountered at the southern border during the Biden presidency are still in the country .

  • An additional 1 million arrived via ports of entry through new Biden programs relying on the expansive use of parole — a legal mechanism that allows migrants without visas to enter the U.S.

Between the lines: Don't expect Biden to race to the podium to highlight the link between increased immigration and lower inflation, based on conversations with his aides and advisers.

  • Trump clearly wants to run on the issue, arguing that the influx of low-skilled immigrants into the economy has hurt native-born workers.

Reality check: Wage growth has been strongest for the bottom quarter of workers, according to the Atlanta Fed's wage tracker.

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4. Stories we're watching

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

1. Brazilian government offices that are no longer in use will be turned into public housing units, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced yesterday.

  • He said there were 3,700 unoccupied buildings and unused lands, per a recent survey.
  • The number of unhoused Brazilians doubled in the last decade to around 227,000 in 2023, government data shows.

2. Chile and Venezuela are embroiled in a diplomatic conflict after a former Venezuelan lieutenant, who was reportedly living in Santiago as a political refugee, went missing.

  • Ronald Ojeda Moreno, 32, was charged in January (in absentia) in connection with an alleged conspiracy behind an unproven assassination attempt against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
  • Last week Ojeda was taken from his home by men wearing fake Chilean police uniforms that were later found discarded. Chile is investigating it as a kidnapping.

5. 🚗 Smile to go: Mending Porsches and prejudices

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Daniela Parra inspecting cars. Source: via Telemundo

Daniela Parra went from disassembling Hot Wheels cars as a girl to fixing Porsches for a living, Marina writes.

State of play: Parra, 20, is reportedly the only woman in Latin America employed as a mechanic for Porsche.

  • She works in Bogotá, and is studying mechanical engineering on the side.
  • "I didn't let what others said limit me," she tells Noticias Telemundo about being taunted by some former acquaintances for working in a car shop. "Sometimes when people are most unsure you can do something is when you work harder to prove them wrong."

🚗 Marina is grateful for a slight receipt hoarding habit because it's helped have all the paperwork needed as she sells her car.

🎂 Russell is celebrating his birthday!

📖 Astrid just ordered Hernan Díaz's "In the Distance" for herself and the Spanish-language version for grandpa!

Thanks to Carlos Cunha, Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath and Axios Visuals for their many contributions!