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This newsletter, edited by Astrid Galván, is 1,479 words, a 5.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Trying to stop a train

A woman walks past trees razed for a rail project in the Yucatán Peninsula. Photo: Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images

A Mexican judge tomorrow is expected decide the fate of a portion of Tren Maya (Mayan Train), a railroad being built in the Yucatán Peninsula that critics say is devastating wildlife habitats, historic artifacts and homesteads, Marina writes.

Why it matters: The jungle area between Tulum and Playa del Carmen that is being razed and split in two by that portion of the train line is home to one of few natural habitats for the jaguar, an endangered species. It also holds the world’s largest underwater cave system, which is filled with ancient artifacts.

  • Most of the half-million people who live in the area are from Indigenous communities, some of which have warned of the outsize impact the tourist train could have on their traditional livelihoods.
  • Thousands of Mayan artifacts, as well as new archeological remains, have been found since construction broke ground in June 2020.

The big picture: The $10 billion, 948-mile railroad is one of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s signature projects.

  • But it has been controversial from the start, and activists have filed 25 other lawsuits in different states, seven of which have resulted in temporary stays on various parts of the construction.
  • The decision the federal judge will hand down tomorrow deals with section 5 of the line, near Tulum.

But López Obrador has said he will not “take a single step back” in his plans for Tren Maya, which he says will bring needed jobs and growth.

What they’re saying: “The project overall is threatening the jaguar species, and many more, to the point where we could be facing regional extinction,” environmentalist Raúl Padilla Borja, of the Jaguar Wildlife Center group, told Noticias Telemundo.

  • “Add the weight of trains constantly running over this cave system and that’s just a recipe for disaster.”

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2. Latino COVID-19 deaths undercounted

Photo courtesy of Michael Izquierdo

Hundreds of Latinos who died from COVID-19 complications were misclassified as white and undercounted in official Chicago-area statistics, according to a new investigation by reporters with palabra. in collaboration with Cicero Independiente.

Why it matters: Correctly documenting Latino mortality is vital to assessing proper access to COVID treatment as well as to other pandemic-related resources, the reporters write.

The big picture: Latinos have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, dying at nearly twice the rate of white Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Latinos were also 2.3 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID.

  • Among the report's findings:
A review of Cook County death statistics found an additional 372 misclassified Latino deaths in 2020 and another 108 in 2021. These figures raise the yearly percentages of deaths to 26% in 2020 and 21% in 2021. Adding both years, Latinos averaged 24%, or nearly a quarter of all COVID deaths.

Zoom out: Up to 3% of Latino deaths are misclassified in the U.S., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers told palabra.

  • “They are counted, but as part of the general white population,” said Elizabeth Arias, a CDC researcher who has analyzed national death data since 1980.

What's next: Illinois state Sen. Celina Villanueva, who represents part of the area the reporters examined, said government alone can't fix the problem.

  • Cook County, Villanueva argued, needs to gather the medical establishment, data personnel, and the communities for a long-overdue discussion on proper data gathering.

3. 30 years in prison for a pregnancy loss

Protests for abortion rights in El Salvador, September 2021. Photo: Camilo Freedman/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A Salvadoran woman accused of having an abortion when she suffered bleeding and a pregnancy loss in 2019 was convicted of aggravated homicide and sentenced to 30 years in prison this week, Marina writes.

Why it matters: The sentence against the woman, referred to as Esme by abortion rights activists for privacy reasons, is the first of its kind in seven years in the Central American nation.

  • The country has one of the harshest anti-abortion laws in the world, with a total ban and possible prison time of up to 50 years.
  • Over 250 women have been charged in the past two decades, and at least 49 have been convicted.
  • Many of them were accused of homicide after seeking help for health emergencies during pregnancies, such as miscarriages and stillbirths, defense groups say.

Esme is the first woman convicted under the nation's abortion law since the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled last November that El Salvador had violated reproductive rights.

  • In response, Nayib Bukele’s government has commuted the sentences of six women. This is the first sentencing over abortion since Bukele came into power in 2019.
  • Women's rights advocatescalled for him to strike down the law. Last year his party, which has the majority in the Legislative Assembly, blocked a reform that would have decriminalized abortions in case of rape, when the woman’s life is at risk, and when the fetus cannot survive outside the womb.

What they’re saying: “Everyone in the U.S. should have their eyes on El Salvador right now to understand exactly what a future without Roe [v. Wade] entails,” lawyer Paula Ávila-Guillén, executive director of the group Women's Equality Center that’s campaigned to free Salvadoran women, said in a statement.

4. Dems seek money for environmental justice

Sens. Dick Durbin and Sen. Alex Padilla. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Democratic Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) want Congress to give the Department of Justice about $9 million to help its new environmental justice division, Russell writes.

The big picture: The DOJ announced last week it would create the Office of Environmental Justice and launch an enforcement strategy to protect communities of color against environmental crimes.

Details: Padilla and Durbin are spearheading an effort to earmark $1.4 million for the Office for Environmental Justice and allocate an additional $6.5 million for DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

  • The two senators wrote a letter Wednesday to a subcommittee seeking the funds for the new initiatives. It was also signed by other senators.

Between the lines: Study after study shows communities of color are exposed to more air and water pollution, lead poisoning, and toxic waste than more affluent, white neighborhoods.

  • A landmark study published last year in Science Advances found that Black, Latino, and Asian Americans face higher levels of hazardous particulate exposure than white Americans, regardless of income.
  • This is due to their proximity to industry and construction sites and the associated emissions from cars and diesel trucks, researchers found. Overall, this pollution causes up to 200,000 excess deaths annually in the U.S., researchers found — disproportionately people of color.

Flashback: The DOJ in November launched an environmental justice investigation into whether Alabama’s state and local health departments discriminated against Black residents.

  • The investigation is examining whether the departments' policies have caused Black residents in Lowndes to "have diminished access to adequate sanitation systems."
  • It marked the DOJ's first Title VI environmental justice investigation for one of the department's funding recipients.

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5. Stories we're watching

Marcelo Pecci (second from left) during a November 2021 conference. Photo: Daniel Duarte/AFP via Getty Images

1. The Paraguayan district attorney for organized crime was killed while honeymooning in Colombia on Tuesday night.

  • Marcelo Pecci was shot dead on a beach by two men who fled on jet skis, Paraguayan authorities said.
  • Pecci was involved this March in a major anti-narcotics operation that swept up a handful of politicians accused of criminal association.

2. Reports of government-inflicted torture in Venezuela grew 148% during 2021, with more than 240 victims, according to a human rights report from local NGO Provea.

  • Many of the victims included people who have protested in the country and those who were deported back from the U.S.
  • Hunger and poverty have also continued to grow in Venezuela, according to the Provea report, released yesterday.

6. 🎺 Smile to go: A guitar-slinging deputy sheriff

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Deputy Carlos Mutti. Photo: Storyful via Noticias Telemundo

A Mexican American sheriff’s deputy in San Diego is packing some mighty vocals, Marina writes.

Details: Carlos Mutti is also a professional mariachi singer.

  • Mutti, originally from Tijuana, honed his musical skills while in high school. Before becoming a deputy, he was part of several mariachi bands in Chula Vista and Los Angeles.

What they’re saying: “I feel that through music, mariachi music, I can give back to people and celebrate the heritage of my community,” Mutti says in a video from the county department.

7. 🪅 Pachanga: Ricardo L. Ortiz

Courtesy of Ricardo L. Ortiz.

We're pretty sure this is the stuff dreams are made of — Ricardo L. Ortiz, who came to the U.S. from Cuba as a 5-year-old not knowing a word of English, is the president of the Association of Departments of English, a national network.

Ricardo is a professor of Latinx literature and culture in Georgetown University's English department, which he also chaired from 2015 to 2021.

Today we celebrate Ricardo's many accomplishments (and maybe ask him what he thought of Netflix's "The Chair").

Thank you so much for joining us! We'll see you back here on Tuesday.