Around Latin America

October 2, 2011

-A Brazilian judge has once again halted development of the controversial Belo Monte dam, this time citing the damage the dam would have on fish populations. For years controversy and turmoil have surrounded the proposed dam, which would flood the lands of tens of thousands of people and force the relocation of even more, including Brazilian indigenous groups who live in the region. Originally proposed in the 1970s, the dam has gained traction recently within the federal government, which is seeking ways to provide power for its rapidly-growing population. However, the dam has also gained vocal opponents, including James Cameron. This graphic does an excellent job of showing just how extensively the dam would affect the indigenous peoples of the area.

-Also in Brazil, eight police officers have been arrested for their connections to the murder of a judge who had cracked down on vigilante violence within the police force. Masked men gunned down Patricia Acioli outside of her house in August, and authorities quickly suspected the involvement of rogue police officers, given her strong attempts to prosecute police officers who participated in the extrajudicial killings and violence of unofficial “militias.”

-Even as Rick Perry advocates sending U.S. troops to Mexico to “help” fight drug crime across the border, a new fascinating study suggests that the U.S.’s traditional approaches to security in the region are at best questionable:

While all Central American nations struggle with crime and violence, the real security challenges are in the Northern Triangle – where the magnitude and type of organized criminal operations are unparalleled. This finding questions the traditional blanket regional approach taken by the United States (through CARSI), or the way other Latin American or European countries develop multilateral security initiatives within Central America.

Additionally, the linked story has a map from WM Consulting that shows that a majority of the narco-murders in 2011 are in central-western and southern Mexico, and not the border area as many Americans, including Perry, presume.

-The general who led the coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009 will apparently be running for president in 2013. Although Romeo Vasquez Velasquez has yet to officially make an announcement, he is “close” and has the backing of the Alianza Patriótica Hondureña. As Boz puts it, “this is a terrible idea.” We’ll see what happens with it going forward, though given the financial backing he has and the strong position he will almost certainly claim on “security” (an important issue for Hondurans), this doesn’t look good.

-Mike over at Central American Politics points us towards these disturbing numbers of femicides in El Salvador, even as the situation of anti-woman violence seems to be improving in Guatemala.

-Also in Central America, on a major human rights development, the man who killed Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980 has been identified as Marino Samayoa Acosta, confirming the belief that the military leaders of the country had Romero killed. Romero, who had initially been relatively conservative, became very popular when he called for peace and social justice in the face of great economic inequalities and brutal violence in El Salvador’s civil war. As the linked article points out, the new information doesn’t just shed light on the exact nature of Romero’s murder; it also opens up the path for Romero’s beatification.

-Speaking of churches, Brazil has charged the leaders of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God with embezzlement and money laundering. Prosecutors allege that church leaders used messages of “prosperity theology” to bilk followers out of billions of dollars since the 1990s.

-Finally, one of the many still-painful legacies of Argentina’s military dictatorship and “Dirty War” of 1976-83 are the cases of the children of the disappeared. The state murdered hundreds of children’s parents and then gave the children up for adoption, leading to heartbreaking cases in which adults are now finding out who their real parents were and what happened to them, and being forced to confront the difficult struggle of reconciling what they had been told by their adoptive parents (many of whom collaborated with the military in knowingly taking the children of murdered civilians into their homes).  Lillie Langtry points us to this story of a man who knows who his biological parents were but who wants to keep his adopted family’s name. It does a great job of getting into the “complexities” of the issues facing both the children involved and human rights organizations like the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. Like Lillie, I have to side with the man and not the Madres on this one – ultimately, it is up to him to determine what his name is and should be, and if he knows about his family’s past but wants to keep his name, I see no reason to prevent him.

 

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  1. October 2, 2011 at 14:13 | #1

    Colin, I like these “around the region” reports. Thanks. From the WW report, I found it striking that while Central America has nearly the same population as Spain, in 2006 Spain registered a total of 336 murders while Central America registered around 14,200. Keep in mind that for every murder you can add another 20 to 40 victims of non-fatal violence.

    The report also mentions the increased responsibility that governments of the Northern Triangle have to invest in society to counter-act the underlying social problems. This is particularly difficult when most of these governments are unwilling to discuss raising tax rates for the rich. In Guatemala the tax revenue as percentage of the GDP was around 11%, one of the lowest in the region (US is at around 26%).

  2. October 3, 2011 at 13:18 | #2

    I’d agree, and though I’d like to see more research, I think two other interrelated dynamics are at play here as well at the domestic level. On the one hand, the closely-tied classism/racism of countries like Central America often make the victims of this type of violence “invisible” as people even while they exist as statistics. This certainly isn’t anything new; since the colonial period, the racially/socially marginalized have at best been ignored, and at worst exterminated. That said, the daily violence still impacts them even while they’re excluded from the public imaginary regarding security.

    I think this leads into the second issue, which is the presence of high numbers in these reports without any accompanying concern with actual structural, social, and cultural issues. These seemingly high (but impersonal) numbers in places like Guatemala helps conservative candidates who promise to improve “security” appeal to a large number of voters and win. Once in office, they can nominally claim to work towards security by focusing on reducing numbers of violence without providing any sense of actual social change to ameliorate the standing of the poor and socially/culturally marginalized within these societies.

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