Around Latin America

March 14, 2012

-Argentina’s Supreme Court unanimously voted to decriminalize abortion for rape victims in a landmark case that will hopefully lead to an end to hospitals turning away rape victims. Argentina already legalized abortion for women whose life was at risk or who were mentally disabled.

-Just a day after the story emerged of Brazilian prosecutors seeking to press charges against individuals who ordered and committed torture during the military regime of 1964-1985, authorities today revealed the first charges against torturers. The file charges Army Colonel Sebsatião Curio Rodrigues with the kidnapping of five leftists whom the military “disappeared” and whose fate remains unresolved to the present. The case is the first of what will hopefully be many more to come as Brazil finally begins to confront the deeds and legacies of its twenty-one year military regime.

-However, torture is not simply a thing of the past in Brazil; as I’ve discussed before, the failure to directly address torture during (and before) the military regime has led to police continuing to practice torture against the socially marginalized with impunity to this day. Brazilians were reminded of this fact this week, as police have begun investigating the case of a young man from one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas who claims eight police tortured him, and one investigator claimed that there was “no doubt” the man was tortured.

-To begin to understand the plights of prisoners in Latin America, one only has to look at the image in this story to understand just how serious the problem of overcrowding in Latin American prisons is. And while the image says plenty, the eyewitness accounts in the story are even more powerful and remind us why overcrowding, together with corruption and violence present in many prison systems in the region, make prison reform one of the most basic and important human rights issues confronting many Latin American countries today.

-Teachers in Brasília went on strike this week, and millions more teachers from throughout Brazil may join them as they try to force states to comply with minimum wage laws for teachers, have access to adequate professional training, and that the government guarantee that 10% of the GDP go to improving the public education system in Brazil.

-Honduran ex-president Manuel Zelaya, whom the military overthrew in a coup in 2009, has officially registered his new political party in the Central American country. The Liberty and Re-Foundation Party (Partido Libertad y Refundación, or “Libre”) party will take part in the 2013 presidential elections, with Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, running for office.

-Musicians Tom Zé, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, who all were central figures in the Tropicália movement, have spoken out against a planned set of luxury condominiums that co-opt the movement’s name. The Tropicália building claims to be “Where the Divine meets the Marvellous” in a clear nod to/rip-off of the song “Divino Maravilhoso,” which Gil and Veloso wrote and which appeared on Gal Costa’s first self-titled album in 1969 (Costa was another central figure in the Tropicália movement). The artists are particularly rankled by the association of the expensive building (in one of the poorer parts of the country) with the musical and artistic movement of the late-1960s, with Zé declaring the building “went against the whole philosophy of this movement, whose members would never agree to link their work to a real-estate venture of this size.”

-Mexico’s Senate passed a law this week that made murdering a journalist a federal crime. As the drug violence has increased in the country, murders of journalists have also gone up in the last decade.

-The “Ladies in White,” a group of Cuban dissidents, have asked Pope Benedict XVI for “a minute” to talk about the issue of political prisoners during his upcoming visit to the island.

-Former Panamanian ruler Manuel Noriega has been diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. Noriega was the military governor of Panama from 1983 until late December 1989, when the United States invaded the country and captured Noriega, claiming he had violated human rights and was connected to drug trafficking. While the US officially claimed 200 Panamanian civilians died in the invasion (along with 205 military casualties), other estimates place the number from anywhere between 1000 casualties to over 4000 dead civilians.

-A new report suggests that Mexican drug gangs are increasingly turning to children to serve as mules for the organizations.

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