-Marking the first major protest of the year, over 100,000 Chilean students took to the streets to continue to push for educational reform, an issue that has garnered much support and been a consistent problem for conservative president Sebastian Pinera. (And for those wondering, this is what (part of) over 100,000 people in the streets looks like.)
-With the recent conviction of some of his former top aides for corruption, Brazilian federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva to examine what, if any, role in or knowledge of payoffs Lula might have had during his first term.
-Uruguay became the third country in the Americas to legalize gay marriage nationwide (joining Canada and Argentina) after the Chamber of Deputies approved the Senate’s changes to the bill (the Chamber of Deputies originally passed an earlier draft of the bill last December). Meanwhile, in Chile, Congress has begun debating the legal recognition of same-sex couples; though the recognition would fall short of allowing gay marriage, it would grant gay couples the same rights as married couples.
-Although the frontrunner in Paraguay’s upcoming elections, conservative candidate Horacio Cartes apparently has quite the history of shady dealings and possible corrupt practices, including international smuggling, practices that, if true, could further strain Paraguay’s relations with its neighbors, relations that were already damaged when Congress rapidly removed former president Fernando Lugo through a dubious “impeachment.”
-A study finds that an overwhelming amount of the money donated to aid Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake ultimately ended up in the hands of US companies, with only one percent aiding Haitian companies themselves.
-Speaking of Haitians, they are among the thousands of immigrants who have recently entered into Brazil, leaving the small state of Acre to ask for federal aid in supporting the influx. I don’t quite agree with Boz that their desire to move Brazil automatically means that the economy there is doing well, but it at least suggests that people in other countries perceive the Brazilian economy to be preferable to their own.
-In spite of his family’s claims late last year, Alberto Fujimori does not actually have cancer, which was the reason his family initially called for his release from prison, where he is currently serving a 25-year sentence for human rights violations during his 1990-2000 presidency. Although the former president is not actually ailing, that has not stopped Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani from calling for a pardon for Fujimori.
-As a hunger strike among prisoners at US facilities in Guantanamo continues, the US has begun force-feeding some of the striking prisoners.
-In the wake of the rape of a tourist from the US, Rio de Janeiro has banned the use of vans for public transit (rather than the larger buses) in the southern part of the city. Of course, that the ban is in effect only in the wealthier southern zone where tourism dominates provides yet another reminder of the social stratification evident throughout Rio, including in public transportation options.
-Hundreds of thousands of Colombians, including President Juan Manuel Santos, marched in support of ongoing peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC.
-Are Brazil and Russia close to a missile deal?
-Although scholarship and human rights activism have already torn much “the veil” off Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s regime, the recent exhumation of Nobel-laureate Pablo Neruda could further shed light on the poet’s death and end years of speculation over whether he really died of cancer, as had long been maintained, or if the regime had him killed, a theory that has been bandied about as well.
-Outrage continues over the appointment of evangelical politician Marco Feliciano as the head of the Brazilian Congress’s Human Rights Committee in spite of a history of public homophobic and racist statements. As a result, in a blow against transparency or accountability in government, the Committee recently decided to close all hearings to outsiders in hopes of preventing protests from erupting in committee hearings.
-Speaking of human rights in Brazil, police are finally facing trial for their role in the executions of prisoners during the Carandiru massacre of 1992. The massacre, which occurred 21 years ago this October, left 102 prisoners dead from gunshots after police entered the prison to break up gang fighting between prisoners.
-A Guatemalan court upheld the not-guilty verdict of former president Alfonso Portillo on charges of theft of state funds. However, his legal problems are far from over, as the ruling now opens the path for his extradition to the United States, where he faces indictment for embezzlement and money laundering.
-A Chilean court has suspended development on the Pascua Lama mine, originally set to be one of the world’s largest gold mines, ruling that the pollution and environmental destruction already caused by the Canadian mining company Barrick violates the original terms of the agreement. The shutdown marks a victory for indigenous groups, who had argued that the mine threatened their daily lives and resources, and is part of broader challenges to Barrick’s environmental toll and presence throughout Latin America.
-Finally, scientists have recently encountered a new species of porcupine in Brazil, but the future of the species is already uncertain, as the tree-dwelling Coendou speratus lives in an endangered forest.
One hundred and thirty-four years ago today, the War of the Pacific (1879-1883) began, pitting Chile against Peru and Bolivia in a war that would see Peru lose its southern-most provinces, Bolivia lose its access to the Pacific Ocean (thus becoming the second land-locked country in South America), and Chile gain control over the nitrate-rich region of the Atacama desert.
The war had its roots in the growing value of nitrates on the global market and nationalist tensions between the three countries. The Atacama was a region rich in nitrates that could be converted into fertilizer. As Europe enjoyed a “green revolution” that saw intensified agricultural output thanks to technological innovations, the nitrates became an increasingly valuable commodity, useful in producing fertilizer. As Peru’s guano deposits dried up, the nitrates of the Atacama became increasingly appealing. Alfred Nobel’s invention of dynamite in 1867 only added to the profitability of nitrates. Although the deposits rested largely on Peruvian and Bolivian soil, it had been Chilean private enterprise that had invested heavily in the region. Needing to find an alternate source of income to replace guano (which had provided the Peruvian government with 80% of its revenues at its peak), Peru nationalized the nitrate mines, while Bolivia decided to levy a 10-cent tax on the railways that transported nitrates to the Pacific ports. Feeling its economic interests threatened, and still bearing some suspicions of Peru and Bolivia dating back to the Peruvian-Bolivian Federation of 1836-1839, Chile decided to occupy Antofagosta, Bolivia’s largest port, on February 14, 1879. Peru tried to mediate, but Chile refused such offers, declaring itself to be at war with Bolivia; the latter country asked Peru to respect treaties and join Bolivia. Though Peru was hesitant to go to war, it was also hesitant to declare neutrality, leading Chile to declare war on Peru as well.
The war began with naval battles between the Chilean and Peruvian navies. While Peru’s navy had initial successes against the Chilean navy, by October of 1879, Chile controlled the ocean along the borders of all three countries, allowing it to begin land operations to occupy Bolivia and Peru. Although Peru ultimately built the first functioning submarine in South American military history, the Toro, it never saw battle, and was scuttled by the end of the war.
Controlling the seas, Chile began to occupy the three southern-most provinces of Peru – Tarapacá, Tacna, and Arica – where the nitrate holdings were. Although Peru again initially defeated Chilean forces, the Peruvian army nonetheless was unable to maintain its territorial control and retreated from the field, leaving Tarapacá, with its 200,000 citizens (roughly 10% of Peru’s total population) and 28 million English pounds worth of nitrates, to the Chileans. Chile continued to advance, even while riots broke out in the capital of Lima and the Peruvian government tried to negotiate deals for more weapons and warships. By January of 1881, the Chilean army had entered Lima. However, Peruvian forces managed to escape, laying the groundwork for widespread resistance and guerrilla warfare that would continue for another two years.
Meanwhile, in Bolivia, troops fell quickly. Although they outnumbered the Chileans, those forces stationed in Iquique had retreated by the end of 1879. While the outcome was far from inevitable, the fact remained that Chile had better, German-made weapons and better training at its disposal. Additionally, Bolivia had contended with nearly 40 years of political instability and economic weakness after Chile defeated the Bolivian-Peruvian confederation, even while the Chilean state and its institutions had enjoyed relative stability. By 1880, Chilean troops maneuvered with general ease in Bolivian territories.
In spite of Chile’s quick successes, the war dragged on through guerrilla struggles and grassroots opposition in both Peru and Bolivia for several years. There were several efforts to resolve the issue in the international community. In October 1880, the US gathered Peruvian, Bolivian, and Chilean officials on the USS Lackawanna off the coast of Peru to hold negotiations after Chile had refused Ecuadoran attempts to negotiate the situation earlier in the year. However, Peru and Bolivia understandably demanded the withdrawal of Chilean troops from what they rightly viewed as their lands, and the negotiations broke down.
Peace finally arrived in 1883. Although Peru and Chile agreed to peace in October of that year, the terms of the treaty remained contentious for decades, and only in 1929, with Herbert Hoover’s administration mediating, did the two countries agree upon not only the cession of not only Tarapacá (originally agreed upon in 1883) but also Arica. Meanwhile, Bolivia signed a truce, but not a treaty, in 1884, ceding its entire Pacific coast to Chile (who needed the territory if it were to maintain continuity between its historical border and the newly-acquired territories in Peru). The terms of the 1884 truce became official in a 1904 treaty signing.
The War of the Pacific marked the last of the nineteenth-century international wars in South America (though Colombia and Chile both would still endure civil wars before the century was out). In total, over 13,000 people died in the war, with an overwhelming majority of them coming from Bolivia and Peru. The loss of life alone would have been damaging enough, but the territorial transformations only deepened the sense of loss. Peru, still seeking a source of revenue for its export-dependent state, lost out on the territories with some of the richer nitrate deposits, denying it revenue either from exports or from taxes that could have helped, even while Chile was able to generate money on taxes related to nitrate production. Most damaging, though, was Bolivia’s loss of a path to the sea. Indeed, the territorial loss is still a point of contention today. Bolivia and Chile still only retain consular ties, rather than full diplomatic ties, and social groups still periodically (and not unfairly) blame the lack of access to a port for economic crises in Bolivia (such as the 2003 “gas wars” in Bolivia). Indeed, the memorialization of the loss of land and life is visible in public spaces in both Bolivia and Peru even today, and while relations between them and Chile have thawed somewhat over years, the nationalistic tensions still run high, as a recent video of Chilean sailors’ chants reminded us. The War of the Pacific may have ended 130 years ago, but the social and political wounds from the war still run deep.
This is part of a periodic series on major dates in Latin American history. Other entries are available here, and include the launch of NAFTA and the Zapatista movement, and the beginning of the “Soccer War” between El Salvador and Honduras. Other entries are available here.
-With Hugo Chávez in Cuba convalescing from further cancer treatment even while his inauguration looms, there is growing tension over whether Chávez will assume power constitutionally or not. Proponents say he does not have to be in the country to assume, while opponents say if he cannot be inaugurated on Thursday, then a new leader must be appointed. A new plan that could be implemented would delay the inauguration until Chávez is able to take office. Now, the Catholic Church in Venezuela has weighed in, proclaiming it to be “morally unacceptable” should Chávez remain in power without officially being present for his inauguration. While the Church’s stance is unlikely to turn the tide one way or another, it adds a powerful voice to a situation that’s already uncertain, and could add to the political tensions in the country.
-Students in Guatemala continue to take to the streets to protest the government’s planned educational reforms. The reforms include a plan to make teachers’ certification take five years instead of three (as it currently requires), a move that students say will cost them more, an issue that was at the heart of similar protests last year.
-Chilean authorities arrested eight military officials for the murder of folk singer Victor Jara in 1973. Jara, one of the best and most popular of the Nueva Canción movement that highlighted social inequalities and was often associated with leftist politics, was arrested, tortured, had his hands cut off, and was ultimately shot shortly after the military coup that overthrew democratically-elected president Salvador Allende and led to Augusto Pinochet’s regime. And while Chile has finally arrested eight officials tied to the murder, his widow, Joan, has asked the US to extradite Pedro Barrientos Nuñez, another official tied to the murder who currently lives in Florida.
-Haiti renewed ex-dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s passport after a judge ordered Duvalier not face charges for human rights violations during his regime.
-In another example of the deep social impacts that migration and xenophobia filter into everyday life, rights activists in northern Mexico are increasingly facing threats from unnamed groups over their role in helping migrants.
-Argentina sentenced another sixteen former military officials and seven police officers and civilians for their roles in human rights violations during the military regime of 1976-1983, capping off a relatively successful year that saw a number of successes as human rights violators faced justice (and victims and their families saw some sense of closure) for their actions during the dictatorship.
-Speaking of human rights in Argentina, the use of torture, while widespread under the military rule, has never gone away. Fortunately, officials and rights activists are set to start using surprise visits to prisons, juvenile detention centers, and psychiatric hospitals in an attempt to discourage and prevent the torture of inmates.
-Honduras has fired its ambassador to Colombia after two computers were stolen during a party in which at least two suspected prostitutes were in attendance. Of course, this is not the first time that Colombian prostitutes have been connected to high-level security controversies for foreign powers.
-In an attempt to reduce the number of real crimes committed with fake weapons, Mexico City destroyed thousands of toy guns this week. While the effort to reduce crimes like robberies through the measure, one can only hope the move leads to a reduction in crime and not criminals using real guns that actually kill people in order to commit robberies.
-Last week, Salvadoran bus drivers and microbus operators launched a work stoppage to protest an end to government fuel subsidies. As Tim points out, although the work stoppage came to an end over the weekend, there’s the chance it could resume, as the issue of the subsidy has not yet been resolved.
-Finally, though it’s a few weeks old, Chilean Justice Minister and former rector of the Autonomous University of Chile, Teodoro Ribera, resigned his position as minister after he was tied to allegations of bribery and corruption, as well as to questionable accreditation practices, allegations that further hurt the already-unpopular president, Sebastián Piñera, who has faced mounting criticism and protests over the issue of the cost of higher education and demands for reforms.
While the notion of “the disappeared” in Latin America has existed since at least the 1960s and 1970s, when military regimes kidnapped, murdered, and hid or destroyed the bodies of alleged “subversives,” victims of authoritarian regimes are not the only “disappeared” in the region, and the problem is not limited to the past (to say nothing of the long-term social effects that are still felt in places like Argentina, Chile, and Brazil today). Indeed, the problem continues to appear in the second decade in the 21st century, albeit in a new guise: that of missing migrants.
Even before the tour bus comes to a stop, the women rise from their seats and wait in the aisle to exit. In their arms rest rolled-up flags of the Central American countries they come from. Large laminated photographs of missing loved ones hang by lanyards from their necks.
They descend the stairs to a gaggle of waiting press photographers. This is their moment of hope, stirring once again the possibility of putting to rest years of uncertainty and desperation.
Maybe someone has seen a missing son or father making his way to the United States in search of work. Maybe someone knows a daughter is OK.
“The goal is to come to look for them,” said Virginia Olcot, 42, of Chimaltenango, Guatemala, who last heard from her husband in September 2009 when he arrived at the U.S. border in Sonora. “This is our intention: to not get tired, to persevere and get the government to help us.”
The group sponsoring the trip estimates that some 70,000 Central American migrants have disappeared in the past six years based on reports from nonprofit groups. Some of them have been found in the most brutal of circumstances: Hundreds of would-be migrants were discovered murdered in the community of San Fernando in the border state of Tamaulipas: first 72, most of them Central Americans, massacred on a farm in 2010, and nearly 200 people, some Mexicans, discovered in clandestine graves about six months later.
The US understanding of immigration and its regional and global processes is certainly limited (and not aided by the fact that, in a presidential debate ostensibly on foreign policy, neither the issue of immigration nor the region of continental Latin America ever came up). Based on US media metanarratives, migration all too often is an issue that begins once people have entered the US. Even the discussion of drug-related violence in Mexico rarely touches on the ways in which said violence affects the lives of migrants. And while there are certainly some differences between the “disappeared” of military regimes in the latter part of the 20th century, in many ways the impacts are all too familiar: uncertainty, the suffering of loved ones, the unknown fate of the victims. And in another familiar theme, it is the mothers who are at the forefront of the struggle to find these new “disappeared,” giving up their past livelihoods and devote themselves to finding their loved ones:
“We know your pain. We speak the same language,” said Irma Leticia Hidalgo, a mother from a Monterrey suburb whose son was kidnapped last year. “Your missing are our missing.”
Hidalgo said her 18-year-old son was taken from their home in the middle of the night by about 10 men, half of them wearing police vests from a nearby town, who went on to steal everything of value in the house. Although she paid a ransom and was told she’d have her son back in a few hours, he never returned.
She ultimately retired from her teaching job to look for him.
Again, the context of the 2010s and migration might superficially be different from that of the 1960s-1980s and military regimes, but the human suffering is painfully familiar and similar. It’s a powerful reminder that the issue of “the Disappeared” never goes away and takes a number of forms even today.
-In yet another step towards equality, a gay man in Brazil who, with his partner, is adopting a child, has been granted “maternity” leave for four months (rather than the 5-day time off for “paternity” leave) to help raise the couple’s new child.
-In a possible case of “tit-for-tat,” the US has granted asylum to an Ecuadoran journalist seeking protection from a fine and jail sentence after he called President Rafael Correa a “dictator.” The US’s decision to grant asylum came only 24 hours after Ecuador granted asylum to Julian Assange, whose Wikileaks released classified information from the United States (among other countries).
-Brazil’s striking federal workers reached an agreement with Brazil’s government last week and return to work today. The end of the strike has to be seen as a victory for the federal government generally and President Dilma Rousseff in particular, however, as the workers return to work not with the 25%-50% raises they’d sought, but the 15.8% raise Rousseff offered.
-In the wake of charges of police brutality after Chilean police stripped several protesting youth, President Sebastián Piñera has said his government will crack down on future incidents of “brutality.” However, given the ongoing use of tear gas and water cannons against students who march peacefully in Chile, it also seems clear that the government’s definition of “brutality” differs from that of its detractors and rights activists.
-After an investigation, Venezuela says there is no evidence illegal gold miners from Brazil killed dozens of Yanomani indigenous peoples in Venezuela. Brazil had asked Venezuela to investigate reports of an indigenous massacre involving the two countries. Although the events apparently took place in July, only now reports are surfacing that illegal gold miners in Brazil crossed the border between the two countries and killed nearly 80 Yanomani indigenous peoples in Venezuela.
-Former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador is urging Mexicans to take to the streets to protest After Mexico’s Supreme Court rejected PRD presidential candidate López Obrador’s challenge of July’s election results.
-After months of civil unrest, violence, and police clashes with people protesting a mining project, Peru’s government has (at least temporarily) decided against extending a state of emergency in the area of the protests.
-In Nicaragua, three police officers have been fired and are facing possible indictment after they raped a 12-year-old girl with developmental disabilities. As horrible as the crime is, it is also worth remembering that, should the girl become pregnant from her rape, she will not be able to choose to abort, as Daniel Ortega made abortion illegal in Nicaragua in all cases, including rape (which has recently been reduced to a “crime of passion”).
-In a victory for environmental protection, Chile’s Supreme Court has ruled against the construction of a planned $5 billion coal-fueled power plant, ruling the pollution from the plant violates Chile’s constitutional protection of the environment.
-Student protests continue and are escalating in Chile, where dozens were injured in clashes with police. Additionally, 139 students who had occupied buildings were violently arrested Thursday. The arrests have not brought an end to the protests, however, as students occupied another building in protest in response to the original arrests, even while Santiago’s mayor has threatened to cancel the scholarships of protesters. Students have been protesting for over a year, demanding educational reforms and opposing efforts to privatize education.
-After ten days of strikes, Buenos Aires’s subway workers returned to work after getting a 23% increase in their salaries, although the workers’ union says the solution is “temporary” and their struggles for better pay and working conditions will continue.
-Work on Brazil’s controversial Belo Monte dam has again come to a halt, as a court ordered work to be stopped until indigenous communities whose lands and livelihoods will be affected by the dam have time to make their voices heard.
-Guatemala’s military forcefully removed nearly 100 landless Guatemalans and bulldozed their homes after 32 families had settled on land near a military base.
-In a major victory for human rights, Mexico’s Supreme Court has ruled that cases of military human rights violations must be tried in civil courts, and not military courts where such cases could be covered up or not fully prosecuted.
-Members of Peru’s Shining Path ambushed and killed five soldiers, Peru’s military is reporting.
-In today’s bad environmental news, a report says jaguars in Brazil’s Atlantic forest have gone “virtually extinct.”
-Hundreds of Peruvians fell ill after a toxic spill polluted the air near the community of Santa Rosa de Cajacay. Although the toxic spill originally took place more than three weeks ago, the Antimina company, which owns the mine, has said or done little to address the issue.
-In an issue that could shape the presidential election in the US, a new poll suggests that Florida voters overwhelmingly support President Barack Obama’s announced immigration reform policy.
-Workers at Brazil’s GM plant went on a 24-hour strike over reduced output and growing fears their jobs are at stake.
-A bill that would repeal bans on sodomy and cross-dressing and would abolish the death penalty is set for debate on the floor of Guyana’s Congress.
-In Uruguay, the private University of Montevideo accepted the resignation of dean Dr. Mercedes Rovira after she made homophobic comments, including describing homosexuals as an “anomaly” and who said the school takes an individual’s sexuality into account when hiring staff.
-Although there are real limits to Brazil’s Truth Commission, it appears it will at least investigate Brazil’s role in the infamous Operation Condor, hopefully shedding light on an oft-overlooked part of the Brazilian military dictatorship.
-Guatemala has released Byron Disrael Lima Estrada, a military officer who assassinated Guatemalan Bishop Juan José Gerardi in 1998. Gerardi, who had been an important figure in fighting for human rights in Guatemala, was beaten to death just two days after he issued a report that cited the military’s constant violation of human rights and use of violence against civilians during the country’s 36-year civil war.
-Will Brazil become the next country to decriminalize drug use?
-In mixed news from Mexico, outgoing President Felipe Calderón has said that, compared to the first half of 2011, drug murders have dropped 15-20% during January to June of 2012, including a drop by 42% in Ciudad Juárez. However, another report shows that violence against women increased by 20% in the state of Mexico, which incoming President Enrique Peña Nieto governed until last fall and which surrounds the Federal District on its north, west, and east.
-Speaking of Peña Nieto, he has vowed to imprison any and all individuals who bought the votes of the Mexican electorate in the recent election. It remains to be seen if he will be sincere in this pledge, though it seems dubious at best, given that it was Peña Nieto himself that benefited from his party’s practice of vote-buying.
-In one last story on the outcomes from Mexico’s election, one-third of the incoming members of Mexico’s Congress will be women.
-Human Rights Watch has issued a new report that suggests that the political contexts have led to increased intimidation and censorship in Venezuela.
-Brazil’s police have begun to arrest and remove illegal gold miners who had illegally begun squatting and mining on the lands of the Yanomani, one of Brazil’s indigenous peoples.
-A few weeks after Chile ruled that General Alberto Bachelet, whose daughter Michelle governed as President from 2006-2010, died under torture during the Pinochet regime, authorities have charged two military officials with his death. After the coup of September 11, Pinochet’s regime purged the military of officers who were loyal to constitutional president Salvador Allende, including Bachelet.
-Over 1 million Brazilian evangelicals gathered in São Paulo in the annual ”March for Jesus” last weekend. Although one million people is a lot of people, the total who showed up fell far short of the six million evangelicals that organizers predicted would attend. Still, the number of evangelicals is only growing, and at least fifteen evangelical ministers are running for public office in the state of São Paulo in another sign of evangelicals’ growing importance not just in society or culture but in politics as well.
Given the eventful and busy week and light blogging, this is the second update on news stories from around Latin America today. (You can read the first one from earlier today here.)
-The Dominican Republic held elections this weekend, with Danilo Medina defeating former president Hipolito Mejia in a hotly-contested election.
-A loophole in Chilean electoral law has allowed over 1,000 people whom the dictatorial state of Augusto Pinochet “disappeared” to vote. A new law that does not require people over 18 to register to vote in person has led to rights activists registering the victims of the regime, creating a new space and arena in which the ongoing struggles over human rights and nation and efforts to remember the regime’s repressive past can take place in Chile.
-Subway workers in São Paulo have gone on strike, demanding a pay raise for their work and leading to a shutdown of a subway system that serves more than four million people each day in what is South America’s largest city.
-Meanwhile, in Canada, nearly 4,800 railroad workers have walked out on negotiations, leading to a shutdown of the Canadian Pacific Railway. While the walkout’s causes are as yet unclear, the move will certainly impact the Canadian economy, which depends heavily on railway transportation to transport goods.
-Argentine police found and disarmed a small bomb that was left in a theater where Colombian ex-president Álvaro Uribe was set to talk. The discovery came less than one week after another bomb attack that wounded 39 people, including Uribe’s former Secretary of the Interior, and killed two more.
-A Brazilian pilot ejected a passenger who made sexist and offensive remarks upon learning that his pilot was a woman. One can’t help but think that, of all the people you might want to anger, the person in charge of safely flying the jet you are in is not one of those people.
-Three Guatemalan prosecutors and four police officers have been arrested based on allegations of having ties to the drug cartels that are increasingly expanding in Guatemala. (H/t to Mike.)
-Brazil’s Congress has passed a new slave labor law that allows for harsher punishments for landowners who force poor Brazilians to work in slave-like conditions. The new law allows the government to confiscate the property of, fine, and even imprison for eight years those found in violation of labor codes in Brazil.
-Colombia and Venezuela are working together to strengthen the militaries’ presence in the border region between the two countries in an attempt to track down Colombian guerrillas who attacked and killed 12 Colombian soldiers this week.
-The UN is attempting an investigation of Cuba regarding the deaths of prisoners and repression of opposition groups in Cuba and is demanding the country provide information on its prison system and its treatment of prisoners and dissidents.
-In the ongoing struggle over citizenship rights of Brazil’s urban poor, Rio de Janeiro’s government is finally giving land titles to residents of favelas for their homes.
As I mentioned yesterday, a recent New York Times article traced the rise of Haitian immigration to Brazil as Haitians try to find a new and better start in South America’s booming economy.
Of course, this is not the first time that Brazil has been closely tied to Haiti. In February of 2004, a small rebel movement rose up against president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and by the end of the month, the Haitian president had been forced into exile. As the year progressed, Haiti was torn apart by increasing violence between rival factions. The U.S. attempted to “restore order” by sending around 1000 Marines, but they, along with the Haitian National Police forces, faced allegations of the use of excessive force to murder Haitian civilians, allegedly at the behest of the United States and other allies in the UN. In this context, in June the United Nations established the Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) after voting to send troops in to stabilize the country in the wake of political turmoil, and Brazil took charge of the peace-keeping mission, ultimately making up a majority of the more than 12,000 troops stationed in Haiti between 2004 and the present. Brazil’s willingness to take the lead in the UN involvement in Haiti was a small step in its efforts to increase its global presence and importance under the Lula administration (2002-2010). However, the decision also means Brazil itself is now facing the question of how to conduct a successful withdrawal of troops from a country that is still trying to establish its political stability.
The fact that Brazil has been so visible in Haiti since 2004, combined with the booming economy, actually makes it a logical endpoint for Haitian immigrants. Indeed, Wesley Saint-Fleur, whose story starts off the New York Times report, confirms the draw of the economy itself:
“Then we finally got to Brazil, which I’m told is building everything, stadiums, dams, roads,” said Mr. Saint-Fleur, 27, a construction worker, one of hundreds of Haitians who gather each day around the gazebo in Brasiléia’s palm-fringed plaza. “All I want is work, and Brazil, thank God, has jobs for us.”
The inclusion of stadiums is important, as it’s not just Brazil’s economy that’s a draw; clearly, the construction and preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics have made the country a draw for others from throughout Latin America who are looking for basic work and a steady income. Additionally, Brazil’s economy stands in stark contrast to Haiti’s, which can only further suggest the value of
The other thing that’s fascinating in this is the emergence (perhaps temporary, perhaps more long-term) of Brazil as a pole that attracts workers and migrants from other countries. Central to this attraction is the emerging ideal of Brazil as a new economic haven that provides more equality and a better opportunity than one’s home country. This type of symbolism should not be unfamiliar to those in the United States, as the U.S. historically has provided a similar symbol of an opportunity to improve one’s own life and the lives of one’s progeny, even when that symbolism did not necessarily fully or accurately reflect the opportunities available to immigrants or the ways they would be received upon arrival in the United States, (whether it be the Irish in the 1840s, the Chinese in the 1860s, or Mexicans and Central Americans today). Indeed, many Haitians themselves have looked to the U.S. as a possible escape from poverty and instability in Haiti, and over 25,000 refugees and 7,000 asylum seekers have turned to the U.S. and Canada in recent years, even as the US turns away asylum-seekers. Yet the fact that Haitians are also beginning to see Brazil as a land of opportunity signifies an interesting and subtle-but-important shift not just in the dynamics of immigration in the Western Hemisphere, but also as an important marker of the ways in which
While immigrants’ decisions to turn to Brazil may indicate another way that Brazil is taking on a new global importance in the 21st century, the Brazilian government itself is more ambiguous on the question. The government has already begun to try to slow the influx of migrants, granting visas to those who have already arrived in the country but also stepping up border security. And many Haitians themselves are beginning to find that the symbol of Brazil as a successful and equal country does not always line up with realities in Brazil, as “some [Haitians] crowd eight to a small hotel room or wind up sleeping on the streets, almost reliving the misery they had hoped to leave behind.” Indeed, while Brazil’s economy is witnessing unprecedented success at the macroeconomic level, it continues to struggle with a wide income gap (reflected by the Gini coefficient), where the top 10% of the country hold 42.5% of the country’s income even while the bottom 60% only share about 22% of the national income. It is into this context that Haitians are moving; certainly their hopes are not foolish, but there are real obstacles still facing Brazil, and in many regards, the booming economy has helped the few over the many.
I agree with Gabriel Elizondo, who commented on Twitter, “All the Haitian migrants tell me they want to do is one thing: Work. Simple as that. Brazil is lucky to have them.” Brazil should not turn away the Haitians, but rather find opportunities not only for them, but for the millions of Brazilians who have been shunted aside in the race for “development” and that ultimate of Brazilian positivist goals, “progress.”
-In another reminder that the drug war is a hemispheric and global problem, a new report points to the ways that gangs in places like San Antonio, El Paso, and Southern Texas are tied to Mexican drug cartels.
-A Cuban prisoner not included in the recent amnesty of over 2500 prisoners died yesterday while on a hunger strike. Rene Cobas joined roughly 20 more prisoners in the hunger strike in which they protested their exclusion from the amnesty list.
-An undocumented immigrant who became a quadriplegic in a construction accident and who was moved to Mexico against his will has died in Mexico. Quelino Ojeda Jimenez was injured in August 2010, and in February of 2011, the hospital that had been taking care of Jimenez, who could not eat or breath on his own either, decided to deport him.
-The United States is not the only country to deport undocumented immigrants. In the first 11 months of 2011, Mexico deported nearly 50,000 undocumented immigrants back to their home countries in Central America, with nearly half of them returning to (and coming from) Guatemala.
-In news that’s not remotely surprising, indigenous people in Guatemala are treated differently than non-indigenous people, facing prejudice in employment opportunities, lower-than-average wages, inhumane working conditions, and other inequalities.
-Peruvian demonstrators resumed their protests against a planned gold mine in the state of Cajamarca in Northern Peru. Over 2000 people, including the governor of the state, participated in the protest against the $4.8 billion dollar mine over concerns regarding the irreversible environmental damage the mine will cause.
-In a prison in western Venezuela, inmates murdered five prisoners accused of sex crimes.
-Santeria priests in Cuba have said that while 2012 will be a year of “upheaval and change,” the world will not in fact end, joining others who insist the world will not end this year.
-Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff closed her first year as president with the highest rankings in public opinion polls of any Brazilian president. Her 72% approval ratings draw in no small part on her support from the Brazilian middle class and her strong, technocratic leading style.
-On the other side of public opinion, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, who recently faced his lowest approval ratings, finds himself under attack again, this time defending how he has handled the wildfires that broke out in Chile’s world-famous Torres del Paine National Park, even as the fires are spreading and have taken the life of at least one person.
-Venezuela has responded to a recent order that they pay ExxonMobil $900 million for the nationalization of oil projects and equipment, saying it will only pay $255 million in compensation to the multinational company.
-Also in surprising news, 2011 was a good year for immigrant rights in Texas, as 40 anti-immigrant bills failed to get the approval of the state Congress, leading Latino and immigration groups to enter 2012 by focusing on improving Latino rights and increasing Latinos participation in electoral politics.