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Yet More Paramilitary Ties to Colombian Ex-President Álvaro Uribe

August 21, 2012 Comments off

Yesterday, Colombian ex-general Mauricio Santoro, one of former president Álvaro Uribe’s security chiefs, pled guilty to ties with right-wing paramilitary terrorist groups while avoiding facing charges of drug trafficking (in which paramilitary groups are also involved). Given how many top-ranking officials from the Uribe government (and even Uribe himself before he became president) have now been connected to right-wing paramilitary groups, one cannot help but wonder how many more connections are needed before if it’s only a matter of time before an explicit connection between these groups and Uribe’s presidency emerges.

Around Latin America

August 6, 2012 Comments off

-In a rare bit of good news, it appears the deforestation rate in the Amazon had once again dropped (though 2,049 square kilometers of deforestation is still a significant loss).

-In Chile, a crackdown on Mapuche activists left at least five children injured after state forces again used harsh measures against Chile’s largest (and regularly-repressed) indigenous group.

-In a step backwards for women’s rights, deadlock in Uruguay’s Congress has postponed the legalization of abortion up to the twelfth week. Meanwhile, in Chile, a study finds that women continue to have a difficult time speaking out against unfair wage practices that reward men more than women for the same work.

-A new study suggests that 70% of the GLBT community in São Paulo, South America’s largest city, have been the target of aggression and persecution.

-Mexican singer Chavela Vargas, who pushed gender stereotypes and irked the Catholic Church, passed away at 93.

-In a major, if temporary, victory for indigenous rights, the Colombian Constitutional Court ordered the military forces to leave indigenous lands in the Southeastern part of the country, a ruling the government plans to appeal.

-In a novel solution that other countries could learn from, Honduras has banned guns in the Carribean region of Colón.

-In Argentina, popular outrage erupted after a video of police tortured two prisoners became public. Argentines say the video is more evidence that torture within state forces continues nearly thirty years after the brutal dictatorship that used widespread torture fell from power.

-Meanwhile, in a step forward for prisoners’ rights in Brazil, the government is shutting down illegal, police-constructed makeshift prisons where due process and rule of law were often absent.

-Brazil is set to spend $9.6 billion reais (roughly $4.75 billion US dollars) to project hydroelectric dams, including the controversial Belo Monte dam, from invasions and strikes. The move comes just a few weeks after indigenous peoples whose lands will be flooded had occupied the dam’s construction site in protest.

-It’s not just major dams that cause problems for peasants in Latin America; in Mexico, communities have intensified their struggles against state-sponsored “small dams.”

-Brazil and Uruguay recently signed a new round of agreements that will intensify the economic ties between the two countries.

-Finally, in a tragic if unsurprising conclusion, the increased violence in Mexico in the past several years has led to a rise in PTSD among Mexico’s population.

Logging, Social Conflict, and the (Absence of the) State in Mexico

August 4, 2012 Comments off

The New York Times ran an excellent piece recently on the indigenous community of Cherán in the Mexican state of Michoacán. There, the cartels’ use of illegal logging has devastated not only the environment but the livelihood of the community, and in the absence of state protection, the community members have taken matters into their own hands.

On the morning of April 15, 2011, using rocks and fireworks, a group of women attacked a busload of AK-47-armed illegal loggers as they drove through Cherán, residents said. The loggers, who local residents say are protected by one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations and given a virtual free pass by the country’s authorities, had terrorized the community at will for years.

Cherán’s residents said they had been subjected to multiple episodes of rape, kidnapping, extortion and murder by the paramilitary loggers, who have devastated an estimated 70 percent of the surrounding oak forests that sustained the town’s economy and indigenous culture for centuries.

[...]

[H]ere in Cherán, a group of townspeople took loggers hostage, expelled the town’s entire police force and representatives of established political parties, and forcibly closed the roads.

It’s a remarkable story that gets into a lot of the complexities of community-state-cartel relations and the local impact of the historical absence of the state in rural Mexico. Erik over at Lawyers, Guns & Money has some excellent observations as well, including the decreasing adequacy of understanding the violence in Mexico only in terms of the drug trade:

While legalizing marijuana in the United States would rob the Mexican criminal gangs of a major source of income, the idea that it would somehow resolve the violence in Mexico is absurd. Maybe at one time such a thing might have made a major difference but not now. The gangs have moved into any number of other activities, including kidnapping, extortion, the illegal wildlife trade, and logging, as well as of course smuggling hard drugs. Of course, the U.S. could shut the flow of guns to Mexico but that would violate my rights to have a personal arsenal the size of the Honduran army or something.

Indeed. He also has excellent observations on the complexities of the struggle and on the impact of deforestation, and both his comments and the original article are well worth taking a look at.

The Long-Term Impacts of the 2009 Honduran Coup

July 28, 2012 Comments off

As Greg Weeks points out, the 2009 coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya “blew open the door to more drug trafficking. How deeply has Honduras been brought into the drug-transportation network since the coup? According to the New York Times, plenty deep; just look at how many drug flights have flown into Honduras:

A map detailing the paths of drug flights, which are responsible for only 20% of the transportation of drugs, from South to Central America

That’s a remarkable shift, and it would be interesting to see an in-depth study that analyzes the post-coup governments and the conditions that led to Honduras becoming an increasingly important stopover point for flights carrying drugs northward.

Around Latin America

July 18, 2012 Comments off

-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.

Around Latin America

July 11, 2012 Comments off

-An editorial in the New York Times makes the compelling (and correct) case for compensating Guatemalans whom the US infected with STDs without their consent in the 1940s.

-As another reminder of the shifting context of hemispheric geopolitics, Argentina signed a defense agreement with China, even while Caribbean countries debate between alliances with Taiwan or with China. Meanwhile, Margaret Myers provides yet another excellent summary of Chinese headlines on Latin America from the past month, including a unique take on the Paraguayan removal of President Fernando Lugo.

-Add Bolivia’s textile industry to the ever-growing list of “victims of globalization.”

-Is a Chilean bill proposing an increase in minimum wage at risk?

-Nobel laureate Gabriel García Marquez is suffering from dementia, according to his brother.

-The US government has confirmed that a DEA agent killed another alleged drug trafficker in Honduras last week. This is the second incident involving DEA agents in Honduras in less than a month; A DEA agent shot and killed another alleged trafficker at the end of June.

-A new report says that Benoni Alberaz, the army officer responsible for torturing Dilma Rousseff and many others, the current President of Brazil and an anti-dictatorship activist in the late-1960s, died twenty years ago (even while security apparatuses were continuing to report on Rousseff and other former activists) meaning he never had to answer for his crimes.

-Peruvian troops managed to free ten child hostages and captured the eleven members of the Shining Path movement that had taken the children. The capture and rescue provided Peruvian President Ollanta Humala with a brief bit of good news as he faces growing criticism for the ongoing and increasingly violent protests against mining projects in the northern part of Peru.

-Meanwhile, in Bolivia, protests against a Canadian mine left at least one farmer dead amidst conflicting reports. Some accounts say police clashed with protesters, while the Bolivian government countered that the farmer “died in a dynamite accident” (though those two explanations are not mutually exclusive). However, the ongoing protests have led the government to consider nationalizing the Canadian mining company’s claimed property.

-Ecuador’s dependence on oil revenues is revealing its shortcomings, as the country had to seek out a $515 million loan from the Latin American Reserve Fund in order to counter a global drop in oil prices.

-In more depressing animal news, workers in Trinidad trying to divert a river in order to protect a hotel ended up crushing tens of thousands of sea turtle eggs.

Around Latin America

July 4, 2012 Comments off

-There have been anti-mining protests in Peru for the past several months, but yesterday, one of the protests turned violent, with at least three people dead and 21 wounded in a confrontation between police and residents protesting a massive mining project in Cajamarca. The protests took place even as a new report suggests efforts towards transparency are failing to meet local populations’ expectations, perhaps adding to the protesters’ causes for mobilization. Meanwhile, President Ollanta Humala shook up the military forces yesterday by relieving 22 generals  of command in an administrative shuffle designed to revitalize the armed forces.

-In yet another example of humans doing all they can to destroy oceans and marine life, overfishing of hatcheries in South America has left Chile at “critically low levels” of fish available.

-The League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, officially supported equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians yesterday, becoming the second Hispanic organization to support gay marriage. LULAC joins the National Council of La Raza, which supported marriage equality last month.

-Mexico’s elections may have ended, but the news and controversy has not. In the wake of reports of the PRI buying votes even as the Elections Agency plans to recount 1/3 of the ballots, all of which adds to runner-up Andrés López Obrador’s refusal to concede defeat amidst allegations of electoral fraud. López Obrador also objected to the 2006 elections which he lost by fewer than 250,000 votes (or just over 0.5% of the total vote count).

-Colombian ex-general Mauricio Santoyo, who was the commander of the military police under president Álvaro Uribe and who has been tied to paramilitary groups and the drug trade, turned himself into Drug Enforcement Agency officials today to face trial in the United States. Santoyo is just the latest in a long line of officials who were top-level politicians and advisors with ties to both the Uribe government and to paramilitary groups during the president’s time in office from 2002 to 2010.

-The constitutional turmoil in El Salvador intensified yesterday, as there are now two different groups of judges both claiming to represent the Supreme Court. Tim’s analysis is excellent (and his blog is one of the only places to find more about what’s going on in El Salvador regarding the constitutional crisis specifically and El Salvador more generally).

-Honduran President Porfírio Lobo has suggested a constitutional reform to give the military the power of a police force . However, human rights group The Committee of Families of the Disappeared and Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH) has appealed the reform to the supreme court in an attempt to prevent an increase in the military’s power in what opponents see as a clear constitutional violation of the separation of military and police. (And of course, (the last time a constitutional reform was proposed in Honduras, it did not work out well for the previous democratically-elected president.)

-Argentine workers have defied a court order to end their protest and continue to blockade a major site of oil and gas production. The workers, who are temporary workers, are demanding a salary level similar to that of permanent workers at the Cerro Dragon energy compound. Meanwhile, the Argentine Supreme Court dealt a blow Canadian mining corporation Barrick Gold’s plans in Argentina after the court temporarily reversed a lower court’s decision to block a federal glacier protection law.

-Ten months after Brazilian judge Patrícia Acioli was gunned down in front of her home after sentencing police officers tied to militias a new report finds that the number of judges under threat has actually increased in the past year in what is certainly a threat to judicial independence and to efforts to curb paramilitary violence in Brazil.

-Less than two months after famed Mexican author Carlos Fuentes passed away, the Mexican government announced plans to create a literary prize named after the writer. Fuentes was renowned the world over for his style, garnering the praise of respected authors (including Philip Roth) and the general public alike.

-Finally, some Brazilian air force pilots may be in trouble after a planned flyby in Brasília flew so close to the ground it shattered the windows on government buildings, including the Brazilian Supreme Court.

Around Latin America

June 29, 2012 Comments off

-The latest polls suggest that on Sunday, barring some extreme occurrence, Enrique Peña Nieto will indeed become the next president of Mexico, marking the return of the PRI to power 12 years after Vicente Fox broke the party’s 70+ year hold on the government.

-China Premier Wen Jibao wrapped up his trip to South America with a bang, pledging $15 billion in investments and loans in order to boost development and infrastructure in the region.

-Questions on the US’s presence in Honduras again boiled to the surface after a DEA agent killed a Honduran man this week. While the US said the victim was tied to the drug trade and that the agent acted in “self-defense,” the fact that it was a US agent has again raised questions over sovereignty and the US’s role in Honduras specifically and in combating the drug trade in the region more generally.

-Bolivia’s police force ended their strike, agreeing to a pay raise of 20%. The strike had led to the government deploying the military to patrol the streets and raised the specter of a possible violent clash between police and military similar to that in 2003 that left 19 people dead. However, the end of the strike did not bring an end to social unrest, as the first action the police had to do was to contain another indigenous protest against the planned road through the Amazon that President Evo Morales supports but that has met indigenous opposition since last year.

-A series of attacks on buses and on police in São Paulo has left authorities suggesting that the criminal group Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Command of the Capital), a group originally formed in the early1990s and made up of prison inmates and associates, has made a return.

-Based on rates up through the first six months of this year, 2012 is heading towards being one of the worst years for the murder of journalists worldwide, with Latin America tragically contributing plenty to the attacks on journalists.

-Ecuador has announced that it will no longer send military officers to the former School of the Americas in Georgia. As I wrote at my old haunt, the School of the Americas is one of the more infamous examples of US policies during the Cold War, providing training to such infamous figures as Efraín Ríos Montt, Manuel Noriega, and numerous other officials involved with military coups, dictatorships, and human rights violations throughout the region in latter half of the twentieth century.

-Tens of thousands of Chilean high school and college students again took to the streets, continuing to demand broad reforms to the education system. Students have periodically demonstrated since last year, gaining broad support, challenging the neoliberal policies of President Sebastián Piñera and leading to declining popularity for Chile’s right-wing president.

-Speaking of Piñera, he walked out of an interview after a journalist brought up the controversial pro-Pinochet documentary that has recently aired in Chile.

-Former Argentine dictator Jorge Videla denied that the military regime of 1976-1983 ever kidnapped any children, in spite of at least 500 documented cases that continue to galvanize and unearth traumas and pain (past and present) in Argentina.

-And speaking of military regimes, in Brazil, a court has ordered former colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra to pay $25,000 to both the wife and the sister of late journalist Luiz Eduardo da Rocha Merlino, who died after being tortured in a prison run by Ustra in 1971.

-Although it has been nearly two and a half years since an earthquake devastated Haiti, there are still more than 300,000 people who remain displaced from the disaster.

-An Argentine bishop has resigned after it became clear he had “amorous ties” with a woman. I genuinely feel bad for the man, and his case serves as yet another reminder of how absurd and archaic the Catholic Church’s ongoing insistence on celibacy in the 21st century is.

Around Latin America

June 25, 2012 Comments off

The events in Paraguay this weekend were particularly exceptional and important, but there were many other things going on throughout Latin America that are worth noting.

-Bolivia is going through its own domestic strife, as police have gone on strike over pay. The strike quickly spread throughout the country and could lead to the type of confrontation that left 19 people dead in a similar strike in 2003. With police striking, the Bolivian government has mobilized the army to fulfill police functions and patrol the streets. This is the second police strike in the region this year – in February, police in Brazil went on strike right before Carnaval, also demanding higher pay.

-In Argentina, truckers went on a one-day strike demanding higher pay, a tactic that was successful for the truckers. However, they have also announced another one-day strike this week to demand a reduction in taxes.

-While Mexico has made a number of high-profile arrests (and at least one possibly mistaken identification in an arrest) of drug cartel leaders in recent weeks, a new report says that Mexico lags behind Colombia and even Guatemala in seizing criminals’ actual assets, calling such seizures “nearly null” in Mexico. Meanwhile, “intern” over at Just the Facts breaks down nicelyhow July’s presidential election may impact the drug trade in Mexico.

-On the other end of the drug trade debate, Uruguay’s government is set to submit a bill that would legalize marijuana.

-The Rio+20 environmental summit wrapped up last week, though with little concrete change or improvements in sustainable development; rather, “everybody” was “unhappy” and the conference agreed to future conferences. That said, Rio Real was in Rio de Janeiro and had some interesting on-the-ground observations, as did Lucy Jordan, who provided “A Brazil Perspective on Rio+20.”, and Lisa provides a layperson’s view on living in Rio in the midst of the summit.

-In El Salvador, a gang truce reached its 100th day, with homicide rates dropping significantly in that period.

-Indigenous peoples in Venezuela are demanding Germany return a 35-ton boulder that is (ironically) a part of a “global peace project” but that is also a sacred object to the Pemon peoples.

-Tropical storm Debby formed in the Gulf of Mexico this weekend. This marks the first time since 1851 that there were four tropical storms that had formed before July 1.

-An investigation into the death of General Alberto Bachelet, the father of former president Michelle Bachelet and a military official who was loyal to president Salvador Allende after his overthrow and suicide in 1973, has found that the former general most likely died from heart problems aggravated by the torture the Pinochet regime forced him to endure. Meanwhile, the Chilean courts also ordered an investigation into the 1976 assassination of US citizen Ronni Moffitt in Washington DC. Moffitt died in a car bomb that also killed exiled Chilean human rights and anti-Pinochet  dictatorship activist Orlando Letelier.

-Uruguay’s Minister of Economy, Fernando Lorenzo, said that the country is worried about the economic impact of the Euro zone’s ongoing instability might have on countries like Uruguay. The admission serves as an important reminder that, despite recent regional economic successes, Latin America is still somewhat dependent on the economic strength of Europe (and susceptible to economic troubles there).

-Finally, Brazil is set to raise the price of gasoline for the first time since….2008.

Around Latin America

June 4, 2012 Comments off

-With just over a month to go before the Mexican Presidential Election, center-left candidate Manuel López Obrador has narrowed the gap, and is now trailing PRI-candidate and frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto by only four percentage points in one poll.

-Venezuelan soldiers captured Diego Perez Henao, the suspected leader of the Colombian drug cartel Rastrojos (“Leftovers”), in Venezuela this weekend.

-A controversial dam project in Chile has suffered a major blow as Colbun, one of the two major sources of funding for the dam, withdrew its support for the project. The dam would flood thousands of acres in Chilean Patagonia and had faced significant opposition from a variety of groups, including indigenous peoples and environmental groups, even while increasingly-embattled and unpopular president Sebastián Piñera continues to support the project.

-It has been just over one week since Honduran President Porfirio Lobo named Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares the new national police chief, and already Bonilla Valladares is once again facing allegations of being involved in the the murder and/or disappearance of at least three civilians ten years ago, when he served as a regional police official in the late-1990s and early-2000s.

-Peru declared a state of emergency last week as protests against mining projects after protests took a violent turn, and officials have arrested a mayor for “inciting” the protestors. This is not the first time the government of Ollanta Humala has taken such measures; late last year, the government took similar measures during protests against a gold mine in Cajamarca.

-In a different type of protest, thousands of Colombians took to the streets to protest and demand justice for Rosa Elvira Cely, a street vendor who was assaulted and raped and who died of her injuries.

-As expected, Rio de Janeiro closed its largest landfill, the Jardim Gramacho, just six weeks after it announced the shutdown of the site, which provided over 1000 people with their livelihoods.

-Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo returned from a two-week trip to Asia that his administration described as an attempt to find new markets for Paraguayan goods (especially soy and beef), while his detractors criticized him the time and money spent abroad. While the trip may not lead to any definite trade deals, not traveling to spur foreign investment would certainly prevent any trade deals, so time will tell whether Lugo or his detractors were right.

-A new poll shows that Chileans overwhelmingly support reforms to the dictatorship-era electoral system Augusto Pinochet’s government left behind, with less than 25% of those polled supporting the so-called “binomial system” that favors coalition politics and larger parties/coalitions over smaller parties and that undermines majoritarian governance in Congress.

-Luis Moreno Ocampo, an Argentine who prosecuted high-profile human rights violations cases (including Moammar Ghadafi) for the International Criminal Court, will now be going after a different type of criminal activity, as FIFA has nominated Ocampo to serve as the football organization’s chief of anti-corruption.

-Ricardo Patiño, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Ecuador, spoke out against this week against what he called US and British colonialism in Puerto Rico/Guantanamo Bay [Cuba] and the Malvinas/Falklands Islands, respectively.

-Finally, in mixed environmental news from Chile, people donated over 60,000 trees to reforest the Torres del Paine National Park that was ravaged by a forest fire last December, while Chile’s largest hog farm is trying to figure out what to do with half a million pigs after months of complaints and pollution led to the industrial agribusiness having to shut down operations.

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