-Two former executives from Ford in Argentina have been charged (among other things) with having ties to the abduction of 24 workers for Ford during the military regime of 1976-1983.
-El Salvador’s presidential election is shaping up to be a close three-way race, according to new polls.
-Mexico’s government says it will release a report that finds the number of disappeared in Mexico is “much lower” than an initial report that claimed that tens of thousands have been disappeared as part of the violence that has defined part of the drug trade in Mexico. Nonetheless, Mexico’s government has created a special unit to investigate and try to track down the fates of the tens of thousands of “disappeared” caught up in the drug trade and violence in Mexico.
-In what is perhaps curious timing, even while Efraín Ríos Montt’s conviction for genocide has been annulled, former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo was extradited to the US, where he will face charges of corruption and money laundering. As Mike Allison points out, the trial in the US provides another reminder that, although Guatemala’s courts are not as corrupt as they once were, they still have a long way to go, a fact that the recent decision on Ríos Montt all too tragically demonstrated.
-Speaking of institutional failures and undoing justice, a Brazilian court has overturned the 2010 conviction of landowner Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura for his role in the murder of land activist Dorothy Stang in 2005. It is the second time a conviction of Bastos de Moura has been overturned, though he will remain in jail while a third trial takes place. Meanwhile, three other, poorer men hired to murder Stang remain in prison without having access to multiple trials and a court system favorable to their cause the way it is to the wealthier and more powerful Bastos de Moura.
-Chile has fined Canadian mining company Barrick Gold and suspended all operations at the Pascua-Lama mine after environmental degradation, water contamination, and other environmental issues. Though seemingly large, the fine represents only %0.1 of the cost of operating the mine.
-Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes is facing criticism for his inability to deal with criticisms after he punched a man in the face while out to dinner last Saturday.
-Ten years since the rise of “Kirchnerism” in Argentina, poverty has declined, though to what degree and by what metrics are apparently up for debate.
-Efforts to reforest and aid the environment in Latin America have slowed to a crawl, caught in bureaucratic red tape, political fear of social movements, and a slowness (or unwillingness) of governments to help environmental causes in the region.
-Digital currency business owner Arthur Budovsky, whose company, Liberty Reserve, operates in Costa Rica, was arrested in Spain this week on charges of money laundering.
I’m a bit late in getting to this, but last week, JF String had a great piece that reveals just how vital to the Chilean economy copper continues to be. Among other data:
The labor of every Chilean miner is today, on average, responsible for producing ~ $60 million (chilean pesos) in mineral wealth per year. That’s four times greater than a Chilean working in the banking sector ($15 million/year) and six times greater than someone working in the country’s retail sector ($10 million/year). [...]
In terms of the total percentage of federal budget revenues, the industry’s contribution represented 20.7% in 2011 compared to 10.5% in 1991. However, the 2011 figure is down from its peak in 2006 when the copper industry represented 34.1% of federal budget revenues. [...]
The wealth generated by copper in Chile has not been distributed equally across the nation. According to Meller’s study, per capita GDP in Chile’s copper regions is around 163% greater than in non-mining regions. The money that does leave, says Meller, is unsurprisingly concentrated in the wealthiest neighborhoods of Santiago.
Sting also has some interesting observations on the ways in which copper in Chile and oil in Venezuela compare and contrast with regards to their respective national economies. The whole piece is not too long and definitely worth checking out..
-Early reports are saying
245 232 people died in a nightclub fire last night in Santa Maria, a city in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul. Somewhere between 300 and 400 people were reportedly at the event, a party for university students. Apparently, the fire’s source was a live band’s pyrotechnics. [UPDATE: The Guardian has photos from the scene last night, some of which are fairly graphic.]
-In Venezuela, prison violence between prisoners and the Venezuelan National Guard at a prison in Barquisimeto left sixty-one dead and around 120 wounded.
-El Salvador will be holding presidential elections next year, and Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the candidate for the incumbent-party FSLN, has said he will seek a repeal of the 1993 amnesty law that has protected war criminals and human rights violators, mostly in the military and governments between 1980 and 1992, from prosecution for their crimes.
-Cícero Guedes, an important figure in Brazil’s Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Workers’ Movement; MST), was shot dead as he returned home from an area near a sugar plantation MST members had recently occupied.
-Guatemala’s recent efforts to militarize public institutions, including those not directly connected to security forces, have created concerns over the potential stability of democratic institutions.
-In Bolivia, activists and feminists are demanding prosecution of provincial representative Domingo Alcibia, who was caught on security video apparently raping a drunk woman while she was unconscious.
-Brazil is set to launch a massive four-year study of the Amazonian rainforest that will detail the tree-count, biodiversity, and animal life in the region. The study is the first of its kind conducted since the late-1970s, when the military dictatorship conducted a similar study.
-In both Peru and Argentina, recent struggles over mining continue to shape social and political struggles, as people in Peru continue to protest the environmental consequences of mining, while in Argentina, powerful mining companies are using their economic influence and political ties to try to silence local journalists who seek to report on the environmental consequences of the mining activity in the northwestern parts of the country.
-While forty companies, including the massive Grupo Clarín (which has recently butted heads with President Cristina Kirchner) tend to dominate the market, a recent study found that alternative press in Argentina is also thriving.
-In a boon to historians of the Southern Cone (or Great Britain), last week Uruguay declassified archives on the Malvinas War, providing access to new diplomatic and previously-unknown materials on the war and its regional impact.
-Finally, in a unique mixture of 21st technology and urban history, Rio de Janeiro has begun incorporating QR codes into the city’s sidewalks to aid tourists, melding the codes into the city’s traditional mosaic sidewalks.
-Former president and convicted human rights violator Alberto Fujimori is planning on asking for a pardon from his prison sentence due to health issues in a move that would undo years of efforts for justice for the victims of his regime. Meanwhile, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights requested Peru annul a Supreme Court ruling from this past summer that could lead to Fujimori’s early release from the 2009 conviction that found him guilty of ordering death-squad killings.
-An alleged leader of the Paraguayan Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Army of the Paraguayan People; EPP) released a series of videos that called for the elimination of private property in the name of Paraguay’s poor, highlighting the ongoing social and economic inequalities and ongoing social dissatisfaction and unrest over land distribution in one of Latin America’s two landlocked countries.
-In a move to streamline urban planning and familiarity, San José, Costa Rica, home to 1.5 million of the country’s residents, is finally installing street signs in the city. Prior to this, all addresses were based on landmarks (I don’t remember the exact address of where I lived in Costa Rica 11 years ago, but part of that address was “100 meters north of the school, on the right”). While this seems like a good idea for those visiting such a large city, cab drivers familiar with the old system are among those critical of the decision.
-With student protests and educational reforms causing serious problems for his government, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced his 2013 budget, with increased spending on education making up 20% of the budget. Although the move is no doubt likely designed at least in part to address criticisms Piñera has faced over education, it is unlikely to satisfy a student movement that wants institutional reforms and free public education for all.
-In Honduras, rights activist Antonio Trejo, who represented peasants in their struggles against wealthy landowners and who was opposed to recent plans to privatize three cities, was assassinated while attending a wedding last week.
-In a decision that should have happened decades ago, Brazil has formally outlawed the formation of and participation in militias and paramilitary organizations. While the law is an important one to have on the books, it certainly seems like a case of “too little, too late” in a country where police militias have resorted to extrajudicial executions of children, the poor, and others in Brazil’s cities since the 1980s, and the 4- to 8-year sentencing seems light for what is a very real security problem in Brazil. Meanwhile, a former officer who served over 25 years in prison for his role in leading a death squad that killed more than 50 people was himself gunned down in the state of São Paulo last week.
-With one week to go before national elections in Venezuela, a suspect has been arrested in the murder of three opposition activists at a rally last week. Though the suspect’s identity has not been released, opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles spoke out against the killings and the violent climate in Venezuela that they say allowed the killings to take place.
-Thousands of Haitians took to the street to protest against President Michel Martelly’s government, blaming it for rising food prices and the cost of living and accusing it of corruption.
-Bolivian miners who had been in conflict with each other over possession of a mine have agreed to end their conflict, with both sides having access to the Colquiri mine. Earlier struggles had led to months of protests and strikes and even turned violent, with one miner dying in clashes last month.
-In a macabre landmark, a new report says that landmines have killed or maimed 10,000 Colombians in the last 22 years. Leftist guerrillas are responsible for a majority of the mines, a defense mechanism they’ve employed during Colombia’s 48-year (and counting) civil war.
-Speaking of mines, Chile is set to de-mine a path leading to the Torres del Paine National Park, on the Chilean-Argentine border. Both countries heavily mined their respective territories in 1977-1978 when a maritime border dispute over some islands at the southern tip of the continent nearly led to war, with ultranationalists in Argentina particularly aggressive in their declarations. The conflict revealed that, while the dictatorships of South American countries collaborated on human rights abuses via Operation Condor, not all relations between the dictatorships were cordial.
-Margaret Myers has another edition of her “Chinese News Coverage of Latin America” posts up, with Chinese headlines reflecting a preoccupation with eco-tourism, diplomatic ties with the Pacific Alliance, and tariffs, among other items.
-At the UN meetings last week, Argentina and Iran met and agreed to begin talks over prosecutions for those connected to the 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, which left 85 dead and to which Iran had been connected.
-Uruguay claimed to have deactivated a bomb placed at the Venezuelan embassy in Montevideo. Though pamphlets claiming ties to a left-wing group were found near the bomb, it is unclear who actually planted the bomb or the pamphlets – though it may have been leftists, it could also have been from the right in an attempt to discredit the Chávez government, if not something altogether different.
-Finally, Curação’s ex-Prime Minister, Gerrit Schotte is saying he has been removed in a bloodless coup. Schotte accused governor Adeel van der Pluijm-Vrede of illegally swearing in a new government, though the Dutch government, whose kingdom Curação is still a part of, has said the interim government is legal.
-In Chile, protests erupted as the country commemorated the 39th anniversary of the military coup that overthrew democratically-elected president Salvador Allende. The protests turned violent, however, leaving one officer dead and at least 255 people under arrest.
-After conflicting reports of an alleged massacre of Yanomani people in Venezuela and subsequent government findings that encountered no evidence of such a massacre, right group Survival International has backtracked, withdrawing a report on the massacre and concluding no such massacre took place.
-This week has brought mixed news for embattled Chilean President Sebastián Piñera. Congress passed a tax reform that will close loopholes for businesses and increase tax revenues for the state, money which can theoretically be used for education. Of course, increased public spending on education has been one of the main demands of the Chilean student movement, so the bill is a small victory for Piñera. However, his government also faces allegations that he has distorted numbers in claims that poverty rates have declined under his watch, adding to the already-substantial criticisms of his government. Thus, Pinera’s poll numbers remain very low, with only a 29% approval rating and with 30% of people who voted for him expressing regret for their decision. [h/t to Greg Weeks for the poll numbers]
-In Brazil, military police have occupied a favela after suspected drug lords murdered seven people, including six youth and a police cadet. While the occupation does not undo Rio’s efforts at more peaceful pacification programs in the favelas, it does raise questions about the limits or long-term potential of these pacification projetcs.
-Miners in Bolivia have blocked one of the main roads into the capital of La Paz as part of a protest that reflects increasing tension and competition among different miners’ organizations.
-Meanwhile, in a different story, after months of protests, Peru’s government announced it will work with indigenous groups on future mining projects. The move could be significant, providing indigenous peoples with an opportunity to finally have the government listen to their concerns and issues and perhaps shaping mining projects and environmental preservation in Peru.
-Margaret Myers has another update on recent Chinese headlines & stories on Latin America, including China’s takes on the middle classes in Latin America, comparisons & contrasts between the Chinese Communist Party and political parties in Latin America, and other stories.
-Bolivia is set to apply to become a full member of Mercosur, the trading bloc made up of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and, as of this summer, Venezuela (with Paraguay being suspended in the wake of the removal of President Fernando Lugo. The move makes sense for geographic and economic reasons, and Bolivia is already an associate member, so it will be interesting to see if its application faces the same resistance among some politicians of member countries that Venezuela’s application did. Meanwhile, Paraguay plans to appeal its suspension to the International Tribunal in the Hague
-The body of a mutilated and tortured corpse that washed up on Argentina’s shores in 1976 has finally been identified as that of a Chilean Luis Guillermo Vega Ceballos, a leftist who had fled his own country after the September 11, 1973 coup and who became an early victim of the Argentine military dictatorship of 1976-1983.
-In a country that already faces regular allegations of police abuse, Jamaica is again in the international eye after a policeman shot and murdered a pregnant woman, sparking protests on the Caribbean island.
-Finally, a Colombian woman was murdered and publicly burned after community members accused her of practicing witchcraft in the state of Antioquia.
The recent story of the possible massacre of Yanomani indigenous peoples in Venezuela by Brazilian gold miners gets murkier and murkier. Although Venezuela quickly ruled that there’s no evidence any such massacre took place this past July, indigenous peoples and rights groups are asking for a more thorough investigation, arguing that the location is so isolated, there is no way the Venezuelan government could have possibly gathered all the information just by conducting flyovers in the region over the past weekend. Indeed, the groups and their supporters argue that that isolation and distance is why it took so long for them to report the massacre in the first place.
Skeptics counter that it seems unlikely that poor Brazilians mining on the border of the two countries in the Amazonian basin could have access to the resources, including helicopters, explosives, and thorough knowledge of local geographies and indigenous migration patterns. While that much is true, it is conceivable that some local elites and/or military on either side of the border may have aided the miners with resources and knowhow based on their own interests in killing and/or terrorizing the Yanomani to leave the area [and we shouldn't rule out, however unlikely it may seem, that perhaps the miners themselves did have enough of both on their own].
However, just as compelling (if not moreso) an argument is the counter-counter regarding the Yanomani, who culturally avoid discussing the dead. As Marcos Wesley de Oliveira, a Brazilian indigenous rights activist, comments in the article, “It’s a measure of how serious the problem is that they are making these allegations.”
Ultimately, I’m more inclined to believe some sort of violence did take place, even if not on the scale originally claimed. Not only is the cultural evidence regarding typical Yanomani silence on death compelling, but indigenous peoples have been targets of violent acts from miners, landless peasants, ranchers, and others in the Amazonian basin in both Brazil and Venezuela for decades, simply because they live on protected lands (or fight for protected lands) that other groups, elite and poor alike, want. Hopefully, the Venezuelan and/or Brazilian governments don’t simply let the case fall to the wayside, and what did or did not happen can be fully uncovered and, should the Yanomani account be true, the perpetrators can be brought to justice.
-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.
-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.
-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.
-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.
-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.
-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.