-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.
-In a potential step towards addressing human rights, Mexico has announced it will move to prosecute military officials accused of human rights violations in civil courts, rather than in secretive military tribunals. Traditionally, military officials who are involved in the drug violence and repression have faced a state of virtual impunity through military courts; while it’s too soon to say this is indeed transformative, it could mark a turning point in prosecuting state agents’ human rights violations in Mexico.
-A Venezuelan judge who spent three years in prison in a case that garnered international criticism has published a new book in which she claims she was raped and had to have an abortion while in prison. Her case echoes other allegations of sexual abuse and increasing violence in Venezuela’s prison system.
-While the US and much of Europe continue to struggle with employment, Brazil announced its unemployment levels have dropped to 5.3%, its lowest level in ten years.
-For one day, all of Bolivia completely shut down as the country conducted its census this week. In addition to being the first census for Bolivia in eleven years, with the expected redrawing of municipal boundaries, it also marks the first time “mestizo” (of Spanish and indigenous descent) is not included as a racial category in the census. Instead, Bolivians will be able to pick from 40 categories, including a variety of indigenous groups, as well as “Afro-Bolivian” or simply “Bolivian.”
-In the wake of this year’s presidential election, in which Venezuela’s opposition had its strongest showing in years (albeit in a losing effort), opposition politicians have begun efforts to seek an amnesty for over 100 exiles and political prisoners in a request that could be seen as a test of Chávez’s and opponents’ willingness to engage in more direct dialogue.
-In another example of the ongoing persecution and assault on land rights that Brazil’s indigenous peoples regularly face, a community of Guarani-Kaiowa people say a massive ranch has poisoned their water supply in an attempt to drive them out, and Brazilian police have begun investigating the case. The ranch occupies land of cultural importance to the peoples, and the government has begun mapping out their territory, with growing opposition from ranch-owner Firmino Escobar.
-In another reminder of the Jewish population in Latin America and the challenges it continues to face, Venezuela has posted police at a synagogue in the wake of an anti-Israeli protest that led to demonstrators hurling anti-Semitic remarks and fireworks at the building
-Murder rates in São Paulo have skyrocketed this year, as the Primeiro Comando Capital (First Capital Command; PCC) gang has ordered attacks on police, including many who have been murdered while off duty. The violence marks a return to antagonisms between one of São Paulo’s largest gangs and police in a conflict that had been relatively quiet in recent months after a truce was declared.
-In the wake of Venezuela’s admission to (and Paraguay’s suspension from) Mercosur, Bolivia appears to be the next country set to join the South American trading bloc as a full member. Currently, Bolivia is associate member of the organization, but full membership will give it a more direct voice in negotiations in the bloc.
-As peace talks continue, Columbia’s FARC released three Chinese hostages and their translator after 17 months of captivity in what the organization called a “goodwill gesture.”
-Colombia’s FARC has announced a cease-fire as peace talks to end a nearly-50 year civil war take place between one of the largest guerrilla forces and the Colombian government.
-In an ironic twist of history, Spain has asked Latin American countries to invest in it in order to help it through its economic crises. And where in colonial times Spain tried to dictate the economic ties between itself and its colonies in the Americas, the shoe is now on the other foot, as Latin America has said it will support Spain even while telling it it needed to avoid austerity measures.
-Chile’s influential student group, the Federación de los Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile (Federation of Students of University of Chile; FECH) elected Andrés Fielbaum its new president, an office previously held by student leader Camila Vallejo. Meanwhile, Vallejo herself has announced she will run as a candidate for the Chamber of Deputies in Chile’s elections in November 2013.
-José Dirceu, former chief of staff to ex-president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, was sentenced to ten years and ten months in prison for his role in the mensalão scandal, in which legislators were paid cash for supporting legislation in Congress. The sentence marks a remarkable fall from power for Dirceu, who was one of the key student leaders against the military regime in 1968 and a major player in the formation and operation of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT). Current PT president Dilma Rousseff has said she will uphold and will not discuss the sentencing. Lula himself has never been directly connected to the scheme.
-Adela Hernandez became Cuba’s first elected transgender political figure after winning a municipal election. The fact that Hernandez spent time in prison for “dangerousness” over her sexual identity in the 1980s and is now an elected official is a powerful reminder of the social transformations that have taken place in the last 20 years.
-Meanwhile, in gay rights in Rio de Janeiro, more than a million people are estimated to have attended the city’s Gay Pride Parade yesterday. While many Brazilians attend the parade as much for the party atmosphere as for any other reason, the fact that so many are exposed to anti-homophobia messages and willing to engage in a spirit of camaraderie with Brazil’s LGBT community is not-insignificant in improving the acceptance of gay peoples and cultures in Brazil.
-Police in Honduras have gone on protest after the government announced new measures designed to crack down on corruption. The efforts hinge upon a series of tests (including drug tests and psychometric tests), which have raised the ire of officers who insist they are not opposed to cleanup itself, but to the new methods involved.
-Although Alberto Fujimori is attempting to seek a pardon (even while living in some of the best conditions for any prisoner in Peru), a court has ruled that Alberto Fujimori should again stand trial, this time for corruption. Fujimori is currently serving 25 years in prison for his role in human rights violations during his presidency (1990-2000).
-In a unique and potentially-dubious attempt to combat extinction, Brazil has announced that it will attempt to clone endangered species, a move that conservationists fear will distract from the broader need to defend and protect ecosystems in which endangered species live.
-Argentines have taken to the streets to demonstrate against President Cristina Kirchner and to protest inflation, corruption, and what many believe will be her attempt to run for a third term as president (though she has made no move to suggest this will happen).
-Jamaica has finally abolished a slavery-era law that allowed flogging as a punishment for criminals. Though slavery was abolished in 1834, whipping inexplicably remained on the books into the twenty-first century.
-In a twist on the milk-carton ads, Mexico’s state of Chihuahua is putting on tortilla wrappers ads for missing persons in the state in an attempt to raise awareness of the problem and perhaps find some of those who have gone missing.
-Former mayor of São Paulo, Paulo Maluf, was convicted in a US court of diverting public funds from Brazil to an offshore account in the US, and ordered him to pay back more than $10.5 million. Maluf was mayor of São Paulo several times, and ended up being the pro-military party’s candidate for president when Brazil returned to a democracy in 1985; he ultimately lost the election to opposition candidate Tancredo Neves.
-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.
Last week, I had some thoughts on Colombia’s announcement of peace talks with the FARC, the first since the late-1990s. The issue is one of the specialties of Adam Isaacson, who specializes in security issues and Colombia over at Just the Facts blog. Fortunately, he has some further thoughts, including the question, “Why now?”:
Until this week, it was widely rumored that the Santos government had been maintaining quiet contacts with the FARC. A common opinion in Colombia, however, held that President Santos would move slowly while applying military pressure on the guerrillas, with talks unlikely before 2013. There are several reasons, though, why talks could be possible now:
- Both sides are approaching a “hurting stalemate,” in which neither feels victory is imminent and the cost of continued fighting may be greater than the cost of negotiating. Since the last peace process ended in 2002, the FARC has lost territory, membership and strategic initiative, and lost several top leaders. However, an increase in guerrilla activity since about 2008 has fed perceptions in Colombia that security is deteriorating, and undone optimism about the conflict entering a “home stretch.”
- In part because of security perceptions, President Santos’s approval ratings have declined recently, making his 2014 re-election less certain and perhaps pushing up his timetable for starting talks.
- The rise in prices of commodities like oil and minerals has led President Santos to referto extractive industries as a “locomotive of the economy.” However, many potential natural resource reserves are in remote, historically neglected areas under guerrilla control. The Santos government may be calculating that a negotiation to demobilize the FARC offers the quickest path to access these suddenly valuable areas.
I think all of these points make sense. And as they say, read the whole analysis here.
Today, the FARC held what was its first news conference outside of Colombia in years to address the recent reports that it will enter into peace talks with the Colombian government to end the nearly-50 year civil war. Apparently, the agreement to hold peace talks was hammered out across the last six months. While President Santos called the agreement to hold talks a “roadmap to peace,” FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez used slightly more direct language, describing the Colombian elite as “bloody-toothed vampires.”
While that seems to bode poorly for the talks, the fact that the Colombian government is willing to hold talks that include issues that matter to the FARC, including agrarian reform, is still fairly encouraging. Indeed the issues to be discussed – “agrarian reform, political participation, drug trafficking, victims and reparations, ending conflict, implementing peace” – seems to cover areas of interest for both the Colombian government, which has an interest in ending the conflict, implementing peace, and working out a way to deal with the issue of victims and reparations (as the state will probably be responsible for overseeing the distribution of reparations, should there be any), as well as for the leftist FARC, which definitely has an interest in agrarian reform and increased democratic and political participation for Colombians who are perhaps excluded from more elite-oriented systems of power. And as I’ve said before, hopefully the government is willing to address the issue of paramilitaries (which have often been tied to the government in the past) as it confronts the issues of drug trafficking and ending conflict.
From an international perspective, the fact that Norway and Cuba are supporting the talks with Chile and Venezuela “accompanying” them shows how broad support for peace talks is in the international community. Certainly, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and conservative Chilean president Sebastián Piñera share little in common in terms of visions of the state’s role, social ideologies, or economic policies; that both of their voices are involved, however, suggests real pressure and investment from various ideological backgrounds in the international arena.
To be clear, that’s not to say the talks are guaranteed to be successful. Indeed, given that the war has been going on for 48 years without a resolution, and that there are still plenty of points of contention between the two sides, still makes it seem quite a ways off. However, the fact that the talks do deal with issues of interest for both sides, and that it enjoys multilateral international support from a variety of ideological stances, is at least reason for a greater degree of hope than in previous years, where talks alone were all but inconceivable.
After unconfirmed reports started emerging this past weekend, yesterday Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos confirmed that the Colombian government will hold peace talks with representatives from the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), a guerrilla group that has been one of the main engines of a civil war in Colombia that has now lasted nearly 50 years.
While peace talks are certainly no guarantor of success, the move is significant in that it’s the first time since the 1990s that the government has opted to engage in negotiations for peace with the rebels (the administration of Álvaro Uribe took a considerably harder line against the FARC during his presidency from 2002 to 2010). Why now is not totally clear, but certainly, the FARC’s recent string of losses in leadership and general discontent with and weariness from more than four decades of civil conflict among the Colombian population more generally could be another, as recent actions of the Nasa indigenous people against rebels and the government forces alike demonstrate.
Boz has some observations on the potential for the talks, how this round is already different from previous rounds, and what the focus should be (he mentions child-soldiers in particular, a very real humanitarian problem in the decades-long struggle).
One thing I would add that’s not being brought up much is the issue of paramilitary groups. Will they be a part of the negotiations, not necessarily as actors but certainly as a topic that needs to be considered? Will the FARC push for their disbanding, and will the government, which has often had close ties to paramilitaries, listen? Will paramilitary group leaders be given a place at the table in the talks?
It’s certainly too early to answer these questions – as Santos himself said, the government will announce details in the coming week(s), and Boz is right to say the process will likely be slow – but it is a very real issue and concern. But for all of the violence that the FARC and official Colombian military forces have caused, one cannot overlook the role of right-wing paramilitary groups in human rights violations historically as well as in present threats, to say nothing of their connections to drug trafficking. Quite frankly, even if in the best of circumstances the peace talks lead to a truce between the government and FARC but do not include the paramilitary groups, it is hard to see just how solid this peace could be. Put simply, if the peace talks do not at least broach the subject of paramilitary groups, it’s hard to see how much success they can have. I hope it is an issue of discussion, but only the coming months will the path of talks become apparent.
-In the wake of violent suppression of growing protests, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala shuffled his cabinet again, picking as prime minister former human rights lawyer Juan Jimenez to replace ex-military officer Oscar Valdes. The move is likely designed at least in part to signal a more peaceful treatment of protesters going forward.
-On the sixtieth anniversary of the death of Eva “Evita” Perón, Argentina announced she will become the first woman whose image will appear on currency, with Evita appearing on the 100-peso bill.
-In the ongoing devastation of climate change, scientists suggest that rising ocean waters pose a serious threat to the world’s coral reef habitats, even while increasingly unstable temperatures in the atmosphere and ocean waters have led to a growing threat to sea turtles.
-Tim has this sobering reminder that there continues to be an “epidemic” of femicides in El Salvador, with 186 women murdered in the first four months of 2012 alone in a country with only roughly 2.3 million women citizens 15 or older.
-Meanwhile, São Paulo has witnessed a “surge” in murders and other violent crimes, with some analysts suggesting the socioeconomic inequalities and high cost of living in South America’s largest city as contributing factors.
-A pregnant teenager diagnosed with leukemia has again stirred the debate over women’s reproductive rights in the Dominican Republic, where abortion is illegal even in the case of saving the mother.
-Venezuela has announced it will be leaving the OAS’s American Convention on Human Rights, as well as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, putting the issue of human rights in Venezuela in a more precarious position.
-Speaking of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, it recently ruled in favor of indigenous peoples in Ecuador who had said that the government had ignored their autonomous rights when approving an energy project on the lands of the Sarayaku peoples without their consultation.
-In Argentina, the legal system is speeding up the trials of men charged with human rights violations during the so-called “Dirty War” dictatorship of 1976-1983 in an attempt to force aging perpetrators to serve time for their past crimes before they die. And former military leader and convicted human rights violator Jorge Videla said that the Catholic Church was aware of the regime’s use of “disappearances” of political opponents and “advised” the regime on the matter.
-Finally, members of the FARC in Colombia blew up a major pipeline, not only disrupting production but also causing pollution that will have a significant long-term impact on the environment and rivers near the pipeline.
-A report suggests that, in Mexico, at least 64 indigenous dialects are facing a “high risk” of extinction.
-In Brazil, police arrested eighteen people connected to the murder of Guaraní leader Nisio Gomes, who was murdered last November after his community retook land that ranchers had evicted them from. Police had originally discounted charges of murder, but after three witnesses recanted their testimony last week, they reopened the case.
-Chile has begun to investigate reports of child sex abuse at at least 61 schools in Santiago alone.
-In a disturbing report, it appears that women human rights activists and journalists in Mexico are increasingly targets of violence, including rape and torture. Making matters worse, Mexico’s media has failed to report on these incidents, providing a false sense of security and stability for women activists both domestically and in the international arena.
-After 20 days, a riot in a Venezuelan prison has come to an end.
-In Mexico, protests continue as people take to the streets to demonstrate against the corrupt practices that in part led the PRI back to power for the first time since 2000.
-A new report from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS finds that Latin America and the Caribbean offer the highest level of coverage for AIDS and HIV patients, coverage that likely plays no small part in the decline of HIV/AIDS-related deaths in the region and the world.
-A few weeks ago, indigenous people in Colombia who had grown tired of the violence of the country’s ongoing civil war made clear they would no longer tolerate the presence of either the Colombian military or FARC rebels. In a powerful scene, the people physically removed the Colombian troops from the area, although the troops ultimately returned the following day. However, the Nasa people have not focused solely on the military; today, they sentenced three suspected FARC rebels to flogging for their role in violence in the region.
-In another example of Brazil’s efforts towards increasing its role in geopolitics, it signed a cooperation agreement with Angola that will not only boost trade and investment between two countries but also see the two Lusophone countries working together on defense and security.
-A controversy in Argentina’s prisons is emerging, as professors and members of a program designed to provide a university education to prisoners have refused to provide services to four men convicted of human rights violations during Argentina’s military regime. As Lillie points out, the case is full of its own ironies: university students and professors were often the top targets for the military regime’s use of torture, murder, and “disappearing,” so that men involved with very apparatus that targeted universities are now seeking to reap benefits from the university system.
-In discouraging news from Brazil, FLACSO (the Latin America School of Social Sciences) issued a study that said youth homicides in Brazil have gone up by 364% in the last 30 years.