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Around Latin America

-Still dealing with the loss to Chile of its only route to the Pacific 140 years ago, Bolivia is set to take its case to the International Court of Justice, a move that Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has said would open a “Pandora’s Box” of territorial issues in the Americas (including the territory the US took from Mexico in the wake of the Mexican-American War).

-US President Barack Obama is set this week to make his first trip to Latin America since winning re-election last November, with stops in Mexico and Costa Rica planned. Prior to the trip, he met with Latino leaders in the US, with whom he discussed socioeconomic issues.

-Peruvian President Ollanata Humala may be preparing to pardon former president Alberto Fujimori, who is serving jail time after his conviction for human rights violations that Fujimori oversaw during his 1990-2000 presidency.

-Evo Morales is set to run for a third term as president after Bolivia’s constitutional court ruled in favor of presidents serving three consecutive terms.

-Chilean Laurence Golborne, seen as the frontrunner among conservative candidates to challenge former president Michelle Bachelet in next year’s election, has removed himself from the race amidst allegations of shady business practices.

-Cuban gay rights activist Mariela Castro will travel to the US to receive an award in Philadelphia next week. Castro had initially been denied a visa to the US, due primarily to the fact that she is the daughter of Raul Castro.

-Colombia is set to resume peace talks with the FARC after a month-long break in the peace process.

-The Catholic Church has excommunicated Brazilian priest Roberto Francisco Daniel (known colloquially as Padre Beto) for his defense of open marriages and his defense of same-sex love. More than a symbolic move, the excommunication marks a split between official church hierarchy and a growing strain of moderate and even progressive Catholicism among some parishioners in Brazil.

-A new scientific study suggests that Latin America is facing a “cancer epidemic” due to challenges in diagnosing and treating cancer, as well as to increasingly unhealthy diets, higher levels of tobacco-smoking and alcohol consumption, and an increasingly inactive lifestyle.

-In what is an important step in addressing impunity (albeit a significant issue in its own right), sixty officers in Rio de Janeiro have been arrested on charges of corruption, even while another five officers were arrested for the murders of a journalist and a photographer who were working on a story on militias in Brazil’s interior state of Minas Gerais.

-The next president of the World Trade Organization will be from Latin America, as the remaining to candidates for the position are Mexico’s Herminio Blanco and Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo.

-Finally, when I studied in Costa Rica about a decade ago, the “best” beer one could find was Heineken, so this is excellent news for Costa Rica.

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 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

March 19, 2012 Comments off

-The Salvadoran government is now providing a pension to ex-rebels who fought against the military dictatorship during the country’s civil war from 1980-1992. More than 2600 rebels over 70 will receive the $50 monthly pension, although the government acknowledges that the pension alone is “not enough” for the country’s ex-rebels, over 90% of whom are living in poverty.

-The nineteen-year-old daughter of a Chilean diplomat to Venezuela was shot and killed last week, sparking outrage and further fueling the debate over police violence, which, as Boz notes, is an all-too-common occurrance in Venezuela.

-Also in Venezuela, the government has announced it is sending 15,000 troops to its borders with Colombia, Brazil, and Guyana in order to combat drug trafficking.

-Brazilian officials discovered another new oil leak in an offshore well controlled by Chevron, and authorities have seized the passports of seventeen Chevron executives and are expected to file charges against them.

-A Mexican drug cartel in the state of Guanajuato have pledged there will be no violence when Pope Benedict the XVI visits the country next weekend. The Knights Templar gang signed a number of banners in the state of Guanajuato assuring they were committing to “a sort of truce for peace and said they are going to keep the peace during the pope’s visit.”

-Uruguayan officials have filed murder charges against two nurses, with a third nurse facing charges of covering up the crime, in the case of the deaths of more than a dozen people at two hospitals.

-Lillie points us to this article (in Spanish) of children who were sent to a home and were forced to live in harsh conditions after their parents were arrested and “disappeared” during the Argentine dictatorship. While the details are horrific, unfortunately, the cases of Argentine children kidnapped from their murdered parents was not uncommon and continues to shape the memory struggles from the regime nearly 30 years after it ended.

-More than 2000 Venezuelan women are threatening to sue doctors and distributors over faulty breast implants. After a class action suit fell apart earlier this year, the women are planning individual suits in order to get free treatment/replacements for faulty implants that a French company sold to Venezuela.

-Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa is attempting to improve and reform the higher education system in Ecuador, and small, privately-owned universities in Ecuador, known as “garage universities,” are facing closure after failing to meet basic educational and institutional standards.

-After a few relatively tranquil months, students in Chile again returned to the streets late last week. More than 5000 gathered to demand free public education before police using tear gas and water cannons broke up the protest.

-A new report says the number of monarch butterflies in Mexico fell 28% this year, with climate change and deforestation likely culprits in the butterflies’ decline.

-Some farming groups in North Carolina are mobilizing in an attempt to prevent tough immigration laws (like those in Arizona and Alabama) that might negatively affect the state’s farming community, though as Greg points out, there are real limitations to these efforts.

Around Latin America

March 13, 2012 Comments off

-UNESCO is investigating whether or not to include Brasília on its list of endangered World Heritage sites. The entire city, which was built in the late-1950s and inaugurated in 1960, is on the World Heritage list for its value as an engineering feat of the mid-20th century and a paragon of the high modernist aesthetic that people seem to either love or hate.

-Last week, Mexican authorities found  a cave that contained the remains of 167 bodies in the southern state of Chiapas, and this week, anthropologists say the cave is part of an indigenous cemetery that is around 1300 years old.

-I’ve talked plenty here about the Argentine dictatorship’s crimes against humanity, but human rights abuses were not the limits of the regime’s abuse of power. As investigations into military officials’ past acts continue, authorities’ economic crimes and abuses are also coming to light, revealing the greedy side of authoritarian rule.

-While LGBT rights have a long way to go in Latin America (and much of the world), but the increasing presence of gays, lesbians, and trans-gendered individuals in government posts throughout the region is an important step in shattering stereotypes and increasing acceptance of the LGBT community throughout Latin America.

-A Guatemalan court sentenced an ex-soldier to 6,060 years in prison for his role in the massacre of civilians. Pedro Pimentel, now 55, was convicted for his role in the Dos Erres massacre that took the lives of 201 people in December 1982. While the 6000+ year sentence is symbolic (Pimentel can legally only serve 50 years), it is still an important step towards justice for one of the more gruesome events in what was a horribly gruesome 36-year civil war in the Central American country.

-The US Department of Justice has blocked a Texas Voter ID law that would discriminate against Latino voters in the state.

-While there are certainly many areas in which one can legitimately criticize the Obama administration, Obama’s record in treating Brazil as the increasingly-important global power it has become in the last ten years is excellent and marks a major improvement in US-Brazilian relations, as Boz reminds us.

-Ricardo Teixeira, the head of the Brazilian Football Confederation (Confederação Brasileira de Futebol, CBF) has stepped down amidst allegations of corruption.

-Bolivian president Evo Morales appeared before the UN to again defend the indigenous practice of chewing coca leaves. The leaves, which function as a mild stimulant in the same way as coffee or tea when consumed in their natural state, are also chemically processed and refined into cocaine.

-On the other side of the coca leaf issue, the US Coast Guard recently seized two tons of cocaine worth nearly $43 million in the Caribbean.

-In Peru, hundreds of nude cyclists took to the streets in Lima to protest reckless driving that kills scores of cyclists.

-In El Salvador, mid-term elections gave a “victory” to the right-wing ARENA party, which won a plurality of the vote over the left-wing Farabundo Marti Liberation Front. ARENA’s legislative gains could make  passing legislation difficult for President Mauricio Funes. Tim breaks down what the elections mean going forward,

-Finally, returning to Guatemala, Greg provides this answer for anybody who wonders why Latin Americanists may be more-than-occasionally skeptical of the US government’s rhetoric on and policy towards Latin America [hint: "the Guatemalan people themselves" most certainly did not rise up to overthrow Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 in a coup that ultimately led to a 30+ year civil war that left more than 250,000 Guatemalans dead].

Around Latin America

January 10, 2012 1 comment

-Over the weekend, Simon Romero had an interesting article up on Haitians moving to Brazil (on which I’ll have more to say later). The UN has declared that the recent migration of Haitians to Brazil is not a humanitarian crisis. While many Haitians who have fled to Brazil have claimed they are refugees, the UN has ruled that Brazil’s willingness to grant humanitarian visas was a generous act for Haitians to improve their lives.

-A Salvadoran judge has ruled that it is too late to seek prosecution in the murder of famed leftist poet Roque Dalton Garcia. Roque Dalton had been a member of leftist organizations that had become divided over tactics and strategy, and in 1975, his opponents in a small cell ordered his execution for betraying revolutionary ideals. He died on May 10 of that year, but his poetry, which beautifully blends themes of love, politics, and death, continues to resonate with readers today.

-The ongoing war between loggers and elites on the one hand and indigenous groups and environmentalists on the other has claimed another victim, as loggers burned an indigenous child to death while trying to illegally buy wood on an indigenous reservation.

-Arizona’s infamous SB 1070 is facing another legal challenge, as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the ACLU asked a federal court to block the parts of the law that prohibit day laborers from looking for work on the streets, arguing the prohibitions discriminate against the right of some to work in the U.S. Other groups have already challenged the law on other grounds, and the Supreme Court will rule on whether or not the law is constitutional after a lower court suspended portions of the bill that required police to ask for documentation from people stopped on suspicion of criminal activity.

-Panama has pledged aid to those who participated in the 1964 protests in the Canal Zone, during which 23 Panamanians (and 4 U.S. soldiers) died.

-Argentine footballer Lionel Messi won FIFA’s Ballon d’Or, making him the fourth player to win the award for best player three times.

-Finally, from the world of science, researchers believe they have found a carnivorous plant that eats underground worms. The Philcoxia minensis lives in the cerrado, or savanna, of Brazil, the second-largest natural habitat in the country (after the Amazonian basin), home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity, and a region under increasing environmental threat.

Around Latin America

January 3, 2012 3 comments

-In another reminder that the drug war is a hemispheric and global problem, a new report points to the ways that gangs in places like San Antonio, El Paso, and Southern Texas are tied to Mexican drug cartels.

-A Cuban prisoner not included in the recent amnesty of over 2500 prisoners died yesterday while on a hunger strike. Rene Cobas joined roughly 20 more prisoners in the hunger strike in which they protested their exclusion from the amnesty list.

-An undocumented immigrant who became a quadriplegic in a construction accident and who was moved to Mexico against his will has died in Mexico. Quelino Ojeda Jimenez was injured in August 2010, and in February of 2011, the hospital that had been taking care of Jimenez, who could not eat or breath on his own either, decided to deport him.

-The United States is not the only country to deport undocumented immigrants. In the first 11 months of 2011, Mexico deported nearly 50,000 undocumented immigrants back to their home countries in Central America, with nearly half of them returning to (and coming from) Guatemala.

-In news that’s not remotely surprising, indigenous people in Guatemala are treated differently than non-indigenous people, facing prejudice in employment opportunities, lower-than-average wages, inhumane working conditions, and other inequalities.

-Peruvian demonstrators resumed their protests against a planned gold mine in the state of Cajamarca in Northern Peru. Over 2000 people, including the governor of the state, participated in the protest against the $4.8 billion dollar mine over concerns regarding the irreversible environmental damage the mine will cause.

-In a prison in western Venezuela, inmates murdered five prisoners accused of sex crimes.

-Santeria priests in Cuba have said that while 2012 will be a year of “upheaval and change,” the world will not in fact end, joining others who insist the world will not end this year.

-Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff closed her first year as president with the highest rankings in public opinion polls of any Brazilian president. Her 72% approval ratings draw in no small part on her support from the Brazilian middle class and her strong, technocratic leading style.

-On the other side of public opinion, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, who recently faced his lowest approval ratings, finds himself under attack again, this time defending how he has handled the wildfires that broke out in Chile’s world-famous Torres del Paine National Park, even as the fires are spreading and have taken the life of at least one person.

-Venezuela has responded to a recent order that they pay ExxonMobil $900 million for the nationalization of oil projects and equipment, saying it will only pay $255 million in compensation to the multinational company.

-Also in surprising news, 2011 was a good year for immigrant rights in Texas, as 40 anti-immigrant bills failed to get the approval of the state Congress, leading Latino and immigration groups to enter 2012 by focusing on improving Latino rights and increasing Latinos participation in electoral politics.

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