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Around Latin America

August 25, 2013 Comments off

-In spite of a recent attack that left 13 Colombian soldiers dead, peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC continue, in an attempt to end civil war and conflict that has lasted nearly 50 years and left tens (if not hundreds) of thousands dead and millions displaced.

-Although Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto managed to remove powerful union leader Elba Ester Gordillo earlier this year, her absence has not prevented broader teacher mobilization against unpopular education reforms that Peña NIeto has pushed through. Thousands of teachers and their supporters have taken to the streets in Mexico City, protesting against an evaluation system they say is designed to fire teachers.

-Speaking of protests, in Colombia, thousands of farmers have mobilized, protesting against the government’s economic policies and issuing a wide number of demands, including access to potable water and lower taxes on agricultural goods.

-In Brazil, plans for a highway through the Iguaçu Falls National Park have prompted protests and intensified struggles between environmentalists and government officials.

-And in yet one more example of popular demonstrations in Latin America in the last few weeks, in Ecuador, protesters expressed anger at President Rafael Correa’s decision to open parts of the Yasuni National Park to oil exploration. Anger is understandable, given the ongoing effects of decades of toxic spills, pollution, environmental degradation, and health crises that resulted from oil production in Ecuador’s Amazonian basin.

-Chilean General Juan Emilio Cheyre has stepped down from his post as the head of Chile’s national electoral service after revelations that he was involved in the Chilean military regime’s practice of taking children of arrested and murdered activists.

-Meanwhile, in other episodes involving the legacies of the PInochet regime and the ongoing quest for justice, a judge has ruled that there is not sufficient evidence to try former dictator Augusto Pinochet’s family members for embezzlement and corruption, while another judge rejected a legal request to try former General Fernando Matthei for the murder of General Alberto Bachelet, an officer who opposed the 1973 coup. Bachelet was the father of former president (and current candidate) Michelle Bachelet.

-Twenty-two soccer players in El Salvador have been suspended amidst allegations of match-fixing.

-I previously commented on the non-military ways in which drones could be deployed in Latin America. Peru is adding to that list, now using drones to protect and further learn about archaeological ruins, simultaneously combating the effects of illegal mining, squatting, and scavenging at sites even while learning more about what these sites hold.

-A battle between rival gangs at a Bolivian prison has left at least 31 people dead, including an 18-month old child who was living with a parent in the prison, a practice allowed in Bolivia if children six years old or younger have no other living relative with whom they can live.

-Finally, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed into law new provisions designed to protect and aid rape victims, including guaranteeing medical treatment and providing emergency contraception to those who have been raped. The new provisions are part of a broader effort to combat rape in Brazil, where recent data suggest it is a broad and, for far too long, unaddressed problem.

Around Latin America

October 1, 2012 Comments off

-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.

Around Latin America

July 2, 2012 Comments off

-Last week may have seen the suspension of Paraguay and inclusion of Venezuela into Mercosul, but at least one Brazilian businessman from São Paulo believes that the political role of the trade bloc means it is on its way out.

-Paraguay is not the only country facing institutional tensions; in El Salvador, a “constitutional crisis” between the National Assembly and the Supreme Court is emerging that has no sign of ending anytime soon and that could directly shape the dynamics of power in the Central American country.

-While yesterday marked the end of Mexico’s presidential election cycle for this year, it also marked the beginning of Venezuela’s elections, with Hugo Chávez and opponent Henrique Capriles officially kicking off their campaigns for the October elections. And in Honduras, former first lady Xiomara Castro de Zelaya has announced she will run for president for the leftist Libertad e Refundación party (LIBRE). If her surname sounds familiar, that is because it should – she is the wife of Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran president who was overthrown in a military coup in 2009.

-The mountains and beaches of Rio de Janeiro have landed that city a spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. In addition to providing another (well-deserved) point of pride for cariocas, the inclusion as a World Heritage site could lead city officials and international agencies to work on combating pollution and environmental degradation along the beaches and the mountain forests nearby.

-In Guyana, one leading politician who was critical of his party’s failure to provide more than lip service to the issue of corruption has stepped down, marking another shakeup in local politics in the small South American country.

-A new report finds that less than 2/3 of Brazilians now self-identify as Catholics. While the 64% that do identify as Catholics is still an overwhelming majority, that number is down from 74% in 2000 and 92% in 1970. While the rise of evangelicalism is certainly one cause of the decline, I would also point to a younger generation of Brazilian youth, especially in urban centers, who are disillusioned with the Church and its messages on issues like birth control, abortion, and marriage.

-In the world of natural events, the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park in Colombia, has erupted.

-Finally, in alcohol economic (alcoholnomics?) news, Anheuser Busch InBev, the largest beer producer in the world, has gotten even bigger after buying Mexico’s Grupo Modelo for $20.1 billion. Modelo was Mexico’s biggest brewer, responsible for (among other things) Corona.

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.

Around Latin America

May 14, 2012 Comments off

-Brazilian military police forcefully removed around 300 families from a camping site in Minas Gerais this weekend (photos available here). Members of the Movimento da Luta nos Bairros, Vilas e Favelas (“Movement for Struggle in Neighborhoods, Boroughs and Favelas”; MLB) had created the “Ocupação Eliana Silva” site in state capital Belo Horizonte to protest the lack of housing and poor conditions that exist in many urban developments.

-In one of the more extreme acts of violence that has captured headlines the world over, 49 headless bodies were dumped along the side of the road in Monterrey, Mexico. Authorities were quick to blame warfare between drug cartels for the act.

-In more puzzling environmental news from South America’s Pacific coast, over 2,000 dead birds have washed up on Chilean beaches recently (in addition to the dead birds and dolphins appearing on Peruvian beaches). Between the deaths and the massive plastic garbage “reefs” in the Pacific (one of which is twice the size of Texas), it’s very clear that the oceans are already suffering massive and disastrous ecological destruction at the hands of human production.

-A US citizen who has been imprisoned in Bolivia for eleven months without being charged with anything has launched a hunger strike in an effort to bring attention to his case, a strike that has garnered international coverage in the past few days.

-Salvatore Mancuso, a former high-ranking leader in the right-wing paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia; AUC), has claimed that the paramilitary group helped finance the 2006 re-election of ex-president Álvaro Uribe, claims that Uribe was quick to deny.

-Meanwhile, the FARC is set to release a French journalist it took hostage a little over a week ago.

-Adrian Vazquez, a Panamanian man who survived being stranded at sea for 28 days in a small fishing boat, is preparing to sue the cruise line that passed near him but failed to help him 16 days into his ordaeal.

-To recover from a forest fire that ravaged the Torres del Paine National Park late last year (and only added to embattled President Sebastián Piñera’s woes), Chile has announced it will plant 200,000 trees a year for the next five years. The move will try to speed up a recovery that environmentalists estimated could take eighty years.

Around Latin America

April 29, 2012 Comments off

-It has been a terrible week for journalists in Latin America. Earlier this week, a Brazilian journalist from the country’s Northeast who often covered crime was shot six times and killed while eating dinner at a restaurant, marking the fourth murder of journalists in the country this year.  And yesterday, police found a Mexican journalist who investigated the drug trade dead in her home even while in Colombia a French journalist (and five state agents) went missing and another four died in a battle with guerrillas. And while not nearly as severe as murder, Panamanian President apologized to a reporter after calling him a drug addict.

-Scott and Brandi may have more to say on this, but tens of thousands of students in Chile peacefully returned to the streets to demand free public education, even as embattled President Sebastián Piñera announced tax reforms to fund the educational reforms that the government has slowly begun to implement after months of protests that threaten the right-wing going into next year’s presidential elections (elections that at least some right-wing military members guilty of ex-torture are attempting to influence).

-It has been a busy week full of social mobilizations in Bolivia. First, miners joined teachers in protests for better pay in demonstrations that turned violent. And yesterday, indigenous peoples again marched to protest the construction of a road through a national park in the Amazonian lowlands. Similar protests led President Evo Morales to cancel the plans last year, but counter-protests saying the road would lead to economic development led Morales to resume plans for the road.

-Brazil’s Congress passed a highly controversial land law that opponents say does nothing to penalize people responsible for deforestation. While the bill passed Congress, Dilma Rousseff may still use her line-item veto powers on provisions that in previous bills she described as too “lenient” to those guilty of environmental destruction.

-In a move designed to make things official, the Argentine Senate approved the nationalization of YPF, the recently-expropriated oil company, and at a well-attended political rally, President Cristina Kirchner thanked the opposition for supporting the move.

-While it is the Secret Service scandal involving Colombian prostitutes that has captured the headlines in the United States, it is an isolated incident. A Brazilian ex-prostitute is threatening to sue the United States embassy and five officials for injuries she sustained when a van picking up United States Marines from a strip club ran over her and left her behind with a broken collarbone and punctured lung in a parking lot late last year.

-Allegations of child labor and slave-like conditions on sugarcane plantations in the Dominican Republic have spurred the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate.

-A drug-trafficking suspect in Venezuela has accused former Supreme Court justice Eladio Aponte of having close ties to drug traffickers while he served on the country’s highest court, allegations judge Aponte denies.

-In a case of life imitating art, two Cuban actors who were the stars of a movie about defectors have themselves defected to the United States, taking advantage of a film festival in New York to go missing and seek asylum while in Miami.

-Austria is set to return to Mexico a headdress that allegedly belonged to Motecuhzoma, (aka Moctezuma), the emperor of the Mexica (Aztec) empire when the Spanish arrived to what is now Mexico in 1519.

-Tiago Klimeck, he actor who accidentally hanged himself while portraying Judas in a passion play during holy week, died last week, two weeks after going into a medically induced coma.

Around Latin America

April 10, 2012 2 comments

-In a case of taking veritas in the theatre too far, a Brazilian actor portraying Judas in a passion play in Brazil is in a medically-induced coma after nearly strangling himself to death while re-enacting the death of Judas.

-In more Easter controversy, an Uruguayan minister has stirred controversy after calling Jesus “that skinny fellow who was crucified for being candid and who spent all his time preaching forgiveness.” (Though I admit it’s hard for me to see how the latter part of that statement is offensive, as a quick read of the Gospels pretty much has Jesus being candid and preaching forgiveness. Maybe the “all the time” part offends people? Or perhaps the “Jesus was morbidly obese” lobby has more heft than one would imagine?)

-The brutal and hateful murder of Daniel Zamudio finally galvanized Chile’s Congress to pass a seven-year old anti-discrimination bill that prohibits discrimination based on “any distinction, exclusion or restriction that lacks reasonable justification, committed by agents of the state or individuals, and that causes the deprivation, disturbance or threatens the legitimate exercise of fundamental rights.” No word yet, though, on whether the discrimination against women’s freedom from fear and rape constitutes a restriction that “lacks reasonable justification.”

-In a reminder that Chile is far from monopolizing homophobic hate-crimes in South America, violence against the LGBT community in Brazil is on the rise, with the murders of gays and lesbians on the rise even while the country’s overall crime rate is decreasing.

-While reports emerged last week that the Zetas and MS-13 (the Maras) were joining forces in the drug trade in Central America, Mike points out that such conclusions may be hasty and erroneous.

-Chile’s Supreme Court has removed a major obstacle in the construction of a dam that would have a major impact on the environment and peoples of southern Chile. The court ruled that the HydroAysen dam in Patagonia may proceed, in spite of protests and opposition from environmentalists and others.

-Peruvian authorities suspect members of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrilla movement are responsible for the kidnapping of gas workers.

-Competing legal systems and cultural understanding have created conflict and confusion in Colombia, where Colombian authorities want to prosecute a 15-year-old for impregnating a 10-year-old girl. While Colombia has outlawed sex with minors under the age of 15, the girl is member of the Wayuu indigenous group, which, in accordance with the Colombian constitution, has its own legal jurisdiction outside of Colombian control.

-The Miami Marlins’ baseball coach Ozzie Guillen has been suspended five games for an interview in which he expressed respect for Fidel Castro’s ability to remain in power for so long. While Guillen was completely and totally in line with understandings of freedom of speech in the U.S. and also spoke of Castro negatively, it was his declaration that he “love[s]” Castro that outraged the Miami Cuban community and led to protests from a fanbase that has never really or regularly embraced the Marlins since their inaugural season in 1993.

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