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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.

Security In Latin America

January 28, 2013 Comments off

Just the Facts has an excellent breakdown on security in Latin America in a variety of areas. Among the numbers:

  • Only one in every 300 guns circulating in Mexico is legal and documented.
  • Bolivia is spending $35-40 million US dollars on anti-drug programs this year, providing a reminder that coca legalization and anti-drug measurements are separate matters.
  • Landmines killed 13 children in Colombia last year.
  • Cuba has 90 political prisoners, up from 45 just 9 months ago.
  • 168 explosive devices have detonated since 2005.

As they say, read the whole thing here.

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.

Indigenous Peoples Push Back Against Both Colombian Security Forces and Guerrillas

July 11, 2012 Comments off

Tired of the violence that has plagued their lands for decades, the indigenous population of the town of Toribio, Colombia, has taken matters into its own hands.

An indigenous leader in Colombia has urged the security forces and Colombia’s largest rebel group, Farc, to take their fight elsewhere.

The indigenous leader of the town of Toribio, Marcos Yules, said the civilian population was tired of bearing the brunt of the fighting.

[...]

On Monday, about 1,000 members of the Nasa, Guambiano and Paez tribes destroyed trenches built by the police to defend their police station.

They said the presence of the security forces was attracting rebel attacks.

“We do not understand how strengthening the security forces would defend the population,” Mr Yules said.

“To the contrary, the strengthening of the security forces increases the fighting,” he added.

An indigenous commission also marched to Farc camps in the mountains surrounding Toribio to demand the rebels leave the indigenous ancestral lands.

“One thousand of us went to see the guerrillas, to tell them to leave, that we don’t need them, that we want them to leave us alone,” Feliciano Valencia of the Cauca Indigenous Committee said.

Mr Valencia said they had given the rebels a two-week deadline: “If they don’t pack up their camps, we’ll pack them up for them,” he said.

The story cuts at the heart of one of the bigger tragedies of sustained guerrilla warfare in Latin America in the late-20th and early-20th century: many civilian populations, including in this case these indigenous communities, are caught in the middle of an increasingly militarized area and confronted with increasing violence from both sides. Hopefully the people of Toribio are able to convince the FARC and Colombian military to leave and allow them to return to living their lives without facing any reprisals.

On the Tenuous Transition to Democracy in Brazil in the 1990s

July 5, 2012 Comments off

Although Brazil’s military regime officially ended in 1985, the transition to democracy was not instantaneous. The first presidential election was an indirect election, with the Brazilian Congress (rather than the population) choosing  Tancredo Neves, a member of the opposition who was moderate enough that the military would not oppose his inauguration. However, Neves died before taking office, leaving the vice-president José Sarney, a bridge-building pick who had previously been a member of the pro-military party during the dictatorship, to assume the presidency; thus it was that, from 1985 to 1990, Brazil did have a civilian president, but one that Brazilians had not chosen and who had been an advocate for the military regime for much of the dictatorship era. It was only in 1989 that Brazilians were able to elect their president for the first time since 1960.

Even with these civilian elections, however, the influence of the military did not disappear. As the work of Jorge Zaverucha has shown, the military continued to exercise a considerable amount of influence on democratically-elected presidents, particularly under the administrations of Fernando Collor de Mello (1990-1992) and especially under Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1994-2002). Thus it was that, although Brazil had officially returned to democracy by the 1990s, the degree to which it was free of military pressure on politics was murky at best well into the twenty-first century.

A new report out of Brazil reinforces the murkiness of that democratic transition. Intelligence agencies apparently followed and regularly reported on the activities of former opponents of the military regime, including Dilma Rousseff, the current President of Brazil, who was just a state-level official at the time and who had been involved with a leftist opposition group during the military dictatorship. According to the report:

Nos anos 1990, na vigência da democracia e com presidente eleito por voto direto, os órgãos de informação do governo continuaram monitorando pessoas, partidos e movimentos sociais, entre outros alvos. Funcionária da Prefeitura de Porto Alegre e depois do governo do Rio Grande do Sul, Dilma Rousseff não escapou. Seu nome aparece em alguns registros produzidos pela Secretaria de Assuntos Estratégicos da Presidência da República.

In the 1990s, in the midst of democracy and with a directly-elected president, the security establishments of the government continued monitoring people, political parties, and social movements, among other targets. Dilma Rousseff, a Functionary of the Porto Alegre Prefecture and later governor of Rio Grande do Sul state, did not escape [such monitoring]. Her name appears in some registers that the Secretary of Strategic Topics of the Presidency of the Republic produced. [Translation mine.]

The report goes on to say that other members of anti-dictatorship opposition movements also fell under the security and information networks’ gaze well into the 1990s, during both the administrations of Fernando Collor and of his successor, Itamar Franco. Most of the targets were former leftists who worked for the government in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southern-most state. There doesn’t seem to have been a response from Rousseff’s administration yet, and the military and security apparatuses in Brazil are notoriously protective of security documents even today. Still, the new report shows how, even in the midst of a “full democracy,” Brazil’s military and security apparatuses continued to employ tactics that monitored past perceived “threats, tactics that civilian presidents appear not to have discouraged. This latest report reveals yet another way that the military continued to influence politicians behind the scenes long after the military regime officially ended and reminds us that transitions from military dictatorships to democracy are rarely cut-and-dry.

Around Latin America [2]

May 23, 2012 Comments off

Given the eventful and busy week and light blogging, this is the second update on news stories from around Latin America today. (You can read the first one from earlier today here.)

-The Dominican Republic held elections this weekend, with Danilo Medina defeating former president Hipolito Mejia in a hotly-contested election.

-A loophole in Chilean electoral law has allowed over 1,000 people whom the dictatorial state of Augusto Pinochet “disappeared” to vote. A new law that does not require people over 18 to register to vote in person has led to rights activists registering the victims of the regime, creating a new space and arena in which the ongoing struggles over human rights and nation and efforts to remember the regime’s repressive past can take place in Chile.

-Subway workers in São Paulo have gone on strike, demanding a pay raise for their work and leading to a shutdown of a subway system that serves more than four million people each day in what is South America’s largest city.

-Meanwhile, in Canada, nearly 4,800 railroad workers have walked out on negotiations, leading to a shutdown of the Canadian Pacific Railway. While the walkout’s causes are as yet unclear, the move will certainly impact the Canadian economy, which depends heavily on railway transportation to transport goods.

-Argentine police found and disarmed a small bomb that was left in a theater where Colombian ex-president Álvaro Uribe was set to talk. The discovery came less than one week after another bomb attack that wounded 39 people, including Uribe’s former Secretary of the Interior, and killed two more.

-In a busy day in national police forces, both Honduras and Bolivia named new national police chiefs  yesterday.

-A Brazilian pilot ejected a passenger who made sexist and offensive remarks upon learning that his pilot was a woman. One can’t help but think that, of all the people you might want to anger, the person in charge of safely flying the jet you are in is not one of those people.

-Three Guatemalan prosecutors and four police officers have been arrested based on allegations of having ties to the drug cartels that are increasingly expanding in Guatemala. (H/t to Mike.)

-Brazil’s Congress has passed a new slave labor law that allows for harsher punishments for landowners who force poor Brazilians to work in slave-like conditions. The new law allows the government to confiscate the property of, fine, and even imprison for eight years those found in violation of labor codes in Brazil.

-Colombia and Venezuela are working together to strengthen the militaries’ presence in the border region between the two countries in an attempt to track down Colombian guerrillas who attacked and killed 12 Colombian soldiers this week.

-The UN is attempting an investigation of Cuba regarding the deaths of prisoners and repression of opposition groups in Cuba and is demanding the country provide information on its prison system and its treatment of prisoners and dissidents.

-In the ongoing struggle over citizenship rights of Brazil’s urban poor, Rio de Janeiro’s government is finally giving land titles to residents of favelas for their homes.

Around Latin America

-In a process that continues to go through fits and starts, Brazil’s Congress has begun investigating human rights abuses that the military committed during its 1964-1985 dictatorship. Though President Dilma Rousseff authorized the creation of a Truth Commission late last year, it has yet to get off the ground, and earlier this year, a judge declared that torturers could not face prosecution after federal prosecutors tried to treat the  “disappearances” of dozens of people as “ongoing” crimes in order to try to get around the amnesty law of 1979.

-After escape attempts, gun battles, and irreparable structural decline, Venezuela has begun relocating prisoners from the La Planta prison in Caracas. However, the Venezuelan NGO Una Ventana a la Libertad (A Window to Freedom), which focuses on prisoners’ rights, has expressed concerns about transfers from the prison (where a fire killed 25 prisoners in 1996), claiming it will only add to the already-overcrowded prisons in other parts of the country.

-Fourteen people have died in a fire at a rehab center in Peru after they were unable to escape from behind locked doors. The fire is the second of its kind to take place in the last four and a half months. In late-January, a similar fire took the lives of 29 people seeking treatment. The fires are  yet another reminder of the very real challenges and limitations facing private drug treatment centers, which make up an overwhelming majority of the country’s rehabilitation centers.

-Brazil’s Supreme Court has approved the use of racial quotas in university admissions. The decision is designed to address the gross inequalities between Afro-Brazilian descendants and “white” Brazilians, inequalities that Henry Louis Gates explored in a PBS series and that I discussed (including the issue of affirmative action and the tensions over it) here.

-A new report claims IKEA relied on the labor of Cuban prisoners to produce its furniture in the 1980s.

-Another four Mexican journalists were killed last week in what is part of a broader growing wave of violence against journalists throughout the Americas.

-After announcing Venezuela may leave the IACHR, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Madura called on Latin American countries to create their own human rights organization that would operate independently of the United States’ influence.

-Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina is staying true to his campaign pledge to be tough on crime, but the new strongarm tactics have some wondering about the fate of human rights in Guatemala.

-Let the “Hugo Chávez’s successor” speculation begin again in the wake of his recent appointment of 10 members to the Council of State

-Massive floods in the Brazilian state of Amazônas are threatening the homes of thousands, even while the Northeastern part of the country continues to suffer from major drought.

-Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has named Miguel Galuccio as the new head of YPF, finalizing the reappropriation of the oil-producing company.

-Peruvian authorities are cautioning people to stay away from beaches after hundreds of pelicans have washed up dead. The pelicans only add to the mystery of dead animals on beaches; in the last few months, 877 dolphins and porpoises have also been found dead on Peru’s beaches.

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