IPS recently ran Fabiola Ortiz’s powerful story of violence in the Amazon that in many ways perfectly taps into the issues at the heart of inequalities, environment, and power in Brazil’s North, Northeast, and the Amazonian basin.
A fresh outbreak of violence between large landowners and landless peasants is looming in the Amazonian state of Pará, in northern Brazil.
The large estate of Itacaiúnas, in the southeast of Pará, in the municipality of Marabá, 684 kilometres from the state capital, Belém, is owned by Agro Santa Bárbara (AGRO-SB), a company that possesses at least 600,000 hectares of land in the state of Pará.
Since 2002 the Federation of Agricultural Workers of Pará (FETAGRI) has demanded that the property be confiscated and the land redistributed under Brazil’s land reform laws. More than 300 families are living on the land, in an encampment.
In late April, the landless rural workers announced that they would carry out “definitive occupation” of the estate and on Monday Apr. 29 they started dividing it into lots in order to “build the settlement themselves,” according to a FETAGRI communiqué.
AGRO-SB regards the landless farmers as criminals and says it has reported their actions to the military police, in order to keep the peace and avoid conflict.
“This group of land invaders is planning to divide the property into lots. Its goal is to expand the illegal occupation. This is a new criminal action by the invaders, who have the estate under their control and are blocking access by other people,” AGRO-SB said in a communiqué.
There is a real possibility of imminent violent conflict, because heavily armed groups hired by the estate owners have been reported in the area.
There are several historical processes to unpack here. First, there is the basic issue of inequality of land. For centuries now, dating back to the colonial era, land in Brazil’s Northeast (and later North) has been concentrated in the hands of the very few, while the overwhelming majority of the population found itself either completely landless, or barely able to eke out a living on tiny plots of land. As agroinustry expanded in the 20th century, many of those small-holders (as well as indigenous peoples) found themselves forced off their land, which in turn played no small part in Brazil’s urban explosion in the 20th century: between 1930 and the 1970s, Brazil’s population completely switched from 70% rural/30% urban to 30% rural/70% urban (and of course, rather than resolving inequalities, the glut in the cities just relocated the socioeconomic inequalities of the countryside into urban environments). By the 1980s, rural citizens had enough, forming the MST (Landless Workers’ Movement) and demanding action to address these inequalities. The MST has become a powerful social and political movement, and its paradigms for occupying land (often not in use) and forcing the issue of redistribution and reform has been a powerful model not just in Brazil, but elsewhere in the world. This style of occupying and defending the newly-occupied land are exactly what is playing out in the story.
Connected to this socioeconomic inequality is the question of political power and force in the region. As Ortiz mentions, the landless arm themselves not out of any sense of revolutionary violence, but out of the need for protection. Again for centuries, landed elites often formed what amounted to their own private armies, paying other peasants off (or ensnaring them in debt) and then deploying them to fight on behalf of the elites, be it against indigenous peoples, other landowners, or rebellious peasants. Though these “armies” have effectively disappeared, the private and personal use of outsourcing violence to the poor has not. Murders of peasant leaders like Chico Mendes and activists like Dorothy Stang have been all too commonplace in Brazil in recent decades. Usually, poorer workers for the elites commit the murders, operating as killers-for-hire; the elites are able to eliminate those who challenge their power without facing trial, while the poor contracted to kill the activists get paid and rarely face prosecution. Even when trials are brought forth, as in the Stang case, it often leads to the poor killers facing jail time while the elites who contracted the murders remain free, thereby reinforcing the socioeconomic inequalities in a legal system where there are effectively two structures: one that punishes the poor, and another that ensures the elites remain free.
And that ties into a third issue – often the police are complicit in this process themselves. Landed elites exercise enough regional control that they generally dominate politics, either directly or through personal and business connections. Such a structure means that they can effectively mold the institutions of the state to their desires, pressuring police departments to look the other way or even work directly in their interests, with police evicting, abusing, and even killing the activists and landless peasants, again oftentimes with impunity.
Thus you have on the one hand a large number of peasants and activists who have not been intimidated into silence and whose numbers are to great to completely wipe out; on the other hand, you have the elites and those from the lower classes and state institutions willing to work with them to target and try to terrorize activists in order to prevent any challenge to their economic and political power, power that often has its roots in social structures that date back centuries. Neither group is able to completely destroy the other: the peasants are too numerous, and the elites too entrenched. And so the violence continues, as is the case in Ortiz’s story. Though the outcome at Itacaiúnas is uncertain, the story itself is sadly all too familiar, and rarely does the outcome lead to greater political, economic, or social equality in the Brazilian countrysides.
-Brazil’s Federal Council of Medicine recently came out in favor of legalizing first-trimester abortions in Brazil, adding to the arguments and debate over the issue in a country where abortion is currently only legal in the case of rape, severe mental disability in the fetus, or if the pregnancy is a threat to the mother’s life.
-A hunger strike at Guantanamo continues to expand and to last, adding to questions of indefinite detention at the US bas in Cuba.
-Students in Chile continue to demand educational reforms, and, after police attempted to force students onto a route other than the already-approved one, the march turned violent, a turn of events that could perhaps have been avoided had police not forced the last-minute change.
-In an attempt to reduce violence against women, Ecuador may categorize femicide as a separate crime within the country’s penal code.
-The Brazilian Senate passed a law this week that gives domestic workers the same rights as other workers, including overtime pay, finally extending workers’ rights to the millions of domestic workers (almost all women) who work for Brazil’s middle- and upper-classes. Unsurprisingly, those who employ domestic servants have pushed back against the idea of their workers actually enjoying basic rights (an attitude the Washington Post itself reinforces by declaring the law will “impinge” upon the economy).
-Police violence in Honduras continues to be a major issue, as police act excessively and with impunity in ways reminiscent of the 1980s, even as the US allegedly continues to funnel money to forces that operate as death squads (a charge US officials of course deny).
-In tales of opposite results, the Peruvian government is working on setting aside lands for indigenous peoples who voluntarily remain isolated from most of Peruvian society, even while one of the few Bolivian indigenous groups that is growing faces opposition from ranchers who continue in their attempts to relocate native groups and seize their lands.
-A Brazilian doctor and her medical staff are under investigation for the murder of seven patients at a hospital; however, reports suggest that at least another 20 deaths could be tied to her team, with 300 more cases under investigation. According to one recording of the doctor, she allegedly committed the murders in order to open up beds in the hospital.
-As Paraguay’s elections approach, conservative candidate Horacio Cartes appears to be in the lead.
-Speaking of elections, Michelle Bachelet has officially announced she will run for president for a second time (she previously served from 2006-2010) as Chile prepares for elections next year. However, in spite of her incredible popularity when she left office in 2010, the path to a second term is far from assured. She is already facing harsh criticisms from other politicians and has significant work to do among social groups (including students and those who support the indigenous Mapuche, whom Bachelet targeted) who have grown critical not just of the right-wing Pinera government, but of the post-Pinochet governments in general.
-Finally, in a bit of potentially good environmental news, Brazil’s supermarkets have agreed not to sell beef from cattle raised in the Amazonian forest. It is not clear how they will monitor this or prevent all Amazonian beef from reaching the shelves, but given that ranches are responsible for much of the deforestation in the Amazon, this is a not-insignificant step.
While Hugo Chávez’s death has perhaps understandably been the main focus of news from the region this week, it’s far from the only event of note. Here are some of the other stories coming out of Latin America this week.
-With Chávez’s death, Vice President Nicolás Maduro is set to be sworn in at 7PM local time tonight. And Margaret Myers’ always-excellent blog on China-Latin American relations has a post up on Chinese bloggers’ responses to Chávez’s death.
-Of course, Chávez’s death has overshadowed another important and more violent death in Venezuela. Somebody shot and killed indigenous leader and rights activist Sabino Romero, who had recently asked for government protection. The government announced an investigation into the murder before Chavez’s death; hopefully the investigation will continue and Romero’s killers can be brought to justice.
-In Argentine justice, a court convicted ex-president (and current Senator) Carlos Menem for illegal arms sales to Ecuador and Croatia while Menem served as president between 1989 and 1999.
-In Haiti, former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier is under investigation for human rights violations during his regime 1971 and 1986. Several victims of his regime testified to torture and other abuses this week. Meanwhile, Duvalier entered into a hospital after providing his own testimony. Given how many former dictators, from Pinochet to Argentine generals, have tried to hide behind [often-fabricated] “medical issues” to avoid facing justice, at least for now it is difficult to take Duvalier’s own admission to the hospital as much other than a ploy to try to avoid justice and/or drum up sympathy.
-New documents reveal that Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985) provided $115 million in aid to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s regime during the latter half of the dictatorship [English version of story available here]. The document reinforces and adds to our understanding of the ways in which South American dictatorships collaborated and serves as yet another reminder that the portrayal of one group of Brazilian military presidents as “moderate” is a misnomer for regimes that still supported the violation of human rights, be it in their own countries or in other countries.
-Speaking of regional collaboration in violating human rights, in Argentina, military officers from the dictatorship era there (1976-1983) are on trial for their involvement in Operation Condor, the international collaborative efforts between Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru to arrest, torture, and “disappear” so-called “subversives” in each other’s countries.
-In Brazil, an indigenous community disillusioned with the lack of governmental action is taking over efforts to combat deforestation, recently seizing trucks used in illegal logging.
-Lawyers for those imprisoned in Guantanamo filed a claim that the conditions and rights of prisoners were deteriorating, and this was before troops fired “non-lethal bullets” at inmates who agitated at the prison, the first time in 11 years bullets had been fired at prisoners.
-In an overlooked part of Central American history, Panama’s indigenous Guna peoples celebrated the 1925 Guna Revolution last week.
-Finally, in a step towards greater equal rights, Haiti is set to improve women’s rights by aiding rape victims who seek justice against their attackers, allow abortion in the case of rape, and make marital rape illegal.
-Early reports are saying
245 232 people died in a nightclub fire last night in Santa Maria, a city in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul. Somewhere between 300 and 400 people were reportedly at the event, a party for university students. Apparently, the fire’s source was a live band’s pyrotechnics. [UPDATE: The Guardian has photos from the scene last night, some of which are fairly graphic.]
-In Venezuela, prison violence between prisoners and the Venezuelan National Guard at a prison in Barquisimeto left sixty-one dead and around 120 wounded.
-El Salvador will be holding presidential elections next year, and Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the candidate for the incumbent-party FSLN, has said he will seek a repeal of the 1993 amnesty law that has protected war criminals and human rights violators, mostly in the military and governments between 1980 and 1992, from prosecution for their crimes.
-Cícero Guedes, an important figure in Brazil’s Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Workers’ Movement; MST), was shot dead as he returned home from an area near a sugar plantation MST members had recently occupied.
-Guatemala’s recent efforts to militarize public institutions, including those not directly connected to security forces, have created concerns over the potential stability of democratic institutions.
-In Bolivia, activists and feminists are demanding prosecution of provincial representative Domingo Alcibia, who was caught on security video apparently raping a drunk woman while she was unconscious.
-Brazil is set to launch a massive four-year study of the Amazonian rainforest that will detail the tree-count, biodiversity, and animal life in the region. The study is the first of its kind conducted since the late-1970s, when the military dictatorship conducted a similar study.
-In both Peru and Argentina, recent struggles over mining continue to shape social and political struggles, as people in Peru continue to protest the environmental consequences of mining, while in Argentina, powerful mining companies are using their economic influence and political ties to try to silence local journalists who seek to report on the environmental consequences of the mining activity in the northwestern parts of the country.
-While forty companies, including the massive Grupo Clarín (which has recently butted heads with President Cristina Kirchner) tend to dominate the market, a recent study found that alternative press in Argentina is also thriving.
-In a boon to historians of the Southern Cone (or Great Britain), last week Uruguay declassified archives on the Malvinas War, providing access to new diplomatic and previously-unknown materials on the war and its regional impact.
-Finally, in a unique mixture of 21st technology and urban history, Rio de Janeiro has begun incorporating QR codes into the city’s sidewalks to aid tourists, melding the codes into the city’s traditional mosaic sidewalks.
While Brazil has announced deforestation in the Amazon has slowed down in recent years. Yet that may not be enough to slow down the destruction of the world’s largest rainforest (and largest consumer of carbon dioxide that people produce); the worst drought in a century, spurred by climate change and now in its eighth year, has led to a die-off in the forest in an area twice the size of California. So even while Brazil makes what appear to be real improvements in reducing the deforestation of the Amazon, it may not matter, as global climate-change takes its toll on the forest, its ecosystems, and its global impact.
The New York Times’ Simon Romero has an excellent piece up on the recent urban growth in the Amazonian region of Brazil.
The Amazon has been viewed for ages as a vast quilt of rain forest interspersed by remote river outposts. But the surging population growth of cities in the jungle is turning that rural vision on its head and alarming scientists, as an array of new industrial projects transforms the Amazon into Brazil’s fastest-growing region.
The torrid expansion of rain forest cities is visible in places like Parauapebas, which has changed in a generation from an obscure frontier settlement with gold miners and gunfights to a sprawling urban area with an air-conditioned shopping mall, gated communities and a dealership selling Chevy pickup trucks.
The growth rates in the region are rather astounding, even if the metropolitan areas are nowhere near as large as those of São Paulo (metro area of 20 million) or Rio de Janeiro (metro area of 12 million). Manaus, the largest region in the city and the seventh largest city in the country, grew 22% between 2000 and 2010, the highest growth rate of Brazil’s ten most populous cities (it now has around 1.7 million people); the region as a whole has seen its population grow to over 25 million people.
What’s the cause of this growth? In part, it’s birth rates, which are the highest in Brazil. But even more, it’s the expanding agricultural and industrial sectors, including hydroelectric dams, mining, and soybean farming. With new employment opportunities in the region, temporary shanty towns are cropping up as people move to the area, seeking employment and better wages.
This taps into a fascinating reversal of a historical trend that characterized much of the 20th century. In 1940, almost 70% of Brazil’s population lived in rural areas; by 2000, not even 19% of the population was located in rural areas. This rapid urbanization had several causes: expanded industrialization in centers like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the decline of the coffee culture that employed many rural workers, the industrialization of agricultural production that left more people in the countryside jobless or landless as their lands were bought up, and environmental causes all led to the rapid migration of people, usually from Brazil’s north and northeast, to urban centers in the Southeast and South. However, the opportunities for employment in cities often could not keep up with the demographic growth, leading to the expansion of favelas and informal economies in the cities, with accompanying social inequalities and problems like homelessness.
The past decade seems to suggest at least some of that process is slowing down. Certainly, urban growth is continuing, but now, people are heading to cities in the North and Northeast, rather than in the Southeast. While the rural-to-urban migration continues, it’s no longer a regional migration from Brazil’s poorer north to its wealthier (in macroeconomic terms) southeast. From an economic standpoint, this matters, as it keeps more people (and their incomes) in the region.
However, not all measurements of quality of life are economic, and this rapid urban growth in the Amazonian basin is not good for the Brazilian environment. In addition to the obvious environmental destruction caused by mining and dams, the concentration of people in urban areas in the Amazon has a broader impact in multiple ways. While some argue that concentrating populations in the city can slow down deforestation, I think that, in the Brazilian case, the counter-argument that abandoning rural areas opens up more land for ranchers to deforest is closer to what will happen, given that cattle ranching is the biggest cause of deforestation in the region. Without small farmers and communities to resist the encroachment of massive ranches, the path to deforestation for ranches is even easier. Additionally, as Vassar College geography professor Brian J. Godfrey points out in the article, the move to cities and the accompanying economic growth leads to an acceleration in the exploitation of limited resources, and resources are already limited in the Amazonian region.
That’s not to say that people should not seek better lives in the cities in the region. But right now, it certainly seems that this growth is taking place without broader economic, social, or political considerations of the impacts this could have on an already-threatened ecosystem.
-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.
-In the wake of his re-election this past Sunday, Hugo Chávez has named Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro his new vice president. I originally suggested that, in the wake of the election, one of the big questions would be whether Chávez made any attempts to institutionalize his policies and programs in the event he has to leave his office; the selection of Maduro suggests that Chávez himself, whose health is regularly a matter of speculation, may be moving towards institutionalizing his reforms and considering a time where he is no longer able to hold office.
-Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri is under fire after alerting a pro-life group to a rape victim who was seeking an abortion at a hospital. Macri made the move in what is a clear infringement on the woman’s rights in an attempt to pressure her to avoid abortion. Earlier this year, the Argentine Supreme Court ruled that rape victims could not be prosecuted for ending a pregnancy that was the result of a rape, though that has not stopped Macri from consistently rejecting women’s reproductive freedoms by vetoing municipal bills that would allow abortion in the cases of rape or when the health of the mother is at risk.
-Citing tongue cancer and other medical issues, Alberto Fujimori’s family has formally requested a pardon for the imprisoned ex-president and convicted violator of human rights.
-Colombian paramilitary leader Hector German Buitrago (AKA “Martin Llanos”) confessed to the murder of villagers in 1997′s Mapiripan massacre as part of the right-wing paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia; AUC).
-This past weekend, Mexico’s military killed Heriberto Lazcano, one of the key figureheads in the Zetas cartel, one of the more powerful and violent cartels in the country, in what the Mexican government is now saying was an “accident.”
-The US Supreme Court has rejected Chevron’s appeal of an Ecuadoran decision that ruled the country owes $18.2 billion in damages for the systematic discharge of toxic waste that led to the destruction of the environment and an increase in diseases, including cancer, related to the pollution in the Ecuadoran Amazonian basin.
-Indigenous peoples and environmental activists in Brazil have again blocked access to a construction site at the controversial Belo Monte dam, protesting against the environmental impact and the destruction of indigenous lands that the dam will cause. At the end of August, Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled construction on the dam could proceed, but opposition from indigenous groups and activists, as well as environmentalists, continues.
-Calls for Guatemala to investigate the military have mounted after armed forces shot into a crowd of protesting indigenous peoples, killing eight natives, and the opposition party has begun investigating the possibility of filing charges against officials in President Otto Pérez Molina’s administration. While such charges seem unlikely right now, the murder is not insignificant; military violence in Guatemala is still a highly-sensitive and charged issue since the end of the 36-year civil war that ended in 1990, during which the Guatemalan armed forces regularly targeted indigenous communities in a genocidal campaign.
-In a historic moment for Brazilian politics, Supreme Court Justice Joaquim Barbosa was chosen as the first ever black president of the court.
-Finally, in a logic that can at best be described as dubious, Trinidad’s Minister Jack Warner has announced the country will no longer release crime statistics to the public because such data (Warner alleges) encourages people to commit more crimes.
-In yet another step towards equality, a gay man in Brazil who, with his partner, is adopting a child, has been granted “maternity” leave for four months (rather than the 5-day time off for “paternity” leave) to help raise the couple’s new child.
-In a possible case of “tit-for-tat,” the US has granted asylum to an Ecuadoran journalist seeking protection from a fine and jail sentence after he called President Rafael Correa a “dictator.” The US’s decision to grant asylum came only 24 hours after Ecuador granted asylum to Julian Assange, whose Wikileaks released classified information from the United States (among other countries).
-Brazil’s striking federal workers reached an agreement with Brazil’s government last week and return to work today. The end of the strike has to be seen as a victory for the federal government generally and President Dilma Rousseff in particular, however, as the workers return to work not with the 25%-50% raises they’d sought, but the 15.8% raise Rousseff offered.
-In the wake of charges of police brutality after Chilean police stripped several protesting youth, President Sebastián Piñera has said his government will crack down on future incidents of “brutality.” However, given the ongoing use of tear gas and water cannons against students who march peacefully in Chile, it also seems clear that the government’s definition of “brutality” differs from that of its detractors and rights activists.
-After an investigation, Venezuela says there is no evidence illegal gold miners from Brazil killed dozens of Yanomani indigenous peoples in Venezuela. Brazil had asked Venezuela to investigate reports of an indigenous massacre involving the two countries. Although the events apparently took place in July, only now reports are surfacing that illegal gold miners in Brazil crossed the border between the two countries and killed nearly 80 Yanomani indigenous peoples in Venezuela.
-Former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador is urging Mexicans to take to the streets to protest After Mexico’s Supreme Court rejected PRD presidential candidate López Obrador’s challenge of July’s election results.
-After months of civil unrest, violence, and police clashes with people protesting a mining project, Peru’s government has (at least temporarily) decided against extending a state of emergency in the area of the protests.
-In Nicaragua, three police officers have been fired and are facing possible indictment after they raped a 12-year-old girl with developmental disabilities. As horrible as the crime is, it is also worth remembering that, should the girl become pregnant from her rape, she will not be able to choose to abort, as Daniel Ortega made abortion illegal in Nicaragua in all cases, including rape (which has recently been reduced to a “crime of passion”).
-In a victory for environmental protection, Chile’s Supreme Court has ruled against the construction of a planned $5 billion coal-fueled power plant, ruling the pollution from the plant violates Chile’s constitutional protection of the environment.
-In a rare bit of good news, it appears the deforestation rate in the Amazon had once again dropped (though 2,049 square kilometers of deforestation is still a significant loss).
-In Chile, a crackdown on Mapuche activists left at least five children injured after state forces again used harsh measures against Chile’s largest (and regularly-repressed) indigenous group.
-In a step backwards for women’s rights, deadlock in Uruguay’s Congress has postponed the legalization of abortion up to the twelfth week. Meanwhile, in Chile, a study finds that women continue to have a difficult time speaking out against unfair wage practices that reward men more than women for the same work.
-Mexican singer Chavela Vargas, who pushed gender stereotypes and irked the Catholic Church, passed away at 93.
-In a major, if temporary, victory for indigenous rights, the Colombian Constitutional Court ordered the military forces to leave indigenous lands in the Southeastern part of the country, a ruling the government plans to appeal.
-In a novel solution that other countries could learn from, Honduras has banned guns in the Carribean region of Colón.
-In Argentina, popular outrage erupted after a video of police tortured two prisoners became public. Argentines say the video is more evidence that torture within state forces continues nearly thirty years after the brutal dictatorship that used widespread torture fell from power.
-Meanwhile, in a step forward for prisoners’ rights in Brazil, the government is shutting down illegal, police-constructed makeshift prisons where due process and rule of law were often absent.
-Brazil is set to spend $9.6 billion reais (roughly $4.75 billion US dollars) to project hydroelectric dams, including the controversial Belo Monte dam, from invasions and strikes. The move comes just a few weeks after indigenous peoples whose lands will be flooded had occupied the dam’s construction site in protest.
-It’s not just major dams that cause problems for peasants in Latin America; in Mexico, communities have intensified their struggles against state-sponsored “small dams.”
-Brazil and Uruguay recently signed a new round of agreements that will intensify the economic ties between the two countries.
-Finally, in a tragic if unsurprising conclusion, the increased violence in Mexico in the past several years has led to a rise in PTSD among Mexico’s population.