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.
In depressing environmental news, over 700 dead penguins have been washing up on the beaches of southern Brazil across the last month.
Meanwhile, in still more reminders of the very real and devastating impact human actions are having on the environment, the effects of long-term deforestation will continue to be felt, with a new study suggesting that, even if deforestation were halted today, at least 38 species of mammals, birds, and amphibianswill go extinct in the area in the years and decades to come.
And it’s not like these processes won’t impact humans. Among other things, deforestation in the Amazon has led to a 50% increase in malaria among people “because mosquitoes, which transmit the disease, thrive in the right mix of sunlight and water in recently deforested areas.”
-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.
-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.
-Brazilian truck drivers have gone on strike over restrictions on which roads they can use when, and South America’s largest city is feeling the pinch, as São Paulo has begun to run low on fuel.
-In yet even more incredibly discouraging and depressing environmental news from the region, scientific studies reveal that climate change is drastically damaging the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef system, the world’s second largest barrier reef system. Rising temperatures are rapidly “bleaching” the reef, leading to its death and pointing to the reef’s future as a marine dessert. As if this wasn’t already depressing enough, Mesoamerican countries like Mexico, Honduras, Belize, and Guatemala are failing to address the issue adequately, meaning the reef stands a very real chance that it will simply die out, destroying an important marine ecosystem.
-Chilean leaders have spoken out against homophobic violence after the recent beating that has left a 24-year-old gay man in an induced coma.
-Juan Pablo Schiavi, Argentina’s Transportation Secretary, has stepped down from his post in the wake of the horrific train crash in Buenos Aires that killed more than 50 people and injured more than 700 and led to widespread finger-pointing between government officials, rail-safety experts, and the train company responsible for the line.
–Four miners are dead and five are missing after an accident in a Colombian coal mine.
-Brazilian beachgoers have made news for their noble acts in aiding a pod of about 20 dolphins who had stranded themselves on a beach in southeastern Rio de Janeiro state.
-In great news for Bolivia’s disabled community, their struggles for equal rights and treatment may be netting real results and improvements. In the wake of protesters journeying over 1000 miles to bring attention to the need for better treatment and equal rights for the disabled in Bolivia, Evo Morales has said he will support a bill that would provide equal rights for the disabled.
-Chilean airline company LAN became the first airline to conduct a commercial flight that was powered by biofuels (in this case, refined vegetable oil).
-Argentine veterans have spoken out in favor of identifying the remains of 123 casualties of the 1982 Malvinas/Falklands war whose identities remain unknown.
-The former head of Haiti’s Central Bank during the 2001-2004 government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide was murdered this week, shortly after his son cut a deal to speak with US Department of Justice officials in Miami regarding charges of bribery between Haitian officials and companies based in Miami.
-Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes went on television earlier this week and tried to explain away El Salvador’s rising murder rate by saying that 90% of the murders were of criminals, and not innocent civilians. Suffice to say, such claims have raised pointed questions and criticisms of the president, and deservedly so.
-On the heels of the FARC promising to end kidnappings last week, another rebel group tied to the FARC, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) has said it would be willing to end attacks against the oil industry if the government reduces the areas where oil exploration can take place and issues a “social tax” on oil production.
-Finally, for those of you who felt there was not enough thrash metal from Brazilian women (or for those of you who felt there were not enough Brazilian women in thrash metal), your prayers have been answered, as Nervosa (“Nervous”), Brazil’s first all-woman thrash metal trio, has hit the scene.
-Haitians left disabled after the January 2010 earthquake found some degree of relief in a model community for people left homeless and injured from the quake. Unfortunately, the government is set to reclaim the land, forcing the disabled to fend for themselves and adding to the political and social obstacles and stigmas the physically disadvantaged already face in the country.
-In more depressing environmental news, researchers have issued a new report that suggests that upwards of 900 tropical bird species will be extinct by 2100 due to environmental transformations resulting from climate change.
-Just a few weeks after capturing Shining Path leader Comrade Artemio, Peruvian police have captured another major leader of the movement, arresting Walter Diaz Vega, who was trying to reorganize the guerrilla movement in the wake of Artemio’s arrest.
-Rights activists have long feared that the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay would lead to trials that heavily favored the prosecution and led to unjust sentencing procedures. Yet a recent series of trials on the US military base in Cuba has surprised many, as several people convicted received sentences lighter than those in civilian courts (although the issue of indefinite detention pre-trial is one that continues to plague Guantanamo Bay more than ten years after it “opened”).
-A new report says that 49 human rights activists were killed in Colombia last year, reminding us yet again of the degree to which people defending human rights in the Andean country face threats on a daily basis.
-Prince Harry will be visiting Brazil this weekend, and some Argentines are planning on greeting him with protests over Argentina’s and England’s ongoing verbal and diplomatic struggle over the Malvinas/Falklands islands issue.
-Also in Rio, police arrested a major drug leader, Everton Mesquita, in a favela in the northern part of the city this weekend.
-Lillie points us to this article (in Spanish) and has some brief-but-valuable comments (in English) on the risk of elderly human rights violators trying to “game the system” and use their age to avoid punishment.
-While the United States tries to address its deficit by cutting military spending, a new study suggests that defense spending in Latin American countries is on the rise, with the main expenses being arms sales from China. Meanwhile, Adam Isacson points us to this useful map that shows bases in Latin America that received U.S. aid in 2010 (though Isacson makes clear that “aid” does not actually determine whether or not U.S. forces and officials were actually on the ground at any of these sites).
-Boz has the summary of Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night regarding Latin America, with the president mentioning the region in terms of trade, immigration, and foreign policy. Overall, Obama mentioned the region five times, the most it’s been mentioned since Bush’s 2008 address (6 times) and the second-most times since 2004.
-A Guatemalan court ruled yesterday that ex-general Efraín Ríos Montt will face trial for genocide for his role in the human rights violations and murders of thousands of Guatemalans during the Guatemalan civil war, which lasted more than 30 years. In court, Ríos Montt, who has opted for what some consider a high-risk defense strategy, remained silent in the face of testimonies and questions, telling the judge he “prefer[red] to remain silent” when asked if he had a response to the charges. Ríos Montt was president from 1982-1983, during which some of the worst human rights abuses of the war occurred. Ríos Montt famously had the support of Ronald Reagan, who declared that Ríos Montt was “totally dedicated to democracy” and that he got “a bum rap” even while armed forces were razing indigenous villages and murdering Guatemalan civilians.
-In a move for basic human rights, Ecuador’s government has vowed to crack down on clinics that try to “cure” gays and lesbians.
-An ex-U.S. diplomat testified that American officials were aware that the Argentine military dictatorship of 1976-1983 kidnapped babies from dead or imprisoned “subversives”. Elliott Abrams testified in the trial of ex-dictators Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone that the U.S. was aware that the practice of taking children from “subversives” and giving them to other families was “systematic” in a practice that is still having very real repercussions on the lives of individuals and Argentine society more generally even today. Bignone and Videla have already been convicted of other human rights violations for their role in leading the military dictatorship, during which the military regime murdered upwards of 30,000 civilians. (h/t Lillie Langtry).
-Environmentalists estimate that it could take eighty years for the Torres del Paine national park to recover from a wildfire that broke out in December 2011 and that continues to rage through parts of the forest.
-Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez has been granted a tourist visa to travel to Brazil to view the premier of a documentary on the crackdown on freedom of expression in the Honduras coup of 2009 that overthrew democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya.
-Over at Tim’s El Salvador Blog, there is a guest post that reveals the very real threats environmentalists in El Salvador continue to face on a daily basis as they work for environmental improvements and conservation.
-A debate has emerged in El Salvador over just how responsible for the country’s high murder rate gangs actually are. While many blame gangs for the murder rate of 70/100,000 people (4,374 in absolute numbers in 2011), others point to the role of drug traffickers, death squads, state security agents, and common criminals.
-In Rio de Janeiro, rescuers are searching the rubble of two buildings that collapsed in the downtown area on Wedesday night, renewing calls to reform Rio’s antiquated building codes. Early reports blame unapproved construction for the collapse, which was captured on CCTV and which has already killed six people, with another sixteen still missing.
-In a move that shouldn’t surprise anybody, Chevron has appealed Ecuador’s $18 billion judgement against the oil company for its role in dumping pollutants into the environment, including into water supplies that humans used, between 1964 and 1990. Meanwhile, Brazil is planning to find criminal charges against Chevron and its local managers for an oil spill off the coast of Brazil in November 2011.
-In a turn for the worse, the international agency Reporters Without Borders issued its 2011 report, which found (among other things) that most countries in Latin America dropped in the “press freedom index,” with Chile alone dropping an astonishing 47 spots due primarily to crackdowns in the wake of the student movement’s protests and demands for reform that brought the country to a halt last year.
-For the first time ever, Brazilian national oil company Petrobras has appointed a woman to head the state-owned corporation. Maria das Graças Foster, 58, will take over the company in February.