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Today in Bad News from the Amazon

January 19, 2013 Comments off

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.

Today’s Reminders of Environmental Devastation

July 17, 2012 Comments off

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.”

Around Latin America

May 16, 2012 1 comment

-Carlos Fuentes, the world-renowned Mexican author and intellectual, passed away yesterday at the age of 83. If you haven’t read  The Death of Artemio CruzTerra Nostra, or Where the Air is Clear, do yourself a favor and go do it now.

-Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff used Mother’s Day to announce new programs to help low-income families who have children. The programs will aid 18 million people via the Bolsa Familia program.

-Spanish company Repsol has announced its intentions to sue Argentina in US courts and to go before the World Bank to contest the recent appropriation of YPF, which Argentina nationalized in late-April.

-In an issue that affects the Americas and the rest of the world, a new report suggests that humans are consuming at a pace faster than the earth can sustain, with biodiversity decreasing by 30% throughout the world and by 60% in some parts of the world.

-In what appears to have been an assassination attempt, a bomb attack in Bogota left at least two people dead and another 39 wounded, including former Minister of the Interior Fernando Londono, the apparent target of the attack.

-A Guatemalan mother who says her child was stolen from her and given up for adoption to a US couple plans to sue  in order to have her child returned to her after the State Department refused to help the woman.

-Argentina’s Vice President Amado Boudou is facing charges of embezzlement and corruption in an investigation that could see the presumed heir to Cristina Kirchner banned from politics for life.

-Tensions between Argentina and Uruguay have increased recently over the dredging of the Rio de la Plata, with allegations of meddling and concerns over competition fueling the disagreement.

-Finally, the Guatemalan version of food trucks in the US sounds delicious.

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

March 8, 2012 Comments off

-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.

Around Latin America

March 5, 2012 Comments off

-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.

Around Latin America

January 27, 2012 2 comments

-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.

Around Latin America

January 9, 2012 Comments off

While at the AHA, a decent number of stories came out of Latin America late last week.

-Ecuadoran courts upheld an $18 billion judgement against Chevron for the deaths and damages (human and environmental) caused when the company dumped millions of gallons of waste water into streams and creeks in the country between 1960 and 1992.

-In another case of corporate crime, pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline Argentina was fined US$90,000 for testing vaccines on babies only from poor families.

-Last week, the rightist government of Sebastián Piñera announced plans to change references to the right-wing Pinochet regime in textbook, replacing the term “dictatorship” in books with the term “military regime.” However, the decision immediately led to controversy and outrage, and in the face of widespread opposition to the change both in Chile and among international human rights groups, the government has backtracked on its decision.  For those who might think this is just semantics, Greg has an excellent and concise write-up on why word choices matter on these issues.

-Brazilian indigenous peoples have created a tent city outside of Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro to protest of the treatment of Brazil’s native peoples and the ongoing seizure of their land. The stadium will be the site of the final game of the 2014 World Cup.

-Venezuelan opposition forces and the United States have spoken out against Hugo Chávez’s recent shuffling of his inner circle of advisers and new appointments in his government. The U.S. has alleged that Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, Chávez’s  new defense minister, is linked to drug traffickers.

-Authorities have labeled as suspicious a fire that destroyed the home of a Mapuche activist’s family. The Mapuches, Chile’s largest indigenous peoples, have been fighting for years for equal rights and treatment, and protection of their land and resources, and violence towards Mapuches is traceable back to the colonial era.

-While Guatemala inaugurates right-wing candidate (and ex-general during the Guatemalan Civil War) Otto Perez Molina next week, it is also inaugurating its first woman vice-president in Roxana Baldetti, and some Guatemalan women are hoping Baldetti’s inauguration marks a new era of openings for women in politics.

-Will Jamaica’s new prime minister usher in a new, better era for LGBT rights in the Caribbean country where gays and lesbians continue to face some of the most severe and widespread repression, violence, and threats in the western hemisphere?

-A dam burst in Brazil forced several thousand people from their homes in the state of Rio de Janeiro. This does not

-Fernando Llort addressed the removal of his mural from the Metropolitan Cathedral in El Salvador last week. The church had commissioned the mural in the 1990s to mark the 1992 signing of peace accords that brought an end to a brutal civil war in the Central American country.

Around Latin America

December 30, 2011 4 comments

-Chile finally closed the file on Salvador Allende’s death this week after a ruling in July of this year found that Allende had committed suicide (rather than dying at the hands of soldiers who overthrew him on September 11, 1973).

-A Brazilian magazine has published the names of 223 men who tortured Brazilian civilians during the military regime of 1964-1985.  The Brazilian National Library’s Journal of History released the names, based on a document from secret police files. The list had originally been published in a limited run in 1978 by the magazine Em Tempo, which faced two reprisals from anonymous sources after its publication. (I’ll have more on the legacies of torture and Brazil’s recent establishment of a Truth Commission tomorrow.)

-If Colombia had its lowest murder rates in 26 years this year, Venezuela had a record high of 19,336 murders this year, making it the highest murder total in South America. In Central America, El Salvador also saw its highest total number of violent deaths since 1992, when the country signed peace accords that ended a twelve-year civil war.

-A second Chilean Minister of Education has resigned in the face of ongoing student protests and mobilizations against the educational policies of the Piñera administration. Felipe Bulnes stepped down just six months after taking over for Joaquín Lavín, who also left as student protests increased earlier this year.

-Jamaica’s opposition party, led by Portia Simpson Miller, won the country’s election, an election that gay rights activists said had been marred by homophobic rhetoric.

-A forest fire in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park has forced tourists out and president Sebastián Piñera to declare a state of emergency, as 5700 hectares have already burned.

-Mexican officials have annulled the outcome of the mayoral election in the state of Morelia after it became clear that Juan Manuel Marquez, who fought Manny Pacquiao in November, wore the colors of the Institutional Revolutionary Party on his shorts, in violation of electoral laws in Mexico. Marquez lost the controversial fight by decision.

Around Latin America

December 23, 2011 Comments off

-While much of the focus on environmental degradation in Brazil falls (rightfully) on the Amazon, it is not the only part of the country facing real environmental threats. The Brazilian cerrado is the world’s largest savannah and is home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity, yet it too is being destroyed for monocrop agriculture.

-Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has publicly supported Bolivia’s claims to a port city on the Pacific coast. The issue has been a point of contention between Bolivia and Chile for nearly 130 years, ever since the latter country took coastal territory from Bolivia in the War of the Pacific, leaving Bolivia as one of South America’s only landlocked countries (Paraguay being the other).

-A declassified U.S. State Department memo from 1982 has become the focal point in the ongoing trial of two Argentine dictators in the case of kidnapped children during the “Dirty War” of 1976-1983. The memo, just declassified this week, not only points towards the systematic kidnapping of children of so-called “subversives,” but also to the United States’ willingness to look the other way on human rights abuses among South American allies during the Cold War.

-The Peace Corps has begun pulling volunteers out of Honduras and not allowing new volunteers to go to Guatemala and El Salvador after several volunteers were caught up in (probably random) acts of violence.

-Former Guatemalan general and leader Efraín Ríos Montt, who in the 1980s oversaw some of the worst human rights violations of the Guatemalan Civil War, may actually finally face charges and trial for genocide, as he loses his congressional seat (and congressional immunity) next month.

-The Mexican city of Veracruz-Boca del Rio was forced to fire its entire police force due to the Zetas cartel’s extensive infiltration into the force.

-More mass graves have been uncovered in Peru, containing upwards of 100 bodies of victims of the civil strife of the 1980s.

-The Caribbean continues to be one of the worst places for LGBT rights in the world, but there are changes in the visibility and activism of the LGBT community in the region, something Colin Robinson discusses here.

-The LGBT community is not the only group deprived of basic rights and opportunities in the Caribbean. Disabled youth also continue to face real challenges and discrimination as well.

-While the rest of the world continues to suffer from economic instability, Brazil continues to buck the trend, as unemployment recently reached a record low of 5.2%, even as migrants from Portugal are increasingly moving to Brazil to find work. Perhaps even more encouraging, university-trained Brazilians who had left the country are now returning, providing a “brain gain” that could have many positive benefits for Brazilian society, development, and education.

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