Archive for the ‘Oil Spills’ Category

Around Latin America

June 12, 2013 Comments off

-Nicaragua and China have entered into an agreement through which China could help build a canal through Nicaragua that would rival the Panama canal. Of course, Nicaragua has long been seen as a potential site for a canal; even in the 1800s, the US and European powers considered the possibility of building one. As it stands right now, the canal would take eleven years to construct and would cost $40 billion, but there is nothing to yet indicate that the construction would start soon or that it would be brought to completion.

-An audit of the April elections in Venezuela has confirmed that Nicolas Maduro defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in a very close election. Meanwhile, the economic and political instability that has been a significant problem in Maduro’s still-young administration (a problem that Maduro’s own policies and rhetoric have not helped) is hitting society hard: in addition to reports of shortages in basic goods like toilet paper, it appears beer prices have gone up 92% in Venezuela as well.

-An oil-spill in Ecuador now threatens both the Peruvian and Brazilian environment as it flows into the Amazonian basin, threatening river communities and riparian ecosystems. The spill began after a landslide damaged an oil pipeline, providing another reminder of the predictably-unpredictable nature of environmental processes and the risks of pipelines in dynamic ecosystems.

Peace talks between Colombia’s government and the FARC have resumed after a brief break. The ongoing talks are the first significant talks between the two sides since the 1990s, as the two sides try to bring an end to a civil war that has lasted nearly 50 years. Prior to the talks, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Israel, where he signed a free trade agreement between Colombia and Israel.

-In a tragic example of the ways in which women in Nicaragua continue to be treated as second class citizens, conservative activists and politicians are seeking to create a law that would require abused women to negotiate with their abusers.

-In the wake of an AP report that found that Brazilian car designs facilitate deaths from crashes, Brazil has begun plans to create its first-ever crash test facility.

-In dual cases of justice in Peru, President Ollanta Humala (who is currently on his first official state visit to the US) denied a pardon to former president Alberto Fujimori, who had been convicted for his role in state repression and human rights violations during his 1990-2000 administration. And on the other end of the spectrum, a court sentenced former guerrilla leader and Shining Path leader Comrade Artemio (Florinda Flores) to a life sentence for his role in guerrilla violence, drug trafficking, and money laundering.

-Speaking of the Shining Path, though a tiny number continue to fight for revolution ostensibly in the name of the movement, a new political arm of the movement, the Movimiento Por Amnistia y Derechos Fundamentales (Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights; MOVADEF) is increasingly gaining support among some in Peru and beyond, prompting further reevaluations and considerations of the legacies of the Shining Path, state violence, and social divisions in Peruvian memory.

-Even while stories of government surveillance have occupied headlines in the US, it appears that secrecy at Guantanamo has only intensified, where a government ruling has gone into effect, and “those who’ve read it can’t say what it’s about, and those who haven’t don’t have a clue. Not even the accused, who, unless the judge rules for the defense, is not allowed to get an unclassified explanation of it – and cannot sit in on the court session when it’s argued in secret.”

-In another reminder of the gross socioeconomic inequalities in Brazil’s legal system, Thor Batista, the son of Brazilian billionaire who hit and killed a bicyclist while driving his car avoided jail time for the death. Instead, a judge ordered Batista to pay a R$1 million fine and serve two years of community service. In spite of the relatively lenient sentence for killing another person, Batista still plans on appealing the sentence.

-Finally, more than ten years after Brazil enacted affirmative action laws that created quotas for university admission, it appears the law has gone a long way in addressing inequalities, if a report on the University of Brasilia is representative. The study finds that there would be 71.5% fewer Afro-Brazilians in the school without the law, and that students admitted under quotas have outperformed non-quota students. [English version available here.]

Around Latin America

December 18, 2012 Comments off

-While Hugo Chávez’s health is increasingly in question as he underwent surgery for cancer yet again, his political vision appears to remain alive. In gubernatorial elections yesterday in Venezuela, his political coalition won 20 of the 23 elections for state offices. Henrique Capriles, who lost the presidential election to Chávez in October, was also re-elected governor of the state of Miranda.

-Human rights appear to have taken a step backwards in Colombia, where Congress passed a bill that allows military members who commit crimes to face trial in military courts rather than in civil courts. The move further strengthens the potential for impunity for Colombia’s military, already closely tied to numerous human rights violations, and represents a significant step backwards in the quest for preventing human rights violations in Colombia.

-In a case of an unbalanced counter-offer, Chevron countered two civil lawsuits for $20 billion for its role in oil spills in Brazil by offering to instead pay $150 million to resolve the suits.

-In a step towards equal marriage rights, Uruguay’s Chamber of Deputies overwhelmingly passed a bill that would allow gay marriage and would permit couples to decide whose surname goes to their children in what order (thus helping equalize what has culturally been a patriarchal practice). The bill next heads to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass.

-On the other end of the spectrum of equal rights, two teenagers in Brazil were arrested in the murder of a gay college student. One of the two teens confessed to killing Lawrence Corrêa Biancão out of homophobia in what appears to have been a calculated and cold-blooded murder that, in its homophobic extremity, is not so dissimilar from the murder of Chilean Daniel Zamudio earlier this year.

-Honduras is in the midst of a brewing institutional crisis as Congress and the Supreme Court are locked in a battle over power and legislation even as President Porfirio Lobo bandies about allegations of a planned coup against him.

-Brazilian rapper Mano Brown has begun pushing for the impeachment of São Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin (who unsuccessfully ran for president of Brazil in 2006) for allowing police to allegedly target Afro-Brazilian youths in South America’s largest city.

-Speaking of police violence in Brazil, police were caught assautling a journalist covering a protest in one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.

-Authorities in Paraguay have charged 14 farmers for killing 17 people in land disputes that ultimately led to the removal of President Fernando Lugo from office in June. The charges come even as the causes and events of the actual showdown remain unclear.

-While the image of indigenous peoples as inherently better stewards of the environment is a highly-charged and problematic image, that does not take away from the fact that indigenous groups have become important actors in environmental conservation in the 21st century, as Peru’s Achuar people remind us.

-Finally, it was an excellent weekend for Brazilian sports, as Brazil officially opened the first finished stadium a year and a half in advance of hosting the 2014 World Cup, even while São Paulo’s Corintians football team defeated Chelsea 1-0 to become the first Brazilian club to win the World Club Cup since Internacional did it in 2006.

Around Latin America

October 11, 2012 Comments off

-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.

Around Latin America

March 19, 2012 Comments off

-The Salvadoran government is now providing a pension to ex-rebels who fought against the military dictatorship during the country’s civil war from 1980-1992. More than 2600 rebels over 70 will receive the $50 monthly pension, although the government acknowledges that the pension alone is “not enough” for the country’s ex-rebels, over 90% of whom are living in poverty.

-The nineteen-year-old daughter of a Chilean diplomat to Venezuela was shot and killed last week, sparking outrage and further fueling the debate over police violence, which, as Boz notes, is an all-too-common occurrance in Venezuela.

-Also in Venezuela, the government has announced it is sending 15,000 troops to its borders with Colombia, Brazil, and Guyana in order to combat drug trafficking.

-Brazilian officials discovered another new oil leak in an offshore well controlled by Chevron, and authorities have seized the passports of seventeen Chevron executives and are expected to file charges against them.

-A Mexican drug cartel in the state of Guanajuato have pledged there will be no violence when Pope Benedict the XVI visits the country next weekend. The Knights Templar gang signed a number of banners in the state of Guanajuato assuring they were committing to “a sort of truce for peace and said they are going to keep the peace during the pope’s visit.”

-Uruguayan officials have filed murder charges against two nurses, with a third nurse facing charges of covering up the crime, in the case of the deaths of more than a dozen people at two hospitals.

Lillie points us to this article (in Spanish) of children who were sent to a home and were forced to live in harsh conditions after their parents were arrested and “disappeared” during the Argentine dictatorship. While the details are horrific, unfortunately, the cases of Argentine children kidnapped from their murdered parents was not uncommon and continues to shape the memory struggles from the regime nearly 30 years after it ended.

-More than 2000 Venezuelan women are threatening to sue doctors and distributors over faulty breast implants. After a class action suit fell apart earlier this year, the women are planning individual suits in order to get free treatment/replacements for faulty implants that a French company sold to Venezuela.

-Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa is attempting to improve and reform the higher education system in Ecuador, and small, privately-owned universities in Ecuador, known as “garage universities,” are facing closure after failing to meet basic educational and institutional standards.

-After a few relatively tranquil months, students in Chile again returned to the streets late last week. More than 5000 gathered to demand free public education before police using tear gas and water cannons broke up the protest.

-A new report says the number of monarch butterflies in Mexico fell 28% this year, with climate change and deforestation likely culprits in the butterflies’ decline.

-Some farming groups in North Carolina are mobilizing in an attempt to prevent tough immigration laws (like those in Arizona and Alabama) that might negatively affect the state’s farming community, though as Greg points out, there are real limitations to these efforts.

Around Latin America

February 17, 2012 5 comments

-In Honduras, 355 prisoners died in a horrific fire this past Tuesday, resulting in one of the worst prison disasters in history. While families struggle with their losses, survivors express outrage, and human rights activists again point to the problems of prison overcrowding and treatment of prisoners (an issue facing many countries in Latin America), the tragedy is increased by the fact that many of those who were imprisoned had not been charged with or convicted of crimes.

-Earlier this week, Peruvian armed forces captured Florindo Eleuterio Flores-Hala, better known as Comrade Artemio,  the military leader of Peru’s increasingly-isolated Shining Path guerrilla movement. The capture led president Ollanta Humala to declare that the Shining Path is “no longer a threat to the country.” While time will tell whether Ollanta Humala’s declaration is accurate or not, the capture is a major blow to the leftist guerrilla group.

-Forty-five years ago, Latin American countries signed a treaty that designated the region a nuclear-weapon-free zone, a treaty that UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon commended this week in honor of the treaty’s anniversary.

-In Argentina, a recent trial on the trafficking of women has raised the issue of the sex trade and sex slavery in South America’s third most-populous country.

-In a reminder that border violence is not limited to the Mexico-US border, the editor of a newspaper on the Paraguay-Brazil border was murdered this past week. As has been the case in other murders of journalists in Brazil, the editor had campaigned against the corruption and abuses of power on the part of local and national officials.

-Fans of Latin American or British history with a little cash to toss around can buy one of the three remaining copies of the telex of Argentina’s 1982 surrender to England in the Malvinas/Falklands War, with the copy going on auction on April 3.

-Speaking of the Malvinas/Falklands, while tensions have been increasing recently (with both the United Kingdom and England exaggerating the situation), it’s probably not the best diplomatic move (or a classy move) for the islanders’ press  to call Cristina Kirchner a “bitch.”

-From the Department of Irony, a Brazilian woman is suing Weight Watchers for firing her after she gained weight.

-Hundreds of Venezuelans took to the streets to protest this week in the wake of an oil-spill in Venezuela that contaminated rivers and streams.

-When right-wing ex-general Otto Perez Molina won the presidential election in Guatemala, few probably imagined that he would move closer to the legalization of  some types of drugs, but that appears to be a possibility as he attempts to address the increasing drug violence in the Central American country. And he is not alone, as El Salvador’s president, Mauricio Funes, has also made references to considering legalization.

-Venezuela’s opposition has nominated 39-year-old governor Henrique Capriles Radonski to run against Hugo Chavez in October of this year, setting the stage for what could be an interesting campaign.

-Human rights activists in Colombia are finding themselves increasingly threatened; the country’s former Peace Commissioner has fled the country, fearing for his life, a fear that many other human rights activists share as attacks on them are increasing.

-Argentine officials are targeting corruption within the country’s national football (soccer) league in an attempt to stamp out the mafia-like organizations that are not uncommon among fan bases and club organizations.

-Giving new meaning to the phrase “hot action,” a Colombian fire department has come under fire *ahem* for allowing the station to be used to film a porno.

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

December 27, 2011 1 comment

-In a remarkable transformation, Cuba has expanded its free-market reforms beginning on January 1 of the coming year. Changes include laying off state workers, reducing restrictions on private enterprise, and allowing certain types of workers to become self-employed and to charge their own rates.

-Mexican authorities have arrested five police officers who were captured on video torturing a detainee.

-The United States has begun considering creating a national park in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley. The park would set aside land that Hispanic people historically settled when it belonged to colonial Spain and then Mexico. The valley is a beautiful area, and is home to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, where the largest sand dunes in the United States (at over 700 feet in height) sit nestled up against the base of 14,000+ foot tall peaks. The area is remarkably beautiful and unique, and a national park here would be a wonderful, wonderful thing.

-Argentina and China entered an agreement of support over claims to islands, with Argentina supporting China’s claim to Taiwan and China supporting Argentina’s claim to the Malvinas/Falklands Islands.

Bolivia extradited ex-soldier Luis Enrique Baraldini to Argentina for his role in human rights violations, including torture, during the military dictatorship of 1976-1983, during which time Baraldini served as chief of police in the province of La Pampa.

-Colombia’s murder total for 2011 dropped by 544 to 13,520 on the year (up to Christmas Day), marking the lowest number of violent deaths in the country since 1984.

-A new report out of Peru says that climate change has melted the glaciers in the country twenty years faster than previously expected, which will have a profound effect on access to and availability of water for Peru in the coming years.

-Brazil fined Chevron another $5.4 million for an oil spill in early November. Brazil had already previously fined the company $28 million and had also filed a lawsuit for $10.6 billion against the company.

-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez replaced General Hugo Carvajal, the military intelligence chief and one of the top advisers to Chavez.

-Chile’s Supreme Court ordered Chilean newspaper La Tercera to compensate thirteen readers who suffered severe burns when following a recipe for churros that the paper had published several years ago.


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