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Around Latin America

November 19, 2012 Comments off

-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.

Around Latin America

September 13, 2012 Comments off

-In Chile, protests erupted as the country commemorated the 39th anniversary of the military coup that overthrew democratically-elected president Salvador Allende. The protests turned violent, however, leaving one officer dead and at least 255 people under arrest.

-After conflicting reports of an alleged massacre of Yanomani people in Venezuela and subsequent government findings that encountered no evidence of such a massacre, right group Survival International has backtracked, withdrawing a report on the massacre and concluding no such massacre took place.

-This week has brought mixed news for embattled Chilean President Sebastián Piñera. Congress passed a tax reform that will close loopholes for businesses and increase tax revenues for the state, money which can theoretically be used for education. Of course, increased public spending on education has been one of the main demands of the Chilean student movement, so the bill is a small victory for Piñera. However, his government also faces allegations that he has distorted numbers in claims that poverty rates have declined under his watch, adding to the already-substantial criticisms of his government. Thus, Pinera’s poll numbers remain very low, with only a 29% approval rating and with 30% of people who voted for him expressing regret for their decision. [h/t to Greg Weeks for the poll numbers]

-In Brazil, military police have occupied a favela after suspected drug lords murdered seven people, including six youth and a police cadet. While the occupation does not undo Rio’s efforts at more peaceful pacification programs in the favelas, it does raise questions about the limits or long-term potential of these pacification projetcs.

-Miners in Bolivia have blocked one of the main roads into the capital of La Paz as part of a protest that reflects increasing tension and competition among different miners’ organizations.

-Meanwhile, in a different story, after months of protests, Peru’s government announced it will work with indigenous groups on future mining projects. The move could be significant, providing indigenous peoples with an opportunity to finally have the government listen to their concerns and issues and perhaps shaping mining projects and environmental preservation in Peru.

-Margaret Myers has another update on recent Chinese headlines & stories on Latin America, including China’s takes on the middle classes in Latin America, comparisons & contrasts between the Chinese Communist Party and political parties in Latin America, and other stories.

-Bolivia is set to apply to become a full member of Mercosur, the trading bloc made up of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and, as of this summer, Venezuela (with Paraguay being suspended in the wake of the removal of President Fernando Lugo. The move makes sense for geographic and economic reasons, and Bolivia is already an associate member, so it will be interesting to see if its application faces the same resistance among some politicians of member countries that Venezuela’s application did. Meanwhile, Paraguay plans to appeal its suspension to the International Tribunal in the Hague

-The body of a mutilated and tortured corpse that washed up on Argentina’s shores in 1976 has finally been identified as that of a Chilean Luis Guillermo Vega Ceballos, a leftist who had fled his own country after the September 11, 1973 coup and who became an early victim of the Argentine military dictatorship of 1976-1983.

-In a country that already faces regular allegations of police abuse, Jamaica is again in the international eye after a policeman shot and murdered a pregnant woman, sparking protests on the Caribbean island.

-Finally, a Colombian woman was murdered and publicly burned after community members accused her of practicing witchcraft in the state of Antioquia.

 

Around Latin America

May 23, 2012 Comments off

As I was absent from blogging the past several days, a lot of worthwhile news came out of Latin America, so today will have two posts on news from around the region (the second will come later today).

-Former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who governed the country from 1981-1982 and who was already on trial for genocide for the murder of over 1700 indigenous people during his rule, is now facing a second genocide charge after a judge ruled he could be tried for his role in the Dos Erres massacre.

-In what is an ongoing crisis, journalists suffered another difficult week last week, as a Mexican journalist was kidnapped and killed.

-Although Enrique Peña Nieto, the presidential candidate from the Partido Revolucionário Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party; PRI), has extended his lead in the polls heading into July’s election, not all Mexicans are thrilled with his rhetoric, policies, and party. Thousands of Mexican students took to the streets to protest against the return of the PRI, which governed the country under one moniker or another from 1928 until 2000 in what has come to be known as the “institutional dictatorship.”

-Amnesty International has called on Jamaica to investigate the possible violations of human rights for the armed forces’ actions during May 2010, when the Jamaican government declared a state of emergency to arrest Christopher “Dudus” Coke.

-Last week, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and Vice President Amado Boudou were out of the country, leaving the country with its first ever Jewish president for two days. Provisional president of the Senate Beatriz Rojkes assumed the office of president from Wednesday to Thursday.

-Activists in Guyana are mobilizing in order to pressure the government to repeal anti-sodomy and anti-cross-dressing laws in the Caribbean country.

-Back in 1997, while Alberto Fujimori was president, leftist guerrillas occupied the Japanese embassy and held hostages before Peruvian forces attacked and ended the situation. While the forces were lauded for their efforts at the time, new evidence suggests that the troops summarily executed some of the leftists, including a 17-year-old girl, after they had surrendered.

-As I’ve discussed before, current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who was a member of a leftist group that opposed the military dictatorship of 1964-1985, suffered torture under the regime. Now Rousseff, along with other victims of torture, has received an apology and will be provided with compensation for her suffering at the hands of the Brazilian military government in the 1970s, even while the recently-appointed Truth Commission begins its work on investigating the crimes of the past and the fates of victims.

-Former members of Haiti’s army and their supporters took to the streets last week to protest against the Haitian government’s orders that they disband. Forty-six people were arrested, including two US citizens who aided the military members.

-Is Argentina’s strengthening currency fueling the growth of the black market?

-The Brazilian Congress has passed a freedom of information act that may become an important step in governmental and bureaucratic transparency in a state that has often been opaque to legal activists, citizens, and scholars alike.

-Finally, Guatemala’s Volcán del Fuego began spewing ash and lava, leading to an increased alert level for those living near the 12,000+ foot tall volcano.

Around Latin America

May 4, 2012 Comments off

-Lloyd Brevett, the bassist for foundational Jamaican band The Skatalites, has passed away at the age of 80.

-Rio de Janeiro has joined São Paulo in combating visual pollution by tearing down billboards and banners that pepper buildings throughout the city. I previously discussed the benefits of this type of urban beautification project here.

-Eduardo Ayala has a guest post up at Americas Quarterly that makes “A Case for Gay Rights in Chile,” something that the Daniel Zamudio case has recently brought to the forefront.

-Nélida Gómez de Navajas, one of the founders of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo), a group that joined the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo to protest the kidnapping, torture, and “disappearances” of their relatives, recently passed away.  Gómez de Navajas formed the group when she learned her daughter, Cristina, whom the regime had kidnapped and “disappeared,” was pregnant at the time of her abduction, and eyewitnesses said Cristina did give birth. The fate of the baby has yet to be discovered.

-A new report cites “neglect” as a major cause in the death of 361 prisoners who died in a Honduran prison fire that killed 361 prisoners, many of them not even convicted of or charged with crimes, back in February.

-Jamaican Courts recently rejected police officers’ attempts to challenge the powers of an independent commission designed to investigate crime or corruption within the police forces. The court’s ruling means the commission can compel officers and others to participate in investigations into probes of police abuse.

-Ecuador is set to pay Brazilian oil company Petrobras $217 million dollars in compensation for ending its contract with the company in 2010.

-In a rare bit of good environmental news, the critically-endangered “chicken frog” is surviving after being introduced to the island of Montserrat.

-Venezuela has announced its belief that it should to withdraw from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), with one Venezuelan official claiming the IACHR is biased against Venezuela, and the US has responded by describing the decision as “regrettable.”

Around Latin America

March 10, 2012 Comments off

-Jamaicans are outraged after police killed a 13-year old girl, two elderly men, and three others (though residents say the number of those killed is greater than 6) when they invaded a poor neighborhood. Police allegedly were engaged in a gun-battle with other gunmen. However, the police are facing criticism for their tactics and for a tendency to treat all residents of poor neighborhoods as though they were criminals, criticisms that human rights officials have also leveled against security forces in Brazil and elsewhere.

-Rio de Janeiro’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, declared that the 2016 Olympics to be held there have provided a “fantastic excuse” to transform and reshape the urban landscape of the city. However, as is often the case, the poor are unfairly feeling the brunt of this urban “renovation,” and they understandably are not taking their forced removal lightly, fighting in the courts and the streets to protect their equal rights as citizens.

-Ecuadoran indigenous peoples have launched a protest against a planned Chinese copper mine in the Amazonian lowlands of Ecuador. The indigenous groups will conduct a two-week march to the capital of Quito, where pro-government supporters launched a rival demonstration in support of President Rafael Correa, who supports the mine.

-In Colombia, thousands of protesters, including hundreds of students, demonstrated against the infrastructural weaknesses of Bogotá’s public transportation system, and about thirty were arrested after the protests intensified.

-Leaked documents remind us just how complex regional politics, local power struggles, and diplomatic intrigue can play out, as Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez allegedly allowed Colombia to capture FARC guerrillas in exchange for the extradition of a drug lord whom Venezuelan generals wanted to face trial to Venezuela instead of the United States, where he also faced charges (and the possibility of a lighter sentence).

-In an example of regional economic competition, Brazil has proposed a quota that limits the number of Mexican cars the NAFTA member exports to South America’s largest economy.

-Domestic violence victims in Argentina have a new method to protect themselves, as they will be given an electronic device that immediately alerts the police any time they face harassment or a threat from their former partners.

-On the other hand, women’s rights suffered a blow in Brazil, where the Senate backtracked on a bill that would have fined companies that paid women less than men for the same work.

-A fire in a Peruvian warehouse has destroyed nearly half a million schoolbooks and 60,000 laptop computers, just as students prepare to return to school from the summer holiday. The loss hits primary schoolchildren in rural areas particularly hard, as upwards of 60% of the texts were intended to go to their schools.

-Recent comments from Latin American leaders and US activists have reignited the discussion over legalizing certain types of drugs. With a subtle shift in the rhetoric, Boz has some intriguing suggestions on how the public debate on drug policy, including the recommendation that policy-makers “separate the drug and security debate.”

Around Latin America

March 2, 2012 1 comment

-Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said in an AP interview that she will seek to completely sever Jamaica’s ties with Queen Elisabeth, who remains the titular head-of-state for the Caribbean nation. Simpson Miller has her hopes that Jamaica can have a national president replace England’s monarch, whose ongoing (ceremonial) status as Jamaica’s ruler hearkens back to an anachronistic era of colonialism.

-Disabled protesters in Bolivia clashed with police last week as they ended their 1000-mile protest journey through the country. The protest is fighting for greater rights for and recognition of those with disabilities in the country.

-Abigail Poe has this excellent post up on foreign aid requests from Latin America for 2013. Among other things, the post shows how military aid has changed over time, the percentage of US military aid vs. US social aid, and other data. As is standard for them over at Just the Facts, it is an accessible and informative post that is highly worth checking out for anybody interested in social spending in the region, US foreign aid, US involvement in the region, changes in policies and funding through the years, spending and security issues in the region, and many other topics.

-On Leap Day, Haitians took to the streets to commemorate and protest the February 29, 2004 ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which took place with support from the Bush administration, and an Airstide supporter said there will be more marches in the month of March.

-Apparently, Guatemalans have created a program that allows people to recycle bicycles into machines that improve and make daily life easier for rural areas. The program, Maya Pedal, is currently working with several communities on the project, and you can donate at their website. (h/t Mike)

-The owners of an abandoned high-rise are currently in the courts trying to expel 350 families who have occupied the building for years.

-Two men, including Hector Martinez, a  former-senator in Puerto Rico, were sentenced to four years in prison for bribery and other charges.

-While it won several Academy Awards, apparently the silent film The Artist was not such a smash in Brazil.

-Mike has this excellent article on “El Salvador’s brutal civil war: What we still don’t know,” which summarizes and draws from a seminar on El Salvador’s Civil War that brought together scholars from throughout the world to El Salvador “to assess the state of our knowledge of that country’s civil war, 20 years after peace accords were signed that ended the conflict.”

-Finally, Boz has begun a new blog, Western Hemisphere Futures, that focuses on possible future paths for Latin American countries, including this first tantalizing post on the possibilities and conditions for city-states to secede from their countries, a not-insignificant thought exercise, given the ways in which certain regions and cities differ wildly with their home nation-states and governments.

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.

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