-Peru has launched its biggest exhumation ever, as it tries to find victims from the violence between the Shining Path and the Peruvian state between 1980 and 2000.
-Peru is not the only country exhuming victims of violence. In an attempt to find two missing police officers, forensic scientists in Mexico got more than they expected when their search led to the discovery of 64 bodies buried in mass graves in Jalisco and Michoacán, with the bodies showing signs of torture and indicating they are the victims of ongoing violence between cartels. In spite of the discovery, the two police officers remain missing.
-In the wake of a close election and allegations of electoral fraud, Honduras will hold a recount after thousands took to the streets in support of Xiomara Castro, who allegedly lost the election to conservative candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez (who got 37% of the total vote) and whose husband, former president Manuel Zelaya, was removed from office in a coup d’etat in 2009. The recount comes amidst outsiders’ observations allegations of chicanery and after Honduras’s electoral council was very slow to issue the data from the November 24 election, adding to suspicions of fraud.
-Rio de Janeiro governor Sérgio Cabral announced that he will leave office 9 months early after seeing his popularity plummet in the midst and wake of protests last June, when millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest a number of causes, including political elites’ disconnect and corruption. Cabral himself became a particular target of that anger in Rio de Janeiro.
-The bad news for governors is not limited to Brazil. In Mexico, former governor of Tamaulipas Tomás Yarrington faces charges in the US of having ties to the drug cartels while he was in office during his 1999-2004 governorship.
-Costa Rica closed a probe into the 1984 bombing that killed 7 journalists and Nicaraguan Contras and wounded 20 more people, after forensics revealed that the attacker died in the late-1980s.
-Mexico’s Senate has approved electoral reform that would allow reelection and would strengthen Congressional power in the face of executive power even while approving President Enrique Peña’s efforts to increasingly privatize the state-run PEMEX oil company in Mexico.
-Francisco Flores, the former president of El Salvador for the conservative ARENA party, is under investigation for the misuse of upwards of $10 million that Taiwan donated to El Salvador during his presidency, money that apparently never made it to its intended institutional destinations.
-Finally, in Brazil, Guaraní indigenous leader Ambrosio Vilhava, whose struggle to help protect Guaraní land was documented in the 2008 film Birdwatchers, was found stabbed to death after his father-in-law allegedly killed him. While the circumstances around his death remain unclear, the fact remains that his death marks the loss of an important activist and leader in Brazilian indigenous mobilization.
-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 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.]
Apparently, Argo wasn’t the only stranger-than-fiction story of its kind. In Paraguay, former members of Argentina’s Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (People’s Revolutionary Army; ERP) hatched a similar plan to assassinate Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Anastasio was the third in a line of Somozas who had exercised dictatorial authority in Nicaragua since the early-1930s. By 1979, the Somoza family owned 20% of the soil in the country, and had practiced both widespread repression and corruption so grotesque as to defy any sense of decency. When a massive earthquake struck in 1972, destroying much of the capital city of Managua, Somoza pocketed much of the $250 million in foreign donations that came in to aid the country. Somoza quite literally profited off the blood of his subjects: among other things, he owned a blood plasma factory that paid the poor $1 for their plasma, then sold it to the US at a profit. These blatant abuses of power were too much for Nicaraguans to bear, and the middle class and elite joined the opposition Sandinistas who had formed in the early-1960s and who sought his overthrow. By 1979, even the US withdrew its support, and Somoza went into exile as the Sandinistas marched into Managua in July.
Which is where Paraguay’s own “Argo” enters into the story. After Jimmy Carter denied Somoza asylum, he headed to Paraguay, where General Alfredo Stroessner’s right-wing military regime governed. Outraged at the presence of this symbol of right-wing repression, corruption, and greed, according to archival materials four men and three women from the ERP pretended to be actors and producers working on a film about Julio Iglesias. Renting a house under the auspices of working on the “movie,” they plotted the assassination of Somoza. On September 17, they successfully carried out their plan, ambushing Somoza near his home and killing him. Paraguayan authorities managed to arrest only one of the seven, Santiago Irurzún, who died under torture. And so it was that one of the most infamous of 20th century dictators in Latin America died, and Paraguay was host to its own strange “Argo.”
-In a move that could have implications for equal marriage rights throughout the country, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that a state law in Oaxaca that banned gay marriage is unconstitutional.
-Gunmen assassinated Paraguayan peasant leader Vidal Vega, who fought for the rights for Paraguay’s landless and whose land occupations marked a key moment in the eventual coup that removed Fernando Lugo, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is calling for an investigation into the murder.
-Speaking of Lugo, he has announced his plans to run for Senate in April of next year in a move that could make for some uncomfortable moments should he win and take seat with those who removed him from the presidency.
-In a case that is prompting international outrage, human rights groups have found severe abuse of women and children at one of the larger psychiatric hospitals in Guatemala, where newly-admitted minors were kept in isolation and where patients had died from preventable illnesses.
-In the ongoing struggle for indigenous rights among Chile’s largest indigenous peoples, a Mapuche community is protesting the creation of a new airport that some say will encroach upon indigenous lands in the southern part of the country.
-Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Brazilian indigenous peoples from 70 groups are also protesting the invasion of their lands by loggers, ranchers, and others. At the same time, hundreds of people, including native peoples, students, and artists, marched in protest of the planned privatization of Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium, the largest stadium in the country and the host of the 2014 World Cup final.
-Famous (or infamous, depending on one’s tastes) Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer was laid to rest in Rio de Janeiro’s São João Batista cemetery, the resting place of other famed Brazilians, including Carmen Miranda and Tom Jobim.
-In a likely reminder that the wounds of torture victims run deep long after authoritarian regimes fall, Rodolfo Picheni, an Argentine union leader who suffered torture at the hands of the military dictatorship in 1976, committed suicide this week. While the sources of his decision may have been diverse, it’s nonetheless a reminder of the ways the basic violation of human rights can impact one’s life in the long term.
-Colombia has withdrawn from the International Court of Justice after the court ended a decades-long dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua by granting Colombia possession of a series of small-but-contested islands but extending Nicaragua’s maritime borders further into what could be oil- and gas-rich waters.
-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.
With the debate over rape and abortion in the United States continuing to rage in the wake of Todd Akin’s comments, Nicaragua provides a reminder that this is what happens when women are denied their reproductive rights:
Carla lost everything when she got pregnant at the age of 13: her first year of secondary school, her family, her boyfriend, and her happiness. She spent a year panhandling on the streets of the Nicaraguan capital before she was taken in by a shelter for young mothers.
Her life fell apart in December 2006, when her mother discovered that she was three months pregnant as a result of being raped by one of her primary school teachers. Her mother gave her a savage beating with a belt and threw her out of the house, saying she couldn’t afford another mouth to feed.
Carla’s* baby died at birth due to respiratory problems. During the pregnancy, a neighbour let her sleep in her house, but did not give her meals. So she sold homemade sweets and begged for small change at bus stops, where she suffered continuous sexual harassment from men who offered her money, drugs or food in exchange for sex.
She was initially taken in by Casa Alianza, the Latin America branch of the New York-based Covenant House, an international child advocacy organisation. But at the age of 15 she went to stay at a school shelter, where she took cosmetology and beauty courses. Now 19, she works in that field, and is also a volunteer motivator in the centre for young mothers, which she said saved her life and taught her that she had human rights.
The case of Carla, with whom IPS was put in touch by a non-governmental organisation that works with at-risk children and adolescents, illustrates a phenomenon that takes on alarming proportions in this Central American nation, one of the few countries in the world where abortion is illegal under all circumstances.
Of course, these are the types of issues women in the US would confront if the Republican Party’s official platform went into effect.
Just a month after Tomás Borge, one of the founding members of the Sandinistas, died, his one-time ideological enemy Aldolfo Calero has died, also at the age of 81. Calero, a conservative who, like the Sandinistas, opposed the dictatorship of the Somoza family but who fundamentally differed from the Sandinistas in terms of political and social ideology, led the Contra forces that received US aid and ultimately led to the removal of the first Sandinista government in 1990. In addition to helping lead the Contras in the civil war of the 1980s, Calero also found himself involved in the Iran-Contra affair, testifying that he received money and equipment from the US in spite of an arms embargo but denying any knowledge that the aid came from weapons sales to Iran (for which there was also a US arms embargo at the time).
Tomás Borge, the last living founding member of the Sandinista movement, has died at the age of 81. A victim of the Somoza dictatorship and a key figure in the Sandinista government from 1979-1990, Borge was no stranger to either praise nor criticism, but regardless of what one thinks of his politics, his passing marks the end of a key era and movement in Nicaraguan history, one whose effects (both positive and negative) are still felt in Nicaragua today.
Honduras’s Congress is debating a bill “that would send women to jail if they use the morning-after pill — even for victims of sexual assault.“ If it were to pass, the law would be part of a trend of laws in the region more broadly that are a direct assault on women’s freedom. Other recent laws that directly assault women’s rights include Brazilian courts ruling that sex with 12-year-old girls does not constitute statutory rape, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega banning all abortions and downgrading rape to a crime of passion and the Chilean Senate recently refusing to decriminalize abortion even in cases of saving the mother’s life or of severe deformation of the fetus.