-Marking the first major protest of the year, over 100,000 Chilean students took to the streets to continue to push for educational reform, an issue that has garnered much support and been a consistent problem for conservative president Sebastian Pinera. (And for those wondering, this is what (part of) over 100,000 people in the streets looks like.)
-With the recent conviction of some of his former top aides for corruption, Brazilian federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva to examine what, if any, role in or knowledge of payoffs Lula might have had during his first term.
-Uruguay became the third country in the Americas to legalize gay marriage nationwide (joining Canada and Argentina) after the Chamber of Deputies approved the Senate’s changes to the bill (the Chamber of Deputies originally passed an earlier draft of the bill last December). Meanwhile, in Chile, Congress has begun debating the legal recognition of same-sex couples; though the recognition would fall short of allowing gay marriage, it would grant gay couples the same rights as married couples.
-Although the frontrunner in Paraguay’s upcoming elections, conservative candidate Horacio Cartes apparently has quite the history of shady dealings and possible corrupt practices, including international smuggling, practices that, if true, could further strain Paraguay’s relations with its neighbors, relations that were already damaged when Congress rapidly removed former president Fernando Lugo through a dubious “impeachment.”
-A study finds that an overwhelming amount of the money donated to aid Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake ultimately ended up in the hands of US companies, with only one percent aiding Haitian companies themselves.
-Speaking of Haitians, they are among the thousands of immigrants who have recently entered into Brazil, leaving the small state of Acre to ask for federal aid in supporting the influx. I don’t quite agree with Boz that their desire to move Brazil automatically means that the economy there is doing well, but it at least suggests that people in other countries perceive the Brazilian economy to be preferable to their own.
-In spite of his family’s claims late last year, Alberto Fujimori does not actually have cancer, which was the reason his family initially called for his release from prison, where he is currently serving a 25-year sentence for human rights violations during his 1990-2000 presidency. Although the former president is not actually ailing, that has not stopped Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani from calling for a pardon for Fujimori.
-As a hunger strike among prisoners at US facilities in Guantanamo continues, the US has begun force-feeding some of the striking prisoners.
-In the wake of the rape of a tourist from the US, Rio de Janeiro has banned the use of vans for public transit (rather than the larger buses) in the southern part of the city. Of course, that the ban is in effect only in the wealthier southern zone where tourism dominates provides yet another reminder of the social stratification evident throughout Rio, including in public transportation options.
-Hundreds of thousands of Colombians, including President Juan Manuel Santos, marched in support of ongoing peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC.
-Are Brazil and Russia close to a missile deal?
-Although scholarship and human rights activism have already torn much “the veil” off Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s regime, the recent exhumation of Nobel-laureate Pablo Neruda could further shed light on the poet’s death and end years of speculation over whether he really died of cancer, as had long been maintained, or if the regime had him killed, a theory that has been bandied about as well.
-Outrage continues over the appointment of evangelical politician Marco Feliciano as the head of the Brazilian Congress’s Human Rights Committee in spite of a history of public homophobic and racist statements. As a result, in a blow against transparency or accountability in government, the Committee recently decided to close all hearings to outsiders in hopes of preventing protests from erupting in committee hearings.
-Speaking of human rights in Brazil, police are finally facing trial for their role in the executions of prisoners during the Carandiru massacre of 1992. The massacre, which occurred 21 years ago this October, left 102 prisoners dead from gunshots after police entered the prison to break up gang fighting between prisoners.
-A Guatemalan court upheld the not-guilty verdict of former president Alfonso Portillo on charges of theft of state funds. However, his legal problems are far from over, as the ruling now opens the path for his extradition to the United States, where he faces indictment for embezzlement and money laundering.
-A Chilean court has suspended development on the Pascua Lama mine, originally set to be one of the world’s largest gold mines, ruling that the pollution and environmental destruction already caused by the Canadian mining company Barrick violates the original terms of the agreement. The shutdown marks a victory for indigenous groups, who had argued that the mine threatened their daily lives and resources, and is part of broader challenges to Barrick’s environmental toll and presence throughout Latin America.
-Finally, scientists have recently encountered a new species of porcupine in Brazil, but the future of the species is already uncertain, as the tree-dwelling Coendou speratus lives in an endangered forest.
Nineteen years ago today, the neoliberal North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect, and in response, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista National Liberation Army; EZLN), a group of rural indigenous peoples and leftist intellectuals, rose up, using the internet and a global community of rights activists to object to the impact of neoliberalism on economically-marginalized peoples.
Though implemented during the Clinton administration, NAFTA had its roots in the first Bush administration. Changes in global banking networks, monetary policies, and the deregulation of financial institutions throughout the 1970s and 1980s had led to neoliberal policies becoming increasingly prevalent in the global economy by the end of the 1980s. Countries like the US and European nation-states increasingly turned to neoliberal policies, notably free trade agreements, while the International Monetary Fund and World Bank (which the US and Europe effectively controlled) pressured other countries throughout the world to adopt similar neoliberal measures. In this context, the United States, Canada, and Mexico entered into negotiations in the early-1990s to establish a free-trade agreement between the three countries (extending 1988’s Canada-US Free Trade Agreement) that would eliminate tariffs between the three countries.
In January 1993, as George H.W. Bush was preparing to exit office, he, Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney agreed on the terms of what came to be known as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The three leaders had promoted the agreement,saying it would reduce illegal immigration, increase trade between the countries, create jobs, and lead to prosperity for all three countries. As it was a treaty, however, the agreement needed Congressional approval, something new president Bill Clinton pushed for and ultimately achieved in November 1993, though not without a fight: though the Senate approved the treaty 61-38, the vote in the House (234-200) was much closer. With Clinton signing the bill in December 1993, NAFTA went into effect on New Year’s Day, 1994.
However, while the political elites of both Mexico and the US sang NAFTA’s praises, not all were eager to see the agreement go into effect. Coinciding with NAFTA’s official start, a group of indigenous peoples in the southern part of Mexico rose up in the last major Latin American guerrilla movement of the 20th century. Made up primarily of Maya indigenous peoples and drawing on the language of agrarian reform that they traced back to the struggles of Mexican Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919), a council of 24 Maya comandantes and one non-Maya known at the time only as Subcomandante Marcos demanded the repeal of NAFTA and greater rights for Mexico’s indigenous peoples and rural poor. Under this leadership, the EZLN effectively declared war on the Mexican government, hoping to spur revolution throughout the country. Hundreds of men, women, and children wearing masks launched attacks on army outposts in southern Mexico, capturing several towns, including the second-largest city in the state of Chiapas. Though they had early successes, Salinas de Gortari quickly sent troops, rocket-equipped aircraft, and helicopter gunships to the region to suppress the EZLN. By 12 January 1994, a tenuous cease-fire was agreed upon, though the EZLN did not disband, and fighting continued periodically throughout 1994, leaving at least 154 people dead, the majority of them Mayan peasants.
However, the ceasefire did not mark the end of the EZLN’s efforts to counter the neoliberal policies that NAFTA embodied. While NAFTA remains in effect, the Zapatistas have drawn considerable attention to the impacts of NAFTA in particular and of neoliberal policies more generally on many of Mexico’s economically marginalized social groups. Indeed, shifting from a guerrilla movement to a broader social movement, the EZLN has had a not-insignificant role in shaping policy and bringing attention to the causes of Mexico’s rural poor and indigenous groups. In 2001, a group of Zapatistas marched from Chiapas to Mexico City, where, led by Comandanta Esther, they spoke out in favor of indigenous rights legislation before Mexico’s congress, providing what Maylei Blackwell recently argued was a powerful counterpoint to the state’s own (gendered) language of indigenous groups in Mexico. In a mildly-ironic twist, the global reach of the internet has played no small part in the EZLN’s own efforts to call attention to the detrimental impacts of neoliberal globalization. Though the EZLN was not able to force the elimination of NAFTA or to prompt an uprising throughout all of Mexico, it continues to provide a powerful voice in opposition to neoliberalism in Mexico both in Mexican politics and, through its website and its activism, through transnational networks.
Meanwhile, the actual impact of NAFTA on North American economies in many ways has been the exact opposite of what was pledged. As has been the case so often in the past, the liberalization of the economy ultimately helped society’s wealthiest members, both in Mexico and the US. North of the Rio Grande, industrialists and capitalists were able to ship jobs to Mexico, where labor was cheaper, even while Mexican economic and political elites profited the most. In the US, industrial jobs disappeared as they were relocated first to Mexico, and then later overseas. In Mexico itself, over 2 million farmers who owned small plots of land ultimately found themselves dispossessed of their land, as they lost out to the cheaper and more mechanized agricultural production of larger agribusinesses. This shift led to a growing number of farmers moving to cities in Mexico, where jobs were unavailable, leading to many migrating to the United States. Thus, while NAFTA’s proponents swore free trade would lead to a reduction in immigration to the US, it actually dramatically increased in the 1990s.
Nor did NAFTA fundamentally improve the long-term industrial output in Mexico; as multinational corporations ran up against relatively progressive labor laws in Mexico, many companies that had originally established factories south of the Rio Grande ultimately relocated their businesses to countries with far less stringent labor codes, including China and Bangladesh. The economic impact of NAFTA on Mexico was immediate and devastating: between December 1994 and 1995, the Peso lost 46% of its value, inflation rose, and interest rates were above 100% in some parts of the country, even while the Mexican stock market collapsed and banks foreclosed on urban and rural properties. Mexico was learning, albeit belatedly, that the promises of economic prosperity and stability via neoliberalism was a chimera. In response, the Mexican government launched austerity measures that only reinforce the fact that, nineteen years later, the alleged rewards of NAFTA still have not actually extended to most of Mexican society, even while it has also taken its toll on millions in both the United States and (to a lesser extent) Canada.
-There have been anti-mining protests in Peru for the past several months, but yesterday, one of the protests turned violent, with at least three people dead and 21 wounded in a confrontation between police and residents protesting a massive mining project in Cajamarca. The protests took place even as a new report suggests efforts towards transparency are failing to meet local populations’ expectations, perhaps adding to the protesters’ causes for mobilization. Meanwhile, President Ollanta Humala shook up the military forces yesterday by relieving 22 generals of command in an administrative shuffle designed to revitalize the armed forces.
-In yet another example of humans doing all they can to destroy oceans and marine life, overfishing of hatcheries in South America has left Chile at “critically low levels” of fish available.
-The League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, officially supported equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians yesterday, becoming the second Hispanic organization to support gay marriage. LULAC joins the National Council of La Raza, which supported marriage equality last month.
-Mexico’s elections may have ended, but the news and controversy has not. In the wake of reports of the PRI buying votes even as the Elections Agency plans to recount 1/3 of the ballots, all of which adds to runner-up Andrés López Obrador’s refusal to concede defeat amidst allegations of electoral fraud. López Obrador also objected to the 2006 elections which he lost by fewer than 250,000 votes (or just over 0.5% of the total vote count).
-Colombian ex-general Mauricio Santoyo, who was the commander of the military police under president Álvaro Uribe and who has been tied to paramilitary groups and the drug trade, turned himself into Drug Enforcement Agency officials today to face trial in the United States. Santoyo is just the latest in a long line of officials who were top-level politicians and advisors with ties to both the Uribe government and to paramilitary groups during the president’s time in office from 2002 to 2010.
-The constitutional turmoil in El Salvador intensified yesterday, as there are now two different groups of judges both claiming to represent the Supreme Court. Tim’s analysis is excellent (and his blog is one of the only places to find more about what’s going on in El Salvador regarding the constitutional crisis specifically and El Salvador more generally).
-Honduran President Porfírio Lobo has suggested a constitutional reform to give the military the power of a police force . However, human rights group The Committee of Families of the Disappeared and Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH) has appealed the reform to the supreme court in an attempt to prevent an increase in the military’s power in what opponents see as a clear constitutional violation of the separation of military and police. (And of course, (the last time a constitutional reform was proposed in Honduras, it did not work out well for the previous democratically-elected president.)
-Argentine workers have defied a court order to end their protest and continue to blockade a major site of oil and gas production. The workers, who are temporary workers, are demanding a salary level similar to that of permanent workers at the Cerro Dragon energy compound. Meanwhile, the Argentine Supreme Court dealt a blow Canadian mining corporation Barrick Gold’s plans in Argentina after the court temporarily reversed a lower court’s decision to block a federal glacier protection law.
-Ten months after Brazilian judge Patrícia Acioli was gunned down in front of her home after sentencing police officers tied to militias a new report finds that the number of judges under threat has actually increased in the past year in what is certainly a threat to judicial independence and to efforts to curb paramilitary violence in Brazil.
-Less than two months after famed Mexican author Carlos Fuentes passed away, the Mexican government announced plans to create a literary prize named after the writer. Fuentes was renowned the world over for his style, garnering the praise of respected authors (including Philip Roth) and the general public alike.
-Finally, some Brazilian air force pilots may be in trouble after a planned flyby in Brasília flew so close to the ground it shattered the windows on government buildings, including the Brazilian Supreme Court.
It is no secret that there has been a lot of economic turmoil in the hemisphere (and the world) in the last few years, and as a result, we’ve seen a growing number of protests and social movements emerging that challenge the current socio-economic structure and the concentration of power in the hands of the few. As a result, a wave of protests have erupted throughout the Americas in the last couple of years, from student protests for educational reform and economic changes in Chile to the Occupy movement that erupted in the US and spread to other countries in Latin America and other parts of the world.
While the US media stopped paying attention to the ongoing Occupy movement a long time ago and never really paid more than perfunctory attention to protests in other parts of the Western Hemisphere, that does not mean they have gone away; indeed, from the northern to the southern tip of the Americas, people continue to take to the streets to express their anger and dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs in the political and economic climate of the early-21st century and to demand change. A couple of weeks ago, students in Montreal began to protest the conservative government’s use of austerity measures and the increasing privatization of education, with all of the fiscal burdens that puts on students, just as their Chilean counterparts have done over the past year. Meanwhile, in Argentina, some groups have begun to mobilize against the economic slowdown and rising inflation that has begun to emerge.
Although they are virtually two continents apart, the protesters in Montreal and Buenos Aires share much in common, especially in what many perceive as an increasingly uncertain economic future for the middle classes. However, there is another feature they share in common:
Pots and pans.
When the protesters in both Montreal and Argentina took to the streets, they brought with them pots and pans, banging on them to make noise, a tactic that simultaneously made their presence harder to ignore (by the sheer noise it created) and while it also symbolized the increasing economic uncertainty, with the empty pots implicitly suggesting empty plates on the table, even as powerful business leaders and politicians continue to implement policies that benefit the few over the many. Thus, in one of the most basic utensils for cooking, these protesters have found a potent symbol to express the struggles they feel they face daily.
However, this tactic is not particularly new. Indeed, as far back as the 1960s, protesters in Latin America were using pots and pans to protest their governments. Ironically, though, it was not progressives or leftists angry at their government who first used the tactic; it was conservatives, church leaders, and housewives who turned to pots and pans as symbols of their anger with their then-progressive governments.
The most famous instances of the use of pots and pans came in Chile in the early-1970s. Although socialist president Salvador Allende had won the 1970 presidential elections, he did not receive a majority of the vote (there were three candidates in the 1970s election who split the decision). In the context of Cold War politics in Latin America, the right saw this as nothing less than the first step towards a Communist dictatorship, and by 1971, they were taking to the streets to protest shortages in foodstuffs and other consumer goods (shortages that were spurred in no small part by conservative entrepreneurs and businessmen who withheld goods in an attempt to destabilize the economy under Allende). To symbolize the lack of food available and the growing black market, women took empty pots, or “cacerolas” in Spanish, and beat on them to symbolize their struggles. So it was that the “cacerolazo” (literally, “hitting pots”) form of protest became one of the most common and powerful symbols of conservative protests against the Allende government, and they continued up well into 1973.
And even those Chilean protests were not the first of their kind. In early 1964, Brazil became increasingly polarized even while inflation increased. When president João Goulart moved toward the left and called for agrarian, electoral, and educational reform in March of that year, hundreds of thousands of women, conservatives, and church leaders protested against the government in the cumbersomely-named “March of the Family with God for Liberty.” While awkwardly named, the protest made clear exactly what the protesters, including many from the middle class and what they (implicitly) believed the government was against: family, God, liberty. By the end of the month, the Brazilian military, encouraged by the popular mobilizations against the government, rose up and overthrew Goulart, establishing a twenty-one year military dictatorship. Although the use of pots and pans was nowhere near as dominant as it would be in Chile 7 years later, Brazilian women’s rhetoric that claimed governmental economic policies were destroying people’s ability to put food on their tables was an important part of the protests.
In this way, Brazil’s 1964 protests were a harbinger for the similarly-conservative protests against the democratically-elected president Salvador Allende in Chile in the early-1970s. And as was the case in Brazil, these popular protests in Chile ultimately played no small role in convincing the military leaders, including Augusto Pinochet, that they had the support of a significant portion of the civilian population when they launched their own coup that set up Chile’s own brutal, repressive right-wing dictatorship.
While these conservative protests brought an end to the progressive democratic governments and ushered in right-wing dictatorships, the tactic would not disappear. In 1984, as Brazil gradually returned to democracy, millions of Brazilians took to the streets in the Diretas Já movement to demand direct elections in the 1985 presidential election. These protests, which were the largest in Brazil’s history, saw the return of pots and pans, this time not from conservatives protesting a progressive government, but from broad sectors of society demanding direct participation in their return to democracy. Although the movement fell short and Brazilians would only participate in direct presidential elections in 1989, the use of pots and pans was again a powerful symbol and instrument of protest, one Chico Buarque even commemorated in a song about the Diretas Já movement (of which he was a major participant). And as Chileans grew increasingly resistant to the repressive tactics and lack of democracy in Chile in the 1980s, they too turned to pots and pans to protest against the government, just as they had in the 1970s; however, this time, the target was not a democratically-elected leftist leader, but a right-wing military dictator. The ideologies had changed, but the methods of resistance and protest had proven to be remarkably adaptable. Indeed, in Argentina in 2001, as the full effect of neoliberal policies became apparent, with devaluation, inflation, and a freezing of bank accounts, Argentines used the pots and pans to protest against the austerity measures and fiscal policies that had begun under Carlos Menem in the 1990s.
In this way, then, the use of pots and pans has proven to be a remarkably adaptable and effective tool for protest for both the left and the right. And so it is that while Montreal becomes the new site of the latest wave of protests against economic conditions, the methods they turn to have their roots in Latin America in the 1960s, revealing the ways in which social movements of the past continue to impact and shape those of the present.
-Amnesty International has issued a report criticizing Colombia for failing to investigate human rights violations and allowing an atmosphere of impunity to persist, including failure to investigate and prosecute right-wing paramilitary groups and individuals who historically have been tied to Colombian governments. However, in at least one isolated instance of progress, a Colombian court sentenced six soldiers to serve 30-50 years in prison for murdering a developmentally disabled man and then falsely reporting his death as a guerrilla combatant.
-As many had hoped she would, Dilma Rousseff has used her line-item veto power to reject 12 clauses and amend 32 others in a highly controversial rainforest bill that had the support of powerful landowners and the business elite but the opposition of the Brazilian Academy of Science, the Catholic Church, and environmental groups (and which saw several Facebook campaigns to promote awareness of and speak out against the law).
-In Argentina, authorities have identified the body of Roque Orlando Montenegro, one of the tens of thousands of “disappeared” in Argentina whose remains washed up in Uruguay in 1976 but were never identified. Both Montenegro and his wife were “disappeared” in the months leading up to and during the Argentine military dictatorship, and their daughter, Victoria, became one of the many cases of children who were adopted and falsely raised by military officials and their supporters as if they were their own children after the infants’ biological parents were arrested, murdered, and “disappeared.”
-Following their protest against PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, thousands of Mexican university students again took to the streets this week to protest against what they argue is the media’s clear bias in favor of Peña Nieto.
-Further south, Hondurans also took to the streets yesterday to protest the increasing violence against and murder of journalists in Honduras specifically and in the region more generally.
-While three Uruguayan ex-presidents came out to declare that Mercosur has “failed,” their words should be taken with more than a slight grain of salt, as the three men represent parties not included in the current leftist ruling coalition of President José Mujica.
-Five hours after going on strike, São Paulo’s subway workers returned to work after agreeing to a 6% increase in wages and increases in their meal and household foodstuffs vouchers (among other things, Brazilian labor laws require many employers to provide workers with payment for their meals while on the job).
-All of that talk that Argentina’s nationalization of oil producer YPF would lead to European countries reducing trade with Argentina clearly does not apply to one product, at least: the United Kingdom’s importation of wine from Argentina jumped 15%, making the UK the third-largest consumer of Argentine wine (just behind the US and Canada and ahead of Brazil).
-Speaking of alcohol, a new report says that Latin America consumes “considerably less” alcohol than the United States or Europe, though regional metrics vary widely, with El Salvador at the bottom end with only 30% of its population having consumed alcohol in the past year, while 83% of Venezuelans had consumed alcohol in the same time period. Given the deliciousness of Brazilian cachaça, Peruvian chicha, Chilean pisco, and Argentine wine, I can’t help but admire and question (in equal parts) the 15% of the population that are teetotalers.
-Finally, for all of the criticism that NBA owners received for their business practices prior to last year’s lockout, it appears they may not be the worst offenders in the hemisphere; in Brazil, the twenty football (soccer) teams in the first division have a collective debt of $1.85 billion dollars, with four of the top five indebted teams from Rio de Janeiro (sadly, my Botafogo is in the first slot).
Given the eventful and busy week and light blogging, this is the second update on news stories from around Latin America today. (You can read the first one from earlier today here.)
-The Dominican Republic held elections this weekend, with Danilo Medina defeating former president Hipolito Mejia in a hotly-contested election.
-A loophole in Chilean electoral law has allowed over 1,000 people whom the dictatorial state of Augusto Pinochet “disappeared” to vote. A new law that does not require people over 18 to register to vote in person has led to rights activists registering the victims of the regime, creating a new space and arena in which the ongoing struggles over human rights and nation and efforts to remember the regime’s repressive past can take place in Chile.
-Subway workers in São Paulo have gone on strike, demanding a pay raise for their work and leading to a shutdown of a subway system that serves more than four million people each day in what is South America’s largest city.
-Meanwhile, in Canada, nearly 4,800 railroad workers have walked out on negotiations, leading to a shutdown of the Canadian Pacific Railway. While the walkout’s causes are as yet unclear, the move will certainly impact the Canadian economy, which depends heavily on railway transportation to transport goods.
-Argentine police found and disarmed a small bomb that was left in a theater where Colombian ex-president Álvaro Uribe was set to talk. The discovery came less than one week after another bomb attack that wounded 39 people, including Uribe’s former Secretary of the Interior, and killed two more.
-A Brazilian pilot ejected a passenger who made sexist and offensive remarks upon learning that his pilot was a woman. One can’t help but think that, of all the people you might want to anger, the person in charge of safely flying the jet you are in is not one of those people.
–Three Guatemalan prosecutors and four police officers have been arrested based on allegations of having ties to the drug cartels that are increasingly expanding in Guatemala. (H/t to Mike.)
-Brazil’s Congress has passed a new slave labor law that allows for harsher punishments for landowners who force poor Brazilians to work in slave-like conditions. The new law allows the government to confiscate the property of, fine, and even imprison for eight years those found in violation of labor codes in Brazil.
-Colombia and Venezuela are working together to strengthen the militaries’ presence in the border region between the two countries in an attempt to track down Colombian guerrillas who attacked and killed 12 Colombian soldiers this week.
-The UN is attempting an investigation of Cuba regarding the deaths of prisoners and repression of opposition groups in Cuba and is demanding the country provide information on its prison system and its treatment of prisoners and dissidents.
-In the ongoing struggle over citizenship rights of Brazil’s urban poor, Rio de Janeiro’s government is finally giving land titles to residents of favelas for their homes.