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Government Presents New Bill to Regulate Telecoms Sector

The government yesterday announced that it would present Congress with a new bill to regulate the country’s telecommunications sector, in order to encourage competition and enforce minimum service requirements.

The bill, called Argentina Digital, will replace the existing 1972 law and is designed to guarantee quality and reflect new technologies, said government officials presenting the bill.

Several government minister presenting the 'Argentina Digital' bill to regulate the telecommunications sector (Photo: Paula Ribas/Télam)

Several government minister presenting the ‘Argentina Digital’ bill to regulate the telecommunications sector (Photo: Paula Ribas/Télam)

“The new law will replace the 1972 one. When that was approved, there was no internet, or mobile phones, or fiber optics,” said Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich. “Argentina has a large territory with a wide geographical distribution of people, and if there are only private companies are involved without any state regulation there will be places that receive a bad service.”

The bill declares the access to and use of telecoms networks in the sector as a public service, meaning the state can fix tariffs in the wholesale market in order to favour cooperatives and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who provide telephone and internet services. It will also establish minimum standards for speed and quality that must be provided across the entire country.

“The objective of the law is to ensure equal access to information and communication services for all people and at the highest standards,” added Planning Minister Julio de Vido.

The bill also allows telephone companies to enter the cable television market by exempting them from the explicit restrictions in the 2009 Media Law that prevented them from doing so.

This provision, which was originally included in the Media Law but later removed due to objections from members of Congress, has sparked criticism from some who say it is aimed at weakening the market position of cable TV provider Cablevisión, owned by Grupo Clarín.

“The government bill is designed so that the telephone companies take over everything,” said the Argentina Association for Cable Television (ATVC) in a press statement. “The bill hands all the advantage to telecommunications companies Telefónica and Telecom.”

Government officials presenting the bill stressed that the bill was aimed at encouraging greater competition and efficiency, saying it would not interfere with the media law or provide the state with any new powers to regulate the content aired on television.

2015 Budget and Hydrocarbons Law

In the early hours of this morning, the Argentine Senate approved the 2015 budget while the House of Representatives sanctioned a new Hydrocarbons Law, both amid fierce criticisms from the opposition.

The budget, which forecasts growth of 2.8%, inflation at 15.6%, and an official dollar rate of $9.45 next year, was criticised as being based on “fictitious” parameters by opposition senators. Ruling Frente para la Victoria (FpV) senators, however, said the budget reflected difficult external conditions, including a slowdown in Brazil, and praised the planned 25% increase in social spending next year.

Meanwhile, the Hydrocarbons Law, designed to attract new investment to the energy sector, was approved by a narrow majority in the lower house. The law provides long-term concessions and tax incentives for energy companies that invest more than US$250m in developing oil and gas fields, with additional benefits for those that exploit non-conventional deposits through fracking.

The opposition, which voted universally against the bill, protested the capping of royalties for provinces in which oil and gas fields are located at 12%. “We are voting against this law because it offers extraordinary concessions to multinational oil companies just to try and boost international reserves by US$1-2bn next year,” said Federico Pinedo of the opposition PRO party.

Leftist parties also condemned the bill, saying it offered insufficient environmental safeguards and would provide “immunity” for oil companies that damage the local environment with their drilling operations.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Cuba: UN Again Votes in Favour of Ending US Embargo

A view of the electronic tally of the result of the vote in the UN Assembly Hall (UN Photo/Loey Felipe)

A view of the electronic tally of the result of the vote in the UN Assembly Hall (UN Photo/Loey Felipe)

For the 23rd consecutive year, the UN has voted overwhelmingly in favour of ending the US embargo on Cuba.

Of the 193 countries represented at the General Assembly, 188 voted yes to end the “economic, commercial and financial embargo”, while only two states – the US and Israel – voted no. Palau, The Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia abstained.

The non-binding resolution was first approved in 1992, but with only 59 yes votes versus three negatives. Since then, the number of abstentions in the yearly vote has dwindled as support for ending the embargo became near unanimous.

“We invite the government of the United States to establish mutually respectful relations, based on reciprocity,” said Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuba’s foreign minister. “We can live and deal with each other in a civilized way, despite our differences.”

Among those who spoke at the meeting day was Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, Sacha Llorenti, who on behalf og the G77+China Group called the embargo a “threat to humanity.”

“Human lives are threatened and the state of public healthcare smothered by the embargo,” said Llorenti. “The same goes for education, culture, sport, finance, banks, external trade, and foreign investment.”

Llorenti added that the embargo was a “direct violation of the principles outlined in the UN Charter and international law.”

During the meeting several countries praised Cuba for its “robust” response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, after the Cuban government sent hundreds of its renowned healthcare workers to the affected region.

Despite its increasingly isolated position, US ambassador to the UN Ronald Godard dismissed the vote, saying “this resolution only serves to distract from the real problems facing the Cuban people.”

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Introducing The New Indy Mobile App

Introducing The New Indy Mobile App

We are delighted to present our new mobile app, allowing you to read The Argentina Independent on your Android phone or tablet, wherever you are*.

With the app – designed by iMobaio and available on Google Play for FREE – you can catch up with the latest news from Argentina and around Latin America during your commute, or bookmark one of our in-depth features to read later. You can receive notifications of new content and easily share articles with your contacts and across social media networks.

Screenshots of the new Indy mobile app

Screenshots of the new Indy mobile app

So go ahead, download it HERE, and tell us what you think. Then tell your friends about it.

Hurry, while stocks last!

Finally, this is the first of what we hope will be several exciting new developments as we drag The Indy kicking and screaming into the new age of digital media.

Watch this space.

*We can’t do much about the patchy 3G service in Argentina, sorry.

Posted in Expat, Life & Style, News From Argentina, The Arts, TOP STORY0 Comments

Rousseff Wins Narrow Re-election: What Next for Brazil and Latin America?

Rousseff Wins Narrow Re-election: What Next for Brazil and Latin America?

Yesterday, Brazil’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) obtained its fourth consecutive presidential victory, and its candidate, Dilma Rousseff, her second. Rousseff beat the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira’s (PSDB) candidate Aécio Neves by 51.64% to 48,36%.

By the time Rousseff’s new term —which will begin with the new year— ends in 2019, the PT will have been in power for a massive 16 years, a record in Brazil’s democratic history.

However, so many years in power come at a cost, and the second-round victory that many celebrated with great relief was almost too close for comfort for Rousseff’s supporters.

Dilma Rousseff celebrates yesterday's narrow re-election (Photo via official Dilma Rousseff  Facebook page)

Dilma Rousseff celebrates yesterday’s narrow re-election (Photo via official Dilma Rousseff Facebook page)

The Campaign

Yesterday’s election was the culmination of a tense, at times aggressive campaign. Rousseff herself admitted it had some “sorry moments”, and Neves complained about the way the president treated him and the other candidates, calling it “a sad page in the history of Brazilian democracy.”

It had its heart-stopping moments as well, such as the death of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB) candidate Eduardo Campos, which propelled environmentalist Marina Silva to the race. For a moment, it seemed like Silva could comfortably surpass Neves, and even come head to head with Rousseff herself. Finally, “Hurricane Marina” proved to be little more than a tropical storm, as she finished third with 21.3% of the vote.

Many wondered then how much of the result was due to Silva’s own ineptitude and inability to hang on to voters’ preferences, and how much of the original stir around her was all the media’s making. Indeed, the media played an important role in the campaign, generally to the detriment of the PT candidate.

The enmity between the government and the country’s big media is legendary, and began with Lula Da Silva’s first term. This time, after unsuccessfully propping up Silva for the first round, they went all out in trying to stop Rousseff’s second-round victory. The most striking example of this is probably that of weekly magazine Veja, which changed its publication date last week, from Saturday, when it normally comes out, to Friday, in order to cause a greater electoral impact. The cover had Rousseff and Lula Da Silva implicated in a corruption scandal involving state oil company Petrobras, under the headline “The knew all about it”.

In the end, the vote was split along pretty clear social and geographic lines. This can be seen in the vote distribution across the country: overwhelmingly, the poor north and north-east voted for the PT, whilst the wealthier south (including Brazil’s largest city and financial capital, São Paulo) favoured the PSDB.

Facing the Opposition

After such a tough campaign and close victory, Rousseff opened her victory speech by making a call for “peace and unity”. She acknowledged that whilst the majority of Brazilians voted for continuity, they also demand changes. “Sometimes in history, close results have produced deeper and quicker changes than landslide victories,” she affirmed.

To be able to carry out these changes, however, Rousseff will have to deal with an increasingly fragmented Congress. Whilst the government still holds a majority of the 513 seats in the lower house, both the PT and its main ally, the centrist Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB) lost seats in this election. Its main contenders, the PSDB and the PSB, both improved their performance in the legislative election, which coincided with the first round of the presidential election. The number of parties represented in the lower house rose from 22 to 28.

“The increase in the number of parties makes political negotiations more complex, especially for the president,” explained an article published in Senate’s website after the first round.

The government’s parliamentary majority is based on an alliance between ten parties, which makes negotiations a necessity. The alliance with the PMDB (which holds the largest number of seats in the Senate) is clearly pragmatic, as they tend to support whoever is in power in exchange for political posts. Their behaviour is, then, potentially unpredictable, especially in the face of a somewhat weaker government.

In the traditionally fragmented landscape of Brazilian politics, Rousseff will also have to deal with a clear opposition leader in Neves —who has came out stronger after the election— and a divided and demobilised PT. Within the next four years, the party will also need to choose a successor for Rousseff, who cannot run for a third term. Ever-popular Lula, who always seemed like the obvious choice, will be 73 in 2019, and it is not certain he will be up for the top job anymore.

A divided Brazil (red state voted for Rousseff, blue states voted in favour of Neves)

A divided Brazil (red states voted for Rousseff, blue states voted in favour of Neves)

Challenges Ahead

Rousseff’s most urgent and pressing challenge is to inject some life back into the Brazilian economy, which entered a technical recession in the first half of 2014. Rousseff’s other major victory pledge was a comprehensive political reform –to be eventually voted on via a public referendum– and renewed measures to stamp out impunity and corruption.

She is up against a highly distrustful investor market, with the Bovespa stock market and Brazilian real plunging after Rousseff’s re-election was confirmed. And she will come under pressure to reform in the country’s major financial centre, São Paulo, and its south-westerly agricultural heartlands, which voted strongly in favour of Neves.

In her victory speech, Rousseff pledged to restore economic growth and, particularly, to develop the industrial sector. She also promised to keep inflation in check and govern with fiscal responsibility, two key areas of criticism during the campaign. However, efforts to appeal to the pro-business sectors and to private investors could also create rifts within her traditional support base and even within the ranks of the PT; furthermore, these efforts will have to be carried out facing the more hostile legislative branch.

A Regional Look

Rousseff’s re-election, alongside a comprehensive first-round victory for the Frente Amplio (FA) in Uruguay, was seen as further consolidating the so-called ‘pink tide’ of leftist forces that have governed much of Latin America over the last decade. Yesterday’s results come on the back of a landslide triumph for Evo Morales in Bolivia earlier this month, while leftist leaders were re-elected or voted in last year in Ecuador (Rafael Correa), Venezuela (Nicolás Maduro), and Chile (Michelle Bachelet).

The leftist presidents of Mercosur in 2013 (Foto: Analía Garelli/enviada especial/Télam/lz)

The leftist presidents of Mercosur in 2013 (Foto: Analía Garelli/enviada especial/Télam/lz)

Soon after the result was announced last night, Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner publicly congratulated Rousseff, calling her re-election a “great victory for social inclusion and regional integration.” Certainly, the support to the status quo in so many states –and now in the local powerhouse Brazil– will reinforce recent efforts to create a more cohesive region and reduce traditional US influence in the south via institutions such as Mercosur, Unasur, and CELAC —something the PSDB had openly challenged.

Ecuador’s Correa celebrated the regional dynamic too, exclaiming on Twitter that “Our America will never be the same again!” Correa was referring to the recurring victories for leftist parties, yet his view is arguably even more pertinent in terms of the opposition and how it has evolved over the last decade.

Candidates such as Henrique Capriles in Venezuela and Neves in Brazil, both of whom came within a whisker of victory in pivotal Latin American states, have emerged as the new faces leading a more moderate centre-right challenge. Though with personal ties to the ‘old establishment’, their campaigns shied away from references to the neo-liberal policies of the ’80s and ’90s, and both promised to maintain flagship social welfare programmes introduced by their rivals. The driving message of these new opposition campaigns was a hard-line stance on tackling corruption and crime combined with a softer approach to economic reform, complete with assurances that recent gains in social equality would not be reversed.

Maduro and Rousseff survived these new challenges, just, thanks to strong support in areas that have most benefitted from the renewed emphasis on wealth distribution. But Luis Lacalle Pou remains hopeful of causing an upset in Uruguay’s presidential run-off on 30th November, while Sergio Massa and Mauricio Macri are both strong contenders to end 12 years of rule by Fernández’s Frente Para la Victoria party at Argentina’s general election in October 2015.

As political journalist Pablo Stefanoni concluded in a recent article for Le Monde Diplomatique, the future of the Latin American left will be determined in large part by its “ability to prevent the post-modern right –with its new faces, a renewed discourse, and younger candidates better trained to tread the post-neoliberal campaign path paved by the leftist parties- from commandeering the vehicle of change.”

Rousseff has already promised widespread political and economic reforms, saying she was ready to make the changes that a divided society has demanded. Whether this sort of adaptation, which seems to imply a shift towards the political middle ground, will be echoed around the region remains to be seen.

Posted in News From Latin America, TOP STORY0 Comments

Major Fossil Bed Discovered in San Juan ‘Pre-Dates’ Dinosaurs

Scientists found animal remains that pre-date the dinosaurs (photo: Télam/dsl)

Scientists found animal remains that pre-date dinosaurs (photo: Télam/dsl)

Scientists have discovered an extensive collection of microfossils more than 200 million years old in the province of San Juan.

The fossils were found in an area of 80m2 by researchers from the National University of San Juan (UNSJ) in Marayes, around 150km east of the provincial capital. The concentration of bones from small animals have led the team to believe that they were prey to larger animals that fed near the site.

The scientists say the discovery, which includes over 100 specimens and up to a dozen unknown species, is vital to understanding more about life during the Upper Triassic period.

The prehistoric age occurred when the Earth’s landmass was one giant super-continent, and pre-dates the era when dinosaurs were the dominant species.

“It is a new faunistic discovery, with the implication that we can find out more about a unique period in the evolution of vertebrates, before dinosaurs became dominant,” Ricardo Martínez, chief paleontologist of the UNSJ’s Institute and Museum of Natural Sciences told Télam.

“It is not just any moment in evolution – it includes a dozen unknown species and is filling us in about an era that we did not have records of before.”

So far only about 3% of the relevant area has been inspected, with scientists hopeful of finding many more fossils from the era.

The latest find comes after a series of major dinosaur discoveries in Argentina and Latin American in recent months. In May, paleontologists announced two important finds in Patagonia, including what is likely to be the world’s largest ever dinosaur skeleton.

Meanwhile, in September scientists officially presented the dreadnoughtus schrani, a massive dinosaur discovered in Santa Cruz in 2005 (see video below). Also in September, scientists in Mexico found what is thought to be the world’s largest concentration of dinosaur fossils in the northern Chihuahuan Desert.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Tax Office AFIP to Monitor Tourist Rental Agreements

AFIP Offices (photo: Beatrice Murch)

AFIP Offices (photo: Beatrice Murch)

Property owners and agencies that rent to tourists will be required to declare the information at the tax office AFIP from March next year, according to a resolution published in today’s Official Gazette.

Resolution 3687 establishes an “information regime with respect to temporary housing rentals to tourists”. The measure will apply to rental agreements at furnished properties that last between one day and six months.

Those who administer and manage the rental agreement will be subject to the new requirements, this being the owner of the property if no third party is used.

From 1st March, 2015, the relevant person or entity must register with the tax office and declare any tourist rental operations via the AFIP website by the 10th day of the month after the agreement is signed.

If no operations are carried out, the party must still declare this to AFIP by selecting the option ‘no movements’. If this option is selected for six consecutive months, there will no longer be a requirement to declare until a new rental agreement is made.

According to the resolution, those who do not comply with the new regulations will face penalties, including the possibility that their tax code will be temporarily deactivated.

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President Sends New Criminal Procedure Bill to Congress

President Fernández talks about the new Criminal Procedure Law in a TV address (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Fernández talks about the new Criminal Procedure Law in a TV address (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner formally sent a new bill to reform the Criminal Procedure Law to Congress last night.

“We are sending an instrument that is agile, swift, and modern,” declared President Fernández in a televised address to the nation. “[The reforms were] demanded by judges, academics, and the current reality of a society that feels unprotected due to slow and burdensome criminal procedures.”

The bill, which includes several reforms to the existing 1991 law, proposes a switch from an inquisitorial system – in which judges both conduct criminal investigations and rule on them – to an accusatory system, where prosecutors take charge of the investigation.

“The judge – as the name implies – will still judge cases, ruling to absolve or condemn. But the investigation is conducted and led by the prosecutor, with an important addition. This bill also includes the victims [of a crime], not just as plaintiffs but also as participants in the process, alongside the prosecutor and judge,” said President Fernández.

Other changes proposed in the bill include the stipulation that criminal investigations must be completed within one year, and trials must be carried out 5-30 days after the investigation is concluded. Judges and prosecutors could face sanctions for taking too long to complete their tasks.

“One of the problems we have today is that when nothing happens with a case, nothing happens to the judge or prosecutor involved. This bill proposes that if prosecutors or judges do not comply with the time limits they will face severe sanctions,” said the president

The bill also establishes terms for the imprisonment of those charged with crimes, based on the nature of the act, whether the accused has a criminal record, and the impact of the crime on society. Fernández added that those accused of committing serious crimes will be detained from the start of the investigation and will be tried within ten months.

Another contentious issue surrounding the new bill is the possibility to deport foreigners who are caught committing a crime and do not have the proper migratory documents for up to 15 years. The measure has received support from sectors of the opposition, but the recent focus by some government officials on foreign criminals has drawn criticism from human rights groups.

“I think it is a protection that Argentines deserve when faced with trends showing an increase in foreigners that come into the country to commit crimes,” explained Fernández.

The president also confirmed that the bill, if sanctioned, would only apply to new cases, while existing cases and investigations would continue under the existing procedures. She said that this should debunk claims from some in the opposition that the reforms were being pushed through to alter the course of existing criminal investigations involving members of the government.

Fernández ended with a call for members of Congress to overcome party politics and approve the reforms quickly, adding that it would provide the legal system with better tools to combat crime.

“Those who say that a particular formula or procedure or government will end problems of insecurity are lying, and those who believe them are fools…I believe we must act swiftly and responsibly, independently of political parties, to sanction this law for the good of society,” concluded the president.

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Uruguay’s Election: The Pending Questions of Justice and Human Rights

Uruguay’s Election: The Pending Questions of Justice and Human Rights

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily representative of The Argentina Independent.

On Sunday, Uruguayans will be electing their new president for the next five years. Browsing newspapers headlines, many are the themes on the political and social agenda, ranging from the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the capital, Montevideo, to rising levels of insecurity.

Leading presidential candidates in Uruguay, from left to right: Tabaré Vázquez, Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, Pedro Bordaberry  (Photos via Wikipedia)

Leading presidential candidates in Uruguay, from left to right: Tabaré Vázquez, Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, Pedro Bordaberry (Photos via Wikipedia)

Thirty years have passed from the historic elections of 25th November, 1984, which hallmarked the return of democracy in Uruguay after more than a decade of dictatorship and 13 years without an election. So much has changed since then. In 2013, Uruguay was selected by The Economist as the country of the year for “path-breaking reforms that do not merely improve a single nation but, if emulated, might benefit the world,” such as gay marriage and a law legalising and regulating the use of cannabis.

But much has stayed the same. In particular, coming to terms with the legacy of the dictatorship – that is, the systematic human rights violations such as political imprisonment, enforced disappearance and torture – is an unfinished business, and remains an open wound within society. Last year, the newly established and appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, unambiguously summarised the situation in Uruguay at the end of his first visit to the country.

De Greiff stated that “a chapter of Uruguay’s recent past is yet to be resolved adequately”, pointing to how there had been “little progress” since the end of the dictatorship in confronting the serious human rights violations committed between 1973 and 1985. The expert further asserted how this was “not about revenge or looking only to the past, but about laying a solid foundation for a just and equitable society that will allow new generations to address the challenges of the future.”

More recently, in August and September 2014, the director of Amnesty International Uruguay, Mariana Labastie, met with the four presidential candidates – Pedro Bordaberry of the Partido Colorado, Pablo Mieres of the Partido Independiente, Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Blanco and Tabaré Vázquez of the Frente Amplio – to discuss their commitment to human rights and the struggle against impunity.

Labastie underscored how “the topic of human rights is often absent from the agenda of the electoral campaign or it does not occupy the place it should.” She also highlighted how all the four candidates committed themselves to continue investigating the truth about victims of enforced disappearance. But is this enough?

Former dictator Juan María Bordaberry (photo: Wikipedia)

Former dictator Juan María Bordaberry (photo: Wikipedia)

Forty Years On

The Uruguayan dictatorship, in power between June 1973 and February 1985, perpetrated countless human rights violations inside and outside the country’s borders – the latter committed within the framework of Operation Condor, a continent-wide operation set up by the dictatorships of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to hunt down political opponents across borders.

It has been estimated that approximately 200 Uruguayans were victims of enforced disappearance, while there were approximately 6,000-7,000 victims of prolonged political detention, and thousands more instances of torture, sexual violence, and inhuman treatment and individuals having to flee into exile. Three decades from the democratic transition in 1985, responding to the human rights violations of the dictatorship can no longer be delayed. This is particularly so since, between 1986 and 2011, a law – the so-called Ley de Caducidad – effectively blocked the investigation and prosecution of all dictatorship-related crimes. Time is now of the essence. Many relatives of disappeared individuals as well as survivors of secret detention and torture have already passed away in the three decades elapsed. If there are any more delays, the opportunity for justice may be long gone.

A year after his visit, the UN Special Rapporteur presented his report on his mission to Uruguay at the 27th session of the Human Rights Council (8th-26th September, 2014). De Greiff’s report is a rather accurate diagnostic as well as a useful checklist of pending matters in Uruguay; his recommendations should be seriously acted upon by the next president of Uruguay.

The Report

The Special Rapporteur underlined in his report to the Human Rights Council that, in Uruguay, the burden to investigate the past has largely fallen on the shoulders of victims of serious human rights violations, their relatives, and human rights activists. They were the ones who tirelessly mobilised to push for – up to the present time – initiatives in favour of the promotion of truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition. The Rapporteur also noted how the lack of progress and the passing of time has generated fatigue in the victims and their relatives. Taking into account that many of them are of an elderly age, it is urgent that their requests are attended to.

UN Special Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence Pablo de Greiff (Photo via UN)

UN Special Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence Pablo de Greiff (Photo via UN)

The Rapporteur organised his report according to the four elements of his mandate. In terms of justice, he acknowledged the important progress since 2005, especially pointing to the verdicts against two former dictators, Juan María Bordaberry in 2010 and Gregorio Álvarez in 2009, sentenced to prison for human rights violations, and the overturning of the Ley de Caducidad in 2011. At the same time, however, de Greiff joined the choir of critical opinions about the stance of the Uruguayan Supreme Court of Justice that, in 2013, considered the crimes of the dictatorship to be common crimes and, therefore, susceptible to the application of statutory limitations according to the national criminal code. Moreover, the Rapporteur expressed his concern about the transfer of criminal judge Mariana Mota last year and the unwarranted delays and obstacles that still hinder the resolution of ongoing criminal investigations and trials.

In terms of truth, de Greiff welcomed the efforts of civil society, especially the 1989 Never Again Report by the Peace and Justice Service, and the work of forensic anthropologists that located and identified four disappeared individuals in Uruguay in the past few years. However, he lamented a lack of attention paid to the larger universe of victims beyond the disappeared, to include victims of prolonged detention, torture, the kidnapping of children and sexual violence, and the establishment of policies to secure access to state archives.

On reparations, the expert applauded the sanctioning of several laws since redemocratisation to remedy different groups of victims, including the setting up of a special reparatory pension for former political prisoners and compensation for victims of state terror. Still, as of June 2014, only 360 cases of economic reparations were granted to victims of state terror, while confusion between different sets of rights characterises these laws, forcing victims to choose between pension rights and reparation benefits. Finally, in terms of guarantees of non-repetition, de Greiff commended the establishment of the National Institution for Human Rights in 2012 while highlighting the lack of vetting and thorough reforms to the Armed Forces and the Judiciary.

Tasks Ahead

The report ends with a list of conclusions and recommendations spanning across three pages, all needed in order to respond adequately to the unfinished business of the recent past. The most urgent recommendations that the new government must at least work on in its five-year mandate are -in the opinion of this author- the following three: the removal of all of the obstacles that block the denunciation of past human rights violations to the courts and the progress of judicial proceedings without undue delays; the establishment of an official mechanism to investigate past crimes; and the design and sanctioning of reparations policies encompassing both material and symbolic reparations and targeting all different categories of victims.

The next government in Uruguay has a historic opportunity to finally deliver truth, justice and reparations to victims of human rights atrocities and their families, as well as to the rest of society. This opportunity for justice should not be missed.

Dr Francesca Lessa is a specialist in issues of justice and human rights in Argentina and Uruguay based at the Latin American Centre, University of Oxford.

Posted in Analysis, News From Latin America, TOP STORY1 Comment

Mexico: Missing Students Not Among Bodies in Mass Graves

The state of Guerrero in Mexico (photo via WIkipedia)

The state of Guerrero in Mexico (photo via WIkipedia)

The search for 43 students missing since 27th September continues in Guerrero after authorities confirmed yesterday that they were not among the bodies found in mass graves last week.

Federal state prosecutor Jesús Murillo said that DNA tests on the 28 bodies found on the outskirts of the city of Iguala did not match any of those provided by relatives of the disappeared students.

This means that after nearly three weeks there is still no sign of the students, who went missing after being attacked by local police and armed civilians on 27th September. A national security commission set up to investigate the case said that it was not ruling out any theory.

Close to 900 federal police and gendarmerie officers have been sent to Iguala to support the search for the students and prevent any further incidents.

So far 44 people have been arrested, including 22 police officers from Iguala, 14 police officers from the nearby town of Cocula, and eight members of the criminal gang ‘Guerreros Unidos’. Meanwhile, Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca, his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda, and the city’s secretary for public security, Felipe Flores, remain fugitives.

Meanwhile, Benjamín Mondragón Pereda, a Guerreros Unidos leader, yesterday committed suicide after his house was surrounded by police.

The arrest of 14 officers from Cocula was announced yesterday by the director of the Criminal Investigation Agency (AIC) Tomás Zerón de Lucio, who said that the suspects admitted to handing the missing students over to members of ‘Guerreros Unidos’. “As a result of intelligence work we were able to show the intervention of Cocula police… they confessed to participating and we were able to verify this,” said Zerón de Lucio.

Earlier today, President Enrique Peña Nieto reaffirmed his promise that the state would “find those responsible and treat them with the full force of the law.”

However, students from the Ayotzinapa Rural College, where the missing youngsters study, said the investigations so far have been “a joke”.

“They are laughing at us,” they told a gathering of other student groups at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) yesterday. “We still hope to be reunited with our colleagues.”

Riot police had been called in on Monday after students and relatives of the disappeared staged a violent protest outside the Guerrero state government building. Some protesters ransacked the offices and set fire to the building, causing widespread damage. The students promised to “radicalise” their protests if there were no advances in the investigation.

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Colombia: Farmers Sue BP in UK High Court

BP_LogoA group of Colombian subsistence farmers are suing British oil giant BP for environmental damages in a case that began today in the UK High Court, in London.

The 109 farmers are seeking £18m (US$29m) in compensation from BP, claiming that negligence in the construction of a pipeline in the 1990s led to a big impact on the local water supply and caused serious damage to land, crops, and livestock.

One of the farmers in London to testify in the trial told The Guardian that: “Our water supply has been damaged by sedimentation since the pipeline was laid, and I have lost cattle. I can no longer keep pigs or chickens because there is not enough water for them. The reason why we have travelled so far is because we have hope and faith that the high court in London will deliver justice to us.”

A lawyer for the farmers, Alex Layton, told the court that BP had “blamed everyone else while not accepting its responsibilities,” reports AFP.

BP defends itself against the allegations, saying it took “significant steps” to engage with local communities and pay fair compensation for any impact. Last month, the company was found guilty of gross negligence in the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

This landmark trial is the first to feature a UK oil company in a UK court for alleged environmental damages caused to private land overseas. If the ruling goes in favour of the farmers it could open the path to other claims.

The trial is expected to last around eight months.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

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