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Welcome to Mesopotamia – Chapter I

Welcome to Mesopotamia – Chapter I

Daniel final

In January 2015, Daniel Tunnard and his wife left Buenos Aires after 16 years to move to the small town of Concepción del Uruguay in Entre Ríos, Argentina, build a house and start a family. This is the story of everything that went wrong.

Leelo en castellano aquí.

 

They’ve always warned me about the fridges here. Don’t open the fridge barefoot. What? Don’t open the fridge barefoot. Why not? You’ll get an electric shock. I open the fridge. No sparks. Am I supposed to put my shoes on every time I want a drink? Yes. Why do you take your shoes off inside anyway? It’s rude. Taking your shoes off is rude? Funny people.

A week after I move here, I touch the top of the fridge. It gives me a little shock. Not the flying-across-the-room kind, but just enough to make you feel like someone you don’t really know has just mildly insulted you. I want to believe it’s our fridge’s way of saying welcome to Mesopotamia, that I’m one of them now. But the fridge came with us from Buenos Aires. I still open it barefoot. Live a little.

'Welcome to Mesopotamia' (Photo by Daniel Tunnard)

‘Welcome to Mesopotamia’ (Photo by Daniel Tunnard)

The boy architect tells me I have to buy broza for the house we’re starting to build. I don’t have much idea what broza is, but it’s the stuff they put on the ground first, before anything else, so I like to think of it as the rubbly essence of the house. A man called Victor comes to my mother-in-law’s house, the jocular sunburn smile of a man who spends his days trucking to the local quarry and back. I need 70 cubic metres of broza. This seems like an awful lot of broza. I try to imagine a cubic metre, then five cubic metres. I find that my limit for imagining cubic metres is 12. He says it’ll be about 14 journeys in his lorry, at $450 a load, which works out at $6,300 but he can get the quarry down to $5,800. It is a dizzying display of mental arithmetic, though he’s probably used to multiplying multiples of $450, like a quiz show sidekick constantly called upon to multiply 75s.

I say OK, let’s do it. See you Monday. He looks at me with a smile. ‘¿Entendiste?’ My words say , my body language would appear to say no. I think I’ve understood. I am a translator, although granted, most of my work this month has been for a literary anthology. I’m pretty sure I can negotiate the delivery of 70 cubic metres of broza in my second language, even if I haven’t yet pinpointed a satisfactory translation for broza. I call my mother-in-law in from the garden. He explains it to her. Turns out, I had understood. It was the dizzying mental arithmetic that threw me. I give him $3,000 and he signs an ad-hoc receipt for me, in pencil. Good people.

After a week, I drag my bike off the balcony, where it was threatening to turn into one of those depressing balcony bikes, tyres deflated, rusting in the rain, the sad reminder to a once healthy ambition. I pump up the tyres and finger uncertainly the slightly broken saddle, check the brakes, which work, which is good as I wouldn’t have a clue how to fix them, and off I go. Cycling in Concepción is something else after Buenos Aires. There are only about four main roads, only one bus route, so if you avoid them you barely come across another vehicle. I leave my helmet at home, my reasoning being that this is the kind of town where people have a devil-may-care attitude to road safety, unhelmeted moped riders carrying step ladders and Alsatians on their vehicles. If I am to die of severe head injuries, it is part of the fate I have chosen. When in Rome, crash a Vespa and all that. I probably won’t die of severe head injuries.

The building site (Photo: Daniel Tunnard)

The building site (Photo: Daniel Tunnard)

I cycle the 5kms to the building site on the edge of the city. Actually, ‘building site’ conjures up all kinds of busy-ness, cranes and cement mixers, and hard-hatted Paraguayans. Our building site is a field next to another field, in which about four half-built breezeblock structures have so far gone up, and where few people ever seem to be working. Picture an incipient shanty town, but in the countryside, a kind of slum idyll.

My man Victor pulls up with his truck full of broza. I look at the broza. It’s kind of reddish dirt and stones. There are already three piles of it on my land. Good, good. I shake Victor’s hand. He tells me he probably won’t have to make 14 journeys, boy architect reckons 10 (it ends up 20, one of boy architect’s many miscalculations), so I might get some money back. Good old Victor. I say good, good and tell him we’ll talk later and other empty phrases. I am a brilliant foreman. My work here is done. I cycle past the workers building the house up the road, shout out an ‘adiós’, the local way of saying ‘hello and goodbye’ as you pass, it is returned by two of the builders (come on!) and off I cycle. (Conversations during car journeys around Concepción with my mother-in-law are frequently interjected with ‘chau’ and ‘adiós’ as she sees someone she knows in every block. She’s a popular woman.)

A broken saddle is a treacherous thing. You sit on it for the best part of 10kms without the slightest discomfort. Then you rest five hours, get back on it, and suddenly your arse feels like you have a kinky girlfriend. I cycle 3km to La Clarita, construction supplies. Cycling is now less the country idyll it was this morning, more a painful and foolish necessity. I buy $20,000 of stuff from La Clarita. I have no idea what any of it is, nor do I see it, nor will I see it, probably, apart from when it’s ensconced in our house. Last month I bought $250,000 of building supplies from Mundo Seco (subsequently to be revealed as the worst company in the world), whose owner I met in a money changer’s office in downtown Buenos Aires. I’m a bit like a mafia lawyer, skulking behind the scenes with a briefcase of dollar bills. Except instead of a briefcase I have a backpack, and I turn up on a pushbike, sweating in my shorts. Walter White would never slip a dollar into my breast pocket.

I look at the receipt from La Clarita, try to make sense of what I’m buying. It says things like:

B. HIERRO ALET. D 10
B. HIERRO ALET. A 4.0
ALAMBRE NEGRO NO16 KG ACINDAR.

And so on. I know that there are things like black wire, various pipes, something called Paris-point nails. $10,000 goes on something called a malla, which as far as I know means swimsuit. It can’t be a swimsuit.

Mariano at La Clarita chats to me about where I’m from and what I’m doing here (there aren’t many foreigners in Concepción; I’m quite the curiosity). I have that conversation again where we talk about how life is so much better here, less stress, the family, es otra cosa. People love saying “es otra cosa“. I have this conversation every day. Normally I would grow tired of reeling out the same clichés about how life in a medium-sized town is, surprise, surprise, in many ways less complicated and more relaxed than life in one of the biggest cities in the Americas. But the thing is, I really do like it here, and I want to tell people this all the time, make them endure my trite talk about how happy and relaxed I am here, even though I’m a little tense about forking out $10,000 for a swimming costume. Mariano shakes my hand twice, repeats his name, leaves me his number. Good people.

Our new home... (Photo: Ana Kuchurak)

Our new home… (Photo: Ana Kuchurak)

The thing is, that whole getting away from the big city for the quiet life thing wasn’t really why we did all this. We love the big city. We both grew up in small provincial towns, small in every way, and always wanted to escape to that noise and rush and danger and extensive public transport system. There’s a funnier episode of ‘Comedians in Cars getting Coffee’ in which Sarah Jessica Parker says we move back to the suburbs because we want our kids to have what we have, to which Jerry Seinfeld replies that really we want our kids to hate what we hated, which is to get away from the suburbs and to the big city.

There were several reasons and circumstances that led to our leaving Buenos Aires for Concepción del Uruguay, but we were never the kind of people who’d go on holiday and talk earnestly about quitting our jobs and opening up a failing tea room in the hills of Córdoba. We were more likely to go on holiday to other mega cities and dream about moving there. I think about six months before we decided to move to Concepción, I swore that I would only ever leave Buenos Aires for New York, Berlin, or Tokyo. Even now, we think when the house is finished, if we get lucky, we might be able to do a one-year house swap with someone in a bustling global metropolis who longs for a quiet life serving cake to bored tourists. In fact, the sole purpose of this column/book is to make the world think that Concepción del Uruguay is some leisurely paradise and create an effect similar to that of ‘A Year in Provence’ in which we flood the housing market with rich Brits looking for a piece of what we have, thus quintupling the value of our property.

There was also something else about living in a big city that I started to notice, something that probably happens to a number of city dwellers when they get to a certain age: we didn’t really use the city. Younger folk, indeed older folk too, all seemed to be going to new restaurants and trendy bars and art exhibits by renowned foreign artists that had ended by the time I got round to thinking about going and concerts at the Colón that I’d always wanted to go to but couldn’t work out how to get tickets for and special events in the park and outdoor markets and picnics and pool parties, while we stayed in and slow-cooked pork in aniseed and watched Netflix and were happy. As much as living in a vibrant city like Buenos Aires gives you that sensation of being in the place where everything is happening, you suspect it’s all happening to other people when you stay at home on a sunny Sunday afternoon instead of walking slowly around an exhibit that looked more interesting on Facebook and which you only went to out of a sense of guilt. And then you ask yourself well, what do you want? Friends and family and all that, obviously. Maybe a house with a garden and a barbecue. Somewhere where my imaginary children can play. The chance to do some gardening, cook, play some Scrabble (I play an embarrassing amount of Scrabble against myself; I tell myself this is research for a novel about Scrabble; it isn’t), time to read, write, and translate, and somewhere quiet to do it. Clearly, Buenos Aires was out and Concepción del Uruguay, my wife’s home town, a place we’d never seriously considered ever moving to, was suddenly, and surprisingly, in.

Daniel Tunnard’s first book ‘Colectivaizeishon, el ingles que tomó todos los colectivos de Buenos Aires’ is available from Buenos Aires bookshops and mercadolibre.com.ar and as an e-book from Amazon and megustaleer.com.ar.

Posted in Expat, Life & Style, Society, TOP STORY0 Comments

Hand of Pod: Central’s Perfect Start, River’s Thriller, and More…

Hand of Pod: Central’s Perfect Start, River’s Thriller, and More…

Hand Of Pod is a podcast dedicated to discussing the domestic football scene in Argentina, with the inevitable occasional digressions into the land of the continental cups and the national team.

In this week’s Hand Of Pod, Sam, Andrés and Santi look back over a goal-packed weekend of Primera action in which only four sides out of the 30 managed to keep clean sheets (and two of those were in the same game). River Plate’s problems continued but they battled back to a 3-3 draw with Arsenal, whilst Rosario Central remain top of the league with a 100% record courtesy of a 1-0 victory over Temperley. And for Lanús, Santiago Silva’s exit seems to have lifted some of the weight from their remaining attackers’ shoulders, because they got a thumping 5-1 win away to Godoy Cruz. All of this is covered, as well as the Argentine sides in the Copa Libertadores and a look at the three local league players who’ve been called up to the national team for next month’s ‘tour’ of the USA.

Mystic Sam’s sixth round predictions (last week: 8/15)
Newell’s v Quilmes
Lanús v Gimnasia
Colón v Tigre
Vélez v Belgrano
Independiente v Arsenal
Huracán v Argentinos
Sarmiento v Crucero del Norte
Atlético de Rafaela v Central
Estudiantes v Banfield
Defensa y Justicia v Racing
River v Godoy Cruz
San Martín v Boca
Chicago v San Lorenzo
Aldosivi v Unión
Temperley v Olimpo

You can find out more about the team behind HOP here.

Posted in Sport0 Comments

Five Things to do in Puerto Madryn When the Whales are Gone

Five Things to do in Puerto Madryn When the Whales are Gone

You were planning your trip to Patagonia’s Atlantic Coast when suddenly you realised it was the worst of timings to see the Southern Right Whales or the Magellanic Penguins? No worries, Puerto Madryn is much more than just an aquatic playground for those marine divas. As a matter of fact, low season might be your best chance to be amazed by other Mother Nature’s stunning displays, while you enjoy superb seafood, fancy accommodation at more affordable prices, and some quirky local events, too.

1. Witness the unique orca strandings at Punta Norte

It doesn’t get anymore Animal Planet than this: a group of baby harbour seals are sprawling out by the water when suddenly, a gigantic orca strands intentionally on the shore, captures one of them and then storms back into the ocean with its prey still alive, twitching desperately in its mouth. For some, it might be an atrocious spectacle to watch, but for those who have been lucky enough to spot one of these strandings, it is as unmissable as it is brutal. And, of all places on Earth, they only happen on a regular basis here, at the very end of the world, from February to April.

Orcas strandings at Punta Norte (Photo: Alejandro Avampini)

Orca strandings at Punta Norte (Photo: Alejandro Avampini)

Punta Norte is located, as its name suggests, at the northern tip of Península de Valdés, 170km from Puerto Madryn. To get there, it is a long drive through a dry, bucolic road, where you might spot guanacos, caranchos, choiques, aguiluchos, and maras, but will definitely not get any phone signal. It is Patagonia in its most depleted essence, yet Punta Norte unveils itself as a golden coast with an infinite blue horizon: a disturbingly idyllic setting for the long hours of waiting and tension to come.

Will we be lucky enough to witness an attack? “You never know,” says local guide Mary Hogg, who nevertheless does know how to entertain her audience during the expectation. “Orcas have been completely misunderstood. First of all, they are not whales but dolphins who eat fish, seals, and, sometimes, even other whales. And so they got their infamous title, which should not be killer whales but whale killers instead. And still that would be unfair: orcas only kill to survive, as we all do”. These strandings really are magnificent, Mary continues, and photographers from all over the world stay for weeks to get one perfect shot.

The same family of almost 40 orcas has been coming to Punta Norte every year, however only some expert members of the group are able to perform the strandings and, every time they do, they are putting their life in risk: if they can’t get back to deep waters quickly and the tide goes out, then they will surely die as their lungs are crushed under the weight of their own eight tonnes. It is indeed the circle of life.

2. Eat all you can at the Artisan Fishermen’s Annual Fair

In the San José and San Matías gulfs, about 200 families preserve the art of the artisan fishing. In opposition to industrial fishing, this sustainable technique is based on the concept of a “selective catch”. And so men and women first navigate offshore in boats and rafts and then dive into the depths of the freezing cold waters early in the morning, sometimes even before the sun has come out, in order to get with their own hands the seafood they find, without harming the subaquatic environment.

It is a risky business, admits artisan fisherman Raúl Díaz, but it is also a lifestyle: “I would not know what else to do. There have been some rough days, especially years ago when we had less technical support. On some occasions, I thought I would not come back to shore, that I would die at sea. And yet, there I was the day right after that deadly storm, ready to dive again.”

Raúl is also one of the founders of the annual fair that congregates him and his colleagues for a week during April since 2003. Mussels, vieyra, clams, paella, salmon, mero, fried cornalitos and rabas, fish sandwiches and empanadas: the options of fresh products seem endless, and you can easily spend a couple of hours tasting as many as you can, talking to the locals about their fishing techniques (almost an artform in itself).

This year, the annual fair will take place from Thursday 2nd April to Saturday 4th April at the Club Social y Deportivo Madryn.

3. Swim with harbour seals

Harbour seals are also called “sea dogs” and there is a good reason for that: curious, friendly and playful, they love it when people come close and so they swim around their visitors, sometimes even engaging in an aquatic dance. All you need is a good diving suit that will keep you afloat, a snorkel, and a pair of goggles, and you’re ready for this close encounter.

Swimming with harbour seals. (Photo via Madryn Tourism Secretariat)

Swimming with harbour seals. (Photo via Madryn Tourism Secretariat)

Only a few agencies are allowed to take people on a motorboat from the coast of Puerto Madryn to the Punta Loma natural reserve, the first ecotourism promoter in the Madryn area. After spending some years under the shadow of Península Valdés, this brand new tour has brought life back to the reserve. It is a 15 minute ride on a boat and then it’s time to jump off the boat and have some fun.

These marine puppies really are the cutest. They dive, they surface, they twirl, they even sing for us – well, sort of. To be fair, they are actually shouting in a very strange way, calling for their mums who have stayed on the beach, relaxing under the southern sun. As we laugh and “sing” with the adorable babies, it is clear those mothers are the only ones behaving as grown-ups today.

4. Participate in the only underwater Stations of the Cross in the world

Yes, it does sound bizarre, and well… it is. Puerto Madryn is the national city for scuba diving, so it seems only natural a Catholic priest decided to take a dive of faith, right? Father Juan Manuel Arias has led 11 submarine Stations of the Cross in Puerto Madryn with a neoprene suit under his cassock. He was first invited in 2001, though he had done only one dive before.

“I immediately loved the idea. Religion must adapt to the place where it goes, so this is our way of doing that. Many people come to see the Via Crucis, Catholics and non-cCtholics as well, and I think this is a very special way to reach out to them,” he says.

The underwater Via Crucis at Easter in Puerto Madryn (Photo via Madryn Tourism Secretariat)

The underwater Stations of the Cross at Easter in Puerto Madryn (Photo via Madryn Tourism Secretariat)

Pope Francis himself (still Monsignor Bergoglio at the time) gave the authorisation for the first underwater religious experience in Argentina and the whole world. And so, every Easter, Father Juan Manuel goes underwater with a huge cross. He is accompanied by hundreds of professional scuba divers, while thousands of locals follow the whole event from the city dock.

It gets only more strange listening to the priest’s prayers with the sound of aquatic bubbles, and then seeing him walk out of the sea and onto the beach as if he were an astronaut. However, the whole experience is quite exciting – did I mention there is a crane involved, too? Oh yes.

5. Join a stand up yoga class on the ocean

This odd combination of surf and yoga originated in Hawaii and came all the way down south thanks to Napra Club. Using a paddle board to float on water, surrounded only by the soothing waves of the sea and with the horizon as the perfect focus point, this brand new discipline is ideal for those who have already mastered the yoga mat and are looking for new challenges.

Obviously, there is a higher demand of strength and balance in order to hold postures, yet the smoothness and tranquility of the natural setting helps to relax and feel truly disconnected from the rest of the world. It is also an empowering experience: never before has the union with the universe has felt so reachable during an inverted asana, when the ocean seems to go up and the sky becomes our ground.

Low season in Puerto Madryn runs from February to May, when the Southern Right Whales are gone and so are most of the Magellanic Penguins.

For orca strandings, February-April is the best time to take a shot. The underwater Stations of the Cross is held every year, on Easter Friday (3rd April in 2015), while the Artisan Fishermen’s Annual Fair takes place this year from 2-4th April at the Club Social y Deportivo Madryn. Swimming with harbour seals and stand up yoga classes can be done the whole year round, but are usually not held during winter.

To get there from Buenos Aires, you can either jump on a 20-hour bus ride or take a two hours flight that usually costs double the price, though you might get good deals if you book in advance.

Posted in Travel, Travel0 Comments

Brazil: Nationwide Protests Call for Rousseff Ouster

Protesters gather in the capital Brasilia calling to oust President Dilma Rousseff (Photo: Agencia Brasil)

Protesters gather in the capital Brasilia calling to oust President Dilma Rousseff (Photo: Agencia Brasil)

On Sunday hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Brazilian cities — São Paulo, Rio de Janiero, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, among others — to protest against President Dilma Rousseff.

Estimates of the number of protesters vary wildly, with polling agency Datafolha saying 210,000 people gathered in Sao Paulo while the Military Police counted up to one million. The masses expressed their dissatisfaction with the government, corruption, and the deteriorating economic situation.

Many anti-government protesters carried signs with phrases along the lines of “PT out!”, which stands for Brazil’s ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores, and “Dilma out!”. Some even urged a “military intervention” to bring an premature end to Rousseff’s mandate.

O Globo noted that many protesters collectively sang the national anthem as they paraded the streets holding banners and Brazilian flags. Despite the crowd’s discontent, the protest was peaceful, without major incidents.

Brazil has experienced several waves of unrest in recent years, including an anti-government uprising sparked by a hike in public transport fares in 2013. The run up to the 2014 World Cup was also marked by several violent protests.

This time, a corruption scandal at Petrobras has stirred up fresh controversy. Brazil’s state-owned oil firm is suspected of channelling illicit funds to political parties, with dozens of high-level politicians being investigated for kickbacks.

In response to the protests, Brazil’s Minister of Justice, José Eduardo Cardozo, held a press conference on national TV where he informed viewers that the administration would announce “a set of measures to combat corruption and impunity” in the days to come. They will then be sent to Congress for approval.

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

Hand of Pod: Relegation Candidates Emerge After Four Fixtures

Hand of Pod: Relegation Candidates Emerge After Four Fixtures

Hand Of Pod is a podcast dedicated to discussing the domestic football scene in Argentina, with the inevitable occasional digressions into the land of the continental cups and the national team.

This week on Hand Of Pod, Sam, Andrés, and Peter discuss another weekend of action which included an amazing 53-yard lob from San Lorenzo’s Pablo Barrientos, River Plate throwing away a 2-0 lead to draw with Unión, and Boca Juniors being held away to Colón. Rosario Central, meanwhile, have won four out of four under rookie manager Eduardo Coudet, whilst their cross-city rivals Newell’s Old Boys still don’t look the finished article, though they defend with the ball well. Also, a third of the league are bloody awful – to no-one’s surprise – with Crucero del Norte the unwilling poster boys for the shortcomings of most of the ten newly-promoted sides.

Mystic Sam’s fifth round predictions (last week: 6/15)
Crucero del Norte v Olimpo
Racing v Colón
Banfield v San Martín
Boca v Defensa y Justicia
Gimnasia v Chicago
Unión v Independiente
Sarmiento v Newell’s
Central v Temperley
Tigre v Atlético de Rafaela
Argentinos v Estudiantes
Godoy Cruz v Lanús
Quilmes v Vélez Sarsfield
San Lorenzo v Huracán
Arsenal v River
Belgrano v Aldosivi

You can find out more about the team behind HOP here.

Posted in Life & Style, Sport0 Comments

Nisman Case: Prosecutor, Ex-Wife Clash Over Alternative Investigation

Prosecutor Viviana Fein is leading the investigations into Alberto Nisman's death (Photo: Claudio Fanchi/Télam)

Prosecutor Viviana Fein is leading the investigations into Alberto Nisman’s death (Photo: Claudio Fanchi/Télam)

Prosecutor Viviana Fein and Judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado clashed this morning over new details leaked from the parallel investigation into the death of AMIA prosecutor Alberto Nisman.

Last week Arroyo Salgado, Nisman’s ex-wife and plaintiff in the investigation into his death, presented a report claiming that he had been murdered. Arroyo Salgado said the report, prepared by experts on behalf of the plaintiffs, “completely rules out the accident and suicide hypotheses”.

This alternative report, which is not legally binding, was submitted to Fein, who continues to treat Nisman’s death as ‘suspicious’ but has not yet ruled out any hypothesis.

This morning national daily La Nación revealed the so-called ‘Point 12′ of the report’s 13 final conclusions, which was not presented by Arroyo Salgado last week and which affirmed that Nisman must have been on one knee when the shot that killed him was fired.

According to La Nación, the assertion is based on the blood stains found at the scene and the fact that Nisman’s body showed no signs of the bruising that would be expected if he had fallen from a standing position.

In dialogue with Radio Vorterix, Prosecutor Fein said earlier this morning that “‘Point 12′ does not exist”, adding that “I can’t talk about the content of the report until the experts meet to debate their findings [before a medical committee].”

Moments later, on the same radio show, Arroyo Salgado responded, saying: “The truth is not being told. The people must not be lied to anymore. In the final conclusions of the report there are 13 points… ‘Point 12′ was not made public, but it is included in the version given to the prosecutor’s office and refers to the mechanics of the gunshot injury.”

“In respect of the hours of work put in [by the experts] I feel obligated to clear up this point,” she added.

The judge also said that she has a copy of the report, and the confirmation that it had been received by the prosecutor’s office on 5th March. However, she would not confirm the contents of ‘Point 12′ as reported by La Nación, so as not to “undermine” the official investigation.

Fein later spoke again to the media, saying that she had denied the existence of ‘Point 12′ on the “express wishes” of the plaintiff Arroyo Salgado for it to remain confidential. “She presented the report with some confidential points and it was diligent and prudent on my part not to talk about the existence of that point,” said Fein on Radio La Red, where she confirmed that there were indeed 13 “points of analysis” in the plaintiff’s report.

Fein reiterated that “neither the mechanics nor motives of Nisman’s death are clear.”

The forensic experts representing the plaintiff are due to ratify their findings before the prosecutor’s office today. They are then due to discuss their conclusions with the forensics from the Supreme Court working on the official investigation in front of a medical committee.

 

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Venezuela: Maduro Slams US ‘Aggression’ After Obama Decree

President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has criticised Barack Obama for serving the “imperialist elite” after the US leader declared Venezuela a national security threat to the US.

In the latest escalation of diplomatic tensions between the countries, President Obama also extended sanctions to seven senior government officials in Caracas.

“President Barack Obama, in the name of the US imperialist elite, has decided to personally take on the task of defeating my government, intervening in Venezuela, and controlling it from the US,” said Maduro.

Maduro addressed the nation hours after an executive order issued by Obama stated that: “The situation in Venezuela… constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.”

The statement made reference to “the Government of Venezuela’s erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to antigovernment protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protestors, as well as the exacerbating presence of significant public corruption.”

The Venezuelan president said that it was the US government that posed the greatest threat to its own people by “deciding to invade, to kill, to sponsor terrorism across the world.” He added that Obama would be “remembered for this aggression towards the Venezuelan people.”

Maduro said he would request that the National Assembly approve a special “Habilitating Law” to grant the Executive more powers to “defend peace in the homeland.” Venezuela’s Foreign Affairs Ministry also called back its highest ranking diplomat in the US and stated that Obama’s order was just to try and “justify imperialist interventionism.”

Several Latin American government quickly responded with support for Venezuela. Bolivian President Evo Morales called for a urgent meeting of the Union of South American States (Unasur) to discuss the issue. Ecuador’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ricardo Patiño said that Unasur would “not allow foreign intervention in Venezuela nor a coup d’etat against Maduro.”

The Cuban government, whose relationship with the US has thawed in recent months, also criticised Obama’s decision and offered its full support to Venezuela.

Tensions

Yesterday’s exchange is the latest sign of worsening relations between Caracas and Washington. The US government had already applied sanctions to other officials it accused of instigating violence against protesters in 2014. Maduro responded by adding new visa requirements for US travellers in Venezuela, and ordered that the US embassy cut its staff from 100 to 17 to match the number of Venezuelan diplomats based in Washington.

Last month Maduro also accused the US of conspiring with opposition leaders in Venezuela to stage an attempted coup on 12th February. The operation led to the arrest of Caracas mayor Antonio Ledesma, a move Maduro’s opponents said was evidence of a clampdown on political opposition. Meanwhile, the apparent killing of a 14-year-old student during a recent protest by a member of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), who has since been dismissed and detained, also drew concerns from international human rights groups over increasing police repression.

The government in Venezuela has also been criticised for the deteriorating economic situation, characterised by soaring inflation, dual exchange rates, and acute shortages of goods. Maduro contends that the current economic problems are the result of “destabilising” tactics by the opposition and private business, which he claims are deliberately hoarding goods to provoke shortages and social unrest.

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

Ten Killed after Helicopters Crash in La Rioja Province

Ten people were killed after two helicopters suffered an apparent mid-air collision in the Western province of La Rioja.

The crash occurred at around 5pm Monday near Villa Castelli, some 300km west of the provincial capital and in the foothills of the Andes. According to state news agency Télam, local witnesses reported that the helicopters clipped each other and burst into flame shortly after taking off.

Two Argentine pilots and eight French citizens, including two Olympic athletes, died in the incident, which left no survivors.

The group were participating in filming for the reality TV show ‘Dropped’, in which celebrities are left to survive in inhospitable environments. Among those on board were Olympic swimmer Camille Muffat (25), Olympic boxer Alexis Vastine (28), and champion sailor Florence Arthaud (57).

The other victims were pilots Juan Carlos Castillo and Roberto Abate, producer Laurent Sbasnik, medic Edouard Gilles, journalists Lucier Mei-Dalby and Volodia Guinard, and art director Brice Guilbert.

“The brutal demise of our compatriots creates an immense sadness,” said French President François Hollande, adding his condolences to the families and friends of the victims.

Argentine forensic experts were travelling overnight to the scene of the crash to try and establish what caused the tragedy. Local authorities stated that weather conditions were good at the time of the collision.

 

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

The Indy Eye: #InstaMeet in Buenos Aires

The Indy Eye: #InstaMeet in Buenos Aires

The Instagram community – known as ‘Igers’ – just keeps growing, and Buenos Aires is no exception. The ‘IgersBsAs‘ account has nearly 6,500 followers, and the managers select their photo of the day from the thousands of images uploaded with the group’s hashtag #IgersBsAs. “We’re a community and that’s what makes us most proud,” says Gastón Oliva, one of the managers of the IgersBsAs account.

Every two months this Instagram community – which includes lawyers, psychologists, biologists, and yes, some photographers – comes together for a gathering called #InstaMeet. The Indy had the pleasure of joining the latest of these, which took place this weekend at La Rural. Three hours of a photo hunting tour, finding the best lighting, the best angle, but more important a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon meeting unbelievable people that share your same passion. For more information about attending one of these meets, you can visit the Igers Argentina website.

Here is a selection of some the most popular shots from the last #InstaMeet at La Rural.

#InstaMeet at La Rural

#InstaMeet at La Rural

@igersbsas group photo

@igersbsas group photo

Posted in Photoessay, The City1 Comment

Mexico: Two Mummified Bodies Discovered Near Volcano Summit

The mummified bodies found on Mexico's highest peak (Photo: Hilario Aguilar Aguilar, via Ayuntamiento Chalchicomula de Sesma)

The mummified bodies found on Mexico’s highest peak (Photo: Hilario Aguilar Aguilar, via Ayuntamiento Chalchicomula de Sesma)

Authorities have confirmed the discovery of two mummified bodies buried in snow near the summit of the Pico de Orizaba volcano, Mexico highest peak.

The first of the frozen bodies was spotted last weekend at an altitude of nearly 5,300m by a climber who had slipped. A special expedition on Thursday confirmed the discovery, and after some digging found a second body in the same spot.

“It’s not one but two bodies,” Hilario Aguilar Aguilar, president of the local Alpine Club, told press after returning from the expedition. “We excavated, which released some gases, and then noticed another hand. After some more digging we realised that there were two people.”

The bodies are thought to belong to climbers who went missing after an avalanche more than 50 years ago.

Authorities are hoping to retrieve the remains early next week to begin running tests to determine the identity of the victims.

Pico de Orizaba, also known as Citlaltépetl, is Mexico’s highest volcano, reaching 5,636m above sea level at the summit.

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

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24th March marks the anniversary of the 1976 coup that brought Argentina's last dictatorship to power, a bloody seven year period in which thousands of citizens were disappeared and killed. Many of the victims passed through ESMA, a clandestine detention centre turned human rights museum

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