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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.

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

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

Bolivia: Morales Wins Third Term With Landslide Victory

President Evo Morales voting yesterday - he won a third term by a landslide. (Photo: AFP/Aizar Raldes/Télam)

President Evo Morales voting yesterday – he won a third term by a landslide. (Photo: AFP/Aizar Raldes/Télam)

Bolivian president Evo Morales has been re-elected for a third term after picking up 60% of the vote in yesterday’s election.

According to preliminary results Morales’ nearest rival, Samuel Doria Medina of the Concertación Unidad Demócrata (UD), received 25%.

Morales won in every department in the country except Beni, surprising observers by gaining 51% support in Santa Cruz, a traditional opposition stronghold.

The ruling Movimiento a Socialismo (MAS) party also won a comfortable majority in Congress with 80 out of 130 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and 24 out of 36 senators.

“Thank you brothers and sisters for this new triumph for the Bolivian people,” declared Morales last night in a victory speech. “How do I feel? There is a deep feeling – in Bolivia and in Latin America – of liberation. How long must we continue to be subjected to the North American empire and capitalist system? This is a triumph for anti-colonialists and anti-capitalists.”

The results show how Bolivia’s first indigenous president, in power now since 2006, has won vast support by combining a socio-economic revolution with relative political stability and fervent anti-capitalist rhetoric with pragmatic macroeconomic management.

However, he will face challenges in his third term. Poverty levels have fallen by around a third since 2005, but at around 40% are still high in regional terms. After easing some of the country’s worst economic ills, the long-term future will require greater industrialisation and diversification to reduce the heavy dependence on primary exports from extracting oil, gas, and minerals. Finally, the government is facing growing pressure to tackle social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion, which are both prohibited.

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

President Fernández Defends New Civil and Commercial Code

President Fernández holds up a copy of the new Civil and Commerical Code, which will come into force in Argentina in 2016. (Photo: Raúl Ferrari/Télam)

President Fernández holds up a copy of the new Civil and Commerical Code, which will come into force in Argentina in 2016. (Photo: Raúl Ferrari/Télam)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner last night promulgated the country’s new Civil and Commercial Code, while also stating that reforms to the Criminal Procedure Law would be sent to Congress “within days”.

The updated Civil and Commercial Code was approved by Congress last week, more than two years after the reform bill was initially presented.

“Though the Constitution is obviously the most important legal instrument of a nation, this is the most important instrument that deals with people’s daily lives, their personal and commercial rights,” said President Fernández in a national address yesterday.

The president said the new law, which combined the Civil and Commercial Codes for the first time in the country’s history, was an “authentic cultural product of Argentina”, replacing the previous version based on European law. “It does not belong to any political party or government, it is the Civil and Commercial Code of democracy,” she said.

President Fernández also addressed the subject of debts and legal tender, an issue that has caused controversy with some claiming the wording of the new code could allow dollar-denominated debts and deposits to be converted into pesos.

“All of these affirmations and headlines to frighten people about how their deposits would lose their value or be paid back in pesos, or that no one could sign a contract… please, this is absolutely out of place,” she remarked.

Article 765 is at the centre of the debate, as it states that a debtor can fulfill his/her payment obligations with the equivalent value of legal currency (the peso).

However, President Fernández said that this would not override several other articles in the code that guarantee the validity of a contract and ensure that banks must respect the currency agreed upon with clients when accepting deposits or issuing loans.

Aside from the issue of currency, the president also highlighted changes to family law within the code, including changes to rules governing divorce, adoption, same-sex marriages, civil unions, and assisted fertilisation.

The new code will come into force on 1st January 2016.

Criminal Procedure Law

The second part of the president’s 50-minute speech was dedicated to the forthcoming reform of the country’s Criminal Procedure Law.

“In the next few days we are going to send Congress a new Penal Code bill, which will transform the existing system from an inquisitorial system to a more agile accusatory system,” declared Fernández.

This means that prosecutors will investigate a case, defense lawyers will act on behalf of the accused, and judges will reach a verdict. In the current system judges fulfill the duel role of investigating and ruling on cases.

President Fernández yesterday claimed that reform was necessary to update the “dysfunctional” existing law. “As I’ve said many times it’s not about being tough or soft on crime, it’s about having the adequate instruments and resources.”

Today, Justice Minister Julián Alvarez added that the main focus of the new law would be to reduce delays in the country’s judicial system. “The timings are going to change. Today it takes an average of four years to bring a case to trial, when it needs to be six months or a year at most, as it is today in Chile.”

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Operation Condor: Justice for Transnational Crimes in South America

Operation Condor: Justice for Transnational Crimes in South America

The Operation Condor trial in Buenos Aires has implications for justice and accountability in Argentina but also for the rest of South America.

“Could you please tell us your date and place of birth?” the president of Federal Criminal Court 1 in Buenos Aires asked the young woman testifying at the court hearing. Macarena Gelman replied that she was probably born on 1st November, 1976, in Montevideo, Uruguay, after her mother had been illegally transferred there from Argentina weeks earlier. Mystified by how her mother, María Claudia Garcia de Gelman, originally detained in Buenos Aires had ended up in Uruguay, Macarena suggested that Operation Condor (Plan Cóndor) offered the “only explanation” for what had happened.

Macarena Gelman (Still from TV Publica)

Macarena Gelman (Still from TV Publica)

Macarena’s testimony before the tribunal in November 2013 exposes some of the challenges and difficulties that victims of human rights violations have had to face since the return of democracy. Numerous South American countries experiencing similar violations share this legacy. The question of date and place of birth is one that many of us answer frequently and we do so without the blink of an eye. In the case of Macarena, as well as other victims of identity theft and illegal adoption, answering that question is anything but easy.

For Macarena, it required solving a puzzle; rejoining all the component pieces scattered across Argentina and Uruguay, but also within the entire South America region. Reconstructing her life story took over 30 years and included a grandfather who incessantly looked for her. It was also the journey of two countries in the aftermath of the shadow of dictatorship, struggling to come to terms with the brutality of the crimes that had been perpetrated.

Macarena’s identification in Montevideo in 2000 proved even further the existence of the transnational coordination of terror known as Operation Condor. Over ten years later, on March 5, 2013, in a packed Buenos Aires courthouse, two former Argentine military dictators, together with other 19 defendants, were finally put on trial for their alleged role in Operation Condor, including the atrocities committed against Macarena’s parents.

Operation Condor was a continent-wide operation set up during the Cold War by the military dictatorships of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to hunt down political opponents across borders, murdering and disappearing hundreds of left-wing activists outside their home countries’ borders in the 1970s and 1980s in Latin America.

Responding to Human Rights Violations

The rapidly growing field of transitional justice studies “strategies employed by states and international institutions to deal with a legacy of human rights abuses and to effect social reconstruction in the wake of widespread violence.” In the past 30 years, countries have developed innovative ways to confront atrocities committed during political violence or conflict. Latin America has pioneered many tools such as truth commissions, trials and reparations that have been adopted subsequently throughout the world. Yet, up until recently, the main focus has been on offences perpetrated by national actors within individual states, thus neglecting consideration of how to respond to transnational crimes such as those of Operation Condor.

Nonetheless, since the late 1990s and early 2000s, investigations into Operation Condor crimes have gradually come to play a crucial role in the struggle for accountability in South America. The strategic litigation of instances of transnational crimes, together with a parallel strategy focusing on the illegal appropriation of children born to women held in clandestine detention, turned into key tools in the struggle against impunity and in questioning the validity of broad amnesty laws that were approved soon after the dictatorships.

These ground-breaking strategies and legal tools developed by human rights activists and lawyers purposefully circumvented amnesty laws and began chipping away at the wall of impunity: the first judgment issued in March 2009 against military and police officers in Uruguay related for instance to the murder of 28 Uruguayan citizens in Buenos Aires in 1976. Likewise, in Chile, after decades of absolute impunity, Augusto Pinochet was eventually indicted by Judge Juan Guzmán for crimes relating to “Operation Condor” in December 2004.

The current trial in Buenos Aires is the first prosecution to tackle the whole terror network and its operations to persecute opponents across borders in all its six member states. This prosecution is exceptional internationally and even in Argentina. Kathryn Sikkink labelled Argentina a “global protagonist” in the struggle for international human rights, where 121 criminal trials for dictatorship crimes have already been completed in recent years. Yet the ongoing Operation Condor trial is still a seminal moment. Even the landmark investigations by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón in the late 1990s only focused on atrocities perpetrated inside state borders of Argentina and Chile.

Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (left) and his Argentine counterpart Jorge Videla, in 1976. Both were active members of Operation Condor.

Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and his Argentine counterpart Jorge Videla, in 1976.

Opportunities for Justice

The criminal investigation into the case of Operation Condor began in the late 1990s when the relatives of five victims from Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay presented their case to the judiciary in Buenos Aires. The amnesties that existed at the time could be circumvented because the defendants were either foreign individuals or Argentine military commanders. In the early 2000s, the federal judge charged former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla and also requested the extradition of several other former dictators, including Augusto Pinochet and the former Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner. There were delays in the judicial and investigative process in Argentina, due to the context of impunity until the amnesty laws were overturned in 2005. Then the deferrals, due to the large numbers of trials for dictatorship crimes that resumed in 2006, and the trial only began in 2013.

The trial advances justice in new respects by tackling national and transnational human rights violations against 106 victims. The judges are investigating atrocities and perpetrators across multiple and overlapping jurisdictions: crimes perpetrated in Argentina by foreign operatives and Argentine agents, atrocities committed abroad by Argentine forces and their local counterparts as well as the transnational conspiracy of terror by South America’s dictatorships to perpetrate human rights violations. While other criminal prosecutions have established criminal responsibility for specific crimes, this trial, by examining illegal kidnappings and the circumstances surrounding them, aims to prove the actual existence of the Operation Condor network.

The trial is innovative in four respects vis-à-vis previous prosecutions in Argentina: it is the only one to have amongst its 21 defendants a foreigner, retired Uruguayan military officer Manuel Cordero. It addresses atrocities committed in the six countries that composed the Operation Condor network. It has a large number of foreign victims, including 48 Uruguayans and 22 Chileans. It uses the criminal charge of asociación ilicita (the establishment of a joint criminal conspiracy) to prosecute the transnational enterprise created to perpetrate crimes against humanity across borders. This specific charge is commonly utilised by domestic courts investigating cases relating to local criminal gangs or mafia groups; it has never been used for crimes committed during the dictatorship.

Automotores Orletti, the garage used as a clandestine detention centre during the dictatorship is closely connected to the Operation Condor trial (Photo via wikipedia)

Automotores Orletti, the garage used as a clandestine detention centre during the dictatorship is closely connected to the Operation Condor trial (Photo via wikipedia)

The Road Ahead

In less than a year’s time, the sentence in the trial will be known. It is too early to speculate on a sentence yet to come, but some preliminary evaluations can be attempted. Whatever the final verdict, the strategic importance of this trial cannot be underestimated.

This prosecution has played a key role in undermining the structure of impunity that existed in Argentina. The trial is truly unprecedented in its attempt to capture the complexity of repression in South America. It tackles domestic human rights violations but also transnational ones: it includes both Argentine and foreign victims, and there are Argentine perpetrators and foreign counterparts. It is the first time that a criminal court is probing the whole transnational terror network that existed in the region to enable cross-border repression of exiles and activists. The 106 cases are representative of the coordination of terror. Defendants are being prosecuted according to the criminal code not for establishing a domestic criminal conspiracy but an international one.

Activists and lawyers remain hopeful that the trial will have an impact on other countries in the region, especially those that lag behind in accountability for dictatorship crimes, such as Brazil and Uruguay. It is noteworthy that the Operation Condor trial began in Argentina just a few days after the Supreme Court of Justice in Uruguay released a very controversial and internationally criticised sentence regarding past human rights violations. In this context, a condemnatory verdict in the Operation Condor trial, where the majority of victims are Uruguayan citizens, may become a tool for local activists to mobilise on this issue and put pressure on the judiciary and the government to respond to myriad past crimes.

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 Human Rights, TOP STORY0 Comments

Mexico: Fears for Missing Students as Mass Grave Found in Guerrero

The state of Guerrero in Mexico (photo via WIkipedia)

The state of Guerrero in Mexico (photo via WIkipedia)

Authorities in the state of Guerrero have confirmed that 28 bodies have been found in mass graves near the city of Iguala, where dozens of students were reported missing after coming under attack last week.

Guerrero state prosecutor Iñaky Blanco said it would take weeks for the results of DNA tests to confirm if the bodies are those of some of the 43 students that remain ‘disappeared’ since 27th September.

However, he admitted that it was “probable” that some of the students were among the victims, who he said had been found murdered and badly-burned.

“According to the verdict from forensic specialists we can reveal that in the graves the bodies of the victims were laid on top of a bed of sticks and branches and then covered with a flammable substance such as diesel or petrol,” said Blanco.

Police Involvement

The graves were found on the outskirts of Iguala on Saturday, based on information given to police by several suspects with links to organised crime group “Guerreros Unidos”, who were detained after the attacks last week.

According to Blanco, two of the suspects confessed to murdering 17 of the students and dumping them in the mass grave on the instructions of a gang leader known as ‘El Chucky‘.

The investigation has also uncovered more information about members of the Iguala police force who were reportedly behind the attacks on the students on 26th and 27th September, including the city’s security director.

“The instruction [for the gang hitmen] to go to the site where the students were was given by the municipal public safety director Francisco Salgado Valladares, while the order to take the students away and kill them came from a subject nicknamed ‘El Chucky‘, leader of the ‘Guerreros Unidos’,” continued Blanco.

So far 30 people, including 22 police officers, have been arrested for the original attacks on students over a week ago.

Meanwhile, Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca, the focal point for protests by relatives of the student victims, is currently missing after taking a 30-day leave of absence to “facilitate the investigation.”

Abarca and the deputy head of security in Iguala, Felipe Flores, have been summoned to provide testimonies about the case but there whereabouts remain unknown.

No Impunity

Parents and friends of the missing students said that it was not yet a fact that the bodies belong to their loved ones, adding that they doubted the official version of events.

“We don’t believe any of the comments made by the public prosecutors. We still hope our children will return ok, because they were taken alive and they should be returned to us alive. This is a massacre that we cannot allow,” one father told news portal Milenio.com.

The parents said they did not trust the authorities to investigate the case properly and called for a protest march on 8th October.

Amid the confusion as the grisly discovery was made over the weekend, Reuters reported anonymous local officials as confirming that there were 34 bodies in the graves, six more than the number officially reported.

Meanwhile, President Enrique Peña Nieto today ordered his cabinet and national security institutions to find those responsible and bring them to justice.

“Like all Mexicans, as president I am deeply angered and dismayed by the information emerging over the weekend,” said Peña Nieto in an address to the media. “I am very upset by the violence of the actions, and especially because young students have been affected by it… Faced with this violence, there must not be even the tiniest room for impunity.”

This afternoon, local press are reporting that a contingent of the national gendarmerie is being directed to Iguala to take control of security and aid in the search for the missing students.

The National Commission for Human Rights and the UN High Commission for Human Rights in Mexico are also investigating the case for severe abuses, including extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances.

Attacks

The students, who had been fundraising in Iguala, were attacked on several occasions, reportedly by local police officers and unknown armed men, as their convoy travelled on the main highway leading out of the city.

In total, six people were killed – three students and three bystanders – and another 25 were injured in the incidents.

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

Argentina’s Pumas Maul The Wallabies in Mendoza

Argentina’s Pumas Maul The Wallabies in Mendoza

Argentina’s rugby team finally claimed their first victory in the Rugby Championship at the 18th attempt. The team, nicknamed ‘The Pumas’, achieved a massively morale-boosting 21-17 win over Australia in Mendoza’s Estadio Malvinas on Saturday evening.

The Pumas celebrate a memorable victory over Australia in Mendoza (Photo: Alfredo Ponce/ema/Télam)

The Pumas celebrate a memorable victory over Australia in Mendoza (Photo: Alfredo Ponce/ema/Télam)

The Pumas had to show all their nerve and courage to recover from a 14-0 deficit after the Wallabies had scored early tries through Tevita Kuridani and Scott Higginbotham. The stirring comeback started shortly before half-time when No 8, Leonardo Senatore touched down in the corner after a lengthy period of Argentine possession. A series of Nicolás Sánchez penalties reduced the arrears for the Pumas before winger Juan Imhoff scored a second and decisive try in the 53rd minute.

Daniel Hourcade’s side were forced to endure a nervy final ten minutes as Australia hit back, not least when Bernard Foley missed an eminently kickable penalty. However, the Pumas clung on to spark wild celebrations by both the team and crowd as referee Nigel Owens blew the final whistle. After the match, coach Hourcade said: “I’m full of emotion. We gave a huge effort and this win will give us huge encouragement.”

In truth, it was a victory that been brewing all season, Argentina’s third in the elite competition. After a disastrous 2013 campaign which cost coach Santiago Phelan his job, Daniel Hourcade and his technical team have built a real momentum, which saw the Pumas put in creditable performances home and away to New Zealand.

Leonardo Senatore sparks a comeback with a try shortly before half time (Photo: Alfredo Ponce/ema/Télam)

Leonardo Senatore sparks a comeback with a try shortly before half time (Photo: Alfredo Ponce/ema/Télam)

Earlier in the season the team had also restricted South Africa and Australia to single score victories, as a younger generation of players like Sánchez and Senatore have become pivotal to the side.

The next challenge for the Pumas is a European tour in November when they will face Scotland, France and Italy as part of the preparations for next year’s World Cup in England. The draw for that tournament has been kind to Argentina, pairing them with New Zealand, Tonga, Georgia and Namibia. This gives them a real opportunity to progress to the quarter finals, where they would likely meet the unpredictable French, and a repeat of 2007’s heroics, when the Pumas beat the hosts twice, is not out of the question.

As Hourcade says: “This isn’t just the end of the tournament, it’s the start of something. We have a lot of areas to improve on and many details to work on, but this showed that we’re on the right track and that’s important.”

Posted in Sport, TOP STORY0 Comments

Brazil Election: Rousseff to Face Neves in Presidential Run-Off

Dilma Rousseff (PT) and Aécio Neves (PSDB) will face off in a second round vote on 26th October (Photos via Wikipedia)

Dilma Rousseff (PT) and Aécio Neves (PSDB) will face off in a second round vote on 26th October (Photos via Wikipedia)

Incumbent Dilma Rousseff will face opposition candidate Aécio Neves (PSDB) in a second round run-off after failing to win more than 50% of the vote in yesterday’s presidential election.

Rousseff triumphed in the first round vote with 41.6%, while Neves, of the Social Democrat Party (PSDB), came second with 33.5%. In third place, with 21.3%, was the candidate for the Socialist Party (PSB) Marina Silva, a disappointing result for the environmentalist after polls had shown her to be on a par with Rousseff just a few weeks ago.

“We have another contest against the PSDB, who govern for a third of the population, abandoning those most in need,” said Rousseff speaking to supporters last night. “The Brazilian people don’t want to return to the ghosts of the past, those who bankrupted the country three times, with interest rates at 45%, massive unemployment, a squeeze on wages, and who never promoted policies to reduce inequality when they had the opportunity.”

Neves celebrated the result and set about encouraging supporters of Silva to join his campaign in the second round. “The victory today was for the people, a victory for change, and we will remain united,” declared the former governor of Minas Gerais state. “We have a generous project, and anyone who wants change can join it.”

Third-place Silva, meanwhile, said the results showed that “Brazil has clearly signalled that it is not happy with the status quo.” Silva criticised the “aggressive” PT campaign and said she would discuss with her party whether she would put her support behind either Rousseff or Neves in the second round.

After finishing third in 2010, Silva remained neutral for the run off.

Second Round Maths

Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) has triumphed against PSDB candidates in the last three presidential run-offs, with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva winning in 2002 and 2006 and Rousseff in 2010. However, Rousseff’s first round result is the lowest of any of these elections and sets up what could potentially be a close second round.

Rousseff received strongest support in the country’s northern states, a traditionally impoverished region that has benefited from PT’s social policies. Neves, meanwhile, performed best in Brazil’s agricultural heartlands in the south and west. He also enjoyed a near 20-point winning margin in the populous state of Sao Paulo, while Rousseff recorded modest victories in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.

The campaigns for the second round vote will likely centre on the worrying state of the economy and each candidate’s plans to recover from the current recession. Rousseff, who has been criticised for her administration’s economic policy by some analysts, pledged last night to listen to voters and ensure her second term was “better than the first”.

Neves, a centre-right candidate, is considered more business-friendly and is currently the market’s favourite. He has promised to recover confidence and investment in the economy, while stamping out the corruption that he says currently runs through government.

Regional Votes

Aside from choosing a president, the 115m people – 80.6% of the electorate – that turned out yesterday also voted for state governors and legislators at both a federal and regional level.

Governors were elected outright in the first round in 13 states, while 13 other states and the Federal District of Brasilia will require a second round run-off.

Among the major surprises in the gubernatorial races, opposition PT candidates triumphed in Bahia and for the first time in Minas Gerais, the country’s second most populous state and where Neves himself was governor from 2003-2010. PSDB incumbent and former presidential candidate Geraldo Alckmin comfortably won reelection as governor of Sao Paulo with 57.3% of the vote.

Meanwhile, in Rio de Janeiro, former footballer Romario won the race to become one of the state’s national senators with more than 60% support.

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

President Creates New Housing Secretariat to Urbanise 100 Villas

New Secretary for Housing Access Rubén_Pascolini (Photo via Presidencia)

New Secretary for Housing Access Rubén_Pascolini (Photo via Presidencia)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced yesterday the creation of a National Secretariat for Housing Access to support the urbanisation of informal shantytowns, or villas, around the country.

According to President Fernández, the new entity will not be involved in housing construction but will aim to ensure that “informal settlements are legally incorporated into the urban fold by providing access to property deeds.”

She added that the first task for the new secretary, Rubén Pascolini, would be the urbanisation of 100 shantytowns built on state lands, covering a total of around 400 blocks. Around 40 of the targeted settlements are in the province of Buenos Aires.

“The National Constitution and our deepest convictions tell us that every Argentine has the right to a piece of land on which they can build their home and their family can live with dignity,” added Fernández during a national tv address.

“We are going to work on inclusion and urban integration,” Pascolini told local press. “This will generate external benefits because when one neighbourhood improves, the whole context improves, and create social interaction.”

While there is no official national data on the number of villas in Argentina, a survey of seven key territories, including the country’s most important urban areas, by the NGO Techo in 2013 documented at least 1,834 settlements housing 532,800 families.

In the city of Buenos Aires, the number of people living in villas has risen dramatically over the last 20 years. Latest official estimates put the number at 275,000, up from 163,587 in 2010 and representing around 10% of the city population.

Earlier this year, the Corriente Villera Independiente, which groups representatives from all of the villas in the capital, staged a 53-day protest camp at the base of the obelisco to demand the urbanisation of the city’s villas by the municipal government. Almost two thirds of these were in the province of Buenos Aires.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Nicaragua: Environmental NGOs say Interoceanic Canal ‘Not Viable’

The chosen Nicaragua canal route (photo: laprensa.com.ni)

The chosen Nicaragua canal route (photo: laprensa.com.ni)

The 278km interoceanic canal to be constructed in Nicaragua is not viable or sustainable due to its environmental and social impact, according to a study conducted by a group of NGOs.

Grupo Cocibolca, which unites 12 environmental organisations, reported yesterday that the amount of water need to fill the canal represents more than half that currently available in underground systems, and could create shortages for the population. Furthermore, the canal will pass through Lake Nicaragua, the country’s largest freshwater lake, causing concern over contamination in a key source of drinking water.

In addition, the study finds that 59.4% of the canal route over land crosses native forest and indigenous territories, affecting an estimated 270 communities.

“The evaluation is that in its current guise, the canal project is not viable,” Víctor Campos, director of Centro Humboldt, one of the organisations involved, told AFP. “The environmental damage is too high relative to the benefits.”

“We must balance the interests of a few businessmen and those of thousands of Nicaraguan citizens,” added Rosario Sáenz Ruiz, director of Fundenic-SOS.

The report is the latest document to criticise the canal mega-project, just week before construction is set to begin in December. Danish NGO Forests of the World recently argued that the canal could “wreak havoc” on local forests and indigenous communities.

The NGO urged Danish shipping giant Maersk to pressure the government to ensure that “the indigenous peoples will be heard and measures be taken to protect the environment.”

Furthermore, in the last week hundreds of farmers have staged protests against the canal over fears that some of their land will be expropriated. The government said that it would pay a fair price for any land expropriated and that the canal would bring great economic benefits to the country.

The canal, to be built and operated by the Hong-Kong based development company HKND Group, will cost an estimated US$40bn and is expected to be completed by the end of the decade. When operational, an estimated 5,100 of the world’s largest cargo ships will be able to pass through the canal each year, representing approximate 5% of global cargo transport. Complementary projects are set to include a new international airport, a free trade zone, and new tourist complexes.

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

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On the 4th anniversary of the murder of political activist Mariano Ferreyra, we revisit Marc Rogers' 2011 article on the case.

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Magdalena's Party in Palermo

Magdalena’s Party has daily 2 x 1 Happy Hour specials til midnight, and the "best onda".
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