Tag Archive | "Argentina"

ARSAT-1 Satellite to be Launched Today


ARSAT-1 will launcxxx

ARSAT-1 (photo courtesy of Ministerio de Planificación)

Argentina’s first geostationary satellite ARSAT-1 will be launched at 6pm today from a base in French Guiana.

From orbit, the satellite will offer communication services to Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay, saving Argentina millions of dollars as the government will no longer have to rent expensive satellites from other countries.

Planning Minister, Julio de Vido, called today’s launch was “historic” and said that it highlighted the potential Argentina had in technology. He added that it would generate many jobs, and that next year the country planned on launching a second satellite for Latin America-wide communication.

ARSAT-1 – the first of three satellites – is the first satellite be designed, assembled, and tested in Latin America. ARSAT-2 and ARSAT-3 will also be developed Bariloche, in the Patagonian province of Río Negro. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner called them an example of “satellite sovereignty”.

Argentina is the first Latin American country to launch its own satellite, and joins a select group of eight countries that have developed such technology, including the US, Russia, China, Japan, India, Israel, and the EU.

The public will be able to watch the launch live on television as part of a presidential address today at 6pm.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups ArgentinaComments (0)

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.

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Book Review: The Militant Song Movement in Latin America


militant song“Without an understanding of the emotional component of political involvement it is impossible to fully understand a movement for social change such as the one operating in Latin America at that time. Without an account of how music was pervasively used in the construction of these emotional components, the political and social explanation of what occurred in Latin America during that period will be always inexcusably partial.”

Pablo Vila’s introduction to ‘The Militant Song Movement in Latin America: Chile, Uruguay and Argentina’ (Lexington Books, 2014) succinctly defines the complexities of a movement whose narration differs across the three countries discussed in the book.

The militant song, which emerged as a powerful movement from the 1950s until the mid 1970s, swiftly became an expression of “el pueblo” – the people. The political mobilisation of the masses, constructed upon the validation of subaltern experience and memory, incorporated traditional folklore, as well as the ramifications of poverty and social injustice. The triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 increased anti-colonial sentiment in Latin America and emphasised the importance of cultural dissemination which, in Cuba, was epitomised by its own variant of militant song known as “Nueva Trova Cubana”.

The book incorporates history and memory, as well as the processes that have constructed divergent forms of remembrance with regard to the militant song movement. While the militant song departed from common objectives – namely the repudiation of colonial and imperialist influences – the memory frameworks in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina differed following the brutal dictatorships and subsequent transitions towards a democratic framework.

Thus, while political mobilisation against oppression provided a common foundation in all three countries, the memory processes in the aftermath of their respective dictatorships reflected the variations in remembrance of the militant song. In Argentina, songs that nurtured the militant song yet lacked a militant element took precedence within the country’s collective memory. The de-politicisation of songs, aided by the emphasis upon aesthetics and poetry, became a characteristic of Uruguayan memory. On the other hand, militant song in Chile emerged as the strongest with regard to memory, owing to the dictatorship-imposed rupture on society.

La nueva canción chilena was the militant song movement that had a profound impact on Chilean society (Photo courtesy of Memoria Chilena)

La nueva canción chilena was the militant song movement that had a profound impact on Chilean society (Photo courtesy of Memoria Chilena)

Three phases characterise Uruguay’s militant song: the triumph and inspiration of the Cuban Revolution, cultural resistance to dictatorship, and the 1985 return to democracy. While the emphasis upon resistance to colonial influence and the incorporation of local traditions remained for a time, within a limited audience, exposure to the intellectual society and the international left by Daniel Viglietti aided dissemination. Viglietti, a radical Uruguayan singer who collaborated also with Chilean nueva canción musicians, stands out as the epitome of the militant song genre in Uruguay.

Uruguay’s militant song encouraged dialogue between the singer and the audience, placing value upon aesthetics and the literary quality of the songs as the primary means through which to combat dictatorship oppression. As the inspiration of “el pueblo” becomes a disseminated collective experience, political oppression is challenged through “simultaneous and complicit engagement”, according to Maria Figueredo. The prominence of aesthetics in Uruguay’s militant song, while failing to act as a deterrent for the exile of more radical singers such as Viglietti, enabled the manoeuvring and rewriting of songs in a manner that challenged authority within censorship restrictions. However, the shift in focus is also testimony to the later trend of depoliticisation, thus minimising remembrance of Uruguayan militant song and its fusion with politics.

Atahualpa Yupanqui, pioneer of the militant song movement in Argentina is considered to have vindicated previously inaccessible social commentary departing from the subaltern and the consciousness of the indigenous, marginalised for a long time by successive governments. A reflection also of the silence imposed upon the indigenous, Yupanqui’s militant song is immediately distanced from the “hegemonic collective imaginary”, particularly with regard to the song “El arriero va”, which is considered to be the first song endorsing critical commentary about social conditions in 1944.

As Carlos Molinero and Pablo Vila state in their chapter, the recognition of difference from within strikes the first challenge against the hegemony, thus bringing social inclusion of the masses to the fore. This also aided in the expansion and exploration of socio-political themes by other singers such as Mercedes Sosa, thus making the change from political representation to using song as a political weapon. With the singer as protagonist, the song is allowed the freedom to become the epitome of struggle – one particular reference and inspiration for the genre being Che Guevara’s utopian metaphor of the “new man”.

However, unlike the continuous experience of Chile, Argentine militant song was less widespread – a fact reflected in the remembrance of non-militant repertoire that nurtured the movement, rather than an affinity to militant song itself. For example, despite its lack of militant content, “Gracias a la Vida”, authored by Chilean nueva canción pioneer Violeta Parra but mostly associated with Mercedes Sosa, remains at the helm of Argentine remembrance of the genre.

A mural for Victor Jara in Santiago, Chile (photo: Wikipedia)

A mural for Victor Jara, one of the leading singers in Chile’s militant song movement, in Santiago. (photo: Wikipedia)

Chile, on the contrary, remains the embodiment of militant song. ‘La nueva canción Chilena’, incorporated within Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular campaign, was an active movement of political mobilisation and consciousness that rendered the masses participants in political events. Vehemently shunning commercial snares, the nueva canción movement proved formidable in countering imperialist culture at a time when Chilean society was riddled with turbulence, military violence and the resonating clamour for social change. Nueva canción artists willingly pledged their support to Allende’s campaign, with groups and singers such as Inti Illimani and Victor Jara becoming deeply involved the process of rendering the song a viable political vehicle.

Perhaps the most poignant of all was the composition of ‘El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido’ (The people united, will never be defeated’) in August 1973 by Sergio Ortega and Quilapayun, just a few weeks prior to the brutal US-backed military coup led by General Pinochet. The immense inspiration generated by the movement led to the detention and torture of several nueva canción singers such as Angel Parra and Victor Jara – the latter being brutally tortured and murdered in the aftermath of the coup. Other singers and groups, such as Patricio Manns and Inti Illimani, were forced into exile. Records pertaining to the nueva canción movement were destroyed along with other material that reflected the mobilisation of the subaltern, such as literature and indigenous instruments. The fusion of militant song with politics in Chile remains evident – particularly in the ongoing battle for memory and the challenging of dictatorship oblivion – a characteristic that is still enshrined in Chile despite the return to democracy.

Drawing upon valuable historical resources, interviews and a vast repertoire of songs, the book is a valuable reference that highlights not only the role of the singers in this enduring movement, but also the political dimension that is allowed to preserve its emotive aspect. A movement that “has outlived the historical conditions that engendered them,” as Nancy Morris states in her contribution, the relevance of the militant song, epitomised in particular by the Chilean experience of memory in relation to the epoch, needs a constant regeneration to avoid the pitfalls of the political periphery.

The Militant Song Movement in Latin America: Chile, Uruguay and Argentina‘ (Lexington Books, 2014)

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Dams and Deforestation: The Human Contribution to Natural Disasters


As the southern hemisphere Spring approaches, widespread areas of the Río de la Plata basin are still picking up the pieces after suffering a winter of heavy flooding. During June and July, at least 360,000 people in southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay were evacuated after several of the region’s major rivers broke their banks, causing some of the worst floods in decades.

Disaster hit after heavy downpours in June around the triple border between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay – an area already soaked by months of unseasonably high rainfall – caused a surge in the region’s key tributaries.

The town of El Soberbio, in Misiones province, was hit hard by flooding after the Uruguay River burst its banks (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

The town of El Soberbio, in Misiones province, was hit hard by flooding after the Uruguay River burst its banks (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

Over 190 municipalities in southern Brazil declared a state of emergency as the Paraná, Iguazú, and Uruguay rivers overflowed, killing a dozen people and affecting around 50,000 more. In Paraguay, the country worst affected, a quarter of a million people were displaced along the banks of its eponymous river, which cuts 537km from north to south. This included 88,000 from mainly impoverished and informal riverside settlements in the capital Asunción, where many remain in temporary shelters today. Finally, as the swell moved downstream towards the Río de la Plata, thousands more were evacuated in Argentina’s north-eastern provinces and, to a lesser extent, parts of Uruguay.

Though the emergency situation has now eased after a relatively dry and warm August for much of the region, thousands of families remain stranded after their riverside homes were destroyed. And with river levels still well above normal in many areas, the full extent of the damage to infrastructure, livestock and crops has not yet been calculated.

More Prone

A wet autumn and freakish storms in June – some areas received more than three times the average monthly rainfall in just a few days – are widely accepted as the principal cause of the recent floods. However, several NGOs and environmental groups say it is human activity – namely rampant deforestation and the construction of huge hydroelectric dams on major rivers – that has left the region more prone to devastating floods when such rainfalls occurs.

“The jungle acts like a sponge,” explains Manuel Jaramillo, investigator at Fundación Vida Silvestre. “Water that hits leaves on a tree 20 or 30 metres off the ground trickles more slowly down branches and trunks and can filter into the ground. If the earth is bare, or cultivated year round – as is the case mainly with soy – it is quickly saturated with rainwater, which then runs into streams and rivers.”

The Atlantic Forest in Alto Paraná (Photo courtesy of WWF Paraguay)

The Atlantic Forest in Alto Paraná (Photo courtesy of WWF Paraguay)

According to Vida Silvestre, the Bosque Atlántico, or Atlantic Forest (also known as the Selva Paranaense or Mata Atlantico), once covered an estimated 500,000km2 of land in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. After decades of unchecked deforestation, mainly to clear land for soy production and cattle ranching, only around 7% of the original forest remains today. Not only does this make the area less absorbent and more vulnerable to landslides, but the excess run-off also carries top soil and sediment into the rivers, adding to the overall increase in water levels.

Concerns over the environmental impact of human intervention in forests and rivers are not new, says Hernán Giardini, coordinator of Greenpeace Argentina’s Forests campaign. Yet little has been done so far to control them.

“Deforestation in important river basins has repeatedly caused flooding in Argentina,” he says. “There was Tartagal [in Salta] in 2009, and in Santa Fe in 2007, where the local university reported a direct link with deforestation in the north of the province. These incidents keep on occurring, and we argue that they are not just down to natural causes but have been influenced by man.

“It is not about a lack of scientific information, but of political will.”

The Agri-Boom

The expansion of the agricultural sector has been a feature of economic development in the Southern Cone countries in recent decades. Driven by elevated market prices and the proliferation of genetically modified seeds, the territory used to plant soy has doubled in Argentina since the turn of the century, with Paraguay and Brazil experiencing a similar story.

Seduced by rising export revenues and pressured by a powerful lobby, governments in the area have shown little appetite to place stringent restrictions on the large agribusinesses that dominate the sector.

“The three countries see in investment in agricultural and livestock a means of development for a poor region, but in reality this implies serious environmental and social problems. It’s a problem because the same countries favour greater production by any means, even at the cost of the trees and the people that live there,” says Giardini.

Illegal deforestation in Salta (Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Argentina)

Illegal deforestation in Salta (Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Argentina)

There has been new legislation introduced in the last decade to protect native forests: figures show that the 2009 ‘Forest Law‘ in Argentina and to a lesser the 2004 ‘Zero Deforestation Law’ in Paraguay have had a significant impact in slowing the rate of deforestation in some areas, especially in the Bosque Atlántico, though Jaramillo notes that this is also partly due to there being so little forest left.

Moreover, even when improvements are made in some territories, they are often undermined by limited scope or weak enforcement. In Paraguay, the Zero Deforestation Law applies only to the eastern part of the country, where WWF Paraguay says it has reduced deforestation by as much as 90%. In the west, however, deforestation in the Gran Chaco forest remains among the highest in the world, with 236,000 hectares cleared last year alone, according to Guyra, a private, non-profit environmental organisation.

In Argentina, too, the progress has been uneven. Earlier this year, Greenpeace Argentina launched a new campaign denouncing the provincial governor of Salta for issuing decrees that would allow the deforestation of 120,000 hectares in territory protected by the national Forest Law. Greenpeace says around 400,000 hectares of the Gran Chaco forest have already been cleared since the law was approved in 2009. “There is a clear decision at the provincial level not to comply with the law, and a clear decision by the national government not to pressure the regional authorities to do so,” says Giardini.

Dam Politics

The other major man-made contribution of increased flood risks, according to environmental groups, are the large hydroelectric dams that line major rivers. Together, the Iguazú and Uruguay Rivers have nearly a dozen large-scale dams either in operation or under construction, having a major impact on the natural water flow.

According to Jaramillo, who is based in Misiones, after the heavy rains in June led to rising water levels in dam reservoirs, the energy companies were obliged to open their flood gates to prevent damage, sending a surge of water that can have devastating consequences further downstream. It was this that led to water smashing a new dam under construction (Baixo Iguazú), causing the Iguazú river swell to 37 times its normal volume and forcing authorities to close access to the Iguazú Falls for several days.

“There are many issues that result in the dams having a negative impact on the local population, even if they are not directly responsible for the flooding,” says Jaramillo. This includes the creation of massive reservoirs in forested areas: building one of the world’s largest dams, Itaipú, on the Paraná River involved flooding an area of 1350km2. “Changing the surface of the earth from one that can absorb water to one that contains water itself has a big effect [on drainage].”

The debate over the environmental impact of hydroelectric dams, which ostensibly represent a clean and renewable source of energy, is arguably even more contentious. In the search for energy self-sufficiency without carbon emissions, many South American countries have turned to large hydroelectric power projects, accepting the environmental and social impact on local wildlife and communities that are displaced by reservoirs.

Paraguay already generates enough hydroelectric power to satisfy its entire energy needs through its huge bi-national dams with Brazil (Itaipú) and Argentina (Yacyretá), both of which lie on the Paraná River. Meanwhile, Brazil and Argentina are moving forward with projects for two dams (Garabí and Panambí) on the Uruguay River, dams that Jaramillo says would have made the recent flooding much worse by slowing the discharge of excess water towards the Río de la Plata.

Even aside from environmental concerns, recent research suggests that these mega projects are not even a viable economic solution for developing countries. A data study published earlier this year by Oxford University revealed that building large dams typically take nearly a decade with cost overruns of around 90%. The report highlights that the Itaipú Dam, one of the largest in the world, cost 240% more than budgeted, while Yacyretá took nearly three decades to complete and was shrouded in so many murky political and business dealings that it became known as “a monument to corruption”.

It can take decades of full operation for these dams to recover the initial outlay, during which time the project remains vulnerable to economic or political crises that affect energy markets. The economic life of a dam can also be cut short if excess sediment carried in rivers – itself a symptom of deforestation – gradually fills up the reservoir and reduces the dam’s capacity to generate energy over time.

The Itaipú Dam from the air. Recent research from Oxford University claims the dam, one of the biggest in the world, may never recover the full costs of its construction. (Photo via Wikipedia)

The Itaipú Dam from the air. Recent research from Oxford University claims the dam, one of the biggest in the world, will never recover the full costs of its construction (Photo via Wikipedia)

Though Yacyretá now produces around 20% of Argentina’s electricity needs, Jaramillo says the communities in Misiones most affected by the dam’s haphazard construction do not see the benefits because the energy generated is not suitable for the local power infrastructure.

“The energy produced by flooding rivers in Misiones goes to feed cities like Rosario or Buenos Aires,” he says. “It would be more logical and useful for the development of the local economy to use smaller hydro projects to generate energy for local residents and industry but without affecting large areas of land or involving astronomical constructions.”

Preparing for the Future

According to forecasts from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), rainfall anomalies (positive or negative) will be larger for tropical areas of Latin America, while the frequency and intensity of weather extremes is likely to increase. The region is already bracing itself for the possibility of an El Niño event later this year, which meteorologists say could lead to above-average rainfall and accentuate the threat of extreme downpours in the Spring and Summer months.

A man uses a boat to travel around his neighbourhood in El Soberbio, Misiones (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

A man uses a boat to travel around his neighbourhood in El Soberbio, Misiones (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

As the probability of recurring natural disasters like flooding and landslides rises, considering how human activity can exacerbate the damages caused has never been more important. Even more so as Argentina plans to increase its output of grains by 60% before the end of the decade, a programme that Greenpeace’s Giardini says could further undermine the Forest Law.

Moreover, estimated 412 large dams are planned or under construction in the Amazon basin alone, according to a report released in Lima a few months ago. The study concluded that this “hydroelectric experiment on a continental scale” could lead to the “end of free-flowing rivers” and “ecosystem collapse”.

“It’s a big challenge,” says Jaramillo, who nevertheless remains optimistic. “A lot of forest cover has been lost, but we have managed to reduce the rate of deforestation and create more awareness. The challenge now is to work closely with the political sector.

“We believe it is still possible to revert the situation, so that in 50 or 100 years the Bosque Atlántico still exists and society learns to live in harmony with the forests while also obtaining the necessary resources for genuinely sustainable development.”

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Argentina Goes to The Hague over Vulture Funds


The International Court of Justice in the Hague is the world's highest court (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The International Court of Justice in the Hague is the world’s highest court (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Argentina has presented documentations to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, petitioning that a case be opened against the United States for its handling of the vulture funds case.

Argentina’s government blames US Judge Thomas Griesa, who froze a payment of US$539m that Argentina made to a group of bondholders who had restructured their debt, for driving the country into a technical default. The government has said that this decision by Griesa was not impartial, and benefitted the holdouts, or so-called vulture funds.

“The Republic of Argentina argues that the United States of America has violated the sovereignty and immunity of Argentina as a result of judicial decisions adopted by US courts which are related to the restructuring of the country’s public debt,” said a ICJ communiqué.

However, the court has said that it will not be able to take any action unless the US accepts the jurisdiction of the ICJ in the case, something that is unlikely.

Today’s announcement follow a series of smaller developments in recent days, since last week’s technical default.

On Monday, National Securities Commission president, Alejandro Vanoli, said that the organisation would present a formal request for information from the US Securities Exchange Commission.

And yesterday, Judge Griesa ratified an earlier decision to freeze the US$539m payment in Bank of New York Mellon, which was deposited by the Argentine government at the end of June in an attempt to pay the bondholders who had restructured their debts.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups ArgentinaComments (7)

Bolivia to Investigate Pilcomayo River Pollution


Pilcomayo River (image: Wikipedia)

The Pilcomayo River (highlighted) is part of the Río de la Plata basin (image: Wikipedia)

The Bolivian Public Prosecutor’s Office has announced that a prosecutor specialised in environmental issues will be appointed to investigate and bring to court those responsible for the collapse of a tailing dam that polluted the Pilcomayo River last week.

The incident occurred on 10th July in the district of Potosí, when the tailing dam of a mine owned by mining company Santiago Apóstol burst, dumping residues from a lead, silver, and zinc mine into the river. A report confirmed high levels of pollution from toxic substances such as sodium, iron, chromium, and magnesium.

Provincial prosecutor José Luis Ríos said that “the company did not comply with environmental laws. The dam didn’t even have a protective geomembrane, which ended up producing the collapse of the dam that contained toxic residues.” As a first measure, Ríos ordered that all the mine’s activities be suspended.

The Environmennt and Mother Earth Secretary of the district of Chuquisaca, Eddy Carvajal, informed that “mining company Santiago Apóstol does not hold an environmental licence, and neither do other mining companies and cooperatives,” whilst the inter-institutional commission in defence of the Pilcomayo River stated that as many as 80% of mining companies and cooperatives from the municipality of Tacobamba, Potosí, do not hold environmental licences.

The Pilcomayo River, which goes through the districts of Potosí, Chuquisaca, and Tarija in Bolivia, is also shared with neighbouring Paraguay and Argentina. The Paraguayan Foreign Affairs Ministry, currently presiding the Tri-national Pilcomayo River Commission, has requested its embassy in La Paz to provide a report on the river’s situation. Didier Olmedo, Foreign Trade Secretary at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, also said they were considering sending experts from the Commission to the affected site.

A Bolivian delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde will provide information on the incident to the Argentine and Paraguayan governments in a meeting in Buenos Aires next week.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Indy Eye: Thousands Celebrate Despite Argentina’s World Cup Final Loss


Tens of thousands took to the streets last night to celebrate Argentina making it to the World Cup final for the first time in 24 years. Despite losing 1-0 to Germany in extra time, festivities went on into the early hours in public plazas around the country. However, in Buenos Aires, despite the mostly peaceful gatherings, at the Obelisco the celebrations ended violently after groups clashed with police. Around 120 people have been detained.

This morning, hundreds of people turned out to greet the squad upon their return to Argentina, and various kilometres of cars packed the streets around Ezeiza international airport and the Argentine Football Association terrain, where the players went after landing. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner travelled to the AFA site to meet with the players in an official ceremony.

Foto: Alejandro Amdan/enviado especial/Télam/lz

Argentina’s hopes lay on the shoulders of these 11 men (Photo: Alejandro Amdan/enviado especial/Télam/lz)

 

Vecinos de la Villa 31 palpitaron la final de la Copa Mundial 2014 en la calle, donde se instaló una pantalla gigante. Foto: José Romero/Télam/dsl

Thousands turned out to watch the final on giant screens in public plazas around the country, such as this one in Villa 31 (Photo: José Romero/Télam/dsl)

 

Foto: Juan Roleri/enviado especial/Télam/cf

Many were inconsolable at Argentina’s extra time defeat to Germany (Photo: Juan Roleri/enviado especial/Télam/cf)

 

Foto: Juan Roleri/enviado especial/Télam/cf

But Argentina’s star striker Lionel Messi won the tournament’s ‘Golden Ball’ (Photo: Juan Roleri/enviado especial/Télam/cf)

 

Foto: Pepe Delloro/Telam/cf

Although that wasn’t enough for some, like this girl in Neuquén (Photo: Pepe Delloro/Telam/cf)

 

 Foto: Osvaldo Fanton/Télam/dsl

Thousands headed to Buenos Aires Obelisco despite the loss, to celebrate Argentina making it to the final for the first time in 24 years (Photo: Osvaldo Fanton/Télam/dsl)

 

Foto: Alejandro Santa Cruz/Télam/dsl

Celebrations continued into the early hours, in a carnival-like atmosphere (Photo: Alejandro Santa Cruz/Télam/dsl)

 

Foto:Víctor Carreira/Télam/dsl

And whilst the real cup will be heading to Germany, some took the chance to pose with this giant model (Photo: Víctor Carreira/Télam/dsl)

 

Foto: José Romero/Télam/ddc

This morning fans flocked to Ezeiza to greet the national squad upon their return (Photo: José Romero/Télam/ddc)

 

Foto: Leonardo Zavattaro/Télam/lz

Star players Messi, Lavezzi, Demichelis, and Mascherano touch down in Argentina (Photo: Leonardo Zavattaro/Télam/lz)

 

Thousans lined the steets to wait for the team's bus to pass (Photo: José Romero/Télam/ddc)

A multitude lined the steets to wait for the team’s bus to pass (Photo: José Romero/Télam/ddc)

 

Foto: Presidencia/Télam/dsl

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner with the national team (Photo: Presidencia/Télam/dsl)

 

Posted in Photoessay, Sport, TOP STORYComments (6)

Brazil: Environmentalists link Deforestation to Flooding


Map shows how the Bosque Atlantico has shrunk over the past decades (image courtesy of Fundación Vida Silvestre)

Map shows how the Bosque Atlantico has shrunk over the past decades (image courtesy of Fundación Vida Silvestre)

Environmental NGOs have publicly denounced the high levels of deforestation in Paraguay, Brazil, and north-east Argentina as being the principal cause of the devastating flooding in the region.

Nine people have died and thousands have been evacuated as a result of the floods, and a state of emergency has been declared in the south of Brazil.

Greenpeace and Fundación Vida Silvestre have pinpointed the loss of the native Bosque Atlántico and shift towards industrialised agriculture as being behind the high levels of water in the Paraná and Iguazú rivers.

Hernán Giardini, coordinator of Greenpeace Argentina’s Forests campaign, said: “Woods and rainforests, as well as being packed with biodiversity, play a fundamental role in climate regulation, the maintenance of sources and flows of water, and the conservation of the ground. They are our natural sponge and protective umbrella. When we lose the forests we become more vulnerable in the face of rains and we run serious risks of flooding.”

Whilst heavy rains are common in the region, four months’ worth of rainfall has fallen over the past few days, a phenomenon that has been linked to climate change. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that extreme weather phenomenons, such as increased rainfall, drought, and hurricanes, can be attributed to climate change, and the advance of the agricultural frontier, which has stripped the previously forested region bare, has increased the effects of these heavier rains.

On the Argentine side of the border, just 7% of the original 2m hectares of forest remain, whilst in Paraguay and Brazil the forest has been practically destroyed. The forest, located mostly in the province of Misiones, with a small part in the north of Corrientes, is one of the most biodiverse regions in Argentina, with over 550 species of birds, 120 mammals, 80 reptiles, 55 amphibians, and 200 fish. More than 200 tree species are also registered. 

 

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Argentina Invited to Join July BRICS Summit


Foreign Affairs Minister Héctor Timerman (photo courtesy of Casa Rosada)

The announcement came after ForeignMinister Héctor Timerman met with his Russian counterpart (photo courtesy of Casa Rosada)

Argentina has been invited to join the sixth Brics Summit, due to take place in July in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza. The country will join the bloc of major emerging economies, made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

The news was released by Russia after a meeting between the country’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Argentine counterpart Héctor Timerman, which saw the ministers sign a joint declaration on the non-proliferation of arms in outer space.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is currently the only non-bloc head of state who will attend the summit, and some analysts believe this is the latest indication that there is interest in Argentina joining the group, who between them are responsible for a quarter of the world’s economy.

China also recently announced a state visit to Buenos Aires in July.

The Casa Rosada responded to the news as being “a new sign that the country is not isolated from the world, but ever more and ever better integrated”.

 

 

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups ArgentinaComments (0)

Government Reaches Debt Agreement with Paris Club


Economy Minister Axel Kicillof  (photo: Florencia Downes/Telam/dsl)

Economy Minister Axel Kicillof led the negotiations for Argentina (photo: Florencia Downes/Telam/dsl)

After months of negotiation, the government and the Paris Club yesterday reached an agreement over the repayment of Argentina’s US$9.7bn debt owed to the group. The deal will see the amount repaid in full in installments over the next five years.

Economy Minister Axel Kicillof met with the Paris Club leader Ramón Fernández in France to finalise the debt agreement. After the meeting, Kicillof hailed the historic deal, which is seen as a victory for Argentina, as closing a “sad chapter” in the country’s history.

The first payment, of US$650m, will be made in July, with the second payment of US$500m due in May 2015. The remaining debt installments will be managed by the government voted in at next year’s elections.

Interest has been set at 3%, and if Argentina fails to fully repay the debt over the five-year period, it the option of extending repayments for a further two years, with additional interest. The deal also allows for higher interest rates if the creditor nations invest in Argentina.

“Realisation of an initial payment under a formal commitment of Argentina to fully clear its arrears is a necessary and important step for the normalisation of financial relationships between Paris Club creditors and Argentina,” the Paris Club said.

“During the meeting, the delegation of the Argentine Republic provided a description of the economic and financial situation of its country and presented the measures implemented by the Argentine government aimed at enhancing inclusive growth and strengthening resilience to external shocks.”

The agreement allows for credit agencies from Paris Club member countries to resume doing business with Argentina, which is seeking foreign investment to develop its oil and gas industry. Referring to the deal, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said on Twitter: “The financing we will obtain will not be, as in previous decades, for the financial casino. It will be for infrastructure, development, technology, and all Argentines.”

News of the deal has been welcomed in Argentine markets, with the Merval rising 2.2% after opening today.

Germany is Argentina’s biggest Paris Club creditor with about 30% of the outstanding debt, followed by Japan with about 25%. Other debt holders include the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, and the US.

 

 

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups ArgentinaComments (0)

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On the 4th anniversary of the death of former president Néstor Kirchner, we revisit Marc Rogers' 2011 article analysing his legacy.

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