Tag Archive | "bolivia"

Bolivia: Opposition Parties Gain Ground in Regional Elections

Soledad Chapetón, mayor-elect of El Alto, La Paz (photo: Soledad Chapetón on Facebook)

Soledad Chapetón, mayor-elect of El Alto, La Paz (photo: Soledad Chapetón on Facebook)

Bolivia’s governing Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party won four of Bolivia’s nine departments in Sunday’s election, but lost ground to opposition parties.

According to preliminary results from yesterday’s election, MAS candidates won the majority of elections for governor in four of Bolivia’s nine departments, lost in three, and run-offs are expected in two departments.

Regions in which MAS maintained an undisputed majority for governor include Cochabamba with 60.3%, Oruro with 54.5%, Potosí with 56%, and Pando with 65.6% of the vote. In the regions of Chuquisaca and Beni, MAS candidates won for governor with 47.5% and 39%, respectively, but these results did not guarantee their victory because of the required minimum 10% difference between the winner and the subsequent candidate. Once the results are officially confirmed, run-offs will take place on 3rd May.

As expected, opposition parties have maintained power in the departments of Santa Cruz and Tarija. Rubén Costas of the Movimiento Demócrata Social was re-elected as governor with 59.3% of the vote in Santa Cruz, whilst Adrián Oliva of the Unidad Departamental Autonomista beat out Pablo Caneda (MAS) in Tarija with 46.4% of the vote.

In La Paz, former Education Minister and MAS dissident Félix Patzi won the governorship -currently held by MAS- with 52% of the vote, beating government candidate Felipa Huanca.

MAS also lost the mayoral office of El Alto, a traditional stronghold for the party. Preliminary results show that Unidad Nacional (UN) party’s Soledad Chapetón won with 51.5% of the votes, while MAS candidate Edgar Patana received 20.6%.

“We are the opportunity for Bolivia, we feel the people’s affection,” declared Chapetón upon receiving results. Opposition parties have also won elections for mayor in Cochabamba, Oruro, Tarija, Santa Cruz, and Trinidad.

While official results have yet to be confirmed, the elections show an overall slide in the governmental influence of MAS in the country on a regional level. Despite the slide, MAS continues to be the primary political power.


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Bolivia: President Morales Plans Referendum to Reform Judiciary

President Evo Morales (photo courtesy of Bolivian government)

President Evo Morales (photo courtesy of Bolivian government)

Bolivian President Evo Morales has called for a national referendum to implement a reform of the country’s judiciary.

Speaking yesterday at the opening of the new year’s activities at the Public Ministry, Morales said that a referendum was the best option for reform in a “slow and corrupt” judiciary.

“Let the people define in a referendum a deep revolution in the Bolivian judiciary,” said Morales. “If there needs to be a constitutional reform, then it must be via a referendum.”

Morales accepted that the previous efforts at reforms, including the introduction in 2011 of a popular vote for key positions in the justice system, had failed to have an impact.

“I was confident that [judicial] authorities elected by the people would serve the people. We were watched by the international community, and we were satisfied with how it would change the judiciary. However, so far nothing has changed and according to the information we have, some things have worsened.”

Morales said that some of the possible changes to be put forward in a consultation process with legal experts included the introduction of sworn declarations of wealth for judges and tougher sanctions for lawyers that commit “mistakes or crimes”.

The opposition criticised the proposal, saying it demonstrated the failure of the government’s previous reforms.

Morales will be sworn in for a third presidential term on 22nd January after a landslide victory in October’s elections.

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Cuba: Highest Investment in Education in the World

Cuban school children (photo: Wikipedia)

Cuban school children (photo: Wikipedia)

According to a new report by the World Bank, Cuba spends 13% of its GDP on education, a figure that marks the highest investment in the sector in the world. The report follows findings from earlier this year that noted that the country had the highest literacy rate in the region.

Bolivia and Venezuela are the next countries in the region with 6.9% of their GDP going towards the sector, placing them joint 9th in the world rankings. The regional average for Latin America is 5.5% of GDP.

The report highlighted the increase in investment in the sector by Bolivia, which has increased between 2009 and 2013 to a tune of 319% in starter education, 105% in primary, and 306% in secondary. This represents a new record of US$2.3bn.

Bolivian president Evo Morales responded to the country’s ranking during his 2014 annual review of government, saying: “Those of us who have the responsibility of running the country are very encouraged, and such recognition by international organisations is very good.”

Venezuela ends the year with a record number of students, with 10.5m enrolled (of a population of 30m) in education overall, including a record 96% of children completing primary education. There are also a record 2.6m students in higher education, an increase of 294% from 2000. This is the largest number in the country’s history, and the fifth highest rate globally.

The investment in education is part of a larger social plan, recently dubbed a ‘Knowledge Revolution’ by President Nicolás Maduro. Policies to achieve these advances include the establishment of new educational “mission” programs, the foundation of new universities, reinforcing the free nature of higher education, with over 200,000 people awarded grants to study, and the provision of free school meals, textbooks, and laptops to schoolchildren.

Earlier this year the country undertook a national consultation for quality in education, in which more than seven million Venezuelans participated, among them teachers, students, parents, and social movements, to define the bases of education policy for the next ten years.

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The Indy Guide to October’s Elections in South America

October is set to be a decisive month in South American politics, with more than 150m people in Brazil, Bolivia, and Uruguay set to cast their vote in presidential and legislative elections. While the vote is something of a formality for the supremely popular Bolivian leader Evo Morales, the contests in Brazil and Uruguay are set to be decided in tight, second round run-offs.

Here we provide a quick guide to the elections in each country, including a look at the key candidates and campaign issues.


BRAZIL: 5th October

What: General Elections to choose president, national congress, state governors, and state legislatures.
Run-off: If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote in presidential and gubernatorial races, a run-off will be held on 26th October.
Term: New president will be sworn in on 1st January 2015, members of congress on 1st February 2015.

South America’s largest country goes to the polls amid an economic downturn that has sparked growing criticism of incumbent Dilma Rousseff, now seeking a second term. Rousseff remains favourite, but renewed competition from environmentalist Marina Silva could lead to a tense run-off at the end of the month.


640px-Dilma_Rousseff_-_foto_oficial_2011-01-09Dilma Rousseff, Worker’s Party (PT)
VP: Michel Temer (PMDB)
Coalition: With the strength of the people
Current ranking in the polls: 38%

Incumbent Dilma Rousseff, 66, Brazil’s first female president, is running for re-election. Rousseff became a socialist during her youth and under the military dictatorship she was captured and jailed between 1970 and 1972, and was reportedly tortured. She was one of the founders of the Democratic Labour Party (PDT) in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, and worked her way up the ranks to become state Energy Secretary. In 2000, after an internal PDT dispute, Rousseff deflected to the Worker’s Party (PT). In 2002, Rousseff joined the committee responsible for the energy policy of presidential candidate Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva, who, after winning the election, invited her to become Energy Minister. In 2005 she became Lula’s Chief of Staff, a post she held until 2010 when she resigned to run for president, winning in the second round.

Rousseff has continued many of Lula’s social policies, and until mid-2013 had popularity ratings equal to that of her predecessor, regularly topping 80%. However, in June last year things changed when over a million people took to the streets to vent anger at the escalating prices of public services and corruption among politicians, as well as what was seen to be excessive spending on the stadiums for this year’s football World Cup.

Under Rousseff the country’s growth has slowed down, largely due to the impacts of the global economic downturn, but also, according to some analysts, due to policies that her administration has implemented, and her “economic micromanaging”. Brazil is currently in a recession, although unemployment remains historically low at 4.9% and household incomes have managed to keep up with the high inflation. However, it is thought that were Rousseff to win re-election she would not encourage confidence in foreign investors, which could affect the country’s long-term growth.

Marina_Silva2010Marina Silva, Brazilian Socialist Part (PSB)
VP: Beto Albuquerque (PSB)
Coalition: United for Brazil
Current ranking in the polls: 29%

Marina Silva, 56, only officially became the PSB candidate six weeks ago, after the original PSB candidate, Eduardo Campos, was killed in a plane crash in Santos on 13th August and Silva, who had been Campos’ running mate, was chosen to succeed him.

Silva is as known for her background as an environmentalist as she is a politician. Growing up in the Brazilian Amazon, Silva comes from humble origins, and only learned to read and write at the age of 16. She was a colleague of activist Chico Mendes, who was killed for defending the rainforest in 1988, around the time Silva became a member of the Worker’s Party (PT), a membership she continued until 2009. She served as former president Lula’s Environment Minister from 2003, but frequently clashed with then Energy Minister Dilma Rousseff, and resigned in 2008. In 2010 Silva ran for president as a Green Party candidate, obtaining 19.4% of the votes, the highest ever figure for a Green Party candidate, far exceeding expectations. In 2013, she attempted to create new party Sustainability Network, but after failing to gather the required number of signatures to create the party, she changed her affiliation to the PSB. In April, Campos named her as his running mate.

The PSB is traditionally a centrist party with market sympathies, and Silva had to work hard when inheriting the ticket to convince the party’s traditional base that she wasn’t a radical reformist. She has outlined a market-friendly plan that both businesses on the ground in Brazil as well as foreign investors believe will spur productivity and encourage investment, both of which have tailed off under Rousseff. Silva has also said she would reinstate fuel tax and allow more fluctuation in prices of things that are currently regulated. She would also give the central bank more independence, and her policies underscore an ideology of fiscal rectitude, tax reform, and more robust inflation-targeting. Socially, Silvia is seen to be conservative – due to her religious faith, she retracted Campos’ support for gay marriage, although her campaign has since come out to say she is a supporter of LGBT rights and human rights in general. Her posture has led Rousseff to claim she is continually switching sides and affiliations, something which could prove to be her Achilles’ heel.

Aécio_Neves_2014-02-20Aécio Neves, Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB)
VP: Aloysio Nunes
Coalition: Change, Brazil
Current ranking in the polls: 18%

Economist and politician, Aécio Neves, 54, is currently a senator representing Minas Gerais state. Since entering politics in the 1980s, he has only been defeated once, when he ran for mayor of Belo Horizonte in 1992. He was elected four times to Brazil’s lower house between 1987 and 2002, before becoming governor of Minas Gerais from 2003-2010, the first to be elected outright in the first round and also the youngest in the state’s history. As governor, Neves introduced the “Management Shock”: a set of sweeping reforms designed to bring the state budget under control by reducing government expenditure and promoting investment.

Neves, a centre-right candidate, is the market’s favourite, and a win would bring back into power the party that Lula’s Worker’s Party beat in 2002, and which has remained in the wings for the past 12 years.


BOLIVIA: 12th October


What: General Elections to choose president, vice-president, renew 130 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 36 in the Senate. There will also be seven new ‘special’ seats for indigenous leaders in the lower house.
Run-off: If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote – or at least 40% and a 10 percentage point lead over the nearest rival – in presidential race, a run-off will be held on 7th December.
Term: New president will be sworn in on 22nd January 2015.

President Evo Morales (left) and opposition candidate Samuel Doria Medina

President Evo Morales (left) and opposition candidate Samuel Doria Medina


Evo Morales (Movimiento al Socialismo, MAS-IPSP)
VP: Álvaro García Linera
Current support in opinion polls: 52-55%

Incumbent Evo Morales, 54, is expected to win another landslide election – his third – in the first round. Bolivia’s first indigenous president, a former cocalero in power now since 2006, has managed to combine a socio-economic revolution with relative political stability, and fervent anti-capitalist rhetoric with pragmatic macroeconomic management. The results are impressive: The nationalisation of key energy, mining, and communication sectors would normally draw the ire of neo-liberal observers, but even the IMF has praised a track record of strong growth, moderate inflation, low debt, and balanced budgets. At home, his approval ratings hover around the 70% mark. At the heart of the model is the indigenous concept of Suma Qamaña (good living), the idea that community bonds and living in harmony with la Pachamama (Mother Earth) are just as important for well-being as an increase in income.

However, it has not all been plain sailing for Morales. While enjoying huge support among the country’s majority indigenous population, he has faced regular challenges by opposition in the economic wealth province of Santa Cruz. Morales says this unrest is deliberately provoked by the local business elite and supported by the US embassy, which last year he threatened to shut down after his presidential plane was rerouted and grounded by European authorities who accused him of smuggling Edward Snowdon out of Russia. However, he also faced a major crisis in 2010 after raising the price of state-subsidised gas, a decision he eventually reversed after a week of widespread protests (the ‘gasolinazo’). Meanwhile, the plan to construct a major international highway running through the TIPNIS indigenous territory sparked major protests in 2012 and created some divisions within the party’s support base.

Other challenges remain if he is elected, as expected, for 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.

Samuel Doria Medina (Frente de Unidad Nacional, FUN)
VP: Ernesto Suárez
Coalition: Concertación Unidad Demócrata (FUN+MDS)
Current support in opinion polls: 14-17%

The business magnate will run against Morales for the third time. In 2005 and 2009 he came third with less than 8% of the vote, though opinion polls this time rank him as a comfortable second. Despite being involve in politics for more than 20 years, Doria Medina is still better known for his business exploits. Since 1987 he has been the president and main shareholder of the Sociedad Boliviana de Cemento (SOBOCE), one of the largest companies in the country, while his portfolio has expanded to include the local franchise of fast food outlets such as Burger King and Subway.

Doria Medina says he offers an alternative to Morales’ authoritarian style and unsustainable economic model, proposing more market-friendly policies including providing foreign investors with a greater share of Bolivia’s oil wealth in return for an injection of capital. He also calls for more investment in renewable energies, technology, and services, which he claims this will provide more jobs and help reduce crime. However, Doria Medina he has failed to unite the opposition – which includes ex-president Jorge Quiroga (Partido Demócrata Cristiano, PDC) and leftist challenger Juan del Granado, of the Movimiento Sin Miedo (MSM) – behind his cause.


URUGUAY: 26th October

What: General election to choose president, vice-president, and complete renewal of both legislative houses in the General Assembly.
Run-off: If no presidential candidate achieves an absolute majority in the first round, a run-off will be held on 30th November.
Term: New president and legislators will be sworn in on 1st March 2015.

From left to right, Tabaré Vázquez, Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, Pedro Bordaberry  (Photos via Wikipedia)

From left to right, Tabaré Vázquez, Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, Pedro Bordaberry (Photos via Wikipedia)

José “Pepe” Mujica has won the hearts and minds of the global media as “the world’s poorest president” who legalised marijuana, but he is forbidden by the constitution for seeking re-election. His predecessor and Frente Amplio colleague Tabaré Vázquez is currently favourite to return for his second term, though latest polls suggest a second round run-off is likely and could be a close call. Education reform and crime are two of the key campaign issues.


Tabaré Vázquez (Frente Amplio, FA)
VP: Raúl Sendic
Support: 40-43%

Oncologist Tabaré Vázquez, president between 2005 and 2010, is looking to secure another five-year term at the age of 74. The country’s situation has changed significantly since he first came to power a decade ago: poverty has fallen from around 40% to just over 10%, while unemployment is at historic lows. The country has also become one of the world’s most socially progressive after decriminalising abortion, legalising same sex marriage, and regulating the market for legal marijuana.

Vázquez says a third successive Frente Amplio government would be “committed to improving even further the life of every Uruguayan citizen” by consolidating these social and economic advances and tackling problematic areas. One of his key electoral promises is to increase education spending to 6% of GDP (from around 4.5% currently), another the introduction of a Nordic-style ‘national care system’ to increase state support for families with dependants (infants, disabled or elderly relatives).

If triumphant, however, Vázquez will face a challenge to keep the more radical leftist factions of the Frente Amplio coalition in line, especially if a weak parliamentary majority or direct minority results in new concessions to a rejuvenated centre-right opposition (he has already made overtones about reaching “broad agreements”).

Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou (Partido Nacional, PN)
VP: Jorge Larrañaga
Support: 29-33%

Son of former president Luis Alberto Lacalle (1990-1995), 41-year-old Luis Lacalle Pou was a surprise winner in the primaries, something that is considered an advantage for the main event as his rivals were preparing to face a different candidate (Jorge Larrañaga, who has since become Lacalle Pou’s running mate). His campaign has sought to play up his image as a fresh and youthful alternative to Vázquez, and he has promised a renewal of politics with “action, not reaction”, preferring to talk about policy management rather than ideological concerns.

Lacalle Pou has said that education, security, and infrastructure were three “emergencies” that his administration would treat.

Pedro Bordaberry (Partido Colorado, PC)
VP: Germán Coutinho
Support: 11-15%

Another son of an ex-president, though this time former dictator Juan María, Bordaberry represents the country’s traditional right-wing Colorados. Bordaberry has promised deep education reform, including a guarantee for a 200-day school year and decentralising decision-making. He has also put security at the heart of his camping, pledging to reverse the legalisation of marijuana, lower the age of criminal responsibility for serious crimes, and use the military to support police operations.

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UN World Conference on Indigenous People Closes

Evo Morales (Photo by Sebastian Baryli)

Evo Morales (Photo by Sebastian Baryli)

The first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples drew to a close in New York yesterday, with Latin American nations taking a leading role.

Bolivian president Evo Morales inaugurated the two-day summit on Monday, calling himself living proof that indigenous people “can govern and not just vote”.

The central issues addressed in the forum, considered a special meeting as part of the 69th UN General Assembly, were land and territory, food sovereignty, and environment.

The summit culminated in the unanimous agreement of governments to draw up national plans to protect the rights of indigenous groups in their countries, including a clause that governments must obtain “free, prior and informed consent” from indigenous peoples on matters that affected them, including legislative measures and development projects.

During the conference, strategies were also discussed to ensure the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Bolivian president said the conference must be the start of something bigger.

“This conference must be a starting point in determining the collective actions that must be taken in the defence of life in order to initiate a process of transformation and change through the sovereignty and science of our indigenous peoples,” he said.

In his opening remarks, President Morales warned that capitalism and unbridled development of land are the greatest threat to indigenous movements around the world.

“The fundamental principles of the indigenous movement are life, mother earth, and peace, and these principles of the worldwide indigenous movement are permanently threatened by a system and model, the capitalist system, a model which extinguishes human life and the mother earth,” he said.

The conference was launched after a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC) praised his government and that of Ecuador for the progress made in guaranteeing basic rights to indigenous communities. The study recognised efforts made by La Paz and Quito to improve indigenous communities’ access to healthcare and education but highlighted that a lot remains to be done in Latin America to fully guarantee the rights of the 45-million strong indigenous population that inhabits the Southern Cone.

President Morales, noted a number of advances made in Bolivia under his leadership that he says have directly benefited indigenous peoples. Most notable, said Morales, has been Bolivia’s efforts in reducing extreme poverty. A recent UN Development Program report found that Bolivia experienced the greatest relative drop in extreme poverty in Latin America between 2000 and 2012.

In his speech, President Morales also mentioned that Bolivia is the first and only country to have fully incorporated the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into its constitution. Bolivia’s new constitution was approved by popular referendum in 2009.

Following the inauguration, President Morales met with UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon for talks, who praised the president as a “symbol of the developing world”.

Up to 2,200 indigenous representatives from roughly 100 countries around the world attended the conference.

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Brazil: 31 People Rescued from Slavery in São Paulo

Those rescued were forced to work 15 hours a day in unhygienic and unsafe conditions (photo via SRTE/SP)

Those rescued were forced to work 15 hours a day in unhygienic and unsafe conditions (photo via SRTE/SP)

Authorities have rescued 31 people found working in “slave-like conditions” in the centre of São Paulo. The 19 Bolivian and 12 Haitian nationals were discovered in two textile workshops after a tip off from the dressmakers’ union.

According to the Regional Superintendence of Work and Employment in São Paulo (SRTE-SP), the 12 Haitian and two Bolivian victims found in one of the workshops were forced to work up to 15 hours a day for two months in unsafe and unhygienic conditions. They slept on old mattresses or on the floor and were not given sufficient food supplies. Those who complained about not being paid were denied food rations. The SRTE-SP added that this is the first time that Haitians have been rescued from slavery in the city.

In the other workshop, in which a 15-year-old pregnant girl was among the 17 Bolivians rescued, food was stored with cleaning products or on the floor. Faulty and exposed wiring also created a fire hazard, according to the SRTE-SP press release. The workers received R$700 a month, less than the minimum wage in Brazil, and had their IDs confiscated to prevent them from leaving.

The workshops produced items used by Brazilian clothing brands, As Marias and Seike, which have been fined, according to authorities. A spokesperson for As Marias told local NGO Reporter Brasil that the company had outsourced production to a third party and was unaware of the workers’ conditions.

“Slavery is a crime and a national disgrace,” said SRTE-SP superintendent Luiz Antonio Medeiros. “In São Paulo we are introducing harsher punishments for companies that use slave labour in their chain of production.” Medeiros claimed that from now on, guilty companies will be entered onto a blacklists and have tax benefits removed. According to the Labour Ministry, there are currently 609 companies blacklisted for subjecting workers to slave-like conditions.

Those directly responsible for holding workers in slave conditions, meanwhile, could face up to eight years in prison.

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Latin America Cuts Diplomatic Ties with Israel

President Evo Morales (photo courtesy of Bolivian government)

President Evo Morales (photo courtesy of Bolivian government)

Bolivian president Evo Morales yesterday announced that the country would renounce the visa accord it signed with Israel in 1972, obliging Israeli citizens to obtain visas to travel to the Andean nation. The decision was ratified by the country’s cabinet this morning.

In an official statement released after the meeting, the government affirmed: “Israel does not respect the principles and aims of the United Nations Charter nor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and its prolonged occupation is illegal and violent, and contravenes international humanitarian law and the right to life.”

Morales said: “Recent events add to a long list of abuses and crimes the country has committed against humanity.” As such, Israel has been reclassified as a Group 3 country, considered to be a ‘Terrorist State’.

Israelis wishing to travel to Bolivia must now obtain visas from the country’s National Migration, which will evaluate the duration of their stay and reasons for travel.

The announcement came after Brazil, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and El Salvador recalled their ambassadors to Israel. Chile has also suspended free trade negotiations. Israel criticised the countries’ decisions, calling them “deeply disappointing”.

Last week, a diplomatic scandal arose between Brazil and Israel, after Brazil’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying it considered the escalation of violence “unacceptable” and “strongly condemned the disproportionate use of force by Israel in the Gaza Strip”. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor then launched a scathing attack on Brazil, labelling the country a “diplomatic dwarf” whose “moral relativism” made it “an irrelevant diplomatic partner”. Brazil countered the takedown in undramatic fashion, stating that “friends” could “disagree”, to which Palmor responded by mocking Brazil’s World Cup semi-final defeat: “This is not football. In football, when a game ends in a draw, you think it is proportional, but when it finishes 7-1, it’s disproportionate.”

In 1973, Cuba became the first Latin American country to cut diplomatic ties with Israel, citing support for the Palestinian cause. Bolivia and Venezuela then cut all ties with the country in 2009 following Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’ incursion into the Gaza Strip, which also hundreds of civilian casualties. Nicaragua followed suit a year later, after the Israeli attack on the humanitarian flotilla the Mavi Marmara, which led to the deaths of ten Turkish peace activists.

The announcements come in the wake of numerous protests that have taken place around the region in response to Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip, which have so far killed over 1,400 people, 85% of whom are civilians. Latin America has the biggest Palestinian diaspora outside of the Arab world: an estimated 500,000 are of Palestinian descent, and as many as 200,000 Hondurans.


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Bolivia: Hundreds of Skeletons Discovered in Potosí Mass Grave

Potosí City (Wikipedia)

Potosí City (Wikipedia)

A mass grave containing an estimated 400-500 human remains has been discovered in the mining town of Potosí, Bolivia. The bones are estimated to date to the colonial-era, when Potosí was home to the world’s biggest silver mine and a key source of riches for Imperial Spain.

The remains were discovered by construction workers carrying out excavations to build new classrooms at a local school. “We’ve taken out some 400 or 500 and there are more buried,” builder Marco Antonio told local newspaper La Prensa. “There are still more underground.”

The discovery was announced over the weekend by a researcher at the Tomás Frías University, which intervened after it was found that the builders were piling up the bones while construction work continued at the school.

The bones are expected to belong to some of the millions of indigenous communities and slaves that died carrying out dangerous mining activities at the order of the Spanish empire. One theory among local experts is that the site was used as a graveyard in that era.

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Bolivia: Child Labour Legalised from Age Ten

One in three of Bolivia's young workers do not attend school (photo: Wikipedia)

One in three of Bolivia’s young workers do not attend school (photo: Wikipedia)

Bolivia’s vice president Alvaro García Linera has signed a controversial bill lowering the minimum age of working from 14 to 10. The new law means the Andean nation has the youngest legal working age in the world.

Ten year olds will now be able to legally work as long as they are under parental supervision and also attend school. Twelve is the minimum age for a child to work under contract, and those children would also have to attend school.

Bolivia already pays a per-child subsidy of US$28 a year to families whose children attend school, but numbering one million, young labourers still account for 15% of the country’s workforce. However, one in three of them don’t attend school.

“Child labour already exists in Bolivia, and it’s difficult to fight it. Rather than persecute it, we want to protect the rights and guarantee the labour security of children,” said Senator Adolfo Mendoza, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Critics have said that the new law goes against the international grain, where child labour has been dropping in recent years, and also contravenes a UN convention that designates 14 as the minimum working age.

But during the signing ceremony, child labour union leader, Eddy Dávalos, criticised the International Labour Organisation which “imposed a minimum age for child labour … without taking into account the reality of each country”. President Evo Morales has also spoken out in support of the unionisation of young workers. In December, young workers protested for the “right to work”, complaining that the bill’s original text, which established the minimum working age to be 14.

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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.

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