Tag Archive | "bolivia"

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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Uruguay Approves Bolivia’s Entry into Mercosur

Mercosur flagThe Uruguayan government sanctioned a law passed by Congress which approves the entry of Bolivia into the Mercosur trade bloc.

The process for Bolivia to join Mercosur began in December 2012 in Brazil, and it must be approved by the parliaments of all the member states. So far, the Uruguayan and Venezuelan have parliaments have passed bills in this sense.

The text of the law indicates that, within Bolivia’s joining process, they will establish instruments to reduce asymmetries within the member states, in order to favour “a balanced relative economic development within Mercosur.”

By entering the economic bloc, Bolivia agrees to abide by a number of treaties that regulate the resolution of disputes, among other issues. Once it has been formally allowed into Mercosur, the Andean country will have four years to gradually adopt the laws governing it.

Joining Mercosur would provide Bolivia with an exit to the Atlantic ocean via the Paraná and Paraguay rivers and a free trade area with its neighbours. Around 55% of Bolivian exports are sold to Mercosur countries.

The parliaments of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay are yet to approve Bolivia’s membership. In the meantime, the country participates in Mercosur as an accessing member, without a right to vote.


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Bolivia: New ‘Backwards Clock’ Unveiled on Congress

The new clock on Bolivia's congress building

The new clock on Bolivia’s congress building

The Bolivian government has unveiled a change in the clock on the nation’s congress building, with the numbers inverted and hands that turn anti-clockwise.

According to the authorities, the clock is the symbol of political change in the Andean region. In a press conference yesterday, foreign minister David Choquehuanca called it “the clock of the south”, and said that it was designed so that Bolivians would treasure their cultural heritage. He also said that the initiative was designed to encourage Bolivians to question established rules and think in a creative way.

“We’re in the south and, as we’re trying to recover our identity, the Bolivian government is also recovering its sarawi, which means ‘way’ in Aymara. In keeping with our sarawi – or nan, in Quechua – our clocks should turn to the left,” he said, indicating how clocks are a representation of light in the northern hemisphere. Clocks, which are an evolution of sundials, run clockwise as that is how the light in a sundial’s shadow in the northern hemisphere runs, while in the southern hemisphere it moves anti-clockwise.

“Who says that a clock has to always turn that way? Why do we have to always obey, why can’t we be creative?” Choquehuanca asked.

Choquehuanca also said that Bolivia had put the same clocks on the desks of the delegations who attended the recent G77 summit in Santa Cruz, the country’s second city. The clocks were shaped like a map of Bolivia, and included the coastal territory that the country lost in a war with Chile in 1879, which the Andean nation is claiming.


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Bolivia: Judge Gives Green Light for Prosecution of Ex-President

Former Bolivian president Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada is one of the accused (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Former Bolivian president Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada is one of the accused (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

A federal judge in Florida, US, has said that nine plaintiffs can continue with their litigation against former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (“Goni”) and his former minister of defense, Carlos Sánchez Berzaín. Judge James Cohn ruled that, in accordance with the Torture Victims’ Protection Act, the pair, who fled to the US, can be prosecuted for their part in the ‘Gas War’ of September and October 2003, which saw more than 80 killed.

Goni and Sánchez Berzaín are accused of participating in the planning and ordering of extra-judicial killings of unarmed civilians, including children, as part of the repression of protests against their controversial political and economic policies. As a result of the decision, the plaintiffs can sue for financial compensation.

In his ruling, Cohn said that the victims had solid arguments and their lawyers had given sufficient evidence that the “killings were deliberate” and not the result of the chaos of war.

He also dismissed the defendants’ claims that the victims could seek reparations in Bolivia, saying that “unless the accused are extradited or voluntarily return to Bolivia, there is no chance that the country will be able to correct the presumed human rights violations. As a result the United States is the only forum in which the plaintiffs can hold the accused responsible for their alleged actions.”

Judge Cohn highlighted two of the cases in his ruling. The first was the killing of Marlene, an eight-year-old girl who was killed in her mother’s bedroom when a bullet entered through the window she was looking out of. The second was the case of a pregnant woman who was also killed.

These fatalities were just two of dozens that occurred in the 2003 ‘Gas War’, a series of protests that culminated in September and October 2003, ending in Goni’s resignation and self-imposed exile. The protests began when a government plan to privatise and export the country’s massive natural gas reserves via Chile was revealed, with protestors demanding the nationalisation of the resource. Goni’s deal would do little to benefit the Bolivian population, many of whom lived without a gas connection and below the international poverty line in South America’s poorest nation, but lined the pockets of a few government allies.

After Goni’s resignation, his plan was shelved by the government of Carlos Mesa, Goni’s vice president who took power following his predecessor’s self-imposed exile.


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Remote Village in Salta ‘Cut Off’ by Strike in Bolivia

The people of Los Toldos, a remote village in the northwestern province of Salta, face shortages of essential supplies as the only access route via Bolivia is blocked by a strike in the neighbouring country.

“We have fuel in the power station to last just another 24 hours,” Los Toldos resident Ingrid Zabala told Pagina 12 via email last night. “Without electricity we will be unable to communicate by phone or internet.” Food provisions for the approximately 2,200 residents are expected to last until the end of the week.

View Como llegar a Los Toldos in a larger map

Less than 20kms from the border and wedged between mountains and the Yungas forest, Los Toldos is only accessible over land via a stretch of Bolivia’s ruta 1 highway. Since last Wednesday, this route has been blocked by sugar-cane workers engaged in a conflict with industrial sugar producers in the region, with the prostesters saying the action was “indefinite”.

“They are not dealing with the demands of the sugar-cane workers,” said Zabala, whose husband is reportedly stuck on the other side of the border.

Los Toldos was previously part of Bolivia, but became Argentine in 1941 after the 1925 bilateral border agreement came into force.

Zabala claims the village has suffered before from protests in the neighbouring country, but is looking for local authorities for help. “The definitive solution is not for Bolivia to open up the highway for us, but to establish a highway on Argentine soil.”




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Bolivia: President Morales to Sign for First Division Football Club

Evo Morales in action (photo: María C Lagos/Télam)

Evo Morales in action (photo: María C Lagos/Télam)

Bolivian president Evo Morales has been signed up to play professional football for Club Sport Boys Warnes, in the country’s first division, local press report. According to newspaper El Deber, the Santa Cruz-based club is in the process of registering the 54-year-old leader in the squad for the 2014-2015 season.

“We are waiting for the league to send us the new form to register him as soon as the window opens,” said club president Mario Cronenbold. “It would be historic for the acting president of a country to play professionally.” The Communications Ministry also reported the news on Twitter (see below).

Morales is a passionate football fan and has already played in the domestic league, coming on as a second-half substitute for club Litoral in the La Paz football tournament. The president also made headlines in 2010 after kicking out at a rival player – and opposition member – in a friendly match played between politicians.

If the signing is completed, Morales is likely to receive the number ’10’ shirt. “He controls [the ball] well, and has a good shot,” said Cronenbold, adding that 20 minutes “would be enough.” Morales’ footballing ability has been documented before, with World Bank leader Jim Yong Kim once saying that he was “the best footballer among the world leaders”.




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