Tag Archive | "bolivia"

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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Latin America News Roundup: 6th May 2014

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Ecuador: No Referendum Over Yasuní After Petition Invalidated: The National Electoral Council (CNE) has announced that it had invalidated almost 240,000 signatures gathered by campaigners against oil drilling in the Yasuní National Park. The decision puts the number of valid votes collected at 359,761, short of the 583,323 required to force a national referendum on the matter. “We found signatures repeated up to nine times,” said CNE President Domingo Paredes in a press conference today. “We asked them to read the regulations, and they have not done so.” The CNE also claimed that it had found fake names and false ID numbers. The ‘Yasunidos’ group behind the petition responded to the decision on Twitter, saying “The CNE talks about irregularities, we talk about fraud.” Last week, Yasunidos claimed that the CNE illegally opened the sealed box containing the identification documents for some of the 1,000 volunteers who collected the signatures. The group added that two thirds of the signatures collected had been rejected by the CNE, as it claims to have handed in over 750,000.

Bolivia – Military Protest Comes to an End: After two weeks of strikes and demonstrations over alleged discrimination in the armed forces, low-ranking military personnel in Bolivia have ended their protest. The decision comes as military chiefs confirmed that at least 660 of the 715 soldiers that we dismissed for taking part in the protests have been reinstated. Commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Víctor Baldivieso, said that 99% of those protesting have been re-incorporated into their units, adding that “now there is no motive, nor reason, to keep protesting”. Negotiations will continue over potential modifications to the Organic Armed Forces Law to eliminate discrimination throughout the military hierarchy and to promote equal treatment and professionalisation for non-commissioned officers. Low-ranking soldiers in the Bolivian Armed Forces are mostly of indigenous background, unlike the majority of officers.

Marijuana (Photo: Courtesy of Wikepedia)

Marijuana (Photo: Courtesy of Wikepedia)

Uruguay – New Details as Marijuana Law Comes Into Force: The legalisation of marijuana will come into force in Uruguay today as President José Mujica approves the detailed regulation for the law approved by Congress last year. The marijuana market will be regulated by the state, with only registered permanent residents of Uruguay over the age of 18 able to purchase a maximum of 10 grammes a week from pharmacies. The price of the drug will also be fixed by the state, with an initial cost of around US$1 per gram. Each household can cultivate up to six cannabis plants, to be used for personal consumption, while ‘cannabis clubs’ of up to 45 members can own 99 plants. However, consumers must register and choose only one method of accessing the drug (at pharmacies, at home, or at cannabis clubs). Police will have the authority to test drivers for marijuana use, as well as arrest those in possession of marijuana that does not have the genetic makeup of the state-approved varieties.The Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) is expected to issue licenses in the next few weeks to companies bidding to produce an estimated 18-22 tonnes of cannabis. Plantations will be guarded by the military, and their exact location will not be revealed for security purposes. The first harvest is expected to be ready for sale by December this year.

“They’ll label us elderly reactionaries,” said Mujica in an interview with Associated Press last week. “But this isn’t a policy that seeks to expand marijuana consumption. What it aims to do is keep it all within reason, and not allow it to become an illness.” Mujica also told local reporters this weekend that the main aim of the bill is to “combat drug trafficking.”



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Latin America News Roundup: 30th April 2014

President Evo Morales (photo courtesy of Bolivian government)

President Evo Morales (photo courtesy of Bolivian government)

Bolivia – Presidential Elections Set for 12th October: The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) of Bolivia announced today that the presidential elections scheduled for this year will be held on 12th October. If required, a second round run off will be held on 7th December, while the new government term will begin on 22nd January 2015. Incumbent Evo Morales is widely expected to announce his candidature for a third term, after saying in February that he had “the strength to continue for another five years”. According to a court ruling last year, Morales is eligible to run despite a constitutional limit of two consecutive terms because his first term began before the constitution was reformed, in 2009. A recent opinion poll published in several local papers showed Morales with 38% support. This puts the president comfortably ahead of rival candidates, including Santa Cruz governor Rubén Costas. To win in the first round of voting, a candidate must either receive 50% of the vote, or win by a margin of 10%.

Concern Over New Areas of Deforestation in Colombia: The Environment and Sustainable Development Ministry of Colombia issued a report yesterday showing eight new hubs of deforestation in various parts of the country. The study, compiled by the Hydrological Institute (Ideam), was based on information gathered from satellite images during the second half of 2013. The images showed a high concentration of deforestation alerts in eight zones, especially in the South-West of the country, that did not exist in earlier in the year. Environment Minister Luz Helena Sarmiento said the country should declare a “frontal assault” on the activities leading to deforestation, including illegal logging, mining, and the clearing of forests for agricultural expansion. The Ideam will continue to monitor the state of the country’s forests every six months. Approximately 55% of Colombian territory is covered by forest. Earlier in April, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said the country needed to take urgent to protect “some of the world’s richest forests and ecosystems”.

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Ecuador – Yasuní Activists Say Referendum Petition ‘Manipulated’: Campaigners seeking to prevent oil drilling in the Yasuní National Park claim the National Electoral Council (CNE) has tampered with the results of a petition to force a referendum on the issue. The group ‘Yasunidos’ said earlier in April that it had gathered over 700,000 signatures, more than the constitutional threshold needed to force a referendum on whether oil exploration should be carried out in the park. The campaign group said the CNE had illegally opened the sealed box containing the identification documents for some of the 1,000 volunteers who collected the signatures. Without ID verification, large numbers of signatures could be invalidated. President Rafael Correa, who has repeatedly said that the income from oil drilling was essential to tackle poverty in Ecuador, said in a press conference yesterday that it was “not in his government’s plan” to call a referendum on the issue. He added that the issue had become heavily politicised and rejected the accusations against the CNE, saying he was “not afraid” to face a referendum on any issue. The Yasunidos group has called for a protest march on 1st May in the city of Guayaquil.

The Yasuní-ITT initiative proposed the country refrain indefinitely from exploiting reserves in the national park, in exchange for 50% of the value of the income it would be forgoing from the world community. However, last August Correa announced that the plans had failed, after receiving less than 1% of the US$3.6bn target, and soon after the government approved plans to explore for oil. Controversy arose in February, when The Guardian newspaper revealed that the Ecuadorian government had been negotiating a secret US$1bn deal with a Chinese bank to drill for oil under the Yasuní national park as early as 2009, while publicly pursuing the Yasuní-ITT initiative.



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Latin America News Roundup: 25th April 2014

President Santos speaks before the Constitutional Court (photo:  Juan Pablo Bello - SIG)

President Santos speaks before the Constitutional Court (photo: Juan Pablo Bello – SIG)

Court Declares Colombia’s Membership in Pacific Alliance ‘Unconstitutional’: The Constitutional Court of Colombia has declared law 1628, which approves the country’s entrance into the Pacific Alliance, unconstitutional. The court rules the law, which was sanctioned last year, was missing two articles when it was sent to Congress to vote on, making the process “irreparably flawed”. According to the ruling, Colombia’s membership of the trade bloc will be suspended until the government sends another, complete bill to be approved by Congress. Foreign Trade Minister Santiago Rojas said the decision will not affect existing commercial relations with the other members of the bloc, only the law governing Colombia’s integration into the alliance. The Pacific Alliance was formally created by Colombia, Peru, Chile, and Mexico in June 2012. Since then, the countries have removed visa restrictions for travel within member states and, in February 2014, signed a deal to eliminate trade tariffs on 92% of products. At the time, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the bloc, called the members the region’s “dream team”.

Peru – Indigenous Groups Occupy Country’s Biggest Oil Field: Indigenous communities have occupied Bloque 1-AB, the country’s largest oil field, demanding that a clean up operation of the field’s contamination begin. Carlos Saudí, president of the Federation of Native Communities of the Río Corrientes (Feconaco), which is leading the study, said: “We demand the presence of a government commission as a part of the population of the Río Corrientes basin is contaminated by lead and heavy metals, as proven by various studies.” Yesterday he confirmed to the press that the occupation, which began on Monday, would continue until a solution was found to the problem. Bloque 1-AB is situated in the country’s north-west Amazon region, close to the border with Peru, and has been running for 40 years, under the operation of Argentina’s Pluspetrol since 2001. When Pluspetrol took control of the field, the government asked that the multinational clean up of over 100 sites contaminated by the previous contractors, something that has not yet been done. Last year, Peruvian authorities confirmed a state of emergency in the region after discovering high levels of lead, barium and other minerals in areas around the site, including the waterways. But local residents say that neither Pluspetrol nor the government have done anything about the situation. As a result of the blockade, the field’s output has halved to 17,000 barrels a day.

Military personnel protest in La Paz (photo: AFP/Aizar RALDES/Télam/aa)

Military personnel protest in La Paz (photo: AFP/Aizar RALDES/Télam/aa)

Bolivia – Tension over Military Protests: Military leadership dismissed 702 soldiers who took part in recent protests against discrimination in the Armed Forces. The Military High Command accused the protesting soldiers of attempting a coup d’êtat, and justified the decision by stating that “discrimination is no excuse for sedition and for promoting an attempted coup.” The soldiers, from across the three armed forces, were dismissed for “deliberately missing work, committing acts of sedition, mutiny, political actions, and collectively violating the dignity and honour of the Armed Forces.” Hundreds of low-ranking soldiers marched through the streets of several Bolivian cities as part of a protest, which also included strikes and hunger strikes, demanding the “decolonisation of the Armed Forces”. This would entail a reform of the Organic Armed Forces Law to eliminate discrimination throughout the military hierarchy and to promote equal treatment and professionalisation for non-commissioned officers.

Non-commissioned in the Bolivian Armed Forces are mostly of indigenous background, unlike the majority of officers. Protesters were joined by the ‘Red Ponchos’, an indigenous aymara militia, whilst the Bolivian Workers’ Central union (COB) and other social organisations rejected their demands, denouncing an infiltration of the protest by right-wing elements.

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