Tag Archive | "brazil"

Munduruku: A Golden Community

This article was originally published in Hecho en Buenos Aires.

Frustrated but not defeated by the Brazilian government’s inaction, the Munduruku tribe is seeking its own justice against illegal gold miners, agricultural businesses, and the seven hydroelectric dams about to be constructed.

Munduruku Indian warriors navigate the Das Tropas river, a tributary of the Tapajos and Amazon rivers, as they search for illegal gold mines and miners in their territory in western Para state, 17th January 2014 (photo: REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

Munduruku Indian warriors navigate the Das Tropas river, a tributary of the Tapajos and Amazon rivers, as they search for illegal gold mines and miners in their territory in western Para state, 17th January 2014 (photo: REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

In took them three days to make the 2,000km journey from deep in the Amazon to the Brazilian capital. Ten chiefs and 30 warriors from the Munduruku community walked to Brasilia to defend the lands they have lived on for centuries; lands damaged by several illegal hydroelectric projects being installed on the banks of the Tapajós river as well as threats from the garimpos (illegal gold miners) and encroaching agribusinesses.

“Our community decided that the authorities are not capable of providing us with a solution. They will never support our wish, which is to live in peace. They leave us no choice but to solve this our own way,” explain the leaders of the Munduruku, a community of 1,200 armed with bows, arrows, and spears.

A few weeks ago, they chased away workers from a dozen illegal mines with rocks and arrows. A few months earlier, after a decision by an assembly of 400 members, they dismantled five illegal settlements.

Brazilian photographer Lunae Parracho, of Reuters, documented the clashes, which went on for ten violent days. “You have ten minutes to leave and never come back, or you will die. These are Munduruku lands,” shouted chief Paigomuyatpu. And the take over began.

During those days, one of the youngest warriors, Bouy Dace, explained to the photographer part of the philosophy that guides the community life. He spoke of an old Munduruku legend of a tortoise that overcame a tapir, which was much bigger and faster, but “less persistent and wise.”

The climate is tense around the region. Indigenous leaders claim they are being persecuted and threatened, and blame the violence on the feared Tubaína tribe, “the only one that uses guns.”

Once in Brasilia, however, the chiefs requested to see the president of the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), who refuses to accept the anthropological report that the chiefs had prepared.

Munduruku Indian warriors prepare themselves as they approach a wildcat gold mine during a search for illegal mines and miners in their territory near the Das Tropas river, a major tributary of the Tapajos and Amazon rivers in western Para state, 17th January 2014 (photo: REUTERS/Lunae Parracho)

Munduruku Indian warriors prepare themselves as they approach a wildcat gold mine during a search for illegal mines and miners in their territory near the Das Tropas river, a major tributary of the Tapajos and Amazon rivers in western Para state, 17th January 2014 (photo: REUTERS/Lunae Parracho)

The Tapajós valley, in the heart of the Amazon, is an area of extreme biological diversity. Of the 1,837 species of bird found in Brazil, 613 come from Tapajós. Many of the birds have a low population density, leaving them vulnerable to environmental changes. Biologists say the river itself creates such diversity by acting as a barrier against dispersion.

This also explains the rich diversity of mammals, with 161 species found in the region (the total in Europe is 222).

A journey along the 851km of green Tapajós waters, which run from top to bottom through the west of Pará (a state in northwest Brazil), makes it clear: the breathtaking natural landscape of forest reserves is interrupted abruptly by a wide variety of illegal sites set up to look for gold – highways, damns, and ports - at the base of one of the Amazon’s most beautiful rivers.

The most ambitious project is the Tapajós Hydroelectric Complex, a set of seven large power stations that can generate up to 14,000 megawatts. Currently, the cost of building two dams is estimated at R$23bn. The government says it will put out a tender for this, with the aim of beginning operations in 2019. At least 2.5m people from 32 riverside communities will be directly affected if all seven are finalised. Another 16 ethnic-Munduruku villages will be partly-flooded by the dams. “More police arrive, more armed men come to frighten us. They think they can intimidate us but they never will. We are fighting for our people, for our children, for our nature. We need to save all of them,” say the women from the Boca das Tropas village.

A Munduruku Indian woman warrior carries a monkey on her head while on a search for illegal gold mines and miners in their territory, near the Kadiriri river, a tributary of the Tapajos and Amazon rivers in western Para state, 25th January 2014 (photo: REUTERS/Lunae Parracho)

A Munduruku Indian woman warrior carries a monkey on her head while on a search for illegal gold mines and miners in their territory, near the Kadiriri river, a tributary of the Tapajos and Amazon rivers in western Para state, 25th January 2014 (photo: REUTERS/Lunae Parracho)

Aside from being considered the last great mineral and energy frontier in the Amazon, this region has another economic advantage: it is a strategic corridor for the export of soy from the state of Mato Grosso, the country’s main producer of grains.

This year, the federal government will spend R$1.43bn to pave the 1,739km of the national BR-163 highway connecting Cuiabá (in Mato Grosso) with Santarém, the main town in western Pará at the mouth of the Tapajós.

Complicating matters further is the damage done by the unregulated activity of the garimpos in the same river basin, not just the water contamination from the use of toxic chemicals like mercury and cyanide to refine the gold, but also the increased number of barges working the riverbed. In just a few months, the number increased from five to 35 in the 400km stretch between Itaituba and Jacareacanga. None are properly registered.

“Nearly 98% of the garimpos in the region are illegal,” says Oldair Lamarque, head engineer at the National Department of Mineral Production (DNPM) in Itaituba. To obtain an environmental licence for a small operation, around the size of 50 football pitches, you have to travel to the state capital Belén, pay almost R$16,000 in taxes alone, and add the travel costs of the technicians from the State Environmental Secretariat (Sema) for verification.

The Munduruku were powerful in other times. Dozens of folklore festivals still tell tales from of the mythical battle with the neighbouring Mura tribe, who were finally defeated in 1788. They have known for a while what their destiny could be, as they have witnessed the struggle of other indigenous communities.

After three decades, it is estimated that there are at least 2,000 points of extraction near the river. Near these are the currutelas, settlements that operate as a central base for the nearly 50,000 men that work in the jungle, in areas only accessible by plane or via a two-day boat journey from Itaituba.

It seems that now they have grown tired of waiting for help, and have decided to resolve the conflict in their own way. In an open letter written to anyone who supports their cause, they write: “We do not fear death. We will keep fighting for our rights. We’ve taken the first step. We have come to defend our territory, our river, our jungle, and our people until the end. Because this is our world.”

Munduruku Indian warriors arrive in the village of Katin at the end of a day of searching for illegal gold mines and miners in their territory near the Kadiriri river, a tributary of the Tapajos and Amazon rivers in western Para state. 25th January 2014 (photo: REUTERS/Lunae Parracho)

Munduruku Indian warriors arrive in the village of Katin at the end of a day of searching for illegal gold mines and miners in their territory near the Kadiriri river, a tributary of the Tapajos and Amazon rivers in western Para state. 25th January 2014 (photo: REUTERS/Lunae Parracho)


Translated by Celina Andreassi

www.street-papers.org. Reuters/INSP. Published in Hecho en Bs As, a member of International Network of Street Papers (INSP)

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Latin America News Roundup: 1st April 2014

Costa Rica drought (photo: Manuel Kasper-Claridge)

Costa Rica drought (photo: Manuel Kasper-Claridge)

Costa Rica Votes to Protect Water as ‘Public Good’: The legislative assembly in Costa Rica voted last night overwhelmingly in favour of a new Water Resources Management Bill designed to regulate the use and control of water. The law, which requires a second vote, establishes water as a public good, and access to it as a basic human right. The bill will also create at National Water Directorate (DINA) to manage state control over water resources and prevent the privatisation and export of the good. The bill was developed as a popular initiative, after being originally presented by environmental groups that had gathered more than 150,000 signatures, equally 5% of the electorate. Costa Rica is vulnerable to rising temperatures, which could create major water shortages in the country’s northwest, according to the IPCC. Recent local studies highlighted the threat the the country could lose up to 85% of its drinking water supply in the next 50 years.

Bolivia – Government Postpones Mining Law Debate After Protest Deaths: President Evo Morales today ordered the suspension of a Senate debate over a new mining law after violent protests left two dead. “To avoid unnecessary and violent actions by mining co-operatives we have decided to postpone the debate over the new Mining Law,” said Presidential Minister Juan Ramón Quintana in a statement earlier today. Yesterday, mining cooperatives blocked major roads, including accesses to La Paz, in protest again a modification to the Mining Law, which has already been approved by the lower house of Congress. Violence erupted when security forces moved in to clear the roads, with two protesters shot dead and around 20 police officers injured. The new law would permit only the Bolivian state to sign contracts with private investors to exploit natural resources, effectively banning cooperatives – which have special tax benefits – from doing so. The independent mining sector, made up of approximately 100,000 miners, is a traditional ally of the Bolivian government.

Brazil – Work on São Paulo World Cup Stadium Suspended: Construction on the Arena Corinthians stadium in São Paulo has been halted “indefinitely” after the death of a worker on the weekend. The Regional Supervisory Office for Work and Employment in São Paulo state suspended construction work on two temporary stands at stadium after finding security flaws during an inspection earlier today. “We will only continue with the construction when there is a guarantee that workers can operate in safe conditions,” said the Supervisory Office representative Luiz Antonio Medeiros. On Saturday, Fábio Hamilton da Cruz became the seventh person fatality during construction work at world cup stadiums, and the third at the Arena Corinthians, which is scheduled to host the opening match on 12th June.

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Latin America News Roundup: 26th March 2014

The Internet bill was debated and approved yesterday (photo: Luis Macedo/Câmara dos Deputados)

The Internet bill was debated and approved yesterday (photo: Luis Macedo/Câmara dos Deputados)

Brazil – Lower House Passes Internet Bill: The Chamber of Deputies passed a bill which has been dubbed Brazil’s “Internet constitution”, and which seeks to establish principles, rights, and obligations both for users and providers. The bill, introduced by president Dilma Rousseff’s government, was supported by all political parties except for the opposition Partido Popular Socialista (PPS). The main aims of the proposal, which was put forward after the espionage scandal that followed Edward Snowden’s leaks, are the preservation of user privacy -including the protection of private communications- and the neutrality of the internet, which means that companies will not be able to limit access or charge different prices to access specific services. President Rousseff called the passing of the bill “a victory of Brazilian society,” and added that “the bill shows the prominence of Brazil on an issue that is being debated by the world: security, privacy and plurality on the net.” The bill will now have to be approved by the Senate in order to become law.

Paraguay – General Strike Paralyses the Country: An estimated 80% of workers in Paraguay joined the first general strike under Horacio Cartes’ administration, which is also the first since 1994. Some 60,000 farmers arrived in the capital Asunción early this morning, and other protests also took place in Coronel Oviedo, Villarrica, Santaní, Pilar, and Encarnación. Protesters are demanding an agrarian reform, a 25% wage increase, and a reduction in transport fares, as well as denouncing the government’s plan to bring private investment into public services. The strike is organised and supported by unions, social movements, and farmers’ organisations.

Ecuador – Chevron Case Lawyer Receives Death Threats: Juan Pablo Sáenz, the lawyer representing small farmers on their pollution lawsuit against Chevron, denounced having received death threats. Talking to The Guardian, Sáenz said he received two anonymous phone calls telling him to “think very carefully about what you are doing, because it would be a shame if something happened to you and your family.” He also said that “people are constantly following us in Ecuador.” Texaco, which was later taken over by Chevron, was found guilty of polluting the Ecuadorian Amazon between 1964 and 1990 and sentenced to paying US$18bn in damages. However, after the company lodged an appeal in New York, a judge from the US ruled that the Ecuadorian verdict had been obtained through “corrupt means” and that the claimants could no longer pursue their claims for damages in US courts. Campaigners working on the case have stated they will appeal this decision.

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A Darker Side to the World Cup: Child Exploitation at Brazil 2014

Amongst the excitement and anticipation of the upcoming World Cup in Brazil there have already been some spectacular fiascos: Delayed stadium deadlines’, ‘deaths during construction’, ‘failing public services’, ‘poor public spending’ and ‘deep seeded corruption’, all amidst nationwide protests, violence, and under cover government agents. But while the usual calamities fill up the headlines there is a darker vice that seems to go largely unreported.

Protest against the World Cup in January (photo: Agencia Brasil/Télam/ddc)

Protest against the World Cup in January (photo: Agencia Brasil/Télam/ddc)

Unbeknown to most spectators of large sporting events, the risk of child trafficking and sexual exploitation is heightened during the period leading up to, and during, the tournaments. Especially in countries like Brazil, which, according to official statistics, already has more than 250,000 child victims of commercial sexual exploitation, and where the second most reported crime against children is sexual violence, with the majority of victims aged between 10 and 14.

During international sporting events there is a short-term increase in the demand for prostitution, which increases the migration of sex workers to the host cities. This in turn prompts pimps and gangs to recruit additional ‘workers’, some of whom will be children, to meet the hike in demand. Danny Smith, founder of the Jubilee Campaign, a child protection charity, remarks: “I think that there is a general awareness amongst child rights groups that large sporting events increases the risk of the exploitation and trafficking of children.”

Hazel Thompson, a photo journalist who reported on this issue during the World Cup in South Africa, adds, while speaking of her experiences in the country: “There is an underbelly to any such event that attracts large numbers of visitors to a city, a darker game that provides opportunities for abusers, exploiters and traffickers to meet the increased demand for cheap labour and sexual services”.

Previous Events

When looking specifically at past sporting events, there is a large variation, even a discrepancy, between what is feared and what actually takes place.

Before the 2012 Olympics in London, there was a concern that the levels of exploitation in the city would soar before and during the games. Anthony Steen, the chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation and special envoy to the British home secretary combatting modern day slavery, explains: “There were lots of suggestions before the London Olympics that there would be an increase in street children, begging, exploitation, men exploited for labour, and that there would be a spike in trafficking.”

Georgina Perry, service manager for Open Doors, a London-based outreach service for sex workers, goes further to suggest that “charities, media representatives, and law enforcement units, determinedly talked up the ‘inevitable’ spike in forced prostitution and sex trafficking that was going to happen as the Olympic vehicle lumbered into the East end.

“They would speak at length on how ‘without a clear anti-prostitution strategy, special units, targeted media campaigns and trained experts on standby to rescue and rehabilitate’ London 2012 would be shamed by the legion of sex slaves brought to the capital to service the tide of rampant sports fans hell-bent on buying sexual services during the summer of 2012. This was all news to me.”

British police working at the 2012 Olympic Games (photo: Wikipedia)

British police working at the 2012 Olympic Games (photo: Wikipedia)

Fortunately, there was no evidence of this happening before or during the Olympics in London. Possibly because there was an increased effort by the police, and substantial spending by the government to prevent these crimes well in advance of the games. Steen recalls: “The metropolitan police started increased coordinations 18 months before the Olympics, between themselves and local police to prepare for this, and the government invested all the resources necessary. I think this helped keep the trafficking down. People realised that the government was serious. The key was to plan for these things well in advance.”

But, the picture in Brazil is different to that in London pre-Olympics, and the Brazilian government may not have always invested the necessary funds into tackling child poverty or child sexual exploitation, as current levels of child prostitution suggest.

Maybe a better tournament to draw comparisons with is the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Bharti Patel, chief executive officer for ECPAT, an NGO dedicated to protecting children from sexual exploitation, comments that “you can draw parallels between South Africa and Brazil in regards to child poverty. The opportunities are there for exploiters, and they will use these opportunities to make money, as they have a larger audience. So maybe children will travel to the venues, or be taken to the host cities from other parts of the country.”

During the South African tournament, the media and some of the organisations that were working there, reported a rise in the level of commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Smith, who works closely with some of these organisations, believes that “most NGOs would confirm that there was evidence that there was an increase in child sex exploitation and trafficking during the period around the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

“Several media reports detected a rise in domestic trafficking and the setting-up of brothels in preparation for the World Cup. Time magazine even quoted a trafficker declaring that the World Cup was good for business and that he was going to make a lot of money.”

One of the problems is obtaining accurate data to properly assess the effect that the tournament had on child exploitation. Patel notes: “There is a problem with the empirical data to correctly categorise the numbers. We say that child trafficking and sexual exploitation is a hidden issue. This is because the correct measures are not in place so that victims can come forward, and so we fear that this could have been the case in South Africa, and could be the case in Brazil. South Africa say that the numbers don’t reflect the ‘hike’ that people expected. But without the correct safeguarding in place, how can victims come forward?”

The link between the South African World Cup and exploitation, which could also be true for the World Cup in Brazil, is the socio-economic situation of many local communities: the difference of living standards and affluence between the tourists and the local communities. Tourists can represent an opportunity to generate income for some vulnerable children and their parents which may increase the ‘supply’ of sex with children in a country such as Brazil where the level of commercial sexual exploitation of children is already alarming.

The Risk in Brazil

An estimated 600,000 visitors will be making their way to Brazil for the World Cup, which the National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command has warned is likely to expand the child sex market. The fear is that sex workers will relocate from other parts of the country to the cities that are hosting the tournament, and that pimps within these cities will try to recruit as many of them as possible, including children, to meet the increased demand for prostitution. “The arrival of thousands of additional tourists in a festive environment where families and children are already living in a situation of great vulnerability could present a real danger to these children,” says Patel. In addition to this, children could be trafficked to these cities by gangs who promise them work in the cities during the tournament.

Brazilian authorities have begun to act in order to combat this issue, as well as supporting NGO initiatives designed to protect vulnerable children during the tournament. Smith explains: “Brazil has become aware of this issue and they have started to put in place several measures to protect children. Legislation already exists so anyone caught could face a jail sentence. There is starting to be a coordinated measure by the Brazilian Federal Police, the Ministry of Human Rights, and the Ministry of Tourism.”

Brazilian authorities launch the 'Don't Look Away' campaign against child trafficking (photo: Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil)

Brazilian authorities launch the ‘Don’t Look Away’ campaign against child trafficking (photo: Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil)

Last year the Brazilian Tourism Ministry launched three campaigns in an attempt to deal with the issue, and to raise awareness of the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. As part of the campaign, posters, masks, car stickers, shirts, hats, and water bottles were distributed, as well as banners placed at strategic locations at Brazilian airports to catch the attention of both Brazilian and foreign tourists. In addition to this, the ‘Dial 100’ line was launched, which is a free national telephone answering service which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It will enable anyone to telephone the hot line to report abuse. Program coordinator of Sustainable Tourism and Childhood, Adeline Neto, comments: “Our children and adolescents need care during this period. We need to be vigilant, if necessary, to report via Dial 100. The idea is that the campaign will continue in the immediate and long term, so that whenever the topic of violence against children and adolescents is highlighted, it is strongly restrained.”

Whilst these campaigns seek to raise awareness, the question remains; are the authorities acting on what people see and what is being reported? As Smith notes, “the Brazilian government is giving the simple message that if anyone ‘sees something they should say something’.” This is not a bad tactic in itself, as long as there is something that happens after the phone call, as long as there are the sufficient police resources to act upon the reports, and as long as the safeguarding measures are put in place to protect and rescue the children once the abuse is discovered.

The problem here could simply be the investment, or lack of it, which is being put in place to tackle the problem. As of September 2013, official figures from Brazil forecasted that the World Cup was going to cost R$25.6bn (US$10.8bn), of which R$3.9bn will come from private investors, with the rest of the funds coming from federal and state budgets. Included within this, the Brazilian Human Rights Secretariat has set aside R$8m for host cities to set up projects to fight child prostitution. This figure may sound large, but in comparison to the budget for the World Cup, and considering the extent of the problem already in Brazil, it may not be enough to combat the issue. “The problem is that it doesn’t appear that the Brazilian government are putting much money and resources into protecting children in comparison to the money that they are spending on putting on a good show.

“An additional criticism is that Brazil doesn’t have the safeguarding measures in place to protect and rescue the children who are being exploited or trafficked. And it doesn’t look like the funds are being made available to tackle the issue,” concludes Patel.

In addition to the measures put in place directly by the Brazilian government, there are also a number of NGO initiatives which are receiving state support, and which are hoped to have a significant impact on reducing the risks.

One such initiative is the ‘Don’t Look Away’ campaign, designed to make tourists “aware of child prostitution, the consequences for the victim and the risks of temptation in a particularly festive and exotic environment.”

Coordinated by ECPAT, the initiative has received support from a large network of child protection organisations, as well as the Brazilian government. “The campaign has been sponsored by SESI (Brazilian Industrial Social Services) and the European Union, but it is also supported by the Brazilian government. We are working with the Brazilian government and the Brazilian police to try and get as much support as possible. One thing that has come of it is the increase in the number of helicopters that the police will be able to use to see from above what is going on,” explains Patel.

Image courtesy of Happy Child UK

Image courtesy of Happy Child UK

Another initiative that has been launched is called ‘It’s a Penalty’, by Happy Child International, a charity mainly based in Brazil, along with the Jubilee Campaign and The A21 Campaign. Smith, founder of the Jubilee Campaign explains: “We have launched the ‘It’s a Penalty’ campaign to make people aware of the risks of being caught abusing children – they can be jailed in Brazil or when they return to their home country.

“The Brazilian government is supporting our initiative, along with British Airways and others, as they will screen our campaign video on all flights to Brazil for a month before the World Cup starts.

“However I fear that our campaign message will be forgotten or ignored or obscured and that children will be abused. We know that trafficking gangs operate and that there is money to be made from the vulnerable members of society. But it’s up to all of us to protect and help the weak and oppressed.”

With initiatives such as these the Brazilian government has shown a willingness to accept and address the problem of child sexual exploitation. But these campaigns will only go so far. To properly combat the problem, the government will need to show potential offenders that they are serious, and that they are willing to pump sufficient resources into prosecuting offenders, and protecting the victims.

Hidden Dangers of the Campaigns

There is also the concern that disproportionate, unnecessary, or harmful measures employed by the authorities to stop children being sexually exploited or trafficked, could have negative consequences for the existing sex workers within Brazil.

This was certainly a criticism of the policing employed during the 2012 Olympics in London, as Georgina Perry recalls, “Where once the relationship between sex workers and clients was good, it is now broken. Where once sex workers may have felt it possible to report crimes against them to the police, there is now a dangerous and distrustful environment in London with crimes going unreported for fear of unwanted repercussions.”

A breakdown in relations between the authorities and existing sex workers could be disastrous during a period when sex workers are likely to be at their busiest, as it would likely restrict them from accessing health and social support, as well as further criminalising them, and exposing them to the additional dangers of clandestine transactions.

Patel, however, makes the simple point that “it’s child abuse at the end of the day, and the police need to be given the responsibility and the resources to police it properly. Of course nobody wants there to be any negative consequences from an increase in policing, but there can be no compromising with the protection of children.”

So while it is important that the police are given sufficient resources and authority to tackle the problem of child exploitation, it is also important that they handle it with care.

It is undeniable that the World Cup is going to have ramifications for Brazil as a nation, and for the people within it. Ernst and Young have forecasted that the championships could inject R$113bn into the economy. Financially, the World Cup is likely to benefit the country, and there is hope that this benefit will be shared between all of the citizens within Brazil, and not just those already at the top.

Brazil has an opportunity to show the world what a positive and progressive country it has become, but will fail in disheartening fashion should their most vulnerable be subjected to further exploitation while the world’s eyes are upon them.

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Latin America News Roundup: 21st March 2014

President Michelle Bachelet (Photo: AFP/Martín Bernetti/Télam/cf)

President Michelle Bachelet (Photo: AFP/Martín Bernetti/Télam/cf)

Chile – New Government Moves Ahead With Gay Marriage Proposal: The new government of Michelle Bachelet will begin the process to legalise same sex marriage, according to Justice Minister José Antonio Gómez. “We are going to open a broad debate, with the aim of eventually establishing a new law,” said Gómez. “[President Bachelet] has made it clear that we are going to end discrimination in Chile.” The Chilean Congress is currently debating a new Life Partnership Agreement (AVP), which will regulate same sex civil unions and complement the planned changes to the Civic Code to legalise same sex marriage. Bachelet urged the Chamber of Deputies to vote on the AVP bill, which has already been approved in the Senate, as soon as possible.

Brazil – Federal Troops Sent Into Rio Slums After Violence: President Dilma Rousseff today agreed to send federal troops to Rio de Janeiro after a wave of attacks on the Pacificiation Police Units (UPP) operating in the city’s slums. Several UPP posts were attacked on Thursday night, with local media reporting three officers and one civilian injured and facilities destroyed by fire. After the attack, the power supply to the Maguinhos neighbourhood was disrupted, while schools were closed on Friday due to the threat of violence. Rio de Janeiro state governor Sergio Cabral, who today met with Rousseff to request federal support, blamed drugs gangs for the violence: “It is clear that criminals want to weaken our policy of pacification and take back territories which were in criminal hands.”

The violence comes amid renewed question marks over police brutality in Rio after a woman died earlier this week after being dragged under a police car for around 300m on a busy street. Claudia da Silva Ferreira, a mother of four, had been injured in a shootout between police and alleged gangs in the Morro da Congonha slum and was taken to hospital in the boot of the police car, falling out after it opened on the way. President Rousseff said the death had “shocked the nation” and offered condolences to her family and friends. Three policemen have been arrested.

Colombia – Authorities Battle Huge Forest Fire: Authorities continue to battle a wildfire that has already destroyed over 3,000 hectare of jungle in the department of Chocó, in northwest Colombia. Although the fire began 11 days ago, the National Unit for Disaster Management (UNGRD) only began coordinated action involving local and national firefighters and the armed forces yesterday, as the flames threatened to spread into the neighbouring department of Antioquia. Víctor Manuel Gómez Cortez, mayor of the town of Unguía located near the blaze, said the area affected could take 30 years to recover. As of this morning, the Colombian Air Force had dropped over 66,000 litres of water, with the UNGRD saying that two of the four main centres of the fire had been brought under control. Though a full investigation will be carried out to establish the causes of the fire, the UNGRD said there was a “high possibility” that it was caused intentionally.

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Latin America News Roundup: 7th March 2014

Family and friends mourn victim of clashes between militias and army (photo: AFP/Alfredo Estrella/Télam/aa)

Family and friends mourn victim of clashes between militias and army (photo: AFP/Alfredo Estrella/Télam/aa)

Mexico – Michoacán Militias Agree to “Gradual Demobilisation”: The self-defence groups operating in the Mexican state of Michoacán have reached an agreement with the federal government by which they will undertake a “gradual demobilisation”. Militia leaders have committed to staying away from urban areas and to doing a “clean-up” within their ranks. Estanislao Beltrán, a spokesman for the militias, confirmed that “we will do a clean-up of all those who are in the towns and who were part of the movement. Those who have problems, who have legal problems and those who are criminals, they will have to pay,” adding that “we don’t negotiate with criminals.” They will also remove barricades in areas “where they are not needed anymore” due to the presence of federal security forces. Militias were formed in Michoacán as a way to protect the population from the criminal activities of drug cartels. Earlier this year, the federal and local governments announced the implementation of a joint strategy to regain control of the state and take over security procedures.

Costa Rica – Farmers Denounce Environmental Damage: The North Land and Freedom organisation, in northern Costa Rica, has denounced that the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the area is causing widespread environmental damage. The Bijagua hydroelectric project, carried out by cooperative Coopeguanacaste, is expected to have a capacity of 17.39 MW once completed. However, according to a statement by North Land and Freedom, “the cooperative has opened at least three different work sites and within a few days it has destroyed the protected areas of the Zapote and Bijagua rivers, despite the water law banning works in the banks of rivers and ravines.” The statement also accuses Coopeguanacuaste of removing vegetation in order to build a tunnel and other complementary works in the area. “Even though the environmental impact assessment for the Bijagua Hydroelectric Project was approved on 18th December 2012 (…) this cannot be a blank cheque for the Cooperative to destroy the ecosystems in the region.” North Land and Freedom brings together farmers’ organisations from Upala, Los Chiles, and Guatuso, as well as the Maléku indigenous community.

Brazil – Court Recognises Rural Settlement: At least 78 families from the Osvaldo de Oliveira camp obtained their right to own land. This came after four evictions and three years of struggle at the settlement in Macaé, Rio de Janeiro. Last week, judge Eduardo Aidé Bueno de Camargo confirmed the beginning of the process to regularise the situation of the families. In September 2010 the zone had been declared an area of social interest through a decree signed by former president Lula Da Silva. Then, in 2012, the National Institute for Colonisation and Agrarian Reform determined the divestment of the lands. The families are part of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST). Story courtesy of Agencia Púlsar.

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Latin America News Roundup: 28th February 2014

The 'Cuban Five' (photo: Wikipedia)

The ‘Cuban Five’ (photo: Wikipedia)

‘Cuban Five’ Member Returns to Cuba: Cuban intelligence agent Fernándo González, a member of the ‘Cuban Five’, was released from prison in the US and deported back to Cuba. González left the Arizona prison where he completed his sentence on Thursday, and was immediately turned over to the Immigration Department. He was deported and arrived at Havana’s international airport this morning. González was arrested in Florida in 1998 and sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2001 after being found guilty of conspiracy charges and for failing to register as a foreign agent in the US. Both the ‘Cuban Five’ and the government have admitted they were intelligence agents, but claimed to have been informing on terrorist groups within the exiled community in Miami which were planning attacks on the island. González is the second of the ‘Cuban Five’ to have completed his sentence. René González was released in 2013, whilst Antonio Guerrero will be released in 2017, and Gerardo Hernández and Ramón Labañino are serving life terms. Cuban authorities have indicated their willingness to carry out a prisoner exchange, swapping the remaining members ‘Cuban Five’ for US State Department contractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence on the island.

Agreement Reached on Panama Canal: The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announced the end of talks with construction consortium GUPC over the conclusion of the canal’s expansion project. The talks resulted in a “conceptual agreement,” which is still “subject to documentation, review and final signature by the parties.” As the agreement does not modify the price or the terms of the contract, the project – which involves the construction of a set of locks – must be completed by December 2015. It was also agreed that GUPC will pay US$100m and ACP will advance US$100m, which will enable works to return to a normal pace in March. APC administrator, Jorge Quijano, said that “We have reached a conceptual agreement that protects the interests of the Panama Canal, within the terms of the contract and respecting our position.” The conflict broke out when the ACP refused to pay cost overruns of US$1.6bn, which it deemed “exorbitant and unjustified,” and the consortium ordered its sub-contractors to abandon the work sites. GUPC resumed work on the project on 20th February.

Brazil – Supreme Court Reduces Corruption Sentences: Eight people who had been found guilty of corruption in Brazil’s ‘trial of the century’ had their sentences reduced by the Supreme Court, including Lula Da Silva’s former Chief of Staff José Dirceu. Six out of the eleven court judges, including two of its newest members, voted to acquit the accused of the charges of conspiracy, which will see their jail terms reduced, and will also exempt them from serving them in a closed prison, doing it instead in a ‘semi-open’ jail in Brasilia. Supreme Court president Joaquim Barbosa said that a “circumstantial majority” was formed specifically “to undermine all the great work carried out by this court on the second semester of 2012.” “It is a sad afternoon for the Supreme Court,” he lamented.

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Latin America News Roundup: 25th February 2014

It was near the São Paulo FC stadium that a Santos fan was killed on Sunday. (Photo: Wikipedia)

It was near the São Paulo FC stadium that a Santos fan was killed on Sunday. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Brazil – Murder of Football Fan Renews Security Concerns Before World Cup: Public prosecutors in Brazil have launched an investigation into the brutal killing of a Santos fan by supporters of rival club São Paulo on Sunday. Marcio Barreto de Toledo was beaten to death after being attacked by a group of men wielding metal bars as he waited at a bus stop near the stadium where the two clubs had just played. Other Santos fans at the bus stop managed to escape without serious injuries. The latest incident has renewed concerns over football violence in Brazil just a few months before the start of the World Cup. According to Globo newspaper, 30 people died in football-related violence in 2013.

In other news related to the World Cup, Adidas today confirmed that it would recall two T-shirts after the Brazilian government complained they sexualised the country’s identity and could encourage sex tourism during the tournament. Adidas said the two T-shirts in question were in a limited edition range and only released in the US. “Brazil is happy to receive tourists for the World Cup, but it is also ready to combat sex tourism,” wrote President Dilma Rousseff on Twitter.

Costa Rica Files Another Complaint Against Nicaragua At ICJ: Costa Rica today filed a new complaint against neighbouring Nicaragua at the International Court of Justice, in an effort to solve a dispute over maritime territorial limits. The move comes months after Nicaragua drew up blocks suitable for offshore oil exploration in both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea in areas contested by Costa Rica. Foreign Affairs Minister Enrique Castillo said that Nicaragua was seeking to expand its maritime territory and hoped that the ICJ would make a final decision on the sea border between the two countries. “There are no maritime limits. We are hostages to arbitrary decisions by the Nicaraguan government,” said president Laura Chinchilla at a press conference yesterday. Costa Rica and Nicaragua are already waiting for an ICJ verdict over the contested Isla Calero, and Chinchilla said it could take four years for a decision on this new demand. In January, the ICJ delivered a ruling on a long-running dispute of maritime territory between Chile and Peru.

El Salvador – Presidential Favourite Pledges to Ban Metal Mining: Presidential candidate for the FMLN party and favourite to win the run-off vote on 9th March, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, has publicly pledged to prohibit metal mining in the country. “The threat of metal mining is a threat to life,” said Sánchez Cerén at a campaign event in the city of San Isidro, Cabañas, where local press report several anti-mining activists have been killed in recent years. Marcos Gálvez, representative of the National Front Against Metal Mining, responded to the pledge saying: “We celebrate that the FMLN presidential candidate has made this public commitment [...] What we want as a group from the new government is for legislation to ban mining in El Salvador.” Incumbent president Mauricio Funes, also of the FMLN, announced in his 2009 campaign that he was against mining in El Salvador, though the party has made little progress in legislating against it.

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Latin America News Roundup: 21st February 2014

Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, in 1975.

Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, in 1975.

Haiti – Ex Dictator Could Face Human Rights Trial: An appeals court in Haiti has ruled that the former dictator Jean Claude Duvalier can face trial for alleged human rights abuses between 1971 and 1986. The court overruled the decision in 2012 by first instance judge Jean Carves that the time in which Duvalier could be prosecuted for human rights crimes had expired, and ordered an investigation to determine whether a new trial should be called. The verdict ruled that under international law, crimes against humanity are excluded from statute of limitations. Duvalier, nicknamed ‘Baby Doc’, also faces charges of corruption, theft and embezzlement; he has denied all charges brought against him. During Duvalier’s 15-year rule, thousands of Haitian civilians were murdered, tortured, or disappeared. He was forced into exile for 25 years after a popular revolt in 1986, but returned to Haiti in 2011.

Brazil Calls In Army To Beef Up World Cup Security: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced that the army will be called on “if necessary” to control street protests during the 2014 World Cup. “Brazil is ready to guarantee the safety of its citizens and visitors,” declared Rousseff as she unveiled a R$1.9bn (reais) security programme for the tournament. Civil, Federal, and Military Police forces will also coordinate security programmes in the 12 host cities. The announcement comes soon after the death of a Brazilian cameraman who was hit by a flare during violent protests in Rio de Janeiro, the latest in a series of demonstrations that began in July 2013.

Venezuela – Government Revokes Credentials for CNN Journalists: CNN International and CNN en Español confirmed today that the Venezuelan authorities had revoked the press credentials of seven journalists working in the country. The notification came hours after President Nicolas Maduro criticised the media channel for its coverage of recent protests. “They want to show the world that there is a civil war in Venezuela,” said Maduro yesterday evening. “Enough war propaganda! If you do not rectify things, get out of Venezuela, CNN!” The decision came during another day of protests in cities around the country by opposition group Voluntad Popular, led by Leopoldo López, who was arrested on Tuesday. Last night, prosecutors dropped charges of murder and terrorism against López, though he will remain in custody while other charges – including arson, inciting violence, and damage to public property – are investigated.

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Latin America News Roundup: 18th February 2014

Leopoldo López (centre) gives himself up to the National Guard today (photo: AFP/ Juan Barreto/Télam)

Leopoldo López (centre) gives himself up to the National Guard today (photo: AFP/ Juan Barreto/Télam)

Venezuela – Opposition Leader Arrested as Protests Continue: A figurehead of the opposition protests taking place since last Wednesday in Venezuela, Leopoldo López, handed himself over to the National Guard while leading another march today in Caracas. López had been wanted by police for several days, suspected of various crimes, including inciting the violence that left three dead last week. Dressed in white and carrying flowers, López spoke to protesters gathered on the streets of the capital before giving himself up. “If my incarceration serves to awaken the people, it will be worth it,” he said. Pro-government groups also took to the streets again today in a show of support for President Nicolás Maduro, who spoke to the crowds this afternoon.

Also today, the government confirmed via the Official Gazette the removal of the head of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin), days after confirming that members of the unit had disobeyed orders not to go out on the streets during the marches on 12th February. Gustavo González was named at the new Sebin director.

Honduras – Government to Establish ‘Dry Sunday’ to Combat Crime: The government in Honduras announced yesterday that it would impose a ban on alcohol for 11 hours from Sunday afternoons in an effort to reduce violent crime and road accidents. Presidential Secretary Reinaldo Sánchez told press that the sale of alcohol would be forbidden between 5pm on Sunday until 6am on Monday and will be enforced at a national level. Honduras has one of the world’s highest murder rates, calculated by the Autonomous National University of Honduras (UNAH) at 79.7 per 100,000 people in 2013 (compared to an estimated global average of 8.8). However, director of the Violence Observatory at UNAH, Migdonia Ayestas, said more studies must be conducted to investigate the link between alcohol and homicides. “We can say that the violent murders in Honduras are usually committed on weekends. Whether this is due to the intake of alcohol requires greater investigation and analysis.”

Brazil – Curitiba Confirmed as World Cup Venue: The Arena da Baixada stadium in Curitiba was today given the green light by football governing body FIFA to host matches in the 2014 World Cup starting 12th June. The venue had been in doubt due to severe delays in the construction of the stadium, and was given until today to convince FIFA that it would be ready on time. After an inspection, FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke announced via Twitter this afternoon that Curitiba would remain a host city, “based on financial guarantees, the commitments by all stakeholders, and progress made.” Valcke added that: “It’s a race against a very tight timeline.” The stadium is scheduled to host four group stage matches during the tournament, with the first to be played on 15th June.

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