Tag Archive | "mexico"

Latin America News Roundup: 15th April 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 – Vigilante Groups Agree Disarmament Plan With Government: The Mexican government yesterday agreed on an 11-point plan with vigilante groups to disarm and normalise the situation in the state of Michoacán. Representatives of the so-called ‘autodefensas‘ agreed to hand over large calibre weapons before a deadline of 10th May. Between now and then, the vigilante groups and government authorities will engage in dialogue over the problem of organised crime in Mexico, and how to combat it together. One possible solution to be discussed further is the creation of a special State Rural Police Force, in which the vigilantes can protect their communities legally. Around 30 of the 113 municipalities in Michoacán have been taken over by the autodefensas, which formed last year as a response to rising violent crime perpetrated by local drugs cartels.

Nicaragua on Maximum Alert as Earthquakes Continue: The government in Nicaragua has put the whole country on “extreme red alert” over the possibility of a major earthquake. The country has been rocked by three moderate earthquakes since Thursday last week, leaving two dead and several injured. There have also been over 300 of smaller tremors, according to the Institute of Territorial Studies (Ineter), with authorities fearing that they could reactiviate a fault that caused a catastrophic earthquake in 1972 that killed thousands. The government has evacuated some 1,500 people from the capital Managua, and set up a number of tent shelters and field hospitals in anticipation of a potential emergency situation. There is also concern about heightened activity in the Apoyeque volcano, which could cause further earthquakes in the area.

Nísio Gomes, a Guarani shaman shot dead by gunmen in Brazil in 2011 (Photo courtesy of Survival)

Nísio Gomes, a Guarani shaman shot dead by gunmen in Brazil in 2011 (Photo courtesy of Survival)

Report Shows 80% of Environment Activist Killings Occur in Latin America: A new report by Global Witness says killings of environmental activists have increased sharply in recent years, with Latin America the most affected area. According to the report, entitled Deadly Environment, at least 908 people were killed protecting the environment or land rights between 2002 and 2013, with the death rate rising to two activists per week in the last four years. Over 80% of these killings took place in Latin America, with Brazil (448) and Honduras (109) topping the world rankings. Five other Latin American countries – Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Paraguay – feature in the top ten countries with most killings, with the vast majority occurring after 2009. The report calls for urgent action to “challenge impunity of perpetrators, protect citizens, and address root causes of the environmental crisis.” In only 1% of the known cases has the perpetrator been convicted, while the report adds that the actual number of deaths is likely to be much higher than the figure presented due to a shortage of information. Tensions over land rights have increased throughout Latin America as the agriculture and mining industries advance into new territories. Local towns and villages – often indigenous communities – have faced violence and intimidation if they resist the exploitation of their land. In the most recent incident, last week, land rights activist Jesús Quinto was killed in Colombia.

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Latin America News Roundup: 9th April 2014

Ramiro Hernández Llanas (photo: Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

Ramiro Hernández Llanas (photo: Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

Mexican Citizen to be Executed in the US: Despite objections from human rights organisations, Mexican national Ramiro Hernández Llanas will be executed today at 6pm (local time) in the US state of Texas. Hernández Llanas’ legal team has exhausted all legal avenues to stop the execution, and are now appealing to governor Rick Perry to use his power of reprieve. According to Amnesty International, “the state has relied upon racial stereotyping and the views of discredited ‘expertise’ to secure this death sentence.” Hernández Llanas’ defence, as well as Amnesty, have claimed that their client is mentally disabled, having endured a childhood “of abuses and extreme poverty in Mexico.” With an IQ of between 50 and 60, Hernández Llanas “suffers from severe adaptive functioning deficits across a range of skill areas including linguistic, academic, conceptual, social, work and domestic,” according to an Amnesty report. They have also questioned the late notice given to Mexican consular authorities regarding his detention, effectively denying him the consular protection to which he was entitled. A 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the ‘Avena case’ obliged the US to review the cases of at least 51 Mexican nationals imprisoned in the country who had been denied their right to consular assistance, including that of Hernández Llanas. This revision, however, has not been carried out.

Hernández Llanas, 44, was sentenced to death in 2000, after being found guilty of murdering his employer and raping his wife. His execution will be the fifth in Texas, and the second of a Mexican citizen, so far this year.

Paraguay – Indigenous People Sue Stroessner for Genocide: The Aché indigenous community of Paraguay filed a lawsuit in Argentina against former dictator Alfredo Stroessner for genocide. Backed by Spanish ex-judge Baltasar Garzón, the Aché are invoking the principle of universal jurisdiction to bring Stroessner to justice over the crimes committed against the community in the early ’70s. “Practically 60% of the Aché people were disappeared, eliminated; over 200 children were stolen and given up as domestic servants, sold, given up for illegal adoption,” said Garzón. Aché representative Ceferino Kreigi Duarte said that “we still feel a huge pain in our hearts and minds. This is why today we’re asking that the Paraguayan state answer for all this damage, not only to our community but to all the peoples of Paraguay that were victims of the dictatorship,” adding that “this is the reason why we’re asking the Argentine justice to help us.” The lawsuit was filed with federal judge Norberto Oyarbide, who is carrying out an investigation into crimes against humanity in Paraguay during the Stroessner dictatorship (1954-1989) since August last year. As a judge in Spain, Garzón himself applied the principle of universal jurisdiction to investigate human rights crimes in Latin America.

Bolivia – New Mining Minister Sworn In: César Navarro was sworn in as Mining Minister yesterday, replacing Mario Virreira, who recognised his responsibility in the recent conflict regarding changes to the mining law. The new minister was given four main tasks by President Evo Morales: to audit contracts between cooperatives and private companies, to train mining professionals, to modernise state mining, and to encourage industrialisation in the mining sector. Upon taking office, Navarro intervened the offices of the state-owned Bolivian Mining Corporation (Comibol), as suspicions arose regarding the signature of mining contracts contrary to the interests of the state. “We have filed a lawsuit before the Public Ministry because we pressume there are contracts damaging to the state that go against Bolivian society and what we want is an inventory and an audit of all of Comibol’s documentation,” said Navarro. Over the weekend, Government Minister Carlos Romero revealed the existence of at least 42 contracts between mining cooperatives and private companies without state endorsement.

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Latin America News Roundup: 8th April 2014

President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

Venezuela – Government and Opposition in ‘Exploratory’ Meeting: Representatives of the opposition are meeting today with the government to discuss the protests and violence that have plagued the country since February. Under the mediation of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), the main opposition coalition, the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) agreed to meet with President Nicolás Maduro to explore the possibility of engaging in dialogue going forward. Among the issues to be discussed in the search for a resolution to violence are the levels of insecurity in the country, the state of the economy, armed groups called ‘colectivos’, and an amnesty law for those arrested in recent weeks. Earlier on Twitter, Vice President Jorge Arreaza said the government was ready to listen to the demands of opposition governors and mayors from around the country, and prepared to approve two special requests from each of them.

Mexico – Surge in Violence in State of Tamaulipas: A spike in violence between organised criminal groups has left at least 19 dead since Sunday, according to official reports. Fourteen people were killed on Sunday alone after gun battles in the cities of Tampico and Maduro, on the border with the US. The region is home to the Gulf and Los Zetas cartels, and the spike in violence comes after a series of police and army raids to capture leading members of both. According to Governor Egidio Torre Cantú: “These acts of violence are the results of actions we are undertaking as part of our fight to restore peace to the region.” Meanwhile, in the southern state of Michoacán, the vigilante groups called ‘autodefensas‘, are protesting efforts by the government to disarm them. Spokesman for the vigilantes, José Manuel Mireles, said the group demanded the dismissal of the security commissioner Alfredo Castillo and the withdrawal of the army and navy forces. President Enrique Peña Nieto said the government would restore security to the state “whatever the cost”.

Uruguay – Teachers in 24-Hour Strike Over Hours and Wages: Secondary school teachers in Uruguay today held a 24-hour strike in a dispute over unassigned hours and unpaid wages. The National Federation of Secondary Teachers (Fenapes) and the Association of Secondary Teachers (Ades) led the measure today, which included a march and the occupation of the Secondary Board for several hours this afternoon. “There are 40,000 unassigned hours and 1,000 teachers without work,” said Fenapes secretary general José Olivera. “All of this is to do with management problems.” Education minister Ricardo Ehrlich, however, said he did not understand the “radical” measure, especially as dialogue was ongoing.

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Latin America News Roundup: 4th April 2014

ZunZuneo logo CubaCuba – US Government Secretly Funds Social Network: A report by news agency Associated Press (AP) revealed that the US government funded a social network called ZunZuneo between 2010 and 2012, “aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.” According to the AP article, the SMS-based social network was secretly funded through aid agency USAID, which channelled U$S1.6m hidden behind a “byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account.” Through it, the US government would initially spread “non-controversial content” such as information on sports, hurricanes, and music, with the intention to later on “introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs’ (…) that might trigger a Cuban Spring.” On a press briefing yesterday, Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the US Department of State, acknowledged the involvement of USAID in funding the ‘Cuban Twitter’, as it was known, however she stated that “there was nothing classified or covert about this program. Discreet does not equal covert.” She also argued that “we [the US government] were not generating political content of any kind on this platform. We were letting the Cuban people do that themselves.”

Chile – Overfishing Leaves Half of Species in Crisis: A report by the Secretariat of Fishing has revealed that over 40% of the country’s major fisheries are under threat from overfishing. According to the 2013 review of resources, 16 of the 33 main fishing grounds are classed as either ‘over exploited’ or ‘exhausted’. Among the most vulnerable species are the anchovy, golden kingklips, skate, and alfonsin. “The situation is critical,” said Undersecretary of Fishing and Agriculture Raúl Súnico. “This report imposes on us a great challenge to recover the over-exploited and exhausted fisheries and create a more sustainable future for our fishing industry.” Years of poorly regulated industrial fishing have been blamed for the current shortages, with artisanal fishermen critical of authorities for favouring large-scale operations under a new Fishing Law that came into force last year. Fishing is one of the most important industries in Chile, which has the world’s seventh-largest commercial catch.

Mexico and Panama Sign Free Trade Agreement: The governments of the two countries formalised a free trade agreement (FTA) yesterday, which brings Panama closer to joining the Pacific Alliance. The FTA, which was 15 years in the making, is expected to benefit companies which will use Mexico as a manufacturing base and Panama as a gateway for global distribution, according to experts consulted by Mexican newspaper El Financiero. Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli also highlighted that, once the FTA is approved by the congresses of both countries and the Colombian congress, his country will be able to join the Pacific Alliance. “The incorporation of Panama to the Pacific Alliance Group will be greatly beneficial to all Panamanians. [Mexican] President [Enrique] Peña Nieto has promised he will support us in this undertaking,” he said, adding that “Panama would be the natural seat of the Pacific Alliance, being in a middle point between Mexico and Chile.” The Pacific Alliance is a trade bloc made up of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. New members must sign FTAs with all existing members in order to join in; in the case of Panama, the country only needs to finalise its FTA with Mexico.

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Latin America News Roundup: 28th March 2014

Uruguayan president José 'Pepe' Mujica (photo by Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr on Wikipedia)

Uruguayan president José ‘Pepe’ Mujica (photo by Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr on Wikipedia)

Uruguay – Partial Withdrawal of Police from Football Stadiums After Violence: President José Mujica has ordered the withdrawal of state police from the stadiums of the two biggest clubs – Nacional and Peñarol – following a violent confrontation between fans and officers on Wednesday. However, fears that the weekend’s domestic league fixtures would be suspended were abated today after an agreement was reached with the Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) and clubs to send police to protect referees and stadium personnel, as well as patrol the areas surrounding the stadiums. The safety of the fans will be the responsibility of the AUF and the clubs. Speaking on Thursday, a day after 13 police officers were injured and 40 Nacional fans arrested after a Copa Libertadores game in Montevideo, Mujica said he was “prepared to stop football if necessary” to combat the violence in the sport.

Mexico – Armed Militias Spread in Michoacán State: Armed militia groups, known as ‘autodefensas‘, marched into the municipality of Tacámbaro yesterday to take control of security and combat organised crime. The militias were accompanied by members of the state and federal police forces, local press report. The move brings the total number of towns reportedly under the control of the autodefensas to 31, a little over a year after first forming, with 20,000 people now part of the militia groups. Also yesterday, the public prosecutor’s office reported that 11 armed civilians were arrested in the town of Zitácuaro after allegedly falsely claiming to be part of the militia. Meanwhile, the government in the neighbouring state of Guerrero said federal police and the army had “sealed” the border between the two areas to prevent the spread of the militias – or the criminal gangs they are targeting – into its territory.

Ecuador – President Blames International Far Right for Twitter Hack: President Rafael Correa has blamed “extreme right-wing foreign groups” and the “unscrupulous local opposition” for hacking into his Twitter account yesterday. Messages that appeared on Correa’s account included links to a site called ‘Anonynews’, which included accusations against the government based on alleged official intelligence. The Interior Ministry and the National Intelligence Service today released a statement condemning the act: “We will not tolerate any illegal action that attacks and manipulates the president’s privacy, lying and making false claims on one of the direct channels of communication with the public.” The authorities added that a full investigation into the incident is underway.

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Latin America News Roundup: 17th March 2014

Catatumbo protesters (photo courtesy of Agencia Púlsar)

Protesters during last year’s National Agrarian Strike (photo courtesy of Agencia Púlsar)

Thousands of Colombian Campesinos March in Bogotá: An estimated 20,000 campesinos are protesting in Colombia’s capital to demand that the government of Juan Manuel Santos carry out agrarian reforms, and comply with the agreements signed in Tunja to end last year’s National Agrarian Strike. The nationwide strike lasted for nearly a month from 19th August to 12th September, and left eight people dead and at least 400 wounded. It involved all sectors of society who were tired of the government’s support for policies that “go against the needs of the huge majority of the people”. The strikers had multiple demands, among them, social claims for the rural population, and the implementation of measures and actions in face of the agricultural crisis. Today’s march comes at the end of the three-day National Agrarian Summit, which brought together campesinos, indigenous communities, afro-Colombians, and other rural sectors to continue in the process of unification.

Mexican Cartel Member Arrested for Organ Trafficking: The nephew of one of the leaders of the Caballeros Templarios cartel has been arrested in the west of Mexico, accused of killing minors and extracting and selling their organs. Manuel Plancarte Gaspar, who is also a member of the criminal organisation, was arrested in a stolen car, and is being investigated “for the death of minors, whose organs he extracted to sell,” according to a police statement. It is not yet known if the Michoacán-based cartel was involved in the organ trafficking. Enrique “Kike” Plancarte, Gaspar’s uncle, has become one of the leaders of the cartel since the death of its founder, Nazario Moreno, on 9th March in a police operation.

Record Deportations of Hondurans from US: The director of Honduras’ the Returned Migrant Centre (CAMR), Valdette Williams, said yesterday that deportations of Hondurans from the US has increased more than 200% in the past three years. Over the past year 39,000 Hondurans have been repatriated, the Central American state’s nationals making up almost a tenth of the total 369,000 people who were expelled. Under the administrations of Barack Obama, some two million people have been sent back to their countries, the vast majority of them Latin Americans, and the numbers show no signs of abating. “The trend will continue and deported migrants will keep arriving, although it is ever-harder to get into the United States from Mexico,” conceded Williams, referring to the wall that runs along an increasing stretch of the border.

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Latin America News Roundup: 14th March 2014

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos  (Photo: Facebook official account)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos
(Photo: Facebook official account)

Colombia: Dozens of New Members of Congress Tied to Paramilitaries: Colombia’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation has reported that 70 of the candidates elected in Sunday’s legislative elections had been questioned for ties to paramilitaries or other criminal organisations. Thirty-three were elected to the Senate and 37 to the Chamber of Representatives. Before Sunday’s elections, the NGO had highlighted ties of 131 of the 2,324 candidates to such organisations, and the fact that over half of them were elected led to a “bleak” panorama. According to their investigation, the party with the most questionable members of Congress was President Juan Manuel de Santos’ Partido de la U, with 18, followed by Conservatives and Liberals, with 13 each. Most of those elected came from northern provinces, which historically have the most ties to the paramilitaries.

Honduras: Justice of Peace and Lawyer Killed: Two legal representatives were killed in separate attacks today in Honduras. Justice of the peace Lenin Castañeda was shot dead outside his home in the Caribbean city of Tocoa, while lawyer José Nicolás Bernárdez died after motorcyclists fired on his car in San Pedro Sula. Police sources have confirmed that Castañeda was the son of Adolfo Castañeda, the founder of the MUCA, a campesino movement. So far no motive has been given for either attack. These latest murders brings the number of legal professionals killed since 2010 to 75, according to the country’s Human Rights Commission. Each day, an average of 14 people are killed in the Central American country, and with a rate of 169 intentional homicides per 100,000 inhabitants San Pedro Sula was last year declared the most violent city in the world for a second year in a row.

Chile’s New Government Apologises to Mapuche: Francisco Huenchumilla, the newly appointed governor of Chile’s Araucanía region, today apologised to the Mapuche population for removal of their land and admitted that the country had a pending debt to the indigenous community, promising public policies that would help alleviate poverty. Around 600,000 Mapuche live in the region, and are currently in conflict with forestry companies, demanding their land back from what they say was illegal usurpation. Huenchumilla has said that he will meet with all sides that have been affected by the violence, as “everybody should be given a voice”. The region has seen clashes since the 90s between the Mapuche and farmers and businessmen who have been exploiting land the Mapuche consider to be ancestrally theirs.

Regional Environment Summit Closes in Mexico: The 19th Meeting of the Forum of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean, considered the most important environmental meeting in the region, ended today in Los Cabos, Mexico. Climate change, chemicals and waste management, and biodiversity conservation were the top items of the agenda, and the summit aimed to strengthen regional cooperation in addressing these issues. Conservation was high on the agenda as the region is home to 34% of the world’s plant species, 30% of mammals, 41% of birds, 50% of amphibians, 35% of reptiles, and 31% of fish. The event was organised by the Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), gathered together ministers and high-level officials from 31 countries, as well as representatives of the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Andean Development Corporation (CAF) and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), and civil society.

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Latin America News Roundup: 12th March 2014

Bachelet with Argentine president Cristina Fernández (left) and Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff (right) at her inauguration (photo: Presidencia/Télam/ddc)

Bachelet with Argentine president Cristina Fernández (left) and Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff (right) at her inauguration (photo: Presidencia/Télam/ddc)

Chile – President Bachelet Announces First Policies: President Michelle Bachelet, who was sworn in for a second term yesterday, announced she has submitted her first two bills to Congress. The first measure is the creation of the ‘March Bonus’, a US$40 yearly payment for low income families. “It’s not just about a payment on a month we know brings with it many expenses,” said Bachelet, “it is about the conviction that all our actions must be aimed at facing the [country's] huge inequalities.” The second bill re-establishes a similar yearly payment in the winter months, called the ‘Winter Bonus’, which had been implemented during her first term (2006-2010) and later eliminated by former president Sebastián Piñera. The policies would benefit some 1.6m families, according to government calculations. Upon taking office, Bachelet promised to deliver 50 of her campaign promises within the first 100 days of her government.

Paraguay – Unions Announce General Strike: Representatives from the main Paraguayan unions have called for a strike on 26th March, the first to take place during Horacio Cartes’ presidency. Workers are demanding higher wages and the implementation of “an economic, productive, and agro-ecological model that serves the majorities” rather than the corporations. Earlier this month, the government established a 10% increase in the minimum wage, whilst unions were asking for a 25% increase. Other reasons put forward for the strike, which the unions say was necessary because “the government refuses to negotiate,” are the demand to end the public-private alliance to carry out public works, to end of the “criminalisation of social struggle”, and to obtain freedom for the “political prisoners” from the Curuguaty Massacre. The government responded by saying the strike is politically motivated, as it has been supported by the opposition Liberal Party.

Mexico – Limits to Media Concentration: The Telecommunications Institute forced the country’s main media groups to allow new competitors to enter the business. The body’s resolution categorised Televisa and Grupo Carso, owned by businessman Carlos Slim, as the “main economic agents” in telecommunications and broadcasting. For this reason, it determined that they will have to share part of their infrastructure with their competitors offering a public rate. Also, Televisa will no longer have exclusive broadcasting rights for relevant content, such as football championships and the World Cup. Televisa itself announced it has been forced to “make its broadcasting infrastructure available to third parties in a non-discriminatory and non-exclusive manner.” It was also announced that two new frequencies for open air television will be put up for tender. Televisa is the largest media company in the Spanish speaking world, whilst Carlos Slim’s group is one of the leaders in the telecommunications market with companies such as América Movil, Telcel, Telmex, Embratel, Claro, and KPN Telecom, amongst others. Last December, the Federal Telecommunications Institute of Mexico left Televisa and TV Azteca out of the tender for new television channels due to their dominant position “in a highly concentrated market.” Story courtesy of Agencia Púlsar.

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Latin America News Roundup: 10th March 2014

El Salvadorian presidential candidate Salvador Sánchez-Cerén (photo courtesy of Wikipedia).

El Salvadorian presidential candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén (photo courtesy of Wikipedia).

El Salvador Presidential run-off too Close to Call:  With 100% of the votes counted, neither candidate has been declared the winner of yesterday’s presidential election run-off in El Salvador. Preliminary counts indicate that current vice president Salvador Sánchez Cerén from the governing left-wing FMLN party received 50.11% of the votes, whilst conservative Norman Quijano from the Nationalist Republican Alliance, ARENA, took 49.89%. However, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal has asked that neither candidate declare themselves the winner as the difference is so close that it is within the margin of error, and so they must wait for the results of the final count, which will likely come in on Wednesday or Thursday. The winner will take power on 1st June and will govern the country for the next five years.

Colombia Legislative Elections: With a turnout of just 35-40%, yesterday’s legislative elections in Colombia have dramatically re-drawn the country’s political map. President Juan Manuel Santos’ Partido de la U lost its majority in the senate, winning just 21 of the 102 seats, and 37 of the 166 seats in the house of representatives. Overall, the party is still the most powerful, although it will have to continue working in coalition with allies to keep governing the country when the new congress takes power in July. Former president Alvaro Uribe won a seat in the country’s senate, the first time a former leader has run for a seat in the country’s congress, and his newly-formed party Centro Democrático managed to win 19 seats in the senate and 18 in the house of representatives, on a platform that went against the on-going peace talks with FARC. The new congress will sit for a period of four years, and will play a decisive role in the implementation of the peace accords, which aim to put an end to the armed conflict, which has blighted the country for 50 years. The results come just over two months before the country sees presidential elections, which are set to take place on 25th May, and will see Santos run for re-election.

Mexico Caballeros Templarios Leader Killed: Mexican authorities have confirmed they have killed Nazario Moreno, leader of the Caballeros Templarios cartel, in a violent operation involving police and soliders in Tumbiscatío, Michoacán. Forty-three year old Moreno, known as ‘El Más Loco’, or the ‘Most Crazy’, was originally declared dead in December 2010 by former president Felipe Calderón’s government, but a body was never found and intelligence showed that he was still actively involved in the cartel’s operations. The Caballeros Templarios are known for their brutality and use of religious imagery, and run much of the methamphetamine production and trafficking in the west of Mexico. The news comes days after militia in the state of Michoacán agreed to a “gradual demobilisation” 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.

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Latin America News Roundup: 24th February 2014

Protests in Altamira, Caracas (photo: José Romero/Télam/lz)

Protests in Altamira, Caracas (photo: José Romero/Télam/lz)

Venezuela’s Government and Opposition in Peace Talks: Venezuela’s Government’s Federal Council is meeting today in Caracas to discuss possible ways to tackle the on-going unrest that has braced the country for nearly two weeks. The Council was originally due to meet last Monday to discuss the government’s new Security Plan, but the three right-wing governors boycotted the meeting in response to the government’s handling of opposition protests. The Federal Council is made up of representatives from all levels of government – national, regional, municipal and civil society – whose objective is the harmonised development of the country’s regions.

The talks come after more pro-government and opposition protests took place over the weekend. Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz has confirmed 13 deaths related to the uprising which began on 12th February, including that on Friday night of a 29-year-old man on a motorbike, who was beheaded by a wire strung across an avenue in Caracas. The wire had allegedly been put there by protesters who had set up a road block in the same location earlier that evening. Photos have been published of other locations in Caracas where protesters have stretched wires across the streets in an apparent effort to impede the passage of motorcyclists who are alleged to have been attacking protesters. Authorities have accused retired general Angél Omar Vivas Perdomo, who is an open critic of the government, of having encouraged protesters to put wires across streets and have ordered his detention. In response today, a motorbiking association organised a ride for peace in support of Maduro’s government.

Mexican ‘Most Wanted’ Drug Lord Arrested: Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, head of the Sinaloa Cartel and the most-wanted drug trafficker in the world, was arrested early on Saturday morning in the city of Mazatlán, in west Mexico. His capture was the result of several months’ work coordinated by Mexican and US authorities, culminating in an “impeccable” operation in which not a single shot was fired. Guzmán faces multiple drug charges in the United States and has been on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s top ten most wanted list for more than a decade. His Sinaloa Cartel smuggles cocaine from Colombia through Mexico to the United States, as well as being involved in the production, smuggling, and distribution of methamphetamine, marijuana, and heroin. Guzmán was originally captured in Guatemala in 1993, extradited and sentenced to 20 years in prison in Mexico for murder and drug trafficking, but he escaped maximum security prison Puente Grande in 2001 after bribing prison guards. His drug empire stretches throughout North America, but also reaches as far away as Europe and Australia, and his fortune is worth a reported US$1bn.

Ecuador Municipal Elections: President Rafael Correa’s Alianza PAIS (AP) faced defeat in yesterday’s municipal elections, which saw the opposition take power in Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca. AP won in nine of 23 municipalities, but lost the major urban centres. In Quito, mayor Augusto Barrera lost to Mauricio Rodas whilst in the country’s second city, Guayaquil, opposition mayor Jaime Nebot celebrated his re-election. Correa admitted that the defeat in Quito was a heavy blow, as the capital “has a lot to do with stability”, and appealed to the mayor-elect to work together with the government. The AP has been in power since 2007 and yesterday was the first electoral defeat after nine wins.

Celebrated Uruguayan Artist Páez Vilaró Dies: Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró died this morning in Montevideo, aged 90. The prolific artist worked as a painter, potter, sculptor, muralist, writer, composer and constructor. He was perhaps best known for his “liveable sculpture” creation of Casapueblo, close to Punta del Este, on Uruguay’s coast, which has been a leading tourist destination since the 1960s.

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