Tag Archive | "Paraguay"

Latin American Leaders Call for Reform of UN Security Council

Leaders of several Latin American countries, including Mexico, Chile, Paraguay, Ecuador, and Cuba, called for reform of the United Nations Security Council yesterday, as well as a change in attitudes towards migration, as they addressed the UN General Assembly in New York.

Cuban President Raul Castro also highlighted his country’s relations with the US.

Cuban President Raúl Castro spoke at the UN General Assembly for the first time (photo: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)

Cuban President Raúl Castro spoke at the UN General Assembly for the first time (photo: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)

While diplomatic relations between the two countries were formally restored in July this year, Castro said they could not be entirely normalised until the lifting of the “economic, commercial, and financial blockade imposed on Cuba by the US” and the closure of Guantánamo Bay, calls that were reiterated by other Latin American and Caribbean leaders.

The UN General Assembly has voted in support of a resolution calling the US to end the embargo each year since 1982 and plans to draft a new resolution on the matter are on the agenda for a meeting next month.

In his first address to the UN since succeeding his brother Fidel in 2006, Castro also backed requests from other Latin American leaders for reform of the UN Security Council.

The security council is the UN’s most powerful body because it has a role in shaping international law and takes the lead on identifying and responding to international crises and acts of aggression. It has 15 members, with the US, the UK, France, China, and Russia all occupying permanent seats, while the remaining ten seats are filled by non-permanent members which serve two-year terms, without the veto power held by permanent members.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, said that Chile’s 2014 – 2015 term on the council has “[reaffirmed] our belief in the need to reform the Council by increasing the number of its permanent members and limiting the scope of veto powers, at least in cases of crimes against humanity.”

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet talks before the UN General Assembly (photo courtesy of Chilean government)

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet talks before the UN General Assembly (photo courtesy of Chilean government)

The President of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes, echoed her calls for changes to the council’s structure and called for a more equitable representation of countries within it, saying, “If we want democracy to rule within our own republics, it is fair that we would also want it for the United Nations.”

Bachelet began her speech by referencing the migration crisis which is currently affecting Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. She insisted on the international community’s duty of “solidarity” in the treatment of “civilians who are fleeing desperately to save their lives and to create a better destiny for themselves,” adding that her government “has decided to take in refugees from the civil war in Syria” and will participate in UN peacekeeping operations in Africa from 2016.

Ecuadorian President, Rafael Correa, whose country recently declared migration to be a human right, was among the most vocal in criticising the migration policies of developed countries.

“For Ecuador’s government, there’s no such thing as an illegal human being,” he said, “and we think the UN should make a point of this idea. The migration policies of wealthy countries are truly shameful.”

Correa lamented that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for post-2015 do not include any mention of “the free movement of people”, highlighting the injustice of a system which encourages “the free movement of goods and money for maximum profit” while the movement of people seeking to earn a living is penalised.

He linked the current migration crisis to the failure to end global poverty, which “for the first time in history is not the result of a lack of resources but of perverse and restrictive systems”.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa at the UN (photo courtesy of Ecuadorian government)

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa at the UN (photo courtesy of Ecuadorian government)

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose country is the primary source of migrants to the US, meanwhile highlighted the need to stop “stigmatising immigrants and blaming them for the problems of the countries they arrive in”, which he said aggravates the experience of “danger, rejection, discrimination, and abuse” suffered by migrants.

“All over the world, millions of migrants are in need of a collective and effective response [to migration issues],” he concluded, “a global response which should come from the UN.”

All the Latin American leaders who spoke yesterday also raised environmental concerns, ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year, with Bolivian president Evo Morales insisting that “the only good way to live” is “in harmony with Mother Earth”.

Chile’s Bachelet affirmed that “many of the challenges facing the world today cannot be solved in an isolated manner by each country”. The creation of sustainable societies, she said, “will only be possible if we can agree on a set of changes to make not only on a national level, but on a global one too.”

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Paraguay: Students Take Over University Building During Protest

Protests over corruption in Paraguay’s education system culminated yesterday in 37 members of staff being held hostage by students at the National University of Asunción (UNA) as they demanded the resignation of university president, Froilan Peralta.

The rally, which began on Monday night at the university campus, escalated in tone and size with almost 2,000 students gathering outside the vice-chancellor’s office.

Universidad Nacional de  Asunción (Photo: Felipe Méndez, via WIkipedia)

Universidad Nacional de Asunción (Photo: Felipe Méndez, via WIkipedia)

Students barred university faculty from leaving the building where they had met to discuss Peralta’s request for a leave of absence, leading to a five hour stand-off with riot police.

One student told local radio station 1080 AM: “They’re playing us for fools when we’re the ones paying fees. Education should be for everyone. We don’t want him to take a leave of absence, we want him to resign.”

Peralta is under investigation for claims that he paid professor salaries to his secretary’s mother, sister and cousin, despite them having no teaching responsibilities at the university, as well as picking up extra pay himself for courses he no longer teaches. Local press say his whereabouts are unknown.

The staff members were released after tense negotiations between local authorities and student representatives to ensure that members of the school board would be able to leave the building without police protection. However, groups of students remain camped outside the building today.

The incident comes days after a march by thousands of high school students and teachers in Asunción on Friday under the slogan “Less corruption, more education!”.

Protestors marched to the Ministry of Education and Culture where they handed over a list of demands, including the doubling of investment in education from 3.5% of GDP to 7%, a move recommended by UNESCO.

They also demanded an updated school curriculum, better teacher training and improvements to infrastructure, as well as criticising the austerity measures announced by the government for 2016.

Another march is planned for next Tuesday.

Paraguay’s Education Minister, Marta Lafuente, said she welcomed debate with students, while the country’s Finance Minister, Santiago Peña, told reporters, “Investment in education is the most profitable kind. We have an enormous resonsibility when it comes to assigning these resources.”

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Paraguay: Curuguaty Massacre Trial Opens

The trial of 13 campesinos for their involvement in the so-called Curuguaty massacre began yesterday in Asunción.

The group face charges over their alleged involvement in the violent clashes over land rights between police and campesinos in Curuguaty, western Paraguay, on 15th June 2012.

The shootout left 17 dead – 11 campesinos and six police officers – and triggered the controversial impeachment of then-president Fernando Lugo.

Paraguayan citizens march to demand justice in the Curuguaty Massacre (Photo: Mateuverte)

Paraguayan citizens march to demand justice in the Curuguaty Massacre (Photo: Mateuverte)

The group faces charges including murder, criminal association, and land invasion, with prosecutors claiming the campesinos opened fire on a police unit ordered to evict them from the contested land. But lawyers for the defendants claim the initial shots were fired by snipers not associated with the group. No investigation has been opened into the deaths of the 11 campesinos or other abuses, despite survivors alleging torture and extra-judicial executions.

On the day in question, around 300 policemen participated in an operation to evict some 70 campesinos who were occupying a disputed terrain. The campesinos in the area claim the land is state property, but the private firm Campos Morombí, also lays claim to the land. The company is owned by the family of late Colorado Party politician Blas N. Riquelme, who was one of the leaders during the Stroessner dictatorship.

State prosecutor Jalil Amir Rachid said the police, some of whom were unarmed, were ambushed when they moved in to carry out the eviction order.

Supporters of the defendants have questioned Rachid for bias due to his ties to the Riquelme family, and the entire proceedings have been surrounded by controversy, with key witnesses killed, the trial postponed three times and defendants participating in a hunger strike for justice

According to the Articulación por Curuguaty, which brings together various social organisations around the case, foreign experts, lawyers, and indigenous and campesino leaders from around Latin America have travelled to Asunción as international observers to monitor “the respect for human and procedural rights of the judicial process”. Among those attending are Argentines Nora Cortiñas, of Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Línea Fundadora, and Nobel Peace laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel. 

The trial is expected to conclude on 28th August.

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Pope Francis Concludes South American Tour

Pope Francis receives a crucifix from Bolivian President Evo Morales (photo: Bolivian government)

Pope Francis receives a crucifix from Bolivian President Evo Morales (photo: Bolivian government)

Pope Francis concluded his South American tour last night after visiting Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay. He had left the Vatican on 5th July and arrived back today.

Through a number of speeches strong on political and social content, the pontiff used his visit to promote social justice and called for the protection of the poor.


Pope Francis started his South American tour in Ecuador, where he mentioned the “cry” of Latin American independence that burst over 200 years ago across the continent. “That was a cry born out of the awareness of the lack of freedom, of being squeezed, looted, subject to the circumstances of the powerful.” He added that “this cry of freedom that burst more than 200 years ago didn’t lack conviction and strength, but history shows that it was only strong when it set aside the personalities, the desire for unique leadership.”

He then encouraged the rejection of “personalities, desire for leadership, temptation of dictatorships, and sectarianism” and called for unity and an effort to “strive for inclusion at all levels, avoiding selfishness, promoting communication and dialogue, and encouraging collaboration.”


In Bolivia, Pope Francis was received by President Evo Morales, who was criticised by his gift to the Pontiff – a crucifix carved on a sickle and a hammer, a symbol that is recognised around the globe as the ‘community cross’. However, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi explained that “the pope has had no particular reaction to this and has not told me to express any particular negative reaction.”

The crucifix represents a replica of a carving done by Jesuit priest Luis Espinal Camps in the 1970s to express the union of the Christian world with Marxist ideas. The filmmaker and journalist, who headed a leftist weekly publication called ‘Aquí’, was killed after being tortured by paramilitary agents.

During his time in the Andean nation, Pope Francis harshly criticised the “dictatorship of money”, which he defined as “the devil’s dung” and the economic system “which degrades and kills.” He called for the union of Latin America in the rejection of the “new colonialism,” and the fight to overcome the “serious situations of injustice suffered by those excluded worldwide.”

The pontiff talked about the faults on the economic system that seeks to transform everything into an object for exchange and consumption, “a logic that aims to make room for very few.” He also praised social movements —referring to them as “social poets”— and called them to push for a change. “You, the most humble ones, the exploited, the poor and excluded, can do it and you do much. I dare say that the future of humanity is largely in your hands,” he said.


Pope Francis ended his tour with a visit to Paraguay before heading back to Rome.

Criticising untamed capitalism once more, he rejected the economic model that “needs to sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profitability.”

He also criticised what he called “ideologies”, saying that “ideologies end badly, they don’t take the people into consideration. Look at what happened with the ideologies of the past century, they always ended in dictatorships.”

The pontiff reminded the public that “in the economy, business, and in politics, what comes first is the people and the habitat where they live.”

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UN Experts Criticise Paraguayan Government Over Abortion Case

Amnesty International campaign poster (photo courtesy of AI)

Amnesty International campaign poster (photo courtesy of AI)

A group of UN human rights experts have criticised the Paraguayan government for failing in its responsibility to act with due diligence in the case of a ten-year old pregnant girl who was denied an abortion.

In a statement issued today, the experts considered that the Paraguayan authorities’ decision to refuse access to treatments to save the girl’s life and preserve her health, including safe and therapeutic abortion in a timely manner, “results in grave violations of the rights to life, to health, and to physical and mental integrity of the girl as well as her right to education, jeopardising her economic and social opportunities.”

“Despite requests made by the girl’s mother and medical experts to terminate this pregnancy which puts the girl’s life at risk, the State has failed to take measures to protect the health as well as the physical and mental integrity and even the life of the 10-year old girl,” they said. “No proper interdisciplinary and independent expert assessment with the aim to insure the girl’s best interests was carried out before overturning life-saving treatments, including abortion.”

The experts called on the Paraguayan authorities to ensure that a recently established multidisciplinary panel of experts “promptly assess in an objective and integral manner the girl’s situation, taking into account her physical and psychological health and all options available to protect her human rights.”

On 21st April, the ten-year old was taken to hospital by her mother, where doctors found out she was 21 weeks pregnant. The mother requested an abortion, but the doctors considered the health of the girl -who is 1.40m tall and weighs 34kg- was not in danger, and that in any case the procedure should have been carried out before the 20th week. Abortion is allowed in Paraguay when the life of the mother is in danger.

The girl’s mother had reported the sexual abuses suffered by her daughter at the hands of her partner last year, but the prosecutor did not investigate the case or offered protection, as they considered the child was not at risk. The mother is now in prison accused of being an accomplice, whilst the rapist is at large. The girl has been transferred to a home for young mothers.

According to the World Health Organisation, child pregnancies are extremely dangerous for the health of the pregnant girl and may lead to complications and death in some cases. The bodies of young girls are not fully developed to carry on with a pregnancy, the UN experts recalled, and added that in Latin America, the risk of maternal death is four times higher among adolescents under 16 years old.

The statement was signed by the Special Rapporteurs on Torture, Juan Méndez; Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo; Right to Physical and Mental Health, Dainius Puras; and the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women, Emna Aouij.

Other organisations, such as Amnesty International and Catholic Women for the Right to Choose, have also been campaigning and calling on the Paraguayan government to act.

“The world is looking at Paraguay. We ask the authorities of this country to show some humanity and respect the integrity of this girl. Anything else would be a clear violation of international human rights law and of this little girl’s right,” said Amnesty’s Guadalupe Marengo.

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Paraguay: Thousands of Campesinos March to Demand President Resign

The march started last week in many parts of the country (photo courtesy of Partido Paraguay Py

The march started last week in many parts of the country (photo courtesy of Partido Paraguay Pyahurã)

Thousands of campesinos marched to the government palace in Asunción yesterday, to demand the resignation of Paraguayan president Horacio Cartes.

The arrival in the capital was the culmination of days of walking for many of those who had come on foot from the north and east of the country to protest the government’s economic and social policies, in the so-called ‘Long March of the Poor for a New Homeland’.

The protestors said that Cartes was not governing in favour of the majority and demanded the installation of a “patriotic junta”.

Eladio Flecha, general secretary of the Paraguay Pyahurã party, which had organised the march, said that the country’s democracy is in danger, because of narco-politics and mafia in all of the State institutions.

“Citizens understand the situation the country is facing. We are worried that democracy is moving backwards,” he said, adding that the president is not responding to the social sectors and that the government lacks public policies.

“If Cartes is not going to serve the majority, he should resign and a patriotic junta should be set up, which could design a different model of State, and a model of development according to the needs of the people.’

Despite traffic disruption, the march was peaceful from start to finish, something that Flecha highlighted.

The protests within Paraguay were accompanied by manifestations by Paraguayan diaspora around the region. In Buenos Aires, a demonstration that took place outside of the Paraguayan embassy went on into the night.


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Paraguay: Woman Joins ‘Crucifixion’ Protest in Asunción

The crucifixion protest outside the Brazilian embassy in Asunción (Photo courtesy of El Nuevo Herald)

The crucifixion protest outside the Brazilian embassy in Asunción (Photo courtesy of El Nuevo Herald)

A 52-year-old woman has been voluntarily ‘crucified’ outside the Brazilian embassy in Asunción as part of a protest over years of unpaid benefits to ex-workers at the bi-national Itaipú dam.

Rosa Cáceres joined three men who have been nailed to wooden beams and on a hunger strike for eight days.

Roberto González (61), Roque Samudio (58), and Gerardo Orué (49) are part of a group of around 9,000 ex-workers claiming they are owed 25 years worth of unpaid benefits from the Itaipú entity that built and operates the hydro-electric dam. They say the benefits, which run to an estimated US$40,000 per worker, were awarded to Brazilian staff at the entity.

“Cáceres is 52 and the wife of an ex-worker at Itaipú. With great courage she has crucified herself in solidarity with our cause,” Carlos González, the leader of the group, told AP.

He explained that the protest was highly symbolic for the Christian community, but was also an alternative to marches and potential clashes with police for the elderly ex-workers.

González added that the group planned further crucifixions next week if they did not receive an answer from the authorities.

The Itaipú dam, built on the Paraná River on the border between Paraguay and Brazil, is the world’s largest hydro-electric dam in terms of annual energy generation.

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Paraguay: Ypehu Mayor Wanted for Murder of Journalist

The killing took place in Canindeyú, which borders Brazil in north Paraguay

The killing took place in Canindeyú, which borders Brazil in north Paraguay

The mayor of Ypehu, district of Canindeyú, has been accused of being involved in the murder of journalist Pablo Medina and his assistant Antonia Almada last week and is wanted by the police.

Mayor Vilmar Acosta and his brother, Wilson Acosta, remain at large. According to the prosecutor in charge of the case, Wilson Acosta was identified by a witness —Almada’s sister Juana, who was travelling with them— as the killer. He was allegedly accompanied by his nephew, Gustavo Acosta, and a third person, who remains unidentified.

Both Wilson and Gustavo Acosta were wanted by police for the murder of former Ypehu mayor Julián Núñez on 1st August. Prosecutor Néstor Cañete has found other links between the cases, such as the weapons used —a 9mm pistol and 12-gauge shotgun.

According to ABC Color, the newspaper where Medina worked, Vilmar Acosta was going to give himself in, but two reasons made him change his mind. The first reason was the appointment of prosecutor Sandra Quiñónez to the case, and the second was a raid carried out at the town hall, where the police found stolen cars, marijuana seeds, ammunition, and balaclavas —all evidence allegedly linked to the murder of Medina.

Medina and Almada were killed on Thursday 16th October as they travelled by car in Villa Ygatimí, Canindeyú. Medina, who had worked for ABC Color for 16 years, reported on the local traffic of marijuana and had been threatened several times.

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Paraguay: British Company Finds Oil in Chaco Region

Oil Drums (Photo: L.C.Nøttaasen on Flickr)

Oil Drums (Photo: L.C.Nøttaasen on Flickr)

British company President Energy announced it has found what could be the country’s largest oil reserves in Paraguay, in the Chaco region.

A statement released by the company specifies that this is the first ever discovery of oil in the Chaco. The Lapacho well, says the statement, has found two conventional oil bearing zones at a depth of 3,926 metres below ground in a formation that was not the original target of the well. The company will continue to drill in order to reach the original target of the Santa Rosa sands.

“The greater Lapacho prospect area covers 100 km2 and is considered by President to contain gross mean unrisked resources of approximately one billion barrels oil equivalent,” informed the company. The first phase of production is expected to begin in 2015.
Peter Levine, chairman of the company, stated: “This discovery represents a significant milestone for both President Energy and for the country of Paraguay. President has demonstrated beyond doubt that movable conventional oil does exist in the Paraguayan Chaco.”

“This is a very serious matter, it’s very technical,” saidDeputy Minister for Mines and Energy, Emilio Buongermini. “In a couple of months, after analysing the situation, we’ll be able to know whether the reservoir can be commercially exploited.”

Former Deputy Minister for Mines and Energy (1999-2000) and Mercosur Parliament member for Frente Guasú, Ricardo Canese, stated: “This, if it’s commercially viable, can be a new Itaipú [the country’s largest hydroelectric dam] but better. With great benefits for the country, such the royalties left by the bi-national [Itaipú]. But for that to happen we need new legislation, since the current one leaves over 80% of the profits for the multinational companies and the scraps for the state.”

Canese, who has introduced a bill to change the current Hydrocarbons Law, leaving the state 52% of the oil profits, added that “with the current law, finally the benefit will go to the foreign company and the benefit for the country will be small.”

Any oil extracted from the area is expected to meet the domestic demand of 27,000 barrels of crude per day, which is currently imported. All the efforts to find oil in the Chaco region over the last 50 years had thus far been unsuccessful.

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Dams and Deforestation: The Human Contribution to Natural Disasters

As the southern hemisphere Spring approaches, widespread areas of the Río de la Plata basin are still picking up the pieces after suffering a winter of heavy flooding. During June and July, at least 360,000 people in southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay were evacuated after several of the region’s major rivers broke their banks, causing some of the worst floods in decades.

Disaster hit after heavy downpours in June around the triple border between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay – an area already soaked by months of unseasonably high rainfall – caused a surge in the region’s key tributaries.

The town of El Soberbio, in Misiones province, was hit hard by flooding after the Uruguay River burst its banks (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

The town of El Soberbio, in Misiones province, was hit hard by flooding after the Uruguay River burst its banks (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

Over 190 municipalities in southern Brazil declared a state of emergency as the Paraná, Iguazú, and Uruguay rivers overflowed, killing a dozen people and affecting around 50,000 more. In Paraguay, the country worst affected, a quarter of a million people were displaced along the banks of its eponymous river, which cuts 537km from north to south. This included 88,000 from mainly impoverished and informal riverside settlements in the capital Asunción, where many remain in temporary shelters today. Finally, as the swell moved downstream towards the Río de la Plata, thousands more were evacuated in Argentina’s north-eastern provinces and, to a lesser extent, parts of Uruguay.

Though the emergency situation has now eased after a relatively dry and warm August for much of the region, thousands of families remain stranded after their riverside homes were destroyed. And with river levels still well above normal in many areas, the full extent of the damage to infrastructure, livestock and crops has not yet been calculated.

More Prone

A wet autumn and freakish storms in June – some areas received more than three times the average monthly rainfall in just a few days – are widely accepted as the principal cause of the recent floods. However, several NGOs and environmental groups say it is human activity – namely rampant deforestation and the construction of huge hydroelectric dams on major rivers – that has left the region more prone to devastating floods when such rainfalls occurs.

“The jungle acts like a sponge,” explains Manuel Jaramillo, investigator at Fundación Vida Silvestre. “Water that hits leaves on a tree 20 or 30 metres off the ground trickles more slowly down branches and trunks and can filter into the ground. If the earth is bare, or cultivated year round – as is the case mainly with soy – it is quickly saturated with rainwater, which then runs into streams and rivers.”

The Atlantic Forest in Alto Paraná (Photo courtesy of WWF Paraguay)

The Atlantic Forest in Alto Paraná (Photo courtesy of WWF Paraguay)

According to Vida Silvestre, the Bosque Atlántico, or Atlantic Forest (also known as the Selva Paranaense or Mata Atlantico), once covered an estimated 500,000km2 of land in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. After decades of unchecked deforestation, mainly to clear land for soy production and cattle ranching, only around 7% of the original forest remains today. Not only does this make the area less absorbent and more vulnerable to landslides, but the excess run-off also carries top soil and sediment into the rivers, adding to the overall increase in water levels.

Concerns over the environmental impact of human intervention in forests and rivers are not new, says Hernán Giardini, coordinator of Greenpeace Argentina’s Forests campaign. Yet little has been done so far to control them.

“Deforestation in important river basins has repeatedly caused flooding in Argentina,” he says. “There was Tartagal [in Salta] in 2009, and in Santa Fe in 2007, where the local university reported a direct link with deforestation in the north of the province. These incidents keep on occurring, and we argue that they are not just down to natural causes but have been influenced by man.

“It is not about a lack of scientific information, but of political will.”

The Agri-Boom

The expansion of the agricultural sector has been a feature of economic development in the Southern Cone countries in recent decades. Driven by elevated market prices and the proliferation of genetically modified seeds, the territory used to plant soy has doubled in Argentina since the turn of the century, with Paraguay and Brazil experiencing a similar story.

Seduced by rising export revenues and pressured by a powerful lobby, governments in the area have shown little appetite to place stringent restrictions on the large agribusinesses that dominate the sector.

“The three countries see in investment in agricultural and livestock a means of development for a poor region, but in reality this implies serious environmental and social problems. It’s a problem because the same countries favour greater production by any means, even at the cost of the trees and the people that live there,” says Giardini.

Illegal deforestation in Salta (Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Argentina)

Illegal deforestation in Salta (Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Argentina)

There has been new legislation introduced in the last decade to protect native forests: figures show that the 2009 ‘Forest Law‘ in Argentina and to a lesser the 2004 ‘Zero Deforestation Law’ in Paraguay have had a significant impact in slowing the rate of deforestation in some areas, especially in the Bosque Atlántico, though Jaramillo notes that this is also partly due to there being so little forest left.

Moreover, even when improvements are made in some territories, they are often undermined by limited scope or weak enforcement. In Paraguay, the Zero Deforestation Law applies only to the eastern part of the country, where WWF Paraguay says it has reduced deforestation by as much as 90%. In the west, however, deforestation in the Gran Chaco forest remains among the highest in the world, with 236,000 hectares cleared last year alone, according to Guyra, a private, non-profit environmental organisation.

In Argentina, too, the progress has been uneven. Earlier this year, Greenpeace Argentina launched a new campaign denouncing the provincial governor of Salta for issuing decrees that would allow the deforestation of 120,000 hectares in territory protected by the national Forest Law. Greenpeace says around 400,000 hectares of the Gran Chaco forest have already been cleared since the law was approved in 2009. “There is a clear decision at the provincial level not to comply with the law, and a clear decision by the national government not to pressure the regional authorities to do so,” says Giardini.

Dam Politics

The other major man-made contribution of increased flood risks, according to environmental groups, are the large hydroelectric dams that line major rivers. Together, the Iguazú and Uruguay Rivers have nearly a dozen large-scale dams either in operation or under construction, having a major impact on the natural water flow.

According to Jaramillo, who is based in Misiones, after the heavy rains in June led to rising water levels in dam reservoirs, the energy companies were obliged to open their flood gates to prevent damage, sending a surge of water that can have devastating consequences further downstream. It was this that led to water smashing a new dam under construction (Baixo Iguazú), causing the Iguazú river swell to 37 times its normal volume and forcing authorities to close access to the Iguazú Falls for several days.

“There are many issues that result in the dams having a negative impact on the local population, even if they are not directly responsible for the flooding,” says Jaramillo. This includes the creation of massive reservoirs in forested areas: building one of the world’s largest dams, Itaipú, on the Paraná River involved flooding an area of 1350km2. “Changing the surface of the earth from one that can absorb water to one that contains water itself has a big effect [on drainage].”

The debate over the environmental impact of hydroelectric dams, which ostensibly represent a clean and renewable source of energy, is arguably even more contentious. In the search for energy self-sufficiency without carbon emissions, many South American countries have turned to large hydroelectric power projects, accepting the environmental and social impact on local wildlife and communities that are displaced by reservoirs.

Paraguay already generates enough hydroelectric power to satisfy its entire energy needs through its huge bi-national dams with Brazil (Itaipú) and Argentina (Yacyretá), both of which lie on the Paraná River. Meanwhile, Brazil and Argentina are moving forward with projects for two dams (Garabí and Panambí) on the Uruguay River, dams that Jaramillo says would have made the recent flooding much worse by slowing the discharge of excess water towards the Río de la Plata.

Even aside from environmental concerns, recent research suggests that these mega projects are not even a viable economic solution for developing countries. A data study published earlier this year by Oxford University revealed that building large dams typically take nearly a decade with cost overruns of around 90%. The report highlights that the Itaipú Dam, one of the largest in the world, cost 240% more than budgeted, while Yacyretá took nearly three decades to complete and was shrouded in so many murky political and business dealings that it became known as “a monument to corruption”.

It can take decades of full operation for these dams to recover the initial outlay, during which time the project remains vulnerable to economic or political crises that affect energy markets. The economic life of a dam can also be cut short if excess sediment carried in rivers – itself a symptom of deforestation – gradually fills up the reservoir and reduces the dam’s capacity to generate energy over time.

The Itaipú Dam from the air. Recent research from Oxford University claims the dam, one of the biggest in the world, may never recover the full costs of its construction. (Photo via Wikipedia)

The Itaipú Dam from the air. Recent research from Oxford University claims the dam, one of the biggest in the world, will never recover the full costs of its construction (Photo via Wikipedia)

Though Yacyretá now produces around 20% of Argentina’s electricity needs, Jaramillo says the communities in Misiones most affected by the dam’s haphazard construction do not see the benefits because the energy generated is not suitable for the local power infrastructure.

“The energy produced by flooding rivers in Misiones goes to feed cities like Rosario or Buenos Aires,” he says. “It would be more logical and useful for the development of the local economy to use smaller hydro projects to generate energy for local residents and industry but without affecting large areas of land or involving astronomical constructions.”

Preparing for the Future

According to forecasts from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), rainfall anomalies (positive or negative) will be larger for tropical areas of Latin America, while the frequency and intensity of weather extremes is likely to increase. The region is already bracing itself for the possibility of an El Niño event later this year, which meteorologists say could lead to above-average rainfall and accentuate the threat of extreme downpours in the Spring and Summer months.

A man uses a boat to travel around his neighbourhood in El Soberbio, Misiones (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

A man uses a boat to travel around his neighbourhood in El Soberbio, Misiones (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

As the probability of recurring natural disasters like flooding and landslides rises, considering how human activity can exacerbate the damages caused has never been more important. Even more so as Argentina plans to increase its output of grains by 60% before the end of the decade, a programme that Greenpeace’s Giardini says could further undermine the Forest Law.

Moreover, estimated 412 large dams are planned or under construction in the Amazon basin alone, according to a report released in Lima a few months ago. The study concluded that this “hydroelectric experiment on a continental scale” could lead to the “end of free-flowing rivers” and “ecosystem collapse”.

“It’s a big challenge,” says Jaramillo, who nevertheless remains optimistic. “A lot of forest cover has been lost, but we have managed to reduce the rate of deforestation and create more awareness. The challenge now is to work closely with the political sector.

“We believe it is still possible to revert the situation, so that in 50 or 100 years the Bosque Atlántico still exists and society learns to live in harmony with the forests while also obtaining the necessary resources for genuinely sustainable development.”

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As a possible ‪Grexit‬ looms in the old continent, we revisit Marc Rogers' article comparing Greece's current situation to Argentina's own 2001-2 crisis.

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