Tag Archive | "Paraguay"

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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Paraguay: Two Children Die of Alleged Herbicide Poisoning


Soy fields in Paraguay (photo: Patty P)

Soy fields in Paraguay (photo: Patty P)

Two children died and dozens of people were hospitalised this week in the Huber Duré colony, Curuguaty, after allegedly suffering from herbicide poisoning.

Three-year old Adelaida Álvarez died on Sunday morning, whilst six-month old Adela Álvarez died on Monday night after a doctor at the local hospital sent her back home despite her symptoms. The bodies of the two girls were taken to the morgue in Asunción for an autopsy.

Local doctor César Cáceres, who was on duty when the children arrived in hospital showing symptoms such as fever, headaches, nausea, and diarrhea, denied that the patients suffered from poisoning. “The patients show flu symptoms with cough and fever, but it is not due to an intoxication,” he said. Virgilio González, director of the hospital, stated that the cause of death was pneumonia.

However, the National Farmers’ Federation (FNC) has highlighted that a group of children from Huber Duré were taken to hospital showing these symptoms, as well as breathing difficulties, shortly after nearby soy fields were sprayed with herbicides in preparation for sowing. “It is a very potent herbicide,” said Marcial Gómez, of the FNC.

National authorities and a prosecutor specialised in environmental issues travelled to the area and are conducting an investigation into the matter. “The only way to know what happened is through a pathological diagnosis, to know the results, but we have also taken water samples and other kinds of samples that will be analysed and later published,” said Health Minister Antonio Barrios.

Organisations such as the FNC have been denouncing the use of herbicides near populated areas and its alleged effects — intoxications, abortions, and the deaths of farm animals — for years.

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Bolivia to Investigate Pilcomayo River Pollution


Pilcomayo River (image: Wikipedia)

The Pilcomayo River (highlighted) is part of the Río de la Plata basin (image: Wikipedia)

The Bolivian Public Prosecutor’s Office has announced that a prosecutor specialised in environmental issues will be appointed to investigate and bring to court those responsible for the collapse of a tailing dam that polluted the Pilcomayo River last week.

The incident occurred on 10th July in the district of Potosí, when the tailing dam of a mine owned by mining company Santiago Apóstol burst, dumping residues from a lead, silver, and zinc mine into the river. A report confirmed high levels of pollution from toxic substances such as sodium, iron, chromium, and magnesium.

Provincial prosecutor José Luis Ríos said that “the company did not comply with environmental laws. The dam didn’t even have a protective geomembrane, which ended up producing the collapse of the dam that contained toxic residues.” As a first measure, Ríos ordered that all the mine’s activities be suspended.

The Environmennt and Mother Earth Secretary of the district of Chuquisaca, Eddy Carvajal, informed that “mining company Santiago Apóstol does not hold an environmental licence, and neither do other mining companies and cooperatives,” whilst the inter-institutional commission in defence of the Pilcomayo River stated that as many as 80% of mining companies and cooperatives from the municipality of Tacobamba, Potosí, do not hold environmental licences.

The Pilcomayo River, which goes through the districts of Potosí, Chuquisaca, and Tarija in Bolivia, is also shared with neighbouring Paraguay and Argentina. The Paraguayan Foreign Affairs Ministry, currently presiding the Tri-national Pilcomayo River Commission, has requested its embassy in La Paz to provide a report on the river’s situation. Didier Olmedo, Foreign Trade Secretary at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, also said they were considering sending experts from the Commission to the affected site.

A Bolivian delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde will provide information on the incident to the Argentine and Paraguayan governments in a meeting in Buenos Aires next week.

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Brazil: Environmentalists link Deforestation to Flooding


Map shows how the Bosque Atlantico has shrunk over the past decades (image courtesy of Fundación Vida Silvestre)

Map shows how the Bosque Atlantico has shrunk over the past decades (image courtesy of Fundación Vida Silvestre)

Environmental NGOs have publicly denounced the high levels of deforestation in Paraguay, Brazil, and north-east Argentina as being the principal cause of the devastating flooding in the region.

Nine people have died and thousands have been evacuated as a result of the floods, and a state of emergency has been declared in the south of Brazil.

Greenpeace and Fundación Vida Silvestre have pinpointed the loss of the native Bosque Atlántico and shift towards industrialised agriculture as being behind the high levels of water in the Paraná and Iguazú rivers.

Hernán Giardini, coordinator of Greenpeace Argentina’s Forests campaign, said: “Woods and rainforests, as well as being packed with biodiversity, play a fundamental role in climate regulation, the maintenance of sources and flows of water, and the conservation of the ground. They are our natural sponge and protective umbrella. When we lose the forests we become more vulnerable in the face of rains and we run serious risks of flooding.”

Whilst heavy rains are common in the region, four months’ worth of rainfall has fallen over the past few days, a phenomenon that has been linked to climate change. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that extreme weather phenomenons, such as increased rainfall, drought, and hurricanes, can be attributed to climate change, and the advance of the agricultural frontier, which has stripped the previously forested region bare, has increased the effects of these heavier rains.

On the Argentine side of the border, just 7% of the original 2m hectares of forest remain, whilst in Paraguay and Brazil the forest has been practically destroyed. The forest, located mostly in the province of Misiones, with a small part in the north of Corrientes, is one of the most biodiverse regions in Argentina, with over 550 species of birds, 120 mammals, 80 reptiles, 55 amphibians, and 200 fish. More than 200 tree species are also registered. 

 

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Paraguay: Congress Approves Return of Land to Indigenous Community


A recent protest by the Sawhoyamaxa community  (photo via Tierraviva official Facebook page)

A recent protest by the Sawhoyamaxa community (photo via Tierraviva official Facebook page)

The Chamber of Deputies in Paraguay has approved the return of around 14,400 hectares of ancestral land to the Sawhoyamaxa indigenous community.

The bill, which was passed by the Senate last month and will allow the State to expropriate the private land, must be signed by President Horacio Cartes to come into force.

The Sawhoyamaxa community, of the Exnet ethnicity, was expelled from the land, around 270km northwest of the capital Asunción in the Gran Chaco region, over 20 years ago. In 1991, the community began legal proceedings to reclaim their territory while living in basic settlements on the side of a highway.

The land is currently owned by German rancher Heribert Roedel, who has resisted efforts to negotiate a settlement.

However, in 2006, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) ruled that the Paraguayan state had violated the rights of the community, ordering the return of their lands by 2009. After more delays, the members of the community moved in to occupy an area of the land in April 2013. Once signed by the president, this bill will allow them to redevelop their community.

One of the leaders of the community, Leonardo González, urged President Cartes to sign the bill quickly “because it is a just claim after 23 years living on the side of the highway without access [to the land].”

As the bill was sanctioned, legislator for the Partido Colorado Walter Harms said it “resolves a historic debt of the state.”

 

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Paraguay: World’s “Most Positive” Country


President of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes (photo Wikipedia)

President of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes, seems happy enough (photo Wikipedia)

According to a poll published yesterday by international research consulting company Gallup, Paraguayans are the world’s most positive people for the third year running.

The results are based on a research carried out in 138 countries during 2013, which asked approximately 1,000 people aged 15 or over in each country about the emotions they had experienced the previous day. The findings showed 87% of Paraguayans had experienced lots of enjoyment, laughing or smiling a lot, feeling well-rested, and being treated with respect.

Following Paraguay on the Positive Experience Index are Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Ecuador. In fact, all but one of the top ten countries is from Latin America – with Denmark taking 8th place just above Honduras.

The study concluded “That so many people are reporting positive emotions in Latin America at least partly reflects the cultural tendency in the region to focus on the positives in life.”

On average, just over 70% of adults reported positive emotions, while 51% reported that they learned or did something interesting the day before. Argentina ranked joined 19th at 78%. Syria ranked last in the poll, with just 36% of people having experienced positive emotions. This all-time low is an indication of the effects of the country’s on-going civil war.

The poll also indicated that people who make more money tend to report higher positive emotions, with a 10% gap between the highest and lowest income brackets. However, this seems to only be for earnings up to US$75,000 – beyond that level, income makes much less of a difference.

 

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Latin America News Roundup: 24th April 2014


Dilma Rousseff in a meeting with regional governors and mayors (photo: Presidency of Brazil)

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff (photo: Presidency of Brazil)

Brazil: Rousseff Signs “Digital Consitution”: Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff yesterday signed into law a “digital constitution”, which aims to protect online privacy and promote a multilateral, democratic, and transparent internet. It also bans telecommunications companies from charging for preferential access to their networks, and promotes privacy by limiting the data that online companies can collect on internet users, deeming communications over the internet to be “inviolable and secret”. Service providers must develop protocols to ensure email can be read only be senders and their intended recipients. Violators are subject to penalties, including fines and suspension. Data can only be disclosed to law enforcement under a court order, but companies can only hold onto it for a maximum of six months. The law was signed at the NETmundial conference on the future of internet governance, which was held in São Paolo yesterday.  The law, which gained Senate approval on Tuesday, will take effect immediately. Rousseff used the conference to call for a new global governance of the internet, and last year submitted an anti-spying resolution to the UN, in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the US’ National Security Agency’s use of digital information.

Paraguay’s Senate Backs Indigenous Affairs Commission: Yesterday, Paraguay’s Senate gave backing to a bill to create a Permanent Commission for Indigenous Affairs, to defend the country’s indigenous communities from abuses. The bill was presented by Frente Guasú and a coalition of left-wing politicians. Senator Esperanza Martínez, who headed the bill’s presentation, highlighted the dangers that the country’s 112,000 indigenous people face, and also reminded her fellow Senators that the rights of the indigenous are embodied in the country’s constitution, which says their way of life should be defended and preserved, along with their social organisation, and – above all – their right to land. She also spoke of the international sanctions that the country has faced for putting the rights of landowners above the rights of the indigenous. The new commission will provide support to communities who face territorial battles, among other things.

A beach on Costa Rica's Isla Tortugas, one of the areas vulnerable to climate change (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

A beach on Costa Rica’s Isla Tortugas, one of the areas vulnerable to climate change (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Costa Rica Hosts Climate Workshop: Costa Rica, current president of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), is hosting a workshop on climate vulnerability in marine coastal zones of Central America and the Caribbean from 23rd to 25th April. By bringing together fifty government experts, academics, and members of civil society, the country is seeking to stimulate intra-regional cooperation for dealing with climate change vulnerabilities which are shared by many countries in the region. Caribbean basin countries are affected by rising heat and sea levels, as well as other climate-related changes. Regional climate change impacts are manifested through effects as diverse as increased pressures on biodiversity, land degradation and drought, extreme weather such as floods, landslides, storms, and coastal erosion and stress on water resources, as well as effects on health, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism, and hydropower generation – constituting the main areas of concern for the countries of Central America and the Caribbean.

The workshop is providing an opportunity for government and technical experts to pool and exchange experiences and views on the state of the impact of climate change for the region and to explore enhancing collaborative responses to building resilience in a regional and international perspective. It aims to consult on adaptation measures that have been implemented to minimise impacts, pool expertise of specialists on climate change vulnerability, and identify possibilities for enhanced regional cooperation to address climate change and potential adaptation measures.

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Latin America News Roundup: 11th April 2014


Government and opposition engage in 'dialogue for peace' (photo: Francisco Batista, courtesy of Venezuelan government)

Government and opposition engage in ‘dialogue for peace’ (photo: Francisco Batista, courtesy of Venezuelan government)

Venezuela: Government and Opposition Begin Talks: Representatives from the government and the opposition Mesa de Unión Democrática (MUD) held yesterday the first of a series of formal talks. The first of the ‘dialogues for peace’ called by the government went on for almost five hours and was broadcast to the country by radio and television. The debate was opened by president Nicolás Maduro, who gave a one-hour speech, and followed by 11 MUD and eight government representatives, who spoke for around ten minutes each. Talking about the debates, President Maduro said: “There are no negotiations or pacts here, what we want to find through this path is a model of mutual tolerance.” During their interventions, government representatives criticised the opposition for their role in the violent protests held around the country over the past two months: “We’re sitting here with the same opposition of years ago, experts in saying ‘I didn’t do it’. I feel no one who is here has condemned the violence,” said National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. The opposition, in turn, criticised the government for the state of the country. Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles justified his attendance at the debate “because our country is doing really badly; Venezuela is in a very critical situation,” and added that the political crisis, which, in his opinion, dates back to last year’s tight presidential election, “may end up in either of two results that neither the opposition or Venezuelans want: a coup d’êtat or a social outburst.” A new meeting was agreed upon for Tuesday, the agenda for which will be defined by a special committee.

Ecuador: Environmentalists Closer to Referendum on Yasuní: Ecuadorian environmental group Yasunidos announced that it has collected over 700,000 signatures, more than enough to force a referendum on whether oil exploration should be authorised in the Yasuní National Park, in the country’s Amazon. The signatures still have to be verified, but if they are, the government will be obliged to put the matter to a popular vote. The park is one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world and has hit the headlines numerous times in recent years, after President Rafael Correa launched the Yasuní-ITT initiative. The measure proposed the country refrain indefinitely from exploiting reserves in the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini block, three oil fields within the Yasuní National Park, in exchange for 50% of the value of the income it would be forgoing from the world community. However, last August Correa announced that the plans had failed, after receiving less than 1% of the US$3.6bn target. Controversy arose in February, when The Guardian newspaper revealed that the Ecuadorian government had been negotiating a secret US$1bn deal with a Chinese bank to drill for oil under the Yasuní national park as early as 2009, while publicly pursuing the Yasuní-ITT initiative. Correa has said that any profit from oil extraction should be used in the country’s fight against poverty.

Paraguay: Indigenous Children Rescued in Trafficking Bust: Twenty-one indigenous children who were sexually exploited and had been forced to beg were rescued by prosecution agents in Ciudad del Este, on Paraguay’s Brazilian border. The 19 girls and two boys, who are believed to have been brought from Repatriación, a town between Ciudad del Este and the capital Asunción, are now in a state-run safe house. One man was arrested in the operation, which took place last Friday, but was only made public today for security purposes. Ciudad del Este, and the tri-border area with Argentina and Brazil, is notorious for child sex trafficking, with “continuous reports” of cases, according to the UNHCR.

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Latin America News Roundup: 10th April 2014


Wounded policemen in Curuguaty are taken to Asunción (Agencia IPP Paraguay/Télam/cl)

Policemen wounded in Curuguaty are taken to Asunción (Agencia IPP Paraguay/Télam/cl)

Paraguay: Home Arrest Denied for Hunger-Striking Campesinos: A Paraguayan court has rejected the request of home arrest for five campesinos who have been on hunger strike for 55 days. The campesinos are part of a group of 12 accused of having participated in the Curuguaty Massacre, which took place in June 2012 in north-east Paraguay, and started their hunger strike in a bid to get justice, after having been in held on remand for over 18 months without a trial date. The deaths occurred after a heavy-handed police operation, – involving 300 officers – to evict 50 campesinos who had occupied a public terrain turned violent, ending in 17 deaths. The accused are currently being held in a military hospital in the capital Asunción, and their defence, as well as the head doctor at the hospital, had recommended they be moved for health motives. But the court ruled that their vital signs were all within the “normal range” and that they were lucid, and so the request for a revision of the proceedings was without merit.

The investigation into the massacre has been questioned as not being independent, as only campesinos have been indicted for the 17 deaths, which include 11 campesinos and six police officers. Human rights activists have also highlighted that three of the 11 campesinos killed had wounds that indicated they had been killed execution-style, after already being wounded. The prosecution is basing its case on an investigation that the police force itself carried out into the massacre, after an independent inquiry was shut down by the government.

Latin America: World’s Highest Murder Rate: According to the UN’s annual homicide report, published today, Latin America is the region with the world’s highest murder rates, accounting for 36% of all global killings. Honduras is the country with the highest murder rate in the world, totalling 7,172 in 2013, or 90.4 for 100,000 inhabitants. In the Central American nation, one in every 280 men aged between 30 and 44 and one in every 360 aged between 15 and 29 were murder victims last year. Venezuela ranked second, with 53.7 for 100,000 inhabitants. It is also the only country in South America where murder rates has increased year-on-year during the past 20 years. Belize (44.7 per 100,000), El Salvador (41.2), and Guatemala (39.9) occupy the following spots, meaning the five countries with the highest homicide rate all come from Latin America. The majority of the killings happened in urban areas, and most of those killed were men, although when the murders happened in a family context, that is reversed, with most victims being women. Over half the victims were under 30. The countries with the lowest murder rates in the region were Chile (3.1) and Cuba (4.2), although globally the leading countries were European – there were no murders in Monaco or Liechtenstein during 2013.

Argentina’s homicide rate was noted as 5.5 in the report, although that was based on information from 2010, as national crime statistics have not been published since 2009. However, there is general consensus that the rate is among the lower in the region, based on information from Buenos Aires province, where a third of the country’s population live, which put the 2013 rate for the region at an estimated 9.7.

Colombian Land Rights Activist Killed: Land rights activist Jesús Quinto was killed yesterday as he stepped outside of his home in the Caribbean town of Turbo in north-east Colombia. Quinto was the leader of a group fighting for the return of land which had been lost during Colombia’s five-decade long internal conflict, which has seen more than 5m people displaced as a result of fighting. According to the country’s ombudsman, Jorge Otálora, the targeted killing seems to be the work of two hitmen, who took advantage of the fact that Quinto stepped outside without his government-provided bodyguard. Fellow activists have said that Quinto had previously complained that agents had failed to show up to protect him. Carmen Palencia, another land rights activist, alleged to AFP that the people now occupying the land were paying for such assassinations, highlighting that 70 people have been killed in similar circumstances since 2005. Quinto’s murder coincided with Colombia’s National Day of Memory and Solidarity with Victims, commemorating those who have been killed in the country’s long-running internal conflict.

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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.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

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