Tag Archive | "Paraguay"

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.

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Latin America News Roundup: 26th March 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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A new study by Survival International has revealed that the Guaraní have the highest suicide rate in the world, at 232 per 100,000, proving that little has changed since Kristie Robinson's 2008 story on the same subject.

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