Tag Archive | "Paraguay"

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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Latin America News Roundup: 13th March 2014


El Salvador's president elect, Salvador Sánchez-Cerén (photo courtesy of Wikipedia).

El Salvador’s president elect, Salvador Sánchez-Cerén (photo courtesy of Wikipedia).

El Salvador: Sánchez Cerén Wins Elections: El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has confirmed that FMLN’s Salvador Sánchez Cerén, has won last Sunday’s elections. The former guerrilla won 50.11% of the vote against rival ARENA’s Norman Quijano’s 49.89%. Sánchez Cerén won just 7,000 more votes than Quijano. However, the TSE will not officially declare Sánchez Cerén president elect until they resolve the complaint filed by ARENA on Tuesday alleging vote fraud, a claim that is not seen to carry weight by election observers, including the OAS. The new president will take office for a five year period on 1st June, in what is seen to be an historic inauguration, the first time two left-wing candidates have succeeded one another in the Central American state. FMLN is planning on celebrating Sánchez Cerén’s victory in the main square of the country’s capital, San Salvador.

Paraguay: Another Campesino Leader Killed: Yesterday, campesino leader Eusebio Torres was shot dead in his home in Santa Lucia in the eastern department of Alto Paraná. According to lawyer Óscar Ortiz, two men arrived on motorbike, and without any exchange of words, opened fire on the president of the Landless Neighbours Commission. The 64-year-old had reported to the National Institute for Rural and Land Development (Indert) that 3,000 hectares of public land was being illegally used for agriculture, by Brazilian soy producers. Secretary of the Farmers Association of Alto Paraná, Tomás Zayas, responded to the killing saying that the “soy mafia” were responsible, and that Torres was not the first to have been threatened after reporting illegal crop production, noting that other campesino leaders had left the region after threats. Since June 2012, at least seven campesino leaders have been violently killed by strangers in different parts of Paraguay.

Unasur Meets to Discuss Venezuela Crisis: Foreign ministers of the Unasur countries are met today in Chile to discuss the on-going tensions in Venezuela, which have left 22 dead since protests began a month ago. After the meeting in Santiago, the foreign ministers announced the formulation of a delegation to accompany ”a political dialogue to recuperate peaceful coexistence” in the country. The group will be made up of foreign ministers of member states and will travel to Venezuela during the first week of April, as part of the on-going National Peace Conference, an open process that the Venezuelan government is promoting in an effort to boost dialogue between political and social actors from all sides of the unrest. The Unasur delegation called on the Venezuelan opposition to join the government in this peaceful dialogue. Unasur’s announcement comes a day after Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro met with student leaders in his first face-to-face meeting with the opposition youth movement.

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Latin America News Roundup: 12th March 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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Latin America News Roundup: 19th February 2014


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

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

Colombia – Top Army Generals Removed due to Corruption Scandal: The Colombian government announced yesterday the dismissal of several Army generals after a corruption scandal within the Armed Forces was revealed by the press on Sunday. Armed Forces Commander, General Leonardo Barrero, as well as four other top-ranking generals were dismissed. Whilst Barrero was not accused of corruption, President Juan Manuel Santos informed that he was discharged for using “disrespectful” terms against the country’s judiciary. The investigation published on the weekend by Semana magazine quotes Barrero as telling one of the main accused, Robinson González del Río, to “set up a mafia to denounce prosecutors and all that rubbish,” referring to investigations over ‘false positive’ killings for which González del Río is in prison. Families of victims of ‘false positive’ killings have announced they will sue Barrero before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for obstruction of justice. The other dismissed generals, said Santos, “have to go because they knew about the irregularities and didn’t do anything.”

Venezuela – Opposition Leader to Testify Today: Opposition leader Leopoldo López is expected to testify before a court in Caracas today over his role in last week’s demonstrations, which left three people dead. After his arrest yesterday, a video recorded earlier was posted to his Twitter account. In it, he says he “does not regret what we have done so far” and encourages his followers to organise themselves and to fight, through “non-violent means”, for the “exit of the government.” López is currently awaiting for his court hearing in the Ramo Verde military prison, outside of Caracas, “for security reasons”, according to his lawyer Enrique Sánchez Falcón. On Tuesday, president Nicolás Maduro stated that ultra right-wing groups were planning to murder López in order to “create a political crisis.” His transfer to Ramo Verde was supervised by the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello. In an interview with CNN, López’s wife, Lilian Tintori, confirmed that Cabello “escorted him [to the prison] because there were murder threats against Leopoldo López and the government was concerned about the situation and about looking after Leopoldo’s safety.” As more demonstrations are announced for the coming days, it was informed that 22-year old Génesis Carmona, a beauty queen and marketing student who was shot yesterday at a students’ protest, passed away in hospital today due to the wounds, bringing the death toll to four since last Wednesday.

Paraguay – Search for Remains of Disappeared Re-Started: The Directorate for Reparation and Historic Memory of Paraguay began today a new round of searches to find the remains of people disappeared by the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989). A team consisting of policemen, judges, and prosecutors ordered that the searches be carried out in Caazapa, in southern Paraguay, after funds were released by the government. Though the focus is on finding the remains of guerrilla leader Juan José Rotela, experts think they could find over 200 bodies. It is believed that the Stroessner regime killed and disappeared 425 people, 50 of which have already been found in previous excavations.

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Latin America News Roundup: 11th February 2014


Images of deforestation in the Chaco (Photo: Greenpeace)

Images of deforestation in the Chaco (Photo: Greenpeace)

Paraguay – Rancher Rejects Plea from Ayoreo to Stop Chaco Deforestation: A Brazilian rancher, Marcelo Bastos Ferraz, has rejected a plea from members of the Ayoreo indigenous community to stop cutting down the Chaco forest in which they live near the Paraguay-Bolivia border. Ferraz met with Ayoreo representatives and Paraguayan Environment Secretary Cristina Molinos yesterday, less than two months after his company, Yaguarete Pora S.A, was given a licence to clear forest on its 73,000 hectares in the Chaco, despite it being within a UNESCO biosphere reserve and home to the Ayoreo. As Paraguay’s last uncontacted indigenous tribe, the Ayoreo are highly vulnerable to disease from outsiders, as well as the destruction of the forest they depend on to live. At the meeting, Molinos, who has received international criticism for not protecting the Ayoreo, said there was nothing she could do to return the land to them. Last month, a study by the University of Maryland revealed that Paraguay’s Chaco forest has the world’s highest rate of deforestation.

Brazilian Cameraman Dies From Rio Protest Injuries: Television news cameraman Santiago Andrade was confirmed to have died from the head injuries he sustained during last week’s violent protests in Rio de Janeiro. Andrade was filming the protest over hikes in public transport fares when he was hit by a flare. He was declared brain dead by doctors on Monday morning, and earlier today a spokesperson for the TV station he worked at, Bandeirantes, confirmed that he had died shortly afterwards. Vice president Michel Temer today blamed the death on violent groups that he said have infiltrated recent protests, including the so-called ‘black blocs’. “I think there is an element of terrorism in these organisations,” said Temer in a press conference. “The constitution guarantees the right to protest, but not to predation. This is a crime and it must be considered as such.” Police today said they had arrested the suspected thrower of the flare.

Ecuador to Open New Embassies: Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Leonardo Arízaga announced that Ecuador would be opening new embassies in five countries in Africa during 2014. The new embassies will be located in Kenya, Algeria, Angola, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, bringing the country’s total on the continent to seven, including existing embassies in Egypt and South Africa. The move is part of a plan to boost Ecuador’s strategic presence around the world. The government will also soon be opening a new embassy in Palestine, as it supports the search for a peaceful resolution to its territorial conflict.

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Latin America News Roundup: 6th February 2014


Soy fields in Paraguay (photo: Patty P)

Soy fields in Paraguay (photo: Patty P)

Paraguayan Peasants Demand Investigation into Murder: Paraguay’s National Peasant Federation (FNC) has called for an investigation into Sunday’s killing of Nery Benítez, who died after being shot 12 times. He was killed in the community of Luz Bella, in San Pedro department in northern Paraguay. The organisation is calling for an audience with authorities form the Interior Ministry and the Attorney General to demand explanations over the motives and circumstances surrounding Benítez’s death. The FNC has highlighted that the day before his death, Benítez had participated in a protest against deforestation and soy fumigation, which was repressed by police, resulting in 16 injured and one arrest. The FNC’s Teodolina Villalba said the police were there on behalf of landowners, to ensure the clearing and deforestation for a new soy plantation went ahead without any interruptions. As Benítez – who had tended to those wounded by the police – was killed less than 24 hours later, the FNC believe that his death may have been a “settling of accounts”.

Bank of Brazil’s Former Director Arrested in Italy: Former director of Banco do Brazil Henrique Pizzolato has been arrested in Maranello, Italy. He fled Brazil in November after being found guilty of money laundering and corruption, and faces 12 years and 7 months in prison. Using his dead brother’s passport, Pizzolato, who has Brazilian and Italian citizenship, crossing from Brazil into Argentina, took a flight to Spain and from there made it to his nephew’s house in Italy, where he was picked up by police yesterday. The Brazilian government has started extradition proceedings. Pizzolato is said to have created a parallel accounting system to pay bribes to legislators of the Partido de los Trabajadores, in exchange for their votes, between 2003 and  2005. He authorised the money to be paid to an advertising agency, who then distributed the bribe money.

Colombian Prison Fire Death Toll Rises: The death toll from last week’s prison fire has risen to 16, after two of the victims succumbed to their injuries in the early hours of this morning. Both had been suffering from third-degree burns. The 28th January fire, which took place in the northern city of Barranquilla, was the first prison fire in 14 years, and started when prisoners set fire to mattresses during a confrontation between rival groups in one of the jail’s patios. Authorities in Barranquilla have since denounced the conditions of the prison, called Carcel Modelo, which holds 1200 people, triple the facility’s capacity of 400. According to the country’s penitentiary authorities, the overcrowding is common – the country’s jails have room for just over 75,000 prisoners, but they currently hold over 116,000.

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Latin America News Roundup: 4th February 2014


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

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

Colombia – Spying Scandal Hits FARC Peace Talks: Revelations have emerged that military intelligence agents may have illegally tapped the phones of government negotiators engaged in peace talks with the guerrilla group FARC. Weekly magazine Semana yesterday published a report based on a 15-month investigation into the alleged spying, which it says began in September 2012, two months before peace negotiations began in Havana. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos today ordered a full investigation into the allegations, saying that “dark forces” were looking to sabotage the peace talks with FARC. “It is unacceptable from any point of view that this type of intelligence is undertaken against ordinary citizens, political opposition, and much less against state officials,” said Santos.

Paraguay – Farmers Demand Investigation into Activist’s Murder: Members of the National Farming Federation (FNC) protested today outside the Ministry of Interior and Public Prosecutor’s Office to demand an investigation into the killing of farmer Nery Benítez in the San Pedro district on Sunday. Benítez was shot 12 times in the rural community of Luz Bella, in what the FNC says was payback for his participation in local protests against the chemical spraying of soy fields in the area. A day before his death, Benítez was part of a group of around 80 protesters that clashed with police over an operation to clear more land in the area to make way for soy cultivation. In a statement on its website today, the FNC said: “the murder has all the characteristics of a revenge attack, because Nery Benítez actively participated in the resistance and after the police repression was responsible for getting the injured to hospital.”

Peru – Hundreds of Dead Dolphins Found: More than 400 dead dolphins were found washed up along Peru’s northern coastline in the month of January, compared to around 800 in the whole of 2012. Autopsies are being carried out to determine the cause of these mass deaths, though so far there are no conclusive answers. Early studies by the Peruvian Sea Institue (Imarpe) suggested that the animals were not poisoned by anything used by fishermen, though it is awaiting the results of further tests. Imarpe also noted that dolphins and other marine mammals are frequently drowned after getting caught in fishing nets. Animal conservation group Mundo Azul, meanwhile, says the practice of killing dolphins for human consumption or to use as bait to hunt sharks in Peru is a major problem, despite being outlawed since 1996. The group estimates that around 15,000 dolphins are killed in this manner in Peru every year.

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