Tag Archive | "peru"

Latin America News Roundup: 23rd April 2014


Peru – Journalist Attacked at his Home: A new attack against a Peruvian journalist took place on Tuesday in the coastal town of Barranca, north of Lima. In the early hours of Tuesday, a bomb exploded at the door of journalist Yofré López Sifuentes’ house. López Sifuentes is the director of a radio show, a magazine, and a website. The explosion wounded the mother and step-father of the journalist and destroyed windows in nearby houses. “This attack I guess is due to the journalistic work we’re doing. It seems like they want to silence us,” said López Sifuentes. In the last few months, the journalist denounced the alleged pollution created by sugar companies in his city as well as a series of wrongdoings by the local authorities. This has led him to believe there could be political reasons behind the attack. López Sifuentes, as well as being a journalist, is an activist with the Land and Freedom movement in Barranca. Some months ago, another member of Land and Freedom, Alfredo Palacios, also suffered an attack when a bomb was placed in the school where he works. Story courtesy of Agencia Púlsar.

Mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro (Photo: Wikipedia)

Mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro (Photo: Wikipedia)

Colombia – Court Orders Bogotá Mayor Be Reinstated: A Colombian court ordered President Juan Manuel Santos to reinstate deposed Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro. Last month, President Santos signed a decree officially removing Petro, who had been dismissed by the country’s Inspector General, despite a ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in favour of the mayor. Yesterday, the Superior Tribunal of Bogotá interpreted that IACHR rulings are binding, and gave the president 48 hours to reinstate Petro. Santos complied with the court ruling earlier today, saying: “I have signed the decree reinstating mayor Gustavo Petro in his post. I am simply complying with the law, I don’t have a choice. Some may like it and some may not, but my obligation is to abide by the law and whatever the judges say.” Susana Muhamad, the town hall’s general secretary, stated that “mayor Petro has begun to give instructions about administrative issues that he wants us to have ready once he arrives in the town hall.” He is expected to meet political activists today, and to hold a recall referendum before the end of June.

Brazil – One Dead in Protest: A man was shot dead yesterday during a protest at the Pavão-Pavãozinho favela in Rio de Janeiro. Favela residents were protesting the death of Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, a 25-year old dancer at a TV show, who died during a drug raid on Monday night. Pereira was found dead inside a school; his friends claim he was beaten to death by police after being mistaken for a drug dealer, whilst police claim he died “after a fall”. In protest for Pereira’s death, favela residents burnt tires and caused explosions that could be heard in neighbouring areas. In response, the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) entered the favela after blocking access to it, and a confrontation between the UPP and alleged drug trafficking gangs ensued. The victim, a man of around 30, was shot in the head. The Pavão-Pavãozinho favela is under police control since 2009, as part of the ‘pacification’ policy carried out by the Rio de Janeiro government in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

 

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Latin America News Roundup: 22nd April 2014


Memorial for Gabriel García Márquez in Mexico City (photo: Presidency of Colombia)

Memorial for Gabriel García Márquez in Mexico City (photo: Presidency of Colombia)

Colombia Bids Farewell to Gabriel García Márquez: Colombian president, Manuel Santos, is leading a memorial service for Gabriel García Márquez in Bogotá today. Nobel laureate García Márquez, one of Latin America’s most famous writers, died last Thursday, aged 87. The memorial, which began at midday at the city’s main cathedral, includes a performance of Mozart’s Requiem by the National Symphonic Orchestra and is being broadcast live on state television and radio. Tomorrow, passages from García Márquez’s novella ‘No One Writes to the Colonel’ will be read aloud in parks, libraries and schools across Colombia. Yesterday, Santos and Mexican leader Enrique Peña Nieto, participated in another memorial service held in the Centro Cultural de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, where the author lived. “Gabriel García Márquez will live on in his books and texts, but more than anything, he will live for ever in the hopes of humanity,” declared Santos. Peña Nieto added that García Márquez “the greatest Latin American novelist of all time”.

Peru – Teachers Strike Over Salary Dispute: Public sector teachers began a 24-hour strike today in protest at unpaid benefits and wages. Around 350,000 members of the State Teachers’ Union (Sutep) joined the strike action, claiming the government had not fulfilled promises made 18 months earlier over benefits. Among the complaints was the government’s offer of a 20% bonus on the base salary for time spent preparing classes – the unions claim that they had been pledged 30%. Sutep leader Hamer Villena said the union would consider calling an indefinite strike if it did not receive answers from the government. However, Education Minister Jaime Saavedra called the strike “irresponsible”, though confirmed that the teachers taking part would not face a wage deduction as a result. The minister said he was surprised by Sutep’s actions, claiming that negotiations to resolve disputes over teachers’ benefit were ongoing. “Abandoning their responsibilities and their jobs is a terrible example for teachers to be giving to our youngsters,” said Saavedra.

Bolivia – Government and Cooperatives Reach Deal on Mining Law: The Bolivian government and mining cooperatives reached an agreement over the contested articles of a new mining law last night, according to Government Minister Carlos Romero. As per the revised text, mining cooperatives will be able enter into contracts with private companies by forming ‘mixed companies’ with the state through the Bolivian Mining Corporation (Comibol). The law will also be modified to allow cooperatives to re-negotiate their existing contracts with private mining companies. Alejandro Santos, president of the Federation of Mining Cooperatives in Bolivia (Fencomin), said the revisions marked a “great advance” in the debate over the new mining law, adding that the organisation hoped to confirm the agreements with President Evo Morales this week. The conflict over the new mining law was deepened at the end of March after protests turned violent, leaving two people dead and prompting the government to suspend a Senate debate on the bill. The independent mining sector, made up of approximately 100,000 miners, is a traditional ally of the Bolivian government.

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Latin America News Roundup: 25th March 2014


President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

Venezuela Arrests Three Generals Accused of Plotting Military Coup: President Nicolas Maduro announced today that three generals of the country’s air force had been arrested on suspicion of plotting a coup. Maduro said the three had been detained after being reported by other members of the armed forces, and claimed that they had “direct links with sectors of the opposition, and were saying that this week would be decisive.” Maduro made the announcement at the welcome meeting of the UNASUR summit taking place in Caracas today and tomorrow in an effort to bring an end to weeks of violent protests that have left at least 34 dead and many more injured. “We hope that with your visit we can arrive at conclusions to help us restore peace in Venezuela,” said Maduro. Meanwhile, the country’s top public prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Díaz, said that over 60 investigations into human rights violations during the protests were underway, with at least 15 officials arrested so far. “There have been [police] abuses, and they are being investigated,” said Díaz in a television interview this weekend.

Colombia – HRW Report Exposes Deaths and Disappearance in Buenaventura: “Scores of people” have been disappeared by former paramilitary groups in the port city of Buenaventura, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. The report, entitled ‘The Crisis in Buenaventura: Disappearances, Dismemberment, and Displacement in Colombia’s Main Pacific Port‘, said that more than 150 people reported missing between 2010 and 2013 are presumed to have been abducted and ‘disappeared’, noting that the actual figure is likely to be “significantly higher”. Based on a series of interviews with officials and residents, the report describes how victims are often dismembered alive, with their body parts dumped in the bay on buried in hidden graves. Since 2009, an estimated 60,000 people have also been forcibly displaced by the violence in the city, perpetrated mainly by two rival gangs, ‘La Empresa’ and ‘Los Urabeños’. Both are successors to far right paramilitary groups, which formed in the 1990s to combat the country’s guerrilla movements but were later demobilised as terrorist organisations. After the report was released at the end of last week, the government announced it would send another 700 army and marine troops to Buenaventura as part of the government’s plan to militarise the city and reduce crime.

Peru – Dozens of Tourists Detained for “Orgy” in Cusco Historial Site: Around 60 tourists were arrested in the early hours of yesterday morning for taking part in a “wild party” in the Sacsayhuamán archaeological park, just outside of Cusco. Upon raiding the party, which was allegedly set to last two days, local police found several of the tourists engaged in sexual relations inside the buildings and in the surrounding forest. Marijuana, cocaine paste, three cans of spray paint, and large quantities of alcohol were confiscated, while 21 pieces of Incan ceramics were discovered in the basement of one of the buildings. According to the Cusco Culture Directorate, the four houses where the party was being held were constructed without authorisation on a historial site, and will be demolished. The incident comes days after the Peruvian government warned visitors against stripping at the Machu Picchu ruins after a series of arrests for nudity at the site in recent months.

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Latin America News Roundup: 18th March 2014


Peru's president Ollanta Humala with first lady Nadine (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Peru’s president Ollanta Humala with first lady Nadine Heredia (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Peru’s Cabinet Survives Confidence Vote: After a brief debate, Peru’s congress voted in favour of the country’s Cabinet, with 66 votes in favour, 53 against and nine abstentions. The vote came after days of crisis in the country’s political bodies, after a previous confidence vote in René Cornejo’s cabinet on Friday saw 73 members of congress abstain. But just hours before the vote in yesterday’s extraordinary session, Perú Posible and the PCC-APP alliance announced their support for the cabinet, ending the deadlock. Cornejo was sworn in as the country’s prime minister on 24th February, the fifth head of the cabinet since President Ollanta Humala took office in 2011. Many of Friday’s abstentions were seen as a protest agasint the cabinet changes, which were seen to reflect meddling from powerful First Lady Nadine Heredia, a leading adviser to her husband and a co-founder of the ruling Gana Peru party. Vice president Marisol Espinoza said that with the vote of confidence for the new prime minister’s cabinet, “democracy fundamentally won”.

Costa Rica: Government Candidate Still in Presidential Race: A week and a half after pulling out of the second round of presidential elections, PLN candidate Johnny Araya, has declared that he is still in the presidential race. The candidate, running for the party that is currently in power, met with his future cabinet last night and then appeared before the cameras to say: “I will respect the popular wish. There is no need to interpret what I have previously said, but know that I never stepped down from being a presidential candidate.” The second round is due to take place on 6th April, and will see Araya, who is the mayor of the capital San José, face leftist PAC’s Luis Guillermo Solís, who obtained 31% of the vote in the first round to Araya’s 29.5%.

Colombia: Bodies Found in Search for Missing Police: Colombian authorities have found two bodies which they believe to be those of the two policemen who disappeared at the weekend in the Nariño region, in an area under the influence of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The mayor of Tumanaco, in the country’s south-west, said that local farmers had found the bodies close the town and that preliminary studies indicated they belonged to Germán Méndez Pabón and Edilmer Muñoz Ortiz. It is believed that they were intercepted by the FARC, but so far this hypothesis has not been proven, and that officials from the Prosecution Investigation Body are heading to the area to carry out a full investigation. On 14th February two other police officers were shot dead in the departments of Cauca and Nariño. Authorities have blamed FARC for both killings.

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Latin America News Roundup: 27th February 2014


 

Climate change minister Stewart Stevenson pointing the Climate Justice way towards Rio in a Brazilian themed sendoff to the 'Rio Plus Twenty' United nations talks in Rio de Janerio, Brazil. (Photo courtesy of Oxfam Scotland by Colin Hattersley Photography)

Climate action at Rio+20 UN talks in Rio de Janerio, Brazil in 2012. (Photo: Oxfam Scotland by Colin Hattersley Photography)

Latin America: 2014 Climate Legislation Study Released: Today, the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International) released the 4th edition of the Climate Legislation Study – produced in partnership with the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics. The Study is a comprehensive audit of climate legislation across 66 countries, together responsible for around 88% of global manmade greenhouse gas emissions. This includes the following Latin American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela. Of the above, Mexico and Bolivia stood out as having made the most progress on Climate Change legislation during 2013. Mexico, following up on its 2012 General Law on Climate Change, announced the creation of the Climate Change National System and the Inter-secretarial Committee on Climate Change. It also adopted the National Climate Change Strategy. This strategy sets out the main focal areas regarding cross-sectoral climate policy, adaptation to climate change and reduction of GHG emissions, and reinforces Mexico’s GHG mitigation targets. In October 2012 Bolivia passed The Mother Earth Law and Integral Development to Live Well, Law No 300 of 2012. The law is a sweeping overhaul of the national management of natural resources, climate, and ecosystem.

Peru and Colombia: No More Visas for EU Travel: The European Parliament today voted to allow visa-free travel for citizens of Peru and Colombia to countries in the Schengen Area in Europe. The vote came during a meeting held today in Strasbourg, where 523 out of 577 EU representatives voted in favour of the measure. The decision means citizens of both countries will no longer require a visa for short stays (up to 90 days) in the Schengen area, whether for tourism or business purposes. The elimination of the visa requirement for both countries’ nationals was proposed last August by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. The Schengen Area comprises 22 of the 28 countries of the European Union: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden, along with non-members Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

Amazon Deforestation Outside of Brazil Remains High:  According to a report by Terra-I, deforestation in the Amazon continues to grow a high rate in eight of the nine countries that the rainforest covers. The study shows whilst in Brazil – which contains 60% of the rainforest – deforestation has dropped from 2.7m hectares in 2004 to 465,000 hectares in 2012; in the other eight countries, 2.3m hectares of forest razed between 2004 and 2012. The countries included are: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, French Guiana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. The majority of the deforestation occurs as the agricultural frontier in the countries expands; with land used either for grazing or for planting of crops. The rainforest’s expensive woods are also sought after, mostly for export.

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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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Latin America News Roundup: 27th January 2014


The map shows the proposed boundaries (in red and blue) and the final boundary as established by the ICJ (in black). Courtesy of ICJ.

The map shows the proposed boundaries (in red and blue) and the final boundary as established by the ICJ (in black). (Image courtesy of ICJ)

Chile and Peru: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague issued a ruling today on a long standing maritime border dispute between Chile and Peru. The ruling considered both positions in establishing a new maritime boundary, which extends along the line proposed by Chile -parallel to the Equator- for the first 80 nautical miles, and continues along the equidistance line proposed by Peru from there on. The dispute between the two countries, brought before the ICJ by Peru in 2008, concerned a triangle of around 38,000km2 rich in fishing resources, especially anchovies. The fishing industry in this area produces revenue for an estimated US$200m yearly, and the places most affected by the decision will be the Chilean town of Arica and the Peruvian town of Tacna. Whilst both governments have pledged to abide by the ruling, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said that “this transfer constitutes an unfortunate loss for our country.” Peruvian President Ollanta Humala celebrated that the ICJ “recognised the validity of the Peruvian position” and that his country “has won over 70% of the lawsuit.” Alvaro García Linera, Vice-president of Bolivia, said that the ruling “offers a very important precedent” and that President Evo Morales will refer to the matter tomorrow at the Celac summit in Cuba. The landlocked country is also involved in territorial disputes with Chile.

Honduras: Juan Orlando Hernández was sworn in as President of Honduras today. The ceremony took place at 9.50am local time in Tegucigalpa, and was attended by foreign dignitaries from around 80 countries. During his opening speech, Hernández promised to create 100,000 new jobs and to improve the quality of life of the 800,000 Honduran families that earn less than US$1 per month. He also pledged to improve the social security system, education, and to fight against corruption. Hernández was elected president on 24th November for a four-year term, amidst allegations of fraud by rival party LIBRE. Members of LIBRE organised a demonstration in Tegucigalpa to coincide with the ceremony, in protest against the “fraudulent” electoral process.

Ecuador: A man has been sentenced to six months in prison for killing a condor. Manuel Damián Damián, 61, confessed to the crime after pictures started circulating on social networks in April 2013 showing him with a dead female condor. Since he was arrested in November 2013, he will have to complete another four months in prison, pay a US$5,333 fine, and upon his release he will have to complete a series of environmental remediation tasks imposed by the tribunal. The condor is an endangered species -according to Ecuador’s Environment Ministry, there are fewer than 50 left in the wild, and 19 in captivity, in the country.

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Latin America News Roundup: 16th January 2014


The Brazilian state of Arce borders Peru in the Amazon

The Brazilian state of Arce borders Peru in the Amazon

Brazil: The north-western state of Arce has asked Brazil’s government to close the border with Peru to stop the flow of Haitian migrants. Since 2010, 15,000 Haitians have arrived into Brazil via the city of Assis, in Arce, on the border with Peru. Local media reports that the flow of migrants has increased considerably in recent days, leading to a situation Arce’s Secretary for Justice and Human Rights, Nilson Moruão, called “unsustainable” and “chaos”. He is asking the government to find a diplomatic solution to the problem. The latest incident come weeks after a diplomatic crisis erupted between Haiti and neighbouring Dominican Republic, after the latter withdrew citizenship to Haitians living in the country. Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas, a situation that worsened after the 2010 earthquake killed over 220,000 and left 1.5m homeless. According to the United Nations, over 800,000 Haitians are still in need of emergency aid.

Honduras: The leaders of the Libre, PAC, and PINU opposition parties signed the ‘Great Opposition Agreement for the Governability of Honduras’ yesterday. The pact aims to establish strategies between the parties’ newly-elected politicians to abolish laws which will negatively affect the Honduran people. Through the bloc, the united opposition have a majority in Congress, with more than 80 deputies, something former president Manuel Zelaya called “a healthy counterweight for Honduran democracy, based on what we can assume the national party will do when in government.” Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara de Zelaya, was the presidential candidate for Libre in the 28th November elections, and contested the results, claiming victory. She now heads the opposition.

Latin America: The London-based Bloomberg New Energy Finance research group released their annual report on investment in clean energy yesterday, with some Latin American surprises. Brazil once dominated the sector, but saw its investment in clean energy slip from US$7.1bn to US$3.4bn, the main cause of this drop being a large decline in new investment, which more than halved to US$2.5bn. Outside of Brazil, investment increased slightly, with almost US$5bn being put into the sector across the region, with both Chile and Mexico seeing high figures in solar and wind investment respectively. However, Argentina suffered a sharp decrease in investment in the green energy sector, falling from US$539m in 2012 to US$94m in 2013. Globally, investment was down for the second year running, falling 12% to US$254bn. 

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Landlocked: Paraguay and Bolivia Offered a Uruguayan Ocean Port


Barges of the Paraná river (photo: wikipedia)

Barges of the Paraná river (photo: wikipedia)

Uruguay plans to offer South America’s only two-landlocked countries access to the sea in exchange for rail infrastructure, according to Uruguay’s Ambassador to Bolivia Carlos Flanagan.

Flanagan announced yesterday the Uruguayan government will offer a port to Bolivia in Rocha, located on the Atlantic Coast near the border with Brazil, in exchange for hardwood sleepers used to reform railway infrastructure in the country.

The proposal is part of a plan to consolidate the Hidrovía Paraná-Paraguay, a waterway transport system via the Paraná and Paraguay rivers that facilitates exports from the Atlantic Ocean.

The port in Rocha will have a 32m deep wharf, which can be used by the largest cargo ships according to Flanagan. The Ambassador also argued that the waterway is the “most cost-effective” transport method in the region.

Uruguay’s Minister of Public Works Enrique Pintado, who also plans to visit Paraguay, the other nation that was proposed this integration pact, will present the project in La Paz, Flanagan said. ”We do not have a specific date… but it will obviously be one of the priorities in 2014,” he added.

This year Uruguay commenced a program to restore its domestic railway system.

“Between the ’80s and ’90s, when the neoliberal model was applied in countries [in the region] it produced the dismantling of our railways; therefore, if we talk about connectivity, one of the tasks is the reconstruction of railways, and Paraguay and Bolivia are major producers of hardwood to manufacture sleepers,” Flanagan said.

The government in Bolivia has not commented on the proposal but Presidents José Mujica and Evo Morales met in July this year to discuss joint plans related to bilateral cooperation.

In the past Bolivia has been given use of river ports at Villeta in Paraguay, Rosario in Argentina, and Nueva Palmira in Uruguay but did not build port infrastructure to consolidate an outlet to the Atlantic ocean.

Bolivia lost its coastal territory and access to the sea in a war with Chile 134 years ago. In April this year Bolivia filed a lawsuit before the International Court of Justice in The Hague seeking a ruling that forces Chile to negotiate the firm historical claim.

Bolivians have also been pinning their hopes on Peru to regain access to the Pacific under the Ilo Agreement, which will allow Bolivia to conduct industrial, commercial, and tourist activities from the Peruvian port of Ilo. In September it was approved by a Congressional Committee in Lima but is yet to be ratified by Congress. A Bolivian delegation travelled to Peru to request Congress address the issue last month.

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Top 5 Quirky Latin American Festivals


Latin America is a melting pot of hundreds of different cultures, each with its own traditions and rituals. It is no wonder, then, that this eclectic mix has given us a wonderful range of unique carnivals and festivals around the continent. Some are very famous – Rio’s carnival is a must-see event, as is the Day of the Dead in Mexico. However, this Top 5 aims to introduce you to some of the lesser-known, but no less special, festivals celebrated across Latin America.

Guatemala’s ‘Day of the Dead’ Kite festival

The Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is usually associated with Mexico, but it is also an important date in many other countries. Celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November, the festival remembers friends and family who have died. The festival has mixed origins, combining elements of Spanish and indigenous culture and religion.

Popular belief is that on the Day of the Dead, the souls of the deceased return from the afterlife. Families prepare for the return by building altars on which they place their loved ones’ favourite food and drink, fruit and skull-shaped sweets, and other goodies for them to enjoy. The altars are decorated with flowers and photographs of the deceased and then taken to the cemetery to welcome the departed. Candles on the grave illuminate the path back home for their loved ones.

Dia de Muertos kite festival in Guatemala (photo: Antonio Lederer, via flickr)

Dia de Muertos kite festival in Guatemala (photo: Antonio Lederer, via flickr)

In the Guatemalan cities of Santiago Sacatepéquez and Sumpango, the Day if the Dead is celebrated on 1st November – also All Saints Day in the Catholic Church – with an impressive kite festival. Locals spend months designing and creating the giant handmade kites, which can be more than 20 metres wide. Traditionally, every part of the kite is made using natural resources: the glue is a mixture of yucca flower, lemon peel, and water; ropes are made from the maguey plant; and the tails are made from woven cloth. The face of the kite is made from tissue paper stretched over a bamboo framework. The colourful kites, which depict religious, cultural, folkloric, political or social themes, can take up to five months to make.

On the Day of the Dead, locals, many dressed in colourful Mayan clothing, flock to the cemetery to honour the dead and cheer on the launch of the giant kites which fly on the wind high above. According to tradition, these kites represent the union between the world and the afterlife; locals believe that the kites reach up to the souls of loved ones and carry messages from the living. The noise they make in the wind is thought to frighten away evil spirits.

Qoyllur Rit’i, Peru’s Star and Snow Festival

On the night of the full moon before Corpus Christi – typically at the end of May or early June – more than 10,000 pilgrims make the journey to the Sinakara valley, which stands almost 5,000m above sea level in Peru’s southern Andes, to celebrate Qoyllur Rit’i festival.

The festival is a pilgrimage to the shrine El Señor de Qoyllur Rit’i where processions and dances take place. Some pilgrims continue their journey to the glaciers beyond.

Qoyllur_R'Iti cross (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Qoyllur_R’Iti cross (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Although groups of pilgrims come from all over Peru and from other countries, the majority come from rural communities in nearby regions. Each group comes with a dancers and musicians dressed in colourful costumes in four distinctive and representative styles: qulla, ch’unchu, ukuku and machula. Qulla represents the Aymara inhabitants of the altiplano (high plains); ch’unchu the indigenous inhabitants of the Amazon Rainforest; machula represents the early mythical inhabitants of the altiplano; and ukuku is a half-human, half-bear character. Ukukus are mischievous pranksters, but they also protect pilgrims from the damned souls who are thought to wander the glaciers at night.

The festival is an example of religious syncretism, combining different and seemingly contradictory beliefs.

It is believed that the Qoyllur Rit’i has pre-hispanic origins as a celebration of the stars and the mountains – pre-Columbian civilisations were close observers of the heavens. Qoyllur Rit’i takes place when the Seven Sisters constellation disappears and then reappears in the southern hemisphere, signalling a time of change and the forthcoming harvest. The cycle of the moon was also particularly important and so the festival takes place at full moon.

The shrine of El Señor de Qoyllur Rití, almost 5,000 metres above sea level, is a picture of Christ painted on a stone. According to historians, this image was painted by the Catholic Church in a bid to convert Inca descendants to Christianity and stop them worshipping the mountains. However, according to the Catholic Church, the Qoyllur Rit’i festival began in 1780 when a native child was befriended in the Sinakara valley by a mestizo boy who, through a series of miracles, eventually revealed himself to be Jesus Christ.

Each group of pilgrims carries its own icon of El Señor de Qoyllur Rit’i to the festival to be blessed. At the shrine, pilgrims lay small models or drawings, representing their aspirations for the future, at the feet of the saints who, they trust, will make them come true. The festival lasts for three days, during which pilgrims sing dance and celebrate around the shrine.

On the last morning, ukuku dancers climb up the mountain Qollqepunku, more than 3,000 feet further above the valley. This is the main peak of the Sinakara, and is one of the three great mountain-spirits, or apus, of this region. Locals regard this apu as the doctor who brings health. The ukukus climb to the heart of the glaciers where they light candles, pray, and retrieve the crosses placed three days earlier. They then break off large chunks of ice and carry them down the mountains on their backs. Halfway down they are greeted by the others dancers and everyone parades down the steep mountain path. The blocks of ice, which when melted are believed to cure all ills, are shared amongst the pilgrims.

Año Viejo in Ecuador

In Ecuador, at the stroke of midnight on 1st January, locals welcome in the New Year by burning thousands of life-size dummies under a sky filled with smoke and fireworks.

A man jumps over a burning 'año viejo' on New Year's eve in Ecuador (photo: Carlos Adampol, via flickr)

A man jumps over a burning ‘año viejo’ on New Year’s eve in Ecuador (photo: Carlos Adampol, via flickr)

The dummies are called año viejos (old year) because they represent the year which is drawing to a close. They are made of cloth, stuffed with sawdust, ground cardboard, straw, or leaves, and often have intricately-painted papier-macheé faces.

The life-sized dolls typically represent an event or a person that has made the headlines internationally or locally that year, either for their comedic value or for political or social reasons. Traditional favourites include the presidents of Ecuador and the United States or figures from popular culture such as Spiderman, Sponge Bob, or El Chavo (a character from a 1970s Mexican sitcom which still plays throughout Latin America).

The origins of this festival, which is at least two centuries old, are uncertain. However, the significance of the festival is clear – out with the old and in with the new. For some, the burnings herald the start of a New Year’s resolution with their old habits going up in flames with the dummies.

On New Year’s Eve, the año viejos are displayed outside houses. Notes left on the dummies express the things they wish to leave in the past and what they want to take with them into the New Year. These notes are often light-hearted rhymes, such as: Te llevas amargos anocheceres para regalarnos dulces amaneceres (Take away bitter nights and bring us sweet mornings).

At midnight the figures – many filled with firecrackers – are burned in an impressive and chaotic display. This is a joyous and humorous celebration: many men dress up as ‘widows’ of the año viejos and ask for a donation for the dying doll. After the ceremonial burning, families gather together to eat and celebrate throughout the night.

According to Ecuadorian writer Juana Córdova Pozo, “This tradition is a powerful feature of our culture. For us, it is an important act of renewal. It helps us to partly erase the past, both the good and bad. We are leaving things behind that must be left behind.” She adds, “For many, the fire is a symbolic element that has the ability to scare off evil – which we literally see vanishing in the smoke.”

Catedral de San Juan Bautista in Puerto Rico (photo via Wikipedia)

Catedral de San Juan Bautista in Puerto Rico (photo via Wikipedia)

San Juan Bautista, Puerto Rico

The annual Festival of Saint John the Baptist, known by Puerto Ricans as La Noche de San Juan, takes place on the 24th of June – the birthday of John the Baptist – with celebrations beginning the evening before.

The festival originated in Europe. However, Puerto Ricans take a special interest in the holiday because, long ago, San Juan Bautista was chosen as the island’s patron saint. Ponce de Leon, the first governor of Puerto Rico, originally named the island San Juan, a name which was later transferred to the capital city.

Puerto Ricans from all over the island celebrate La Noche de San Juan, but the largest crowds come to the beaches of the capital. People bring food and drink and light bonfires along the beaches – there are fireworks and people dance to music from the bands playing nearby.

John the Baptist was a prophet who foretold the coming of the Messiah, personified as Jesus, whom he later baptised. The story goes that, on the eve of his birthday, the waters are blessed with powers to ward off evil, heal, and cleanse sins. On the beaches of San Juan, Puerto Ricans walk backwards into the ocean and count down the seconds to midnight. At the stroke of midnight they throw themselves backward into the water. Most participants throw themselves backwards into the water three times as tradition suggests that this brings good fortune and health; others choose their own lucky numbers.

Festivities continue on the 24th with street processions, feasting, and more partying on the beach.

Lavagem do Bonfim, Bahia, Brazil

This festival takes place on the second Thursday of every January, and has done since 1754. It is a huge celebration for the Catholic and Candomblé faiths together, as Nosso Senhor do Bonfim (our lord of good endings) is associated with both the Candomblé deity Oxalá and with Jesus Christ.

Lavagem do Bonfim (photo: Geddel Vieira Lima, via flickr)

Lavagem do Bonfim (photo: Geddel Vieira Lima, via flickr)

On the morning of the festival, people gather at the famous Church of Conceição da Praia in Salvador de Bahia to begin the 8km walk to the church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim. The procession is led by Bahians dressed in white with colourful sacred beads, and carrying elongated white vases filled with flowers and perfumed water on their heads or in their arms.

These are followed by the Filhos de Gandhy (sons of Gandhi), an afro-Brazilian parade inspired by the principles of non-violence and peace of Mahatma Gandhi. Behind them come a procession of horse-drawn carriages, government officials, musicians, natives, people of the Candomblé faith, Catholics and tourists, also dressed almost exclusively in white. The colour is significant as it is associated with Oxalá, the most important deity in the Yoruba religion, from Africa, which has an important influence on Candomblé.

At the church, barefoot Bahians wash the steps, in a symbolic gesture of purification. Originally, the inside of the church was also cleansed. Flowers are then placed on the steps while the hymn of the Senhor do Bonfim is sung.

After the ritual, the crowd disperses to visit the many stalls set up around the church where they eat typical Bahian food such as acarajé – deep fried balls of black-eyed peas. There is non-stop drumming and as everyone dances, eats and drinks, they are blessed by holy water poured onto their heads and hands from the Bahian vases.

These are The Indy’s top 5 festivals, but do let us know your own favourites in the comments section below.

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