Tag Archive | "peru"

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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Peru: Minister of Interior Replaced Amid Police Protection Scandal

Walter Albán, new Minister of Interior of Peru (photo courtesy of the OEA-OAS flickr page)

Walter Albán, new Minister of Interior of Peru (photo courtesy of the OEA-OAS flickr page)

Former public defence attorney, Walter Albán, has replaced Wilfredo Pedraza as minister of interior after accusations suggested his ministry had provided police protection to Óscar López Meneses, a former official working under the convicted ex-president, Alberto Fujimori.

López Meneses was an operator for Vladimiro Montesinos, the head of intelligence during the Fujimori presidency. In 2012 he received a four-year suspended prison sentence for his involvement in intercepting telephones, stealing public funds and holding illegal arms. Montesinos is also in prison for drug trafficking, bribery, and murder, among other charges, while Fujimori is serving time for various crimes, including murder, kidnapping, embezzlement, and bribery.

Pedraza stepped down from his position in the wake of the revelations, but denies any involvement in ordering the police protection. Several police officers have also been removed from their posts.

The scandal broke after newspaper El Comercio published information last week about López Meneses’s ties with high-ranking police officials, based on a series of leaked documents that revealed a close relationship with certain members of police departments and military forces. The revelations were followed by photographs showing López Meneses at a birthday party with former head of the Seventh Police Division, responsible for the police units protecting López Meneses’s property.

According to the newspaper, there is evidence that López Meneses may have received $150,000 for his work with Montesinos, which included convincing defectors from other parties to join the Fujimoristas.

Meanwhile, López Meneses himself has added more controversy to the scandal after stating that he “actively supported” president Ollanta Humala’s campaign in 2006. Humala has denied knowing López Meneses or of any knowledge of the supposed agreement, saying it was a case of “police corruption”.

General Guillermo Aldo Miranda Soria, executive director of the civilian security division of the national police, was also fired after it was revealed he had given the order to protect López Meneses.

Albán has served as ombudsman during two different terms, and since 2011 has been Peru’s permanent representative to the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Albán has confirmed that the López Meneses case will be subject to an in-depth investigation.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (1)

Trans-Pacific Partnership: Secret Negotiations For a New Global Economy

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a multilateral free trade agreement currently being negotiated between 12 countries. The negotiations started in 2006 and involved only four countries – Chile, Brunei, New Zealand, and Singapore – with the aim of reducing tariff and non-tariff trade barriers and increasing trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region. However, with the growing economic importance of the Asia Pacific region as a motor for economic growth, eight new members have since joined the agreement: Peru, Mexico, the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Vietnam, and Malaysia. If signed, the TPP will become  the largest international trade agreement since the creation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1995, encompassing 800 million people, a third of world trade and 40% of the global economy.

TPP countries. In dark green: currently in negotiations; in light green: announced interest (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

TPP countries. In dark green: currently in negotiations; in light green: announced interest (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Countries enter free trade agreements because of their potential to raise living standards, giving poorer countries access to overseas markets and attracting foreign investment that will reduce prices, create jobs, and increase tax revenue. In his book ‘Making Globalization Work’, renowned economist Joseph Stiglitz states that China’s economic growth, based on exports, has lifted 700 million people out of poverty. However, far too often free trade agreements are controlled by developed countries and, more particularly, by special interest groups within these countries, which impose their agendas on less economically developed member nations.

The TPP is an example of increasingly prevalent, far-reaching agreements, which not only address conditions for trade, but also put other topics on the table, such as intellectual property and investment protection. Although leaders of the countries involved are pushing for a deal to be signed by the end of the year, the TPP has sparked fierce protests from a number of groups that accuse governments of putting corporate interests before citizens’ rights, damaging human rights and the environment, and signing away countries’ sovereignty.


The TPP negotiations are taking place behind closed doors and this secrecy is one of the greatest sources of discontent for groups opposing the agreement. No details of the agreement have been published and the only information in the public domain has been leaked.

Even in participating countries, such as the US, Chile, and Peru, Congresses have complained of being kept in the dark about the contents of the TPP and excluded from the negotiations. In spite of this secrecy, according to US news programme ‘Democracy Now’, more than 600 corporate advisors, including representatives of the controversial seed company Monsanto, have had access to the TPP agreement.

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch (photo courtesy of Public Citizen)

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch (photo courtesy of Public Citizen)

In an interview with ‘Democracy Now, Lori Wallach, director of US-based advocacy group Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, which monitors the WTO and other trade agreements, revealed that until last June, despite having constitutional authority over US trade, members of the US Congress were denied access to the draft text. Only after a written protest were members of Congress allowed sight of particular chapters, under restricted conditions. “They had no help to understand the technical language. They couldn’t take detailed notes and they were not supposed to talk about what they saw,” says Wallach.

The Congresses of Peru and Chile have also expressed their concerns about the secretive manner in which TPP negotiations are being carried out. After a public outcry, in August 2013 the Chilean Senate unanimously approved a motion for President Sebastián Piñera to hold a “public, technical, and genuine debate about the implications of the TPP for Chile’s economy and international relations.”

Inspired by Chile and spurred on by the concerned and concerted voices of citizens and organisations involved in ‘No negociable’, a public campaign against the TPP, a delegation from the Peruvian Congress presented a similar motion in August.

There are several theories about why the TPP negotiations are being kept under wraps. Some groups opposed to the TPP have suggested that after negotiations on the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas, known as ALCA in Spanish) broke down in 2005, negotiators have tried to make TPP negotiations run more smoothly. By making the TPP text far less accessible than that for the FTAA, they hope to reduce scrutiny and avoid the public backlash that the FTAA agreement received.

From a US perspective, Wallach contends that corporate players are keen to keep the text of the TPP secret because it places their interests above those of the public and because it includes some provisions that have previously been considered and rejected by US Congress. She believes that negotiators hope to slip such provisions past a poorly informed Congress via the TPP. “The binding provision is that each country shall ensure the conformity of domestic laws, regulations, and procedures,” says Wallach, “so every country would be required to change its domestic laws to comply with these rules.” According to Wallach, SOPA, the highly controversial Stop Online Piracy Act which addressed copyright laws and internet censorship, is an example a law that failed in the US Congress because of mass public opposition but which is now bundled into the TPP.

Leaked Chapters

Because the TPP text remains unpublished, little of its content is known outside the negotiations. However, a few chapters of the TPP have been leaked and these have raised concerns among opposition groups. According to Wallach, of the 29 chapters in the TPP only five concern issues traditionally addressed in trade agreements, such as the elimination of tariffs. Other chapters address issues such as food safety, internet freedom, the cost of medicine, financial regulation and the environment.

According to the website ‘Expose the TPP’, the TPP includes the controversial ‘Investor State System’, which opponents have branded, “a tool which undermines democracy”. Under the Investor State System, where investors and corporations believe individual or corporate investments are being threatened, they can take countries to International courts without first passing through national justice systems.

In many cases, this mechanism has undermined national legislation concerning health, safety, and the environment. For example, it was using the Investor State System provided for in the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement that Renco Group Inc, a US holding company, took the Peruvian government to court for US$800m, claiming violations of the US-Peru FTA. The case was initiated in response to the Peruvian Government’s closure of the holding’s highly polluting metal smelter in the city of La Oroya, which did not meet national environmental standards. La Oroya is said to be one of the ten most polluted cities in the world.

Protestors against the TPP in the US (photo courtesy of Public Citizen)

Protestors against the TPP in the US (photo courtesy of Public Citizen)

Furthermore, there are fears that the TPP would give increased powers to banks and provide for the rollback of banking regulations introduced after the global financial crisis.

Those who oppose the TPP have also criticised the chapter on intellectual property. Through an extension of monopoly drug patents included in the agreement, pharmaceutical companies would be granted new rights and powers to increase the price of medicines and limit access to affordable generic drugs. In developing countries, these new powers could affect access to vital HIV, cancer, and tuberculosis drugs. The agreement would also empower foreign pharmaceutical corporations to challenge national patent and drug-pricing arrangements in international courts.

The Intellectual Property chapter also proposes to extend the length of the copyright period for books, films, and music. If incorporated into the TPP, this measure could limit affordable access of these materials in schools, for example. A draft of the chapter, leaked yesterday by Wikileaks, revealed that Mexico has proposed an extension of copyright from 70 years after the death of the creator to 100 years. Although this increase may seem insignificant, it highlights the way in which intellectual property measures of this kind can been seen as incompatible with promoting free trade. In relation to this, Stiglitz argues that trade agreements are supposed to liberalise the movement of goods and services between countries instead of, in this case, closing them down.

As well as concerns over the non-trade measures included in the TPP, fundamental concerns over the impact of a liberalised trade market remain. For example, protestors in the US worry that the TPP will make it easier to move US jobs offshore, to countries with lower production costs. And in other countries, such as Mexico, there is continuing concern that farmers will be unable to compete with heavily subsidised US agricultural products.

TPP Beneficiaries

With the TPP surrounded by so much controversy, it is interesting to consider who may benefit from the agreement.

According to Friends of the Earth activist Bill Warren, large multi-national corporations in all TPP countries have much to gain from ratification of the TPP. “Now that the WTO trade agreements have come to a standstill, the United States is trying to draw up an agreement for a global economy which is even more favourable for corporations and less respectful of democratic institutions, fair trade, and human rights,” Warren contends.

Leaders of TPP member states and prospective member states at a TPP summit in 2010 (photo: Wikipedia)

Leaders of TPP member states and prospective member states at a TPP summit in 2010 (photo: Wikipedia)

An article published in the East Asian Forum analysing the implications of the TPP for the East Asian region, argues that the US’ main reason for joining the talks is to increase its influence in Asia and, at the same time, contain China’s growing influence in the region. Since the US does not yet have bilateral agreements with Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, or Brunei, the TPP would provide an opportunity to shift the power relationship in Asia in favour of the US. Some suggest that excluding China from what will be the largest Free Trade Zone, could eventually force it to join the TPP and, thus, to incorporate the TPP’s US-dominated trade system into its national laws.

However, for other countries, such as Chile and Peru, which already have bilateral agreements with many of the TPP countries including the United States, incentives for joining the agreement are less obvious. The incorporation into the agreement of Vietnam and other developing nations that present similar investment opportunities could result in Chile and Peru losing the preferential treatment afforded to them through their existing bilateral agreements.

Marcos Robledo, a Chilean expert in international relations, stated in an interview with newspaper Diario Financiero that Chile must recognise that in China and Asia, “the TPP is considered to be a hostile initiative towards China.” He warned that membership of the TPP could damage Chile’s export trade to China, which, currently, is one of the biggest importers of Chilean copper and agricultural products.

A Modified TPP: Recognising Differences Between Nations 

Anti-TPP demonstration in the US (photo: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom)

Anti-TPP demonstration in the US (photo: Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom)

In an article published in the Peruvian paper Caretas, Rodrigo Contreras, former Chilean TPP negotiator who stepped down in 2012 because of disagreements with the negotiation process, said that, if well-negotiated, the TPP had the potential to bring benefits to Latin American nations.

He described, for example, the benefits of Latin American countries working together with partner countries in Asia. “Our countries have similar goals and in some areas we share the same interests as Asian countries,” says Contreras, “which would give us a stronger negotiation stance when dealing with the bigger countries in the TPP.” However, he expressed his regret that the current TPP failed to reflect the interests and needs of Latin American countries. “The TPP can be a good idea,” he says, “but it must be transformed to provide real opportunities for our economy. We must reject a model designed to suit the priorities of high-income countries, which are very different to those of the other participating countries.”

In a similar vein, other partnership countries have come forward to challenge aspects of the TPP. In an article published in the Network for Justice in Global Investment, Kevin Gallagher, a specialist in trade and investment policy, explains that following the example of TPP countries Chile and Malaysia, which successfully regulated cross-border finances in the 1990s, other nations have rejected the TTP clause limiting countries’ capacity to adopt measures to prevent financial speculation. Instead, they have proposed revisions that safeguard cross-border financial regulations. And, earlier this year, seven TPP countries, led by Chile and New Zealand, proposed a more flexible alternative to the pharmaceutical intellectual property model proposed by the US.

With growing awareness within the TPP countries that this agreement has the potential to undermine many aspects of life that they now take for granted, such as internet freedom and the supremacy of national laws, the form that the final draft of the TPP will take is still unclear. It remains to be seen whether developing countries will be able to challenge the power that big corporate interests allegedly weild over the negotiations and achieve a TPP that reflects their needs. Similarly, we do not know the extent to which lobby groups and political allignment will influence the lawmakers’ decision to pass a free trade agreement without analysing fully the implications of the agreement for their nation.

In a political climate in which nations seem intent on defending their right to surveillance, claiming it is in the interest of their people’s security, it is worrying that such significant negotiations should be allowed to take place behind closed doors.


Do Argentines think free trade agreements are a good idea? Click here to find out.

Lead image: anti-TPP protest in the US, courtesy of Caelie Frampton on Flickr.

Posted in Current Affairs, Environment, News From Latin America, Social Issues, TOP STORYComments (1)

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