Tag Archive | "uruguay"

Uruguay Approves Bolivia’s Entry into Mercosur

Mercosur flagThe Uruguayan government sanctioned a law passed by Congress which approves the entry of Bolivia into the Mercosur trade bloc.

The process for Bolivia to join Mercosur began in December 2012 in Brazil, and it must be approved by the parliaments of all the member states. So far, the Uruguayan and Venezuelan have parliaments have passed bills in this sense.

The text of the law indicates that, within Bolivia’s joining process, they will establish instruments to reduce asymmetries within the member states, in order to favour “a balanced relative economic development within Mercosur.”

By entering the economic bloc, Bolivia agrees to abide by a number of treaties that regulate the resolution of disputes, among other issues. Once it has been formally allowed into Mercosur, the Andean country will have four years to gradually adopt the laws governing it.

Joining Mercosur would provide Bolivia with an exit to the Atlantic ocean via the Paraná and Paraguay rivers and a free trade area with its neighbours. Around 55% of Bolivian exports are sold to Mercosur countries.

The parliaments of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay are yet to approve Bolivia’s membership. In the meantime, the country participates in Mercosur as an accessing member, without a right to vote.


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Uruguay: Parties Choose Presidential Candidates in Primaries

Ex-president Tabaré Vázquez casts his vote (photo: AFP PHOTO/Miguel Rojo/Télam/ddc)

Ex-president Tabaré Vázquez casts his vote (photo: AFP PHOTO/Miguel Rojo/Télam/ddc)

Uruguayans took to the polls yesterday to choose the candidates that will participate in October’s presidential elections. The three main parties will be represented by ex-president Tabaré Vázquez (Frente Amplio), Luis Lacalle (Partido Nacional), and Pedro Bordaberry (Partido Colorado).

Partido Nacional was the party which obtained the most votes, with 43% of the total, whilst Frente Amplio got 28% of the vote and Partido Colorado 14%. Vázquez and Bordaberry both beat their party rivals by a landslide (obtaining around 80% and 75% respectively), whilst Lacalle’s victory was tighter, beating rival Jorge Larrañaga by 54% to 46%.

Smaller parties such as Partido Independente and Asamblea Popular also participated in the primaries, though with only one candidate each.

The country’s electoral tribunal reported a very low participation rate, with only between 30 and 35% of the electorate casting their vote. Mónica Xavier, president of Frente Amplio, said politicians should “reflect about the reasons why people don’t feel compelled [to vote]” and to “think about the parties’ responsibility in the low levels of participation.”

President José Mugica, also of the Frente Amplio, was one of many analysts who considered that the high absenteeism was due to the predictability of the results.

Presidential and legislative elections will be held in Uruguay on 26th October. The latest polls show that Frente Amplio candidate Tabaré Vázquez is favourite to succeed Mugica.


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Five Dead After Private Plane Crashes in Río de la Plata

Authorities have confirmed five dead after a light aircraft crashed in the Río de la Plata this afternoon. Another four people remain in hospital, according to reports.

The private plane, travelling from San Fernando in Argentina with nine on board, crashed less than 10km southwest of its destination Carmelo, on the Uruguayan coast. The pilot had allegedly reported a technical problem before communication was lost.

Map of the crash site (via Infobae.com)

Map of the crash site (via Infobae.com)

Emergency services were alerted by passengers calling from on board as the plane fell soon after 2pm and rescue helicopters and boats were immediately dispatched from both countries.

Early reports suggested one fatality, though the increased figure of five was later confirmed by spokesperson for the Uruguayan navy Gastón Juansolo. Two of the survivors were taken to Buenos Aires, and the other two to Colonia, where they continue to receive treatment for injuries.

Argentine Security Secretary Sergio Berni said that the causes of the crash were still unknown, though noted that “experience tells us its was an engine failure,” according to Pagina 12. Berni added that there was extensive fog in the region of the crash.

The plane is owned by Federico Bonomi, of the clothes label Kosiuko, though he was not on board today.









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Chile: Six Condemned for Kidnapping Uruguayans After 1973 Coup

Enrique Pagardoy Saquieres, one of the disappeared Uruguayans

Enrique Pagardoy Saquieres, one of the disappeared Uruguayans

An appeals court in Santiago, Chile has condemned six retired military officers to six years in jail for their role in the disappearance of three Uruguayan citizens shortly after the 1973 coup.

Yesterday’s unanimous decision changed the first ruling from September 2012, which only sentenced one of the accused, Colonel Mateo Durruty. The other former military personnel now condemned are General Francisco Martínez, Brigadier Ander Uriarte, and subofficers Gabriel Montero, Moisés Retamal y Guillermo Vargas.

They will now be able to appeal this second ruling in front of the Supreme Court.

The three victims – Ariel Arcos Latorre (23), Juan Povaschuk Galeazzo (24), and Enrique Pagardoy Saquieres (21) – were detained on 29th September 1973, just two weeks after President Salvador Allende was ousted in a coup led by General Augusto Pinochet. They had come to Chile to escape the dictatorship in Uruguay, which was persecuting suspected members of the leftist guerrilla movement Tupumaros.

After the Pinochet coup, the three were captured, along with four other Uruguayan citizens, as they attempted to escape across the Andes to Argentina. According to the court, they were all taken to a military base in Puente Alto, where they were interrogated and tortured.

Later, all seven were being transferred to the National Stadium in Santiago, which was used by Pinochet as a prison, when a military officer ordered the three victims off the bus. Their whereabouts remain unknown today.

The verdict provides more evidence of the so-called Operation Condor, when military regimes in 1970s Latin America, backed by the US, shared intelligence and coordinated the assassinations of political opponents in the region.

According to Uruguayan newspaper La Diaria, in September 1973, the Uruguayan consulate in Chile gave local authorities a list of over 400 wanted people – including one of the three victims in this case, Galeazzo. Meanwhile, the official Uruguayan state investigation into the disappeared has a record of nine disappeared citizens in Chile.



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Uruguay: Thousands March Against Impunity

Silent march UruguayLike every 20th May for the last 19 years, thousands of people took part in the ‘Silent March’ in remembrance of the victims of the military dictatorship yesterday. This year’s slogan was: “Where are they? Why the silence?”.

Protesters walked down Avenida 18 de Julio in Montevideo last night, and were joined by president José Mujica and his wife, senator Lucía Topolansky. The march is conducted in total silence, which is only broken to read the names of the victims.

Óscar Urtasun, from the organisation Mothers and Families of the Disappeared of Uruguay, expressed his satisfaction over the response of the people that attended the march. “Our great concern is that all this will be forgotten and we need to fill up that space devoid of memory. And it’s still happening. People are moved and they participate.”

Despite the attendance of high government officials, including Mujica, Urtasun highlighted, referring to the march’s slogan, that “for us, the silences of the state are important, as it is not giving us answers and it’s not finding out the truth.” Though he admitted that under the Frente Amplio governments, since 2005, there has been some progress on the matter, he feels that what has been done is not enough.


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Latin America News Roundup: 6th May 2014

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Ecuador: No Referendum Over Yasuní After Petition Invalidated: The National Electoral Council (CNE) has announced that it had invalidated almost 240,000 signatures gathered by campaigners against oil drilling in the Yasuní National Park. The decision puts the number of valid votes collected at 359,761, short of the 583,323 required to force a national referendum on the matter. “We found signatures repeated up to nine times,” said CNE President Domingo Paredes in a press conference today. “We asked them to read the regulations, and they have not done so.” The CNE also claimed that it had found fake names and false ID numbers. The ‘Yasunidos’ group behind the petition responded to the decision on Twitter, saying “The CNE talks about irregularities, we talk about fraud.” Last week, Yasunidos claimed that the CNE illegally opened the sealed box containing the identification documents for some of the 1,000 volunteers who collected the signatures. The group added that two thirds of the signatures collected had been rejected by the CNE, as it claims to have handed in over 750,000.

Bolivia – Military Protest Comes to an End: After two weeks of strikes and demonstrations over alleged discrimination in the armed forces, low-ranking military personnel in Bolivia have ended their protest. The decision comes as military chiefs confirmed that at least 660 of the 715 soldiers that we dismissed for taking part in the protests have been reinstated. Commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Víctor Baldivieso, said that 99% of those protesting have been re-incorporated into their units, adding that “now there is no motive, nor reason, to keep protesting”. Negotiations will continue over potential modifications to the Organic Armed Forces Law to eliminate discrimination throughout the military hierarchy and to promote equal treatment and professionalisation for non-commissioned officers. Low-ranking soldiers in the Bolivian Armed Forces are mostly of indigenous background, unlike the majority of officers.

Marijuana (Photo: Courtesy of Wikepedia)

Marijuana (Photo: Courtesy of Wikepedia)

Uruguay – New Details as Marijuana Law Comes Into Force: The legalisation of marijuana will come into force in Uruguay today as President José Mujica approves the detailed regulation for the law approved by Congress last year. The marijuana market will be regulated by the state, with only registered permanent residents of Uruguay over the age of 18 able to purchase a maximum of 10 grammes a week from pharmacies. The price of the drug will also be fixed by the state, with an initial cost of around US$1 per gram. Each household can cultivate up to six cannabis plants, to be used for personal consumption, while ‘cannabis clubs’ of up to 45 members can own 99 plants. However, consumers must register and choose only one method of accessing the drug (at pharmacies, at home, or at cannabis clubs). Police will have the authority to test drivers for marijuana use, as well as arrest those in possession of marijuana that does not have the genetic makeup of the state-approved varieties.The Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) is expected to issue licenses in the next few weeks to companies bidding to produce an estimated 18-22 tonnes of cannabis. Plantations will be guarded by the military, and their exact location will not be revealed for security purposes. The first harvest is expected to be ready for sale by December this year.

“They’ll label us elderly reactionaries,” said Mujica in an interview with Associated Press last week. “But this isn’t a policy that seeks to expand marijuana consumption. What it aims to do is keep it all within reason, and not allow it to become an illness.” Mujica also told local reporters this weekend that the main aim of the bill is to “combat drug trafficking.”



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Latin America News Roundup: 8th April 2014

President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

Venezuela – Government and Opposition in ‘Exploratory’ Meeting: Representatives of the opposition are meeting today with the government to discuss the protests and violence that have plagued the country since February. Under the mediation of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), the main opposition coalition, the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) agreed to meet with President Nicolás Maduro to explore the possibility of engaging in dialogue going forward. Among the issues to be discussed in the search for a resolution to violence are the levels of insecurity in the country, the state of the economy, armed groups called ‘colectivos’, and an amnesty law for those arrested in recent weeks. Earlier on Twitter, Vice President Jorge Arreaza said the government was ready to listen to the demands of opposition governors and mayors from around the country, and prepared to approve two special requests from each of them.

Mexico – Surge in Violence in State of Tamaulipas: A spike in violence between organised criminal groups has left at least 19 dead since Sunday, according to official reports. Fourteen people were killed on Sunday alone after gun battles in the cities of Tampico and Maduro, on the border with the US. The region is home to the Gulf and Los Zetas cartels, and the spike in violence comes after a series of police and army raids to capture leading members of both. According to Governor Egidio Torre Cantú: “These acts of violence are the results of actions we are undertaking as part of our fight to restore peace to the region.” Meanwhile, in the southern state of Michoacán, the vigilante groups called ‘autodefensas‘, are protesting efforts by the government to disarm them. Spokesman for the vigilantes, José Manuel Mireles, said the group demanded the dismissal of the security commissioner Alfredo Castillo and the withdrawal of the army and navy forces. President Enrique Peña Nieto said the government would restore security to the state “whatever the cost”.

Uruguay – Teachers in 24-Hour Strike Over Hours and Wages: Secondary school teachers in Uruguay today held a 24-hour strike in a dispute over unassigned hours and unpaid wages. The National Federation of Secondary Teachers (Fenapes) and the Association of Secondary Teachers (Ades) led the measure today, which included a march and the occupation of the Secondary Board for several hours this afternoon. “There are 40,000 unassigned hours and 1,000 teachers without work,” said Fenapes secretary general José Olivera. “All of this is to do with management problems.” Education minister Ricardo Ehrlich, however, said he did not understand the “radical” measure, especially as dialogue was ongoing.

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Latin America News Roundup: 28th March 2014

Uruguayan president José 'Pepe' Mujica (photo by Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr on Wikipedia)

Uruguayan president José ‘Pepe’ Mujica (photo by Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr on Wikipedia)

Uruguay – Partial Withdrawal of Police from Football Stadiums After Violence: President José Mujica has ordered the withdrawal of state police from the stadiums of the two biggest clubs – Nacional and Peñarol – following a violent confrontation between fans and officers on Wednesday. However, fears that the weekend’s domestic league fixtures would be suspended were abated today after an agreement was reached with the Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) and clubs to send police to protect referees and stadium personnel, as well as patrol the areas surrounding the stadiums. The safety of the fans will be the responsibility of the AUF and the clubs. Speaking on Thursday, a day after 13 police officers were injured and 40 Nacional fans arrested after a Copa Libertadores game in Montevideo, Mujica said he was “prepared to stop football if necessary” to combat the violence in the sport.

Mexico – Armed Militias Spread in Michoacán State: Armed militia groups, known as ‘autodefensas‘, marched into the municipality of Tacámbaro yesterday to take control of security and combat organised crime. The militias were accompanied by members of the state and federal police forces, local press report. The move brings the total number of towns reportedly under the control of the autodefensas to 31, a little over a year after first forming, with 20,000 people now part of the militia groups. Also yesterday, the public prosecutor’s office reported that 11 armed civilians were arrested in the town of Zitácuaro after allegedly falsely claiming to be part of the militia. Meanwhile, the government in the neighbouring state of Guerrero said federal police and the army had “sealed” the border between the two areas to prevent the spread of the militias – or the criminal gangs they are targeting – into its territory.

Ecuador – President Blames International Far Right for Twitter Hack: President Rafael Correa has blamed “extreme right-wing foreign groups” and the “unscrupulous local opposition” for hacking into his Twitter account yesterday. Messages that appeared on Correa’s account included links to a site called ‘Anonynews’, which included accusations against the government based on alleged official intelligence. The Interior Ministry and the National Intelligence Service today released a statement condemning the act: “We will not tolerate any illegal action that attacks and manipulates the president’s privacy, lying and making false claims on one of the direct channels of communication with the public.” The authorities added that a full investigation into the incident is underway.

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Latin America News Roundup: 20th March 2014

Mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro (Photo: Wikipedia)

Former Mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro (Photo: Wikipedia)

Colombia – Santos Signs Off Petro’s Dismissal: Despite the ruling by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (CIDH) earlier this week, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos signed off yesterday the dismissal of Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro. At the same time, he appointed Labour Minister Rafael Pardo, as caretaker mayor. Santos’ signature was the final step needed to complete the process started last December by the country’s Inspector General, Alejandro Ordóñez, who removed the mayor and banned him from running for public office for 15 years. In explaining his decision, president Santos said that “the Colombian government understands the importance and has defended the Inter-American Human Rights System. It considers, however, that the role of that system is complementary and alternative, so it must only operate in case of failure of the internal system.” The FARC have criticised Santos’ decision, saying it affects the ongoing peace process, as “it seriously affects the trust and the certainty over what is being approved,” specifically referring to the possibility of political participation of the guerrilla group. Petro called his dismissal a “coup” and, speaking to his followers at a protest in Plaza Bolívar, said that “the fact that Juan Manuel Santos ignored the people’s vote, shows his inability to make peace.”

Uruguay to Take Guantanamo Detainees: President José ‘Pepe’ Mujica confirmed today that his country will take five Guantanamo detainees as refugees, on request by US president Barack Obama. Mujica explained his decision by saying: “There are 120 guys that have been locked up for the last 13 years. They haven’t seen a judge, they haven’t seen a prosecutor, and the president of the United States wants to get rid of that problem. The Senate is asking him 60 things so he asked a bunch of countries whether they could offer refuge to some of them and I said yes.” Mujica remembered the many years he spent in jail during the country’s military dictatorship, and said he agreed to the request “because I spent a lot of years in prison and I’m sick of what they talk about: this is human rights.” He also confirmed that the refugees will be able to bring their families along, work, and establish themselves in Uruguay. The US government informed that they are “in talks with various countries in the region” regarding the closure of Guantanamo.

Venezuela – Opposition Mayors Detained and Jailed: Daniel Ceballos, mayor of San Cristóbal, was arrested for “promoting violence”, whilst Vicencio Scarano, mayor of San Diego, was sentenced to ten months and 15 days in prison for contempt, both in relation to the recent protests that have rocked the country. The Minister of Internal Relations, Justice, and Peace, Miguel Rodríguez Torres, upon informing of Ceballos’ arrest, said that “this action by the court and the Public Ministry is going to contribute greatly to bringing peace to the city of San Cristóbal (…). It is an act of justice before a mayor that not only stopped following the rules imposed by the law and the constitution, but he also supported all the irrational violence that was unleashed on San Cristóbal.” Ceballos aides, in turn, denounced that the mayor had been arrested in Caracas “as he was having a meeting with his lawyers in a hotel in the east of Caracas when six men who claimed to be from Sebin (Bolivarian Intelligence Service) came in, beat him up, and took him away” without presenting an arrest warrant.

Scarano was sentenced after being accused of not following a decision by the country’s Supreme Court from 12th March, whereby mayors were responsible for “avoiding the placement of obstacles on public roads which may prevent, hinder, or alter the free circulation of people and vehicles” in their towns, and for removing those obstacles if they had been placed.

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Latin America News Roundup: 11th March 2014

Allende greets Bachelet as ex-president Sebastián Piñera looks on (photo: AFP/Martin Bernetti/Télam/ef)

Allende greets Bachelet as outgoing president Sebastián Piñera looks on (photo: AFP/Martin Bernetti/Télam/ef)

Chile – Michelle Bachelet Takes Office: Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s first female president (2006-2010) was sworn in today for her second term. The ceremony took place in the Senate building in the city of Valparaiso, and was presided over by fellow Socialist Isabel Allende, daughter of ex-president Salvador Allende and the first woman to hold the presidency of the Chilean Senate. “The historic image of two women simultaneously holding the country’s two highest positions will be seen around the world,” said Allende. Several presidents and representatives from foreign countries attended the event, including Argentine president Cristina Fernández, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and Peru’s Ollanta Humala, amongst others. Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro was scheduled to travel to Chile but had to cancel the trip at the last minute and was replaced by his Foreign Affairs Minister Elías Jaua, who said that the government was facing “a violent coup attempt” which had already been neutralised. Bachelet was elected president for the second time on 15th December for the 2014-2018 term. She has promised to undertake major reforms to the education system and the Pinochet-era constitution during her second presidency. The new president is expected to give her first official speech later this afternoon.

Venezuela – Two Dead in Protests: Two university students were shot dead in Venezuela last night. One of them was killed during a shootout in the city of San Cristóbal, in the west of the country, which has seen a large number of anti-government demonstrations. The other student died in Ciudad Guayana, in the country’s east. Whilst the government blamed opposition groups for the deaths, saying that they “want dead people so they can force an intervention in Venezuela,” the opposition called for a national protest tomorrow in Caracas. Speaking about the situation in the Caribbean country, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff announced that the Unasur foreign affairs ministers will hold a meeting tomorrow in order to create a committee to deal with the Venezuelan crisis. The committee “will act as an interlocutor to build a climate of consensus, agreement, and stability in Venezuela,” said Rousseff from Santiago de Chile, where she is attending Michelle Bachelet’s inauguration. Protests in Venezuela are thought to have left around 22 people dead in the last month.

Uruguay Lowers Public Rates to Combat Inflation: Economy Minister Mario Bergara announced the government will lower the rates of public services in order to combat inflation, which reached 9.82% in the last year. The announcement came after a meeting between the minister and union representatives. Bergara also mentioned the possibility of decreasing VAT rates in fruit and vegetables’ imports and exports. These measures are expected to cost the Uruguayan state some $US100m and aim to reduce inflation to 7%, the level agreed with the country’s Central Bank. Last year’s inflation is the highest since 2004.

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