Category - Latin America

Chile wildfires damage unique flora, fauna

AFP, March 22

Massive wildfires raging in drought-stricken southern Chile have wiped out hundreds of plant species, and are now threatening animal life as well, officials warned.

“We are witnessing a massive environmental catastrophe” in southern Chile, Accion Ecologica chief Luis Mariano Rendon told AFP from Mexico.

“There have been whole species lost, such as the Araucaria araucana (monkey puzzle tree). They are trees that take hundreds of years to reach maturity. So this is a practically irreparable loss for current generations.”

[…]

Fires advancing for several days in the country’s south have ravaged more than 3,700 hectares (9,100 acres) of forest, and have been contained but not put out entirely, firefighters said.

There are still 25 active fires, affecting 11,428 hectares of trees and brush, according to the national emergency office ONEMI.

Kingdom of Shadows–the aftermath

I spent the last three days watching Bernardo Ruiz’s Kingdom of Shadows at the SXSW movie festival in Austin. I appear in the film, along with a nun from Monterrey, Mexico and an agent from the Department of Homeland Security in El Paso.

After screenings, we took questions from the audience, but sessions were too short to adequately address issues related to the subject matter of the film—the effect of drugs and drug prohibition on our societies.

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Brazilians flood streets calling for president’s ouster

Protesting economic stagnation and scandal, hundreds of thousands take to streets

Al Jazeera, March 15

Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians peacefully marched Sunday in over 50 cities around the country to demand President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and to criticize government corruption.

Police estimated 15,000 people marched along the golden sands of Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, where they waved Brazilian flags and many openly called for a military coup to dissolve the government.

“I don’t want my country to turn into a Venezuela, we don’t want an authoritarian government,” said Marlon Aymes, 35, helping carry a 20-foot long banner that read in English: “Army, Navy and Air Force. Please Save Us Once Again of Communism.”

“We want the military to dissolve Congress and call new elections, because the level of corruption is too widespread to do anything else,” Aymes added.

U.S. declares Venezuela a national security threat, sanctions top officials

Reuters, By Jeff Mason & Roberta Rampton, March 10

The United States declared Venezuela a national security threat on Monday and ordered sanctions against seven officials from the oil-rich country in the worst bilateral diplomatic dispute since socialist President Nicolas Maduro took office in 2013.

U.S. President Barack Obama signed and issued the executive order, which senior administration officials said did not target Venezuela’s energy sector or broader economy. But the move stokes tensions between Washington and Caracas just as U.S. relations with Cuba, a longtime U.S. foe in Latin America and key ally to Venezuela, are set to be normalized.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro denounced the sanctions as an attempt to topple his government. At the end of a thundering two-hour speech, Maduro said he would seek decree powers to counter the “imperialist” threat, and appointed one of the sanctioned officials as the new interior minister.

Declaring any country a threat to national security is the first step in starting a U.S. sanctions program. The same process has been followed with countries such as Iran and Syria, U.S. officials said.

THE CODE: A declassified and unbelievable hostage rescue story

How the Colombian army sent a hidden message to hostages… using a pop song

The Verge, By Jeff Maysh, January 7

Colonel Jose Espejo was a man with a problem. As the Colombian army’s communications expert watched the grainy video again, he saw kidnapped soldiers chained up inside barbed-wire pens in a hostage camp deep in the jungle, guarded by armed FARC guerillas. Some had been hostages for more than 10 years, and many suffered from a grim, flesh-eating disease caused by insect bites.

It was 2010, and the straight-talking Espejo was close to retirement after 22 years of military service. But he couldn’t stand the thought of quitting with men left behind enemy lines. He needed an idea, and when he needed an idea, he always went to one man.

Juan Carlos Ortiz was dunking his kids in the pool at his home in Coconut Grove, Miami, when he got the call from Colonel Espejo. With his easy charm and seemingly natural talent for creating clever commercials, the 42-year-old advertising executive had earned himself a Don Draper-like reputation in Colombia.

The ambitious Ortiz had shot to fame at the Colombian office of Leo Burnett — the legendary ad agency behind Tony the Tiger — where he created an anti-drug TV spot for the Colombian President’s Office. The ad showed an addict on a bus mistaking a fellow passenger’s dandruff for cocaine and snorting it up his nose. It made Ortiz the first Colombian to win a gold Lion at Cannes, the advertising industry’s Oscars. He returned to Bogotá a national hero and received a commendation from the nation’s first lady.

Sao Paulo warns of severe water rationing

AFP, January 28

Authorities in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s richest state and economic hub, have warned they are considering severe water rationing if the country’s worst drought in 80 years continues.

Officials outlined draconian plans for alternating cuts that would leave areas without water for five days at a time.

“If the rain persists in not falling into the Cantareira reservoir system, the solution would be for very heavy rationing,” said Paulo Massato, director of the state water company Sabesp.

Sabesp runs the Cantareira system, which supplies nearly half of the Sao Paulo metropolitan area, South America’s largest city with some 20 million people.

“The rationing would see two days with water and then five without,” he said late Tuesday.

[…]

Unless it rains soon, supplies could run out altogether by March.


Brazil Drought: Worst Water Crisis In 80 Years Affecting Four Million People In Country’s South East

IBT Times, January 25

Water cuts and blackouts have spread across large areas of south-east Brazil as a result of the worst drought in the country since 1930. The drought has hit Brazil’s three most populous states: São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Minas Gerais.

More than four million people have been affected by water rationing and power cuts. In the Madureira district of Rio residents have mounted demonstrations, beating empty buckets and cans to express their frustration. The district has been without tap water since before Christmas. Other cities have seen similar demonstrations.

The drought first hit in São Paulo, where hundreds of thousands of residents have had water supplies cut. The region should normally be experiencing its rainy season.

São Paulo state suffered similar serious drought problems last year. At an emergency meeting of five government ministers in the country’s capital, Brasilia, Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira says that the three states must save water.

“Since records for Brazil’s south-eastern region began 84 years ago we have never seen such a delicate and worrying situation,” said Teixeira.

SF Gate: First-ever rainless January in S.F. history

Six women murdered each day as femicide in Mexico nears a pandemic

The carnage isn’t just in border town Juárez, with the largest number of victims in province of Mexico state.

Al Jazeera, By Judith Matloff, January 4

Atizapan De Zaragoza, Mexico — José Diego Suárez Padilla has converted his home into a shrine to his daughter, Rosa Diana. Windows fashioned after her blue eyes stare out on the street. A painting of the girl in a white party dress covers a living room wall, overlooking an altar with offerings of chicken and chewing gum. The food has lain there so long that the red chili sauce has congealed.

Suárez Padilla explains to a visitor that he normally puts out fresh food but lately hasn’t had time. That’s because he’s busy all day consulting with lawyers and politicians to seek justice for her death.

[…]

According to the National Citizen Femicide Observatory, a coalition of 43 groups that document the crime, six women are assassinated every day.

Yet only 24 percent of the 3,892 femicides the group identified in 2012 and 2013 were investigated by authorities. And only 1.6 percent led to sentencing.

“Femicides are a pandemic in Mexico,” asserts Ana Güezmes, the local representative of United Nations Women, the agency devoted to gender issues.

LEAKED: Secret Negotiations to Let Big Brother Go Global

The ugly ramifications of the Trade in Services Act (TiSA)

Wolf Street, By Don Quijones, December 25

Much has been written, at least in the alternative media, about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), two multilateral trade treaties being negotiated between the representatives of dozens of national governments and armies of corporate lawyers and lobbyists (on which you can read more here, here and here). However, much less is known about the decidedly more secretive Trade in Services Act (TiSA), which involves more countries than either of the other two.

At least until now, that is. Thanks to a leaked document jointly published by the Associated Whistleblowing Press and Filtrala, the potential ramifications of the treaty being hashed out behind hermetically sealed doors in Geneva are finally seeping out into the public arena.
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Captive orangutan has human right to freedom

Reuters, December 21

An orangutan held in the Buenos Aires zoo can be freed and transferred to a sanctuary after a court recognized the ape as a “non-human person” unlawfully deprived of its freedom, local media reported.

Animal rights campaigners filed a habeas corpus petition – a document more typically used to challenge the legality of a person’s detention or imprisonment – in November on behalf of Sandra, a 29-year-old Sumatran orangutan at the zoo.

In a landmark ruling that could pave the way for more lawsuits, the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) argued the ape had sufficient cognitive functions and should not be treated as an object.

[…]

A spokesman for the zoo declined to comment to Reuters. The zoo’s head of biology, Adrian Sestelo, told La Nación that orangutans were by nature calm, solitary animals which come together only to mate and care for their young.

“When you don’t know the biology of a species, to unjustifiably claim it suffers abuse, is stressed or depressed, is to make one of man’s most common mistakes, which is to humanize animal behaviour,” Sestelo told the daily.

Obama announces U.S. to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama announced the United States would restore diplomatic relations it severed with Cuba more than 50 years ago, drawing resistance from lawmakers opposed to reconciling with the communist-run island.

After 18 months of secret talks facilitated by the Vatican and Canada, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed by phone on Tuesday on a prisoner exchange and the opening of embassies in each other’s countries.

Last-minute deal reached at U.N. climate talks

CBS/AP, December 14

Lima, Peru – After late-night wrangling at U.N. talks in Peru, negotiators early Sunday reached a compromise deal that sets the stage for a global climate pact in Paris next year.

The main goal for the two-week session in Lima was relatively modest: Reach agreement on what information should go into the pledges that countries submit for a global climate pact expected to be adopted in Paris. But even that became complicated as several developing nations rebelled against a draft decision they said blurred the distinction between what rich and poor countries can be expected to do.

The Lima agreement was adopted hours after a previous draft was rejected by developing countries who accused rich nations of shirking their responsibilities to fight global warming and pay for its impacts.

Peru’s environment minister presented a new, fourth draft just before midnight and said he hoped it would satisfy all parties, giving a sharply reduced body of remaining delegates an hour to review it.

“As a text it’s not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties,” said the minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who was the conference chairman and had spent all afternoon and evening meeting separately with delegations.

[…]

However, it weakened language on the content of the pledges, saying they “may” instead of “shall” include quantifiable information showing how countries intend to meet their emissions targets. Also, top carbon polluter China and other major developing countries opposed plans for a review process that would allow the pledges to be compared against one another before Paris.

[…]

“I think it’s definitely watered down from what we expected,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Sam Smith, chief of climate policy for the environmental group WWF, said: “The text went from weak to weaker to weakest and it’s very weak indeed.”


Climate talks draw criticism from green activists

ITV News, December 14

The agreement UN members have reached on climate change at talks in Peru has been dismissed as a step backwards by environmentalists.

Late-night wrangling between United Nations members in Lima secured agreement between developing and rich nations on a framework for making firm pledges to cut pollution at a summit in Paris next year.

But Friends of the Earth’s international climate campaigner Asad Rehman said:


The only thing these talks have achieved is to reduce the chances of a fair and effective agreement to tackle climate change in Paris next year.

Once again poorer nations have been bullied by the industrialised world into accepting an outcome which leaves many of their citizens facing the grim prospect of catastrophic climate change.

We have the ingenuity and resources to build the low carbon future we so urgently need – but we still lack the political will.

[…]


The Guardian: Lima climate change talks reach global warming agreement

The biggest issue left unresolved for Paris is the burden for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The draft text retains language of “common but differentiated responsibilities” that has over the years given developing countries a pass on cutting emissions. That language remains in the text although with a rider “in light of different national circumstances”. Stern acknowledged to reporters the issue was likely to come up again at Paris.

And the text adopted on Sunday no longer makes it mandatory for countries to provide detailed information about their prospect reductions targets.

Campaigners said that would make it increasingly difficult to be sure the deal would manage to keep warming within the 2 degree threshold.

US Congress passes bill to impose Venezuela sanctions

The United States Congress has passed a bill which would impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials found to have violated protesters’ rights.

BBC, December 10

The vote was passed by the House of Representatives and received similar approval by the Senate earlier this week.

The bill is now likely to be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro described the move as imposing “insolent imperialist sanctions”.

He said the US wanted to “challenge Venezuela with sanctions and threats”.

Tabare Vazquez wins Uruguay’s run-off election

Uruguay’s leftist candidate Tabare Vazquez has easily beaten rival Luis Lacalle Pou in a presidential run-off.

BBC, December 1

Final results gave Mr Vazquez, from the governing Broad Party, 52.8%, compared with 41% for Mr Lacalle Pou, of the right-wing National Party.

Mr Vazquez, 74, is a cancer doctor who served as president from 2005-10.

He won the first round of voting in October with more than 46% of the vote but it was not enough for an outright majority.

Military Personnel Trained by the CIA Used Napalm Against Indigenous People in Brazil

Truthout, By Santiago Navarro F., Renata Bessi and Translated by Miriam Taylor, November 9

For the first time in the history of Brazil, the federal government is investigating the deaths and abuses suffered by Indigenous peoples during military dictatorship (1964-1985). The death toll may be twenty times more than previously known.

Just as in World War II and Vietnam, napalm manufactured in the US burned the bodies of hundreds of indigenous individuals in Brazil, people without an army and without weapons. The objective was to take over their lands. Indigenous peoples in this country suffered the most from the atrocities committed during the military dictatorship (1964-1985) – with the support of the United States. For the first time in Brazil’s history, the National Truth Commission, created by the federal government in 2012 in order to investigate political crimes committed by the State during the military dictatorship, gives statistics showing that the number of indigenous individuals killed could be 20 times greater than was previously officially registered by leftist militants.

Unlike other crimes committed by the State during that time period, no reparations or indemnification for the acts have been offered to indigenous people; they were not even considered victims of the military regime. “From the north to the south and from the east to the west, accusations of genocide, assassination of leaders and indigenous rights defenders, slavery, massacres, poisonings in small towns, forced displacement, secret prisons for indigenous people, the bombing of towns, torture, and denigrating treatment were registered [with the State Truth Commissions],” Marcelo Zelic, vice president of the anti-torture group Never Again – SP, one of the organizations that makes up the Indigenous Truth and Justice Commission, created in order to provide documents and information to the National Truth Commission – told Truthout during an audience with the Truth Commission of San Pablo open to journalists.

Guaraní leader Timoteo Popyguá is from the El Dorado community in the state of Sao Paulo. He tells of his parents and grandparents, who lived in the municipality of the Manguerinha region in southern Brazil’s Paraná state, and who were victims of the military regime. Popyguá explained to Truthout that his relatives were forcibly removed from their lands, and those who managed to stay suffered from a drastic reduction in their territories. Because these indigenous groups require “ample space” for the reproduction of their cultural life, according to him this is another form of violence that they were subjected to. “My parents were victims of abuses, chained to tree trunks. The reason was land,” he says. “There must be reparations for the loss of our land and our culture.”

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