Category - Latin America

Military Could Step in Over Brazil Drought Chaos

An engineer for Sao Paulo state’s water company said that “scenes from the end of the world” would ensue if the city ran out of water.

Telesur, May 6

The drought in the Brazilian metropolis of Sao Paulo has become so severe that local authorities are considering bringing in military personnel to cope with the possible social chaos.

With over 11 million residents, Sao Paulo is Brazil’s most populous city and the country’s economic center. But senior officials at Sao Paulo’s water facility said residents might soon be evacuated because there is not enough water, to bathe or to clean homes.

The water crisis is the worst is the last 84 years, and the dry season has only just begun, with less water in the dams than in 2014, when restrictions on water began and the authorities began to realize the seriousness of the disaster.

Last week, a conference between academics, military employees and local councils to discuss how to handle the coming five months in the case that reserves run out, and the city might go up to five days without water.

Paulo Massato, engineer at the state water company, told the conference that water supplies could run out as early as July, if emergency works are not finished in time.

Engineers are working to create infrastructure to connect various reservoirs, which, if completed, would mean that there would be enough water to last until October.

IBT: São Paulo Drought 2015: Photos Of Historic Water Crisis In Brazil Show City On The Brink Of Collapse

Barack Obama: Two Time Nobelist?

You’ll no doubt recall the hue and cry when Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his stand on nuclear non-proliferation and his attempts to engage the Muslim world. Both the right and left in this country had great sport at this — and here I’ll agree — premature awarding of a prize to a man with few signal accomplishments in foreign policy, apart from being “not Bush”.

Six years later and I think it’s time to give him the Prize for real this time. Think about this past year: for a man who started his administration hoping to hit singles and doubles in foreign policy (consumed as he had to be by the domestic economic crisis), he’s kind of knocked a couple out of the park, provoking admiration from aboard and from mainstream Americans, and consternation from the idiot fringe that will sit on perches and poop all day, parroting “Obama bad, BRAWK!” Read More

Japan eyes ‘large scale’ cooperation with Cuba

AFP, May 2

Havana – The foreign minister of Japan said Saturday that Tokyo wants to launch “large scale cooperation” with Havana to support the island’s reforms.

In the first visit to Cuba by a Japanese foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, speaking during a meeting with Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez, said Japan supports US and Cuban efforts to normalize relations and that Tokyo wants to take its own ties with Havana to “a new level.”

Kishida, who traveled with a delegation of 30 Japanese business leaders, said Japan wants to launch a “new scheme of Japanese cooperation of wide range, large scale” to support reforms undertaken by President Raul Castro.

He said the scheme was called “non-reimburseable financial assistance.”

“Secondly, we would like to consolidate our economic relations,” Kishida said.

Over 150 injured in teachers’ protest in Brazil

Xinhua, April 29

Rio De Janiero – Over 150 people were injured on Wednesday in a confrontation between protesting teachers and the police in southern Brazil.

The bloodshed in Curitiba, Parana state, marked the second consecutive day of clashes since teachers in the state started camping outside of the State Assembly since Monday.

The protest was against a bill that makes changes in Parana Previdencia, the state civil workers’ pension and retirement system.

While the State Assembly voted the bill, police and protesters fought outside. The protesting teachers used sticks and stones to fight the cops, who used stun bombs, rubber bullets, dogs, pepper spray and tear gas against the teachers. In addition, the police threw stun bombs from a helicopter.

Brazilians Spraying and Praying for Dengue Vaccine Breakthrough

Bloomberg, By Mac Margolis, April 24

A cup of cloves, a half-liter of alcohol and a dollop of body oil: You won’t find this homemade mosquito repellent in Brazilian drugstores, but the recipe went viral after a worried sanitarian posted a cell phone video on Facebook last week.

Amid one of their worst outbreaks of dengue fever — 460,000 people infected and 132 dead this year — Brazilians are understandably jumpy. That humming sound is aedes aegypti, a familiar pest storied for spreading yellow fever throughout tropical America and now enjoying a comeback as the vector for what has become a 21st-century pandemic.

Once a mostly Asian affliction, the dengue virus has gone global because of breakneck urbanization, bad management of water, haphazard public health care and travel on jets that can take passengers anywhere overnight. A 2013 study in Nature reckoned that dengue had infected 390 million people that year, with 94 million falling ill.

The outbreak is especially severe in the Americas, which have seen a 30-fold increase in the disease over the past 50 years. Counting hospitalization and sick leave, the disease costs the region at least $2.1 billion a year, says the Pan American Health Organization.

Brazil, alone, accounts for six of every 10 reported cases of illness from dengue worldwide.

After Record Drought, Dengue Fever Is Now Sweeping Across Sao Paulo

Both opposition candidates concede defeat in Cuban vote

AP, By Michael Weissenstein & Anne-Marie Garcia, April 19

Havana – Two dissident candidates conceded defeat Sunday in Cuban local elections that offered them a chance to become the first officials elected from outside the Communist Party in 40 years.

Hildebrando Chaviano and Yuniel Lopez had been chosen as candidates by a show of hands in Havana neighborhood nominating meetings and hoped to win two of the 12,589 seats at stake in 168 municipal councils.

Both acknowledged they had no chance of winning after preliminary results showed Chaviano in last place of four candidates and one of Lopez’s pro-government opponent with twice his vote.

US condemns ‘brutal’ FARC attack in Colombia

AFP, April 18

Washington – The United States branded a FARC attack that killed 11 Colombian soldiers “brutal” and accused the Marxist guerrillas of violating their unilateral ceasefire.

The attack on Tuesday-Wednesday came as the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are in peace talks that have been under way in Havana since November 2012 in a bid to end more than five decades of conflict that have killed over 200,000 people.

Bogota accused the FARC of committing a war crime by ambushing a resting army unit with unconventional weapons in the attack in the western rebel bastion of Cauca.

Marie Harf, acting State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement: “We reaffirm our continuing support to the government of Colombia in its efforts to end the nation’s 50 year conflict.

Protesters across Brazil seek ouster of president

Dilma Rousseff sees historically low approval ratings as corruption allegations plague her government.

Al Jazeera, April 13

Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians have streamed out into the streets of cities throughout Brazil to demand the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff over government corruption and economic drift.

Sunday’s protests were second in less than a month and came as polls showed Rousseff entering the second month of her second term in office with historically low approval ratings.

The demonstrations were driven by a massive corruption scandal at the state-run oil company, Petrobras, as well as a spluttering economy, a rapidly depreciating currency and political infighting.

Police put turnout at 682,000 people who marched in 195 cities, while organisers gave a total estimate of 1.5 million – around half of them attending the largest gathering, in business center Sao Paulo.

RT: Countrywide protests flood Brazil pushing for President Rousseff’s impeachment

Obama to Take Cuba Off List of ‘Terrorist’ States

That breakthrough, and the president’s attendance at the Summit of the Americas, are building momentum for normalized relations.

The Nation, By Peter Kornbluh, April 10, 2015

Panama — In late November 1981, President Ronald Reagan secretly dispatched Secretary of State Alexander Haig to Mexico to meet with a high-ranking Cuban official and tell him that Cuba’s role in Nicaragua and El Salvador was “unacceptable intervention” and “a threat to our vital interests.” Several months later, the president sent former CIA deputy director Vernon Walters to Havana to reiterate the warning to Fidel Castro: get out of Central America—or else. To reinforce that message, the State Department put Cuba on its designated list of “terrorist states” and, in April 1982, announced a series of economic and financial sanctions to punish the island for “increasing its support for violence in the Hemisphere.”

Thirty-three years after this flagrant effort to obfuscate the difference between supporting revolution and sponsoring international terrorism, President Barack Obama has finally decided to de-list Cuba—creating momentum for positive engagement with Raúl Castro as they both make history by attending at the 7thSummit of the Americas in Panama. This week, the White House received a long-awaited State Department “review” recommending that Cuba be taken off of the list; the president is expected to announce very soon—perhaps tonight—that the list will be reduced from four to three nations (Syria, Sudan, and Iran).

“Cuba’s removal from the list brings US policy back into accord with reality and clears the way for progress on a whole range of other bilateral issues,” according to American University Professor William LeoGrande, who has published a history of the issue on ForeignAffairs.com. Indeed, extracting Cuba from this gallery of rogue states not only redresses a historical insult and injustice; it removes a key obstacle to restoring official diplomatic relations with the Cuban government—a game-changing goal that the Obama administration hopes to significantly advance at the two-day regional meeting in Panama.

Johns Hopkins sued over STD study in Guatemala

More than 770 plaintiffs are seeking $1 billion in damages in connection with US program in Guatemala

Al Jazeera, April 1

More than 770 plaintiffs are suing the Johns Hopkins Hospital System Corp. over its role in a series of medical experiments in Guatemala in the 1940s and 1950s during which people were deliberately infected with venereal diseases without their consent.

The lawsuit filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court seeks $1 billion in damages for individuals, spouses and children of people infected with syphilis, gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases through a U.S. government program between 1945 and 1956.

The suit claims officials at Johns Hopkins had “substantial influence” over the studies by controlling some panels that advised the federal government on how to spend research dollars. The suit also alleges that Hopkins and the Rockefeller Foundation, which is also named as a defendant, “did not limit their involvement to design, planning, funding and authorization of the Experiments; instead, they exercised control over, supervised, supported, encouraged, participated in and directed the course of the Experiments.”

The suit, which includes 774 plaintiffs, says the experiments were conducted abroad in order to give “researchers the opportunity to test additional methods of infecting humans with venereal disease easily hidden from public scrutiny.”

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.

Read More

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.

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