Latin America News Round-up
December 21, 2011
Colombia to Start Paying Victims of Violence
For the latest news and developments on Haiti, please see CEPR's blog, "Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch."
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Brazil and Southern Cone
Mercosur leaders push to bring Venezuela into bloc
Brazil Job Growth Last Month Weaker Than Economists Expected as GDP Stalls. Bloomberg
An Uneasy Search for Truth as Ghosts From Military Rule Start to Stir. New York Times
Top Argentine official found hanged at summit. AFP
Argentina police raid Clarin Group Cablevision channel. BBC
Despite her defeat, Camila Vallejo's influence keeps growing. The Guardian
Northern Andean Region
Venezuela Aims to Boost Oil Output to 3.5 Million BPD. EFE
Chavez claims five Paraguayan lawmakers are impeding Venezuelan access to Mercosur. Mercopress
Uribe accused of exporting paramilitarism to Venezuela. Colombia Reports
Colombia to Start Paying Victims of Violence. AP
Killers of land rights campaigners become 'military targets'. Colombia Reports
Trouble Brews in Colombia. Wall Street Journal
Western Andean Region
Ecuador's Correa To Make Case For Mercosur Membership At Summit. Dow Jones
Bolivia quinoa growers cash in on health food boom. BBC
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
In A Drug War, Mexican Forces Accused Of Abuses. NPR
Impunity Still Rules in Mexico: A Few More Deaths Foretold. NACLA
A forgotten invasion, a forgotten dictator. Al Jazeera
The United Nations must face up to the disaster it caused in Haiti. The Guardian
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration
Mercosur leaders push to bring Venezuela into bloc. AP
South American states ban Falklands vessels from ports. BBC
Regional inter-trade expands 25% and is expected to reach record 160bn dollars. Mercopress
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Brazil Job Growth Last Month Weaker Than Economists Expected as GDP Stalls
Alexander Ragir and Raymond Colitt. Bloomberg. December 20, 2011
Brazil created about half as many jobs as analysts expected in November after the economy stalled and weaker global demand for exports pushed the nation’s current account deficit to a record.
The world’s sixth-largest economy created 42,735 jobs in the month, the Labor Ministry said, compared with the median estimate of 80,000 among 13 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The current account gap widened to $6.8 billion.
President Dilma Rousseff’s government is trying to reinvigorate Brazil’s economy as Europe’s debt crisis deepens with a mix of tax cuts, interest rate reductions and looser bank lending requirements. The pace of Brazilian job growth last month was the slowest this year and the weakest for the month of November since companies slashed payrolls after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2008.
“The number is really very low, showing significant fatigue in the jobs market,” said Andre Perfeito, chief economist at Gradual Investimentos in Sao Paulo. “This complicates the economic outlook for next year. The government must be very worried about this number.”
Traders in the interest rate futures market boosted bets that the central bank will lower borrowing costs to bolster economic growth, pushing the yield on contracts due January 2014 down four basis points, or 0.054 percentage point, to 10.30 percent at 2:00 p.m. Sao Paulo time.
Invigorating the Economy
Economic growth will quicken in 2012, especially in the second half, fueled by the delayed and cumulative effect of policy makers’ interest rate cuts, central bank President Alexandre Tombini told senators today in Brasilia.
Tombini reiterated that inflation will continue to decelerate in the months ahead and meet the central bank’s 4.5 percent target next year.
The shortfall in the current account, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, compares with a $3.1 billion deficit in October, the central bank said today. Analysts had forecast a $6.45 billion shortfall, according to the median estimate of 18 economists polled by Bloomberg.
The deficit will widen further in December to $7.1 billion, Tulio Maciel, the head of the central bank’s economic research department, told reporters in Brasilia.
Foreign direct investment, which had held up in 2012 as Brazil develops offshore oil finds and modernizes its infrastructure ahead of the 2014 World Cup, slowed for the second straight month to $4.06 billion.
Over the past 12 months, Brazil has received a near-record $75.4 billion in FDI, the bank said in today’s report.
“The important thing is maintaining the foreign investment inflows,” Jankiel Santos, chief economist at Espirito Santo Investment Bank, said in a phone interview from Sao Paulo. “It looks like the current account will continue to be easily financed by FDI next year as well.”
Brazil’s trade surplus shrank to $583 million in November from $2.4 billion the month before, the central bank said. Exports declined to $21.7 billion from $22.1 billion over the same period, while imports gained to $21.2 billion from $19.8 billion.
Gross domestic product shrank 0.04 percent in the third quarter from the previous three months, the first such contraction since the first quarter of 2009.
Brazil’s jobs market has fared better than local industry as the Europe debt crisis hurts business and consumer confidence.
The unemployment rate slid to 5.8 percent in October, a record low for that month, while industrial production declined 1.6 percent in October from the previous year.
The government-registered job creation number is a balance of posts created minus jobs eliminated. Registered jobs, so- called formal work, assure employees a range of benefits such as unemployment insurance, bonuses and retirement payments by the government.
Brazil’s retail sales unexpectedly stalled in October as consumer purchases of clothing and pharmaceuticals declined.
To contact the reporter on this story: Alexander Ragir in Rio de Janeiro at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An Uneasy Search for Truth as Ghosts From Military Rule Start to Stir
SIMON ROMERO. New York Times. December 20, 2011
BRASÍLIA — After years of wrangling with the nation’s military hierarchy, the authorities here have created a truth commission to examine the abuses of Brazil’s long dictatorship, a move hailed as a sign that Brazil could be ready for a more active role against rights abuses, not just at home but globally as well.
But in the weeks since President Dilma Rousseff signed the laws creating the commission and a separate freedom of information measure, Brazil has begun to face the possibility that in the realm of human rights — unlike on regional economic and diplomatic matters — the mantle of leadership may not come so easily, after all. Skeptics on both sides are asking, Is the nation prepared to fully grapple with the crimes of its past?
Ghosts from the period of military rule, from 1964 to 1985, have begun to stir, revealing how Brazil, despite emerging as Latin America’s rising power and the world’s fourth-largest democracy, still trails its neighbors in prosecuting officials for crimes that include murder, disappearance and torture.
In a display of public fury that has resonated within Brazil’s military establishment, a retired military official, Pedro Ivo Moézia de Lima, himself the focus of torture accusations from his time overseeing interrogations in the 1970s, is publicly chafing at the new laws and filed a lawsuit to block the commission from starting its work in January.
The commission has come under fierce criticism from the opposite side of the spectrum, too: some torture victims and relatives of people killed by the dictatorship. They view the commission as a largely token effort because those responsible for abuses committed during military rule remain shielded from prosecution by a 1979 amnesty law.
“The commission isn’t about justice, but simply about what’s possible in today’s Brazil,” said Cecília Coimbra, a psychologist who heads Torture Never Again, a group pushing for prosecution of rights abuses. “It reminds us that we’re shamefully behind other countries in coming to terms with our past.”
Other South American countries with military dictatorships around the same time as Brazil, notably Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, have been far more assertive in pursuing old crimes. In Argentina, numerous former military officials have received life sentences, including Jorge Videla, the nation’s former dictator. In October, Uruguay’s Congress overturned the country’s amnesty law, which protected officers from prosecution during military rule lasting from 1975 to 1983.
Brazil, by contrast, has upheld its amnesty law despite a ruling last year by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which said it was invalid. The court, part of the Organization of American States, adheres to a regional human rights agreement, which Brazil has signed.
Some human rights specialists argue that Brazil’s new laws are positive steps, compelled partly by the Inter-American court ruling and also by Brazil’s ambitions to lead a new Open Government Partnership, a project to increase government accountability around the world.
“They could hardly assume that role without actually passing a freedom of information law and moving into the 21st century on the issue of transparency,” said Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, a Washington-based group that works with declassified documents.
Still, Mr. Kornbluh said, “The Brazilian military is among the most recalcitrant in the world when it comes to acknowledging its responsibility for abuses.”
Even those intimately familiar with the attempts to shed light on Brazil’s military years are often at a loss as to why such resistance is tolerated. After all, Ms. Rousseff, who is completing her first year as president, is a former Marxist guerrilla, captured at age 22 during the dictatorship and tortured with electro-shock methods.
Ms. Rousseff, 64, now rarely refers to the brutality she endured, but details emerging from that time offer views into her ordeal and that of others. One black-and-white photo from 1970, published in December by Época magazine, stunned many Brazilians. It showed Ms. Rousseff at a military hearing in Rio de Janeiro, seated upright with composure, while her uniformed questioners covered their faces apparently in an attempt to shield their identities from the photographer.
While the truth commission and information law may allow more revelations along these lines, those who have waited decades for justice remain disappointed about Brazil’s hesitance in pursuing those responsible for the dictatorship’s crimes.
Victória Grabois, 68, whose husband, brother and father were killed by the military in the 1970s, attributes the reluctance to a political culture that remains “deeply conservative,” dating from Brazil’s long experience with slavery, despite recently being guided by leaders who resisted the dictatorship.
Another explanation involves the scale of the dictatorship’s crimes. Military officials, employing what they describe as a more “surgical” counterinsurgency than in other countries, killed an estimated 400 people, compared with killings numbering well into the thousands in Argentina.
The 1979 amnesty law also covered crimes by leftist opponents to the regime as well, thus enabling exiles to return. Moreover, while Brazil has lacked trials of officers, it had something of a reckoning years ago through Brasil Nunca Mais, a project that documented torture methods and published its findings in a best-selling 1985 book, said Glenda Mezarobba, a political scientist who advised officials on creating the commission.
Ms. Mezarobba said she believed that the commission could be an important first step in giving victims a forum to tell their stories. “Punishment for crimes can also be achieved by submitting the amnesty law to legal challenges in the courts,” she said.
Military officials protected to this day by the amnesty law disagree, suggesting a bitter legal battle. “I participated actively in it all,” said Mr. Moézia de Lima, the retired colonel who filed a suit to block the truth commission, in an interview here. “I’m very proud of what I did.”
“Torture does not exist,” he said, employing the present tense, about the treatment meted out to suspected subversives. “You can say there’s a rigor in the interrogation, a rigor in the interview. But this stuff about torture that they talk about, they exaggerate, they invent. Even though I was intensely active, I never laid a hand on any of them.”
Such posturing against scrutiny is still ingrained in Brazil’s military. When Ms. Rousseff’s predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, previously tried to create a truth commission in 2009, the heads of the army, navy and air force threatened to resign along with the defense minister at the time.
Given such opposition, some here worry that the truth commission, which will have just two years to complete its work in investigating and reporting on the military’s abuses, could fall victim to time as those responsible for crimes dwindle in number.
“They’re all either are in their 80s,” said Ms. Grabois, whose family was torn apart by the dictatorship’s crimes, “or dead.”
Lis Moriconi and Erika O’Conor contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro.
Top Argentine official found hanged at summit
AFP. December 20, 2011
MONTEVIDEO — A top Argentine official was found hanged in his hotel room in Montevideo during a summit meeting of the South American trade group Mercosur, police said.
Ivan Heyn, 33, the undersecretary of trade, was found dead around 3:00 pm (1700 GMT) at the Radisson Hotel downtown, police spokesman Jose Luis Rondan told a news conference.
"He apparently died by hanging" with a belt, Rondan said. He said police were trying to determine whether it was a suicide, a crime or an accident. A Uruguayan official earlier said Heyn had committed suicide.
A source close to the case told AFP on condition of anonymity that Heyn was naked when he was found, nearly six hours after his death.
An investigating judge told local media that the circumstances surrounding Heyn's death remained unclear.
News of his death shocked the Mercosur summit, attended by the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner was informed about the death while she was attending a closed door meeting of the presidents, and was so upset she was seen by her doctor, according to the Uruguayan official.
But Kirchner, who is supposed to assume the presidency of the bloc during the summit, later returned to the meeting with the other presidents.
Organizers meanwhile canceled a planned official picture of the leaders.
Security was beefed up at the hotel, where some of the leaders attending the summit are staying.
Argentina's embassy confirmed Heyn's death, and said in a statement that Uruguayan authorities were taking "all the necessary legal steps with regard to this tragic incident."
Heyn was a promising economist who belonged to the Peronist youth group La Campora that supports the government of Kirchner and supported the previous government of her late husband, Nestor Kirchner.
A former leader of the Argentine University Federation, Heyn was an undersecretary in the Ministry of the Economy during Cristina Kirchner's first term. He took up his new post just 10 days ago after Kirchner's reelection.
A telegenic commentator, he was often featured on state television explaining government policy.
Argentina police raid Clarin Group Cablevision channel
BBC. December 21, 2011
Argentine police have raided the offices of a cable television network owned by the giant Clarin media group, which is involved in a bitter dispute with the government.
The raid on Cablevision was ordered by a judge investigating alleged unfair competition.
Cablevision said it was part of a "systematic campaign of harassment" against the Clarin group.
The government has denied ordering the intervention.
More than 50 officers arrived at Cablevision's headquarters in Buenos Aires to enforce an order issued by a judge investigating allegations by a rival television company that the broadcaster had abused its dominant market position.
The judge appointed a co-administrator to examine the company's records and prepare a report within 60 days.
Police withdrew after several hours when their action was challenged by lawyers for Cablevision.
In a statement, Cablevision said the judge - from the province of Mendoza - had exceeded his powers in ordering the raid.
It added that the complaint of unfair competition was brought by a company with close ties to the government.
"This is part of a systematic campaign of harassment the national government is carrying out against Clarin group companies," Cablevision said.
But Interior Minister Florencio Randazo said it was "nonsense" to suggest the raid was carried out on the orders of the government.
The Clarin group is Argentina's biggest media conglomerate, controlling newspapers, television and radio stations, and internet and cable providers.
Tension between the group and President Cristina Fernandez goes back to 2007, when she was angered by its coverage of a government dispute with farmers.
Since then, the government has put forward a broadcasting reform law that could force Clarin to sell some of its businesses.
The government says the aim is to break up monopolies and boost freedom of expression.
Another bill aims to tighten control of supplies of newsprint, which is produced by a company partly owned by Clarin.
President Fernandez has long argued that the Clarin group is unfair in its coverage of her policies.
Despite her defeat, Camila Vallejo's influence keeps growing
Cristian Cabalin. The Guardian. December 20, 2011
Camila Vallejo, the "student who can shut a city", has lost the race to be re-elected as the president of the most important Chilean students' organisation starting in 2012. She will, however, be the vice-president of the University of Chile's students. Despite this defeat, her political impact and popularity seem to grow stronger every passing day. She was featured in Time magazine's "person of the year" issue, and Guardian readers also voted her top of their own poll.
The student movement in Chile robustly criticised neoliberalism and shook the country's elitist democracy. Students were in the streets for more than six months, and showed that their own leaders can become political actors – Camila Vallejo being the most prominent of these.
At 23 years old, Vallejo was elected as president of the University of Chile students' federation in November 2010. At that time she was known only among university circles, but six months later she became a familiar face to most Chileans. She led the first massive students' march in June 2011, and with other student leaders, contributed to change the debate about education in Chile.
National and international media started to focus their attention on what is the most stable country in South America, but also one of the most unequal in the world. While Sebastián Piñera's administration promised a revolution in higher education, the real revolution was in the streets. Students eventually defeated the government, making Piñera the most unpopular president in the history of Chilean democracy. Polls showed 80% of public support for students and 26% for the president in the midst of the protests. Today, polls indicate 70% for students, and 35% for Piñera.
Chile has the most segregated educational system in the world and the promises of social mobility clash against a structure that reproduces social inequalities. Students, represented mainly by Vallejo, were able to communicate the negative consequences of neoliberalism in education. In the first months, media attention was very much focused on Camilla's attractiveness. She tolerated the typical Chilean "machismo" and tried to explain the motivations of the movement instead. Anchors and journalists may have predominantly asked her about her personality, or physical attributes, but Vallejo showed that her real impact was political. She was always open about being part of the Communist party in a country where political membership remains a stigma.
Conservative analysts and the government underestimated the movement, but the Chilean population saw in the protests an opportunity to demand radical changes. In a country where seven out of 10 students are the first in their families to attend a higher education institution, 83% of students who drop out within the first year belong to this group. Pro-market policies implemented during the last 30 years in Chile have demonstrated that their effects on the quality in education are limited, but their consequences for social equality are severe.
The new generation of Chileans has forgotten the fears associated with Pinochet's dictatorship. The "penguin revolution" in 2006 paved the path, but Michelle Bachelet's government neutralised its political effect. Piñera's administration, on the other hand, was not able to resist the student movement. In 2011, students left their indifference behind and embraced political action.
Neoliberal "common sense" is no longer the only paradigm in Chilean education. Furthermore, students recovered their historic position as protagonists of significant transformations in our society. "Educate, don't profiteer," was their slogan, and Camila Vallejo was their voice. Her future political influence is sure to be another outcome of the movement.
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Venezuela Aims to Boost Oil Output to 3.5 Million BPD
EFE. December 20, 2011
CARACAS – Oil-rich Venezuela will boost its production of crude to 3.5 million barrels per day in 2012, President Hugo Chavez said.
“We are at 3 million, fluctuating there – a little more, a little less – there we are at 3 million. Now, in 2012, as a result of all the efforts we have made, we should make a leap to 3.5 million,” he said during a Cabinet meeting broadcast on state television.
Venezuela’s oil output will reach 4 million bpd in 2014, the socialist head of state predicted, adding that no more than five countries in the world have “the capacity to increase production at a pace like this.”
Chavez went on to note that Russia currently produces around 10 million bpd, while Saudi Arabian output is slightly lower and Iran pumps 3.5 million bpd.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Venezuela is a charter member, decided earlier this month to set a production ceiling of 30 million bpd, the first increase since the 2008 financial crisis.
Venezuela, the world’s No. 5 oil exporter, sells around 1.5 million bpd to the United States and another 500,000 to China.
The Andean nation possesses the largest certified oil reserves on the planet, with roughly 297 billion barrels. But most of Venezuela’s petroleum is in the form of heavy and extra-heavy crude that is more costly to refine. EFE
Chavez claims five Paraguayan lawmakers are impeding Venezuelan access to Mercosur
Mercopress. December 21, 2011
President Hugo Chavez claimed that a small group of Paraguayan lawmakers, manipulated by a “powerful black hand”, are impeding the long-delayed access of Venezuela as full member of Mercosur.
“These people who oppose the incorporation of Venezuela to Mercosur are approximately five…and I don’t know if they are aware of the damage they are inflicting on Venezuela and the same Paraguayan people”, said Chavez on Tuesday while addressing the Mercosur summit in Montevideo.
“Five persons who don’t want us to join, but I guess there must be ‘a black hand’ behind them…” added Chavez who presented the request to join Mercosur for the first time in 2006, during another regional summit.
Nevertheless “I’m sure we have the full support from the Paraguayan people”, said the Venezuelan leader who added “we must double efforts and speed the incorporation”.
Besides, “Venezuela’s membership will most benefit small economies such as those of Paraguay and Uruguay. We have been preparing for that moment; we have a huge infrastructure program rolling that will help the distribution of Paraguayan and Uruguayan goods in the Venezuelan market”
“We hope Paraguay finally approves it. Maybe they turn around and vote for us, imagine these gentlemen supporting us, but in the meantime we should take photos of them and have them stamped all over Paraguay so the good citizens are aware whom they are”.
Finally Chavez talked in support of a quick approval of the Bank of the South, a financial development institution created to promote infrastructure and to keep funds in the region, “instead of having them loaned them back to us with our deposits in their banks”.
It’s time our international reserves are deposited in the Bank of the South so that “we can stop financing the rich north”.
“I would like to discuss the issue with those who call my idea madness. Madness is what we are doing now: having our international reserves in the North, we are financing the North: that is a centuries’ old madness”, underlined Chavez.
Uribe accused of exporting paramilitarism to Venezuela
Miriam Wells. Colombia Reports. December 20, 2011
Venezuelan politicians have accused former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe of exporting paramilitarism to their country.
Diosdado Cabello, vice-president of Hugo Chavez' United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), told reporters Monday that meetings between Uribe, his security team and opposition politicians were "extremely serious."
Cabello said Uribe and his cohorts were "anti-Bolivarian (...) traitors" who were not welcome in Venezuela. He said, "To bring these cowboys here is to import paramilitaries. It's to bring the Colombian violence which propelled Alvaro Uribe to Venezuela, and we are not going to keep quiet."
Cabello said in Colombia it was known what Uribe "was capable of," and accused Gaviria of being "the father [of] mass graves, false positives [extrajudicial executions of civilians by the Colombian Army who are then made to look like guerrillas killed in combat] and crematoriums."
He also accused Uribe of attempting to sabotage the recent inaugural summit of the Community of Latin American States, a new body bringing together regional powers without the United States.
Cabello said the PSUV "rejected" the presence of Uribe and his allies in the neighboring country, claiming, "They form part of this anti-Venezuelan sentiment that is starting to foment in some parts of Colombia."
Uribe met with the leader of the Venezuelan opposition, Leopoldo Lopez, last Friday to discuss his achievements fighting crime during his tenure as Colombian president.
The mayor of Chacao, a district of the Venezuelan capital Caracas, then announced Saturday that two members of Uribe's security team, Jose Obdulio Gaviria and Alfredo Rangel, were to meet with Chacao police to "design strategies for dismantling anti-social groups which are dedicated to kidnapping in the municipality."
Uribe has in the past accused Venezuela of harboring Colombian guerrillas, and more recently called on opposition politicians in the country to denounce ties between Chavez and the current Colombian leader, Juan Manuel Santos.
Colombia to Start Paying Victims of Violence
CESAR GARCIA. AP. December 21, 2011
Colombia's president approved details of a plan Tuesday to pay compensation to an estimated 4 million victims of the country's long-running civil conflict.
President Juan Manuel Santos signed five decrees laying out regulations under the so-called Victims Law. The Congress approved the law in May, and Santos signed it in June.
The law will provide cash to the families of Colombians who had been slain, kidnapped, raped or forced from their land during the conflict involving leftist rebels and right-wing militias, which saw its most intense fighting during the 1990s. The new law also aims to return land to those who have had property seized by armed groups.
The government will accept claims going back to 1985, a date lawmakers chose because of its symbolism as a particularly bloody chapter in Colombia's conflict. That year, rebels from the now-defunct M-19 guerrilla group seized the Palace of Justice, sparking a standoff that ended with more than 100 dead, including the rebels and 11 Supreme Court justices.
Santos said at a ceremony that he hopes the law will "transform a past of horror into a future of hope."
He has made the law, which takes effect Jan. 1, a centerpiece of his presidency since taking office in August 2010.
The government estimates it will cost the equivalent of more than $26 billion during the coming decade to pay reparations to victims. They'll receive one-time payments of up to 40 monthly minimum-wage salaries, which next year will add up to the equivalent of $11,900.
In the first year, the government expects to pay an estimated $3.2 billion in compensation and other benefits including health care costs and home repairs to about 130,000 people, Justice Ministry official Miguel Samper told reporters.
Santos said the amounts to be paid, while modest, are the highest the government could afford given the large numbers of people who will qualify.
"We know that doesn't compensate at all for being displaced ... much less the killing of a loved one," Santos said. "We would like to give them more, much more. But it isn't physically possible."
Since the 1960s, most of the victims of Colombia's internal conflict have been civilians, and land tenancy has long been a key issue in the fighting. Many paramilitary fighters now work as hired guns for the holders of stolen land.
Santos said the government will establish special tribunals to rule on claims of stolen land, and that in the coming year officials expect to decide about 2,000 initial claims.
Santos has set a goal of returning 4.9 million acres (2 million hectares) of stolen land to their rightful owners by 2014.
Killers of land rights campaigners become 'military targets'
Adriaan Alsema. Colombia Reports. December 21, 2011
Colombia's interior minister says authorities have identified six members of illegal armed groups responsible for killing leaders of displaced communities.
Since the inauguration of the government of President Juan Manuel Santos in August last year, more than 20 leaders of farmers trying to reclaim stolen land have been murdered, without a single arrest.
According to Minister German Vargas Lleras, the suspects are now "military targets of the armed forces."
"The arrest and prosecution of these six detected persons involved in these murders has become a strategic target, because it is important to set a precedent (...), for those who have been involved in the murders that have taken place," said the minister.
According to the minister, authorities are doing everything to make sure that the Victims and Land Restitution law, which restores land to victims of forced displacement, takes effect as planned on January 1, and that those reclaiming stolen land enjoy the necessary protection by the security forces.
Trouble Brews in Colombia
LESLIE JOSEPHS. Wall Street Journal. December 21, 2011
NARIÑO, Colombia—On the steep and verdant slopes here, an orange-colored fungus is laying waste to hundreds of thousands of acres of coffee.
A farmer holds a leaf from a Colombian coffee plant that is infected with the rust fungus.
The infestation, and efforts to eradicate it, raises the specter of higher coffee futures—and more expensive cups of espresso—for months to come.
The fungus is known as roya, the Spanish word for "coffee rust." It grows on the leaves of a coffee plant and chokes off nutrients to the beans. Encouraged by years of torrential rains, roya has spread throughout Colombia, forcing farmers to pull out their plants and replace them with fungus-resistant seedlings.
Juan María Cañar, a 64-year-old farmer in the Nariño region in southwest Colombia, said he was forced to replant much of his acreage. He usually produces 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds) of coffee beans. "This season, I'll have about half that," he said.
The fungus has ruined what was supposed to be a good year for Colombia, the world's second-largest producer of high-quality arabica coffee, the mild-flavored, hand-picked beans for which coffee traders usually pay a premium.
As much as 10% of the country's coffee-growing region, or about 300,000 acres, were replanted this year in a bid to get rid of the scourge. New plants typically take as long as three years before they produce their beans. This is likely to restrict supplies, sending prices higher.
Investors have been paying scant attention to the potential crisis. Futures for arabica coffee, the variety most commonly brewed in the world, have been falling along with other commodities, amid gloomy headlines out of Europe.
However, the declines are smaller than those for other exotic agricultural commodities. Coffee prices have fallen 7.4% this year, while cotton has dropped 40%, and cocoa is down 28%. On Tuesday, coffee for March delivery settled 1.5% higher, at $2.2280 per pound.
"It's not selling off quite like the others are," said Kona Haque, a commodities analyst at Macquarie Bank. "Coffee is holding its ground."
Analysts say the warning signs flashing in the coffee market will soon become more visible through the uncertainty caused by Europe's debt crisis. "The fundamental picture is taking a back seat because everyone is worried about Europe," said Marcio Bernardo, an analyst at brokerage Newedge.
The problems in Colombia come as global coffee supplies already are strained. The last crop out of Brazil, the supplier of more than one-third of the world's coffee, was a relatively small one. Additionally, Central America was hit by heavy rains at the start of its harvest in October, which are expected to clip production in El Salvador and Guatemala.
World output of arabica coffee will shrink 4.3% to 79.6 million bags in the current crop year, which began in October, according to the London-based International Coffee Organization.
The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia, or Fedecafe, isn't giving a firm forecast for next year's crop, saying estimates are hard to make given the large amount of rain that came down this winter.
For the past three seasons, the quasigovernmental organization set lofty production goals but came up short. The fact that they are demurring this year is telling, says Jack Scoville, a broker at Price Futures Group.
"They're trying to be very cautious as to what they say," Mr. Scoville said.
Analysts say that in the best-case scenario, Colombia's output in 2012 could be comparable to this year's, which Fedecafe expects to total around eight million bags, each weighing 60 kilograms. In a good year, Colombia produces about 11 million bags.
Meanwhile, demand for coffee is growing. Consumption has risen 2.5% every year on average over the past decade, the ICO said, citing the growth of niche markets and new consumers in emerging markets.
Problems in the euro zone could pinch global demand as the European Union has the highest coffee consumption per capita in the world.
Another factor that could mitigate Colombia's production problems is Brazil, which is forecast to harvest a big crop next year.
Last week, Brazil's National Coffee Council said the country will produce as much as 52 million bags, a 18% increase over last year. The council's forecast is conservative compared with private estimates that are closer to 60 million bags.
However, Brazil's harvest doesn't begin until May. Until then, the market must grapple with another possible shortfall from Colombia.
Western Andean Region [contents]
Ecuador's Correa To Make Case For Mercosur Membership At Summit
Shane Romig. Dow Jones. December 20, 2011
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (Dow Jones)--Ecuador is pushing to join Mercosur as representatives of the South American trade block meet in Uruguay's capital this week to discuss protectionist measures to keep a flood of cheap Asian imports from hurting the region's manufacturers.
Brazil and Argentina are keen to expand the list of goods subject to Mercosur's common tariff on imports from outside the block.
"We're hoping to be a full member," Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said Tuesday before a lunch with his regional peers at a Mercosur summit in Montevideo.
Correa highlighted his country's good relationship with Mercosur member nations in brief remarks to the press.
The Mercosur customs union was founded in 1991 and includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, with Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador participating as associate members.
Venezuela has sought to join the block as a full member since 2006. While three of Mercosur's members have ratified Venezuela's bid, Paraguay has balked at the idea.
Paraguay's opposition-controlled Congress argues that Venezuela under leftist President Hugo Chavez doesn't have the democratic credentials for full membership.
Mercosur is looking for a mechanism that would allow Venezuela to join without the legislative approval of each member nation, which is currently required by the organization's charter.
The trick for policymakers is finding a way to skirt the rules without triggering a political crisis at home for Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo.
Chavez, who abolished term limits through a referendum in 2009 and is seeking a third term in next year's election, staged a surprise appearance at the summit Tuesday after deciding to attend at the last minute.
-By Shane Romig, Dow Jones Newswires; 54-11-4103-6738; email@example.com
Bolivia quinoa growers cash in on health food boom
BBC. December 20, 2011
[Editor’s Note: Follow the link above to watch the complete video report.]
Once a little-known grain consumed largely on the high plains of Bolivia and Peru, quinoa has enjoyed a boom in recent years.
Rich in protein, minerals and vitamins, quinoa has been declared a "supercrop" by the UN and is growing in popularity in healthy-eating markets from the United States to Europe and Japan.
The Bolivian government has created a US$50m fund to invest in the industry, in the hope of cashing in on the rising demand.
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
In A Drug War, Mexican Forces Accused Of Abuses
Jason Beaubien. NPR. December 20, 2011
In Mexico, the past five years of President Felipe Calderon's drug war have been marked by brutal violence, unsolved kidnappings and tens of thousands of deaths. Most of the violence has come from the drug gangs, but some of these atrocities have been committed by the Mexican military and police.
Human rights groups say that as state security forces battle the drug cartels, they've tortured, abducted and killed criminal suspects and even innocent civilians.
The city of Sabinas Hidalgo is stuck in the arid northern plateau of Mexico, roughly halfway between the industrial hub of Monterrey and the U.S. border. It's a place many Mexicans abandon in favor of trying to find work north of the Rio Grande.
This past summer, 22-year-old taxi driver Jesus Victor Llano Munoz was also considering heading north, but instead he was arrested by the Mexican navy and hasn't been heard from since.
On June 23, a group of Mexican marines were searching the San Angel motel in Sabinas for drug suspects when Jesus Victor pulled his cab into the driveway of the motel.
His father, also a taxi driver named Jesus Victor Llano, was parked at a taxi stand across the street.
"My son had just dropped off some passengers from his taxi," Llano says, when the marines ordered Jesus Victor into the back of a gray military pickup truck.
Llano says he pleaded with one of the officers to let his son go. He recalls the officer rudely telling him that if his son had done nothing wrong, they'd soon release him.
But then the marines started driving out of the parking lot. Llano says he ran alongside the convoy of pickups, yelling: " 'Give me my son! Stop! Give me my son!' But they kept going, and that was the last I saw of him," he says.
The Mexican navy not only says they don't have Jesus Victor, they say he was never arrested. Officials with the navy didn't respond to repeated calls by NPR regarding the case.
The Mexican navy, along with the army, has been involved in routine drug enforcement operations across Mexico ever since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in 2006.
Llano says he's visited police stations, prisons and military barracks, but six months after his son was whisked away in a military pickup truck, he can't find him anywhere.
Vanishing At The Hands Of Security Forces?
Over the past five years of the drug war, more than 40,000 people have died in drug-related violence, and thousands have gone missing. Most of the disappeared were abducted by criminal gangs, but the country's human rights commission says hundreds also vanished after being detained by security forces.
In November, the New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report documenting more than 200 cases of kidnapping, torture and extrajudicial killings by the military and police.
Nik Steinberg, the Mexico and Cuba researcher with Human Rights Watch, says investigations by Mexican authorities into these alleged abuses go nowhere.
"And the message that that sends to the armed forces, to police at the federal, state and local level is: You can do whatever you need to do, so long as it's in the name of public security, fighting organized crime," Steinberg says.
Just after Human Rights Watch released its report, a crew from the Mexican television channel Milenio TV filmed police torturing several suspects after a shootout in Mexico City.
In the video, a half-dozen uniformed officers are holding a young man. The suspect is on his knees in front of a bucket of water. His hands are bound behind his back with black tape. His T-shirt is pulled over his face. The officers repeatedly shove his head into the bucket and hold it there.
Elva Davila Alves says police used similar techniques to force her son to confess to murder. Davila says in September of 2010, her son Marcelo was arrested by plainclothes police in Monterrey. The next time she saw him was more than a week later in jail.
"He was still in bad shape," she says. "All his fingers were bruised and burned. His jaw was twisted. He was beaten and bruised over his whole body. He couldn't walk well."
According to court papers, Marcelo had voluntarily gone to the police and admitted to killing a fellow student at the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon. Marcelo's lawyer and family say he was abducted, beaten and brutally tortured, including having his head submerged in water until he confessed to the murder.
To get the police to stop, they say he made up an extravagant story about how he hired a cartel hit man in a city park for roughly $300.
President Calderon's Pledge
Marcelo, like many criminal defendants in Mexico, did not get a chance to go before a judge. His confession, along with phone records that allegedly showed him making calls to an unidentified hit man, were enough to convict him.
Based on the confession, which he says he was forced to sign, Marcelo is now serving 42 years in prison. His mother, Elva Davila, says she knows the police tortured her son. She saw how beaten up he was, but she's afraid of retribution against her family if she pursues legal action against the cops.
"I have more children. I have grandchildren. And Marcelo is still inside, and the conditions inside the prisons aren't very secure," she says. "Because of this we haven't made any formal legal complaint against the officers who did this to our son."
For weeks, the police refused to let Davila take pictures of her son or have him examined by an independent doctor. Marcelo's family has filed an appeal of his conviction.
After the Human Rights Watch report came out in November denouncing systematic abuse by security forces in Mexico, President Calderon's office issued a statement saying the real abuse of human rights in Mexico is by brutal organized criminals.
Calderon himself has launched a series of town hall-style television appearances where he's addressed the accusations of abuse. He says his forces respect the human rights of everyone, including criminals, even though this is difficult.
"The only way we can win this battle is to confront the criminals with the full force of the government, including the military," Calderon said, "but at the same time, respecting the law and human rights. Because if we don't, we become as bad as the criminals. And we lose all moral authority."
Human rights groups say Calderon needs to do more to control his security forces if he wants to hold on to that moral high ground.
Impunity Still Rules in Mexico: A Few More Deaths Foretold
Fred Rosen. NACLA. December 20, 2011
While the general level of violence has remained constant over the past few weeks, the apparent targeting of grassroots activists has increased dramatically over the month of December. This targeting should remind us that political violence, and not just organized narco-based criminality, still drives a good deal of the violent instability that afflicts broad geographical swaths and certain social sectors in Mexico.
Corrupt and authoritarian politics and out-and-out criminality have a tendency to blend, of course, especially when large sums of money are available to grant impunity to certain private citizens. Over the past three weeks, for example, Mexicans have witnessed a number of deliberate attacks—whose deliberate foretelling was conspicuously ignored by state authorities—on political activists. The attacks, their open foretelling, and the official disregard of numerous death threats received by the victims (in one case the open police collaboration with kidnappers), all point to a common motive: the advertisement of impunity.
The most prominent attacks have been against members of Javier Sicilia’s Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, a group that has sought non-violent alternatives to the fight against organized crime: the murder of Trinidad de la Cruz Crisótomo (well known as Don Trino), a 73-year-old campesino leader of a movement to recover communal lands; the murder of Nepomuceno Moreno (Don Nepo), a working-class activist seeking the whereabouts (or remains) of his son, kidnapped last year by the state police of Sonora; the attempted murder of Norma Andrade (who survived the attack despite receiving five gunshot wounds), the founder of Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (Bring Our Daughters Home) a group formed to end the decades-old cycle of seemingly random murders of women in Ciudad Juárez; the kidnapping of campesino activists Eva Alarcón and Marcial Bautista as they traveled through the state of Guerrero.
The response of campesino, ecological, and human rights activists to the assaults of the past three weeks has been to strengthen their resolve and rev up the struggle on its multiple fronts. They have not been defeated. Another lesson of the past few weeks is that no fight against organized crime can succeed as long as private citizens can buy impunity from the state. That is where the most important struggle lies.
For more from Fred Rosen's blog, "Mexico, Bewildered and Contested," visit nacla.org/blog/mexico-bewildered-contested. See also the May/June 2011 NACLA Report "Mexico's Drug Crisis," or NACLA blogs, Border Wars and Traffick Jam, for more on the U.S.-Mexico border or drug trafficking in the region.
A forgotten invasion, a forgotten dictator
Mike Allison. Al Jazeera. December 21, 2011
On Sunday, former strongman Manuel Noriega returned to Panama following twenty-plus years in US and French prisons. However, the return to his native country remains as clouded in mystery as the reasons for his initial departure.
The United States invaded Panama on December 20, 1989 in an operation that lasted three weeks. In a speech shortly after the invasion began, President George HW Bush listed four reasons for the operation, including the safeguarding of US troops and their dependents, the defence of human rights and democracy, Noriega's involvement in drug trafficking and other illegal activities, and the security of the Panama Canal.
While the protection of US troops and their families were a legitimate concern, the threats against them were more a consequence of the escalating tensions than a cause. In particular, tensions flared after a failed October coup attempt in Panama. The deterioration of the human rights situation and the fraudulent May elections were relevant as well, but the imposition of democracy by force has rarely been the motivation behind US policies during the Cold War - or at any other time.
Noriega's involvement in the drug war was obviously a serious concern, particularly after the Iran-Contra Scandal, but some say that his involvement in the trade was somewhat overstated. In addition, his involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering was nothing new. Noriega had been involved in the drug trade for many years, and at the same time that he was on both CIA and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) payrolls.
Finally, the security of the Panama Canal was of obvious importance to the US, but it was not scheduled to be turned over to the Panamanians for another decade. On their own, none of the four reasons stated by President Bush provides a sufficient explanation for an intervention that was condemned in both the United Nations General Assembly and the Organisation of American States.
'Traitor to the Nation'
However, there are several other explanations for the US invasion. Throughout the 1980s, Noriega supported the US with intelligence and logistical assistance used to combat the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador and the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in Nicaragua. But Noriega's support for the Central American Peace Process, which had called for negotiations, was contrary to US interests. The US preferred a solution that did not leave the FSLN in power and that did not call for an end to foreign meddling in the region. On the other hand, Noriega was not alone in his support for the peace process, and was not one of its main architects.
Other arguments centre on the influence of Panamanian exiles, such as Roberto Eisenmann, Jr. Eisenmann spent most the 1980s in the US lobbying the US Congress to take a tough stance against Noriega. In return, Noriega had the Panamanian congress pass a resolution labelling him a "traitor to the nation". For some, the US Congress' tougher stand against Noriega was inconsistent with the approach advocated by President Bush. As head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Bush was very familiar with Manuel Noriega. Others believe it was President Bush’s determination to prove that he was not a wimp that drove the US to war.
I would also argue that, like President Ronald Reagan's invasion of Grenada in 1983, President Bush likely believed that an operation to remove Noriega would be an easy foreign policy success. The US already had thousands of troops stationed in the Canal Zone and access to bases and airstrips. While Noriega was neither the most repressive dictator nor the most corrupt, he was the most vulnerable to US military force.
In the end, however, there's no smoking gun. There's no single explanation for this US invasion, an invasion largely forgotten by the American public.
Noriega's return to Panama
Now, there's also the matter of Noriega's return to Panama. Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli first requested Noriega's extradition from the US in 2008. At the time, Noriega was in a Miami prison finishing a 30-year sentence, eventually reduced to 17 for good behaviour, on charges of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money-laundering. He would serve another three years while the US processed extradition requests from France and Panama. Noriega was eventually extradited to France where he was to serve a seven-year sentence on money laundering charges.
At this point, I thought that the United States and the international community were intent on ensuring that Noriega would serve the rest of his life in foreign prisons so as to prevent him from returning to Panama. Some feared that his charisma and connections would somehow enable him to make a successful return to politics. In the end, however, Noriega returns to a country very different from that which he left.
What happens now?
I'm not sure that anyone knows. After initial rumors that he hadn't actually returned to Panama, authorities wheeled him before cameras upon his arrival at El Renacer ("Rebirth") Prison. He has already been convicted in absentia for the murders of 11 people. He is set to serve those terms concurrently, which means he could be free at 97 years of age. However, he is likely to face additional murder charges that occurred under his rule now that he is back in Panama.
After a flurry of news articles this week in the US, we are unlikely to hear anything else of the man and the country he once ruled until he passes from this earth.
House arrest for Noriega?
On the other hand, it's possible that his stay behind bars will be of limited duration. Panama has a law on the books that allows elderly inmates to serve the remainder of their prison time under house arrest. Victims' rights groups are outraged at this possibility. For Noriega to take advantage of this benefit, he would have to accept his murder convictions. He would not be able to challenge them in court. It's difficult to see him accept the rulings even though at 77 years old, he has suffered a stroke and prostate cancer. I would accept house arrest for Noriega if it means that he would accept responsibility for those murders and would ask the people of Panama for mercy.
Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, DC, believes that Noriega's return will provide a sense of "closure" for the people of Panama. I hope so, but I am not entirely convinced. A variety of international news stories covering Noriega's return to Panama say that there's little interest among the general public. Today's generation knows little about the man who ruled between 1983 and 1989. Three-quarters of the population were of a young age during this heyday and have apparently moved on.
It is more likely, but not certain, that some of those who lost family members will gain some closure with new trials, information on the location of the remains of their loved ones, or the simple fact that Noriega will spend the rest of his life behind bars. I'm just not yet convinced that his return will lead to any national reconsideration of his rule, either of how far the country has come (four consecutive free and fair elections, robust economic growth) or how far the country has failed to come (drug trafficking, corruption and money laundering remain serious problems).
Guillermo Sanchez Borbon, co-author of a Noriega biography, said that, "We Panamanians are the kind of people to make a fuss for a couple of days and then move on." For the most part, Noriega no longer stirs up strong emotions among the people of Panama.
And what are we to do here in the US? Most students in my Latin American Politics course this semester were born after the invasion of Panama. Most admitted that this was the first time that they had ever heard of the invasion and Manuel Noriega. I would venture to guess that they are not alone. Few Americans know very much about our country's relationship with Noriega pre-invasion, the 1989 invasion itself, or his 20 years in a Miami prison.
After a flurry of news articles this week in the US, we are unlikely to hear anything else of the man and the country he once ruled until he passes from this earth. Like the people of Panama, the US can move on.
Mike Allison is an associate professor in the political science department and a member of the Latin American and Women's Studies Department at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. He blogs on Central American Politics here.
The United Nations must face up to the disaster it caused in Haiti
Mark Weisbrot. The Guardian. December 20, 2011
If an international agency brought a deadly disease to New York City that killed more people than the 9/11 attacks, what would be the consequences? Could they simply brush it off and have nobody hold them accountable for the damages? The answer is obviously no, and the same would be true for most of the countries in this hemisphere. But so far, it looks like they can get away with it in Haiti.
For some reason the "international community" thinks that it can get away with anything in Haiti. More than 7,000 Haitians have been killed since October 2010 by the deadly cholera bacteria that UN troops brought to Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in January that year.
More than 500,000 have been infected, and the disease – which Haiti has not had in more than a century – is now endemic to the country and will be killing people there for many years to come.
Last week, UN officials once again denied responsibility for the disaster, and were, in my view, publicly dishonest about the available scientific research – some of which was included in the UN's own report on the epidemic. On Thursday Nigel Fisher, the UN's Deputy Special Representative for Minustah said: "I think we all regret the breakout of this thing and I don't think the UN has ever denied the possibility [that it could have been at fault]." But he went on to say that describing the strain as Asian was "not helpful", telling the BBC:
The cholera strain we have in Haiti is the same as the one they have in Latin America and Africa. They all derive from Bangladesh in the 1960s so they are all an Asian strain.
The Associated Press's reporter described that comment as "patently untrue", and the UN's own report (PDF) was definitive about the origin of the strain. "Overall, this basic bacteriological information indicates the Haitian isolates were similar to the Vibrio cholerae strains currently circulating in South Asia and parts of Africa, and not to strains isolated in the Gulf of Mexico [or] those found in other parts of Latin America ..."
So according to the UN's own research, Fisher was – at the very least – misleading. The evidence for the origin of the epidemic is overwhelming.
In the United States criminal justice system, we have the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" for a guilty verdict. The evidence in this case far exceeds even that standard, let alone the less rigorous standard for civil lawsuits.
The UN's own study was clear: "The source of the Haiti cholera outbreak was due to contamination of the Meye Tributary of the Artibonite River with a pathogenic strain of current South Asian type Vibrio cholerae as a result of human activity." In other words, somebody dumped human fecal matter containing a deadly cholera bacteria from South Asia into one of the country's main sources of water for drinking and irrigation. Who might that be?
Suspect number one is the UN troop encampment from Nepal. From the Associated Press at the time of the outbreak:
When Associated Press journalists visited Wednesday, they found open and cracked pipes behind the base, with U.N. military investigators taking samples. There was an overpowering smell of human waste, and a pipe leading toward a septic tank was leaking foul-smelling black fluid toward the river.
The waste is dumped across the street in open pits that residents, who live a few yards away, said often overflow into the Artibonite tributary running below.
A UN official told the BBC that "everyone knew the sanitary situation in the Nepali base was deplorable".
But that's just some of the evidence on the ground. The scientific evidence is even more conclusive. The UN report itself provided quite a bit of genetic evidence with regard to the South Asian origins of the cholera bacteria in Haiti, but tried to leave some wiggle room.
But in August a more definitive research paper was published by a team of fifteen scientists that had access to samples of the cholera bacteria from Nepal. This study used whole-genome sequence typing and two other methods to compare the genetic make-up of the cholera bacteria in Haiti to that of Nepal at the time that the contingent of troops from that country came to Haiti. This study also found a "close relationship" between the Haitian and Nepalese strains of the bacteria.
The most recent study confirms what was found in previous studies, for example, one published in the New England Journal of Medicine in January of this year. Harvard microbiologist John Mekalanos was a co-author of that article, and commented to Science Magazine on the most recent study comparing the Haitian and Nepalese strains of the bacteria:
"They're practically identical. This is as close as you can come to molecular proof" for the Nepalese link, says Harvard University microbiologist John Mekalanos, the author of the first genomic study on the issue, who had tried in vain to get his hands on samples from Nepal himself. "The authors have to be congratulated for closing the book on this issue at the molecular-genetic level."
These studies also confirm a detailed investigation from the U.S.-based Center for Disease Control, headed by French epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux, whose "findings strongly suggest that contamination of the Artibonite and one of its tributaries downstream from a military camp triggered the epidemic."
How much more evidence could we possibly need? You can bet that any impartial jury or judge in the world would find that the UN brought this epidemic to Haiti. And according to most countries' laws, they would have to pay for what they did. Indeed there might even be criminal responsibility, since this action was so incredibly reckless in its disregard for the life and health of the victims.
UN officials had to be aware of the dangers that troops coming from an area where there was cholera could pose to a country like Haiti, where so many people do not have access to clean water or sanitation facilities. They had to know how important it was not to let that bacteria pollute the country's water supply.
Where are all the human rights organizations on this issue? Is the UN so sacrosanct, or perhaps influential, that nobody can state the obvious when an abuse of this horrific magnitude has been committed? So far one small, brave, and independent NGO – the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti – has announced it will pursue legal action to force the UN to pay for the damages.
Additionally, a Brazilian group – the Faculdade de Direito de Santa Maria – has filed a complaint with the OAS's Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Perhaps even more important than compensation for the victims and their families, both groups are also demanding that the UN provide the public health infrastructure for water and sanitation that is necessary to eventually get rid of cholera in Haiti.
Everyone who cares about human rights in this hemisphere should join this effort to hold the UN accountable for this disaster.
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration [contents]
RAUL O. GARCES. AP. December 20, 2011
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — South America's Mercosur trade bloc approved a Palestinian free trade deal Tuesday and then pushed to admit Venezuela as a full member, even at the cost of threatening its founding principles.
The agreement with the Palestinian Authority is the first between the territories and a bloc of nations outside the Arab world, but it is mostly symbolic because Israel strictly controls imports and exports involving the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Exterior Minister Riyad Al Maliki thanked Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay for following through on their recognition of the Palestinian territories as a sovereign and independent nation.
In the West Bank town of Beit Jala Monday evening, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat called the agreement very important to Palestinian institution building, but complained that Israeli controls are stifling his people's economy.
"How can anyone plant or plan or transport if an 18-year-old kid with an Israeli jeep can prevent them from moving?" Erekat asked.
Israel's business attache in Montevideo, Ron Gerstenfeld, told The Associated Press that the accord "is not the best way to promote peace" in the Middle East. But he said Israel respects Uruguay's decision.
The Mercosur group also debated a range of measures to protect their developing economies against the dumping of goods that can't find markets elsewhere because of the financial crisis in the United States and Europe.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, meanwhile, appeared to cause the most controversy at the meeting. Venezuelan membership has been stalled for six years because critics of Chavez dominate Paraguay's legislature and have refused to endorse Venezuela's entry. Mercosur rules require approval of both the executive and legislative branches of each member country.
A proposal for full Venezuelan membership was well received by the group's foreign ministers on Tuesday, according to Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro, who declined to explain how they plan to get around the Paraguayan veto.
Venezuelan membership has been approved by Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, but the Paraguayan senate insists that Chavez won't respect the rules of democracy.
That view has some support in Uruguay as well. Sen. Luis Lacalle, who co-founded Mercosur during his 1990-1995 term as Uruguay's president, called it a "death sentence, because the treaty has its legal requirements and they've ignored them. They are mortally wounding Mercosur."
Paraguay has yet to officially react to any effort to include Venezuela over Paraguayan lawmaker objections, which Lacalle called "an attack" against the country. Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo favors Venezuela's inclusion, but he has hardly any votes in his country's legislature, which remains dominated by the same Colorado Party that controlled the country for more than six decades, including during the 35-year Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship.
The arrival of Chavez at the summit suggests Mercosur countries are pushing ahead with a proposal by Uruguayan President Jose Mujica to facilitate Venezuela's entry as a full member. But the Venezuelan leader sought to downplay the development, saying his country's membership would not be immediate, or imposed without Paraguayan approval.
Mujica, Lugo, President Cristina Fernandez of Argentina and President Dilma Rousseff of Brasil were joining the summit, along with Rafael Correa of Ecuador, which also is pressing for full membership.
Trade barriers are also on the agenda. Argentina and Brazil are seeking to protect their local industries from cheap imports that threaten to flood the developing world due to economic problems in the north. Uruguay and Paraguay, which are less industrialized and depend more on imports, oppose blanket protections.
The Mercosur bloc also decided to close its ports to boats from the British-controlled Falklands, which Argentina claim as its own territory. The dispute involves a vast swath of potentially mineral-rich South Atlantic waters and has created a fresh diplomatic headache for Britain.
Mujica insisted that solidarity among South America's neighbors is key to Uruguay's foreign policy, and that "for the moment, this means accepting that this territory is a colonial British position in our America."
Uruguay will allow British-flagged civilian ships that may supply the islands to use its ports, but not military vessels, Mujica said.
Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman thanked Uruguay for taking the position.
Earlier Tuesday, Ivan Heyn, an Argentine deputy commerce secretary and close friend of the president's son, Maximilano Kirchner, was found hanging with a belt around his neck in his Montevideo hotel room.
Inspector Jose Luis Roldan, Uruguay's top police spokesman, called it an apparent suicide, but said the investigation was continuing.
Associated Press Writers Joseph Federman in Beit Jala, West Bank; Almudena Calatrava and Debora Rey in Buenos Aires and Ariel Gonzales in Montevideo contributed to this story.
South American states ban Falklands vessels from ports
BBC. December 21, 2011
A South American trading bloc has agreed to close its ports to ships flying the Falkland Islands flag.
Mercosur, which includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, came to the decision at a summit in the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo.
But Uruguayan President Jose Mujica said British-flagged civilian ships that may supply the islands would still be allowed to use its ports.
The Foreign Office said there was "no justification" for the action.
The Falklands flag is flown by 25 boats, mostly fishing vessels operated in joint ventures with Spanish companies.
The Mercosur decision is the latest in a series by Latin American regional bodies designed to show solidarity with Argentina which has long claimed sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, which it calls Las Malvinas.
Britain has held them since the 1830s and says their future is not negotiable. The two countries fought a brief but bloody war over the islands in 1982.
Their dispute has flared again recently. Last year, Argentina accused the UK of breaking international rules by allowing oil drilling under a seabed off the islands, located in a vast area of potentially mineral-rich South Atlantic waters.
Britain has also refused recent requests to re-open negotiations on the sovereignty of the Falklands.
Uruguay proposed the move to close ports to Falklands-flagged vessels. Mr Mujica said: "We hold nothing against the UK. But we have a lot in favour of Argentina."
He said solidarity among South America's neighbours was key to his country's foreign policy, adding: "For the moment, this means accepting that this territory is a colonial British position in our America."
However, the president of the Falklands Chamber of Commerce, Roger Spink, told the BBC that they were a small community, and felt increasingly under blockade.
"If we were Palestine, the European Union would be up in arms," he said.
The Foreign Office, who called on Uruguay's ambassador in London to explain the move last week, said it was discussing the developments "urgently with countries in the region".
A spokesman said: "We are very concerned by this latest Argentine attempt to isolate the Falkland Islands people and damage their livelihoods, for which there is no justification.
"It is not immediately clear what practical impact, if any, this statement will have, which mirrors the language already used by the Union of South American Nations in 2010.
"But no-one should doubt our determination to protect the Falkland Islanders' right to determine their own political future."
The Foreign Office called on Uruguay's ambassador in London to explain the move last week.
The chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Richard Ottaway, said the situation was "very unsatisfactory", with the ban seeming to be a breach of international law and tensions in the region escalating.
Tory MP Patrick Mercer called the ban "needlessly provocative".
Shadow foreign minister John Spellar said: "While this looks like a bit of a flag-waving gesture, Argentina should be in no doubt of the united determination of all parties in the United Kingdom to protect the Falkland Islanders' right to determine their own future."
But former Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane said the "hostile action" was aimed at London, not the Falklands, and blamed the coalition for weakening Britain's international standing.
The Labour MP said: "South American leaders know that Britain has fewer friends than ever before because of David Cameron's isolationist approach in Europe and the indifference to the Obama administration as most cabinet members are close to US neo-Cons.
"Brazil and other countries know that thanks to Liam Fox's defence cuts, the UK no longer has aircraft carrier capability so British maritime power projection has been fatally weakened by the government."
Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who took over the presidency of the trade bloc from Mr Mujica, thanked her fellow presidents for the show of support.
Delivering a speech to the summit, she said: "Malvinas is not an Argentine cause, it is a global cause, because in the Malvinas they are taking our oil and fishing resources.
"And when there is need for more resources, those who are strong are going to look for them wherever and however they can."
British companies are exploring for oil in the waters surrounding the islands, which are 400 nautical miles from the Argentine coast.
Regional inter-trade expands 25% and is expected to reach record 160bn dollars
Mercopress. December 21, 2011
Trade among ALADI, Latin American Integration Association, which includes all the hemisphere countries with the exception of a few from Central America and the Caribbean, is expected to reach a historic record in 2011 close to 160 billion dollars, ahead of the 2008 record with 146 billion dollars.
Based on the current tendency of the first nine months of the year, up 25.4% compared to the same period in 2010, this year is expected to be a record in spite of the hovering uncertainty in the international economic context, points out a report from the association.
The ALADI country members’ GDP during the third quarter is estimated to have expanded 4.1%, “a good rate” given the global context, although slower than in the previous quarter with 4.6%.
Further more: overall inter-trade increased, both exports and imports, and in the majority of the countries that expansion was above 20%.
ALADI trade with the rest of the world also expanded in the first three quarters of the year, 28% exports and 24.1% imports, with surplus jumping to 32 billion dollars compared to the same period a year ago.
“For the first time in history global exports from ALADI member countries reached one trillion dollars” said the official report adding that the current global situation must be closely monitored since there are clear signals that the volume of world trade growth is “beginning to slow down”.
Likewise prices of commodities have begun to descend, particularly since last May, all of which has been reflected in “the deceleration of the region’s exports in recent months”.
ALADI permanent headquarters is in Montevideo and member countries include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela as full members while Panama and Nicaragua are in the process of incorporation.