Latin America News Round-up
January 24, 2012
Colombian President Santos Apologizes for 1999 Massacre
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Brazil and Southern Cone
Brazilian police clash with slum residents for second day. The Guardian
New Brazil creates some distance from Iran. Financial Times
Brazil picks woman to head state-run oil giant Petrobras. AFP
Dam it: Brazil's Belo Monte stirs controversy. Al Jazeera
Uruguay expanded 6% in 2011 and fiscal deficit dropped to 0.8% of GDP. Mercopress
Northern Andean Region
Lopez bows out of Venezuela presidential race. AP
Venezuela Rebuffed by U.S. High Court on Bandagro Bond Suit. Bloomberg
Paramilitary groups extend influence along Venezuelan border. Colombia Reports
Colombian President Santos apologises for 1999 massacre. BBC
Western Andean Region
Bolivia’s TIPNIS Highway Redux. NACLA
Ecuador President appoints lesbian to cabinet. Washington Blade
Ecuador Foreign Debt $15.03B In Nov 2011, Equal To 23% Of GDP Forecast. Dow Jones
Race to save Ecuador's 'lungs of the world' park. BBC
Peru Aides Quit After Policy Shift. Wall Street Journal
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Mexican leftist juggles love and rage in election run. Reuters
Mexican journalist in B.C. fears for life if deported after exposing corruption. Canadian Press
Pressed by the U.S., Lobo Amends Extradition Laws. Inter-Press Service
After 20 years of peace, Salvadorans in D.C. still worry about their homeland. Washington Post
The roots of Bain Capital in El Salvador’s civil war. Salon
No more IMF borrowing- Phillips. Jamaica Gleaner
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Brazilian police clash with slum residents for second day
Tom Phillips. The Guardian. January 23, 2012
Violent clashes between police and slum residents in Brazil have entered a second day, after around 2,000 officers stormed a community near the country's economic capital, São Paulo, to evict around 6,000 residents.
The operation to clear the Pinheirinho shanty town in São José dos Campos, a city around 50 miles from São Paulo, began at around 6am on Sunday morning. Without warning, black-clad troops swept into the area carrying metal shields and pump-action shotguns. Skirmishes broke out and vehicles were set alight.
Television pictures showed terrified mothers fleeing the slum clutching their babies. Police helicopters circled above burning cars and homes as troops were pelted with rocks and responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Throughout the day, riot police and angry locals fought pitched battles, and protesters temporarily blocked part of the Via Dutra, the motorway that links São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. "They didn't even let us breathe," one weeping woman told Globo TV as she fled the area carrying a young girl. "They have thrown our whole lives away."
"I was scared," José Silva Santos, a cook who lived in the community, told the news website G1. "The guys [police] arrived ordering us out and there was only enough time to get my ID and my work uniform."
Throughout Sunday, social media sites filled with apocalyptic reports of a supposed "massacre", taking place within the community. One email, sent to international media, claimed there were reports that people had been killed. Brazil's biggest TV network, Globo, described the eviction as "an operation of war".
In an interview with local radio, Colonel Manoel Messias Mello, the head of the region's military police, denied there had been any loss of life.
"The operation was designed to protect lives, to guarantee people's physical integrity," he said, blaming the violence on "vandals" and claiming his forces had seized one shotgun, one handgun and drugs.
Mello said police were investigating reports that one man had been shot in the back during a "confrontation" with local security officers. Several people were reported to have been injured during the clashes, including the community's lawyer and a one police officer, but no deaths were confirmed.
Located on the impoverished outskirts of São José dos Campos, a city of around 850,000 inhabitants, Pinheirinho sprung up in February 2004, when groups of homeless workers occupied abandoned land belonging to a bankrupt investment firm.
Despite an ongoing legal battle over the land's ownership and grinding poverty, the community reportedly flourished with locals building churches, football pitches, libraries and shops.
On Monday morning, there were reports that clashes between police and locals had erupted again at around 9am. Fifteen people were reportedly arrested overnight.
Evictions are a common occurrence in Brazil, a country with a huge housing deficit and where the number of slum dwellers continues to rise despite an ongoing economic boom. Figures released late last year by the government showed that 11.5 million Brazilians live in shanty towns or sub-standard and often illegal housing, compared with 4.5 million in 1991.
But the scale of the police operation – and the violence it triggered – pushed the plight of Pinheirinho's residents on to the front pages. Human rights activists across Brazil have announced protests against the eviction.
Speaking on Monday morning, São Paulo's state governor, the former presidential candidate Geraldo Alckmin, reportedly ducked questions about the nature of the operation. "The police are merely executing a legal order," he told the Record TV network.
New Brazil creates some distance from Iran
Joe Leahy. Financial Times. January 23, 2012
Iran has attacked Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff for overseeing a chilling of ties between the two countries, jeopardising a relationship that had once been a major irritant to the US.
Iran believed Ms Rousseff was undermining the efforts of her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, under whom Brazil had been virtually the only major western country with friendly ties to the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, a spokesperson said in the Brazilian press.
“The president has struck down everything Lula had achieved. She’s destroyed years of good relations,” Brazilian daily newspaper Folha de S. Paulo quoted the spokesperson, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, as saying in an interview.
The erosion of ties between Brazil and Iran will remove a source of friction between Latin America’s most important power and Washington
The US reacted with anger in 2010 when former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva along with Turkey launched an ultimately failed bid to mediate in the standoff between the west and Iran over its nuclear programme.
The growing wedge in the relationship with Iran under Ms Rousseff began last year when Brazil supported a vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council to send a human rights rapporteur to Iran.
Under Mr Lula da Silva, Brazil had regularly abstained from supporting such resolutions on countries ranging from the Congo to North Korea.
He infuriated the US by being pictured embracing Mr Ahmadi-Nejad and once compared Iranian opposition demonstrators with disgruntled soccer fans.
By contrast, Ms Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla, was tortured by Brazil’s former military dictatorship and has been vocal in the past about human rights abuses.
In a break with her predecessor’s stance on Iran, she also condemned a death sentence of a woman in the country by stoning.
Trade ties between Brazil and Iran are coming already under pressure from Ms Rousseff’s tougher stance, amid reports that Tehran was holding up poultry imports from Brazil.
In August last year, Iran became the biggest importer of Brazilian beef, rising more than 300-fold in a decade.
Brazil was conspicuously absent as a destination during a visit to Latin America this month by Mr Ahmedinejad.
But its new stance on Iran poses a dilemma for Brazil, which remains opposed to the foreign interference in other states’ affairs, especially the use of military force.
Brazil last year abstained from the UN resolution to implement a no-fly zone in Libya.
“Human rights policy is in a state of flux in Brazil at the moment and the signals are mixed,” said Matias Spektor, the director of the centre for international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, an academic institution.
He said Brazil had also experienced a “steep learning curve” with Mr Lula da Silva’s attempt to mediate in the Iranian nuclear issue, which had cost it political capital in relations with the US and Turkey.
However, Brazil, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council with aspirations to become a permanent seat holder, could yet prove useful as a mediator in Iran, Mr Spektor said.
Although relations with Tehran had weakened, Brazil was still one of the few western countries that had the trust of Iran – a role that could become useful if an eventual conflict was to be prevented.
Brazil picks woman to head state-run oil giant Petrobras
AFP. January 23, 2012
AFP - The Brazilian government has picked top Petrobras executive Maria das Gracas Silva Foster to become the first woman to head the state-run oil giant, the company said Monday.
The government will propose to the Petrobras board of directors that Foster, currently head of the company's gas and energy unit, replace chief executive Jose Sergio Gabrielli, it added in a statement.
Petrobras said the board of directors meeting at Brazil's biggest company would take place on February 9.
The announcement followed press reports on the Petrobras leadership change.
"The president of the Petrobras board of directors, (Finance Minister) Guido Mantega has already indicated that he will propose to the next board meeting on February 9 the appointment of the current head of the gas and energy unit, Maria das Gracas Silva Foster, to head Petrobras," the statement noted.
The 58-year-old Foster, who is said to be close to President Dilma Rousseff, has been with Petrobras since 1978 when she joined the company as an intern.
She is reputed to manage with "an iron fist."
The daily O Estado de Sao Paulo, quoting industry sources, said Monday that Gabrielli, 62, planned to leave Petrobras to pursue other plans in his home state of Bahia.
Last year, Gabrielli denied that he planned to run for mayor of Salvador, Bahia's capital, in elections scheduled for October.
Petrobras found huge deep-water oil reserves off the Brazilian coast, which could hold some 100 billion barrels of high-grade crude and which will significantly boost its production in the coming years.
For that purpose, it launched the largest-ever share offering of some 70 billion dollars in late 2010.
Dam it: Brazil's Belo Monte stirs controversy
Gabriel Elizondo. Al Jazeera. January 20, 2012
Altamira, Brazil - Drive about 90 minutes outside this sultry Brazilian Amazon town, and into the thicket of the jungle, and a surreal, other-worldly scene appears.
It's a place where dozens of steel arms with giant claws from land excavators cut into the red earth, carving out deep holes.
There are earth movers, growling bulldozers and dump trucks crossing switch back roads that lead into colossal man-made craters, while clusters of hard hat-wearing engineers, glare down inspecting it all.
Belo Monte dam washes residents away
This is the scene at the opening phase of the building of the largest and most expensive project in Brazil, and one of the most controversial projects in Latin America: The Belo Monte Dam, along the Xingu River.
Officially the ground breaking quietly happened in June of last year, but the heavy construction ramped up during the turn of the year, and is moving full speed ahead at a blistering pace.
Five thousand men are working in two shifts, from 7 am until 5 pm and from 5 pm until 2:30 am, six days a week.
The construction area is gigantic, comprising three separate work sites sites that will eventually merge together to form two reservoirs 500 square kilometres in size linked by a channel comprising the Belo Monte Dam complex.
Twice a day, dynamite is used to blow up hard rock under the earth to make way for the dam.
A 'small city' is being built inside the work area to accommodate some of the 20,000 labourers and engineers who will be working here by November 2013.
When completed, Belo Monte will be the world's third largest hydroelectric dam and the latest cost estimate is $14bn.
The construction scene is all the more remarkable given that until a few months ago, Belo Monte's future still seemed in doubt, as the project faced a wave of judicial injunctions, and opposition from indigenous groups and environmental organisations both in Brazil and abroad.
The judicial injunctions were primarily imposed by the federal prosecutors office in the state of Para where Belo Monte is located and they questioned the builders processes of environmental licensing, contracting bids and the rights of effected indigenous populations.
Renewable energy worth social cost?
Those regional injunctions were either thrown out by higher courts or appealed, which has allowed builders to proceed forward and project and air of confidence.
"In this moment Belo Monte has the perspective to fulfill absolutely all its timetables," Joao Pimentel, the director of institutional relations for Norte Energia, told Al Jazeera. "We haven't had any delays by any judicial action or for any other reason, and we never had any lost days of work. That's why Belo Monte is going to continue within the timeframe."
While Belo Monte is being built by Norte Energia - a consortium of more than 10 mining, engineering and construction companies - the project is heavily backed by the federal government and Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, who have long said the dam is an essential component of Brazil's energy security.
Pimentel argues Belo Monte represents clean, renewable energy, and he points to the fact 86 per cent of Brazil's energy generation is from renewables, far higher than the world average.
"Brazil needs Belo Monte," Pimentel said.
Most environmentalists disagree, arguing that the ecological and social impacts of Belo Monte far outweigh any benefits.
"Belo Monte's social and environmental impacts are far greater than the Norte Energia propagandists would lead us to believe," Christian Poirier, Brazil programme coordinator for Amazon Watch told Al Jazeera. "They are in fact an unacceptable price to pay for a hugely inefficient mega-project carved into an extremely sensitive and precarious region."
Poirier says the Brazilian government has put too much emphasis on hydroelectric dams and not on wind and solar energy, which are generally considered to have less social and environmental impacts.
There is also the issue of displacement. According to Pimentel, about 6,000 families, or roughly 24,000 people, are being paid-off to leave their homes to make way for the dam.
Elio Alves da Silva, 56, a fishermen in the community of Santo Antonio - which sits at the base of one the main work sites - is being pushed off the land where he has lived for more than 30 years.
Only 60 families live in the community, but more than half have taken the payout and moved.
Their homes are then quickly demolished by Norte Energia, and no trespassing signs put up. The church will be destroyed, and the tiny cemetery with about 20 gravesites has also been closed.
Payouts not enough
"Our community was one of the most talked about in the area," Alves da Silva told Al Jazeera. "Belo Monte is finishing our community. We had no option. For me, the saddest part of this story is to know that everything I helped create here I'm now seeing it all be destroyed. For me, this is the most difficult part."
There are a handful of people who don't want to leave, but last month the Brazilian government declared the entire Belo Monte construction area as well as surrounding 'areas of impact' part of the 'public interest,' meaning that residents have little legal recourse.
Mr Alves da Silva was offered about $11,000 for his home, but when he rejected that amount, Norte Energia offered a few hundred more dollars that he accepted, fearing there was no other option.
The money, he says, isn't enough to buy a proper piece of land, so he's moving 70km away to the only area he can afford, but will loose his livelihood of fishing.
"I consider myself as one of those who has been defeated," Alves da Silva said.
When thinking about his home being bulldozed, tears started to roll down his cheeks.
"It's difficult, very difficult," he said.
Pimentel argues that Belo Monte's social impacts will be marginal.
"The design of Belo Monte was changed in the last year precisely to reduce the social impacts," Pimentel said. "The population that has been or will be removed during the process of the building of Belo Monte will only be in those areas that are necessary for the reservoir. And that is a small population... Yes, there are social impacts of a big project like Belo Monte, but we are mitigating those."
Questions such as how much land will be flooded and how many indigenous people will be effected have been batted around for years; debates about effects of building a dam of such magnitude on the Xingu River date back to the late 1970s during the time of Brazil's military dictatorship.
But today Belo Monte is fast becoming a reality, not just a concept to discuss.
Unanticipated social consequences
Just this week the Arara indigenous community claimed that land runoff from the construction was dirtying the Xingu river water they use to fish and drink. The public prosecutor's office has asked environmental authorities to urgently look into the matter.
And the city of Altamira has suffered a transformation as thousands of migrants merge on the city for jobs on the dam. The prices at the few hotels in town have more than doubled, and there has been skyrocketing land prices and home rentals. New business are opening to meet demand of well-funded engineers migrating to the city from other parts of Brazil.
ISTOE, a respected national news magazine, recently reported that criminality in Altamira has skyrocketed - the number of weapons confiscated jumped 379 per cent from 2010 to 2011 - as thousands of migrants flooded the city looking for work on the dam project.
"The trafficking of drugs and the bank robberies have intensified in the Xingu region because of a higher number of people and the movement of resources generated by the work of the large construction project," Paulo Kisner, the local Federal Police boss in Altamira, told the magazine. "Investments in the cities of the Xingu area are not being made, and the consequence is the increase in cost of living for a majority of population that is poor."
Belo Monte officials strongly deny crimes rates in Altamira are related to the construction project.
A new study released by a respected Brazilian environmental research organisation claims that deforestation will spike in the coming years in the region around the dam with an estimated 800 square kilometres destroyed in a "best case scenario", or as much as 5,316 square kilometres in a "worst case scenario" depending on migrations patterns.
Perhaps shocked by the speed of construction, Xingu Vivo Para Sempre, the main local NGO fighting against the dam, stormed a part of the construction site in January and spray painted work vehicles with anti-dam slogans, temporarily halting work for about one hour.
'Battle for public opinion'
Last year, more than one million Brazilians signed a petition against the dam in less than a week and in 2010 American filmmaker James Cameron came to Brazil to take up the cause of fighting against the dam.
Meanwhile, Norte Energia is pushing ahead both on construction and the battle for public opinion.
The first turbine is expected to be operational by 2015, and the entire project complete by early 2019.
They say all plans are on schedule.
The company has started a television station in Altamira, TV Belo Monte, and also hired Luiz Carlos Barreto, a famous Brazilian cinema filmmaker, to produce promotional videos extolling the benefits of the dam.
But decades after this project first was considered, and with cement being laid and earth movers carving new paths for construction, some opponents of the dam say there is still a long battle ahead.
"The government and builders of Belo Monte appear to think that rushing this disaster's completion will make it a fait accompli," said Poirier, from Amazon Watch. "But I'm afraid what they are doing is provoking further conflict with affected people and the potential for a prolonged standoff."
For his part, Pimentel is convinced the benefits outweight the costs. If there is no dam, he said, "there will be a need for nuclear or coal power and that is worse".
Follow Gabriel Elizondo on Twitter: @elizondogabriel
With reporting and multimedia from Maria Elena Romero.
Uruguay expanded 6% in 2011 and fiscal deficit dropped to 0.8% of GDP
Mercopress. January 24, 2012
Finance Minister Fernando Lorenzo said that Uruguay’s economy in 2011 expanded an estimated 6%, the ninth year running of sustained growth, and the budget fiscal deficit was 0.8% of GDP.
Lorenzo made the announcements following the first full cabinet meeting of the year headed by President Jose Mujica.
The minister said that the 6% should be confirmed in coming days when the final data is analyzed and anticipated that this year growth should be in the range of 4.0%. However, most private estimates average 6.3% for 2011 and 4.5% for 2012. In 2010 the Uruguayan economy expanded 8.5% and in 2009, 2.6%.
“Our preliminary figures are showing that the 2011 fiscal deficit will be 0.8% of GDP, considerably less than the 1.6% originally estimated in the budget “, which represents 360 million dollars said Lorenzo.
The minister attributed the better performance to three main factors: cost of energy was far less that programmed in the budget because of abundant rainfall and hydro power; improved tax and social contribution revenue and finally government managed public utility companies addressed their costs by increasing service rates.
The increase of power, fuel, communications and drinking water rates averaged 6% (annual consumer inflation in 2011 was 8.6%).
The Central bank has also helped with the numbers by increasing the basic interest rate from 8% to 8.75%, which means a stronger Peso with imports cheaper helping to contain inflationary prices in the short term. However a stronger Peso hampers exports and, all other factors remaining equal, is negative for competitiveness.
Lorenzo also indicated that Uruguay’s debt payments for the next four years are significantly moderate because of a recent long term restructuring.
“Hopefully this year the credit rating agencies will grant Uruguay the long due investment grade. This is a priority objective for the government. We believe, as we have said repeatedly, that Uruguay has all the correct indexes, fiscally and financially to be acknowledged by the rating agencies” pointed out Lorenzo.
He added that the recovery of “investment grade for our sovereign debt should be announced this year, sooner than later”.
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Lopez bows out of Venezuela presidential race
FABIOLA SANCHEZ. AP. January 24, 2012
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez bowed out of Venezuela's presidential race on Tuesday, saying he will support front-runner Henrique Capriles Radonski.
The announcement gives a significant boost to Capriles, who has a commanding lead in the polls ahead of the Feb. 12 opposition primary, which will choose a single challenger to face President Hugo Chavez in the Oct. 7 presidential election.
"You will be the next president," Lopez said at a news conference with Capriles. The two embraced and raised their arms before a cheering crowd. "In me, he will have a great ally," Lopez added.
Lopez, a former Caracas district mayor, has been trailing in recent polls. He said that with his departure, "unity is strengthened" within the opposition.
Capriles, an athletic 39-year-old, has captured support among Venezuelans by presenting himself as a capable manager and pledging to solve problems such as rampant crime, unemployment and 27-percent inflation.
Capriles has tended to avoid direct verbal confrontations with Chavez and has described his politics as center-left. He likens his approach to that of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who promoted pro-business policies while funding expansive social programs that have made him popular among the poor.
Capriles is currently the governor of Miranda state, which is the country's second-most populous state and includes parts of Caracas as well as largely impoverished towns in the surrounding hills. He served as mayor of the capital's mostly middle-class district of Baruta before he was elected governor in 2008, defeating a close ally of Chavez. He is also a former congressman.
"We need all your good ideas here," Capriles told Lopez during the news conference. "We both have the same dream."
Both leaders repeated Capriles' campaign slogan, "There is a way."
Chavez has been in office for 13 years and is seeking another six-year term in the October election. His approval rating recently has been above 50 percent.
Lopez had gone ahead with his presidential bid despite a Supreme Court ruling in October that had upheld a ban on him holding office yet also said he could be a candidate.
Lopez is on a list of hundreds of politicians who have been barred from holding office in the past decade due to corruption investigations, but he insists he is innocent and notes he was never sentenced in a court.
In its decision, the Supreme Court upheld a decision by the country's top anti-corruption official disqualifying Lopez from holding office until 2014. The Supreme Court also dismissed as "unfeasible" a decision by the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights that had sided with Lopez and said his political rights had been violated.
"Lopez was running far behind in the polls, and the Supreme Court's defiance of the decision by the Inter-American Court left a big cloud of uncertainty over Lopez's future, even if he were to come out ahead," said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. "Capriles has been the front-runner for some time, so the endorsement will continue to bolster his campaign."
Lopez's departure leaves a field of five candidates ahead of the Feb. 12 primary. Trailing Capriles in the polls have been Pablo Perez, the governor of western Zulia state, and congresswoman Maria Corina Machado. Also running are Diego Arria, a former Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations, and politician Pablo Medina.
Capriles urged Venezuelans to turn out in large numbers for the primary vote. As for Lopez's support, Capriles said: "This is an alliance with a view fixed on Oct. 7."
Venezuela Rebuffed by U.S. High Court on Bandagro Bond Suit
Greg Stohr. Bloomberg. January 23, 2012
The U.S. Supreme Court (1000L) refused to block an Ohio investor group from suing Venezuela over potentially $900 million in bank notes that the South American country says are forgeries.
The justices today turned away an appeal from Hugo Chavez’s Venezuelan government, which sought to invoke a U.S. law that immunizes foreign sovereigns from some lawsuits in American courts. The Supreme Court acted after the Obama administration urged rejection of the appeal.
The suit by DRFP LLC, which does business under the name Skye Ventures, may be the first of several claims over the disputed bearer bonds, according to Venezuela’s appeal.
The notes were allegedly issued in 1981 by the Banco de Desarrollo Agropecuario, then a state-owned Venezuelan bank also known as Bandagro.
The two Skye Ventures notes have a face value of $50 million apiece. The investor group said in 2010 that, with interest, the bonds were worth as much as $900 million.
Skye Ventures says it acquired its two notes only after the Venezuelan attorney general issued a 2003 opinion declaring them valid. The investor group then demanded payment in Columbus. When Venezuela refused, Skye sued.
A federal appeals court in Cincinnati ruled in 2010 that Venezuela isn’t shielded by the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The court left open the possibility that Venezuela could win dismissal of the case using a different line of argument.
The case is Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela v. DRFP, 10-1144.
To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Stohr in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at firstname.lastname@example.org
Paramilitary groups extend influence along Venezuelan border
Charles Parkinson. Colombia Reports. January 23, 2012
Colombian paramilitary groups have extended their influence along the Venezuelan border, engaging in drug trafficking and forging links with local criminal gangs, reported El Espectador Monday.
Groups such as Los Urabeños, the Gaitanistas and the Black Eagles, all previously part of the AUC paramilitary organization, have encroached into Venezuela, creating a "bi-national conflict," according to an official in the north east Venezuelan state of Tachira.
Director of Tachira State Police Jesus Berro described the situation as "a real ongoing slaughter," with 20 people killed in recent weeks.
"Terror is the method by which these groups try to silence people, threatening their lives if they do no cooperate," he said, before calling on the governments of Colombia and Venezuela to "establish arrangements to combat these activities."
The Venezuelan border is known to be of strategic importance because it is a thoroughfare for chemicals used in the manufacture and processing of cocaine. Interception by security forces is difficult because the border is over 2,000 km long.
Demobilization of the AUC began in 2003, with over 30,000 militants handing over arms by 2006 -- but many successor groups are still in operation.
The UN estimated that, while it was active, the AUC was responsible for 80% of human rights abuses in Colombia.
Colombian President Santos apologises for 1999 massacre
BBC. January 24, 2012
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has apologised in the name of the state for a massacre of some 50 people by right-wing paramilitaries 13 years ago.
Paramilitary groups had embarked on a "caravan of blood", Mr Santos said at a ceremony in the region of Putomayo.
They tortured and killed people in El Tigre village they suspected of sympathising with rebels.
Mr Santos's apology came as his government moves to compensate victims of the long-running armed conflict.
"This massacre should never have happened," said President Santos in Mocoa, the capital of Putomayo.
Mr Santos was in the region to oversee the launch of moves to compensate victims and begin the process of land restitution there.
"I wanted the first act of reparation...to be here in Putomayo," he said.
Activist Franklin Torres straightens a sign at the entrance to the La Alemania farm that declares it is protected under a 2007 government decree from being sold - file photo June 2011 Land rights are a key issue in Colombia
He said that the Transitional Justice Committee set up in Mocoa would help the estimated 140,000 regional victims to access services, help and reparation, including financial compensation.
The Victims' Law was passed last year and allows damages to be paid to the estimated four million victims of five decades of civil conflict.
It also seeks to restore millions of hectares of stolen land by illegal armed groups to its rightful owners.
However, analysts say that implementing the law is a huge challenge and may take a decade.
Rebels, although weakened, are still active in some parts of Colombia, while organised crime groups are seen as a growing threat.
Some armed groups have already tried to undermine the process of land restitution. Several land rights activists have been murdered over the past year.
Western Andean Region [contents]
Bolivia’s TIPNIS Highway Redux
Emily Achtenberg. NACLA. January 21, 2012
Less than three months ago, Bolivian president Evo Morales signed a law cancelling the government’s proposed highway through the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), following a 360-mile, 65-day cross-country protest march by lowland indigenous groups. Now, the controversial road project appears to be on the verge of resurrection.
A pro-highway counter-march led by CONISUR, a regional organization representing 21 indigenous communities in the southern portion of the TIPNIS, left the park on December 20 and is expected to arrive in La Paz next week. These groups are demanding that the government annul the new law protecting the TIPNIS as an “untouchable” reserve, revive the highway project, and provide social and economic development programs for the southern zone.704 CONISUR pro-highway march. Credit: La Razón.
The reasons underlying the CONISUR communities’ support for the road are both political and economic. CONISUR is a dissident faction that split off from the TIPNIS Subcentral (legal owner of the TIPNIS indigenous territory) in the 1990s. According to the website of its parent organization, CONISUR was “basically created and supported by the Cochabamba prefecture [departmental government].”
Within the TIPNIS indigenous territory, CONISUR represents only 12 of 63 communities. The other nine CONISUR communities are located inside the “red line,” a section of the park which is excluded from the collective land title (see map, Polygon 7). Since the 1970s, this area has been colonized by migrant settlers, primarily coca farmers, who own their land individually. An estimated 20,000 settler-farmers inside the red line vastly outnumber the indigenous population (approximately 12,500 residents in the park as a whole).
Unlike indigenous groups elsewhere in the TIPNIS who still rely on hunting, fishing, and subsistence agriculture, the CONISUR communities have become dependent on the southern zone’s coca-dominated cash economy, both legal (inside the red line) and illegal (outside). According to a recent Fundación Tierra report, indigenous farmers mostly provide seasonal low-wage labor for the coca harvests, though some have small individual plots and a few are even affiliated with the powerful coca growers’ union federation of the tropics (still headed by Morales). The president of CONISUR recently acknowledged that five to seven of its communities are involved in coca cultivation.
Despite their exploited status, these groups perceive a shared economic interest with the region’s farmers upon whom they are dependent, who support the road to market their products—especially citrus fruits and other coca substitute crops that are more difficult to transport. They also see educational and economic benefits from the expansion of schools and services promised by the government in conjunction with the road. This includes the annual “Juancito Pinto” school attendance bonus paid to students’ families, which the government has recently been promoting in the CONISUR communities.
Since the start of the TIPNIS conflict, Movement for Socialism (MAS) government officials have made frequent visits to the CONISUR communities to rally support for the highway from an indigenous base. According to Dario Kenner's Bolivia Diary, 15 of the 21 CONISUR communities are participating in the roughly 1,000-person counter-march. While Morales has officially criticized the mobilization for targeting the government (instead of the TIPNIS Subcentral leadership), he continues to be outspoken in stressing the need for the highway and encouraging pro-road sectors (including cocaleros, campesinos, and colonists) to make their voices heard.
The MAS government has played a prominent role in other recent events which have contributed to the seeming groundswell of pro-road sentiment. A December 7 rally organized by the Governor of Cochabamba mobilized thousands of highway supporters, with work schedules officially adjusted for both public and private sector employees to encourage attendance. On December 16, the Governor of Beni, a vocal critic of the TIPNIS road, was suspended by the MAS-dominated Departmental Assembly following an indictment for financial irregularities. His MAS-allied successor has now joined with the Governor of Cochabamba to spearhead an inter-departmental campaign to revive the road.
A government-sponsored “social summit” in January, billed as a consultation with civil society groups to determine the direction of Bolivia’s “process of change,” has called for a reconsideration of the TIPNIS highway ban. The summit was boycotted by CONAMAQ and CIDOB, the highland and lowland indigenous federations that oppose the road and participated in the earlier mobilization.
On January 13, the MAS-controlled Plurinational Assembly agreed to consider the counter-march’s demands, paving the way for possible changes to the law that protects the TIPNIS. While some prominent MAS legislators want to petition the Constitutional Tribunal to declare the law unconstitutional, others are seeking to modify or annul the law, which will require a 2/3 vote.
This strategy may be thwarted by the formation of a new “indigenous bloc” within the Assembly whose members have pledged to protect indigenous rights, and specifically to defend the TIPNIS law, despite party dictates. The bloc includes two voting MAS deputies (as well as four alternates). Combined with three deputies formerly allied with MAS who have defected from the party orbit, this could be sufficient to deprive the MAS of its 2/3 majority—unless alliances can be forged with individual deputies across party lines, which frequently occurs.706 Indigenous bloc, including deputies & alternates. Credit: La Razón.
Another legislative strategy gaining traction is a revival of the much-debated proposal for a consulta with indigenous TIPNIS groups, to determine the extent of support for the road. This could potentially be carried out under a parallel law without modifying the existing one, although it’s unclear how any result calling for construction of the road could be implemented. The TIPNIS Subcentral has vigorously denounced this plan as an effort to sabotage the current law, and a violation of the government’s legal obligation to seek the “free, prior, and informed consent” of indigenous groups before signing agreements such a construction contract and funding commitment (which are still in effect for the TIPNIS road).
If a consulta is pursued, the issue of which groups can or should be consulted is bound to be controversial and divisive. As some analysts have noted, under the existing legal framework only those communities inside the TIPNIS indigenous territory have a constitutional right to participate in any official consultation process, and not the indigenous CONISUR communities inside the “red line” who are excluded from the collective land title. However, in the past the government has maintained that the Constitution’s prior consultation requirement does not technically apply to road construction projects, allowing leeway for improvised procedures.
CIDOB and the TIPNIS Subcentral have pledged to defend the indigenous territory with vigils, road blockades, and a human cordon if the road project is resurrected. They are considering sponsoring yet another march in conjunction with allied urban sectors, in broad defense of indigenous, environmental, and human rights protected by Bolivia’s Constitution.
While the conflicts among and between indigenous communities and the various social sectors over the TIPNIS road are authentic, stemming from their divergent economic needs and interests as currently perceived, it’s unclear what the MAS government hopes to gain by continuing to foment these divisions instead of seeking to resolve them (for example, by considering alternative routes). Perhaps it’s a strategy to divert expectant constituencies from pressing their competing claims against the government—by focusing them on their conflicts with each other instead. But further weakening the historic alliance of indigenous, peasant, worker, and urban sectors that brought Morales to power can only serve, in the long run, to undermine progressive change in Bolivia.
Ecuador President appoints lesbian to cabinet
Phil Reese. Washington Blade. January 23, 2012
Announcing her presence with a major gesture with the closure of ex-gay torture clinics, Ecuador’s new American born Health Minister has been revealed to be an openly gay woman who led the charge against those clinics since 2008.
According to LGBT Latino news blog, Blabbeando, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa announced Wednesday the appointment of Carina Vance Mafla as the replacement of outgoing Health Minister, who resigned earlier this month over charges that he’d left the health system to languish without proper modernization efforts. Mafla was born in California, but spent her high school years in Ecuador, and returned after college and graduate school in 2004.
Yesterday, the nation’s most prominent LGBT organization brought attention to Mafla’s sexual orientation by heralding her as a “lesbian activist.”
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According to the Blabbeando translation, “the organization goes on to say that they hope the newly appointed minister will pay attention to current delays in the distribution of HIV medications, create guidelines to prevent discrimination against LGBT individuals at hospitals and health centers and take action on shutting down illegal religious “clinics” that promote “cures” for homosexuality.”
Ecuador Foreign Debt $15.03B In Nov 2011, Equal To 23% Of GDP Forecast
Dow Jones. January 23, 2012
QUITO (Dow Jones)--Ecuador's total foreign debt in November of last year was $15.03 billion, up 6% from $14.19 billion in the same month the year before, the central bank said.
The amount is equivalent to 23% of Ecuador's $66 billion gross domestic product forecast for 2011.
According to the bank, the country's public debt totaled $9.87 billion in November, up 15% from $8.56 billion a year earlier.
The November public debt figure is equal to about 15% of the 2011 GDP forecast.
Private-sector debt, meanwhile, stood at $5.16 billion, down 8% from the $5.62 billion posted in November 2010.
Ecuador has lacked access to financial markets since President Rafael Correa defaulted on $3.2 billion in foreign loans in 2008, but the Andean country has opened the door to China as Ecuador's leading lender.
-By Mercedes Alvaro, Dow Jones Newswires; 5939-9728-653; email@example.com
Race to save Ecuador's 'lungs of the world' park
Nick Haslam. BBC. January 21, 2012
The Yasuni National Park, known as "the lungs of the world" and one of the most bio-diverse places on earth, is under threat from oil drilling. The race is on to find the funds required to develop new sustainable energy programmes that would leave the oil - and the forest - untouched.
In the early light of dawn, the Napo River, running swiftly from its headwaters in the high Andes, swirled powerfully past the bow of our motorised canoe.
Suddenly, a dense cloud of green parrots swooped down from the canopy of the jungle and in a cackling din started scooping tiny beakfuls from the exposed muddy bank.
The heavy mineral rich clay, the birds seem to know, is an antidote to the toxins present in the seeds of the forest which are a major part of their daily diets.
As if on cue at 07:30 local time, as the first rays of the sun touched the water, they took flight and were gone and one of the most wonderful spectacles of Amazonian Ecuador was over.
We were drifting on the fringes of the Yasuni National Park, which has more plant species in its million hectares (3,860 sq miles) of swamps, jungle and marsh, than the entirety of North America.
The pygmy marmoset - the world's smallest monkey - sloths and giant otters are among many other threatened species to find home in the park.
There are also some 300 members of the last nomadic hunter-gatherers on earth, who choose to live in total isolation as they have for thousands of years.
It was a strange thought that people who have no concept of modern life could be watching us from the impenetrable jungle close by.
In Quito, Ecuador's capital, I talked to Yvonne Baki, the government special envoy who now heads the Yasuni fund-raising mission to save the forest from oil drilling.
Wasn't it strange to expect the global community to pay Ecuadoreans not to despoil one their most valuable natural assets? I asked Ms Baki.
"Yasuni and the Amazon are the lungs of the world," she told me.
"The Yasuni fund will be used to finance reforestation, develop new sources of alternative energy and other strategic sustainable development programs.
"Now we've opened it to everyone in the world, from private individuals to corporations, as well as national governments. We are not a rich country, yet in one day here we raised $3m - most of it from ordinary people.
"This is a unique project - what other country even thinks of leaving its oil wealth in the ground?" Ms Baki continued.
The clock though is still ticking for Yasuni.
The government initially demanded that $100m (£64m) had to be donated by the end of December 2011. If not oil drilling would get the green light.
The deadline has been put back but Rocque Sevilla, a former politician and conservationist who was the first director of the Yasuni Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini (ITT) project, thinks that the world is not yet ready for such an innovative concept.
"It is perfectly achievable if we give enough time to the industrialised countries to understand the huge advance in international environmental policy that the ITT project represents," Mr Sevilla said.
"We in Ecuador too have to understand that, with the rich alternative sources of energy we have, from hydro-electricity to solar power, we can use far less oil," Mr Sevilla concluded.
Macaw parrot The majority of macaw parrot species in Yasuni park are now endangered
Small yellow boxes for donors to give cash contributions are now in place in Ecuadorean post offices and government offices. Marco Toscano, a friend who drove me to Quito's airport to catch the plane to the jungle region, told me he would stop by on the way home to put $100 into the fund.
"Many people in Ecuador had no idea about the importance of Yasuni. Now many of us are determined to help in any way we can," Mr Toscano said.
In the bustling oil town of Coca, on the banks of the Napo river, I meet Eduardo Pichilingue, who has worked monitoring the uncontacted tribes of Yasuni.
For him it is simply a matter of payback time.
"There are areas of Ecuadorean Amazonia which have already been ruined by oil exploitation," Mr Pichilingue said as I boarded my canoe.
"The Yasuni ITT fund will save biodiversity, isolated tribal communities, and prevent millions of tons of carbon going into the atmosphere. I think the world really owes us this," Mr Pichilingue continued.
Two hours downstream from Coca, I land on the edge of the Yasuni park. There the Curi Muyu co-operative run by Kichwa Indian women demonstrates to visitors how tribal people can live in total harmony with the jungle.
Antonia Aguinda, a small vibrant woman, shows me a fine earthenware bowl which she made and fired in the simple kiln at the centre of the cool thatched living space.
"The oil business is bad for us," Ms Aguinda said.
"Some people get jobs and money - some don't. It divides us against each other. And how long will oil last - maybe 10 years?
"If we can save Yasuni then we all will have work and can continue to share this beautiful place with people from far away."
Peru Aides Quit After Policy Shift
RYAN DUBE. Wall Street Journal. January 23, 2012
LIMA—A top adviser to Peruvian President Ollanta Humala resigned this week, the latest in a string of high-level departures since the president signaled a policy shift to the center.
The latest to go is Félix Jiménez, a left-leaning economist with a doctorate from New York's New School for Social Research who helped to formulate Mr. Humala's governing proposals before the 2011 presidential campaign.
Mr. Jiménez was also Mr. Humala's economic adviser in his unsuccessful 2006 run for office.
Oscar Dancourt, a left-of-center economic adviser to Mr. Humala, resigned earlier in the week.
By campaigning as a centrist, the 49-year-old former military officer drew a line under his failed 2006 run for office, in which he received the overt support of Venezuela's firebrand socialist leader, Hugo Chávez.
The change in tack worked. Promising to maintain market-friendly policies to sustain foreign investment and Peru's robust growth, Mr. Humala won a second-round runoff vote against the center-right candidate Keiko Fujimori.
Since taking office in July, Mr. Humala's policies have been welcoming to foreign investors.
But those policies have alienated some of his left-leaning supporters, who saw his late-stage campaign vows of economic pragmatism as mere electoral politics.
"The policies that we are seeing now are showing clear movement away from the left and toward the center," said Luis Benavente, a political scientist with the University of Lima.
Mr. Dancourt and Mr. Jiménez reportedly left the administration after disagreements over a cabinet reshuffle Mr. Humala orchestrated in December. At the time, the president had to deal with a drop in popularity during a series of protests against mining projects, as well as allegations of corruption among some of his political allies. Mr. Humala responded by replacing more than half of the cabinet, including his prime minister.
Mr. Jiménez declined to comment on his resignation. Mr. Humala hasn't publicly addressed the complaints about policy changes or the cabinet reshuffle. A spokeswoman from the president's office also declined to comment.
The latest polls show the cabinet shuffle has benefited Mr. Humala, whose approval rating jumped to 54% in January from 47% in December, according to an Ipsos-Apoyo national survey of 1,200 people conducted last week.
The Peruvian economy has expanded steadily over the past decade thanks to a combination of booming natural-resource exports, orthodox economic policies and strong investment inflows. Gross domestic product likely grew about 6.8% last year, and economists expect a 5.5% expansion this year.
Among the ministers who asked to leave late last year were the ex-Prime Minister Salomon Lerner, and left-wing cabinet ministers at the Ministry of Justice and at Women's Affairs. A number of deputy ministers also left the government alongside the ministers.
Write to Ryan Dube at Ryan.Dube@dowjones.com
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Mexican leftist juggles love and rage in election run
Dave Graham. Reuters. January 20, 2012
(Reuters) - For most of the past five years, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has journeyed far and wide across Mexico, railing against the corruption, fraud and injustice he says cost him the presidency.
Seething over his wafer-thin election loss to conservative Felipe Calderon in 2006, the fiery leftist shook Mexico with some of the biggest street protests in its history, damning its institutions and declaring himself the rightful president.
Yet since recently winning the support of Mexico's main leftist parties to run again for president, Lopez Obrador has made a sharp U-turn, preaching love and forgiveness to win back voters who had been turned off by his protests and clamor.
The former mayor of Mexico City flanked his new approach with a drive to reach out to private business and reassure voters he will not put the economy at risk, charges that cost him dear in the final stages of the last election campaign, when his lead over Calderon evaporated.
The new message has forced Lopez Obrador into a delicate balancing act, struggling to convince waverers to follow him down the road to the "loving republic" he now invokes, while still firing up his core supporters.
On campaign last week in the southern state of Chiapas, Lopez Obrador set out his stall as a man of peace, urging his followers to "practice love of thy neighbor" and insisting his rivals were not enemies but people "just as desperate" as the rest in Mexico, where around half the population is poor.
Then, in an instant, he switched into tearing up his adversaries, conjuring up visions of decadence, slavery and dictatorship if voters fail to heed his calls for change.
Particular scorn was reserved for the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which leads the race, drawing on much of the same base of support as Lopez Obrador.
"If the PRI comes back it would be terrible," Lopez Obrador shouted in the town of Chiapa de Corzo. "It would be like the return of that great dictator, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna."
Best known in the United States for his attack on the Alamo in Texas in 1836, general Santa Anna has gone down in Mexican history as a dictator blamed for the loss of half the country's territory to the giant northern neighbor in the 1830s and 1840s.
BEST KNOWN POLITICIAN
Lopez Obrador led the field for most of the 2006 campaign but most opinion polls this time around show him with support of just under 20 percent.
"He's pursuing a really difficult strategy, because it's a very abrupt change to go from a hard, combative politician to a conciliatory one," said Federico Berrueto, director general of polling firm Gabinete de Comunicacion Estrategica (GCE).
Fronting a leftist alliance dominated by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Lopez Obrador has pledged to create 7 million jobs to keep young people out of the clutches of drug gangs, whose turf wars during a crackdown launched by Calderon's government have claimed 47,000 lives, damaging Mexico's reputation with tourists and investors.
Lopez Obrador is pledging to revitalize state oil monopoly Pemex, guarantee university education for all, slash the pay of senior government officials and oversee economic growth of six percent per year.
He has a very loyal core of supporters but many Mexicans wonder whether he can build enough bridges with business and other political parties after his cries of foul play brought swathes of the capital to a halt in 2006.
"People got tired of them," said Adela Mendoza, a 53-year-old from Nezahualcoyotl, a gritty district on Mexico City's western flank. Mendoza voted for Lopez Obrador in 2006, but says she has given up him now.
Lopez Obrador has not given up on Mexicans.
Continuing to remind them of the "great fraud" on his tour of Chiapas, he raced hundreds of miles (km) a day on bumpy roads, dirt tracks and mountain passes to reach remote towns and villages other politicians rarely, if ever, venture into.
His advisers say he has visited all of Mexico's 2,440 municipalities an average of two times since the 2006 vote, making him the best known politician in the contest.
Some polls show the 58-year-old father of four to be more widely recognized than the president himself.
To his supporters, the austere Lopez Obrador is the only man with the moral authority to end the corruption and inequality that has long blighted Mexico.
"He has a simple way of expressing himself, he's sincere and he talks to you honestly," said Javier Villareal Cruz, 40, under the roof of a sports hall in the town of Cintalapa.
Cheers broke out across the basketball courts when Lopez Obrador told a crowd of several hundred flag-waving supporters he would end the "decadence" of overpaid public servants.
"They have plastic surgery on the backs of the people," Lopez Obrador shouted. "They have helicopters, planes. They give themselves a great life."
Zeferino Morales, 62, a farmer from the Zoque ethnic minority, traveled six hours to see Lopez Obrador in nearby Copainala pledging to establish state pensions for the elderly across Mexico and wean the country off foreign food imports.
"The presidents have abandoned us here," he said in halting Spanish. "Lopez Obrador is going to change a lot of things."
Yet to many Mexicans, Lopez Obrador is the one politician for whom they will not vote.
Tainted by depictions in the media as a belligerent holding Mexico to ransom, negative ratings for Lopez Obrador among voters outweigh positive ones by a ratio of three to two, figures from pollster Mitofsky showed this month.
"If he'd taken a break, he might have started from a very low base, but he wouldn't have had such a negative image," said Berrueto at GCE. "But he stayed so active and present."
By contrast, presidential front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto of the PRI has a ratio of more than four to one in his favor.
The telegenic Pena Nieto, a 45-year-old former governor of the State of Mexico, has helped to rejuvenate the PRI, a party that ruled the country for 71 straight years up to 2000, by which time it had become a byword for corruption.
Lopez Obrador faces a stronger rival in Pena Nieto than the PRI fielded in 2006, when the party suffered its worst ever result with the candidacy of Roberto Madrazo.
The front-runner for the candidacy of Calderon's conservative National Action Party (PAN), Josefina Vazquez Mota, offers voters another break with the past as a female contender.
Lopez Obrador insists he was right to take to the streets of Mexico City in 2006, arguing it prevented violence erupting.
But in an interview with Reuters in Tapachula, a city far from the capital on the Guatemalan border, he admitted that the media impact of his protests had cost him "a lot."
"There are people in Tapachula who still question me about it," he said. "Even though they weren't there."
(Editing by Kieran Murray)
Mexican journalist in B.C. fears for life if deported after exposing corruption
Tamsyn Burgmann. The Canadian Press. January 20, 2012
VANCOUVER - Her voice is strained as Karla Ramirez recounts seeing the butt of a gun, a man telling her she'd better be careful or her body might turn up in an empty lot.
Yet she proceeds to name names, defiantly alleging corruption in the highest echelons of a Mexican government ministry that she says she unearthed while working there as a journalist.
"Names are here," she said, thumbing through her book The Talent of Charlatans, at a news conference Thursday.
The book was written and published with the help of Vancouver's University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University last July.
"I'm talking about prestigious people, I'm not talking about drug dealers," she said. "But at the end, they cover everything. The story is here."
The 38-year-old mother of two baby girls fled to Canada and sought asylum in 2008 after blowing the whistle on what she said were pocket-padding officials in her native country.
But her refugee application has been denied, and she's now pleading with the federal government to allow her to stay in Surrey, B.C. on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Publicizing her allegations has sent a wave of threats her way, though on Wednesday she was leveraging the tools she knows best to create support.
"Because the truth, the voice, the story, the pen — and of course the evidence — is all I have to protect myself and my family," she told reporters. "I am here because I believe in a better world."
Ramirez, who uses the pen name Karla Lottini, outlined in her book schemes by officials in Mexico's cultural ministry to steal public money.
She said she has evidence that funds were diverted after paying ghost workers for jobs. She also discovered employees were being illegally hired as part-time freelancers, and then being forced to work eight-hour days without medical benefits.
Such allegations prompted new threats to reach her by email, and that changes the facts and urgency of her case even since she was denied refugee status in 2010, she said.
"Karla is exactly the type of person that our refugee system is supposed to protect," said one of her lawyers, Lobat Sadrehashemi. "She believes with all her being that it is her duty to expose the corruption, or else it will just continue."
A report released by PEN Canada last June found that Mexico is one of the deadliest countries in the world to be a journalist, with nearly 70 killed over the past five years.
The group, which advocates for freedom of expression, called on the Conservative government to place human rights protection of Mexican media workers on the foreign policy agenda.
Johanne Nadeau, a spokeswoman with the federal immigration ministry, said in an email Canada's refugee system is considered "one of the fairest and most generous in the world" and meets Canadian and international legal obligations.
"All refugee claimants in Canada have the right to due process, and when they have exhausted all legal avenues, we expect them to respect our laws and leave Canada," she said, noting she couldn't comment further on the case.
A federal court dismissed an application by Ramirez for judicial review after her refugee claim was denied. At the time, an adjudicator found she didn't have a well-founded fear of persecution. A request for review of the denial of her pre-removal risk assessment is still before the courts.
Nadeau said the decision as to whether a person can stay on humanitarian grounds is exceptional and discretionary. Factors that are considered include the best interests of children who might be affected, ties in Canada and factors related to the country of origin.
A person can be deported from Canada even while an application on those grounds is being considered, she said.
Ramirez has not been given a deportation date.
Her other lawyer, Shane Molyneaux, said he's still hopeful the woman will be permitted to stay.
"The facts are strong, I think the evidence is strong and I think the facts have changed substantially since the refusal of the refugee decision," he said, adding she has received numerous letters of support from academics and B.C. union and municipal officials.
Melissa Anderson, with the Immigration and Refugee Board, said in an email the acceptance rate of refugee protection claims has been historically low, rarely creeping above 25 per cent or dropping below 10 per cent. Numbers for the first three quarters of 2011 put the acceptance rate at 17 per cent.
"This is the highest it has been since 2006," Anderson said.
Alexander Dawson, director of Latin American Studies with SFU, said the federal government should act in a less restrictive manner in cases like Ramirez's.
"Vendettas that are unrelated to the drug war are often carried out with complete impunity under its cover," he said in a letter. "This is why I believe (her) claim is credible."
Pressed by the U.S., Lobo Amends Extradition Laws
Thelma Mejía. Inter-Press Service. January 20, 2012
TEGUCIGALPA, Jan 20, 2012 (IPS) - Following a surprise meeting between President Porfirio Lobo and U.S. government officials, Honduran lawmakers voted to amend the constitution to allow extradition of its nationals.
With no prior announcement, on Wednesday Lobo met with White House representatives in Miami, and only 24 hours later the Honduran national congress had passed an amendment that authorises the signing of treaties with foreign governments to extradite Honduran citizens charged with drug trafficking, terrorism and organised crime.
The decision was adopted in a closed session and under tight security measures. Of the 128 members of congress, only the representatives of the left-wing Unificación Democrática (Democratic Unification) party expressed any misgivings about authorising terrorism-related extraditions, but they still voted in favour.
To secure approval of the measure, government officials engaged in intense negotiations with the country's political parties and powerful economic groups throughout Thursday.
The amendment modifies article 102 of the constitution, which prohibited the extradition of Honduran nationals to a foreign country. Starting Feb. 1, the Central American country will be able to sign extradition treaties with other countries.
In a very brief press release, issued Thursday night, legislators said the decision was made for reasons of national security.
Several sectors attribute the government's quick move to pass the amendment to Washington's concern over Honduras' sluggishness in addressing security issues, a concern that was apparently voiced at the Miami meeting with Lobo.
One of these issues is a recent scandal implicating police officers in murders, kidnappings, weapon thefts, extortions and other crimes.
The U.S. is also concerned over other unresolved cases such as the murder two years ago of the head of the country's anti-drug operations, Arístides González, and more recently the death of former security adviser and anti-drug expert Alfredo Landaverde over a month ago. Both González and Landaverde had close ties to the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa.
Former Attorney General Edmundo Orellana told IPS that "it's obvious that there was pressure from the United States. How else can you explain that within a day of the Miami meeting congress was able to pass a constitutional amendment that was more than a decade-long demand?"
"I commend the legislators for this brave decision and understand the need to not make the session public or reveal the names of those who voted in favour, as many have received threats from the drug cartels," Orellana said.
At the Miami meeting, right-wing President Lobo was accompanied by Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla, Congress Chair Juan Orlando Hernández and two other high government officials.
According to Honduran diplomatic sources, the Washington delegation was headed by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson and U.S. Ambassador in Tegucigalpa Lisa Kubiske, and included narcotics officers and U.S. Security Council officials.
At the meeting, U.S. officials are believed to have pressed for purges in the Honduran police to address the high level of corruption and influence from organised crime, after announcing that the U.S. would be sending two special security advisers to Honduras, who will work directly with President Lobo and Minister Bonilla as of February.
Lobo refused to give any details of the Miami meeting and merely repeated in general terms the press release issued by Washington announcing the two countries' decision to cooperate in security matters, highlighting the legal action taken by Honduras to combat crime, and suggesting that greater "efforts" to purge police forces are needed.
Hernández was more forthcoming in his statements after the meeting in Miami. "We set out general strategic lines to address security issues and we can't go back on our actions. We are going to move forward to implement the security reforms that are still needed," he said.
He also said that forming a new police force is a possibility that cannot be ruled out and that there will be many legislative discussions that for reasons of national security "will not be open to the press, so we ask for the media's understanding."
Hernández' comment regarding a new police force came as a complete shock to Coralia Rivera, security vice minister and former police commissioner, who at a public appearance said "we were not expecting this, especially not in the manner (Hernández) announced it, so out of the blue."
Rivera is mentioned in confidential reports from the attorney general's office, where she is accused of being involved in police and government corruption and in particular in drug-related crimes. But she denies the charges and claims she is working to "clean up" the police's image.
The chancellor of the National Autonomous University of Honduras, Julieta Castellanos, told IPS that the decision to authorise the extradition of Honduran citizens "is a positive sign that (the government) is willing to take action, it'll have a deterrent effect that will enhance the possibilities of effectively cracking down on organised crime networks."
She also said that this amendment sends out an indirect message to "corrupt police officers", in reference to the police involvement in recent criminal actions, such as the murder of her own son and his friend on Oct. 22, 2011. Five police officers have been imprisoned for that crime, but another three suspects are still on the run.
Rigoberto Espinal, a legal expert and adviser to the state attorney, told IPS that this measure "is a significant step in the battle against impunity. It was what we were hoping for because it gives us more legal elements to combat these crimes."
Pressure from Washington to pass this amendment intensified two months ago when it pushed for Colombia's criminal prosecutor, Germán Zamudio, to be invited to a forum in Honduras, despite strong resistance from important circles.
Several congresspersons and executive and judicial officers called for a low-profile visit and refused to let the government host his stay, which in the end was paid for by a private company.
With the amendment, Honduras joins its neighbours El Salvador and Guatemala in authorising extraditions. The three countries form Central America's "northern triangle", considered one of the most violent regions in the world due to the presence of drug cartels that have been displaced from Colombia and Mexico by the war on drugs.
After 20 years of peace, Salvadorans in D.C. still worry about their homeland
Luz Lazo. Washington Post. January 20, 2012
Salvadoran Americans in Washington had their eyes set on the Central American nation this week as it marked the 20th anniversary of the peace treaty that ended a bloody 12-year civil war.
Those who left El Salvador in the 1980s and ’90s say they remain uncertain about the future of the country, which still struggles with economic and social instability.
“The peace accords ended the armed conflict and opened the door to democratization and respect for human rights, but we still face problems of inequality,” said the Rev. Edgar Palacios, an associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in the District. He had led a coalition of civic organizations that pushed the peace process during the war.
Palacios, who came to the United States after the peace agreement was reached, attended commemoration ceremonies in El Salvador this week.
The war left 75,000 people dead and thousands missing. Thousands of Salvadorans left the country and sought refuge in the United States. Instability since the war ended has contributed to migration, too, experts said.
More than 1.7 million Salvadorans live in the United States, and about 240,000 reside in the Washington area.
El Salvador, which is about the size of Massachusetts, remains one of the most violent countries in the world with 4,085 of its 6.1 million citizens murdered in 2010, a rate of 66 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to a recent U.N. report. Today, violence in El Salvador is mostly attributed to gangs that vie for territory and drug trafficking routes.
Jorge Granados, a real estate agent who immigrated to the Washington region in 1983 after fleeing the war, said the peace agreement was a relief to the local Salvadoran community and brought hope for a democratic system.
“But there is still a lack of opportunity in the country,” said Granados, who lives in the District and is founder of Comunidades Transnacionales Salvadorenas, a group that brings support to small communities in El Salvador.
“Some of us who came here during the war dream of someday retiring in our native land. . . . We could contribute to the economy there, but every year that passes, things don’t get better and we are reaching 60,” he said. “We are already looking at other options because of the instability that exists with all the violence in the country.”
In a commemoration of the anniversary on Monday, President Mauricio Funes apologized for the 1981 El Mozote massacre of 936 civilians during an army counterinsurgency operation.
“I ask forgiveness of the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters of those who still today do not know the whereabouts of their loved ones. I ask forgiveness from the people of El Salvador, who suffered an atrocious and unacceptable violence,” Funes said in a speech at the massacre site in Morazan.
Carlos Mauricio, a former science professor at the University of El Salvador who was kidnapped and tortured by the Salvadoran military in 1983, said the scars still remain for many who lived through the war. Now a human rights activist, Mauricio continues to seek prosecution for those responsible for atrocities, such as the one in El Mozote. He also founded the Stop the Impunity Project for survivors of Salvadoran torture and their supporters.
“It is our responsibility to seek justice,” said Mauricio, who moved to the United States in 1983 and now lives in the District. “It is hard to talk about torture and people prefer to forget what happened, but talking is the best way to cure the pain.”
Cynthia J. Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, said Salvadoran expatriates play a critical role by sending remittances home, but that is not enough. El Salvador needs people to help build the economy and provide education and job opportunities to keep people out of gangs, she said.
El Salvador received $3.6 billion in remittances last year, according to the country’s Central Bank.
“As important as the remittances are to subsidize consumption, [it] is not the same as creating productive capacity, and there is a huge role for the Salvadoran community living in the United States and other countries to contribute to their homeland by creating economic opportunity,” Arnson said. “It is a vicious cycle and, unless people who are in a position to provide capital for the economic growth and job creation [also provide help], it is very hard to see how the country will ever break this cycle.”
Jose Jovel, a native of San Salvador who came to the United States in 1984, praised the government’s efforts at reconciliation. He said, however, that it is only a first step.
“We have to unify and participate in the process and invest in our communities there,” said Jovel, who lives in the District and works in real estate. “It’s the only way to move forward.”
The roots of Bain Capital in El Salvador’s civil war
Justin Elliott. Salon. January 20, 2012
A significant portion of the seed money that created Mitt Romney’s private equity firm, Bain Capital, was provided by wealthy oligarchs from El Salvador, including members of a family with a relative who allegedly financed rightist groups that used death squads during the country’s bloody civil war in the 1980s
Bain, the source of Romney’s fabulous personal wealth, has been the subject of recent attacks in the Republican primary over allegations that Romney and the firm behaved like, in Rick Perry’s words, “vulture capitalists.”One TV spot denounced Romney for relying on “foreign seed money from Latin America” but did not say where the money came from. In fact, Romney recruited as investors wealthy Central Americans who were seeking a safe haven for their capital during a tumultuous and violent period in the region.
Like so much about Bain, which is known for secrecy and has been dubbed a “black box,” all the names of the investors who put up the money for the initial fund in 1984 are not known. Much of what we do know was first reported by the Boston Globe in 1994 when Romney ran for U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy.
In 1984, Romney had been tapped by his boss at Bain & Co, a consulting firm, to create a spin-off venture capital fund, Bain Capital.
A Costa Rica-born Bain official named Harry Strachan invited friends and former clients in Central America to a presentation about the fund with Romney in Miami. The group was impressed and “signed up for 20% of the fund,” according to Strachan’s memoir. That was about $6.5 million, according to the Globe. Bain partners themselves were putting up half the money, according to Strachan. Thus the Central American investors had contributed 40 percent of the outside capital.
Back in 1984, wealthy Salvadoran families were looking for safe investments as violence and upheaval engulfed the country. The war, which pitted leftist guerrillas against a right-wing government backed by the Reagan administration, ultimately left over 70,000 people dead in the tiny nation before a peace deal was brokered by the United Nations in 1992. The vast majority of violence, a UN truth commission later found, was committed by rightist death squads and the military, which received U.S. training and $6 billion in military and economic aid. The Reagan administration feared that El Salvador could become a foothold for Communists in Central America.
The notorious death squads were financed by members of the Salvadoran oligarchy and had close links to the country’s military. The death squads kidnapped, tortured, and killed suspected leftists in urban areas fueling an insurgency that retreated to rural areas and waged war on the government from the countryside. The war, which lasted 12 years, triggered an exodus that brought more than 1 million Salvadorans to the United States.
There is no evidence that any of Bain Capital’s original investors were involved in these sorts of activities. But the identities of some of the investors remain secret, and there are family names that raise questions.
Four members of the de Sola family were among the original Bain investors, or “limited partners” in the company, the Globe reported. Their relative and “one-time business partner,” Orlando de Sola, was an important figure in El Salvador. A well-known right-wing coffee grower with an (in his words) “authoritarian” vision for the country, de Sola spent time living in Miami but was also a founding member of the right-wing Arena party, lead by a U.S.-trained former intelligence officer named Roberto D’Aubuisson.
Craig Pyes, an investigative reporter then with the Albuquerque Journal, wrote a series on the rightist death squads based on extensive on-the-ground reporting in El Salvador in the early 1980s with Laurie Becklund of the Los Angeles Times, while the death squads were still active.
Pyes, who has since won two Pulitzer Prizes and is now a private investigator in California, says that no one has produced any proof that de Sola directly funded death squads.
“However,” Pyes says, “he was in the inner circle of the group around D’Aubuisson at the time that D’Aubuisson was well known to be involved in the death squads. De Sola’s name appears in a December 1983 FBI cable as one of 29 people suspected by State Department officials of furnishing funds and weapons to Salvadoran death squads.”
De Sola’s name also turned up in a notebook, seized from an aide to D’Aubuisson named Saravia, that detailed the finances of D’Aubuisson’s terrorist network, according to Pyes.
The Saravia notebook, reviewed by U.S. officials, listed weapons purchases, payments, and what appear to be descriptions of violent plots by rightists, including the assassination of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in 1980. Asked about the notebook by the New York Times in the late 1980s, de Sola denied that he had ever helped finance political violence. De Sola could not be reached for comment for this story.
Romney, for his part, who was much more accessible to the press in 1994, told the Globe that year that “we investigated the individuals’ integrity and looked for any obvious signs of illegal activity and problems in their background, and found none. We did not investigate in-laws and relatives.” He also said that Bain had checked the names of the Bain investors with the U.S. government. Given the policy of the Reagan administration at the time, though, it’s not clear going to the government would have been the most effective vetting mechanism.
It’s impossible to fully explore the backgrounds of the original Bain investors because we don’t know all their identities, including the names of the four members of the de Sola family mentioned by the Globe. Neither the Romney camp, Bain Capital, nor Strachan — the Bain executive who recruited the Central Americans — responded to requests for comment.
During his first presidential bid in 2007, Romney more than once touted the Central American investors in Bain while trying to woo Hispanic voters. In a speech in March of that year to the Miami-Dade Lincoln Day Dinner, Romney actually specified five of the original “partners” in Bain Capital — but the de Sola family was not among those he named.
And that August he told the Miami Herald, “The investments for the company that I started, Bain Capital, came largely from Latin America. My largest single investors came from El Salvador, Ecuador, Colombia and Guatemala. And so I feel a deep kinship to people in Latin America.”
Justin Elliott is a Salon reporter. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustinMore Justin Elliott
No more IMF borrowing- Phillips
Jamaica Gleaner. January 24, 2012
Jamaica will not be looking to borrow any more money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in the new arrangement which is to be hammered out by Finance Minister Dr. Peter Phillips and his team.
Dr. Phillips completed meetings with an IMF mission in Kingston this week.
He told journalists at a press conference this morning that the initial talks have set the stage for negotiations for a new deal with the IMF in March.
However, he later told the Gleaner/Power106 news that the country does not have a balance of payment problem, so it is unlikely that it will be borrowing money from the IMF.
He said no effort will be made to revive the deal which was struck by former finance minister Audley Shaw.
He said instead a new agreement will be negotiated with the IMF.
According to Phillips, this week’s meetings provided the government and the IMF with an opportunity, to give their opinions on the state of the Jamaican economy and the world economy.
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