Latin America News Round-up
February 13, 2012
Opposition Voters in Venezuela Pick a Challenger for Chavez
For the latest news and developments on Haiti, please see CEPR's blog, "Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch."
For archives of past Round-ups, please click here.
Brazil and Southern Cone
Debate on Cuba’s attendance to the coming Americas summit in Colombia
Amazon defenders face death or exile. The Guardian
Some Brazilian police cancel strike, others press on. AFP
Brazil "very likely" to choose French fighter –sources. Reuters
Argentine police beats up environmentalists protesting mining projects: 24 injured. Mercopress
US/Argentina discuss bilateral relation and regional democratic stability. Mercopress
UK sent nuclear sub near Falklands, says Argentina. BBC
Northern Andean Region
Opposition Voters in Venezuela Pick a Challenger for Chávez. New York Times
Chavez Says China to Launch Second Venezuelan Satellite in 2012. Bloomberg
Santos joins displaced farmers' protest. Colombia Reports
The Shifting Contours of Colombia’s Armed Conflict. NACLA
Western Andean Region
Bolivian Congress Adopts Controversial TIPNIS Consultation Law. NACLA
Indigenous Peoples of Peru March in Protest of Mines. Indian Country Today
Leader of Peru's leftist insurgency shot and captured in jungle. Reuters
Ecuador clinics said to 'cure' homosexuality stir debate. Christian Science Monitor
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Gap narrows between Mexican presidency rivals. Reuters
DEA: Mexican governor got millions in drug cash. AP
US Embassy in Guatemala criticizes legalizing drug. AP
Reckoning With a Genocide in Guatemala. The Atlantic
'Who Rules In Honduras?' Coup's Legacy Of Violence. NPR
Jamaican gay rights activists hopeful of repealing anti-homosexuality law. The Guardian
Phillips heads to US for IMF talks. Jamaica Gleaner
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration
Debate on Cuba’s attendance to the coming Americas summit in Colombia. Mercopress
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Amazon defenders face death or exile
Tom Phillips. The Guardian. February 12, 2012
A single shot to the temple was Mouth Organ John's reward for spilling the beans. His friend, Junior José Guerra, fared only marginally better.
Guerra's prize for speaking out against the illegal loggers laying waste to the greatest tropical rainforest on Earth? A broken home, two petrified children and an uncertain exile from a life he had spent years building in the Brazilian Amazon.
"I can't go back," said Guerra, one of the Amazon's newest environmental refugees, three months after his friend's brutal murder forced him, his wife and his two children into hiding. "We've been told that they are trying to find out where I am. The situation is very complicated."
Mouth Organ John, 55, and Guerra, 38, lived along the BR-163, a remote and treacherous highway that cuts from north to south through the Amazon state of Para. They were migrants from Brazil's south who came in search of a better life.
Neither man was a card-carrying environmentalist and both had reportedly been previously involved with environmental crimes. Still, they opted to commit something widely considered a cardinal sin in this isolated corner of Brazil – they informed on criminals allegedly making millions from the illegal harvesting of ipê trees from conservation units in a corner of the Amazon known as the Terra do Meio, or Middle Land.
In a region often compared to the Wild West, betraying those pillaging the rainforest all too often leads to a coffin or to exile.
Mouth Organ John, an amateur musician and mechanic whose real name was João Chupel Primo, met his fate first.
Last October, he and Guerra handed the authorities a dossier outlining the alleged activities of illegal loggers and land-grabbers in the region. Within days two men appeared at Primo's workshop in the city of Itaituba and shot him dead. A bloody photograph of his corpse, laid out on a mortician's slab, made a local tabloid. "There are signs this was an execution," the local police chief, José Dias, told the paper.
Guerra escaped death, but he too lost his life. Told of his friend's murder, he locked himself indoors, clutching a shotgun to ward off the gunmen. The next day, he was spirited out of town by federal police. Since then Guerra has embarked on a lonely pilgrimage across Brazil, journeying thousands of miles in search of support and safety. He became the latest Amazonian exile – people forced into self-imposed hiding or police protection because of their stance against those destroying the environment.
"They will order the murder of anyone who reports them [to authorities]," Guerra said this week over a crackly phone line from his latest hideout. "We thought that … if we reported these crimes they [the government] would do something … But actually João was murdered as a result."
In June Brazil will host the Rio+20 United Nations conference on sustainable development. World leaders will gather in Rio to debate how to reconcile economic development with environmental conservation and social inclusion.
Brazil will be able to trumpet advances in its battle against deforestation – in December the government claimed Amazon destruction had fallen to its lowest level in 23 years. But the continuing threats to environmental activists represent a major blot on its environment credentials.
"What is at stake … is the government's ability to protect its forests and its people," said Eliane Brum, a Brazilian journalist who has won numerous awards for her dispatches from the Amazon. "If nothing is done … the government will be demoralised on the eve of Rio+20."
Guerra is far from the first person to be forced into exile for opposing the destruction. According to government figures 49 "human rights defenders" are currently under protection in Para state, while another 36 witnesses are also receiving protection.
Last year, after the high-profile murders of Amazon activists José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espirito Santo, two local families were flown into hiding and given new identities in a distant corner of Brazil. Like Primo and Guerra, they knew too much.
In the neighbouring state of Amazonas, where activists say nearly 50 people run an imminent risk of assassination, rural leader Nilcilene Miguel de Lima was forced to flee her home. "The gunmen and the killers are the ones who should be in prison, but it's me who is under arrest," she told the O Eco website after an attempt on her life drove her into exile.
José Batista Gonçalves Afonso, a veteran Amazon human rights lawyer, said he had seen "countless" families forced into exile for fear of being assassinated. He blamed the situation on "the state's inefficiency in investigating threats and providing security".
"The ones who should leave are the gunmen and their bosses … but it is the workers who end up being punished because of government inertia," he said.
Brum, who brought Guerra's plight to the public eye, said his situation reinforced the idea that "it is not worth informing on organised crime, because informing means dying."
"Is it possible that after what has happened … others will have the courage to rebel and report organised crime in the Amazon?" she asked.
Ramais de Castro Silveira, Brazil's secretary of state for human rights, described Guerra's situation as "extremely serious" and said his concerns were "legitimate". But Guerra had not been included in a federal protection programme for human rights defenders because he did not qualify as a human rights activist, he said. Silveira admitted there was no specific protection for environmental activists, but said Guerra had refused a place in a witness protection scheme in another part of Brazil because of its "restrictions".
"It is my right to live there," Guerra said. "I risked my life to report these crimes, but now I have to leave?"
Silveira said those behind Primo's murder and Guerra's exile would be caught "in the short to medium term". "I don't believe the drama they have gone through and are going through has been in vain," he said.
For now, life on the run is taking a toll on Guerra, his wife and sons, whom he has not been able to enrol in school. "We have to stay strong and to try and cope with all this," he said. "It's the only way."
Some Brazilian police cancel strike, others press on
AFP. February 12, 2012
RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian authorities claimed Saturday to have broken up strikes by police in two states after arresting labor leaders, but other police and firefighters had not quit their protest over pay.
About 9,000 civilian police in Rio de Janeiro state joined the strike that started Friday when military police and firefighters walked off the job. Together, the three forces represent about 70,000 police and firefighters.
The strike started a week before the beginning of the annual Carnival blowout, which brings hundreds of thousands of party-goers to the streets of Rio de Janeiro and other parts of Brazil.
Brazil's authorities are scrambling to step up their security game ahead of major international events South America's largest economy will host: soccer's World Cup in 2014 ahead of Rio de Janeiro's welcoming the 2016 summer Olympics.
Rio's state government reacted quickly by arresting 17 police officers, 11 of them labor leaders.
Rio Governor Sergio Cabral, a political ally of President Dilma Rousseff, also signed a decree to prosecute at least 129 policemen and 123 firemen who stopped work.
"They are aware of what we did and the responsibility they have with the 16 million residents of the state," Cabral said.
Brazilian law forbids police and firefighters from unionizing or striking.
By Saturday, state officials said the strike had failed.
Chao Francisco, union president for the civilian police in Rio, said at a press conference Saturday, "It is very difficult to talk of a protest movement without participants. Out of caution and respect, the best decision is to suspend" the strike.
Rio's military police and firefighters plan to meet Monday to decide the status of their job action.
Military police in the northeastern state of Salvador de Bahia also called off their 12-day-old strike Saturday.
The strike by Bahia police unleashed widespread violence that included 157 deaths, which was double the normal rate.
The strike collapsed quickly after its leader was arrested and strikers were run out of a government building they were occupying.
In the city of Rio de Janeiro, streets were calm Saturday. "All routine services are being provided," the military police for Rio de Janeiro said in a statement.
However, strike threats continued in other parts of Brazil.
Military police from the southern state of Parana plan to meet Monday with government officials to discuss their wages.
In the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, Governor Tarso Genro is promising salary adjustments as police threaten protests.
Some civilian police leaders are calling for a nationwide strike, but have not set a date.
Brazil "very likely" to choose French fighter -sources
Brian Winter. Reuters. February 13, 2012
SAO PAULO, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Brazil is "very likely" to choose France's Rafale fighter jet to refurbish its air force, government sources say, a decision that would award one of the emerging-market world's most coveted defense contracts to a jet whose future was in doubt only two weeks ago.
President Dilma Rousseff and her top advisers believe that Dassault Aviation's bid to sell at least 36 Rafales offers the best terms among the three finalists, the sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The other two bidders in the competition are U.S.-based Boeing with its F-18 Super Hornet and Sweden's Saab with its Gripen.
Rousseff has cast the deal as a watershed decision that will help mold Brazil's military and strategic alliances for the next few decades as it establishes itself as a leading economic power. The contract will have an initial value of about $4 billion, but will likely be worth considerably more over time once maintenance and follow-on orders are included.
Rousseff previously had concerns about the Rafale because the jet had not found any buyers outside France. That raised doubts about whether Dassault would have the scale necessary to build the jets at a reasonable cost and maintain them over time.
The sources said Rousseff's concerns were assuaged when India announced on Jan. 31 that it had entered exclusive talks to buy 126 Rafales. Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim traveled to New Delhi last week to discuss the deal with Indian officials and examine documents related to Dassault's bid.
"The India deal changed everything," one of the Brazilian sources said. "With India's decision, it's now very likely the Rafale will be the winner here."
Shares in Dassault Aviation were up about 4.5 percent, at 706.5 euros, in Paris following the news. A spokesman for the company declined comment.
Jeff Kohler, a vice president of Boeing's business development division, said on the sidelines of the Singapore Airshow he believed the Brazil bid was still "up in the air."
The Brazilian sources said Dassault offered the best combination of a high-quality aircraft and the sharing of proprietary technology that Rousseff has said is most critical to the deal. Brazil hopes to use the technology to expand its own budding defense industry, led by aircraft maker Embraer .
Boeing's offer of technology has yet to be finalized, but the sources said they believe it cannot compete with Dassault's bid because the United States has previously placed tight restrictions on the sale of military technology abroad, including one incident involving Embraer in 2006.
Dassault touts the Rafale as an agile, medium-sized aircraft with low operating costs that can be more quickly deployed than its bulkier competitors. Those attributes may appeal to Brazil, which has no significant problems with its neighbors and plans to use the aircraft mainly for defensive purposes such as patrolling its recently discovered offshore oil fields.
POTENTIAL WIN FOR SARKOZY
If confirmed, the deals would enhance France's partnerships with Brazil and India, two of the world's biggest up-and-coming economic powers. They could also provide a boost to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has cast himself as a champion of French industry and an energetic salesman of the Rafale in particular as he faces a tough re-election fight this year.
The sources said that unexpected developments, especially a breakdown in India's talks with Dassault, could still cause Rousseff to change her mind.
They also said her decision would probably not be announced until after France's April-May election, in an attempt to keep the deal from becoming overly politicized.
Brazil's air force contract is one of several deals in developing countries that have been highly contested by European and U.S. defense companies as their home markets suffer due to budget cuts. Companies are also competing for jet contracts in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and South Korea.
Brazil's bidding process has been open for more than a decade, spanning three presidents and several dramatic ups and downs. Rousseff's predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said in 2009 that Brazil would choose the Rafale but then left office without finalizing the deal.
Rousseff was extremely close to Lula as his chief of staff, but upon becoming president in January 2011 she surprised her cabinet ministers by asking them to re-evaluate the bids from scratch. A month later, Rousseff told visiting U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that Boeing's F-18 was the best jet among the three finalists, but she still wanted better terms on the technology transfers.
Ultimately, Rousseff grew frustrated by what she perceived as Boeing's inability to improve the guarantees on the transfers, the officials said. Rousseff is a moderate leftist who has built her presidency around policies she believes will help expand Brazilian industries in areas from oil exploration to auto production.
The officials said that Rousseff remained especially wary of a 2006 incident in which the United States blocked the sale of Embraer's Super Tucano military aircraft to Venezuela's leftist government. Washington had the power to veto the deal because Embraer's planes contained U.S. technology.
In a separate incident in 2009, Embraer said it was temporarily blocked from selling commercial jets to Venezuela because they contained U.S. communications systems.
The episodes raised doubts about whether Brazil would face similar restrictions in the future with the technology it received from Boeing as part of the F-18 bid.
"Nobody's ever forgotten what happened with Venezuela," a second official said.
In a twist that may have influenced Rousseff's decision, Brazil's most vocal point-man in the confrontation with the United States in both Embraer incidents was Amorim. He was Lula's foreign minister at the time and Rousseff appointed him as her defense minister in August.
AMORIM GETS INDIAN DOCUMENTS
Boeing has responded to those doubts by trying to compete as the more cost-effective option. The F-18 is widely believed to be cheaper than the Rafale, and Boeing recently confirmed that it will offer the jet to Brazil at the same per-unit price as during the last round of bidding in 2009.
Despite her misgivings on Boeing, Rousseff also did not want to choose a jet that might not even be in production a decade into the future. In December, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet warned that Dassault would stop production of the Rafale in 2021 if it did not win any export orders.
Within days of India's announcement regarding talks for the Rafale, Amorim traveled to New Delhi to gauge the bid's terms and its likelihood of proceeding as planned.
Amorim told the Times of India on Wednesday that Indian officials "promised to give us some documents...such as basic rules on the tender process that we could compare to ours."
Brazil is not the only country that appears to be suddenly following India's lead. French newspaper La Tribune reported on Feb. 2 that Dassault could soon seal a sale of at least 60 Rafale fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, turning around a deal that also appeared to be a lost cause.
Argentine police beats up environmentalists protesting mining projects: 24 injured
Mercopress. February 13, 2012
At least 24 people were injured after Argentine police using rubber bullets, tear gas, dogs and riot vehicles violently cleared demonstrators blocking a national route to protest a mining project by Swiss and Canadian companies in the northeast of the country.
Heavy clashes broke out early Friday when police riot forces attacked the protestors who are objecting a controversial project in the Tinogasta mining district, La Alumbrera belonging to Switzerland’s Xstrata Cooper and Goldcorp Inc and Yamana Gold from Canada.
The Police was issued with a court order to clear the route way, in order to allow twelve trucks containing mining production-related materials to pass through.
Following the incidents Catamarca province Home Secretary Francisco Gordillo said the Police was only making effective a court order but also rejected the degree of violence employed which left 24 people injured, half of them in hospital.
“We receive orders from the Justice branch and make effective court orders. It is part of our responsibilities as government, we are highly distressed with what happened”, admitted Gordillo who added he has ordered an administrative investigation into the incidents.
“We had to clear the route, that was the court order, but this in no way justifies what the police have done”, added Gordillo
On Thursday President Cristina Fernandez joined the ongoing debate in Argentina on the mining industry and the latest projects many of them rejected by local populations alleging lack of sufficient environment impact research and fearing open mining could pollute and devour a scarce resource in the north of Argentina as is fresh water.
The pollution and environment discussion must be approached while avoiding “a dogmatic, close-minded position” said Cristina Fernandez.
“We must have a responsible, serious discussion in this country. We must demand high environmental standards, but we must do so responsibly without falling into dogmatic, close-minded positions that refuse to accept any other opinion” she added.
“We must have a serious debate in Argentina. The environment is where we live. It’s our home. When it comes to it, I like to listen to every position” underlined the president following on a multiplication of environmental protests close to several mining outposts.
Last month Canada’s Osisko mining corporation suspended a gold mining project in La Rioja after intense protests by locals and said it would make all efforts possible to ensure a “social licence”. Meantime the operation is “on hold”.
“If there is no social licence for exploration and development around the Famatina project area, no work will be conducted by MEP,” the company said in a press release
Meanwhile the Catamarca media reported that the federal Secretary of Mining Jorge Mayoral had met with leaders from the mining sector, particularly foreign corporations to address an “homologation chart”, a several phases program intended to ensure that all companies involved purchase their supplies and inputs from Argentina.
US/Argentina discuss bilateral relation and regional democratic stability
Mercopress. February 10, 2012
Stability, governance and democratic safeguard were among the issues addressed by US Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and Argentina’s Foreign Affairs minister Hector Timerman during her first day of activity in Buenos Aires.
According to a statement released by the Foreign Ministry, Timerman had a breakfast meeting with Jacobson, and were joined by Argentine ambassador to the US Jorge Argüello and US ambassador in Buenos Aires Vilma Martínez.
“During the meeting, both parties discussed their respective progress in the new directives set by Presidents Cristina Fernández and Barack Obama during the Cannes summit last November” evidencing the common goals that are part of “our rich bilateral agenda”.
“In that matter, both sides praised the resulting benefits of strengthening regional organizations in Latin America as well as the key role they have played in several opportunities when they needed to safeguard democratic stability,” the statement added.
Both representatives also praised bilateral cooperation in matters such as human rights protection, assistance to vulnerable sectors of the population, education, science and technology.
Timerman and Jacobson “highlighted that both countries are interested in working in these and other areas such as scientific cooperation – looking for a cure for cancer being another successful example – given the available technical and human resources.”
Education was also mentioned as a crucial element for social inclusion as well as the exchange of students to create a web of relations and contacts which helps to promotes close relations between societies. The two officials underlined the commitment to “significantly increase the exchange of Argentine students to the US and US students to Argentina”.
Regarding scientific and technological cooperation both countries pointed out the recent successful launching of the Argentine SAC-D Aquarius satellite which has opened vast fields for joint research and to keep advancing in this area.
They also agree to “maintain a continuous dialogue in order to discuss matters of common interest”. However no mention was made if the Falklands/Malvinas issue was addressed by the two officials.
The US government had reported that Jacobson was visiting Argentina in order to “discuss forms of collaboration between the US and its partners in the region before the Summit of the Americas next April”.
Ms Jacobson is scheduled to meet with Cabinet Chief Juan Manuel Abal Medina on Friday.
UK sent nuclear sub near Falklands, says Argentina
BBC. February 10, 2012
Argentina's foreign minister has accused the UK of sending a nuclear-armed submarine to the South Atlantic, after making an official complaint to the UN over the Falklands dispute.
Hector Timerman demanded that the British confirm the location of nuclear submarines in the region.
But UK officials said the accusations of militarisation were "absurd".
UN chief Ban Ki-moon earlier called on both sides to avoid an "escalation" in tensions over the Falkland Islands.
The two countries went to war in 1982 over the British overseas territory.
Mr Timerman told a news conference at the UN in New York that the UK was "militarising the region", repeating accusations made by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner earlier this week.
"Argentina has information that, within the framework of the recent British deployment in the Falklands, they sent a nuclear submarine with the capacity to transport nuclear weapons to the South Atlantic," Mr Timerman said.
He did not elaborate on the information, but said the vessel was Vanguard-class, a group that carries Trident nuclear missiles.
Argentina's foreign minister came armed with maps and photographs to make his case to the Secretary General, the head of the Security Council, and the press.
Britain, he claimed, is bringing new state-of-the art weapons into the South Atlantic, and has sent a nuclear submarine into a nuclear-free weapons zone. It is a threat to regional security he said.
The British ambassador Mark Lyall Grant called the accusations an escalation. He would not be drawn on the location of Britain's nuclear submarines, but said they stayed in international waters. He also spelled out in detail Britain's stance that the dispute over the Falklands is not one of sovereignty, as Argentina insists, but one of self-determination: the islanders must be allowed to determine their own fate, he said, and they want to be British.
He added that Mr Ban had agreed to talk to the British about Argentina's complaints.
The Latin America and the Caribbean region is designated a nuclear-free zone under a treaty signed in the 1960s.
In response, Britain's UN envoy Mark Lyall Grant said the government does not comment on the "disposition of nuclear weapons, submarines etc".
And he dismissed the accusation that the UK was militarising the situation as "manifestly absurd".
"Before 1982 there was a minimal defence presence in the Falkland Islands," he said.
"It is only because Argentina illegally invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982 that we had to increase our defence posture. Nothing has changed in that defence posture in recent months or recent years."
The UK had earlier said it was carrying out routine operations in the South Atlantic, which includes the deployment of one of its most advanced destroyers, HMS Dauntless.
Prince William, the grandson of Queen Elizabeth II and second in line to the throne, has also been sent to the islands for a tour of duty in his job as a helicopter rescue pilot.
The BBC's Barbara Plett at the UN in New York says the dispute is raised every year at the UN, and usually involves both sides sending letters to the secretary general.
But this year is the first time Argentina has provided such a detailed and public account of its grievances, she says.
It is not clear if Argentina plans to pursue any further action at the UN beyond the current protest.
The UN General Assembly has already passed non-binding resolutions urging the two to solve the dispute through negotiations.
The UK says the islanders have the right to self-determination, and London will enter into negotiations on the status of the Falklands only if the islanders request it.
The status of the islands, known in Argentina as the Malvinas, is still a highly sensitive issue for Buenos Aires.
In recent months, the Argentine government has stepped up its rhetoric on the issue and has sought support among its South American neighbours.
In December, regional trading bloc Mercosur closed its ports to ships flying the Falkland Islands flag.
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Opposition Voters in Venezuela Pick a Challenger for Chávez
WILLIAM NEUMAN. New York Times. February 12, 2012
CARACAS, Venezuela — The country’s political opposition overcame years of division on Sunday as millions of voters turned out in an impressive show of strength to choose a single candidate to take on President Hugo Chávez, in what is shaping up to be a bruising and potentially tight election campaign.
The challenger, who won a primary election held jointly on Sunday by a spectrum of opposition parties, is Henrique Capriles Radonski, the fresh-faced governor of Miranda, one of the country’s most populous states, which includes a large swath of Caracas, the capital. Mr. Capriles, a political moderate, will challenge Mr. Chávez in the general election scheduled for Oct. 7, which will inevitably be seen as a referendum on the socialist incumbent’s tenure of more than 13 years.
Speaking before thousands of supporters in Caracas on Sunday night, Mr. Capriles vowed to bring the country together.
“I aspire to be the president of all Venezuelans,” Mr. Capriles said. “The message is clear. Venezuelans are fed up with confrontation, with division.” He criticized Mr. Chávez’s policies but did not mention him by name.
Mr. Chávez has repeatedly dismissed his opponents as the craven remnants of an old order dominated by a small, often corrupt oligarchy, while casting himself as the champion of revolution and a remade society.
It is not clear whether Mr. Chávez, 57, can make that stick against Mr. Capriles, who is 39.
Yet even with a unified opposition behind him, Mr. Capriles faces the steepest of uphill climbs running against the agile Mr. Chávez, who still enjoys strong support from important constituencies, like the poor people who have seen their lives improve under his government, and the government and state-owned company employees who may feel that their jobs depend on Mr. Chávez remaining president.
Before the primary on Sunday, Mr. Chávez said he would give the opposition “the beating of the century” in the general election, and he predicted that he would win by 40 percentage points. Mr. Chavez was re-elected easily in 2006 with 63 percent of the vote, against a divided opposition that lacked fresh personalities.
Luis Vicente León, a political analyst and pollster, said that though this year’s election “is an unbalanced fight,” the opposition is at its strongest in years and an upset is possible. Though there is deep polarization in the country, Mr. León said, polls show that about one-third of the electorate is undecided about whom to support in October.
That group is known here as the Ni-Nis, meaning Neither-Nors, committed neither to Mr. Chávez nor to the opposition. For Mr. Capriles to win, he must persuade these voters that he can improve their lives, not simply urge them to cast a vote against Mr. Chávez, Mr. León said.
The primary on Sunday was the first time that a group of different parties in Venezuela have asked voters to choose a unity candidate for them to back.
Officials said more than 2.9 million voters had taken part in the primary, with 95 percent of the vote counted, a larger turnout than many had expected. The high turnout could spell trouble for Mr. Chávez because it suggests that the opposition is energized and well organized. Mr. Capriles received more than 1.8 million votes, more than double the next closest finisher.
Though the opposition is more united than in the past, the charismatic Mr. Chávez still has vast advantages over any opponent, including control of an enormous pot of money from the state-run oil industry, social programs that pour money into poor neighborhoods and a ubiquitous propaganda machine that turns almost every government program into an advertisement for the president. Mr. Chávez and his supporters enjoy a nonstop presence on state television.
Mr. Chávez remains a larger-than-life figure here despite a fight with cancer and lingering questions about his health. He is a master showman with keen political instincts, presenting the world in stark us-versus-them colors and delighting in taunting his enemies.
In contrast, Mr. Capriles has sought so far not to lock horns with Mr. Chávez, saying the country is tired of the president’s bellicose talk and is ready for someone who can bring people together. He emphasizes his record as an administrator during his tenure as governor and, before that, as mayor of a section of Caracas.
Mr. Chávez tells his followers that the opposition, whom he calls retrograde and imperialist, will strip them of the social programs his government created. Mr. Capriles points to health clinics and food programs that his state built, saying he will continue the fight against poverty, only with better management.
Mr. Chávez is a burly former soldier who grew up in a family of modest means. Mr. Capriles is slightly built and comes from a wealthy family, with grandparents who were Polish Holocaust survivors.
The energy generated by Mr. Capriles is evident at his campaign stops, which can seem like a cross between rugby scrum and rock star frenzy.
At a recent rally in Maracay, a city west of Caracas, Mr. Capriles stepped out of a van and was immediately thronged by followers. Within minutes, his face was smudged with lipstick and the pockets of his bright green shirt were stuffed with notes, many of them from people asking for help in getting better housing, a chronic problem in Venezuela. He was swept up by the crowd and propelled along the city’s main commercial street for block after block, as some men pressed close to raise his hand overhead in a gesture of triumph while other people squeezed in to snap cellphone pictures.
Not even the firecrackers thrown at the crowd by menacing Chávez supporters on motorcycles could dampen the spirit.
Backers of Mr. Capriles and bystanders who happened upon the campaign event voiced deep dissatisfaction with Mr. Chávez’s government, citing a high crime rate, food shortages, corruption, a failure to deliver on promises and the president’s almost total control over most aspects of government and civic life.
“This man has me suffocated,” Arinda Cuellar, 65, said of Mr. Chávez. She said the clothing store where she works was recently robbed. “There is no safety,” she said. “We have nothing. There has to be a change.”
Still, Mr. Chávez’s own drawing power remains strong. Thousands of his supporters, known as Chavistas, thronged to a military parade in Caracas on Feb. 4, the 20th anniversary of the failed 1992 coup that Mr. Chávez led, and which he calls the seed of his later revolution.
“The revolution came and gave us refrigerators, kitchens, everything,” said Faida Camargo, 59, who was living in a wood hut with a dirt floor in a Caracas slum, without electricity or running water, before the Chávez government built houses for some residents. “Why do you think so many of us follow the president?”
But while the size of the crowd that turned out was impressive, the atmosphere was flat as people waited under a gray sky for the parade to start. The event lacked the energy of Mr. Capriles’ campaign appearances, suggesting a point of vulnerability for Mr. Chávez.
“He believes he is God,” Mr. Capriles said of the president in a recent interview. “He thinks he can’t lose, and that’s very good for us.”
Chavez Says China to Launch Second Venezuelan Satellite in 2012
Corina Pons. Bloomberg. February 10, 2012
Feb. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said China will launch a second satellite for the South American nation before the end of the year after the two countries signed a $140 million contract in May.
The satellite, which is being built in China, should be in orbit in September or October this year, Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza said today in comments broadcast on state television.
“Venezuela entered the space race,” Chavez said in the same broadcast. “One day Venezuela will arrive on Mars but China will do it first.”
The new satellite will be used for defense, health, agriculture and urban planning projects, Arreaza said.
--Editors: Philip Sanders, Richard Jarvie
To contact the reporter on this story: Corina Rodriguez Pons in Caracas at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Santos joins displaced farmers' protest
Adriaan Alsema. Colombia Reports. February 11, 2012
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos joined thousands of protesters in the northwest of Colombia Saturday demanding the return of lands stolen by illegal armed groups.
The march, held in the neo-paramilitary stronghold of Uraba, drew according to official figures more than 20,000 people from the departments of Antioquia and Cordoba.
Hundreds of police and army troops had arrived in the Uraba region in the week leading up to the march to guarantee the safety of those demanding their lands back.
Speaking before a crowd of thousands, Santos vowed to enforce a law regulating the compensation of victims of Colombia's armed conflict and the return of land to displaced farmers and defend its effective implentation against "whatever enemy."
The victims Law is facing violent resistance by illegal armed groups that emerged from the AUC, a paramilitary organization that displaced hundreds of thousands of Colombians.
The Shifting Contours of Colombia’s Armed Conflict
Garry Leech. NACLA. February 10, 2012
In November 2011, the Colombian military achieved one of its greatest successes when it killed Alfonso Cano, the supreme commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in the southwestern department of Cauca. Cano was quickly replaced by secretariat member Timoleon “Timochenko” Jiménez. With Timochenko believed to be operating in the northeastern department of Norte de Santander, in a remote, drug-producing area known as the Catatumbo region, the primary focus of Colombia’s military operations shifted northward. This part of Colombia is unique because, in addition to the FARC, two other guerrilla groups—the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the People’s Liberation Army (EPL)—operate here.
755 Colombian soldiers (credit: Garry Leech)Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos replaced Minister of Defense Rodrigo Rivera in August 2011 amid concerns that the country’s security situation was deteriorating due to an increasing number of attacks against the military and police by leftist guerrillas. Ironically, it was not an attack by the FARC that constituted the last straw for President Santos, but rather the killing of five police officers by the relatively obscure EPL. The killings occurred when the EPL ambushed a police patrol in the Catatumbo region on the border between the northern departments of Cesar and Norte de Santander.
With the promotion of Timochenko to supreme commander of the FARC, the complexities of the conflict in the Catatumbo region will inevitably garner greater attention from both the Colombian military and the media. Those complexities are highlighted by the fact that, in addition to the presence of the EPL, FARC, and ELN, the region is also host to the neo-paramilitary organizations Los Rastrojos and Los Urabeños.
751 AUC soldiers (credit: Garry Leech)In December 2004, the Catatumbo Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) demobilized under an agreement signed with the government of President Álvaro Uribe. The Catatumbo Bloc was created in the late 1990s when several local paramilitary groups merged and were then incorporated into the AUC. The leader of the Bloc was Salvatore Mancuso, who would later also become the head of the AUC. The Bloc’s objective was to gain control over Norte de Santander, which had been dominated by the FARC’s 33rd Front for decades. The Bloc quickly made its presence felt in 1999 with the massacre of 20 people in La Gabarra in the municipality of Tibú. Over the next five years, the group, in collusion with the Colombian Army, waged a campaign of terror in its effort to cleanse the region of guerrillas. During this period, more than 5,000 people were killed, over 200 were disappeared and some 40,000 forcibly displaced.1
The Catatumbo Bloc was killing so many people that government officials working in collusion with the paramilitaries pressured the militia group into concealing the magnitude of the violence it was perpetrating. According to Mancuso, the Bloc began building large ovens in order to incinerate the bodies of its victims. The first oven was constructed in 2001 and 98 corpses were cremated. Hundreds more bodies were incinerated during the ensuing years.2 Meanwhile, at the same time that the Catatumbo Bloc was waging its dirty war in Norte de Santander, it was also consolidating its control over drug trafficking activities in the region. Coca cultivation was abundant in the remote rural zones and it has been estimated that the value of the cocaine produced in the Catatumbo region amounts to $8 million a week.3
When the Catatumbo Bloc demobilized at the end of 2004, control over the region’s drug production and trafficking fell into the hands of those paramilitaries who refused to participate in the demobilization process. Within a couple of years, these former AUC fighters had formed a group known as the Black Eagles. Meanwhile, another neo-paramilitary group called Los Rastrojos had been formed in southwestern Colombia by former AUC fighters and ex-members of the Norte de Valle drug trafficking cartel. Los Rastrojos quickly expanded their presence throughout the country from six departments in 2008 to 22 two years later.4
The group arrived in Norte de Santander in 2009 and the relative peace that the region had enjoyed following the demobilization of the AUC was shattered. The number of murders soared that year as Los Rastrojos sought to violently displace the Black Eagles and seize control of the region’s lucrative drug producing and trafficking operations. The principal town in the Catatumbo region, Ocaña, experienced 40 selective assassinations in 2009, according to Captain Sergio Jiménez of the local detachment of the National Police. The number of killings in Ocaña halved the following year due to an increased presence of state security forces and the fact that Los Rastrojos had succeeded in their quest to defeat the Black Eagles and become the dominant neo-paramilitary group in the region. Ultimately, many members of the Eagles switched sides and joined the ranks of the newly dominant group. During this period, members of another neo-paramilitary group, Los Urabeños, originally formed in northwestern Colombia, also established a presence in the northern part of the Catatumbo region and in the department of Cesar. Many of the local members of Los Urabeños are former fighters from the AUC’s Northern Bloc.
Because the new groups appear to be primarily focused on controlling drug trafficking operations and, unlike the AUC, have not engaged in extensive counter-insurgency actions against the guerrillas, the Colombian government has refused to recognize them as paramilitary organizations. Instead, it has labeled them bandas criminales (BACRIM), or criminal bands, claiming that they have no political agenda. There are, however, certain commonalities beyond drug trafficking between groups such as Los Rastrojos and their AUC predecessors. Los Rastrojos maintain a similar collusion with state security forces as that enjoyed by the AUC, which is not surprising given the fact that many of the group’s members are former AUC fighters. Two former members of Los Rastrojos, who killed the group’s leader in July before surrendering to the police, handed over documents detailing payments made by the group to state security forces. According to the documents, in the three month period between October 2010 and January 2011, Los Rastrojos paid half a million dollars to members of the Colombian military, the DAS intelligence agency, and the National Police.5
While the Ocaña Defensoria del Pueblo, a government human rights office, has not received any official complaints of complicity between the state security forces and Los Rastrojos, many local residents in the Catatumbo region have little doubt that such collusion exists. However, fear of the group prevents many from speaking out because, as one Ocaña resident noted, “Los Rastrojos have eyes everywhere. They are no different than the Self-Defense Forces before them. It’s the same people.” In fact, Los Rastrojos have utilized the same tactics of intimidation as those used by the AUC. The group has issued death threats against those who oppose it and has waged a campaign of “social cleansing,” targeting so-called undesirables. The group has distributed pamphlets in the region, one of which contains the image of a hand holding a gun, that threaten to “cleanse” communities of “homosexuals and people who don’t have a good image.” The pamphlet also warned “youth who wear earrings and long hair” to disappear “because the order is to cut their ears and kill them with a machete” so that “people understand how to be normal men.”
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Western Andean Region [contents]
Bolivian Congress Adopts Controversial TIPNIS Consultation Law
Emily Achtenberg. NACLA. February 10, 2012
Late on the night of February 9, Bolivia’s Plurinational Assembly passed a new law mandating a consultation process for indigenous communities in the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), to redetermine the fate of a government-proposed highway that would bisect the reserve. Billed as a “compromise” between pro- and anti-road forces, the law has escalated the TIPNIS controversy and sparked new conflicts between lowland indigenous groups and among Bolivian social sectors on opposite sides of the issue.
757 "Indigenous bloc" challenges law in Plurinational Assembly. AFG/Agencia, LosTiempos.
The new law threatens to undermine the existing law that cancelled the highway and protects the TIPNIS as an “untouchable” ecological zone, promulgated by President Evo Morales just last October at the behest of TIPNIS marchers. The consultation law was developed by the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) legislative leaders in conjunction with CONISUR, a dissident indigenous TIPNIS faction that sponsored a pro-road, government-supported counter-march in January.
The new law, which sailed through the MAS-controlled legislature in less than a week and is expected to be promulgated shortly by Morales, affirms the right of “free, prior, and informed” consultation for indigenous communities (Mojeño-Trinitario, Chimán, and Yuracaré) within the TIPNIS, based on the Bolivian Constitution and other international treaties to which Bolivia subscribes. The communities will be consulted on three issues: whether the TIPNIS should be declared “untouchable;” whether the proposed highway bisecting it should be constructed; and what measures should be established to protect the reserve against illegal settlements.
The process must be carried out “in good faith” by the government, in coordination with the indigenous communities and in their native languages, with full transparency, in a manner that guarantees informed participation. The consultation must be completed within 120 days. The agreements resulting from the consultation process are required to be implemented (by the government and the communities) on a mandatory basis.
While the law may provide a viable model for consultation with indigenous groups in other situations, in the TIPNIS context it has only served to ignite more controversy and confusion, for several reasons.
First, the TIPNIS consultation process will be anything but “prior,” since the construction contract and funding agreement for the road (with Brazil’s National Bank) have long been executed. The government has refused to cancel these contracts. Vice-President Alvaro García Linera now rationalizes—with some creativity, but dubious legal validity—that the ex-post facto consultation process will “right two wrongs:” the government’s failure to consult with TIPNIS groups prior to initiating the TIPNIS road, and also prior to cancelling it.
Second, the law leaves room for considerable ambiguity on the critical issue of who will be consulted. While the TIPNIS indigenous territory comprises some 63 Mojeño-Trinitario, Chimán, and Yuracaré communities, mostly affiliated with the TIPNIS Subcentral which has opposed the road, the TIPNIS national park also encompasses other members of the same indigenous groups who reside within the so-called “red line” (Polygon 7). Most of these communities affiliate with CONISUR, and support the road to further their economic interests (as farmers and coca-growers). Because these groups are not part of the collective land title, they arguably lack consultation rights under the Bolivian constitution—although any effort to exclude them, given their key role in promoting the consultation law, will be vigorously resisted.
Third, critics view the apparently binding nature of the consultation as a tacit abrogation of the law protecting the TIPNIS, at least in the event of a pro-road result. A binding consultation is also contrary to Bolivia’s electoral law. Morales has frequently stated that the government will not be bound by the results of any community consultation process, which he has characterized as “blackmail.” After the Assembly vote, key MAS legislators offered the contorted view that since only the agreements reached with the consulted TIPNIS communities—and not the consultation results themselves—will be binding, the government retains the ultimate right to choose its course of action.
Finally, critics say that the TIPNIS consultation process can’t be carried out in “good faith,” since the government responsible for implementing it is an interested party, strongly advocating for the road. And both the content of the law and the design of the consultation process are being carried out with CONISUR, a pro-road organization that does not legitimately or legally represent the TIPNIS indigenous territory. MAS dissident (and ex-Cochabamba governor) Rafael Puente accuses the government of carrying out a deliberate “disinformation strategy” by promoting CONISUR members as the “true representatives” of the TIPNIS, thereby allowing communities outside the indigenous territory to decide the fate of its inhabitants.
758 CIDOB presentation at OAS-ICHR. Credit: La Razón.CIDOB, the lowlands indigenous federation that co-sponsored last summer’s march against the highway, has launched a new multi-pronged strategy in defense of the TIPNIS. In addition to denouncing the Morales government before international human rights commissions, they have called for a new national march in conjunction with allied sectors, as a broad defense of indigenous, environmental, and human rights. Morales has criticized the planned mobilization as a “march against the right to consultation” that disrespects the Constitution—a charge that may be difficult to overcome. However, key popular sectors including the highlands federation CONAMAQ and, potentially, the Bolivian Workers Central (COB), have indicated their support.
CIDOB and the TIPNIS Subcentral are also mobilizing to educate the TIPNIS communities about the highway, the existing law protecting the reserve, and the new consultation process. It’s unclear whether they will boycott the consultation or call for a “No” vote on the road, thereby legitimizing the process through their participation—a difficult decision that could critically affect the outcome.
There are also contingency plans for civil disobedience to prevent any effort to start construction on the TIPNIS road. Says Pedro Nuni, leader of the new “indigenous bloc” in the Assembly who led an unsuccessful attempt to block passage of the consultation law, “If necessary, we’ll offer our lives for the TIPNIS.”
Referencing these heightened tensions, human rights ombudsman Rolando Villena has called on Morales to withhold promulgation of the consultation law, to avoid the risk of unleashing violent confrontations and create space for dialogue. Barring that heroic but unlikely step, the next chapter of the TIPNIS conflict is likely to be more contentious than ever.
Update: the law was promulgated by Morales on the evening of February 10.
Indigenous Peoples of Peru March in Protest of Mines
Barbara Fraser. Indian Country Today. February 11, 2012
A caravan of about 700 people from Peru’s northern Cajamarca region arrived in Lima, the capital, on February 9, at the end of a nine-day journey to protest a mine they said would destroy key watersheds.
“We want the president to say that there won’t be mining at the tops of watersheds,” said Jaime Lozana Infante, 38, of the community of Huasmín, near the site of the Congas mine. Congas is a project of Yanacocha, a mining company consisting of Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corporation, Peru’s Compañía Minera Buenaventura and the International Finance Corporation.
The gold and copper mine would destroy four lakes and a high-altitude wetland at the top of three watersheds that drain toward the Amazon River. Plans call for the company to replace the lakes with reservoirs of equal or greater capacity, but small farmers in the area fear the mine will dry up the water supply for their crops and livestock.
Cajamarca, where the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro murdered the Inca chief Atahualpa and launched his conquest of the Inca Empire, is known for its cheeses and other dairy products.
The Peruvian government approved the environmental impact study for the Conga mine in late 2010 and construction was to begin in October 2011. When heavy machinery moved in, however, local communities began to protest.
President Ollanta Humala, who had been in office just three months, sent Cabinet ministers to negotiate, but residents called a regional strike and blocked highways. The government declared a state of emergency and sent some 3,000 troops and police to Cajamarca. Escalation of the conflict finally forced the entire Cabinet to resign in early December, and the mining company put its plans on hold temporarily.
Although the government agreed to order an outside review of plans for the mine, it also said the country cannot afford to halt the $4.8 billion project. Several protesters said they felt betrayed by President Ollanta Humala, who campaigned in Cajamarca on a platform of “water before gold” before he was elected in July 2011, with strong backing from voters in Cajamarca and other rural areas.
“Ollanta’s message was the one the people had hoped for,” Lozana said. “He took advantage of us. He’s not keeping his promise.”
The conflict over Conga is the latest in a series of battles pitting mining companies against rural communities – most of them indigenous – in Peru they worry that the mines will pollute rivers and dry up lakes and springs.
Of 223 conflicts registered in the country in December 2011, more than half involved environmental issues, according to the government Ombudsman’s Office. Cajamarca was the scene of seven environmental conflicts, including Conga.
This is not the first time communities have confronted mining companies in the region, where Yanacocha, the largest gold mine in South America, opened in 1993. Protests stopped a planned expansion of Yanacocha to a hill known as Quillish in 2004.
Although the Conga mine’s environmental impact study was approved in 2010, protesters said they did not have enough opportunity to question the project or give input, and their communities lacked the expertise to examine the thousands of pages of technical information in the three months allowed.
Critics say the study lacks detailed hydrological and geochemical data and underestimates the impact of the mine on rivers and wetlands.
Protesters also said there was no prior consultation about the project, a requirement under International Labor Organization Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.
In the past, Yanacocha has argued that the farming communities around its mine are not really indigenous, and the prior consultation therefore does not apply to them. Because many local residents no longer speak an indigenous language, government officials have also said they cannot be considered original peoples.
“Cajamarca is a complicated case,” said anthropologist Richard Chase Smith, who heads the Institute of the Common in Lima, which assists indigenous communities seeking to gain title to their land. “There was a very early Spanish settlement in Cajamarca, which changed the complexion of the communities.”
Nevertheless, more than 100 communities are registered with the government as “campesino communities,” which implies that they are indigenous and therefore subject to consultation about development projects that would affect their lands, he said.
Local residents may press for both a consultation process and a referendum for non-indigenous communities and urban areas, according to the Rev. Marco Arana, a Catholic priest who heads the Tierra y Libertad (“Land and Liberty”) political movement and was one of the leaders of the march.
They are also drafting proposals for legislation that would ban mining at the tops of watersheds and prohibit the use of toxic chemicals such as mercury and cyanide in mining, he said.
Arana said the protesters wanted to draw attention to the need for a different model of development for Cajamarca, based on tourism, farming and forestry.
“This isn’t an anti-mining march,” he said. “This is a march for integral development, for sustainable development, and against the kind of mining that destroys the land, violates human rights, corrupts authorities and spends huge amounts of money to conceal the truth.”
Leader of Peru's leftist insurgency shot and captured in jungle
Reuters. February 13, 2012
The most important leader of Peru's leftist Shining Path insurgency has been seriously wounded and captured by security forces after being shot in a remote jungle, president Ollanta Humala has said.
Artemio, the nom de guerre of Florindo Eleuterio Flores, heads the remnant group of guerrillas that went into the cocaine trade after the founders of the Maoist rebels were imprisoned during a bloody war against the state in the 1990s. Peru is the world's top grower of coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine.
Humala had earlier said Artemio was dead but it was later revealed he had survived the attack.
Peruvian anti-drug police had tried for years to arrest Artemio. Two years ago, the United States offered a multimillion-dollar reward for information leading to his capture.
Humala, who fought against the Shining Path when he was a military officer in the 1990s, has vowed to step up efforts to catch what the government calls "narco-terrorists." The capture of Artemio is seen as his first major victory.
Former president Alan García, failed in his attempt to stamp out several hundred rebels who have yet to surrender their arms.
Ecuador clinics said to 'cure' homosexuality stir debate
Irene Caselli. Christian Science Monitor. February 11, 2012
"Corrective rape," forced isolation, and physical torture are only some of the methods used to "cure" homosexuality in Ecuador throughout scores of so-called rehabilitation clinics. The clinics, often run under the guise of drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, have been thrust into the international spotlight, pitting gay rights activists against the government in this tiny Andean nation.
Homosexuality has been a point of controversy here, and clinics that claim to cure it have sprung up over the years. But their use and often their fraudulent claims have drawn the ire of rights groups. This week, several organizations filed a complaint against the Health ministry, claiming it has been withholding public information about the centers. The government says it is working on gathering evidence and it cannot divulge information that is not correct or up to date.
Still, for a conservative country where homosexuality was illegal until 1998, Ecuador has made several significant moves toward gay rights under the administration of President Rafael Correa.
In a new Constitution pushed through by President Correa in 2008, civil unions are recognized for same-sex couples. Last December, for the first time, a lesbian was granted her deceased partner's state pension.
These milestones have been hailed by gay rights activists. But these activists also say that institutions are not doing enough to bridge the gap between legislation and reality, and they point to the rehabilitation clinics as a prime example.
According to the testimonies of victims, private clinics, often contacted by troubled family members, have actively tormented their patients in order to change their sexual orientation.
The issue made headlines around the world recently, following a petition posted through the change.org international platform asking Ecuador's Health ministry to shut down such centers.
The petition was drawn up after Paola Concha went public with her story. She was 24 when she was taken by force to a center in the southern outskirts of Quito.
"Three men seized me, handcuffed me, put me in a van, and took me away by force," says Ms. Concha.
"I was going through a crisis. I was living away from my family, discovering my real identity," she says. "My mother was deeply worried and she wanted to help me ... But these people took advantage of her anguish."
Concha was in the center for approximately 18 months. During that time she was handcuffed and held in confinement without food for several days at a time, she was forced to dress up as a man, and she was raped, she says.
Her mother paid $500 a month to keep her in the center. According to information provided by gay rights associations, costs vary between $200 and $1,200 per month. Most centers ask for a minimum stay of six months. Extra costs are associated with "the capture," the moment when future patients are picked up – against their will – to be taken to a center.
"There is a lot of ignorance," says Tatiana Cordero, director of Taller de Comunicación Mujer, a feminist organization that has been investigating the claims of human rights violations in the clinics. "Families are ripped off by these centers that claim to offer corrective therapy, which obviously does not exist and it is only a violation of human rights."
These centers are private, but they need licenses handed out by the Health ministry in order to operate. According to Ms. Cordero, in 2010 there were 205 private rehabilitation clinics in Ecuador, of which 70 percent had some irregularities, such as expired licenses.
The number of the clinics increased to 226 in 2011, but it is still unclear how many of those offer "treatments" for homosexuality, and how many lesbians are currently being held in the centers. (Most cases recorded involve gay women, but there are also some gay men who have been held against their will.)
The government last year publicized the closing of 30 centers, though gay rights groups say it was only 23. The clinics were all shut down because of minor infractions, such as expired medicines, lack of fire exits, and lack of hygiene. Some did not even have a valid license. Most opened up again after a few days.
Gay rights organizations say the government is not doing enough to investigate crimes and close illegal operators for good. However, Carina Vance, a prominent gay rights activist who was appointed Ecuador's minister of public health last month, says the government is committed to a long-term strategy to change the clinics.
"It is a complex and urgent issue that needs a comprehensive intervention," says Ms. Vance.
The Health ministry recently hired a human rights and gender issues consultant, who is currently drafting a legal strategy to sue the clinics for human rights violations.
But Concha is skeptical. She has not seen any justice in her case, which took place five years ago. The clinic where she was held against her will was temporarily shut down last year, but it is now functioning again. She is helping other victims gather evidence without any institutional support, something she says puts her safety at risk at times. Yet she has no intention of giving up.
"I don't want anyone else to suffer what I went through," she says.
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Gap narrows between Mexican presidency rivals
Reuters. February 9, 2012
MEXICO CITY, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Mexican presidential hopeful Josefina Vazquez Mota of the ruling National Action Party (PAN) has cut the lead of her main rival Enrique Pena Nieto, but the longstanding favorite still holds a 16-point advantage, a poll showed on Thursday.
In the survey by Consulta Mitofsky of 1,000 Mexicans eligible to vote in the July 1 election, Pena Nieto of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had the support of 40 percent, with Vazquez Mota at 24 percent.
Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was third with 18 percent.
Vazquez Mota, 51, has narrowed the gap between her and the front-runner by about 5 percentage points in the past six weeks as support for the telegenic former governor of the State of Mexico slips.
Last weekend Vazquez Mota became the first female presidential candidate to be selected by any of Mexico's main three political parties.
Reacting to the poll, she said the PAN still had plenty of work to do to retain the presidency it has held since 2000, when the party ended 71 years of PRI rule.
"There's no doubt the task hasn't got any easier, but I'm sure ... we will get there," Vazquez Mota told Mexican radio.
A Mitofsky poll conducted between Dec. 26 and Dec. 29 and published on Jan. 10 had given Pena Nieto a lead of more than 21 points over Vazquez Mota.
Support for President Felipe Calderon's PAN has been battered by discontent over the death toll from Mexico's conflict with drug gangs as well as a failure to create jobs and tackle poverty in Latin America's second-biggest economy.
Political analyst Fernando Dworak said Vazquez Mota was likely to step up criticism of Pena Nieto to maintain her momentum while her rival tries to remain above the fray.
"There could be dramatic changes in the polls in favor of Vazquez Mota if she takes risks," Dworak said, adding that she needed to spell out clearer proposals for her campaign.
Since Calderon sent in the army to crack down on the gangs five years ago, more than 47,000 people have died in drug related violence across Mexico.
The PRI has capitalized on public anger over the deaths, and Pena Nieto has led in the polls for months. However, his standing has fallen lately, notably after a string of gaffes in December.
The 45-year-old told supporters in Mexico City on Thursday that victory for the centrist PRI, which has the strongest platform to form a majority in Congress, could not be taken for granted.
"We can't just let inertia carry us and think that this will be enough to win," he said, according to daily Reforma.
As recently as March, Pena Nieto had the backing of 49 percent of voters and Vazquez Mota mustered just 14 percent, data from Mitofsky showed.
The latest poll showed support was little changed for Lopez Obrador, who narrowly lost to Calderon in 2006, a result he has always denounced as a fraud.
During a campaign stop in central Mexico on Thursday, Lopez Obrador pledged to create a ministry of honesty and anti-corruption if he wins this election. (Reporting by Dave Graham and Miguel Angel Gutierrez, Editing by Xavier Briand)
DEA: Mexican governor got millions in drug cash
E. EDUARDO CASTILLO and MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN. AP. February 12, 2012
MEXICO CITY -- U.S. drug agents have evidence that cartel leaders paid millions to a Mexican border state governor and other figures in Mexico's former ruling party in exchange for political influence, according to a court filing in Texas.
Confidential informants told Drug Enforcement Administration investigators that leaders of the Zetas and Gulf cartels made payments to Institutional Revolutionary Party members including Tomas Yarrington, who served as governor of Tamaulipas state in 1999-2004, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in San Antonio, Texas.
The affidavit says the DEA also has obtained ledgers documenting millions of dollars in payments to Yarrington's representatives.
Yarrington declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press on Friday.
The U.S. investigation could have ramifications for Mexico's July 1 presidential election. The candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, has a strong lead in opinion polls and appears poised to retake the country's most powerful office 12 years after the party was unseated after seven decades of unchallenged rule. The PRI has been fending off allegations of criminal ties from the current ruling party, its main competitor in the vote.
The 13-page affidavit lays out in detail the DEA's case against Antonio Pena-Arguelles, an alleged cartel money-launderer who was arrested Wednesday in San Antonio.
It accuses him of using U.S. bank accounts to funnel millions to Yarrington from leaders of the Gulf and the Zetas. In 2004-2005 alone, it says, he and his brother received $4.5 million from the No. 2 leader of the Zetas, Miguel-Angel Trevino Morales.
The Zetas gang was started by Mexican special forces soldiers who dropped out of the military and initially worked as the Gulf cartel's enforcers before breaking away in 2010 to become a notoriously brutal nationwide cartel of their own, responsible for thousands of kidnappings, slayings and acts of extortion. The Zetas and Gulf cartel then went to war over control of the drug routes running into much of southern Texas, turning Tamaulipas one of Mexico's most violent states.
One of the DEA's four informants told investigators that "during early 2000, Antonio Pena-Arguelles began receiving large amounts of drug proceeds on behalf of Osiel Cardenas, head of the Gulf Cartel, in exchange for political influence within the government in Tamaulipas," the complaint says.
Mauricio Fernandez, head of the DEA's San Antonio office, described the complaint as the result of a lengthy and continuing investigation.
"It's an ongoing matter right now," he said. "A lot of people are working on this."
Mexican prosecutors said late last month that they were investigating former Tamaulipas officials in connection with unspecified federal crimes, a category that includes money-laundering and drug-related crimes. Yarrington and two other former PRI governors, Manuel Cavazos, who served until 1999, and Eugenio Hernandez, who left office in 2010, publicly acknowledged that they were subjects of the probe but denied any links to crime.
In the wake of the revelations, the PRI accused the governing National Action Party, the PAN, its main opponent in the July election, of manipulating criminal justice for political ends.
The PRI's presidential candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, appeared several days later at a rally in Tamaulipas hand-in-hand with Cavazos in a public show of support for the ex-governor, who is now running for a Senate seat.
The centerpiece of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's six-year term has been his heavy militarized fight against drug cartels, and the PAN has been increasingly attempting to paint the PRI as unable to move away from the corruption that marked the autocratic rule that ended with its presidential loss to the PAN in 2000.
Calderon's party seized on the DEA court filing as evidence that the PRI has links to organized crime.
"For months the National Action Party has expressed its concern about the evidence constantly coming to light that current and former PRI governors could be allowing organized-crime groups to operate," Gustavo Madero, chairman of the PAN's national executive committee, told reporters.
Pena Nieto did not directly address the accusations in the DEA affidavit when questioned about them Friday. Standing beside him, PRI head Joaquin Coldwell struck a softer tone than in previous party statements about the probe of the ex-governors.
"Every party member is responsible for his own conduct and behavior, and each party member must carry out his own legal defense," Coldwell said. "What we ask for in this case and others that present themselves ... is that the justice system isn't used in a partisan way, for electoral purposes, and that the constitutional rights of the people who are investigated are respected."
Politicians have long been under pressure from cartels in Tamaulipas. In 2010, gunmen believed linked to one of the cartels ambushed a convoy carrying the leading PRI gubernatorial candidate, Rodolfo Torre, killing him and four of his companions. Torre's brother then ran for the governorship and won.
According to the DEA complaint in Texas, Pena-Arguelles' older brother Alfonso was found slain by a monument in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, last year. Next to his body was a banner accusing Antonio Pena-Arguelles of stealing $5 million from the Zetas. DEA informants said the money had been intended to buy the Zetas influence in the Tamaulipas government through Yarrington's connections, the affidavit says.
On the morning of his brother's death, Antonio Pena-Arguelles received a cellphone text message from Trevino, the Zetas' No. 2, accusing him, Yarrington and the head of the Gulf cartel, Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, of orchestrating Torre's slaying, the complaint says.
US Embassy in Guatemala criticizes legalizing drug
AP. February 13, 2012
GUATEMALA CITY -- The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala is criticizing President Otto Perez Molina's proposal to legalize drugs in Central America.
The embassy says Washington opposes such measures because "the evidence shows our shared drug problem is a threat to public health and safety."
An embassy statement on Sunday said that legalizing drugs wouldn't stop transnational gangs that not only traffic drugs but also people and weapons, as well as extorting and kidnapping people.
Perez Molina on Saturday said he will propose legalizing drugs in Central America in an upcoming meeting with the region's leaders. He gave no other details about his proposal.
Reckoning With a Genocide in Guatemala
Lauren Wolfe. The Atlantic. February 10, 2012
GUATEMALA CITY -- A man in a mask opens a door. The smell of rot hovers in the air and everywhere there are piles of paper -- pink, yellow, white, all a bit aged and possibly very important. When searching through the 80 million documents dumped in the archives of the Guatemalan National Police, it's never clear what will turn up. What is contained here, however, in a sprawling building somehow hidden until 2005, reveals how the government of Guatemala committed grave human rights abuses from the 1970s through the 1990s in a war that left more than 200,000 dead and 100,000 women raped. Records of operations, identification cards, and communiqués between departments are just some of the files that compose the near-bottomless archive the regime kept of its own murderous campaign.
In addition to these stacks of papers are a small handful of documents from the military's still-classified archives, one young documentary filmmaker, a bulldog of a forensic anthropologist, two whip-smart female lawyers, and a meticulous American archivist. Altogether, these files and crusaders have led the way to the first indictment of a former Latin American president on genocide charges. General Efraín Ríos Montt, a now-85-year-old mustachioed, seersucker-clad, banana republic dictator, was placed under house arrest on January 26, nearly 30 years after he allegedly ordered the annihilation of Guatemala's indigenous population and other "subversive" elements.
Latin America-watchers agree that the trial could be a complete paradigm shift for Guatemala, and a potentially history-setting precedent for the region. While there are no statutes of limitations on genocide crimes in most national and international courts, political will has been lacking when it comes to prosecuting grand-scale human rights abuses in Latin America. Many involved in the abuses are still in power. Laura Carlsen, the Mexico City-based director of the Americas Program at the Center for International Policy in Washington, explains that there is a running debate about historical memory in the southern cone. Is it healthier to bring crimes to justice, to face them head on as a nation, or instead move forward, not reopening wounds? The region might be settling on a direction.
"In the last couple of years, there's really been major movement throughout Latin America to come to terms with history, as in Argentina," Carlsen said.
The indictment has generated unprecedented hope for justice in a country where many people still live with the pain of the disappearances and memories of the massacre of family members, lovers, and friends.
"Just the fact that they've opened the prosecution against him is important," said Patricia Ardón, director of a Guatemalan feminist organization called Sinergia No'j. Ardón lost both her husband-to-be in 1979 and her first boyfriend, from when she was 15. "For justice just to recognize that this really happened is important."
Ardón said it's not about vindication, nor is it about that for the other survivors I spoke to -- it's about a public reckoning with the men in power. It's about the realization that these men can no longer terrorize them. And, luckily for those who survived the loss of loved ones, the indictment of Ríos Montt holds real potential for justice, according to the people closest to the case.
"We feel it's a very, very strong case," Guatemala's pioneering attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, told a delegation from the Nobel Women's Initiative and Washington-based Just Associates in Guatemala City on January 30. Though many people I spoke to said they expect her to lose her job any minute because of her willingness to take on the powers-that-be (and were), she's still hanging on. She added that the charge of rape as a war crime is crucial to delivering justice to Guatemala's women: "For the first time, a judge said these rapes occurred. For these women it's like saying they have a real voice. It becomes finally clear that this is something that is not allowed, specifically."
Paz y Paz, with her steadfast, soft-spoken fearlessness, is part of the phalanx of women and men bringing justice to Guatemala, in spite of threats and endless resistance, legal and otherwise. "I have been 'advised' that if I continue to work there will be consequences," said Paz y Paz.
There is sense that weighs heavily over Guatemala, and on nearly every conversation I had here, that the war remains very nearby in everyone's collective memory. Without a Nuremberg-like reckoning, the wounds have not closed. Many in power may have participated in war crimes. Sitting President Otto Pérez Molina, who took office on January 14, was the director of military intelligence in the 1990s. Nobel Prize Laureate Jody Williams, who led the Nobel Women's Initiative and JASS delegation (of which I was a part) through 10 days in Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala, said that during a meeting on January 30, the Guatemalan president bristled at her mention of genocide, saying, "There was no genocide; it was war," according to a tape of the meeting.
Guatemala's internal, 36-year conflict -- from 1960 to 1996 -- began ostensibly as a struggle between the U.S.-backed right-wing government and a leftist insurgency. But with racism and land struggles running deep in Guatemala, indigenous Mayans ultimately became the government's target. Ríos Montt allegedly oversaw a "scorched earth" campaign that destroyed entire villages as his government labeled all villagers "subversives," thereby marking the entire population for annihilation. As the men fled, the women who remained behind became targets of rape.
"It's not in his interest to recognize what happened as 'genocide,'" Williams said of the Guatemalan president. Finding Ríos Montt guilty would set a global precedent, she added. "It would further reaffirm that things are changing -- not as fast as we would like, but with the International Criminal Court and the various tribunals and men in power who've ordered the death of others having to appear before them being found guilty, it is inevitably going to send a signal that you can't get away with that."
The senior representative of the UN High Commission for Human Rights in Guatemala, a gregarious, bald Italian named Alberto Brunori, said that the UN position is that there cannot be justice in the present if there is no justice in the past. "We have to be a bit positive otherwise I shoot myself in the head," he said.
With all the positivity running through the key characters in the Ríos Montt case, it's worth remembering that this trial has been 13 years in the making. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchu Tum first filed a case on the genocide in 1999 in the Spanish National Court. Despite the efforts of a crusading attorney named Almudena Bernabeu, who has been leading the lawsuit in Spain, Guatemala refused to extradite Ríos Montt, then a sitting congressman, and the case stalled.
What changed? Newfound political will, the appointment of Paz y Paz, and Ríos Montt's recent loss of state-sponsored immunity as he retired from public office are just a few of the reasons the indictment came down against the former president on January 26.
A teen-faced documentarian named Pamela Yates has also played an unlikely but important role. Thirty years ago, when she was just 29 (and looked 16), Yates embedded herself with first the national army and then the leftist guerillas fighting in the highlands, where war was decimating the indigenous population. She produced two documentaries, one in 1982 and another in 2011, titled, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator. The latter is mainly about how the outtakes from her 1982 film helped indict Ríos Montt. She managed to interview him at the time -- terrified, she told me -- and while he denied he had ordered any sort of massacre, he admitted he was the ultimate arbiter of decision for the military. That admission became a central piece of evidence in the case against him.
"It felt like I was going up against impenetrable power," Yates told me recently at the 32nd anniversary commemoration of Menchu's father's death, when he was burned alive at the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City. "So now to think that that interview is being used against him to show that actually in the chain of command he was ordering what happened out in the field, it's very gratifying."
While the case has whipped back and forth between Spain and Guatemala, international pressure has helped the country take justice into its own hands. It is the Guatemalans who have suffered, many of whom recall the murders or must live with the memory of their own assault or rape -- and now it is the Guatemalans who have a chance to find justice.
Back in the archives' cement-brick halls, I ask a woman who works there what it's like to spend her days among these haunting papers. Some female police officers, I'd just learned, had been sent to work in the archives as punishment for not sleeping with their superior officers. The center of the labyrinthine building was a sort of secret prison known as "Prisión Isla." It's only accessible by one small door, roughly five feet high. Is it frightening, I ask? Juarez draws out the "s" in "Yesssssssss."
I ask some of the archivists if any of the documents will help convict Ríos Montt. A few of them smirk.
"There are things we can't yet disclose," one says.
What may or may not come out during Ríos Montt's trial could very well expose the leaders, long considered untouchable, of crimes that a UN-backed truth commission termed "genocidal acts" in 1998. It will take time, and the many people toiling on the case could have several difficult months or years still ahead of them. But after 15 years of inaction, Guatemalans, and the world, can wait a little longer for justice.
'Who Rules In Honduras?' Coup's Legacy Of Violence
Annie Murphy. NPR. February 12, 2012
The second of a two-part series about the roots of violence in Honduras. Part one available here: http://www.npr.org/2012/02/11/146668852/in-honduras-police-accused-of-corruption-killings
Honduras is a major stop for drug traffickers; corruption is rampant. Many experts say things got markedly worse after the 2009 coup that ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. The fallout of that coup continues today.
'The Shooting Started Around 5:20 a.m.'
When it comes to coups and dictators, Latin America has a difficult past. Today the region is largely democratic. Dictators and coups are supposed to be a thing of the past.
Honduras' last dictatorship ended in 1982. The June 2009 coup that ousted Zelaya was a shock to the region and a surprise to world leaders, including Zelaya himself.
University students take part in a wake against violence held in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in October. According to the United Nations, Honduras is the most violent country in the world.
"The shooting started around 5:20 a.m. I went downstairs, and there were about 250 masked soldiers around my house," he says from his home in Honduras' capital, Tegucigalpa. "All you could see were their eyes. I said, 'My God, what is this?' "
The military whisked Zelaya out of the country on a tiny plane and left him in Costa Rica.
"They took off, and there I was. The democratically elected president of Honduras, standing in my pajamas in the middle of a runway in Costa Rica," Zelaya says. "I said to myself, 'So this is that great new future everyone is talking about for Latin America?' "
After two years spent in forced exile, he returned home last year as part of negotiations for Honduras' re-entry into the Organization of American States, which it had been kicked out of after the coup.
The military coup that ousted Zelaya was ordered by members of Honduras' supreme court and carried out by the military. Zelaya had been pushing for a poll to gauge public interest in rewriting the constitution, and the court ruled it illegal.
After ousting Zelaya, the coup government sent the army and police into the streets. They began arresting, beating and even killing anyone who protested against the new government. According to an official truth commission, they were responsible for at least 20 deaths in the immediate aftermath.
Edgardo Valeriano, a medical doctor and researcher, had never been political. But after the coup, he joined protests demanding democracy and Zelaya's return. Like many protesters, he was beaten. His skull was split open by batons and police lashed him with chains. Valeriano says he feels like Honduras went back to the 1980s.
"I remember those years well. I was a student in medical school back then, and I remember how some students would show up tortured by the police," he says. "Stories on the news about other young people that had been brutally tortured, whose bodies would turn up at different spots in the capital. There was an atmosphere of strong repression."
The election of Rafael Callejas, who was Honduras' president between 1990 and 1994, marked the first time in 60 years that power was transferred peacefully between two major parties. Callejas says he believes Zelaya is too brash, but says illegally ousting him has had huge repercussions.
"We're in a crisis. We went back 20 years. We lost again the issue of democracy," Callejas says. "Who rules in Honduras now? Really? Who rules? The people? The system? Or strength? I mean, that's the question that has to be solved."
U.S. Reaction To The Coup
For more than a century, the U.S. government has had significant influence in Honduras, from the era of U.S.-owned banana plantations, to military and economic ties that endure today. Because of that history, the U.S. response to the 2009 coup carried a lot of weight.
"After the coup, a lot of the line taken here by pro-coup people was that the coup was the restoration of democracy, and they sold that in Washington," says Fulton Armstrong, a former CIA analyst who worked as a senior staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the coup. He watched the U.S. response unfold.
"But when you look at what was actually happening in Honduras, [Zelaya] really was a continuation of a halting but definitely forward-moving consolidation of democracy," he says.
Despite the call for Zelaya's return by nearly every other country in the hemisphere, Washington chose to back new elections, which were condemned internationally because of widespread violence and repression. Polls were held, and five months after Zelaya's ouster, Porfirio Lobo was elected president. Eventually, the crisis was declared over, but violence has only increased.
Cresencio Arcos, who was ambassador to Honduras in the early '90s, has been involved in the country for decades. He says the Obama administration failed to take a firm position regarding the coup.
"I think this stems from the following: that Latin America is an orphan in our foreign policy. I don't think we have a defined policy," Arcos says. "We had one during the Cold War: They were our allies. After the Cold War ended, we never redefined; we never retooled."
Defining The State Of Affairs
Many here say the outcome of the coup is what pushed Honduras to where it is today: the world's most violent nation, according to the U.N.
Valeriano says it was shocking that in the 21st century, they could pull off a coup. If the president can be taken out of a country and have his rights taken away, the doctor says, without a trial or anything, then what becomes of your average citizen?
Annie Murphy is a fellow in the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.
Jamaican gay rights activists hopeful of repealing anti-homosexuality law
Sarah Boseley. The Guardian. February 12, 2012
They are one of the world's most beleaguered gay communities, brutalised by violence, hounded by a law that makes homosexual acts a crime and driven into the shadows in a country where four in five people admit they are homophobic. But now gay people in Jamaica are cautiously optimistic that change may be in the air.
A new government has begun making noises about an end to discrimination and repealing an anti-gay law. Portia Simpson Miller, standing for election as prime minister in December, declared that "no one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation", and indicated she would be willing to have gay people in her cabinet. "I certainly do not pry or do not have any intention to pry into the private business of anyone," she said. She won by a landslide.
Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican law lecturer and legal adviser to the advocacy group Aids-Free World, says he is delighted by the change of mood – although it has yet to lift the sense of insecurity felt by Jamaica's gay community. Tomlinson, a prominent voice for gay rights on the island, has fled his home because of death threats that followed his marriage to his male partner in Canada after a picture was published in the Toronto Star.
"I was advised to go into hiding," said Tomlinson, in London to collect an award named after murdered Ugandan gay rights activist David Katofor his advocacy work. "I went into a safe house for about three days because my passport was with the UK high commission waiting for a visa to come here.
"Right now I'm not sure if I will be able to go back to teaching this semester."
Tomlinson says Jamaican police have told him that attitudes on the island are unfortunate but "will not change until the law changes".
Even so, he does not yet want the conscience vote on the sodomy law that the prime minister suggested during the election. "Over 80% of Jamaicans have identified as homophobic," he says. "We want more time to explain to the Jamaican people how harmful the law is."
He wants them to know that the law contributes to the spread of HIV, which has a 32% infection rate among gay men compared with 1.6% in Jamaica's general population. Fear of being attacked and murdered drives lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people to hide their sexuality. The prevalence of HIV puts them at risk but they do not get help to stay safe. Some gay men marry in a bid to seem straight to the outside world and that puts their wives and children at risk of HIV, says Tomlinson.
Backed by Aids-Free World, Tomlinson has lodged a case with the only human rights court recognised by Jamaica – the inter-American commission for human rights. Lead counsel is Lord Anthony Gifford, the British hereditary peer and human rights lawyer who took part in the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six appeals and now has a law practice in Jamaica.
Gifford led the team in the Dudgeon case at Strasbourg in 1983, where they succeeded in getting a judgment that changed the law against homosexuality in Northern Ireland. The law in England had been abolished in 1967, but the British government had argued that Northern Ireland was self-governing and should decide for itself.
Now Gifford is attempting to help overturn a 19th-century British-made law that criminalises homosexuality in Jamaica, just as he did in Northern Ireland. "It's like deja vu," he said.
"The very existence of the law creates a climate of tolerance of prejudice, which leads to real physical harm and fear.
"We hope we will get a ruling in our favour and that will add to the pressure which is in fact mounting in different ways. There is a definite change in the nature of the debate over the last few years, partly because of the courage of people like Maurice."
Papers lodged with the court, which has yet to schedule the hearing, cite violent attacks as recently as last year, some of them involving the police. In February 2011, officers raided two gay clubs and beat and pistol-whipped the patrons, the case alleges. In August, Ricardo Morgan, a hairstylist living in Kingston, was killed in a machete attack because of his sexual orientation.
Tomlinson began his own gay rights campaign by writing to the papers. It was initially a triumph to get something published. Now he gets support. Two weeks ago, the Jamaica Gleaner ran an editorial, entitled "PM should decry homophobic bigotry", calling for protection for Tomlinson from death threats and condemning "the medieval attitude that still largely prevails in Jamaica towards gays". He and others have made TV adverts, some of which have been shown - although one featuring a Miss Jamaica World speaking of her pride in her gay brother was rejected by the station, which said it had to respect the views of the church.
He blames the Eevangelical movement in the US for promoting homophobia. "My mother said when she grew up, Jamaica was a very tolerant society. Noël Coward had a home in Jamaica. Nobody cared. But during the 80s and 90s, rightwing evangelical Christians came. They started to change the attitude of Jamaicans from tolerance towards hate. The preachers in Jamaica picked up on it and started parroting that stuff."
Phillips heads to US for IMF talks
Jerome Reynolds. Jamaica Gleaner. February 13, 2012
The Finance Minister, Dr. Peter Phillips, is to lead a delegation to Washington this week, to hold talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as Jamaica seeks to re-establish a loan agreement with the agency.
The IMF has not conducted a performance review of the economy in more than a year, as the country has failed to meet all the targets under the standby loan agreement.
The finance minister recently lamented that this has delayed critical draw-downs for the country’s coffers.
Providing an update on the economy last week, Dr. Phillips highlighted among other things that there is a $10 billion deficit in the Budget and revenues from taxes are projected to drop further.
As a result, a technical team has been tasked with crafting a medium-term programme, which sets the basis on which Jamaica will re-engage the IMF.
The Government has indicated that it would be seeking to negotiate a new agreement with the IMF.
The current US$1.3 billion standby loan agreement comes to an end in May.
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration [contents]
Mercopress. February 12, 2012
The Cuban government has expressed its interest in attending the coming Summit of the Americas scheduled for next April in Cartagena, revealed Colombian Foreign Affairs minister Maria Angela Holguin following a visit to Havana.
“I met with Foreign Affairs minister Bruno Rodriguez and President Raul Castro and they told me they were interested in attending the Summit of the American”, said Holguin who pointed out that the decision does not belong only to the host but is “a consensus decision among the member countries involved in the summits’ process”.
But Holguin promised that Colombia “would lead the diplomatic initiative towards that objective”.
Last week at the meeting of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas) leaders, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa proposed that the group should not attend the VI Summit of the Americas, 14/15 April, if Cuba is not invited.
ALBA is made up of Venezuela (paymaster), Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The administration of President Barack Obama who is scheduled to visit Colombia has pointed out its position contrary to a discussion on the presence of Cuba at the summit.
The first Summit of the Americas took place in Miami in 1994 with the attendance of all leaders from Organization of American States country members.
Holguin said that it is in the hands of Cuba whether it decides or not to return to the OAS, since in 2009 the five decade suspension of Havana was lifted. However so far Cuba has not requested to open a dialogue for the possible return to OAS, recalled earlier in the week Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza.
Holguin pointed out that if the host country, in this case Colombia, invites Cuba, the Cuban delegates will not be able to participate in all debates, “and I doubt Cubans will want to come without being able to participate in all debates”.
Therefore “this issue will be addressed based on an understanding from all countries and we are going to work diplomatically, and with no leaks to the media on how negotiations are evolving”, concluded Holguin.