Latin America News Round-up
May 16, 2012
Abducted Honduras Reporter Alfredo Villatoro Found Dead
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Brazil and Southern Cone
Exclusive - Brazil to cut electricity taxes to boost economy. Reuters
Brazil's truth commission faces delicate task. BBC
Brazil rocked by corruption scandal. Le Monde
Argentina complains to EC on Spain biodiesel rules. MarketWatch
Spain's Repsol sues Argentina over YPF takeover. AP
Argentine rights figure charged with embezzlement. AP
Former Chilean president backs marijuana decriminalization. Santiago Times
Paraguay: Campesinos left without land. Latinamerica Press
Northern Andean Region
Venezuelan Opposition Candidate’s Campaign “Stagnating”, Journalists Attacked. Venezuelanalysis
Fatal Bomb Attack in Bogotá. New York Times
Colombian Government to Facilitate Rebel Release of French Reporter. EFE
Colombia says U.S. deal to double trade, create jobs. Reuters
Western Andean Region
Perenco's environmental consultancy buried evidence of Amazon tribe. The Guardian
Dam Project Threatens a Way of Life in Peru. New York Times
Peru miner says decision on Newmont's Conga near. Reuters
Peru's economy grew less than expected in March. Reuters
Ecuador Sees Progress In Talks With Kinross For Fruta del Norte. Dow Jones
Bolivia seeks three new contracts with Petrobras. Reuters
American Stuck in Bolivian Jail Seeks Help from U.S. Embassy. EFE
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Press Rights Group Reports 7 Attacks on Mexican Press. EFE
Priest who denounced abuse, kidnapping of migrants in southern Mexico flees death threats. AP
Numb to Carnage, Mexicans Find Diversions, and Life Goes On. New York Times
Abducted Honduras reporter Alfredo Villatoro found dead. BBC
El Salvador Coffee Shipments Declined by 50% Last Month. Bloomberg
El Salvador to Become Regional Training Centre for Geothermal Energy. Caribbean Journal
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Exclusive - Brazil to cut electricity taxes to boost economy
Brian Winter. Reuters. May 15, 2012
(Reuters) - President Dilma Rousseff plans to cut and simplify taxes for electricity producers and distributors, two senior officials told Reuters, as part of a strategy to reduce Brazil's high business costs and stimulate its struggling economy.
Brazil has been on the brink of recession since mid-2011 as high taxes, an overvalued exchange rate and other structural problems squeeze what had previously been one of the world's most dynamic emerging economies.
Rousseff has in recent months announced targeted tax cuts for stagnant sectors such as the automotive industry, embracing an incremental approach to reform that has drawn criticism from investors who say more drastic changes are needed.
But the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the tax reductions for electricity companies would likely be the most far-reaching to date.
They said Rousseff will announce the plans in coming weeks. Brazil has the world's third-highest power costs so Rousseff is aiming to give relief to consumers as well as companies in energy-intensive areas such as steel and petrochemicals.
Internal government studies suggest that, depending on which taxes are cut, electricity costs could fall by between 3 and 10 percent starting as early as 2013, the officials said.
That would have a measurable impact on inflation, and thus aid Rousseff's quest to push Brazilian interest rates lower.
"We know that taxes in Brazil are crazy, and we're trying to do something about it," one senior official said. "(Electricity) seems like a case where we can make a big difference quickly."
Rousseff probably will not pass the tax cuts by decree, so she will have to negotiate them with Congress and other groups.
She plans to use her record-high popularity ratings to push through cuts to taxes at both the federal and state level, with a special focus on eliminating levies that overlap or are difficult to calculate, the officials said.
Brazil's tax code is so complex that an average company spends 2,600 hours a year calculating what it owes, according to the World Bank's annual Doing Business study, which compares business practices around the world. That is almost 14 times the time needed to do taxes in the United States, and by far the highest among the 183 countries in the bank's survey.
"The focus is as much on simplifying taxes as reducing them," a second official said.
Brazil's electricity industry includes state-run companies such as Eletrobras (LIPR3.SA) as well as multinationals like AES Corp. (AES.N) and GDF Suez (GSZ.PA). Hydroelectric power supplies about three-quarters of Brazil's electricity needs, with nuclear, thermal and wind power accounting for the rest.
If the initiative is successful, Rousseff will use a similar blueprint to reduce taxes for other industries in coming months, possibly including telecoms, the officials said.
Specific details such as the size of the tax cuts, which taxes will be targeted, and the timing of the announcement are still being finalized by Rousseff's team, the officials said. One said the plan would likely be unveiled in late June, before politicians nationwide turn their attention to municipal elections in October.
POWER COSTS A PROBLEM FOR INDUSTRIES
Electricity prices are a big component of the so-called "Brazil cost" - the mix of taxes, high interest rates, labour costs, infrastructure bottlenecks, and other issues that have caused the economy to become less competitive.
After a decade of strong performance, Brazil grew below the Latin American average in 2011 and so far this year.
Brazil's average electricity cost of $180 per megawatt hour is exceeded only by Italy and Slovakia, the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a private think-tank, said in a 2011 study based on data from the International Energy Agency.
High electricity rates have contributed to stagnant investment and production in energy-intensive industries. Despite Brazil's bauxite and alumina resources, no new aluminium factories have been built in Brazil since 1985 and two have closed, keeping production levels stagnant, the Getulio Vargas study said. It added that electricity accounts for 35 percent - "an insane proportion" - of the industry's production costs.
Pittsburgh-based aluminium producer Alcoa (AA.N) said in April it was considering big production cuts at two of its Brazil factories in part because of high electricity costs.
One of the officials who spoke to Reuters said the situation at Alcoa had added urgency to Rousseff's plan to cut taxes.
All told, taxes account for about half of the cost of electricity in Brazil, studies show. The taxes themselves are roughly evenly split between the federal and state level.
Cutting or simplifying taxes at the federal level will be relatively straightforward for Rousseff. However, she also believes she can push through tax cuts at the state level by using leverage from upcoming debt negotiations.
Several states are asking for lower interest rates on debt they owe the federal government. Rousseff will likely ask the states to simplify or cut their taxes on electricity in return, one of the sources said.
The left-leaning president will also ensure that any tax relief is fully passed along to consumers, the officials said.
Although the electricity sector is partly privately controlled, Rousseff believes she can use the pricing power of state-run companies to effectively push rates lower if needed, they said. An upcoming renegotiation of concessions in the industry could also be an opportunity to push for lower rates.
SHADOWS OF STRATEGY WITH BANKS
Rousseff's tactics are similar to those she used to cut interest rates in recent months - another pillar of her strategy to reduce the "Brazil cost."
Her government has frozen billions of dollars in spending, allowing the central bank to slash its benchmark interest rate by 3.5 percentage points since August. When some private-sector banks balked at lowering rates for consumers, Rousseff and senior officials publicly hectored them for having some of the world's largest spreads.
State-run banks then announced lower interest rates for customers, and the private banks soon yielded and followed suit.
Such tactics have caused friction between Rousseff and some members of the business community, especially banking executives, who privately accuse her of trying to bully the private sector.
Yet the officials said Rousseff is using the best tools available to her to restore Brazil's competitiveness. Congress blocked attempts at a comprehensive tax reform by her predecessor as president, and Rousseff, herself a former energy minister, believes the only politically viable alternative is to move one sector at a time, they said.
"I'm fully aware that Brazil needs to reduce its tax burden," Rousseff told reporters while on a visit to India in March. "What I have done is take little measures that, in their totality, create greater tax breaks, which is fundamental for the country to grow."
(Reporting by Brian Winter; Editing by Kieran Murray and Sofina Mirza-Reid)
Brazil's truth commission faces delicate task
Paulo Cabral. BBC. May 15, 2012
Brazil's Truth Commission, created to investigate human rights abuses committed during the country's military dictatorship, is set to meet for the first time on Wednesday amid criticism from both army officers and victims' relatives.
Military rule spanned 21 years, from 1964 to 1985. More than 400 people were either killed or disappeared, while thousands were tortured.
As the commission gathers for the first time, there is discomfort among some in Brazil's military over what they perceive as an attempt at revenge by an ideologically-biased government.
President Dilma Rousseff was herself arrested and tortured during the dictatorship.
"Of course there were terrible things that happened in this period but there were victims on both sides and they only want to tell one side of the story," says retired Vice Admiral Ricardo Antonio da Veiga Cabral, chairman of Rio de Janeiro's Navy Club.
Since the military are barred from publicly expressing their views or organising unions, their social clubs - headed by retired high-ranking officers - are useful gauges of the mood among the armed forces.
The Navy Club has designated seven of its members - "seven trusted officers", according to Vice Admiral Veiga Cabral - to form a "shadow commission" to counter whatever accusations may come their way.
But the victims of the regime and their relatives are not happy either, because the commission will have powers to investigate human rights violations but not to punish perpetrators.
Numbers vary, but official reports suggest that between 400 and 500 militants and civilians were killed by the military or simply disappeared.
"We wanted a 'Truth, Memory and Justice' Commission. With the resources and powers given to the commission I doubt very much they will be able to come up with anything groundbreaking," says Victoria Grabois, president of Rio de Janeiro-based organisation Tortura Nunca Mais (Torture Never Again).
Her father, Mauricio Grabois, a high-ranking Communist Party official, has been missing since 1973 when the army raided the guerrilla camp where he was based.
The Brazilian government acknowledged in 1995 that the state was responsible for killings, disappearances and torture during military rule, but a 1979 Amnesty Law - recently upheld in a Supreme Court ruling - prevents any prosecutions.
The recently appointed members of the commission are already making it clear that they, too, have neither the authority nor the intention to prosecute anybody.
Police photo of Dilma Rousseff in the 1970s when she was in the armed resistance to the military Dilma Rousseff was jailed for three years
"We are not here to punish, that's not the job of any truth commission in the world," says commissioner Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, a Brazilian legal scholar who is also currently also the Chairman of UN's International Commission of Inquiry for Syria and former UN Special Rapporteur for Burma.
"There have been more then 40 truth commissions in the world since the 1980s and we will benefit a lot from their experience," Mr Pinheiro told BBC Brasil.
But the creation of the Brazilian Truth Commission has also highlighted the contrast with other Latin American countries - like Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Peru - which have already gone through this process, and where in some cases there have been prosecutions and convictions.
"It's fair to say that Brazil is late in respect to its Truth Commission but it's unfair to say that nothing has happened since Brazil returned to democracy in 1985," says Mr Pinheiro.
"Brazil has even paid compensation to relatives of people who went missing. I don't think any other country has done this."
The Truth Commission will have two years to conclude its work but it is not yet clear if it will be able to make public any of the confidential military documents its members will be allowed to view.
"I hope they will bring names and officially tell us who were people who committed those crimes but unfortunately I don't think this will happen.," says Mrs Grabois.
She says she has not given up on finding out more about her father, now missing for almost 40 years, but admits she has lost hope of overcoming the 1979 Amnesty Law in order to secure a prosecution.
"It's very hard. There have been some attempts to carry out prosecutions for kidnappings under common criminal law for but the courts have not yet accepted these either."
Vice Admiral Veiga Cabral says there is disquiet among veterans over the risk of prosecutions.
"This can grow like a snowball and we never know where it stops. An amnesty was granted for actions committed by both sides and that was an end to the matter."
But Mr Pinheiro does not accept the view that there are two sides to the issue.
"We have to make a complete, complex and honest investigation of the crimes that the state has already taken responsibility for. The side that matters is the side of the victims," he says.
While there is little expectation in Brazil that somebody will ever be actually punished for crimes committed during the dictatorship, the new investigation may at least bring some closure for relatives.
Brazil rocked by corruption scandal
Nicolas Bourcier. Le Monde. May 15, 2012
Brazil is being rocked by a graft scandal involving local and national policymakers, police officers and business leaders, with a special panel preparing to question the alleged mastermind.
News of the scandal broke in February with the arrest of Carlos Augusto Ramos, aka Carlinhos Cachoeira (Charlie Waterfall), who is thought to run a gambling racket in Goias state. He is a familiar face in Brazilian politics. In 2004 he was at the centre of the Mensalao scandal that shook former President Lula's government and Workers' party (PT). Several officials were sacked but Cachoeira walked free.
Now he is being prosecuted for corruption and money-laundering offences, charges he denies. What started as a relatively low-profile investigation has grown into a major event, now known as Cachoeiragate.
Prosecutors have accumulated 40,000 pages of evidence and over 11,000 hours of phone taps. Cachoeira is allegedly the lynchpin of a scheme involving three senators, five MPs and four companies. More than 80 Cachoeira employees are thought to be involved. "If you don't pay everyone, the system doesn't work," one of his henchmen reportedly let slip in a phone call.
On 19 April Congress set up a special committee to investigate the matter. It has published a preliminary timetable for hearings, listing 167 summonses. The editor of the conservative magazine Veja is among the first on the list and Cachoeira is due to appear this week.
After that it will be the turn of the reputedly incorruptible opposition senator Demostenes Torres, who is suspected of negotiating public works contracts in exchange for kickbacks. Investigators say they intercepted some 300 phone calls to Cachoeira. Torres also denies all charges.
On 29 May attention will turn to Claudio Dias de Abreu. Currently in custody, a former head of operations for construction firm Delta allegedly negotiated deals directly with local politicians. The firm is doing renovation work for the 2014 football World Cup, and has contracts with both Rio de Janeiro and federal authorities.
The government hailed the launch of the special committee, but President Dilma Rousseff may fear that the investigation will upset a busy political agenda and endanger a fragile ruling coalition.
Argentina complains to EC on Spain biodiesel rules
Shane Romig. MarketWatch. May 14, 2012
BUENOS AIRES (MarketWatch) -- Argentina has asked the European Commission to issue an opinion on whether Spain's recent decision to block Argentine biodiesel imports violates World Trade Organization rules.
Spain's actions "shouldn't be allowed by the European Union as it would be incompatible with the commitments assumed by the bloc in international trade agreements and the rules stipulated by the WTO," Argentina's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday.
The ministry sent a letter with its request to EC trade director Jean-Luc Demarty.
Last month, Spain started requiring that all biodiesel used there be sourced from European Union producers. The measure effectively blocks imports of the fuel from Argentina, which had dominated Spain's biodiesel market.
Soybean-based biodiesel imports from Argentina were valued at about EUR750 million ($990 million) in 2011, according to Spain's Renewable Energy Producers Association.
The Spanish government took the measure in retaliation for Argentina's expropriation of a 51% stake in oil and gas company YPF SA (YPF, YPFD.BA) from Spain's Repsol YPF SA (REP.MC).
However, Argentina may get little sympathy for its allegations of unfair trade practices by Spain. The South American country has implemented increasingly restrictive foreign exchange controls and trade barriers in recent months to protect its international reserves. Since February, Argentine companies must receive authorization from the tax authority and other government agencies before importing goods--a cumbersome process that has caused delays and driven up the cost of imported goods.
In March, the U.S., European Union and a dozen other countries demanded in a joint statement that Argentina lift its import restrictions, suggesting the dispute could be referred to the WTO.
However, a formal accusation against Argentina might struggle to gain traction at the WTO for lack of evidence.
Argentina's trade policies are often informal in nature, enforced verbally during phones calls in which government officials ask companies not to import certain goods.
Spain's Repsol sues Argentina over YPF takeover
AP. May 16, 2012
MADRID (AP) — Spain's Repsol energy firm says it has sued Argentina over its takeover of the company's majority stake in the YPF oil and gas producer.
Repsol and Texas Yale Capital Corp. are demanding that Argentina's government make an offer for the stake that Repsol held in YPF, its former petroleum producer in Argentina. The company and the investment firm also want unspecified monetary damages from Argentina because shares of Repsol and YPF plummeted after the takeover announced last month.
Repsol YPF SA announced Wednesday that it filed the class action lawsuit at the U.S. District Court in New York. Repsol has separately notified Argentina it will contest the YPF nationalization before the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes .
Argentine rights figure charged with embezzlement
AP. May 15, 2012
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- The longtime operations chief of Argentina's Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group has been jailed on charges of embezzlement and criminal conspiracy.
Sergio Schoklender was formally charged Tuesday by a judge investigating whether he embezzled more than $156 million that the government gave the group to build housing for the poor.
Judge Norberto Oyarbide also ordered Schoklender's brother Pablo jailed along with an accountant for a construction company they formed.
Schocklender has asked for the right to respond to the charges. In the past, he has blamed the Mothers' founder Hebe de Bonafini for any crimes. She in turn says she was betrayed, and said the full weight of the law should fall on her former protege.
Former Chilean president backs marijuana decriminalization
David Pedigo. Santiago Times. May 15, 2012
Former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos voiced his support for the decriminalization of marijuana in Chile this weekend, joining the ranks of other Latin American leaders who have sought to find a new way to combat illegal drug trafficking.
“I am a supporter of the decriminalization of the consumption (of marijuana) on the country level,” Lagos, president from 2000-2006, said in an interview with Chilean daily La Tercera on Saturday. “Chile could also distinguish between soft and hard drugs. A marijuana plant, which many say is less addictive than a cigarette, is different than something like cocaine.”
The regional need for comprehensive drug laws was a major concern at the recent Summit of the Americas in Colombia last month, which united Chile with 33 other countries from the hemisphere. While the possession of marijuana is illegal in Chile, it is decriminalized in neighboring Argentina and Peru, as well as in Uruguay, Colombia and Venezuela.
“(Current drug policy) is inefficient because in 40 years we have fought everything — consumption, production, traffic, everything — and this war is being lost,” Lagos said in the interview. “It is important to understand that the drug problem is not a domestic policy and each country cannot resolve it individually. If a country resolves it individually and not in a global context, this policy is going to fail.” Lagos then insisted that - to be successful - a decriminalization program would have to be carried out in coordination with other Latin American countries.
Dep. Felipe Ward of Chile’s conservative Independent Democratic Union Party (UDI) criticized the former president’s suggestion as being improbable.
“Ex-President Lagos, in his statements, clearly lacks good sense, as the public does not share said idea,” Ward said. “We know that this is not a new issue, but it would be difficult for this initiative to pass.”
Lagos acknowledged the policy would be limited even if it were passed because it would also require the collaboration of neighboring countries.
“It is possible to conceive that marijuana be treated like tobacco and that it not be a crime to sell it, but only if the rest of South America implements this,” he said.
By David Pedigo (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Paraguay: Campesinos left without land
Gustavo Torres. Latinamerica Press. May 11, 2012
Campesinos’ demand for land reform has a long history in Paraguay. Now indigenous organizations have joined their fight to recovery their ancestral lands by means of expropriation or purchases by the state.
Since 2008, with the election of former priest Fernando Lugo to the presidency, social and popular sectors had hoped that the left-leaning leader would make a change. But campesino organizations have been let down. In response, they have continued their protests, including marches to the capital Asunción, and even occupation of some large plantations.
“The struggles of our people are for land reform, to stop the advance of agri-business, and the legal and political responses continue to be repression,” said Ramón Medina, director of the national Struggle for Land Organization. He added that 2,000 of his compañeros were charged and some of them when to jail.
“We continue with a government that defends the interests of the large landholders, of the big soy producers,” Medina said. “That’s why our struggle and the mobilizations against the plantation-owners and against the soy expansion have to continue, in defense of our natural resources, and at the same time building alternative political proposals that can be discussed in society … to make democratic changes in favor of the people.”
When asked by Latinamerica Press, former president of the National Rural and Land Development Institute, Alberto Alderete Prieto, and Sixto Pereira, a ruling party senator, agreed that the plantation issue in Paraguay is rooted in the 19th century, when governments began selling public land. Since the end of the War of the Triple Alliance, an 1865-1870 military conflict in which Paraguay fought Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, until 1950, 25 million hectares (62 million acres) had been handed over to foreign companies.
From 1950 to 2000, mainly during the 1954-89 dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, 12 million hectares (30 million acres) were put in private hands, said Alderete Prieto. State agencies like the Land Reform Institute and later the Rural Welfare Institute, which is now the National Institute for National Rural and Land Development Institute, took over the process, he said, adding that 74 percent of that land were released by politicians, military and state officials who had nothing to do with the agrarian reform. “Only 26 percent of the land went to the hands of about 150,000 families of small producers,” said Alderete Prieto.
In the Green Revolution in the 1960s, small-scale farming became known as “subsistence farming” compared with the large-scale farming for export crops. That was followed by widespread use of farming chemicals, machinery, transgenic seeds and the country’s reliance on external markets. Paraguay’s forest cover was halved.
For Pereira, the land tenancy is operating outside of the law. “Along with Brazil, Paraguay is one of the most unequal countries with the highest concentration of land in the fewest hands.”
The most recent farming census in 2008 shows that just 2 percent of the landowners hold 85.5 percent of Paraguay’s land, while 300,000 campesino families are landless. Eighty percent of the country’s arable land is in the hands of just 1 percent of the landowners and only 6 percent belongs to small-scale farmers who have less than 20 hectares (50 acres) apiece. Some 260,000 families comprise this last group.
What is happening in the village of Ñacunday, in the southeastern Alto Paraná department, is a reflection of the nature of Paraguay’s land problem.
In April 2011, the fertile lands of Ñacunday, which sits near the border with Brazil and Argentina and whose lands are used for agro-exports, saw a conflict explode, when families started to occupy part of the property of Paraguay’s largest soy farmer, Tranquilo Favero, who has more than 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres), 400,000 (1 million acres) of them in Ñacunday.
At the end of the year, members of another community association, the National League of Carperos, or tent-dwellers, a movement of landless campesinos with 10,000 people, joined the occupation, installing themselves in tent camps. Rosalino Casco, a leader of the group, said “we are going to fight centimeter by centimeter for this land,” while agri-business executives and conservative politicians accused Lugo’s government of instigating the conflict.
This is a struggle that has continued. In February, security forces peacefully relocated the campesinos from the Santa Lucía community group nearby a forest, while the Carperos moved to a state-owned property.
Lack of political will
The Ñacunday issue put again the land situation in the epicenter of the debate in Paraguay. For the first time, the government has shown interest in making a structural change in Paraguay as a way to help campesinos acquire land or improve land in poor condition. Nevertheless, the government’s message has not turned into action with legal steps to knock down old structures.
Sen. Pereira maintains that the situation in rural Paraguay needs political will of the three branches of government.
“Ñacunday is a case within this issue, taking into account that this country is full of cases like this one, that’s why legal measures are urgent to identify and guarantee the legitimate owners [of the land].”
According to Pereira, who has long-advised the campesino movements, the government needs to measure just how irregular the land tenancy is. He said Paraguay’s area is 406,752 square kilometers (157,048 square miles), but the area of the land titles is more than 500,000 square kilometers (193,051 square miles).
It is a sign that some land has been titled as many as three times, in spite that successive governments have been receiving millions of dollars since 1989 to carry out a land registry which never took place.
“In the entire history of this country, the land has been a source of life, progress and survival for its inhabitants,” said Alderete Prieto. “But it has also been the object and instrument that has made a systematic violation of human rights, destruction of the environment and concentration of power in a few hands possible. This situation shows that the expansion of agri-business tied to the plantations is destroying the campesino and indigenous identity, creating mechanisms of accumulation of capital and dominance. President Lugo has denounced on more than one occasion that the fencing and pastures of the large plantations expel indigenous communities from their lands through illegal appropriations”. —Latinamerica Press.
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Venezuelan Opposition Candidate’s Campaign “Stagnating”, Journalists Attacked
Tamara Pearson. Venezuelanalysis. May 15, 2012
Mérida, May 15th 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Government representatives and private media have said opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles’ campaign is “stagnating” as he fails to gain support, while journalists also marched yesterday protesting violent attacks committed against them by Capriles’ supporters.
Violence against public media journalists
Journalists with the National System of Public Media marched yesterday in Caracas to demand an end to violent acts by opposition supporters against them during Capriles’ electoral campaign events.
In March opposition members attacked journalists of Catatumbo Television, a Zulia state based public station, while Capriles was doing a campaign tour of a Zulia municipality. The crew was threatened, their camera and microphone knocked to the ground, and their watch was taken.
The same month, Capriles supporters attacked a VTV journalist in Tachira state during a rally for Capriles, and public Caracas station Avila TV journalist Llafrancis Colina also denounced opposition legislator Richard Mardo for physically assaulting her during a rally for Capriles.
Further, last week a journalist and a cameraman with VTV were attacked in a Capriles’ campaign meeting in Barinas state. Bodyguards of the local opposition mayor seized their camera as they filmed some supporters drinking alcohol, and according to the cameraman, Dani Vargas, hit him on his body and face a number of times.
Harim Rodriguez, of the Necessary Journalism movement said, “The attacks are aimed at critical journalists who show that Capriles doesn’t represent the people”.
The marching journalists handed over a document to the Ombudsman’s Office and the public prosecutor requesting an investigation, and the attorney general’s office has assigned a public prosecutor to the case.
In response Capriles said he “rejected” violence but that some people in the public media had “provoked” his followers in order to be able to accuse him of violence.
Capriles’ campaign “stagnating”
Minister for electricity, Hector Navarro, told the press that the opposition’s “violent behaviour” was a result of the low poll results.
Both private and public poll companies are placing voting intention for Hugo Chavez 22 to 27 points higher than for Capriles, a trend that has changed little since Capriles ran in the opposition’s primaries in February, to then become their candidate.
Local and foreign private press have also noted Capriles’ “stagnation”, with a Reuter’s article arguing that, “Capriles is stagnating and far from the current president in the majority of polls, he has even dropped a few points in some”.
One poll which opposition media Globovision quoted to show that Capriles "would win" and which gave Chavez 44.87% support and Capriles 46.13%, turned out to be a fake company. When RNV journalists looked up the business registration number of Consultares e Imagen Profesional FPD, it corresponded to a fund which doesn't exist.
Capriles’ campaign and his promises “aren’t capturing the attention of Venezuelans” said Reuters, “His biggest political announcement so far – the promise to create 3 million jobs in six years – received little attention in newspaper headlines and in the street”. The current government launched a knowledge and work social mission late last year with thousands already in training and an aim of creating 2.8 million jobs in eight years.
Capriles has also campaigned in favour of a law to regulate the social missions, in order to give them “constitutional standing”. His other main campaign points have been “no more expropriations”, and the issue of crime, in which he says that he will use “all the power of the state to resolve the problem of violence, including the national armed forces”.
Venezuelan opposition paper Tal Cual has called Capriles’ campaign “boring”, with one of its commentators, Oscar Schemel arguing, “his strategy isn’t working because there’s been no growth in Henrique Capriles’ candidacy, while Chavez’s illness has hyper-personalised the electoral debate, only Chavez is talked about”.
Opposition analyst Orlando Viera, with Lapatilla.com has also said that Capriles is “stagnating”, blaming the situation not on “lack of effort or image” but on not making enough political criticism of the current government.
Members of the main parties that make up the opposition alliance, MUD, met yesterday without reaching consensus on how to present themselves on the ballot paper. The majority of parties were in favour of a single ticket, while Primera Justicia (First Justice) and Podemos (We Can) supported a united ticket, in which all party symbols would appear on the ballot paper.
MAS leader Felipe Mujica said the single ticket would be ideal for those who “have voted for president Hugo Chavez but are disappointed [with him] and don’t want to link themselves with any political party”.
MUD has until 11 June to decide, when they have to have registered Capriles as candidate with the National Electoral Council. Electoral campaigning is legally allowed from 1 July.
MUD alliance with Uribe
Last week Capriles asked Venezuelans living in Colombia to campaign there for him, while he was in Bogota meeting with Venezuelan residents and fugitives. Among them, according to Radio Mundial, was Pedro Carmona, who has been living there since he swore himself in as president during the April 2002 coup attempt, was arrested, escaped house arrest, and sought refuge in the Colombian embassy, which later gave him asylum.
MUD representatives have also held a number of meetings with ex-Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, seeking his advice. Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, said Uribe would be campaigning against Chavez among the border towns.
Capriles however, has also told the press that he has called on Uribe to “not intervene in the Venezuelan electoral process”, while head of the pro-Chavez electoral campaign, Jorge Rodriguez said that Uribe “is the new opposition leader” and reminded the press that the national coordinator of the opposition campaign, Leopoldo Lopez, met with Uribe in December. At the time Lopez was expecting to compete in the opposition primaries.
MUD has also put out a statement rejecting current president Juan Santos’ position regarding Chavez. Santos has said that Chavez is a “guarantee of stability”. Though he is as conservative as Uribe, he has pushed, together with Chavez, for the re-establishment and strengthening of Colombian-Venezuelan relations, after they were ruptured in August 2010 under Uribe.
Fatal Bomb Attack in Bogotá
WILLIAM NEUMAN. New York Times. May 15, 2012
AYACUCHO, Peru — At least two people were killed and dozens injured in a bomb attack on Tuesday in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, that officials said was an assassination attempt aimed at a former government minister.
The bombing, in a commercial district, stunned residents in a city that has prided itself on recovering from years of violence fueled by the government’s war against drug cartels and an armed insurgency.
The bombing occurred on the same day that President Juan Manuel Santos had been scheduled to attend a ceremony in Cartagena to mark the beginning of a free-trade agreement between Colombia and the United States. He canceled his trip in response to the attack.
Mr. Santos said in a television appearance that the bombing was an attempt to kill Fernando Londoño, a Justice minister in the government of Mr. Santos’s predecessor, Álvaro Uribe.
Mr. Santos said that Mr. Londoño was in stable condition in the hospital after the attack. He said that Mr. Londoño’s driver and a police bodyguard had been killed. City officials said that a third person had also died, but that victim was not immediately identified. There were also 39 people injured, the police said.
“I want to condemn in the most energetic manner this assassination attempt,” Mr. Santos said. “We will not be intimidated by terrorism. Just the opposite; it fills us with the courage to continue forward.”
The mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, said security cameras showed that a person had approached on foot and thrown the bomb at Mr. Londoño’s car.
Officials said that earlier in the day they had defused another bomb in a car that they said was intended to be blown up in front of Police Headquarters in Bogotá. Government officials blamed the FARC, A Colombian rebel group, for the car bomb, but they had not established whether there was a link between that bomb and the attempt on Mr. Londoño.
Colombian Government to Facilitate Rebel Release of French Reporter
EFE. May 15, 2012
BOGOTA – The Colombian government notified France that it will do what is necessary to enable leftist rebels’ plan to release a French journalist who fell into guerrilla hands, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said Tuesday.
“Via the foreign ministry we inform the government of France (of) our readiness to facilitate the liberation of journalist Romeo Langlois,” Santos wrote on Twitter.
The message to Paris appears to signal the Colombian government’s consent to the rebels’ demand that France’s new president, François Hollande, designate a “personal delegate” to participate in the mission to receive Langlois.
Langlois, the Colombia correspondent for France 24 television and Paris daily Le Figaro, went missing April 28 amid fighting between rebels and soldiers in the jungles of the southern province of Caqueta.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, initially said it was prepared to release the Frenchman only in the context of a debate on the role of the press in covering the Andean nation’s decades-long armed conflict.
In a message released Sunday, however, the insurgents said they would hand over Langlois to a delegation comprising former Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba, the International Committee of the Red Cross and a representative of Hollande.
The ICRC and Cordoba immediately agreed.
Langlois was accompanying a task force of police and troops when the contingent was ambushed by FARC units, sparking a battle that left four members of the security forces dead.
The journalist was wounded in the firefight and fled toward the rebel lines, after shedding the army helmet and bulletproof vest he was wearing.
A FARC medic treated Langlois’ wound, but the rebels then decided to hold him as a prisoner of war.
“Romeo Langlois wore regular-army military garb in the middle of a battle. We believe the least that can be expected for the full recovery of his freedom is the opening of a broad national and international debate on the freedom of information,” the FARC said last week. EFE
Colombia says U.S. deal to double trade, create jobs
Reuters. May 15, 2012
A long-delayed free-trade deal between Colombia and the United States came into force on Tuesday, a step that should boost the Andean nation's exports and foreign investment, President Juan Manuel Santos said.
Colombia's weak labor record, including murders and attacks on union activists, had held up the free-trade pact for years as powerful U.S. union groups opposed it on the grounds that Colombia lacked the capacity to enforce worker protections.
But Congress finally passed the agreement in October, more than four years after it was negotiated by the administration of former President George W. Bush.
Santos said the treaty should give further impetus to Colombia's economic growth and create new jobs - a key aim of his government.
"This agreement is an enormous opportunity for Colombian production, for Colombian jobs. I'm enthusiastic about the prospect of generating jobs," Santos told local radio.
He said the agreement should boost annual economic growth by between 0.5 and 1 percentage point and create about 100,000 jobs per year. Colombia's economy expanded by 5.9 percent last year, its strongest performance for four years.
In Washington, the Colombian ambassador said trade between the United States and Colombia could double in three years.
"It's going to be huge and I'm ready to bet we're going to double bilateral trade in three years," Ambassador Gabriel Silva said in remarks to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But despite the government's optimism, farmers fear the agreement could put many ranchers and growers out of business because of an increase of cheap U.S. food imports.
The United States is Colombia's top trade partner and the main destination for Colombian exports. Two-way trade between the two countries totaled about $37.5 billion in 2011, according to official data.
It has also been the biggest source of foreign investment in Colombia in recent years. Between 2001 and 2011, it accounted for about 27 percent of total foreign direct investment.
Colombia joins fellow South American nations Peru and Chile in signing a free-trade accord with Washington. (Reporting by Doug Palmer in Washington and Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; Editing by Helen Popper)
Western Andean Region [contents]
Perenco's environmental consultancy buried evidence of Amazon tribe
David Hill. The Guardian. May 16, 2012
An environmental consultancy working for an oil company withheld evidence of an "uncontacted tribe" where the company is operating in Peru's Amazon, a leaked report obtained by the Guardian reveals.
The leak is acutely embarrassing for Perenco, based in London and Paris, because it has consistently claimed there is no evidence for indigenous people living without contact with the outside world near its operations and cites research by the consultancy, Daimi Peru, as proof.
The report was written by three anthropologists from the National University of the Peruvian Amazon (Unap) who were contracted by Daimi, which in turn was contracted by Perenco. The anthropologists list the evidence they found – "bent branches, footprints, women bathing in the rivers and crossed spears on pathways" – all of which was reported by local people..
"We found evidence of their existence," says Teodulio Grandez, one of the anthropologists. "There were signs. We never said there weren't any."
But when Daimi made its findings public, combining the anthropologists' research with that of academics in other disciplines from another university, none of the evidence listed by Grandez et al appeared.
"No information exists that demonstrates or suggests the recent existence of isolated indigenous people in the area under investigation," Daimi claimed in a final report dated September 2008.
The report obtained by the Guardian is a scanned version of a paper copy, with every page bearing Unap's insignia and signed by the anthropologists. It is addressed to Daimi's general manager, Milton Ortega.
"We verified that this information (about the 'uncontacted' people) was in the paper version," says Jose Moscoso, another Unap anthropologist. "But when the digital version appeared, it wasn't there."
Daimi's final report is now used by Perenco to defend its operations, which have come under fire from indigenous organisations and NGOs including Survival International. Contact between Perenco employees and the "uncontacted" people could decimate the latter because of their lack of immunity to diseases.
"There has been no evidence of non-contacted tribes," Perenco claims on its website, while its Latin American regional manager once compared them to the Loch Ness monster. "Much talk," he said, "but never any evidence."
The news of the leak will not surprise some former Daimi workers who were involved in the research and later disturbed when the final report said no evidence was found.
"This confirms what everyone who knows anything about this region has been saying all along," says Survival's Rebecca Spooner, who said evidence for "uncontacted" people in this region has been collected for years.
Daimi's Milton Ortega did not comment. "I
don't want to talk about this by telephone. I'll give you an official answer by email," Ortega said, from Ecuador, but no reply was forthcoming despite several follow-ups by the Guardian.
Perenco, which refused to say whether it had seen a copy of Unap's report, is seeking permission from Peru's energy ministry (MEM) to begin the next stage of its operations, in the north-east of the country near the border with Ecuador. When MEM asked Peru's indigenous affairs department (INDEPA) for its opinion on the company's environmental impact assessment (EIA), INDEPA accused Perenco of completely ignoring the "uncontacted" people and endangering their lives.
Last month an American NGO, E-Tech International, released a highly critical report on the company's plans. "Perenco is following a 1970s-era project design that is totally inappropriate for the Peruvian Amazon," said the report's author, Bill Powers. "If designed and built using current best practices, the impacts would be one-tenth what they will be with the current design."
Dam Project Threatens a Way of Life in Peru
AARON NELSEN. New York Times. May 15, 2012
BOCA SANIBENI, Peru — Along the murky waters of the Ene River, in a remote jungle valley on the verdant eastern slopes of the Andes, the rhythmic humming of an outboard motor draws the stares of curious Ashaninka children.
With encroachment from settlers and speculators, and after a devastating war against Shining Path rebels a decade ago, the indigenous Ashaninkas’ hold is precarious. And they are now facing a new peril, the proposed 2,200-megawatt Pakitzapango hydroelectric dam, which would flood much of the Ene River valley.
The project is part of a proposal for as many as five dams that under a 2010 energy agreement would generate more than 6,500 megawatts, primarily for export to neighboring Brazil. The dams would displace thousands of people in the process.
Antonio Metzoquiari, 59, a thin man wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap, considered the implications for his community. “This is a grave matter,” Mr. Metzoquiari said. “It’s a return to violence, another war. I don’t know where or how, but we would have to find a new place to live.”
At a time when hydroelectric dams have fallen out of favor in some parts of the world, the projects might seem an anachronism. But dams remain attractive in much of Latin America, where a number of nations have plenty of water but lack other conventional and affordable energy sources.
For now, the project is stalled in the Peruvian Congress, where it awaits debate by the Foreign Relations Commission. President Ollanta Humala has yet to take a position on the dams, but how he manages this and numerous other initiatives across the country that pit development against local and predominantly indigenous communities could very well define his presidency, said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a research organization based in Washington.
“The biggest test for Humala is how he strikes the middle ground,” Mr. Shifter said. “I think he understands that if he moves too hard and too fast on this development path, that it can really come back to bite him.”
Already Mr. Humala is being tested in northern Peru, where thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent months to oppose the $4.8 billion Conga gold mine that the protesters say would pollute water supplies.
Mr. Humala capitalized on social movements like these, especially among Peru’s large and historically marginalized indigenous population, to win the presidency, much to the chagrin of the middle and upper classes in Lima, the capital, who were the primary beneficiaries of a decade-long economic boom based substantially on mining.
Mr. Humala opposed the Conga mine during the campaign, but he has since given the project his support while pledging to ensure quality of life improvements for surrounding communities. This conciliatory approach might be a first glimpse at how the president plans to achieve his social agenda while assuaging wary investors, said Fernando Romero, a sociologist and an expert on social conflict in Peru.
“I think what we are seeing is that the government will look to mining and investment from Brazil as the principal source of funding for its plan for social inclusion,” he said.
So far, Mr. Humala has not staked out a clear position on the proposed dams, though that is likely to change when President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil visits Peru, a visit expected soon.
Officials with the Energy and Mining Ministry say the dams make economic sense only if much of the energy they produce is exported. The ministry added that while it considered environmental and social issues important, it also wanted to make sure that affected local populations benefit from the projects through electrification.
Despite claims that the welfare of affected communities is a top priority, several of the projects passed feasibility studies before local residents were even informed that the government had awarded concessions on the land. In response to that disclosure, the Central Asháninka del Rio Ene, which represents Ashaninka populations in the Ene River Valley, went to court to compel the Energy and Mining Ministry to disclose all feasibility studies on the dam proposals.
After the project was announced, the organization brought together 17 Ashaninka communities to explain that a dam would inundate some communities and dry out others that depend on the river for sustenance and transportation. Many people would be forced from their homes, critics argue, evoking memories of Peru’s war against the Moaist-inspired Shining Path rebels, which officially ended in 2000 but scarred the Ashaninka.
Of the 70,000 people who were killed over two decades, 6,000 were Ashaninka, experts said. Thousands more were displaced and only over the past few years have they begun to resettle their communities along the Ene.
“This is why the Ashaninka brothers say because we have sacrificed while our families disappeared, I’m not going to give away our land so easily to the state,” said CARE’s president, Ruth Buendia.
She said the Ashaninka do not understand how a project of this magnitude was approved without their knowledge.
“They think we’re going to break windows and protest like in Conga, but we aren’t,” Ms. Buendia said, thumping the table. “Just as they do to us with legal documents we are going to do to them.”
When the scope of the dam project was made clear to the Ashaninka, many expressed disbelief while others worried that an exodus would lead to infighting over diminished resources. The final speaker, Dimer Dominguito, 25, who was accompanied by his wife and five children, captured the Ashaninka’s desperation and outrage.
“In the city they make money and buy whatever they need, but here we live by our customs, our market, eating what we plant and we are happy,” he said. “We want to defend our right to what is natural, to defend our market, and we support the government, but who supports us?”
Peru miner says decision on Newmont's Conga near
Reuters. May 14, 2012
LIMA May 14 (Reuters) - U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corp and its Peruvian partner Buenaventura will respond in "coming days" to government recommendations on the $4.8 billion Minas Conga gold project, Buenaventura's chief executive said on Monday.
The most expensive mine ever attempted in Peru has been stalled since November due to opposition from local community groups that fear Conga will take scarce water resources away from farmers by replacing four lakes with artificial reservoirs.
To calm protesters, President Ollanta Humala brought in European auditors to draft an independent study on the project's environmental impact. They said Conga should have larger reservoirs and try to salvage two of the alpine lakes.
Newmont has said it is evaluating the cost impact of implementing the recommendations on the mine that would produce between 580,000 and 680,000 ounces of gold per year in the northern region of Cajamarca.
"The company has to evaluate the recommendations of the auditors and this process is under way," Buenaventura Chief Executive Roque Benavides told the International Gold Symposium in Lima. Buenaventura has a 43.65 percent stake in the project.
Buenaventura, Peru's top precious metals miner, has a 43.65 percent stake in the project controlled by Newmont.
"We hope to make an approach in coming days, certainly it isn't an easy decision, it's a complicated project," Benavides said.
Newmont has said the project's environmental impact study, approved by the previous government, was meticulously researched and would provide communities in the northern region of Cajamarca with year-round water supplies.
Newmont's Chief Executive Officer Richard O'Brien said recently that his company wanted to continue operating in Peru but that it could invest elsewhere if the modifications to the project proved economically unfeasible.
Peru's economy grew less than expected in March
Reuters. May 15, 2012
LIMA, May 15 (Reuters) - Peru's economic growth slowed to 5.55 percent in March from a year ago, weighed by a decline in manufacturing output, the government statistics agency said on Tuesday.
Economic growth in March was flat compared with February, the INEI statistics agency said.
For the first quarter, growth was 6.02 percent from the same period in 2011, reinforcing expectations for growth of 6 percent this year and steady interest rates from the central bank in the near term.
Economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast year-on-year growth of 6.15 percent in March after February growth data came in at a faster-than-expected 7.18 percent.
But manufacturing output fell for the first time in four months in March, down 3.15 percent due to waning demand overseas as the prolonged European debt crisis weighs on global growth.
"The data suggests an economy growing under the impetus of domestic demand but with an uncertainty abroad affecting industry," said Pedro Tuesta, a Peruvian economist with the 4Cast consultancy in Washington.
Construction expanded by 14.7 percent in March, helped by a 30 percent increase in government spending in recent months that has led to a sharp increase in cement orders to build infrastructure.
Mining and energy grew 6 percent in March and 2.08 percent in the first quarter of 2012.
Minerals account for 60 percent of Peru's exports, though the Andean country's economy has diversified in recent years and also has a dynamic service and financial sector.
RATES SEEN ON HOLD
Peru posted economic growth of 6.92 percent in 2011, one of the fastest rates in Latin America.
The country's finance minister and central bank president both expect gross domestic product to expand by 6 percent in 2012, though Central Bank President Julio Velarde warned on Tuesday that recent turmoil in Greece could thwart growth.
The central bank held interest rates steady at 4.25 percent for the 12th straight month in May and is expected to continue to do so in the near term even though 12-month inflation is at 4.08 percent, above the bank's 1-to-3 percent target.
Last month the central bank raised deposit requirements on commercial banks, a measure analysts said was an alternative to hiking interest rates and would tighten liquidity without pressuring the local currency.
"Taking into account the recent increase in deposit requirements, the central bank is not pressured to raise interest rates," said Tuesta.
The sol currency bid 0.08 percent weaker at 2.668 per dollar on Tuesday, but had been trading around its strongest level in 15 years before the central bank raised deposit requirements on April 30.
The national statistics agency also said the average unemployment rate in metropolitan Lima in the three months through April fell 0.7 percentage point from a year ago to 8.1 percent, helped by sustained economic growth. (Reporting by Caroline Stauffer and Patricia Velez; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Leslie Adler)
Ecuador Sees Progress In Talks With Kinross For Fruta del Norte
Dow Jones. May 15, 2012
QUITO – Ecuador's undersecretary of mines said Tuesday that there has been progress in negotiations between the Ecuadorian government and Canadian gold mining company Kinross Gold Corp. (KGC, K.T) over the Fruta del Norte gold deposit.
"There is progress. I think we will succeed. Both parts, the government and the company, are doing all to sign the contract," Federico Auquilla said in an interview with Dow Jones Newswires, although he declined to give details.
Officials from Kinross weren't available to comment.
According to Auquilla, if the contract is signed the company will take about two years to build production facilities to mine Fruta del Norte.
Fruta del Norte is the largest gold deposit in Ecuador.
Minister of Nonrenewable Natural Resources Wilson Pastor has said if negotiations fail the government could call a tender for Fruta del Norte or award it to state-run mining company Empresa Nacional de Mineria, or Enami EP, for development with a foreign state-owned company.
Kinross and the government reached an agreement for Fruta del Norte last December, but in February the government announced that the company wanted to renegotiate.
Fruta del Norte has proven and probable mineral reserves estimated at 6.8 million ounces of gold and 9.1 million ounces of silver.
Bolivia seeks three new contracts with Petrobras
Reuters. May 15, 2012
May 15 (Reuters) - Bolivia's state energy company YPFB plans to negotiate three new contracts with Brazil's Petrobras to explore natural gas fields in the southern province of Tarija, the Bolivian company said on Tuesday.
YPFB is seeking new foreign investment to boost reserves and production in Bolivia, where President Evo Morales nationalized the energy industry in 2006. Natural gas is the impoverished South American country's biggest export.
Petrobras informed YPFB it discovered potential gas reserves in the Astillero, Sunchal and San Telmo blocks, near the San Alberto, San Antonio and Itau fields where Petrobras extracts most of the natural gas that Bolivia pumps to Brazil - which totals as much as 32 million cubic meters per day.
"The technical reports conclude that ... these areas have a significant volume of prospective gas and condensate resources," YPFB said in a statement.
It did not specify the potential size of the deposits or the amount of investment that would be required of Petrobras.
YPFB authorized its president, Carlos Villegas, to negotiate service contracts with Petrobras to have it explore the fields.
Bolivia has said it needs more than $10 billion in investment from 2012 to 2015 to boost natural gas output to the targeted 70 million cubic meters per day needed to fulfill export commitments to Brazil and Argentina while also meeting domestic demand. (Reporting by Carlos Quiroga; Writing by Hilary Burke; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)
American Stuck in Bolivian Jail Seeks Help from U.S. Embassy
EFE. May 15, 2012
LA PAZ – The attorney for a 53-year-old American man who is on hunger strike in the Bolivian prison where he has been held for 11 months without formal charges said that he sent a complaint to the U.S. Embassy in La Paz because of the scant progress being made on his case.
Jacob Ostreicher’s defense attorney, Jimmy Montaño, told Efe that he originally decided that the embassy should not intervene “so that it wouldn’t be an obstacle,” given that “bilateral relations between Bolivia and the United States aren’t the best.”
“But faced with such an outrageous situation, today I’m sending the American Embassy a note recounting all the violations of this citizen’s rights and guarantees, so that they make the corresponding complaints to international organizations, because in Bolivia that’s no longer possible,” Montaño said.
Ostreicher, a flooring contractor from Brooklyn, New York, came to Bolivia in 2008 to start a rice plantation in the eastern province of Santa Cruz with several partners.
According to Montaño, in 2011 prosecutors began investigating him for alleged money laundering, because two Brazilians from whom Ostreicher’s Bolivian administrator, Viviana Rodriguez, bought real estate property, were suspected of having ties to the illegal drug trade.
One of the Brazilians escaped and the other was deported for using a fake ID, while Ostreicher and Rodriguez have been behind bars ever since without any formal charges brought against them – a frequent occurence in Bolivia where 70 percent of inmates are either awaiting trial or still pursuing appeals.
The attorney said that his client has produced all the documentation needed to prove the legal origin of the money.
“They opened the investigation based on the amount of money involved. Mr. Ostreicher came to this country for the sole purpose of investing and creating jobs,” he said.
Ostreicher went on a hunger strike a month ago to attract attention to his case and, according to Montaño, “he says he’s ready to die” to get his rights back.
Bolivian officials have refused to discuss Ostreicher’s case publicly.
Ostreicher’s supporters sent a petition to the White House on May 3 via the “We the People” Web site, asking the U.S. government to help win the businessman’s release. EFE
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Press Rights Group Reports 7 Attacks on Mexican Press
EFE. May 15, 2012
MEXICO CITY – Seven journalists and media outlets have been attacked in Mexico in the past few days, with officials or people linked to politicians possibly involved in three of the incidents, the Foundation for Freedom of Expression, or Fundalex, said.
The killing of Rene Orta Salgado, a former El Sol de Cuernavaca reporter whose body was found Sunday, is among the most serious incidents.
Gerardo Ponce de Leon, editor of the Marquesina Politica Web site, was threatened and beaten with a pipe by two men at his office on May 10.
Gunmen opened fire on May 7 on the offices of the Hora Cero newspaper in Reynosa, a city in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, while the offices of Megaradio Guadalajara were attacked on May 10 and the Nuevo Laredo daily El Mañana was attacked on May 11, the Fundalex said.
“It is not healthy for anyone in Mexico to have a rise in attacks of an authoritarian nature designed to silence freedom of expression and restrict Mexicans’ right to information,” the press rights group said in a statement.
State legislatures should approve the reforms to Article 73 of the constitution requiring federal officials to prosecute crimes against journalists and media outlets, as well as Article 71, which opens the way for the Law to Protect Defenders of Human Rights and Journalists, the Fundalex said.
Public servants or people linked to politicians may have been involved in two of the recent attacks, while a mayor is presumed to have played a role in another attack, the press rights group said.
“The Fundalex considers it regrettable that subjects close to or under the orders of those who are responsible for the promotion, dissemination, protection and defense of society’s right to freedom of expression and right to information might be involved in these attacks,” the non-governmental organization said.
“Due to the situation created by the attacks on journalists,” a weekly tally of attacks on the press in Mexico will now be kept, the press rights group said.
Four United Nations and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or IACHR, rapporteurs urged the Mexican government Monday to quickly enact the Law to Protect Defenders of Human Rights and Journalists.
“We need to break the cycle of impunity in Mexico, which is becoming an increasingly more violent place for journalists,” U.N. rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Frank La Rue said.
Mexico, where nearly 80 journalists have been murdered and several others have disappeared since 2000, is considered the world’s second most dangerous country for members of the media. EFE
Priest who denounced abuse, kidnapping of migrants in southern Mexico flees death threats
AP. May 14, 2012
MEXICO CITY — An outspoken priest who runs a shelter for migrants in southern Mexico has temporarily left his facility after receiving death threats, the shelter coordinator said Monday.
The “Hermanos en el Camino” shelter run by the Rev. Alejandro Solalinde said in a statement that the Roman Catholic priest is “protecting his physical safety” until state and federal prosecutors thoroughly investigate the threats.
The shelter said Solalinde is expected to return to his work, but didn’t say when.
“International human rights organization that work closely with Solalinde suggested he go away for a while,” said Jose Alberto Donis, who coordinates activities at the shelter.
Donis said the most recent threat came on April 15.
Prosecutors in southern Oaxaca state have said they are investigating and are providing police security for Solalinde.
Solalinde has become widely known in Mexico for publicly denouncing corruption and abuse of mainly Central American migrants who cross into Mexico seeking to reach the United States.
Last year, he took the unusual step of publicly implicating the violent Zetas drug cartel in the kidnapping of migrants. He also criticized corrupt police.
“His comments made candidates and organized crime gangs uncomfortable,” Donis said.
Also Monday, a group of experts from the U.N. and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Mexico to approve a proposed law to defend human rights advocates.
Margaret Sekaggya, the United Nations special investigator for the treatment of human rights defenders, said such activists in Mexico “desperately need the state’s effective protection now. “
“They continue to suffer killings, attacks, harassment, threats, stigmatization and other serious human rights violations,” she said.
Numb to Carnage, Mexicans Find Diversions, and Life Goes On
RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD and DAMIEN CAVE. New York Times. May 15, 2012
CADEREYTA JIMÉNEZ, Mexico — Couples were walking hand in hand. Children were frolicking. Just down the road in this northern Mexican town, 49 bodies, headless with their hands and feet severed, had been found, then cleared away.
Francisco Umberta, alarmed by the latest in a string of unimaginably gory crimes linked to Mexico’s drug war, dealt with it by heading out on a date. A half-hour drive from where the torsos were discovered, he stood in line on Monday near a crowded Chili’s restaurant, waiting to buy movie tickets for “The Avengers.”
“Of course it is all scary,” he said of the massacre, which sadly set no record for carnage here, “but what are you going to do?” He had heard about the bodies on the radio shortly after they were discovered on Sunday, but said the regional soccer playoffs drew more public attention. “It’s not like we’re all paralyzed,” said Mr. Umberta, 31, an office clerk. ¨We still need to live while they do what they do.”
With mangled corpses turning up on street corners and inside restaurants, hung from bridges, and buried in mass graves, Mexicans seem to have grown inured. Outrage, fear, anxiety, sadness — it is tough to muster such emotions again and again, especially with 50,000 people dead in drug-related killings since President Felipe Calderón began his assault on traffickers six years ago.
Other countries, of course, have gone through some version of this collective numbing: Israel in 2003, after a series of bus bombings; Iraq in 2006.
But Mexico seems to have fallen to new depths of deliberate distraction this year, and many Mexicans are increasingly disturbed by their own attitude. They are equally depressed about its cause. After all, crime experts and psychologists say, the apathy — during a presidential campaign, no less — is really just a learned response to repeated trauma, and impotence in the face of horror.
Mexicans in city after city have grown used to death tolls that climb continuously. Protests, marches and public art projects honoring the many victims have done little to alter reality. Every day, families and children walk by newsstands with tabloids showing graphic photographs of the latest corpses to be found. Most barely notice.
“We know nothing is changing — it just goes on,” said Imelda Santos, 17, who was out enjoying a fast-food hamburger with friends. “We try not to worry too much because we are not involved.”
That perception — it’s them, not us — appears to play a large role in people’s ability to remain disaffected despite the carnage. “For a lot of Mexicans, the big impulse is ‘Well, that’s just too bad, but at least we got rid of the bad guys,’ ” said Jorge Castañeda, a former presidential candidate. “That contributes to the jadedness.”
In the case of the 49, perhaps some were on the wrong side of the law. The authorities said several had tattoos of Santa Muerte, the unofficial saint of death often favored by cartel assassins.
Mexico’s interior secretary, Alejandro Poiré, said Monday that the Zetas, a drug gang known for its ruthlessness in a country known for it, too, appeared to be responsible for the killings. Security experts have surmised that the high-profile dumping was a response to mass killings by the Sinaloa cartel.
The two groups are Mexico’s most powerful criminal competitors. They are also regional and cultural opposites. Sinaloa has been moving drugs north from the ranch country of western Mexico for generations; the Zetas are newer arrivals, founded by former special forces soldiers who had been enforcers for the Gulf cartel on Mexico’s more urban eastern coast.
They are battling each other, invading each other’s territory and leaving behind bodies to intimidate their rival. The latest wave of violence seems to have started, or intensified, in September when a group identifying itself as the Zetas Killers dumped 35 bodies on a highway at rush hour near a mall in the Gulf Coast city of Veracruz.
Two months later, 26 bound and gagged bodies appeared in downtown Guadalajara, a Sinaloa stronghold. Then, on May 4, 23 people were found dead in the Zetas’ border state of Tamaulipas. Fourteen were decapitated. Nine were hanging from a bridge.
“This is tit for tat,” said Alejandro Hope, a former senior intelligence officer. “For Sinaloa, it’s a way of bringing down these upstarts, and for the Zetas, it’s about protecting their reputation for extreme violence, which is their main asset.”
Even though tit for tat makes sense in the latest massacre, experts say the explanation may turn out to be something else entirely. The victims, who included six women, might have been innocent migrants, like the 72 Central Americans the Zetas are believed to have killed and dumped in a grave discovered in 2010, or the 193 bodies found last year in another set of graves in Zetas territory near the Texas border.
Given such morbid mysteries, psychologists say it is no wonder people are checking out. “One strategy we use for protection, for survival, is to ignore it because there is nothing we can do,” said María Antonia Padilla Vargas, coordinator of a nonprofit psychological research group. “It’s a phenomenon we’ve observed when rats are exposed to uncontrollable electric shocks.”
The official term is “learned helplessness,” and case studies are appearing all over Mexico. In January, two headless bodies showed up in a smoldering van outside a fancy mall in the Mexico City neighborhood of Santa Fe. As the police tape flapped in the wind, Carlos Alberto Govea, 24, kissed his girlfriend a short stroll away.
Residents of another neighborhood in the capital, where a shootout last week killed six people, said they had already stopped discussing the crime. “It’s better to leave these things in oblivion,” said Andres Castillo, 68, eating a tamale near a shoeshine stand. “We are coming to terms with the idea that we may leave our houses and not come back.”
Even in Ciudad Juárez, where violence is declining but still at a high level (two heads and four hands were found in a bar’s parking lot on Monday), residents are determined to avoid seeing the tragedies in their midst. When the families of missing or slain girls gathered outside the state prosecutor’s office on Thursday, Mexican Mother’s Day, to protest what they consider the authorities’ lack of interest in their cases, drivers cruised by without looking.
And the three main candidates running for president? They have kept their distance, too. With Mr. Calderón constitutionally barred from running again, all the campaigns have largely focused on other things. Many Mexicans doubt that whoever wins will create immediate change, and turnout for the July 1 election is expected to be light.
“The politicians have not been able to resolve this,” said José Juan Cervantes, a crime and sociology researcher at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León. “So the people cope.”
Indeed, here in Cadereyta Jiménez, the streets were full Tuesday as Edelmiro Cantu campaigned for mayor. He heard often about voters’ preoccupation with security, but even he did not seem convinced that the government could solve Mexico’s crime problem. So instead he carried his own protection. “I have this,” he said.
From his pocket he pulled a small silver crucifix.
Abducted Honduras reporter Alfredo Villatoro found dead
BBC. May 16, 2012
Honduran journalist Alfredo Villatoro has been found dead on the outskirts of the capital, Tegucigalpa, a week after he was abducted.
Mr Villatoro, a radio reporter, was dressed in a police uniform, Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla said.
He had been kidnapped by a gang of young men on his way to work on 9 May.
Rights groups say more than 20 reporters have been killed in Honduras since a 2009 coup that ousted the then president, Manuel Zelaya.
Following his abduction, his employers at the HRN radio station said Mr Villatoro's captors had been in contact with his family to confirm they were holding him, but gave no further details.
Mr Villatoro had reported receiving death threats.
Mr Villatoro's abduction came just days after the disappearance and subsequent death of journalist and gay rights campaigner Erick Martinez.
Mr Martinez's body was found by the roadside in the village of Guasculile, north of Tegucigalpa.
Local media quoted police as saying Mr Martinez's body showed signs of strangulation.
Honduras has the world's highest murder rate and pressure groups say journalists face a growing risk amid a rise in drug trafficking and organised crime.
El Salvador Coffee Shipments Declined by 50% Last Month
Isis Almeida. Bloomberg. May 15, 2012
Coffee exports from El Salvador fell by 50 percent last month, according to preliminary figures from Consejo Salvadoreno del Cafe, the country’s coffee council.
Shipments declined to 149,514 quintals (114,704 60-kilogram bags) in April from 298,635 quintals in the same period a year earlier, the council said in report e-mailed yesterday.
Most of the beans were shipped to the U.S., Germany, Japan and Canada, according to the report. The U.S. is the world’s biggest consumer and Germany the third, according to the International Coffee Organization in London.
El Salvador will produce 1.6 million bags in the 2011-12 season started in October, according to data on the website of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
To contact the reporter on this story: Isis Almeida in London at Ialmeida3@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Claudia Carpenter at Ccarpenter2@bloomberg.net.
El Salvador to Become Regional Training Centre for Geothermal Energy
Caribbean Journal. May 15, 2012
El Salvador will establish a geothermal energy training centre for Latin America and the Caribbean with a $2 million grant from the Inter-American Development Bank.
Geothermal is one of the great energy hopes in the Caribbean, with projects underway on islands including Nevis and Dominica. (For more on Nevis’ geothermal project, click here).
The centre will help the region’s countries develop their capacities to exploit the resource.
The project, which was approved by the IDB Board of Executive Directors, will provide the only theoretical and practical graduate-level training in geothermal energy in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In 2010, Universidad de El Salvador, together with LaGeo and with support from Italy, launched a specialized degree course on a pilot basis.
El Salvador has a particularly high potential for geothermal, with two fields currently being exploited in Ahuachapan and Berlincon.
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