Latin America News Round-up
May 30, 2012
Peru Declares Emergency After 2 Killed in Protest
For the latest news and developments on Haiti, please see CEPR's blog, "Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch."
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Brazil and Southern Cone
Latin America to grow but needs anti-crisis plans: U.N
Brazil's social welfare program extended to 700,000 families. AFP
Brazil to boost bank stimulus, investment-sources. Reuters
Amazon in danger as Brazil moves forward with bill, critics say. Los Angeles Times
Brazil: Prosecutors to stop Vale nickel mine. GlobalPost
Chile: failing to deliver on poverty? Financial Times
500,000 pigs in Chile to be slaughtered. AFP
Northern Andean Region
Venezuela makes 10 arrests for deadly Colombia raid. Miami Herald
Fugitive Venezuela judge helps elite U.S. anti-drugs unit. Reuters
Remote hamlet ready for French reporter's release. AP
Prosecution says no evidence in Bogota attack leads to FARC. Colombia Reports
Rights bodies urge ICC to probe Colombia killings. AFP
Western Andean Region
Bolivia rolls back on Pan American stake takeover. Reuters
Jindal to drop $2.1bn Bolivia plan. The Times of India
Shareholders Urge Chevron To Stop Fighting Ecuador Judgement. Dow Jones
Peru declares emergency after 2 killed in protest. AP
Peru anti-mining protest leader arrested near Cusco. BBC
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Student Movement Dubbed the 'Mexican Spring'. The Nation
Families of Mexico drugs war victims berate candidates. BBC
2 Spanish power company guards face murder charges in Guatemala. EFE
Quiet Guatemalan prosecutor takes on dictator, drug gangs. Reuters
Drug War Violence Throws Honduras into Disarray. In These Times
Cuba waits anxiously for oil dreams to materialize. AP
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration
Latin America to grow but needs anti-crisis plans: U.N. Reuters
Mercosur raises maximum allowed tariff, 35% on 100 imported goods, says Brazil. Mercopress
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Brazil's social welfare program extended to 700,000 families
AFP. May 28, 2012
BRASILIA — Some 700,000 poor families have joined Brazil's social welfare program over the past year, President Dilma Rousseff said Monday.
By the end of last year, nearly 13 million families were receiving federal aid as part of Rousseff's Brazil Without Poverty program, one of the largest welfare schemes in the world.
But authorities found hundreds of thousands of additional families living in extreme poverty in cities, forests and semi-arid zones.
"These people who were not receiving any federal aid have now been identified and are receiving" cash aid of $35 a month for each member of the family, Rousseff noted.
In exchange for the aid, the families must send their children to school and and ensure they get regular medical checkups.
Brazil Without Poverty aims to serve 16.2 million people living in extreme poverty, with income transfers, access to public services in education, healthcare, social assistance, sanitation, electrical energy, and productive inclusion.
The program expands the Bolsa Familia (Family Allowance) scheme initiated by Rousseff's predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Brazil, home to 191 million people, managed to pull 30 million people out of poverty during Lula's eight-year rule.
Last year, the federal government invested nearly $12 billion, or 0.5 percent of of the country's GDP, in the effort to eradicating extreme poverty by 2015.
Brazil to boost bank stimulus, investment-sources
Luciana Otoni and Alonso Soto. Reuters. May 28, 2012
BRASILIA, May 28 (Reuters) - Brazil's government plans to disburse the first 10 billion reais ($5.01 billion) of a massive capital injection for the state development bank BNDES as early as next month, three government sources told Reuters, in another step aimed at helping boost investments to kick-start Latin America's largest economy.
President Dilma Rousseff has demanded government ministries and state-owned companies step up expenditures in the second half of the year as a flurry of demand-side stimuli has yet to take effect and support an economy that may grow less than 3 percent this year, the sources said.
Her administration wants to use the BNDES, the hemisphere's largest development bank, as the spearhead in the offensive to boost investments in key sectors like infrastructure.
"The president has told us what needs to be done (in investments). We need to execute that plan rapidly," said a senior official, who often talks to Rousseff about economic policy. "We need to increase the speed, to make the process more agile."
The government officially maintains an economic growth target of 4.5 percent, although economists, in central bank survey, are less bullish, with a median outlook for 2.99 percent expansion, only slightly higher than 2.7 percent economic growth of last year.
Since the start of 2012, government officials like Finance Minister Guido Mantega have called for more investments.
However, officials have acknowledged the rate of investment has disappointed in the first quarter. The sources asked for anonymity to speak freely about the matter.
The government has 45 billion reais earmarked for the BNDES to bolster subsidized credit this year aimed at increasing corporate investment. The government has the rest of the year to disburse all or part of that money.
Cheaper credit to companies will come along more spending by ministries and state-run giants like Petrobras and Eletrobras, officials said. The idea is for other private companies to hike investment to comply with the demand from the public sector.
Anemic investment has been a huge drag for the Brazilian economy, which risks falling into a new period of mediocre growth as consumers are increasingly overindebted and companies struggle with the infamous 'Brazil cost'; a mix of high taxes, massive bureaucracy and infrastructure bottlenecks.
Investment equals about 19 percent of its GDP per year, that's way below China's 45 percent and 35 percent in India.
Still, raising public spending in Brazil is a challenge in itself. Red tape, a byzantine legal system, and a lack of skilled labor have slowed the pace of investment.
BNDES TO THE RESCUE AGAIN
The 10 billion expected to be transferred to the BNDES in June will be the first release of the year, officials said. The national treasury plans to issue local debt to raise that money.
Only between the BNDES and the government's flagship infrastructure program, known as PAC, there are nearly 200 billion reais to spend this year alone. State-run companies have 107 billion in their budgets this year.
That extra investment could add to efforts to revive growth that include a barrage of tax breaks to consumers and businesses and one of the world's most aggressive monetary easing cycles.
During the worst the 2008-2009 global financial meltdown the BNDES was instrumental to provide billions of dollars in capital to local companies when international credit dried up.
Brazilian firms like the world's top iron-ore producer Vale are again seeing credit conditions tighten abroad.
The BNDES won approval to scrap loan limits to Vale last week, in a sign that is ready to pump more money to make up for tighter credit abroad. The bank also extended the no-limit loan policy to Petrobras and Eletrobras.
The BNDES offers loans with a 6 percent interest rate, much lower than the rest of the market. The central bank's benchmark Selic rate is 9 percent. ($1 = 1.9944 Brazilian reais) (Editing by W Simon)
Amazon in danger as Brazil moves forward with bill, critics say
Vincent Bevins. Los Angeles Times. May 29, 2012
SAO PAULO, Brazil — The Brazilian government is pressing forward with controversial legislation that critics say will lead to widespread destruction of the Amazon rain forest.
After months of heated discussion, President Dilma Rousseff on Monday presented a final version of the bill that was heavily influenced by the country's powerful agricultural lobby.
The update to the country's 1965 Forestry Code would reduce both the amount of vegetation landowners must preserve and the future penalties paid for those who currently flout environmental laws. After valuable wood is sold, much of the land in deforested areas ends up being cleared for grazing cattle and agriculture.
"The project approved in Congress is the fruit of a torturous legislative process, made to serve the interests of a small part of society that wants to increase the possibility of deforestation and give amnesty to those who have already cut it down illegally," said Maria Cecilia Wey de Brito, head of the World Wildlife Fund in Brazil.
Rousseff suffered a surprise defeat in April at the hands of Congress' ruralista voting bloc, which represents farming interests. The lawmakers managed to push through a version of the bill that rolled back environmental protections and gave amnesty to past violators.
Since then, she has faced widespread pressure from those opposed to the changes — scientists, public figures, celebrities, as well as business leaders and politicians — to veto the bill. However, facing long odds of winning approval for tougher environmental legislation in Congress, she announced Friday only a partial veto, leaving it much more lenient than the laws currently in place.
Though Rousseff enjoys widespread support among Brazilians, her party controls only 15% of the seats in a Congress divided between more than 20 parties. Rousseff often has difficulty corralling a coalition to support her positions and may not have been able to hold back revisions to the forestry law any more than she did, analysts say.
"In environmental terms, the law should have been vetoed completely," Luiz Antonio Martinelli, agronomist at the University of Sao Paulo, told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper. "But we know that would be very difficult politically."
Over the weekend, activists from Greenpeace blocked a shipment of pig iron used by the U.S. steel industry from leaving a port, saying its production relied on illegal deforestation and slave labor. Q'orianka Kilcher, the American actress who played Pocahontas in the 2005 film "The New World," participated last week by climbing the anchor chain of a cargo ship to stop it from docking. The protest was meant raise awareness of the issue outside of Brazil, which will host the United Nations' "Rio+20" environmental conference next month.
For decades the Amazon rain forest, the world's largest, has been shrinking steadily. The forest is so vast that the Brazilian government monitors the rate of deforestation using satellite imagery.
The destruction had slowed in the last decade under tougher government enforcement, but at the same time the country has lived through an economic boom fueled largely by selling commodities. The producers of products that rely on cleared land, such as soybeans and beef, have increased the country's monetary wealth and become politically more powerful.
Environmentalists fear the new bill those interest groups helped shape could bring Brazil back to the bad old days of rapid clearing.
The government insists that the new bill, which is likely to pass, does not grant full amnesty to those who broke previous rules. But many who ignored them will have little reason to regret it.
This month, activists and journalists took a small plane over what used to be the forest in the northeastern state of Maranhao, snapping pictures of widespread illegal logging in the few remaining patches of forest in the region.
Amnesty means that "the small percentage of landowners that actually obeyed the law will end up being the clowns of history," said Tatiana Carvalho of Greenpeace Brazil. "Everyone else will get the message that they can continue on chopping down without fear."
Brazil: Prosecutors to stop Vale nickel mine
Jill Langlois. GlobalPost. May 28, 2012
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Brazilian federal prosecutors have asked a court to suspend operations at Vale's Onça Puma nickel mine in the Brazilian Amazon, saying Vale didn't meet obligations to two native tribes.
The South American country's public ministry has filed legal action against Vale, the Pará state environment secretariat and Brazil's national native institute Funai, according to Dow Jones. Prosecutors have called for the suspension of Onça Puma's activities until two local native tribes, the Xikrin and Kayapó peoples, have been fully compensated for damages caused to their communities by the nickel mine. The ministry is demanding Vale pay compensation of at least $1 million reais ($505,000) per month in compensation for the mine's activities over the last two years.
Prosecutors alleged that Vale also failed to mitigate the impact of the mine on the two communities, reported Reuters. They also alleged Vale should not have received a license to operate the mine in Ourolandia do Norte, Brazil, since it failed to meet these conditions, which were set out in the mine's preliminary license.
According to MarketWatch, Vale had no immediate comment Monday.
Native groups in Brazil's Amazon have a long history of protesting Vale's activities, according to Reuters. They have previously blocked the company's rail lines and delayed metal shipments. Vale officials said the tribes protest to find a way for the company to pay for services the government should provide, but doesn't.
Chile: failing to deliver on poverty?
Jude Webber. Financial Times (Beyond Brics). May 28, 2012
Eradicating poverty is one of the most ambitious goals of Sebastián Piñera, Chile’s president. But it’s harder than it looks and it’s especially tough for a president with the end of his presidency in sight and his popularity in the doldrums.
Ironically, Piñera’s government was swift to criticise the previous administration of Michelle Bachelet in 2009 when the previous Casen survey, which measures poverty and living standards in Chile, showed the first rise in two decades in the number of Chileans living below the poverty line – to 15.1 per cent, from 13.7 per cent in 2007.
According to La Tercera newspaper, preliminary data from the 2011 survey, to be published in June, found that the number was now higher than in 2009 – at 18 per cent of the population.
Casen calculates its poverty line from the cost of a basic basket of foodstuffs needed to satisfy a person’s calorific needs. That value is doubled to allow for basic spending on food, clothing and transport. In 2011, the value was 72,098 pesos ($141) a month, up from 64,134, the paper said.
The government, according to La Tercera, lays the blame for the higher poverty reading on higher food prices, which have been rising since mid-2010 and are undermining pluses like more jobs and better wages.
The figures are being revised by the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) and are not final. But if confirmed, they would be a serious blow to the president’s already battered image – he has an approval rating of around 26 per cent.
Piñera used his state-of-the-nation speech last week (pictured) to apologise for his administration’s shortcomings. Electors, already angry about a lack of progress on education, will want more than words.
500,000 pigs in Chile to be slaughtered
AFP. May 29, 2012
SANTIAGO — Nearly half a million hogs and sows at the largest pig farm in Chile are to be slaughtered after the government closed the meat processing plant there due to health concerns.
"They are going to be slaughtered. They are not going to another farm, nor to another plant," Jose Guzman, chief executive of Agrosuper, which owns the premises, told local media.
Residents of Freirina, a town in the parched Atacama region, cut off roads leading to the vast pig farm a week ago to protest against the foul smells emanating from the slaughterhouse.
Hundreds of workers fled after the protests turned violent, resulting in arrests and two police cars being torched.
Pigs started dying after going without food and water for five days.
The Chilean government waded into the row on Tuesday, declaring a health emergency, ordering the indefinite closure of the plant and giving Agrosuper six months to evacuate the animals.
Guzman said the pigs must be slaughtered because it would require 50,000 trucks to move them and, besides, no one was willing to take them.
Agrosuper obtained certification to build the Freirina abattoir in 2006 and had put in place a system of micro-organisms to eliminate the waste.
The company has blamed the stench on airing problems and the failure of the micro-organisms to generate.
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Venezuela makes 10 arrests for deadly Colombia raid
JIM WYSS. Miami Herald. May 25, 2012
BOGOTA -- Venezuela on Friday said it had detained 10 people suspected of participating in a cross-border raid Monday that killed 12 Colombian soldiers and has fueled political tensions in both nations.
The men are being turned over to Colombian authorities to verify if they have ties to guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Venezuelan Minister of Defense Henry Rangel said in a release.
The FARC are accused of using Venezuela as a safe haven to stage attacks, including Monday’s deadly raid in northern Colombia, which also left four soldiers injured. Venezuela responded to the attack by sending an additional 3,000 troops to the border.
From Zulia state, along Colombia’s border, Rangel said that any rebels crossing the border would be caught thanks to the “iron hand and the work” of the Venezuelan military.
But the announcement is unlikely to appease critics who have accused Colombian President Juan Manuel Santo of being too soft on the FARC and too lenient with Venezuela.
The previous Colombian administration of Alvaro Uribe had accused its neighbor of harboring the rebels and Rangel of being a FARC sympathizer. In 2008, the U.S. Department of the Treasury put Rangel on its watch list for “materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities” of the FARC. And Colombian authorities say that intercepted rebel emails show the FARC’s top commander, alias Timochenko, is operating along the Venezuela-Colombia border.
Since taking office in 2010, Santos has tried to smooth over relations with Caracas, and called President Hugo Chávez his “new best friend.” He has also suggested a negotiated end to Colombia’s 50-year confrontation might be in the works. But continued FARC raids, including a brazen bombing in Bogota earlier this month, has opened him up to criticism.
On Friday, Colombia’s Ministry of Defense tried to cool the debate with a report showing forces had killed or captured 21 percent more FARC members in the first five months of the year than the same period in 2011.
The issue has also caused waves in Venezuela, where Chávez’s political opponents are trying to score points before the Oct. 7 presidential election. Chávez has vowed to help Colombian authorities and said he wouldn’t allow guerrillas to use Venezuela to “camp, train or attack other countries.”
But opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said it was common knowledge that the government turns a blind eye to FARC activities along the border.
“The guerrilla groups are permanently in our Venezuela,” he said in a statement. “It’s important to tell [Chávez] not to lie.”
Started with Marxist roots, the FARC have increasingly turned to drug trafficking and extortion to survive. Both Colombia and the United States consider the group, thought to number 9,000, a terrorist organization.
Fugitive Venezuela judge helps elite U.S. anti-drugs unit
Brian Ellsworth and David Adams. Reuters. May 30, 2012
CARACAS/MIAMI (Reuters) - A former Venezuelan Supreme Court judge who fled the country last month is cooperating with an elite special operations unit of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that targets major international traffickers, according to sources familiar with the case.
Testimony by Eladio Aponte could pave the way for indictments of President Hugo Chavez's allies. That would embarrass the socialist leader and help Washington cast its ideological adversary as leading a pariah nation.
The United States has alleged for years that Chavez turns a blind eye to trafficking and that officials in his government are directly involved, accusations that Chavez rejects.
Aponte is one of six special witnesses cooperating with the DEA in its investigation of Venezuelan government ties to trafficking, said a former U.S. government official familiar with the situation.
The case is being handled by Group 959, a unit of DEA's Special Operations Division, according to sources with direct knowledge of the case including a former law enforcement source.
The DEA declined to comment.
Group 959, known as the Bilateral Investigations Unit, was set up to target traffickers overseas plotting to import cocaine to the United States, even if no shipments actually arrive.
It takes its name from an extra-territorial extension of drug laws, known as Section 959, allowing prosecution of acts committed outside the jurisdiction of the United States.
David Tinsley, a retired DEA veteran who now runs his own private intelligence agency, said Group 959 would only be involved in the Aponte case if the government felt he could deliver strong evidence.
"In the hands of 959, he would become a very effective tool," he said. "They must have wanted Aponte bad. (The division) doesn't go on fishing expeditions, they are very surgical. They know who they are going after and why."
Group 959 has handled key investigations from Colombia to Afghanistan and West Africa. They include the 2006 indictment of the entire top leadership and 43 commanders of Colombia's FARC guerrilla army on charges of running a $25 billion drug trafficking network responsible for 60 percent of the cocaine on U.S. streets, according to former DEA agents.
If the U.S. government does charge senior Venezuelan officials, it would echo the 1988 indictment of Panamanian military leader Manuel Noriega and some of his allies on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. U.S. troops went on to force Noriega from power the following year and he was tried and jailed in the United States.
Chavez's government has angrily denied the allegations leveled against it by U.S. officials and now by Aponte.
The scandal is unlikely to affect Chavez's October re-election bid, which will largely hinge on his recovery from an undisclosed type of cancer.
But it has spurred renewed attention to the allegations that Chavez has allowed a surge in drug trafficking in Venezuela.
Aponte said in an interview with Miami-based online TV channel SOi TV in April that Chavez allies routinely manipulate the court system, and he accused top officials of involvement in the drug trade.
He said he was ordered to release a military officer believed to be part of Chavez's inner circle who had been arrested for allegedly helping smuggle two tons of cocaine.
Aponte's claims were quickly reiterated by another former judge, Luis Velasquez, who left Venezuela in 2006 amid a dispute with Chavez allies. He said Venezuela's judicial system and military have been penetrated by drug traffickers.
Aponte was removed from his post by Venezuela's National Assembly on charges of assisting accused Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled, considered one of the Andean region's biggest traffickers. The judge fled to Costa Rica where he met with DEA agents before being flown to the United States on April 17 aboard a government chartered plane.
Makled is on trial for drug trafficking, money laundering and murder, charges he denies. The trial has produced a drip-drip of incriminating details.
Makled has said he paid millions of dollars to government officials and military officers who helped him obtain lucrative concessions, including one that gave him the right to operate Venezuela's main port, and that he had flown judges and government ministers on his personal jet.
"If I'm a drug trafficker, then all those people I worked with are drug traffickers," he said in a 2010 interview from a prison cell in Colombia, where he was captured and later extradited to Venezuela.
Despite denying involvement in drug trafficking, he claims to have extensive evidence of government links to the cocaine trade.
Makled also told reporters last month that he made monthly payments to Aponte because the two were business partners in an airline. Government sympathizers gleefully repeated the claims in apparent efforts to impugn Aponte's credibility but critics said it in fact highlighted the drug trade's close ties with the judiciary.
Aponte has not commented on Makled's claims.
Cocaine is smuggled into Venezuela from neighboring Colombia, the world's top producer, and on to Europe, the United States and Africa.
The United States has already accused a number of Venezuelan officials including Defense Minister Henry Rangel of helping Colombian guerrillas smuggle cocaine, freezing those officials' assets in the United States and prohibiting U.S. citizens from doing business with them.
"Members of the government and security forces were credibly reported to have engaged in or facilitated drug trafficking activities," the White House said last year in an annual assessment of global cooperation in the drug war.
Chavez's government rejects Aponte's statements as U.S.-fueled propaganda, saying he "sold his soul" to the DEA. It says his dismissal shows Venezuela's judicial system works and it has discussed seeking his extradition from the United States.
"They have created an entire campaign meant to associate our armed forces and our defense minister with drug trafficking," said ruling Socialist Party official Blanca Eekhout.
Chavez, who halted cooperation with the DEA in 2005 on charges that it violated Venezuela's sovereignty, has repeatedly scoffed at U.S. accusations his government is soft on drugs. He notes Venezuela has on numerous occasions turned traffickers over to U.S. authorities and makes frequent narcotics seizures.
The U.S. State Department estimated in a report this year that between 161 and 212 metric tons of cocaine "likely departed from Venezuela to global destinations in 2011."
Venezuela's drug trade stretches to West Africa and Eastern Europe, the report said, with cocaine shipments from Venezuela reaching the likes of Guinea Bissau and Ukraine.
Velasquez, the judge who echoed Aponte's criticisms, said war had broken out between Venezuelan cartels, including one made up of senior military officers known as the "Cartel of the Suns." Its name comes from the insignias that decorate the epaulettes of Venezuelan generals.
"(Chavez) should know that among his favorite generals there are drug traffickers," said Velasquez in a television interview, also with SOi TV filmed in Costa Rica, where he now lives. "There is proof that high-ranking officials have been bribed ... and nobody does anything."
Velasquez said that conflict was responsible for the murders of General Jesus Aguilarte and General Wilmer Moreno, close confidants of the president who were gunned down in March and April in killings that resembled drug mafia murders.
The government has been largely silent about the two cases, which is surprising because both victims took part in the failed 1992 coup that thrust Chavez to fame. Officers who were involved in that putsch are among Chavez's closest allies and Venezuela's most powerful officials.
A spokesman for Venezuela's main investigative police unit said the group had not yet determined a motive for the murders.
(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Kieran Murray; Desking by Cynthia Osterman)
Remote hamlet ready for French reporter's release
FERNANDO VERGARA. AP. May 30, 2012
SAN ISIDRO, Colombia -- Residents of this remote hamlet that lacks running water and electricity, and lives off cattle ranching and coca-growing were preparing a barbeque for Wednesday's planned handover of a French journalist by Colombia's main leftist rebel group.
Village council leader German Pena said more than 1,000 people were expected for the event, for which villagers slaughtered six calves and built a wooden platform with fresh cut logs and planks.
French journalist Romeo Langlois, 35, was taken by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia on April 28 when it attacked troops he was accompanying on a cocaine-lab eradication mission, killing three soldiers and a police officer.
He was wounded in the left arm but video images of him said to have been taken the day of his capture and broadcast Monday as a first proof of life showed him looking relaxed as his arm was sutured and a female guerrilla asked him questions.
Langlois has covered Colombia for more than a decade and was on assignment for France24 television. He has also contributed to the newspaper Le Figaro.
He was to be delivered to a commission including the International Red Cross, former Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba and French government delegate Jean-Baptiste Chauvin, who arrived Tuesday night in the Caqueta state capital of Florencia.
Cordoba's Twitter site carried a message saying she had "full hopes that all goes perfectly today and we have Langois between 2 and 3 p.m."
In Paris, however, government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said Langlois' fate was discussed at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday and that "we do not have certainty that this handover will really happen today."
It's a roughly seven-hour drive from Florencia to San Isidro on rutted dirt roads that in the current rainy weather develop watery pits that can easily mire four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Reporters with international news organizations invited to cover the handover shared San Isidro's single, partially paved street on Tuesday with small groups of rebels, clad in olive green combat fatigues and carrying assault rifles. The rebels made small purchases at stores or stopped to chat with villagers.
They declined to provide details of the planned handover, saying they were not authorized to comment.
This region of southern Colombia is a stronghold of the FARC, as the rebels are known by their Spanish initials. It is laced with deep jungles, coca plots, fast-moving rivers and villages that appear on no maps.
"War is something we experience almost every day," said Pena. "There have been innumerable battles in this area. We've seen bullets flying on the main street of the village."
The hamlet of about 100 families is 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the larger village of Union Peneya, administrative center of a municipality near where Langlois was captured.
Some of the villagers doing the communal preparation for Wednesday's handover expressed fears they could be targeted by the army for reprisal, accused of collaborating with the guerrillas.
"They think we're part of the guerrilla forces just because we live in this region and for that reason they target us sometimes," said Pena.
At mid-afternoon on Tuesday, a white Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter flew over San Isidro.
Colombia's defense minister, Juan Carlos Pinzon, said the military would suspend operations in the zone for 48 hours beginning Tuesday at 6 p.m.
The FARC, which took up arms in 1964 and which authorities say funds itself largely through the cocaine trade, has an estimated 9,000 fighters. It has recently stepped up hit-and-run attacks on soldiers and police after suffering years of setbacks from Colombia's U.S.-backed military.
The rebels announced in February that they were ending ransom kidnapping, a good-faith gesture made in hopes of launching peace talks.
The FARC released last month what it called its last "political prisoners," 10 soldiers and police it had held for as long as 14 years.
The rebels said in a communique on May 6 that they took Langlois prisoner in part because he was wearing military garb.
The journalist was wearing a bullet proof vest and helmet issued by the military, Pinzon has said, adding that he discarded them during the morning-long firefight with the guerrillas.
Prosecution says no evidence in Bogota attack leads to FARC
Adriaan Alsema. Colombia Reports. May 26, 2012
There is no evidence to indicate that Colombia's largest rebel group FARC is behind the May 15 attack on a former minister in Bogota, the country's chief prosecutor said Friday.
Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre said in a press conference that for prosecutors it remained uncertain whether the bomb attack on former Interior Minister Fernando Londoño was carried out by leftist groups like the FARC or illegal armed groups belonging to the extreme right.
The car bomb that was defused on the same day of the attack was the FARC's responsibility, said Montealegre.
Londoño, his political ally former President Alvaro Uribe and the Police have attributed the attack to the guerrilla group.
The national government lead by President Juan Manuel Santos has condemned the attack, but said it wants to wait for investigators before drawing conclusions about the perpetrators of the attack that killed two.
Rights bodies urge ICC to probe Colombia killings
AFP. May 29, 2012
Rights organisations on Tuesday called on the International Criminal Court to probe extra-judicial killings in Colombia, saying citizens were killed by the army and then passed-off as rebels.
The International Federation of Human Rights as well as the Colombia, Europe US Coordination "call on the ICC to open an investigation into crimes against humanity in Colombia" committed between 2002 and 2008, they said in a statement issued in The Hague.
The two non-governmental organisations on Tuesday released a report entitled: "Colombia: a war measured in litres of blood" in which they alleged the "systematic and widespread" extra-judicial executions of around 3,000 Colombian civilians.
The victims were then "presented as guerrillas killed in combat", the report said, adding it was done to boost claims of success by the army in operations against Colombia's rebel and militia movements.
"Such acts were supported by the highest military officials, who not only failed to exercise their duty to monitor, but also encouraged this behaviour," the two organisations said.
Colombia has been locked for almost half-a-century in armed conflict involving its army, left-wing guerrillas and right-wing militias.
ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo's office announced in 2006 that a preliminary examination into Colombia's violent struggle between its military, guerrillas and paramilitary forces had been launched.
Its aim was to check whether a full-blown ICC investigation was justified as a result of Colombian courts being unable or unwilling to try crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide that may have been committed in the South American country.
"The FIDH and CCEEU reported structural flaws in investigations and trials held in Colombia because there are no procedures against senior military officials responsible for extra-judicial killings," the two NGOs pointed out.
The FIDH also said a confidential list of the main alleged perpetrators had been sent to the prosecutor's office.
Western Andean Region [contents]
Bolivia rolls back on Pan American stake takeover
Reuters. May 28, 2012
May 28 (Reuters) - Bolivia's leftist government said on Monday it had never enforced a decree nationalizing Pan American Energy's stake in a huge natural gas project and was in talks with the company over future investment plans.
Energy Minister Juan Jose Sosa said in January that the gas-rich country's state energy firm YPFB would take control of the Argentine company's 25 percent stake in the Caipipendi field because of inadequate investment.
However, Sosa said the decree was not published, meaning it had never taken effect.
"It wasn't promulgated because conversations are being held with the company," he told Reuters, adding that discussions were focused on general investment plans. "PAE continues to work in Caipipendi with the 25 percent set out in its contract."
Buenos Aires-based PAE, in which BP Plc holds a 60 percent stake, said in early May it had never been informed about the takeover.
Leftist president Evo Morales has tightened state control over Bolivia's natural gas reserves, the region's second-largest and a key energy source for Argentina and Brazil. This month, he seized control of a Spanish power firm.
Months into his first term in 2006, he shook foreign investors by announcing the nationalization of the energy sector. His reforms effectively gave the state control of reserves, letting foreign firms operate as service providers.
Caipipendi, located in southern Bolivia and operated by a consortium that also includes Spain's Repsol and Britain's BG Group Plc, is the main source of natural gas sent to neighboring Argentina.
Output capacity at the field rose to 9 million cubic meters per day at the start of the month and should rise to 15 million cubic meters per day within two years on completion of a $1.5 billion investment plan aimed at boosting supplies to Argentina.
Natural gas is Bolivia's top export earner and the nation has a daily output capacity of up to 53 million cubic meters. (Reporting by Carlos Alberto Quiroga; Writing by Helen Popper; editing by Matthew Lewis)
Jindal to drop $2.1bn Bolivia plan
Pankaj Doval. The Times of India. May 28, 2012
NEW DELHI: Naveen Jindal-led Jindal Steel and Power's (JSPL) ambitious $2.1-billion investment plan in Bolivia is all but over as the company has said it is "not hopeful of continuing" with the project, which was touted as the biggest foreign investment plan in the Latin American country.
Through its subsidiary Jindal Steel Bolivia (JSB), the company had in 2007 secured 40-year development rights to the El-Mutun iron ore mine, which holds reserves of around 20 billion tonnes, considered to be one of the largest untapped iron ore deposits in the world. However, with no commitment from the Bolivian government over supply of natural gas — which is critical for the project — it seems to be headed for a failure. "I see no progress in the project. We are not very hopeful of continuing," Sushil Maroo, company CFO and a director on JSPL's board, told TOI here.
For the project, the gas requirement is estimated at 0.5 million metric standard cubic metres a day (mmscmd) in 2014. By 2016, it will increase to 6 mmscmd and in 2017, the project will require a daily supply of 10 mmscmd of gas. However, the company is yet to get any firm commitment on gas allocation for the project. The company's agreement with the Bolivian government also included setting up of an integrated 1.7-million-tonne-per-annum (mtpa) steel plant, 6-MTPA sponge iron and a 10-MTPA iron ore pellet plant.
Maroo said JSPL's Bolivian subsidiary has invested $100 million over the last few years for production of iron ore, development of infrastructure and CSR (corporate social responsibilities). However, without any firm commitment on gas availability, the investments are not of much use. "We also understand that the Bolivian government does not have gas," he said.
Adding fire to the already sore relations between JSB and the Evo Morales-led Bolivian government is encashment of two bank guarantees ($18 million each) by the Latin American country. The Bolivian government has done so after accusing JSB of not honouring contractual obligations with regard to the progress of the project. While the first bank guarantee was encashed in 2010, the second one has been done this month. "This causes a rift with the Bolivian government," Maroo said.
JSB has sought the intervention of the International Court of Arbitration over enchashment of the first bank guarantee. "We will be doing so for the second one soon." Just as JSB sulks over non-availability of gas, the Bolivian government has also taken an equally rigid stance. Bolivian mining minister Mario Virreira was quoted earlier this month as saying that it would be best if Jindal quits the project so the country can find another investor.
Shareholders Urge Chevron To Stop Fighting Ecuador Judgement
Dow Jones. May 25, 2012
A shareholder group led by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is urging Chevron Corp. (CVX) to settle a nearly 20-year legal battle pitting the multinational corporation against indigenous people in the Ecuadorian rainforest.
Chevron's continued efforts to fight an Ecuadorian court's judgement awarding $18 billion in damages related to the dumping of oil waste in the rainforest are hurting the indigenous people of Ecuador as well as its own reputation, DiNapoli said in a statement.
The case dates back to Texaco's operations in Ecuador, which began in 1964. A lawsuit against Chevron was brought by a group of Ecuadorians in 2003, two years after the company bought Texaco. The suit alleged that Texaco had dumped millions of gallons of oil waste products into the Ecuadorian rainforest, and spilled millions of gallons of oil.
The comptroller is trustee of the $150.3 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, which owns 7.24 million shares of Chevron, worth around $713 million. He joined with 39 other investors from North America and Canada to call on the company to end its battle to undo the verdict in the case.
"The time for delay is over," said DiNapoli. "The company's attempt to undo the court's verdict only keeps the case in the public eye and further damages Chevron's reputation. Chevron's actions are hurting shareholders as well as the indigenous people of the rainforest."
Chevron has said that the case was fraught with fraud, and recently went to the U.S. federal court in Miami seeking records of eight accounts at Banco Pinchicha in Ecuador, saying the records would prove corruption.
A company representative wasn't immediately available for comment on Friday.
Peru declares emergency after 2 killed in protest
CARLA SALAZAR. AP. May 28, 2012
LIMA, Peru -- Peru's government declared a 30-day state of emergency in a highland province on Monday after it said two people were killed and dozens of police officers injured in violent anti-mining protests.
Interior Minister Wilver Calle told a news conference that 30 police officers were hurt in clashes near Cuzco when protesters pummeled police with rocks and set fire to pasture.
The protesters claim the Tinaya copper mine owned by Swiss-based Xstrata plc is contaminating local water supplies and sickening farm animals.
Calle announced the deaths but did not explain how they occurred other than to say that police were forced to open fire on protesters in self-defense. He said 46 police officers had been hurt in protests on Sunday.
Prime Minister Oscar Valdez defended the police use of force, saying the protesters "extremists who are attacking police authority."
Protesters took a prosecutor hostage during the melee but the local mayor, Oscar Mullohuanca, said he was later released.
In a tweet, the Public Ministry said one of its vehicles was set ablaze.
The emergency was declared for Espinar province. It puts the military in charge of public order and allows authorities to suspend civil liberties, including the right to assembly.
Xstrata is the world's fourth-largest copper producer and protesters have been blocking highway access to the Tinaya mine for a week, complaining that it is contaminating two rivers.
An environmental study commissioned by the local Roman Catholic Church and done last August and September allegedly found high levels of arsenic, as well as copper, mercury and other heavy metals in soil and water samples.
Xstrata denies it is polluting.
"The people are incensed for all that has happened. The situation is extremely volatile," said a local priest, Luciano Ibba.
The state of emergency was the second called by the government in the past six months in response to anti-mining protests.
In December, the government imposed an emergency in the northern state of Cajamarca to end violent protests against the $4.8 billion Conga gold mining project, Peru's largest such investment.
Work on that project, whose majority owner is U.S.-based Newmont Mining Co., has been suspended pending negotiations over protecting highlands water sources.
Anti-Conga activists say they will renew protests against the project on Thursday unless the government cancels it.
Peru depends on the mining of copper, gold, silver and other minerals for more than 60 percent of its export income. The industry has been the key to robust economic growth but has alienated many highlands peasants who complain it has contaminated their water supplies.
Peru anti-mining protest leader arrested near Cusco
BBC. May 29, 2012
Peruvian police have arrested the leader of anti-mining protests a day after the government declared a state of emergency in a southern province.
Herbert Huaman was among several activists detained, following more than a week of demonstrations against a mining project by Swiss company Xstrata.
The copper mine dispute in Espinar province, near Cusco, is over environmental issues and pay.
Two protesters were killed on Monday.
The deaths prompted the Peruvian government to declare the state of emergency, which will be in place for 30 days.
Mr Huaman is the president of the Front for the Defence of Espinar.
Shortly before being arrested, he called on president Ollanta Humala to lift the state of emergency in Espinar "to initiate the dialogue and resolve the environmental problems".
In a statement, the Peruvian Interior Ministry said Mr Huaman was arrested because he was calling for more protests.
The statement adds that 24 other people have been arrested since the emergency measures came into force.
The mayor of Espinar, Oscar Mollohuanca Cruz, has gone into hiding to avoid detention.
Freedom of assembly has been suspended and police given special powers.
The government says the move is to restore public order.
This is the second anti-mining protest faced by Mr Humala in his 10-month presidency.
Last December, civil liberties were also restricted in the northern region of Cajamarca where opposition to the construction of a huge gold mine by an American company continues.
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Student Movement Dubbed the 'Mexican Spring'
Allison Kilkenny. The Nation. May 29, 2012
A university student holds the Mexican flag during a protest against Enrique Peña Nieto, presidential candidate of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and to demand balance in the media coverage of the presidential race in Mexico City May 28, 2012. The “YoSoy132” movement was organized by students to create awareness of Mexico’s current political situation and media censorship, local media reported. Reuters/Edgard Garrido
A coalition of thousands of mainly university students, unionized workers, and farmers in Mexico City have taken to the streets to demand greater freedom of speech and also to protest the possible return of power by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
One banner read, “I have a brain, I won’t vote for the PRI.”
The PRI is a member of the Socialist International, but don’t let the name fool you—the party is actually quite “centrist” (the term pundits usually use to describe center-right parties) in most of its policies. PRI’s main rival is the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).
Dubbed the “Yo Soy 132” movement (Twitter users can follow protest updates by searching #YoSoy132), or the “Mexican Spring” by observers, this latest wave of protests marks the third large student demonstration in less than a week.
The name “I Am 132” symbolizes the continuation of the original demonstration by 131 students during Peña Nieto’s visit to the Jesuit-run Ibero-American University (UIA).
New America Media:
“Our main goal is to seek greater democracy within Mexican media,” said fellow activist, Rodrigo Serrano.
The name, “YoSoy132” alludes to a group of students from the Universidad Iberamericana, who heckled PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto during a recent visit to the university that chased him off the premises.
After the incident, PRI leaders accused the Iberoamericana students of being intolerant, inconsiderate “stooges” paid to protest against Peña Nieto by the leftist PRD party.
Students claim their heckling of Peña Nieto was a grassroots event, uninspired or funded by any political party.
In particular, students have expressed frustration with the “monopolization” of Mexican politics and media. The example New America Media provides is a company named Televisa, which along with TV Azteca, controls 95 percent of Mexico’s TV market.
Similarly, students believe PRI has a monopoly of sorts on Mexican politics. The party has ruled Mexico unchallenged for seven decades, and has a very good shot of winning the July 1 elections.
Furthermore, students see these two monopolistic forces as being in cahoots with one another. Documents obtained by Proceso magazine suggest Peña Nieto paid Televisa for favorable media coverage while he was governor of Mexico State.
Proceso journalist Jenaro Villamil spoke to the Washington Post about Peña Nieto:
In his books and articles, which are being cited by Peña Nieto’s rivals, Villamil asserts that as governor, Peña Nieto gave millions to Televisa in advertising contracts to guarantee maximum exposure on the network’s programming, allegations the candidate rejects.
Much like the Occupy movement, which operates outside the political system, the Yo Soy 132 movement has not yet called for students to throw their support behind the PRI’s rival party, PRD.
This reality has led some political analysts, such as Hector Faya, to claim Mexico City–oriented protests will have little impact on election outcomes. However, the protests could impact candidates’ political agendas.
Buenos Aires Herald:
“I am not with any party, but I am sick of so much corruption,” said Eduardo Nolasco, a 22-year-old student.
“We are fed up of so many lies and of the hypocrisy of Pena Nieto and the media,” added Isabel Leyva, a 53 year-old house wife who was accompanied by her daughter, a student.
Police said there were more than 40,000 protesters at the demonstration.
Like in the case of Occupy, the establishment media has been somewhat dismissive of Yo Soy 132 thus far. The LA Times described it as “not quite a moment,” but at least credited the students with “shaking up the presidential campaign.”
Yo Soy 132 might confuse some observers, just as Occupy baffled many witnesses, because it’s a general rejection of the status quo. That big, ambitious agenda of rejecting huge institutions such as corporate media could overwhelm many, which explains why the initial reaction to these kinds of movements is hostility and belittlement. Many may subconsciously feel it’s easier to mock than to join and fail, or be crushed by police.
Mexican writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II summarized to the LA Times why these kinds of youth-led revolutions are always a good thing for a nation that has grown complacent in its corruption: “The real miracle is that a complete generation that was condemned to apathy, to only observe, and to individualism, is once again making the nation’s destiny their own.”
Families of Mexico drugs war victims berate candidates
BBC. May 29, 2012
Families of people killed or missing in Mexico have met the four candidates in July's presidential poll to demand more be done to end drug violence.
One by one, the candidates faced a barrage of criticism.
Javier Sicilia, whose son was murdered by suspected hit-men last year, accused the politicians of failing to highlight the plight of victims.
Some 50,000 people have died and more than 5,000 are missing since the crackdown on cartels began in 2006.
Monday's face-to-face meeting between the candidates and representatives of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity took place at Mexico City's Chapultepec Castle.
"In your worst nightmares, you couldn't imagine what it is like to lose your child," Margarita Lopez, whose daughter disappeared in Oaxaca, told the meeting.
"We are thousands of mothers with disappeared children."
Mr Sicilia, a leading figure in the relatives' movement, greeted each candidate before training harsh words on them.
"You represent a party that after 12 years leaves a huge graveyard of a country as an inheritance," he told Josefina Vazquez Mota, who is the candidate of President Felipe Calderon's National Action party (PAN).
Ms Vazquez Mota apologised but urged the relatives not to give in to despair.
"Yes, Javier, I ask forgiveness for any omission on the part of our governments," she said.
Ms Vazquez Mota insisted that she would not come to some agreement with organised crime in a bid to lessen the violence.
Mr Sicilia also attacked front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which was in power for much of the 20th Century.
Mr Pena Nieto represented a return to a past that was the origin of the corruption of the country's institutions, Mr Sicilia said.
"How many criminals have gone unpunished and are still in your party?" Mr Sicilia asked.
Mr Pena Nieto repeated his pledge to tackle murder, kidnapping and extortion.
"If the conditions don't change, if we don't give Mexican society more equality, more opportunities and better economic conditions, there won't be a security strategy to achieve peace that works," he said.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) was berated for his "intolerance" and "political resentment" after he narrowly lost the 2006 election to President Calderon.
PRD members were also guilty of corruption, Mr Sicilia said.
"If Mexicans, in a democratic form, decide on real change, I will represent you (members of the movement) with dignity. I won't trick you," Mr Lopez Obrador said.
Fourth-placed candidate Gabriel Quadri de la Torre did not escape criticism.
Mr Sicilia doubted his credentials as a "citizens' candidate" given that he was backed by the leader of the powerful teachers' union.
Mr Quadri said he was "moved, terrified and angered" by the families' accounts.
The families' movement has been calling for an end to the militarisation of the drugs problem and for it to be seen as a health rather than national security issue.
Critics of the movement say its anger is wrongly focussed on the government instead of on the criminal gangs responsible for the violence.
2 Spanish power company guards face murder charges in Guatemala
EFE. May 27, 2012
Two employees of Spanish hydroelectric power company Hidro Santa Cruz were arrested for the murder of a peasant, a crime that sparked disturbances and the declaration of a state of siege for 18 days in the Indian town of Santa Cruz Barillas in western Guatemala.
Ricardo Garcia Lopez and Oscar Armando Ortiz Solares, both Guatemalans, were arrested for the killing, the Attorney General's Office said.
Garcia was arrested in San Juan Sacatepequez, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Guatemala City, and Ortiz in the capital, the AG's office said.
Both workers for Hidro Santa Cruz, a subsidiary of Spain's Hidralia Energia S.A., stand accused of being responsible for the murder of Andres Pedro Miguel on May 1.
Hidralia Energia S.A. is building a hydroelectric power plant in Santa Cruz Barillas, which is located 415 kilometers (257 miles) northwest of Guatemala City.
Guatemalans Pablo Antonio Pablo and Esteban Bernabe Mateo also were injured in the incident, which occurred in the town of Poza Verde.
The victims, residents said, were fired upon by private security agents of Hidro Santa Cruz when they returned to their community from Santa Cruz Barillas.
The reasons for the shooting are unknown, but townspeople say it stemmed from the opposition of local residents to the construction of the power plant.
Miguel's killing sparked violent disturbances in Santa Cruz Barillas, which forced President Otto Perez Molina's administration to declare a state of emergency.
The emergency decree was lifted after 18 days when authorities reestablished control in the community, where 17 people were taken into custody for allegedly being responsible for the riots, including the forceful takeover of a military barracks there as well as the destruction of several private homes. EFE
Quiet Guatemalan prosecutor takes on dictator, drug gangs
Mike McDonald. Reuters. May 29, 2012
(Reuters) - For nearly 30 years, Efrain Rios Montt evaded trial for massacres carried out during his military rule in Guatemala's civil war - until a diminutive, soft-spoken woman entered his life.
Since Claudia Paz y Paz became Guatemala's attorney general 18 months ago, the former dictator's retirement has been disrupted by efforts to make him answer for the most brutal part of the bloodiest armed conflict in modern Latin America.
In January, at the behest of her office, a judge ordered Rios Montt be tried for genocide and crimes against humanity, but the case has been held up as his lawyers lodge appeals. His opponents fear the 85-year-old general may never take the witness stand if his legal team can continue to stall proceedings.
Last week, however, another probe led to a court setting a second trial for massacres the state perpetrated under Rios Montt's watch during 1982 and 1983.
Rios Montt denies the charges against him, saying that he did not control battlefield operations and that each commander was responsible for making decisions in his own post.
But by putting him under house arrest, Paz y Paz has sent a message that Guatemala will prosecute human rights atrocities from a 1960-1996 civil war that killed a quarter million people and left deep scars in the Central American nation.
Civil war cases that stalled for 15 or 20 years are also moving forward. Last year, in the first-ever prosecution for a war-era massacre, a court sentenced four soldiers to 6,060 years in prison for killing 201 people in 1982 in the town of Dos Erres.
Army special forces killed nearly every resident of the town - including women and children - with guns or sledge hammers and throwing them into a well.
More trials with similarly long sentences have followed.
"Claudia Paz y Paz has been a savior for Guatemala. We have seen sentences that we thought were never before possible in our country," said Blanca Hernandez, a human rights advocate whose son was detained by security forces and never seen by his family again. "Now Rios Montt faces genocide charges. Her work has been incredible."
Paz y Paz's efforts to shed light on Guatemala's troubled past have made her enemies, who accuse her of pandering to the whims of leftists seeking revenge for the wartime suffering.
Former soldiers and their family members have attacked Paz y Paz, saying she has focused too much on past crimes, politicized the judicial branch and shown bias against the armed forces.
"Because of her background, she has let special interest structures grow within the attorney general's office and she caves in under their pressure," said Telesforo Guerra, a lawyer who successfully defended ex-president Alfonso Portillo against a Paz y Paz bid to prosecute him for embezzlement last year.
Her office has rejected the claims and says her work is carried out in strict accordance with the law. It also points out that she is also confronting illegal violence in the present by going after drug traffickers in league with Mexican cartels.
With 39 homicides per 100,000 people today - nearly eight times the rate in the United States - Guatemala is one of the world's most murderous countries, and Paz y Paz is dealing with both current and long-buried crimes on a shoestring budget.
Since her tenure began in December 2010, Guatemala's homicide rate has dropped 5 percent and the number of cases resolved has nearly doubled in just a year.
After overhauling investigation procedures and improving training for prosecutors, Paz y Paz presided over a record 5,000 convictions for serious crimes last year.
"We have tried criminals who once thought themselves to be untouchable," the short, stout 45-year-old woman with curly hair said recently. "The level of impunity in our country is embarrassing. But we have made advances in Guatemala once thought impossible."
One of four middle-class daughters, Paz y Paz studied law at a private university as the civil war drew to a close and worked as a legal advisor to the archbishop's office on human rights, which took testimonies from victims of army abuses.
The project's director, Bishop Juan Gerardi, was murdered in 1998 shortly after its findings were published.
Paz y Paz grew up among staunch leftists, and was appointed attorney general by former center-left President Alvaro Colom.
Guatemala's civil war pitted leftist guerillas against the state, and more than a quarter million people were killed. A United Nations-backed "truth commission" found that the vast majority of abuses were committed by the army.
MILITARY ON TRIAL
Considering her liberal background, many thought Paz y Paz might lose her job with the election last November of Otto Perez, a right-wing retired army general who commanded troops during some of the worst years of the civil war.
But Perez, 61, the first military man to rule Guatemala since democracy was restored in 1986, has said Paz y Paz can serve out the rest of her four-year term, despite worries he might seek to hinder the trial of former comrades.
Guatemala is under international pressure to punish those responsible for wartime atrocities, and Perez promised during his election campaign to stay out of the genocide cases.
Victims hope that he will honor that pledge if Rios Montt takes the stand as scheduled in August.
Soldiers and paramilitary groups under Rios Montt's command allegedly committed massacres, raped women in public squares, beat children to death and hurled the dead into clandestine graves, where unidentified victims have become known as 'XX'.
Rios Montt has used congressional immunity over the past decade to fight off attempts by Spanish prosecutors to try him.
But he lost his seat in Congress in September, and in barely a week Paz y Paz's team had him arrested for the charges it had built up working with victims' rights groups.
In her simple office, Paz y Paz has a framed picture of Robert Kennedy, the crusading U.S. attorney general who fought for civil rights in the 1960s. Kennedy's run for the U.S. presidency was cut short in 1968 by an assassin's bullet.
Paz y Paz cut her own $9,200 monthly salary by nearly 20 percent and pressured Congress to grant her office a bigger budget.
Facing international pressure to bust up Guatemala's vast networks of organized crime, Paz y Paz has stepped up investigations and prosecuted dozens of drug traffickers.
In February, Guatemala ruled two of the country's top drug kingpins would be extradited to the United States. On her watch, five of the top 10 most wanted criminals have been caught.
(Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Kieran Murray and Philip Barbara)
Drug War Violence Throws Honduras into Disarray
Jeremy Kryt. In These Times. May 29, 2012
The United Nations lists Honduras as the most dangerous nation on the planet, with a rate of one violent death every 74 minutes.
The firefight started about two hours before dawn, while it was still full dark in the jungle. Early on May 11, muzzle flashes lit up the sky as a small fleet of U.S. helicopters engaged a boatload of drug smugglers on a twisting, thickly-wooded stretch of the Patuca River, in the Mosquitia region of eastern Honduras. It was a short, one-sided fight. The four Super Huey helicopters—piloted by a combination of Guatemalan Airforce officers and civilian contractors, manned by Honduran door gunners and carrying both national police and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officers—had surprised the armed smugglers on the riverbank in the process of loading their cargo into a high-powered skiff. The traffickers opened fire first, but strafing runs from the Hueys and fire support from agents on the ground, quickly overwhelmed the outlaws. Initial reports claimed that two of the drug runners were killed at the scene, the rest fled into the jungle and almost a ton of cocaine was recovered. U.S. and Honduran media spun the incident as a major victory against the cartels, and American officials corroborated those claims.
But soon a different a story began to emerge. The amount of narcotics supposedly seized in the raid, as reported by the New York Times and other media that had picked up the story, literally changed overnight—reduced by half. Meanwhile, locals from a nearby village began to complain that tactical units deployed by the helicopters had broken down doors to search houses and rough up residents after the firefight. Even worse, instead of two dead smugglers, it turned out that a total of four innocent civilians had been killed by fire from Honduran officers, who were under direct supervision of DEA field agents. Two of the dead were pregnant women. All the victims were indigenous passengers traveling aboard a local water taxi on the same stretch of the river that morning. Another four passengers were wounded, including a teenage boy who lost his hand, and a woman badly shot through both legs.
“The drug boat was running without lights and going downriver, toward the coast. The launch carrying civilian passengers had its lights on, and was headed inland. But, for whatever reason, the helicopters shot at them anyway,” says Norvin Goff, President of the United Mosquitia Organization of Honduras (MASTA), an NGO dedicated to protecting the rights of local indigenous.
“We’re trapped in the middle,” Goff says. “We’re caught between the drug gangs on one side, and the army and police on the other. If we cooperate with one group, we’re targeted by the other. The situation in these poor villages is very desperate.”
In the wake of the killings, both Honduran law enforcement and the U.S. State Department officials cast doubt on the claims of the local victims. Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, who has a very poor track record on human rights, even went so far as to blame the villagers for having tried to “defend” the smugglers from the attacking helicopters. But MASTA’s Goff disagrees.
“Nobody in the water taxi was even armed. Also, the civilian launch had just a very small engine. About forty horsepower. That’s very different from the fast boats used by the drug runners. But of course [police officials] must cast blame on the victims, because they’ve got innocent blood on their hands.”
The DEA declined multiple invitations to be interviewed for this article.
Adam Isacson, Senior Associate at the non-governmental Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), agrees with MASTA President Goff about the disconcerting lack of accountability, especially on the part of U.S. officials.
“It’s troubling that the DEA didn’t own up to the killings,” says Isacson, who recently returned from a conference in Guatemala City, where he advised regional governments on the hazards of militarizing law enforcement. “As long as they keep using the same playbook, we’re going to see more of that.”
Press freedom and democracy under attack
The United Nations lists Honduras as the most dangerous nation on the planet, with a rate of one violent death every 74 minutes. And the violence isn’t restricted to remote places like Mosquitia.
“Freedom of the national press is under attack from various sectors in Honduras,” says Benoit Hervieu, who heads up the Americas Desk of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RWB). At least 17 journalists have been killed since June of 2009, when a military putsch overthrew the democratically-elected government.
“The problems in Honduras all go back to the coup,” Hervieu says. “Since then many journalists have been killed to silence the political opposition.” But Hervieu also says that as democracy has retreated, and the drug gangs have stepped into fill the vacuum, “the criminals also target outspoken journalists, to intimidate the press.”
Two reporters were killed in the month of May alone. One of them Alfredo Villatoro, was a prominent host on HRN, the country’s largest radio station. Villatoro’s body was found on May 15, a week after he’d been kidnapped while on his way to work. His body was dressed in a stolen police uniform, and he had been shot in the head.
“Alfredo was killed to send a message,” says Nahum Valladares, who heads up the International Desk at HRN. “The cartels think if they kill enough of us, then nobody will bother them anymore.” Valladares admits that 47-year-old Villatoro had publicly supported a recent government crackdown on organized crime. “Now his wife is a widow and his children have no father. All because he had the courage to speak out against the gangs.”
Honduras is currently ranked 143 out of 178 countries on the worldwide press freedom index. RWB’s Hervieu says that kind of chilling effect on the expression of ideas directly impacts democratic processes and government accountability. But Honduran authorities’ iron-fisted and sweeping response to the cartels, he says, has further destabilized the country and eroded security for journalists, activists and human rights workers.
“Unfortunately,” Hervieu says, “the [U.S.-backed] War on Drugs has provided plenty of opportunities for political revenge.”
He cites Colombia and Mexico as similar cases where militarized crime fighting has led to escalating violence on both sides and numerous rights violations.
Ground zero in the War on Drugs
According to the State Department, 79 percent of all the cocaine flown out of South America has a scheduled layover in Honduras, largely due to the country’s widespread poverty and political instability, which make it a haven for the cartels. In response, the DEA has ramped up its anti-drug efforts, sending down commando-style squads attached to special helicopter units, such as the one involved in the Patuca raid. About six hundred U.S. military personnel are also stationed full-time in Honduras, most of them at the Soto Cano airbase near the capital of Tegucigalpa, as part of Joint Task Force Bravo (JTFB). The Pentagon spent about 53.8 million on contracts in Honduras in 2011, a jump of 71 percent from the previous fiscal year. The U.S. military has also begun construction on at least eight different forward bases, airstrips and other installations, since 2009—all in a country about the size of Tennessee.
Colonel Ross A. Brown, who commands JTFB from the semi-permanent installation at Soto Cano, says that until recently, the primary mission of U.S. forces in Honduras was emergency aid and relief efforts, including on-the-spot medical and dental care, and airlifting emergency supplies to remote communities.
“But the focus has changed in the last year,” says Brown, who also served with distinction in Iraq, and will rotate back to the Pentagon after this assignment.
Now JTFB’s primary line of effort, Colonel Brown says, is “countering transnational organized crime.” JTFB works closely in training and assisting the Honduran armed forces, but special rules of engagement limit the direct involvement of U.S. troops.
Even so, powerful critics in Washington contend that militarized crime fighting in Honduras is producing too much collateral damage. In March, members of both the U.S. House and Senate signed letters requesting that the State Department curtail further military training and assistance to the country, due to the ongoing human rights abuses being committed under the rule of President Lobo. Lobo came to power after the 2009 coup, and despite complaints from elected officials, remains one of the Obama Administration’s closest allies in the region.
Whatever the Administration’s foreign policy objectives are, WOLA analyst Isacson says the strategies currently being employed in the regional drug war are not likely to succeed.
“Everybody knows what needs to be done [in Honduras],” he says. “They need police academies. They need forensics. They need a functional justice system. Just pumping money into a corrupt military is only going to make a bad situation worse.”
Colonel Brown agrees about the need for better infrastructure and policing methods. But he defends JTFB’s working relationship with the Honduran military as an opportunity to exert a positive influence.
“We’re setting an example down here,” says Brown. “We’re teaching them what it means to be a military that subordinates itself to civilian society.”
When asked about the Patuca raid, Brown explains that the helicopters involved were not under his command, but were under the direct control of the DEA and U.S. State Department, and therefore operating under different rules of engagement (JTFB gunships are not allowed to fire in support of Honduran authorities on the ground).
Instead of incompetence or flawed tactics, Brown cites battlefield logistics as the cause of the tragedy in Mosquitia. “At night, during a firefight in unknown territory, where the enemy is mixed in with the general population – it can be hard to tell who the bad guys are,” he says. “[That’s why] service members must be well trained and disciplined and only fire when they can discern friend from foe and foe from innocent civilian.”
Fighting a “criminal insurgency”
Colonel Brown, a West Point graduate, says that the drug-fueled forces terrorizing Honduras don’t have an ideological motivation, as was the case in Iraq. Instead, Brown likens it to a “criminal insurgency.”
“It’s not an attempt to take over the government,” he says. “[The gangs] don’t want to be responsible for medical care, or make sure schools open on time. They’re looking to destabilize for their own advantage, so they can make a profit.”
Other observers say that the irresponsible tactics employed by Honduran authorities, and their partners in the DEA and State Department, are dangerously similar to those of the “criminal insurgents” they’re fighting against—despite the brave efforts of officers like Colonel Brown:
“We are very poor, and need many things [from the government],” says MASTA President Goff. “Education. Doctors. A future for our children, so they don’t have to grow up to be drug smugglers. But instead [of helping], they come here and shoot at us,” Goff says. “In that way, they’re just as bad as the cartels.”
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Jeremy Kryt is a graduate of the Indiana University School of Journalism and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has been reporting from Honduras since August 2009, and his coverage of the crisis there has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Earth Island Journal, Huffington Post, Alternet and The Narco News Bulletin, among other publications.
Cuba waits anxiously for oil dreams to materialize
PAUL HAVEN. AP. May 28, 2012
HAVANA -- It was supposed to be Cuba's economic savior: vast untapped reserves of black gold buried deep under the rocky ocean floor.
But the first attempt in nearly a decade to find Cuba's hoped-for undersea oil bonanza has come up dry, and the island's leaders and their partners must regroup and hope they have better luck - quickly.
Experts say it is not unusual that a 3-mile (4.8-kilometer) deep exploratory well drilled at a cost of more than $100 million by Spanish oil giant Repsol was a bust. Four out of five such wells find nothing in the high-stakes oil game, and petroleum companies are built to handle the losses.
But Cuba has more at stake, and only a few more spins left of the roulette wheel. The enormous Scarabeo-9 platform being used in the hunt is the only one in the world that can drill in Cuban waters without incurring sanctions under the U.S. economic embargo, and it is under contract for only one to four more exploratory wells before it heads off to Brazil.
"If oil is not found now I think it would be another five to 10 years before somebody else comes back and drills again," said Jorge Pinon, the former president of Amoco Oil Latin America and a leading expert on Cuba's energy prospects. "Not because there is no oil, but because the pain and tribulations that people have to go through to drill in Cuba are not worth it when there are better and easier options in places like Angola, Brazil or the U.S. Gulf of Mexico."
A delay would be catastrophic for Cuba, where 80-year-old President Raul Castro is desperately trying to pull the economy out of the doldrums through limited free-market reforms, and has been forced to cut many of the subsidies islanders have come to expect in return for salaries of just $20 a month.
It could also leave the Communist-governed island more dependent on Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez is ailing with cancer. Chavez provides Cuba with $3 billion worth of heavily subsidized oil every year, a deal that might evaporate if he dies or fails to win re-election in October.
An oil find, on the other hand, would potentially improve Cuba's long-bitter relations with the United States, some analysts suggest. They say the U.S. oil industry could lobby Congress to loosen the embargo so it could get in on Cuba's oil game. At the very least, coordination between the Cold War enemies would be necessary to prepare for any spill that could coat beaches in the U.S. and Cuba with black goo.
The Cuban government has not commented on Repsol's announcement May 18 that the first well came up dry, and declined to make any oil officials or experts available to be interviewed for this article.
Next in line for using the drilling rig in Cuban waters is Malaysia's Petronas, which holds the rights to explore an area in the Florida Straits known as the Northbelt Thrust, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) southwest of Repsol's drill site. Wee Yiaw Hin, Petronas' executive vice president of exploration and production, told The Associated Press that drilling has begun and he expects results by the end of July.
After that, two industry experts said, Repsol is under contract to drill a second well, though it could get out of the deal by paying a penalty to Saipem, the Italian company that owns the rig. Kristian Rix, a spokesman for Repsol in Madrid, said a decision on whether to sink another well was still being evaluated.
Venezuela's PDVSA and Sonangol of Angola have options to drill next, but are under no obligation if they don't like their odds. While both countries are strong allies of Cuba, at $100 million a well, the decision to drill will likely be based solely on economics.
Even if oil is found, the Scarabeo-9 is under contract to power up its eight enormous thrusters and sail to Brazil after that, with no date set for its return to Cuba. The bottleneck highlights the difficulties Cuba faces, and why it could be well into the 2020s before the island sees any oil windfall.
"Assuming they're successful in finding oil, to bring the oil to market will take years of development efforts," said Victor Shum, an energy analyst with consulting firm Purvin & Gertz in Singapore.
Once an exploratory well finds oil, companies generally drill between 10 and 20 additional wells nearby to get a sense of the reservoir's size. The process can take several years even under normal circumstances, and circumstances are not normal in Cuba.
The Scarabeo-9 was built in Asia with less than 10 percent U.S.-made parts to avoid violating Washington's embargo, making it the only rig in the world that meets the requirement. That means no other rig could be used in Cuba without risking U.S. sanction, and the additional wells would have to be drilled by the rig one at a time, with each taking about 100 days to complete. At about three wells a year, it could take up to six years for this second phase - assuming the rig is available.
After gauging a reservoir's size, an oil company then must assess whether the economics of a field make it a prime spot for exploitation, or whether to concentrate resources elsewhere.
If exploitation does go forward, complicated equipment is required to pull oil from such depths. Several industry experts said the only country that produces the necessary apparatus is the United States, although Brazil and other countries are working to catch up. Unless they do, the oil could not be removed unless the U.S. embargo was lifted or altered.
"A lot of folks are looking at the energy sector in Cuba because they are looking at a Cuba of five years from now, or 10 years from now," said Pinon. "So a lot of people are betting that either the embargo is going to be lifted, or the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba is going to improve in some way."
Still, the benefits of hitting a gusher would be enormous for Cuba, and the impact could be felt long before any oil was pumped.
Because of the embargo, Cuba is shut off from borrowing from international lending institutions, and the island's own poor record of repayment has left most other creditors leery. Cuba, for instance, owes the Paris Club of creditor nations nearly $30 billion.
An oil find could change the game, with Cuba using future oil riches as collateral to secure new financing, economists say. They point to China and Brazil as potential sources of new funding, but say neither is likely to put money into the island without reasonable confidence they will get their investment back.
Lee Hunt, the recently retired president of the Houston-based International Association of Drilling Contractors, said the stakes are enormous for Cuba that one of the wells hits oil before the Scarabeo-9 leaves. Hunt has worked to bring U.S. and Cuban industry and environmental groups together.
"If the only rig you can work with is gone, it's like somebody took your shovel away," Hunt said. "You are not going to dig any holes without a shovel, even if you know the treasure is down there."
Associated Press writer Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration [contents]
Reuters. Antonio De la Jara and Simon Gardner. May 29, 2012
(Reuters) - Latin America's economy will grow at least 3.7 percent this year, but the region has not recovered fiscally from the Lehman Brothers crisis and should prepare contingency plans that bolster credit and help lower interest rates, the United Nations said on Monday.
Policymakers should focus more on monetary rather fiscal policies to help mitigate fallout from Europe if need be, and a disorderly Greek exit from the euro zone could be very negative for the region, said Alicia Barcena, head of the UN's regional economic body, ECLAC.
"Our region is not better-prepared than in 2007 in terms of fiscal room," Barcena told the Reuters Latin American Investment Summit. "However, it has the capacity for counter-cyclical policies on the strength of low indebtedness and international reserve provisions."
Brazil and Chile have already drawn up anti-crisis plans, and others should follow suit, she said, adding Brazilian measures to speed up investment and strengthen credit could serve as an example for other nations to follow.
Latin America was hit hard by the financial crisis triggered by Lehman Brothers' collapse in 2008, hammering credit and liquidity and slashing prices for its linchpin commodity exports and growth.
However its financial systems are strong, banks well-capitalized, and Latin America would likely cope better than Europe if there is a significant downturn.
Barcena sees regional heavyweights Brazil and Mexico, as well as Colombia, Argentina and Peru driving the region's growth this year, and sees the Caribbean as the region's most vulnerable area.
Record international reserves and a more solid private sector have put Mexico in a better position to deal with a global crisis than in 2008, Mexican central bank governor Agustin Carstens said on Monday.
"A disorderly exit (of Greece) could have more negative consequences than what happened with Lehman Brothers, and that scenario cannot be ruled out," Barcena added.
GREEK TRAGEDY NO.1 RISK
Fears Greece could abandon the euro zone's single currency have pummeled global financial markets in recent weeks, and raised worries of contagion across Europe.
Sergio Tricio, head of research at the Forex Chile brokerage in Santiago, said the main risk for Latin America would be a Greek exit that hits global demand, cuts growth and raises unemployment.
"The region has been affected by falling commodity prices, but so far it has been pretty controlled," Tricio said, adding he believed the region was in better shape than before Lehman. "Today there is room to apply more expansive monetary policies."
ECLAC believes Latin American inflation is under control and does not foresee price pressure problems, Barcena said.
Spain's bank sector woes could also hurt Latin America if banks decide to sell assets and pull out, though the banking sector in Mexico, Brazil and Chile could absorb such sales if need be, she said.
Investors increasingly fear weak banks in Spain, undermined by the collapse four years ago of a decade-long property boom, as well as deeply indebted regions, could force Spain to seek an international bailout which the euro zone can barely afford.
"A worsening of the situation in Spain could have a negative effect, not because Latin American banks depend on bank headquarters there for funds, but because they could reduce their exposure to markets like Latin America," Barcena said.
A deeper slowdown in major trade partner and top commodities consumer China poses another risk for Latin America, a leading producer of soy, copper and grains. Slower global growth could also hit foreign direct investment flows into Latin America.
"A Chinese slowdown can affect demand for basic goods, though it hasn't yet," Barcena said. "If there is a fall in demand, and lower prices, obviously our region can suffer a deterioration in its terms of trade."
"That could have a significant effect on the current account, public accounts and regional growth."
Follow Reuters Summits on Twitter @Reuters_Summits
(Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Jonathan Hopfner)
Mercosur raises maximum allowed tariff, 35% on 100 imported goods, says Brazil
Mercopress. May 28, 2012
Brazil raised to the maximum the common external tariff, AEC, that Mercosur charges on imported goods from out of the zone. The decree was published in Monday’s edition of the Official Gazette and includes a hundred goods.
Currently those goods are levied in the range of 12% to 13% of their export value, but since the publication, they have been slapped with the maximum AEC, 35%, allowed by the World Trade Organization.
According to the arguments of the decree, the resource is used to prevent imports considered ‘predatory’ for the domestic industries of Mercosur country members.
Last month Argentina’s Foreign Affairs minister Hector Timerman had advanced that the Argentine government would propose, at the next Mercosur summit June 28 that the maximum AEC, 35%, should be applied to all exports into the block.
Argentina for months has been implementing measures to control the influx of imports to defend its trade surplus which is crucial for a country cut off from the international volunteer money market, because of pending law suits and demands from the major sovereign default dating back to 2001/02.
Although Uruguay, together with Paraguay, junior members of the group that has become increasingly a two member exclusive club (Argentina and Brazil) still has to make a public statement on the issue, Industry and Energy minister Roberto Kreimerman on a business and investment promotion tour in Australia, told a reporter in the delegation that the latest Brazilian decision “it’s not the ideal for Uruguay”, given the impact this will have on local manufacturers that need overseas inputs to function.
“Whenever there is a request from an associate (Mercosur) we must analyze it, but in Uruguay we must address the issue from the fact we are a small country with an open economy, where production and manufacturing indexes much depend on the inputs we bring from overseas, particularly third countries out of the region”, said Kreimerman.
“Our vision of the problem is far more specific” concluded the minister.
In Montevideo several government officials, including Foreign Affairs minister Luis Almagro and Deputy Finance minister Luis Porto, have publicly stated that Uruguay will consider the situation when it is an official proposal.