Latin America News Round-up
May 31, 2012
Chevron Sued in Canada by Ecuadorans Over Pollution
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Brazil and Southern Cone
Hillary Clinton will miss next week’s OAS General Assembly in Bolivia
Brazil cuts interest rate to record low. Financial Times
Brazil’s Political Class Jolted by Claim That Ex-Leader Pressed a High Court Judge. New York Times
Brazil prosecutors seek payment from Shell, BASF. AP
Brazilian indigenous groups demand better healthcare. BBC
Repsol to seek punitive damages against Argentina. Reuters
Chilean dam builder Colbun pulls out of project. BBC
Leaders of Korea, Paraguay agree to expand cooperation. The Korea Herald
Northern Andean Region
Freed French reporter: rebels treated me well. AP
Colombia investigates retired military commanders over alleged coup plan. Colombia Reports
EU ministers approve free-trade deal with Colombia, Peru. DPA
Western Andean Region
Chevron sued in Canada by Ecuadorans over pollution. San Francisco Chronicle
Free tuition! Ecuador will pay for nationals to attend top colleges who vow to work back home for 2 years afterward. New York Daily News
Iranian vice president visits Ecuador. AFP
Bolivian Politician Takes Refuge at Brazilian Embassy. New York Times
Peru arrests mayor leading protests against Xstrata. Reuters
Cutting extreme poverty a piece of Peru conflict puzzle. Reuters
Peru aims to end child labour but some see case for work. BBC
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Mexican youth protest in streets against corporate media and PRI candidate. Washington Post
Adding to Unease of a Drug War Alliance. New York Times
30 years after massacre, family comes together again. Boston Globe
Ten suspects arrested in connection with Honduras reporter murder. The Guardian
Feds to investigate alleged Honduran labor violations. Legal Newsline
Iran erases $164 million of Nicaraguan debt. AFP
Support Mounts for Salvadoran Gang Truce. Huffington Post
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration
Hillary Clinton will miss next week’s OAS General Assembly in Bolivia. Mercopress
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Brazil cuts interest rate to record low
Joe Leahy. Financial Times. May 31, 2012
Brazil’s central bank has cut its benchmark lending rate to a historic low as part of efforts to revive growth in Latin America’s largest economy.
The central bank reduced its Selic interest rate by 50 basis points to 8.5 per cent, undercutting the previous mark of 8.75 per cent reached during the 2009 financial crisis.
Explaining its decision in a brief statement, the monetary policy committee of the central bank said: “At present, there remain limited risks to the trajectory of inflation. The committee further notes that given the fragility of the global economy, the contribution from the external sector is disinflationary.”
The move will please President Dilma Rousseff, who has made slashing Brazil’s interest rates, which are among the highest in the world for an economy of its size, a central goal of her government.
The government is becoming increasingly desperate to revive Brazil’s once emerging-market like economic growth rate, which faltered from 7.5 per cent in 2010 to 2.7 per cent last year and in recent months has been crawling at an annualised rate of a little more than 1 per cent.
Brazil’s high real interest rates, presently around 3.5 per cent, are a legacy of its years of runaway inflation and are blamed for a range of woes, including the country’s relatively low level of investment in infrastructure.
Alberto Ramos, a Goldman Sachs economist, said the central bank was showing signs of being more concerned with the rate of economic growth than inflation.
“The key question is whether there is a lot more to come? Are we coming close to the end of the easing cycle?” he said.
The central bank has cut rates seven times from a high last August of 12.5 per cent, citing the deteriorating global outlook for growth.
But economists are predicting that the Selic could fall to a new low of 7 per cent, particularly if the outlook for Europe continues to deteriorate.
The government has announced a series of stimulus measures to revive manufacturing in Brazil, which has been contracting in spite of buoyant consumer demand and record low unemployment.
The recession in Brazilian industry is blamed on a strong exchange rate, a flood of cheap imports and the country’s high costs and taxation.
In other moves to revive the economy, the government has been locked in a battle with banks to pass on lower lending rates to consumers in spite of a rise in defaults.
Policy makers have also encouraged the weakening of the real, the Brazilian currency, which fell to a three-year low this month. That is expected to provide a boost to exporters.
“Enough policy stimuli have already been implemented which absent a further severe worsening in external conditions, will likely lead to a gradual, if unspectacular, recovery in economic activity,” said Tony Volpon, a Nomura economist, in a recent report.
The question is whether Brazil can sustain its historically low interest rates or whether these will rise to previous levels once growth picks up again.
Much will depend on inflation, which remains above the central bank’s target of 4.5 per cent plus or minus 2 percentage points.
But Goldman’s Mr Ramos said that with the weak economic outlook, inflation would not be a threat this year.
“I’m not too overly concerned about inflation as long as they don’t go overboard. There is a lot of inertia in the economy,” he said.
Brazil’s Political Class Jolted by Claim That Ex-Leader Pressed a High Court Judge
SIMON ROMERO. New York Times. May 30, 2012
RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s political establishment is being shaken by a claim that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the country’s most influential contemporary political leader, put pressure on a high court judge to delay a trial over a vote-buying scandal involving high-ranking members of the governing Workers Party.
Judge Gilmar Mendes has asserted that Mr. da Silva, 66, a former president who recently underwent treatment for throat cancer, asked him in April in Brasília, the capital, to postpone the trial, set for August. More than 30 politicians are implicated in the scandal referred to as the center of the trial, the “mensalão” or “big allowance”; the nickname refers to the monthly payments said to have been made to legislators during Mr. da Silva’s presidency.
The claim by Judge Mendes, made in an article over the weekend in the newsmagazine Veja, has opened a bitter feud between him and Mr. da Silva. The former president confirmed that the meeting in Brasília took place, but dismissed the judge’s assertion about asking for a delay as “untrue.” In a statement, he expressed his “indignation” with the judge, a member of the Supreme Federal Tribunal who was appointed in 2002 by Mr. da Silva’s predecessor.
The stakes are high in the vote-buying scandal, which has been developing for years. Revelations of the scheme surfaced in 2005, during Mr. da Silva’s first term. Defendants in the trial include prominent confidants of Mr. da Silva, like José Dirceu de Oliveira e Silva, who was Mr. da Silva’s chief of staff, before he was forced to resign.
The long-awaited trial is expected to delve into the methods used by the Workers Party to obtain support in Congress. Documents in the case describe a convoluted vote-buying scheme involving offshore bank accounts and the diversion of funds from the advertising budgets of state-controlled companies.
Mr. da Silva, who finished his second term in 2010 with high approval ratings, has not been implicated. He still wields enormous influence, advising his successor, Dilma Rousseff. Before he was stricken with cancer last year, he had a thriving sideline as a speaker at corporate events; he said in March when his cancer went into remission that he would return to “political life.”
The claim that he tried to exert pressure on a judge regarding a trial that could influence his political fortunes drew sharp responses from other prominent voices in Brazil, including at least one other judge, Celso de Mello of the Supreme Federal Tribunal.
Judge Mendes said the pressure at the April meeting in Brasília included an insinuation by Mr. da Silva that Judge Mendes could be linked to another scandal, this one involving an opposition senator, Dem”stenes Torres, and his ties to a businessman, Carlos Augusto Ramos (better known by his nickname, Carlinhos Cachoeira or “Charlie Waterfall”), who is accused of running illegal gambling operations.
Judge Mendes said Mr. da Silva asked him about a trip to Berlin that the judge took with Mr. Torres. He said he acknowledged traveling to Berlin, where his daughter lives, and explained that it was paid for by the high court and from his own pocket. Afterward, Mr. Mendes said he could easily afford such travel because of income from a book he wrote on constitutional law.
But the judge also acknowledged in an interview with the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo that he traveled on two occasions on private planes provided by Mr. Torres, and asserted that such trips did not violate ethical standards. Other high-ranking judges were also on these trips, he said.
In the same interview, published on Wednesday, Judge Mendes lashed out anew at Mr. da Silva, accusing him of spreading rumors aimed at weakening the high court’s plan for the mensalão trial. Other commentators, pointing to the former president’s denial of Judge Mendes’s claims, have accused him of offending Mr. da Silva’s “honor.”
The feud between the two men puts Ms. Rousseff in an awkward spot. Two judges on the 11-member court are expected to retire soon, so if the trial is delayed, Ms. Rousseff’s nominations to fill the vacancies could influence the outcome, raising concerns over the Workers Party’s influence over the trial.
If the trial goes forward, the inner workings of the party will be on display, drawing attention away from her efforts to curb corruption. Scandals forced seven cabinet ministers to resign in the past year, including her chief of staff.
Ms. Rousseff issued a statement on Wednesday rejecting any threat of an “institutional crisis” between the judiciary and executive branches over the feud. She appeared with Mr. da Silva on Wednesday at an event honoring him for his contributions to cutting poverty.
Brazil prosecutors seek payment from Shell, BASF
AP. May 30, 2012
BRASILIA, Brazil -- Brazilian prosecutors are asking a court to force Shell and BASF to pay $500 million in compensation to workers allegedly contaminated at an agriculture chemicals plant.
Two Brazilian courts have ruled the companies must pay for polluting the site in Sao Paulo state.
But the case remains before a higher court in Brasilia.
A prosecutors' spokesman says the new request for payment was made because of the urgency of the health situation for hundreds of people who worked at the site between 1977 and 2002.
Spokesman Rafael Almeida said Wednesday the soil and water at the plant site is "totally contaminated" with toxic chemicals.
Shell Brasil SA says it has not been informed of the new legal action. BASF SA didn't respond to requests for comment.
Brazilian indigenous groups demand better healthcare
BBC. May 29, 2012
Groups of indigenous people in Brazil blocked roads and occupied government buildings to demand better healthcare for their communities.
Several ethnic groups staged a protest at the Health Ministry building in the capital, Brasilia, asking for a meeting with a senior official.
In a statement, the movement's leaders called for better facilities and access to more doctors.
They say mortality rates are on the rise among the indigenous peoples.
"The authorities promise a lot and do very little," said Pedro Kaingang, a spokesman for the group.
He said urgent action is needed, starting by improving pay for doctors and other health workers who serve their communities.
They also want better dental treatment, prescription glasses, wheelchairs and powder milk for infants.
The ethnic groups who took part in the protest - Kaingang, Guarani and Charrua - come from the south of Brazil, where they also occupied government buildings.
Arpinsul, the indigenous organisation behind the actions, says roads were blocked for several hours in the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Parana.
Repsol to seek punitive damages against Argentina
Reuters. May 31, 2012
May 31 (Reuters) - Spanish oil company Repsol will seek punitive damages from Argentina for the seizure of its Argentine energy unit YPF, its chairman warned, in a move backed by fuming shareholders on Thursday.
Fresh demands would step up the stakes in a potentially long legal battle. Repsol has already sued Argentina for $10 billion in compensation over the seizure of its majority stake in YPF in mid-April, in a case that could drag on in arbitration and the courts for years.
"This was an act of piracy," Repsol shareholder Rafael Gonzalez said at the company's annual meeting in Madrid, pleading with Chairman Antonio Brufau to keep up the fight against Argentina.
Repsol's shares have lost almost half their value so far this year, hit by Argentine president Cristina Fernandez's expropriation of its 51 percent stake in YPF on April 16. Fernandez contends that the Spanish company did not invest enough.
Repsol has also taken steps to file a complaint at the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), though analysts noted Argentina's track record in ignoring past ICSID fines.
Brufau opened the door to negotiations with Argentina to reach an agreement suitable to both sides and avoid a drawn-out court battle.
"It's not good for Argentina to have a lawsuit of this magnitude for years, so the best would be for us to sit down and negotiate," Brufau told shareholders.
Repsol unveiled a four-year strategic plan earlier this week, pledging heavy investment in its exploration business in a bid to recover from the blow of the loss of YPF. (Reporting By Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Will Waterman)
Chilean dam builder Colbun pulls out of project
BBC. May 31, 2012
One of the two companies planning to build the giant HidroAysen dam in Chilean Patagonia has pulled out, citing lack of government backing.
Colbun said there was no point going past the planning stage unless Chile's government came up with an energy strategy that had widespread support.
The scheme has prompted protests by environmentalists who say it will destroy a valuable natural environment.
The dam was intended to provide a third of Chile's electricity.
The HidroAysen project involves flooding 6,000 hectares (15,000 acres) of land in order to build five dams on two rivers in a remote part of Patagonia, in the far south of Chile.
It is by far the biggest energy project in the country's history, and if built would provide about a third of all Chile's electricity.
Environmentalists object to what they say is the destruction of a region famous for glaciers, ice-fields, mountains and fjords.
They say that as well as damaging the Laguna San Rafael National Park, the project also threatens the habitat of the Huemul, an endangered Andean species of the deer family.
Colbun says it is still committed to using Patagonian rivers to produce electricity and could in theory reverse its decision.
However, the government has responded by saying it does have an energy policy. The BBC's correspondent in Chile says this suggests the HidroAysen project could be delayed for years and might never see the light of day.
Colbun's partner in the scheme, Spain's giant utility company Endesa, said it would consider its move, but that development of the project was continuing.
Leaders of Korea, Paraguay agree to expand cooperation
The Korea Herald. May 28, 2012
The leaders of South Korea and Paraguay discussed ways to enhance bilateral cooperation in trade, investment, development and other areas during their summit in Seoul on Tuesday, Cheong Wa Dae said.
President Lee Myung-bak and his Paraguayan counterpart Fernando Lugo Mendez also expressed appreciation that ties between the two countries have deepened in various sectors since the two countries established diplomatic relations some five decades ago.
Lugo arrived here on Monday for a three-day visit. He participated in a Paraguay National Day event at the World Expo in the southern coastal city of Yeosu to celebrate and share his country’s culture.
President Lee Myung-bak greets his Paraguayan counterpart Fernando Lugo Mendez before their summit at Cheong Wa Dae on Tuesday. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
Lee expressed his appreciation to Lugo for visiting the Expo and asked him to give more support for South Korean nationals and businesses in the Latin American country.
Lugo hoped that the Seoul government could share its development experience and technology for managing water resources, and encourage Korean firms to invest more in his country.
The two-way trade volume reached $252 million last year. A number of South Korean firms including Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics invested a total of around $10 million from 2006-2011.
Lugo had visited Seoul as president-elect in June 2008.
Since the first group of Korean immigrants landed in the country in 1965, about 5,000 Koreans now live in Paraguay. In Korea, there are some 60 Paraguayans.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com)
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Freed French reporter: rebels treated me well
FERNANDO VERGARA and FRANK BAJAK. AP. May 30, 2012
SAN ISIDRO, Colombia -- A French journalist released to a humanitarian delegation by leftist rebels Wednesday said he was treated well during a monthlong captivity that began when he was trapped in a firefight.
"They never tied me up," Romeo Langlois said in this small southern hamlet before the handover ceremony. "Rather, they always treated me as a guest. They gave me good food ... They were always respectful."
The 35-year-old journalist looked relaxed and smiled contentedly. He did not appear bothered by the wound to his left arm sustained in the firefight.
Langlois arrived flanked by guerrillas in a green Toyota Land Cruiser and shook hands with farmers before fielding questions from reporters.
The Frenchman then made his way through a crowd of townspeople, who had build the wooden stage for Wednesday's ceremony, which occurred just a few miles from where he was taken on April 28.
Asked what he took from his captivity, Langlois said "I didn't need this experience to know the Colombian conflict or to know the rebels. I've been in this a long time."
"What I take from it is the conviction that one must continue covering this conflict," added the journalist, who had been on assignment for France24 television and has covered Colombia for more than a decade.
He has also contributed to the daily Le Figaro.
Langlois made no apologies for accompanying the military on the cocaine-lab eradication mission that led to his capture. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia had criticized him in a communique in early May as having lent himself to government propaganda by doing so.
"I hope the army doesn't stop taking people to conflict zones, and let's hope the rebels also take journalists with them to show the daily life of their combatants because this conflict isn't being covered."
Three soldiers and a police officer were killed in the firefight that saw Langlois captured, and a bullet passed through the journalist's his left arm during the morning-long combat.
Before fleeing toward the rebels, who are known by their Spanish initials FARC, Langlois shed his helmet and body armor the military had provided. The rebels have said they took Langlois prisoner in part because he was wearing military garb.
A guerrilla commander told independent journalist Karl Penhaul last week that Langlois was lucky in the battle: an AK-47 bullet entered the arm above the elbow and exited the forearm without damaging bone or cartilage.
The delegation received Langlois included French diplomat Jean-Baptiste Chauvin, former Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba and the Red Cross country chief, Jordi Raich. It had arrived on rutted dirt roads from the state capital of Florencia in two Red Cross vehicles.
Residents of San Isidro, which lacks running water and electricity and lives off cattle ranching and coca crops, had prepared a barbecue for the handover, slaughtering six calves, and rebel commanders gave brief speeches.
Langlois used a small video camera as he sat on the stage and recorded images of the scene.
Before the handover, a public address system played FARC revolutionary songs as hundreds of peasants of converged on the hamlet.
This region of southern Colombia is a traditional FARC stronghold. 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," Village council leader German Pena told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "There have been innumerable battles in this area. We've seen bullets flying on the main street of the village."
Some villagers doing the communal preparation for the 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.
Colombia's government Colombia's said the military would suspend operations in the zone for 48 hours through Thursday at 6 p.m.
The FARC, 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 as 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.
Colombia investigates retired military commanders over alleged coup plan
Brandon Barrett. Colombia Reports. May 30, 2012
Colombian authorities opened an investigation against retired military officials on Tuesday after a series of emails mentioning the overthrow of President Juan Manuel Santos was uncovered.
"We will determine whether or not there was relevant criminal conduct by high-ranking former military who have proposed to replace the president through mechanisms prohibited by the Constitution," said Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre.
Montealegre said a commission will be formed to investigate the damning emails between retired officers General Eduardo Santos Quiñones and Major Jorge Galvis Noyes. In one of the messages, written in response to a May 15 terrorist attack in Bogota that targeted former Minister Fernando Londoño, Galvis demanded that Santos "meet his electoral obligations, or otherwise be removed from office."
"The Colombian Constitution clearly states how to proceed in removing a president, the way one could be removed from office is established there. Any other mechanism other than that mentioned in the constitution is an extra-constitutional measure," Montealegre said.
The head of Colombia's military, General Alejandro Navas affirmed the army's support for Santos in a press conference May 23. "Today we want to affirm our loyalty and devotion to our duty. We will continue along the path that our constitutional commander has outlined. We will observe the principle of national unity for airmen, sailors, soldiers and police officers."
EU ministers approve free-trade deal with Colombia, Peru
DPA. May 31, 2012
Brussels (dpa) - European Union governments on Thursday approved a free trade agreement with Colombia and Peru, and urged Bolivia and Ecuador to also join the arrangement.
In March, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said the deal with Colombia and Peru could be worth up to 500 million euros (621 million dollars) a year in scrapped duties.
The agreement will be applied provisionally, pending final approval by the European Parliament, EU trade ministers said in a statement.
The trade deal reduces tariffs, liberalizes services markets, opens up the public procurement sector, and gives the EU the same level of access to Peru and Colombia enjoyed by the United States, EU ministers indicated.
It also includes clauses on environmental protection and labour rights, they added. dpa alv jln Author: Alvise Armellini
Western Andean Region [contents]
Chevron sued in Canada by Ecuadorans over pollution
David Baker. San Francisco Chronicle. May 31, 2012
Ecuadorans who have waged a bitter legal battle against Chevron over pollution in the Amazon rain forest sued the company in Canada on Wednesday in an attempt to seize $18 billion of the oil giant's assets, after Chevron refused to pay a verdict against it in their homeland.
The Ecuadorans also threatened to pursue Chevron in other countries, if necessary.
"We plan to exercise our legal right to collect every penny of the legitimate judgment from Ecuador, even if we have to drag Chevron kicking and screaming into courts around the world," said Pablo Fajardo, lead lawyer on the Ecuadorans' legal team.
The move, announced just hours after Chevron's annual shareholders meeting in San Ramon, marked the latest dramatic turn for a legal case already noted for its vicious tactics, marathon length and international reach.
After 18 years of litigation, a collection of Ecuadoran forest tribes and farming communities won an $18 billion judgment against Chevron in 2011, holding the company responsible for tainted soil and water that they blamed on Texaco, which used to operate in the area. Chevron bought Texaco in 2001.
Chevron refused to pay the judgment, calling it the result of judicial fraud. And since the company no longer operates in Ecuador, the court system there could not seize any of Chevron's assets to satisfy the judgment.
Hence Wednesday's lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario. For the past year, the Ecuadorans have threatened to sue Chevron in places where the company has extensive operations. Canada fits the bill. Chevron is one of a number of companies developing northern Alberta's vast oil sands, and it also has a major new offshore project near Newfoundland.
"The time for delay is over," Fajardo said. "While Chevron might think it can ignore court orders in Ecuador, it will be impossible to ignore a court order in Canada, where a court may seize the company's assets if necessary to secure payment."
Chevron maintains that the lawsuit is nothing but an extortion attempt. The company has filed a racketeering case against the plaintiffs' lawyers in New York and has forced them to turn over many of their internal memos, e-mails - even the diary of the former lead attorney on the case. Some of the evidence obtained shows lawyers discussing ways to pressure the Ecuadoran judges who presided over the suit.
The company said late Wednesday that it will continue to pursue the racketeering case.
"The Ecuador judgment is a product of bribery, fraud and it is illegitimate," Chevron's statement read. "The company does not believe that the Ecuador judgment is enforceable in any court that observes the rule of law."
Texaco drilled for oil in northeastern Ecuador from 1964 to 1992, working as a partner of state-owned Petroecuador. As part of its operations, Texaco dumped a mixture of petroleum and water into open pits near the wells. When Texaco pulled out of the country, it agreed to clean up a portion of the wells, while Petroecuador continued to operate the rest.
The first version of the lawsuit against Texaco was filed in 1993 in New York. Chevron bought Texaco in 2001 and argued successfully to have the case moved to Ecuador in 2003, saying the courts there were fully capable of handling the case.
Free tuition! Ecuador will pay for nationals to attend top colleges who vow to work back home for 2 years afterward
Erica Pearson. New York Daily News. May 31, 2012
THE GOVERNMENT of Ecuador has come up with a way to plug its brain drain — it will pay for its citizens to attend Columbia, NYU or 48 other top colleges, as long as they go back home to work for two years.
The program — worth up to $250,000 per scholarship — is open to all Ecuadorans, including those living in New York.
“If you get into the top universities of the world, we’ll pay,” said Nathalie Cely, Ecuador’s ambassador to the U.S. “The thing is — you have to be really good.”
The list of 50 schools includes Harvard and Yale here in the U.S., plus Oxford and Cambridge in England.
Several state schools — like the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Texas at Austin — also made the cut, along with colleges in Japan, Canada, Switzerland and Australia.
Scholarship recipients at those schools can pick any major and get a free ride. Other schools only count for specific majors like life sciences or social sciences.
In Queens’ little Ecuador, some people were skeptical that young scholars who grew up in New York would return to a country they barely remember for the sake of a free education.
But Oswaldo Guzman, president of the Ecuadorian Civic Committee in Corona, called it a “magnificent idea.”
“I hope that kids here will take advantage of it,” he said.
The program — touted to New Yorkers on an Ecuadoran navy ship that sailed from Guayaquil for Fleet Week — is one of several initiatives aimed at slowing the emigration of the country’s talent pool.
Ecuador also offered immigrants abroad one-way plane tickets and grants to return to Ecuador to start businesses.
Iranian vice president visits Ecuador
AFP. May 31, 2012
QUITO — Iranian Vice President Ali Saeedlu said Wednesday he delivered an invitation from Iran's president to his Ecuadoran counterpart to visit Tehran for the Non-Aligned Movement summit in August.
Saeedlu, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's deputy for international affairs, told reporters after meeting with President Rafael Correa at the Carondelet presidential palace that the two also talked about increasing trade and technology exchanges.
The main purpose of the August 30-31 summit is for all countries "that are not aligned with the powerful nations to unite and present one solid and unanimous voice at an international level on how to obtain peace, and a more democratic and just world," Saeedlu told reporters.
Correa, who supports Iran's controversial nuclear program, has not confirmed his assistance at the Tehran summit but promised to study the invitation, Saeedlu said, according to remarks translated by Iranian ambassador Majid Salehi.
Ahmadinejad visited Ecuador January 12-13 during a visit that also took him to Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, all nations governed by leftist presidents.
Saeedlu was in Ecuador on an unannounced visit following stops in Nicaragua, where he met President Daniel Ortega, and in Cuba, where he met Vice President Jose Ramon Machado.
The United States and its allies have accused Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons in the guise of a peaceful enrichment program. Tehran denies the charge.
Bolivian Politician Takes Refuge at Brazilian Embassy
WILLIAM NEUMAN. New York Times. May 30, 2012
CARACAS, Venezuela — A prominent Bolivian opposition politician has taken refuge in the Brazilian Embassy in La Paz, claiming that he is being persecuted by the administration of President Evo Morales for accusing government officials of human rights abuses, drug trafficking and corruption.
The politician, Roger Pinto, a senator from Pando state, said in a letter posted online by local media outlets that he had received death threats, though he did not specify who was behind them, and that the Morales government had harassed him by charging him in a series of criminal cases. He said the accusations, including some for corruption, were baseless.
“Senator Pinto’s life and security are not guaranteed by the Bolivian state at this time,” said Adrián Oliva, a congressman in Mr. Pinto’s National Convergence coalition.
Mr. Pinto, one of the Morales government’s most outspoken critics, has been in the Brazilian Embassy since Monday.
His intentions were not entirely clear. In the letter he suggested he wanted to remain in the embassy in La Paz.
“I have decided to take refuge, but in my own country,” the letter said. He added that he would remain there to push for an amnesty law that would allow exiled Bolivians to return to their country and would free political prisoners.
But the Brazilian foreign ministry said that Mr. Pinto had asked for asylum in Brazil. The ministry said that it was evaluating his request.
Bolivia’s vice president, Álvaro García Linera, said at a news conference on Wednesday that Mr. Pinto was not being persecuted and suggested he was seeking asylum to avoid facing the criminal charges against him.
“If he believes that he is right, that he didn’t commit these crimes, well, he should be happy to defend himself” in court, Mr. García Linera said, according to ABI, a state-run news service.
The vice president also denied that there were political prisoners in Bolivia.
Mr. Pinto is not the only critic to level charges of drug trafficking against officials in the Bolivian government. And last year, an interior ministry official who was a former head of the counternarcotics police was arrested in Panama and sent to the United States to be charged with smuggling cocaine.
Sara Shahriari contributed reporting from La Paz, Bolivia.
Peru arrests mayor leading protests against Xstrata
Terry Wade and Marco Aquino. Reuters. May 30, 2012
LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian police on Wednesday arrested the mayor leading a protest against global miner Xstrata, as President Ollanta Humala cracks down hard to end conflicts over natural resources.
In an unusual display of force, dozens of riot police in helmets and carrying plastic shields stormed the municipal building in the town of Espinar in the mountainous southern region of Cusco to pull Mayor Oscar Mollohuanca from his office.
Politicians, some from within Humala's own party, said the government's authoritarian tactics had scuttled mediation efforts in a poor town where residents complain of being left behind by the country's decade-long boom.
"The detention of the mayor is a huge worry because it has ruined the dialogue process," congresswoman Veronika Mendoza, a legislator from Humala's Gana Peru party, said on Canal N television.
Humala, a former military officer, took office in July urging mediation to calm hundreds of disputes nationwide over the spoils of natural resources. But critics say he has become impatient with intransigent protesters and too willing to rely on a firm hand to maintain order.
RALLIES FOR AND AGAINST
Widespread conflicts over mineral resources threaten to delay billions of dollars in investments in a sector that drives 60 percent of exports in Peru's fast-growing economy. On Thursday, people are planning a rally in Cajamarca against a $4.8 billion (3.1 billion pounds) gold mine planned by U.S.-based Newmont - a day after thousands marched in favour of the mine.
Protests on Monday in Espinar turned violent, killing two people and injuring at least 50. The government then invoked emergency rules that suspend freedom of assembly in a bid to end the protests.
At least 10 people have died in disputes over natural resources since Humala took office in July. At least 174 people died in similar protests during the government of his predecessor, Alan Garcia.
Protesters in Espinar say Xstrata's Tintaya copper mine causes pollution and want the company to boost financial donations it makes to the local government of Espinar to 30 percent of pre-tax profits.
The company has rejected those demands, saying it already gives 3 percent of pre-tax profits to the municipality and that those donations would increase by two-thirds once its $1.5 billion expansion to the Tintaya mine, called Antapaccay, opens in August.
Xstrata is also working on its $4.2 billion Las Bambas project in southern Peru. It would produce an average of 400,000 tonnes of copper concentrate plus gold, silver and molybdenum by-products. The company's website says it should open by the end of 2014.
Prime Minister Oscar Valdes, also a former military officer, said the environmental concerns over Tintaya were trumped up and that Espinar's mayor had walked away from earlier negotiation efforts.
The government's tough line has annoyed residents and police have struggled to clear the streets in Espinar. He denied the government was being confrontational.
"Order must be re-established," Valdes said. "The Humala government is always willing to dialogue."
He blamed far-left ideologues for fomenting the protests.
"One thing is to dialogue. Another thing is to permit vandalism," Valdes said.
Jorge Acurio, the president of the region of Cusco, said that there was no chance to negotiate a settlement so long as the mayor was being held.
"I demand the mayor be freed. How can we hold a dialogue without him? Who are we going to talk to? I was supposed to be the host of the mediation process."
Cusco is a traditional stronghold of Humala, and protesters there have accused him of abandoning his leftist roots and cozying up to foreign investors.
Members of Humala's Cabinet said they were unwilling to travel to Espinar to hold negotiations without more assurances that it was secure.
"The people in Espinar are peaceful. Espinar is tranquil," Mollohuanca said on Wednesday before he was detained.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
Cutting extreme poverty a piece of Peru conflict puzzle
Terry Wade and Marco Aquino. Reuters. May 29, 2012
(Reuters) - Peru's expanding social programs will sharply cut extreme poverty, but will not be enough to promptly end debilitating social conflicts in provinces rich in natural resources, a Cabinet official said Tuesday.
Minister of Development and Social Inclusion Carolina Trivelli, who is building up a social safety net in rural areas long ignored by the state, said ensuring people have access to basic goods like food, healthcare and water will provide a baseline of relief before development and conflict resolution can occur.
"With this we probably won't resolve social protests, but it's the first thing we have to do - make sure all Peruvians can access public services they are entitled to," she said. "The only way to deal with social protests is systematically."
Social tensions returned to the fore in Peru this week when one of hundreds of disputes over the spoils of natural resources turned violent as protesters demanded global miner Xstrata (XTA.L) donate more cash to a small town in the mountainous southern region of Cusco.
Two people were killed when police tried to clear roadblocks, prompting President Ollanta Humala's government to impose emergency rules to re-establish order. Critics said Humala, who created the social inclusion ministry after taking office in July to reflect new priorities, gave up on mediation too fast.
"The social conflicts are very complicated. The causes range from very clear environmental concerns about pollution or the loss of access to natural resources like water, to political motives and the chance to capture a bigger piece of profits," Trivelli told the Reuters Latin America Investment Summit.
Two-thirds of rural Peruvians are poor and live in provinces, where most of the country's $50 billion in pending mining investments are being directed. They have largely been left behind by the country's decade-long economic boom. That has sown the seeds of discontent.
"Rural poverty is nearly 60 percent and extreme poverty in rural areas is 23 percent. These numbers concern us. That is where the conflicts are centered and our integration and national development efforts are focused there too," she said.
Rural poverty has stayed stubbornly high even as the overall poverty rate plummeted 25 percentage points since 2004 to 30.8 percent. New data for 2011, to be published on Wednesday by Peru's statistics agency, is expected to show substantial declines in the poverty rate, with people in urban slums benefiting most, Trivelli said.
"For each point of GDP growth, poverty in Lima falls 2.5 points, but in the mountains it only falls half a point," she said.
Cabinet insiders say Humala regards Trivelli and Finance Minister Luis Miguel Castilla, a favorite among investors, as his most important ministers. They form a team Humala hopes will allow him to implement a style of politics borrowed from former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Humala has praised Lula for twinning healthy growth and private investment with effective poverty reduction after years of disappointing results on both fronts by previous leaders.
Parts of rural Peru are so isolated that small farmers cannot get their crops to market and if they do they can only sell them for a pittance.
Peru's government has tried to expand the country's road network by selling concessions to private companies, and by leaning on telephone companies to expand coverage in underserved areas.
Humala has boosted spending this year for the five programs Trivelli manages by 36 percent.
Her programs include nutrition, infant care, a pension program for extremely poor people over 65 and the pre-existing Juntos, which gives small amounts of cash to rural families that keep their children in school and have them vaccinated.
Peru's persistently high poverty rates have bedeviled social scientists for decades.
Some say historical institutions have undermined development to the present day. Melissa Dell, an MIT economist, has linked stunted growth in children and lack of roads today in some Andean highlands to a forced labor system run by the Spanish in Peru between 1573 and 1812.
Trivelli emphasized that poverty reduction, especially in remote areas, takes a long time.
"Social inclusion is long-term, we won't attain it in one year," she said.
Follow Reuters Summits on Twitter @Reuters_Summits
(Reporting By Terry Wade and Marco Aquino; editing by Matthew Lewis)
(For other news from Reuters Latin America Investment Summit, click here)
Peru aims to end child labour but some see case for work
Mattia Cabitza. BBC. May 28, 2012
Dawn is about to break on Calle Berlin of Miraflores, a commercial district of the Peruvian capital, Lima, and late-night revellers pour out of the trendy bars that shut after a weekend of non-stop music and fun.
A chorus of laughter and chatter echoes on the street. Wearing skimpy dresses and tight t-shirts, the young Lima residents seem unconcerned about the chilly wind blowing in from the Pacific Ocean.
They also seem indifferent to a small army of much younger vendors that is mingling among them.
They are all children, most under 10 years of age, selling cigarettes and chewing gum to a crowd inebriated with alcohol.
An eight-year-old gives me a blank look when asked why he is not in bed at this late hour.
"Can you buy me some sweets?" he replies.
Sebastian sells 10 mango or strawberry-flavoured sweets for one Peruvian sol, the equivalent of about 40 US cents or 20p.
The Peruvian government wants these children off the street and in school.
President Ollanta Humala recently promised that he would fight for the complete eradication of child labour.
"My dream is to have no more children working by the end of my term," he said.
His remarks were applauded by the International Labour Organisation, which praised Mr Humala for putting the issue at the forefront of his political agenda.
The Geneva-based organisation estimates that one in 10, or 14 million children in total, work in Latin America, most of them in agriculture and because they live in extreme poverty.
But in Peru, the rate is much higher.
More than two million boys and girls work - about 28% of all children between the ages of six and 17.
Bolivia and Guatemala have similar rates.
Carmen Moreno, the director of the ILO for the Andean region, thinks that Mr Humala's plan to boost primary and secondary school attendance, and enforce a nationwide employment ban for those under 14 years of age, is not only achievable but should also be a national priority.
"Children are not short adults," she says. "They are people who have to forge their personal development, culture and future, and this future can only come with education.
"No matter how many hours children work, it stops them from attending school regularly. And this is dangerous for their personal development."
Janeth Urcuhuaranga, a facilitator at Manthoc, a national organisation that represents some 2,500 child workers, disagrees.
She believes that children have a right to work and it is not the government's role to tell them not to exercise it.
"Children always worked during the Inca times," she says, "and even did so in Europe, to contribute to the welfare of the family.
"But now we are telling children not to farm the land nor go fishing with their family.
"We are demonising child employment and saying that we're taking their childhood away from them."
In an adjacent room at the Manthoc centre in Lima, eight-year-old William plays with other boys of his age.
On weekends, he sells lollipops on the street and gives his earnings to his mother, "so that she can buy food".
As William speaks about the pride he feels being able to contribute to his family's income, Andy and Xiomara, both 11, nod their heads.
"I wouldn't choose not to work if that was possible, because I prefer working over doing nothing," says Xiomara, who helps her mother selling corn at the market.
"I'm not interested in making money," says Andy, who sews leather shoes in a factory. "What I want to do is to help people and feel like I'm useful." He dreams of becoming a civil engineer.
Another girl, Geraldine, who is 14, points out that she and all the other children at Manthoc go to school and do their homework every day.
She has been working since she was six, and believes that it has helped her.
"Working makes us more responsible and confident," she says.
The Manthoc boys and girls agree that selling cigarettes on the street late at night is not what a child should be doing, and that children should not be employed in Peru to mine for gold in conditions that are often described as inhuman even for adults.
But they speak of the clear distinction between what they believe is dignified labour - on a part-time basis without affecting a child's education - and what is abuse.
"Sexual exploitation, child trafficking, children carrying weapons... Those aren't jobs," says Ms Urcuhuaranga. "They're simply crimes that need to be severely sanctioned."
She says that government initiatives to raise the minimum wage and improve education are welcome, but that they should be used to eradicate extreme poverty, not child labour.
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Mexican youth protest in streets against corporate media and PRI candidate
William Booth. Washington Post. May 31, 2012
MEXICO CITY — Compared with historic, brutal, high-stakes presidential elections here in the past, this has been an important but blah campaign season in Mexico. But recent protests by college students and other young people have added a spark.
Members of the under-25 demographic are calling out the country’s duopolistic media companies and politically cozy broadcasters as propaganda masters and kingmakers — while warning that the front-running candidate, the telegenic Cheshire Cat named Enrique Peña Nieto, is an empty suit.
The only problem with this narrative is that more young people support Peña Nieto than his challengers, according to the polls, which may make the protests here, led by urban university students, a well-meaning but ultimately meaningless blip.
Yet the stakes, for Mexico, and the United States, are high: a possible comeback by Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ran Mexico with an autocratic combination of corruption and coercion for 71 years until it was tossed out in 2000. A month before the vote, Peña Nieto is up in the polls by double digits.
At a dozen large rallies over the past two weeks in several major cities, thousands of young people took to the streets to protest what they see as media manipulation and thwarted democracy. One of the signs read: “Peña Nieto — the television is yours, the streets are ours!”
Peña Nieto, 45, is married to a soap-opera star from the Televisa network, and his critics say he has received overwhelmingly favorable coverage from the No. 1 broadcaster, which reaches 70 percent of Mexican households.
“We are not against Enrique Peña Nieto, but we are against his attempt to impose, by an unethical business community and by the political class, a conspiracy to elect him,” said Rodrigo Serrano, a spokesman for the youth group. “We do not want a return of the old regime.”
The other youth demographic
Some enthusiastic participants have compared the youth street actions and dramatically sincere YouTube videos, driven by Facebook and Twitter, to the Arab Spring. Except that Mexico is a fully functioning democracy, with an elected president who is leaving peacefully at the end of his single, constitutionally mandated six-year term.
Others have compared the youth protests to the Occupy movement in the United States. They say the students have a good point, if not a detailed agenda, that this is a corporate, scripted presidential campaign that does not include vigorous debate or any real access to the candidates, outside their made-for-TV rallies and speeches. And so far, they point out, a single, stilted debate was not even aired on major television channels — nor have the candidates faced real press conferences or town hall audience.
Trailing in the polls are the leftist stalwart and a former Mexico City mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and the ruling conservative National Action Party candidate, Josefina Vazquez Mota.
According to the latest surveys by the independent Mitofsky group, Peña Nieto is winning 34 percent of the vote among 18-to-25-year-olds, with his two opponents trailing in the same age group with 20 percent.
“Peña Nieto is viewed not as the return of an anachronistic party but as a fresh new voice by a third of voters — the young — many of whom are too young to remember life in the PRI one-party state,” security analyst Jorge Chabat said.
The youth vote helped elect the conservative former Coca-Cola executive Vicente Fox in 2000 and almost got Lopez Obrador into office in 2006.
“The student movement, while representative of a certain sector — middle- to upper-class youth — is not representative of the nation as a whole,” said Rodrigo Aguilera, Mexico analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit. “Peña Nieto’s support in this demographic has always been weak even before the movement began.”
Yet pollsters are seeing some movement against Peña Nieto from the protests.
“Even though Peña Nieto is youngest, he has lost points in this segment of the population,” since the protests began, said Roy Campos, a Mitofsky pollster.
The student movement started May 11 when Peña Nieto was jeered during an appearance at the Ibero-American University for his role as governor of the state of Mexico in calling in police to put down a 2006 protest by flower vendors, which resulted in mass arrests and left two dead. After some in the audience shouted “assassin,” Peña Nieto left the stage.
Ibero-American University is a private college attended mostly by the well-to-do children of Mexico’s elites, called “fresas,” or strawberries.
Immediately after the incident, some PRI supporters said the students had been infiltrated by operatives for Peña Nieto’s leftist opponent. “They were too organized to be students,” one PRI official said on the radio.
Indignant, the students responded with a video, which went viral, where some of the 131 students present held their student ID cards up to the camera and denounced PRI statements.
And so the movement was born.
Demand for debate
At a protest this week, the students presented a letter to the interior minister, Alejandro Poire, demanding that he force all broadcasters, radio and television, to air the second, and likely last, presidential debate, scheduled for June 10.
The broadcast of the first debate on May 6 stirred controversy when TV Azteca declined to air it on its major channels — because there was a semifinal soccer match at the same hour. The station’s billionaire owner, Ricardo Salinas, taunted critics via his Twitter account that the sports event would get higher ratings.
It did not.
The youth protests, wherever they go, have created debate about what they mean among Mexico’s chattering classes.
Jorge Castaneda, who served as foreign minister under Fox, said the young protesters seem too vague and naive in their aims to achieve much — a criticism heard by mainstream pundits in the United States about the Occupy movement.
John Ackerman, a university professor in Mexico, defended the young people, saying they might not remember a PRI government but they know media manipulation when they see it.
The leaders of the youth marches say they have already achieved concrete results — the biggest TV company in Mexico, Televisa, has announced that it will air the next debate on its most watched channel.
Researcher Gabriela Martinez contributed to this report.
Adding to Unease of a Drug War Alliance
RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD. New York Times. May 29, 2012
MEXICO CITY — The biggest military corruption case here in recent years has worsened an already frayed relationship between American law enforcement officials and the Mexican Army, the institution most trusted and empowered by officials here to fight the drug war.
The case involves the arrests this month of four formerly high-ranking army officers, including a former under secretary of defense, who are suspected of passing information to the Beltrán Leyva drug gang for money. For some Americans, the arrests confirm a longstanding wariness of the army, and have reawakened concerns about how closely it may be linked to the gang, one of the top traffickers of cocaine to the United States and a particular focus of American drug agents.
American exasperation with the army reached a high point in 2009 when, fed up with what they saw as unusual foot-dragging by the army after it failed to act on American intelligence on the leader of Beltrán Leyva, the Americans turned to the Mexican Navy for help. The ensuing raid turned into a publicity coup for the navy when the gang leader was killed.
A meeting last year between American law enforcement agents and Mexican Army commanders to try to work through their differences ended abruptly. “It was basically 15 minutes, hello and goodbye,” said one official with knowledge of the meeting.
Much of what doomed it were bad feelings over leaked diplomatic cables from the American ambassador at the time, Carlos Pascual, who had vented about the army’s refusal to go after the Beltrán Leyva gang more aggressively. Mexican officials, including President Felipe Calderón, were outraged, and Mr. Pascual eventually resigned.
Now, several current and former American officials agreed, the detention of three generals and a lieutenant colonel accused of supplementing their civil servant salaries with drug profits has shaken the officer corps.
“The D.E.A. 99 percent of the time is going to deal with Mexican law enforcement, not the military,” said Michael Braun, a former chief of operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration. He recited a series of army-related corruption cases, including the 1997 conviction, on organized-crime charges, of a former general who was the country’s drug czar.
Still, American officials professed to be as puzzled as anybody else about why the military officers had been detained now, after three, including Tomás Ángeles Dauahare, the former defense under secretary, left the military; one, a general, was on active duty. It was unclear, the American officials said, if there was some hidden urgency or if the arrests merely reflected turmoil in the army ahead of the July 1 presidential election and the victor’s eventual appointment of new leadership at the Defense Ministry. Prosecutors have not divulged much about the case.
The army has played a pivotal, if reluctant, role — commanders have privately complained that they have no police training and that soldiers are too exposed to drug traffickers — in the antidrug offensive that Mr. Calderón began in 2006. Nearly 50,000 soldiers have fanned out across the country, confronting traffickers, seizing drug labs and burning marijuana crops, often replacing local police officers too corrupt or ill prepared to do their jobs.
In turning to the army, Mr. Calderón relied on one of the institutions that the Mexican public trusts most, ranked closely behind the Roman Catholic Church and universities in a survey last year by Consulta Mitofsky, a polling group.
The Americans, too, however warily, have supported the Mexican Army through a $1.4 billion antidrug program, known as the Merida Initiative, providing the army eight helicopters and training while American military officers seek to tighten bonds with their Mexican counterparts, particularly for counterterrorism efforts.
But awkward, tense encounters between American law enforcement agents and the Mexican Army are common, and they tend to themselves as distant cousins who have told ugly family stories about each other.
Few have been uglier than the case against the former officers accused of working for the Beltrán Leyva gang, known for its success in using violence and payments to corrupt and intimidate politicians, the police and, it now appears, members of the army.
The 2009 killing of the gang’s leader “will not solve Mexico’s drug problem,” Mr. Pascual wrote in one cable, “but it will hopefully generate the momentum necessary to make sustained progress against other drug trafficking organizations.”
The sensitivity over that raid by the navy, and Mr. Pascual’s criticism, remains. Reluctant to antagonize a potential partner, no American official wished to be quoted by name commenting on the case of the detained generals or the state of the relationship.
From time to time, army insiders have fed tips to the Americans on generals believed to be dirty, but rarely has the Mexican government acted on them, current and former law enforcement officials said. The Reforma newspaper said 12 generals since 2000 had been accused of ties to organized crime.
American officials said that even though some of the intelligence they had passed on to Mexico about the Beltrán Leyva organization may have figured in the generals’ detention, they were not active participants in it.
“This is a Mexican investigation,” a senior State Department official said.
Mr. Calderón, in his first comments on the arrests, defended the army last week, saying, “Without the Mexican Army, the country probably would have fallen into criminal hands by now.”
“I regret and condemn that some, specifically identified, according to the evidence found by both the attorney general and the military prosecutor, may have been involved in illegal acts,” he said.
The military’s human rights record has also created tension, with a State Department report released Thursday noting complaints over unexplained disappearances and other allegations of abuse at the hands of soldiers. The report, assessing human rights around the world, took Mexico to task for tolerating official corruption and said human rights monitors called the Mexican Army “the government entity with the greatest number of human rights complaints (1,695) filed against it during the year.”
American agents all seem to have a story about suspicious Mexican Army activity.
Mr. Braun, former Drug Enforcement Agency chief of operations, recalled helping to monitor a group of police officers pursuing a drug plane in southern Mexico in the early 1990s. When it landed, the officers moved in, but they were intercepted by soldiers, who, Mr. Braun said, “executed them on the airstrip.”
“They didn’t know the military was there guarding a load,” he said. “Nobody knew that.”
Jayson P. Ahern, a former Customs and Border Protection commissioner who is now a consultant with the Chertoff Group in Washington, recalled getting regular reports of soldiers who had ended up in American territory in remote Southwestern desert areas known to be drug-trafficking routes. They always claimed to have lost track of the international boundary, a plausible explanation in dark, inhospitable terrain.
“There was never an instance where it was shown to be actual cartel activity,” Mr. Ahern said. “But it was certainly suspicious.”
The current case continues to generate plenty of intrigue. Last week, Mexico extradited to Texas an important leader in the Beltrán Leyva gang, Sergio Villarreal. Known as “El Grande,” he had been long sought by the United States, and local news reports said he had given a statement linking the detained army officers to the cartel. American officials said Mr. Villarreal’s extradition had not been tied to the corruption case.
“In the past, the Mexican Army was one of the most nationalist institutions in Mexico; they wave the sovereignty flag,” said Alonzo Peña, a former deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement who helped oversee the agency’s work in Mexico. “So it has taken a while for the law enforcement community, our officials, to embrace this effort. Law enforcement works with law enforcement. Traditionally that is the way it has been.”
30 years after massacre, family comes together again
David Abel. Boston Globe. May 30, 2012
NEWARK - The man with piercing green eyes began to shake as he stared past the checkpoint, down a crowded corridor into an unfamiliar airport terminal.
It would be the first time Oscar Alfredo Ramírez Castañeda, now 32 and living in Framingham, would meet his biological father since a squad of government soldiers slaughtered his mother and eight brothers and sisters 30 years ago in their small village during the height of the civil war in Guatemala.
Until last year, when he received a call from prosecutors in Guatemala and agreed to submit to a DNA test, Ramírez had no idea that as a young child he had been abducted by an army lieutenant who led that assault, and raised as a member of his family. Or that his real father was still alive.
Tranquilino Castañeda, with granddaughter Andrea Ramírez, had always assumed that his youngest son was dead. ‘‘I’mjust glad to have lived long enough to see this day,’’ he said.
On Monday, as his own young children giggled with excitement and held signs to welcome their new grandfather to Newark Liberty International Airport, Ramírez was not sure what to feel. “I’m nervous,’’ he said. “Anxious.’’
Ramírez said he grew up in a loving family and lacks any grudge against Lieutenant Oscar Ovidio Ramírez Ramos, the deputy commander of the notorious squad of commandos that killed more than 250 men, women, and children and wiped Dos Erres, his village in northern Guatemala, off the map.
“It’s very hard for me,’’ Ramírez would say later. “I can’t change what happened in my life. I just can’t. He was good to me. First of all, I didn’t get killed, and then he didn’t treat me bad.’’
The lieutenant died in a truck accident eight months after kidnapping Ramírez, who was 3 at the time. “Everyone I knew loved him and thought he was a good man,’’ said Ramírez. “They saw him as a hero.’’
Earlier in the day, with the help of a New York lawyer and a foundation supporting his bid for political asylum in the United States, Ramírez and his family took a train from South Station into Manhattan.
Now, with his wife, Nidia, by his side, and the children growing antsy, Ramírez began to sweat in the air-conditioned corridor at the airport. The children, dressed as if they were going to church, only knew they were going to meet their grandfather from Guatemala.
Over the past year, Ramírez and his father, Tranquilino Castañeda, now 70, have spoken nearly every day over the phone, even chatting twice by video. Ramírez has sent him money and urged him to go easy on the rum, which has been Castañeda’s companion and tormentor since he returned from the fields that day in 1982 to find his pregnant wife and other children dead.
Castañeda had always assumed that his youngest son, a chubby toddler with missing front teeth whom he called Alfredito, had been thrown down the village well and left to die with the others. He never remarried, struggled with alcoholism, and lived in a shack in the jungle after giving up on farming when the arthritis in his leg became too much.
Now he was getting on a plane for the first time, leaving his country for the first time.
“I’m just glad to have lived long enough to see this day,’’ Castañeda would say later.
As anxious as he felt, Ramírez said he knew he had to meet his father in person, to touch him, to hug him.
“I just wanted to have him with me,’’ Ramírez said. “He doesn’t have to be alone anymore.’’
A lawyer waiting with the family received a call from one of the human rights advocates traveling with Castañeda. They had landed.
A trickle of passengers grew into a surge passing through the security barrier. Then Ramírez’s girls began to jump and scream.
They instantly recognized the man in the weathered white cowboy hat that shaded his sun-creased face after years of harvesting corn. He was being pushed on a wheelchair.
The children - Andrea, 11, Nicole, 7, and Oscar, 5 - wrapped their arms around their grandfather, who was beaming. Then Ramírez, still holding 10-month-old Dulce, leaned in for a long, deep hug that lasted nearly 30 seconds.
Father and son both wiped the tears filling their nearly identical green eyes.
There would be a lot to catch up on, such as how justice is slowly coming to pass in Guatemala, where members of the military and government officials guilty of ordering mass murder have evaded prosecution for years.
A Guatemalan court last August found three former commandos who participated in the attack on Dos Erres guilty of murder and human rights violations. The defendants each received sentences of 6,060 years in prison, or 30 years for every one of the 201 identified victims, plus 30 more for crimes against humanity.
Seven suspects remain at large, including two of the squad’s top officers. Authorities told ProPublica, a nonprofit online news site that first reported the story of how prosecutors identified Ramírez, that they believe the suspects could be in the United States or in Guatemala, sheltered by powerful networks linking the military and organized crime.
They would also be able to talk about Ramírez’s adopted family, who were shocked to learn of Ramírez’s true identity. After learning the news, Ramírez’s cousins promptly invited Castañeda to the town where Ramírez grew up, and treated him graciously, like family.
At the airport, Ramírez led his father to baggage claim and then to a van waiting to take the family into New York City for a dinner arranged by R. Scott Greathead, a partner in the New York office of Wiggin and Dana, who helped arrange the visit. Greathead and lawyers from Mintz Levin in Boston will represent Ramírez, who entered the United States as an illegal immigrant, at a hearing in which Ramírez will seek political asylum. He will argue that he is at risk because he is living proof of a massacre in Guatemala and could be targeted by those hoping to avoid prosecution.
After dinner, Ramírez and his family took a train back to Boston. His father remained in New York to get some rest.
The next morning, Castañeda was driven to Framingham, where he will sleep in Ramírez’s bed. He has a visa to stay in the United States for six months.
As they chatted over a lunch of pupusas on Tuesday afternoon in the family’s cramped two-bedroom apartment, which is full of children’s toys and family photos, including portraits of the lieutenant’s mother, they talked about the price of cigarettes in the States, how to buy pants, and what life was like in Dos Erres before soldiers burned it to the ground.
Castañeda showed Ramírez pictures of those who died, including one of his sisters, a 13-year-old named Maribel.
As they talked, Ramírez’s children clung to their father and grandfather, who pinched their cheeks, gave them long hugs, and cooed with affection. He couldn’t get enough of them.
“I’m very happy to be here,’’ Castañeda said.
Ten suspects arrested in connection with Honduras reporter murder
Jeremy Dear. The Guardian. May 31, 2012
Media freedom campaigners in Honduras have welcomed the unprecedented arrests of 10 suspects – including a police officer – following the high profile murder of a kidnapped radio reporter.
Journalists had taken to the streets to demand an end to the killings of journalists in the wake of the brutal murder earlier in May of Alfredo Villatoro, who had been shot twice in the head. His corpse, dumped in a busy street near the capital, had been dressed in a police uniform.
He became the 24th Honduran journalist to be killed since the 2009 military coup that overthrew former president, Manuel Zelaya. The common factor in all the killings has been the apparent impunity for the assassins.
Now, in the face of growing protests, international condemnation and widespread revulsion at what the International Federation of Journalists calls "a co-ordinated attack designed to silence the country's media" the police and the national authorities have been prompted to act.
On Sunday five suspects – two women and three men, aged 15 to 29 – were arrested. An AK47, rifles, handguns and bullets were recovered from their homes. Two cars, thought to be linked to the kidnapping, were seized.
This came days after three other arrests in connection with the kidnapping and murder. Two prison inmates are also being questioned about their possible involvement in the case. One of those arrested is believed to be a policeman.
In recent days the Honduran government also announced its intention to draw up an emergency national protection plan for journalists at risk. Justice minister Ana Pineda said the plan was designed to "ensure adequate security to enable journalists to be able to work free from threats and intimidation".
The moves come after an unprecedented wave of protests at the killings. An estimated 5,000 protestors marched to the presidential residence in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, chanting "killing journalists doesn't kill the truth" and demanding increased security for journalists and an end to the widespread impunity criminals enjoy. Other protests took place in San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, Comayagua and other cities.
Newspapers have joined the call for action against the drug traffickers, criminal gangs and political forces which have created a climate of fear and intimidation for Honduran journalists since the coup.
On Monday Honduran newspapers, in a co-ordinated response, demanded justice and freedom for the media. La Prensa, one of Honduras' leading dailies, under the headline "Enough Already!" demanded the right to "exercise our vocation and have the freedom to show Hondurans the reality as it is".
Feds to investigate alleged Honduran labor violations
MICHAEL P. TREMOGLIE. Legal Newsline. May 29, 2012
WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The AFL-CIO announced Wednesday that the federal government will investigate charges that the Honduran government is ignoring "repeated and well-documented violations of workers' rights."
Those charges were made in a petition filed in March by the AFL-CIO and major Honduran trade unions with the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Trade and Labor Affairs.
OTLA is a division of the Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs. Its mission is to ensure that workers worldwide are treated fairly. ILAB uses all available methods to improve working conditions, raise living standards, protect workers' ability to exercise their rights, and address the workplace exploitation of children and other vulnerable populations.
It accepted the AFL-CIO petition that asked the U.S. government to act according to the terms of the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement. The AFL-CIO maintains Honduras has failed to effectively enforce its labor laws and comply with its DR-CAFTA commitments.
AFL-CIO International Affairs Director Cathy Feingold issued a statement:
"Given the ongoing systematic violations of basic worker rights, including the firing of hundreds of workers for attempting to organize unions and the failure of employers to pay the minimum wage, the acceptance of this petition is a positive step forward in calling the government of Honduras to start protecting the rights of its own workers. The petition is the first step in the process to compel a nation to enforce its labor obligations under the DR-CAFTA. "
Feingold expressed her desire that the OTLA inquiry, "sends a message that all countries that have signed free trade agreements must comply with their obligations to enforce their own labor laws."
Iran erases $164 million of Nicaraguan debt
AFP. May 30, 2012
MANAGUA – Iran remitted $164 million of Nicaraguan debt in a gesture to strengthen economic relations with the government of Daniel Ortega, Iranian Vice President Ali Saeidlo said during a visit to Managua this week.
“I wanted to take this trip to announce this news to you personally,” Saeidlo said on Tuesday. “We are ready to forgive Nicaragua’s debt.”
The debt forgiveness was one of the agreements that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised Ortega after the Nicaraguan leader’s return to power in 2007. Ortega thanked Iran and said his government is “also ready” to boost trade and investment between the two nations.
Nicaragua’s $58 million debt was acquired during Ortega’s first term in the 1980s and grew to $164 million with interest.
Saeidlo arrived in Managua on Monday night from Cuba and plans to continue his tour of other allied countries in the region, including Ecuador.
Support Mounts for Salvadoran Gang Truce
Tom Hayden. Huffington Post. May 30, 2012
Longtime gang peace process advocates in Los Angeles announced new support on Memorial Day for the 11-week truce called by incarcerated Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street gang leaders which has sharply reduced homicides in El Salvador.
An estimated 700 lives have been saved since March as homicide rates have fallen from 14 - 15 to four - five per day, or a 65 percent reduction. For the first time in decades, polling shows Salvadoran public opinion defining poverty reduction as their top priority, ahead of sweeps and mass detention. The truce, which is supported by Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes, began March 9 when 30 truce leaders were transferred from a super-max prison to high-security facilities where they were permitted contacts with family and friends. The transfer was approved by the Salvadoran Minister of Justice and Security David Munguia. On March 20, it was confirmed that mediation efforts were being led Raul Mijango, a former guerrilla commandant and legislator, and the head chaplain of the armed forces and police, Bishop Fabio Colindres.
As L.A.-based peace advocates gathered Monday at La Placita church on Olvera Street, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS) was set to travel on a supportive visit to El Salvador, to be followed by United Nations and European Union representatives.
A new "Transitional Advisory Group in Support of the Peace Process in El Salvador" was announced at the L.A. press conference. The 20-member committee includes a new official presence in gang peace efforts, Paule Cruz Takash, president of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, and a cross-section of leaders with deep roots in past gang peace efforts, including the author Luis Rodriguez and his wife Trini of the Tia Chucha Cultural Center, Aquil Basheer and "Niko" of Maximum Force Enterprise, Aqeela Sherrills of the original Watts truce, Enrique Hurtado of Aztecs Rising, Angela Sambrano of CARACEN, Fr. Michael Kennedy of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative, Fr. Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries, Hector Verdugo, also of Homeboy, and Javier Stauring of the L.A. Archdiocese. Chairing the press conference was Silvia Beltran, former director of Homies Unidos and currently on the staff of the L.A. City Council. Also speaking were a Salvadoran student at Cal State Northridge, Elvira Padilla, and a sister of one of the incarcerated men, Mayra Rivas.
The new transnational committee is represented in Washington D.C. by Luis Cardona and Carmen Perez of the Gathering for Justice (founded by Harry Belafonte) and Juan Pacheco, director of Barrios Unidos.
The purposes of the transnational committee are to work for the safety of those involved in the Salvadoran truce, doing an inventory of the gang members specific needs, and building support and resources for the community-led process. Needs identified so far include: new mattresses for family visits, mental and medical health services, sentence reductions for good conduct, and vocational training in prison with job placement upon release. The MS and 18th Street representatives also call on the army and police to control and prevent ongoing human rights violations, and protect the safety of the peace process. Female gang members are demanding the involvement of women's and family service organizations to address their specific needs.
Besides initiating the truce, the gang leaders so far have defined schools as "safe zones," ordered the end of forced recruitment of young people and suspend criminal activities and attacks on each other.
Luis Rodriguez and Aqeela Sherrills spoke passionately and at length about the history of past peace process efforts in Watts, East Los Angeles, and among deported gang members in El Salvador. "Peace comes from the heart of people, from a rejection of violence by the people, and when it comes from the ground up we must stand with them," Rodriguez began. "This has happened before, has been sabotaged before, and failed before for lack of resources and respect, but out of every failure there rise new peace warriors." Rodriguez said he sees "peace surging again, and we have to learn the lesson that peace doesn't come from institutions, peace doesn't come from peaceful people, peace can come in the end from the people who began the violence, the best sometimes can come from the worst."
Sherrills recalled that 20,000 died in L.A.'s gang wars between Crips and Bloods before the 1992 truce. "It was a war zone, but we created a culture of peace on the streets," he said, attributing ten percent of the violence reduction to policing. "Gangs are not inherently negative, do not come like outside aliens, but arise among our sons and daughters, and they need healing, a public health approach, a community-based approach." He pointed out that gang homicides have continued to fall in Los Angeles even while poverty rates have been climbing. "We love you," he declared to the largely immigrant gathering. Bashir, an ex-Panther, added, "we have to unify or die."
In the most dramatic moment of the day, Homies Unidos leader Alex Sanchez spoke for the first time in public since his June 2009 federal indictment on gang conspiracy charges. Los Angeles police anti-gang officers and prosecutors have charged Sanchez, a former MS member, with continuing to secretly participate in the gang as a so-called "shot caller." Sanchez and his many supporters argue that a key role in violence reduction can be played by respected former gang members when they mediate conflicts and create alternatives to the violent gang life. But any such "association" is suspect to law enforcement and often prohibited by anti-gang laws and regulations.
Sanchez was arrested by the LAPD and faced deportation over a decade ago, but all charges were dropped and a federal immigration judge granted Sanchez political asylum. He was arrested again in 2009, charged with multiple conspiracies. He was granted bail in 2010 after representatives of the LAPD and FBI were unable to prove in federal court that he would be a social danger if released. His trial now is set for next June.
Imprisoned Salvadoran gang members and their families, as well as Salvadoran officials have made phone requests for Sanchez to intervene as a mediator and coalition-builder on behalf of the fragile process. The irony is that Sanchez is prohibited from communicating with any MS members except in the office of his Los Angeles public defender, Amy Jacks. Despite the technical difficulties, Sanchez seemed energized on Sunday by the opportunity to act positively in a context painfully familiar to him, after two years of defending himself in numerous court appearances. On this Memorial Day, he called out the names of Homies Unidos members killed in El Salvador -- Hector, Ringo, Bullet, and Smoky, among others -- saying, "this is a baton thrown out to us, and it is our duty to pick it up."
Twenty years of organizing in Los Angeles have yielded two models which can be useful for El Salvador, Sanchez said. The first, peace work in the streets and prisons by former gang members like Sanchez, is already adopted and funded in L.A. as an official "gang prevention and intervention model," endorsed as well by the LAPD after years of debate. Since the intervention model was developed in part from the experience of Salvadoran gang members it already is "indigenous," not a foreign model run by government bureaucrats, Peace Corps-style.
Second and equally important, Sanchez and others stressed, is the urgent need for rehabilitation, training and jobs modeled at Homeboy Industries under the inspiration of Fr. Boyle, who has been involved in the Salvadoran community for years. At Homeboy, where the motto is "nothing stops a bullet like a job," young homeboys and homegirls are counseled, trained and directly employed by the agency, the largest of its kind in the US.
Homeboy staff are expected to confer directly with Salvadoran parties, private investors and government agencies interested in the model of such direct employment. They will stress that gang violence reduction is the key to attracting foreign investment to the besieged country, and jobs the key to violence reduction -- a virtuous circle in place of a vicious one.
Gang rappers and poets in El Salvador have long described themselves as the fruits of the war -- "las fruitas de la guerra." There now is the possibility of a great reversal, with gang members, their families and all of El Salvador realizing the fruits of peace.
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration [contents]
Mercopress. May 30, 2012
OAS secretary general Jose Miguel Insulza believes US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will miss the Organization of American States General Assembly because of “agenda problems” and not over discrepancies on the issues to the addressed.
Insulza made the statement during a meeting with journalists and regretted that Ms Clinton would be absent from the regional meeting to be held in Bolivia June 3 to 5.
“We always want all Foreign secretaries to attend but much depends also of their agendas”, said Insulza who recalled that the head of US diplomacy has to address issues such as negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program and the ongoing problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Clinton on Thursday takes off for an eight days tour to Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey and therefore the US delegation to Cochabamba in Bolivia will be headed by Roberta Jackson, Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America and the US ambassador before OAS, Carmen Lomellin.
“It’s a pity she won’t be able to attend but I’m sure that the US will be very well represented by the Assistant Secretary of State”, said Insulza.
Nevertheless Insulza pointed out that there is a “discussion” in the continent not so much about “food security” but rather on “food sovereignty”, on which for some members have a different content and extension, “it’s a complicated issue”.
He added that there is consensus on the resolution text which will be sent to the General Assembly to examine by the Foreign ministers but persists a conceptual problem regarding “sovereignty over food security”, which should be debated next Monday and Tuesday in Bolivia.
Likewise is the issue of the Bolivia’s claim for an outlet to the Pacific Ocean and Argentina’s standing demand for sovereignty over the Falklands/Malvinas Islands, on which the Secretary General trusts there will be “a consensus”.
Foreign ministers are also expected to issue a statement regarding the reform of the Inter American Human Rights Committee, an issue that did not achieve consensus in the Standing Council last Friday when the resolutions to be sent to the General Assembly were voted.
Last January state members approved several recommendations to reform the Human Rights committee which some organizations and civil society members have described as attempts to limit its autonomy.