Latin America News Round-up
June 11, 2012
Violence Hits Brazil Tribes in Scramble for Land
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Brazil and Southern Cone
Violence Hits Brazil Tribes in Scramble for Land. New York Times
Sao Paulo celebrates gay pride with huge parade. AP
Brazil Resumes Search for Remains of Guerrillas Killed 40 Years Ago. EFE
Argentina, Brazil to Push for More Trade in Local Currencies – Minister. Dow Jones
Argentines’ Dollar Deposits Fall to Lowest Since April 2010. Bloomberg
Argentina invites British diplomat to Buenos Aires. AP
Hundreds Protest Screening of Pro-Pinochet Film in Chile. New York Times
Uruguay Recognizes Marriage Of Gay Couple. On Top
Northern Andean Region
Venezuelan candidate Capriles challenges Hugo Chavez. BBC
Venezuela's Chavez: Health exams 'absolutely fine’. AP
Happiness, X,Y and Z. Huffington Post (UK)
Ex-Colombian president's family face US extradition over drugs charges. The Guardian
Colombia Central Bank: One Director Favors Future Rate Cut. Dow Jones
Who Wants Peace in Colombia? Real News Network
Western Andean Region
Brazil grants asylum to Bolivian senator. AP
India’s Jindal to Exit Bolivia’s Largest Mining Project. EFE
Bolivia’s Morales nationalizes zinc and tin mines licensed to Swiss group. Mercopress
Ecuador clean water charity started amid oil fight. San Francisco Chronicle
Peru to Launch Environmental Review to Calm Mining Protesters. Dow Jones
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Mexico’s Final Presidential Debate Lacks Fire. New York Times
Mexicans protest against 'media bias'. The Guardian
Candidates in Mexico Signal a New Tack in the Drug War. New York Times
Pacific Rim Ruling Threatens El Salvador’s National Sovereignty. NACLA
Grenada trying to find remains of slain Marxist PM. AP
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Violence Hits Brazil Tribes in Scramble for Land
SIMON ROMERO. New York Times. June 9, 2012
ARAL MOREIRA, Brazil — The gunmen emerged from pickup trucks at dawn, their faces hidden in balaclavas, and stormed into an encampment surrounded by a field of soybean plants near this town on Brazil’s porous frontier with Paraguay.
Witnesses said the men then shot Nísio Gomes, 59, a leader of the indigenous Guarani people; loaded his corpse onto a truck; and drove away.
“We want the bones of my father,” said Valmir Gomes, 33, one of Nísio’s sons, who witnessed the November attack. “He’s not an animal to drag away like that.”
Whether the bodies are hauled away or left as testaments to battles for ancestral land, killings and disappearances of indigenous leaders continue to climb, leaving a stain on Brazil’s rise as an economic powerhouse.
The expansion of huge cattle ranches and industrial-scale farms in remote regions has produced a land scramble that is leaving the descendants of Brazil’s original inhabitants desperate to recover tribal terrains, in some cases squatting on contested properties. Nonindigenous landowners, meanwhile, many of whom live on land settled decades ago by their own ancestors under the government’s so-called colonization programs, are just as attached to their claims.
The conflicts often result in violent clashes, which sometimes end tragically for the squatters, armed here only with bows and arrows.
Fifty-one Indians were killed in Brazil in 2011; as many as 24 of the killings are suspected of being related to land battles, according to the Indigenous Missionary Council, an arm of the Roman Catholic Church.
The killings have focused attention on a problem that still plagues Brazil ahead of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, a gathering of thousands scheduled to be held in Rio de Janeiro this month. Twenty years ago, ahead of the original Earth Summit in Rio, officials responded to international criticism over killings of Yanomami people by gold miners, creating a 37,000-square-mile reserve in the Amazon.
In a less striking gesture, President Dilma Rousseff moved ahead this month with the demarcation of seven much smaller indigenous areas. But Cleber César Buzatto, the executive secretary of the Indigenous Missionary Council, said the move was disappointing since the areas were generally not the focus of land battles or big state-financed infrastructure projects.
Meanwhile, land clashes in various parts of Brazil are still taking place. In some cases, courts have opened the way for some indigenous people, who account for less than 1 percent of Brazil’s population of 191 million, to recuperate lands.
In the northern state of Roraima in 2009, Brazil’s high court expelled nonindigenous rice farmers from the lands of 20,000 Indians, mainly the Macuxi people. In a case this year, the Supreme Federal Tribunal annulled the private titles of almost 200 properties in the northeastern Bahia State, ruling that the land belonged to the Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe people. The decision followed clashes that left at least two dead.
But the courts can accomplish only so much. Tension is also increasing over proposed legislation aimed at opening indigenous areas to mining, pointing to how demand for Brazil’s natural resources may exacerbate land disputes.
Attacks against indigenous peoples persist here in Mato Grosso do Sul, a sprawling state in southwest Brazil where multinationals like Louis Dreyfus, the French commodities giant, have put down stakes.
A surge in wealth contrasts with the sense of hopelessness among Mato Grosso do Sul’s indigenous peoples, who account for about 75,000 of the state’s population of 2.4 million. Their marginalization has roots in policies put in place in the 1930s, when Brazil’s rulers corralled the Guarani into small reserves with the intent of opening vast areas to settlers.
The results for indigenous people were disastrous. In the shadow of Mato Grosso do Sul’s prosperity, indigenous leaders have called attention over the past decade to the deaths of dozens of Guarani children from malnutrition and an epidemic of suicides, notably in Dourados, an urban area where thousands of Guarani live cheek by jowl on small plots of land.
“Dourados is perhaps the largest known indigenous tragedy in the world,” said Deborah Duprat, Brazil’s deputy attorney general.
Beyond the malnutrition and suicide, there have also been attacks on the Guarani. More than half of Brazil’s killings of indigenous people in 2011 took place in Mato Grosso do Sul. The violence is far from hidden.
The November attack on Mr. Gomes, days after he led a group of 200 Guarani who squatted on a soybean farm, was especially brutal. A gang of gun-wielding men, “pistoleiros” as they are called here, was said by witnesses to have carried out the attack, which also involved beatings of others adults and children in the encampment.
Brazil’s Federal Police found evidence that four landowners in the area had hired a private security firm to remove the Guarani, according to Agência Brasil, the government’s news agency. Ten people were identified in December as suspects in the attack, said Jorge Figueiredo, the official investigating the case. More than six months after the attack, the suspects remain free, despite witness accounts of the attack. Mr. Figueiredo said their identities could not be disclosed, as the authorities try to build a stronger case. Moreover, without Mr. Gomes’s body, investigators do not even have material proof that he was killed, even though his son Valmir said he saw his father shot dead that day.
As the investigation drags on, the Guarani live in fear. Families sleep under tarpaulins in the encampment, which they call a “tekohá,” or “sacred land.” Teenagers patrol with bows and arrows. When visitors are allowed in, children hold signs saying, “We want the bones of Nísio Gomes, our leader.”
The sense of impunity over the attack follows a pattern, Guarani leaders said, in which they face landowners who mount powerful legal efforts to oust squatters from their properties. Some landowners contend that Brazil’s labyrinthine legal system makes the resolution of disputes difficult.
“The rights of all have to be guaranteed,” said Roseli Maria Ruiz, whose family owns a ranch that has been partly occupied for more than a decade by Guarani squatters. Clashes on her property have emerged. “We cannot, as nonnative, be treated as second-class citizens,” she said. “Instead, we, too, should have the right to defend ourselves.”
Guarani leaders say they are also stymied in their claims by the legal process, involving anthropological studies and rulings by bureaucrats in Brasília for determining land ownership.
Meanwhile, tensions smolder across Mato Grosso do Sul, and threats persist against the Guarani. A Guarani leader, Tonico Benites, 39, described one harrowing encounter in April. He said a gunman on a motorcycle stopped him and his wife on a deserted road and threatened to kill him because of his efforts to recover lands. A thunderstorm ended that encounter, said Mr. Benites, who still shakes when recounting it. “I told myself, ‘I’ll scream until I’m killed; my wife will hear me, maybe someone else,’ ” he said. “They can eliminate me, but I won’t go without a scream.”
Lis Horta Moriconi contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro.
Sao Paulo celebrates gay pride with huge parade
AP. June 10, 2012
SAO PAULO -- Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians are streaming onto the streets of South America's biggest city to celebrate gay pride and urge an end to homophobia.
Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and their supporters are participating in Sao Paulo's 16th annual gay pride parade on skyscraper-lined Avenida Paulista, in the heart of the city. Many wear extravagant costumes and dance to the beat of music blasting from more than a dozen sound trucks.
Organizers say they hope more than 3 million take part in Sunday's parade, which they say is among the biggest in the world.
Local news media say some 2,400 police and security guards are on hand for the event. No major problems have been reported.
Brazil Resumes Search for Remains of Guerrillas Killed 40 Years Ago
EFE. June 10, 2012
BRASILIA – A group of Brazilian experts will resume the search for the remains of about 70 members of the Araguaia guerrillas, the most active of the groups that took up arms against the dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985, Agencia Brasil reported Sunday.
The members of the so-called Araguaia Working Group on Sunday traveled to the southern part of the state of Para, in the Amazon region, where in the late 1960s the guerrilla band operated and was fought and annihilated by the troops of the dictatorship.
The task of the working group, which will begin on Monday, will be to try and locate the remains of at least 70 guerrillas who were killed by the soldiers but whose bodies were never turned over to their relatives and who – human rights movements say – were buried in mass graves.
To date, 40 years after the guerrilla outfit was destroyed by the military, only the bodies of four of the insurgents have been recovered thanks to the efforts of their own relatives.
The search will be resumed at a time when the Truth Commission, created in May by the government of President Dilma Rousseff, has begun working with an eye toward “reestablishing the historical truth” about the human rights violations that occurred during the dictatorship.
The commission, comprised of seven members named directly by the president, will have limited powers since it will not be able to bring to justice the people responsible for the violations who are protected by an amnesty law decreed by the military regime and declared constitutional by the Supreme Court.
The commission, however, is hoping to be able to clarify what happened to the people who were disappeared for political reasons – the number of whom different versions place at about 200 – during the 21 years of military rule.
The commission has received requests for help from relatives of victims in neighboring countries, like Argentina, where it is suspected that several activists who in the 1970s fled their country for Brazil were kidnapped and murdered by agents of the dictatorship.
Argentina, Brazil to Push for More Trade in Local Currencies - Minister
Ken Parks. Dow Jones. June 8, 2012
BUENOS AIRES (Dow Jones)--Argentina and Brazil will seek greater use of local currencies in bilateral trade to reduce the use of the U.S. dollar, a top Argentine trade official said Friday.
"We are going to intensify the use of local currencies in trade between Brazil and Argentina," Industry Minister Debora Giorgi said in a press conference following a meeting with Brazil's Deputy Trade Minister Alessandro Teixeira.
Giorgi described her meeting with Teixeira as "very positive."
Argentina is eager to reduce its import bill as it tries to protect the central bank's international reserves. Since February, President Cristina Kirchner has aggressively blocked all kinds of imports to protect the reserves she uses to pay creditors.
Brazil and Argentina already channel a small portion of their trade over a voluntary local currency payment system known by its Spanish acronym as the SML.
Launched in October 2008, the system allows Argentine and Brazilian firms to settle trade in their respective currencies. The SML eliminates the cost of changing Argentine pesos or Brazilian reals into dollars and then back into local currencies.
From inception through the end of March, more than 1,100 companies used the SML to make payments for about $2.2 billion. Last year, transaction volumes surged 37% to $980 million, according to the Central Bank of Argentina.
Even so, the system's overall share of trade flows is quite small considering that last year alone trade between South America's two largest economies totalled about $39.5 billion.
Argentine newspaper BAE, which is close to the government, reported May 30 the Kirchner administration is considering making use of the SML obligatory for imports from Brazil.
Argentina ran a $4.1 billion trade deficit with its larger neighbor, and the SML has played a small role in helping Kirchner trim dollar outflows.
But making the system obligatory would likely require the consent of Brazil.
Argentina and Brazil have benefited immensely from their commercial relationship, though it hasn't been completely free of mutual acrimony.
Both countries have clamped down on imports this year, though for very different reasons. While Brazil is keen to protect its manufacturers from foreign competition, Argentina is desperate to save dollars and help domestic producers.
Kirchner's measures have angered Brazil, whose trade surplus with Argentina shrank 39% on the year to $673 million in the January-April period. Brazil retaliated in May by slapping nonautomatic import licenses on Argentine farm goods like fruit and wheat flour, which can lead to long delays.
Both sides appear to be resolving their differences on a product by product basis. Argentina recently pledged to resume importing Brazilian pork.
Speaking at the same press conference, Argentina's Trade Secretary Beatriz Paglieri said Brazil has agreed to allow imports of Argentine shrimp and citrus starting July 1.
Paglieri said the two countries will continue to negotiate their trade differences next week.
Neither Paglieri nor Giorgi took questions from the press.
Write to Ken Parks at email@example.com
Argentines’ Dollar Deposits Fall to Lowest Since April 2010
Eliana Raszewski. Bloomberg. June 9, 2012
Argentina’s dollar deposits from individuals and non-government businesses fell to the lowest since April 2010 as President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner tightened controls on the exchange market.
Dollar-denominated deposits fell to $10.4 billion on June 1 from $11.95 billion a month earlier, the lowest since April 30, 2010, when deposits were $10.3 billion, according to the latest data released by the Banco Central de la Republica Argentina.
Dollar withdrawals have quickened since Fernandez, who was re-elected in October, restricted purchases of foreign currency to stem record capital outflow from draining central bank reserves. Since late October, Argentines need tax-agency approval to buy dollars or other currencies. Starting last month, those who want to buy foreign currency to travel abroad must submit details of the itinerary, estimated cost and purpose of the trip.
“With the controls, the government managed to control demand for dollars, but it generated panic and led people to withdraw,” said Camilo Tiscornia, a former central bank economist who runs research company C&T Asesores Economicos in Buenos Aires. “The withdrawals are leading to a drop in central bank reserves, which the government needs to pay debt.”
Fernandez, who used $6.6 billion from central bank reserves in 2010 and $7.5 billion last year to make debt payments, plans to use $5.7 billion in 2012 for the same purpose. Bank withdrawals led reserves to fall to $46.7 billion on June 8 from as high as $52.6 billion in January last year.
Capital outflows accelerated last year to $21.5 billion from $11.4 billion a year earlier on speculation that the country would let the peso fall because rising inflation was undermining the country’s competitiveness in foreign markets.
The peso, which has fallen 4.1 percent this year, was little changed yesterday at 4.4845 per dollar.
To contact the reporter on this story: Eliana Raszewski in Buenos Aires at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at email@example.com.
Argentina invites British diplomat to Buenos Aires
MICHAEL WARREN. AP. June 8, 2012
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Argentina has invited Britain's Latin America minister to stop by on his way to the Falkland Islands for ceremonies marking the ouster of Argentine occupiers 30 years ago, saying Friday that it is time to talk.
Jeremy Browne will represent the British government when the overseas territory holds "Liberation Day" ceremonies on the islands that Argentina still claims. Speeches and a parade are planned to honor British forces for freeing them from a 74-day Argentine military occupation. More than 900 lives were lost in the war, which ended on June 14, 1982.
Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman wrote London saying Browne is welcome to swing through Buenos Aires on his way south, and he quoted Sir Winston Churchill as saying it takes courage "to sit down and listen." Argentina has long called for Britain to discuss the status of the islands.
"We are always ready to speak for what we believe is just, but we also have the same disposition to sit down and listen," Timerman wrote, and suggested that Browne might even meet with members of the nearly 250,000-strong British community in Argentina.
Argentina considers the islands to be an illegal colonial holdover, seized in 1833 and held by British military force practically ever since. Britain disputes Argentina's original claim to the islands and says that in any case, they are now a self-governing territory, not a colony.
The United Kingdom's foreign office said "Browne is grateful for the invitation" and wants a stronger partnership with Argentina, but his schedule is full.
"The only issue that we will not discuss is the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, until and unless the Islanders wish us to do so," the statement said.
President Cristina Fernandez is expected in New York next week to attend a session of the U.N.'s decolonization committees, where she is expected to accuse Britain of violating U.N. resolutions on the islands. Argentina succeeded in scheduling the meeting for June 14.
Browne on Thursday announced that two representatives from the Falkland Islands legislative assembly and a group of schoolchildren from the islands will travel to New York and attempt to talk with her.
"It would be interesting for her if she were to meet with them, because she would get a powerful sense that the position of the Falkland Islanders is not the creation of the British government," Brown said Thursday.
Associated Press Writer David Stringer in London contributed to this report.
Hundreds Protest Screening of Pro-Pinochet Film in Chile
PASCALE BONNEFOY. New York Times. June 10, 2012
SANTIAGO, Chile — Hundreds of people protested Sunday near a theater where supporters of the former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet attended the screening of a pro-Pinochet documentary, reflecting the divisions that still exist in Chile almost 40 years after he seized power in a bloody coup.
The police on Sunday sealed off the area around the Caupolicán Theater, where political rallies against General Pinochet were held during the years of his dictatorship. The demonstrators tried to block people from entering the theater, throwing eggs, spitting on them, and shouting “assassins” and “fascists.”
Outside the theater, Pinochet loyalists held banners and small sculptures of the former dictator and chanted derisive slogans about the more than 1,000 people reported to have disappeared during his rule.
The police used tear gas and chemical-laced water cannons to break up the protest. Small groups of demonstrators set up barricades and threw rocks at the police. At least 64 were reported to have been arrested and 20 police officers and 2 people injured.
“We owe our lives to Pinochet — he was a good president,” said Carmencita, an older woman holding a cardboard sign. She refused to give her last name for fear of trouble with her neighbors. Referring to Salvador Allende, the Socialist president who was overthrown in the 1973 coup, she said: “During the Allende government, I couldn’t even get a pound of sugar. Pinochet put this country in order with a good economy, and that persists today.”
The documentary film, titled “Pinochet,” focuses on the reasons the military gave for seizing power, and the changes in economic policy the junta introduced. The screening was sponsored by an organization of retired military officers and the September 11 Corporation, a group named for the date of the coup. It reportedly invited right-wing political figures from the United States, Spain, France and Argentina to the screening, and two pro-Franco figures from Spain attended and spoke at the event.
The protesters decried the film as revisionist history. “This is a homage to a murderer and a thief, responsible for deaths, torture and exile,” said Bárbara Riquelme, who said her father, Samuel Riquelme, a former chief detective, was arrested and severely tortured after the coup. “This government should have denied permission for this homage, but it didn’t, because it also has blood on its hands.”
Human rights organizations and leftist politicians had called on the government to ban the screening, but the right-wing administration of President Sebastián Piñera said it had to respect the organizers’ rights of free assembly and expression. The human rights groups turned to the courts, suing to block the screening on the ground that the film was an apology for violence, but the Court of Appeals ruled on Friday to allow the event.
Even so, a government spokesman, Andrés Chadwick of the right-wing U.D.I. party, expressed remorse that the party he had helped found had backed General Pinochet. “I feel deep regret for having been part of a government that brutally violated human rights,” Mr. Chadwick said.
General Pinochet handed over power to an elected successor in 1990. Since then, nearly 80 members of his military and police forces, including the leaders of his secret intelligence agency, have been convicted of human rights crimes, and an additional 350 cases are in the courts now, involving about 700 military and civilian defendants, according to a survey that the Diego Portales University Human Rights Clinic released on Saturday. General Pinochet was being investigated for corruption and human rights violations when he died in December 2006.
Official human rights reports have established that more than 3,000 people were killed or made to disappear during the Pinochet years, and that nearly 40,000 more were tortured. Pinochet supporters dispute those figures and point to the cases of a few families who fraudulently claimed government compensation for relatives listed as “disappeared” who were still alive or whose deaths were unrelated.
Uruguay Recognizes Marriage Of Gay Couple
On Top Magazine. June 10, 2012
A court in Uruguay has for the first time recognized the legal marriage of a gay couple.
Judge Eduardo Martinez recognized on appeal the legality of a marriage entered into in Spain, where Socialists legalized marriage equality in 2005.
The binational couple lives in both Uruguay and Spain, El Pais reported.
Attorney Michelle Suarez, a legal adviser to the gay rights group Ovejas Negras (Black Sheep), intervened to represent the couple. She is considered the nation's first openly transgender person to practice law.
“This ruling turns the jurisprudence that has existed in Uruguay in the last 40 years,” she told the paper.
The couple now has all the rights and responsibilities of marriage, Suarez explained.
“This ruling opens a paradox because a gay couple cannot marry in Uruguay but, for example, they travel and marry in Argentina that marriage could be legalized in our country,” she said.
Gay rights group Ovejas Negras described the ruling as “historic” in a statement posted on its website.
Currently, Uruguay recognizes gay and lesbian couples with civil unions. After a couple has lived in a “stable relationship” for 5 years they may petition the government for recognition.
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Venezuelan candidate Capriles challenges Hugo Chavez
BBC. June 10, 2012
Venezuelan politician Henrique Capriles has registered as the presidential candidate for a coalition of more than 30 opposition parties in polls due in October.
After leading a march through the streets of the capital, Caracas, Mr Capriles vowed to fight crime and root out corruption.
President Hugo Chavez, who is recovering from cancer, is due to register on Monday.
He is running for a third term.
Mr Chavez has kept a low profile since returning from treatment in Cuba on 12 May.
But on Saturday Mr Chavez, 57, said recent examinations showed he was now healthy and fit to run for another six-year term.
He vowed to go to register in person, dismissing rumours that he would register online to avoid a public appearance.
His 39-year-old opponent marched and jogged for 10km (6.2 miles) from a park in eastern Caracas to register at the electoral office.
Mr Capriles, who last week stepped down as governor of Miranda state to run for president, criticised the left-wing policies of Mr Chavez.
He promised to follow the example of former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, offering a balance of social programmes and pro-business policies.
"I aspire to become the president of all Venezuelans. I won't let them down," said Mr Capriles.
"I am not the enemy of anyone, I am the enemy of the problems, of the violence, I am the enemy of a country whose government prevents us from going forward."
The BBC's Sarah Grainger in Caracas says Mr Capriles has managed to get the backing of more than 30 parties, but it is still unclear whether that will be enough to defeat Mr Chavez, who was first elected in 1999 and remains popular.
His campaign manager, Jorge Rodriguez, said he expected "a huge sea of people" outside the electoral office on Monday when Mr Chavez turns up to register for the 7 October election.
Venezuela's Chavez: Health exams 'absolutely fine'
IAN JAMES. AP. June 9, 2012
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Saturday that he has undergone tests following his cancer treatment and everything came out well.
Chavez said the exams included imaging tests, which are used to check for the reappearance of tumors.
"Everything came out absolutely fine," Chavez told reporters at the presidential palace. "I feel very well."
Chavez appeared on the palace steps after a meeting with a Russian delegation. He saw off the visiting officials and then appeared energetic as he stepped close to reporters and animatedly responded to questions about his health, oil prices and his plans ahead of the country's October election.
"We're going to win this battle on Oct. 7," Chavez said. Motioning to the presidential palace, he said, "the bourgeoisie will never again return to this building."
The leftist president has typically sought to dismiss his rival, opposition leader Henrique Capriles, by accusing him of representing the interests of the wealthy. Capriles, who stepped down from his post as a state governor this week to focus on the campaign, plans to register his candidacy Sunday after leading a march of supporters through the city to the elections office.
Chavez is scheduled to sign up as a candidate Monday. He said he had been due for a follow-up medical exam in mid-June but pushed it ahead several days in order to have the tests done before formalizing his candidacy.
The president returned home from Cuba on May 11 after what he said was a difficult round of radiation therapy, and since then has limited his public appearances while saying little about his illness.
In the past year, Chavez has undergone two surgeries that removed tumors from his pelvic region, most recently in February. During Chavez's yearlong cancer struggle, he has not disclosed some details about his illness, including the type of cancer or the precise location of the tumors.
"I have faith in God... and in this will to live that I have to keep battling for this country," Chavez said. He said he's been laying out a government plan for what he hopes will be his next six-year term.
The presidential race so far has been dominated by speculation about Chavez's health and whether he will be well enough to campaign. While talking with reporters, Chavez said he hopes to live many years more.
Pausing from the questions, he flipped through a pair of red folders with documents needing his signature. He said they were from various parties that support his candidacy, and he said that among them is Podemos, a small party that until recently was with the opposition.
Venezuela's Supreme Court this week issued a decision calling for an immediate change to the party's leadership, recognizing former pro-Chavez state governor Didalco Bolivar as its leader rather than its established leader, Ismael Garcia, a vocal government critic. The decision drew strong criticism from party leaders as well as from Capriles, who said "judicial tricks" were being used to strip him of the party's support.
Chavez said he sees nothing wrong with Podemos joining his camp. "We open our doors," he said. "I've always had a great deal of affection for Didalco."
Chavez also was asked about recent remarks by World Bank president Robert Zoellick, who in a speech said he believed "Chavez's days are numbered."
"To foolish words, deaf ears. I think the one that has its days numbered is global capitalism, of which the World Bank is a part," Chavez said.
He noted that Russia has extended $4 billion in loans to Venezuela, which Chavez plans to put toward military purchases, and that China is about to provide its latest $4 billion loan installment, which is to be paid back with oil shipments.
"Fortunately, we don't depend on the dreadful bank. What's that one called that you mentioned? The World Bank," Chavez said.
Happiness, X,Y and Z
Stephanie Kennedy. Huffington Post (UK). June 8, 2012
A study carried out by the World Happiness Report 2012 and presented by Columbia University of the United States places Venezuela as the happiest country in South America, the second in Latin America, and nineteenth worldwide. It is an unlikely survey, principally because we are accustomed to facts and figures that map the accumulation of capital rather than degrees of contentment. Nonetheless the sentiment has been traced. Who would have thought happiness could also be reduced to a bar chart?
Undoubtedly, at first, it seems difficult to measure. Yet, without needing to consult philosophers or physicists, it is possible to approach the concept in a no-frills back to basics manner, testing the concept from as simple a question as "how are you?". Happiness may be uncountable but it must be indicative of something. Surely no one is happy if they are hungry, sick or homeless?
For a country as polemic as Venezuela due in large part to the presence of its left wing president Hugo Chavez, the happiness survey brings to the table a curious insight amidst the avalanche of international discontent that so far has been rating the politics of the South American country. But if happy is to not be hungry, sick or homeless, then Venezuela isn't doing too badly in the worldwide charts.
Causes for the joyous results aren't merely superficial. Certainly, Venezuela has many of the physical and geographical traits of a typical postcard-like resort of tropical carefreeness and a "no worries" approach to most things. It enjoys good weather and prides itself on its far stretching Caribbean beaches. Coast-side, everyone is wearing shorts and flips flops, has long lazy lunches and many rum-soaked evenings. Time is a helpful tool of orientation rather than a strict measurement and rain is a clear indication to stay at home rather than to go out and work. The stereotypes of Latin behaviour extend sometimes to even the most serious of contexts. The other day I attended a presentation for the council of Caracas´ annual report on its Budget spending. The politician leading the event came out into the high-ceilinged hall, only to burst out into dance, grab an elderly lady from the public and proceed to sway through an entire salsa song whilst the rest of the audience laughed and clapped. I had difficulties imagining the same scenario occurring with our solemn hold-up-the-red-briefcase Budget report photo back in the UK.
Yet attitude towards life can´t be the only reason why a nation is happy, as if the larger issues at stake are simply ignored or downplayed in favour of a good ol´boogie. Venezuelans feel good, I believe, because their basic needs are being met. The country currently boasts the highest minimum wage in Latin America and its latest bill for workers rights hails in a new era of legal protection and social security to a large part of the population who had up until recently been labouring within informal and vulnerable frameworks. Domestic workers, voluntary full time carers of family relatives and housekeepers now too have rights and a state pension, whilst peasants, fisherman and others practicing the more traditional trades, who have always been omitted from formal registers, will now enjoy the same rights as their urban peers. There are local clinics where people had never seen a doctor before, new brick-layered houses for people who had been living in cardboard slums, and subsidized food products and medicines. Of course, there is still a fair way to go before things are just right, but till then, I can see why most Venezuelans already feel like a song and a dance.
Ex-Colombian president's family face US extradition over drugs charges
Sibylla Brodzinsky. The Guardian. June 11, 2012
A niece of former the Colombian president Álvaro Uribe and her mother are awaiting extradition to the US over claims they had ties to the world's most wanted drug lord.
Ana Maria Uribe Cifuentes and her mother, Dolly Cifuentes Villa, were arrested last year after a request from a US federal court for alleged ties to the head of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán.
According to an investigation published by the Nuevo Arco Iris political research centre in Bogotá, Uribe Cifuentes is the daughter of former president Álvaro Uribe's brother Jaime, who died of throat cancer in 2001.
Both women are alleged to belong to the Cifuentes Villa clan which, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, trafficked at least 30 tonnes of cocaine to the US between 2009 and 2011, and laundered the proceeds in several Latin American countries including Colombia.
On Friday, Colombian police announced they had seized US$15m (£10m) in assets from the Sinaloa cartel, owned by Cifuentes Villa and two of her brothers on behalf of El Chapo.
On Sunday, Álvaro Uribe denied any knowledge of Jaime's relationship with Cifuentes Villa, or the existence of his niece, despite the fact the investigation has a fax of a birth certificate declaring Jaime Uribe as her father.
"My brother Jaime died in 2001, married to Astrid Velez, they had two children ... Any other romantic relationship that my brother may have had was part of his personal life and is unknown to me," Álvaro Uribe tweeted on Sunday. He denied Jaime was ever linked to the drug lord Pablo Escobar.
According to the Nuevo Arco Iris investigation, Jaime Uribe was arrested and interrogated by the army in 1986 after detectives discovered calls had been made from his carphone to Escobar, leader of the Medellín cartel.
Álvaro Uribe acknowledged that his brother had been arrested but said he had been released and charges were dropped, claiming Jaime was recovering from throat surgery in a local hospital at the time the calls were made. "His car phone was cloned by criminals," Alvaro Uribe tweeted.
The Uribe family has long faced accusations of ties to drug trafficking. A US intelligence report from 1991, declassified in 2004, identified Álvaro Uribe as a "close friend" of Escobar, who was "dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín cartel". It also says Uribe's father was murdered "for his connection with the narcotic (sic) traffickers". Officially Uribe's father died while trying to resist being kidnapped by leftist guerrillas in 1983.
The US state department disavowed the intelligence report when it was published, during Uribe's second year in office, saying it had "no credible information" to substantiate the information.
Another Uribe brother, Santiago, isbeing investigated over the alleged founding and leadership of a rightwing paramilitary group, while Uribe's cousin Mario lost his seat in the senate and was jailed for seven and a half years over ties to paramilitaries, main players in Colombia's drug trade.
Colombia Central Bank: One Director Favors Future Rate Cut
Dow Jones. June 8, 2012
BOGOTA--Colombia is gearing for the impact of Europe's debt crisis, with at least one member of the central bank's monetary policy board advocating future rate cuts and the government announcing that it is ready to increase public spending to offset an economic slowdown.
The minutes for the central bank's last monetary policy meeting, where it unanimously decided to keep in check for a third straight month its benchmark interest rate at 5.25%, confirm that the bank's concerns over inflation have eased in recent months.
"With the current interest rate levels in our core scenario, the growth of the economy is close to its actual potential, and the inflation projections are attaining the 3% target," the minutes published Friday said.
The central bank expects the economy to grow between 4% and 6% for 2012 and has an inflation target range of 2% to 4% for the year. Inflation for the 12 months through May stands at 3.44%.
While inflation remains under control, other recent data suggest Colombia's economy could be slowing more quickly than policy makers had anticipated. Industrial production in March posted its first year-on-year decline in three years.
The central bank's seven-member monetary policy board is now focused on the impact of the European sovereign debt crisis and its effects on Colombia's economy, which relies heavily on commodity exports.
The central bank is worried that a Greek exit from the euro could trigger a new global recession. If this happens "the negative effects on the Colombian economic activity might be very strong," the minutes said.
As a result, one board member, who voted in favor of keeping unchanged the bank's key lending rate, sees "deceleration signs and is concerned about the poor performance of the industry" sector in the Colombian economy.
This director advocated future rate cuts if inflation remains under control and the economy continues to slow.
According to this director "if the current status quo is maintained, it would be necessary to undertake a monetary policy relaxation phase," the minutes said.
Juan Carlos Echeverry, who as finance minister sits on the central bank's monetary policy board, said that the government is ready to increase public spending if necessary to offset an economic slowdown.
Tax collection has performed better than expected while financing costs remain low, giving the government "sufficient liquid resources to finance its budget and, should it be desirable, to implement countercyclical fiscal policies."
Write to Darcy Crowe at firstname.lastname@example.org
Who Wants Peace in Colombia?
Real News Network. June 10, 2012
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.
For almost 50 years, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have been in one level of warfare or another with the government of Colombia. And now there is again talk of a peace process.
Now joining us from Bogotá to talk about the peace process is Forrest Hylton. Forrest is an associate professor of history at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. He was recently awarded a postdoctorial fellowship at New York University's ['tɪmə"mɛnthiən] library. Also he's the author of several books, including Evil Hour in Colombia, Vanishing Acts: A Tragedy, and he's coauthor of Revolutionary Horizons: Past and Present in Bolivian Politics. Thanks for joining us again, Forrest.
FORREST HYLTON, ASSOCIATE HISTORY PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF THE ANDES (COLOMBIA): Good to be here, Paul.
JAY: So what are the most recent developments in these negotiations or peace process that is taking place in Colombia?
HYLTON: Well, we're still a ways off from a peace process, but a French journalist who had been held in FARC custody for 32 days was released, which demonstrates the FARC's commitment to keep its pledge to refrain from kidnapping for the purposes of charging ransom. So it's pretty clear that the FARC is serious about refraining from using kidnapping as a tactic for—either, really, to gain political leverage or, you know, to get money. And FARC alienated an enormous swath of the Colombian public for decades using kidnapping either for political reasons or for the purposes of charging ransom as a tactic. And they have apparently abandoned that tactic, which may indeed open a door to serious negotiations
JAY: Right. And there was a car bomb that went off recently. What is the story about that?
HYLTON: The car bomb that went off here in Bogotá two weeks ago was detonated the very day that legislation was introduced to Congress that would regulate kind of the framework for a peace process with the FARC. So the timing was very curious, in the sense that nobody who wishes to see a peace process could possibly have been behind or in favor of that kind of attack. The former minister, Fernando Londoño, who was the immediate target of the attack and was injured in the attack, immediately claimed that the FARC had been behind it, as did former President Álvaro Uribe. And Fernando Londoño is indeed an important public figure on the far right. I believe he has a radio program as well as a newspaper column. And he and the sector of public opinion that he represents would certainly be among the staunchest opponents of any negotiation with the FARC and an end to the war in Colombia on any terms other than those of the victors.
JAY: Well, is there indication from FARC that they want this kind of process? And if there is some sense they do, why would they want to scuttle it with a car bomb?
HYLTON: Well, that's the question that people who question the official version of events—that's the question that immediately comes up. The FARC, indeed, at the highest levels, is in favor of advancing some kind of peace negotiations with the current government. It's not clear how far that will get, given that current president Santos will be bucking for reelection in 2014. So it's not clear how far the process is going to get before an election, although if Santos were able to make any kind of progress towards peace before the elections in 2014, that would certainly guarantee his reelection. So I suppose it depends on how much political capital he's willing to risk. But he has made it clear, at least in his public statements, that he thinks the time has come to begin negotiating. And that's very different from the posture of his predecessor, who was adamant about the need to defeat the guerrillas militarily before considering negotiations.
JAY: Right. Now, just in terms of a little bit of background for the people that aren't too familiar with the story, can you give us a really quick sketch of FARC in terms of its development and what kind of organization, what the character of it is now?
HYLTON: Well, the FARC is an organization that has lasted for over 50 years. It was originally founded in 1966, but the FARC dates its founding to 1964. And historians can certainly see kind of the origins of the FARC going back even further, the late 1940s, when the Communist Party in Colombia set up self-defense forces that later morphed into guerrilla groups. So the FARC had been around for, you know, a good part of the 20th century in Colombia.
And they were originally composed almost entirely of frontier kind of—what would you call them?—settlers, frontier settlers. And over time, the FARC morphed from kind of a regionally-based guerrilla organization on the agrarian frontier that was rooted in a base of frontier settlers, it morphed into this gigantic military machine that managed to achieve a presence far beyond kind of the isolated jungle regions where it was born, and expanded throughout the country in the 1980s and '90s. And it was largely taxes from the cocaine trade, as well as kidnapping, that provided money for the expansion of the FARC.
So the FARC's tactics, in terms of its relationship to the drug trade, as well as kidnapping and extortion, have made the group deeply unpopular with the vast majority of the country's citizens, who live in the cities, not in isolated rural frontier areas. So there's a big disconnect between the FARC and the majority of Colombian public opinion in that respect, and only a peace process could begin to bridge it.
JAY: In the earlier days of the FARC, it was considered one of the groups that were part of the sort of national liberation struggles in Latin America, and even generally in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, with kind of what people would call progressive or even socialist ideals. Is that true of it at some stage? And is there any of that left?
HYLTON: To the extent that the FARC continues to pledge allegiance to a vision of Colombia as more or less the Sweden of South America, you can say that there is a kind of for social democratic vision, if you like, or for social democratic program. Nationalist social democracy is more or less how I would describe the FARC in terms of program and ideology.
They were linked at the hip with the Colombian Communist Party for a very, very long time, which is to say, for most of its existence. And they were in fact considered, for better or for worse, to be a component of the Colombian left in the decades when such a thing existed.
But there's really almost nothing of a Colombian left in the public sphere to speak of, and the FARC certainly are not part of it. In fact, they are one of the reasons why the non-armed left is so weak in Colombia, because the paramilitary right, which is armed to the teeth and linked to military intelligence, as well as, you know, other instances of the military and police apparatus, the paramilitary right has always considered the non-armed left to be fair game in its struggle against the FARC. So the FARC is very much like an elephant that the unarmed Colombian left has had to carry on its back for decade after decade, which is one reason why it's so weak if you compare it to the left in countries like Venezuela or Ecuador or Bolivia.
JAY: Now, during the time of President Uribe, the relations with Venezuela and Hugo Chávez were pretty sour. There was even times where there was talk of war. Now with President Santos there seems to be a rapprochement with Chávez. But there was always this accusation, certainly from Uribe, at least, that somehow Venezuela and Chávez were secretly supporting FARC and all of that. What do you make of that relationship between Venezuela and FARC? And where are things at now with Santos there?
HYLTON: It seems to me that, you know, given that they have been saying, more or less since Chávez came to power in '98, that he has ties to the FARC, you would think that those people who sustain that thesis would have been able to come up with some evidence to demonstrate it by now. But so far, since 1998, nobody has been able to come up with any evidence suggesting there are concrete ties between Chávez and the FARC.
Are there Chavistas, followers of Chávez, particularly at the regional levels along the border with Colombia, who have ties to the FARC? I don't know, but I would imagine that there are. But that's really different than any kind of systematic tie between the Chávez regime and the FARC.
And that systematic tie, which has never been demonstrated or proven by anyone at any time, remains kind of the heart of the discourse that people like Fernando Londoño and former president Álvaro Uribe use, you know, whenever they say that you really can't negotiate with terrorists, you just have to destroy them, in order to try to scuttle any peace process with the FARC.
JAY: But President Santos has pulled back on some of that rhetoric himself, even though in his election campaign he practically ran on that, didn't he. But since he's been elected, he's not really accusing Venezuela, Chávez of this anymore. Is that correct?
HYLTON: That is correct. Santos was Uribe's minister of defense, and he appeared to be a Uribe clone when he ran for president. But as soon as he was elected and took over, he began to make some changes, the most important of which is surely related to foreign policy. Colombia's foreign policy has switched rather dramatically from the time that Álvaro Uribe was president, because under Uribe, Colombia tied its fortunes so closely to those of the United States that it really isolated itself in the hemisphere with respect to other Latin American countries, particularly Brazil and Venezuela, of course. And as soon as Santos entered office, he righted that immediately. And I believe the first place he visited was not the United States but, rather, Brazil, and maybe the second place was Venezuela.
In any event, Santos is very keen to integrate Colombia into hemispheric developments, including developments that don't pass through the United States. And therefore he's been very active participating in organizations like UNASUR and the Organization of American States. Meanwhile, of course, he's maintained very good ties to the United States as well. So the shift in foreign policy towards tighter integration with its neighbors hasn't come at the expense of Colombia's relations with United States, as evidenced by the passage of the free trade agreement.
But Santos in many ways does represent continuity with Uribe, in the sense that the lands that were stolen under Uribe have not been redistributed to the people they were stolen from. And in terms of kind of economic policy generally, there really hasn't been much of a shift from Uribe to Santos. Santos is, however, politically quite different than Uribe in terms of being willing to negotiate with the guerrilla under certain conditions, as it was very difficult to imagine conditions under which Uribe would have negotiated other than total surrender.
JAY: Right. And he also broke with the U.S. on the issue of Cuba at the Summit of the Americas Meeting. He kind of stayed in solidarity with the rest of Latin America over that Cuba should have been at the conference. Is that right?
HYLTON: That's right. And Santos has also been willing to take something of a leading role in bringing up the issue of legalization of drugs. And he's certainly backed by presidents in Central America, as well as Mexico. But that's a stance that, of course, Álvaro Uribe, his predecessor, would never even have considered. And those who advocate the legalization of drugs were in fact demonized under Uribe.
So there have been some important changes, especially at the level of kind of hemispheric relations, but also potentially at the political level of negotiations with the FARC under certain conditions, rather than just unilateral surrender, which is what Uribe more or less demanded.
JAY: Right. And in spite of the fact that Santos is not really accusing Venezuela of supporting and being connected to FARC, it hasn't stopped the U.S. State Department for—when they do—or U.S. politicians, when they do talk about Venezuela, it hasn't stopped them from continually accusing them of being supporters of FARC.
HYLTON: Well, both Venezuela—both the Venezuelan and the Colombian right are very active in Washington, and they certainly have their supporters in the United States in pushing kind of this line of thinking and interpretation. But, again, it's been a pretty long time since these accusations have been floating around, and there's never been any kind of conclusive evidence at all for anything, you know, not even the kind of yellowcake, you know, that we saw in the run-up to the Iraq War, sort of fabricated truths. We have even seen that. So there really hasn't been a shred of evidence. And Santos has enjoyed very good relations with Chávez so far. And again, there are economic interests at stake which, you know, certainly are much more important to President Santos than the kind of ideological axes that President Uribe was [incompr.] trying to grind.
JAY: Which is that they're very big trading partners, Colombia and Venezuela.
HYLTON: That's right. Colombia depends on Venezuela almost as much as it depends on the United States as a consumer market. So bilateral relations, trading relations are extremely important. And Venezuela really has the leverage as the consumer, and Colombia as the producer, in those commercial relations. So Santos is in that sense very much a kind of shrewd strategist of what Colombia's economic interests are. And when I say the country's economic interests, of course what I really mean is the sort of business class here in Colombia. And Santos definitely wants to see the Colombian business class position itself as one of the leaders in Latin America.
JAY: We'll come back to you soon, as this—if there is a peace process. And we know the vast majority of the Colombian people, and thousands of people, even, in demonstrations, have been demanding an end to this war. And we'll come back to you soon, Forrest, as we follow the story. Thanks very much for joining us.
HYLTON: Good to be here, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
Western Andean Region [contents]
Brazil grants asylum to Bolivian senator
CARLOS VALDEZ. AP. June 9, 2012
LA PAZ, Bolivia -- Brazil announced on Friday that it was granting asylum to a Bolivian opposition senator who has holed up in its embassy in La Paz claiming political persecution and saying he feared for his life.
The decision about Sen. Roger Pinto came in a one-sentence email that did not explain Brazil's reasoning for granting the request.
Pinto, a member of Bolivia's small right-wing opposition bloc in congress, has been living in the embassy since May 28 and accuses President Evo Morales' government of corruption though he has provided no evidence.
He says he sought asylum after he and his family received telephoned death threats.
But Bolivia's government says Pinto's exile is an opposition smear campaign against Morales. It accuses Pinto of corruption and wants him on criminal charges including economic damage to the state from when he was governor of the northern state of Pando, which borders Brazil.
Pinto did not make any statement but one of his colleagues, Sen. Geanine Anez, said Brazil had confirmed Pinto's accusations.
Tovar Munes, a spokesman for Brazil's Foreign Ministry in Brasilia, said Pinto remained in the embassy in La Paz.
Despite winning asylum, Pinto will not be allowed to travel to Brazil until the Bolivian government agrees with Brazil's action, Munes said, citing rules within a 1954 convention on diplomatic asylum.
If the Bolivian government decides it will not allow Pinto to leave, "he could give up his asylum request and leave the embassy, or he could stay for a long period of time at the embassy," said Munes.
The spokesman added that Pinto's is alone in the embassy that his family is not with him.
Pinto is the first opponent of Morales from Bolivia's weak, splintered opposition to obtain asylum in Brazil.
Others have obtained it in Peru and Paraguay, where former Tarija state Gov. Mario Cosio fled after being charged with corruption.
Pinto was allied with Cosio and three other lowlands opposition governors who rebelled against Morales in 2008.
But Morales won a referendum the following year that quashed the rebellion. That's when the prosecutions of opposition leaders for alleged corruption began.
Pinto is a close political ally of former Pando Gov. Leopoldo Fernandez.
He has been in jail pending trial for more than three years, charged with instigating a crackdown in September 2008 that claimed the lives of nine indigenous Morales supporters.
India’s Jindal to Exit Bolivia’s Largest Mining Project
EFE. June 10, 2012
LA PAZ – India’s Jindal Steel & Power Ltd. plans to pull out of a contract to develop a massive iron-ore deposit in eastern Bolivia, President Evo Morales’ largest mining project, officials said Saturday.
Jindal sent a letter to the government to terminate its $2.1 billion contract to mine iron ore and other minerals at El Mutun and build a steel complex, having previously signaled those intentions in May after being penalized for the second time in two years for alleged non-compliance with contract terms.
Bolivian Mining Minister Mario Virreira confirmed to local media that he was aware of the letter but said he had not seen it yet and would comment next week.
El Mutun, located in the eastern province of Santa Cruz, which borders Brazil and Paraguay, contains some 40 billion tons of different minerals, mainly iron ore.
In 2007, Jindal signed contracts with Morales’ government to develop roughly half of El Mutun’s reserves and build a steel mill, an iron ore pellet plant and other industrial facilities.
The Morales government, which has struggled to bring industrial projects to fruition since coming to power in 2006, says Jindal should have invested $600 million to date but has failed to meet that commitment.
The Indian company, meanwhile, said its investments have exceeded that amount and denounced the government’s “unilateral non-compliance” with promises to provide land for the project, build access roads to El Mutun and supply natural gas for the proposed steel complex.
Jindal said in a statement last month that it was evaluating whether to remain in Bolivia after Virreira announced the government was collecting on a second performance bond from the company in the amount of $18 million.
Morales’ leftist government had collected on the first performance bond in 2010 in the same amount, accusing the company of delays in developing El Mutun, a move that sparked a still-unresolved legal dispute between the parties.
Bolivia’s Morales nationalizes zinc and tin mines licensed to Swiss group
Mercopress. June 11, 2012
Bolivia announced on Sunday the nationalization of the mining company Colquiri to the west of the country and which belongs to the Swiss group Glencore. The announcement by Minister of the Presidency, Juan Ramon Quintana, followed a meeting with the mining unions and the villages from Colquiri region.
“The government has decided to nationalize Colquiri which is a private company that belongs to Sinchi Wayra, a subsidiary from the mining group Glencore”, said Quintana.
The administration of President Evo Morales had already seized two metal foundries from Glencore in 2007 and 2010.
The Swiss company operates through Sinchi Wayra which controls Colquiri for the exploitation of zinc and tin with 400 miners.
The Bolivian government said that nationalization will not include areas in the region licensed to Cooperative February 26, although if its members so wish, the government can take care in a concerted way the control of the operations.
The leaders from the National Federation of Miners’ cooperatives, an influential group in the government of President Morales and with a strong capacity to take to the streets rejected the idea of nationalizing their sector and warned they will proceed to blockade roads in the country
Albino García one of the leaders of the cooperatives said that if the government moves into their sector they will respond with a national conflict.
Ecuador clean water charity started amid oil fight
David R. Baker. San Francisco Chronicle. June 9, 2012
Residents of Ecuador's rain forest have spent 18 years fighting American oil companies that they say poisoned their water and land.
And while their lawsuit grinds on, the water remains tainted.
So several veterans of the legal fight have set up a charity to bring clean drinking water to Ecuador's oil patch, one home at a time.
The ClearWater Project buys and installs systems that catch, filter and store rainwater as it rolls off roofs. Fifty-two of the systems have been installed among the area's indigenous tribes.
"The whole point of this is that the tribes have suffered for a very long time," said Mitch Anderson, one of the project's founders. "They've waged a very heroic and dignified lawsuit, which has become a monster, a beast. Someday there will be a resolution to this. But in the meanwhile, the tribes are looking to survive on a daily basis."
Like everything else in the lawsuit, which now targets Chevron Corp. of San Ramon, the extent of water contamination around Ecuador's oil fields remains the subject of bitter dispute.
Oil or bacteria
Chevron blames the area's industrial pollution on the state-run oil company, Petroecuador, but insists that water in the area isn't as contaminated as opponents say - at least not by oil. Bacterial pollution from a lack of sanitation is a bigger threat, according to Chevron.
Regardless, people in the area don't trust the water that they must drink.
"In none of the communities has there been clean water, so clearly it's very important to the communities to get clean water sources finally after all these years," said Robinson Yumbo, a resident of the area and plaintiff in the lawsuit, speaking through a translator.
Government no help
The government, he said, hasn't been much help.
"In Ecuador, there are great lacks of many government services: health services, water services," he said. "We've been pressuring the government for so many years in so many areas."
A Chevron spokesman said that while bringing the area's residents clean water is a worthwhile goal, the ClearWater Project misleads people about the nature of the problem - and the nature of the suit. An Ecuadoran judge fined the company $18 billion last year, but Chevron has vowed not to pay, accusing the judge and the opposing team's lawyers of fraud and misconduct.
"Any effort to provide a bacteria-free source of water represents progress in a region that's been neglected by Ecuador's government," said Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson. "Unfortunately, the project fails to draw attention to the reality of the situation, instead perpetuating knowingly false information that's the foundation of a fraudulent lawsuit."
It isn't the first time someone has tried to address the area's water problem. Trudie Styler, wife of pop star Sting, worked with UNICEF in 2008 and 2009 to install barrels with filters in some local communities.
The ClearWater Project also started with celebrity assistance.
Rea Garvey, an Irish musician popular in Germany, took an interest in the tribes' situation after meeting Anderson, who used to be the corporate campaign director of an environmental group supporting the Ecuadorans against Chevron. Garvey didn't want to get involved in the lawsuit, but he did want to help the people on the ground, Anderson said. Garvey provided the project's initial $70,000 in seed money.
Tastes like rust
Tribes living in the Ecuadoran Amazon usually draw their drinking water from streams and springs. Sometimes the water looks, tastes and smells clean, Anderson said. Often, however, it has a taste that Anderson - a sometime-San Franciscan and blogger for SFGate.com who now lives in Ecuador - likens to rust. Many of the streams, he said, have oil sheens visible along their banks.
Oil companies have drilled in the area since the 1960s, leaving behind waste pits that contain a mixture of water, petroleum and chemicals. Texaco operated there from 1964 to 1992, and Chevron inherited the lawsuit when it bought Texaco in 2001.
When Texaco pulled out of Ecuador, it reached an agreement with the government to clean up a portion of the area. The rest was left to Petroecuador, which continues to pump oil there.
The systems that ClearWater installs collect rainwater sluicing down the corrugated metal roofs common in the region. Gutters channel the water through a series of filters, then to a large plastic storage tank. No electricity is required, just gravity.
The project hires locals to do the installation, with 10 employed so far. More importantly, the tribes have set up a committee to teach their members how to maintain and repair the rainwater systems.
Fund oversight in S.F.
A San Francisco humanitarian organization, Groundwork Opportunities, manages the project's finances. In addition, two environmental groups involved in the suit against Chevron will help promote the project, and one of them, the Rainforest Action Network, has given ClearWater money.
But Anderson said he wants ClearWater to remain distinct from the lawsuit, which shows no sign of ending.
"I believe the lawsuit and the campaign have raised enough awareness about this, internationally, that there's enough people in the world who want a meaningful way to support the communities now," Anderson said.
Peru to Launch Environmental Review to Calm Mining Protesters
Dow Jones. June 8, 2012
Peru's government said Friday it was launching an environmental review of the southern Andean province of Espinar in an attempt to reassure local residents who held violent protests last week against a copper mine.
Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said during a news conference that the review will clear up concerns about potential environmental pollution in Espinar. "The objective is to identify exactly what is the environmental- and public-health situation in Espinar," Mr. Pulgar-Vidal said.
A number of mining projects in Peru, a major producer of base and precious metals, have been targeted by protesters recently over environmental concerns.
In late May, residents clashed with police during protests against Anglo-Swiss company Xstrata PLC's (XTA.LN) Tintaya copper mine. The government declared a state of emergency in the province after two people were killed and dozens were injured.
Protesters had taken to the streets over demands for Xstrata to increase contributions to a fund for local sustainable-development projects and citing worries that the mine was contaminating the area. Government and company officials had denied that the mine has caused pollution.
The conflict led to the resignation of four legislators from President Ollanta Humala's ruling Gana Peru party. The lawmakers had called for Prime Minister Oscar Valdes to be fired over his handling of social conflicts in Peru's mining sector.
On Friday, Mr. Valdes said he hopes the environmental study in Espinar will reassure residents. "We want the population of Espinar to know that the central government is ready to defend the environment," Mr. Valdes told reporters.
Write to Ryan Dube at email@example.com.
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Mexico’s Final Presidential Debate Lacks Fire
RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD. New York Times. June 11, 2012
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s presidential candidates engaged in low-energy exchanges Sunday in their second and final debate before the July 1 election, largely sparing the front-runner as the three candidates trailing in the polls squabbled among themselves.
It had been viewed as an important chance to puncture the air of inevitability enveloping Enrique Peña Nieto, the front-runner by a comfortable margin in most polls and the standard-bearer of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, poised to lead again after seven decades of rule ended in defeat in the 2000 and 2006 presidential elections.
But Mr. Peña Nieto appeared unscathed by the end of the debate, which in more than two hours did not delve deeply into themes such as the drug war and violence and instead focused on the candidates making broader arguments that they could bring about change in Mexico.
“There are two roads,’’ said Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party who narrowly lost in 2006 and recently rose to second place in most polls. “More of the same, and the route that represents what many want, a real change.”
Josefina Vázquez Mota, representing the incumbent, right-leaning National Action Party, leveled most of the attacks, suggesting Mr. López Obrador, a former member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, and Mr. Peña Nieto were cut from the same cloth of corruption and authoritarianism.
She took an arch tone at times, showing a picture of Mr. Peña Nieto scurrying to a bathroom at a university as a recent student demonstration against him grew unruly.
“We don't want someone who is going to hide in the bathroom of a university to resolve the country's problems,’’ she said.
Mr. Peña Nieto said he represented a new, cleaner era of the party and that he respected the students’ right to protest. There have been a series of demonstrations, including one Sunday in Mexico City, by students objecting to the return of Mr. Peña Nieto’s party.
All promised to maintain good relations with the United States, boost trade and help Mexican migrants in the United States and Ms. Vázquez Mota said she would appoint an undersecretary to address their concerns.
But the debate lacked the sparks of the first debate, where attacks and counterattacks flowed more freely and, though voter interest in the election has lagged behind 2006, it ended up among the highest-rated programs of the night.
This encounter might better be remembered for the way the fourth-place candidate, Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, of the left-leaning New Alliance party, seized control of the debate at times, though few analysts give him any chance of winning. He used the equal-time provisions of the format to challenge and harangue the other candidates, extracting agreement from them, for instance, that abortion should be decriminalized across the country, not just in Mexico City.
If no single theme dominated the debate it may be because no single issue has dominated the race, a group of pollsters told foreign journalists last week, and voter interest in it lags behind the 2006 campaign.
Voters, they said, seem to be making their choices based on personality and a sense of which candidate can carry out promises rather than based on issues.
One of Mr. Peña Nieto’s most widely shown advertisements shows little but images of him swallowed in waves of supporters.
Mr. Peña Nieto, 45, the former governor of Mexico State, the country’s most populous, has led most polls by double digits for two years. A poll by the Excelsior newspaper on Thursday showed him with the support of 42 percent of the respondents, 14 percentage points ahead of Mr. López Obrador.
His lead has been slipping in recent weeks, as opponents bombard him with attacks leaking him to former partly leaders under corruption investigations.
But Mr. Peña Nieto has heavily promoted his record of public spending and construction in Mexico State, promising to jump-start anemic economic growth and create jobs that would steer young people away from violent gangs and criminal organizations.
Mexicans protest against 'media bias'
Jo Tuckman. The Guardian. June 10, 2012
Thousands attended a demonstration on Sunday against leading Mexican presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, alleging mass media bias in his favour.
Marches in the capital and other cities took place a few hours before the second and final official debate between the presidential candidates. Polling day is in three weeks.
The demonstrators in the capital ranged from longstanding radical leftwing groups, whose members dressed in identical T-shirts and blared chants through a loudspeaker, to the more spontaneous students who have given the anti-Peña Nieto movement its dynamism in recent weeks.
The students, frenetic users of social networking sites, have also focused a critical spotlight on what they claim is chronic manipulation of coverage by the two commercial TV networks that control almost all free television programming in Mexico, particularly the biggest, Televisa.
"We Want a Real President, not a Telenovela Actor," read one banner, referring to charges that the young, good looking Peña Nieto built his popularity with the help of a soap opera hero image promoted by Televisa. Another read, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" to emphasise the allegation that the network initially downplayed the movement's size and sincerity.
"Not everybody has Facebook and Twitter, so it's important to show we cannot be ignored," said Ivan Rosas, 24, a psychology student. "The television networks are going to have to start realising that we are the ones making the news, not them."
A victory for Peña Nieto would return the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) to power 12 years after it lost the presidency it had held for seven decades. Most opinion polls put Peña Nieto more than 10 points ahead of his nearest rival, the leftwing candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador. His lead was around 20 points a few weeks ago.
The Guardian's revelation of documents suggesting that Televisa sold favourable coverage to Peña Nieto when he was governor of the state of Mexico, and developed a dirty tricks campaign against López Obrador ahead of his first bid for the presidency in 2006, have intensified the debate. Televisa and the PRI have suggested that the documents are fake.
Candidates in Mexico Signal a New Tack in the Drug War
RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD and DAMIEN CAVE. New York Times. June 10, 2012
MEXICO CITY — The top three contenders for Mexico’s presidency have all promised a major shift in the country’s drug war strategy, placing a higher priority on reducing the violence in Mexico than on using arrests and seizures to block the flow of drugs to the United States.
The candidates, while vowing to continue to fight drug trafficking, say they intend to eventually withdraw the Mexican Army from the drug fight. They are concerned that it has proved unfit for police work and has contributed to the high death toll, which has exceeded 50,000 since the departing president, Felipe Calderón, made the military a cornerstone of his battle against drug traffickers more than five years ago.
The front-runner, Enrique Peña Nieto, does not emphasize stopping drug shipments or capturing drug kingpins as he enters the final weeks of campaigning for the July 1 election. Lately he has suggested that while Mexico should continue to work with the United States government against organized crime, it should not “subordinate to the strategies of other countries.”
“The task of the state, what should be its priority from my point of view, and what I have called for in this campaign, is to reduce the levels of violence,” he said in an interview.
United States officials have been careful not to publicly weigh in on the race or the prospect of a changed strategy, for fear of being accused of meddling. One senior Obama administration official said on Friday that Mr. Peña Nieto’s demand that the United States respect Mexican priorities “is a sound bite he is using for obvious political purposes.” In private meetings, the official said, “what we basically get is that he fully appreciates and understands that if/when he wins, he is going to keep working with us.”
Still, the potential shift, reflecting the thinking of a growing number of crime researchers, has raised concern among some American policy makers. “Will there be a situation where the next president just turns a blind eye to the cartels, ceding Mexico to the cartels, or will they be a willing partner with the United States to combat them?” Representative Ben Quayle, an Arizona Republican, asked at a hearing this month in Phoenix. “I hope it’s the latter.”
The two other principal candidates, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who narrowly lost the race in 2006 and is gaining in polls, and Josefina Vázquez Mota of the incumbent National Action Party, have joined Mr. Peña Nieto in promising to make it their priority to reduce the body count, which has spiraled out of control during Mr. Calderón’s six-year tenure.
“Results will be measured not by how many criminals are captured, but by how stable and secure the communities are,” Ms. Vázquez Mota wrote on her campaign Web site.
Mr. López Obrador — whose security strategy is called “Abrazos, no balazos,” or “Hugs, not bullets” — has criticized how United States officials have approached securing Mexico. “They should send us cheap credit, not military helicopters,” he said.
Mr. Calderón, who is constitutionally limited to one term, used the army more aggressively in fighting drugs than any previous Mexican leader, overshadowing his attempts to improve Mexican institutions. All three candidates vow on the stump to devote more attention to programs that address the social inequality that leads young people to join criminal groups.
The candidates promise to continue fortifying the federal police, and Mr. Peña Nieto has called for adding a “gendarmerie” paramilitary unit for the most violent, rural areas where policing is especially lacking. But they eschew Mr. Calderón’s talk of dismantling the cartels and promising big seizures, and only when pressed in an interview did Mr. Peña Nieto suggest that capturing the most-wanted kingpin, Joaquín Guzmán, known as El Chapo, would be a goal.
As the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or the PRI, Mr. Peña Nieto is the source of much of the American worry. The PRI ran Mexico for 71 years, until 2000, with authoritarianism, corruption and, critics say, a wink and nod to drug traffickers. Indeed, Mr. Peña Nieto’s comfortable lead in the polls has shrunk after opponents warned, among other charges, that he and his party would make deals with the cartels for peace.
Mr. Peña Nieto, 45, insisted in an interview that he was a fresh face representing a new democratic era for the party — going as far as to say he has never tried any illicit drug. But he nevertheless defended the PRI, saying the other parties have had their share of bad apples and suggesting that the return of the party would be another sign of Mexico’s maturing democracy.
“I come from a party with a great history,” he said. “It is singled out more for its mistakes and errors than its achievements,” like poverty reduction and social programs.
Mexican analysts say the candidates are responding to growing public frustration with the current antidrug approach. Mr. Calderón has long portrayed the violence, much of it cartel infighting, as a sign that traffickers are on their heels, an idea that has lost resonance with the public.
Although drug consumption is rising in Mexico, drug production and trafficking are seen primarily as American problems that matter less than the crime they spawn. “You go ask the majority of people about a drug lab in the city, they are going to say, ‘As long as they don’t kill or rob me, it doesn’t matter,’ ” said Jorge Chabat, a foreign-affairs professor at CIDE, a research institution here.
To shift the drug war toward combating violence, the next president faces a costly and exceedingly difficult job of cleansing and rebuilding poorly trained police agencies and judicial institutions rife with corruption, a job Mr. Calderón began.
The focus on arresting top traffickers and extraditing them to the United States has weakened several organizations, the Mexican and American authorities have insisted, but the bloodshed caused by newly emergent and splintering groups has overwhelmed the local and state authorities and left the impression that the antidrug forces are losing ground.
“They can get some of the guys at the top, but now you’ve got all these other guys running around doing whatever they want, and the state and local police can’t handle it,” said an American official who requested anonymity because of the political sensitivities.
American officials said they were still not certain about Mr. Peña Nieto’s commitment to the kinds of changes that would be needed to fight both crime and drugs.
His message of a new PRI has been undercut somewhat by near-daily headlines from an investigation of former PRI governors accused of corruption and possible links to organized crime.
Even some of Mr. Peña Nieto’s supporters in Washington, like Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who befriended him last year, acknowledge the questions about the party and whether Mr. Peña Nieto can distance himself from its past.
The new Mexican president will probably face a divided congress, meaning he or she would wield considerably less clout than past leaders did.
“What’s really quite clear is that the presidency is not what it used to be,” said Arturo Valenzuela, a Georgetown University professor and former top State Department official in the region.
He added: “If the PRI comes back, it’s not going to be the way the PRI governed before, because the country is just so different. So the question is how will they run the country? They will have to function in a very complicated electoral democracy.”
Pacific Rim Ruling Threatens El Salvador’s National Sovereignty
Emily Achtenberg. NACLA. June 8, 2012
On June 1, the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) issued a much-anticipated ruling in the case brought by Canadian transnational Pacific Rim against the government of El Salvador for failing to approve its mining permit. While dismissing Pacific Rim’s claims under the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), the tribunal ruled that the case could proceed under El Salvador’s own 1999 Investment Law, which allows foreign companies to sue the Salvadoran government though the same international tribunal.
The ruling paves the way for Pacific Rim to proceed with its efforts to undermine El Salvador’s de facto ban on metallic mining, in effect since 2008, as well as weaken the growing campaign to make El Salvador the first nation on the planet to legally ban gold mining. The anti-mining movement in El Salvador has broad support from civil society along with the Catholic Church and left and right political parties, due to widespread concerns about the environmental risks of mining in a country that is already one of the most environmentally-degraded in the hemisphere.1022 Credit: esnomineria.blogspot.ca
Pacific Rim received a permit in 2002 to begin exploratory work on a massive gold mine in the north-central department of Cabañas. Faced with growing community and then national opposition, including from the conservative government of Tony Saca, the company failed to complete the technical steps required to secure a permit for mining operations. It then sued the government for $200 million under DR-CAFTA, alleging that the government’s failure to approve an extraction permit had violated its investors’ rights.
The case was the first challenge to a sovereign government’s environmental policy under DR-CAFTA. Leftist President Mauricio Funes, elected in 2009, pledged that no metallic mining permits would be issued during his five-year administration. The project would represent the first new precious metals mine in El Salvador since before the start of the civil war in the early 1980s.
As Tim’s El Salvador Blog reminds us, the tribunal has not yet ruled on the merits of Pacific Rim’s case against El Salvador, or on El Salvador’s mining policy. The decision is only about the legal jurisdiction under which the case can now proceed.
The tribunal denied jurisdiction under DR-CAFTA effectively on a technicality—because Pacific Rim, a Canadian company which set up a last-minute subsidiary in Nevada to file the case, lacked proper standing (Canada is not a party to DR-CAFTA). Last year, the tribunal dismissed another mining company claim (from the Commerce Group) against El Salvador on a different technicality, because the company had not fully exhausted its domestic legal remedies. Still, as Tim notes, it’s somewhat satisfying that the mining companies are batting zero for two to date in trying to bring their claims under DR-CAFTA.
What the Pacific Rim case reveals is that the problem lies deeper than DR-CAFTA--in this case, in a policy decision made by El Salvador’s past neoliberal government back in 1999 to forfeit its own democratic processes in the interest of attracting foreign capital. As Public Citizen and the Sierra Club have noted: “That poor countries have been pushed to offshore their very judicial systems—through trade pacts’ investor-state enforcement systems and through investment laws like El Salvador’s—shows that the world needs a fundamental rethink of the way we regulate foreign investment.”
The National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining (known as the Mesa), a coalition of community, environmental, and human rights organizations that has led the anti-mining struggle in El Salvador, has called on President Funes to eliminate Article 15 of the 1999 Investment Law, which allows foreign corporations like Pacific Rim to bring suits under international jurisdiction. They also want Funes to push forward a national ban on metallic mining, based on a legislative proposal by his FMLN party that has languished in the Legislative Assembly (where the FMLN controls only 37% of the seats, but could potentially prevail on an issue that has received broad-based non-partisan support).
A Strategic Environmental Assessment completed by a Spanish consulting firm last September for the Funes government emphasizes the risks of environmental damage and social conflict due to metallic mining and the government’s lack of capacity to effectively regulate the industry. (The government has not released the study, which has been unofficially leaked by the Mesa.)
The Mesa is concerned that the Pacific Rim ruling may have a chilling effect on the proposed mining ban, especially due to the government’s mounting litigation costs ($5 million to date) which the tribunal refused to waive. As anti-mining activists have noted, these funds could have been used to educate 140,000 adults under the government’s National Literacy Program--a tough choice for a cash-strapped administration in a country where two-thirds of the population live on less than $1 a day.
1024 International solidarity activists protest. Credit: IPS-DC.org.
Still, the Funes government plans to vigorously defend the Pacific Rim case and is convinced it can win on the merits. International solidarity groups, who protested the ruling outside Pacific Rim’s Vancouver headquarters last week, have also vowed to continue their efforts.
They point to a victory in a similar case in the early 2000s, where U.S.-based Bechtel sued Bolivia for $25 million over the cancellation of a water privatization contract following a popular uprising against sky-rocketing water rates. After a strong international solidarity campaign, Bechtel withdrew its claim for a token settlement. The Bolivian government is now seeking to extricate itself from agreements that allow foreign investors to bypass domestic courts and bring their claims to international tribunals, setting a useful example for El Salvador.
Grenada trying to find remains of slain Marxist PM
DAVID McFADDEN. AP. June 11, 2012
ST. GEORGE'S, Grenada -- A haunting Cold War mystery is getting a fresh look on the Caribbean island of Grenada, where officials are trying to locate the missing remains of a Marxist prime minister executed nearly 30 years ago during a coup that sparked a U.S. invasion.
Maurice Bishop was machine-gunned by a firing squad on Oct. 19, 1983, along with three members of his Cabinet and four others during the bloody upheaval, and no one seems to know where the bodies ended up. Rumors have swirled for decades that U.S. forces later hid the remains to prevent the grave from becoming a rallying point for the slain leader's supporters or that a political rival dynamited the bodies.
Grenada's government wants the mystery solved as a way of healing the national psyche of this now-tranquil country of nutmeg-scented forests known as "the spice island," which became a flashpoint in the last days of the Cold War. Forensic anthropologists recently failed to find the remains in a hillside cemetery in the capital of St. George's, but further searches are planned.
"It's important for all concerned to bring some closure to this chapter in Grenada's history," Finance Minister Nazim Burke said in his office, just down a winding road from the 17th century fort where the 39-year-old Bishop and the others, including his pregnant mistress, were executed by Grenadian soldiers following a coup by a radical faction of Bishop's Cuba-backed party.
This much is known about the remains: After the execution, one gunman slit Bishop's throat after he was dead and cut off a finger to steal a ring. The bodies were transported to a military camp six miles outside of town and partially burned in a pit.
Six days after Bishop's execution, about 7,000 U.S. Marines and paratroopers, along with a few hundred security forces from neighboring islands, invaded Grenada, toppling the post-coup military government.
Witnesses say the burned, decomposing remains were transported to the island's medical school and the body bags were later brought to funeral director Leslie Bailey, who was tasked by the U.S. military with burying casualties from the conflict. Bailey died without ever pinpointing where the body bags believed to contain the remains of the political leaders were buried.
Bailey's son, funeral director Clinton Bailey, said he wants to find the remains because people "still point fingers" at his family every time the island celebrates the anniversary of the U.S. invasion, which was almost universally welcomed by Grenadians and is observed each Oct. 25 as a holiday known as Thanksgiving.
"I will clear my father's name," said Clinton Bailey, who has carried out his own unsuccessful efforts to find Bishop's remains.
Experts suspect the remains of Bishop and the others lie in unmarked graves in St. George's sprawling cemetery, where his supporters erected a rough, unmarked bust of the slain revolutionary leader among a tangle of white mausoleums and gravestones,
An international forensic team led by Marcella Sorg of the University of Maine was brought in by Grenada's Conference of Churches, the government and the island's medical school to find the remains.
The team spent almost two weeks in May excavating a roughly 25-foot stretch of the cemetery, first using a backhoe and then switching to small hand trowels. They scraped at the soil as bones began to emerge from an unmarked grave yards from where a gravedigger discovered three U.S. military body bags a decade ago.
Forensic experts say the scattered bones found are apparently not those of Bishop or the others, according to the Rev. Sean Doggett, a Roman Catholic priest who acts as spokesman for the Conference of Churches. But Doggett said he is hopeful that future digs could provide answers.
"They might be just outside the area searched," Doggett said in an email from his native Ireland, where is vacationing.
He did not say when the next search will take place, but officials say they will proceed once more money is available.
Previous searches in the same cemetery, including a forensic excavation organized by Bishop's daughter Nadia, failed as well.
At the cemetery, burly gravedigger Michael MacIntosh said he's confident a sustained search of the area will eventually turn up the long-sought remains.
"After all, the bodies have to be somewhere," said MacIntosh, standing by the excavated area, in the shadow of the National Stadium. "They couldn't have just disappeared into the air."
Some Grenadians believe that U.S. troops calculatingly obscured Bishop's burial.
"I think the sentiment was too overwhelming for Bishop at the time and the U.S. wanted to avoid a shrine," said Dr. Terry Marryshow, a Cuban-trained medical doctor who once worked as a bodyguard for Bishop and leads a foundation that was instrumental in getting the island's international airport renamed after the slain leader in 2009. "There must be someone who knows what happened and we just want to finally hear about it from an official source, Grenadian or U.S."
In an email, the U.S. Embassy to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean said "the United States does not have any information about the location of the bodies of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and members of his cabinet who were killed on October 19, 1983."
The political rival who ordered Bishop's execution, then-Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard, has long accused the U.S. of hiding Bishop's body. However, others say imperfect evidence suggests that Coard, who is widely reviled in Grenada and settled in Jamaica after being released from prison in 2009, had the remains dynamited before he was captured by U.S. forces.
Finding the truth is complicated by the fact that the matter was not investigated with any sort of thorough collection of evidence in the chaotic, tense days before and after the U.S. invasion.
In 1983, a power struggle between Bishop, a relatively popular prime minister who took power in a 1979 coup, and a more radical faction led by Coard devolved into the bloody coup.
The U.S., already alarmed by Bishop's Soviet and Cuban ties, said the invasion was necessary to protect the lives of hundreds of American medical students at St. George's University Medical School and to keep the island from being used as a staging post for communist aggression in the region. U.S. forces quickly gained control after the invasion was launched. But the action killed 45 Grenadians, 29 Cubans and 19 Americans.
Jorge Heine, a Chilean who is a fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a non-partisan Canadian think tank based in Waterloo, Ontario, said a monument to the memory of Bishop and his associates "would be a fitting way to finally bring about reconciliation to the spice island."
"The country needs to come to terms with its past," said Heine, who edited a book of essays about Grenada's revolutionary days.
Not all Grenadians believe officials should spend time trying to find Bishop's remains.
"Some people like to make believe that the revolution days were like getting presents beneath a Christmas tree. But it's not true. I think Bishop did some good things in his time, but we had no freedom of speech in those days. It's time to look forward as a country," said Ezekiel "Eze" Jones, a tour guide operator and taxi driver.
But Ann Bishop, the sister of the slain leader, said she has prayed for decades that her brother's body would be found and her family could have a proper burial at last.
"I am still hopeful Maurice's body will be located," she said by phone from her home in Grenada. "We're still trying to get over this, after all these years."
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