Thursday, January 31, 2013

Critical Situation for Brazil's Indigenous Peoples; Mexican Cane Growers Take Processing Mills; Mixed Situation for Nicaragua Public Education

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen, and NotiSur for Jan. 30-Feb. 1

Supreme Court Panel Rules that French Citizen Florence Cassez's Civil Rights Were Violated, Orders Her Release
The controversial case of French citizen Florence Cassez appears to have finally come to a conclusion following the decision by a high court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN) panel to release her from prison because her civil rights were violated. The court emphasized that its decision did not address the merits of the kidnapping charges against Cassez but only the violation of her civil rights and the inappropriate actions by authorities following her arrest. - Carlos Navarro   Read More

Increasingly Critical Situation for Brazil's Indigenous Peoples
Brazil again made headlines in the international press during the entire month of January because of the controversy surrounding the Rio de Janeiro government's decision to raze the Aldeia Maracanã, a building that once housed the Museu do Índio. Indigenous families have lived in the building for years, and the Rio government called on the courts to evict them. Indigenous organizations and civil society throughout Brazil and other countries condemned the attitude of Rio de Janeiro Gov. Sérgio Cabral. The still-unresolved episode is a perfect example of how the country, including the press, still does not understand the way of life, the thinking, and the culture of the first inhabitants of Brazil. - José Pedro Martins   Read More

National Security Response to Crisis with Nicaragua Creates Corruption Scandal in Costa Rica
The territorial dispute that broke out in October 2010 between Costa Rica and Nicaragua set off a chain of actions and reactions by both sides, including the showdown at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), where the case has been under study since early 2011. In Costa Rica, a corruption scandal has emerged in relation to a road that was built on the Costa Rican side of the disputed territory. Allegations of irregular handing of construction funds and poor quality of construction have pronted the arrest of several public and private-sector officials. -  George Rodríguez   Read More

Uruguay's President José Mujica's Simplicity Draws Attention Around the Globe
An austere lifestyle has gained Uiuguay's President José "Pepe" Mujica interntional notoriety, with newspapers around the globe requesting interviews with the 78-year-old South American leader. Mujica has no bodyguards, drives himself in his 1971 car, gives 90% of his salary to build low-cost housing, dresses with unusual simplicity, likes to sit and eat with his aides (or alone) in any ordinary bar near the government house, still lives in his modest house in a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of the Uruguayan capital, and cooks his own meals. - Andrés Gaudín    Read More

Enrollment Is Up, but Quality Problems Persist in Nicaragua’s Public Schools
When Nicaragua’s public schools open their doors next month for the new academic year, 2,500 students and an equal number of teachers will show up for their first day of class on shiny new mountain bikes. The "lucky" recipients can thank the administration of President Daniel Ortega, which is distributing the bikes free of charge as a way to keep impoverished rural students--who would otherwise have to walk at least 3 km to their respective schools--from dropping out. Critics dismiss the project as a "band-aid" measure that has little real value beyond the public-relations buzz it generates for the Ortega administration and its corporate partner, the telecommunications giant Claro - Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   Read More

Sugar Prices Fall Sharply in Mexico, Prompting Sugarcane Growers to Demand Restrictions on Corn-Syrup Imports, Guaranteed Price from Government
A bumper sugarcane harvest and steady imports of competing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from the US are making life difficult for Mexico’s sugarcane growers. With prices falling sharply, the Confederación Nacional Campesina (CNC) and related organizations like the Unión Nacional de Productores de Caña (UNPC) decided to take matters into their own hands in January. Sugarcane growers set up protests and partially took over Mexico’s 54 mills to demand action from President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration, including the imposition of a limit on HFCS imports and the implementation of a guaranteed price for sugarcane. - Carlos Navarro   Read More

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Region's Indigenous Leaders Demand Voice; LGBT Civl Unions in Chile; Victims' Compensation Law Enacted in Mexico

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen, and NotiSur for Jan. 23-25

Region's Indigenous Leaders Demand to Be Heard

As large-scale oil, mining, and infrastructure projects go ahead and anger swells across the region’s indigenous communities, it is hardly surprising that the right to prior consultation was the main issue on the agenda during the 10th Indigenous Fund Assembly, which took place in Guatemala City and began on Nov. 26. "In Latin America, indigenous peoples' opinion has been perpetually ignored," said Guatemalan Minister of Culture Carlos Batzín during the opening session. - Louisa Reynolds   Read More


Victims’ Compensation Law Goes Into Effect in Mexico
An an unprecedented law requiring the government to compensate victims of violent crime went into effect in January when President Enrique Peña Nieto dropped a legal challenge to the measure filed by t his predecessor, former President Felipe Calderón. The new law mandates creating a relief fund, a national registry of crime victims (Sistema Nacional de Atención a Víctimas), and a special commission to oversee these efforts (Comisión Ejecutiva de Atención a Víctimas).  - Carlos Navarro    Read More

Clock Is Ticking on Chilean President’s Push for Same-Sex Civil Unions
President Sebastián Piñera has proven to be an unlikely ally for Chile’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, most notably by overseeing passage last year of the Ley Zamudio, an equal-rights law that had been promised--but never delivered--by his more leftist predecessors. The conservative leader could cement his legacy as a gay-rights pioneer by making good on a campaign pledge to legalize same-sex civil unions. With just a year remaining in his term, however, time is running out. - Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   Read More

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Unable to Attend Swearing In
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced on Dec. 8 that his health had taken a turn for the worse and that he would have to undergo a fourth operation in Havana, Cuba. He asked Venezuelans, if it became necessary to call new elections, to vote for Foreign Minister and Vice President Nicolás Maduro. Since that time, various sources have begun to predict an uncertain and unstable future for the Caribbean nation. -Andrés Gaudín     Read More
President Enrique Peña Nieto Launches Ambitious Program to Eliminate Hunger in Mexico

President Enrique Peña Nieto has launched an ambitious campaign to eliminate hunger in Mexico, with initial efforts targeted at 7.4 million people living in extreme poverty. But critics say the program--which will be initially implemented in the 400 poorest municipalities in Mexico--is a shallow measure that will not address the root cause of poverty in Mexico. Under the program, the government will fund food assistance and basic services to the 400 poorest municipalities in the country. A large number of the extremely poor municipalities are in the south, including in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Oaxaca. And many are in primarily indigenous communities. - Carlos Navarro     Read More

Honduran Magistrates Opposed to Police-Purge Law Sacked by Congress; They Appeal to Supreme Court
The Honduran Congress passed a decree on May 24, 2012, that unleashed a complex series of events--as series of events usually are in this Central American nation. The measure, which was ratified by President Porfirio Lobo, implemented a system to purge corrupt police. But in November, a court ruled the law unconstitutional. This prompted the Congress to dismiss four magistrates, which added fuel to the controversy. An appeal was filed, and the complex case is now in the judiciary’s hands. - George Rodríguez      Read More

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Controversial Chinese Project in Mexico; Preview of Paraguay Elections; Aftermath of Guatemala Earthquake

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen, and NotiSur for Jan. 16-18

Chinese Government-Sponsored Trade, Commercial Project in Quintana Roo Draws Strong Opposition in Mexico

A planned megaproject near Cancún, sponsored in part by the Chinese government, has drawn strong opposition from a number of federal and state legislators and has caused a split in the Mexican business community. Furthermore, the Dragon Mart project, modeled after a similar complex in Dubai, has put President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration in a predicament. The controversy about the facility comes at a time when the Mexican government is promoting former trade secretary Herminio Blanco to head the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Carlos Navarro     Read More
IACHR Orders El Salvador To Investigate Three-Decade-Old El Mozote Massacre
An international court ruling on the infamous 1981 El Mozote massacre has put new pressure on Salvadoran authorities to stop turning a blind eye to widespread human rights violations committed during the country’s dozen-year civil war (1980-1992). The ruling, published early last month by the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), ruled against the state of El Salvador for its role in the macabre events of Dec. 11-13, 1981, when members of the Army’s now-defunct Atlacatl Battalion slaughtered hundreds of campesinos in and around the remote eastern village of El Mozote. The IACHR described the three-day massacre as part of a "systematic plan of repression" and found the state "responsible for the violation of the right to life and the right to personal integrity and private property." - Benjamin Witte-Lebhar    Read More
Petition Asks U.S. Government to Stem Flow of High-Caliber Weapons to Mexico
Just days before US President Barack Obama unveiled a package to reduce gun violence in the US, US Ambassador to Mexico Anthony Wayne received a petition from nearly 54,000 Mexican and US residents urging the US government to take more decisive steps to stem the flow of high-caliber weapons to Mexico. Most signatures on the petition addressed to Obama, US Vice President Joe Biden, and Wayne were gathered in Mexico by the victim’s right’s organization Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad (MPJD) and other Mexican groups like Incide Social and Evolución Mexicana. Some signatures were obtained by US partners, including the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Center for International Policy (CIP).  - Carlos Navarro   Read More
Paraguay Looks Ahead to Presidential Elections
In three months, Paraguay will hold a presidential election, called by the de facto regime to clean up its image. The regime was deeply damaged internationally by the hasty June 22, 2012, coup, in which all political parties participated, that toppled the constitutional, democratic government of President Fernando Lugo. Barring a political tsunami, businessman Horacio Cartes will win the election. Multiple accusations and testimonies allege that Cartes amassed his fortune and "paid for" his recent full-bore entrance into politics with proceeds from money laundering and smuggling. - Andrés Gaudín   Read More
Guatemala in Aftermath of November Earthquake
San Marcos, one of the departments in Guatemala with the highest rates of poverty, suffered the most damage from a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that occurred in the Central American country on Nov. 7. The quake killed 44 people. The Coordinadora Nacional para la Reducción de los Desastres (CONRED) says that 33,951 people had to be evacuated after the earthquake, 32,797 homes and 286 schools were damaged, and 11 schools were destroyed. Although President Otto Pérez Molina promised a swift and efficient reconstruction operation, aid has slowly trickled through to San Marcos’ impoverished communities. - Louisa Reynolds   Read More
Criticism of Anti-Terrorism Bill in Peru
The possible approval of a bill to criminalize denying terrorist acts or inciting others to commit such acts has received significant criticism from those who consider it ineffective as well as from those who see it as violating freedom of speech. The law would set a prison sentence of 6 to 12 years for anyone who "publicly approves of, justifies, denies, or minimizes the acts of terrorist organizations" that have received a final court judgment as well as anyone who incites others to commit terrorist acts. The full Congress must debate the bill, but the last plenary session ended on Dec. 14 without a debate and legislators are now in recess until March.   - Elsa Chanduví Jaña   Read More

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Zapatistas Mark 19th Anniversary; Indigenous Consultations in Bolivia; Disasters Worsen Hunger Prospects in Haiti

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen, and NotiSur for Jan. 9-13

Ecuador: Made-to-Order Justice
Control of the Ecuadoran justice system has long been an objective of whatever government is in power, and it uses various tactics from imposing judges by force to employing processes that appear democratic but are unable to maintain their independence. The most serious incidents of interference with the Ecuadoran judiciary in the country's recent democratic history undoubtedly occurred during the administrations of rightist President León Febres Cordero (1984-1988), populist President Lucio Gutiérrez (2003-2005), and current President Rafael Correa. -Luis Ángel Saavedra 
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Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional Observes 19th Anniversary of Uprising in Chiapas
On New Year’s Day 2013, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) marked the 19th anniversary of its uprising with a series of public events in the municipalities of Ocosingo, Palenque, Altamirano, San Cristóbal de las Casas, and Las Margaritas. These are the same communities where the Zapatistas first appeared on Jan. 1, 1994. The takeover of San Cristóbal de las Casas and other communities was intended to bring attention to the extreme poverty in Chiapas and elsewhere in Mexico and the ongoing violation of human and cultural rights for the country's indigenous communities. The uprising was planned to coincide with the start of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which the Zapatistas viewed as a symbol of the neoliberal policies that were behind the economic inequalities in Mexico. -Carlos Navarro    Read More

Controversial Highway a Step Closer in Bolivia
On July 29, the Bolivian government began an unprecedented popular consultation to ascertain whether the 69 indigenous groups living in the Amazonía supported construction of a highway that would bisect the Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isíboro Secure (TIPNIS). The 306 km highway would open the door to developing a vast area of the departments of Beni and Cochabamba, which are now are isolated from the rest of the country The consultation was to have lasted until Aug. 25. but the process did not finish until Dec. 9, and 11 communities refused to participate in the consultation. This raised questions of whether outside forces might have influenced the process. -Andrés Gaudín    Read More

Repeatedly Hit by Nature Since 2010 Earthquake, Haiti Now Faces Massive Food Shortage
With thousands of people yet to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake, affected by drought halfway through last year, and hit by Hurricane Isaac in August, nature dealt Haiti another blow in late October when Hurricane Sandy plowed through the Americas’ poorest nation. Sandy resulted in 54 deaths, another 21 people missing, and anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 homeless. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that a drought in May and July 2012, Hurricane Isaac in August, and Sandy together caused about US$254 million in agricultural losses. -George Rodríguez   Read More

Mexican Congress, President Enrique Peña Nieto Reach Easy Agreement on 2013 Budget
The Mexican Congress and President Enrique Peña Nieto had a surprisingly easy time reaching agreement on the expenditures and revenues budgets for 2013. The Chamber of Deputies generally approved the budget blueprints sent over by Peña Nieto, adding about 25 billion pesos (US$1.9 billion) in expenditures to the 3.931 trillion (US$309 billion) that the president proposed. And while the various political parties in Congress avoided a contentious process, they were keeping a close eye on the US Congress and US President Barack Obama’s administration, which during December seemed very far from reaching an agreement on a deficit-reduction package that would avoid the automatic enactment of the Budget Control Act of 2011. -Carlos Navarro  Read More

The Dominican Republic Four Months After President Danilo Medina Took Office
In the Dominican Republic, 2012 was marred by frequent street protests, some directed at outgoing President Leonel Fernández, of the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD). Other protests were sparked by opposition to mining projects that would purportedly lead to the pollution of water sources, while others were caused by popular opposition to corruption and impunity. Since August, when President Danilo Medina took office, social unrest has worsened, especially after the newly elected president announced that he would put forward a tax-reform bill and after it became known that in 2012 the Dominican Republic’s fiscal deficit reached 8.5% of GDP, the highest in Latin America. -Crosby Girón  Read More