Category Archives: Latin America

More environmental woes in Latin America


From Brazil, the first our three stories today, starting with an ongoing problem, reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Latin America’s largest country is still losing tropical forests the size of two football fields every minute, despite attempts to tackle illegal logging and improve local land rights, a former head of Brazil’s forestry service has said.

Deforestation rates in Brazil, home to the world’s biggest expanse of tropical forests, slowed significantly between 2004 and 2010, but have picked up again in recent years due to a lack of innovation and government planning, Tasso Azevedo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Preserving forests is a key way to reduce emissions of planet-warming gases and combat climate change, as trees suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Forests are also home to hundreds of thousands of people who depend on them for their livelihood.

“In some cases, we are walking backwards,” warned Azevedo, citing poor cooperation between competing government departments and civil society in Brazil.

And from Brazil and the Thomson Reuters Foundation again, more devastation, this time human, as activists fighting to preserve lands and forests continue to die at the hands of developers:

Land rights campaigners and environmentalists are facing growing violence and intimidation in Brazil, with at least six activists killed so far this year, a human rights group said.

The killings, tracked between January and February 2016, happened in three largely rural Brazilian states with a history of land conflicts: Rondônia, Maranhão, and Alagoas, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported this week.

South America’s largest country has some of the world’s widest inequality in land distribution, according to a U.S. government report, with one percent of the population owning nearly half of the country’s land.

A growing number of activists demanding land reform and rights for indigenous people are facing “an increase in acts of violence, repression and criminalization”, the IACHR, that monitors human rights across the Americas, said in a statement.

And for our third story, we move closer to home, via teleSUR English:

The southern Mexican state of Chiapas has been hard hit by the El Niño climate phenomenon causing such an intensive drought that 13 rivers have been completely dried up, Mexican newspaper Reforma said Friday.

State Director of Civil Protection Luis Manuel Garcia told Reforma that 40 Chiapan municipalities have been affected, of which four are experiencing extreme drought.

“All of the biggest rivers in the coastal area of Chiapas have been practically dried up,” Garcia said.

In light of the extreme circumstances, Garcia said they would send a petition to the federal government requesting that they issue a state of emergency decree for three of Chiapas’ municipalities in order to get financial resources from the National Disaster Fund.

Texas: Try it, if you’re really tired with sanity. . .


From the state that brought you Ted Cruz, the latest theocratic madness.

From Rebecca Watson of Skepchick:

TX State Board of Ed Nominee: Obama Was a Gay Prostitute

From the transcript:

These days, individual Texas school districts don’t have to buy the books the State Board recommends. But many of them don’t really know all their options, so the State Board is still incredibly influential. I mean, obviously, they should be — that’s what Boards of Education should do: exert a strong influence over the quality of the state’s education.

Unfortunately, Texas has continued to be batshit insane. And things are about to get even crazier, thanks to one woman running for an open position on the board: Mary Lou Bruner. She nearly had enough votes in the primary to just win the seat outright, but because she only got 48 and not 50% of the votes, she’ll have to go through the motions of running a campaign. That’s good news, because in the meanwhile the rest of us can point out how fucking terrifying she is in the hopes that Texas wakes up and votes in literally anyone else but her.

First, there’s the evolution question. Obviously, Bruner thinks it’s all a myth. She believes that baby dinosaurs rode on Noah’s ark but after the flood there wasn’t enough vegetation to keep them alive and they couldn’t reproduce enough so they died, and the fossils support this because all dinosaur fossils have been found with the dinosaurs showing great distress, as though they’re trying to keep their heads above water.

You may be thinking, but aren’t all fossilized animals dead, indicating they all went through great distress at some point? Or, if you believe in fossils, why don’t you believe in the fact that the fossil record shows no record of a global flood but does show that dinosaurs lived 60 to 200 million years ago? But you would be a fool to think those things, because Bruner has transcended logic.

She also thinks that Barack Obama was a gay prostitute who sold his body for drug money in his 20s. I’m not joking. She actually believes that. Oh, for the days of birth certificate deniers.

Is this a woman you want anywhere near your children? Much less supervising their education?

Cruzin’ for slaves, Mexican and Canadian

And about Ted Cruz, there’s his super PAC head, who’s clearly as Looney Tunes as Dinosaur Lady.

Consider the latest lunacy reported by Bruce Wilson at Talk to Action:

Does Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz yearn to rule and reign over America like a God-anointed king from Old Testament scripture ? Short of Cruz himself shouting it from the rooftops, who can say for sure ? Still, nothing says “dominionism” quite as forcefully as “biblical” slavery.

Back in 2011, an open letter to Dr. Laura Schlessinger (concerning her radio show statement that, per Leviticus 18:22, homosexuality was an “abomination”) began, “Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law,” then popped the question,

“Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians.  Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?”

For David Barton, Cruz’ super-pac head (and the top evangelical power broker behind Cruz by one media account), this is no joke. It’s a serious question for which Barton’s website offers a serious, bible-based answer – an American may enslave both Mexicans and Canadians, but only if they’re pagans.

Puerto Rico, red meat to predatory banksters


The power of predators to draft American financial laws should be apparent to anyone by now, but it’s still shocking to see how viciously those laws impact the lives of men, women, and children who are both citizens and colonial subjects.

Puerto Rico is the classic example, a territory whose natives are by birthright U.S. citizens, yet are simultaneously exempt from laws created to protect citizens who happen to be born in states rather than territories.

Leave it to John Oliver and his gifted staff of researchers to get to bottom of things, with a little musical help from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the hottest ticket on Broadway.

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Puerto Rico

Program notes:

Puerto Rico is suffering a massive debt crisis. Lin-Manuel Miranda joins John Oliver to call for relief.

Call it a case of border enforcement blowback


It’s one of those stories you just gotta love.

From Princeton University:

The rapid escalation of border enforcement over the past three decades has backfired as a strategy to control undocumented immigration between Mexico and the United States, according to new research that suggests further militarization of the border is a waste of money.

“Rather than stopping undocumented Mexicans from coming to the U.S., greater enforcement stopped them from going home,” said Douglas Massey, one of the researchers and the Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton.

Advocated by bureaucrats, politicians and pundits, the militarization of the U.S. border with Mexico transformed undocumented Mexican migration from a circular flow of predominantly male workers going to a few states into a settled population of about 11 million in all 50 states, Massey said. From 1986 to 2010, the United States spent $35 billion on border enforcement and the net rate of undocumented population growth doubled, he said.

“By the 1990s border enforcement had become a self-sustaining cycle in which rising apprehensions provided proof of the ongoing ‘illegal invasion’ to justify more resources allocated to border enforcement, which produced more apprehensions, even though the actual number of undocumented migrants seeking entry was not increasing,” Massey said.

The research is detailed in an article, Why Border Enforcement Backfired, [$10 for access — esnl] that was published by the American Journal of Sociology in March. The authors are Massey, Jorge Durand of the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica in Mexico City and Karen Pren, project manager of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton’s Office of Population Research.

The research was supported by funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development as well as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

While advocates of increased border enforcement argued it would slow undocumented immigration, Massey said data gathered from communities throughout Mexico since 1987 on histories of migration and border crossings point to the opposite effect.

“Greater enforcement raised the costs of undocumented border crossing, which required undocumented migrants to stay longer in the U.S. to make a trip profitable,” he said. “Greater enforcement also increased the risk of death and injury during border crossing. As the costs and risks rose, migrants naturally minimized border crossing — not by remaining in Mexico but by staying in the United States.”

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Headline of the day II: More troubles in Mexico


From Gizmodo:

Mexico’s Entire Voter Database Was Leaked to the Internet

A database containing the personal information of millions Mexican voters was discovered online by a security researcher earlier this month on an unprotected server. The discovery represents a major breach in private information for upwards of 87 million Mexican voters.

Mexican gov’t stonewalls Ayotzinapa probers


BLOG Ayotz

The Mexican government has derailed an international panel of forensic experts assigned to investigate the 26 September 2014 disappearances of 43 young students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College [previously], an action only now receiving attention north of the border.

It took until this morning for the story to make the front page of this country’s de facto paper of record.

From the New York Times:

An international panel of experts brought to Mexico to investigate the haunting disappearance of 43 students that ignited a global outcry say they cannot solve the case because of a sustained campaign of harassment, stonewalling and intimidation against them.

The investigators say they have endured carefully orchestrated attacks in the Mexican news media, a refusal by the government to turn over documents or grant interviews with essential figures, and even a retaliatory criminal investigation into one of the officials who appointed them.

For some, the inevitable conclusion is that the government simply does not want the experts to solve the case.

“The conditions to conduct our work don’t exist,” said Claudia Paz y Paz, a panel member who earned international recognition for prosecuting a former Guatemalan dictator on charges of genocide. “And in Mexico, the proof is that the government opposed the extension of our mandate, isn’t it?”

More from Univision, including the sordid details on the Mexican government’s deplorable efforts to derail the panel before today’s final action:

Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office allegedly used sexual torture and offered millions of dollars in bribes to manipulate the investigation into the disappearance of 43 students in 2014 from a rural teachers’ college in the state of Guerrero, according to legal documents and letters by some of those accused of involvement in the atrocity that remains shrouded in mystery.

The accusers identified the highest ranking abusers as former Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam; the head of the organized crime section of the prosecutor’s office (SEIDO, Gustavo Salas Chávez, and Tomás Zeron de Lucio, director of the office’s Criminal Investigation Agency.

They were directly involved in alleged irregularities designed to prop up the official results of the investigation, known as the “historic truth,” in order to close the notorious case of the missing Ayotzinapa students, according to the documents obtained by Univision.

The allegations have surfaced at a crucial juncture in the case, days before a group of independent experts are due to release on Sunday the findings of a year-long investigation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the Organization of American States (OAS). The investigation by the group of experts, which was agreed to by the Mexican government in November 2014, highlighted irregularities in the official investigation in a preliminary report last September.

And as the New Yorker’s Francisco Goldman reported Saturday, the decision will be greeted with despair by the families of the disappeared:

The Ayotzinapa family members and many others, especially in the human-rights community, pleaded for GIEI’s six-month mandate to be extended until the mystery of the whereabouts of the forty-three students could finally be solved. But government spokesmen made it clear that GIEI’s stay in Mexico would end on April 30th. In an interview on April 18th with the powerful television journalist Joaquín López-Dóriga, Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong repeated his puzzling declarations that “GIEI and the P.G.R. coincided” in their conclusions, and that there were no “new elements that lead us to a different circumstance about what occurred in that place. We only have the evidence that the more than one hundred people detained in the case have provided due to the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic.”

It is not likely that GIEI will agree with that opinion when it releases its final report, at a press conference in Mexico City, on Sunday. It has been publishing a steady stream of tweets in advance of that conference: “It was a massive attack. There were more than 180 direct victims, the majority youths and minors”; “The dimensions of the attack haven’t been taken into account in order to form a deep analysis of what occurred”; “The attack against the normalistas raised huge questions: How was such a massive attack possible? Why did it happen?”; “Because the truth hurts but helps heal wounds, this April 24, #InformeGIEI.”

In late February, in Mexico City, one of the five GIEI experts, the Spanish social psychologist Carlos Beristain, told me how he understood the group’s mission. “We’re like a vaccination against impunity,” he said. “We stimulate investigations, antibodies, against impunity. An institutional or social reaction to cover up or isolate or reject us keeps up from having an impact in the organism.” There seems little doubt that, in its report, GIEI will accuse the Mexican government of having obstructed or rejected its investigation. But what it has to say on Sunday about the fate of the forty-three Ayotzinapa normalistas, and about their experience in Mexico, will enter the bloodstream of the country in a way that will not easily be isolated, ignored, or rejected.

Six days earlier, Latin Times reported on a new break in the case, one certain to have heightened the government’s anxieties:

Now, after over 18 months of speculation and pieced information from Mexican officials, a new witness has come forward offering his version of the incident. Identified as G.J.R. he was the driver of one of the buses the students were on, and narrated the series of events that confirm the government’s involvement in the young men’s disappearance. “With teary, blurred eyes from the pepper spray, I was able to see from the police car how they were bringing down each student, when one of the policemen said, ‘we can fit any more of them in the car,’ and another said, ‘that’s fine, here come the ones from Huitzuco.’ At that moment I could perceive more police cars pulling in; they were white and blue and they I saw them drive directed to Huitzuco,” he declared.

In addition, the driver also stated that afterwards, the police also turned the students over to a criminal leader they were referring to as “El Patrón.”

This comes as a big twist in the investigation, as the driver’s initial testimony didn’t mention the involvement of the police. On the contrary, G.J.R. had said the students had forced him to take them and that he’d been attacked during the brawl; beaten, sprayed and threatened before they let him go.

More details came in a Friday story from teleSUR English:

Once again Mexico’s federal government “truth” regarding the fate of the forcibly disappeared 43 Ayotzinapa students has been shot down by Argentine Team of Anthropological Forensic experts, who made their report public revealing there is no way the students were incinerated at garbage dump in Cocula, Guerrero.

The Argentine team, also known by their acronym EAAF, decided to make an exception to their very strict rule of not revealing a full report carried out by them by making public the conclusions of their investigation which are presented in a 351-page document.

In lamest terms, the EAAF’s conclusions conclusively reject the federal government’s truth by saying there is no way that the students were incinerated at the Cocula dump.

Their conclusions are based on an investigation that began at the Cocula dump exactly one month after the students were attacked and forcibly disappeared the night of Sept. 26, 2014 and the following morning.

Even before the latest twists, one presidential candidate north of the border sought to reap some political advantage appearing in an interview with La Opinión, a Spanish-language newspaper in Los Angeles, reports the Latin Times:

“It is indignant. If I was working with the Mexican government, I would not rest until we found out what happened to those 42 people,” the presidential hopeful said during an interview with a Mexican publication. “Their kidnapping was a terrible law violation.”

With her statement, the 68-year-old former Secretary of State suggested that Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration is clearly not doing enough to provide answers for the families of the missing students, which is no surprise for the Mexican people.

During the interview, Clinton added that if she were voted the next President of The United of America, she would work towards strengthening the relationship between both countries, and join the investigation in order to get to the bottom of things.

“It is something that everyone in Mexico should be fighting for, in order to find answers,” she told La Opinión. “If there’s something that America could do to help, I would be the first one to offer that help.”

But Clinton’s zeal, which appeared on the same day as the crucial New York primary, drew fire from the father of one of the missing students.

From the Semillas Collective:

Ayotzinapa Dad Responds to Hilary Clinton’s Statement

Program notes:

Father of missing Ayotzinapa student, Antonio Tizpa-Responds to Hilary Clinton after she recently gave a statement on Ayotzinapa, in which she mistakenly cites 42 students missing instead of 43. Tizapa asks her: “Are you with the Mexican people or with the Mexican government?” He urges her to end Plan Merida : An initiative Clinton helped implement and expand during the Obama administration, which has only increased violence in Mexico (state committed crime). He also asks her to tell the Mexican government, to allow the investigation by the GIEI, The group who discovered that there was no scientific evidence to support the Mexican governments account of what happened to the 43, To stay in Mexico & continue their investigation until the 43 missing students are found. The Mexican government has ordered the GIEI to leave by April 30th. Learn more/Sign Petition go to: www.change.org/staygiei43

The Mérida Initiative was launched in the last half of the final year of the George W. Bush presidency, and continued under Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, where she gave it her enthusiastic support.

The program provided arms and training for Mexican military and police forces. One program funded by the plan provided training in torture techniques by an American security contractor. Another program funded arms that wound up in the hands of drug cartels.

The initiative was announced on 22 October 2007 and signed into law on June 30, 2008. From FY2008 to FY2015, Congress appropriated nearly $2.5 billion for Mexico under the Mérida Initiative, including 22 aircraft.

As noted in a 2014 report on Plan Merida by Alexander Main for the North American Congress on Latin America:

In a letter sent to Obama and the region’s other presidents last year [2013], over 145 civil society organizations called out U.S. policies that “promote militarization to address organized crime.” These policies, the letter states, have only resulted in a “dramatic surge in violent crime, often reportedly perpetrated by security forces themselves. Human rights abuses against our families and communities are, in many cases, directly attributable to failed and counterproductive security policies that have militarized our societies in the name of the ‘war on drugs.’”

The latest round in the ramping up of U.S. security assistance to Mexico and Central America began during President George W. Bush’s second term in office. Funding allocated to the region’s police and military forces climbed steadily upward to levels unseen since the U.S.-backed “dirty wars” of the 1980s. As narco-trafficking operations shifted increasingly from the Caribbean to the Central American corridor, the United States worked with regional governments to stage a heavily militarized war on drugs in an area that had yet to fully recover from nearly two decades of war.

In 2008 the Bush Administration launched the Mérida Initiative, a cooperation agreement that provides training, equipment, and intelligence to Mexican and Central American security forces. A key model for these agreements is Plan Colombia, an $8 billion program launched in 1999 that saw the mass deployment of military troops and militarized police forces to both interdict illegal drugs and counter left-wing guerrilla groups. Plan Colombia is frequently touted as a glowing success by U.S. officials who point to statistics indicating that drug production and violence has dropped while rebel groups’ size and territorial reach have significantly receded. Human rights groups, however, have documented the program’s widespread “collateral damage,” which includes the forced displacement of an estimated 5.7 million Colombians, thousands of extrajudicial killings, and continued attacks and killings targeting community activists, labor leaders, and journalists.

Under President Obama, the U.S. government has renewed and expanded Mérida and, in 2011, created the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). From 2008 to 2013, these programs have received over $2 billion and $574 million respectively, according to a 2014 report by the Igarapé Institute. Though administration spokespeople emphasize investments made in judicial reform and drug prevention programs, most funds have been spent on supporting increasingly warlike drug interdiction and law enforcement.

And in a report issued last year on a drive by seven human rights organizations calling on the Obama Administration to end the plan’s funding of Mexican security forces, the Washington Office on Latin America noted:

“Our research and documentation, as well as the work done by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the U.N. Committee on Enforced Disappearances, illustrate that the Mexican government has failed to make sufficient progress on the human rights priorities identified by Congress in its assistance to Mexico,” the eight co-signing groups affirm. In addition to WOLA, these include Amnesty International; the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center (Centro PRODH); the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center; Citizens in Support of Human Rights A.C. (CADHAC); Fundar, Center for Analysis and Research; the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

“In general, providing Mexican security forces with more training and equipment while corruption and abuses continue unchecked does little to improve security in Mexico, and is likely to continue to exacerbate an already dire human rights situation.” the memo reads. “We reiterate that the path to citizen security for Mexico is not that of a logic of war, but rather that of respecting human rights, strengthening civilian institutions, enacting true police and judicial reform, punishing corruption, and consolidating the rule of law and a representative and accountable democracy.”

The memo refers to several emblematic cases, including the enforced disappearance of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa and the massacre in Tlatlaya. It also provides examples of the Mexican government’s failure to investigate and punish officials for human rights violations, enforce prohibitions on the use of torture, and search for victims of enforced disappearance, all of which clearly demonstrate why the State Department should not issue a favorable report to Congress in order to obligate the withheld funds.

We conclude with a statement by Berkeley journalist Steve Fisher, one of the few U.S. reporters to conduct groundbreaking research on the Ayotzinapa crisis, during a January 2015 interview by Christy Thornton for the North American Congress on Latin America:

I think that there can be justice. But I don’t think at the moment it comes from the hands of the Mexican government. The Mexican government has not shown to us, and Anabel Hernández and myself have seen very directly how the Mexican government has chosen to lead this investigation. It’s clear that while they have a lot of very important information, they’ve chosen not to act on it and not to investigate the federal police and the military. And we haven’t heard any indication that they were going to investigate, because for the last three months they haven’t done so, when there’s so much proof that they were involved. You know that alone shows that they’re not being diligent at the very least, and I think that the fact that they’re basing the majority of their investigation on tortured witnesses cuts off at the knees this entire investigation, and shows the Mexican government’s incompetence to actually get to any sort of justice for these students.

I believe that if justice is going to happen, it’s going to come through additional investigative reporting, it’s going to come through the parents demanding that something happen, and not letting up, and bringing this story international as they have been doing, bringing it to the public. As far as the future of the investigation, I think that from what we’ve seen, the Mexican government needs to go back and do some very strong investigations of the military and the federal police. For example, the day after this event happened, after the attack on the students, the Guerrero state government demanded that investigators be allowed into the military space in Iguala, the military refused. Nothing came of that! That should have been a red flag in and of itself. They didn’t allow them to review the premises. So there are many many many avenues that the Mexican government could be taking to shed some light on exactly what happened, but in turn, instead, the very institutions that were directly involved that night, the Mexican military at least being complicit, and the federal police being on the scene, those institutions are in charge of looking for these students and are, in many ways, in charge of investigating.

A reprieve for a tribe threatened by a dam


Some interesting news from Brazil, via the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Land rights campaigners have welcomed the suspension of a mega-dam project in Brazil’s Amazon basin which would have flooded an area the size of New York City and displaced indigenous communities.

The São Luiz do Tapajós dam would have forced Munduruku indigenous people out of their traditional territory while disrupting the Amazon ecosystem, a campaigner said on Friday.

The move by Brazil’s environment agency IBAMA to suspend construction permits for the dam followed a report by the country’s National Indian Foundation which said the project would have violated indigenous land rights protected under Brazil’s constitution.

“The areas that would have been flooded include sites of important religious and cultural significance,” Brent Millikan, a Brasilia-based campaigner with the non-profit rights group International Rivers told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

We can’t help suspect that a government willing to take such a step against powerful corporate interests is one of the reasons for the drive to impeach Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, a movement given virtually unquestioning support in the coverage by American news media, which has painted a picture of a corrupt leftish government challenged by a virtuous middle class.

The one notable exception to the U.S. press fawning as been the McClatchy chain, as in this recent report from McClatchyDC:

And then there’s Operation Car Wash. That’s the name prosecutors have given to a probe into politicians skimming money from the state oil company, Petroleo Brasileiro S.A., or Petrobras.

That scandal is exploding across the front pages of Brazilian newspapers and television screens here, due to a yearlong collaborative effort by journalists from more than 100 news organizations around the globe, including McClatchy, the only U.S. newspaper partner.

Journalists examined the cache of 11.5 million leaked documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, a global leader in the formation of offshore companies. Police already raided its Brazil office in January.

>snip<

“It’s an atomic bomb that’s exploding exactly during the impeachment proceedings in Congress,” said David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasília. “The problem is it is catching people on both sides – those favorable to Dilma and those against.”

Cunha’s party, the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), recently broke from its coalition with Rousseff’s party but now has to answer for Cunha, who is accused of receiving bribes from offshore companies registered by the Panama law firm. And it’s unclear how legislators will proceed with the potential impeachment proceedings pending against Temer.