Category Archives: Latin America

Quote of the day: The Imperial Olympic$


From Pacific University political scientist and scholar of the politics of sports Jules Boykoff, writing for Jacobin [emphasis added]:

Since at least the 1980s, the Olympics have been big business. Corporate sponsors flock to the games to bask in the five-ring glow.

NBC forked over $4.4 billion to broadcast the Olympics from 2014 through 2020, and recently paid another $7.65 billion to extend their contract through 2032. Already the network has raked in a record-setting $1 billion in ad revenues for this summer’s games.

But well-connected local developers make out like bandits too. The Olympics are all about real estate — not the jobs, tourists, or tantalizing “legacies” that Olympic boosters use to sell the games. The public pays for expensive development schemes that fill private entities’ bank accounts. As urban geographer Christopher Gaffney puts it, “The flaccid Olympic mantras, superstar pedestal climbers, stadiums, and legacy promises are mere distractions from the realpolitik of urban development.”

The Olympics create a state of exception — a sort of “jock doctrine” — where elites can commandeer the city with uncommon speed and ease. As Rio mayor Eduardo Paes put it back in 2012 — supposedly as a joke — “The Olympics pretext is awesome; I need to use it as an excuse for everything.” He added, “Some things could be really related to the games, others have nothing to do with them.”

Take Rio’s Olympic golf course, a brazen transfer of public resources into private pockets. Mayor Paes helped site the project in the wealthy western suburb Barra da Tijuca where billionaire developer Pasquale Mauro could make a killing. During the Christmas holiday in 2012, Paes called an emergency session to pass a law allowing Mauro to build the course inside Marapendi Nature Reserve — home to a number of threatened species — and to ring it with 140 luxury condominiums. As long as Mauro footed the $20–30 million bill for the golf course, he could sell each condo at $2 million or more.

You don’t need a calculator to figure the monster profits. And thanks to Paes, pesky environmental impact reports and public hearings didn’t slow down the project. It was full steam ahead for the mayor and his cronies.

Death by torture: New Aytozinapa autopsy report


The only body of a student recovered after the brutal brutal assault on students from the 26 September 2014 disappearances [previously] of 44 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in the state of Guerrero, Mexico, bore marks of extreme torture, according to a new report.

Of the 43 other students abducted that night, the remains of only one have been identified, and that from DNA extracted from a bone fragment found in a plastic garbage bag dumped in a nearby river: Alexander Mora Venancio.

The body of Julio César Mondragón Fontes was found the day after the abductions, allegedly by carried out by drug cartel members in league with local politicians.

Mondragón is survived by a wife and young daughter.

From teleSUR English:

The Argentine forensics team submitted its autopsy conclusions Monday about the only Ayotzinapa student’s body, found in September 2014, finding he was brutally tortured before dying, coinciding with his family’s claims against the government’s allegations.

The conclusions, handed into a local court in Guerrero state, agreed partially with the report issued on the same day by the Mexican Human Rights Commission that 22-year-old Julio Cesar Mondragon had 64 fractures in 40 bones, mostly in his skull, face and spine.

The new autopsy however found more injuries on the body that had not been reported in the first one, and confirmed the student was tortured, saying the “serious” fractures in the skull occurred “around the time of death,” without finding any injury due to firearms.

The Argentine experts also found that the boy died as a result of the traumatic brain injury inflicted by a blunt force weapon, while acknowledging fauna’s teeth marks inflicted after the death. But the Human Rights Commission denied the existence of a blunt force weapon, blaming it all on animals.

Nevertheless, both teams called upon federal authorities to investigate further the case including the torture allegations, just as the family of Mondragon and its legal team have demanded for almost two years, claiming they had evidence the student had been tortured while still alive.

More from CNN:

“Julio César Mondragón Fontes was the victim of physical torture,” said Jose Trinidad Larrieta, the special commissioner in Ayotzinapa at the National Human Rights Commission. “He was cruelly beaten by members of an organized gang and public servants of the Iguala municipality.”

.snip

Argentine forensic experts investigating the case said in February that there is no evidence to support the government’s hypothesis that the bodies of the 43 students were burned in a nearby landfill.

Jesús Murillo Karam, who was the attorney general when the students disappeared, said in November 2014 that the young men were abducted on orders of a local mayor, turned over to a gang that killed them, burned their bodies in a landfill and tossed the remains into a nearby river.

Suspects arrested, but none have been tried

The involvement of Mexican governments at all levels with drug cartels has been a given for decades, with politicians and law enforcement officials profiting handsomely from the endless rivers of cash generated by the hunger of the U.S. market.

So it should come as no surprise that of those arrested in connection with the abduction and murders, not a single suspect has been tried on criminal charges.

There’s more, after the jump. . .

From the Associated Press: Continue reading

Austerity on the march in Portugal and Brazil


The austerians, the folks who impose a “new fiscal order” on nation-states in order to assure the ongoing profits of banksters and corporateers, are exercising their reign across the globe, forcing governments to public abandon healthcare systems, public spaces, public sector pensions, and other institutions that had characterized the post-World War II political and social landscapes.

The rhetoric the austerians use is inevitably pretentious and portentous, declaring, in effect, that the plight of the poor in developed in late-stage developing nations is essentially their own fault, and that programs designed to lift them from poverty are really sloth-inducing handouts.

The bottom line, of course, is the bottom line. Not the bottom line of the social contract, but the bottom line on corporate and banksters spreadsheets.

Austerianism, in short, makes the world save for corporatocracy.

Two classic examples can be found in events unfolding in two nations an ocean apart, yet united by a common language.

Austerity on the march in Portugal

Portugal, one of the PIIGS nations [along with Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain] of post-Bush crash Europe, has never recovered from the crash, and state financing has been critical to keeping the country viable.

But enough is enough, the austerians have decreed.

From United Press International:

European Union finance ministers supported sanctioning Spain and Portugal for breaking targeted budget deficits Tuesday.

The EU’s economic and financial affairs council decided Spain and Portugal should be sanctioned for breaking rules that countries’ budget deficits must remain within 3 percent of gross domestic product.
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“The Council found that Portugal and Spain had not taken effective action in response to its recommendations on measures to correct their excessive deficits” the European Council said in a statement on its website on Tuesday. The Council’s decisions will trigger sanctions under the excessive deficit procedure.”

According to the EU, Portugal and Spain have 10 days to appeal the decision. And the commission has 20 days to recommend fines that could amount to 0.2 percent of GDP.

But top EU officials have indicated the sanctions are likely to be symbolically set at zero, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In other words, Portugal has just been served notice.

Austerians and the Brazilian coup

The government of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, while less than perfect, had been struggling to keep the social contract alive, but that didn’t suit the Brazilian plutocracy, the spiritual descendants of the colonial land and cattle barons who exploited the native population and were the largest buyers of African slaves, outstripping the American South by far.

They used their bought-and-paid-for legislators to oust Rousseff through a vote of impeachment for crimes that, events have subsequently made clear, could be more rightly charged to them than to Rousseff.

And now, challenged with potential criminal charges for their own looting, they are busily engaged in the sell-off of the Brazilian commons, opening up endangered landscapes for industrial agriculture, displacing native populations, and generally grabbing up as much as they can whilst the sun still shines.

The latest grab, via teleSUR English:

Brazil’s unelected interim President Michel Temer said his government is considering the privatization of two of the country’s busiest airports in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

“It is possible that we will privatize Congonhas and Santos Dumont, which should give a good sum” of money, Temer said in an interview with the Folha de S.Paulo website, referring to Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo and Santos Dumont in Rio de Janeiro.

The interim government, imposed by the Brazilian Senate, is considering two options for privatizing the airports: one would keeping the government airport authority Infraero as a minority partner while giving most control to private companies, while the other would keep Infraero as the biggest stockholder with 51 percent of shares while private companies would manage the airports.

In both cases such moves would lead to thousands of people losing their jobs, as private contractors would seek to bring in new staff with new contracts and less oversight by the state.

Temer said the sale of state assets and major privatization plans is meant to generate sufficient revenues to meet the fiscal target for 2017, which foresees  a deficit of around US$42 Billion.

So who are the Brazilian lootocrats?

Glenn Greenwald has conducted a fascinating interview with U.S.-born Portuguese-speaking journalist Alex Cuadros, who covered the Brazilian plutocracy for Bloomberg.

Author of the just-published Brazillionaires: Wealth, Power, Decadence, and Hope in an American Country, a book on Brazil’s financial elite, he describe the relevance of the Brazilian experience for folks in the U.S.

From the Intercept:

[T]he relationship between Brazil and its billionaires is relevant to an American reader. There was something about studying this relationship in a country that’s not my own, where I don’t have nearly as much baggage, that made it easier to see how it works. But really it’s a relationship that exists in most countries today. In the end I think that the Brazilian billionaire tradition is simply an extreme version of a natural relationship between wealth and political power.

There are some differences. In Brazil, partly because the state has always had a large presence in the economy, a lot of wealthy families owe their fortunes to personal connections to the government or even outright corruption. This clashes with the American ideal of the self-made man who gets rich thanks only to his own talent and hard work.

But of course, if you look at the richest people and companies in the U.S., they tend to defend their fortunes by putting their money to work in the political system, swaying the rules in their favor through lobbying, campaign donations, and other, less transparent contributions. Obviously there’s a difference between outright graft and legal forms of influence, but the desire and the effect are often similar: to allow the very rich to claim a larger piece of the economic pie without necessarily making the pie larger.

More strikes in Mexico, this time on the border


While the Mexican government battles striking teachers, sometimes violently, other Mexican workers are engaged in job actions on the border.

Their targets are multinationals, including some who moved operations from the U.S. to Mexico in the wake of NAFTA.

From Frontera NorteSur:

After a hiatus of several months, public protests by border factory (maquiladora) workers in Ciudad Juarez are back. On Saturday morning, July 9, as many as 1,000 workers from Johnson Controls, Eagle Ottawa, Lear, Foxconn and other companies  staged a spirited march through the city’s downtown, culminating in an hour-long blockade of the Santa Fe Bridge connecting to neighboring El Paso, Texas.

One placard carried by a protester simply read “Justice for the Working Class.” Banners proclaiming the new labor advocacy organization Obrer@s Maquiler@s de Ciudad Juarez, or Ciudad Juarez Maquiladora Workers, were unfurled at the bridge’s entrance.

The protest occurred during a peak crossing time when vehicular traffic from Juarez to El Paso frequently backs up, even under normal circumstances. Tempers flared when a man in a car with New Mexico license plates attempted to drive through the protesting crowd, but no injuries ensued.

“This is a struggle for a salary increase, to improve the wages in the maquiladoras,” labor attorney Susana Prieto was quoted in the Juarez daily Norte. “There are now employees of different companies in the movement and what is intended is for more and more workers to join with this struggle.”

Mexico prepares to fire 100s of striking teachers


In today’s earlier post on Mexico, legal scholar John Ackerman spoke eloquently about the rebellion to neoliberal education reforms by teachers from the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación [CNTE] union.

Now comes word that the Mexican government is preparing to fire hundreds oif the strikers.

From teleSUR English:

Deepening neoliberal education reforms, Mexican government officials plan to fire or lay off more than 350 teachers in the southern state of Guerrero, even as they prepare to continue negotiations Monday with striking parents, teacher and activists in the state of Oaxaca who have been protesting similar school reforms for weeks.

Leaders of the country’s national teachers union, known by the Spanish acronymn, CNTE, have called for another massive demonstration Monday afternoon, marching from the presidential palace in Mexico City to the Interior Ministry, where union negotiators will meet for a fourth time with government education officials. At issue are the neoliberal education reforms implemented in 2013 by President Enrique Peña Nieto. The CNTE contends that the measures, which greatly expand the testing of teachers, have failed to improve student education, and demand an overhaul to the national classroom model.

The three previous meetings between the union and Interior Minister Osorio Chong have failed to bear meaningful results, and CNTE officials say that concrete steps need to be taken to break the impasse.

But the government seems to be taking steps in the opposite direction. According to the Mexican daily La Jornada, education officials resumed rolling out their neoliberal agenda over the weekend — after a brief hiatus to ensure peaceful local elections last month — annoucing a new wave of over 500 mandatory teacher performance evaluations in Guerrero, one of the states where the CNTE’s presence is strongest.

Teachers contend that the evaluations are punitive, and some have boycotted the move. Government officials say that they will now fire 220 teachers in Guerrero for missing their reviews as far back as seven months ago, while another 123 are scheduled to be laid off for missing classes while striking. Dozens more face tens of thousands of dollars in salary deductions for failing to show up for class

But talks with the government continue. . .

While the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto is brandishing the stick, it’s also be proferring a small carrot.

More from teleSUR English:

Striking Mexican teachers have made preliminary progress in talks with government officials, agreeing in the fourth meeting on Monday evening to a roadmap for next steps in the negotiations as protests in at least 10 municipalities across five states continued to put pressure on authorities with demands to overhaul education policies, local media reported.

After nearly four hours of talks — considerably shorter than the previous marathon meetings lasting into the early hours of the morning — Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong announced that the two sides of the conflict had reached a deal scheduling three more sessions over the next two weeks focused on the political, educational, and social issues behind the conflict.

Leaders of the CNTE national teachers union leading the strike said that the new talks involve discussions on President Enrique Peña Nieto’s 2013 education reform. The reform is staunchly rejected by the dissident teachers, who call it a neoliberal assault on public education that includes punitive measures toward educators. The first four negotiation sessions have not touched the subject of the controversial reforms, while the Peña Nieto and Education Minister Aurelio Nuño have insisted that the policies are not up for debate.

Trump or Clinton: To Mexico, they’re all the same


John Ackerman is one of the leading legal lights of Mexico, serving as professor at the Institute for Legal Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico [UNAM] and as editor-in-chief of the Mexican Law Review. He is also a columnist for Proceso magazine, source of some of the finest investigative reporting in North America, and for the La Jornada newspaper.

He is also a relentless critic of the corruption of the government of President President Enrique Peña Nieto.

In a recent essay for the Dallas Morning News, he attacked his government’s role in the investigation of the 26 September 2014 disappearance [previously] of the 43 students, still missing and presumed dead, from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.

The [Inter-American Human Rights Commission] panel has discovered that many of the key witnesses in the case were tortured, key evidence was likely planted on the scene of the crime, and the government’s story about what happened to the students (their bodies were supposedly incinerated at a garbage dump) is scientifically impossible.

Significantly, the panel also has discovered the complicity of federal forces with the disappearances. During the night of Sept. 26, the Federal Police and the Army, which has two large military bases in the vicinity, were constantly tracking the students’ movements in real time and even made themselves physically present on various occasions.

The evidence points to an intentional act of aggression by government forces — local, state and federal — against the group of student dissidents. Just as occurred frequently during the “dirty war” of the 1970s, the government took advantage of the relative isolation of the mountains of Guerrero to eliminate its political opponents. The good news is that this time someone was watching.

In the light of government repression and cover-ups like this one, it should come as no surprise that the public approval ratings for Peña Nieto have reached the lowest point for any Mexican president in recent history. Only 30 percent approve of his performance and only 13 percent believe that Mexico is today “on the right track,” according to a recent independent poll.

Regardless, the U.S. government irresponsibly continues to cover the back of the Peña Nieto administration. In its most recent Human Rights Report, the State Department claims that during 2015 “there were no reports of political prisoners or detainees” and that the Mexican government “generally respected” freedom of speech and the press. Congress also continues to funnel millions of dollars of support to Mexican law enforcement through the Merida Initiative.

Ackerman argues that it may make little difference who is elected president in the United States, since both politicians favor policies that can only bring more harm to his country.

Instead, he calls for a Mexico/U.S.-disconnect, given that the corruption in Mexico is aided, abetted, and even created by U.S. neoliberal politicians and their corporate sponsors.

Similarly, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will only deeply the wounds already inflicted on Mexico by NAFTA.

The TPP contains the same provisions as NAFTA for a establishing a secret tribunal where corporations can sue nation states for policies created to protect their citizens. Currently Mexico is being sued for blocking radioactive waste dumps, a measure that interferes with corporate profit potential.

And those panels work only in one direction: Nations can use them to sue corporations for harming their citizens.

But there are signs of hope.

Ackerman outlines his views in this very important interview from the Keiser Report, and it’s well worth your time.

From RT:

Keiser Report: US, Mexico & walls

Program notes:

In this special episode of the 2016 Summer Solutions series of the Keiser Report, Max and Stacy talk to John Ackerman, professor, columnist and the Mexican Law Review’s editor-in-chief, about the economic relationship between Mexico and the United States. Ackerman has a plan to cut off the flow of funds from America to the Mexican government and he also responds to Donald Trump’s wall. Like Trump, however, Ackerman believes Nafta has been devastating… both to the American worker and to the population in Mexico. They conclude with solutions to the consequences of neoliberal capitalism and dodgy trade deals.

Zapatistas give food to striking Mexican teachers


Striking teachers in Oaxaca from Mexico’s Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación [CNTE] union have a new ally, the Zapatistas.

The teachers have been waging a long struggle [previously] with the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, fighting to roll back neoliberal education reforms.

From teleSUR English:

Zapatista Indigenous groups delivered almost three tons of food to the striking teachers of the CNTE dissident union in the impoverished state of Chiapas in southern Mexico, Friday.

Trucks with sacks of food began arriving in the City of Palenque, located in the north of Chiapas and famous for its Mayan ruins, on Friday morning.

The supplies were delivered to union teachers and will be distributed among the teachers, who have erected blockades on highways as part of protests in opposition to the education reforms of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The National Indigenous Council and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, or EZLN, have long supported CNTE teachers in Chiapas and have publicly criticized the state’s repression of protesters and activists.

The Zapatistas have encouraged teachers affiliated with the CNTE union to keep fighting, especially after the massacre in the Indigenous community of Nochixtlan in Oaxaca on June 19, when 11 people lost their lives.