Monday, July 20, 2009

Around Latin America

-It's been awhile since we did any updates on Honduras. Micheletti and Zelaya had agreed to negotiations with Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, and while things were looking good for awhile, they now appear to be breaking down. Zelaya has vowed to cross the border back into his home country by foot if a resolution is not agreed upon by the end of this week. Meanwhile, the U.S. is ratcheting up its rhetoric, telling Micheletti that, if Zelaya is not restored to power, the U.S. will impose "severe sanctions" on Honduras. Some are critical of the Obama administration for waiting this long to take such a strong stance, but it strikes me as the right approach: let the negotiations begin, with mediation by a smart and respected diplomat, and if/when Micheletti refuses to back down from the coup, raise the specter of fierce economic reprisals if Zelaya's (democratically-elected) administration is not returned to power.

-American interrogators apparently were not the only government agents present during interrogations in Guantanamo. According to one report, Chinese agents also had unsupervised access to a number of Uighur detainees held in Cuba after September 11th. This isn't terribly surprising, given China's efforts to crack down on Uighur separatism and general mobilization, a case that's resurfaced recently as massive protests and clashes recently erupted between Uighurs, Chinese, and the state police in western China, resulting in the deaths of 100s. Equally unsurprising is that Chinese agents were allowed into Guantanamo to interrogate prisoners, even while Congressional representatives were denied access to examine conditions. Still, the Chinese-U.S. collaboration in the "war on terror" is an interesting and unexplored topic, and if this story is any indicator, could mark some rather dark interactions between the two countries, in Cuba and elsewhere.

-I've commented before on the close ties between Colombian paramilitaries and Alvaro Uribe's administration, as well as the impossibility of attaining peace in Colombia until the government cracks down as hard on paramilitaries as on the FARC. Lillie points to one more way in which the government is trying to cover up paramilitary violence, as well as offering some fascinating news I had not heard about the search in Brazil for the bodies of guerrillas who were killed and "disappeared" in the Araguaia region in the early 1970s (as well as the controversy of having the military look for the very bodies it is accused of having executed and dumped.)

-Speaking of the FARC, Colombia is claiming it has evidence that the FARC financially sponsored Rafael Correa's election. Correa insists he did not know about it, and I imagine he didn't. Beyond that, I think Boz's analysis of what Correa needs to do is pretty spot-on.

-In a very noble cultural move, Cuba is restoring the 120-meter tall mural painted onto a mountainside in the 1950s by muralist Leovigidio Gonzalez. The restoration will weather-proof the mural, and the project will incorporate the labor of local campesinos, helping jobs in the region.

-I couldn't agree more with Evo Morales: Bolivians (and Brazilians, and Argentines, and Ecuadorans, and people in the United States, and etc...) need to be more aware of the role of dictatorships in Bolivia (and Latin America) in the past, the causes of their rises to power and the effects of their regimes, the lessons (positive and negative) that civilian governments have learned, and the ways in which repression continue to manifest themselves in the world today.

-Brazil is outraged over Britain's decision to quite literally dump its shit on Brazil:

Brazilian police are investigating after 64 containers with more than 1,400 tonnes of hazardous UK waste were found in three of the country's ports.

The authorities say that among the material which was brought in illegally they discovered batteries, syringes, condoms and nappies.

Since the initial discovery, another 25 containers with hospital waste were found, also apparently from England.

The dumps happened in Santos (one of Brazil's most important ports, located in Sao Paulo) and in Rio Grande do Sul. To add insult to insult, one of the bins was filled with dirty toys with a note saying to wash the toys before giving them to "poor Brazilian children." Britain has promised to take "immediate steps," but it's a pretty embarrassing and despicable action nonetheless.

-Also in Brazil, in the "lack of sensitivity" department:
Jobless people seeking information about their benefits on the Brazilian Labor Ministry's Web site were forced to type in passwords such as "bum" and "shameless."
Labor Minister Carlos Lupi is apologizing for the situation - and he blames a private company that created the site's security system.
The government had previously decided against renewing the company's contract, prompting the speculation that the website gaffe was a revenge-prank on the part of the company.

-In one final bit on Brazil, according to a new academic study, Brazil is the global leader in a dubious category: soccer-related deaths. The report says that 42 people have been killed in the last 10 years, putting Brazil ahead of Italy and Argentina.

-In Venezuela, former Defense Minister Italo del Valle Alliegro has been criminally charged for his role in ordering the repression of protests that resulted in the deaths of hundreds and probably thousands of people dead in 1989. The protests, known as "Caracazo," were in response to government-imposed price hikes, and as the article points out, the failure to punish any authorities for the excessive force in response has been a dark stain on the human rights record of Venezuela since 1989.

-In good news on the (non-Dirty War) human rights front, Argentine courts have ordered a reopening of the investigation into the 1994 bombing of a Jewish organization that killed 85 and injured over 300. Recent developments have included beginning a more thorough and nuanced investigation than the one that simply said Iran was to blame, and has allowed the re-admission of evidence that had been acquired prior to the date that a judge had bribed a suspect to falsely blame the police for the bombing.

-On a more light-hearted note for Argentina, and in what is a very interesting case of how individual cultures can force international companies to adapt, Pepsi is now changing its logo to read "Pecsi" in Argentina, making the spelling match the pronunciation Argentines have given to the soda for years.

-There are many reasons why Alberto Fujimori is a disgusting human being, and his conviction today for embezzlement only adds to that long list. Still, to get at the essence of Fujimori's evil, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better quotation that sums it all up than the one Fujimori issued today: "I only accept the deeds; I accept neither the legal responsibility, nor the punishment nor the civil reparations." (h/t to Lillie).

-If anybody has any information on the apparent arson of the Ministry of Health in Guyana, it could be financially useful: president Bharrat Jagdeo is offering a $25 million reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpretrators.

-Finally, as Erik can no doubt attest, traveling in Costa Rica (and in many parts of the world) can be quite an adventure, particularly outside of the cities. This interesting (and kind of frightening) display shows the poor condition of many bridges throughout Costa Rica, from San Jose to the rural areas. Having lived there for awhile several years ago, it looks like travel has only gotten more "adventurous."