Spanish Tourist Killed by Brazilian Police Officer in Rio de Janeiro

By: Fernando Oliveira
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – On October 23, 2017, at about 9:30pm, Maria Esperanza Jimenez, a 67 years old Spanish tourist who was doing a guided tour into a favela named Rocinha, in the Southern Zone of Rio de Janeiro city, was shot down by a police officer.

Shot that reached the victim`s neck. Courtesy by Globo TV.

The victim was in a Fiat Freemont along with four other passengers – her brother, her sister in law, a Brazilian guide, Rosângela Cunha, and an Italian driver rooted in Brazil, Carlos Zanineta, when they failed to stop on a police blockade at a slum area called Largo do Boiadero.

According to the preliminary investigations, Lieutenant Davi dos Santos Ribeiro fired his rifle against the car soon after it failed to stop at the road blockade. To Valéria Aragão, the Chief Investigator of the case, Ribeiro said he opened fire because he thought they were trying to escape from the blockade, only realizing that it was a tourist car when he and the other police officers approached the vehicle.

Driver of the car, Carlos Zanieta, said he did not see neither the blockade nor any stop sign. A voice record that is circulating through WhatsApp says that police were sheltering from the rain when they ordered the vehicle to stop, and that the police officers did not enter into the roadway. Accordingly, that would have been the reason the driver did not stop the car.

The fatal shot reached Jimenez’s neck. She was taken to Miguel Couto hospital by police; however, she was already dead upon arrival.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – Spanish tourist shot, killed by police in Rio de Janeiro slum – 23 October 2017

New York Times – Brazilian Police Kill a Spanish Tourist in Rio de Janeiro – 05 October 2017

The Guardian – Brazil police shoot dead Spanish tourist in Rio de Janeiro favela – 23 October 2017

Folha de São Paulo – Spanish Tourist Is Shot and Killed by Rio Police in Rocinha Slum – 23 October 2017

Venezuela’s democratic opposition wins EU’s top human rights award

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Venezuela’s democratic opposition and political prisoners on Thursday. This is Europe’s most prestigious human rights award.

Julio Borges will accept the prize on behalf of the Venezuelan opposition. Image Courtesy of Andres Martinez Casares.

Antonion Tajani, the Parliament’s president, made the announcement before a plenary session in Strasbourg, France. The prize was given as a reward to Venezuelan students and politicians for their courage to fight a repressive government and demand freedom. Guy Verhofstadt of the ALDE liberal group remarks that “this award supports the fight of democratic forces for a democratic Venezuela,” and invites the international community to join their fight.

Venezuela has suffered politically and economically for several years. As a result of dropped energy prices, the oil-producing nation took a severe economic hit. Poverty is widespread and thousands have left the country as refugees. Accordingly, President Maduro’s oppressive government has drawn much of the blame. It consolidated power by cracking down on the opposition and hundreds of leaders and supporters have felt the wrath of Maduro’s government. Many have been arbitrarily arrested and dozens have been killed in this past year. Officials report that more than 120 people were killed when anti-government street demonstrations turned violent.

As a result of Maduro’s government, Venezuela’s democracy is in danger. There is currently a standoff between the National Assembly, Venezuela’s only democratically elected Parliament, and the constituent assembly, made up exclusively of government supporters.  President Maduro has tried to close the National Assembly to limit the opposition’s power and influence. His goal is to create a superseding, all-powerful constitutional assembly that will be under his party’s control. The opposition’s effort to defend Venezuela’s democracy is the primary reason for their reward.

Mr. Tajani remarked, “we have decided to award the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the democratic opposition, recalling our total support for the National Assembly of Venezuela – a democratically-elected parliament – the only parliament democratically elected.”

The “democratic opposition in Venezuela” receives the award as the official laureate. This group is represented by the country’s National Assembly and its president, Julio Borges, as well as political prisoners. The list of political prisoners is maintained by a human rights organization, Foro Penal. Mr. Borges will be invited to receive the prize on behalf of the opposition. The award comes with 50,000 euros (about $59,000) at a ceremony in Strasbourg this year.

The opposition follows last year’s winners, Nadia Murad and Lamiya Ajo Bashar, young Yazidi women who escaped captivity and sexual slavery under the Islamic State. The other finalists for this year included an activist in Guatemala who fights for the rights of indigenous peoples and a Swedish-Eritrean journalist who has been arbitrarily detained by Eritrean authorities since 2001.

The prize has been awarded every year since 1988 and is named after Andrei Sakharov, a Soviet physicist and political dissident.

For more information, please see:

Independent – Venezuela’s opposition awarded Sakharov Prize for championing human rights – 26 October 2017

NY Times – Venezuelan Opposition Receives E.U.’s Sakharov Freedom Price – 26 October 2017

BBC – Venezuela opposition wins EU’s top human rights prize – 26 October 2017

Washington Post – Opposition, prisoners of Venezuela with EU human rights prize – 26 October 2017

Euronews – Venezuela’s democratic opposition given EU’s human rights award – 26 October 2017

Peace talks are complicated as Colombian rebels admit to violating cease-fire

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Columbia – Peace talks in Colombia have become more complicated as the largest remaining rebel group, the ELN, violates a month-old cease-fire. The group has admitted its role in the death of indigenous leader Aulio Isarama Forastero.

The ELN rebel group in Colombia. Image Courtesy of Federico Rios.

The ELN, or National Liberation Army, and the Colombian government began their first ever cease-fire after more than 50 years of war. This agreement has been violated less than a month since it began on October 1st. On Monday, President Juan Manuel Santos’ government condemned the killing of the indigenous leader and demanded information to bring the guilty parties to justice. The government also called on the ELN to take concrete steps to ensure that a violation like this is not repeated.

The ELN’s western front released a statement on Sunday explaining Mr. Isarama’s death. It claims that the group detained him for allegedly being an informant for military intelligence. While being escorted to interrogation, the rebels say he physically assaulted one of the guerrilla fighters. The fighter responded in self-defense which led to a “tragic outcome.” The group claims the killing had not been ordered and there was no authorization given for the use of deadly force.

The statement also said, “we’re committed to carry out an internal reflection at all levels so that these incidents don’t happen again.”

Mr. Isarama was a member of the Embera people. His death occurred on the reservation in the western state of Choco, where he was governor. Human rights groups report him to be the 11th indigenous leader slain in Colombia this year.

Indigenous groups from northern Choco province have blamed the ELN from the beginning. They say that Mr. Isarama was led away by five armed men in ELN uniforms and shots were heard two hours later. They also allege that the rebel group has continued to lay mines and threaten their communities.

The chief government negotiator for the peace talks, Juan Camilo Restrepo, calls the killing “deplorable.” However, the government has indicated that it will continue its talks. Peace Commissioner Rodrigo Rivera says that protocol does not allow either side to walk away from the negotiating table because of one single incident. Still, a committee of observers including the UN will investigate the death of Isarama and make recommendations to prevent further incidents.

Peace negotiations with the ELN occurred after years of exploratory talks. Progress has been slow and there is doubt as to whether the group has full control of its 1,500 troops. Many of these rebels have been involved in kidnapping, drug trafficking, and destruction of oil pipelines. Not all of them left this life behind after their top leaders agreed to a cease-fire.

Colombia’s Indigenous communities have mobilized in a “Minga of Resistence” and demand that the government adhere to the terms of the country’s peace agreement. Indigenous organizations are marching in cities in at least 16 states. They demand observance of the peace agreement and the acceleration of murder investigations into at least 30 community leaders.

The demonstrators’ call to action says, “we will sing songs, slogans, we will dance as it shows that in our communities there is no fear and that the love for life, today unites us in the struggle and resistance.”

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – Colombia peace talks rattled by indigenous leader’s death – 30 October 2017

Colombia Reports – Colombia’s peace process ‘even more complex, more difficult and longer’ than talks – 30 October 2017

BBC – Colombia’s ELN rebels admit killing indigenous leader – 30 October 2017

Telesur – Colombia’s Indigenous March to Demand Government Comply with Peace Accord – 30 October 2017

Voice of America – Colombia’s ELN Rebels Admit Killing Indigenous Leader Amid Ceasefire – 30 October 2017

Brazil investigates plan to serve food pellets to the poor

By: Emily Green

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SAO PAULO, Brazil – Sao Paulo Mayor, Joao Doria, is promoting the distribution of dry pellets as a solution to the country’s hunger crisis. Brazilian prosecutors have opened an investigation into the plan to include these pellets in school meals.

Protestor holds a sign that reads “food pellets are not a meal.” Image Courtesy of Nacho Doce.

This investigation was prompted by protests and criticism of the new hunger-fighting initiative. Prosecutors claim that the product has not been adequately examined and question whether it passed the necessary health tests. The pellets’ nutritional value is crucial because the plan targets low income school children.

The pellets, known as “human pet food,” are called farinata. They are made out of the dehydrated leftovers of food from the commercial processing industry. The leftovers used are close to expiring or are “out of marketing standard.” The public has no further information on exactly what ingredients make up these pellets.

Farinata looks dehydrated and resembles popcorn. It can be eaten in several different ways including being mixed into foods like cake and then eaten directly. Mayor Doria did not specify which kind would be given to schools.

A video promoting the nuggets claims that they contain all the necessary nutrients including protein, vitamins, and minerals. It emphasizes that distribution of the free meal substitute will benefit poor families, be good for the environment, and reduce food waste. However, the Regional Council of Nutritionists and other bodies have expressed doubts about the nutritional value. Prosecutors demand more information about the make-up of these pellets.

The opposition calls it “a human rights violation that is in total disregard for the advances made in recent decades in the field of food security.”

However, the non-profit company behind the pellets, Plataforma Sinergia, assures that the product meets all legal requirements. Rosana Perrotti, the founder of this Catholic organization, assures that they process the food correctly by following all techniques of the industry. The result is that normally wasted food is given an additional two years of shelf life.

Mayor Doria is a multimillionaire businessman who is a possible presidential candidate for next year. He supports the pellets and describes them as “solidarity food” that will aggressively combat hunger. Likewise, Cardinal Scherer defends the farinata and adds that the food received a blessing from Pope Francis. He remarked, “it offends me when people call this dog food, and say it is degrading to the poor. It is degrading to deny them food.”

The plan is a reaction to Brazil’s worsening condition. Poverty, homelessness, and unemployment are consistently on the rise. In Sao Paulo, a report from 2013 shows that nearly 1.5 million people live in hunger. In total, around 7.2 million Brazilians suffer from lack of food.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Sao Paulo’s food pellets plan for poor children divides Brazil – 20 October 2017

Telesur – Brazil Probes Plan to Give Poor People ‘Human Pet Food’ – 20 October 2017

Epoch Times – Sao Paulo’s Mayor to Feed City’s Poor With ‘Dog Food’ – 20 October 2017

The Guardian – Brazil prosecutors investigate plan to give reconstituted food to poor people – 19 October 2017

Motherboard – These Mystery Food Pellets Are Sao Paulo’s Attempt to Combat Hunger – 16 October 2017

 

Maduro’s shocking victory in Venezuela’s latest election

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela’s opposition leaders suffered a devastating loss on Sunday, October 15. With reluctant participation by the opposing party, socialist leader Nicolas Maduro staged this election and won by a 17-point margin.

President Maduro. Image Courtesy of Ariana Cubillos.

Several national and global actors have denounced the election as fraudulent because it is unbelievable that Venezuelans would legitimately elect this party. The polls showed Maduro ahead by nine points while the official count reported him losing by six. Additionally, reports show only about a fifth of Venezuelans claim to support his government. He is known for abolishing Venezuela’s National Assembly, violently putting down protests, illegally jailing nearly 500 opposition activists, and wiping out any remnants of independent media. Somehow, he still ended up winning two-thirds of the races with 17 of 23 governorships.

A political risk research and consulting firm, Eurasia Group, reported “if the vote were to be completely free and fair, the (opposition) would likely win between 18 and 21 states.”

Venezuela is shocked by these results but does not have any evidence of a sham election. In the past, Maduro’s party was accused of manipulating the election that put him in power. These allegations involved the software company that set up the voting system and found that it miscalculated by one million votes.

In this case, the pre-rigging of the election was not hidden. Authorities under Maduro abruptly moved polling places of more than a half a million voters from anti-government neighborhoods to regime-friendly areas. They also printed ballots with names of opposition candidates who had been defeated in primary voting.

While some opposition leaders denounce this election and demand an independent audit, others have accepted defeat. Many assume that their supporters had fled as refugees or were too disappointed in the government to participate in the election. Because of Maduro’s tainted history, some opposition candidates say they never truly expected to win in a fair election, they just hoped they would gain more power.

This vote allows Maduro to establish the Constituent Assembly, a new institution that is stacked with his supporters and will replace the National Assembly, which was previously filled with his opposition. From this new institution, Maduro has the power to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution.

This election comes less than three months after the last major vote which ended violently. Protestors clashed with police resulting in the death of six people. Since then, more than 120 people have been killed in protest of their socialist government. Thousands of others have fled the country because of food scarcity, rampant violence, and high inflation.

Since Maduro’s government came into power in July, Venezuela’s democratic credentials have been under scrutiny. Many see this election as a way to affirm Maduro’s power and appear democratic. However, the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, says “you can’t recognize elections in a country where there’s no guarantee for the efficient exercise of democracy.”

For more information, please see:

Pittsburgh Post – Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro defends election results, claims American opposition is aiding him – 17 October 2017

Washington Post – the hope for change in Venezuela suffers a crushing blow – 17 October 2017

Fox News – Venezuela’s democracy is dead – 16 October 2017

CNN – Venezuelan opposition denounces results of first major vote since violent election – 16 October 2017

NY Times – Venezuelan Opposition Denounces Latest Vote as Ruling Party Makes Gains – 16 October 2017

Possible body of missing activist found before Argentina’s midterm election

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Candidates in Argentina suspended their campaigns after a body was discovered in a river on Wednesday, October 18. Many believe it to be the missing activist, Santiago Maldonado, who was last seen close to that location.

A demonstration for Maldonado in Buenos Aires on Thursday. Image Courtesy of Marcos Brindicci/Reuters.

Maldonado disappeared in August during a protest for indigenous rights when the federal police force was called in to put down the rally. According to a witness, Maldonado was knocked unconscious by security forces and put into a car.

The remains were found about 1,500 meters from the community guard of the Indigenous Mapuche community in Pu Lof. The body was on the riverbed of the Chubut River.

An expert hired by Maldonado’s family reported that the clothing on the body matches the description found of Maldonado’s clothes from the day of his disappearance. Also, he claims to have found a document in one of the pockets with his name on it. Regardless, his family is not convinced and distrusts the government. They are staying by his body in anticipation of DNA identification. The autopsy will be carried out on Friday in Argentina’s capital.

However, many question this discovery. That area of the river had previously been checked by authorities three separate times, and they have no explanation as to why they found it on the fourth dredging of the river. Maldonado’s lawyer, Veronica Heredia, remarked “we do not understand … we have no physical or legal explanation of why that body was found yesterday.”

Additionally, several other circumstances have raised suspicions that the body was planted. The remains were found only 300 meters from where the protest occurred, and his family questions how Maldonado could have been found upstream from where he went missing.

On top of that, it was recovered only days before Argentina’s legislative election on Sunday. Major parties running in the mid-term congressional election suspended their campaigns as a result. There is tension and disagreement over who actually harmed Maldonado and which party’s campaign will suffer more. As a result of the discovery, an emergency survey revealed that 12% of voters have decided to change their vote.

As a known activist for the Mapuche people, Maldonado spoke out against the Italian fashion giant, Benetton. The company owns 2.2 million acres of land which the indigenous people claims as part of their ancestral land. There have been numerous protests over the forcible eviction of community members from their homes.

Maldonado’s disappearance is a grim reminder of the 1976-1983 dictatorship that ruled Argentina. During that time, around 30,000 young activists vanished after being taken into custody by security forces.

For more information, please see:

Sputnik – ‘Too Shady’: Body Thought to Be Missing Activist Found Ahead of Argentina Vote – 10 October 2017

Guardian – Body found in icy river could sway Argentina’s midterm elections – 19 October 2017

Herald Tribune – Argentines Wait To Learn If Body is That of Missing Activist – 19 October 2017

BBC News – BBC Minute: On Argentina’s missing activist – 19 October 2017

Telesur – Family of Missing Activist Santiago Maldonado: We Await Autopsy Results – 18 October 2017

Chile becomes latest Latin American nation to resettle Syrian refugees

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile – Chilean President Michelle Bachelet welcomed 66 Syrian refugees to the country on Thursday. Chile is the latest Latin American nation to offer safe harbor to families displaced by Syria’s civil war.

Fourteen Syrian families welcomed by President Bachelet. Image Courtesy of UNHCR.

The refugees were welcomed during a ceremony at the airport in the country’s capital, Santiago. President Bachelet and a UN Refugee Agency representative, Michele Manca di Nissa, greeted 14 families who were forced to flee their homes because of the Syrian civil war.

“We know you have struggled and what we hope is that, in our country, you will find a place to rebuild your lives,” Bachelet said.

The 34 adults and 32 children arrived from Lebanon last week. Chile plans to resettle them in two communities, Villa Almana and Macul. The families will be given furnished homes and social benefits such as monthly stipends, schooling, and healthcare. Each refugee will attend intensive Spanish-language classes to help them adjust to life in Chile. They will also have access to psycho-social professionals from Vicaría de Pastoral Social Caritas, the organization that will follow up and help them integrate.

These Syrian refugees went through a pre-departure orientation session with experienced trainers from the International Organization for Migration. These sessions prepared them for the initial period of resettlement by teaching them about life in Chile. They were provided accurate information to help them make realistic plans for the future.

Additionally, they will receive continued help to make sure they are settled in the community. The children will attend local schools and kindergartens starting in March next year. Also, the adults will receive help finding employment. Chile aims to make these families autonomous and self-sufficient as fast as possible. The host communities aims to facilitate their access to basic healthcare services and help them feel at home. Chile’s Syrian community is actively participating in supporting these refugees.

Chile extends this welcome as part of its refugee resettlement program in which it aims to resettle 120 highly vulnerable Syrian refugees from Lebanon. This program is supported by the UN and is being used in several other Latin American countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia. These nations have begun accepting refugees in small numbers in an effort to help the humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations reports that more than 2 million people fleeing wars and persecution have become refugees in 2017. The United States and several European countries have started to tighten their borders and implement more restrictive asylum policies.

Currently, Chile is home to 1,736 recognized refugees. Most of these refugees are from Colombia. Since 1999, Chile has resettled 480 refugees of various nationalities. Some of these resettled refugees have been able to obtain Chilean nationality.

For further information, please see:

UNHCR – Chile becomes latest country to resettle Syrian refugees – 13 October 2017 

IOM – Syrian Refugees Resettled in Chile under Migration and Refugee Agencies’ Programme – 13 October 2017

UN News Centre – Chile becomes latest nation to resettle Syrian refugees through UN-backed programme – 13 October 2017

U.S. News – Chile Welcomes More Than 60 Syrian Refugees – 12 October 2017

Uruguay seats first transgender senator

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – On Tuesday, Michelle Suarez became the first transgender senator ever to be seated in Uruguay. She vows to use her position to expand and protect the rights of transgender people throughout South America.

Senator Michelle Suarez. Image Courtesy of Fox News.

The 34-year-old lawyer and activist assumed her seat in the upper chambers of Congress to represent the Communist Party. Her goal is to push a law that would let transgender people change their legal identities without needing the approval of a judge. The law would also mandate that the government set aside one percent of jobs for transgender people. Finally, a pension would be established to compensate transgender people who were persecuted during Uruguay’s decade under military dictatorship.

“Uruguay has evolved, but it’s still a discriminatory country,” Suarez told the Associated Press. With her position, she seeks to increase debate and action for LGBT rights within the Senate. Her top priority is drafting the Comprehensive Trans Act, which she co-authored, and will guarantee rights to people of all sexual orientation and socio-economic status.

Suarez revealed that she was fifteen when she acknowledged that she was a woman living in a male body. She attributes much of her success to her parents for accepting her. While growing up, she always had the support of her family but was discriminated against by classmates and teachers. “It was a tough time,” Suarez said. “People who knew me began to harass me.”

Regardless, she graduated high school with top grades and became the first transgender person to earn a law degree in the country of 33 million people. She began working as an activist for gender rights in 2009 as a way to cope with the loss of her mother.

Prior to gaining her seat, Suarez helped draft a bill that legalized gay marriage in 2013. She also worked as an activist and legal adviser for an LGBT rights organization, Ovejas Negras (Black Sheep).

The underlying attitude in Uruguay is still macho and fosters fierce resistance to LGBTQ issues. Suarez points out the prominent discrimination faced by Uruguay’s trans community of about 900 individuals. Because of it, gaining stable employment is difficult and many are pushed into sex work. Meanwhile, neighboring countries such as Argentina and Chile have started to make movements toward gender diversity.

“For the same facts, sayings, ways of feeling and thinking that at some point in my life I was harassed, persecuted and sanctioned, today I am applauded by many.” Suarez adds, “there has been positive change.”

For more information, please see:

Telesur – Lawyer and LGBT Activist to be Uruguay’s First Transgender Senator – 6 October 2017

Washington Post – Uruguay’s 1st transgender senator seated, vows protection – 10 October 2017

Fox News – Uruguay: first transgender senator assumes senate seat – 10 October 2017

El Observador – Michelle Suarez, the first trans senator in Uruguayan history – 10 October 2017

Columbian police open fire on protestors

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — Hundreds of farmers and community members gathered to protest forced eradication of their coca crops when the peaceful demonstration turned into a massacre. As many as fifteen civilians were killed and 50 more were injured at the hands of Colombia’s own security forces.

Police enter Nariño to carry out forced eradication. Image Courtesy of Telesur.

Local reports say anti-narcotics police opened fire into the crowd of protestors on October 5. Between 300 and 1,000 unarmed farmers had gathered in a field of coca requesting to speak with the security forces and stop police from destroying their crop. President Santos has ordered further investigation into the event that occurred in Nariño, the rural area known as a key zone for growing coca.

As the largest producer of coca, a base element of cocaine, Colombia has thousands of farmers who rely on the crop.  The country’s new peace plan provides an opportunity for crop substitution. Over a thousand farmers signed an agreement with the government to participate in this program that will substitute their coca crop for legal ones. In exchange for ripping up their coca, the farmers will receive government investment in their community.

However, most coca farmers around Nariño are not yet included in this program and need their crop to feed their families. Although they intend to participate, anti-narcotics authorities will not wait and are forcing eradication of their crop. This premature eradication destroys their means of livelihood.

Several conflicting reports have been brought blaming different groups for the violence, but human rights organizations and locals of the area assure that it was the police who opened fire on the protesting farmers. They resorted to violence after a peaceful two-week protest in which the farmers refused to participate in coca eradication efforts. Local media reported on several protests in this highly coca dependent area, where about 1,000 locals demanded to be included in the national crop substitution program.

On the other hand, the Colombian government has indirectly blamed guerrilla rebels for inciting the incident. Hundreds of FARC rebels have refused to follow the group’s peace agreement and have formed their own organized crime factions dedicated to drug trafficking. Colombia’s Defense Ministry claims that the rebels threw five-cylinder bombs at members of security forces and the crowd of protestors.

There has been no evidence of this version of events and most witnesses deny it. They report escalating tension between the police and the protestors that resulted in “excessive and irrational action” by the police that was “a clear violation of human rights.”

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports – Southwest Colombia furious at security forces after ’15 killed’ in massacre – 6 October 2017

Reuters – At Least Six Die During Colombia Protest Over Coca Crop Removal – 6 October 2017

Colombia Reports – Military massacre in southwest Colombia?  At least 8 killed, 18 injured in coca protest – 6 October 2017

Fox News – 4 killed in clashes with Colombia coca growers, eradicators – 6 October 2017

Telesur – Colombians Mobilize Against Police Killing of 8 Campesinos – 5 October 2017

President of the Brazilian Olympic Committee Arrested for Corruption

By: Fernando Oliveira
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – On October 5th, 2017, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, the Brazilian Olympic Committee president, and his right-hand man, Leonardo Gryner, the general director of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee, were arrested by Brazil’s federal police. Both were allegedly involved in a voting-buying scandal that supposedly allowed Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 Olympic Summer Games.

Brazilian Olympic Committee president Carlos Nuzman is escorted from the federal police headquarters in Rio de Janeiro. Photograph courtesy of Bruno Kelly/Reuters.

According to Brazilian federal prosecutors, Nuzman and Gryner controlled a complex criminal organization which, in 2009, “bought” Lamine Diack’s vote to bring the Olympics to Rio de Janeiro. Indeed, the investigation has found several emails showing that Lamine Diack, a former IOC member from Senegal, received at least $2 million for promising to vote for Rio de Janeiro’s candidacy during the poll held in Copenhagen in October 2009.

Nuzman, who is now 75 years old, was a Brazilian volleyball player who represented the national team from 1962 to 1968. Later on, he became head of the Brazilian Volleyball Confederation, from 1975 until 1995.  Since 1995, he has been BOC’s president. According to investigators, in the last 10 years, his assets have grown more than 450%.

Additionally, investigators discovered that Nuzman concealed sixteen 1kg gold bars in a Swiss bank, which led federal prosecutor Fabiana Schneider to declare:

“While Olympic medalists chased their dreams of gold medals, leaders of the Brazilian Olympic Committee stashed their gold in Switzerland.”

The ongoing investigation, called “Unfair Play,” brought evidence that Nuzman and Gryner are involved in corruption, money laundering, and conspiracy.

Nuzman’s lawyer, Nelio Machado claimed that Nuzman’s arrest is wholly unnecessary, and constitutes a vehement flaw, mostly because it is clear that the election of Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games strictly followed the rules.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Brazil police arrest Olympic committee chief in vote-buying scandal – 05 October 2017

New York Times – Brazil’s Olympic Committee President Arrested for Corruption – 05 October 2017

ABC News – President of Brazilian Olympic Committee arrested – 05 October 2017

Folha de São Paulo – Brazilian Police Arrest Olympics Chief Carlos Nuzman in Alleged Vote-Buying Scheme – 05 October 2017

New transitional justice system to prosecute war crimes in Colombia

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia’s new transitional justice system will bring justice to the country after 52 years of armed conflict with the revolutionary armed forces, FARC.  It will establish three courts, a truth commission, and special units to search for ties between state officials and illegal armed groups.

Colombian soldiers at parade in Bogota. Image Courtesy of The Conversation.

The purpose of this system is to bring what is called “restorative justice.” This method “seeks to empower victims of the conflict by facilitating testimonies and reparations from perpetrators, rather than doling out traditional punishments such as jail time.” It is designed to provide alternative and usually shorter sentences for war criminals by allowing them to turn themselves in, plead guilty, explain in detail their crimes, and work to make reparations to their victims. The goal is to get a full account of the atrocities from the five-decade-long armed conflict and provide closure to victims.

The crux of this initiative is the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, also known as the JEP. This will establish courts whose sole purpose is to investigate and try those who committed human rights violations during the conflict. It will be up to the judges in this tribunal to decide what cases they will and will not hear.

The draw for guilty parties to come forward is the alternative and lenient sentencing of the court. A person who admits a serious crime can receive a sentence of up to eight years in prison. This is far less than what would normally be imposed in a criminal court. With full cooperation, alternative sanctions can be granted as well. These sanctions may include confinement to a community with mandated community service or reparations to the victim in whatever way is asked.

The system aims to ensure that women and minorities are fully represented as magistrates, commissioners, and victims in the tribunal. This is crucial because of the disproportionate effect the conflict had on women. The tremendous amounts of sexual violence used as a weapon affected 800,000 sexual assault victims between 2010 and 2015.

JEP plans to prosecute only those who were directly involved in the political conflict. FARC provided the government with information listing its active members to serve as a basis. Members already arrested by the government prior to December 2016 will be eligible for the court as well.

One of the most prominent atrocities JEP will address is known as the “false positives” scandal. During the war, the defense minister began a policy of “cash-for-kills.” It awarded $1,500 to Colombian Army personnel who could prove they had made a “positive combat kill.” This policy led to the slaughter of some of Colombia’s most vulnerable citizens such as the mentally ill. They would be killed, photographed, and falsely presented as enemy combatants for the reward. One study determined that “the false positives scandal led to more than 5,763 extra-judicial executions between 2000 and 2010.”

Elections for JEP’s members occurred on September 26 and signify a positive step forward for this new justice system. The Selection Committee, made up of jurists and professionals from the United Nations and other entities, chose these members.

There is no doubt that this will be an uphill battle. There will be considerable budgetary and administrative problems to overcome, but this might be the only way for Colombia to move on from its violent past.

For further information, please see:

Colombiano – Today the names of the magistrates of the JEP are known – 26 September 2017

Colombia Reports – Everything you need to know about Colombia’s transitional justice system –  25 September 2017

La Republica – More than 100 women would enter the Special Jurisdiction for Peace – 25 September 2017

Semana – The JEP begins uphill – 23 September 2017 

The Conversation – Colombia struggles to deliver justice in army ‘cash-for-kills’ scandal – 18 September 2017

Imprisoned Mapuche activists end hunger strike after 118 days

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile — Four activists for an indigenous group in Chile, the Mapuche, have ended their hunger strike of 118 days. The men starved themselves in protest of their imprisonment and the terrorism charges brought against them.

Protestors in Chile demand justice for Mapuche prisoners. Image Courtesy of Telesur.

After a year and four months of imprisonment with no trial, the strike has come to an end. The Chilean government announced its decision to drop the controversial terrorism charges against these Mapuche prisoners. Alfredo Tralcal, a leader of the indigenous group, and brothers Benito and Pablo Trangol ended their strike as a result. The fourth prisoner, Ariel Trangol agreed to resume a normal diet again the day after his brothers, totaling 118 days on strike.

These prisoners are accused of burning down an evangelical church last year. The church was in a southern region that the Mapuche claim as their ancestral territory.  The court brought them up on terrorism charges through a law that dates back to General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship from 1973-1990. This law is known to be abusive and a violation of human rights. It authorizes officials to keep suspects in isolation without charges for up to two years, as well as the use of secret witnesses in trial.

In protest of this outdated and highly controversial law, the men endured a hunger strike for over 100 days. According to a medical expert, on September 1st the prisoners had lost 15-22kg and were presenting serious symptoms such as a deterioration of brain function. At one point, one of the four progressed to stop drinking liquids. Reports say that two of the men had to be taken to a hospital because of their weakening condition.

As their relatives watched them deteriorate, they begged the government to allow a common trial and drop the terrorism charges. The government remained steadfast and refused to let them out on house arrest, even though they have not been able to uncover any incriminating evidence since the arrest one year and four months ago.

The government’s refusal led to protests all over Chile. They called for justice for the indigenous Mapuche inmates. In Santiago, the police clashed violently with demonstrators who marched through the streets chanting for “Mapuche dignity.” The police used water cannons to break up the protest.

The Mapuche is Chile’s largest native ethnic group. They have been fighting with the government for two centuries over the land they lost in the 19th century. After battling conquest for 300 years, the Chilean military expanded and overtook their land. They encouraged European immigrants to colonize the area and the Mapuche have been struggling ever since. Today, the Mapuche are the poorest group in the country and suffer from illness, malnutrition, and discrimination.

Mapuche claims on land have resulted in “decades of struggle, leading to violence and death against leaders, as well as women, children, and the elderly by the Chilean state.”

For further information, please see:

Telesur – After 118 Days Mapuche Prisoner Ends Hunger Strike – 2 October 2017

Greenleft – Chile: Support for Mapuche political prisoners grows – 29 September 2017

Dailymail – Chile denies house arrest for jailed Mapuche hunger strikers – 29 September 2017

RT – Police clash with Mapuche protestors in Chilean capital – 26 September 2017

Lavanguardia – Mapuche leader arrested in Chile and five villagers killed by truck burning – 24 September 2017

Venezuelans forced to scavenge for food to survive

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – The people of Venezuela are starving as the economic and political situation in their country worsens. Thousands flee every day because there is not enough food to survive in their homes. This country that was once an economic hub in South America can no longer sustain its population.

Church in Cucuta serves food to immigrants. Image Courtesy of BBC.

With little food available in Venezuela, people look across the border for help. An estimated 25,000 people cross the Simon Bolivar International bridge into Colombia each day. The town of Cucuta in particular has been swarmed with hungry immigrants. One local church feeds between 600 and 2,000 people a day. Immigrants line up in the open-air courtyard set with plastic tables and chairs. Most say they cannot find work back home and come to this church for their only proper meal of the day.

In order to facilitate this mass migration, the Colombian government has recently introduced “border mobility cards.” These allow Venezuelans to move freely across the border without a passport. This is useful for those who go home to Venezuela after getting fed, but some do not ever want to return. Many have remarked that they will not return until their President is gone. One Venezuelan condemned Maduro saying, “he’s a president who spends money while his people die of hunger.”

For those that stay in Venezuela, aid is severely limited. One soup kitchen at a Catholic Church in Caracas can only serve children. Relying solely on donations, it serves 100 children every day and there are never any left overs. Parents, who would rather beg than let their kids go hungry, often have to be turned away. One parent remarks, “sometimes my wife and I do without food so at least the children can eat twice a day.”

President Maduro released “Plan Rabbit” in an effort to solve his country’s hunger crisis. Basically, he asks that Venezuelans eat their pet rabbits as a source of protein. The agricultural minister, Freddy Bernal, remarked with a smile, “the rabbit isn’t a pet, it’s only two and a half kilos of meat.” This country does not commonly consume rabbit and is more used to them as pets. The suggestion that communities should raise rabbits as sustenance was seen as a desperate and extreme measure taken by the President.

Strict food rationing, surging malnutrition, and starvation all became prevalent when the armed conflict began a few years ago. As the economy spiraled, the population’s nutrition did as well. Most Venezuelans have lost significant weight as a result. “A national poll found that Venezuelans lost 19 pounds on average in 2016 due to food shortages.” Malnutrition continues to afflict thousands of people. There has been an infant mortality rise from 35% to 65%. Nutrition in children has dramatically declined while the number of deaths from malnutrition grows.

While all this happens at home, President Maduro focuses his concern on building his army for the war with the U.S. “that will likely never come.” The leader blames President Trump and the United States for his country’s economic crisis and denounces the sanctions brought against them.

For further information, please see:

Fox News – Escape from Venezuela: Colombia border crossing mobbed as starving citizens flee – 28 September 2017

CNS News – No Need for TP or Toothpaste in Venezuela Because There’s No Food – 28 September 2017

BBC – Venezuelans cross into Colombia as crisis deepens – 28 September 2017

Bloomberg Businessweek – From 172 to 115 Pounds: The Faces of Venezuelan Hunger – 27 September 2017

Aljazeera – Venezuelan families scavenge for food to survive hunger – 25 September 2017

CNN Money – Can rabbit meat save Venezuela from going hungry? – 14 September 2017

Brazilian Army Troops Are Deployed in Rio De Janeiro City to Counter Drug-Related Shoot-Out

By: Fernando Oliveira
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – On September 23th, 2017, Brazilian Defense Minister Raul Jungmann authorized the deployment of about 950 federal army soldiers in Rio de Janeiro city, given the formal state government request of assistance to face the worsening of drug-related violence.

Brazilian army progressing within Rocinha, while neighbors pass through – Picture courtesy of O Globo.

After a whole week of several fire shooting episodes, last Saturday, September 23,  Rio de Janeiro city awoke with a war scenario surrounding one of its biggest favelas, named Rocinha. Armored tanks were on the streets, military helicopters in the sky, and roads were blocked in order to help the cash-strapped state police forces step into the slum area.

Rocinha – as many other Rio`s favelas – is a very poor neighborhood located in the Southern area of the city, not far from some of the most expensive real estate areas. It has about 70,000 inhabitants which were under trafficking gang rules until 2011, when the state government set forth a “pacification program” that pushed criminals, mainly drug dealers, out of the slum.

However, soon after the 2016 Summer Olympics, a wide spread corruption scandal led the former state governor, Sergio Cabral, to jail. According to federal prosecutors, he was the leader of a huge bribery mafia that diverted millions of dollars from state sources, and has been sentenced to more than 45 years in prison. As a consequence, state institutions, including the state police department, have run out of money and the “pacification program” – which had originally been successfully implemented in several favelas – began to run down.

As the “pacification program” weakened, the drug gangs went back to Rocinha. Currently, they are completely reinstalled, and started to fight among them toward controlling the worthiest drug trade points within the slum. War weapons, such as rifles AR-15 and grenades, are constantly used by the drug traffickers on rival gang firefights, and also against the state police forces. Be that as it may, the only hope for the poor Rocinha’s population is to believe that the federal troops will reestablish the order in the neighborhood, and life will return to normal.

For further information, please see:

Reuters — Brazil army deploys in Rio slum as drug-related violence worsens – 22 September 2017

Washington Post – Army mobilizes in Rio as shootings erupt in several areas – 22 September 2017

New York Times – Sérgio Cabral, Ex-Governor of Rio de Janeiro, Arrested on Corruption Charges – 17 November 2016

Wall Street Journal – Brazil Judge Sentences Ex-Rio Governor to 14 Years in Corruption Case – 13 June 2017

Foha de São Paulo – Ex-Governor of Rio de Janeiro Sérgio Cabral Sentenced to 45 Years in Prison – 21 September 2017

Immigrants seek refuge in Colombia as Venezuela’s government collapses

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombia, usually an exporter of immigrants, is experiencing the other side of a migrant crisis. Venezuelan refugees flee their homes and bring Colombia the first wave of massive immigration in its history as an independent nation.

Immigrants leaving Venezuela. Image Courtesy of US News.

Venezuelan immigrants have been forced to leave the country amid the collapse of President Maduro’s government. Their once prosperous economy is collapsing and has driven masses of people from their homes. Colombia shares 1,300 miles of border with Venezuela and has been a popular destination for its dispersed neighbors.

Besides the proximity, Venezuelans make the move to Colombia because of the economic opportunity. Several refugees remark that at least in Colombia they can find food with the little money they earn. At home, the Maduro regime has destroyed the free market and shelves remain empty.

On the Pope’s visit to Colombia a few weeks ago, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos pledged that Colombia will accommodate thousands of Venezuelan exiles while it works to find a political solution for their country’s crisis. The President assured the Pope, “Colombia will always be a welcoming land.”

Now that Venezuelans have arrived in the promised amount, Colombia is starting to see the effects. Local authorities report street brawls over food donations. The amount of charity is scarce compared to the amount of need. The mayor of a popular city for immigrants, Cücuta, actually had to ban food donations in public spaces to avoid this violence.

This massive migration is putting a strain on Colombia’s job market as well. Immigrant professionals and students move on to Peru or Chile where there are better job opportunities. This leaves the rest of the refugees as day laborers in Colombia where they make a fraction of what Colombian workers make.

Approximately 3,500 Venezuelans enter Colombia daily. If this level of immigration persist, Colombia will experience an unprecedented population increase of 3% next year. However, this number is surely even larger because Venezuelans who cross the border illegally are not accounted for. Because of this, the Colombian government has drastically understated the effect this immigration crisis will have on their country.

Colombia is not the only destination for Venezuelans. “Since Venezuela’s economic crisis began in 2014, an unprecedented number of Venezuelans have fled the country.” Most have fled to Colombia, but Brazil has also received tens of thousands. The number of Venezuelans seeking asylum in Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico has also increased significantly. Refugees arrive in hopes of gaining refugee status, temporary work, and medical services.

These immigrants have suffered food shortages and a severe lack of medical supplies under their socialist ruler. In many cases, their neighboring countries are their only hope for survival.

For further information, please see:

US News – The Venezuelan Diaspora – 18 September 2017

Bloomberg – Trump and Santos to Weigh Plans to Pressure Venezuela Government – 18 September 2017

PanAm Post – Venezuela’s Socialist Collapse Has Unleashed a Migrant Crisis in Colombia – 17 September 2017

Q Costa Rica – Venezuela Asylum Requests Soar in Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico – 14 September 2017

ABC News – Colombian leader promises Pope to take in exiles – 10 September 2017