ICJ Decision on Uruguay/Argentina River Factory Case

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

THE HAGUE, Netherlands-The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that a paper mill can remain open despite the fact that Uruguay violated a treaty in constructing the plant. The ICJ decision, available here, found that despite Uruguay’s breach of a 1975 treaty regulating the use of the River Uruguay, Uruguay had met its environmental obligations.

Argentina argues that the mill is polluting the river Uruguay, which forms the border between the two countries. The dispute arose when Uruguay failed to inform Argentina of the construction of the plant. The 1975 treaty rules the management of shared waters and Argentina argued that the mill was severely contaminating the water. The Argentine government then began sponsoring pickets that blocked the international bridge linking Gualeguaychú with Fray Bentos.

The plant is located at a location used for fishing, tourism, and recreational use. The plant is owned by a Finish pulp producer Metsa-Botnia and was sold to UPM Kymmene in December. The plant pulps eucalyptus trees for paper.

Scientists have lamented that Argentina and Uruguay have not done more to reduce river pollution from other sources, despite their long political battle over the paper mill. Uruguay relied on studies paid for by the paper company and accepted by the national environmental agency, which found the plant had no measurable impact on the River Uruguay.

The River Uruguay drains about 210,000 square miles of farmland and the agricultural runoff is known to include chemicals from fertilizers, which combine with heavy metals from factories. The polluting factories are known to be on the Argentine side of the river.   Greenpeace officials are urging both Uruguay and Argentina to develop shared rules for factories along the river. A Greenpeace official told the Associated Press that the disagreement between Argentina and Uruguay “involves a lot of hypocrisy” because “there hasn’t been a serious and ongoing evaluation of pollution in the river, neither in Uruguay nor in Argentina.”

For more information, please see:

Buenos Aires Herald-ICJ Rules Uruguay Breached River Treaty; Botnia to Continue Operating for “No Pollution Detected”-21 April 2010

Reuters-World Court Rules Uruguay Can Use Paper Mill-April 20 2010

UN News Center-Uruguayan Mill Can Operate Despite, UN World Court Rules -20 April 2010

Brazilian Dam Moves Forward, 20,000 to be Displaced

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

PARA, Brazil-On April 16, 2010 a judge in the capital, Brasília overturned a ruling halting construction on a dam project to be built in Para State  because it would cause “irreparable harm” to indigenous people. The project, known as the Belo Monte Dam, will involve the excavation of two channels larger than the Panama Canal to divert water from the main dam to the power plant. The reservoir will flood more than one hundred and sixty square miles of forest while drying up a sixty mile stretch of the Xingu River, which will displace more than 20,000 people, many of which are indigenous communities.

Thirteen affected indigenous groups have formed a new tribe of 2,500, which they have stationed directly on the construction site. They plan to occupy it as long as necessary. The chief told the New York Times that they need the river to travel and eat. The groups affected include the Kayapó, Arara, Juruna, Araweté, Xikrin, Asurini, and Parakanã groups. Over eight hundred and fifty people protested what will be the largest dam in the world. Human rights organizations have warned that the dam construction will also bring migrants to the area and threaten uncontacted indigenous people, who have little resistance to outside disease. According to Survival International, many believe that the dam energy will be used to serve the mining industry. A bill is currently before the Brazilian government that would allow mining on indigenous land.

The new ruling allows the auction of bids to take place on April 20, 2010. The Chief of the Arara tribe, José Carolos Arara called the last case “our last cry for help” in a quest to defend their rights after a meeting of thirteen tribes last month, the New York Times reported. Environmentalists have stated that the dams are in fact inefficient and produce less than capacity annually, thus causing fear that the government would still have to build more dams upstream. This would further displace indigenous communities.

The latest ruling found that there was “no imminent danger for the indigenous community” because the auction of bids did not “imply immediate destruction.” The auction, one of numerous stages in the dam project was therefore allowed to go forward as planned. The Brazilian government is trying to meet the growing energy needs of urban areas, constantly requiring new energy projects. The Brazilian government has warned that halting the auction would cause “grave harm” to the economy and could potentially cause Brazil to seek other forms of energy that are more expensive and polluting than the hydroelectric project.

The plans for the dam were developed over thirty years ago before Brazil had constitutional protections for for indigenous peoples. The judge in the recent ruling stated that the Congress would have to pass a law changing the Constitution’s limits on building dams that negatively affect indigenous communities. An appeal to the recent ruling has been filed by Attorney General’s office. Indigenous activists have promised a “river of blood” if the dam project moves forward.

For more information, please see:

Latin American Herald Tribune-Judge’s Ruling Gives Green Light for Massive Brazil Dam-18 April 2010

BBC-Judge Allows Start of Bids on Controversial Dam Project-17 April 2010

Latin America Press-Amazon State Attorney Seeks to Stop Hydroelectric Project-17 April 2010

New York Times-Amazon Dam Project Pits Economic Development Benefit Against Development of Indigenous Lands-16 April 2010

Survival International-Indians and Activists March Against Amazon Mega-Dam-14 April 2010

Argentine Plaintiffs Seek Judicial Inquiry into Franco Era Crimes

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina-Human rights activists are supporting a lawsuit filed April 13, 2010 by two Argentine residents seeking a judicial inquiry into the deaths of their Spanish relatives during Spain’s civil war between Francisco Franco and  the republican government from 1936-39. The plaintiffs are hoping to implement the principle of universal justice in genocide and crimes against humanity in the case. Commentators are calling the move a “turning of the tables,” as victims of Argentina’s Dirty War first sought justice through European Courts, which have convicted human rights abusers in absentia.

Argentines are especially incensed by the recent proceedings against Baltasar Garzón for trying to launch a judicial inquiry into Franco’s crimes in Spain.  Garzón is known for his investigations into human rights abuses in Latin America, where he unsuccessfully sought the extradition of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.  A prominent human rights lawyer told Earth Times that Garzón “did the most to pursue crimes committed by dictatorships. One Argentine plaintiff called the lack of Spanish response to the Franco crimes as “a kind of silence of accomplices.”

The Argentine plaintiffs are receiving support from numerous human rights associations their quest for investigations into whether any of those responsible for the deaths of their family members are still alive. Binusz Smukler, an Argentine human rights lawyer told the Spanish daily El Pais that “the idea is to widen the probe into a general investigation into Franco’s crimes.”

Garzón had success in Argentina citing principles of international law such as the inapplicability of the statute of limitations to crimes against humanity; that such crimes cannot be amnestied; and that universal jurisdiction is appropriate where crimes are not tried in the country where they were committed. Garzón’s probe into forced disappearances in Spain was not as successful, as most potential defendants were dead. However he transferred the investigation of mass graves and missing people to regional courts.

The regional courts have not moved forward with the case and Spain’s Supreme Court ruled that the case against Garzón for “overstepping his jurisdiction” could go ahead. Carlos Seploy, the lawyer representing the Argentine plaintiffs told Reuters that the suit intends to force Spain to produce a list of ministers and military leaders from the Franco era who are still alive, in the hopes that they can be put on trial.

Seploy called the suit “very auspicious for an Argentine tribunal in the same way that we applauded the fact that a Spanish tribunal looked into the crimes committed in the Americas.”

For more information, please see:

EarthTimes-Argentinians Want to Investigate Franco’s Crimes-15 April 2010

Reuters-Victims of Spain’s Franco Dictatorship Seek Justice in Argentina-15 April 2010

IPS-Franco Era Crimes Reach Courts in Argentina-14 April 2010

Up to 400 Dead in Favela Landslide Despite Known Risks

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Photo Courtesy of banco.agenciaoglobo.com
Photo Courtesy of banco.agenciaoglobo.com

RÍO DE JANIERO, Brazil-At least two hundred and fifty six people are dead after a hillside collapsed due to heavy rain. A landslide caused the collapse that buried a favela or shantytown. Recent reports indicate that the Brazilian government was aware of the danger the favela posed, but did nothing to mitigate the risk. People on the ground fear that the death toll will rise as high as four hundred as bodies are uncovered. There are also fears of disease as the bodies begin to decompose.

The favela, known as Favelo Moro do Bumba was built on a former landfill. Researchers who studied the community argue that the risk to the nearly 400 residents was clear. The Federal Flumininse University (UFF) published two reports on the risks that the illegal occupation of the landfill posed, but the government did nothing. The reports included suggestions of measures the government could take to prevent death by landslide.

A 2007 report by UFF found one hundred and forty three areas that are susceptible to landslides. Other experts point to global climate change and overpopulation as sources of the extreme weather hitting Brazil. In another favela, known as Guararapes, a recent landslide has been traced to the diversion of a former source of drinking water for a private real estate development located at the peak of a hill. A local resident told IPS that since the development, water has been filtering down and eroding the hillside which allegedly caused the landslide.

The new community water tank in Guararapes burst after record rainfall, fell, and killed three children. A local resident told IPS that the government is “covering it all up, because this is a tourist area.” The train to the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer runs up the hill where Guararapes is located. People in the Gurarapes are reportedly sleeping outside, exposed to the elements now that their homes have been destroyed.

The Brazilian government has expressed embarrassment, but does not admit any prior knowledge of risk. Further rainfall is expected in the coming weeks.

For more information, please see:

Kaosenlared-Río de Janiero: Micro y Macro Razones de la Trajedia-11 April 2010

IPS-Brazil: A Trajedy of Local and Global Dimensions-9 April 2010

Hoy.com-Riesgo de deslave en Niterói se conocía desde 2004-10 April 2010

Generals on Trial in Peru for Murders of 37 Students

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

HUANCAYO, Peru-Three generals and other army officers are on trial for the murders of thirty-seven university students from 1989 to 1993.  Generals Manuel Delgado, Luis Pérez, and David Jaime Sobrevilla commanded an army brigade during those years in Huancayo where the Universidad Nacional del Centro is located. Formal charges were filed on March 4th.

The murdered students were allegedly targeted because they were suspected of being connected to or sympathising with the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) or Tupác Amaru Revolutionary Movement guerrillas. The three Generals allegedly ordered former intelligence Commander Col. Elías Espinoza of seizing and killing the students. Ordering deaths are the same charges that led to the conviction of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori for two army massacres.

The National Human Rights Coordinator for Peru told IPS that evidence against the former military officials includes “testimony of relatives who witnessed the kidnappings of their children . . . and who later found their bodies dumped on the outskirts of the city.” The prosecutors also have army operation manuals that describe how to kidnap and kill detainees and “accounts of students who after being hauled in and tortured by the military, managed to regain their freedom.”

Prosecutors allege that the thirty-seven murders took place as a part of a “systemic and generalized practice of kidnappings and homicides.” The Maoist movement Sendero Luminoso was reported to have a strong presence at the University in Huancayo, where it targeted any person opposed to its efforts.

During the government’s struggle against Sendero Luminoso, it entered the University fifteen times and over one hundred people were murdered and kidnapped. After the military’s first incursion on the campus, it set up a “civil action base,” after which student and staff disappearances began.  The occupation was legalized in 1990 through a law authorizing the military to stay on campuses if “terrorist elements or groups disturb the peace and internal order.”

Protection has been ordered for the five individuals testifying against the generals who are former kidnapping victims.

For more information, please see:

Rebelión-Generales Enjuciados por asesinatos a 37 estudiantes-5 April 2010

IPS-Generals on Trial for Murders of 37 Students-2 April 2010

Correo-Caso UNCP:Justicia Tras Diesisiete Años-25 March 2010

Un-contacted Indigenous Tribe at Risk

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Sattelite photos showing the area where uncontacted indigenous tribes live that will be destroyed by Yaguarete Companys bull dozing. Photo Courtesy of Survival International
Satellite photos showing the area where un-contacted indigenous tribes live that will be destroyed by Yaguarete Company's bull dozing. Photo Courtesy of Survival International

CHACO REGION, Paraguay-Brazilian cattle-ranchers working for Yaguarete Prora S.A. reportedly have plans to “bulldoze” land where un-contacted indigenous people live. The company is a member of the UN “Global Compact” which must operate under ten universally accepted principles dealing with human rights, labor, the environment, and anti-corruption.

Protesters of the controversial plan say that Yaguarete should be expelled from the UN “Global Compact” because they will destroy land belonging to the Ayoreo-Totogeigosode tribe “in flagrant violation of both Paraguayan and international law.” An independent media outlet reports that Yaguarete ownes 78,549 hectares of the tribe’s ancestral land and intends to leave only 16,784 hectares of it as “continuous forest.”

Two specific principles of the global compact are reportedly being violated: 1) that “businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights and 2) ensure that the company is not complicit in human rights abuses.  A legal claim based on destroyed forest was submitted by the Totobeigosode in 1993.

UN President Ban Ki-Moon is head of the UN Global Compact and rights groups have solicited him directly to expel Yaguarete from the group. The Director of Survival International said that “Yaguarete cannot be said to be committed to aligning their operations with human rights. We urge the Compact to blackball Yaguarete from the initiative now – if it doesn’t, it runs the risk of losing all integrity.”

For more information, please see:

Ekklesia-UN Urged to Ditch Cattle-Rachers From Human Rights Board-31 March 2010

Scoop World-Brazilian Ranchers on the UN Global Compact-30 March 2010

Survival-Ban Ki-moon Urged to Remove Brazilian Ranchers From U.N. Global Compact-29 March 2010

Journalist Murdered in Colombia

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia-Clodomiro Castilla, a Colombian magazine editor and radio reporter was shot dead at his home in the city of Monteria. An unidentified gunman reportedly shot Castilla eight times before being picked up by another man on a motorcycle.

CPJ spoke with a local journalist who stated that Castilla had been receiving threats for four years for disclosures of links between local politicians, landowners, and illegal right-wing paramilitary groups. Castilla declined government protection. However, Castilla was under protection for threats from 2006-2009.

An anonymous journalist told CPJ that just before his death, Castilla was reporting on the participation of a local landowner in the murder of a local lawyer, corruption in local government agencies, and links between paramilitaries and local government officials. The Colombian National Police have not yet discussed possible motives.

A new report published by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on “The Safety of Journalists and the Risk of Impunity”  highlights acts of violence against journalists in Colombia. Four reporters were killed in the last four years according to the AFP. This is higher than Brazil, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Venezuela, and Honduras.

The report found that the bulk of reporters killed world wide operate in outside of war zones are typically covering local stories on corruption, human rights abuses, and drug trafficking.

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports-UN Report Highlights Journalist Murders in Colombia-24 March 2010

CPJ-Colombian Journalist Shot Dead by Unidentified Gunman-22 March 2010

Latin America News Dispatch-Journalist Killed by Gunman While Reading on his Terrace-20 March 2010

Washington Post-Colombian Journalist Shot and Killed-20 March 2010

“Dirty War” Officials Testify in Argentina

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Undated photos of former top Argentine military offciers; (upper row from L) admiral Eduardo Massera, general Antonio Domingo Bussi, dictator Jorge Videla and general Guilermo Suarez Mason. (Bottom row from L), brigadier Basilio Lami Dozo, captain Alfredo Astiz, admiral Jorge Isaac Anaya and Armando Lambruschini, who among 38 others are thought to have committed crimes during the 1976-83 Dirty War dictatorship. Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina-Seventeen former Naval Officers are currently on trial in Argentina for the deaths of political opponents detained at the Naval Mechanics School. Estimates are that over 5,000 people were brought to the Naval Mechanics School, where they were tortured and most died. Only one hundred people are thought to have survived detention.

Notorious Mechanics School Official Jorge “El Tigre” Acosta took the stand next week on charges that he was the leader of  “Task Force 3.2.2,”  a group that kidnapped, tortured, and murdered people detained at the complex. Acosta admitted that he is liable for all military orders and that the deaths were unavoidable in what he considered to be a “civil war.”

Alfredo Astiz, also known as the “blond angel of death” is also on trial. He is charged with infiltrating circles of families of the disappeared that led to the abduction of the three founders of the group Mothers of the Plaza del Mayo. He has been sentenced in absentia for the abduction and murder of two nuns who were thought to be counseling the families of disappeared individuals.

When Astiz took the stand, he spoke for over an hour and harshly criticized the current Argentine government. He denied all the charges against him and alleged that his conviction was “already on paper.” Astiz insisted that all charged officials should be tried in a military court.

Roughly 30,000 people are thought to have disappeared during Argentina’s military government. Since 2005, prosecutors have convicted sixty defendants. There are three hundred and twenty-seven cases open nation wide. The courts have requested declassified U.S. Cables that contain information about what the United States knew about Argentine military action against leftists. Argentina’s ambassador has reportedly petitioned the C.I.A. and other U.S. agencies to release information.

For more information, please see:

BBC Mundo-Argentina: Militar Admite Detenciones Iligales-19 March 2010

AFP-Face of Argentine Military Repression Defiant in Court-18 March 2010

Publimetro-Represor Astiz Se Delacra Democrático y Republicano-18 March 2010

PressTV-Argentine “Dirty War” Defendants on Trial-28 December 2009

Colombian Intelligence Agency Wiretapping Political Opposition

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Supreme Court justices, journalists, opposition politicians, generals in the armed forces, prosecutors, and even some high government officials have allegedly been being monitored for the past several months by the Presidential Intelligence Service (DAS). (Photo Courtesy of Colombia Reports)
Supreme Court justices, journalists, opposition politicians, generals in the armed forces, prosecutors, and even some high government officials have allegedly been being monitored for the past several months by the Presidential Intelligence Service (DAS). (Photo Courtesy of Colombia Reports)

BOGOTA, Colombia-Colombia’s Supreme Court asked the prosecutor general to place two witnesses in the trial of former Presidential Intelligence Service  or DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad) director Jorge Noguero under state protection, after reports that the witnesses are being followed and threatened. Noguero is on trial for alleged involvement in alleged acts of wire tapping Colombian citizens.

This is just the latest in numerous complaints regarding the DAS. In late 2005, Noguero was accused of working with paramilitares to facilitate narcotrafficking and in the development of a list of human-rights workers and labor leaders to be murdered. The recent allegation of wire tapping forced the resignation of DAS director María de Pilar Hurtado.

The DAS was allegedly conducting surveillance on opposition Senator Gustavo Petro. However, allegations are that the DAS conducts surveillance of many prominent citizens. “Targets” include opposition politicians, social movement leaders, journalists, and even Supreme Court officials trying to investigate ties between paramilitary narcotraffickers and President Uribe’s political allies.

One source reported that “any person or entity who represents an eventual danger for the government has to be monitored by the DAS. As a result, more than a year ago, the activities of the Supreme Court, and some of its members, came to be considered and treated as a legitimate target.” This was corroborated to a local news agency by four other DAS officials.  A local media outlet reports that almost all DAS surveillance materials on high profile Colombians were destroyed by investigators after they were collected at the Office of Counter Intelligence.

The witness currently under court ordered protection include former DAS employee Matha Leal and former paramilitary Wilson Mayorga.

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports-Court Seeks Protection For DAS Trial Witnesses-15 March 2010

Center for International Policy-The New DAS Scandal-27 February 2010

MediaLeft-Colombia’s DAS: Vicious Security Octopus Acts With Impunity-9 February 2010

Afro-Colombian Displacement

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Photo Courtesy of UNHCR
Photo Courtesy of UNHCR

BOGOTA, Colombia-A U.N. independent expert on minority issues has urged the Colombian government to address the displacement, dispossession, poverty, and violence against Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero individuals and communities. The expert cited “woefully inadequate” implementation of equal rights legislation.

Collective titles were granted to almost ninety percent of Afro-Colombian ancestral lands, yet many communities are “displaced, dispossessed and unable to live on or work their lands . . . the laws say all the things but still, nothing has happened.”

Investigations by the U.N. Human Rights Council revealed that many Afro-Colombians are displaced by “mega projects,” or large-scale multinational business developments with government promotion. The communities are converned about the encroachment on their lands and environmental degradation. The U.N. expert called these rights “inconvenient rights.”

Other important issues discussed by the U.N. expert include, discrimination against Afro-Colombians, women, the displaced, and the poor leading to “extreme vulnerability.”

The Colombian government has a joint plan with the UNHCR and local aid groups to aid internally displaced people. Afro-Colombians living on the border with Ecuador and in coastal settlements are continuously being displaced. The department of Narino has the highest level of displacement, as indigenous people have been forced out at a higher rate than the Afro-Colombians.

Government estimates indicate that there are more than 140,000 internally displaced people in Narino, with 7,500 forced out last year. Over two hundred people per month register at camps for displaced individuals.

For more information, please see:

Reuters-UNHCR Helps Ease Life for Displaced Colombians in Swampy Shanty Settlement-8 March 2010

Mynews-U.N. Human Rights Expert Soptlights Enduring Plight of Afro-Colombians-16 February 2010

United Nations Human Rights Council-U.N. Expert Calls on Colombian Authorities to Focus on Afro-Colombian’s Plight-15 February 2010

“Dress Code” Laws Challenged in Guyana

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Photo Courtesy of International Research Group
Photo Courtesy of International Research Group

GEORGETOWN, Guyana-Guyana’s Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination is challenging the country’s ban on cross-dressing in the Supreme Court, stating that the law is  “irrational, discriminatory, and undemocratic” and therefore unconstitutional. The six individuals behind the suit were born male but now identify as women. They were arrested and fined for crossdressing.

In a statement, one individual called the experience “one of the must humiliating experiences of my life. I felt like I was less than human.”  Those bringing the suit are also challenging the sexual orientation laws that make homosexual sex a crime. An international team of lawyers is working on the case.

International rights groups have increased their criticism of the laws as the government began a recent crackdown. Last year Guyanese police arrested and convicted several individuals under the law and fined them up to 7,500 Guyanese dollars each. The judge told the individuals to go to church and give their lives to Christ. Efforts to overturn the laws are strongly opposed by Christian, Hindu, and Muslim clergy.

There are laws banning homosexual activity and cross-dressing in many of the former British colonies in the Caribbean. The movement to overturn in the laws is gaining steam accross the region, with various allied groups working together. The first transgender human rights and health conference took place last September. One participant remarked that the case “goes to the heart of freedom of expression, our freedom to express our gender identity.”

A landmark case in Trinidad and Tobago created wider awareness about transgender issues in the Caribbean. In that case a police officer arrested and tried to strip search a transgender woman. Since that time dialogue has led to intergovernmental planning on strategies for sexual orientation and gender identity legal reforms.  However, in Guyana the calls for reform have not resulted in any changes and that is why rights groups are now using the courts.

For more information, please see:

PrideSourceTransgenders File Suit Against Guyana Crossdressing Ban-6 March 2010

Trinidad News-T&T Activists Say of Guyana Crossdressing Lawsuit: Just the First of Step to Bring Changes-28 February 2010

Rueters-Transgender Group Seeks End to Dress Code Laws-24 February 2010

Devastation in Chile After Earthquake, 700 Dead

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Photo Courtesy of BBC
Photo Courtesy of BBC

CONCEPCION, Chile-The search for survivors of the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Chile on February twenty-seventh continues, as the death toll climbs to over seven hundred people. Chile’s main highway was severed and over 1.5 million homes were damaged or destroyed. The epicenter of the quake was the coastal city of Concepcion, which is two hundred miles from Santiago. Coastal cities were also hit by a giant wave causing even greater devastation after the earthquake.

Chile’s interior minister called the disaster “a natural event the like of which none of us have experienced in our lifetime.” Field hospitals are being set up as the Chilean government awaits emergency supplies being sent by the United Nations. The Defense Minister Francisco Vidal told members of the press that the Army is deploying 10,000 troops to secure the most devastated areas. The hope is that the soldiers will be able to decrease the incidence of looting. So far troops have fired tear gas on looters in Concepcion. A curfew has been established to aid in these efforts.

Photo courtesy of San Francisco Sentinal
Photo courtesy of San Francisco Sentinal

While the earthquake was felt even in Argentina, more than fifty aftershocks measuring 6.0 have increased the devastation in Chile. The government has called on private companies to aid in the emergency efforts and reconstruction. Highways and airports are currently closed and there has been damage to some of Chile’s copper mines, prompting a spike in copper prices. Economic damage is estimated to be as much as $30 billion, or roughly fifteen percent of Chile’s gross domestic product.

The damage to infrastructure has slowed relief efforts. Food is reportedly running out because it is impossible for supplies to reach the city. A coastal town mayor stated that “people are running out of food at home and that encourages looting. If we don’t solve that problem . . . social tension will be very high.”

President Bachelet stated that about 2 million people have been affected by the earthquake, which is the fifth strongest world wide since 1900. President elect Pinera, to be sworn into office on March 11th, vowed to reallocate funds to reconstruction efforts.

For information about  groups you can support to help earthquake victims in Chile click here.

For more information, please see:

BBC-Chile Troops Tackle Quake Looters-1 March 2010

Business Week-Chile Deploys Soldiers to Quell Looting After Quake-1 March 2010

CTV News-Chileans Wait for Aid in Aftermath of Massive Quake-1 March 2010

The Economist-Chile’s Earthquake in Need of Repair-1 March 2010

Venezuela Denies OAS Human Rights Findings

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Venezuela Ombudsman Ramirez, pictured above, accused the OAS of lacking impartiality.
Venezuela Ombudsman Ramirez, pictured above, accused the OAS of lacking impartiality. (Photo Courtesy of AP)

CARACAS, Venezuela- Venezuela is strongly denying the findings of a new report on human rights from the Organization of American States. The report was released earlier this week by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and made findings that the Venezuelan government often intimidates or punishes citizens based on their political affiliation. The Venezuelan government claims that the Commission distorted statistics to construct a pattern of political repression that does not actually exist.

The report was compiled by seventy-five jurists and rights activists from Antigua, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, and the United States. The report specifically finds that democracy is in danger in Venezuela because the state punishes critics, including anti-government television stations, demonstrators, and opposition politicians who advocate an alternative form of government.

The report also states that “the commission considers alarming the number of cases of extra-judicial execution; torture; forced disappearances; death threats; abuse of authority; and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment meted out by agents of the Venezuelan state.” Human rights workers and journalists were among those most affected by the “pattern of impunity.”

Venezuelan Ombudswoman Gabriela Ramirez told members of the press that the report “attempts once again to discredit and weaken the democratic institutions of the state.” She further criticised the OAS for a lack of impartiality demonstrated by taking statistics out of context and using others selectively. Ramirez maintains that the data actually shows that human rights violations have decreased in Venezuela.

The report acknowledges that the Chavez government has observed citizens’ economic, social, and cultural rights. However, the commission “emphasizes that observance of other fundamental rights cannot be sacrificed for the sake of realizing economic, social, and cultural rights in Venezuela.”

For more information, please see:

AP-Chavez Rejects Report Citing Human Rights Violations-26 February 2010

CNN-Venezuelan Official Disputes Report on Human Rights Abuses-25 February 2010

Washington Post-OAS Report Criticizes Venezuela-25 February 2010

Organization of American States-IACHR Publishes Report on Venezuela– 24 February 2010

Colombia’s Indigenous Indians at Risk

By Ryan C. Kossler                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia – Amnesty International reports that the indigenous population of Colombia is at risk of disappearing.  Increasing abuses and a lack of government protection has forced thousands of indigenous Indians to flee their homes.  Amnesty International credits this influx in dispersion of nearly 1.4 million Indians to the changing nature of the four decade conflict between the military, leftist rebels, armed gangs, and drug traffickers.

Since the Colombian military increased its offensive against the rebels, the conflict has moved away from the urban centers where the conflicts originally occurred, and more toward remote rural and jungle areas where many indigenous groups live in designated reservations.  The shift in the fighting has increased the indigenous groups’ exposure to attack by armed groups who operate on their lands.  Marcelo Pollack of Amnesty International said, “part of the reason for the increase in human rights violations is to do with the way the conflict in Colombia has changed.  The conflict has been pushed to the margins, to rural areas where many indigenous peoples live.”

According the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), 114 indigenous people were killed last year.  This is a forty percent increase as compared to 2008 figures.  ONIC estimates that armed groups have killed more than 1,400 indigenous Colombians over the last decade.  Right wing paramilitary groups, drug gangs, and Colombia’s security forces have all been accused of committing human rights violations against indigenous tribes such as kidnappings and sexual abuse of women.

Colombia is home to one of the world’s largest displaced population, at an estimated 3.2 million internally displaced people.  According to the U.N., although indigenous groups make up around 3.4 percent of Colombia’s population, they account for seven percent of the country’s total displaced population.  The U.N. estimates that nearly 20,000 indigenous people were uprooted in Colombia last year.  The most recent threat contributing to displacement of indigenous people has been the danger of rebels kidnapping children to fight in their dwindling ranks.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Indigenous Peoples in Colombia, Facts and Figures – 23 February 2010

Colombia Reports – Amnesty International is too Critical – 23 February 2010

Reuters – Colombia’s Indians Face Worsening Human Rights Situation – 23 February 2010

Public Discontent with Argentine Government

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Photo Courtesy of CNN
Photo Courtesy of CNN

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina- Recent increases in food prices, coupled with shortages of electricity and other outages, have led to a dramatic increase in public discontent with the government. Increases in beef prices, Argentina’s dietary staple, has led to numerous protests by farmers.

Other governmental failures allegedly include the lack of progress on poverty reduction programs for Argentina’s outlying areas. Additionally, the public is angry about charges that the President’s spouse and former president, Nestor Kirchner was involved in insider trading while buying $2 million in U.S. currency soon after the 2008 financial crisis.

“Most of the Argentine population is paying for the Kirchners’ mistakes.” said Eduardo Buzzi, head of the Argentine Agricultural Federation and an outspoken critic of the government. Farmers are worried because many producers have allegedly lost their livestock and have had to give away their cows due to drought and because “someone from the government decided what the highest prices would be and forced them to sell their cattle.”

Farmers deny the government allegation that they have been holding back on livestock sales to fatten their cattle and create a shortage of beef. Farmers say that the problem dates back to when the president’s husband ruled the country from May 2003 to December 2007. “Nestor Kirchner is responsible of endless mistakes in economic and productive matters.”

The president of one farming cooperative alleged that the government is “trying to blame someone, and attack the weakest link, in this case the farming producers.” Criticisms of the government have also reportedly come from within the government, though that has been weak due to “Kirchners’ sensitivity to any criticism.”

Close to six hundred farmers rode their tractors in a protest march in central Argentina to demand changes to government farming policies. The leader of the Agrarian Federation said that policies of the government are planned to concentrate production in a few hands. Groups are pushing to toughen the stance of the agricultural sector by “putting a stop to sales if that becomes necessary.”

There have been eight trade strikes in Argentina’s rural sector this year in protest of the government since it tried, in March 2008, to establish adjustable taxes on exports of soybeans, corn, wheat, and sunflower seeds.

For more information, please see:

Latin American Herald Tribune-Argentine Farmers Protest With Tractors-21 February 2010

Meat Trade Daily News- Argentina- Farmers Promise Drastic Measures Against Government-18 February 2010

UPI-Argentina’s Fernandez, Farmers Locked in Row Over Beer Prices-11 February 2010