South America

Amidst Drug Trafficking Investigation Peruvian Governors Re-Elected

By Delisa Morris

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru — The unofficial count of election ballots from Peru Monday evening shows at least two gubernatorial candidates under investigation for drug trafficking related crimes have won their elections.  An additional two face run-offs, after a nationwide vote for mayors, governors and municipal councils.  While many on the outside are shocked at the outcome, others are not.

Peruvian man votes. From livinginperu.com

Hundreds of candidates suspected of ties to drug trafficking were on the ballot Sunday in what authorities called the Andean nation’s most violent campaign since 2000.

The Ipsos Apoyo polling firm compiled unofficial results of the election.  According to their tally the winners included Manuel Gambini, a former coca grower in the Amazon state of Ucayali.  Gambini is known for promoting the planting of Cocoa beans and other alternative crops, in place of the crop that produces cocaine.  A clean image that earned him praise from the U.S. and a trip to Miami to showcase his efforts.

However, this past August a judicial order launched an investigation of Gambini, detailing that he amassed a fortune and extensive land holdings, which would have been unlikely funded by his salary as mayor.  Gambini vehemently denies the allegations saying they are lies pitted against him by his competitors.

Also victorious was Gilmer Horna in the northern state of Amazonas.  The owner of a chain of chicken restaurants, he is under investigation for possible money laundering.

One of every three Peruvian voters lives in a region where candidates were investigation, on trial or previously convicted of drug-related crimes. Peru’s state attorney for drug enforcement, Sona Medina, said her office had identified 700 such candidates.

Electoral authorities reported more than 100 incidents of election-day violence, including the destruction of ballot boxes, temporary seizures of polling stations, threats to elections officials and destruction of vehicles.

“We haven’t had situations of this magnitude in Peru for some time,” said Gerardo Tavara, secretary general of the citizen watchdog group Transparencia.  “Hit men are being hired to assassinate candidates” he said.

Two mayoral candidates were slain in gangland-style killings during the campaign, both in cocaine-trafficking corridors, and on Friday, two police officers were shot and killed in an ambush blamed on drug-funded rebels in the Apurimac and Ene river valley, the world’s top cocaine-producing region.

Peruvian law allows convicted criminals to run for office as long as they have been rehabilitated by court order. More than 1,300 candidates convicted of crimes — including rape and graft — were on Sunday’s ballot, and two governors jailed under preventative detention pending possible corruption trials were re-elected, according to unofficial results.

This election day boasted 30 deaths from car accidents.  Mostly from people attempting to navigate Peru’s mountainous terrain.  In Peru voting is mandatory, if a citizen does not vote they can be subject to fines.

Official electoral results remained incomplete Monday.

For more information please see:

Sky News.com.au – Thirty Killed in Peru Election Day Accidents – 6 Oct. 2014

ABC News – 2 Peru Governor Candidates Win Despite Drug Probes – 6 Oct. 2014

Fox News – In No.1 Cocaine-Producer Peru, Narco Candidates are Tainting Nationwide Elections – 4 Oct. 2014

SBS News – 30 Killed in Peru Election Day Accidents – 6 Oct. 2014

Venezuelan Politician Found Dead

By Mridula Tirumalasetti

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela—Robert Serra, the 27- year old Venezuelan politician, was found dead on Wednesday, October 1st alongside Maria Herrera, who is believed to have been Serra’s partner. Both were murdered in Serra’s home in the working class Caracas neighborhood of La Pastora, and both died from a loss of blood. Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said the two were “vilely killed here in their house…on the ground floor lay the woman and the upper floor lay Robert Serra.”

Although the motive for the attack was unclear, the attack has been blamed on the far right opposition groups and on Colombian parliamentary groups. President Maduro said, “Terrorist groups encouraged by sectors of Venezuela’s ultra-right and Colombian parliamentary groups are behind this [effort] to bring violence to our country.” He added, “In the course of this week…We have detained four different groups that came to attack our country’s central cities, including Caracas, and fill them with violence.” Torres called the attack “a planned assassination, organized in detail and executed in the course of 15 to 20 minutes…We are not talking about a random occurrence.”

Elected in 2010, Serra was one of the youngest members of the National Assembly for the Socialist Party (PSUV) in Venezuela and the leader of the youth section of the party. The PSUV was founded by Hugo Chavez, and Serra was known for delivering passionate speeches in support of deepening Chavez’s Socialist policies.

Robert Serra, pictured above, giving a speech at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela in March 2008 (photo courtesy of The Wall Street Journal)

After Honduras, Venezuela had the second highest peacetime murder rate in the world in 2013, according to U.N. statistics, although some sources argue the actual statistics are much lower. The U.N. relies on figures from non-governmental organizations because of the absence of official statistics.

The Venezuelan government responded to the high violence statistics last year by introducing tough penalties for illegal weapons possession, such as sentences up to 20 years in jail. Additionally, a smartphone app was released last month. The app divides Caracas into quadrants, which lets civilians contact police officers for these specific areas directly. Also, Maduro announced an increase in funding of $47 million for a program aimed at disarming civilians and stationing military troops in high-crime areas.

Still, despite the tough regulations, correspondents argue there is a perception of insecurity among Venezuelan civilians. This argument is supported by the series of anti-government protests earlier this year, in which increased security and improving the economy were two of the main issues.

For more information, please see: 

The Wall Street Journal–Young Venezuelan Lawmaker Killed in Attack–2 October 2014

Latin America News Dispatch–Venezuelan Lawmaker Stabbed to Death Under Mysterious Circumstances–3 October 2014

BBC News–Venezuelan lawmaker Serra’s murder blamed on far right–3 October 2014

BBC News–Venezuelan lawmaker Robert Serra killed in Caracas–2 October 2014

Bloomberg–Venezuela Says Lawmaker Murdered in a Planned Attack–2 October 2014

Oil in Ecuador: Sacrificing Tradition and Future Wealth for Short-term Profits

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Managing Editor

QUITO, Ecuador – Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park is one of the world’s most biodiverse places. Just 2 ½ acres of its Amazonian forest contains more than 100,000 species of insects, and is home to more plant species than the entirety of the United States. Scientists believe the forest is home to several species of undiscovered and unclassified plant and animal species. Botanists believe the critical Yasuni ecosystem could hold the key to the development of future pharmacological and other scientific discoveries. One third of all pharmacological drugs are derived from nature, mostly from plant species located in biodiverse communities like the Amazonian forests. Botanists say the preservation of Yasuni, one of the world’s vanishing pristine forests, is critical to the development of future medicines.

The Coca River cuts through the once pristine forests of Ecuador, now vulnerable to the long-term environmental effects of oil extraction in the region. Last year, 400,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Coco river in a single event. The water remains unsuitable for drinking. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera America)

In 2007, the Ecuadorian government announced that it wouldn’t drill for oil in an untouched section of Yasuni, known as the ITT block. However, despite this promise, President Rafael Correa announced last year that oil extraction would be permitted go ahead in the ITT block. Since then, oil companies have been surveying Yasuni’s ITT block. President Correa claims the project will help alleviate poverty, but many communities fear that continued oil production could destroy the ecological value of the region, putting its residents in danger and forgetting the economic value of the forests for short-term profits. Profits that may never improve the lives of the regions residents.

Oil production has been slowly eroding the Amazonian forests and the incalculable value of its resources, as well as the traditional lifestyle the forests sustain for the regions indigenous peoples. The Waorani tribe has lived off the surrounding forest and river alone. However, over the years, they’ve seen their traditional way of life disappear.

Wani, a Waorani tribesmen, said his children and grandchildren get sicker more often now because of environmental pollutants and introduced diseases. Newly developed roads, forest fragmentation, pipelines and drilling operations have withered away the forests, cutting off the tribe’s access to its traditional sources of food.  “Every day there are more cars and fewer animals,” Wani said. He says the oil companies came in and “damage and pollute the land.”

According to Wani, oil companies promise progress, saying that the money brought by oil extraction will improve their lives. But for a people who want nothing more than to live, as they have for centuries, in a pristine environment free from pollution and the illness it brings, the opposite is true. “The oil companies talk about helping us,” Wani said. “But it’s a lie.”

The Waorani aren’t the only people worried about the long-term effects of oil extraction. A few hours upriver from the Waorani’s traditional homeland lies the impoverished town of Coca, the hub of Ecuador’s oil industry. Last year, a broken pipeline spilled nearly 400,000 gallons of crude oil into the Coca River, a tributary to the Amazon. The spill left Coca’s 65,000 residents without access to safe drinking water. The spilled oil was traced through the western Amazon as far away as Peru. A year later, the water in the Coca River still isn’t safe to drink.

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera America – Oil in the Amazon: Who Stands to Win and Lose? – 30 September 2014

The Economist – Oil in Ecuador – 25 September 2014

Al Jazeera America – Indigenous Groups Call for Drilling Limits to Fight Climate Change – 22 September 2014

The Wall Street Journal – State Oil Firms to Invest $400 Million in Ecuador Oil Block – 12 September 2014

Brazilian Presidential Candidate Goes on Homophobic Rant During Debate

By Delisa Morris

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASILIA, Brazil — Levy Fidelix marred his presidential race by reciting a homophobic rant during a presidential debate on Sunday.  Levy Fidelix is a conservative and former journalist who has no hope of winning, with a support rate below 1%. But given almost equal airtime to the leading candidates on national television on Sunday, he let rip with a torrent of invective.

Levy Fidelix Image courtesy of pragmatismopolitico.com

The presidential hopeful claimed homosexuals “need psychological care” and were better kept “well away from [the rest of] us”.  He also joked that Brazil’s population would be cut in half if homosexuality was encouraged because “the excretory system” does not function as a means of reproduction.

The three other opponents did not comment on Fidelix’s statements, but his statements were the talk of social media following the event.

The incident shows the challenge of maintaining fairness throughout Brazil’s complicated election process.  While there are 12 people running for President, only seven of them got to participate in the debate, due to their parties being represented in Congress.  Out of the seven, four candidates, including Fidelix, consistently poll less than 1%.  Therefore, even though they have little to no chance of winning the election, they are allowed equal coverage during the debate.

Fortunately enough, the debate was broadcast live at midnight, on Sunday, while most people were sleeping.

Nevertheless, the campaign has been largely compelling and remains too close to call. According to the most recent polls, Rousseff will win the first round on 5 October and then face a run-off with Silva on 26 October. Second-round vote intentions have swung back and forth between the two, though the president recently opened up a narrow lead.

This close to an election (Brazil’s presidential election is next week), most publics expect to hear about front-runners government programs, and rely on them to highlight any weaknesses in their opponent’s programs.  This debate should have been that opportunity.  Instead the leading candidates relied on character attacks throughout the debate.

Rousseff accused Silva of falsely claiming that she supported the tax on financial transactions, even though she voted against it four times. Political adverts during the commercial break tried to reinforce this message of “Marina the liar”. The president said she was the most reliable and experienced of the candidates. “I humbly beg your vote,” Rousseff said.

Neves attacked Rousseff over a corruption scandal at the nation’s biggest company, Petrobras. But his performance was unlikely to lift him beyond third place.

The four fringe candidates stole the show with punchier lines and more radical viewpoints.  That left televangelist pastor Everaldo Pereira, who is running on an anti-abortion, anti-gay rights platform, came across as relatively moderate in comparison with Fidelix.

For more information, please see:

the guardian – Brazil presidential candidate airs homophobic rant during TV debate – 29 Sept. 2014

ABC News – Anti-Gay Remarks at Debate Spark Anger in Brazil – 29 Sept. 2014

Huffington Post – Levy Fidelix, Brazilian Presidential Candidate, Sparks Anger with Anti-Gay Remarks –  30 Sept. 2014

On Top Magazine – Brazil Presidential Candidate Levy Fidelix Claims Gays’ Need Psychological Care – 30 Sept. 2014

 

Brazil Tries to Curb Dengue Fever with ‘Good Mosquito’ Release

By Delisa Morris

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America 

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian researchers have released thousands of mosquitoes infected with a bacteria that suppress dengue fever.

Genetically modified mosquitoes. Photo courtesy of International Business Times

The researchers believe that the mosquitoes will multiply, breed and become the majority of mosquitoes.  They hope this will reduce cases of the disease.  The initiative is actually a part of a larger program also taking place in Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Dengue fever, is a mosquito-borne infection that causes a severe flu-like illness.  The more severe forms include dengue shock syndrome and dengue hemorrhagic fever.  Dengue fever must be treated before it turns into dengue shock syndrome or dengue hemorrhagic fever.  Dengue fever is commonly found in urban areas of subtropical and tropical climates, such as Central and South America, various parts of Africa and Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

The intracellular bacteria the mosquitoes were infected with, Wolbachia, cannot be transmitted to humans.

The program started in 2012.  “Transparency and proper information for the household is a priority.” said Luciano Moreira of the Brazilian research institute Fiocruz, who is leading the project in Brazil.  “Our teams performed weekly visits to the four neighborhoods in Rio being targeted.  Mosquitoes were analyzed after collection in special traps.”

Ten thousand mosquitoes will be released each month for four months, the first release was in Tubiacanga, in the north of Rio.

The bacterium Wolbachia is found in 60% of insects.  Wolbachia acts as a vaccine for the mosquito which carries dengue, Aedes aegypti, stopping the dengue virus multiplying in its body.

Aedes mosquitoes with Wolbachia become predominant without researchers having to constantly release more contaminated insects.

The program has already proved successful in Australia.  Within 10 weeks on average Wolbachia mosquitoes became predominant.

Three more neighborhoods will be targeted next.  There will be large scale studies to evaluate the effect of the strategy possibly in 2016.

Dengue fever re-emerged in Brazil in 1981 after an absence of more than 20 years.  In the following 30 years, seven million cases were reported.

Brazil leads the world in the number of dengue cases, with 3.2 million cases and 800 deaths reported in the 2009-14 period.  The disease continues to have implications for Brazil’s public health system and economy.  There was large concern about dengue fever in Brazil during the World Cup.

For more information, please see:

BBC News — Brazil Releases ‘Good’ Mosquitoes to Fight Dengue Fever — 24 Sept. 2014

The Malay Mail Online — Researchers Release ‘Good’ Mosquitoes to Suppress Dengue Fever in Brazil — 26 Sept. 2014

International Business Times — Brazil Releases Thousands of ‘Good’ Mosquitos to Combat Dengue Fever — 25 Sept. 2014

The New Age Online — Brazil Releases Genetically Modified Mosquitoes to Fight Dengue Fever — 25 Sept. 2014