South America

Minimum Working Age Lowered in Bolivia

By Mridula Tirumalasetti

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LA PAZ, Bolivia–Bolivia has legalized children who are as young as 10 years old to be employed. This is the lowest minimum working age in the world.

Lawmakers in Bolivia approved legislation earlier this month, and on July 17, Vice President Alvaro Garcia signed it into law. The law allows 10 year olds to work so long as they are under parental supervision and still attend school. Children who are 12 years old are allowed to work under contract, and they must also attend school.

While the International Labor Organization (ILO) sets the minimum working age at 15, it allows for the minimum age for children in developing countries to be set at 14.  The ILO is investigating to see whether the law violates international regulations on child labor.

11 year old child selling pastries on the streets of Bolivia (photo courtesy of The Telegraph)

Proponents of the new law have argued that children who are younger than 14 years old need to work in order to help support their families. “Extreme poverty is one of the causes, not the main one, of child labor, said Deputy Javier Zavaleta, who is a co-sponsor of the bill. He added, “So our goal is to eliminate child labor by 2020. While it is ambitious, it is possible.”

Another argument for lowering the minimum work age is articulated by Senator Adolfo Mendoza. He stated, “Child labor already exists in Bolivia, and it’s difficult to fight it. Rather than persecute it, we want to protect the rights and guarantee the labor security of the children. “

However, human rights activists see it a different way. According to Jo Becker, who is the children’s-rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, “Child labor perpetuates the cycle of poverty…Poor families often send their children to work out of desperation, but these children miss out on schooling and are more likely to end up in a lifetime of low-wage work.” Her suggestion is for the Bolivian government to “invest in policies and programs to end child labor, not support it.”

Bolivia has made limited efforts to invest in ways to help get families out of poverty by paying $28 a year to families who send their children to school, which is essentially a per-child subsidy. However, recent studies show that one in three Bolivian children do not attend school. Moreover, statistics show that an estimated 1 million children in Bolivia work in textiles, on farms, as street vendors, and even coca leaf pickers.

For more information, please see:

Time–Bolivia to Allow Children to Legally Work at Just 10 Years Old–4 July 2014

The Telegraph–Bolivia becomes first nation to legalise child labour from age 10–19 July 2014

BBC News–Bolivia law allows “self employed children” aged 10 to work–17 July 2014

Al Jazeera America– Bolivia makes child labor legal from age 10–18 July 2014


Fleeing Honduras

by: Delisa Morris Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

San Pedro Sula, Honduras – The United States has seen a surge in immigration of children from Honduras recently.  Juan Hernandez, president of Honduras, believes that the U.S. drug policy is to blame.  “The root cause is that the United States and Columbia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs, then Mexico did it”, stated Hernandez.

Honduran Immigrants leaving the United States for Honduras | Photo courtesy of

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security deported 59 Hondurans this week all women and children, who migrated to the country illegally.  They had all been held in a detention facility in New Mexico.  The migrants were returned by plane to San Pedro Sula, known as the murder capital of the world.

There is a ceaseless river of bodies flowing through the morgue in San Pedro Sula is a testament to one reason so many people leave Honduras.  Honduras is a country rampant with crime and little economic opportunity.

A week ago a 13-year-old girl’s throat was slit ear to ear, and her body was found in a shallow grave in a backyard.  The circumstances of her death are still under investigation.  Some bodies are riddled with bullets; in one case 72-bullet-wounds, while others are bound by their hands and feet and strangled.

The city is covered with gang activity and each body brought into the morgue tells of brutality and violence.

From January to July, the city experienced over 538 homicides, and in at least 423 a gun was used.  In May, the worst month, the body tally was about nine per day.

Families are not allowed to grieve to grieve in peace, in fact, the mere act of claiming a body or attending a funeral can make people there a target for gang members who stalk the morgue and cemetery looking for their next victim.  Right now at least forty-eight bodies are unclaimed at the morgue, and after 30 days, they’ll be buried in the city’s public cemetery.  The morgue keeps DNA, dental records and fingerprints are retained for the day when someone shows up or a killer caught.

Many Hondurans who live in the roughest neighborhoods leave Honduras because they don’t have any other option.

The city’s Director of Forensic Medicine, Hector Hernandez, believes many families haven’t claimed their loved ones’ bodies because they believe their family members have migrated.

Several of the women deported this week have mixed emotions about failing to stay in the United States, and they now worry about paying back the thousands of dollars they borrowed to travel north.  “Part of my heart stayed in the U.S. because I missed a chance to get ahead in life,” said Isabel Rodriguez, who was deported along with her two young children.


For more information please see:

ABC News –59 Migrants Deported From US Arrive in Honduras – July 18, 2014Reuters – U.S. says Deportation of Honduran Children a Warning to Illegal Migrants – July 15, 2014

CNN – In Morgue, Clues to Why People Leave Violence-Plagued Honduras – July 16, 2014

Time – Honduras President: The War on Drugs is Causing the U.S. Immigration Problem – July 15, 2014

Bolivian Coca Cultivation Falls in 2013

by Mridula Tirumalasetti

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LA PAZ, Bolivia—The U.N. reported that the coca cultivation in Bolivia has declined by nine percent from 2012 to 2013, which is the lowest it has been in 12 years. Bolivia is one of the world’s biggest cocaine producers, third after Peru and Colombia.

In 1961, the U.N. Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which is the U.N.’s main anti-narcotics treaty, banned the coca leaf, as well as drugs produced from the cocoa leaf, including cocaine, heroin, opium, and morphine. In 2012, Bolivia withdrew from the Convention in order to protest the criminalization of chewing coca leaves. After Bolivia withdrew from the Convention, the U.N. granted Bolivia a special dispensation in which it recognized chewing coca leaves as a traditional, legal practice. As a result, Bolivia was re-admitted into the Convention.

Chewing coca leaves has been a long- standing tradition in Bolivia. It is typically chewed as a source of energy or as an antidote to altitude sickness, and can be consumed as tea and used in religious ceremonies. Moreover, the leaf is an important source of income.

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, a former coca farmer, has defended the practice and has called it an “ancestral rite” for tea, sweets, and medicines. On June 13 of this year, Morales even presented U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon with a cake made with coca leaves for his 70th birthday. Ban Ki-moon was in Bolivia during that time in order to discuss ways to reduce poverty.

The birthday cake featuring an image of Ban Ki-moon (photo courtesy of Yahoo News)


However, Bolivia has made efforts to cut back on cultivation areas. A joint survey by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime and the Bolivian government reported that about 23,000 hectares were used last year for coca bush cultivation as opposed to the 25,300 hectares used in 2012. The government set a goal of reducing cultivation areas to 20,000 hectares by 2015, as part of a strategy to reduce surplus and fight in the war on drug trafficking.

“This decline confirms a downward trend over the last three years, during which period coca cultivation dropped by 26 percent,” said Antonino De Leo, a representative from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. He continued, “In 2013, Bolivia recorded the lowest area under coca cultivation since 2002.”

For more information, please see:

Yahoo News–Bolivian president gives UN chief coca birthday cake–13 June 2014

Reuters–Coca cultivation in Bolivia falls to 11 year low–23 June 2014

Fox News–UN drug agency says coca acreage in Bolivia has dropped to lowest level in dozen years–23 June 2014

Global Post–Bolivian coca cultivation dropped 9% in 2013–23 June 2014


South America Gears Up for El Niño

By Delisa Morris

Desk Reporter, South America

El Niño, a weather phenomenon, is probably going to occur in the third quarter of 2014.  Which means that we should be seeing El Niño like temperatures within the next few weeks.  During El Niño the weather is characterized as oddly warm ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific.

A car stuck on a flooded street, Photo courtesy of Lamont-Dougherty Earth Observatory


The phenomenon starts as a body of warm water developing  in the central and eastern Pacific ocean.  The water then flows toward the western coast of South America.  This sets off several weather changes globally.

El Niño weather only recurs at two- to seven-year intervals.  The effects of which have a major impact on the climate around the world, including heavy rainfall and droughts.

Places in the world become dryer than normal conditions due to El Niño’s drought effects, or more floods occur due to the heavy rainfall.  El Niño also affects the temperature, normal temperatures are either colder or hotter than normal during El Niño weather.  The weather changes mostly increase global temperatures on top of man-made global warming.

The socio-economic impacts during El Niño can be extremely detrimental to the affected area.  During the last El Niño from 2009 until 2010, the hottest year on record, in northern Brazil the conditions were drier than normal while across tropical South America conditions were wetter than normal conditions.  South America usually is most impacted by widespread flooding, though there is also an increased chance of landslides.

During El Niño agriculture, infrastructure, housing, and health, such as outbreaks of cholera and other water-borne diseases, are vastly affected.  There will also be a shift in nutrient-rich ocean currents that lure fish, which could lead to a rise in the prices of food.

The unpredictable weather wreaks havoc on farmers and other agricultural markets.

Many international organizations are jump-starting El Niño preparedness warnings to mitigate the extreme weather’s impact.  For example, World Food Program has begun storing food in areas that may be difficult to reach in extreme weather conditions.

According to Moody’s Investors Service, governments and banks in South America are in better financial shape to deal with the costs of this year’s El Niño than in the past.

The Pacific ocean has already began to warm to weak El Niño temperatures, the weather is not expected to dissipate until early months of 2015.

La Niña is the name for when the El Niño phenomenon is ending, and temperatures start to return to normal.  Scientists say that while the two extreme weather patterns are not caused by global warming, their frequency and intensity are vastly affected by greenhouse gasses.

For more information, please see:

Business Insider – Prepare for El Nino – July 1, 2014

Time – El Nino Increasingly Likely, United Nations Weather Agency Warns – June 26, 2014

VOA news – El Nino Likely to Trigger Extreme Climate Events – June 26, 2014

The Wall Street Journal – South America Better Positioned Financially for El Nino, Moody’s Says – July 1, 2014

President Maduro Silenced During Venezuela Blackout

by Delisa Morris

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela—In Caracas, each year a fortnight of heavy downpours known colloquially as El Cordonazo de San Francisco (the lash from St. Francis of Assisi’s belt) cover the Venezuelan capital, the storms are considered a tropical winter.

People Scramble During Blackout Chaos. Photo courtesy of Reuters

Currently, President Nicolas Maduro, is drawing heavy ire from critics on both the left and right, and seemingly in a constant state of damage control.  In early February, a rash of street protests and barricades paralyzed the nation, and were violently suppressed by state authorities in a series of crackdowns that saw several notable opposition leaders incarcerated.

In the middle of a triumphalist speech for “national journalists day,” broadcast by law on every Venezuelan television and radio station, the lights suddenly went out on Maduro—and on much of the country.

Much of Caracas, and areas in nearly all of Venezuela’s other 22 states was affected.  The country’s aging and poorly maintained power grid struggled to get back online.  The Caracas metro had stopped working and people had trouble making it home.  Lots of people that would normally have been on the metro were overflowing the sidewalks and taking up much of the roadways.  All of the stoplights were out.  The result was a perfect storm of commuter congestion where normal Caracas chaos became absolute mayhem.  There have been three major blackouts this year.

On some previous occasions blackouts have been blamed on saboteurs from either the U.S. imperialists (“the CIA”) or else sinister Venezuelan groups from the traditional elite (“los fascistas”).  At other times, nature itself has taken the blame, such as in 2012 when a wire-hungry opossum was held responsible for a day-long blackout in Guayana City, or the iguana two years earlier who got loose in the grid, sufficed to cut off the lights in Anzoátegui State for an extended period.

Pending the outcome of Maduro’s investigation, preliminary culpability seems to have been attached to the wind, or, more specifically, the unusually heavy winds caused by El Niño, toppling a collection of eight electrical towers.

Many people are uneasy and not amused about the excuses provided by the government for the blackouts.  Maria “Macarena” Paz, a Caracas engineer, is underwhelmed by the explanations. “So it’s no longer the cable-eating iguanas, the CIA, or the opposition, it’s the wind! Knocking down no less than eight towers specifically designed to withstand hurricane gales but swept away in unison by light breezes… they must really think we’re idiots.”

For more information, please see:

The Daily Beast — Who Will Maduro Blame for Venezuela’s Blackout’s This Time? — 28 June 2014

Wall Street Journal — Power Outage Hits Venezuela — 27 June 2014

Reuters — Venezuela Blackout Leaves Commuters Scrambling, Silences President — 27 June 2014

The Guardian — Widespread Blackouts Hit Venezuela — 27 June 2014