Friday, April 17, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, April 17, 2015

Development's displaced: over 26,000 South Americans have been displaced by World Bank projects over the past decade

Over the past decade, the World Bank has regularly failed to enforce rules intended to protect vulnerable populations in countries it lends in, with devastating consequences according an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Huffington Post and other media partners released yesterday.

Though the bank claims a commitment to "do no harm" to people or the environment, the investigation found that between 2004 and 2013 the bank’s projects physically or economically displaced an estimated 3.4 million people, forcing them from their homes, taking their land or damaging their livelihoods. 

In South America 26,262 people were displaced in 31 resettlement projects, including over 10,000 people in Brazil and Colombia each and nearly 4,000 in Bolivia, according to the investigation.

"Studies show that forced relocations can rip apart kinship networks and increase risks of illness and disease. Resettled populations are more likely to suffer unemployment and hunger, and mortality rates are higher."

A team of more than 50 journalists from 21 countries spent nearly a year documenting the bank’s failure to protect people moved aside in the name of progress. 

The World Bank is revising its social and environmental safeguards -- but experts warn the rewrite will provide local governments with more wiggle room to sidestep protection standards. In February nearly 200 Latin America NGOs and movements signed a letter voicing concern with the World Bank's revision process.

In Peru the report examines the extensive damage wrought by the Yanacocha gold mine, financed by World Bank loans. The mine, which is one of the most productive in the world, has contributed $2.75 billion in tax revenue and royalties for the Peruvian government since operations began in 1993. However, around the mine, contaminated water has sickened communities and has farmers worried about the health risks they face.

"... In villages and hamlets near the mine, the prevailing opinion is that foreign companies and banks, and the far-off government in Lima, are profiting from the mine, while local people are left to deal with the environmental and social wreckage.

"Fifty-three percent of the population in the province of Cajamarca, where Yanacocha is based, live under the national poverty line of about $100 a month, according to the most recent government figures. Despite immense mineral reserves, it is the poorest province in Peru."

Country specific reports, including one on Honduras, are slated to be released "soon."

News Briefs

  • The DEA accepted guns from Colombian paramilitary groups and participated in numerous sex parties funded by drug cartels, according to an internal report discussed by the US House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform earlier this week. InSight Crime reports that the gravity of these infractions stands in stark contrast to the weak sanctions offending DEA agents received: "Repeated infractions that were essentially dismissed by higher-ups don't just reveal that DEA agents are fallible; they stain the reputation of the entire anti-drug agency. This could have important implications for the DEA, which relies on cooperation with Latin American governments to conduct counter-narcotic operations throughout the region."
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has promised to protect a small porpoise on the brink of extinction -- an effort that will require cracking down on crime groups smuggling illegal fish.The Mexican Navy has now been charged with stopping the illegal totoaba fishing which has further endangered the already decimated vaquita population, reports the New York Times
  • Mexico's Congress approved legislation that will allow public access to data from almost any entity that receives government funding, including unions, political parties and government-supported councils and commissions, according to the AP. Though President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted that the law "will strengthen the accountability of the Mexican government and combat corruption," Animal Politico reports doubts regarding the new transparency laws' details. Civil society groups have criticized that the body charged with access to information and protection of data has little clarity regarding what information can be released related to cases of grave human rights violations.
  • UNASUR could extend electoral technical to Africa, according to the organization's secretary general, former Colombian president Ernesto Samper. The organization is also working on a South American Election Observatory, which will analyze citizen access and participation in electoral processes in the region. According to Samper, the region's inequality is reflected in electoral processes, and the organization seeks to "eliminate the gaps that characterize the profound asymmetry existing in South America," reports EFE
  • UNICEF held a biannual meeting with regional representatives in San Pedro Sula in Honduras, as a symbol of solidarity with the city, considered the most violent in the world according to the UN. The meeting focused on violence against women and children in the region. EFEreports that homicides have become the primary cause of death among teens in seven countries in the region (Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panamá, Venezuela and Trinidad y Tobago), according to UNICEF statistics.
  • Nineteen human rights defenders were killed in Colombia during the first trimester of this year, and nearly 250 were threatened, according to a local NGO. The killers are still unknown in most of the cases, three are linked to criminal bands stemming from paramilitary demobilization and two of the deaths were at the hands of army troops, according to EFE
  • The U.S. imposed sanctions on three leaders of the Salvadoran Mara Salvatrucha gang, which runs human trafficking and drug operations into the United States, reports the New York Times. Sanctions permit government seizure of any U.S. assets and prohibit American companies and citizens from doing business with them. Though the three men are imprisoned in El Salvador, officials say they continue to direct criminal activity. The money generated by the group in the U.S. supposedly finances and strengthens the gang in El Salvador. Mara Salvatrucha, which in 2012 became the first street gang to be classified as a transnational criminal organization by the Department of the Treasury, has some 30,000 members in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, as well as some 8,000 members in 40 states of the U.S., reports EFE.
  • Pope Francis might tack a Cuba stop onto his U.S. visit in September. The move would be characteristic of his willingness to step into charged international diplomacy, says the Wall Street Journal. The Pope already played a major role in the December agreement between the two countries to normalize relations after more than 50 years. The pontiff will be visitingEcuador, Bolivia and Paraguay in July.
  • Joao Vaccari Neto, who was forced to resign as Workers' Party treasurer after his Wednesday arrest on corruption charges, denies his involvement in the Petrobras kickback scheme under investigation in Brazil. He was charged with receiving “irregular donations” for the ruling political party from some of the oil company’s suppliers. Though prosecutors said testimony from five witnesses implicated Vaccari in the alleged scheme, his lawyers say the arrest was unjustified because it was based primarily on "informers," reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Peru has the highest incidence of rape in South America and most victims are minors. Yet Peru's congress is dragging its feet on a proposal that would decriminalize abortion for rape victims, reports La Mula. The message is clear, according to the piece: "keep criminalizing the woman, youth or teen who is raped, gets pregnant and decides to terminate the pregnancy. That is to say, blame the victim."
  • A women's health NGO in Uruguay warns that certain areas of the country face a potential collapse in abortion services due to a high level of conscientious objectors among doctors. In one department 87 percent of doctors refuse to carry out the procedure, while in another nearly half the gynecologists object, reports EFE.
  • Zury Ríos, the daughter of former Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt, announced her candidacy for Guatemala's presidency. Ríos Montt is being prosecuted for acts of genocide. His daughter, who served in Congress three times, declined to comment on the impact of her father's criminal trial on her campaign, according to the AP.
  • A 79-day U.S. and Canadian naval operation seized over 14 tons of cocaine off the coast of Central and South America, reports Reuters.
  • Though the story has fallen off the international press' radar, the Caracas Chronicles has a couple of pieces that show the ongoing Venezuelan concern over shortages. One shows a piece of performance art while the other analyses meat prices and supply.

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