Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, May 5, 2015

Ecuador's case against Chevron in a U.S. appeals court

Arbitration hearings between Ecuador and Chevron in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, regarding a 2011 Ecuadorian court decision awarding over $8 billion to rural workers and indigenous peoples for devastating environmental damage caused by the company in Ecuador’s rainforest, are slated to end this week. The Courthouse News Service reports that both the Ecuadorian government and Chevron have agreed to keep the press out of the arbitration hearings.

Chevron took the case to U.S. courts, saying the case was fraudulent. A U.S. federal judge blocked U.S. courts last year from being used to collect the damages awarded by the Ecuadorian court saying lawyers poisoned an honorable quest with their illegal and wrongful conduct. 

Miguel Tinker Salas writes about the case  in an op-ed on Al Jazeera, noting that Chevron Chevron claims that it is allowed to convene a panel of lawyers with the power to override Ecuador’s judicial system and constitution and throw out the judgment awarded in the original case.

The Huffington Post posted videos by a Chevron whistleblower that show the extent of oil pollution the company had considered remediated.

Former U.S. Rep. William D. Delahun argues that Texaco should be held responsible for environmental damage in Ecuador's rainforest. In The Hill, he praises the advances the country has made in the decade since he made an official visit there and calls on Chevron to "do the right thing."

In the meantime, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa called Brad Pitt out for buying the film rights of a book critical of Ecuador's case against Texaco (which was bought by Chevron) for environmental damage in the Amazon, reports TeleSur.

“We invite (Brad Pitt) to dip his hand (in the contaminated soil). We'll see if he continues with this movie project, which would be the biggest act of dishonesty,” said Correa. 

The book has a character assassination of Ecuador's lawyer Steven Donziger and makes the case (also sustained by Chevron) that Ecuador's government employed fraud to obtain a favorable court ruling from the country's Supreme Court. (The New York Times profiled Donziger in in 2013.)

News Briefs

  • The amount of land under coca cultivation in Colombia jumped 39 percent in 2014 to 112,000 hectares (about 276,000 acres), according to a While House report released yesterday. Though the report is usually released in summer, the Office of National Drug Control Policy released partial numbers for Colombia. The statistics come as Colombian authorities debate the use of U.S. funded aerial eradication programs that use glyphosate. The WHO recently classified the substance as "probably" carcinogenic. While the Colombian Health Ministry recommends suspending aerial spraying, and the Defense and Foreign Ministries want to continue the program, President Juan Manuel Santos has remained silent on the issue for now. The issue will be debated at the May 14 meeting of the Consejo Nacional de Estupefacientes, reports La Silla Vacía.  The AP quotes WOLA's Adam Isacson saying the release of the statistics is probably a U.S. attempt to continue the aerial eradication program. The report attributes the jump to increased cultivation in areas off limits to U.S.-backed aerial eradication. La Silla Vacia says the increase could also be due to a reduction in manual eradication, low gold prices driving illegal mining operations back towards coca cultivation and -- according to their sources -- a desire on the part of coca communities to participate in social programs that might be offered in exchange for reduced coca production.
  • Amnesty International says authorities' narrow interpretation of Paraguayan abortion law -- which only permits the procedure if the woman's health is at risk -- is "tantamount to torture" in the case of a 10-year-old girl allegedly impregnated by her father. She is 22 weeks pregnant and her family has requested an abortion which has been denied with arguments that her health is not at risk, reports CNN. Amnesty says her age alone should be enough to make termination of the pregnancy permitted under the health clause.
  • Three Mexican soldiers initially reported missing were killed in the crash of a military helicopter that was brought down by a drug gang on Friday, bringing the total death toll of that encounter to six, reports the New York Times. Members of a drug cartel in Jalisco apparently used used rocket-propelled grenades to shoot down the helicopter. It's the first time an aircraft of this size has been brought down, a sign of drug organization's increasing power, according to the Wall Street Journal. The attack, by the New Generation Jalisco cartel is a clear demonstration of a style that combines military sophistication and firepower with a capacity to infiltrate authorities, according to sources quoted in The Guardian. The attack, which which included several shootouts with soldiers and police, and involved hundreds of low-level operatives who set up roadblocks with burning cars, buses and trucks in Jalisco and three neighboring states required the assistance of corrupt local police. While the government will likely win the face-off with the relatively new cartel, it's increasing power points to a larger problem in the Mexican drug fighting strategy.  (See yesterday's post
  • Accessing any sort of public information -- be it statistics on highway deaths or public health expenditures -- is an increasingly impossible task in Venezuela, according to a Miami Heraldpiece. Venezuelan authorities have stopped publishing statistics on crime and many economic indicators, and are increasingly shutting out journalists.
  • Import fraud is draining Venezuela's foreign currency reserves -- dollars needed for international trade and debt payment. Importers make an incredible profit by overvaluing their imports to access dollars at preferencial exchange rates, and then pocket the currency or sell it on the black market at an enormous profit. An estimated $69.5 billion was stolen through import fraud from 2003 to 2012, reports the New York Times.
  • Venezuela's economic woes have limited the population's access to imported whisky, but have boosted the fortunes of its rum industry, according to a New York Times piece.
  • The State Department funded Caracol Industrial Park was intended to create jobs and foment industry in post-quake Haiti, but three years after its inauguration, much of that promise has yet to materialize. While about 6,000 Haitians are employed as garment workers there, that's only about 10 percent of the jobs originally promised, reports the Miami Herald in a piece that's critical of Hilary Clinton's project. Protesters at demonstrations earlier this year that led to the death of a Chilean U.N. peacekeeper were demanding 24 hour electricity from the industrial park's power grid.
  • Economists expect Brazil’s gross domestic product to contract 1.18% this year and growth of just 1% in 2016, due in part to the effects of a severe drought and the ongoing Petrobras corruption investigation, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Layda Negrete and Leslie Solís of México Evalúa examine how to evaluate a heated dispute about torture in Mexico between the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Mexico's Foreign Minister. While the U.N. voiced concern over the "generalized" use of torture as punishment and as a tool for investigation, Mexican authorities retort that it's not true. It is difficult to measure torture incidences, according to the authors, as Mexico does not have a national registry for the issue and many cases go unreported for fear of reprisal. In Animal Político, Negrete and Solís go into the available data on torture, noting that a survey of Mexican inmates found that nearly 60 percent reported corporeal punishment during their incarceration. The authors call on the government to produce better statistics in order to combat the widespread phenomenon.
  • Chile and Bolivia presented their arguments regarding a 19th century border dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Bolivia lost about 250 miles of coast-line in a Chilean invasion in 1879, it has asked the court to force Chile to negotiate sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean which would allow it to transport natural gas westward. Chilean lawyers say the issue was settled in a 1904 pact and that there's nothing to discuss, notes the Wall Street Journal.
  • Mary O'Grady argues that Puerto Rico should not be allowed to retroactively apply Chapter 9 bankruptcy for its public debt, saying that such a move would be unfair to bondholders. Puerto Rico's publicly owned corporations do not have access to Chapter 9 protection, unlike municipalities in the 50 U.S. states. A proposal in the House of Representatives would retroactively extend this protection to Puerto Rican corporations, she explains in her Wall Street Journal column.
  • A proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade bloc of 10 Pacific Rim countries, including the U.S. and Japan would greatly benefit Mexico, but would deepen Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela's isolation from the world economy, argues Andres Oppenheimer in his Miami Heraldcolumn. The TPP could counter China's economic clout in the region. While Mexico stands to gain the most out of Latin American countries, Chile and Peru, which are also part of negotiations, would be less benefited he says.
  • Panama's supreme court on Monday set a trial date later this month for ex-dictator Manuel Noriega in a case alleging that the former strongman was involved in the kidnapping and murder of a political opponent in 1970, reports Reuters.

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