Thursday, April 6, 2017

Mocoa's vulnerability was well known (April 6, 2017)

Experts have warned for years that the Colombian city of Mocoa could face dangerous flooding. But no action appears to have been taken, leaving the population vulnerable to a flash flood that killed nearly 300 people this weekend, reports the Associated Press. (See Monday's and Tuesday's briefs.)

Colombian authorities have ordered an inquiry on whether building regulations were enforced and whether officials had planned adequately for natural disasters, reports the BBC. Three hundred people are still missing and 2,700 are living in shelters.

President Juan Manuel Santos and his administration have been lauded for their rapid response to the tragedy, reports La Silla Vacía.

News Briefs
  • Human Rights Watch condemned a Colombian judge's decision to decline a case against 12 soldiers accused of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings in relation to the false positives scandal. The judge ruled that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), a judicial system created as part of the peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), would have jurisdiction to hear the case. "However, that system has yet to become operational, and it is unclear when it will ... Nothing in Colombian law or in the peace accord indicates that the authorities can or should suspend prosecutions against soldiers allegedly responsible for atrocities," according to HRW.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed decrees yesterday creating a truth commission and a unit dedicated to searching for people disappeared during the country's long civil conflict, reports El País. Both are part of the implementation of a peace deal signed with the FARC last year. But the commission will take months to actually start its work. And victims of armed forces violations fear their voices will be silenced to avoid antagonizing the military, according to la Silla Vacía.
  • The FARC revealed the real names of the 6.804 guerrillas gathered in concentration zones, reports la Silla Vacía.
  • News last month that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro wants to seek U.N. assistance to address crushing medicine shortages in the country got somewhat buried by the flurry of political events that followed. Though the announcement was extremely limited, it was already a strong departure from Venezuela's usual stance that international aid is not needed. Yet, Venezuelan authorities have been quietly trying to gain access to more affordable medication for several months, notes Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. "Meanwhile, the situation is dire. Available statistics on the toll that the economic crisis is taking on everyday Venezuelans are alarming. Shortages of essential medications like antibiotics have contributed to multiple alarming stories of deaths by normally treatable diseases, and even official reports reflect a startling increase in indicators like the infant mortality rate. According to a 2016 report from the Ministry of Health, the percentage of neonatal deaths (deaths of babies under one month old) stands at 2.01%, some 100 times higher than it was in 2012 (0.02%)." (See Monday's post.)
  • El Salvador's recent national metals mining ban -- a first in the world -- is even more extraordinary considering "the tens of millions of dollars that mining companies have been dangling in the faces of Salvadoran farmers and politicians alike for over a decade," reports The Nation in a piece that details how the coalition against metallic mining overcame the odds. (See March 30's post.)
  • Jose Adan Salazar, a high profile Salvadoran businessman was arrested on money-laundering charges on Tuesday, reports Reuters. Salazar was on the U.S. Treasury Department list of designated kingpins.
  • A series of floods in Peru has led over 800 towns to declare a state of emergency, killed over 100 people, left tens of thousands homeless, and increased the price of food, reports the BBC. Satellite imagery shows the extent of the devastation since the beginning of the year.
  • The number of people arrested crossing the Mexico-U.S. border illegally was at a 17-year-low in March, a decline U.S. authorities credit to President Donald Trump, reports the BBC.
  • Cartel leader Alfredo Beltran Leyva was sentenced to life imprisonment in the U.S. and ordered to pay $529 million for his introduction of tons of illicit drugs to the country, reports El País.
  • Differences among Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's ruling coalition might complicate promises to reform the country's private pension system, said Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdes, according to Reuters.
  • Brazil's government announced a 44 percent reduction in funds allotted to science in the federal budget, a move that scientists say threatens research and development for decades to come, according to Nature.
  • Argentine unions have declared a general strike for today, a move expected to paralyze the country just as President Mauricio Macri hosts international leaders in an economic forum in Buenos Aires, reports AFP
  • Argentines declared  $116.8 billion in a record tax amnesty, reports Reuters.
  • Buenos Aires residents are perpetually convinced that crime is increasing. A January poll found that 30.1 per cent of the city’s households said they were the victims of a crime during the previous 12 months, up from 27.4 per cent a year earlier. This poses a challenge for local authorities, who this year took over responsibility for the police force, which was previously under federal control, reports the Financial Times, looking at measures such as gathering data and improving trust that they seek to implement.
  • Paraguay is positioning itself as the "China of Latin America," enjoying an industrial boom as Brazilian companies cross the border to take advantage of lower production costs, reports the Financial Times.
  • A new poll shows former Mexican first lady Margarita Zavala gaining support for next year's presidential election, overtaking populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, reports Bloomberg.
  • American retirees seeking cheap living costs and abundant sunshine are displacing indigenous communities in Mezcala, on the Mexican "Riviera," reports the Guardian.

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