A judge in the US has ruled that lawyers representing Amazonian villagers used bribes to secure compensation worth billions of dollars from oil company Chevron in Ecuador. The latest ruling means that the Amazonian villagers cannot use US courts to enforce the ruling against the American oil company. Chevron had been found guilty in Ecuador of causing environmental damage to the Lago Agrio region. The legal team says they will appeal.
In 2011, an Ecuadorean judge ordered Chevron to pay $18.2bn (£11.4bn) for “extensively polluting” the Lago Agrio region. Ecuador’s highest court last year upheld the verdict against Chevron, but reduced the amount of compensation to $9.5bn. The alleged environmental damage was done by Texaco between 1964 and 1990. Texaco was later acquired by Chevron. The American oil firm has always maintained that it cleaned up the area before handing over the oil field to the Ecuadorean government.
It argued that it only lost the case because the legal team representing the villagers paid nearly $300,000 in bribes in Ecuador. US district judge Lewis Kaplan in New York has now ruled that Steven Donziger’s legal team used “corrupt means” to win the 2011 case. Mr Kaplan described the evidence against Mr Donziger’s team as “voluminous”.
Brazilian online activists are threatening to disrupt the 2014 Fifa World Cup, it has been reported. A group that affiliated itself to the loose collective known as Anonymous said it would target official websites. There have been major protests in Brazil against what some have said is an overly extravagant outlay.
The Brazilian Army admitted it could not provide complete protection, but insisted it would respond to the most likely threats. ”We are already making plans… I don’t think there is much they can do to stop us,” one activist – who went by the alias Eduarda Dioratto – told the Reuters press agency.
The activists reportedly said that the World Cup offered an unprecedented global audience and an opportune moment to target sites operated by world football’s governing body Fifa, the Brazilian government and corporate sponsors.
Argentina’s fertile lands make it one of the world’s great food-producing nations. But farmers there are in a constant battle against insects with environmentalists worried about the side effects from the heavy use of pesticides. (Al Jazeera)
The Ecuadorian government was negotiating a secret $1bn deal with a Chinese bank to drill for oil under the Yasuni national park in the Amazon while pursuing a high-profile scheme to keep the oil under the ground in return for international donations, according to a government document seen by the Guardian.
The proposed behind-the-scenes deal, which traded drilling access in exchange for Chinese lending for Ecuadorian government projects, will dismay green and human rights groups who had praised Ecuador for its pioneering Yasuni-ITT Initiative to protect the forest. Yasuni is one of the most biodiverse places in the world and home to indigenous peoples – some of whom are living in what Ecuador’s constitution calls “voluntary isolation”.
The initiative – which was abandoned by Ecuador’s government last year– is seen as a way to protect the Amazon, biodiversity and indigenous peoples’ territories, as well as combat climate change, break Ecuador’s dependency on oil and avoid causing the kind of social and environmental problems already caused by oil operations in the Ecuadorian rainforest.
Was Twitter censored by the Venezuelan government or did a complicit media spread disinformation at Washington’s behest?
[...] There was no censorship of Twitter, either of photos or text. Yet the Bloomberg story went out over the wires, was picked up by every major news outlet in the Western world, and soon achieved the status of the undisputed Conventional Wisdom. Those dirty rotten commies in Venezuela were not only clubbing and shooting their own citizens, but they also were hiding the evidence!
Except they weren’t hiding the evidence: it was and is there for all to see.
Washington’s war on the Chavistas is a matter of public record: the US government has been funding the opposition since the now departed Hugo Chavez came to power, and the heavy hand of the Bush administration was no doubt involved in a 2002 coup attempt – a brazenly stupid move that only served to cement Chavez’s rule.
Governments want to control the flow the information, and the Venezuelan regime is hardly an exception to that inflexible rule. Maduro and his avowedly socialist party have moved to muzzle opposition media outlets, and mobilized mobs of their supporters in order to tamp down rising criticism of their haplessly incompetent rule. The country is a mess, with skyrocketing inflation, endemic shortages of basic necessities, and a crime rate shocking to our delicate Western sensibilities. Yet the Chavistas aren’t stupid: they know they’d face a backlash at home and abroad if they dared clamp down the way some of them would probably like to.
- Venezuelan opposition leader to turn himself in
- Venezuela’s hardliner reappears as Nicolas Maduro expels US officials
- Venezuela Boots US Officials It Spied on for Months
- Mauricio Savarese: Venezuela’s Maduro left alone to deal with protests
- Venezuelan government accused of protest violence
- Pro and anti-Maduro marches gather thousands in Venezuela
- Loud Protests Continue Late Into The Night In Caracas Venezuela
- Police fire tear gas at Caracas protesters
Water is being rationed to nearly 6 million people living in a total of 142 cities across 11 states in Brazil, the world’s leading exporter of soybeans, coffee, orange juice, sugar and beef. Water supply companies told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper that the country’s reservoirs, rivers and streams are the driest they have been in 20 years. A record heat wave could raise energy prices and damage crops. Some neighborhoods in the city of Itu in Sao Paulo state (which accounts for one-quarter of Brazil’s population and one-third of its GDP), only receive water once every three days, for a total of 13 hours.
Brazil’s water utility company Sabesp said on its website that the Cantareira water system (the largest of the six that provide water to nearly half of the 20 million people living in the metropolitan area of Sao Paulo) is at less than 19 percent of its capacity of 1 trillion liters. The company described the situation at Cantareira as “critical”: the amount of rain registered in the month to January was the lowest in 84 years. Sabesp said the other five water supply systems in Sao Paulo’s metropolitan area were normal for this time of year, however. The PCJ Consorcio water association said the area would have to see 17 millimeters of rain a day for two months until Cantareira’s water level recovers to 50 percent of its capacity.
- Officials in Venezuela order arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo López
- Venezuela Opposition Fears Crackdown After Protest
- Venezuela braces for more violence – but it could work in Maduro’s favour
- Venezuela Protests Persist, Dozens Jailed
- Venezuela frees some student protesters, unrest continues
- Twitter Reports Image Blocking in Venezuela After Protests
- US to Venezuela: Resolve Shortages Hitting Dailies
- In Pictures: What’s Happening in Venezuela?
Venezuela’s government and the opposition traded accusations on Thursday after at least three people were shot dead in the worst unrest since protests that followed President Nicolas Maduro’s narrow election victory last year. Thousands of students accompanied by opposition leaders marched through the capital Caracas and other cities on Wednesday, demonstrating over poor security, inflation and a lack of basic commodities, in a further escalation of university protests that took place two weeks ago. A government official said 23 people were injured, 25 arrested, four police vehicles torched and some government offices were vandalised on Wednesday.
Some opposition protesters, many with their faces covered, threw stones and burned tires in what is Maduro’s biggest political test since taking over from the late Hugo Chavez last year. ”There will be no coup d’etat in Venezuela; you can rest assured. Democracy will continue, and the revolution will continue,” said Maduro, who ordered the arrest of an opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez. Opposition and government supporters took to social media to blame their foes for Wednesday’s bloodshed.
The opposition blamed armed pro-government militant groups known as “colectivos” for attacking dozens of their marches over the years, scattering their supporters and spreading fear. Maduro blamed “small fascist groups” that, according to him, infiltrated the opposition protest. He further accused the opposition of wanting to recreate a similar situation that occurred in 2002, when huge street protests led to a coup that briefly ousted Chavez. He later returned to power with the help of loyal soldiers and hundreds of thousands of “Chavistas” who took to the streets to protest the coup.
Hundreds of people in Brazil have clashed with police during a protest against increased fares for public transport. Commuters were caught up in the violence at Rio de Janeiro’s Central Station during rush hour. Riot police fired tear gas and tried to disperse the crowd, while activists hurled stones and petrol bombs. A cameraman is in a serious condition in hospital after suffering a head injury.
[...] Last year, similar protests grew into a nationwide movement against corruption and excessive spending ahead of the football World Cup, which Brazil will host in June and July. Those protests began at the end of May 2013 in Sao Paulo, when the local authorities announced ticket prices would rise. The fare increase was revoked after weeks of protests, with the federal government helping the state and municipal authorities to foot the bill.
The president of Uruguay has been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. According to his advocates, José “Pepe” Mujica’s much talked-about marijuana legalization is in fact “a tool for peace and understanding.”
For the second year in a row, the Drugs Peace Institute, which has supported Mujica’s marijuana legalization drive since 2012, insisting that the consumption of marijuana should be protected as a human right, has endorsed his candidacy, along with members of Mujica’s leftwing political party the Frente Amplio, the PlantaTuPlanta (Collective of Uruguayan growers) and the Latin American Coalition of Cannabis Activists (CLAC).
Despite an avalanche of global criticism, in late December Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize the production and sale of the popular herbal drug. Under the new law, which comes into full effect in early April, Uruguayans will have several options to gain access to it. The Drugs Peace Institute said that Mujica’s stand against the UN-led prohibition of mind-altering substances is a “symbol of a hand outstretched, of a new era in a divided world.”
The World Bank’s Office of the Compliance Adviser/Ombudsman (CAO) determined on January 10 that the Bank’s private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), violated “its own ethical standards” when it “lent millions of dollars to a Honduran palm oil company [Dinant Corporation] accused of links to assassinations and forced evictions,” Nina Lakhani reported in the Guardian. Were this true—had the Bank really acted against its principles, displayed over decades of consistent action—then the appropriate response would be global celebration. But the IFC-Dinant incident is just the latest chapter in a miserable story.
Consider, for example, Honduras in the ’90s, when a “paradigm promoted by the World Bank” spurred “a massive re-concentration of land in the Aguán”—the valley where Dinant operates—“into the hands of a few influential elites,” Tanya Kerssen writes in Grabbing Power, her superb study. These land barons, particularly Dinant’s owner Miguel Facussé, thrived as “the Aguán cooperative sector was decimated,” some three-quarters of its land seized. Campesinos, suddenly dispossessed, first sought legal recourse, which failed. They subsequently “protested and occupied disputed land,” Rights Action’s Annie Bird writes in a crucial report, prompting government authorities to review the legitimacy of Bank-assisted territorial transfer. But the June 2009 coup ended this appraisal. Four School of the Americas (SOA) graduates directed Manuel Zelaya’s removal from power—“a crime,” a top Honduran military lawyer, himself an SOA alumnus, admitted, and proof “that the Obama administration had as weak a commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law as the preceding U.S. presidency,” British scholar Julia Buxton explained. Since then, Bird observes, Honduras’ 15th Battalion, Washington-aided “since at least 2008,” has “consistently been identified as initiating acts of violence against campesino movements,” with police forces and Dinant’s security guards getting in on the kills. The CAO paper puts the number of peasant murders since January 2010 at over 100.
Cuban President Raul Castro called on Latin American and Caribbean leaders Tuesday to work together on pressing regional problems at a gathering of all Western Hemisphere nations except the U.S. and Canada.
In his keynote speech as host for the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC for its initials in Spanish, Castro argued that the bloc should aspire to unity despite diversity, describing it as “the legitimate representative of the interests of Latin America and the Caribbean.”
“We should establish a new regional and international cooperation paradigm,” Castro said. “In the context of CELAC, we have the possibility to create a model of our own making, adapted to our realities, based on the principles of mutual benefit.”
Ecuador on Saturday stressed it wanted the number of US military staff on its territory reduced, and warned it also would not allow US “espionage equipment.”
“It just makes no sense that an outsized number of US military staff, who report to the US Southern Command, would be here, at the US Embassy,” Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters.
President Rafael Correa said Wednesday he would ask the United States to withdraw American military personnel assigned to its embassy in Quito.
Correa said he became aware of what he described as the oversized presence after learning that four US military personnel were aboard an Ecuadoran military helicopter that came under fire on October 3 near the border with Colombia.
Correa, an economist by training who has long railed against America’s “imperialism” in its Latin American backyard, said Quito was “already taking measures” to address the issue.
In Washington, a US official said that the 50 military personnel cited by Correa were “more than double the actual number.
Violence flared on the streets of Sao Paulo on Saturday after more than a 1,000 demonstrators protested in against Brazil’s hosting of the football World Cup later this year.
Waving flags, carrying banners and chanting “there will be no Cup”, the demonstrators took to the streets in what the Anonymous Rio protest group billed as the first act in its “Operation Stop the World Cup” campaign.
The event was largely peaceful but police later clashed with some protesters.
Protests by Brazil’s poor against the rich have taken a new turn. Local black youths are taking to shopping malls usually visited by the wealthy, cooking barbecues and dancing. The seemingly innocent rallies are drawing the government’s attention.
The latest protest of the kind led to a shutdown of one of the Rio de Janeiro’s upmarket malls.
Nine thousand people joined the Facebook page of the flash mob. According to the report by local media outlet Terra, the social network deleted the event when it had over 500 people confirmed.
However, only a few dozen took part in the flash mob. The participants held a barbecue outside the mall, set up speakers and danced to the music. One of the protesters was dressed as Batman, and another one as the Joker.
Only a few months ago, Henry Kissinger was dancing with Stephen Colbert in a funny bit on the latter’s Comedy Central show. But for years, the former secretary of state has sidestepped judgment for his complicity in horrific human rights abuses abroad, and a new memo has emerged that provides clear evidence that in 1976 Kissinger gave Argentina’s neo-fascist military junta the “green light” for the dirty war it was conducting against civilian and militant leftists that resulted in the disappearance—that is, deaths—of an estimated 30,000 people.
In April 1977, Patt Derian, a onetime civil rights activist whom President Jimmy Carter had recently appointed assistant secretary of state for human rights, met with the US ambassador in Buenos Aires, Robert Hill. A memo recording that conversation has been unearthed by Martin Edwin Andersen, who in 1987 first reported that Kissinger had told the Argentine generals to proceed with their terror campaign against leftists (whom the junta routinely referred to as “terrorists”). The memo notes that Hill told Derian about a meeting Kissinger held with Argentine Foreign Minister Cesar Augusto Guzzetti the previous June. What the two men discussed was revealed in 2004 when the National Security Archive obtained and released the secret memorandum of conversation for that get-together. Guzzetti, according to that document, told Kissinger, “our main problem in Argentina is terrorism.” Kissinger replied, “If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly. But you must get back quickly to normal procedures.” In other words, go ahead with your killing crusade against the leftists.
A Chilean football club has sparked debate over its new jerseys, in which the number “1” is replaced by an outline of pre-1948 Palestine, angering Israel which demanded the uniform’s removal, local media reported.
Club Deportivo Palestino, a first division football club created in 1920 by Palestinian immigrants, revealed on Saturday its 2014 uniform, on which the geographical outline of Palestine can be seen.
Chilean newspaper La Nacion reported on Tuesday that the Israeli foreign ministry had contacted the Chilean embassy to express its discontent over the football club’s move.
Chile’s once and future leader Michelle Bachelet easily won Sunday’s presidential runoff, returning center-left parties to power by promising profound social changes in response to years of street protests.
Bachelet won 62 percent of the vote, the most decisive victory in eight decades of Chilean elections. Her conservative rival, Evelyn Matthei only got 37 percent of the vote and conceded defeat in the worst performance for the right in two decades.
Bachelet needs the momentum of her resounding victory to strengthen her mandate and try to overcome congressional opposition to fulfill her promises.
The 62-year old pediatrician ended her 2006-2010 presidency with 84 percent approval ratings despite failing to achieve any major changes. This time however, activists are vowing to hold her to her promises, which include raising corporate taxes to 25 percent from 20 percent to help fund an education overhaul and changing the dictatorship-era constitution, a difficult goal given congressional opposition.
[...] Many Chileans complain that policies imposed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship have kept wealth and power in few hands. Pinochet effectively ended land reform by selling off the nation’s water, and he preserved the best educations for elites by ending the central control and funding of public schools.
[...] Uruguay’s options to improve society are limited, he believes, by the power of global capital.
“I’m just sick of the way things are. We’re in an age in which we can’t live without accepting the logic of the market,” he said. “Contemporary politics is all about short-term pragmatism. We have abandoned religion and philosophy … What we have left is the automatisation of doing what the market tells us.”
The president lives within his means and promotes the use of renewable energy and recycling in his government’s policies. At the United Nations’ Rio+20 conference on sustainable development last year, he railed against the “blind obsession” to achieve growth through greater consumption. But, with Uruguay’s economy ticking along at a growth rate of more than 3%, Mujica – somewhat grudgingly, it seems – accepts he must deliver material expansion. “I’m president. I’m fighting for more work and more investment because people ask for more and more,” he said. “I am trying to expand consumption but to diminish unnecessary consumption … I’m opposed to waste – of energy, or resources, or time. We need to build things that last. That’s an ideal, but it may not be realistic because we live in an age of accumulation.”
Asked for a solution to this contradiction, the president admits he doesn’t have the answers, but the former Marxist said the search for a solution must be political. “We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means – by being prudent – the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction,” he said. “But we think as people and countries, not as a species.”
Uruguay’s move to legalise the production and sale of marijuana breaks international law, the world drugs body said Wednesday, warning it would encourage addiction.
“Uruguay is breaking the international conventions on drug control with the cannabis legislation approved by its congress,” said the International Narcotics Control Board, a UN agency that oversees the implementation of international treaties on drugs.
INCB president Raymond Yans added he was “surprised” that Montevideo had “knowingly decided to break the universally agreed and internationally endorsed legal provisions of the treaty.”
Uruguay became the first country to legalize the growing, sale and smoking of marijuana on Tuesday, a pioneering social experiment that will be closely watched by other nations debating drug liberalization.
A government-sponsored bill approved by 16-13 votes in the Senate provides for regulation of the cultivation, distribution and consumption of marijuana and is aimed at wresting the business from criminals in the small South American nation.
Backers of the law, some smoking joints, gathered near Congress holding green balloons, Jamaican flags in homage to Bob Marley and a sign saying: “Cultivating freedom, Uruguay grows.”
Cannabis consumers will be able to buy a maximum of 40 grams (1.4 ounces) each month from licensed pharmacies as long as they are Uruguayan residents over the age of 18 and registered on a government database that will monitor their monthly purchases.
When the law is implemented in 120 days, Uruguayans will be able to grow six marijuana plants in their homes a year, or as much as 480 grams (about 17 ounces), and form smoking clubs of 15 to 45 members that can grow up to 99 plants per year.
Registered drug users should be able to start buying marijuana over the counter from licensed pharmacies in April.
Global players’ union Fifpro believes Fifa considers the demands of TV companies of “greater importance” than the health and safety of the players.
Fifa said this week that it will not change the 2014 World Cup kick-off times despite concerns about the heat.
Games kicking off at 13:00 in the north west of Brazil will likely take place in very hot and humid conditions.
In a statement, Fifpro said it wants “effective measures to guarantee [players'] health and safety”.
The World Cup and the Olympics are being used as a pretext for “social cleansing” as tens of thousands of Rio slum dwellers are driven out to the city periphery, favela residents say.
While millions of eyes turn to north-eastern Brazil for the World Cup draw on Friday, poor communities in Rio de Janeiro are still struggling to be heard as they fight against evictions they say are related to the city’s mega sporting events.
Next year, Rio will host seven games, including the final, followed in 2016 by the Olympics. The city’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, describes this as an opportunity for the city to modernise and create a legacy for future generations. But many of those on the frontline of change feel they are the victims of social cleansing.
- Drug boss Pablo Escobar still divides Colombia
- Colombia Farc rebels to play Valderrama peace match
- As Colombia’s presidential race heats up, peace talks take center stage
- Colombia: peace talks stymied over coca
- FARC peace may cut Colombia cocaine, but synthetic drugs new scourge
- Famed ex-hostage runs for Colombia president
- Colombia uncovers Farc plot to kill ex-president Uribe
[...] Stories such as Conceição’s are increasingly common in South America’s largest country, whose economy has been fueled in recent years by consumer spending — often financed at sky-high interest rates. Economists say many shoppers have reached the limits, and many in Brazil are waking up to a credit hangover.
Government-controlled banks led the charge, issuing payday loans and credit cards to juice consumption and help power the nation through the 2008 financial crisis. Private banks got in on the act, helping to expand loans for cars, household appliances and electronics.
Credit soared. Over the last five years, the ratio of outstanding debt to gross domestic product jumped to 56% from 31%. But in a country where credit cards have annual interest rates of 120% or more, defaults have risen and credit expansion has slowed, particularly among the middle class and working poor.
[...] Until recently, credit was off-limits to average people. More than 40 million Brazilians have risen from poverty since center-left Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva took over as president in 2003. His administration urged state banks to open up the spigot to consumers, an emphasis that continued under his successor, Dilma Rousseff.
Economists say Brazil’s government was right to expand consumer credit as a stimulus during the crisis. But many say the country would have benefited more from higher state spending on education, healthcare, roads and other infrastructure to raise living standards over the long term.