Weekly News Update on the Americas
Some 3,000 campesinos, including children and seniors, some with musical instruments, staged sit-ins on June 26 in the states of Goiás, Bahía and Piauí at 18 branches of Brazil's two largest state-owned banks, the Banco do Brasil and the Caixa Económica Federal. The day-long protest, organized by the Popular Campesino Movement (MCP), targeted budget cuts in the government's popular low-income housing program, My House My Life; MCP leaders said 950 campesino families had been dropped from My House My Life's National Rural Habitation Program (PNHR). The group demanded an increase in housing construction for the rest of this year, payment for projects already in progress, and improvements in the PNHR for next year. "The campesino families are struggling for a dignified life and don't accept having to wait more time for reform, enlargement [of the program] and construction of housing," the MCP said in a statement. "Waiting longer means increasing the exodus from the countryside and increasing the problems of rural life."
During a visit to Brasilia on June 17, US vice president Joe Biden presented Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff with 43 declassified US State Department documents referring to abuses committed under the country's 1964-1985 military dictatorship. The handover of the documents, which will go to Brazil's National Truth Commission (CNV), was part of an effort to mend relations with Brazil after revelations in 2013 that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been spying on Brazilian government agencies and on President Rousseff herself. The NSA revelations led to Brazil's cancellation of a planned state visit to the US in September 2013 and to the US manufacturer Boeing Co's loss of a $4 billion fighter jet contract with the Brazilian air force. (Reuters, June 17)
Chilean investigative judge Jorge Zepeda has ruled that US intelligence agents shared responsibility for the killing of US journalist Charles Horman and US graduate student Frank Teruggi by the Chilean military in the days after the Sept. 11, 1973 coup that overthrew leftist president Salvador Allende Gossens. "US military intelligence services played a fundamental role in the murders of two US citizens in 1973, providing the Chilean military with information that brought [them] to death," Zepeda concluded in his report, which the Associated Press wire service cited on July 1. This was the first official confirmation of suspicions by Horman and Teruggi's families and friends that the US shared in the responsibility for the killings, the subject of the 1982 film "Missing."
Brazilian federal judge Claudio Henrique de Pina has revoked Toronto-based Belo Sun Mining Corp.'s environmental license for the construction of the $750 million Volta Grande open-pit gold mine near the Xingu river in the northern state of Pará, the federal Public Ministry office in the state announced June 25. Upholding a suspension ordered last November, the judge ruled that Belo Sun had failed to address "negative and irreversible" impacts the mine would have on three indigenous groups in the area, the Paquiçamba, Arara da Volta Grande and Ituna/Itatá. The communities are already under threat from the construction of the Belo Monte dam, which will cut water flows by 80% to 90% when it goes into operation, according to the government's National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI).
Chilean president Michelle Bachelet announced a new policy for the country's indigenous communities on June 24, We Tripantu, the last day of the June 21-24 New Year celebrations observed by the Mapuche, the largest of the indigenous groups. The new policy includes the creation of an Indigenous Affairs Ministry; a Council of Indigenous Peoples to develop proposals and oversee negotiations; designated seats in Congress for indigenous groups; a commission to establish an official version of indigenous history acceptable to all sides; and a continuation of an existing program through which the government buys territory in the south-central Araucanía region and transfers it to Mapuche communities that claim it, with the goal of ending land disputes and occupations that have troubled the region in recent years.
In a statement released in the last week of June, the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH), a leading organization of the Garífuna ethnic group, charged that the US-backed Honduran government was largely responsible for the dramatic increase in minors trying to migrate from Central America over the past few years. The organization said the government "blames the numbers only on narco trafficking; however, they forget that this catastrophe is also caused by collusion among politicians, business leaders, state security forces and criminal organizations linked to the trafficking of narcotics. The government has seen the situation worsen for years without doing anything to change the scenario, much less to avoid it."
Cuba's new Foreign Investment Law went into effect on June 28, as was planned when the National Assembly of Popular Power passed the measure in March. The government is hoping to generate some $2.5 billion in investment each year under the law, which cuts tax rates for foreign investors from 30% to 15% and guarantees that most foreign-owned companies will be exempt from expropriation. Investment is expected to be focused on light industry, packaging, chemicals, iron and steel, building materials, logistics and pharmaceuticals; much of it will go to the Mariel port, 40 km west of Havana, which is being developed as a major "free trade zone." The government is currently studying 23 proposals for projects from Brazil, China, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Russia. The new law doesn't allow for private Cuban citizens to invest, and Cubans will work for the foreign companies through state-owned employment companies, not directly. (La Jornada, Mexico, June 29, from DPA, AFP, Prensa Latina; Global Post, June 29, from Xinhua)
US vice president Joe Biden made a one-day visit to Guatemala on June 20 for a meeting with regional authorities on the recent increase in Central Americans, especially underage minors, apprehended while attempting to enter the US without authorization at the Mexican border. Calling the influx of children "an enormous danger for security" as well as a "humanitarian issue," Biden said the US planned to continue repatriating the young immigrants but would provide Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras with $9.6 million to reintegrate the deportees into society. The US is also offering financial aid that officials say will help stop the flow of immigrants: $40 million to Guatemala to launch a five-year program to reduce youth recruitment into gangs; $25 million for a five-year program to add 77 youth centers to the 30 already operating in El Salvador; $18.5 million through the six-year-old US-sponsored Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) to support Honduran institutions in the fight against crime; and another $161.5 million for CARSI throughout the region.