After a meeting on March 21 in Temuco, the capital of the southern Chilean region of Araucanía, indigenous leaders called for the rapid implementation of self-government for the Mapuche, the country's largest indigenous group. The leaders also repeated their rejection of plans announced by the government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera for an indigenous council, a consultation process and a special law for Araucanía. Piñera, Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick and other officials made the proposals in January after an outbreak of violence in the region exacerbated a longstanding struggle between the Mapuche and settlers and forestry companies over lands that the Mapuche claim. Indigenous leaders responded to Piñera's proposal by holding a summit at the Cerro Ñielol park in Temuco on Jan. 16 and forming a new alliance, the Mapuche Pact for Self-Determination.
A group of 40 Argentine environmentalists invaded the Embalse Nuclear Center in the central province of Córdoba on March 11 to mark the second anniversary of the earthquake that caused meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan's Fukushima prefecture, the second-worst nuclear accident in history. The protesters, members of Greenpeace Argentina, "entered [the complex] peacefully, waving flags and wearing orange overalls," according to Greenpeace Energy Campaign coordinator Mauro Fernández. They proceeded to climb to the top of the reactor, where they unfurled a giant banner reading: "Enough with nuclear danger!" The activists were then "beaten and arrested," Greenpeace said, and taken to Río Cuarto federal court, with jurisdiction over the facility.
A court in Argentina on March 12 sentenced the country's last military dictator Reynaldo Bignone to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during his rule in 1982 and '83. The 85-year-old former general, already serving three other terms for similar crimes, was found guilty of killings related to Operation Condor—a coordinated campaign by the Southern Cone dictatorships to eliminate dissidents from one country who sought refuge in another. Federal Oral Tribunal Federal No. 1 in San Martín found Bignone culpable in the deaths of 23 victims, including seven pregnant women, who were abducted to the now-notorious Campo de Mayo clandestine prison. Also receiving a life term was Bignone's armed forces chief and second-in-command as dictator, Santiago Omar Riveros. Three other military men received terms of between 12 and 15 years. (Argentina Independent, Rebelión, Digital Journal, March 13; BBC News, La Nación, Clarín, Gente BA, Prensa Latina, March 12)
Upon ascending to the papacy today, the newly-anointed Francis addressed the eschatological paranoia that occassioned the resignation of his predecessor, saying that some cardinals had been "seeking the end of the world, but we are still here." But it seemed to be a pun, referencing his native land at the "end of the earth." Among the joyous crowd below in St. Peter's Square were several Argentine flags. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio is now the first pope from Latin America, something millions around the world had anticipated with hope. But the election of Cardinal Bergoglio deepens growing concerns about the complicity of the Catholic Church in Argentina's "Dirty War" of the 1970s.
As of March 2 the Spanish-Italian electric energy consortium Endesa-Enel was calling for dialogue with indigenous Mapuche communities in Valdivia province in Chile's southern Los Ríos region in an effort to get clearance for the consortium's stalled $781 million hydroelectric project at Lake Neltume. The dialogue offer came in response to reservations that Los Ríos public service agencies expressed about the power company's latest proposal for the plant. Jorge Weke (also spelled "Hueque")—the werkén (spokesperson) for the Koz Koz Parliament in Panguipulli, a municipality that would be affected by the dam—rejected the dialogue offer, saying the company didn't understand the project's significance for the Mapuche.
Reversing a September 2011 decision by a lower court, on March 8 Argentina's federal Criminal Appeals Court found former Argentine president Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999) guilty of "aggravated smuggling" in the government's clandestine sales of 6,500 tons of arms to Ecuador and Croatia from 1991 to 1995. The court also convicted former defense minister Oscar Camilión, former colonel Diego Palleros and nine others in the scheme to smuggle arms to the two countries during a time when international agreements banned the sales. Menem claims he didn't know the ultimate destination of the arms when he signed the three secret decrees authorizing the shipments.
Judges in Córdoba City, the capital of the central Argentine province of Córdoba, issued an order on Feb. 25 suspending construction of a corn seed-drying plant by the Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company. Provincial Labor Court judges Silvia Díaz and Luis Farías cited potential "environmental risks" as a basis for the suspension, which was in response to an appeal by the Argentine Law Foundation Club. The company plans to build the 27-hectare facility at a cost of $300 million in Malvinas Argentinas, a working-class suburb located 14 km from the provincial capital. Malvinas Argentinas residents are demanding a referendum on the planned construction and have held protest marches, including one on Feb. 21. (La Mañana de Córdoba, Feb. 21; Télam, Argentina, Feb. 25, via Terra.ar; MercoPress, Montevideo, Feb. 27)
Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) had plans to foment violence and declare a state of emergency if he lost an Oct. 5, 1988 plebiscite on his regime, according to declassified US documents that the DC-based research group National Security Archive posted on its website on Feb. 22. The plebiscite, mandated by Pinochet's own 1980 Constitution, gave Chileans a choice between voting "yes" to have the general remain president for eight more years or "no" to end the dictatorship and hold an election in 1989. The "no" option won by 54.7% to 43% for "yes"; some 98% of eligible voters participated.