sábado, 26 de noviembre de 2016

Cuba's Fidel Castro dies

Cuba's veteran revolutionary leader and former communist president, Fidel Castro Ruz, died in Havana late on 25 November, at the age of 90. His brother, President Raúl Castro, informed Cubans of the death speaking on state television, and the State Council declared nine days of mourning until 4 December, when Castro's remains would be buried in Santiago de Cuba. Cuba's socialist allies were among the first world leaders to praise one of the 20th century's iconic political figures, much like his former companion-in-arms Ernesto Che Guevara. Hundreds of Cuban exiles in Miami however, came onto the streets to celebrate the end of a man whose revolution forced many to leave their homes and flee, when possible, to the United States. President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela said Castro was heading for "immortality," and inevitably reminded Venezuelans of their own late leader, Hugo Chávez, for the "deep friendship" they had forged and for leading "two revolutions harassed by the empire," meaning the United States. Bolivia's Evo Morales told the Venezuelan broadcaster Telesur that the best homage was to keep the "unity between peoples" and "never forget" Castro's "anti-imperialist struggle." Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto called Castro a "friend of Mexico" and "promoter" of bilateral ties based on "respect and solidarity." As a young man, Castro took refuge in Mexico before returning to take power in 1959, and the two countries maintained good working ties whenever Peña Nieto's centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party governed Mexico. Profiles and obituaries of Castro appeared early in several news outlets on 26 November, including Spain's national broadcaster RTVE, Britain's The Guardian and Le Figaro.

martes, 8 de noviembre de 2016

Guatemalan officials note rise in homicides in October, slight overall decline in 2016

Guatemalan state coroners observed an increase in nationwide criminal killings in October 2016 compared to September, though all killings this year appeared to be slightly fewer than in 2015 and previous years. The coroner's office INACIF counted 424 "deaths through violence" in October, up from 367 in September, and a total of 3,913 homicides from 1 January to 31 October, the paper Prensa Libre reported on 8 November, citing an Inacif spokesman. Roberto Garza cited the next two months with most killings this year to be August with 417, and February with 358. He said 44 of all those murdered this year had been "dismembered in and around the capital," Ciudad Guatemala. Inacif's figures showed an apparent decline in killings this year, as the office counted 4,041 violent deaths between 1 January and 31 October 2015, with January 2015 cited as the most violent month, with 426 killings. Guatemala City has been on the list of the world's most murderous cities in 2015 and 2014, and lies in one of the world's most violent regions not at war. Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were to officially launch on 10 November a joint batallion to combat gang crime in the "northern triangle" of Central America, Honduras's El Heraldo reported on 8 November. The force would consist of agents from the three countries acting in their own territories, but in coordination and with shared information, El Salvador's Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez told media in San Salvador on 7 November.

domingo, 9 de octubre de 2016

El Salvador sees "near record" murder figures for 2016

Authorities in El Salvador counted 4,242 criminal deaths in the country from 1 January to 27 September, which they estimate could, with more than 5,000 estimated homicides this year, make 2016 one of the most violent of recent years. The website Elsalvador.com wrote on 6 October that while the government's "extraordinary" measures to curb gang activity had reduced killings somewhat since April 2016, at the going rate of "more than 300 a month," 2016 would likely become the second most violent year since 2004, after 2015. The country suffered 6,656 murders in 2015, while previous years with the most registered homicides were, according to coroners' figures cited in Elsalvador.com, 2009 with 4,382, 2011 with 4,371 and 2010 with 3,987. The years 2012 and 2013 had much lower homicide figures due to an ostensible ceasefire between the Mara gangs, but the website observed that their figures excluded all missing people who  may have been killed by the gangs. The website cited figures as showing more than 830 people as going missing in the first seven months of 2016.

viernes, 7 de octubre de 2016

Colombian president given Nobel peace prize

President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on 7 October, in spite of losing a national referendum on 2 October over his peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The prize, as a Nobel committee spokesman told Santos by phone, was for his "resolute efforts to bring the civil war in Colombia to a peaceful end," while a grateful Santos admitted to him the country was earlier "on the verge" of doing so. He later said in public that he "humbly" accepted the prize "in the name of all Colombians" and especially of "millions of victims" who had suffered through 50 years of civil conflict in Colombia. In the referendum his government had called to obtain public backing for the peace deal, over 60 per cent of eligible voters abstained and 50.2 per cent of those who did participate, voted against it. Media and observers analysed extensively why the public seemed dissatisfied, and reasons given included a vigorous No campaign led by the former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, and insufficient consultations with political parties and civil associations. According to the broadcaster Caracol, Santos and the FARC would discuss "adjustments and specifications" to the deal in response to the No victory. Yet Mr Uribe congratulated Santos on his prize, and wrote on Twitter that he hoped this would prompt him to change any agreement "harmful to peace" in Colombia. Bogotá's former leftist mayor Gustavo Petro also congratulated Santos, pointing out on Twitter that he was, after the novelist Gabriel García Márquez, the second Colombian to become a Nobel laureate.

jueves, 1 de septiembre de 2016

Pope denounces "sin" of worldwide pollution

Not for the first time since ascending the papal throne, Pope Francis denounced on 1 September the destruction of the natural world, calling it a sin against God and urging believers to reconsider their lives and "repent," for contributing to this destruction. He made his call in a message issued for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, presented at the Vatican by two cardinals. In it he stated people had "no right" to exploit the world with "selfishness and irresponsibility" and urged individuals to recognize their personal, daily contributions to climate change, Notimex agency reported. This, he stated, "is the first step on the path to conversion" or change. He urged Catholics to follow a tradition of collective, public repentance in the Church, peer into their consciences and repent for taking part, through the modern lifestyle, in "a system that has imposed the logic of profitting at all costs, regardless of social exclusion or the destruction of nature." The pontiff was to celebrate evening prayers for the occasion that day, to be held in Saint Peter's Square, La Nación reported.

Brazil sacks its president in parliamentary "coup"

Brazil's Senate voted on 31 August to dismiss the socialist President Dilma Rousseff, months after she was deprived of her powers while being investigated for suspected abuses of power. She has insisted throughout that she has done nothing wrong and the process against her was a political "coup" by conservative opponents. Sixty one senators voted to dismiss her against 20 voting in her favour; 54 votes sufficed for her removal, Argentina's Télam agency reported. She had been accused of "illegally using money from state banks" to finance public spending, according to the Reuters news agency. Rousseff was elected on 24 October 2014. Reuters observed in a report on 1 September that the impeachment process was not unrelated to a massive embezzlement scandal at the state oil firm Petrobras involving, apparently, quite a few senior officials and politicians from various parties, though not Rousseff. As its scope and ramifications became public through 2014, the scandal effectively provoked a showdown between conservatives and Mrs Rousseff's Workers Party, while millions of outraged Brazilians began protesting against the Workers Party. Immediately after her destitution, the acting president and former vice-president Michel Temer, was sworn in as President until 2018. Reuters separately reported on the diplomatic rift the vote was causing with Latin American leftist governments, which were perceiving the move as part of a wider effort to oust them all. Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador recalled their ambassadors for consultations, though Brazil's Foreign Minister José Serra defended the vote's legality and questioned the democratic credentials of Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro for chiding Brazil's institutions. Maduro described the vote on Twitter as a coup by a "group of oligarchs."

miércoles, 31 de agosto de 2016

Police arrest "hundreds" of gang members around El Salvador

Police in El Salvador arrested at least 80 suspected members of the country's Mara 13 or MS-13 gang sought for crimes including murder, criminal conspiracy and especially extortion, in raids carried out in several eastern districts on 30-31 August. In one operation in the department of La Unión, police held 52 presumed MS-13 members, 24 of whom were apparently already in jail, El Mundo reported on 31 August. Pursuing criminal activities especially extortion, from prison is common in Central America. Further operations in the localities of Yayantique and Conchagua, also in La Unión, led to the arrests of 29 suspected members of a related gang dubbed Coronados Locos Salvatruchos, sought for their roles in six murders and other planned or attempted killings, the daily reported. In a separate incident, police shot dead four suspected gangsters in Jucuarán after reportedly, they opened fire on police investigating their presence in the area, elsalvador.com reported on 30 August. The state prosecution service (Fiscalía) reported on its Twitter account on 31 August that raids carried out in eastern parts of the country had netted 314 members of the Mara 18, the country's other big gang network. This appeared to be the Shark Operation the prosecution service cited on its account, carried out by "land and sea" in the department of Usulután.

Colombia lost over two million hectares of forests since 1960s

Millions of hectares of woodlands equivalent to the size of a province, were destroyed in Colombia between 1967 and 2012 thanks to farming, war, mining and a range of criminal activities. The Agustín Codazzi Geographical Institute (IGAC) and IDEAM, two public research bodies, found in the recently published Suelos y tierras de Colombia, a paper on the state of the Colombia's natural landscapes, that the country lost just over 2.4 million hectares (24,000 square kilometres) of forest cover in that period, about equivalent to the size of the central department of Cundinamarca that includes Bogotá, El Espectador reported on 30 August. The bodies found that in 1967 the country had 68, 223,717 hectares of forests - or 60 per cent of its entire area - and this dropped to 65,767,667 hectares in 2012, or 58 per cent of the country's surface. About 60 million hectares consisted of primary or secondary forests and the rest, woodlands interspersed with farmed land. The worst damage was done from the 1960s to the 1980s, the IGAC found. Caracol radio cited its head, Juan Antonio Nieto Escalante, as urging more efforts to protect the forest now, as the country's civil war winds down.

Salta in Argentina to ban plastic bags

The district of Salta in northern Argentina is phasing out the sale and use of plastic bags by the end of 2016 to curb pollution, the regional daily El Tribuno reported on 30 August. The daily stated that single-bag use had already fallen by 70 per cent since early 2016, when the municipality began discouraging their use in coordination with supermarkets. Their sale or distribution will be forbidden from 30 December, it stated, while shops and supermarkets were to starting selling and promoting the use of cloth or reusable bags from 1 September. Plastic, which takes hundreds of years or longer to disappear, has become one of the world's main pollutants, in spite of its utility.

lunes, 29 de agosto de 2016

Fighting with FARC formally "at an end" in Colombia

A bilateral and definitive ceasefire between the Colombian government and the FARC or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, began at midnight on 28-29 August, marking the beginning of the end of some 50 years of civil war pursuant to a recent peace agreement reached between both sides. The FARC's supreme leader, Timoleón Jiménez or Timochenko, ordered his troops to stop fighting speaking from a hotel in Havana on 28 August. President Juan Manuel Santos also expressed his delight, writing on Twitter that a "new history begins for Colombia on 29 August. We silenced the guns. The war with the FARC is over." A verification committee was now to check and ensure the ceasefire was being respected nationwide by both sides, Radio Santa Fe reported on 29 August. The state and the FARC were expected to sign a peace treaty between 20 and 26 September, Agence France-Presse cited the Interior Minister Juan Carlos Villegas as saying on 26 August. Colombia's smaller guerrilla force, the National Liberation Army (ELN) was separately "worried" by this peace and "differs" with the FARC over the contents of its accord, according to the newspaper El Espectador. Its commander, Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, reportedly sent the FARC chief a two-page letter praising the FARC's move to become a peaceful political entity but also stating his concern that the government would now turn its forces on the ELN, which have fewer troops than the FARC. Rodríguez, aka Gabino, stated he did not discern any intention on the government's part to make peace with the ELN. Five suspected ELN fighters were separately arrested in the district of Bagre in Antioquia, Colprensa and dailies reported on 28 August. They were associated with acts of extorsion used to finance the guerrillas.

jueves, 25 de agosto de 2016

Colombia and communist rebels announce "final" deal to end 50 years of fighting

Colombian media and the public hailed the announcement on 24 August that the government and envoys of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had ended their talks in Havana and agreed on an accord to end some 50 years of civil war in Colombia. Negotiators announced on 24 August that an agreement had been reached on six principal points after almost four years of talks, namely: on a comprehensive rural development policy, the peacetime political role of the FARC, the mechanics of ending fighting, curbing illegal drug production, compensation for victims and verification of peace and its approval with a referendum, Bogotá's Radio Santa Fe reported. Peace between the two sides was to be signed formally in early September, while President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón cited 2 October as the date of a national vote allowing Colombians to approve or reject it, Spain's RTVE reported. Colombians, he stated, would have the "last word" on the agreement. He thanked the countries that had accompanied the talks - Norway, Venezuela, Chile and the host Cuba - and the European Union for its support. Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro congratulated Colombians and reiterated his country's "full support for building peace." The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, also congratulated both sides for the "historic step." In Bogotá, people, from local residents to students and politicians, began celebrating the imminent accord late on 23 August. People gathered swiftly in the "hippies park" in the middle-class district of Chapinero, soon after networking websites reported the conclusion of talks that evening, El Espectador reported.

sábado, 13 de agosto de 2016

Uruguay to clamp down on free plastic bags

The government of Uruguay presented a bill to parliament in July to restrict the use of plastic bags and fight the massive land and sea pollution these cause. Bags are an oil-derived product that decompose over hundreds of years or longer, though beforehand they break into pieces or specks that are swallowed by wildlife, especially fish, when they do not choke animals in bigger pieces. Uruguayans reportedly use 345 plastic bags each a year, or a total of more than 1.17 billion bags a year nationwide, the daily El Observador cited a plastics industry representative at the Senate Environment Committee as saying. The government bill seeks to ban shops from handing out free bags from 2017, while restrictions and conditions would be imposed on bag imports, the daily reported on 29 July. Shops would also have to inform customers on the "responsible" use of bags and offer reusable bags for sale. The Finance Ministry was to regulate the pricing, mechanics and implementation of the law once approved, Spain's EFE agency reported on 28 July.

Venezuelan opponent to stay in jail, observers deplore ruling

The Caracas Appeals Court confirmed a 14-year jail sentence given to the conservative politician and government opponent Leopoldo López, held in 2014 during street protests and sentenced in September 2015 on charges of inciting violence. Opponents perceived the confirmation as politicized and duly reflecting the judiciary's loyalty to the socialist government of President Nicolás Maduro. López´s defence attorney wrote on Twitter that the appeals process could technically continue in two more court rooms, the Sala Penal and the Sala Constitucional, dependencies of the Supreme Court, though Spain's El País cited him as considering legal recourses as "exhausted" now. He stated that the latest court hearing, which began on 23 July, had been lengthy and "filled with irregularities" but at least allowed his team to "show the absolute nullity of the trial that unjustly condemned... López to 14 years... It is proven now that López's discourse is in no way violent and while combative, absolutely close to the constitution," the Caracas daily El Universal reported. López ally and former legislator María Corina Machado called the confirmation "monstrous,"  while the head of the Organization of Amerian States (OAS), Luis Almagro, described it as unjust and a "lost opportunity for reconciliation." The prisoner's wife, Lilian Tintori, insisted on Twitter that 2016 was the "year of change" in Venezuela. The opposition is pushing through a national vote to end President Maduro's mandate and hold general elections as soon as possible. The OAS urged Venezuela's government not to hamper or delay the referendum process, to which it stated it intended to send observers.

domingo, 26 de junio de 2016

FARC, Colombia sign ceasefire deal hailed as step to final peace

Negotiators of the Colombian government and the communist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed an agreement on 23 June on a bilateral ceasefire and the FARC's programmed disarmament, in a deal hailed worldwide as a crucial step toward a definitive end to decades of civil war. The draft agreement was signed in Havana, where the two sides have been negotiating over peace since 2012, by President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón and the FARC's supreme leader, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (aka Timoleón Jiménez or Timochenko), as hundreds watched on a giant screen put up in central Bogotá, Agence France-Presse reported. It cited President Santos as suggesting that a final treaty could be signed by 20 July, after which the sides would begin implementing the deal. Its provisions included concentrating some 7,000 FARC guerrillas in 20-23 sub-districts for disarmament and demobilization, but also a commitment on the state's part to clamp down on criminal gangs the FARC insist are revived versions of right-wing paramilitary groups. Their targets are usually left-wing activists and politicians and human rights or environmental activists - and might plausibly include members of the FARC once they return to civilian life. Former president and current Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who has opposed the peace talks, observed that the government was effectively allowing the "drug cartel" FARC to avoid punishment for its crimes and even turning them into semi-official (paraestatal) crime-fighters or vigilantes. Colombians were hoping the deal would bring peace and security, and boost the economy as promised, after more than 50 years of fighting that has fuelled land-grabbing, violence, gang crime and impunity, though many were for now cautious over its immediate benefits, Spain's El Mundo observed on 23 June.

sábado, 7 de mayo de 2016

New York shops to charge for plastic bags

New York joined the ranks of 150 U.S. cities by approving on 5 May an initiative against shops handing out free plastic bags, in a bid reduce massive plastic pollution on land and sea, the Associated Press reported. The city council voted in a resolution asking most shops to charge at least five cents per bag - and they can keep the money - to curb demand. Local authorities were cited as putting the number of plastic bags thrown out annually at 10 billion, or 19,000 a minute, though the report did not immediately specify if that was in New York or nationwide. The law is to enter into force on 1 October once promulgated by the mayor, Bill de Blasio. Mr de Blasio has reportedly pledged to eliminate the city's trash by 2030.

jueves, 14 de abril de 2016

Colombians being urged to cut back on plastic bags

Colombian authorities were reported on 12 April as considering moves to discourage, though apparently not eliminate, the use of free plastic bags at stores and supermarkets. Plastic bags are one of a range of synthetic items piling up on land and sea and harming nature and animals by various means. The government was to ban smaller plastic bags that are easily ripped from 29 April, and define the quality and strength of the plastic bags shops should provide their customers. The new norms and a publicity campaign launched that day were intended to reduce the 288 bags every Colombian is thought to use annually, or more than 21,000 in a lifetime of 73 years, El Tiempo reported. The country's population was just over 50 million in 2015. Colombia's Environment Minister Gabriel Vallejo López said the norms would first apply to bigger stores, which should provide unspecified bagging alternatives. "It is not about eliminating use of bags, but making rational use of" them, he said. The move seemed timid compared to those of other countries that have banned bags, but was still reported on some websites to have caused cabinet divisions. Vallejo indicated on 12 April at the launch of the Reembólsale al planeta campaign ("Rebag the world"), that Colombia would not presently emulate moves seen in some European countries to charge for plastic bags.

miércoles, 27 de enero de 2016

Mexican NGO lists "50 most violent cities" of 2015

The Citizens' Council for Public Security and Penal Justice, a Mexican non-governmental organization that monitors crime, recently issued its 2015 statistics on criminal killings in big cities worldwide, citing the Venezuelan capital Caracas as the city with most homicides in 2015. Media noted how Caracas has managed to supplant San Pedro Sula in Honduras, which for four years was cited as the most murderous of all cities. The findings corroborate the regular, and dire, reports on worsening crime in Venezuela, the incipient results of the Honduran government's fight against crime, and the steady fall in murders reported across Colombia in recent years. The website summarised its findings with a list of 50 cities of 300,000 or more inhabitants with most homicides expressed as a rate of killings per 100,000 inhabitants, and provided a longer report for downloading in Pdf format. Caracas had a rate of 119.87 homicides/100,000 inhabitants, followed by San Pedro Sula with 111.03, San Salvador with 108.54, Acapulco 104.73 and Maturín in Venezuela with 86.45. Of the 50 "most violent cities in the world" in 2015, 21 were in Brazil, it noted, and eight in Venezuela, though the rate, it clarified, is higher in Venezuela than in Brazil. The average rate of homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in Venezuelan cities of more than 300,000 residents was 74.65, and Brazil's, 46.31, it noted. The list of 50 excluded emblematic cities like Mexico City, Bogotá and Medellín, and included with respective rates/100,000 inhabitants:

6. Central District (Tegucicalpa), Honduras, population 1,199,802 (73.51)
10. Cali, Colombia, population 2,369,821 (64.27)
17. Culiacán, Mexico, pop. 923,546 (56.09)
25. Guatemala City, pop. 3,239,185 (47.17)
28. Detroit, pop. 672,193 (43.89)
29. New Orleans, pop. 395,710 (41.44)
35. Tijuana, Mexico, pop. 1,708,679 (39.09)
43. Porto Alegre, Brazil, pop. 4,258,926 (34.73)
44. Curitiba, Brazil, pop. 3,230,061 (34.71)
50. Obregón, Mexico, pop. 318,184 (28.29)

jueves, 14 de enero de 2016

Venezuelan Supreme Court, government chip away at opposition's legislative powers

The Venezuelan opposition in control of parliament has had to dismiss three of its legislators under government and Supreme Court pressures, losing thus the two-thirds majority that would have given it maximum legislative powers, media reported on 13 January. The Supreme Court suspended the three legislators in early January for alleged voting irregularities in the 6 December parliamentary elections, though the opposition accuses it of simply doing the socialist government's political bidding. Initially ignoring the Court's instructions and swearing them into office, parliament reconsidered its position when threatened with the prospect of the Supreme Court nullifying all its acts and effectively stripping it of all power. Some pro-government MPs suggested the Court should become a provisional legislature if parliament insisted on maintaining the three disputed seats. The majority coalition was now left with 109 of 167 legislative seats and retained ample legislative powers. Speaker of parliament Henry Ramos Allup described parliament's decision as a "tactical" retreat, but accused the government and its allies of "disobeying the popular will" with the ploy, responding to the charges that parliament was disobeying the laws by keeping the three members. They cannot "come up with votes" Ramos wrote on the website Twitter, so they "come up with rulings." The fate of the three seats was unclear but the liberal majority could not for now pass fundamental state laws, change the constitution or sack senior officials like Supreme Court magistrates.

lunes, 11 de enero de 2016

Colombian police report lowest homicide figures in decades

Colombia's senior policeman, General Rodolfo Palomino, gave 12,540 as the number of homicides in the country in 2015, saying this was five per cent below the figure of 13,200 for 2014, Radio Santa Fe reported on 5 January. This effectively meant a fall in homicide rates for three years running, as he said that the relevant figure for 2014 was itself "more than 10 per cent" below that of 2013. The figure gave a nationwide homicide rate in 2015 of 25.5 per 100,000 inhabitants. Criminal killings also fell slightly in the capital Bogotá that year, with 10 fewer homicides than in 2014. The capital's police chief, General Hoover Alfredo Penilla Romero gave 1,334 as the number of homicides registerd there between 1 January and 27 December, El Espectador reported on 30 December. That gave a rate of 17.4 homicides per 100,000 residents, apparently the lowest in 30 years and following the general trend of gradual decline in extreme violence in Bogotá. The city's acting mayoress at the time, Gloria Flórez Schneider attributed this in part to a crackdown on carrying weapons and even sharp items.

jueves, 7 de enero de 2016

Venezuelan cabinet reshuffled, parliament orders Chávez portraits removed

The broadcaster Globovisión listed on 7 January the names of the new Venezuelan cabinet formally sworne in the day before before President Nicolás Maduro. The reshuffle was in response to the socialist government's defeat in the 6 December parliamentary elections, but also a bid to address the country's economic problems. A former Caracas mayor and state governor Aristóbulo Isturiz was named Executive Vice-President. One newly-elected opposition parliamentarian criticized the addition of four ministries to the government "bandwagon," at a time of dire economic conditions for ordinary Venezuelans and reduced government revenues. The newly elected, opposition-dominated parliament in turn began its legislative term to 2021 on 5 January. The assembly formalized its roster of members with 112 opposition members and 54 pro-government parliamentarians, in spite of court action by the government to have disqualified three opposition MPs, allegedly for their fraudulent election. Removing the three would reduce the size of the opposition's majority and could curb its legislative powers. The new Speaker of parliament, Henry Ramos Allup, insisted on Twitter that the opposition was standing firm against this challenge whose outcome was not yet clear. His predecessor, the socialist legislator Diosdado Cabello, effecively accused the new majority of breaking the laws and "doing what they want," by holding onto the three seats. The country's Supreme Court - which the opposition denounces as obedient to the president - had ordered the seats provisionally suspended on 30 December. Parliament caused a stir with one of its first acts on 6 January, the removal of portraits of the late socialist leader Hugo Chávez Frías, and a computerized portrait of the 19th century revolutionary Simón Bolívar from the building. The latter was a "reconstruction" of Bolívar's face, which Chávez had made and printed out in 2012.

Shootouts, shootings kill over 20 around Venezuela

At least 20 were killed around Venezuela in murders or in shootouts between police and suspected criminals through 4-6 January, three days whose violence was typical of the entire first week of 2016. On 5 January police operations against a criminal gang east of Caracas provoked two shootouts, one at the AB Beach hotel in Higuerote and another in La Troja further south, which killed four suspects, El Universal reported. Police shot dead eight suspected gangsters in two or more gun fights on 6 January in Petare, in the district of Sucre in the state of Miranda. These were identified in several papers as members of a gang, two of whose members police had shot on 3 January. Police went looking for the remainder of that gang, and found them at the two's funeral on 6 January. The daily also reported police shooting dead four suspects in the state of Zulia on 5 January. Late on 4 January, gunmen riding bikes shot dead five men playing a card game outside, in La Rinconada in southern Caracas. The dead included an army sergeant and a pastry chef, El Universal reported. In the capital's Catia neighbourhood, two thieves were shot dead by a man they had robbed as they left the scene, early on 5 January. Witnesses said he also fled, presumably to avoid arrest, El Nacional reported. The same day, a councilman for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela was shot 20 times while driving in Miranda in the state of Zulia. According to a local daily La Verdad, he had received death threats after dismissing several local officials following the government's election defeat on 6 December, El Universal reported. Overall, in the first five or six days of January, "at least" 80 bodies were counted as taken to the main Caracas morgue, Bello Monte. Most bodies taken there are believed to be of crime victims in and around Caracas.

miércoles, 6 de enero de 2016

Murders reach a record in Venezuela in 2015

With a record 27,875 reported homicides in 2015, Venezuela remained that year one of the most violent states of the Americas and the setting of 19 per cent of the 145,000 homicides committed across the continent. The Venezuelan Crime Observatory (OVV), which gave the figures, expressed the figure as giving a homicide rate for 2015 of 90 per 100,000 inhabitants, and cited worsening economic conditions as one reason for proliferating crime in 2015, the Diario de las Américas reported on 29 December. The NGO's figures showed that total murders in Venezuela began to exceed 20,000 a year from 2012 when they reached 21,692. The figure given for 2014 was 24,980, even as similar indices were declining in other Latin American states. OVV also cited the "deterioration" and politicization of security forces, and an increase in private security as other factors boosting violence. In and around the capital Caracas, the number of criminal killings in 2015 was likely a little below or around 5,000, based on the number of corpses taken to the main morgue, Bello Monte. The newspaper El Universal cited on 3 January unnamed sources in the criminal police force CICPC, as estimating that 90 per cent of bodies taken to Bello Monte were of victims of violence, and reported 5,258 as the total of corpses brought in in 2015. The figure for 2014 was 5,059. December is cited as traditionally the most violent month of the year, in part for increased drunkenness in the final days of the month. The body count in Greater Caracas for December 2015 was given as 488 (with 90 per cent estimated to be victims of violence), with March and May following as the most murderous months, respectively with 485 and 468 bodies brought then into Bello Monte. Crime resiliently continued into the new year, as El Universal reported 24 bodies being brought into Bello Monte on 1 and 2 January (to midday).

martes, 29 de diciembre de 2015

Honduran officials, university welcome significant fall in homicide rates

Honduran officials were confident the country would have fewer criminal deaths in 2015 than it did in 2014, confirming a downward trend in violent crime that has apparently coincided with the presidency of the conservative President Juan Orlando Hernández. The country's police authorities gave the projected figure of 5,039 homicides for all of 2015, 852 less than 5,891, the figure given for all homicides reported for 2014, La Prensa reported on 28 December. The projection meant a 14.4 per cent drop in the homicides rate in 2015, leaving a daily rate of 13.8 this year, compared to 14 in 2014. The daily cited 20 as the daily murder rate in 2011-12. The figures were taken from the Security ministry and the National Autonomous University's (UNAH) criminal studies center, the Observatorio de la Violencia. President Hernández was reported as saying he was "happy but not yet satisfied" with this fall; he had promised to fight crime when campaigning in late 2013. Separately, the head of the UNAH crime observatory Migdonia Ayestas was cited on 28 December as giving a homicide rate of 61 per 100,000 inhabitants nationwide for 2015, down from a rate of about 68 in 2014. She concurred with the government that Honduras was seeing a significant fall in homicides rate, though some figures she cited appeared to differ from those of authorities. The daily Proceso cited her as giving 5,935 as the number of all reported homicides in Honduras from January "until November" 2014, which apparently exceeded the above figure (5,891) for the year. She said the reduction of homicide rates was a unique achievement; she said "no country in the world has done this as Honduras has."

sábado, 26 de diciembre de 2015

"Christmas murders" almost halved in Colombia, police say

Police in Colombia noticed a 48 per cent fall in homicides committed nationwide through Christmas Eve, or 31 fewer violent deaths compared to the same evening in 2014, Radio Santa Fe reported. The broadcaster cited authorities as attributing 42 per cent of such killings to "intolerance," which covers a range of situations including drunken brawls. The government imposed a ban on carrying firearms on 23 December, which the Defence Ministry stated would remain in force until the new year. This was credited for at least a degree of increased security, and allowed policemen present in shopping centers and public places to confiscate 51 firearms. In the north-central city of Medellín and its environs, police reported that nobody was killed on Christmas Eve, though the number of brawls doubled from 76 reported that evening in 2014 to 153 this year. These too were attributed to causes including drunkenness and family disputes, the broadcaster Caracol reported on 25 December. Nationwide, police detained 244 people for different offences and 698 people were confined in police stations or state premises as precautionary measures "before high levels of excitement," Radio Santa Fe reported.

viernes, 25 de diciembre de 2015

Christmas brings trash to Mexico City

Mexico City authorities estimated the city would generate about 4,200 tons of trash on Christmas Eve in addition to roughly 12,800 tons the megalopolis produces daily, Excelsior reported on 25 December. Mexico City has in past years had problems disposing of its daily household waste, which includes significant amounts of plastic, very little of which is separated at source. An environmental officer from the city's Venustiano Carranza sector, Elena Cortés, observed that much of this extra waste would consist of electronic components and batteries, which she stated had to be disposed of correctly and taken to recycling centers. According to one study cited in Excelsior, every resident of Mexico City used on average 12.6 batteries a year. The city and its environs are estimated to have about 20 million inhabitants. Ahead of Christmas, the city government and its Environment office launched a campaign urging people to reduce their trash, especially by avoiding excess packaging and ribbons for presents, the Diario de México reported on 20 December, citing Notimex. The campaign pointed out that people generated 30 per cent more trash over Christmas and 35 per cent of that consisted of packaging. In normal conditions, Mexico City reportedly produces 12,816,000 tons of trash daily, according to the 2013 Solid Waste Inventory. The city's website examines in parts the reasons for "so much waste" being produced in the Mexican capital.

lunes, 14 de diciembre de 2015

Thirteen "said killed" in Caracas police raids

Venezuelan police and agents may have killed 13 suspects during a vast operation against drug dealing and armed theft in south-western Caracas on 11 December, though officials did not confirm the number. The daily El Universal provided the figure citing "unofficial sources inside the security forces," observing that the Interior Minister Gustavo González López counted only one person as killed, identified as a man sought in relation with a policewoman's killing. The sweep, called a People's Liberation Operation and involving 2,430 officers and ministry staff, covered seven localities including Cota 905, 1 de Mayo, El Cementerio and Barrio el 70. The operation was part of a wider anti-crime push begun in July, the online daily 2001 reported. The capital has one of the highest crime rates in the Americas. Another national daily, El Nacional, reported that some 184 bodies had been taken to the Bello Monte morgue in Caracas in the period 1-13 December, with 31 bodies arriving on the weekend of 11-13 December. The count is taken as an informal indicator of violent deaths in the capital.

jueves, 10 de diciembre de 2015

Venezuela's new parliamentarians set on passing an amnesty law

Venezuelan politicians opposed to the government of President Nicolás Maduro were insisting he could not block an amnesty law the opposition intends to approve in the next parliament, as he threatened to on 8 December. The president's comments were an early indication he was disinclined to cooperate with the opposition-dominated parliament, due to start working on 5 January. But Delsa Solórzano, a member-elect from Un Nuevo Tiempo, one of the parties in the opposition coalition, said the law would be approved soon after parliament starts working, the online daily TalCual reported on 10 December. She said the constitution allowed parliament - where the opposition will have a two-thirds majority - to promulgate laws rejected by the president. The amnesty, she said, would affect 80 detainees and was part of her coalition's bid to bring "reconciliation" to Venezuela; she insisted there would be careful vetting to ensure felons were not freed. The daily cited a leading government opponent, the governor of the state of Miranda Henrique Capriles as saying that the president "could not" block the law. President Maduro maintained in turn his defiant discourse. He declared on 9 December that there would be no "surrender" to the Right, and the "revolution is not over... they are threatening to deprive the people of its benefits. We are going to end this... economic war," state television reported. He also said prosecutors must investigate allegations of vote buying by the opposition, "because there is proof for it." The evidence cited was a tape recording of an opposition politician discussing money for votes with an unnamed individual, dubbed pollo (chicken). Maduro earlier accused the opposition of using "economic warfare" to win the elections, "like the bad guys."

miércoles, 9 de diciembre de 2015

Opposition wins decisive majority in Venezuelan parliament

Venezuela's opposition coalition Table of Democratic Unity (MUD) attributed to itself 112 of the 167 seats in parliament following its victory in the legislative elections of 6 December, though the figure had yet to be definitively confirmed. It indicated in any case an opposition victory far greater than many had dared hope for, or feared, and would in theory give MUD enough seats to vote in laws to change the Venezuelan polity. After initially accepting the opposition's victory, President Nicolás Maduro announced he would reject any law to free jailed dissidents, an initiative likely to be one of the new parliament's legislative priorities. The newspaper El Universal cited MUD's executive secretary, Jesús Torrealba as saying on 7 or 8 December that the electoral authority was confusing people by giving MUD only 107 seats, when three "indigenous" seats and two other, indeterminate seats were clearly with MUD. The opposition separately stated that its intention to pass a law to free political detainees was not just for politicians like Leopoldo López, but also indigenous and trade union personalities believed jailed for criticizing the socialist government. President Maduro said on 8 December he would oppose any such a law, saying those allegedly behind the February 2014 demonstrations had to do jail time for the harm done. "Let me say as head of state... I won't accept any Amnesty Law, because they violated human rights... they can send me a thousand laws, but those who kill the people must be judged and must pay," he said on the state-run Venezolana de Televisión.

lunes, 29 de junio de 2015

FARC provoke massive oil spill in south-western Colombia

Colombians were outraged in late June by the consequences of a 22 June guerrilla attack on a pipeline, which caused thousands of barrels of oil to pour into the river Mira in the district of Tumaco. The hashtag Environmental Holocaust was created on Twitter to show pictures of oil streaming down the river toward the Pacific coast, after two suspected fighters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) bombed part of the Transandino pipeline. The explosion was estimated to have spilled the equivalent of some 10,000 barrels of crude into the area, as the review Semana observed on 27 June that the harm done was "irreparable" in spite of efforts by locals and the firm Ecopetrol to clean up and repair the pipeline. The spill was bad enough to prompt Colombian environmentalists, whom Semana described as usually reluctant to condemn FARC actions for their own left-wing sympathies, to publicly urge the sides in the civil conflict to leave the environment alone. President Juan Manuel Santos separately told El Tiempo newspaper that the FARC had provoked "possibly the worst" environmental disaster in Colombia's history. He visited the area on 26 June with ministers including the environment minister who reportedly wept on seeing the landscape. Separately, the army arrested eight suspected FARC fighters in the districts of Ipiales and Roberto Payán in the Nariño department, Semana reported on 28 June, citing Agence France-Presse. The report did not mention the detained as suspects in the pipeline attack.

sábado, 27 de junio de 2015

Venezuelan opposition told to field more women in December polls

Venezuela's opposition coalition Table of Democratic Unity (MUD), had to begin changing its recently published list of candidates for December's parliamentary polls on 26 June, after the election authority declared lists must include an equal number of men and women. Opponents criticized the move as unconstitutional, suspect in its timing and likely designed to cause dismay among opposition voters. MUD would nevertheless adjust its lists while waiting for full details of the order to emerge, El Universal reported. One of MUD's candidates, José Manuel Olivares, said the opposition would not be deterred by the move, which he said illustrated how state institutions were subservient to the executive branch. He said that after "six months of silence," President Nicolás Maduro had most probably "phoned" the head of the state electoral agency Tibisay Lucena, to tell her to announce the decision, a day after MUD publicized its initial list. "If they think this will destabilize the democratic alternative, I have to say they are quite mistaken," MUD's website reported him as saying in Caracas. It appeared that in spite of the president's order, Venezuelan election laws did not require gender equality in election lists. The requirement was dropped in 2000 - with women being required to constitute no less than 30 per cent of lists - though electoral bodies had since urged parties to respect the principle, El Universal reported. Separately, President Maduro vowed on his Twitter account on 27 June that "at least half" the socialist list would consist of young people. He was separately reported as qualifying the opposition list as "dinosaur candidacies."

jueves, 25 de junio de 2015

Venezuelan opponents ready their candidates for polls

Venezuela's coalition of opposition parties, the Table of Democratic Unity (MUD), presented on 24 June its list of candidates for parliamentary elections scheduled for 6 December 2015, while comments by its members suggested a dose of confidence that the opposition could win a majority of seats. The next legislature would have 167 members chosen in 87 electoral districts, El Carabobeño and EFE reported. MUD's candidates were presented by its executive director Jesús Torrealba, who said they had been chosen through agreements among parties including Popular Will (VP, Voluntad Popular), Proyecto Venezuela (PV) and Justice First (PJ, Primero Justicia), El Universal newspaper reported on 25 June. They would include the former legislator María Corina Machado, who was forced to abandon her seat in 2014, and the former mayor and detainee Daniel Ceballos. Torrealba said choosing candidates through pacts was perfectly democratic, responding to criticisms about the opposition's failure to hold primaries. He promised a campaign focused on social and economic problems, not "jingles and songs." One of VP's national coordinators, Freddy Guevara, was separately reported to predict a possible opposition victory. He said in a radio interview that winning control of parliament was a first step that would "open the doors" to change in Venezuela, El Nacional reported. The ruling Socialist Party of Venezuela was in turn to hold primary elections to pick its candidates on 28 June. President Nicolás Maduro separately taunted the opposition and its hopes on 24 June and asked at a speech in Caracas, "What do you think, that the revolution will end on 6 December?" Press and media had earlier cited him as vaguely warning that his supporters would take their fight "to the streets" if the opposition took control of parliament.

martes, 23 de junio de 2015

Colombian president changes his defence minister

Luis Carlos Villegas Echeverri became Colombia's defence minister on 22 June, replacing Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno, who was appointed as Colombia's new ambassador to the United States. The newspaper El Espectador observed that the new minister, a lawyer and former businessman, was considered a skilled negotiator able to "manage various interests" in the country at a time when the state was negotiating with and fighting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). It described the outgoing minister as too closely associated with a military response to the FARC and with security policies associated with the former conservative president, Álvaro Uribe. President Juan Manuel Santos commented on his successor's "diplomatic" and "managerial" skills and his ability to "talk while making war," which he said was presently the quickest way to end the civil conflict in Colombia. Mr Santos also appointed María Lorena Gutiérrez Minister of the Presidency, a post created under his government, in place of Néstor Humberto Martínez. The position was described in 2014 as designed to coordinate the work of ministers and keep a tab on the legislative agenda.

Venezuela to hold parliamentary polls on 6 December

Venezuelan authorities set 6 December as the date of their country's next parliamentary elections, a decision welcomed by leading opponents apparently confident of their success and keen to reduce the powers of the socialist President Nicolás Maduro. The government nevertheless was apparently not to invite foreign observers like the Organisation of American States (OAS) or the European Union, Voice of America reported on 23 June. The broadcaster cited the head of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, as stating however that Venezuela would allow members of UNASUR - a grouping of states more sympathetic to Venezuela's socialist regime - to "accompany" the process, observing that this was far more restricted than "observing" polls. That involves checking the electoral process and pre-electoral conditions weeks or months before the actual voting day. One of the country's leading conservative opponents, the former legislator María Corina Machado, wrote on her Twitter account that it was no surprise the regime did not want observers given the "very harsh" reports written by the EU and OAS in their "last electoral mission" in Venezuela, whose date was not specified. Venezuela last held parliamentary polls in September 2010. Mitzy Ledezma, wife of Antonio Ledezma, the liberal mayor of Caracas presently under house arrest on subversion charges, wrote on her husband's Twitter page that opponents must now fight to have observers from the OAS or EU. The governor of the northern state of Miranda and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, welcomed the electoral announcement also writing on Twitter, and observed there was "finally" a date allowing Venezuelans to "make it," presumably meaning make political changes. Candidacies were to be registered between 3 and 7 August, and campaigning would be from 13 November to midnight on 3 December, VOA reported.

sábado, 20 de junio de 2015

Gunfight kills 10 in northern Mexico, Police hold 21 in state of Tamaulipas

A gunfight between presumed criminal gangs or an assault, left "at least 10" dead in García in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León, CNN reported on 19 June, citing state officials. The chief prosecutor of Nuevo León Javier Flores said seven kilograms of drugs and guns were left on site after the shootout, which suggested to investigators that this could have been a clash between criminals, though no gangs were named. Seven of the dead were found where the gunfight occurred - premises belonging to the brewers Corona - and three died later in hospital, CNN reported. The newspaper Milenio reported this as an assault on the premises wherein gangsters demanded money from employees before executing them. On 17 June, CNN reported the arrests of 21 suspected criminals in the district of Río Bravo in Tamaulipas. The detainees included a "right-hand man" of the local gang chief though officials did not name any cartel or gang. The arrests were made at a safe house that yielded 110 kilograms of marijuana, 10 rifles, ammunition and 800 litres of stolen gasoline. Several media outlets were also reporting moves by U.S. authorities to arrest and prosecute the former governor of Tamaulipas Eugenio Hernández Flores for alleged money-laundering and ties to the Zetas drug cartel. A US federal court ordered Mr Hernández and a brother-in-law arrested on 27 May, charging them with illegal activities including hiding bribes paid by the Zetas when Hernández was governor from 2005 to 2010, Milenio reported on 19 June. He was cited as telling the newspaper Reforma that his money in the United States - some four million dollars or more - was "legally" acquired over 25 years before he became governor.

FARC kill five agents in attacks in Colombia, 20 rebels held

An ambush by communist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) killed four soldiers and injured four in a rural part of Cartagena de Chairá in southern Colombia, Radio Santa Fe reported on 18 June. This was one of several actions undertaken by the FARC in southern Colombia. The soldiers were killed by suspected members of Front 63 who detonated explosives planted earlier in the locality of Santafé del Caguán in that distrit. The FARC separately killed a police officer during a mortar attack on a police station in Lejanía in the department of Meta, Radio Santa Fe reported on 19 June. The broadcaster cited this as one of several attacks in the departments of Meta and Nariño, which injured at least nine. Early on 19 June, police and troops arrested 20 purported FARC rebels including a captain dubbed Pupilo, sought for suspected involvement in several acts of sabotage and "terrorist actions" in the southern department of Nariño. The suspects, cited as members of the Daniel Aldana mobile column, were caught in the countryside of the district of Tumaco after 18 months of intelligence work, the Cali newspaper El País reported.