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.

lunes, 15 de junio de 2015

Colombian troops shoot rebel chief, two policemen killed

Colombian authorities announced on 14 June the killing of "one of the top commanders" of the Marxist rebel force National Liberation Army (ELN), in fighting in the district of Segovia in Antioquia. The dead man was identified as Marquitos, a member of the ELN politburo, head of the Darío Ramírez Castro Front and in direct command of some 260 fighters active in the departments of Bolívar and Antioquia, El Espectador reported on 15 June. Marquitos was thought involved in activities including kidnappings, extortion from mining firms, illegal mining and drug trafficking, the daily and the defence ministry reported. The Minister of Defence Juan Carlos Pinzón qualified the killing as one of the "most important blows to" the ELN in recent years. The ministry separatedly offered a cash reward for tips leading to the arrests of the killers of a police colonel and a policeman, possibly executed after being ambushed by suspected members of Front 48 of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia's main communist guerrilla force. The FARC are currently engaged in protracted peace talks with the state in Havana. The two policemen were shot on 12 or 13 June while travelling in civilian clothes between Córdoba and Ipiales, in the department of Nariño, Radio Santa Fe reported. In the southern department of Guaviare on 14 June, troops found and destroyed 109 mines hidden in a purported FARC camp, Radio Santa Fe reported. The army declared the mines were likely to have been laid on a road leading to the village of Nueva Colombia south of the departmental capital, San José del Guaviare.

sábado, 13 de junio de 2015

Bogotá police to confiscate sharp items on streets, to curb attacks

Authorities in Bogota will confiscate knives and sharp items found in public, and admonish and possibly fine people found with potentially harmful items, in response to a reported rise in armed attacks in Bogotá. The city issued a decree on 11 June instructing police to detain anyone found with such items for six hours and explain to them how these could be dangerous even if carried in self-defence, El Tiempo reported on 12 June. Detained persons would have to sign a pledge of good conduct up to two times, then face a fine if found a third time with such items, Radio Santa Fe reported. The Metropolitan Police chief Humberto Guatibonza was cited as saying that police were seeing more attacks with blunt instruments in the capital, attributed to the unrestricted sale of potentially dangerous artefacts and a clampdown on carrying firearms since 2012. That had effectively forced criminals to use blunt weapons in violent thefts, he said. Police declared they had confisctated 180,000 blunt weapons of various types so far this year, and would proceed to look for such items in parks and public transportation, El Tiempo reported. The city government separately reported on 12 June that it was carrying out security checks on the city's Transmilenio bus network, and had so far detained 10 people for thefts and 18 for jumping onto buses without paying.

viernes, 12 de junio de 2015

Drought forces Puerto Rico to cut off water in capital most days

Puerto Rico imposed strict water rationing in the capital San Juan from 10 June, following months of drought that had already provoked intermittent cuts in the water supply. Several papers were urging people to stop wasting water. The "greater part of the" capital now had water every three days, or household water was to be cut off for 48 hours every three days, for "up to several months," Spain's EFE news agency cited the head of the water authority Alberto Lázaro as saying. He warned that current shortages could be as bad as 1994, when they lasted for five months. Restrictions were to affect 200,000 users or households whose water came from the Carraízo dam outside the capital, while similar restrictions were to be imposed on "several districts" in the northern part of the island, which has a total population of 3.6 million, Colombia's El Espectador and EFE reported. The drought was said to be possibly due to the El Niño effect, a regional weather condition, and shortages were attributed to failure to properly dredge and maintain dams, which had reduced their storage capacity, EFE observed. The website Primera Hora cited a deputy-head of the water authority as saying on 11 June that some dredging of Carraízo was envisaged by the end of June. He said he hoped the 48-hour restrictions would balance water leaving and entering the dam, which he said was about 40 million gallons a day presently. He contrasted this with amounts entering dams in the western part of Puerto Rico, which were now in excess of 200 million gallons a day, mainly because "it keeps raining" in that part of the island. The daily El Vocero de Puerto Rico carried on 12 June tips on using water responsibly, advising people in the capital not to throw polluting chemical substances into the sink or toilet, not use water to defrost foods and to turn off the tap when brushing teeth. Just rinsing in a shower, it observed, could typically use between two and five gallons (7.5-18 litres) of water.

martes, 9 de junio de 2015

Reports show preliminary Mexican poll results

Preliminary results for Mexico's legislative elections held on 7 June revealed, with just over 93 per cent of votes counted, that the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was the most voted party followed by the conservative National Action Party (PAN), as observers had anticipated. INE's website and Canal Once showed on 9 June that the PRI had thus far garnered 10.660,241 votes (29.1 per cent of all votes counted) for the national assembly, PAN 7,651,270 votes (20.89 per cent), the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) 3,967,636 votes (10.83 per cent), Morena, the party of the former PRD leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador 3,068,086 votes and the Green Party allied to PRI 2,587,888. The Citizens Movement, a protest party similar to European formations like Podemos, had won 2,196,850 votes (5.99 per cent of votes counted by 9 June). Also on 9 June, the daily Excelsior put its estimate of the parliamentary seats preliminary results would give the parties, which showed 158 seats going to the PRI/Green alliance, 25 to PRI alone, 56 for PAN, 11 for Citizens and 14 for Morena. The 7 June elections were also for the capital's assembly and its 16 delegational or district mayors, and for nine state governorates. Excelsior showed PRI gubernatorial candidates as ahead in five states.

miércoles, 3 de junio de 2015

Honduran officials see steady decline in murders

Honduran officials stated on 1 June that strategies implemented by the conservative government of Juan Orlando Hernández had reduced criminal killings in Honduras, home to some of the continent's most violent gangs, and figures showed the "current" homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants to be 65.55, La Prensa newspaper reported. The figures were given at a press conference or presentation in Tegucicalpa, attended by the Security Minister Julián Pacheco Tinoco. A block chart at the presentation, seen in a picture on La Prensa's website, showed homicide rates per 100,000 Hondurans and total registered homicides every year from 2007 to 2014. The chart showed a rise in the homicide rate from 49.9/100,000 inhabitants in 2007, to 57.9 in 2008, 77.5 in 2010 (6,236 homicides that year), and reaching a peak of 86.5 in 2011 (7,104 homicides) before starting to decline toward a rate of 67.52 in 2014. Mr. Hernández had vowed a tough stance on crime before taking office in early 2014. The paper cited official figures as indicating 2,141 homicides nationwide from 1 January to 31 May 2015, or "402 killings fewer" than for the same days in 2014. Most killings in 2015 were reported as concentrated in the departments of Cortés (with 636 "violent deaths"), Francisco Morazán (449), Atlántida and Yoro, while the most violent districts were cited as the capital (390), San Pedro Sula (383), La Ceiba (87) and Choloma (76).

Ninety per cent of Lima residents fear crime, with "250 thefts a day"

A third of all residents of the Peruvian capital Lima have been victims of "some crime in the last year," and the judiciary recently revealed "rising" crime figures that led one daily to suggest it was becoming "uncontrollable." Peru 21 cited the Public Ministry or state prosecution service on 2 June as counting more "contract killings" and extortion in the capital, though figures were not given. State prosecutors published the figure of more than 29,480 thefts or muggings this year in the capital, for a population of just over 9.75 million. This meant about 250 thefts or muggings daily, while nine out of 10 Lima inhabitants were described as living in fear of crime, El Comercio reported. Districts with the highest crime figures were  listed as including the historic district (Cercado de Lima), Callao, San Juan de Lurigancho, Ate, La Victoria and Santa Anita, though papers did not provide figures.

martes, 2 de junio de 2015

May cited as El Salvador's "most violent month" in 20 years

Coroners in El Salvador counted no less than 641 murder victims nationwide in May, or 21 killings a day, indicating the return of lawlessness and gang rule to the Central American republic after a relative lull in violence over 2012-13. June was beginning "with same the tendency," the website Elsalvador.com stated on 1 June. El Salvador's El Mundo newspaper reported 19 killings nationwide, "within 12 hours" on 1 June. In a report from 31 May, Elsalvador.com observed that May 2015 would be recorded as "the most violent month of the past 20 years." The website cited the head of the state Legal Medicine department José Miguel Fortín Magaña, as saying that it was not for his agency to "attack" the government of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén for this apparent rise in violence in his first year in office. Crime was in any case already increasing by June 2014 when Mr Sánchez took office, as street gangs had effectively ended a ceasefire that sent killings, though not all crimes, plummeting for a period. The website separately quoted the national police chief as saying that the gangs were now deliberating increasing killings to intimidate the government. Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde said at an unspecified location that gangs had recently decided to "liquidate" anyone not doing their bidding, including gang members trying to flee these structures or failing to effectively charge extortion money. He did not immediatley specify how he knew this, and doubt was discernible on 31 May in comments made by the Auxiliary Archbishop of San Salvador, Gregorio Rosa Chávez, who questioned the usefulness of killing statistics. These he said, did not indicate who had been murdered by criminals, and which of the dead were themselves criminals killed in rivalries or infighting. The Church was among parties that expressed skepticism in 2013 about the sincerity of the gangs' ceasefire. On 30 May President Sánchez said he was "concerned" that the media were suggesting his government was sitting by with its "arms crossed" and doing nothing about crime. La Prensa Gráfica cited him as telling a gathering in San Juan Opico that the government had "dismantled" 200 criminal gangs and jailed 10,000 criminals, though details were not given.

lunes, 1 de junio de 2015

About "15 killings a day" in Caracas in May, March far more violent

The Venezuelan newspaper El Universal has reported "a total of 364" killings or violent deaths in Greater Caracas between 1 and 25 May, equivalent to "almost 15 killings a day." Venezuela's capital has in recent years become one of the world's most violent cities, and the country has several cities with high crime rates. Such figures are often obtained informally and for the capital, bodies brought into the Bello Monte morgue are taken as an indicator of killings. The government has sought to keep a lid on crime figures and often accused opposition media of sowing fear in the population. The figure for the days cited in May was inferior to those given for preceding months, though killings can increase dramatically within hours, especially at weekends. The website Informe 21 cited 420 killings in Greater Caracas in February, and several websites reported no less than 453 purported victims of violent deaths being taken to Bello Monte in March. For April El Universal counted 393 victims. The head of Venezuela's National Guard separately said on 26 May that its agents had dismantled 651 criminal gangs or bands between 1 January and 24 May, El Universal reported on 27 May, though it was not immediately clear if that was nationwide or in Greater Caracas. General Sergio Rivero Marcano said his agents confiscated 1,939 firearms and 363 knives or blunt weapons in this period. Another newspaper, El Nacional reported on 1 June that plans to install 400 security cameras in Baruta, a district of Caracas, was prompting some residents' suspicions that these were to monitor the population, not help protect them from crime. An unspecified number of cameras were already installed in the districts of Sucre and Chacao in the metropolitan zone, it stated, observing that parts of Baruta may have been pinpointed as possible "restive" areas for having witnessed anti-government protests in 2014 or before. Increasing the number of security cameras nationwide was part of the Interior Ministry's VEN 911 anti-crime initiative, El Nacional reported.