Members of Mapuche Ancestral Resistance in the pre-dawn hours of July 19 burned two excavator machines belonging to British business magnate Joe Lewis, that were being used to build a hydroelectric dam at El Bolsón, in Argentina's Río Negro province. The dam is planned for the headwaters of the Río Escondido, on Lewis' private property, and is being built in cooperation with Edenor electric company, of which Lewis is the biggest stock owner. The militants left leaflets headlined "Lewis Out of Patagonia," and listing their demands for the release of political prisoners and the eviction of oil, mining and hydroelectric companies from Mapuche traditional territories. Liberty was especially demanded for Facundo Jones Huala, who was arrested in May and is being held pending an extradition request by Chile, where he is wanted for "land usurpation." Mapuche territory is bisected by the Chile-Argentina border. (The Bubble, Buenos Aires, Clarín, Buenos Aires, July 19; Crónica, Chubut, June 29)
Several hundred people marched July 6 in Asunción, the Paraguayan capital, to demand the acquittal of 11 landless peasants charged in deadly violence almost exactly four years ago in the rural community of Curuguaty. Verdicts are expected this coming week in the bloody incident, which supporters of the defendants call a "massacre." The violence erupted when police moved to evict the peasants from private lands they were occupying. Of the 17 killed, 11 were peasants. In the aftermath, Paraguay's left-populist president Fernando Lugo was removed from power in what his supporters called a "coup." Prosecutors are calling for prison terms of up to 30 years for the defendants, while their supporters say they only acted in self-defense when set upon by police. Alicia Amarilla of the National Coordinator of Rural and Indigenous Women (CONAMURI) called the proceedings a show trial in which "not a shred of evidence" has been presented against the defendants. She said they have been accused "because of their ideology, for having fought for land." (Ultima Hora, July 9; EFE, July 6)
A six-person jury for the US Middle District of Florida in Orlando found Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez liable for the 1973 detention, torture and execution of Chilean folksinger Víctor Jara. The court ordered Barrientos to pay $28 million in damages, $8 million in compensatory damages, and $20 million in punitive damages. The jury found that Barrientos, 67, who now lives in Deltona, Fla., shot Jara, 40, in September 1973 after three days of beatings and torture. The singer was among thousands of leftists detained in Santiago's football stadium after Augusto Pinochet's coup d'etat against Chile's democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende. Barrientos was then serving as a lieutenant in Chile's armed forces. He fled Chile in 1989 and became a US citizen through marriage. He was one of nine retired army officers indicted for the murder in Chile four years ago, but the US Department of Justice has not responded to a request for his extradition.
Argentina’s last dictator, Reynaldo Bignone, and other former military officers were sentenced to prison on May 27 for their roles in Operation Condor in the 1970s. The criminal court in Buenos Aires handed Bignone a 20-year prison term on top of his previous sentences for crimes against humanity. The trial began with 22 defendants, but five died or were absolved. According to attorneys for advocacy groups, this was an important step in human rights because "it is the first time the existence of Operation Condor has been proved in court." Operation Condor was a multi-state campaign that created and sanctioned death squads from South American countries to kidnap, torture and kill political opponents from each others' countries who had fled their country of origin. Evidence was produced during the trials that showed the US was aware of Operation Condor and played a role.
On May 25, Argentina's Revolution Day, some 20 townspeople in Jáchal, San Juan province, held a "patriotic march" to oppose the local operations of Barrick Gold—only to be surrounded and arrested by the police. Organizers said the march was peaceful, but the town's mayor, Miguel Vega, said that he was illegally detained and assaulted by protesters. The town saw a recent controversy, when the municipal council, with Vega's support, voted down a measure to hold a popular consulta or referndum on the mine's operations. (InfoBae, Diario La Provincia, May 26; Diario de Cuyo, May 19) Meanwhile, operators of Argentina's biggest open-pit mine at Bajo de la Alumbrera, Catamarca province, also the site of repeated protest campaigns, announced that the facility will be closing next year, its lode of gold and copper nearly exhasuted. (La Nación, May 26)
A wave of student protests demanding education reform in Chile has been met with harsh repression, leading to charges of "torture" recalling the era of military rule. Clashes with police during President Michelle Bachelet's state-of-the-nation addres in Valparaiso made English-language headlines May 21. Demonstrators set up barricades and hurled fire-bombs, torching a pharmacy and supermarket, while police fired tear-gas and water cannon. A security guard reportedly died from smoke inhalation. Three days later, protesters actually invaded the presidential palace in Santiago, forcing their way past guards. Winning few headlines outside Chile is the controversy over abuse of arrested protesters. Most egregious is the case of Roberto Zambrano Freire, 18, who was arrested at a protest outside the National Institute, the country's most prestigious school, on May 17 and apparently beaten after being made to strip naked while in custody. The student's father, Roberto Zambrano Sepúlveda, says he is pressing for an investigation but is not optimistic, noting that "It is my boy's word against the Carabineros." He added: "The Carabineros of Chile continue operating with the same methods as the under the dictatorship." (TeleSur, BBC News, Diario UChile, BiobioChile, La Tendencia, RPP, Univision)
The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) ruled on March 28 that Argentina's maritime territory includes the area surrounding the Falkland Islands. Argentina had previously submitted to the commission a report fixing the territory at 350 [nautical] miles from its coast instead of 200. The commission made clear that it was not in a position to consider and qualify parts of the submission that are subject to dispute. The commission's findings expand the maritime territory of Argentina by 35%. Susana Malcorra, Argentina's foreign minister, maintained that the findings reaffirm the country's sovereignty rights over the resources of its continental shelf. The findings have been dismissed by the UK as recommendations that are not legally binding.
President Obama's visit to Argentina this week coincided with the 40th anniversary of the 1976 military coup that opened the country's "Dirty War," in which thousands of leftist dissidents were killed or "disappeared" during a seven-year dictatorship. Obama made note of the occassion, joining with Argentine President Mauricio Macri to visit the Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism at Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires. But the visit was boycotted and protested by some advocates of justice for the "Dirty War" victims. "We will not allow the power that orchestrated dictatorships in Latin America and oppresses people across the world to cleanse itself and use the memory of our 30,000 murdered compatriots to strengthen its imperialist agenda," said a statement by Myriam Bregman of the Center for Human Rights Professionals and other advocates. Nora Cortiñas of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo said: "I lament that Marci has accepted that the executive of the United States come during these days. It is inappropriate, a provocation."