A Brazilian court on Sept. 21 sentenced former treasurer of the country's governing Worker's Party Joao Vaccari Neto to 15 years and four months in prison for charges stemming from his connection to the Petrobras corruption scandal. Vaccari was found guilty of corruption, money laundering and conspiracy, having accepted at least $1 million in bribes from the oil company, which is partially owned by the Brazilian state. Former Petrobras director of services Renato Duque was sentenced to 20 years and eight months after being convicted of making 24 payments totaling 4.2 million reals to the Worker's Party from 2008-2010 at Vaccari's request. Investigating federal judge Sergio Moro found that the money laundering had an impact on the democratic process. Both Vaccari and Duque have denied the charges.
Residents of San Juan Jáchal, in Argentina's northwestern province of San Juan, took to the streets in protest after an industrial malfunction caused a pipe carrying cyanide to Barrick Gold's nearby Veladero gold mine to rupture and spill an undetermined amount of its contents in the area on Sept. 13. Protesters who converged on the town hall said town residents had repeatedly warned on social media and through text messages to authorities that the pipe had a faulty valve—and that no move to address the problem was taken even after messages reported that spills had reached the banks of the Río Jáchal. The river is the source of water for the town, and municipal taps have been cut off since the spill. (MercoPress, InfoBae, Sept. 16; Reuters, InfoBae, Sept. 14)
Argentina's state firm YPF was at the point of completely shutting down oil and gas production throughout Neuquén province after indigenous Mapuche residents blocked access to to wells for 48 hours to press demands over territorial rights. The blockades were lifted Sept. 4 after a hectic days of dialogue with Mapche leaders. The blockade was undertaken by the Mapuche community of Paynemil to press authorities to complete a demarcation of traditional indigenous lands in the area, as mandated by National Law 26.160 of 2006 but still not carried out. Hundreds of wells at the Loma La Lata, Rincón del Mangrullo and Loma Campana fields were affected by the action, supposedly costing YPF millions of dollars. July saw similar protests, when the Loma Campana field was blocked by members of the Mapuche community of Campo Maripe. The issue has been outstanding for years, but the new blockades marked the first time that hydrocarbon production throughout the province was affected. (InfoBae, InfoBae, Cronista, Sept. 4; Cronista, Diario Norte, July 30)
Amnesty International in a report issued Aug. 3 charges that Brazil's military police have been responsible for more than 1,500 deaths in Rio de Janeiro in the last five years, accusing them of a "shoot first, ask questions later" policy. Amnesty released the findings ahead of the one-year countdown to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The report, "You killed my son: Killings by military police in Rio de Janeiro," reveals that nearly 16% of the total homicides registered in the city in the last five years took place at the hands of on-duty police—1,519 in total. Just in the favela of Acari, in the city's north, Amnesty found evidence of "extrajudicial executions" in at least nine out of 10 killings committed by the military police in 2014.
Gunmen killed at least 18 people in outlying districts of Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo, in a series of overnight attacks Aug. 14. Witnesses and video footage in several locations indicated that masked gunmen pulled up in a car before opening fire. In many cases they checked the victims' names before shooting, or asked if they had criminal records. At least six other people were injured in the attacks, in the districts of Osasco and Barueri. Authorities are said to be investigating whether the attacks were a coordinated campaign of revenge by off-duty officers following the deaths of two colleagues in the targeted districts the previous week. Police in Brazil are responsible for more than 2,000 deaths per year, and off-duty officers rarely face prosecution for vigilante justice. (Reuters, BBC News, Aug. 15)
One day after Chile's Supreme Court sentenced him to 20 years in prison for a "dirty war" crime, retired Gen. Hernán Ramírez Rurange shot himself in the head in his apartment in Santiago on Aug. 13. Ramírez was convicted as intellectual author of the "disappearance" of Eugenio Berríos, a chemist with the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA). Berrios disappeared in 1992 after fleeing to Uruguay to avoid testifying in assassination cases carried out under Operation Condor. Among the cases at issue was apparently that of former foreign minister Orlando Letelier, slain by a car-bomb attack in Washington DC in 1976. (EFE, 24Horas, Aug. 14; TeleSUR, La Trecera, Aug 13)
A transport strike in Argentina brought Buenos Aires and other parts of the country to a standstill June 9. The 24-hour walkout—the second in three months—affected bus, train, plane and subway services. The strike was called by the Automotive Transport Union (UTA) to oppose a move by the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to cap salary increases at 27%, complaining that the figure does not match the forecast 30% inflation expected this year. Highways were blocked and a mass rally held in front of the Labor Mnistry building—but Ministrer Carlos Tomada was dismissive of the action. "This strike is anything but a strike which seeks to defend workers," he told reporters, charging that the workers were "striking against the popular government, and not against their employers."
Indigenous leaders from across Argentina's 17 provinces met in Buenos Aires on May 27-9 to coordinate resistance to dispossession from their ancestral lands by interests of fracking, mining, hydroelectric development and soy cultivation. The First National Summit of Indigenous Peoples was called by the inter-ethnic association QOPIWINI, which since February has been maintining a protest encampment in in downtown Buenos Aires to oppose land-grabs in indigenous territories across the country. The summit was especially called to respond to a recent wave of violent attacks on indigenous protesters—including a Molotov cocktail hurled at the QOPIWINI camp by unknown assailants on April 24.