Southern Cone

Argentina: president charged in terror cover-up

An Argentine federal prosecutor on Jan. 14 accused the country's president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, of complicity in covering up Iran's involvement in a 1994 terrorist attack. The bombing of the Argentinine Jewish Mutual Association is said to have been one of the country's worst attacks, resulting in 85 deaths. The prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, requested that Judge Ariel Lijo interrogate the president and the foreign minister for "being authors and accomplices of an aggravated cover-up and obstruction of justice regarding the Iranians accused of the Amia terrorist attack," and seizing 200 million pesos worth of assets. The prosecutor cited phone tap recordings that show how the current administration negotiated with the Iranian government to cover up Iranian officials involvement in return for the establishment of a trade of grain for oil that would ameliorate Argentina's energy deficit.

Latin America: why did Monsanto profits dip?

The Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company announced on Jan. 7 that its revenues for September through November 2014, the first quarter of the company's current fiscal year, fell to $2.87 billion from $3.14 billion for the same period the year before. The decline was less than analysts had expected. According to Bloomberg News, this was because the losses, including a 12% drop in corn seed sales, were partly offset by sales of Monsanto's new Intacta soybeans, which the company says are genetically modified to withstand pests in South America. But the losses themselves were "in part, due to the reduction in sowing areas in South America," the Spanish agricultural news site agroinformación.com reported. Agroinformación.com also cited resistance to the construction of a seed processing plant in Malvinas Argentinas in Argentina's central Córdoba province. (Bloomberg, Jan. 7; agroinformación.com, Jan. 8)

Chile: court rejects new Pascua Lama appeal

The Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation, the world's largest gold producer, faced another setback to its mammoth Pascua Lama gold and silver mine in late December when Chile's Supreme Court rejected its appeal of a lower court's decision on environmental fines. Barrick's Chilean subsidiary, Compañía Minera Nevada SPA, was disputing an environmental court's March 2013 ruling that a fine the government's Environmental Bureau had imposed on Barrick was inadequate. In a decision announced on Dec. 30, a Supreme Court panel rejected the appeal on a technicality: the justices held that Minera Nevada wasn't a party to the original case and therefore couldn't appeal the environmental court's ruling.

Brazil: truth commission report on military rule

Brazil's National Truth Commission released a report on Dec. 10 declaring that state agents engaged in human rights violations between 1964 and 1985 when the country was under military rule. The human rights violations include enforced disappearances, torture, sexual violence, executions and hiding bodies. At least 434 people are believed to have died or disappeared at the hands of the military during this period, and 210 bodies have never been found. The report urges the prosecution of those who were involved in the violations. The commission began investigating the abuses in May 2012, gathering thousands of testimonies and holding public hearings throughout 20 Brazilian states. Brazil's current president, Dilma Rousseff, was one of the victims tortured and imprisoned during the 1970s.

Chile: four women file sexual torture complaint

On Dec. 1 Nieves Ayress Moreno, a Chilean-born naturalized US citizen, formally joined a criminal complaint filed earlier by three other Chilean women over sexual political violence that they say they suffered under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Chilean law doesn't treat sexual violence as a separate complaint; instead, the crimes are considered "illegitimate pressure," allowing some of the perpetrators to escape justice. The complaint seeks to have the crimes "incorporated into the penal code and those responsible for them to be able to be punished," according to another of the plaintiffs, Alejandra Holzapfel. Ayress Moreno, who lives in New York, delayed joining Holzapfel and the remaining two plaintiffs, Soledad Castillo and Nora Brito, in the complaint until she could travel to Chile.

Police extermination campaign in Brazil's favelas?

A harrowing report on National Public Radio Nov. 9 points to the possibility that the crackdown on favela gangs in the prelude to this year's contentious Brazil World Cup may have actually been a police extermination campaign of favela youth. On June 11—one day before the World Cup opened—two officers of the Military Police picked up three Black teenagers in Rio de Janeiro's Zona Norte. The three hadn't committed any crime, although they did have a history of petty offenses. The officers drove them up to the wooded hills of the Morro do Sumaré area, above the city. One was shot in the head and killed. One was shot in the back and left for dead. Another escaped. We know what happened because the officers left their patrol car cameras on, and the videos appeared on Brazil's Globo TV. One officer taunts the youths: "We haven't even started beating you yet and you are already crying? Stop crying! You are crying too much! Be a man!" The officers are then heard saying "Gotta kill the three of them." And finally: "Two less. If we do this every week, we can reduce their number. We can reach the goal." The "goal" was apparently a crime-reduction target ahead of the World Cup.

Chile: local Mapuche leader murdered

Victor Manuel Mendoza Collío, the werken (spokesperson) for an indigenous Mapuche community in the southern Chilean region of Araucanía, was shot dead the night of Oct. 29 by two unidentified men. A friend of the family said the assailants came to Mendoza Collío's home in the Requem Pillán community in Ercilla commune, Malleco province, and "killed him at the doorway of his house and in front of his six-year-old little girl, with a shotgun." According to preliminary information the authorities gave to the media, the killing was the result of a dispute within the Mapuche community; community members themselves strongly denied the authorities' version.

Argentina: new energy law seeks foreign capital

Argentina's Chamber of Deputies voted 130-116, with one abstention, on Oct. 30 to pass a new version of a 1967 federal law governing the exploitation of oil and gas resources. The controversial new version had already been approved by the Senate; it will become law once it is signed and published in the Official Gazette by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Under the revised law—which was pushed through the National Congress by the Front for Victory (FPV), President Fernández's center-left faction of the Peronist Justicialist Party (PJ)—concessions will be granted to private companies for 25 years for conventional oil drilling, for 30 years for offshore drilling and for 35 years for unconventional techniques like hydrofracking. The royalties the companies pay on oil and gas sales will be limited to 12% for the federal government and to just 3% for the oil-producing provinces, which technically control the resources. Private companies can also benefit from a provision letting them sell 20% of their production in international markets without paying export taxes if they invest $250 million over a three-year period.

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