Latin American activists joined thousands of environmentalists and farmers around the world in an international protest May 24 against genetically modified (GM) crops and Monsanto, the Missouri-based multinational that dominates the transgenic seed industry. This was the third March Against Monsanto since May 25 last year, and organizers expected the day of action to include protests in some 351 cities in 52 countries.
As of May 18 a group of Argentine activists were continuing an encampment they had set up on April 21 at the Obelisk in Buenos Aires' Plaza de la República to push their demands for improved services in the city's 17 marginal communities, known in Argentina as "villas." The action's sponsor, the leftist Independent Villa Residents' Current, was calling on the government of right-wing Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri to declare a housing, health and educational emergency in the impoverished communities; to formalize their status as urban areas; to carry out audits of the cooperatives and businesses that work in the neighborhoods; and to regularize rents and housing subsidies. A statement by the group denounced what it called "the model of two cities that Macri proposes, where the rich city excludes the poor one…while officials of the city government don't hide their intention to fill their pockets." Leftist groups have confronted the Macri government in the past over plans that they say favor real estate interests over the needs of the majority of city residents.
An appeals court in Argentina ruled May 15 that a controversial agreement between Argentina and Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center was unconstitutional. The two nations signed the agreement in January 2013, which permitted Argentinian authorities to question the Iranian suspects under Interpol arrest warrants, but only in Tehran. The agreement angered Jewish groups, who said that the deal empowered Iran without bringing any suspects to justice. Argentinine Foreign Relations Minister Hector Timerman announced that he plans to appeal the decision, saying that it was unprecedented for a court to strike down an international agreement. No one has been convicted in connection with the bombing, which killed 85 and injured more than 300 others.
At least three cars, including a police vehicle, were set ablaze in the Rio de Janeiro favela of Complexo do Alemão on April 29 after the fatal shooting of an elderly woman—the latest in a series of such outbreaks as Brazilian authorities attempt to clean up Rio's slums before the World Cup games open next month. Arlinda Bezerra de Assis, 72, died after being shot in the stomach during a gun battle between police and presumed gang members. In another incident on April 23, the favela violence actually spilled into Rio's posh beachfront tourist districts—an unprecedented occurrence that doubtless struck fear deep into the hearts of the city fathers. The protests broke out in the Pavao-Pavaozinho favela, perched on the hills overlooking the famed Copacabana district. The riots were sparked after word spread that the body of Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, 25, a popular dancer on Brazil's Globo TV network, had been discovered in the favela—apparently killed as "collateral damage" in another one of the frequent police shoot-outs with drug gangs. Residents swept down into Copacabana, setting fires and hurling bottles at police, vehicles and businesses. The violence also spilled over into nearby Ipanema, another posh tourist district. The young dancer's funeral two days later also exploded into a riot, as mourners blocked traffic after leaving the Sao Joao Batista cemetery, chanting "Justice! Justice! Police murderers!" Police used tear-gas to clear the intersection. The Military Police "pacification" campaign aimed at getting the favelas under control ahead of the World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics looks like it may be backfiring horribly. (World Bulletin, April 29; AFP, April 25; Daily Mail,VOA, April 23)
Tens of thousands of Chilean college and high school students marched in Santiago on May 8 in the first major demonstration for educational reform since President Michelle Bachelet began her second term on March 11. Bachelet, a Socialist, has promised to make changes to the educational system, which was heavily privatized during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet; the protest was intended to pressure her to honor her commitments, which students also criticized as too vague. The organizers estimated the crowd at 100,000, while the carabineros militarized police put the number at 40,000. There were also protests in other cities; some 4,000 students marched in Valparaíso and 3,000 in Concepción. The Santiago march ended with isolated acts of violence by hooded youths.
Military Police occupied the favela, or shantytown, of Caramujo, in the city of Niteroi outside Río de Janeiro, following riots sparked by the death of two local youths in incidents with the security forces April 19. One of the victims, Anderson Luiz Santos da Silva, 21, was outside a church with his family on Good Friday when he was hit by a stray bullet—apparently from a shoot-out between police and local drug dealers. His nine-year-old brother was also wounded in the incident. "The young man died trying to protect his mother and sister," said Niteroi's Catholic Church in a statement. The second victim, Emanoel Gomes, 17, was killed when a police armored vehicle crashed his motorbike. Residents set fire to vehicles and battled police, calling for justice. Amnesty International says some 2,000 people die every year in Brazil in careless and violent police actions. The favelas have been targeted for aggressive police action ahead of the World Cup, which Brazil is to host in June. Rio de Janeiro is also slated to host the 2016 Olympics. (Notimérica, April 20; BBC News, April 19)
The central Chilean port city of Valparaíso remained under military control as of April 15, three days after forest fires began sweeping into some of the city's working-class neighborhoods, leaving at least 15 people dead and destroying 2,900 homes. Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said the government hoped to have the fires under control by April 16, but the national forestry agency indicated that it might take the 5,000 firefighters and other personnel in the city as long as 20 days to extinguish the fires completely. Some 12,500 are now without homes in Valparaíso; this disaster follows an 8.2-magnitude earthquake in northern Chile that killed five people on April 1 and made 2,635 homes uninhabitable.
Brazilian Military Police backed by Marine troops occupied the massive Maré favela next to Rio de Janeiro's Galeao international airport on March 31, allegedly without firing a shot. The aim was to secure one of the city's most violent districts, long under control of drug gangs, ahead of the World Cup, to be held in Brazil in June. Shock troops of the elite Special Police Operations Battalion (BOPE) and Marines in armored vehicles and helicopters secured the Maré area, where 130,000 people live in poverty on the north side of Rio. Police said they seized guns and 450 kilos of marijuana, and arrested two suspected dealers. But residents said most gang leaders slipped out the favela ahead of the occupation. The operation had been expected; in preceding days Police Pacification Units (UPPs) had been installed in 174 of Rio's favelas— home to around 600,000 people. (InSerbia, April 1; MercoPress, March 31)