Southern Cone

Italy hands down sentences in 'Operation Condor'

An appeals court in Rome sentenced 24 to life in prison on July 8, including former senior officials of the military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. The officials were found to have been involved in Operation Condor, under which opponents of military rule were tracked down and eliminated across South America's borders in the 1970s and early '80s. The exact number of people who were killed through this operation is not known. The case before the court focused on the disappearance of 43 people, 23 of whom were Italian citizens. The prosecutors applied the universal jurisdiction precedent from the 1998 arrest in London of Chilean ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet. They also referenced the 2016 conviction of leaders of Argentina's military dictatorship, which confirmed the existence of Operation Condor for the first time.

Chinese 'spaceport' military outpost in Argentina?

An international space venture called Satellogic was just announced, with headquarters in Buenos Aires, to produce satellites for the China Great Wall Industry Corp at a new plant in Montevideo, Uruguay. It is slated to deliver its first 13 satellites this year, to be launched on China’s Long March 6 rocket. China Great Wall was established in 1980 under auspices of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, and operates the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, the principal space facility in the People's Republic (MercoPress, SpaceNews, NASA SpaceFlight) But the announcement comes amid growing concern within Argentina about activities at the Chinese-operated "spaceport" at Bajada del Agrio in Patagonia—and the apparent role of the People's Liberation Army in the facility.

'Lost kingdom' of Patagonia stands up for Mapuche

On March 24, the exiled Royal House of the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia elected Prince Frederic Luz as its new monarch—claiming dominion over a large area of Chile in the name of the region's Mapuche indigenous inhabitants. Although now dispersed in Britain and France, the Royal House traces its origin to 1860, when Orélie de Tounens, an idealistic lawyer from Tourtoirac, crossed Chile’s Rio Biobío into Mapuche lands never colonized by either the Spanish empire or the Chilean state. The Biobío was recognized as the northern border of Mapuche territory under a 1641 treaty with the Spanish. De Tounens learned the local language, adopted Mapuche ways, and was recognized by their elders as King Antoine—ruling a territory that stretched to the southern tip of the continent. In 1862, he was captured by Chilean forces, convicted of sedition, and only spared execution due to his perceived insanity. He made several failed attempts to return to Patagonia and win international recognition for his now-exiled government, but died in poverty in 1878. By then, Chile and Argentina were launching military campaigns to "pacify" the Mapuche. Historians estimate the Mapuche population of southern Chile fell by 90% as a result of this "pacification."

Demand investigation in killing of Rio councilwoman

Amnesty International is calling for a full investigation into the killing of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco. A human rights defender known for her outspokenness against police brutality, Franco, 38, was shot dead in an ambush on her vehicle March 14, in what appears to be a targeted assassination. Amnesty's Brazil director, Jurema Werneck, cited the shooting as "yet another example of the dangers that human rights defenders face in Brazil," and stated that the "Brazilian authorities must ensure a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into this tragic killing."

Chileans protest signing of rebooted TPP

Chilean activists protested in Santiago March 7 against the signing of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, now rebranded as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), or TPP-11. Protesters outside La Moneda Palace, headquarters of the Chilean government, held banners reading "No to modern slavery, no to the TPP-11" and "The TPP and TPP-11 are the same!" Lucía Sepúlveda, leader of the organization Chile Mejor Sin TPP, said the agreement would "deliver full guarantees to foreign investors" at the expense of "rights and national interests."

Brazil: deadly deja vu in New Years Day prison riot

For the second year in a row, Brazil has witnessed a deadly prison riot on the first day of the year. A death toll of nine is reported from the central state of Goias. One inmate was decapitated. The violence began New Year's Day afternoon at the rural penitentiary in the outskirts of the state capital, Goiania. Rival criminal factions clashed, broke the barriers of the compound and escaped, by the BBC News account.

Brazil's top fugitive drug lord gets popped

Back in September, Brazilian army troops were deployed to quell fighting between rival drug gangs in Rocinha, the most notoriously violent of Rio de Janiero's favelas—the informal urban settlements in the north of the city, virtually abandoned by the government for anything other than militarized anti-drug operations. On Dec. 6, authorities announced the apprehension of the fugitive gang leader who was said be behind that wave of violence but eluded capture at the time. Rogerio Avelino da Silva AKA "Rogerio 157" was detained in Arara, another favela.

Argentina: WTO meet collapses amid labor unrest

The 11th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) was held this week in Buenos Aires, marked by internal discord within the venue and angry protests in the streets. Inside, talks collapsed before any new agreement could be reached. Outside, demonstrators from groups including the Left Front and Front of Organizations in Struggle (FOL) clashed with police, resulting in six arrests. The conference also came amid ongoing protests in Buenos Aires against President Mauricio Macri's proposed legislation that would take money from workers' pensions to close Argentina's fiscal deficit. The bill passed the Senate last month, but the lower-house Chamber of Deputies suspended the vote on Dec. 14 when the floor debate degenerated into shouting matches. Street mobilizations against the package repeatedly turned violent, with riot police massively deployed and tear-gas and rubber bullets used on protesters. Argentina's main trade union alliance, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), has threatened to call a general strike if the legislation moves ahead. (Reuters, AFP, La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 15; Reuters, La Jornada, La Nación, Buenos Aires, Dec. 14; Télam, TeleSur, TeleSur, Dec. 13; La Nación, Dec. 12; AFP, Dec. 11)

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