More than 15,000 Brazilian campesinos marched some 9 km from a meeting at the Nilson Nelson Gymnasium stadium in Brasilia to the Plaza of the Three Powers on Feb. 12 to protest the slow pace at which the center-left government of President Dilma Rousseff is implementing agrarian reform. The protesters had been attending the Sixth Congress of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), the largest of the Brazilian groups organizing landless campesinos. Kelli Marfort, from the MST's Gender sector, called the government's policy an "embarrassment." "Last year 7,000 families were settled," she charged, saying that the MST alone has 90,000 families living in encampments and waiting for land. "A total of 150,000 families are in encampments in Brazil, many of them for more than 10 years. We're here to announce that we're not satisfied, and we're asking for a people's agrarian reform."
As many as 2,000 Brazilians demonstrated in Rio de Janeiro during evening rush hour on Feb. 6 to protest an increase in local bus fares from 2.75 reais (about US$1.15) to 3 reais (about $1.26); the fare hike, imposed by Rio mayor Eduardo Paes, took effect Feb. 8. The protesters marched about a mile from the Candelária area without incident, but as the demonstration approached the Estacião Central do Brasil, the city's main transit hub, dozens of youths reportedly from the Black Bloc charged into the station, jumping over turnstiles and inviting commuters to join them. Some protesters vandalized ticket booths, while others set fires in garbage cans outside the station, blocking cars and tying up traffic. The militarized police attacked the youths with tear-gas and concussion grenades, creating panic among crowds of commuters, and protesters responded with rocks and clubs. SuperVia Trens Urbanos, the company that runs the city's trains, decided to let passengers ride for free as the chaos continued. Police escorted thousands of commuters, some choking on tear gas, to the trains.
Chilean farmer José Pizarro Montoya received 37 million pesos (about US$66,582) in December from Agrícola Nacional S.A.C. (ANASAC), a Chilean distributor of agricultural products, to settle a suit he brought over the use of genetically modified (GM) corn seed from the Missouri-based Monsanto Company. Pizarro charged that ANASAC violated its contract with him by giving instructions for planting the Monsanto corn that resulted in business losses and eventually ruined him. The Santiago Chamber of Commerce found in Pizarro's favor, and the Santiago Court of Appeals confirmed the decision in September. Pizarro is thought to be the first farmer in Chile—possibly the first in Latin America--to win a suit over the use of Monsanto's GM seeds.
Brazilians demonstrated in 36 cities on Jan. 25 to protest the underfunding of health, education, transportation and infrastructure at the same time that the government is pouring money into preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games and the World Cup soccer championship, which is to be held June 12-July 13 this year in 12 Brazilian cities. The protests, reportedly called by the clandestine internet activist group Anonymous, were a continuation of massive demonstrations targeting these issues last June, but only a few thousand people turned out on Jan. 25, in contrast to the million or more who marched in 2013.
The Argentine peso fell by some 8% on Jan. 23, declining from 7.14 pesos to the US dollar to 7.75 at the end of the day. The currency plunged by 20% in the early hours, to 8.50 pesos to the dollar, but regained much of the loss after the central bank intervened later in the day; the bank reportedly spent $100 million in the process. This was the worst showing for the peso since the country's financial crisis in late 2001 and early 2002.
A wildcat strike has shut down several Chilean ports for the past three weeks, with the fruit and mineral industries claiming $100 million in losses. The strike began Jan. 3 at the port of San Antonio, over retroactive pay for lunch breaks, but solidarity strikes quickly spread to Angamos, Iquique and other ports, coordinated by a "de facto" body, the Unión Portuaria de Chile, not recognized as an "official" union. Only two major ports are unaffected, Valparaiso and Coquimbo, with the Federation of Fruit Producers (Fedefruta) warning of "a really untenable situation for everyone working in the fruit sector." On Jan. 13, police special forces occupied the port of San Antonio, using tear-gas and water cannons in an attempt to break blockades and bring in "replacement workers." In a similar conflict that day in Antofagasta, the offices of Ultraport company were reportedly ransacked by strikers. Government officials met with strike leaders Jan. 22, but no agreement was reached. The following day, an industry-backed Comité Puertos Sin Paro (Strike-Free Port Committee) held a motorcade protest in Santiago. The Unión Portuaria has issued a call for international solidarity strikes. (Mundo Maritimo, Jan. 24; Port Strategy, The Packer, La Tercera, Chile, 24 Horas, Chile, Fedefruta, Jan. 23; SeaTrade Global, Jan. 22; La Tercera, AP, Jan. 18; EFE, Jan. 13)
The ongoing prison crisis in Brazil's impoverished northeastern state of Maranhão again made brief headlines this month after newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo released a gruesome video of gang warfare victims inside the violence-plagued and dangerously overcrowded Pedrinhas facility. The video was recorded on Dec. 17, the newspaper reported, describing how "other prisoners pose with the bodies, showing them off like trophies." The footage was turned over to the paper by a prison workers' union to raise awareness of the depth of the crisis. But Maranhão residents had sure been aware of it. There were more than 60 deaths at the facility last year—a higher murder rate than the outside world. Gang control of the prison was so complete that there were reports of inmates' wives being raped in conjugal visits. This finally prompted federal authorities to launch a crackdown over the new year. Military police took over the facility, and found 300 improvised weapons, as well as cell phones by which ranking inmates presumably controlled their outside drug networks. In response to the crackdown, gang leaders called for their supporters on the outside to launch an uprising. That's when the trouble really began...
The 20-year-old investigation into the July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires took a new turn on Jan. 2 with the publication of a claim by former Israeli ambassador to Argentina Yitzhak Aviran (1993-2000) that his country had killed most of the perpetrators. "The vast majority of the guilty parties are in another world, and this is something we did," Aviran told the Spanish-language Jewish News Agency (AJN) in an interview about his experiences in Argentina. On Jan. 3 Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor dismissed the claim as "complete nonsense."