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."
The body of Chilean environmental activist Nicolasa Quintreman, an indigenous Mapuche from the Pehuenche subgroup, was found on Dec. 24 floating in the Lago Ralco reservoir in Alto Bío Bío commune in the central Bío Bío region. Prosecutor Carlos Diaz said there was no evidence of violence. The 74-year-old Quintreman, who was visually impaired, "apparently slipped and fell into the lake," he said. Together with her sister Berta Quintreman, who survived her, Nicolasa Quintreman led a 10-year fight to stop the Endesa power company from building a dam on the Bío Bío river and flooding their ancestral village. The dam was eventually built, producing the reservoir in which Nicolasa Quintreman drowned. But the campaign of peaceful protests that the sisters led in the face of tear gas, rubber bullets and illegal raids by police was an inspiration for the growth of Chile's environmental movement.
The US Supreme Court ruled (PDF) Dec. 14 in Daimer AG v. Bauman that DaimlerChrysler AG (Daimler) does not have to face suit in California for alleged human rights violations by a subsidiary that took place entirely in Argentina. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled for Barbara Bauman, who represented 21 Argentine residents, allowing them to bring suit for the actions of Mercedes-Benz Argentina (MB Argentina), a Daimler subsidiary, during the nation's 1976-1983 "Dirty War." The plaintiffs claim that MB Argentina collaborated with state security forces to kidnap, detain, torture and kill certain MB Argentina workers that are either named as plaintiffs or were closely related to the plaintiffs. They argue that business activities in California by Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) as a subsidiary of Daimler should permit the filing of a lawsuit because of an important agency relationship between MBUSA and Daimler, but the Supreme Court held that Daimler is not amenable to suit in California for injuries allegedly caused by conduct of MB Argentina that took place entirely outside the US.
A three-judge panel of an appeals court in the central Argentine province of Córdoba has ordered the Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company to suspend construction of a seed-drying plant in the town of Malvinas Argentinas pending the completion of an environmental impact study. The court’s 2-1 decision was in response to a suit by ecologists and Malvinas residents charging that local authorities violated environmental laws when they authorized the construction. Monsanto issued a statement saying the company had already completed its own impact study and would appeal the court’s decision.