La Plaza

News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Category: Bolivia

Zara contractor in Brazil accused of slave labor

Zara store brazil

Brazil's labor ministry is investigating a supplier for the Spanish clothing brand Zara for allegations of slave-labor conditions at sweatshops in Sao Paolo, and is also opening labor investigations against other international companies, reports O Globo, a Brazilian daily newspaper (link in Portuguese, in automatic translation). 

Zara's parent company, Inditex, said it was unaware of what it called "unauthorized outsourcing" for Zara clothing in Brazil. The company faces fines and possible sanctions against future economic activity in the country. Zara maintains more than 1,000 stores worldwide, including retail locations across Latin America, Europe, Asia, the United States and the Middle East.

In Sao Paolo, migrants primarily from Bolivia -- including minors and undocumented immigrants -- were found to be producing Zara clothes in sweatshops with poor ventilation and hygiene and unacceptable fire risks. Workers were being paid a little more than $1 for jeans that would eventually retail at more than $100, and some were locked into paying their wages to human traffickers who smuggled them into the country, reports said. The clothes, made by a supplier identified as AHA, were destined for Zara stores in Brazil.

Brazilian labor authorities are now expanding their investigation by requesting information on work conditions from several other major companies producing clothes in Brazil, including Ecko and Billabong, O Globo reported.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: A Zara storefront in Brazil. Credit: O Globo

La Plaza comments switching to Facebook

La Plaza today is switching to a new commenting system.

The system requires commenters to sign in through their Facebook accounts. People without Facebook accounts will not be able to leave comments.

Readers will have the option of posting their La Plaza comments on their Facebook walls, but that's not required.

Readers are welcome to express their opinions about the news -- and about how the new Facebook comments system is working.

Jimmy Orr, the Los Angeles Times managing editor in charge of latimes.com, discussed our online comments and the Facebook system in greater depth in a March entry to the Readers' Representative Journal.

We hope to see your comments on Facebook.

-- The Foreign Staff of the Los Angeles Times

A growing list of Latin American nations moving to recognize a Palestinian state

Sebastian Pinera Mahmud Abbas gob chile

Joining a widening trend across Latin America, Chile and Paraguay are poised to recognize a Palestinian state based on borders before the 1967 Middle East War, reports in Israel and Latin America said.

In recent weeks, several countries in the region have declared their recognition of a Palestinian state half a world away. Led by the rising global player Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador and Venezuela have all done so, reports the Israeli daily Haaretz.

The move by these governments to recognize a Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders appears to be an uncoordinated response to requests that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made to Latin American leaders, reports said. "There is no obvious coordination but quite a few Latin American governments are suddenly recognizing the Palestinian state in a very short amount of time," notes the Latin America-focused blog Two Weeks Notice.

On Saturday, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera met one-on-one with Abbas in Brazil during the inauguration of Dilma Rousseff as Brazil's first female president. Abbas attended the inauguration in Brasilia to "thank the presidents" that have recognized the Palestinian state, reported the Chilean daily La Tercera (link in Spanish).

Chile is home to a significant population of about 350,000 mostly Christian Palestinians (link in Spanish). Like many of its neighbors, Chile also has a large Jewish community. A Jewish leader in Chile called the decisions to recognize a Palestinian state "imprudent" (link in Spanish).

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White House: Cocaine market in U.S. under 'stress'

Cocaine dealer arrested sydney herald sun

The cocaine market in the United States is under "significant stress," reports the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Cocaine production has dropped in Colombia due to recent eradication efforts, putting stress on the U.S. market in 2009, the office announced this month. And although a direct connection between data is not sufficiently made clear, use of the drug also dropped last year in the United States, where most Colombian cocaine is destined after being moved by Mexican drug-trafficking organizations.

"Although a wide array of data now confirm the decline in use and availability of cocaine in the United States, there are still far too many Americans using drugs that drive violence and instability in other nations," said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House office. "That is why the Obama administration is working to restore balance to our drug control efforts by emphasizing demand reduction at the same time we are supporting our international allies in their efforts to curb the supply of these drugs."

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New cables reveal frank U.S. views on Latin America, from Argentina to Venezuela

Hugo chavez wikileaks

The global fall-out over the leaked U.S. diplomatic cables continues to trickle into Latin America, where leaders are responding to a variety of disclosures that reveal frank opinions on governments with whom   the United States has sometimes had tense relations.

Here's a run-down of some of the most significant claims or statements made on Latin America in the latest WikiLeaks disclosures, by country. Links below follow news coverage as well as the original cables as published by WikiLeaks or the news organizations that have reviewed them.

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World mayors sign climate-change pact in Mexico City

Mexico City mayors climate change summit

Hoping to place cities at the forefront of global climate-change policy efforts, leaders of more than 100 urban centers pledged on Sunday in Mexico City to commit their governments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The so-called Mexico City Pact is a precursor to climate-change talks with world governments opening next week in the Mexican resort city of Cancun. Countries will attempt once more to come up with a binding treaty to rein in global warming after the failure to do so at United Nations talks in Denmark last year.

In Mexico City, mayors and representatives of 138 cities, including Los Angeles, Paris and Johannesburg, signed the voluntary pact that states they will develop and implement local climate-change action plans that are "measurable, reportable and verifiable." The mayors summit was organized by the government of Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, whose efforts to "green" this crowded and polluted megalopolis are considered the most ambitious in Latin America.

Ebrard, who appears a likely presidential candidate in Mexico in 2012, said local governments will be key to reducing the effects of climate change. A majority of the world's population is now living in cities for the first time in history.

"We have to tell the international community that it's in the cities that the battle to slow global warming will be won," the mayor said before the summit.

Other cities in the region joining the pledge in Mexico City included Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina; La Paz, capital of Bolivia; Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the largest cities in Brazil; Bogota,  capital of Colombia; Quito, capital of Ecuador; and Montevideo, Uruguay's capital (link in Spanish).

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, center, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, at left, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hold the pact. Mexican magnate Carlos Slim, who also presented his plan on climate change at the mayors summit, is seen in the far rear, third from left (link in Spanish). Credit: World Mayors Summit on Climate Change

Bolivia's army declares itself 'socialist'

Evo morales bolivia military reuters

The commanding general of Bolivia's army has declared the Andean nation's forces "socialist," "anti-capitalist," and "anti-imperialist," positions that were immediately echoed by President Evo Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president.

Gen. Antonio Cueto made the statements Sunday at a ceremony marking the army's 200th anniversary. Cueto said Bolivia's 2009 constitution allows the army to "emerge as a socialist, communitarian institution," according to the EFE news agency (links in Spanish).

"We declare ourselves anti-imperialist because in Bolivia there can exist no external power imposing itself," Cueto said. "We also declare ourselves anti-capitalist because this system is destroying Mother Earth."

Morales, who attended the ceremony using crutches because of recent knee surgery, agreed, saying, "History proves that the army was born with an anti-imperialist position because it's been combating the European empire since 1810." (Link in Spanish.)

Cueto also said Bolivia would never allow a foreign military to establish bases within its territory, making an indirect reference to a stalled plan in Colombia to allow the U.S. armed forces to use bases there. Cueto's words drew criticism and rebuke from former military leaders, reported La Razon, a daily in Bolivia (link in Spanish). One former commander and current opposition senator said the general was taking a partisan position, and therefore was in violation of the Constitution.

The chief of Bolivia's national police, meanwhile, said this week that his agency would remain "apolitical," EFE reported.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: President Evo Morales greets military leaders  Nov. 14 in La Paz, Bolivia. Credit: Reuters

Landlocked Bolivia to get gateway to sea in Peru

Evo morales and alan garcia

Peru has decided to give Bolivia access to a Pacific port, allowing its landlocked Andean neighbor a stretch of coastline for the first time in more than 120 years.

Peruvian President Alan García and his Bolivian counterpart, Evo Morales, signed an accord last week in the Peruvian port of Ilo that will allow Bolivia eventually to build its own small dock on a parcel of coastline that's 1.38 square miles. Bolivia, landlocked but still operating a navy, lost its Pacific coastline to Chile during the War of the Pacific, in which Chile fought both Peru and Bolivia from 1879 to 1884.

The war is still considered a sore spot in Bolivia, the result often blamed for some of the country's economic troubles. With a strip of sea, Bolivia could open itself more to global trade and markets, as it currently requires an OK from either Peru or Chile to move its exports across land.

Trade between Bolivia and Asian markets is expected to see a boost, a trade news agency said, but the governments did not provide details on when a Bolivian port at Ilo might be completed. García welcomed Morales to Ilo on Oct. 19 for the signing of the pact, which was first agreed upon in 1992 but never implemented.

"It is unjust that Bolivia has no sovereign outlet to the ocean," García said, according to reports. "This is also a Bolivian sea."

The Ilo agreement signals a warming of relations between García and Morales, who often have traded barbs, and a diplomatic jab at Chile, a country still distrusted in Bolivia. The news was not met with cheers in Chile, reports Los Tiempos (link in Spanish).

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Bolivian President Evo Morales and Peruvian President Alan García in Ilo, Peru, October 19, 2010. Credit: Los Tiempos

President Evo Morales signs controversial anti-racism law in Bolivia

Bolivia newspapers protest ap

Despite the vigorous protests of journalists across Bolivia, President Evo Morales has signed the Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination, a controversial measure that would make it illegal for news organizations in Bolivia to report on statements or acts deemed racist.

"We've had more than 500 years of racism," Morales said, according to Reuters. "At last we passed a law to combat racism and discrimination."

The Bolivian Senate passed the measure without any modifications to the language passed by the lower Chamber of Deputies. Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president and a former coca-leaf grower, signed the legislation Friday while flanked by indigenous and union leaders.

Journalists and Bolivia's opposition elite, centered in the wealthier eastern province of Santa Cruz, have protested two sections of the law, citing fears of government censorship. Under Articles 16 and 23 of the measure, news outlets could be shut down for publishing content deemed racist, and journalists could be jailed for the offense.

On Thursday, several newspapers across the country published blank front pages in protest, along with the message: "There is no democracy without freedom of expression."

Journalists have already collected thousands of signatures for a potential referendum on the law (link in Spanish). The daily Los Tiempos published a short message prominently on its front page online, informing readers that it was shutting down commenting capability on the website due to the law.

Bolivia's Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination goes into effect in January, reports the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Newspapers publish a protest message on their front pages in Bolivia on Thursday. Credit: Associated Press

Mario Vargas Llosa: Reaction in Latin America turns on Nobel winner's political views

Mario_Vargas_Llosa campaigning 1990 el pais

Now that Mario Vargas Llosa has won the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature, an award seen as a victory for Spanish-language and Latin American letters, comes the backlash over the Peruvian author's politics.

Vargas Llosa, 74, known for his novels such as "The Time of the Hero" and "The War of the End of the World," is also strongly identified with "boom"-era writers in Latin America who initially supported leftist political movements but eventually moved rightward in their views -- much like the last Nobel Prize winner in literature from the region, Mexico's Octavio Paz.

"What a horror!" the novelist Luisa Valenzuela told the Mexican daily La Jornada at the Frankfurt book fair in Germany upon hearing the news (link in Spanish). "With the political swerve that Mario took, I would have preferred Carlos Fuentes."

On Twitter, some reaction was even fiercer. One user wrote: "Nobel Prize given to racist fascist pro-Hispanic, anti-Indigenous rights writer Mario Vargas LLosa LatAm is backyard of Europe."

Why such severity of critique?

The Nobel Prize in literature, awarded once a year to an author for literary output in any language, is invariably viewed through a political lens, particularly in Latin America, where writers often play prominent roles as so-called public intellectuals. As news of Vargas Llosa's win spread, many writers and lit-lovers in Latin America generally felt that Vargas Llosa deserved the prize for his long trajectory and beloved novels, but attention also turned to Vargas Llosa's political views.

An almost orthodox liberal, the author supports same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of drug use. Yet he also reserves his strongest criticism in the political sphere for hard-line leftist leaders in Latin America, including President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and former President Fidel Castro in Cuba.

Vargas Llosa considers himself, above all else, an opponent of dictatorships, both left and right.

Speaking on air to CNN Español after receiving the Nobel, Vargas Llosa made reference to previous authoritarian regimes in Peru, and even to the Franco regime in Spain, as targets of his political passions (link in Spanish).

"I can say in a certain way that I'm an expert in dictatorships," the author said. "Maybe that's why dictatorships appear so much in my novels, and maybe that's why I'm critical of all dictatorships, without exception."

In another CNN interview, the author was asked what he would say if he had a chance to meet Chavez or Castro in person. His response was blunt and stone-faced: "That they should leave, that they should leave the government, that they are a barrier to progress in their countries."

L.A. Times book critic David Ulin, citing author and professor Ilan Stavans in a piece in The Times, notes that Vargas Llosa's career as a writer is often rendered in a binary: before and after the 1990 presidential election in Peru.

Vargas Llosa, spurred by his opposition to nationalization reforms under Peruvian President Alan Garcia (then in his first term in office) ran in the 1990 race as a right-leaning free-market candidate. He lost that race to little-known Alberto Fujimori -- who now sits in prison for human rights crimes.

"Before, he was a writer and an apprentice politician; literature was his obsession," Stavans told Ulin. "Afterward, it was no longer fiction that mattered to him. He became a first-rate essayist instead."

Vargas Llosa also became identified with abandoning Latin America for Spain, which is what the author did, taking Spanish citizenship after losing the 1990 election. This move was also seen as a betrayal in some intellectual circles. His open and expressive affinity for Spain, which he's reiterated in interviews since Thursday's prize announcement, doesn't win Vargas Llosa points among those who regard him as antagonistic -- or at least indifferent -- to indigenous-rights movements in Latin America.

The author is quoted as saying in 2003, while commenting on indigenous movements in Latin America in general (link in Spanish): "Development and civilization are incompatible with certain social phenomenons, the principle being collectivism. [...] The indigenism ... that appears to have been forgotten is now behind phenomenons such as the señor Evo Morales in Bolivia."

Two years later, Peru's neighbor Bolivia elected Morales, its first indigenous president in history -- a moment regarded as a victory for long-oppressed indigenous groups in the Andean region. Vargas Llosa was unimpressed, dismissing Morales in 2008 as a "typical Latin American criollo [Spaniard born in the Americas], a Spanish-speaking mestizo, who is finishing off Bolivia." (Link in Spanish.)

(Morales, for the record, is an Aymara Indian.)

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Author Mario Vargas Llosa campaigns for Peru's presidency in 1990. Credit: El Pais

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