La Plaza

News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Category: Venezuela

Cyberattacks strike networks in Brazil, revealing vulnerability across Latin America

Dilma rousseff brasil president Latin America's vulnerability to cyberattacks was laid bare in recent weeks as government networks in several countries were hacked or temporarily shut down, and hackers threatened to go after more.

On June 21, the hackers group LulzSec claimed on Twitter that it had shut down Brazil's federal government portal and the website of President Dilma Rousseff. Both sites were still not loading properly until Wednesday, demonstrating that Brazil was unable to secure the public online face of its government for more than a week.

Websites for Brazil's tax collection agency, statistics agency, army, and state oil company Petrobras were also targeted, reports said (link in Spanish), although Petrobras sought to deny the breach. The attacks have been primarily "denial of service" swarms in which a site is overloaded with users and thus shut down.

Yet reports said hackers have also accessed sensitive information, such as Brazilian military personnel's private data. Brazil's federal IT agency Serpo said in a statement that, in all, 25 attacks were carried out against government sites between June 22 and 26 (link in Portuguese).

According to a Foreign Policy Digest report in February, governments across Latin America remain deeply vulnerable to cyberwarfare, with Brazil, with its large economy and population, said to be particularly at risk.

Worldwide hacker groups such as Anonymous now appear to have cells in various Latin American countries and have carried out or threatened cyberattacks on government sites, usually announcing their plans via Twitter and YouTube. Two weeks ago, hackers shut down the Colombian Senate's website for a day (link in Spanish). On Tuesday, Anonymous shut down the website of Argentina's Senate in protest of a proposed tax on digital consumer products. The site was still not loading properly as of Thursday morning.

Attacks were also threatened on government or industry sites in Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Mexico, although these did not appear to be carried out. Anonymous had said it would strike Peru and Chile an an operation called "Andes Libre" for what it said was those governments' monitoring of social networking activity, while Anonymous said it would go after Venezuela and Nicaragua for those leftist governments' support of Moammar Kadafi in Libya.

LulzSec appears to have had a short lifespan, calling it quits after 50 days of activity, reports The Times.

Twitter accounts tied to supposed Anonymous cells in Latin America, however, remain active, with a threatened attack looming Thursday against a government-private development project in Mexico called Iniciativa Mexico.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil. Credit: Europa Press

Despite photos, doubts remain on health of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez

Hugo chavez venezuela fidel raul castro government photo

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has not been seen in public for more than two weeks following an operation for pelvic swelling in Cuba. His absence has prompted widespread speculation about his health and his ability to govern, report special correspondents for The Times.

The Venezuelan and Cuban governments insist Chavez is OK and recovering at an undisclosed location. Cuba's Communist government released photos of President Raul Castro and former President Fidel Castro visiting Chavez in what appears to be a hospital room, but the Venezuelan leader has otherwise been absent from public view.

Chavez's Twitter has also largely been inactive since earlier this month, although on Friday a flurry of messages appeared. These made no mention of the president's health or location.

Speculation persists in the opposition news media over whether "Chavez has a life-threatening disease such as cancer, and even whether he is alive," The Times reports. 

As Chavez's absence enters its 17th day, political opponents in Venezuela have ramped up criticism of the government's silence. The opposition is demanding Chavez delegate power to his vice president while he recovers. Relatives, including Chavez's mother, Elena Frias de Chavez, have asked that Venezuelans pray for his recovery (link in Spanish).

Chavez, who is 56, leads one of the world's biggest oil-producing nations and is an ardent antagonist of the United States. He hopes to be reelected in 2012 but faces rising domestic problems — including crime, inflation, and energy woes — that have hampered his ability to lead a leftist anti-U.S. bloc in the region at large.

Cuba is known to release photographs of the Castro brothers, ages 80 and 84 respectively, when public doubt rises over their health. In the past, such photos have come under scrutiny by bloggers, who have claimed they were faked. (The Chavez photos, in a medium resolution, are reproduced here.)

If Chavez remains in Cuba for "10 or 12 days" more, as his brother Adan Chavez said Sunday, and he does not delegate presidential powers, he will have governed Venezuela from afar for more than a month.

Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and current President Raul Castro of Cuba, in a photo released on June 17, 2011. Credit: Government of Cuba 

La Plaza comments switching to Facebook

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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, 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

Cuba angry about acquittal of militant Cuban ex-CIA operative




A jury's acquittal last week of a militant Cuban who once worked as a CIA asset in the agency's struggle to topple former President Fidel Castro has infuriated Cuba and its allies. Luis Posada Carilles was cleared by a Texas jury of 11 perjury counts on April 8 after an 11-week trial. Posada was accused by federal prosecutors of lying to U.S. immigration officials about his role in a 1997 hotel bombing in Cuba that killed an Italian tourist.

Cuba says that Posada, 83, is a terrorist and that his acquittal underscores the hypocrisy of a U.S. system that lets politics overtake justice. The verdict also represents a double standard on terrorism, with the U.S. designating "good terrorists" and "bad terrorists," Cuba's ambassador to Mexico Manuel Aguilera told the daily La Jornada (link in Spanish).

Long a controversial presence throughout the Americas, Posada is also wanted by Venezuela for trial in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner en route from Caracas to Havana in which all 73 people aboard were killed. Posada was a CIA covert operative at the time.

Actually, the trial in Texas had provided rare common cause for the U.S. and Cuban governments, as Julia E. Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations and Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive noted in an op-ed piece in The Times.

"This is a groundbreaking case," they wrote as the trial began in January. "It is notable that the U.S. government, whose Central Intelligence Agency trained, paid and deployed Posada to conduct violent operations against Cuba in the 1960s, has finally decided to prosecute him. And the case is remarkable for the substantive cooperation it has produced between the Cuban and U.S. governments."

But now, in the start-and-stop process of improving U.S.-Cuba ties, that spirit of cooperation and goodwill has suffered a setback with the acquittal. Posada, for his part, made a triumphant return to the Cuban exile community in Miami, where he said he remained a committed soldier in his anti-communist crusade.

--Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City

Photo: Portion of a U.S. Justice Department summary of the CIA' s relationship with Posada, presented in court. Credit: National Security Archive.


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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Chile sought U.S. help over 'radicalized' Mapuche Indians

Mapuche wikileaks chile upi

The "increasingly radicalized" Mapuche Indians in Chile became a growing domestic concern for the government of former President Michelle Bachelet, new leaked U.S. diplomatic cables show, prompting Chile at one point to seek help from the United States in investigating whether the indigenous group was receiving funding from "foreign terrorist groups and/or Venezuela."

In a batch of cables from the U.S. Embassy in Santiago released by WikiLeaks and published this week by several websites, the "Mapuche situation" and "Mapuche conflict" clearly worry Chile's government. The Mapuche have sought greater autonomy in recent years over what are claimed as ancestral lands in the Araucania region, about 400 miles south of the capital.

The "low-level conflict" has sometimes resulted in protests, violent confrontations and small sabotage-like attacks against the government and private landowers, the cables said. The indigenous group, Chile's largest, remains mostly marginalized in the broader society.

One leaked cable, dated February 2008, tells of a meeting between U.S. Ambassador Paul Simons and Bachelet's interior minister, Edmundo Perez Yoma, in which officials discussed the possibility that the Mapuche might be receiving aid from the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, or the FARC guerrilla army in Colombia, or even the ETA, the Basque separatist group in Spain.

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Colombia's Alvaro Uribe reached out to rebels, rebels to the U.S., cables show

Alfonso cano abc

Colombia's right-wing former president, Alvaro Uribe, sought contact in the final months of his term with the FARC guerrilla army in an effort to set "road maps" for new peace talks during the government of his successor, Juan Manuel Santos, leaked U.S. diplomatic cables show.

Uribe secretly reached out to the FARC even as he pursued a hard-line campaign to eliminate the rebels by force, while publicly refusing negotiations as long as the FARC kidnapped and held hostages.

The new batch of cables, published by El Pais and other websites, also reveal that the FARC sought direct contact with the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, the Colombian capital. The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, is the oldest active guerrilla force in Latin America and has waged war against the Colombian government for nearly half a century.

The leaked cables offer a window on the intensely complex political gamesmanship involving Colombia's government, several active guerrilla groups and outside players. These include the United States, a strong ally of Uribe through the Plan Colombia aid package, and neighboring Venezuela, seen as supportive of the FARC under the government of President Hugo Chavez.

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Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega dubbed 'Chavez Mini-Me' in leaked U.S. cables

Daniel ortega hugo chavez

The president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, has received almost $1 billion in aid from President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela -- sometimes in "suitcases full of cash" sent from Caracas -- a relationship that prompted a U.S. diplomat to dub Ortega a "Chavez Mini-Me," leaked U.S. diplomatic cables show.

Ortega, the cables say, also funds his party's political campaigns with money from drug traffickers and once bribed a prominent Nicaraguan boxer to stump for him in public in exchange for not facing sexual assault charges -- which Ortega himself has faced, as alleged by his stepdaughter.

The batch of new cables, released by WikiLeaks and published by the Spanish newspaper El Pais and other sites, paint a deeply unflattering portrait of the ex-guerrilla leader, asking at one point of Ortega's foreign-policy ambitions: "Petulant Teen or Axis of Evil Wannabe?"

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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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A 'miracle' in Chile, but mining accidents are often tragedies across Latin America

 Esteban rojas chile mine rescue reuters

If the remarkable rescue of 33 miners trapped in Chile for 69 days was a "miracle," as some have dubbed it, other mining accidents in recent years have had less happy endings, claiming dozens of lives in Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.

Though mining accidents are relatively rare in Chile, a 2007 collapse in the same San Jose mine where "Los 33" were trapped left a miner dead and forced the mine's temporary closure. At another mine in the Copiaco region, a truck collision in 2006 left two miners dead and 70 others trapped for several hours (link in Spanish).

As metal prices rise and companies continue to seek Latin America's rich deposits of minerals and coal, the industry grows faster than some countries can regulate it, says a Forbes report. There are regular conflicts with workers over pay and safety conditions, as well as numerous reports of illegal mining operations -- with hardly any safety oversight or regulations -- in so-called wildcat mines.

Here are some major recent mining accidents in Latin America:

* This month, five miners died in a collapse at a coal mine in northeast Colombia (link in Spanish).

* In August, while the 33 Chile miners were trapped underground, an explosion at a wildcat gold mine in a remote jungle in Venezuela killed six miners. Miners in the area said that the actual toll was 14 or 15.

* In June, an explosion at a coal mine in northwestern Colombia left 70 miners dead, one of the largest death tolls recorded in recent mining accidents worldwide.

* In February, eight miners died after an explosion at a coal mine in northern Peru.

* In 2006, 65 miners died after an explosion at a coal mine in northern Mexico (link in Spanish).

President Sebastian Pinera has vowed to overhaul safety regulations at mines in Chile, the world's top copper producer. Pinera announced the formation of a new commission to examine workplace safety in mines and fired the previous mining minister early in the rescue effort. But safety and regulatory issues remain a major challenge for the industry across the region.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Esteban Rojas kneels and hugs his wife after being the 18th miner rescued from the San Jose mine in Chile. Credit: Reuters


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Ken Ellingwood
Daniel Hernandez
Efrain Hernandez Jr.
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