China commits $15 billion in development funds for Latin America

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Santiago, Chile
SANTIAGO, Chile -- In a bid to strengthen ties with an important regional trade partner, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told a U.N. economic conference in Chile on Tuesday that his country was ready to invest and lend $15 billion for Latin American infrastructure, manufacturing and sustainable technology projects.

Wen wound up his state visit to Latin America with a stop in Santiago, the Chilean capital, where in talks with President Sebastian Pinera he promised to double bilateral trade, now worth $30 billion a year, by 2015. China is a major customer for Chile’s copper, fruit and wine exports.

Wen said $10 billion of the development funds would come in loans from the Chinese Development Bank for roads, ports and railways, and $5 billion would be placed in a "cooperation fund" that would finance new technologies. He also said his country would increase the scholarships available to Latin American students to study in China.

The aim is to help the region develop more value-added exports than just natural resources, he said.

"China has become the biggest market for several Latin American countries," said Wen, who was making his third state visit to the region. He also praised the region for having so far withstood the ripple effects of the U.S. and European financial crises of recent years, saying it has demonstrated "cohesion, action and influence."

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Paraguay faces fallout after president's ouster

Paraguay's Lugo
SAO PAULO, Brazil -- The governments of South America have united to punish Paraguay for  removing President Fernando Lugo on Friday, suspending the country’s membership in regional organizations for what some leaders are calling a coup.

When news spread that the Paraguayan Senate had voted to oust the left-leaning former Catholic bishop, widespread condemnation came quickly from leaders in a region with bad memories of dictatorships and democratic instability. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said her government would not recognize the new government formed by Federico Franco, who served as Lugo’s vice president before turning against him.

“Argentina will not validate the coup d’etat in Paraguay,” Kirchner said. “This is about more than Lugo.... This is a definitive attack on institutions and a replay of situations we had thought were totally forgotten.”

For all of Latin America’s varied ideological stripes, the negative response was surprisingly unanimous. Left-wing governments in Venezuela and Ecuador announced they’d cut off shipments of oil. Chile’s conservative government pulled its ambassador from the country. Colombia’s president, Miguel Santos, issued a statement saying there may have been an “abuse” of the proceedings. And regional powerhouse Brazil has put forward the possibility of further sanctions against Asuncion.

U.S. State Department representative Victoria Nuland said on Monday that Washington is “quite concerned about the speed of the process used for this impeachment in Paraguay."

Paraguay has been suspended from both Unasur, or the Union of South American Nations, and Mercosur, the regional trading bloc, until new elections take place.

Mercosur will hold an emergency meeting this week in Argentina to decide what action to take against the poor, land-locked nation. Lugo continues to consider himself the legitimate president of Paraguay and said he will attend the summit to explain the situation. It’s unclear what effect the actions will have on the new government in Paraguay, which has denounced its dismissal from the organizations.

It’s also unclear why the Paraguayan Senate voted now to oust Lugo, who would have been replaced in nine months during an election in which he could not participate.  The Senate's  impeachment proceedings consisted of broad charges of mismanaging the country after a land dispute turned deadly. It was conducted in a matter of hours, and Lugo was not allowed to prepare his own defense. The vote was nearly unanimous.

The government of Mexico, which is not a member of the South American organizations, released a statement affirming that “even if the political judgment took place according to the procedures established in the Paraguayan Constitution, Mexico considers that the proceedings did not give ex-President Lugo the time and space needed for the defense he had a right to.”

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Photo: Ousted Paraguay President Fernando Lugo gives one of his bodyguards a traditional drink before a meeting  in Asuncion, Paraguay. Credit: Cesar Olmedo / Associated Press

 

 

 

 



Future in electoral politics for Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo?

Camila vallejo student chile afpMEXICO CITY -- Camila Vallejo broke into the international limelight in May 2011 as the beautiful revolutionary who led hundreds of thousands of student demonstrators in a call for education reform in Chile, toppling government ministers in the process.

She was, on the surface, an unlikely leader.

Just 23 at the time, the geography student dazzled the public early on with her statuesque features, shiny nose ring, and her soft, soothing manner of speaking. More alluringly, Vallejo was often inaccessible to the press, surrounded by student bodyguards.

Underneath the image, she was clearly exhibiting sharp political skills, both on the street among the droves of students and workers who managed to frequently shut down the capital of Santiago, and also in negotiations with the government of President Sebastian Piñera.

A year later, the students' demands for a freer, more equitable education system have made some progress against Piñera's initial response that higher education in economically prosperous Chile was "a consumer good."

But overall, the movement appears to be in a state of transition, if not stalemate.

Vallejo, now 24, has also reached a point at which she must decide what her next political role might be. Could a next step be toward the electoral arena in Chile? 

Last week, Vallejo visited Mexico for the first time, to speak at a conference on higher education at a Mexico City university. The visit had been planned since late last year, explained a spokesman at the Metropolitan Autonomous University (known as UAM for its initials in Spanish), but by now Vallejo's presence in Mexico had acquired politically significant overtones.

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Popular Chilean student leader to visit Mexico

Camila vallejo file photoMEXICO CITY -- The Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo confirmed on Wednesday that she will visit a Mexico City university and meet with members of the nascent student movement in Mexico known as "I am 132."

Vallejo, a popular figure, is among listed participants for a conference on public education that started Wednesday at the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, or UAM.

She is scheduled to meet students in the #YoSoy132 movement  Thursday at the UAM campus in Xochimilco, in southern Mexico City.

A 24-year-old geography student, Vallejo became internationally known as an early and telegenic leader in the movement calling for education reform in Chile. The demonstrations that began in May 2011 to press for more public funding in higher education have put pressure on the administration of Chilean President Sebastian Piñera.

Mexico's student movement, meanwhile, held another string of large demonstrations across the country on Sunday, along with concurrent, smaller protests by supporters in cities around the world, including Madrid, Chicago and Washington.

Demonstrators are opposed to the possible victory of presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico's former ruling party in the July 1 election. The Institutional Revolutionary Party is leading in polls as the vote nears.

Demonstrators have declared themselves nonpartisan, but the "I am 132" movement has buoyed the campaign of leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in some polls.

The movement took a hit Monday when a video emerged of students claiming to be #YoSoy132 but who were announcing a split with the group. "I am 132" organizers said the people who appear in the clip were unknown to them and had never been at movement meetings. (One figure in the splinter group told reporters Tuesday that it had only 15 members.)

"These are guys just looking for attention and the news media are giving it to them to weaken the movement," said Ignacio Martinez, a 23-year-old communications student at the Ibero-American University, where protests began against Peña Nieto on May 11.

Meanwhile, as reports of physical confrontations between alleged Peña Nieto supporters and Peña Nieto opponents have trickled into news accounts, Lopez Obrador on Wednesday said during his daily news conference that his campaign did not support violence of any sort.

"We are not in any act of confrontation," said Lopez Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor and self-proclaimed pacifist. "We are in peace, peace, peace, peace."

Peña Nieto, former governor of the state of Mexico who has also disavowed any campaign violence, reaffirmed his position Wednesday to not attend an unofficial presidential debate being organized by the "I am 132" movement. The three other presidential candidates have agreed to participate.

"It's clear this is a movement that does not generate conditions for a neutral, impartial meeting," Peña Nieto said during a television interview.

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Photo: Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo, pictured in 2011. Credit: Luis Hidalgo / Associated Press


Controversial dam project in Chile's Patagonia region on hold

Chliean President Sebastian Pinera

SANTIAGO, Chile -- Plans to build a $3.2-billion complex of dams that would have flooded thousands of acres in the bio-diverse Patagonia region in southern Chile have been put on indefinite hold in the face of ongoing protests against the project.

The five dams of the so-called HidroAysen project would increase Chile’s electricity capacity by 15% upon  completion in 2020. But it also would have flooded 12,500 acres of pristine territory that is increasingly popular as an eco-tourism destination.

Project partner Colbun, a utility company, announced Thursday that it was suspending work on an environmental impact study that is a prerequisite to starting the project, saying the government lacked a clear energy policy. The power utility that is majority partner, Enel-Endesa, also made it known that it wants to call a board of directors meeting to reconsider the project, roughly 1,000 miles south of the capital, Santiago.

The five dams would add 2,750 megawatts of power to the national power grid. 

Protests have been frequent in the year since the dam was given preliminary approval. Thousands of marchers poured into the streets of Santiago in April to protest a Supreme Court decision greenlighting the project.

Critics claimed that the rationale for the project was mainly to provide cheap energy to mining companies, not to consumers. Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has called the plan a “political and financial folly,” were among the groups opposed to the project.

Also opposing it is the Roman Catholic bishop of the Aysen region, Luis Infanti de la Mora, who in a pastoral letter last year said it would provide little local benefit.

But President Sebastian Pinera remains solidly behind the project, making the case that dams are necessary to reduce Chile's  96% dependence on imported oil. But his backing of HidroAysen has been a factor in his plummeting support in polls.

The government responded Friday by rejecting the notion of a suspension and insisting that it has a “clear energy policy.” Opposition group Aysen Future Foundation said in a statement that the suspension highlights the fact that the project is questionable and that support for it has diminished.

-- Fabiola Gutierrez in Santiago and Chris Kraul in Bogota, Colombia

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Photo: Chilean President Sebastian Pinera  Credit:  Luis Manuel de la Maza / Chilean  Presidential Press Office 

 


Peru miners rescued; kidnappers hold gas-field workers

  Peruvian president and rescued miners

LIMA, Peru -- Nine Peruvian miners trapped for six days in the collapse of a copper mine were rescued Wednesday, most walking out under their own power and wearing sunglasses against the light.

"Mission accomplished!" proclaimed President Ollanta Humala after the rescue at the mine in the southern region of Ica. Humala had flown to the zone the day before to oversee the rescue operation.

Rescuers were able to communicate with the trapped miners with a hose they lowered into the pit. It was also used to send oxygen, liquid nourishment and medicines.

The mine was not operating with proper permits, and Humala said the cave-in underscored the dangers faced by so-called informal  miners. Illegal mining, said to produce as much as $2 billion in metals annually, also does terrible damage to the environment and public health, his government has said.

Wednesday's rescue echoed the 2010 evacuation of 33 Chilean miners who had been entombed half a mile below ground for more than two months.

But as Peruvians celebrated the good news, another crisis was still playing out.

In the Andean region of Cuzco, 36 workers for gas-extracting companies have been kidnapped by guerrillas from the resurgent Shining Path group, officials from the firms said Wednesday. They have been held at least two days, and on Wednesday the government declared a 60-day state of emergency for the zone, which makes it easier for the army to deploy.

An estimated 550 army and police troops have fanned out through the area in search of Shining Path camps.

About 30 heavily armed guerrillas burst into three hotels and seized 39 workers. Three were released.

Shining Path emerged in the late 1970s as a Maoist faction aimed at toppling the Peruvian government. It was largely wiped out in the last two decades but has recently made a comeback, including being involved in drug trafficking.

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Photo: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, center, waves alongside nine miners rescued in the Ica region. Credit: Cris Bouroncle / AFP/Getty Images


25 suspected Anonymous hackers arrested in international sweep

Twenty-five alleged hackers from the freewheeling, decentralized Anonymous protest movement have been arrested across Europe and South America in a massive sweep coordinated by Interpol, an agency based in France that links police around the world.

Suspects arrested in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Spain were believed to have carried out coordinated digital attacks against the Colombian Ministry of Defense, a Chilean electrical company and other targets, the Associated Press reported.

The Spanish national police said Tuesday that they had arrested four “cyberdelinquents” tied to Anonymous, accused of blocking and defacing websites of political parties, institutions and businesses. Authorities seized 25 personal computers, hard drives and other equipment for analysis. Two servers used by the group in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic were blocked.

One of the arrestees, known by the aliases "Thunder" and "Pacotron," was believed to be in charge of the Anonymous infrastructure in Spain and Latin America, Spanish police said.

The Interpol website was down Tuesday evening. Online chatter hinted that Anonymous had carried off a revenge attack, echoing retaliatory hacks in the past when other members were arrested.

“interpol.int seems to be #TangoDown. We can’t say that this surprises us much,” an Anonymous account tweeted.

The loosely linked band of hackers has carried off a number of cyber attacks, many of them with activist aims, such as opposing broad bills against online piracy or supporting the "Arab Spring" protests.

In December, it brought down the Stratfor security think tank server and claimed to have stolen credit card numbers from its clients to nab money for Christmas donations.

Last year, it claimed to have obtained emails, credit card information and other sensitive data from U.S. police websites in retaliation for the arrests of alleged members in the U.S. and Britain.

The year before, it said it had attacked PayPal as part of "Operation Avenge Assange" after PayPal decided to stop processing donations for WikiLeaks, which many of its members admire.

And just a few weeks ago, it posted a 16-minute recording of an FBI conference call with foreign policing agencies about two British teenagers allegedly tied to the hacking group. 

"There are future operations planned in the way of everything from campaign finance reform, to elections, to infosec [information security] and much, much more, stay tuned," an Anonymous activist told the CNET technology news website in an interview Tuesday. "Expect us."

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South American prison deaths tied to overcrowding, official says

Violence at prisons in South America, where at least eight inmates were killed in recent weeks, remains tied to alarmingly shoddy conditions and rampant overcrowding, a United Nations official said Thursday.

Inmates in Uruguay, Argentina, Venezuela and Chile reportedly died during the last two weeks as a result of prison violence.

The “alarming pattern of prison violence in the region” points to problems with adequate space and unsanitary conditions, said Amerigo Incalcaterra, the U.N. human rights representative for South America. Prisons in the region are overcrowded by anywhere from 30% to 70%.

In Uruguay, three inmates died from inhaling smoke when someone intentionally set a fire, possibly because the prisoners robbed their cellmates, the Latin American Herald Tribune reported:

“The boys are tired of, for example, my mother bringing me things and them [the other prisoners] taking them from me. The problems inside here are for those reasons. They couldn’t take any more and set the fire when [the victims] were sleeping inside the cell,” said one inmate interviewed by El Espectador. 

In Argentina, one prisoner was stabbed to death by another prisoner, while another was killed by blows to the head, allegedly by guards. 

Venezuela is trying to tackle the problem with a new prison ministry after more than two dozen people died in prison riots in July. Officials are pledging to speed up trials for inmates charged with minor offenses.

Critics say the crowded prisons are the offspring of the South American war on drugs, which has led to severe punishments for even minor drug offenses.

"The implementation of harsh drug laws has fueled rising incarceration rates and has contributed to severe prison overcrowding," the Washington Office on Latin America and the Transnational Institute wrote in a study two years ago.

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Is bribery sometimes OK? How people answered across the Americas

Is it OK sometimes to use bribes, "given the way things are" in countries that may be grappling with corruption, crime and poverty?

People in Guyana and Haiti were roughly four times as likely to say yes as people in Brazil, Chile or Guatemala, according to a recently released survey of attitudes across Latin America and the Caribbean. The Vanderbilt University study found big differences in how bribery is viewed in different countries, based on a 2010 survey of nearly 41,000 people in 24 countries.

Researchers didn’t draw conclusions about why people in some countries were more likely to say bribery was justified. They did, however, find other factors that helped explain how people viewed bribery. People were more likely to believe that bribery was sometimes justifiable if they also believed that:

-- the national economy had taken a turn for the worse in the past year

-- crime was a threat to their future

-- corruption is rampant among government officials

The last point may help explain why the study showed that Haitian respondents were more likely than Chileans to say bribery was justifiable. In December, the group Transparency International ranked Haiti as one of the worst countries in the world for perceived corruption, placing it 175th out of 182 countries based on surveys. Chile, where people were much more likely to shun bribery, ranked 22nd.

But the corruption rankings do not explain all of the gaps between countries when it comes to bribery: Guatemala ranked only a little better than Guyana in perceived corruption, despite vast differences in their attitudes about bribery.

The study also found that men were much more likely than women to think bribery was permissible, wealthy people were more likely to think it was OK than poorer people, urbanites were more likely to condone it than people living in rural areas, and young people justified it more easily than older ones.

Curious where other countries stack up? Here is the full list of country rankings from the Vanderbilt report, sponsored by the Latin American Public Opinion Project:

 

Bribes

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Chilean court to rule on Neruda exhumation

Neruda
REPORTING FROM SANTIAGO, CHILE, AND BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- A Chilean judge is expected to rule early next month on a request that the body of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda be exhumed to test recent allegations that he was poisoned by government forces in 1973, days after they overthrew President Salvador Allende.

According to the official version, Neruda died of prostate cancer in a hospital in Santiago on Sept. 23, 12 days after Allende was toppled in a coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Friends say Neruda’s condition days before his death was excellent but that he deteriorated rapidly — and suspiciously — after the coup.

The Communist Party of Chile has always had suspicions that Neruda, a close friend of Allende, might have been poisoned, but that theory was given more credence in June, when the poet’s chauffeur went public for the first time with similar suspicions.

"The only way to clear it up is with an exhumation," Eduardo Contreras, a lawyer for the Communist Party who made the official request, told The Times on Saturday.

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