August 05, 2013
The Yasuní-ITT Initiative was designed to leave more than 846 million barrels of crude oil untouched, in perpetuity, beneath Yasuní National Park — rioting with unknown species and tribes living in voluntary isolation.
In exchange, the government asked the world to cover just half of the crude’s $7.2 billion market price.
Environmental groups praised the plan as a novel way to slash greenhouse gases. In 2010, the United Nations threw its support behind the project, setting up a trust fund to receive and manage donations. There were hopes that crowd-sourcing conservation might be a model for other developing nations.
But six years after its launch, those goals are proving elusive. The plan has raised less than 10 percent of the $3.6 billion it’s seeking. Ecuador’s government says it has received $116.7 million and has pledges for an additional $220 million — some of it in non-cash cooperation. The United Nations trust fund has just $9.8 million in the bank.
The shortfall is driving speculation that Ecuador might be forced to drill for crude in the ITT oil block (short for Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini), which it says holds 20 percent of the nation’s reserves.
“We want to keep 400 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere,” President Rafael Correa told a crowd in April. “But if the international community doesn’t help share the responsibility, we have to make the best decision for the Ecuadorean people.”
Correa and his cabinet held a meeting about the fate of the project in June and are expecting to meet again in coming weeks. Officials say drilling the ITT is on the table.
In the balance is one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet. The ITT block is among the most isolated areas of Yasuní National Park, a 2.4 million-acre U.N. biosphere reserve, which holds about one-third of all of the Amazon’s amphibian species, even though it represents just a small fraction of the total area. In any given two-and-a-half acre plot of the Yasuní — roughly the size of a soccer pitch — there are more species of trees than in the United States and Canada combined.
An entomologist from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History told me that 85% of all the insects he collects in Yasuni are unknown to researchers.
PHOTO: Santiago Serrano
July 24, 2013
BOGOTA, Colombia -- At least 220,000 people have been killed, more than 5,000 have disappeared and 4.7 million have been forced off their land during Colombia’s 54-year civil conflict. The chilling numbers, presented Wednesday by a government commission, are the most thorough accounting ever made of this nation’s ongoing struggles.
The report, which took six years to compile, comes as the country is in the midst of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the nation’s largest guerrilla group, even as it engages the rebels in pitched battles.
Among the study’s findings: Civilians accounted for 82 percent of all conflict-related deaths, and one out of every three violent deaths can be blamed on the conflict. Of the 1,982 massacres — defined as the killing of four or more people — from 1980 to 2012, right-wing paramilitary groups were responsible for 59 percent of them. Of the 27,023 kidnappings from 1970 to 2010, guerrillas were to blame 91 percent of the time.
While the nation’s armed combatants took the bulk of the blame, the armed forces were also put in the spotlight. The military and police were responsible for 8 percent of all massacres, 42 percent of all forced disappearances and 6.5 percent of all selective killings, according to the report.
“The numbers force us to revise the true cost of the armed conflict,” the report states. While many believed the conflict caused one out of every 10 violent deaths, the true figure is triple that amount.
“Likewise, it’s possible to refute claims that there’s symmetry between the number of civilian and combatant casualties,” the report said. “On the contrary, civilians are more affected. For every combatant killed, four civilians died.”
July 02, 2013
As Ecuador backtracks on Snowden asylum, Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba emerge as potential safe-havens
Stranded in a Moscow airport, NSA-leaker Edward Snowden is casting his asylum net wider as he hopes to elude capture by U.S. authorities on espionage charges.
With a number of countries backtracking on support , including Ecuador, Snowden’s options seemed to be dwindling, but might include Venezuela, Bolivia or Cuba.
On Tuesday, whistleblower website WikiLeaks said it had submitted asylum papers on Snowden’s behalf with at least 19 countries, in addition to Russia and Ecuador.
Among the Latin American destinations are Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. But it’s still unclear how Snowden might get out of Russia. The United States has revoked his passport and Ecuador says that any documents he might have from that country are not valid.
The impasse raised speculation that Snowden, 30, might hitch a ride with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who is in Russia for a meeting with leaders of gas-exporting countries. Asked by reporters Tuesday if he would leave with the U.S. fugitive, Maduro avoided the question.
“We’re going to take back many accords that we’ve signed with Russia,” he said, according to the Venezuelan presidency, “that’s what we’re going to take back to Venezuela.”
May 20, 2013
CHINCHINÁ, Colombia At a sprawling central Colombia coffee laboratory and research facility — full of coffee plants trapped in jars and shimmering test-tubes — workers poked their heads out of cubicles to share the latest news from Central America and Mexico.
“Did you read that story about Nicaragua?” one asked a visiting delegation. “They’re really suffering.”
Just a few years ago, the Colombian coffee industry was on its knees as a virulent fungus known as coffee-leaf rust – or roya in Spanish — infected 40 percent of the crop.
Millions of dollars and a massive re-planting effort later, this Andean nation is showing signs of recovery just as its neighbors to the North are being slammed by the blight.
Analysts believe roya could hit 30 to 50 percent of the Central American and Mexican coffee crop over the next few years, and some aid agencies fear it could lead to hunger or even famine in a region where farmers live from harvest to harvest.
If Colombia’s fight with roya is any indication, Central America could have a long, expensive and rough road ahead. Read the full story here
May 13, 2013
JERICÓ, Colombia -- In her lifetime, Laura Montoya’s stubborn determination to help Colombia’s indigenous people brought the reproach of society, the political elite and the church, which viewed her work with suspicion and accused her of being unstable.
But on Sunday, an adoring nation celebrated the woman, better known as Madre Laura, as this Catholic country’s first saint.
In this hilltop town where she was born, surrounded by coffee farms, revelers crammed the central plaza to watch the Vatican canonization ceremony that began at 2:30 a.m. local time. As Pope Francis announced her name, bells rang, fireworks frightened pigeons out of the trees and a giant portrait of Montoya – her young face framed by a nun’s habit – was unveiled on the city’s cathedral.
This town was always bittersweet for Montoya, who died in 1949 at age 75. Her father was killed here when she was two and, in her autobiography, she recalls being shuttled from town-to-town impoverished, lonely and insecure.
“She thought of herself as defective and incapable,” said Estefanía Martínez, 90, a nun who took care of Montoya during her final years. “But she was so brave and so sure of the job that God had given her.”
Montoya said her relationship with God began when she was six or seven. She was helping the ants in her neighborhood move their cargo of leaves, when she said she felt like she was “injured by lightning” and so overwhelmed by the presence of God that she screamed and sobbed in joy.
“Today, after all my studies and learning,” she wrote years later, “I don’t know more about God than I knew that day.”
Montoya eked out a living as a teacher to support her family, but her passion was missionary work.
In 1914, even before she was ordained, Montoya organized an expedition of six women, including her aging mother, and took a 10-day trip into the wilderness to live with and minister to an indigenous Emberá Katío clan near the town of Dabeiba. Initially, the mission didn’t have the church’s backing, as officials thought that such risky ventures were best undertaken by men. Church leaders called her “crazy” and “visionary,” and suggested that she might be looking for a husband in the wilderness, according to her biographer Manuel Díaz Álvarez.
May 09, 2013
I recently wrote a story about Bogota's new public health program that aims to use medical marijuana to wean addicts off of bazuco. Bazuco is a cheap, crack-like drug -- made with residue from cocaine processing, kerosene and sulfuric acid --that seems to turn people (at least the bazuqueros in my neighborhood) into raving, teeth-gnashing zombies. More on that below.
But Accion Tecnica Social, one of the groups spearheading that project, is launching another program today. It's called Echale cabeza cuando se de en la cabeza, which very roughly translates to: Give it some thought before you blow your mind.
In brief, ATS plans to set up mobile drug labs at raves and parties so revelers can test their pills and powders before ingesting them.
ATS has a long history of trying to promote safer partying, and this is part of that effort. But the organization's head, Julian Quintero -- who has a tattoo down his arm that reads "Nice people take drugs" -- said the labs are also likely to be a deterrent. The quality and purity of many street drugs, but particularly ecstasy and cocaine, has gone down hill, he said. The drug tests will give users a sense of how dirty their drugs truly are and how much money they might be wasting. It's an interesting idea, particularly if it can help people who are going to consume anyway do it a bit more safely.
I met the two people pictured above at a recent marijuana-legalization rally in Bogota. Although smoking and selling weed is illegal here, people are allowed to carry a small amount, known as a "personal dose," and grow their own plants. The city's new medical-marijuana initiative plans to capitalize on those laws to make the program work.
But before you start booking flights in this direction, many partakers say the police have little regard for "minimum dose" laws and are happy to throw folks in the clink.
Now, here's the story about the marijuana-for-bazuco plan:
BOGOTA, Colombia -- Marijuana has long been accused of being a gateway to deadlier vices. But could cannabis be a swinging door that might also lead people away from hard drugs? That’s what this capital city is trying to find out.
In coming weeks, Bogotá is embarking on a controversial public health project where it will begin supplying marijuana to 300 addicts ofbazuco — a cheap cocaine derivative that generates crack-like highs and is as addictive as heroin.
Bogota has 7,500 bazuco users among its 9,500 homeless population, said Ruben Dario Ramirez, director of the Center for the Study and Analysis of Coexistence and Security, which is spearheading the project.
Addicts are often driven to panhandling and crime to support their habit, turning pockets of this thriving city into bazuco wastelands where junkies huddle to smoke the drug. In the last three years, 277 homeless people have been murdered, he said.
For the most desperate users, the cannabis cure may be the only way out.
“People accuse us of turning bazuco addicts into marijuana addicts but that’s an urban myth,” he said. “This program is about reducing personal harm and the risks to society.”
Authorities believe that by supplying addicts with quality-controlled medical marijuana with a high THC content (the mind-altering component of marijuana) and that is specifically selected to relieve the anxiety that comes with kicking bazuco, they might be able to rescue some of them.
The idea is controversial. Critics have accused Ramirez and his colleagues of smoking their own medicine and say the project risks making city government an enabler.
May 01, 2013
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said opposition lawmakers were to blame for the bloody, chair-throwing brawl in the National Assembly Tuesday night. During a May Day speech he said the opposition had provoked the violence and had arrived at the Assembly with "paralyzers," which is a "gas" they intended "to throw in the face of the deputies."
He also said he would be showing videos to prove it. You can see some of the footage that's already out there here
And here's today's Miami Herald story about Tuesday's May Day marches.
Government supporters and opposition groups in Venezuela held dueling May Day marches Wednesday amid growing tensions over last month’s contested presidential election and one day after the legislature devolved into a bloody, chair-throwing brawl.
The rallies were, ostensibly, to celebrate international workers day, and counted on the support of rival unions and labor organizations. But they were also a show of political strength in a nation still at odds over the April 14 presidential vote.
President Nicolás Maduro and rival Henrique Capriles spearheaded the marches but tried to avoid confrontation by routing their supporters through different parts of Caracas.
In his ongoing battle to prove that the election was plagued by fraud, Capriles, 40, the governor of Miranda state, told throngs of supporters he would be handing over evidence of irregularities to the Supreme Court on Thursday. “We will make our case to every institution even though we don’t trust the state,” he said. “In any moment this [government] will fall, but its exit has to be constitutional. … This is a peaceful fight to defeat their lies.” Read the full story here.
The percentage of the world’s population living in societies with a fully free press has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade, according to a Freedom House report released today.
The study, "Freedom of the Press 2013," found an overall downturn in global media freedom in 2012 "punctuated by dramatic decline in Mali, deterioration in Greece, and a further tightening of controls in Latin America."
In Latin America, 15 countries were ranked with a "free press," 14 had a "partly free" press and six had "not free" press.
Among the Latin America highlights are:
St. Lucia ranked among the top for press freedom coming in at 12 out of 196 on the list.
Costa Rica came in at 23 (tied with the United States.)
Peru came in at 89
Bolivia and Panama tied at 94
The nations ranked "Not Free" were:
Mexico, Ecuador, Paraguay tied at 134
And at the bottom of the barrel was Cuba at 191. It's tied with Iran.
April 29, 2013
For another look at how the European economic crisis is hitting South America, check out today's IDB report on remittances. The study found that while remittances were up slightly (0.6 percent) in Latin America and the Caribbean during 2012, inflows were down 1.1 percent in South America.
Look at the full report here, or my colleague Mimi Whitefiled's story here, but, in short, the study shows that regions that rely on the U.S. for remittances were faring better than those that rely on Spain and Europe.
In Central America, for example, remittances were up in every country. In South America, they were down in eight out of 12 nations.
The top receivers in SouthAm were Colombia ($4.1 billion), Peru ($2.8 billion), and Ecuador ($2.5 billion.)
February 01, 2013
Three Colombian police officers were killed today along the Venezuelan border as they were on the lookout for gasoline smugglers, authorities said. Venezuela's gasoline cost just pennies the liter, and there's a thriving blackmarket for the cheap fuel on this side of the border.
The government has not released details about today's murders but authorities have increasingly accused ELN and FARC guerrillas of muscling into the trade.
I recently talked to the commander of the Pacific Navy fleet and he said there are indications that the FARC are not only in the blackmarket gas business but illegal logging, too.
Here's that story:
BUENAVENTURA, Colombia -- In a muddy creek on the outskirts of town, hundreds of thick logs were piled up waiting to be turned into planks and plywood. Luis Mercedes, a veteran logger, admits he felled the trees and floated them downriver without a permit, but he says poverty forces him to cut corners.
Authorities see it differently. They fear that unregulated logging, mining and other gray-market activities along the coast are turning into sources of income for rebels and criminal gangs that haunt the area.
Colombia and the nation’s largest guerrilla group resumed peace talks in Havana this week in hopes of ending a bloody, 50-year civil conflict. The talks come as the country is braces for a possible new spate of violence starting Sunday when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, lift a unilateral ceasefire imposed over the holidays.
Both sides have said they’re optimistic that the sweeping five-point peace plan will bring an end to the violence by year’s end. But hurdles remain. Among them, the FARC will be required to give up the drug trade.
But on this marshy western Pacific coast, long-known for its cocaine smuggling routes, authorities say the guerrillas are diversifying into industries that are harder to detect because they’re easily camouflaged amidst the poverty, and the final products — wood and gold — are legal.
“The narco-terrorists have realized how lucrative these businesses are, and there are areas along Colombia’s Pacific that are abandoning coca cultivation and turning to illegal mining and other activities,” said Vice Admiral Rodolfo Amaya, commander of the Pacific Navy fleet. “These bandits want to control any industry that is producing cash.”
ABOUT THIS BLOG
Inside South America is written by Jim Wyss, the South America bureau chief for the Miami Herald and McClatchy Newspapers.
- Peace, Politics clash in Colombia as presidential race heats up
- Four month ordeal of US veteran held by Colombia's FARC comes to an end
- Ecuador's Chevron trial goes on trial, as plaintiffs' lawyer faces RICO allegations
- Leaders of Dominican Rep. and Ecuador top new ranking, US and Uruguay at bottom
- Colombia tie guarantees nation World Cup slot; Ecuador moves one step closer
- Breaking Bad comes to Latin America but will the chemistry work?
- Venezuela inflation just shy of hitting 50% for year
- US veteran kidnapped by Colombia's FARC "speaks" from captivity
- US and Venezuela: Anatomy of a diplomatic breakdown
- A tale of two malls sheds bleak light on Venezuela economic policy
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