Category Archives: Latin America

Ireland, France set to block EU-Mercosur trade deal over Amazon

BED9A5E4-EE61-40A2-A8F5-85B8A0098FEBVast tracts of the Amazon jungle has burned and are being cleared by loggers and farmers in Novo Airao [Bruno Kelly/Reuters]

As wildfires rage through the Amazon, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and French President Emmanuel Macron have said they will vote against a trade deal between the European Union and South American trade bloc Mercosur unless Brazil takes action to protect the rainforest.

Varadkar said in a statement he was very concerned at the record levels of rainforest destruction, and said the Irish government would closely monitor Brazil’s environmental actions in the two years until the Mercosur deal is ratified

“There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement if Brazil does not honour its environmental commitments,” he said.

Macron, meanwhile, believes his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro lied to him on Brazil’s stance on climate change, and France will now join Ireland in blocking the trade deal between the EU and South American nations.

“Given the attitude of Brazil over the last weeks, the president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him at the Osaka [G20] summit [in June],” a French presidential official said on Friday, as a public row flared between the two leaders over wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest.

Brazil’s comments and policies over the past few weeks showed the right-wing Bolsonaro did not intend to respect obligations on climate change and also did not want to commit on concrete proposals to maintain biodiversity, said the official.

“Under these conditions, France will oppose the Mercosur (Free Trade Agreement with the EU) as it stands,” the French official added.

About 500 protesters, many from the Extinction Rebellion climate strike group, blocked the road outside Brazil’s embassy in London on Friday morning, incensed at Bolsonaro’s lack of environmental protections.

“When we destroy elements of biodiversity, we cut the threads that hold everything together,” Farnan Ellwood of the University of the West of England told Al Jazeera. “Biodiversity is nature’s protection mechanism, its insurance policy.

“We need to stop using hardwood furniture, stop eating beef – because it’s the beef farming which is driving deforestation. The second thing is to recognise the world has changed – we simply cannot go back. But there is some good news; scientists are trying to rebuild the biodiversity. If we can put the fire out – literally and figuratively – and stop the decline, then we can try to restore some of these complex networks of biodiversity.”

Macron had tweeted on Thursday that fires burning in the Amazon amounted to an international crisis and should be discussed as a top priority when the G7 countries meet this weekend in France.
Bolsonaro then blasted Macron for having a “colonialist mentality”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined Macron’s call on Friday, and it looks likely to be a topic for discussion.

Vast tracts of the Amazon – often described as the lungs of the world – are currently ablaze in what is known as the burning season. Environmentalists have blamed deforestation for an increase in fires and accuse Bolsonaro of cutting protection of an area deemed crucial in combating climate change.

Varadkar said Bolsonaro’s effort to blame non-government environmental organisations for the fires was “Orwellian”.

Ireland and France will need other EU states to help form a blocking minority if it wants to kill the deal which was reached in June after 20 years of negotiations between the EU and the Mercosur countries – Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

But the Irish government is under pressure to defend its beef farmers, already suffering from Britain’s looming EU exit and low prices, by seeking to ensure Mercosur countries do not flood the market with cheaper beef.

Bolsonaro has rejected what he calls foreign interference in Brazil’s affairs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/ireland-block-eu-mercosur-trade-deal-amazon-fires-190823095908509.html

 

 

 

Church advocates: Latin Americans understand God’s presence in nature

Latin America photoMembers of a rescue team pray before working in a collapsed tailings dam owned by a mining company in Brumadinho, Brazil, Feb. 13, 2019. (Credit: CNS photo/Washington Alves, Reuters.)

By Barbara Fraser

LIMA, Peru – Throughout Latin America, people whose lives and land have been affected by industries that extract natural resources, such as mining or oil operations, find strength in their spirituality, church leaders say.

“In many communities, there is a profound bond between the people, as community, and the presence of God expressed in the land, the trees, the rivers,” said Moema Miranda, a lay Franciscan who heads the Churches and Mining Network in Latin America.

That understanding has become stronger since Pope Francis issued the encyclical Laudato Si’, “on Care for Our Common Home” in 2015.

“Pope Francis says that everything is interrelated, and that human beings have an intrinsic value” that is often overlooked in cases where mining companies come into conflict with local communities, Miranda said.

The most recent example was the collapse of a dam that sent a flood of toxic water and mud cascading through a valley in Brumadinho, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, Jan. 25.

The disaster at the Vale mining company’s Feijao Mine left more than 150 people confirmed dead and at least as many missing in what Brazilian Bishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo of Belo Horizonte called “a criminal tragedy.”

“The bodies of the human and nonhuman victims remain buried and probably will never be found,” Miranda said at a Feb. 20 panel discussion, part of a workshop on extractive industries and spirituality organized by the Churches and Mining Network.

“This is not an isolated case,” she added, noting that the collapse of a similar dam at another mine owned by Vale, BHP Billiton and Samarco flooded the town of Bento Rodrigues in November 2015, killing 19 people and sending a cascade of polluted mud down the Doce River.

Viewing those disasters and others in light of Francis’s call to safeguard “our common home” leads people of faith to ask “what kind of house do we want to build in Latin America?” said Italian Scripture scholar Sandro Gallazzi, who works with the Brazilian Church’s Pastoral Land Commission in the northern city of Macapa.

Noting that the prefix “eco” comes from a Greek word meaning “house,” Gallazzi said economic decisions reflect “how the (home) should function.”

“The economy clearly favors the interests of a small minority of people at the cost of the suffering and exploitation of thousands upon thousands of people,” he said, echoing the pope’s words.

The economic boom that began in Latin America in the early 2000s spurred an expansion of mining and oil and gas concessions in the region, with governments saying the export of raw materials like minerals yielded revenues necessary for reducing poverty in their countries.

“But in many communities, people say, ‘I want my land, not to get money from it, but so I can continue to have clean water, or (they say) I am rich, I have a good life because I have forest. I’m not interested in (the company’s) money,’” Miranda said.

That has led to conflicts between mining companies and communities throughout the region.

In Peru, nearly two-thirds of the conflicts affecting communities involve environmental issues, said Javier Jahncke, executive secretary of Peru’s Muqui Network, part of the Churches and Mining Network.

Latin America’s mining regions tend to be places where people are affected by other violations of their rights, Miranda said. The areas are often home to small farmers and lack good transportation, education and health services.

The Churches and Mining Network, which began work in 2014, grew out of an awareness that “resistance in defense of life in general is grounded in spirituality,” she said.

The ecumenical network now includes about 70 religious communities and church groups in 15 countries.

The members engage in dialogue with bishops about issues related to mining and extractive industries, Miranda said. The network also provides training to people who live in communities affected by mining, to help them understand and defend their rights.

That activity is increasingly dangerous for grassroots leaders who protest the construction of mines, dams and other large-scale infrastructure projects, or the clearing of forests for industrial ranching and farming.

Global Witness, a London-based nonprofit organization that tracks violence against environmentalists, recorded 201 murders in 2017, of which 57 occurred in Brazil. That is also the country where Sister Dorothy Stang, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, was killed in 2005 for defending the rights of small farmers against ranchers in a remote area of the Amazon.

Despite the political and economic power behind projects that threaten their lands, people say “we won’t leave this place,” Miranda said. What gives them strength, however, is “not just a rational principle – it is a profound connection to the place where you are, to which you belong, and a response to a cry that comes from the earth, but which is heard by God.”

 

 

 

 

https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-americas/2019/02/25/church-advocates-latin-americans-understand-gods-presence-in-nature/

El Chapo drug trafficking trial: Mexican cartel boss found guilty

Drug photoEl Chapo twice escaped prison before his final capture in 2016. Photograph: Eduardo Verdugo/AP

The notorious cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has been found guilty of 10 counts of drug trafficking, at the end of a three-month New York trial that featured dramatic testimony of prison escapes, gruesome killings and million-dollar political payoffs.

Guzmán, who rose from poverty in rural Mexico to build a drug empire worth billions of dollars, is likely to spend the rest of his life in jail.

The 61-year-old showed no emotion as the verdict was read. Jurors had spent six days weighing the evidence against Guzmán, including testimony from more than 50 witnesses. Once the jury left the room, he and his wife Emma Coronel, put their hands to their hearts and gave each other the thumbs up sign. His wife shed tears.

US district judge Brian Cogan lauded the jury’s meticulous attention to detail and the “remarkable” approach it took toward deliberations. Cogan said it made him “very proud to be an American”.

Guzmán is set to be sentenced on 25 June. He is expected to receive life without parole.

The trial afforded a glimpse into the inner workings of the Sinaloa cartel, named for the Mexican state where Guzmán was born.

US prosecutors said he trafficked tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States over more than two decades, consolidating his power in Mexico through murders and wars with rival cartels.

Guzmán smuggled drugs into the US through secret tunnels, or hidden in tanker trucks, prosecutors said. The cartel would also conceal their cargo in the undercarriage of passenger cars and packed in rail cars passing through legitimate points of entry.

Witnesses testifying against Guzmán included former cartel lieutenants and a cocaine supplier who underwent plastic surgery to disguise his appearances. The court heard stories of Mexican workers getting contact highs while packing cocaine into thousands of jalapeño cans shipments that totaled 25 to 30 tons of cocaine worth $500m each year.

One cartel member turned government witness told of how Guzmán sometimes acted as his own hitman. The witness said Guzmán had kidnapped, beat and shot a man who had dared to work for another cartel. Guzmán then ordered his men to bury the victim while he was still alive.

In contrast to the weight of evidence presented by the prosecution, the defense case lasted just half an hour. Guzmán’s lawyers did not deny his crimes, instead arguing their client was a fall guy for government witnesses who were more evil than he was.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman urged the jury in closing arguments not to believe government witnesses who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people.”

Jurors spent six days weighing the charges against Guzmán, their deliberations complicated by the trial’s vast scope. The jury members, whose identities were kept secret, were tasked with making 53 decisions about whether prosecutors had proven different elements of the case.

The trial cast a harsh glare on the corruption that allowed the cartel to flourish. Colombian trafficker Alex Cifuentes caused a stir by testifying that former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto took a $100m bribe from Guzman. Peña Nieto denied it, but the allegation fit a theme: politicians, army commanders, police and prosecutors, all on the take.

The tension at times was cut by some of the trial’s sideshows, such as the sight of Guzmán and his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, showing up in matching burgundy velvet blazers in a gesture of solidarity.

One day a Chapo-size actor who played the kingpin in the TV series Narcos: Mexico came to watch, telling reporters that seeing the defendant flash him a smile was “surreal”.

While the trial was dominated by Guzmán’s persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun, the jury never heard from Guzmán himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn’t testify.

But recordings of intercepted calls gave the court plenty of opportunity to hear Guzman speak.

“Amigo!” he said to a cartel distributor in Chicago. “Here at your service.”

One of the trial’s most memorable tales came from Guzmán’s then girlfriend Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez. Sanchez testified that she was in bed in a safe house with an on-the-run Guzmán in 2014, when Mexican marines started breaking down the door.

She said Guzmán led her to a trap door beneath a bathtub that opened up to a tunnel that allowed them to escape.

Asked what he was wearing, she replied: “He was naked. He took off running. He left us behind.”

Guzmán had staged escapes from jail in 2014 and 2001. In the earlier breakout Guzmán hid in a laundry bin before being escorted to a mountainside hideaway by corrupt police officers.

In 2014 Guzmán escaped from a high-security jail via a mile-long lighted tunnel on a motorcycle on rails.

Acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker said the trial demonstrated the US government’s “tenacity and commitment to pursuing kingpins like Guzman”.

“This conviction serves as an irrefutable message to the kingpins that remain in Mexico, and those that aspire to be the next Chapo Guzmán, that eventually you will be apprehended and prosecuted,” Whitaker said.

Guzmán’s lawyers, meanwhile, said they would appeal the verdict.

“We were faced with extraordinary and unprecedented obstacles in defending Joaquin, including his detention in solitary confinement,” the lawyers said in a statement.

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/12/el-chapo-mexican-drug-kingpin-guilty-drug-trafficking

 

 

Five dead in Brazilian cathedral shooting, cathedral priest asks for prayer

killings photoCathedral of Our Lady of the Conception, Campinas, Brazil. Credit: Leticia Cardosa/wikimedia. CC BY 4.0 SA

Campinas, Brazil,(CNA).- A gunman killed at least four people people Tuesday, inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Conception in Campinas, Brazil. After opening fire inside the cathedral, the gunman took his own life.

The man entered the cathedral at the conclusion of a midday Mass on Dec. 11 and began firing, according to the Military Police of Campinas. In addition to those killed, at least four people were injured during the attack.

According to local fire department officials, the man was carrying two handguns, at least one of which was a .38 caliber revolver.

He reportedly committed suicide directly in front of the cathedral’s altar.

“At the end of the Mass, a person came in firing and took lives. Nobody could do anything,” the priest said.

Father Amauri Thomazzi, who celebrated Tuesday’s 12:15 Mass in the cathedral, published a video on his Facebook page, in which he requested prayer.

“To you, friends, I ask only that you pray for the [attacker]. He killed himself after the situation. He shot people and there were over 20 shots in here, then he killed himself. So we pray for him and for those who have been injured, there are some fatalities,” he said.

The names of the victims and the attacker have not yet been disclosed. On its Facebook page, the Archdiocese of Campinas also urged Catholics to pray.

“A shooting left at least five people dead and four others injured in the early afternoon of Tuesday, inside the Metropolitan Cathedral of Campinas, in the city center, according to information from the fire department. The motive is not yet known,” the Facebook post said.

“The cathedral remains closed for the care of the victims and the investigation of the police. Once we have more information, we will make it available. We count on the prayers of all in this moment of deep pain,” the post concluded.

Major Paulo Monteiro of the Campinas Fire Department told reporters that the motive for the crime is not yet known and that at the moment the main concern is the care of the survivors.

The wounded were taken to local hospitals; their condition has not been disclosed.

“Let us ask Our Lady Immaculate to intercede for this cathedral, for these people and for these families,” Thomazzi urged.
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/five-dead-in-brazilian-cathedral-shooting-cathedral-priest-asks-for-prayer-97639

Dominican Brother’s ashes to return to Amazonia

Henri Burin des Roziers - the lawyer of the landless
Dominican Brother Henri Burin des Roziers, nicknamed “the lawyer of the landless” wanted to “stay with his family.” (Photo by Paulo Amorin/AFP)

by Aglaé de Chalus, Rio de Janeiro
April 12, 2018
La Croix International

From the time of his arrival in Brazil in 1978, Brother Henri legally defended small farmers expelled from their lands and threatened by the powerful fazendeiros or large landowners in the Amazon region.

His ashes will now be handed over on April 14 to a camp community of 150 families of landless farmers. The community, which is named after him, is located at Curionopolis in Para, one of the largest states of Amazonia, where Brother Henri lived and worked for more than 35 years.

“We are organizing a simple, people-oriented ceremony,” said Dominican Brother Xavier Plassat, who coordinates the Land Pastoral Commission campaign against slave labor, Brother Henri’s other great battle.

Brother Xavier brought the ashes back with him from Paris, where Brother Henri had lived since 2015 and where he died aged 87 on Nov. 26, 2017.

The ecumenical celebration will be followed by a “political event” since conflicts and tensions are continuing to grow in Amazonia, Brother Xavier said.

The work of Brother Henri’s religious community, who like him have committed themselves to the struggles of the poorest people in Amazonia, has become increasingly difficult.

On March 27, the Catholic community in the region was shocked by the arrest of Father José Amaro Lopes de Souza, parish priest at Anapu in the Para and a member of the Land Pastoral Commission, on charges of criminal association, threats, extortion, pillage, money laundering and sexual aggression.

Father Amaro, who has received a succession of death threats since 2005, worked closely for several years with Dorothy Stang, the American missionary assassinated in 2005 by the fazendeiros.

“When Dorothy Stang started to support the farmers’ struggle, the fazendeiros decided to kill her,” the Land Pastoral Commission noted in a statement dismantling the evidence and testimony against the priest.

“All the indications now are that they have decided to change their strategy regarding Father Amaro,” the statement said.

“Instead of assassinating him, they have discovered a new way to demoralize Father Amaro by attacking his image and turning him into a criminal,” the Land Pastoral Commission said in the statement.

“The accusation makes no sense,” added Brother Xavier Plassat.

“A dozen fazendeiros got together and manipulated a couple of former landless farmers, who had to leave their camp for poor conduct and who seem to want to take revenge,” he said. “The whole thing is a farce.”

“Father Amaro has become the victim of defamation to delegitimize his work on behalf of the weakest,” said Bishop João Muniz Alves of Xingu, who heads the diocese where Anapu is located, and Retired Bishop Erwin Kräutler of Xingu in a letter.

The Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, the French Catholic development agency, CCFD Terre Solidaire, several dioceses and pastoral centers in the region as well as many local social movements also condemned the arrest.

“There is a generalized climate of hatred of the people’s movements and those who support them,” said Brother Xavier Plassat.

This climate has worsened since the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff in 2016, he said.

“There is a spirit of revenge on the side of these powerful groups, a desire to wipe out the victories of the 15 years of popular government,” he said.

“The church is caught up in this acrimony, even though the priests of Amazonia are far from all involved,” he added.

In 2007, three bishops from Amazonia, including Bishop Kräutler, were included in a list of ten religious to be eliminated.

Brother Henri was also on the list after having a price placed on his head during the year 2000.

For the next 15 years, he lived with two bodyguards.

In 2016, sixty-one people were killed in land conflicts in Brazil, according to the Land Pastoral Commission, 79 percent of which occurred in Amazonia.


Source: https://international.la-croix.com/news/dominican-brother-s-ashes-to-return-to-amazonia/7340

Priest campaigning for Brazil’s Amazon arrested for sex crimes and extortion

Karla Mendes

March 29, 2018 | RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A Brazilian priest who risked his life campaigning for the landless has been arrested for sexual harassment and extortion but his lawyer said the charges are a ruse to stop his work.

Jose Amaro Lopes de Sousa, known as Padre Amaro, is regarded as the successor to American nun and environmental activist Dorothy Stang, who was murdered in 2005, an emblematic case for the many conflicts over land use in resource-rich Brazil.

A police statement said that Amaro was arrested on Tuesday in the city of Anapu in northern Para state, home to a vast Amazon rainforest reserve, following a court order and eight months of investigations.

“For us, there is no doubt that behind this investigation there is a ranchers’ conspiracy aiming to make Padre Amaro’s work unfeasible,” the priest’s lawyer, Jose Batista Afonso, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone on Wednesday.

“Padre Amaro personifies nun Dorothy’s work … He has been receiving death threats for a long time.”

Stang often criticized cattle ranchers for seizing land illegally and destroying the rainforest, highlighting tensions between farmers and environmentalists in the top global beef exporter. Local landowners were jailed for ordering her death.

The ranchers’ union in Anapu said they had nothing to do with Amaro’s arrest, adding that about 400 police reports, including videos and witness testimonies, support the charges.

“(Amaro) held meetings in the dead of night, encouraging people to invade land and then had an illegal trade in these invaded lands,” Silverio Albano Fernandes, head of Anapu’s ranchers union, said by phone.

“He was making profit from these sales as he kept a percentage. Everybody knows it here.”

London-based campaign group Global Witness said that Brazil was the world’s most dangerous nation for land rights activists in 2016, with about 50 people killed.

About a dozen land activists have been murdered since 2005 in Anapu, where Amaro is based, according to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), set up by the Catholic Church to combat violence against the rural poor.

Amaro’s opponents could not kill him because of the international outcry following Stang’s shooting, and because some are still in jail, said Afonso, who works for CPT.

“Of course, the way chosen to try to nullify the priest’s work would be different,” he said.

Afonso said he will file for habeas corpus, which requires Amaro be brought to court and released unless lawful grounds can be shown for his detention.

“We hope the arrest will be revoked,” he said.


Reporting by Karla Mendes; Editing by Katy Migiro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-landrights-arrests/priest-campaigning-for-brazils-amazon-arrested-for-sex-crimes-and-extortion-idUSKBN1H52H6

Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

Brazil dam disaster: firm knew of potential impact months in advance

Unreported documents show mining company was aware of threat before country’s worst environmental disaster but took no action, prosecutors allege

by Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro and Davilson Brasileiro in Ponte Nova.
Photographs: Nicoló Lanfranchi
The Guardian (World) Thu 1 March 2018

Brizil dam disaster-firm knew

Six months before a dam containing millions of litres of mining waste collapsed, killing 19 people in Brazil’s worst environmental disaster, the company operating the mine accurately predicted the potential impact of such a disaster in a worst-case risk assessment.

But federal prosecutors claim the company – a joint venture between the Brazilian mining giant Vale and the Anglo-Australian multinational BHP Billiton – failed to take actions that they say could have prevented the disaster. The prosecutors instead claim the company focused on cutting costs and increasing production.

“They prioritized profits and left safety in second place,” said José Adércio Sampaio, coordinator of a taskforce of federal prosecutors, summarising the criminal case against the joint venture and its parent companies.”

When the Fundão tailings dam failed on 5 November 2015, it unleashed about 40m litres of water and sediment from iron ore extraction in a wave that polluted the water supply for hundreds of thousands of people, decimated wildlife and spewed a rust-red plume of mud down the Doce river.

Yet more than two years later, nobody has accepted responsibility.

Previously unreported internal documents from the joint venture Samarco show that six months before the collapse, the company carried out a worst-case assessment of the dam, near Mariana in Minas Gerais state.

The Fundao dam -Nicolo Lanfranchi
The Fundão dam had a catastrophic failure in 2015, causing flooding and at least 17 deaths. Photograph: Nicoló Lanfranchi

The document – one of hundreds submitted to the court by prosecutors – warned that a maximum possible loss from a “liquification break” could mean up to 20 deaths, cause serious impacts to land, water resources and biodiversity over 20 years, and cost $3.4bn.

The prosecutors’ complaint also includes harrowing accounts by survivors from Bento Rodrigues, a small community obliterated by the mud released in the disaster.

Wesley Izabel managed to save his two-year-old son, Nicolas, but his daughter, Emanuelle, five, slipped from his fingers to her death.

When the mud engulfed her house, Darcy Santos heard her grandson Thiago, seven, cry “help me, Jesus!” before he was suffocated.

Until the disaster, Samarco was a Brazilian success story. In 2014, despite falling international iron prices, it declared a net profit of $1.3bn.

But prosecutors allege that its directors encouraged the company to keep cutting costs.

Read this article from The Guardian Online edition.