The police presence outside the Bolivian presidential palace isn’t there to ensure President Evo Morales’ safety today.
Sectors of the Bolivian police entered the sixth day of a strike today as their leaders negotiate a salary increase with the Morales government. Over the past week protesting rank and file officers sacked police buildings around the country and confronted government supporters outside the president's offices in the Andean city of La Paz.
On Sunday, President Morales claimed right-wing forces had infiltrated the police protest in an attempt to set the stage for a coup. That's a powerful word in Bolivia – and Latin America – today, as memories of protests by Ecuadorian police in 2010 and the Paraguayan Senate's removal of President Fernando Lugo last week loom large in the national consciousness. However, police protest leaders roundly deny any plans to precipitate a coup.
Their key demand is a basic salary raise of about 30 percent to nearly $300 a month, which would bring police salaries in line with those of armed forces. Though life in most cities across the country has been unaffected, the situation in Plaza Murillo in La Paz is tense, as officers wearing masks and wielding stakes dominate the area.
Adding to these tensions is the impending arrival of more than a thousand indigenous marchers protesting a government-planned road that would cut through the National Park and Indigenous Territory Isiboro Secure (TIPNIS).
The march, which has covered more than 300 miles, is the second in less than a year by indigenous people from Bolivia's eastern lowlands heading to the square where the presidential palace is located. Leaders planned to enter the Plaza Murillo today, but put off their arrival because the police strike currently dominates the city. The Morales administration has also accused the indigenous march of seeking to destabilize the government. Marchers deny that charge and say they want a firm commitment from the government that the road will not cut through the national park, and respect for their communal lands.
So far the army has not been called on to intervene in the police strike. That's a relief to many Bolivians who remember February of 2003, when the army and police entered into a violent clash that left more than 30 people dead. For now, La Paz remains watchful, as residents wait for the result of the police negotiations and the arrival of the march.
In the US, the Supreme Court's decision on Arizona's controversial immigration law, known as SB 1070, was either a wild success or colossal failure, depending on who is asked. The law's architect, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, hailed the decision for allowing the “heart” of the law to go into effect – requiring officers to check the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally – while immigrant advocates say racial profiling has been given the OK by America's highest court.
There are many outlooks in-between, especially since the court struck down three-quarters of the law. (And even when it comes to what Gov. Brewer calls the "heart," asking for proof of citizenship, the ruling is not as simple as the media, or governor, have painted it, according to Mother Jones.)
But forget the nuances. In Mexico the feelings are unanimous:
“This is bad, very bad,” says Miguel Barajas, a gardener in Mexico City who spent 25 years working in a plastics factory in California. He just returned last year, after his father died, and is heading back in September. He has US residency, but he says his compatriots who do not are simply in the US to work, nothing more. “We support your country,” he says.
And, the Mexican government says, the US does not return this support. The ministry of foreign relations issued a statement expressing its disappointment over the Supreme Court decision. “The application of such state laws (as SB 1070) could result in violations of civil rights of Mexicans that reside in or visit states that have them in vigor,” it said. It added that the decision leads to misunderstandings between the US and Mexico and fails to recognize the contributions that Mexicans make to US society.
The nation's opinion pages shared similar sentiments. Jorge A. Bustamante, in the daily Reforma, condemned the decision for leaving the door open to discrimination based on what a person looks like. “Obviously the decision of the highest court in the United States is terrible news for the close to 7 million undocumented Mexican immigrants in the country.”
Mr. Bustamante points out the discrepancies between the reaction of the “Latinos” vs. that of US Republicans. “The first are mad because the decision was not against the entirety of the law SB 1070. The second are annoyed that the decision was not a “carte blanche” for the states to legislate immigration without restriction,” he writes. “My conclusion is that the battle over immigration is far from over with this Supreme Court decision.”
Carlos Puig, in the daily Milenio, puts it more simply, and in doing so pretty much sums up the sentiments of Mr. Barajas and many of those south of the border: “The absurdity of Arizona, now validated by the Supreme Court.”
The shootout in the food court, just after 9 a.m., in Mexico City's international airport Monday might be a rare event. But it's also a measure of how – and why – the perception of security in this country continues to plummet.
Visiting Mexico City is an intimidating prospect. So I almost always meet visitors at the airport, a friendly face who knows her way around, trying to prove that this big bad metropolis is misunderstood.
The few times I haven't been able to make it, I have never worried for my visitors' safety. I simply give them the one piece of advice they must always – always – follow: do not take a taxi from the street. Almost all express kidnappings (where victims are often picked up, taken to an ATM and forced to withdraw all of their money) happen in unauthorized cabs, and no targets are better than disoriented tourists. “Buy a ticket at the counter and walk directly to the taxi line,” I always implore.
That worked well enough for a while. But in 2009 something tragic happened. A French researcher arrived in Mexico City and changed over 4,000 euros at a cash exchange booth. Someone had been watching. And when the man drove away with a driver, he was followed. At a side street he was shot in the head, his backpack full of cash taken.
I started adding to my “do not do” list. “Don't exchange money or take it out of the bank machines,” I said. If I could make it to the airport, I would pay for the taxi back to my house. If I couldn't make it, I would send a far more expensive driver to pick up guests – someone who I could pay when my visitors arrived so they wouldn't have to exchange dollars or euros into pesos at the airport.
Now gunfire has erupted right inside the terminal. Apparently suspected drug traffickers in police uniform opened fire in the food court outside of Terminal 2 as federal policeman approached them and panicked passengers took cover under tables. Three officers were killed: two at the scene and one of gunshot wounds later.
So now what should I say? “Don't eat? Simply don't arrive?”
The truth is, I am not worried about any of my visitors being the victim of a random shooting (the same way I used to tell foreign friends they were highly unlikely to get carjacked if they arrived in Miami or shot outside of Los Angeles).
Still, the shootout Monday is troubling for Mexico for two reasons. It is another sign that drug trafficking violence, which has largely spared Mexico City, is coming ever closer. And while tourism officials have gone to great measures to reassure tourists that drug trafficking violence is not concentrated in the traditional tourist areas of the country, almost all visitors have to fly through Mexico City.
I am sure at least a few of those travelers will be scared off now, and opt for the Bahamas instead. I am also sure of one other thing: there is no chance I will get out of picking up my mother from the airport on her next visit.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, cuba.foreignpolicyblogs.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
To the untrained eye, Argentina’s economic future might seem bullish. Under current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, an average annual growth rate of 7 percent has been impressive, and is lower than that of only one other government in Argentine history. Positive external forces have been working in the nation’s favor in recent years: new agricultural technology has allowed increases in production and output; the rise of China and India have simultaneously fueled demand for its agricultural products and commodities; and most significantly, since 2003-4, high prices for these products have improved Argentina’s terms of trade. Brazil has become Argentina’s top trading partner, and that relationship will continue to be fruitful for Argentina as Brazil’s prosperity boosts its own.
Closer examination, however, reveals troublesome fault lines: bolstered by global demand and commodities prices, Argentina has been growing at a high rate in spite of poor economic policies. Years of expansionary fiscal policies by both President Fernández de Kirchner and her husband, Nestor Kirchner (her predecessor), have increased a bill of subsidies for Argentines to greater than 5 percent of the country’s GDP. The high levels of government spending and of subsidies have indeed fueled growth, but along other measures, the administration’s economic policies have created fundamental instability. Inflation is high, foreign investment in the country is shrinking, and the Argentine stock market has steadily declined during President Fernández de Kirchner’s tenure. Indeed, some Argentine economists predict that the country is on the brink of another crisis, and could actually enter a recession or a period of zero growth as soon as this year.
I joined a Pacific Council on International Policy delegation in Buenos Aires and Santiago this spring in an effort to better understand the economic and political trajectory of each country, and to analyze their respective global roles. Argentina and Chile share the third largest international border in the world, but the two Southern Cone nations differ greatly in their economic, political, and international realities. Indeed, Argentina’s challenges were particularly striking when seen next to the Chilean model.
The greatest roadblock for modern-day Argentina appears to be the absence of a broad political consensus on democracy and economic tactics. In Chile, a cohesive economic and political class shares a long-term contract on the means by which the country must operate and develop. That consensus is shared and consistent across parties and administrations. On the other hand, Argentina has suffered from inconsistencies, policy swings, and attempts at transformation among administrations – a problem some Argentine economists we spoke to called the “Now we are a new Argentina” syndrome. Economic policies are based on short-term gains instead of long-term growth strategies, and the disconnect between politics and sound economic theory impedes the application of the laws of economics.
In light of this challenge, Argentina has been unable to take advantage of recent economic boons to strengthen the country’s foundations. While Chile has saved revenues from high commodity prices and reinvested in education, innovation, and development, Argentina has multiplied its social subsidies, eroded the country’s fiscal surplus, and spurred high inflation. The administration’s policies – based on heavy government intervention in the markets – have spooked foreign investors.
Yet as long as output grows and social programs and handouts continue, the Argentine population as a whole continues to support the current administration and its interventions in the market. Among the population receiving benefits there is high support for the government, and President Fernández de Kirchner won re-election in 2011 with 54 percent of the vote. Recent polls show that 70 percent of the population favors heavy state management of the economy. This does not bode well for any hope of policy change until the moment the system fails, as the political incentives are skewed toward the very economic policies that are sending it down a precarious path.
The scenario is reminiscent of a tragic news story the Pacific Council delegation reviewed before visiting the country. In late February 2012, a commuter train in Buenos Aires crashed and killed 49 riders when its brakes failed as it arrived at its final stop. From afar, the tragedy was confounding: the train was traveling at less than 15 miles per hour, so why were there so many fatalities? The train, it appears, was so rusted through that it fell apart under pressure and the cars crumpled into one another. It should have been deemed insecure and unfit for passengers, but instead, citizens were subsidized to ride it.
In this case, it is Argentina’s economy that is on its way toward a train wreck, and will fall apart under pressure. Government subsidies for Argentines make it certain that many will be caught unawares when it does.
– Melissa Lockhart Fortner is Senior External Affairs Officer at the Pacific Council on International Policy and Cuba blogger at the Foreign Policy Association. Read her blog, and follow her on Twitter @LockhartFortner.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Brazil President Dilma Rousseff said that President Fernando Lugo's removal was undemocratic and [Paraguay] should face the appropriate diplomatic responses. Brazil will pull its ambassador to Paraguay and will vote to apply diplomatic sanctions at international organizations.
At the same time, Brazil has signaled that their reaction will remain diplomatic and not be harsher. An adviser to President Rousseff said that Brazil does not have the policy goal of reversing the decision of the Paraguayan Congress or otherwise interfering in Paraguay's domestic politics. This indicates that economic sanctions are probably off the table.
Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay announced that interim President Franco would not be invited to the Mercosur meeting in Argentina this week and Paraguay will be suspended as an acting member. Former President Lugo will be invited. Franco will likely try to send his foreign minister as a representative. It's not clear what economic impact the Mercosur announcement might have.
Venezuela, on top of pulling its ambassador, announced it was cutting oil deliveries to Paraguay. That is the only serious economic sanction I found against the country.
Argentina announced [it was] recalling its ambassador from Paraguay. This was amusing because Argentina didn't actually have an ambassador in Paraguay to remove; their previous ambassador left two months ago and was not replaced. Oops.
As expected, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua will not recognize the new government in Paraguay. El Salvador also said it would not recognize the Franco government.
Several countries, including Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Peru, recalled their ambassadors for consultations but have not yet announced whether or not they will recognize the new government.
Chilean President Piñera is facing both domestic and foreign pressure to take back an early statement that appeared to recognize Franco and the impeachment process.
Germany, Spain, Canada, and the Vatican announced they will recognize the government of President Franco. The UK appears likely to announce their support as well.
The US ambassador met with Franco over the weekend, but I haven't seen an official statement about the US position yet.
Former President Lugo gave an interview in which he called his ouster a "congressional coup." More interestingly, he said he would set up some form of a shadow cabinet to work to rebuild democracy in the country.
Interim President Franco said that foreign policy is his top priority, with a goal to restore Paraguay's reputation. Franco indicated he would try to obtain Lugo's support.
The main public television station in Asuncion has become a major rallying point for "anti-coup" protesters who claim the station was censored following the removal of Lugo. Franco says it was all a misunderstanding. The protesters see it as censorship under an undemocratic government.
Various groups of campesinos and landless farmers have called for Lugo to be reinstated. Among the issues to watch are how those protests affect rural areas. More tensions over land seizures could hit Franco's public image.
– James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.
Meeting the giant tortoise Lonesome George on the Galapagos Islands ranks as one of Melanie Stetson Freeman's top experiences as a longtime staff photographer for the Christian Science Monitor. “It's so cool to see the last of something,” she says. “It is so sad that he is gone.”
The only remaining Pinta Island giant tortoise – believed to be the last of his species – Lonesome George died on Sunday. No one knew his exact age, but he was believed to be about 100 years old.
Melanie and I went to the Galapagos Islands to do a cover story for one of the first editions of our new magazine back in 2009. It was a look at an epic quest to reconstruct nature.
It was not Mel's first trip to Ecuador's archipelago, among the most biologically unique places on the planet and best known for inspiring Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. She went 20 years prior, to look at whether tourism was hurting or helping the Galapagos Islands.
“The first time I went there, you weren't allowed to see Lonesome George, because he was so unusual, they were really taking care to protect him,” she says.
So when we returned, and Melanie had full access to the tortoise in the enclosure where he was closely monitored, she was thrilled. Melanie, more than anyone I've ever met, loves wildlife, appreciating every sound and movement a creature makes. She spent hours with Lonesome George as I tried to track down government officials and conservationists for interviews.
“I would go back whenever there was empty time, go back and just sit there and watch,” she says. “Not like he moved around so much,” she laughs. But just watching the slow crawl of an ancient creature, one of the world's rarest, his wrinkly skin, and really long neck, “I thought he was adorable.”
Lonesome George was an icon of the Galapagos and a symbol of the urgent need to conserve nature, and scientists had tried everything – I mean everything – to get Lonesome George to mate and keep the subspecies alive. Our tour guide, a local woman, had a side job for a while trying to get Lonesome George “interested” in mating. Two females were brought into his enclosure too, and Melanie had the rare opportunity to see them mating (though those eggs never hatched).
Though Lonesome George was about 100, that is apparently not very old for his species, scientists say. He could have lived for at least a few decades longer, even to 200 – perhaps long enough to provide the elusive offspring that the conservation world so desperately sought. (They will be doing an investigation to determine the cause of death).
And while George may have been lonesome for being the last of his kind, with his potential mates, and scientists, journalists, and the public endeared to him, he lived a full life. Mel remembers delighting with the others as they saw him mating. “We started laughing, saying he wasn't so lonely anymore,” she says.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, riorealblog.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Rio +20 and Rio, like Carnival with less trash. And less music, and more traffic, and what seemed like the entire Brazilian Navy sailing up and down the coast. There were also no costumes, unless you count people like the Brazilian Indian in full regalia who aimed a bow and arrow at BNDES security personnel …
Actually the only way the UN Conference on Sustainable Development was like Carnival, is that Rio de Janeiro was invaded by visitors, anywhere from 50,000 to 75,000 people. In the South Zone, everywhere you turned there was someone with a dangling identity card.
The traffic jams occurred not because blocos of people were dancing and drinking in the streets, but because of demonstrations, and the hordes of unsustainable vehicles hogging the road. Escorted by sirening motorcycle cops and hovering helicopters, dignitaries from 190 countries came from and went to the Riocentro convention center in the West Zone in exact opposition to the times and directions of the carioca rush hour. To ease the way, city hall suspended the normal morning lane reversals, gave students three days off from class, shut down municipal agencies, and told people to either stay home or use public transportation.
Many visitors criticized the lack of organization and poor service they encountered. Thousands slept in makeshift camps at the Sambadrome and in a park, because Rio didn’t have enough hotel rooms. A Japanese delegation on the way to a sewage treatment plant took a wrong turn and came face to face with armed men in a Caju favela.
Maurie Carr, project coordinator for the Global Environment and Technology Foundation, a Washington DC-based non-profit, stayed a week at a retreat a short drive up into the mountains from Duque de Caxias, a poor bedroom community neighboring Rio de Janeiro. Some mornings it took her three hours to reach the convention center. “It was a lesson learning to just let it go,” she said, adding that despite everything she intends to return. “I told my mother to put Rio on the list,” she said, having managed to sneak in some hiking, plus visits to Leblon, Ipanema, Rocinha, and Vidigal.
The conference also underscored just how much ground Rio de Janeiro itself has to cover when it comes to environmental sustainability. A minuscule amount of trash is recycled, and Guanabara Bay, for example, is horrendously polluted despite millions of dollars having been devoted to a cleanup. At least Eike Batista’s Grupo EBX has been taking 250 kilos of trash out of the Rodrigo de Freitas lake every day.
All in all, much of Rio + 20 didn’t augur well for the Pope’s visit next year, the 2014 World Cup games in Rio, nor the 2016 Olympics. But the situation could change when new mass transportation options are to come online, in addition to the Transoeste articulated bus lane that opened earlier this month.
The conference results were also disappointing, as most people expected they would be. “Governments are useless,” says Clayton Ferrara, who traveled from Florida to Rio representing the youth-led IDEAS for Us movement. “Every day in the plenary session, representatives of all the different countries got up and went on and on about what they were doing for sustainability,” he says, noting that attendance thinned out as the days wore on.
But for Rio de Janeiro there were three positive aspects of the conference.
One was the networking that took place, among business, academia, the third sector, and even the boring government representatives. The Peoples’ Summit, side meetings, conferences, seminars, and chance encounters brought together all kinds of ideas and information. Many US universities held gatherings to connect local alumni and researchers who’d come for the conference.
Another was consciousness-raising. For days, adults and schoolchildren lined up to see the gorgeously creative Humanidade 2012 exhibit, held in a temporary structure built next to the Copacabana Fort. An estimated 200,000 people got the chance to have artists and intellectuals provoke thought about lifestyle and the environment. The Rio and São Paulo industrial federations footed the bill.
And the local watchdog organization Rio Como Vamos did a survey that found that a staggering 74 percent of the local population knew about the conference and what it was up to. The 1,800 people surveyed were from different parts of the city, with a variety of income levels and ages; this should help when it comes to the spread of recycling and local cleanup efforts.
Last but certainly not least are real measures and goals that were announced before and during the conference. These include:
- The creation of the Bolsa Verde Rio, a market to trade carbon credits and other environmental compensation mechanisms, to aid companies in meeting Brazilian legal requirements for environmental sustainability
- As a result of a demonstration near the Riocentro, a planned meeting between representatives of Vila Autódromo residents unhappy about their removal due to Olympic preparations, with UN and Brazilian government officials
- The 2012 Rio Declaration, an agreement among Brazilian and other governors to reduce energy consumption in public buildings by 20 percent and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by transportation by 20 percent by 2020, in addition to other measures
- A decision by the C40 Cities mayors’ summit to reduce carbon emissions in 58 cities and to share information on sustainability. These cities, home to 320 people and the source of 21 percent of world GDP, are responsible for 12 percent of the world’s emissions. Rio is set to reduce emissions by 12 percent by 2016. Even so, these are expected to increase – just less than they would, otherwise.
- A proposal by the Rio de Janeiro industrial federation to privatize sewage collection, treatment, and disposal
- The creation of a UN sustainability research center, the Centro Rio +
- A Banco do Brasil loan to clean up the lagoons in Barra da Tijuca
- A proposal from city hall to be voted on by the city council, to allow tax incentives for green construction methods and and building design
Twenty years after the 1992 Earth Summit, so much has changed. An enduring memory of this blogger of that UN conference is people excitedly lining up to try out a new payment form for public phones, a thin card replacing the traditional token. It was a time when the Soviet Union had just crumbled and the Berlin Wall was newly demolished. Brazilian indigenous groups made cameo appearances to remind us of their environmental roles, just as they did last week.
Assuming the earth will continue to exist, who knows what Rio will look like in twenty more years? Much will depend on young people such as those pictured at the original post, clowning around at the Humanidade 2012 exhibit.
--- Julia Michaels, a long-time resident of Brazil, writes the blog Rio Real, which she describes as a constructive and critical view of Rio de Janeiro’s ongoing transformation.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
The events in Paraguay this week are complicated and fast moving. I reserve my right to change my opinion as events occur and more facts are revealed. I think this is a tough debate without clear answers.
In my opinion, President Lugo has not done anything that is an impeachable offense. You don't have to agree with Lugo's politics to believe that his removal would be a sad moment for Paraguayan democracy. Lugo is the first president following seven decades of Colorado Party rule. Long term democracy building will be weakened because he is not able to finish his term.
I'm hesitant to use the word "coup" when talking about the events this week because Lugo's opponents are following the constitutional impeachment process to the letter. I reserve the term coup or "golpe de estado" for events in which democratic institutions break and an unconstitutional change of government takes place. That's not what happened here. Lugo's opponents are following the letter of the law perfectly.
Yet, this certainly is a violation of the meaning of a presidential democracy. Presidents aren't supposed to be charged on a whim because the political opponents in the legislature decide they have a moment of opportunity. Impeachment is supposed to be a process used for only the most serious of crimes. It's supposed to be throughly debated and understood, not rammed through in 48 hours before the citizens who elected the president and the media and civil society who are part of the process have time process and debate the events.
Of course, we're not just fighting over semantics here. Whether or not we label this event a "coup" has policy implications. The real questions are how the other governments in the hemisphere treat the Paraguayan government, not whether they use a specific term of "golpe de estado." Will Bolivia or Argentina close their borders? Will Brazil implement sanctions? Will the US cut aid? Will the OAS or UNASUR use their democracy clauses? If Paraguay is kicked out from those organizations, what does Paraguay have to do to regain its democratic status? What sorts of precedents do these actions set for the future? I would encourage people in this semantics debate to talk about policy implications.
While I wouldn't use the term "coup," the politicization and manipulation of the impeachment process by the Paraguayan Congress is a serious degradation of democratic institutions that should concern the entire hemisphere. It's correct for the OAS and UNASUR to be talking about these events. We should be discussing measures to strengthen and protect Paraguayan democracy.
Usually when we talk about degradation of democratic institutions in this hemisphere, the culprits are presidents. In the past two decades, democratically elected presidents in this hemisphere have manipulated laws, constitutions and the basic principles of democracy to steamroll their legislatures, take on unlawful decree powers, shut down media outlets, throw political opponents in jail on trumped up corruption charges, stack their court systems, wiretap their political opponents and extend their mandates, among other things.
The fact that we're watching the Paraguayan legislature abuse democratic institutions instead of Hugo Chavez or Carlos Menem should not make it any less concerning, even if it is not properly labeled a "golpe de estado."
Modern Latin America rarely sees an obvious coup of the past, where a military junta led by some general in a uniform and sunglasses takes charge and orders his political opponents killed. Instead, we get these muddy incremental degradations of democracy in which an elected president (or in this case, a legislature) manipulates the institutions in his or her favor to consolidate power and force the other branches of government into submission. We need to do a better job promoting and protecting democracy in these middle ground cases, not just waiting for the grand golpe to completely break democracy before acting.
Not everything that is undemocratic is a coup. Saying an event is not a coup does not make it fully democratic. There is a middle ground between "democracy" and "coup" that we're forced to deal with in this hemisphere on a daily basis. Insisting everything is labeled in the binary choice of fully democratic or fully undemocratic limits the hemisphere's ability to talk about the reality of the democracies in which we live.
As climate activists protest against inaction at the United Nations Rio+20 summit in Brazil and members of the 99 percent call for change at financial centers around the world, the Pemón people of Venezuela made their own demonstration outside the German embassy in Caracas yesterday.
More than 100 indigenous Venezuelans – the women clad in traditional colorful dress and men in loincloths, some wielding decorative spears – marched in the wealthy La Castellana district of the city to demand the return of a sacred, 35-ton rock that currently sits in a Berlin park. The demonstrators blocked the sidewalk and entrance to the building, which also houses the British and Portuguese embassies, chanting, "Return the stone!" Many police were present, though the protests were not violent.
The Kueka stone is claimed by some of the Pemón as a spiritual "grandmother" that belongs in the country's deep interior: the setting, some say, of Arthur Conan Doyle's book, The Lost World, a secret and magical region where dinosaurs roam free. The protestors said they traveled overnight from la Gran Sabana to Caracas.
Juxtaposing the ancient aura of the indigenous protest in Caracas were a string of government buses lining the road nearby and officials from the government's press wing collecting the names of journalists and photographers covering the event.
This has led to speculation that the protest was incited by the government in its long quest to antagonize the West. "The whole protest has been manipulated," Bruno Illius, an ethnologist from Berlin's Free University who is an expert on the Pemón, told the Guardian newspaper. "Most of the Pemón even find it quite embarrassing."
German artist Wolfgang Kraker von Schwarzenfeld said that the boulder was given as a "gift to the German people" in 1997 and that Pemón people helped him choose it for an installation at Berlin's central Tiergarten park, reports AP. The stone forms part of a project containing five stones from five continents.
German ambassador Georg-Clemens Dick met with protestors yesterday in front of the embassy. "We consider the Kueka stone a gift from Venezuela given in order to create a global work of art for peace," Mr. Dick said.
Also outside the German embassy, Irma Caldera stood, dressed in a bright red headband and a bright, colorful dress. “The rock is special for us; it’s spiritual,” Ms. Caldera says, clutching photos of it. “They took our rock without consulting us, nothing.” She said she didn't know what prompted the protests to start up so suddenly.
A fellow protestor wore a red baseball cap with the acronym PSUV emblazoned upon it, the name of Chávez's political party.
The government of Uruguay is considering an unorthodox approach to combating drug trafficking: legalizing and regulating marijuana sales in an effort to cut cocaine consumption and remove a significant source of funding for criminal groups.
The administration of Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has announced that it plans to send Congress a proposal for a bill which would legalize the sale of marijuana, but make the government the only legitimate provider of the drug. It is currently legal to possess the drug. Under the plan, the state would sell marijuana cigarettes to adults who signed up to a government register, which would allow officials to monitor purchases. People who attempted to purchase more than a specified amount at a time would be required to undergo drug rehabilitation treatment.
According to El Pais, the Mujica government has framed the move as a part of a larger attempt to rein in cocaine consumption in the country. Uruguayan law enforcement has seen a significant rise in the amount of cocaine seized in recent years, usually in the form of cocaine paste, a cheaper and less refined version of the drug similar to crack. If marijuana is legalized and regulated, authorities hope it will encourage drug users to turn to this less addictive drug.
InSight Crime Analysis
The proposal comes amid growing concern over the influence of organized crime in the historically peaceful South American country, as InSight Crime reported in January. While Uruguay still has the lowest homicide rate in Latin America (6.1 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants), a May 2011 survey by polling firm Interconsult found that 62 percent of Uruguayans believe that their country is becoming more insecure. The perception is backed by the statistics; according to the country’s Interior Ministry, there were 133 homicides between January and May, up from 76 in the same period last year.
The Associated Press notes that Minister Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro told reporters yesterday that the details of the plan need to be worked out, but if implemented it could significantly hit the illicit drug trade in the country. "The laws of the market will rule here: whoever sells the best and the cheapest will get rid of drug trafficking," Fernandez said. "We'll have to regulate farm production so there's no contraband and regulate distribution ... we must make sure we don't affect neighboring countries or be accused of being an international drug production center."
Despite this optimism, it is still not clear whether the plan would have the intended effect on cocaine consumption and crime. Drug experts in the country have pointed out that while it might make marijuana consumption safer, as users would not have to deal with criminal suppliers, it probably would not have much impact on cocaine use.
A version of this article appeared on the Pan-American Post.
– Geoffrey Ramsey is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.
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