Thursday, August 25, 2011

Top Stories: August 25, 2011


· In recent years, Colombia has seen a major surge in private oil companies investing in crude production throughout the country, with about 130 companies now looking for oil there and 88% more barrels being produced than the 2006 average. However, violence and kidnappings against oil companies and workers has increased on the part of leftist rebel groups, particularly the FARC, generating fears the newly booming industry will be pushed out of Colombia. La Republica reported on five oil workers from the OXY Company who were kidnapped and held for about one week by the FARC earlier this month and another four Chinese workers from another multinational corporation in June.

· The occurrence of violence and forced evictions between national and transnational companies and local populations is not unique to Colombia. While not necessarily associated with oil companies, similar conflicts have occurred with mining and African palm companies in Guatemala. In Guatemala, a group of farmers were forcibly evicted in the valley of Polochic by unidentified security forces allegedly hired by Chabil Utzaj, an African palm company vying to develop the area.

· Looting and violence between protestors and police broke out yesterday and today in Chile during student demonstrations, Reuters and the Associated Press. No one has been killed, but (as of last night) 36 people were injured and 348 people detained. According to the Miami Herald, government officials said that only 10% of union workers participated on the first day of the protests—a much lower number than expected.

· Nine former military officers indicted in Spain for the killing of six Jesuit priests in 1989 are not being detained by El Salvador’s Supreme Court. According to the AP, the court has not received a request for extradition from Spain and

· Mexican officials announced yesterday that certain types of cases will be available for processing on the Internet, as part of series of recent legal reforms.

· A Miami-Dade judge ruled in favor of a $2.8 billion settlement to Gustavo Villoldo, a veteran of the CIA and the Bay of Pigs, against the Cuban government based on charges that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara persecuted him and his family, seizing properties, eventually leading his father to commit suicide, reports the Miami Herald. The case could serve as a precedent for other Cubans seeking reparations for assets.

· In Peru, on Tuesday, congress passed a bill which would require companies to consult with local communities before building mines or drilling for oil, with the aim to help prevent future conflicts between rural indigenous populations and foreign companies. In the past, conflicts have resulted in approximately 100 deaths in the past three and half years.

· Colombia’s ambassador to the United States, Gabriel Silva Lujan, said Wednesday that he is optimistic that the Free Trade Agreement between the two countries will pass in September. However, Silva also said that if it does not pass this fall, that will ‘probably be the end of it. Supporters of the FTA argue that it could create 6,400 jobs in Florida and would remove tariffs on 80% of U.S. exports to Colombia and most imports to Colombia.

· In Nicaragua, the Roman Catholic Church is demanding more information about the death of a priest, Marlon de Jesus Garcia, who was found wrapped in a mattress. Jairo Contreras, from an Ortega opposition group said that the priest was a critic of the President.

· According to McClathy Newspapers, it is possible that the U.S. and Mexico are going easier on the Sinaloa Cartel, shifting focus to the Zetas group due to their more brutal and violent strategies. The Sinaloa Cartel is more prone to corruption than violent intimidation tactics, earning it weaker sanctions and less attention possibly to the detriment of the fight against organized crime. In Sight Crime also commented on the U.S. decision to put los Zetas on the list of organized crime priorities earlier this month.

· Shannon K. O’Neil analyzes the ‘myths and realities’ the US-Mexico border conflict, arguing that it is not violence that is spilling over into the U.S., but rather an increase in corruption infiltrating local officials and even members of Homeland Security.

· The U.S. State Department included Cuba on a list of state sponsors of terrorism in its annual report last week. Sarah Stephens, the Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, argues that Cuba’s position on the list is ‘both untrue and a travesty.’ According to the State Department report, Cuba ‘denounces U.S. terrorism policies’ and has continued with ties to the FARC in Colombia. Stephens calls for Cuba’s removal from the list, denying sufficient evidence and information supporting terrorist links in the country.

· In Sight Crime provides an extensive report on the dramatic rise in conflicts between Mexican military personnel and suspected criminals. ‘Confrontations and aggressions’ between the two groups, as they are referred to by the Mexican government, have increased from 231 in 2007 to 2,099 in 2010. The terms refer to ‘skirmishes between authorities and suspected criminals’ or attacks on government installations without response from security forces, respectively. The conflicts have raised suspicions that the military has been abusing military powers and manipulating statistics and crime scenes.

· Police and the human rights ombudsman in Guatemala announced that there have been over 3,000 murders so far in 2011, with Guatemala, Escuintla, and Peten as the three most violent departments.