Friday, August 16, 2013

Correa Reverses Course on Drilling in Amazon Reserve

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has abandoned an ambitious attempt to get international donors to offset the cost of not drilling for oil in an Amazon rainforest reserve, a move which has been staunchly opposed by indigenous and environmental groups in the country.

“With deep sadness, but also with full responsibility to our people and history, I had to take one of the hardest decisions of my administration,” Correa said in a televised address on Thursday. The president announced he had signed an executive decree liquidating the trust fund set up to receive donations to prevent drilling in the Yasuni National Park. Correa claimed the move was necessary, saying “The world has failed us,” according to the BBC. He also said drilling would only affect one percent of the park, and could bring in revenue for anti-poverty programs in the Amazon.

The fund was created in 2007, when Correa announced his government would leave some 846 million barrels of crude oil untouched in order to preserve the park, so long as international donors covered roughly half of the oil’s $7.2 billion market price. But even with support for the plan from the United Nations, the initiative raised only a fraction of that, some $130 million, El Comercio reports.

Environmental groups organized a demonstration outside the presidential palace yesterday, where hundreds gathered to protest the announcement. According to El Universo, the move is also unconditionally opposed by three of Ecuador’s largest indigenous organizations, the Pachakutik Plurinational Unity Movement indigenous political party, the Confederation of Peoples of Kichwa Nationality (ECUARUNARI) and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). In a joint press conference on Wednesday, the three announced they would be organizing nationwide demonstrations against the measure on August 27, La Republica reports.

Carlos Perez, president of ECUARUNARI, called on the Correa administration to hold a referendum on drilling in Yasuni National Park. “If they develop in Yasuni, the government’s environmental mask will fall away, and it will have to change its green color,” said Perez, a reference to the color adopted by Correa’s ruling Alianza PAIS party.

News Briefs
  • Today’s Wall Street Journal has a glowing account of the Pact for Mexico, a mutual agreement by the country’s three parties to adhere to a shared legislative agenda under the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto. The WSJ praises the pact for “ending gridlock” and claims it can serve as a model for U.S. lawmakers, although there is still significant discord over proposed reforms to the Mexican energy sector.
  • The Washington Post reports that contract workers for Mexico’s state-run oil company Pemex are extremely skeptical of suggested reforms, and there is widespread fear that the measure will take a toll on residents of coastal communities, where the economy depends on the oil industry.
  • Diario ABC Color reports that Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, who was sworn in yesterday, is expected to promote Francisco Pastor Alvarenga Nuñez to the country’s top national police post. Previously, the Paraguayan newspaper reported that Alvarenga Nuñez had provided false information in an investigation to cover for three officers accused of stealing money.
  • A group of civil society organizations in Mexico has published a new report on prison conditions in the country, which according to El Universal has found serious shortcomings. The report found that of the 420 detention centers in the country, over half are overcrowded.  It also blames the Mexican justice system’s reliance on pre-trial detention for this phenomenon, noting that 40.1 percent of inmates have yet to be officially sentenced.
  • The Guardian reports that Haitian authorities raided three warehouses in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, the first indication that the government will enforce a ban Styrofoam containers and plastic bags, which went into effect this month. While environmental activists applaud the ban, many are doubtful that the state will be able to effectively implement it.
  • The Nicaraguan government has announced it will start exploring for oil in a patch of ocean it won from Colombia last year as a result of a ruling by the International Court of Justice.
  • The Telesur network, launched by Venezuela in 2005 with the support of other regional governments, may soon be broadcasting in English, according to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro . Maduro announced yesterday that the network would be entering its “second stage,” which will include versions in English, French and Spanish, to be launched in 2014.
  • The New York Times reports that Brazilian authorities have arrested three individuals accused of raping an American student in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year, an event which drew attention to insecurity of public transport in the city. After the incident in March, a working-class Brazilian victim came forward and said she had been raped by the same three individuals just weeks earlier and reported it to the police, who failed to investigate the matter.
  • In the wake of the public outcry caused by revelations that the NSA was conducting surveillance in Brazil, Brazilian Communications Minister Paulo Bernardo Silva announced on Wednesday that he will send a proposal to Congress which would make it a criminal offense to read someone else’s email in the country.
  • Last Friday, Peru’s Supreme Court confirmed a lower court’s guilty ruling against Vladimiro Montesinos, former intelligence chief under ex-President Alberto Fujimori, and military commander Nicolas Hermoza, who were convicted of ordering a death squad to murder 15 individuals in 1991, the infamous “Barrios Alto massacre.”