Monday, September 23, 2013

Chile Weighs Closing Special Prisons for Human Rights Abusers

Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has opened up a debate over the controversial special prisons that Chile reserves for human rights abusers of the dictatorship era. The country has two facilities that house individuals convicted of rights violations under the Pinochet regime, the Cordillera and Punta Peuco prisons.

La Tercera reports that on September 11, Piñera held a meeting with Justice Minister Patricia Perez, asking her to provide him with information on the two prisons. The paper notes that the meeting occurred after CNN Chile aired an interview with Manuel Contreras, former head of the DINA secret police, who is being held in Cordillera. In his interview, Contreras made several controversial remarks, insisting that the government never authorized torture in its detainment facilities and that the victims of forced disappearances were armed rebels killed in gunfights.

Immediately after the Contreras interview, the network spoke with Francisco Vidal, a former spokesman for ex-President Michelle Bachelet, who characterized the existence of Cordillera and Punta Peuco as a needless “concession to the military.”

A week later, the president appeared on the same network to echo criticism of the special prisons, announcing that he was evaluating their closure. “I'm reviewing, as President, if it justifiable to have prisons like Cordillera,” Piñera told CNN. He especially emphasized the high cost of the facilities. Cordillera holds only ten inmates and is staffed by 36 guards, while Punta Pueco has 44 inmates and 82 guards. Radio U Chile points out that if Cordillera’s guard-to-inmate ratio was kept in every prison, the country would have to hire nearly 300,000 new guards. Additionally, the radio station notes that the average cost per prisoner in Cordillera is five times the cost for a regular inmate, and Punta Peuco is three times the average cost.

On Thursday, Piñera hinted that he will reach a decision “in the coming days.” Spanish news agency EFE reports that an administration spokesperson has told reporters that the president will likely order Cordillera’s closure, and house all rights abusers in one single facility.

News Briefs
  • On Friday, the U.S. government announced that it had settled a dispute with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro over allowing him to fly through U.S. airspace on his way to a state visit to China. State Department officials claimed that the request had been denied because Maduro’s administration made it only the day before the flight instead of the three required, and because he was not using a state aircraft for the trip. There was no response to Maduro’s claim that the U.S. has denied a visa to his chief of staff, General Wilmer Barrientos, to accompany him at the UN General Assembly this week. In any case, the AP reports that the Venezuelan president will be attending, and will likely use the visit to try to raise his political profile.
  • Venezuelan human rights group PROVEA takes a critical look at corruption in Venezuela’s public health sector, alleging that the government has not adequately investigated misuse of funds meant to purchase prescription medicine, and is not funding necessary upkeep for medical equipment at treatment centers. The report is noteworthy considering that criticism of the Venezuelan government more often comes from the framework of civil and political rights rather than economic, social and cultural rights. By focusing criticism on the latter, PROVEA is essentially critiquing the state on its own terms.
  • The Wall Street Journal looks at U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Mexico on Friday, in which he focused on improving bilateral economic ties and steered clear of mentioning the NSA’s surveillance programs in the country, which has also been downplayed by President Enrique Peña Nieto.
  • A Brazilian rancher has been convicted of ordering the 2005 murder of American nun Dorothy Stang. It was the third time the defendant had been tried in connection to the death, after two previous convictions were overturned.
  •  The L.A. Times reports that the government of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala is looking to restart several mining projects that have been put on hold due to mass protests. While Energy Minister Jorge Merino told reporters that two of the most controversial mining projects -- the Tia Maria copper mine near Arequipa and the Conga gold mine in Cajamarca -- would soon resume, locals say that the companies behind both have failed to obtain the proper permission to do so.
  • Although the investigation into former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo’s alleged illicit economic activities has generated controversy in the country, there has been comparatively less media coverage of a congressional investigation into allegations of corruption against former President Alan Garcia. A congressional committee is looking into pardons given to some 5,500 convicted drug traffickers during Garcia’s 2006 to 2011 term. On Friday, a Peruvian court ruled in favor of excluding Garcia from investigations, but lawmakers say they intend to appeal the ruling, Peru21 reports. Gustavo Gorriti, director of the investigative journalism center IDL-Reporteros, provides a helpful overview of the allegations against Garcia, and claims that major media outlets in Peru are purposefully discrediting the investigation due to their political connections with the ex-president.
  • Salvadoran news site El Faro profiles an OAS-sponsored forum on El Salvador’s gang truce, which brought together local and international experts to assess the impact of the ceasefire. Analysts visited the municipality of Ilopango, one of 11 which has seen the homicide rate cut in half as a result of the truce.
  • The New York Times has an overview of the changing dynamics of immigration in Mexico, where the foreign-born population roughly doubled between 2000 and 2010. The paper claims this is due to the country’s increasingly favorable business climate and economic development, though it recognizes that there is still progress to be made to ensure that all Mexicans see the benefits of development.

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