Friday, December 6, 2013

Latin America Mourns Mandela’s Passing

The news that former South African President Nelson Mandela passed away yesterday was met with solemn reactions by Latin American leaders, all of whom praised his leadership and legacy as a freedom fighter.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos celebrated Mandela as a “symbol of freedom and tolerance,” and called upon his country to honor the South African leader by following his example and working towards peace and post-conflict reconciliation. “Let's push together, build together an environment of coexistence, dialogue and reconciliation… where we never kill the children of the same nation only for thinking differently,” Santos said in a public address, according to El Espectador.

In Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro compared Mandela’s death to that of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, calling them both “Giants of the People” and declaring three national days of mourning. El Nacional notes that opposition leader Henrique Capriles also commemorated the loss, taking to social media to call Mandela an “example for the world.”

El Nuevo Diario reports that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega also declared three days of national mourning yesterday.

Reuters reports that Mandela’s death united Latin American leaders across the political spectrum, with conservative and left-leaning heads of state alike praising his legacy. The leaders of Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Argentina and Ecuador all commemorated the former South American president’s death yesterday.

While Nelson Mandela is seen as a hero and a symbol of human rights across the region, Spain’s El Pais points out that his closest ally in Latin America was Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Cuba's military involvement in Angola provided a major boost to the African National Congress (ANC) during the apartheid years, granting exiled leaders as well as the ANC’s armed wing a territorial support base.  The paper notes that Mandela remained a staunch supporter of Castro throughout his presidency, even as his government pursued closer ties with the United States.

In a statement released yesterday, Cuban President Raul Castro expressed his “most heartfelt condolences” to Mandela’s relatives, South African President Jacob Zuma, the ANC and the country as a whole. In Castro’s words, “We will never be able to speak about Mandela in the past tense.”

 News Briefs
  • According to El Universo, the Pachamama Foundation -- the Ecuadorean environmental NGO which was closed by the government after being accused of fueling violence -- will take its case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
  • Ultimas Noticias reports that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced that he is considering granting a humanitarian pardon to Ivan Simonovis, an ex-security minister of Caracas who was jailed for allegedly participating in the failed 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez. Simonovis has been hailed by some members of the opposition as a political prisoner, and his lawyers are arguing for his release on health grounds.
  • El Nacional has a follow-up on the recent AP piece on Venezuela’s rundown healthcare system, reporting that human rights groups PROVEA and a number of healthcare professional associations have demanded an official explanation for the shortage of medical equipment in the country. The groups argue that the lack of sufficient chemotherapy treatment and testing equipment in public hospitals violates Venezuela’s constitutionally guaranteed right to health.
  • Mexico’s lower house has passed a modified version of the ambitious reform bill approved by the Senate earlier this week; it will now return to the upper house for renewed debate. Among the changes to the bill, according to El Universal, is a provision which would delay the authorization of lawmakers’ re-election to 2018, so that current legislators could not benefit from the reform.
  • Ten people were killed in a shootout between an armed group and police in northern Nicaragua on Wednesday. While the federal government characterized the incident to the press as an attempted robbery, the AP notes that locals say the gunmen ares part of a growing armed resistance movement in the area. InSight Crime recently featured a detailed profile of the emerging group, noting that they trace their roots to Nicaragua’s Contra insurgency.
  • Brazilian news site Agencia Publica has a series on the lack of oversight of the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) funding projects. According to the site, some 40 percent of BNDES’ finance activity has not been accounted for to the public. After filing a freedom of information request, Agencia Publica has obtained 43 contracts supported by the BNDES in the Amazon region, many of which show evidence of irregularities or a lack of oversight over BNDES activity  in the region. Agencia Publica found that the contracts contain only superficial human rights guarantees, and include funding for the controversial Belo Monte dam project even after a court ordered the project’s temporary suspension in October.  
  • Agencia Publica also provides a critical look at Brazil’s approach to drug treatment, which involves a heavy reliance on privately-run “therapeutic communities.”  The majority of the centers are religious in nature, and their treatment regimens are often unregulated by the state. As a result, patients are frequently subject to a range of abuses. The news site cites a 2011 Federal Council of Psychology (CFP) report on therapeutic communities which found evidence of human rights violations in all 68 of the treatment centers that the authors visited. While the report was passed on to health and drug policy officials, at least three of the centers named by the CFP still receive state funding, according to Agencia Publica.
  • Also on the issue of drug treatment, the Christian Science Monitor features an excellent article by Miriam Wells on the Ecuadorean government’s recent effort to close down unregulated clinics. Last month, officials announced that some 500 people had been freed from unlicensed facilities in the country, many of which were accused of sponsoring abuse and torture.