From Killer Hamburgers to Thieving Diplomats: A Snapshot of Latin America 2008


Amid the hideous internal conflicts in Colombia and Mexico, the emerging social movements in Chile and Peru, accelerated changes in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua, the prospect of a famous Leftist victory in El Salvador in 2009, and a continent that is integrating without Washington’s consent, here are some of the lesser events and phenomena that have gone relatively unnoticed:

 

         The Economic Commission for Latin America estimates there will be more people in the continent over the age of 60 than below 15 by the year 2040 and that the demographic change will be evident from 2025.

         Latin America has the highest murder rate in the world for those aged between 15 and 24 and the probability of a young person being murdered is 30 times higher than in Europe. El Salvador is the worst with a murder rate of 92 per 100,000 young people.

         About 37 million Latin Americans are illiterate and 20 million of them are in Brazil, says Unesco.

         After South African cities, those of Latin America show the greatest level of inequality, according to a U.N. Habitat report. Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico have highly unequal cities like those in the USA with large Afro-American population.

         According to an opinion poll, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Chile are among the most intolerant countries towards migrants while Nicaragua and Uruguay are among the most welcoming.

         The Economist magazine put Colombia as the most violent country in Latin America and Chile as the most peaceful.

         Colombia and Mexico are Latin America’s most dangerous places for journalists and feature in the list along with Iraq, Somalia and Sierra Leone.

 

Bolivia

         Bolivia has reduced child mortality by 43%, says Unicef, though the death rate for under-5s is still the highest in the region.

         Malnutrition affects eight out of ten children in Bolivia and 30% of all children below five suffer from chronic anaemia.

         More than 8,000 children work without pay in sugarcane fields in the province of Santa Cruz. The plantation owners are rabid supporters of autonomy for the department.

         Bolivia loses 270,000 hectares of forest cover annually as ranchers in the rich western parts of the country burn down or slash forests for agriculture and grazing. Forests cover about 46% of the national territory or about 50 million hectares.

         The security magazine Jane’s has put Bolivia among the most unstable nations in the world along with Haiti.

 

Peru

         The former Peruvian President, Alberto Fujimori, now standing trial for human rights abuses, is living a life of luxury in prison with unauthorised visits from, among other, fortune tellers and making phone calls to withdraw money from Japan.

         An Amerindian tribe at the point of extinction with hardly 56 surviving members won an agreement with the state that returns their ancestral forest to their control. The Queros now have big plans for the future.

 

Venezuela

         Venezuela is the least unequal society in Latin America and the trend has been increasing in the past few years but the richest 20% of the population still enjoy 47% of the national income.

         Venezuela claimed success against smoking, saying the per capita annual consumption had dropped to 800 cigarettes from 2,500 in the Eighties.

         More than 12 million trees were replanted in 14,000 hectares in the last two years in Venezuela as part of Misión Arbol (Mission Tree).

         Venezuela’s Ministry of Culture published 10 million books last years and has installed a capacity to print 25 million copies. In 2006, Venezuela distributed a million copies of Don Quixote for free and has done the same since for Les Miserables and Doña Bárbara.

 

Ecuador

         President Rafael Correa promised to set up an integrated health system with health centres in strategic locations and helicopters ferrying patients to hospitals.

 

Argentina

         The office of the Mothers of the Plaza in Buenos Aires was attacked and damaged, and the daughter of Hebe de Bonafini, its charismatic leader was assaulted.

         Following a campaign by the Mothers of the Plaza, a former naval school in Buenos Aires will become the Cultural Centre of Our Children dedicated to the memory of those disappeared by the Argentine military.

         A bacterial infection in famed Argentinean hamburger, when undercooked, is killing mainly children under five and is caused by less stringent safety standards for the domestic market.

 

Colombia

         There are close to 20,000 Colombian prisoners in 50 countries, most of them linked to drug trafficking.

         Some 20,000 children died from drinking contaminated water because money earmarked for the supply of potable water was diverted by mayors and governors.

         A million Colombian children are exploited at work, half of them in farms and the rest in the service sector, mainly street trade, as also those sexually exploited by the armed groups.

 

Chile

         A study of 40 countries has found that students in Chile are most segregated by wealth and most of the CEOs come from just five schools.

         Chile also has high levels of youth unemployment, 3.5 times as much as the adult rates, and this has been so for years.

         Five hydroelectric projects planned in the heart of Patagonia at a cost of $4 billion by Spanish firm Endesa which involve damming two glacial rivers will destroy the region with their reservoirs and cables, say the local Tehuelches people.

         Chile’s fresh water reserves are guaranteed last for another 25 years and industries such as forestry and mines use up two-thirds of it, even as there is evidence that the government has started a spying programme against environmental groups.

         A Chilean collector has found a 14-page manuscript of poems by Pablo Neruda in Argentina written with green ink in 1969 and dedicated to Alicia Urrutia, the niece of his wife Matilde. It is rumoured he had an affair with her.

 

Nicaragua

         Nicaragua expects to be free of illiteracy in 2009 with Cuban help. When Daniel Ortega came to power, 24% of Nicaraguans were illiterate.

 

Guatemala

         The Guatemalan President said he would open up the military archives containing records on human rights violations for 1960-1996 in which more than 200,000 were killed or disappeared. He said he first had to ensure the records could not be destroyed before making the announcement.

 

El Salvador

         Spanish rights groups started legal moves against the former Salvadoran President, Alfredo Cristiani, relating to the murder of six Jesuits and two of their collaborators.

         The Leftist FMLN grouping looks set to win the 2009 presidential elections with TV host Mauricio Funes as its projected candidate, says an academic study which found the Left was handling the election work much better than in the past.

 

Honduras

         A dispute over allegedly contaminated water melons that Honduras exports to the USA saw Venezuela move in with the promise to buy them but the main producers’ group said it did not want to offend its main client.

 

Cuba

         The municipality of Antilla in the western province of Holguín, with a population of about 12,000 has not had a single case of child mortality for the past two years.

         The island has the lowest child mortality rate in the developing world, 7/1,000, followed by Sri Lanka and Syria 13 and 14 respectively, says Unicef.

         A 9.5 ton steel sculpture by the legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Neimeyer, who turned 100 last year, called the Imperialist Monster, showing a flag-waving Cuban confronting a dragon-like figure, has been installed in Havana.

         East Timor’s President has nominated Cuban doctors for the Nobel Peace Prize. Cuban medics have attended to thousands of Timorese people and many from the country are training to be doctors in Cuba, without charge of course. Cuba also helps East Timor with a literacy drive.

 

Brazil:

         Poor children in the state of Recife have a tradition of writing to Santa and putting up the letters on the post office walls. Other customers choose a letter, buy the presents, and post office staff deliver them dressed as Santa. Last year, of the 10,000 such letters, 60% asked for food rather than games, because they were going to bed hungry.

         One child between the ages of 5 and 14 is murdered every 10 hours in Brazil mostly as a result of domestic violence.

         Seven out of 10 homeless people have work and almost 75% of them are literate and none of them receive any help from the State.

         A Brazilian prison is experimenting with allowing inmates of a maximum security prison look after animals and birds which were rescued from illegal captivity and the results are proving even better than expected. The animals include wild boar, ram, goats and even 3-metre crocodiles as well as peacock, ostrich and exotic bird species.

         President Lula is the most popular Brazilian President since the Nineties, more popular in fact than in his first term.

 

Mexico

         There were 3,116 marches, demonstrations or blockades in Mexico between December 2007 and November 2008 in which more than 9.2 million people participated, mostly about local matters but almost a fourth related to political issues and a fifth had to do with labour disputes.

         More than half the rural population in Mexico now comprises women, the men having migrated in search of work. Most men migrate alone. This is a more pronounced trend after the country’s free trade agreements with its northern neighbours.

         Mexico now accepts only a fifth of the asylum requests, says UNHCR, one of the lowest figures in the continent. Costa Rica accepts 55.5% of the claims, Venezuela about 45%, Ecuador 47% and the USA 50%. There are reports of widespread human rights abuses against the refugees.

         Mexico treats immigrants even worse than the USA, with the civil society unconcerned about the abuse and deportation of large numbers of Central American migrants, according to a U.N. official.

         The average Mexican is exposed to 47,450 TV commercials a year, watching 3.2 hours of television a day, with TV the most popular media, followed by radio and the print media. The adolescents watch most television.

         Mexico has climbed from fourth to the second place in Latin America after Colombia in U.S. military and police assistance as also arms purchase, not all of which have to do with anti-narcotics.

         Among Mexico’s youth, 54.6% think their lives are a failure, 13.3% have tried to harm themselves and 8.8% have thought of committing suicide, with Oaxaca and Tabasco providing the worst figures.

         The Mexican squad to Beijing comprised 85 athletes but 170 others including sons, wives, companions and hangers-on of the political elite.

         Sixty-nine per cent of Mexicans are overweight, 30% of them being obese. A third of teenagers and 26% of children 5 and 11 are overweight and the country is second only to the USA in this regard.

         A member of the Mexican President’s team was caught on camera stealing mobile phones during his tour of the USA but escaped prosecution because of diplomatic immunity.

 

More Latin America reports at Meeting Point

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