Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Foralast Section’

Argentina’s Patagonia Rebels Against Oil Field Waste Pits

By Daniel Gutman

BUENOS AIRES, Mar 1 2018 (IPS) – A project to install a huge deposit of oil field waste pits has triggered a crisis in the north of Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, and brought the debate on the environmental impact of extractive industries back to the forefront in this Southern Cone country.

Catriel, in the province of Río Negro, about 1,000 km southwest of Buenos Aires, was a small town untilan oil deposit was discovered there in 1959. Since then, the population has boomed, with the town drawing people from all over the country, driving the total up to around 30,000 today.

The conflict broke out in 2016, when the city government announced a plan to set up a “special waste deposit” on 300 hectares of land, for the final disposal of waste from oil industry activity in the area.

This generated social division and resistance that ended last November, when opponents of the project were successful in their bid to obtain an amendment to the Municipal Charter – the supreme law at a local level – which declared Catriel a “protected area”, and prohibited such facilities due to the pollution.

Mayor Carlos Johnston described the modification of the charter as “shameful” and asked the courts to overrule the amendment, arguing that those who drafted the new text overstepped their authority.

The court decision is still pending.

“At all times it was practically impossible to access information. When we went to ask, the city government gave us a document that had a map of where they want to install the plant and practically nothing else,” said Natalia Castillo, an administrative employee who is part of the Catriel Socio-Environmental Assembly, a community group that emerged to fight the project.

“We are very worried about the possible impact of the plant and we are trying to raise public awareness. The problem is that many people around here work in the oil industry and prefer not to meddle with this issue,”Castillo told IPS.

Mayor Johnston confirmed his position to IPS: “We have had environmental liabilities since 1959. It is our obligation, as the State, to address them. It would be much worse not to do it.”

“The environmental authorization came from the provincial authorities. It may be that we have so far failed to provide enough information to society. But we value the work of environmental organizations and are ready for dialogue because this project is necessary,” he added.

Johnston said the waste that will be accepted at the plant will come from Catriel and other municipalities in the province of Río Negro.

However, environmental organizations suspect, due to the large size that is projected for the deposit, that it could receive waste from oil industry activity in the entire area and not just from the municipality.

Catriel happens to be located in the so-called Neuquén Basin, the main source of oil and gas in the country, and is very close to VacaMuerta, the unconventional oil and gas deposit in the neighboring province of Neuquén, which fuels Argentina’s dreams of becoming a major fossil fuel producer.

The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated the recoverable reserves in the 30,000-square-km Vaca Muerta at no less than 27 billion barrels of oil and 802 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The Argentine government also places its hopes in this field to bolster its hydrocarbon production, which has been declining for 20 years, and has forced the country to import fuel to make up for the deficit.

“The problem is that ‘fracking’, which is used to extract unconventional hydrocarbons, generates waste on a much larger scale than conventional exploitation,” said Martín Álvarez, a researcher at the non-governmental interdisciplinary Oil Observatory of the South (OPSur).

He explained that with this technology, which drills rocks at great depths through large injections of water and additives, “not only do the chemicals used to carry out the drilling and hydraulic fracturing come back to the surface, but also radioactive materials of natural origin that are in the subsoil.”

“There is a saturation of oil waste in the Neuquén Basin from fracking, which is a dirty technique. Then came this new business, waste disposal, which has a huge environmental impact because contaminants can seep into the groundwater,” added the expert.

Together with the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation and Greenpeace Argentina, two of the most influential environmental organizations in the country, OPSur requested access to information from different provincial bodies in Río Negro.

In addition, it issued a critical report, drawing attention to the size of the project. Covering 300 hectares, it would be almost 10 times larger than what is currently the biggest South American plant of its type, with an area of 34 hectares.

The document refers to Comarsa, an oil waste deposit that is only 135 km from Catriel, in the province of Neuquén, near the provincial capital. The installation has been questioned for years by residents, forcing the local authorities to promise to close it once and for all last November, although it has not yet happened.

The environmental organizations also complained that during the Mar. 31, 2017 public hearing where the project was discussed, many questions and objections raised by the participants were not answered.

They also questioned the approval of the environmental impact assessment conducted by the Rìo Negro Secretariat of Environment, “despite the rejection by different sectors in the community of Catriel.”

In the middle of this conflict, Catriel had to reform its Organic Charter, a task that is to be carried out every 25 years.

With the issue of the plant at the center of the debate, the local ruling party, Juntos Somos Rio Negro (Together We Are Río Negro) won the elections with 35 percent of the vote and obtained six seats on the reform committee. But the other nine seats went to different opposition parties, which joined forces against the waste pit project.

“The establishment or installation of nuclear power plants, reservoirs, landfills, repositories of final or transitory disposal of contaminated material from the nuclear, chemical or oil industry, or any other polluting activity, is prohibited,” says Article 94 of the new Charter, which came into force on Jan. 1.

But the mayor argues that it must be revised because “it is not feasible.”

Johnston also rejected the possibility of calling a referendum on the authorization to install the plant, as requested by the Catriel Socio-Environmental Assembly.

In a communiqué, the assembly asked: “What will happen when diseases become visible in the people who live in Catriel, due to the environmental contamination caused by the oil waste deposit?”

A fact that has not gone unnoticed is that the company that is to install the treatment plant is Crexell Environmental Solutions, which has strong political connections, to the point that its president, Nicolás Crexell, is the brother of a national senator for Neuquén, and nephew of the person who governed that province until 2015.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS News).



Ex-guerrilla launches historic presidential bid in Colombia

January 28, 2018

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Former guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londono was once one of Colombia’s most-wanted men. Now he is a presidential contender. The graying, spectacled man best known by his alias Timochenko launched his bid Saturday to lead the government he once battled from the jungle with a celebratory campaign kickoff featuring giant posters, colorful confetti and even a catchy jingle.

“I promise to lead a government that propels the birth of a new Colombia,” he said. “A government that at last represents the interests of the poor.” Breaking with the traditional campaign launch from a five-star Bogota hotel, Timochenko initiated his presidential bid from one of the city’s poorest, most crime ridden neighborhoods in a clear nod to the underprivileged class whose votes the ex-combatants are hoping to win. Hundreds gathered in the parking lot of a community center decorated with banners featuring a smiling Timochenko sporting a neatly trimmed beard, angular, thick-rimmed glasses, and a crisp blue shirt.

“Timo president,” a new campaign song played from loudspeakers. “For the people.” The campaign is another historic step in transforming the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia into a political party following the signing of a 2016 peace accord ending more than a half-century of conflict. The nation’s once-largest rebel group is now known as the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, keeping its Spanish FARC acronym, and presenting a slate of former guerrillas as candidates.

Yet even as the ex-combatants ditch rebel green fatigues for simple white T-shirts emblazoned with the party’s red rose emblem there have been fresh reminders that the road to peace is filled with hazard.

Two ex-combatants were recently shot to death while campaigning for a FARC congressional candidate in northwestern Colombia. In total, 45 former FARC members or their relatives have been reported killed, according to a recent government report. Many fear a repeat of events in the 1980s, when scores of leftist politicians affiliated with the Patriotic Union party were gunned down.

On the same day as the FARC campaign’s inauguration at least four police officers were killed and another 42 injured when a homemade bomb exploded outside a police station in the city of Barranquilla, underscoring security challenges that remain even after the peace signing.

“From here on is going to be a huge test of whether the FARC’s gamble is correct: That they can practice politics without fear of being killed,” said Adam Isacson, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America.

Like Timochenko, the candidates include ex-guerrillas who have been convicted in Colombian courts for their part in massacres and kidnappings and whose new role as politicians has irked many Colombians. The U.S. State Department has offered a $5 million reward for anyone who helps secure Timochenko’s capture and accused him of directing the FARC’s cocaine trafficking and “the murders of hundreds of people.”

The budding politicians will still have to go before a special peace tribunal, but so long as they fully confess their crimes they are unlikely to serve any jail time. Formed in the 1960s and inspired by Marxist principles, the ex-combatants are vowing to tackle Colombia’s entrenched inequalities, though their initial proposals haven’t been as radical as many of the country’s conservatives have warned. In community meetings and ads leading up to the launch, candidates have talked about creating a subway in Bogota and a basic monthly income, an idea currently being debated throughout Europe.

“They are not proposals of a socialist, Soviet or Chavista model,” said Ivan Cepeda, a trusted conduit of both the FARC and the government, referring to the Venezuelan socialist model promoted by the late Hugo Chavez.

FARC leader and candidate Griselda Lobo, alias Sandra Ramirez, characterized the party’s ideology as being based on “principles of unity, solidarity and honesty” rather than attaching themselves to a particular political philosophy.

“That is what has characterized us as guerrillas and that is what we will bring society,” she said. The ex-combatants are guaranteed 10 seats in congress as a condition of the peace agreement, but could capture more depending on how many votes they receive. Though Timochenko’s presidential bid is widely considered a long shot, the former guerrillas are entering politics at a time when polls show Colombians are frustrated with corruption and give the more established political parties dismal approval ratings.

“That group of thieves needs to get out,” one man told a contingent of FARC supporters recently canvassing a poor Bogota neighborhood. The FARC’s entry into politics thus far has been emblematic of the challenges Colombia still faces in implementing the peace accord. One of the biggest concerns has been security, as an estimated 10,000 fighters return to life as civilians. Some are going home to families and communities who despise the FARC. Many Colombians are reluctant to quickly turn a page on a conflict that left at least 250,000 dead, another 60,000 missing and more than 7 million displaced.

Lawmaker Edward Rodriguez said the political party founded by former president and peace accord critic Alvaro Uribe would file a complaint with the International Criminal Court to try and halt Timochenko’s candidacy.

“It’s an affront to Colombians,” he told reporters at a small protest in Bogota’s historic district where demonstrators held up signs reminding passersby of crimes committed by the FARC. The FARC campaign kickoff drew retirees, housewives and construction workers who live in Ciudad Bolivar and said that despite the FARC’s legacy as a violent guerrilla group they were nonetheless curious to hear their proposals.

“They are human beings and like all human beings make mistakes,” said Marco Tulio, 65, a former railroad worker. “Today they are reflecting and I think it’s magnificent that people listen to them.”

Ecuador grants nationality to WikiLeaks founder

January 11, 2018

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador has granted citizenship to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after more than five years of living in asylum at the nation’s embassy in London, officials announced Thursday.

Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said officials accepted Assange’s request for naturalization in December, and they continue to look for a long-term resolution to a situation that has vexed officials since 2012.

“What naturalization does is provide the asylum seeker another layer of protection,” Espinosa said. Ecuador gave Assange asylum after he sought refuge in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden for investigation of sex-related claims. Sweden dropped the case, but Assange has remained in the embassy because he is still subject to arrest in Britain for jumping bail.

He also fears a possible U.S. extradition request based on his leaking of classified State Department documents. The Australian-born Assange posted a photograph of himself wearing a yellow Ecuadorean national soccer team jersey on Instagram Wednesday and his name now appears in the Andean country’s national registry.

The new citizenship status, however, appears to change little for Assange in the immediate future. He would still need to alert British authorities of any movement outside the embassy. “Even if he has two or three nationalities, the United Kingdom will continue in its efforts against him,” said Fredy Rivera, an expert in foreign affairs at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Ecuador.

Espinosa said Ecuador is trying to make Assange a member of its diplomatic team, which would grant him additional rights under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, including special legal immunity and safe passage.

Britain’s Foreign Office said earlier Thursday it has rejected Ecuador’s request to grant him diplomatic status in the U.K. “Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice,” the office said.

Though protected by Ecuador, the relationship between Assange and nation’s leaders has at times been dicey. Ecuador has repeatedly urged Assange not to interfere in the affairs of other countries following his frequent online comments on international issues.

The biggest crisis came in October 2016, when the embassy cut his internet service after WikiLeaks published a trove of emails from then-U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. He was also a point of contention in Ecuador’s 2017 presidential election. Conservative candidate Guillermo Lasso pledged to evict the Australian within 30 days of taking office, while current President Lenin Moreno said he would allow him to stay. Assange later taunted after Lasso’s loss that he would “cordially invite Lasso to leave Ecuador within 30 days.”

Moreno issued a warning reminding Assange not to meddle in politics. He has also called Assange a hacker.

Former Peruvian strongman released from clinic after pardon

January 05, 2018

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori left the clinic Thursday where he has been receiving treatment since his controversial pardon from a 25-year jail sentence. The 79-year-old former strongman departed in a wheelchair alongside his youngest son less than two weeks after President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski announced his release.

Dressed in jeans and a blue polo shirt, Fujimori waved to a crowd of supporters gathered outside the clinic before entering a black SUV. “We are very happy to welcome our father in this new chapter of life!” daughter Keiko Fujimori posted on Twitter along with a photo featuring the family.

The pardon sent thousands of Peruvians into the streets in protest and drew international condemnation. United Nations human rights experts called Fujimori’s pardon an appalling “slap in the face” to the victims of human rights abuses that undermined the work of Peru’s judiciary.

The pardon came three days after Kuczynski narrowly escaped impeachment following a vote in which 10 members of Fujimori’s party unexpectedly abstained. Polls show a majority of Peruvians believe a behind-the-scene deal was struck between Kuczynski and Fujimori’s lawmaker son.

Kuczynski’s allies have denied any such quid pro quo took place. Fujimori was convicted in 2009 for his role in the killings of 25 people, including an 8-year-old boy, during his decade-long rule. He was also later found guilty of having had knowledge of the existence of death squads financed with public money that killed civilians accused of being Shining Path members.

Some Peruvians credit him with stabilizing the economy and defeating the country’s Maoist guerrillas while others condemn him for permitting widespread human rights violations. Fujimori apologized to Peruvians from his hospital bed following his release.

“I have disappointed some compatriots,” he said. “I ask them for forgiveness with all my heart.” Fujimori’s pardon and Kuczynski’s near impeachment have thrown the nation with one of Latin America’s fastest-growing economies into a new period of uncertainty. Kuczynski was already deeply unpopular before an opposition-led investigation revealed his private consulting firm had accepted $782,000 in payments from the Brazilian construction company at the center of the region’s largest corruption scandal. The payments were made when Kuczynski was a high-ranking minister over a decade ago.

The former Wall Street banker repeatedly denied having had any knowledge of the transactions. Several key members of Kuczynski’s government have resigned since the vote. Fujimori had requested a pardon since 2013, but authorities said he did not suffer from any grave, incurable illness. That changed on Christmas Eve when Kuczynski announced he was freeing Fujimori for “humanitarian reasons” after doctors determined he suffered from incurable and degenerative problems. Not details have been provided on exactly what condition Fujimori is facing.

Peruvian law says that no person convicted of murder or kidnapping can receive a presidential pardon except in the case of a terminal illness.

2 top officials quit Peru government amid political crisis

December 28, 2017

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Two senior officials resigned Wednesday from Peru’s government, the latest in a wave of defections amid a political crisis in the South American country. Minister of Culture Salvador del Solar announced his resignation on Twitter without giving a reason for his decision, while presidential adviser Máximo San Roman said in a letter to embattled President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski that his recommendations were not being taken into consideration.

Their departures come days after the resignations of three members of parliament from the president’s party and his minister of interior. Kuczynski only barely survived an impeachment vote by congress last week for alleged corruption, and he set off protests at home and abroad with a Christmas Eve pardon of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori in what many Peruvians viewed as a political payback.

Kuczynski said he granted a medical pardon to the ailing 79-year-old former president on humanitarian grounds. The action allows Fujimori to leave prison after serving less than half a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses, including killings of 25 people by the military, that took place during his administration in the 1990s.

Relatives and a lawyer for some of the victims called Wednesday for judicial authorities or the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to reverse the pardon for Fujimori, who issued an apology from his hospital bed for people “wronged” by his government.

“Fujimori killed my son, and now Kuczynski in a cowardly and cruel manner ends up killing the rest of the family,” one of the relatives, Javier Roca, told reporters. Abstentions by lawmakers from a party led by a Fujimori son allowed Kuczynski to narrowly avoid being impeached late Thursday over a payment that his consulting firm received a decade ago from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, which has admitted bribing public officials throughout Latin America to win public works contracts.

Former Peruvian president apologizes following pardon

December 27, 2017

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Former President Alberto Fujimori apologized to Peruvians on Tuesday for the wrongs committed under his government in the 1990s, issuing a vaguely worded statement two days after he received a presidential medical pardon that freed him from prison.

The 79-year-old Fujimori spoke in a videotaped message from a hospital in the capital. He received the pardon after serving less than half of a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses. “I am aware that the results during my government were well received on one side, but I recognize that I have let down other compatriots,” he said. “To them, I ask for forgiveness with all my heart.”

Fujimori had not previously apologized, asserting even during his sentencing hearing that he was innocent. He led the country in 1990-2000 and was found guilty for the killings of 25 people in a campaign against the leftist Shining Path terrorist group.

“He has to ask forgiveness from his victims, from the families of those who were lost, who can’t spend Christmas with their families,” Marisa Glave, a member of parliament, said on local television network America.

Fujimori, who has been diagnosed with arrhythmia and tongue cancer, also thanked President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski for pardoning him and sparing him from serving another 14 years in prison. The decision, which was announced on Christmas Eve, sparked large protests across the country on Christmas Day.

The president said Fujimori was being let go for humanitarian reasons, but many believe it was part of a backroom deal struck to protect Kuczynski from impeachment on corruption charges. Human Rights Watch declared it a “vulgar political negotiation.”

Abstentions by lawmakers from a party led by Fujimori’s son allowed Kuczynski to narrowly avoid being impeached late Thursday over a payment that his consulting firm received from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, which has been accused of bribing public officials throughout Latin America.

A U.N. official said Tuesday that Peru’s president should not have acted alone in granting the pardon. Amerigo Incalcaterra, the South America representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted in a statement that the U.N. told Kuczynski’s government in October that the seriousness of Fujimori’s crimes warranted involvement of the international community in deciding on any pardon.

Such a pardon “requires a rigorous analysis in each case, considering the gravity of the facts in the framework of a transparent and inclusive process, in the light of international human rights standards,” Incalcaterra wrote.

Ousted Caracas mayor reaches Spain after fleeing Venezuela

November 18, 2017

MADRID (AP) — The ousted mayor of Caracas pledged to spread his protest against Venezuela’s socialist government across the world as he arrived in Spain on Saturday, a day after escaping from house arrest and slipping past security forces into Colombia.

After embracing his wife and two daughters with a Venezuela flag draped over his shoulder, Antonio Ledezma said he was going to continue to fight Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from exile. “I am going to dedicate myself to traveling the world, to spread the hope of all Venezuelans to escape this regime, this dictatorship,” Ledezma said. “Venezuela isn’t on the verge of an abyss, it has fallen into the abyss.”

Maduro, for his part, called Ledezma a “vampire flying around the world.” Ledezma, 62, was removed as mayor of Caracas and detained in 2015 on charges of plotting to oust Maduro. He was one of the leaders of anti-government in protests that rocked Venezuela in 2014 that also led to the jailing of other prominent opponents, including his former cellmate Leopoldo Lopez, who remains under house arrest.

Ledezma’s flight from Bogota landed early Saturday in Madrid where besides his family, he was greeted by the former president of Colombia, Andres Pastrana, and the former Venezuelan ambassador, Fernando Gerbasi.

Ledezma said he “felt freedom” upon touching Spanish soil and hopes to meet with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy before starting his global tour. He did not say what countries he plans to visit. “Venezuela is completely collapsing. We can’t wait any longer,” he said. “We don’t have any resources left, only our morale.”

Ledezma told The Associated Press on Friday that his decision to flee was driven by threats intended to force the opposition to resume negotiations with Maduro’s government. After slipping past intelligence police officers stationed 24 hours a day outside his residence, he passed through several police checkpoints in a long journey by car to Colombia. Colombian immigration authorities said Ledezma entered the country legally across the Simon Bolivar Bridge.

Ledezma, who thanked both Spanish and Colombian authorities for what he described as their warm welcomes, was elated after his escape. “I’ve lived out a James Bond movie,” Ledemza said. “I made this route of more than 24 hours, passing 29 control points, checkpoints, crossing paths, accepting all the risks, and in every moment I always thought about the value of freedom.”

Tag Cloud