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Venezuela’s Maduro meets Turkey’s Erdogan on European tour

October 06, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is meeting his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for talks on bilateral relations and international issues. Maduro’s visit on Friday comes amid stringent U.S. sanctions on the South American nation and a deepening political crisis in Venezuela, as the country struggles with triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages.

The foreign ministers of both countries will also participate in the second meeting of their joint “partnership commissions” aimed at forging cooperation between the two countries, according to the Turkish president’s office.

Maduro’s visit follows a tour to Russia and to Belarus, where he discussed expanding military ties with the ex-Soviet nation. In February 2016, Erdogan visited Chile, Peru and Ecuador to boost trade ties between Turkey and South America.


The Tuxá Indigenous Paradise, Submerged under Water

The Tuxá Indigenous Paradise, Submerged under Water

By Fabiana Frayssinet

RODELAS, Brazil, Sep 30 2017 (IPS) – The Tuxá indigenous people had lived for centuries in the north of the Brazilian state of Bahia, on the banks of the São Francisco River. But in 1988 their territory was flooded by the Itaparica hydropower plant, and since then they have become landless. Their roots are now buried under the waters of the reservoir.

Dorinha Tuxá, one of the leaders of this native community, which currently has between 1,500 and 2,000 inhabitants, sings on the shore of what they still call “river”, although now it is an 828-sq-km reservoir, in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, along the border with the state of Bahia, to the south.

While singing the song dedicated to their “sacred” river and smoking her “maraku”, a pipe with tobacco and ritual herbs, she looks dreamily at the waters where the “Widow’s Island” was submerged, one of several that sprinkled the lower course of the São Francisco River, and on which the members of her community used to live.

“This song is to ask our community for unity, because in this struggle we are asking for the strength of our ancestors to help us recover our territory. A landless indigenous person is a naked indigenous person. We are asking our ancestors to bless us in this battle and protect our warriors,” she told IPS.

The hydroelectric plant, with a capacity of 1,480 megawatts, is one of eight installed by the São Francisco Hydroelectric Company (CHESF), whose operations are centered on that river which runs across much of the Brazilian Northeast region: 2,914 km from its source in the center of the country to the point where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast.

After the flood, the Tuxá people were relocated to three municipalities. Some were settled in Nova Rodelas, a hamlet in the rural municipality of Rodelas, in the state of Bahia, where Dorinha Tuxá lives.

After a 19-year legal battle, the 442 relocated Tuxá families finally received compensation from the CHESF. But they are still waiting for the 4,000 hectares that were agreed upon when they were displaced, and which must be handed over to them by state agencies.

“What nostalgia for that blessed land where we were born and which did not let us lack for anything. The river where we used to fish. I have such nostalgia for that time, from my childhood to my marriage. We were indeed a suffering and stoic but optimistic people. We grew rice, onions, we harvested mangoes. All that is gone,” Tuxá chief Manoel Jurum Afé told IPS.

The new village is very different from the community where they used to live on their island.

Only the soccer field, where children play, retains the shape of traditional indigenous Tuxá constructions.

But the elders strive to transmit their collective memory to the young, such as Luiza de Oliveira, who was baptized with the indigenous name of Aluna Flexia Tuxá.

She is studying law to continue her people’s struggle for land and rights. Her mother, like many other Tuxá women, also played an important role as chief, or community leader.

“It was as if they lived in a paradise. They had no need to beg the government like they have to do now. They used to plant everything, beans, cassava. They lived together in complete harmony. They talk about it with nostalgia. It was a paradise that came to an end when it was flooded,” she said.

After three decades of living with other local people, the Tuxás stopped wearing their native clothes, although for special occasions and rituals they put on their “cocares” (traditional feather headdresses).

They welcomed IPS with a “toré” – a collective dance open to outsiders. Another religious ceremony, “the particular”, is reserved for members of the community. That is how they honour the “enchanted”, their spirits or reincarnated ancestors.

But they are also Catholics and very devoted to Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of Rodelas, which was named after Captain Francisco Rodelas, considered the first chief who fought alongside the Portuguese against the Dutch occupation of northeast Brazil in the 17th century.

Armando Apaká Caramuru Tuxá is a “pajé” – guardian of the Tuxá traditions.

“The waters covered the land where our ancestors lived. Many times I saw my grandfather sitting at the foot of a jua (Ziziphus joazeiro, a tree typical of the eco-region of the semi-arid Northeast), there on the island talking to them up there (in the sky),” he said.

“We lost all that. That place which was sacred to us was submerged under water,” he said, sadly.

The Tuxá people, who for centuries were fishermen, hunters, gatherers and farmers, practically gave up their subsistence crops in their new location.

Some bought small parcels of land and grow cash crops, such as coconuts.

“We need to improve our quality of life. Before we used to live on what we produced from agriculture and fishing. Today that is not possible, so we want to return to agriculture, and to do that we need our land,” Chief Uilton Tuxá told IPS.

In 2014, a decree declared some 4,392 hectares of land an “area of social interest” in order to expropriate it and transfer it to the Tuxá people.

In June of this year, they won a lawsuit in a federal court, which ruled that the National Indigenous Foundation (Funai) had three months to create a working group to begin the demarcation process. It also set a new compensation to be paid to the Tuxá people.

But distrustful of the state bureaucracy and the courts, the Tuxá people decided to occupy Surubabel, the area near their village, on the banks of the reservoir, which was expropriated in order for it to be demarcated in their favor, but this never happened.

They began to build a new village there, in what they call “the recovery” of their lands.

“The occupation of this land by us, the Tuxá people, represents the rekindling of the flame of our identity as an indigenous people native to this riverbank. We were already here, since the beginning of the colonization process, even in the 16th century when the first catechists arrived,” argued Uilton Tuxá.

“We want to build this small village for the government to fulfill its obligations and the order to delimit our territory,” he said.

During the week they have other activities. They are public employees or work on their plots of land. But on Saturdays they load their tools in their vehicles and build their houses in the traditional way.

“Nowadays a lot of land in this sacred territory of the Tuxás is being invaded by non-indigenous people and also by indigenous people from other ethnic groups,” chief Xirlene Liliana Xurichana Tuxá told IPS.

“We were the first indigenous people from the Northeast to be recognized and we are the last to have the right to our land. This is just the beginning. If the justice system does not grant us our right to continue the dialogue, we will adopt forceful measures, we will mobilize. We are tired of being the good guys,” she warned, speaking as a community leader.

Meanwhile, the small portion of their ancestral land that was not submerged, and the land they occupy now, are threatened by new megaprojects.

These lands were left in the middle of two canals, on the north axis of the diversion of the São Francisco River, a project that is still under construction, which is to supply 12 million people with water.

“The Tuxá people have suffered impacts, above and beyond the dam. There is also the diversion of the river and the possibility that they might build a nuclear plant will also affect us,” said Uilton Tuxá, smoking his marakú during a break.

They say the marakú attracts protective forces. And this time they hope these forces will help them to get the land promised to them when their ancestral land was taken away, and that they will not lose it again to new megaprojects.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).


Admirers honor ‘Che’ Guevara 50 years after his death

October 08, 2017

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — A little band of guerrillas had been on the run through rugged, mountainous terrain, struggling unsuccessfully to build support among the indigenous people of rural Bolivia as a step toward a global socialist revolution.

Finally, on Oct. 8, 1967, the army ran them down. A day afterward — apparently at the behest of the CIA — an army sergeant shot to death their leader: Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Fifty years later, the mountain village where he was killed and the nearby town where he was buried have become shrines to a sort of socialist saint, a man whose death helped cement his image as an enduring symbol of revolt. Some there even pray to him — an outcome that likely would have outraged the iconoclastic atheist.

Thousands of activists and sympathizers from many countries poured into La Higuera and Vallegrande this week for ceremonies to commemorate Guevara led by the country’s leftist president, Evo Morales, who laid flowers at a bust of the fallen guerrilla in the village on Sunday.

In Cuba, President Raul Castro — one of Guevara’s old comrades-in-arms — oversaw a memorial ceremony at the large mausoleum constructed to hold the revolutionary’s remains, though the main speaker was the man many believe may replace him, Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

“The colossal example of Che endures and multiplies day by day,” said Diaz-Canel, who added warnings that the United States, Guevara’s chief foe, had demonstrated “a marked interest in a political and economic reconquest” of Cuba.

Guevara was the very personification of the communist dream of spreading revolution around the world. The Argentine-born physician was radicalized by a youthful trip through South America, witnessed the CIA-backed overthrow of a leftist president in Guatemala and ran across exiled Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro while working as a photographer in Mexico.

Despite an often-debilitating asthma, he turned himself into one of the most important fighters of Castro’s Cuban revolution, winning the climactic battlefield victory in the city of Santa Clara that prompted dictator Fulgencio Batista to flee the country.

In the aftermath of that triumph, Guevara commanded the Havana military fortress of La Cabana, where hundreds of men accused of crimes under the Batista regime were put to death. Castro then made Guevara into an unlikely financial bureaucrat, naming him to head Cuba’s Central Bank and later the Ministry of Industry. He was famous for working long hours, and then turning up for volunteer work in the sugar fields.

But he felt the call to spread socialism to other nations. He left Cuba in 1964 to help rebels in the Congo, renouncing his Cuban citizenship but relying on Cuban aid. The mission was a flop and he had to pull out a year later.

Back in Cuba, Guevara secretly organized another revolution, this time in Bolivia. But his band there, which included several Cubans, failed to find the sort of popular support that Castro had won in Cuba during his revolution. Bolivia’s army tracked Che down and killed him.

An oddly Christ-like photo of the slain Guevara emerged and helped build the image of him as a martyr. An even more famous photo of the living Che, seeming to gaze into the future, has become an icon of rebellion on t-shirts, tattoos and key rings — sometimes to the consternation of Guevara’s socialist allies, who disapprove of the way it has become commercialized.

One of Guevara’s younger brothers, Juan Martin Guevara, said the causes he fought for remain important. “The inequality today is greater than when he fought, the economic concentration is much greater. What he fought for is still present,” the brother said in Buenos Aires. “He would be in the same place that he always was, confronting it.”

Andrea Rodriguez reported from Havana. Associated Press journalist Paul Byrne contributed from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Finally, Argentina Has a Law on Access to Public Information

By Daniel Gutman

BUENOS AIRES, Sep 28 2017 (IPS) – After 15 long years of public campaigns and debates in which different political, social and business sectors held marches and counter-protests, Argentina finally has a new law that guarantees access to public information.

This step forward must now be reflected in reality, in this South American country where one of the main social demands is greater transparency on the part of the authorities.

The Law on the Right of Access to Public Information, which considers “all government-held information” to be public, was approved by Congress in September last year and enters into force Friday Sept. 29.

Eduardo Bertoni stressed the importance of the new law. He is the academic appointed by the government of President Mauricio Macri to lead the new Agency for Access to Public Information, which will operate within the executive branch, although “with operational autonomy,” according to the law.

“There are already 113 countries that have right of access to information laws and 90 countries have incorporated it into their constitutions,” Bertoni said during the public hearing where his appointment was discussed.

Bertoni, a lawyer with a great deal of experience regarding the right to information, served as Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIADH) between 2002 and 2005.

“We must now encourage society to demand more information from the authorities. And it is essential to push for better organisation of the public archives, because if we do not find the information people seek, we will fail,” he added.

The text is broad in terms of the list of institutions legally bound to respond to requests for access to information: besides the various branches of the state, it includes companies, political parties, trade unions, universities and any private entity to which public funds have been allocated, including public service concessionaires.

The Agency was created to ensure compliance with the law. Its functions include advising people who seek public information and assisting them with their request.

“This was clearly a pending issue for Argentina. It is incomprehensible that the governments of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) did not push for approval of this law, which should be an incentive for provinces and municipalities to do the same, since very few have regulations on access to public information,” Guillermo Mastrini, an expert on this question, told IPS.

For Mastrini, a former director of Communication Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, “this does not change the worrying scenario with respect to the right to information, since the government is regulating by decree issues related to audiovisual communication services in a way that does not favor plurality and transparency.”

The bill was sent to Congress by the government a few months after Macri took office in December 2015, and passed with large majorities in both legislative chambers.

Until now, at the national level, there was only decree 1172, signed in 2003 by Kirchner with the aim of “improving the quality of democracy”, which was not only below the status of a law, but only covered the executive branch with regard to the obligation to provide information.

José Crettaz, a journalist and the coordinator of the Center for Studies on the Convergence of Communications, told IPS that “Néstor Kirchner’s decree, which applied to the executive branch, worked very well at first, but then public officials began to leave most requests for information unanswered.”

“Now we are seeing a huge step forward, since the law encompasses all branches of the state, and I see a government with a different attitude. The decisive thing will be how the law is implemented. The only valid criterion should be: if there is public money involved, it is public information,” he said.

The law was passed after dozens of bills on access to information were introduced in Congress in recent years. The first was presented under the government of Fernando de la Rua (1999-2001), with the support of a network of civil society organisations, but with little backing from journalists.

The initiative obtained preliminary approval from the lower house of Congress in 2003, passed to the Senate and then the main Argentine media outlets joined the public campaign demanding that it be approved. However, they later distanced themselves from the bill.

They did so, Bertoni recalled in a paper written in 2011 for the World Bank, when a senator warned that the media should also respond to requests for information submitted by any member of the public, as they receive state advertising, which is considered a subsidy.

In 2004, the Senate approved the bill, but with modifications that included private entities among the subjects obligated to provide information, and sent it back to the lower house, where it was shelved. Another bill was passed by the Senate in 2010, but it also failed to prosper.

Now one thing that stood out is that just two days before the law went into effect, the government modified it through a questioned channel: based on “a decree of necessity and urgency”, putting the new Agency in the orbit of the chief of the cabinet of ministers.

“The government thus gave a lower status to the Agency, which according to law was to depend directly on the Presidency of the Nation; the decision, moreover, cannot be taken by decree when Congress is in session,” said Damián Loreti, professor of Right to Information at the University of Buenos Aires.

“That the law is in force is good. But I am concerned about a number of things, such as not including among its objectives a guarantee for the exercise of other rights, such as housing or sexual and reproductive rights. The model law of the Organisation of American States was not followed,” he told IPS.

For Sebastián Lacunza, the last director of the Buenos Aires Herald, a well-respected English-language newspaper that closed this year, “in a country that does not have a culture of transparency, there is a risk that the law will fail.”

“This government promised a regeneration of the country’s institutions, but in some aspects it ended up aggravating the shortcomings of the previous administration, which was not prone to being open with information,” he told IPS.

In his view, “in a context of global crisis in the media industry and a shrinking of plurality of information, the most important thing is that there is an active state that combats the concentration of the media in a few hands.”

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).


Brazil’s top court favors indigenous groups in land dispute

August 17, 2017

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s top court ruled Wednesday against a state that sought federal compensation for lands used to create three indigenous reserves, delivering a landmark decision seen as a defeat for groups trying to limit native land claims.

Mato Grosso, a large Brazilian state on the border with Bolivia, had argued the reserves were created in the 1960s on state lands. In an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Federal Tribunal disagreed, saying the land was owned by the federal government and it had the right to hand over the territory to the indigenous communities.

Sonia Guajajara, an indigenous leader from the northern state of Maranhao, called the ruling a “great conquest in a time when rights are being rolled back.” Her comment alluded to claims by indigenous communities that their way of life has increasingly come under fire during the administration of President Michel Temer.

Last month, Temer signed a recommendation to block the demarcation of any land on which indigenous people were not living by 1988, the year of Brazil’s latest constitution. Indigenous advocates rejected the proposal, arguing that many native communities had been violently forced from their lands before that date. They accuse Temer of signing the recommendation to cater to the interests of the powerful agribusiness bloc in Congress who he depends on to stay in power.

“It is conceivable that he will try to promote another similar measure” for the same reason, said Cleber Buzatto, spokesman for the Indigenous Missionary Council. There are more than 700 requests for the demarcation of indigenous land pending and Temer has not signed one of them during his 16 months in power.

Venezuela’s new assembly declares itself all-powerful

August 09, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The new constitutional assembly assumed even more power in Venezuela by declaring itself as the superior body to all other governmental institutions, including the opposition-controlled congress.

That decree came Tuesday just hours after the assembly delegates took control of a legislative chamber and put up pictures of the late President Hugo Chavez, who installed Venezuela’s socialist system.

Delcy Rodriguez, the head of the ruling socialist party and leader of the body, said the unanimously approved decree prohibits lawmakers in congress from taking any action that would interfere with laws passed by the newly installed constitutional assembly.

“We are not threatening anyone,” said Aristobulo Isturiz, the constitutional assembly’s first vice president. “We are looking for ways to coexist.” Leaders of congress, which previously voted not to recognize any of the new super-body’s decrees, said lawmakers would try to meet in the gold-domed legislative palace Wednesday, but there were questions whether security officers guarding the building would let them in.

The opposition to President Nicolas Maduro also faced another fight Wednesday before the government-stacked Supreme Court, which scheduled a hearing on charges against a Caracas-area opposition mayor. The judges convicted another mayor Tuesday for failing to move against protesters during four months of political unrest.

In calling the July 30 election for the constitutional assembly, Maduro said a new constitution would help resolve the nation’s political standoff, but opposition leaders view it is a power grab and the president’s allies have said they will go after his opponents. Before its decree declaring itself all-powerful, the assembly ousted Venezuela’s outspoken chief prosecutor, established a “truth commission” expected to target Maduro’s foes and pledged “support and solidarity” with the unpopular president.

The latest surge of protests began in early April in reaction to a quickly rescinded attempt by the government-supporting Supreme Court to strip the National Assembly of its powers. But the unrest ballooned into a widespread movement fed by anger over Venezuela’s triple-digest inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and high crime.

Opposition lawmakers said security forces led by Rodriguez broke into the congress building late Monday and seized control of an unused, ceremonial chamber almost identical to the one where lawmakers meet.

“This government invades the spaces that it is not capable of legitimately winning,” Stalin Gonzalez, an opposition lawmaker, wrote on Twitter, alluding to the opposition’s overwhelming victory in the 2015 congressional elections.

Before the assembly met Tuesday, the pro-government Supreme Court sentenced a Caracas-area mayor to 15 months in prison for not following an order to remove barricades set up during anti-government demonstrations.

Ramon Muchacho was the fourth opposition mayor ordered arrested by the high court the past two weeks. His whereabouts were not known, but he denounced the ruling on Twitter. The constitutional assembly’s meeting Tuesday came amid mounting criticism from foreign governments that have refused to recognize the new body.

The foreign ministers of 17 Western Hemisphere nations met in Peru to discuss how to force Maduro to back down. The ministers issued a statement after the meeting condemning the body and reiterating previous calls for the parties in Venezuela to negotiate on ending the political crisis.

Meanwhile, leaders from the Bolivarian Alliance, a leftist coalition of 11 Latin American nations, met in Caracas and declared the creation of the constitutional assembly a “sovereign act” aimed at helping Venezuela overcome its difficulties.

“We reiterate the call for a constructive and respectful dialogue,” the alliance said in a statement read after the meeting. Since the disputed election, security forces have stepped up their presence. A U.N. human rights commissioner report issued Tuesday warned of “widespread and systematic use” of excessive force, arbitrary detention and other rights violations against demonstrators.

Only a few dozen demonstrators heeded the opposition’s call to set up traffic-snarling roadblocks in Caracas on Tuesday to show opposition to the new assembly, underlining the fear and resignation among that has weakened turnout for street protests that once drew hundreds of thousands. At least 124 people have been killed and hundreds injured or detained during the protests.

Powerful Venezuela assembly meets again as pressure mounts

August 08, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Foreign ministers from 14 nations are meeting in Peru on Tuesday in hopes of finding consensus on a regional response to Venezuela’s growing political crisis, while President Nicolas Maduro’s all-powerful constitutional assembly is forging ahead on promises to punish the embattled leader’s foes.

The assembly was expected to gather at the stately legislative palace in Caracas for the first time since voting Saturday to remove the nation’s outspoken chief prosecutor, a move that drew condemnation from many of the same regional government that are sending representatives to the meeting in Peru’s capital.

Peru’s president has been vocal in rejecting the new assembly, but the region has found that agreeing on any collective actions has proved tricky. Still, Venezuela is facing mounting pressure and threats of deepening sanctions from trade partners, including a recent suspension from South America’s Mercosur.

Despite growing international criticism, Maduro has remained firm in pressing the constitutional assembly forward in executing his priorities. He called for a special meeting Tuesday in Caracas of the Bolivarian Alliance, a leftist coalition of 11 Latin American nations.

The new constitutional assembly has signaled it will act swiftly in following through with Maduro’s commands, voting Saturday to replace chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz with a government loyalist and create a “truth commission” that will wield unusual power to prosecute and levy sentences.

“It should be clear: We arrived there to help President Nicolas Maduro, but also to create strong bases for the construction of Bolivarian and Chavista socialism,” Diosdado Cabello, a leader of the ruling socialist party and member of the new assembly, told a crowd of supporters Monday.

Opposition leaders, meanwhile, vowed to remain in their posts in their only government foothold — the country’s single-chamber congress, the National Assembly. John Magdaleno, director of the Caracas-based consulting firm POLITY, said that rather than having co-existing assemblies and chief prosecutors, it is more likely that opposition-controlled institutions will be rendered powerless as Maduro’s administration further consolidates Venezuela into an authoritarian state.

The opposition-dominated National Assembly “will be a body that in principal co-exists with the constitutional assembly but that will surely be displaced in practice,” Magdaleno said. National Assembly president Julio Borges told fellow lawmakers Monday that they should keep an active presence in the legislative palace despite threats from the constitutional assembly to strip them of any authority and lock up key leaders. Borges called the building, with its gold cupola, the “symbol of popular sovereignty.”

“We are a testament to the fight for democracy,” he said. “It should be known this assembly was true to its mandate.” In theory, both the National Assembly and the constitutional assembly could operate simultaneously, but the new super body created through a July 30 election has the authority to trump any other branch of government — and Venezuela’s leaders have promised to do just that.

National Assembly members voted unanimously Monday not to recognize any of the new super body’s decrees. “The intent is to pursue those who think differently,” lawmaker Delsa Solorzano said of the constitutional assembly’s plans.

Cabello said that the new assembly’s decisions have all aligned strictly with the 1999 constitution crafted by the late President Hugo Chavez and that the new assembly would be in power for “at least two years.”

“This is a completely legal process,” he said. The widening political gulf comes as opposition parties face a rapidly approaching deadline to decide whether they will take part in regional elections scheduled for December. Candidates are expected to sign up to run this week. Opposition members refused to participate in the election for delegates to the constitutional assembly but have thus far been divided on taking part in the contests for governors.

While Maduro’s popular support is estimated to run at no higher than 20 percent, some opposition leaders are skeptical of running in regional elections they fear could be rigged. The official turnout count in the constitutional assembly election has been questioned at home and abroad. The CEO of voting technology company Smartmatic said last week that the results were “without a doubt” tampered with and off by at least 1 million votes.

On Sunday, a band of 20 anti-government fighters attacked an army base in an apparent attempt to foment an uprising. The men managed to reach the barracks’ weapons supply. Ten escaped, but two were killed and the remaining eight were captured after battling with soldiers for three hours, Maduro said.

Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said special units were being activated Monday to assist in the search for the escapees, who remained at large more than 24 hours after the attack.

Associated Press writer Christine Armario in Miami contributed to this report.

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