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Posts tagged ‘Foralast Section’

Norway to Brazil: Curb deforestation or we stop the money

June 23, 2017

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Norway’s prime minister warned Brazil’s president on Friday to curb deforestation in the Amazon or Norway will reduce its financial contribution to the project this year. The announcement comes as the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests are being cut down at the fastest rate in nearly a decade, according to official Brazilian figures.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said Norway’s more than $1 billion contribution to the so-called Amazon fund is “based on results,” Norway’s NTB news agency said. Since 2001, Norway has donated billions to encourage the conservation of forests.

“If preliminary figures about deforestation in 2016 are confirmed, it will lead to a reduced payout in 2017,” Solberg said after meeting with Brazilian President Michel Temer in Oslo. Temer praised Norway’s contribution to the fund but declined to take questions from media after he and Solberg had made their statements.

“This contribution has enabled us to make a more effective impact to avoiding deforestation,” Temer said, according to NTB. Temer said Monday he had vetoed legislation to reduce the size of protected environmental reserves. However, the apparent victory for environmental groups most likely will be short-lived, as Brazilian Environment Minister Jose Sarney Filho is working on similar legislation.

The legislation passed by Brazil’s Congress last month would have converted around 1.4 million acres (566,000 hectares) of protected land into areas open to logging, mining and agricultural use. However, last week, Filho announced plans to create a new expedited bill that would convert 1.1 million acres of protected land to other uses.

Last year, deforestation in the Amazon jumped 29 percent over the previous year, according to the Brazilian government’s satellite monitoring. That was the highest rate since 2008. Before his meeting with Solberg, Temer was met by protesters holding posters reading “Stop rainforest destruction” and “Respect indigenous peoples’ rights” as he arrived at the prime minister’s office in Oslo.

Brazil’s Temer gets big victory in electoral court ruling

June 10, 2017

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s top electoral court gave embattled President Michel Temer a big victory late Friday, voting to reject allegations of campaign finance violations that could have removed him from office.

After four days of deliberations, judges voted 4-3 in a case that many viewed as a measure of whether Temer could remain in office amid a ballooning corruption scandal and single-digit popularity. Last month, a recording emerged that apparently captured Temer endorsing hush money to ex-House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, a former Temer ally serving 15 years in prison for corruption and money laundering. Soon after that, details of another bombshell came out: that Temer was being investigated for allegedly receiving bribes.

Temer has denied wrongdoing and vowed to stay in office. “The facts are very serious, unbearable,” said Judge Luiz Fux, who voted to remove Temer, adding the campaign finance case was about “very serious crimes.”

Judge Gilmar Mendes, who has called Temer “a friend of many years,” cast the decisive vote to keep Temer in office. Mendes, also a justice on the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the country’s highest court, argued that electoral laws needed reform, suggesting that politicians should not pay the price for a broken system.

“The system needs stability. It is very easy to talk about morality, fighting against corruption. I want that too,” said Mendes, who in the past has come to the aid of other politicians facing legal trouble. “A president can’t just be replaced at any time, even if the desire is there.”

The campaign finance case was filed shortly after the 2014 presidential election by one of the losing parties. It alleged that the ticket of President Dilma Rousseff and running mate Temer, then the vice presidential candidate, gained an unfair advantage through illegal campaign contributions. Temer took over the presidency last year after Rousseff was impeached and removed for illegally managing the federal budget.

The campaign finance allegations were bolstered in recent months by stunning testimony from plea bargains signed by current and former executives at the construction giant Odebrecht, a company at the center of a colossal investigation into billions of dollars in inflated contracts and kickbacks to politicians. The executives provided shocking details of tens of millions of dollars in bribes and illegal campaign contributions, including to the Rousseff-Temer ticket.

In their deliberations, the judges argued about whether those plea bargains should be considered in their decision. They also clashed over the strength of the original evidence and whether punishments should be doled out when illegal campaign finance was widespread.

A guilty verdict would have annulled the 2014 victory, thus stripping Temer of the rest of his mandate. It could also have stripped both Rousseff and Temer of political rights for eight years. While Temer had vowed to appeal a conviction, it would have weakened his hand in a climate of several corruption scandals and a public furious about it.

“Temer will stay in office and probably face many demonstrations in the streets,” said Alexandre Barros, a political risk consultant with the Brasilia-based firm Early Warning. “I don’t think anybody is in the mood to decide something unexpected at this point.”

The political turmoil in Brazil — that began with the push last year to remove Rousseff from power for violating budget laws — has reached a fever pitch. There are near weekly protests calling for Temer’s ouster, frequent shouting matches in Congress, and a simmering debate in the media over whether Temer will manage to finish out his term.

That atmosphere was reflected in the courtroom, where there were several tense moments. Among the most dramatic came during the opening of the afternoon session Friday, when a prosecutor requested the disqualification of one of the judges who had once been a lawyer for Rousseff and one justice decried articles in the press that linked him to a corruption investigation. As the tension in the chamber rose, the court’s president called a brief break.

While Temer has survived another day, the future will be difficult. His already very low popularity has plunged further amid the corruption allegations. A Temer ally and former congressman, captured on video by federal police carrying a suitcase full of bribe money, was recently jailed — and any testimony he provides could further implicate Temer.

The main parties in Temer’s coalition have stuck with him so far, but several reports have reflected worry that being associated with his could be detrimental to re-election campaigns next year. Ironically, Temer’s strongest argument to stay in power is that he can deliver major reforms to labor laws and the country’s pension system. While deeply unpopular among Brazilians, many economists have argued they are necessary to help pull Latin America’s largest nation from recession and many members of Congress want them passed, if anything to be able to point at something besides widespread corruption.

“Temer will argue, ‘I’m the guy who is going to give the country the bitter remedy that will cure it,” said Carlos Manhanelli, political marketing specialist and chairman of the Brazilian Association of Political Consultants.

Associated Press reporter Sarah DiLorenzo contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.

2 dead as Venezuela protests turn violent outside capital

May 16, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A day that began with largely peaceful protests against Venezuela’s socialist government took a violent turn Monday as fierce clashes between state security and demonstrators killed at least two people.

Thousands hauled folding chairs, beach umbrellas and protest signs onto main roads for a 12-hour “sit-in against the dictatorship,” the latest in a month and a half of street demonstrations that have resulted in dozens of deaths.

Protests in Caracas against President Nicolas Maduro remained mostly tranquil, but outside the capital demonstrators clashed with police and national guardsmen. In the western state of Tachira near Venezuela’s border with Colombia, two men were reported dead in separate demonstrations: Luis Alviarez, 18, and Diego Hernandez, 33.

Witness videos showed a man identified as Hernandez lying lifeless on the pavement, his eyes wide open, as a bystander ripped open his shirt, revealing a bloody wound underneath. “They killed him!” someone cries out.

Elsewhere in Tachira, demonstrators threw rocks and set an armored truck on fire. Several buildings were set ablaze and dozens injured, including one young woman standing on the street, her face covered in blood.

In the central state of Carabobo, three officers were shot, including one left in critical condition after being struck in the head, authorities said. In Lara, a vehicle ran over three protesters. The violence added to a mounting toll of bloodshed and chaos as Venezuela’s opposition vows to step up near-daily demonstrations and Maduro shows no intention of conceding to opposition demands. More than three dozen people have been killed, including a national guardsman and a police officer, hundreds injured and as many as 2,000 detained in nearly seven weeks of protests.

International pressure on the troubled South American nation is continuing to increase, with the Organization of American States voting Monday to hold a rare foreign ministers’ meeting later this month to discuss Venezuela’s political crisis. The Washington-based group only convenes such meetings to address most urgent affairs.

“We ask the world to look at what’s happening right now in Venezuela,” opposition leader Maria Corina Machado said after Monday’s violence. “A deranged regime that represses and kills its people.” Venezuela announced in late April that it would be leaving the OAS, which seeks to defend democracy throughout the hemisphere, and its representative was not present at Monday’s meeting. Maduro contends the OAS is meddling in Venezuela’s domestic affairs, infringing on its sovereignty and trying to remove him from power.

The fiery Venezuelan president is vowing to resolve his nation’s crisis by convening a special assembly to rewrite the nation’s constitution, while the opposition is demanding an immediate presidential election.

Polls indicate the great majority of Venezuelans want Maduro gone as violent crime soars and the country falls into economic ruin, with triple-digit inflation and shortages of many basic foods and medical supplies.

The wave of protests were triggered by a government move to nullify the opposition-controlled congress in late March, but the demonstrations have morphed into a general airing of grievances against the unpopular socialist administration.

As demonstrations take over Caracas almost daily, normal life has continued, but the atmosphere is suffused with uncertainty. At fancy cafes, patrons show each other the latest videos of student protesters getting hurt or defaced statues of the late President Hugo Chavez on their phones. Working class people who have to traverse the capital for their jobs have adjusted their schedules to account for traffic shutdowns and take siestas to wait out clashes between protesters and police.

On Monday, demonstrators assembled a giant rosary with balloons hanging from a Caracas highway overpass. A group of flamenco dancers dressed in black performed for the crowds. Others simply sat and held signs declaring their resistance.

Former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said the opposition would take its protests “to another stage” as Maduro continues his push to rewrite the nation’s constitution. “We are against this fraudulent process,” Capriles said on his radio broadcast.

Tarek William Saab, the national ombudsman, whose job is to protect citizens’ rights but who has been tagged the “dictator’s defender” by the opposition, said on Twitter that he was pressing for an exhaustive investigation into Alviarez’s death Monday to determine who was responsible and ensure they are held accountable.

Maduro blames the opposition for the violence, claiming its leaders are fomenting unrest to remove him from power. The opposition maintains state security and civilian-armed pro-government groups known as “colectivos” are responsible for the bloodshed.

Associated Press writer Hannah Dreier reported this story in Caracas and AP writer Christine Armario reported from Bogota, Colombia.

Venezuelans again shut down capital to protest government

May 15, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Protesters are hauling folding chairs, beach umbrellas and coolers onto main roads for a national sit-in. The “sit-in against the dictatorship” is the latest in a month and a half of street demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro. Many Caracas businesses were closed Monday and taxi drivers suspended work in anticipation of a city-wide traffic shutdown.

Opposition leaders are demanding immediate presidential elections. Polls show the great majority of Venezuelans want Maduro gone as violent crime soars and the country falls into economic ruin. The European Union is also calling for Venezuela elections. EU foreign ministers said Monday that “violence and the use of force will not resolve the crisis in the country.”

And the U.S. has expressed grave concern about the erosion of democratic norms in the South American country.

Peru organizes 2019 Pan Am Games in wake of deadly flooding

May 21, 2017

Construction for the 2019 Pan American Games is way behind schedule. But that’s a secondary problem. The quadrennial event in Lima, Peru, has no sponsors, no marketing and is relying on a $1.2 billion budget financed by the national government.

“This is the biggest challenge I have today — the sponsors,” Neven Ilic, the president of the Pan American Sports Organization, told The Associated Press. “Now we have to go to the market to find sponsors.”

Peru is organizing the largest sports event in its history — in the wake of the worst flooding in recent memory. Flooding earlier this year in the north of the country, and in Lima, killed more than 100 and displaced thousands. President Pedro Pablo Kuczysnki has put reconstruction costs at up to $9 billion, raising questions about the propriety of big spending on a two-week sports event.

Supporters like Kuczysnki say the country can afford both, while critics point out that last year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro generated as much bad news as good. Nine months after the games ended, Rio organizers still owe creditors about $30 million. Many venues are abandoned, searching for events and money for maintenance.

“Peru has accepted being the host of the Pan American Games,” Kuczysnki told reporters. “It would be a real tragedy not to keep our pledge and dedicate all the needed resources to the reconstruction, and to the Pan American Games.”

Elected last month as president of the regional sports body PASO, Ilic has been lobbying in Lima for several weeks to get everyone behind the project. Lima Mayor Luis Castaneda said the games should be cancelled when the floods hit in March. Since then, he’s said they should go ahead.

“We know everything about all the problems they have, but today I think they are ready,” said Ilic, a Chilean and grandson of Croatian immigrants. He termed the construction schedule “tight, very short” and said all venue and related construction needed to start in September.

The biggest project is an athletes’ village composed of seven 20-story towers. A metro line is also just 15 percent completed. The country’s comptroller said last month that 40 percent should be done at this stage.

Ilic said he’ll look to some of the IOC’s big sponsors like Coca-Cola as potential clients. “First, we have to have a good proposal to present,” he said. Seeking expertise, the Peruvian government signed an agreement with Britain to line up British companies to help deliver security, construction, and event management.

Ilic has promised “no white elephants.” “We have asked them to please build (venues) in accordance with your reality, your culture,” Ilic said. “They don’t have big stadiums, big construction.” The continental championships open July 26, 2019, and will attract 7,000 athletes from Alaska to Argentina. For many it’s a qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The last two Pan Am Games were in Toronto in 2015, and Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2011. Rio hosted the 2007 edition, which it used to lobby for the Olympics. Rolando Arellano, the president of Lima-based Arellano Marketing, said most Peruvians were unaware the games were coming, and few “know what that means.”

He said the commitment to the Pan Am Games has put the government in a bind. “If the government spends on this, they can be seen as insensitive to other problems,” Arellano told AP. “But if they don’t, they will lose their image. Either way, they are not in a very comfortable position.”

The Peruvian capital is also host in September to the International Olympic Committee, which will meet to pick either Paris or Los Angeles as the venue for the 2024 Olympics. There was also pressure to cancel that event.

These meetings take place with scandal hovering over Peru’s national Olympic committee. Jose Quinones was disqualified last year by a Peruvian government body as president of the local Olympic committee with reports suggesting he misappropriated $3.3 million. Peru is to elect a new president in June.

Fransicso Boza, the secretary general of the Peruvian Olympic Committee, is also being investigated by a prosecutor on corruption charges. He was Peru’s flagbearer in the Rio Olympics and an Olympic silver medalist in shooting in the 1984 Olympics.

“Peru has seen a lot of progress in the last 15 years, so we must show off our development,” Arellano said. “This puts Lima and Peru in the international news. That could be a big win. Of course, you are not sure you are going to gain only goodwill.”

Associated Press writer Franklin Briceno in Lima contributed to this report.

Protesters march in Venezuela, destroy Chavez statue

May 07, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Women banged on pans and some stripped off their white shirts Saturday as they protested Venezuela’s socialist government in an event the opposition billed as a “women’s march against repression.” As they marched, local media carried a video showing people toppling a statue of the late President Hugo Chavez the day before in the western state of Zulia.

Thousands of women took over streets in major cities all around the South American country. Wearing the white shirts of the opponents of country’s increasingly embattled government, the women sang the national anthem and chanted, “Who are we? Venezuela! What do we want? Freedom!”

Some sported makeshift gear to protect against tear gas and rubber bullets. Others marched topless. One woman came in her wedding dress. As they have near-daily for five weeks, police in riot gear again took control of major roads in the capital city. Clashes between police and protesters have left some three dozen dead in the past month.

Local news media carried a video circulating on Twitter of the Chavez statue being pulled down. The media reported that students destroyed the statue as they vented their anger with the food shortages, inflation and spiraling crime that have come to define life here.

Several young men could be seen bashing the statue that depicted the socialist hero standing in a saluting pose, as onlookers hurled insults as the late president. Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez on Friday denounced the protest movement, and said opposition “terrorists” were attempting a kind of nonconventional warfare.

The protest movement has drawn masses of people into the street nearly every day since March, and shows no sign of slowing. On Saturday, some of the women marchers approached soldiers in riot gear to offer them white roses and invite them to join the cause.

“What will you tell your kids later on?” one woman asked. In a call with the president of Peru, U.S. President Donald Trump addressed the deteriorating situation in Venezuela. A statement from the White House’s Office of the Press Secretary said Trump underscored to President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski that “the United States will work together with Peru in seeking to improve democratic institutions and help the people of Venezuela.”

Maduro decrees Venezuelans will write new constitution

May 02, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s embattled president issued a decree Monday for writing a new constitution, ratcheting up a political crisis that has drawn hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters into the streets.

President Nicolas Maduro gave no details on how members would be chosen for a planned citizen assembly to produce a new charter, though he hinted some would selected by voters. Many observers expect the socialist administration to give itself the power to pick a majority of delegates to the convention.

Opposition leaders immediately objected, charging that writing a new constitution would give Maduro an excuse to put off regional elections scheduled for this year and a presidential election that was to be held in 2018. Polling has suggested the socialists would lose both those elections badly amid widespread anger over Venezuela’s economic woes.

Speaking hours after another big march demanding his ouster ended in clashes between police and protesters, Maduro said a new constitution is needed to restore peace and stop the opposition from trying to carry out a coup.

“This will be a citizens assembly made up of workers,” Maduro said. “The day has come brothers. Don’t fail me now. Don’t fail (Hugo) Chavez and don’t fail your motherland.” If the constitutional process goes forward, opposition leaders will need to focus on getting at least some sympathetic figures included in the citizens assembly. That could distract them from the drumbeat of near daily street protests that they have managed to keep up for four weeks, political analyst Luis Vicente Leon said.

“It’s a way of calling elections that uses up energy but does not carry risk, because it’s not a universal, direct and secret vote,” Leon said. “And it has the effect of pushing out the possibility of elections this year and probably next year as well.”

The constitution was last rewritten in 1999, early in the 14-year presidency of the late Hugo Chavez, who began Venezuela’s socialist transformation. The leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Julio Borges, called the idea of a constitutional assembly a “giant fraud” by Maduro and his allies designed to keep them in power at any cost. Borges said it would deny Venezuelans the right to express their views at the ballot box, and he urged the military to prevent the “coup” by Maduro.

“What the Venezuelan people want isn’t to change the constitution but to change Maduro through voting,” he said at a news conference in eastern Caracas, where anti-government protesters once again clashed with police Monday.

Anti-government protests have been roiling Venezuela for a month, and Borges said more pressure is needed to restore democracy. He called for a series of street actions, including a symbolic pot-banging protest Monday night and a major demonstration Wednesday.

Earlier Monday, anti-Maduro protesters tried to march on government buildings in downtown Caracas, but police blocked their path — just as authorities have done more than a dozen times in four weeks of near-daily protests. Officers launched tear gas and chased people away from main thoroughfares as the peaceful march turned into chaos.

Opposition lawmaker Jose Olivares was hit in the head with a tear gas canister and was led away with blood streaming down his face. Some demonstrators threw stones and gasoline bombs and dragged trash into the streets to make barricades.

A separate government-sponsored march celebrating May Day went off without incident in the city. At least 29 people have died in the unrest of the past month and hundreds have been injured. People of all ages and class backgrounds are participating in the protests. The unrest started in reaction to an attempt to nullify the opposition controlled-congress, but has become a vehicle for people to vent their fury at widespread shortages of food and other basic goods, violence on a par with a war zone, and triple-digit inflation. Maduro accuses his opponents of conspiring to overthrow him and undermine the country’s struggling economy.

The move to rewrite the constitution underscored many protesters’ chief complaint about the administration: That it has become an unfeeling dictatorship. Sergio Hernandez, a computer technology worker who attended Monday’s protest, said he would not return to his normal life until Maduro’s administration had been driven out.

“We’re ready to take the streets for a month or however long is needed for this government to understand that it must go,” he said.

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