No oxygen, no fear
Few sports are as grueling as mountaineering, where just catching your next breath is a constant challenge. How do elite mountaineers prepare for the highest peaks?
Saturday 23 March 2013
MOUNT CHACHANI, Peru — The distance between us grows slowly but surely in the gray light of dawn as we head up the steep snowfield 18,000 feet above sea level. It is not that Richard Hidalgo, Peru’s most accomplished mountaineer, is setting a blistering pace. In fact, he’s taking short, deliberate strides. But his metronomic rhythm toward the 19,872 foot summit of Mount Chachani is relentless. Unlike me, he doesn’t need to stop to catch his breath every few seconds, readjust his backpack, or just take in the stunning view of arid, rocky valleys through the clouds below. Hidalgo is here to prepare for an attempt at Mount Everest in April. If he succeeds, it will be his fifth of the world’s 14 summits over 26,256 feet (8,000 meters). Only 26 people are confirmed as having climbed all 14 so far. Exactly half did so without oxygen. Many more have died attempting these Himalayan giants. Mountaineering isn’t just among the most dangerous sports in the world, it’s surely also among the most masochistic.Read More>>
Cerro Rico: The mountain that eats men
Bolivia’s fabulously rich silver mine has claimed thousands of victims, yet the men keep coming.
Thursday 21 March 2013
CERRO RICO DE POTOSI, Bolivia — “There isn’t a man on this mountain who wants his children to work here,” Pablo Choque says as he prepares for his shift as a driller. Above us towers 15,800-foot Cerro Rico — literally the “Rich Mountain” — the greatest silver deposit ever known. Locals have another name for it: The Mountain that Eats Men. In its 17th century heyday, armies of indigenous and African slaves died here as the ore they mined helped keep the ailing Spanish empire afloat. Four centuries later, thousands of men like Choque continue to risk life and limb deep in the bowels of Cerro Rico as they search for its last veins of silver, zinc and tin. The miners rarely report accidents to the labor ministry, and there are no comprehensive official mortality statistics. But the tales of death are everywhere. The local paper is a good place to verify the horror. “Detonation leaves miner’s body in pieces” and “Boy miner, 14, dies after falling 60 meters down chute” read two typical recent headlines.Read More>>
Peru: Amazonian conservation in action
A stay at the Tambopata Research Center requires effort, but the rewards include stunning wildlife encounters, says Simeon Tegel
Saturday 9 March 2013
The low roar thundering through the undergrowth grew closer. Much closer. It was first light, just after 5am, on our first hike of the day out from the Tambopata Research Center (TRC), a lodge deep in the Peruvian Amazon, near the Bolivian border. Suddenly, Yuri, my guide, stopped and pointed into the dense canopy at the source of the intimidating rumble. "Don’t move," he whispered urgently. But instead of some magnificent specimen of the Amazon’s apex predator, the jaguar, Yuri was waving at a small, brownish lump of fur. Gazing nonchalantly down at us, the howler monkey began scratching one of the more intimate parts of his anatomy. Despite their diminutive size, this species is reputed to be the loudest land animal on the planet. The roar of the male, produced via a large, hollow bone in the throat, is thought to mark territory between rival groups, and can travel up to three miles. During my three days at the TRC, I managed to see all seven of the local primate species. The large spider monkeys made spectacular leaps between branches 90ft above the ground, while the tiny squirrel monkeys were the most playful. On more than one occasion, as our paths crossed in the sweltering jungle, they descended almost to head height to check us out. One of the Amazon’s most remote lodges, the TRC lies eight hours upriver from the sleepy regional capital of Puerto Maldonado.Read More>>
Argentina’s bedeviled pact with Iran
Argentina and Iran agree to investigate the deadly 1994 blast at a Buenos Aires Jewish center. Trouble is, Argentine prosecutors reckon Iran was behind it, and Tehran won’t let Iranian suspects be interrogated.
Friday 1 March 2013
LIMA, Peru — Nearly two decades after the bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Latin America’s deadliest terrorist atrocity is roiling Argentina once again. Eighty-five people were killed and hundreds injured in the 1994 attack, when a van loaded with 600 pounds of fertilizer detonated in front of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Society (AMIA by its Spanish initials). Prosecutors long ago blamed Iran. At 200,000, Argentina’s Jewish community is the largest in Latin America and the region’s most obvious target for anti-Jewish terrorism. Yet Tehran denies any involvement and refuses to allow investigators to interrogate suspected members of its security services — including Ahmad Vahidi, currently Iran’s defense minister. Now, despite the impasse, the latest effort by Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to get to the bottom of the mass murder mystery has triggered widespread outrage. Her foreign minister, Hector Timerman, has negotiated a bilateral agreement with Tehran to set up a “truth commission” to break through 18 years of investigative dead-ends and definitively establish what role, if any, Iran played in the atrocity. According to the Spanish-language version of the agreement posted online by Argentina, the commission will be made up of internationally recognized legal experts — who must come from third countries — to review evidence submitted by both nations and make recommendations on how to advance the case. Crucially, it also stipulates investigators can interrogate the five Iranians, who include Vahidi, subject to global police force Interpol’s red notice, in the presence of the commission. Yet critics from Buenos Aires to Tel Aviv say the agreement pulls the rug from under the Argentine investigation and liken it to allowing an accused murderer to run his own trial.Read More>>
Is the Brazilian Amazon shrinking faster?
A new study of Brazil’s rain forest says deforestation last year occurred more than twice as fast as in 2011.
Saturday 16 February 2013
LIMA, Peru — Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has jumped alarmingly, according to a new satellite study. If confirmed, the survey, by independent Brazilian think tank Imazon, would be a sign that several years of record lows in jungle loss in the South American giant have come to a juddering halt. It found that 82 square kilometers (31.6 square miles) of tropical rain forest were lost in December 2012, a 107 percent increase over the same month the previous year. The study also revealed that December was the fifth consecutive month that deforestation had risen. From August to December, accumulated forest loss totaled 497 square miles — equal to the area of Los Angeles. That was a 127 percent increase over the same period in 2011. As a result, a total of 66.5 million tons of carbon dioxide — the principal greenhouse gas causing climate change — was released into the atmosphere as the jungle literally went up in smoke. Beyond warehousing billions of tons of carbon, it is hard to overstate the Amazon’s value to humanity. Tropical rain forests are the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems. And the Amazon, nearly the same size as the Lower 48, is by far the largest. Home to roughly one-third of all plant and animal species on Earth and one-quarter of the planet’s freshwater, much of the economic and scientific potential of that staggering biodiversity — the irreplaceable result of hundreds of millions of years of evolution — has barely been explored.Read More>>
Peru exporting outlawed timber from Amazon to the US
US consumers unwittingly support illegal logging. Is Washington’s new effort to crack down on the practice "just another action plan"?
Saturday 2 February 2013
LIMA, Peru — Some of the fine wooden furniture that makes for chic centerpieces in American homes is being sourced in far less elegant ways in this South American country. Environmentalists have long sounded alarms about illegal logging, claiming that export companies profit from ransacking the jungle of rare hardwood species in poor countries with lax law enforcement. Now, the US government is taking a tougher stance. Washington has given Peru one more chance to clean up its forestry sector and stop exporting illegally logged timber to the United States. The move is a response to a report by green nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) that detailed widespread “laundering” of illicit wood in the Peruvian Amazon to make it appear as though it had come from legitimate logging concessions. In a joint statement, Peru and the US unveiled a five-point plan to tackle “specific challenges that remain in Peru’s forestry sector.” The plan includes increasing the number and training of logging inspectors, more on-site inspections in remote concessions, new systems to track the supply chain of timber, and criminal prosecutions of anyone — including public officials — involved in illegal logging.Read More>>
Peru: Lima’s progressive mayor vs. gangster order
Mayor Susana Villaran has battled rats, tax cheats and chaotic streets of Peru’s capital. Now gangsters are attempting to bring her down.
Saturday 29 December 2012
LIMA, Peru — When Susana Villaran was unexpectedly elected mayor of Lima, few believed she would make headway in the urgent task of modernizing what may be Latin America’s most chaotic capital. The moderate leftist former human rights campaigner had no experience of running a major organization. Even supporters worried she was unprepared to take charge of this troubled city of 9 million. Yet now, halfway through her four-year term, just as she appears to be making progress in overhauling Lima’s catastrophic public transport system, she faces a recall election linked to a previous mayor accused of corruption. For many, the March 17 vote will decide far more than Villaran’s personal fate — or even whether the capital will ever be rid of the antiquated fleet of rattling, polluting minibuses that undermine the quality of life for all who live here. Nobel-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa has warned that the recall amounts to a “destabilization of our legal system.” Columnist Augusto Rodrich, writing in Peruvian paper La Republica, added that launching a recall for no obvious reason, with opaque financing and its instigators refusing to show their faces to the public “has the stench of the mafia.” Peru’s recall law was approved by congress in 1994 in an attempt to control rampant official corruption. Yet, although many are critical of Villaran, Lima’s first female mayor is widely viewed as honest and well-intentioned. The same may not be said of those pushing the recall.Read More>>
Would Latin America accept Assad?
Analysis: Latin America has a history of being a popular paradise for disgraced foreign despots. Will Syria’s Bashar al-Assad be next?
Friday 7 December 2012
LIMA, Peru — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might want to think twice before fleeing to Latin America with his family. He is reported to have sent his deputy foreign minister, Faisal al-Miqdad, on a trip to Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela to sound out their respective leaders about the possibility of asylum. All three countries have left-wing governments that are, to varying degrees and in different ways, antagonistic toward the US. The most likely destination for the Syrian despot would appear to be Venezuela. Its President Hugo Chavez recently described Assad as his country’s “legitimate” leader. That remark came despite the fact that Assad was appointed by his late father and Syria’s previous unelected leader, Hafez al-Assad, and has spent the last two years presiding over a massacre of thousands of his compatriots as they fight to topple him. Cuba could be another real possibility. After half a century of cold war with Washington, the Caribbean island might feel it has little to lose by offering Assad an escape route from a similar fate to that of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. Meanwhile, Ecuador is already locked in a face-off with the US, UK and Sweden after granting asylum to WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange.Read More>>
Stakes are high as Mexico’s new President bids to end the bloodshed caused by drug conflict
Enrique Peña Nieto takes office with calls to pursue the drug barons and protect the public
Saturday 1 December 2012
As he is sworn into office as Mexico’s new president today, Enrique Peña Nieto may privately wonder if his campaign promises to slash the death toll from his country’s ferocious drug conflict can ever be fulfilled. Despair at the bloodbath is what drove millions of Mexicans to vote for Mr Peña Nieto and his reviled Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, whose previous corruption-riddled, 71-year rule ended in 2000 after it was finally forced to stop rigging elections. The telegenic 46-year-old former state governor has vowed not to enter unwritten deals with the cartels – as the PRI is widely thought to have done in the 1990s – and to carry on the pursuit of the drug barons. "We will continue working strongly to combat drugs and insecurity with innovative policies so that consumption [within Mexico] falls," said Emilio Lozoya, widely tipped for a cabinet post. Mr Peña Nieto’s proposed reforms include the creation of a new 40,000-strong paramilitary police force, a major increase in the numbers of the existing federal police, and centralising security decision-making in the hands of his interior minister. Yet many in Mexico regard that as rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. According to the national statistical office, INEGI, 72 per cent of Mexicans believe the security situation will remain the same or worsen.Read More>>
Bolivia tells fat kids: "Eat like a native"
Eat your heart out Jamie Oliver. To trim down, Bolivian school kids chow quinoa and other indigenous staples.
Thursday 22 November 2012
LIMA, Peru — “The hardest nut to crack is weight,” says Gabriela Aro, who heads a groundbreaking school meals program based on traditional indigenous ingredients in the Bolivian capital, La Paz. The program targets nutritional problems among 153,000 needy youngsters in 411 public kindergartens and schools in one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries. But along with long-established conditions such as malnutrition and anemia, a new threat is rapidly emerging: obesity. Although there is a dearth of reliable data, most experts agree that Latin Americans are, on average, rapidly packing on the pounds. At an annual cost of 148 million bolivianos ($21 million), the La Paz program has had a major impact on some youngsters’ health problems since it began in 2000. Malnutrition has fallen from 10.2 percent to 5.9 percent since the free meals were first served. Meanwhile, anemia has plummeted from 37 percent to just 2 percent. Yet the proportion of overweight kids has jumped from 17 percent to 25 percent. “The program is going well but obesity is the stumbling block,” Aro told GlobalPost. “It just continues to rise. Access to fast food, full of empty calories, is increasing, and the kids love it. It is very hard to fight that.”Read More>>
For Peru’s rebels, terror didn’t work, now for politics
Blamed for Peru’s savage 1980-1992 civil war, Shining Path guerrillas have birthed a movement seeking to play politics and free their jailed leader.
Monday 19 November 2012
LIMA, Peru — Two decades ago, security forces captured the Shining Path’s messianic leader, precipitating the group’s rapid military decline. Now, supporters of the Maoist insurgent group that once bathed Peru in blood are attempting a comeback. Pushing the group’s fundamentalist agenda and calling for the release of those convicted of terrorism, the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (MOVADEF, as it is known here) is winning adherents among a new generation with no memories of the horrors of the 1980s and early 1990s. The movement started in 2009, claiming to be against “globalization” and “imperialism” and seeking to take advantage of unrest among the poor. It is now increasingly drawing support from those who believe that President Ollanta Humala, elected in 2011, has betrayed campaign promises to help them. It has made inroads in Peru’s universities and unions, most notably SUTEP, the teachers’ union. This year it attempted to register as a political party, only to be rejected by electoral authorities on the grounds that it was “not committed” to democracy.Read More>>
Farc demands land in return for peace
Colombian guerrillas begin ceasefire talks – but where are the missing victims? Simeon Tegel reports
Sunday 18 November 2012
Peace talks between the Colombian government and Marxist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, are due to resume in the Cuban capital, Havana. But it is the thorny issue of land ownership that could make or break the negotiations aimed at ending Latin America’s longest-running insurgency. Colombia’s hopelessly unequal tenure of farmland was the reason the Farc first took up arms in the 1960s, as millions of desperate peasants, guided by Marxist ideologues, finally decided they had had enough of a powerful post-colonial élite whose ranches covered vast stretches of the national territory. When the conflict started, just 3 per cent of landowners held more than half of Colombia’s farmland. Yet after half a century of fighting, 250,000 dead and millions more displaced, the problem has only deepened. In 2005, just over 16,000 individuals – roughly 0.4 per cent of all Colombia’s landowners – controlled 63 per cent of the land. Meanwhile, 3.3 million subsistence and peasant farmers, mainly Afro-Colombians or of indigenous descent, eked out a living on less than 9 per cent of the land.Read More>>
Uruguay approves abortion law
The country is set to become one of the few Latin American countries to legalize abortion. So why aren’t women’s rights advocates celebrating?
Thursday 18 October 2012
LIMA, Peru — Uruguay is set to become the third nation in Latin America to allow abortion on demand. The country’s senate approved a bill Wednesday, by 17 votes to 14, which would permit pregnancy terminations for Uruguayan residents in the first trimester. The lower chamber voted by the narrowest margin, 50-49, in favor of the bill following a heated debate last month. President Jose Mujica, a former left-wing rebel, has already said he will sign it into law once congress sends it to him. The move marks a watershed in deeply Catholic Latin America. In the region, only Cuba, Guyana, Puerto Rico — a US territory — and Mexico City’s Federal District allow abortion on demand. Uruguay, which recognizes gay marriage and is on the brink of decriminalizing marijuana, will therefore be the first democratic Spanish-speaking country in the region to do so.Read More>>
Hugo Chavez finally meets his match
He has survived cancer and a coup attempt in 14 years as Venezuela’s President, but ’el Comandante’ may be about to lose power in Sunday’s vote
Friday 5 October 2012
Judging by the heated rhetoric, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez could not be taking the challenge from opposition candidate Henrique Capriles more seriously. Even by his own strident standards, the president’s recent warning to Venezuela’s moneyed classes to vote for him or face "civil war" was inflammatory. Denying he was intimidating opposition voters, "el Comandante" claimed Mr Capriles (a telegenic, youthful, centrist former state governor) secretly plans to dismantle welfare programmes for the poor, a move Mr Chávez said would trigger a dangerous backlash. "Who could think that the people would remain with their arms crossed if they take away their acquired rights?" the president asked. "It’s not that I am threatening a civil war. That package [of Mr Caprile’s policies], even if I implemented it, the country would tremble." Yet the real reason for Mr Chávez’s outburst may be in the highly effective campaign that Mr Capriles, the first candidate backed by a unified opposition ever to take on the president, has been running.Read More>>
Bullet to ballot: Today’s Latin American strongmen cling to power at the polls
Analysis: Democracy is under attack — from Venezuela to Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia — this time by populist elected leaders who’ve proved unbeatable at the ballot box.
Tuesday 2 October 2012
QUITO, Ecuador — The goose-stepping soldiers have long returned to their barracks and many of the generals who commanded them have died or been sentenced for crimes against humanity. Yet, some three decades after the fall of the military dictatorships that once terrorized Latin America, democracy in the region is once again under attack. This time, the strongmen are populist elected leaders, who — under a veneer of constitutionality — concentrate power in their own hands, marginalize opponents and use public resources to stack electoral races in their favor. The main proponents today, rights groups and academics say, are Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. “They have a strong personality and a bullying style,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch’s Latin America director, told GlobalPost. “They go after critics, opponents and others who get in the way of their political agenda, whether it is the judiciary, the media or civil society." “And the practice is to use the whole power of the state," he added. "There’s no torture or killing but the name of the game is intimidation and, in some cases, closing down criticism and opposition.”Read More>>
Is Obama harboring a Bolivian rights abuser?
President Evo Morales has accused the US of harboring a Bolivian former leader he claims has blood on his hands.
Monday 1 October 2012
LIMA, Peru — Bolivia’s fraught relationship with the United States has nosedived again after Washington’s apparent refusal to extradite former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada back to the South American country. Sanchez de Lozada is wanted in his homeland over the slaying in October 2003 — 15 months into his second presidential term — of dozens of protesters against his plans to export Bolivia’s oil and gas reserves. The Bolivian police and army’s handling of the unrest was widely criticized at the time by human rights groups, including Amnesty International, which issued a statement warning of the authorities’ “excessive use of force.” But now Evo Morales, Bolivia’s current president, is claiming that Washington has told him that it is rejecting his government’s request to have Sanchez de Lozada extradited to be put on trial in La Paz for human rights abuses. Morales, an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said he had received a letter from the US government justifying the decision on the grounds that “civil society cannot be held responsible for the actions of the military.”Read More>>
Peru’s fantastic food revolution
With its exotic ingredients, and chefs producing new twists on classics, Lima is becoming the gastronomic capital of South America
Friday 21 September 2012
Against expectations, the sweet chunks of banana perfectly complemented the raw fish marinated in lime juice, onions, coriander and Peruvian yellow chillies. I was tasting a new sort of ceviche, the seafood salad served across Latin America, in Amaz, a new Amazonian restaurant opened by Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, one of Lima’s leading chefs. To a European palate, fruit with uncooked fish might seem outrageous but in Peru, it is logical. The banana replaces the steamed sweet potato commonly served with ceviche to soak up the tangy juices. The creative take on Peruvian and jungle classics at Amaz (Avenida La Paz 1079, +51 1 221 9393 , amaz.com.pe, £30 a head) means the simplest dishes – such as tacacho, mashed and fried green bananas, with cecina, dried pork, both Amazonian staples – drip with unexpected layers of flavour. For most visitors to Peru, local fare used to mean roast guinea pig, nibbled en route to Machu Picchu. The idea of coming here specifically to eat would until recently have elicited bafflement, if not derision. But Peru, whose economy is booming, has come a long way in the past two decades, since the nadir of macroeconomic meltdown and a bombing campaign in Lima by Shining Path terrorists. Its cuisine has come even further.Read More>>
El mar contra el manglar
El aumento del nivel del océano, debido aparentemente al cambio climático, se está comiendo parte del litoral de El Salvador, incluso un bosque de manglares
Tuesday 18 September 2012
Los árboles muertos sobresalen de la arena como esqueletos gigantes. Son la prueba concluyente que aquí hace poco, en lugar de esta playa azotada por el viento y las fuertes olas del Pacifico, hubo un bosque de manglares. En la región costera del Bajo Lempa en El Salvador, el cambio climático – en forma de mares crecientes – ha llegado temprano. Según los lugareños del pueblecito de La Tirana, el Océano Pacifico ha avanzado unos 300 metros desde 2005, empujando la playa delante de él y consumiendo así el frágil ecosistema del cual dependen, prácticamente su única fuente de ingreso monetario. Cuando la marea está baja, pasan por el espeso lodo del manglar buscando “punche”, una especie de cangrejo tropical. Cuando les va bien, los habitantes de La Tirana encuentran hasta dos docenas de punche en un día de arduo trabajo, que se venden en el mercado local en unos 3,50 dólares (2,85 euros) cada uno. Con esto, atienden algunas necesidades básicas como ropa, aceite, sal y medicinas que complementan lo obtenido con sus actividades agrícolas y de pesca de subsistencia.Read More>>
El Salvador in battle against tide of climate change
Rising sea levels and deforestation have destroyed the mangrove crops that villagers depend on to survive
Tuesday 18 September 2012
The forest of towering, dead mangrove trees stretches along the beach as far as the eye can see. As the crashing waves rise and fall, short stumps emerge and vanish beneath the Pacific Ocean. Climate change has come early to the Bajo Lempa region of western El Salvador. A tiny rise in the sea level has, according to local people, seen about 1,000ft of the mangroves on which they depend vanish beneath the ocean since 2005. Another 1,500ft remains between the Pacific and their village, La Tirana. No one, it seems, knows how long it will take before the waves reach their homes. But even now, the rising waters are ruining the villagers’ meagre livelihood. At low tide each day, the men in this community of 22 families wade through the mud collecting punche, a local species of crab. A full day’s backbreaking work can yield two dozen crabs, which fetch around £2.50 on the local market. It is the only cash income the people of La Tirana have and they need it to buy basics such as clothing and cooking oil. For their own food, they rely on fishing and subsistence agriculture, growing corn, rice and vegetables, and rearing chickens and ducks.Read More>>
Crisis in the cloudforest for woolly wonders
The yellow-tailed woolly monkey has long been hunted for its meat and fur, but now local attitudes are changing, as Simeon Tegel reports from Corosha, Peru
Monday 10 September 2012
Homero Francisco Lopéz grimaces as he recalls how his wife prepared the carcass of the monkey he had shot, serving him a bowl of thick stew, complete with chunks of cassava and a tiny hand for him to gnaw on. "It was normal here," he says. "Everyone did it. We didn’t realise how few there were." Now Mr Lopéz, a 58-year-old subsistence farmer, has become one of the strongest voices in his village of Corosha, in the heart of the precipitous cloudforests of northern Peru, in defence of the yellow-tailed woolly monkey, Oreonax flavicauda, one of the world’s most threatened primates. "This monkey is the only one of its kind," he says with the zeal of a convert. "It is a beautiful animal and thinking about the future without it is just too sad." No one knows for sure but there are now thought to be fewer than 1,000 yellow-tailed woolly monkeys in the wild, all living in a thin band of chilly, damp forest in this corner of Peru, between 5,000ft and 9,000ft above sea level as the Andes sweep down into the Amazon.Read More>>
Can private cities save a nation with world’s worst murder rate?
Fears of new ’banana republic’ as US firm signs Honduras deal
Friday 7 September 2012
Honduras has unveiled a radical free-market plan to establish three "charter cities" in the violence-racked Central American nation. The government this week signed an agreement with US developers MKG group to begin building the cities – complete with their own governments, laws, courts, police forces and tax systems – from scratch early next year. The plan’s backers say it is the only way to kick start development in Honduras, which has the world’s worst murder rate – 68 times higher than the UK’s – and where 65 per cent of the 8 million-strong population lives below the poverty line. However, critics warn that it could mark a return to the dark days in Honduras when US companies controlled the government, owned vast tracts of territory and ordered police to massacre striking workers – an era which prompted political scientists to coin the term "banana republic".Read More>>
In Ecuador, a quiet war on whistleblowers
The administration of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has fought to muzzle the free press, rights groups say. So why would it offer asylum to transparency crusader Julian Assange?
Monday 20 August 2012
QUITO, Ecuador — As Julian Assange spoke from a balcony in Ecuador’s London embassy Sunday, journalists here wondered whether to laugh or cry. The WikiLeaks founder claimed that “freedom of expression and the health of all our societies” was under threat and warned of a “dangerous and oppressive world in which journalists fall silent under the fear of prosecution.” Yet, according to numerous international and Ecuadorean human rights and press freedom groups, that is exactly the scenario now unfolding in the tiny South American nation whose support the 41-year-old Australian was eulogizing. They accuse President Rafael Correa, who last week granted asylum to Assange, of a campaign of intimidation and harassment against any media that have dared to criticize his administration. The attacks have included the closure of radio stations and magazines, lawsuits resulting in jail terms, and constant verbal broadsides against journalists. Correa’s detractors claim these have created a climate of fear and self-censorship — and even put lives in danger. “The government is clearly inciting violence against journalists,” Juan Carlos Calderon, editor of investigative news magazine Vanguardia, told GlobalPost. “And there is a fear of being sued by the government. Bear in mind that the government totally controls the judiciary. Correa uses the courts like a whip. Many media have decided to just survive, and are not doing investigative journalism.”Read More>>
La tasa de homicidios en el Perú
Monday 13 August 2012
La seguridad ciudadana es vista por casi todos en el Perú como un problema grave que urge una solución. Esta percepción es fomentada por los medios, desde los amarillos hasta los más serios, y políticos de casi todo el espectro ideológico, desde los populistas hasta los más responsables. Muchas veces justifican recetas draconianas – como le pena de muerte abogado por los fujimoristas – en casos anecdóticos en lugar de estadísticas concretas. ¿Tienen razón cuando dicen que la seguridad ciudadana es entre los retos más importantes que el Perú enfrenta? Mirando uno de los indicadores delincuenciales más emblemáticas, la tasa de homicidios, la respuesta es un ‘no’ contundente, pues el Perú se ubica entre los tres países más seguros de América Latina. El año pasado, para la primera vez, el ONU público un informe comparativo de las tasas de homicidio país por país. Las cifras, que se ven en la tabla que empiece en la página 92, representan una sorpresa grata para los peruanos – menos que seas un periodista sensacionalista o politiquero en búsqueda de votos fáciles. Según el ONU, el Perú tenía una tasa de 5.2 homicidios al año por 100,000 habitantes. En toda América Latina, solamente Chile con 3.7 y Cuba con 4.6 tenían tasas más bajas.Read More>>
In Peru, Machu Picchu holds monopoly on travelers
The mountaintop citadel is a powerful tourist magnet — so much so that Peru desperately needs to draw travelers off it.
Sunday 5 August 2012
CHACHAPOYAS, Peru — Overrun by cloud forest, Kuelap’s imposing stone walls tower high above the mountaintop, a timeless reminder of the grandeur of a mysterious pre-Columbian civilization. Built between 900 AD and 1100 AD by the Chachapoyas people, the fortress remains an impressive feat of engineering, given its inaccessible location and that imposing outer perimeter, 60 feet high and some 2,000 feet long. Like its better-known cousin Machu Picchu, Kuelap is one of Peru’s largest and most breathtaking archaeological sites. Yet while the world-famous Inca citadel is overrun with tourists, receiving an average of more than 2,000 visitors a day, Kuelap is all but empty. On the day I visited, at the start of the 2012 high season, there were just three other groups. I spent most of my three hours pottering around the ruins effectively on my own. That mismatch is causing headaches here as authorities attempt to sustainably manage Peru’s archaeological riches.Read More>>
Death in Peru: braving the Cordillera Blanca
Easy access to the range poses serious risks to novice mountaineers.
Thursday 2 August 2012
LIMA, Peru — By all accounts, Ben Horne and Gil Weiss were experienced mountaineers. They understood perfectly the risks inherent in the sport they loved. The bodies of the two Americans, still roped together, were discovered over the weekend below Palcaraju West, a remote 20,000-foot summit in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca range. They are thought to have been descending after pioneering a new ascent. Ted Alexander, of guiding company Skyline Adventures, who coordinated the retrieval of their remains, believes a block of ice collapsed beneath one of the pair. “They were just unlucky,” he told GlobalPost. The same may not be said for many of the less experienced climbers, including novices, thousands of whom visit the Cordillera Blanca, often unwittingly taking even greater risks than more serious climbers.Read More>>
Mexico City: A union dismantled, with gruesome results
President Calderon’s seizure of a state-owned electric company has led to a surge of on-the-job deaths and injuries.
Friday 20 July 2012
MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Daniel Vazquez will never forget his last night at Luz y Fuerza del Centro, the state-owned electricity company where he had worked for 22 years. “You and your people are screwed,” the police officer told him as he thrust an AK-47 assault rifle into his chest. “You’re not coming in.” Vazquez, 59, was attempting to report for work as head of a night shift of 80 workers at one of the customer call centers run by Luz y Fuerza del Centro (known as LyFC), which ran the electricity grid for Mexico City and the neighboring states. He had seen the evening news that night — October 10, 2009 — which reported that President Felipe Calderon’s government had ordered police to seize the bankrupt company’s facilities and kick out its workers. Nevertheless, the sight of dozens of heavily armed federal police officers decked out in full riot gear herding his coworkers from their stations and forcing some to line up against a wall at gunpoint was unnerving.Read More>>
Climate Pain: Latin America’s Climate Conundrum
From the Rio Grande to Patagonia, climate change has begun to grip Latin America. Some of the damage, such as melting glaciers and rising sea level, can already be seen — but scientists warn there’s worse to come. The toll could be devastating for countries struggling to lift their populations out of poverty. In this series, GlobalPost’s Simeon Tegel reports from the climate frontlines.
Tuesday 17 July 2012
LIMA, Peru — From Tierra del Fuego to Tijuana, Latin America is highly vulnerable to climate change, which is expected to trigger a series of natural disasters that could even reverse local victories in the fight against poverty. Droughts will grip regions from the southern cone to northern Mexico. Extreme storms are increasingly battering Central America. Rising seas will swallow up vast coastal areas. And many Andean glaciers will disappear forever. Meanwhile, the greatest threat to the Amazon — home to roughly a third of all plant and animal species — may no longer be logging or cattle ranching but climate change itself. Gently rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns are leaving the world’s largest tropical rainforest more vulnerable to dieback, drought and forest fires. Some scientists even warn that could trigger “positive feedback” as deforested areas generate less rain — leading to yet more dieback, drought and fires in an unstoppable cycle that could turn much of the Amazon into savannah regardless of any local successes in the fight against loggers. That would accelerate the global climate crisis as the vanishing jungle unleashes billions of tons of carbon currently locked in its plants and trees.Read More>>
Assange and Ecuador: mutually toxic
Analysis: Why WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Ecuador are so bad for each other.
Thursday 12 July 2012
LIMA, Peru — Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, appears to be leaning toward granting asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Due to be extradited from the UK to Sweden for questioning over alleged sexual offenses, last month Assange breached his bail conditions to seek refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy. Since then he has refused to leave and has requested asylum and even Ecuadorean citizenship from Correa’s left-wing administration, which, like Assange, has an antagonistic relationship with Washington. This week, Ecuadorean newspaper Hoy quoted Correa as saying: “If Assange’s life is at risk, these things would be a cause for granting asylum.” Controversially, he then went on to add: “In the United States there is the death penalty for political crimes.” That was a clear allusion to Assange’s claims that he could face execution if extradited from Sweden to the United States where, he says, there is a sealed indictment against him for leaking classified secrets.Read More>>
Chihuahua: Where the rain doesn’t fall any more
A record drought in northern Mexico has prompted warnings that the region’s climate may have changed for good
Wednesday 11 July 2012
Gorged to bursting point, the vulture watches impassively as the twister whips a column of dust past the sun-parched remains of cattle dotting the barren field. If there were such a thing as a textbook image of drought, then this could well be it. Wracked by a savage drug conflict that has claimed thousands of lives, the last thing northern Mexico needed was a "natural" disaster to compound its woes. But now the region’s beef herds are being ravaged by the worst drought on record – one which scientists are linking to climate change. Eighteen of the country’s 32 states are affected. No rain means no pasture and here in Chihuahua, an estimated 350,000 cows have died in the past 12 months, costing ranchers around 2.4bn pesos (£110m). Only the vultures, it seems, are happy. Ismael Solorio is the third generation to run his family’s ranch, only a few hours’ drive from the Texas border. But now, four years after inheriting the herd of 200 cows, the 24-year-old is desperate.Read More>>
TV australiana desenmascara a estafador de comunidades nativas en la Selva peruana
Una vez más los indígenas de la selva peruana son víctimas de cazafortunas inescrupulosos emprendidos en una carrera descabellada por los recursos de la Amazonia.
Tuesday 10 July 2012
Ahora no es ni oro, ni caucho, ni madera sino el propio carbono guardado en los arboles de sus bosques ancestrales, según 60 Minutes de Australia, el programa de actualidad de mayor tiraje de su país. A pesar de empezar asegurando que el Perú es “la tierra que el tiempo se olvidó”, y luego repitiendo varios otros clichés sobre el país – incluso llamando a Iquitos el “Wild West” – el programa hace un buen trabajo en desenmascarar un chanchullo malévolo cometido en territorio nacional. Alrededor de un 20% de todos los gases del efecto invernadero provienen de la deforestación, por lo cual hay un creciente número de ONGs, empresas, consumidores y hasta gobiernos dispuestos a comprar “bonos de carbono” de quien pueda proteger la selva para así frenar el cambio climático. Entre las instituciones, muchas reputadas, que se están dedicando a este mercado emergente hay los llamados “carbon cowboys” que solamente buscan lucrarse sin que les importen los pueblos originarios de la Amazonia o siquiera la conservación ecológica.Read More>>
Nationalisation: Uruguay’s solution to its drug problem
Law allowing state to sell cannabis could be adopted across Latin America in defiance of US
Friday 22 June 2012
Uruguay – in a bid to curb a narcotics-fuelled violent crimewave across the country – has unveiled plans to nationalise its cannabis market and become the first government in the world to sell the soft drug to consumers. The measure is aimed at both reducing the rising power of drug gangs and the growing number of users of crack and freebase cocaine in what has traditionally been one of Latin America’s most peaceful nations. "We want to fight two different things: one is the consumption of drugs and the other is the trafficking of drugs," said the Defence Minister Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro. "We believe that the prohibition of certain drugs is creating more problems in society than the drug itself. Homicides have risen as a result of the settling of accounts [between rival drug gangs] and this is a clear symptom of the appearance of certain phenomena that did not exist previously in Uruguay." Under the plans, the government would initially grow cannabis and sell it to registered users. But once the scheme is up and running, it hopes to cash in and allow private companies to take over the production of the drug.Read More>>
Is Peru going authoritarian?
Critics accuse President Ollanta Humala of having dictator tics after brutal crackdowns on anti-mine protesters.
Thursday 14 June 2012
LIMA, Peru — On the campaign trail, Ollanta Humala vowed that as president he would not sacrifice rural communities to mining and oil companies that wanted to dig and drill on their lands. The leftist candidate even pushed for a recall of then President Alan Garcia, blaming his refusal to listen to Andean and Amazonian villagers for triggering deadly clashes between police and protesters. But as president, some of Humala's onetime allies are accusing him of authoritarianism and betrayal as his government struggles to keep a lid on a wave of angry anti-mining protests. Police using live rounds have killed two people in clashes in the central region of Cusco over a copper mine owned by Swiss firm Xstrata, which locals say is contaminating the water table.Read More>>
The ghosts of Mexico’s past
Exhausted by the war on drugs, the country is on the verge of electing the PRI, a party notorious for its autocratic, corruption-plagued rule. Simeon Tegel reports from Mexico City.
Monday 4 June 2012
For seven decades, the Institutional Revolutionary Party ruled Mexico by hook or by crook, stuffing ballot boxes, massacring democracy protesters and bribing journalists into providing sycophantic coverage. When it finally lost a presidential election for the first time, in 2000, the atmosphere was reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin wall. But now the party, universally known in Mexico as PRI, its Spanish initials, is on the brink of a triumphant comeback, with its youthful candidate for July’s presidential polls, Enrique Peña Nieto, enjoying a consistent lead of around 20 points over his nearest challenger. In the race for congress, the PRI, buoyed by its alliance with Mexico’s controversial, death penalty-supporting Green party, is close to winning 50 per cent of the lower house. That would be the chamber’s first outright majority in some 15 years, giving Mr Peña Nieto, a 45-year-old former governor of the massive state of Mexico, which includes much of Mexico City, more power than any president has had since the early 1990s.Read More>>
Can El Salvador’s gang truce hold?
El Salvador’s vicious gangs have called a cease-fire, enticed in part by conjugal visits for incarcerated leaders. Salvadorans are skeptical it will last.
Tuesday 22 May 2012
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Carlos shows no emotion as he talks about the victims he shot and stabbed as he worked his way up the ladder of one of the world’s most vicious street gangs. “It’s how you gain status,” he says matter-of-factly. When asked how many people he hurt, he thinks for a split second before responding: “Enough.” One of six siblings whose single mother struggled to make ends meet, he was recruited to the Mara Salvatrucha — one of two Central American gangs, or “maras,” whose violent tentacles reach from Los Angeles to Lima — by his cousin when he was just 12. “Who else was going to employ me at that age?” shrugs Carlos, who has insisted GlobalPost not use his real name for fear of reprisals. Five years later, Carlos, now 33, would discover that cousin’s body slumped against a bloodstained wall in a local park, with an ice pick embedded in his temple. The murder was carried out not by a rival gang but by one of his cousin’s own lieutenants, eager to take his turn as gang leader.Read More>>
Peru’s Amazon highway: integrator or decimator?
A local missionary is a key backer of the route, which would traverse the remote, unspoiled Peruvian Amazon. Greens and rights groups disagree.
Monday 21 May 2012
LIMA, Peru — The Peruvian congress is set to debate putting a road through a remote, protected part of the Amazon that is home to some of the last fully isolated indigenous tribes anywhere in the world. The highly controversial freeway would cut through an indigenous reserve and a national park in the jungle departments of Ucayali and Madre de Dios, on Peru’s southern border with Brazil. It would link the towns of Puerto Esperanza and Inapari. Environmental and indigenous groups fiercely oppose the road, fearing it will pave the way for illegal loggers, poachers and land squatters to devastate both the rainforest and the native communities who live there. “It is not illegal to do this in Peru, but it completely contradicts the laws protecting uncontacted tribes, as well as environmental laws,” Rebecca Spooner, of Survival International, a British group that supports tribal peoples around the world, told GlobalPost.Read More>>
Peru: Warmer seas are blamed for bird carnage
After widespread dolphin deaths, thousands of boobies and pelicans wash up on Peruvian beaches.
Tuesday 15 May 2012
LIMA, Peru — A lack of anchovies and other small fish triggered by unseasonably warm waters has left thousands of seabirds starving to death along Peru’s Pacific coast, experts say. This month, the corpses of 5,000 birds, principally pelicans and boobies, have been discovered on beaches up and down the country, according to official government reports. It is the second mass die-off this year in Peruvian waters, after hundreds of dolphin carcasses also mysteriously washed up on beaches in the northern regions of Piura, Lambayeque and Tumbes. Initially, it was thought the bird and dolphin deaths might be related, and caused by a common virus, sparking mild panic and prompting many to avoid the beach during the last days of Peru’s coastal summer. That was ruled out after government scientists confirmed the appearance of a Kelvin wave, carrying warm water from Australia to surface in the western Pacific. The wave has forced many fish species — including the Peruvian anchoveta, a type of anchovy — to migrate to colder seas further south, leaving Peru’s seabirds with little food.Read More>>
Peru prison: from pot smoke to pottery class
There's nothing quite like Lurigancho, Peru’s largest prison, reputedly one of the toughest in South America. GlobalPost gets inside, and finds some surprises.
Monday 14 May 2012
LIMA, Peru — Salsa blares from the cells and the pungent smell of cannabis smoke hangs in the air. In the crowded, dingy corridors, prisoners cook lunch on tiny electric stoves, play cards and shoot the breeze. Tattooed, shirtless men hurry by, barely stopping as they exchange greetings. One inmate pours me a shake from his blender. Made from a uniquely Peruvian mix of quinoa, oatmeal, banana, honey and cacao — it is delicious. I am inside Lurigancho, Peru’s largest prison, reputedly one of the toughest in South America. Built to house 2,500, its grimy, crumbling wings are currently home to some 7,000 inmates. Other than sex offenders, there is no segregation. Hardened career criminals and violent offenders freely mingle with youngsters locked up for stealing a pair of sneakers. Prisoners wear their own clothes and, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., are free to wander almost wherever they want in the jail. Most are Peruvians but there is also a smattering of foreigners, everything from Americans to Africans. Many are cocaine mules — a low-profit, high-risk crime only committed by the desperate or the desperately stupid.Read More>>
Damming Chile: Patagonia could see 5 hydro plants
Environmentalists are outraged by HidroAysen's plans for dams in Chile’s stunning wilderness. Chile's billionaire president says, ‘People deserve more protection than trees.’
Monday 7 May 2012
Chilean Patagonia is home to spectacular fjords, raging rivers, vast pine forests and imposing granite peaks, not to mention mountain lions, condors and endangered huemul deer. Renowned as one of the last great wildernesses, it is now also the scene of a bitter fight over plans to build five hydroelectric dams that would satisfy a quarter of Chile’s rapidly growing hunger for electricity. The $3.2 billion HidroAysen project would build three power stations on the Pascua River and another two on the Baker River, in the southern region of Aysen. That would generate a massive 2,750 megawatts of power for the national grid.Read More>>
Peru’s massive dolphin die-off sparks concern over oil search
Conservationists blame seismic testing for scaring dolphins to death, but Houston-based oil firm BPZ denies the claim.
Friday 20 April 2012
LIMA, Peru — Dolphins have been dying along this South American country’s northern coast in unprecedented numbers. Conservationists say the die-off could be the result of seismic testing by a private oil company. The bodies of about 3,000 animals, principally short-beaked common dolphins, have washed up on beaches since early February, according to research conducted by veterinarian Carlos Yaipen-Llanos, founder and scientific director of Peruvian marine conservation group Orca. The animals have no outward signs of trauma and researchers are continuing to investigate possible causes. Nevertheless, some experts are pointing the finger at seismic testing used by Houston-headquartered oil company BPZ in that stretch of the Pacific. The technology involves analyzing the echoes of underwater explosions for evidence of oil reserves.Read More>>
Shining Path sniper kills Peruvian policewoman
Shining Path terrorists have killed a police captain as she took part in an attempt to rescue dozens of hostages seized by the rebels earlier this week.
Saturday 14 April 2012
Shining Path terrorists have killed a police captain as she took part in an attempt to rescue dozens of hostages seized by the rebels earlier this week. Nancy Flores Paucar, 32, was hit by a sniper as a helicopter she was co-piloting attempted to land in the Peruvian Amazon to drop off a group of armed officers. Three other officers and their indigenous guide were also wounded in the ambush. In a statement, Peru's Ministry of the Interior described the killing as "a premeditated attack by terrorist criminals with long-range weapons". The incident happened on Wednesday as several helicopters transported 200 anti-terrorist police to the zone where around 30 Shining Path rebels were believed to be holding the hostages. Those hostages, whose numbers are reported to be up to 40, work for contractors supplying the Camisea gas project, Peru's largest energy project, led by Dallas's Hunt Oil.Read More>>
Peru backs the US in the war on drugs
As some Latin American leaders call for legalization of narcotics, Peru — a leading coca grower — remains opposed. A former anti-drug czar turned dissident explains why.
Saturday 14 April 2012
LIMA, Peru — This weekend, heads of state at the Summit of the Americas are expected to discuss the emerging Latin American consensus for an alternative to the “war on drugs.” Many leaders are fed up with the violence, and highlight how it has even failed to stop rising demand in the US and their own countries for cocaine and other illegal highs. Yet one key country continues to back Washington’s prohibitionist approach to narcotics: Peru. According to the most recent United Nations statistics, this Andean nation is on the point of overtaking Colombia as the world’s No. 1 grower of coca, the main ingredient in cocaine and crack. Thousands of impoverished farmers depend on the crop for a modest cash income of a few hundred dollars a year. Meanwhile, the violence that has long plagued the remote, rugged cloud forests where the plant is traditionally grown is increasingly spilling onto the streets of the capital, Lima.Read More>>
Return of the Shining Path
Terrorist group kidnaps 40 workers less than a week after Peru's President said it had been 'totally defeated'
Friday 13 April 2012
Less than a week after President Ollanta Humala declared Peru's Shining Path rebel group "totally defeated", the terrorist group has reportedly demanded a $10m (£6.3m) ransom for the return of around 40 gas workers kidnapped in the Amazon. A heavily-armed group burst into a hotel housing the workers in the remote town of Kepashiato in the early hours of Monday morning. They used two stolen pickup trucks to flee with their victims.The government has sent around 1,500 soldiers to the area and declared a state of emergency in the vast rainforest district of Echarate.Read More>>
Climate Change in Latin America: A Four-Part Series
From rising seas in El Salvador to melting glaciers in Ecuador to drought in Chihuahua, climate change is tightening its grip on Latin America.
Tuesday 10 April 2012
As climate change tightens its grip on Latin America, it is the poorest, often in remote rural communities, who are hardest hit. Simeon Tegel's on-the-ground reporting from four of the region’s climate frontlines documents the human consequences of anthropogenic global warming’s early impacts. In Ecuador, he takes a close-up look at the rapidly-melting Antisana glacier, 17,000 feet above sea level. Like the Arctic, the high Andes is one of the regions where the early effects of the climate crisis are already most noticeable. Antisana, among the best studied in the Andes, helps provide Quito with water. Chihuahua, in northern Mexico, is currently in the throes of one of the state’s worst recorded droughts. Campesino communities see the effect on their small family farms. Their ability to produce both cash and subsistence crops is decreased, and the lack of water generates tension. Every year, more frequent and intense hurricanes batter Central America. Impoverished fishing communities on the coast of El Salvador must cope with having to rebuild their homes and lives on an almost annual basis.Read More>>
Peru’s president wins awkward sibling contest
Ollanta Humala’s unruly, jailed brother appears destined to ruin him.
Sunday 1 April 2012
LIMA, Peru — As politicians’ awkward siblings go, few top Antauro Humala, brother of Peru President Ollanta Humala. The former major is serving a 19-year jail term for leading a failed 2005 army revolt to overthrow democratically elected President Alejandro Toledo. Four police officers died in the uprising, which was also supposedly intended to stop Chilean economic interests from taking over Peru. Ever since, Antauro’s hard-left views, and his ability to turn an outrageous quote at the click of a journalist’s microphone, have simultaneously enthralled and appalled the entire country. Yet, this month Antauro appears to have outdone himself. He has morphed from a thorn in Ollanta’s side to a major political headache that, analysts say, could undermine his brother’s presidency, just eight months into his five-year term. The scandal revolves around Antauro’s alleged privileged conditions behind bars, as well as the influence he appears to wield from his cell.Read More>>
Ecuador’s green president pushes massive Chinese mine
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa says: “We cannot be beggars sitting on a bag of gold.”
Friday 30 March 2012
QUITO, Ecuador — President Rafael Correa was once the toast of environmentalists around the world after his government adopted a groundbreaking new constitution that recognized “the rights of nature.” The 2008 constitution even used the words “Pacha Mama” — the indigenous Quechua language’s term for the “Earth Mother.” It stipulated that the state “will incentivize” citizens to respect and protect her ecological cycles. But now, Correa finds himself accused of hypocrisy as his bid to push through a huge $1.77 billion open-pit copper mine in the Amazon has aroused the wrath of the country’s powerful indigenous minority. According to the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE by its Spanish initials), the El Mirador mine, run by Chinese company Ecuacorriente, would lead to the ravaging of around 450,000 acres of spectacularly diverse cloud forest that is the ancestral territory of the Shuar people.Read More>>
Sex and drugs and private cells: Behind bars in South America
A deadly riot in Mexico and an inferno in Honduras have turned the searchlight on conditions in Latin America's overcrowded and anarchic prisons. Simeon Tegel spends a day behind bars in Peru
Wednesday 28 March 2012
The cluster of shirtless, tattooed inmates in the prison courtyard make no effort to hide the joint as a policeman wanders by. Instead, one turns up the volume on the salsa booming out of a portable stereo. Unconcerned by the clouds of cannabis smoke billowing from the group, the officer does not miss a beat as he carries on patrolling the grimy maze of corridors and patios that make up Lurigancho, Peru's largest jail. Built for 2,500 inmates, Lurigancho's crumbling walls are currently home to some 7,000 prisoners. Of Peru's 66 desperately overcrowded jails, this human clearing house on the arid outskirts of Lima is the most overcrowded. Conditions are appalling. According to Peru's official human rights watchdog, the Defensoría del Pueblo, there are only 63 doctors and one psychiatrist attending to the country's 49,000 prisoners. Rates of HIV and Aids are three times higher than outside, and TB is 20 times more common.Read More>>
Argentina's 'Disappeared', the mothers and the money
Parents leading a campaign for Argentina's 'Disappeared' have been hit by a huge corruption scandal. Simeon Tegel reports
Monday 30 January 2012
Few opposed Argentina's military dictatorship as effectively as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, with their lonely, dignified vigils in Buenos Aires' main square for their children "disappeared" by the junta. But now the group, whose moral authority in the country was previously akin to that of Nelson Mandela or the Dalai Lama, has become embroiled in a huge corruption scandal that threatens to tarnish its reputation and put an end to the Mothers' political activism for good. More than 60 people are facing charges, including the daughter of the Mothers' main driving force, Hebe de Bonafini, in connection with alleged fraud and kickbacks over multi-million pound government contracts to build social housing for the country's poor. The scandal has also laid bare the group's cozy relationship with the populist left-wing government of Cristina Kirchner. At the centre of the storm is one of Argentina's most controversial characters, Sergio Schoklender, the group's former financial administrator. Despite a lifetime of high-profile left-wing activism, Schoklender, 53, remains best known in his homeland for his involvement in a double murder that rocked Argentina and generated front page headlines for months.Read More>>
Ayahuasca, an Amazonian trip
Ayahuasca's a hallucinogen in a cup. Bring good karma, and drink at your own risk.
Saturday 31 December 2011
MADRE DE DIOS, Peru — Without a word, the shaman hands me a plastic cup of ayahuasca, one of the Amazon rainforest’s most powerful hallucinogens. I down the pungent black liquid in one gulp, barely managing to repress the gagging reflex that its bitter, foul taste instantly triggers. And the wait begins. Around us, in a moonless blanket of darkness, the rainforest throbs with life. A chorus of insects, frogs and other unidentified creatures crescendos into a wall of pulsating whirrs, clicks, and screeches. By the light of a single candle, I can barely see the shaman, Honorato Mishajo Shajoo, sitting on the ground, as he begins to hum and chant, occasionally playing a few lilting, repetitive notes on a mouth organ. Every now and then, I make out a few words of Spanish. “Protecting, protecting, with your powerful medicine,” he intones.Read More>>
Amazon rainforest imperiled in gold rush
Record prices for gold this year have pushed new speculators into the mining business
Friday 30 December 2011
PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru — Record gold prices are claiming an unlikely victim: the lush, spectacularly biodiverse rainforests of the Peruvian Amazon. Since the global economy fell off the edge of a cliff in 2008, sending investors scrambling to put their money into the ultimate safe haven, gold, thousands of illegal miners have flooded into the Madre de Dios region of central Peru. Now they are ravaging its pristine tropical rainforests and river systems, including some of Peru’s most important nature reserves, using primitive mining techniques to churn through vast quantities of the region’s rich, sandy soils, sparkling with specks of the precious metal. As they do so, they poison the water table with mercury and carve out vast, toxic holes in the virgin jungle.Read More>>
Sterilisation: Peru's darkest secret
An investigation into whether Alberto Fujimori's government carried out mass forced sterilisations in the 1990s has been reopened
Thursday 8 December 2011
Victoria Vigo shows no flicker of emotion as she recounts how she discovered – by chance – that she had been surgically sterilised against her will. Heavily pregnant, she was admitted to a public hospital in the city of Piura, on Peru's northern coast, in April 1996 to undergo a Caesarian section. Within hours of the procedure, her ailing new-born child had died and Ms Vigo, 32 at the time, was being consoled by two doctors. "I was exhausted and just wanted to go home," Ms Vigo says. "The doctors were trying to comfort me and one told me I was still very young and could have more children. But then, afterwards, I overheard them talking and the other said that it would not be possible for me to conceive as he had sterilised me." Not only had Ms Vigo never given her permission for the procedure. The doctor had omitted it from her clinical records and failed to inform her. "I felt totally violated and brutalised. I still cannot understand what motivated him," Ms Vigo says. "He sterilised me and then hid the evidence. I could have tried for years to have another child without even knowing I could never conceive."Read More>>
Peru: Proposed gold mine riles locals
The government must choose between locals' water source or major gold profits.
Tuesday 6 December 2011
LIMA, Peru — President Ollanta Humala’s tightrope act was never going to be easy: keeping Peru’s economy booming while cracking down on the mining industry’s environmental excesses. Now, just four months after taking office, the president is struggling to regain his balance after violent protests in the Andes forced the suspension of the proposed Conga gold and copper mine, a $4.8 billion project heralded as Peru’s largest-ever foreign investment. As clashes between rock-throwing demonstrators and police continued over the weekend, Humala’s government declared a 60-day state of emergency in the northern region of Cajamarca. The president’s backing for Conga has prompted accusations that he has betrayed campaign promises to respect the wishes of local communities opposed to mining and other infrastructure projects on their land.Read More>>
After death, Peru targets soccer hooligans
Critics say the sporting establishment pays thugs to get rough for ratings.
Wednesday 26 October 2011
LIMA, Peru — The death of a young man in Lima’s Monumental soccer stadium has sparked a crackdown on the thugs who mar the game in this country — and the sporting establishment that has allegedly allowed them to flourish. Walter Oyarce, 23, had been attempting to protect two youngsters from rampaging fans of home team Universitario, widely known as the U, as they clambered from box to box ripping away signs of support for visiting club Alianza Lima, including a large banner hanging from Oyarce’s box. During the confrontation last month, Oyarce fell 15 feet, suffering massive head injuries. He was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.Read More>>
Left vs. indigenous of Latin America
Once allies, the two have clashed over environmental concerns.
Tuesday 25 October 2011
LIMA, Peru — Aymara Indian, former coca grower, avowed socialist and Bolivian president, Evo Morales was a living embodiment of the alliance between the Latin American left and the region's indigenous peoples. Now, with Morales battling to save his legacy after his administration brutally attempted to suppress a peaceful protest by native Amazonian communities, that alliance appears on the brink of cracking up. The pressure began building last month, when riot police gassed and arrested demonstrators on a month-long march — from their sweltering home province of Beni up 10,000 feet to the Andean capital La Paz — against plans for a road through the TIPNIS, the Spanish acronym for their rainforest reserve.Read More>>
La desglaciación de la cordillera andina
Como el Ártico, los Andes son uno de los ambientes naturales donde más se sienten los primeros impactos del cambio climático. La nieve y el hielo están desapareciendo, con graves consecuencias para la región. Visitamos las alturas de la sierra peruana para constatar los cambios
Thursday 29 September 2011
Desde el glaciar Yanapaccha, de 5.460 metros y situado en el corazón de la Cordillera Blanca, en los Andes peruanos, la vista no podría ser más imponente. Empinadas cumbres nevadas llegan hasta el horizonte mientras que abajo, a través de las nubes, quebradas escarpadas desembocan en lagunas de una turquesa perfecta. Pero, mientras los crampones crujen en el hielo duro de la mañana, queda claro que no todo va bien en este espectacular paisaje. "El glaciar parece un paciente muriendo de un virus," dice Richard Hidalgo, uno de los más destacados montañistas peruanos. "La enfermedad lo está carcomiendo desde adentro." El cambio climático empiece a asolar la Cordillera Blanca. Las cifras no mienten. Entre 2000 y 2010, un glaciar promedio de la Cordillera Blanca ha retrocedido 250 metros, según César Portocarrero, de la Unidad de Glaciología y Recursos Hídricos del Ministerio de Agricultura peruano. Y entre 1970 y 2010, la Cordillera Blanca ha perdido un 34% de área de sus glaciares, un total de 244 kilómetros cuadrados.Read More>>
Cocaine's becoming king in Peru
Peru's new government changes its drug-fighting tactics
Saturday 24 September 2011
LIMA, Peru — For years, Peru had a simple policy to fight cocaine: destroy the coca plants that were the key ingredient in the drug. It did not go so well. As the government burned coca harvests, it offered no support for impoverished farmers to grow alternative cash crops such as coffee or cacao. Predictably perhaps, many kept planting coca, simply moving their plots further from the reaches of law enforcement to more remote corners of the eastern Andes. That has nearly propelled Peru to the top of the cocaine-production ladder. According to U.N. figures, Colombia had 62,000 hectares of coca crops in 2010 while Peru had 61,200. Crucially, the Colombian figure represents a 34% decrease since 2005 while the Peruvian figure is up 41% over the same period. Colombia’s cocaine production was estimated last year at 350 metric tons and although no such calculation exists for Peru, experts believe it is not far behind.Read More>>
The changing face of Andean glaciers
Independent Blogs: Notebook
Friday 2 September 2011
To the untrained eye, the view from the Yanapaqcha glacier, some 17,000ft above sea level in the heart of the Peruvian Andes, represents nature at her most sublime. Sheer, snowcapped peaks stretch to the horizon while, through the clouds below, fertile ravines drain into perfect turquoise lakes. But as our crampons crunch into the hard ice, it quickly becomes apparent that not all is well in this spectacular wilderness. “The glacier looks like a patient dying of a virus,” says Richard Hidalgo, arguably Peru’s foremost mountaineer. “The disease is eating it away from the inside.” Climate change is tightening its grip. The statistics for glacier retreat in the Cordillera Blanca – or White Range, as this stretch of the Andes is known – are well documented: The average annual figure per glacier was seven meters in the 1970s, 20 meters in the 1980s, 24 meters in the 1990s and 25 meters in the 2000s. But, as Richard explains, the ravaging of the glaciers is about far more than shrinking snouts. As we tour Yanapaqcha, his concern becomes palpable. A huge expanse of the lower part of the glacier is riddled with dark stains, slushy puddles, ponds that freeze every evening only to thaw out again each afternoon, and enormous sinkholes.Read More>>
Peru may be turning a corner on its treatment of indigenous people
Peru's divisions only deepened under the previous administration. A new law gives grounds for cautious optimism
Wednesday 31 August 2011
The symbolism could hardly have been more striking as indigenous Awajún member Eduardo Nayap – in suit, tie and colourful Amazonian feather crown – addressed Peru's new congress last week. Nayap, a member of President Ollanta Humala's Nationalist party, was welcoming the chamber's unanimous approval of a bill requiring prior consultation with indigenous peoples about legislation or infrastructure projects that would affect them or their territories. Humala is expected to sign it into law this week. The measure, repeatedly blocked by Peru's previous president, Alan García, is being hailed as a major advance for the country's long-suffering native communities. Aidesep, the largest organisation representing Peru's myriad Amazonian peoples, said it would help protect them from the "outrages by the Peruvian state of which they have been victims for centuries" [sic].Read More>>
Lucha de gigantes
Yawar Fiesta, emblemática tradición de los Andes peruanos que enfrenta a un toro bravo con un cóndor, está en auge. Pero el ave majestuosa del que depende está cada vez más amenazada.
Tuesday 23 August 2011
Mientras que el toro se retuerce y corcovea, el atemorizado cóndor amarrado a su lomo bate sus gigantescas alas, casi eclipsando al enfurecido animal. Con un coro de cuernos aballados, un comunero con una capa arrugada entra a la plaza. Son las dos de la tarde, en Cotabambas, un pueblo a cuatro horas de Cuzco, la antigua capital del imperio inca, en Perú. Han estado fluyendo la cerveza y chicha -el jugo de maíz fermentado que tanto gusta a los andinos- desde hace horas, y la fiesta Yawar está llegando a su irresistible y brutal desenlace. En medio de la polvareda, el cóndor y el toro emergen fugazmente como un solo ser mítico, un potente toro alado que planea sobre los espectaculares cerros que rodean Cotabambas. El hombre de la capa, que camina de forma inestable como alguien que ha tomado un par de tragos de más, logra llamar la atención del toro, que arremete contra él. El hombre esquiva, apenas evitando una cornada por centímetros, mientras que su capa queda enganchada en los cuernos del toro. Corriendo, salta la barrera y regresa a la seguridad de la muchedumbreRead More>>
Morales, his moral maze and a road into Amazon wilderness
Bolivia’s President hopes a highway through virgin land will lead to prosperity – but indigenous groups are furious
Friday 19 August 2011
The Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Reserve and National Park might strike many as paradise on earth. Located in the verdant headwaters of the Amazon basin, the protected area is home to a stunning array of species, from howler monkeys and spectacled bears to myriad birds and insects, not to mention 64 native communities and billions of tons of forest carbon. It is the last place where the credentials of Evo Morales as a globally renowned defender of indigenous rights and the Pachamama, or Earth Mother, seem likely to be called into question. But Bolivia’s President now finds himself engulfed in a bitter dispute over his plans to put a £260m road through the middle of this stunning wilderness. On Monday, about 300 members of the Chimane, Mojeño and Yuracaré indigenous communities that inhabit the 3.4 million-acre park – universally known by its Spanish acronym Tipnis – began a march against the proposed highway, from the steamy provincial town of Trinidad up some 10,000ft to the Andean capital La Paz. The group is expected to take about 30 days to complete the 400-mile trek, during which time organisers expect sympathisers to massively swell their numbers.Read More>>
Why the day of the condor could be drawing to a close
A decline in the numbers of the giant Andean bird casts doubt on the survival of a spectacular Peruvian tradition
Thursday 4 August 2011
As the bull twists and bucks, the frightened condor strapped to its back helplessly flaps its huge wings, almost dwarfing the enraged animal. To a chorus of battered horns, a villager with a tattered cape steps into the dusty square. Chicha, the fermented maize juice that is the preferred tipple of many Andeans, has been flowing for hours and the man appears unsteady on his feet. The bull snags the cape on its horns as the man barely manages to sidestep the charging beast before leaping over the barrier, back into the safety of the cheering crowd.Read More>>
Mr García’s acts of corruption
Independent Blogs: The Foreign Desk
Wednesday 27 July 2011
On Thursday, in front of Peru’s parliament, Alan García is due to hand the presidential sash to Ollanta Humala. But in a major breach of protocol – not to mention a serious fit of pique – Peru’s outgoing president has said he will not attend the event. Mr García’s lack of appetite for mixing with his leftwing successor is understandable. Mr Humala, a former army lieutenant colonel, owes his rise to power at least in part to his tough-talking on corruption, with some of his supporters now calling for criminal investigations of Mr García’s administration. Yet the ceremonial snub may be the least of it. By refusing to show up at Mr Humala’s inauguration, Mr García has also sidestepped the traditional presidential farewell address, in which Peru’s outgoing chief executive is expected to offer congress an oratorical balance of accounts of his five years in office.Read More>>
Fujimori campaign raises fears for democracy in Peru
Jailed autocrat's daughter is on course to take the presidency
Thursday 26 May 2011
For someone who has not been seen or heard in public for more than a year, incarcerated former president Alberto Fujimori is casting a long shadow over the campaign to choose Peru's next leader. The disgraced autocrat is believed by many Peruvians to be orchestrating the campaign of his daughter, Keiko, from the jail where he is serving a 25-year sentence for embezzlement and directing paramilitary death squads. Running on a hard-right law and order agenda, Ms Fujimori is the favourite to win a run-off election on 5 June. The 35-year-old congresswoman has built up a consistent but narrow lead over her left-wing rival, the former army lieutenant-colonel Ollanta Humala, whose economic plans to favour the poor scare wealthier voters.Read More>>
From lost city of the Incas to tourist trap in 100 years
The huge number of people who visit Machu Picchu every year are threatening the site's very survival. Simeon Tegel reports
Monday 9 May 2011
As Hiram Bingham hacked his way through remote Andean cloudforests in search of a lost Inca citadel in 1911, little could the American adventurer have known of the tourism juggernaut that his archaeological expedition would unleash – or how it might threaten his breathtaking find. Now, Peru is gearing up to mark the centenary of Bingham's rediscovery of Machu Picchu with a series of glitzy events on 6 and 7 July. Sponsored by Coca Cola, the festivities will include international broadcasts of a son-et-lumière show and a concert expected to feature the Spanish tenor José Carreras. But many in the archaeological community are deeply worried about the pressures on Machu Picchu from the 2,000 visitors it receives every day and the rapid growth of over-priced hotels, tacky souvenir shops, fast-food restaurants and other unregulated infrastructure around the citadel and along the Sacred Valley that links it to Cusco, the former Inca capital.Read More>>
After the fall: ex-leaders daughter bids for power
Keiko Fujimori is among the frontrunners in Peru's presidential campaign, overcoming allegations of corruption and her father's tainted legacy. Simeon Tegel reports from Lima
Tuesday 5 April 2011
A decade after the disgraced president Alberto Fujimori fled Peru amid an election-rigging and corruption storm, his 35-year-old daughter, Keiko, may be on the brink of a remarkable family comeback. With an engaging smile and an ability to stay on message that defies her relative political inexperience, Ms Fujimori is now among the frontrunners in Peru's closely fought presidential elections, with the first round of voting to take place on Sunday. The young congresswoman's slick campaign – orchestrated, some claim, by her aging father from the prison cell where he is serving a 25-year sentence for directing death squads and embezzlement – has taken her opponents by surprise. Running on Mr Fujimori's hardline legacy, she has promised a crackdown on corruption and violent crime, including the re-introduction of the death penalty – while also raising the prospect of a presidential pardon for her father.Read More>>
The desert city in serious danger of running dry
Peru's arid capital faces a crisis as glaciers and rainfall dwindle. Simeon Tegel reports
Tuesday 22 March 2011
"Running water would change everything," says Luz Caballero wearily as she stirs a huge pot of beans in the Santa Maria People's Restaurant in Villa El Salvador, a sprawling, dusty shantytown on Lima's southern outskirts. "Living without it is just too hard." Ms Caballero and the other locals take it in turns to staff the co-operative restaurant, serving up 100 cheap but filling lunches every day. If cooking on this scale seems complicated, then doing so without tapwater takes on an epic quality, with a continuous time-consuming, energy-sapping shuttling of buckets from the plastic barrels in the street outside. Ms Caballero and her neighbours are among roughly 1.2 million residents of the Peruvian capital without running water. They rely on unregulated private water trucks, which charge up to 30 soles (£6.70) per cubic metre – 20 times what more affluent Peruvians pay for their tapwater – and frequently leave their customers waiting desperately. The new mayor wants to end this exploitation, but she faces immense challenges in a city where climate change has put water sources high in the Andes under unprecedented pressure.Read More>>
A new life for Peru's American enemy
After 15 years in jail on terrorism charges, Lori Berenson tells Simeon Tegel how she and her baby son will pick up the pieces
Wednesday 9 February 2011
Lori Berenson's 20-month-old son, Salvador, lies sprawled out for his afternoon nap in the bedroom. Despite being born in a women's jail, Salvador's start in life was anything but blighted, Ms Berenson is keen to make clear. The youngster was a hit with the inmates and "got lots of love", she says. A long stretch in one of South America's toughest prison systems would have broken many. But Ms Berenson, who served 15 years for collaborating with an armed Marxist group during Peru's brutal guerrilla war, comes across as phlegmatic and even chatty as she sits by an open window in her rented apartment, a breeze bringing relief from Lima's clammy summer. She is on parole for the remainder of her 20-year sentence and must stay in Peru until 2015. The furore has died down since her first release in May, when she received death threats, and was briefly re-jailed because of a mix-up about her parole conditions. But the normality Ms Berenson craves remains elusive: she accepts she has become a "symbol" of the terrorism that once rocked Peru.Read More>>