Argentina: Menem faces trial for factory explosion

On Aug. 13 Argentine federal judge Carlos Ochoa reopened a criminal case charging former president Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999) with responsibility in the Nov. 3, 1995 explosion of a military arms factory in Río Tercero in the central province of Córdoba. Prosecutors and Río Tercero residents have long held that the daylong series of explosions was set off deliberately to destroy evidence that the Menem government was selling arms illegally to Ecuador and Croatia, but the case was shut down by federal judges in 2008. It has been reopened following Menem's conviction on March 8 this year of involvement in the arms smuggling. Seven people were killed in the explosions, which also left 300 people injured and destroyed a number of private homes. Even If convicted, the 83-year-old Menem will probably not face prison time; he currently enjoys immunity as a senator for La Rioja province. (Página 12, Argentina, Aug. 13; Clarín, Argentina, Aug. 14)

Day of mining protests throughout Andean nations

July 22 was declared a Global Day of Action Against Mega-Mining, with protests held throughout the Andean nations under the banner "No to mining, yes to life." Among the most significant actions was a mobilization by local campesinos on the site of the Conga gold mining project in Peru's Cajamarca region, which was occupied by protesters carrying their giant green-woven Mother Earth flag. In Argentina, protests were reported from the mining-impacted regions of Chubut, Catamarca and Mendoza, with a solidarity march in Buenos Aires. (La Republica, Lima, Terra, Argentina, July 22) In the far south of Chile, the local Austral Defense Front marched in Punta Arenas to protest open-pit coal mining on nearby Riesco Island. (Radio Popular, Punta Arenas, July 22) In Maipú, on the outskirts of Santiago, residents marched to demand closure of the open-pit mine at Quebrada de la Plata they say is contaminating local drinking water. (Diario UChile, July 24)

Argentina: Mapuche to block Chevron from territory

In a press conference on July 11 representatives of Argentina's indigenous Mapuche and of indigenous communities in the Vaca Muerta region in the southwestern province of Neuquén announced plans to block the California-based Chevron Corporation from drilling for natural gas in their territories. In December 2012 Argentina's state-controlled Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF) oil company signed an agreement for a $1 billion hydrofracking pilot project in the Vaca Muerta area, despite a November decision by an Argentine judge to embargo Chevron's assets in Argentina because of a $19 billion judgment against the company in Ecuador for environmental damage and injuries to the health of indigenous residents in the Amazon rainforest. YPF and Chevron are scheduled to sign an additional accord on July 15; the oil companies deny that the drilling will be on Mapuche lands.

Argentina: Israel secretly bought uranium in 1960s

According to declassified British and US documents that the Washington, DC-based research group National Security Archive (NSA) made public on June 25, Israel secretly bought 80-100 tons of Argentine uranium oxide ("yellowcake") in the 1963-1964 period. The uranium ore was purchased to be used as fuel at Israel's Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev desert and ultimately for producing plutonium for the country's clandestine nuclear weapons program. France had cut off Israel's supply of French uranium, and the Israeli government was looking for new sources, including South Africa and Argentina. The Argentine president at the time was Arturo Umberto Illia (1963-66) of the centrist Radical Civic Union (UCR).

Argentina: ex-president gets prison term —almost

The Court of Cassation of Argentina, the highest criminal court, sentenced former president Carlos Menem to seven years on June 14 for illegal weapons sales to Croatia and Ecuador during his presidency. Now-senator Menem pleaded innocence, claiming that the weapons were intended for Panama and Venezuela but were stolen and sold to parties that violated the country's peace agreements (PDF) and UN embargoes. The lower court initially acquitted Menem and 17 other defendants last year on a series of charges. On appeal, however, the Court of Cassation sentenced 12 of those defendants to prison time and remanded the case in light of what is described as "overwhelming evidence." Menem, now 82, receives immunity as a public servant. The court urged his fellow representatives to strip him of this privilege, but recent scandals involving his colleagues may make it difficult for a majority of senators to establish that precedent. Furthermore, under Argentina law, all prisoners over 70 have the right to serve penal time at home. Thus, even if the senate does relinquish Menem's immunity, he will most likely never serve time behind bars.

Argentina: eight activists arrested in mine protest

The Argentine branch of international environmental organization Greenpeace marked World Environment Day—a UN-sponsored event held each June 5—with a protest highlighting damage that the pro-mining policies of José Luis Gioja, governor of the northwestern province of San Juan, could have on Argentina's San Guillermo Biosphere Reserve. Eight Greenpeace activists climbed the Civic Center building in the city of San Juan and unfurled a 20-meter banner with a photograph of a puma and a caption reading: "Gioja: no mining in San Guillermo." The activists were arrested and taken to the central police station.

Latin America: marchers reject Monsanto, back food sovereignty

According to organizers, hundreds of thousands of environmentalists and other activists participated in marches in 436 cities and 52 countries on May 25 to protest the Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company, whose products include genetically modified (GM) seeds and the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup. The global March Against Monsanto generated events in countries including Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and the US. (La Jornada, Mexico, May 26, some from AFP, Prensa Latina)

Argentina war crimes suspect arrested in Uruguay

Col. Alberto Julio Candiotti, a former Argentinian military officer who was wanted for crimes committed during the country's 1976-1983 "Dirty War," was arrested May 23 in Montevideo, Uruguay. Information for the whereabouts of the 68-year-old, who was residing in the city with his wife, was valued at 100,000 pesos (USD $20,000). The former officer was arrested by Uruguay's National Police. Authorities are currently uncertain whether Candiotti sneaked into the country or falsified documents to gain admittance.

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