Brazil cracks down on Amazon 'land traffickers'
Authorities in Brazil late last month arrested members of a criminal gang that they described as "the greatest destroyers" of the Amazon rainforest. The organization allegedly logged and burned vast areas of the rainforest and illegally sold public lands for farming, resulting in estimated damages worth more than $220 million, according to the Brazilian Federal Police. Eight suspects have been arrested so far, with another six still at large. The police operation covered four Brazilian states, including Sao Paulo and Pará. Last year, the Brazilian government said the rate of deforestation in the Amazon increased by 28% between August 2012 and July 2013, after years of decline. It made a commitment in 2009 to reduce Amazon deforestation by 80% by the year 2020. (BBC News, TeleSUR, Aug. 28; BBC News, Aug. 27)
Brazil: Haiti mission shaped Rio police unit
Two Brazilian experts in police work have confirmed longstanding claims that the Brazilian military and police used their leading role in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) as a way to train their forces for operations in Brazil's own cities. According to Lt. Col. Carlos Cavalcanti, of the Brazilian Peace Operations Joint Training Center (CCOPAB), the Brazilians were especially interested in the concept of permanent "strong points" in urban areas, which MINUSTAH forces used to "pacify" Port-au-Prince's huge Cité Soleil section in 2005 and the Cité Militaire neighborhood in 2007. "Rio de Janeiro's Militarized Police even sent a group to Haiti while these operations were still being carried out, with the object of taking in the Brazilian army's experiences," Cavalcanti said.
Latin America: more nations recall Israel envoys
A total of five Latin American governments had recalled their ambassadors to Israel as of July 29 in an escalation of diplomatic protests against an operation the Israeli military had been carrying out in the Palestinian territory of Gaza since July 8. With the Palestinian death toll passing 1,500—including more than 300 children—centrist and even rightwing Latin American governments started joining left and center-left government in distancing themselves from the main US ally in the Middle East.
Mexico: Maya campesinos beat Monsanto in court
A district court judge in the eastern Mexican state of Yucatán ruled in July against a license that the federal Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) had granted the Missouri-based multinational Monsanto Company in 2012 for sowing 253,500 hectares with genetically modified (GM) soy in Yucatán and six other states. A group of campesinos from the Maya indigenous group filed a suit charging that the license endangered the traditional production of organic honey in a region including the Yucatán communities of Ticul, Santa Elena, Oxkutzcab, Tzucacab, Tekax, Peto and Tizimin. The judge's ruling was "a great achievement because there is recognition of our legitimate right to make decisions about our territory and our livelihood," Maya farmer Lorenzo Itzá Ek said. "[B]eekeeping is the main traditional economic activity we carry out, and we don't want our honey contaminated with transgenics or with toxic products like agrochemicals that kill our bees."
Gunmen threaten to assassinate Yanomami leader
Davi Kopenawa, traditional shaman and internationally renowned spokesman for the Yanomami people in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, has demanded urgent police protection following a series of death threats by armed thugs reportedly hired by gold-miners operating illegally on Yanomami land in Roraima state. In June, armed men on motorbikes raided the Boa Vista office of Brazil's non-governmental Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA), which works closely with the Yanomami, asking for Davi. The men threatened ISA staff with guns and stole computers and other equipment. After the assault, one of the men was arrested, and reportedly told police that he had been hired by gold-miners. In May, Yanomami Association Hutukara, headed by Davi, received a message from gold-miners saying that Davi would not be alive by the end of the year.
Latin America: Gaza attack draws strong protests
An Israeli military offensive on the Palestinian territory of Gaza starting on July 8 has brought widespread condemnation from governments and activists in Latin America. The response to the current military action, which is codenamed "Operation Protective Edge," follows a pattern set during a similar December 2008-January 2009 Israeli offensive in Gaza, "Operation Cast Lead," when leftist groups and people of Arab descent mounted protests and leftist and center-left governments issued statements sharply criticizing the Israeli government.
BRICS nations plan new development bank
The BRICS group of five nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—held its sixth annual summit this year from July 14 to July 16 in Fortaleza in the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará and in Brasilia, the Brazilian capital. The main business for the five nations' leaders was formalizing their agreement on a plan to create a development bank to serve as an alternative to lending institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which are largely dominated by the US and its allies. Although the project will need approval from the countries' legislatures, the BRICS leaders indicated that the group's lending institution would be called the New Development Bank, would be based in Shanghai and would be headed for the first five years by a representative of India. The bank is to start off in 2016 with $50 billion in capital, $10 billion from each BRICS member. The BRICS nations will maintain control of the bank, but membership will be open to other countries; in contrast to the IMF and the World Bank, the New Development Bank will not impose budgetary conditions on loan recipients.
Ethnic cleansing on Peru's jungle border
Highly vulnerable "uncontacted" indigenous bands who recently emerged in the Brazil-Peru border region have said that they were fleeing violent attacks in Peru. FUNAI, Brazil's indigenous affairs agency, has announced that the uncontacted bands have returned once more to their forest home. Seven members of the band made peaceful contact with a settled indigenous Ashaninka community near the Ríó Envira in Brazil's Acre state three weeks ago. A government health team was dispatched and has treated seven band members for flu. FUNAI has announced it will reopen a monitoring post on the Rió Envira which it closed in 2011 after it was overrun by drug traffickers. Survival International called the emerging news "extremely worrying," noting that isolated indigenous groups lack immunity to the flu, which has wiped out entire tribes in the past. Brazilian experts believe that the isolated bands, who belong to the Panoan linguistic group, crossed over the border from Peru into Brazil due to pressures from illegal loggers and drug traffickers on their land.
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