A Review of the Year: Latin America in 2011

Latin America

Latin America’s 2011 is dominated by drug abuse, conspiracy and power politics as the drug cartels increase their stranglehold on the Central American supply routes in North America leaving a trail of blood and destruction in their wake, cultural clashes between the rich and the poor, the majority and the minority and politics gets a shake up from democratic and non-democratic sources shaking up the received wisdom about Latin American political elites.

The War on Drugs: The US government’s funding of the ‘Merida Initiative’ launched in 2007 to provide financial backing to police forces in Central America to crush the drug cartels operating in the area, drew fresh criticism in a peaceful march from the border city of Ciudad Juarez to a rally in El Paso, Texas to highlight the thousands of Latin America lives already lost. Javier Sicilia, a Mexican poet who led the march said ‘Americans have to realise that behind every puff of pot, every line of coke, there is death, there are shattered families’ and the UN published a report in the same month concluding that the ‘war on drugs’ had failed as battling dug cartels in one area simply means they move to another. Whilst the USA continues its ‘Just Say No’ policies, Central America is increasingly being overrun by criminal gangs who infiltrate politics, the police force and the judiciary. They also silence journalists through fear and intimidation, Reporters Without Borders calls Central America one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist.

Political Shake-up In Peru: Every now and then, power politics in Latin America will surprise you. Normally when the son or daughter of a previous president runs for office, they will get it no matter whether or not their father was indicted for corruption. Sucession is seemingly just the done thing a lot of the time. However this year that theory backfired for Keiko Fujimori after she narrowly lost the Peruvian presidential election to Ollanta Humala, the former army office who attempted a coup to throw her father Alberto out of office in the first place. What was not so new was Humala’s position as a populist, left-wing firebrand who promised the usual redistribution of wealth, an end to corruption and cronyism and an end to drug cartel influence in Peru. After he was sworn in this summer he began to his campaign to rid the police force of corrupt officers, forcing 30 out of 45 police generals in retirement in October. However critics say this was a tactical move to get rid of his enemies and stuff the force with his allies. Peru retains the highest perception of crime against its actual crime rate than in any other Latin American country, it is also the world’s second largest producer of cocaine after Colombia but its detection and eradication rates are much lower. Humala also invested in another 5000 troops to create what he claims will be a stable and reliable police force. However, he now faces a new challenge as he tries to meet the mining and gas interests in his country while still placating the thousands of protests against the projects which are swarming around Peru. He pushed through a law meaning companies have to consult local communities before developing and imposed a $3 billion mining tax but he is currently walking a tightrope between his countries interests and their finances.

Chavez’ Cancer Plot: Despite strenuous denials, Venezula’s Hugo Chavez finally announced what the world already guessed back in July; that the reason he was going to Cuba was to seek medical treatment for an unspecified form of cancer. This comes a huge setback to the leader who needs to be filled with his usual amount of energy to get through the upcoming election in 2012. Instead of putting this done to misfortune, Chavez publicly speculated whether it could have anything to do with US dislike for his socialist self-styled ‘revolutionary’ politics that are at odds with American foreign policy in the region. He claimed in December, whilst at pains to stress that it was not an accusation, that the USA may have engineered a plot to infect Latin America leaders with cancer in light of the news that Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will undergo treatment for thyroid cancer in January. He said he was not making an accusation but noted that the evidence that the USA infected over 2500 Guatemalans with STDs during medical experiments in the 1940s and warned Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, to ‘be careful’.

Haiti’s Reconstruction: After the devastation of the Haiti earthquake in January 2010 there was an outpouring of aid and sympathy from the Western world as money and help was pledged to get Haiti back on its feet again. Already one of the world’s poorest countries, the small Caribbean island struggled to get back on its feet and the world’s news cameras drifted away to other disasters such as the Pakistan floods. A year later the cameras return to document what progress had been made and then promptly left again. The Haiti Reconstruction Fund has been set up by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank and other donors to provide aid indefinitely to finance Haiti’s reconstruction. There has been some progress but there are still 600,000 people living in tents in the capital, Port-Au-Prince. In September 2011, the UN announced they were scaling back the number of peacekeepers in the country. Reconstruction has been hampered by the lack of authentic land ownership documentation and it is proving impossible to determine who owns what. The new President, Michel Martelly, a popular singer, was sworn in March 2011 and he has vowed to reform agriculture, streamlining the delivery of humanitarian aid and restoring law and order by bringing back the military disbanded a decade ago over human rights abuses.

Brazil’s ‘pacification’ of its slums: The residents of a sprawling slum, Rocinha, in Rio de Janiero woke up to the sounds of seven helicopters, 24 armoured vehicles and at least 3000 police officers in the early hours of a Sunday morning in November as Brazilian authorities started clearing the city of drug lords in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics being held in the city. Police Special Operations Unit (BOPE) carried out the removal of approximately 10,000 people from the hillside slum home to some of the city’s poorest inhabitants but situated next to one of the country’s most luxurious beach resorts. The slum, Rio’s largest, is said to be its largest drug provider and the aim of the operation was to root out drug gangs as part of the wider operation that has already hunted down 18 drug gangs.

Chile Protests: Much like in the rest of the world, for Chile 2011 was a year of protest. The biggest movement of the year as been the ongoing Education Protest with its supposed leader, Camilla Vallejo, becoming an internationally lauded figure in a way a British student protester could only dream of. There has been little investment in public education since the fall of the Pinochet dictatorship in the early nineties, although university student numbers have swelled, private universities take most students. Due to public support for the movement, 72 to 81 per cent of Chileans polled in August said they supported their demands down to a still impressive two-thirds in November contrasted with failing approval ratings for President Sebastián Piñera down to 26-30 per cent, the government has been forced to make concessions by sacking their Education Minister (twice) and passing a bill that would end ‘for-profit’ education. So far one protester has been killed in violent clashes with hundreds of students being injured or arrested. The movement has inspired another, more peaceful protests from other disenfranchised groups in Chilean society.

Published by

Caroline Mortimer @CJMortimer

Freelance journalist.

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