June 26, 2019  

Two new flags will be flying high at the Olympic Games in Rio.

For the first time, South Sudan and Kosovo have been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Kosovo, which was a province of the former Yugoslavia, will have 8 athletes competing; and a good shot for a medal in women's judo: Majlinda Kelmendi is considered a favorite. She's ranked first in the world in her weight class.

(South Sudan's James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel & coach Joe Domongole, © AFP) South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, will have three runners competing in the country's first Olympic Games.

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus


(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)



Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler



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Entries in Amazon (4)


Brazil tries to defuse conflicts with Indigenous people over land (REPORT) 

(VIDEO:  This is a visit to the Kaingang people in the Paraná state. By rcazangi, 12/1/12)

(HN, 6/5/13) - Lawmakers from the Brazilian farm state of Mato Grosso do Sul asked President Dilma Rousseff's government to send troops to end land invasions by indigenous people claiming their ancestral territory.

Justice Minister Jose Cardozo said a request for troops would have to come from the state governor and announced he will meet with the indigenous people on Thursday in a bid to reach a settlement. The government is seeking to defuse mounting conflicts with indigenous tribes over farm land and hydroelectric dams in the Amazon.

(PHOTO: Brazil Justice Minister, Jose Cardozo/BrazilPortal) troops MERCOPRESSAir Force planes flew 144 Munduruku Indians to Brasilia for talks to end a week-long occupation of the controversial Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River, a huge project aimed at feeding Brazil's fast-growing demand for electricity.

Tensions escalated last week on a farm in Mato Grosso do Sul that was invaded last week for a second time by Terena Indians angered by the fatal shooting of one of their tribe's members.

"We must avoid radicalizing a situation that goes back a long way in Brazilian history. We're not going to put out the flames by throwing alcohol on the bonfire," Cardozo told reporters after meeting the lawmakers.

In Rio Grande do Sul state some 2,000 Kaingang and Guarani Indians were blocking roads to protest the government's decision to put on hold the granting of ancestral lands to indigenous communities, a concession to Brazil's powerful farm lobby.

"The government has abandoned us. Dilma isn't supporting indigenous peoples," Indian chief Deoclides de Paula said by telephone from a blocked highway.

(PHOTO: Panoramic view of Curitiba, Brazil/Wikipedia)In Curitiba, the Parana state capital, 30 Kaingang Indians invaded the offices of the ruling Workers' Party on Monday and only agreed to leave 10 hours later when they were promised a meeting with Rousseff's chief of staff, Gleisi Hoffmann.

Hoffmann, who will run for governor of Parana next year, said May 8 the role of the government's Indian affairs office, Funai, in land decisions would be restricted.

Cardozo, however, stressed on Tuesday that Funai will not be gutted and would continue to play a central role as the main institution that defends Indian rights, though others will be brought in to improve the process of deciding ancestral lands.

(PHOTO: Munduruku Indians, many of who are flying for the 1st time, board a Brazilian Air Force plane to fly to Brasilia for talks with the government, in Altamira June 4, 2013/Lunae ParrachoThe policy change has fueled protests across Brazil and the government is scrambling to avert more violence after a 35-year-old Indian man was shot as police evicted 200 Terena from the disputed cattle ranch of a former congressman.

Angry Terena Indians armed with sticks, bows and arrows reoccupied the property on Friday and set fire to fields.

Late on Monday, a local judge extended for 36 hours the eviction order, allowing more time for a peaceful resolution.

Brazil's indigenous land policy, established in the country's constitution, is considered one of the most progressive in the world, with about 13 percent of the huge South American nation's territory already set aside for Indians.

Farmers say Funai is trying to create reservations on land that has belonged to European-descended settlers for 150 years.

In another move to ease tensions with the indigenous population, one of Rousseff's ministers, Gilberto Carvalho, met in Brasilia with Munduruku Indians, who are from the Tapajos, the only major river in the Amazon basin with no dams. They want the government to shelve plans to build a dozen dams there.

Last week they paralyzed work at one of three building sites at Belo Monte, slated to become the world's third-largest dam capable of producing 11,233 megawatts of electricity, equivalent to about 10 percent of Brazil's current generating capacity.

(PHOTO: CGI rendition of the main dam, Belo Monte/Wikipedia)Belo Monte, a pet project of Rousseff that was the target of international criticism by environmental groups, has become a stage for Indians from other parts of the Amazon.

"We went to see for ourselves what a hydroelectric dam is and we saw that it has nothing good in store for us," a Munduruku leader told Carvalho, adding that promised development had not benefited the Indians of the Xingu. "We saw Indians being humiliated and we do not want that for our region."

 - This article originally appeared in the Buenos Aires Herald.


Bolivia's Children Face Harsh Work in Young Lives (REPORT) 

(Video: Bolivia children work long days in mines/UNICEF)

(8/21/21) - "I have worked as long as I can remember," says Felix Mamani Mayta, a 14-year-old whose life story illustrates an everyday reality for 850,000 children and adolescents in Bolivia.

Felix, who is still in school, began with small jobs in retail and later as a bicycle delivery boy for his family's business, a combination ice cream shop and meat and poultry distributor.

Witty and full of energy, Felix is a board member of the Union of Boys and Girl Workers of Bolivia, an advocacy group that lobbies Congress and municipal councils for legal protections for children.

The group lobbies "so that working girls and boys have a place in society, so that all children and adolescents are taken into account, so that we are listened to as children," he told AFP.

(PHOTO: El Alto, Bolivia/Wikipedia) Franz Rios Apaza is 13 years old and sells cigarettes in the streets of El Alto, a city bordering La Paz and one of the poorest in the country.

"I began working when I was seven," he said. He worked as a bus driver's assistant, and shined shoes, and any other work he could find.

"I don't have a father, only a mother, and we are three brothers," he said. "I am in school. I go in at seven in the evening and get out at 10 at night, and from there I go sell cigarettes until two or three in the morning."

"I earn 50 bolivianos (about seven dollars) on Fridays and Saturday, when I make more money."

Child labor "is a problem of poverty, not only in Bolivia, but in developing countries," said UNICEF's representative in La Paz, Marco Luigi Corsi, adding that there are no easy solutions.

The United Nations Children's Fund estimates that 850,000 children between the ages of five and 17 in Bolivia work and believes that it puts them at physical and psychological risk.

UNICEF, the Bolivian government and non-governmental organizations have identified 23 categories of child labor that all agree are dangerous.

They include work harvesting sugar cane and chestnuts in the lowlands and the Amazon basin, and mining in the Andean highlands.

In a country of 10 million people "there are about 300,000 who are dedicated full time to some form of child labor and between 40 and 60 percent in Bolivia are likely involved in the worst forms of child labor," says UNICEF spokesman Wolfgang Friedl.

"Bolivia is in a worrying situation, but there is recognition among legislators and government officials that the international laws and conventions to eradicate child labor must be fulfilled," he said.

(PHOTO: Jose Gonzales, 14, pushes a wheelbarrow with silver ore along a shaft in a mine in Bolivia in 2010/AFP)Marco de Gaetano, coordinator of an NGO called El Trabajo de Crecer, which operates in Bolivia and Peru, says the goal is to end all forms of exploitation of minors.

"We are betting on the dignity of labor and the elimination of the worst forms of labor," he said.

Despite this, many child workers in Bolivia, especially those involved in commerce, believe they have been strengthened by their experience.

"Most people think that work is something bad, but on the contrary, for us it was a source of experience," said Felix, who said that as a bus driver's assistant he needed to know fractions to make change.

Tania Nava, head of the local municipality's child welfare office, is skeptical of the benefits. "There is an unresolved debate over whether children should work or not," she said.

"Families, for reasons of poverty, are obliged to have all their members work," she said. However there is unanimous agreement that children deserve access to health, education, dignity and to be protected against exploitation and the worst forms of child labor.

-- This article first appeared on France 24.


Rethinking the Amazon (REPORT/BLOG)

By Gabriel Elizondo

The full page spread in Rio daily O Globo on Wednesday was headlined with the screamer: “More Blood in the Forest.”

It was in relation to the latest revelation that another Amazon activist was killed this week, brining the number to six killed in a little over a month.

The latest murder made big news not only inside Brazil, but also sparked a new round of coverage of the Amazon kilings in the global press like herehere, and here.

But what exactly is going on? New revelations seem to indicate that perhaps the latest activist killed was, well, not as much of an activist as first thought. Maybe all these killings are getting a little complicated, and not as simple to deconstruct in one headline.

Now is a good time to take a step back and look at the facts, and answer some questions still lingering.

First, a recap of the killings and what we know on each:

Date: May 24

Names: Jose Claudio Ribeiro and his wife, Maria do Espirito Santo.

Location: Nova Ipixuna, in Pará state.

Sumamry: The husband and wife were gunned down, execution style, while on a motorbike on a dirt road while leaving the remote Amazon reserve where they lived. (My impressions from his funeral here, videohere). Both were outspoken anti-logging activists who made well-documented calls about the death threats against them. Of all the recent killings, Jose Claudio Ribeiro was the most high profile and well-known person. Local police have put out sketches of two men they think were the gunmen. No arrests have been made. 

Date: May 27

Name: Adelino Ramos

Location: Vista Alegre do Abunã, in Rondonia state.  

Sumamry: Ramos, a longtime activist in the landless workers movement, was ambushed, shot several times and died - all in front of his wife and young kids, who were not injured.

At the time of his killing it was 10 am and he was taking produce to the local farmers market to sell. In 1996 Ramos survived one of the Amazon’s most famous and deadly incidents when police killed 10 land rights activists in an encampment they occupied.

At the time of his killing last month, he was leader of a small farmers movement that would occasionally denounce illegal logging activities. He had received death threats, and had filed reports with police. Two days after the killing, local police arrested a 38-year-old man they suspect had killed Ramos. The motives are still not public. 

Date: May 28

Name: Eremilton dos Santos

Location: Nova Ipixuna, in Pará state

Summary: The 25 -ear-old subsistence farmer lived on the same Amazon protected reserve as Jose Claudio Ribeiro and his wife Maria, and was killed less than 10km from where they were shot. Dos Santos reportedly was on his motorbike going to buy fish when he was apparently ambushed and killed on a dirt road.

One theory is that he was a witness to people on motorbikes who killed Ribeiro and his wife, and was killed to be silenced. Dos Santos was likely going to give testimony to police on what he knew of the Ribeiro killing. But local police say, while they are investigating all hypothesis, it would be slightly odd Santos would be singled out when many other people were going to give testimony as well in the Ribeiro case.

They are also looking at other angles to see if dos Santos was involved in criminality unrelated to illegal logging that would have made him a target. There are no known indications he received death threats and he did not appear to be a vocal anti-logging activist.  Nobody has been arrested for his killing.

Date: June 1

Name: Joao Vieira dos Santos

Location: Eldorado do Carajás in Pará state

Summary: The small-scale farmer lived on an Amazon settlement in a highly deforested area and apparently was shot execution style, initially leading many to the instant conclusion he was another killed for his anti-logging activism work. But later police said dos Santos was a fugitive from a neighbouring state and using a false name.

The local investigator says it’s unlikely he was killed because of land conflict or activism work. Nobody has been arrested for his killing. 

Date: June 9 (death confirmed on June 14)

Name: Obede Loyola Souza

Location: Pacajá in Pará state

Summary: The 31-year-old was killed with a bullet though the head less than a kilometre away from his home in the Amazon reserve where he lived and cultivated a small plot of land. Initially his killing was reported as another environmentalist killed, but late Wednesday a representative from a local NGO said Souza was not an "environmental activist" and his name was not on a list of those receiving death threats. There are conflicting reports. Police are still investigating. No arrests have been made.

Some of the recent Brazilian press coverage of the Amazon murders. Photo: Gabriel Elizondo/Al Jazeera.

Four questions

Are all the people being killed ‘environmental activists’? Depends how you define "environmental activist". A person sitting in an office in London or Los Angeles might view an environmental activist as one who discreetly goes on a bridge to unfurl a huge banner protesting against jungle deforestation before getting forcefully arrested by police. Brazil has those types. But the people being killed recently here are generally not those types of activists, if they’re even "activists" at all.

Even in Brazil there are no easy definitions, as words used to describe those killed range from trabalhador rural (rural worker), lavrador (farmhand) to ambientalista (environmentalist). Jose Claudio Ribeiro was a clear environmentalist/activist. But some of the others killed, such as Souza, might have simply been seen as an environmentalists by the very nature of living on a protected reserve.

Based on my experience, most of the people who live on Amazon reserves or are squatters on Amazon land do so not out of pure activism, in the traditional sense of the word, but out of their own self interest, well being, and survival.   

Why are all these killings happening now? No clear answer to this, but I’ll start with another [cynical] question: Maybe it’s been going on all along, but nobody was paying attention until now? Para state is one of the most violent in all of Brazil, with 40 murders per 100,000 residents, almost four times more than Sao Paulo state, and almost 25% more than famously violent Rio de Janeiro state. In the vast and remote area that makes up Para, killings are not uncommon in rural areas.

Rarely are they covered in Brazil’s mainstream press; it would be impossible to do so, just like anywhere else. But after the death of Jose Claudio and his wife Maria, there has been more urgency and willingness to cover subsequent killings as part of a broader storyline of risks 'activists' face. So maybe in between high profile Amazon killings like that of Dorothy Stang and Jose Claudio Ribeiro, there are a bunch more nobody ever hears about - making it all the more disturbing.

But aside from this, in Para state, there is another factor as well on perhaps why there seem to be more killings: Diminishing Amazon resources. Para is - by far - the most heavily deforested of Brazil’s Amazon states. Fly over the eastern half of the state at low altitude - like I have over a dozen times - and look out the window and you would never know you're in the Amazon because there are few thick swaths of forest can be seen.

Why? Because it was all cut years ago. Therefore, the little Amazon left in Para has more value both to those who want to protect it, and those who don’t. Bottom line: More conflict.

A map from Greenpeace; In this photo showing part of Para state in Brazilian Amazon. The parts in red indicates areas that have been deforested. The finger pointing to the general area where the most recent Amazon killings took place. Photo: Gabriel Elizondo/Al Jazeera.

Why can’t police stop it? Three words: It’s not easy. The Amazon state of Para alone - where most of these murders have taken place - is almost exactly 5 times larger than all of England. Para is made up of basically the capital city of Belem [1.3 million people], a few cities in the 100,000-400,000 population range, and then a whole lot of nothing. Most residents of the state are poor and 25% are ‘functionally illiterate,’ according to the government’s own statistics.

The state has vast areas, and few police, usually poorly paid. Cell service is almost non-existent in many of the rural areas where land conflict is the most deadly. So, frankly, it’s easy to get away with murder. The federal government knows this. It’s no state secret that the local cops can’t handle it alone, and that is why Pres. Dilma Rousseff is sending in federal agents, and not the first time - click here for 2008 video report from Para.

Here's one more example: In the most recent murder, the name of the victim was first reported as Obede Loyla Souza and repeated in most of the press coverage. But his name actually is Obede Loyola Souza. Minor point, I know. But it shows how in these remote areas, where information is often passed word-of-mouth, even basic things can be misconstrued. How can we expect the police to solve the murder of a man whose name we can't even get right?   

Is it only about forest? Hardly, because there is hardly any forest left in some of Para state. It’s a conflict over land. Wood only makes up 4% of the state exports, and cattle (another cause of deforestation) only 5% of state exports.

The combination of iron ore, aluminums, and minerals made up 78% of Para’s $8.3 billion in exports in 2009. This is an industrial state, where huge mining and mineral companies with headquarters in places like Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Beijing, make their profits.

Underneath the multinationals are literally thousands of medium sized farmers, ranchers, loggers, mining interests, fighting for what’s left: That 9% of the $8.3 billion dollar annual pie still is a lot of money in a place with low public security and diminishing Amazon resources.

Follow Gabriel Elizondo on Twitter @elizondogabriel

Originally published by Al Jazeera on June 16, 2011 under Creative Commons Licensing 



The Amazon is Crying (REPORT)

by Gabriel Elizondo

Photo: Jose Claudio Ribeiro's hands. Maria Elena Romero/Al Jazeera.The family home of Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva is a simple, modest 3 bedroom brick building on a dusty side road in Maraba Brazil.

It is fitting for a humble man who told anybody who asked that he preferred to be called simply ‘Ze.’ If you wanted to be formal, ‘Ze Claudio,’ would due.

The house has a small kitchen and a cozy and peaceful backyard with green shrubs providing shade from the sauna-like heat common in this region of Brazil.

Ribeiro did not live here much. He preferred his even simpler home in the Amazon sustainable reserve he ran with his wife, Maria. It is about 40 kilometers from here.

But it’s at his family house, here in Maraba on Wednesday, where I first met Ze and Maria in the cramped living room. Unfortunately, both were in coffins - dead, after being gunned down this week in what police are calling a cold blooded murder likely ordered by Ze's enemies. And Ze had many.

But this was a day of his friends and family.

I was at the house for almost 10 hours on Wednesday. (My video report here)

A steady stream of friends, family, neighbors and other people associated with Ze came by to pass their respects. Many stayed a while. Some all day, sitting on plastic chairs in front of the house. Some stare off to nowhere. What was going through their mind only they know.

It was mostly quiet. There was some crying at times. Lots of hugging. Some just stared at the bodies in the caskets in apparent disbelief. There was no hysterical screaming. These people are Ze’s friends, and they are not a naïve bunch. Most had sunken eyes, weathered skin from years under the sun, and calloused hands from hard work. None wore suit and ties. These we Ze’s people.

Ze loved the forest, so much he used to call the trees his brothers and sisters. He was sickened, he told friends, when 80% of the native forest near his reserve was cut down to 20% in recent years as illegal loggers moved in. Lots of people here feel this way. But few dare do what Ze did. He took pictures on an old digital camera. He filed reports at police stations. He named names.

A relative told me usually nothing came of his denouncements. But it still infuriated powerful people in a region known in Brazil as terra sem lei (land without laws). 

So Ze was threatened. He once woke up to spray paint on his house. Another time he came home to find his dog mysteriously dead.

Ze would get anonymous phone calls; “You better shut up, or else.” Then the person hung up.

But Ze didn’t. And wouldn’t. Because, he told friends, he couldn’t. He was the ‘voice of the forest.’

And for that, he famously told an audience at an environmental conference just six months ago, he could get a bullet in his head any day.

On Wednesday, a middle aged man walked up to me outside Ze’s house and without me asking told me: “Ze always said a bullet would get him someday. I never thought that day would actually arrive. Sad.”  He then sort of shuffled off, without saying anything more.

Photo: People pay their last respect to Jose Claudio Ribeiro and his wife, Maria. Maria Elena Romero/Al Jazeera.Back inside the living room, the two coffins are pushed together. A sign reads: Injustice in the Amazon.

A net is placed over each of their covered bodies, to keep flies off their face.

Only the smallest portions of their faces are exposed. Both Ze and Maria had one of their ears cut off by the gunmen, a sign, police tell me, it was a murder for hire and the gunmen needed proof they killed the intended targets.

One young kid outside told me this: “Five thousand reals. That is the going rate here for killing two environmentalists like Ze and Maria. This was a big one, because both were killed.” Five thousand reals is about $3,000, more or less.

Ze’s 73 year old mother is devastated over his death; too upset to speak.

The Amazon reserve where Ze lived has mostly been abandoned since his death. Many people too scared to go back.

Ze’s sister, Claudelice da Silva, was one of the first to arrive at the remote dirt road where they were gunned down.

“To see my brother thrown on the dirt, full of bullet holes – it was the worst thing you could see in your life. Me and my family are deeply upset. But now we have more thirst for justice.”

I ask her: “Is the fact Ze is dead mean the bad guys have won?”

“No,” she says flatly without hesitation. “This fight continues.”

Photo: Jose Claudio Ribeiro sister, pictured, was one of the first to arrive on scene of his killing. Maria Elena Romero/Al JazeeraAt just about this moment, a little girl not too far from me hunches over, covers her face with her hands and starts weeping uncontrollably. “Who is that?” I ask. “That is my daughter,” Claudelice says. “Her father is not around anymore, so she considered my brother to be her dad. She is taking it hard.” 

About a dozen local environmental activists (‘Ze’s students’ a woman tells me) gather in a circle in the backyard and talk where to go from here. One woman says something to the effect of “fight” and “struggle” and “continue.” But there are no easy answers.  

As the late afternoon turned to evening on Wednesday, at one point well over 200 people are crowding the block in front of Ze’s house. Someone from the church brings the pews out to the street so people have a place to sit.

Many are watching a projection screen set up in the street playing videos and showing a slideshow of pictures of Ze and Maria.

At one point, someone sets up a radio on the front porch area to play an audio recording of one of Ze’s talks. There is no video. No matter, they gather around, hanging on every word. Lost on many of them is that Ze’s body is literally only a few feet away.

Photo: Outside the Jose Claudio Ribeiro family home the sign says 'the forest is crying.' Maria Elena Romero/Al Jazeera.Many people on Wednesday worried aloud that Ze and Maria’s death would go unpunished. On the phone, the state federal prosecutor told me there are over 200 unsolved murders in Para state alone involving ‘rural workers’ (usually code word for environmentalists, in these parts).

I heard 5 words a lot on Wednesday: Chico. Mendes. Dorothy. Stang. Impunity.  If you don’t know, Google it. You can draw your own conclusions.

I didn’t hear one person – not one – utter the words Codigal Florestal.

It is dark now. A couple busloads of MST land rights activists arrive to pay their respects. They, along with about 100 people still remaining, light candles on crosses and place them in the neighborhood. It’s almost 11 pm.

A hand made banner has been sitting out in front of the house all day.

It reads: The forest is crying.

Ze won’t be around anymore to wipe away the tears.

Originally published by Al Jazeera on May 26, 2011 under Creative Commons Licensing