Lula and Dilma Supporters Respond to Anti-Government Protests

Supporters of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva release colored smoke in front of his home in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, March 13, 2016.

Supporters of Brazil’s left-wing Workers’ Party leaders responded to anti-government protests by organizing cultural activities.

Supporters of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro Sunday to protest earlier demonstrations against the two politicians.

Sunday morning, Brazil’s opposition and right-wing protesters marched in the streets to demonstrate against the two leaders from the left-wing Workers Party, or PT.

Lula and President Rousseff have both been entangled in a corruption scandal involving the state owned oil company Petrobras, what critics say is a part of a smear campaign aimed to discredit the leftist leaders.

Protesters are demanding Rousseff’s resignation while opposition members have been threatening her with impeachment. However, the president is not being investigated in the corruption scandal.

Following Sunday morning’s anti-government protest, supporters responded by organizing major demonstrations in the form of cultural activities.

Event organizers say they are defending democracy in Brazil, and have denounced the anti-government campaign the government being orchestrated by the media, corporations and right-wing sectors.

In regards to the protests Sunday morning, President Rousseff responded by welcoming the fact that Brazilians are free to demonstrate peacefully and express what they think.

“We believe that all people have the right to go outside, but now no one has the right to create violence. I lived in a time when if you protested you went prisoner, if you disagreed you were in jail. Not now. We live in a time when people can protest and express what they think, and that’s something we have to preserve,” she said.

Supporters say that as long as the threats against Rousseff and Lula persist, they will continue their movement of support, including a mass demonstration called for March 18, organized by the national labor union.

What You Need to Know About Brazil’s Petrobras Scandal

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was taken in for questioning last week for his alleged connection to the Lava Jato scandal involving the country’s state oil company, Petrobras.

The Petrobras scandal has long been a thorn in Brazil’s side. Over the past two years, over 100 people have been arrested for their alleged involvement, including senators and top executives at Petrobras. President Dilma Rousseff has also been implicated in the scandal by mainstream media and is facing threats of impeachment, even though she is not formally being investigated.

But what is this scandal plaguing so many of Brazil’s top politicians? What is Lava Jato?

It is an investigation that uncovered a web of corruption in Brazil’s Petrobras, as well as a host of financial and political problems. It was discovered in 2014, but experts estimate that criminal activities were being developed for ten years. Lava Jato, Portugese for car wash, is one of Brazil’s largest corruption investigations.

The scheme consisted of companies bribing senior Petrobras officials and other public offices to get “overbilled” contracts with the state oil company. Dozens of senior executives of construction companies have already been detained for their alleged involvement in the scandal between 2004 and 2012. The diverted money amounts to some US$8 billion.

When Did The Case Become Public?

The case became public when investigators started to question the movement of billions of Brazilian reais abroad, and throughout the country, through seemingly legitimate businesses. One of these early schemes used car wash establishments for the money laundering operations. This is where the name Lava Jato was born.

Experts handling the case also found the connections of these money laundering schemes with the state owned oil company Petrobras. What is Rousseff’s Connection to the Scandal? Rousseff is not under investigating for any involvement in the scandal, but she was the chairwoman of Petrobras when many of the alleged kickback schemes were hatched.

Due to this connection, many have tried to link her to the corruption scheme, including Brazil’s media giant Grupo Globo which is using the allegations to openly call for Dilma’s impeachment – a call backed by prominent opposition lawmakers.

Critics say the allegations are nothing more than an attempt to discredit Rousseff’s administration, adding that the media has long played a role in trying to portray the ruling PT party as bureaucratic and corrupt, and that it has inefficiently managed the state resources.

What is Lula’s Connection to the Scandal?

Former president Lula da Silva was arrested on Friday and taken in for questioning over the Petrobras scandal. However, Lula claims the arrest was arbitrary and illegal because he had never refused to testify and has already been absolved by the Brazilian courts of all corruption allegations. Lula’s arrest happened just after he announced that he would consider running for president in the next elections.

Lula’s return to the presidency is seen as one of the only ways the left-wing Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) could stay in power since current President Dilma Rousseff has seen public support plummet – mainly for her alleged connection to the Petrobras scandal and Brazil’s weakening economy.

But critics say both Rousseff and Lula are facing a smear campaign by opposition parties, seeking to make it look as though the ruling PT party has lost control.

Following the announcement that he could potentially run again for president – what would be a major blow to the country’s right-wing opposition given his popularity – he was arrested for allegedly orchestrating a plot to buy off a witness in the Petrobras scandal and was later detained on suspicion that he had directly benefited from the scandal. In a separate case, Sao Paulo prosecutors are seeking Lula’s arrest for other money laundering charges and making false declarations.

If a judge decides to send him to trial, Lula could face up to 13 years in prison, essentially barring him from the next presidential election. Brazilian Minister of Labor and Social Health Miguel Rossetto said Lula’s arrest is “a clear attack on what Lula represents as a politician and social leader,” adding that he has always been open and willing to cooperate with authorities.


Thousands of Bikers Demonstrate for Peace in #Guatemala

Each year, thousands of leather-clad bikers take off on an annual pilgrimage to pay homage to the Black Christ of Esquipulas.

Some 50,000 motorcyclists rumbled through the streets of Guatemala City this weekend as part of their annual two day pilgrimage to the border, while this year they are making a special plea for peace in Guatemala.

The majority of the bikers, also known as the Caravana del Zorro (the Caravan of Foxes), took off from Guatemala City’s center Saturday and traveled to the town of Esquipulas near the borders of Honduras and El Salvador. Scores of others met up with the caravan along the way.

The 225 kilometer journey is part of an annual pilgrimage by the bikers to visit the Black Christ of Esquipulas, a particular image of Jesus crucified on the cross that is revered by thousands of Christians in Central America.

This year, the caravan will make a special request to the spiritual figure for peace in Guatemala – one of the most violent regions of the world, and where almost 53 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to Guatemala’s Ministry of Social Development.

“We will ask for peace, progress and employment [for Guatemala] to the Lord of Esquipulas,” said Edy Villa de Leon, also known as the ‘Grand Zorro,’ before heading off Saturday morning. Villa de Leon is also the son of the founder of the annual caravan tradition, which began 55 years ago.

Guatemalan’s President Jimmy Morales also spoke before the caravan departed from Guatemala City, saying the thousands of motorcyclists showed that “when there is national unity, you can do amazing things.”

The Caravana del Zorro pilgrimage takes place every year on the first weekend of February. The bikers come from all over the Americas, including Central America, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and even the United States, according to local media.

#CostaRica sets date for 2nd airlift of stranded #Cubans

Costa Rica has set a Feb. 4 date for a second airlift of Cuban migrants who have been stranded for over two months at the country’s northern border with Nicaragua, officials said Monday.

Costa Rica’s immigration agency announced the next flight will ferry 184 Cubans to El Salvador, from where they will continue by land north toward the United States. Costa Rican authorities were contacting those on the list to let them know what documents they will need to present.

The migrants are responsible for the cost of the air bridge: $555 per adult, plus $75 total for Salvadoran and Guatemalan visas. The travel cost is $350 for children between 2 and 12 years old, and $150 for those under the age of 2.

After the flight is filled up, “we will immediately begin to prepare the next one,” immigration agency director Kathya Rodriguez said.

Thousands of Cuban migrants have been stuck in Costa Rica since Nicaragua closed its southern border to them Nov. 14.

The Cubans say their goal is to reach the United States, where favorable immigration policies allow them to remain and apply for residency.

The U.S. rules irk Havana, which says they foment brain drain and encourage islanders to attempt risky migration routes. Backers of the policies say they offer refuge to people fleeing Cuba’s communist system.

The first airlift took place Jan. 12 from Costa Rica to El Salvador, leapfrogging Nicaragua. The migrants then traveled by bus through Guatemala and into southern Mexico, where authorities issued them 20-day transit visas to reach the United States.

Barack Obama Praises Cuba Role in Colombian Peace Talks

Credits: AP

US President Barack Obama thanked the Cuban government for hosting the peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces guerrillas

Obama made his statements to Bogotá’s El Tiempo newspaper in which he said that the dialog has advanced more during the reestablishment of relations between Washington and Havana, PL news agency reported.
In his statements the US president acknowledged what he described as the valiant decision of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to go to the bargaining table.

Obama said that nobody thought it would be an easy task, since it is more difficult to end wars than to start them. This demands commitment and implies taking risks, he noted.

The US President said that his country supports the implementation of the Colombian accord on the victims of the conflict, justice and restitution of the lands.

#Pope Francis will Meet Ayotzinapa 43 Parents in his #Mexico’s Apostolic visit

Police stand in front of pictures of the 43 students missing from Ayotzinapa school as their relatives take part in a meeting with Mexico

The pope will meet with parents campaigning against violence in Mexico.
Pope Francis will meet with parents of a group of 43 missing students in February, according to an announcement Monday.

The head of Mexico’s conference of Bishops Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega said the Pope is eager to meet with victims of violence in Mexico when he visits the country next month, including the families of the Ayotzinapa 43, according to La Jornada.

Many of the families are currently involved in a nationwide campaign against violence.

The announcement of the Pope’s plans to meet the families came just days after revelations Mexican government officials may have intentionally withheld evidence related to the Ayotzinapa 43 case.

Family members and supporters of the 43 disappeared students have repeatedly called for justice and a thorough and independent investigation into the case, rejecting the official government story that the students were burned in a garbage dump near Cocula, Guerrero.

Independent experts provided new evidence last month to prove that the students were not burned in the Cocula garbage dump as federal investigators had claimed.

The evidence was expected to serve as a basis to open up new lines of investigation in other areas to identify the whereabouts of the remains of the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students.



Mass Funeral for Victims in #Guatemala Massacre

The government refused to help with the burial of 49 of the victims of the 1982 massacre.
Guatemalans held a funeral march Saturday for 49 victims of a massacre committed by the Guatemalan army 33 years ago, teleSUR correspondent Santiago Boton reports.

Survivors of the massacre, commited under the dictatorship of Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, carried coffins with the remains along a main road of a remote community in Huehuetenango state.

”This is where the massacre was, this is where they burnt all the homes, where they shot everyone,” Mateo de Mateo Pedro, of the victims’ committee, told teleSUR, standing in an area that is now dirt paths and lush green forrest.

Another survivor remembered when some 300 soldiers barged into the community on July 27, 1982, and he saw them “acting like devils who had escaped from hell.”

“I saw with my own eyes, then a nine-year-old child, the army massacring children, accusing them of being guerillas, cutting off their head and sucking their blood in order to create psychological panic within the community. They raped women infront of their husbands, as punishment, as psychological torture. In a field near here, they played ball with the heads of the dead,” the protected witness, who’s identity can’t be revealed, stated.

In total, 74 people were killed that day and the next in the community, with scientific studies carried out by the Forensic Anthropological Foundation supporting survivors’ testimonies.

“We’ve recovered (the remains of) at least 49 individuals, but the problem is that we don’t have complete bones … we have a piece of skull, a piece of a femur, a bit of rib, and so on,” explained Jose Suasnavar, from the foundation.

IN DEPTH: New Guatemalan President, Old Problems

Although the remains were exhumed in 2009, it has taken this long to carry out a burial, according to the families, because the Guatemalan government has refused to fulfill its responsibility to give the victims dignity. Instead, the International Red Cross has helped the families out.

The Guatemalan civil war begun in 1960 and lasted 36 years. The government waged war on various leftist groups that were mainly supported by Mayan indigenous people and by campesinos.

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#Haiti Cancels Elections Indefinitely

Protesters vowed to derail presidential runoff during a demonstration against the electoral process in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 18, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Electoral authorities from the island nation said there is too much violence in the country to hold elections.

The Provisional Electoral Council of Haiti has once again canceled the presidential runoff elections that were scheduled for Sunday, EFE reported.

A spokesperson for the CEP said the decision to cancel the elections was based on security reasons.

Haiti, one poorest countries in the world, is facing political unrest due to massive accusations of electoral fraud during the first round in October.

The second round of elections was scheduled to take place in December, but according to Financial Times, they were postponed twice, which would make Sunday’s cancellation the second time the vote has been called off.

The CEP’s president, Pierre-Louis Opont held a news conference saying “there is too much violence throughout the country,” but failed to say when the elections would finally take place.

Opont also failed to say whether an interim government would take office after Feb. 7, when Martelly is by law required to step down from office.

The president is scheduled to address the nation later this Friday.

The runoff, when it takes place, will be between Jovenel Moise, a banana exporter, and Jude Celestin, a centrist Swiss-trained engineer.

Celestin was nominated by the opposition candidate who under local and international pressure was removed from the 2011 presidential vote in favor of current President Michel Martelly, who by law was barred from running for reelection.

Most civilian sectors of Haitian society also criticized the electoral process, including the Catholic and Protestant Churches, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Opposition sectors have pushed for a transitional government until the recommendation can be implemented.

Celestin has complained of fraud and electoral rigging, and was quoted as saying that the first round was “an electoral coup,” and that Sunday’s vote would have not been “an election, but a selection because there is only one candidate.”

Haiti’s independent electoral commission said there were “important irregularities” in the first round of voting.

In Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince protesters took to the streets this week to call for the postponement of the vote.

The demonstrations became violent as protesters burnt cars, barricaded roads and hurled rocks. Financial Times reported that electoral offices were also attacked by protesters in the northern city of Cap-Haitien.


10 Years of #EvoMorales


President Evo Morales was sworn-in 10 years ago.

Since Bolivian President Evo Morales was first elected in 2005, his administration has secured dominance over the country’s political landscape, despite often relentless attacks from the right wing and the media.

During his first term, Morales faced fierce opposition from the country’s wealthy population located in the departments of Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz, and Tarija, where elites opposed the approval of a new constitution. Political tensions erupted into violence in September 2008, but have quieted since then.

President Morales, the country’s longest serving leader, currently maintains approval ratings of around 66 percent, according to a November survey carried out by polling agency Ipsos.

Historically one of South America’s most unstable countries, Bolivia has enjoyed economic growth and political calm under Morales, the country’s first indigenous leader. Its economy has also tripled in size.


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