jueves, 24 de agosto de 2017

Medellín to encourage residents to "pay" for transport by recycling

Medellín in Colombia will begin in September a pilot scheme allowing people to exchange plastic bottles, glass or cans for metro transport credit. The scheme will begin with one functioning machine in the Universidad station, which will recharge your Civic Card or transport card as it receives cans or bottles, El Colombiano reported on 24 August. "The machine has no transaction limits," Luis  Felipe Restrepo, a spokesman for Ciclo, the firm making the machines, told the daily. "That means in each transaction, the user can exchange anything from a glass or plastic bottle, or a can, and get 50 pesos in credit," he said. An underground ticket in Medellín typically costs around 2,000 pesos (just over 0.5 euros), which Restrepo said amounted to "more or less 40 bottles." He added the machine could receive PET bottles of up to three litres, and would pay more for bigger bottles. Bottles he said, must be "in shape" and "not too mangled... they do not have to be totally washed, but must be without their content."

viernes, 11 de agosto de 2017

Panama votes to restrict plastic bags

Parliament in Panama voted on 10 August to approve a bill to gradually restrict the distribution of disposable plastic bags nationwide, in a bid to curb pollution by what the parliamentary website termed "deadly plastic." Its specifics were to be clarified by ministries within weeks. The Legislative Assembly ruled that pursuant to Law 492, shops must replace plastic bags with "containers made of non-polluting material or reusable plastic," no later than 24 months after the law's promulgation. The Environment Ministry would have to define within 15 days after promulgation the "technical specifiations" of these new bags, while consumer protection authorities would in time set penalties for violating the law. One of the legislators who proposed the law, Samir Gozaine, was cited as saying that biodegradable bags could technically already be made, though the website did not give details. He separately described the vote as in line with a "global movement" against plastic pollution. Shortly before the vote, an industry representative, Alfredo Villaverde, told the broadcaster TVN that bags were not the problem, but people's conduct. "All these bags can be recycled," he said, and did not "reach rivers and the sea alone." Spain's EFE agency reported on 10 August that the law seeks to cut plastic consumption by 20 per cent, over an unspecified time.

sábado, 5 de agosto de 2017

Colombian daily reports fall in plastic sales after bag fee

La Nación, a newspaper from south-western Colombia, reported on 5 August a decline of around 25 per cent in sales of plastic bags in Colombia in the first six months of 2017, after the government decreed earlier people must pay for most types given out in shops. It qualified the move intended to curb pollution, as a problem for the sector, though it observed businesses were already looking at alternatives like providing paper bags. Colombians, it reported, must now pay 20 Colombian pesos (a negligible amount in euros) for a typical supermarket bag, a fee set to rise to 50 pesos by 2020. The government has banned the distribution of the thinnest bags. La Nación cited the head of Agroplásticos, which represents plastic and rubber interests, as saying that bag sales were in July 2017, 25 per cent below those of that month in 2016. But it also cited a manager of Induplast, a regional firm, Miriam Mosquera, as saying that the government seemed to have ignored the impact of restrictions on livelihoods, and "if the state really wants to contribute to the environment, it must promote other types of campaigns." The broadcaster Caracol similarly reported in late July a 27 per cent fall in use of plastic bags, apparently since March 2017. La Nación provided some figures on plastic consumption in Colombia, apparently taken from DANE, the state statistics office. Around 14 million plastic bags were sold in Colombia annually, and the fee was expected to reduce demand overall this year by 30 per cent, it stated.

miércoles, 4 de enero de 2017

Buenos Aires bans shops from handing out plastic bags

A ban on shops handing out disposable plastic bags went into effect in Buenos Aires on 1 January, after the lawcourts ruled it was legal and rejected a challenge by the sector. EFE news agency termed the move the culmination of a process that began in 2009, intended to curb, then eliminate massive plastic bag use. The city had already ruled that shops should charge for plastic bags, and the newspaper Clarín cited the retailers' association ASU on 2 January as observing that this had duly reduced demand by "70 per cent." Yet EFE cited the city's chief environmental officer Eduardo Macchiavelli as saying in an interview that the city still typically consumed 500 million bags a year, which could "circle the world seven times." Shops failing to comply with the new norm would be fined 100,000 pesos (almost 6,000 euros), and the city was helping people by gifting reusable cloth bags around the capital during January, the website Infobae reported. In spite of advance warning of the ban, on 2 January many shoppers reportedly had to buy bags as they arrived at supermarkets without them. At stores like Carrefour and Walmart, large, reusable bags were sold for 15 pesos (around 0.9 euros), while Día supermarkets were selling plastic bags for 1.5 pesos, as a product. This was strictly legal, a spokeswoman told Clarín, as the bags sold were thicker than the single-use bags the city had banned, and reusable.

lunes, 2 de enero de 2017

Puerto Rico, Colombia enforce plastic restrictions

Puerto Rico banned the distribution of disposable plastic bags in practically all shops as of 30 December 2016, while Colombia also began enforcing restrictions on bag use it had announced earlier, as the countries moved to curb the pollution caused by its massive, wasteful consumption. In Puerto Rico, the Law to Promote Reusable Bags and Regulate the Use of Plastic Bags would give shops six months to properly adapt and use up their bag stocks, and there were no restrictions on shoppers using bags they had at home, EFE reported. In this period shops would be notified but not fined, for failing to comply. EFE cited the country's trash collection agency ADS as estimating that Puerto Rico had imported 1,700 million plastic bags between 2012 and 2015. Colombia also began enforcing on 30 December its decree on restricting the general distribution of bags, which included a ban on the thinnest bags. This would affect thin bags measuring less than 30 by 30 cm, El Espectador reported.

sábado, 26 de noviembre de 2016

Cuba's Fidel Castro dies

Cuba's veteran revolutionary leader and former communist president, Fidel Castro Ruz, died in Havana late on 25 November, at the age of 90. His brother, President Raúl Castro, informed Cubans of the death speaking on state television, and the State Council declared nine days of mourning until 4 December, when Castro's remains would be buried in Santiago de Cuba. Cuba's socialist allies were among the first world leaders to praise one of the 20th century's iconic political figures, much like his former companion-in-arms Ernesto Che Guevara. Hundreds of Cuban exiles in Miami however, came onto the streets to celebrate the end of a man whose revolution forced many to leave their homes and flee, when possible, to the United States. President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela said Castro was heading for "immortality," and inevitably reminded Venezuelans of their own late leader, Hugo Chávez, for the "deep friendship" they had forged and for leading "two revolutions harassed by the empire," meaning the United States. Bolivia's Evo Morales told the Venezuelan broadcaster Telesur that the best homage was to keep the "unity between peoples" and "never forget" Castro's "anti-imperialist struggle." Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto called Castro a "friend of Mexico" and "promoter" of bilateral ties based on "respect and solidarity." As a young man, Castro took refuge in Mexico before returning to take power in 1959, and the two countries maintained good working ties whenever Peña Nieto's centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party governed Mexico. Profiles and obituaries of Castro appeared early in several news outlets on 26 November, including Spain's national broadcaster RTVE, Britain's The Guardian and Le Figaro.

martes, 8 de noviembre de 2016

Guatemalan officials note rise in homicides in October, slight overall decline in 2016

Guatemalan state coroners observed an increase in nationwide criminal killings in October 2016 compared to September, though all killings this year appeared to be slightly fewer than in 2015 and previous years. The coroner's office INACIF counted 424 "deaths through violence" in October, up from 367 in September, and a total of 3,913 homicides from 1 January to 31 October, the paper Prensa Libre reported on 8 November, citing an Inacif spokesman. Roberto Garza cited the next two months with most killings this year to be August with 417, and February with 358. He said 44 of all those murdered this year had been "dismembered in and around the capital," Ciudad Guatemala. Inacif's figures showed an apparent decline in killings this year, as the office counted 4,041 violent deaths between 1 January and 31 October 2015, with January 2015 cited as the most violent month, with 426 killings. Guatemala City has been on the list of the world's most murderous cities in 2015 and 2014, and lies in one of the world's most violent regions not at war. Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were to officially launch on 10 November a joint batallion to combat gang crime in the "northern triangle" of Central America, Honduras's El Heraldo reported on 8 November. The force would consist of agents from the three countries acting in their own territories, but in coordination and with shared information, El Salvador's Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez told media in San Salvador on 7 November.

domingo, 9 de octubre de 2016

El Salvador sees "near record" murder figures for 2016

Authorities in El Salvador counted 4,242 criminal deaths in the country from 1 January to 27 September, which they estimate could, with more than 5,000 estimated homicides this year, make 2016 one of the most violent of recent years. The website Elsalvador.com wrote on 6 October that while the government's "extraordinary" measures to curb gang activity had reduced killings somewhat since April 2016, at the going rate of "more than 300 a month," 2016 would likely become the second most violent year since 2004, after 2015. The country suffered 6,656 murders in 2015, while previous years with the most registered homicides were, according to coroners' figures cited in Elsalvador.com, 2009 with 4,382, 2011 with 4,371 and 2010 with 3,987. The years 2012 and 2013 had much lower homicide figures due to an ostensible ceasefire between the Mara gangs, but the website observed that their figures excluded all missing people who  may have been killed by the gangs. The website cited figures as showing more than 830 people as going missing in the first seven months of 2016.

viernes, 7 de octubre de 2016

Colombian president given Nobel peace prize

President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on 7 October, in spite of losing a national referendum on 2 October over his peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The prize, as a Nobel committee spokesman told Santos by phone, was for his "resolute efforts to bring the civil war in Colombia to a peaceful end," while a grateful Santos admitted to him the country was earlier "on the verge" of doing so. He later said in public that he "humbly" accepted the prize "in the name of all Colombians" and especially of "millions of victims" who had suffered through 50 years of civil conflict in Colombia. In the referendum his government had called to obtain public backing for the peace deal, over 60 per cent of eligible voters abstained and 50.2 per cent of those who did participate, voted against it. Media and observers analysed extensively why the public seemed dissatisfied, and reasons given included a vigorous No campaign led by the former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, and insufficient consultations with political parties and civil associations. According to the broadcaster Caracol, Santos and the FARC would discuss "adjustments and specifications" to the deal in response to the No victory. Yet Mr Uribe congratulated Santos on his prize, and wrote on Twitter that he hoped this would prompt him to change any agreement "harmful to peace" in Colombia. Bogotá's former leftist mayor Gustavo Petro also congratulated Santos, pointing out on Twitter that he was, after the novelist Gabriel García Márquez, the second Colombian to become a Nobel laureate.

jueves, 1 de septiembre de 2016

Pope denounces "sin" of worldwide pollution

Not for the first time since ascending the papal throne, Pope Francis denounced on 1 September the destruction of the natural world, calling it a sin against God and urging believers to reconsider their lives and "repent," for contributing to this destruction. He made his call in a message issued for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, presented at the Vatican by two cardinals. In it he stated people had "no right" to exploit the world with "selfishness and irresponsibility" and urged individuals to recognize their personal, daily contributions to climate change, Notimex agency reported. This, he stated, "is the first step on the path to conversion" or change. He urged Catholics to follow a tradition of collective, public repentance in the Church, peer into their consciences and repent for taking part, through the modern lifestyle, in "a system that has imposed the logic of profitting at all costs, regardless of social exclusion or the destruction of nature." The pontiff was to celebrate evening prayers for the occasion that day, to be held in Saint Peter's Square, La Nación reported.

Brazil sacks its president in parliamentary "coup"

Brazil's Senate voted on 31 August to dismiss the socialist President Dilma Rousseff, months after she was deprived of her powers while being investigated for suspected abuses of power. She has insisted throughout that she has done nothing wrong and the process against her was a political "coup" by conservative opponents. Sixty one senators voted to dismiss her against 20 voting in her favour; 54 votes sufficed for her removal, Argentina's Télam agency reported. She had been accused of "illegally using money from state banks" to finance public spending, according to the Reuters news agency. Rousseff was elected on 24 October 2014. Reuters observed in a report on 1 September that the impeachment process was not unrelated to a massive embezzlement scandal at the state oil firm Petrobras involving, apparently, quite a few senior officials and politicians from various parties, though not Rousseff. As its scope and ramifications became public through 2014, the scandal effectively provoked a showdown between conservatives and Mrs Rousseff's Workers Party, while millions of outraged Brazilians began protesting against the Workers Party. Immediately after her destitution, the acting president and former vice-president Michel Temer, was sworn in as President until 2018. Reuters separately reported on the diplomatic rift the vote was causing with Latin American leftist governments, which were perceiving the move as part of a wider effort to oust them all. Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador recalled their ambassadors for consultations, though Brazil's Foreign Minister José Serra defended the vote's legality and questioned the democratic credentials of Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro for chiding Brazil's institutions. Maduro described the vote on Twitter as a coup by a "group of oligarchs."

miércoles, 31 de agosto de 2016

Police arrest "hundreds" of gang members around El Salvador

Police in El Salvador arrested at least 80 suspected members of the country's Mara 13 or MS-13 gang sought for crimes including murder, criminal conspiracy and especially extortion, in raids carried out in several eastern districts on 30-31 August. In one operation in the department of La Unión, police held 52 presumed MS-13 members, 24 of whom were apparently already in jail, El Mundo reported on 31 August. Pursuing criminal activities especially extortion, from prison is common in Central America. Further operations in the localities of Yayantique and Conchagua, also in La Unión, led to the arrests of 29 suspected members of a related gang dubbed Coronados Locos Salvatruchos, sought for their roles in six murders and other planned or attempted killings, the daily reported. In a separate incident, police shot dead four suspected gangsters in Jucuarán after reportedly, they opened fire on police investigating their presence in the area, elsalvador.com reported on 30 August. The state prosecution service (Fiscalía) reported on its Twitter account on 31 August that raids carried out in eastern parts of the country had netted 314 members of the Mara 18, the country's other big gang network. This appeared to be the Shark Operation the prosecution service cited on its account, carried out by "land and sea" in the department of Usulután.

Colombia lost over two million hectares of forests since 1960s

Millions of hectares of woodlands equivalent to the size of a province, were destroyed in Colombia between 1967 and 2012 thanks to farming, war, mining and a range of criminal activities. The Agustín Codazzi Geographical Institute (IGAC) and IDEAM, two public research bodies, found in the recently published Suelos y tierras de Colombia, a paper on the state of the Colombia's natural landscapes, that the country lost just over 2.4 million hectares (24,000 square kilometres) of forest cover in that period, about equivalent to the size of the central department of Cundinamarca that includes Bogotá, El Espectador reported on 30 August. The bodies found that in 1967 the country had 68, 223,717 hectares of forests - or 60 per cent of its entire area - and this dropped to 65,767,667 hectares in 2012, or 58 per cent of the country's surface. About 60 million hectares consisted of primary or secondary forests and the rest, woodlands interspersed with farmed land. The worst damage was done from the 1960s to the 1980s, the IGAC found. Caracol radio cited its head, Juan Antonio Nieto Escalante, as urging more efforts to protect the forest now, as the country's civil war winds down.

Salta in Argentina to ban plastic bags

The district of Salta in northern Argentina is phasing out the sale and use of plastic bags by the end of 2016 to curb pollution, the regional daily El Tribuno reported on 30 August. The daily stated that single-bag use had already fallen by 70 per cent since early 2016, when the municipality began discouraging their use in coordination with supermarkets. Their sale or distribution will be forbidden from 30 December, it stated, while shops and supermarkets were to starting selling and promoting the use of cloth or reusable bags from 1 September. Plastic, which takes hundreds of years or longer to disappear, has become one of the world's main pollutants, in spite of its utility.

lunes, 29 de agosto de 2016

Fighting with FARC formally "at an end" in Colombia

A bilateral and definitive ceasefire between the Colombian government and the FARC or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, began at midnight on 28-29 August, marking the beginning of the end of some 50 years of civil war pursuant to a recent peace agreement reached between both sides. The FARC's supreme leader, Timoleón Jiménez or Timochenko, ordered his troops to stop fighting speaking from a hotel in Havana on 28 August. President Juan Manuel Santos also expressed his delight, writing on Twitter that a "new history begins for Colombia on 29 August. We silenced the guns. The war with the FARC is over." A verification committee was now to check and ensure the ceasefire was being respected nationwide by both sides, Radio Santa Fe reported on 29 August. The state and the FARC were expected to sign a peace treaty between 20 and 26 September, Agence France-Presse cited the Interior Minister Juan Carlos Villegas as saying on 26 August. Colombia's smaller guerrilla force, the National Liberation Army (ELN) was separately "worried" by this peace and "differs" with the FARC over the contents of its accord, according to the newspaper El Espectador. Its commander, Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, reportedly sent the FARC chief a two-page letter praising the FARC's move to become a peaceful political entity but also stating his concern that the government would now turn its forces on the ELN, which have fewer troops than the FARC. Rodríguez, aka Gabino, stated he did not discern any intention on the government's part to make peace with the ELN. Five suspected ELN fighters were separately arrested in the district of Bagre in Antioquia, Colprensa and dailies reported on 28 August. They were associated with acts of extorsion used to finance the guerrillas.

jueves, 25 de agosto de 2016

Colombia and communist rebels announce "final" deal to end 50 years of fighting

Colombian media and the public hailed the announcement on 24 August that the government and envoys of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had ended their talks in Havana and agreed on an accord to end some 50 years of civil war in Colombia. Negotiators announced on 24 August that an agreement had been reached on six principal points after almost four years of talks, namely: on a comprehensive rural development policy, the peacetime political role of the FARC, the mechanics of ending fighting, curbing illegal drug production, compensation for victims and verification of peace and its approval with a referendum, Bogotá's Radio Santa Fe reported. Peace between the two sides was to be signed formally in early September, while President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón cited 2 October as the date of a national vote allowing Colombians to approve or reject it, Spain's RTVE reported. Colombians, he stated, would have the "last word" on the agreement. He thanked the countries that had accompanied the talks - Norway, Venezuela, Chile and the host Cuba - and the European Union for its support. Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro congratulated Colombians and reiterated his country's "full support for building peace." The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, also congratulated both sides for the "historic step." In Bogotá, people, from local residents to students and politicians, began celebrating the imminent accord late on 23 August. People gathered swiftly in the "hippies park" in the middle-class district of Chapinero, soon after networking websites reported the conclusion of talks that evening, El Espectador reported.

sábado, 13 de agosto de 2016

Uruguay to clamp down on free plastic bags

The government of Uruguay presented a bill to parliament in July to restrict the use of plastic bags and fight the massive land and sea pollution these cause. Bags are an oil-derived product that decompose over hundreds of years or longer, though beforehand they break into pieces or specks that are swallowed by wildlife, especially fish, when they do not choke animals in bigger pieces. Uruguayans reportedly use 345 plastic bags each a year, or a total of more than 1.17 billion bags a year nationwide, the daily El Observador cited a plastics industry representative at the Senate Environment Committee as saying. The government bill seeks to ban shops from handing out free bags from 2017, while restrictions and conditions would be imposed on bag imports, the daily reported on 29 July. Shops would also have to inform customers on the "responsible" use of bags and offer reusable bags for sale. The Finance Ministry was to regulate the pricing, mechanics and implementation of the law once approved, Spain's EFE agency reported on 28 July.

Venezuelan opponent to stay in jail, observers deplore ruling

The Caracas Appeals Court confirmed a 14-year jail sentence given to the conservative politician and government opponent Leopoldo López, held in 2014 during street protests and sentenced in September 2015 on charges of inciting violence. Opponents perceived the confirmation as politicized and duly reflecting the judiciary's loyalty to the socialist government of President Nicolás Maduro. López´s defence attorney wrote on Twitter that the appeals process could technically continue in two more court rooms, the Sala Penal and the Sala Constitucional, dependencies of the Supreme Court, though Spain's El País cited him as considering legal recourses as "exhausted" now. He stated that the latest court hearing, which began on 23 July, had been lengthy and "filled with irregularities" but at least allowed his team to "show the absolute nullity of the trial that unjustly condemned... López to 14 years... It is proven now that López's discourse is in no way violent and while combative, absolutely close to the constitution," the Caracas daily El Universal reported. López ally and former legislator María Corina Machado called the confirmation "monstrous,"  while the head of the Organization of Amerian States (OAS), Luis Almagro, described it as unjust and a "lost opportunity for reconciliation." The prisoner's wife, Lilian Tintori, insisted on Twitter that 2016 was the "year of change" in Venezuela. The opposition is pushing through a national vote to end President Maduro's mandate and hold general elections as soon as possible. The OAS urged Venezuela's government not to hamper or delay the referendum process, to which it stated it intended to send observers.

domingo, 26 de junio de 2016

FARC, Colombia sign ceasefire deal hailed as step to final peace

Negotiators of the Colombian government and the communist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed an agreement on 23 June on a bilateral ceasefire and the FARC's programmed disarmament, in a deal hailed worldwide as a crucial step toward a definitive end to decades of civil war. The draft agreement was signed in Havana, where the two sides have been negotiating over peace since 2012, by President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón and the FARC's supreme leader, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (aka Timoleón Jiménez or Timochenko), as hundreds watched on a giant screen put up in central Bogotá, Agence France-Presse reported. It cited President Santos as suggesting that a final treaty could be signed by 20 July, after which the sides would begin implementing the deal. Its provisions included concentrating some 7,000 FARC guerrillas in 20-23 sub-districts for disarmament and demobilization, but also a commitment on the state's part to clamp down on criminal gangs the FARC insist are revived versions of right-wing paramilitary groups. Their targets are usually left-wing activists and politicians and human rights or environmental activists - and might plausibly include members of the FARC once they return to civilian life. Former president and current Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who has opposed the peace talks, observed that the government was effectively allowing the "drug cartel" FARC to avoid punishment for its crimes and even turning them into semi-official (paraestatal) crime-fighters or vigilantes. Colombians were hoping the deal would bring peace and security, and boost the economy as promised, after more than 50 years of fighting that has fuelled land-grabbing, violence, gang crime and impunity, though many were for now cautious over its immediate benefits, Spain's El Mundo observed on 23 June.

sábado, 7 de mayo de 2016

New York shops to charge for plastic bags

New York joined the ranks of 150 U.S. cities by approving on 5 May an initiative against shops handing out free plastic bags, in a bid reduce massive plastic pollution on land and sea, the Associated Press reported. The city council voted in a resolution asking most shops to charge at least five cents per bag - and they can keep the money - to curb demand. Local authorities were cited as putting the number of plastic bags thrown out annually at 10 billion, or 19,000 a minute, though the report did not immediately specify if that was in New York or nationwide. The law is to enter into force on 1 October once promulgated by the mayor, Bill de Blasio. Mr de Blasio has reportedly pledged to eliminate the city's trash by 2030.

jueves, 14 de abril de 2016

Colombians being urged to cut back on plastic bags

Colombian authorities were reported on 12 April as considering moves to discourage, though apparently not eliminate, the use of free plastic bags at stores and supermarkets. Plastic bags are one of a range of synthetic items piling up on land and sea and harming nature and animals by various means. The government was to ban smaller plastic bags that are easily ripped from 29 April, and define the quality and strength of the plastic bags shops should provide their customers. The new norms and a publicity campaign launched that day were intended to reduce the 288 bags every Colombian is thought to use annually, or more than 21,000 in a lifetime of 73 years, El Tiempo reported. The country's population was just over 50 million in 2015. Colombia's Environment Minister Gabriel Vallejo López said the norms would first apply to bigger stores, which should provide unspecified bagging alternatives. "It is not about eliminating use of bags, but making rational use of" them, he said. The move seemed timid compared to those of other countries that have banned bags, but was still reported on some websites to have caused cabinet divisions. Vallejo indicated on 12 April at the launch of the Reembólsale al planeta campaign ("Rebag the world"), that Colombia would not presently emulate moves seen in some European countries to charge for plastic bags.

miércoles, 27 de enero de 2016

Mexican NGO lists "50 most violent cities" of 2015

The Citizens' Council for Public Security and Penal Justice, a Mexican non-governmental organization that monitors crime, recently issued its 2015 statistics on criminal killings in big cities worldwide, citing the Venezuelan capital Caracas as the city with most homicides in 2015. Media noted how Caracas has managed to supplant San Pedro Sula in Honduras, which for four years was cited as the most murderous of all cities. The findings corroborate the regular, and dire, reports on worsening crime in Venezuela, the incipient results of the Honduran government's fight against crime, and the steady fall in murders reported across Colombia in recent years. The website summarised its findings with a list of 50 cities of 300,000 or more inhabitants with most homicides expressed as a rate of killings per 100,000 inhabitants, and provided a longer report for downloading in Pdf format. Caracas had a rate of 119.87 homicides/100,000 inhabitants, followed by San Pedro Sula with 111.03, San Salvador with 108.54, Acapulco 104.73 and Maturín in Venezuela with 86.45. Of the 50 "most violent cities in the world" in 2015, 21 were in Brazil, it noted, and eight in Venezuela, though the rate, it clarified, is higher in Venezuela than in Brazil. The average rate of homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in Venezuelan cities of more than 300,000 residents was 74.65, and Brazil's, 46.31, it noted. The list of 50 excluded emblematic cities like Mexico City, Bogotá and Medellín, and included with respective rates/100,000 inhabitants:

6. Central District (Tegucicalpa), Honduras, population 1,199,802 (73.51)
10. Cali, Colombia, population 2,369,821 (64.27)
17. Culiacán, Mexico, pop. 923,546 (56.09)
25. Guatemala City, pop. 3,239,185 (47.17)
28. Detroit, pop. 672,193 (43.89)
29. New Orleans, pop. 395,710 (41.44)
35. Tijuana, Mexico, pop. 1,708,679 (39.09)
43. Porto Alegre, Brazil, pop. 4,258,926 (34.73)
44. Curitiba, Brazil, pop. 3,230,061 (34.71)
50. Obregón, Mexico, pop. 318,184 (28.29)

jueves, 14 de enero de 2016

Venezuelan Supreme Court, government chip away at opposition's legislative powers

The Venezuelan opposition in control of parliament has had to dismiss three of its legislators under government and Supreme Court pressures, losing thus the two-thirds majority that would have given it maximum legislative powers, media reported on 13 January. The Supreme Court suspended the three legislators in early January for alleged voting irregularities in the 6 December parliamentary elections, though the opposition accuses it of simply doing the socialist government's political bidding. Initially ignoring the Court's instructions and swearing them into office, parliament reconsidered its position when threatened with the prospect of the Supreme Court nullifying all its acts and effectively stripping it of all power. Some pro-government MPs suggested the Court should become a provisional legislature if parliament insisted on maintaining the three disputed seats. The majority coalition was now left with 109 of 167 legislative seats and retained ample legislative powers. Speaker of parliament Henry Ramos Allup described parliament's decision as a "tactical" retreat, but accused the government and its allies of "disobeying the popular will" with the ploy, responding to the charges that parliament was disobeying the laws by keeping the three members. They cannot "come up with votes" Ramos wrote on the website Twitter, so they "come up with rulings." The fate of the three seats was unclear but the liberal majority could not for now pass fundamental state laws, change the constitution or sack senior officials like Supreme Court magistrates.

lunes, 11 de enero de 2016

Colombian police report lowest homicide figures in decades

Colombia's senior policeman, General Rodolfo Palomino, gave 12,540 as the number of homicides in the country in 2015, saying this was five per cent below the figure of 13,200 for 2014, Radio Santa Fe reported on 5 January. This effectively meant a fall in homicide rates for three years running, as he said that the relevant figure for 2014 was itself "more than 10 per cent" below that of 2013. The figure gave a nationwide homicide rate in 2015 of 25.5 per 100,000 inhabitants. Criminal killings also fell slightly in the capital Bogotá that year, with 10 fewer homicides than in 2014. The capital's police chief, General Hoover Alfredo Penilla Romero gave 1,334 as the number of homicides registerd there between 1 January and 27 December, El Espectador reported on 30 December. That gave a rate of 17.4 homicides per 100,000 residents, apparently the lowest in 30 years and following the general trend of gradual decline in extreme violence in Bogotá. The city's acting mayoress at the time, Gloria Flórez Schneider attributed this in part to a crackdown on carrying weapons and even sharp items.

jueves, 7 de enero de 2016

Venezuelan cabinet reshuffled, parliament orders Chávez portraits removed

The broadcaster Globovisión listed on 7 January the names of the new Venezuelan cabinet formally sworne in the day before before President Nicolás Maduro. The reshuffle was in response to the socialist government's defeat in the 6 December parliamentary elections, but also a bid to address the country's economic problems. A former Caracas mayor and state governor Aristóbulo Isturiz was named Executive Vice-President. One newly-elected opposition parliamentarian criticized the addition of four ministries to the government "bandwagon," at a time of dire economic conditions for ordinary Venezuelans and reduced government revenues. The newly elected, opposition-dominated parliament in turn began its legislative term to 2021 on 5 January. The assembly formalized its roster of members with 112 opposition members and 54 pro-government parliamentarians, in spite of court action by the government to have disqualified three opposition MPs, allegedly for their fraudulent election. Removing the three would reduce the size of the opposition's majority and could curb its legislative powers. The new Speaker of parliament, Henry Ramos Allup, insisted on Twitter that the opposition was standing firm against this challenge whose outcome was not yet clear. His predecessor, the socialist legislator Diosdado Cabello, effecively accused the new majority of breaking the laws and "doing what they want," by holding onto the three seats. The country's Supreme Court - which the opposition denounces as obedient to the president - had ordered the seats provisionally suspended on 30 December. Parliament caused a stir with one of its first acts on 6 January, the removal of portraits of the late socialist leader Hugo Chávez Frías, and a computerized portrait of the 19th century revolutionary Simón Bolívar from the building. The latter was a "reconstruction" of Bolívar's face, which Chávez had made and printed out in 2012.

Shootouts, shootings kill over 20 around Venezuela

At least 20 were killed around Venezuela in murders or in shootouts between police and suspected criminals through 4-6 January, three days whose violence was typical of the entire first week of 2016. On 5 January police operations against a criminal gang east of Caracas provoked two shootouts, one at the AB Beach hotel in Higuerote and another in La Troja further south, which killed four suspects, El Universal reported. Police shot dead eight suspected gangsters in two or more gun fights on 6 January in Petare, in the district of Sucre in the state of Miranda. These were identified in several papers as members of a gang, two of whose members police had shot on 3 January. Police went looking for the remainder of that gang, and found them at the two's funeral on 6 January. The daily also reported police shooting dead four suspects in the state of Zulia on 5 January. Late on 4 January, gunmen riding bikes shot dead five men playing a card game outside, in La Rinconada in southern Caracas. The dead included an army sergeant and a pastry chef, El Universal reported. In the capital's Catia neighbourhood, two thieves were shot dead by a man they had robbed as they left the scene, early on 5 January. Witnesses said he also fled, presumably to avoid arrest, El Nacional reported. The same day, a councilman for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela was shot 20 times while driving in Miranda in the state of Zulia. According to a local daily La Verdad, he had received death threats after dismissing several local officials following the government's election defeat on 6 December, El Universal reported. Overall, in the first five or six days of January, "at least" 80 bodies were counted as taken to the main Caracas morgue, Bello Monte. Most bodies taken there are believed to be of crime victims in and around Caracas.

miércoles, 6 de enero de 2016

Murders reach a record in Venezuela in 2015

With a record 27,875 reported homicides in 2015, Venezuela remained that year one of the most violent states of the Americas and the setting of 19 per cent of the 145,000 homicides committed across the continent. The Venezuelan Crime Observatory (OVV), which gave the figures, expressed the figure as giving a homicide rate for 2015 of 90 per 100,000 inhabitants, and cited worsening economic conditions as one reason for proliferating crime in 2015, the Diario de las Américas reported on 29 December. The NGO's figures showed that total murders in Venezuela began to exceed 20,000 a year from 2012 when they reached 21,692. The figure given for 2014 was 24,980, even as similar indices were declining in other Latin American states. OVV also cited the "deterioration" and politicization of security forces, and an increase in private security as other factors boosting violence. In and around the capital Caracas, the number of criminal killings in 2015 was likely a little below or around 5,000, based on the number of corpses taken to the main morgue, Bello Monte. The newspaper El Universal cited on 3 January unnamed sources in the criminal police force CICPC, as estimating that 90 per cent of bodies taken to Bello Monte were of victims of violence, and reported 5,258 as the total of corpses brought in in 2015. The figure for 2014 was 5,059. December is cited as traditionally the most violent month of the year, in part for increased drunkenness in the final days of the month. The body count in Greater Caracas for December 2015 was given as 488 (with 90 per cent estimated to be victims of violence), with March and May following as the most murderous months, respectively with 485 and 468 bodies brought then into Bello Monte. Crime resiliently continued into the new year, as El Universal reported 24 bodies being brought into Bello Monte on 1 and 2 January (to midday).

martes, 29 de diciembre de 2015

Honduran officials, university welcome significant fall in homicide rates

Honduran officials were confident the country would have fewer criminal deaths in 2015 than it did in 2014, confirming a downward trend in violent crime that has apparently coincided with the presidency of the conservative President Juan Orlando Hernández. The country's police authorities gave the projected figure of 5,039 homicides for all of 2015, 852 less than 5,891, the figure given for all homicides reported for 2014, La Prensa reported on 28 December. The projection meant a 14.4 per cent drop in the homicides rate in 2015, leaving a daily rate of 13.8 this year, compared to 14 in 2014. The daily cited 20 as the daily murder rate in 2011-12. The figures were taken from the Security ministry and the National Autonomous University's (UNAH) criminal studies center, the Observatorio de la Violencia. President Hernández was reported as saying he was "happy but not yet satisfied" with this fall; he had promised to fight crime when campaigning in late 2013. Separately, the head of the UNAH crime observatory Migdonia Ayestas was cited on 28 December as giving a homicide rate of 61 per 100,000 inhabitants nationwide for 2015, down from a rate of about 68 in 2014. She concurred with the government that Honduras was seeing a significant fall in homicides rate, though some figures she cited appeared to differ from those of authorities. The daily Proceso cited her as giving 5,935 as the number of all reported homicides in Honduras from January "until November" 2014, which apparently exceeded the above figure (5,891) for the year. She said the reduction of homicide rates was a unique achievement; she said "no country in the world has done this as Honduras has."

sábado, 26 de diciembre de 2015

"Christmas murders" almost halved in Colombia, police say

Police in Colombia noticed a 48 per cent fall in homicides committed nationwide through Christmas Eve, or 31 fewer violent deaths compared to the same evening in 2014, Radio Santa Fe reported. The broadcaster cited authorities as attributing 42 per cent of such killings to "intolerance," which covers a range of situations including drunken brawls. The government imposed a ban on carrying firearms on 23 December, which the Defence Ministry stated would remain in force until the new year. This was credited for at least a degree of increased security, and allowed policemen present in shopping centers and public places to confiscate 51 firearms. In the north-central city of Medellín and its environs, police reported that nobody was killed on Christmas Eve, though the number of brawls doubled from 76 reported that evening in 2014 to 153 this year. These too were attributed to causes including drunkenness and family disputes, the broadcaster Caracol reported on 25 December. Nationwide, police detained 244 people for different offences and 698 people were confined in police stations or state premises as precautionary measures "before high levels of excitement," Radio Santa Fe reported.

viernes, 25 de diciembre de 2015

Christmas brings trash to Mexico City

Mexico City authorities estimated the city would generate about 4,200 tons of trash on Christmas Eve in addition to roughly 12,800 tons the megalopolis produces daily, Excelsior reported on 25 December. Mexico City has in past years had problems disposing of its daily household waste, which includes significant amounts of plastic, very little of which is separated at source. An environmental officer from the city's Venustiano Carranza sector, Elena Cortés, observed that much of this extra waste would consist of electronic components and batteries, which she stated had to be disposed of correctly and taken to recycling centers. According to one study cited in Excelsior, every resident of Mexico City used on average 12.6 batteries a year. The city and its environs are estimated to have about 20 million inhabitants. Ahead of Christmas, the city government and its Environment office launched a campaign urging people to reduce their trash, especially by avoiding excess packaging and ribbons for presents, the Diario de México reported on 20 December, citing Notimex. The campaign pointed out that people generated 30 per cent more trash over Christmas and 35 per cent of that consisted of packaging. In normal conditions, Mexico City reportedly produces 12,816,000 tons of trash daily, according to the 2013 Solid Waste Inventory. The city's website examines in parts the reasons for "so much waste" being produced in the Mexican capital.

lunes, 14 de diciembre de 2015

Thirteen "said killed" in Caracas police raids

Venezuelan police and agents may have killed 13 suspects during a vast operation against drug dealing and armed theft in south-western Caracas on 11 December, though officials did not confirm the number. The daily El Universal provided the figure citing "unofficial sources inside the security forces," observing that the Interior Minister Gustavo González López counted only one person as killed, identified as a man sought in relation with a policewoman's killing. The sweep, called a People's Liberation Operation and involving 2,430 officers and ministry staff, covered seven localities including Cota 905, 1 de Mayo, El Cementerio and Barrio el 70. The operation was part of a wider anti-crime push begun in July, the online daily 2001 reported. The capital has one of the highest crime rates in the Americas. Another national daily, El Nacional, reported that some 184 bodies had been taken to the Bello Monte morgue in Caracas in the period 1-13 December, with 31 bodies arriving on the weekend of 11-13 December. The count is taken as an informal indicator of violent deaths in the capital.

jueves, 10 de diciembre de 2015

Venezuela's new parliamentarians set on passing an amnesty law

Venezuelan politicians opposed to the government of President Nicolás Maduro were insisting he could not block an amnesty law the opposition intends to approve in the next parliament, as he threatened to on 8 December. The president's comments were an early indication he was disinclined to cooperate with the opposition-dominated parliament, due to start working on 5 January. But Delsa Solórzano, a member-elect from Un Nuevo Tiempo, one of the parties in the opposition coalition, said the law would be approved soon after parliament starts working, the online daily TalCual reported on 10 December. She said the constitution allowed parliament - where the opposition will have a two-thirds majority - to promulgate laws rejected by the president. The amnesty, she said, would affect 80 detainees and was part of her coalition's bid to bring "reconciliation" to Venezuela; she insisted there would be careful vetting to ensure felons were not freed. The daily cited a leading government opponent, the governor of the state of Miranda Henrique Capriles as saying that the president "could not" block the law. President Maduro maintained in turn his defiant discourse. He declared on 9 December that there would be no "surrender" to the Right, and the "revolution is not over... they are threatening to deprive the people of its benefits. We are going to end this... economic war," state television reported. He also said prosecutors must investigate allegations of vote buying by the opposition, "because there is proof for it." The evidence cited was a tape recording of an opposition politician discussing money for votes with an unnamed individual, dubbed pollo (chicken). Maduro earlier accused the opposition of using "economic warfare" to win the elections, "like the bad guys."

miércoles, 9 de diciembre de 2015

Opposition wins decisive majority in Venezuelan parliament

Venezuela's opposition coalition Table of Democratic Unity (MUD) attributed to itself 112 of the 167 seats in parliament following its victory in the legislative elections of 6 December, though the figure had yet to be definitively confirmed. It indicated in any case an opposition victory far greater than many had dared hope for, or feared, and would in theory give MUD enough seats to vote in laws to change the Venezuelan polity. After initially accepting the opposition's victory, President Nicolás Maduro announced he would reject any law to free jailed dissidents, an initiative likely to be one of the new parliament's legislative priorities. The newspaper El Universal cited MUD's executive secretary, Jesús Torrealba as saying on 7 or 8 December that the electoral authority was confusing people by giving MUD only 107 seats, when three "indigenous" seats and two other, indeterminate seats were clearly with MUD. The opposition separately stated that its intention to pass a law to free political detainees was not just for politicians like Leopoldo López, but also indigenous and trade union personalities believed jailed for criticizing the socialist government. President Maduro said on 8 December he would oppose any such a law, saying those allegedly behind the February 2014 demonstrations had to do jail time for the harm done. "Let me say as head of state... I won't accept any Amnesty Law, because they violated human rights... they can send me a thousand laws, but those who kill the people must be judged and must pay," he said on the state-run Venezolana de Televisión.