This week’s likely top stories: President Juan Manuel Santos announces new ministers; Venezuela and Colombia crack down on smuggling; Codelco’s CEO has new plans for Chuquicamata Mine; Bolivia deports an Argentine accused of crimes against humanity; a fire at a Pemex refinery kills at least four people.
President Santos to announce new Cabinet: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to announce new Cabinet ministers today as he launches his second term in office. Of the 16 Cabinet positions, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón, Minister of Finance Mauricio Cárdenas, and Minister of Foreign Relations María Ángela Holguín will retain their titles, while former Minister of the Interior Aurelio Iragorri will now be Minister of Agriculture, and Juan Fernando Cristo, former president of the Senate, will take Iragorri’s place at the ministry of the interior. At his inauguration address last week, Santos said that in addition to signing a peace agreement with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), he will focus on education and equality as pillars of his 2014-2018 presidential term.
Venezuela to shut its border with Colombia at night: Effective today, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have agreed to close the Colombia-Venezuela border between the hours of 10 pm and 5 am each night in an effort to reduce smuggling. Heavily subsidized Venezuelan goods—such as food and fuel—can be sold at much higher prices in Colombia, causing tax losses for the state and profits for drug gangs and guerrilla groups. So far this year, the Venezuelan government has seized 21,000 tons of food and 40 million liters of fuel that were destined for Colombia. Maduro and Santos agreed to the measures on August 1 at a summit in Colombia.
New Codelco CEO says open-pit mine must go underground: Nelson Pizarro, the new CEO of Chile’s state-owned copper mining company Codelco, said on Sunday that Chile’s open-pit Chuquicamata Mine should be transformed into a subterranean mine to make it profitable. Pizarro, who was named Codelco’s CEO at the end of July and will officially take over on September 1, faces opposition from the miners’ unions, who say that the plan to revamp the mine will cause many to lose their jobs because many are not trained to work underground. Pizarro replied that “if the unions don’t do their part, there will be no future for Codelco.” Codelco is currently the largest producer of copper in the world.
Bolivia deports Argentine accused of Dirty War crimes: Jorge Horacio Páez Senestrari, a former infantry captain during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, has been deported back to Argentina after he was captured on Friday in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Páez was accused of committing crimes against humanity in the Argentine province of Santa Cruz during the dictatorship. He had been temporarily released from prison in San Juan in 2011 to await his trial, but after he failed to attend his hearing, local police and Interpol issued an international alert for his arrest. Now that he has returned to Argentina, Páez’s trial is expected to resume.
Pemex refinery accident in Mexico: A fire that broke out on Friday at a Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) oil refinery in Ciudad Madero, Mexico, had killed at least four people as of Sunday night. Seven refinery workers were still hospitalized, according to Pemex officials. The latest explosion happened as workers performed maintenance on an empty petroleum coke tank, which was used to hold a solid carbon by-product of the oil refining process. On July 24, a different fire had broken out at the refinery, injuring 23 workers. Last week, the Mexican government passed secondary legislation to open its energy sector to private and foreign investment for the first time in over 70 years, in an effort to increase production and attract foreign expertise and technology.
I was born in June 1976, only weeks after Argentina’s most violent dictatorship began. Early in the morning on a sad March day before I was born, my father was taken away by the military regime. He didn’t meet me for the first time until almost a year later.
I was lucky; thousands of children never saw their parents again. More than 30,000 individuals—Argentines and foreigners, students and workers, people with or without university degrees, politicians and non-politicians, activists and non-activists, even priests and nuns—were tortured, abused, raped, killed, and disappeared by a self-appointed dictatorship that launched a “national reorganization process.” In many cases, the captors would wait until captured pregnant women had their babies before they kidnapped the newborns and killed and hid the bodies of the mothers.
The leader of the 1976 military junta, Jorge Rafael Videla, died this morning at 87 years old.
I grew up watching my country go through a bumpy transition from dictatorship to democracy. I have a clear memory of the madness of the Malvinas War in 1982, the hope and happiness of the democratic restoration in 1983 and the Juicio a las Juntas (Trial of the Juntas) in 1985. I also have a vivid memory of the anguish created both by President Raúl Alfonsín’s Ley de Punto Final (“full stop”) and Ley de Obediencia Debida (“due obedience”) amnesty laws, and President Carlos Menem’s pardons that, in my view, ruined the progress made in the Trial of the Juntas.
On Wednesday, Argentina began the trial of 68 suspects accused of kidnapping, torture and murder at the notorious Buenos Aires Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (Navy Mechanics School-ESMA) during the country’s 1976–1983 dictatorship. All but two of the suspects are former members of the Argentine military.
Some 5,000 political prisoners are estimated to have passed through ESMA, which was converted into a clandestine detention center during Argentina’s “Dirty War,” and the vast majority were never seen again. A number of the disappeared were later found washed up on the shores of the Rio de la Plata on the Argentine and Uruguayan coasts, leading to speculation that members of the military dumped living prisoners from navy planes to their deaths. In 1995, the former captain, Adolfo Scilingo, testified that he had thrown 30 people into the ocean in two of the so-called “death flights.”
Azucena Villaflor, one of the founders of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo), was disappeared in 1977 and is believed to have been murdered on the death flights, along with the disappeared French nuns Alice Domon and Léonie Duquet.
The trial that began this Wednesday will be the largest human rights trial involving ESMA thus far, and could clarify the fates of 789 disappeared political prisoners. Several prominent members of the former Argentine military government will be put on trial, including Juan Alemann, Argentina’s former treasury secretary, and eight former navy pilots. One of the pilots, Julio Poch, was working as a commercial pilot in Spain as recently as 2009.
Judge Daniel Obligado will preside over the trial in Argentine federal court, which is expected to take two years and involve at least 900 witnesses. Human rights groups estimate that some 30,000 people were disappeared during the Argentine dictatorship. Today, ESMA is a historical memory museum and cultural center.