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Major Student Protest in Chile Ends in Violence

August 21, 2014

by AQ Online

Thousands of students marched in the streets of Santiago and other cities throughout Chile yesterday to express their impatience with the lack of progress made on education reform—a key promise made by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet after she was reelected in 2013. The Universidad de Chile’s (University of Chile) student organization Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile (University of Chile Student Federation—FECh) estimated that 80,000 students marched in Santiago yesterday, while the government put the number at 25,000.

FECh President Melissa Sepúlveda addressed the protesters at the march, warning that, “This is a direct call to the Ministry of Education, so that the agreements from the Right [parties] are not included in the Education Reform [bill].” After Sepúlveda and other student leaders had finished speaking, dozens of mostly young encapuchados, hooded delinquents, destroyed traffic lights, burned dumpsters, threw sticks and rocks toward the Carabineros, the Chilean police force. The Carabineros responded by spraying the protestors with water, shooting tear gas at them, and removing those occupying the Faculty of Law at the Universidad de Chile.  According to Observadores Derechos Humanos Chile (Human Rights Observers in Chile), there were 17 arrests.

Bachelet sent the first part of her education reform to congress in May, eliminating subsidies for for-profit schools and ending selective entrance policies, but the bill is still being debated in the lower house. Meanwhile, a second round of reforms that would make university education free will be sent to congress later this year. FECh leaders expressed their dissatisfaction with the exclusion of students from the deliberations, and voiced concern over “deals behind closed doors,” and “agreements that would benefit education businesses.”

Tags: Chile, Education reform, Student Protests

Chilean Gang Pulls off Record Theft

August 13, 2014

by AQ Online

Eight masked gunmen disguised as airport workers robbed an armored money transportation truck at Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport in Santiago on Tuesday, stealing over 6 billion pesos ($10 million)—the largest robbery in Chile’s history. The truck belonged to the U.S. security firm Brinks, and the money was due to be a loaded onto a flight for delivery at various banks and mining sites in Copiapó and Antofagasta in the north of Chile.

The thieves fled the scene in two vans headed in opposite directors and scattered nails in their wake to thwart potential pursuers, prompting Chilean Vice President Rodrigo Peñailillo to say that the gang was “obviously well organized.” Meanwhile, Chilean Sub-Secretary of the Interior Mahmud Aleuy Peña y Lillo called the security at the airport, which is handled by civil aviation authorities, “an embarrassment.”

Tuesday’s robbery tops a 2006 heist where thieves stole $1.6 million from a similar Brinks truck at the same airport terminal. In that case, the assailants were apprehended by police and are currently serving time in prison.

Tags: Chile, Robbery, Santiago Airport

Monday Memo: Santos’ Cabinet – Venezuela-Colombia Border – Codelco – Argentine Ex-Captain Deported – Pemex Fire

August 11, 2014

by AQ Online

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.

Tags: Juan Manuel Santos, Codelco, Pemex, Argentine dictatorship

In World Cup, on to Round Three...

July 2, 2014

by Eric Farnsworth

With the second round of the World Cup soccer tournament concluded the main storylines have been the success of teams from the Americas, the early exit of previous stalwarts England, Italy and Spain, the relatively high number of goals, and—at least in the United States—the sudden realization that soccer actually has a strong and passionate following. The dog that hasn’t barked? The pre-tournament meme about Brazil’s unpreparedness to host such a large event and the crime and street protests which were to have shut down various venues.  Clearly, that’s not proven out.  With two weeks to go, some commentators are already wondering aloud whether this will be the most successful World Cup of all time.

That may be a bit dramatic, but the signs are encouraging. Problems exist, of course, as they do in every major global event, and big questions about cost and legacy of the tournament will be asked by Brazilians themselves after the tournament concludes.  Most observers, however, now seem to be content to enjoy Brazil’s famous hospitality and the joy of the beautiful game at the highest international level.

And what a competition it’s been. Goalies have stolen the show. The U.S.’ Tim Howard, Mexico’s Memo Ochoa, Brazil’s Júlio César, Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas, and others have become international celebrities as a result of their acrobatic, gravity-defying saves. Nonetheless, more goals have already been scored to this point in the tournament this year than were scored in the full 2010 tournament, and that has made the games suspenseful and fun to watch. 

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Tags: 2014 World Cup, Tim Howard, Brazil

Bachelet Government Clarifies Position on Abortion

June 27, 2014

by AQ Online

Chilean Minister of Health Helia Molina set out on Thursday to clarify the government’s position on legalizing therapeutic abortion—abortion only in cases of rape, putting the life of the mother at risk, and the inability of the fetus to live outside of the womb. Molina said that the government was not promoting a law that would allow the voluntary termination of pregnancy under any circumstance, and that the proposed legislation would be formally debated in congress.

The announcement comes a day after Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said in an interview in Spanish newspaper El País that she would send the legislation to congress in the second half of the year. President Bachelet’s spokesman, Álvaro Elizalde, has since referred to the headline as misleading.

The president the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union–UDI) opposition party, Ernesto Silva, expressed his disapproval at the president’s proposal on such a controversial topic, stating, “like the immense majority of Chileans, we are always advocates for the defense of life.”

In Chile, abortion was legal for medical reasons until 1989 when former President Augusto Pinochet’s military government instituted a total ban on the practice. Abortion has become a hot-button issue since the return of democracy. The Chilean right, including ex-President Sebastián Piñera, has been vigorously opposed to the practice of abortion in any form. In 2013, Piñera controversially praised an 11-year-old pregnant girl for keeping her baby after being raped, and has recently reiterated his position opposing therapeutic abortion legislation.

Bachelet has had a busy first 100 days, successfully passing a tax reform that would fund her sweeping reforms to make education free at all levels, and proposing policies towards reconciliation with the Mapuche–Chile’s largest indigenous minority–including increasing political representation and returning land to the Mapuche in Southern Chile. In total she has completed 91 percent of the 56 measures she intended to propose during her first 100 days.

Tags: Michelle Bachelet, Abortion, Chile

World Cup 2014: The "Zebras" of the Americas

June 23, 2014

by Flora Charner

When a soccer match ends in a surprising or unpredictable way, Brazilians often use the popular expression “deu zebra” ("it was a zebra"). The term applies to games where supposedly weaker teams beat stronger ones, or when key players are outperformed on the field. 

Like the animal, "zebras" are fairly rare. But in this World Cup, an incredible herd of surprises have come galloping in from the Americas to scare off the mighty lions during this group stage. 

In Recife's Arena Pernambuco, Costa Rica defeated the 2006 World Cup champs, Italy, 1-0. Costa Rican captain Bryan Ruiz scored in the 44th minute with a header into Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon's arch. The ticos,who are ranked #28 in the world by FIFA, were considered underdogs in a "Group of Death" that also includes Uruguay and the now-eliminated England—but they lead the group and have secured a spot in the second round.

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Tags: 2014 World Cup, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica

HidroAysén and Chile’s Energy Agenda

June 13, 2014

by Christian Gómez, Jr.

On June 10, 2014, a ministerial commission in Chile rejected the HidroAysén project, an $8 billion joint venture of the Spanish company Endesa, S.A. (51 percent), which is a subsidiary of Italy’s Enel, and the Chilean company Colbún S.A. (49 percent).

Recently-inaugurated President Michelle Bachelet had stated that she would not support the project, and her ministers of agriculture, energy, mining, economy, and health agreed. Nevertheless, the country faces a challenge of energy poverty and high costs, which President Bachelet must address going forward. 

The HidroAysén plan was to build five hydroelectric dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers in the Patagonia region in the south of the country. The rivers–located in the Aysén region–are in an area of Patagonia that is virtually empty. The project developers viewed the plan as potentially very lucrative since the region receives steady rainfall.

HidroAysén was initially approved in 2011 during the administration of former President Sebastián Piñera, but popular protests derailed the environmental impact study. According to one estimate, more than 70 percent of Chileans opposed the project, and they took to the streets to express their disapproval.

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Tags: Chile, HidroAysen, Hydroelectric, Michelle Bachelet

Chilean Government Rejects HidroAysén Dam Project in Patagonia

June 11, 2014

by AQ Online

After a three hour meeting on Tuesday, a committee of five ministers in Michelle Bachelet’s cabinet has rejected the HidroAysén project–a hydroelectric plan to build five dams in two rivers in Patagonia that would have generated 2,750-megawatts of energy and increased power generation in Chile by 10 percent. The project, backed by the companies Endesa Chile and Colbún with an investment of $3.2 billion dollars, faced massive protests throughout the country soon after its approval on May 9, 2011 by the Comisión de Evaluación Ambiental (Commission of Environmental Evaluation—CEA). The two companies have 30 days to appeal to the Tercer Tribunal Ambiental de Valdivia (Third Environmental Tribunal of Valdivia), which will have the last word on the project.

Environment Minister Pablo Badenier, the head of the committee, stated that the decision was made after the committee accepted the demands of local communities and Chilean citizens as whole. In addition, Energy Minister Maximo Pacheco said the plan failed to take into account its impacts on the local ecology and populations, and did not sufficiently quantify damage to the environment and wildlife. CEO of HidroAysén, Daniel Fernandez, lamented the move as a “lost opportunity” for the Aysén region, one of the most isolated and poorest areas of Chile.

Former Environment Minister under Sebastián Piñera, María Ignacia Benítez, noted the political nature of the decision, and said that she “did not understand the reasons for the rejection.” Nevertheless, environmental groups celebrated the decision as a victory, and emphasized that this was just the first of many denials of projects that are damaging to the environment in Chile.

To read more about the HidroAysén project and community consultation in energy projects click here.

 

Ready for the 2014 World Cup? Read more coverage here.

Tags: Chile, Patagonia, HidroAysen

The Havana Film Festival in New York Celebrates 15 Years

April 15, 2014

by Carolina Ramírez and Rebecca Bintrim

Since 2000, the Havana Film Festival in New York has been bringing Latin American cinema to New Yorkers—and after 15 years, it is still going strong.

Despite its name, the festival doesn’t limit itself to showing Cuban films. Its goal, said creative director Diana Vargas, is to place Cuba within a larger Latin American context and generate a better understanding of the region. This year’s festival includes 45 Latin American films—of which 26 are Cuban productions from the past 55 years. While the festival hasn’t always featured a majority of Cuban films, this year’s selection centered on films from the island as part of the festival’s 15th anniversary celebration.

Cuban and migrant-themed films dominated the closing night awards presentation at the NYC Directors Guild Theater on Friday. They competed for the Havana Star Prize in the categories of "Best Feature," “Best Director,” “Best Documentary,” “Best Screenplay,” “Best Actor,” “Best Actress,” and “Special Jury Mention.”  No one seemed surprised when Conducta (Behavior), the newly released Cuban box office hit about a young boy and his sixth grade teacher, won the “Best Feature” award. Conducta filled the NYC Directors Guild Theater during the opening of the festival on April 3, as well as the Quad Cinema in its second showing the following Saturday evening.

Cuban director Jorge Perugorría's latest film, Se Vende (For Sale), also packed the Quad Cinema on Tuesday night. The audience laughed at the dark comedy’s morbid humor and social commentary.  Se Vende tells the story of a young Cuban woman who is forced to sell her deceased parents’ bones for some extra cash. “It is a metaphor for Cuba’s recent economic changes taken to the extreme,” said Perugorría.  “As Cubans, we have developed a great capacity for survival. Since we were born, we were in crisis [...] but that hasn’t taken away our will to live.”

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Tags: Havana Film Festival, Diana Vargas, Cuba, Migration

Earthquake Strikes off Coast of Chile

April 2, 2014

by AQ Online

An 8.2-magnitude earthquake hit 62 miles northwest of Iquique, the capital of the Tarapacá region of Chile, on Tuesday night. The earthquake trigged a tsunami and small landslides, killing five people, evacuating tens of thousands and cutting power to some areas of Iquique and Arica.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday night that the government was unsure of the extent damage, but that “the country has faced these first emergency hours very well.” The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issues several warnings for other pacific coastal cities in Chile, Peru and Ecuador on Tuesday night, but cancelled all of them by Wednesday morning.

In the hours after the earthquake, 300 female prisoners escaped during an evacuation of an Iquique prison, but more than a dozen of the inmates were recaptured shortly thereafter.

Chile occupies one of the most earthquake-prone zones in the world known as the “Ring of Fire." The country has experienced about 300 of varying magnitudes in recent weeks. And in 2010, a 9.5-magnitude quake—the sixth-largest ever recorded—killed 525 people and trigged a massive tsunami that devastated several coastal towns in central and south Chile.

Tags: Chile Earthquake, Tsunami

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