Latin America

Why Indigenous Groups in Latin America Need Better Access to Health Care

July 22, 2015

by AQ Online

Colombia’s National Health Superintendant fined six health care providers over $1 million each, last week, after finding that their failure to provide adequate medical and vaccination services to Indigenous communities in the northern department of La Guajira contributed to the 2013 deaths from malnutrition of 12 Wayuu children.  

La Guajira is home to the largest population of Indigenous peoples in Colombia. Over the past eight years, hundreds of children in the region have died from treatable diseases and malnutrition, in part as the result of poor sanitation and irregular access to health services.

The case highlights how different—and often inferior—health services for Indigenous communities in Colombia can be when compared to the general population. And the country isn't alone. Though several Latin American governments have created agencies specifically to oversee care in Indigenous communities, health outcomes for these communities are often well below national averages.  

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, infant mortality among Indigenous communities in the region is 60 percent greater than for non-indigenous populations (48 per one thousand births compared to 30 per one thousand). Malnutrition is twice as common among Indigenous children as it is among non-Indigenous children.

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Tags: Health care, Indigenous Rights, Latin America

Brazil's New Rules to Limit C-Sections

July 8, 2015

by AQ Online

On Monday, Brazil introduced new rules aimed at curbing the country’s unusually high rate of caesarean sections. The rules will require doctors to inform women about the risks of C-sections and ask them to sign a consent form prior to the procedure. Doctors will also have to sign a form justifying the C-section.

This is not the first time that the Brazilian government has sought to decrease the country’s high caesarean birth rates. For years, Brazil’s federal government has been promoting the benefits of natural childbirth through various programs and legislation. A 2005 law even guarantees women the right to give birth naturally if they so choose, though it is not usually respected. 

Yet Brazil is not alone in the region in dealing with high levels of caesarean births. In fact, the Western Hemisphere has the highest rate of C-section operations in the world. The World Health Organization claims that the ideal rate for caesarean sections is between 10 and 15 percent. The rate in the Americas was about 38 percent last year, with particularly high rates in Brazil, Mexico, the United States, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic.

“It´s very worrisome that almost four out of every 10 births in the region are by C-section," said Suzanne Serruya, director of the Latin American Center for Perinatology, Women, and Reproductive Health of the Pan American Health Organization. "Doctors, midwives, obstetric nurses, those responsible for health policies, mothers and fathers, and society as a whole should work together to reduce this number and use caesarean sections only when it´s needed for medical reasons."

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Tags: Brazil, women's health, Latin America

Is the Western Hemisphere Ready for Ebola?

November 14, 2014

by Christine V. Gomes

Over the past month and a half, the world has been challenged by the nimble Ebola virus, the latest outbreak of which has killed over 5,000 people. Even in the United States, a country with one of the best healthcare systems in the world, the Ebola virus infected two healthcare workers and claimed one life, revealing gaps in preparedness and protocol.

If this level of uncertainty is present in the U.S., what does it mean for nations with fewer resources, like many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean?

Although no case of Ebola has been confirmed in the region, Latin America and Caribbean leaders are already taking steps towards prevention. They are implementing travel restrictions, constructing quarantine centers, investing in biosafety equipment, training health professionals and re-evaluating infectious disease protocols.

Take Brazil, for example, which had a suspected Ebola patient arrive last month to a public health clinic in the town of Cascavel, Paraná. The patient was immediately quarantined and transported by an Air Force plane to the Instituto Nacional de Infectologia (National Institute of Infectious Diseases) in Rio de Janeiro. The 64 people who had been in proximity to the patient were immediately alerted via contact tracing and monitored by Brazilian health officials. Though the patient eventually tested negative, the emergency response system and protocols appeared to be functioning well.

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Tags: Ebola, Health care, Latin America

Shale Gas Development in Latin America

September 22, 2014

by Christian Gómez, Jr.

New technology and capital has boosted shale gas and tight oil production in the United States and Canada—a phenomenon dubbed the “shale revolution.” This revolution has important geopolitical implications and has shifted North America’s energy outlook from one of scarcity to one of abundance.

The rest of the Western Hemisphere is also sitting on expansive shale reserves, but these areas have not yet been fully exploited. A recently released AS/COA Energy Action Group Report, “Shale Gas Development in Latin America,” explores these issues in depth.

Within the Western Hemisphere, the primary point of comparison for Latin American countries looking to develop shale gas resources is the United States, where, in 2014, over 20,000 horizontal wells are expected to be drilled, according to RBC Capital Markets.  This compares to 250 unconventional wells in Argentina and just 10 in Colombia that are expected to be drilled during the same time period.   Investors spent $90 billion in the United States on developing shale gas in 2012 alone; in contrast, foreign direct investment in Latin America last year, in every sector, totaled $180 billion.    

In addition to the U.S. and Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are among the 10 countries in the world with the greatest technically recoverable shale gas resources; together, they make up approximately 40 percent of the world’s total supply.  Colombia also has significant potential.

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Tags: Shale Gas, Latin America, energy

Why Crime Journalism Has to Change

June 18, 2014

by Stephen Handelman

Recently, in New York City, a group of public health professionals and crime experts came together at a conference to discuss how to apply public health concepts to the “epidemic” of mass incarceration in the United States. “Public health, incarceration and justice issues are inextricably linked, in both the causes of the incarceration rate, and in the solutions we need to put together,” Linda Fried, Dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, told the group.

It was another example of the profound change in attitudes towards crime and punishment now underway in the U.S.  With the world’s largest prison population—some 2.2 million adults—increasing numbers of people from all political ideologies have begun to realize that the “tough on crime” policies of previous decades have been counter-productive. They’ve destroyed families, sent some of America’s poorest communities into a cycle of decay and neglect, and have had a disproportionate impact on African Americans and Latinos.

There were almost no journalists at the Columbia University conference. And that’s a problem.

While a number of U.S. reporters have begun to deepen their coverage of these issues, too many news outlets still feed the public a daily sensational diet of murder and scandal.

I suspect that the situation is much the same in Latin America. Pablo Bachelet, in his recent Sin Miedos blog,  set out the problem very well: journalists have a hard time convincing their editors (and sometimes themselves) that it is worth the extra effort and expense to go beyond the headlines to uncover the deeper stories of violence prevention.

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Tags: Security, Latin America, Journalism

Sports: A Tool for Development

February 7, 2014

by Christine V. Gomes

With the World Cup fast approaching and preparations for South America’s first Olympics already underway, the visibility of sports in the Western Hemisphere is at an all-time high.

In addition to the fun and fanfare, sports can be an effective tool to help achieve goals in education, health, security, gender equality, and community development. Sports have the ability to level the playing field by providing marginalized children and youth with the tools they need to be healthy and productive members of society.

Young people today face many challenges. Youth in the Americas are among the most overweight and obese in the world. Research conducted by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in eight countries in the Western Hemisphere found that less than 30 percent of students between 10 and 24 years of age were physically active. Being physically inactive and overweight can lead to non-communicable diseases such as asthma, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, which are estimated to cause a global output loss of $47 trillion over the next two decades.

In addition to health issues, many young people engage in risky behavior, such as drug use, alcohol consumption, smoking, sexual activity, and violence. Although adolescents in the Western Hemisphere have relatively high school enrollment rates, the average Latin American student only attends 4 to 5 hours of school per day, compared to 6 to 7 hours per day in the United States. What they do in the remaining hours makes all the difference.

This is where sports can play an important role. While playing a game of pick-up soccer in a neighborhood park is an enjoyable and healthy recreational activity, it takes a great deal more to impact social development.

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Tags: World Cup, sports and development, Latin America

Latin America’s New Friend, Janet Yellen

October 17, 2013

by James Stranko

Janet Yellen, nominated by President Obama last week to be the new chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, might not know it yet, but she has friends in high places in Latin America.

This is because many in the region rightly believe that Yellen's forecasted doveishness will give Latin America time to make the necessary adjustments while U.S. monetary tightening slowly winds its way through global markets.

Even in Brazil, where there aren’t many kind words being said about the U.S. these days, Central Bank Governor Alexandre Tombini has been buttering up markets with measured comments about the Fed’s tightening policy.

But Latin America is watching the aftermath of this appointment closely because there is an ominous feeling that, despite the region’s growing monetary autonomy, tightening U.S. policy will have important consequences for the region—such as creating more expensive imports, pricier debt payments,  and higher local interest rates.

Past crises in the region have happened around moments of decisive Fed action—think 1982 and the 1994 Tequila Crisis, without even mentioning the trail of broken exchange rate pegs. But what is remarkable about the last few years is the contrast between Latin American governments having their economic houses in relative order and the chaotic, then sclerotic macro-environment amongst the world’s wealthiest countries.

This is a much different reality than Argentina in 2001 or Mexico in 1994. Only ten or twenty years ago, sovereign, dollar-denominated debt would have been the biggest part of any Fed monetary tightening problem, followed by fixed currency values. These days, after remarkable growth and a decade of responsible policy, much of the region can keep a full-blown crisis at bay. Instead, Latin Americans can now expect mild recessions, hampered growth, and a reckoning for low levels of invested in the good times.

Loose policy in the U.S. and elsewhere over the past few years has given Latin America a relatively favorable environment to conduct its own responsible monetary policy. At the same time that money was cheap in the U.S. and Europe, the relative high returns in Latin America drove capital their way, which provided a boon to economies in a strong phase of growth. China was still growing quickly and South American commodities were fueling that growth. But that new Latin American normal has evaporated relatively quickly with the specter of a developed world recovery and monetary tightening.

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Tags: Janet Yellen, Latin America, Brazil

A Call for Empirical Research on Human Trafficking in Latin America

September 23, 2013

by Ana Defillo

Human trafficking in Latin America has become a serious problem that can no longer be ignored. According to a 2012 estimate by the International Labour Organization (ILO), Latin America and the Caribbean account for the third largest number of forced laborers, at 1,800,000 victims. This number does not include trafficking for the removal of organs or for forced marriage/adoption

Louise Shelley, a leading U.S. expert on transnational crime and terrorism, provides an explanation for this high number in her book Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective.  According to Shelley, the region’s sordid history of colonialism and slavery “has created a permanent underclass in many countries that is ripe for exploitation by traffickers.”  Furthermore, the region’s unstable cycles of military rule, democracy and populism has increased the vulnerability of its poor citizens.

Latin America has a notorious reputation for its high rates of inequality. While human trafficking is a very complicated international and intersectional phenomenon, one of the biggest factors behind trafficking is a lack of economic opportunities. In a region where around 167 million people live in poverty—66 million in extreme poverty—there is plenty of room for its citizens to be exploited.  

Almost as disheartening as Latin America’s human trafficking problem is the lack of empirical research to help prevent it. Why is there such a paucity of regional research on the topic, when seven of the top-10 countries of origin for documented human trafficking cases in the U.S are from Latin America and the Caribbean?

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Tags: Latin America, human trafficking

Financing Renewable Energy in Latin America

August 2, 2013

by Christian Gómez, Jr.

While renewable energy investment globally fell by 11 percent in 2012, renewable energy financing increased by 127 percent in Latin American countries, excluding Brazil. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, this included gains of 595 percent in Mexico, 313 percent in Chile, 285 percent in Uruguay, and 176 percent in Peru. In total, renewable energy investments in Latin America reached $9.7 billion in 2012.

When adding the important renewable energy portfolio of Brazil ($5.2 billion in 2012), the renewable energy sector in Latin America is growing and will continue to attract significant capital in the coming years. A combination of favorable government policies, receptiveness to foreign investment, and attractive regulatory regimes has drawn investors to renewable energy projects in the region. These issues were debated in Washington on July 30 during a roundtable discussion on financing renewable energy in Latin America at the Council of the Americas, held under the auspices of the Council’s Energy Action Group.

The conditions for renewable energy in Latin America are favorable. From the photovoltaic potential of the Atacama Desert in Chile to the many rivers that feed into hydroelectric dams in Brazil to the fields of African palm oil in Colombia, developers have been drawn to the region due to a unique geography that offers great potential for renewable feedstocks.

Countries are also beginning to adopt renewable energy standards. Chile is leading the way with its 20/20 renewable plan—20 percent of the country’s electrical grid powered by renewable energy by 2020. While the target may be a long shot, the initiative demonstrates that countries in the region are serious about developing their renewable energy potential.

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Tags: energy, Latin America, renewable energy

La prisión preventiva desvirtuada

July 19, 2013

by Luis Pásara

Cuando se considera a una persona como posible responsable de un delito en un procedimiento judicial, el fiscal puede solicitar su detención provisional, esto es, que vaya a prisión hasta que se le juzgue y decida que es culpable—o que no lo es. Ni el señalamiento que haga la policía, ni siquiera la acusación que formule el fiscal hace culpable a una persona. Sólo es culpable cuando una sentencia judicial lo declare.

Excepcionalmente, el juez puede enviar a prisión a quien todavía no ha sido declarado culpable cuando haya peligro de que se fugue o cuando, al estar en libertad, pueda interferir en el proceso, destruyendo pruebas o amenazando testigos. Pero el juez puede dictar otras medidas: obligarlo a comparecer periódicamente ante el juzgado, cumplir detención domiciliaria, usar un grillete electrónico o impedirle que cambie de domicilio o salga del país.

Las normas internacionales así lo establecen y la mayoría de las leyes de procedimiento latinoamericanas así lo disponen. Pero, en los hechos, las cosas no son así y, en parte debido a esto, nuestras prisiones están superpobladas y amenazadas permanentemente  por motines sangrientos a punto de estallar.

Lo que ocurre en nuestros países  es que se envía a prisión a toda persona a quien la policía y el fiscal señalan como responsable de un delito por el que, de ser condenada, sufrirá pena de prisión efectiva. El monto de la pena por la que se debe ir ineludiblemente a la cárcel usualmente consiste en tres o cuatro años. Si al encausado se le procesa por robo con violencia—que tiene como mínimo de pena seis años de prisión—es probable que, apenas se inicie el procedimiento, el fiscal pida prisión preventiva (PP) para él y el juez así lo decrete. Si al final del juicio se le declara o no culpable sólo preocupa a quien estará detenido durante años, en espera del juicio, sabiendo que no es culpable.

En nuestros aparatos de justicia se ha hecho costumbre enviar a prisión a gente que, en la investigación previa al juicio, son señaladas como culpables. ¿Por qué fiscales y jueces han convertido la PP en una pena anticipada que se impone incluso a quien no es culpable? La Fundación para el Debido Proceso acaba de concluir un estudio en cuatro países (Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador y Perú) para responder a esa pregunta. El hallazgo de estos trabajos es que, en un alto número de casos, la PP se impone en respuesta a presiones actuantes sobre fiscal y juez, las cuales les impiden actuar imparcialmente, en uso de la independencia propia del cargo.

De un lado, un clima alienta la utilización amplia de la PP. De otro lado, diversas prácticas operan como formas de discriminación en perjuicio de los más vulnerables y como privilegio a favor de quienes tienen acceso a buenos abogados y contactos eficientes.

Una atmósfera ciudadana estima “natural” que quien es señalado como culpable por la policía, lo es realmente. En esa atmósfera actúan los políticos que, desde gobierno u oposición, descargan en la justicia su propia responsabilidad en el incremento del delito y exigen a los jueces “mano dura” para castigar a quien caiga en manos de la maquinaria judicial.

Las cúpulas de las instituciones del sistema de justicia participan en generar y mantener ese clima. Declaraciones del presidente de la corte suprema, el fiscal general o sus voceros participan frecuentemente de los reclamos de una “aplicación estricta” de la ley en la que parece no haber lugar para algo distinto a la imposición de la PP.

Por su parte, los medios de comunicación cumplen un doble papel. Primero, reproducen y multiplican el discurso de las autoridades que proclaman la necesidad de una aplicación vasta de la PP. Segundo, generan, tanto en el manejo de la información como mediante artículos de opinión, elementos para alimentar la misma postulación.

Jueces y fiscales son sensibles a este clima que en América Latina alienta un uso amplio de la PP. Es un clima que recorta la independencia de los operadores, al generarles temor a ser señalados y cuestionados públicamente debido al uso de una medida alternativa a la de PP, especialmente en los procesos de repercusión pública. Pueden encontrar que lo más aconsejable—para sus propios intereses—es hacer lo que se espera de ellos, aunque nadie se los haya pedido expresamente. En el estudio hecho en cuatro países se comprobó la existencia de cierto número de procesos disciplinarios abiertos contra jueces debido a no haber aplicado la PP. En cambio no se halló un solo proceso abierto por haberla aplicado indebida o arbitrariamente.

Un uso extendido de la PP—contrario a aquello que tanto las normas internas como los instrumentos internacionales de derechos humanos establecen—es pues promovido desde el nivel de las autoridades, propagado por los medios de comunicación y recibido con cierta complacencia por una porción de los propios operadores del sistema. Además, tal uso recibe cierto respaldo popular  debido a que en la percepción social el sistema de justicia está bajo sospecha; se sabe que los juicios son largos, que su transcurso es azaroso y su resultado, incierto.

La PP es vista entonces como una pena aplicada a cuenta. Ante el riesgo de que finalmente no se condene a nadie, parece consolar que por lo menos alguien reciba ese adelanto de sanción. En definitiva, que esa persona no sea culpable es algo que se anticipa difícil de determinar, dadas las limitaciones, sesgos e ineficiencias del sistema.

Estos factores hacen del uso amplio de la PP una política pública no explícita según la cual los operadores del sistema de justicia trabajan dentro de un clima falto de independencia, que desaconseja utilizarla como medida excepcional o último recurso, y están sujetos a presiones, en casos específicos, que conducen a un manejo arbitrario de esta medida. El resultado incluye no sólo una población carcelaria que desborda las prisiones haciéndolas cada vez más inestables y peligrosas, sino también contribuye a que dentro de esa masa de presos sin condena que habitan nuestras cárceles hay un número indeterminado de inocentes.

Tags: Prision preventiva, Latin America