In an investigation into illegal logging in Brazil’s Amazon region, police seized 444 containers of logs. Around half of the logs were being exported to the United States and Europe. With only one-fifth of the containers counted, the logs would stretch up to 930 miles if laid in a line. This confiscation was part of an investigation of ports in Manaus, a major shipping city for illegal wood. Last year, over 2257 square miles was deforested in Brazil, causing significant conflict between illegal loggers and indigenous tribes. In 2017, 44 environmental and land protectors were killed in Brazil.
On Wednesday, an appeals court unanimously upheld the corruption conviction against former-president and current political frontrunner in the upcoming October presidential elections, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Previously, Lula was convicted by a trial judge and sentenced to 9 and a half years in prison for corruption. The appeals court not only upheld the conviction, but increased his sentencing to 12 years in prison. Lula asserts the conviction is politically charged and is undermining the nation’s democracy as polls put him as the frontrunner in the upcoming presidential elections this year. The former president can still appeal this decision, but he has been barred from running for office.
After a 101-day ceasefire, the National Liberation Army (ELN) launched attacks on Colombia’s armed forces and oil machinery. Beginning January 10, violence escalated as ELN members bombed oil pipelines and killed soldiers, stalling further peace negotiations. President Juan Manuel Santos called his chief negotiator back to Bogota from Ecuador following the attacks, but announced Sunday that he will return to continue talks. The ELN maintains its focus on evaluating new terms to the peace deal, as was originally agreed upon at the beginning on the ceasefire.
Following a report that US President referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and other African nations as “shithole countries,” Haitians both in Haiti and in Florida have begun protesting. In Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, almost two thousand people took to the streets on Monday protesting Trump’s comments. Haitians living in the United States also protested near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida Monday, demanding an apology. Trump has denied using such strong language, asserting his language was “totally misrepresented” and that he is “not a racist.”
Protests and violence continue following the disputed presidential election in November. In a protest Saturday, police and protesters clashed in the country’s capital, ending with at least one person dead. Over the last two months, over 31 people have died in protests by supporters of defeated candidate Salvador Nasralla. President-elect Juan Orlando Hernandez is set to take office on January 27.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights
The Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled January 9 that countries in the region should legalize same-sex unions, urging for same-sex marriage should be recognized. The decision was a response to a petition submitted by Costa Rica’s president Luis Guillermo Solis two years ago seeking to increase LGBTQ rights. However, there has been significant opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, which has large and influential presence in the region. Five countries in Latin America have already legalized same-sex marriage, and this decision stands to encourage other countries to take the same action.
Pope in Latin America
Pope Francis finished his six-day visit to Chile and Peru on January 21 with an open-air mass for over a million people in Peru’s capital city, Lima. During his visit, he spoke out about prominent issues within the Latin American region, such as political corruption, violence against women, environmental degradation, and sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. This visit made Pope Francis the first Pope in 30 years to visit the Amazon. However, the Pope instigated outrage, particularly in Chile, by speaking against the criticisms of Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who the Pope appointed bishop and has been accused protecting a pedophile.
On Tuesday, Venezuela’s Constitutional Assembly called for presidential elections to be accelerated and take place before the end of April. President Nicolás Maduro stated that he “is ready to be the presidential candidate” in the upcoming elections, which appear to benefit him as the opposition party remains weak. After leading large protests last year, Venezuela’s opposition has lost steam as the most prominent opposition leaders are either imprisoned, barred from running for office, or in exile. The United States and over a dozen Latin American countries have spoken out against the call for early elections.