Archive for January, 2010

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Chile: Right Wins First Post-Pinochet Presidency

January 31, 2010

Sebastian Pinera wins Chile's presidency

For the first time since the end of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s lengthy military dictatorship (1973-1990), Chilean voters have turned to the right, electing billionaire Sebastian Pinera in a tight Jan. 17 runoff against former President Eduardo Frei (1994-2000) of the governing Concertacion coalition.

Pinera, a 60-year-old former senator from the center-right Renovacion Nacional (RN), obtained 51.61% of the vote in the head-to-head contest, edging past Frei (48.38%) to become Chile’s first elected conservative leader in more than half a century. The last rightist to win the presidency was Jorge Alessandri (1958-1964), who triumphed in 1958, also by 3 percentage points (31% to 28%), against Salvador Allende (1970-1973). Read the rest of this entry ?
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Energy: Brazil And Its Neighbors Turn Tentatively Toward Renewables

January 31, 2010

Photo by Corey Kohn

For all their differences, Brazil and its Southern Cone neighbors share a common challenge as they struggle to balance rising energy demand against resource constraints and environmental concerns. Wind and other renewable-energy sources may well be part of the solution, but so far investment in green technologies has been cautious at best.

In size, composition, and structure, the countries’ electricity sectors vary tremendously. Brazil, the largest country in the region, boasts what is by far the most extensive power grid, with installed capacity of roughly 100,000 megawatts (MW)–more than twice the electricity available in nearby Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile combined. The “sleeping giant” derives much of that electricity (approximately 80%) from large-scale hydroelectric dams but also generates a modest amount of power (roughly 2,000 MW) from a pair of nuclear plants.

Paraguay is even more dependent on hydroelectricity, which accounts for basically all the country’s installed capacity. The massive dams it shares with neighboring Argentina and Brazil even allow Paraguay to export electricity–at least during nondrought years. Argentina and Chile, in contrast, generate only about 40% of their power from dams, relying chiefly on fossil-fuel-burning generators to provide the rest. Read the rest of this entry ?
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El Salvador: Two More Anti-Mining Activists Slain

January 31, 2010
An already bloody 2009 ended on a particularly macabre note for activists involved in a grassroots movement to block multinational mining companies from tapping El Salvador’s valuable gold and silver resources.
On Dec. 26, Dora Sorto Recinos, a 32-year-old mother of six, was gunned down near her house in Nueva Trinidad, Cabanas, some 80 km northeast of San Salvador. Alicia, as she was known to her friends, was eight months pregnant at the time. The Salvadoran press reported that the attack occurred while the victim was walking home after washing clothes in a nearby river. Sorto Recinos was carrying her two-year-old son, who received a bullet wound to the foot but survived the attack. Her unborn child did not. Read the rest of this entry ?
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El Salvador: Foreign Mining Companies Still Trying To Pry Open Country’s Gold Veins

January 31, 2010
As global financial uncertainties push the price of gold skyward, North American mining companies, frustrated by El Salvador’s continued refusal to allow extraction permits, are turning to a powerful intermediary–the World Bank–in an effort to strong-arm President Mauricio Funes’ government.
In mid-November, the bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) announced the formation of an arbitration committee to hear a multimillion-dollar suit that Canadian company Pacific Rim Mining filed last April against the Salvadoran government. Pacific Rim, which has spent years and a reported US$77 million prospecting for gold in El Salvador, considers the government’s refusal to grant extraction rights a breach of both Salvadoran and international law. Read the rest of this entry ?
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El Salvador: President Funes Seeks Military Help To Curb Violent Crime

January 31, 2010
As El Salvador’s notoriously high murder rate continues to soar, the country’s new President Mauricio Funes of the leftist Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (FMLN) is turning to an unlikely ally–the armed forces–to help stem the bloodshed.
In 2008, the rampant violence–-much of it blamed on the country’s numerous street gangs–took the lives of nearly 3,200 Salvadorans, a staggering number for a country whose total population is roughly equivalent to that of metropolitan Houston, Texas (5.7 million). This year the death toll is higher still. Read the rest of this entry ?
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Nicaragua: Recession And Job Loss Mark “Horrible Year”

January 31, 2010
Nicaragua ended a tumultuous political year with some dour economic news as well. For the first time since 1993, the economy slipped into recession. Although observers forecast a modest recovery in the months to come, rising unemployment, falling trade, foreign-aid cuts, and a growing fiscal deficit made 2009 a year to forget for the already deeply impoverished Central America nation. Read the rest of this entry ?
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Nicaragua: Ortega Power Push Divides, Isolates Country

January 31, 2010
The recent drenching Nicaragua received from Hurricane Ida did little to douse the flames of political dissent that have flared up regarding President Daniel Ortega’s quest to sidestep a constitutionally imposed term limit and compete in the 2011 elections.
A fixture in Nicaraguan politics for the past three decades, Ortega has competed in every presidential election since 1984, when he won his first five-year term as head of state (1985-1990). The Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN) leader lost the next three elections but, thanks to changes in the country’s election rules, won a second mandate in the 2006 contest–with less than 40% of the vote (see NotiCen, 2006-11-09). Read the rest of this entry ?