The Brazilian state of Acre declared a state of "social emergency" April 10 in response to a surge of undocumented migrants from neighboring Bolivia and Peru—originating in countries from Haiti and the Dominican Republic to Bangladesh to Senegal and Nigeria. Officials said some 1,700 migrants had arrived during the past two weeks. The state "has been turned into an international travel route controlled by coyotes," said Nilson Moura, Acre's secretary for Justice and Human Rights., referring to the smugglers who guide the migrants into Brazil, often in exchange for exorbitant fees. The jungle town of Brasileia has become a key transport point for migrants bound for Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian police last year raided a number of sweatshops in Sao Paulo and the capital, Brasilia, where undocumented immigrants from Bolivia and Pakistan were found working in unsafe conditions for very little or no pay. (BBC, April 11; AFP, April 10)
It was one year ago that Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) seized control of the vast desert north of Mali, and declared an independent state in the remote territory which had long been a sort of internal colony. But within weeks, control of Azawad was usurped by jihadist factions, who drove the MNLA from the territory. After months of harsh sharia rule in northern Mali, France intervened late last year, helped government forces drive back the jihadists, and established tenuous control over the north. Sporadic fighting continues, and the MNLA have joined the offensive against the Islamists, while stressing their independence from the French and government forces. The MNLA now have control of the town of Kidal, in an uneasy alliance with French-backed Chadian troops. But French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, visting the capital Bamako last week, said the MNLA will have to accept being disarmed and "confined." An AP report of April 7 noted celebrations by Tuaregs on the anniversary of the MNLA's takeover, but also implied that the rebel group has abandoned its separatist aspirations. Moussa ag-Assaride, the MNLA's communications chief, was cited as saying he knew that many in northern Mali are not aware that the group officially is no longer seeking independence. "But that doesn't stop the population from showing their joy," he said.
At least 15 were killed April 10 in a series of confrontations in Mexico's increasingly conflicted Michoacán state. The first confrontation began when federal police aboard a helicopter spotted armed men traveling in four vehicles at Charapando in the muncipality of Gabriel Zamora. The gunmen opened fire on the agents, who shot back and killed five, a police statement said, adding that one of those killed was high in the leadership structure of a local drug cartel, which was not named. Two police agents were reported wounded. Hours later in the town of Apatzingan, federal agents were accompanying a procession commemorating the anniversary of the death of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata when gunmen opened fire with AK-47s. Police returned fire, killing one. Another eight were killed elsewhere in Apatzingán, when gunmen attacked a police checkpoint where trucks full of harvested lime were backed up; two police were injured, but the dead were all civilians. Schools in Apatzingán and Buenavista Tomatlán municipalities have been closed due to the violence.
At an April 7 campaign stop in Puerto Ayacucho, Amazonas department, Venezuelan presidential candidate Nicolás Maduro—now interim president and heir apparent of the late Hugo Chávez—called down a centuries-old indigenous curse on his political opponents. Refering to himself in third person, the candidate said: "The people who vote against Maduro, vote against themselves... If the bourgeoisie win power, health and education will be privatized, and the Indians will be removed from their lands. The Curse of Macarapana will fall on them. But we are not going to allow that to be." In the Battle of Macarapana, at what is now Parque del Oeste in Caracas, indigenous chieftain Catia was defeated by conquistador Diego de Losada in 1567, and by popular legend laid a curse on the victors.
"Pablo Catatumbo," commander of the FARC guerillas' feared Western Bloc, was picked up by a Red Cross helicopter in Colombia's southwestern town of Palmira April 6 to join fellow guerrilla leaders who are in Cuba meeting with the government to negotiate peace, according to local media. Neither the government nor the FARC have either confirmed or denied Catatumbo's trip. With the arrival of Catatumbo, the FARC delegation in Havana now includes three of the guerillas' seven-man secretariat. To allow the safe arrival of Catatumbo and five other rebel leaders in Palmira, the army temporarily suspended military operations in the department of Valle de Cauca, military intelligence sources told Caracol Radio. (Vanguardia Liberal, Bucaramanga, April 7; Colombia Reports, RCN Radio, April 6)
Some 30 protesters crashed the opening of the sixth Expominas trade fair at the Quito Exhibition Center April 3, where Ecuador's government sought to win new investors for the mineral and oil sectors. The protesters, mostly women, interrupted the event's inaugural speech with an alternative rendition of the song "Latinoamérica" by the Puerto Rican hip-hop outfit Calle 13, with lyrics referencing places in the country threatened by mining: "You cannot buy Intag, you cannot buy Mirador, you can't buy Kimsacocha, you can't buy my Ecuador." The activists wore t-shirts with the slogan: "Responsible mining, tall tale" (literally, cuento chino, Chinese tale). (Tegantai, April 3)
A new study published in Science finds that a critical glacier in the Peruvian Andes has shrunk to its smallest extent nearly since the end of the last Ice Age. Ohio State University glaciologist Lonnie G. Thompson is studying plants that have been recently exposed near Quelccaya Ice Cap, the world's largest tropical ice sheet, located 18,000 feet above sea level (straddling the border of Cuzco and Puno regions). Chemical analysis of plants exposed by melting several years ago showed them to be about 4,700 years old, proving that the ice cap had reached its smallest extent in nearly five millennia. In the new findings, a thousand feet of additional melting has exposed plants that lab analysis shows to be about 6,300 years old. Thompson said this indicates that ice that had accumulated over approximately 1,600 years melted back in no more than 25 years.
Peru's President Ollanta Humala is under growing pressure to decide whether to grant a "humanitarian" pardon to ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori. In recent days, a number of political opponents and even Lima Archbishop Cardinal Cipriani, a longtime Fujimori supporter, have called upon Humala to issue the pardon. Fujimori, 74, is serving a 25-year term for rights abuses and corruption. His family has requested clemency, citing poor health. Fujimori has undergone surgery several times in recent years to treat a tumor, although a medical report presented by a team of 12 commissioned specialists found no threat to his life. Former President Álan García, whose APRA party supports a pardon, called on Humala to "make a decision no or yes, but don't leave the issue in doubt." Justice Minister Eda Rivas, who is leading the pardon commission, responded, "I ask that you have patience." Ronald Gamarra, a prosecutor during Fujimori's landmark trials, charged that Cipriani "seems to be more Alberto Fujimori's attorney than the head of the Church in Peru." (Peruvian Times, April 2)