A green wave hit Argentina, the case of murdered activist Berta Caceres brought to justice, and Central American refugees trekked to the U.S.
As 2018 comes to an end, teleSUR takes a look at news stories that have gained most attention and affected in one way or another the peoples of Latin America.
Over 10,000 Central Americans left out of the Northern Triangle-Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador-beginning in mid-October in what they named an Exodus finding strength in unity to take on a one month, 3,000km trek through Mexico to the United States to request asylum from the Donald Trump administration.
The five ‘migrant caravan’ waves garnered international attention and found safety in numbers as they twice pushed through oppressive Mexican military regime that threw tear gas at them and used low-flying helicopters to try to deter their entry into the country from Guatemala in October.
Brian Delarta, a 30 year old Honduran and member of the Exodus told reporters in October while walking through Veracruz state in Mexico: “We’re walking with fear, that’s why we’re sticking together, staying united.”
Previous caravans over the years have helped migrants and refugees traverse Mexico safely where according to an Associated Press investigation over 4,000 migrants have been killed over the past four years.
Amelia Frank-Vitale told teleSUR in late October of the group's unity as the first caravan traveled north: “There's a difficult but beautiful democratic process happening here when decisions are made. People get up and speak. There are assemblies that everyone is involved in who want to be and by a show of hands or noise, decisions are made.”
Thousands of Central American refugees are still waiting at temporary encampments along the U.S-Mexico border after fleeing violence, poverty, and hunger due to climate change in their home countries.
Far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro won the Brazilian presidential elections with over 55 percent of the vote beating Workers Party candidate Fernando Haddad who scored 44.3 percent in the country's most polarized elections in decades.
Bolsonaro’s campaign was marked by an almost complete lack of political debate, along with fascist, racist and sexist remarks that won him popularity with the conservative right.
Historian and sociologist Pablo Meriguet Calle who studies anti-fascist movements in Brazil told teleSUR in October: "The extreme right … is extremely dangerous for democratic processes and even worse for revolutionary democratic processes."
Indigenous groups in Brazil are speaking out against Bolsonaro’s “careless” comments he made in earlier this month saying that Indigenous need to assimilate to the dominant white/mestizo culture rather than remain on reserves “as if they were animals in a zoo.”
In July Ecuador’s Constitutional Court rejected Chevron’s appeal to avoid paying US$9.5 billion in environmental and social reparations to the communities affected by its 30 years of operations in the nation’s Amazon.
However, by Aug. 30th the Hague said that Ecuador’s highest court "denied (Chevron) justice" and violated the company's judicial procedural rights in light of the decision. The Union of the Affected by Texaco’s Oil Operations (UDAPT) said the Hague court ruling was “inapplicable,” and vowed to take make Chevron pay.
Argentine unions and social movements occupied the capitol streets and those of smaller cities on a continual basis this past year in protest to President Mauricio Macri’s austerity onslaught. By October the Argentine union workers had held its fifth general strike to demonstrate against the layoffs of tens of thousands of state worker, transportation and energy subsidy cuts.
Teachers and education unions have gone on strike for over 14 days since March to demonstrate against slashed funding for schools and to increase their wages that don’t keep pace with the current 40-50 percent inflation rate. The year 2018 has become known in Argentina as the year of the "new poor" as Macri’s administration strangles the economy to feed interest on the country’s US$57 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan agreed up last June and renegotiated in September.
On Christmas Eve, some of Argentina’s largest unions—Confederation of Workers for the Popular Economy (CTEP) and The Association of State Workers (ATE)—along with education and transportation unions provided a Christmas dinner for 2,000 of the city’s poor in protest of the austerity measures in front of Congress.
"What we want is to end this year that was filled with a lot of struggle and was very hard for the Argentine people by sharing this feast,” Rafael Klejzer head of CTEP in Buenos Aires told reporters at the feast.
Police brutality against union protests increased this year where security forces injured at least 15 and detained five demonstrators during an August anti-austerity march in a Buenos Aires suburb.
Abortion activists came close to getting a pro-abortion law passed in Argentina inciting a ‘green wave’ of demonstrations of support for the measure in the country and across Latin America. Millions of abortion supporters marched throughout the year in Argentina waving symbolic pro-abortion green handkerchiefs to demand that legislators pass a bill allowing women to terminate their pregnancies up to 14 weeks since inception, dramatically expanding their reproductive rights in the conservative Catholic country.
The measure passed the House but was narrowly blocked by the Senate in August. However, activists and the National Campaign For Free, Safe and Legal Abortions that first presented the bill 13 years ago continue to move the measure forward. Massive public debates around abortion and increased public support for the procedure resulted in Congress passing a law that will make an abortion pill more widely available. Over 300,000 women have an illicit abortion annually according to the Argentine Health Ministry.
Influenced by Argentina, women activists in Mexico, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay began to more fervently demand greater access to legal abortions in 2018.
Simultaneously, women protesters in the region demonstrated against the dramatic increase of femicides in Latin America. From Costa Rica to Argentina legal strides were made to combat violence and the killing of women, however well over half of these gendered murders in Latin America go unpunished.
Marielle Franco, an Afro-Brazilian lesbian and feminist socialist councilwoman in Rio de Janeiro, critical of police violence and the right-wing Temer government, was assassinated in the Brazilian coastal city along with her driver Anderson Gomes on March 14, two weeks after she was named a rapporteur in a special commission to monitor military repression in poor areas of Rio.
Three days before she was murdered, Marielle denounced the deaths of two youths during a military police operation in the Acari favela.
“We must speak loudly so that everybody knows what is happening in Acari right now. The (military) is terrorizing and violating Acari residents. ... This has always happened, and with the military intervention things have gotten worse,” she wrote on Twitter.
Two policemen were arrested in connection to her murder in July. Bringing her murder to justice is going achingly slow as Brazil’s Minister of Public Security Raul Jungmann says that politicians and paramilitaries orchestrated and carried out Franco’s assassination and they are the same people preventing the resolution of the case.
The Venezuelan government introduced and sold off millions in the country’s Petro this year, a cryptocurrency backed by five billion barrels of the government’s own refined oil. The Nicolas Maduro administration sold off some 82.5 million Petro units in February bringing in some US$735 million within hours to the government.
The Petro was put into circulation on the world market in October shortly after the country denounced the U.S. dollar and the current Trump administration for imposing further sanctions on Venezuela. Maduro scrapped the dollar and announced that all international government transaction would take place via the euro or yuan.
Maduro pronounced Venezuela "financially free" from the U.S. and its illicit economic sanctions. Companies and individuals can buy Petros and also the Petro Gold using currencies such as euros, dollars, yuan, rubles, and rupees, or by employing cryptocurrencies.
Despite the right winning all around him in Honduras, Colombia and Brazil in a third attempt at the presidency, center-left candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) was elected and sworn in as Mexico’s head of state this year, calling neoliberalism the region’s ‘calamity’.
Elected in July, AMLO was inaugurated just under a month ago but has already introduced progressive policies such as raising the minimum wage by 16 percent, slashing the salaries of judges and government officials—including his own, and proposing the nationalization of oil.
AMLO also began transportation and economic development programs in often-neglected Oaxaca state and the Yucatan Peninsula, however, these mega-projects have not been without criticism by Indigenous communities throughout these areas.
Since being sworn in Dec. 1 the president has pledged to continue diplomatic ties with Venezuela, bucking the regional trend and is creating a regional program with Central America to stem the flow of refugees and immigrants northward.
Two years after Colombia signed the final peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) the war against Afro-Colombian, Indigenous, and Campesino communities continue as over 400 social leaders and human rights defenders, according to teleSUR count, have been murdered mainly by paramilitaries in the country’s rural areas.
As late as November 22, at least three Afro-Colombian community leaders were gunned down in the city of Buenaventura, and hundreds more continue to be threatened or injured as they try to gain equitable access to the land and resources that the FARC and National Liberation Army (ELN) once enabled them to.
For many, especially the victims, the 2016 agreement bore the hope of an end to Colombia’s internal conflict where at least seven million people were displaced, 260,000 killed, and 80,000 forcibly disappeared.
By December of this year, after months of being ignored or dismissed by newly inaugurated right-wing President Ivan Duque, Colombia’s student organizations and social movements began a series of nationwide protests against the murders and increased education costs. The National Union of Higher Education Students (Unees) says the mobilizations are a rejection of the wave of social leader killings that increased in the second half of the year.
Demonstrations are planned to resume in mid-January with the help of left-wing Colombian Senator Alberto Castilla who has denounced "the judicialization and the crimes" that are being committed against social leaders in the country.
The family of the slain land rights activists, and a coalition of international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Oxfam, say they aren’t done demanding justice for the death of Honduran Berta Caceres.
Even though seven of the eight accused of murdering the Indigenous woman who fought against mining in the Lenca territory of Honduras were found guilty in late November, Caceres’ daughter and organizations say those who orchestrated the murder are still free and are calling for a retrial: “We urge the Public Ministry to guarantee an independent, impartial, and transparent process that will engage the intellectual and material authors of this terrible crime and secure justice for Berta,” say her family and over 28 Honduran and international organizations.
After four postponements the murder trial resumed in October but without the lawyers of Caceres’ family after they were illegally discarded by the judge. The lawyers had charged that the judge in the case had thrown out evidence against the accused and was creating a bias toward the hitmen, some of whom were from the military.
Berta Caceres was assassinated on Mar. 2, 2016 in her home in La Esperanza in western Honduras after battling for years to stop the construction of an internationally-financed hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River which the Lenca people consider sacred.