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Easter Island Rapa Nui clan in clashes with Chilean police

7 Feb

The island known to most as Easter Island, which lies 3,200km off the west coast of Chile, is officially named Rapa Nui along with the Polynesian people that live there and the language they speak. Sixty per cent of Easter Island’s 4,000 population are descended from the indigenous group. Most of their income is gained from tourism as people travel to the Unesco World Heritage Site to see the Moais, giant carved stone figures which date from sometime between 1250 and 1500. The Rapa Nui have lobbied the Chilean government for independence since the island was annexed in 1888. And in recent years the struggle has grown more pronounced.

The Maois

On Sunday the most recent clash saw police evict a group of Rapa Nui, the Hitorangi clan, from a luxury hotel which they had been occupying since August in protest. They claim the hotel was built on land which had been illegally seized from their ancestors. For months they have been protesting against plans to develop the island for further tourism. The Hangaroa Eco Village and Spa where the group were camped out was brought from the Chilean government by the Scheiss family, a powerful investment group, in the 1990s. Hotel owner Jeannette Scheiss was quoted in the Santiago Times saying: “If someone feels they have a claim to our land, they have to prove it through judicial procedures”. Rodrigo Gomez, a lawyer for the group, said up to 50 armed police had broken into the hotel to remove the final five occupiers who were arrested and released pending court hearings. Mr Gomez said the operation, which took place two days before the group were due to appear in court to discuss the land ownership, had been “utterly irregular and illegal”. A statement on the Save Rapa Nui website claimed that another of the group’s lawyers had been prevented from visiting his clients in jail. Continue reading

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Top Gear crosses the line with racist Mexican comments

2 Feb

Clarkson immitates the Mexican ambassador who he expects will be sleeping and miss the comments

Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, the sometimes bumbling middle-aged presenters that make up the Top Gear trio, are hardly known for the most clean of humour. But their comments characterising Mexicans as  ‘lazy’ on Top Gear last Sunday, 30th January, have proved a step too far. While discussing a Mexican sports car, the Mastretta, Hammond took the opportunity to (rather ineloquently) criticise the Mexican people as a whole: “Mexican cars are just going to be a lazy, feckless, flatulent oaf with a moustache leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat”. May joined in by describing Mexican food as ‘refried sick’ and Clarkson, positively gleeful at his colleagues’ outbursts, said he was confident the BBC would not receive any complaints because the Mexican ambassador would be asleep. Continue reading

Could Brazil’s landslides have been prevented?

18 Jan

Since the Rio de Janeiro region of Brazil was hit by severe flooding and landslides on 12th January after a prolonged period of heavy rainfall, more than 13,000 people have lost or abandoned their homes. From the towns of Nova Friburgo, Teresopolis, Petropolis, Sumidouro and Sao Jose do Vale do Rio Preto the death toll has reached 676. The rescue effort has been criticised as people have been forced to wait so long for food, medicines and water it is feared they may resort to drinking the muddy flood water. In Teresopolis the city council has been forced to bury the dead before they have been identified as the mortuaries are filled to capacity. Some remote mountainous areas have been cut off for five days, and it is feared that more bodies could be found there.

Teresopolis after a landslide on 12th January

But could these floods, or the level of destruction caused by them, have been prevented? Brazil’s rainy season is often aggressive with rivers bursting their banks and a certain number of deaths. In January last year heavy rains killed dozens of people living just south of the towns currently affected. More planning and management might not have prevented this disaster, as a month’s worth of rain fell in just eight hours, but it surely would have limited the number killed and left homeless. Continue reading

Spanish government right to distrust Eta ceasefire

16 Jan

Since September there has been much anticipation in Spain of an announcement from the Basque terrorist group Eta addressing a permanent ceasefire. But when the moment came earlier this week the promised truce was met with little more than disappointment as the Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero dismissed it as too heavy on rhetoric and too empty of precise detail. In their video announcing the truce, the three hooded Eta members made no mention of disarming or dissolving the organisation, which are two key demands of the Spanish government.

The video in which Eta militants promise a ceasefire

The Spanish are right to be sceptical after decades of ceasefires that have ended in nothing but further death and destruction. Since the 1980s after Spain’s transition to democracy, Eta has declared around ten ceasefires. Their ceasefire of March 2006, which they claimed would be permanent, was met with direct talks with the government, only to end in December that year when the group detonated bombs in Madrid’s Barajas Airport, killing two. In September last year, Eta announced an end to its armed offensive but the move was so weak the government refused to enter into negotiations. Continue reading

Police are no match for Mexico’s violent drug cartels

29 Dec

The latest progression in Mexico’s drug wars has seen the small border town of Guadalupe stripped of a police force. The town has been left completely undefended and unpoliced after its last remaining officer, 28-year-old Erika Gandara was kidnapped on 23rd December. The Mexican government has sent soldiers to patrol Guadalupe and to investigate the kidnapping of Ms Gandara who had patrolled the town of 9,000 inhabitants on her own since June.

Mexican army arrives in Guadalupe

It is revealing of the government’s strategy against the cartels; for four years the army has been positioned in the chief problem area, Ciudad Juárez, meanwhile a lack of resources means that neighbouring towns with similar drug problems albeit on a smaller scale, are overlooked. Murders and abductions are so frequent and the pay so poor that policing has become an unattractive profession in Chihuahua, this region of Mexico. Since President Felipe Calderón came to power in 2006 with promises of a crackdown on the cartels 30,000 people have died in drug-related violence. Continue reading

El caganer: Cataluña’s crazy Christmas tradition

23 Dec

The traditional Caganer

It’s called the caganer and if you were to translate it into English we’d probably call it the ‘defecator’, which sounds like some poor excuse for a superhero. In fact this little figure of a peasant boy ‘doing his business’ has become one of the most popular features of Christmas for children across Cataluña. The figure, dressed in a red beret, sash and black trousers, is hidden in the traditional nativity scene. Along with baby Jesus in his manger, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, angels and kings, no Catalan nativity scene is complete without its caganer. Continue reading

A Christmas gift to disband Farc rebels in Colombia

22 Dec

Christmas lights like these in Bogotá were taken to the rebel-controlled jungle

It’s a rather roundabout way of demobilising rebels. The Colombian army has installed a giant Christmas tree in territory held by Farc rebels (Fuerzas armadas revolucionarias de Colombia) to encourage the guerrilla fighters to lay down their weapons. But it’s no carrot-stick approach. The 25m tall tree is clad with 2,000 fairy lights that are attached to movement sensors and will only light up when guerrillas approach. So it’s less of a gift, more a disguised intruder alarm which special forces smuggled into the Macarena mountain range last week.

The army plans to put trees in nine other rebel-occupied areas to spread the idea that Christmas is a good time to abandon armed struggle. And then probably that a ceasefire is not just for Christmas after all. The initiative, code named ‘Operation Christmas’, saw troops visit rebel territory in Blackhawk helicopters. As well as decorating the tree with lights it has been covered in slogans urging the rebels ‘demobilise, at Christmas everything is possible’ and ‘If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home.’ Continue reading