Thursday, April 19, 2007

Violent shootout between Rio de Janeiro Drug Gangs and Police

The "Cariocas" (citizens of Rio de Janeiro) are becoming increasingly accustomed to constant episodes of intense violence, caused mainly by drug gangs that battle each other and against the local police for control of the "favelas" or shantytowns that spread all over the hills that surround the city. This is exactly what happened on April 17 at the Favela Mineira, located within short distance of the central business district, known by locals as "Centro". Ar 5:00 a.m. a large group of men belonging to the Comando Vermelho (Red Commando or CV in the Portuguese acronym) , Rio´s most powerful drug gang, attempted to take control of the Mineira. The men were armed with powerful automatic assault weapons, mostly AR-15 and UZIs, but were met with fierce resistance by members of the "Amigos dos Amigos" gang, (Friends of our Friends or ADA in the acronym)that control drug trafficking operations at the Mineira. Alerted by the loud noise caused by the shootout, the Rio de Janeiro police also deployed to the Mineira hill in an attempt to restore order.The members of the CV were rejected by the ADA and as they tried to retreat were also intercepted by the police officers that were reaching the area. According to the police, at this stage the officers killed four gansgters, while later on thirteen other corpses were found higher up the Mineira hill.
An ironic situation occured at 10:00 a.m. as some members of the CV attempted to flee through the nearby Catumbi cemetery. Many of the funerals that were taking place at this stage had to be cancelled abruptly as innoent people were caught in the crossfire between police officers and fleeing gangsters.
One of the gangsters jumped through a window into a chapel full of mourning relatives and hid under the coffin."For the love of God, please don´t tell the police where I am," said the panic stricken member of the CV. A local newspaper printed a photograph in its afternoon edition that showed a police officer shooting next to a coffin of a dead person.Due to its location, the shootout at the Favela Mineira cut the city in two, paralizing traffic from the poorer "North Zone" to the
more posh southern suburbs such as Copacabana and Ipanema. Several citizens that were caught in the crossfire were wounded by stray bullets that were fired from all directions.Such was the case of Jorge Henrique dos Santos, that at 8:00 a.m was travelling to work in a public bus when he was shot in the head. Luckily for Jorge it was only a superficial wound. Diego Felipe Lima, aged 22 was shot in the chest and abdomen, while Reginla da Silva was shot in the stomach.According to TV news reports, they were both recovering after emergency surgery at a nearby hospital. Ina separate incident that occurred at the "Centro" at lunchtime, two men were shot dead during a robbery.Carlos Alberto Mendes, a 55 year old accountant had just withdrawn a large sum of money from a bank when he was attacked by two robbers. mendes was shot in the back and died instantly but a passerby began to grapple with the robbers, took the gun from one of them and killed the robber with a shot in the back of the head. Other pedestrians nearly beat the other robber to death but were controlled by police officers.This fateful day occurs just as Sergio Cabral, the Governor of Rio de Janeiro had pleaded to President Lula da Silva to allow the Brazilian army to move in and pacify the city. Cabral is a first hand witness to the situation of insecurity since last week one of his bodyguards was shot dead after being identified by drug traffickers at at discoteque. The situation is close to becoming one of civil war since the gangsters do not hesitate when they have a chance to kill a police officer, such as in the case of Cabral´s bodyguard.
According to the local press, the Comando Vermelho is losing ground against the Amigos dos Amigos gang, that has expelled the CV from several profitable favelas. Also a newer organization called the "Terceiro Comando"(Third Commando)is becoming more powerful and has also taken control of several favelas in Rio de Janeiro.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Logging companies threaten Chile´s rainforest

In a recent report published by the World Wildlife Fund, the organization pinpoints the 19 most endangered areas in the planet and thatmust be protected within the next 50 years. In the list are such important zones such as the Amazon jungle that covers territory in Brazil,Colombia,Ecuador,Peru, Venezuela, and which contain huge reserves of what may be the most important commodity for future generations of human beings : water.
Another area on the WWF list that is in danger of dissapearing is the temperate rain forest in Valdivia, Chile. This forest(mostly found in southern Chile but also on Argentinean territory) has at present a total of 85 million acres and is protected to the east by the snowcapped Andes Mountains. The Valdivia forest contains the Chilean national tree, known as Araucaria (monkey puzzle tree) many of which are approximately 3,000 years old. The environmental crisis has also endangered the existence of species as rare as the Pudu, the world´s smallest variety of deer, with a legth of only 40 centimeters and a weight of 10 kilograms.The Pudu is extremely shy and only dares to wander around at night to search for its food, mostly grass and other herbs. As Chile becomes one of the world´s leading exporters of paper pulp and wood chips, the Valdivia forest has been targeted by the powerful logging companies that have already covered large stretches of land in central Chile with non-native pine and eucalyptus plantations. The Valdivia forest has been for thousands of years the traditional territory of the Pehuenche ethnic group, a subdivision of the Mapuche Nation, the largest native group in southern Chile and Argentina. The Pehuenche´s main source of subsistence is the collection of nuts from the Araucaria tree, which they use as their main food supply. In recent years a conflict has begun between the Mapuche Nation and the logging companies backed by the Chilean government and politicians, many of whom are shareholders in the companies or receive cash donations for their election campaigns from the conglomerates. The logging companies plan to expand their operations into the Valdivia area, threatening the livelihood of the Pehuenches and also the existence of the Araucarias. It must be noted that in Chile a pine tree takes 20 years to mature, compared to an average of 40 years in Europe.Also the pine trees and eucalyptus consume a large amount of water from the underground reserves, and in recent years have caused droughts that had until now been unknown in the areas where these non-native trees have been planted. The Mapuche Nation has reacted by forming an underground resistance movement known as the "Council of All the Lands" that carries out acts of sabotage against the logging companies such as ambushes against their employees and burning trucks that carry timber out of the area. Also several Mapuches that work for the logging companies or collaborate with the Chilean police have been murdered by militants of the "Council of All the Lands". The Chilean police and Mapuche militants have had violent clashes on many occasions and there is a constant state of tension in the area,as the Mapuches have also attacked and burnt down homes belonging to farmers of non-Mapuche descent. In March 2007, the Chilean police arrested the leader of the military wing of the "Council of All the Lands",Jose Huenchunao, that had been acting undercover for the past five years. In an ironic twist of fate, the Bachelet goverment used the "Anti-Terrorist Law" (created by General Augusto Pinochet) to press charges against Huenchunao, that is today in jail in a city in the south of Chile.