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TOPIC: south america


On Democracy, Republics And Lula's Theory Of Relativity

A democracy is not just the vague and dangerously malleable promise of popular rule. It is instead an institutional regime or "republic" that defines and protects the rights of the people, and of individuals.


BUENOS AIRES — In a column in this newspaper (Clarín) earlier this year, Professor Loris Zanatta drew our attention to declarations made in July by Brazil's President Lula da Silva rejecting criticisms against Venezuela's socialist regime. Lula said "democracy is a relative concept, for you and for me," when asked if Venezuela is a democracy.

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This Happened — October 5: Chilean Referendum

The referendum in Chile took place on this day in 1988, when citizens voted against extending General Augusto Pinochet's regime.

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Cachaça To Cabernet: A New Generation Of Winemakers Puts Brazil On The Map

Surprising as it may seem, Brazil is also seeking a future in wine. Driven by legendary families and ambitious new winemakers as ambassadors, the country is eager to play in the same league as its famous South American neighbors.

SERRA GAÚCHA — At the dawn of each new year, Brazilians like to follow a few traditions: wearing white, riding seven waves, eating lentils and making three wishes in a row while sipping sparkling wine.

The wine is one of the famous espumantes that have made the reputation of the local vineyards, based on a savoir-faire that, while well-known in the region, dreams of making a name of itself in Europe and elsewhere.

Now, a young generation of winemakers are trying to meet this challenge in a country inevitably associated with soccer stars, creamy coffee and the intoxicating aromas of the alcohol cachaça.

Established in the Vale dos Vinhedos region (Serra Gaúcha), at the head of one of the country’s most important vineyards, Juarez Valduga recalls the arrival of Italian immigrants in Brazil in the late 19th century. “At the time, the State would give some land to any foreigners settling here,” he says, while walking through a labyrinthine wine cellar, dug right in the basalt. “My grandfather, Luiz, was able to cultivate 12 hectares, where he started planting his own grape varieties. Then, he moved on to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot.”
A hard worker encouraged by the innovative spirit of his children and his tenacious wife Maria, the patriarch quickly understood that fine Brazilian wines would have their place here in the sun. His favorite saying: “Before making two bottles of wine, make one, but make it well.”
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Maduro Like Bolsonaro? Lula's Double Standard On Democracy

Brazilian President Lula da Silva's goodwill toward the Venezuela's President Maduro, in spite of the signs Maduro might hijack the 2024 general elections, suggests Lula has a problem with Western-style liberal democracy, even after he has criticized his predecessor for the same thing.

BUENOS AIRES — Almost simultaneously on the last day of June, Brazil and Venezuela blocked the political paths of two prominent opponents of the countries' socialist governments. In Brazil, ex-president Jair Bolsonaro, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's right-wing predecessor and often dubbed the "tropical Trump," was banned for eight years from holding public office, which means he could not run in the 2026 presidential elections or the municipal polls of 2024 and 2028.

In Venezuela, authorities slapped a 15-year ban on María Corina Machado, a former legislator and a favorite to unite the opposition in the general elections scheduled for 2024. She was thought to have a good chance of stopping President Nicolás Maduro's new attempt at reelection.

Our great Argentine novelist Jorge Luis Borges observed, a little ironically, that history loves symmetry, though in this case the coincidence is, frankly, haphazard. The big difference between the disqualifications is that in Brazil, the judiciary acted against Bolsonaro in a country where the due process of law, and thus personal rights and pertinent evidence, are respected.

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In The News

Worldcrunch Magazine #39 — Pageant Trafficking: How Venezuela's Beauty Queens Are Forced Into Prostitution

June 26 - July 2, 2023

This is the latest edition of Worldcrunch Magazine, a selection of our best articles of the week from the best international journalists, produced exclusively in English for Worldcrunch readers.


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Johan Sanabria

The Colombian Paramilitary's Other Dirty War — Against LGBTQ+ People

In several parts of Colombia over the past decades, right-wing paramilitaries and their successor gangs have targeted all those tagged as sexual "deviants" for execution, supposedly in a bid to restore traditional values.

Welcome to Worldcrunch’s LGBTQ+ International. We bring you up-to-speed each week on the latest on everything LGBTQ+ — from all corners of the planet. This week, we also feature an article by Johan Sanabria for Bogota-based daily El Espectador that focuses on how Colombian right-wing paramilitaries and gangs targeting all those they deem to be sexual "deviants." But first, the latest news...

✉️ You can receive our LGBTQ+ International roundup every week directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

TW: This content may address topics and include references to violence that some may find distressing.

🌐 5 things to know right now

• Calls for Sunak to apologize, and an Oxford University first: The British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been called on to apologize "on behalf of the nation" by activists from the LGBTQ+ veterans' group Fighting with Pride for historic anti-LGBTQ+ hatred in the military. Meanwhile, Oxford University has named the UK's first Professor of LGBTQ+ History at Mansfield College. The role will go to Matt Cook, a renowned cultural historian who has written extensively on queer urban life, the AIDS crisis and queer domesticity.

• Support pulled for Rome Pride: The right-wing government of Italy's Lazio region has pulled its support from the capital's annual LGBTQ+ parade after organizers publicly supported surrogate motherhood, which is still illegal in Italy. This comes as the subject remains particularly sensitive since Giorgia Meloni came to power and announced her intention to combat the "LGBTQ+ lobby".

• Major survey shows 9% of adults identify as LGTBQ+: The Ipsos LGBT+ Pride 2023 survey (conducted in February and March 2023 among more than 22,500 adults under 75) has found that an average of 9% of adults across 30 countries identify as LGBTQ+. The survey also shows increased LGBTQ+ visibility, as well as widespread support for same-sex couples to marry and adopt children. Respondents also spoke in favor of protecting transgender people from employment and housing discrimination, but views were divided on other pro-transgender measures. The survey was

• Taylor Swift’s voices support in Chicago: Taylor Swift delivered a strong message to her audience for Pride Month at a concert in Chicago. The pop superstar said she saw some incredible people in her audience who are “living authentically and beautifully”. She also tweeted in support of the LGBTQ+ community, denouncing all forms of discrimination. Meanwhile, a Gallup poll showed that support for same-sex marriage remains high at 71% of Americans.

• Virtual installation creates a stir in France: A video of the Parisian landmark, the Arc de Triomphe draped in a looping rainbow has caused quite a stir in France, with some criticizing the use of a monument that is dedicated to French soldiers. But the installation was only virtual: Ian Padgham, the artist behind the virtual work, reacted to the controversy by warning against society's unpreparedness for manipulation through images.

The Colombian Paramilitary's Other Dirty War — Against LGBTQ+ People

BARRANCABERMEJA — Sandra* spotted her name for the first time on a pamphlet left at her doorstep in 2008, in Barrancabermeja, her home town in northern Colombia. Local paramilitaries known as the Black Eagles (Águilas negras) dropped it there on Dec. 15 as a warning and, effectively, a deferred death sentence. It meant they knew where Sandra, a transgender woman, lived and that if she chose to stay, she could expect to die.

The pamphlet, copies of which were left in bars or premises frequented by gays, lesbians and transsexuals, stated, "Barrancabermeja is becoming full of fags, AIDS-spreaders and sodomites, and this must stop." Colombians do not take gang threats lightly, and know that paramilitaries are death squads: in many parts of the country, they have killed with utter impunity.

Sandra was born in August 1989 in the San Rafael hospital in Barrancabermeja. Her mother was a housewife and her father worked for the country's big oil firm, Ecopetrol. The youngest of three children, she had dark skin and dark eyes, thick lips and long, curvy hair. She is not very tall, speaks slowly and tends to prolong words, and seldom laughs.

Aged 14, she fled her home a first time, sickened by bullying at school — from classmates and teachers — and beatings at home for being transgender.

Left homeless, she was sent to the home of a woman to whom she refers as "mother." Some mother: while caring for Sandra and providing shelter, she would also give her "a smack" if need be, and pimp her out, even before she was an adult.

Sandra wasn't the only girl with "mom". Now, she says, "being with other trans-women made me feel a freedom I hadn't known, though [prostitution] also puts you in difficult situations I'd rather forget."

Sandra thus lived away from home from 2003 to 2008. In those years, the conservative government of President Álvaro Uribe Vélez was negotiating the disarmament of some 30,000 armed men of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas unidas de Colombia, AUC).

The country's Truth Commission (Comisión de la Verdad), a body with fact-finding and reparative functions, has observed that this was a "relief for most territories" in Colombia, though it adds the groups swiftly rearmed and "recycled" into plain, armed gangs.

In Barrancabermeja, it took a single night for the Bolívar Central Block, part of the AUC, to become the new paramilitaries. In February 2008, the new "paras" or Black Eagles, entered the Ciudadela Pipatón neighborhood, threatening 20 locals known for their sexual and gender diversity. Five fled immediately, being declared military objectives, while Sandra's turn came 10 months later.

The authorities say Black Eagles is a pseudonym used by common criminals to give themselves impunity, as nobody will dare report paramilitaries. Bodies such as Human Rights Watch have a list of complaints of violent crimes filed with authorities and attributed to gangs such as the Black Eagles.

In the course of 2008, Sandra renewed contact with her family. She wanted to tell them what she had suffered as a child, including the pain of being abused by a neighbor when left alone at home one day. She thought Christmas might be a good time to do this, but "it was the hardest, bitching conversation of my life," she recalls, saying she ended up crying with her mother. Early in 2009, she returned to live with her mother, in spite of talk of trans women being gunned down in the district. For Sandra, just being at home seemed to have put things right.

In its report "War Inscribed on the Body" (La guerra inscrita en el cuerpo), the state-backed National Center for Historical Memory observes that the paramilitaries "were keen to cleanse" their territories of all bodies deemed to be "pollution, deviation, immorality and illness". HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, came to be linked to promiscuity and sin, which justified forceful measures, especially against the various gay communities.

Diego Ruiz Thorrens, a philosopher and head of ConPazes, a sexual health and rights consultancy, says that in the Middle Magdalena Basin, a region including Barrancabermeja, armed groups came to target, as they still do, people suspected of being HIV positive. His views differ from those of healthcare authorities, who attribute a rise in HIV-positive diagnoses precisely to increased testing nationwide thanks to fewer prejudices. The country's National Health Institute duly noted a 51% rise in HIV-positive cases between 2020 and late 2022.

Ruiz and another activist, Oviedo Nieto, insist that anti-gay prejudices persist in the Santander department. Nieto says that many Colombians have yet to clearly distinguish between HIV and full-blown AIDS, and this clearly is not a distinction paramilitaries care to make.

The Black Eagles returned to Sandra's home months after the pamphlet. Her mother told them she wasn't there and begged them to leave her alone. They agreed — if she left town in the next 24 hours. That night, she fled to her sister's home in Bucaramanga, the capital of Santander. She had no time to bid farewell to a friend who was later killed. "The family always blamed me," she recalls, "as they saw us kissing. They killed him for a kiss."

At some point before leaving, Sandra and several transgender women were able to meet with paramilitary commanders to ask why they had been blacklisted. The militia told them "it had received complaints" — the women were "addicts, thieves and were harassing the children and menfolk" in town. And yet, she recalls, in spite of their supposed vileness, the paramilitaries were not beyond hiring their sex services, though "in order not to look bad with their group, they would (then) kill them."

In Bucaramanga she could not find work as a transgender woman with a resumé in prostitution, and says she had to keep "going back to hairdressing or prostitution." In 2015, she began to feel poorly and soon tested positive for HIV. About that time, her mother was found to have a stomach tumor, which prompted her to decide to return, against all advice.

Up to the pandemic of 2020, complaints persisted in Barrancabermeja of gunmen threatening anyone suspected of being HIV positive. ConPazes records the case of a man who died of an AIDS-related illness, with his widow telling everyone he had died of cancer. When her own infection became evident, says Ruiz, she and her sons were themselves "almost" shot dead several times. This is the home district to which Sandra returned to be near her mother, and where she now lives "invisibly," as she says. Her mother died in 2016.

Younger members of the gay and trans communities in Barrancabermeja will not live this way, and while death threats persist, they have tended to target their most prominent members. The head of the municipality's sexual and gender rights office, Karina López, says these younger members of the gay communities are unfamiliar with the terror of the 1990s to 2010 period, when violence peaked.

Today, she adds, the 1,200 or so who attend the district's Pride march are of a generation "that demands to live without fear."

* Name changed to protect her identity.

This article was compiled with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross as part of its 2022 online course, Conflict, Violence and Human Rights in Colombia: Tools for Journalists (Conflicto, violencia and DIH en Colombia: herramientas para periodistas). The views expressed are not those of the Red Cross and its editorial board.

Johan Sanabria

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Mara Resio

How Argentina Is Changing Tactics To Combat Gender Violence

Argentina has tweaked its protocols for responding to sexual and domestic violence. It hopes to encourage victims to report crimes and reveal information vital to a prosecution.

BUENOS AIRES - In the first three months of 2023, Argentina counted 116 killings of women, transvestites and trans-people, according to a local NGO, Observatorio MuMaLá. They reveal a pattern in these killings, repeated every year: most femicides happen at home, and 70% of victims were protected in principle by a restraining order on the aggressor.

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Now, legal action against gender violence, which must begin with a formal complaint to the police, has a crucial tool — the Protocol for the Investigation and Litigation of Cases of Sexual Violence (Protocolo de investigación y litigio de casos de violencia sexual). The protocol was recommended by the acting head of the state prosecution service, Eduardo Casal, and laid out by the agency's Specialized Prosecution Unit for Violence Against Women (UFEM).

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This Happened

This Happened — May 22: The Great Chilean Earthquake

The Great Chilean earthquake was a magnitude 9.5 earthquake that struck off the coast of Chile on this day in 1960.

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This Happened

This Happened — May 4: Ground Is Broken On The Panama Canal

The building of the Panama Canal started on this day in 1904. This man-made waterway connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and was built by the United States.

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Carlos Ruckauf*

The Trumpian Virus Undermining Democracy Is Now Spreading Through South America

Taking inspiration from events in the United States over the past four years, rejection of election results and established state institutions is on the rise in Latin America.


BUENOS AIRES — South Africa's Nelson Mandela used to say it was "so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build."

Intolerance toward those who think differently, even inside the same political space, is corroding the bases of representative democracy, which is the only system we know that allows us to live and grow in freedom, in spite of its flaws.

Recent events in South America and elsewhere are precisely alerting us to that danger. The most explosive example was in Brazil, where a crowd of thousands managed to storm key institutional premises like the presidential palace, parliament and the Supreme Court.

In Peru, the country's Marxist (now former) president, Pedro Castillo, sought to use the armed and security forces to shut down parliament and halt the Supreme Court and state prosecutors from investigating corruption allegations against him.

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Alvaro Forero Tascón

Adiós Castillo: Why Latin America Is Ready To Close The Era Of "Cheap Populism"

The impeachment and arrest of Peru's Leftist president can be taken as perhaps a conclusive signal to the region that populism — from the Left and Right — may have run out of gas.

Modern populism, or "neo-populism," began in Peru with the election in 1990 of President Alberto Fujimori. The notorious arch-conservative leader, who smashed a Maoist rebellion, was a pioneer of the pseudo-arguments one hears to this day within the anti-political circles of populism. He wanted to forge a direct link with "the people" by simplified policy proposals, whipping up emotions and sidelining public institutions. He promised firm government and an end to corruption, only to turn into another violent and corrupt strongman.

Others of his type — in Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador — sought to keep power with the help of favorable economic winds, but eventually (virtually) all fell in the same way, like dominos. And now, we've seen it again in Peru, with the ouster and arrest of former President Pedro Castillo.

It's worth recalling that in the first decade of this century, all South American countries of the Andean region were dominated by the populist phenomenon, whether from the Left or Right. Peru and Venezuela succumbed to blatant authoritarianism though Venezuela's Hugo Chávez was the only one to entirely subdue the country's institutions.

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Migrant Lives
Astrid Morales

Walls Of Shame: Trump Is Not Alone In Building Barriers To Shut Out Latin Americans

Keeping out the poor from one country to another, or even within a country, is not a new idea, though former U.S. President Donald Trump seems to have set off a new wave across the region, and the world.

If you are from Latin America and you hear the word “wall,” you most likely think of the one that Donald Trump began to build between the United States and Mexico. However, there are currently more than 60 border walls around the world, and, contrary to popular belief, Trump's is not the only one keeping Latin Americans out of a territory.

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