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Before The Eruption: Surveying The Argentine Ghost Towns Of Copahue Volcano

Where there's smoke...?
Where there's smoke...?

CAVIAHUE – In this ghost town, the houses are empty and windows are boarded shut.

The red foxes and cauquenes geese are in hiding and no condors circle the sky above. Since last week, there has been no movement in Caviahue, southwestern Argentina, aside from the tremors of the nearby Copahue volcano, spewing gas.

Even though the volcano’s tremors are barely perceptible, this popular touristic town is completely empty except for the people who are there to research the volcano. The handful of scientists know that they might have to flee the area as quickly as possible at any given moment.

The rest, the townspeople are gone – they have evacuated their homes, leaving a desolate and empty town.

On Monday, provincial authorities declared a “red alert” and ordered the evacuation of the whole town as a precaution. For those who needed to go back home to get their things, a “special mission” was organized. When they arrived, they found that the village had been blanketed in 1.5 meters of snow. About 40 villagers went into their homes to retrieve clothing, medicine, documents and pets.

Evacuation (FB Turismo Copahue)

Soledad Poblete was able to “rescue” Tifi and Piren, his dogs. “We are staying at my grandfather’s house until the alarm is over. We are calm and are doing everything we can to be safe,” says Soledad.

Living at the foot of a volcano

It is not the first time these villagers have been evacuated. Volcanic activity in the area already forced them to flee in 1992 and 2000, when the sulfur expelled by the volcano scared everyone. The last time the volcano was active was last December, when it spewed ash for a day and a half.

“This is how we live, we are used to living at the foot of a volcano and we have no other option: we must resign ourselves to the laws of nature,” says Marcelino Saenz, a retiree who drove four neighbors into town to check on their houses. About 538 evacuees are staying with their families, are housed in gyms, military barracks and hotels in the region.

Today the village is covered by a thin white veil and complete silence. Who knows when the living mountain will open its mouth.

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An End To Venezuela Sanctions? The Lula Factor In Biden's Democratization Gamble

The Biden administration's exploration to lift sanctions on Venezuela, hoping to gently push its regime back on the path of democracy, might have taken its cue from Brazilian President Lula's calls to stop demonizing Venezuela.

Photo of a man driving a motorbike past a wall with a mural depicting former President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela

Driving past a Chavez mural in Caracas, Venezuela

Leopoldo Villar Borda


BOGOTÁ — Reports last month that U.S. President Joe Biden's apparent decision to unblock billions of dollars in Venezuelan assets, frozen since 2015 as part of the United States' sanctions on the Venezuelan regime, could be the first of many pieces to fall in a domino effect that could help end the decades-long Venezuelan deadlock.

It may move the next piece — the renewal of conversations in Mexico between the Venezuelan government and opposition — before pushing over other obstacles to elections due in 2024 and to Venezuela's return into the community of American states.

I don't think I'm being naïve in anticipating developments that would lead to a new narrative around Venezuela, very different to the one criticized by Brazil's president, Lula da Silva. He told a regional summit in Brasilia in June that there were prejudices about Venezuela — and I dare say he wasn't entirely wrong, based on the things I hear from a Venezuelan friend who lives in Bogotá but travels frequently home.

My friend insists his country's recent history is not quite as depicted in the foreign press. The price of basic goods found in a food market are much the same as those in Bogotá, he says.

He goes to the theater when he visits Caracas, eats in restaurants and strolls in parks and squares. There are new building works, he says. He uses the Caracas metro and insists its trains and stations are clean — showing me pictures on his cellphone to prove it.

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