- Title: VARIOUS: LATAM REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2007 - YEARENDER
- Date: 24th December 2007
- Summary: BOGOTA, COLOMBIA (MARCH, 2007) (REUTERS) COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT ALVARO URIBE AND BUSH IN NEWS CONFERENCE URIBE SAYING GOODBYE TO BUSH
- Reuters ID: LVA3ZH0KR6ASAC48GH2GWSLSN3BT
- Duration: 00:00:10
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- Topics: General,Domestic Politics
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- Story Text: Banners and bunting, pomp and pageantry opened the year in three Latin American countries as Brazil and Venezuela welcomed back Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Hugo Chavez, respectively, for second terms. Meanwhile, a familiar face - though somewhat fuller and more wrinkled - reappeared on the scene in Nicaragua where Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega wore the presidential sash once again after three unsuccessful presidential runs.
But it was a different scene in Cochabamba, Bolivia (located some 440 kilometres east of La Paz) in mid-January as coca-growing supporters of President Evo Morales wielded sticks and hurled stones at police, demanding the resignation of anti-Morales Cochabamba Governor Manfredo Reyes Villa.
Clouds of tear gas filled the Cochabamba streets as the clashes raged for three days, leaving at least two dead and more than 70 injured. Reyes Villa was at odds with Bolivia's leftist government over his plans to call a referendum on regional autonomy. He refused to resign and continues to be a thorn in the side of Morales.
As January ended, Cuban television aired rare footage of a frail Fidel Castro visiting with ally Chavez. Since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in August and turning over power to his brother, Castro had not been seen in public. The January images were the first seen in three months and many agreed he looked stronger compared to his last appearance in October.
Still, on an almost a weekly basis, Castro penned his "Reflections" in a newspaper column that ran on the front pages of the state newspaper "Granma". From lambasting U.S. President George W. Bush to commenting on global warming the Cuban leader continued to air his opinions, and his associates insisted he was working diligently from home.
Meanwhile, in Rio de Janeiro, the pulsing rhythm of the samba drums grew ever louder as Brazilians geared up for Carnival. On the final night, the world's largest party exploded as the raucous and risque filled the Rio streets in the glittering extravaganza of the parade of samba schools. Beija Flor electrified the crowds and took the top prize - their fourth title in five years - with a theme that focused on Brazil's African roots.
Bolivians had little to celebrate, however. In mid-February unusually heavy rains drenched Trinidad, the capital of the Beni province, destroying thousands of homes. The region also took a severe hit in livestock and agriculture as fields lay ruined under water. The flooding lasted for several months forcing thousands into shelters. Today, almost ten months later, residents are still living in shelters and struggling to recover amid renewed rains and flooding.
Back along the U.S. / Mexican border, construction ramped up on the controversial border wall as the U.S. continued its efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigration. National Guard troops also took up positions along the border, adding increased security and high-tech surveillance.
As March rolled around, U.S. President George W. Bush himself set off on a Latin American tour, covering Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala over the course of a week in an attempt to shore up Latin American support. Despite the images of a smiling Bush shaking hands with each President, anti-American protests greeted him at every country. In Brazil, he met with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, focusing discussions on biofuels and alternative energy sources. Brazil is one of the world leaders in ethanol production. Then the U.S. President headed off to Uruguay to meet with President Tabare Vazquez and discuss trade expansion.
Meanwhile, just over the border in Argentina Bush's nemesis, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez led a massive anti-American rally, where tens of thousands turned out to hear Chavez say that Bush deserved "the gold medal for hypocrisy".
Next up for Bush - Colombia, a strong U.S. ally in the war on drugs.
Bush met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and pledged to deliver more aid and support in the war on drugs. From there, it was off to Guatemala where Bush and outgoing President Oscar Berger addressed free trade. Finally, Bush wrapped up his tripe with a stop in Mexico, a country that has had its ups and downs with Bush since the September 11 attacks when U.S. attention turned from the south to the Middle East. There, Mexican President Felipe Calderon pushed Bush to ease U.S. immigration laws.
Meanwhile, Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona found himself back in the hospital again in mid-March to undergo treatment for excessive drinking, eating and cigar smoking, according to his personal doctor. Anxious fans and media kept up a vigil outside the hospital. The health-plauged former soccer star was released after a few weeks, and has made various appearances throughout the year.
In April, Colombia's ongoing hostage drama took a dramatic turn as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released proofs-of-life of twelve local lawmakers who had been kidnapped in 2002. It was the first sign that hostages were still alive, and tearful relatives gathered together to watch the tapes. The video showed hostages praising children, greeting wives and calling on President Alvaro Uribe to hold talks with rebels over their release. In addition, video emerged publicly for the first time showing the moment of the 2002 kidnapping.
All eyes turned toward Cuba on the International Workers' Day, May 1, and the world wondered if an ailing Fidel Castro would preside over the traditional May Day parade. But the highly anticipated appearance fell flat as only Raul Castro, Fidel's brother and Cuba's temporary leader, emerged to salute the thousands marching through the streets of Havana. This was the first Labor Day parade that Fidel had not attended since taking power in 1959.
Tens of thousands of Brazilians poured into the streets of Sao Paulo in May as Pope Benedict made his first trip to Latin America.
His mission on the five-day trip is to reinforce the Church line on traditional family values and to turn back a tide of defections of Catholics to Protestant groups in Latin America. During the visit, he met with Lula, led a rally of thousands of young Brazilians and presided over an open-air mass in Sao Paulo.
May 27 was a pivotal date in Venezuela as a midnight deadline approached for opposition television station, Radio Caracas Television, to take its signal off the air. Earlier in the year, President Hugo Chavez refused to renew the station's license and as the day approached for the license to run out, protesters clogged streets, saying that Chavez was limiting the freedom of expression. On RCTV's final night, hundreds of employees gathered in the studio for a farewell broadcast that recounted the past 53 years of RCTV's history and counted down the minutes until the end. At midnight, the RCTV signal faded to black and within seconds, a new state-sponsored station TVES began broadcasting. RCTV ultimately took its signal to cable.
Fidel Castro once again dominated the headlines at the beginning of June when he appeared on Cuban state television in his first interview since turning power over to Raul. The world scrutinized Castro's image, and many came to the conclusion that he looked healthier than he had in his January appearance. Castro said he was eating better, and he appeared relaxed throughout the one-hour interview. Still, he gave no indication that he would return to govern Cuba.
On June 14, Services of Remembrance to mark the 25th anniversary of the end of the Falkland Islands War were held in England and the Falkland Islands - known to Argentines as the Malvinas. The British victory came 10 weeks after Argentina invaded the islands, but with a high cost - some 250 men died and six warships and a civilian vessel were sunk.
It was a moment of triumph for three Latin American countries on July 8 as structures in Brazil, Peru and Mexico were named as some of the New Seven Wonders of the World. In Brazil, the famous Christ the Redeemer statue, which stands atop Sugarloaf Mountain and overlooks Rio de Janeiro was the first to be included. Next came the Aztec ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico and finally Peru's ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu in Cuzco. The statues on Easter Island - off the Chilean coast - were also nominated, but didn't make it to the final list.
Rio was also the scene of the Live Earth concert on July 8. Some 300,000 people poured into the venue on Copacabana Beach for the star-studded event to draw attention to global warming. Performers at the Rio show included Macy Grey and Lenny Kravitz.
In mid-July, clashes erupted once again in violence-ridden Oaxaca, Mexico. The southern state had been the scene of uprisings throughout 2006 as the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) demanded the resignation of state governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, who was accused of corruption. Although the conflict had quieted somewhat through much of 2007, on July 16, a large group of APPO supporters claimed they were peacefully marching to a local stadium when they were stopped by state and federal forces. Clouds of tear gas filled the streets and buses burned as the clashes raged, but protesters were quickly dispersed and little has been heard out of Oaxaca since then.
Tragedy struck Brazil on July 18 as an Airbus A320 for Tam Airlines skidded on a rain-soaked runway in Sao Paulo, crashed and exploded, killing some 200 people. Brazil's airport authority said the runway had not been grooved to drain water during downpours, and that it had been planned for July 28 after new concrete settled. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, criticized for not doing enough to address aviation woes, ordered federal police to investigate if the runway was reopened prematurely.
One month later, in mid-August, a massive earthquake rocked Peru, killing hundreds. Measuring 8.0, the quake shook the Pacific Coast cities of Pisco and Ica, destroying buildings and burying hundreds of residents - some 700 people died. For weeks following the incident, residents and rescue workers picked through rubble and scrounged for food and shelter.
Today, some four months after the quake, many are still homeless and claim to have been neglected by the government.
There were smiles all around in Colombia at the end of August as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe put aside their political differences in an effort to secure the release of hundreds of FARC-held hostages. Some of the most high-profile include a French-Colombian former Presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three American defense contractors. Uribe invited Chavez to act as a mediator in the talks, believing that FARC leader Manuel Marulanda would be more likely to listen to leftist Chavez. Little did the two leaders know that the plan would fall apart just three months later.
Massive demonstrations dominated crisis-wracked Bolivia for much of August and September. Amid ongoing tension between classes over a draft of the new constitution, the issue of moving the country's executive and congressional offices from La Paz to the administrative capital of Sucre inflamed Bolivians' passion. In August some two million turned out in La Paz to protest against the move. But supporters responded just a week later with their own demonstration in Sucre. Meanwhile, residents of Santa Cruz continued their ongoing calls for autonomy. Despite the masses that turned out however, all the protests remained peaceful.
Protests also dominated the Argentina / Uruguay border as hundreds turned out against the opening of a Finnish pulp mill in Uruguay.
For years, the construction of the Botnia factory had been a hot-button issue for bother countries. Located on the Uruguayan side of the Uruguay River, which divides the two countries, Uruguayans argued that it would provide much-needed jobs and help the economy. Argentines, however, claimed it would pollute the river and lead to environmental problems. Despite the protests, Uruguay gave the project the green light and the Botnia plant began operating in October.
Hurricane season opened rather mildly for the often storm-ravaged Caribbean. But in September, Tropical Storm Felix rapidly strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane, pounding Nicaragua and Honduras.
150-mile-per-hour winds tore through the Central American countries and torrential rains flooded towns and cities, killing dozens of people.
September also marked a historic moment for the Panama Canal. A series of coordinated explosions kicked off an ambitious $5.2 billion project to expand the canal. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter as well as several Latin American heads of state and dignitaries attended the ceremony.
September was also a big month for form Panamanian President Manuel Noriega, as his sentence in a U.S. prison came to a close and a judge approved his extradition to France to face more charges. But Noriega appealed the ruling and is still sitting in limbo in Miami.
Meanwhile, relatives of eleven local lawmakers who had been held captive by the FARC for five years received grim news in September. The Red Cross announced it had found the bodies of the group, who had died under disputed circumstances in June. The FARC insisted they were caught in the crossfire when an unidentified armed group tried to rescue them, but Colombian President Alvaro Uribe insisted the rebels were to blame. Tearful relatives closed out the painful years with funerals for their loved ones in Cali.
Major changes were on hand for former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori who had spent much of 2006 under house arrest in Chile as Peru worked the legal channels to have him extradited. After months of waiting, the extradition request went through and Fujimori was taken from Chile to Peru by helicopter. In Peru, he was immediately taken into custody, pending various trials on corruption and human rights charges.
At the end of September, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continued strengthening their already solid relationship, based largely on their disdain for the United States and U.S.
President George W. Bush. Ahmadinejad visited Chavez in Venezuela where the two signed a number of bilateral agreements on energy and trade.
The month of October brought severe flooding to the southern Mexican state of Tabasco. As much as 80 percent of the state was deep underwater after unusually heavy rains caused local rivers to overflow. Hundreds of thousands were left homeless, but only three deaths were reported. Still, the incident damaged some $655 million worth of crops, homes, businesses and infrastructure. The floods will cost insurers some $700 million.
Bolivia also faced its own weather disaster in October as hundreds of wildfires flared out of control, swallowing up thousands of hectares of land and forcing many peasant farmers from their homes. The fires were started by farmers burning fields to prepare for the sowing season, and spread rapidly due to high winds and hot weather.
In Cuba, hundreds remembered 40 year anniversary of the death of Argentine-born Marxist revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara, who joined Fidel Castro in seizing power from the regime of dictator General Fulgencio Batista.
Guevara left Cuba in 1965, intending to foment a revolution in Bolivia, where he was ultimately captured and killed on October 9, 1967. At the same time, images of Castro himself showed up again on Cuban television, this time with ally Chavez from Venezuela.
Throughout October, stormy weather also battered southern Nicaragua, causing heavy flooding in the department of Chinandega. Although no deaths were reported, thousands were left homeless.
Meanwhile, Brazilians wildly celebrated FIFA's decision to name Brazil as the host country of the 2014 World Cup. Brazil has won the World Cup five times, and is the fifth country to host two World Cups. FIFA last staged the event there in 1950. Brazilians throughout Rio donned the country's green and yellow colors and cheered while two enormous Brazilian soccer jerseys were unrolled in Rio's Maracana stadium.
History was made in Argentina on October 28 as Argentines overwhelmingly elected Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a senator and the country's First Lady, as their president. The victory was hardly a surprise as early poll results showed her with a definitive lead; she won with a nearly 20-point lead over second place candidate, former Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna.
Even as the hurricane season wound down, Hurricane Noel delivered a final smack to Haiti and the Dominican Republic in late October. Noel was the sixth hurricane of the 2007 season and caused at least 151 deaths along its path due to flooding and mudslides.
Mexico broke a new record in early November, when authorities made its largest-ever seizure of cocaine. After two days of totaling up the drug, they determined that they had confiscated some 23 tonnes. The haul was inside six containers on a Colombian ship.
Guatemala found itself with a new president in early November as centre-leftist Alvaro Colom beat out a retired general for in a run-off election. Colom is the first president from the left since the end of the country's civil war in 1996.
In mid-November, Hugo Chavez dominated the headlines after causing an international spat during a summit in Chile, prompting Spain's King to bark at him, "Why don't you shut up?" The five words reverberated around the world, splashed across the front pages of newspapers and t-shirts and even became a popular cell phone ring tone. The incident began when Chavez called former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar a fascist during the summit and current Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero berated Chavez for it.
Chavez repeatedly tried to interrupt Zapatero, leading a frustrated King Juan Carlos to explode. Chavez publicly castigated the King, and said he was freezing relations with Spain until the King apologized. So far, he hasn't.
Barely two weeks later, Chavez got into another international row - this time with Colombia's Alvaro Uribe. Uribe ended Chavez's role in the hostage negotiations after claiming the Chavez overstepped his bounds by discussing the situation with the head of Colombia's army. An angry Chavez derided Uribe and said broke off relations with Colombia.
Meanwhile, violence broke out in Bolivia again after a draft of a controversial new constitution was approved. The constitution will be subjected to two referendums before it becomes official, but many were angry, calling the new constitution an illegal power grab since it was passed by Morales supporters during an opposition boycott. The constitutional reform has deepened long-standing divisions between the more affluent east and the highlands, where the indigenous populations strongly supports Morales, the country's first leader of indigenous descent.
Colombia's hostage crisis took another turn in November when proof-of-life video emerged of French-Colombian citizen and former Presidential Candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three American defense contractors who have been held for years by the FARC. The videos had been seized from FARC rebels captured by the government and included a letter from Betancourt to her mother, detailing the horrors of life in captivity. She looked frail and despondent on the video, prompting hostage relatives to renew their calls for Uribe to include Chavez in the negotiations. Uribe steadfastly refused, but instead enlisted the help of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
But Chavez had other things on his mind. In early December, Venezuelans went to the polls to vote on proposed constitutional reform changes that would have ended presidential term limits, giving Chavez the opportunity to be reelected for life. Many expected Chavez to easily win the vote, and were stunned the next morning to learn that he had been edged out by the opposition. He appeared to accept the defeat, but vowed that he would try again.
A week later, all eyes were on Peru as Fujimori appeared in court for the first day of his trial on human rights charges. In an impassioned statement, he declared that he was innocent. The trial continues and a sentence is expected next year.
Finally, the year ended much as it began, with the celebrations of a presidential inauguration as Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was sworn in as Argentina's new president.
2007 was a year of new beginnings for many Latin American countries - success for some, and nightmares for others. Natural disasters battered many parts of the region leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and with little.
As 2008 opens, much of the world will turn toward the hostage crisis in Colombia, wondering if Uribe can make any headway, and undoubtedly keep a wary eye on Hugo Chavez, wondering what his next move will be.
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