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Argentina abortion: Senate approves legalisation in historic decision

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Argentina’s Congress has legalised abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy, a ground-breaking move for a region that has some of the world’s most restrictive termination laws.

Senators voted in favour of the bill after a marathon session with 38 in favour, 29 against and one abstention.

Until now, abortions were only permitted in cases of rape or when the mother’s health was at risk.

The bill had been approved by the Chamber of Deputies earlier this month.

The Catholic Church, which remains highly influential in Latin America, had opposed the move, calling on senators to reject the bill supported by centre-left President Alberto Fernández.

Pro-choice activists hope the passing of the law in Argentina – one of the largest and most influential countries in the region – will inspire other countries to follow suit.

Large crowds of campaigners both for and against abortion had gathered outside Congress in the capital Buenos Aires, following the debate on huge screens.

When the vote finally happened in the early hours of Wednesday, there was jubilation in the pro-choice camp.

While Argentina’s powerful Catholic Church, and its growing evangelical community, put up strong opposition against this bill, it was Argentina’s mighty “green wave” women’s movement that has been at the forefront of this change.

A grassroots feminist movement that has grown in influence in the past few years, its campaigning prevailed, overturning a law that had been in place since 1921.

What has happened in Argentina has been closely watched across the region.

With Argentina now legalising abortion up to 14 weeks, activists in major neighbours like Chile and Brazil will no doubt use this precedent to help their cause in rewriting the law in their countries and allow broader reproductive rights in a region known for tough restrictions on abortion.

Long fought for change

Activists have campaigned for a change in the law for years. The passing came two years after senators narrowly voted against legalising abortion.

President Fernández had made reintroducing it one of his campaign promises. “I’m Catholic but I have to legislate for everyone,” he argued.

The president also said providing free and legal abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy was a matter of public health as “every year around 38,000 women” are taken to hospital due to clandestine terminations and that “since the restoration of democracy [in 1983] more than 3,000 have died”.

Alongside the legalisation of abortion, Senators also voted in favour of a bill dubbed the “1,000-Day Plan”, which will provide better healthcare for pregnant women and mothers of young children.

After the vote, President Fernández tweeted: “Today, we’re a better society, which widens women’s rights and guarantees public health.”

Vilma Ibarra, who drafted the law, was overcome with emotion as she spoke to reporters after it passed. “Never again will there be a woman killed in a clandestine abortion,” she said, crying.

Emotional debate

The vote had been predicted to be extremely tight but in the end, all four senators who had said they were undecided voted in favour of the legislation after a 12-hour debate.

Senator Silvina García Larraburu voted against the bill in 2018 but backed it this time. Speaking during the debate she said, coming close to tears: “My vote is in favour of free women, of women who can decide according to their own conscience.”

Anti-abortion activists, who followed the proceedings but were separated from pro-choice activists by barriers, were dejected.

“The interruption of a pregnancy is a tragedy. It abruptly ends another developing life,” said Inés Blas, a senator who voted against the law.

But Argentina’s Women’s Minister, Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, said that “we’re making history” and many of the pro-choice activists said they hoped it would set a signal for other lawmakers across Latin America.

Abortions are completely banned in El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic and only allowed in certain restricted circumstances in most other Latin American nations.

In the wider region, only Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana and parts of Mexico currently allow women to request an abortion, with varying limits on the number of weeks of pregnancy in which an abortion is legal.

The director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, José Miguel Vivanco, said that he thought that the new law “could have a domino effect in the region”.

 

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-55475036

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Latin America

Honduras election: Opposition candidate Castro in the lead

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bbc– Honduran opposition candidate Xiomara Castro has a commanding lead in the country’s presidential election, preliminary results suggest.

With half of the votes counted, the left-wing candidate is ahead of the governing party’s Nasry Asfura by almost 20 percentage points.

However, Mr Asfura has not yet conceded defeat.

If she wins, Ms Castro will become the the first female president of the Central American nation.

If her win is confirmed, her presidency will put an end to 12 years in power of the right-wing National Party.

The National Party won the presidential election in November 2009, just months after Ms Castro’s husband, Mel Zelaya, was ousted in a military coup.

Honduras has been led by National Party politicians ever since, first by Porfirio Lobo from 2010 to 2014, followed by Juan Orlando Hernández, whose re-election in 2018 was marred by widespread allegations of fraud.

While President Hernández did not run in Sunday’s election, he and his party gave their backing to the mayor of Tegucigalpa, Nasry Asfura.

The National Party appeared certain of victory before the electoral authorities had even announced the first official results, and convened its supporters to a “victory rally” in the capital.

Later on, Mr Asfura urged his supporters in a tweet to be patient but stopped short of admitting defeat.

There was jubilation at the headquarters of the left-wing opposition Libre (Free) Party, where supporters danced and cheered as Xiomara Castro’s lead was announced.

Writing on Twitter, Ms Castro thanked Hondurans for voting for her and said she would “transform 12 years of tears and pain into joy”.

In a reference to President Juan Orlando Hernández, who has been dogged by allegations of ties to the drugs trade after his brother Antonio was jailed for trafficking in the United States, Ms Castro promised during her campaign to “pull Honduras out of the abyss” of “a narco-dictatorship and corruption”.

While President Hernández has denied any wrongdoing, corruption ranked high in the concerns of voters, only surpassed by Honduras’ high unemployment rate.

If she is confirmed as the winner, voters will look to Ms Castro, who describes herself as “a democratic socialist”, to tackle these issues quickly.

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Ecuador prison and armed forces chiefs resign after riots

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bbc– The head of Ecuador’s prison system and the country’s armed forces chief have resigned following a fresh gang fight which left 68 inmates dead in a jail in the city of Guayaquil.

The deadly fight happened at the same prison where 119 inmates were killed in September, also in gang warfare.

It took 900 police officers to restore order after the latest incident.

The spike in prison violence has cast a shadow over the first six months in office of President Guillermo Lasso.

In a BBC interview earlier this month, President Lasso said that prison guards needed to be armed in order to be able to confront highly organised gang members.

“There is no way that prison guards who only carry batons can confront mafias which have drones and explosives,” he said.

  • Ecuador president speaks out about deadly jail riot
  • ‘I saw photo of my son’s dead body online’

The most recent incident happened during a 60-day state of emergency the president had declared inside the prison system.

The state of emergency means that extra funds can be allocated to fight violence inside the jails and also allows the military to assist guards and police in securing the prisons.

Despite the extra measures in place, another deadly fight broke out in the Litoral Penitentiary on Friday night.

Analysts have blamed the spike in prison homicides on the infiltration of Ecuadorean gangs by powerful transnational crime cartels.

They say that the acts of extreme violence – such as decapitations and the use of explosives – seen at Litoral Penitentiary were inspired by the tactics used by Mexican criminal organisations such as the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels.

The local governor said that the most recent fight was triggered by the release of a gang leader which prompted members of a rival gang to try to seize control of one of the prison wings.

“As this section of the prison was without a ringleader after he had been freed by a judge, other gangs tried to surround the wing to carry out a total massacre,” Governor Pablo Arose Mena said.

According to police, the inmates were armed with guns and explosives.

Footage shared on social media appeared to show inmates kicking and burning bodies.

Some of the relatives of those killed said that while the fight may have been triggered by gang rivalry, many of the victims were serving sentences for minor crimes and were not hardened criminals.

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Nicaragua vote: Ortega tightens grip on power in ‘pantomime election’

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bbc– Preliminary results from the Nicaraguan general election suggest that incumbent President Daniel Ortega has won by a landslide.

With almost all the votes counted, Mr Ortega has secured close to 76% of the vote. But as the BBC’s Central America Correspondent Will Grant reports, the result hardly comes as a surprise.

As the Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, stepped back from casting his ballot, his supporters lining the polling station broke into supposedly spontaneous applause.

Holding his thumb in the air to show off the voting ink, he and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, drank in the noise for the state television cameras before being whisked away in a silver Mercedes-Benz.

He might as well have declared himself the victor there and then.

This was an election in which the result was never in question. In fact, the outcome in Nicaragua was decided months before a vote was even cast or counted.

From the moment on 2 June when police appeared at the home of his main rival, Cristiana Chamorro, and placed her under house arrest for alleged money-laundering, it was clear that President Ortega would be re-elected for another five-year term.

In the following days and weeks, there was a slew of further detentions of presidential hopefuls – seven of them in total – including a former Nicaraguan ambassador to the US, Arturo Cruz Jr, and Cristiana Chamorro’s cousin, Juan Sebastián Chamorro. Even her brother, Pedro Joaquín, a journalist in his 70s, was arrested for merely voicing interest in running during an interview.

Three hours after uttering those words, the police arrived at his door too.

The clampdown has shocked Latin America for its speed and ruthlessness. Most of the detained candidates and many other Ortega critics have been charged under a controversial treason law.

Addressing the nation after voting, Mr Ortega again likened the round-up of his opponents to the trials in the United States of those who stormed the Capitol on 6 January.

“They have as much right as we do to open trials against terrorists,” he said, adding that the “immense majority of Nicaraguans voted for peace and not terrorism or war”.

Unsurprisingly, the president’s claims did not wash with the exiled Nicaraguans who turned out to protest in Costa Rica’s capital, San José. Instead they urged their compatriots to boycott the election in an effort to further delegitimise the vote.

“This is a consummate fraud, and all Nicaraguans are aware of it,” said Alexa Zamora of the National Blue-and-White Unity group, an opposition alliance.

“We’re calling on the international community not to recognise this vote and on Nicaraguan citizens still inside the country to stay away from the voting stations,” she yelled above the chanting and bullhorns.

Even before polls had closed, the White House issued the kind of statement the protesters were hoping for, calling the vote “a pantomime election that was neither free nor fair, and most certainly not democratic”.

A vote, then, with no meaningful rivals, no independent election observers or foreign media. At a Costa Rican border crossing of Peñas Blancas, several international journalists, including from the BBC, were denied permission to enter the country to cover the vote.

But while we could not get in, thousands are desperate to leave. Droves of Nicaraguans have fled the Ortega government since the crackdown began, often crossing into Costa Rica via blind spots along the jungled border.

Lionel Hernández charges the migrants a handful of dollars to make the illegal journey across his land. A Nicaraguan, Mr Hernández said he intended to cross back into the country to cast his ballot but was resigned over the outcome.

“Every country in the world has corrupt elections, even the United States. And only God can remove a king,” he shrugs.

For those who no longer want to live as subjects under the reign of Daniel Ortega and his courtiers, their options are limited. Hundreds of Nicaraguans are currently making their way through southern Mexico as part of a migrant caravan slowing heading north.

Among them is Carla – not her real name – who used to work for the Sandinista government. When she became disillusioned and tried to leave the party, she was intimidated by armed pro-Ortega radicals who turned up at her house.

“It’s getting worse and worse,” she said under a thatched roof of a temporary shelter.

“Murders are going up, there are paramilitary groups who kill people. You can hardly go out, you can’t express yourself. If you do, you’ll be killed. Everyone knows these groups are controlled by the government.”

Daniel Ortega is perhaps the last Cold War warrior. As Washington’s nemesis during the Reagan Administration, he was second only to the late Cuban leader, Fidel Castro.

Following Mr Ortega’s return to power in 2007, he has thrown off all the vestiges of his leftist guerrilla past. Behind a façade of pseudo-evangelical language, particularly from Rosario Murillo, there is an iron ruthlessness to the couple’s will to remain in power until the bitter end.

Their supporters will claim another five-year term is somehow the will of the majority of Nicaraguan people. In reality, President Ortega’s rule is increasingly repressive, autocratic and dynastic – and this controversial vote only further consolidates his control over his fiefdom.

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