‘We’re desperate to buy anything’: Bolivians go hungry as protests snarl cities

‘We’re desperate to buy anything’: Bolivians go hungry as protests snarl cities
By Daniel Ramos

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Bolivians are starting to feel the pinch of weeks-long turmoil roiling the South American country, with fuel shortages mounting and grocery stores short of basic goods as supporters of unseated leader Evo Morales blockade key transport routes.

In the highland seat of government La Paz, roads have grown quiet as people preserve gasoline, with long queues for food staples. People lined up with gas canisters next to the blocked Senkata fuel plant in nearby El Alto on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately this has been going on for 3-4 weeks, so people are desperate to buy everything they find,” said Ema Lopez, 81, a retiree in La Paz. The country has been in turmoil since a disputed Oct. 20 election.

Daniel Castro, a 63-year-old worker in the city, blamed Morales, who resigned earlier this month amid rising pressure over vote-rigging allegations after an international audit found serious irregularities in the leftist leader’s poll win.

“It is food terrorism and it is the terrorism of the boss who has already left. This is chaos and you’re seeing this chaos in (La Paz’s) Plaza Villarroel with more than 5,000 people just there to choose a chicken,” he said.

Morales fled last week to Mexico, where he has railed at what he has called a right-wing coup against him. He has hinted he could return to the country, though pledged not to run again in a new election the caretaker government is seeking to hold.

Since then his supporters have ramped up protests against interim President Jeanine Anez, calling for her to step down and for Morales to return. Nine coca farmers were killed last week in clashes with security forces at protests calling for Morales to return.

Bolivia’s Legislative Assembly, controlled by Morales’ Movement to Socialism (MAS) party, is set to meet on Tuesday evening, with expectations it could vote to reject the long-standing leader’s resignation, a move that could tip the country into a further chaos with rival claims on the presidency.

The country’s hydrocarbons minister, Victor Hugo Zamora, said on Tuesday he was looking to unlock fuel deliveries for La Paz and called on the pro-Morales movements to join talks and allow economic activity to resume.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos and Miguel Lo Bianco; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Food shortages cripple Bolivia, new elections still uncertain

By Daniel Ramos

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Bolivians languished in long lines on the streets of La Paz on Sunday to secure chicken, eggs and cooking fuel as supporters of ousted President Evo Morales crippled the country’s highways, isolating population centers from lowland farms.

Presidency minister Jerjes Justiniano told reporters the government of interim President Jeanine Anez had established an “air bridge” to supply La Paz, using planes to bypass barricades on highways surrounding the highland capital. He said officials hoped to do the same with other cities cut off from supplies.

Bolivia remained in limbo one week after Morales, a charismatic leftist and former coca farmer, resigned over allegations of vote-tampering. Lawmakers have yet to agree on a date for new elections.

Morales fled to Mexico on Tuesday. But his supporters from largely coca-farming regions of the Andean nation have since taken to the streets, sometimes armed with homemade bazookas, handguns and grenades, barricading roads and skirmishing with security forces.

Some Morales supporters have demanded Anez, a former conservative lawmaker, resign. They have given her a deadline of midnight on Monday to step down, and have called for elections in 90 days.

As roadblocks take their toll, fuel has become scarce and many in the poorer neighborhoods of La Paz have been forced to cook over firewood.

“I hope things calm down,” said Josue Pillco, a construction worker from a working-class La Paz neighborhood. “We’re not getting any food or gasoline.”

Community leaders aligned with Morales in El Alto on Sunday were calling for a general strike Monday, raising the spectre of further supply shortfalls in the nearby capital.

POLICY RESET

Anez has agreed to new elections but also moved quickly to implement changes in policy at home and abroad.

On Friday, Bolivia asked Venezuelan officials under the country’s leftist leader Nicolas Maduro to leave the country. Anez’s government also accused Cuba, once a close ally, of stoking unrest following Morales’ resignation.

The Anez administration on Sunday renamed the state newspaper “Bolivia.” Morales called it “Change.”

Violent protests on Friday around Cochabamba, a coca-growing region and stronghold of Morales’ supporters, left at least nine people dead, officials said.

The local ombudsman in the Cochabamba region said police had used live ammunition against protesters, prompting allegations of human rights abuses by security forces under Anez.

Anez has blamed Morales for stoking violence from abroad, and has said her government wishes to hold elections and meet with the opposition to halt protests.

Morales, in exile in Mexico, has struck a more conciliatory tone in recent days, saying he would sit out the next election in an interview with Reuters on Friday.

U.N. envoy Jean Arnault said a team would hold meetings with politicians and social groups this week to end the violence and push for “free and transparent elections.”

The European Union ambassador to Bolivia Leon de la Torre also met with Anez Sunday.

He said the E.U. would provide support during the “transition period” and work to ensure “credible elections…under the most stringent international standards.”

The United States, Brazil, Colombia, Britain and Germany have also recognized Anez´s interim government.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos and Gram Slattery in La Paz; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Daniel Wallis)

Morales lost Bolivia after shock mutiny by police

Morales lost Bolivia after shock mutiny by police
By Gram Slattery

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Last Friday night, with Bolivia’s most important city paralyzed by demonstrations against leftist President Evo Morales, the police unit tasked with securing the presidential palace met to help decide the nation’s future.

Bolivia for weeks had been gripped by violent protests after Morales declared victory in a disputed election that appeared to give him a fourth straight term. Election monitors said they suspected fraud.

Members of the Police Operations Tactical Unit, known as UTOP, had repeatedly clashed with anti-government protesters armed with sticks, rocks and makeshift bombs. In the courtyard of the unit’s compound that evening, dozens of assembled officers made a decision: They would cease defending Morales and join demonstrators in calling for his resignation.

By Saturday, UTOP forces had abandoned their posts.

Analysts say UTOP’s pivot, part of a wave of police defections across Bolivia, helped doom Morales’ government. Without the support of local law enforcement, his administration could not control Bolivia’s streets. Losing the allegiance of the unit charged with guarding the presidential palace in La Paz, the nation’s administrative capital, was a particularly cutting blow.

The nation’s military, largely passive amid the unrest, quickly signaled that it would not confront the protesters. On Sunday, Williams Kaliman, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, said Morales should step down in order to foster “peace and the maintenance of stability in Bolivia.”

By Sunday afternoon, Morales had resigned. On Tuesday, he flew to Mexico, where he had been granted asylum.

Reuters talked with five UTOP police officers who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak with the press.

They cited various reasons for withdrawing support from Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, who had led the country for nearly 14 years.

Some complained his government had lavished generous salaries and pensions on the armed forces, without offering similar benefits to police. Some said they were ordered by superiors to crack down only on anti-government protesters while avoiding conflict with pro-Morales loyalists. Others said they were simply worn down by weeks of conflict after the president’s controversial Oct. 20 election victory.

“At some point, it was just enough,” one officer said.

Franklin Flores, a congressman with Morales’ socialist MAS party, said the Morales government never used law enforcement for political ends and that police were well treated.

“President Morales has always respected the police and military as institutions,” Flores said. “The Bolivian police, under this government, went around with new trucks, new equipment, appropriate uniforms.”

The episode is key to understanding how Morales lost his grip on power.

A former coca-leaf farmer and Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Morales was an iconic figure of Latin America’s left. He gained admiration for guiding the poor landlocked South American nation through steady growth and relative stability. His government’s social programs pulled millions from poverty.

But over time he alienated some indigenous supporters who had once hailed him as their champion. Morales clashed with native groups over development of tribal lands and constructed an ostentatious new presidential palace that he dubbed the Great House of the People. He also engineered a way around presidential term limits, enraging critics who viewed the move as an authoritarian power grab.

Losing police support spelled the end, said political analyst Franklin Pareja, a professor at Bolivia’s Universidad Mayor de San Andres.

“The government lost its shield,” Pareja said. “As a result, it was totally vulnerable and couldn’t go on.”

Morales has blamed his exit on a “coup” arranged by his political enemies. He has said he would consider returning to Bolivia to help bring peace to a deeply polarized nation in crisis. Supporters of Morales do not recognize the interim government. Street violence and protests continue.

“The most cunning and disastrous coup in history has been carried out,” Morales wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

CIVIC PRESSURE

Signs of trouble for Morales had been building well before this year’s election.

His popularity had slipped amid a softening economy and complaints he had lost touch with his man-of-the-people roots and was now manipulating the levers of power to remain in charge.

Morales first took office for a five-year term in 2006. In 2009, he pushed through a new Constitution that called for early elections that same year, which he won handily. That process effectively re-set the clock on his presidency, allowing him to run for a third term in 2014, even though the Constitution limited presidents to two terms.

Angling for even more time in office, Morales in 2016 held a public referendum asking Bolivians to allow him to run for a fourth term. Voters narrowly rejected it.

But the nation’s Supreme Court, stacked with allies, let him run anyway. In a highly controversial 2017 ruling, they deemed term limits a violation of basic human rights.

Morales said he had been subject to a false, foreign-led smear campaign leading up to the referendum. Supporters have said the Supreme Court decision reflected the will of the people because those judges are elected officials in Bolivia.

Public frustration was on display Oct. 4 in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, a little more than two weeks before the presidential election. Banners in the crowd read “Dictator Evo.” A civic leader named Luis Fernando Camacho gave a fiery speech slamming Morales’ “illegal” government and called on Bolivians to vote him out of office.

As results rolled in on election day, Morales held a narrow lead over his main rival, Carlos Mesa of the Citizens Community party, in a crowded field of nine candidates.

Bolivia’s electoral system requires a run-off between the top two vote-getters if no presidential candidate wins an outright majority or garners at least 40% of votes, while beating their nearest competitor by at least 10 percentage points.

With more than 80% of the votes tallied, Mesa and Morales appeared headed for a second round. But the count was suddenly halted at around 7:30 p.m. The Organization of American States (OAS), which had been invited to observe the election, expressed alarm.

Almost a day later, the count restarted with tallies showing momentum had shifted dramatically in favor of Morales. He cruised to a 10.5-percentage-point victory, eliminating the need for a runoff.

Protests erupted around the country. Opposition supporters blocked roads and staged mass marches, demanding new elections. Major cities were paralyzed.

Amid unrest, civic leader Camacho became a lightning rod for the opposition. He pledged to march into La Paz and hand Morales a resignation letter to sign.

“Evo’s days in office are numbered,” he told Reuters at a Nov. 5 rally.

BREAKING POINT

Morales’ government was weakened, but still in control. He urged Bolivia to await the results of an election audit, which had been initiated by the OAS.

Then came the Nov. 8 police defections.

What started with one mutiny at a police unit in the central city of Cochabamba in the morning quickly spread to the cities of Potosi, Santa Cruz and La Paz.

Rattled, Morales looked to rally his generals, including armed forces chief Kaliman, a long-time ally. He met with defense officials on Friday at the Great House of the People, but they offered little concrete support.

On Saturday, Kaliman said in a statement the armed forces “would never confront the people.”

Another bombshell came on Sunday at dawn. The OAS released its audit, which cited “serious irregularities” in the election, including phantom votes, forged ballots and “clear manipulations” in the count.

The OAS called for the results to be annulled and a new vote scheduled. Morales agreed to those demands, but was rebuffed by opposition leaders.

“Morales wanted to talk, but we didn’t want to. It was too late,” said Susana Campos Elio, an opposition lawmaker from La Paz.

Morales has since said the OAS “is in the service of the North American empire.”

Major backers of Morales started to jump ship.

Juan Carlos Huarachi, head of the powerful Bolivian Workers’ Center union, who days earlier had rallied miners to support the president in La Paz’s central square, gently urged Morales to step down to “pacify the Bolivian people”.

A slew of ruling party lawmakers resigned, including the head of the lower house and mayors of major cities such as Potosi, Oruro and Sucre, Bolivia’s constitutional capital.

Around 5 p.m. (2100 GMT) military support collapsed. The armed forces released a statement “suggesting” that Morales step aside to quell mounting violence.

Shortly afterward, Morales announced in an emotional address that he would resign.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery in La Paz; Additional reporting by Monica Machicao and Daniel Ramos; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Marla Dickerson)

Bolivia seeks new leader as fallen Morales reaches Mexico

Bolivia seeks new leader as fallen Morales reaches Mexico
By Monica Machicao and Stefanie Eschenbacher

LA PAZ/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Bolivia’s former leader Evo Morales landed in Mexico on Tuesday pledging to stay in politics as security forces back home quelled unrest over the long-serving leftist’s resignation and opponents sought an interim replacement to fill a power vacuum.

Thanking Mexico’s government for “saving his life,” Morales arrived to take up asylum in the country and repeated his accusation that his rivals had ousted him in a coup after violence broke out following a disputed election last month.

“As long as I am alive, we will remain in politics,” Morales told reporters in brief comments after disembarking the plane to be met by Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.

Dressed in a short-sleeved blue shirt, Morales defended his time in government and said that if he were guilty any crime, it was to be indigenous and “anti-imperalist.”

Morales was then whisked away in a military helicopter, television footage showed. Mexican officials have not said where he will stay, citing security concerns.

Morales arrived in a Mexican Air Force plane from the central Bolivian town of Chimore, a stronghold of Morales supporters where the country’s first indigenous president retreated as his 14-year rule imploded.

The departure of Morales, the last of a wave of leftists who dominated Latin American politics at the start of the century, came after the Organization of American States declared on Sunday that there were serious irregularities during the Oct. 20 vote, prompting ruling party allies to quit and the army to urge him to step down.

Opposition lawmakers wanted to formally accept Morales’ resignation and start planning for a temporary leader ahead of a new vote. But their plans looked at risk as Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) said it would boycott the meeting.

Residents of the highland capital La Paz, rocked by protests and looting since last month’s election, said they hoped politicians would succeed in finally restoring order.

“Democracy has been at risk and hopefully it will be resolved today,” said resident Isabel Nadia.

Morales’ flight out was far from simple.

Takeoff was delayed, with supporters surrounding the airport, then the plane was denied permission to fuel in Peru, Ebrard said. So it stopped instead in Paraguay before arriving in Mexico City just after 11 a.m. local time (1700 GMT).

“His life and integrity are safe,” Ebrard said, tweeting a photo of Morales alone in the jet with a downcast expression, displaying Mexico’s red, white and green flag across his lap.

In a region divided along ideological lines over Morales’ fall, Mexico’s leftist government has supported his accusations of a coup.

In La Paz, roadblocks were in place after soldiers and police patrolled into the night to stop fighting between rival political groups and looting that erupted after Morales’ resignation.

The charismatic 60-year-old former coca leaf farmer was beloved by the poor when he won power in 2006.

But he alienated some by insisting on seeking a fourth term, in defiance of term limits and a 2016 referendum in which Bolivians voted against him being allowed to do that.

(For graphic on timeline, see https://graphics.reuters.com/BOLIVIA-ELECTION/0100B30L25D/bolivia.jpg)

(Reporting by Monica Machicao, Daniel Ramos and Gram Slattery in La Paz, Daniela Desantis in Asuncion, Daina Beth Solomon, Julia Love and Diego Ore in Mexico City, Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Mitra Taj in Lima; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Daniel Wallis)

‘Everything is a mess’: Morales exit rocks Bolivia, splits region

‘Everything is a mess’: Morales exit rocks Bolivia, splits region
By Daniel Ramos and Gram Slattery

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Looting, fighting and roadblocks convulsed Bolivia on Monday after President Evo Morales’ resignation ended his 14-year rule and created a power vacuum following weeks of violent protests.

The departure of Bolivia’s first indigenous president, who was the last survivor of a wave of leftist leaders in Latin America from two decades ago, came on Sunday when the military abandoned him amid unrest over his disputed Oct. 20 re-election.

The Organization of American States (OAS), which had denounced “manipulations” of that vote, exhorted Bolivian lawmakers to meet urgently to resolve the crisis.

With Morales’ deputy and many allies in government and parliament gone with him, opposition politician and Senate second vice-president Jeanine Añez flew into the capital saying she was willing to take temporary control until a new vote.

“I am afraid of what will happen, everything is a mess in the city. There are fights between neighbours,” said Patricia Paredes, a 25-year-old secretary in La Paz.

Overnight, gangs roamed the highland capital and other cities, businesses were attacked, rival political supporters clashed and properties were set on fire.

Schools and shops were largely closed, while public transport halted and roads were blocked.

Morales, 60, flew out of La Paz and was believed to still be in Bolivia – but his exact whereabouts were unclear.

He said he stepped down to ease the violence, but repeated on Monday accusations he was the victim of a conspiracy by political enemies including election rival Carlos Mesa and protest leader Luis Fernando Camacho.

“The world and our Bolivian patriots repudiate the coup,” he tweeted. “They moved me to tears. They never abandoned me. I will never abandon them.”

DIVIDED LATIN AMERICA

Argentine President-elect Alberto Fernandez echoed Morales’ denunciations of a coup, as did Mexico which has offered him asylum. “It’s a coup because the army requested the resignation of the president, and that violates the constitutional order of that country,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said.

In a redrawing of Latin America’s political landscape, the left has regained power in both Mexico and Argentina, though powerhouse Brazil still retains a right-wing government.

“A great day,” Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted, in apparent reference to events in Bolivia.

In Venezuela, opponents of Morales ally Nicolas Maduro also hailed the fall of the Bolivian leader whom they call a “dictator”, saying they hoped Maduro would be next.

Further afield, the United States urged civilian leaders to keep control. Russia backed Morales, accusing the opposition of violence and quashing dialogue.

Amid the chaos, prominent Bolivian opposition figure and academic Waldo Albarracin tweeted that his house had been set on fire by Morales supporters.

Another widely-shared video appeared to show people inside Morales’ own property with graffiti daubed on the walls.

“People are trying to cause chaos,” fretted Edgar Torrez, a 40-year-old business administrator in La Paz, saying politicians and criminals were all taking advantage of the situation.

TEMPORARY LEADER

Under Bolivian law, the head of the Senate would normally take over provisionally. However, Senate President Adriana Salvatierra also stepped down on Sunday.

Legislators were expected to meet on Monday to agree on an interim commission or legislator who would take temporary control, according to a constitutional lawyer.

“If I have the support of those who carried out this movement for freedom and democracy, I will take on the challenge, only to do what’s necessary to call transparent elections,” said senator Añez, who is constitutionally next in line to assume the presidency.

Añez flew into El Alto airport near La Paz on Monday, where another senator Arturo Murillo told reporters she was taken by an Air Force helicopter to a military academy, from where she was expected to travel to Congress.

“The military were waiting on the tarmac and they said it was safer to take them by helicopter,” he said. “I want to trust the military. I have my faith in the police.”

At a press conference, Mesa asked the police and mobilized civilian groups to guarantee the arrival of legislators across the political spectrum to the central Plaza Murillo to formalize Morales’ resignation and push forward new elections.

“Upon them (the lawmakers) rests the democracy and stability of the country,” he said.

Bolivia under Morales had one of the region’s strongest economic growth rates and its poverty rate was cut in half, but his determination to cling to power and seek a fourth term alienated many allies, even among indigenous communities.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos, Gram Slattery, Monica Machicao in La Paz, Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Dave Graham and Miguel Gutierrez in Mexico City, Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Writing by Hugh Bronstein and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Andrew Cawthorne)

Season of discontent: protests flare around the world

Season of discontent: protests flare around the world
(Reuters) – Another day, another protest.

On Monday it was Bolivia – angry people clashed with police after the political opposition said it had been cheated in an election won by incumbent President Evo Morales.

Last week, the streets of the Chilean capital Santiago descended into chaos, as demonstrators enraged by a hike in public transport fares looted stores, set a bus alight and prompted the president to declare a state of emergency.

Earlier this month, Ecuador’s leader did the same after violent unrest triggered by the decision to end fuel subsidies that had been in place for decades.

And that was just South America.

Hong Kong has been in turmoil for months, Lebanon’s capital Beirut was at a standstill, parts of Barcelona resembled a battlefield last week and tens of thousands of Britons marched through London at the weekend over Brexit.

Protests have flared around the world in the last few months. Each has had its own trigger, but many of the underlying frustrations are similar.

Globalization and technological progress have, in general, exacerbated disparities within countries, said Sergei Guriev, former chief economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, while noting that not all of the current protests were driven by economic concerns.

Digital media has also made people more acutely aware of global inequalities, said Simon French, chief economist at UK bank Panmure Gordon.

“We know that the economics of happiness is largely driven by a relative assessment of your position versus your benchmark,” he said, a benchmark that now stretched way beyond the local community.

ECONOMICS

In at least four countries hit by recent violent protests, the main reason for the uprising is economic.

Governments in Chile and Ecuador have incurred their people’s wrath after trying to raise fares and end fuel subsidies.

As clashes engulfed Quito, Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno reached out to indigenous leaders who had mobilized people to take to the streets.

Within minutes, chief protest organizer Jaime Vargas had rejected that outreach.

“We’re defending the people,” Vargas said in a live Facebook video from the march in Quito.

His response, visible to millions of people, underlines an added challenge authorities have when trying to quell dissent: social media has made communication between protesters easier than ever.

Tens of thousands of people have flooded Beirut in the biggest show of dissent against the establishment there in decades. People of all ages and religions joined to protest about worsening economic conditions and the perception that those in power were corrupt.

Similar factors were behind deadly civil unrest in Iraq in early October.

More than 100 people died in violent protests across a country where many Iraqis, especially young people, felt they had seen few economic benefits since Islamic State militants were defeated in 2017.

Security forces cracked down, with snipers opening fire from rooftops and the internet being shut to stem the flow of information among protesters.

GIVE US OUR AUTONOMY

Hong Kong has been battered by five months of often violent protests over fears Beijing is tightening its grip on the territory, the worst political crisis since colonial ruler Britain handed it back to China in 1997.

There have been few major rallies in recent weeks, but violence has escalated at those held, with militant activists setting metro stations ablaze and smashing up shops, often targeting Chinese banks and stores with mainland links.

Police have fired thousands of rounds of tear gas, hundreds of rubber bullets and three live rounds at brick- and petrol bomb-throwing activists.

The events in Hong Kong have drawn comparisons to Catalonia in recent days. There, too, people are angry at what they see as attempts to thwart their desire for greater autonomy from the rest of Spain, if not outright independence.

Protesters set cars on fire and threw petrol bombs at police in Barcelona, unrest sparked by the sentencing of Catalan separatist leaders who sought to declare an independent state.

Demonstrators also focused on strategic targets to cause maximum disruption, including the international airport, grounding more than 100 flights.

That came several days after similar action in Hong Kong, suggesting that protest movements are following and even copying each other on social media and the news.

“In Hong Kong they have done it well, but they are crazier,” said Giuseppe Vayreda, a 22-year-old art student at a recent Catalan separatist protest.

On Thursday, Hong Kong protesters plan a rally to show solidarity with those demonstrating in Spain.

LEADER OR NO LEADER

In some cases, individuals rise to the forefront of protest movements, using social media to get their message across.

In Egypt, where demonstrations last month were relatively small yet significant in their rarity, the catalyst of dissent against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was an Egyptian posting videos from Spain.

Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager, inspired millions of people to march through cities around the world in September to demand that political leaders act to stop climate change.

Tens of thousands gathered in a New York park to listen to her speech.

“If you belong to that small group of people who feel threatened by us, then we have some very bad news for you,” she said. “Because this is only the beginning. Change is coming whether they like it or not.”

(Reporting by Reuters correspondents; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Heather Timmons in Washington; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Sonya Hepinstall)

Rain will not extinguish Amazon fires for weeks, weather experts say

A tract of the Amazon jungle burning is seen in Canarana, Mato Grosso state, Brazil August 26, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Landau

By Jake Spring

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Weak rainfall is unlikely to extinguish a record number of fires raging in Brazil’s Amazon anytime soon, with pockets of precipitation through Sept. 10 expected to bring only isolated relief, according to weather data and two experts.

The world’s largest tropical rainforest is being ravaged as the number of blazes recorded across the Brazilian Amazon has risen 79% this year through Aug. 25, according to the country’s space research agency.

The fires are not limited to Brazil, with at least 10,000 square kilometers (about 3,800 square miles) burning in Bolivia near its border with Paraguay and Brazil.

While Brazil’s government has launched a firefighting initiative, deploying troops and military planes, those efforts will only extinguish smaller blazes and help prevent new fires, experts said. Larger infernos can only be put out by rainfall.

The rainy season in the Amazon on average begins in late September and takes weeks to build to widespread rains.

The rain forecast in the next 15 days is concentrated in areas that need it least, according to Maria Silva Dias, a professor of atmospheric sciences at University of Sao Paulo. Less precipitation is expected in parts of the Amazon experiencing the worst fires, she added.

The far northwest and west of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest will see more rain in coming weeks but the eastern parts will remain very dry, Refinitiv data show.

Even areas with more rain will only get isolated showers, the experts said.

“In some points you could put out some fires, certainly, but these are isolated points, it’s not the whole area,” Dias said.

“The whole area needs it to rain more regularly, and this will only happen further down the line, around October.”

Enough rain has to be concentrated in a short enough period to put out a fire, otherwise, the water will just evaporate, Dias said.

She estimated it would take at least 20 millimeters of rain within 1-2 hours to put out a forest fire, with more required for more intense blazes.

The state of Acre, in the west of Brazil on the border with Peru, is expected to get more fire relief from rains than most of the Amazon. The number of fires in Acre has more than doubled so far this year compared with the year-ago period, with 90 fires registered from Aug. 21-25 alone, according to INPE data.

The western half of the state will get 57.6 mm over the next 15 days, while the east of the state will get 33.5 mm, Refinitiv data show.

Rondonia and southern Amazonas state are expected to get 15-29 mm across the area in the next 15 days.

“In some areas it could reduce the fires, not in general,” said Matias Sales a meteorologist for Brazil weather information firm Climatempo.

The 15-day rain forecast is at or below the average for this period in previous years, according to Climatempo.

The eastern Amazon will stay dry over the next 15 days, with little or no rain in parts of Mato Grosso, Para and Tocantins where fires are up 54% to 161% compared with last year.

The dry season, which varies among parts of the Amazon but runs several months up to September, has been particularly dry this year, Dias said. Mato Grosso has been parched by a cold front that hit earlier in the year, she said.

Dias said she hoped the military would help to prevent new fires but putting out existing fires is a tougher task.

“The small fires will be extinguished but the big fires will go on for a while,” she said.

(Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Richard Chang)

At U.N., Cuban diplomats shout down U.S. event on political prisoners

Cuban diplomats protest the launch of a U.S. campaign on Cuban political prisoners at the United Nations in New York, U.S., October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Protesting Cuban and Bolivian diplomats shouted, chanted and banged their hands on desks at the United Nations on Tuesday to drown out the launch of a U.S. campaign on the plight of Cuban political prisoners.

U.S. envoy to the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Kelley Currie persisted, delivering her remarks in the ECOSOC chamber, followed by several other speakers, including Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro.

“I have never in my life seen diplomats behave the way that the Cuban delegation did today. It was really shocking and disturbing,” Currie told reporters.

“You can understand very well why people feel afraid to speak their minds … with this kind of government, this kind of thuggish behavior,” she said. “It has no place here in the United Nations.”

During the meeting, the protesting diplomats chanted “Cuba si, bloqueo no (Cuba yes, blockade no)!” in protest against a decades-old U.S. trade embargo on the Caribbean island nation that President Donald Trump has tightened.

Cuban U.N. Ambassador Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo protested to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ahead of the event, and on Tuesday she described the event as a “political comedy.”

“Cuba is proud of its human rights record, which denies any manipulation against it,” she told reporters. “On the contrary, the U.S. lacks the morals to give lessons, much less in this matter.”

The United States said in a statement that it estimates there are 130 political prisoners held by the Cuban government. The campaign it launched on Tuesday was called “Jailed for What?”

“The imprisonment of children would have rightly justified the name ‘Jailed for What?'” said Camejo, referring to the U.S. policy of separating and detaining children and parents who have entered the United States illegally. “This is a shame for the United States government.”

The Cuban government maintains it does not have any political prisoners and characterizes Cuba’s small but vocal dissident community as mercenaries paid by U.S. interests to destabilize the government.

ECOSOC is responsible for coordinating the economic, social and related work of 15 U.N. specialized agencies, their commissions, and five regional commissioners.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Bolivia declares state of emergency due to drought, water shortage

A general view of the dried Ajuan Khota dam, a water reserve affected by drought near La Paz, Bolivia,

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Bolivia’s government declared a state of emergency on Monday due to water shortages in large swaths of the country amid the worst drought in 25 years, making funds available to alleviate a crisis that has affected families and the agricultural sector.

Bolivia’s Vice Ministry of Civil Defense estimated that the drought has affected 125,000 families and threatened 290,000 hectares (716,605 acres) of agricultural land and 360,000 heads of cattle.

President Evo Morales called on local governments to devote funds and workers to drill wells and transport water to cities in vehicles, with the support of the armed forces, from nearby bodies of water.

“We have to be prepared for the worst,” Morales said at a press conference, adding that the current crisis was an opportunity to “plan large investments” to adapt to the effects of climate change on the country’s water supply.

A view of the dried Ajuan Khota dam, a water reserve affected by drought near La Paz, Bolivia

A view of the dried Ajuan Khota dam, a water reserve affected by drought near La Paz, Bolivia, November 17, 2016. REUTERS/David Mercado

The national state of emergency comes after 172 of the country’s 339 municipalities declared their own emergencies related to the drought.

Last week, residents of El Alto, near La Paz, briefly held authorities with a local water-distribution company hostage to demand the government explain its plans to mitigate the shortage.

The drought has prompted protests in major cities and conflicts between miners and farmers over the use of aquifers.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)