Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The El Salvador presidency – what made this remarkable election possible?

It was the closest of elections, and one that with the slightest of variation could have led the country of El Salvador in a completely different direction.

The two candidates were opposed in almost every sense: one a former guerrilla commander and socialist; the other a hard-line conservative with a penchant for threatening military action.

At a final ballot count, a nationwide population of well over 6 million had their immediate social and political future decided by only 6,364 votes.

The narrow victor, and the man who will lead the country for the next five years, was the left-wing candidate and former Vice President, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who, despite his delayed ascension to the head of state, was expected to attain victory by a much more comfortable margin.

Only three weeks before the result, pre-election polls showed Cerén’s FMLN party had a much clearer lead, with 60.3% of all valid votes in their favour – well above the opposition party, ARENA, lead by right-wing Norman Quijano, with 39.7%.

This preliminary poll was conducted between 15-18 February by Francisco Gavidia Univeristy in the capital San Salvador, showing distinctly broader margins. So how, in less than three weeks, did Quijano find around 600,000 voters ready to entirely change their allegiance from a party so thematically opposed?

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Brazilian woman dies after being dragged from back of police car

Officers haul the woman back into the trunk of the SUV.
All images EXTRA/GLOBO
President of Brazil, Dilma Rouseff, says that the country is “shocked” by the death of a woman in Rio de Janeiro who was dragged by a police car for over 300 metres.

On Sunday, Claudia Ferreira da Silva, 38, was wounded in a favela shootout in the neighbourhood of Madureira, where she lived. Police officers at the scene put her into the trunk of their SUV and drove away towards the hospital.

However, Mrs Ferreira da Silva fell out of the trunk as the officers drove away, seemingly becoming entangled in the process and leading to her being dragged along one of the city’s busier streets.

Mrs Ferreira da Silva
With the rear-door hanging wide open, members of the public tried to alert the officers and get them to stop. Finally, as the vehicle reached a red light, two officers got out and put her back in the trunk. Ms Ferreira da Silva was pronounced dead upon her arrival at the hospital.

Three police officers have been arrested for disciplinary transgression, accused of acting inhumanely. They could face more charges.

Speaking to O Globo newspaper, her daughter, Tais Lima, said: "They grabbed my mother by the legs and dumped her in the boot like an animal. They didn't even bother to check if the boot was closed properly. That is not the attitude of someone who is trying to help.”

President Dilma Rousseff took to Twitter on Tuesday, saying to her followers that: “Claudia’s death has shocked the country. [She] had four children, had been married for 20 years, and woke up early in the mornings to go work at a hospital in Rio. She added: “at this time of sadness and pain, I stand with Claudia’s family and friends.”

A road user recorded the footage. Warning: graphic image below.

Monday, 17 March 2014

The results are in: former rebel commander wins El Salvador presidency after remarkable election.

Victorious Salvador Sánchez Cerén giving a speech
in the capital, San Salvador. Image: Reuters.
After a close run-off election in El Salvador, left-wing candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén won by the narrowest of margins to become the next president of the Central American nation.

The Supreme ElectoralTribunal (TSE) announced Mr Sánchez Cerén the victor after extraordinarily winning 50.11% of the votes on the 9 March poll.

Despite much posturing by opposition candidate Norman Quijano, including weak threats of a coup d’état and accusations of fraud, the elections were declared free and fair by international observers and the US State Department.

The remarkable result makes Mr Sánchez Cerén the first former rebel to serve as the country’s president, though the election has brought to light glaring social and political divisions among the nation’s voting population.

The victorious party, Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), were considered strong favourites to defeat Mr Quijano’s right-wing National Republican Alliance (ARENA) earlier in the year, though the results ended much closer than expected.

Salvador Sánchez Cerén and his Vice President, Oscar Samuel Ortiz, will begin a five year term on 1 June 2014.

More to come...

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Brazilian diamond discovery unlocks a scientific mystery

A rough and battered diamond found in the shallows of a riverbed in Brazil has unearthed evidence of a body of water beneath the Earth’s crust that could be as vast as all the world’s oceans put together.

The tattered gemstone was found by miners in the Juína riverbeds in the western state of Mato Grosso in 2008. The approximately 5mm long stone is thought to have shot from beneath the surface at around 70km/h after making a tumultuous journey through approximately 500 kilometres of crust – perhaps taking several days.

Now it has been discovered that the unconventional looking diamond contains tiny pieces of a mineral called ringwoodite, containing 1.5% water, suggesting that a larger body lies hidden deep below our feet.

“[The amount] doesn't sound like much,” says Graham Pearson, a geologist who studied the stone, “but when you calculate the vast volumes of ringwoodite thought to exist in the deep Earth, the amount of water might be as high as that contained in all the world's oceans,"

The discovery is the first time ringwoodite has been found in certainty directly from earth - in the past it has only ever arrived in meteorite debris.

Rough diamonds are often traded by miners in the region for a price of around $10US, though to scientists this discovery could be priceless.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

El Salvador – Heading left of right?

General elections in El Salvador reached a stalemate on Sunday, with a voting recount now under way to decide which presidential candidate will take office.

Left-wing candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren led in the polls over the right's Norman Quijano by only 0.2% – not enough to claim outright victory, according to electoral authorities.

A former Marxist guerilla leader, Mr Sanchez Ceren has been more popularly tipped as the favourite to win the election, though support for Mr Quijano’s tough approach – including sending the military into cities to fight street gangs – has been strong with some of the electorate.

Opposition candidates: señors Sanchez Ceren (left) and Quijano (right.)

Despite a request by The Supreme Electoral Tribunal, both candidates took the opportunity to announce their respective victories on Sunday. Meanwhile demonstrators have taken to the streets in the capital, San Salvador, to show support for their electoral candidates, while others are protesting against what they see as electoral fraud.

President of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Eugenio Chicas, told the public they were reviewing "discrepancies" in the tallies of 14 ballot boxes that could prove key to the result.

"El Salvador will be an example of transparency,” Mr Chicas said. “We will give the people the legitimacy it demands from these elections by recounting every single vote."

The recount could take until Thursday to complete.