Weekly News Update on the Americas

Brazil: police unit suspected in Belém massacre

At least 10 people were shot dead by a group of masked men on motorbikes accompanied by two cars the early morning of Nov. 5 in several impoverished suburbs of Belém, the capital of the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Residents reported on the massacre by social media while it was in progress, warning people to stay indoors. Some of the killings may have been targeted, but in other cases the attackers apparently shot randomly at people on the streets. The incident came just hours after the Nov. 4 shooting death of Antônio Marco da Silva Figueiredo, a corporal in an elite military police unit, the Metropolitan Tactical Patrol (ROTAM). "There is a big probability that if there was not active police involvement" in the subsequent massacre, "then there were people who already passed through the police," Anna Lins, a lawyer from Pará Society for the Defense of Human Rights (SDDH), told a reporter. "It was summary execution."

Mexico: students wounded as protests continue

Two students were wounded on Nov. 15 at the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), in the Coyoacán section of the Federal District (DF, Mexico City), when a police agent fired his pistol at a group of youths. Witnesses said the incident started when two men from the DF judicial police and two women from the DF prosecutor's office arrived in a car and began photographing students near the Che Guevara Auditorium; student activists have been meeting in the auditorium to plan actions protesting the killing of six people and the abduction of 43 teachers' college students in Iguala de la Independencia in the southwestern state of Guerrero the night of Sept. 26-27. When a group of students challenged the four officials, one of the two agents responded by assaulting a student and then firing his pistol at the ground. The same agent fired again, several times, as all four officials fled the campus on foot, pursued by a group of students. The shots wounded one student in the foot and grazed another student's knee; a dog was also injured.

US elite starts to doubt 'Mexican Moment'

Although some US investors still seem confident about opportunities in what they have called the "Mexican Moment," concern is growing in US ruling circles as militant protests continue in Mexico in response to a Sept. 26-27 massacre and mass abduction in the southwestern state of Guerrero. "Violence, impunity and corruption are once again dominating the news about Mexico in the US, tarnishing, if not cancelling, the image so successfully cultivated by the government of [President] Enrique Peña Nieto over the past two years," David Brooks, US correspondent for the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada, wrote on Nov. 16.

Latin America: GAO reports on FTA labor violations

On Nov. 13 the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), an agency that investigates federal spending for Congress, released a report on the US government's handling of labor violations in countries with which it has "free trade" agreements (FTAs). Recent FTAs, such as the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), have requirements for participating countries to meet certain standards in labor practices. The GAO claimed to find progress in this area in the partner countries—but also "persistent challenges to labor rights, such as limited enforcement capacity, the use of subcontracting to avoid direct employment, and, in Colombia and Guatemala, violence against union leaders."

Mexico: missing students reported dead

A group of 43 Mexican teachers' college students missing since the night of Sept. 26-27 were killed by gang members and their bodies were burned and disposed of in Cocula municipality in the southwestern state of Guerrero, federal attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam announced at a Nov. 7 press conference in Mexico City. Three members of the Guerreros Unidos ("United Warriors") criminal organization confessed to having participated in the execution of the students and the incineration of their bodies, according to Murillo Karam, who said the remains were so thoroughly burned that it might be difficult to extract DNA for identification. The Mexican government is planning to send the remains to technicians in Austria. The attorney general said he understood the skepticism of the students' parents about his office's findings, more than a month after the events: "It's natural…and it doesn't surprise me."

Costa Rica: port strike ends, issues remain

The Costa Rican government and unionized dockworkers at the city of Limón on the Caribbean coast reached an accord the night of Nov. 5 ending a strike that started on Oct. 22. The strikers agreed to return to work on Nov. 6 in exchange for the government's promise that the port's management, the Board of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Shelf (JAPDEVA), wouldn't penalize them for striking; people arrested for damaging containers on Oct. 24 will still be subject to prosecution. The accord did not address the strike's issue—a 33-year concession for the port granted to the Dutch company APM Terminals, a subsidiary of the giant Danish shipping multinational A.P. Moller-Maersk Group. The parties agreed to continue negotiations on this issue, although the government insisted that clause 9.1 of the concession contract, which concerns APM Terminal's monopoly on handling containers, was not negotiable.

Dominican Republic: government quits OAS court

The Dominican Republic's Constitutional Tribunal (TC) ruled on Nov. 4 that the country must withdraw from the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CorteIDH), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS). The TC ruling, Decision 256-14, was based on a technicality involving a 1999 agreement with the OAS court, but observers assumed that the TC was actually reacting to an Oct. 22 announcement that the human rights court had condemned the Dominican Republic's treatment of immigrants and their descendants, notably the TC's controversial Decision 168-13 of September 2013, which declared that no one born to undocumented immigrant parents since 1929 was a citizen. The 2013 decision excludes thousands of Haitian-descended Dominicans from citizenship; it has been met with protests from international rights groups, the Haitian government and many Dominicans, including members of the country's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH).

Cuba: will US swap jailed agents for Gross?

In a Nov. 2 editorial, the New York Times, possibly the most politically influential US newspaper, called for the US government to free three imprisoned Cuban agents in exchange for the release of US citizen Alan Gross, who has been serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba since 2011 for his work there as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The Cubans are three of the "Cuban Five," a group of agents convicted in 2001 of espionage against the US; they insisted they were spying on Cuban-American terrorists based in southern Florida, not on the US. Two have already been released on probation after serving time, and two more are scheduled for release within the next 10 years, but the group's leader, Gerardo Hernández, was sentenced to two life terms. In 2012 Cuba indicated that it was open to exchanging Gross for the Cuban agents.