CENTRAL AMERICA: DEADLY REPRESSION AS CAFTA HITS IN
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
GUATEMALA: TRADE PROTESTERS SEIZE ESTATES
The Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) went into effect in Guatemala on July 1 amid protests against the US-sponsored pact, which seeks to bring Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the US together in a trade bloc. The agreement took effect in El Salvador on March 1, and in Honduras and Nicaragua on May 1. Costa Rica's legislature has not yet approved the pact. (Yahoo en Espanol, July 1 from AFP)
DR-CAFTA was scheduled to go into effect in the Dominican Republic on July 1, but the implementation was delayed by a disagreement over US demands for legislation protecting industrial secrets for pharmaceutical companies. "We're not giving in," Marcelo Puello, Dominican assistant secretary for foreign trade, said on June 30. "The negotiating team closed this chapter, and the people in charge of implementation agree that we won't give in on something that would be outside the text of the treaty." (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, July 1)
For DR-CAFTA to go into effect in Guatemala, Congress had to meet US demands by passing an Implementation Law and by ratifying three international treaties: the Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Microorganisms for the Purposes of Patent Procedure, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) and the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, enforced by the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV).
Under DR-CAFTA, 94% of Guatemala's exports to the US will be exempt from tariffs, while 82% of US exports to Guatemala will be exempt, according to Economy Minister Marcio Cuevas. Guatemala imports about twice as much from the US as the US imports from Guatemala; in 2005 total Guatemalan exports were worth $3.378 billion, with 52.5% going to the US; Guatemala's imports were worth $8.815 billion, with 38.7% coming from the US. Cuevas predicted that the trade pact could generate 10,000 new jobs in its first year, but Guatemalan-US Chamber of Commerce executive director Carolina Castellanos warned: "Let's remember that the free trade pact isn't a magic wand which goes into effect on Saturday and on Sunday we all already have jobs and are exporting." (Yahoo, July 1 from AFP; Cadena Global, Venezuela, July 1)
On June 30 Guatemala's National Coordinating Committee of Campesino Organizations (CNOC), the Social Organizations Collective and other groups announced plans for protests against DR-CAFTA on July 1. "The TLC [Free Trade Treaty] will submerge millions of people in extreme poverty, especially in the countryside," CNOC leader Aparicio Perez charged. Some sectors had pushed for Congress to pass a Rural Development Law and other compensatory legislation that would help Guatemalan producers meet the competition of heavily subsidized US agricultural products, but Congress postponed discussion of the laws. (Prensa Latina, June 30, July 2) [CNOC experienced two break-ins in offices it was using in May 2005; see WW4 REPORT #110.]
Hundreds of campesinos started protesting even before July 1, occupying five government-owned estates on June 29. CNOC coordinated the occupations, which were carried out by two of its affiliates, the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC) and the Verapaz Union of Community Organizations (UVOC). According to CNOC the estates were: La Nube, in Gualan, Zacapa department, occupied by 50 families; San Jose las Lagrimas, Esquipulas, Chiquimula department, invaded by 120 families; Santa Ines, in Santa Cruz Verapaz, Alta Verapaz department, occupied by 22 families; Sexan, in Chisec, Alta Verapaz, invaded by 80 families; El Zapotal, in Chisec, Alta Verapaz, invaded by 25 families. As of July 2 campesinos had occupied a sixth estate.
At least one of the estates, San Jose las Lagrimas, belongs to the military. According to Aparicio Perez, the occupations were also intended to protest the military, which was about to celebrate Army Day, June 30. "We reject the plundering of lands that community members suffered at the hands of the military governments during the [1960-1996] armed conflict, and today we are demanding that the lands be returned," he said. CNOC also condemned the role of the military in the evictions of landless campesinos who have invaded estates in the past. (Prensa Libre, Guatemala City, June 30; PL, July 2; Yahoo Argentina, June 26)
This year the military held its first public Army Day parade in Guatemala City since the civil war ended in 1996. Some 300 human rights activists protested, shouting "Murderers, murderers" at the soldiers. The parade came as Spanish judge Santiago Pedraz was visiting Guatemala in connection with genocide charges that activist Rigoberta Menchu Tum filed against four former military officers and two civilians in 1999. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, June 30 from AP) [See related story, below.]
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 2
ALTA VERAPAZ: NINE DEAD IN LAND STRUGGLE
At least nine Guatemalan campesinos were reportedly killed on July 7 during an attempt by some 230 families to occupy the Moca estate in the community of Senahu in the northern department of Alta Verapaz. The health center in nearby La Tinta municipality reported that it had received at least 21 people injured in the confrontation. Police agents and representatives of the Human Rights Prosecutor's Office were sent to the estate on July 8 to investigate.
According to local media and activists, the families had already occupied and been driven from the estate three times, the most recent in April. The estate has "historically been the property of our great-great-grandfathers, grandfathers, fathers and now us," local indigenous leader Mateo Yat Caal said. When the families tried to invade again, the owner sent 800 workers and private security guards to stop the occupation, according to Yat. Daniel Pascual, leader of the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC), charged that the owner had provided the guards with arms for the attack. Local radio stations reported that the guards had automatic rifles and pistols.
Campesinos continue to occupy some 20 private estates and 10 government-owned estates to push demands for the government to distribute land to them. (La Jornada, Mexico, July 9 from AFP; Prensa Latina, July 8; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, July 9 from EFE)
On July 5, Constitutional Court (CC) secretary Martin Guzman announced that Guatemalan president Oscar Berger had filed for an injunction with the court to prevent a law from taking effect that would guarantee a minimum pension for about 60,000 seniors. The law is already on hold because of a suit filed by a private lawyer. A group of seniors have been participating, in shifts, in a hunger strike outside government offices in downtown Guatemala City to demand that the law be allowed to take effect. (El Nuevo Herald, July 5 from AP)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 9
SPAIN INDICTS GUATEMALAN EX-OFFICERS
On July 7 Spanish National Court judge Santiago Pedraz issued arrest warrants for eight former Guatemalan officials accused of genocide during a 1960-1996 civil war. The judge also issued an order to freeze the defendants' assets. The defendants named on the arrest warrants are former dictator Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, former head of government Gen. Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores, former defense minister Gen. Angel Anibal Guevara Rodriguez, former National Police director Pedro Garcia Arredondo, former police chief German Chupina Barahona, former head of Army General Staff Gen. Benedicto Lucas Garcia, former governance minister Donaldo Alvarez Ruiz and former president Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia. Lucas Garcia died in May in Venezuela, but his case remains open until Spain is officially notified.
Judge Pedraz took this action after returning from Guatemala on July 1 after a one-week visit. He had expected to interrogate the defendants during his trip, but he was thwarted when they filed last-minute appeals with the Guatemalan Constitutional Court. Spain's Constitutional Court ruled on Oct. 5, 2005, that under the "principle of universal jurisdiction" Spain can try people for genocide or crimes against humanity, even if the crimes occurred outside Spain and no Spanish nationals were involved. (Center for Justice and Accountability press release, July 7; Adital, July 11; New York Times, July 7 from Reuters)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 16
HONDURAS: LENCA LEADERS ACQUITTED
On June 23, the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice acquitted Lenca indigenous activists Marcelino and Leonardo Miranda of the murder of Juan Reyes Gomez. The Miranda brothers are leaders of the Lenca community of Montana Verde in Lempira department; they were arrested in January 2003 in a violent raid on the community, and were convicted of the Reyes Gomez murder in December 2003 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Last January, Amnesty International declared the Miranda brothers to be prisoners of conscience and began an international campaign to win their freedom [see WW4 REPORT #119].
Their actual release is expected to take several weeks, since the ruling must be officially certified by the Supreme Court Secretariat and must then go back through the judicial system to the appeals court in Santa Rosa de Copan and the local court in Gracias. In a June 22 press release announcing the court decision, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Civic Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) said the brothers' acquittal "would not have been achieved if not for solidarity and pressure on a local, national and international level." Human rights groups say Honduran authorities fabricated charges against the Montana Verde leaders in reprisal for their work to win communal land titles.
Another Montana Verde leader, Margarito Vargas Ponce, was released from prison on June 28. He had been jailed since January 2006. In the end he was cleared of more serious charges but sentenced by Judge Hermes Moncada of the Gracias court to three years for complicity in battery against Demetrio Reyes Benitez, one of the community's longtime persecutors. Under the new penal code, his sentence may be served in "provisional liberty" (parole). Vargas must present himself before local judicial authorities every two months, and if found guilty of any other crime within the next five years, will have to serve time in jail for both charges.
Rights Action, a North American group working in solidarity with the Montana Verde community, reports that less than 24 hours after his release, Vargas was participating with other members of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) in a struggle to defend communities' rights, lands and development from the threat of the El Tigre binational hydroelectric dam that will flood entire communities in southwestern Honduras. (COPINH press releases, June 22, 28; Amnesty International Public Statement, June 30; Rights Action, June 23, 30; Honduras News in Review, July 3)
ATLANTIDA: GARIFUNA LEADER THREATENED
On June 22, a man entered the home of Jessica Garcia, a leader of the Honduran Garifuna community of San Juan, on the Tela Bay in Atlantida department. Garcia is the president of the San Juan Tela Patronato, a local group representing community interests to government institutions. The intruder offered Garcia money to sign a document stating that her community recognizes the rights of the private real estate and tourism company Promotur to San Juan's communally-owned lands. When Garcia refused, the man held a gun to her head and forced her to sign the document.
The San Juan community's attempts to win legal recognition of its territorial rights have resulted in ongoing conflicts with Promotur and its owner, Jaime Rosenthal Oliva, a powerful businessperson and Liberal Party politician. Rosenthal is one of the richest men in Honduras; according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia he owns Grupo Continental, Banco Continental, several maquiladoras (tax-exempt assembly plants producing mainly for export), a cement company, the Hotel Intercontinental Tegucigalpa, the El Tiempo daily newspaper and a television network. Rosenthal's son, Yani Rosenthal Hidalgo, is currently the presidency minister under President Manuel Zelaya, and is a key investor in the Los Micos Beach & Golf Resort, a massive tourism complex planned between the Garifuna communities of Tornabe and Miami, next to San Juan in the Tela Bay. The Los Micos project is financed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Central American Economic Integration Bank (BCIE) and investors from Italy and Spain.
The June 22 incident was the latest in a series of attacks against the San Juan community and its leaders. Last November, the home of San Juan Lands Defense Committee president Wilfredo Guerrero was burned to the ground, with all of his possessions and the committee's archives inside. The homes of other community members were destroyed this past March and April.
Last Jan. 14, Promotur representatives entered the community accompanied by a number of hooded men armed with AK47 semi-automatic assault rifles (which are apparently illegal in Honduras). Last Feb. 25, young San Juan community members Epson Andres Castillo and Yino Eligio Lopez were detained near Tornabe by agents of the public security forces allegedly assigned to protect the zone for the Los Micos tourism project. The bodies of the two young men were found the next day in a lagoon near the community of La Ensenada, along the Tela Bay.
The Garifuna community is demanding an investigation into those deaths, and immediate protection for Garcia. Rights Action urges people to send messages protesting the attacks against the San Juan community, urging protection for Garcia, Guerrero and other community leaders and their families, and pressing for the recognition of the San Juan community's legal rights to their full communal territory. Messages can be sent to the Honduran embassies in the US (email@example.com) or Canada (firstname.lastname@example.org); to the Honduran special prosecutor for ethnic groups, Jany del Cid Martinez (email@example.com, fax +504-221-5620); and to the public prosecutor's office in Tela (fax +504-448-1758). (Rights Action, June 30; Honduras News in Review, July 3 from Hondudiario, June 28, COPINH press release, June 29)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 9
PRIDE MARCH IN SAN PEDRO SULA
On June 18, hundreds of people marched through the streets of San Pedro Sula, the second-largest city and main commercial center of Honduras, to demand respect for gender diversity and an end to discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. Ramon Valladares, one of the leaders of the march, promised that Article 60 of the Honduran Constitution, which prohibits discrimination, would be used to proceed legally against those who continue to violate LGBT rights. Valladares referred specifically to religious and political leaders who discriminate against the LGBT community. (Honduras News in Review, July 3 from Proceso Digital June 19)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 16
EL SALVADOR: DEATHS IN STUDENT PROTEST
On July 5, Salvadoran student protesters occupied a busy intersection outside the gates of the National University of El Salvador (UES) in San Salvador during morning rush hour to protest a $0.05 increase in bus fares and a 14% electricity rate hike. The protest held up traffic for blocks. A large group of high school students from the Francisco Menendez Institute (INFRAMEN) marched peacefully to join the demonstration, and riot police massed in preparation to break up the protest. When police violently grabbed and tried to arrest two 15-year-old students from the march, other protesters responded with rocks, while some attacked a bank ATM. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, and amid the chaos a sudden volley of gunshots erupted. Two agents from the Order Maintenance Unit (UMO), an elite riot squad of the National Civilian Police (PNC), were killed by bullets, apparently from a semi-automatic, high-caliber weapon, and seven other agents were hospitalized. An undetermined number of students were wounded, and some sources reported that as many as three students were killed.
Most of the students sought refuge inside the university gates. Police helicopters then fired on protesters inside the university complex, injuring Herbert Rivas, director of multidisciplinary faculty. Police locked down the university--in violation of laws protecting the institution's autonomy--and threatened to search its buildings and arrest anyone who remained there. Students were allowed to leave the university grounds only after being searched by police agents. According to one witness, a number of students were arrested at another police checkpoint near the university; police appeared to target students who had beards or long hair, or t-shirts with the image of Ernesto "Che" Guevara or with phrases in English that the agents couldn't understand.
Human Rights Ombudsperson Beatrice Alamani de Carrillo said: "I'm still waiting for a complete report, and from no point of view can one identify with the use of violence. The deaths of the agents are reprehensible, just as the increase in bus fare is reprehensible." (Christians for Peace in El Salvador- CRISPAZ, July 7; Eyewitness report sent by a UES professor via e-mail, July 5; Message from Comunidades de Fe y Vida-COFEVI, July 5 via Adital)
The government of President Elias Antonio Saca was quick to blame the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) for the violence, although at the time of the incidents most of the FMLN leaders were in Suchitoto, 45 miles northeast of San Salvador, offering their condolences to longtime FMLN activist and Radio Venceremos co-founder Marina Manzanares for the death of her parents. (Eyewitness report sent by a UES professor via e-mail, July 5) On July 2, Francisco Antonio Manzanares and Juana Monjaras de Manzanares were brutally tortured for hours before being murdered in their home in Suchitoto. Their bodies were slashed and lye had been spread on their faces. Marina Manzanares said the family had been the target of multiple death threats in recent months. The week before her parents were killed, a box of bones arrived at their home with a note that said, "This is how you'll receive your daughter's bones."
Police suggest the murder was carried out as part of a common robbery, because valuables were allegedly taken from the Manzanares home. But the killings have sparked terror in the community and rumors of a resurgence in death squad activity. "This is a crime that revisits all of the markings of the crimes committed by death squads back in the times of military dictatorship and the years of the armed conflict," said FMLN legislative deputy Sigfrido Reyes. Alamani de Carrillo, the ombudsperson, said death squads began to resume activities in 2005; she urged the attorney general and police to undertake a serious investigation. (CRISPAZ, July 5)
On June 30, PNC agents arrested student Ricardo Gonzales Hernandez in San Salvador as he was on his way to school. Gonzales is the nephew of Frankie Flores, who represents the FMLN in California, is a member of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) International and is active with School of the Americas Watch. According to Flores, Gonzales was taking a bus to class at the Industrial Technical Institute (ITI) when he saw a group of students preparing to demonstrate over transport hikes, so he ran to catch another bus to avoid getting stuck in traffic. The bus he boarded was stopped a few blocks later by PNC special forces agents, who arrested Gonzales, claiming he had planned to commit a robbery on the bus. Flores said his nephew has never been in trouble, and divides his time between home, school and church. Flores, who lives in Los Angeles, has himself received death threats recently after writing articles about the resurgence of death squads in El Salvador. (Message from Flores, undated but probably July 1, via Resumen Latinoamericano, July 2)
At 4 PM on July 5, the Union Coordinating Committee of Salvadoran Workers (CSTS) held a press conference at its offices, pointing to the police violence at the student march as further evidence of a wave of repression against the country's labor and grassroots movements. At 3 AM on July 6, police raided the CSTS offices without a warrant, holding CSTS press and propaganda secretary Daniel Ernesto Morales for three hours and hitting him on the head and face while demanding to know "where the weapons were." The agents searched the offices and took equipment, cameras and $2,000 in cash. In the end they arrested Morales, supposedly because of a pistol they found in the CSTS offices, although the gun was legally registered and was at the site because it belonged to a member of the union that represents private security guards. (Centro de Estudios y Apoyo Laboral-CEAL, El Salvador, July 6) The raid took place a day after the Salvadoran government was informed that the CSTS intended to participate in a hearing before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission on the government's systematic violation of labor rights. (UnionVoice action alert, undated)
The protests against the fare hikes continued on July 7, with hundreds of people blocking major roads in and around the capital and elsewhere in the country. The protests were called by the Social Popular Bloc (BPS) of El Salvador, which represents labor, student, campesino, veteran and religious groups, among others. The BPS blames the July 5 violence on "infiltrators" trying to damage the image of the social movements. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, July 8)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 9
FMLN BLAMED FOR VIOLENCE
Fallout continued in El Salvador during the week of July 10 over the shooting death of two police agents at a July 5 student protest. Over the weekend of July 8, the police finally left the University of El Salvador campus, and 20-30 students arrested July 5 were released due to lack of evidence. On July 11, Union Coordinating Committee of Salvadoran Workers (CSTS) press and propaganda secretary Daniel Ernesto Morales was released; he had been arrested during a police raid on the CSTS office in the early hours of July 6.
Police have arrested a man they say was giving cover to the person who fired an M-16 during the demonstration, and are searching for Mario Belloso Castillo, who they claim fired the weapon. Both men have been members of the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN); the ruling right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) is blaming the FMLN for the attacks and calling