Central America Theater

Central America: tri-national anti-gang task force

A joint security force bringing together the three nations of Central America's Northern Triangle officially began operations to fight narco-gangs and organized crime on Nov. 15. The force is made up of military, police, intelligence and border officials from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—which all face growing internal violence from criminal networks. The force was officially inaugurated at a ceremony in the Honduran border town of Ocotepeque, near the point where the three countries meet. The presidents of all three nations were in attendance.

Post-electoral violence in Nicaragua

Followers of the indigenous party Yatama clashed with police and supporters of the ruling FSLN in Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas) on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast in the aftermath of contested national elections. Thre police agents were reported injured in the clash, with several arrested and property damaged—including government offices. The march was called Nov. 7, the day after the elections, to demand that the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) release preliminary results on the local race for national legislative deputy, with Yatama candidate Brooklyn Rivera charging numerous irregularities at the polls. Specifically, he accused the FSLN of using the "ratón loco" (crazy mouse) trick, of bussing supporters around to vote multiple times at various locations. Results for the deputy's race in the North Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACN) have still not been announced, and Bilwi remains tense, with streets patroled by riot police flown in by the national government over the head of the city's Yatama municipal government. (EFE, La Prensa, Nov. 8; La Prensa, Nov. 7; La Prensa, Nov. 6)

Honduras: protest slaying of campesino leaders

Rights activists and indigenous protesters clashed with riot police in Tegucigalpa Oct. 20 following the murder of two prominent campesino leaders—the latest in a wave of repressive terror.  The protest at the Public Ministry was called to demand justice in the case of José Ángel Flores and Silmer Dionosio George of Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA). The two were slain by unknown gunmen Oct. 18 as they left a community meeting in Tocoa, Colón department. Tocoa is in the Lower Aguán Valley, the center of a longstanding conflict between campesinos and large landowners accused of acquiring their lands in contravention of Honduras' agrarian reform laws. The two activists were supposedly under protective measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The orders were issued in May 2014 for several campesino leaders in the Aguán following a wave of killings and death threats. (Human Rights Watch, HispanTV, Oct. 21; Honduras Solidarity Network, Oct. 18)

Guatemala: constitutional reform advances indigenous rights

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in a press briefing Oct. 7 welcomed the presentation of a draft bill on constitutional justice reforms in the Guatemalan legislature. Stating that this "represents an historic opportunity to consolidate the remarkable progress the country has achieved in the fight against impunity and corruption in recent years," the OHCHR expressed hope that the bill would be swiftly approved by the Guatemala Congress. Among other things, the bill seeks to improve access to justice for women and indigenous peoples, recognize indigenous peoples' legal jurisdiction over internal matters, strengthen the independence and objectivity of judges and magistrates, and depoliticize the nomination and appointment of officials in the justice system.

El Salvador reopens massacre investigation

A court in El Salvador will reopen an investigation into the Mozote massacre of 1981, according to human rights lawyers on the case Oct. 1. Lawyers from the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and other human rights groups requested the investigation on behalf of victims last month. CEJIL and other lawyers urged the Prosecutor General to consider his position opposing the investigation, because the Supreme Court of El Salvador, in striking down the country's amnesty law, recognized that the state has a duty to investigate grave violations of international human rights. The court is requesting information from the military regarding the operations in December 1981, including the identities of military officials in command positions at the time.

Another environmental activist slain in Honduras

Another indigenous leader has been assassinated in Honduras, with local activists reporting July 6 that Lesbia Yaneth Urquía was found dead near a municipal dump with severe head trauma. Urquía, 49 and a mother of three, was a local coordinator of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) in Marcala, La Paz department, where she was slain. COPINH, which leads local efforts for land recovery and against destructive development projects, has seen a string of assassinations of its leaders this year—starting with that of co-founder Berta Cáceres in March. Said COPINH in a statement: "The death of Lesbia Yaneth is a political feminicide, and an attempt to silence the voice of those brave women who are courageously defending their rights and opposing the patriarchal, racist and capitalist system of their society."

Panama: water shortages threaten 'mega' canal

Panama has opened the long-awaited $5.4 billion expansion of its inter-oceanic canal, completed after nearly a decade of work and forecast to boost global trade. China's container ship Cosco Shipping Panama was the first to pass through the expanded canal, crossing from the Pacific to Atlantic June 26, emerging at a ceremony attended by thousands of onlookers and foreign dignitaries. The expansion is designed to accommodate the huge "neo-Panamax" ships to move far greater quantities of cargo through the canal—also dubbed "mega-ships." But the Spanish-led consortium that carried out the expansion is demanding hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns. And there are long-term concerns about available fresh water to feed the expanded canal's new locks. The expanded canal is relying on the same water sources as the original canal—which are already under stress. During this year's El Niño-related drought, shippers had to significantly lighten their loads through the canal. Jorge L. Quijano, CEO of the Panama Canal Authority, has been pressuring Panamanians to conserve water to assure the functioning of the new mega-canal. (China Daily, June 27; Radio Australia, June 26; NYT, June 22; Miami Herald, June 20; American Shipper, March 22)

Anti-canal leader arrested in Nicaragua

Francisca Ramírez Torres, leader of the movement against the planned Nicaraguan canal, was arrested by National Police agents  June 25 in a raid on her village in the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. Ramírez was leading a workshop at her village of La Fonseca, Nueva Guinea municipality, teaching local residents to build fuel-efficient wood-burning ovens. She was detained along with her husband, four other local campesinos and four foreigners who were participating in the workshop, mostly Mexicans. The event was part of a Mesoamerican Caravan for  Good Life, organized to support local communities opposed to the canal project. No formal charges have yet been announced. "We don't know what argument the police used to detain them and take them by force to the state," attorney López Baltodano told the AP. President Daniel Ortega said the detained had been "handling explosives." On April 22, Ramírez and her National Council for the Defense of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty led a march of thousands of campesinos against the canal project in Nueva Guinea. (Caravana Mesoamericana, La Prensa, La PrensaConfidencialAP, June 25; Havana Times, April 25; La Prensa, April 23; Havana Times, March 12)