Central America Theater

Guatemala postpones ex-dictator's genocide retrial

The retrial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity was delayed on Jan. 5. Two of the three judges on the panel accepted the defense's motion that the third judge, Judge Jeannette Valdez, should recuse herself from the trial on the grounds that she is biased because she wrote her master's thesis on genocide. Rios Montt is being tried for ordering military operations that led to the torture, rape and murder of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Mayan between 1982 and 1983, part of Guatemala's bloody 1960-1996 civil war. Rios Montt was convicted on these charges in 2013 and sentenced to 80 years in prison, but 10 days later his sentence was overturned by the Constitutional Court on procedural grounds and a retrial was ordered.

Honduras: left-leaning TV news anchor murdered

Unknown assailants shot and killed TV news presenter Reynaldo Paz Mayes on the morning of Dec. 15 as he was exercising at an outdoor sports centers in Comayagua, capital of the central Honduran department of Comayagua. A supporter of the center-left opposition Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), Paz owned a small local television station, RPM TV Canal 28, where he hosted a news program known for its criticism of President Juan Orlando Hernández's right-wing government and the June 2009 military coup that removed then-president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009) from office. Another station owner, Juan Ramón Flores, said Paz had received various threats, including an anonymous phone call the week before, because of his political views.

Nicaragua: protests as canal construction begins

Christmas Eve saw clashes in Nicaragua between riot police and campesino protesters, with some 40 detained and several injured. Most have been released, but a few are still reported missing and are believed to be in Managua's El Chipote prison. "This is no longer a dictatorship lite, this is a now a full-blown repressive dictatorship that is baring its claws and releasing its dogs," Vilma Nuñez, head of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, told US-based Fusion website. The protests took place at El Tule, Chontales department, and in Rivas, where campesinos tried to block road construction related to the inter-oceanic canal project. Protests were also reported at Nueva Guinea in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region, where campesinos burned tires at roadblocks. The protests began Dec. 22, marring that day's ceremonies marking the start of construction on the mega-project. Laureano Ortega, son of President Daniel Ortega, and canal developer Wang Jing of Hong Kong-based HKND Group, were helicoptered into Rivas for the affair, and apologized to assembled journalists for the disturbances. (Fusion.net, La Prensa, Nicaragua, Dec. 27; Nicaragua Dispatch, Dec. 24)

Panama: victims remember US invasion

Victims and survivors of the 1989 invasion of Panama by the US held a public ceremony on Dec. 20 to mark the 25th anniversary of the start of the military action. As they have for 25 years, the ceremony's participants called for the US government to acknowledge the damage from the invasion, indemnify the victims and their survivors, and reveal the location of mass graves where some of the dead were buried. "There were bodies that were thrown in the sea, and there are bodies scattered in different places, so we can never finally offer them a tribute," Trinidad Ayola, whose husband died defending an airport, told AFP. "Without justice there can't be peace or reconciliation, and we can't turn the page." President Juan Carlos Varela attended the ceremony, announcing that the government would form a commission to consider the families' demands, including the declaration of Dec. 20 as a national day of mourning. He is the first Panamanian president to attend the annual commemoration.

Costa Rica: state to compensate Nemagon victims

A decree by Costa Rican president Luis Guillermo Solís authorizing payments to former banana workers sickened by the pesticide Nemagon became official on Dec. 1 with the measure's publication in the government's gazette. Under the decree the government's National Insurance Institute (INS) will pay out from 25% to 100% of the medical bills for workers who suffered physical or psychological damage from Nemagon, with the percentage based on their years of exposure to the pesticide. The decree currently covers 13,925 former banana workers; cases are pending for 9,233 of the workers' children and 1,742 of the workers' spouses. More than 11,000 other applications were dismissed.

Central America: refugee 'crisis' plan gets a debut

The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) hosted a special event on Nov. 14 in Washington, DC to present a plan that El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—Central America's "Northern Triangle"—are proposing as a response to the spike earlier this year in immigration to the US by minors from their countries. The "Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle: A Road Map" was originally released in September and is similar to programs announced at a July summit in Washington. However, the IADB event, with US vice president Joseph Biden and the three Central American presidents in attendance, "was the real 'coming out' party for the proposals," the DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) wrote in its "Americas Blog."

Honduras: campesino leader murdered in Aguán

Juan Angel López Miranda, a campesino leader in the Lower Aguán River Valley in the northern Honduran department of Colón, was murdered on Nov. 11 in the Ilanga Viejo neighborhood of Trujillo municipality, according to a communiqué from the Agrarian Platform, an alliance of campesino groups and nongovernmental organizations. Also known as "Juan Galindo," López Miranda was a leader in the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) and headed the largest campesino settlement in the valley, with 1,500 campesino residents. López Miranda was attacked by two armed men on a motorcycle, the communiqué said, and was hit by eight bullets.

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."

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