Central America Theater
A longstanding dispute over the privatization of the port at Limón on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast led unionized dockworkers at the port's Limón and Moín terminals to walk off the job on Oct. 22 for the second time in two years. The open-ended strike left three ships stranded at the two terminals, which handle some 80% of Costa Rica's foreign trade. Facing his first major labor crisis since he took office on May 8, President Luis Guillermo Solís, of the center-left Citizen Action Party (PAC), responded quickly. He sent some 150 police officers to take control of the terminals late on Oct. 22; 68 people were arrested in the operation. The port was reopened the next morning, with foreign contract workers under police guard. Union officials denied that the port was operating normally, and as of Oct. 25 negotiations hadn't started between the union and the government.
A secret July 1987 Salvadoran military document revealing the methods the army used during El Salvador's 1979-1992 civil war was made public for the first time on Sept. 28, International Right to Know Day. Entitled the "Yellow Book" ("Libro Amarillo"), the 270-page document is a compilation the Joint Staff of the Armed Forces' Intelligence Department (C-II) made of 1,915 entries about people the military considered "criminal terrorists." Of these, 1,857 individuals were identified by name, along with nicknames and photographs. The people named were members of unions, political parties, and groups of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), including current Salvadoran president Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
US government policies for dealing with unauthorized migrants at the Mexico-US border are endangering Hondurans and other Central Americans by sending them back to their home countries without adequate consideration of their asylum claims, according to a 44-page report that the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) organization released on Oct. 16. "In its frenzy to stem the tide of migrants from Central America, the US is sending asylum seekers back to the threat of murder, rape and other violence," said Clara Long, the HRW researcher who wrote the report, "'You Don't Have Rights Here': US Border Screening and Returns of Central Americans to Risk of Serious Harm."
The administration of US president Barack Obama announced on Sept. 30 that it planned to set up processing centers in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras so that children from these countries could apply for US refugee status without actually entering the US. Officials said the new policy came in response to the spike over the last year in illegal crossing into the US by unaccompanied minors and by women with small children. The number of Central American children admitted through the program would be small, however, according to an administration memorandum which provides for a total of 70,000 refugees to be admitted in fiscal 2015, the period from October this year through September 2015. This only includes 4,000 refugees from all of Latin American and the Caribbean, although some Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Hondurans could be admitted through another 2,000 slots not specified for particular regions. (CNN México, Oct. 1; New York Times, Oct. 1)
On Oct. 1 a Guatemalan court began hearing the case of Pedro García Arredondo, a former chief of the National Police who is charged with causing the deaths of 37 people in a fire at the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City on Jan. 31, 1980. "We finally want to close a cycle of our sorrow, of our suffering," indigenous activist and 1992 Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchú Tum told reporters the day before the trial was to start. "It's painful to carry this," said Menchú, whose father, campesino activist Vicente Menchú, died in the fire.
On Sept. 22 Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina declared a 30-day state of emergency in San Juan Sacatepéquez municipality in response to the deaths of at least eight indigenous Kaqchikel in a confrontation the night of Sept. 19-20 in the municipality's Pajoques community. Some 600 police agents were sent to the municipality; according to one report they were backed up by 1,000 soldiers. Under the state of emergency the police are free to break up any demonstration or public meeting held without government authorization. On Sept. 23 the police arrested five community members, charging them with murder, attempted murder, arson and illegal meetings and protests; there are warrants for several dozen other community members.
On Sept. 18 the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released a number of classified articles from its in-house journal, Studies in Intelligence, including an article about "Dark Alliance," a 1996 series in the San Jose Mercury News that linked the CIA-backed Nicaraguan contra rebels to the sale of crack in South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s. Other US media, notably the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, harshly criticized the series' author, investigative reporter Gary Webb, noting, and often exaggerating, flaws in his reporting. Webb lost his job at the Mercury News and was never employed by a major newspaper again; he was found dead on Dec. 10, 2004 in an apparent suicide.
A confrontation between indigenous Guatemalans in the early morning of Sept. 20 over the construction of a cement factory and a highway left eight dead in Loma Blanca community, San Juan Sacatepéquez municipality, about 30 km northwest of Guatemala City in Guatemala department. Several others were injured, and three houses and five vehicles were set on fire. According to Daniel Pascual, the leader of the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC), several armed men, some of them employees of the Cementos Progreso cement company, fired on residents who oppose the two construction projects. A Cementos Progreso representative, José González Merlos, blamed factory opponents. "These acts of violence aren't new," he said, charging that construction workers "have frequently been harassed and attacked in their homes." Factory opponents "respect absolutely nothing," according to González Merlos.