Global South and Anti-Corporate Activists Clinch Major Victory at Cancun WTO Summit

by Soren Ambrose

The fifth World Trade Organization ministerial conference has ended in Cancun, Mexico, and the measure of the organization’s worth can again be seen by the fact that for the majority of its member countries (as well as the non-governmental organizations and street protesters who plague it), the outcome–no agreement whatsoever–was precisely the greatest triumph they could have hoped for. When the day will come that governments begin to question the point of remaining in an organization they are mostly seeking to stall is an open question, but it certainly seemed to draw much closer in Cancun.

As at other international summits, Cancun had an “inside” and an “outside”–that is, opponents of the institution were to be found both in street protests and inside the meeting hall, where they attempted to counter the full-time media spinners employed by the wealthy governments. And as at the November 1999 protests in Seattle, these two forces–together with dissatisfied delegations from developing countries–all share credit for preventing the WTO from reaching an agreement. The greatest part, however, was played by the blind arrogance of the imperialist-capitalist nexus formed by the governments of the United States, Canada, Japan and the European Union.

Opponents of the WTO came from at least 40 countries. The numbers were smaller than some predicted–particularly those influenced by the inflated-expectations game now a familiar part of local authorities’ fear-as-fundraising tactics at each “globalization” gathering. Many articles had predicted 50,000 protesters, with one or two simply doubling that number to hype it even more. But organizers in Mexico always knew that such numbers were unlikely to materialize in Cancun, which was chosen for the summit because of the difficulty of organizing protests there. Indeed, the city itself is largely a product of contemporary globalization: the year-round inhabitants are mostly internal migrants drawn by the approximately 100 resort hotels catering to foreign tourists that have popped up in the last 30 years along the beautiful Caribbean coast. The workers often receive daily wages roughly equivalent to the price charged for two 20-ounce bottles of water in the Hyatt, Marriott, or Ritz Carlton resorts, and the city of Cancun–as distinct from the 21-kilometer strip of land where the bulk of the hotels stand–is dominated by districts with limited or no public services such as water. Gazing upon huge swimming pools lined up along the Gulf of Mexico must provoke vertigo for those who commute every day from the poorest parts of Cancun.

There were probably about 10,000 people at the height of the protests, maybe a few more. And despite the worldwide call for solidarity actions on September 13 (Saturday), the peak of the protests actually came earlier, on Wednesday, September 10. That was the day reserved for the peasants and farmers, or campesinos. Among the speeches that started the day were those recorded by two prominent Zapatista leaders and played for the assembled campesinos and international activists. Commandante Esther issued a hard-hitting message that focussed on gender relations, both global and local–which is to say both within the capitalist world and the revolutionary movements like the Zapatistas. Subcommandante Marcos’s statement was a more generic welcome to activists from around the world to southern Mexico, one which put a sort of official seal of Zapatista approval on the actions in the Yucatan peninsula.

Led by Via Campesina, the international network of small-scale agricultural producers, Wednesday’s march was both spirited and somber, conscious of the gravity of the issues of agricultural subsidies, which were center-stage at summit, for small farmers around the world. A contingent of nearly 200 farmers came from South Korea, along with some members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

The march on Wednesday had several contingents. The Mexican and Latin American campesinos generally sought to avoid direct confrontation with the authorities. But Mexican students, many of them masked, were more daring. And the Korean delegation seemed the most determined of all, though the language barrier made it difficult to know exactly what was in the offing. The Koreans ended up surprising the other marchers by mounting a charge against the barricade erected some 10 kilometers from the convention center where the conference was going on. The charge–with a battering ram reported to look like a large dragon–and attempted scaling of the fence, heightened the intensity of the action. It was at that point that a Korean farmer named Lee Kyun-Hae climbed to the highest reachable point with a sign reading “WTO Kills Farmers” and stabbed himself in the chest, performing a “self-immolation,” or honor suicide. Such deaths have become common among small-scale farmers in Asia, and even the US, when they find they cannot live through their farming work.

Lee’s death, which did not become general knowledge for some hours, galvanized the opponents of the WTO. Most did not know what the “proper” reaction was, but as it emerged that Lee had been dogging the WTO for several years, it became clear that this former head of a farmers’ union was not acting out of whim, but out of a determination formed over several years. Within the next 24 hours, he became the focal point for explaining the gravity of the issues being discussed, especially on agriculture.

Some of the campesinos came from Chiapas, which is relatively nearby. Many of them were known Zapatista sympathizers, and some of them were willing to identify themselves as such, including at an “encuentro” which was largely attended by people committed to solidarity with the Zapatista movement.

The march that was more widely publicized–Saturday’s–actually ended up being smaller than Wednesday’s, largely because most of the campesinos who had participated in the first action could not afford to stay so long in Cancun. It was, however, better organized–an expression of full solidarity between students and farmers, gringos and Mexicans. It culminated in a police barrier being taken down, but the action was largely symbolic, as the police did not intervene, and had subsequent barriers to ensure that no protesters could get close to the convention center.

The Mexican police were remarkably reserved most of the time in Cancun. They clearly had been instructed to let protesters blow off steam rather than confront them directly. Some incidents of violence did occur, however–though on several occasions it was introduced by activists throwing rocks. That inspired retaliation by the authorities, with at least 20 or so injured, and at least one taken to the local hospital.

While the authorities were able to close down the road connecting downtown Cancun to the hotel zone, and did so intermittently, they did not actually prohibit anyone from moving around the hotel zone. Doing so would have meant preventing hotel employees and tourists from getting to the restaurants and other attractions, essentially shutting down the tourist trade that constitutes Mexico’s most lucrative source of foreign exchange, already hit hard by cancellations because of the WTO meeting. At times of tension the authorities stopped all vehicles except those contracted to the WTO, boarding public buses and questioning occupants of taxis and private cars to check identification and suspicious objects. If anyone was detained in the process, we did not hear about it. By adopting innocuous poses, activists were thus able to get near the convention center to mount small street actions. And among the approximately 1,000 non-governmental organizations and several hundred media outlets accredited to the meetings, were many activists with access to parts of the convention center willing to make some noise. In fact, media stunts took place several times a day in the area closest to the press center.

For these smaller actions inside the hotel zone and near the convention center, the “hands-off” policy seemed to be the norm for the authorities–with the notable exception of a vigil held by Mexican students, who were forced out of the street and onto the sidewalk. A number of other actions, including a street take-over just outside the convention center that lasted nearly two hours, were resolved by negotiations and patience. In that way the “inside” actions were allowed to have their dramatic impact. They too were vital in setting a tone, a “buzz,” for journalists and delegates alike.

The ultimate collapse of the Cancun talks will likely be looked back upon as a momentous event. It represents the first time that a large number of developing countries–including Brazil, India, China, South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and reportedly Turkey and Indonesia–held firm and united to a position rejecting the demands of the United States and European Union. More than any single bargaining position, the important thing was the very existence of the so-called Group of 21, which first met in late August in Geneva. The commitments to unity made at a Tuesday press conference will be pledges that these Southern governments can and should be held accountable to.

With the failure of Cancun, countries in Latin America and throughout the world will next have to resist the US push for bilateral and regional trade treaties, such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the Central American Free Trade Area (CAFTA). If the refusal to continue being bullied by the wealthy countries holds through the Miami ministerial of the FTAA in November, then Cancun may look more and more like an historic turning point, at which the current hyper-exploitative version of globalization was kicked to the curb, and at which developing countries began to unite forces to take control of their destinies.

Around the US, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, activists are now making plans now to be in Miami for the FTAA ministerial, on November 20 and 21, in Miami. If the wealthy countries are again denied the submission of the developing world, Cancun may well be viewed as a significant turning point in the history of North-South economic relations–the moment when the South stopped acquiescing to the clout of the North.

Soren Ambrose is a policy analyst with the 50 Years Is Enough Network


The National Union of Regional Autonomous Campesino Organizations (UNORCA), the Mexican campesino group that took the lead in organizing the Cancun peasant contingent, issued a formal protest to the Mexican government after visas were denied to 38 peasant leaders from Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti, India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia. Among those denied entry for the protests was the Bolivian indigenous campesino leader and national legislator Evo Morales. (La Jornada, Sept. 6)

On Sept. 12, Greenpeace activists blocked the freighter Ikan Altamira from entering Veracruz harbor for 13 hours. The freighter was delivering 40,000 tons of genetically modified corn from New Orleans. It finally reached the Veracruz port with a Mexican Navy escort. Greenpeace says the imports violate the International Protocol on Biosecurity. Mexico says it may prosecute the activists for interfering with international shipping. (La Jornada, Sept. 14)

September, 2003 World War 3 Report



by Bill Weinberg

On July 21, leaders of indigenous, campesino and grassroots organizations from throughout the Central American nations and Mexico gathered in Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras, for the Mesoamerican Forum, fourth in a series of meetings aimed at defending ecological culture throughout the isthmus–and opposing the Puebla-Panama Plan (PPP), an isthmus-wide mega-development scheme aggressively promoted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Meanwhile, in the Honduran countryside, three peasant ecologist leaders were assassinated just days before the Forum opened–casting the issues addressed at the meeting in a stark light.

In the southern province of La Paz, two Lenca Indian campesinos involved in an occupation of contested lands were killed in a dawn attack by presumed hired gunmen of a local landlord. In northern and remote Olancho province, a peasant leader who had been opposing illegal timber exploitation on communal lands was cut down at his home by an unknown pistolero. A banner above the check-in desk at the Forum read REMEMBER THE MARTYRS OF LA PAZ AND OLANCHO.

There was an irony that the Forum was held in a city dominated by the ubiquitous icons of corporate culture–Burger King, McDonalds, Pizza Hut. In contrast, the banner above the stage at Tegucigalpa´s Universidad Pedagogica, where the Forum was held, pictured a traditional Maya Indian design of a maize god.

The first Mesoamerican Forum was held in Spring 2001 in Tapachula, Chiapas, after the IDB and Mexican President Vicente Fox announced the PPP, which calls for new hydro-electric projects, trans-isthmus trade routes and industrial zones. The Forum convened again in Fall 2001 in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala; and in July 2002 Managua, Nicaragua. At the Tegucigalpa meeting, the agenda was topped by the issues of breakneck resource exploitation privatization of national resources and infastructure–especially water. A water privatization law currently pending in the Honduran national legislature would mandate that local municipalities allow private contracts to run their water systems. Honduras´ second city, San Pedro Sula, already has such a contract with an Italian firm.

Such privatization moves are IDB and World Bank prescriptions–but, as representatives from throughout the Mesoamerican subcontinent pointed out, they are taking place in atmosphere of lawlessness, in which public oversight is meaningless and opponents are targetted for assassination.


A featured speaker at the Forum was Mexican writer Armando Batra, author of The Heirs of Zapata, a study of post-revolutionary Mexican campesino movements, who called the PPP an example of “savage capitalism,” and claimed that it is dividing Mexico. “It serves the interests of the northern, white part of the country which is a neighbor to the US, and condemns to poverty the southern, indigenous part which is a neighbor to Guatemala.” But, echoing a frequent slogan at the Forum, he asserted that “another Mesoamerica is possible.” As an alternative development model, he called for “rebuilding the links between rural and urban sectors, with agricultural production for internal consumption based on local cooperatives.”

Indigenous representatives from Guatemala at the Forum included opponents of the planned massive hydro-electic project on the Usumacinta River, which forms the border between Guatemala and Mexico. Juan Ixbalan of Guatemala´s National Indigenous and Campesino Coordinator (CONIC) called the IDB-backed project, which would flood vast areas of rainforest, “a new conquest of Maya territory.”

Even as technocrats portray privatization and mega-development proposals as part of an inevitable march towards democracy and modernization, ghosts from Central America´s violent recent past are returning to haunt the isthmus. Guatemalan indigenous leaders are currently preparing a case against former military dictator–and current presidential candidate-Rios Montt on genocide charges for his 1980s “scorched-earth” campaign against Maya Indians. The indigenous-led Justice & Reconcilation Association (AJR)is coordinating witnesses to 1980s massacres from 24 communities in the departments of Quiche, Huehuetenango, Chimaltenango and Alta Verapaz. Said Neela Ghoshal, a New York City shcoolteacher who recently served as a human rights observer with the AJR and attended the Forum: “The Guatemalan courts probably won´t hear the case, so they will have to go to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. But they are really committed to seeking justice.”

On July 25, just days after the Forum ended, violent riots rocked Guatemala City as supporters of Rios Montt–mostly former members of his paramilitary “civil patrols”–took to the streets to protest a court ruling that barred his candidacy under a law blocking former coup leaders from the presidency. The protesters erected barricades of burning tires and attacked random pedestrians, leaving one television reporter dead of heart failure. Five days after the riots, Guatemala´s top Constitutional Court would overturn the ruling, allowing the ex-dictator´s presidential campaign to proceed. US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher quickly assured that US relations with Guatemala would not be disrupted if Rios Montt is elected.

Another speaker at the Forum, Raul Moreno of El Salvador, representing the rural development group Sinti Techan (Nahuatl for “maize for the people”) condemned the pending Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), asserting that these agreements would “modify the judicial order, subordinating the labor code, environmental laws and human rights. The PPP is not neutral–it benefits the US and its giant corporations. The PPP is not reformable.” Nor, he asserted, is it inevitable. “We can resist. Electricity and the national health system remain public in Costa Rica, despite the desire of the government and the World Trade Organization to privatize, because the people don´t want it.”

Magda Lanuza of Nicaragua´s International Study Center noted that plans for water privatization are even more advanced in her country than in Honduras. Several Nicaraguan departments–including Leon, Chinandega, Jinotega and Matagalpa–already have private contracts to manage their water systems with such firms as the French water giant Suez (whose contracts with local governments in South Africa have won international criticism as soaring water rates have left many poor communities without access). Now, as in Honduras, the water privatization program is to be instated nationwide–as a condition of a loan from the IDB. But Magda predicts a political battle. “Local communities are prepared to defend their water resources,” she says. “They understand that water is life.”

Hydro-energy is also being privatized in Nicaragua. The private firm Hydrogesa has won a contract to manage the Apenas dam in Jinotega, and the scandal-ridden Enron actually bid on it in 2002. But following public protest, the contract now suspended pending a national law on water privatization. Local Matagalpa Indians were relocated when the project was first built in 1960s, and now oppose its privatiztion.


The two Lenca Indians killed at La Paz, Fabian Gonzalez and Santos Carrillo, were part of a land occupation led by the National Center of Rural Workers (CNTC), one of the largest campesino unions in Honduras. The killers opened fire with AK-47 rifles in dawn attack on their encampment July 19. In an eerie coincidence, the very next day, July 20, is Dia de Lempira, a national holiday commemorating the death in 1536 of the Lenca warrior who resisted the conquistador Francisco Montejo. The land in question had been first occupied in 1985, under a provision of the Honduran agrarian reform law allowing peasants to move on to unused private lands, and begin a process for their eventual expropriation and title transfer to the campesinos. But the agrarian reform law has now been almost completely repealed in Honduras.

Lenca leader Berta Caceres notes an irony that Lempira has become a symbol of national pride even as Lenca land rights and culture have been lost to modernization. “The indigenous context has been invisible in Honduras for too long,” she says. “But there has been a new process of struggle since the 500 Years of Resistance campaign in 1992 and the Zapatista revolt in Chiapas in 1994. We are organzing to defend Lenca territory.”

Caceres is the coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), representing 47 communities in the Lenca heartland of La Paz, Intibuca and Lempira departments. It was founded in 1993, and has been at the forefront of a Lenca cultural and political renaissance. After the Forum, I visited COPINH´s modest office in the village of Itibuca.

The Lenca are among the northernmost Chibcha Indian groups, whose cultual sphere begins just south of that of the Maya and extends into South America. Their language only survives in some 45 words–mostly referring to animals and places, such as the local Sierra de Puca Opalaca, which means “high mountain” in Lenca. They have also adopted Nahuatl, the lingua franca of the Aztec-Maya cultural sphere, to communicate with neighboring peoples.

Since 1993, COPINH has organized a series of 4,000-strong “indigneous pilgrimages” to local sacred sites associated with saints and virgins (and, earlier, with Lenca deities and earth-spirits)–such as the Virgin of Lourdes in Ilama, Santa Barbara department, and the Virgin of Remedios in Tomala, Lempira. Caceres says these pilgrimages “linked the spiritual and cultural traditions of the Lenca with our political demands.” COPINH has also resorted to more militant tactics, such the 1993 occupation of local timber mills to protest deforestation.

COPINH´s demands have won some results–such as the redrawing of municpal borders to give local Lenca communities legal contol over their territories. In 1994, the first new municipality was created, San Francisco Opalaca in Intibua department–the only municipality in the country where all land is collectively owned and managed by an indigenous land council. Six other new municipalities followed in the ensuing years.

Under the Honduran agrarian reform, some national lands were transfred to peasant collectives, which held them privately, but not for resale. Under the 1992 Agrarian Modernization Law–known as the “contra-reforma”-they can now be resold. The “contra-reforma” also overturned provisions for expropriation of unused private lands for redistribution to peasant squatters. In addittion, the National Agrarian Institute (INA) started privatizing national lands and even “ejidos,” the traditional communal lands accruing to municipalities that had been protected since the colonial era.

Salvador Zuniga, a member of COPINH´s executive committee, notes the shift from the “populist” policy of the 1960s, when the agragian reform was initiated, to the “neoliberal” policy of today, which is supported by the US, World Bank and IDB, and calls for a return to the 19th-century Liberal ideology of privatization of public or collective lands and resources. In between was the harsh repression of th 1980s, which–if less severe than that in neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala–still saw the assassination and “disappearance” of hundreds of peasant leaders, and the decapitation of peasant cooperatives. “The neoliberal policy of today is the fruit of the low-intensity war of the 1980s,” says Zuniga.

And that war continues, as indigenous leaders are still marked for death. On May 17 of this year, Teodoro Martinez, a Tolupan Indian leader in the central department of Fracisco Morazan who had been leading a campaign against illegal timber operations, was assassinated. Martinez had been a leader of another indigenous alliance, the Confederation of Autochthonous Peoples of Honduras (CONPAH)–whose founder, Vicente Matute, was assassinated in 1989, the same year the organization was launched.


In another trip into the Honduran countryside after the Forum, I joined a delegation to Olancho, organized by the country´s foremost human rights group, the Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH), founded during the repression of the 1980s. The largest department in Honduras by territory, Olancho is largely inhabited by mestizo settlers from the central and southern zones of the country who were encouraged by the government to colonize the wild fronteir to the north in the 1960s and ´70s. But, as always, economic interests followed the settlers, and today the pine-clad mountains of Olancho are being rapidly denuded by local timber barons. On the road, we pass numerous trucks loaded with huge pine logs, heading south towards the Panamerican Highway and foreign markets. We also pass several timber mills cutting the big logs into boards.

On the night of July 18, Carlos Arturo Reyes was shot down by an unknown pistolero at his home in Olancho´s El Rosario municipality. Reyes had founded the local Olancho Environmental Movement (MAO)in 2001, and had led a cross-country March for Life in June 2003, in which 30,000 marched from Olancho to Tegucigalpa to demand a crackdown on outlaw timber operations. MAO used marches, community meetings and finally–in February of this year–physical blockades of logging roads to press thier demands for community participation in drafting what the group calls a “rational plan of exploitation.” Twenty other MAO members are now said to be targetted for death.

Other peasant ecologists have likewise been assassinated in Olancho in recent years. On June 30, 2001, Carlos Flores of La Venta, a village in Gualaco municipality, was gunned down in front of his home by AK-47 fire. As a leader of the local Heritage Center of La Venta, Gualaco (CEPAVEG), he had opposed a hydro-dam being built on the nearby Rio Babilonia by the private firm Energisa under contract to the Honduran government. Two of Energisa´s guards were eventually arrested in the case, but Gilberto Flores, Carlos´ cousin, says “the intellectual authors remain free.”

Gilberto, still involved in opposition to the hydro project, is now facing death threats himself, has a National Police officer assigned to protect him in La Venta. Gilberto reports that on June 14 he had a an AK-47 levelled at him from a passing car in Juticalpa, capital of Olancho department.

Gilberto emphasizes the necessity of halting Olancho´s deforestation and fighting to maintain public control over water resources: “In many municipalities in Olancho, there is no water. We dig wells and we find none. The department is going dry. This has happened over the last 20 years, along with the exaggerated exoploitation of our forests. There are around 100 trucks full of timber leaving Olancho each day for Trujillo,” the northern Caribbean port.

Also apparently targetted for death is Rafael Ulloa, former mayor of Gualaco. Ulloa protests that the appropriation of the Rio Babilonia for the hydro-dam represents a reversal of national priorities. “Officially, water is to go first for muncipal use, then for irrigation, and then for electrical generation. But downstream communities will lose thier access to the river by this project.”

The small Rio Babilonia plunges down from the mountain of that same name in a series of cascades, and eventually joins the Rio Tinto Negro that drains to the Caribbean to the north. The site of the dam is officially within the Sierra de Agalta National Park, and but for the construction activity the forest-cloaked mountain is indeed beautiful. From La Venta, we set out on horses and mules up the steep and muddy trail which is also used by the Energisa workers. This area is too rugged and inaccessible for heavy equipment, and the workers carry the plastic tubing up the mountain on their backs, or slung between makeshift wooden poles. The trail follows the ditch cut in the mountainside which will re-route the river through the plastic pipes to the power station below, still yet to be built. At the top, the dam itself is alrady intact, standing astride the first cataract, but the gates have yet to be closed and the floodplain which has been dug off to the side yet to be filled. An Energisa guard with a shotgun stands on duty.

The campesinos at La Venta also take us to nearby Las Delicias in neighboring San Estaban municipality–where national police and private gunmen evicted some 20 families from 83 manzanas of land on July 23. Across the barbed-wire fence we can see the remains of recently-razed homes. The families, settlers from Choluteca department in the south, had been on the land for over 20 years. They are now living in an overcrowded one-room schoolhouse and makeshift bivuoacs on adjacent municipal land. They say that the courts ruled for the local Calderon ranching family in the land dispute despite the campesinos´ title to the land. The case is pending before INA, but the families, who worked their land as a peasant collective, have little hope the decision will be reversed. They say their meager cattle were stolen in the eviction as well, and probably wound up on the already-expansive lands of the Calderon family. Says evicted grandmother Heribeta Aguilar: “We came here for a better life-now everything is gone.” Added evicted farmer Silverio Molina: “We will die fighting for land and water.”

The evicted campesinos show us a beat-up Toyota pick-up truck parked near thier bivouacs. It is riddled on the driver´s side with bullets from an AK-47 attack in the prelude to the eviction–allegedly by Calderon gunmen. The driver, Candido Cruz, lost his leg in the attack, and now hobbles on crutches.

Another environmental crusader facing death threats in Olancho is Padre Jose Andres Tamayo, a Salvadoran-born priest who now leads the parish that covers both Salama and El Rosario, where Carlos Reyes was killed. He too notes a dramatically declining productivity in Olancho´s land as a result of erosion and aridification related to destruction of the region´s forests. “Just five years ago, the campesinos here got 30 sacks of maize for every manzana,” he says. “Now they usually get twelve.”

On the road between Salama and El Rosario, Padre Tamayo points out a large expanse of mountainous and forested land owned by a local “cacique”-a land baron and political boss favored by the corrupt bureaucracy. He says trucks leave the cacique´s land hauling out timber frequently, and the mountainsides are rapidly being denuded. Across the road, more forested slopes form the opposite wall of the valley. These, Tamayo says, are the communal lands of local peasant communities. But they are also being denuded by the local timber barons, as campesino leaders are bought off with cash or alcohol. Tamayo asserts that 80% of the wood cut in Honduras is felled illegally.

On March 2, 2002, the Honduran daily El Heraldo reported that ex-head of the national forestry agency, COHDEFOR, Marco Vinicio Arias, faces corruption charges for illegally allowing the felling of trees in the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, which stretches north from Olancho into the extremely remote lowland tropical rainforests of the Miskito Coast.

Tamayo says that six companies control the Olancho timber trade in a shady network that overlaps with that of the narco-gangs who use Olancho as an artery for US-bound cocaine between clandestine ports on the Miskito Coast and the Panamerican Highway. Timber revenues are used to launder narco-profits, and both go to arming paramilitary-style mafia enforcement gangs. Tamayo refers to the timber gangs as “narco-madereros.”

Tamayo claims that the timber is largely resold to US-based companies for export, and much of it is off-loaded in New Orleans and other US ports. Once again, corporate power appears to have an incestuous relationship with the criminal and paramilitary gangs that terrorize the isthmus. “This is the second conquest of Mesoamerica,” says Tamayo.

Our delegation to Olancho ended with an ominous coda. On July 29, the day after our return to Tegucigalpa, the daily La Prensa ran a front-page photo of masked men carrying rifles in a dense pine grove, claiming they were a group of radical environmentalists who were arming themselves to defend Olancho´s forests. Their supposed leader, “Comandante Pepe,” claimed to have 10,000 men under his command. In an accompanying article, Honduran President Ricardo Maduro was pictured looking in dismay at photos of “Pepe” from the same newspaper. He was quoted as saying, “They are doing a great damage to the country,” noting that the presumed eco-guerillas look like “Zapatistas or members of Sendero Luminoso.” He was also quoted pledging a crackdown: “I am not going to permit the existence of any armed groups that generate violence. I don´t care whose side they´re on, because in this case there is no justified reason.” Padre Tamayo was also quoted, saying that the mysterious Pepe and his followers were actually a creation of the timber gangs “to discredit the movement.”

August, 2003



by Bill Weinberg

“Osama bin Laden will be caught anytime–today or tomorrow.”

So said J. Cofer Black, US State Department coordinator for counter-terrorism, after meeting with officials in Bangladesh Sept. 5. Black boasted to reporters that 75 percent of al-Qaeda elements have been killed or arrested already, while a well-planned campaign is underway to eliminate the rest of the organization.

Black had just come from an anti-terror summit in the Indian capital, New Delhi, and broached the possibility of forming a joint Bangladesh-US working group on terrorism modeled on those the US has formed with India and Pakistan. (The New Nation, Bangladesh, Sept. 5)


At the Sept. 1 meeting of the US-India Joint Working Group on Terrorism, Black met with Meera Shankar, under-secretary for international security in the Ministry Of External Affairs, for talks focusing on cross-border terrorist operations and arms and narcotics trafficking in the region.

“The destabilizing impact of these linkages is a matter of growing concern to both countries,” said the joint statement released after the meeting. “Both sides agreed that, even as the challenge posed by international terrorism continues to mutate, it is important for the international community to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation to effectively meet this challenge.”

New training and intelligence-sharing programs were also discussed, expanding the mission of the Joint Working Group, first established in 2000. (Indo-Asian News Service, Sept. 1)


But India’s new “anti-terrorism” prowess is more likely to be used against ethnic guerilla armies fighting for independence in the country’s remote eastern corner than against al-Qaeda or related groups said to be operating in disputed Jammu and Kashmir in the north. The counter-insurgency wars India has waged in this forgotten region, sandwiched between Burma and Bangladesh, have claimed perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives since Indian independence in 1947. The neighboring states of Assam and Nagaland have been hardest hit–and the conflict in Assam is now rapidly escalating.

The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is said to be responsible for a bomb that went off at an Indian Independence Day parade Aug. 15 in the Assam town of Dhemaji, killing 15, including seven children, and wounding several more. A second blast left 12 wounded. On Aug. 26, near-simultaneous bomb blasts on a train, bus station and oil refinery in Assam left dead six and over 70 wounded. That same day, a woman said to be a ULFA militant was arrested in the Dhemaji attack.

The rebel groups in Assam and Nagaland accuse the Indian government of illegally occupying their lands and even of genocide against the region’s peoples, as well as the plunder of oil, timber and other natural resources with little return to the impoverished residents. They maintain that the region was illegally annexed to India in 1947 and denied self-determination. But the recent targeting of civilians by the ULFA has led to tensions within the coalition that unites many of the region’s guerilla armies.

The faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland led by S.S. Khaplang (NSCN-K) strongly criticized the ULFA for the Aug. 15 attack. “The crime perpetrated against innocent school children by ULFA in Assam is unacceptable and we are not going to remain a silent spectator to any organization that…advocates terrorism,” K. Mulatonu, a senior NSCN-K leader, told Indo-Asian News Service by telephone from Mon in Nagaland. “We will be forced and compelled to sever all relationships with ULFA if they do not stop the genocide and fratricidal killings immediately.”

The NSCN-K is among the oldest and the most powerful of nearly 30 guerilla armies operating in India’s northeast. It uses territory across the border in Burma (Myanmar) as a staging ground, and seeks to unite Naga lands on both sides of the border as an independent state. The NSCN-K and the rival NSCN-IM (led by Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah), have maintained a ceasefire with New Delhi since 1991, but Khaplang now heads an umbrella coalition of several guerilla armies, including ULFA–most of which are not covered by the ceasefire.

“We had maintained a good relationship with ULFA for more than 10 years now,” Mulatonu said. “We provided arms training to ULFA in our camps in Myanmar. We still have about 100 ULFA cadres sheltered in our camps in Myanmar.”

He said that top NSCN-K commanders are expected to meet ULFA leaders soon to discuss the recent violence in Assam. “We will soon meet the ULFA top brass to get a first-hand account of what is happening and prevail upon them to desist from such acts of genocide,” Mulatonu said.

The NSCN-K recently offered to broker peace talks between ULFA and New Delhi, even as Nagaland’s own status remains uncertain. At least 25,000 people have died in the insurgency in Nagaland, a state of two million people, since Indian independence. (IANS, Aug. 21)


Indian intelligence often portrays the guerillas in the east as being backed by Pakistan and Islamic militant groups. But Assam is overwhelmingly Hindu, and Nagaland is a mostly Christian enclave. The guerillas’ roots are generally in the Maoist movements that shook India in the 1970s, and their concerns are now with ethnic and regional self-government, not religion.

The Indian army’s paramilitary auxiliary in the region, the Assam Rifles, is currently embroiled in a scandal concerning human rights abuses. On July 16, security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a protest by women in Manipur state who were demanding that the paramilitary outfit be withdrawn following accusations that riflemen had raped and killed a local woman. Many of the woman protesters stripped naked to shame the security forces. The violence culminated a two-day general strike to demand withdrawal of the Assam Rifles from Manipur. (India Daily, July 16)



ULFA Web site:

South Asia Terrorism Portal (anti-terrorist think-tank) page on ULFA: a.htm

Free Nagaland homepage:

South Asia Terrorism Portal page on NSCN-K: Nscn_k.htm

For more on the Assam struggle, see WW3 REPORT #94:

For more on J. Cofer Black, see WW3 REPORT #18:

(Bill Weinberg)

Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, Sept. 6, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution




from Weekly News Update on the Americas

At 4 AM on Aug. 16, some 300 campesinos from El Chore in Bolivia’s Santa Cruz department seized control of a British Petroleum (BP) oil production facility in the Santa Rosa del Sara region of Santa Cruz. The campesinos were demanding recognition and titling of their land, the expulsion of large landholders, construction of a road, $5 million for agricultural production and “fulfillment of the mandate” of a July 18 referendum in which Bolivian voters approved national control of gas and other resources. The company immediately issued a communique saying it was halting operations at the Humberto Suarez Roca facility “to safeguard the security of the personnel and the campesinos who are blocking the entrance.” The next day, Aug. 17, the campesinos also took over the facility’s Patujusal and Los Cusis oilfields. The facility, operated by BP’s Chaco-Amoco subsidiary, normally produces 2,000 barrels of oil a day. The campesinos ended their takeover late on Aug. 18 after reaching an agreement with the Santa Cruz governor’s office and the national government. (, Aug. 16; Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, Aug. 19; AFP, DPA, Reuters, Aug. 17, 18)

Late on Aug. 18, some 300 residents of Villamontes in Tarija department stormed the San Antonio gas compression plant, operated by the Transredes company, and shut down its valves, cutting off gas flow to the departmental capital, Tarija, as well as to Argentina and Brazil. The Villamontes residents are demanding construction of a highway linking Tarija to Paraguay via Villamontes. Residents began a civic strike on Aug. 10 or 11 after trying for more than eight months to get the government to respond to their demands. They also set up blockades along local roads leading to Argentina and Paraguay. The shutdown of the valves came at the close of a local assembly of the Villamontes Strike Committee where members discussed how to step up the pressure. (Los Tiempos, AP, Aug. 18)

Bolivian president Carlos Mesa Gisbert responded to the protest actions on Aug. 19 by sending military personnel to all the gas and oil facilities in the country to prevent new takeovers. In Santa Cruz, the government had already sent heavily armed police and military agents to protect the Palmasola refinery after the Santa Cruz Federation of Neighborhood Boards (FEJUVE) staged a massive march to the refinery and threatened to take it over to protest rising fuel prices. (, Aug. 18) On Aug. 19, bus drivers in Oruro department went on strike and marched through the departmental capital to demand that Mesa fulfill a promise to freeze fuel prices. Some 20 drivers in Oruro began a hunger strike on Aug. 20. Drivers are mobilizing across the country; they are planning a hunger strike and marches in La Paz and El Alto starting on Aug. 23, and have proposed taking over oil and gas refineries to pressure the government. They are also considering a general strike. (Los Tiempos; El Diario, La Paz; Europa Press, Aug. 20)

On Aug. 20, the Villamontes residents ended their protest after reaching an agreement with the government on their demands for the highway construction. Mesa resolved the conflict with the signing in La Paz of an executive decree which instructs the National Highway Service to put the project up for bidding within 180 days. The Brazilian government has agreed to finance the road. At the same time, the government threatened on Aug. 20 to pursue legal charges against those responsible for taking over oilfields or shutting down gas valves. (Los Tiempos, Aug. 21)

On Aug. 18 about 10 members of Bolivia’s Landless Movement (MST) began a hunger strike at the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) headquarters in La Paz to demand the release of MST leader Gabriel Pinto [one of nine suspects accused of instigating or carrying out the June 15 mob lynching of Benjamin Altamirano Calle, mayor of the town of Ayo Ayo in the Altiplano region of La Paz department]. MST members threatened to take over the Madrejones oil well in southern Bolivia if Pinto is not freed. Silvestre Saisari, leader of the MST’s eastern bloc, said members of his organization had already taken over two oil wells.

Leaders of the COB and the Coordinating Committee to Defend the Gas have announced that nationwide mobilizations will begin on Aug. 25 to reject the government’s constant fuel price increases and win the nationalization of Bolivia’s oil and gas resources.(, Aug. 18)

On Aug. 20, the Economic Development Commission of Bolivia’s Chamber of Deputies put a freeze on further discussion of Mesa’s proposed new Hydrocarbons Law, asking the government to address the bill’s shortcomings and submit a new proposal. The proposal leaves too many legal loopholes and gives the president too much power to approve contracts by decree, the deputies said. In addition, as Oscar Arrien of the rightwing Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) later pointed out, the bill submitted by Mesa provides for taxes and royalties of less than 20% on multinational oil companies, while the July 18 referendum called for taxes and royalties of up to 50%. Mesa responded to the deputies’ decision by threatening to veto any and every law passed by Congress until the Hydrocarbons Law is approved without further modifications. The threat comes as political parties prepare for municipal elections scheduled for Dec. 5; Congress must still make modifications to the electoral code in order to allow the vote to go forward. (, Aug. 20, 21)

Cocalero leader Evo Morales Ayma of the Movement to Socialism (MAS)–which is expected to dominate in the municipal elections–warned that if Mesa continues to “blackmail” Congress, he could follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who fled the country after being ousted in a popular rebellion last Oct. 17. “The president is digging his own grave, he’s throwing the country into confusion, he’s provoking the people to mobilize, to unite. The president should respect the results [of the referendum], recovering the hydrocarbons. If the transnationals want to stay, let them stay, and if we need technology from the oil companies, we’ll have to do a service contract. They can’t keep deciding about the natural resources,” said Morales. (, Aug. 21)

(Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 22)


Forwarded by WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, Sept. 6, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution