Weekly News Update on the Americas
The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution on Sept. 26 condemning "the activities of vulture funds" and regretting the effect payments to the funds could have "on the capacity of governments to fulfill their human rights obligations." The resolution was presented by Argentina, which was forced into technical default on July 30 after US district judge Thomas Griesa in New York blocked the country from paying interest to its bondholders unless it settled with US two hedge funds, NML Capital and Aurelius Capital Management; the two companies are known as "vulture funds," investment groups that try to profit by buying weak debt the debtors are likely to default on. Argentina's effort in Geneva was backed by Algeria, Brazil, Russia and Venezuela. The Human Rights Council approved the resolution in a 33-5 vote, with nine countries abstaining; the opposing votes came from the US, UK, Czech Republic, Germany and Japan. "Vulture funds aren't just an economic problem," said Argentine foreign minister Héctor Timerman, who was in Geneva for the vote. "They represent a political, social problem that affects the lives of all the citizens" in many countries since they deprive governments of resources they could use for social services.
Former Haitian "president for life" Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier (1971-1986) died suddenly of a heart attack the night of Oct. 3 at a friend's home in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Pétionville, according to his lawyer, Reynold Georges. He was 63. Duvalier succeeded his father, François ("Papa Doc") Duvalier, at the age of 19. The older Duvalier had built and maintained a brutal dictatorship from 1957 until his death in 1971. The brutality continued under his son; an estimated 30,000 people were killed during the family's 29 years in power. Massive demonstrations and the withdrawal of US support forced Duvalier to flee to France on Feb. 7, 1986, reportedly carrying off millions of dollars looted from the national treasury. He returned to Haiti on Jan. 16, 2011. Despite facing corruption charges, Duvalier never came to trial; he also never came to trial for human rights abuses committed by his regime, although a court finally ruled on Feb. 20, 2014 that the human rights cases against him could proceed.
On Oct. 1 the National Security Archive, a Washington, DC-based research organization, published declassified US government documents about secret contingency plans that the administration of former US president Gerald Ford (1974-1977) made in 1976 for a possible military attack on Cuba. Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger called for the plans in response to Cuba's decision in late 1975 to send troops to support the left-leaning government of Angola against rebels funded by South Africa and the US; he was furious that Cuba had defied the US after a round of secret negotiations he had sponsored in 1975 aimed at normalizing relations between the two countries.
The Attorney General's Office of the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero announced on Sept. 28 that 22 agents from the Iguala de la Independencia municipal preventive police had been detained and removed to Acapulco in connection with a violent outbreak the night of Sept. 26-27 that left six dead and 17 injured. At least two of those killed were students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College, located in the town of Ayotzinapa, and as of Sept. 27 some 25 of the students were still missing. Two students from the same school were killed in an assault by state and federal police during a protest on Dec. 12, 2011; Guerrero governor Angel Aguirre Rivero eventually had to apologize publicly for the killings after the federal government's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) issued a recommendation for an apology and for compensation to the victims' families.
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.
Some 30 Haitian women held a protest in front of the Ministry for the Feminine Condition and Women's Rights (MCFDF) in Port-au-Prince on Sept. 26 to demand the decriminalization of abortion. Under Article 262 of Haiti's Criminal Code, in effect since 1835, the sentence for a woman having an abortion and for anyone who helps her is life in prison. The law is apparently never enforced, but because of it all abortions in Haiti are clandestine and unregulated. The country has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the Americas, with 530 deaths for each 100,000 births; 100 of these deaths follow abortions. In a 2012 survey of 352 women who had abortions since 2007, 40% reported having complications. "Criminalization isn't a solution," the protesters, mostly young women, chanted. "We want to be educated sexually to be able to decide." The demonstration was sponsored by a number of women's rights organizations, including the Initiative for an Equitable Development in Haiti (Ideh), Kay Fanm ("Women's House") and Haitian Women's Solidarity (SOFA).
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.