Weekly News Update on the Americas
Members of Honduras' Tolupan indigenous group in the community of San Francisco Locomapa in the northern department of Yoro have been threatened by armed men linked to organized crime, some residents charged in a video posted on YouTube on Sept. 10. There have been protests for more than a year against illegal logging in the area and against an antimony mine which the protesters say is operating without a permit. Locomapa residents María Enriqueta Matute, Armando Fúnez Medina and Ricardo Soto were killed by two mine employees during a protest on Aug. 23, 2013. The Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH) and other Honduran organizations say the government has failed to arrest the killers or take other actions required by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), the human rights agency of the Organization of American States (OAS). The CID ordered protective measures for 38 community members last year on Dec. 19. (Adital, Brazil, Sept.18)
The State Civil Protection Unit (UEPC) of the northern Mexican state of Sonora issued a new alert on Sept. 21 warning some 25,000 residents about likely contamination in the Bacanuchi and Sonora rivers from the giant Buenavista del Cobre copper mine in Cananea. According to Arizpe municipality president Vidal Vázquez Chacón, who reported the contamination a day earlier, the source was a leak in the temporary dam set up to stop the overflow of toxic substances after 40,000 cubic meters of copper sulfate acid solution spilled from the mine into the two rivers on Aug. 6. Spokespeople for Grupo México, the company that owns and operates the mine, said the latest overflow was caused by heavy rains associated with Hurricane Odile in mid-September. The 115-year-old mine makes $1 billion annually by producing some 200,000 tons of copper each year. (La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 21; Associated Press, Sept. 21, via Salon)
On Sept. 18 Chilean authorities arrested three supposed anarchists, Juan Alexis Flores Riquelme, Nataly Casanova Muñoz and Guillermo Durán Méndez, on charges of participation in the Sept. 8 bombing at a shopping center in Santiago's Escuela Militar subway station; 14 people were injured in the lunchtime blast. Public defender Eduardo Camus, who is representing the defendants, said they denied involvement. The arrests took place during an operation by more than 200 agents of the carabineros militarized police which included searches in six homes in the working-class Santiago-area communes of La Granja, San Bernardo and La Pintana. So far there have been some 200 bombings and attempted bombings in Chile in the past 10 years; most caused no injuries.
Fourteen people were injured, four of them seriously, when a homemade bomb exploded at 2 PM on Sept. 8 in a shopping center restaurant at the busy Escuela Miltar subway station in Santiago, the Chilean capital. In response, President Michelle Bachelet, a Socialist Party of Chile (PS) leader who began her second term on March 11, held a special security meeting in the La Moneda palace on Sept. 9; she called for increased vigilance and for modifications to the Antiterrorist Law, a measure passed during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The bombing came shortly before the 41st anniversary of the Sept. 11, 1973 coup in which Pinochet's military overthrew Socialist president Salvador Allende Gossens.
On Sept. 3 the United Nations-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) announced that a joint operation with Guatemala's Public Ministry and Governance Ministry had captured seven members of a criminal network that took bribes to arrange transfers for prisoners; the ring also supplied prisoners with cell phones, special food, conjugal visits and other benefits. According to the authorities, the network's leaders were Penitentiary System Director Edgar Camargo Liere and a prisoner, Byron Miguel Lima Oliva, who is serving a 20-year term for carrying out the April 26, 1998 murder of Catholic bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera, a well-known human rights campaigner. A total of 14 people are charged with participating in the bribery ring, but apparently not all had been captured as of Sept. 3. (CICIG, Sept. 3)
Luis Cárdenas Velásquez, the secretary general of a union representing Peruvian employees of the Spanish security firm Prosegur Compañía de Seguridad, was assaulted near his home early on the morning of Aug. 22 as he was on his way to work. The assailant beat Cárdenas' head with a rock and then fled in a car which had been kept waiting a block away with the motor running. Nothing was stolen. Cárdenas reported the attack to the authorities and received four stitches at a hospital. A month earlier pamphlets were circulated among Prosegur staff accusing Cárdenas of stealing union funds. Management denied responsibility for the pamphlets and for similar anti-union pamphlets that have been reported at Prosegur sites in Colombia. The company has subsidiaries in a total of eight Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay.
United Nations (UN) secretary general Ban Ki-moon plans to continue the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) one more year but wishes to cut it significantly, according to a report that the military and police mission's current head, the Trinidadian diplomat Sandra Honoré, presented to the UN Security Council on Sept. 11. Secretary General Ban recommended extending MINUSTAH for another year when its mandate ends on Oct. 15. However, the military component would be reduced to 2,370 soldiers by June 2015; currently the mission has 5,021 soldiers and 2,601 police agents, along with nearly 2,000 civilian employees and volunteers. Honoré said the Haitian National Police (PNH), which now has 10,963 agents, would be able to take over many of MINUSTAH's functions. She admitted that "[t[he reinforcement of the national police needs to be accompanied by measures for accelerating the reform of the justice system to support the construction of institutions and to improve local governance." (AlterPresse, Haiti, Sept. 12)
Guatemala's unicameral Congress voted 117-111 on Sept. 4 to repeal Decree 19-2014, the Law for Protection of Procurement of Plants, in response to a lawsuit and mass protests by campesinos and environmentalists. The law, which was to take full effect on Sept. 26, provided for granting patents of 25 years for new plants, including hybrid and genetically modified (GM) varieties; unauthorized use of the plants or seeds could result in one to four years in prison and a fine of $130 to $1,300. The law had already been weakened by the Court of Constitutionality; acting on an Aug. 25 legal challenge from the Guatemalan Union, Indigenous and Campesino Movement (MSICG), the court suspended the law's Articles 46 and 55. The law was originally passed to comply with an intellectual property requirement in the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), and it was unclear whether Guatemala might now be excluded from the US-promoted trade bloc.