from Weekly News Update on the Americas


On the evening of Aug. 6, a group of masked men armed with AK-47 assault rifles forced 19-year-old Mirna Isabel Santos Thomas from her home in the Honduran Garifuna community of San Juan Tela, in the Caribbean coastal department of Atlantida. Santos’ body was found the next morning along the road leading to Triunfo de la Cruz and La Ensenada, several kilometers away on the other side of the town of Tela. The latest killing comes amid a wave of repression directed against the Garifuna community of San Juan Tela, which is resisting plans to build tourism projects on Garifuna ancestral lands in the Tela Bay area.

Messages protesting the killing and demanding a thorough investigation and punishment of those responsible can be sent to the Honduran embassies in the US (embassy@hondurasemb.org); to the Honduran special prosecutor for ethnic groups, Jany del Cid Martinez (janydelcid@yahoo.es, fax +504-221-5620); and to the public prosecutor’s office in Tela (fax +504-448-1758). (Rights Action, Aug. 13)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 20


Some 1,500 indigenous residents of the Honduran departments of Intibuca and Lempira blocked the Pan American Highway for 10 hours on July 25 to express opposition to the construction of El Tigre hydroelectric dam and to demand the repeal of the 1998 Mining Law, which permits strip mining and gives foreigners a concession to operate mines in up to 34% of Honduran territory. The protesters also demanded that roads between Gracias, Lempira department, La Esperanza, Intibuca department, and Marcala, La Paz department, be paved, along with the highways in southern Lempira and Intibuca.

Dozens of drivers lined up for 10 hours as they waited to proceed on the highway, which connects Tegucigalpa with San Pedro Sula, and hundreds of travelers had to walk 5 km to get buses. Despite the inconvenience, the travelers expressed support for the demonstration. “They’re in the right, the whole people has to unite,” Rosenda Villatoro told a reporter as she tried to get to Tegucigalpa. The demonstration dispersed about an hour and a half after some 100 riot police arrived. Police spokesperson Silvio Inestroza told Associated Press that “some of the protesters are threateningly armed with machetes.”

The protest was organized by the Civic and Democratic Alliance, made up of over 15 environmental groups, and was backed by local priests and some mayors. “All of us residents of Intibuca are united. We do not want the El Tigre dam in San Antonio. We are not protesting for ourselves but for future generations,” said Julio Gonzalez, a local leader.

According to official statistics, the mining companies pay the national government $0.25 cents for each hectare that they mine, and pay 1% of their $100 million annual income to local municipal government. The mining industry accounts for $65 million in exports and generates more than 5,000 jobs. (La Prensa, San Pedro Sula, July 26; BBC News, July 26; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, July 25 from AP; La Prensa, Managua, July 24 from AP)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 30


On Aug. 12 Honduran president Manuel Zelaya signed an agreement with the Federation of Teachers’ Organizations (FOMH) ending a strike by 61,000 teachers that had kept 2.5 million children out of school since Aug. 1. The agreement increases the teachers’ base monthly pay by about $55 over three years, from $298 in 2007 to $353 in 2009; with the addition of international funding for an educational social program, the government says the national budget for teachers’ salaries will be 7.212 billion lempiras (about $379.5 million) a year. As of 2010, the teachers’ salaries will rise with annual increases in the cost of living as established by the Central Bank, currently ranging from 5 to 9%. “We’re happy,” FOMH spokesperson Edwin Oliva told a press conference, “even though we only won 80% of our demands.”

Some 20,000 teachers from 18 departments gathered in Tegucigalpa to carry out numerous protests for the nearly two weeks the strike lasted. They protested at the presidential offices, the National Congress and the education and finance ministries, and twice tried unsuccessfully to occupy the Toncontin de Tegucigalpa international airport. The government initially refused to negotiate unless the teachers ended the strike. Cost-of-living increases are mandated by the Law of the Teacher, passed at the beginning of the 1990s, but the government insisted that paying the increases would make the fiscal deficit soar and violate an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On Aug. 4 teachers blocked two entrances from Tegucigalpa to the Northern Highway for five hours; they ended the protest peacefully after the government agreed to start talks. But violence broke out on Aug. 9, when thousands of teachers blocked access from Tegucigalpa to the Southern Highway and part of an avenue in the capital. The teachers confronted police agents and soldiers with clubs, stones and containers filled with water, while the government forces used tear gas and bullets. Some 50 people were injured, but apparently the injuries weren’t serious. (Reuters, Aug. 4, 9; Prensa Latina, Aug. 8; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Aug. 10 from EFE; Miami Herald, Aug. 12 from AP; La Prensa, Honduras, Aug. 13)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 13


On Aug. 23, four unidentified assailants murdered Alex Flores Montoya and Mercedes Penate de Flores, activists with the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN), near their hometown of Coatepeque, in Santa Ana department, El Salvador. The married couple were driving on the highway from Coatepeque to the city of Santa Ana when the assailants stopped their vehicle, got inside and forced them to exit the highway. Flores and Penate were made to lie face down on the road before being killed, each with a single shot to the head.

David Linares, FMLN coordinator for Coatepeque, said it was “difficult to speculate” about possible motives for the double murder, but “for the fact that they were shot in the back of the head, we can dismiss the motive of a simple robbery. It seems more like some kind of execution.” Flores was the FMLN adjunct municipal coordinator for Coatepeque, and had been a candidate for the post of legal representative (sindico) in the last municipal elections. Penate was an FMLN activist and had been a candidate for the Coatepeque municipal council in the 2000 elections. (EFE, Aug. 24; Diario Latino, El Salvador, Aug. 25)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 27


Some 5,000 Salvadorans rallied outside the Economy Ministry offices in San Salvador on July 24 after marching from Amayo, 52 km north of the capital, to protest the high cost of living, the government’s granting of mining concessions, and the construction of El Cimarron dam in the northern department, Chalatenango. The “March for Dignity and Life” was organized by campesinos in 22 northern communities and was backed by the Popular Social Bloc (BPS), various religious organizations, and mayors and legislative deputies from the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN). Entire campesino families took part in the march, which started on July 22.

FMLN activist Silvia Cartagena said mining would “continue to poison what water remains for the people, and with the construction of the highway, entire communities will be displaced.” The US government’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) is expected to fund a highway through northern El Salvador; critics say it will only benefit the mining and electric companies in the region. (MCA is a 2002 initiative to “support economic development and reduce poverty” in developing countries.) Representatives of the marchers met with Economy Minister Yolanda Mayora de Gavidia to present their demands. On July 22 De Gavidia and Environment Minister Hugo Barrera announced that they were sponsoring legislation to step up environmental requirements for companies applying for mining concessions. (La Nacion, Costa Rica, July 22, 23, from ACAN-EFE; El Nuevo Herald, July 23 from AP; Terra El Salvador, July 24 from EFE; USAID website, http://www.usaid.gov/espanol/cuenta.html)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 30


Four municipalities in the Guatemalan department of Huehuetenango held an unofficial referendum July 25 on mining operations. Voters were asked to answer yes or no to the question: “Do you accept the [current] concession or any other concession or activity for mining metals in our municipality, whether for reconnaissance, exploration or mine operation?” According to the organizers 2,584 people voted in Concepcion Huista, 2,815 in Todos Santos Cuchumatan, 2,650 in San Juan Atitlan, and 2,123 in Colotenango. Organizers expected the vote to be overwhelmingly against the concessions. Colotenango mayor Arturo Mendez Ortiz said the choice was taken to the people in accordance with laws on indigenous rights and home rule. The final results will be reported to the Energy and Mines Ministry, the Congress and other governmental agencies, according to legislative deputy Victor Sales of the leftist Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG). (Prensa Libre, Guatemala City, July 26)

On July 28 a group of 32 seniors announced the suspension of a liquids-only hunger strike they had been carrying out in shifts since June 5 to protest efforts to overturn a law guaranteeing a minimum pension. The strikers, aged 60 to 95, suspended the action after President Oscar Berger agreed to hold a meeting with them on July 31 to discuss their demands. The seniors threatened “more drastic” actions if the meeting was unsatisfactory. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, July 29)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 30


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #124, August 2006

“Latin America: protests against Israeli attacks,”
WW4 REPORT, July 24

“Gold Mine in Guatemala Faces Indigenous Resistance ”
WW4 REPORT, #114, October 2005


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Sept. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution