from Weekly News Update on the Americas


On Feb. 1 hundreds of people from labor, student, campesino, street vendor and other social organizations led demonstrations at 10 different locations throughout El Salvador against the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). The protesters were also demanding the release of unionist Ricardo Monge.

Vendors of pirated music, movies and clothing were especially active in the demonstrations. Some 200 members of the National Coordinating Committee of Vendors (CNV) blocked a major avenue in San Salvador with tires, rocks and other objects. Vendors also blocked the Panamerican highway in Santa Ana and in Cuscatlan. One protester said that in Santa Ana alone, some 10,000 people make their living selling pirated merchandise.

“The government will be responsible for the governability crisis that will happen in the country, because the people have begun to demonstrate their disapproval in the streets,” said Jose Coreas, leader of the Union of High School Students. The organizations participating in the day of action announced the creation of a “Bloc of Resistance” against DR-CAFTA.

“The people have no other choice but to take to the streets to demonstrate, because the government doesn’t listen to their demands,” said Salvador Sanchez Ceren, head of the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) delegation in the Legislative Assembly. “The citizens decide the form of expressing themselves, and we support their demands in the Legislative Assembly,” said Sanchez Ceren. (Pulsar, Feb. 1; El Mundo, San Salvador, Jan. 31)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 5


Adilio Darinel Domingo Montejo, the brother of Guatemalan human rights activist Mario Gonzalo Domingo Montejo, was murdered on or after Jan. 21, when he told his family he was going out with some friends. The family identified his body five days later at a local morgue. The body showed signs of torture and was mutilated. Darinel Domingo Montejo was a law student at San Carlos University and lived with his parents just outside Guatemala City.

The motive for the killing is unknown, but several of Darinel Domingo Montejo’s brothers are political activists. Mario Gonzalo Domingo Montejo, the best known of the brothers, is the coordinator of the Defense of Dignity department in the Guatemalan Archbishop’s Human Rights Office (ODHAG) and is the lead lawyer representing the Catholic Church in a legal case against the men convicted in the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi. He is also married to Jessica Yarrow, the 2001-2005 field coordinator in Guatemala for the US-based Network in Solidarity with the Peoples of Guatemala (NISGUA). NISGUA is asking for letters to Attorney General Juan Luis Florido (fax:502-251-2218, e-mail: fiscalgeneral@mp.lex.gob.gt or agudiel@mp.lex.gob.gt) demanding a full investigation into Darinel Domingo Montejo’s murder. (NISGUA urgent action, Feb. 2)

On Jan. 22 unknown persons carried out an armed attack on the home of journalist Manuel Gilberto Garcia and his family in the city of Jutiapa. Garcia, who directs television and radio sports programs, was not injured. He has received threatening phone calls since March 2001, apparently because of his criticisms of a local soccer team. The Association of Guatemalan Journalists (APG) believes local municipal government figures are connected to the attacks and is asking for letters to Florido and to President Oscar Berger Perdomo (e-mail: presidente@scspr.gob.gt) urging a thorough investigation. (APG urgent action, Feb. 27)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 5


On Feb. 2, a court in Gracias municipality in the Honduran department of Lempira ordered the provisional release of Jose Luciano (“Feliciano”) Pineda Bejerano, a leader of the Lenca indigenous community of Montana Verde, for lack of evidence. Pineda was jailed last June 5 after paramilitaries attacked him with machetes (see WW4 REPORT #118, which incorrectly said Pineda was shot). Last December a judge acquitted Pineda of homicide charges in the 2001 murder of community member Juan Reyes Gomez; the judge refused to dismiss theft and vandalism charges, even though the statute of limitations on those crimes had run out. Two other Montana Verde activists, Marcelino and Leonardo Miranda, were arrested in January 2003 and are serving 25-year prison sentences for the Reyes Gomez murder, although evidence showed the charges were falsified.

On Jan. 19, Montana Verde community members Margarito Vargas Ponce and Marcos Reyes were acquitted of murder charges in the Reyes Gomez killing. Marcos Reyes was released; Vargas remains in custody on a charge of causing bodily harm. The two men surrendered to the court on Jan. 12 after living in hiding for three years.

Amnesty International (AI), which began a campaign on Jan. 19 to demand the release of Pineda and the Miranda brothers, is calling on the Honduran government to conduct an in-depth investigation into the fabrication of evidence against the Montana Verde community members, to release those still detained and to withdraw criminal charges against the Miranda brothers, Margarito Vargas and Tiburcio Bautista (Tiburcio Bejerano, according to COPINH), another Montana Verde community member who is facing murder, theft and bodily harm charges and is considered a fugitive. (COPINH Communique, Feb. 2; AI Index AMR 37/003/2006, Feb. 10)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 19


On Feb. 10, nearly 400 striking Nicaraguan doctors occupied the Health Ministry (MINSA) in Managua in an effort to force the government to negotiate on their wage demands and to pay some 600 doctors their February salaries, which had been withheld in retaliation for the strike. They were also demanding the rehiring of eight union leaders who were fired weeks earlier when the Labor Ministry declared the strike illegal. More than 3,000 public sector doctors in Nicaragua have been on strike since Nov. 14; they initially demanded a 140% wage increase but have since reduced that demand to 30%.

At a meeting on Feb. 11, Health Minister Margarita Gurdian refused to negotiate a wage increase but offered to pay the back salaries if doctors would resume emergency services. When the doctors rejected her offer, Gurdian ordered police to expel the protesters from the building. Doctors union leader Miguel Saenz called on doctors from around the country to come to Managua to support the occupation. By Feb. 12, only about 60 doctors remained in the building, though many others were gathered outside; police had surrounded the site and refused to let anyone bring in food or supplies. Police evicted the remaining doctors from the building on Feb. 12. (AFP, Feb. 12; Prensa Latina, Feb. 12)

Some 21,000 other public health sector workers, organized in the Federation of Health Workers (FETSALUD), joined the strike on Jan. 30, demanding a 48% wage increase and more medicines and supplies for public hospitals. FETSALUD members marched on Feb. 6 to the Managua offices of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank; the government has cited its commitments to those financial institutions as a reason why it can’t raise public health worker salaries. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Feb. 7 from EFE; AFP, Feb. 12; EFE, Jan. 30)

Some 2,000-3,000 court workers, including judges, began an open-ended strike on Feb. 3 to demand a 20% wage increase and improved working conditions. (NNS, Jan. 31; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Feb. 4)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 12

Early on Feb. 14, political forces grouped in Nicaragua’s National Dialogue Board signed off on an agreement that put an end to an eight-day strike by Managua bus drivers. The agreement would impose a temporary 3% tax on oil companies operating in Nicaragua, in order to provide bus cooperatives with a monthly subsidy of $1.1 million over the next four months and avoid a bus fare hike. During the four-month subsidy period, the bus companies are to acquire new units that allow them to charge differentiated fares. The oil companies oppose the tax and say that consumers will end up paying it anyway. Bus drivers have given the government 10 days to resolve the problem–either by approving the subsidy or allowing a fare hike–or they say they will resume the strike.

The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which promoted the plan, says the 3% tax will be imposed on the companies’ net profits after income taxes are deducted. The plan also requires an audit of the oil companies’ profits and the bus cooperatives’ use of the subsidies. The agreement must still be approved by at least 47 of the 91 deputies in the National Assembly; the FSLN, which supports the tax, has 38 seats, with support from five deputies from other parties for a total of 43 votes. In order to pass the legislation, the FSLN will have to convince four of the 40 deputies from the ruling Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC) to support it. (Prensa Latina, Feb. 18; La Prensa, Nicaragua, Feb. 14)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 19


According to an exit poll by the Borge y Asociados firm, ex-president Oscar Arias of the National Liberation Party (PLN) won Costa Rica’s presidential election on Feb. 5 with about 44.5% of the vote, more than the 40% needed to avoid a runoff. Otton Solis, a former planning minister, had about 37.3% of the vote. Abstention was expected to be about 35%.

An Arias victory is expected to boost the chances that Costa Rica’s Congress will finally ratify DR-CAFTA. It is the last participating country to hold out on ratifying the treaty. Still, in order to pass DR-CAFTA, the PLN would have to do well in the congressional elections, which also took place Feb. 5. Solis, a centrist who leads the Citizen Action Party, backs DR-CAFTA but wants to renegotiate parts of it.

Costa Rica’s president from 1986-1990, Arias won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to end civil conflicts in neighboring Central American countries. (Reuters, Feb. 5; EFE, Feb. 5)

According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), “Linked to Arias’ passionate support for [DR-CAFTA] is his involvement in highly controversial proposals to open the nation’s telecommunications sector, leading to a new generation of allegations of ties between the candidate and Latin American cell phone mogul Carlos Slim,” a Mexican billionaire. (COHA, Feb. 4)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 5

Following a manual recount, as of Feb. 22 Arias appeared to have won the with just 18,000 votes (about 1.1%) over Otton Solis. The Supreme Electoral Council (TSE) will not announce the winner officially until it has processed 599 challenges filed by Solis’ party. (Adital, Feb. 24; Financial Times, Feb. 23)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 26


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #118

“‘Social cleansing’ in Guatemala,” WW4 REPORT, Feb. 13 /node/1595


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