by Weekly News Update on the Americas


On March 3, 100 of the 128 deputies in Honduras’ National Congress voted after a long debate to ratify the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), a trade pact linking the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and the US. Honduras is the second country to approve CAFTA; the Salvadoran legislature ratified the accord on Dec. 17. The Honduran legislators fled the Congress building following the vote to avoid some 1,000 government workers demonstrating against CAFTA outside. (AP, March 3; La Nacion, Costa Rica, March 4) (The agreement’s official name in English now seems to be "US-Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement," according to the Office of the US Trade Representative, www.ustr.gov.)

The governing board of Guatemala’s Congress planned to hold a vote on CAFTA as early as March 1. Thousands of unionists, campesinos, indigenous people, teachers and supporters of the leftist Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) responded by holding an emergency protest that day, surrounding the Congress building for hours and delivering a petition with 26,000 signatures asking for a referendum on CAFTA. The demonstrators called on the Constitutional Court to rule CAFTA unconstitutional if Congress approves it; they also expressed opposition to a proposed Law of Concessions, which would allow for partial privatization of health and educational services. The teachers raised separate demands for salary increases, more money for education and updated textbooks.

The large turnout for the demonstration came despite Interior (Governance) Minister Carlos Vielman’s instructions to police to stop buses carrying teachers from around the country to Guatemala City to see if they were running "outside their route." Teachers said police asked them for their teachers’ ID cards and intimidated the bus drivers. When teachers asked him why their IDs were being checked now, Vielman answered: "There’s always a first time."

By the end of the day Congress’s governing board had agreed to meet with the protesting organizations on March 2. After that meeting, the board postponed the debate on CAFTA at least until March 7 to allow for additional public hearings on the issues. (Prensa Libre, Guatemala, March 2; Guatemala Hoy, March 2, 3) On Mar. 3 the board agreed to remove health and educational services from the Law of Concessions. (GH, March 4)

Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco has refused to send CAFTA to the Legislative Assembly for ratification, insisting that the legislators must first vote on a fiscal reform proposal that has been tied up for two years. On March 2 the presidential candidate for the rightwing Libertarian Movement (ML), Otto Guevara, proposed a bill to establish a July 31 public referendum on CAFTA. Otton Solis, who is seeking to be the presidential candidate of the Citizen Action Party (PAC), is asking for CAFTA to be renegotiated. He sent a letter on Feb. 18 to Guatemalan human rights activist and Nobel prize winner Rigoberta Menchu Tum asking her to meet with him to join forces to push for the demand. (La Nacion, Costa Rica, March 3)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 6


On Dec. 31, presumed paid assassins ambushed and shot Honduran indigenous land activist Iginio Hernandez Vasquez at a health center in the community of Planes, in La Paz department. Although hit by bullets, Hernandez managed to run away, but then fell; his assailants caught up to him and slit his throat. Two witnesses identified Roberto Vasquez as one of the killers. Hernandez was the secretary of the Indigenous Communal Council of Las Olominas, a small Lenca community of some 14 families; the council has been affiliated with the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) since 1993, when COPINH was founded.

Messages protesting Hernandez’s murder and demanding a full investigation and guarantees for the safety of his family, community and witnesses can be sent to US Ambassador to Honduras Larry Palmer (phone 504-236-9320/238-5114, fax 504-236-9037); Honduran Ambassador to the US Mario Miguel Canahuati (phone 202-966-7702, 966-2604, 966-9751; fax 202-966-9751; embassy@hondurasemb.org); President Ricardo Maduro (fax: 504-221-4552); and National Human Rights Commissioner Ramon CustodioLopez (fax 504-232-6894; custodiolopez@conadeh.hn); with copies to COPINH (copinhonduras@yahoo.es, Tel/Fax: 504-783-0817). (Rights Action, Jan. 8)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 16


One campesino was killed and 20 people were injured, including several police agents, on Jan. 11 when a force of some 1,500 Guatemalan National Civilian Police (PNC) elements backed by 300 soldiers used tear gas and bullets to end a 40-day long struggle by thousands of indigenous campesinos to keep equipment from reaching a Canadian-owned mining operation. Raul Castro Bocel was shot dead by security forces during the operation, according to residents of Los Encuentros, Solola municipality, in the western department of Solola. Early reports of the death of campesino Miguel Tzorin Tuy were not confirmed in later reports.

The protests began on Dec. 2 when a convoy with mining equipment–including a huge milling cylinder, a steel tube more than six meters in diameter and weighing 50 tons, to be used for crushing rocks–tried to pass through Los Encuentros. Solola mayor Esteban Toc Tzay said he was told the tube was for a bridge in Huehuetenango; he agreed to let the truckers temporarily remove a pedestrian walkway over the road so that the truck would have clearance to pass. But the villagers protested when they found out that the tube was actually for the Marlin gold mine in San Miguel Ixtahuacan, San Marcos department, west of Solola. Some 2,000 campesinos gathered to keep the walkway from being removed. Some protesters burned a small vehicle carrying mining tools and fuel, and the convoy retired to a nearby parking area.

The movement quickly grew to include campesinos from the neighboring departments of San Marcos, Quiche and Totonicapan, who maintained a presence to keep the convoy from proceeding. Indigenous mayor Dominga Vasquez Julajuj, the official representative of indigenous people in Solola department and a member of the leftist Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG), backed the protests.

The Guatemalan government gave the Canadian company Glamis Gold Ltd permission in 2004 to construct the Marlin gold mine through a wholly owned Guatemalan subsidiary, Montana Exploradora de Guatemala. The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) supported the project with a $45 million loan. Indigenous and environmental groups and many individuals, including San Marcos bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, oppose this and similar mining projects on the grounds that they destroy the environment and disrupt indigenous communities without adequate compensation. (Guatemala Hoy, Jan. 10, 12, 13; La Semana en Guatemala, Jan. 10; AFP, Jan. 12; Prensa Latina, Jan. 11; Rights Action, Jan 10; Cerigua, May 4, 2004)

Indigenous mayor Vasquez, municipal mayor Toc and other local politicians criticized the government’s use of excessive force against the protesters, which they compared to the violent operation against a campesino land occupation at the Nueva Linda ranch in Retalhuleu department on Aug. 31. But Governance Minister Carlos Vielman blamed Vasquez and 15 other leaders of the protest. PNC director Erwin Sperisen said the government was pressing charges for sabotage, terrorism, threats, injuries and damage to private property. As of Jan. 12 there was an arrest warrant out for Vasquez. (GH, Jan. 12)

The Permanent National Commission-Indigenous Women’s Rights (CPD-DMI) has called for the arrest warrant to be voided. The group has joined the Guatemalan news agency Cerigua in a campaign called "We demand dialogue, Dominga Vasquez is not alone." (Cerigua, Jan. 12) On Jan. 11 the US-based group Rights Action said as many as 2,000 soldiers and police agents were reportedly now accompanying the convoy as it proceeded to San Marcos. The group called on Canadian ambassador to Guatemala James Lambert (gtmla@international.gc.ca); Minneh Kane (mkane@worldbank.org), assistant to World Bank president James Wolfensohn; Glamis Gold (info@glamis.com); and others to suspend the mining operations and "to avoid further bloodshed" by starting "an open and transparent negotiation process with the affected communities." (Rights Action, Jan. 11)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 16

See also WW4 REPORT #106

Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, March 7, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution