from Weekly News Update on the Americas
HONDURAS, NICARAGUA IN CAFTA
After a number of delays, the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) went into effect in Honduras and Nicaragua on April 1. Honduran president Manuel Zelaya held a ceremony with US ambassador Charles Ford, who acknowledged that “changes generate fear” but insisted: “[W]e have confidence in the future.” Nicaraguan president Enrique Bolanos marked the occasion by certifying the first shipment of Nicaraguan beans–a container reportedly valued at $20,000–for export to the US under the new agreement. The ceremony was held in El Crucero, a town south of Managua, with US ambassador Paul Trivelli participating. Nicaraguan government sources predicted that DR-CAFTA will increase Nicaraguan exports by 20%; last year Nicaragua exported goods worth $291.7 million to the US and imported $524.8 million, with a net deficit of $233.1 million. (El Diario-La Prensa, April 2 from AP)
Thousands of Honduran doctors, teachers, students, workers and indigenous people marched in Tegucigalpa on March 31 to protest the planned DR-CAFTA implementation. The marchers passed in front of the US embassy and the presidential offices chanting slogans against Zelaya and the US government. “The treaty was designed to benefit big business and the rich,” union leader Juan Barahona told the demonstrators. “[F]oreign investment, which the trade accord is supposed to attract, is the hook…[but] investors have never helped the country; on the contrary, they’ve looted it throughout our history.” The current unemployment rate in Honduras is 46%, while 71% of the country’s 7 million inhabitants live in poverty. The protest was organized by the Popular Bloc and the National Resistance Coordinating Committee. (ED-LP, April 1)
DR-CAFTA, a trade bloc incorporating Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and the US, was supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1. Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly has still not approved the accord; the other countries have ratified DR-CAFTA, but the legislatures failed to enact laws that the US insisted were necessary for full compliance. El Salvador passed the legislation in time for DR-CAFTA to take effect there on March 1.
Nicaragua’s National Assembly cleared the way for the DR-CAFTA implementation when it voted unanimously on March 21 for a series of reforms to existing laws: the Patent Law, the Law of Brands and Other Distinctive Signs, and the Special Law of Crime Against International Trade or International Investment. (Diario el Mundo, San Salvador, March 22)
The vote in the National Assembly was made possible by the decision of the second largest bloc, the deputies from the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), to reverse their previous opposition to DR-CAFTA. On March 15 the Sandinista Assembly, the party’s official decision-making body, voted to “promote proposals in favor of the Nicaraguans in all those reform laws currently being promoted by the government for the implementation of CAFTA.” At the same time, the Sandinista Assembly insisted that “national production should be the primary axis for the development of a sustainable and self-sustainable economy” and that DR-CAFTA “represents a serious threat to our natural resources, to the producers, workers and other Nicaraguan sectors.” (Associated Press, March 16)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 2
GUATEMALA: MURDERS FOLLOW UPRISING CALL
Four heavily armed men dressed in black murdered Tz’utujil Maya indigenous leader Antonio Ixbalan Cali and his wife, Maria Petzey Cool, on April 5 in their home in the community of Valparaiso, Chicacao municipality, in the Guatemalan department of Suchitepequez. Ixbalan was a local leader of the National Indigenous and Campesino Coordinating Committee (CONIC) and president of the Farmers Association of Santiago Atitlan. The Valparaiso community is composed of 44 families that carried out a successful struggle for their land, formerly a private ranch; they were granted the legal title on Feb. 8, 2002.
The murders came within days of two other apparently political killings. On April 2 Meregilda Suchite, a community leader and member of the local Women’s Network in Olopa, Chiquimula municipality, in the Ch’orti region, was shot six times and attacked with a machete. Suchite’s husband said police failed to arrest the murderer, Cesar Perez Gonzalez. On April 6 two men on a motorcycle gunned down legislative deputy Mario Ronaldo Pivaral Montenegro, of the center-right National Hope Unity (UNE), in front of the party’s headquarters in Guatemala City. He had gone outside to answer a call on his cell phone. (Guatemala Hoy, April 6, 7)
National CONIC leaders tied the murders of Ixbalan and Petzey to a call they issued hours earlier on April 5 for a “National Mayan and Popular Uprising.” In a press conference CONIC leaders and leaders of the National Teachers Assembly (ANM) announced the uprising as they broke off talks with the government of President Oscar Berger. “The response to our demands mocks the Maya and popular movement,” said CONIC general coordinator Pedro Esquina. Another CONIC leader, Juan Tiney, projected actions starting after Easter weekend ends on April 16 that could include taking over farms, blocking highways, and holding assemblies and demonstrations. “They are forcing us to choose the route of popular struggle,” he said. “Ecuador and Bolivia are examples of the results that can occur, and we believe that in Guatemala this is also possible. Everything CONIC says, it does.” The CONIC leaders called on all Mayans who hold government posts to resign and join the Mayan people’s struggle, including human rights activists Rosalina Tuyuc and Rigoberta Menchu.
The movement’s demands include the resolution of more than 100 land conflicts, forgiveness of debts to the government for land awarded to campesinos, the suspension of mining concessions, a law on nationality and indigenous peoples, and an end to the effort to fire ANM leader Joviel Acevedo from his teaching job. (Guatemala Hoy, April 6, 7; Prensa Libre, Guatemala, April 6)
The call for an uprising followed a demonstration by thousands of campesinos and others in Guatemala City on March 30, largely organized by CONIC and ANM around the same demands. March 27 and 28 had brought road blockades by people whose homes and land had been damaged by hurricane Stan in October, along with demonstrations against DR-CAFTA. (La Semana en Guatemala, April 4)
On March 29, in the midst of these mobilizations, army troops, reportedly backed by tanks and helicopters, violently evicted some 310 members of the Worker and Campesino Labor Federation (FESOC) from land they were occupying in the community of La Bendicion, Flores municipality, Peten department. The campesinos were waiting for the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) to comply with its commitment to relocate them on other suitable land. The troops reportedly injured campesinos and burned their homes and possessions. (Amnesty International Urgent Action, April 3)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 9
HONDURAS: GENERAL LOSES IN U.S. RIGHTS SUIT
In a ruling issued late on March 31 in Miami, US district Judge Joan Lenard ordered a former Honduran military officer, Lt. Col. Juan Lopez Grijalba, to pay $47 million to torture survivors and relatives of victims murdered by troops Lopez Grijalba commanded in the early 1980s. The plaintiffs, who now live in the US, were Gloria and Oscar Reyes, a married couple abducted and tortured by soldiers in and around Tegucigalpa in 1982; Zenaida Velasquez, the sister of Manfredo Velasquez, a university student leader murdered in 1981; and the two sisters of university student Hans Madisson, mutilated and decapitated in 1982. During this period, Lopez Grijalba headed the National Investigations Directorate (DNI) and the death squad known as Battalion 316. Judge Lenard ruled that Lopez Grijalba was responsible for the actions of the troops, and that he was present and giving orders during the raid in which Madisson and Gloria and Oscar Reyes were captured.
The monetary award was mostly symbolic, since Lopez Grijalba is living in Honduras and apparently has no assets in the US. He moved to the Miami area in 1998; US immigration authorities arrested him in April 2002, and he was deported to Honduras on Oct. 21, 2004 for his participation in human rights abuses.
But Matt Eisenbrandt, litigation director for the San Francisco-based Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA), which brought the suit in 2002 on behalf of the plaintiffs, said the decision might advance a case the Honduran human rights prosecutor opened against Lopez Grijalba when he was deported. “A judgment in the United States can carry a lot of weight in that country,” Eisenbrandt said. Bertha Oliva, coordinator of the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras, called the decision “historic” and said it “obligates the Honduran authorities to review their role as fixers and builders of impunity.” (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, April 4; Miami Herald, April 4; La Nacion, Costa Rica, April 3; CJA press release, April 3)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 9
EL SALVADOR: FEW CHANGES IN ELECTIONS
March 12 elections in El Salvador for municipal governments, the National Assembly and the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) failed to show major shifts in the strengths of the main parties. According to the final results presented by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) on March 18, the governing right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) won 34 deputies’ seats in the 84-member National Assembly, followed by the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) with 32. The right-wing Party of National Conciliation (PCN) won 10 seats, the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) won six and the social democratic National Change (CD) came in last with two. No party has the 43 votes necessary for a majority, and ARENA will have to bloc with the FMLN to get the 56 votes required for constitutional changes or major fiscal decisions.
ARENA and the FMLN both gained slightly from their totals in 2003, when the FMLN came in first with 31 seats, followed by ARENA with 27.
ARENA won 147 municipal races, followed by the FMLN with 52 municipal governments, the PCN with 39, the PDC with 14 and the CD with two; various coalitions won in the remaining eight municipalities. The FMLN held on to San Salvador, which it has governed since 1997, but slipped in other large cities, winning in just two of the other 14 departmental capitals; ARENA won seven departmental capitals. FMLN supporters charged ARENA officials with fraud and intimidation. In the close San Salvador race, the government initially indicated that ARENA candidate Rodrigo Samayoa had won. Some 20,000 FMLN supporters marched in San Salvador on March 16 to protest alleged irregularities; the police dispersed the marchers with tear gas and rubber bullets. In the end the TSE declared FMLN candidate Violeta Menjivar the winner, by just 44 votes.
ARENA and the FMLN each won eight seats in PARLACEN; the PCN won two and the PDC and CD two each. (Terra March 19; La Nacion, Costa Rica, March 19; La Prensa Grafica, San Salvador, March 19; El Diario de Hoy, San Salvador, March 20; Adital, Brazil, March 17)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 2
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #119
“El Salvador: No Business as Usual as CAFTA Takes Effect,” by Paul Pollack. WW4 REPORT #120
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, May 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution