from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

El Salvador: Water “Reform” Protested

About 50 Salvadoran union members, campesinos and environmental activists blocked the Juan Pablo II avenue near the Legislative Assembly in San Salvador for about two hours to protest a proposed new General Water Law that they say will in effect privatize the country’s water supply. Protesters held large banners across six lanes and handed out fliers to passersby. Police agents eventually removed the protesters from the street with no serious incidents; the activists continued to hold banners on the sidewalk afterwards. Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters shut down bridges and highways in coordinated actions at seven points across the country, including Santa Ana, Ahuachapan, Chalatenango and the Puente de Oro.

Officials in the government of rightwing president Antonio Saca—including Cesar Funes, who heads the government’s water agency, the National Administration of Aqueducts and Sewers (ANDA)—plan to introduce a new law to the Legislative Assembly early next year that would reduce ANDA’s role and transfer control of water rates to a panel including the National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP), the main business group. Opponents include members of the ANDA Workers’ Enterprise Union (SETA) and the Salvadoran Ecological Unity (UNES), which is proposing an alternative law that would involve local communities and provide for protecting the environment.

Currently about 60 percent of Salvadoran households receive potable water. The water supply has a high level of contamination with lead, aluminum and other minerals; a March 2006 World Bank study found that 98 percent of household waste and 90 percent of industrial waste go into rivers and streams without treatment. (CISPES Update, Deec. 15; UpsideDownWorld, Dec. 14; Prensa Latina, Dec. 14)

Honduras: Campesinos Protest Murders, Logging

On Nov. 16, some 5,000 campesinos from the municipalities of Macuelizo, Nueva Frontera and Azacualpa in the western Honduran department of Santa Barbara blocked a major international highway in La Flecha and in the Seis de Mayo community to demand justice in the murders of a teacher and a church representative. The protest interrupted traffic for about eight hours along 40 kilometers of the highway, which leads to neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador.

Church delegate Hector Enrique Sola Ramos was killed on Nov. 10 in the village of Los Pocitos, in Macuelizo. Teacher Reina Isabel Pena was murdered by unidentified assailants on Nov. 6 on the detour to San Marcos in Santa Barbara; her body was discovered three days later in an advanced state of decomposition. The campesinos are also demanding a ban on logging in the area; they say powerful groups are destroying the forest and endangering local water sources. The protesters said Sola was killed because of his intense fight against logging. They are also demanding that local authorities ban the sale of alcohol, which they say is destroying their communities. Police say they are close to solving the murder of Sola, but that they can’t proceed because community members refuse to testify. (La Prensa, Honduras, Nov. 17, Nov. 18; Honduras News in Review, Dec. 5 from La Tribuna, Nov. 17)

According to organizers, both victims worked to protect the forest. The two had received death threats prior to their murders, and protesters say other leaders have been threatened as well. The protesters left the highway after agreeing to talks with representatives of the security minister. (Honduras News in Review, Dec. 5 from La Tribuna, Nov. 17)

On Nov. 29, hundreds of campesinos occupied the offices of the National Institute of Agriculture in Tegucigalpa demanding property titles, technical assistance and the removal of judges they say are bribed by large landowners, among other demands. Similar protests occurred in other cities around the country. The protests continued on Nov. 30. Agriculture and Livestock Minister Hector Hernandez said the government had previously reached an agreement with campesino leaders and the protests were due to a lack of communication. (Honduras News in Review, Dec. 5 from La Prensa, Nov. 29, EFE, Nov. 29, Hondudiario, Nov. 30)

Honduran Human Rights Lawyer Killed

On the morning of Dec. 4, presumed paid assassins riding a motorcycle shot to death Honduran attorney Dionisio Diaz Garcia of the Association for a More Just Society (ASJ). Diaz was on his way to the Supreme Court of Justice in Tegucigalpa to review case files in preparation for hearings scheduled for that afternoon. The hearings involved accusations that the firm Delta Security Services had unjustly fired a number of employees. Two of the fired workers were to have their cases heard that day; another 10 had hearings scheduled for Dec. 8. Diaz was representing the fired workers and supporting a journalistic investigation by ASJ. In a statement condemning the murder, the Committee of Relatives of the Detained Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) said Diaz had been the victim of death threats and constant harassment. (COFADEH statement, Dec. 5 via Equipo Nizkor; Comite por la Libre Expresion-C-Libre, Dec. 8, translated into English by Rights Action)

Since March 2006, Diaz had been defending 16 security guards who worked for Delta Security Services, owned by US citizen Elvin Richard Swasey, or its subsidiary, Seguridad Tecnica de Honduras (SETECH). In August, when Diaz won a court embargo of the companies’ vehicles, Delta and SETECH began a campaign of intimidation and defamation against the ASJ and its staff, including journalists Dina Meza, Claudia Mendoza, Rosa Morazan and Robert Marin.

COFADEH is demanding that the government fully investigate the murder of Diaz and adopt protective measures for all of ASJ’s staff. COFADEH is also demanding that the government repeal a discretionary measure it adopted last Aug. 29 which allows private security companies to carry out police functions. In addition, COFADEH calls for an audit of all the security companies operating in Honduras, and the cancellation of the operating licenses of any found to be violating human rights law or constitutional guarantees. According to COFADEH, the owners of many private security agencies belonged to death squads that carried out repressive actions during the 1980s. (COFADEH, Dec. 5 via Equipo Nizkor)

On Dec. 7, ASJ president Carlos Hernandez was followed for two hours by an unidentified individual on a motorcycle in Tegucigalpa. At the same time, he received a message in English on his cellular phone, warning him that he would be the next victim because he is the head of ASJ. (C-Libre, Dec. 8, via Rights Action)

Costa Rica: CAFTA Closer to Approval

The International Affairs Committee of the Costa Rican Congress voted 6-3 late on the night of Dec. 12 to advance the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), a trade accord between the US and Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The move clears the way for the full Congress to debate ratification of the treaty in January; analysts expect the process to continue until March or April. Of the seven countries that signed the accord in 2004, only Costa Rica has failed to get the necessary approval from its legislature; the agreement took effect in the other countries during 2006.

Opposition to the accord—known as the TLC, the Spanish initials for “Free Trade Treaty”—remains high in Costa Rica. Hundreds of people protested the committee’s vote outside the Congress building. Unions and social organizations have been organizing against the accord through a coalition, the National Front of Struggle Against the TLC. On Dec. 11 politicians from the Citizen Action Party (PAC) and academics formed their own coalition, the National Front of Support for the Struggle Against the TLC. (Servicio Informativo “Alai-amlatina,” Dec. 13; Adital, Dec. 13; Punto de Noticias, Venezuela, Dec. 13 from AFP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 17


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #129, December 2006

From our weblog:

“SOA protests at Ft. Benning—and throughout Americas”
WW4 REPORT , Nov. 21, 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Jan. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution