from Weekly News Update on the Americas
HONDURAS: ENVIRONMENTALISTS MURDERED
On Dec. 20, environmental activists Heraldo Zuniga and Roger Ivan Cartagena were shot and killed in the central plaza outside the mayor’s office in Guarizama municipality, in the large eastern Honduran department of Olancho, bordering Nicaragua. The two men were activists with the Environmental Movement of Olancho (MAO), which described their murder as an extrajudicial execution carried out by National Police agents. On Dec. 19, according to MAO, Zuniga had reported receiving death threats from loggers employed by the Sansone logging company in Salama municipality, in northeastern Olancho.
The killing was apparently organized by Salama-based police Sgt. Juan Lanza, who brought Zuniga and Cartagena to Guarizama, in the northwest corner of Olancho, where other police agents linked to the powerful logging companies finished them off. Both Zuniga and Cartagena were left to die in the municipal plaza in the center of Guarizama. Before he died, Zuniga managed to tell witnesses that loggers had paid Sgt. Lanza to ambush them. MAO reports that with these latest killings, six environmental activists have been murdered in Olancho in recent years.
In May, after Honduran President Manuel Zelaya declared a logging ban in several municipalities in northern Olancho, loggers blamed MAO for the ban, and death threats against environmental activists became increasingly frequent. That same month, MAO asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to recommend that the Honduran government take measures to protect a number of MAO activists: Father Andres Tamayo, Santos Efrain Paguada, Victor Manuel Ochoa, Rene Wilfredo Gradiz, Macario Zelaya and Pedro Amado Acosta. The Commission granted the request on Dec. 22, two days after Zuniga and Cartagena were murdered. The Honduran government is required to inform the Commission by Jan. 7 of measures taken to protect the safety of the MAO activists.
Messages demanding protection for environmental and human rights activists and a thorough investigation and punishment for those responsible for the murders can be sent to Honduran embassies in the US (email@example.com) or Canada (firstname.lastname@example.org); to President Manuel Zelaya Rosales (Fax #504-221-4552); Attorney General Leonidas Rosa Bautista (Email: Lrosa@mp.hn); and National Human Rights Commissioner Ramon Custodio Lopez (Email: email@example.com); with copies to MAO at firstname.lastname@example.org and Rights Action at email@example.com. [Rights Action Urgent Action 12/29/06, from MAO press releases; EFE 12/22/06]
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 31
GUATEMALA: ONE DEAD IN LAND CLASH
One person was killed and two wounded on Jan. 3 in a clash between residents of the municipalities of Nahuala and Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan in Solola department, western Guatemala. The conflict began when a group of campesinos from Nahuala were hired to cut down trees in an area disputed by the two municipalities. Francisco Tambriz, mayor of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, said the wounded were taken to a health center in Salcaja, Quetzaltenango. Tambriz said negotiations had been held over the land dispute but were not respected. Calm returned later in the day, said Tambriz, but residents refused to allow the National Civilian Police (PNC) to enter the area. (Guatemala Hoy, Jan. 3 from Prensa Libre, Nuestro Diario)
On Dec. 29, Guatemalan president Oscar Berger promised to revive constitutional reforms to help Guatemala’s poor and indigenous population as the nation prepared to mark the 10th anniversary of peace accords that ended a 36-year civil war. Berger said he would send Congress a bill on Jan. 13 with measures that include granting official recognition to Mayan languages, strengthening the justice system, allowing a civilian defense minister and ending the army’s role in policing. “We need to construct a more just, united and tolerant society,” Berger said. The measures had originally been promised in a United Nations-brokered peace accord signed on Dec. 31, 1996. (Miami Herald, Dec. 30)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 7
GUATEMALA: UNIONISTS, ECOLOGISTS MURDERED
A group of unidentified men in a white pickup truck assassinated Pedro Zamora, general secretary of the Union of Workers of the Quetzal Port Enterprise (STEPQ), the night of Jan. 15 near his home in Iztapa, in the southern department of Escuintla. Zamora was driving home with his two small children when the assailants rammed his car and sprayed it with gunfire; 100 bullets hit the vehicle, and 20 of them struck Zamora. One of the assailants then walked up to the car and shot Zamora in the face. Zamora’s three-year-old son, Angel Estuardo Zamora, was wounded in the attack and had to be hospitalized.
Zamora led the 500-member dock-workers union in Puerto Quetzal, the country’s main Pacific port, for eight years. At the time of his death he was renegotiating the Collective Work Pact with the port’s management and arranging the rehiring of nine laid-off workers. According to the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Zamora had been leading efforts to stop the privatization of the port; the union was proposing a program of upgrading and modernization as an alternative, ITUC said. Nery Barrios, the leader of the Union and Popular Action Unity (UASP) coalition, said five union leaders have been murdered in Guatemala since October. Another STEPQ leader was shot in the chest six months ago, according to the union’s secretary, Lazaro Reyes. Activists say Zamora had alerted the authorities that he was receiving death threats. On Jan. 18 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), said that Zamora had been given police protection because of “a series threats he had received as a result of his union activities.” The IACHR called on the Guatemalan government to investigate the murder and punish those responsible. (Prensa Latina, Jan. 16; ITUC OnLin, Jan. 17; Europa Press, Jan. 17; Univision, Jan. 19 from EFE)
At least three armed men shot at environmental activists Carlos Albacete Rosales and Piedad Espinosa Albacete shortly after midnight on Jan. 10 as they were riding home in a taxi from La Aurora National Airport in Guatemala City. At least six bullets hit the taxi; Carlos Albacete was left slightly injured by broken glass from a shattered window. The men didn’t pursue them, but a car followed the couple again on Jan. 12. The two activists work for the Guatemalan environmental organization Tropico Verde (Green Tropic), which seeks to protect the Mayan Biosphere Reserve in the northern Peten region and has been active in exposing the usurpation of land inside the reserve by cattle ranchers and alleged drug traffickers. The couple’s house was shot at in September, and they have heard rumors of plans to kill them.
The Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC)-USA urges letters to Attorney General Juan Luis Florido (fax 011 502 2411 9124) and others calling for an investigation of the incidents and protection for the activists. (Sample letters are available from firstname.lastname@example.org.) (GHRC-USA urgent action , Jan. 18, with info from Amnesty International)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 21
According to the Guatemalan National Civilian Police (PNC), community leaders Marco Antonio Leon Salazar and Rolando Eugenio Orellana Perez were shot to death on the night of Dec. 21 in the La Majada neighborhood of Zacapa, capital of Zacapa department in eastern Guatemala. (Guatemala Hoy, Dec. 26 from Nuestro Diario)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 31
GUATEMALA: WORKERS BURN MAQUILA
Dozens of laid-off workers looted and set fire to the Genesis Feliz Tex S.A. garment plant in Guatemala City on the afternoon of Jan. 20. The workers came to the plant to demand their severance pay. Finding no one at the factory, the workers decided to seize apparel and machinery in compensation. Within minutes unit of the National Civil Police (PNC) arrived and dispersed the crowd with tear gas, but before they left the workers started a fire; firefighters spent two hours putting it out. No arrests were made.
The plant was a maquiladora (tax-exempt assembly plant producing for export) apparently owned by a Korean company. There are more than 300 apparel-producing maquiladoras in Guatemala, employing about 100,000 workers, mostly impoverished women. Some 20 of these plants closed down in 2006, leaving 5,000 people without work. (Prensa Libre, Guatemala, Jan. 21; La Gente, online service of Radio La Primerisima, Managua, Jan. 21; El Diario-La Prensa, NYC, Jan. 21, 22 from EFE, AFP)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 27
GUATEMALA: HYDROELECTRIC PLANT PROTESTED
On Dec. 23, some 300 residents from the municipalities of Tajumulco, Malacatan and San Pablo in the western Guatemalan department of San Marcos marched peacefully in the town center of San Pablo to protest the planned construction of a hydroelectric plant in that municipality. The march started in front of the Urban School and ended in front of San Pablo’s central park with a rally where leaders from all three municipalities spoke. Humberto Orozco of Malacatan said construction of the hydroelectric plant will affect residents of all the neighboring communities. Marcotulio Lopez of San Pablo said the protesters want “the waters of the Canuja, Cutzulchima and Rio Negro rivers to be used in a rational manner, otherwise when they feed into the Cabuz river they will cause it to overflow with potentially fatal results for the communities along its banks.”
The demonstrators said they don’t oppose development, but want it to be carried out in a transparent way and with respect for the safety of local residents. The protesters asked the municipal corporation of San Pablo to carry out a popular referendum, mediated by Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, to decide the future of the plant. (Guatemala Hoy, Dec. 27 from Prensa Libre)
In other news, according to the Guatemalan National Civilian Police (PNC), community leaders Marco Antonio Leon Salazar and Rolando Eugenio Orellana Perez were shot to death on the night of Dec. 21 in the La Majada neighborhood of Zacapa, capital of Zacapa department in eastern Guatemala. (Guatemala Hoy, Dec. 26 from Nuestro Diario]
GUATEMALA: PRISONERS WERE EXECUTED
Guatemala’s human rights ombudsperson, Sergio Morales, has revealed that seven prisoners who died in a police operation last Sept. 25 at the Pavon Rehabilitation Center west of Guatemala City were probably executed after being subdued by police and soldiers. The facility had been controlled for over 10 years by a committee of prisoners when some 3,000 police agents and soldiers retook control of the prison.
Morales called the government’s claim that the seven victims died in a shootout amid the chaos of the operation “hard to substantiate.” The investigation carried out by the ombudsperson’s office found that the victims’ wrists appeared to have been bound before they were killed, and that authorities went into the operation with a list of prisoners they were seeking–the same ones who ended up getting killed. Three of the prisoners bled to death without receiving medical attention. Another had five bullet wounds across a small area of his chest, spanning three ribs. “How is it going to be possible that they hit him with five bullets in the same spot in the middle of a chaotic shootout?” asked Carla Villagran, author of the ombudsman’s office report. (AP, Dec. 28)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 31
EL SALVADOR: 20 DEAD IN PRISON FIGHT
At least 20 prisoners died on Jan. 6 in what authorities said was a fight among gang members using homemade weapons in the maximum security Apanteos prison in the western Salvadoran department of Santa Ana. The conflict reportedly broke out on the afternoon of Jan. 5 when a group of prisoners from the Mara 18 gang attacked a guard, then started to break down the prison’s internal walls. Authorities initially reported 17 dead, but said three more prisoners were killed in a subsequent clash.
“The information we have is that another uprising erupted in sector 11, where they were holding the prisoners from the 18 gang,” said Wilfredo Olivares, one of the representatives from the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s office who monitor prison conditions. Human Rights Ombudsperson Beatrice Alamanni de Carrillo called it “the worst massacre in recent years,” and criticized prison authorities for mixing gang members with other prisoners. Alamanni confirmed that the prisoners had knocked down six walls, joining six separate cell areas which were previously separate and leading to the mixing of gang members, common prisoners and sick prisoners.
More than 20 journalists, both national and international, tried to reach the prison to report on the situation, but national prisons director Jaime Roberto Vilanova barred them from approaching. Some 100 police shock troops entered the jail to maintain order, and two police buses were used to transfer more than 200 prisoners to the central jail in the city of Santa Ana. Apanteos prison has a capacity for 1,800 prisoners, but holds more than 2,000. (AP, Jan. 6)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 7
NICARAGUA: ORTEGA IS PRESIDENT AGAIN
Daniel Ortega Saavedra, leader of the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), was sworn in as Nicaragua’s president on Jan. 10 in Managua’s Omar Torrijos Plaza of the Non-Aligned States with 14 heads of state and some 300,000 Nicaraguans in attendance. Leftist leaders such as Bolivian president Evo Morales, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias and Ecuadoran president-elect Rafael Correa were present, along with right-wingers like Colombian president Alvaro Uribe and Mexican president Felipe Calderon. On Jan. 8 US president George W. Bush phoned Ortega and congratulated him and the Nicaraguan people for their “commitment to democracy,” according to US national security spokesperson Gordon Johndroe.
Ortega was the coordinator of the council that headed the Nicaraguan government after a 1979 revolution overthrew the Somoza family dictatorship, and he was president from 1985 to 1990. He failed in three attempts to regain the presidency–in 1990, 1996 and 2001–but won on Nov. 5, 2006 with about 38% of the vote. Ortega’s presidency may not lead to drastic changes. Right-wing parties continue to hold a majority in the National Assembly; Ortega’s vice president, Jaime Morales Carazo, was a leader of the US-backed contra movement that tried to overthrow the FSLN government in the 1980s. (La Prensa, Managua, Jan. 10; La Nacion, Costa Rica, Jan. 11 from AFP; BBC News, Jan. 10)
On Jan. 11 Ortega signed on to the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a trade pact promoted by Chavez as an alternative to US-sponsored trade accords. Cuba and Venezuela signed on Dec. 14, 2004, and Bolivia joined on Apr. 29, 2006; Chavez, Morales and Cuban vice president Jose Ramon Machado attended the ceremony, in the Ruben Dario Theater. (El Diario de Yucatan, Jan. 11 from DPA)
NICARAGUA: ABORTION LAW CHALLENGED
On Jan. 8 the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (Cenidh) led a march to the Supreme Court of Justice (CJS) in Managua to file a constitutional challenge to a law that the National Assembly passed on Oct. 26 criminalizing all abortions, including therapeutic abortions when the life of the mother is at risk or when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Therapeutic abortion had been legal in Nicaragua for at least 100 years prior to the new legislation. The CSJ has four months to respond to the challenge. The law was rushed through the National Assembly in the days before the Nov. 5 national elections, with the support of most parties and candidates, including the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and its candidate, current president Daniel Ortega.
“We cannot teach medical students to kill women who need a therapeutic abortion,” Professor Matilde Jiron of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) medical faculty said during the protest. “On the contrary, we must teach them respect for life and women’s rights.” Women’s groups have collected more than 100,000 signatures on a petition in favor of therapeutic abortions and expect to get at least 150,000. The petition will be presented to the new National Assembly. (El Nuevo Diario, Managua, Jan. 8, 9; La Prensa, Managua, Jan. 9)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 14
COSTA RICA: CAFTA-CRATS EXPLOIT LAY-OFFS
During the week of Jan. 1, the WR Alajuela company announced it would close its garment factory in La Uruca, San Jose, Costa Rica, laying off 400 workers. The factory has produced jeans for the Wrangler label for over 20 years. The factory claimed the reason for the shutdown was a decrease in demand. Its parent company, VF Corporation, based in Greensboro, North Carolina, had closed another factory in Vazquez de Coronado, San Jose, in December, laying off 350 workers. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Jan. 6 from AP; La Nacion, San Jose, Jan. 6)
In January 2005, VF Corporation had laid off 300 of the 700 workers at the same La Uruca plant, eliminating the production of Lee brand jeans at the plant while maintaining production of Wrangler jeans. At the time, the company was operating six plants in Costa Rica with more than 3,000 workers. (LN, Jan. 17)
Foreign Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz issued a communique on Jan. 5, saying the closure of the factories will also have a negative impact on companies that provide services and raw materials. Ruiz tried to use alarm over the layoffs to bolster support for the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA); Costa Rica is the only participating country which has not yet ratified DR-CAFTA. Ruiz called the factory closings a “warning signal” and urged Costa Rica’s legislative deputies “to quickly approve the free trade treaty between the US, Central America and the Dominican Republic, since this situation is generating uncertainty among companies established here.” (ENH 1/6/07 from AP; LN, Jan. 6)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 7
Weekly News Update on the Americas
WW4 REPORT #129, January 2007
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Feb. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution