by Weekly News Update on the Americas

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s March 24 stop in Guatemala on a tour of Latin America came just in time to announce a restoration of military aid to that country, citing a supposed improvement in the human rights climate–mere days after Guatemalan security forces opened fire on anti-CAFTA protesters! Guatemala was actually under a state of "national emergency" when that country’s congress approved the trade treaty March 10. Protests also continue in Honduras, where CAFTA was approved a week earlier. Meanwhile, in an evident case of 1980s nostalgia, Washington has cut military aid to Nicaragua. Our indefatigable comrades at Weekly News Update on the Americas provide details.–WW4 REPORT


After meeting with President Oscar Berger in Guatemala on March 24, Donald Rumsfeld announced that the US was releasing $3.2 million in military aid to Guatemala. Most overt military aid has been blocked since 1990, when it became clear that Guatemalan soldiers were involved in the murder of innkeeper Michael Devine, a US national. "I’ve been impressed by the reforms that have been undertaken in the armed forces," Rumsfeld said. "I know it is a difficult thing to do, but it’s been done with professionalism and transparency." Central America has reached a "magic moment," according to Rumsfeld. The US sees Berger as a reformer who "is delivering on his promises," an unidentified senior Pentagon official told reporters. The promises included winning legislative approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), despite major street protests against the agreement, which police and soldiers violently broke up (see below). (AP, March 24; NYT, MH, March 25)

According to Inter Press Service (IPS) analyst Jim Lobe, Rumsfeld’s tour was focused on "efforts to sound the alarm against Latin American troublemakers." The list was topped by Chavez, "followed by a nemesis from bygone days, former Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, who was accused by an unnamed ‘senior official’ in Rumsfeld’s delegation of hoarding several hundred Russian-made surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) that Washington wants to see destroyed." On March 21, the first day of Rumsfeld’s trip, the US government announced a suspension of all military assistance to Nicaragua–worth about $2.3 million dollars–because of alleged delays in destroying Nicaragua’s SAMs. (IPS, March 24)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 27


Thousands of Guatemalans demonstrated around the country on March 14 in a national strike called by the Indigenous, Campesino, Sindical and Popular Movement (MISCP) to protest the March 10 ratification by Guatemala’s Congress of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and to demand that President Oscar Berger not sign the measure, which joins Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the US in a trade bloc.

Starting early in the morning, hundreds of campesinos blocked highways in various locations in several departments around the country. In Quiche department, protesters shut down the departmental headquarters of the Governance Ministry, in addition to blocking the highway in Sacapulas municipality. In Huehuetenango department, teachers demonstrated in the departmental capital while campesinos, unionists and teachers blocked the highway in Colotenango municipality, and occupied the customs office at the Mexican border in La Mesilla.

The MISCP organized a major march in Guatemala City with three columns converging on the Plaza de la Constitucion, in front of the National Palace. The column leading from the University City neighborhood was headed up by San Carlos University (USAC) rector Luis Leal. BBC News estimated total attendance at 4,000, while some participants gave a number as high as 30,000. Generally the march was peaceful; there was some shoving as police kept protesters from approaching the Congress building and the US embassy, where some demonstrators spray-painted slogans. A separate group of protesters attempted to approach the presidential mansion. Police agents responded with tear gas, and protesters threw rocks. The speakers in the plaza called on the protesters to rejoin the main demonstration.

At this point, a contingent of Special Forces Police led by Inspector Francisco Say Albino, along with military police, began hurling tear-gas grenades at the demonstrators in the plaza, who fled, many into nearby offices of non-governmental organizations. Police agents beat Edwin Benavente, a photographer for Nuestro Diario, when he photographed agents attacking a demonstrator. A correspondent for the US-based Univision television network was hit in the leg by a rubber bullet, and agents insulted and tried to assault two observers from the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson (PDH). After the demonstration broke up, there was serious damage to several area businesses, which some organizers blamed on police provocateurs.

Protests continued around the country March 15-16. At least one demonstrator was killed when police and soldiers tried to break up the highway blockade at Puente Naranjales in Colotenango. The police used tear gas and smoke bombs on the protesters. A group of campesinos reportedly began hurling rocks on to the agents from cliffs overlooking the highway, and the police responded with bullets. Juan Lopez Velasquez, a teacher and member of the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC) and the leftist Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG), was apparently beaten by the police and then killed with a shot to the head at point blank range.

There were a number of wounded among the campesinos, including one Jose Gomez, who later died in the Huehuetenango National Hospital according to some accounts. The confrontation at Puente Naranjales was photographed and videotaped by three young men, apparently foreigners, who happened to be passing through the area as part of a motorcycle trip through Latin America.

(Guatemala Hoy, March 16, 17; Reuters March 16; Guatemala Human Rights Commission, GHRC-USA, urgent action, March 16; first-hand report and photos at www.freedomsojourn.com)

President Berger dismissed the protesting organizations as "little groups." On March 15 he signed Decree 31-2005, the legislation that ratifies CAFTA. So far, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have approved the agreement. According to the Guatemalan media, US senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance, has confirmed that the committee will begin hearings April 6 to start the process of ratifying CAFTA in the US Congress. (GH, March 16)

In a statement issued on Mar. 3, the MISCP charged that the repression of the CAFTA protests "is reminiscent of the darkest years of the country’s recent history," a reference to the counterinsurgency of the 1980s. "Now Guatemala isn’t suffering from a military dictatorship, but it suffers instead from a dictatorship of business interests."

The group charged that Inspector Say Albino, who led the attack in Guatemala City, also directed the violent police operation in Finca Nueva Linda in Retalhuleu department on Aug. 31, in which at least 12 people died. MISCP communique, March 14)

On March 18 Amnesty International (AI) issued an urgent action expressing concern for the safety of journalists Marielos Monzon and Gabriel Mazzarovich, who appear on the radio program "Buenos Dias con Marielos Monzon," broadcast on Radio Universidad. On March 17 Monzon received a call on her mobile phone that appeared to come from her own home. "Stop defending those stinking Indians, you bitch, or we will kill you," a man’s voice told her. Minutes later she received another phone call, this time from the Uruguayan embassy, which asked for confirmation of reports in two Uruguayan newspapers that Mazzarovich, who is a Uruguayan citizen, had died. The reports were false. Monzon and Mazzarovich had broadcast two special programs on violence during the CAFTA demonstrations. (AI urgent action, March 18)

On Mar. 17 Guatemalan media and Agence France Presse revealed that Interior Minister Carlos Vielman has a 12-page report on an alleged plan to assassinate Nineth Montenegro, a legislative deputy for the leftist New Nation Alliance (ANN) and a founder of the human rights organization Mutual Support Group (GAM); Gonzalo Marroquin, editor of the daily Prensa Libre; Otto Perez Molina, a retired general, now a deputy for the Patriot Party (PP); and San Marcos bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, who frequently supports campesino demands and was previously the target of an alleged assassination plan.

The report claims that drug traffickers are behind the plan, which is said to be part of an effort to get Mexican trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera "El Chapo" into Guatemala. Perez Molina captured Guzman in 1993 and turned him over to the Mexican authorities, although he escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001. But GAM issued a statement discounting the drug connection and accusing right-wing death squads, "clandestine structures that never were dissolved and that now are at the service of powerful sectors. These structures are made up of those who violated human rights in the recent past and today seek…to enrich themselves and prevent the investigation of their crimes." (GHRC-USA urgent action, March 18)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 20


The Guatemalan Congress circumvented the usual three-step approval process for CAFTA when the major centrist and right-wing parties agreed on March 9 to muster the 105 votes necessary to declare a "national emergency," which would allow a single vote on the measure. The vote, originally scheduled for March 1, was postponed after large street protests tied up the capital that day. (Prensa Libre, March 10, 11; Guatemala Hoy, March 11; El Nuevo Diario, Miami, March 11; La Prensa, Nicaragua, March 11)

The protests continued on March 8, when thousands of people attempted to march to the Congress building in Guatemala City in a demonstration organized by MICSP. Heavy security prevented the marchers from approaching the building. Meanwhile, Deputy Alba Estela Maldonado, who heads the legislative group of the leftist URNG, charged that US ambassador John Hamilton was making phone calls to deputies to pressure them to pass CAFTA. (GH, March 10)

At least six people were injured as protests continued on March 9. Thousands of National Police agents cordoned off the two-block area around the Congress building and used tear gas and nightsticks to disperse a demonstration which the authorities said had 1,800 participants. The URNG charged that the government of President Berger was reverting to the repressive methods of the military governments in the 1980s. Elsewhere in Guatemala City, 10 men in ski masks stopped a bus, asked the passengers to get off and then set the vehicle on fire. A smaller demonstration of some 300 people–according to media reports–attempted to reach the Congress on March 10, the day legislators voted on CAFTA. Police agents using tear gas and blue-dyed water outnumbered the marchers, who still succeeded in shutting down part of downtown Guatemala City and filling the air with smoke from burning tires. (PL, GH, March 11)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 13


Two Guatemalan security workers for the Marlin Project of the Montana Mining Company, a subsidiary of the Canadian-US company Glamis Gold Ltd., killed campesino Alvaro Benigno the night of March 13 in San Miguel Ixtahuacan municipality, San Marcos department, according to the Rural Workers Movement (MTC), a local community-based organization. Witnesses said Benigno was going home after attending a choral concert in the parish church when Ludwin Waldemar Calderon and Guillermo Lanuza, workers for the Grupo Golan company, which provides security for the Marlin Project, came out of a bar, approached Alvaro Benigno and hit him. A scuffle ensued, and Calderon shot Benigno five or six times with a handgun.

This is the second killing associated with the Marlin Project, which has received a $45 million loan from the World Bank. Public security forces shot a protester dead on Jan. 11 when campesinos in Solola department tried to block the passage of equipment for the mine [see WW4 REPORT #107]. The Canadian-US group Rights Action is asking for letters to Glamis (fax: 775-827-5044, e-mail: info@glamis.com) and the World Bank (fax: 202-522-1677, e-mail: mkane@worldbank.org) calling for a proper investigation into Benigno’s killing and the suspension of the Glamis Gold mining operation. (Rights Action urgent action , March 30)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 3


Thousands of Hondurans demonstrated across the country on March 8 to protest the National Congress’s March 3 vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The protests were organized by the group Popular Resistance, which estimates that CAFTA will drive 300,000 campesino families out of business, forcing 800,000 Hondurans into unemployment.

Some 2,000 people marched in Tegucigalpa to the Congress building, chanting: "With this new treaty you’ve murdered the people." The main speaker, Popular Bloc director Carlos H. Reyes, charged that CAFTA is the completion of a process of corporate globalization in Honduras that since 1990 has created 120,000 jobs in the maquiladoras (tax-exempt assembly plants producing mainly for export) but has "produced 1.2 million unemployed… [F]or every job neoliberalism created in the maquila, 10 campesinos were left dying of hunger."

Elsewhere, hundreds of workers and campesinos blocked the northern highway for six hours in Las Flores municipality, Comayagua department, and near La Entrada, Copan department. There were also demonstrations in San Pedro Sula and other areas. (Tiempo, San Pedro Sula, March 9)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 13

Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #107


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 10, 2005 Reprinting permissible with attribution


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