from Weekly News Update on the Americas
GUATEMALA: ROADS BLOCKED IN WATER PROTEST
At least 15,000 people protested in Totonicapan, the capital of Totonicapan department in western Guatemala, on Sept. 6 in opposition to a law under discussion by Congress for the partial privatization of water resources. Starting at 4 AM, thousands of people gathered in the center of the city in a demonstration called by the auxiliary mayors of 48 cantons to demand that departmental governor Juan Armando Chun Chanchavac communicate to Congress the residents’ opposition to the General Water Law. At the same time, about 1,000 protesters blocked the Inter-American Highway for at least six hours in three points–Cuatro Caminos, Xelac and the entrance to San Francisco El Alto–to demand that Congress respond to a petition against the law that was presented to Congress on Aug. 5 with 35,000 signatures. (Guatemala Hoy, Sept. 7, AP, Sept. 6)
On Sept. 7, some 3,000 people in Momostenango municipality, Totonicapan department, destroyed the municipal building, burned the home of Mayor Abel Daniel Xiloj, drove out the police and destroyed three patrol cars of the National Civilian Police (PNC). Some criminal gangs reportedly joined the attacks and looted various businesses. One man, Enrique Ajanel Tzum, was accused of stealing a computer belonging to the town. A mob took him to a cemetery and beat him severely; a brigade of volunteer fire fighters took him to the hospital in Totonicapan. Some 500 PNC Special Forces agents finally brought the situation under control. The violence apparently began when a protest against the Water Law turned into a protest against Mayor Xiloj, who has been accused of corruption; the attacks were reportedly encouraged by his political opponents on the town council.
On Sept. 9 about 20,000 Totonicapan residents again blocked the Pan-American Highway, setting up barricades and burning tires at Cuatro Caminos and kilometers 178 and 186. Protesters told reporters they had brought food for several days and didn’t intend to leave. At the same time, the 48 auxiliary mayors were in Guatemala City talking to congressional leaders, who agreed to suspend discussion of the Water Law while they consulted with various sectors of the population. When they were told about the agreement, the demonstrators sang the national anthem and ended the blockades. “When Totonicapan rises up, Congress trembles,” they said. (Guatemala Hoy, Sept. 7, 9; Diario El Popular, Toronto, Sept. 11)
HONDURAS: INDIGENOUS SEIZE RUINS
On Sept. 10, some 1,500 Maya Chorti indigenous people occupied the Copan Ruins Archeological Park, a popular tourist destination in western Honduras, to demand the government provide them with land. In May 1997, after thousands of indigenous people from throughout Honduras protested in Tegucigalpa for more than a week, the government promised the Chortis more than 14,000 hectares of land worth $6 million in the departments of Copan and Ocotepeque. So far only 2,700 hectares have been distributed. “Our people have the [park] closed because the government has left all the accords unfulfilled,” Chorti leader Cristobal Pineda told the media.
The Mayan ruins at Copan are one of the country’s main tourist attractions, drawing between 200 and 300 visitors a day from the US and Europe who pay $10 each to enter the park, among a total of some 400,000 tourists a year who visit the site. The United Nations declared the Copan Ruins park a world heritage site in 1980. The Chortis are Mayans, descendants of those who built Copan.
On Sept. 14, as the ruins remained occupied and closed to visitors for a fifth day, and Chorti protesters were in the second day of intense negotiations with government representatives, the Honduran Private Enterprise Council (COHEP) issued a communique demanding that the government put an end to the protest. COHEP blasted “the passive and tolerant attitude of the government, which puts at risk tourism and the security of people and property, which are a national priority.”
The town of Copan Ruinas, less than a mile from the archeological site, has 40 hotels, 20 restaurants and 40 stores that sell handicrafts. “We lose $50,000 dollars a day because of the attitude of the Chortis,” complained Dario Dominguez, president of the Copan Ruinas Chamber of Commerce. (AP, Sept. 14, 15; TV Azteca, Sept. 14 from Fuerza Informativa Azteca–FIA; La Hora, Quito, Sept. 11 from AFP)
Late on the night of Sept. 14, the Chortis signed an agreement with the government, and on Sept. 15, they ended the occupation and returned to their homes. Agrarian Reform Minister Henry Acosta said the government pledged to provide the Chortis with a total of $487,000 to purchase land; $277,000 of the total will be paid immediately and the other $210,000 will be paid in 2006, said Acosta. Acosta said the protest caused the government to lose some $55,000 in income.
Acosta, together with Labor Minister German Leitzelar and advisory minister Elias Lizardo, negotiated the agreement on behalf of the government, working out budget adjustments to allow the disbursement. The first lands to be handed over–as early as October, according to the agreement–will be those already occupied by 15 Chorti communities, who will now be able to build permanent structures and install basic services. Under the terms of the accord, a Chorti commission will visit the Finance Secretariat during the week of Sept. 19 to facilitate the disbursement of the funds and prevent delays.
“We hope the government completely fulfills its promises, because if it doesn’t, our people will carry out new occupations of the country’s tourist sites,” warned National Indigenous Council spokesperson Marcelina Interiano. (AP, Sept. 15; La Prensa, Honduras, Sept. 15)
The Chortis have shut down the Copan Ruins park at least three times in the past to demand compliance with the 1997 accords: in October 1998 as part of a national indigenous protest; and in September 2000 and November 2001, when army and police forces violently broke up Chorti blockades at the site.
HONDURAN LABOR LEADER MURDERED
On Sept. 11, unidentified assailants shot to death Honduran union leader Francisco Cruz Galeano in the city of Comayagua as he was returning to his home in the village of Ojo de Agua, just two kilometers north of the city. He was hit by at least 25 bullets. Police have made no arrests. Cruz Galeano was the regional coordinator for the General Confederation of Workers (CGT) in the central Honduran departments of Comayagua, Intibuca and La Paz. CGT general secretary Daniel Duran described Cruz as “an excellent leader, with an enormous social vision, who was carrying out a housing program for poor families in the region.” Duran demanded that the government carry out an exhaustive investigation into the killing and punish those responsible. (La Nacion, Costa Rica, Sept. 11 from ACAN-EFE)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 18
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: CAFTA RATIFIED
The Dominican Republic’s ratification of the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) became official on Sept. 10 when Dominican president Leonel Fernandez promulgated a measure passed by the Congress to approve the pact. The Senate voted 27-2 on Aug. 26 for approval. The Chamber of Deputies approved the pact on Sept. 6 by a vote of 118-4 with 20 abstentions. (It is not clear when the Senate held a second vote, which was reportedly required for passage.) DR-CAFTA, which is expected to go into effect on Jan. 1, creates a trade zone including Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the US. The legislatures of Costa Rica and Nicaragua have not yet voted on ratification.
After promulgating the measure, Fernandez left the evening of Sept. 10 for a 10-day trip to the US and Puerto Rico. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Sept. 11 from correspondent; Hoy, Santo Domingo, Sept. 7)
Some 20,000 workers have reportedly been laid off since the beginning of the year from the Dominican Republic’s “free trade zones”–industrial parks where tax-exempt assembly plants produce for export–and 33 plants have closed, mostly garment assembly plants. The Federation of Free Trade Zone and Similar Workers (FENATRAZONAS) charged on Aug. 31 that the layoffs result not from unionization efforts in the maquiladoras but rather from the companies’ failure to invest in productivity-enhancing technology. The Senate’s Industry and Trade Committee has asked the government to slow the loss of jobs by applying more equitable electric rates and improving the country’s notoriously unreliable electric system. (Adital. Sept. 1)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 11
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #113
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Oct. 1, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution