from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

Nicaragua: Ortega wins

WIth 91.6% of the ballots counted from Nicaragua’s Nov. 5 elections, former president Daniel Ortega of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) won the presidency with 38.07%, compared to 29% for Eduardo Montealegre of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN). Having won over 35% of the vote and with a more than five point lead over his closest rival, Ortega was able to avoid a second round. Jose Rizo of the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) was in third place with 26.21%; Edmundo Jarquin of the Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS) got 6.44%; and Eden Pastora of Alternative for Change (AC) had 0.27%. The voting broke down to roughly the same percentages in the balloting for National Assembly deputies and representatives to the regional Central American Parliament (PARLACEN).

In the presidential race, the FSLN won in the northern departments of Nueva Segovia, Madriz, Esteli and Matagalpa; in the western departments of Chinandega, Leon, Managua and Carazo; and in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN). The ALN won in the southwestern departments of Masaya, Granada and Rivas; and in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS). The PLC dominated in the central cattle-ranching departments of Chontales and Boaco; the north central department of Jinotega; and the south central department of Rio San Juan. (Resultados Electorales, Nov. 7)

According to the Nicaragua Network in Washington, it is likely that the FSLN will have 37 seats in the National Assembly, one less than it has now; the ALN will have 26, the PLC will have 22 and the MRS will have six. It is not clear whether defeated candidates Montealegre, Rizo, and Jarquin are automatically granted seats in the Assembly or whether only Montealegre gets that privilege. Either way, the Network observes, “it is clear that the FSLN, or even the FSLN in coalition with the MRS, does not have the majority necessary to pass legislation. This means that there will be a strong incentive for the new government to continue the so-called pact with the PLC and its disgraced leader, former president Arnoldo Aleman.”

Ortega is to take office on Jan. 10, 2007, along with his vice president, Jaime Morales Carazo, a former leader of the US-backed right-wing contra movement in the 1980s. (La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 8 from AFP, DPA) In his speeches since the elections, Ortega has insisted that he plans no radical changes and will continue to promote the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), foreign investment and close US ties. (AP, Nov. 10, 12)

On Nov. 11, Ortega said his cabinet ministers will be named by the people; he has asked local representatives to suggest candidates. He vowed that half his top officials would be women, and that he would include people who didn’t vote for him. (AP, Nov. 12)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 12

Nicaragua: abortion law passes

On Oct. 26, Nicaragua’s 93-member National Assembly voted 52-0 in favor of a law criminalizing abortion in all cases. The new law overturns article 165 of the country’s penal code, which for more than a century has allowed abortions up to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape or incest, or where they are necessary to preserve the pregnant woman’s life or health—as long as three doctors verify the medical need and the spouse or a close relative gives legal consent. (Abortions for any other reason have long been punishable with prison sentences of up to six years.) (Adital, Oct. 31; Nicaragua Network Hotline, Nov. 1; Nicaragua News Service, Oct. 24-Nov. 1 from La Prensa, El Nuevo Diario, Radio La Primerisima, TV Channel 8; Reuters, Oct. 27)

The FSLN joined the ruling Liberal Party in approving the bill. Of the FSLN’s 38 deputies, 25 voted for the bill, although some sent their aides to cast the vote rather than do it themselves. The other 13 FSLN deputies stayed away from the session. The FSLN’s support of the bill was seen as an attempt to cater to the Catholic church to win support for FSLN candidate and ex-president Daniel Ortega in the Oct. 5 presidential elections. (Reuters, Oct. 27)

Hundreds of women were vigiling outside as the Assembly debated the measure; as news of the vote broke, the protesters began to chant, “Women killers! Women killers!” Women’s organizations began setting up picket lines at the campaign headquarters of the four parties that approved the measure. The women’s groups also said they would challenge the new law in court.

Health minister Margarita Gurdian complained that the legislators had failed to consult doctors for a medical opinion before changing the law. Some 20 national doctors’ associations joined representatives of the Pan-American Health Organization and the World Health Organization in urging the Assembly to promptly review its decision. The groups predict that the repeal of article 165 will bring a 60% increase in the country’s maternal mortality rate, currently at 83.4 per 100,000 live births.

In the days leading up the vote, a wide range of national and international organizations had spoken out against the repeal of article 165. The organization Save the Children had issued a press release pointing out that Nicaragua has one of the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy in Latin America, and that most pregnant girls have been raped. The Nicaraguan Coordinating Council of Non-governmental Organizations working with Children and Adolescents (Codeni) and the Special Ombudsperson for Children had urged that debate over the measure be postponed until after the Nov. 5 elections. Codeni estimates that 30% of the female victims of sexual violence are children and adolescents, many of whom become pregnant.

“This Assembly has sent women to the guillotine,” said Matilde Jiron, a doctor specializing in reproductive health. Jiron said each year the Health ministry records about 1,000 cases of ectopic or molar pregnancies, in both of which “therapeutic abortion is absolutely necessary to save the mother’s life.” (Adital, Oct. 31; Nicanet Hotline, Nov. 1; NNS, Oct. 24-Nov. 1) The Autonomous Women’s Movement calculates that between 2004 and 2006, some 4,000 women underwent therapeutic abortions in Nicaragua. (La Jornada, Nov. 3)

An article in the Los Angeles Times reported that only 24 legally authorized abortions have been performed in Nicaragua in the last three years. Ipas, a US-based reproductive rights group, estimates that 32,000 illegal abortions are performed in Nicaragua each year, many under unsafe conditions. (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 26) The new law puts Nicaragua alongside nations like Chile and El Salvador in imposing a blanket ban on abortion. (Reuters, Oct. 27)

Three of the four leading presidential candidates supported the new anti-abortion law; only Edmundo Jarquin of the Sandinista Renewal Movement opposed it. (NNS, Oct. 24-Nov. 1)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 5

Guatemala: ex-leaders ordered arrested

On Nov. 6, Guatemala’s Fifth Criminal Sentence Court issued arrest warrants for six former military leaders in response to extradition requests from the National Court of Spain. The Spanish court has charged the six men with genocide, terrorism, torture, murder and illegal detentions during the 1980s, and specifically the burning of the Spanish embassy on Jan. 31, 1980. A group of indigenous activists had occupied the embassy to demand respect for human rights; 39 people died in the blaze.

Those ordered arrested are ex-dictator Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores (1983-1986); retired generals Manuel Benedicto Lucas Garcia (army chief of staff from August 1981 to March 1982) and Angel Anibal Guevara Rodriguez, a former defense minister; former police director Col. German Chupina; and two civilians, former governance minister Donaldo Alvarez Ruiz and former chief of the Police Sixth Command, Pedro Garcia Arredondo. (Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, Nov. 9; Guatemala Hoy, Nov. 7; La Jornada, Nov. 7, 8, both from AFP)

Guevara Rodriguez turned himself in on Nov. 7; security forces arrested Chupina the same day. (LJ, Nov. 8 from AFP) Mejia Victores had not been found as of Nov. 8 and some speculate that he is in the US. (GHRC/USA, Nov. 9)

The Spanish court also sought the extradition of former dictator Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala from late March of 1982 to early August of 1983. But the Guatemalan court declinedto issue an arrest order for Rios Montt, apparently because there was insufficient proof of his responsibility for the embassy deaths. Spanish judge Santiago Pedraz had charged Rios Montt with genocide, noting that the Commission of Historical Clarification had found, in its report on the violence over the 36-year armed conflict, that 69% of all the executions, 41% of the rapes and 45% of the torture incidents took place during Rios Montt’s rule. (GHRC/USA, Nov. 9; GH, Nov. 7; LJ, Nov. 8 from AFP)

When it issued the warrants last July 7, the Spanish court had also sought the arrest of Gen. Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia, who died last May in Venezuela. (See WW4 REPORT, May 30, 2006)

Many had hoped that Romeo Lucas Garcia, president of Guatemala from July 1978 to March 1982, would be “symbolically” brought to justice for the massacres that were committed under his rule. (GHRC/USA, Nov. 9)

Benedicto Lucas Garcia, who has been ordered arrested, was chief of staff during the final period of his brother’s rule, and was considered to be one of the key architects of the massacres.

The Mutual Support Group (GAM) reported in a 2000 study, “Massacres in Guatemala, the Screams of an Entire People,” that 1,112 massacres were carried out during the 36-year armed conflict, 1,046 of them (more than 94%) by government forces, including army, police, the paramilitary Civilian Self-Defense Patrols (PACs) and other security forces. The largest number—507 massacres, 49% of the total—took place under the Romeo Lucas Garcia regime. Another 413 of them—40%—were under Rios Montt’s 16-month rule. (GAM statement, Nov. 9 via Adital)

The court’s Nov. 6 decision came after the European Parliament passed a resolution on Oct. 26, backing the Spanish arrest warrants and urging the Guatemalan government to cooperate with the investigations. President Oscar Berger must sign the final extradition order. Rios Montt’s party, the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), wields considerable power in Guatemala and is expected to try to halt the extraditions. (GHRC/USA, Nov. 9)

A group of victims’ families had held a demonstration on Nov. 3 outside the Supreme Court of Justice, asking it to immediately order the arrests of Rios Montt and the others. Members of the Coordinating Committee of Genocide Never Again hung banners bearing photographs of their disappeared loved ones. (La Semana en Guatemala, Oct. 30-Nov. 5)

On Nov. 8, some 100 families and members of the Genocide Never Again group again gathered outside the Supreme Court, saluting the arrest orders but demanding that Rios Montt be arrested too. “Now we have a small opening to send these men, who massacred and disappeared our people, to where they belong,” said Aura Elena Farfan, leader of the Association of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared of Guatemala (FAMDEGUA). Farfan’s brother, Ruben Amilcar, was abducted and disappeared in March 1984 during the military regime headed by Mejia Victores (1982-85). “No injustice lasts 100 years, and no people will endure it,” said Farfan. “Hopefully what is happening today in Guatemala will be an example for the whole world, and all those who commit genocide will be jailed.” (GH, Nov. 9)

On Nov. 10, more than 1,000 people from around the country gathered again under the umbrella of Genocide Never Again to march from Morazan park to the Supreme Court, demanding justice. Eduardo de Leon, director of the Rigoberta Menchu Tum Foundation, said the Public Ministry had been negligent in allowing Mejia Victores to escape. De Leon said the foundation has already formally asked the Spanish court to reissue the arrest order against Rios Montt. (GH, Nov. 11) Rigoberta Menchu, the Guatemalan indigenous leader and 1992 Nobel Peace laureate, originally filed the charges against the ex-officials in the Spanish court in December 1999; her father was among those killed in the Spanish embassy fire in 1980. (LJ, Nov. 7 from AFP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 12

Guatemala: cops harass student protesters

A group of about 40 Guatemalan students attempted to protest neoliberal economic policies and the privatization of education during the traditional parade in Guatemala City marking Central American Independence Day, Sept. 15. According to Calixto Morales, a member of the National Students Organization of Guatemala (ONEG), when the protesters held up their signs near the reviewing stand, where President Oscar Berger and other officials were located, members of the Education Ministry (MINEDUC) pushed them away. When the students continued to demonstrate in front of the National Palace, police agents followed them, and the number of agents increased once they were away from the parade.

In Isabel La Catolica Park, 15 or more agents surrounded the students and pointed loaded guns at them. Agents hit one student and destroyed his photographic equipment. When a student leader said she would file a complaint, the agents threatened to arrest them for “rebellion.” The students were finally allowed to leave, without their signs, in pairs. (Guatemala Hoy, Sept. 18; ONEG communique on Chiapas Indymedia, Sept. 18)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 24

El Salvador: religious leaders killed

On Nov. 4, Francisco Carrillo and his wife, Jesus Calzada de Carrillo, both Lutheran pastors, human rights advocates, and activists in a local community volunteer rescue program, were shot and killed outside their church in the Salvadoran town of Jayaque, La Libertad. Francisco was locking up after the Friday service when assailants approached on bicycles and shot him, then shot his wife, who was waiting in a nearby car. The Carrillos were known for being vocal community activists and had recently received death threats for their work. The assailants rode away without covering their faces; some witnesses say they were local gang members. There is no known motive for the murder and there was no attempted robbery. The killing of the couple follows a number of similar recent incidents: the killing last July of the elderly parents of FMLN activist Mariposa Manzanares; the murder in August of leftist activist couple Alex Flores Montoya and Mercedes Penate de Flores; and the September murder of progressive Catholic priest Antonio Romero.

The Lutheran church and other members of the Jayaque community are calling for the National Civilian Police (PNC) and the attorney general’s office to investigate the Carrillos’ killings immediately. Given the PNC’s failure to make progress in investigating the other murders, religious and grassroots groups are pushing for results from the police investigation within two weeks. (CISPES El Salvador Update, Nov. 8; Diario Co Latino, El Salvador, Nov. 7)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 12

Honduras: indigenous brothers freed

On Aug. 15, a court in the Honduran city of Santa Rosa de Copan commuted the sentence of Leonardo Miranda, a Lenca indigenous activist from the community of Montana Verde. Miranda was freed from the prison in Gracias three hours later. His brother Marcelino Miranda Espinoza was freed from the same prison in Gracias on July 12 after a court secretary processed his release order. (Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras-COPINH communiques, July 12, Aug. 16, both via Rights Action) The Miranda brothers had been acquitted of murder charges on June 23 by the Supreme Court of Justice. They had been jailed since January 2003. In January 2006, Amnesty International joined an international campaign to win their release.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 3


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #127, November 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution