from Weekly News Update on the Americas


An unidentified group of armed men intercepted and abducted Maria Antonieta Carrillo, a local leader of Guatemala’s Campesino Unity Committee (CUC), on May 28 in the village of La Arenera, Puerto de San Jose municipality, in the southern department of Escuintla, according to a communique the CUC released on May 29. “We hold the government and the business sector responsible,” the CUC said. “This act is part of the repressive policy [Guatemalan president Oscar] Berger has mounted against the indigenous and campesino movement.” According to the CUC, La Arenera is a leading community in the “struggle for land and for campesinos’ labor rights” in an area which has the highest concentration of large sugar plantations in the country.

The kidnapping came at a time when human rights organizations say they are the victims of a wave of intimidation. A little more than a week before, a source in Unity for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders told the Cuban wire service Prensa Latina that 656 threats or attacks against activists and social organizations had been reported from the beginning of the year to May 13. The most frequent targets were groups that oppose privatization, human rights violations, increased mining and the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), a trade pact pushed by the US. (PL, May 29; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, May 29)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 5


On May 24, an unidentified assailant shot to death campesino leader Ericson Roberto Lemus on an urban bus in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula. The assailant boarded the bus, went straight to Lemus and shot him four times in the head before fleeing. No arrests have been made. Lemus was regional secretary of the National Federation of Agricultural Workers (CNTC) for the northern region of Honduras, a post to which he was elected in March of this year. “We in the CNTC believe Lemus was murdered for reasons linked to his tasks in the organization, since he was following up with several campesino groups in the region which are fighting for a piece of land,” said CNTC finance secretary Ivan Romero in Tegucigalpa. Romero said the CNTC is demanding that the government investigate the murder and punish those responsible. “With the murder of Lemus now there have been 15 comrades who in the past three years have spilled their blood for a piece of land in this country, and none of the cases have been investigated, nor have any of those responsible been punished,” said Romero. (ACAN-EFE, Panama,. May 25)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 29


Unknown persons broke into the office of Guatemala’s National Coordinating Committee of Peasant Organizations (CNOC) on May 8. The intruders stole 15 computers with sensitive information stored in their hard drives, but other valuable equipment was left behind. CNOC is a member of the Indigenous, Campesino, Union and Popular Movement (MICSP), an umbrella organization opposed to the DR-CAFTA; it organized massive demonstrations against the treaty in March. The information stolen included details of MICSP activities against DR-CAFTA, and the way MICSP is organized, as well as CNOC’s records of land conflict cases and its membership database.

After the break-in, CNOC moved into the offices of the Institute of Comparative Studies in Criminal Sciences of Guatemala (ICCPG). This office was broken into on May 10 in an apparent attempt to intimidate the staff of CNOC. Nothing was taken. On the same night two other MICSP member organizations suffered break-ins: the General Confederation of Workers of Guatemala (CGTG) and the Confederation of Labor Unity of Guatemala (CUSG).

There was a break-in at the offices of Children for Identity and Justice, against Forgetting and Silence (HIJOS) the night of May 11. HIJOS works on behalf of children whose parents “disappeared” in armed conflicts, but it has also been actively opposed to DR-CAFTA. The back doors of the office were forced, and the intruders examined the organization’s files and took two computers containing sensitive information about the organization’s work. A brand-new computer with no information stored on it was not taken, and other valuable office equipment was also left behind. In a possibly related incident, two armed men robbed HIJOS member Francisco Sanchez and tried to abduct him; they stopped when he resisted.

There have been 15 break-ins at human rights and social movement offices this year; eight took place between May 7 and May 12. (Amnesty International Alert, May 13; HIJOS Alert, May 12; Servicio Informativo “Alai-amlatina”, May 17)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 22


Some 300 indigenous people and campesinos from the Honduran provinces of Intibuca, Comayagua and Santa Barbara protested on May 11 in front of the US embassy in Tegucigalpa to demand that DR-CAFTA not be ratified. “For the right to health, education and work, no to the TLC [free trade treaty],” read a banner held by the protesters in front of the embassy, which was surrounded by riot police. The demonstration was timed to coincide with a series of protests in the US against DR-CAFTA. According to Salvador Zuniga of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), the protesters reject the “servile” role played by the Central American presidents who were meeting in the US to promote DR-CAFTA. “These presidents are offering the riches of the Central American peoples on a silver platter, and in the case of the president of Honduras, asking that an anti-national and anti-Honduran treaty be ratified which will only bring more unemployment and poverty,” Zuniga said. (Tiempo, Honduras, May 12; AP, May 11)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 15


Three Central American presidents gathered in Miami on May 9 to launch a four-day 10-city US tour by a total of six presidents to promote the Free Trade Agreement, which US president George W. Bush is trying to get approved by Congress before the summer. Oscar Berger of Guatemala, Ricardo Maduro of Honduras and Enrique Bolanos of Nicaragua joined with Florida governor Jeb Bush to speak, under tight security, at the Port of Miami. Dozens of protesters–steel workers, retirees, Latino group representatives and others–stood holding placards on the corner outside behind a line of 18-wheelers waiting to enter the port. “It was hard to do interviews because all the trucks were honking [in support of the protesters],” Eric Rubin, the director of the Florida Fair Trade Coalition, told the Miami Herald. “I think we got our message across.” (Florida FTAA press release, May 8; MH, May 10)

Dominican president Leonel Fernandez visited New York on May 10 to talk up DR-CAFTA at a luncheon at the City College of New York in Harlem. Dozens of members of the 1199/SEIU health care union, Dominican community organizations and Central American solidarity groups marched through the campus chanting “No to CAFTA, yes to life” in Spanish. Sonia Ivany of the New York state AFL-CIO told a rally that DR-CAFTA is based on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which she said caused the loss of 780,000 jobs nationally in the garment and textile industries, 56,000 of them in New York. (El Nacional, Santo Domingo, May 12; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, May 11)

Salvadoran President Tony Saca visited Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Fe before arriving in Washington on May 11 to join Fernandez, Berger, Maduro, Bolanos and Costa Rican president Abel Pacheco for what was supposedly the first lobbying action at the US Congress by six presidents at one time. They met with Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-TN), Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Richard Lugar (R-IN) and other senators. A meeting with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was hastily cancelled when the Capitol was evacuated because a small civilian airplane had wandered off course over downtown Washington. On May 12 the six presidents met with President Bush at the White House, where Bush told reporters that DR-CAFTA meant “stability and security, which can only be achieved with freedom.” (AP, May 10, 11; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, May 1 from AP, quote retranslated from Spanish)

Other Central Americans were in Washington to lobby against DR-CAFTA, including Salvadoran legislative deputy Salvador Arias of the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN). Arias also took part in anti-CAFTA demonstrations, along with another FMLN deputy, Lourdes Palacios. Salvadoran interior minister Rene Figueroa reportedly said Arias’ participation in the protests was “no more than an act of treason.” Arias told reporters that “in El Salvador this is a death sentence.” He said the FMLN would be taking extra security measures for him when he returned to El Salvador. (ED-LP, May 14 from AP)

The New York Times reports that DR-CAFTA is “the current centerpiece of President Bush’s trade agenda” but that it “is facing unusually united Democratic opposition as well as serious problems in overcoming well-entrenched special interest groups like sugar producers and much of the textile industry.” The UK Financial Times notes that “[i]n a hemisphere where anti-Americanism has become the norm, Central American governments have been among Mr. Bush’s most loyal allies… [I]f Mr. Bush fails to win congressional support, he will let down his closest friends and send a bleak message to pro-US politicians further south. Defeat on CAFTA would also sound the death knell for more ambitious liberalization such as the continent-embracing Free Trade Area of the America (FTAA).” (NYT , May 10; FT, May 13)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 15

So far only the legislatures of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have ratified the agreement. The US Senate Committee on Finance began considering DR-CAFTA on April 6. The administration would like to hold the vote before July 1, the expiration date for the “fast-track” rule which keeps Congress from changing or amending trade agreements. The Senate is expected to approve, but the measure faces problems in the House of Representatives. On May 4, four centrist representatives–Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Arthur Davis (D-AL) and Ron Kind (D-WI)–announced they were not backing DR-CAFTA. The opposition is “very strong,” Tauscher said, but she couldn’t say whether it would be enough to stop the trade pact.

Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 8


May Day marches in Central America focused on opposition to DR-CAFTA and neoliberal economic policies. (La Jornada, Mexico, May 2 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

In Guatemala City, nearly 30,000 people marched five kilometers from a labor monument to Constitution Plaza to protest the free trade treaty. The march was organized by the Indigenous, Campesino, Union and Grassroots Movement. Similar protests were held in the departments of Izabal, Quetzaltenango, Suchitepequez, Escuintla and Jutiapa, among others. (EFE, May 1; Guatemala Hoy, May 2)

More than 40,000 workers and students marched in the Salvadoran capital on May Day to protest DR-CAFTA and call for respect for labor rights. Participants were demanding that El Salvador ratify all the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, including one which refers to the right of public sector workers to be represented by unions. (EFE, May 1; Argenpress, May 3)

More than 70,000 people marched in 10 Honduran cities to protest DR-CAFTA and Mexico’s Plan Puebla-Panama, as well as government corruption and the high price of basic necessities. The marches in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, Puerto Cortes and six other towns were also commemorating the 51st anniversary of a strike by banana workers against the US multinationals Standard Fruit and Chiquita Brands, which marked the birth of the Honduran labor movement. (Argenpress, May 3)

In Nicaragua, there were two opposing May Day marches, together drawing about 4,000 people. One march was headed by rightwing President Enrique Bolanos; the other was led by leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) founder and leader Tomas Borge. (EFE, May 2; LJ, May 2 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

For the second year in a row, thousands of workers and students marched on May 1 in San Jose, Costa Rica to demand that the government reject DR-CAFTA. This year there were no clashes or incidents. (La Nacion, Costa Rica, May 2; EFE, May 1)

On April 26, Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco announced that he would designate a commission of five “notables”–supposedly with no political, business or union affiliations–to study DR-CAFTA and make a recommendation which will help him decide whether or not to send the measure to Congress for approval. On May 5, Pacheco designated the commission’s first member, Franklin Chang, a US astronaut of Costa Rican descent. Pacheco said that once he gets the report from the commission he will proceed in accordance with his conscience. (La Republica, Costa Rica, May 6)

Thousands of workers and students marched in Panama City to protest proposed social security “reforms,” demand an increase in the minimum wage, and condemn government corruption. (EFE, May 2) As the march ended, three agents from the National Police arrested Carlos Obaldia, finance secretary of the Single Union of Construction and Similar Workers (SUNTRACS), a combative union which has been active in the struggle against the privatization of social security. Obaldia was released after a half hour; he said police claimed they arrested him for painting graffiti, though he denied doing so. (La Prensa, Panama, May 2)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 8


On May 1 in the northern Dominican Republic city of Santiago, transport workers marched with members of neighborhood and grassroots organizations to protest the government’s economic policies and DR-CAFTA. The march was organized by the Alternative Social Forum of the Northern Region, whose spokesperson, Victor Breton, warned that DR-CAFTA will deepen the economic crisis affecting Dominican farmers. Breton noted that “thousands” of workers have been laid off from the country’s “free trade zones,” tourism is down and unemployment is at its highest rate in years. Fidel Santana, general spokesperson of the Alternative Social Forum, also spoke at the march, saying that DR-CAFTA will make Dominicans poorer. Hundreds of workers from the northern region took part in the march in Santiago, which was joined by a delegation of grassroots leaders from Santo Domingo. (EFE, May 1)

The Dominican Senate has conditioned its approval of DR-CAFTA on a series of compensatory measures for national producers, who will be unable to compete with the other treaty partners. On May 3, a mission of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which was in the Dominican Republic to evaluate an accord signed with the government last January, recommended a fiscal reform to recover the income which the country will lose when DR-CAFTA takes effect. (Hoy, NY, May 6 from wire services)

The Alternative Social Forum, which groups more than 50 union and grassroots organizations from throughout the Dominican Republic, organized a mass march to the National Palace in Santo Domingo on April 20 to protest DR-CAFTA and put forth alternative economic proposals. The march was blocked by a heavy police and military presence. The Forum also organized a picket on April 28 outside the National Social Security Council to protest the privatization of health care and demand that the government continue to provide medical insurance to Dominican workers. (Hoy, NY, April 29)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 8

Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #109


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