from Weekly News Update on the Americas


Some 25,000 Costa Ricans marched in San Jose on Nov. 17 in what organizers said would be the first of several mobilizations against the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). The protest was organized by a broad coalition including unions, campesino organizations, and student, environmental and artistic groups. The three-hour demonstration, which featured music, street theater and clowns, ended at the Legislative Assembly building. The protesters said the pact will result in the dismantling of the social welfare state that Costa Rica built up starting in 1950. Many signs criticized former president Oscar Arias, winner of the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize. Arias, a strong supporter of DR-CAFTA, is running in next February’s presidential election.

Costa Rica signed DR-CAFTA with the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the US in May 2004. The legislatures of the other signatories have all approved the pact, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, but Costa Rican president Abel Pacheco didn’t send the accord to the Legislative Assembly until Oct. 21. Debate on the measure isn’t expected to start until Feb. 15. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Nov. 18 from AFP)

At a press conference on Nov. 16, the day before the protest, Ana Cecilia Jimenez, president of the non-governmental Costa Rican Human Rights Commission (CODEHU), accused the government of violating the protesters’ human rights. She cited reports that the Security Ministry had “parallel files” on some student leaders who had been organizing demonstrations against DR-CAFTA. “Parallel files” are illegal in Costa Rica, since they contain private personal information on people who have not committed any crime, Jimenez said. Police agents also filmed students meeting at the student center at the state-run National University of Costa Rica (UCR). This constituted a violation of their privacy rights, according to Jimenez, because the center isn’t a public space.

The media’s failure to cover opposition to the accord was also a human rights violation, an “attack on the right to information and of free expression,” Jimenez said. “The problem is that the information the people get is coming only from one side. They don’t know the negative consequences of the DR-CAFTA, for example, that it means an opening of telecommunications and insurance to the free market.” (La Nacion, Costa Rica, Nov. 16 from ACAN-EFE)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 20


On Nov. 18, a nine-member federal jury in Memphis, Tennessee, found former Salvadoran deputy defense minister Col. Nicolas Carranza responsible for torture, extrajudicial executions and additional crimes carried out by soldiers under his authority during the 1980-1992 civil war in El Salvador. The jury ordered him to pay a total of $2 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages; each of the four plaintiffs is to receive $1.5 million. The suit was brought by the Center for Justice and Accountability; the civil trial began on Oct. 31.

Carranza was deputy defense minister 1979-1981 and head of the now disbanded Treasury Police 1983-1984. In 1985 he moved to Memphis, where he worked as a security guard; in 1991 he became a US citizen. During the civil trial he testified that he had worked as an informant for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for 20 years, including the time the crimes were committed. Blaming the crimes on former defense minister Gen. Jose Guillermo Garcia, Carranza said the only “stain” on his career was his work for the CIA. US officials told the New York Times in 1984 that the CIA was paying Carranza $90,000 a year. (La Nacion, Costa Rica, Nov. 18 from EFE; NYT, Nov. 19, 2005; March 22, 1984)

This was the third major suit against high-ranking Salvadoran officers in US courts. In September 2004 a federal judge in California ordered former Air Force captain Alvaro Saravia to pay $10 million for his role in the 1980 murder of San Salvador archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero. In July 2002 a Miami jury ordered Gen. Garcia and former National Guard head Gen. Eugenio Vides Casanova to pay $54 million (La Nacion, Nov. 18 from EFE); however, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned that ruling on a technicality in February of this year.

Center for Justice and Accountability: http://www.cja.org

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 20


The New York Times reported on Nov. 21 that during the summer the Guatemalan human rights ombudsperson’s office discovered the complete files of the disbanded National Police in a munitions depot near the center of Guatemala City. Kate Doyle, director of the Guatemala Project at the DC-based nonprofit National Security Archive, said this was the largest discovery of secret government documents in Latin America. The files, going back more than 100 years, include references to the 1990 assassination of Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack, the 1980 assassination of Belgian priest Walter Voordeckers and the 1982 disappearance of Serge Berten, another Belgian citizen, according to Gustavo Meono, the head investigator for the ombudsperson’s office.

Long known to be involved in human rights abuses during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war, the National Police was disbanded in 1996 as part of the peace process that ended the fighting. At the time, then-president Alvaro Arzu’s government told a peace commission that the files no longer existed. Human rights investigators say that the Arzu government and all governments since must have known that the files hadn’t been destroyed. (NYT, Nov. 21)


US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents arrested Guatemala’s top anti-drug police official along with two other officers in Virginia on Nov. 15 as they arrived in the US for what they expected to be DEA training to fight drug traffickers. The three were Adan Castillo, head of the Anti-Narcotic Analysis and Information Service (SAIA); SAIA deputy head Jorge Aguilar Garcia; and Rubilio Orlando Palacios, SAIA head for the Caribbean port of Santo Tomas de Castilla. On Nov. 16 a federal grand jury in Washington, DC issued an indictment against the three Guatemalans for three counts of conspiring to import and distribute cocaine inside the US. They pleaded innocent and were held without bail. Guatemalan interior minister Carlos Vielman said Guatemala and the US had collaborated on the investigation for five months at “the highest level.” (Washington Post, Nov. 16 from AP; El Diario-La Prensa, Nov. 17 from AFP)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 27


Workers at the San Martin open-pit gold mine in San Ignacio in the Honduran department of Francisco Morazan ended their week-long occupation of the facility’s entry and exit points on Nov. 1 after the company, Minerales Entre Mares de Honduras, S.A., backed down from its plan to lay off the 27 workers from the crushing department. The year-old Minerales Entre Mares de Honduras, S.A. Workers’ Union (SITRAMEMHSA) started the job action on Oct. 25 to stop the layoffs and to enforce provisions of a contract the union signed with the company, a subsidiary of the US-Canadian transnational Glamis Gold Ltd.

The US-Canadian nonprofit group Rights Action reports that three of the crushing department workers were suffering from respiratory, stomach and bone problems, presumably because of their contact with cyanide, which is used in processing the pulverized material. There are also indications that the cyanide is affecting local water supplies. Workers say that during heavy rains recently, the company was pumping water 24 hours a day from an artificial lake into the Guanijiquil stream, which feeds into the Playa river, one of the few water sources for irrigation in the valley. Although the workers are not sure the water is contaminated in the lake, which the company created recently, they call it “Ducks’ Lake” because ducks die when they settle down on the water. (Rights Action, Nov. 2)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 7


In a decision dated Nov. 10, US Judge Nora Manella of the Central District Court in California ruled that a decision from Nicaraguan courts had no bearing on a suit 466 Nicaraguan former banana workers brought in US federal courts against the US-based Shell Oil Company for compensation for damages they said they suffered as a result of prolonged and unprotected exposure to the pesticide Nemagon (dibromo chloropropane, DBCP). According to Manella, Nicaraguan courts have no jurisdiction over Shell Oil and Nicaragua does not have an impartial justice system.

In December 2002 a Nicaraguan court ordered Shell Oil, Dow Chemical, Standard Fruit/Dole Food Company to pay the former banana workers a total of $489.4 million; the decision was based on Nicaragua’s Special Law 364. The former banana workers brought the suit against Shell in US courts in November 2003; they sued the other companies at about the same time. The companies brought a countersuit in December 2002 and January 2003. Humberto Hurtado, an attorney for Dole, said he expects a favorable ruling for the other companies because of Manella’s decision in the Shell case. The decision also means that it is “impossible” for similar suits by farm workers in Colombia and Ecuador to proceed, according to Hurtado. (La Prensa, Managua, Nov. 25)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 27


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #115

From our weblog:

Guatemalan drug czar busted

Nicaragua-Costa Rica tensions over strategic canal route


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution