Central America
Guatemala congress

Guatemala: protesters set fire to Congress building

Thousands protested in Guatemala’s capital against a newly approved 2021 national budget that imposes deep cuts in funding for health care, education and programs to combat malnutrition—at a time when the country is hit hard by natural disasters and COVID-19. One breakaway group of protesters hurled improvised incendiary devices at the Congress building, setting it on fire. Police used batons and tear-gas to push protesters back, attacking not only the some 1,000 in front of Congress but also a much larger demonstration in front of the National Palace. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned what it called an “excessive use of force” by the National Civil Police, while the government of President Alejandro Giammattei accused the protesters of “terrorist acts” that will be “punished with the full force of the law.” (Photo via Prensa Libre)

Central America
Hurricane Eta

Villagers abandoned in Eta’s deadly aftermath

Some 150 are dead, with remote indigenous and campesino communities left stricken and without aid, a week after Hurricane Eta tore through Central America. Eta made landfall south of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, as a Category 4 storm. Two gĂĽiriseros, or artisanal gold-miners, were among the first killed, as a landslide inundated the mining camp of Tigre Norte in Bonanza municipality of Nicargua’s North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. Far worse was follow in Guatemala, where officials have called off the search for dozens believed to have been buried when a mountainside collapsed, engulfing the hamlet of Queja. Ovidio Choc, mayor of San Cristobal Verapaz municipality, said the site of Queja will probably be declared a cemetery. Elsewhere in Guatemala’s Maya Highlands, villagers have had to mobilize their own rescue and recovery efforts, effectively abandoned by the government. (Map: National Hurricane Center)

Central America
Maria Elena Cuadra Movement

Nicaragua: sweeps target opposition activists

Over 30 opposition figures were detained by the National Police in nationwide sweeps across Nicaragua. Most were released after questioning, but some are still being held. The majority of the detained were members of a newly formed opposition body, the National Coalition, which brings together three political parties and several dissident organizations. Among the detained were 17 indigenous Rama and Kriol (Afro-Nicaraguan) activists from the Caribbean coast, including Kriol environmentalist Princess Barberena and Jaime McCrea Williams, president of the Territorial Government of Rama & Kriol. In Managua, police surrounded the offices of the Maria Elena Cuadra Movement, which advocates for the rights of working women, and interrogated the group’s representative Sandra Ramos when she arrived on the scene. Ramos told reporters she believed the group was targeted for its work representing the mothers of political prisoners since the protest wave of 2018. “We’re not a terrorist organization or anything resembling one,” said Ramos. “We’re a shitload of women who defend other women.” (Photo of Sandra Ramos confronting police via Nicaragua Confidencial)

Central America
Cubilguitz

Maya villagers attacked by gunmen in Guatemala

Q’eqchi Maya campesinos in Guatemala’s central Alta Verapaz department were attacked by a group of unknown gunmen who violently evicted them from their homes before setting them to the torch. At least 40 families lost their homes in the attack at the hamlet of Balbatzul, in Cobán municipality. President Alejandro Giammattei said National Civil Police troops have taken control of the hamlet, and the FiscalĂ­a has opened an investigation. Some of the targetted homes were on occupied lands of a large farm, Finca Cubilguitz, which appears to have been at issue in the conflict. Local campesinos moved onto the lands last year, but leadership of the occupation has been contested between followers of the Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC) and ex-guerilla commander CĂ©sar Montes. (Photo: CUC)

Central America
el-salvador-jesuit-priests-murder

Ex-Salvador military officer goes on trial in Spain

A former Salvador military commander, Inocente Montano, went on trial in Spain, accused of ordering the murder of six Spanish Jesuit priests in 1989. Two Salvadoran women were also killed in the incident. Montano was formerly held in the US, but was extradited to Spain in 2017. Ex-colonel Montano was vice-minister of public security in El Salvador during its civil war from 1979-1992. Montano commanded troops believed to be responsible for at least 1,169 human rights violations. Additionally, prosecutors believe Montano was part of the paramilitary group La Tandona that carried out extrajudicial executions. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Central America
Jesuit massacre

US sanctions ex-soldiers for 1989 Salvador killings

The US State Department announced sanctions against 13 former Salvadoran military officials for their involvement in the 1989 killings of eight individuals. The former officials were found to be implicated in gross human rights violations when they planned and carried out the extrajudicial execution of six Jesuit priests and two others on the campus of Central American University in El Salvador on Nov. 16, 1989. (Image: Salt and Light Media)

Central America

Indigenous rainforest dwellers massacred in Nicaragua

Six members of the Mayagna indigenous people are dead and another 10 missing following an attack by gunmen on a community within the UN-recognized Bosawás Biosphere Reserve in Nicaragua’s eastern rainforest. The autonomous Mayagna Territorial Government reported that some 80 armed men entered the community, firing indiscriminately on residents and setting homes on fire. The statement described the assailants as colonos, or peasant colonists who have been invading the reserve in growing numbers, illegally clearing forest and settling on indigenous lands. (Photo: Global Justice Ecology Project)

Central America
Costa Rica protest

Student strikes shake Costa Rica

A mass student protest filled the streets of San JosĂ©, opposing new budgetary terms being imposed on Costa Rica’s public universities. The demonstration, which was also attended by staff and even rectors of the universities, was called after the Ministry of Finance ordered an increase in the percentage of the Special Fund for Higher Education (FEES) that goes to capital expenditures—which effectively means a cut in salaries for teachers and staff. Banners read “The education of our children is not up for negotiation” and “Hands off the UCR,” a reference to the University of Costa Rica. University authorities and students did meet for several hours with government officials after the march in search of an agreement, while thousands of supporters maintained a vigil outside the presidential palace. President Carlos Alvarado, elected as leftist last year but now accused of imposing a neoliberal program, was among those who met with the protest leaders. (Photo: Poder Popular)

Central America
Honduras protest

Honduras: uprising against narco-president

Militant protests have swept through Honduras since the conviction by a federal jury in New York of the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernández on narco-trafficking charges. Thousands have filled the streets of cities and towns across the Central American country to demand the resignation of Hernández. Protesters have repeatedly blocked traffic arteries, erecting barricades with stones and flaming tires. A police transport truck was set on fire in Tegucigalpa. Opposition leader Salvador Nasralla of the Anticorruption Party has thrown his support behind the protests and called on the security forces to stand down, invoking a “right to insurrection” in Article 3 of the Honduran constitution. (Photo via AMW)

Central America
Diana Isabel Hernández

Environmental defender slain in Guatemala

Environmental activist Diana Isabel Hernández was slain in an attack by armed men on a religious procession in her community of Monte Gloria,  in the Guatemalan department of SuchitepĂ©quez. Hernández was a leader of the Mujeres Madre Tierra Association, a group linked to the local Catholic church that worked to protect forests and promote organic agriculture. The Alianza por la Solidaridad human rights network denounced the slaying as a “cowardly murder that adds to the many cases of attacks on leaders who work for the common good.” The network counts 16 social leaders assassinated in Guatemala last year—compared to three in 2017. (Photo via InfoLibre)

Central America

Nicaragua approves police amnesty law

Nicaragua’s Congress approved an amnesty law that will offer protection to police and others involved in crimes against anti-government protesters over the past year. According to rights groups, more than 700 people were arrested in demonstrations that erupted in April 2018 when President Daniel Ortega tried to cut social security benefits. More than 300 mostly opposition protesters died in clashes with security forces, while more than 60,000 Nicaraguans have gone into exile due to political strife over the last 14 months. The new law was approved by 70 votes from Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in the 92-member chamber. It also allows for the release of detainees arrested during the protests, despite the fact that Ortega labelled them “terrorists.” The new law has faced harsh criticism from human rights groups and the UN. (Photo via InSight Crime)

Central America

Central America climate crisis fuels migration

Commentators have noted the roots of the current massive migration from Central America in the political economy of the free trade order. The US-led repression and counter-insurgency in the isthmus in the 1980s allowed the imposition of “free trade” or “neoliberal” regimes in the generation since then—culminating in the passage of CAFTA. This, in turn, has exacerbated the expropriation from the peasantry of their traditional lands by agribusiness and agro-export oligarchies. But this dynamic is now being augmented by factors related to political ecology—the degradation of the land itself due to climate destabilization. (Photo: IOM)