Central America Theater
Four US-based organizations with programs centered on El Salvador were set to deliver a petition to the US State Department on June 6 with the signatures of some 1,000 US citizens opposing what the groups called the "intrusion of the [US] embassy in the sovereign politics of this country." At issue was an indication by US ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte that the US may withhold $277 million slated for the second phase of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) aid program if the Salvadoran Agriculture Ministry continues its current practice of buying seeds from small-scale Salvadoran producers for its Family Agriculture Plan. The US organizations—the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), US–El Salvador Sister Cities, the SHARE Foundation, and Joining Hands El Salvador Network (RUMES)—charged that the US threat was made "with clear intentions to advance the interests of transnational agricultural companies."
On May 8 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), the human rights agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), ordered a series of protective measures for 123 leaders of campesino movements struggling for land in the Lower Aguán River Valley in northern Honduras. The campesino organizations filed a request for the protection orders last October with the assistance of the North American nonprofit Rights Action, which reported that as of July 2013 a total of 104 campesinos had been killed since 2009 in ongoing disputes with large landowners in the region. In March of this year the CIDH asked the Honduran government for information on what steps it was taking to end the bloodshed; the government reportedly failed to respond. (Adital, Brazil, May 23)
The Congress of the Republic of Guatemala on May 13 approved a non-binding resolution denying any existence of genocide during the civil war lasting from 1960-1996. The resolution calls for national reconciliation and states: "It is legally impossible...that genocide could have occurred in our country's territory during the armed conflict." The Movement of Victims of Northern Quiche allege that more than 250,000 people were killed during the civil war, predominately Mayan indigenous people. Guatemala's Congress approved the measure with 87 of the 158 members voting in favor, after the secretary general Luis Fernando Pérez proposed the resolution. Pérez is a legislator for the party founded by ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who was convicted of genocide in May 2013.
Heavily armed men employed by the son of a local landowner shot five indigenous Q'eqchi' on April 7 in the community of Nueve de Febrero, Cobán municipality, in the northeastern Guatemalan department of Alta Verapaz, according to community residents. The wounded Q'eqchi' were taken by ambulance to the national hospital in Cobán; one died from his injuries on April 20. Residents say the attackers were under the command of Augusto Sandino Ponce, son of landowner David Leonel Ponce Ramírez. The Ponces are said to be linked to a project by Hidroeléctrica Santa Rita SA company to build a dam at Monte Olivo. The Nueve de Febrero community has been active in opposition to the dam for the past two years.
Central America's rainforests are being destroyed by drug traffickers who cut roads and airstirps on officially protected lands, according to a paper in the journal Science. The phenomenon, called "narco-deforestation," is occurring across large swaths of Guatemala and Honduras, and perhaps elsewhere. Erik Nielsen, an assistant professor in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University, said: "Not only are societies being ripped apart, but forests are being ripped apart." He added that cattle ranches are being established on cleared land as fronts to launder drug money.
Honduran journalist Carlos Hilario Mejía Orellana was stabbed to death the night of April 11 at his home in the city of Progreso, in the northern department of Yoro. Mejía was the marketing executive for Radio Progreso, a community radio station established by Jesuits, and was also a member of the Jesuits' Reflection, Investigation and Communications Team (ERIC). Police investigators suggested that he was killed by someone close to him in a "crime of passion," but the radio station's director, the Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno, called the murder "a direct attack not only on the life of our colleague, but a frontal attack on the work produced by Radio Progreso." The station, which provided favorable coverage of resistance to the June 2009 military coup that overthrew then-president José Manuel ("Mel") Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), has been the target of threats over the years. The Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), called on the Honduran government in 2009—and again in 2010 and 2011—to provide protection for 16 Radio Progreso staffers, including Mejía.
A US immigration judge has ruled that former Salvadoran defense minister José Guillermo García Merino (1979-1983) is eligible for deportation from the US because of "clear and convincing evidence" that he "assisted or otherwise participated" in 11 acts of violence during the 1980s, including the March 1980 murder of San Salvador archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero. Gen. García also helped conceal the involvement of soldiers who raped and killed four US churchwomen in December 1980 and "knew or should have known" about the military's December 1981 massacre of more than 800 civilians in the village of El Mozote, according to the 66-page decision by Immigration Judge Michael Horn in Miami. The judge ruled against García on Feb. 26, but the decision was only made public on April 11 as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the New York Times. García’s lawyer said the general would appeal.
On March 25 a Tegucigalpa court convicted three men in the May 2012 murder of Honduran journalist Angel Alfredo Villatoro Rivera. Marvin Alonso Gómez and the brothers Osman Fernando and Edgar Francisco Osorio Argujo are scheduled to be sentenced on April 25; prison terms could range from 40 years to life. At least 40 Honduran journalists have been murdered in the past decade, with few convictions. Cases include the July 2013 kidnapping and murder of television journalist Aníbal Barrow and the October 2013 shooting death of Globo TV camera operator Manuel Murillo Varela. The French-based organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks Honduras 129th out of 180 countries in its 2014 press freedom index. (Thomas Reuters Foundation, March 28; IFEX, March 31)