'Drug war' dissent at OAS summit

More than 160 civil society organizations—claiming representation of hundreds of thousands of citizens in Mexico, Central America and the United States—sent an open letter to the OAS General Assembly meeting in the Guatemalan city of Antigua this week,  calling for alternatives to the so-called "war on drugs" that guarantee respect for human rights. "Our organizations have documented an alarming increase in violence and human rights violations," the letter states. "While we recognize that transnational crime and drug-trafficking play a role in this violence, we call on our governments to acknowledge that failed security policies that have militarized citizen security have only exacerbated the problem, and are directly contributing to increased human suffering in the region."

Nicaragua: Korean firm accused in attack on maquila workers

According to a report by a US-based labor rights monitoring group, the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), managers employed by the major Korean apparel firm Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd orchestrated an attack on laid-off Nicaraguan unionists and their supporters on March 4 at two of the company's plants in a "free trade zone" in Tipitapa municipality, Managua department. Sae-A supervisors reportedly promised workers 100 córdobas (about US$4.04), a production bonus and a free lunch if they broke up a rally and leafleting that about 30 workers were holding outside the two factories, EINS and Tecnotex, at the start of the workday. Some 300-350 workers came out of the plants and attacked the protesting unionists with metal pipes, belts and scissors, the WRC says, while police agents and plant security guards on the scene did nothing to stop the violence.

Nicaragua raises stakes in border conflict

Edén Pastora, the Nicaraguan government official responsible for the dredging project on the Río San Juan—seen as a step towards a Nicaraguan inter-oceanic canal— confirmed to local media Feb. 6 that Managua has asked the International Court of Justice at The Hague for navigation rights on the Río Colorado, located entirely within Costa Rican territory. "This government of Daniel Ortega...applies the logic of  'what's good for the goose is good for the gander,'" he told Managua's Channel 15 TV. "if [Costa Rica] can navigate our waters, why can't we travel the waters of the Río Colorado, if 90% of its water is from the Río San Juan?" This is a reference to the fact that the Colorado is a branch of the San Juan, which is claimed in its entirety by Nicaragua—despite a pending case at The Hague over disputed islands.

Panama Canal expansion fuels inter-oceanic race

The $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal—the strategic waterway that now handles 14,000 vessels a year, or 5% of world trade—will be ready for commercial shipping later than originally planned, the Panama Canal Authority admitted Jan. 17. Widening and deepening of the 80-kilometer passage will be completed by June 2015, six months later than first intended, the Authority’s administrator Jorge Luis Quijano said (Bloomberg, Jan. 17) The expanded canal will be able to handle so-called "post-Panamax" scale ships, which are the length of aircraft carriers. The US Army Corps of Engineers estimates that US ports such as Miami are now spending up to $8 billion a year in federal, local and private money to modernize in response to the canal expansion, which experts call a "game changer."  CSX is planning to build a new $90 million rail transfer facility at Baltimore that will allow  cargo trains to be loaded a few miles from the port, while the Norfolk Southern line is blasting through Appalachian passes in West Virginia and Kentucky to allow expanded freight shipments. (Memphis Commercial Appeal, Jan. 14)

Honduras: deadly DEA raid —again

At least one suspected drug trafficker was killed Jan. 16 in the first US-supported drug raid in Honduras following a five-month suspension in radar intelligence sharing between the countries, authorities said. The Honduran navy said that one of three Jamaican men on a speedboat carrying 350 kilograms of cocaine died when a Honduran coast guard vessel rammed the craft before dawn about four kilometers off the country's north coast. A contingent of DEA agents was apparently on board the Honduran naval craft. Rear Adm. Rigoberto Espinal said one of the Jamaicans jumped into the sea and disappeared, and his fate had not been confirmed. The third man was detained, and interrogated by the DEA. The radar cooperation was halted after the Honduran air force shot down two suspected drug planes in violation of agreements with Washington designed to prevent deaths in such operations. (AP, Jan. 17; NYT, Sept. 7)

Canal intrigues behind Nicaragua border disputes

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced Dec. 3 that his nation's ships are already exercising sovereignty over resource-rich Caribbean waters claimed by Colombia but granted to the Central American nation by the World Court last week. "At midnight on Sunday [Dec. 2] our ships sailed, they sailed to the recovered area, and by now they have established sovereignty in that whole territory," Ortega said in a message on television and radio. (Reuters, Nov. 26) The ships actually appear to be fishing boats, as Nicaragua has virtually no naval forces—while Colombia has dispatched warships into the disputed waters. Nicaraguan fishing boat captains told the English-language Nicaragua Dispatch that they are "fishing with fear" in the disputed waters beyond the 82nd meridian. "We are doing our part to support the government," said Carlos Javier Goff, president of the Copescharley fishing company out of Puerto Cabezas.  "We feel protected by the government and by the international community and, God willing, this won't go to extremes… it won't get beyond words and intimidation."

Colombia: war with Nicaragua 'last resort'

The presidents of both Colombia and Nicaragua on Dec. 1 expressed hope for avoiding war and using dialogue to resolve a territorial and maritime dispute following a recent ruling (ruling) on the issue by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ ended the dispute between the two nations by ruling that Colombia has sovereignty over a group of small islands in the western Caribbean, while Nicaragua has control over a large amount of the surrounding sea and seabed. Following the ruling Colombia withdrew  from the treaty binding the country to the ICJ's decisions. Both countries have placed warships in the disputed waters. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega stated that his country is discarding the use of force as an option and would use communication to achieve peace. Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos stated that war is a "last resort," and the way to fix the situation is through dialogue. Santos also stated that Colombia would seek to overturn the decision. Colombians have been protesting the ruling, staging nationwide marches.

Colombia rejects Hague ruling in Nicaragua maritime dispute

The International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled Nov. 19 that a cluster of disputed islets off Central America's Caribbean coast belong to Colombia and not to Nicaragua—but drew a demarcation line in favor of Nicaragua in the disputed waters. The move immedaitely sparked protests in cities across Colombia, including Medellín, Cali and Cartagena. Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos flew to the island of San Andrés, the seat of the disputed archipelago, to support protests there. Slogans included "The fatherland is not for sale," "Why should we quit our sea?," and "ICJ, how much did the multinations give you for this ruling?" 

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