Honduran activist Nelson Noe García Lainez was murdered March 15, becoming the second member of the indigenous environmental group COPINH to be shot to death in the country over the last two weeks. He was gunned down at his home in the Rio Lindo community, Francisco de Yojoa municipality, Cortés department—12 days after the shooting death of COPINH co-founder Berta Cáceres. COPINH said that García was shot upon arriving home after a violent eviction by Military Police of a peasant community on disputed lands at Río Chiquito, in nearby Omoa municipality. A statement by the National Police said the slaying was unrelated to the eviction and the matter is under investigation. The community at Río Chiquito was established two years ago to reclaim lands that local peasants say were fraudulently taken by landlords with the complicty of corrupt officials. Human rights groups in Honduras and around the world have demanded the protection of COPINH members since the assassination of Cáceres. (COHA, March 16; TeleSur, El Heraldo, Tegucigalpa, El Tiempo, San Pedro Sula, March 15)
The fetish for hacking apostates to death on the Subcontinent has spread from the jihadis to the Hindu-fundamentalist competition... In another case of mounting caste violence in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, a newly-wed couple was beaten in full public view in the town of Udumalpet on March 13—and the man then hacked to death. Times of India reports the attackers were the woman's relatives. The local police commissioner said her family was angered by the couple's marriage: "They married some eight months ago and the woman's family was unhappy. She is an upper Thevar Hindu caste and the man was a Dalit." (First Post, March 14) The Dalits are India's lowest caste, the so-called "untouchables."
A retired lieutenant colonel and a former paramilitary were sentenced to 120 years and 240 years in prison, respectively, for sexual slavery and other crimes against humanity during Guatemala's civil war. In a Feb. 26 ruling, Judge Jazmin Barrios found that the actions of retired Lt. Col. Esteelmer Francisco Reyes Girón and former paramilitary Heriberto Valdez Asij did "irreparable harm." Reyes and Valdez were tried for murder, forced disappearances and the sexual enslavement of multiple women. The court also found that the women's husbands and children had been forcibly disappeared.
Colombia's Constitutional Court on Feb. 7 revoked all licenses granted to companies that sought to carry out mining activities on páramos, the high alpine meadows that protect watersheds. The ruling overturns Article 173 of the government's new National Development Plan (PND), which allowed 347 existing licenses in the alpine zones to move ahead, although barring the issuing of new ones. The ruling also struck down provisions of the PND that barred victims of the country's armed conflict from reclaiming usurped lands that had been converted into so-called "Projects of Strategic National Interest" (PINE). Additionally, the court overturned a third article that allowed the government to forcibly expropriate privately-owned land for mega-projects. The decision is seen as a blow to the ambitions of Vice President Germán Vargas Lleras, mastermind of the PND. The case was brought by the left-opposition Polo Democrática. (Colombia Reports, El Tiempo, Equilibrio Informativo, El Heraldo, Barranquilla, Feb. 9; El Espectador, RCN Radio, Feb. 8; Silla Vacía, Feb. 7)
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos is to meet at the White House with Barack Obama Feb. 4 to mark 15 years since the initiation of the Plan Colombia aid package, amid signs of hope that the South American country's 50-year armed conflict is winding down. The two are expected to discuss what the Colombian press is calling a new "Plan Colombia" for the post-conflict era, with aid focused on rebuilding, removing landmines and implementing the peace accords—drawing parallels with the post-war Marshall Plan in Europe. "I think there's a real prospect for success and signing of a peace accord this year, hopefully within the first half of this year," said Bernard Aronson, the US envoy to the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas. But Colombia's Defense Ministry also issued a statement calling for new military aid—this time to combat the outlaw right-wing paramilitary groups, known in official parlance as "Bacrim" for "criminal bands." (Reuters, Feb. 3; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 31; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 30)
Israel is set to declare 1,500 dunams (370 acres) of land in the occupied West Bank district of Jericho as "state land," Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced Jan. 20. The plans were revealed earlier in the day by Israeli Army Radio, which said the land was located north of the illegal Israeli settlement of Almog and had been used by settlers over the past 20 years. COGAT confirmed the plans were in their "final stages," and said they were in accordance with a political ratification. Israeli Army Radio reportedly said: "This is a very sensitive issue which will likely garner harsh critique from Europe and the United States, and of course from the Palestinian Authority." The move is the largest declaration of "state land" since August 2014, when Israel claimed 4,000 dunams (988 acres) of land near the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, sparking international outcry.
Ecuador's National Assembly on Jan. 7 approved a new Law on Rural Lands and Ancestral Territories by a vote of 98 in favor, three against and 23 abstentions. Celebrating the law's passage, National Assembly president Gabriela Rivadeneira said, "The land must belong to those who work it." The law instates incentives for land to be used productively, and allows for the expropriation of idle estates. It creates a National Land Authority to redistribute plots among rural families and small and medium producers, provide credit and technical assistance, build irrigation infrastructure, and oversee conflict resolution. Carlos Viteri, president of the National Assembly's Specialized Permanent Committee for Biodiversity and member of the ruling PAIS Alliance, hailed the law as "a symbol of the transformation of the country." Viteri, an indigenous Kichwa leader from the Amazon region, added that the reform will eliminate the legacy of previous land laws, which allowed a few families to concentrate ownership at the expense of campesinos and small farmers.
A group of self-styled "militiamen" made headlines over the weekend when they took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters building in eastern Oregon's Harney Basin. They are evidently led by Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher known for his 2014 standoff with the federal government (over unpaid grazing fees to the Bureau of Land Management). They say they are acting on behalf of Dwight and Steven Hammond, father and son of a local ranching family, who were sentenced to five years in prison for setting a fire on BLM land after the Ninth Circuit upheld the mandatory minimum for arson on federal lands. By various accounts, the fire was ostensibly set to clear invasive plants, or as a "backfire" (or "controlled burn") to keep a brush-fire from spreading to their property. But the Justice Department press release on the sentencing portrays a reckless act intentionally designed as a provocation to the feds. In any case, the Hammonds don't seem too enthusiastic about the action taken on their behalf. The right-wing militant Idaho 3 Percent was instrumental in the take-over, according to an early account on Central Oregon's KTVZ.