Friday, February 20, 2015

Central America "Aid" Won't Slow Migration

If we want Central Americans to have the right to stay home and make change in their own communities, we'll have to - at the very least - stop making things worse for them with unfair trade pacts and military "aid."

By Jane Guskin and David L. Wilson, Truthout
February 20, 2015

Photo: Cristina Chiquin, Mujeres Ixchel
On January 29, the Obama administration announced a proposal to provide $1 billion in aid to help El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras "address the lack of economic opportunity, the absence of strong institutions, and the extreme levels of violence that have held the region back at a time of prosperity for the rest of the Western Hemisphere."

According to an op-ed by Vice President Joe Biden in The New York Times the same day, these measures are needed to prevent problems like "the dangerous surge in migration" that occurred "last summer when thousands of unaccompanied children showed up on our southwestern border."[...]

Read the full article:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

WNU #1255: Panama Dam Construction Suspended

Issue #1254, February 15, 2015

1. Panama: Barro Blanco Dam Construction Suspended
2. Honduras: AFL-CIO Blames Trade Policies for Crisis
3. Mexico: UN Criticizes Officials on Disappearances
4. Haiti: New General Strike Shuts Down Capital
5. Dominican Republic: Was Haitian Man Lynched?
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Central America, El Salvador, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US/immigration

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. It is archived at For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

Note: As we announced last month, this will be the last regular issue of the Update. We want to thank all the people who have helped over the past 25 years by writing, researching, aiding in distribution and circulation, and sending financial contributions. We plan to go on using the Update's Twitter account (@WeeklyNewsUpdat) for now, and we'll occasionally post items to the Update blog and email list, along with links to stories in other media.

We encourage our readers to keep up to date with news from the Americas through the many English-language publications now covering the region. Twelve are listed below after the links to alternative sources.

*1. Panama: Barro Blanco Dam Construction Suspended
Panamanian vice president and foreign minister Isabel Saint Malo de Alvarado announced on Feb. 9 that the country’s National Environmental Authority (ANAM) had ordered the temporary suspension of work on the $130 million Barro Blanco hydroelectric project, which is being built on the Tabasará river in the western province of Chiriquí [see Update #1254]. ANAM attributed the suspension to the owners’ failure to comply with requirements in an environmental impact study, including those for clear agreements with the affected communities and for a plan approved by the National Culture Institute (INAC) to protect archeological objects likely to be flooded because of the dam. ANAM officials also cited the owners’ handling of hazardous waste without an environmental impact study and the lack of a plan for the management of sediments.

The suspension came four days before preliminary talks between the government and representatives of the Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous group, which opposes the Barro Blanco project. The Feb. 13 talks were in preparation for a formal dialogue scheduled for Feb. 24. The two parties are seeking “a consensus that takes into account human rights, the protection of the original peoples, the environment [and] sustainable development,” Governance Minister Milton Henríquez said on Feb. 12. The government has invited United Nations (UN) representatives to participate in the discussions. However, the UN itself has come under criticism from international environmental groups for the decision of its Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to approve the project. Eva Filzmoser, the director of the Brussels-based Carbon Market Watch, charged on Feb. 10 that the CDM board “approved Barro Blanco when it was clear that the dam would flood the homes of numerous indigenous families. This decision is a warning signal that safeguards must be introduced to protect human rights, including robust stakeholder consultations and a grievance mechanism.” (La Estrella de Panamá 2/9/15, 2/13/15; Intercontinental Cry 2/10/15)

*2. Honduras: AFL-CIO Blames Trade Policies for Crisis
US political and trade policies “play a major role” in worsening the poverty and violence that are root causes of unauthorized immigration to the US by Hondurans, according to a report released by the AFL-CIO, the main US labor federation, on Jan. 12. The report, “Trade, Violence and Migration: The Broken Promises to Honduran Workers,” grew out of the experiences of a delegation the union group sent to Honduras in October following a sharp increase in migration from the country by unaccompanied minors the previous spring [see Update #1254]. The report notes that Honduras is now “the most unequal country in Latin America,” with an increase in poverty by 4.5 percentage points from 2006 to 2013. “[T]he percentage of those working full time but receiving less than the minimum wage has gone up by nearly 30%,” according to the report.

One cause of poverty and violence in Honduras, according to the report, was the June 2009 coup that removed former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), with only token objections from the US government. “Since the 2009 coup, the ruling governments have failed to respect worker and human rights or create decent work, and instead have built a repressive security apparatus to put down dissent,” the authors wrote. Another principal cause of the country’s problems was the implementation of the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). The delegation found that CAFTA-DR’s “architecture of deregulation coupled with investor protection allowed companies to outsource labor-intensive components of their supply chains to locations with weak labor laws and low wages.” The agreement “accelerated free market devastation,” Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and a participant in the delegation, told a reporter. He noted “constant violations of organizing rights…that included everything from the murder of [union] leaders to the collapse of bargaining rights where they once existed.”

“Failed trade and migration policies continue to exacerbate Honduras’ problems,” the report concludes. “The US government criminalizes migrant children and their families, while pursuing trade deals that simultaneously displace subsistence farmers and lower wages and standards across other sectors, and eliminate good jobs, intensifying the economic conditions that drive migration. This dynamic is enhanced in countries like Honduras, where the government's own policies leave workers and families vulnerable to abuse.” (National Catholic Reporter 1/28/15; The Nation 2/6/15; Equal Times 2/10/15)

Probably the best known of the displacements of subsistence farmers occurred in northern Honduras’ Lower Aguán River Valley, where campesino groups struggling to regain their land have been victims of violence by the military and private security forces since 2009 [see Update #1243]. A recent example was the forced disappearance of Cristian Alberto Martínez Pérez, a young activist in the Gregorio Chávez Campesino Movement (MCGC, also referred to as the Gregorio Chávez Collective), as he was riding his bicycle the evening of Jan. 29 near his home in Panamá community, Trujillo municipality, Colón department.

Human rights groups and several campesino organizations quickly responded to Martínez Pérez’s disappearance by joining together in an intensive search. The youth was found alive--but tied up and dehydrated--a few meters from the Paso Aguán estate the morning of Feb. 1, about 62 hours after his abduction. He said he had been seized by a soldier and a security guard and confined to a vehicle, where he was questioned about his group’s leaders and possible plans for an occupation of the estate. Paso Aguán is owned by Honduran entrepreneur and landowner Miguel Facussé Barjum and is guarded by soldiers and security employers of the powerful Corporación Dinant food-product company, which Facussé founded. At least two deaths have been reported on the estate in the past; the MCGC is apparently named for one of the victims [see Update #1226]. (Defensores en Línea 2/3/15; Honduprensa 2/5/15)

The Aguán campesino movement is the subject of a new documentary, “Resistencia: The Film,” which is premiering in Montreal on Feb. 20. For more information, go to

*3. Mexico: UN Criticizes Officials on Disappearances
In a report published on Feb. 13, the United Nations’ Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) called on the Mexican government to prioritize actions to deal with the large number of disappearances taking place in many parts of the country, often with the participation of government functionaries. Although international attention has been focused on the September abduction of 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College, located in the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa [see Update #1254], the total number of people who have gone missing in Mexico since the militarization of the “war on drugs” began in late 2006 is estimated at 22,600. “[I]n contrast to the thousands of enforced disappearances,” CED member Rainer Huhle told a news briefing, citing the government’s own statistics, “there are exactly six persons put to trial and sentenced for this crime.”

The report was based on an evaluation the CED carried out Feb. 2-3 at the group’s headquarters in Geneva. The CED recognized some advances by the Mexican government, including the ratification of all United Nations human rights treaties and the adoption of a General Law for Victims, but expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s failure even to keep an accurate record of the number of forced disappearances. The committee’s recommendations included creating a national registry of disappearances and the formation of a special unit to search for disappeared persons. (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/14/15; Jurist 2/14/15)

The Ayotzinapa case has brought international attention to Mexico’s record on disappearances. On Jan. 22 the London-based rights group Amnesty International (AI) criticized what it called “the faltering investigations overseen by the Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam.” “The disappearance of [the Ayotzinapa] students is a crime that has shocked the world,” AI Americas director Erika Guevara Rosas said. “This tragedy has changed the distorted perception that the human rights situation has been improving in Mexico since President [Enrique] Peña Nieto took power” in 2012.

Criticism is also starting to increase in the US, whose government and media have strongly backed Peña Nieto in the past. The Mexican government’s account of the Ayotzinapa abductions “isn’t a historical truth,” José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of US-based Human Right Watch (HRW), said recently. “It’s an official version.” The website of the influential weekly The New Yorker has carried five articles so far on the Ayotzinapa case by novelist Francisco Goldman. The latest, posted on Feb. 7, details the many questions raised by the official account of the abduction of the students. (AI press release 1/22/15; New Yorker 2/7/15; Jurist 2/13/15)

In related news, the cousin of a disappearance victim was murdered around noon on Feb. 13 in Iguala de la Independencia, the Guerrero city that was the site of the September attack on the Ayotzinapa students. Two men on a motorcycle gunned Norma Angélica Bruno Román down in front of her three children as they were on the way to a cemetery for the burial of another murder victim, José Ramón Bernabé Armenta, who had been killed two days earlier. Initial reports said Bruno Román was an activist with the local Committee of Forced Disappearance Victims; the committee is also known as “The Other Disappeared,” since it deals with victims other than the missing 43 students. The group clarified later that Bruno Román had participated in the group’s activities in her search for her cousin, Ivette Melissa Flores Román, who has been missing since she was abducted from her home the night of Oct. 24, 2012. However, Bruno Román wasn’t part of the group, and committee members felt her murder wasn’t connected to their work. (Proceso (Mexico) 2/13/15; LJ 2/14/15)

*4. Haiti: New General Strike Shuts Down Capital
A general strike by Haitian transit workers and opposition groups paralyzed Port-au-Prince and some other cities Feb. 9-10 in a protest against high fuel prices and the government of President Michel Joseph Martelly. With most forms of public transportation shut down, the capital’s streets were empty except for rocks and burning tires that strike supporters set up as barricades; some streets were turned into improvised soccer fields. People generally stayed home, and most government offices, businesses, banks and schools were closed. There was little violence, although one police agent, Ravelin Yves André, reportedly received a stab wound in the impoverished Cité Soleil sector while trying to remove burning tires.

Petit-Goâve and Miragoâne in South department observed the strike, while Cap-Haïtien in North department and Les Cayes in South department mostly ignored it the first day, according to media reports. There was more strike activity in Cap-Haïtien the second day, while a few people went back to work in Port-au-Prince, where the government provided some free bus service.

This was the second general strike in a week over fuel prices [see Update #1254]. A two-day strike called by transit workers for Feb. 2-3 ended after one day when the government agreed to lower gasoline prices from 215 gourdes to 195 gourdes (about US$4.58 to US$4.15) for a gallon, with corresponding reductions for diesel fuel and kerosene. But the second general strike was more political, with support from such opposition groups as the Patriotic Force for Respect for the Constitution (FOPARC), which backs the Family Lavalas (FL) party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004). The government refused to consider the protesters’ demand for a price reduction of 100 gourdes (about US$2.17). Officials said the country needed to pay off some of a large debt for the oil it has acquired through Venezuela’s Petrocaribe program. But many people disagreed. “We are poor, we cannot live anymore,” a driver of one of the minibuses known as tap-taps complained to a reporter. “Gasoline prices are falling worldwide, so it should be the same here in Haiti.” (AlterPresse (Haiti) 2/9/15, 2/10/15, 2/10/15; Reuters 2/10/15)

*5. Dominican Republic: Was Haitian Man Lynched?
The body of a Haitian immigrant, Claude (“Tulile”) Jean Harry, was found hanging from a tree in Ercilia Pepín Park in Santiago de los Cabelleros, the capital of the northern Dominican province of Santiago, on Feb. 11. Dominican police spokespeople say they are working on the theory that Jean Harry was killed to prevent him from testifying about the Feb. 9 murder of Altagracia Díaz Ventura. According to the police, Díaz Ventura was killed by her sister-in-law, Annery Núñez, who then stole the victim’s money and furniture. Jean Harry did odd jobs in the area; he may have been paid to help move the furniture and could have found out about the murder. Annery Núñez had turned herself into the police as of Feb. 15.

Haitian immigrants and human rights organization questioned the police version, noting the increase in anti-Haitian sentiment following a September 2013 Constitutional Tribunal (TC) ruling that deprived thousands of Haitian-descended Dominicans of citizenship [see Update #1253]. “Nobody knows yet the reason behind the lynching, but it comes in the context of constant discrimination and violence against Haitians,” the Robert F Kennedy Center for Human Rights’ Santiago Canton said. Jean Harry was murdered just hours after a group of Dominicans publicly burned the Haitian flag in Santiago. As of Feb. 13 the authorities said they had arrested five members of the group. (The Guardian (UK) 2/12/15 from correspondent; AlterPresse (Haiti) 2/13/15; El Nuevo Diario (Dominican Republic) 2/15/15)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Central America, El Salvador, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US/immigration

Latin America: Solidarity and Accompaniment

Washington’s Prying Eyes (Latin America)

Editor's Note: last print edition of NACLA's Report on the Americas (Latin America)

Investigation Into Argentine President Will Resume

Argentina Wins British Victory in Vulture Funds Battle

Argentina: Chinese spaceport plan protested

Can Bolivia Chart a Sustainable Path Away From Capitalism?

Peruvian Youth Celebrates Victory Over Government and Big Business’ Ley Pulpín

Peru’s Media-Friendly Mining Ban Conceals Toxic Inaction

Peru: protests against PlusPetrol turn deadly

Deep in the Amazon, a Tiny Tribe Is Beating Big Oil (Ecuador)

Colombia: Urgent Action: Afro-descendant leaders threatened

Venezuela Coup Thwarted

Hector Navarro: I’m Encouraging a Rebellion at the Bases of the PSUV (Venezuela)

How US 'Free Trade' Policies Created the Central American Migration Crisis

UN Registered Barro Blanco Hydroelectric Dam Temporarily Suspended Over Non-Compliance With Environmental Impact Assessment (Panama)

Salvadorans Demand Trial for Former Right-Wing President

Did Bill O'Reilly Cover Up a War Crime in El Salvador?

Daniel’s Story: A Mother’s Memories of an Ayotzinapa Victim (Mexico)

Mexican Teachers Take to the Streets Again

Divisadero: Tierra Nativa Raramuri (Mexico)

Paved With Bad Intentions: The Ñatho (Otomí) Struggle Against the Toluca-Naucalpan Super Highway (Mexico)

How to Close Guantanamo (Cuba)

CEP Proposes Legislative Elections in July, Presidential in October (Haiti)

Americas Program Policy Report: Border Drones a Financial and Policy Bust (US/immigration)

Radically Reshaping Latina/o America (US/immigration)

Washington Police Shooting Ingites a Cross-Border Controversy (US/immigration)

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Feel free to reproduce these updates, or reprint or re-post any information from them, but please credit us as “Weekly News Update on the Americas” and include a link.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

WNU #1254: US Pushes “Plan Colombia” for Central America

Issue #1254, February 8, 2015

1. Central America: US Pushes New “Plan Colombia”
2. Chile: Mapuche Continue Drive for Land
3. Mexico: Official Ayotzinapa Claims Disputed
4. Mexico: Authorities “Rescue” Maquila Workers
5. Haiti: Union and Maquilas Negotiate on Pay
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, US/immigration

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. It is archived at For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

Note: The Update is ceasing publication on Feb. 15. In the remaining issues we are trying to include some updated information on stories we covered in the past.

*1. Central America: US Pushes New “Plan Colombia”
On Jan. 29 the administration of US president Barack Obama announced that its budget proposal to Congress for fiscal year 2016 (October 2015-September 2016) would include $1 billion in aid to Central America, with an emphasis on El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The goal is to help “implement systemic reforms that address the lack of economic opportunity, the absence of strong institutions and the extreme levels of violence that have held the region back at a time of prosperity for the rest of the Western Hemisphere,” according to a White House fact sheet. The New York Times published an op-ed the same day by Vice President Joseph Biden explaining the request as a way “to stem the dangerous surge in migration” last summer—a reference to an uptick in border crossings by unaccompanied Central American minors that peaked last June and quickly diminished in subsequent months [see Update #1237].

The $1 billion proposal appears to be a more detailed version of a plan presented by Vice President Biden and the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in Washington on Nov. 14 [see Update #1244]. It provides “over $400 million” for “trade facilitation” and other forms of economic development; “over $300 million” to “advance regional security efforts”; and “nearly $250 million” to “strengthen institutions,” including “rule-of-law institutions” so that they can “better administer justice.” In his op-ed Biden indicated that the US proposals for Central America are modeled on Plan Colombia, a $9 billion program started in 1999 as a “war on drugs” effort. The vice president claimed that Colombia is now “a nation transformed.”

The economic reforms in the proposal are aimed at “creating business environments friendly to entrepreneurs.” “Central American economies can grow only by attracting international investment,” Biden wrote. The US is “ready to work” to help “ensure that local enterprises get the most out of existing free trade agreements,” such as the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). (White House Fact Sheet 1/29/15; New York Times 1/29/15)

Despite its neoliberal economic features, the proposal has the support of at least some center-left Latin American leaders, including Salvadoran president Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a leader in the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), once a leftist rebel group. With the US aid in the proposal “we have opportunities to go on working to guarantee you the right to education, to health, to live in families,” he told a group of Salvadoran school children on Jan. 31. (La Prensa Gráfica (El Salvador) 2/1/15) Center-left Chilean president Michelle Bachelet also backs the plan, which includes having Central American countries join the Pacific Alliance, a trade bloc currently composed of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. Bachelet was in Guatemala on Jan. 30 for talks with Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina about his country’s request to be admitted to the alliance. (Télam (Argentina) 1/30/15)

The proposal emphasizes the need to reform Central American justice systems but doesn’t give specifics. On Feb. 2-3 the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CorteIDH), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), held hearings on a complaint by four Honduran judges over their dismissal from their posts after they publicly opposed the June 2009 military coup that removed former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009) from office. Former judges Guillermo López, Luis Alonso Chévez, Ramón Enrique Barrios and Tirza Flores say the dismissals violated their free speech rights. The current Honduran government supports the removal of the judges. Government attorney Jorge Serrano argued that the action “doesn't violate…precedents set by the inter-American system.” (Tico Times (Costa Rica) 2/4/15 from AFP)

*2. Chile: Mapuche Continue Drive for Land
A group of about 70 indigenous Chilean Mapuche from the José Llancao community peacefully occupied a section of a government research farm in Vilcún commune in Cautín province, in the central Araucanía region, to further their demand for 60 hectares of land that they say belong to the community. The Carillanca Farming Research Center (INIA Carillanca) started as a private estate but has been operated as a research facility under the Agriculture Ministry for the past 50 years. According to the community’s werken (spokesperson), Juan Alguilera Esquivel, the residents have been trying to reclaim the 60 hectares, which they say were usurped illegally by the owner of the private estate, for more than 20 years. The Mapuche, Chile’s largest indigenous group, have been using land occupations since the 1990s in a campaign to regain land they consider ancestral territory [see Update #1240]. Local estate owners are strongly opposed to the community’s claims on the research facility. “Not one meter should be sold,” said Marcelo Zirotti, president of the Agricultural Development Society (SOFO). If the government gives up any land, “they’ll be telling us, the farmers, that we should close up and go elsewhere.” (Radio Bío Bío (Chile) 2/6/15; El Ciudadano (Chile) 2/6/15)

Meanwhile, rightwing politicians and business representatives are blaming Mapuche activists for many of the 150-160 forest fires reported in Chile’s Araucanía region in the past six months. In January Senator Alberto Espina of the center-right National Renewal (RN) party implied that the fires are being set by Mapuche activists protesting what they consider the theft of their land by forestry companies. Patricio Santibáñez, president of the Chilean Timber Corporation (CORMA), charged that 70% of the fires are “organized, planned.” A report by the carabineros militarized police put the total number of fires connected to the Mapuche conflict at 15 for the period, less than 10%, and said the number of arson cases had declined. Santibáñez repeated charges from 2012 that Mapuche activists were responsible for an outbreak of forest fires then, including one in which seven firefighters were killed [see Update #1113]. The 2012 fires came at a time of severe drought; Mapuche spokespeople said the situation was aggravated by the forestry companies’ planting of more flammable trees such as pine and eucalyptus. (PanAm Post 1/30/15; Rebelión 2/7/15)

*3. Mexico: Official Ayotzinapa Claims Disputed
The nonprofit Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) released a report on Feb. 7 citing a number of irregularities in the Mexican federal government’s investigation of the disappearance of 43 teachers’ college students in Iguala de la Independencia in the southwestern state of Guerrero the night of Sept. 26-27 [see Update #1251]. The Argentine experts have researched deaths and disappearances in about 30 countries, including those that occurred in their own country during the 1976-1983 “Dirty War” against suspected leftists and in Guatemala during that country’s 1960-1996 civil war. The Argentines were brought into the investigation by the parents of the missing students, who had attended the traditionally leftist Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa.

The Mexican government has concluded that all the students were killed and that their bodies were incinerated in a dump in the Guerrero municipality of Cocula and thrown into the San Juan river. The Argentines found several problems that they said made it impossible for them to confirm the official version. For example, the government had agreed to keep the independent experts involved in all phases of the investigation but didn’t in fact include them on some occasions—notably, at the time when the supposed remains of the students were found. The Argentines also said the Cocula dump wasn’t guarded during part of the period of the investigation, so that evidence could have been altered. Journalists and researchers have questioned other aspects of the official account, including the government’s contention that only municipal police and a local gang were involved in the violence and the claim that the bodies could be thoroughly incinerated in an open-air fire. (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/8/15)

Teachers in Guerrero have regularly joined with students in demonstrations over the Ayotzinapa disappearances, but on Feb. 6 they had an additional reason to protest. Members of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE) and the Only Union of Guerrero State Public Servants (Suspeg) blocked the Miguel Alemán coastal highway in Acapulco for nearly three hours to protest the state’s failure to pay their salary. According to the national SNTE, some 12,000 Guerrero teachers didn’t get valid paychecks. The unions indicated that both the state and the federal governments were responsible for the shortfall in funds. (LJ 2/7/15)

Forced disappearances by the police are not limited to Guerrero. According to Denise García Bosque, an attorney for families in the northeastern state of Coahuila, the nonprofit Families United has documented 150 disappearance cases in the past 18 months in just one area, the small city of Piedras Negras and the region known as Cinco Manantiales. García said that in at least 60 of these cases there is evidence of participation by special police groups, principally a state unit created in 2009, the Special Arms and Tactics Group (GATE). A total of 51 of the victims have been found alive but are all in prison; they charge that they were tortured into making false confessions that they were members of criminal groups. Special police units are proliferating throughout Mexico, the national daily Excélsior wrote last November; they “sometimes receive special training by US, Colombian or Israeli elite groups,” the paper said. (LJ 2/7/15; TeleSUR English 2/7/15)

*4. Mexico: Authorities “Rescue” Maquila Workers
Federal and state authorities said they rescued 129 Mexican workers on Feb. 5 from sexual and labor exploitation at Yes Internacional SA de CV, a Korean-owned garment assembly plant in Zapopan in the western state of Jalisco. The factory was closed down, and four of the executives were detained, according to the National Migration Institute (INM). The workers--who were mostly women, including six minors--reported being subjected to blows and insults, and federal authorities indicated that they would investigate reports of interrupted pregnancies and serious injuries apparently resulting from sexual assaults. In 2013 Jalisco police said they rescued at least 275 people who had been held in inhumane conditions in a tomato-packing factory.

Mexican media described Yes International as a maquiladora, a tax-exempt assembly plant producing for export. Its products were largely socks, but press accounts didn’t indicate what retailers contracted with the factory. The day after the initial raid, the federal Labor and Social Welfare Secretariat (STPS) said the factory was closed for irregularities in its operation, such as a failure to certify the plant’s boilers, not for alleged mistreatment of workers. Some plant employees told reporters that they hadn’t experienced abuses and that they objected to the closing of the plant. Although the workers said the pay was low—600 to 700 pesos a week (about US$40.50 to US$ 47.24)—they were upset about losing jobs in an area with limited employment opportunities. (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/6/15, 2/7/15; International Business Times 2/6/15)

*5. Haiti: Union and Maquilas Negotiate on Pay
Haiti’s Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA), which represents a number of workers in the Port-au-Prince garment assembly sector, has worked out an agreement under which the owners of three factories are to honor the legal minimum wage of 300 gourdes (currently about US$6.38) a day for piece workers in the industry. The 300-gourde minimum went into effect in October 2012 but has generally been ignored by management. According to a Jan. 6 SOTA press release and a Feb. 6 radio interview with Yannick Etienne of the labor organizing group Batay Ouvriye (BO, “Workers’ Struggle”), under the agreement workers who were receiving 225 gourdes a day now receive 300 gourdes and those who received 300 gourdes receive 375 gourdes. In addition, the three companies agreed to provide back pay to cover the difference between the old and the new wages for two months during which SOTA and the companies negotiated; this would come to about $4,255 collectively for the workers in one of the companies, Multiwear SA. Although the agreement falls far short of the 500-gourde minimum garment workers had demonstrated for in December 2013 [see Update #1203], BO organizer Etienne considers management’s agreement to the raise and also to the principle of back pay a significant step forward.

Etienne and representatives of two other unions, the Confederation of Haitian Workers’ Forces (CFOH) and National Confederation of Haitian Workers (CNOHA), traveled to the US in January 2014 for talks with three North American firms that contract with Haitian T-shirt manufacturers [see Update #1204]. According to BO the three firms--Montreal-based Gildan Activewear Inc., Kentucky-based Fruit of the Loom and North Carolina-based Hanesbrands Inc.—said the unions would have to negotiate directly with the Haitian factory owners. SOTA then entered into talks with the factories but the other two unions refused to do this. Later, however, CNOHA denounced SOTA’s agreement with the factories on back pay, saying the workers really should receive $114 million collectively.

According to SOTA, workers affiliated with CNOHA and a group called “ROHAM” assaulted Etienne with rocks and tools on Jan. 30 while she was in Port-au-Prince’s main industrial park to talk to the management of the Multiwear SA plant about the company’s failure to deliver the back pay it had agreed to. Although Elienne was unharmed, BO took the attack very seriously, and a number of supporters in Haiti and internationally have signed on to a statement protesting CNOHA’s actions. (SOTA press releases 1/6/15, 1/30/15; Etienne interview 2/6/15)

In other labor news, transit in Port-au-Prince was paralyzed on Feb. 2-3 when transportation operators in 25 unions and collectives went on strike to demand that the government reduce fuel prices. Buses, minibuses, tap-taps (small vans used as minibuses) and moto-taxis (motorcyclists offering rides for a fee) were almost all absent from the streets as strikers enforced the job action with rocks and barricades of flaming tires. The government of President Michel Martelly responded by announcing that as of Feb. 6 the price of gasoline would fall from 215 gourdes to 195 gourdes (about US$4.58 to US$4.15), with corresponding reductions for diesel fuel and kerosene. But students from the State University of Haiti (UEH), who rely on public transit to get to classes, said they would continue to protest until the government lowers the gasoline price to 100 gourdes. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 2/2/15, 2/3/15, 2/7/15)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, US/immigration

Making Palm Oil Sustainable Will Take More Than a New Label (Latin America)

Latin America: People’s Tribunal Hopes Verdict on Mining Abuses Gains Traction

Argentine President Courts Controversy With Tweet From China

Chile’s LGBT Movement Wins Historic Victory with Approval of Civil Unions

Peru: Achuar protesters seize Amazon oil-field

#LeyPulpín: Peruvian Youth Fight for their Future

Rosa Palomino: “On the Radio We Care About Our Rights and Aymara Culture” (Peru)

In Peru, Scientist Documents the Impacts of Continent’s Largest Gold Mine

More than 60 Bodies Found in Colombian Mass Grave

Colombia: peasants detain soldiers... again

Colombia: whither FARC's future?

The Economic War: Not just business as usual (Venezuela)

The Justice Brigades of Ayotzinapa (Mexico)

Tourist Development Behind State Repression of Non-Violent Indigenous Movement (Mexico)

150 People Reported Disappeared in Piedras Negras, Mexico

A Look at the New Provisional Electoral Council (Haiti)

In the Dominican Republic, Many of Haitian Descent Left Effectively Stateless

The Battle over Immigrant Driver’s Licenses Flares Anew in New Mexico (US/immigration)

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Feel free to reproduce these updates, or reprint or re-post any information from them, but please credit us as “Weekly News Update on the Americas” and include a link.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

Monday, February 2, 2015

WNU #1253: Indigenous Panamanians Set Deadline on Dam

Issue #1253, February 1, 2015

1. Panama: Ngöbe-Buglé Set Deadline to Stop Dam
2. Chile: Two Found Guilty in Horman Murder Case
3. Dominican Republic: Thousands to Become Stateless
4. Haiti: President Gives Reporters Xmas Present
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US/immigration

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. It is archived at For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

Note: The Update is ceasing publication on Feb. 15. In each of the remaining issues we will try to include some updated information on stories we covered in the past.

*1. Panama: Ngöbe-Buglé Set Deadline to Stop Dam
Panamanian officials and leaders of the Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous group were scheduled to meet on Feb. 2 to discuss the controversial Barro Blanco hydroelectric project, which is being built on the Tabasará river in the western province of Chiriquí [see Update #1214]. Ngöbe-Buglé representatives are calling for the cancellation of the dam and say there will be forceful actions if the government doesn’t agree to their demand by Feb. 15. President Juan Carlos Varela has named a committee to represent the government in the talks; it is headed by Vice President Isabel Saint Malo de Alvarado, who is also the foreign relations minister, and includes security minister Rodolfo Aguilera, governance minister Milton Henríquez, labor minister Luis Ernesto Carles and environmental minister Mirei Endara. Some members of the committee held a preliminary meeting with indigenous leaders on Jan. 29, and the government’s technical commission was studying the area around the dam on Jan. 31.

Ngöbe-Buglé activists have demonstrated repeatedly against the Barro Blanco project since 2011, charging that it endangers an archeological site and will displace 2,000 or more indigenous people in the Ngöbe-Buglé comarca (designated indigenous territory). The government of former president Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014) failed to hold a required consultation with the communities, according to the activists, who claim the administration had interests in common with Generadora del Istmo, S.A. (GENISA), the Honduran-owned company building the dam. Indigenous protesters have maintained an encampment at the dam’s site since February 2014, according to Silvia Carrera, the Ngöbe-Buglé comarca’s official leader (cacica). Speaking at a forum in Natá, Coclé province, on Jan. 24, Carrera warned that the government needs to “dialogue with the people of Barro Blanco and the affected communities…before people take to the streets the way it happened in 2011 and 2012.” (La Estrella de Panamá 1/25/15, 1/30/15; Intercontinental Cry 1/27/15 from Servindi; Hora Cero (Panama) 2/1/15)

In related news, former president Martinelli fled to the US on Jan. 29, one day after Panama’s Supreme Court initiated a corruption investigation against him. He flew to Florida from Guatemala, where he was attending a session of the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN). “I fear for my life and my family,” he said. “I’m the target of a political persecution.” He claimed current President Varela “would do the impossible to end” him and his party and is “inventing charges” against him. Varela, who took office last July 1, was Martinelli’s vice president, but he ran against Martinelli’s candidate in the 2014 elections. Martinelli said he had no plans to return to Panama. Meanwhile, thousands marched in Panama City on Jan. 29 chanting slogans against the former president and demanding an end to impunity and jail time for corrupt politicians. (PanAM Post 1/30/15 from La Prensa (Panama))

*2. Chile: Two Found Guilty in Horman Murder Case
Retired Chilean army colonel Pedro Espinoza and former Chilean air force intelligence agent Rafael González Berdugo have been convicted in the murder of US journalist Charles Horman and US graduate student Frank Teruggi during the days after the Sept. 11, 1973 military coup that overthrew leftist president Salvador Allende Gossens [see Update #1226]. Judge Jorge Zepeda sentenced Espinoza--formerly an officer in the now-defunct National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) who has been described as the right-hand man of DINA head Manuel Contreras—to seven years in prison for the two murders. González Berdugo was sentenced to two years of police surveillance as an accomplice in Harmon’s murder. Judge Zepeda ruled in the case on Jan. 9 but the decision wasn’t announced until Jan. 28. Last summer the judge officially ruled that “US military intelligence services played a fundamental role in the murders” by supplying information to the Chilean military. (El Ciudadano (Chile) 1/31/15)

In other news, on Jan. 28 Chile’s Senate approved a law authorizing civil unions for same-sex couples. The Chamber of Deputies had passed the law on Jan. 20 in an 86-23 vote, with two abstentions. The legislation ensures members of same-sex couples rights to receive pensions, enroll in health plans and inherit property from one another; it also provides them with greater standing in child custody cases. President Michelle Bachelet says her long-term goal is full same-sex marriage rights, a position supported by 46% of the population and opposed by 42%, according to a 2013 poll by the US-based Pew Research Center. Same-sex marriage is recognized in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and parts of Mexico; civil unions are recognized in Colombia and Ecuador. Chile tends to be conservative on social issues; divorce wasn’t legalized until 2004, all abortions remain illegal, and sodomy was punishable with prison until 1999. (TeleSUR English 1/21/15; Jamaica Observer 1/28/15 from AFP)

Chile’s Congress has also been working on removing laws and practices imposed during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The Chamber of Deputies voted on Jan. 20 to eliminate the “binominal” electoral formula established by Pinochet’s 1980 Constitution, a formula which opponents say has made it possible for the right to control half the seats in Congress while getting just over a third of the votes; the legislation had already won approval in the Senate. The new proportional voting system should make it easier for smaller parties to compete; the new law also expands the Chamber from 120 to 155 seats and the Senate from 38 to 50 seats. (TeleSUR English 1/21/15; Latin American Herald Tribune 1/20/15)

Legislation that President Bachelet calls the first phase of rolling back the Pinochet-era education system passed the Senate on Jan. 22 and the Chamber of Deputies on Jan. 26. The dictatorship’s highly privatized system was the target of massive student protests from 2011 through 2013; several of the student leaders at that time are now members of Congress [see Update #1219]. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/23/15 from correspondent; Reuters 1/27/15)

*3. Dominican Republic: Thousands to Become Stateless
Tens of thousands of Dominicans born to undocumented immigrants were set to become stateless when a deadline to regularize their status passed on Feb. 1, according to the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International (AI). “Even if these people are able to stay in the Dominican Republic after the deadline expires, their futures are woefully uncertain,” AI Americas director Erika Guevara Rosas said in a statement. The people at risk are mostly Haitian descendants who were affected by Decision 168-13, a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal (TC) in September 2013 declaring that no one born to undocumented immigrant parents since 1929 was a citizen. Their situation was supposed to be remedied by Law 169/14, which was passed in May 2014 to set up a process for people to regularize their status [see Update #1221]. AI says the law’s implementation has been inadequate.

The Interior Ministry reported that as of Jan. 9, only 5,345 people had applied for regularization--just 5% of the 110,000 people AI believes should be eligible. The Dominican government has put the number of eligible people at 20,000 and claims it has done its best to help people file their claims. Immigration director José Ricardo Taveras told the El Caribe news site that the government had set up more than 20 offices to handle regularization requests and had launched a big publicity campaign. But the media reported long lines at the offices, and AI charged that even people “who should have been able to have their Dominican nationality returned in a quick procedure have been waiting for months.” “The simple fact is that when the vast majority of these people were born, the Dominican law at the time recognized them as citizens,” Guevara Rosas said. “Stripping them of this right and then creating impossible administrative hurdles to stay in the country is a violation of their human rights.” (AI statement 2/1/15; Terra Argentina 2/1/15 from Reuters)

On Jan. 28 AI reported that the Dominican authorities had deported 51 people to Haiti the day before. The group included 30 children, ages seven to 13, born in the Dominican Republic, along with seven mothers of the children and 14 other adults. They were traveling in two minivans to San Juan de la Maguana, in the western province of San Juan, where they expected to register for the regularization. However, according to AI the vehicles were stopped at a military checkpoint a few kilometers from the city. Officers told the passengers that they had to go to an immigration office in Elias Piña, near the border with Haiti, to get passes before entering San Juan. After arriving at Elias Piña, the entire group was deported to Haiti. The Dominican Interior Ministry claimed it had authorized their reentry, but as of Jan. 28 they were still in Haiti. AI noted the special vulnerability of the Dominican-born children, who were not Haitian citizens and were now in effect stateless. ( 1/28/15 from EFE Verde)

*4. Haiti: President Gives Reporters Xmas Present
The government of Haitian president Michel Joseph Martelly presented a group of reporters with cash gifts during a reception on Dec. 23, according to an open letter published on Jan. 26 by the management of the Radio Kiskeya radio station. Reporters with press credentials for presidential functions were given “envelopes containing 50,000 gourdes [about US$1,065] and 40,000 gourdes [about US$852] respectively,” the station wrote. Recipients said President Martelly had offered them what he called “a little gift whose small size they shouldn’t take offense at,” and then referred them to his spokesperson, Lucien Jura, and Esther Fatal, head of the Communication Office of the Presidency; the two officials gave the journalists the envelopes.

Radio Kiskeya said three of its reporters accepted the cash; they were “severely disciplined,” according to the letter, which didn’t reveal their names or the names of other reporters who accepted the “gifts.” “This isn’t the first time journalists have received bribes,” Franck Séguy, a professor at the State University of Haiti (UEH) and a former journalist himself, told the Haitian news site AlterPresse, although the practice “has never been discussed in the press.” He said a major cause was the fact that Haitian journalists aren’t paid enough to live in dignity and are allowed to “supplement their salary elsewhere.” (Radio Kiskeya 1/26/15; Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch, Center for Economic and Policy Research, 1/27/15; AlterPresse 1/29/15)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US/immigration

Roads are encroaching deeper into the Amazon rainforest, study says (Latin America)

US Further Isolated as CELAC Rejects Regional Intervention (Latin America)

Argentina: Societies in Movement or Politics as Usual?

Chile’s LGBT movement wins historic victory with approval of civil unions

In Memoriam: Pedro Lemebel's Chronicles of the Pinochet Dictatorship (Chile)

German Couple Kidnapped, Shot Dead in Paraguay; Guerrilla Group Suspected

The Power of the Spectacle: Evo Morales’ Inauguration in Tiwanaku, Bolivia

Ex-Colombian Intelligence Chief Surrenders to Authorities

Venezuela to nuke New York... Not!

Venezuela approves use of force against protesters

Panama: Vice President and Ministers to Meet Ngäbe Buglé Before Indigenous Ultimatum

Ayotzinapa Calls for Mexico’s Transformation

More Femicide Victims Identified from Border Graveyard (Mexico)

Cuban President: Return of Guantanamo Bay Needed to Normalize Relations

Raúl Castro demands that US return Guantánamo base to Cuba

Is the Absence of Parliament Clearing the Way for Lamothe to Run for President? (Haiti)

Journalists Denounce Attempts by Haitian Government to Silence Criticism

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Feel free to reproduce these updates, or reprint or re-post any information from them, but please credit us as “Weekly News Update on the Americas” and include a link.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

WNU #1252: Argentine Prosecutor Dies in “Suicide”

Issue #1252, January 25, 2015

1. Argentina: AMIA Prosecutor Dies in “Suicide”
2. Argentina: Many Are Suspected in AMIA Coverup
3. Mexico: More PEMEX Contract Scandals Exposed
4. Guatemala: Top Cop Convicted in Embassy Fire
5. Links to alternative sources on: South America, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US/immigration

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. It is archived at For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

Note: The Update is ceasing publication on Feb. 15. In each of the remaining issues we will try to include some updated information on stories we covered in the past.

*1. Argentina: AMIA Prosecutor Dies in “Suicide”
Argentine federal prosecutor Natalio Alberto Nisman was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment late on Jan. 18 with a gunshot wound to his head. Nisman had filed a 289-page criminal complaint on Jan. 14 charging that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman and eight others, including two Iranians, had acted to cover up the alleged role of the Iranian government in the July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires [see World War 4 Report 1/19/15]. The bombing, which left 85 dead and some 300 injured, is considered the deadliest anti-Semitic attack carried out anywhere since World War 2. Nisman’s death came the day before he was to testify to the National Congress about the charges.

Nisman’s body was found in his locked apartment by his mother and agents from his 10-member security detail after the prosecutor failed to answer phone calls; he was lying next to the .22-caliber handgun used to shoot him. Investigators initially suggested suicide, as did President Fernández in a Facebook posting on Jan. 20. But evidence emerged later that undercut the suicide hypothesis: Nisman had not appeared suicidal; there was no note; gunpowder traces weren’t detected on Nisman’s hands; a locksmith disputed claims that two entrances to the apartment were locked; and a previously unnoticed third entrance was discovered. Reversing her earlier position, Fernández wrote on Jan. 22 that the prosecutor had probably been murdered. (New York Times 1/22/15, 1/23/15 from correspondents; InfoBAE (Argentina) 1/22/15)

In October 2006 Nisman--who was appointed to head the AMIA inquiry by former president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), Fernández’s late husband--formally charged the Lebanese organization Hezbollah with carrying out the AMIA bombing and the Iranian government with ordering it. In January 2013 Argentina and Iran signed an agreement for a joint investigation into the attack [see Update #1195]. Nisman opposed the deal, as did Jewish community leaders, who felt this would impede prosecution of the Iranian suspects. An Argentine appeals court ruled the agreement unconstitutional on May 15, 2014, although the government has appealed the decision [see World War 4 Report 5/18/14].

In his Jan. 14 complaint, based in part on intercepted phone calls, Nisman accused the presidency and people close to Fernández of working to negate the charges against Iran in exchange for trade deals. In addition to President Fernández and Foreign Minister Timerman, Nisman named legislative deputy Andrés “Cuervo” Larroque; Luis D’Elía, a leader in the leftist Federation of Argentine Workers (CTA) and the piquetero (“picketer”) unemployed movement who is close to the government [see Update #975]; Fernando Esteche, the leader of the far-left group Quebracho [see Update #960]; Héctor Yrimia, a former prosecutor in the AMIA case; Mohsen Rabbani, a former cultural attaché to the Iranian embassy suspected of masterminding the bombing [see Update #1124]; and Jorge “Yussuf” Khalil, an Iranian community leader in Buenos Aires. The complaint included transcripts of phone conversations between D’Elía and Khalil. (Todo Noticias (Argentina) 1/15/15, 1/23/15; NYT 1/22/15 from correspondents)

Fernández supporters noted that Nisman had close relations with the US embassy in Buenos Aires, according to US diplomatic cables released by the Wikileaks group in 2010, and that he followed advice from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the US Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs (OIA). It seems that Nisman regularly notified the embassy in advance about his legal moves. A confidential diplomatic cable dated May 19, 2009, notes that Nisman advised the embassy of his request for the indictment of a new AMIA suspect the day before he submitted the request to the judge in the case, Rodolfo Canicoba Corra. (Buenos Aires Herald 1/16/15)

In related news, at least 10 people were injured the night of Jan. 18-19 when a crowd chanting anti-Semitic slogans attacked a hostel in Lago Puelo in the southern province of Chubut, beating and robbing Israeli tourists. The hostel’s owner, Sergio Polak, said the crowd also hurled rocks and Molotov bombs and fired shots. Attacks on the hostel “started in March or April last year,” he said. “We connect it with the campaign going on for a while on the subject of Israeli tourism. They say [the guests] are Israeli soldiers.” The attack reportedly went on for hours because the local police didn’t have enough agents on hand. There were about 10 assailants, identified as neighbors of the hostel. Initially no one was arrested, but a local radio station reported later that the attackers were “at the disposition of justice.” (La Nación (Argentina) 1/21/15 from Agencia DyN)

*2. Argentina: Many Are Suspected in AMIA Coverup
While the US media focused on the late Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s Jan. 14 charges against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, many people have been accused over the years of blocking the investigation into the deadly 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building. The people suspected include a former president, a judge, an intelligence chief, and officials of two foreign governments. After an inquiry that has gone on for 21 years under several different governments, Argentine prosecutors have still not won a single conviction in the case.

In May 2008 Nisman charged former president Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999) with impeding the initial investigation during his presidency. In March 2012 federal judge Ariel Lijo ordered Menem to stand trial on the charges, along with the judge who headed the original investigation, Juan José Galeano; intelligence service directors Hugo Anzorreguy and Juan Carlos Anchezar; and two commanders of the federal police [see Update #1124]. The trial still hasn’t taken place. Formerly an opponent of President Fernández, Menem is now a political ally and seems to be having a relatively easy time in the courts. He is also implicated in the government's clandestine sales of 6,500 tons of arms to Ecuador and Croatia from 1991 to 1995. In March 2013 an appeals court found him guilty of “aggravated smuggling,” but he currently enjoys immunity as a senator for La Rioja province [see Updates #1097, 1167].

Menem was allied with the US government while he was president, and the US embassy was clearly upset when Nisman filed charges against him in the AMIA case. Nisman apologized for not giving the embassy advance warning, according to a May 27 confidential cable obtained by the Wikileaks group. Then-US ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne, now the ambassador to Mexico, complained in another confidential cable two days later that the Menem charges “could complicate international efforts to bring the Iranian indictees to justice.” “Nisman may still be currying favor from the Casa Rosada [Argentina’s presidential palace] with a view to a favorable judicial appointment in the future,” Wayne claimed. The May 27 cable emphasized the US government’s interest in keeping the investigation centered on Iran and away from Menem: “Legatt officers [legal attachés] have for the past two years recommended to Nisman that he focus on the perpetrators of the terrorist attack and not on the possible mishandling of the first investigation.” (Buenos Aires Herald 1/16/15)

Although never formally charged, another coverup suspect is Antonio Horacio Stiles, better known as “Jaime Stiusso” (or “Stiuso”), the director of operations for the federal Intelligence Service (SI) until Fernández replaced him in December. Stiusso entered intelligence work in 1972, serving under the highly repressive 1976-1983 military junta and then under all governments since the restoration of democracy. He is said to have been close to Nisman, and also to have worked closely with Israel’s Mossad and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Stiusso seemed to have a great deal of power in the government. Then-justice minister Gustavo Beliz had to resign his post on July 25, 2004 after tangling with the intelligence director. Beliz went on television the same day to charge that Stiusso had “messed up” the AMIA investigation. Beliz also said Argentina’s intelligence apparatus was a “black hole,” a “parallel state” and a “secret police without any controls,” and he described Stiusso as someone “the whole world fears because they say he’s dangerous and can have you killed.” (La Nación (Argentina) 12/18/14; El País (Madrid) 1/25/15)

Although the Iranian government would obviously have reasons to block the inquiry if Iranian officials were involved in the AMIA bombing, there have also been accusations against Israeli officials. In January 2014 former Israeli ambassador to Argentina Yitzhak Aviran (1993-2000) announced that his country had killed most of the perpetrators of the attack. “The vast majority of the guilty parties are in another world, and this is something we did,” he said. Argentine foreign minister Héctor Timerman noted that Aviran’s comments “would imply that Israel hid information from Argentine courts, blocking new evidence from appearing.” Timerman demanded that Aviran tell Argentine prosecutors whether Israel had further information [see Update #1205].

Some Argentines noted that suspect “suicides” like Nisman’s are hardly unprecedented in the country [see Update #454]. Claims of suicide have been questioned in at least five other cases, all of which took place during Menem’s presidency or involved Menem or people close to him. In three of the cases, the victim was about to testify or was considering doing so.

Former Customs head Brig. Gen. Rodolfo Echegoyen (or Etchegoyen) was shot in the head in his studio in December 1990; as in the Nisman case, there were no traces of gunpowder on his hands. Echegoyen was reportedly investigating the Edcadassa company, owned by members of the Yoma family, former in-laws of then-president Menem. Postal magnate and former Menem associate Alfredo Yabrán was found dead of apparently self-inflicted gunshot wounds in one of his country estates in May 1998; he was sought for questioning in the January 1997 murder of photojournalist José Luis Cabezas, who had been investigating Yabrán’s business activities. Naval captain Horacio Pedro Estrada was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment in August 1998; again, no traces of gunpowder were found, and the right-handed Estrada was shot in the left side of his head. Estrada was reportedly considering testifying in the case of illegal arms sales to Ecuador and Croatia. Also in August 1998, Marcelo Cattáneo was found hanging in an abandoned structure on a Buenos Aires university campus; he was charged with paying bribes in a corruption case involving the state-owned Banco Nacion bank and IBM, the US computer giant. His family expressed doubts about the suicide hypothesis. Lourdes di Natale, once a secretary to former Menem in-law Emir Yoma, supposedly fell or jumped to her death from her apartment’s balcony while drunk in March 2003, but no alcoholic beverage was found in her apartment and the amount of alcohol in her blood should have made her incapable of getting on the balcony. She was about to testify in the case of the smuggled arms. (Diario Uno (Argentina) 6/18/12; Página 12 (Argentina) 1/20/15)

*3. Mexico: More PEMEX Contract Scandals Exposed
Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), Mexico’s giant state-owned oil monopoly, signed contracts worth $149 billion with outside companies from 2003 to 2012, according to a Jan. 23 investigative report by the Reuters wire service; about 8% of these contracts were cited by a congressional watchdog, the Chamber of Deputies’ Federal Audit Office (ASF), as having irregularities “ranging from overcharging for shoddy work to outright fraud,” Reuters’ reporters wrote. The problems involved more than 100 contracts with a total value of $11.7 billion.

Reuters’ revelations appeared as Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto was pushing ahead with an “energy reform” program to open up the country’s petroleum industry to still more contracts with private firms. Praised by the US government and media, the program is unpopular with many Mexicans, who see it as a form of disguised privatization. Two major scandals implicating PEMEX contractors came to light last year, one involving Oceanografía SA de CV and the US banking corporation Citigroup Inc., the other involving the California-based technology company Hewlett-Packard (HP) [see Update #1239].

PEMEX officials rarely act to correct the contract problems, according to Reuters. From 2008 to 2012 the ASF sent PEMEX 274 recommendations to take action on the irregularities. PEMEX’s response so far has been to suspend a few employees in just three of the cases; the rest of the recommendations were dismissed or are still awaiting action. The government plans to establish a new independent auditing office for the enterprise to resolve this problem, but past performance by PEMEX auditors leads to skepticism. One example was the case of sales to Brazilian chemical maker Unigel SA. From to 2009 to 2011 PEMEX’s petrochemicals subsidiary sold the Brazilian company a chemical at an unexplained discount that cost the Mexican enterprise $24.2 million. PEMEX internal auditors flagged the problem, but the head auditor advised his colleagues to “work with the director of PEMEX Petrochemicals to attend to and answer [our] recommendations, with the aim of avoiding them becoming definitive issues.” The PEMEX officials who approved the deal weren’t disciplined; one now works for Unigel.

“PEMEX’s taxes and dividends finance about 30 percent of the federal budget,” Reuters noted. “Contract abuse at the oil giant eats into the government’s ability to fund services from healthcare to road building.” (Business Insider 1/23/15 from Reuters)

Meanwhile, PEMEX and the overall Mexican economy are being hurt by plunging oil prices on international markets. As of Jan. 23 PEMEX’s oil was selling at $38.03 a barrel, its lowest price since June 2009. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/24/15). The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects a growth rate of 3.2% for Mexico this year and 3.5% for 2016, a little below its projections for the world as a whole--3.5% in 2015 and 3.7% in 2016. (Forbes México 1/20/15 from Reuters)

*4. Guatemala: Top Cop Convicted in Embassy Fire
On Jan. 19 Guatemala’s High Risk Court B convicted former police chief Pedro García Arredondo of the deaths of 37 people in a fire at the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City on Jan. 31, 1980 [see Update #1237]. García Arredondo was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the fire and 50 years for the deaths of two students; he is already serving a 70-year sentence for the killing of a student. The fire broke out when police stormed the embassy, which had been occupied by indigenous and campesino protesters from El Quiché department; the police blocked the doors and refused to let firefighters enter. The victims included the Spanish consul, two of his employees, a former Guatemalan vice president, a former Guatemalan foreign relations minister, and 22 El Quiché campesinos; one was Vicente Menchú, the father of 1992 Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchú Tum.

The rightwing government of President Otto Pérez Molina, who was a military officer at the time of the fire, said it respected the court’s decision. A note from the Foreign Relations Ministry expressed regret for the deaths of “famous Spanish people and Guatemalans.” “These situations cannot be repeated,” the note added. The Spanish Foreign Ministry wrote that the Spanish government “expresses its satisfaction and congratulates the Guatemalan justice system for having, 35 years later, judged these acts in accordance with the laws and with respect for due process.” (Prensa Libre (Guatemala) 1/20/15 from AFP; Prensa Latina 1/20/15)

As of Jan. 13 Judge Carol Patricia Flores had ordered a medical examination for former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) to determine whether he can attend his new trial for genocide against Ixil Mayans in El Quiché department. He failed to appear at a hearing on Jan. 12 to discuss administrative issues in the trial. Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and sentenced to 80 years in prison on May 10, 2013, but the Constitutional Court threw the verdict out 10 days later [see Update #1178]. A new trial started on Jan. 5 but was immediately suspended because of a defense challenge to one of the judges, Jeannette Valdez, on the grounds that she had written her 2004 doctoral thesis about the genocide. (La Nación (Costa Rica) 1/13/15 from AFP)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: South America, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US/immigration

Commodity boom extracting increasingly heavy toll on Amazon forests (South America)

New Evidence Raises Questions About Death of Argentine Prosecutor

Prosecutor’s Death a Test for Argentine Democracy

La Legua: Building Community in Small Spaces (Chile)

In Memoriam: Pedro Lemebel (Chile)

Bolivian Socialist Funds Election Campaign by Selling Potatoes

Ecuador: Waorani warriors on trial in oil-field raid

Chevron Crowned as World's Worst Company for the Environment (Ecuador)

Ecuador: The “Citizens’ Revolution” vs Social Movements

Social Movements Demand ¨Maximum Sentence¨ for Indigenous Leader’s Murderer as Trial Continues (Venezuela)

El Salvador: Pardon Granted For One of 17 Women Jailed for Miscarriage, Accused of Homicide

Evidence the DEA Attempted to Alter Testimony on Drug War Massacre in Honduras

Trial on Guatemala’s Spanish Embassy Fire Resumes Today: The Rest is History (Video)

2015 US Appropriations Act Maintains Restrictions On US Military Aid To Guatemala

Mexico: Ayotzinapa, Emblem of the Twenty-First Century Social Order

Forced Disappearances Are Humanitarian Crisis in Mexico

Lopez Obrador Back on the Battlefield (Mexico)

Vanished in Vallarta (Mexico)

Mexico: cops arrested in 'disappearance' of reporter

Cuba, U.S. Agree on Diplomacy, Clash Over Human Rights During Historic Talks

The Cuban Opening and the Struggles for a New Social Order

Security Council Arrives in Haiti as New Electoral Commission is Announced

New Tools for Assessing Progress in Haiti Reconstruction and Development

Is USAID Helping Haiti to Recover, or US Contractors to Make Millions?

Over 17,000 Mexican Children Attempt to Enter US Every Year (US/immigration)

The Israel-Mexico Border: How Israeli High-Tech Firms Are Up-Armoring the U.S.-Mexico Border

Joining our struggles to build another world: 10 years of horizontal organising in El Barrio, New York (US/immigration)

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


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Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson: