Thursday, January 17, 2008

WNU #930: Colombia Hostages Freed, Mexican Miners Get Injunction

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #930, January 13, 2008

1. Colombia: 2 FARC Hostages Freed
2. Mexico: Striking Miners Get Injunction
3. Puerto Rico: Machetero Probe Postponed
4. Cuba: Ex-CIA Agent Agee Dies
5. US: Group Protests Posada

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. 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 our full contact information so people will know how to find us. Send us a copy of or link to any publication where we are cited or reprinted.

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On Jan. 10 a group of about 20 rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released two hostages in the southeastern department of Guaviare in an arrangement worked out with Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías and Colombian ex-senator Piedad Córdoba. The hostages, Consuelo González de Perdomo and Clara Rojas, were then taken to Santo Domingo, Venezuela, and later to a meeting with Chávez and Córdoba at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas.

González was a deputy in Colombia's lower house of Congress when the FARC kidnapped her on Sept. 10, 2001; the incident received little attention, due to terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, the next day. Rojas was the vice presidential candidate of the small Oxygen Green Party; the presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian dual national, remains in captivity. Rojas had a baby, Emmanuel, while with the FARC.

The release was a victory for Chávez's mediation efforts, but it followed several embarrassing failures. Chávez and other international dignitaries were preparing to receive the two hostages, along with the three-year-old Emmanuel, on Dec. 31, but the release was suddenly suspended. The Colombian government then revealed that the rebels had Emmanuel had in fact been placed in foster care in Bogotá through a government agency. The hostages confirmed to Córdoba that they and their escorts were delayed for nearly three weeks in the jungle, in part because of a bombing campaign by the Colombian military.

González criticized the way the FARC treated the male hostages, saying they were constantly kept in chains; Rojas called the FARC a criminal organization. But they both asked Chávez to continue his mediation efforts to free the remaining hostages. The Colombian government estimates that the FARC holds 745 hostages, 45 of them politicians or soldiers the rebels hope to exchange for some 500 rebels in government prisons. On Jan. 11, during his annual report to Venezuela's National Assembly, Chávez asked the international community to recognize the FARC and another rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), as "belligerent forces" rather than as "terrorists," saying the designation was necessary to advance the peace process. France, Spain and Switzerland have sent emissaries to South America to help in negotiations for further releases. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/7/08 from Reuters, AFP, Prensa Latina, DPA; 1/11/08 from correspondent, Reuters, AFP, DPA)

On Jan. 12 Mexican sixth district labor judge Máximo Torres Quevedo granted an injunction allowing miners at the huge Cananea copper mine in the northwestern state of Sonora to continue their five-month-old strike [see Updates #911, 912]. The Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Council (JFCA) had ruled the strike a wildcat on Jan. 10 and ordered the miners to return to work within 24 hours. The next morning, some 800 police agents drove the strikers out of the mine, in a confrontation that resulted in some 40 injuries and five arrests. It was not clear whether the union, Section 65 of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMRM), would reoccupy the mine.

This was the second major police attack on SNTMMRM strikers in the past two years; two steelworkers were killed in an operation at Lázaro Cárdenas, Micahoacán, on Apr. 20, 2006 [see Update #847]. The Mexican Electricity Workers Union (SME) immediately expressed solidarity with the mineworkers, and on Jan. 12 activists protested outside the Mexican consulate in New York in a solidarity action organized by the leftist Internationalist Group. (La Jornada 1/12/08, 1/13/08; El Diario-La Prensa (NY) 1/13/08)

In other news, on the morning of Jan. 10 some 200 members of the farmers' group El Barzón Popular took over the toll booths on the privately owned Mexico City-Toluca highway and allowed motorists to ride for free for about three hours. El Barzón director Crescencio Morales said this was a continuation of protests against the elimination of tariffs on corn, beans, sugar and powdered milk that took effect Jan. 1 under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) [see Updates #928, 929]. He said there would be more protests, with the next one on the Mexico City-Querétaro highway. Some 7,500 vehicles took advantage of the toll-free ride, costing the owners more than $30,000, the toll booth administrator said. (LJ 11/12/08)

On Jan. 11 lawyers for three Puerto Ricans with subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury in New York that morning announced that the date had been postponed until sometime in February. Social worker Christopher Torres and filmmakers Tania Frontera and Julio Antonio Pabón are apparently being questioned as part of a US probe into the Popular Boricua Army (EPB)-Macheteros, a rebel pro-independence group whose leader, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, was killed by agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Puerto Rico in September 2005 [see Update #928].

The postponement was announced at a protest outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn the morning of Jan. 11. Protesters said FBI agents had surprised Torres, Frontera and Pabón and their families, visiting them at home or work and showing them "about 20" recent photographs of Puerto Rican activists. Frontera's attorney, Martin Stolar, said he was filing a motion to quash his client's subpoena as a violation of her rights of free speech and free association. If that fails, Stolar said, "she'll probably affirm her right not to testify" based on the US Constitution. Puerto Rican activists have a tradition of refusing to testify in federal courts and have often been jailed for contempt. According to activist Frank Velgara, grand jury subpoenas concerning the Puerto Rican movement hadn't been served in New York for almost two decades. (El Diario-La Prensa 1/12/08)

Philip Agee, a US citizen and former agent of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), died in Havana, Cuba on Jan. 7 at age 72, according to US news reports. Louis Wolf, a friend and collaborator, said the cause of death was peritonitis. Agee had been living with his wife, Giselle Roberge Agee, in Hamburg, Germany, but the couple maintained an apartment in Havana and visited frequently. Since 2000 Agee had been running Cuba Linda, an online agency arranging visits to Cuba for US residents. (The website reported that Agee died on Jan. 8.)

Agee worked for the CIA for 12 years, mostly in Ecuador, Uruguay and Mexico, but quit in 1969. His 1975 book, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, focused on what he considered the CIA's responsibility for killing or destroying the lives of "millions of people all over the world." In one part, he described a 1965 meeting he had with top police officials in Montevideo. He heard people being tortured in an adjacent room and thought he might have given the government the names of the victims. The book included a 22-page list of alleged agency operatives.

The US State Department refused to renew Agee's passport in 1987, but the government never attempted to bring him to trial. On Jan. 9, following his death, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma called Agee "a loyal friend of Cuba and fervent defender of the peoples' fight for a better world." (AP 1/9/08; New York Times 1/10/08)

Activists from the US-based groups CodePink and Juventud Bolivariana launched a "Most Wanted" campaign against Cuban-born former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) "asset" Luis Posada Carriles in Miami on Jan. 12, demanding that the US government designate him a terrorist and comply with a Venezuelan request for his extradition. Since 2005 Venezuela has been seeking to bring Posada, a naturalized Venezuelan citizen, to trial in connection with the 1976 bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner in which 73 people died. Posada is under a deportation order in the US, but since the US refused to send him either to Cuba or to Venezuela, he was conditionally released from US detention on Apr. 19, 2007 [see Updates 895, 898]. He is now living in Miami.

The activists started the campaign by passing out anti-Posada postcards in front of the Versailles restaurant on Eighth Street in Miami's "Little Havana" neighborhood; the restaurant is known as a meeting place for rightwing Cuban Americans. Five rightwing organizations held a counterdemonstration. "We support and respect our brother patriot Luis Posada Carriles" read one sign. Some counterdemonstrators threatened the activists, who withdrew.

CodePink spokesperson Medea Benjamin said local police "didn't guarantee our safety." According to Benjamin, the US government's failure either to detain or extradite Posada "makes a joke of the war against terrorism." (El Diario-La Prensa 1/13/08 from EFE, quotations retranslated from Spanish)

Correction: The date of Posada's release was given incorrectly as Apr. 19, 2006 in the original version.

More breaking stories from alternative sources:

Brazil: Still Waiting for the Promised Land

Al menos 76 indios asesinados en Brasil en 2007

Paraguay: peasants protest pesticides

Paraguay: Campesino Families Block Fumigation of Soy Fields

El Salvador: FMLN mayor assassinated

National protests against subpoena of Puerto Rican activists

Bolivia: Talks Hold Out Hope in Polarized Country

Why Bolivia Matters

Otra Colombia es posible

Venezuela: Chavez Announces Major Cabinet Reshuffle

Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution at a Turning Point

Cuba: Innovation Gives Boost to Small Farmers

Mexico launches new army operation against "Zetas"

Mexico: miners, police clash at Cananea

Fourteen Years of NAFTA and the Tortilla Crisis

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

For immigration updates and events:


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