Monday, April 14, 2008

WNU #943: Colombian Campesino Murdered, Haitian Protests Spread

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #943, April 13, 2008

1. Colombia: Campesino Leader Murdered
2. Haiti: Food Protests Spread
3. Haiti: The World Reacts to Protests
4. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico

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. For a subscription, write to It is archived at

*1. Colombia: Campesino Leader Murdered
On Mar. 30, unidentified assailants shot to death campesino community leader Gerardo Antonio Ciro as he was returning to his home in the rural community of El Jordán in Cocorna municipality, in the eastern region of Antioquia department, Colombia. Community members said they did not hear any gunshots, so they believe the killers may have used a silencer on the gun. Ciro was an active and nationally recognized leader of his community and of the Association of Small-scale and Medium-scale Producers of Eastern Antioquia (ASOPROA). His efforts with ASOPROA to help community members hold on to their land and protect themselves against forced displacement were not well received by government and military officials, who tried to link Ciro to armed guerrilla groups. Those accusations made Ciro a target of the paramilitary groups whose members act as guides in Colombian military operations and as prosecution witnesses in criminal cases.

In February 2006 the Corporación Jurídica Libertad (Legal Freedom Corporation) asked the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to step in and seek guarantees from the Colombian government for the protection of threatened community leaders and residents of eastern Antioquia, including Ciro. Ciro had received death threats from local paramilitaries since at least 2002, and was forced to leave his community for a period between 2002 and 2005. The threats continued after his return. On Jan. 6, 2006, his son received a written death threatening the Ciro family and other families who had protested the Colombian army's Oct. 13, 2005 execution of a neighbor, Ubaldo Antonio Buitrago Giraldo. Five of the families fled the community following the death threats. (Corporación Jurídica Libertad 4/1/08)

*2. Haiti: Food Protests Spread
Protests that started in the southwestern Haitian city of Les Cayes on Apr. 3 over the high cost of food and other staples erupted again with new force on Apr. 7. This followed a two-day lull in the disturbances, which had spread to several other cities and resulted in four deaths [see Update #942].

In Les Cayes on Apr. 7 a crowd attacked a building belonging to Senator Jean Gabriel Fortuné, who had charged that drug dealers and political groups infiltrated the earlier protests. Haitian police and soldiers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) turned back the protesters, who then looted a store belonging to Fortuné's wife. Protesters said a worker in a nearby church was killed when he was hit by a bullet during the incident; this brought the total of deaths in the protests to five. In Jérémie, west of Les Cayes on Haiti's southwestern peninsula, police agents used nightsticks and tear gas to disperse several hundred rock-throwing protesters. Some of the demonstrators called for the removal of the MINUSTAH troops and the return of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide, who was forced out of office in 2004. Other protesters were supporting rightwing former military officer Guy Philippe, who led the armed uprising that precipitated Aristide's ouster.

Meanwhile, Port-au-Prince was paralyzed as students demonstrated and thousands of people hurled rocks and set up burning barricades near the National Palace and in the Martissant and Carrefour-Feuilles neighborhoods. The windshields of more than a hundred vehicles were broken. (Agence Haïtienne de Presse 4/7/08)

On the morning of Apr. 8 crowds in Port-au-Prince attacked the National Palace itself, forcing open the main gate. MINUSTAH troops responded with rubber bullets, wounding several people, including Jean-Jacques Augustin, a reporter and photographer for the daily Le Matin. For the rest of the day, traffic was blocked in the capital as thousands of people erected flaming barricades and trashed and looted stores, public offices, restaurants and gas stations throughout the metropolitan area. In Champ-de-Mars the Air France office was damaged, National Credit Bank vehicles were set on fire and windshields were smashed on private cars. Crowds hurled rocks at stores along the highway in Delmas, while the National Old Age Insurance office was partly burned in Pétionville and the Le Matin office was attacked with rocks. Police agents largely gave up all efforts to stop the crowds, and MINUSTAH tried to take over police work in the capital. (AHP 4/8/08)

On Apr. 9 President René Garcia Préval addressed the nation, ordering the protesters to stop and proposing longterm measures for increasing domestic production of staples like rice and other foods. "Instead of subsidizing the price of food products coming from abroad, we'd rather subsidize national production," he said. "I propose that the price of fertilizer be subsidized by 50% and even more." (AHP 4/8/08; Haiti Support Group News Briefs 4/10/08 from Reuters) What was described as a "precarious calm" took hold in the capital after Préval's speech, but protests against against lavichè ("expensive life") continued on Apr. 10 in Jérémie, in the central city of Hinche, in Mirebalais in the east, in Gonaïves in the northwest, in Jacmel in the southeast, and in Petit-Goâve and Miragoâne in the south. (AlterPresse 4/11/08)

Although no deaths were reported after Apr. 7, the French group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it had treated 31 injured people, including 15 with gunshot wounds, in its hospitals in Port-au-Prince from Apr. 7 to Apr. 10. The majority of the patients were treated at Trinité hospital on Apr. 8, the day of the most intense protests in the capital. (HSG 4/10/08 from MSF) As commercial activities slowly resumed on Apr. 11, extensive damage was reported, with more than 20 gas stations vandalized in the Port-au-Prince area. (AlterPresse 4/11/08)

On Apr. 12 President Préval announced emergency measures to bring down the price of food. He said a sack of rice would be reduced to $43 from the current $51, a decrease of about 15%. The government is to put up $5 of the $8 reduction, while private business are to supply the remaining $3. The reduction is for one month and affects the 30,000 tons of rice currently on the market.

Despite the new measures, a Senate no-confidence vote later in the day forced Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis from office, with 16 of the 27 senators voting against the government; one supported Alexis, and 10 were absent. Préval must now propose a replacement. Also on Apr. 12, MINUSTAH troops reportedly fired tear gas at protesters in central Port-au-Prince, and a United Nations police agent from Nigerian who was dressed in civilian clothes was shot dead by unknown assailants near the capital's cathedral. (HSG 4/12/08 from Reuters, AFP; AlterPresse 4/12/08)

*3. Haiti: The World Reacts to Protests
After a week of disturbances in Haiti over the high cost of living, on Apr. 11 the Organization of American States (OAS) announced that in about two weeks it would supply $1 million for the purchase of food. France offered 1 million euros (about $1.5 million). On Apr. 10 Brazil, which leads the MINUSTAH troops, announced that it would ship 14 tons of food by a Brazilian Air Force Boeing KC-137/707, in coordination with the World Food Program (WFP), to arrive on Apr. 11. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías made a dramatically larger commitment, announcing on Apr. 12 that his government would send 364 tons of emergency food aid, including beef, chicken, milk, cooking oil and lentils. (AlterPresse 4/11/08; Brazilian government press release 4/10/08; HSG 4/12/08 from AFP)

Uruguayan journalist Raúl Zibechi described international reaction to the events in Haiti as "silence" in comparison to the conservative media's condemnations of China for repression in Tibet and the progressive Latin American media's condemnations of Colombia for its Mar. 1 attack on a rebel camp in Ecuador [see Update #937]. He suggested the left's response was influenced by the fact that the MINUSTAH forces are largely supplied by center-left South American governments: 1,211 soldiers from Brazil, 1,147 from Uruguay, 562 from Argentina and 502 from Chile.

In the 1980s Haiti produced 95% of the rice it consumed, Zibechi said; now, after 20 years of neoliberal trade policies, Haiti imports 80% of its rice from the US. According to Didier Dominique from the Haitian labor group Batay Ouvriye ("Workers' Struggle"), the destruction of the country's agricultural sector was part of a plan to transform Haiti into a source of cheap labor for assembly plants in "free trade zones." (Servicio Informativo "alai-amlatina" 4/11/08)

At the Apr. 10 opening of the spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Washington, DC, World Bank president Robert Zoellick held up a piece of bread and a sack of rice and warned that the increase in the prices of basic foods could wipe out gains in combatting world poverty over the last seven years. Zoellick, a former US trade representative, noted that food protests had broken out in countries as far apart as Pakistan, Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and Haiti, and attributed much of the problem to the growing use of farmlands to produce biocombustibles like ethanol instead of food crops. (La Jornada (Mexico) 4/11/08 from correspondents)

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Colombia-US: Fight Over Trade Deal Is On

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Mexico: Pemex privatization advances

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

For immigration updates and events:


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

1 comment:

Weekly News Update on the Americas said...

nThe article by Raul Zibechi cited above, "Haiti is Not Tibet: The Miseries of a Two-Faced Discourse," is now available in English from Updside Down World: