Monday, September 1, 2008

WNU #959: Brazilian Indigenous Win, Argentine Generals Lose

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #959, August 31, 2008

1. Brazil: Roraima Indigenous Win Round
2. Argentina: Two Coup Generals Get Life
3. Mexico: New Sentences in Atenco Case
4. Mexico: Morelos Teachers Strike
5. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

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. Brazil: Roraima Indigenous Win Round
On Aug. 27 Minister Carlos Ayres Britto of Brazil's Supreme Court issued a recommendation favoring indigenous people in the northwestern state of Roraima who seek to maintain the Raposa Serra do Sol (RSS) area as a continuous indigenous land. Ayres Britto's 105-page opinion needs to be confirmed by the other 10 members of the Supreme Court, and the final vote will be probably be delayed to the end of the year because another member of the court, Minister Carlos Alberto Menezes, has asked to review the case.

Located on the border with Guyana and Venezuela, the 6,000-square-mile Raposa Serra do Sol region is the traditional home of some 19,000 Ingaricó, Macuxi, Patamona, Taurepang and Wapichana people. Indigenous people struggled for 30 years to have RSS recognized as indigenous land. Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made the formal recognition in an April 2005 decree and stipulated that non-indigenous occupants would be removed within a year. Some powerful rice growers refused to leave and organized sometimes violent resistance when the federal government finally began removing them in March 2008. The state government backed the rice growers and filed an injunction against the removals. Ayres ruled that "[t]he rice growers have no acquired right in relation to possession of the land" and that their "presence takes extensive areas of fertile soil" from the indigenous peoples.

The indigenous groups were represented by Joenia Batista de Carvalho, a Wapichana lawyer and the head of the Indigenous Council of Roraima's legal department. She is the first indigenous lawyer to argue an indigenous rights case before the Supreme Court. (Adital 8/29/08; Rainforest Foundation Update 8/29/08)

*2. Argentina: Two Coup Generals Get Life
On Aug. 28 a federal criminal court in the northwestern Argentine province of Tucumán sentenced former generals Antonio Domingo Bussi and Luciano Benjamín Menéndez to life in prison for the kidnapping, torture and disappearance of ex-senator Guillermo Vargas Aignasse in 1976, during the coup that started the country's 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

Menéndez had already received a life sentence in a different case in Córdoba in July. Along with six other military officers and a civilian, he was found guilty in the kidnapping, torture and extrajudicial execution of four people in 1977. The court agreed to let the 82-year-old Bussi serve his sentence at home, at least until a further decision is made in early September. Bussi was the de facto governor of Tucumán during the military regime and served as elected governor 1995-1999 after the return of democracy [see Updates #702, 718, 950; #718 erroneously gives his elected term as 1991-1995]. Claiming he was in poor health, Bussi appeared before the court in a wheelchair with a plastic tube in his nose. He didn't express regret for the crime, but he cried during the Aug. 28 sentencing and said: "My physical sufferings don't allow me to confront this ultimate combat."

The decision to let Bussi serve his sentence at home produced clashes outside the courthouse between security forces and human rights and leftist groups, resulting in some injuries. (Adital 8/29/08; La Jornada (Mexico) 8/29/08 from correspondent)

*3. Mexico: New Sentences in Atenco Case
On Aug. 21 Alberto Cervantes Juárez, first criminal court judge in Texcoco for the central Mexican state of México, sentenced campesino leader Ignacio del Valle Medina to 45 years in prison for allegedly kidnapping state officials and state and federal police agents. Judge Cervantes Juárez sentenced 10 other campesino activists to 31 years, 10 months and 15 days on the same charges. He handed down the sentences in the Molino de Flores state prison in Texcoco; 500 state riot police guarded the prison to "protect" the judge. About 150 Atenco residents arrived at the prison later in the day to protest the sentences.

The 11 defendants are members of the Front of the Peoples in Defense of the Land (FPDT), a campesino movement that formed in 2001 and successfully opposed plans to build a new international airport on farmlands in and around San Salvador Atenco municipality northeast of Mexico City in México state. The charges arose out of a May 3-4, 2006 confrontation between police and FPDT members which resulted in the deaths of two protesters, 209 arrests and accusations that police agents systematically beat and sexually abused prisoners. Del Valle is already serving a sentence of 67 years and six months in another case, concerning the alleged detention of state government officials during protests in February and April 2006 [see Update #897]
Del Valle's attorney, Bárbara Zamora, called the new sentences "unjust," especially for Del Valle, "since it was demonstrated that he was never in the place of the actions." According to FPDT attorney Juan de Dios Hernández Monje, "the judge himself indicated to one of the family members that he didn't decide on the sentence but that the State of México Superior Court of Justice ordered it, which demonstrates that this is an eminently political question, not a juridical one." Many Mexican and international human rights groups and activists have signed on to a petition calling for the withdrawal of the sentences against Atenco activists; it can be accessed at
(La Jornada 8/22/08; Indymedia (US) 8/27/08)

In other news, on Aug. 27 Mexico's Supreme Court of Justice voted 11-3 to uphold an April 2007 law in the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) allowing voluntary abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy [see Update #896]. The Catholic Church and the governing center-right National Action Party (PAN) had sought to have the law declared unconstitutional. The court's decision, which opens the way for other state government to legalize abortion, became official on Aug. 28. (LJ 8/28/08, 8/29/08)

*4. Mexico: Morelos Teachers Strike
Most of the 23,000 school teachers in the central Mexican state of Morelos went on strike on Aug. 13 to protest the local implementation of a national plan called the Alliance for Quality of Education (ACE). The teachers, in Local 19 of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), say that the plan is oriented towards consumerism and the commercialization of education and that it was imposed in ways that violate their constitutional rights. ACE was created through an agreement between Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa and Elba Esther Gordillo Morales, longtime national president of the 1.5 million-member SNTE.

On Aug. 22 some 20,000 teachers marched through Cuernavaca, the state capital, announcing plans to continue the strike and to set up an encampment in a plaza. Teachers and parents also demonstrated in other Morelos communities. Some 900 education workers marched on the same day in Veracruz state, while more than 9,000 teachers held a two-hour strike in the eastern state of Quintana Roo. On Aug. 28 Morelos teachers stepped up their actions by occupying tollbooths on highways and letting cars pass without paying; the actions were continuing as of Aug. 30. Meanwhile, federal senators from the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) called for Morelos governor Marco Antonio Adame to respond to the teachers' demands. (La Jornada 8/23/08, 8/24/08, 8/31/08; Mexican Labor News and Analysis, August 2008, Vol. 13, #8)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

Asunción's Bañados Neighborhood: The Power of Community in Paraguay

Stiglitz Goes To Paraguay: Move Over Chicago, A Cambridge Boy's in Town

Bolivia: Beef Producers' Boycott - Latest Opposition Strategy

Peru: Indigenous Occupations End With Victory in Congress

Landowners Attack Venezuelan Indigenous Clamoring for Land Rights in Zulia

Honduras: Joining ALBA 'A Step Towards the Centre-Left,' Says President

Guatemala: The Forgotten Spirits of Rabinal

Development and the Desert: Border Land Struggle Turns Bloody in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

US Actions to Block Life-saving Funds to Haiti

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