Monday, December 15, 2008

WNU #970: Latin American Groups Mark Human Rights Day

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #970, December 14, 2008

1. Latin America: Groups Mark Human Rights Day
2. Argentina: Mass Graves Excavated
3. Haiti: US Resumes Deportations
4. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, US policy

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. Latin America: Groups Mark Human Rights Day
On Dec. 10 human rights organizations in Latin America celebrated the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by holding ceremonies, staging protests and issuing reports on the situation in their countries.

The Venezuelan Program of Education-Action in Human Rights (Provea) released its 20th Annual Report on the Human Rights Situation in Venezuela on Dec. 9. The report, which covers the period from October 2007 to September 2008, notes positive developments, including advances in education and in the right to nutrition; an increase in consumption by the poorest sectors; the creation of an office for the human rights of seniors; a decline in the repression of demonstrations; and a stronger commitment by the Attorney General's Office (FGR) to fight impunity for police agents. However, Provea reported that the number of people killed by security agencies or the armed forces had risen to 274, largely through executions. It also criticized the government of President Hugo Chávez for failing to slow the country's overall homicide rate, which Provea says rose 10.86% over the year before, to more than 10,000. It noted the high number of murders of campesinos and union members, which made Venezuela one of the most dangerous countries for unionists [see Updates #968, 969]. (Adital 12/10/08; El Universal (Caracas) 12/11/08)

Since Colombian president Alvaro Uribe took office in 2002, more than 14,000 people have died or disappeared for social or political reasons, not counting deaths in combat, according to statistics released by human rights organizations in Geneva on Dec. 9. The groups attributed 75% of the killings to the government. Unionists and human rights activists have had especially high murder rates, with 40 unionists murdered in the first eight months of 2008. Of the 2,700 unionists killed in the last 20 years, 480 died in 2002-2007 period. The groups said 75 human rights activists have been killed or disappeared under Uribe's government, and that 932 people were tortured during the period, including 731 that died. The government released a report on Dec. 10 that gave a more positive view of the statistics, noting that while 99 unionists were killed in 2002, the number had fallen to eight in 2007. (Adital 12/10/08)

Brazilian human rights organizations were planning to mark the Human Rights Declaration anniversary by holding their 11th National Human Rights Conference, from Dec. 15 to Dec. 18. The theme will be "Democracy, Development and Human Rights: Overcoming Inequalities." The conferences, which include government and nongovernmental organizations, started in 1996 and were held annually until 2004; since then, they have taken place every two years. The conference organizers held state and district conferences up to Sept. 15 to build for the national meeting. (Adital 12/10/08)

In Guatemala, the organizations in the Convergence for Human Rights organized a caravan that visited different sites in the capital to promote human rights demands. At the US embassy, Aura Elena Farfán, from the Association of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared, delivered a communiqué to Ambassador Stephen Macfarland calling for the right to migrate, the right to development and the right to self-determination of peoples. The caravan also planned to visit the Defense Ministry to demand that the military comply with President Alvaro Colom's order to turn over military archives. At the Chambers of Business and Industry, the protesters were planning to demand respect for labor rights, the payment of minimum wage and benefits, and the right to social security. Other activities that day included a Human Rights Festival in the Plaza Central organized by the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH). (Adital 12/10/08 from Cerigua)

In Mexico the "All Rights for All" National Network of Civil Human Rights Organizations called on the federal, state and local governments to work with human rights groups and to end what the group called a policy of criminalization of social protest. It rejected efforts to reinstate the death penalty. Members of the organization Children for Identity and Justice Against Forgetting and Silence (HIJOS Mexico) demonstrated at the government's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) offices to demand the release of political prisoners and the return of disappeared persons. (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/11/08)

*2. Argentina: Mass Graves Excavated
The Argentine government, the opposition and grassroots organizations all marked Dec. 10 as the 25th anniversary of the return of democratic rule after a bloody 1976-1983 military dictatorship. The Mothers (Founding Line) and the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo--organizations of women demanding the return of youths disappeared during the dictatorship's "dirty war" against suspected leftists--demonstrated in the Plaza de Mayo to demand justice for the crimes of the period. "Let's look after democracy," said Tatí Almayda, one of the leaders of the movement. "And let's get justice now, also, because the perpetrators of genocide are dying of old age--and the mothers are too."

One day earlier, on Dec. 9, experts from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) reported on their excavations in Pozo de Arana, a secret detention center used by the dictatorship from 1976 to 1977, or later, near La Plata in Buenos Aires province. They reported that they had found more than 10,000 charred bone fragments in four mass graves at the site, along with a wall apparently used for firing squads. The excavations, which were ordered last year by prosecutor Félix Crous, confirmed testimony by witnesses that the military executed detainees at the center and then incinerated and buried the remains. The EAAF has sent 38 bone samples to specialists in the US who worked on identifying the remains of victims of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York.

Former Buenos Aires province police investigations director Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz and his deputy, Ramón Camps, were responsible for Pozo de Arana; police agent Miguel Kearney was in direct command of the detention center. Camps died of cancer in 1994 without having spent a day in jail; Kearney is currently in detention and is being tried for his role at the center. Etchecolatz was sentenced to life in prison in September 2006, thanks in part to the testimony of a former detainee at the center, Jorge Julio López, who disappeared at the same time that Etchecolatz was convicted [see Updates #869, 881, 892, 917]. Among those presumed killed at the center were six students from a La Plata high school who were seized on Sept. 16, 1976 for participating in a protest over increased bus fares; they were the subject of a well-known film, "La Noche de los Lápices" ("The Night of the Pencils").

Also on Dec. 10, a court upheld preventive detention for Juan Carlos Rolón, who has been accused of the disappearance and death of journalist Rodolfo Walsh in 1977; Walsh was reportedly executed at the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) in the city of Buenos Aires. (La Jornada 12/11/08 from Notimex, AFP, PL; El Diario (Mexico) 12/10/08 from AFP; El País (Spain) 12/11/08 from correspondent)

*3. Haiti: US Resumes Deportations
Haiti marked the Universal Declaration of Human Rights' 60th anniversary with an official ceremony organized by the United Nations at the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty (FOKAL), a nongovernmental organization formerly headed by Prime Minster Michéle Duvivier Pierre-Louis. The event included the screening of a film, "The Dream of Water," as the opening of a human rights film festival. The Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (Pohdh) also organized activities to celebrate the anniversary. (AlterPresse 12/10/08)

Two days earlier, on Dec. 8, the US government acknowledged that it had resumed deporting Haitians. It suspended the deportations in September after Haiti was hit by two hurricanes and two tropical storms in one month, leaving at least 800 people dead [see Update #962]. "We determined that it was appropriate to resume based on the circumstances in Haiti," Nicole Navas, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said.

"We still have thousands of cubic meters of mud being removed from [the northwestern city of] Gonaïves," Haitian consul general in Miami told the Miami Herald. "There are still people in shelters, and of course people know children are suffering from malnutrition in Haiti." "Deportations at this time are simply inhumane, sending people to conditions of famine and disease," said Randolph McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Legal Services in Miami. The policy is "so cruel and misguided that I cannot explain it by any other way than to condemn the policy as racist." (Miami Herald 12/9/08)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, US policy

Brazil: high court upholds Amazon indigenous land rights

Bolivia: drought hits campesinos hard

DEA complicit in Bolivia coke trade: Evo

Evo Morales: DEA Complicit in Bolivia Drug Trade

Ecuador announces default on "illegitimate" debt

Colombia extradites Valle Cartel kingpin

Colombia: survivors remember "Bananera Massacre"

Colombian Cane Cutters Score Victory, But Struggle of Afro-Colombians Continues

Colombia: Social Conflict Replaces Warfare

Indigenous Justice in Colombia

Colombia: "We Need a Popular Movement in Order to Win the Elections"

Colombian army's "numbers don't add up" in war on FARC

Colombia's "Capt. Nemo" on trial

No Justice for Guatemala Massacre Victims After 26 Years

Mexico: narco-war death toll doubles '07; Juárez femicide breaks records

Mexico pledges to halve greenhouse emissions--with carbon-trading

Group Calls for Obama to Suspend CAFTA

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