Monday, August 25, 2008

Links but no Update for August 24, 2008

[Due to other commitments, we are unable to send out an Update this week. We'll be back next week. Below are links to stories from other sources.]

Dispatch From Paraguay: Hope Reigns at Dawn of Fernando Lugo Presidency

Paraguay: former slave becomes indigenous affairs minister

Bolivian Government Condemns Opposition Strike

What did Bolivian Society Say Through the Recall Referendum?

Democracy and Conflict: Bolivia's Constituent Assembly, Federal Government, and Departmental Autonomy Statutes

Bolivia: opposition strike shuts down five departments

Bolivia: Evo sends army to oil installations

Peru: Conflict Grows, Government Slumps

Peru: indigenous uprising claims victory —for now

Venezuela: Land Reform Conflict Arises Around Strategic Water Source

Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras

Guatemala: SalvaVidas Purified Water Union Suffers Threats and Injustice

Deadly attacks on police across Mexico

Inter-American Court Focuses on Forced Disappearances

An Introduction to Regional Financial Institutions in Latin America

Should Obama, If Elected, Make a Clean Break With Bush's Latin America Policy?

Would There Be Change in Obama's Americas Policy?

Monday, August 18, 2008

WNU #958: Crackdown on Left and Press in Colombia?

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #958, August 17, 2008

1. Colombia: Crackdown on Left and Press?
2. Colombia: Support Group Issues Alerts
3. Mexico: Sit-in in PEMEX Union Office
4. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, 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. Colombia: Crackdown on Left and Press?
On Aug. 8 the Colombian Attorney General's Office arrested sociologist Liliana (or Liliany) Patricia Obando Villota in Bogotá on charges of organizing events and managing money for the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). On Aug. 9 the Attorney General's Office announced that police had also arrested Dr. César Augusto Arango García, the director of a public hospital in the indigenous municipality of Planadas in Tolima department; Arango was described as the personal physician of Alfonso Cano, who has led the FARC since the death of longtime leader Manuel Marulanda in March. The Attorney General's Office says it is also seeking William Parra, a journalist now working with the left-leaning Venezuelan-based Telesur television network.

Colombian authorities say the charges against Obando and Parra are based on information found in computers used by FARC spokesperson and negotiator Raúl Reyes; the computers were seized in March when the Colombian military bombed and raided a FARC camp in Ecuador, killing Reyes and about 20 other people [see Updates #937, 939].

Obando is a consultant with the National Unified Agricultural Union Federation (FENSUAGRO). Founded 20 years ago in the Urabá region, the federation includes 37 campesino unions with a total of 80,000 members, according to an unnamed spokesperson. The authorities say Obando was in frequent correspondence with Reyes and may have had romantic relations with him. Obando told Colombia's RCN Radio on Aug. 11 that she had not financed the rebels; she admitted she had met Reyes but denied having romantic relations with him. She said she was working on a study for FENSUAGRO of the murders of more than 1,500 of the organization's members.

Parra was chief spokesperson for former president Ernesto Samper during his second term (1994-1998). He has been ordered to appear for questioning on Sept. 11. Parra lives outside Colombia and hasn't indicated whether he will respond to the order; however, he has named Sandra Gamboa Rubiano of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective to be his defense attorney in Colombia. (AFP 9/8/08; El Nuevo Herald (Miami) 8/10/08 from correspondent; Peace and Justice For Colombia (Australia) announcement 8/13/08; RCN Radio 8/11/08; El País (Cali) 8/12/08 from Colprensa)

On Aug. 12 Colombian media reported that Carlos Lozano Guillén, director of the weekly magazine Voz, had been ordered to testify on his alleged links to the FARC. Colombia authorities say messages from Lozano appear on Reyes' computers. Lozano indicated that any correspondence he had with the FARC was in connection with peace efforts or negotiations for the release of hostages. He said he hadn't been notified of the judicial order and called the situation "a spectacle by means of the media." Lozano is a member of the Executive Committee of the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) and the National Council of the center-left Democratic Alternative Pole (PDA). On July 11 French president Nicholas Sarkozy awarded Lozano and National Conciliation Commission head Father Darío Echeverri the French government's highest decoration, the Legion of Honor.

Colombian authorities say Reyes' computers also implicate at least four opposition members of Congress: Senator Piedad Córdoba de Castro, a member of the Liberal Party and a negotiator for the release of hostages held by the FARC [see Update #937, where she is only identified as a former senator]; and Senator Gloria Inés Ramírez, Senator Gustavo Petro and Deputy Wilson Borja, all from the PDA. Investigations of Petro and Borja are already underway, and on Aug. 12 Colombia president Alvaro Uribe called for an investigation of Córdoba, who told the newspaper El Tiempo that she might sue him for libel. (El Pais 8/12/08; Carlos Lozano Guillén blog 8/5/08; La Jornada (Mexico) 8/13/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

Several of the people now under investigation were targeted in the past by paramilitary or rebel groups. The rightwing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) kidnapped Piedad Córboba and held her for two weeks in May and June 1997 [see Updates #486, 488]. In December 2000 Wilson Borja, then president of the National Federation of State Workers (Fenaltrase), was seriously injured in an attack by alleged rightwing paramilitaries outside his Bogotá home; a bystander was killed along with one of the assailants [see Update #568]. In 2005 unidentified people stabbed William Parra in the rural zone of Nemocón, 60 km north of Bogotá, injuring a lung. (ENH 8/10/08) Parra has also been the victim of a FARC action: in December 1997, when he was a government official, rebels kidnapped him along with another journalist and held them both for more than a week [see Update #441].

*2. Colombia: Support Group Issues Alerts
The government of Colombian president Alvaro Uribe continues to be plagued by the parapolítica ("parapolitics") scandal, in which some 60 members of Congress have been linked to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a rightwing paramilitary group that is now officially demobilized. The majority of these politicians are in Uribe's governing coalition, and some are in the president's extended family. On Aug. 12 a former paramilitary, Luis Adrián Palacio ("Diomedes"), gave testimony to the Attorney General's Office linking Gen. Mario Montoya, the head of the military, to the AUC. Diomedes said that in April 2002 Montoya, who then commanded the Army's Fourth Brigade, personally delivered a "present" of six AK-47 rifles and an M-16 rifle to the AUC's Bloque Mineros. Montoya denies the charge.

Uribe's popularity remains high; the latest polls gave him a 91% rating. He has been helped by a series of successes against the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Charges that leftist politicians are linked to the FARC--known as the farcpolítica ("FARC politics") scandal --have helped relieve pressure from the paramilitary scandal. (La Jornada 8/13/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

An agreement between Uribe and the administration of US president George Bush has also helped diffuse the scandal. Some paramilitary leaders are now being extradited to the US to stand trial for drug trafficking, and many analysts think this will keep Colombian investigators from getting valuable information about paramilitary links to politicians. (The Nation 7/29/08) Ever Veloza ("H.H."), former leader of the Bloques Calima and Bananeros paramilitary units, has begun to talk about these ties, and Senator Gustavo Petro (himself threatened with investigation in the farcpolítica scandal) is urging Uribe to hold up Veloza's extradition until he has told his story. The US-based Colombia Support Network (CSN) is asking for letters to US attorney general Michael Mukasey ( and Colombian attorney general Dr. Mario Hernán Iguarán Arana ( and "urging them to place a hold on extradition until the human rights violation stories can be told." (CSN alert 8/5/08)

CSN is also urging activists to circulate a letter to Uribe in support of sociologist and journalist Alfredo Molano Bravo. The powerful Araujo family of Valledupar, capital of Cesar department, has brought criminal libel charges against Molano for a column the newspaper El Espectador published on Feb. 24, 2007, about various crimes committed by unidentified "notables" in Valledupar. On Aug. 12, Molano Bravo was ordered to appear at a preliminary hearing in the case. CSN is asking for people to sign on to a statement in solidarity with Molano. The group calls the criminal action against the journalist "part of a plan to muzzle the Colombian press at a time when investigations of ties of many Colombian politicians, including members of the Araujo family, with illegal paramilitaries are leading to convictions." The letter is available from CSN at (CSN alert 8/12/08)

*3. Mexico: Sit-in in PEMEX Union Office
In the early morning of Aug. 15 a group of about 40 dissident unionists occupied the Mexico City headquarters of the Union of Petroleum Workers of the Mexican Republic (STPRM) to protest the recent reelection of Carlos Romero Deschamps, who has headed the union for 17 years. Dissident leader Omar Toledo Aburto gave a press conference in Romero Deschamps' luxurious office, announcing that he would be the "interim national leader of the more than 97,000 petroleum workers while elections take place." Two hours after the sit-in began, about 50 supporters of Romero Deschamps arrived wielding metal pipes and carrying pistols in their belts. They retook the office, beat the dissidents and confiscated their documents and cellphones. (La Jornada 8/16/08)

Opponents of Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa's plan for the partial privatization of the state-owned oil monopoly, Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), say that Romero Deschamps' leadership of the STPRM is "key" to the plan. The current leader will keep the petroleum workers from mobilizing and protesting any privatization, according to Francisco Carrillo Soberón, a former secretary in the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME). (LJ 8/17/08) Meanwhile, voting on a non-binding referendum organized by opponents of Calderón's plan continues. Organizers projected a turnout of about 393,000 for the second round, which took place on Aug. 10 in seven states: Campeche, Colima, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tabasco, Yucatán and Quintana Roo. As in the first round--on July 27 in the Federal District (DF) and nine states--the vote was overwhelmingly against Calderón's plan [see Updates #956, 957]. The final round of voting is set for Aug. 24. (LJ 8/11/08)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, US policy

Repression of Documentary Filmmakers in Chile

Paraguay: Rocky Road Ahead for Lugo

Asunción's Bañados Neighborhood: The Power of Community

Lula: give Doha a chance

Bolivia, Shell Oil reach pipeline compensation deal

Bolivia: Miner Clashes Leave Two Dead, Gov't Investigates

Bolivia: Summit Cancelled Due to Social Unrest

Bolivian Conflict Revolves Around Control of Land and Gas

Bolivia: opposition calls civil strike in wake of recall vote

The Street and the Ballot Box: Voices From Bolivia's Recall Vote

Bolivia: Prefect Reyes Villa Resigns After Losing Referendum

Optimism and Uncertainty Follow Bolivian Recall Vote

Bolivia: After Recall Vote, Opposition Rejects Morales' Call for Unity

Bolivian President Ratified in Post, Three Prefects Lose Vote

Peru: Secret Arms Deals - An Invitation to Corruption?

Peru: indigenous protesters occupy gas fields

Ecuador's Constitution and Mining

Colombia: investigate "misuse" of Red Cross insignia

Permanent Peoples' Tribunal in Colombia: Corporations with a License to Kill

Colombia: Interview with Antonio Navarro Wolf

Colombia: indigenous groups face "extinction"

Colombia: Terror Campaign Targets Indigenous Population

FARC's international supporters targeted after Colombia terror blast

Chávez charges US intervention in Georgia

Chávez Signs 26 Law-Decrees on Final Day of Enabling Law Power

Guatemala: The Hope for an Endless Mine

Honduras: Garifuna Resistance to Mega-Tourism in Tela Bay

Mexico: top drug prosecutors step down in shake-up

U.S. Recession, Drug War Violence Cause Crisis in Mexico Tourism

A Primer on Plan Mexico

Mexico: feds probe "forced disappearance" of leftist militants

Mexico: narco-killings surpass last year's total

Haiti's Compounding Food and Health Crises

'A New Alliance of the Americas'? Reflections of 1961 for Obama in 2008

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

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. A print edition of the Update is also available via first class mail (a contribution of at least $30 is suggested to cover printing and postage within the US). Back issues and source materials are available on request. Update subscribers also receive, as a supplement, our own weekly Immigration News Briefs.

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

Monday, August 4, 2008

WNU #957: Mexicans Vote No on PEMEX "Reform"

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #957, August 3, 2008

1. Mexico: "No" Vote on PEMEX "Reform"
2. Venezuela: Chavez Embraces Russia, Spain
3. Haiti: Pierre-Louis Ratified as PM
4. Haiti: Brazil Offers Food Program
5. Cuba: US Computers Reach Havana
6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela

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. Mexico: "No" Vote on PEMEX "Reform"
Some 1.8 million Mexicans voted overwhelmingly in an unofficial, non-binding referendum on July 27 to reject President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa's proposals to allow more involvement in the state oil monopoly, Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), by local and foreign private companies. The vote was held in the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) and nine states; similar unofficial votes are planned for the remaining 23 states on Aug. 10 and Aug. 24 [see Update #956].

A rapid count late on July 27 showed about 870,000 people voting in the DF. Exit polls by the Consulta Mitofsky polling firm estimated that 84.7% voted no on the first question--whether to allow private companies to participate in activities relating to petroleum exploitation--while 15.3% voted yes. A second question asked if voters agreed "in general" with Calderón's energy reform proposals; some 82.9% voted no, and 17.1% voted yes, according to the exit poll. (La Jornada (Mexico) 7/28/08)

Vote counting was slower outside the DF, but as of July 31 organizers reported that about 968,000 voters had participated in the nine states, which include such populous areas as México state. Some 93% of these voted no on the first question while 5% voted yes, with 2% of the votes ruled invalid; 91% voted no on the second question, and 7% voted yes, with the rest invalid. (LJ 8/1/08)

Organizers insisted that they were "satisfied" with voter participation. However, the center-left government of the DF had printed enough ballots for 6 million voters, many more than the number of voters that turned out. Unofficial referendums in the past seem to have drawn more voters: organizers claimed that an August 1998 vote on a government bailout of banks brought out more than 3 million voters, while 2.4 million Mexicans reportedly participated in a March 1999 "consultation" by the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) on indigenous rights [see Updates #449, 478, 956]. Carlos Payán Velver, former editor of the left-leaning daily La Jornada, noted that in the DF people had to present voter credentials before voting in this year's referendum. Participation was much higher than for other votes in the DF with the same requirements, he said, such as a 2002 referendum on building a second level for the Mexico City beltway, which brought out 420,000 voters. (LJ 7/28/08; LJ 7/29/08)

*2. Venezuela: Chávez Embraces Russia, Spain
On July 22, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías met with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow as the two countries signed agreements for joint work on energy projects in Venezuela. Chávez said the accords would promote "a strategic alliance in the energy sector." Venezuela and Russia have "a perfect identity in their foreign policy lines," he said. "If the Russian armed forces want to be in Venezuela, they'll be welcomed warmly." Chávez added that he intended to pursue military cooperation with Russia in response to the "aggressive plans" of the US. In recent years Venezuela has bought arms worth an estimated $4 billion from Russia. This was Chávez's sixth visit to Russia since 2001, although the first since Medvedev became president. Previous visits were with former president Vladimir Putin, who is now Medvedev's prime minister. (La Jornada 7/23/08 from correspondent)

Chávez was in Spain on July 25. He proposed discussions about Europe's new policies towards immigrants from Latin America [see Update #951], and also used the visit to mend fences with President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and King Juan Carlos I. During the 17th Iberian-American Summit in Santiago, Chile, in November 2007, Chávez had repeatedly interrupted Zapatero, and Juan Carlos finally told Chávez: "Why don't you shut up?" This time Chávez held the king in a long embrace. Juan Carlos gave him a t-shirt reading: "Why don't you shut up?" and Chávez joked about the king's royalties from the expression. (LJ 7/26/08 from correspondent)

*3. Haiti: Pierre-Louis Ratified as PM
The Haitian Senate voted on July 31 to ratify the appointment of economist Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis as prime minister. Twelve of the 18 senators present voted in favor, and five abstained; as required by the regulations, Senate president Kelly Bastien did not vote. The Senate's action completes the ratification process, since the Chamber of Deputies approved Pierre-Louis' appointment on July 17. President René Garcia Préval nominated Pierre-Louis on June 23; it was his third effort to find a prime minister to succeed Jacques Edouard Alexis, who was forced to resign on Apr. 12 following violent protests over the rising cost of food [see Update #954]. Pierre-Louis is Haiti's second woman prime minister.

Some of the opposition to Pierre-Louis stemmed from her position as director of the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty (FOKAL), a nongovernmental organization supported by the Open Society Institute of US financier George Soros, who has backed neoliberal economic policies in Latin America. Some opposition was because of rumors about her sexual orientation. In the debate on July 31, Sen. Edmonde Supplice Beauzile said she wouldn't vote for Pierre-Louis for moral reasons, while Sen. Rudy Hériveaux said people shouldn't be penalized for their sexual orientation. Challenges facing Pierre-Louis now include dealing with the rising cost of living; finding a way to jump-start food production in the country; handling protests by former members of the army, which was disbanded in 1995; preparing for the start of the school year on Sept. 1; and arranging elections for nine of the 27 seats in the Senate. (Associated Press 7/31/08; Reuters 7/31/08; AlterPresse 7/31/08, _ )

*4. Haiti: Brazil Offers Food Program
A mission representing several Brazilian government ministries arrived in Haiti on July 19 for a two-week visit aimed at developing a plan for combatting hunger in the country. A pilot project will be modeled on Brazil's Program of Acquisition of Food from Family Agriculture (PAA). "The objective is to encourage family agriculture, generating income and producing food," said César Medeiros, director of Brazil's National Food and Nutritional Security Secretariat. "The project will be administered by Haiti; Brazil will only provide advice." The aid is part of an agreement Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva signed with President René Préval during a visit to Haiti on May 28. (Adital (Brazil) 7/31/08)

Brazil heads the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a four-year-old military and policing operation opposed by many Haitian and Brazilian activists [see Update #549].

*5. Cuba: US Computers Reach Havana
Computers confiscated by US customs agents in Texas at the beginning of July finally arrived in Cuba on Aug. 1 in a cargo of 100 tons of humanitarian aid raised by the New York-based group Pastors for Peace in its 19th US-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan. After collecting the aid in 137 US and Canadian cities during June, the caravan drove into Mexico at the border crossing at McAllen, Texas. US agents let the other material through, including five buses, but confiscated 32 computers [see Update #953, where we reported the number as 35, following our source]. The caravan members took the rest of the aid to Tampico in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas to send it to Cuba by ship; the members themselves then flew to Havana on July 5.

"When we came back from our visit to Cuba, the people from Customs gave us back the computers...saying they had determined that we could ask for a permit," Pastors for Peace associate director Ellen Bernstein told a press conference in Havana on Aug. 1. "But we didn't ask for anything; we carried the computers by hand and crossed the international bridge to Mexico to leave them on the other side to make sure that they got from Customs to Cuba." The group, which has shipped aid to Cuba since 1992, protests the US trade embargo against Cuba by refusing to apply for permits.

At the press conference Bernstein announced that eight US students would graduate on Aug. 2 from Havana's Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). Currently 103 students from disadvantaged US communities are studying there on full scholarship; eventually Cuba hopes to have 500 US students in the program. (Granma Internacional (Cuba) 8/1/08; Soitu.Es (Spain) 8/1/08 from EFE)

On July 31 Pastors for Peace founder Rev. Lucius Walker was in court in New York City facing contempt charges for refusing to answer questions from the Special Commission of Investigation (SCI) for the city's Department of Education about a delegation from Beacon High School that traveled to Cuba in 2007. Judge Judith Gische refused to rule because of errors in the SCI's motion, but she said the SCI could correct the errors and resubmit the motion. Charging that "precious Department of Education funds are being used to harass rather than to serve the urgent educational needs of our schools," Pastors for Peace is asking for supporters to urge Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard J. Condon (80 Maiden Lane, 20th floor, New York, NY 10038-4811) to withdraw the SCI's subpoena of Walker. (Court Update from Pastors for Peace 8/1/08; Pan-African News Wire 1/23/08 from AP, New York Daily News)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela

Argentina: Soy - High Profits Now, Hell to Pay Later

Bolivia: It's All about the Gas Revenues

Indigenous Organizations to Support Ecuador's Constitution

Colombia: army colonel admits participation in Peace Community massacre

Colombia: banana executive admits participation in Peace Community massacres

Colombian paras cop plea in Miami; "New Generation" wreaks terror in Narino

What is the Venezuelan News Media Actually Like?

Venezuelan Youth: A Potential Antidote to the Weaknesses of the Revolution

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

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. A print edition of the Update is also available via first class mail (a contribution of at least $30 is suggested to cover printing and postage within the US). Back issues and source materials are available on request. Update subscribers also receive, as a supplement, our own weekly
Immigration News Briefs.

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