Monday, February 28, 2011

WNU #1069: Indigenous Chileans Acquitted of “Terrorism”

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1069, February 27, 2011

1. Chile: Mapuche Activists Acquitted of “Terrorism”
2. Mexico: Reyes Salazars Demand an End to the “Stupid War”
3. Puerto Rico: ACLU May Investigate Rights Situation
4. Haiti: Groups Campaign Against Neoliberal Accords
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, 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. Chile: Mapuche Activists Acquitted of “Terrorism”
In a significant setback for Chilean prosecutors, judges in Cañete in the central province of Arauco voted on Feb. 22 not to convict 17 indigenous Mapuche activists on “terrorism” charges relating to a fire and an attack on a prosecutor, Mario Elgueta, in Tirúa in October 2008 [see Update #985]. The judges acquitted most of the defendants of all charges, but they found four of the activists--Héctor Llaitul, Ramón Llenaquileo, José Huenuche and Jonathan Huillical—guilty of attempted homicide, a common crime, in the attack on Elgueta.

The four convicted activists may receive prison terms of up to 15 years at their sentencing, scheduled for Mar. 22, but they could have been condemned to 103-year terms if prosecutors had succeeded in convicting them on “illegal terrorist association,” a charge based on Law No. 19.027, which was enacted during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The accused, said to be members of the Arauco Malleco Coordinating Committee (CAM), were among 34 Mapuche prisoners who participated in a hunger strike in the late summer of 2010 to protest the law, which treats land occupations and attacks on the equipment or personnel of multinational companies as acts of terrorism. Indigenous activists say they need to use these tactics to protest illegal seizures of their land [see Update #1052].

Chilean activists and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) treated the acquittals as a “positive step.” But the terrorism law remains on the books, with some modifications, and in deciding to acquit the defendants the judges cited the lack of convincing evidence, not problems with the law. (País Mapuche (Chile) 2/22/11 from Radio Biobio; AFP 2/22/11 via Terra (Peru); La Jornada (Mexico) 2/24/11 from correspondent)

National Public Defender Paula Vial, whose office defended some of the activists, charged that the trial was marked by irregularities, despite the acquittals. The four convictions were based on testimony from a “faceless witness”—a witness whose identity remains secret—and on statements by one of the accused that were apparently obtained through torture. “Is it possible to affirm that these citizens confronted the arms of the government on equal terms?” Vial asked. “Is it possible to affirm that they received a just trial?” (La Nación (Chile) 2/25/11)

*2. Mexico: Reyes Salazars Demand an End to the “Stupid War”
On the morning of Feb. 25 Mexican soldiers reported finding the bodies of María Magdalena (“Malena”) Reyes Salazar, her brother Elías Reyes Salazar and Elías' wife, Luisa Ornelas Soto, by the Juárez-Porvenir highway, some 3 km from their home in Guadalupe Distrito Bravos, near Ciudad Juárez in the northern state of Chihuahua. The three had been kidnapped by unidentified armed men on Feb. 7. [See Update #1067, where we reported, following our source, that they were seized while riding in a truck; some reports now say they were taken from their home.] Six members of the Reyes Salazar family have been murdered in the past two years.

Family members had responded to the abduction with protests to demand that the state and federal governments locate the three kidnapping victims and protect the rest of the family. Malena and Elías’ sisters Claudia and Marisela Reyes Salazar were carrying out hunger strikes in front of government offices—Claudia in Ciudad Juárez and Marisela in Mexico City--when they received word that the bodies had been found.

In an emotional press conference on Feb. 25, Marisela Reyes Salazar lashed out at Jorge González Nicolás, a Chihuahua state prosecutor, and at Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, who ordered the militarization of the fight against narco-trafficking in the northern states soon after taking office in December 2006; the toll from this “war on drugs” is now over 35,000. González Nicolás was “useless,” Marisela Reyes said, and should resign “because he doesn’t know how to do his job.” Calderón, she continued, should “withdraw his troops” and end this “stupid and dirty war that he’s got. We, the people, didn’t ask for it, and we don’t need it.”

The series of attacks on the family began in 2008 when Josefina Reyes Salazar, another of the siblings, charged that the army had disappeared her son Miguel Ángel, who was later jailed in Tamaulipas state for alleged ties to organized crime. Another son, Julio César, was murdered in 2009. Josefina, a former local official and a member of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), continued to protest against the military. She herself was murdered on Jan. 3, 2010; afterwards the military searched her home three times. Her brother Rubén, also a former official and a PRD member, was murdered on Aug. 18. On Feb. 15 of this year, a week after the kidnapping of Malena and Elías Reyes Salazar and Luisa Ornela, unidentified persons used Molotov cocktails to set the house of Sara Salazar, the mother of Josefina, Rubén, Malena and Elías, on fire.

Some Mexican activists suspect involvement by members of the military and point to what appears to be a calculated effort to depict the family as criminals with drug connections. Malena and Elías Reyes Salazar and Luisa Ornela seem to have been buried soon after they were murdered, but once the case had drawn national and international attention, their bodies were dug up and placed in a visible location at the highway. Notes were found with the corpses; these reportedly contained death threats against Marisela Reyes Salazar and warned her to admit that she came from a family of hit men and thugs.

“How convenient, how timely,” the Cerezo Mexico Committee Human Rights Organization wrote on Feb. 25. The group, which was formed to defend three brothers imprisoned for an alleged bomb plot in 2001 [see Update #980], added: “If we forgot the causes that motivated these acts, we might…think the state is right when it explains that they were connected with crime, but let’s remember that the struggle that the Reyes Salazar family took on was and continues to be against the militarization, against the narco-paramilitary state…” (El Diario (Ciudad Juárez) 2/25/11; Cerezo Committee 2/25/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 2/26/11, 2/27/11)

*3. Puerto Rico: ACLU May Investigate Rights Situation
On Feb. 18 Puerto Rican education secretary Jesús Rivera Sánchez fired 11 members of the Executive Committee of the Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR) from their jobs in the public school system and cancelled their teaching certificates, depriving of them of the ability to teach in either public or private schools. In the letter terminating the teachers, Rivera Sánchez accused them of “abandonment of service,” citing a one-day strike led by the FMPR and other education workers’ unions last August to protest the system’s failure to hire enough teachers [see Update #1046]. FMPR president Rafael Feliciano called Rivera Sánchez’s action repressive and unprecedented. He said the fired teachers would continue to lead the union without pay. The FMPR, Puerto Rico’s largest union, has a long history of militancy.

Guillermo de La Paz, a spokesperson for the Socialist Front of Puerto Rico, noted that the firings came “days after a US federal judge put the president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association (CAPR) in prison and while repression continues against the student movement,” which has been protesting an $800 tuition surcharge at the University of Puerto Rico [see Update #1068]. This act “confirms once again the plans of the government [of conservative governor Luis Fortuño] to dismantle all the organizations that represent a danger to its plans to turn over all the public institutions to big capital and its cronies.” While opposing the firing of the unionists, De La Paz noted that his group had “differences” with the FMPR leadership. (Primera Hora (Guaynabo) 2/22/11; Prensa Latina 2/23/11)

Meanwhile, police returned to the UPR’s Río Piedras campus on Feb. 24, a little more than a week after Gov. Fortuño withdrew them following widespread complaints of police brutality in dealing with student protests [see Update #1067]. The return of the police was apparently in reaction to a one-day student strike on Feb. 23. However, an open-ended strike some protesters backed had already been suspended by a student assembly on the campus the day before. The assembly voted 1,050 to 714 to discontinue the strike but to fight the tuition surcharge with occasional “days of struggle,” starting with the one-day action on Feb. 23. (La Raza (Chicago) 2/22/11 from INS; Primera Hora 2/25/11)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has declared the civil and human rights situation in Puerto Rico a “high priority for the organization,” William Ramírez, director of the legal defense group’s Puerto Rican chapter, said during a visit to New York City the week of Feb. 21. The situation at the UPR was just one among many issues the organization was concerned about, according to Ramírez, who also mentioned the closing off of the Capitol building during the Legislature’s vote on unpopular budget cuts last June and police attacks on people who tried to exercise their right to attend the session [see Update #1039]. “This is in contrast to what’s happening in Wisconsin, where hundreds of people entered to protest without the police intervening,” he noted, referring to an occupation of the state capitol in Madison starting the week of Feb. 14 in response to an anti-union measure proposed by the governor.

Ramírez said that the ACLU would decide in March whether to respond to the situation in Puerto Rico with a full-scale investigation. This would be the first time the ACLU has carried out such an inquiry on the island since the group’s investigation of the 1937 Ponce Massacre, in which police killed 17 unarmed civilians and wounded some 235 others. (La Opinión (Los Angeles) 2/26/11 from El Diario-La Prensa (New York))

*4. Haiti: Groups Campaign Against Neoliberal Accords
Some 17 Haitian groups have launched a new campaign against the neoliberal economic policies that Haiti has followed under successive governments over the last three decades. The immediate goal is to implement a moratorium “of at least five years on the trade liberalization agreements [between the Haitian government and international lending institutions] and the putting in place of an economic and social policy outside the logic of the market and of structural adjustment policies.”

“The grassroots social movement is unanimous in recognizing that the catastrophe [of the January 2010 earthquake in southern Haiti] is the result of a socio-historical process whose principal characteristics are exclusion, injustice and social inequalities,” the groups wrote. They dismissed the “reconstruction” projects of the international community as worse than useless: “While the situation of the [earthquake] victims and the displaced tends to get worse, the plans of the imperialist powers to use the country as a paradise for free trade zones [industrial parks exploiting cheap labor] are moving along nicely.”

The focus for the first 10 months of the campaign is to be on educating the population about the neoliberal accords, with the assistance of Haitian artists, intellectuals and musicians; putting pressure on the government and on international groups; proposing alternative policies; and participating in protests and other events. Among the groups in the campaign are the Force for Reflection and Action on Housing (FRAKKA), the Support Group for the Repatriated and Refugees (GARR), the Popular Democratic Movement (MODEP), the Haitian Platform Advocating an Alternative Development (PAPDA), the Society for the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS) and Haitian Women’s Solidarity (SOFA). (AlterPresse (Haiti) 2/25/11)

Nearly a million people continue to live outside in tents or improvised shelters more than a year after the earthquake. The rainy season is approaching, and this will be the second rainy season without proper housing for the displaced. The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC, or CIRH in French and Spanish), a group set up last year by donor nations to disburse and monitor international aid, says that one of its priorities is clearing away the rubble in Port-au-Prince so that new housing can be built. On Feb. 24 CIRH executive director Gabriel Verret announced that so far 20% of the rubble has been removed from the capital, and he promised that 40% would be removed by the end of the year. According to Verret, of the $5.3 billion that the international community is supposed to supply for reconstruction over an 18-month period, just 30% has been made available. (Radio Métropole (Haiti) 2/24/11)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti

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