Monday, September 5, 2011

WNU #1095: “Fast and Furious” Fells ATF Head

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1095, September 4, 2011

1. Mexico: “Fast and Furious” Fells US Gun Control Chief
2. Mexico: Civilian Killed in Latest “Drug War” Mistake
3. Chile: Carabineros Admit Agent Killed Student Protester
4. Haiti: Video Implicates UN Troops in Sex Abuse
5. Puerto Rico: Who’s Playing Dirty Tricks on the Macheteros?
6. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Caribbean, Jamaica, 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. Mexico: “Fast and Furious” Fells US Gun Control Chief
The US Justice Department announced on Aug. 30 that Kenneth Melson, the acting head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), had been reassigned to another position in the department and that Dennis Burke, the US attorney for Arizona, was resigning from his post. The department didn’t explain the reason for the changes, but they were clearly fallout from Operation Fast and Furious, a bungled ATF program that allowed some 2,000 weapons to go from the US to Mexico, where they were probably used in drug cartel violence [see Update #1087].

The ATF is the agency in charge of preventing the spread of illegal weapons in and from the US; gun smuggling from states on the Mexico-US border is considered the source of the majority of contraband firearms in Mexico. Some 40,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related killings since the beginning of 2007.

So far at least eight US officials have been removed or reassigned because of their association with Fast and Furious, but the Congress members who have led the probe into the operation--Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA)—indicated that they weren’t satisfied. The two Republicans plan to continue their investigation into what has become a major embarrassment for Attorney General Eric Holder and the administration of US president Barack Obama, a Democrat. (La Jornada (Mexico) 8/31/11 from correspondent)

Despite their apparent concern now about controlling the flow of illegal firearms, Rep. Issa and Sen. Grassley have opposed gun control in the past. Grassley has an “A” rating from the National Rife Association (NRA) [see Update #1070], which lobbies against gun control laws and has pushed to limit the ATF’s powers. Issa too has the group’s “A” rating. (On the Issues website, accessed 9/4/11)

A report released by a gun control advocacy group a few days after the ATF shake-up pointed to what may be an important source for the US weapons that end up with Mexican drug traffickers. Using ATF data, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence found that 16,485 guns have disappeared from the inventories of some 4,500 US gun manufacturers during the past two years. There are no records of their having been sold. “Firearms that disappear from gun manufacturers’ plants without records of sale are frequently trafficked by gun traffickers and prized by criminals,” the report says. “Guns taken from gun manufacturing plants may also be removed before they have been stamped with serial numbers, making them virtually untraceable.”

In 2004 Congress passed an amendment sponsored by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS, 1995-2011) that keeps the ATF from requiring gun manufacturers to track their inventory. (The Hill (Washington, DC) 9/3/11) Issa and Grassley are strong defenders of the amendment. (NRA Institute for Legislative Action website, accessed 9/5/11)

*2. Mexico: Civilian Dies in Latest “Drug War” Mistake
Mexican marines shot and killed Gustavo Acosta Luján in the early morning of Sept. 1 in his home in Jardines de San Andrés, Apodaca municipality, in the northern state of Nuevo León. According to the Secretariat of the Navy, the marines, responding to an anonymous tip, were fired on from inside the house, and Gustavo Acosta, an “alleged criminal” with the alias “M-3,” died in the operation. The marines said they found a 9 mm submachine gun, an AR-15 rifle and quantities of cocaine in the house. Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa has been using soldiers for police work in northern Mexico since militarizing the “war on drugs” shortly after he took office in December 2006.

The Acosta family said the marines came to their home while they were asleep, fired on the house and demanded that they open the door. The marines shot Gustavo Acosta when he came to the door, according to the Acostas, and they threw his brother Daniel Acosta to the floor, hooding him and placing a gun in his hands. The entire family was taken outside, including a nine-year-old child; the authorities stayed in control of the house until 7 am, and the family says the marines took computers and cell phones. Gustavo’s mother was hospitalized with an attack of high blood pressure.

The family and the Citizens in Support of Human Rights Civic Association (CADHAC) indicated that the marines raided the Acosta home in error. At some point in the operation, the marines also arrested Osnoel Rolando Peña Serna (“Mascarita”) four doors away from the Acosta home. He had been living in a rented house which had no furniture and was described as “like a safe house.” The Acosta family said they planned to file a complaint with the Public Ministry and the federal government’s National Human Rights Commision (CNDH). (La Jornada (Mexico) 9/3/11)

*3. Chile: Carabineros Admit Agent Killed Student Protester
On Aug. 29 Chilean prosecutors ordered the detention of Sgt. Miguel Millacura of the carabineros militarized police for the shooting death of 16-year-old Manuel Gutiérrez Reinoso in the early morning of Aug. 26 in the Villa Jaime Eyzaguirre neighborhood in Macul, a commune in Greater Santiago [see Update #1094]. Investigators found that Sgt. Millacura’s Uzi submachine gun fired the shot that killed Gutiérrez, who had been walking with his brother to observe late-night protests following an Aug. 24-25 general strike. Millacura claimed he shot into the air.

The carabineros, who have been accused of brutally repressing student demonstrations over the past three months, initially dismissed witnesses’ accounts of the shooting. But once the ballistic evidence implicated Milllacura, the carabinero command discharged him and four other agents; several others went into retirement. The government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera asked for the resignation of carabinero general Sergio Gajardo, who had failed to carry out an internal investigation. The head of the militarized police, Gen. Eduardo Gordon, apologized to the Gutiérrez family. There were calls for Gordon’s resignation. (EFE 8/30/11 via (Peru); El País (Spain) 8/31/11 via Vanguardia (Mexico); La Tercera (Chile) 8/31/11)

Gen. Gordon’s resignation came on Sept. 2, after an accusation appeared in the media that he had altered an official report that implicated his son in an automobile accident; the general has also been accused of telephone spying. Gordon announced that he was “tired of such wickedness and such trashing of the institutions.” Piñera’s government suffered this latest blow one day before the president was to sit down in talks with student leaders, who are demanding sweeping changes in Chile’s highly privatized education system. (La Nación (Argentina) 9/3/11 from correspondent)

*4. Haiti: Video Implicates UN Troops in Sex Abuse
As of Sept. 2 it appeared that some of the 1,100 Uruguayan troops in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) were about to be repatriated because of accusations of sex abuse at a base in the southern coastal town of Port-Salut. Eliane Nabaa, who handles communication and information for the United Nations military and police occupation force in Haiti, told the Haitian internet news service AlterPresse on Sept. 1 that repatriation was a possibility. On Sept. 2 an Uruguayan website said the soldiers would be sent home in the coming week.

A Port-Salut organization made the accusations on Aug. 11, but the Uruguayan military quickly dismissed them [see Update #1094]. Apparently the decision to act on the charges followed the appearance of a cell phone video showing four MINUSTAH soldiers forcing an 18-year-old Haitian youth on to a bed. The video was posted on the ABC News website on Sept. 2. According to the youth, the soldiers beat him and sexually molested him in the incident, which occurred in July. A medical certificate filed in a Haitian court confirms that he was beaten and suffered injuries consistent with sexual assault.

Under MINUSTAH's agreement with Haiti, the force’s troops can only be disciplined and tried by their home country. (AlterPresse 9/2/11; ABC News 9/2/11)

*5. Puerto Rico: Who’s Playing Dirty Tricks on the Macheteros?
Puerto Rican independence activist Hilton Fernández Diamante has charged that in June US federal agents planted an electronic device in his car while it was parked in the apartment tower complex where he lives in Trujillo Alto, south of San Juan. Photographs, an eyewitness account and statements by the apartment complex’s management confirm that people who identified themselves as Puerto Rican police agents were in the parking area while Fernández Diamante was in New York to meet with a lawyer. Told about the suspicious activity on his return, Fernández Diamante called the Puerto Rican police's bomb squad on June 15. Police agents evacuated the area and removed the device.

A former member of the rebel Popular Boricua Army (EPB)-Macheteros, Fernández Diamante served five years in jail in connection with the group’s 1983 armed robbery of $7.1 million from a Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford, Connecticut, one of the largest robberies in US history. In June he agreed to be a spokesperson for Norberto González Claudio, who was arrested by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in May in the central Puerto Rico town of Cayey; González Claudio had spent 25 years as a fugitive from charges related to the Wells Fargo robbery. Fernández Diamante’s decision to be active in the González Claudio case may have motivated the installation of the device in his car, according to a statement issued on Aug. 31 by a committee formed to support Norberto González Claudio and his brother Avelino. [Avelino González Claudio pleaded guilty to charges in the Wells Fargo case in February 2010, after his capture in 2008; see Update #1021.]

An unidentified law enforcement source told the Hartford Courant that the device planted in Fernández Diamante’s car sent out an electronic signal that would have enabled agents to track the vehicle. His supporters say they don’t discount the possibility that the device was a bomb. The FBI office in San Juan declined to comment. (Primera Hora (Guaynabo) 6/15/11; Hartford (CT) Courant 9/2/11)

On June 22, Jennifer González, the president of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, received an envelope containing white powder; this led to an evacuation of the Capitol building for fear of a terrorist attack. Rep. Charlie Hernández received a similar envelope at his office on Aug. 17. In both cases, a “Commander Nacho” of the Macheteros assumed responsibility. But an Aug. 18 communiqué said to be sent by the Macheteros “from someplace in the Heart of the People” denied any connection with the action. The message said the group has “never used chemical weapons that could endanger the safety of the people.” (PH 8/20/11)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Caribbean, Jamaica, Haiti

Chile: National Strike Forces Government to Negotiating Table

Rainforest Defenders Marked for Death in Brazil

Bolivia: high court convicts seven officials of genocide

Bolivia: Former Officials Convicted Over Massacre

Bolivia: A Visit From Lula as TIPNIS Negotiations Falter (Bolivia)

Bolivia strikes blow against car culture

Let Me Speak! A Bolivian Woman Miner’s Revolutionary Life

Peru: Humala makes demands on Camisea consortium

Peru: Amazon communities break off negotiations with Maple Energy over six oil spills

The Colombia FTA: Only Corporations Win

Multinational Incentives and the Rentier Predatory State (Colombia)

Colombia criticized on post-9-11 human rights record

What does “Socialism” Mean Anyway? Voices from Central America

El Salvador’s Supreme Court Not Ready to Detain and Extradite Officers to Spain

Honduras: Aguán Massacres Continue to Support Production of Biodiesel

Declaration from Artists and Intellectuals on the Bajo Aguán and Human Rights in Honduras

Gay Couples Can Adopt In Mexico City, But They Aren’t Applying

Mexico Drug War: Facing Skepticism, Calderón Takes His Case To Social Media

Was Al Capone a Terrorist? (Mexico)

Hurricane Irene's Effect on the Caribbean

Jamaica: shock in Kingston as Dudus Coke cuts deal

Explosive New Report Accuses UN Troops of Sexual Assault--Will This Lead to Greater Pressure for Withdrawal?

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