Monday, February 13, 2012

WNU #1117: Accords on Mining in Panama, Repression in Argentina

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1117, February 12, 2012

1. Panama: Government Caves After Indigenous Protest--Again
2. Argentina: Police Repress Anti-Mining Roadblocks
3. Haiti: Ex-Soldiers Are Taking Over Old Bases
4. Mexico: Court Frees Seven Convicted in 1997 Massacre
5. Puerto Rico: Report Faults FBI in Rebel’s Death
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, El Salvador, 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. It is archived at For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

*1. Panama: Government Caves After Indigenous Protest—Again
A committee composed of deputies from Panama’s National Assembly, representatives of the Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous group, and observers was to meet on Feb. 10 to discuss a possible ban on hydroelectric projects in Ngöbe-Buglé territories. The negotiations resulted from an agreement that indigenous leaders and the government of rightwing president Ricardo Martinelli reached on Feb. 7; the pact ended more than a week of massive protests that had led to at least two deaths and dozens of arrests. (Prensa Latina 2/10/12)

The Ngöbe-Buglé began blocking highways in the western provinces of Chiriquí and Veraguas on Jan. 30 in an ongoing dispute over Law 415, a set of changes the Martinelli government is proposing for Panama’s Mining Code. The Ngöbe-Buglé said the government had agreed in October to a ban on mining and hydroelectric projects in their territories but that Article 5, which included the ban, was dropped when the Assembly began debating the law in January. The Ngöbe-Buglé’s roadblocks cut off crucial highways, stranding tourists and creating shortages in the cities. Despite efforts by Catholic officials to start negotiations, on Feb. 5 the government sent police to break up the protests with tear gas, rubber bullets and, according to the protesters, live ammunition. Protester Jerónimo Rodríguez Tugrí (whose name was given previously as Jerónimo Montezuma) was killed during the confrontations [see Update #1116].

Another protester, 16-year-old Mauricio Méndez, died in a hospital early the morning of Feb. 7, although the cause of death was in dispute. He was badly burned when anti-riot police threw a smoke bomb that hit him in the face, according to some reports, while others said he was shot. The police said the youth may have died accidentally while trying to build a homemade explosive.

It seemed that the police action on Feb. 5 only succeeded in broadening the protests. The four main indigenous groups in eastern Panama, including the Embera and the Wounaan, announced they would hold protests in solidarity with the Ngöbe-Buglé, while members of the militant Only Union of Construction and Similar Workers (SUNTRACS) began picketing in various cities, and banana workers reportedly started a strike. Vigils and marches were planned for Feb. 6 and 7 in Panama City’s Porras Park, and in the towns of David (Chiriquí province), Changuinola (Bocas del Toro province) and Santiago (Veraguas province). Outside the country, activists announced solidarity demonstrations at the Panamanian embassies in Costa Rica and Honduras.

Faced with the wave of protests, President Martinelli decided to compromise. After mediation by Jose Luis Lacunza, Catholic bishop of David, on Feb. 7 representatives of the president and of Ngöbe-Buglé leader Silvia Carrera signed the San Lorenzo Accord, in which the indigenous group agreed to end the roadblocks while the government agreed to discuss changes to Law 415, to free all arrested protesters, to remove anti-riot police from indigenous territories and to restore cell phone service in the area. (Adital (Brazil) 2/7/12; Europa Press (Spain) 2/7/12; Rainforest Foundation press release 2/7/12; EFE 2/8/12 via Latin American Herald; Indian Country Today Media Network 2/10/12)

The latest confrontation followed a pattern observed since Martinelli took office in July 2009. In 2010 the president proposed a set of neoliberal reforms in Law 30, which became known as the “sausage law” (“ley chorizo”) because of the various elements stuffed into it, including anti-union measures and the weakening of environmental safeguards. Militant grassroots protests in July 2010 forced him to back down. In February 2011 Martinelli proposed neoliberal reforms to the Mining Code. Militant protests by the Ngöbe-Buglé again forced him to back down. In October 2011 Martinelli tried to reintroduce neoliberal policies in Law 415, according to indigenous leaders; this was met by renewed indigenous protests, leading to the agreement on hydroelectric projects which is at the center of the most recent dispute [see Updates #10531070, 1103].

Before the signing of the San Lorenzo Accord, Ngöbe-Buglé leader Silvia Carrera expressed doubts about Martinelli’s intentions in the current situation. “We have not yet achieved anything,” she said. “The indigenous Ngöbe people are struggling more than 500 years, and this has prompted us to disbelieve in the authorities, but today we all want to go home quietly, with the hope of seeing the promises of the government.” (Indian Country Today 2/10/12)

*2. Argentina: Police Repress Anti-Mining Roadblocks
Police from the northwestern Argentine province of Catamarca used tear gas and rubber bullets the morning of Feb. 10 to disperse some 100 local residents who were blocking a road near the town of Tinogasta to protest open-pit mining. “[B]etween 12 and 13 people went to the hospital with some type of contusion or wound,” Catamarca governance secretary Francisco Gordillo reported, but he claimed that 11 anti-riot police were also wounded. The police operation was necessary, according to Gordillo, because trucks carrying explosives for a nearby mine were being held up on the highway, which he said represented “a danger for society.”

Several hours earlier on Feb. 10 provincial police had broken up an anti-mining protest by about 50 residents at the town of Amaicha del Valle in neighboring Tucumán province. The protesters there had been blocking a road since Jan. 28. Catamarca police attacked another roadblock in the town of Belén on Feb. 8, arresting 26 protesters, who were released later.

Anti-mining protests gathered momentum in the northwestern provinces in January when thousands of residents blocked access to a site at the Nevados de Famatina mountain in La Rioja province [see Update #1116]. The protests in Catamarca and Tucumán have been blocking trucks heading to the massive Bajo de la Alumbrera gold and copper deposit near the border with Chile; area residents believe the use of cyanide in mining is contaminating their scarce water resources. The Bajo de la Alumbrera deposits belong to a joint enterprise made up of the Catamarca and national governments and the public National University of Tucumán, but the mine is owned and operated by a consortium including the Swiss-British mining company Xstrata PLC and two Canadian companies, Goldcorp Inc. and Yamana Gold Inc. In 2010 the mine was producing an annual net profit of more than $1.2 billion.

As the police moved in on them on Feb. 10, the protesters at Tinogasta chanted slogans against Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. On Feb. 9 Fernández, who heads a center-left faction of the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist), had called for “responsibility and seriousness” from the protesters, who she said had taken “dogmatic and obstinate” positions. (AFP 2/10/12 via Univision; La Gaceta (Tucumán) 2/11/12 from DyN (Agencia Diarios y Noticias); La Nueva Provincia (Bahía Blanca) 2/11/12 from DyN)

Despite the police violence on Feb. 10, Tinogasta residents returned to the highway by Feb. 12 to continue blocking access to Bajo de la Alumbrera. Meanwhile, Belén residents have responded to the police action there by holding an open-ended popular assembly. Protests also continue in the Catamarca cities of Santa María and Andalgalá.

The protesters gained an ally in environmental attorney Romina Picolotti, who was environment secretary in President Fernández’s government before being fired in 2008. She charged that the president is following the neoliberal mining policies of former president Carlos Menem (1989-1999). “For 10 years they’ve been mining in Catamarca in one of the largest gold mines in the world,” she said, “and the people have received no benefits.” The mine has made $11 billion, according to Picolotti, while many citizens in the area don’t have sewers, water, streets or schools. (La Gaceta 2/12/12 from DyN)

*3. Haiti: Ex-Soldiers Are Taking Over Old Bases
Former soldiers of the disbanded Armed Forces of Haiti (FAd’H) had reportedly been occupying old military bases and training camps for several weeks as of Feb. 9. They took over a base in the Lamentin section of Carrefour, a city just southwest of Port-au-Prince in the West department, according to Carrefour mayor Yvon Jérômel, and occupations were also reported in the northwestern city of Gonaïves, Artibonite department, and at Cerca-la-Source in the Central Plateau, Center department. The former soldiers were said to be wearing uniforms and carrying out exercises; it isn’t clear who their leaders are or who has been financing their actions.

The Fad’H was abolished on Jan. 6, 1995 by then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004). Growing out of a military and police force created by the US during its 1915-1934 military occupation, the Haitian army carried out several military coups during its 60-year history and gained a reputation for massacres and other atrocities against the civilian population.

Rightwing president Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) is considering plans for reviving the FAd’H [see Update #1099]. An ad hoc commission was set up in November to study the possibilities; it is scheduled to issue its recommendations in May. But Interior Minister Thierry Mayard-Paul told the AlterPresse internet news service that the base occupations were not carried out “with the government’s blessing.” “We’re inviting [the ex-soldiers] to stay calm,” he said. “The rehabilitation process for the armed forces is very complicated and should be conducted in a rational, progressive and profound manner.”

“[O]ur patience has its limits, we can’t wait forever,” a spokesperson for the Coalition of Demobilized Soldiers (CONAMID), former sergeant David Dormé, said when asked about the occupations. “[T]he demobilized soldiers are determined to protect their bases… We’re not afraid, and we won’t give in to pressure.” (Haïti Libre (Haiti) 2/9/12; AlterPresse 2/10/12)

*4. Mexico: Court Frees Seven Convicted in 1997 Massacre
Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) issued an order on Feb. 1 for the release of seven indigenous Tzotziles who had been convicted of homicide and other crimes in the December 1997 massacre of 45 indigenous campesinos in Acteal, a village in Chenalhó municipality in the southeastern state of Chiapas. The court, which has overturned the convictions of 45 others in the case since August 2009 [see World War 4 Report 8/16/09], ruled that the federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) had violated the defendants’ due process rights by influencing witnesses, who had been shown an album of photographs.

The prisoners were released from the El Amate prison in Cintalapa municipality, Chiapas, on the evening of Feb. 1. Although they come from Chenalhó municipality, the released prisoners in the Acteal case have all been relocated to the city of Villafores for their own safety. (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/2/12)

Some observers believe that the main responsibility for the massacre lies with the Mexican government and then-president Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León (1994-2000). Zedillo, who is teaching at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, currently faces a $50 million US federal civil suit filed in Hartford in September on behalf of 10 unnamed Acteal survivors [see Update #1112]. Zedillo claims immunity as a former president. During a press conference in Mexico City on Feb. 9, Foreign Relations Secretary Patricia Espinosa refused to comment on reports that the Mexican government had asked the US court to support Zedillo’s claim. This “concerns a trial that’s in progress, on which we can’t give public information,” Espinosa said. But the Mexican government “will provide all the assistance required,” she added, “as in the case of any Mexican national.” (Reforma (Mexico) 2/9/12 via; La Crónica de Hoy (Mexico) 2/10/12)

*5. Puerto Rico: Report Faults FBI in Rebel’s Death
The Puerto Rican Civil Rights Commission (CDC) has concluded that the killing of Puerto Rican nationalist leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in September 2005 was illegal and should be investigated, according to people who say they have seen the commission’s 238-page report. The CDC’s conclusions apparently contradict the finding of the US Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in 2006 that Ojeda, the leader of the rebel Popular Boricua Army (EPB)-Macheteros, had fired on the FBI agents first and that they were justified in returning fire and in waiting 18 hours after Ojeda was wounded before entering his house to check his condition [see Update #863].

Dated Mar. 31, 2011 but never released publicly, the CDC report is said to confirm accounts that FBI agents started shooting with heavy weapons as soon as they arrived at the house in the western town of Hormigueros where Ojeda was living with his wife, and that the independence leader would not have died from his wounds if he had been given medical attention. But the report’s most explosive revelation is apparently a claim by two police agents who participated in the operation: far from being armed and dangerous when he was shot three times by an FBI sniper identified only as “Brian,” Ojeda was playing music on a trumpet, according to the witnesses.

After the initial shootout, Ojeda negotiated his wife’s release to the FBI. He then negotiated for an hour about his own surrender; it was when these talks stalled that Ojeda, who was a professional musician, reportedly began playing on his trumpet. Luis F. Abreu Elías, who had been Ojeda's lawyer, speculated at a Feb. 3 press conference in San Juan that the sniper couldn’t see his target and used the sound of the trumpet to hit Ojeda. Abreu is calling for an international organization like the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to investigate the killing. (Argenpress (Argentina) 1/30/12 from correspondent; Prensa Latina 2/2/12; Primera Hora (Guaynabo) 2/3/12)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

ALBA Advances towards “Alternative Economic Model”, Pursues Anti-Imperialist Agenda

Twenty years later: Falklands flashpoint for more Malvinas mayhem?

Observations from the World Social Forum in Brazil: The Life and Death of Liberal Democratic Capitalism

MST Leader: 'Let's Build a People's ALBA' (Brazil)

Bolivia’s TIPNIS Conflict Continues: Fanning the Flames of Discontent

Bolivian Congress Adopts Controversial TIPNIS Consultation Law

Bolivia: "ethnocide" feared after new consultation law on Amazon highway

Peru: march for water rights arrives in Lima

Peru: illegal loggers seized days after photos of "uncontacted" indigenous group released

Native Peruvians See Loopholes in Prior Consultation Law

A Question of Fundamentals: Ecuador’s Divided Vision of Development

Victims Law Decree Fails Afro-Colombian Communities

Show Time in Necoclí, Colombia

Colombian Youth Confront Violence with Creativity

Colombia: Warrant Out For Ex-Peace Commissioner

Colombia: former peace commissioner charged with fraud, arms trafficking

In the Path of the Mining-Energy Locomotive – Resisting Colombia’s Quimbo Hydroelectric Project

El Salvador: FMLN swept from public security cabinet, in tilt to US

Banana Union Target of Deadly Repression in Guatemala

Genocide Trial against Ríos Montt in Guatemala: Declassified Documents Provide Key Evidence

From Perote to Tar Heel (Mexico)

Mexican workers pulverized in 21st century

A Dangerous Precedent: Why Haiti Must Try Jean Claude Duvalier for Human Rights Abuses

As NGOs Begin to Pull Out of IDP Camps, Access to Clean Water Deteriorates (Haiti)

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

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Our weekly Immigration News Briefs has ended publication.

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

No comments: