Monday, April 23, 2012

WNU #1126: Campesinos Hold Worldwide Day of Action

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1126, April 22, 2012

1. International: Campesinos Hold Worldwide Day of Action
2. Honduras: Thousands Occupy Land in Massive Agrarian Protest
3. Argentina: Government Plans to Re-Nationalize Oil Company
4. Mexico: Questions Surround 8 Deaths in Logging Dispute
5: Mexico: Counterinsurgency General Assassinated
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, El Salvador, Mexico, Caribbean, Cuba, 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. International: Campesinos Hold Worldwide Day of Action
Campesino groups around the world planned more than 250 activities to mark the International Day of Campesino Struggles on Apr. 17, according to the international rural workers movement Vía Campesina. The day of action--which was announced at the International Campesino Conference held in Mali last Nov. 14-17—was intended to bring attention to the need for carrying out agrarian reform, for stopping the concentration of land in the hands of wealthy landowners, and for maintaining agricultural production based on campesino farming and the principles of food sovereignty. A special focus this year was to be opposition to monoculture for export and to the production of bio-fuel crops.

The Apr. 17 activities were expected to range from marches and land occupations to conferences and photographic exhibits. Countries with participating groups included Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Uruguay, Indonesia, Mozambique, Canada, the US, France, Spain, Australia and the Palestinian territories.

Groups in Brazil got a head start on Apr. 16 when the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) occupied the Agrarian Development Ministry in Brasilia; a tax office in Cuiabá, capital of the western state of Mato Grosso; the headquarters of the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra), located in Rio de Janeiro; and an estate in the southern state of Río Grande do Sul. (Adital (Brazil) 4/17/12; TeleSUR 4/17/12)

In Haiti, more than 1,000 campesinos demonstrated on Apr. 17 in the town of Colladère, near Hinche in the Central Plateau, to demand agrarian reform and oppose the monopolization of land for biofuel production. The protest was organized by the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), whose spokesperson, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, praised a model of biological agriculture which he said was able both to counteract global warming and to provide enough food for the world’s 7 billion inhabitants.

The group used the occasion to present what it called “the country’s first ecological village,” which houses 10 families that moved to the countryside after a January 2010 earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince and nearby cities. The homes were built using local materials, with financial aid from a US faith-based group, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City. Jean-Baptiste said the MPP plans to build a total of five of these villages for people displaced by the earthquake. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 4/17/12)

Campesinos groups chose Apr. 17 for the international day of action as a way of commemorating the massacre of 19 Brazilian campesinos on Apr. 17, 1996, when police attacked a demonstration by some 1,500 MST members in Eldorado dos Carajás in the northern state of Pará. All but two of the police agents involved were acquitted [see Updates #646, 847]. (Adital 4/17/12)

*2. Honduras: Thousands Occupy Land in Massive Agrarian Protest
In a dramatic show of force, more than 3,500 Honduran campesino families occupied land in estates in different parts of the country early in the morning of Apr. 17 to demand implementation of an effective national agrarian reform policy. The mobilization, the Honduran activity for the International Day of Campesino Struggles, was organized by a coalition of 10 campesino groups, including the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) and the Honduran branch of the international rural workers’ movement Vía Campesina. In a statement issued on Apr. 17, the organizers said protesters had occupied a total of 12,000 hectares in eight of the country’s 18 departments: Cortés, Yoro, Santa Bárbara, Intibucá, El Paraíso, Choluteca, Comayagua, and Francisco Morazán.

On Apr. 18 security forces dispersed the largest land occupation, at a 2,500-hectare estate operated by a sugar company in San Manuel, near San Pedro Sula in the northern department of Cortés. The campesinos, members of the San Manuel Campesino Movement (MOCSAM), left peacefully in the afternoon after a police contingent arrived with a court order.

The protest organizers said the lands the campesinos occupied either belonged to the government or were not “fulfilling a social function.” “The [Agrarian] Reform Law is clear and states that government lands are for the purposes of the Agrarian Reform,” the organizers said in their statement, but despite requests for these lands over the years with the National Agrarian Institute (INA), the government’s response had been “open repression, violent evictions, the imprisonment of campesinos and campesinas.” If the lands were turned over to the campesino families, they would produce “4 million quintales of corn, 1.5 million quintales of rice, and 800,000 quintales of beans for the food sovereignty of our people,” according to the statement. (A Honduran quintal is about 46 kg.) The protesters were also demanding passage of a law they proposed in October 2011 for “integral agrarian transformation.”

Government officials charged that the mass mobilization was politically motivated. But protesters dismissed the claim. “We aren’t criminals,” Marvin Morales, a schoolteacher and a leader in the San Manuel occupation, told a reporter, “and what has forced us to move into the land is hunger, not the influence of other political sectors.” (Communiqué from Honduran campesino goups 4/17/12,  posted on Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular website; La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 4/18/12; AP 4/19/12 via Fox News Latino)

On Apr. 19 thousands of students, unionists and others marched in various cities in a protest called by the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) to protest increases in the price of fuel, basic foods, public transportation and public utilities. In Tegucigalpa a large march started from the Francisco Morazán National Pedagogic University (UPNFM) and moved to the center of the city, where a committee including activist leaders Juan Barahona and Carlos H. Reyes and former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales presented the National Congress with a list of popular demands. Thousands also marched in the industrial capital, the northern city of San Pedro Sula, and there were protests in El Paraíso, Juticalpa, Choluteca, La Ceiba, Santa Bárbara and Colón. (Red Morazánica de Información 4/19/12 via FNRP website)

*3. Argentina: Government Plans to Re-Nationalize Oil Company
Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced on Apr. 16 that her government planned to take control of 51% of the shares in YPF SA, the country’s largest oil company. The Spanish company Repsol has had majority ownership of the Argentine company, formerly known as Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales, since 1999. Later in the week the government took control of YPF Gas, which is also owned mostly by Repsol. A tribunal is to determine how much Argentina will pay in compensation to the companies' private shareholders.

A telephone survey conducted by Argentina’s Poliarquia polling institute and published on Apr. 22 by the daily La Nación found 26% of respondents strongly in favor of the move, with another 36% supporting it less strongly. (New York Times 4/17/12; AFP 4/22/12 via France24)

The plan to expropriate the company came in the midst of continuing economic instability in Europe, and the Spanish government reacted angrily to Argentina’s move. After an interview with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in Brussels on Apr. 19, Spanish foreign affairs minister José Manuel García-Margallo told a press conference that Spain and the US “are going to analyze the way in which it might be possible to collaborate together to restore international legality.” He said the two countries might work together in the World Bank, “in the International Monetary Fund [IMF], in the G-20 [Group of 20 major economies], in the Paris Club, in any other institution in which one could carry out an action to try to have the government of Argentina correct itself.” (La Jornada (Mexico) 4/20/12 from DPA)

The privatization of the state-owned Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales was the most important element in the massive sell-off of government enterprises carried out by the government of former president Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999) during an era of extreme neoliberal policies that ended with economic collapse in late 2001 and early 2002. The Menem government started by laying off 50,000 employees in four years. On Sept. 24, 1992, the Chamber of Deputies approved a law privatizing the firm, now named YPF SA, with majority control going to provincial governments. The private sector gradually bought more and more shares in the YPF until 1999, when Repsol obtained complete control. Later the Petersen Group, headed by Argentine entrepreneur Enrique Eskenazi, acquired about 25%.

The decision to re-nationalize the company has a number of ironies. President Fernández’s general secretary of the presidency, Oscar Parrilli, was a promoter of the privatization in 1992, when he was a deputy from Neuquén province. “We are here in this session,” he said in a pro-privatization speech in Congress that year, “with the firm conviction that we are taking the steps that Argentine society and the world are demanding of us in order to achieve the transformation of our country.” Cristina Fernández, then a provincial legislator in Santa Cruz, also supported the privatization. (La Capital (Rosario) 4/17/12)

The main force behind selling off YPF was Carlos Menem, who is now a senator for La Rioja province. In an Apr. 20 interview in the daily Crónica he said he planned to vote in favor of the re-nationalization. “The scenario has changed, the situation isn’t the same as when I privatized it,” he explained. “I know they’re going to beat me up, but it won’t be the first time.” (Clarín (Buenos Aires) 4/21/12) [Until last year Menem was in a faction of the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist) that strongly opposes the PJ faction that Fernández heads. Menem became a Fernández ally around the time he was starting to face trials on various criminal charges; see Update #1097].

*4. Mexico: Questions Surround 8 Deaths in Logging Dispute
Eight indigenous Purépecha were shot dead the morning of Apr. 18 near the autonomous community of Cherán in the western Mexican state of Michoacán. Two of the victims were from Cherán, which has been engaged in a year-long struggle to protect local forests from illegal loggers; six of the people killed were from the town of Casimiro Leco, better known as El Cerecito, where many of the loggers live.

According to Cherán residents, the violence began when a group of men from El Cerecito ambushed some 20 laborers from Cherán who were doing reforestation work as temporary employees for the federal Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat. The Michoacán authorities treated the incident as a shootout, blaming Cherán residents for the deaths of the six people from El Cerecito. Police agents detained a number of Cherán residents later on Apr. 18, and community people responded by detaining a dozen police agents from the Special Operations Group (GOE) and holding them until the next day.

Cherán’s governing council denied that Cherán residents were responsible for the killings of the six from El Cerecito. The workers from Cherán were attacked by “paramilitary groups associated with organized crime and the loggers,” Cherán activist Salvador Campanur told reporters. The same people “are planting corpses in our territory,” Campanur explained. “We don’t know the motive for the six deaths… [T]here are internal disputes between organized crime and the paramilitaries, and what the authorities are doing is to make these deaths appear to be part of a confrontation that didn’t take place.” [Campanur also works with the Movement for Peace With Justice and Dignity (MPJD), which was founded by the poet Javier Sicilia last year to oppose the Mexican government’s militarized “war on drugs”; see Update #1079.]

But relatives of the victims from El Cerecito blamed Cherán residents. At the burial of five of the dead, in the community of Tanaco, on Apr. 19, family members—“who live in extreme poverty,” according to reporters from the Mexican daily La Jornada—denounced Cherán residents as “murderers.”

A little more than a year ago, on Apr. 15, 2011, the people of Cherán rose up against the criminal gangs and illegal loggers who had destroyed a large part of the local forests. Cherán residents then declared their community autonomous, throwing out the municipal government and replacing it with an assembly and a council selected according to Purépecha “uses and customs.” Community patrols provide security and guard the entrances to the town, and the inhabitants plan to boycott state and federal elections.

Even in Cherán there is some sympathy for impoverished Purépecha from El Cerecito who engage in illegal logging. “It isn’t just a police matter,” an unnamed teacher at the Superior Technological Institute of de Cherán told La Jornada, noting that the logging provides employment for hundreds of poor families, who in effect become serfs of the people who trade in the timber. “There need to be options for these people,” he said. “Or if not, what are they going to do afterwards?” (LJ 4/19/12, 4/20/12; EFE 4/20/12 via Latin American Herald Tribune)

*5: Mexico: Counterinsurgency General Assassinated
An unknown assailant killed retired Mexican general Mario Arturo Acosta Chaparro Escapite with three shots to the head on the evening of Apr. 20 at an auto shop in the Anáhuac section of Mexico City; the general had just brought his car there for repairs. The killer and an accomplice escaped on a motorcycle. This was the second attack against the general in two years; he was shot in the abdomen in Mexico City on May 18, 2010, in a supposed robbery attempt.

Acosta Chaparro joined the Mexican military in the 1960s and received training in counterinsurgency and psychological warfare from the US Army at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He became part of the so-called “White Brigade,” formed to combat rebel groups, especially the Sept. 23 Communist League and the Party of the Poor, which operated in the southwestern state of Guerrero under the leadership of Lucio Cabañas Barrientos.

In 2000 Acosta Chaparro was convicted of protecting Juárez Cartel head Amado Carrillo Fuentes, known as “The Lord of the Skies” for his use of jets to carry drugs. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison but later won acquittal on appeal. In 2002 Acosta Chaparro was charged, along with Gen. Francisco Quiroz Hermosillo, with the murder of campesinos in Guerrero during the “dirty war” against the Army of the Poor in the 1970s. He was eventually cleared of these charges as well.

Activists have accused Acosta Chaparro of involvement in “death flights” to dispose of bodies of the military’s victims by dropping them into the sea from airplanes. There were also reports that Acosta Chaparro was present when security forces massacred 17 campesinos at Aguas Blancas, in Coyuca de Benítez municipality, Guerrero, on June 28, 1995 [see Updates #392, 661]. (La Jornada (Mexico) 4/21/12; AP 4/23/12 via El Paso (Texas) Times)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, El Salvador, Mexico, Caribbean, Cuba, Haiti

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The History and Resurgence of Death Squads in Central America

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