Tuesday, August 28, 2012

WNU #1142: Mexican Police Shoot Up US Embassy Car

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1142, August 26, 2012

1. Mexico: Police Shoot Up US Embassy Car, Wound Two
2. Honduras: Aguán Campesinos Arrested in Supreme Court Protests
3. Colombia: GM and Hunger Strikers Agree to Mediation
4. Colombia: Paramilitaries Issue Death Threats in Barrancabermeja
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, US/immigration

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 http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Mexico: Police Shoot Up US Embassy Car, Wound Two
A group of Mexican federal police agents attacked a US embassy car at around 8 am on Aug. 24 in the state of Morelos just of south of Mexico City, near the Mexico City-Cuernavaca highway. The police agents shot a number of times at the car, lightly wounding two US officials who were traveling with a member of the Mexican Navy to a nearby Navy training installation. The embassy car had diplomatic license plates, while the federal police were reportedly traveling in four unmarked vehicles.

Mexican authorities detained 12 federal police agents the evening of Aug. 24 in connection with the shooting and began an investigation. The federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) is reportedly focusing on “confusion” on the part of the agents, who claimed they had been in the area to investigate a kidnapping by a criminal group that operates in Huitzilac and Cuernavaca municipalities in Morelos. The US embassy described the attack as an “ambush.”

Mexican media identified the wounded US officials as Jess Hood Garner and Stan Dove Boss, said to be shooting instructors from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). They were apparently on their way to the installation to train Navy personnel. The US government strongly promotes the militarized “drug war” that President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa declared shortly after taking office in December 2006, and the US supplies the Mexican military and police with training and equipment under the $1.4 billion Mérida Initiative, an aid program that was launched in 2008. Since the beginning of 2007 Mexico has suffered some 50,000 drug-related deaths. (La Jornada (Mexico) 8/26/12)

On Aug. 25 the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada noted that US agents have been involved in Mexican anti-drug operations, and sometimes in operations Mexican agencies don’t know about [see Update #1103]. The newspaper charged that by interfering in drug operations the US has encouraged lack of coordination and even rivalry between different Mexican security forces, especially through US officials’ “marked favoritism for the Navy.” “[T]he strategy for combating drugs that the United States has imposed on various nations south of its border…has turned out to be detrimental for bilateral relations [between Mexico and the US]—now plunged into a mutual loss of confidence—and for national sovereignty, and has represented, at the end of the day, a risk for the security of US officials themselves in our country.” (LJ 8/25/12)

*2. Honduras: Aguán Campesinos Arrested in Supreme Court Protests
Some 45 campesinos from the Lower Aguán Valley in northern Honduras were arrested during protests on Aug. 21 and Aug. 22 demanding that the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) issue rulings in favor of campesino struggles for land. The protests were sponsored by a number of organizations—including the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) and the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA)—that have led land occupations and other demonstrations since 2009 in an effort to obtain farmland that they say big landowners acquired illegally during the 1990s [see Update #1137].

Tensions started to mount on Aug. 20 when a group of campesinos arrived at the CSJ building in Tegucigalpa expecting to meet with judges. But according to MUCA members, CSJ president Jorge Rivera Avilés decided not to receive their representatives and in fact had already made an agreement with representatives of two major landowners, Miguel Facussé and René Morales. The protesters also reported being attacked by the police at the building that day.

On Aug. 21 a group of about 80 campesinos escalated their protest by taking over the CSJ building’s five main doors; they also set up barricades on the street in front of the court, blocking traffic. (According to the Brazilian news service Adital, a total of 350 protesters, including children and older people, were participating in the demonstration.) After the campesinos had kept employees and others from entering or leaving the building for about three hours, agents from the Preventive Police arrived and asked the protesters to end the blockade. The campesinos refused. A squadron of Cobras, the notorious anti-riot police, then appeared and carried out a surprise attack, using tear gas and nightsticks.

A total of 27 or 28 protesters were arrested, including two women, a minor, and three people who had to be taken to a hospital for emergency treatment. Some of the protesters sought refuge in the headquarters of the militant Union of Workers of the Brewery Industry and the Like (STIBYS), but police agents used tear gas on them as well

On Aug. 22 a campesino group in the Aguán Valley--at first mostly women carrying machetes and clubs--responded to the arrests in Tegucigalpa by blocking the highway that connects Saba and La Ceiba with rocks and two trucks to demand the release of the 27 detained protesters. Police and military units broke up the blockade, arresting 18 protesters; several injuries were reported.

The Aguán campesinos’ eight demands on the CSJ included the suspension of criminal cases against campesinos detained for protesting and the removal of judges that the protesters said had favored the big landowners over campesinos in their decisions; the protesters were referring especially to a case in July in which the Ceiba and Francisco Morazán Appeals Court overturned a June decision by a lower court awarding 2,000 hectares of land to MARCA members. The campesinos were also asking the CSJ to declare unconstitutional a government move to ban firearms in Colón department, which includes the Aguán region. The measure discriminates in favor of the landowners, according to Rafael Alegría, a national campesino leader. The security guards hired by the big landowners and the business owners can go around with whatever arms they want, he told reporters, but ranchers, shopkeepers and campesinos can’t.

More than 70 people have been killed in the Aguán region over the past three years, most of them campesinos. (Vos el Soberano (Honduras) 8/21/12; La Prensa (Tegucigalpa) 8/21/12, 8/22/12; Adital (Brazil) 8/22/12; Agencia Venezolana de Noticias 8/23/12)

On Aug. 22 the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) issued a statement condemning the “brutal aggression” against campesino protesters on Aug. 21. The statement also cited death threats made against Donny Reyes, the coordinator of the LGBT Rainbow Coalition, and against members of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), a group that fights against corruption and for the defense of natural resources. The statement suggested writing letters to CSJ President Jorge Rivera Avilés (presidencia@poderjudicial.gob.hn) and Justice and Human Rights Minister Ana Pineda (info@sjdh.gob). (Copinh statement 8/22/12)

*3. Colombia: GM and Hunger Strikers Agree to Mediation
A group of former employees of GM Colmotores, the Colombian subsidiary of the Detroit-based General Motors Company (GM), announced on the morning of Aug. 24 that they had agreed to enter into mediation to resolve a dispute with the company. As part of the agreement, they were ending a liquids-only hunger strike that 12 workers started on Aug. 1 to pressure Colmotores to reinstate them and compensate them for injuries. They said that until the dispute was settled, they would continue an encampment in front of the US embassy in Bogotá which they have maintained for more than a year [see Update #1141].

According to the former employees’ organization, the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of Colmotores (Asotrecol), some 200 of the company’s workers have disabilities caused by injuries on the job, repetitive stress injuries or work-related illnesses. Asotrecol says the company simply fires injured workers instead of compensating them and moving them to jobs they can handle. Colomotores management has repeatedly denied Asotrecol’s claims, but apparently it decided to accept mediation rather than face the negative publicity being generated in the US by the three-week hunger strike and by photographs of seven fasters who sewed their lips shut. The workers’ supporters in the US include the nonprofit organization Witness for Peace and the main US labor confederation, the AFL-CIO.

The US Labor Department issued a statement on Aug. 24 welcoming the accord and highlighting its own role, along with the US embassy in Bogotá and the US Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, in brokering the deal. The statement failed to mention that the US government itself is a party to the dispute, since it is General Motors’ largest shareholder as a result of a major bailout in 2009. “To us it seems unjust and a double standard,” Asotrecol president Jorge Parra told reporters, “for the government of [US president Barack] Obama to demand respect for labor rights in Colombia and the same time allow the abuses that have happened to us.” (AFP 8/24/12 via Univision; AFL-CIO Now blog 8/24/12; US Labor Department press release 8/24/12)

*4. Colombia: Paramilitaries Issue Death Threats in Barrancabermeja
A reconstituted paramilitary group, “Los Rastrojos Urban Commandos,” made a series of death threats the week of Aug. 13 against members of four human rights organizations and one union in Barrancabermeja in the northern Colombian department of Santander. The first threats came in a manila envelope found on Aug. 14 at the home of human rights activist Himad Choser. The envelope contained a 9 mm bullet and a pamphlet by “Los Rastrojos” declaring Choser an enemy because he had been “denouncing and attacking our economic structure, based on drug trafficking in the region.” The pamphlet described Choser as “at the service of the FARC,” the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The pamphlet also named four organizations and the National Union of Food Industry Workers (SINALTRAINAL) as collaborators with Choser.

On Aug. 18 another "Los Rastrojos" pamphlet was left in the office of the People in Action Organization, a group that defends LGBT rights. In this pamphlet the paramilitaries declared a “death sentence against Mr. Ovidio [Nieto], of the organization that defends the gays”; against “the guerrilla William Mendoza,” the local SINALTRAINAL president; and against Choser, “so that this defender of fags won’t agitate the city.” “We’re going to be blunt,” the pamphlet continued. “We won’t give more warnings.”

Local human rights organizations called on the authorities “to fulfill their role as guarantor[s] of the life and tranquility of the residents of our city,” and they asked the international community to monitor and publicize the threats and to demand that the national government take action against criminal groups. (Communiqué 8/20/12 posted on SINALTRAINAL website) [Earlier in the month Colombian unionists called for international solidarity for SINALTRAINAL president Mendoza, who says the government is trying to have him sentenced to prison, where he fears he will be killed; see Update #1141.]

"Los Rastrojos" is one of several criminal groups that carry on the work of rightwing paramilitary groups which ostensibly demobilized during the middle 2000s [see Updates #1086, 1087, World War 4 Report 5/8/12]. On Aug. 18 the Colombian radio station Caracol reported that a leading paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), acquired weapons from criminal groups in the US in 2004 and 2005, at the same time that the group claimed to be demobilizing. Basing its report on documents from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Caracol said the AUC acquired 200 M16 rifles, 100 fragmentation grenades, 150 rocket-propelled grenades and 50,000 .22 cartridges from Miami in just one year.

The last section of the AUC to demobilize, the Elmer Cárdenas Bloc, officially gave up its arms on Aug. 16, 2006. Some of its former members then formed “Los Urabeños,” which the Medellín-based news service Colombia Reports describes as “one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Colombia and in control of the drug routes in what used to be the heartland of the AUC.” (Colombia Reports 8/19/12)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, US/immigration

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