Monday, September 3, 2012

WNU #1143: Mapuche Prisoners on Hunger Strike Again

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1143, September 2, 2012

1. Chile: Mapuche Prisoners Start Latest Hunger Strike
2. Honduras: Five Killed in Continuing Aguán Violence
3. Dominican Republic: Denied an Abortion, Teen Cancer Patient Dies
4. Mexico: PRI Candidate Declared Winner, Students Protest
5. Mexico: Peace Caravan “Disarms Houston”
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Dominican Republic/Haiti, 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 For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

*1. Chile: Mapuche Prisoners Start Latest Hunger Strike
As of Aug. 31 six Mapuche activists were on hunger strike to protest what they consider the Chilean government’s repression of struggles by the indigenous group, the country’s largest. The strikers include five prisoners in Angol, in the southern region of Araucanía, and Pascual Catrilaf, a machi (healer and spiritual authority) who lives in Temuco, also in Araucanía. A seventh striker, Mewlen Huencho, a werkén (spokesperson) for the Mapuche Territorial Alliance, ended her six-day fast at the Santiago offices of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after speaking to UNICEF officials on Aug. 31.

The five prisoners in Angol are from the Wente Winkul Mapu community in Ercilla commune, Araucanía, a village where an agent of the carabineros militarized police was fatally wounded in April [see Update #1124]. They began their open-ended hunger strike on Aug. 27 to protest what they called the “discriminatory, racist and political” prison sentences of 11 years and eight months that two of the prisoners-- Paulino Levipán Coyán and Daniel Levinao Montoya--were given by court in Angol on Aug. 13. They had been convicted of attempted homicide and illegal possession of firearms in an attack on carabineros near Chequenco, Araucanía, on Nov. 2, 2011; they are appealing the conviction.

In addition to demanding the annulment of the sentences for Levipán and Levinao, the hunger strikers called for adherence by the Chilean government to International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169, which protects the rights of indigenous peoples; an end to the use of protected witnesses in Mapuche cases; an end to raids on Mapuche communities; and the release of all political prisoners and the return of indigenous lands to the communities.

Mewlen Huencho began fasting on Aug. 25 after sitting in at the UNICEF office for a month to promote demands for the international organization to denounce police attacks on women, children and the elderly in Chile; the sit-in was precipitated by a July 23 raid by carabineros on the Temucuicui community in Araucanía in which two children were shot with pellets and badly injured [see Update #1138]. Huencho suspended her hunger strike after Tom Olsen, UNICEF Representative in Chile, promised to go to Ercilla and meet with Mapuche authorities the afternoon of Sept. 3.

Machi Pascual Catrilaf began his hunger strike in solidarity with the other protests on Aug. 27.

Mapuche activists charge that that the government uses excessive force and unjust applications of criminal law to repress their actions, with which they seek the return of ancestral lands now being exploited by timber companies and other businesses. Some 34 Mapuche prisoners participated in a liquids-only hunger strike in the summer and fall of 2010, some for more than two months, and four Mapuche prisoners fasted for almost three months in the spring of 2011 [see Updates #1052, 1083]. Maricheweu International, a group in solidarity with Mapuche struggles, says letters to “convey your support and encouragement to the hunger-strikers, and to request information on their state of health” can be sent to UNICEF’s Thierry Lemaresquier ( and the Angol prison authorities ( (TeleSUR 8/28/12; Maricheweu International 8/29/12, 8/31/12; País Mapuche (Chile) 8/27/12, 8/30/12; Terra (Peru) 8/13/12)

*2. Honduras: Five Killed in Continuing Aguán Violence
A Honduran campesino, Marvin Orlando Rivera Mejía, was killed around 6 am on Sept. 1 during a confrontation between security guards and a campesino group at the Boleros estate, at the edge of Trujillo in the northern department of Colón. The victim was reportedly not involved in the confrontation and was shot unintentionally. A guard, José Reyes González, was hit by a bullet in the back and was taken to a clinic in the city of San Pedro Sula. The campesinos fled when police and soldiers arrived; an unknown number were wounded. Departmental police chief José Mejía claimed the campesino group was heavily armed.

Apparently the campesinos were attempting to occupy land on the estate. Campesinos have taken over thousands of hectares in the region, the Lower Aguán Valley, since late 2009 in an effort to get possession of land they say big landowners acquired illegally during the 1990s [see Update #1142]. Vitalino Álvarez, a spokesperson for the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), said tensions would continue in the countryside unless the government treated the land problem seriously on a national level. Until now, he said, César Ham, the minister in charge of the National Agrarian Institute (INA), has only provided palliatives by arranging to transfer land ownership to members of some big campesino groups like MUCA. (La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 9/2/12)

Rivera Mejía’s violent death was the fifth in the Aguán region in less than a week, and the second that appeared to be related to the land struggle. On Aug. 27 José Braulio Díaz López, secretary of the campesino group Tranvío, a MUCA affiliate, was shot dead by heavily armed men near the city of Tocoa as he was checking a problem with his car. Mario Roberto Hernández, who was helping him with the car, was wounded. According to MUCA, the men who shot Díaz were driving a vehicle belonging to security guards employed by cooking oil magnate Miguel Facussé Barjum, a major landowner in the Aguán and one of the richest people in Honduras. MUCA said the national police removed all of Díaz’s possessions from the scene, including legal documents relating to the transfer of land to campesinos; as of Aug. 28 the police had not handed the documents over to MUCA.

Three other killings that occurred in the region from Aug. 27 to Aug. 29 seemed to be the result of common crimes or personal disputes, but they undercut government claims that it was limiting violence by banning firearms in the Aguán. Two young married people were killed while at their home in Sabá, and an unidentified man was beaten to death with a stone in Tocoa’s San Isidro neighborhood. Also in Tocoa, a 15-year-old girl was wounded by gunfire intended for someone else, and three members of one family were wounded in their home in a drive-by shooting.

One other shooting may have been politically motivated. A compesino identified as Daniel Sosa was wounded when a MUCA vehicle was shot up near the San Isidro African palm plantation, which is claimed by Facussé. (MUCA statement 8/28/12 via Vos el Soberano (Honduras); La Tribuna 8/29/12)

*3. Dominican Republic: Denied an Abortion, Teen Cancer Patient Dies
The case of a pregnant 16-year-old Dominican with leukemia has reignited controversy over the amended 2010 Constitution’s Article 37, which holds “that the right to life is inviolable from conception until death.” The anti-abortion amendment was part of a series of constitutional changes pushed by rightwing forces; other amendments in the 2010 document ban same-sex marriage and limit citizenship to people with Dominican parents, in effect leaving many Dominicans of Haitian descent stateless [see Update #1141].

The pregnant teenager—called “Esperanza” or “Esperancita” in the media; her name was withheld because of her age—entered the Teachers’ Medical Insurance (Semma) hospital in Santo Domingo on July 4. The chemotherapy used to treat leukemia was likely to harm the fetus she was carrying, but the doctors refused to perform a therapeutic abortion from fear of being prosecuted under Article 37. They apparently also feared prosecution if the fetus died as a result of the chemotherapy, which they failed to provide until forced to by public pressure 20 days after the patient was admitted.

“Esperanza” didn’t respond to the chemical treatment, and her body rejected a blood transfusion on Aug. 16, according to the hospital’s Dr. Antonio Cabrera, who said she had a miscarriage the morning of Aug. 17 and then died of cardiac arrest. Since autopsy results weren’t immediately released, it was unclear whether the miscarriage was the direct cause of the girl’s death or what her chances of survival would have been if she’d had an abortion or had been given chemotherapy at the beginning of July. According to her mother, Rosa Hernández, “Esperanza” had become hopeful about her chances of recovery and had begun talking about the start of the new school year.

Feminist groups in the Dominican Republic and abroad blamed Article 37 for the girl’s death. An Aug. 18 statement by the Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Health Network (RSMLAC, for its initials in Spanish) said the treatment of “Esperanza” “was a form of unacceptable violence and torture” and called her death “a femicide carried out by political-religious alliances.” Hernández, an impoverished employee of the school system, had pleaded for a therapeutic abortion. “My daughter’s life is what’s most important,” she said. “I know that [abortion] is a sin and is illegal, but my daughter’s life comes first.” (CNN 8/17/12; RSMLAC statement 8/18/12; Servicio de Noticias de la Mujer de Latinamerica y el Caribe (SEMLAC) 8/20/12 via Diario Rotativo (Querétaro, Mexico); Adital (Brazil) 8/30/12)

*4. Mexico: PRI Candidate Declared Winner, Students Protest
Mexico’s 2012 presidential election came to a close on Aug. 31 when the Electoral Tribunal of the Judicial Branch of the Republic (TEPJF) officially declared former México state governor Enrique Peña Nieto the winner of the July 1 vote. One day earlier the tribunal had dismissed charges by the coalition backing center-left candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador that Peña Nieto’s 6.62% lead over López Obrador was the result of fraud, vote buying and media manipulation by Peña Nieto’s centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mexico’s ruling party from 1929 to 2000 [see Update #1137]. (La Jornada (Mexico) 8/31/12, 9/1/12)

These results were expected, and #YoSoy132 (“I’m number 132”), the student movement that formed suddenly in the spring to oppose what its supporters called the “imposition” of the PRI candidate, had already planned a “funeral for democracy” to be held in Mexico City the afternoon of Aug. 31. Starting from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) campus, the protesters, some carrying cardboard coffins, marched through the city for about 10 km, tying up traffic at various points. About 5,000 people participated, far less than the estimated 50,000 protesters who came out for demonstrations against the PRI in the week after the July 1 vote. (LJ 9/1/12)

*5. Mexico: Peace Caravan “Disarms Houston”
In an unusual and dramatic protest against lax gun control laws in the US, relatives of victims of drug-related violence in Mexico destroyed a .357 Magnum pistol and an AK-47 assault rifle in Houston’s Guadalupe Plaza Park on Aug. 27 and buried the remains in cement. The protesters were part of a Caravan for Peace that started a month-long tour of the US in San Diego on Aug. 12 to raise awareness of the US role in a “drug war” that has cost some 50,000 lives in Mexico since the beginning of 2007. The tour is to end in Washington, DC on Sept. 12.

Two caravan supporters bought the firearms at a High Caliber Gun & Knife Show in Pasadena, Texas, on Aug. 25 to show how easily gun smugglers can purchase weapons in Texas; the US is the main source of illegal guns recovered from crime scenes in Mexico. The pistol was purchased in a five-minute transaction by a woman with a foreign accent who was not asked for identification. A man with US citizenship bought the AK-47, the favorite weapon of Mexican drug traffickers, after a 10-minute background check.

The Caravan for Peace was organized by the Movement for Peace With Justice and Dignity (MPJD), an organization started in 2011 by Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, whose son Juan Francisco was killed in late March of that year, apparently by gang members [see Update #1079]. The movement opposes the militarized fight against the drug cartels started by President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, with funding and political support from the US government, shortly after he took office in December 2006.

Sicilia sawed the barrels of the weapons in Houston with an electric metal saw provided by an undocumented Mexican immigrant who works in Texas as a welder. Then other relatives of victims smashed the weapons with sledgehammers.

Araceli Rodríguez wept as she put fragments of the guns in a wooden box and buried them in cement. Her son, Luis Ángel León Rodríguez, a Mexican federal police agent stationed in Hidalgo, Michoacán, was kidnapped in November 2009, apparently by members of the so-called “Michoacán Family” drug cartel; his body was never found. She said after the protest that for her the burial of the guns symbolized the Christian burial she would never be able to give her son in Mexico. ( video 8/27/12; Fellowship of Reconciliation blog 8/28/12; Vanguardia (Mexico) 8/30/12)

In related news, the Mexican daily La Jornada reported on Aug. 28 that the two US agents wounded in a shooting incident near Tres Marías in Morelos on Aug. 24 [see Update #1142] were from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), not the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Citing unidentified “official sources close to the investigation,” the newspaper also said the attack was carried out by five vehicles, not four, and that the shooting began after the assailants were able to see the victims close up. The agents were driving a heavily armored US embassy car, a Toyota Land Cruiser, on their way to a Navy training facility, apparently to provide instruction to marines involved in the “war on drugs.” According to later reports, the US agents survived only because of the car’s armor.

While the first reports said only federal police agents were implicated in the attack, there are indications that members of a criminal organization were directly involved. The official sources cited 18 attackers in civilian clothes, but only 12 federal police agents have been detained so far. (LJ 8/28/12, 8/29/12)

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

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El Salvador: Killed in Cold Blood on the Banks of the River at El Calabozo

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