Tuesday, September 11, 2012

WNU #1144: Nicaragua to Withdraw From the SOA

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1144, September 9, 2012

1. Nicaragua: Ortega Announces Withdrawal From SOA
2. Central America: Dole Starts to Pay in Pesticide Settlement
3. Honduras: “Model Cities” Project Set to Begin?
4. Mexico: Persecuted Gay Teacher Wins Asylum in US
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Curaçao, 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 http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Nicaragua: Ortega Announces Withdrawal From SOA
Nicaragua will no longer send military personnel to the US military’s controversial Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), President Daniel Ortega said during a meeting with a delegation of human rights activists in Managua on Sept. 4. Nicaragua will be the first Central American country to withdraw from the school, which critics say has trained many of Latin America’s most notorious human rights violators since its founding in 1946. Five South American nations have ended their relations with SOA/WHINSEC: Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Venezuela, and, as of June 27, Ecuador (see World War 4 Report 6/28/12).

“The SOA is an ethical and moral anathema,” President Ortega said during the meeting. “All of the countries of Latin America have been victims of its graduates. The SOA is a symbol of death, a symbol of terror.” Nicaragua has reduced its participation in the school since he returned to the presidency in 2007, Ortega said, sending five soldiers in 2011 and none this year. The country has also withdrawn from the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR, for its initials in Spanish), a military pact linked to the Organization of American States (OAS).

Ortega is the leader of the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and served a term as Nicaragua's president from 1985 to 1990, at a time when the US was funding and training the rightwing contra rebels fighting against the FSLN government. Withdrawing from SOA/WHINSEC “is the least that we can do,” Ortega said. “We have been its victims.” But he indicated that the move was difficult, since Nicaragua is a small, impoverished nation whose economy is largely dependent on its ties to the US.

The human rights delegation was organized by two US-based organizations: the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), which seeks the closing of SOA/WHINSEC, and the Nicaragua Network, an organization promoting solidarity with Nicaragua. Delegation members included SOAW founder Father Roy Bourgeois, SOAW Latin America coordinator Lisa Sullivan and Alejandro Ramírez, a member of a Honduran human rights organization, the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH). SOAW is planning a delegation to meet with representatives of the government of US president Barack Obama on Sept. 17 to push for closing the school.

SOA/WHINSEC trained nearly 14,000 military and police personnel from 2001 to 2011. Almost half were from Colombia; Chile and Peru also sent large numbers of soldiers and police agents. The Central American countries with the greatest participation from 2008 to 2011 were Honduras, with 234 soldiers, and El Salvador, with 227. (Adital (Brazil) 9/5/12; SOAW press release 9/6/12)

*2. Central America: Dole Starts to Pay in Pesticide Settlement
On Sept. 4 the giant California-based fruit and vegetable producer Dole Food Company, Inc. finally began funding a settlement it made more than a year earlier with some 5,000 former banana workers in Central America who said their health had been damaged by exposure to the pesticides Nemagon and Fumazone, brand names for dibromochloropropane (DBCP). Dole had refused to pay until all judgments against it had been dismissed and each of the plaintiffs had signed a release agreeing not to sue Dole again for injuries linked to DBCP.

Speaking in Chinandega in northwestern Nicaragua on Sept. 6, Dole spokesperson Humberto Hurtado confirmed that the money was available. The settlement covers 3,157 Nicaraguans along with 780 Costa Ricans and 1,000 Hondurans; they all worked for Dole during the period from 1973 to 1980 when the company used the pesticides, which are now banned. Many of the workers spent 16 years struggling to win the settlement, which covers five lawsuits in the US and 33 in Nicaragua; the Nicaraguan suits were for a total of $9 billion in damages.

Only the former banana workers represented by the Texas-based law firm Provost Umphrey are included in the settlement. Another 13,874 Nicaraguan workers have pending cases being handled by other law firms [see Update #1094]. Hurtado said Dole “might be available for possible agreements with other groups.”

Dole wouldn’t reveal the size of the settlement, but the company indicated that the payments wouldn’t significantly affect its financial condition. A statement from Dole executive vice president C. Michael Carter insisted that “there is no reliable scientific basis for alleged injuries from the agricultural field application of DBCP.” (Ventura County Star (California) 9/6/12; La Prensa (Nicaragua) 9/7/12)

*3. Honduras: “Model Cities” Project Set to Begin?
Honduran National Congress president Juan Orlando Hernández announced on Sept. 4 that the government’s Commission for the Promotion of Public-Private Alliances (COALIANZA) had signed an agreement for the first of three “model city” projects--semi-autonomous regions mandated under a 2010 constitutional amendment [see World War 4 Report 6/9/12]. COLIANZA claims the project, which still needs approval from the Congress, will create 5,000 direct and indirect jobs this year, 15,000 jobs in 2013, 30,000 in 2014, and 45,000 in 2015.

The project is likely to be located near Puerto Cortés or Puerto Castilla on the Atlantic coast, or in Choluteca department on the country’s narrow Pacific coast. “It should be noted that these model cities will be established in depopulated areas of Honduras,” Hernández told the media. “It does not imply the displacement of people or social groups.” The Honduras Culture and Politics blog noted: “None of these regions is completely vacant. Reading between the lines, what Hernández is saying is that there are no large cooperatives or powerful landowners in these regions, groups that might vocally protest the expropriation of the land on which they live and work.”

The main funding for the “model city” is coming from an unidentified Canadian company. Other funders include a US company identified as the “NKG Group” or “MKG Group,” and a start-up called Future Cities Development Corporation. Both companies seem to have rightwing libertarian orientations. A leading executive at NKG Group, Michael Strong, appears to be associated with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey; a Michael Strong is listed with Mackey as a co-founder of FLOW, an organization dedicated to “liberating the entrepreneurial spirit for good.” One of Future Cities Development Corporation’s founders is Patri Friedman, the grandson of University of Chicago economist and neoliberal theorist Milton Friedman. (Honduras Culture and Politics 9/5/12)

Some 14 groups or individuals--including campesino organizations and the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH)—filed a legal challenge to the “model cities” law on Sept. 7, citing a motion filed in October 2011 by Oscar Cruz, a former government attorney for constitutional issues. Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the presidential candidate of the leftist Freedom and Refoundation (LIBRE) party and the wife of former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), issued a statement denouncing the law as “incompatible with the concept of sovereignty, independence and equality of opportunity for national and foreign investment.” She warned people who start these projects that “they are exposing themselves to the loss of their investments.”

LIBRE was formed in June 2011 by the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), a coalition of unions and grassroots organizations that led the resistance to the June 2009 military coup that removed former president Zelaya from office.

The project has even received criticism from Paul Romer, the New York University professor whose “charter cities” concept is the basis for the Honduran “model cities” law. Romer reportedly may quit the Honduran transparency commission he was chairing because he feels he hasn’t been give sufficient information and authority to carry out his responsibilities. (Honduras Culture and Politics 9/7/12; Xiomara Castro de Zelaya statement 9/7/12 via Vos el Soberano (Honduras))

*4. Mexico: Persecuted Gay Teacher Wins Asylum in US
The Mexican daily La Jornada reported on Sept. 6 that the US had granted political asylum to Mexican teacher Agustín Estrada Negrete, who claimed he had suffered persecution and torture from officials of México state because of his homosexuality. Estrada was removed from his post as a school principal after he had appeared in women’s clothes at a festival against homophobia in May 2007. Following a march demanding his reinstatement in 2009, México state police arrested Estrada in Toluca and took him to the La Palma prison, where he said he was beaten and gang-raped. He arrived in San Diego in September 2010 in a wheelchair to seek asylum.

Jaime López Vela, the president of the sexual diversity collective Agenda LGBT, told La Jornada that the grant of asylum to Estrada “shows that the human rights violations he reported have been fully proven.” “Throughout the process we always demanded that his labor rights be restored, but there were only rejections by the México state authorities, based on homophobia, since they said that as long as he continued with his ‘homosexual attitudes,’ he wouldn’t go back to work.” The state’s governor during the period was Enrique Peña Nieto, the official winner of this year’s July 1 presidential election; his inauguration takes place in December.

In addition to his US asylum bid, Estrada filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), which issued a precautionary measure, number MC 222/09, in April 2010 calling on México state to protect the lives and physical integrity of Estrada and his family. According to CIDH spokesperson María Isabel Rivero, the measure is still active, since Estrada’s mother and sister remain in Mexico. (La Jornada 9/6/12; Los Angeles Press 9/6/12)

In an interview with the Spanish-language website Los Angeles Press in April 2012, Estrada claimed that he and Peña Nieto were secretly lovers for seven years and implied that the president-elect had persecuted him in an effort to conceal the affair. (Los Angeles Press 4/25/12)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Curaçao, Haiti, US/immigration

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