Tuesday, May 7, 2013

WNU #1175: Protesters Reoccupy Brazilian Dam

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1175, May 5, 2013

1. Brazil: Protesters Again Block Construction at Belo Monte
2. Guatemala: Will the Ríos Montt Trial Continue?
3. Haiti: Labor Groups Unite for May 1 March
4. Cuba: US Lets “Spy” Serve Probation in Cuba
5. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador,  Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, 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. Brazil: Protesters Again Block Construction at Belo Monte
About 200 protesters occupied the main construction site for the giant Belo Monte dam, in Vitória do Xingu municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, on May 2 to demand the immediate suspension of work on the project until the government has respected the indigenous communities’ right to prior consultation on the project. The occupiers—who included members of the Munduruku, Juruna, Kayapó, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakanã and Arara indigenous groups as well as fishing people and other residents in the area that will be affected by the dam—were also protesting the presence of soldiers and military vehicles in the region. They said they would maintain the occupation and block construction “until the federal government responds to the demands we’ve presented.”

The $13 billion dam, expected to be the world’s third largest, will flood 516 square kilometers, according to opponents, and it has been the target of repeated protests since construction began in March 2012. The most recent was an occupation of another of the four construction sites by 100 or more indigenous people and other residents on Mar. 21 of this year [see Update #1169].

According to news reports, a number of the 6,000 construction workers at the main site were supporting the protesters on May 3. Workers on the Belo Monte dam have held several work actions of their own, including an Apr. 5 strike that some 5,000 employees held at the project’s Pimental construction site over working conditions and dismissals. (Conselho Indigenista Missionário (CIMI) 5/2/13; Adital (Brazil) 5/2/13; Prensa Latina 5/3/13; Reuters 5/4/13)

On May 3 police agents removed two journalists who were covering the occupation; the police threatened to arrest the journalists if they returned, A third journalist was fined for his involvement. The three journalists were Reuters photographer Lunaé Parracho, Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI) reporter Ruy Sposati and Radio France Internationale (RFI) correspondent François Cardona. “Why don’t they want journalists here?” protester Valdenir Munduruku asked after the removal, which took place on the United Nations’ World Press Freedom Day. “If anything happens, the responsibility is the government’s,” he added. “From now on, the [indigenous people] are alone, facing the soldiers,” RFI Cardona correspondent wrote after his removal, “[w]ithout anyone to be a witness if the situation degenerates.” Police also kept federal legislative deputy Padre Ton, a Workers’ Party (PT) representative for Rondônia state, from entering the site. (RFI 5/4/13; Movimiento Xingú Vivo para Siempre website 5/5/13, 5/5/13)

*2. Guatemala: Will the Ríos Montt Trial Continue?
The status of the genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) remained uncertain as of May 3, with observers disagreeing on the impact of four rulings by the Constitutional Court (CC) that day. The trial--in which Ríos Montt and former intelligence chief Gen. José Rodríguez face charges of causing the deaths of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Mayan civilians in the central department of Quiché during Ríos Montt’s dictatorship—started on Mar. 19 but was suddenly suspended on Apr. 18 after an appeals court appeared to reinstate the presiding judge from an earlier phase of the case [see Updates #1169, 1173]. The trial resumed on Apr. 30, but on May 2 the three trial judges decided to recess until May 7 to allow the defense to prepare.

The Constitutional Court’s May 3 rulings mostly concerned complaints filed by Ríos Montt’s attorney, Francisco García Gudiel. The current presiding judge--whose name is Yasmín Barrios or Yassmín Barrios, according to different media reports—removed García Gudiel on Mar. 19, the first day of the trial, leaving Ríos Montt without a defense team. The lawyer, who has since been reinstated, claims that the trial needs to start over again from the first day. The Constitutional Court postponed a decision on this claim, which according to the Guatemala City daily Prensa Libre means the trial is suspended until the issue is decided. But attorneys for the Ixil victims and other supporters of the prosecution insisted that the trial would resume as scheduled on May 7.

Many observers think political motives are behind the confusing legal maneuvers. Influential rightwing forces in the country, including current president Otto Pérez Molina, have made it clear that they don’t want the genocide trial to reach a verdict. The Apr. 18 suspension came when the three trial judges were close to starting deliberations. They had held 19 sessions and had heard from some 150 witnesses; only six more were scheduled to testify. (Prensa Libre 5/4/13; La Jornada (Mexico) 5/5/13 from AFP, DPA; Open Society Justice Initiative Ríos Montt trial blog 5/5/13)

*3. Haiti: Labor Groups Unite for May 1 March
Several hundred Haitian unionists and activists marched in Port-au-Prince on May 1 to celebrate International Workers Day and to demand reform of the country’s labor code, respect for labor standards and application of a legally mandated 300 gourde (about US$7.12) daily minimum wage for piece workers in the assembly sector [see Update #1164]. The march began at the large industrial park run by the semi-public National Industrial Parks Company (Sonapi) in the north of the capital; the assembly plants there mainly produce apparel for sale in North America and are a focus of complaints over failure to pay the minimum wage. The unionists then moved on to the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development Ministry (Marndr) to highlight the situation of agricultural workers. Police agents blocked the march for 20 minutes because Haitian president Michel Martelly and other officials were attending an event at the ministry.

The May 1 protest in Port-au-Prince was larger and broader-based than a similar march last year, which was sponsored principally by the leftist workers’ organization Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle”) and the Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA) [see Update #1138]. This year Batay Ouvriye and SOTA were joined by nearly a dozen other organizations, including the Confederation of Haitian Workers’ Forces (CFOH) and the Autonomous Confederation of Haitian Workers (CATH); the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (CSA-TUCA) were also represented at the protest. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 5/1/13) Batay Ouvriye reported that other May 1 demonstrations were held in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second-largest city, in the north; in Ouanaminthe in the northeast at the Dominican border, where workers at the Compagnie de Développement Industriel S.A. (Codevi) “free trade zone” have won the only union contract in the country’s assembly plants; and in Anse-à-Veau, in the southeastern department of Nippes, where agricultural workers demanded back pay they said was owed them. (Email from Batay Ouvriye 5/3/13)

*4. Cuba: US Lets “Spy” Serve Probation in Cuba
In a sharp reversal of its previous policy, the US government has decided to let René González, one of five Cuban men convicted of espionage in 2001 [see Update #993], serve out the remainder of his probation in Cuba. González, a US citizen of Cuban origin, was released in October 2011 after spending 13 years in prison, but US officials initially turned down his request to serve his remaining three years’ probation in Cuba. In 2012 the US let him visit the island for two weeks to see his brother, who was ill, and in April this year he was allowed another visit to attend the funeral of his father, who died on Apr. 1. On May 3 US district judge in Miami Joan Lenard granted González’s request to stay in Cuba; she said the US Justice Department now had no objection to the arrangement. Apparently the only condition was that he would need to renounce his US citizenship.

Widely known as the “Cuban Five,” the men admitted they were Cuban agents but insisted that they were monitoring terrorist activities by rightwing Cubans based in Florida, not spying on the US. The Cuban government says the five men are heroes, and many US progressives have worked over the years for their release. The other four agents received longer prison sentences than González and remain in US prisons. Last year the Cuban government offered to negotiate the possible release of US citizen Alan Gross, who is now serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba for his work there with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) [see Update #1160], in connection with the release of the Cuban Five. At the time the US rejected the idea of linking the two cases. (New York Times 5/3/13; La Jornada (Mexico) 5/4/13 from DPA, AFP)

The decision on René González was one of three seemingly contradictory signals from the US government over a two-day period. On May 2 the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) exploited the US designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” during a press conference announcing that Cuban resident Assata Shakur was now the first woman on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” list. Former Black Panther Party member Shakur, then known as Joanne Chesimard, was convicted in New Jersey in 1977 for the 1973 killing of a state trooper. Shakur, who insists she was wrongfully convicted, escaped prison in 1979 and has been living in Cuba since 1984. (World War 4 Report 5/3/13)

One day later, on May 3, the US government outraged rightwing Cuban Americans by allowing Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban president Raúl Castro, to visit the Liberty Bell, a US national symbol, in Philadelphia. Castro, the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), was in Philadelphia to receive an award from the Equality Forum at the LGBT rights organization’s annual conference, held from May 2 to May 5. The US State Department had delayed granting Castro a visa to attend the conference until Apr. 29. (The Lede, NYT blog, 5/3/13; LJ 5/4/13 from DPA)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US/immigration

Cartes’ Election: What it means and the challenges ahead (Paraguay)

SOA Watch Issues Report on Paraguay's Election and Human Rights Violations in the Curuguaty Massacre

Bolivia Expels USAID: Not Why, but Why Not Sooner

Ecuador: Green-Washing Run Amok in the Andes

Colombia to Resume Peace Talks with the FARC Amidst U.S. and Colombian Military "Saber-Rattling"

Organizations Like Bamboo: Wellness and Resilience in Colombian Human Rights Defense

Colombia: Marcha Patriótica Gains Momentum in the Struggle for Peace with Social Justice

Violence Erupts in Venezuela’s National Assembly

Capriles Formally Contests Elections Before Venezuela’s Supreme Court

Salvador May Day march rejects privatization push

The Criminalization of Campesino Resistance in Honduras: Chavelo’s Story

Washington Insider Eduardo Stein Tries to Protect Ríos Montt from the Genocide Trial in Guatemala

State of Siege: Mining Conflict Escalates in Guatemala

Rios Montt Trial to Resume Amid Expectations and Uncertainties (Guatemala)

A Rough Guide to Obama’s Mexico Visit

Changing Perspectives on U.S.-Mexico Relations

Mexican Teachers' Rebellion Against Gov't Education Reform

Five Students Seize UNAM Tower; Peaceful Solution Sought (Mexico)

One Year after the Murder of Journalist Regina Martínez: Violence and Impunity Reign (Mexico)

The Looming Canada-CARICOM Free Trade Agreement (Caribbean)

A Cuban Spring?

A Tale of Two Trials: Duvalier vs. Ríos Montt (Haiti)

From the I-Word to the I-Deed (US/immigration)

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