Monday, May 13, 2013

WNU #1176: Guatemalan Dictator Convicted—Who’s Next?

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1176, May 12, 2013

1. Guatemala: Ríos Montt Is Convicted--Who's Next?
2. Guatemala: State of Siege Against Mine Protesters Is Lifted
3. Brazil: Protesters Suspend Belo Monte Occupation
4. Haiti: Aristide to Reenter Politics as a “Coach”
5. Mexico: Malcolm X Grandson Murdered in DF Bar
6. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Guatemala, Mexico, 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. Guatemala: Ríos Montt Is Convicted--Who's Next?
On May 10 a three-judge panel of the High Risk Cases Court in Guatemala City convicted former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983) of ordering, supervising and permitting the killing of 1,771 people from the Ixil Mayan group—about 5.5% of the total Ixil population—in El Quiché department during his 17 months of de facto rule. The killings occurred during the most violent phase of a 36-year civil war in which some 200,000 people died, mostly civilians killed by the military, with covert assistance from the US. Ríos Montt was given a prison sentence of 80 years and was escorted from the court directly to the Matamoros prison. He said would appeal and called the proceedings an international farce. The court acquitted co-defendant José Rodríguez, Ríos Montt’s former intelligence chief.

The judges ruled that Ríos Montt’s crimes constituted genocide; he is the first former head of state to be convicted of genocide in Latin America, and possibly in the world. The trial—the result of years of effort by survivors and human rights advocates—began on Mar. 19 but was under constant threat from powerful rightwing forces and was suspended briefly in April [see Updates #1173, 1175]. Pandemonium broke out in the packed courtroom when the verdict was finally read. Weeping survivors and human rights advocates hugged each other while presiding judge Yasmín Barrios called for order, apparently concerned that Rios Montt might escape in the chaos. Before leaving, the indigenous witnesses and spectators turned to Judge Barrios and quietly said: “Tantixh,” “thank you” in Ixil.

In addition to convicting Ríos Montt, the court ordered the Public Ministry to continue investigating other people who might have participated in the crimes with which the former dictator was charged. “This important and unexpected aspect of the verdict,” wrote US investigative report Allan Nairn, who was present in Guatemala City as a potential witness, “means that there now exists a formal legal mandate for a criminal investigation of the [current] president of Guatemala, Gen. Otto Pérez Molina.” Although he has immunity while his term lasts, Pérez Molina was implicated by one witness during the trial.

“We might be in agreement or in disagreement,” Pérez Molina said in a May 10 interview after the verdict was handed down, “but the important thing is that we should respect the judicial authorities.” However, the sentence has created “delicate situation,” Pérez Molina added. “As we’re calling for them to come invest in Guatemala, regrettably this isn’t good news internationally.” (La Jornada (Mexico) 5/11/13 from correspondent; News and Comment blog 5/11/13; Prensa Libre (Guatemala City) 5/12/13)

*2. Guatemala: State of Siege Against Mine Protesters Is Lifted
Just one week after imposing a 30-day state of siege on four municipalities in southeastern Guatemala that have been the site of violent confrontations over a Canadian-owned silver mine, President Otto Pérez Molina announced on May 9 that his government was lifting the measure and instead declaring a state of prevention in the area. Under the less severe state of prevention, “some rights remain limited,” the president said, “such as the right to strike, and demonstrations when it’s going to interfere with public services, [along with] the carrying of arms.” Apparently, Pérez Molina had to back off from the May 2 state of siege because the National Congress had failed to approve it within three days, as required by law. (AFP 5/9/13 via Hoy (Dominican Republic); El Mercurio (Spain) 5/11/13)

The state of siege had restricted individual constitutional rights and put the military in control of Jalapa and Mataquescuintal municipalities, Jalapa department, and Casillas and San Rafael Las Flores municipalities, Santa Rosa department. Indigenous Xinka communities in the area have been protesting for about a year against the El Escobal mine, which is located in San Rafael Las Flores. The principal owner is San Rafael, S.A., the Guatemalan subsidiary of Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources Inc., but Goldcorp Inc., also based in Vancouver, retained 40% ownership after selling El Escobal to Tahoe in 2010. One of the leaders of the protest movement, Exaltación Marcos Ucelo, the secretary of the Xinka Parliament, was murdered on Mar. 17 [see Update #1171]; the case remains unsolved.

Protests intensified after the government granted an exploitation license to the mining companies on Apr. 3. Indigenous activists set up an encampment in San Rafael Las Flores near the mine five days later. On Apr. 27 mine security guards fired on a group of the protesters, injuring 10, two of them seriously. Responding to the shooting, protesters in Jalapa captured and disarmed 23 police agents on Apr. 29; a campesino was killed the next day when police tried to rescue the captured agent. Also on Apr. 30, a police agent was killed when police stormed the camp in San Rafael Las Flores.

Under the state of siege, more than 2,000 soldiers and police agents were deployed to the four municipalities in small tanks and in attack vehicles, detaining 16 community leaders. In a May 7 communiqué the Indigenous, Campesino and Popular March, which includes various indigenous organizations, described the state of siege as an act of “criminalization of protest” and charged that the government was carrying out “a brutal and systematic repression” against peaceful demonstrations. (Upside Down World 5/2/13; Servindi 5/7/13)

*3. Brazil: Protesters Suspend Belo Monte Occupation
On the night of May 9 some 150 mostly indigenous protesters left the construction site which they had occupied for a week at the Belo Monte dam, in Vitória do Xingu municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará [see Update #1175, where we reported 200 occupiers, following our sources]. The decision to end the protest came after Judge Sérgio Wolney Guedes of the Region 1 Federal Regional Court responded to a request from Norte Energia S.A., the consortium in charge of the dam, by ordering the activists to leave and authorizing the use of force by the police. “We went out the same way we entered, peacefully, without causing damage to public property or any type of aggression,” Valdenir Munduruku, a spokesperson for the protesters, told Agência Brasil, the government news agency, by phone. But he said the activists were unhappy with the court’s decision, “because we think that our rights are being violated.”

The occupiers, who included members of the Munduruku, Juruna, Kayapó, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakanã and Arara indigenous groups, were demanding respect for indigenous communities’ right to prior consultation on the project; they were also protesting the heavy presence of soldiers and military vehicles in the region. When completed, the dam, the world’s third largest, is expected to flood some 516 square kilometers and displace as many as 50,000 people.

The federal government, dominated by the center-left Workers’ Party (PT), says it’s open to dialogue with the protesters. But officials from the General Secretariat of the Presidency have been trying to shift blame to the protesters for the failure to reach an agreement. The officials complained that at two previous meetings indigenous representatives presented contradictory proposals. An unidentified source in the government told the Cuban wire service Prensa Latina that the indigenous representatives didn’t want economic development in the region because they were involved in illegal gold mining. “[O]ne of the main spokespeople for the occupiers in Belo Monte is the owner of six boats that transport illegal raw material,” the source said. (Prensa Latina 5/7/13; Veja (Brazil) 5/10/13; AFP 5/10/13 via La Prensa (Nicaragua))

The government also seems determined to keep the protests from getting media attention. As reported last week, two journalists were removed from the site on May 3 and one was fined as they were trying to cover the occupation. The Journalism in the Americas blog notes that one of the three journalists, Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI) reporter Ruy Sposati, was harassed in December 2011 while reporting on layoffs at one of the dam’s construction sites. He said that two men in a truck owned by the Military Police called him a “troublemaker,” and that one threatened his life. Police agents located nearby reportedly didn’t intervene when the men tried to take Sposati’s camera equipment. (Journalism in the Americas 12/15/11, 5/6/13)

*4. Haiti: Aristide to Reenter Politics as a “Coach”
Former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004) made a tentative reentry into politics with a press conference held on May 9 at his home in Tabarre, a well-to-do suburb northeast of Port-au-Prince. Aristide said his political party, the Lavalas Family (FL), “is evolving, is becoming stronger and more powerful,” and he appeared confident that it would be able to field candidates in parliamentary and local elections to be held before the end of the year; electoral authorities kept FL off the ballot in 2009 partial senatorial elections and in the 2010-2011 presidential and legislative elections [see Update #1052] He predicted that the party would win seats, but not that it would dominate as it did during his 2001-2004 presidential term. “One person alone,” “one political party alone” or “one group in society” can’t solve the problem of hunger, Aristide said. “We have an indispensable coming together to do in order for us to diminish hunger in our country.”

Aristide spent seven years in de facto exile in South Africa after being driven from office in 2004. He suddenly returned on Mar. 18, 2011 but made very few public appearances until May 8 this year, the day before his press conference, when he went to a downtown courtroom to testify to an investigative judge about the April 2000 murder of journalist Jean Léopold Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint, the guard at Dominique’s Haïti Inter radio station [see Update #1166]. The police banned demonstrations but took no action when thousands of Aristide’s supporters turned out to see the former president. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 5/8/13, 5/9/13; Miami Herald 5/9/13 from correspondent)

Apparently Aristide has been holding meetings in an effort to revive FL, which has been weakened by factional rivalries along with the denial of ballot status. On May 4 Haitian-American musician Richard Morse told the Associated Press wire service that he and his wife, the popular singer Lunise Exume Morse, had been meeting with Aristide to discuss the possibility of running Lunise Morse on the FL line for senator for West department, which includes Port-au-Prince. “He’s back, and he's trying to get good people on his team,” Richard Morse said of Aristide, who is barred by the 1987 Constitution from seeking a third term. “He's not a candidate,” Morse explained. “He’s a coach. He’s an adviser.”

Morse, who founded the mizik rasin band RAM and manages the well-known Hotel Oloffson in downtown Port-au-Prince, supported Aristide in the early 1990s but broke with him later. More recently Morse was an adviser to rightwing president Michel Martelly, his cousin, but he quit in January, charging that there was “outright corruption” in the Martelly administration. (AP 5/5/13 via Huffington Post)

*5. Mexico: Malcolm X Grandson Murdered in DF Bar
According to Mexican authorities, Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of assassinated US rights activist Malcolm X and educator Betty Shabazz, was found badly beaten on a sidewalk in Mexico City the night of May 8. Federal District (DF, Mexico City) emergency services took him to a hospital, where he died early in the morning of May 9. A Mexican friend, Miguel Suárez, said he and Shabazz had been invited into The Palace, a bar in the Plaza Garibaldi neighborhood. Later they were presented with a $1,200 bill for music, alcohol and the company of the women they had been drinking with. When they refused to pay, Suárez was separated from Shabazz and eventually escaped; apparently Shabazz was beaten to death.

In 1997, at the age of 12 Shabazz set a fire in which Betty Shabazz died. He was placed in juvenile detention, and had brushes with the law after his release, but more recently he had been studying and was active as a speaker and a blogger. He was visiting Mexico to help Suárez, a California activist who was deported to Mexico in April.

DF police and homicide detectives conducted a search in The Palace, which area shopkeepers say is known for its abuses of tourists who patronize it. Cases like the killing of Shabazz are the result of the authorities’ failure to enforce the law at such establishments, according to Gabriela Salido Magos, a member of the DF Legislative Assembly for the center-right National Action Party (PAN) and part of the Assembly’s tourism committee. She cited the reported rape of a young woman in the Cadillac High Class strip club in February and the robbery the month before of customers at the SO.DO.ME Bathhouse, a gay sauna. These abuses aren’t exceptional, Salido Magos said, but they are viewed differently when the victim is the grandson of an historic US activist. (La Jornada (Mexico) 5/11/13, 5/12/13)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

Michelle Bachelet: Inequality in Chile

Using the Cold War: The Truman Administration’s Response to the Bolivian National Revolution

Peru Backslides on Indigenous Rights

Private Bank Profits Don’t Represent the Health of the Economy (Ecuador)

Ecuador’s Indigenous People Still Waiting to Be Consulted

Agricultural Workers Strike in Colombia as Peace Talks Continue

Venezuelan Elections 2013: Fingerprints All Over the Map

"Part of the Transition to Socialism": Venezuela's Labour Law Comes into Effect

The New York Times on Venezuela and Honduras: A Case of Journalistic Misconduct

Central Americans Skeptical of Obama’s Promises for Greater Benefits from Integration

A Formal Legal Mandate for a Criminal Investigation of Guatemala's Current President, Perez Molina

The Guatemala Genocide Case: Testimony Notes Regarding Rios Montt

Obama and the Militarization of the “Drug War” in Mexico and Central America

Obama in Mexico Amidst Demands for Migrant Rights

Labor Reforms No Cause for Celebration in Mexico’s May Day Rallies

Blood Along the Border: Environmental Activism and Violence in Juarez, Mexico

Water Fights Flare (Mexico)

Report Reveals How Canadian Diplomacy Supported Deadly Blackfire Mining Project in Mexico

Mexico’s Aging Laguna Verde Nuclear Plant a Fiasco

New Report Gives UN Failing Grade on Cholera (Haiti)

Cholera Victims’ Lawyers to Seek Billions in Damages if UN Continues to Deny Responsibility (Haiti)

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