Monday, May 27, 2013

WNU #1178: Latin America Marches Against Monsanto

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1178, May 26, 2013

1. Latin America: Marchers Reject Monsanto, Back Food Sovereignty
2. Guatemala: Thousands Protest Reversal of Dictator's Conviction
3. Honduras: Indigenous Leaders Arrested After Dam Demonstration
4. Mexico: Immigration Activists Take Their Case to the US
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, 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. Latin America: Marchers Reject Monsanto, Back Food Sovereignty
According to organizers, hundreds of thousands of environmentalists and other activists participated in marches in 436 cities and 52 countries on May 25 to protest the Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company, whose products include genetically modified (GM) seeds and the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup. The global March Against Monsanto generated events in countries including Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and the US. (La Jornada (Mexico) 5/26/13, some from AFP, Prensa Latina)

A few dozen Argentines reportedly protested in front of Monsanto’s Buenos Aires offices on May 25, and protests were planned for Tucumán, Mendoza, Rosario, Misiones and Calafate. One of Argentina’s largest protests took place two days earlier, on May 23, when hundreds of residents marched in Córdoba City, the capital of the central province of Córdoba. Malvinas Argentinas, a working-class suburb located 14 km from the provincial capital, is the site Monsanto has picked for its largest facility in Latin America [see Update #1166], and the company is also building an experimental station in Río Cuarto in the same province. “Monsanto out of Malvinas Argentinas, Córdoba and Latin America” is a popular slogan in the Córdoba metropolitan area, where residents blame fumigation with agricultural chemicals for cancer, respiratory diseases and deformed fetuses. At the May 23 march the Malvinas Struggles Assembly called for a popular consultation on the construction of the plant. According to a recent poll by researchers from local universities, nine out of 10 Malvinas Argentinas residents want a vote and 58% of them oppose the construction.

Most of Argentina’s soy is transgenic, and soy is now Argentina’s biggest crop, taking up nearly 20 million hectares, 59% of the country’s farmland. The center-left government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is pushing to expand soy production, while Congress is working on a new Seed Law, one so favorable to the GM industry that critics are calling it the Monsanto Law. (El Mundo (Spain) 5/25/13)

Activists also held protests against Monsanto in Montevideo, Uruguay, and Santiago and other cities in Chile. (LJ 5/26/13, some from AFP and PL; Diario de Mendoza (Argentina) 5/26/13 from Russia Today (RT))

In Mexico activists marked May 25 with protests in 20 of the country’s 32 states. The focus was on recent requests from Monsanto and other biotech firms for permission to expand the commercial planting of GM corn [see Update #1177]; environmentalists and campesinos fear that the massive sowing will contaminate the 59 native corn strains, threatening both biodiversity and Mexico’s ability to produce its own food. In the Federal District (DF, Mexico City), organizations like Vía Orgánica (“Organic Way”) and the Without Corn There Is No Country campaign sponsored a march from the Bellas Artes Palace to the Monument to the Revolution; they also organized a “Carnival of Corn,” with pictures, music and theatrical performances that attracted hundreds of visitors. (LJ 5/26/13)

Activists in the southeastern state of Chiapas held a similar festival in the plaza in front of the cathedral in San Cristóbal de las Casas. The organizers called for Chiapas municipalities to be declared GM-free zones; they also expressed their concerns about Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto’s “National Crusade Against Hunger,” which they said was oriented toward the distribution of food from industrialized farming rather than from campesino production.

In the western state of Nayarit campesinos from Santiago Ixcuintla, Sauta, Villa Hidalgo and La Presa demanded the removal of Monsanto, which they said had taken over some 1,800 hectares of their lands since 2010 and was irrigating the crops with water from the Santiago River. In Jalisco some eight groups, including the Honda de México Workers Union, demonstrated in a plaza in the state capital, Guadalajara. GM corn is a death sentence which would leave Mexican producers at the mercy of giant multinationals, said Jesús Quiroz Pérez, a campesino from the community of Ixcatán in Zapopan municipality. In Morelia, the capital of the southwestern state of Michoacán, the protest was led by some 500 members and supporters of the #YoSoy132 (“I’m number 132”) student movement [see Update #1130]. (LJ 5/26/13)

Hundreds of Puerto Ricans marched in San Juan’s Santurce neighborhood on May 25 with the slogan “Nothing is holy [santo] about Monsanto.” Protesters noted that Monsanto and Dow Chemical were the main producers of the defoliant Agent Orange, which was tested in Puerto Rico during the 1960s before being used by the US military in Vietnam. The protest’s main speaker, attorney Salvador Tió, called for support for a law proposed by pro-independence senator María de Lourdes Santiago to require labels identifying GM products. Tió also demanded that Monsanto be required to comply with a law limiting individual farms to 500 acres. According to the Investigative Journalism Center (CPI), the Puerto Rican government’s Land Authority is negotiating with Monsanto to renew contracts for land in the Juana Díaz plains totaling 768 acres, in violation of the law. Guillermo Somoza Colombani, justice secretary in the 2009-2013 administration of former governor Luis Fortuño, supported Monsanto’s claim that the law didn’t apply because the firm is registered as a biotech company, not an agricultural company. Current agriculture secretary Myrna Comas has said that the administration of Gov. Alejandro García Padilla will review all the contracts signed by previous governments. (Prensa Latina 5/25/13)

*2. Guatemala: Thousands Protest Reversal of Dictator's Conviction
Thousands of Guatemalans marched in Guatemala City on May 24 to protest a decision four days earlier by the Constitutional Court (CC) overturning the historic May 10 conviction of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) for genocide against the Ixil Mayans in El Quiché department [see Update #1176]. Organizers said 6,000 people participated in the march, which passed by the offices of the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (CACIF)--whose leaders had called for the reversal of the ex-dictator’s conviction—and ended with a sit-in outside the Constitutional Court. Protesters denounced the judges as “promoters of impunity.”

There were demonstrations the same day in Argentina, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru to protest the court’s ruling. In Tegucigalpa, dozens of Honduran women protested outside the Guatemalan embassy chanting: “Ríos Montt, fascist, you’re the terrorist” and “No forgetting, no pardon, Ríos Montt to the prison.” (Siglo 21 (Guatemala City) 5/24/13 from EFE; Prensa Libre (Guatemala City) 5/24/13)

The Constitutional Court ruled in a 3-2 decision the night of May 20 that there were judicial aberrations in Ríos Montt’s trial and that it needed to be retried from where it was on Apr. 19, one month after it began. The ruling in effect threw out Ríos Montt’s conviction and an 80-year prison sentence the trial court had imposed; the decision also nullified the acquittal of a codefendant, former intelligence chief José Rodríguez. It was unclear from the ruling whether the trial would now restart with the original three trial judges, or what would happen to appeals Ríos Montt’s attorneys had filed.

Critics noted that the Constitutional Court focused on the trial judges’ exclusion of Ríos Montt’s attorney for a few hours on the first day of the trial [see Update #1169]; an appeals court had ruled that the trial judges later rectified that error. One of the two dissenting judges on the Constitutional Court, Mauricio Chacón, wrote that the trial judges’ actions “did not invoke anything that suggested a lack of impartiality.” The other dissenting judge, Gloria Patricia Porras, criticized the majority decision for “leaving the victims’ constitutional right of access to justice unprotected.” (La Jornada (Mexico) 5/21/13 from DPA, AFP, Prensa Latina, Notimex; Open Society Justice Initiative Ríos Montt trial blog 5/21/13)

On May 24 former president Alfonso Portillo (2000-2004) was suddenly extradited to New York, where he faces federal charges of conspiring to launder $70 million of Guatemalan funds through US banks. Elected president as a candidate of Ríos Montt’s Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), Portillo was charged with embezzlement in 2004 and fled to Mexico. He was extradited back to Guatemala in 2008 but was acquitted by a Guatemala court in 2011. However, the US Justice Department filed its own charges against him in 2010.

The Constitutional Court approved Portillo’s extradition to the US in 2011 but no action was taken until now, leading people to question the timing of his removal to New York. “The decision to extradite Portillo, though welcome, has to be seen as an attempt to divert international attention away from the Constitutional Court’s overturning of the Ríos Montt verdict,” Haverford College Guatemala expert Anita Isaacs told the New York Times. She said that unlike the ex-dictator, Portillo had few friends among the ruling elite. Sending him to the US “is a very small price to pay” for the country’s rulers, Isaacs said. (Prensa Libre 5/24/13; NYT 5/25/13)

*3. Honduras: Indigenous Leaders Arrested After Dam Demonstration
According to protesters, about 100 regular police and riot squad agents used tear gas and live ammunition on May 23 to break up a demonstration by members of the indigenous Lenca community of San Antonio Chuchuitepeque in the northwestern Honduran department of Santa Bárbara. A number of protesters were injured and five were arrested, according to Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores, the coordinator of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), who was present at the demonstration.

For some 50 days Lenca communities in the area have been protesting the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, which is being built by the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) with the help of $24.4 million from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE). The dam will run with water from the Ulúa River, a tributary of the Gualcarque River. The indigenous communities are protesting the use of their territories and the exploitation of natural resources without prior consultation with the local population. They accuse the mayor of San Francisco de Ojuera municipality of complicity with the companies and of invading their lands. Cáceres warned of the possibility of further violence against the indigenous groups. (Adital (Brazil) 5/24/13 from Lista Informativa Nicaragua y Más (LINyM))

On May 24, one day after the attack on the protest, a group of about 20 soldiers stopped a COPINH vehicle in which Cáceres was riding with another member of the organization, radio communicator Tómas Gómez Membreño. After an exhaustive search of the car, the soldiers claimed to have found an illegal firearm and arrested the two activists. Cáceres and Gómez were released the next day, but Cáceres has a trial date set for June 13; she is not allowed to leave the country and is required to register with the court once a week. Defense attorney Marcelino Martínez said the weapon was planted to inculpate the COPINH leader. (COPINH press release 5/26/13 via Kaos en la Red)

Correction: The article originally gave May 25 as the date of Cáceres and Gómez Membreño's arrest.

*4. Mexico: Immigration Activists Take Their Case to the US
A series of events in the New York area from May 22 to 26 concluded a month-long tour of the US by a group of Mexican and Central American immigration activists seeking to broaden discussion of reforms the US Congress is considering for the country’s immigration policy. The Opening Doors to Hope Caravan was led by Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, coordinator of the Brother and Sister Migrants on the Road shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca; he has received death threats for his efforts to protect Central American immigrants from criminal gangs and corrupt officials during their transit through Mexico. The caravan was reminiscent of a Caravan for Peace led by Mexican poet and peace activist Javier Sicilia in the summer of 2012 but on a smaller scale [see Update #1143].

“We’re here to raise the voices of those who die in the deserts” while attempting to cross the border into the US, caravan member Estela Jiménez explained. “Let’s raise our voices for the thousands of children who have been left without their parents because of the deportations [ordered by US president Barack] Obama…. We aren’t criminals; we’re international workers, and the struggle is global.” Some of the participants were themselves evidence of the human cost of current immigration policies in the US and Mexico. Pedro Aguilar said he fled his native Honduras to escape criminal violence there that led to the death of two brothers. He lost half of his left leg in Mexico while trying to climb on to the “The Beast,” the notoriously dangerous freight train that runs between Tabasco and Tlaxcala, in an effort to escape the Mexican criminals who prey on Central American immigrants.

The caravan made stops in a number of cities, including Phoenix, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Chicago. In Washington, DC, caravan participants visited about 20 congressional offices, meeting with Congress members or their staffers, but much of the focus was on establishing ties with grassroots activists in the US. After a small press conference outside the federal building in New York on May 23, Solalinde met with members of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the nearby Zuccotti Park. That evening Marco Castillo, a caravan organizer and a member of Mexico’s Popular Assembly of Migrant Families (APOFAM), facilitated a meeting between caravan members and about 30 New York-based immigrant rights activists to discuss strengthening ties and developing joint strategies. (La Jornada (Mexico) 5/25/13 from correspondent; report from Update editor)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, US/immigration

Latin America’s Radical Left in Power: Complexities and Challenges in the Twenty-First Century

Argentina: Videla Dies in Prison – a Victory Against Impunity

Argentina war crimes suspect arrested in Uruguay

Paraguay: Installation of Rio Tinto Alcan Company Causes Intense Debate

Brazil: Porto Alegre is Palestine’s Friend, So Why Has It Embraced Israel’s War Industry?

Industrializing Bolivia’s Gas in Bolivia, Not Brazil

In Bolivia, Morales Faces a Challenge from Below

Colombian Peace Talks Revisit Land Reform

Bogotá, FARC reach deal on land reform (Colombia)

Inside La Piedrita: Venezuela’s Popular Militias and the Revolution

Poor Utilization of the Land Behind Food Shortages in Venezuela

Workers in Venezuela’s Nationalised Hotels Demand Respect for Labour Rights

The Central American Integration Meeting that Never Happened

Grassroots Organizations Call For New Security Model, Human Rights (Central America)

Indigenous Nicaraguans Fight to the Death for Their Last Forest

Despite Annulment, Genocide Trial a Breakthrough for Justice and Truth (Guatemala)

The Struggle Continues for Justice for Genocide in Guatemala

Not Writing History (Guatemala)

Guatemala: Slaughter Was Part of Reagan’s Hard Line

Michoacan’s Crisis Crosses Borders (Mexico)

Casinos Too Bad to Close (Mexico)

Mexico: Live to Work for $1.19 an Hour

Central American Migrants Face Perils on Journey North (Mexico)

Obama Shifting Rhetoric, Policy on Cuba, Drug War

IMF Approves Jamaica Loan – Pain, No Gain

Obama Visit Sparks Binational Protests of Migrants (US/immigration)

Organizing on both sides of the border

Shooting in the Dark: Why the Senate’s “Border Security Triggers” May Leave Millions in Limbo (US/immigration)

Judge: Sheriff Arpaio engaged in racial profiling (US/immigration)

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


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Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

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