Monday, July 22, 2013

WNU #1185: Panama Frees Ex-CIA Agent Wanted by Italy

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1185, July 21, 2013

1. Panama: Wanted by Italy, Ex-CIA Agent Is Released to US
2. Argentina: Mapuche Occupy Oil Wells to Protest Chevron
3. Chile: Court Upholds Suspension of Pascua Lama Mine
4. Honduras: Army Kills Indigenous Leader at Dam Protest
5. Haiti: Religious Groups Hold Anti-LGBT March
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Caribbean, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, US/policy, 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. Panama: Wanted by Italy, Ex-CIA Agent Is Released to US
After being detained for a day or two by Panamanian authorities on a request from Interpol, retired US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) station chief Robert Seldon Lady was released on July 19 and placed on a plane bound for the US. In 2009 an Italian court sentenced Lady in absentia to nine years in prison for the Feb. 17, 2003 kidnapping of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, an Egyptian-born Muslim cleric and suspected terrorist also known as Abu Omar, on a street in Milan. Although 22 other US citizens were convicted in the kidnapping case, Italy has only been seeking Lady, who headed the CIA’s Milan station; the others received lighter sentences that don’t warrant extradition requests under Italian law.

The government of rightwing Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli gave no explanation for releasing Lady, who was detained either on July 17 or on July 18—officials gave different dates—after attempting to enter Costa Rica, which sent him back to Panama. The US strongly opposed Italy’s decision to try the 23 US citizens. This was the first case ever against the US government’s “extraordinary rendition” program, through which the US turned terrorism suspects over to friendly regimes for interrogation; Nasr was flown to Egypt, where he said he was repeatedly tortured by the government of former president Hosni Mubarak before finally being released without any charges.

“We see a complete double standard here,” Katherine Gallagher, a senior attorney at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), told the Associated Press wire service. Gallagher compared Lady’s situation with that of former US intelligence employee Edward Snowden, wanted by the US for leaking classified documents [see Update #1184]. “The US is saying it’s so important for Snowden to face charges in the US, where there is a great deal of debate over whether those charges are legitimate, as opposed to Lady, where there is a conviction for torture, a universally recognized crime.”

Lady, known as “Mister Bob,” was born in Honduras in 1954 to US citizen parents. He apparently had a long career in the CIA. According to articles by Jean-Guy Allard, a reporter for the Cuban Communist Party publication Granma, Lady worked with Cuban-American CIA “assets” Luis Posada Carriles and Félix Rodríguez Mendigutía in El Salvador and Honduras during the 1980s in a supply operation for the US-backed contras, rightwing rebels against Nicaragua’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) government. Allard said Lady worked with Iranian arms dealer Manuchar Ghorbanifar in a CIA operation that raised money for the contras through illegal arms sales to Iran; when exposed, the “Contragate” scandal shook the government of then-president Ronald Reagan (1981-1989).

Allard also linked Lady to alleged arms dealer Gerard Latchinian, whose associate Yehuda Leitner reportedly supplied arms and toxic gas to the regime of de facto Honduran president Roberto Micheletti after the overthrow of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales in a June 2009 military coup. Since fleeing Italy in 2005 Lady has reportedly been living in Honduras, working as a security consultant. Interestingly, the first of Allard’s articles is dated July 17 on the Granma website. This would indicate that the article, which doesn’t mention Lady’s detention, was posted either on the day that Lady was detained or the day before. (Granma 7/17/13; USA Today 7/19/13 from AP; Kaos en la Red 7/19/13; Kansas City Star 7/19/13 from McClatchy)

In contrast to their treatment of former CIA agent Lady, Panamanian authorities continued to hold a North Korean freighter and its crew as of July 20, a week after seizing the ship, the Chong Chon Gang, allegedly for suspicious behavior as it was approaching the Panama Canal on its way to Korea from Cuba. While searching the ship on July 15, Panamanian officials discovered old Soviet weapons hidden in a cargo of Cuban sugar. On July 16 Cuba’s Foreign Ministry announced that in addition to 10,000 tons of sugar, the ship was carrying “240 metric tons of obsolete defensive weapons” sent to North Korea “to be repaired and returned to Cuba.” The ministry said the weapons included two anti-aircraft missile systems, nine missiles in parts and spares, two MiG-21 jets and 15 motors for MiG-21s; the equipment was manufactured in the middle of the 20th century.

Panama refuses to release the ship on the grounds that the weapons might violate a United Nations embargo against arms shipments to North Korea and because the ship was apparently intending to use the canal without declaring the weapons, as required by Panamanian law. (CNN 7/16/13; Reuters 7/20/13)

*2. Argentina: Mapuche Occupy Oil Wells to Protest Chevron
Indigenous Mapuche occupied four oil wells in the Vaca Muerta region in the southwestern Argentine province of Neuquén on July 16 to protest a $1 billion agreement between the state-controlled Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF) oil company and the California-based Chevron Corporation to drill for oil in the area’s shale deposits [see Update #1184, where we wrote erroneously that the drilling was for natural gas]. The Mapuche say that the drilling, which uses the controversial method known as hydrofracking, will damage the local environment, and that the agreement was made without the required prior consultation with the indigenous communities. The protesters were also expressing solidarity with indigenous Ecuadorians who won a $19 billion judgment in 2011 against Chevron for environmental damage [see World War 4 Report 1/4/12]. The company refuses to pay.

The occupations, timed to coincide with the July 16 signing of an additional agreement between YPF and Chevron, drew support from environmentalists and rights activists throughout Argentina. Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, the winner of the 1980 Nobel peace prize and a founder of the Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJ), noted that he had supported the government’s re-nationalization of YPF in the spring of 2012 [see Update #1126] “to recover our energy sovereignty…. But through this accord with Chevron, we Argentines are handing our resources over to the US and converting YPF into a highly polluting company.” Mapuche spokespeople said the occupations were peaceful, and a video by Radio Puelmapu showing the occupation of one well appeared to confirm this. According to Lefxaru Nawel, a member of the Neuquén Mapuche Confederation, the workers at the site understood the situation and left without creating any problems.

The protesters lifted the occupations on July 17 after YPF directors agreed to meet with them the next day to analyze complaints about environmental damage. A Mapuche spokesperson, Gabriel Cherqui, told Radio Continental that the protesters made their decision “because there was a change of position” by management: “At first they said we didn’t exist, that we were a lie, that we were committing a crime.” YPF has claimed that the wells aren’t on Mapuche territory. (Mapu Express 7/16/13, 7/18/13; Adital (Brazil) 7/17/13; AP 7/17/13 via New Zealand Herald; INFOnews (Buenos Aires) 7/17/13)

In related news, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled in New York on June 25 that Chevron could proceed with subpoenas for email account information from Microsoft Corp. on some 30 people or organizations in some way involved in the Ecuadorian indigenous people’s case against Chevron. The oil company has filed a racketeering suit against US attorney Steven Donziger, who represents a group of Ecuadorian plaintiffs in the case. Judge Kaplan ruled that the parties challenging the subpoena hadn’t demonstrated that they were citizens entitled to First Amendment rights that could protect them from the subpoena; the US Supreme Court ruled in 1904 that the First Amendment doesn’t shield “excludable aliens.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a San Francisco-based nonprofit, charges that the decision upholding the subpoenas gives Chevron access to “more than 100 email accounts, including environmental activists, journalists, and attorneys” and will have a “chilling effect” on people opposing the company’s activities. The suit against Donziger follows from a corporate defense strategy proposed in 2008 by crisis communications consultant Sam Singer, who said Chevron should go on the offensive, attacking Donziger, denouncing the Ecuadorian courts as corrupt and pointing out leftist positions taken by Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa. (Law 360 6/25/13; The Guardian (UK) 7/15/13)

*3. Chile: Court Upholds Suspension of Pascua Lama Mine
On July 14 the three-member Appeals Court of Copiapó province in Chile’s northern Atacama region unanimously upheld its Apr. 10 order suspending work at Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation’s Pascua Lama mine until the company has adopted measures to repair current damage to the environment and to prevent further damage in the future [see Update #1172]. The court found that in its responses to the previous order the company “repeatedly” displayed “an obstinate attitude” and that it “doesn’t provide information on time and in proper form.” Pascua Lama is an open-pit gold, silver and copper mine under construction in the Andes on both sides of the border between Argentina and Chile. Five indigenous Diaguita communities had filed a complaint against the mine, charging that the construction had damaged glaciers near the site that provide water for area residents. The mine is also subject to a May 24 suspension ordered by Chile’s environmental regulator, Juan Carlos Monckeberg [see Update #1179]. (Associated Press 7/15/13 via Terra (Peru))

Despite the court victory, the Diaguita feel the decision doesn’t go far enough. They will probably appeal to the Supreme Court, one of their lawyers, Lorenzo Soto, told the Reuters wire service on July 18, to require Barrick to provide a new environmental impact statement. (Reuters 7/18/13)

*4. Honduras: Army Kills Indigenous Leader at Dam Protest
Tomás García Domínguez, an indigenous leader, was shot dead on July 15 in Intibucá department in western Honduras during a demonstration at the headquarters for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project. Four other protesters were wounded, including García’s son, 17-year-old Allan García Domínguez, who was hospitalized in serious condition with a bullet in his lung. According to Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) leader Berta Cáceres, the demonstration was peaceful, but “without saying one word the army opened fire against our companions, sending bullets into the bodies of Tomás García and his son, in the presence of police that remained paralyzed and did nothing to prevent it.” A press release from the two companies constructing the dam—the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) and the Chinese state enterprise SINOHYDRO—blamed the protesters and claimed the demonstration “included the destruction of installations, vehicles and personal property and direct aggression against the physical integrity of personnel.”

The protesters were from the Lenca group, the country’s largest indigenous ethnicity; Tomás García was a member of the Indigenous Lenca Council and of the COPINH. The Lenca communities near the Agua Zarca dam had been protesting the project for 106 days as of July 15 and had been subjected to harassment on previous occasions. Soldiers from the First Battalion of Engineers, the same unit that allegedly killed García, arrested Berta Cáceres and another COPINH member on May 24 after the two activists had visited Lenca communities resisting the dam [see Update #1181]. According to the COPINH, cars belonging to DESA were seen on July 12 going to the community of Unión, where there were reportedly meetings with murderers well known in the area, possibly with the intention of pressuring and intimidating dam opponents. (Adital (Brazil) 7/16/13; Indian Country Today 7/20/13)

*5. Haiti: Religious Groups Hold Anti-LGBT March
More than 1,000 Haitian religious people, ranging from Protestants to Muslims, marched in Port-au-Prince on July 19 to oppose homosexuality and any law that might be proposed in Parliament to allow same-sex marriage. The marchers chanted slogans calling for the “survival” of the traditional family; one slogan threatened that “Parliament will burn if this bill is passed.” At the site of the National Palace they paused to warn President Michel Martelly not to support homosexuality; when he was the popular singer “Sweet Micky,” the president sometimes cross-dressed to play a female character he called “Ti Simone.” The protesters also harassed Amélie Baron, the correspondent for the French network Radio France Internationale (RFI), apparently because France recently passed a law allowing same-sex marriage. Baron said she received an “anthology of insults”: “You’re sick, an abomination, the devil come here to corrupt Haiti.” (AlterPresse (Haiti) 7/19/13, 7/19/13; Miami Herald 7/19/13 from AP)

On July 17 the LGBT rights group Courage and the Bureau of International Laywers (BAI) held a press conference warning that the July 19 march could be the beginning of a campaign of persecution of homosexuals. “Society needs to take all the steps to fight against stigmatization, to promote the equality of the sexes,” Courage’s Charlot Jeudy said. BAI president Mario Joseph [see Update #1148], a prominent human rights lawyer, discussed a number of homophobic attacks, notably in the Jacmel area in Southeast department and Saint-Marc in Artibonite department, in which LGBT people have been stoned, beaten and injured. The LGBT rights movement is still small in Haiti; Courage says it has 178 members, 60 of them women. (AlterPresse 7/18/13)

In other news, a group of construction workers at the Caracol Industrial Park (PIC) in Northeast department [see Update #1173] held a one-day strike on July 16 to protest treatment by their employer, the Dominican company Estrella. They said they were paid from 400 gourdes (about US$9.23) to 900 gourdes (about US$20.67) a day, at least twice as much as the apparel workers in the park. But the construction workers, who don’t have a union, complained that they didn’t receive their full wages and that they weren’t paid on time. The Dominican employees were treated and paid better, according to the Haitians. The strikers returned to work the next day, after management promised improvements. (AlterPresse 7/18/13) [Estrella reportedly is taking over the stalled repair of the 69-km highway from Jérémie in Grand'Anse department to Les Cayes in South department; see Update #1161.]

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Caribbean, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, US/policy, US/immigration

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