Tuesday, April 22, 2014

WNU #1217 : Was the Fire in Chile a “Natural Disaster”?

Issue #1217, April 20, 2014

1. Chile: Was Valparaíso Fire a “Natural Disaster”?
2. Honduras: Radio Progreso Executive Murdered
3. El Salvador: US Judge Rules Against SOA Grad
4. Haiti: Human Rights Activist Threatened
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, 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 http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Chile: Was Valparaíso Fire a “Natural Disaster”?
The central Chilean port city of Valparaíso remained under military control as of Apr. 15, three days after forest fires began sweeping into some of the city’s working-class neighborhoods, leaving at least 15 people dead and destroying 2,900 homes. Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said the government hoped to have the fires under control by Apr. 16, but the national forestry agency indicated that it might take the 5,000 firefighters and other personnel in the city as long as 20 days to extinguish the fires completely. Some 12,500 people are now without homes in Valparaíso; this disaster follows an 8.2-magnitude earthquake in northern Chile that killed five people on Apr. 1 and made 2,635 homes uninhabitable.

Declared a World Heritage City in 2004 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Valparaíso is located in an area prone to forest fires. But experts and reporters said the extent of the devastation resulted less from natural conditions than from political failures. Witnesses reported that the firefighters--all unpaid volunteers, according to Chilean historian Sergio Grez--were slow to arrive when the fires started on the afternoon of Apr. 12, and they were equipped only with shovels and one truck. Driven by strong winds, the fires spread quickly through the close-packed wooden structures in the poorer neighborhoods, made vulnerable by decades of unplanned growth. Roads were often too narrow for fire engines, and there was no running water for fire hoses in the affected areas. Helicopters came with water hours later.

“We have been the builders and architects of our own dangers,” Valparaíso mayor Jorge Castro admitted on Apr. 13. Chilean president Michelle Bachelet told the national daily El Diario de Cooperativa on Apr. 15 that her government would try “to rebuild in a more orderly manner.” “It’s not enough to reinstall houses or support families,” she said. “We have to do something more substantive.” (El Mostrador (Chile) 4/14/14; Les InRocks (France) 4/14/14; US News & World Report 4/15/14 from AP)

*2. Honduras: Radio Progreso Executive Murdered
Honduran journalist Carlos Hilario Mejía Orellana was stabbed to death the night of Apr. 11 at his home in the city of Progreso, in the northern department of Yoro. Mejía was the marketing executive for Radio Progreso, a community radio station established by Jesuits, and was also a member of the Jesuits’ Reflection, Investigation and Communications Team (ERIC). Police investigators suggested that he was killed by someone close to him in a “crime of passion,” but the radio station’s director, the Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno, called the murder “a direct attack not only on the life of our colleague, but a frontal attack on the work produced by Radio Progreso.” The station, which provided favorable coverage of resistance to the June 2009 military coup that overthrew then-president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), has been the target of threats over the years [see Updates #1184, 1215]. The Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), called on the Honduran government in 2009—and again in 2010 and 2011--to provide protection for 16 Radio Progreso staffers, including Mejía.

National and international observers condemned Mejía’s murder and raised questions about the police investigation. Three US Congress members—Reps. James McGovern (D-MA), Sam Farr (D-CA) and Janice Schakowsky (IL)—issued a statement on Apr. 15 expressing “dismay” over the Honduran government’s failure to provide adequate protection for the station’s staff. They called on the authorities “to immediately implement protective measures for Radio Progreso and ERIC employees and to carry out a thorough investigation of the murder.” The French-based organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for the creation of a protection mechanism for the country’s journalists, who have been subject to more than 100 attacks and threats since 2010, according to a report by the Honduran government’s National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH). Earlier in the month Mexican novelist Álvaro Enrigue had attended an IACHR session in Washington, DC, to read the names of 32 Honduran journalists killed in the last decade. (Latin American Herald Tribune 4/13/14 from EFE; Adital (Brazil) 4/15/14; Rep. McGovern press release 4/15/14; Journalism in the Americas 4/16/14)

*3. El Salvador: US Judge Rules Against SOA Grad
A US immigration judge has ruled that former Salvadoran defense minister José Guillermo García Merino (1979-1983) is eligible for deportation from the US because of “clear and convincing evidence” that he “assisted or otherwise participated” in 11 acts of violence during the 1980s, including the March 1980 murder of San Salvador archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero. Gen. García also helped conceal the involvement of soldiers who raped and killed four US churchwomen in December 1980 and “knew or should have known” about the military’s December 1981 massacre of more than 800 civilians in the village of El Mozote, according to the 66-page decision by Immigration Judge Michael Horn in Miami. The judge ruled against García on Feb. 26, but the decision was only made public on Apr. 11 as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the New York Times. García’s lawyer said the general would appeal.

The decision against García comes after repeated efforts to bring him to justice in the US for war crimes committed in El Salvador. He came to the US in 1989 and was granted political asylum a year later. In May 1999 the families of the four murdered US churchwomen filed a suit (Ford et al. v. García, Vides Casanova) against García and former defense minister Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova (1983-1989) in Florida, where both generals have lived since moving to the US. A jury cleared the generals. Also in 1999 the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) brought a suit (Ramagoza Arce v. Garcia and Vides Casanova) against the generals on behalf of Salvadoran torture victims; the jury awarded the victims $54.6 million in 2002. US prosecutors began seeking the generals’ deportation in 2009, and an immigration judge cleared the way for Gen. Vides Casanova’s removal in February 2013 [see World War 4 Report 2/24/13].

Like many Salvadoran military officers, García and Vides Casanova received training at the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), which was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001 [see Update #1200]. García completed a counterinsurgency course in 1962, when the SOA was located in Panama; it is now in Fort Benning, Georgia. García and Vides Casanova were both recipients of the US Legion of Merit, an award from the US Armed Forces for meritorious service, during the 1980s. (NYT 4/12/14; SOA Watch press release 4/15/14; National Catholic Reporter 4/17/14)

The war crimes with which García and Vides Casanova are charged took place during a bloody counterinsurgency against the rebel Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN); the fighting left 70,000 people dead. The FMLN later became a legal political party under a 1992 peace accord, and it backed current president Mauricio Funes, an independent, in his 2009 campaign. A leader of the FMLN, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, won the presidency in a runoff on Mar. 9 this year and is to take office on June 1. (BBC News 3/17/14)

*4. Haiti: Human Rights Activist Threatened
On Apr. 2 Pierre Espérance, the executive director of the Haitian nonprofit National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), received a letter at the organization’s Port-au-Prince office warning him not to issue “false reports destabilizing for the country.” “In 99 we missed you, this time you won't escape it, stop speaking,” the letter’s authors wrote, referring to a 1999 attack in which Espérance suffered bullet wounds to the shoulder and knee while driving in Port-au-Prince. Recent reports by the RNDDH have dealt with such subjects as the slow pace of the prosecution of former “president for life” Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier (1971-1986) [see Update #1210] and alleged ties between drug traffickers and the government of President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”).

The threatening letter came less than two months after the Feb. 8 murder of Daniel Dorsinvil, the coordinator of the Haitian Platform of Human Rights Organizations (POHDH), and his wife, the pediatric nurse Girdly Larêche [see Update #1208]. Two international human rights organizations, Amnesty International (AI) and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, have issued notes expressing their concern about the threat to Espérance, and on Apr. 9 a criminal complaint was filed with the prosecutor’s office in Port-au-Prince. (Associated Press 4/15/14; AlterPresse (Haiti) 4/16/14, 4/16/14)

In related news, on Apr. 16 the Port-au-Prince-based Bureau of International Lawyers (BAI) and its US partner, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), issued a report on recent anti-union acts by Haitian employers and on apparent government complicity with the owners. The report cites the January firing of at least 36 unionists in the garment sector following two days of strikes and marches in December for an increased minimum wage [see Update #1210]. The report notes that the country’s garment assembly plants still have not complied with minimum wage requirements that went into effect in October 2012. Union leaders at Electricité d’Haïti (EDH), the state-owned electricity company, have also been illegally terminated, according to the report. On Jan. 10 the treasurer of the EDH workers’ union was knocked unconscious when EDH security guards tried to break up a press conference the unionists were holding on the street outside the company’s parking lot. (Center for Economic and Policy Research, Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch 4/17/14)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti

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