1. Mexico: Missing Students Reported Dead
2. Costa Rica: Port Strike Ends, Issues Remain
3. Dominican Republic: Government Quits OAS Rights Court
4. Cuba: Will US Swap Jailed Agents for Gross?
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.
*1. Mexico: Missing Students Reported Dead
A group of 43 Mexican teachers’ college students missing since the night of Sept. 26-27 [see Update #1239] were killed by gang members and their bodies were burned and disposed of in Cocula municipality in the southwestern state of Guerrero, federal attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam announced at a Nov. 7 press conference in Mexico City. Three members of the Guerreros Unidos (“United Warriors”) criminal organization confessed to having participated in the execution of the students and the incineration of their bodies, according to Murillo Karam, who said the remains were so thoroughly burned that it might be difficult to extract DNA for identification. The Mexican government is planning to send the remains to technicians in Austria. The attorney general said he understood the skepticism of the students’ parents about his office’s findings, more than a month after the events: “It’s natural…and it doesn’t surprise me.”
As of Nov. 7 Mexican authorities said 74 people had been arrested in connection with the massacre of the students, who attended the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa; they were attacked by municipal police and gang members in Iguala de la Independencia the evening of Sept. 26 as they were raising money to attend an Oct. 2 demonstration in Mexico City. Three students and three bystanders were killed in the initial attack, and the municipal police detained another 43 students, apparently turning them over to Guerreros Unidos members to be executed. Former Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca Velázquez and his wife, María de los Angeles Pineda, reportedly ordered the attack; they were arrested in Mexico City on Nov. 4 and face charges of participation in organized crime, offenses against health, and illegal privation of liberty. Abarca made no declaration when he was brought before judges on Nov. 6. (La Jornada (Mexico) 11/7/14, 11/8/14)
On Nov. 7 a federal court issued a formal order for the imprisonment of seven soldiers charged in another notorious massacre, the execution of suspected gang members on June 30 in Tlatlaya municipality, México state. The government is charging the soldiers with killing eight suspects who had surrendered after a shootout with the soldiers. The government’s semi-autonomous National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) concluded on Oct. 21 that the number executed was 15; a total of 22 suspects died in the incident, including people killed in the shootout. (LJ 11/8/14)
The arrests and criminal charges in the two massacres seem unlikely to stop the wave of protests that started after the Sept. 26 attacks. Thousands of people marched from Los Pinos, the presidential residence, to the Zócalo plaza in Mexico City on Nov. 5 as part of the third National and Global Day of Action for Ayotzinapa; many carried signs blaming Mexico’s three main political parties and charging that the Iguala massacre was the work of “the narco-state.” Students in more than 80 schools and universities carried out strikes that day or planned to carry out strikes later; there were also calls for a nationwide general strike on Nov. 20, the holiday marking the start of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. (LJ 11/6/14, 11/6/14)
Students and others demonstrated again in Mexico City the evening of Nov. 8, the day after Attorney General Murillo announced that the missing Ayotzinapa students had been killed. The march route was from the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) to the Zócalo; when the protest reached the giant plaza, many marchers seized metal police barricades and employed them to batter the doors of the National Palace, a 16th-century building largely used for ceremonies and for housing a group of murals by Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Frustrated protesters set fire to the doors; at least two people were injured and a number were arrested. There were also protests that day in Baja California, Chiapas, Jalisco, México state, Oaxaca, Querétaro and Veracruz. (LJ 11/9/14, 11/9/14)
In the midst of this crisis, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto was scheduled to leave for a Nov. 9-15 trip to China and Australia to attend two international conferences, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Beijing and the Group of 20 (G20) Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane. (Univision 11/9/14, some from unidentified wire services)
The problems in Mexico seemed not to concern some important international investors seeking to take advantage of Peña Nieto’s success in opening up the energy and telecommunication sectors to private capital [see Update #1240]. “We’re very excited with what’s happening in Mexico and with its reform agenda,” Gary Cohn, president of the New York-based multinational Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., investment bank, said during a visit to Mexico in early November. “Our clients are excited about the opportunities opening up in the Mexican economy, whether in the gas and petroleum field or, on the other hand, in telecommunications.” He insisted that what US financial advisers are calling “the Mexican Moment” will go on for some time. Asked about the Ayotzinapa massacre, Cohn replied: “No one is pleased to see these events, no one is happy to see them, but I believe that the Mexicans themselves seem to be the ones who are more focused [on these events] than the rest of the world. I don’t mean to minimize them, but it happens in other parts of the world.” (Terra Mexico 11/5/14 from Reforma, quotations retranslated from Spanish)
*2. Costa Rica: Port Strike Ends, Issues Remain
The Costa Rican government and unionized dockworkers at the city of Limón on the Caribbean coast reached an accord the night of Nov. 5 ending a strike that started on Oct. 22. The strikers agreed to return to work on Nov. 6 in exchange for the government’s promise that the port’s management, the Board of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Shelf (JAPDEVA), wouldn’t penalize them for striking; people arrested for damaging containers on Oct. 24 will still be subject to prosecution. The accord did not address the strike’s issue—a 33-year concession for the port granted to the Dutch company APM Terminals, a subsidiary of the giant Danish shipping multinational A.P. Moller-Maersk Group [see Update #1239, which incorrectly gave the time period for the concession as 30 years]. The parties agreed to continue negotiations on this issue, although the government insisted that clause 9.1 of the concession contract, which concerns APM Terminal’s monopoly on handling containers, was not negotiable.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the parties reached the agreement ending the strike. Ronaldo Blear, the secretary general of the JAPDEVA Workers Union (SINTRAJAP), pointed to the role played in the talks by Montserrat Solano, the government’s defender of the habitants (a position equivalent to the ombudsperson in other countries). The leftist Frente Amplio (“Broad Front”) political party reportedly pressured SINTRAJAP to settle; the party is close to the union. The government too was under pressure. Although it managed to keep Limón’s two terminals open with foreign contract labor, shipping companies had been complaining about delays. According to the government the port was operating at 60% capacity, but the union put the number at 40%. There had also been a threat of broader strike support. Union spokesperson José Luis Castillo told a local radio program in early November that SINTRAJAP was negotiating with similar Latin American organizations to keep other ports in the region from receiving ships that had sailed from Limón. (El País (Costa Rica) 11/5/14, some from DPA; La Nación 11/6/14; Tico Times (Costa Rica) 11/6/14)
In related news, relatives of the late US unionist Gilberto Soto issued an open letter on Nov. 5, calling on the Salvadoran Attorney General’s Office (FGR) to reopen its investigation into Soto’s murder, which took place exactly 10 years earlier in Usulután, El Salvador. A Salvadoran-born naturalized US citizen and an organizer for the US-based International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), Soto was murdered after he had arrived in the country to meet with port workers from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, and with Central American drivers who hauled shipping containers; this was in connection with a proposed joint project to document systematic violations of workers’ rights by Maersk [see Update #772]. Citing a publication by the Office of the Prosecutor for the Defense of Human Rights (PDDH), the open letter charged that there were irregularities in the initial investigation. IBT president James Hoffa and Richard Trumka, the president of the largest US labor federation, the AFL-CIO, signed on to the letter, along with a number of labor and human rights organizations. (La Prensa Gráfica (El Salvador) 11/6/14)
*3. Dominican Republic: Government Quits OAS Rights Court
The Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Tribunal (TC) ruled on Nov. 4 that the country must withdraw from the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CorteIDH), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS). The TC’s ruling, Decision 256-14, was based on a technicality involving a 1999 agreement with the OAS court, but observers assumed that the TC was actually reacting to an Oct. 22 announcement that the human rights court had condemned the Dominican Republic’s treatment of immigrants and their descendants, notably the TC’s controversial Decision 168-13 of September 2013, which declared that no one born to undocumented immigrant parents since 1929 was a citizen [see Update #1221]. The 2013 decision excludes thousands of Haitian-descended Dominicans from citizenship; it has been met with protests from international human rights groups, the Haitian government and many Dominicans, including members of the country’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) [see Update #1213].
The OAS court’s 173-page decision, dated Aug. 28, concerns the treatment of a number of Haitian immigrants some 15 years ago. However, the OAS judges' ruling included a condemnation of Decision 168-13, which they said violated the human rights of the Dominican-born people it deprived of citizenship; the human rights court also ruled that a law the Dominican Congress passed in May to resolve the problem was inadequate. The court expressed “deep concern” after the Dominican Republic announced its decision to withdraw from the court’s jurisdiction.
Dominican legal experts say it is unclear whether the Dominican Republic can withdraw from the OAS court without also withdrawing from the OAS. Constitutional law professor Nassef Perdomo cited the 1998 case of a naturalized Peruvian citizen, Baruch Ivcher Bronstein, who was stripped of his citizenship by the government of President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) [see Update #452]. “The OAS isn’t going to recognize [the decision to withdraw from the court],” Perdomo said, “as it didn’t recognize it with Peru when Alberto Fujimori’s government tried to leave the court, which was recorded in the documentation for the Ivcher Bronstein case.” However, two countries appear to have withdrawn successfully in the past: Trinidad and Tobago in 1999 and Venezuela in 2013. (Hoy (Santo Domingo) 10/22/14; TeleSUR 10/22/14; Washington Post 11/4/14 from AP; 7 Días (Santo Domingo) 11/5/14; Radio Métropole (Haiti) 11/7/14)
*4. Cuba: Will US Swap Jailed Agents for Gross?
In a Nov. 2 editorial, the New York Times, possibly the most politically influential US newspaper, called for the US government to free three imprisoned Cuban agents in exchange for the release of US citizen Alan Gross, who has been serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba since 2011 for his work there as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) [see Update #1216]. The Cubans are three of the “Cuban Five,” a group of agents convicted in 2001 of espionage against the US; they insisted they were spying on Cuban-American terrorists based in southern Florida, not on the US. Two have already been released on probation after serving time, and two more are scheduled for release within the next 10 years, but the group’s leader, Gerardo Hernández, was sentenced to two life terms. In 2012 Cuba indicated that it was open to exchanging Gross for the Cuban agents [see Update #1175].
The Times editorial called an exchange the “only…plausible way to remove Mr. Gross from an already complicated equation.” The paper suggested that US president Barack Obama could arrange the exchange by commuting the remaining three prisoners’ sentences, which “would be justified considering the lengthy time they have served, the troubling questions about the fairness of their trial, and the potential diplomatic payoff in clearing the way toward a new bilateral relationship.” (NYT 11/2/14)
There is no clear evidence that the Obama administration is considering an exchange. However, in a discussion with reporters at the Reuters wire service’s New York office on Oct. 31, an important figure in the US government, UN ambassador Samantha Power, gave an unusual commendation to Cuba. Speaking about her visit to Liberia to observe emergency medical work to contain an Ebola outbreak, she said: “Although I did not encounter them personally, I have to commend Cuba for sending 265 medical professionals early,” she said. “I think they announced that going on almost two months ago, and they are sending another 200 on top of that 265. That is a big gap and a big need.” When the Daily Beast asked whether she was signaling a diplomatic thaw with Cuba, Powers simply answered: “We're working on Ebola side by side.” (Daily Beast 11/1/14)
*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico
Latin America: Gendering Peasant Movements, Gendering Food Sovereignty
Canada Accused of Failing to Prevent Mining Abuses in Latin America
The arrest of Cristian Labbé breathes new life into Chile's human rights struggle
Sao Paulo Suffering from Historic Water Crisis (Brazil)
Peru: unrest mounts in Cajamarca
FARC fighters face indigenous justice (Colombia)
Venezuela: For the Barrios, the Difference Between Repression and Revolution Depends on National Security
Venezuela: Invisible No More
Honduran Army Has Greater Amount of Legal Powers, Report Says
Honduras claims blow against Sinaloa Cartel
Indigenous Women in Guatemala Demand End to State of Prevention
In Guatemala, indigenous communities prevail against Monsanto
Guatemala: reparations in abuses linked to hydro
Ayotzinapa Demands Justice One Month After the Disappearances (Mexico)
Why the Normalistas Are Still Smiling (Mexico)
Mexican Gang Suspected of Killing 43 Students Admits to Mass Murder
Statement by the Mesoamerican Working Group on the Impact of U.S. Security Assistance on Human Rights in Mexico, Central America, and Colombia (US/policy)
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