Tuesday, November 18, 2014

WNU #1242: Brazilian Police Unit Suspected in Massacre

Issue #1242, November 16, 2014

1. Brazil: Police Unit Suspected in Belém Massacre
2. Mexico: Students Wounded as Protests Continue
3. Mexico: US Elite Starts to Doubt “Mexican Moment”
4. Latin America: GAO Reports on FTA Labor Violations
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba

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. Brazil: Police Unit Suspected in Belém Massacre
At least 10 people were shot dead by a group of masked men on motorbikes accompanied by two cars the early morning of Nov. 5 in several impoverished suburbs of Belém, the capital of the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Residents reported on the massacre by social media while it was in progress, warning people to stay indoors. Some of the killings may have been targeted, but in other cases the attackers apparently shot randomly at people on the streets. The incident came just hours after the Nov. 4 shooting death of Antônio Marco da Silva Figueiredo, a corporal in an elite military police unit, the Metropolitan Tactical Patrol (ROTAM). “There is a big probability that if there was not active police involvement” in the subsequent massacre, “then there were people who already passed through the police,” Anna Lins, a lawyer from Pará Society for the Defense of Human Rights (SDDH), told a reporter. “It was summary execution.”

Da Silva Figueiredo, the ROTAM agent whose murder seemed to provoke the massacre, reportedly headed a “militia”—a paramilitary group of former and off-duty police agents—in the suburb of Guamá. He and his gang were suspected of carrying out executions of local youths, and some sources indicated that the group was trying to take over the drug trade in the suburbs. Area residents celebrated as news spread of Da Silva Figueiredo’s death the evening of Nov. 4, but members of his police unit reacted by posting internet messages such as: “The chase has started” and “ROTAM has blood in its eyes.” Sgt. Rossicley Silva used his Twitter account to call for “the maximum number of friends to give a response.” Several federal agencies joined state authorities on Nov. 6 in an investigation into the killings. (Wall Street Journal 11/6/14 from correspondent; Adital (Brazil) 11/7/14; Portal Brasil 11/7/14; Time 11/10/14 from correspondent)

On Nov. 11, one week after the Belém massacre, the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety (FBSP), a São Paulo-based nongovernmental organization (NGO), released its annual report on violence in Brazil. The researchers found that in the five years from 2009 to 2013 Brazilian police agents killed 11,197 people. It took police in the US 30 years, from 1983-2012, to kill a similar number, 11,090; the US population is half again as large as Brazil’s. Brazilian police agents are also killed; according to the report, 1,770 died violently in the five-year period, but 75.3% of them were killed while off duty, while 81.8% of the killings of civilians were by agents on duty.

There was also a clear racial disparity in the killings by police. A report released in April by the São Carlos Federal University (UFSCar) found that based on their share in the population, African-descended people were killed by police in São Paulo state at three times the rate that whites were killed; 79% of the police involved were white. Of the 944 state police agents investigated in São Paulo from 2009 to 2011, 94% were let off without charges. (Washington Post 11/11/14 from AP; BBC Mundo 11/12/14 from correspondent)

*2. Mexico: Students Wounded as Protests Continue
Two students were wounded on Nov. 15 at the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), in the Coyoacán section of the Federal District (DF, Mexico City), when a police agent fired his pistol at a group of youths. Witnesses said the incident started when two men from the DF judicial police and two women from the DF prosecutor’s office arrived in a car and began photographing students near the Che Guevara Auditorium; student activists have been meeting in the auditorium to plan actions protesting the killing of six people and the abduction of 43 teachers’ college students in Iguala de la Independencia in the southwestern state of Guerrero the night of Sept. 26-27 [see Update #1241]. When a group of students challenged the four officials, one of the two agents responded by assaulting a student and then firing his pistol at the ground. The same agent fired again, several times, as all four officials fled the campus on foot, pursued by a group of students. The shots wounded one student in the foot and grazed another student’s knee; a dog was also injured.

Students searched the officials’ car, finding an ID for Rodolfo Lizárraga Rivera, the agent they said fired at them. They then smashed the car and set it on fire. In the evening some 300 DF riot police agents entered the campus and blocked off access while crane operators removed the burned vehicle. The DF has been governed since 1997 by the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which was already in trouble with its left-leaning base: José Luis Abarca Velázquez, the former Iguala mayor who allegedly ordered the September massacre and abduction, was a PRD politician. (La Jornada (Mexico) 11/16/14)

The UNAM attack came the same day as a suggestion by Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto that his government may be planning to use more force in dealing with the protests that have followed the Iguala killings. Returning on Nov. 15 from a week attending summits in China and Australia, Peña Nieto warned that the government has the ability to use police action “when other mechanisms to reestablish order have been exhausted.” He added that he hoped “that we don’t arrive at this extreme of having to use law enforcement.” (LJ 11/16/14)

Demonstrations focused on the massacre have in fact been constant since late September. Marches occurred almost every day in the DF during the week of Peña Nieto’s trip abroad, tying up traffic but generally remaining peaceful. Demonstrations in Guerrero, often led by teachers and teachers’ college students, were much more militant. On Nov. 1o hundreds of protesters blocked access to Juan N. Alvarez International Airport at the resort city of Acapulco for four hours. “Understand our rage, tourist ladies and gentlemen,” the activists chanted; 11 state police agents were injured when they tried to keep the demonstrators from reaching the airport. On Nov. 11 protesters set fire to the state headquarters of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Peña Nieto’s party, in Chilpancingo, Guerrero’s capital. The next day protesters set fire to the offices of the state legislature and the education secretariat, also in Chilpancingo. (LJ 11/11/13; 11/12/14, 11/13/14; New Yorker 11/12/14)

Meanwhile, parents of the missing 43 students, who all attended the traditionally radical Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa, set out with in two caravans on Nov. 13 to bring their message to other parts of Mexico. One caravan, composed of three buses and one minibus, headed north toward Chihuahua state, with stops planned along the way in the states of Zacatecas, Jalisco and Michoacán. The second caravan left later in the day for the southeastern state of Chiapas, with the intention of going from there to the states of Oaxaca, Morelos and Tlaxcala. In Chiapas the parents met with leaders of the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in the autonomous community of Oventic on Nov. 15. “We had a pleasant reception,” a participant told reporters. The EZLN commanders “listened to us the whole time, and they said that as always they have to consult with their bases of support on the form in which they can support us going forward.” A third caravan was to leave on Nov. 15 or 16 to visit communities in Guerrero. The three caravans plan to converge in Mexico City for a large protest action set for Nov. 20, the holiday commemorating the start of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. (LJ 11/14/1411/15/14)

Although federal authorities say they are certain the 43 missing students were all executed by gang members associated with Iguala’s mayor, investigators have yet to identify the remains of any of the students in the various mass graves they have found in different parts of Guerrero. One victim who has been identified, however, was a Catholic priest from Uganda, Father John Ssenyondo, who had been living in Mexico for five years. The authorities used dental records for the identification. Unknown gunmen had blocked a road and forced Ssenyondo into their car on Apr. 30; the reason for the abduction is unknown. His remains were found in a village called Ocotitlán; it is apparently in Zitlala municipality, more than 150 kilometers from Iguala. (BBC News 11/14/14)

*3. Mexico: US Elite Starts to Doubt “Mexican Moment”
Although some US investors still seem confident about their economic opportunities in what they have called the “Mexican Moment” [see Update #1241], concern is growing in US ruling circles as militant protests continue in Mexico in response to a Sept. 26-27 massacre and mass abduction in the southwestern state of Guerrero. “Violence, impunity and corruption are once again dominating the news about Mexico in the US, tarnishing, if not cancelling, the image so successfully cultivated by the government of [President] Enrique Peña Nieto over the past two years,” David Brooks, the US correspondent for the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada, wrote on Nov. 16.

Brooks noted that the US State Department felt compelled to comment on the Mexican crisis two days in a row, with spokesperson Jen Psaki calling on Nov. 12 for a transparent investigation into the “heinous and barbaric crime” in Guerrero. “We certainly urge all parties to remain calm through the process,” she added. Sources close to the US Congress told the newspaper that some Congress members were monitoring the situation and were expected to make their concerns public soon.

Some US media seem to share these concerns. After repeatedly promoting Peña Nieto’s neoliberal reform agenda, the New York Times admitted in an editorial published on Nov. 12 that Mexico had reached “a tense point.” “Two years ago, when he took office…Peña Nieto pledged to revise the penal code, give more attention to crime victims and focus on Mexico's economic growth as a means of reducing drug-related violence. What limited progress has been made still has not repaired a criminal justice system unable to properly investigate crimes, end the corruption or stop the killings.”

The newsweekly Time showed how sharply the media have shifted. Last February the magazine had a picture of Peña Nieto on its cover with the caption: “Saving Mexico: How Enrique Peña Nieto’s sweeping reforms have changed the narrative in his narco-stained nation.” On Nov. 6 Time ran an article headlined: “Mexico’s Nightmare: How the disappearance of 43 students in September has forced the country to once again confront the scourge of drug violence.” (LJ 11/16/14; Time 11/6/14; NYT 11/12/14; AFP 11/13/14)

Further tarnishing Mexico’s image—and Peña Nieto’s—was the revelation on Nov. 9 by a team of reporters led by Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui that when not staying at the official presidential residence, Los Pinos, Peña Nieto and his wife, telenovela star Angélica Rivera Hurtado, have been living in a $7 million mansion belonging to a major government contractor. Rivera told the celebrity magazine ¡Hola! that she and her husband owned the mansion, located in the exclusive Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood in western Mexico City. But Peña Nieto never included it in the statement of assets he’s required to supply each year; in fact, the house technically belongs to an engineering company that is part of Grupo Higa, which according to Aristegui’s report is owned by Mexican entrepreneur Juan Armando Hinojosa Cantú.

Companies in Grupo Higa won building contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars in México state during Peña Nieto’s 2005-2011 term as governor there. On Nov. 3 of this year, a Chinese-led consortium won an uncontested bid for a $4 billion federal project for a bullet train; a Grupo Higa division was part of the consortium. The government suddenly cancelled the contract on Nov. 7, shortly before Aristegui’s story was to be published. (Los Angeles Times 11/9/14 from correspondent)

*4. Latin America: GAO Reports on FTA Labor Violations
On Nov. 13 the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), an agency that investigates federal spending for Congress, released a report on the US government’s handling of labor violations in countries with which it has “free trade” agreements (FTAs). Recent FTAs, such as the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), have requirements for participating countries to meet certain standards in labor practices. The GAO claimed to find progress in this area in the partner countries--but also “persistent challenges to labor rights, such as limited enforcement capacity, the use of subcontracting to avoid direct employment, and, in Colombia and Guatemala, violence against union leaders.”

“US and foreign officials said that El Salvador and Guatemala—both partners to CAFTA-DR—as well as Colombia, Oman, and Peru have acted to change labor laws,” according to the report. There was also progress in fighting anti-union violence in Colombia. Data from the nonprofit National Union School (ENS) indicated that murders of union members and labor activists fell from 102 killings in 2003 to 35 in 2013. However, the violence continues, and the report notes that according to observers “although murders of unionists are a serious concern, threats of violence against union members also create a significant deterrent to workers organizing.” The report gave no evidence for improvements in Guatemala. “[T]he extent of the problem is unclear because disaggregated statistics on violence against unionists are not collected,” the GAO wrote. One union cited 63 cases of union leaders or members being killed from 2007 through 2013 because of their union activities; labor activists said the Guatemalan government hasn’t acted adequately on these cases.

The FTA labor clauses require the US to have a mechanism for filing complaints about alleged labor violations by member countries. The GAO found that “[s]ince 2008, the Department of Labor (DOL) has accepted five formal complaints…and has resolved one, regarding Peru.” The unresolved complaints are from Guatemala (2008), Bahrain (2011), Honduras (2012) and the Dominican Republic (2012). One likely reason there are so few complaints is that “union representatives and other stakeholders GAO interviewed in partner countries often did not understand the submission process, possibly limiting the number of submissions filed.” The failure to resolve the complaints quickly, according to people interviewed, “may have contributed to the persistence of conditions that affect workers and are allegedly inconsistent with the FTAs.”

US agencies have provided $275 million in labor-related technical assistance and capacity-building activities for FTA participants since 2001. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) responded to the report with a Nov. 13 statement charging that “[w]hile the words and promises may be put on paper, this report demonstrates that we are unable to hold countries responsible when they break those standards.” She cited the poor results as a reason not to pursue the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive FTA that would include Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru and the US, along with Australia, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam. (GAO announcement 11/13/14; Politico 11/14/14)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba

New Priorities for South American Integration

State violence and human rights (Latin America)

Latin America: The irregular path of progressive governments

The failures of Latin America's left

Military Personnel Trained by the CIA Used Napalm Against Indigenous People in Brazil

Brazilian Truth Commission: 400 People Killed Under Dictatorship

On Bolivia’s new child labour law

Colombia: crime lord falls, para links revealed

Colombia: peace talks off as FARC capture general

Venezuela Receives Over 100 Palestinian Medical Students in Scholarship Program

Nicaragua: opposition mounts to canal scheme

El Salvador Commemorates Jesuit Priests

Legal Vacuum Fuels Conflicts Over Water in El Salvador

Conceiving While Poor, Imprisoned for Murder (El Salvador)

Blood for Gold: The Human Cost of Canada’s ‘Free Trade’ With Honduras

Mexico in Crisis: U.S. Drug War Funding, Ayotzinapa and Human Rights Violations

Excerpts from Congressional Briefing on the Impact of U.S. Security Assistance on Human Rights in Mexico, Central America and Colombia

Mexico: Ayotzinapa’s Uncomfortable Dead

Ayotzinapa and the New Civic Insurgency (Mexico)

Ayotzinapa Resistance: "This is just getting started" (Mexico)

Mexican Gang Suspected of Killing 43 Students Admits to Mass Murder

Ciudad Juarez and Ayotzinapa (Mexico)

The Yaqui Water War (Mexico)

Sonora and Arizona’s Uncertain Water Futures (Mexico)

Cuba’s Retired Population Struggles With Economic Reforms

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

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