Tuesday, December 2, 2014

WNU #1244: US Embassy Staff Beat Injured Colombian Workers

Issue #1244, November 30, 2014

1. Colombia: US Embassy Staff Beat GM Protesters
2. Haiti: Martelly Pledges to Resolve Electoral Crisis
3. Mexico: Peña Pledges to Resolve Ayotzinapa Crisis
4. Mexico: Two Defenders of Migrants Are Murdered
5. Central America: Refugee “Crisis” Plan Gets a Debut
6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/policy

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. Colombia: US Embassy Staff Beat GM Protesters
Colombian national police and several employees of the US embassy in Bogota kicked and beat injured former employees of GM Colmotores, the Colombian subsidiary of the Detroit-based General Motors Company (GM), during a protest in front of the embassy on Nov. 18, according to the workers and to a report by a local television station, Canal Capital. Members of the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of Colmotores (Asotrecol) have been encamped outside the embassy since August 2011 as part of a campaign to get GM to reinstate them and compensate them for the injuries they received while working at the plant [see Update #1193]. The attack came on a day when the workers’ supporters in the US filed a complaint with the US Justice Department and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charging GM with bribing Colombian officials in violation of a US law, the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Some Asotrecol members decided to step up their protest on Nov. 18 by chaining themselves to a post outside the embassy. Although the nonviolent action didn’t block access to the building, US embassy employees in suits joined Colombian police in cutting the chains and then apparently beating and kicking three of the protesting workers. Asotrecol president José Parra was arrested, although the authorities released him the next day. The workers’ supporters are urging US-based activists to contact the embassy (011-57-1-275-2000, ACSBogota@state.gov) and request the release of the names of the embassy personnel who participated in the attack. (The Real News 11/23/14; Asotrecol supporter’s email 11/24/14)

*2. Haiti: Martelly Pledges to Resolve Electoral Crisis
Haitian president Michel Martelly announced on Nov. 28 that he was setting up an 11-member commission to make recommendations within eight days on how to break a deadlock holding up long-overdue partial legislative elections. Haiti hasn’t had any elections since March 2011 runoffs from the 2010 elections. Elections were scheduled in 2012 for 10 of the country’s 30 senators but have been postponed for two years because Martelly’s government wants changes to Haiti’s electoral laws and six opposition parties refuse to accept the amendments. The terms for the 10 senators expire on Jan. 12; in the absence of elections, President Martelly could say the Senate lacked a quorum and could try to rule by decree. This in turn would set off a constitutional crisis, since the current 10 senators announced Nov. 17 that they would refuse to step down in January if no elections were held.

Meanwhile, opposition groups continue to hold militant demonstrations demanding Martelly’s resignation [see Update #1243]. Some 20 Haitian humans rights organizations, including the Haitian Platform of Human Rights Organizations (POHDH), issued a joint call on Nov. 27 for “citizen responsibility” to avoid a worsening crisis; the groups also called on the government not to carry out “political acts,” such as arbitrary arrests of opponents, which could hamper the exercise of democratic rights.

“The country is divided,” Martelly admitted in his brief Nov. 28 announcement, carried live on radio. “The problems are many. The problems are complicated.” Miami Herald correspondent Jacqueline Charles reported that the president’s voice “sound[ed] devoid of the fight and energy that have become a hallmark in his ongoing battle with the country’s opposition over delayed local and legislative elections and his own fate.” The commission he announced is to review the results of consultations that Martelly held with various groups from Sept. 22 to Nov. 24. It will include Gérard Gourgue, an 89-year-old jurist who was justice minister in two provisional civilian-military governments after the overthrow of the Duvalier family dictatorship in February 1986; three religious leaders; three former elected officials; business owner Réginald Boulos; a peasant leader, Charles Suffrard, once close to former president René Préval (1996-2001, 2006-2011); and Paul Loulou Chéry, who heads the Confederation of Haitian Workers (CTH). The only woman in the commission is educator Odette Roy Fombrun. (AlterPresse 11/28/14, 11/28/14; MH 11/28/14)

*3. Mexico: Peña Pledges to Resolve Ayotzinapa Crisis
In a Nov. 27 address Mexican president Peña Nieto announced that he was sending the Congress a series of proposed constitutional amendments he said were intended to resolve a crisis brought on by the killing of six people and the abduction of 43 students the night of Sept. 26-27 in the southwestern state of Guerrero [see Update #1243]. According to federal prosecutors, corruption in the municipal government and police in the city of Iguala de la Independencia were behind the violence; the police and the mayor, José Luis Abarca Velázquez, were reportedly linked to the local drug gang Guerreros Unidos (“United Warriors”). Peña Nieto’s amendments would end the independence of the police in Mexican municipalities and bring them under the control of state police departments. The president also proposed strengthening laws for the protection of victims. In his presentation Peña Nieto tried to associate himself with popular demands for the return of the 43 missing students by using a slogan repeated throughout the many national and international protests since the attacks: “We are all Ayotzinapa.” The missing students and three of the six people known dead attended the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa. (La Jornada 11/28/14, 11/28/14)

Peña Nieto’s government sent mixed signals about its sympathy for the protesters, however. On Nov. 29 the authorities released 11 detainees who had faced serious federal charges stemming from a Nov. 20 protest in Mexico City; federal judge Juan Carlos Ramírez had ordered the release due to lack of evidence. The detainees’ relatives held a press conference on Nov. 29 at the capital’s Bellas Artes cultural center to insist that the arrests had been arbitrary and to call for the resignation of federal attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam, who they said had promised to step down if the cases didn’t come to trial. (LJ 11/30/14)

Protesters said government harassment was continuing. Sandino Bucio Doval, a student activist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), reported that plainclothes federal police agents apprehended him on the university’s campus in the capital’s Coyoacán section the afternoon of Nov. 28, forcing him into their vehicle and then driving him around the city for several hours. At a press conference on the campus the next day, Bucio Doval charged that the agents beat him, questioned him on his role in the student movement, and threatened to rape him and to damage his family. They then cleaned him up, the student said, and took him to federal prosecutors, claiming they’d seen him put a bomb in his backpack. He was released six hours after his arrest. In Bucio Doval’s opinion the incident was intended to intimidate him and other student activists. (LJ 11/30/14)

The center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) continued to suffer fallout from the violence in Iguala; Mayor Abarca was a party member. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano, a three-time presidential candidate for center-left coalitions and one of the PRD’s founders in 1989, resigned “in an irrevocable manner” on Nov. 25, a few hours after a meeting with PRD president Carlos Navarrete. In his resignation letter Cárdenas said he didn’t want to “run the risk of sharing responsibility for decisions taken through myopia, opportunism or self-complacency.” (LJ 11/26/14)

*4. Mexico: Two Defenders of Migrants Are Murdered
Two volunteers who regularly helped feed Central American migrants passing through Mexico were shot dead on Nov. 23 while talking in their car near the house where they lived in Huehuetoca in México state, according to human rights defenders speaking at a Nov. 26 press conference. The victims were identified as Adrián, a local resident who described himself as a transvestite, and Wilson, a Honduran migrant who was granted a humanitarian visa by the government in November after he had testified about criminal activities for the Assistant Attorney General’s Office for Special Investigations on Organized Crime (Seido). Human rights defenders asked the media not to use the volunteers’ last names in order to protect their families.

Last February the two volunteers stopped an attempt to kidnap migrants, holding one of the suspects while waiting for the police to arrive. They received death threats after that incident; they were promised police protection but reportedly never got it. Adrián and Wilson cut back their volunteer work for a while but resumed it recently. The Nov. 26 press conference included Jorge Andrade and Andrea González from the Colectivo Ustedes Somos Nosotros (the “You Are Us Collective”); Fray Tomás González, the director of La 72: Refuge-Home for Migrant Persons in Tenosique; and Luis Tapia Olivares from the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (PRODH). The authorities have long known about the criminal gangs operating in the region but did nothing, Andrea González told reporters. “We can no longer permit this type of violence and impunity to permeate our society.” (El Universal (Mexico) 11/26/14; NPR 11/26/14 from correspondent; El Economista (Mexico) 11/27/14)

Mexican authorities regularly allow gangs to prey on Central American migrants as they head north in an attempt to reach the US, Mexican human rights defenders say—sometimes from incompetence or laziness, and sometimes as a result of active collusion with criminal elements. The left-leaning daily La Jornada cited a recent example. Edwin Alexander Medina Rosales, who identified himself as a Honduran, was arrested with two other men on Jan. 12 in Tierra Blanca, Veracruz, as they were extorting Central American migrants traveling north on freight trains. But ten months later, on Nov. 24, he was again robbing migrants, this time in Atitalaquia, Hidalgo.

As of Nov. 27 Medina Rosales had been imprisoned in Hidalgo, but according to La Jornada reporter Blanche Petrich his capture happened by chance: extra Atitalaquia municipal police were on duty in anticipation of the arrival of the Caravan of Central American Mothers, a group of women seeking sons and daughters who disappeared while trying to go from Central America to the US. Although the police intervened to detain Medina Rosales and an accomplice, there was a 16-hour delay in processing the suspects, during which the migrant victims were held and threatened with deportation. “For now the predators of the railroad lines are in an Hidalgo prison,” Petrich concluded. “It remains to be seen whether later on they walk free and go back into action.” (LJ 11/27/14)

*5. Central America: Refugee “Crisis” Plan Gets a Debut
The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) hosted a special event on Nov. 14 in Washington, DC to present a plan that El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—Central America’s “Northern Triangle”—are proposing as a response to the spike earlier this year in immigration to the US by minors from their countries. The “Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle: A Road Map” was originally released in September and is similar to programs announced at a July summit in Washington [see Update #1228]. However, the IADB event, with US vice president Joseph Biden and the three Central American presidents in attendance, “was the real ‘coming out’ party for the proposals,” the DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) wrote in its “Americas Blog.”

According to CEPR’s analysis, the plan is basically a continuation of the security and economic policies the US has been promoting in the region for decades. It includes a “war on drugs” effort similar to “Plan Colombia,” a US-funded project in Colombia which Biden and other speakers cited as a success. Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández also referred to Mexico’s militarized anti-drug policy as a model, despite the ongoing crisis in Mexico since a Sept. 26-27 attack on students by police in collusion with a drug gang. To address continuing poverty in the three countries, the plan proposes “deepen[ing] our existing trade agreements,” such as the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). The plan raises the possibility of creating “special economic zones,” apparently a revival of earlier efforts to create “model cities,” “charter cities” and “Special Development Regimes (RED)” in Honduras [see Update #1160]. “[T]he plan brings to mind various past cases of crises exploited for economic gain, as Naomi Klein detailed in her landmark book, The Shock Doctrine,” CEPR wrote, highlighting a remark by Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina, who said: “The crisis has become a huge opportunity.” (Americas Blog 11/26/14)

Meanwhile, The Nation and Foreign Policy in Focus have collaborated on an article about the results of DR-CAFTA’s implementation. The authors found that “the pact has had a devastating effect on poverty, dislocation and environmental contamination in the region. And perhaps even worse, it’s diminished the ability of Central American countries to protect their citizens from corporate abuse.” “Overall economic indicators in the region have been poor,” they wrote. “Amid significant levels of unemployment, labor abuses continue” [see Update #1242] and “[w]orkers in export-assembly plants often suffer poor working conditions and low wages.”

The article laid special emphasis on the way DR-CAFTA restricts Central American governments’ ability to stop environmental abuses by foreign corporations. For example, internal documents obtained by activists indicated that fear of losing in arbitration proceedings required under DR-CAFTA was one reason the Guatemalan government failed to act on a 2010 order from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) to close down the Canadian firm Goldcorp Inc.’s controversial Marlin gold mine [see Update #1110]. “These perverse incentives have led to environmental deregulation’” the authors wrote, “and increased protections for companies, which have contributed to a boom in the toxic mining industry—with gold at the forefront. A stunning 14% of Central American territory is now authorized for mining.” (The Nation 11/24/14)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/policy

Why isn't Brazil exploiting its amazing wind capacity?

Police extermination campaign in Brazil's favelas?

REDD, Neo-Colonialism in the Land of the Pataxo Warriors (Brazil)

Lima’s Leftist Mayor Defeated by Four Years of Right-Wing Attacks (Peru)

Protests Against Contamination of Lake Titicaca Continue: Peru

Indigenous Communities Take Chevron to Global Court for 'Crimes Against Humanity' (Ecuador)

Ecuador: The Breach Dividing Intag

Members of the Indigenous Guard Killed by Farc Guerrillas in Toribio, Colombia

Colombia’s Land Restitution Process Failing Those Forced Off Their Land

Amnesty: concern over Colombia land restitution

13 Dead and 145 Poisoned from "Overdose" After Riot in Venezuelan Prison

Venezuela’s Indigenous Mapoyo Language Added to UNESCO Heritage List

Intimacy and Discovery in Mariana Rondón's 'Bad Hair' (Venezuela)

Central America’s “Alliance for Prosperity” Plan: Shock Doctrine for the Child Refugee Crisis?

What ‘Free Trade’ Has Done to Central America

The corporate nullification of the human right to water: the case of El Salvador

Why the murder rate in Honduras is twice as high as anywhere else

Because Violence and Sexual Slavery Should be Tried in a Court of Law: No Impunity! (Guatemala)

Mexico Faces Political Crisis over Students' Disappearance and Presidential Conflict of Interest

Ayotzinapa Protests: Report from Ciudad Juarez (Mexico)

We’re all tired — protests against state violence go worldwide (Mexico)

Trafficking in Women and Girls and the Fight to End it (Mexico)

Cholera on the Uptick in Haiti as Donor Response Falters

SOA Protest: Grassroots Mobilizations Connect Struggles against State Violence and Injustice (US/policy)

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