Monday, January 5, 2015

WNU #1249: Chile Court Hands Barrick Gold a New Setback

Issue #1249, January 4, 2015

1. Chile: Court Rejects New Pascua Lama Appeal
2. Colombia: OAS Court Rules on Palace of Justice Deaths
3. Colombia: Rights Suits Against US Firms Dismissed
4. Haiti: Martelly Names New Prime Minister
5. Puerto Rico: More Cleanup Needed for Vieques
6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico

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

Note: The Update is ceasing publication on Feb. 15. In each of the remaining issues we will try to include some updated information on stories we covered in the past.

*1. Chile: Court Rejects New Pascua Lama Appeal
The Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation, the world’s largest gold producer, faced another setback to its mammoth Pascua Lama gold and silver mine [see Update #1198] in late December when Chile’s Supreme Court rejected its appeal of a lower court’s decision on environmental fines. Barrick’s Chilean subsidiary, Compañía Minera Nevada SPA, was disputing an environmental court’s March 2013 ruling that a fine the government’s Environmental Bureau had imposed on Barrick was inadequate. In a decision announced on Dec. 30, a Supreme Court panel rejected the appeal on a technicality: the justices held that Minera Nevada wasn’t a party to the original case and therefore couldn’t appeal the environmental court’s ruling.

Situated high in the Andes on both sides of the border between Argentina and Chile, the Pascua Lama project, planned as one of the world’s largest gold and silver mines, has been met with numerous challenges from environmentalists and local communities, especially over the risks it is said to represent for Andean glaciers. The challenges have been especially effective in Chile, where Barrick is currently facing fines of more than $16 million for violations by the project. The company suspended construction in November 2013 but has indicated that it hopes to restart construction of the mine.

In a statement dated Dec. 31, a group of 10 local and environmental organizations opposing the mine said the Supreme Court decision was “an important step and once again ratifies our objectives, which are the revocation of the environmental permit [for the construction] and the definitive closing of the Pascua Lama project…. Irreparable damage has been done in our mountain range; we will not accept any monetary fine; this doesn’t bring any solution to the constantly irresponsible and criminal attitude of the Barrick mining company in our territory.” (El Mostrador Mercados (Chile) 12/31/14; Wall Street Journal 12/31/14; Piensa Chile 1/3/15)

*2. Colombia: OAS Court Rules on Palace of Justice Deaths
On Dec. 10 the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CorteIDH), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), notified the Colombian government that the court held it responsible for serious human rights violations in its handling of the seizure of the Palace of Justice by the Apr. 19 Movement (M-19) rebel group on Nov. 6, 1985. The violations included 11 forced disappearances, four cases of torture, one extrajudicial execution and negligence in the investigation of the security forces’ retaking of the building one day later, on Nov. 7, an operation in which more than 100 people died, mostly hostages and rebels. The court ordered the Colombian government to pay compensation to the victims, offer a formal and public apology, and produce a documentary explaining what happened.

Apparently the M-19, which demobilized in 1991, planned to use the Palace of Justice takeover to stage a trial of then-president Belisario Betancur (1982–1986) for problems in the government’s peace negotiations with the group. Military intelligence was aware of the rebels’ plans but failed to provide protection for the building. After a commando of 35 M-19 fighters seized the Palace of Justice, the government refused to hold substantive negotiations. Instead, President Betancur gave military commanders permission to storm the building with soldiers, police and armored vehicles. Almost all of the rebels died in the assault, along with 11 of the 25 justices of the Supreme Court and dozens of other hostages. The building caught on fire and was largely destroyed, as were thousands of court documents.

At the end of the assault, the military seized a group of survivors, including visitors, workers from the cafeteria and one rebel, Irma Franco, calling them “suspects.” Franco was killed, and 11 of the survivors have never reappeared. The military also tortured four people, and tortured and then executed a magistrate, Carlos Horacio Urán; his body was placed back in the building to make it appear that he was killed in crossfire. (Colombia Reports 12/10/14; Univision 12/15/14; Adital (Brazil) 12/17/14, some from Verdad Abierta;

The government has never accepted its responsibility in the violence. “The judicial institutions…for nearly 30 years have obstructed the investigations, in favor of the perpetrators,” Viviana Krsticevic, executive director of the nongovernmental Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), wrote after the decision was released. In recent years the government finally prosecuted two of the top commanders: retired colonel Alfonso Plazas Vega was sentenced in June 2010 to 30 years in prison for his involvement in the case of the 11 people disappeared [see World War 4 Report, 6/20/14], and retired general Jesús Armando Arias Cabrales received a 35-year sentence in April 2011 for the disappearances. However, efforts are under way to have Col. Plazas’ conviction overturned.

The Colombian government announced that it would comply with the CorteIDF’s orders. “If this promise is respected,” Krsticevic wrote, “the case of the Palace of Justice will mark a ‘before’ and ‘after’ for Colombia.” (Semana (Colombia) 04/29/11; Colombia Reports 12/10/14; Univision 12/15/14)

In late December the Colombian government’s Unit for Comprehensive Attention and Reparation for Victims of the Armed Conflict issued its first official list of victims from the last 30 years of internal fighting. The agency put the total at 6.8 million, about one-seventh of the country’s 48 million inhabitants. Of these, 86% are people who were forcibly displaced, according to the group’s director, Paula Gaviria. The remaining 14% are “victims of threats, homicide, forced disappearance; and, in a lower proportion, of kidnapping, sexual violence, plundering or neglect of goods, wounding, torture, forced recruitment of children, and attacks,” she said. Gaviria claims that the government is now actively working to return 4.7 million of the displaced to their homes or to compensate them in some other way. About 2.7 million of the victims blamed rebels groups for their victimization, 1.3 million blamed rightwing paramilitaries, 2.9 million didn’t assign blame, and only 28,833 blamed government security forces, according to Gaviria, who is a grandchild of former president Betancur. (El Tiempo (Colombia) 12/28/14)

*3. Colombia: Rights Suits Against US Firms Dismissed
On Dec. 15 the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal district court judge’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit against the Houston-based Occidental Petroleum Corporation by family members of three union leaders that the 18th Brigade of the Colombian National Army killed in 2004. In the suit, Saldana v. Occidental Petroleum Corp, the family members argued that under the 1789 Alien Tort Statute the US company shared responsibility for the killings by the Colombian military, which originally claimed that the three unionists were guerrilla fighters. Occidental’s Colombian subsidiary and the Colombian state-owned oil company Ecopetrol together gave $6.3 million in assistance to the brigade; the companies said the aid was intended to help the brigade protect a pipeline near the border with Venezuela that rebel groups were attacking.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court, which is based in San Francisco, ruled in an unsigned opinion that the suit treated an inherently political question which couldn’t be argued in a US court. (New York Times 12/15/14 from Reuters)

This was the latest in a string of defeats for human rights suits since April 2013, when a US Supreme Court ruling in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum severely restricted victims’ use of the Alien Tort Statute for abuses committed in foreign countries [see Updates #1187, 1205]. On Nov. 12 another 9th Circuit Court panel threw out a similar suit against Occidental and a US security contractor, AirScan, Inc., for the killing of 17 people, including six children, in the Colombian air force’s Dec. 13, 1998 cluster bomb attack on the village of Santo Domingo, Tame municipality, Arauca department. The 2-1 split decision cited the Kiobel case in dismissing the suit’s use of the Alien Tort Statue. The suit, Mujica et al v. AirScan Inc et al, also cited the Torture Victim Protection Act, but the court held that the law doesn’t apply to corporate defendants. The decision was written by Circuit Judge Jay Bybee, who as assistant US attorney general in 2002 produced--along with his deputy, John Yoo--the so-called “torture memo” justifying the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terrorism suspects. (Daily Mail (UK) 11/12/14 from Reuters)

On July 24 the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a 2007 suit against Charlotte, NC-based Chiquita Brands International Inc by some 4,000 Colombians whose relatives were killed by the rightwing paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) [see Update #1193]. In 2007 Chiquita admitted to having paid out $1.7 million to the AUC over seven years; the US government fined the company $25 million for supporting a terrorist organization. In a 2-1 decision the 11th Circuit Court, which is based in Atlanta, ruled out the use of the Alien Tort Statute and, like the 9th Circuit Court, held that Torture Victim Protection Act only applies to people, not to corporations. The decision was written by Judge David Sentelle. Paul Wolf, who represents many of the plaintiffs, called the dismissal of the suit “another tragedy for the victims of the war, who have already been through so much.” (BBC News 7/24/14)

*4. Haiti: Martelly Names New Prime Minister
The heads of the three branches of the Haitian government reached an accord late on Dec. 29 aimed at heading off a constitutional crisis when the terms of one-third of the country’s senators expire on Jan. 12, leaving the Parliament without a quorum [see Update #1246]. The agreement—signed by Haitian president Michel Martelly, Senate president Simon Dieuseul Desras, Chamber of Deputies president Jacques Stevenson Thimoléon and Superior Council of the Judicial Branch (CSPJ) president Arnel Alexis Joseph—extends terms to April for current members of the Chamber of Deputies and to September for current senators. The term extension will be inserted into legislation amending the electoral law and will only take effect if Parliament passes it by Jan. 12. In the event that the long-stalled election law is passed, the government can proceed to form a new Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) and schedule legislative, municipal and local elections, which have been delayed since 2011. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 12/30/14)

The agreement is one of several efforts by President Martelly’s government to counter a stream of militant opposition protests since the fall. On Dec. 25 Martelly nominated longtime politician Evans Paul to replace former prime minister Laurent Lamothe, a friend of the president’s who was pressured into resigning on Dec. 12. Paul started his political career as a radio journalist under the dictatorship of the late “president for life” Jean-Claude Duvalier (“Baby Doc,” 1971-1986). Using the name K-Plim--short for “Konpè Plim,” which is roughly equivalent to “Partner Pen” or “Brother Pen”--Paul was critical of the Duvalier regime and became an ally of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004), then a left-leaning Catholic priest. Elected Port-au-Prince mayor in 1990 as an Aristide supporter, Paul eventually became a bitter enemy of the former priest. (Reuters 12/15/14) In 2010, however, Paul joined an alliance some observers called “unnatural” because it brought together Aristide supporters and opponents in protests against then-president René Préval (1996-2001, 2006-2011) [see Update #1033].

Also as part of the concessions to the opposition, Martelly has released some 40 prisoners who the opposition says were jailed for their political activities. The latest was Jean Robert Vincent, arrested in February 2012, reportedly for distributing materials against the Martelly administration; he was freed on Dec. 30. The brothers Enold and Josué Florestal were released about two weeks before Vincent. The Florestals faced a murder accusation, but the charge came after they started a suit in August 2012 alleging corruption and misuse of titles by Martelly’s wife, Sophia Saint-Rémy, and his son, Olivier Martelly. The prisoner releases started in December, just one month after a Nov. 2 interview with TV5 Monde, Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Le Monde in which Martelly said he wasn’t aware “that there are demonstrators in prison” or that there were political prisoners in Haiti. (AlterPresse 12/31/14)

In other news, Uruguay’s General Assembly has decided to reduce its contingent in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) by about 60%--from 605 to 250—between Feb. 28 and Dec. 31, according to the Spanish wire service EFE. Adopted unanimously by the Senate, the troop reduction measure was approved by the Chamber of Deputies on Dec. 29. Uruguay’s center-left government has indicated that a complete withdrawal of the troops is also possible, depending on circumstances. Activists in a number of South American countries have been campaigning for an end to their militaries’ participation in the mission, a military-police operation stationed in Haiti since June 2004 [see Update #1238]. (AlterPresse 12/30/14)

*5. Puerto Rico: More Cleanup Needed for Vieques
As of Dec. 11 authorities had closed the Playa Grande beach area in the western region of a national wildlife refuge on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques following the discovery of pieces of inactive munitions there. The US Environmental Protection Agency said the US Navy had removed a projectile, a mortar tail and other objects, although officials insisted that the materials didn’t pose any danger to visitors. The munitions are left over from the Navy’s use of Vieques for testing weapons from the 1940s until May 2003, when mass civil disobedience by Vieques residents and their supporters forced the Navy to withdraw. A total of 1,640 arrests were made from 1999 to 2003 as activists carried out militant protests, including a yearlong occupation of the bombing range. Federal judges handed down jail sentences to protesters totaling 26 years, along with fines totaling $50,980 [see Update #692].

Most of the territory used by the Navy was turned over to the US Department of the Interior in 2003, although the Vieques municipal government received a portion. Cleanup operations began in 2004. Over the past 10 years the US has spent about $220 million removing 28,000 objects, including munitions, bombs, other artifacts and residue from explosives. According to Pedro Pierluisi, the US Congress’s resident commissioner in Puerto Rico, Congress members are seeking an additional $17 million for cleanup efforts next year. Puerto Rican governance secretary Víctor Suárez said a delegation of US experts would be visiting to examine the possibility that new technology could be used to accelerate the cleanup effort. (Associated Press 12/11/14; Primera Hora (Guaynabo) 1/2/15)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico

Torture Reports: Brazil and the United States Release Reports Documenting Systematic Human Rights Abuses

Indigenous Bolivia begins to shine under Morales

Peruvian Communities Reject COP 20 and Build the Movement of the People for El Buen Vivir

Climate Change Threatens Quechua and Their Crops in Peru’s Andes

Why Is Ecuador Selling Its Economic and Environmental Future to China?

Maduro Confirms Venezuelan Economy in Recession, Announces “Recovery Plan” for 2015

Former Guatemala Dictator to Stand Trial Again for Genocide

Remembering Guatemala’s First Genocide Conviction as the Trial Resumes Today

Maya Land Rights & Governance (Belize)

The U.S. and Mexico: Hand-in-Hand in Human Rights Violations

Complicity and Cover-Ups in Mexican Massacres (Audio)

Chicago link to Mexican mass abduction?

Cuba: #YoTambienExijo and 'regime change'

A View on Cuba's Opening From the De Facto U.S. Colony of Puerto Rico

Dissecting the Drug War: New Book Charts Ways Global Capitalism Profits From "War on People" (US/policy)

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