1. Haiti: US Grants UN Immunity in Cholera Suit
2. Peru: Fujimori Sentenced for Tabloid Bribery
3. Mexico: Protests Follow Peña to Washington
4. Latin America: Why Did Monsanto Profits Dip?
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, US/immigration
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 email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.
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. Haiti: US Grants UN Immunity in Cholera Suit
On Jan. 9 a federal district judge in New York, J. Paul Oetken, dismissed a lawsuit seeking compensation from the United Nations (UN) for a cholera epidemic introduced into Haiti in October 2010 by infected soldiers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) [see Update #1238]. “The UN is immune from suit unless it expressly waives its immunity,” Judge Oetken wrote in his decision, which was based on the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN and a US appeals court ruling in a 2010 sexual discrimination case. Lawyers from the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), representing thousands of Haitian cholera victims, said they would appeal the decision, which came three days before the fifth anniversary of an earthquake that devastated much of southern Haiti.
The suit, Delama Georges, et al, v. United Nations, et al, was filed in October 2013. The plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that the UN was not entitled to immunity under the 1946 convention because the world organization failed to meet its obligation under the convention to establish a settlement process for the victims. A number of legal experts agreed with the plaintiffs’ position, filing three amicus curiae briefs with the court and arguing in support of the plaintiffs at a hearing in October 2014. The UN has never admitted its responsibility for the cholera outbreak and didn’t respond to the suit; the US government argued on the UN’s behalf. According to Haitian rights lawyer Mario Joseph, the president of the Bureau of International Lawyers (BAI), Oetken’s ruling “implies that there is nowhere in the world [the victims] can turn to seek justice. That is irreconcilable with their human rights and basic notions of justice.” (IJDH press release 1/9/15; Reuters 1/10/15)
At least 8,774 Haitians had died of the cholera epidemic by Jan. 8, according to the DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Some 14,000 or more were sickened by the disease in 2014, and 243 died that year. The amount of money required for a program for the eradication of cholera in Haiti is estimated to be $2.2 billion; the amount pledged so far is $50 million. (Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch, CEPR, 1/8/15)
Arnel (or Anel) Alexis Joseph, the controversial president of the Superior Council of the Judicial Branch (CSPJ), offered his resignation on Jan. 7, as was recommended on Dec. 9 by an 11-member “consultative commission” that President Michel Martelly set up to resolve a political impasse; terms are set to expire for one-third of Haiti’s senators on Jan. 12, leaving the Senate without a quorum and possibly creating a constitutional crisis [see Update #1246]. Other people that the commission asked to resign, including former prime minister Laurent Lamothe and the members of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), had already complied. The Senate called for Joseph’s resignation back in 2012 on the grounds that he was past the maximum legal age for the post. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 1/7/15)
*2. Peru: Fujimori Sentenced for Tabloid Bribery
After a trial lasting more than a year, on Jan. 8 a Peruvian court sentenced former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) to eight years in prison for embezzlement. The court found that between 1998 and 2000 Fujimori diverted some $43 million from the military to the National Intelligence Service (SIN) in order to pay tabloid dailies to follow the government’s editorial line. The colorful tabloids--known in Peru as “diarios chicha” after a popular musical style—supported Fujimori’s campaign for reelection in 2000 by characterizing his opponents as communists, homosexuals and spies; some of the papers were actually created by Fujimori’s government for the purpose. The former president claimed in court on Dec. 29 that he didn’t know about the diversion of the money. In addition to the prison sentence, Fujimori lost his right to hold public office for three years and was ordered to pay a fine of 3 million soles (about US$1 million). (RRP (Peru) 1/8/15; El País (Madrid) 1/8/15 from correspondent)
This was the fifth conviction for Fujimori since 2007. On Dec. 11, 2007, he was found guilty of ordering an illegal search of the home of the wife of his former adviser Vladimiro Montesinos to seize compromising video tapes. On Apr. 7, 2009, a court sentenced him to 25 years in prison for two massacres of unarmed civilians carried out by the Colina Group, a death squad organized by military intelligence and allegedly reporting to the president: the November 1991 killing of 15 people at a family barbecue in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima, and the July 1992 abduction and murder of nine university students and a professor from the Enrique Guzmán y Valle (La Cantuta) university; the group also kidnapped journalist Gustavo Gorriti and business owner Samuel Dyer in 1992 [see Update #1019]. Also in 2009, Fujimori was sentenced to seven years and six months for appropriating $15 million from the treasury for Montesinos; in a separate case, he was sentenced to six years for spying on phone calls, payoffs to the media and the buying of Congress members.
Although elected as a populist in 1990, Fujimori quickly imposed a harsh neoliberal program known as “Fujishock.” In 1992 he seized dictatorial powers with a “self-coup,” claiming this would clear the way for combating two leftist rebel movements. He fled the country in 2000 when his government’s massive corruption came to light, and sought asylum in Japan. In 2005 he went to Chile as part of a plan to return to Peru, but Chilean authorities imprisoned him and turned him over to the Peruvian government in 2007. The maximum sentence in Peru is 25 years, so the five sentences will run concurrently. Fujimori will theoretically be released in 2032, at the age of 94. (La República (Peru) 1/8/15; El País 1/8/15)
In other news, judicial authorities announced on Dec. 30 that Attorney General Carlos Ramos Heredia had been suspended from his post for six months to “safeguard the optimal development of the investigations” into charges that he impeded inquiries concerning alleged corruption in the central western department of Ancash. Officials there took $113 million in public funds between 2008 and 2011, according to Mesías Guevara, the president of the parliamentary commission investigating the allegations. Ramos Heredia told RPP radio that he would respect the suspension but wouldn’t resign. (Yahoo News 12/30/14 from AP)
*3. Mexico: Protests Follow Peña to Washington
Facing serious political and economic problems at home, on Jan. 6 Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto made his first official visit to Washington, DC, since taking office in December 2012. A private meeting at the White House with US president Barack Obama lasted longer than was scheduled, and the two presidents didn’t take questions when they spoke with the press afterwards. The US has been following the “tragic events” involving seven deaths and the abduction of 43 students the night of Sept. 26-27 in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero [see Update #1246], Obama told reporters, and the US would continue to aid in investigations and in the fight against drug cartels. Obama also praised Mexico’s efforts to keep Central American migrants from reaching the US border, especially during the child migrant “crisis” in the summer of 2014 [see Update #1237]. Peña Nieto promised that Mexico would help the US and Cuba normalize relations. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/7/15)
In addition to facing massive protests against the Mexican political system since the Guerrero abductions, Peña Nieto’s government is having to deal with a drop in oil prices that has led to downward pressure on the peso. Now at $39.70 a barrel, the price of Mexico’s export oil plummeted by 61.23% from June 20, 2014 to Jan. 9 of this year, while the peso fell by 12.3%, ending up at 14.5 to the US dollar. (El Financiero (Mexico) 1/12/15)
As the two presidents were speaking, about 100 protesters, mostly Mexicans and Mexican Americans, rallied outside the White House. The protesters charged that the US government is supporting corruption and violence in Mexico through its Mérida Initiative, a program often referred to as “Plan Mexico,” in which the US funds anti-narcotics campaigns by Mexican security forces, themselves often linked to the cartels [see Update #952]. Among the participants in the rally was Nansi Cisneros, whose brother was kidnapped by men in police uniforms in the western state of Jalisco; a US citizen living in Los Angeles, Cisneros had written about her brother’s case on the Huffington Post news site.
There were similar protests that day in at least nine other US cities, including Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Seattle, organized by the USTired2 network [see Update #1245] and other groups to echo the demonstrations in Mexico. One of the protesters in Seattle was José Luis Avila, the husband of Nestora Salgado García, an imprisoned community police leader in Olinalá, Guerrero [see Update #1237]. (LJ 1/7/15)
On Jan. 8 the Guerrero government announced that it was dropping charges against Salgado “as a demonstration that this citizens’ government has been consistent in the search for peace and the harmonious development of Guerrero in all its aspects.” (LJ 1/8/15) As of Jan. 11 there had been no reports of her release.
In other news, the celebrated Mexican editor and investigative reporter Julio Scherer died on Jan. 7 at the age of 88. Scherer edited the influential daily El Excélsior from 1968 to 1976, when government pressure finally succeeded in getting the paper to remove him. He then founded the weekly Proceso, whose investigative reports have plagued Mexican politicians ever since--most recently in articles on alleged federal involvement in the abduction of the 43 students in Guerrero and on possible judicial favoritism for the brother of former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari [see Updates #1246, 1248]. People that Scherer interviewed or attempted to interview ranged from Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet to Sinaloa cartel leader Ismael (“El Mayo”) Zambada García. The journalist claimed that he’d go to hell if the devil offered him an interview. (LJ 1/8/15)
*4. Latin America: Why Did Monsanto Profits Dip?
The Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company announced on Jan. 7 that its revenues for September through November 2014, the first quarter of the company’s current fiscal year, fell to $2.87 billion from $3.14 billion for the same period the year before. The decline was less than analysts had expected. According to Bloomberg News, this was because the losses, including a 12% drop in corn seed sales, were partly offset by sales of Monsanto’s new Intacta soybeans, which the company says are genetically modified to withstand pests in South America. But the losses themselves were “in part, due to the reduction in sowing areas in South America,” the Spanish agricultural news site agroinformación.com reported. Agroinformación.com also cited resistance to the construction of a seed processing plant in Malvinas Argentinas in Argentina’s central Córdoba province [see Update #1204]. (Bloomberg 1/7/15; agroinformación.com 1/8/15)
In December residents of Malvinas Argentinas--a small working-class town near the provincial capital, also named Córdoba—celebrated their success so far in stopping Monsanto’s factory, which was to be the company’s largest South American seed processing plant. Since September 2013 residents have been blocking construction crews’ access to the site. Construction has in fact been suspended since January 2014, when an appeals court ordered the company to produce a new environmental impact study. Although the provincial government initially promoted the construction, in February the province’s Environmental Secretariat rejected the company’ new study. Monsanto is now reportedly looking at other sites.
Despite activists’ apparent success in Malvinas Argentinas—and a growing Latin American movement against Monsanto and other producers of genetically modified (GM) seeds [see Update #1232]—Argentina’s major farmers still rely heavily on the products. The country’s huge soybean crop is 100% transgenic, as are 92% of the cotton crop and 84% of the corn crop. The 23.9 million hectares of GM crop in the country represent the world’s third largest surface sowed with transgenic seed, after the US with 69.5 million hectares and Brazil with 36.6 million hectares. (BBC Mundo 12/14/14)
*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, US/immigration
The Agents of Unregulated Globalization vs. the Agents of the Fight against Climate Change (Latin America)
Open Letter to Rafael Correa: Stop the Eviction of CONAIE (Ecuador)
China Commits $20 Billion to Venezuela at First Latin America-China Forum in Beijing
Territories Free of Mining on the Rise in Honduras
Genocide Trial against Guatemalan Dictator Suspended Once Again
The Federal Police Not Only Knew, They Were There (Audio) (Mexico)
‘Nothing Was an Accident That Night’: Mexican Federal Police Implicated in the Disappearance of the 43
Popular Political Trial in Iguala (Mexico)
Led by Latinos, US Cities Organize to End Plan Mexico and Support Ayotzinapa
The Organizers Who Never Gave Up on the Cuban Five
Haiti 5 Years After Devastating Earthquake
Haiti Cholera Suit Struck Down
Monsanto Hires Marketing Firm to Poll Citizens on GMOs (Puerto Rico)
Deportations to Dangerous Zones (US/immigration)
No Alternative: Ankle Monitors Expand the Reach of Immigration Detention (US/immigration)
For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:
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Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson: