Monday, May 19, 2008

WNU #947: Colombian Refugee Leader Murdered

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #947, May 18, 2008

1. Colombia: Refugee Leader Murdered
2. Colombia: Rights Activist Threatened
3. Mexico: Union Attacked in Capital
4. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, 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. For a subscription, write to It is archived at

*1. Colombia: Refugee Leader Murdered
On May 13 unknown persons riding a motorcycle shot and killed Julio César Molina, a leader of refugees from Colombia's internal conflicts who were displaced to the rural zone of Ansermanueva in the southwestern department of Valle del Cauca. On May 16 the Bogota office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (ACNUR) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (OACNUDH) condemned Molina's murder and expressed concern for other refugee leaders in the area. The agencies indicated that Molina's killing was "connected to his reports on the misuse of lands taken from narco traffickers and turned over to displaced persons. It is also feared that there was a connection with his work training victims about their right to reparations."

Molina, a director of the New Dawn Humanitarian Foundation, was shot near the Germania estate, where he and his family had been living with 11 other refugee families since January 2007. Five years earlier the family fled from rightwing paramilitaries in Vista Hermosa in Meta department and sought land to farm in Valle del Cauca. At a ceremony on Dec. 20, 2004, rightwing Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Vélez officially presented 20 families, including Molina's, with three estates seized from the extradited landowner Alberto Monsalve. But the families weren't able to use the land until legal issues were settled. They received threats after moving to the Germania estate, and Molina tried unsuccessfully from January of this year to get the local government to provide protection.

At his funeral in the town of Cartago on May 14, Molina was praised for his hard work for the refugees. "My daddy was all skinny when he died," one of Molina's five children said, "from suffering so much for us." That evening the families in Germania were again threatened with death if they didn't leave the region, and on May 16 men on motorcycles left death "sentences" for other refugee leaders, saying they would die if they talked. (Terra (Spain) 5/16/08 from EFE; El Tiempo (Bogota) 5/17/08)

*2. Colombia: Rights Activist Threatened
On May 15 the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders--a program sponsored jointly by the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH)--issued an urgent call for the Colombian government to ensure the safety of Colombian human rights activist Iván Cepeda Castro, his family and other members of the National Movement of Victims of Crimes of the State (MOVICE). The Observatory is asking for letters to President Alvaro Uribe Vélez (, Vice President Francisco Santos (, the vice president's human rights office ( and other officials.

Uribe's government has been verbally attacking Cepeda because of a Mar. 6 demonstration he helped organize for the victims of paramilitary violence and an Apr. 15 appearance before members of the US Congress [see Update #944]. Uribe and US president George W. Bush are currently lobbying Congress to ratify a Colombia-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA, or TLC in Spanish) and are trying to downplay complaints about Colombia's human rights record. On May 6 Uribe called Cepeda a "human rights faker" and complained about those in the international community who sympathize with "the crocodile tears of these human rights fakers."

Cepeda dedicated himself to human rights work after the 1994 assassination of his father, Manuel Cepeda Vargas, a senator for the leftist Patriotic Union (UP). Iván Cepeda himself has received death threats several times. (Observatorio para la Protección de los Defensores de Derechos Humanos urgent action 5/15/08; dhcolombia 5/11/08 from El Espectador 5/10/08)

*3. Mexico: Union Attacked in Capital
The Authentic Labor Front (FAT), an independent Mexican labor group, announced on May 13 that one of its affiliates is set to declare a strike at the Central de Abasto, Mexico City's huge wholesale food market, on May 30. For the past four years the affiliate--the Union of Workers of Commercial Buildings, Offices and Stores, and the Like and Related (STRACC)--has represented 41 workers who clean bathrooms in the flowers and vegetables area of the giant facility, which is operated by the Federal District (DF) government. The workers are mostly women, and several are older or have disabilities.

Recently the Central de Abasto's management contracted the bathroom maintenance out to a small new private company, Operadora Comercial SAFE, SA de CV (OESSA). This company claims it is subcontracting the work to another company, Great Limp, which it says already has a union. On Apr. 29 OESSA management took the STRACC workers offsite and attempted by pressure and false pretenses to have them sign letters of resignation. Management got 14 to sign before the workers could contact union officials; after that the rest refused. The union members continued to work until May 6, when management appeared with a group of judicial and auxiliary police and arrested the workers, some of whom were injured in the operation. The police held them for 14 hours, supposedly for "illegal exercise of particular rights," which can carry a sentence of three months to one year in prison. Since then the STRACC members have not been allowed to work.

The Campaign for Labor Rights (CLR) is asking for letters to Marcelo Ebrard (, head of the DF government, which has been controlled by the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) for the last 11 years. (A sample letter is available at (La Jornada (Mexico) 5/7/08, 5/10/08; Excelsior (Mexico) 5/13/08 from Notimex; CLR urgent action 5/14/08)

4. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico

Argentina Versus the World Bank: Fair Play or Fixed Fight?

Chilean Protesters Unhappy With Barrick Gold Pascua Lama Project

I Give Up, Says Brazilian Minister Who Fought to Save the Rainforest

Bolivia: Morales Bets All or Nothing in Recall Referendum

Reports from Indigenous Summit in Lima

Ecuador: CONAIE Indigenous Movement Condemns President Correa

Colombia extradites paramilitary commanders

FARC 47th Front commander surrenders

Chávez: Interpol chief "corrupt gringo policeman"

Venezuela charges Colombian military incursion

US Naval Fleet to Be Positioned Off the Coast of South America

Rising Fuel Costs Provoke Transportation Strike in Nicaragua

El Salvador: The UDW Interview with FMLN Presidential Candidate Mauricio Funes (Part I)

Transport Strike in Guatemala Leaves 1 dead, 48 arrested

No Country for Good Men in Chihuahua: Drug Trafficking, Violence, and Repression

Juarez Mothers Demand Justice for their Murdered Daughters

"Plan Mexico" dies with Iraq funding bill--for now

Mexican military to take over Jußrez police?

Council on Foreign Relations reconsiders Monroe Doctrine

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