Monday, October 4, 2010

WNU #1051: “No Problem” With Constituent Assembly for Honduras?

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1051, October 3, 2010

1. Honduras: “What’s the Problem” With a Constituent Assembly?
2. Colombia: Inspector General Removes Senator Córdoba
3. Argentina: Chilean Rebel Gets Asylum
4. Guatemala: US Apologizes for Syphilis Experiment
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Amazonia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, 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. For a subscription, write to . It is archived at

*1. Honduras: “What’s the Problem” With a Constituent Assembly?
At a press conference in Tegucigalpa on Sept. 29, a reporter asked conservative Honduran president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa about calls from unions and grassroots organizations for a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s 1982 Constitution. “But what’s the problem with that?” Lobo responded. “What’s the problem?” The president said he considered it his “moral duty…to invite the sectors that promote it to hold a dialogue…. Let’s sit down and discuss [these things]. That isn’t the problem.”

Lobo’s comment seemed to represent a break from the official policy of ignoring calls for rewriting the Constitution, a proposal which the Honduran elite vehemently opposes. An effort by former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009) to hold a nonbinding plebiscite on calling a constituent assembly was one of the reasons given for the military coup d’état that removed him from office on June 28, 2009, the day the vote was to take place. Lobo--who was elected on Nov. 29, 2009, in elections organized by the de facto government installed by the coup--has made it clear that his government does not support a constituent assembly.

But it is now obvious that there is widespread support for the idea. On Sept. 15 the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), a coalition of many different groups opposing the 2009 coup, concluded a campaign it started on Apr. 20 to gather 1.25 million signatures on a petition calling for a constituent assembly [see Update #1047]. The final count, according to the FNRP, was 1,342,876 signatures.

This is a significant number in a country with a total population of about eight million, and considerably higher than the number of votes Lobo received in last year’s elections. According to Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), there were 4,611,211 registered voters at the time of the elections; 2,300,056 people voted, the TSE says, and Lobo received 1,213,695 votes. Even this number is too high, according to the resistance, which boycotted the elections and estimates that the actual turnout was much lower than the 49.9% claimed by the TSE [see Update #1017]. (Honduras Culture and Politics blog 10/1/10; La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 9/29/10; El Tiempo (San Pedro Sula) 9/17/10; TSE website, accessed 10/3/10)

In other news, Marvin Ponce, a legislative deputy for the small center-left Democratic Unification (UD) party, said there was applause in the generally conservative National Congress at reports on Sept. 30 that a coup was taking place against the leftist government of Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa. Many of the current members also supported the 2009 coup in Honduras.

On Oct. 1, after it was clear that Correa was still in office, the FNRP issued a statement congratulating the “heroic people of Ecuador” for their “triumph over the retrograde forces of the oligarchy and imperialism.” “We too will drive out the tyrants imposed by the force of arms,” the FNRP said. (Vos el Soberano (Honduras) 10/1/10, ___)

*2. Colombia: Inspector General Removes Senator Córdoba
On Sept. 27 Colombian inspector general Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado announced that he was removing Senator Piedad Córdoba from her position and barring her from public office for 18 years because of what he said were her links to the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Córdoba, a member of the centrist Liberal Party, has mediated in negotiations which led to the release of 14 prisoners held by the FARC [see Updates #977, 1032]. She is also a member of Colombians for Peace, formed in 2008 by politicians, intellectuals, artists, journalists and former FARC prisoners to seek solutions to the armed conflicts in the country.

The move against Córdoba came four days after a leading FARC commander, Jorge Briceño Suárez ("Mono Jojoy"), was killed along with 20 other rebels in a bombing operation by the Colombian military [see WW4 Report 9/26/10].

Inspector General Ordóñez, who has the authority to remove elected officials, claimed that Córdoba had gone beyond her role as a negotiator by advising FARC commanders on how to handle hostage releases. The Colombian authorities said the charges against Córdoba are based on information found in computers used by FARC spokesperson and negotiator Raúl Reyes. The computers were seized in March 2008, when the Colombian military bombed and raided a FARC camp in Ecuador, killing Reyes and about 20 other people, and the Colombian government has been using information allegedly from the computers to attack its opponents on the left [see Update #958].

In response to her dismissal, Córdoba wrote that Ordóñez has been “seriously questioned for his activities against the rights of women and the LGBT population [and for] the illegal operations of the DAS”--the Administrative Department of Security, the political police--and is being “investigated by the Supreme Court of Justice.” She called her removal “one more instance of the political persecution that has been carried out against me in the last 12 years,” including a kidnapping by rightwing paramilitaries. For a time she and her family had to live in exile to assure their safety. She said she was filing an appeal, but it has to be with the same office that removed her; there is no higher authority in these cases. (La Jornada (Mexico) 9/28/10 from Reuters, DPA, AFP; Caracol Radio (Colombia) 9/28/10)

In an opinion piece published on Oct. 1, former Cuba president Fidel Castro Ruz praised Córdoba, mentioning that she and several others had met with him in Cuba a few weeks earlier. He noted their “profound desire to seek peace for their country.” “However, I’m not surprised by the decision taken by the inspector general, which follows the official policy of a country virtually occupied by Yankee troops.” (LJ 10/1/10)

*3. Argentina: Chilean Rebel Gets Asylum
On Sept. 30 the National Refugee Commission of Argentina (Conare) granted political asylum to Sergio Galvarino Apablaza Guerra, a former leader of Chile’s rebel Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR). Chile is seeking Apablaza’s extradition to stand trial for the assassination of Chilean senator Jaime Guzmán, a close ally of dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, in 1991, a year after the end of Chile’s 1973-1990 military dictatorship. Apablaza is also charged with the 1991 kidnapping of Cristián Edwards del Río, the son of one of the owners of the Santiago daily El Mercurio.

Apablaza has lived in Argentina since 1993. Argentine police arrested him in 2004 on the Chilean charges; Apablaza claimed at the time that the FPMR had split and that he did not belong to the faction that carried out the attacks. An Argentine judge released him on bond in 2005, ruling that the Chilean charges were political and that Chile had denied Apablaza due process [see Update #806]. Chile appealed to Argentina’s Supreme Court of Justice, which ruled in favor of the extradition request on Sept. 14 of this year.

According to a source in the Argentine government, Conare granted Apablaza asylum because he was "a political activist, a fighter against the dictatorship.” “He isn’t a common citizen,” the source said. The decision is causing tensions between Chile’s government and the center-left government of Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. On Oct. 1 rightwing Chilean president Sebastián Piñera said Conare’s move “means a step backward for the cause of justice and human rights in my country.” (La Nación (Argentina) 10/1/10; EFE 10/3/10 via ABC (Spain))

*4. Guatemala: US Apologizes for Syphilis Experiment
US president Barack Obama personally apologized by phone to Guatemalan president Álvaro Colom on Oct. 1 shortly after the US revealed that the US Public Health Service had purposely infected Guatemalan soldiers, prisoners and mental patients with syphilis and gonorrhea in a 1946-48 experiment to test the effectiveness of penicillin in fighting sexually transmitted diseases. The program exposed some 1,500 Guatemalans to the diseases, and 696 were reportedly infected. It is not clear how many of them received medical treatment.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Pan American Sanitary Bureau (PASB), the predecessor of the current Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), financed the experiment, which was carried out under the government of Guatemalan president Juan José Arévalo Bermejo, although apparently there was some deception of Guatemalan officials. The program was directed by Dr. John Cutler of the US Public Health Service; Cutler was later involved in the notorious 1932-1972 study in Tuskegee, Alabama, in which African-American men with syphilis were deliberately left untreated. The Guatemalan experiment only came to light now because of independent research by Wellesley College professor Susan M. Reverby.

At an Oct. 1 press conference President Colom called the experiment a “crime against humanity” and said his government “reserves the right to file a complaint.” Nery Rodenas Paredes, head of the Guatemalan Archdiocese’s human rights office, said that “it’s not enough to ask for pardon,” the US needs to pay compensation to the victims’ families.

Dr. Mark Siegler, director of the Maclean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago’s medical school, told the New York Times: “It’s ironic—no, it’s worse than that, it’s appalling—that, at the same time as the United States was prosecuting Nazi doctors for crimes against humanity, the US government was supporting research that placed human subjects at enormous risk.” (La Jornada (Mexico) 10/2/10 from correspondent, 10/2/10 from AFP, Notimex; NYT 10/2/10)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Amazonia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba

Long Standing Impunity Challenges Argentina: 4 Years Without Julio Lopez

Indigenous organizations declare "emergency" in Amazonia

Coup d'etat underway in Ecuador?

Ecuador: The President "Is Going to Pay for What He's Done"

Ecuador: army rescues Correa from hospital

No Room For Ambivalence: Support President Rafael Correa and Ecuadorean Democracy

CONAIE on the Attempted Coup in Ecuador

Report from Ecuador: Democracy Under Threat

Colombia: The Significance of the Killing of FARC Leader “Mono Jojoy”

Colombia’s Senator Cordoba Booted For Alleged FARC Links

150 Scholars Call on Georgetown to Fire Álvaro Uribe (Colombia)

Venezuelan Elections: Socialists Advance, Opposition Loses Ground Compared to 2000 Elections

A New Opportunity for Venezuela’s Socialists

Repression's Reward in Honduras? Dinner with Obama

U.S. 'Democracy Promotion' in Honduras

Guatemala, in the Sights of the Zetas

Mexico: youths lynched in Chihuahua kidnapping

Corruption And Deforestation Caused Oaxaca’s Mudslide Disaster

Cuba Travel Legislation Vote Postponed; Not Likely To Be Taken Up Until After Midterm Elections

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