Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1073, March 27, 2011
1. Mexico: 230,000 Are Displaced by the “Drug War”
2. Colombia: Judicial Workers Strike After Judge’s Murder
3. Honduras: Journalists Attacked in Teachers’ Strike
4. Haiti: Earthquake Victims Remain Homeless
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti
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 email@example.com. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/
*1. Mexico: 230,000 Are Displaced by the “Drug War”
Some 115,000 Mexicans fled their homes last year because of drug-related crime, according to a report released on Mar. 23 by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). The Geneva-based group, which was established by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in 1998 at the United Nations’ request, estimated that the total number of people displaced by drug violence in Mexico since 2007 has reached about 230,000. Some 35,000 people have died in fighting among drug gangs and between the gangs and the authorities in the four years since President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa militarized the fight against drug traffickers shortly after taking office in December 2006.
The refugees are largely from the northern states of Chihuahua and Tamaulipas, but the violence has also affected residents of Nuevo León, Baja California Norte, Sinaloa and Michoacán. Ciudad Juárez and Valle de Juárez, in Chihuahua near the US border, are the areas that have been hit hardest. According to statistics from local authorities, up to 116,000 houses have been left vacant there, 11,000 businesses have closed and 11,000 students have dropped out of school. Of the 230,000 displaced, about half have moved to the US; the rest are mostly living in Chihuahua, Durango, Coahuila and Veracruz.
Colombia was the country with the highest number of displaced people in the world last year--3.6 million to 5.2 million, according to the report. The country has experienced decades of fighting between government troops and leftist guerrillas; more recently, it has undergone a US-backed “war on drugs” similar to Mexico’s. After Colombia, Sudan, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Pakistan had the largest displaced populations. (IDMC press release 3/23/11; Fox News Latino 3/25/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 3/26/11)
As the toll mounted in Mexico, anger continued over Operation Fast and Furious, a US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) program that allowed some 2,000 firearms to enter Mexico illegally in what appeared to be a bungled effort to trace the activities of US gun smugglers in the US Southwest. Many of the weapons presumably ended up being used by Mexican drug traffickers [see Update #1070]. In a Mar. 22 interview with the Spanish-language Univision television network, US president Barack Obama told correspondent Jorge Ramos: “Well, first of all, I did not authorize it. Eric Holder the attorney general did not authorize it. He's been very clear that our policy is to catch gun runners and put them into jail.” Ramos asked Obama if he had been informed. “Absolutely not,” the president answered. “There may be a situation here which a serious mistake was made, and if that's the case, then we'll find out and we’ll hold somebody accountable.”
But a number of top US officials certainly knew about Fast and Furious. Darren Gil, the lead ATF official in Mexico at the time of the operation, said to CBS News on Mar. 25 that his supervisor told him that ATF director Kenneth Melson was aware of the program and that knowledge of the program wasn’t limited to the Treasury Department, which operates the ATF. “Not only is the [ATF] director aware of it, DOJ's aware of it,” the supervisor said, referring to the US Department of Justice.
Gil, who retired from the ATF in December, said he was instructed not to tell his Mexican counterparts about Fast and Furious. Gil says he warned his supervisor: “When is this case going to shut down? The Mexicans are going to have a fit when they find out about it.” (CBS News 3/25/11; LJ 3/26/11)
*2. Colombia: Judicial Workers Strike After Judge’s Murder
Over 41,000 Colombian judicial workers demonstrated at the Paloquemao Judicial Complex in downtown Bogotá on Mar. 25 to protest the murders of judicial officers. The protest was part of a one-day national strike that the National Association of Employees of the Judicial Branch (Asonal Judicial) had called after the murder of Judge Gloria Constanza Gaona. The judged was shot dead on Mar. 22 while on her way to a municipal court in the town of Saravena in the northeastern department of Arauca department.
According to Asonal Judicial, 287 Colombian judicial officers have been murdered over the past 20 years, 750 have been threatened, 42 have been kidnapped, 39 are missing, 39 have been forced into exile and 31 have been forced to relocate. The association’s president, Nelson Cantillo, noted that the murders of judicial officials over the two decades averaged out to one a month.
Judge Gaona was in charge of a case in which army members are suspected of murdering a girl and two of her two brothers last October in Tame municipality in Arauca department. The girl was raped before being killed; another girl was also raped but survived. Sixty members of the army's 5th Mobile Brigade were investigated for the crimes, which took place 254 meters from a military encampment; one of the suspects is an officer, 2nd Lt. Raúl Muñoz Linares. After several delays, the case against Muñoz was suspended on Feb. 23; it was scheduled to resume on Mar. 31. Human rights organizations say the surviving girl’s life is in danger, since she is a key witness, and they are asking for the case to be transferred to Bogotá. Earlier in March the authorities arrested José Antonio Toroca, a Tame community leader who led protests over the crimes against the children; he was charged with “rebellion.” (Colombia Reports 3/22/11, 3/25/11; Adital (Brazil) 3/25/11)
*3. Honduras: Journalists Attacked in Teachers’ Strike
Honduran riot police threw a tear gas canister at journalists Lidieth Díaz and Adolfo Sierra from TV Cholusat Sur (Channel 36) as they were trying to film a protest by striking teachers on Mar. 21 in Tegucigalpa, according to Channel 36 owner Esdras Amado López and other sources. Two other journalists, Radio Gualcho director Sandra Maribel Sánchez and Globo TV camera operator Uriel Rodríguez, also reported being assaulted by the police. “I was filming the military and the police when one of them fired rubber bullets, injuring both of my legs,” Rodríguez said. “Then another group of police rushed at Sandra Maribel Sánchez to take her camera.”
Some 60,000 teachers have been on strike since Mar. 7 over pension issues and in opposition to a decentralization plan that they say will lead to privatization of the schools. An assistant principal, Ilse Ivana (or Ivania) Velásquez Rodríguez, was killed during a demonstration on Mar. 18, apparently struck by a television station’s vehicle in the confusion when police attempted to break up the protest [see Update #1072]. Both Cholusat Sur and Globo TV were shut down at various times in 2009 by the de facto government that took power in June 2009 when a coup removed then-president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales from office. Cholusat Sur reporter Lidieth Díaz was assaulted, along with other reporters, by the Supreme Court chief justice’s bodyguards earlier this year. (Journalism in the Americas blog 3/23/11; Prensa Latina 3/22/11 via Adital (Brazil))
Police repression of the teachers’ demonstrations triggered a debate between ministers at a cabinet meeting on Mar. 22. Justice and Human Rights Minister Ana Pineda said Honduras’ image abroad could be injured by the death of Velásquez Rodríguez and by the aggression against Lidieth Díaz, who was “directly affected by the use of toxic gases while she was carrying out work for her media outlet.” This “weakens our level of credibility which we had obtained with the members of the UN and other human rights forums,” Pineda warned. Security Minister Óscar Álvarez insisted that all the police actions were justified because of the constitutional right to travel; the teachers had been blocking roads. (La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 3/23/11; Honduras and Culture blog 3/23/22)
On Mar. 27 President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa officially declared the teachers’ strike illegal and announced plans for docking strikers’ pay and suspending or firing teachers that don’t return to work. (Reuters 3/27/11; Vos el Soberano (Honduras) 3/27/11)
*4. Haiti: Earthquake Victims Remain Homeless
The number of displaced Haitians living in camps in the Port-au-Prince area after the destruction of their homes in a January 2010 earthquake has now fallen to about 680,000, according to estimates by the International Organization for Migration (IOM, or OIM in French). In July about 1.5 million people were living in 1,555 camps in the metropolitan area, the IOM reported; the number of camps has come down to 1,061.
But a survey of 1,033 heads of households found that the people who left the camps haven’t necessarily found better shelter: about 50% are still living in inadequate housing. Most are staying in tents in their old neighborhoods, while some are staying with relatives or friends. Others have gone back to their damaged homes, despite the risks involved. An IOM report found that while some people moved out of the camps because they managed to get transitional housing, many left because of forced expulsions, the deterioration of sanitary conditions, the high rate of crime in the camps or the reduction of services there.
Most of the organizations responsible for managing the camps expect to withdraw between April and June, just as the rainy season is starting, due to lack of funds. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 3/24/11) Adding to the problems for Port-au-Prince residents, access to drinking water has become more difficult, the National Potable Water and Sanitation Directorate (DINEPA) reported on Mar. 22, World Water Day. (Radio Métropole (Haiti) 3/25/11) Haiti continues to suffer from a cholera epidemic that began last October; access to clean drinking water is crucial to preventing the spread of the disease.
The nongovernmental Haitian Platform Advocating an Alternative Development (PAPDA) reports that only 30% of the $5 billion that various donor nations promised for 2010 has arrived in the country. The promises of financial aid were made to reinforce control by certain countries and international institutions and to define policies in Haiti, according to PAPDA’s analysis. “It’s clear: nothing has gone forward,” the groups says. “Because of the crisis of capitalism, it’s utopian to believe that they are going to unblock $11 billion to carry out reconstruction…. There is no way this can happen.” PAPDA and other groups are planning a conference on April 28 and 29--entitled ”What Financing for What Reconstruction?”—bringing together national and international experts to develop proposals for internal mechanisms capable of mobilizing internal resources for reconstruction, according to PAPDA program director Ricot Jean Pierre. (AlterPresse 3/25/11)
Correction: The title of the April conference has been corrected.
*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti
Wikileaks Cables of Interest on Latin America, March 14-20, 2011
Obama says Latin America ready for new challenges
Obama in Latin America: Brazilian Ethanol, Washington Bombs and Venezuelan Nukes
Obama Praises Latin American Growth and Dynamism During Speech In Chile
US signs nuclear development deal with Chile —amid Fukushima disaster
Brazil: Libya Attack Sours Obama-Rousseff Meeting
Bolivia After the Storm
Bolivia: Cochabamba Still Thirsty
Peru national first to be arrested under new UK genocide law
100th anniversary of Casement report on Amazon genocide noted (Peru)
Paras torch land returned to Afro-Colombians
Venezuela "keeps the heat on" in The Bronx
Obama Pledges Drug-Fighting Assistance to El Salavdor; Ends Latin American Visit Early
Obama in El Salvador
CODEMUH: Women's Resistance in Honduras
Biofuels, Mass Evictions and Violence Build on the Legacy of the 1978 Panzos Massacre in Guatemala
Solidarity and Rebellion in Chiapas: Reviewing Zapatista Spring
High Noon in Ciudad Juárez?
Mexican Media Outlets Set Drug War Reporting Guidelines: Calderón Praises Effort
Mexican Women Activists at Risk After Fleeing Death Threats
Cuba Releases Last 2 Dissidents From Group Of 75
'Killing Democracy' in Haiti, Canadian-Style
Former President Aristide on His Party’s Exclusion from Haiti’s Election
Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return: homecoming or comeback?
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011
WNU #1073: Mexican Drug War Displaces 230,000
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Correction: The item on the Mexican "drug war" mistakenly referred to the ATF as part of the Treasury Department. The ATF was transferred under the Homeland Security bill from the Treasury Department to the Justice Department on Jan. 24, 2003, according to the bureau's website.
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