Tuesday, June 14, 2011

WNU #1083: Mapuche Prisoners End Fast in Chile

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1083, June 12, 2011

1. Chile: Mapuche Prisoners End Fast, Form Commission
2. Honduras: Three Campesinos Killed, More Trouble for Landowner?
3. Mexico: US Admits It's the Source for Drug Gang Arms
4. Haiti: Cables Show US Role in 2009 Wage Struggle
5. Haiti: The Displaced Demonstrate for Housing, Again
6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, 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. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com . It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/

*1. Chile: Mapuche Prisoners End Fast, Form Commission
On June 9 four Mapuche activists imprisoned in Chile’s central Araucanía region decided to end a liquids-only hunger strike they started on Mar. 15 to protest their convictions in what they considered an unfair trial [see Update #1081]. The prisoners--José Huenuche Reimán, Jonathan Huillical Méndez, Héctor Llaitul Carillanca and Ramón Llanquileo Pilquimán—stopped the fast after relatives, human rights organizations and members of the Catholic church made an agreement to form a Commission for the Defense of the Rights of the Mapuche People to promote and defend indigenous rights.

The four activists were tried along with 13 others for “terrorism” in a case relating to a fire and an attack on a prosecutor. All were acquitted of the “terrorism” charge—which was based on a law passed during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990)—but the four hunger strikers were convicted of common crimes. The Supreme Court of Justice issued a decision on June 3 reducing their sentences: Llaitul’s sentence was lowered from 25 to 14 years in prison, while the prison terms for the other three were lowered from 20 to eight years. But the activists insisted on continuing their struggle to have a fair trial without the use of the “antiterrorism” law.

The new commission includes Concepción archbishop Fernando Chomalí and auxiliary bishop Pedro Ossandon; Lorena Fríes, director of the National Human Rights Institute; Amerigo Incalcaterra, South America representative for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; José Fernando Díaz, from the National Indigenous Pastoral Commission (southern zone); Mapuche spokespeople Natividad Llanquileo and Millaray Garrido; and Pamela Matus, a relative of the prisoners. (Adital (Brazil) 6/10/11, some from wire services)

In a talk with the Chilean radio station Radio Cooperativa, Mapuche spokesperson Natividad Llanquileo said that the four activists were “much better” after ending the strike and that a full recovery was expected in week. But she warned that there could be problems in the dialogue with the government, which she said had failed to comply with earlier promises. (La Tercera (Santiago) 6/11/11)

*2. Honduras: Three Campesinos Killed, More Trouble for Landowner?
Campesino organizations from the Lower Aguán Valley in northern Honduras marched in Tegucigalpa on June 9 to protest the killings of Aguán campesinos and to demand that the government act on its promise last year to distribute 3,000 hectares of land to campesino families [see Update #1080]. The Honduras section of the international campesino group Vía Campesina joined in the demonstration, along with the Alliance for Food Sovereignty and Agrarian Reform (SARA) and members of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), the country’s main alliance of social movements. The groups say 39 campesinos have been murdered in the course of a longstanding land dispute in the valley.

In addition to land distribution, the protesters called for the disarming of “security” groups employed by big landowners in the region, the intervention of international human rights organizations in the conflict, and the government’s fulfillment of promises it made on May 22 in Cartagena, Colombia to respect human rights [see Update #1081]. The campesino groups also made “an urgent call to the national and international community and especially to national and international social movements to stand in solidarity with the Aguán and to demand a halt to the campesino bloodbath and the terror.” (Prensa Latina 6/9/11; Vos el Soberano (Honduras) 6/11/11 from Vía Campesina)

The march followed the June 5 murder of three campesinos in the Aguán Valley. According to the European organization FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN), paramilitaries employed by landowners shot José Recinos Aguilar, Joel Santamaría and Genaro Cuesta as they were driving a few meters from the San Esteban cooperative, of which they were members. The victims belonged to the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA), one of several campesino groups claiming land in the Aguán valley. The paramilitaries then went to the local offices of the government’s National Agrarian Institute (INA) and shot at campesinos who had taken refuge there the year before. Five people were wounded, including the campesina Doris Pérez Vásquez, who was shot in the abdomen and had to be rushed to a hospital in the city of La Ceiba. (Adital (Brazil) 6/6/11, with information from FIAN, FNRP, Comuna Ataroa and Tiempo (San Pedro Sula))

Pressure has been mounting on the landowners to settle the land dispute. An initiative has been introduced in the National Congress to expropriate 14 estates belonging to the main landowners in the valley—Honduran business owner Miguel Facussé Barjum, René Morales Carazo and Reinaldo Canales—and distribute them to the campesinos.

Facussé, who owns seven of the estates, has been campaigning vigorously to improve his image, taking out newspaper ads and bringing unsuccessful defamation suits against such critics as Santa Rosa de Copán archbishop Luis Alfonso Santos and Andrés Pavón, president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (Codeh). On June 10, however, Facussé announced that he would sell four of his estates to the government at the government’s asking price, but he said he planned to retain one, the Marañones farm, for employees who were losing their jobs because of the sale, and wanted to keep two others for himself, the Lempira and La Concepción farms.

The Honduras Culture and Politics, a US-based blog, suggests that Facussé is now willing to compromise because of international campaigns charging that he is responsible for the deaths of as many as 14 campesinos. The allegations have already cost his Grupo Dinant company investment from two major European companies [see Update #1077]. Facussé “knows he has lost control of the message internationally, and probably nationally as well,” the blog concludes. (Honduras Culture and Politics 6/11/11; Prensa Latina 6/9/11; La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 6/10/11)

Although the courts have dismissed Facussé’s suit against Archbishop Santos, the archbishop made a partial apology on May 30 for identifying Facussé as an Arab rather than a Honduran. The Facussé family is one of a number of families that emigrated from Palestine and settled in Honduras several generations ago. Vía Campesina also gratuitously referred to Facussé’s Middle Eastern origin in its report on the June 9 march in Tegucigalpa; it appears not to have apologized. (Tiempo 5/31/11; Vos el Soberano (Honduras) 6/11/11 from Vía Campesina)

*3. Mexico: US Admits It's the Source for Drug Gang Arms
Statistics given to US senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) confirm claims that a high percentage of the illegal firearms in Mexico are smuggled from the US, although less than the 90% sometimes claimed in the past. The availability of illegal weapons in Mexico is a major factor in the more than 35,000 drug-related deaths in the country since President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa began militarizing the fight against drug cartels in December 2006.

The Mexican government submitted 29,284 illegal guns to the ATF for tracing in 2009 and 2010. The bureau determined that 15,131 of the weapons were manufactured in the US and that 5,373 were imported to the US before ending up in Mexico, so that a total of 70% of the guns that were traced came from the US. The origins of the other weapons couldn't be determined. Mexico didn’t submit all the illegal weapons it seized, and it is unclear how many other illegal weapons were seized.

Mexico has strict regulations on gun sales, and most legal sales are processed through one store on a military base near Mexico City, while many states in the US have few restrictions, making it relatively easy to purchase guns legally in the US and then smuggle them to drug gangs in Mexico. Apparently there are also weapons that have gotten to the drug cartels because of a bungled operation by the ATF itself [see Update #1073]. Five arms found in a weapons cache in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, in April may be connected to Operation Fast and Furious, in which the ATF allowed guns to “walk” in order to trace the activities of US gun smugglers in the US Southwest.

The US arms industry disputes the ATF’s statistics. “I think all these numbers are phonied up for politics,” National Rifle Association (NRA) executive vice president Wayne LaPierre told the Wall Street Journal. But Dennis Henigan, vice president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said the numbers show “[i]t's beyond time for the United States to strengthen its gun laws and shut down the trafficking.” (WSJ 6/10/11)

Mexican government statistics indicate that the number of youths involved in drug gang activity has been increasing since 2006. The government reports that from December 2006 to January 2010 gang members executed 30,913 people and that 26.7% of them were 16-30 years old. Most of the executions took place in wars between rival drug cartels, so it is assumed that the victims were largely gang members themselves. What is striking is that the percentage of younger people in the gangs seems to be growing rapidly, based on the executions. In the northern state of Chihuahua, which has been especially hard hit by the drug wars, the executions of people between 15 and 30 represented 2.1% of the national total in 2008; in 2009 the number rose to 3.6%, and in 2010 it increased again to 5.1%, more than double what it had been two years before.

Josefina Rodríguez, coordinator of the 21st Century Youth association, blames the lack of opportunities for young people in Mexico for the rise in youth participation in the drug gangs. “What can happen is that we’ll have resentful and lost generations that will be very difficult to rescue,” she told the Mexican daily La Jornada. (LJ 6/12/11)

* 4. Haiti: Cables Show US Role in 2009 Wage Struggle
Leaked US diplomatic cables show that “[t]he US embassy in Haiti worked closely with factory owners contracted by Levi’s, Hanes, and Fruit of the Loom to aggressively block a paltry minimum wage increase for Haitian assembly zone workers” in 2009, according to an article in the New York and Haiti-based weekly newspaper Haïti Liberté. The article, published jointly with the US weekly magazine The Nation, is based on some of the 1,918 previously unpublished cables concerning Haiti that the WikiLeaks group has released to Haïti Liberté [see Update #1082].

In 2009 the Haitian Parliament attempted to raise the daily minimum wage from about $1.75 to about $5. Many of the owners of assembly plants, which produce largely for North American apparel retailers, pressured then-president René Préval (1996-2001 and 2006-2011) to oppose the increase. Despite militant demonstrations by students and factory workers, Préval eventually won approval for a two-tier system with a minimum wage of about $3 a day for assembly plant employees but $5 a day for other workers. (However, the minimum wage for assembly workers was increased to about $5 a day in October 2010, while in all other sectors it rose to $6.25, according to Haïti Liberté.)

Correction: The increases in the minimum wage are to take effect in October 2012; see Update #1045.

Although the US stayed behind the scenes, the cables show then-US ambassador Janet Sanderson calling for a “more visible and active engagement by Préval” and warning about the risk of “the political environment spiraling out of control.” The $5 a day minimum “did not take economic reality into account,” according to Deputy Chief of Mission David E. Lindwall. Charge d'Affaires Thomas C. Tighe cited studies supposedly showing that a $5 minimum wage “would make the [assembly] sector economically unviable and consequently force factories to shut down.”

Tighe apparently was also monitoring demonstrations by supporters of the wage increase. On Aug. 10 he was at a protest by Port-au-Prince factory workers during which his car was attacked. [At the time an embassy spokesperson called Tighe’s presence at the protest coincidental and said he was not a target of the protesters; see Update #1001]. (HL 5/25/11-5/30/11)

The cables also show the US government’s concern about the Haitian electoral council’s decision to exclude the Lavalas Family (FL) party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004) from legislative elections originally scheduled for February 2010. (The vote was delayed by the January 2010 earthquake and was held in November.) The new US ambassador, Kenneth Merten, warned in December 2009 that FL would look “like a martyr and Haitians will believe (correctly) that Préval is manipulating the election.” Other diplomats expressed similar reservations at a Dec. 1, 2009 meeting of European Union and United Nations representatives with ambassadors from Brazil, Canada, Spain and the US. But the diplomats agreed to provide funds for the vote because “the international community has too much invested in Haiti's democracy to walk away from the upcoming elections, despite its [sic] imperfections,” according to a US cable. (HL 5/25/11-5/30/11)

The cables also show a little-reported relationship between the US embassy and at least some FL politicians. A confidential Feb. 7, 2008 cable, for instance, is devoted to a discussion Ambassador Sanderson had with Rudy Hériveaux, an FL senator representing the West department, which includes Port-au-Prince. Hériveaux “told the ambassador he supports President Preval and his efforts for the political stabilization of Haiti, wants to attract foreign investment… [and] will try to keep planned Lavalas anti-government protests within bounds,” according to the cable. Sanderson noted that the senator’s views are “not widely shared by party grassroots.”

US diplomats also seemed to be on friendly terms with Saurel (sometimes spelled “Sorel”) François, the FL legislative deputy representing eastern Port-au-Prince. A confidential June 5, 2009 cable about student demonstrations for the new minimum wage includes François’ opinion that “the student protesters were apparently being ‘pushed’ by an outside force. He said the protesters’ ever-changing demands concealed a more radical agenda, and he had heard that the students planned to go ‘very far’ to push their demands.” François voted against raising the minimum wage, according to a confidential June 10, 2009 cable.

After FL was forced off the ballot, Hériveaux switched to the Together We Are Strong party and François ran on the ticket of Préval’s Unity party. Neither won reelection. (Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 11/30/09; Radio Métropole (Haiti) 6/7/10)

*5. Haiti: The Displaced Demonstrate for Housing, Again
A group of Haitians left homeless by a January 2010 earthquake demonstrated in Port-au-Prince on June 10 to demand action on the housing situation and an end to forced evictions from the displaced persons camps. “We’ve had enough of living in tents, we want decent housing” was one of the slogans. The protest followed violent evictions from camps in the Delmas section of Port-au-Prince carried out on May 23 and May 25 by Delmas municipal authorities and agents of the National Police of Haiti (PNH) [see Update #1081].

The protesters read a letter calling for Parliament to enact a program and a budget for the creation of new housing. Signed by representatives of more than 70 camps, the letter noted that evictions of displaced persons violate Article 22 of the 1987 Constitution, which requires the government to assure respect for each person’s right to housing. “The forced expulsions fit in with a broad plan being implemented by the current administration” of rightwing president Michel Martelly, said Sanon Reyneld, who is a member of the Force for Reflection and Action on Housing (FRAKKA), an alliance of grassroots organizations and committees from the camps. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 6/10/11; Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 6/10/11)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, Puerto Rico

Brazil Without Poverty? Dilma’s Double Discourse

Peru’s Humala Visits Brazil To Meet With Rousseff; Looks To Distance Himself From Chávez

Hope in the Andes: What Ollanta Humala’s Victory Means for Peru

WikiLeaks cables: The great equaliser in Peru

Peru: Puno protests resumed, government prepares dialogue

Ecuador cracks down on illegal gold mines, wants higher royalties from majors

The History of the Quimbo in Colombia: Dammed or Damned?

Afro-Colombian community leader assassinated in Medellín

Obama Pressed To Submit Free Trade Agreements With Colombia and Panama For Vote

Venezuelan Peasant Organisations March to Demand Justice for Murders

How to Avoid Extrajudicial Execution in Honduras: Throw Popcorn at Police

A Civics Lesson (Mexico, Hank Rhon)

Mexico: narco-tank factory busted in Tamaulipas

Mexican Community Uses Barricades to Drive Out Organized Crime and Political Parties

Javier Sicilia: ‘The United States Imposed This War on Us, It Should Change the Strategy”

In Bloody Durango, Civilian and Police Families Unite to Protest Drug War

Peace Caravan Encounters Massacres, Military Abuses and Disappearances in Torreón

Mexico Peace Caravan’s Long Road Ends (Begins) With Pact Signed in Juárez

Mexican "peace caravan" arrives at US border

Impasse? What’s blocking the capital’s reconstruction? (Haiti)

While the heroes are watching (Haiti)

Recent University of Puerto Rico Protests Raises Critique of Colonization

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1 comment:

Weekly News Update on the Americas said...

Wikileaks has changed the link for the June 10, 2009 cable cited in item #4. The new link is: