Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1086, July 3, 2011
1. Colombia: Paramilitaries Kill Five in Zenú Community
2. Chile: Education Protests Continue to Grow
3. Mexico: New Mass Kidnapping of Immigrants Reported
4. Latin America: Pride Marches Focus on Marriage, Violence
5. Haiti: Activists Tell UN to Pay for Cholera Epidemic
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/
*1. Colombia: Paramilitaries Kill Five in Zenú Community
On June 30, Colombian Ombudsperson (Defensor del Pueblo) Volmar Pérez Ortiz condemned the killings of five Zenú indigenous people in the Lower Cauca region in the northeast of Antioquia department. According to information provided to the Ombudsperson's Office by the Indigenous Organization of Antioquia (OIA), the murders took place June 24-26 in the Zenú communities of La 18 and La Unión-Pato in Zaragoza municipality.
On June 24, presumed paramilitaries murdered 19-year-old Luis Hernández Torres (or Luis Eduardo Hernández Yanes, according to some sources) of the community of La 18. On June 25, presumed members of the same paramilitary group murdered Jorge Mejía Estrada, Zenú vice-governor of La 18, and his sons 17-year-old Steven Alberto Mejía Bedoya and 16-year-old Juan Camilo Mejía Bedoya. On June 26, the body of Lexter Enrique Graciano Pérez, a member of the La Unión-Pato community, was found in the Nechí river; he had disappeared five days earlier.
Ombudsperson Pérez Ortiz urged the relevant government authorities to “take effective measures to prevent the threats of illegal armed groups operating in the Lower Cauca subregion of Antioquia from leading to new violent acts and the forced displacement of the Zenú community.”
Reports from the “Early Alert System (SAT)” coordinated by the Ombudsperson’s Office indicate that illegal armed groups operating in the area of Zaragoza, El Bagre, Nechí and Tarazá municipalities in northeastern Antioquia include “Los Urabeños,” “Los Paisas,” “Los Rastrojos,” “Las Águilas Negras” and “la banda de Sebastián.” These paramilitary groups have been carrying out threats, selective and multiple murders, and forced displacement. According to local indigenous authorities they have also been forcibly recruiting children and adolescents from the indigenous community. (El Tiempo (Bogotá) 7/1/11; Organización Indígena de Antioquia Consejo de Gobierno 6/28/11; Caracol 6/28/11; RCN Noticias Medellín 6/28/11) [Note: the Colombian government and media now commonly refer to paramilitary groups by the acronym "bacrim," short for "bandas criminales" (criminal gangs).]
A June 28 statement from the OIA attributes the killings to the paramilitary group “Los Rastrojos,” and notes that the Colombian armed forces “look impassively and without concern at the bloodletting of our indigenous people.” The OIA said the Colombian military has not yet gone to the area where the killers buried the bodies of Mejía Estrada and his sons, apparently claiming that flooding has prevented them from getting there. (OIA 6/28/11)
Zaragoza mayor Víctor Darío Perlaza denied that the deaths had occurred. Antioquia police commander José Gerardo Acevedo Ossa claimed the murders of the Zenú community members “have been isolated cases by those who are linked to different activities from what they were carrying out.” (El Colombiano (Medellín) 6/29/11)
The latest killings follow the murders of three other Zenú community members on Apr. 8 in La Chilona, 6 km from La 18: Francisco Monterroza Oviedo and the brothers Osneidy Peña Mercado and Zeider Peña Mercado. In May, alleged members of “Los Rastrojos” murdered Jesús María Aguilar, who served as president of the Communal Action Board of the El Campanario community in Cáceres municipality--in the same Lower Cauca region--and was the husband of local indigenous authority Ramona Martínez. (Caracol 6/28/11)
Meanwhile in the pre-dawn hours of June 29 in Yarumal municipality, on the highway linking Medellín with the Lower Cauca region, four rebels from the 36th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) burned a semi truck, a smaller truck and two buses. When the Antioquia Highway Police arrived to investigate the attack, the rebels triggered an explosion that killed highway police commander Maj. Félix Antonio Jaimes Villamil. Four other police officers were wounded. The rebels escaped. (BBC 6/29/11; Minuto30.com 6/30/11; bajocauca.com 6/30/11 from El Meridiano de Córdoba)
*2. Chile: Education Protests Continue to Grow
With chants of “An educated people will never be deceived” and “We want a free, quality education,” tens of thousands of Chilean students, parents and teachers took to the streets on June 30 in the latest protest against the privatized education system set up under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Giorgio Jackson, president of the Federation of Catholic University Students (FEUC), estimated that 200,000 people took part in the demonstration in Santiago, while Federation of University of Chile Students (FECH) president Camila Vallejo put the number at more than 300,000. By most accounts the Santiago protest was twice the size of a June 16 march that local media had called the largest since the return of democracy 21 years ago [see Update #1084].
The Santiago march was only part of the day’s action. Organizers said 200,000 protesters marched in other cities around the education demands; meanwhile, students have occupied some 200 schools and 30 universities over the last three weeks. More and more people from different sectors of Chilean society were joining the movement, FECH president Vallejo said. “Each time we have more support.”
Violence broke out at the end of the Santiago march when groups of youths tried to loot downtown stores. The police used tear gas and water cannons on the crowd. At least 38 protesters were arrested and some 20 police agents were injured, according to the authorities. Protest organizers denied responsibility for the violence. “I feel that a large percentage of these people wearing hoods are infiltrators,” Vallejo had told the Cuban wire service Prensa Latina the day before the demonstration. She noted that Chile had a history of the use of provocateurs.
Rightwing president Sebastián Piñera responded to the protests by saying that “the strikes, the demonstrations are legal, but education isn’t improved with strikes or demonstrations.” (La Tercera (Santiago) 6/30/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 7/1/11 from correspondent; Prensa Latina 6/29/11)
After a July 2 meeting at the University of the Frontier (UFRO) in Temuco, capital of the Araucanía region in central Chile, the approximately 30 organizations in the Chilean Student Confederation (CONFECH) announced plans for another strike and day of protests on July 14. FEUC Jackson noted that the Federation of Mapuche Students had participated in the meeting and that the movement’s demands now included a call for new scholarships and greater enrollment of indigenous students along with respect for cultural differences in the schools. The Mapuche are Chile’s largest indigenous group. (PL 7/3/11)
*3. Mexico: New Mass Kidnapping of Immigrants Reported
At least five Central American immigrants were forcibly removed from a freight train by about 10 armed men wearing hoods on June 24 near the village of Medias Aguas in the east central Mexican state of Veracruz, according to two immigrants who managed to escape. The number of people kidnapped could be as high as 80, according to the well-known immigrant rights activist Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, coordinator of the Brother and Sister Migrants on the Road shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec in the southern state of Oaxaca. Solalinde reported the kidnappings to the authorities after talking to the two witnesses.
Mexican criminal gangs have carried out a number of mass kidnappings of undocumented Central American immigrants as they travel through on their way to the US. A group of 20-50 immigrants were reportedly kidnapped near Chahuites, Oaxaca on Dec. 16, and another group was seized on Dec. 22 [see Update #1062]. A total of 72 immigrants from Central America, Brazil and Ecuador were kidnapped and then massacred last August in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas [see World War 4 Report 8/26/10].
Solalinde said that on the morning of June 24 about 250 immigrants--including Central Americans and Mexicans from the southeastern state of Chiapas—left Ixtepec on a freight train known to immigrants as “The Beast.” Most had stayed at Brother and Sister Migrants on the Road before taking the train. After traveling for 14 hours, the train was stopped by the armed men, who had brought at least three vehicles. The two witnesses said they saw five immigrants being taken away from their side of the train, but they thought that many more may have been seized. The witnesses also believed that the train operators were collaborating with the kidnappers.
State and federal authorities tended to play down the incident. On July 1 federal attorney general Marisela Morales told a reporter: “We still don’t even have the exact number of people. And the act itself hasn’t been confirmed; we just have reports.” But Raúl Plascencia Villanueva, president of the government’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), said he had no doubt that a kidnapping took place. “What’s important,” he added, “is that the authorities, rather than discrediting [victims and human rights defenders] or getting into a war of facts and figures, should show that they are acting, that they are seeking justice for a very vulnerable group.” The CNDH reports receiving some 400 complaints about violations of immigrants’ human rights during the first half of this year. (La Jornada (Mexico) 6/29/11, __, 7/2/11, __ )
Solalinde met with Veracruz governor Javier Duarte de Ochoa on July 1. After the meeting the rights activist said he felt the state government was now showing “more readiness than the federal government to investigate the cases.” He noted that he had shown Duarte de Ochoa, a politician from the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), evidence that former PRI governor Fidel Herrera Beltrán was linked to gangs that prey on immigrants. “Father, I can assure you that Fidel Herrera is Fidel Herrera and I’m me, and I’m going to demonstrate by actions that that’s how it is,” Duarte de Ochoa said, according to Solalinde.
Solalinde also called for closing down the National Migration Institute (INM), which he called “corrupt, obsolete,” and replacing it with a new federal agency. (LJ 7/2/11)
*4. Latin America: Pride Marches Focus on Marriage, Violence
Chileans celebrated LGBT Pride in Santiago on June 25 with a march from the central Plaza Italia to the La Moneda presidential palace. Organizers said 30,000 people joined the march, while the police gave a crowd estimate of 12,000. Participants carried signs with such slogans as: “Marriage and civil union law for all couples” and “Antidiscrimination law for everyone.” The march came one day after New York became the largest state in the US to allow same-sex marriage. Rightwing president Sebastián Piñera announced on May 28 that he would send Congress a proposal for a law to legalize civil unions for the country’s more than two million couples, including same-sex couples, but he insisted that the law wouldn’t permit same-sex marriage. Chilean LGBT activists are pushing for full marriage equality. (AFP 6/25/11 via Terra.com)
Marriage was less of an issue for LGBT activists in Mexico City, where same-sex marriage was legalized in December 2009 [see Update #1018]. The emphasis for thousands of marchers in the city’s 33rd Pride event, held on June 25, was on fighting homophobic crime. Activists noted how much progress they had made over the years. “Never, not in my wildest dreams, did I imagine that there would be so many people in the street” for Pride, actor and activist Tito Vasconcelos said, but now “[w]e’re in a bloodbath. Homophobic hate crimes continue. This march is to demand from the government all that it still owes us.” (La Jornada (Mexico) 6/26/11)
In El Salvador hundreds of activists marched through the capital’s streets on June 25 to demand respect and tolerance in a society they said was dominated by machismo and discrimination based on sexual orientation. But “political and social conditions have been changing,” William Hernández, coordinator of the rights group Entre Amigos (“Among Friends”), told the AFP wire service, and activists have been working on building respect and tolerance in various sectors. (AFP 6/25/11 via Terra.com)
Cubans held their first Pride march on June 28. Outnumbered by reporters, about 10 people carried multicolored banners from Havana’s Paseo del Prado to the Malecón esplanade by the Caribbean. The march was separate from activities that day at the government’s National Sexual Education Center (Cenesex), which is headed by Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban president Raúl Castro. LGBT Observatory, which organized the march, said it invited Marisela Castro to the march. “Once again they missed an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that what they cry out is true, that rights are respected here,” LGBT Observatory director Leannes Imbert said. Imbert blamed the low turnout on intimidation.
Dissident LGBT activists note improvements in the government’s policies toward LGBT people but say there is still discrimination. (EFE 6/28/11 via Terra.com)
On July 2 Lima mayor Susana Villarán led Peruvians in the capital’s 10th Pride march, from the Campo de Marte to Plaza Washington, in front of Casa España de la Cultura. “I accompanied the Gay Pride march as a citizen, I did it also as a candidate, and now as the main authority I’m participating in this parade through the streets of Lima,” said Villarán, who took office six months ago. The AFP wire service said 200 people participated, while the Lima daily La República referred to “thousands of activists.” (AFP 7/2/11 via Terra.com; LR 7/2/11)
*5. Haiti: Activists Tell UN to Pay for Cholera Epidemic
During the last week of June several Haitian social organizations called on the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to pay reparations to the victims of a cholera epidemic that appeared to originate at the international occupation force’s base near Mirebalais in the Central Plateau. Representatives of Haitian Women’s Solidarity (SOFA), the Haitian Platform Advocating an Alternative Development (PAPDA) and other groups said MINUSTAH should pay out to the Haitian people 25% to 30% of its annual operating budget of $853 million. SOFA made similar demands in January [see Update #1062]. The epidemic, which started in October, has killed some 5,500 people to date and sickened about 300,000. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 7/1/11)
The renewed demands came as the US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report on June 28 in one of its journals, Emerging Infectious Diseases, that points to the MINUSTAH base as the likely source of the disease. “Our findings strongly suggest that contamination of the Artibonite [Haiti’s main river] and one of its tributaries downstream from a military camp triggered the epidemic,” wrote a team headed by a leading French cholera expert, Dr. Renaud Piarroux. The report states that the camp had “deficient sanitation,” and it also casts doubt on MINUSTAH’s repeated claims that none of the Nepalese soldiers at the base showed symptoms of cholera. “We…believe that symptomatic cases occurred inside the MINUSTAH camp,” the team wrote. (Emerging Infectious Diseases, July 2011; Reuters 6/30/11) [Piarroux came to similar conclusions in a preliminary report last year; see Update #1060.]
*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti
WikiLeaks Cables of Interest on Latin America, Released June 6-26, 2011
Chile: The Mapuche Struggle in Pinochet's Shadow
Uruguay Removes Block on Investigating Abuses During Military Rule
Peru: Puno protesters suspend strike, call for resurrection of Aymara Nation
Case against Amazon Indian Leader in Peru ‘Closed’
People's Tribunal against the Criminalization of Protest in Ecuador
Large-Scale Mining to Test Rights of Nature in Ecuador
Food Security and the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia
Colombia: 'Impunity' – Keeping the 'Black Hand' Anonymous
Colombia: indigenous leader killed in "false positive" attack
Hugo Chávez Says Doctors Removed Cancerous Tumor; No Word On Return To Venezuela
President Chavez's Address to the Nation, 30 June 2011
The People Legislate: Grassroots Media Movement Creates Its Own Law in Venezuela
Venezuela: government probes media coverage of prison riot repression
Leaked Diplomatic Cable Reveals U.S. Panama Express Rendition Program; Hints At FARC In Panama City
The Different Logics within the Honduran Resistance: An Interview with Bertha Cáceres
Nicaragua: small merchants, farmers block roads to demand debt relief
UN expert warns new El Salvador law harms judicial independence
U.S. Cable Reveals Honduran Resistance Sought Weapons In Nicaragua After 2009 Coup
Love, Struggle and Memory in Ciudad Juárez (Mexico)
Photo Chronicle of Mexico's Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity
“Trying to Combat Drugs with Violence is Turning Mexico into a Graveyard”: Julian LeBaron
Conversation in the Castle: The Victims Meet the President (Mexico)
‘Now Is the Time’: Ramsey Clark on Cuba and Lucius Walker (NACLA Radio)
Haiti 1994: The Forgotten Intervention
Why Haiti Needs a Literacy Campaign
Monsanto in Haiti
For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:
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Monday, July 4, 2011
WNU #1086: Paramilitaries Kill Five Indigenous Colombians
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More information from World War 4 Report: Mass graves of abducted migrants were also discovered earlier this year in Tamaulipas and Durango states.
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