Monday, July 11, 2011

WNU #1087: Haitian Farmers Lose Land to Sweatshop Zone

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1087, July 10, 2011

1. Haiti: Fertile Land Seized for New Sweatshop Zone
2. Guatemala: Government Ordered to Aid Evicted Campesinos
3. Colombia: Campesinos Massacred in Nariño
4. Mexico: Widow of 1970s Rebel Murdered
5. Mexico: US Gun Scandal Widens to Include FBI, DEA
6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, 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 It is archived at

*1. Haiti: Fertile Land Seized for New Sweatshop Zone
Residents of Caracol, a village in Haiti’s Northeast department, say they were never consulted or even warned about plans to build a huge new “free trade zone” (FTZ, a complex of assembly plants) on land where many of them have been farming for some 20 years. “It’s the most fertile area we have at Caracol,” resident Renel Pierre told journalist Sylvestre Fils Dorcilus. “It’s inconceivable and unacceptable that the government could choose this part of the land to set up an industrial park.”

The Parc industriel du Nord (Northern Industrial Park, PIN) is a joint project of the US government, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB, or BID in French and Spanish) and South Korea’s leading apparel manufacturer, Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd. Together, they are putting some $300 million into the FTZ, which promoters claim will generate 20,000 jobs in the short term and 65,000 jobs over time. The Haitian government provided the land, which it says is state property; the administration of former president René Préval (1996-2001 and 2006-2011) promised to compensate the peasants who have been using it [see Update #1074].

“The government has no respect for us,” Robert Etienne, a local farmer said to Dorcilus, whose three-part series on the project was produced with backing from the UK-based Haiti Support Group and was published by the online Haitian news service AlterPresse. “It was only one fine morning at the beginning of January--when a team of technicians came to explore the area--that we were told about the project.” The technicians used heavy equipment to remove everything in their way, including crops and part of a church that a pastor, Arnold Baptiste, built there 10 years earlier.

“Imagine for a moment the wrongs done to peasant farmers who are getting ready to harvest their crops or who had just finished sowing.” Etienne said.

Some of the farmers have formed the Association for the Defense of Caracol Workers’ Rights (ADTC) to demand compensation and new land from the government. They indicate that they don’t trust the government’s promises, remembering that peasants in Ouanaminthe, on the Dominican border 45 km southeast of Caracol, reportedly were never compensated for land used to build the Compagnie de Développement Industriel S.A. (Codevi) FTZ there, which opened in 2003. (AlterPresse 7/4/11)

Other Caracol residents are optimistic about the FTZ. A young woman identified as “Yole” told Dorcilus that unemployment was at “a high point” in the department, as in the rest of the country. “Sure, working conditions for employees in the industries are alarming, but I think the industrial park will help young people a lot on the economic level,” she said.

In a study submitted to Haiti’s Economy and Finance Ministry (MEF), the Boston-based consulting firm KOIOS Associates LLC notes environmental problems with the project, such as air pollution, residual waste and the heavy use of water resources by the plants. But many of these negative effects could be attenuated “[i]f a sufficient proportion of additional tax revenues [expected from the FTZ] were dedicated to the development and improvement of the region’s social and physical infrastructures,” according to the report. (AlterPresse 7/6/11)

The new FTZ is clearly a priority for the US government. In early June Cheryl Mills, chief of staff for US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, paid her second visit to the site, accompanied by a high-level delegation that included US ambassador Kenneth Merten, US Agency for International Development (USAID) deputy mission director Anthony Chan and Mark D’Sa, an executive from the US retailer GAP who is “on loan” to the State Department. (Haïti Libre (Haiti) 6/15/11)

According to Koios Associates, Oxford University economist Paul Collier, who wrote a United Nations “development plan” for Haiti in 2009, calls the project “development as it should be done.” “This will be a match that strikes a fire and gets things going,” former US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001) predicts. (Koios Associates website, accessed 7/10/11)

*2. Guatemala: Government Ordered to Aid Evicted Campesinos
As of July 5 the Guatemalan government had still failed to comply with instructions from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) to help more than 600 campesino families that had been evicted from land in the Polochic Valley in the northeastern department of Alta Verapaz. The IACHR, the human rights arm of the Organization of American States (OAS), gave the government 15 days to carry out “precautionary measures” (medidas cautelares) to guarantee the life and physical integrity of the displaced campesinos, to ensure that they had food and shelter, and to report on investigations into the violence that accompanied the evictions.

The campesinos were removed in a series of raids from Mar. 14 to Mar. 20. Some 2,000 soldiers and national police agents, joined by private security guards, evicted the approximately 3,000 members of 14 Q’eqchi’ Maya communities from lands in Panzós municipality claimed by Ingenio Chabil Utzaj S.A., an agribusiness firm owned by the Widmann family [see World War 4 Report 4/10/11]. The security forces destroyed the campesinos’ homes and belongings and some 1,400 hectares of crops, according to the Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC), which said the families had been living and working on the land for 30 years. Campesino Antonio Beb Ac was killed during the main operation on Mar. 15, and 12 people were injured, including a 18-month-old girl who suffered third-degree burns on her arms from a tear gas grenade.

The evictions were the subject of a television documentary by Kinowo Media and the independent Guatemalan film collective Caracol Producciones, posted at

Violence continued after the evictions. Campesino Oscar Reyes was killed and three others were injured on May 21 while they were tending crops in the Tzamilá cooperative. The communities charged that Chabil Utzaj security guards killed Reyes. Margarita Chub Che was shot dead in front of her husband and two small children on June 4; she had participated in the Council of Polochic Communities and was said to be a beloved and respected leader. The private guards have reportedly been harassing the evicted families, who are living without adequate food or shelter now that their homes and crops have been destroyed.

“They’re killing and capturing us like in the year 1982,” one campesino said during the evictions in March, referring to the military attacks on indigenous communities that caused most of the estimated 200,000 deaths during Guaemala's 30-year armed conflict. (Prensa Libre (Guatemala) 6/13/11, 7/6/11; Adital (Brazil) 7/7/11; Amnesty International 6/1/11)

The Widmann family, which owns the Guadalupe sugar mill, decided to move its operations to the Polochic Valley in 2005, with the assistance of a loan of more than $20 million from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE). On Apr. 5, following the March evictions, the BCIE announced a restructuring of the loan, which is now $28.5 million. Another 150 million quetzales (about $19.3 million) is expected to come from an investment by Guatemala Sugar State Corp, which is owned by Grupo Pellas, a Nicaraguan company and one of the principal sugar and ethanol producers in Central America. The Widmann family claims that the Chabil Utzaj plantation will generate 500 permanent jobs and 1,500 temporary jobs. (El Periódico (Guatemala) 4/6/11)

*3. Colombia: Campesinos Massacred in Nariño
On June 25, a group of 10 to 12 heavily armed hooded men wearing camouflage clothing and traveling in a red sport utility vehicle fired their weapons indiscriminately at the “Discovery Villanueva” disco and pool hall in the center of Villanueva, a village in Colón Génova municipality in the southern Colombian department of Nariño. Eight campesinos were killed in the attack: Celso López, Sandro López, Horacio Gómez, Luis Gil, Libio Noguera, Luis Arcos, Plinio Noguera and 15-year-old Albey Gaviria. Four other campesinos were wounded. (Agencia Prensa Rural  6/28/11 from Comité de Integración del Macizo Colombiano (CIMA); Noticias Terra 6/26/11 from AFP)

The victims were all campesinos who earned a living cultivating coffee. (El Tiempo (Colombia) 7/4/11)

Paramilitary groups from the “Bloque Calima” have been in Villanueva since 2002, when they established the village as an important base for their actions in the surrounding area. The paramilitaries have since carried out forced displacement, forced disappearances, and selective murders of residents in the municipalities of Colón Génova, San Pablo, La Unión, La Cruz, San Bernardo and Belén, all in the eastern area of Nariño, and in neighboring Florencia municipality in Cauca department. After the paramilitaries were officially “demobilized” in 2006, the same groups reappeared with the names “Nueva Generación” (New Generation) and “Los Rastrojos.”

The latest massacre came just over a week after community members and activists from the region took part in a “First Forum on Mining and Water” in Colón Génova on June 17. Participants in the forum reported that multinational corporations have been pressuring local communities to allow the exploitation of mineral resources in the area, including gold, silver and copper. (Agencia Prensa Rural  6/28/11 from Comité de Integración del Macizo Colombiano (CIMA))

Nariño governor Antonio Navarro Wolff, himself a former leader of the demobilized M-19 leftist rebel movement, said the massacre was a surprise because “there was no information about illegal armed groups in this zone.” (El Colombiano (Colombia) 6/28/11)

Nariño Secretary of Government Fabio Trujillo said the massacre may have been carried out by common criminals, but that initial investigations suggest the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group was responsible. According to Trujillo, one theory is that the massacre was in revenge for the killing of an ELN informant a week earlier. (El Universal (Cartagena) 6/29/11 from Colprensa-El Colombiano; El Tiempo 7/4/11)

*4. Mexico: Widow of 1970s Rebel Murdered
Two armed men gunned down Mexican activists Isabel Ayala Nava and her sister, Reyna Ayala Nava, in the early afternoon of July 3 as they were leaving a church in Xaltianguis, a village in Acapulco municipality in the southern state of Guerrero. The killers took the women’s cell phones, and later in the day Isabel Ayala’s daughter, Micaela Cabañas Ayala, received a threatening call made from her mother’s phone.

As a teenager Isabel Ayala was a member of the rebel Party of the Poor (PdlP) and was married to its legendary leader, the former school teacher Lucio Cabañas Barrientos, who died during a military assault at the end of 1974. Ayala and the couple’s baby daughter Micaela were captured in 1974 and were taken to Military Camp No. 1, where Ayala was tortured. She was released in 1976. After living outside Mexico for many years, she returned to the country in 2008 and was active in two groups, United Lefts of the South and the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Guerrero. She worked to expose crimes committed in the “dirty war” against leftists in the 1960s and 1970s and supported her daughter’s activism in the Born in the Tempest Civil Association. Two of Ayala’s brothers were reportedly murdered earlier this year. (La Jornada (Mexico) 7/3/11; Comité Cerezo urgent action 7/4/11)

On July 7 a number of human rights organizations based in Guerrero demanded protection by the authorities for Micaela Cabañas and a thorough investigation of the July 3 murder. The groups suggested that the killings were “a political crime connected to [the sisters’] activism in defense of human rights and the clarification of crimes against humanity during the so-called ‘dirty war.’” The current president of the state legislature, Deputy Faustino Soto Ramos from the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), noted that the murders came as the legislature was analyzing proposals for a truth commission to investigate crimes committed in the counterinsurgency. (La Jornada de Guerrero 7/8/11; Proceso (Mexico) 7/6/11)

Correction: The item originally referred to Guerrero as "western" rather than "southern."

*5. Mexico: US Gun Scandal Widens to Include FBI, DEA
Some “gun trafficking ‘higher-ups’” who supply weapons to Mexican drug cartels may have been “paid as informants” by US government agencies, according to a letter two ranking US Congress members sent US attorney general Eric Holder on July 5. “The evidence we have gathered,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) wrote, “raises the disturbing possibility that the Justice Department”--which Holder heads—“not only allowed criminals to smuggle weapons but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in such activities.”

The “other agencies” may include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the letter said.

The new information came from a congressional investigation into 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 [see Update #1073]. During interviews over the July 4th holiday weekend with staff from the congressional committee probing the operation, acting ATF director Kenneth E. Melson revealed that his agency had been kept “in the dark about certain activities of other agencies, including DEA and FBI,” Issa and Grassley’s letter said, and this tended to corroborate what the committee staff had learned “from other witnesses” suggesting that the agencies might have arms traffickers on their payroll as informants.

At least one alleged Mexican drug trafficker is already trying to build a legal defense around a claim that he was an informant for the US government. Jesús Vicente Zambada Niebla, said to be a major figure in the Sinaloa drug cartel, was arrested in Mexico in March 2009 and was extradited to the US last February to face charges related to drug trafficking. On Mar. 15 Zambada Niebla’s attorneys filed a notice in federal court in Chicago claiming that since 2004 he had been working “on behalf of” the DEA, the FBI and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

As many as 40,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related violence over the past five years, and a high percentage of the weapons used come from areas in the US with lax gun laws [see Update #1083]. On July 6 Mexican federal police released a videotaped interrogation of Jesús Rejón Aguilar, allegedly a founder of Mexico’s Zetas gang. “[A]ll the weapons are bought in the United States,” he told the police. “[E]ven the American government itself was selling the weapons… Whatever you want, you can get.” (San Francisco Chronicle 7/7/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 7/7/11; NarcoNews 7/10/11)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

To Live with Dignity is to Build a New World (Argentina)

Unequal Education System Under Fire in Chile

Bolivia withdraws from UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs

Kichwa community takes Ecuador to Inter-American Court of Human Rights over oil contract

"Dead" FARC leader sentenced to 22 years in absentia (Colombia)

Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines Explores Colombia’s Gold Rush

Colombia: indigenous communities condemn FARC attacks in Cauca

President Chavez Returns to Venezuela after Treatment in Cuba

Cable Reveals Corruption & Mistreatment Of Cuban Doctors Working In Venezuela

El Salvador: Funes Opposes Mining, But Legal Ban Uncertain

El Salvador: Body of Young Anti-Mining Activist Exhumed from Common Grave

Urgent Action! Anti-mining Activists Detained in Honduras

Honduras' Very Own War on Terror

From Cartagena to Tegucigalpa: Imperialism and the Future of the Honduran Resistance

Honduras Truth Commission: Yes, it was a coup

Photo Essay - March for Remembrance 2011 in Guatemala: Genocide, the People will Judge You

Argentine folksinger Facundo Cabral assassinated in Guatemala

The PRI Strikes Back (Mexico)

Mexico state elections marred by floods, army operations

Cherán: Community Self Defense in Mexico’s Drug War (Photo Essay)

How We Helped Pave Haiti's Road to Cholera Hell

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Our weekly Immigration News Briefs has ended publication; for news, information and announcements in support of action for immigrant rights in the United States, subscribe to Immigrant Action at:
You can also visit the Immigrant Action blog at:

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

No comments: