Tuesday, August 30, 2011

WNU #1094: Killings Continue in Honduras’ Aguán Valley

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1094, August 28, 2011

1. Honduras: Killings Continue as Aguán Becomes “New Colombia”
2. Chile: General Strike Adds to Pressure on the Government
3. Nicaragua: Dole Settles Pesticide Case With 4,000 Ex-Employees
4. Haiti: Genome Study Confirms UN Troops Brought Cholera
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, 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 weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com

*1. Honduras: Killings Continue as Aguán Becomes “New Colombia”
Honduran campesino leader Pedro Salgado and his wife, Reina Mejía, were murdered on the evening of Aug. 21 at their home in the La Concepción cooperative, in Tocoa municipality in the northern department of Colón. Salgado was the president of the cooperative and a vice president of the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), a leading organization in a decade-old struggle for land in Honduras’ Lower Aguán Valley.

The murders came just one day after the shooting death of Secundino Ruiz, who is president of the nearby San Isidro cooperative and of another campesino organization, the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA)  [see Update #1093]. Both MUCA and MARCA won land for their members under an agreement they signed with Honduran president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa in April 2010 [see Update #1029]. The killing of Salgado and Mejía brought the number of people killed in the Lower Aguán in two weeks to 14 or more, including Ruiz, six private guards (previously reported as five), four people working for a Pepsi distributor and a food vendor riding with them. (Comité de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras 8/21/11 via Vos el Soberano (Honduras); FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN) 8/22/11 via Adital (Brazil))

Campesino groups trace the Aguán struggle back to the 1992 Agricultural Modernization Law, which changed restrictions on the size of land holdings to allow businesses to own more than 300 hectares. Campesinos feel that land which should have been theirs through agrarian reform has gone to big businesses like Grupo Dinant, a food product and cooking oil company founded by Miguel Facussé Barjum. There are 40,000 campesinos living “in extreme poverty” in the valley “who need a piece of land to farm,” MUCA general secretary Johnny Rivas told the Spanish wire service EFE. Groups like MUCA started forming about 11 years ago and have relied on a strategy of peaceful occupations of large estates—although Rivas didn’t discount the possibility that some sectors of the campesino movement might have arms.

African oil palms have replaced bananas as the main commercial crop in the valley, and tensions increased as landowners like Facussé saw the potential for the palms in the biofuel business, which could attract carbon credits and international financing [see Update #1077]. To maintain their estates, the landowners have hired private guards and supplied them with arms. Campesino groups consider the guards paramilitaries and blame them for most of the 51 killings of campesinos that they say have taken place in the past two years. Meanwhile, narco traffickers and other criminals have reportedly moved into the area.

President Lobo’s government has negotiated some land transfers under the agrarian reform policy, but the government’s main response to the violence in the Aguán has been to send in soldiers and police agents. There are now about 1,000 police and military personnel stationed in the valley in an operation codenamed Xatruch II, but the violence continues. Juan Almendárez, a former rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras who has mediated in talks between campesino groups and the government, told EFE that the military and police presence isn’t meant to maintain order but “to weaken the campesino leadership.” He adds that the authorities can’t control the narco traffickers “because of inability” and because the security forces themselves are corrupt. The only way to resolve the valley’s problems is “by giving land to the campesinos, along with credits and technical assistance so that they can cultivate the land.”

With soldiers, paramilitaries and drug traffickers now operating in the valley, Honduran activists fear the Aguán is becoming a “new Colombia.” The right wing charges that there are also guerrilla groups, allegedly trained by Nicaraguans and Venezuelans; an Aug. 25 article in La Prensa, the Honduran daily with the largest circulation, claimed a man known as “The Commander” was leading a band of at least 300 rebels. Campesino and activist groups, which deny the stories about guerrillas, charge that some of the private guards have been trained by the US and that the landowners have been recruiting paramilitaries from Colombia.

“We’re experiencing an extremely difficult situation in the region,” Wilfredo Paz Zúniga, the local coordinator of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), told Argentine journalist Claudia Korol. He asked her to tell “international human rights organizations [and] friendly international journalists” that “we urgently need the presence of an international commission, even if just for weeks or days… Maybe this way the terrible murders of campesino leaders in the region could be stopped.” (EFE 8/23/11 via Que.es (Spain); La Prensa (Honduras) 8/25/11; Vos el Soberano 8/27/11)

The Boston-based organization Grassroots International has set up a web page at http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5123/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=7981  with a letter on the situation that activists can send to Honduran and US officials.

Secondary students continue to occupy schools around the country to protest what they say is an effort to privatize the public education system. Nahúm Alexander Guerra, a student at the Pompilio Ortega Agricultural School in Macuelizo in the northwestern department of Santa Bárbara, was killed the night of Aug. 22 as he stood by the door of the school, which the students had occupied. An unidentified man yelled “strikers,” and shot the teenager in the chest and in the arm. (El Tiempo (San Pedro Sula) 8/23/11)

*2. Chile: General Strike Adds to Pressure on the Government
Tens of thousands of Chilean workers, students and teachers participated in a 48-hour strike on Aug. 24 and 25 initiated by the Unified Workers Confederation (CUT), the country’s main labor federation, to call “for a different Chile.” The demands included changes to the Labor Code, a reduction in taxes on fuel, and reform of the Constitution, created in 1980 during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The strike also backed the student protest movement that has paralyzed schools for three months to push for a reversal of the Pinochet-era privatization of education [see Update #1092].

Aug. 24, the first day of the strike, was marked by confrontations between the carabinero militarized police and strike supporters, including students attempting to block roads in Santiago and other cities. Police and protesters also clashed in the poorer neighborhoods on the outskirts of the capital. The government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera reported that at least 348 people were arrested during the day and 36 were injured, including 19 police agents. According to the government, the strike call was only respected by 14% of employees in the public sector, where the unions are strongest, while union sources put the number at 80%. In the evening thousands of people took to the streets to bang on pots and pans in a cacerolazo protest to support the strike.

The second day, Aug. 25, brought massive marches throughout the country. Organizers estimated that 250,000 to 300,000 people marched in Santiago, and an equal number took part in the mobilizations in the rest of the country. Jaime Gajardo, president of the Teachers Association of Chile, called the Santiago march “the largest of this year’s mobilizations”—which are generally considered the largest since the restoration of democracy in 1990. But according to Deputy Interior Minister Rodrigo Urbilla, only 50,000 people participated in the Santiago march and a total of 175,000 protested nationwide; the Labor Ministry reported that most public employees were at work, with just 9.1% observing the strike. Despite the disturbances by masked youths that have routinely accompanied recent demonstrations, President Piñera’s spokesperson, Andrés Chadwick, conceded that in general “the [Santiago] march was peaceful and orderly” and “there were no major problems.” The government reported that 153 police agents and 53 civilians were injured nationally and almost 1,400 people were arrested.

There was one fatality: 16-year-old Manuel Gutiérrez Reinoso, who was shot in the Villa Jaime Eyzaguirre neighborhood in Macul, a commune in Greater Santiago. He was walking with his brother and a friend to observe what was happening, according to his brother, when carabineros passed by in a truck and three shots were heard. Other witnesses confirmed this. Manuel Gutiérrez died in a hospital in the early morning of Aug. 26. (La Jornada (Mexico) 8/25/11, 8/26/11, 8/27/11 from correspondent and unidentified wire services; La Tercera (Santiago) 8/27/11)

Students and their supporters were engaged in a number of protests in addition to the general strike. On Aug. 23, the day before the labor action, a group of artists and performers sat in at the Santiago office of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in support of some 35 students who were on hunger strike to push their demands for education reform. Three of them—students at High School A-131 in the city of Buin, in Maipo province, part of Greater Santiago-- had been fasting for 36 days. These three students ended their strike on Aug. 24, along with three others from the same school. “We’re suspending our strike but not our struggle,” one of the strikers, 19-year-old Gloria Negrete, said at a press conference. She was hospitalized after losing some 26 pounds and contracting a respiratory infection. (LJ 8/24/11, 8/25/11)

The president of Brazil’s National Student Union (UNE), Daniel Iliescu, visited Chile to participate in the general strike and also to announce a Continental Day of Struggle by Latin American Youth, a day of protests to be held in March 2012 around public education issues. Camila Vallejo, president of the Federation of University of Chile Students (FECH), was planning to reciprocate by visiting Brazil on Aug. 31 to join a student march in Brasilia (DF) calling for the government there to allocate 10% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to education, along with 50% of the Pre-Salt Social Fund, a special government fund financed by profits from Brazil’s sub-salt oilfields. (Adital (Brazil) 8/25/11)

*3. Nicaragua: Dole Settles Pesticide Case With 4,000 Ex-Employees
Dole Food Company, a California-based agricultural multinational, announced in Managua on Aug. 11 that it had arrived at a settlement with some 5,000 former banana workers who said their health had been damaged by prolonged and unprotected exposure to the pesticides Nemagon and Fumazone, brand names for dibromochloropropane (DBCP). The settlement, arranged with Dole by the Texas-based law firm Provost Umphrey, covers 3,153 Nicaraguans, 780 Costa Ricans and 1,000 Hondurans; the former employees or their survivors—about 300 of the workers have died--should start receiving payment in two or three months. The amount wasn’t disclosed.

The pesticides, now banned, have been linked to cancer, sterility and birth defects. Dole used them on its Central American banana plantations from 1973 to 1980. About 17,000 former banana workers brought suits in Nicaragua against Dole and the pesticides’ manufacturers about 10 years ago. A Nicaraguan court awarded the workers $489.4 million in compensation in 2002, and the workers staged a series of protests to get the Nicaraguan government to enforce the court’s decision. US courts eventually ruled against them [see Updates #672, 732, 734, 826]. The issue was the subject of a 2009 documentary film, “Bananas!”

The Aug. 11 settlement doesn’t cover the 13,874 Nicaraguan workers who are represented by other law firms, and the suits against the manufacturers--Dow Chemical Company, Shell Oil Company, Shell Chemical Company, Shell Chemical Company LLP and Occidental Chemical Corporation—remain open. In making the settlement, Dole admitted no wrongdoing, according to Dole spokesperson Humberto Hurtado. “This is the style of the transnationals, with a dual intention: not to appear as murderers to the public and to protect themselves from future suits,” a representative of the workers, Jacinto Obregón, explained. “But the memo the manufacturer, Dow Chemical Company, put out is clear. They recognized that although the product was toxic, it could be sold in Latin America as long as the profits were greater than the losses from lawsuits.” (El Nuevo Diario (Managua) 8/12/11; AFP 8/12/11 via La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa); La Nación (San José, Costa Rica) 8/12/11, some from AFP)

*4. Haiti: Genome Study Confirms UN Troops Brought Cholera
A comparison that Danish and US researchers have made of the whole genomes of cholera bacteria found in patients in Haiti and in Nepal provides nearly conclusive evidence that Nepalese soldiers in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) were the inadvertent cause of a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 6,000 Haitians. The genomes are “practically identical,” Harvard University microbiologist John Mekalanos told the magazine Science. “This is as close as you can come to molecular proof.”

The first cases of cholera were reported in October 2010 around the city of Mirebalais in Haiti’s Central Plateau. Local people blamed MINUSTAH troops at a base where they said had fecal matter had leaked into a nearby river. The soldiers at the base had recently arrived from Nepal, right after an outbreak of cholera there. On-the-ground research by a French epidemiologist, Dr. Renaud Piarroux, supported the Haitians’ suspicions, as have subsequent studies, but MINUSTAH spokespeople have repeatedly denied that there’s proof of the claim [see Update #1086]. With the new study, which was published on Aug. 23, the United Nations should take full responsibility by paying compensation or by backing a massive effort to stop the epidemic, Piarroux told Science. “More than 6,000 people are dead,” he said. “It's our fault, as the people of the world.” (Science 8/23/11)

The genome report appeared as MINUSTAH troops were being blamed for further unsanitary practices in the Central Plateau. There were reports that human wastes were dumped in the Guayamouc River near Hinche, capital of Center department, on Aug. 6 and in the Ahibon River, near Fort Marmont, 15 km from Hinche, on Aug. 21. MINUSTAH has denied the charges. Dozens of people protested on Aug. 21, shooting guns, throwing stones and blocking National Route 3, which passes through Hinche, for more than an hour. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 8/23/11)

On Aug. 11 an organization in the southern coastal town of Port-Salut, the Research Committee for the Development and Organization of Port-Salut (CREDOP), charged that MINUSTAH troops from Uruguayan were prostituting impoverished underage Haitians at their base. The Uruguayan navy denied the accusations on Aug. 16, saying it had conducted an interrogation of all 108 troops on the base. The Uruguayan contingent is studying the possibility of suing CREDOP for unfounded allegations. (Haiti Press Network 8/11/11; TeleSUR 8/17/11) [MINUSTAH troops from Sri Lanka were repatriated in 2007 because of similar charges; see Update #923.]

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti

UNASUR: South American Alliance Confronts Economic Crisis

Beyond the Drug War: The Pentagon’s Other Operations in Latin America

WikiLeaks Cables of Interest on Latin America, Released July 24 - August 21 2011

Demanding Economic and Educational Reform in Chile

Seeking Social Justice Through Education in Chile

Bolivia: Morales Accuses U.S. Of Inciting Indigenous Protests

Bolivia: TIPNIS Marchers Face Accusations and Negotiations

Bolivia: Morales Clashes with Native Protesters over Road through Tropical Park

Peru passes "historic" indigenous rights law

Native Peruvians More Marginalized Despite Growth

Ecuador: New Oil Policy Threatens Amazonian Peoples

Unions Call for House Committee Investigation of Possible Misuse of U.S. Aid in Colombia

Colombia: Interview with Eberto Diaz Montes, President of FENSUAGRO (United National Federation of Peasant Farmers and Farm Workers)

Colombia beefs up security in Amazon oil zone following FARC attacks

Chávez Says Venezuela Only Recognizes Gaddafi Gov In Libya

The Islamo-Bolivarian Threat (Venezuela)

El Salvador: high court refuses to extradite officers accused in Jesuit Massacre

The Honduran Resistance at the Crossroads: An Interview With Carlos Amaya

Human Rights Caravan Protests Migrant Kidnappings

Sandak Workers Defend Their Jobs, Win the Protection of a Legal Strike

Maquiladora Factories in Mexico Manufacture Toxic Pollutants

Mexico: "terrorists" massacre 50 in blaze at Monterrey's Casino Royale

Nowhere to Turn: Sex Trafficking in Nuevo León, Mexico

Mexico’s Drug War Refugees Rarely Secure Asylum In United States

Abandoned like a stray dog (Haiti)

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