Tuesday, November 29, 2011

WNU #1107: Pentagon Privatizing Mexico’s “Drug War”

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1107, November 27, 2011

1. Mexico: Pentagon Privatizes Controversial “War on Drugs”
2. Latin America: Students Hold First Continental March for Education
3. Latin America: Groups Protest Continued Violence Against Women
4. Links to alternative sources on: South America, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Mexico

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. Mexico: Pentagon Privatizes Controversial “War on Drugs”
A little-known office of the US Defense Department is now taking bids from private security firms on a $3 billion contract for US-funded anti-narcotics operations in Mexico, Colombia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries. According to a report in Wired News, the Pentagon’s Counter Narco-Terrorism Program Office (CNTPO) announced a “mega-contract” on Nov. 9 for as much as $950 million for “operations, logistics and minor construction,” up to $975 million for training foreign forces, $875 million for “Information” tasks, and $240 million for “program and program support.” The cash will start flowing next August, and the contractors may be able to extend the jobs for three more years.

The Mexican daily La Jornada reports that the work involving Mexican operations includes training for armed forces drivers; training for pilots, mechanics and crews on UH-60, Schweizer 333 or OH-58 helicopters in the Public Security Secretariat; training for up to 48 people to command and pilot Bell 206 helicopters; and the development of night vision materials and training programs for helicopter pilots and crews.

The CNTPO started in 1995, but its importance has grown as the Defense Department increasingly turns sensitive jobs over to private contractors. Nick Schwellenbach, director of investigations for the US nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, told Wired that the office is now “essentially planning on outsourcing a global counternarcotics and counterterrorism program over the next several years, and it’s willing to spend billions to do so.” “This stuff isn’t delivering paper clips or even fuel or bullets,” Schellenbach said. “This is something you really want to keep a tight lid on.”

The CNTPO gained some notoriety in 2009 when it unsuccessfully tried to award a contract worth about $1 billion to the Blackwater military services corporation. Blackwater employees have been accused of theft and human rights violations, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan; the company has since changed its name to Xe Services LLC. (Wired News 11/22/11; LJ 11/23/11 from correspondent)

Much of the Mexican population is disillusioned with the country’s “war on drugs,” five years after President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa began involving the military in anti-narcotics operations at the start of his term [see Update #1103]. On Nov. 25 Mexican human rights attorney Netzaí Sandoval filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague charging Calderón, members of his cabinet and members of a drug cartel based in the northern state of Sinaloa with 470 documented cases of murder, torture, forced displacement and military recruitment of minors. These took place in a “generalized context of systematic violence which has brought Mexico to a humanitarian crisis, with more than 50,000 people killed, 230,000 displaced and 10,000 disappeared,” Sandoval told Netherlands Radio Worldwide.

Among the crimes attributed to the government in the complaint are sexual violations by Mexican soldiers, the “enslavement” of undocumented immigrants by officials in collaboration with criminal groups, the killing of civilians at military checkpoints, forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and the use of torture to obtain confessions. The complaint says the Sinaloa Cartel and its head, Joaquín Guzmán (“El Chapo”), have created armies that are guilty of executions, amputations and decapitations, attacks on civilian targets and the military recruitment of minors.

The complaint, which was signed by 23,000 Mexicans, is unlikely to develop into an actual criminal case. But John Ackerman, a legal expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), told La Jornada that the complaint could lead ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo to put Mexico under formal observation, as has happened with Colombia. “If we accomplish this first step, it would be a gain,” he said. (LJ 11/26/11)

*2. Latin America: Students Hold First Continental March for Education
Tens of thousands of students marched in more than a dozen Latin American cities on Nov. 24 in the Latin American March for Education, a coordinated regional demonstration to support free and high-quality public education. The mobilization was planned by Chilean and Colombian students earlier in the month [see Update #1105], but by Nov. 24 it had spread to include actions in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. Participants stressed that students had similar demands throughout the region and were also united in their support for the movement in Chile.

The Nov. 24 march was the 42nd day of mass mobilization for Chilean students, who began protesting last spring against the privatization of the educational system under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). Confrontations between students and the carabineros militarized police broke out in parts of Santiago early on Nov. 24 as youths tried to march without permits in the capital’s downtown area. The local government authorized a march in the evening that drew as many as 40,000 participants, according to some estimates, but the police attacked the marchers with tear gas and water cannons when the permit expired at 8 pm. A total of 58 youths were arrested in the day’s demonstrations; another 30 youths were arrested when the police ended a student occupation at the Darío Salas high school.

Tens of thousands joined the Nov. 24 protests in Colombia’s main cities. Despite a light rain, students marched from at least seven meeting points in Bogotá, monitored by some 2,500 police agents. There were isolated incidents, resulting in 11 arrests. Colombian students had suspended their own month-old strike on Nov. 17 after the government withdrew a proposal for changes to the educational system [see Update #1106], but they marched on Nov. 24 “in solidarity with the student movement in Chile and in all of Latin America,” according to university student Laura Jaramillo. She added that the protest would also remind President Juan Manuel Santos that Colombia’s students remain mobilized. (Inter Press Service 11/25/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 11/25/11 from correspondent, 11/25/11 from PL, AFP, DPA, Notimex)

Some 5,000 Honduran students marched through the streets of Tegucigalpa in a protest led by former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009) and backed by the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), a grassroots coalition that formed after a June 2009 military coup removed Zelaya from office. The Honduran march focused on violence against students, in particular the Oct. 22 murder of two university students, Alejandro Rafael Vargas Castellanos and Carlos David Pineda Rodríguez, apparently by a group of police agents with criminal connections [see Update #1104]. Vargas Castellanos’ mother is Julieta Castellanos, the rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), and she led the UNAH contingent at the march. In the spring of 2010 Julieta Castellanos was the target of a hunger strike by FNRP supporters because of layoffs of teachers at the university [see Update #1033], but now she has become a prominent figure in the movement to purge the police of corrupt agents. (AFP 11/24/11 via La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa))

*3. Latin America: Groups Protest Continued Violence Against Women
Women’s organizations throughout Latin America used the United Nation’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Nov. 25, to highlight continued abuse of women in the region and the failure of governments to take steps to reduce it.

In Chile the women’s rights center Corporación Humanas marked Nov. 25 by publicizing the results of a nationwide poll of women about their perception of their situation. Some 67% of those questioned said they thought the Chilean government had failed to take measures to prevent violence against women. About 54% believed that the violence had increased, 34% said it had stayed the same, and just 8% felt it had decreased. Some 73% said violence against women in couples was a problem that affects all women, because it is an extreme expression of machismo. So far this year there have been 38 femicides (misogynistic murders) in Chile. (Adital (Brazil) 11/25/11)

Hundreds of Salvadoran women marched in San Salvador to denounce the 582 femicides that that have occurred in the country in 2011 and to demand respect for women’s human rights and greater resources for groups working to defend women.

In Honduras more than 200 women marched through the center of Tegucigalpa and in front of the National Congress to demand justice and an end to impunity for those who rape or murder women or commit other violent acts against them. According to Grissel Amaya, the Public Ministry’s special prosecutor for crimes against women, more than 1,500 women were murdered in Honduras from 2008 to 2011. The Public Ministry received more than 20,000 reports of domestic violence during the period and more than 11,000 reports of sexual violence, Amaya told reporters on Nov. 25.

Thousands attended a demonstration in Guatemala City to demand an end to machista violence, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 650 women this year. Participants included university students, indigenous women, professionals and activists. (EFE 11/26/11 via La Opinión (Los Angeles))

In Mexico the Chamber of Deputies of the National Congress marked Nov. 25 with the publication of a book, Feminicidio en México; aproximación, tendencias y cambios 1985-2009, dealing with femicides over a 24-year period. The authors found that there had been 34,176 murders of women during the period and that the rate of these murders had increased by 68%. A total of 17.2% of the victims were under the age of 18.

One of the authors, María de la Paz López, noted in an interview that there had been a jump in murders of women from 2007 to 2009, after Mexico began militarizing the fight against narco-trafficking. She said the available data couldn’t establish a relation between the murders and the “drug war,” but she indicated that the recent climate of violence in Mexico provided an environment that could encourage violence against women. Like other Mexican specialists in the subject, the book’s authors stressed the importance of creating legislation that treats femicide as a separate criminal category [see Update #1084]. (Milenio (Mexico) 11/26/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 11/26/11)

In Haiti the feminist organization Haitian Women’s Solidarity (SOFA) was planning to send a caravan to Lascahobas, in the Central Plateau near the Dominican border, on Nov. 25 to “increase awareness on the part of the local authorities” about violence against women. SOFA spokesperson Olga Benoit said this was part of a long-term campaign to end the practice of accepting attacks on women as normal and downplaying their importance; eventually the group hopes to set up a center for victims of violence in the town. A total of 24,369 cases of violence against women were reported in Haiti from 2002 and 2011, according to figures released on Nov. 25 by the National Dialogue Against Violent Acts Committed Against Women. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 11/25/11, 11/26/11)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: South America, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Mexico

South America: Coming Together to Preserve the La Plata Basin

Argentina Inundated with E-Waste

Brazil: Guarani Leader Slain by Masked Gunmen

Chevron Takes “Full Responsibility” for Brazil Oil Spill

Peru: supposedly non-existent "uncontacted" tribesmen kill intruder

Peru: indefinite occupation declared to halt mine in Cajamarca

Ecuador: indigenous leader sentenced to prison for "defamation"

FARC executes prisoners in rescue attempt: Bogotá

Chávez repatriates Venezuelan gold from European banks

Interview with Gioconda Mota: The Fight for Abortion in Venezuela

Free Markets and the Food Crisis in Central America

France Approves Manuel Noriega’s Extradition to Panama

Thanksgiving Rally of the 99% Encachimbado and Indignado in El Salvador

Ex-general Replaces Leftist Leader in El Salvador’s Security Cabinet as Washington Reasserts Influence in Central America

Honduran Coup General Seeks Presidency

Belize Government Defies Supreme Court Ruling; Grants Oil Company Permit to Maya Lands

Belize: government grants oil company permit to Maya lands

Mexico: Calderón to The Hague?

AMLO’s Moment (Mexico)

Mexican Indigenous Community Boycotts Elections

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