Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1110, December 25, 2011
1. Chile: Students End Protests, Plan for 2012
2. Mexico: Violence Continues Against Ecologists and Indigenous
3. Guatemala: Pollutants Found in Rivers Near Goldcorp Mine
4. Argentina: Junta and US Knew About Baby Thefts
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba
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. Chile: Students End Protests, Plan for 2012
After eight months of mobilizations, strikes and campus occupations, on Dec. 22 Chilean university and secondary students held their last protest of the 2011 school year, a march through the streets of downtown Santiago. As in previous demonstrations, there were clashes with the carabineros militarized police, who said the students didn’t have a permit for the protest; some 10 youths were arrested. With an estimated 1,000 to 4,000 participants, the final mobilization was tiny in comparison with the hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and supporters that had marched in the months before [see Update #1098].
The protest came one day after students in Santiago ended their occupations of the University of Chile’s main building and of the José Miguel Carrera National Institute, the country’s oldest institution of public education. The occupation of the Darío Salas high school, also in Santiago, ended on Dec. 22, the day of the march.
With the mass protests winding down, commentators noted that the students had only won small concessions from the rightwing government of President Sebastián Piñera and had failed to achieve their main goal, the reversal of the privatization of the educational system that started under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. But as Santiago University professor and analyst Bernardo Navarrete told the Associated Press wire service, “the students succeeded this year in changing the agenda of a government of the right.” The movement in fact produced the largest mobilizations since the restoration of democracy in 1990 and won wide support from the general population, as was shown when more than a million people voted in a grassroots plebiscite that students and teachers organized in October [see Update #1100]. The Chilean protests also invigorated student movements in Colombia and other parts of Latin America [see Update #1107].
Chile’s main student organizations will have new leaders in March when schools reopen after the summer break. Gabriel Boric has been elected president of the Federation of University of Chile Students (FECH), replacing Camila Vallejo Dowling, who will be vice president. Vallejo, a member of the Communist Youth of Chile (JJCC), became the best-known student leader in both local and international media; readers of the British daily The Guardian made her the paper’s “person of the year” for 2011. The new president of the Federation of Catholic University Students (FEUC) is Noam Titelman, replacing Giorgio Jackson.
Student leaders insist that protests will continue next year in a new form. One of their goals is to expand the Chilean Student Confederation (CONFECH) in 2012 to include student groups from private universities and from secondary schools; student leaders have announced a conference for recreating the movement, to take place in February or March. At the Dec. 22 protest, new FECH president Boric said that next year the student movement will work together with other social movements around common demands. Boric is an independent. Although he denies that he is more radical than Vallejo, he emphasizes the importance of social movements acting outside the traditional political parties. (TeleSUR 12/22/11 from staff, Prensa Latina, Infobae; AP 12/23/11 via Univision; Noticias 123.cl (Chile) 12/23/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 12/23/11 from correspondent)
*2. Mexico: Violence Continues Against Ecologists and Indigenous
Mexican environmental activists Eva Alarcón and Marcial Bautista were reportedly still alive as of Dec. 21, two weeks after their Dec. 7 kidnapping from a bus in the southwestern state of Guerrero [see Update #1109]. According to Francisco Saucedo—an adviser to their group, the Guerrero-based Organization of Ecologist Campesinos of the Sierra de Petatlán and Coyuca de Catalán (OCESP)—officials of the state government supplied the information during a meeting with Alarcón’s daughter, Coral Rosas, and Bautista’s daughter, Victoria Bautista, but said that giving out more information might cause problems.
Founded in 1998, OCESP has led struggles against deforestation in the Petatlán highlands, where campesino and indigenous organizations regularly face harassment and violence from drug traffickers, state police agents, federal soldiers, and goons allegedly working for logging companies and big landowners. The attacks against OCESP members included the May 2005 murder of two children of an OCESP leader, Albertano Peňalosa Domínguez. The group’s founder, Chico Mendes award winner Felipe Arreaga Sanchez, was imprisoned from November 2004 to September 2005 on murder charges that were dismissed after the case received international publicity [see Update #829]. (Arreaga died in a traffic accident in September 2009.)
The mysterious disappearance of 17 people, including nine children, from the Guerrero community of Cerro Verde, on Dec. 18 may be connected to the Alarcón and Bautista kidnapping. The disappeared, members of four different families, were located in nearby Tecpan de Galeana on Dec. 22. According to a relative, Ignacio Salto Villa, 15 armed men broke into the four families’ homes, saying the family members were “Marcial Bautista’s people.” The families actually belong to a different organization, the Hermenegildo Galeana Free Front, Salto Villa told a reporter, describing the front as “a group of campesinos who care for and protect some 300 hectares of pine groves and green areas.” The four families were treated relatively well and were never threatened, according to Salto Villa, who charged that Federal agents and soldiers were involved in the kidnapping. (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/22/11; Amnesty International posting 9/21/09; AFP 12/22/11 via Univision; Milenio (Mexico) 12/23/11)
Alarcón and Bautista are also members of the Movement for Peace With Justice and Dignity (MPJD), formed this year to oppose President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa’s militarized fight against the drug cartels. Two other MPJD members were murdered recently in the neighboring state of Michoacán: Trinidad de la Cruz Crisóstomo (“Don Trino”), who was found dead on Dec. 7 [see Update #1109], and Pedro Leyva Domínguez, who was killed on Oct. 6.
Leyva and De la Cruz were leaders of Xayakalan (or Xayacalan), a community founded in the summer of 2009 by indigenous Nahua from Santa María Ostula who occupied disputed land near the Pacific coast and were then granted more than 1,000 hectares by Michoacán’s state government [see Update #998]. (The creation of the community is the subject of a brief video by Notilibertas, apparently a Mexican media collective.) But the community quickly became the target of drug gangs that want to control the area; landowners that dispute the community’s right to the land may also be involved. In September 2010 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), the human rights arm of the Organization of American States (OAS), issued a precautionary measure (No. 264-10) calling on the state and federal governments to work with the Xayakalan community to provide protection for its members.
So far the IACHR’s efforts have had little effect. Leyva was murdered shortly after a September meeting with an IACHR delegation about the precautionary measure; De la Cruz was murdered shortly after a Nov. 28 meeting with state and local authorities on protecting the community. Xayakalan residents say De la Cruz was the 28th community member to be killed. Of the 300 families that originally made up the community, all but 30 have left. (LJ 12/22/11)
*3. Guatemala: Pollutants Found in Rivers Near Goldcorp Mine
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) has withdrawn a 2010 order for the Guatemalan government to suspend operations at the controversial Marlin gold mine, according to a Dec. 19 press release from the Canadian mining company Goldcorp Inc. The action follows a petition by the Guatemalan government saying its monitors had determined that “no proof exists that there is any situation presenting a threat of serious or imminent harm to persons or that there is a probability that any damage will materialize, and therefore there does not exist a situation of extreme seriousness or urgency to avoid irreparable harm to persons as a result of operations at the Marlin mine.” (Goldcorp 12/19/11 via the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch)
The IACHR, the human rights arm of the Organization of American States (OAS), issued the 2010 order in response to a complaint filed by indigenous Mayan inhabitants of the communities of Sipacapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacán in the western department of San Marcos. The residents charged that the mine had caused significant damage to their health and to the local environment. The Guatemalan government and the mine’s owner, Goldcorp subsidiary Montana Exploradora de Guatemala, SA, have simply ignored the IACHR order ever since it was issued [see Update #1082].
Shortly before the IACHR issued its decision to withdraw the suspension, the Pastoral Commission Peace and Ecology (Copae) of San Marcos diocese reported that the Tzalá and Quivichil rivers, which pass near the mine, have high concentrations of heavy metals, including cyanide, arsenic, copper, aluminum and manganese.
According to Copae’s Josué Navarro, the presence of cyanide and arsenic are evidence of contamination from the mine and pose a health threat to communities that drink water in the area. But Amílcar Ruiz Téllez, departmental delegate for the Environment Ministry, said the concentrations of metal in the water were within acceptable limits, based on a study by the Community Environmental Monitoring Association (Asociación de Monitoreo Ambiental Comunitario, AMAC). (Prensa Libre (Guatemala) 12/10/11)
[According to an online fact sheet posted by Goldcorp, the AMAC is “an independent and community-based organization” that the company “helped established” (sic) in 2005.]
Correction: Environment Ministry delegate Ruiz Téllez did not actually endorse the AMAC report’s conclusions; he simply cited them, adding: “we’ll have to wait for the repercussions, good or negative.”
*4. Argentina: Junta and US Knew About Baby Thefts
As of Dec. 22 the US government had sent the Argentine human rights group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo a completely declassified copy of a 1982 US State Department memo discussing the abduction of the babies of alleged leftists during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship. The document undercuts any claims by former members of the ruling junta that the abductions were not systematic or that the military rulers were unaware of the crimes. The human rights group had asked the US for the memo so that it could be used in trials of former de facto president Gen. Reynaldo Bignone (1982-83) and others.
During the dictatorship’s “dirty war” against supposed leftist “terrorists,” the military regularly killed women prisoners and then secretly gave their babies and small children to military and other families. According to the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, about 500 children were “appropriated” in this way; the group has succeeded in reuniting more than 100 with their biological families.
In the memo, then-assistant secretary of state for human rights Elliott Abrams described a Dec. 3, 1982 meeting he held with Argentina’s ambassador at the time, Lucio Alberto García del Solar, at the Jockey Club in Washington, DC. The “two main topics,” according to Abrams, were US certification of the junta’s human rights record and “the question of the disappeared.” “I raised with the ambassador the question of children,” Abrams wrote. “Children born to prisoners or children taken from their families during the dirty war. While the disappeared were dead, these children were alive and this was in a sense the gravest humanitarian problem. The ambassador agreed completely and had already made this point to his foreign minister and president.”
Abrams said he suggested that the junta might tell “everything it could about the fate of individuals” or invite the Catholic Church to reunite the children with their biological families. Apparently the generals wouldn’t consider either plan. “The military is absolutely united and determined to avoid widespread and vengeful punishment for its acts,” Abrams wrote. All the same, Abrams saw no problem with having the administration of then-US president Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) certify that the dictatorship was making progress on human rights.
The memo was originally released in 2002, but some paragraphs were blacked out, which would lessen its credibility as a court document. The censored paragraphs turn out not to have been relevant to the abductions of children.
The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo thanked US ambassador Vilma Martinez for her help. “We hope that this will be the start of the declassification of all the documents that the United States has, in particular those of agencies like the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] and FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], to contribute to clearing up the crimes against humanity that occurred in our country,” the group wrote.
Abrams, a neoconservative best known for his role in the illegal sale of weapons to Iran in the middle 1980s to fund the rightwing Nicaraguan contras, now works at the Council for Foreign Relations, a Washington, DC-based nonpartisan think tank. A spokesperson told the Associated Press wire service that Abrams “will not comment on the substance of this memo or any other questions due to the fact that he may have to testify in the coming future.” (Página/12 (Argentina) 12/22/11; AP 12/23/11 via ABC News; La Jornada (Mexico) 12/24/11 from correspondent)
*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba
Latino Student Movements: Defending Education
The U.S. Double Standard on Elections in Latin America and the Caribbean
Argentina Shows World How to Beat the Economic Crisis
Embassy Cables Reveal Brazil Supported Chile’s Pinochet Regime
"Godfather" of Colombian Army Intelligence Acquitted in Palace of Justice Case
Interview with Iván Cepeda: Social Movements Fight Against Impunity in Colombia
Venezuela’s Attorney General: Extradition of FARC Singer Conrado Shouldn’t Proceed
Venezuela Sends National Guard To The Streets To Fight Crime
International Solidarity Bolsters El Salvador’s Anti-Mining Resistance
Trials and Tenacity in Honduran Women’s Struggle for Land Rights
What This Company Did to Us: Rape and Displacement in Guatemala
Impunity Still Rules in Mexico: A Few More Deaths Foretold
Mexico’s Dirty War Gets Dirtier
Militarized Mining in Mexico
UNI Global Union Supports Atento Workers in Mexico
Workers at Volkswagen Supplier Fired for Opposing CTM Union Leader
Mexico: Racism Prevalent Among Children, Revealing Cultural Pattern (Study)
Cuba Declares 3-Day Mourning Period For Kim Jong Il
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Tuesday, December 27, 2011
WNU #1110: Chilean Students End Protests, Plan for 2012
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