Tuesday, January 3, 2012

WNU #1111: Police Commander Arrested in Mexican Kidnapping

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1111, January 1, 2012

1. Mexico: Police Commander Arrested in Ecologists' Kidnapping
2. Honduras: Anti-Drug Adviser Killed, Peace Corps Withdraws
3. Honduras: Government Looks to Venezuela for Aid
4. Puerto Rico: Status Vote Set as Crime, Unemployment Rise
5. Links to alternative sources on: South America, Argentina, Andes Region, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, 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 weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com

*1. Mexico: Police Commander Arrested in Ecologists' Kidnapping
On Dec. 28 the government of the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero announced the arrest of police commander Cesario Espinoza Palma (or “Cesáreo Espinosa Palma”) in connection with the Dec. 7 kidnapping of two campesino environmental activists, Eva Alarcón and Marcial Bautista [see Update #1110]. Nicknamed “The Goose,” Espinoza Palma is the coordinator of the state Ministerial Investigative Police (PIM) for Tecpan de Galeana municipality; his arrest seems to be related to investigators’ questioning of 24 Tecpan municipal police and four PIM agents on Dec. 15.

State officials didn’t give details on Espinoza Palma’s alleged connection to the kidnapping or information on the possible location or condition of the two activists, although official sources indicated a week earlier that they were still alive. Alarcón and Bautista are leaders in the Organization of Ecologist Campesinos of the Sierra de Petatlán and Coyuca de Catalán (OCESP), which has been targeted both by drug traffickers and by the authorities since it was started in 1998 to fight deforestation in the Guerrero highlands. The two activists are also members of the Movement for Peace With Justice and Dignity (MPJD), which was formed in 2011 to oppose President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa’s militarized fight against the drug cartels. (Milenio (Mexico) 12/29/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 12/29/11)

The number of homicides from apparent fighting between criminal organizations or from confrontations between the authorities and alleged criminal groups in 2011 had reached 11,890 as of Dec. 30, according to the left-leaning daily La Jornada. This is down 11% from the 2010 total, which was 13,417. Just 10 states accounted for 84% of the killings: Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Sinaloa, Guerrero, Durango, Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Michoacán and México state. The newspaper calculates that the total of these homicides since president Calderón took office in December 2006 is 51,918.

La Jornada’s number was based on media reports and information from various government sources. The federal government hasn’t given an official total since Jan. 12, 2011, but its number for 2010 was higher than La Jornada’s by almost 2,000. (LJ 12/31/11)

*2. Honduras: Anti-Drug Adviser Killed, Peace Corps Withdraws
Alfredo Landaverde, a former adviser to the Honduran government on security and drug trafficking, was shot dead on Dec. 7 by unknown gunmen on a motorcycle as he was driving in Tegucigalpa. His wife, the Venezuelan sociologist and author Hilda Caldera Tosta, was wounded in the attack. Landaverde had been the executive secretary of the National Commission of Struggle Against Narcotrafficking (CNLN) and an adviser to the Security Secretariat and the Public Ministry. He was also a former legislative deputy for the Christian Democratic Party of Honduras (PDCH), of which he was president.

Even after retiring from public service more than a year ago, Landaverde remained a prominent and outspoken critic of official corruption [see Update #1104]. During a television appearance in November, just a few weeks before his assassination, Landaverde demanded that former security minister Oscar Álvarez produce a list of 25 high-ranking officials who reportedly had links with drug trafficking.

This was not the first assassination to strike the Landaverde family. Alfredo’s brother Moisés Landaverde was murdered in 1988, along with Miguel Ángel Pavón, then the president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (Codeh); agents of the notorious National Investigation Directorate (DIN) were apparently responsible. Alfredo Landaverde took part in a government investigation in 1994 that led to the dissolution of the DIN.

On Dec. 6, the day before Landaverde’s murder, journalist Luz Marina Paz Villalobos and her driver, Delmer Canales, were shot dead in their car, also by unknown men on a motorcycle. The government responded to the three murders by quickly passing a law that makes it illegal for more than two people to ride a motorcycle while in an urban area during the next six months. (EFE 12/8/11 via Terra.com (Peru); La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 12/8/11; Europa Press (Spain) 12/9/11)

Honduras is now thought to have the highest homicide rate in the world. On Dec. 21 officials of the US government’s Peace Corps program announced that they were withdrawing all 158 Peace Corps volunteers from Honduras in January for security reasons and weren’t planning to send more for the time being. The Peace Corps will keep its current 335 volunteers in El Salvador and Guatemala, which are also experiencing a rise in crime, but has decided not to send the volunteers slated to go there in January. (New York Times 12/22/11)

*3. Honduras: Government Looks to Venezuela for Aid
In a communiqué released on Dec. 24, center-right Honduran president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa said his government intended to have the country return to Petrocaribe, a program through which Venezuela provides oil to other Caribbean countries at favorable terms. Honduras joined Petrocaribe in January 2008 during the presidency of José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), but the oil shipments were halted after Zelaya was removed from office by a military coup in June 2009. Talks have been underway for restoring the deal as part of Honduras’ improved relations with Venezuela’s leftist president, Hugo Chávez Frias; the negotiations have reportedly advanced since President Lobo went to Caracas in early December for the founding of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

Ironically, many of the rightwing forces that back Lobo justified the 2009 coup by claiming that Zelaya was too close to Chávez. Honduran business leader and coup supporter Adolfo Facussé, president of the National Association of Industrialists (ANDI), is now actively pushing for the return to Petrocaribe. “I invited the gentlemen from Venezuela to an ANDI session,” Facussé told the Tegucigalpa daily La Tribuna. “There they explained the scope of this program, and we approved it, so that now we think it is a necessary matter.”

Petrocaribe’s economic benefits are obvious, and even the de facto government that ran the country from the time of the coup to Lobo’s inauguration in January 2010 tried to stay in Petrocaribe [see Update #1017]. But the Lobo government seems to be pushing for still closer cooperation with Venezuela.

As of Dec. 27, Alba-Petróleos, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), was planning to pay 546 million lempiras (about $28.8 million) on a loan the Honduran government will set up to buy 5,700 hectares of land in the Lower Aguán Valley in the north, the site of a series of bloody land disputes between big landowners and campesino organizations. The land is being bought mostly from the major business leader Miguel Facussé Barjum to be turned over to two campesino organizations, the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) and the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA), in an effort to settle their disputes with Facussé and other landowners [see Update #1094]. Alba-Petróleos also wants to build an African palm fruit processing plant that would give MUCA and MARCA access to markets for their palm oil. President Lobo is reportedly in favor of these plans, although he still hadn’t made a final decision as of Dec. 27.

One reason for the rapprochement with Venezuela seems to be Honduras’ failure to qualify for the US government Millennium Challenge aid for next year. Along with the withdrawal of Peace Corps volunteers, this has left the impression that the US is losing interest in Honduras. “As the US withdraws, Hugo Chavez moves in,” the Honduras Culture and Politics blog wrote on Dec. 28. (La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 12/24/11; Honduras Culture and Politics blog 12/28/11; El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) 12/28/11)

*4. Puerto Rico: Status Vote Set as Crime, Unemployment Rise
On Dec. 29 Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño signed a measure into law mandating a plebiscite on the island’s status, to be held on Nov. 6, the same day as the gubernatorial election. Voters will be asked two questions: whether they want to maintain the current political status, which is subject to the territorial clause of the US Constitution (Article IV, section 3); and whether as a permanent alternative they would prefer independence, incorporation into the US as a state, or the continuation of a “free associated state” status but no longer under the territorial clause. The referendum, which reflects the recommendations of a US presidential task force on Puerto Rico, is nonbinding; any changes would have to be approved by the US Congress and president.

The results of three previous plebiscites, in 1967, 1993 and 1998, were inconclusive. But opponents of the current status—principally Gov. Fortuño’s New Progressive Party (PNP), which is close to the US Republican Party, and the nationalist Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP)—expect that both statehood and independence supporters will vote “no” on the first question and that this will force the US government to confront the status question. The Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which is close to the US Democratic Party and wants to maintain the status quo, is critical both of the plebiscite and of the decision to hold it the same day as the gubernatorial election—which is expected to benefit Fortuño when he runs for a second term. PPD vice president Héctor Ferrer told the Spanish wire service EFE on Dec. 29 that the plebiscite was a maneuver to divert attention from problems like the rising crime rate and the increase in unemployment. (Primera Hora (Guaynabo) 12/29/11; EFE 12/29/11 via WUVN TV (Connecticut))

With a population of just 3.7 million, this year Puerto Rico had more than 1,130 homicides, a record number. Unemployment has risen to 15.2%, according to official records, while unemployment among youths from 16 to 29 is now at 30%. The situation was aggravated by the imposition of an $800 tuition surcharge for students at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), the island’s main public institution of higher education. The increase in fees, backed by Fortuño, forced thousands of students out of the school into the job market. (Prensa Latina 12/27/11, 12/31/11)

Militant strikes by UPR students in 2010 and 2011 forced some concessions from Fortuño but were not enough to stop the $800 surcharge [see Update #1071]. However, student organizations and unions representing UPR professors and other employees won an unexpected victory on Dec. 12 when a San Juan court ruled that the university had to allow public access to information on the real estate holdings it has accumulated since its founding in 1903. While claiming that it was unable to function without the tuition surcharge, the UPR has refused to provide allow public scrutiny of its assets. As of Dec. 13 the court had not ruled on whether the university would also have to divulge information on assets other than real estate. (Noticias 24/7 (Puerto Rico) 12/13/11; Adital (Brazil) 12/13/11)

Correction: Because of a typographical error, this item originally gave "130,000" as the number of homicides for 2011.

*5. Links to alternative sources on: South America, Argentina, Andes Region, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba

The Second Cold War and South America: New Strategic Directions on the Part of the United States

Argentina: Anti-Terrorism Law Upsets Harmony Between Government and Activists

No Time Left to Adapt to Melting Glaciers (Andes region)

McDonald’s Closes All Their Restaurants in Bolivia

Peru: Weak Environmental Impact Studies for Mines

The Dangers Behind the Proposed Judicial Reform in Colombia

Venezuela’s Chavez Speculates over Coincidence of Leftwing Latin American Presidents with Cancer

Mexico: more Sinaloa Cartel kingpins busted —but still not El Chapo

Mexico: Youth on the Front Lines of Protest Movement

Democracy Lessons for Fidel Castro (Cuba)

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