Tuesday, January 17, 2012

WNU #1113: Who’s to Blame for Chile’s Wildfires?

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1113, January 15, 2012

1. Chile: Did the Mapuche Cause Wildfires, or Was It Climate Change?
2. Honduras: Family Killed in Latest Aguán Massacre
3. Mexico: US Drug Agents Aided the Beltrán Leyva Cartel
4. Mexico: Local Police Suspected in Deaths at Guerrero Protest
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, 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 weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com . It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com

*1. Chile: Did the Mapuche Cause Wildfires, or Was It Climate Change?
A series of raids and house fires in southern Chile followed the filing of a criminal complaint on Jan. 6 by the government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera implying that indigenous Mapuche activists were responsible for recent major forest fires in the Biobío and Araucanía regions [see World War 4 Report 1/7/12]. The complaint was based on an “antiterrorism” law passed during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet and used repeatedly to repress protests by Mapuche activists seeking to regain control of ancestral lands being exploited by timber companies [see Update #1083].

On the night of Jan. 7, the day after the government’s legal action, five masked men set fire to two mediaguas (prefabricated houses) in the La Marina estate in the Pidima de Ercilla sector of Araucanía; the authorities said the houses belonged to a retired military officer and that the attackers exchanged gunfire with police agents. At 6 am the next morning the carabineros militarized police raided Chequenko, a Mapuche community in Pidima, apparently in response to the attack on the La Marina estate. According to José Venturelli of the nongovernmental Ethical Commission Against Torture, some 200 agents armed with handguns, rifles and tear gas grenades carried out a “massive attack” on the community.

During the same morning, a fire was set in another part of Araucanía at a home belonging to the parents of José Santos Millao, a Mapuche leader and a director of the government’s National Indigenous Development Corporation (Conadi). (ANSA (Italy) 1/8/12; BBC News 1/9/12)

On Jan. 10 masked members of the indigenous community of Rofue--near Araucanía’s capital, Temuco--blocked a highway to protest the construction of an airport. The police claimed the demonstrators fired at them with birdshot when they tried to break up the protest. Carabineros then raided the nearby village of José Jineo Ñanco, according to residents. In one incident, videotaped on a cellphone and posted on the internet, two agents approached Guillermina Painebilu and her daughter, Jessica Guzmán Painebilu, as they stood in a field holding a baby. One agent struck Guillermina Painebilu with a rifle butt and then pointed the rifle at her. Both women were arrested, but on Jan. 10 Temuco judge Federico Gutiérrez dismissed all charges against them and ordered carabineros commanders to investigate the agents’ actions. (UPI 1/11/12 via Noticias.123 (Chile); DPA 1/12/12 via La Gaceta de Tucumán (Argentina); Crónica de Hoy (Mexico City) 1/12/12 from unnamed wire services)

The most recent of the major forest fires in southern Chile began on Jan. 5 in Carahue community in Araucanía; seven firefighters died while combating the blaze. Police investigators said the fire was started in 83 different places at the same time, indicating it was set intentionally. Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter cast suspicion on the Arauco Malleco Coordinating Committee (CAM), a militant Mapuche organization. But a CAM leader, Héctor Llaitul Carillanca, currently serving a 14-year prison sentence [see Update #1081], told interviewers that starting a forest fire would be “outside our line of action.” The accusations were a setup to justify the application of the “antiterrorist” law to Mapuche communities, Llaitul said, and to use it “to confront Chile’s student and social movements as well, anticipating a year in which greater mobilizations and struggles may appear.”

Conadi director José Santos Millao said President Piñera and Interior Minister Hinzpeter were seeking to create “a type of apartheid, a type of Nazism or fascism.” Some Mapuche activists blamed the fires on the introduction of exotic tree species that they say exacerbated a drought as the Southern Hemisphere’s summer was beginning, while the Ethical Commission Against Torture’s José Venturelli accused the timber companies of setting the fires themselves “to collect insurance payments they couldn’t get for infected trees that can’t be sold.” (ANSA 1/8/12; BBC News 1/9/12; Página 12 (Argentina) 1/11/12 from correspondent; La Tercera (Chile) 1/15/12)

There have been an exceptional number of forest fires in South America since December. One fire destroyed 1,000 hectares in Argentina’s Chubut province, and more than 700 hectares of forest were burned in Paraguay’s Caazapá National Park. The main cause is a series of severe droughts which weather experts blame on a combination of factors: the regularly occurring La Niña weather pattern and climate change resulting from human activity. “I think you really have to point the finger at human-caused climate change as having tipped the scales to make previously unprecedented weather events more possible, and multiple unprecedented weather events like we're seeing,” Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the Weather Underground website, told the Associated Press wire service. “There is so much regular variation in the weather, and it's hard to pick out the signal from the noise. But the signal’s sure getting pretty strong now.” (Prensa Latina 1/6/12; AP 1/6/12 via ABC News)

*2. Honduras: Family Killed in Latest Aguán Massacre
Eight people, including four children, were murdered in the village of Regaderos, in Sabá municipality in the northern Honduran department of Colón, on the evening of Jan. 9. Seven of the victims were members of the same campesino family; the eighth was a man running errands. The attackers took the victims from the family’s home to a field and killed them there with machetes and firearms. The youngest of the children was one year old; the others were seven, 12 and 15 years old. The attackers cut a part of the ear off each of the eight bodies. (El Tiempo (San Pedro Sula) 1/10/12)

The massacre was one of three mass killings in northern Honduras since the beginning of the year. Six people were murdered on Jan. 3 in the village of El Palmar, Las Vegas municipality, Santa Bárbara, in northwestern Honduras, and four members of one family were killed on Jan. 10 in the Rivera Hernández section of the main northern city, San Pedro Sula. There were 6,723 homicides in Honduras from January 2011 to Dec. 15, according to researchers at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH). With a homicide rate of 82 per 100,000 inhabitants, Honduras is the most violent country in Central America and one of the five most violent countries in Latin America. (Proceso Digital (Honduras) 1/11/12)

Sabá municipality, where the campesino family was massacred the night of Jan. 9, is in the Lower Aguán Valley, the site of violent land disputes between campesinos and large landowners [see Update #1102]. Colón chief of police Osmín Bardales almost immediately ruled out any connection between these disputes and the murders.

But the Honduras Culture and Politics blog points out that it is typical for both police and media to play down possible political motives behind violence in Honduras. One example is the US media’s tendency to blame Honduras’ homicide rate on the increase in drug trafficking through the country. But a United Nations report released on Oct. 6, Global Study on Homicide, notes that there isn’t always a connection: “Organized criminal groups involved in drug trafficking do not necessarily make themselves visible through violent and lethal crime…. Violence often escalates when an existing status quo is broken, as a result, for example, of changes in the structure of the drug market, the emergence of new protagonists or the ‘threat’ posed by police repression.” Meanwhile, the media rarely mention the increase in murders of women, campesinos and transsexuals since the June 2009 military coup that overthrew President José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales. (Honduras Culture and Politics blog 1/12/12)

As of Jan. 6 the Honduran government appeared have made no progress in a plan to buy 5,700 hectares of land in the Aguán to turn over to campesino collectives as a way of ending at least some of the land disputes. Alba-Petróleos, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), reportedly offered about $28.8 million to help with this plan [see Update #1111]. President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa still seemed interested in this proposal on Jan. 6. “Just imagine,” Lobo said, “someone gives the campesinos financing at low interest rates in long-term loans. What I can say is: best wishes and thanks.” (Proceso Digital 1/6/12)

*3. Mexico: US Drug Agents Aided the Beltrán Leyva Cartel
Agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) worked with an informant and with Mexican enforcement agents in 2007 to launder millions of dollars for Mexico’s Beltrán Leyva cartel, according to reports in the New York Times and the Mexican magazine emeequis. The information comes from the Mexican government’s response to a US request for the extradition of Harold Mauricio Poveda-Ortega, a Colombian drug trafficker arrested in Mexico in November 2010.

According to documents the Mexican government supplied in the extradition case, in January 2007 a DEA informant began seeking money-laundering jobs from Poveda-Ortega, who was supplying Colombian drugs to the Mexican cartel headed by Arturo Beltrán Leyva and his three brothers. In July, the informant and a group of DEA agents laundered about $1 million through a Bank of America branch in Dallas and had it delivered to someone in Panama. In August and September they worked with an undercover Mexican agent to launder $499,250 on one occasion and $1 million on another. In October the DEA helped the Beltrán Leyva cartel ship 330 kilograms of cocaine through Dallas from Ecuador to Madrid, where Spanish authorities seized the drugs after being tipped off by the DEA.

As reported by the New York Times in December, the US government claims that this type of operation is useful in tracking criminal activity and leads to the arrests of cartel leaders [see Update #1109]. Arturo Beltrán Leyva was killed in a shootout with Mexican security forces in 2009, and apparently information from the US led to the Mexican operation. But the Beltrán Leyva cartel remains a major criminal organization. Morris Panner, a former assistant US attorney and an adviser on drug policy at Harvard University, described the DEA’s strategy “a slippery slope. If it’s not careful, the United States could end up helping the bad guys more than hurting them.” (NYT 1/9/12)

On Jan. 10 the Mexican government gave its official statistics on drug-related homicides for 2011. The Mexican Attorney General’s Office (PGR) reported that 12,903 deaths of this sort had occurred as of Sept. 30, giving a total of 47,453 drug-related homicides since President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa took office in December 2006. The Los Angeles Times reports that with the presidential election coming up in six months, Calderón’s government was reluctant to release the numbers and only did so under pressure. (LAT 1/11/12; La Jornada (Mexico) 1/12/12)

Crime reporting is inconsistent in Mexico, with the result that official and nongovernmental figures sometimes differ considerably. Earlier this month the Mexican daily La Jornada gave a much lower figure, 11,890, for homicides in 2011 but a much higher figure, 51,918, for the total since December 2006 [see Update #1111].

*4. Mexico: Local Police Suspected in Deaths at Guerrero Protest
On Jan. 12 ballistics experts and investigators from Mexico’s governmental National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) carried out a reconstruction of a confrontation last month between student protesters and police on a highway in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Two students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in the nearby village of Ayotzinapa were killed on Dec. 12 when state and federal police tried to disperse some 500 protesters blocking the highway; a worker at a gas station near the road also died, in a fire reportedly caused by a Molotov cocktail thrown by a student [see Update #1112].

Using lasers, the experts determined that the two students were killed by gunfire from an eastern location where Guerrero ministerial police (formerly known as “judicial police”) were stationed. CNDH inspector Luis García López Guerrero emphasized that the investigation hadn’t ended and that state police agents might not be the only ones responsible for the incident, in which he said 31 people were injured, one was tortured, and four suffered gunshot wounds. The inspector noted that the Federal Police (PF) were the first to use tear gas at the beginning of the confrontation. The CNDH would also “investigate and not leave in impunity the case of the gas station worker,” he promised.

On Jan. 13 the CNDH investigators visited the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college to see the conditions that set off the student protests. Afterwards Luis García López Guerrero told reporters that the situation at the under-funded school made it difficult “for the subject of education to be developed in an appropriate manner” there. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/14/12, ___ )

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

Iran's Relations with Latin America Less Than Meets the Eye

CELAC Holds First Meeting of Triumvirate Countries, Designates Priorities

Brazil: loggers invade tribal home of Amazon indigenous child "burned alive"

Deforestation slowing in Brazil

Bolivia’s New Faces of Justice

Revolution against “Progress”: The TIPNIS's Struggle and Class Contradictions in Bolivia

Peru: anti-drug chief who suspended coca eradication resigns

Peru: Elected by the Left, Ruling with the Right

Colombia: another indigenous leader slain in Cauca

Obama’s State Department Takes Cues from Right-Wing Cubans on Venezuela

A Cycle of Death: Inside Nicaragua's Sugar Cane Fields

Nicaragua’s Ortega Sworn In For Third Term As President

Honduras: Return to Rigores

Action Alert! Urgent Need for Solidarity After Another Attack on Q’eqchi’ Communities in Guatemala

Ex-President Zedillo Faces Charges for Overseeing State Violence in Mexico

The Michoacán Debacle: Fault Lines Ahead of the Mexican Presidential Election

Alert: Please Show Solidarity with SME -- Demand Resolution in Negotiations (Mexico)

Mexican Labor Year in Review: 2011

International Aid and the Neoliberal Ethos in the Tent Camps of Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Two Years Later: Media Assess the State of Reconstruction in Haiti
http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/relief-and-reconstruction-watch/two-years-later-media-assess-the- state-of-reconstruction-in-haiti

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:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have pretty much stayed out of the Latin American area but when in Mexico I noted a fire on a mountain in the shape of a rather large A, obviously satellite driven. I would guess, based on what you have been up to in Chile, the source you could ascertain better that I. It had bettre not be an anonymous issue