Tuesday, February 7, 2012

WNU #1116: Indigenous Protester Killed in Panama

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1116, February 5, 2012

1. Panama: One Killed in Renewed Indigenous Protests
2. Argentina: Demonstrations Against Mining Spread
3. Honduras: Campesinos Detained as Aguán Land Talks Stall
4. Mexico: Anti-Femicide Activist Attacked Again
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Caribbean, Haiti, US

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. Panama: One Killed in Renewed Indigenous Protests
At least one indigenous protester was killed on the morning of Feb. 5 as Panamanian riot police cleared roadblocks that members of the Ngöbe-Buglé group had maintained for six days in the western provinces of Chiriquí and Veraguas. Protest leaders identified the victim as Jerónimo Montezuma; they said he died of a gunshot wound in the chest in San Félix, Chiriquí. The roadblocks were set up in the latest round in an ongoing dispute between the Ngöbe-Buglé, Panama’s largest indigenous group, and the government of rightwing president Ricardo Martinelli over environmental protections in indigenous territories [see Update #1103].

“The anti-riot units only have crowd control equipment and no lethal arms,” Security Minister José Raúl Mulino told the Telemetro television channel later in the day, “so this person couldn’t have died from [police] gunfire.” Mulino blamed the protesters for the violence, charging that they had thrown rocks at agents, had burned down a police station in San Félix, had tried to attack a police station in the Chiriquí capital, David, and had looted a bank branch. But Omayra Silvera, a protest leader, told RPC radio: “The riot police fired on us. We were demonstrating so quietly, peacefully, and they repressed us.” Police agents “fired bullets, birdshot [or rubber bullets] and tear gas [grenades],” Carlos de la Cruz, a Catholic priest in Tolé, Chiriquí, told the media, saying he’d taken three wounded protesters to the hospital and had seen the projectiles.

“The important thing is that traffic has been made normal,” Security Minister Mulino said, “that the police are clearing the highways of debris, tree trunks, sheet metal, and that the trucks have started to circulate.” In addition to dispersing the demonstrations, the government cut off cell phone communication in the western region.

The Ngöbe-Buglé used militant protests in February, March and October of 2011 to block President Martinelli’s efforts to change the Mining Code in ways that the Ngöbe-Buglé said would open up indigenous territories to mining. The government finally agreed to have the revised law include a ban on open-pit mining in the territories, but it refused to exclude hydroelectric projects. The Ngöbe-Buglé responded on Jan. 30 by blocking major roads, including the Pan American highway. The action largely cut off Panama’s communication with Costa Rica, stranding tourists and causing shortages in Panamanian cities.

According to Adonais Cortés, a member of a Catholic commission seeking to start a dialogue, the protesters had agreed to lift the roadblocks if the government would negotiate. Government delegates failed to attend talks set up by the church on Feb. 4. After the violence on Feb. 5, Cortés said the government no longer has any credibility; he called the burning of the San Félix police station the result of anger after Montezuma’s death. (AP 2/3/12 via Houston Chronicle; AFP 2/5/12 via Tiempo (Veracruz, Mexico); AP 2/5/12 via La Prensa Gráfica (El Salvador))

As of Feb. 2 some 19 Panamanian environmental, grassroots and labor organizations, along with 15 international organizations, had endorsed a statement calling on the government to respect indigenous rights, to avoid the use of force and to resolve the issues through negotiations. (Enlace Indígena 2/2/12) A petition is posted online in English and Spanish asking the National Assembly to pass the mining law requested by the Ngöbe-Buglé and calling on President Martinelli to enter into negotiations with the mediation of the Catholic bishop of David. (Petition accessed 2/5/12)

*2. Argentina: Demonstrations Against Mining Spread
On Feb. 1 the Montreal-based Osisko Mining Corporation announced that it and the government of the northwestern Argentine province of La Rioja would suspend exploration for a proposed gold mine at the Nevados de Famatina mountain as long as “there is no social license for exploration and development in the area.” The announcement followed weeks of protests against the open-pit mining project by local residents, who selectively blocked access to the area for company employees and officials of the provincial government. Osisko and the provincial government said they were now preparing a “program of information and consultation with the community” to win local support, but assemblies formed by area residents have voted to continue the blockade. “[N]o mega-mining company or project has a social license in our territory,” the assemblies declared. (Página 12 (Argentina) 2/2/12)

Residents of the towns of Famatina and Chilecito say open-pit mining on the Andean mountain would threaten their only source of water. The protest began on Jan. 2 with about 400 people, but on Jan. 16, when the company was to begin work, some 4,000 people turned out to block access; the population of Famatina is just 6,400. The local protest won also the backing of national environmental groups like Greenpeace Argentina and celebrities like documentary filmmaker Fernando “Pino” Solanas.

Similar protests have been taking place in the northern provinces of Catamarca and Tucumán, where residents have blocked roads to demand an end to work at the Bajo de la Alumbrera, one of the world’s main gold and copper deposits. The exploration and development there is being carried out by a consortium including the Swiss-British mining company Xstrata PLC and two Canadian companies, Goldcorp Inc. and Yamana Gold Inc. The protests In La Rioja, Catamarca and Tucumán have also reactivated activism against mining projects in Río Negro, Chubut and Mendoza provinces.

According to the national government’s Mining Secretariat, investments in mining reached a record $2.546 billion in 2011. Official data show some 600 active projects in Argentina.

As has happened in other Latin American countries with center-left governments, the exploitation of natural resources seems to be creating friction between the government and grassroots activists that have formed part of its base. Famatina mayor Ismael Bordagaray, who supports the protesters, is a member of the Front for Victory, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s left-leaning faction of the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist). But La Rioja governor Luis Beder Herrera, also a Front for Victory member, supports the mining project, which includes the province’s state-owned energy and mining company, Energía y Minerales Sociedad del Estado (EMSE), as a partner. Jorge Yoma, a federal legislative deputy from the Front, said on Feb. 4 that President Fernández told him that she also supports mining operations. (Directorio Verde 1/20/12; Inter Press Service 1/25/12 via Upside Down World; El Tribuno (Salta and Jujuy) 2/4/12; EFE 2/5/12 via No a la Mina)

*3. Honduras: Campesinos Detained as Aguán Land Talks Stall
Honduran police detained 13 leaders of the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) the night of Feb. 2 at a checkpoint in Arizona, in the northern department of Atlántida, according to the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH). The leaders, who were returning from Tegucigalpa, were reportedly taken to the city of Tela; one leader, Juan Angel Rodríguez, was turned over to the Public Ministry, allegedly because of a warrant for his arrest. (COPINH 2/2/12; OFRANEH 2/3/12)

The day before, on Feb. 1, police had arrested MUCA spokesperson Vitalino Álvarez in Tocoa in the northern department of Colón, apparently without a warrant. (La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 2/1/12)

The arrests came after a breakdown in negotiations between the MUCA and the government at the end of January over implementation of an April 2010 agreement that was supposed to resolve at least some of the violent land disputes taking place in the Lower Aguán Valley. Under the deal, the government would buy some 5,700 hectares of land from the wealthy agribusiness owner Miguel Facussé Barjum and turn it over to campesino organizations that have been pressing a claim to the land. But the campesinos balked when told they would have to pay interest at a 14% annual rate on a 600 million lempira loan (about $31.5 million) from a private bank. Vitalino Álvarez--the MUCA spokesperson arrested on Feb. 1--had denounced the proposal, noting that the plan was originally for the campesinos to pay a low interest rate.

In December there were reports that Alba-Petróleos, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), might finance the loan and help campesino organizations by building an African palm fruit processing plant for their use [see Update #1111]. Apparently Alba-Petróleos will not be financing the loan but is still planning to pay for the processing plant and guarantee a market for the palm oil it would produce. (El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) 1/31/12)

*4. Mexico: Anti-Femicide Activist Attacked Again
An unidentified man attacked Mexican human rights activist Norma Esther Andrade with a knife on the morning of Feb. 3 as she was leaving her current residence in the Coyoacán delegación (borough) of Mexico City. She was cut on one cheek by the attacker, who then fled without speaking. Andrade, a founder of the organization Our Daughters Return Home, has been a leader in denouncing the unsolved murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juárez in the northern state of Chihuahua. She has been staying in Mexico City since she was wounded by gunfire from unknown attackers in Ciudad Juárez on Dec. 2; local authorities claimed the attack might be a carjacking or robbery attempt [see World War 4 Report 12/7/11].

After the latest instance of the authorities’ failure to provide adequate protection--despite repeated threats and an order from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish)--Andrade and her family are considering the possibility of seeking asylum outside Mexico. (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/4/12, 2/5/12)

In other news, on Feb. 2 the federal Chamber of Deputies called on the federal government and the Guerrero state government to intensify their efforts to find environmental activists Eva Alarcón Ortiz and Marcial Bautista Valle, leaders in the Organization of Ecologist Campesinos of the Sierra de Petatlán and Coyuca de Catalán (OCESP) in Guerrero. The two were kidnapped on Dec. 7 while traveling by bus to the state capital, Chilpancingo, and are still missing. A local police commander, Cesario Espinoza Palma, was arrested in connection with the kidnapping in December [see Update #1111], but it is not clear whether any progress has been made in the case since then. (Notimex 2/2/12 via La Crónica de Hoy (Mexico))

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Caribbean, Haiti, US

Victims of Agrochemicals Break their Silence (Latin America)

Bolivia’s TIPNIS Conflict Continues: Fanning the Flames of Discontent

Bolivia: pro-highway marchers arrive in La Paz

Terrorism and Development in Peru

Peru: Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Call For Action Against Oil Companies

Peru: more photos released of "uncontacted" Amazon peoples —as roads encroach

Peru: indigenous groups reject draft regulations on Law of Prior Consultation

Peru: national mobilization for water, against Conga mine

Ecuador: Kichwa announce march for water

Ecuador: ex-guerillas return absconded swords

Victims Law Decree Fails Afro-Colombian Communities

The Hidrosogamoso Dam: Communities pay the high price of hydro-electric power in Colombia

Colombia: FARC escalate attacks, indigenous pueblos caught in middle —again

“Bilateralizing” Relations between Peru and Venezuela

Venezuelan Workers Organise, Draft Proposals for New Labour Law

UN Praises Venezuela’s Gun Control and Disarmament Policies

Venezuela: independent gold prospectors march in Bolívar after violence

Inventive Nonviolence in Mexico: A Conversation With Javier Sicilia

From Chiapas to Wall Street: “A collective awakening against global injustice”

The Drug War’s Invisible Victims (Mexico)

Ciudad Juárez: narcos declare war on police

Mexico Climate Politics Heats Up

Canada: A Late but Eager Partner in Policing the Caribbean

Rights Groups Denounce Duvalier Ruling in Haiti

Elliott Abrams' Dark History in Latin America and the Struggle for Justice (US)

Lawmakers, "Experts" Spin Tales of Iranian Terror in Latin America (US)

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