Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1123, April 1, 2012
1. Chile: Gay Youth’s Death Focuses Attention on Hate Crimes
2. Guatemala: Indigenous Protesters March on the Capital
3. Honduras: Four Are Killed in the Latest Aguán Violence
4. Mexico: Commission Blames Police in Guerrero Repression
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Central America, El Salvador, 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. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.
*1. Chile: Gay Youth’s Death Focuses Attention on Hate Crimes
Thousands of Chileans turned out in Santiago on Mar. 30 for the funeral of Daniel Zamudio, a young gay man killed by a group of neo-Nazis. Many people brought flowers and signed petitions calling for an end to discrimination; almost 100 vehicles accompanied the cortege from the Zamudio family’s home to the General Cemetery. Rightwing president Sebastían Piñera responded to the news of Zamudio’s death by announcing “the government’s total commitment against all arbitrary discrimination and for a more tolerant country.” After criticism from the Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement (Movilh), even the conservative Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church finally denounced “the intolerance, aggression and violence” in the attack on Zamudio.
Four young men have been charged in the assault, which took place in Santiago on Mar. 3; they have been held in preventive detention. The group reportedly tortured Zamudio for six hours, beating him, burning him with cigarettes, cutting off an ear, and carving three swastikas on his body. He lay in a coma in the Public Assistance hospital for 24 days with fractures in his skull, chest and limbs; he died on Mar. 27. The alleged assailants had been investigated by the police in the past for attacks on Peruvian immigrants. The courts have set Apr. 23 as the date for formally charging the suspects with voluntary manslaughter in Zamudio’s death.
On Mar. 30 Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, called for “the Chilean Congress to pass a law against discrimination, especially discrimination based on sexual orientation.” President Piñera’s government is now planning to send Congress a bill establishing measures against discrimination, according to government spokesperson Andrés Chadwick. However, legislators have still not acted on a bill Piñera sent them last year to recognize same-sex civil unions [see Update #1086]. (emol.com (Chile) 3/27/12; Adital (Brazil) 3/30/12; Juventud Rebelde (Cuba) 3/30/12; El Telégrafo (Ecuador) 3/31/12 from AFP, EFE)
In other news, the government reported on Mar. 30 that 228 people were arrested and 22 injured in protests that started in Santiago, Valparaíso, Concepción, Lota and other cities on the evening of Mar. 29, a date many Chileans mark as the Day of the Young Combatant. In the capital the carabineros militarized police entered the University of Santiago de Chile (Usach) and arrested at least 56 students. Usach rector Juan Manuel Zolezzi condemned the police action as a violation of the traditional autonomy of the university.
The Day of the Young Combatant commemorates the Mar. 29, 1985 murder of the brothers Rafael and Eduardo Vergara Toledo, 18 and 20 years old, by the carabineros in a Santiago suburb during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. This year’s Mar. 29 commemorations also included a cultural event in honor of three members of the Communist Party of Chile (PCC), Manuel Guerrero, Santiago Nattino and José Manuel Parada, killed by carabineros at almost the same time as the Vergara brothers--either on Mar. 29 or Mar. 30, 1985.
Despite the arrests, Under Secretary of the Interior Rodrigo Ubilla called the protests this year “a quiet day of action.” He explained that “if we compare it with the previous dates, [it] had less violence and participation.” (La Jornada (Mexico) 3/30/12, 3/31/12 from correspondent) [In 2007 at least 475 youths were arrested and about 100 police agents were reportedly injured in Day of the Young Combatant commemorations; see Update #893.]
*2. Guatemala: Indigenous Protesters March on the Capital
Some 1,500 indigenous campesinos arrived in Guatemala City on Mar. 27 after an eight-day, 214-km walk from Cobán, Alta Verapaz department, to promote their demands for land, debt cancellation and a halt to mining operations. Supporters joined them as they approached the capital, and the number of marchers eventually swelled to about 10,000, forming a line that stretched for 6 km. The protesters announced that they would stay encamped in the central Plaza de la Constitución until their main demands were met.
The campesinos presented the government a total of 68 demands, some addressed to the court system, some to the Congress and some to the executive. One major focus was on providing land and aid for the 600 families that were violently evicted from their settlements in the Polochic Valley a year ealier, in March 2011 [see Updates #1087, 1093]. Another demand was for the cancellation of some $100 million that campesinos owe to the government for loans they have used to acquire land; the campesinos say the most of the land offered was not suitable for farming and didn’t produce enough to pay off the debt. Additional demands included the release of dozens of detained campesino leaders, and passage of Law 4084 (Integral Rural Development) and Law 4087 (Community Communication Media).
This was the first major campesino and indigenous protest that President Otto Pérez Molina has had to deal with since he took office on Jan. 14 amid accusations that he committed human rights violations against indigenous communities in the 1980s [see Update #1114]. He and Vice President Roxana Baldetti surprised the marchers by going to meet them on the highway on Mar. 23 with an offer to negotiate and a request for them to end the march. The protesters continued with the march, but the government began the negotiating process with them soon after they reached Guatemala City.
The march was organized by the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC), one of the country’s main campesino organizations. Vicente Menchú, the father of 1992 Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchú Tum, was a cofounder of the group, which was formed in the 1970s. (Adital (Brazil) 3/26/12 from TeleSUR, 3/28/12; AFP 3/27/12 via Univision)
*3. Honduras: Four Are Killed in the Latest Aguán Violence
Four Honduran campesinos were killed and 11 were wounded in an ambush Mar. 29 at the Marañón estate, near the city of Trujillo in the northern department of Colón. The victims were members of the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), one of several organizations struggling to gain farmland in the Lower Aguán Valley. MUCA vice president Juan Chinchilla told the Associated Press wire service that the victims “were leaving for work and were traveling in various vehicles where they were attacked by armed men without having a chance to flee or defend themselves.” About 50 campesinos have been killed in the Aguán region since 2009, mostly in disputes with major landowners; some died in unexplained violence sometimes attributed to criminal gangs. (AP 3/29/12 via Univision) [Juan Chinchilla himself was the victim of a kidnapping in January 2011; see Update #1063.]
The ambush at the Marañón estate came three days after a similar attack in the same area left five soldiers wounded, two of them seriously. On the evening of Mar. 26 some 30 unidentified men with high-caliber weapons opened fire on the soldiers as they were traveling in an area known as Panamá, near Sonaguera, Colón. The soldiers are stationed in the region as part of Xatruch 2, a military operation the government says is intended to reduce violence in the Aguán Valley.
The attack on the military patrol led to a flurry of contradictory statements by officials. President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa immediately denied that the attack was connected to the land disputes in the area. “These are not campesinos,” he said on Mar. 26. “This has nothing to do with the agrarian conflicts. These are other people, the same gang, I think, that was in San Francisco de La Paz; they’re moving between Olancho [department] and Colón.” But a military spokesperson announced that the attackers were campesinos involved in the land disputes, while Gen. René Osorio Canales, head of the Armed Forces Joint General Staff, suggested that the campesinos were being armed and trained by Nicaraguan and Venezuelan instructors. [This isn't the first time Gen. Osorio has attributed violence to guerrilla activities; see Update #1097.] (El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) 3/27/12; Prensa Latina 3/27/12; Honduras Culture and Politics blog 3/28/12; AP 3/29/12 via Univision)
*4. Mexico: Commission Blames Police in Guerrero Repression
On Mar. 27 Mexico’s governmental National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) issued recommendations strongly condemning state and federal officials and police agents for their actions in a Dec. 12 confrontation between the police and student protesters in the southwestern state of Guerrero that left three people dead. The recommendations called for compensation to be paid to the people injured and for officials to apologize to the victims and their relatives in a public ceremony in Guerrero. CNDH president Raúl Plascencia Villanueva said the commission was also planning to file a criminal complaint with the federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) against 184 officials and police agents.
The Dec. 12 confrontation started when police agents and soldiers tried to disperse hundreds of protesters blocking a highway to publicize their demands for improvements at the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College, located in the Guerrero village of Ayotzinapa. Two students were shot dead in the violence, and a worker from a nearby gas station died in a fire that police said was caused by a Molotov bomb thrown by a student. Police officials on the scene blamed the students for the shooting deaths, claiming that the agents had all come to the protest without firearms [see Updates #1109, 1113].
In fact, 91 of the 168 federal and state agents on the scene were carrying guns, according to Plascencia Villanueva, while there was no evidence that the students had any firearms. In addition to the deaths, “[t]here were arbitrary arrests, torture, cruel treatment, blows, as well as kicking, against the students,” the CNDH president said. He accused the former state attorney general, Alberto López Rosas, of “fabricating guilty parties and planting evidence.” López Rosas “then turned over two edited videos,” according to Plascencia Villanueva, “[and] lied in reporting that the [state] ministerial police arrived at the scene when the students had already died, which is false, since it has been proved that they arrived minutes before the students died.” Plascencia Villanueva called for proceedings to strip some former state officials of the immunity from prosecution they enjoy for one year after they leave office. (La Jornada (Mexico) 3/28/12)
*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Central America, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti
Americas Summit: Path from the Drug War to Peace
International Labor Organization raps Brazil over Belo Monte dam
UN Body Says Brazil Violating Indigenous Rights
Dirty war justice blocked in Brazil; exhumations in Uruguay
The Morales government: neoliberalism in disguise? (Bolivia)
Bolivia: Ninth Indigenous March called to oppose TIPNIS road
Bolivian Radical Feminist Maria Galindo on Evo Morales, Sex-Ed, and Rebellion in the Universe of Women
Peru: Cajamarca Protests Continue as Conga Gold Mine Awaits Green Light
What is it with Vargas Llosa anyway? (Peru)
Ecuador: national March for Water arrives in Quito
Colombia: FARC "political prisoners" on hunger strike
As gains against FARC claimed, invisible violence against Colombia's campesinos
FARC commander conviction overturned in Santo Domingo massacre
Deconstructing the Colombian Government’s Latest Offensive Against the FARC
Venezuelan Government Says IACHR Ruling against it is “Biased”
Guyana: Remembering Dr. Cheddi Jagan
Discovering Central America in the 1970s and 1980s
Salvadoran Civil War Survivors Demand Restorative Justice
El Salvador: Reported Truce Between Gangs Raises Questions
Indigenous Guatemalan Protestors March in Defense of Territory
Photo Essay: Indigenous, Peasant and Popular March arrives to Guatemala City
Displaced Guatemalan Peasants Demand Answers
Mexico: Blood for Silver, Blood for Gold
Chihuahua News: Court Upholds Indigenous Rights (Mexico)
Mexico violence to top Calderón's final NAFTA
AMLO: No Resentment Here! (Mexico)
Will the Red Cross Put Shelter for Paying Tourists and Aid Workers Before IDP's? (Haiti)
Fighting Fire in Haiti
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Monday, April 2, 2012
WNU #1123: Gay Chilean’s Death Focuses Attention on Hate Crimes
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