Monday, May 14, 2012

WNU #1129: Chilean Activists Protest New US Base

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1129, May 13, 2012

1. Chile: Human Rights Activists Protest New US Base
2. Peru: Questions Persist on 1997 Hostage Rescue
3. Honduras: One Journalist Murdered, One Kidnapped
4. Mexico: Demand Grows for Release of Chiapas Schoolteacher
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Jamaica, Puerto Rico

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  For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

*1. Chile: Human Rights Activists Protest New US Base
A US military training center in the port city of Concón, in the central Chilean province of Valparaíso, will be used for exercises “clearly oriented toward the control and repression of the civilian population,” according to an open letter that more than 20 human rights organizations sent Defense Minister Andrés Allamand on May 7. The US government has spent $460,000 constructing the installation, which opened on Apr. 5 at the Chilean military’s Fort Aguayo naval base. UPI Business News writes that the site “is growing into a major destination for regional military trainers and defense industry contractors.”

According to the US Southern Command (USSC), which heads US military operations in Latin America and the Caribbean, the installation will be used for training in Military Operations on Urban Terrain (MOUT) by Latin American soldiers as they prepare for international operations, such as United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions. But the human rights groups wrote in their letter that the Fort Aguayo training ground—a simulation of an urban zone, with eight buildings and sidewalks and roads—suggests plans for military intervention in civilian society. The groups noted that the installation was opened at a time when “broad and massive social demonstrations are developing on the part of the citizenry throughout the country.” [The government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera has been shaken over the past year by militant protests by students, the indigenous Mapuche, residents of the southern region of Aysén, and other groups; see Updates #1122, 1127].

The human rights organizations said the US lacks “the moral quality to teach ‘peace operations,’” since “it has promoted coups, financed destabilization operations in sister countries, and has promoted war in the world. We don’t forget that in 2009 the Soto Cano base in Honduras, with US military personnel, was used to implement the coup d’état” against former president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales [2006-2009]. The letter also held the US responsible for the brutal 1973 coup in Chile and for training “the worst human rights violators in our country” at the US Army’s School of the Americas. (El Ciudadano (Chile) 5/9/12; Adital (Brazil) 5/10/12; People’s World 4/26/12; UPI Business News 4/30/12)

The Southern Command is also planning to build an installation in Argentina, at the airport in Resistencia, capital of the northeastern province of Chaco. The plan seems to contradict center-left president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s policy against allowing foreign military bases, although the province’s governor, Jorge Milton Capitanich, insists that the installation isn’t a “base,” since the US now describes its facilities with terms like “Cooperative Security Location” (CSL) and “Forward Operating Location” (FOL).

The $3 million installation in Chaco will ostensibly be a humanitarian aid center for dealing with natural disasters, but critics suspect the real goal is to monitor the sensitive Triple Frontier region, where the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet, and the Guaraní Aquifer, one of the world’s largest sources of fresh water. The US officer in charge of the project is Col. Edwin Passmore, who was expelled from Venezuela in 2008 on a charge that he had engaged in espionage while serving as US military attaché there. In November 2011 Passmore was involved in an incident in which a US military plane landed in Buenos Aires carrying undeclared electronic monitoring equipment, medications, and intelligence transmission devices.

The US currently has about 800 bases worldwide, with 22 in Latin America, including bases in Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Paraguay and Peru; naval stations in Aruba and Curaçao; and a “CSL” under construction in the Dominican Republic. (People’s World 4/26/12; El Ciudadano 5/5/12)

*2. Peru: Questions Persist on 1997 Hostage Rescue
The Peruvian military held a ceremony at its Chorrillos base, near Lima, on Apr. 20 to commemorate a commando operation 15 years earlier that freed 71 hostages who had been held by rebels from the leftist Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) for 126 days at the Japanese ambassador’s residence in the capital. One hostage, two soldiers and all 14 rebels were killed in the operation, which took place on Apr. 22, 1997. The raid, codenamed Operation Chavín de Huántar, was ordered by the government of former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), then a US ally; Fujimori is now serving a 25-year prison term in Peru for corruption and for ordering killings and kidnappings [see Update #1109].

The brief military ceremony, broadcast on national television, included a reenactment of the rescue using a full-scale replica of the ambassador’s residence built at the base under the Fujimori administration; the Japanese government tore down the original building a few months after the rescue. (AFP 4/20/12 via Univision)

A small unit of the now-defunct MRTA seized the ambassador’s residence on Dec. 17, 1996, during a reception honoring the Japanese emperor’s birthday. A large part of Peru’s political class was attending, and the rebels initially took about 700 hostages, although most were freed within days. The successful rescue in April 1997 helped diminish the embarrassment the MRTA’s seizure of the residence caused the security forces and the Fujimori government. But the success was marred almost immediately by reports from a few police agents and freed hostages that at least three of the rebels had been executed after they surrendered [see Update #378].

Relatives of Eduardo (“Tito”) Cruz Sánchez, one of the MRTA rebels allegedly executed, repeatedly tried to get the Peruvian court system to act on the reports; currently the charges are included in proceedings against Fujimori’s intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, that have been languishing in the courts for years. Starting this year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) has taken up the case as well, infuriating the government of President Ollanta Humala, a former military officer [see World War 4 Report 3/18/12, 4/13/12].

Hidetaka Ogura, a former hostage who was first secretary at the Japanese embassy in the 1990s, is an important witness in the case; he says he saw “Tito” Cruz Sánchez alive and bound after the rescue. The Peruvian military has dismissed Ogura’s testimony and has suggested that he might have collaborated with the MRTA. Another important source of evidence for the case is a secret cable dated June 10, 1997, from the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA); the National Security Archive, a Washington, DC-based research group, obtained it from the US government in 2007 through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The cable cites an intelligence source apparently involved in the rescue who graphically described a commando killing an unarmed rebel, Roli (“Arabe”) Rojas Fernández, and said an unnamed “female MRTA militant was also executed during the operation after she surrendered.” The intelligence source said Fujimori had given a “take no prisoners” order.

On Apr. 29, a little more than a week after the 15th anniversary celebration, the Peruvian daily La República reported that Kate Doyle, a director of investigations at the National Security Archive, had testified recently at the Montesinos trial on the Callao military base. In addition to confirming that the DIA cable was authentic, she noted that declassified US government documents had been used “in various trials in Argentina, Chile, Guatemala and in Perú, in the Fujimori case.” (Three former military officers are being tried along with Montesinos: Gen. Nicolás Hermoza Ríos, Col. Roberto Huamán Azcurra and Col. Jesús Zamudio Aliaga.) (National Security Archive press release 12/10/07; EFE 4/29/12 via Univision)

There have also been persistent questions about the killing of Supreme Court Justice Carlos Giusti Acuña, the one hostage to die in the rescue and an opponent of Fujimori’s changes to the Constitution. In 2002 a protected witness told a Peruvian prosecutor that Montesinos had ordered Giusti's death and had put Col. Huamán Azcurra in charge of carrying out the killing, according to La República. In March of this year Argentine lawyer Alejandro Teitelbaum, citing a 1997 investigation by the Association of American Jurists, charged that Giusti was wounded in the leg and left to bleed to death. (LR 5/16/02; El Diario Internacional 3/13/12)

*3. Honduras: One Journalist Murdered, One Kidnapped
The body of Honduran journalist and LGBT rights activist Erick Alex Martínez Avila was found by a highway in the Tegucigalpa metropolitan area on May 7. He had reportedly been strangled, and the murder is believed to have taken place the day before. Martínez Avila was the communications director for Kukulcan, an organization that defends the rights of the LGBT community, and he was a founder of the Movement of Diversity in Resistance (MDR) and a member of the leftist group Los Necios Political Organization (“los necios” means “the obstinate ones”). Martínez Avila was also running in the Nov. 18 primary elections to be a candidate for legislative deputy in 2013 on the line of the Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), a new party formed by the grassroots National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP).

According to the Latin American Federation of Journalists (FELAP), Martínez Avila was the 22nd Honduran journalist to be murdered since June 2009, when President José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales [2006-2009] was overthrown in a military coup. The MDR says the journalist was also the 20th member of the LGBT community to be murdered since President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa took office in January 2010. (InfoBAE (Argentina) 5/8/12 from DPA, AFP; Adital (Brazil) 5/8/12, 5/10/12)

Alfredo Villatoro, a reporter and news coordinator for the HRN radio chain, was kidnapped in Tegucigalpa in the early morning of May 9 while he was on his way to work. The police quickly arrested former police sergeant Gerson Basilio Godoy, who was driving a Toyota pickup that had been seen parked in front of Villatorio's house that morning; the truck had also collided with the reporter's car, as was shown by paint marks from the other vehicle. The Public Prosecutor’s office released Godoy after 10 hours, saying the evidence was insufficient.

Godoy was dismissed from the police force in September 2011 on suspicion of belonging to a band of kidnappers and extortionists [see Update #1104 for more on corruption in the police force]. In March he was questioned about a robbery attempt against an official, but he was not charged. (Honduras Culture and Politics blog 5/9/12; La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 5/9/12) As of May 13 Villatorio was still missing, and the Honduran government had brought in police experts from Colombia and the US to help in the investigation. (El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) 5/13/12)

*4. Mexico: Demand Grows for Release of Chiapas Schoolteacher
Groups in Argentina, Brazil, France, England, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and the US are planning events in the May 15-22 “Week of Global Struggle for the Liberation of Alberto Patishtán Gómez and Francisco Sántiz López,” two indigenous prisoners from the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas. The week of actions was initiated by the New York-based Movement for Justice in El Barrio.

Patishtán Gómez, in prison since 2000, is serving a 60-year sentence for his alleged involvement in the June 2000 killing of seven police agents in El Bosque municipality. Local authorities initially suspected drug traffickers, but prosecutors later shifted their attention to supporters of the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). Most of El Bosque had been part of a pro-EZLN autonomous municipality, San Juan de la Libertad, from 1995 until 1998, when it was dismantled in a violent military operation [see Update #542]. Patishtán Gómez, a local schoolteacher, was the only suspect convicted in the case, and the only witness against him was Rosemberg Gómez, the son of Manuel Gómez Ruiz, then El Bosque’s mayor. Years later Rosemberg Gómez reportedly would tell people when he was drunk that he’d lied on instructions from his father, and that he got a new van as a reward.

Sántiz López, an EZLN supporter, was arrested in December 2011 on charges of leading a confrontation in Tenejapa municipality on Dec. 4 in which one person was killed. Twelve witnesses testify that he wasn’t present during the fight. (Radio Zapatista 4/18/12; Upside Down World 5/11/12; La Jornada (Mexico) 5/12/12)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Jamaica, Puerto Rico

The Failure of the Summit of the Americas VI

Will Latin America Become the New Middle East?

Chomsky: Latin America, Social Movements, Neo-Liberalism, Free Trade Agreements

Unasur Nations Reveal Military Spending, Deepen Cooperation

The Right to Identity: Argentine Congress Affirms Transgender Rights in Historic Vote

An Argentine Perspective on Degrowth

Chilean Congress Approves “Zamudio Law” Against Discrimination

Chile: high court blocks Patagonia hydro scheme

Che: Behind the CIA’s Killing of a Revolutionary (Bolivia)

Nationalization, Bolivian Style: Morales Seizes Electric Grid, Boosts Oil Incentives

Indigenous Peruvian Community Locked in Dispute with Oil Company

Peru: police arrest villagers following anti-mining protest

Controversy surrounds (supposed) surrender of Colombian kingpin

A Rejuvenated Grassroots Movement in Colombia

Embedded NYT Reporter Boosts US War in Honduras (and Why We Shouldn’t Listen)

Update: The Guatemalan Death Squad Diary and the Right to Truth

Recognizing—and Assisting—the Victims in Mexico

Mexico’s Peace Movement and Javier Sicilia: One Year On

National and International Campaign for the Freedom of Political Prisoners in Chiapas Presses On (Mexico)  

A Stellar Record of Failure: The IMF and Jamaica

Puerto Rico Governor: Students Should Speak Fluent English by 2022

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.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

No comments: