Monday, September 24, 2012

WNU #1145: Activist Honduran Lawyer Murdered

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1145, September 23, 2012

1. Honduras: Lawyer for Aguán and Model Cities Struggles Is Murdered
2. Colombia: Student Hunger Strikes Protest Education Cutbacks
3. Haiti: Thousands Demonstrate Against Corruption, Rising Prices
4. Mexico: Report Blasts US Government for Fast and Furious
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration

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. Honduras: Lawyer for Aguán and Model Cities Struggles Is Murdered
Activist Honduran attorney Antonio Trejo Cabrera was killed by unknown assailants the evening of Sept. 22 in Tegucigalpa’s América neighborhood near the Toncontín International Airport. Trejo, who was also a Protestant minister, received a call on his telephone while he was in a church attending a wedding; he stepped outside and was gunned down. He died an hour later in a teaching hospital. Trejo was active in two major political conflicts: a long-standing dispute over land in the Lower Aguán Valley in northern Honduras and a new struggle over the Special Development Regions (RED, also known as “model cities”), a neoliberal project for creating several privatized semi-autonomous zones near ports.

Trejo was the attorney for the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA), one of the main campesino collectives involved in the Aguán disputes; he was arrested along with 24 MARCA members at a demonstration outside the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) building in Tegucigalpa on Aug. 21 [see Update #1142]. Annie Bird, co-director of the Toronto-based solidarity organization Rights Action, wrote after Trejo’s death that his “dedicated efforts had regained legal ownership of four farms owned by [wealthy landowners] Miguel Facussé, René Morales and Reinaldo Canales…. Now MARCA will have a hard time continuing to defend their land from the judicial hitmen.” In a statement on Sept. 23, another campesino collective, the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), charged that Facussé, Morales and Canales were responsible for Trejo’s murder. (El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) 9/23/12; Rights Action email 9/23/12; Notimex 9/23/12 via Univision)

Trejo was also one of several attorneys who filed a complaint with the Public Ministry charging the legislative deputies who voted in favor of the “model cities” project with “the crime of treason to the nation and abuse of authority.” A number of legal challenges have been filed against the project on the grounds that it cedes national sovereignty to private and foreign groups; the main investors appear to be Canadian and US firms [see Update #1144], although some deputies suggested that one US investor, Michael Strong, might be fronting for some Honduran business interests. The Public Ministry itself has found the project unconstitutional, according to Danelia Ferrera, the director of prosecutors at the ministry, although she said any legal action would be on hold until the CSJ makes a ruling. (El Heraldo 9/15/12, 9/19/12)

Opposition to the “model cities” isn’t limited to court challenges. A number of organizations have joined together in a National Campaign Against the Model Cities, which has called for “the most aggressive actions by all the organized sectors and by the citizenry in general, going beyond mere public pronouncements.” The campaign called for a demonstration on Sept. 19 outside the CSJ. (Adital (Brazil) 9/17/12)

Public school teachers included the “model cities” among the issues they protested with a one-day strike on Sept. 21 that shut down classes for two million students; the teachers also protested a change in the schedule for their pay day, which had previously been on the 20th of each month, and the cost of fuel. In Tegucigalpa the teachers gathered at 8 am outside the Francisco Morazán National Pedagogic University (UPNFM) and then spread out to different parts of the capital. One group of strikers blocked traffic on the Centroamérica Boulevard near the National Institute of Teachers’ Social Security (Inprema), which handles teachers' pensions. In northern Honduras a number of teachers and students blocked Puerto Cortés, the country’s most important port, bringing economic activity to a halt. (A conservative parents’ group responded to the strike by calling for teachers to be subject to drug testing.) (El Heraldo 9/22/12)

Members of the Garífuna ethnic group have combined opposition to the “model cities” project with their continuing struggle to regain land they claim along the northern coast. One of the supposedly “uninhabited” regions being considered for the first “model city” is the area near Puerto Castilla in Colón department, territory that the Garífuna say their ancestors began settling in the early 19th century, more than a decade before 1821, when Honduras became an independent country. On Aug. 26 some 200 Garífuna families occupied the Vallecito area on the coast, with support from a leading Garífuna organization, the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH); apparently this was intended as a preemptive move to establish the Garífuna claim to the area.

The coastal region is near the Aguán Valley, the site of the land dispute between landowners and campesinos, and the Garífuna settlers say they have been harassed by paramilitaries who may be linked either to drug traffickers or to Aguán landowner and cooking oil magnate Miguel Facussé. (Desinformemos 9/17/12 via Lista Informativa Nicaragua y Más; Upside Down World 9/18/12)

*2. Colombia: Student Hunger Strikes Protest Education Cutbacks
As of Sept. 18 six students at the Fusagasugá campus of the University of Cundinamarca, in the central Colombian department of Cundinamarca, were continuing a hunger strike they began on Sept. 10 to demand that university authorities negotiate with students on educational issues. The strikers say tuition is too high and sometimes is higher than the legal minimum wage; they are also protesting the university’s use of professors with four-month contracts rather than permanent teaching staff, and the reduction of the semester to just 16 weeks.

There were originally seven strikers; one became ill on Sept. 14 and was taken to the San Rafael Hospital. Students from the National University visited the strikers on Sept. 16 in a show of solidarity. (Adital (Brazil) 9/18/12)

Another student hunger strike began on Sept. 18 at the Amazonia University at Florencia, in the southwestern department of Caquetá. Albeiro Benítez, president of the Amazonia University Student Council (CEUNAM), sewed his lips shut to push demands for a rollback of tuition increases and for a discussion about the quality of education at the school. He was still on hunger strike as of Sept. 22, although his physical condition was weakening.

The action received support from the majority of the university’s political organizations and from Aníbal Quiroga, vice president of the Union Association of University Professors (ASPU). Quiroga said he considered the protest justified because “they raised the tuition for the students and excluded the most vulnerable,” because “the administration took away autonomy from the academic community” and because “protest is being criminalized” in a “‘dirty war’ against the sectors that struggle for the common interest.”

According to La Nación, a daily based in Neiva in the southwestern Department of Huila, the University of Cundinamarca hunger strike was also continuing as of Sept. 22. (La Nación 9/22/12)

*3. Haiti: Thousands Demonstrate Against Corruption, Rising Prices
Several thousand people took to the streets of Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second largest city and the capital of North department, on Sept. 21 to protest a rise in the cost of basic foods and what they perceived as corruption and nepotism in the government of President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) and Prime Minister Laurent Salvador Lamothe. The day of protests was called by various grassroots organizations and local opposition politicians, notably Senator Moïse Jean-Charles of the Unity party of former president René Préval (1996-2001, 2006-2011).

Protesters set up barricades of burning tires in various streets, especially in the working-class neighborhoods of La Fossette, Samarie and Cité Lescot, blocking traffic in parts of the city. Confrontations broke out when Martelly supporters threw stones at the opposition protesters in Cité Lescot. For their part Martelly opponents were seen ripping the “pink bracelets,” a symbol of support for the government, from the arms of passersby. Agents of the Haitian National Police (PNH) and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) fired in the air and used tear gas to disperse the crowds. Commercial banks closed down by 11 am, and public transport was delayed throughout North and Northeast departments. By the evening Cap-Haïtien’s streets were deserted as residents kept to their homes.

There had also been confrontations between police and protesters the night of Sept. 20-21, leaving two people wounded by bullets and one police agent injured by rocks, according to Departmental Director Carl Henry Boucher.

Other protests took place on Sept. 21 in the southern part of the country. Burning barricades appeared in the streets of Les Cayes (South department), and several hundred people reportedly protested in Miragoâne (Nippes department). (AlterPresse (Haiti) 9/21/12; Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 9/21/12; Haïti Libre (Haiti) 9/22/12)

The day of protests in Cap-Haïtien on Sept. 21 was the second time this month that people used street actions there to express their dissatisfaction with economic conditions and with President Martelly’s failure to fulfill the promises he made during the 2010-2010 electoral process. A similar protest on Sept. 12 was called by a coalition of about 20 organizations, including the labor organizing group Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle”), and was backed by Senator Jean-Charles. (AlterPresse 9/13/12)

Adding to tensions over the economy, on Oct. 1 the minimum wage is set to rise for workers in the “free trade zones” (FTZs), the tax-exempt assembly plants producing for export, principally to the US and Canada. After a six-month struggle over wages in the sector, the Parliament passed a law on Oct. 6, 2009 raising the daily minimum wage to 200 gourdes (about $4.75 at current rates) for all industrial and commercial workers except those in the FTZs. The minimum wage remained at 125 gourdes ($3.00) for the assembly plant workers, but in a compromise the law stipulated that their minimum would rise to 200 gourdes this year [see Update #1083, where we originally reported, following our source, that the raise took place in October 2010]. Article 2.2 of the law raises the minimum further for workers paid by the piece in plants producing exclusively for export. In those factories “the price per unit of production (notably the piece, the dozen, the gross, the meter) should be set in such a way as to allow the worker to receive at least three hundred (300) gourdes [about $7.12] for his or her day’s work of (8) eight hours.”

The Martelly government noted on Sept. 19 that the new rates would go into effect on Oct. 1, but it remains to be seen whether businesses will obey the law and whether the government will enforce it. Meanwhile, the government has responded to rising prices by announcing the importation of 300,000 sacks of rice in order to drive down food costs. Several economists dismissed the move as cosmetic. (AlterPresse 9/19/12)

*4. Mexico: Report Blasts US Government for Fast and Furious
On Sept. 19 Michael Horowitz, the inspector general of the US Department of Justice, released a 471-page report on Operation Fast and Furious, a bungled program in which the Arizona office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) inadvertently let about 2,000 firearms pass into Mexico during 2009 and 2010, with many of the weapons apparently going to Mexican drug traffickers [see Update #1135]. The inspector general, a sort of internal auditor for the Justice Department, found that the ATF and US prosecutors in Arizona were at fault in the operation, along with Justice officials in Washington who were responsible for supervising the ATF and the federal prosecutors.

The report recommended that the actions of 17 officials be reviewed for administrative or disciplinary measures. Lanny Breuer, chief of the department’s criminal division, has already been admonished; Jason Weinstein, an assistant deputy attorney general, resigned on Sept. 19, and former ATF acting director Kenneth Melson retired on the same day. But Michael Horowitz cleared Attorney General Eric Holder of any responsibility in the case and provided no evidence to back a rightwing conspiracy theory that the government allowed the weapons into Mexico on purpose to create a case for stricter gun control laws. (New York Times 9/20/12)

Mexican media were especially interested in the report’s finding that in 2011 Breuer proposed to Mexican officials that the US and Mexico cooperate in a similar program to monitor illegal gun purchases as a way of tracking gun smuggling operations. (La Jornada (Mexico) 9/21/12 from DPA, AFP, Notimex) Apparently nothing came of Breuer’s proposal, but in 2010 the administration of Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa had already proposed a law that would allow the Mexican government to carry out operations like Fast and Furious [see Update #1105].

In other news, the Mexican government continues to play down an Aug. 24 incident in which Mexican federal police in at least four vehicles shot up a US embassy van carrying two US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents to a Mexican Navy installation; the two agents were wounded and are being treated in the US [see Update #1143]. On Sept. 17 a Mexican official suggested that the attack was the result of simple confusion. The police agents were looking for a gang that had kidnapped an employee of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in the same area, the official said. They were focused on the unusual presence of an armored van traveling at high speed on a country road, and they didn’t notice that the vehicle had diplomatic license plates, according to the official, who said he couldn’t be cited by name. (Associated Press 9/17/12 via Terra Argentina)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration

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