Tuesday, November 13, 2012

WNU #1151: Dominican Student Killed During Protest

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1151, November 11, 2012

1. Dominican Republic: Student Killed During Protest Against “Reform”
2. Honduras: Four Dead in Latest Aguán Violence
3. Mexico: 14 Police Are Charged in Attack on CIA Agents
4. Puerto Rico: Fortuño Loses--But Did Statehood Win?
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Caribbean, Haiti, US/policy, 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 http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Dominican Republic: Student Killed During Protest Against “Reform”
Dominican medical student Willy Warden Florián Ramírez was shot dead on Nov. 8 as police attempted to break up a demonstration by students at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) protesting a “fiscal reform” that the Chamber of Deputies passed that day. Police reportedly used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition as masked students threw rocks at the agents and at passing cars. According to the human rights organization Amnesty International (AI), witnesses said police agents shot Florián and then used tear gas against people who tried to come to his aid. Police officials claim a video shows a masked protester firing at police agents. At least three other students, two police officers and a bus ticket collector were injured in the clashes. (El Diario-La Prensa (New York) 11/8/12 from correspondent via La Opinión (Los Angeles); AP 11/9/12 via Hoy (Dominican Republic); AI press release 11/9/12)

Although police officials said they were waiting for the results of a forensic examination of the bullet that killed Florián, they appeared to agree with witnesses that police agents were responsible. The officials said on Nov. 9 that at least 19 of the agents at the demonstration were being investigated. President Medina called the killing a “crime” and ordered the chief of police, Maj. Gen. José Armando Polanco Gómez, to clarify the circumstances that led to the student’s death. (EDLP 11/10/12 from correspondent)

The “fiscal reform”--proposed by the government of President Danilo Medina and passed by the Chamber of Deputies in a 103-66 vote on Nov. 8--will raise the country’s sales tax from 16% to 18% as of Jan. 1 and will establish new taxes on some staple foods, on Christmas bonuses and on fuel. According to Medina the increases are needed to cover a budget deficit of some 187 billion pesos (about US$4.704 billion), according to one source; another source gives 148.564 billion pesos (US$3.373 billion) as the number.

The budget deficit is inherited from Medina’s three-term predecessor, Leonel Fernández (1996-2000, 2004-2008 and 2008-2012), a leader of Medina’s centrist Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). Critics charged that the shortfall resulted from spending for electoral purposes during the last two Fernández administrations and from corruption among Fernández allies, including Senator Félix Bautista, a construction contractor who has been accused of payoffs to successive Haitian governments [see Update #1124]. Ramón Tito Ramírez, a spokesperson for a coalition that protested the tax increase with a march from the UASD to the National Congress on Nov. 6, told reporters that “this disaster should be paid for by those who provoked it, enriching themselves with both hands without caring that their irresponsible actions were increasing the poverty of our people.” The protesters were also calling for 5% of the national budget to be allocated to public universities like the UASD.

Another group, the Political Action Network (RAP), is planning to try Fernández on Nov. 21 at a people’s tribunal. For eight years the public “has been paying for fiscal reforms with the promise that the funds will go to social services,” according to a RED statement, “but it hasn’t happened.” The group cited the continuing “inefficiency of the health services and the non-fulfillment of the funds designated for education.” (EDLP 11/7/12 from correspondent; EFE 11/7/12 via Univision; AP 11/9/12 via Hoy)

Florián’s death made police accountability an additional issue for the protesters. Holding candles, about 50 representatives of various civil organizations demonstrated outside police headquarters in Santo Domingo the evening of Nov. 9. “We’re asking the police to stop their repression, since in any case people are going to continue the protests” against the fiscal reform, Alexander Mundaray, a spokesperson for the protesters, told the Associated Press wire service. (AP 11/9/12 via Hoy)

Amnesty International issued a statement on Nov. 9 saying that “Florián’s killing should give Dominican authorities pause to reflect on how the country’s police have been allowed to violate human rights continually with impunity.” AI said it had “previously documented soaring levels of abuse by police in the Dominican Republic, including torture and unlawful killings. An October 2011 report cited myriad cases of individuals killed by police--a tenth of all murders in the country the previous year were the result of police abuse.” (AI press release 11/9/12)

*2. Honduras: Four Dead in Latest Aguán Violence
Three Honduran campesinos--Orlando Campos, Reynaldo Rivera Paz and José Omar Paz--were killed in a drive-by shooting the weekend of Nov. 3 while they were waiting for transportation in the city of Tocoa in the northern department of Colón. The killings took place in the Lower Aguán Valley, which has been the scene of violent struggles between campesinos and large landowners since late 2009, when members of several campesino cooperatives occupied a number of estates they said were on land reserved for small farmers under an agrarian reform program from the 1980s. As many as 80 people have died in the land disputes, most of them campesinos [see Updates #1143, 1145].

On Nov. 4 the Colón departmental police announced that they had arrested Marvin Noé García Santos, a police agent from Atlántida department, in the murders. Colón police chief José Amílcar Mejía said García Santos was part of a criminal gang that included campesinos occupying the Paso Aguán estate; one source says the victims were also part of the occupation there. According to Mejía the killings resulted from a dispute among three groups over the cutting and selling of African oil palms, the main commercial crop in the Aguán. But one of the main campesino groups in the region, the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), blamed the murders on the ongoing dispute between campesinos and landowners. The group asked for “national and international organizations defending human rights to provide accompaniment to this campesino struggle” and called on Honduran president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa to “rein in this violence against the campesinos of the Lower Aguán.” (La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 11/4/12; Noticias Aliadas 11/7/12)

A fourth Aguán campesino was mudered later in the same week. According to Julián Hernández, president of the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA), three armed “men dressed in blue, security guards for landowners,” kidnapped MARCA member José Cecilio Pérez on Nov. 9 after he and other MARCA members withdrew the equivalent of $16,000 from a Tocoa bank for the salaries of members of the nearby El Despertar cooperative. Pérez’s body was found the next day near an African oil palm plantation. Hernández discounted simple robbery as the motive. “It’s a strategy of the landowners to make it appear that it was robbery,” he said, insisting that the kidnappers were wearing security guards’ uniforms. (AFP 11/10/12 via Terra.com)

The company with the largest holdings in the Aguán is Grupo Dinant, founded by Honduran cooking oil magnate Miguel Facussé Barjum, whose security guards have been blamed for many of the killings. In 2009 Dinant received a $30 million loan from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), in part to fund increased cultivation of African oil palms [see Update #1058]. The Canadian-based organization Rights Action is asking for letters to World Bank president Jim Yong Kim (at The World Bank Group, 1818 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20433) calling on the bank to suspend the loan. (Upside Down World 11/8/12) An anthropologist and physician, Kim is a co-founder, along with Dr. Paul Farmer, of Partners in Health, which provides community-based health care in Haiti and other countries.

*3. Mexico: 14 Police Are Charged in Attack on CIA Agents
After more than two months of investigation, on Nov. 9 Mexico’s federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) confirmed that it was formally charging 14 federal police agents for an Aug. 24 attack on a US embassy van on a road near the Tres Marías community, south of Mexico City in the state of Morelos [see Update #1147]. The agents claimed they mistook the van’s occupants—two agents of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a Mexican marine—for members of a gang connected to a local kidnapping. The two CIA agents were wounded in the incident.

The PGR charged that the 14 Mexican police agents “tried to take the lives” of the three men in the embassy vehicle. Investigators determined that the police agents were driving private cars and were in civilian clothes when they attacked the embassy’s van, which was surrounded by the police agents’ vehicles. Investigators said the van, which was heavily armored, was hit with 152 bullets. The PGR’s formal charges didn’t mention possible links to organized crime, but PGR sources indicated that they thought three of the police agents had ties to the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel. The 14 agents are being held in maximum-security prisons in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, and in Puente Grande, Jalisco. (La Jornada (Mexico) 11/10/12)

*4. Puerto Rico: Fortuño Loses--But Did Statehood Win?
On Nov. 7 Puerto Rican governor Luis G. Fortuño conceded defeat in his bid for a second four-year term in an election the day before that also included voting for the legislature and the municipal governments, and a non-binding referendum on the island’s status. With 96.35% of the ballots counted, Fortuño, the candidate of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP), had received 47.04% of the votes; Senator Alejandro García Padilla, running for the centrist Popular Democratic Party (PPD), won narrowly with 47.85%. Juan Dalmau Ramírez of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) came in third with 2.53%, less than the 3% required to maintain the party’s ballot status. Three smaller parties split the remaining votes. (Prensa Latina 11/7/12; Claridad (Puerto Rico) 11/8/12)

The PNP is close to the US Republican Party, and Fortuño’s aggressive promotion of neoliberal austerity policies sparked protests from unionists opposing budget cuts and layoffs, students opposing tuition hikes and environmentalists opposing a planned natural gas pipeline across the island [see Updates #1008, 1111, 1118].

The vote on Puerto Rico’s status came in two parts. In the first, voters were asked if they wanted to maintain the current relationship with the US as a Free Associated State (ELA, for its initials in Spanish, sometimes called “commonwealth” in English). The “no” won easily with 54% of the votes against 46% for “yes.” In the second part, voters were given a choice between independence, a vaguely defined “Sovereign Free Associated State,” and statehood in the US. Statehood won with 802,179 votes (61.15% of valid votes), followed by “Sovereign Free Associated State” with 436,997 votes (33.31%), and independence with just 72,551 votes (5.53%).

Pedro Pierluisi, a PNP member and Fortuño ally who won reelection as Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner (non-voting representative) to the US Congress, quickly hailed the vote as a victory for statehood. “The ball has gone into the court of the [US] Congress, and if they don’t act with speed, it can certainly pass on to international bodies,” he said in an interview that the Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Día published on Nov. 9.

But others denied that statehood had won a clear victory. During the campaign the PPD had opposed all three choices, implying that voters shouldn’t mark their ballots for this question, and in fact a total of 468,478 ballots were left blank. The combined total for the blank ballots, the votes for independence and the votes for “Sovereign Free Associated State” came to 978,026--175,847 more than the votes for statehood--suggesting that Puerto Ricans remain divided on the issue. In the last referendum on status, in 1998, voters were given “none of the above” as an option; it won with about 50.3% of the vote [see Update #463]. (Claridad 11/8/12; EFE 11/9/12 via Univision)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Caribbean, Haiti, US/policy, US/immigration

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Argentina freezes Chevron assets in Ecuador case

New Media Law, New Voices in Argentina

Earth’s Most Threatened Tribe Make Unprecedented Visit to Brazil’s Capital

Peru: Water Tribunal indicts Conga project

God, Oil, and the Theft of Waorani DNA: A Tale of Biopiracy in Ecuador

The Military's Human Rights Record and the Peace Process in Colombia

What U.S. Voters Can Learn from Venezuela’s Election

Venezuela: indigenous protest for land rights

Campaign to Legalise Abortion in Venezuela Gains Publicity

Central American Mothers Organize to Find Their Missing Migrant Children

El Salvador Urged to Respond to El Calabozo Massacre Survivors’ Demands

Is the World Bank Funding Death Squads in Honduras?

Citizen uprisings spread in Mexico

Obama's Election and the Caribbean: What Does it Mean?

Haiti: Hidden Costs of the Industrial Zone

Zokiki – Unavoidable “juvenile delinquency?” (Haiti)

Will the International Response to Hurricane Sandy Be Any Better than the Response to Haiti’s Quake or Cholera Disasters?

Islamo-Bolivarianism: The Green-and-Red Menace in Latin America (US/policy)

Obama VS. Romney for Latin America: Carrying or Swinging the "Big Stick" (US/policy)

Remembering Jose Antonio: Day of the Dead in Nogales (US/immigration)

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