Monday, February 11, 2013

WNU #1163: Honduran Rural Leader Charged With “Land Usurpation”

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1163, February 10, 2013

1. Honduras: Campesino Leader Charged With Land Usurpation
2. Colombia: Drummond Contractor Convicted in Unionists' Deaths
3. Dominican Republic: Barrick Mining Contract Is Challenged
4. Haiti: Duvalier Told to Appear in Rights Abuse Case
5. Mexico: US Agents Shot Youth in Back, Autopsy Confirms
6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Caribbea, Haiti, Dominican Republic, 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 For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

*1. Honduras: Campesino Leader Charged With Land Usurpation
A contingent of some 30 soldiers and police agents arrested Juan Ramón Chinchilla, president of the largest campesino organization in northern Honduras’ Lower Aguán Valley, the evening of Feb. 8 in the central park in Tocoa, Colón department. Police then drove Chinchilla, who heads the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), 60 km to a court in the city of Trujillo, where he was charged with “usurpation of land.” After a two-hour hearing, the judges released Chinchilla conditionally at about 2 am; he is required to stay in the country and to report to the court every Monday.

The criminal complaint against Chinchilla originated with Exportadora del Atlántico SA, the agricultural division of Grupo Dinant, a food product company founded by the wealthy Miguel Facussé Barjum. The Aguán Valley has been subject to violent struggles between campesinos and large landowners like Facussé since late in 2009, when MUCA and other campesino cooperatives occupied a number of estates they said were on land reserved for small farmers under an agrarian reform program from the 1980s. More than 80 campesinos have died in the land disputes, and Chinchilla himself was captured and beaten by hooded men in January 2011 and held for two days before escaping [see Updates #1063, 1159].

According to MUCA, the court’s decision to release Chinchilla so quickly was the result of solidarity from media groups and from hundreds of campesinos who headed to Trujillo the night of Feb. 8 and threatened to block roads if Chinchilla wasn’t freed. But the case against Chinchilla remains open. MUCA spokespeople say 3,081 campesinos have been arrested in connection with Aguán land disputes in the last two years, while the government of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa has failed to prosecute the region’s landowners and their security guards for violence against campesinos. (Lista Informativa Nicaragua y Más (LINyM) 2/9/13 via Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP, Honduras); MUCA communiqué 2/10/13 via Honduras Tierra Libre)

In related news, on the afternoon of Feb. 2 a group of armed men gunned down the campesino Juan Pérez near the El Tigre community, about 3 km from Tocoa, as he was returning home from work. Pérez, the father of nine, was a member of the Campesino Movement for the Recovery of the Aguán (MOCRA). Three hours later Williams Alvarado was murdered in the community of Taojica; he was a MUCA member who worked at the Flor del Aguán cooperative in the Aurora settlement. (MUCA communiqué 2/3/13 via Vos el Soberano (Honduras); Adital (Brazil) 2/4/13)

*2. Colombia: Drummond Contractor Convicted in Unionists' Deaths
On Jan. 25 Colombian judge William Andrés Castiblanco sentenced Jaime Blanco, a former contractor for the Alabama-based Drummond Co. Inc. coal company, to 37 years and 11 months in prison for masterminding the March 2001 murders of two union leaders in the northern department of Cesar. The court found that Blanco, who supplied food services for Drummond’s La Loma mine, had arranged with rightwing paramilitaries, including one known as “Tolemaida,” for the killing of Valmore Locarno and Víctor Hugo Orcasita, leaders of the mine’s union. Blanco’s assistant, Jairo Charris, was convicted in 2009 in the same murder plot and was sentenced to 30 years.

Judge Castiblanco also sent trial records to Colombian prosecutors so that they could investigate other people possibly connected to the crimes: Drummond’s president, Garry Drummond; two company directors, Augusto Valencia and Jean Adkins; Alfredo Araújo Castro, Drummond’s public relations director for Cesar; and former Colombian legislator Jorge Castro Pacheco, who was convicted in 2010 of maintaining ties to paramilitary organizations. In addition, the judge supported a request by the victims’ relatives to ask the Supreme Court to investigate former assistant prosecutor Edgardo Maya for allegedly failing to act to protect unionists in Cesar; Maya is Jaime Blanco’s half-brother.

Drummond management has long been suspected of involvement of the murders of Locarno and Orcasita and of another La Loma unionist, Gustavo Soler, who was killed later in 2001. The US-based International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and the United Steelworkers (USW) union filed a civil suit against Drummond in March 2002 under the 1789 Alien Tort Statute in federal court in Birmingham, Alabama, where the company is based. The Birmingham jury found the company not liable in 2007, but ILRF executive director Terry Collingsworth announced plans to appeal [see Update #911]. In an April 2011 interview Blanco told the Associated Press wire service that Drummond senior managers ordered the murders of Locarno and Orcasita and that if he was convicted, they would be able to “wash their hands” of the case. (El Tiempo (Bogotá) 2/5/13; Miami Herald 2/6/13 from AP)

In other news the Colombian Environment Ministry has indefinitely suspended Drummond’s permission to load coal on ships at its port near Santa Marta in the northern department of Magdalena; the suspension came after the company dumped at least 500 metric tons of coal into the Caribbean in January to keep a barge from sinking in bad weather. The ministry indicated that Drummond, the second largest exporter of Colombian coal, needs to develop a better contingency plan before it is allowed to resume operations. Meanwhile, production stopped at the largest exporter of Colombian coal--Cerrejón, a joint venture between BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Xstrata--on Feb. 7 when workers went on their first strike in two decades. The Cerrejón Workers Union (Sintracarbón) called the walkout over wage and benefit issues. (MH 2/6/13  from AP; Reuters 2/8/13)

*3. Dominican Republic: Barrick Mining Contract Is Challenged
The Justice and Transparency Foundation (FJT), a Dominican civil organization, has filed for an injunction against a contract the government signed with the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation for the Pueblo Viejo gold mine in Cotuí in the Dominican Republic’s central province of Sánchez Ramírez. The mine, a joint venture of Barrick and the Vancouver-based multinational Goldcorp Inc., opened last August despite strong opposition from environmental groups [see Update #1139], It is set to begin exporting gold in February.

According to the FJT, the company expects to make $2 billion from the gold it exports this year, while the Dominican government will only receive $53 million. Over the next 25 years Barrick Gold will get back something like $50 billion on its $3.7 billion initial investment, FJT president Trajano Potentini said on Feb. 4. The country will receive just $1.3 billion, while it will have the sole responsibility for dealing with the mine’s damage to the environment. Potentini called legislators who approved the contract “traitors to the country.” In addition to the legal filing, the foundation was planning a national day of consciousness-raising around the issue. (Hoy (Santo Domingo) 2/4/13; Adital (Brazil) 2/8/13)

*4. Haiti: Duvalier Told to Appear in Rights Abuse Case
The effort to bring former Haitian “president for life” Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier (1971-1986) to trial for human rights abuses inched forward on Feb. 7 when an appeals court panel in Port-au-Prince heard from lawyers representing people who say they were victims of his regime. Duvalier had failed to appear at an earlier hearing, scheduled for Jan. 31, and he refused to attend the new hearing, which fell on the 27th anniversary of his 1986 overthrow. Defense lawyers read the judges a letter from Duvalier saying that Feb. 7 should be “a day of national reconciliation” and complaining about “abominable acts” that he said were committed against his supporters after his ouster—apparently a reference to the lynching of some members of the notorious Tonton Macoute paramilitary group.

The plaintiffs first brought charges against Duvalier when he returned to Haiti in January 2011 after a 25-year exile in France, but the investigative judge in the case, Carvès Jean, ruled in January 2012 that while Duvalier should stand trial for allegations of corruption, the statute of limitations had run out for the human rights violations [see Update #1159]. International rights groups have protested this decision. “International human rights standards are very clear in cases such as this,” Javier Zúñiga, a special adviser at Amnesty International (AI) said in a Feb. 6 press release. “Crimes including torture, executions, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances are not subject to a statute of limitations and the alleged perpetrators cannot benefit from pardons or amnesties.”

As Duvalier supporters and opponents demonstrated outside, the two legal teams clashed in the courtroom. Duvalier’s group interrupted the plaintiffs’ lawyers, charging that they had no standing in the case since they allegedly had failed to follow proper procedures. After a brief recess, the judges finally heard from the plaintiffs’ lawyers, who demanded that the court require Duvalier to appear for another hearing or face arrest. Appeals court judge Jean Joseph Lebrun scheduled a new hearing for Feb. 21, again calling for Duvalier to appear in person. (AI press release 2/6/13; AlterPresse (Haiti) 2/7/13, 2/8/13)

Meanwhile, the courts’ investigation of the April 2000 murder of journalist Jean Léopold Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint, the guard at Dominique’s Haïti Inter radio station, is continuing [see Update #777]. Investigative judge Yvickel D. Dabresil issued a letter asking Mirlande Libérus, a former senator for the Lavalas Family (FL) party of ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004), to appear in the appeals court “on the Friday that falls on Feb. 6, 2013.” Libérus’ lawyer, human rights attorney Mario Joseph, argued that since Feb. 6, 2013 fell on a Wednesday, the former senator, who now lives in the US, didn’t know when to appear; Joseph requested a new date from the judge, who has been in charge of the long-delayed investigation since Apr. 3, 2005. (AlterPresse 2/6/13)

*5. Mexico: US Agents Shot Youth in Back, Autopsy Confirms
José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, a 16-year-old Mexican shot dead by US Border Patrol agents at the Mexico-US border near Nogales, Arizona, the night of Oct. 10, 2012 [see World War Report 10/14/12], was hit by at least eight bullets and maybe as many as 11, according to an autopsy report made available to reporters on Feb. 7. The report, prepared by doctors for the Sonora State Attorney General’s Office, found that at least seven of the bullets hit the unarmed teenager in the back. The shooting came a week after an Oct. 2 incident in which a Border Patrol agent was shot dead by other agents in the dark near the border in Cochise County, Arizona [see World War Report 10/10/12].

The Border Patrol agents initially claimed that Rodríguez had been on the border fence and had thrown stones at them. They said they fired in self-defense. “No, the youth was definitely not on the wall when he received the impacts,” Luis Parra, the family’s lawyer, told reporters. “The youth was on a sidewalk on the Mexican side.” The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which is in charge of investigating Border Patrol shooting, has remained silent on the case. FBI spokesperson Jennifer Giannola wouldn’t tell a reporter for the Associated Press wire service when the investigation would be completed. “Although we are cognizant of time, it is imperative to conduct a thorough investigation,” she wrote in an email.

In October Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat (SRE) called the killing a “serious bilateral problem,” but it is unclear what the Mexican government has done in response to the killing of an unarmed Mexican minor in Mexico by US agents. (AP 2/7/13 via Huffington Post; Univision 2/8/13)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Caribbean, Haiti, Dominican Republic, US/policy, US/immigration

Interview with Darío Aranda: Extractivism, Resistance, Repression, and Journalism in Argentina

Brazil: Amazon peoples declare against hydro

Brazil: First Ever Strike against Walmart

Bolivia: indigenous demand autonomy from state

Peru: miners block Pan-American Highway

Peru: villages to hold referendum on Conga project

Peru: Uchuraccay massacre recalled

World’s Leading Asparagus Company Violates Worker Rights, Says Peruvian Union

Peru: water authority rejects mine expansion

Santos Negotiating Formula and its Risks in Colombia

Colombia: ELN to join peace talks?

Venezuela Devaluates Bolivar Currency by 32%

Guyana: miners win ruling over indigenous groups

Medellín's "top crime boss" arrested in Panama

Costa Rica upholds ban on open-pit mining

Nicaragua raises stakes in border conflict

Cold War Policies Revived by Honduran Intelligence Law

Rios Montt on Trial for Genocide in Guatemala

The EZLN Announces Upcoming Meetings in its Territory (Mexico)

International meeting unites movements against destructive mining projects (Mexico)

Massive Working Class March Against Supreme Court Decision; Demands for a New Political and Economic Direction (Mexico)

Join Days of Action for Worker Rights in Mexico, February 18-24!

Drug War Mexico, NAFTA and Why People Leave

Mexico: Chapo goon popped —but still not Chapo

The Drug Trade and the Increasing Militarization of the Caribbean

From Camp to Kanaan to One of Haiti’s First Sewage Treatment Plants

Senate Foreign Relations Chair Implicated in Corruption Investigation (Dominican Republic)

Our Resistance, Part II: An Interview with Rafael Cancel Miranda (Puerto Rico)

Pentagon Continues Contracting US Companies in Latin America (US/policy)

AP Investigation: U.S. Spends $20 Billion Over 10 Years on Increasingly Bloody Drug “War” in Latin America; Rejects Drug Policy Reform (US/policy)

Efforts to Provide HIV-AIDS and Other Health Services to Migrants Face Major Obstacles (US/immigration)

The Price of Security? Border Patrol Bounty Hunting in Northern New York (US/immigration)

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:

NOTE: Update co-editor Jane Guskin is leading a dialogue on immigration at the James Connolly Forum in Troy, NY, on Friday, Feb. 15. The event starts at 7 pm at the Oakwood Community Center on 313 Tenth Street; for more information, call 518-505-0948. Facebook event signup:


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