Tuesday, February 26, 2013

WNU #1165: Chile’s Pinochet Planned New Coup in 1988

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1165, February 24, 2013

1. Chile: Pinochet Was Planning New Coup in 1988
2. Honduras: US-Trained Unit Implicated in Aguán Abuses
3. Mexico: Juárez Rights Activist Seeks Asylum in US
4. Dominican Republic: Protesters Demand Review of Barrick Contract
5. Haiti: Duvalier and UN Blow Off Victims’ Claims--Again
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, 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 weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Chile: Pinochet Was Planning New Coup in 1988
Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) had plans to foment violence and declare a state of emergency if he lost an Oct. 5, 1988 plebiscite on his regime, according to declassified US documents that the DC-based research group National Security Archive posted on its website on Feb. 22. The plebiscite, mandated by Pinochet’s own 1980 Constitution, gave Chileans a choice between voting “yes” to have the general remain president for eight more years or voting “no” to end the dictatorship and hold a presidential election in 1989. The “no” option won with 54.7% of the vote to 43% for “yes”; some 98% of eligible voters participated.

According to the declassified documents, as early as May 1988 the military became concerned about a possible loss and decided that the “no” couldn’t be allowed to win. On Sept. 30 then-US ambassador Harry Barnes warned the administration of US president Ronald Reagan about the “imminent possibility of government-staged coup.” US intelligence had provided “a clear sense of Pinochet’s determination to use violence on whatever scale is necessary to retain power,” Barnes said. The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reported that Pinochet supporters “are said to have contingency plans to derail the plebiscite by encouraging and staging acts of violence. They hope that such violence will elicit further reprisals by the radical opposition and begin a cycle of rioting and disorder.” The military would then step in, and “the elections would be suspended, declared invalid, and postponed indefinitely.”

Although the US government had supported the bloody 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power, the Reagan administration felt that Pinochet was a polarizing figure whose presence was strengthening the Chilean left and weakening the center. The National Democratic Institute (NDI) provided some $1.6 million for voter registration and other work for the plebiscite, while Ambassador Barnes clearly supported the “no” vote, leading Pinochet to issue denunciations of “Yanqui imperialism.” US military and intelligence officials warned their Chilean counterparts not to support plans for a coup.

At 1 am on Oct. 6, after the voting results were clear, the military junta held a meeting at which Pinochet—“nearly apoplectic,” according to a participant—suggested having the military seize control of Santiago. The other military rulers refused to back Pinochet, who had to concede the loss and allow an election.

The National Security Archive posting of the documents was timed to coincide with the presentation of the Oscar awards by the US film industry on Feb. 24. “NO,” a fictionalization of the 1988 campaign, was one of the movies nominated for the best foreign film award. Noting that “[t]he complexity of the story is not depicted on screen,” the Archive said it wanted to use the recognition of the film to “draw attention to the fuller story.” (National Security Archive 2/22/13; La Jornada (Mexico) 2/24/13)

In other news, union leader Juan Pablo Jiménez Garrido was shot dead with a single bullet to the head the afternoon of Feb. 21 inside the offices of Ingeniería Eléctrica Azeta, an electrical contracting firm which provides services to the private electric company Compañía Chilena de Electricidad (CHILECTRA). Jiménez, the president of the Azeta Workers Federation, was last seen sitting on a bench near an office while he reviewed union business. Tensions had been growing between the union and the company over a contract and alleged labor workplace violations. Hundreds of people attended Jiménez’s funeral on Feb. 23, chanting: “Justice, truth, no to impunity.” Bárbara Figueroa, president of the Unified Workers Confederation (CUT), the main Chilean labor federation, stressed the “tremendous seriousness” of the killing and the need for a thorough investigation. (El Ciudadano (Chile) 2/22/13; La Nación (Chile) 2/23/13)

*2. Honduras: US-Trained Unit Implicated in Aguán Abuses
Rights Action, a human rights organization based in Toronto and Washington, DC, released a report on Feb. 20 documenting killings and other abuses carried out since late 2009 during land disputes between campesinos and major landowners in the Lower Aguán Valley in northern Honduras. The 64-page report, “Human Rights Violations by US-backed Honduran Special Forces Unit,” finds that soldiers from the Honduran military’s 15th Battalion are directly implicated in at least 34 abuses, including “kidnappings, killings, threats, torture and abuse of authority,” according to the report’s author, Annie Bird.

Since 2008 or earlier, Bird says, the battalion has “received assistance and training from the Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) of the United States Armed Forces.” Honduran media have reported that Spanish and Israeli special forces have also trained the soldiers; local informants say Colombian and Panamanian trainers have been participating as well.

Based on dozens of interviews and on reports from the Honduran media and human rights groups, Bird compiled a list of at least 88 campesinos killed since January 2010, including two killed on Feb. 16, right before the report’s release [see Update #1164]. An additional five people were apparently killed because they were mistaken for campesinos. According to the report, “at least 77” of the campesino deaths “clearly have the characteristics of death squad killings, contradicting reports from the Honduran government human rights commission CONADEH [the National Human Rights Commission] and US State Department that characterize the killings as the result of ‘confrontations.’” Bird also cites as many as 13 killings of security guards employed by the big landowners, noting that many of the guards are themselves campesinos; there are suspicions that some of these killings were carried out by other security forces.

In announcing the report, Rights Action wrote that the “vast majority of the killings and other violations that have been perpetrated in Bajo Aguán since 2010 have not been investigated, generating a level of impunity that suggests complicity between state and local authorities and those responsible for the killings and other abuses.” The group asked for readers to “send copies of this information, and your own letters, to your Canadian and American politicians (MPs, Congress members and senators) and to your own media.” (Rights Action 2/20/13)

*3. Mexico: Juárez Rights Activist Seeks Asylum in US
Mexican human rights activist Karla Castañeda Alvarado applied for political asylum in the US on Feb. 13 after secretly leaving her home in Ciudad Juárez in the northern state of Chihuahua with four of her children. US authorities have granted her six months to provide documentation to justify her application. The Committee of Mothers and Relatives of Disappeared Young Women, in which Castañeda was active, said it was better for her to seek asylum, noting the example of activist Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, who was shot dead by an unidentified man on Dec. 16, 2010, as she was protesting in front of the main government office in the state capital, also named Chihuahua [see Update #1061].

Castañeda started her political activity after her daughter Cinthia Jacobeth, then 13 years old, disappeared in Juárez on Oct. 24, 2008. This January Castañeda was part of a 400-km walk by members of the Committee of Mothers to the state capital to present a petition to Gov. César Duarte Jáquez. The governor left for the southeastern state of Chiapas--to participate in the launching of a “National Crusade Against Hunger”--before the activists arrived. Duarte finally met with the committee in Juárez on Feb. 2 and agreed to some of their proposals for fighting the disappearances. However, after the meeting Castañeda was subjected to harassment by the authorities. Municipal police agents raided her home on Feb. 4; unidentified men attempted to enter her yard at about 3 am on Feb. 6; and state police and agents from the prosecutors’ office went to her house on Feb. 9 and told her mother-in-law that Castañeda was getting “too deep” in the search for her daughter.

Human rights organizations say some 200 women, most of them young, have disappeared in Juárez since 1993, in addition to several hundred women known or presumed to have been murdered. The number of disappeared may be higher, since some families probably don’t report the disappearances for fear of reprisals. (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/18/13; Desinformemonos (Mexico) 2/18/13)

*4. Dominican Republic: Protesters Demand Review of Barrick Contract
Dozens of Dominican activists demonstrated outside the Supreme Court building in Santo Domingo on Feb. 18 to protest a contract the government signed with the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation for the Pueblo Viejo gold mine in Cotuí in the central province of Sánchez Ramírez. The group called for the court to declare the agreement unconstitutional. Critics say the Dominican Republic will only receive a fraction of the proceeds from the mine while the country will be left with the job of repairing the environmental damage [see Update #1163]. Opposition deputy Juan Hubieres, who was leading the protest, charged that the government of former president Leonel Fernández (1996-2000, 2004-2012) received US$37.5 million in 2007 to repair the damage caused by the previous management of the mine, the state enterprise Rosario Dominicana, and eventually collected a total of US$75 million. Fernández “will have to explain to the country in what way this has been employed,” Hubieres said.

Other demonstrators protested a plan by current president Danilo Medina to recognize titles to properties at the Bahía de las Aguilas beach and in other parts of the Jaragua ecological reserve, located in the southwestern province of Pedernales. The government says private use of the properties for tourism will help develop the impoverished province, but opponents insist that the titles were obtained fraudulently in 1995 and 1996 from then-director of the Dominican Agrarian Institute Jaime Rodríguez, who was arrested but was never tried. The protesters cut up a cake in the shape of the Dominican Republic to dramatize the way authorities are dividing up the national territory, they said. (El Diario-La Prensa (New York) 2/19/13 from correspondent; El Día (Santo Domingo) 2/20/13)

*5. Haiti: Duvalier and UN Blow Off Victims’ Claims--Again
On Feb. 21 former Haitian “president for life” Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier (1971-1986) once again defied an order to appear before an appeals court in Port-au-Prince that is considering whether he can be criminally charged for human rights violations committed during his regime. Duvalier had refused to appear in the court twice before, on Jan. 31 and Feb. 7 [see Update #1163]. Duvalier’s defense attorney, Reynold Georges, said the former dictator’s presence was unnecessary because he had filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. Georges himself defied the court by arriving 90 minutes late. “I don’t lose,” Georges announced. “I’m Haiti’s Johnnie Cochran.” The three-judge appeals panel responded by ordering the public prosecutor to have Duvalier escorted to the court by Feb. 28.

Some human rights advocates considered the judges’ order a victory. Reed Brody, a legal consultant with Human Rights Watch (HRW), called it “a chink in [Duvalier’s] armor of impunity.” “This isn’t a victory yet, but it’s been a long struggle,” Collective Against Impunity coordinator Danièle Magloire said on Feb. 22. Still, “many doubt the government [of President Michel Martelly] wants to put Duvalier on trial,” Miami Herald correspondent Jacqueline Charles wrote. “Some of the top government posts are held by supporters of the regime, with the newly appointed minister of interior [David Bazile] also being the head of Duvalier’s political party.” (MH 2/21/13 from correspondent; Associated Press 2/21/13 via CTV News (Canada) 2/21/13; AlterPresse (Haiti) 2/22/13)

On the same day, Feb. 21, United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced through a spokesperson that the organization has no legal liability for a cholera epidemic caused in October 2010 by poor sanitation at a United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) military base in the Central Plateau. The UN's position is based on section 29 of the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN. The Feb. 21 announcement was in response to a petition filed in November 2011 by the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and its Haitian affiliate, the Bureau of International Lawyers (BAI), for compensation on behalf of 5,000 victims of the epidemic [see Update #1105]. IJDH staff attorney Nicole Philips called the UN decision “all very political” and noted that “[I]f this had been a corporation, and if it had been an environmental spill, there would have been liability.” “The United Nations can’t have humanity and impunity at the same time,” BAI managing attorney Mario Joseph said.

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence on the origin of the epidemic, Ban has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the UN’s responsibility. According to the Haitian Ministry of Public Health, as of the end of January 7,824 people had died of the disease and 350,000 had been hospitalized. UN spokespeople stressed that the organization has spent some $118 million to fight the epidemic. (AlterPresse 2/21/13; The Guardian (UK) 2/21/13 from correspondents) The UN’s budget for the MINUSTAH troops and police agents this fiscal year, July 2012 through June 2013, is currently set at $648.394 million. (MINUSTAH Facts and Figures, UN website accessed 2/25/13)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti
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Colombia: Riot Police Attack Communities Protesting Oil Exploitation in Arauca

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Nervousness and lack of transparency surround three new mining permits (Haiti)

Both Duvalier and the UN Continue to Try to Dodge Responsibility

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