Tuesday, June 11, 2013

WNU #1180: Mexican Army Rescues 165 Kidnapped Migrants

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1180, June 9, 2013

1. Mexico: Army Rescues 165 Kidnapped Migrants
2. Brazil: Top Indigenous Official Resigns as Conflicts Continue
3. Argentina: Eight Activists Arrested in Mining Protest
4. Panama: Campesinos Demonstrate Against Dams
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico

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.

Note: There will be links but no Update on June 16, 2013. Publication will resume the following week.

*1. Mexico: Army Rescues 165 Kidnapped Migrants
On June 4 Mexican army soldiers freed 165 people, mostly Central Americans, who the authorities said had been held for as much as three weeks by an unidentified criminal organization at a safe house in the Las Fuentes neighborhood in Gustavo Díaz Ordaz municipality, a few miles from the US border in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. One person, apparently a lookout for the kidnappers, was arrested. The captives were reportedly migrants who were planning to cross illegally into the US; the smugglers (“polleros”) they had hired may have turned them over to a criminal group, possibly the Gulf drug cartel or the Los Zetas gang.

According to the government, the group kidnapped was composed of 77 Salvadorans, 50 Guatemalans, 23 Hondurans, 14 Mexicans and one Indian national. There were 20 minors, including seven under the age of 13; two of the women migrants were pregnant. The federal National Migration Institute (INM) removed the 151 foreign nationals to Mexico City and began deporting them on June 7.

The June 4 rescue was the second largest such operation reported by the government to date, but the kidnapping of migrants—either for ransom or to be used as drug couriers--has become increasingly common over the past few years. In January 2009 a total of 189 Central Americans were found hidden in Reynosa, Tamaulipas; the kidnappers were demanding a $5,000 ransom for each. A military operation rescued 88 migrants in Arriaga in the southeastern state of Chiapas in 2010; 54 kidnapped migrants were found in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the state’s capital, in March of this year. Some 11,000 migrants were kidnapped in just six months in 2010, according to the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH). The most notorious case occurred in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, in August 2010, when a Los Zetas group massacred 72 Central and South American migrants who refused to turn over their cash or work for the gang [see World War 4 Report 8/24/10].

Alberto Xicoténcatl, director of the Migrant House shelter in Saltillo, Coahuila, warned that the kidnapping of migrants is on the rise, partly because of complicity by government employees. “We know that the army goes to the [criminal groups’] safe houses and gets paid to keep quiet,” he told the Mexican daily La Jornada. “What happened a few days ago in Tamaulipas was a matter of an accidental discovery and didn’t result from a real investigation.” The military found the 165 kidnap victims because of a tip from a civilian. (New York Daily News 6/6/13; La Jornada (Mexico) 6/7/13, 6/9/13, 6/9/13)

Foreign nationals aren’t the only victims; thousands of Mexicans are being murdered or kidnapped each year. The Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) reported on Feb. 26 that 26,121 people disappeared in the 2006-2012 period. The British-based human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) released a 16-page report in Mexico City on June 4 citing the “systematic failure” of the government in dealing with the phenomenon. The report, “Confronting a Nightmare: The Disappearance of People in Mexico,” noted the complicity or responsibility of government employees in many of the cases. AI reviewed 152 disappearances for the report; in 85 of them “there are sufficient signs of the implication of public officials… and of a lack of diligence on the part of the authorities to locate the victims.” (LJ 6/5/13; Los Angeles Times 2/16/13)

In other news, the bodies of three activists in the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) were found on June 3 beside a road in the southwestern state of Guerrero. One of the victims, Arturo Hernández Cardona, was the leader of the Popular Union (UP) in the city of Iguala; the other two, Félix Rafael Bandera Román and Ángel Román Ramírez, were members of the organization. The men were last seen on May 30 when they blocked a tollbooth on the Mexico City-Acapulco highway to demand that Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca Velázquez, also a PRD member, provide fertilizers for campesinos. Media reports suggest that the killings might have been a common crime, since drug gangs are active in Guerrero. But Sofía Lorena Mendoza Martínez, Hernández Cardona’s widow, insisted the motivation was political. “[W]e are never going to accept that [the victims] could be linked to organized crime,” said Mendoza Martínez, who is a local rural development official. Some1,000 people attended the three activists’ funeral on June 4. (BBC News 6/3/13, LJ 6/5/13)

*2. Brazil: Top Indigenous Official Resigns as Conflicts Continue
Security guards shot and seriously injured an indigenous Terena, Josiel Gabriel Alves, on June 4 when a group of about 60 protesters tried to occupy the São Sebastião estate in Sidrolandia municipality in the southern Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Doctors said Gabriel might lose the use of his arms and legs. This was the second shooting in less than a week in an ongoing dispute over lands claimed by the Terena: Osiel Gabriel, Josiel Gabriel’s cousin, was killed by federal police on May 30 at a nearby estate [see Update #1179]. The Terena have been occupying several large estates in Sidrolandia since May 15; they say the estates are on land the federal government designated as indigenous territory in 2010. The 28,000 Terena live on just 20,000 hectares in Mato Grosso. (Adital (Brazil) 6/5/13)

On June 6 Terena activists joined with representatives of the Munduruku indigenous group for protests at government offices in Brasilia. The Munduruku are among eight indigenous groups that have repeatedly occupied construction sites at the Belo Monte dam in the northern Brazilian state of Pará over the past year; the most recent occupation took place on May 28. The protests have held up work on the dam, which is projected to be the world’s third largest when completed. Some 140 Munduruku were in Brasilia for a meeting with Presidency Minister Gilberto Carvalho and other government officials on June 4. Valdenir Munduruku, a spokesperson for the group, told Brazilian media that the activists are demanding a complete halt of construction until indigenous people in the region have been consulted on the project, as required by International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169. Brazil has signed on to the convention, which guarantees a number of rights for indigenous people, including the right to prior consultation on projects that will affect their communities. The Munduruku are threatening to resume the occupation if they aren’t satisfied with the results of negotiations.

Brazil recognizes 305 different ethnic groups, representing some 896,900 indigenous people, less than 0.5% of Brazil’s 194 million citizens; officially designated indigenous lands take up about 12% of the national territory. The protests in Mato Grosso and Pará confront Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff with the most serious indigenous conflicts since she took office in January 2011. On June 7 the president of the government’s National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), Marta Azevedo, announced her resignation. FUNAI is the agency responsible for Brazil’s indigenous policies. Azevedo cited health problems. (Agência Brasil 6/7/13 via Ultimo Segundo (Brazil); TeleSUR 6/7/13, some from AFP)

*3. Argentina: Eight Activists Arrested in Mining Protest
The Argentine branch of the international environmental organization Greenpeace marked World Environment Day--a United Nations-sponsored event held each year on June 5--with a protest highlighting damage that the pro-mining policies of José Luis Gioja [see Update #1162], governor of the northwestern province of San Juan, could have on Argentina’s San Guillermo Biosphere Reserve. Eight Greenpeace activists climbed the Civic Center building in the city of San Juan and unfurled a 20-meter banner with a photograph of a puma and a caption reading: “Gioja: no mining in San Guillermo.” The activists were arrested and taken to the central police station.

The Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation has two open-pit gold mines in San Juan province: the Veladero mine and the massive Pascua Lama mine, still under construction, which extends from San Juan province into Chile’s Huasco province. San Juan province also hosts part of the large San Guillermo reserve, which includes both swampy lowlands of the Chaco region and Andean highlands. Greenpeace says that Barrick’s mining projects endanger Andean glaciers, a major source of water for the region, and the animals and vegetation in the reserve; the group has launched a “Save the San Guillermo Campaign” and as of June 5 had gathered more than 320,000 signatures from Argentine citizens on an internet petition. Barrick insists that the mines won’t affect the reserve.

On May 24 rightwing Chilean president Sebastián Piñera’s government ordered construction work suspended on the Chilean section of the Pascua Lama mine; the project’s completion may be postponed for years [see Update #1179]. In Argentina the center-left government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner continues to back the massive open-pit mining projects that environmental activists refer to as “mega-mining.” Greenpeace’s June 5 demonstration fell on a day when Gov. Gioja, a Fernández ally, and national officials were scheduled to present a “Plan for Management of the San Guillermo Reserve.” Once the plan is approved, San Juan province will receive $7 million from Barrick designated for care of the reserve. (Perfil (Buenos Aires) 6/5/13; Adital (Brazil) 6/5/13)

*4. Panama: Campesinos Demonstrate Against Dams
Members of 27 campesino communities in the San Francisco district of Panama’s western Veraguas province held a protest on June 7 to demand the cancellation of permits given for the construction of the Lalin 1, Lalin 2 and Lalin 3 hydroelectric projects on the Gatú river. The protesters charged that there were irregularities in the environmental impact studies for the dams. They also said that they hadn’t been consulted on the projects and that the companies involved were ignoring an order from San Francisco’s mayor to suspend construction. The communities proposed the promotion of cooperatives, ecological tourism and farming based on ecological principles as alternatives to what they consider the government’s bad development policies. The demonstration ended without incident, although the protesters complained about the presence of investigative and anti-riot police. Veraguas’ governor agreed to start negotiations with the campesinos. (Radio Temblor (Panama) 6/7/13)

Meanwhile, the indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé are continuing to protest the Barro Blanco hydroelectric project in their territory in the western province of Chiriquí [see Update #1170]. According to Ricardo Miranda, a spokesperson for the Apr. 10 Movement, various communities in the area carried out actions on May 24 to demand the project’s cancellation. Miranda called on traditional Ngöbe-Buglé leader (cacica) Silvia Carrera to give up on the negotiations being held with the government at the United Nations (UN) office in Panama City. Even though an independent study mandated by a UN report last year still hasn’t been completed, Generadora del Istmo, S.A. (GENISA), the Honduran-owned company building the dam, says the project is now 40% complete. The company indicated that it was reforesting the area around the dam to compensate for clearing done in the construction. (Radio Nacional de Venezuela 5/27/13, some from Prensa Latina)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico

Latin America Just Says "No" to the War on Drugs

'Drug war' dissent at OAS summit

From Water Wars to Water Scarcity: Bolivia’s Cautionary Tale

Bolivia: break between Evo, labor federation?

Vigilante justice in Bolivia —or autonomy?

Peruvian left bids farewell to Javier Diez Canseco

Peru: life term for neo-senderista

Peru: protest vigil against Trans-Pacific trade pact

Peru: new confrontation at Conga mine site

The Peace Process in Colombia and U.S. Foreign Policy: Plan Colombia II

Venezuela-U.S. Relations May Improve, Following Meeting of Foreign Ministers

Gang truce extends to Honduras

Civilian Policing "Reform" Consolidates Power (Honduras)

In Guatemala, a long road to justice

Guatemala: criminalization of peasant protests

Report Dubs Mexico “A Graveyard for Migrants”

Mexico Celebrates “Carnival of Corn” and Rejects Monsanto

Feggo: Political Neighbors (Video, Mexico)

Maya pyramid bulldozed in Belize

New Report Shows that Migrant Deaths Remain High in Arizona (US/immigration)

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

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