Monday, July 8, 2013

WNU #1183: Leaders React to Bolivian Plane Incident

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1183, July 7, 2013

1. Latin America: Leaders React to Blocking of Bolivian Flight
2. Guatemala: Residents Protest Cement Factory Opening
3. Mexico: Nine Indigenous Prisoners Released in Chiapas
4. Argentina: Israel Secretly Bought Uranium in 1960s
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, 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. Latin America: Leaders React to Blocking of Bolivian Flight
In a bizarre and largely unexplained incident, on July 2 several Western European countries denied the use of their airspace to a Bolivian plane carrying the country’s president, Evo Morales, home from a gas exporting countries forum in Moscow. The Bolivians made an unscheduled landing in Vienna, where Austrian authorities reportedly inspected the plane with President Morales’ permission. After a 13-hour stopover in Vienna, the flight was cleared with the Western European countries and proceeded to La Paz, where it landed late on July 3.

The decision to block the plane from leaving Europe was apparently based on a rumor that former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee Edward Snowden was on board. Snowden, who is wanted by the US for stealing and publishing classified documents, is reportedly in a Moscow airport applying for asylum from a number of countries. According to Bolivian authorities, France, Portugal, Spain and Italy all denied Morales’ plane the use of their airspace, presumably at the request of the US. (Le Monde (Paris) 7/3/13, some from AFP, Reuters; El País (Madrid) 7/5/13)

The incident came less than two days after a June 30 report in the British daily The Guardian that documents obtained by Snowden showed the US had been spying on diplomatic representatives of 38 countries, including France, Italy, Greece and Mexico, one of the closest US allies in Latin America. The article didn’t indicate which Mexican mission was subject to US espionage. (La Jornada (Mexico) 7/1/13 from AFP, Reuters, The Independent (UK))

On the evening of July 3 the French government partially apologized to Bolivia. “The foreign affairs minister [Laurent Fabius] has telephoned his Bolivian counterpart to inform him of France’s regrets following the mishap [contretemps] caused to President Morales by the delays in the confirmation of authorization for the overflight of the [national] territory by the president’s plane,” a Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson said. (Le Monde 7/3/13, some from AFP, Reuters) Spanish foreign affairs minister José Manuel García-Margallo refused to make a similar gesture. “Spain doesn’t need to apologize,” he said on Spanish television, “because the airspace was never closed and the original stopover [for refueling] was never cancelled.” García-Margallo claimed that Spain had instead offered to mediate with the other countries. Bolivian authorities continued to blame Spain.

While US government has remained silent on the issue, it issued extradition requests to Bolivia and Venezuela for Snowden at about the same time as the incident. (El País 7/5/13) President Morales and Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro both rejected the request. Maduro announced the rejection on July 4 and released the text of the request Venezuela had received. Dated July 3, the request called for “Snowden’s provisional arrest should Snowden seek to travel to or transit through Venezuela. Snowden is a flight risk because of the substantial charges he is facing and his current and active attempts to remain a fugitive.” Maduro also reaffirmed Venezuela’s 2005 extradition request for former CIA “asset” Luis Posada Carriles, a Miami resident who is wanted for allegedly masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban civilian flight out of Caracas in which 73 people died. The US has ignored the request [see Update #1075]. (TeleSUR 7/4/13; The Guardian (UK) 7/6/13 from correspondent and unidentified wire services)

The blocking of Morales’ plane quickly brought condemnation from most Latin American countries, including some US allies. Even before Morales had landed in La Paz on July 3, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela had all rejected the European countries’ actions. Mexico’s government issued a statement regretting the incident and calling for respect for diplomatic norms, such as the immunity traditionally enjoyed by heads of state. An editorial in the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada noted the irony that “the Latin American countries rise in defense of international law, while the authorities of European countries, which pride themselves on defending freedoms and the rule of law, show signs of an attitude of backwardness, submissiveness and political dependency in relation to the superpower.” (LJ 7/4/13)

The incident also seemed to encourage some Latin American governments to more open defiance of the US. On July 5 Nicaragua and Venezuela offered Snowden asylum; Bolivia made a similar offer shortly afterwards. (The Guardian 7/6/13)

*2. Guatemala: Residents Protest Cement Factory Opening
Some 1,000 or more indigenous and campesino Guatemalans demonstrated on July 5 in San Juan Sacatepéquez municipality, about 30 km northwest of Guatemala City in Guatemala department, to protest the inauguration of a cement processing plant. According to José Tucuy, a member of the leadership group for 12 local communities, the plant will affect 64,000 residents, who are mostly members of the Kaqchikel Mayan group. Protesters said the plant will contaminate the environment and use up scarce water resources. The plant is part of a “mega-project…a highway of several kilometers that will pass through our community, destroying our woods and forcing people to migrate to other places,” another resident, Ramona García, told reporters. “My family doesn’t eat grey cement, my family eats corn,” the protesters chanted.

Cementos Progreso, the Guatemalan company that owns the plant, said the facility wasn’t open yet. The company was simply holding a Mayan ceremony on July 5 to ask “Mother Earth for permission…to transform primary material and give it other uses,” according to a Cementos Progreso presss release. Tomás Calvo, an indigenous spiritual leader, was to lead the ceremony, with local supporters of the project expected to attend. The company says the plant will employ 2,000 residents.

Local people have been organizing against the plant at least since December 2007, when 12 police agents were injured and 17 campesinos were arrested. One campesino was killed during a protest on June 23, 2008, and 43 were arrested [see Update #999]. The 12 communities had held a consultation on the project on May 13, 2007, in which 8,940 people participated; 8,936 voted against the plant. Cementos Progreso is the main company in Grupo Novella, owned by the rightwing Novella family, which is a major donor to the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei. They are closely connected to the Widmann family, the owners of the agribusiness Ingenio Chabil Utzaj S.A., which in 2011 displaced indigenous people in the Polochic Valley in the northeastern department of Alta Verapaz [see Updates #1093, 1162]. (Siglo 21 (Guatemala) 7/5/13 from EFE; Prensa Libre (Guatemala) 7/5/13; El Nuevo Herald (Miami) 7/5/13 from AP; Desinformémonos (Mexico) 7/1/13)

*3. Mexico: Nine Indigenous Prisoners Released in Chiapas
The southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas released nine indigenous prisoners from its Los Llanos prison near San Cristóbal de las Casas in the state’s highland region on July 4. State governor Manuel Velasco Coello arrived at the prison from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the state capital, to deliver the release papers in person. The nine prisoners, described as adherents of the 2006 Other Campaign of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), had participated in hunger strikes and other actions over several years to win their freedom. Rosa López Díaz, the only woman in the group, was pregnant when she was arrested in 2007; she lost her child, reportedly as a result of torture.

Under pressure from Mexican and international groups, the state appears to have started releasing EZLN allies imprisoned on questionable charges. Francisco Sántiz López was freed on Jan. 25 [see Update #1161]. But the best known of the prisoners, the schoolteacher Alberto Patishtán Gómez [see Update #1173], remains at Los Llanos, along with a prisoner named Alejandro Díaz Sántiz. Patishtán was allowed to take part in the release of the nine prisoners on July 4. He walked a few meters out of the prison and told the relatives, with a smile: “I’m turning the compañeros over to you here; I’m still staying here, but one shouldn’t lose hope.” He then walked back into the prison with Gov. Velasco Coello and various officials. “We’ll go on struggling until we achieve the release of compañero Alberto and all the compañeros who are still prisoners,” former prisoner Rosario Díaz Méndez promised after his release. (La Jornada (Mexico) 7/5/13)

*4. Argentina: Israel Secretly Bought Uranium in 1960s
According to declassified British and US documents that the Washington, DC-based research group National Security Archive (NSA) made public on June 25, Israel secretly bought 80-100 tons of Argentine uranium oxide (“yellowcake”) in the 1963-1964 period. The uranium ore was purchased to be used as fuel at Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev desert and ultimately for producing plutonium for the country’s clandestine nuclear weapons program. France had cut off Israel’s supply of French uranium, and the Israeli government was looking for new sources, including South Africa and Argentina. The Argentine president at the time was Arturo Umberto Illia (1963-66) of the centrist Radical Civic Union (UCR).

British and US intelligence learned of the purchases from Canadian intelligence in March 1964 and received confirmation from the US embassy in Buenos Aires that September. The UK and the US were concerned that an Israeli nuclear weapons program would have a destabilizing effect on the Middle East. They tried to get information from Israel and to persuade Argentina to apply stronger safeguards to uranium sales, with little success in either effort.

Canada, the UK and the US “routinely acted with the utmost discretion when sharing intelligence information about the Israeli nuclear program,” the NSA noted, and “they kept the entire yellowcake sale secret. On this matter there were no leaks; the issue never reached the US media then or later.” The US documents on the sales were declassified in the middle 1990s, according to the NSA, but “they lingered in a relatively obscure folder in the State Department’s central foreign policy files at the US National Archives. They may never have been displayed in public before, as the file appeared to be previously untouched.” (NSA 6/25/13; La Jornada (Mexico) 7/2/13 from correspondent)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration

The Challenges of the Pacific Alliance: Regional Sovereignty in Latin America or a Pampered Periphery (Latin America)

On Edward Snowden, UNASUR and Double Standards (Latin America)

Social Unrest and Political Reform in Brazil

Brazil: Private Transit, Public Protests

The Meaning of and Perspectives for the Street Demonstrations in Brazil

Peru: police fire on Cajamarca protesters —again

Peru: developers raze ancient pyramid

Bill Weinberg speaks on land and freedom in Peru

In Snowden's Bid for Asylum, Ecuador Prioritizes Sovereignty

Blasts shut Colombia's second largest oil pipeline

Colombia: top neo-para commander escapes

NATO Sets its Sights on Colombia

Introduction: Chavismo After Chávez (Venezuela)

Maduro: Venezuela Will Offer Snowden Political Asylum

Revisiting the Cincinnati Enquirer vs. Chiquita (Central America)

A Road Trip to Save El Salvador’s Water

Vocabulary Lessons (Honduras)

Mexico: Indigenous Oaxacan Political Prisoners Caught in the Drug War Prison Boom

Torture in Mexico: "I Still Think it was a Nightmare"

Mexico’s Rich Flourish

USAID’s Lack of Expertise, Reliance on Contractors Puts Sustainability of Caracol in Doubt (Haiti)

Immigration Reform: The View From Below (US/immigration)

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

For immigration updates and events:


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