Tuesday, August 6, 2013

WNU #1187: Mexican Environmental Activist Murdered

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1187, August 4, 2013

1. Mexico: Veracruz Environmental Activist Murdered
2. Costa Rica: Eight Arrested in Turtle Defender’s Killing
3. Honduras: Attacks on Human Rights Activists Increase
4. Colombia: US Court Throws Out Suit Against Drummond
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, 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. Mexico: Veracruz Environmental Activist Murdered
Mexican environmental activist Noé Salomón Vázquez Ortiz was murdered the early afternoon of Aug. 2 in his hometown, Amatlán de los Reyes, in the eastern coastal state of Veracruz. The killing came one day before the town was to host the Tenth National Meeting of the Mexican Movement Against Dams and in Defense of Rivers (MAPDER). Vázquez Ortíz and a minor were gathering flowers and seeds for a floral tribute to be used at the conference when a group of men appeared, ordered the minor to leave and began stoning Vázquez Ortíz. His body was found later with the hands and legs bound and the throat slit. State police arrested four men the day of the murder; they reportedly said they had personal differences with the murdered man.

Vázquez Ortíz, a construction worker who also painted pictures and created handicrafts, started doing environmental work while in high school. During the last two years he was active with the organization Green Defense: Nature Forever and fought against construction of a local dam by Hidroeléctrica El Naranjal SAPI de CV, a company owned by Guillermo González Guajardo. Vázquez Ortíz also worked in opposition to another hydroelectric project, the Bandera Blanca Project.

“This wasn’t a common crime, or about a quarrel,” Rosalinda Hidalgo, an activist in The Veracruz Assembly of Environmental Defense Initiatives (Lavida), said at Vázquez Ortíz’s funeral on Aug. 3. “The killing follows a series of threats against other Green Defense: Nature Forever members; we’ve documented at least 10 in the area.” She added that the four men arrested had been watching Vázquez Ortiz’s home, had visited his family’s store and were seen right before an informational meeting by the group. Lavida and MAPDER spokespeople said the conference would go ahead as scheduled. (La Jornada (Mexico) 8/3/13, 8/4/13)

*2. Costa Rica: Eight Arrested in Turtle Defender’s Killing
In six raids in the early morning of July 31, agents from Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) arrested six men and two women in the eastern province of Limón in connection with the murder of environmental worker Jairo Mora Sandoval the night of May 30-31. The authorities were planning to charge the men—four Costa Ricans and two Nicaraguans—with participating in the murder; the women, the wives of two of the men, reportedly would be charged with the possession of stolen property and with stealing eggs of the leatherback turtle, an endangered species. The raids came amid growing pressure for action in the two-month-old case, including a protest in San José and statements by a United Nations human rights official, John Knox, and a US Congress member, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA).

Mora worked for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) trying to keep poachers from stealing eggs from the turtles’ nests. A group of men seized Mora and four volunteers—three from the US and one from Spain—as they were patrolling the beach. The volunteers managed to escape and call the police, but Mora was killed. OIJ officials theorized that the men were a gang of common criminals that had kidnapped a tourist couple on May 18, raping the woman and beating the man. But the authorities also suggested that WIDECAST had brought the attack on itself by attempting to buy off the poachers, who became angry when the organization ran out of money to pay them.

Vanessa Lizano, a longtime friend of Mora’s who patrolled the beach with him, and Didiher Chacón, WIDECAST’s Costa Rica director, both disputed the official theories. “Poaching in Limón is a big organization,” Lizano told the English-language online newspaper Tico Times. “I think [the murder] does have to do with poaching, and it wasn’t just a criminal gang.” According Lizano, she and Mora had employed 10 former poachers in 2012 to help with the patrols but couldn’t afford to continue the program. She denied that they were trying to buy the poachers off. “This was our way of giving these guys a second chance. Police told us they think the particular poachers that we hired in 2012 are not involved with this group.” Lizano noted the connection between poaching and the level of poverty in the area: “These poachers are living in huts, they have no electricity, they have no water.” (Tico Times 7/31/13; New York Times Dot Earth blog 8/2/13)

*3. Honduras: Attacks on Human Rights Activists Increase
Some 10 armed men identified as security guards from a mining project threatened and detained two foreign volunteers for the Honduras Accompaniment Project (PROAH) for more than two hours on July 25 in the Nueva Esperanza community in the northern Honduran department of Atlántida. Area communities have faced threats and harassment for at least a year while organizing in opposition to open-pit mining by Minerales Victoria, part of the Alutech metal company owned by Lenir Pérez [see Update #1182]. The two international volunteers, one French and one Swiss, went to Nueva Esperanza hoping that their presence would deter further aggression by the mining company. Less than 24 hours later security guards and a group of mineworkers threatened them and forced them to leave the community.

The Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) has issued precautionary measures for two community leaders in the area, César Alvarenga and Roberto García, members of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), because of death threats texted by Lenir Pérez in August 2012. Catholic priest César Espinoza and a group of nuns received threats in January, and armed men assaulted and threatened community residents in June. “The terror we lived for two hours is the tragic everyday life in this town,” Orlane Vidal, one of the detained volunteers, told the Lista Informativa Nicaragua y Más (LINyM) blog in an interview. On July 26 some 250 people marched to Nueva Esperanza in support of the community’s peaceful opposition to the mine and of the work of international human rights observers. (LINyM 7/27/13, English translation at Upside Down World 7/31/13; Friendship Office of the Americas urgent action 7/29/13)

On July 29 the London-based rights organization Amnesty International (AI) issued a statement “condemn[ing] the recent killings of people defending justice, equality and human rights” in Honduras. The organization noted that at least three were killed in less than two weeks in July.

The first was Tomás García Domínguez, a leader of the indigenous Lenca who was killed by the military on July 15 in Intibucá department in western Honduras during a demonstration at the headquarters for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project [see Update #1185]. On July 21 Herwin Alexis Ramírez Chamorro, an Afro-Honduran transsexual also known as “Africa Noxema Howell,” was found dead in La Ceiba, Atlántida department; he was active in the Ceiba Pro-Union Organization (OPROUCE), which works for HIV prevention and LGBT rights, and the Ethnic Community Development Organization (ODECO), which works for the development of Afro-Honduran communities. On July 24 armed men on a motorbike shot and killed Judge Mireya Efigenía Mendoza Peña in El Progreso, in the northern department of Yoro. Mendoza was a judge in the El Progreso Trial Court and also a member of the Association of Judges for Democracy (AJD), a nongovernmental organization working to strengthen the Honduran justice system. AI said it “call[ed] on the Honduran authorities to conduct a prompt, impartial and effective investigation” into each of the killings. (AI 7/29/13; Adital (Brazil) 7/30/13)

On July 27 the authorities arrested a man named Bairon Martínez for Judge Mendoza’s murder, citing evidence from a surveillance camera that they said captured the incident. Mendoza’s killing brought to 64 the number of attorneys and judges murdered since President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa took office in January 2010, according to the government’s own Human Rights Commission (CONADEH). (EFE 7/27/13 via Latin American Herald Tribune)

In related news, on Aug. 1 a criminal court in Tegucigalpa sentenced each of four former police agents to at least 43 years in prison for the Oct. 22, 2011 murder of two university students, Alejandro Rafael Vargas Castellanos and Carlos David Pineda Rodríguez; Vargas Castellanos’ mother, Julieta Castellanos, is the rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH). The crime exposed the level of corruption and other criminal activity in the Honduran police force; after the four agents were first detained in October 2011, the Tegucigalpa police chief released them, allowing them to escape temporarily [see Updates #1104, 1107]. (AP 8/1/13 via New York Times; El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) 8/2/13)

*4. Colombia: US Court Throws Out Suit Against Drummond
On July 25 US District Judge David Proctor in Birmingham, Alabama, dismissed a 2009 lawsuit seeking to hold the Alabama-based Drummond Co. Inc. coal company liable for killings by rightwing paramilitaries near a Drummond mine in Colombia. The suit, Balcero Giraldo v. Drummond Co., charged that the company had been paying the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which the US listed as a terrorist organization in 2001, to protect a rail line used to ship Drummond coal. Judge Proctor based his decision on the US Supreme Court’s Apr. 17 decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which sharply restricted the use of the 1789 Alien Tort Statute for foreign nationals to sue for human rights violations that took place outside the US [see Update #1173]. Proctor ruled that under the Kiobel decision the plaintiffs would need to present sufficient evidence that the alleged crimes were planned in the US; the judge said they had failed to do so.

This was labor rights attorney Terry Collingsworth’s third failure in an effort to have US federal courts act on evidence that Drummond was responsible for the murders of Colombians, including unionists working for the company in Colombia. In January a Colombian court found former Drummond contractor Jaime Blanco guilty in the 2001 murders of two union members; Blanco has charged that Drummond senior managers ordered the murders, and the judge that convicted Blanco asked Colombian authorities to investigate Drummond’s role [see Update #1163]. (Birmingham Business Journal 7/31/13; Bloomberg News 8/1/13)

As of Aug. 2 Drummond was still confronted with an open-ended strike that miners in the company’s Colombian mines started on July 23 over wage issues [see World War 4 Report 7/24/13]. Labor Ministry officials were trying to organize direct talks between the two sides in Santa Marta in the Caribbean department of Magdalena; the company’s Pribbenow and La Loma mines are located in the nearby department of Cesar. A union negotiator, Humberto Suárez, told Bloomberg News that a deal might be made “in the next few days.” (Business Week 8/2/13 from Bloomberg) Meanwhile, a group of former Drummond employees with health problems occupied the cathedral in Santa Marta on Aug. 2 and began a hunger strike to protest the lack of attention by the company and the government to their situation. (El Tiempo (Bogotá) 8/2/13)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, US/policy, US/immigration

Argentina: Millions Against Monsanto

Battle Over Seeds Heats Up in Argentina

UN expert urges Chile to stop using anti-terror law

Benjamin Kohl, Temple professor, expert on Bolivia

Bolivian education vice-minister charges 'racism'

Peru: Culture Ministry halts Camisea expansion

Mine-affected campesinos have elevated levels of metal in blood (Peru)

Victory for campesina in Cajamarca land dispute case (Peru)

Peru: pro-coca lawmaker ordered imprisoned

Peru: police 'death squad' leader absolved

'We have made mistakes, some serious': FARC (Colombia)

Colombian town expels mining company

Maduro’s First 100 Days in Office Marked by Street Government, Latin American Integration, Economic Debate (Venezuela)

Extraction-ism, Movements, and Revolution (Venezuela)

Venezuela gets a 'birther' conspiracy theory

This American Life Whitewashes U.S. Crimes in Central America, Wins Peabody Award

Nicaragua: indigenous groups challenge canal plan

Amid Repression, Honduran Congress Fast Tracks Resource Development

Mining Company's Security Threatens International Human Rights Observers, Terrorizes Communities in Honduras

Mexico’s Guilt by Omission

Denver-based Mining Company Retreats from Oaxaca (Mexico)

The Mothers’ Long Road to Justice (Mexico)

Haitian Grassroots Groups Wary of “Attractive” Mining Law

Controversy Follows Death of Prominent Haitian Judge

USAID Takes Step Toward Increased Transparency but Limits Remain (Haiti)

Wealthy Nations Thwart Hopes of World's Landless Peoples (US/policy)

Analysis from National Endowment for Democracy Used in The Atlantic, with Significant Errors and Omissions (US/policy)

What Bradley Manning Taught Us about US Policy in the Americas (US/policy)

Immigrants: Much More Than an Abstract Number (Part II) (US/immigration)

Immigrant Advocates Score Major Legal Wins (US/immigration)

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

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