Tuesday, August 27, 2013

WNU #1189: Honduras Brings Back Military Police

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1189, August 25, 2013

1. Honduras: Congress Resurrects Military Police Force
2. Mexico: Migrants Killed as "The Beast" Derails
3. Mexico: Teachers Start New Strike Against "Reform"
4. Brazil: Farmers Block Belo Monte to Demand Electricity
5. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, 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 http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Honduras: Congress Resurrects Military Police Force
Honduras’ National Congress voted on Aug. 21 to approve a law creating the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP), a new 5,000-member police unit composed of army reservists under the control of the military. This will be in addition to a 4,500-member “community police” force that the government is forming, according to an Aug. 12 announcement by Security Minister Arturo Corrales. Although he called the move a “change of course,” Corrales failed to explain the difference between the community police, which to be operative by September, and the existing national police force.

The government’s plan to raise the number of police agents by 9,500 is clearly meant to respond to the dramatic increase in crime in Honduras; according to the United Nations, the country now has an annual murder rate of 84 for every 100,000 people, the highest in the world. Police corruption is a major problem, and police agents have been convicted of high-profile crimes [see Update #1187]. The current police force had 14,472 agents on the payroll as of May, but in a new police scandal, only 9,350 agents could be found at work during July.

The police changes come as candidates prepare for Nov. 24 general elections, which will choose a new president, the 128 members of Congress, the 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), and local mayors [Update #1162]. The main force behind the new military police is Juan Orlando Hernández, who has resigned from his post as president of the National Congress to run as the presidential candidate of the center-right National Party (PN)—the party of current president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa, who has governed Honduras since January 2010 without being able to contain the crime wave.

Human rights activists strongly oppose the proposed military police unit. “In no part of the world have the soldiers resolved security problems,” Omar Rivera, who directs the Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ), a coalition of civil society, organizations, told the French wire service AFP. He added that a serious fight against crime would require a fight against impunity. Bertha Oliva, the coordinator of the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH), called the creation of the new force “a step backwards in the demilitarization of society and the democratization of the country.” “The soldiers in the streets have only left more death and mourning, because they aren’t prepared for being guarantors of security,” she said. The national police were removed from the military and put under civilian control in 1997. Death squads operated by the military and the police were implicated in the killings of 184 government opponents in the 1980s.

Critics also asked how the government would be able to pay for two new police units that would double the current number of active agents. José Simón Azcona, a legislative deputy from the centrist Liberal Party (PL) who supported the measure, suggested that the US would pay. The US government “offered collaboration…under the previous administration” for the conversion of four military battalions into police units, he said. (It is unclear whether he was referring to a previous administration in Honduras or in the US.) (El Nuevo Diario (Nicaragua) 8/12/13 from ACAN-EFE; Honduras Culture and Politics 8/22/13; El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) 8/22/13; La Nación (Costa Rica) 8/23/13 from AFP, EFE; Prensa Latina 8/24/13)

In other news, on Aug. 14, Berta Cáceres, Aureliano Molina and Tomas Gómez were required to testify before a judge in La Esperanza in the southwestern department of Intibucá. The three, who are leaders of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), face charges of land usurpation, damage to private property and coercion in connection with protests by indigenous Lenca communities against the Agua Zarca dam [see Update #1185]. They remain free, but they have to report to a judge every 15 days. Another hearing is scheduled for Sept. 12-13. (Rights Action 8/24/13)

*2. Mexico: Migrants Killed as “The Beast” Derails
Six or more people were killed in the early morning of Aug. 25 when a freight train derailed near the border between the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco. The federal government reported later in the morning that four people were killed and 35 were injured, some seriously; shortly afterwards, Jazmín Cano, the mayor of Las Choapas in southern Veracruz, put the number of deaths at six and the number of injured at 22. The accident was reportedly caused by the combination of rain and excessive speed.

The victims were presumed to be Central Americans passing through Mexico on their way to the US. Undocumented migrants frequently climb on to the freight train, which runs between Tabasco and Tlaxcala; the ride is dangerous, and the Central Americans refer to the train as “The Beast” [see Update #1178]. A civil defense official in Veracruz estimated that 300 people had been riding on the train, suggesting that the number of deaths might rise. After the accident dozens of Central Americans arrived in the Las Choapas train station, where they were given water, food and clothes by residents and the Red Cross. According to the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), some 140,000 Central Americans enter Mexico without authorization each year in an effort to reach the US. (Reforma (Mexico) 8/25/13 via Noticias Mexico; La Jornada en línea (Mexico) 8/25/13)

*3. Mexico: Teachers Start New Strike Against “Reform”
Some 2.3 million students in the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Michoacán missed classes on Aug. 19, the first day of the 2013-14 school year, as thousands of teachers in the two states started an open-ended strike in the latest protest against US-style changes to the education system [see Update #1174]. The job action kicked off a week of demonstrations focusing on an Aug. 21-23 extraordinary session of the Congress that was to consider legislation proposed by Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto to make teacher evaluations mandatory. The protest movement was led by the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), a large dissident group in the National Education Workers Union (SNTE), with the support of several SNTE regional sections, including Oaxaca’s Section 22 and Michoacán’s Section 18.

Chanting “Urgent, urgent, evaluate the president,” thousands of teachers gathered in Mexico City by Aug. 21 and proceeded to block off the buildings used by the two chambers of the Congress. Forced to meet at the Banamex Convention Center, some 18 km from the San Lázaro Legislative Palace, the Chamber of Deputies voted on Aug. 21 to postpone the vote on the evaluation law to another session. However, Congress passed two of three secondary laws, infuriating the protesters. On Aug. 23 some 7,000 teachers from Oaxaca blocked off a main access road to the Mexico City International Airport for 11 hours; passengers and flight crews had to get to the airport by foot.

The protesters finally lifted the blockade that evening, after the CNTE held four hours of negotiations with Governance Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong and congressional leaders; the teachers refused to meet with Public Education Secretary Emilio Chuayffet Chemor, whose resignation they have demanded. The two sides agreed to continue talks starting on Aug. 26. The teachers ended their blockades of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies on Aug. 24, moving their banners and tents to the capital’s main plaza, the Zócalo, where CNTE members have maintained a protest encampment since May. Despite the agreement to continue the dialogue, CNTE leaders said in a press conference on the evening of Aug. 23 that they had no confidence in the federal government’s good faith. (La Jornada (Mexico) 8/20/13, 8/22/13, 8/22/13, 8/24/13, 8/24/13, 8/25/13)

On Aug. 24 teachers from SNTE Section 7 in the southeastern state of Chiapas announced that they would go on strike on Aug. 28. Alberto Mirón Vázquez, part of the leadership of the section’s Democratic Block, predicted that from 75% to 80% of the state’s 55,000 education workers would observe the strike, which could leave some 1.325 million students without classes. (LJ 8/25/13)

*4. Brazil: Farmers Block Belo Monte to Demand Electricity
Some 150 farmers blocked the access road to one of the construction sites for the giant Belo Monte dam in Vitória do Xingu municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará on Aug. 20 to demand access to electricity. The farmers said Norte Energia S.A., the consortium in charge of the dam, was running electric lines past their homes for the construction but wasn’t giving them access to the power. Some 300 families live in the area without access to electricity, according to Iury Paulino, a member of the Movement of Those Harmed by Dams (MAB). The residents were also demanding the construction of a bridge near the community of Volta Grande do Xingu.

According to Paulino, this is the third time the farmers have held a protest because of the failure of Norte Energia officials to meet with them. The company says it plans to provide the residents with electricity but it needs the cooperation of the state power authority. Norte Energia claimed that the protest only held up some buses carrying workers and didn’t seriously delay construction on the dam. Protests by local residents, by the region’s indigenous groups and by construction workers have repeatedly interrupted the $13 billion project since it began in March 2012 [see Update #1175]. (O Globo (Brazil) 8/20/13; Adital (Brazil) 8/21/13)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration

Paraguay: military unleashed to fight guerillas

Bolivia: prison massacre sparks protests

Peru: protesters tear down gate at Conga mine site

Civil Society Calls for Vote on Drilling in Ecuador’s Yasuní Park

The Rural General Strike and the Crisis of the Rentier Economy (Colombia)

Chiquita Playing the Victim Card in Latest Legal Battle (Colombia)

Venezuela on the move: Breaking dependency on oil profits

Venezuelan Milk Workers Demand Worker Control Following Sabotage

US Military Considers IMF-Mandated Policies to Be Dangerous for Honduras, Declassified Document Shows

What Makes Killings by Police in St. Lucia Different from Those in Honduras?

Without Our Land, We Cease to Be a People: Defending Indigenous Territory and Resources in Honduras

Unions Under Siege in Guatemala

Mexican President Proposes Opening State Oil Company to Private and Foreign Investment; U.S. Corporations Line up to Return

Mexican Government and PEMEX: Shared Opacity and Corruption

Mexico's 'Queen of Pacific' faces new charges

"Now They're All Dead": Threats of Assassination to Human Rights Advocates in Haiti

Human Rights Defenders Continue to Face Threats and Intimidation (Haiti)

Border Security Results Act: Border Militarization Disguised as “Accountability Measure” in House Reform Effort (US/immigration)

A Grocery Boycott Resumes in Brooklyn (US/immigration)

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

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