Tuesday, October 15, 2013

WNU #1195: Mexican Judge Suspends GM Corn Planting

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1195, October 13, 2013

1. Mexico: Judge Suspends GM Corn Planting
2. Mexico: Commemoration of 1968 Massacre Turns Violent
3. Argentina: Will Iran Thaw Bring Justice for AMIA Victims?
4. Brazil: Teachers and Indigenous Hold Mass Protests
5. Haiti: UN Force Faces Lawsuit, New Accusations
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic

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: Judge Suspends GM Corn Planting
Mexican federal judge Jaime Eduardo Verdugo has issued an injunction ordering the Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) and the Environment Secretariat (Semarnat) not to grant further licenses for the sowing of genetically modified (GM) corn, a group of environmental organizations announced on Oct. 10. Mexican law restricts the use of transgenic corn, but recently the government has greatly expanded the area where GM seeds can be sown in pilot projects by companies like the Monsanto Company, Pioneer, Syngenta AG and Dow AgroSciences [see Update #1177]. Environmental activists want to ban all transgenic corn, which they say threatens both Mexico’s biodiversity and the ability of independent farmers to grow organic crops.

Judge Verdugo cited “the risk of imminent harm to the environment” as the basis for the injunction, a temporary restraining order in response to a suit that scientists, farmers, activists and environmental groups filed on July 5 with the Twelfth Federal District Civil Court in Mexico City. The Mexican branch of the international organization Greenpeace noted that the injunction is just “the first step for the definitive protection of biological diversity.” According to attorney Romualdo Hernández Naranjo of the legal advocacy group Collective Actions AC, the real significance of the judge’s order is that the judicial branch has finally agreed to participate in the debate over the use of GM seeds in the country. Until now the federal executive branch has acted on the issue with no oversight from other parts of the government. (Animal Político (Miami) 10/11/13; Food First 10/11/13)

The news of the Mexican injunction came just two days before activists held an international March Against Monsanto, the Missouri-based multinational that dominates the transgenic seed industry. Protests were reportedly organized for Oct. 12 in more than 500 cities in as many as 57 countries, with about the same level of participation as on a similar day of action on May 25 [see Update #1178].

Chileans marched in 14 cities, from Arica to Punta Arenas, to reject GM crops and to oppose a proposed Vegetable Breeders Law, which opponents dismiss as “the Monsanto Law.” According to the carabineros militarized police, some 800 protesters gathered in Santiago’s Plaza Italia. Brazilian activists met at Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach to protest the “enormous damage that the agribusiness multinationals, symbolized by Monsanto, have caused in Brazil and in the world.” There were also protests in dozens of US cities, including New York, where some 300 demonstrators marched from 42nd Street to Columbus Circle. “Monsanto’s GMO [genetically modified organisms] are like heroin, like cocaine or crack,” said one of the academic researchers who participated in the New York protest. “Once you resort to them, you’re forced to go on using them each year. In part, this is why more than 10,000 farmers in India have committed suicide recently when they weren’t able to go on farming to feed their families; some of them drank the Monsanto pesticide they were forced to buy.” (CNN Chile 10/12/13; Terra Brazil 10/12/13; La Jornada (Mexico) 10/13/13 from correspondent)

*2. Mexico: Commemoration of 1968 Massacre Turns Violent
As has become traditional, on Oct. 2 present-day students joined veterans of a 1968 student strike in a march in Mexico City to commemorate the anniversary of a massacre of strikers and their supporters there by police and the military. The attack, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas next to the Tlatelcolco housing project, left at least 44 dead, although many witnesses claim that hundreds were killed. At this year’s march, which marked 45 years since the attack, protesters demanded a full accounting for the massacre and punishment for the perpetrators.

As in the past, the demonstrators intended to march the 2.7 km from the Tlatelolco project to the capital’s main plaza, the Zócalo. But Federal District (DF, Mexico City) police blocked them, forcing the march to turn toward the Angel of Independence. At this point hooded youths began attacking the police and vandalizing cars and stores. Many of the marchers, including teachers protesting changes in the educational system [see Update #1192], tried to continue the peaceful demonstration despite the ongoing confrontations between police and hooded youths. The DF authorities reported a total of 67 arrests by the end of the day, with 32 police agents injured; no totals were given for injured protesters and bystanders.

On Oct. 3 representatives of several human rights groups, including the Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights (LIMEDDH), charged that the police used excessive force. “What we saw yesterday was clearly a rather unprofessional police [force],” said Darío Ramírez, who heads the Mexico chapter of Article 19, an international organization defending press freedom. He cited 22 documented instances of police aggression against journalists covering the march and said journalists Gustavo Ruiz Lizárraga and Pavel Alejandro Primo were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. The human rights groups also claimed that plainclothes agents had acted as provocateurs. A number of witnesses said the hooded youths included “infiltrators” who attacked both the police and peaceful demonstrators. In one incident a youth seized an independent journalist’s camera. “This is a tool of my trade,” the journalist said. “When did you ever work in your life?” “This is my work,” the attacker responded, punching the journalist, who lost a tooth. “You’d better go,” another hooded youth warned. “You got off easy.”

Similar charges of police infiltration followed violence at protests last Dec. 1 during the inauguration of President Enrique Peña Nieto [see Update #1158]. Ironically, agents provocateurs appear to have been used to set off the 1968 massacre [see Update #714]. The DF is now governed by the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD); a number of the party’s founders were activists in the 1968 strike. (La Jornada (Mexico) 10/3/13, 10/3/13, 10/4/13; EFE 10/4/13 via Latin American Herald Tribune)

Several hundred people demonstrated at the Reclusorio Norte prison on Oct. 5 to demand the release of 27 protesters still being detained. No arrests were reported. (LJ 10/6/13)

*3. Argentina: Will Iran Thaw Bring Justice for AMIA Victims?
Argentina and Iran have agreed to proceed with a joint investigation into the July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, Argentine foreign minister Héctor Timerman said after a Sept. 28 meeting in New York with the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Argentina has formally charged several former members of the Iranian government with planning the attack, which left 85 dead and some 300 injured in the worst incident of anti-Semitic violence since World War 2; Argentine prosecutors say the Lebanese organization Hezbollah supplied the suicide bomber who carried out the attack [see Update #1124].

Argentina and Iran signed a memorandum in January of this year agreeing to set up a Truth Commission that would probe the bombing [see World War 4 Report 1/28/13]. The Argentine Congress approved the pact in February, but until September the Iranian government hadn’t given its formal approval. The two foreign ministers are to meet in Geneva in November to put the plan into action and to start creating the Truth Commission. Then Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman and Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral are expected to go to Iran to take testimony in the case.

The apparent progress in the AMIA investigation comes as relations seem to be improving between the US and Iran following the inauguration of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in August. In late September the administration of Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner formally asked US president Barack Obama to include the AMIA case in a dialogue which Iran and the US have agreed to start.

The AMIA investigation still faces a number of obstacles, and the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA), the main body representing the country’s large Jewish community, issued a statement on Sept. 28 saying Iran’s approval of the joint investigation “brings no benefit.” The Iranian government has consistently denied any Iranian involvement in the bombing, and it has a standing arrest warrant for prosecutor Nisman, which clearly would have to be removed if he is to travel to Iran. Some political factions in Iran reportedly oppose any deal on the AMIA case, despite Argentina’s importance as a source of grain for the country.

There are also problems with Argentina’s investigation. Argentine political scientist Marcelo Falak wrote on Oct. 12 that Nisman has built a strong case for Iranian involvement but that he may have overreached in places. Falak stressed the importance of getting the US to make the investigation “one more condition presented to Iran in order to normalize its relationship with the international community. Only that would prevent Iran from delaying its obligations…and using the Truth Commission as a way to simply discredit the Argentine investigation.” (Reuters 9/28/13; La Jornada (Mexico) 10/2/13 from correspondent; Buenos Aires Herald 10/12/13)

*4. Brazil: Teachers and Indigenous Hold Mass Protests
Despite a heavy rain, tens of thousands of Brazilians marched in Rio de Janeiro on Oct. 7 to support local teachers on the 60th day of a strike over pay and benefits. Organizers said 50,000 people participated in what media reports called one of the largest demonstrations since an unprecedented wave of mass protests in June [see Update #1184]. The immediate issue of the strike was what the teachers considered an inadequate pay and benefit package offered by Rio mayor Eduardo Paes, but the demonstration attracted broad support because of widespread anger over police brutality at earlier protests and over the failure of local and national governments to provide services in health and education. "We have support from the people,” schoolteacher Aline de Luca told the British daily The Guardian at the march. “Many of those who are here are not education professionals. I am hopeful things will improve, because we have never seen society as mobilized as it is now.”

Much of the media attention was focused on confrontations between police agents and Brazil’s relatively new Black Bloc, along with other anarchist groups. Youths vandalized banks and burned a bus, while police agents fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Union leaders blame agents provocateurs for the violence. Marta Moraes, general director of the State Union of Rio de Janeiro Education Profesionals (SEPE-RJ), charged that “the conflicts took place because of an obvious presence of infiltrated police agents, the so-called ‘P2,’ who go around in civilian clothes to initiate or encourage confrontation, making it appear that the appalling action comes from the demonstrators.” (Adital (Brazil) 10/8/13, 10/9/13; The Guardian 10/8/13 from correspondent)

The Rio de Janeiro protest followed a week of demonstrations in different parts of the country by indigenous Brazilians and members of quilombos, communities founded in colonial times by fugitive slaves of African origin. The Sept. 30-Oct. 5 National Week of Indigenous Mobilization, organized by the Coordination of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), marked the 25th anniversary of the 1988 Constitution, which extended a number of rights to the indigenous communities. A series of proposed constitutional amendments (PECs) threatens to restrict these rights and open up indigenous territories to exploitation by miners and large landowners, according to the protesters. A special focus of the protests was PEC 215, which would give Congress control over the demarcation of indigenous territories, a function now held by the president.

The week of protests included a march to the federal ministries in Brasilia on Oct. 1 by some 1,300 indigenous people, quilombolas (quilombo residents) and agricultural workers. More than 100 indigenous Xavante blocked a highway for two and a half hours that day near Primavera do Leste in the central state of Mato Grosso. On Oct. 2 about 1,000 indigenous Pataxó and Tupinambá used rocks and tree branches to block a highway near Itamaraju in the eastern state of Bahía, although the protesters let ambulances pass, along with official vehicles and trucks carrying perishable goods. Indigenous groups and their supporters held protests and educational forums throughout the country during the week, and even organized a protest in front of the Brazilian embassy in London. (Adital 9/30/1310/1/13, 10/2/13; AFP 10/1/13; Los Angeles Times 10/2/13 from correspondent)

In other news, on Oct. 2 Rio de Janeiro police investigators said they were charging 10 agents in the torture and murder of construction worker Amarildo de Souza Lima the night of July 14. The state’s Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) had picked him up in an anti-drug operation in Rocinha, the large favela (improvised urban settlement) where he lived in the south of the city; the police claimed to have released him. De Souza’s family persisted in demanding an investigation, and “Where’s Amarildo?” became a major slogan in demonstrations protesting police brutality [see Update #1186]. (Adital 10/2/13, 10/3/13; New York Times 10/3/13 from correspondent)

Favela residents say De Souza’s disappearance wasn’t an isolated case. They charge that agents have been regularly disappearing residents as the police carry out a campaign to fight crime in Rio neighborhoods. Reporters from the Associated Press wire service found that “since 2007, a year before the security push into the city's slums, the number of missing person cases in the city and its impoverished outskirts has shot up 33%, to 4,090 reports last year.” In 2008 Human Rights Watch estimated that agents killed some 11,000 people in Rio and São Paulo from 2003 to 2009. (AP 10/7/13)

*5. Haiti: UN Force Faces Lawsuit, New Accusations
On Oct. 9 several advocacy groups filed a class action lawsuit in federal court in the Southern District of New York against the United Nations (UN) on behalf of victims of a deadly cholera epidemic in Haiti. The outbreak started in October 2010 because of poor sanitary conditions at a military base used by Nepalese troops in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), an 8,690-member UN “peacekeeping” force that has been in Haiti since June 2004. The 67-page complaint, filed by groups including the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and its Haitian affiliate, the Bureau of International Lawyers (BAI), charges the UN military force with gross negligence. The epidemic has killed more than 8,300 people and sickened more than 650,000; about 1,000 people continue to die each year.

The same groups filed for compensation on behalf of 5,000 victims of the epidemic in November 2011. The UN finally responded in February of this year, claiming it had no legal liability, based on section 29 of the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN [see Update #1165]. (IJDH press release 10/9/13; New York Times 10/10/13)

Also on Oct. 9, Transparency International UK, a London-based group that monitors corruption, released a report identifying “28 types of corruption that threaten peacekeeping” in the countries where UN troops are stationed. The alleged corruption includes bribery, theft, unauthorized sale of equipment, accounting fraud and sexual exploitation. The next day, on Oct. 10, the UN Security Council voted to extend MINUSTAH’s mandate to Oct. 15, 2014. (NYT 10/10/13, 10/11/13; AlterPresse (Haiti) 10/11/13)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic

At the UN, a Latin American Rebellion

Argentina Blindly Exploiting Groundwater, Scientists Warn

The Unknown Truth Behind The Moais (Chile)

Militarization, Austerity and Privatization: What’s Happening in Paraguay?

Ecuador: Correa Pushes Mining, Targets International Human Rights Observers in Intag

An Urgent Call for International Solidarity from Colombia: Support the Peace Process!

Colombia: The Triumphant Return of the Peasantry

U.S. “Cowboy” Foreign Policy From Libya to Colombia

Workers End 22 Day Strike at Venezuela's Sidor

New York Times Slanted Sandinista Coverage: From McCain to de Blasio (Nicaragua)

Rio Blanco Dam: Honduran Rights Defenders to be Jailed while Transnational Investors are Above the Law

Berta Cáceres Is Still Alive (Honduras)

Re-militarizing the Police: Turning the Clock Back in Honduras

New Report Details Multilateral Development Bank, U.S. Role in Human Rights Abuses in Río Blanco, Honduras

The End of Impunity? Indigenous Guatemalans Bring Canadian Mining Company to Court

Conflict Over Proposed Dam Flares Up in Guatemala

Mexico: The federal authorities must immediately release Alberto Patishtán

In Mexico, a voice for freedom, imprisoned

Canadian Mining Abroad: The Boom and the Backlash (Mexico)

Mexico busts more Sinaloa Cartel biggies —but still not El Chapo

Behind Haiti’s Hunger

USAID’s Largest Post-Quake Program Comes to a Close; More Questions than Answers (Haiti)

Dominican Republic “Denationalization” Program Seeks to Strip Citizenship from Haitian Descendants

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