Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1198, November 3, 2013
1. Mexico: Imprisoned Chiapas Schoolteacher Released
2. Chile: Barrick Suspends Pascua Lama Construction
3. Cuba: UN Issues 22nd Condemnation of US Embargo
4. Nicaragua: CIA-Contra Drug Charges Resurface
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.
*1. Mexico: Imprisoned Chiapas Schoolteacher Released
Alberto Patishtán Gómez, a schoolteacher from the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, was freed from imprisonment on Oct. 31 after receiving a pardon that day from President Enrique Peña Nieto. Patishtán had been serving a 60-year sentence since 2000 for his alleged involvement in the killing of seven police agents in Chiapas’ El Bosque municipality in June of that year [see Update #1192]. He has consistently maintained his innocence. Human rights activists in Mexico and around the world demonstrated and petitioned for his release, charging that the teacher was being persecuted as an indigenous Tzotzil activist and a supporter of the leftist Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN).
Patishtán’s pardon was the first granted under a change to the penal code allowing presidential pardons “when there are consistent indications of grave human rights violations.” President Peña Nieto, from the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), announced his plan for the pardon on Oct. 29, one day before the new regulations were to take effect. A presidential pardon was the only option for freeing Patishtán after a federal court in Chiapas turned down his appeal on Sept. 12. Although he accepted the pardon, Patishtán had refused to ask for it, saying the government should ask him to be forgiven for its treatment of him.
Patishtán received the pardon while in the National Institute of Neurology in Mexico City; he had been transferred there from prison to undergo radiation treatment for a brain tumor discovered last year. After his release, two of his children and one grandchild accompanied Patishtán to a press conference at the offices of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Services and Consultancy for Peace (SERAPAZ). “From the first day I arrived at the prison, I felt free,” he told supporters and journalists. “Some people ask me: what sustains you so that you never stop laughing, and I tell them: it’s because I have a clear conscience.” (Washington Post 10/31/13 from AP; La Jornada (Mexico) 11/1/13)
*2. Chile: Barrick Suspends Pascua Lama Construction
The Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation, the world’s largest gold producer, announced on Oct. 31 that it was temporarily halting work on its unfinished Pascua Lama gold and silver mine high in the Andes on the Chilean-Argentine border. The only operations at the mine will be those required for compliance with environmental protection laws, according to the company, which said resumption of work would depend on costs and the outlook for gold prices. The projected cost of the massive mine, which was originally set to open in the second half of 2014, has risen from $3 billion in 2009 to $8.5 billion now. Barrick is short of cash after a dramatic drop in international gold prices in the spring; gold is currently selling for 20% less than it was a year ago. Barrick is cutting 1,850 jobs and is said to be considering the possibility of selling an interest in Pascua Lama, on which it has spent $5.4 billion to date.
The Pascua Lama project was already stalled because of environmental lawsuits in Chile, where the courts suspended construction in April because of problems the work had caused to water supplies in the area of the mine [see Update #1188]. On Oct. 11 the company faced a new setback when the appeals court in Chile’s northern Antofagasta region agreed to examine another legal action charging that the mine is causing environmental damage and compromising the quality of life for local residents. (Reuters 10/11/13; Bloomberg 10/31/13)
Mining companies, which are major consumers of energy, are also facing problems with environmental challenges to hydroelectric projects in Chile. As of late October the appeals court in Coyhaique province, in the southern region of Aysén, had issued a temporary order blocking work at a $733 million hydroelectric dam on the Cuervo river. The government granted an environmental permit for the project in September, but the government’s own environmental prosecutor appealed, saying the permit wasn’t legal. Opponents charge that the dam will harm the environment and will pose a risk because of its location on a fault line. The Supreme Court had temporarily halted work on the dam in May 2012 on the grounds that the owners, Australian-based Origin Energy and the Anglo-Swiss Glencore Xstrata PLC, failed to file a required soil study with the National Geology and Mining Service [see World War 4 Report 5/14/12]. (Reuters 10/25/13)
*3. Cuba: UN Issues 22nd Condemnation of US Embargo
The United Nations (UN) General Assembly voted 188-2 on Oct. 29 to condemn the 53-year-old US economic embargo of Cuba. This was the 22nd year in a row that the General Assembly has passed a resolution rejecting the US policy. Israel and the US were the only countries to oppose the resolution, which was presented by Cuba; last year Palau backed the US, but this year it abstained, along with Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki defended the US position, saying: "We don't feel that this annual debate in the United Nations does anything to add to or advance a constructive discussion about these issues.” Unlike Security Council resolutions, those passed by the General Assembly have no binding force.
Speaking at the General Assembly, Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez asked what had happened to the “change” that US president Barack Obama had promised during his 2008 electoral campaign. According to the Cuban government, the Obama administration has tightened some sanctions, especially the ones relating to banking, although it has relaxed limitations on travel to the island; more than 350,000 Cuban Americans and 98,000 other US citizens visited last year. The two governments are continuing direct negotiations on immigration, postal service and strategies for responding to natural disasters, but the US government seems uninterested in other measures to normalize relations. (CBS News 10/29/13; Star Tribune (Minneapolis) 10/29/13 from AP; La Jornada (Mexico) 10/30/13 from correspondent)
On Nov. 1 Mexican finance secretary Luis Videgaray announced that Cuba and Mexico had reached an agreement on a $487 million debt the Cuban government contracted more than 15 years ago. Mexico will forgive 70% of the debt and Cuba will commit to repay the rest over the next 10 years to settle the issue, which has caused some friction between the governments. Videgaray said the two countries would sign a formal agreement during Cuban foreign minister’s Rodríguez’s current visit to Mexico. (LJ 11/2/13)
*4. Nicaragua: CIA-Contra Drug Charges Resurface
The torture death of US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique (“Kiki”) Camarena near Guadalajara in the western Mexican state of Jalisco in February 1985 was linked to drug running by the US-backed “contra” rebels seeking to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua, according to two former DEA agents and a former pilot for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Camarena was kidnapped by criminals working for Rafael Caro Quintero, a founder of the so-called Guadalajara Cartel, and was executed at one of Caro Quintero’s ranches. According to the US, the cartel targeted Camarena because he had uncovered Caro Quintero’s marijuana growing and processing operation. Under pressure from the US, the Mexican government eventually captured Caro Quintero and sentenced him to 40 years in prison for Camarena’s murder.
The new allegations appeared on an Oct. 10 broadcast by the rightwing US-based Fox television network and in an Oct. 12 article published by the left-leaning Mexican weekly Proceso. Both reports were based on interviews with Phil Jordan, an ex-director of the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC); former DEA agent Héctor Berrellez, who said he directed the investigation of Camarena’s death; and Tosh Plumlee, who worked as a pilot for SETCO, a CIA-linked airline that flew military supplies to the contras. It isn’t clear why Fox chose to air the allegations now, but attention on the Camarena murder increased after a Mexican judge released Caro Quintero from prison on a technicality on Aug. 9 of this year.
According to the Fox and Proceso reports, CIA operatives had infiltrated Mexico’s now-defunct Federal Security Directorate (DFS), many of whose agents provided protection for Caro Quintero’s criminal activities in the 1980s, including the Camarena kidnapping and murder. CIA infiltrators were present when the DEA agent was killed, the reports allege. “I was told by Mexican authorities…that CIA operatives were in there,” Jordan said to Fox News. “Actually conducting the interrogation. Actually taping Kiki.” Ex-DEA agent Berrellez gave Proceso the name of at least one CIA operative he claimed was involved. “Two witnesses identified Félix Ismael Rodríguez,” he said.
The Cuban-born Rodríguez was a long-time US agent who was active in the Bay of Pigs invasion, in the Vietnam war and in the October 1967 execution of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto (“Che”) Guevara in Bolivia. In the middle 1980s Rodríguez was in El Salvador working with another Cuban-born agent, Luis Posada Carriles, supplying contra operations [see Update #1185]. According to the Proceso report, Rodríguez introduced the Honduran drug trafficker Juan Matta Ballesteros to the Guadalajara cartel. Matta allegedly used his Colombian connections to supply cocaine to the cartel, with the complicity of the CIA, which received part of the money and used it to supply arms and other military equipment to the contras. The reason for Camarena’s murder, according to Proceso, was that Camarena had “discovered that his own government was collaborating with Mexican narco trafficking in its illicit business.”
The CIA denies the accusations. “[I]t’s ridiculous to suggest that the CIA had anything to do with the murder of a US federal agent or the escape of his killer,” a CIA spokesperson told Fox News on Oct. 10.
A number of sources reported in the 1980s and early 1990s that the contras were funded in part through drug sales with the help or complicity of the CIA. In 1998 CIA Inspector General Fred Hitz told Congress that the CIA “worked with a variety of ...assets [and] pilots who ferried supplies to the contras, who were alleged to have engaged in drug trafficking activity.” The “CIA had an operational interest” in the contras and “did nothing to stop” the drug trafficking, Hitz said. Mainstream US media generally avoided the subject. In 1996 the Mercury News of San Jose, California, ran a series linking the contras to the sale of crack in South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s, but the paper later repudiated the articles. The reporter, Gary Webb, lost his job at the Mercury News and was never employed by a major newspaper again. He died in December 2004, an apparent suicide [see Update #777]. (Fox News 10/10/13; Proceso 10/12/13; El País (Madrid) 10/15/13)
Correction: This item originally read that Caro Quintero had been sentenced to 60 years in prison; the correct number is 40.
*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US/immigration
Latin America Rejects the Extractive Model in the Streets
Latin America: Report from the II Continental Summit on Indigenous Communication
Brazilian Judge Halts Belo Monte Dam Construction, Temporarily
Bolivia: The Politics of Extractivism (Bolivia)
The Road to Everywhere: The Geopolitics of the TIPNIS Conflict (Bolivia)
Bolivia: indigenous power at issue in hunger strike
The Costs of the War System and the Economic Predicament of Colombia
Venezuela’s Maduro Denounces Twitter Attack as Thousands of Pro-Government Accounts Suspended
Giving our movements new life — the case of El Salvador
Honduras: Military Police as a Major Electoral Issue
History on Hold for Victims of Guatemalan Genocide
“There is No Amnesty for These Crimes”: Guatemalan Massacre Survivor Anselmo Roldán Kicks Off U.S. Speaking Tour
New convictions in Guatemala disappearance
Repressive Memories: Terror, Insurgency, and the Drug War in Mexico
Taking the Measure of Mexican President Peña Nieto
Gov’t and Electrical Workers Reach Agreement on Pensions for 1,400 Workers (Mexico)
Indigenous Migrants Organize (Mexico)
Tijuana 'super-tunnel' discovered (Mexico)
Mexico: narcos abduct migrants —again
Cuba’s Reforms Favor Foreign Investment, Create Low-Wage Sponge
In Haiti, Cholera Claims New Victims Daily
Land, Migrants and Poets: The Day of the Dead 2013 (US/immigration)
Calls For Immigration Reform Ramp Up, But What Fuels Migration to U.S.?
U.S. Snooping Makes It a Neighbourhood Pariah (US/policy)
For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:
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Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:
Monday, November 4, 2013
WNU #1198: Indigenous Mexican Schoolteacher Released
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