Tuesday, June 17, 2014

WNU #1223: Chilean Dam Project Is Scrapped

Issue #1223, June 15, 2014

1. Chile: HidroAysén Dam Project Is Scrapped
2. Brazil: Homeless Win Some in the World Cup
3. Guatemala: Ex-Police Head Convicted--in Switzerland
4. Mexico: Jailed Activist's Family Threatened
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Haiti, Puerto Rico, 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. Chile: HidroAysén Dam Project Is Scrapped
Chile’s environment, energy, agriculture, mining, economy and health ministers voted unanimously at a June 10 meeting to terminate plans for the $8 billion HidroAysén hydroelectric project, a complex of five dams that was to be built on the Baker and Pascua rivers in the Aysén region in southern Patagonia. Environmentalists and many area residents had vigorously opposed the project since it was first proposed in August 2007 [see Update #1119]. HidroAysén supporters said the dams were necessary to meet energy requirements for the country, which currently gets about 40% of its power from hydroelectric projects. But Socialist president Michelle Bachelet, who began her second term on Mar. 11, has indicated that her government will push instead for more use of alternative sources and for the importation of liquefied natural gas. The companies behind the project—the Spanish-Italian electric energy consortium Endesa-Enel, which owns 51%, and the Chilean company Colbún S.A.—have 30 days to appeal the ministers’ decision.

Project opponents in Coyhaique, Aysén’s regional capital, gathered in a local movie theater while the ministers met; they celebrated with a march after the decision was announced. “It’s an historic day,” Juan Pablo Orrego, coordinator of the organization Patagonia Without Dams, told the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency. “It thrills me that the citizens—for this is a citizens’ victory— finally succeeded in inspiring the government to do the right thing about a giant project.” Opinion polls taken at the beginning of 2011 showed 74% of Chileans opposed to the HidroAysén project. (Miami Herald 6/10/14 from AP; IPS 6/11/14) Another Endesa-Enel project, a $781 million hydroelectric dam at Lake Neltume in Los Ríos region, is facing strong opposition from the indigenous Mapuche [see Update #1167].

Meanwhile, the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation, the world’s largest gold producer, is working to restart construction on its mammoth Pascua Lama gold and silver mine high in the Andes on the Chilean-Argentine border; the company suspended operations last November because of decisions by Chilean courts and an environmental agency, combined with a fall in the price of gold on international markets [see Update #1198]. The company has now signed an agreement with 15 of 18 local Diaguita communities in an effort to end indigenous opposition to the project, Lorenzo Soto, one of the communities’ lawyers, said on May 28. The agreement gives the company six months to provide the communities with details on the project, after which Barrick and the Diaguita may start two years of talks in which Soto said they could discuss payment of an “indigenous royalty.” Mining Minister Aurora Williams questioned the plan. “In practice that’s paying to resolve the situation, and we think that dialogue is what is needed,” she told reporters on May 28. (Reuters 5/28/14)

*2. Brazil: Homeless Win Some in the World Cup
The governments of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad reached an agreement on June 9 with the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) ending the threat that the group’s protests would disrupt the June 12 opening game of the 2014 World Cup soccer championship [see Update #1223]. Officials agreed to build some 2,000 housing units in vacant private land where about 4,000 homeless people had set up an encampment, “The People’s Cup,” near the site of the first game, São Paulo's Arena Corinthians. The land occupation started a month earlier as a protest against the allocation of money to sports events rather than inexpensive housing. The MTST also won greater flexibility in the implementation of a federal housing program and a commitment to create a federal commission to prevent forced displacements of homeless people. In exchange the MTST in effect agreed to end its mobilizations, which were the largest of the protests that swept São Paulo in previous weeks.

“It’s worth emphasizing that this victory was the result of the mobilizations in the streets,” MTST national coordinator Guilherme Boulos said, “of an advance in the direction of popular power which benefits not just the MTST but also the whole range of the country’s housing policies.” (Los Angeles Times 6/9/14 from correspondent; Adital (Brazil) 6/11/14; La Jornada (Mexico) 6/11/14 from unidentified wire services)

The authorities had a very different approach for the almost 8,000 São Paulo subway workers who walked off the job on June 5 to demand a 12% pay increase. A labor judge ruled over the weekend of June 7 that the strike was illegal and imposed a $222,000 fine on the Subway Workers Union for each day the strike continued. Meanwhile, the São Paulo state government, which manages the transit system, refused to move from its offer of a 8.7% increase, and Gov. Geraldo Alckmin, a leader in the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), fired 42 strikers the state claimed had engaged in vandalism or other misconduct, with a threat to fire another 300 if the strike continued. The government’s hard-line response seemed to take the subway workers by surprise. An assembly of union members voted on June 9 to suspend the strike until June 12; on June 11 the members rejected the idea of resuming the strike the next day. (Reuters 6/10/14; LJ 6/11/14 from unidentified wire services; Wall Street Journal blog 6/11/14 from correspondents)

With the homeless activists and the subway workers out of the picture, the São Paulo protests were relatively small when the games opened on June 12, and the police acted forcefully to suppress them. Some 70 activists gathered at the Carrão subway station for a 12-km march to the Arena Corinthians, but police agents blocked them on the Radial Leste avenue and used tear gas when marchers tried to break through. There was at least one arrest, and five people were injured, including three journalists with minor abrasions from fragments of tear gas grenades: CNN news producer Barbara Arvanitidis, CNN correspondent Shasta Darlington and Sistema Brasileiro de Televisão camera operator Douglas Barbieri. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the Brazilian government to ensure the safety of reporters covering protests.

The championship series is being held in a number of cities before it ends on July 13, and demonstrators marked the opening of the games in these cities as well. Some 200 protesters reportedly confronted police and vandalized stores and banks in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais state, on June 12; at least four people were arrested, and a rock thrown by a demonstrator hit Reuters wire service photographer Sergio Morais in the head, according to the local daily Estado de Minas. About 1,000 protesters marched in the center of Rio de Janeiro without incident, while workers held 24-hour strikes in three area airports--Galeão, Santos Dumont and Jacarepaguá--to demand a contract. In Porto Alegre in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, some of a group of 1,000 protesters broke windows and hurled rocks at police agents, the authorities reported, and others vandalized a McDonald’s restaurant. The police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. In Brasilia police agents dispersed about 150 protesters. (LJ 6/13/14 from unidentified wire services)

On June 5, one week before the opening of the games, the London-based organization Amnesty International (AI) issued a report detailing police abuses in demonstrations over the past year. The report, “Brazil: ‘They Use a Strategy of Fear’: Protecting the Right to Protest in Brazil,” called on the authorities to limit the use of force at protests. (Adital 6/11/14)

*3. Guatemala: Ex-Police Head Convicted--in Switzerland
On June 6 a criminal court in Geneva, Switzerland, sentenced Erwin Sperisen (“El Vikingo”), Guatemala’s national police chief from 2004 to 2007, to life in prison for his participation in the extrajudicial execution of seven inmates in 2006 during a police operation at the Pavón prison near Guatemala City. Swiss authorities had detained Sperisen, who holds dual Guatemalan and Swiss citizenship, in August 2012 in response to arrest orders Guatemala issued in 2010 following an investigation by the United Nations-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Under Swiss law citizens cannot be extradited, but they can be tried in Switzerland on foreign charges. The Geneva court acquitted Sperisen of three other charges due to lack of evidence; these concerned the killing of three escaped prisoners in October 2005. One of the former police chief’s lawyers said the defense would appeal the convictions in the Pavón case.

Sperisen resigned his post and left Guatemala in 2007 after a bizarre series of events starting with the murder of three visiting Salvadoran legislators on Feb. 19 of that year. Four police agents were charged with the killing; they in turn were murdered while in custody, supposedly by other prisoners [see Updates #889, 891]. Then-interior minister Carlos Vielmann fled Guatemala at the same time. He is now awaiting trial in Spain for his role in the killings at the Pavón prison. (BBC News 6/6/14; Adital (Brazil) 6/9/14)

In related news, on June 10 the authorities announced the arrest of three former police agents in connection with the murder of anthropologist Myrna Mack Chang on Sept. 11, 1990, four days after she had released a report on abuses by the military. Sgt. Noel de Jesús Beteta was convicted of carrying out the murder in 1993, and in 2002 Col. Juan Valencia Osorio, Beteta’s supervisor, was convicted of involvement in the killing [see Update #730]. Apparently the three former agents arrested now--Julio David López Aguilar, José Miguel González Grijalva and Alberto Encarnación Barrios Rabanales—are being charged with the Aug. 5, 1991 shooting death of José Miguel Mérida Escobar, a police investigator. Mérida Escobar had reported to a court on his findings in the Mack case shortly before his murder. (Prensa Libre 6/10/14; Miami Herald 6/10/14 from AP)

*4. Mexico: Jailed Activist's Family Threatened
A group of Mexican legislative deputies announced on June 2 that they would call on the federal Governance Secretariat to guarantee the security of family members of Nestora Salgado, an imprisoned community activist from the largely indigenous town of Olinalá in the southwestern state of Guerrero. The announcement came one day after an attack on a bus that Salgado’s daughter Saira Salgado was riding from Olinalá to Mexico City for a scheduled meeting with legislators. Armed men stopped the bus shortly after it left Olinalá and without explanation executed a woman passenger. Saira Salgado said the victim was dressed the way she herself is usually dressed. After the murder, the men left without harming or robbing the other passengers. Deputy Roberto López, of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), charged that the attack was not an isolated incident.

Nestora Salgado is a naturalized US citizen from Olinalá who migrated to the US and settled in Washington state. In recent years she began visiting her hometown and became involved in community affairs there; eventually she was elected head of the community police force. Community police forces are legally recognized in Guerrero, and Salgado originally had good relations with the state government. But in August 2013 she ordered the arrest of a local official, Armando Patrón Jiménez, in connection with cattle rustling and the deaths of two ranchers. Five days later Salgado herself was arrested on charges of kidnapping and was removed to a federal women’s prison at Tepic in the western state of Nayarit. She has been held there ever since without access to a lawyer; her daughter’s meeting with legislators was intended to discuss their plan to have her transferred to a more accessible prison in Mexico City.

Mexican and US activists have organized a campaign for Salgado’s release, along with a petition drive. The US government has done nothing to help with Salgado’s case despite her status as a US citizen, Deputy Loretta Ortiz Ahlf, of the small leftist Labor Party (PT), said on June 2. (La Jornada (Mexico) 6/3/14; Desinformémonos (Mexico) 6/8/14)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Haiti, Puerto Rico, US/policy, US/immigration

Book Review: Learning from Latin America’s Social Movements

Capitalism’s Bullets in Latin America: Invisible Empires, State Power and 21st Century Colonialism

Latin America: Full Spectrum Seizures of Power

Chile Rejects Patagonian Dam Project, Environmentalists Hail Victory

Corruption and spectacle in the World Cup (Brazil)

The World Cup Bus to Nowhere (Brazil)

Sporting Shock Doctrine: Dave Zirin on the World Cup, Olympics and Brazilian Democracy

On Fifth Anniversary of Peru FTA Bagua Massacre of Indigenous Protestors, State Department Cables Published on Wikileaks Reveal U.S. Role

Ecuador returns to external financing

Colombia to begin peace process with ELN

Indigenous Governance System Provides A Model For Community Defense In Mexico

Mexico’s Biodiversity Under Siege

Haiti’s Chief Foreign Import: Meddling

Puerto Rico Unions Threaten Strike Against Austerity Budget

Unfinished Business in Indian Country (US/immigration)

Human Right Watch's Revolving Door (US/policy)

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