Tuesday, December 16, 2014

WNU #1246: UN “Peacekeepers” Fire on Haitian Protesters

Issue #1246, December 14, 2014

1. Haiti: UN “Peacekeepers” Fire on Protesters
2. Mexico: Official Ayotzinapa Story Questioned
3. Latin America: OAS Group Calls for CIA Torture Probe
4. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US/immigration, US/policy

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. Haiti: UN “Peacekeepers” Fire on Protesters
At least two Haitian protesters were wounded by gunfire and another was apparently shot dead during two days of opposition demonstrations in Port-au-Prince on Dec. 12 and 13; there were also protests in the northern cities of Cap-Haïtien and Gonaïves. The demonstrations, which drew thousands of participants, came as the government of President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) was taking steps aimed at defusing a political crisis that has been building for several months [see Update #1244].

The Dec. 12 demonstration started with a gathering at the ruins of the Saint-Jean Bosco Catholic church; protesters then marched through a number of working-class neighborhoods and approached the site of the National Palace, which was destroyed by a January 2010 earthquake, in the central Champ de Mars park. At this point security forces, including at least one contingent from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), dispersed the marchers with tear gas grenades and gunfire. Spokespeople for the international group said its members only used tear gas and fired in the air, but a video seems to show at least two men from MINUSTAH taking aim and shooting at eye level; one wears a blue cap and fires a pistol, while the other wears a blue helmet and fires a rifle.

It is unclear from the video whether the men were using live ammunition. Two people were reportedly wounded by gunfire and taken to the hospital during the Dec. 12 march, but who shot them wasn’t reported. This was said to be the first time in several months that MINUSTAH, a joint police-military operation led by Brazilian officers, intervened in an anti-government demonstration. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 12/13/14, 12/15/14; VICE 12/13/14)

Protesters accused Haitian police of shooting a man dead the next day at the Dec. 13 protest; the victim “had a visible bullet wound in his chest,” according to the Miami Herald. “[N]o one died in today’s protests,” police spokesperson Gary Desrosiers claimed. He suggested that somebody “put the body there.” (MH 12/14/14 from correspondent)

The protests followed several days in which President Martelly made apparent concessions to government critics. On Dec. 9 an 11-member “consultative commission” that Martelly named on Nov. 28 presented its recommendations for a sweeping series of resignations, which the commission called “patriotic sacrifices.” The officials asked to resign included Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe; Arnel Alexis Joseph, the controversial president of the Superior Council of the Judicial Branch (CSPJ); and the entire Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), which has failed to organize legislative elections scheduled for 2011. The commission’s report also called for the immediate release of “a number of people” who have been arbitrarily detained and “classed as ‘political prisoners.’” The report laid out a timetable for reforms and agreements intended to clear the way for elections next year and head off a constitutional crisis likely to occur when the terms of one-third of the country’s senators expire on Jan. 12.

Martelly announced his acceptance of the report in a radio address the evening of Dec. 12, and Prime Minister Lamothe taped a resignation speech the evening of Dec. 13, although it wasn’t broadcast until early the next morning. The government also seemed to be moving on at least some of the cases of arbitrary detention. Rony Timothée amd Byron Odigé, two opposition leaders in prison since Oct. 26 [see Update #1243], were released on Dec. 11, in time to participate in the Dec. 12 protest. Police agent Jean Matulnès Lamy, who had been imprisoned since Feb. 21, was freed on Dec. 12; he was arrested after leading other local residents in protests against a tourism project on Ile-à-Vache, a small island southeast of Les Cayes in South department [see Update #1211].

It was far from certain that these moves would satisfy the protesters who have been demanding Martelly’s resignation. At the Dec. 12 demonstration human rights attorney André Michel said democratic forces needed to continue to push for the liberation of more prisoners, including Louima Louis Juste, Jean-Robert Vincent and the brothers Enold and Josué Florestal [see Update #1232]. (AlterPresse 12/12/14, 12/12/14; MH 12/14/14 from correspondent)

*2. Mexico: Official Ayotzinapa Story Questioned
On Dec. 13 the left-leaning Mexican news magazine Proceso published an investigative report challenging the government’s account of the abduction of 43 students and the killing of three students and three bystanders the night of Sept. 26-27 in Iguala de la Independencia in the southwestern state of Guerrero [see Update #1245]. Based on cell phone videos, interviews, testimony by witnesses and leaked official documents, the report’s authors, Anabel Hernández and Steve Fisher, claim that agents of the Federal Police (PF) were involved in the attack on the students, that the Mexican army was at least complicit, and that the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto has been covering up the role of federal forces.

The official version is that responsibility for violence against the students, who attended the traditionally leftist Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa, lies entirely with Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca Velázquez, municipal police in the Iguala area and a local drug gang. But a leaked document shows that federal and state police were regularly informed on the students’ movements from the time they left Ayotzinapa for Iguala the evening of Sept. 26 through the time of the attack, according to the Proceso report. Federal forces could have intervened to stop the violence; instead, they may have participated in it. Some of the students reported seeing federal agents during the attack; other students said the police assaulting them had equipment, including a machine gun, not issued to municipal police departments in Mexico.

Guerrero state prosecutors clearly suspected federal involvement. On Sept. 28 they ordered the PF to provide records on the activities of federal agents in the area for the Sept. 24-28 period; the PF didn’t comply. Under political pressure, the state government dropped out of the case on Oct. 4, leaving the investigation entirely in the control of the federal government.

The reporters also questioned the official claim that the Guerreros Unidos (“United Warriors”) gang was involved, since the only evidence for this seems to come from confessions by gang members who had evidently been tortured by the authorities. The government asserts that the abducted students were transferred to members of the gang at a specific Iguala police station. According to the Proceso report, the activity would have been visible to anyone in the area, but neighbors said they saw and heard nothing unusual that night.

Hernández and Fisher charge that the motive for the attack was political: “The attack on and disappearance of the students was directed specifically at the ideological structure and administration of the college.” They note that the students were all members of the college’s Student Struggle Committee and 10 were “political activists in training” with the Political and Ideological Orientation Committee (COPI).

Hernández is an award-winning Mexican journalist and the author of a bestselling book on official corruption and the drug trade; the book was published in English as Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers. Fisher is a US reporter and filmmaker. The research was supported by the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of Berkeley, California. (El Diario de Coahuila 12/14/14 from Proceso; Fusion 12/14/14)

Just as the new issue of Proceso was hitting the newsstands in the early morning of Dec. 14, a confrontation between federal police agents and students and their supporters left 22 people injured in Chilpancingo, the Guerrero state capital. According to a local human rights attorney, Vidulfo Rosales Sierra, some 15 to 20 Ayotzinapa students were setting up for a rock concert they were to hold that morning in the north of the city as part of activities protesting the Sept. 26-27 attacks. At around 5 am a group of federal agents, apparently drunk or on drugs, arrived and attacked the students with fists and rocks, Rosales Sierra said.

Parents, teachers and students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) also became involved in the confrontation, and later some 250 members of the militant State Organizing Committee of Education Workers in Guerrero (CETEG) joined in; they have been holding a sit-in at Chilpancingo’s main plaza since Oct. 8. The CETEG members reportedly set three police vans on fire, along with four other vehicles, and detained three federal agents, taking them to Ayotzinapa in nearby Tixtla municipality and then transferring them to the municipal prison. The injured included eight federal agents and two reporters; the rest were students, teachers and parents. (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/15/14)

*3. Latin America: OAS Group Calls for CIA Torture Probe
The human rights agency of the Organization of American States (OAS) has joined other international rights groups in calling for the US government to act on a report that the US Senate Intelligence Committee released on Dec. 9 about the use of torture by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). According to its Dec. 12 press release, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) called for the US “carry out a full investigation in order to clarify the facts, and prosecute and punish all persons within its jurisdiction responsible for acts of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and to provide integral reparations to the victims, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and measures of non-repetition, pursuant to international standards.” The commission added that “the lack of punishment encourages practices that erode respect for integrity and human dignity.”

Critics of the IACHR have questioned the group’s ability or willingness to enforce its call. During his weekly radio show on Dec. 13, center-left Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa dismissed the IACHR statement as a “fake.” “You’ll see that absolutely nothing will happen,” he said, attributing his doubts to the fact that the US finances the Washington, DC-based commission and many of its members “come and go to and from gringo foundations.” The IACHR’s own press release noted that since early in 2002 the commission has repeatedly “called for the reports of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees at the [US-operated] Guantánamo detention facility to be investigated, and for the facility to be closed.” These calls seem to have had no effect on the US government. (IACHR press release 12/12/14; El Tiempo (Ecuador) 12/13/14 from EFE)

Some US commentators have emphasized that there is nothing new for Latin Americans in the evidence that US agencies employ torture: the region has had decades of experience with torture advocated by US agents.

In 1988 a Honduran Army officer told the New York Times’ James LeMoyne about his training by the CIA and the US Army: “They taught us psychological methods--to study the fears and weaknesses of a prisoner. Make him stand up, don't let him sleep, keep him naked and [in] isolation, put rats and cockroaches in his cell, give him bad food, serve him dead animals, throw cold water on him, change the temperature.” In September 1996 the US Defense Department released documents showing that from 1982 to 1991 the US Army School of the Americas (SOA, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, WHINSEC) trained Latin American military officers with US Army intelligence manuals advocating the blackmail, torture and murder of insurgents [see Update #347]. Four months later, in January 1997, the Baltimore Sun reported that CIA manuals on the use of torture and other forms of coercion were employed in training Latin American military personnel in the 1980s [see Update #369]. The DC-based National Security Archive provides links to these CIA training manuals at http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB122/index.htm.

“[A] direct line runs between what happened in Central America [in the 1980s] and US torture methods during the George W. Bush administration,” according to Bloomberg News’ James Gibney, who points to an unnamed CIA officer mentioned in the Intelligence Committee report. In Central America this officer provided training and “conducted interrogations” for an unidentified group, which according to Newsweek “was almost certainly the Nicaraguan contras,” a rightwing rebel group fighting the leftist Nicaraguan government of the 1980s. “The CIA inspector general later recommended that [the officer] be orally admonished for inappropriate use of interrogation techniques,” the Senate report says. In the fall of 2002, this same officer “became the CIA’s chief of interrogations in the CIA’s Renditions Group, the officer in charge of CIA interrogations.” (Newsweek 12/10/14; Bloomberg News 12/12/14)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US/immigration, US/policy

The Torture Report: Latin America’s Lessons for the United States

UNESCO Preserves Uruguay Prison Diary

The Police and the Massacre of Afro-Brazilian Youth

Brazil: truth commission report on military rule

Peru-Brazil Indigenous People Pledge to Fight Amazon Oil Exploration

Developmentalism and Social Movements in Bolivia

Without Respect for Indigenous Rights, There Will be No Solution to Climate Change Report from Lima (Peru)

People's Summit in Lima Envisions Bottom-Up Movement for Global Climate Justice (Peru)

Lima climate summit in shadow of state terror

Kicked Out By Coal (Colombia)

U.S. Congress Passes Venezuela Sanctions, Obama Expected to Sign

The Situation of Human Rights and Democracy in Honduras Since the Elections of November 2013

Indigenous Guatemalans Create Political Platform for 2015 Elections

Ayotzinapa, emblem of the Twenty-First Century social order (Mexico)

Protests Erupt Linking Police Impunity in Ferguson to Ayotzinapa (Mexico)

Mexico’s Epidemic of Violence Against Women

Why USAID Could Never Spark a Hip Hop Revolution in Cuba

Presidential Commission Recommends Removing Prime Minister as Pressure Mounts to Resolve Electoral Crisis (Haiti)

Haiti Rape Accountability and Prevention Project, 16 Days of Activism

Border Farmworkers Still Lack Health Care (US/immigration)

Immigration Enforcement: Anti-Labor Tool (US/immigration)

Latin America: NYPD chief wants to teach the world’s police (US/policy)

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

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