Monday, February 2, 2015

WNU #1253: Indigenous Panamanians Set Deadline on Dam

Issue #1253, February 1, 2015

1. Panama: Ngöbe-Buglé Set Deadline to Stop Dam
2. Chile: Two Found Guilty in Horman Murder Case
3. Dominican Republic: Thousands to Become Stateless
4. Haiti: President Gives Reporters Xmas Present
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, 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 For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

Note: The Update is ceasing publication on Feb. 15. In each of the remaining issues we will try to include some updated information on stories we covered in the past.

*1. Panama: Ngöbe-Buglé Set Deadline to Stop Dam
Panamanian officials and leaders of the Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous group were scheduled to meet on Feb. 2 to discuss the controversial Barro Blanco hydroelectric project, which is being built on the Tabasará river in the western province of Chiriquí [see Update #1214]. Ngöbe-Buglé representatives are calling for the cancellation of the dam and say there will be forceful actions if the government doesn’t agree to their demand by Feb. 15. President Juan Carlos Varela has named a committee to represent the government in the talks; it is headed by Vice President Isabel Saint Malo de Alvarado, who is also the foreign relations minister, and includes security minister Rodolfo Aguilera, governance minister Milton Henríquez, labor minister Luis Ernesto Carles and environmental minister Mirei Endara. Some members of the committee held a preliminary meeting with indigenous leaders on Jan. 29, and the government’s technical commission was studying the area around the dam on Jan. 31.

Ngöbe-Buglé activists have demonstrated repeatedly against the Barro Blanco project since 2011, charging that it endangers an archeological site and will displace 2,000 or more indigenous people in the Ngöbe-Buglé comarca (designated indigenous territory). The government of former president Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014) failed to hold a required consultation with the communities, according to the activists, who claim the administration had interests in common with Generadora del Istmo, S.A. (GENISA), the Honduran-owned company building the dam. Indigenous protesters have maintained an encampment at the dam’s site since February 2014, according to Silvia Carrera, the Ngöbe-Buglé comarca’s official leader (cacica). Speaking at a forum in Natá, Coclé province, on Jan. 24, Carrera warned that the government needs to “dialogue with the people of Barro Blanco and the affected communities…before people take to the streets the way it happened in 2011 and 2012.” (La Estrella de Panamá 1/25/15, 1/30/15; Intercontinental Cry 1/27/15 from Servindi; Hora Cero (Panama) 2/1/15)

In related news, former president Martinelli fled to the US on Jan. 29, one day after Panama’s Supreme Court initiated a corruption investigation against him. He flew to Florida from Guatemala, where he was attending a session of the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN). “I fear for my life and my family,” he said. “I’m the target of a political persecution.” He claimed current President Varela “would do the impossible to end” him and his party and is “inventing charges” against him. Varela, who took office last July 1, was Martinelli’s vice president, but he ran against Martinelli’s candidate in the 2014 elections. Martinelli said he had no plans to return to Panama. Meanwhile, thousands marched in Panama City on Jan. 29 chanting slogans against the former president and demanding an end to impunity and jail time for corrupt politicians. (PanAM Post 1/30/15 from La Prensa (Panama))

*2. Chile: Two Found Guilty in Horman Murder Case
Retired Chilean army colonel Pedro Espinoza and former Chilean air force intelligence agent Rafael González Berdugo have been convicted in the murder of US journalist Charles Horman and US graduate student Frank Teruggi during the days after the Sept. 11, 1973 military coup that overthrew leftist president Salvador Allende Gossens [see Update #1226]. Judge Jorge Zepeda sentenced Espinoza--formerly an officer in the now-defunct National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) who has been described as the right-hand man of DINA head Manuel Contreras—to seven years in prison for the two murders. González Berdugo was sentenced to two years of police surveillance as an accomplice in Harmon’s murder. Judge Zepeda ruled in the case on Jan. 9 but the decision wasn’t announced until Jan. 28. Last summer the judge officially ruled that “US military intelligence services played a fundamental role in the murders” by supplying information to the Chilean military. (El Ciudadano (Chile) 1/31/15)

In other news, on Jan. 28 Chile’s Senate approved a law authorizing civil unions for same-sex couples. The Chamber of Deputies had passed the law on Jan. 20 in an 86-23 vote, with two abstentions. The legislation ensures members of same-sex couples rights to receive pensions, enroll in health plans and inherit property from one another; it also provides them with greater standing in child custody cases. President Michelle Bachelet says her long-term goal is full same-sex marriage rights, a position supported by 46% of the population and opposed by 42%, according to a 2013 poll by the US-based Pew Research Center. Same-sex marriage is recognized in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and parts of Mexico; civil unions are recognized in Colombia and Ecuador. Chile tends to be conservative on social issues; divorce wasn’t legalized until 2004, all abortions remain illegal, and sodomy was punishable with prison until 1999. (TeleSUR English 1/21/15; Jamaica Observer 1/28/15 from AFP)

Chile’s Congress has also been working on removing laws and practices imposed during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The Chamber of Deputies voted on Jan. 20 to eliminate the “binominal” electoral formula established by Pinochet’s 1980 Constitution, a formula which opponents say has made it possible for the right to control half the seats in Congress while getting just over a third of the votes; the legislation had already won approval in the Senate. The new proportional voting system should make it easier for smaller parties to compete; the new law also expands the Chamber from 120 to 155 seats and the Senate from 38 to 50 seats. (TeleSUR English 1/21/15; Latin American Herald Tribune 1/20/15)

Legislation that President Bachelet calls the first phase of rolling back the Pinochet-era education system passed the Senate on Jan. 22 and the Chamber of Deputies on Jan. 26. The dictatorship’s highly privatized system was the target of massive student protests from 2011 through 2013; several of the student leaders at that time are now members of Congress [see Update #1219]. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/23/15 from correspondent; Reuters 1/27/15)

*3. Dominican Republic: Thousands to Become Stateless
Tens of thousands of Dominicans born to undocumented immigrants were set to become stateless when a deadline to regularize their status passed on Feb. 1, according to the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International (AI). “Even if these people are able to stay in the Dominican Republic after the deadline expires, their futures are woefully uncertain,” AI Americas director Erika Guevara Rosas said in a statement. The people at risk are mostly Haitian descendants who were affected by Decision 168-13, a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal (TC) in September 2013 declaring that no one born to undocumented immigrant parents since 1929 was a citizen. Their situation was supposed to be remedied by Law 169/14, which was passed in May 2014 to set up a process for people to regularize their status [see Update #1221]. AI says the law’s implementation has been inadequate.

The Interior Ministry reported that as of Jan. 9, only 5,345 people had applied for regularization--just 5% of the 110,000 people AI believes should be eligible. The Dominican government has put the number of eligible people at 20,000 and claims it has done its best to help people file their claims. Immigration director José Ricardo Taveras told the El Caribe news site that the government had set up more than 20 offices to handle regularization requests and had launched a big publicity campaign. But the media reported long lines at the offices, and AI charged that even people “who should have been able to have their Dominican nationality returned in a quick procedure have been waiting for months.” “The simple fact is that when the vast majority of these people were born, the Dominican law at the time recognized them as citizens,” Guevara Rosas said. “Stripping them of this right and then creating impossible administrative hurdles to stay in the country is a violation of their human rights.” (AI statement 2/1/15; Terra Argentina 2/1/15 from Reuters)

On Jan. 28 AI reported that the Dominican authorities had deported 51 people to Haiti the day before. The group included 30 children, ages seven to 13, born in the Dominican Republic, along with seven mothers of the children and 14 other adults. They were traveling in two minivans to San Juan de la Maguana, in the western province of San Juan, where they expected to register for the regularization. However, according to AI the vehicles were stopped at a military checkpoint a few kilometers from the city. Officers told the passengers that they had to go to an immigration office in Elias Piña, near the border with Haiti, to get passes before entering San Juan. After arriving at Elias Piña, the entire group was deported to Haiti. The Dominican Interior Ministry claimed it had authorized their reentry, but as of Jan. 28 they were still in Haiti. AI noted the special vulnerability of the Dominican-born children, who were not Haitian citizens and were now in effect stateless. ( 1/28/15 from EFE Verde)

*4. Haiti: President Gives Reporters Xmas Present
The government of Haitian president Michel Joseph Martelly presented a group of reporters with cash gifts during a reception on Dec. 23, according to an open letter published on Jan. 26 by the management of the Radio Kiskeya radio station. Reporters with press credentials for presidential functions were given “envelopes containing 50,000 gourdes [about US$1,065] and 40,000 gourdes [about US$852] respectively,” the station wrote. Recipients said President Martelly had offered them what he called “a little gift whose small size they shouldn’t take offense at,” and then referred them to his spokesperson, Lucien Jura, and Esther Fatal, head of the Communication Office of the Presidency; the two officials gave the journalists the envelopes.

Radio Kiskeya said three of its reporters accepted the cash; they were “severely disciplined,” according to the letter, which didn’t reveal their names or the names of other reporters who accepted the “gifts.” “This isn’t the first time journalists have received bribes,” Franck Séguy, a professor at the State University of Haiti (UEH) and a former journalist himself, told the Haitian news site AlterPresse, although the practice “has never been discussed in the press.” He said a major cause was the fact that Haitian journalists aren’t paid enough to live in dignity and are allowed to “supplement their salary elsewhere.” (Radio Kiskeya 1/26/15; Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch, Center for Economic and Policy Research, 1/27/15; AlterPresse 1/29/15)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US/immigration

Roads are encroaching deeper into the Amazon rainforest, study says (Latin America)

US Further Isolated as CELAC Rejects Regional Intervention (Latin America)

Argentina: Societies in Movement or Politics as Usual?

Chile’s LGBT movement wins historic victory with approval of civil unions

In Memoriam: Pedro Lemebel's Chronicles of the Pinochet Dictatorship (Chile)

German Couple Kidnapped, Shot Dead in Paraguay; Guerrilla Group Suspected

The Power of the Spectacle: Evo Morales’ Inauguration in Tiwanaku, Bolivia

Ex-Colombian Intelligence Chief Surrenders to Authorities

Venezuela to nuke New York... Not!

Venezuela approves use of force against protesters

Panama: Vice President and Ministers to Meet Ngäbe Buglé Before Indigenous Ultimatum

Ayotzinapa Calls for Mexico’s Transformation

More Femicide Victims Identified from Border Graveyard (Mexico)

Cuban President: Return of Guantanamo Bay Needed to Normalize Relations

Raúl Castro demands that US return Guantánamo base to Cuba

Is the Absence of Parliament Clearing the Way for Lamothe to Run for President? (Haiti)

Journalists Denounce Attempts by Haitian Government to Silence Criticism

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