Tuesday, February 17, 2015

WNU #1255: Panama Dam Construction Suspended

Issue #1254, February 15, 2015

1. Panama: Barro Blanco Dam Construction Suspended
2. Honduras: AFL-CIO Blames Trade Policies for Crisis
3. Mexico: UN Criticizes Officials on Disappearances
4. Haiti: New General Strike Shuts Down Capital
5. Dominican Republic: Was Haitian Man Lynched?
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Central America, El Salvador, 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 weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

Note: As we announced last month, this will be the last regular issue of the Update. We want to thank all the people who have helped over the past 25 years by writing, researching, aiding in distribution and circulation, and sending financial contributions. We plan to go on using the Update's Twitter account (@WeeklyNewsUpdat) for now, and we'll occasionally post items to the Update blog and email list, along with links to stories in other media.

We encourage our readers to keep up to date with news from the Americas through the many English-language publications now covering the region. Twelve are listed below after the links to alternative sources.

*1. Panama: Barro Blanco Dam Construction Suspended
Panamanian vice president and foreign minister Isabel Saint Malo de Alvarado announced on Feb. 9 that the country’s National Environmental Authority (ANAM) had ordered the temporary suspension of work on the $130 million Barro Blanco hydroelectric project, which is being built on the Tabasará river in the western province of Chiriquí [see Update #1254]. ANAM attributed the suspension to the owners’ failure to comply with requirements in an environmental impact study, including those for clear agreements with the affected communities and for a plan approved by the National Culture Institute (INAC) to protect archeological objects likely to be flooded because of the dam. ANAM officials also cited the owners’ handling of hazardous waste without an environmental impact study and the lack of a plan for the management of sediments.

The suspension came four days before preliminary talks between the government and representatives of the Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous group, which opposes the Barro Blanco project. The Feb. 13 talks were in preparation for a formal dialogue scheduled for Feb. 24. The two parties are seeking “a consensus that takes into account human rights, the protection of the original peoples, the environment [and] sustainable development,” Governance Minister Milton Henríquez said on Feb. 12. The government has invited United Nations (UN) representatives to participate in the discussions. However, the UN itself has come under criticism from international environmental groups for the decision of its Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to approve the project. Eva Filzmoser, the director of the Brussels-based Carbon Market Watch, charged on Feb. 10 that the CDM board “approved Barro Blanco when it was clear that the dam would flood the homes of numerous indigenous families. This decision is a warning signal that safeguards must be introduced to protect human rights, including robust stakeholder consultations and a grievance mechanism.” (La Estrella de Panamá 2/9/15, 2/13/15; Intercontinental Cry 2/10/15)

*2. Honduras: AFL-CIO Blames Trade Policies for Crisis
US political and trade policies “play a major role” in worsening the poverty and violence that are root causes of unauthorized immigration to the US by Hondurans, according to a report released by the AFL-CIO, the main US labor federation, on Jan. 12. The report, “Trade, Violence and Migration: The Broken Promises to Honduran Workers,” grew out of the experiences of a delegation the union group sent to Honduras in October following a sharp increase in migration from the country by unaccompanied minors the previous spring [see Update #1254]. The report notes that Honduras is now “the most unequal country in Latin America,” with an increase in poverty by 4.5 percentage points from 2006 to 2013. “[T]he percentage of those working full time but receiving less than the minimum wage has gone up by nearly 30%,” according to the report.

One cause of poverty and violence in Honduras, according to the report, was the June 2009 coup that removed former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), with only token objections from the US government. “Since the 2009 coup, the ruling governments have failed to respect worker and human rights or create decent work, and instead have built a repressive security apparatus to put down dissent,” the authors wrote. Another principal cause of the country’s problems was the implementation of the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). The delegation found that CAFTA-DR’s “architecture of deregulation coupled with investor protection allowed companies to outsource labor-intensive components of their supply chains to locations with weak labor laws and low wages.” The agreement “accelerated free market devastation,” Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and a participant in the delegation, told a reporter. He noted “constant violations of organizing rights…that included everything from the murder of [union] leaders to the collapse of bargaining rights where they once existed.”

“Failed trade and migration policies continue to exacerbate Honduras’ problems,” the report concludes. “The US government criminalizes migrant children and their families, while pursuing trade deals that simultaneously displace subsistence farmers and lower wages and standards across other sectors, and eliminate good jobs, intensifying the economic conditions that drive migration. This dynamic is enhanced in countries like Honduras, where the government's own policies leave workers and families vulnerable to abuse.” (National Catholic Reporter 1/28/15; The Nation 2/6/15; Equal Times 2/10/15)

Probably the best known of the displacements of subsistence farmers occurred in northern Honduras’ Lower Aguán River Valley, where campesino groups struggling to regain their land have been victims of violence by the military and private security forces since 2009 [see Update #1243]. A recent example was the forced disappearance of Cristian Alberto Martínez Pérez, a young activist in the Gregorio Chávez Campesino Movement (MCGC, also referred to as the Gregorio Chávez Collective), as he was riding his bicycle the evening of Jan. 29 near his home in Panamá community, Trujillo municipality, Colón department.

Human rights groups and several campesino organizations quickly responded to Martínez Pérez’s disappearance by joining together in an intensive search. The youth was found alive--but tied up and dehydrated--a few meters from the Paso Aguán estate the morning of Feb. 1, about 62 hours after his abduction. He said he had been seized by a soldier and a security guard and confined to a vehicle, where he was questioned about his group’s leaders and possible plans for an occupation of the estate. Paso Aguán is owned by Honduran entrepreneur and landowner Miguel Facussé Barjum and is guarded by soldiers and security employers of the powerful Corporación Dinant food-product company, which Facussé founded. At least two deaths have been reported on the estate in the past; the MCGC is apparently named for one of the victims [see Update #1226]. (Defensores en Línea 2/3/15; Honduprensa 2/5/15)

The Aguán campesino movement is the subject of a new documentary, “Resistencia: The Film,” which is premiering in Montreal on Feb. 20. For more information, go to https://www.facebook.com/events/760100744074861

*3. Mexico: UN Criticizes Officials on Disappearances
In a report published on Feb. 13, the United Nations’ Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) called on the Mexican government to prioritize actions to deal with the large number of disappearances taking place in many parts of the country, often with the participation of government functionaries. Although international attention has been focused on the September abduction of 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College, located in the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa [see Update #1254], the total number of people who have gone missing in Mexico since the militarization of the “war on drugs” began in late 2006 is estimated at 22,600. “[I]n contrast to the thousands of enforced disappearances,” CED member Rainer Huhle told a news briefing, citing the government’s own statistics, “there are exactly six persons put to trial and sentenced for this crime.”

The report was based on an evaluation the CED carried out Feb. 2-3 at the group’s headquarters in Geneva. The CED recognized some advances by the Mexican government, including the ratification of all United Nations human rights treaties and the adoption of a General Law for Victims, but expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s failure even to keep an accurate record of the number of forced disappearances. The committee’s recommendations included creating a national registry of disappearances and the formation of a special unit to search for disappeared persons. (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/14/15; Jurist 2/14/15)

The Ayotzinapa case has brought international attention to Mexico’s record on disappearances. On Jan. 22 the London-based rights group Amnesty International (AI) criticized what it called “the faltering investigations overseen by the Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam.” “The disappearance of [the Ayotzinapa] students is a crime that has shocked the world,” AI Americas director Erika Guevara Rosas said. “This tragedy has changed the distorted perception that the human rights situation has been improving in Mexico since President [Enrique] Peña Nieto took power” in 2012.

Criticism is also starting to increase in the US, whose government and media have strongly backed Peña Nieto in the past. The Mexican government’s account of the Ayotzinapa abductions “isn’t a historical truth,” José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of US-based Human Right Watch (HRW), said recently. “It’s an official version.” The website of the influential weekly The New Yorker has carried five articles so far on the Ayotzinapa case by novelist Francisco Goldman. The latest, posted on Feb. 7, details the many questions raised by the official account of the abduction of the students. (AI press release 1/22/15; New Yorker 2/7/15; Jurist 2/13/15)

In related news, the cousin of a disappearance victim was murdered around noon on Feb. 13 in Iguala de la Independencia, the Guerrero city that was the site of the September attack on the Ayotzinapa students. Two men on a motorcycle gunned Norma Angélica Bruno Román down in front of her three children as they were on the way to a cemetery for the burial of another murder victim, José Ramón Bernabé Armenta, who had been killed two days earlier. Initial reports said Bruno Román was an activist with the local Committee of Forced Disappearance Victims; the committee is also known as “The Other Disappeared,” since it deals with victims other than the missing 43 students. The group clarified later that Bruno Román had participated in the group’s activities in her search for her cousin, Ivette Melissa Flores Román, who has been missing since she was abducted from her home the night of Oct. 24, 2012. However, Bruno Román wasn’t part of the group, and committee members felt her murder wasn’t connected to their work. (Proceso (Mexico) 2/13/15; LJ 2/14/15)

*4. Haiti: New General Strike Shuts Down Capital
A general strike by Haitian transit workers and opposition groups paralyzed Port-au-Prince and some other cities Feb. 9-10 in a protest against high fuel prices and the government of President Michel Joseph Martelly. With most forms of public transportation shut down, the capital’s streets were empty except for rocks and burning tires that strike supporters set up as barricades; some streets were turned into improvised soccer fields. People generally stayed home, and most government offices, businesses, banks and schools were closed. There was little violence, although one police agent, Ravelin Yves André, reportedly received a stab wound in the impoverished Cité Soleil sector while trying to remove burning tires.

Petit-Goâve and Miragoâne in South department observed the strike, while Cap-Haïtien in North department and Les Cayes in South department mostly ignored it the first day, according to media reports. There was more strike activity in Cap-Haïtien the second day, while a few people went back to work in Port-au-Prince, where the government provided some free bus service.

This was the second general strike in a week over fuel prices [see Update #1254]. A two-day strike called by transit workers for Feb. 2-3 ended after one day when the government agreed to lower gasoline prices from 215 gourdes to 195 gourdes (about US$4.58 to US$4.15) for a gallon, with corresponding reductions for diesel fuel and kerosene. But the second general strike was more political, with support from such opposition groups as the Patriotic Force for Respect for the Constitution (FOPARC), which backs the Family Lavalas (FL) party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004). The government refused to consider the protesters’ demand for a price reduction of 100 gourdes (about US$2.17). Officials said the country needed to pay off some of a large debt for the oil it has acquired through Venezuela’s Petrocaribe program. But many people disagreed. “We are poor, we cannot live anymore,” a driver of one of the minibuses known as tap-taps complained to a reporter. “Gasoline prices are falling worldwide, so it should be the same here in Haiti.” (AlterPresse (Haiti) 2/9/15, 2/10/15, 2/10/15; Reuters 2/10/15)

*5. Dominican Republic: Was Haitian Man Lynched?
The body of a Haitian immigrant, Claude (“Tulile”) Jean Harry, was found hanging from a tree in Ercilia Pepín Park in Santiago de los Cabelleros, the capital of the northern Dominican province of Santiago, on Feb. 11. Dominican police spokespeople say they are working on the theory that Jean Harry was killed to prevent him from testifying about the Feb. 9 murder of Altagracia Díaz Ventura. According to the police, Díaz Ventura was killed by her sister-in-law, Annery Núñez, who then stole the victim’s money and furniture. Jean Harry did odd jobs in the area; he may have been paid to help move the furniture and could have found out about the murder. Annery Núñez had turned herself into the police as of Feb. 15.

Haitian immigrants and human rights organization questioned the police version, noting the increase in anti-Haitian sentiment following a September 2013 Constitutional Tribunal (TC) ruling that deprived thousands of Haitian-descended Dominicans of citizenship [see Update #1253]. “Nobody knows yet the reason behind the lynching, but it comes in the context of constant discrimination and violence against Haitians,” the Robert F Kennedy Center for Human Rights’ Santiago Canton said. Jean Harry was murdered just hours after a group of Dominicans publicly burned the Haitian flag in Santiago. As of Feb. 13 the authorities said they had arrested five members of the group. (The Guardian (UK) 2/12/15 from correspondent; AlterPresse (Haiti) 2/13/15; El Nuevo Diario (Dominican Republic) 2/15/15)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Central America, El Salvador, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US/immigration

Latin America: Solidarity and Accompaniment

Washington’s Prying Eyes (Latin America)

Editor's Note: last print edition of NACLA's Report on the Americas (Latin America)

Investigation Into Argentine President Will Resume

Argentina Wins British Victory in Vulture Funds Battle

Argentina: Chinese spaceport plan protested

Can Bolivia Chart a Sustainable Path Away From Capitalism?

Peruvian Youth Celebrates Victory Over Government and Big Business’ Ley Pulpín

Peru’s Media-Friendly Mining Ban Conceals Toxic Inaction

Peru: protests against PlusPetrol turn deadly

Deep in the Amazon, a Tiny Tribe Is Beating Big Oil (Ecuador)

Colombia: Urgent Action: Afro-descendant leaders threatened

Venezuela Coup Thwarted

Hector Navarro: I’m Encouraging a Rebellion at the Bases of the PSUV (Venezuela)

How US 'Free Trade' Policies Created the Central American Migration Crisis

UN Registered Barro Blanco Hydroelectric Dam Temporarily Suspended Over Non-Compliance With Environmental Impact Assessment (Panama)

Salvadorans Demand Trial for Former Right-Wing President

Did Bill O'Reilly Cover Up a War Crime in El Salvador?

Daniel’s Story: A Mother’s Memories of an Ayotzinapa Victim (Mexico)

Mexican Teachers Take to the Streets Again

Divisadero: Tierra Nativa Raramuri (Mexico)

Paved With Bad Intentions: The Ñatho (Otomí) Struggle Against the Toluca-Naucalpan Super Highway (Mexico)

How to Close Guantanamo (Cuba)

CEP Proposes Legislative Elections in July, Presidential in October (Haiti)

Americas Program Policy Report: Border Drones a Financial and Policy Bust (US/immigration)

Radically Reshaping Latina/o America (US/immigration)

Washington Police Shooting Ingites a Cross-Border Controversy (US/immigration)

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

For immigration updates and events:


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