Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Stop killings of Honduran journalists

OUR OPINION: Solving murders must be a top priority.
Honduran radio reporter Israel Zelaya Díaz was found dead Tuesday night on the side of a rural road in San Pedro Sula, making him at least the eighth journalist killed in that country this year.
If past killings are any guide, his murder will go unsolved. A Committee to Protect Journalists' examination of the cases shows a ``pattern of botched and negligent investigative work'' -- that's if you consider exhuming a body three months after a murder to conduct an outdoor graveside autopsy an ``investigation.'' That was the treatment given to Nahúm Palacios Arteaga, a TV reporter killed in March.
That month proved to be the deadliest for Honduran journalists: One died each week. Disc jockey Luis Antonio Chévez was killed a month later, a murder that -- if linked to his work -- would raise the death toll to nine.
This string of senseless killings comes at an awkward time for Honduran President Porfirio ``Pepe'' Lobo. Just seven months on the job, Mr. Lobo is struggling to achieve international acceptance for his country. Rival truth commissions are running parallel investigations into the 2009 coup that preceded his election, and activists are still waiting for justice in murder cases linked to last year's crisis.
Living under a cloud
Mr. Lobo is eager to peddle the public image that Honduras is back in business after the June 2009 upheaval crippled the nation's economy for seven months.
As long as that nation's journalists continue to live under a cloud of fear and uncertainty, Mr. Lobo's hopes for his country are bound to remain unfulfilled.
To his credit, Mr. Lobo has taken important first steps. He appointed a human rights minister to his cabinet and invited a Spanish judge to review the investigation into the reporters' killings.
The FBI has been called in to help, a welcome move if only for symbolic reasons. Honduran investigators were so desperate for evidence to show U.S. federal agents, that they scrambled months after the murders to collect clues and compile crime scene photos, CPJ found. Hence the graveside post mortem.
Although warrants are out in several cases, only one arrest has been made. A businessman charged in one reporter's death was released Wednesday for lack of evidence.
If Mr. Lobo really wants to improve Honduras' image, he should start by making the journalists' killings a priority and end Honduras' shameful record of sloppy investigations. Inept investigators must be re-trained and provided adequate resources.
Human Rights Minister Ana Pineda suggests the murders are a natural byproduct of the ``climate of insecurity created by organized crime and common crime in Central America.'' While Honduras has the highest per capita murder rate in the world, such comments by top ministers suggest the government may want to sweep the cases under the rug.
Don't downplay the deaths
There's no evidence that the journalists were victims of a government death squad, Pineda stresses. Without a rigorous investigation, such blanket statements lack credibility. And even if true, that's no reason to downplay the killings.
The unsolved murders suggest a deeper breakdown of law and order and undermine Honduras' desire to put last year's political violence behind it. Several countries in the region have yet to recognize Mr. Lobo's presidency, and at this rate they're not likely to do so.
Putting a stop to the murders of journalists and resolving the pending cases should be a condition for acceptance in regional groups such as the Organization of American States.
The international community should demand no less.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/08/27/1794359/stop-killings-of-honduran-journalists.html#ixzz0yC6cF1to

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Spy in the Jungle

By Mary Cuddehe
Source: The Atlantic

Aug 2 2010

Last February I got an offer from Kroll, one of the world's largest private investigation firms, to go undercover as a journalist-spy in the Ecuadorian Amazon. At first I thought I was underqualified for the job. But as it turned out I was exactly what they were looking for: a pawn.

The call came one night while I was sitting in a parking lot in Cancún, trying not cry over the spare tire that had mysteriously gone missing from my rented baby blue Atos. The E-Z Rent-a-Car agent, a skinny teenager who seemed genuinely sorry, said the replacement would cost $200. I knew the magazine I was on assignment for could never afford such a fee, meaning I would barely break even on the story--yet again.

But just then my cell phone rang. It was a private-investigator friend from Mexico City calling about a "research" job in the jungle. I would have to go to Ecuador to work with a group that does espionage for Fortune 500 companies. Was I interested? "I'm sure you could use the money," he said, bluntly.

A week later, I was on a plane to Colombia. The Kroll recruiter my friend put me in touch with didn't seem eager to talk over the phone, suggesting it would be easier to meet in person. He invited me to join him for a long weekend at a luxury hotel in Bogotá. And this trip, unlike Cancún, would be all expenses paid--and triple luxe.

I arrived after dark at the hotel, located on a quiet street in a modern, glassed-in building. I hadn't heard from Sam, my Kroll contact, in days. But not knowing where or when I would meet him only heightened the intrigue. Who were these shadowy people and what was this job that couldn't be discussed over the phone?

I needn't have worried. As soon as I walked in, the receptionist slid a note over the front desk with a number for Sam. A bellboy who took me to my room to rest for a few minutes gave me a purple flower and offered me a glass of red wine. By then I was imagining Sam as the Hollywood amalgam of a spy--dashing, dangerous, rugged yet refined, as effortless in a board meeting as in a bar fight. But when the elevator doors opened into the lobby, the man I saw just looked like a guy from L.A. in a black shirt and jeans.

Which is more or less what Sam was. A formerly broke freelance writer, he had risen through the alternative-weekly ranks reporting on race and hip-hop. That night, we drank tequila, smoked cigarettes, and went salsa dancing, and Sam confessed that before moving to Kroll full-time, he had worked as a researcher for Larry Flint on a pre-election campaign to take down George W. Bush. "After that, I couldn't work in journalism anymore," he said. The thought didn't seem to pain him, I noticed. Sam was going gray, looked to be in his mid-40s, and carried himself with the ease that comes with professional achievement. He had obviously grown used to the comforts of Kroll's upper management. And the message seemed to be that these were comforts I could grow used to as well.

The next morning, we met in a large suite at the hotel. Just like my smaller room, it was cozy and low-lit and featured a stocked kitchenette, a plush white bed, a flat-screen TV, and expensive French bath products. Over several hours, Sam explained my assignment, should I choose to accept it.

In Lago Agrio, Ecuador, he told me, one of the biggest environmental lawsuits in history is being fought out in a jungle court. A group of citizens represented by American trial attorneys and an NGO called the Amazon Defense Coalition are suing Texaco on the grounds that the company polluted routinely and wantonly during the 20-odd years it operated there.

In Crude, a documentary about the case that Sam played for me, footage shows residents living in shacks that surround sludge pools, bathing in filthy streams, and seeking relief at clinics for terrible skin rashes. While the documentary comes across as a pretty slanted and shoddy piece of filmmaking, it was impossible not to feel depressed watching it on my shiny MacBook Pro in the comfort of a ritzy hotel. According to Karen Hines, a representative for the plaintiffs, Texaco dumped 330 million gallons of oil--far more than the BP spill--around Lago Agrio, poisoning their water supply and sickening them with cancers and other diseases.

In Texaco's defense, however, Sam explained that it's not entirely obvious who should be responsible for the damage. Texaco built and operated the wells at the center of the dispute back in the early 1970s. But the state-run oil company, PetroEcuador, has owned a 62.5 percent share in the wells since 1977. For that reason, when it came to cleaning up the sludge, the government assigned just 133 of the 321 sites to Texaco; PetroEcuador took responsibility for rest. Texaco spent $40 million in its cleanup efforts, and when the work was done, analysts from a Quito university came to collect oil and water samples. By 1998, all of Texaco's sites had been approved, and the Ecuadorian government signed a full release.

By then, the first lawsuit was already being argued in U.S. courts. That suit, filed in New York in 1993, was eventually dismissed, but it paved the way for the current suit, filed in Ecuador in 2003. This time, Chevron is the defendant--the California-based oil company purchased Texaco in 2001. Chevron rests its defense on four pillars: Chevron itself never operated in Ecuador; the Ecuadorian government already released Texaco from these claims; a 1999 Ecuadorian law allowing individual citizens to file claims is being applied retroactively and unfairly; and, finally, the plaintiffs have committed fraud.

Until fairly recently, it seemed that Chevron would prevail. But starting in 2006, a series of dramatic changes took place. First Rafael Correa, the leftist economist, won the presidency. (He has reportedly called the pollution "a crime against humanity," and in an interview with Democracy Now! Said, " Our oil company [PetroEcuador] has also done a lot of damage in the rainforest, but it is very clear that the problem comes from the Chevron-Texaco period.") Months later, William Langewiesche wrote a sympathetic profile of the lead local plaintiffs' attorney for Vanity Fair. Before you could say "cause célèbre," photos of Daryl Hannah with Lago Agrio oil dripping from a splayed hand were circulating everywhere.

The case truly began slipping away from Chevron when the Ecuadorian court assigned a single independent expert to assess the environmental damages. The expert settled on a $27.3 billion figure that Chevron alone would be held responsible for covering. A judgment could come as early as the first quarter of 2011, and at this stage, many believe Chevron will lose.

Sam explained that once the company realized it was losing the PR battle, if not the whole war, it regrouped and hired Kroll. Based in New York, Kroll has a global network of employees, vast resources, and powerful connections. I heard one story about the son of a New York heiress who was snatched by his father and taken somewhere in the Middle East. After months of fruitless searching, his mother turned to Kroll. The firm soon discovered that father and son were going to Cuba, where Kroll was able to negotiate the father's detainment. Given this reach, I knew Kroll could hire someone with a medical background, legal training, or at least some familiarity with Ecuador. But there was a reason they wanted me.

With one Google search, anyone could see that I was, in fact, a journalist. If I went to Lago Agrio as myself and pretended to write a story, no one would suspect that the starry-eyed young American poking around was actually shilling for Chevron.

My assigment, should I choose to accept it, involved a health study that took place around 2007, when a Spanish human-rights activist named Carlos Beristain went to Lago Agrio. After interviewing 1,000 residents, Beristain concluded that the community suffered abnormally high cancer rates, and his study became a key part of the court-appointed expert's report. But Chevron thought something was fishy: Beristain had failed to disclose the names of all his assistants or of the people interviewed. To Chevron, the names were key to proving that the interviews were real, not merely the concoction of a hotshot activist trying to make complex issues simple--and, perhaps, enhance his own fame. But the court refused to compel the release of the names, strengthening Chevron's suspicions that the survey had been rigged. Was it possible that the plaintiffs had colluded with Beristain to handpick the interviewees? Kroll wanted me to find out.

"You know you're irreplaceable," Sam told me on my last night in Bogotá. We were sitting outside a fancy Peruvian restaurant. Inside, about a dozen Kroll employees--all, it should be noted, as nondescript and un-spy like as Sam--were dining on fish and passion fruit cocktails. The smoke from Sam's cigarette curled in the lamplight, giving the moment a film-noir feel. But by then the excitement had mostly worn off, and I wasn't sure I could do this and live with myself. "There is no other Mary Cuddehe," Sam continued. "If you don't do this job, we'll have to find another way." Then he told me how much he could pay: $20,000 for about six weeks of work. Plus expenses.

Part of me wanted to say yes. I was thrilled by the idea of a six-week paid adventure in the jungle, and I was curious about the case. Had the health study been fixed? Were the plaintiffs colluding with Beristain? Was Chevron desperate and paranoid, merely trying to smear its opponents? Despite my curiosity, I knew I had to say no. If I'm ever going to answer those questions, it will have to be in my role as a journalist, not as a corporate spy.

This article available online at:


The Big Lie: Venezuela & Labor.

Dan Kovalik. The Huffington Post. August 5, 2010

The biggest obstacle to the attempt first by the Bush Administration, and now by the Obama Administration, to achieve passage of the long-stalled Free Trade Agreement with Colombia is that country's long-standing shameful reality as "the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists," to use the words of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the largest union confederation in the world, representing 176 million workers in 156 countries and territories.

Since 1986, over 2800 unionists have been assassinated in Colombia. The clear and ever-present danger to organized labor in Colombia is the most salient and undeniable fact about the U.S.' favorite nation in the region.

Incredibly, it appears that adherents of the FTA may have commenced an effort to smear Venezuela with the same "danger to labor" brush in order to advance the prospects of the Colombia agreement by using bare statistics without elaboration or explanation to suggest that Colombia is no different. Nothing could be further from the truth.

According to the ITUC's 2010 Annual Survey, of the 101 unionists assassinated in the world last year (2009), 48 (almost half) were Colombian. And, a recent, July 8, 2010 press release from the AFL-CI0 indicates that another 29 Colombian unionists were assassinated in the first half of 2010.

It is well-known that the assassination of unionists in Colombia is largely carried out by right-wing paramilitary groups linked to the Colombian government or by Colombian security forces themselves. Indeed, according to a 2007 report by Amnesty International on Colombia, "around 49 percent of human rights abuses against trade unionists were committed by paramilitaries [themselves linked to the Colombian state] and some 43 percent directly by the security forces." And, the Colombian government up to its highest reaches, including President Alvaro Uribe himself, regularly (and quite falsely) stigmatizes unionists as "guerillas," thereby knowingly setting up union leaders for paramilitary murder. Indeed, when I personally met with President Uribe as part of an AFL-CIO delegation in February 2008 at the Presidential Palace in Bogota and confronted him about this stigmatization, his proffered "defense" was that, when he was a student (presumably decades ago) his experience was that union leaders, student leaders and members of the press were in fact "guerillas." In other words, in trying to fend off the claims that he stigmatized trade unionists, he merely repeated the stigmatization.

In light of all of this, the ITUC concluded in its 2010 Annual Survey that "[t]he historical and structural violence against the Colombian trade union movement remains firmly in place, manifesting itself in the form of systematic human and trade union rights violations. On average, men and women trade unionists in Colombia have been killed at the rate of one every three days over the last 23 years."

This conclusion is in stark contrast to its conclusion about what is happening in Venezuela. Thus, while hardly uncritical of the situation confronting unionists in Venezuela, the ITUC, in its 2010 Annual Survey, concluded nonetheless that "[v]iolence linked to the fight for jobs continued to be the main reason behind the killing of trade unionists." The ITUC explains this phenomenon in more detail in its 2009 Annual Survey. There, it states that "[a] delicate issue for the labour world in Venezuela is the persistent disputes over the right to work, which have cost the lives of at least 19 trade unionists and 10 other workers... The situation is particularly acute in the construction and oil industries, where various interest groups and mafias have clashed over the negotiation and sale of jobs, which is affecting trade union activity per se." The 2009 report goes on to note that "there has been a fall in the number of murders to the fight over jobs in comparison with the previous year (from 48 to 29 for the period from October 2007 to September 2008...."

In other words, the ITUC, which is recognized as the foremost authority on anti-union violence, views the killings of unionists in Colombia and Venezuela very differently -- with the violence against unionists in Colombia being "structural" and "systematic," almost invariably with government sanction; and the violence in Venezuela, on the other hand, stemming from mafia-like corruption largely within the union movement itself. This is a distinction with a huge difference. As the ITUC itself reported in 2008, the trade union movement in Colombia has been brought to the point of near extinction by violence specifically designed to wipe out the union movement as a whole, with only 4% of workers represented by unions; while in Venezuela, approximately 11% of workers are represented by unions -- just under the rate of unionization in the United States (12.3%).

Now enters Juan Forero in the Washington Post (and in a condensed piece for NPR), who, in a very misleading and many times self-contradictory story, is claiming that Venezuela should now be considered "the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists," pushing Colombia out of the number one spot. This piece, which is getting a lot of attention, could not be better timed as far as policy-makers in the U.S. and Colombia are concerned. Thus, it came out just as Obama has announced a renewed interest in the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (despite his campaign pledge to oppose it based upon trade union considerations) as well as the recent attempt by Colombia to censure Venezuela at the OAS for allegedly harboring FARC guerillas on its territory.

In his July 15, 2010 Washington Post piece entitled, "Venezuelan union clashes are on the rise as Chavez fosters new unions at odds with older ones," Forero first acknowledges the fact that Venezuela considers itself "the most labor-friendly government in Latin America," having "repeatedly increased the minimum wage, turned over the management of some nationalized companies to workers and fostered the creation of new unions." In regard to the latter, Forero explains later in his piece that there are now "4,000 new unions, up from 1,300 in 2001" -- a fact supporting Venezuela's claim of being labor friendly.

However, the meat of Forero's piece is to say that there is a sinister side to all of this -- the killing of unionists, albeit by rival unions [as opposed to state or quazi-state forces as in the case of Colombia]. According to Forero, 75 unionists lost their lives in the past two years to such violence, 34 in the 12 months ending in May. Of course, in Colombia, 77 unionists have been killed in merely the past 1.5 years with 29 killed in the past 6 months, and this in the context of a country with much lower union density that Venezuela.

Still, Forero presses on, attempting to suggest that the killings in Venezuela are in fact politically motivated, and somehow the fault of the Chavez administration.

A close examination of Forero's own piece, however, belies this claim. The most concrete example Forero gives of these "intra-union killings" is by way of an interview with Emilio Bastidas, a leader of the UNT, who talks of the murder of eight union activists from the UNT in recent years. Bastidas himself is quoted in the story as saying that "We believe it is political to debilitate the UNT and cut us off from projecting ourselves." While Forero explains that the UNT represents 80 unions, what he fails to tell the reader is that the UNT is a pro-Chavez union formed after the coup against Chavez in 2002. This is an incredible omission, for this obviously cuts against Forero's premise that Chavez is somehow responsible for the violence. After all, why would Chavez want to interfere with the growth of a pro-Chavez labor federation?

>From my own discussions with unionists in Venezuela, which I visited at the end of July and where I attended the third annual "Encuentro Sindical de Nuestra America" (Union Meeting of Our America) pro-Chavez unionists are much more often the target of the violence described in Forero's piece than anti-Chavista unionists. As Jacobo Torres de Leon, Political Coordinator of the Fuerza Bolivariana de Trabajadores Dirrecion Nacional, responded to my questioning of him about the Forero piece, "there are no political killings like in Colombia." Jacobo further emphasized that the unionists recently killed were his (pro-Chavez) comrades -- a fact inconvenient to Forero's well-publicized thesis.

There is an old saying, "Figures don't lie, but liars figure." It seems an appropriate prism through which to view this most current attempt to rescue the Colombia FTA from that nation's own continuing and indisputable status as the number 1 country in the world for anti-union killings.

Honduras Solidarity Network denounces repression against striking teachers.

Press Release

August 29, 2010


Vicki Cervantes, La Voz de los de Abajo, Chicago, IL (312) 259-5042 or

Dale Sorensen, Task Force on the Americas, Marin County, CA (415)669-7828

A coalition of U.S. organizations today denounced the exercise of violent repression by Honduran military and police forces against members of a striking teacher’s union at a university in Tegucigalpa. The Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN) declared that “the recent brutal attacks by government forces against non-violent protests show that there has been no reconciliation after last year’s coup d’etat, and the U.S. government’s policy of support for the current government must be changed. We call for an immediate end to the repression and human rights violations against the opposition movement”.

The group referred to military and police attacks against members of the teacher’s union, COPEMH (Colegio de Profesores de Educación Media de Honduras (Association of Secondary Teachers of Honduras)), and their supporters, which took place at The National Pedagogical University Francisco Morazan in Tegucigalpa on August 26 and 27. The union has been on strike since May, and is generally viewed as opposing the regime of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo. The HSN based its action on reports received from the human rights group COFADEH and the General Workers’ Central Federation (CGT) labor organization, and corroborated by local news from Radio Globo and eyewitness accounts that report the following:

On Friday the 27th, police and military troops surrounded the National Pedagogical University, responding to thousands of teachers and members of trade unions, peasant organizations and other organizations supportive of the teachers gathered on the university grounds. The police and military forces sprayed tear gas from trucks and beat protesters with truncheons before firing canisters of tear gas into the University grounds. As people were overcome by the gas and tried to leave, they were beaten and many detained. Among the injured were two well-known reporters from Radio Globo, one of the few independent radio stations in the country. Among those seriously affected by the gas were a number of children and pregnant women.

On Thursday, the police and military attacked the same group at a massive protest near the presidential residency in the capital city. Television stations aired video showing soldiers firing their rifles during the repressive action and police beating protesters. Four teachers from the teachers’ union were seriously injured and, according to human rights organizations in Honduras, they were denied medical care at the main public hospital in Tegucigalpa. The teachers’ union then took the men to a private medical facility.

On August 20th, four leaders of the teachers’ union were badly injured when police attacked them during a union march. The men were detained at a police station for 12 hours during which time they were denied medical care and human rights observers were refused entry to the jail to verify their condition.

Throughout the month of August the level of conflict and the human rights crisis in Honduras has deepened. Non-violent protesters in Choloma were beaten, and three members of peasant organizations in Aguan were killed. Another journalist, critical of the regime, was murdered bringing to ten the total of journalists murdered since Lobo took over in January.

Vicki Cervantes, a spokesperson for the Honduras Solidarity Network said, “The United States government continues its support for the oligarchy and Lobo in the form of aid and pressure on other governments in the hemisphere to accept the illegitimate Lobo administration. “

Meanwhile, on the ground in Honduras the opposition of the majority of Hondurans to the coup and the subsequent regimes, including Lobo’s, is growing. For the first time since 1954, Honduran trade union federations have all agreed to prepare for a general strike and nearly a million Honduran eligible voters have signed letters demanding the convocation of a constituent constitutional assembly with the peoples’ participation and leadership.

The Honduras Solidarity Network, a nationwide coalition of non-profit, human rights and educational organizations, calls for:

· an end to police and military repression of the teachers and the protesters at the university;

· the resumption of negotiations between the government and the Teacher’s Union;

· the payment of back wages and an investigation into the violation of the teachers’ human rights.

Furthermore, until the brutal repression of social movements in Honduras ends, the HSN demands that the United States Government:

a) suspend all aid to the Lobo administration

b) stop the U.S. State Department lobbying for recognition of the undemocratic government of Honduras.

c) Recognize the Honduran people’s demand for a Constituent Assembly to establish a functioning, participatory democracy.

Thousands of teachers were brutally repressed by military and police

August 26 – Tegucigalpa

Thousands of teachers were brutally repressed by military and police near the Presidential Palace (Casa Presidential) in a confrontation for which it is reported that there were various wounded.

The Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH) verified that there are four wounded professors that “the Hospital Escuela did not want to take care of”.

One of the wounded was professor Angel Hipolito Bonilla, originally from the province of de Valle, who was urgently removed from the main medical facility when they did not attend him even though he was passed out in the emergency department of the hospital

Images broadcast on television showed the military firing military rifles during the repression against the demonstration.

“We were surprised that the hospital did not want to attend to the wounded, they first asked where they (the wounded) came from”, said Andres Pavon, president of CODEH.

Given the lack of medical attention, the President of the union for the secondary education teachers (COPEMH) decided to transfer the wounded to a private medical facility.

Another of the injured is professor Ramon Bustillo from the province of Santa Barbara. The names of the other injured teachers is not known at this time.

The teachers marched from the National Pedagogic University to the Presidential residence after negotiations with representatives from the government of Porfirio Lobo (Arturo Corrales an Rafael Callejas) broke down.

Arriving at the residence the protesters were met by a blocade of military troops and the clash with the teachers began immediately.

Pavon criticized the behavior of the Minister of Planning, Arturo Corrales, who “did not show an acceptable moral stance” referring to the teachers in an offensive manner saying, “ don’t screw with the deductions”, the wrong kind of statement towards, ‘a struggle that has a very clear reason to exist, there is no baisis to negate the foundation of this struggle”. In addtion CODEH noted that there are an unknown number of persons affected by the tear gas used.

*Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59ERJP7lDvY

Honduran journalist killing makes 8 for the year

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) -- A Honduran reporter was found shot to death Tuesday in the city of San Pedro Sula, making him at least the eighth journalist killed in the country this year.
Unidentified gunmen shot Israel Zelaya Diaz twice in the head and once in the chest, according to local press reports. Zelaya worked for broadcaster Radio International. He had last been seen earlier Tuesday.
"It is a very deep hurt in my heart because it leaves a hole in me, I'm left helpless, I'm left alone," said his daughter, Angie Gabriela Zelaya. "I feel very bad because of everything that is happening in the country and the authorities must investigate the death of my father because this cannot stand."
Zelaya worked as a journalist for more than 20 years and reported on national issues during his radio show.
International press freedom organizations expressed alarm at the killing of another journalist in Honduras.
"While the motive behind the attack on Mr. Zelaya is not yet known, we would like to again underscore the fact that Honduras has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists," said Anthony Mills, press freedom manager at the International Press Institute. "It is vital that the authorities fully investigate the killings, so that a culture of impunity is not allowed to thrive."
The Committee to Protect Journalists said Zelaya's killing makes eight journalists killed this year. The International Press Institute put that figure at nine.
According to a Committee to Protect Journalists report released last month, the killings of journalists in Honduras have not been seriously investigated by authorities, creating an atmosphere of lawlessness and impunity.
All eight journalists were shot, and there is evidence that at least three were killed because of their work as journalists, the New York-based organization said.
"Honduran authorities must swiftly investigate Zelaya's murder, and bring all those responsible to justice," said Carlos Lauría, Committee to Protect Journalists' senior program coordinator for the Americas. "With eight journalists now dead this year, the government must commit to thoroughly investigating all the cases, which up to now it has failed to do."
Carlos Rodriguez, a co-worker of Zelaya's, said it was unclear whether he was killed for his work.
"Israel never specifically told me about having death threats for a criticism or analysis that we made on the radio program we both worked on for a long time.It's unknown whether or not that was the cause."
The surge in the killings of journalists comes as the country is mending its social and political fabric after last year's coup that ousted President Jose Manuel Zelaya.

Argentine president moves to control newsprint

The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 24, 2010; 9:07 PM
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- The government moved Tuesday to take over Argentina's only newsprint maker, alleging two leading newspapers illegally conspired with dictators to control the company three decades ago and then used it to drive competing media out of business.

President Cristina Fernandez said the courts should decide whether the Grupo Clarin and La Nacion media companies should be charged with crimes against humanity - specifically whether the newsprint company was illegally expropriated by the newspapers and the military junta.

The companies, with which Fernandez has been feuding for two years, deny any illegality in the acquisition of the newsprint maker, or other crimes. They accuse Fernandez of baldly trying to control the essential material needed to guarantee freedom of expression, a position supported by the Inter-American Press Association and other media groups.

Speaking in a national broadcast, Fernandez said she was defending those rights. She accused Grupo Clarin and La Nacion of using the newsprint company, Papel Prensa SA, to impose media monopolies on Argentina, stifling other viewpoints by refusing to sell paper at fair prices to competitors.

She showed a headline from the opposition Clarin newspaper saying "Who controls Papel Prensa controls the written word," and said she couldn't agree more.

"Papel Prensa is the only company that produces newsprint in this country," Fernandez said, "and it's a vertically integrated monopoly. It determines who it sells to, how much it sells and at what price. And so yes, whoever controls it controls the written word in the Republic of Argentina."

Fernandez presented the conclusions of a government investigation of Papel Prensa's history and economic activities - some 23,000 pages in all, stacked in large piles on a table beside her podium - and said her human rights secretary would send it to the justice system for consideration of rights charges against owners of the two media companies.

She further said she would propose legislation declaring newsprint supply to be a matter of national interest, subject to government regulation that guarantees equal and fair distribution to all of Argentina's newspapers. Papel Prensa sells newsprint to more than 130 clients across the country.

And she said the executive branch would invest to develop enough newsprint domestically to supply all the country's needs. "This product should not be imported," she said.

Since the 1976-83 dictatorship, Papel Prensa has been jointly owned in roughly three equal shares between Clarin, La Nacion and Argentina's government - now Fernandez's leftist administration that is pushing prosecutions of crimes against humanity committed by the military junta.

Human rights groups, which have a prominent role in the government, accuse La Nacion and Clarin of being conspicuously silent about "dirty war" crimes committed against leftists and other opponents of the dictatorship.

Fernandez said the newspapers obtained Papel Prensa through a forced sale in 1976 at a time when the military junta was doing all it could to destroy the company's owner, David Graiver, a prominent banker who was secretly supporting the leftist Montonero guerrillas at the time. Graiver died in a suspicious plane crash, sending his company into bankruptcy and leaving his widow, Lidia Papaleo, and parents to face the dictators.

"And five days after she signed (the papers selling the company), she was detained. And during her detention, she was raped, tortured, beaten in the head. The same luck was suffered by her in-laws and other members of their company," the president said. "They had been forced to sell - and their detention was delayed so that the buyers could claim they obtained the company in good faith."

The owners of La Nacion and Clarin denied participating in any crime against humanity, saying that Papaleo freely sold the company to emerge from bankruptcy before beginning her long jail term and that she never formally alleged any forced sale or fraud after Argentina recovered its democracy.

"Never, in 27 years of democracy, has Papel Prensa faced an administrative or judicial question about its origin," they said in a joint statement earlier Tuesday.

After Fernandez's broadcast, Clarin ran a headline quoting an opposition lawmaker as saying "Today the government crossed the line between democracy and authoritarianism." A headline in La Nacion declared: "The President wants an official press."

The brother of Graiver's widow said that she did not plan to comment Tuesday, but that she supports the allegation the newspaper groups conspired with the junta to seize the company. Osvaldo Papaleo said in a radio interviews that his sister hadn't come forward previously out of fear and feels this is the first government to promise her protection.

Attorney Alberto Gonzalez Arzac, who helped prepare the report displayed by Fernandez, opened the national address by declaring that the Graivers "suffered death threats, illegal pressure, kidnappings, illegal detention in clandestine places, the seizure of their property and torture."

"It has been conclusively verified that the newspapers acted illegally as participants in the transfer of stock, and shows that the truth about Papel Prensa has surfaced in an undeniable manner," he said.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Violent "Agrarian Counter-Reform" Conspiracy

By Constanza Vieira*

BOGOTA, Aug 21, 2010 (IPS) - An unknown number of agribusiness owners and public employees at all levels, as well as far-right paramilitaries, have a common link with rural people who have been forced off their farms or killed in Colombia: the land stolen from the latter group in the armed conflict.

"It was a conspiracy. There were the ones doing the killing, others who would follow behind, buying up the land, and the third wave, who would legalise the new ownership of the land," said former paramilitary chief Jairo Castillo or "Pitirri", who has lived in exile for 10 years and is serving as a key protected witness in the trials of legislators and other political leaders implicated in the "parapolitics" scandal for their ties to the paramilitary groups.

Pitirri is one of those asking the justice system why it is only focusing on "the ones doing the killing"; why it is not inquiring into who seized 5.5 million hectares of land, according to figures from the Commission to Monitor Public Policies on Forced Displacement, set up on the initiative of civil society groups.

The testimony of Pitirri was presented Thursday in a congressional debate on political control over land, paramilitarism and forced displacement, by leftwing legislator Iván Cepeda.

Land reform?
"It's too early to know how far this government will go with regard to the land question," Juan Houghton, a member of the Casa del Pensamiento, a studies centre run by the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN), in the west of the country, told IPS.

Referring to the announcement by the new Minister of Agriculture Juan Camilo Restrepo that an agrarian reform programme would be carried out, he said "I foresee difficulties: the majority of the measures envisaged are to be adopted by Congress, where the people who would be the most heavily affected are found: the members of the governing coalition."

The minister said he hopes to redistribute two million hectares of land confiscated from drug traffickers, but which no one has been able to touch due to a mountain of legal hurdles that work in favour of large landowners and front men, many of which have been put in place by the rightwing majority in Congress.

But Houghton also said that taking land from "latifundistas" -- owners of large estates -- and handing it to transnational corporations would not amount to progress.

Álvaro Uribe, who governed Colombia from 2002 to Aug. 7, 2010 -- when he was succeeded by his former defence minister President Juan Manuel Santos -- partially demobilised the armed wing of paramilitarism through talks with the group's leaders. The Law on Justice and Peace was passed to govern the demobilisation process.

Under the law, a unit of the attorney general's office was set up to obtain "complete" confessions from hundreds of former combatants who must confess to all of the human rights abuses and other crimes they committed and make reparations to the families of their victims in order to be eligible for reduced sentences and other benefits, as required by the Constitutional Court.

"The Justice and Peace Unit has done a formidable job in the midst of budget and logistical limitations," Guillermo Rivera, a governing Liberal Party legislator, said in Thursday's debate.

According to him, the attorney general's office has discovered something unexpected.

He noted that the demobilised paramilitaries, who were supposedly the owners of vast tracts of land with which their victims were to be compensated, reported that they actually owned small properties. As a result, they have handed over just 6,600 hectares so far.

Rivera provided the following summary of the "conspiracy," as Pitirri described it:

Under the pretext of fighting the leftwing guerrillas that have been active in this South American country since 1964, paramilitary groups expanded as never before between 1994 and 2000, killing tens of thousands of campesinos (peasants) and forcibly displacing millions of others, who fled to the overcrowded slums ringing Colombia's large cities.

The campesinos lost their food security when they fled their land, which was taken over by paramilitary mafias that purchased it at ridiculously low prices or occupied it by force, Rivera said.

The Uribe administration's demobilisation negotiations with the paramilitary chiefs took place on a farm in Santa Fe de Ralito, a town in the northeast, from 2002 to 2005.

While the talks proceeded in Santa Fe de Ralito, most of the millions of hectares of land that had been seized were put in the name of dummy companies and front men or sold to businesspeople.

The aim was to keep the properties from being registered in the victim reparations funds to be creat

From feudalism to capitalism
"After eight years of criminal feudalism, when capitalism reappears, it looks progressive," said ACIN activist Juan Houghton, with respect to the recent change of government.

"What Europe experienced in the 18th century is occurring at the start of the 21st century in Colombia," he added.

"It has been explicitly stated that in order to resolve the land problem, more capitalism is needed," he said, denying that indigenous, black and peasant communities clamouring for land are opposed to development. What they are opposed to, he said, is a handful of families or business interests getting rich by means of violence at the cost of the impoverishment of the rest of the rural population.

ted under the Law on Justice and Peace, to avoid handing them over in compensation, as part of the process of restoration of stolen property, Rivera said.

From 2005 to 2006, the Justice and Peace Unit of the attorney general's office found evidence that a number of businesspeople had taken over land that originally belonged to displaced peasants, while other property was found in the names of dummy corporations and front men.

The phenomenon outlined by Rivera came full circle in a chilling way: a certain number of these front men became beneficiaries of the state, mainly through the Ministry of Agriculture, which offered them soft loans and farm subsidies under the Agro Ingreso Seguro ("stable farm income") programme -- a corruption scandal that broke out in the last stretch of the Uribe administration.

Later -- again, according to Rivera -- these beneficiaries financed the election campaigns of close Uribe allies, such as former presidential hopeful Andrés Felipe Arias, the former president's agriculture minister.

In the congressional debate, Rivera and Cepeda provided the names of individuals, companies and supposed civil society organisations that reportedly formed part of the "conspiracy."

During his term in office, Uribe himself instructed his allies in Congress, who formed a majority, to block passage of a bill that would have provided for, among other things, reparations and restoration of stolen property to victims of the paramilitaries.

The bill, he argued, would entail costs too heavy for the state coffers to handle.

On numerous occasions, the Constitutional Court ordered that the assets seized from the victims of forced displacement -- who number between three and over four million, depending on whether the source of the estimate is the government or civil society -- be returned to them.

Rivera called for expedited transitional legal mechanisms to return the property of victims. In order to do that, he said, it is necessary "to shift the burden of proof in the disputes over land ownership."

He argued that it is not the state that should have to prove that corruption occurred in a business or land property transaction, but the individuals or companies currently using the property who must demonstrate that they are the legal owners.

* With additional reporting by Helda Martínez. (END)