Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hondurans Denounce Return of Death Squads

San Salvador, Oct 29 (Prensa Latina) Death squads have reappeared in Honduras since the June 28, 2009 military coup, and they are targeting teachers, human rights activist Berta Oliva charged in El Salvador.

Paramilitary groups like CAM (Comando Álvarez Martínez) are behind the selective murders of Honduran opposition activists, and teachers are their main victims, Oliva said, quoted by Co Latino newspaper.

Human rights violations, persecution and selective assassinations are everyday occurrences, showing that the military coup "continues," she said.

Ten teachers have been murdered this year for their clear opposition to the current government, a continuation of the coup regime, said Oliva, general coordinator of the Committee of Relatives of Missing Detainees in Honduras.

Oliva made her comments at the 7th Herbert Anaya Sanabria International Human Rights Congress in the Salvadoran capital.

Fifty-six human rights activisits have been threatened by different armed groups, she said, urging the Organization of American States to urge the United States not to support the Honduran military while human rights violations continue.

Honduran rural leaders who attended the human rights congress, said a campaign of persecution was being carried out against them to deprive them of their rights to the land.

Matías Valle Cárdenas, vice presidnet of the United Campesino Movement of Aguán, in the department of Colon, said 16 of his comrades had been murdered in the last 6 months.

Friday, October 29, 2010

22 activists killed in Santos' first 75 days


A report by human rights groups on Thursday states that at least 22 activists were murdered in the first 75 days of the government of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, according to press agency EFE.

The 21-page document "Words and Deeds. The first 75 days of the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the situation of human rights," details the death of five activists, seven indigenous leaders, a human rights defender, five trade unionists, two community educators and two members of the organization of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans-gender individuals.

The report also documents the death of judge Pedro Elias Ballesteros Rojas who ruled on cases involving paramilitaries, and the murder of reporter Rodolfo Maya Aricape, who was a correspondent for an indigenous radio station.

The Interdisciplinary Group for Human Rights (GIDH) and other organizations in Washington presented these documents based on data from nearly 200 Colombian, European and North American human rights organizations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Maria Victoria Fallon of the GIDH said that the report demonstrate a "continuity in another language" in the approach to human rights of the current and previous Colombian governments.

"There may be a change in style, but the situation must be seen in practice," Fallon added.

Fallon explained that the data in the reports refers to "registered cases" and that there may be more murders undocumented.

Referring to the report, the director of human rights in the Colombian Ministry of Interior and Justice, Maria Paulina Riveros, stated that the relevant government institutions will investigate the allegations "immediately."

Riveros added that "obviously we recognize that there continue to be very serious threats against human rights defenders, we say that progress is about to open the way to relevant consultation."

Santos assumed the presidency of Colombia on August 7, 2010.

Venezuela Welcomes Possible Cancellation of US-Colombia Military Accord


Mérida, October 26th 2010 ( – In response to reports that Colombia may not open seven of its military bases to United States military personnel as previously planned, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the decision reflects “rationality, common sense, and responsibility.”

The vice president of the Colombian Senate, Alexandra Moreno, told the news agency EFE last week that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos does not plan to present the US-Colombia military accord to the Colombian Congress for approval.

“The president has expressed to us that he will not process [the accord] in the Congress, that he will leave it aside, and we hope this policy continues,” said Moreno, who heads the Foreign Relations Committee in the Colombian Senate. “The accord fell apart the moment the Supreme Court said it was imperative for it to be approved by the Congress and that has not been done, so there is no military cooperation accord in those terms at this moment.”

Following Moreno’s announcement, government officials declared that no final decision has been made about whether or not to present the military accord to Congress.

The accord was originally signed in October 2009 as an extension of previously existing military cooperation with the US, a status that allegedly meant it did not need congressional approval. In August, however, the Colombian Supreme Court ruled that the deal constituted a new international treaty and thus had to be approved by the Congress before taking effect.

The deal, officially titled “Complementary Accord for Cooperation and Technical Assistance in Defense and Security between the Governments of Colombia and the United States of America,” would have granted US military personnel diplomatic immunity for their actions in Colombia, and permitted the US to increase its military presence and carry out military and espionage operations across the South American continent from seven Colombian bases.

The majority of South American countries opposed the deal, including Venezuela and Ecuador, which share lengthy borders with Colombia and have suffered the spillover effects of Colombia’s decades-old civil war, including the influx of millions of refugees, most of them poor peasants. Venezuela said the accord heightened the risk of US military interventions against governments that are politically at odds with Washington.

On Sunday, President Chavez applauded Santos’s decision. “The majority of the peoples of the region should breathe a sigh of relief. Rationality, common sense, and responsibility have prevailed,” he told the Venezuelan daily Ultimas Noticias.

“The previous government acted as part of the Pentagon’s war strategy,” Chavez added, referring to ex-Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, whose administration signed the original accord without congressional approval.

Chavez and Uribe shared friendly economic relations, but diplomatic relations soured and were severed several times by issues such as a Colombian attack on rebels in Ecuadoran territory in 2008, the US-Colombia military accord in 2009, and Uribe’s recent accusations that Chavez supports the Colombian rebels.

When Santos took office in August, the two countries renewed diplomatic relations and held talks on economic policies and policies toward armed rebel groups. Chavez said on Sunday that during these talks, various officials from both governments discussed the possibility of Colombia not activating the accord with the US, but that “it was not a condition.”

Senator Moreno, in her interview with EFE, said if the military deal were to be presented to Congress, “the debate would be of a different character in the Congress, very distinct from the one that was carried out initially.”

Military accords with the US “have not had results,” and there is less support for them than in the past, said Moreno. She also suggested that Santos, despite having served as Uribe’s minister for defense, may bring a shift in policy away from Uribe’s military policy. “There has been a 180 degree turn by President Santos and the priority will no longer be war, conflict, and military issues,” said the congressperson.

President Santos met with US officials on Monday to renew what he called a “true strategic partnership.” He will travel to Venezuela this Friday to meet with President Chavez and discuss the continuation of bilateral accords in the areas of cross-border economic relations, infrastructure, and military policy in the border region.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Colombia Congress president backs drug legalization


Colombian Congress president Armando Benedetti says he is in favor of legalizing drugs, but adds Colombia should not take the lead in this because it would give the country a bad image.

"The problem is not whether or not to legalize the consumption and distribution of drugs, but the way the problem has been handled. The United States, Mexico, Argentina, Portugal, Spain and Germany have changed the way to counter the consumption and we're still in the age of the caveman while we have suffered and paid for this war more than anyone," Benedetti told newspaper El Espectador.

"The drug problem is global. We have paid the highest costs. The highest investments have been made and they were for nothing. We continue to be an important producing and distributing country in the world, occupy the third place in Latin America with consumption, and it seems we have taken the wrong corrective measures to control consumption," the coalition politician said.

Benedetti has long supported moves to legalize drugs.

"The fumigations didn't produce results and neither did Plan Colombia. I would be in favor of legalization. But we cannot say that. We would be the pariahs of the world," the senator told Colombia Reports a year ago.

Instead, Benedetti favors multilateral initiatives to legalize drugs, because "the problem is global and many countries are affected by the scourge of drugs," he told El Espectador.

The Congress president's position conflicts with that of President Juan Manuel Santos, who has called for a discussion on a "redesign" of the war on drugs if California decides to legalize marijuana in a referendum in November. According to U.S. deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, a legalization of pot in his country's richest state will not affect the U.S. federal government's policy on drugs.

However in 1998 Santos, in his capacity as head of the Good Government Foundation, co-signed an open letter addressed to Kofi Annan, then-U.N. secretary general, calling for "a frank and honest evaluation of global drug control efforts," as "we believe that the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself."

Kirchner Rescued Argentina’s Economy, Helped Unite South America

By Mark Weisbrot

This column was published by The Guardian Unlimited (UK) on October 27, 2010. If anyone wants to reprint it, please include a link to the original.

The sudden death of Néstor Kirchner today is a great loss not only to Argentina but to the region and the world. Kirchner took office as president in May 2003, when Argentina was in the initial stages of its recovery from a terrible recession. His role in rescuing Argentina’s economy is comparable to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Great Depression of the United States. Like Roosevelt, Kirchner had to stand up not only to powerful moneyed interests but also to most of the economics profession, which was insisting that his policies would lead to disaster. They proved wrong, and Kirchner was right.

Argentina’s recession from 1998-2002 was indeed comparable to the U.S. Great Depression in terms of unemployment, which peaked at more than 21 percent, and lost output (about 20 percent of GDP). The majority of Argentines, who had until then enjoyed living standards among the highest in Latin America, were pushed below the poverty line. In December of 2002 and January 2003, the country underwent a massive devaluation, a world-historical record sovereign default on $95 billion of debt, and a collapse of the financial system.

Although some of the heterodox policies that ultimately ensured Argentina’s rapid recovery were begun in the year before Kirchner took office, he had to follow them through some tough challenges to make Argentina the fastest growing economy in the region.

One big challenge came from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Fund had been instrumental in bringing about the collapse – by supporting, among other bad policies, an overvalued exchange rate with ever increasing indebtedness at rising interest rates. But when Argentina’s economy inevitably collapsed the Fund offered no help, just a series of conditions that would impede the economy’s recovery. The IMF was trying to get a better deal for the foreign creditor. Kirchner rightly refused the Fund’s conditions, and the IMF refused to roll over Argentina’s debt.

In September of 2003 the battle came to a head when Kirchner temporarily defaulted to the Fund rather than accept its conditions. It was an extraordinarily gutsy move – no middle income country had ever defaulted to the Fund, only a handful of failed or pariah states like Iraq or Congo. That’s because the IMF was seen as having the power to cut off even trade credits to a country that defaulted to them. No one knew for sure what would happen. But the Fund backed down and rolled over the loans.

Argentina went on to grow at an average of more than 8 percent annually through 2008, pulling more than 11 million people in a country of 40 million out of poverty. The policies of the Kirchner government, including the Central Bank targeting of a stable and competitive real exchange rate, and taking a hard line against the defaulted creditors – were not popular in Washington or among the business press. But they worked.

Kirchner’s successful face-off with the IMF came at a time when the Fund was rapidly losing influence in the world, after its failures in the Asian economic crisis that preceded Argentina’s collapse. It showed the world that a country could defy the IMF and live to tell about it, and contributed to the ensuing loss of IMF influence in Latin America and middle-income countries generally. Since the IMF was at the time the most important avenue of Washington’s influence in low-and-middle-income countries, this also contributed to the demise of United States influence, and especially in the recently-won independence of South America.

And Kirchner played a major role in consolidating this independence, working with the other left governments including Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Through institutions such as UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations), MERCOSUR (the South American trading bloc), and numerous commercial agreements, South America was able to dramatically alter its trajectory. They successfully backed Bolivia’s government against an extra-parliamentary challenge from the right in 2008, and most recently stood behind Ecuador in that attempted coup there a few weeks ago. Unfortunately they did not succeed in overturning last year’s military coup in Honduras, where U.S. backing of the coup government proved decisive. But Argentina, together with UNASUR, still refuses to allow Honduras back into the OAS, despite heavy lobbying from Washington.

Kirchner also earned respect from human rights organizations for his willingness to prosecute and extradite some of the military officers accused of crimes against humanity during the 1976-1983 dictatorship – reversing the policies of previous governments. Together with his wife, current president Cristina Fernández, Néstor Kirchner has made an enormous contribution in helping to move Argentina and the region in a progressive direction. Although these efforts have not generally won him much favor in Washington and in international business circles, history will record him not only as a great president but an independence hero of Latin America.

VP: U.S. Conducted 17 Types of Experiments on Guatemalans

GUATEMALA CITY – The United States carried out 17 different types of medical experiments on Guatemalans by intentionally infecting them with venereal diseases in the 1940s, Vice President Rafael Espada told the press.

Officials already have data on the medical projects and the information is being investigated by the commission the vice president heads along with the collaboration of the United States, Espada said.

Seventeen types of medical experiments were performed by U.S. scientists on the mentally ill, prostitutes, prisoners and soldiers between in the Central American nation between 1946 and 1948, Espada said.

The Guatemalans were infected intentionally with syphilis and gonorrhea, among other diseases.

“We have confirmed 17 types of projects in the experiments with humans conducted in our country,” the vice president said, without providing additional details about those programs.

The U.S. government has already provided about 90 percent of the scientific information about the experiments and the documents will be opened when the commission investigating the matter is fully constituted with medical experts and translators to avoid mistakes and misunderstandings, the vice president said.

Guatemalan physicians Jorge Solares and Jose Guillermo Monroy have joined the commission, he added.

Solares will be the coordinator in Guatemala and Monroy, who lives in Paraguay, will be the liaison with the United States, the vice president said.

The investigation, which will be financed by the United Nations, could last at least six months, Espada said.

The experiments performed by the United States on some 1,500 Guatemalans were revealed on Oct. 1 and that same day President Barack Obama contacted his Guatemalan counterpart, Alvaro Colom, to express his profound regret over those acts.

Colom said that the medical experiment directed by U.S. physician John Cutler were “horrifying” and crimes against humanity, adding that the Pan American Health Organization, or PAHO, was aware of them.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mexico: Indigenous Leader Assassinated In Oaxaca

At approximately 2:20 pm on Friday, October 22 was shot and killed the Indian leader
Catarino Torres Pereda, in the offices of the Citizens' Defense Committee (CODECI)
located in the City Tuxtepec, Oaxaca.

A pair of 2 armed men broke into these offices to shoot at close range against the
official 37-year-old from the Cacahautal, Ojitlan, Oaxaca.

Today the leader will be buried after being watched by hundreds of militants from the
afternoon, the news of his death came to offer condolences to his family.

Catarino Torres had suffered in the past ten years, a relentless political persecution
because of their political and social.

Participated in the Other Campaign adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon
Jungle Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).

Also championed the fight for fair compensation and Mazatec indigenous Chinanteco
displaced by the construction of dams and Cerro de Oro Temascal.

He also led the recovery of indigenous lands invaded by farmers and landowners in the

That led him to be the first political prisoner of the APPO, in 2006, in Oaxaca, and to
be held for 7 months at the maximum security prison in the highlands.

In March, City Hall took CODECI Tuxtepec also demand support for their members, at that
time he was accused of causing damage to property, but after the dialogue, the conflict
was resolved.

In recent months, attended the Democratic State Convention Oaxaca Libre, who backed the
candidacy of now Gabino Cue Monteagudo elected governor.

In one of his recent statements criticized the National Action Party of Democratic
Revolution, Labor and Convergence "being awarded the victory of the people" in
the election on July 4, since "nobody can deny" that in 2006 " generated
due to pit to change the government of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. "

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Colombia has 50,000 disappeared: Official


Colombia has one of the highest number of forcibly disappeared people in the world, with 50,000 individuals missing, the Ombudsman's National Search Commission coordinator Andres Peña told EFE on Wednesday.

Most of the disappeared are victims of "illegal groups, paramilitaries mainly and guerrillas, and an important part correspond to agents of the state," says Peña.

Colombia's Congress on Tuesday ratified the United Nations' International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted in 2006.

Peña said that Colombia's situation is particularly difficult because most countries are in a post-conflict situation when they begin to investigate cases of disappearances, whereas Colombia is still facing conflict.

The prosecutor general has registered some 27,000 people as missing, but admits there are still many cases that need to be investigated.

Peña stated that Colombia "is just on the first step of a large mountain" and stresses the importance of psychosocial help for the families of victims.

"In five years minimum we will see the results," says Peña. He expects the world will be shocked when full information on the extent of forced disappearances becomes known.

Cristian Salazar, director of the Colombia's office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) in September encouraged Colombia to ratify the pact, saying that it would mean that families whose loved ones disappeared were able to report the failure of Colombian justice to solve these cases.

Government pressure led to extrajudicial killings: Inspector General


Colombia's inspector general said that the extrajudicial killing of civilians by the country's armed forces was caused by pressure to please the armed forces' high command and the government, newspaper El Tiempo reported on Thursday.

According to the newspaper it is the first time that a Colombian watchdog body has contradicted the official line, which is that murders of civilians by the army to inflate kill statistics were isolated cases.

The inspector general's (IG) comments were made when charging members of the army with "false positive" extrajudicial killings in Soacha, a city south of Bogota, where the army allegedly killed 19 young men and then presented them as guerrillas killed in combat.

The murders were a "criminal plan which only purpose was to meet an institutional requirement, born of the need to show senior commanders, and why not say it, the government, that the fight against legal armed groups was being won," El Tiempo quoted the IG saying when charging two colonels, two majors, four non-commissioned officers and 18 soldiers with the kidnapping and murder of the men.

In the case of the murder of one of the victims, one of the colonels and his troops aimed for "the mentioned homicide [to be] recognized as an operational result by the high command, taking into consideration that this military unit had not had success in quite a while," the IG said.

According to NGOs, more than 3,700 civilians have been murdered by the military since 2002. Judicial authorities are investigating at least 1,000 cases of extrajudicial murders.

Report Assails Haiti Officers in Prison Killings


After officers had quelled the prison uprising in Les Cayes, Haiti, in January, Jacklin Charles, an unarmed detainee, was killed by a bullet to the head as he stood beside a tree in the courtyard. Several witnesses said that the chief of the antiriot police pulled the trigger.

Another detainee, Verlin Potty, was handcuffed and dragged into the dispensary, where officers beat him to death with their batons. The warden is said to have participated in the killing.

These two men were among at least 12 detainees killed by Haitian officers who opened fire “deliberately and without justification,” using “inappropriate, abusive and disproportionate force” against unarmed inmates who presented no immediate threat, according to an independent commission of inquiry report on the Jan. 19 uprising.

Most of the dead were summarily executed, the commission found, and at least 14 prisoners were wounded in what amounted to “grave violations of human rights.”

In a forcefully worded, detailed report, the commission said that it hoped for an official and public condemnation of the violations, which were initially covered up by the local authorities in Les Cayes. But the report, delivered to Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive on Sept. 2, was not released by the government.

The New York Times, whose investigation of the killings spurred the creation of the commission, obtained a copy from the prime minister’s office late on Wednesday after requesting it repeatedly over the past six weeks.

The report contains allegations of hidden bodies and rearranged cadavers, of a ringleader’s escape by a ladder that awaited him, of medical care denied wounded prisoners who lay dying in their cells, of threatened witnesses and common graves.

The commissioners said they found it difficult to determine precisely how many detainees were killed on Jan. 19 and by whom because of inadequate records, failure to preserve evidence and contradictory reports. They said the detainees’ accounts were more coherent, consistent and credible than those given by officials.

Although they could confirm only a dozen deaths, the commissioners said the death toll was undoubtedly higher, probably at least 15. Cemetery workers said they buried 12 indigent detainees and 3 others were claimed by their families for private burials. Other injured detainees were transferred to Port-au-Prince or released and some of them reportedly died, too.

The commission decided not to exhume the bodies because it was costly and probably too late.

Because the prison shootings had occurred one week after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, they originally went unnoticed. Soon after the killings, in fact, the prison warden, Sylvestre Larack, was quietly promoted to director of the national penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, which had emptied after the disaster but was starting to fill back up.

After The Times’s article published in May stirred outrage, the Haitian police took Mr. Larack into custody along with as many as 14 other police and prison officials from Les Cayes. Then, even as the commission began its work, the episode fell from the headlines until an uprising at the national penitentiary last Sunday.

Three inmates were killed Sunday at the penitentiary, two shot dead and one trampled during an escape attempt that took place during a visit by Swedish corrections officials. Inmates began pouring out of their cell blocks and the guards fired shotguns to push them back, according to Lars Nylen, director general of the Swedish prison and probation service. The visitors were briefly taken as shields by the inmates in an effort to stop the guards from shooting, he said.

During the melee, Mr. Larack, the former warden who is now a detainee himself, was “savagely beaten” by other inmates, according to a human rights advocate, Marie Yolene Gilles. Speaking on Radio Caraibes, Mr. Larack’s wife said that his attackers were transferred detainees from Les Cayes exacting revenge. She also said that her husband, like many of the detainees he used to oversee, had not yet seen a judge.

Overcrowded and dilapidated with poorly trained guards, Haitian prisons contain large numbers of inmates in prolonged pretrial detention, a reflection of the weakness of the judicial system. Lessons must be learned from the episodes in Les Cayes, the commission of inquiry said; that prison remains a tinderbox, even more understaffed than usual because of the guards arrested in relation to the Jan. 19 killings.

The commission, financed by the Haitian government and the United Nations, was composed of three foreign and two Haitian experts. It was led by Lt. Gen. Salvatore Carrara of Italy and Florence Elie, Haiti’s ombudsman.

The seeds for the uprising in Les Cayes were planted right after the earthquake when the detainees, scared to stay in their cells, clamored to sleep in the courtyard. Refused by the warden, they rebelled, throwing metal beds against the cell doors. Several were punished the next day by guards who beat them with batons, the commission said, condemning that mistreatment.

An escape plan was hatched, and on Jan. 19, several detainees attacked a guard who had opened their cell to empty their waste bucket. In the ensuing commotion, the guard fled. As the detainees set fire and vandalized the prison, United Nations officers helped surround the perimeter and provided tear gas, but took no part in the shooting, the commission found.

The commission did fault the United Nations officers for failing to seek medical help for the wounded they encountered after the shooting.

Mr. Larack claimed that officers, more than two dozen of them, entered the compound under a hail of bullets. But the commission determined, based on physical evidence and testimony, that the only shooting was done by the officers. The prisoners, unarmed, had obeyed orders to lie down.

The supposed ringleader had already escaped, without harm, although others were not as lucky; one detainee, shot from outside when he stuck his head through a hole in the prison wall, bled to death in his cell.

Coup Forces 157 Hondurans Into Exile

TEGUCIGALPA - A total of 157 people are currently living in exile due to persecution after the coup, reported the Committee of Relatives of Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH).

The exiles are leaders of the resistance movement in neighborhoods and communities that have fled the country because their lives were in jeopardy, said Bertha Oliva, Cofadeh coordinator.

Oliva denounced the policy of persecution promoted by the Honduran government, paramilitary groups and death squads against opponents of the coup of June 28, 2009.

That day hooded men kidnapped President Manuel Zelaya, took him by force to Costa Rica and put in power Roberto Micheletti.

Zelaya managed to return to the country by surprise on Sept. 21 and remained refuge in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa for three months, until his departure for the Dominican Republic.

Zelaya has lived in exile due to the lack of guarantees for safe return to Honduras and the trials conducted against him by the same institutions that supported the coup.

This week 30 US Democrat congressmen denounced the deplorable human rights situation in Honduras and urged their government to stop attempts to achieve the reinstatement of Honduras to the OAS as long as this situation continues.

"We have received credible reports from human rights organizations that say that abuses continue with impunity," the congressmen said.

During the first half of this year about 3,000 were killed in the country, for an average of 16.27 deaths per day.

The victims included 10 journalists, 30 lawyers and several leaders of popular organizations, and most of the crimes have not been investigated so far.

Friday, October 22, 2010

US to give $30M for Colombia land restitution


The United States plans to give $30 million over three years to support the restitution of lands to displaced persons in Colombia, announced the Colombian Agriculture Ministry.

The ministry said the money was promised by U.S. ambassador to Bogota Peter Michael McKinley and would be delivered through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAid).

"We support the efforts of the current government for the restitution of land and the strategy for improving marketing of agricultural products and productive efficiency" said Ambassador McKinley, according to a ministry press release.

The government of President Juan Manuel Santos recently submitted a proposal to Congress for restoring approximately 500,000 hectares per year until 2014 to displaced families. Authorities have already begun returning land seized by paramilitaries, although increased security is needed for those benefiting from land restitution, say human rights defenders.

More than four million Colombians are thought to have been displaced by their nation's 50-year armed conflict. Most of Colombia's internal refugees were forced from their land by violence committed by guerrillas or paramilitary groups.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Honduras: Crisis and Progress

by Bill Quigley and Laura Raymond

Today, October 21, the democratic resistance in Honduras will celebrate Artists in Resistance Day. This event contrasts directly with today’s official recognition of Honduras Armed Forces day. The resistance, which is working for a truly democratic Honduras, renamed the day and created an alternative celebration because of a brutal police attack on musicians and others last month that left one dead and scores injured.

On September 15, 2010, a non-violent march and musical concert in Honduras was attacked by police and security forces. Incredibly the police involved in the attack made it a point to destroy the instruments of the musicians.

The musicians who were attacked called for today to be renamed Artists in Resistance Day. To mark the occasion the collective Artists in Resistance and the National Front of Youth in Resistance (FNJR) organized concerts tonight in San Pedro Sula and in Tegucigalpa.

These groups reflect just a small sliver of the National Front of Popular Resistance inn Honduras (FNRP for its initials in Spanish), one of the most mobilized social movements currently taking shape in our hemisphere. The FNRP represents social movements, organizations and individuals from nearly every sector of Honduran society. They are organizing to stand up to one of Latin America’s foremost human rights crises: the 2009 coup in Honduras and the intimidation, assaults, silencing, and killing of those who have resisted the subsequent regimes that took power. The hope is that today’s concerts will underscore the resistance to the crisis in Honduras and mobilize more international solidarity with the FNRP.

Ongoing Crisis in Honduras

Since the coup in June 2009, two regimes – the de facto coup government under Roberto Micheletti and the administration of the sitting president Porfirio Lobo – have done little to protect human rights while police and security forces have subjected members or those identified with the FNRP to mass arrests, beatings, tear gas raids, rape and other forms of torture, and kidnappings. Judges critical of the coup and post-coup authorities have been divested of their positions, transferred arbitrarily, and faced disciplinary proceedings.

At least ten journalists have been killed in 2010 alone, under circumstances overwhelmingly indicative that these were assassinations. Journalists not killed have faced state censorship. Violence and repression of political speech, public assembly, and critical democracy have become a part of daily life.

Rather than investigate these crimes and hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions, Honduran officials have looked the other way. The official line mouthed by Honduran officials and getting much play in Honduran newspapers (which make no effort to hide their support for the coup and post-coup regimes) is that this violence is a by-product of drug and gang wars. Sadly, this narrative has gained some traction in the blogosphere and diplomatic circles even though these speculations are not based on any independent investigation or arrests.

The surge in violence against union leaders, community organizers, journalists and activists has in fact come only after the coup and the targets are undeniably leaders and members of the resistance.

According to the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) there have been 83 murders of members of the FNRP, countless injuries from assaults, and a steady stream of exiled individuals who have left the country after being raped or otherwise tortured and/or have had their lives threatened as a result of being part of, or being perceived as part of the resistance.

Time to “Move on”?

Despite the overthrow of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya last year, the repressive actions of the interim Micheletti coup regime, the illegitimate “election” of Lobo (one that groups like the Carter Center and even the United Nations refused to observe because of its clear illegality), the lack of justice for any of the victims of the coup and the subsequent and continuing political violence, the post-coup authorities are repeatedly saying that it is time for the Honduran people to move on.

The latest incarnation of effort to “move on” is a bogus invitation by Pepe Lobo to the FNRP to dialogue about the Constituent Assembly process. The FNRP considered the invitation carefully. They met in two separate assemblies—one for the Directorate and one of the General Assembly—and decided to reject the invitation to dialogue because of the ongoing violence and repression directed at the resistance. The reasons for rejecting included the fact that President Zelaya is still being forced into exile with false charges against him, that there are many political prisoners, and that there has no accountability for all the human rights violations against the movement. FNRP leadership stated that this was just another attempt by Lobo to legitimize his authority before a national and international audience.

Resistance Progress

The FNRP is committed to changing the Honduras constitution but in a way that reflects democracy and human rights. Many in Honduras view the constitution as having been written for the elite of the country and giving far too few rights to the poor and historically marginalized. Some say the constitution is one of the main reasons why Honduras has one of the highest poverty rates and gaps between rich and poor in the Americas.

The Constituent Assembly, or constituyente in Spanish, has been the principal focus of the FNRP for much of the past year. They recently they presented 1.3 million signatures that they had gathered in support of the process.

At first glance, it might seem counter-intuitive; if this is the movement’s primary focus and the current President wants to dialogue about it, wouldn’t the resistance at least try to engage? The resistance views Lobo as an illegitimate official and actively involved in the repression against the FNRP. Dialogue with Lobo had the potential to compromise the careful, deeply democratic process that the FNRP has been engaging every sector of Honduran society— unions, youth, peasant farmers, LGBTQ groups, and beyond—with for months.

The FNRP has now resolved to move forward with the Constituent Assembly as an autonomous, deeply democratic process. This is incredibly exciting, even historic, for our hemisphere and an example of participatory democracy that we all could learn from.

Meanwhile, in the United States, 29 members of Congress took a bold step, especially given the lead-up to midterm elections, in issuing a strongly worded condemnation of the “deplorable human rights record” in Honduras listing several recent cases of political violence. See

The members of Congress registered their “serious concern that the rule of law is directly threatened by members of the Honduran police and armed forces” and called on the Obama Administration to end all direct assistance to Honduran authorities, especially the police and military. They also called on the US to cease its lobbying for the re-admittance of Honduras into the Organization of American States (OAS).

While most member countries of the OAS have stood firm in their rejection of Honduras as a member of the OAS, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton has made Honduras’s reinstatement a US priority in the region, raising it in her meetings with Latin American heads of state and lobbying for it at various regional meetings. For reasons that the Center for Constitutional Rights laid out in our Open Letter to Secretary of State Clinton, the Obama Administration must stop and the OAS should remain firm in rejecting Honduras as a member. See

Those committed to working in solidarity with ordinary people organizing for democracy, equality and social justice in the Americas are outraged that the Obama Administration has become the Lobo regime’s most important ally. Without US support, the Lobo regime would not have been able to hold its illegitimate elections or hold on to power for as long as it has.

But history shows that anti-democratic regimes in Latin America and elsewhere can be overcome, even when they have the backing of the US, by campaigns for democracy and human rights. The FNRP is working to show the way in Honduras. Those of us in solidarity from afar watch in admiration as they work to transform their country and salute their efforts to celebrate while doing so!

Tonight’s concert in San Pedro Sula with be streamed live via the FNRP’s website:

Bill and Laura work at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Contact Bill at and Laura at

Guatemalan Authorities OK'd Illegal U.S. Experiments

GUATEMALA - Guatemalan health authorities approved the illegal U.S. experiments carried out on Guatemalans in the 1940s, according to reports disclosed Thursday.

A report by the U.S. Public Health Service refers to an alleged agreement between high-ranking Guatemalan physicians and the former Pan-American Health Office, a new disclosure in the case.

The supposed agreement gave the green light for studies involving infecting people with venereal diseases, designed by the team of U.S. doctor John Cutler, set as a condition for opening up a research lab in Guatemala, according to the newspaper Prensa Libre.

The alleged objective was to probe the effectiveness of medicines such as penicillin to treat those diseases, as part of a project scientifically and technically directed by the U.S. Venereal Disease Research Lab.

Though some professionals supported the study on humans, the majority of the local scientific community did not know about it, the daily noted.

According to the report, Cutler first infected prostitutes as a way of infecting his study subjects, but the results were poor, so he began directly infecting his subjects without informing them or asking for their consent.

Guatemalan society reacted with great indignation at the disclosure of the story a couple of weeks ago, when the government announced an apology from the U.S. administration, signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

U.S. President Barack Obama also conveyed his apologies to President Alvaro Colom in a phone call, but the Guatemalan president called the incident a crime against humanity and demanded a thorough investigation.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rights group questions fairness of Cuban spy trial in U.S.

By David Ariosto, CNN

October 16, 2010 -- Updated 0954 GMT (1754 HKT)
Cuba says the five men, known at home as "the five heroes," were sent to Miami to infiltrate violent exile groups.
Cuba says the five men, known at home as "the five heroes," were sent to Miami to infiltrate violent exile groups.
  • Amnesty International points to a "prejudicial impact of publicity"
  • It says questions surround the Cubans' access to attorneys and documents
  • The five have denied that they sought to breach U.S. national security
  • They say their job was to monitor anti-Castro groups, U.S. military activity against Cuba

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Amnesty International has questioned the fairness of a U.S. trial that convicted five Cuban agents of espionage, conspiracy to commit murder and other related charges.

In a report issued earlier this week, the London-based human rights group described a "prejudicial impact of publicity," saying the anti-Castro community in south Florida may have created partiality during the trial that affected the convictions and subsequent appeals process.

The rights group, while not commenting on the men's guilt or innocence, highlighted questions surrounding their pretrial detention, their access to attorneys and documents that "may have undermined their right to defence," the report said.

Cuba says the five men, known at home as "the five heroes," were sent to Miami to infiltrate violent exile groups at a time when anti-Castro groups were bombing Cuban hotels. They were arrested in 1998. Their incarceration has drawn condemnation in Cuba and abroad.

One of the five is serving a life sentence for allegedly helping Cuba shoot down two unarmed airplanes that were dropping leaflets over the island, killing the Cuban-American pilots.

The five have acknowledged acting as unregistered Cuban agents assigned to report hostile activity from the Cuban exile community or visible signs of U.S. military actions against Cuba, but have denied efforts to breach U.S. national security, according to the Amnesty report.

Last year, the defendants were denied an appeal when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear their case.

The defense argued that a fair trial was impossible in a city dominated by anti-Castro politics.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Amnesty asked for closer examination of the circumstances surrounding the group's incarceration.

Images of the men are plastered across billboards throughout Cuba. Their names are also commonly included in speeches given by Cuban officials during major political events.

The report comes at a time when Cuba is in the process of releasing its largest batch of political prisoners in over a decade.

Chile’s Lesser Told Story: The Mapuche Hunger Strike

by COHA Research Associate Alexandra Reed

Most of the news out of Chile recently has been coming from a dark hole 2200 feet below ground in Copiapó, where 33 trapped miners became an international media sensation. This week, the news from Copiapó is particularly joyful, as the long-awaited rescue mission is finally complete, 70 days after the miners’ ordeal began. For Chile and President Sebastián Piñera, the rescue is a triumph on all accounts—a triumph for human courage, modern engineering, and technical coordination on an unprecedented scale. The men’s story of survival is truly inspirational, and the images of their rescue and subsequent reunion with loved ones are most certainly newsworthy.

Some Chileans, however, may have difficulty reconciling the amount of media attention the miners have received over these past two months with the lack of attention afforded to Chile’s 38 Mapuche hunger strikers during the same time period. As Luis Campos, Director of the School of Anthropology at Chile’s Universidad Academia de Humanismo Cristiano, pointed out almost a month ago, “more buried than the miners themselves, the demands and the rights of the indigenous population continue to be flouted and unrecognized in our country.”1 Indeed, the Mapuche activists’ stand against their persecution under Chile’s antiquated anti-terrorism laws seems to have barely registered within Chile, much less in the international press. In contrast, public outrage over the dreadful safety conditions in the San José mine was converted into tangible—and much needed—reforms in mining regulations just one day after the miners were discovered to be alive.2 As Chile celebrates the successful rescue of the miners, it is important to remember Campos’ words, and take a moment to reflect on another group of Chileans whose struggle has not received the attention it deserves.

The Hunger Strike Revisited

Three months ago, on July 12th, 34 jailed Mapuche activists across southern Chile initiated a hunger strike to protest their treatment by the Chilean government. The strike expanded to include a total of 38 Mapuche prisoners, all of whom were awaiting trial for crimes committed in the name of reclaiming their ancestral lands in Chile’s Araucanía region. The hunger strike initially garnered very little media attention, both in Chile and abroad; the protest only began to receive the coverage it warranted when it reached its second month and the condition of several of the strikers became critical, just as Chile was gearing up to celebrate its bicentennial. As the strike dragged into September, dozens of Chilean political and social leaders—including four members of the Chilean Congress’s Human Rights Commission—joined the protest in a high-profile show of solidarity with the Mapuche community.

The Mapuche are Chile’s largest indigenous group, representing approximately five percent of the population. Though their struggle to defend ancestral lands in the southern Araucanía region began long before Chile became an independent state, the Chilean government itself was responsible for one of the most brutal and comprehensive campaigns waged against the Mapuche people, the Pacification of the Araucanía (1861-1883). Since then, the Mapuche people have been stripped of the majority of their ancestral lands. For just as long, Mapuche activists have remained locked in land disputes with the government in an attempt to reclaim just a portion of those territories. Frustrated with inadequate responses from those in power, some activists have given up on negotiations and turned to direct action, including arson, land occupations, road blockages, and occasionally, armed assault. Typically targeted in these attacks are private landowners and large logging companies in the south of Chile. While the victims claim otherwise, the Mapuche protestors maintain that their actions fall in the category of social protest.

Under Chile’s old anti-terrorism legislation—a relic of the brutal Pinochet regime—the government was entitled to charge Mapuche activists with acts of terrorism, making them eligible for trial in military courts, as well as unusually harsh sentences.3 In 2004, Human Rights Watch released a report condemning the application of the anti-terrorism law against the Mapuche as a violation of their basic right to due process.4 The strikers demanded that all charges brought against them under the counter-terrorism legislation be dropped, and even more importantly, they requested direct dialogue with the Chilean government regarding the Mapuche struggle for political and territorial autonomy. President Piñera initially refused to respond to the strikers’ demands and enter into negotiations on the grounds that a hunger strike was, in his words, “an illegitimate instrument of pressure in a democracy.”5

In early September, faced with increasing media coverage and pressure to address the strike, the Piñera administration was forced to supplement its strategy of delegitimizing the protest with more concrete action. Piñera took a tentative step in the right direction by pledging to reform the counter-terrorism legislation in question, but he continued to balk at the Mapuche protestors’ pleas for substantive negotiations until September 17th, the day before Chile was set to celebrate its Fiestas Patrias. Needless to say, the timing of Piñera’s agreement to enter into direct talks with Mapuche representatives seemed to have less to do with genuine concern for the strikers, and more to do with his desire to dispel the dark shadow that the hunger strike threatened to cast over Chile’s bicentennial celebrations. Even after agreeing to direct dialogue, Piñera made his opinion of the strikers’ tactics clear: “Let us not confuse the Mapuche people that are participating in this Bicentennial with the situation of the 34 who have chosen the wrong path. The country we shall construct we will build with dialogue, unity, and hard work—not with violence, nor with a hunger strike.”6

The negotiations, which began on September 24th after the bicentennial celebrations had drawn to a close, were facilitated by the Archbishop of Concepción, Ricardo Ezzati. With Archbishop Ezzati’s help, on October 1st, the majority of the protestors called off their hunger strike in exchange for the Chilean government’s agreement to withdraw the charges brought against Mapuche activists under the anti-terrorism legislation (and instead charge them under common criminal law), in addition to making permanent changes to the anti-terrorism legislation and Chile’s military justice system.7

For 14 of the 38 protesters, however, the hunger strike dragged on for another week, until they reached a more comprehensive agreement with the government on October 9th, day 89 of the strike.8 According to their spokesman, Rodrigo Curipán, the initial decision to continue the hunger strike was based on the perception that the government was dragging its feet over modifying the charges against them. Moreover, they pointed to inadequate guarantees that the Chilean prosecutors would not use the anti-terrorism law against Mapuche activists in the future. Curipán explained in an October 5th interview with online Mapuche newspaper Azkintuwe that, with respect to the government’s promises, “there is an intention, but nothing concrete. This intention, once the strike is dispelled, may not amount to anything.”9

The Piñera administration managed to convince the remaining strikers of its sincerity in an agreement reached late last week. In the October 9th agreement, the government finally made good on its pledge to withdraw the terrorism charges filed against the Mapuche prisoners. Additionally, Piñera announced his intention to begin immediate discussions regarding the long-overdue introduction of a law recognizing Chile’s indigenous peoples (pueblos originarios) in the constitution.10

Too Much Talk, Not Enough Action?

The Piñera administration’s reliance on discussions (also known as mesas de diálogo) to address the Mapuche conflict is nothing new, cautions Professor Patricia Rodriguez, an expert on Mapuche political mobilization at Ithaca College. Hundreds of these discussions between Mapuche and government representatives have been held since the 1990s, and most have amounted to nothing. In this historical context, Rodriguez explained in an interview with COHA, not only do Piñera’s repeated promises of dialogue lack substance and sincerity, but they also serve to “sideline the hunger strike and the important legal and historical justice issues that the hunger strike is meant to bring attention to.”11

When it comes to the Chilean government’s dealings with the Mapuche people, a historical precedent of superficial dialogue and empty promises certainly gives cause for skepticism. As Chile’s first elected right-wing leader in over 50 years, Piñera is perhaps subject to particular scrutiny with respect to his management of the Mapuche conflict. Piñera’s long-term response to the demands brought forward by the recent hunger strikers could represent a unique opportunity not only for Piñera to improve his own party’s record regarding the Mapuche issue, but also to outshine former president Michelle Bachelet’s center-left Concertación. Piñera has already invited such a comparison, suggesting that he inherited an exacerbated Mapuche conflict from Bachelet’s administration. All of the Mapuche activists involved in the hunger strike were, in fact, jailed as “suspected terrorists” before Piñera assumed the presidency. Bachelet and the Concertación reacted to Piñera’s claims by criticizing his administration’s delayed response to the strike, in addition to putting forth a proposal to remove arson from the list of terrorist acts covered by the Pinochet-era legislation.12 Though the Concertación’s criticisms of Piñera’s management of the strike may be legitimate—and their suggestions constructive—Rodriguez explains that given their own disappointing record with the Mapuche, it seems unlikely that the Concertación would have handled the strike very differently.

Despite her initial campaign promise to break the cycle of destructive relations between the Chilean government and its indigenous population, Bachelet, like her predecessor Ricardo Lagos, ultimately gave in to pressure to maintain the status quo by allowing Mapuche activists to be tried pursuant to the anti-terrorism legislation. Mapuche expert José Bengoa explains that the decision to apply the anti-terrorism legislation against the Mapuche activists was influenced in large part by the Chilean media’s sensationalist coverage of the Mapuche conflict. As quiet as the press has been about the strike itself, Bengoa points out that the mainstream Chilean media has played a crucial role in the conflict between the Mapuche and the government by shaping the dialogue in the years leading up to the hunger strike. According to him:

The ‘terrorism’ in the south was repeated thoughtlessly by the television channels, which constructed—in an irresponsible manner—the impression of un-governability. The Concertación administrations, always fearful of what the newspaper El Mercurio would say to them, made it clear through their actions that [the Mapuche acts] were related to terrorism, and they applied the infamous [anti-terrorist] law. And the downward spiral has continued.13

In response to Piñera’s attempts to blame previous administrations for allowing this spiral to continue, however, Bachelet pointed out that she did propose reforms to the anti-terrorism legislation as well as the military justice system, neither of which received the necessary support from Piñera’s own Alianza party in Congress.14 It seems that Bachelet’s commitment to improving the relationship between Chile’s government and its indigenous population was no match for the sustained media and public pressure to reign in the Mapuche conflict.

Piñera himself certainly does have a dubious record when it comes to his policy on Chile’s indigenous population. When asked about the Mapuche conflict on the campaign trail in August of last year, Piñera responded unequivocally in favor of the application of the anti-terrorism law:

In the Araucanian region, they have committed acts of terrorism, and the government,
instead of applying the anti-terrorist law—save for two exceptions—looks the other way.
And when the government buries its head in the sand, the people think that they can continue to act with impunity.15

Piñera’s opponent, former President Eduardo Frei of the Concertación, was far more measured in his reply, explaining that the government needed to convince the Mapuche people to participate in solutions, rather than imposing solutions upon them. As president from 1994 to 2000, however, Frei seemed incapable of putting this open-minded notion into practice. While the anti-terrorism law was not applied under Frei’s administration, he did allow fast-track prosecutions of Mapuche activists under Chile’s 1958 Law of State Security. As Frei demonstrates, the Concertación has been largely unsuccessful in translating its more tolerant official position towards Chile’s indigenous peoples into serious political reform.

Fundamental Miscommunications Transcend Party Lines

Though it is one thing for the opposition to point out the current administration’s shortcomings and quite another for it to do a better job, the Concertación’s criticism of Piñera is by no means unwarranted. Indeed, Piñera’s initial attempts to skirt the issue of political rights in the strike by steering the debate toward his plans for economic development in the southern region were less than promising. Piñera’s Plan Araucanía, which lists “multiculturalism” and “appreciation for the Mapuche cultural identity” among its principal themes, is not designed to address the issues of political and territorial rights in any capacity.16 Regardless, during initial talks with spokesmen for the strikers, Piñera seemed much more interested in discussing his plans for economic development than listening to the Mapuche demands. As José Bengoa explained in a September 29th interview with IPS journalist Daniela Estrada, “two completely different languages are being spoken here…On one hand, the young Mapuche activists are talking about politics and rights, while the government, in a huge step backwards, is talking about poverty, development and building roads…these are two very different conceptions.”17

Piñera’s seemingly singular focus on development has met with harsh criticism from many in the Mapuche community and beyond, who perceive it largely as a distraction from the concrete political issues at hand. Moreover, Piñera’s development plan may not, in fact, be as beneficial to the majority of the rural indigenous community as it first appears. Rodriguez suggests that Plan Araucanía is hardly the answer to the Mapuche people’s demands:

These are policies that have been adopted in other countries, Colombia being a current example, and they are embedded in language that sounds like a magic solution, but in essence they contribute further to the destruction and displacement of communities. What the Mapuche want is redress, historical redress for years of marginalization, abuse, exclusion, [and] discrimination.18

Indeed, Piñera was unable to entirely avoid the issue of political rights in the October 9th agreement that put a definitive end to the strike. His pledges to recognize Chile’s indigenous peoples in the constitution and to amend the anti-terrorism legislation so that it may no longer be used against Mapuche activists were instrumental in ending the strike, and they are certainly steps in the right direction. However, the Mapuche people are no strangers to empty government promises, and the fundamental issue of their right to ancestral lands remains unsolved.

A Long Road Ahead

Mapuche spokesman Jorge Huenchullán pointed out to Azkintuwe just days before the agreement was signed, “This is not a strike merely for prisoners’ rights, we’re looking to put the subject of our territorial rights on the government’s agenda.”19 It remains to be seen in the months to come whether that item really is on Piñera’s agenda, and whether he will use these reforms as a springboard for more substantial changes in the way the Chilean government relates to the Mapuche as a people, not just the 38 activists in question. It may well be the case that Piñera’s most recent promises, like so many others before them, will turn out to be more symbolic than substantive for the majority of the Mapuche population. Indeed, Rodriguez suggests that Piñera’s reforms will be largely “cosmetic” in nature, as he has no sincere intent to address the Mapuche’s more fundamental demands.

In the wake of the miners’ rescue, Piñera has promised a “radical” overhaul in the way Chile regulates worker safety. While increased safety standards are sorely needed in Chile, so is profound redress for the Mapuche’s centuries-long mistreatment at the hands of the Chilean government. Piñera must do a great deal more than he has during these negotiations in order to convince skeptics such as Rodriguez of his commitment to righting the historic wrongs perpetrated against Chile’s indigenous population.