Weekly News Update on the Americas
Fourteen people were injured, four of them seriously, when a homemade bomb exploded at 2 PM on Sept. 8 in a shopping center restaurant at the busy Escuela Miltar subway station in Santiago, the Chilean capital. In response, President Michelle Bachelet, a Socialist Party of Chile (PS) leader who began her second term on March 11, held a special security meeting in the La Moneda palace on Sept. 9; she called for increased vigilance and for modifications to the Antiterrorist Law, a measure passed during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The bombing came shortly before the 41st anniversary of the Sept. 11, 1973 coup in which Pinochet's military overthrew Socialist president Salvador Allende Gossens.
On Sept. 3 the United Nations-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) announced that a joint operation with Guatemala's Public Ministry and Governance Ministry had captured seven members of a criminal network that took bribes to arrange transfers for prisoners; the ring also supplied prisoners with cell phones, special food, conjugal visits and other benefits. According to the authorities, the network's leaders were Penitentiary System Director Edgar Camargo Liere and a prisoner, Byron Miguel Lima Oliva, who is serving a 20-year term for carrying out the April 26, 1998 murder of Catholic bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera, a well-known human rights campaigner. A total of 14 people are charged with participating in the bribery ring, but apparently not all had been captured as of Sept. 3. (CICIG, Sept. 3)
Luis Cárdenas Velásquez, the secretary general of a union representing Peruvian employees of the Spanish security firm Prosegur Compañía de Seguridad, was assaulted near his home early on the morning of Aug. 22 as he was on his way to work. The assailant beat Cárdenas' head with a rock and then fled in a car which had been kept waiting a block away with the motor running. Nothing was stolen. Cárdenas reported the attack to the authorities and received four stitches at a hospital. A month earlier pamphlets were circulated among Prosegur staff accusing Cárdenas of stealing union funds. Management denied responsibility for the pamphlets and for similar anti-union pamphlets that have been reported at Prosegur sites in Colombia. The company has subsidiaries in a total of eight Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay.
United Nations (UN) secretary general Ban Ki-moon plans to continue the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) one more year but wishes to cut it significantly, according to a report that the military and police mission's current head, the Trinidadian diplomat Sandra Honoré, presented to the UN Security Council on Sept. 11. Secretary General Ban recommended extending MINUSTAH for another year when its mandate ends on Oct. 15. However, the military component would be reduced to 2,370 soldiers by June 2015; currently the mission has 5,021 soldiers and 2,601 police agents, along with nearly 2,000 civilian employees and volunteers. Honoré said the Haitian National Police (PNH), which now has 10,963 agents, would be able to take over many of MINUSTAH's functions. She admitted that "[t[he reinforcement of the national police needs to be accompanied by measures for accelerating the reform of the justice system to support the construction of institutions and to improve local governance." (AlterPresse, Haiti, Sept. 12)
Guatemala's unicameral Congress voted 117-111 on Sept. 4 to repeal Decree 19-2014, the Law for Protection of Procurement of Plants, in response to a lawsuit and mass protests by campesinos and environmentalists. The law, which was to take full effect on Sept. 26, provided for granting patents of 25 years for new plants, including hybrid and genetically modified (GM) varieties; unauthorized use of the plants or seeds could result in one to four years in prison and a fine of $130 to $1,300. The law had already been weakened by the Court of Constitutionality; acting on an Aug. 25 legal challenge from the Guatemalan Union, Indigenous and Campesino Movement (MSICG), the court suspended the law's Articles 46 and 55. The law was originally passed to comply with an intellectual property requirement in the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), and it was unclear whether Guatemala might now be excluded from the US-promoted trade bloc.
Masked men shot and killed Honduran campesino movement leader Margarita Murillo the night of Aug. 26 on land she farmed in the community of El Planón, Villanueva municipality, in the northern department of Cortés. Murillo reportedly began working for campesino rights at the age of 12. During the 1980s she was a founder of the Campesino National Unity Front (FENACAMH) and the General Confederation of Rural Workers (CNTC). After the military removed then-president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009) from office in June 2009, she was both a local and a national leader in the broad coalition resisting the coup, the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), and then in the center-left party that grew out of it, the Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE). The National Congress observed a moment of silence after reports of Murillo's death were confirmed.
Torture by police and soldiers continues to be a major problem for the Mexican government, according to "Out of Control: Torture and Other Ill-Treatment in Mexico," a 74-page report released by the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) on Sept. 4. Electric shocks, near-asphyxiation, mock executions, death threats against prisoners and their families, injection of carbonated drinks or chili pepper in prisoners' noses, and rape and other forms of sexual violence remain common practices, according to the report, which cites both official statistics and interviews with victims. The result is often forced confessions, wrongful convictions and a failure to arrest the actual perpetrators. Although the government officially condemns torture, it rarely prosecutes police agents or soldiers for the practice and almost never convicts them. January 2014 data from the government's Federal Judiciary Council (CJF) show that federal courts only took 123 torture cases to trial from 2005 to 2013; seven resulted in convictions. The government's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) received 7,164 torture complaints from 2010 to 2013; not one of them led to a conviction.
On Aug. 27 Haitian investigative judge Lamarre Bélizaire ordered the arrests of four people—two brothers, a well-known lawyer and a police agent—for the Oct. 18, 2010 murder of the student Frantzy Duverseau at his Port-au-Prince home. The judge's action immediately sparked accusations of political interference by the government of Haitian president Michel Martelly ("Sweet Micky"). The two brothers charged in the killing, Enold and Josué Florestal, are plaintiffs in a suit accusing Martelly's wife, Sophia Martelly, and his son, Olivier Martelly, of corruption; the Florestal brothers have already been in prison for about a year. Their attorney, André Michel, is also charged in the murder case. Judge Bélizaire—whose other cases include the inquiry into allegations of corruption and drug trafficking during the second administration of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004)—is said to be close to Martelly's government.