Weekly News Update on the Americas

Panama: Barro Blanco dam construction suspended

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

Honduras: AFL-CIO blames trade policies for crisis

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

Mexico: UN criticizes officials on disappearances

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

Haiti: new general strike shuts down capital

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

Dominican Republic: was Haitian man lynched?

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

Central America: US pushes new 'Plan Colombia'

On Jan. 29 the administration of US president Barack Obama announced that its budget proposal to Congress for fiscal year 2016 (October 2015-September 2016) would include $1 billion in aid to Central America, with an emphasis on El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The goal is to help "implement systemic reforms that address the lack of economic opportunity, the absence of strong institutions and the extreme levels of violence that have held the region back at a time of prosperity for the rest of the Western Hemisphere," according to a White House fact sheet. The New York Times published an op-ed the same day by Vice President Joseph Biden explaining the request as a way "to stem the dangerous surge in migration" last summer—a reference to an uptick in border crossings by unaccompanied Central American minors that peaked last June and quickly diminished in subsequent months.

Chile: Mapuche continue drive for land

A group of about 70 indigenous Chilean Mapuche from the José Llancao community peacefully occupied a section of a government research farm in Vilcún commune in Cautín province, in the central Araucanía region, to further their demand for 60 hectares of land that they say belong to the community. The Carillanca Farming Research Center (INIA Carillanca) started as a private estate but has been operated as a research facility under the Agriculture Ministry for the past 50 years. According to the community's werken (spokesperson), Juan Alguilera Esquivel, the residents have been trying to reclaim the 60 hectares, which they say were usurped illegally by the owner of the private estate, for more than 20 years. The Mapuche, Chile's largest indigenous group, have been using land occupations since the 1990s in a campaign to regain land they consider ancestral territory. Local estate owners are strongly opposed to the community's claims on the research facility. "Not one meter should be sold," said Marcelo Zirotti, president of the Agricultural Development Society (SOFO). If the government gives up any land, "they'll be telling us, the farmers, that we should close up and go elsewhere." (Radio Bío Bío, Chile, Feb. 6; El Ciudadano, Chile, Feb. 6)

Mexico: official Ayotzinapa claims disputed

The nonprofit Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) released a report on Feb. 7 citing a number of irregularities in the Mexican federal government's investigation of the disappearance of 43 teachers' college students in Iguala de la Independencia in the southwestern state of Guerrero the night of Sept. 26-27. The Argentine experts have researched deaths and disappearances in about 30 countries, including those that occurred in their own country during the 1976-1983 "Dirty War" against suspected leftists and in Guatemala during that country's 1960-1996 civil war. The Argentines were brought into the investigation by th