Weekly News Update on the Americas
On May 10 a three-judge panel of the High Risk Cases Court in Guatemala City convicted former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983) of ordering, supervising and permitting the killing of 1,771 people from the Ixil Mayan group—about 5.5% of the total Ixil population—in El Quiché department during his 17 months of de facto rule. The killings occurred during the most violent phase of a 36-year civil war in which some 200,000 people died, mostly civilians killed by the military, with covert assistance from the US. Ríos Montt was given a prison sentence of 80 years and was escorted from the court directly to the Matamoros prison. He said would appeal and called the proceedings an international farce. The court acquitted co-defendant José Rodríguez, Ríos Montt's former intelligence chief.
Just one week after imposing a 30-day state of siege on four municipalities in southeastern Guatemala that have been the site of violent confrontations over a Canadian-owned silver mine, President Otto Pérez Molina announced on May 9 that his government was lifting the measure and instead declaring a state of prevention in the area. Under the less severe state of prevention, "some rights remain limited," the president said, "such as the right to strike, and demonstrations when it's going to interfere with public services, [along with] the carrying of arms." Apparently, Pérez Molina had to back off from the May 2 state of siege because the National Congress had failed to approve it within three days, as required by law. (AFP, May 9, via Hoy, Dominican Republic; El Mercurio, Spain, May 11)
On the night of May 9 some 150 mostly indigenous protesters left the construction site which they had occupied for a week at the Belo Monte dam, in Vitória do Xingu municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. (We previously reported 200 occupiers, following our sources.) The decision to end the protest came after Judge Sérgio Wolney Guedes of the Region 1 Federal Regional Court responded to a request from Norte Energia S.A., the consortium in charge of the dam, by ordering the activists to leave and authorizing the use of force by the police. "We went out the same way we entered, peacefully, without causing damage to public property or any type of aggression," Valdenir Munduruku, a spokesperson for the protesters, told the official Agência Brasil by phone. But he said the activists were unhappy with the court's decision, "because we think that our rights are being violated."
Former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004) made a tentative reentry into politics with a press conference held on May 9 at his home in Tabarre, a well-to-do suburb northeast of Port-au-Prince. Aristide said his political party, the Lavalas Family (FL), "is evolving, is becoming stronger and more powerful," and he appeared confident that it would be able to field candidates in parliamentary and local elections to be held before the end of the year; electoral authorities kept FL off the ballot in 2009 partial senatorial elections and in the 2010-2011 presidential and legislative elections. He predicted that the party would win seats, but not that it would dominate as it did during his 2001-2004 presidential term. "One person alone," "one political party alone" or "one group in society" can't solve the problem of hunger, Aristide said. "We have an indispensable coming together to do in order for us to diminish hunger in our country."
According to Mexican authorities, Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of assassinated US rights activist Malcolm X and educator Betty Shabazz, was found badly beaten on a sidewalk in Mexico City the night of May 8. Federal District (DF, Mexico City) emergency services took him to a hospital, where he died early in the morning of May 9. A Mexican friend, Miguel Suárez, said he and Shabazz had been invited into The Palace, a bar in the Plaza Garibaldi neighborhood. Later they were presented with a $1,200 bill for music, alcohol and the company of the women they had been drinking with. When they refused to pay, Suárez was separated from Shabazz and eventually escaped; apparently Shabazz was beaten to death.
About 200 protesters occupied the main construction site for the giant Belo Monte dam, in Vitória do Xingu municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, on May 2 to demand the immediate suspension of work on the project until the government has respected the indigenous communities' right to prior consultation on the project. The occupiers—who included members of the Munduruku, Juruna, Kayapó, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakanã and Arara indigenous groups as well as fishing people and other residents in the area that will be affected by the dam—were also protesting the presence of soldiers and military vehicles in the region. They said they would maintain the occupation and block construction "until the federal government responds to the demands we've presented."
The status of the genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) remained uncertain as of May 3, with observers disagreeing on the impact of four rulings by the Constitutional Court (CC) that day. The trial--in which Ríos Montt and former intelligence chief Gen. José Rodríguez face charges of causing the deaths of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Mayan civilians in the central department of Quiché during Ríos Montt's dictatorship—started on March 19 but was suddenly suspended on April 18 after an appeals court appeared to reinstate the presiding judge from an earlier phase of the case. The trial resumed on April 30, but on May 2 the three trial judges decided to recess until May 7 to allow the defense to prepare.
Several hundred Haitian unionists and activists marched in Port-au-Prince on May 1 to celebrate International Workers Day and to demand reform of the country's labor code, respect for labor standards and application of a legally mandated 300 gourde (about US$7.12) daily minimum wage for piece workers in the assembly sector. The march began at the large industrial park run by the semi-public National Industrial Parks Company (Sonapi) in the north of the capital; the assembly plants there mainly produce apparel for sale in North America and are a focus of complaints over failure to pay the minimum wage. The unionists then moved on to the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development Ministry (Marndr) to highlight the situation of agricultural workers. Police agents blocked the march for 20 minutes because Haitian president Michel Martelly and other officials were attending an event at the ministry.