Weekly News Update on the Americas

Chile: water activist to be jailed for 'slander'

On April 7 a court in La Ligua, in Chile's Petorca province, Valparaíso region, convicted agronomist Rodrigo Mundaca of slander and sentenced him to 541 days in prison for accusing former government minister Edmundo Pérez Yoma of water usurpation. Mundaca, the secretary of the Movement in Defense of Water, Land and the Environment (Modatima), also faces a fine. According to current Modatima spokesperson Luis Soto, the court's decision won't stop the group's activist work. He said Modatima would take the case "to the Valparaíso Appeals Court, and if we aren't successful there, we'll go to the Supreme Court."

Argentina: general strike targets Fernández policies

A large part of Argentina's labor movement participated a 24-hour general strike on April 10 to demand increases in wages and pensions and to protest the economic policies of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. With support from the Automatic Tramways Union (UTA) and three airline workers' unions, the strike shut down surface trains, subways, air service, schools and businesses in many parts of the country. Union leaders said the action was 90% effective, and the Argentine business consulting firm Orlando Ferreres & Asociados S.A. set the losses for the day at almost $1 billion. Government officials and Fernández supporters downplayed the significance of the strike, charging that relatively few workers actively participated and that people stayed home only because transportation was cut off by the UTA and by roadblocks that leftist parties and groups had set up.

Mexico: HP fined in latest Pemex scandal

On April 9 the California-based technology company Hewlett-Packard (HP) announced that it was paying a $108 million fine to the US Justice Department and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to end an investigation into subsidiaries in Poland, Russia and Mexico that allegedly paid bribes to officials. The HP subsidiaries "created a slush fund for bribe payments, set up an intricate web of shell companies and bank accounts to launder money, employed two sets of books to track bribe recipients, and used anonymous email accounts and prepaid mobile telephones to arrange covert meetings to hand over bags of cash," according to a statement by the Justice Department. HP said the corruption "was limited to a small number of people who are no longer employed by the company."

Cuba: did USAID KO deal for Gross release?

US citizen Alan Gross, serving a 15-year prison term in Cuba for his work there as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), held a liquids-only hunger strike from April 3 to 11 to protest his treatment by both the Cuban and the US governments. According to Scott Gilbert, Gross's Washington, DC-based lawyer, the prisoner started his hunger strike after he learned about an April 3 Associated Press report on ZunZuneo, the "Cuban Twitter" service that USAID launched after his arrest in December 2009. Gross was charged with seeking to subvert the Cuban government by supplying dissidents with Internet technology, and ZunZuneo had the potential to damage his legal case.

Brazil: Kennedy backed plan for 1964 coup

On April 1, the 50th anniversary of the military coup that removed left-leaning Brazilian president João Goulart (1961-64) from office, the Washington, DC-based research group National Security Archive posted 16 Brazil-related documents from the administration of US president John Kennedy (1961-1963) on its website. The documents—which include declassified National Security Council (NSC) records and recently transcribed tapes of White House conversations—detail the administration's efforts to bring President Goulart into line, and its plans for dealing with him if he continued to implement social reforms and to oppose US policy on Cuba.

USAID's 'Cuban Twitter' scheme flops

The US Agency for International Development (USAID), a US government foreign aid agency, secretly ran a cell phone-based imitation of the Twitter social networking service in Cuba from 2010 to 2012, according to an April 3 report by the Associated Press (AP) wire service. The service—named "ZunZuneo," Cuban slang for a hummingbird's tweet—was developed in conjunction with two private contractors, the Washington, DC-based Creative Associates International and the Denver-based Mobile Accord. ZunZuneo was popular with young Cubans, who were unaware of its origin; by 2012 the service had some 40,000 subscribers.

Mexico: four die in Chiapas land dispute

Four people died the morning of April 5 in a confrontation between indigenous Mexicans over land in Chilón municipality in the highland region of the southeastern state of Chiapas. The violence broke out when some 25 people tried to remove members of the Regional Organization of Autonomous Ocosingo Coffee Growers (ORCAO) from a 84-hectare ranch; sources differ on whether the ranch is called San Luis or Luis Irineo. The attackers were apparently egged on by the former owner of the ranch, which a group of ORCAO members took over in 1994. On April 6 the state attorney general's office announced that four people had been arrested in the incident. (La Jornada, Mexico, April 6; SDP Noticias, Mexico, April 6)

Honduras: three convicted in reporter's murder

On March 25 a Tegucigalpa court convicted three men in the May 2012 murder of Honduran journalist Angel Alfredo Villatoro Rivera. Marvin Alonso Gómez and the brothers Osman Fernando and Edgar Francisco Osorio Argujo are scheduled to be sentenced on April 25; prison terms could range from 40 years to life. At least 40 Honduran journalists have been murdered in the past decade, with few convictions. Cases include the July 2013 kidnapping and murder of television journalist Aníbal Barrow and the October 2013 shooting death of Globo TV camera operator Manuel Murillo Varela. The French-based organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks Honduras 129th out of 180 countries in its 2014 press freedom index. (Thomas Reuters Foundation, March 28; IFEX, March 31)

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