Weekly News Update on the Americas
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.
At least 800 members of Section 65 of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers and the Like of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM, "Los Mineros") began blocking the three main entrances to the giant Buenavista del Cobre copper mine in Cananea, near the US border in the northwestern state of Sonora, on Aug. 20 to protest environmental damage caused two weeks earlier when about 40,000 cubic meters of copper sulfate acid solution spilled from the mine into the Bacanuchi and Sonora rivers. Most of the unionists lost their jobs four years ago when the mine's owner, Grupo México S.A.B. de C.V., broke a 2007-2010 strike over health and safety issues. "During the strike we made several complaints about the improper and inadequate measures Grupo México implemented for preventing overflows from the dams" for chemicals and heavy metals, Section 65 director Sergio Tolano Lizárraga told the national daily La Jornada. He said the blockade would continue until the company recognized the workers' old contract. (LJ, Aug. 22)
At least five Honduran minors recently deported from the US were among the 42 children murdered in the northern city of San Pedro Sula, Cortés department, since February, according to Hector Hernández, who heads the city's morgue. The number could be as high as 10, he told Los Angeles Times reporter Cindy Carcamo. In June and July the administration of US president Barack Obama responded to a dramatic increase of tens of thousands of Central American minors seeking refuge in the US by emphasizing that most will be repatriated; the administration even arranged and publicized a special deportation flight of mothers with young children to San Pedro Sula on July 14 . But Carcamo's reporting suggests that publicity won't be enough to stop youths from trying to flee gang violence in Honduras. "There are many youngsters who only three days after they've been deported are killed, shot by a firearm," Hernández said. "They return just to die."
Former Haitian prime minister Yvon Neptune (2002-2004) appeared before investigative judge Lamarre Bélizaire at the judge's Port-au-Prince office on Aug. 22 to answer questions in an inquiry into allegations of corruption and drug trafficking during the second administration of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004). Bélizaire has notified the authorities that 33 people, most of them connected with Aristide's Lavalas Family (FL) party, are not permitted to leave the country because of their connection with the investigation. After the Aug. 22 session, Neptune, who has broken with Aristide, told reporters that he had no problem answering Bélizaire's summons. (Radio Kiskeya, Haiti, Aug. 23)
Two Brazilian experts in police work have confirmed longstanding claims that the Brazilian military and police used their leading role in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) as a way to train their forces for operations in Brazil's own cities. According to Lt. Col. Carlos Cavalcanti, of the Brazilian Peace Operations Joint Training Center (CCOPAB), the Brazilians were especially interested in the concept of permanent "strong points" in urban areas, which MINUSTAH forces used to "pacify" Port-au-Prince's huge Cité Soleil section in 2005 and the Cité Militaire neighborhood in 2007. "Rio de Janeiro's Militarized Police even sent a group to Haiti while these operations were still being carried out, with the object of taking in the Brazilian army's experiences," Cavalcanti said.