Weekly News Update on the Americas
An Israeli military offensive on the Palestinian territory of Gaza starting on July 8 has brought widespread condemnation from governments and activists in Latin America. The response to the current military action, which is codenamed "Operation Protective Edge," follows a pattern set during a similar December 2008-January 2009 Israeli offensive in Gaza, "Operation Cast Lead," when leftist groups and people of Arab descent mounted protests and leftist and center-left governments issued statements sharply criticizing the Israeli government.
US president Barack Obama hosted a meeting in Washington DC on July 25 with three Central American presidents—Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador, Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala and Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras—to discuss the recent increase in unauthorized immigration to the US by unaccompanied minors. About 57,000 unaccompanied minors, mostly from those three Central American countries, were detained at the Mexico-US border from October 2013 through June 2014. President Obama called for joint work to discourage further child migration; the US would do its part by making it clear that the minors would be repatriated unless they could convince US officials they were in danger if they returned, Obama said. The left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada headlined its coverage with the sentence: "The US has great compassion for child migrants; they'll be deported: Obama."
The US advocacy group SOA Watch reported on July 22 that the police in Columbus, Georgia, are trying to impose unacceptable restrictions on the annual vigil the group has held there every November since 1990 to protest the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). According to SOA Watch, Columbus police chief Ricky Boren wants to limit the vigil to 200 people on sidewalks outside the US Army's Fort Benning, where WHINSEC is based. In previous years thousands of people have demonstrated at a gate leading to the base. Boren is also seeking to deny a permit for the group to post its stage and sound system at the usual spot.
A plane chartered by the US government carried 38 Honduran deportees from an immigration detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, to the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on July 14. This was the first US deportation flight entirely dedicated to mothers and children: eight mothers, 13 girls and nine boys were scheduled for the trip, although two couldn't travel because of illness. Reporters, Honduran officials and Ana García de Hernández, the wife of President Juan Orlando Hernández, were on hand for the flight's arrival. President Hernández's government promised the deportees job leads, a $500 stipend, psychological counseling and schooling, but a returning mother, Angélica Gálvez, told the Los Angeles Times that in the end she and her six-year-old daughter Abigail didn't get enough money to pay for the three-hour trip to their home in La Ceiba. "They haven't helped me before," she said. "Why should I believe them now?"
On July 12 the 1,066 laid-off employees of El Salvador's Manufacturas del Río (MDR) apparel factory began receiving benefits, back wages and severance pay that they were owed after the plant closed suddenly on Jan. 7. MDR—a joint venture of Mexican company Kaltex and Miami-based Argus Group that stitched garments for such major brands as Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, Lacoste, Levi Strauss and Adidas—shut down without notice after the Textile Industry Workers Union (STIT), an affiliate of the Salvadoran Union Front (FSS), spent two months attempting to negotiate a contract. No apparel plant in El Salvador has a labor contract.
The BRICS group of five nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—held its sixth annual summit this year from July 14 to July 16 in Fortaleza in the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará and in Brasilia, the Brazilian capital. The main business for the five nations' leaders was formalizing their agreement on a plan to create a development bank to serve as an alternative to lending institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which are largely dominated by the US and its allies. Although the project will need approval from the countries' legislatures, the BRICS leaders indicated that the group's lending institution would be called the New Development Bank, would be based in Shanghai and would be headed for the first five years by a representative of India. The bank is to start off in 2016 with $50 billion in capital, $10 billion from each BRICS member. The BRICS nations will maintain control of the bank, but membership will be open to other countries; in contrast to the IMF and the World Bank, the New Development Bank will not impose budgetary conditions on loan recipients.
United Nations (UN) secretary general Ban Ki-moon made a two-day visit to Haiti on July 14 and July 15 to promote a $2.2 billion program that he launched in December 2012 to eliminate cholera from the country over the next 10 years. He traveled with Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe to the village of Las Palmas, near Hinche in the Central Plateau, to announce a "Total Sanitation Campaign," the second phase of the cholera elimination program, which remains underfunded. Ban called the visit a "necessary pilgrimage"; at a church service in Las Palmas he acknowledged "that the epidemic has caused much anger and fear" and that it "continues to affect an unacceptable number of people."
Honduran security forces mounted a major operation on July 3 to remove hundreds of campesinos from an estate they had occupied in a dispute over land in the Lower Aguán River Valley in the northern department of Colón. One of the occupiers, Pedro Avila, was shot dead in the operation and two were wounded, according to Santos Torres, who heads the campesinos' organization, the Gregorio Chávez Collective. Some 400 families were "violently evicted" and "repressed with tear gas and live ammunition," the campesinos charged in a statement, and at least 20 people were detained. The operation was carried out by soldiers under the command of Col. René Jovel Martínez and by National Police agents and by security guards in the pay of the Corporación Dinant food-product company, the campesinos said. The estate, named Paso Aguán, is owned by Honduran entrepreneur and landowner Miguel Facussé Barjum, Dinant's founder. On July 4 Dinant business relations director Roger Pineda denied that company security guards were involved. Pineda claimed no one was killed, although "the effects of the tear gas made [one person] pass out."