Weekly News Update on the Americas
Former Argentine dictator Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla (1976-1981) died the morning of May 17 in the Marcos Paz prison in Buenos Aires province, where he was serving a 50-year sentence for crimes against humanity. He was 87. Videla led the coup that removed then-president Isabel Perón from office on Mar. 24, 1976 and started a period of military rule that lasted until 1983. Videla himself was made de facto president on Mar. 29, 1976 and held the office until March 1981, when he was replaced by Gen. Roberto Viola.
The death of former Argentine dictator Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla (1976-1981) on May 17 brings to seven the number of Latin American and Caribbean de facto heads of state who are now in prison or facing criminal charges for their acts while in power. All but one were charged in the last decade.
A total of 3,099 families have been removed from their homes in Rio de Janeiro and another 7,843 have been threatened with removal as part of Brazil's preparations for hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, according to a study released on May 15 by the Popular Committee of the World Cup and the Olympics. The group estimates that 30,000 people have been affected, based on the average number of people in the households. The study, "Mega-Events and Human Rights Violations in Rio de Janeiro," was produced with the collaboration of the impacted communities, the Institute for Urban and Regional Research and Planning (Ippur) and other groups, including the nongovernmental organization Global Justice.
Four activists from the Mexican branch of the international environmental organization Greenpeace climbed the Estela de Luz monument in downtown Mexico City on May 16 to protest efforts by multinational companies to increase the commercial use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country's corn crops. The protesters unfurled a 70-meter banner reading "No GMO" and showing an ear of corn with a time bomb. Near the monument Greenpeace spokesperson Aleira Lara told reporters that transgenic corn is a time bomb for the Mexican countryside, since it endangers the 59 native strains of corn. The activists continued the protest for four hours and then left in a van; the Mexico City police made no effort to arrest them.
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."