Weekly News Update on the Americas
In a retrial held on Feb. 7, a court in La Ceiba, in the northern Honduran department of Colón, convicted campesino José Isabel Morales ("Chavelo" or "Chabelo") on one count of homicide; the judges are expected to sentence him to 20 years in prison. Morales, a resident of Guadalupe Carney community in Trujillo municipality, Colón, belongs to the Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MCA), one of several grassroots organizations in the Lower Aguán River Valley demanding land that campesinos say wealthy landowners acquired illegally. He was first arrested on Oct. 17, 2008, in connection with an incident in which 10 people were killed, including Carlos Manrique Osorto Castillo, a member of a landowning family and the nephew of a local police agent, Henry Osorto. Prosecutors charged Morales on 14 counts, 10 of them for homicide. Morales was acquitted of 13 counts in the first trial, but the court convicted him of Manrique Osorto's death.
According to a Feb. 8 article in the online magazine Salon, officials of the Federal Reserve, the de facto central bank of the US, were planning to arrange for a bailout of the Mexican peso in November 1993 to ensure that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would be ratified by the House of Representatives. While the US media and government officials—including Federal Reserve Board of Governors member Jon LaWare—were assuring Congress and the public of Mexico's financial stability, top Reserve officials were concerned that the peso might be facing a devaluation. In a Nov. 9 conference call that one official described as "of a sensitive international nature," Fed leaders discussed arranging a US-sponsored bailout if the currency failed.
An unknown assailant shot Haitian human rights activist Daniel Dorsinvil (or Dorsainvil) dead in Port-au-Prince's Canapé Vert neighborhood the afternoon of Feb. 8; Dorsinvil's wife, Girdly (or Gerly) Larêche, was also killed. Dorsinvil was the coordinator of the Haitian Platform of Human Rights Organizations (POHDH) and a founder of the recently formed Patriotic Democratic Popular Movement (MPDP), a coalition of 30 groups; Larêche's brother Ronald Larêche is a legislative deputy from Northeast department for the Unity party of former president René Préval (1996-2001 and 2006-2011).
As many as 2,000 Brazilians demonstrated in Rio de Janeiro during evening rush hour on Feb. 6 to protest an increase in local bus fares from 2.75 reais (about US$1.15) to 3 reais (about $1.26); the fare hike, imposed by Rio mayor Eduardo Paes, took effect Feb. 8. The protesters marched about a mile from the Candelária area without incident, but as the demonstration approached the Estacião Central do Brasil, the city's main transit hub, dozens of youths reportedly from the Black Bloc charged into the station, jumping over turnstiles and inviting commuters to join them. Some protesters vandalized ticket booths, while others set fires in garbage cans outside the station, blocking cars and tying up traffic. The militarized police attacked the youths with tear-gas and concussion grenades, creating panic among crowds of commuters, and protesters responded with rocks and clubs. SuperVia Trens Urbanos, the company that runs the city's trains, decided to let passengers ride for free as the chaos continued. Police escorted thousands of commuters, some choking on tear gas, to the trains.
On Feb. 5 the Dominican government presented the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva with its National Regularization of Foreigners Plan, a program for determining the status of the tens of thousand Dominican residents who were stripped of their citizenship last September by a Constitutional Tribunal (TC) ruling. The court's Decision 168-13 declared that no one born to undocumented immigrants since 1929 was a citizen. Human rights groups estimate that this affects some 200,000 people, mainly Dominicans of Haitian descent.
The US financial services company Standard & Poor's Ratings (S&P) announced on Feb. 4 that it was reducing the Puerto Rican government's bonds to junk status; another US ratings agency, Moody's Corporation, made a similar move on Feb. 7. Gov. Alejandro García Padilla responded on Feb. 4 that Puerto Rico would be able to overcome the financial crisis by implementing budget cuts; for the fiscal year 2014-2015 the island would have its first balanced budget since the 1970s, he said. The government faces a tremendous $70 billion debt, fueled in past years by its ability to offer tax-free municipal bonds to US investors. For comparison, last July the US city Detroit declared bankruptcy because it faced a debt of $28 billion; with a much larger debt, Puerto Rico is ineligible for Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy protection. The administration of US president Barack Obama has indicated that it isn't considering a bailout for the island. (Prensa Latina, Feb. 5; Reuters, Feb. 7)
Chilean farmer José Pizarro Montoya received 37 million pesos (about US$66,582) in December from Agrícola Nacional S.A.C. (ANASAC), a Chilean distributor of agricultural products, to settle a suit he brought over the use of genetically modified (GM) corn seed from the Missouri-based Monsanto Company. Pizarro charged that ANASAC violated its contract with him by giving instructions for planting the Monsanto corn that resulted in business losses and eventually ruined him. The Santiago Chamber of Commerce found in Pizarro's favor, and the Santiago Court of Appeals confirmed the decision in September. Pizarro is thought to be the first farmer in Chile—possibly the first in Latin America--to win a suit over the use of Monsanto's GM seeds.
Haitian public school teachers started an open-ended strike on Jan. 22 around demands for higher salaries, payment of back pay, access to public credit programs and a regularization of job categories. After Jan. 22-23 talks with the national