Weekly News Update on the Americas
US officials were secretly critical of the militarized anti-narcotic policies of former Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012) at the same time that the US government was funding and publicly backing them, according to declassified documents that the Washington, DC-based research group National Security Archive posted on its website on Nov. 6. The documents are among 30 official reports and diplomatic cables, with dates from Aug. 25, 2007 to May 22, 2012, that the US government released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the National Security Archive and other organizations in Mexico and the US.
Unknown assailants shot Honduras video journalist Manuel Murillo Varela dead on Oct. 23; his body was found the next day in Tegucigalpa's Colonia Independencia. Murillo Varela had worked as a camera operator for Honduras' Globo TV and for the state television, Canal 8, and was also the official camera operator for former president José Manuel ("Mel") Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), who was overthrown in a June 2009 military coup. Murillo Varela had been a victim of violence in the past: he and a colleague were abducted on Feb. 2, 2010, reportedly by police agents, and were tortured for over 24 hours. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), responded to the incident by issuing a protection order for Murillo Varela. Both the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Inter American Press Association (SIP) condemned the Oct. 23 murder. More than 30 journalists have been killed in Honduras since 2010.
On Oct. 28 the Fourth Oral Criminal Court in Santiago, Chile, sentenced Patricio Ahumada Garay to life in prison for a brutal assault on Daniel Zamudio, a gay young man, on Mar. 3, 2012; Zamudio died of his injuries three weeks later. The court sentenced three other men to prison for participating in the assault: Alejandro Angulo and Raúl López were each given 15 years in prison, and Fabián Mora Mora seven years. The sentences were the same as those requested by the prosecutor, Ernesto Vásquez, and by Jaime Silva, the attorney for the Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement (Movilh), except in the case of Fabián Mora; the lawyers had asked for an eight-year sentence.
Several thousand Haitians marched for four hours through much of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area on Nov. 7 to protest the government of President Joseph Michel Martelly ("Sweet Micky") and Prime Minister Laurent Salvador Lamothe. The march, which riot police dispersed on two occasions with tear gas, was sponsored by several groups, including the Patriotic Force for Respect for the Constitution (Fopak), a base organization close to the populist Lavalas Family (FL) party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004).
Alberto Patishtán Gómez, a schoolteacher from the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, was freed from imprisonment on Oct. 31 after receiving a pardon that day from President Enrique Peña Nieto. Patishtán had been serving a 60-year sentence since 2000 for his alleged involvement in the killing of seven police agents in Chiapas' El Bosque municipality in June of that year. He has consistently maintained his innocence. Human rights activists in Mexico and around the world demonstrated and petitioned for his release, charging that the teacher was being persecuted as an indigenous Tzotzil activist and a supporter of the leftist Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN).
The Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation, the world's largest gold producer, announced on Oct. 31 that it was temporarily halting work on its unfinished Pascua Lama gold and silver mine high in the Andes on the Chilean-Argentine border. The only operations at the mine will be those required for compliance with environmental protection laws, according to the company, which said resumption of work would depend on costs and the outlook for gold prices. The projected cost of the massive mine, which was originally set to open in the second half of 2014, has risen from $3 billion in 2009 to $8.5 billion now. Barrick is short of cash after a dramatic drop in international gold prices in the spring; gold is currently selling for 20% less than it was a year ago. Barrick is cutting 1,850 jobs and is said to be considering the possibility of selling an interest in Pascua Lama, on which it has spent $5.4 billion to date.
The United Nations (UN) General Assembly voted 188-2 on Oct. 29 to condemn the 53-year-old US economic embargo of Cuba. This was the 22nd year in a row that the General Assembly has passed a resolution rejecting the US policy. Israel and the US were the only countries to oppose the resolution, which was presented by Cuba; last year Palau backed the US, but this year it abstained, along with Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki defended the US position, saying: "We don't feel that this annual debate in the United Nations does anything to add to or advance a constructive discussion about these issues." Unlike Security Council resolutions, those passed by the General Assembly have no binding force.
The torture death of US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique ("Kiki") Camarena near Guadalajara in the western Mexican state of Jalisco in February 1985 was linked to drug running by the US-backed "contra" rebels seeking to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua, according to two former DEA agents and a former pilot for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Camarena was kidnapped by criminals working for Rafael Caro Quintero, a founder of the so-called Guadalajara Cartel, and was executed at one of Caro Quintero's ranches. According to the US, the cartel targeted Camarena because he had uncovered Caro Quintero's marijuana growing and processing operation. Under pressure from the US, the Mexican government eventually captured Caro Quintero and sentenced him to 60 years in prison for Camarena's murder.