Weekly News Update on the Americas
Two or more men on a motorcycle shot and killed Haitian journalist and political activist Georges Honorat on the evening of March 23 in front of his home in Delmas in the north of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. National Police of Haiti (PNH) spokesperson Inspector Gary Desrosiers said on March 24 that there were still no suspects. The police had also not determined a motive for the murder. The victim had been "receiving threats, anonymous phone calls," according to Yves Joseph, an administrator at Honorat's newspaper, Haïti Progrès, a weekly published in Port-au-Prince and Brooklyn.
About 253,000 firearms are bought in the US and transported illegally into Mexico each year, according to estimates published on March 18 by researchers at the University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute and the Rio de Janeiro-based Igarapé Institute. The researchers' report, "The Way of the Gun: Estimating Firearms Traffic Across the US-Mexico Border," estimates that these sales generate $127.2 million a year in revenue and account for about 2.2% of the annual firearms sales in the US. During 2010-2012 an estimated 46.7% of federally licensed firearm dealers "depended for their economic existence on some amount of demand from the US-Mexico firearms trade to stay in business," the report says.
In the early morning of March 21 some 150 indigenous people and other local residents occupied one of the four construction sites at the giant Belo Monte dam now being built on the Xingu River in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The action, which brought construction at the Pimental site to a halt, was carried out by members of the Juruna, Xypaia, Kuruaia and Canela indigenous groups and by non-indigenous riverside dwellers, who mostly support themselves by fishing. The protesters were demanding clarification of the boundaries of their territories and also compensation they said had been promised them by Norte Energía, the consortium of private and state-owned companies in charge of the hydroelectric project.
After a meeting on March 21 in Temuco, the capital of the southern Chilean region of Araucanía, indigenous leaders called for the rapid implementation of self-government for the Mapuche, the country's largest indigenous group. The leaders also repeated their rejection of plans announced by the government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera for an indigenous council, a consultation process and a special law for Araucanía. Piñera, Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick and other officials made the proposals in January after an outbreak of violence in the region exacerbated a longstanding struggle between the Mapuche and settlers and forestry companies over lands that the Mapuche claim. Indigenous leaders responded to Piñera's proposal by holding a summit at the Cerro Ñielol park in Temuco on Jan. 16 and forming a new alliance, the Mapuche Pact for Self-Determination.
With some 500 people packed into the courtroom, the trial of former Guatemalan military dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) for genocide and other crimes against humanity began in Guatemala City on March 19. The charges include the deaths of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Mayan civilians in the central department of Quiché as part of the "scorched-earth" policy implemented during Ríos Montt's dictatorship, which was marked by some of the worst atrocities in a 36-year counterinsurgent war that left an estimated 200,000 people dead, mostly indigenous civilians. Ríos Montt's former intelligence chief, Gen. José Rodríguez, is on trial with him. The proceedings are expected to involve some 130 witnesses and 100 experts and to last several months. Ríos Montt, 86, could face a sentence of up to 50 years.
A group of 40 Argentine environmentalists invaded the Embalse Nuclear Center in the central province of Córdoba on March 11 to mark the second anniversary of the earthquake that caused meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan's Fukushima prefecture, the second-worst nuclear accident in history. The protesters, members of Greenpeace Argentina, "entered [the complex] peacefully, waving flags and wearing orange overalls," according to Greenpeace Energy Campaign coordinator Mauro Fernández. They proceeded to climb to the top of the reactor, where they unfurled a giant banner reading: "Enough with nuclear danger!" The activists were then "beaten and arrested," Greenpeace said, and taken to Río Cuarto federal court, with jurisdiction over the facility.
Some 80 indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé activists blocked access to the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam construction site in Panama's western province of Chiriquí for about three hours on March 8. Riot police dispersed the protesters with tear gas, and the next day police agents arrested four Ngöbe-Buglé. Ricardo Miranda, a spokesperson for the April 10 Movement, which opposes construction of the dam, told a March 11 press conference that the police threatened the detainees and beat them with nightsticks. Miranda, who offered photographs of injured detainees as evidence of the beatings, also charged that the police violated the autonomy of the Ngöbe-Buglé territory by making the arrests. Chiriquí police commissioner Luis Navarro denied that the detainees were mistreated.
Joined by activists from other social movements, hundreds of students from Guatemalan teachers' colleges marched nearly 50 kilometers to Guatemala City from El Tejar in the central department of Chimaltenango starting on March 10 to protest what they called the "arbitrary and anti-democratic form" of an educational "reform" passed last year. Students from local private schools began joining the marchers as they arrived in the capital around 6 AM on March 12. The protesters headed to the National Congress and surrounded it, demanding a dialogue with Education Minister Cynthia del Aguila. The minister initially refused to meet with the students, but at the end of the day Del Aguila held a press conference with Dialogue Commissioner Miguel Barcárcel and student representatives to announce plans for a discussion—although Del Aguila said this didn't necessarily mean the government was backing down from the reform.