Weekly News Update on the Americas
On March 13 a federal magistrate judge in Columbus, Georgia, sentenced Robert Norman "Nashua" Chantal to a six-month prison term for trespassing on the US Army's Fort Benning base during a protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), on Nov. 18. SOA Watch, an organization that has sponsored protests at the base each November since 1990, opposes the US Army's training of Latin American soldiers, charging that SOA graduates have been among the region's most notorious human rights violators.
Hundreds of campesino, indigenous and African-descended Hondurans demonstrated in Tegucigalpa on March 6 after marching 200 kilometers from the northern town of La Barca to protest new laws on mining and the Special Development Regimes (RED), better known as "model cities." Entitled "For Dignity and Sovereignty, Step by Step," and sponsored by 47 organizations—including the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), a group that fights against corruption and for the defense of natural resources—the march started on Feb. 25, with more people joining as it passed through their communities. Protesters said they would remain in the capital in front of the National Congress until March 8.
As of March 2 the Spanish-Italian electric energy consortium Endesa-Enel was calling for dialogue with indigenous Mapuche communities in Valdivia province in Chile's southern Los Ríos region in an effort to get clearance for the consortium's stalled $781 million hydroelectric project at Lake Neltume. The dialogue offer came in response to reservations that Los Ríos public service agencies expressed about the power company's latest proposal for the plant. Jorge Weke (also spelled "Hueque")—the werkén (spokesperson) for the Koz Koz Parliament in Panguipulli, a municipality that would be affected by the dam—rejected the dialogue offer, saying the company didn't understand the project's significance for the Mapuche.
Thousands of teachers from the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), the largest dissident group in Mexico's 1.5 million-member National Education Workers Union (SNTE), marched in Mexico City on March 5 to protest a series of "educational reforms" that President Enrique Peña Nieto signed into law on Feb. 25. The teachers were also demanding the resignation of the new SNTE president, Juan Diaz de la Torre, who they say was appointed in a backroom deal after the Feb. 26 arrest of former president Elba Esther Gordillo Morales on charges of embezzling $157 million from union funds. According to the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) police, some 7,000 protesters joined the march from the central Zócalo plaza to the Los Pinos presidential palace, where a 10-member delegation presented officials with a petition.
Reversing a September 2011 decision by a lower court, on March 8 Argentina's federal Criminal Appeals Court found former Argentine president Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999) guilty of "aggravated smuggling" in the government's clandestine sales of 6,500 tons of arms to Ecuador and Croatia from 1991 to 1995. The court also convicted former defense minister Oscar Camilión, former colonel Diego Palleros and nine others in the scheme to smuggle arms to the two countries during a time when international agreements banned the sales. Menem claims he didn't know the ultimate destination of the arms when he signed the three secret decrees authorizing the shipments.
Mexican federal agents arrested Elba Esther Gordillo Morales, president of the 1.5 million-member National Education Workers Union (SNTE), on Feb. 26 in the airport at Toluca, the capital of México state, on corruption charges. According to Attorney General Jesús Murillo Kara, Gordillo used millions of dollars from union funds to buy properties in California, to shop at the Neiman Marcus department store and to pay for plastic surgery. The arrest came one day after President Enrique Peña Nieto signed into law a series of "educational reforms" that include regular teacher assessments and measures that would limit the union's power. Gordillo opposed the new law and didn't attend the signing ceremony.
Judges in Córdoba City, the capital of the central Argentine province of Córdoba, issued an order on Feb. 25 suspending construction of a corn seed-drying plant by the Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company. Provincial Labor Court judges Silvia Díaz and Luis Farías cited potential "environmental risks" as a basis for the suspension, which was in response to an appeal by the Argentine Law Foundation Club. The company plans to build the 27-hectare facility at a cost of $300 million in Malvinas Argentinas, a working-class suburb located 14 km from the provincial capital. Malvinas Argentinas residents are demanding a referendum on the planned construction and have held protest marches, including one on Feb. 21. (La Mañana de Córdoba, Feb. 21; Télam, Argentina, Feb. 25, via Terra.ar; MercoPress, Montevideo, Feb. 27)
After refusing to appear in court three times in a little more than a month, on Feb. 28 former Haitian "president for life" Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier (1971-1986) finally complied with an order to attend an appeals court hearing in Port-au-Prince on possible charges for human rights violations committed during his regime. A number of people filed criminal complaints against Duvalier when he returned to Haiti in 2011, but an investigative judge refused to indict him in January 2012, citing Haiti's 10-year statute of limitations in murder cases. The plaintiffs appealed, and in January of this year a three-member appeals panel agreed to hold a hearing.