Weekly News Update on the Americas
A fire swept through a camp for survivors of Haiti's January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince's eastern Juvénat neighborhood the night of Feb. 16, destroying tents and leaving some 4,000 people without shelter. The inhabitants of the camp, known as Acra 2, were among as many as 350,000 people in southern Haiti who still haven't obtained permanent shelter in the three years since their homes were destroyed or damaged by the quake.
Some 2,500 Puerto Ricans marched on San Juan's Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport on Feb. 24 to protest plans to privatize the facility. "Our airport isn't for sale and isn't for rent" and "Alejandro [García Padilla, the governor], your mom's ashamed of you" were among the marchers' signs. Agents of the US Homeland Security Department arrested one protester, Víctor Domínguez, a member of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico (PNPR), when he attempted to go past barricades that police agents had set up 50 meters from the airport entrance. Protest organizers blamed the police for the confrontation during an otherwise peaceful event, saying the agents violated an agreement to let the marchers go all the way to the entrance. Protest sponsors included the Union of Workers of the Electrical Industry and Circulation (UTIER) Solidarity Program (Prosol), the Brotherhood of Office Employees (HEO) and the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP). (Metro, Guaynabo, Feb. 24)
Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) had plans to foment violence and declare a state of emergency if he lost an Oct. 5, 1988 plebiscite on his regime, according to declassified US documents that the DC-based research group National Security Archive posted on its website on Feb. 22. The plebiscite, mandated by Pinochet's own 1980 Constitution, gave Chileans a choice between voting "yes" to have the general remain president for eight more years or "no" to end the dictatorship and hold an election in 1989. The "no" option won by 54.7% to 43% for "yes"; some 98% of eligible voters participated.
Rights Action, a human rights organization based in Toronto and Washington, DC, released a report on Feb. 20 documenting killings and other abuses carried out since late 2009 during land disputes between campesinos and major landowners in the Lower Aguán Valley in northern Honduras. The 64-page report, "Human Rights Violations by US-backed Honduran Special Forces Unit," finds that soldiers from the Honduran military's 15th Battalion are directly implicated in at least 34 abuses, including "kidnappings, killings, threats, torture and abuse of authority," according to the report's author, Annie Bird.
Mexican human rights activist Karla Castañeda Alvarado applied for political asylum in the US on Feb. 13 after secretly leaving her home in Ciudad Juárez in the northern state of Chihuahua with four of her children. US authorities have granted her six months to provide documentation to justify her application. The Committee of Mothers and Relatives of Disappeared Young Women, in which Castañeda was active, said it was better for her to seek asylum, noting the example of activist Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, who was shot dead by an unidentified man on Dec. 16, 2010, as she was protesting in front of the main government office in the state capital, also named Chihuahua.
Dozens of Dominican activists demonstrated outside the Supreme Court building in Santo Domingo on Feb. 18 to protest a contract the government signed with the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation for the Pueblo Viejo gold mine in Cotuí in the central province of Sánchez Ramírez. The group called for the court to declare the agreement unconstitutional. Critics say the Dominican Republic will only receive a fraction of the proceeds from the mine while the country will be left with the job of repairing the environmental damage. Opposition deputy Juan Hubieres, who was leading the protest, charged that the government of former president Leonel Fernández (1996-2000, 2004-2012) received US$37.5 million in 2007 to repair the damage caused by the previous management of the mine, the state enterprise Rosario Dominicana, and eventually collected a total of US$75 million. Fernández "will have to explain to the country in what way this has been employed," Hubieres said.
On Feb. 21 former Haitian "president for life" Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier (1971-1986) once again defied an order to appear before an appeals court in Port-au-Prince that is considering whether he can be criminally charged for human rights violations committed during his regime. Duvalier had refused to appear in the court twice before, on Jan. 31 and Feb. 7. Duvalier's defense attorney, Reynold Georges, said the former dictator's presence was unnecessary because he had filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. Georges himself defied the court by arriving 90 minutes late. "I don't lose," Georges announced. "I'm Haiti's Johnnie Cochran." The three-judge appeals panel responded by ordering the public prosecutor to have Duvalier escorted to the court by Feb. 28.
Chilean authorities suspended a hearing for indigenous Mapuche prisoner Fernando Millacheo Marín on Feb. 12 after some 20 of Millacheo's supporters, including women and children, were detained outside the courthouse in Collipulli in the southern Araucanía region's Malleco province. Police agents attacked the crowd of about 50 protesters with a water cannon, according to Mapuche sources, and beat several women and handcuffed an 11-year-old. The detainees were charged with public disorder, and Millacheo's hearing was postponed to Feb. 15. The authorities said the protesters caused the clash by hurling rocks at police agents, but Mapuche activists countered that the detentions were part of a wave of repression that included the arrest of Jaime Huenchullan, werken (spokesperson) for the Temucuicui autonomous community, along with an unnamed French national, while they were on their way to the hearing.