Weekly News Update on the Americas
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.
Unidentified assailants shot Honduran campesino José Trejo Cabrera on the evening of Feb. 16 as he was riding on his motorbike to his home in the San Isidro section of Tocoa in the northern department of Colón. Trejo was taken to a local hospital, where he died a few minutes later. The victim's brother, Antonio Trejo Cabrera, an attorney who defended campesino activists and fiercely opposed plans for autonomous "model cities" in Honduras, was gunned down the evening of Sept. 22, 2012, in Tegucigalpa near the Toncontín International Airport. Both brothers were members of the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA), one of several collectives seeking the return of land in the Lower Aguán Valley that they say big landowners bought illegally.
IndustriALL Global Union, a European industrial union federation founded in Copenhagen on June 19, 2012, is calling for "mobilizations, awareness-raising activities, and letter writing" Feb. 18-24 to protest labor violations in Mexico, with a special focus on the Finnish-based auto parts multinational PKC Group. In December the company's Mexican subsidiary, Arneses y Accesorios de México, SA de CV, laid off 122 workers from its three plants in Ciudad Acuña, in Coahuila state near the border with Texas; all the members of a militant union's local executive committee were among those dismissed, and the rest were thought to be supporters of the local. PKC has since signed a contract with what the laid-off workers describe as a company union.
The Haitian labor organizing group Batay Ouvriye reports that in early February Leo Vedél, a worker at the Premium Apparel assembly plant in Port-au-Prince, was assaulted and then fired when he demanded that he be paid the legal minimum wage for piece work in the assembly sector, 300 gourdes (about US$7.12) for an eight-hour day. When management rejected the demand, the majority of the plant's workers organized a protest. A manager named Gédéon beat Vedél, who had to be treated in a hospital. Premium, owned by Clifford Apaid of the Apaid family, produces T-shirts for Montreal-based Gildan Activewear Inc. The Rapid Response Network, established by Florida-based One Struggle, is asking for calls to Jason M. Greene, Gildan's supply director in South Carolina (843-606-3750), to demand Vedél's reinstatement with compensation for time and injuries, the firing of Gédéon, and respect for workers' rights. (Rapid Response Network, Feb. 17)
A contingent of some 30 soldiers and police agents arrested Juan Ramón Chinchilla, president of the largest campesino organization in northern Honduras' Lower Aguán Valley, the evening of Feb. 8 in the central park in Tocoa, Colón department. Police then drove Chinchilla, who heads the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), 60 kilometers to a court in the city of Trujillo, where he was charged with "usurpation of land." After a two-hour hearing, the judges released Chinchilla conditionally at about 2 am; he is required to stay in the country and to report to the court every Monday.