Central America Theater

Central America: 'narco-deforestation'?

Central America's rainforests are being destroyed by drug traffickers who cut roads and airstirps on officially protected lands, according to a paper in the journal Science. The phenomenon, called "narco-deforestation," is occurring across large swaths of Guatemala and Honduras, and perhaps elsewhere. Erik Nielsen, an assistant professor in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University, said: "Not only are societies being ripped apart, but forests are being ripped apart." He added that cattle ranches are being established on cleared land as fronts to launder drug money.

Honduras: Radio Progreso executive murdered

Honduran journalist Carlos Hilario Mejía Orellana was stabbed to death the night of April 11 at his home in the city of Progreso, in the northern department of Yoro. Mejía was the marketing executive for Radio Progreso, a community radio station established by Jesuits, and was also a member of the Jesuits' Reflection, Investigation and Communications Team (ERIC). Police investigators suggested that he was killed by someone close to him in a "crime of passion," but the radio station's director, the Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno, called the murder "a direct attack not only on the life of our colleague, but a frontal attack on the work produced by Radio Progreso." The station, which provided favorable coverage of resistance to the June 2009 military coup that overthrew then-president José Manuel ("Mel") Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), has been the target of threats over the years. The Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), called on the Honduran government in 2009—and again in 2010 and 2011—to provide protection for 16 Radio Progreso staffers, including Mejía.

El Salvador: US judge rules against SOA grad

A US immigration judge has ruled that former Salvadoran defense minister José Guillermo García Merino (1979-1983) is eligible for deportation from the US because of "clear and convincing evidence" that he "assisted or otherwise participated" in 11 acts of violence during the 1980s, including the March 1980 murder of San Salvador archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero. Gen. García also helped conceal the involvement of soldiers who raped and killed four US churchwomen in December 1980 and “knew or should have known” about the military’s December 1981 massacre of more than 800 civilians in the village of El Mozote, according to the 66-page decision by Immigration Judge Michael Horn in Miami. The judge ruled against García on Feb. 26, but the decision was only made public on April 11 as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the New York Times. García’s lawyer said the general would appeal.

Honduras: three convicted in reporter's murder

On March 25 a Tegucigalpa court convicted three men in the May 2012 murder of Honduran journalist Angel Alfredo Villatoro Rivera. Marvin Alonso Gómez and the brothers Osman Fernando and Edgar Francisco Osorio Argujo are scheduled to be sentenced on April 25; prison terms could range from 40 years to life. At least 40 Honduran journalists have been murdered in the past decade, with few convictions. Cases include the July 2013 kidnapping and murder of television journalist Aníbal Barrow and the October 2013 shooting death of Globo TV camera operator Manuel Murillo Varela. The French-based organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks Honduras 129th out of 180 countries in its 2014 press freedom index. (Thomas Reuters Foundation, March 28; IFEX, March 31)

Panama: Ngöbe-Buglé step up fight against dam

Silvia Carrera, the traditional leader (cacica) of Panama's indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé, announced on March 30 that she would present an appeal the next day to the Supreme Court of Justice concerning land expropriated for the controversial Barro Blanco dam. She said this would be part of a legal action against Law 18. Passed on March 26, 2013, the law allows the Public Services Authority (ASEP) to expropriate, evict and indemnify the population living beside the Tabasará river in the western province of Chiriquí, where the dam is being built. According to Ngöbe-Buglé activists, some 3,000 people will be relocated because of the project, which is now said to be 64% complete.

Guatemala's ex-prez took bribes from Taiwan

Former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo pleaded guilty before the US District Court for the Southern District of New York March 18 to taking $2.5 million in bribes from Taiwan in exchange for continued diplomatic recognition of the nation. Portillo read a statement before the court admitting to taking the bribes as part of a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. As part of the plea deal Portillo will face 46 to 71 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines with sentencing scheduled for June 23. Portillo was extradited to the US after the Guatemala Constitutional Court last May ruled in favor of his extradition. The $2.5 million Portillo received from Taiwan is only a small fraction of the tens of millions of dollars US prosecutors have alleged Portillo embezzled from the Guatemalan government and laundered through US banks.

Honduras: solidarity action hits US port

Dockworkers at the Port of Portland in Oregon walked off their jobs at the container yard on March 4 to honor a picket line set up by a small group of Honduran dockworkers protesting what they said were labor abuses at the Puerto Cortés port in northern Honduras. The picketers were members of the Dockworkers Labor Union (SGTM), which has been in a dispute since last year with Operadora Portuaria Centroamericana (OPC), the Honduran subsidiary of the Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI). A US subsidiary of ICTSI operates Terminal 6 in the Oregon port, and the dockworkers there, who are represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), have had their own disputes with the company.

Nicaragua: electoral violence on Caribbean coast?

Five people were killed under contested circumstances March 2 during elections in Nicaragua's two Caribbean autonomous regions. The incident occurred shortly before polling stations opened in Tortuguero, in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS). The Constitutionalist Liberal Party said the victims—all PLC adherents—were abducted from their homes and killed by unidentified assailants. Some were shot, others hacked with machetes, and at least one tortured before being killed, according to the PLC. Roberto Rivas, president of Nicaragua's Supreme Electoral Council, pointed to leaders of the Yatama (Mother Earth) indigenous party and local radio stations, accusing them of "calls for violence and disorder." When the National Police weighed in on the attacks, they said the victims were all members of a single family who were targeted by a criminal gang known as "Walpapina"—with no political motive mentioned. Nicaragua's ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) appears to have won a majority of seats on the regional councils of the RAAS and RAAN, followed by Yatama and the PLC. (AFP, TeleSur, March 3; La Prensa, Notimex, March 2)

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