Central America Theater
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)
Indigenous Honduran campesino Justiniano Vásquez was found dead on Feb. 21 in San Francisco de Opalaca municipality in the western department of Intibucá, where the victim's brother Entimo Vásquez is challenging the results of a Nov. 24 mayoral election. Justiniano Vásquez's body had deep wounds, and there were signs that his hands had been bound. Community members charged that the killing was carried out by Juan Rodríguez, a supporter of former mayor Socorro Sánchez, who the electoral authorities said defeated Entimo Vásquez in the November vote. Rodríguez had reportedly threatened Entimo Vásaquez in the past. San Francisco de Opalaca residents captured Rodríguez and turned him over to the police. The Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), which reported Vásquez's death, demanded punishment for the perpetrators and called on the authorities "to carry out their work objectively [and] effectively."
El Salvador's Feb. 2 presidential election was overshadowed by a dramatic spike in the country's homicide rate—less than a year after a truce between warring criminal gangs had led many Salvadorans to hope that their country was back from the brink. Most alarming was the December discovery of 44 bodies in 14 mass graves in a wooded area of Villa Lourdes barrio in Colón, a suburb of the capital San Salvador and a notorious gang stronghold. Many of the bullet-ridden bodies were mutilated and half-naked. Authorities accuse the Barrio 18 gang of depositing their victims in the clandestine graves. A March 2012 truce between Barrio 18 and its deadly rivals, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), was credited with slashing El Salvador’s homicides from more than 4,000 in 2011 to just 2,500 over the past two years. For at least 15 months after the truce, the number of killings per day averaged 5.5, up from 14 before. But January 2014 saw a daily average of 7.7. This made easy propaganda for the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) to bait the ruling left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) as soft on crime.
In a retrial held on Feb. 7, a court in La Ceiba, in the northern Honduran department of Colón, convicted campesino José Isabel Morales ("Chavelo" or "Chabelo") on one count of homicide; the judges are expected to sentence him to 20 years in prison. Morales, a resident of Guadalupe Carney community in Trujillo municipality, Colón, belongs to the Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MCA), one of several grassroots organizations in the Lower Aguán River Valley demanding land that campesinos say wealthy landowners acquired illegally. He was first arrested on Oct. 17, 2008, in connection with an incident in which 10 people were killed, including Carlos Manrique Osorto Castillo, a member of a landowning family and the nephew of a local police agent, Henry Osorto. Prosecutors charged Morales on 14 counts, 10 of them for homicide. Morales was acquitted of 13 counts in the first trial, but the court convicted him of Manrique Osorto's death.
The Costa Rican government announced Feb. 4 that it is preparing to file a new complaint against Nicaragua with the International Court of Justice at The Hague, accusing Managua of offering Costa Rican maritime territory to international oil companies. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has dismissed the charges, stating the area in question clearly falls within the country’s maritime borders, as outlined by an ICJ ruling of November 2012. The announcement marks the third ICJ case between the two nations. Costa Rica filed the first complaint in November 2010, accusing Nicaragua of seizing Isla Portillo (also known as Isla Calero and Harbour Head Island) in the Río San Juan, which forms the common border. In December 2012, Nicaragua filed a grievance charging that Costa Rica's construction of a highway along the San Juan was causing environmental damage. The first claim was upheld by the ICJ in n November 2013, with the court ordering Managua to remove all personnel and equipment from the disputed island. In December 2013, the Court rejected the second claim, finding that “Nicaragua has not...established the existence of a real and imminent risk of irreparable prejudice to the rights invoked" in the highway project.
On Jan. 28 Nicaragua's unicameral National Assembly voted 64-25 with no abstentions to approve a reform package changing 46 of the 202 articles in the country's 1987 Constitution; only three of the Assembly's 92 legislative deputies were absent. The 63 deputies from the governing center-left Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) all voted for the changes. They were joined by Wilfredo Navarro of the right-wing Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC); the other opposition deputies all voted against the reform, and many walked out afterwards in protest. The amendments were initially approved on Dec. 10 but required a second vote to become official.
In mid-January Canadian-US mining company Tahoe Resources Inc. announced that its El Escobal silver mine, located in San Rafael las Flores municipality in the southeastern Guatemalan department of Santa Rosa, is now in commercial production. "Our Guatemalan team has done a terrific job in delivering this world-scale silver mine within four years of the company's initial public offering," a Tahoe vice president, Ira Gostin, told Mining Weekly Online. Tahoe Resources is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Reno, Nevada; Goldcorp Inc., also based in Vancouver, owns 40% of the mine. Tahoe, whose stock has risen 12% in the past year, is considering several other exploration prospects in Guatemala and Latin America, according to Gostin. (Mining Weekly Online, Jan. 20)
Over the course of 12 years management at the Alianza Fashion apparel factory in the central Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango cheated employees out of some $6 million dollars in back wages and benefits, according to a report released Jan. 23 by Pittsburgh-based Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights (IGLHR, formerly the National Labor Committee). The maquiladora—a tax-exempt assembly plant producing for export—stitched items like suits and jackets for at least 60 US retailers, including Macy's, JCPenney, Kohl's and Wal-Mart. The owner, South Korean national Boon Chong Park, shut the factory down in March 2013.