Central America Theater
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.
Panama announced Feb. 10 the arrest of the top leader of the Oficina de Envigado, a Colombian crime syndicate said to be a surviving remnant of Pablo Escobar's notorious Medellín Cartel. The suspect, identified only by his alias, "Pichi," was apprehended at a luxury home in Panama City in a joint operation by Panamanian and Colombian police. He is accused of having ordered the murder of nine—including three rival kingpins—in December at Envigado, a town on the southern outskirts of Medellín. Colombian authorities have also named him in the assassination of two police agents in Medellín in July last year. Pichi is said to have taken over the crime syndicate after the arrest of its former leader "Sebastian" last year. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos congratulated the National Police via Twitter, calling the operation "a good hit." (Colombia Reports, BBC News, Feb. 10)
Edén Pastora, the Nicaraguan government official responsible for the dredging project on the Río San Juan—seen as a step towards a Nicaraguan inter-oceanic canal— confirmed to local media Feb. 6 that Managua has asked the International Court of Justice at The Hague for navigation rights on the Río Colorado, located entirely within Costa Rican territory. "This government of Daniel Ortega...applies the logic of 'what's good for the goose is good for the gander,'" he told Managua's Channel 15 TV. "if [Costa Rica] can navigate our waters, why can't we travel the waters of the Río Colorado, if 90% of its water is from the Río San Juan?" This is a reference to the fact that the Colorado is a branch of the San Juan, which is claimed in its entirety by Nicaragua—despite a pending case at The Hague over disputed islands.
Costa Rica's Constitutional Tribunal, a panel of the country's highest court, on Feb. 6 unanimously rejected a case brought by the country's Mining and Industry Association challenging the 2010 ban on open-pit mining. The Association argued that the ban on license renewal for existing open-pit mines is unconstitutional and applied in a discriminatory manner. The judges found that the prohibition on renewals violates no constitutional rights, and applies to all firms—not only foregn ones, as the Association argued. (OCMAL, Feb. 6)
The first opinion poll relating to this year's Nov. 10 general elections in Honduras, released on Jan. 29, showed Xiomara Castro, the presidential candidate of the newly formed center-left Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), slightly ahead with 25% of voter preferences. She was followed by National Congress president Juan Orlando Hernández, the candidate of the rightwing governing National Party (PN), with 23% and Mauricio Villeda of the center-right Liberal Party (PL) with 16%. The sampling, carried out by Cid Gallup firm Jan. 14-18 with responses from 1,256 likely voters, was published by the San Pedro Sula daily La Prensa.
Guatemalan civil organizations held a protest in Guatemala City on Jan. 29 as the opening of an international campaign to demand that the government of President Otto Pérez Molina provide land for 769 indigenous campesino families that were expelled from their fields in the Polochic Valley in the northeastern Guatemalan department of Alta Verapaz in March 2011. The campaign—led by Intermón Oxfam, a Spanish group affiliated with the relief organization Oxfam International—is being carried out in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Spain.
A Guatemalan judge on Jan. 28 ordered former dictator Efrain Rios Montt to stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity stemming from the killing of more than 1,700 villagers of Mayan ancestry. Judge Miguel Angel Galvez announced that Montt, along with one of his former generals Jose Rodríguez Sánchez, must answer for the alleged crimes committed during Montt's reign as de facto head of state in the early 1980s. Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco called the order "a remarkable development in a country where impunity for past atrocities has long been the norm," and welcomed this step toward greater accountability in Guatemala. Montt is the first ex-head of state to be charged with genocide by a Latin American court.
The $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal—the strategic waterway that now handles 14,000 vessels a year, or 5% of world trade—will be ready for commercial shipping later than originally planned, the Panama Canal Authority admitted Jan. 17. Widening and deepening of the 80-kilometer passage will be completed by June 2015, six months later than first intended, the Authority’s administrator Jorge Luis Quijano said (Bloomberg, Jan. 17) The expanded canal will be able to handle so-called "post-Panamax" scale ships, which are the length of aircraft carriers. The US Army Corps of Engineers estimates that US ports such as Miami are now spending up to $8 billion a year in federal, local and private money to modernize in response to the canal expansion, which experts call a "game changer." CSX is planning to build a new $90 million rail transfer facility at Baltimore that will allow cargo trains to be loaded a few miles from the port, while the Norfolk Southern line is blasting through Appalachian passes in West Virginia and Kentucky to allow expanded freight shipments. (Memphis Commercial Appeal, Jan. 14)