Central America Theater
The International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled Nov. 19 that a cluster of disputed islets off Central America's Caribbean coast belong to Colombia and not to Nicaragua—but drew a demarcation line in favor of Nicaragua in the disputed waters. The move immedaitely sparked protests in cities across Colombia, including Medellín, Cali and Cartagena. Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos flew to the island of San Andrés, the seat of the disputed archipelago, to support protests there. Slogans included "The fatherland is not for sale," "Why should we quit our sea?," and "ICJ, how much did the multinations give you for this ruling?"
Three Honduran campesinos—Orlando Campos, Reynaldo Rivera Paz and José Omar Paz—were killed in a drive-by shooting the weekend of Nov. 3 while they were waiting for transportation in the city of Tocoa in the northern department of Colón. The killings took place in the Lower Aguán Valley, which has been the scene of violent struggles between campesinos and large landowners since late 2009, when members of several campesino cooperatives occupied a number of estates they said were on land reserved for small farmers under an agrarian reform program from the 1980s. As many as 80 people have died in the land disputes, most of them campesinos.
An Oct. 8 report on Yale University's Environment 360 website, "In the Land of the Maya, A Battle for a Vital Forest" by William Allen, states that "In Guatemala's vast Maya Biosphere Reserve, conservation groups are battling to preserve a unique rainforest now under threat from Mexican drug cartels, Salvadoran drug gangs, and Chinese-backed groups illegally logging prime tropical hardwoods." The Maya Biosphere Reserve covers approximately the northern third of what Allen calls the "Selva Maya," Central America's largest remaining expanse of rainforest, which stretches across the northern half of Guatemala and also extends into the Mexican state of Chiapas to the west and the country of Belize to the east. More taditionally, the forest is called El Petén within Guatemala and the Selva Lacandona on the Mexican side of the border. Allen cites Guatemala's National Council for Protected Areas (CONAP) to the effect that international criminal networks are now the biggest threat to the Selva Maya. Cattle ranching and logging have long been eating into rainforest—but now in a convergence with organized crime:
After an all-night session, Panama's National Assembly agreed Oct. 27 to repeal Law 72, which approved the sale of land in the Colón Free Trade Zone (ZLC)—responding to nine days of strikes, protests and riots that began in the Caribbean port of Colón and spread to the capital, Panama City. Thousands of vehicles clogged the capital's main arteries, immobilized by protest roadblocks. The Unitary Syndicate of Construction Workers (SUNTRACS) and allied citizens' group, the Frente Amplio Colonense, rejected government offers to increase the amount of money from the land sales to be directed into social programs, insisting the sale be cancelled altogether. "We are not participating in any type of conversation until the entire law is revoked," said Felipe Cabezas of the Frente Amplio. Three were killed in the nine days of protests, including a 10-year-old boy, as police repeatedly used tear gas against demonstrartors who fought back with bricks and sticks.
By a 13-2 vote on Oct. 17, the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) ruled that Decree 283-2010, the constitutional change enabling the creation of privatized autonomous regions known as "model cities," is unconstitutional. The decision confirmed an Oct. 3 ruling by a five-member panel of the CSJ; the full court had to vote because the panel's ruling was not unanimous. The "model cities" concept was promoted by North American neoliberal economists as a way to spur economic development in Honduras. The autonomous zones, officially called Special Development Regions (RED), would "create hundreds of thousands of jobs in Honduras," according to Grupo MGK, the US startup that was to manage the first project. (Honduras Culture and Politics, Oct. 17)
Guatemalan authorities on Oct. 11 arrested a colonel and eight soldiers over the extrajudicial killings of eight indigenous protestors in the department of Totonicapan last week. Prosecutor General Claudia Paz y Paz told reporters that her office considers Col. Juan Chiroy to be "primarily responsible" for the fatalities, as he was in command of the troops at the Oct. 4 demonstration. Those detained, including two women, are being held in barracks in the country's capital on the order of President Otto Pérez. According to the preliminary findings, Col. Chiroy did not coordinate the actions of the military support unit on the scene with the Guatemalan National Police at the protest. Paz y Paz noted that this case constitutes the first time military figures have been arrested for deadly repression since the 1996 Peace Accords. (AFP, Guatemala Times, Siglo21, Guatemala, Oct. 11)
Guatemalan authorities on Sept. 26 arrested the presumed leader of a Zetas cell in the region along the border with Mexico, where the group's incursion has recently forced the displacement of local residents. Daniel Juan Nicolás, AKA "El Mono" was apprehended in the municipality of Santa Cruz Barillas in the department of Huehuetenango, near the border with Mexico, reported La Prensa Libre. Prior to his arrest, Juan Nicolás allegedly directed the Zetas' operations in the town of Sinlaj for ten months. The town reportedly served as a place to store shipments of drugs and arms, and was home to a Zetas training camp.
A five-member panel of Honduras' Supreme Court of Justice ruled in a 4-1 decision Oct. 3 that legislation creating Special Development Regions (RED), autonomous regions also known as "Model Cities," is unconstitutional. The only opposing vote came from Justice Oscar Fernando Chinchilla, who failed to recuse himself despite an apparent conflict of interest: he is a close friend of National Congress president Juan Orlando Hernández, a promoter of the project, and has visited Korean economic development zones in Southeast Asia with Hernández. Because the decision was not unanimous, the full court of 15 justices must make the final determination. Chief Justice Jorge Rivera Avilés has set Oct. 17 as the date for the session.