Central America Theater
Telma Yolanda Oqueli, a community leader in San José del Golfo municipality outside Guatemala City, was shot in the chest and gravely wounded by a gunman on a motorbike June 13. She was returning home from a protest vigil when she was intercepted by the two men on the motorbike. Residents of San José del Golfo and neighboring San Pedro Ayampuc have since March 2 been daily blocking the entrance to the Tambor/Progreso 7 Derivada run by Exploraciones Mineras de Guatemala, SA (EXMINGUA), local subsidiary of Canadian junior Radius Gold Inc. The North Metropolitan People's Resistance Front (FRENAM) is asserting the communities' right to a consultation, or local plebiscite, on the mining project. The project began exploratory operations earlier this year without any consent from the local population; nor has the government of Guatemala, carried out any consultation. Oqueli, a leader of the blockades, had received FRENAM has issued an urgent call for the Guatemalan state to guarantee of the communities. (Noticias Comunicarte, CoDev, June 13; MiMundo, June 4 via UDW)
After a 30-year struggle, on June 4 two indigenous Wounaan collectives in the eastern Panamanian province of Darién received titles from the government to their traditional lands. Puerto Lara and Caña Blanca were the first communities to benefit from Law 72, which was passed in 2008 to recognize indigenous communities that were left out of the process in which Panama created five comarcas, large, semi-autonomous regions for many of the country's indigenous peoples. Thousands of Wounaan and Emberá are awaiting titles in another 39 communities. Indigenous people in these communities say the lack of titles has left their territories open to invasions by ranchers and loggers. (Rainforest Foundation, June 1; RF, June 5)
The government of Honduran president Porfirio ("Pepe") Lobo Sosa signed an agreement on June 5 under which some 4,000 hectares of farmland in the north of the country will be granted to members of the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), a large campesino collective that has been staging land occupations in the area since December 2009. The government is to buy the land from cooking oil magnate Miguel Facussé Barjum for some $20 million and resell it to MUCA members, who are to pay the government back with a loan from the Banco Hondureño de Producción y Vivienda (Banhprovi), a private bank. They will need to repay the loan in 15 years with a 6% annual interest rate after a three-year grace period.
A startling article in the New York Times May 8 noted that Honduras in late 2010 passed a constitutional amendment drawn up by the administration of President Porfirio Lobo that allows the creation of a separately ruled "Special Development Region" within the country—where the national state would have limited, if any, authority. The article, entitled "Who Wants to Buy Honduras?," portrays a vision for privately run islands of order and security amid the squalor and violence of the impecunious Central American country. This was apparently the brainchild of a young Lobo aide, Octavio Rubén Sánchez Barrientos, who was taken with the ideas of US economist Paul Romer, theorist of "economic zones founded on the land of poor countries but governed with the legal and political system of, often, rich ones."
With anger still growing in Honduras over the May 11 raid on the village of Ahuas that left four dead, the White House shows no sign of reconsidering the Central American Regional Security Initiative, under which the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Pentagon's Southern Command are coordinated with regional security forces. Officials boast the new cooperation is working, stating that last year the US monitored more than 100 small planes from South America landing at isolated airstrips in Honduras, with no interference. In contrast, two such flights were intercepted in May—including the one involved in the deadly raid at Ahuas. "In the first four months of this year, I'd say we actually have gotten it together across the military, law enforcement and developmental communities," William R. Brownfield, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, told the New York Times. "My guess is narcotics traffickers are hitting the pause button. For the first time in a decade, air shipments are being intercepted immediately upon landing."
On June 1, a tribunal of the World Bank's International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) granted jurisdiction to Canada's Pacific Rim Mining Corp, allowing the final phase of the company's arbitration case against El Salvador to go forward. The tribunal dismissed objections filed by the Government of El Salvador, ruling that the case can proceed under El Salvador's own Foreign Investment Law. Since 2009, the Vancouver-based company has been seeking $100 million from El Salvador for having turned down the company a permit to mine gold in the northern region of Cabañas.
During the last week of May the government of Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina began a process that human rights defenders charge will virtually close down the Peace Archives, the agency in charge of preserving and investigating military and police records from the country's bloody 1960-1996 civil war. Newly appointed Peace Secretary Antonio Arenales Forno announced that the agency was unnecessary. Its function, he said, is "to computerize and analyze military archives to establish human rights violations, but this is the responsibility of the human rights community, and the investigation of crimes is the responsibility of the Prosecutor's Office."
The body of Honduran journalist Angel Alfredo Villatoro Rivera, a reporter and news coordinator for the HRN radio chain, was found in Tegucigalpa on the evening of May 15, six days after he was kidnapped while driving to work. He had been shot twice in the head, according to Security Ministry spokesperson Héctor Iván Mejía; local media reported that the body was dressed in a police uniform. (EFE, May 15 via Univision)