Central America Theater
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)
Petitioned by local leaders, Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina lifted the state of siege May 18 on the remote Maya village of Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango, imposed there after disturbances that left one person dead on May 1. Residents are still demanding the release of 17 arrested in connection with the unrest. Authorities say a gang of some 200, armed with machetes and guns, overran a local army outpost—and charged that they were led by members of the notorious Mexican narco-paramilitary network, Los Zetas. Local residents, represented by the Maya Waqib Kej National Coordination and Convergence, say the group was protesting the killing of a local community leader that day, Andrés Francisco Miguel, a leading opponent of a hydroelectric dam planned for the area. Villagers believe he was killed by security guards working for Hidro Santa Cruz, the Spanish-backed company building the local hydro-dam, and that the killers were being protected in the army outpost. Perez Molina visited Santa Cruz Barillas in the aftermath of the confrontation, and said human rights would be respected but that he would not tolerate residents taking the law into their own hands. Hundreds of army and National Police troops have been mobilized to the village.
Indigenous Miskito residents of Ahuas village on the remote Caribbean coast of Honduras are demanding justice in the wake of a deadly raid by Honduran National Police and DEA agents May 11—with details still emerging on the scope of the violence. Villagers report that machine-gun fire from two helicopters lasted 15 minutes near the man village pier, adding to initial accounts of four killed in a combined air and ground assault on a canoa or pipante (dugout canoe) on the Río Patuca. As residents cowered in their homes, the two choppers—marked with the US flag, villagers say—next landed and disgorged some 50 heavily armed and uniformed men, who then proceeded to break down the doors of local homes. Residents were menaced at gunpoint and threatened with death to demand information about one "El Renco," as their modest homes were ransacked. Residents say English-speaking "gringos"—presumably, DEA agents—took part in the raids and rough interrogations, which lasted up to two hours.