Central America Theater
UN human rights experts on Oct. 22 welcomed a recent Guatemalan court ruling that the deaths of 1,771 ethnic Ixil Mayan people between 1983 and 1984 constituted a "genocide," stating: "Impunity for perpetrators is unacceptable. It is essential that judicial processes respect international standards in determining the responsibilities of the perpetrators and masterminds of serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law." The deaths occurred during the 36-year-long Guatemalan civil war, in which 200,000 civilians were killed. It was determined that under "Operation Sofia" (documents, PDF), then-dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt had ordered the army to annihilate the entire Ixil population. Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide in 2013, but that verdict was overturned for procedural errors. Trial resumed last year, but Ríos Montt died in April 2018, before the case was concluded.
Guatemala’s special anti-corruption Court for High Risk Crimes on Oct. 9 sentenced former vice president Roxana Baldetti to prison for 15 years and six months for her role in the so-called "Magic Water" scandal. The case concerned the awarding of an $18 million dollar contract to decontaminate Lake Amatitlán, an important water source for peasant communities outside the capital. The contract went to Israeli firm M. Tarcic Engineering Ltd. The company claimed it had a "special formula" that could clean the lake within months. An investigation revealed that the "formula" consisted of water, salt and chlorine. The Authority for the Sustainable Management of Lake Amatitlán (AMSA), establsihed by the government to oversee the clean-up, documented illegal dumping of agricultural and municipal waste into the Río Villalobos, which empties into the lake. The UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) supported Guatemalan prosecutors in the conspiracy case against Baldetti and 12 others. Baldetti is also accused of involvement in "La Linea" scandal, in which Guatemalan officials brought imports into the country at a discounted tariff. (Jurist, BBC News, Al Jazeera,Oct. 10; Times of Israel, Prensa Libre, El Periódico, EmisorasUnidas, Guatemala, Oct. 9; Prensa Libre, May 18)
A group of UN human rights experts, including the special rapporteurs on freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and extrajudicial exections, issued a statement Aug. 9 urging the government of Nicaragua to "stop the repression" following 100 days of unrest in which at least 317 people have been killed and 1,830 injured. "Reports indicate that there has been an increase in targeted repression, criminalization and alleged arbitrary detention, which is creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty among different communities and among civil society representatives in the country," the statement said. "We are appalled that many human rights defenders, journalists and other opposition voices are being criminalized and accused of unfounded and overly punitive charges such as 'terrorism'."
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern for a law approved in Nicaragua July 16, ostensibly aimed at money-laundering, arms-trafficking and terrorism. The statement warned that the definition of "terrorism" under the law is dangerously "vague," and that it could be used to suppress opposition. Speaking in Geneva, OHCHR representative Rupert Colville said the law was passed by a National Assembly "almost completely controlled" by the ruling Sandinista party. The law defines as "terrorism" any damage to public or private property, or the killing or injury of anyone not directly participating in a "situation of armed conflict," punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Additionally, anyone found guilty of directly or indirectly financing or aiding so-called "terrorist operations" can also face up to 20 years in prison. The law was introduced in April, just as Nicaragua's political crisis was breaking out. On July 5, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated that the "violence and repression seen in Nicaragua since the protests began in April are the product of a systematic erosion of human rights over the past years..." (InSight Crime, July 25; Noticiias ONU, July 17; OHCHR, July 5)
In Episode 11 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg compares the legacies of revolutionary struggle in Nicaragua and Syria. The Somoza and Assad regimes were both hereditary family dictatorships. The Sandinistas and Syrian revolutionaries alike have roots in anarchism. Yet Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, again Nicaragua's president, is today himself facing a militant opposition movement, and has betrayed the Syrian revolutionaries in the interests of playing for Russian support in the Great Power game. His regime has employed state terror against peasant communities and campesino opponents of his inter-oceanic canal mega-scheme. In Syria, meanwhile, the secular, pro-democratic civil resistance continues to exist in spite of everything, and still governs areas of the country under a model of council-based popular democracy. This civil resistance has even liberated territory from jihadist factions through nonviolent mass uprisings, just as they had previously liberated their towns from the Assad dictatorship. The Kurdish autonomous zone in Syria is also informed by an anarchist ethic of direct democracy. Yet the Kurds and Arab-led civil resistance have been pitted against each other by Great Power intrigues. How can activists in New York and the United States move past global divide-and-rule stratagems and build solidarity with Syria's Arab and Kurdish opposition alike, as well as the campesinos and grassroots-democratic forces in Nicaragua? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The "Mothers of April" movement condemned the "massacre" that took place during the group's march on Nicaragua's Mother's Day, and called on the business sector to declare a national work stoppage to press for the resignation of Daniel Ortega's government. “They went out to massacre that sea of people who came out to support us in our mourning, in the largest march in the recent history of the country. Therefore, we ask the business people to call a national work stoppage, because although we will suffer from hunger for a few days, it's better than them continuing to kill us," said Rosa Cruz Sanchez, mother of Michael Cruz, a the young man killed during the April protests. At the June 2 press conference, gathered mothers shouted "National strike! "National strike!" Many said they have continued to face harassment since May 30 Mother's Day march. "Unknown people continue to come to stalk our homes, continue to persecute us and harass us, we ask that they leave us alone when they are the cause of so much pain," said Graciela Martínez, sister of Juan Carlos Lopez Martinez, also slain in the April protests. (Nicaragua Confidencial via Havana Times)
In Episode 10 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the re-emergence in the news of three figures associated with the drama that played out over revolutionary Nicaragua in the 1980s. Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua then, is again today, and just faced massive protests calling for his ouster. Oliver North, who headed the Reagan White House covert operation to destabilize Nicaragua's Sandinista regime back then, was just named as head of the National Rifle Association. And Luis Posada Carriles, the right-wing Cuban terrorist who was part of North's private spy network back then, just died. Historical ironies abound. North, who supported a counter-revolutionary terrorist network in Nicaragua (the "contras"), now baits nonviolent gun-control activists as "terrorists." Ortega, whose government distributed land to the campesinos in the '80s, is now seizing land from campesinos for his monstrous inter-oceanic canal plan. And the conspiracy theory popular among the NRA's white heartland base about the government preparing to disarm the populace and detain resisters in military camps has its roots in the actual FEMA martial law plan drawn up by Oliver North, to be implemented in the event of a US invasion of Nicaragua—with Central American refugees to be detained in military camps. A final irony is the NRA-Russia connection, which comes as Nicaragua is cooperating with a resurgent Russian military presence in the Caribbean. Vladimir Putin recently became the first Russian (or Soviet) leader to visit Nicaragua. So is it possible that we are today so far through the proverbial looking glass that Oliver North and Daniel Ortega are now on the same side? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Four retired senior members of the Guatemalan military—including two high-ranking officers previously thought to be untouchable, former Army Chief of Staff Benedicto Lucas García and former chief of military intelligence Manuel Callejas y Callejas—were convicted May 23 of involvement in crimes against humanity. Three of the officials received a sentence of 58 years in prison, while one was sentenced to 33 years. The former officials faced charges arising from the illegal detention, torture and sexual violation of Emma Molina Theissen, as well as separate charges for aggravated sexual assault. Three of the officials also faced charges for the enforced disappearance of Emma’s 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio in 1981. The five officials were detained in January 2016, and in March 2017, the preliminary judge determined that there was sufficient evidence to send them to trial. The public trial started in Guatemala City's High Risk Court C, on March 1 of this year.