Central America Theater
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in a press briefing Oct. 7 welcomed the presentation of a draft bill on constitutional justice reforms in the Guatemalan legislature. Stating that this "represents an historic opportunity to consolidate the remarkable progress the country has achieved in the fight against impunity and corruption in recent years," the OHCHR expressed hope that the bill would be swiftly approved by the Guatemala Congress. Among other things, the bill seeks to improve access to justice for women and indigenous peoples, recognize indigenous peoples' legal jurisdiction over internal matters, strengthen the independence and objectivity of judges and magistrates, and depoliticize the nomination and appointment of officials in the justice system.
A court in El Salvador will reopen an investigation into the Mozote massacre of 1981, according to human rights lawyers on the case Oct. 1. Lawyers from the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and other human rights groups requested the investigation on behalf of victims last month. CEJIL and other lawyers urged the Prosecutor General to consider his position opposing the investigation, because the Supreme Court of El Salvador, in striking down the country's amnesty law, recognized that the state has a duty to investigate grave violations of international human rights. The court is requesting information from the military regarding the operations in December 1981, including the identities of military officials in command positions at the time.
Another indigenous leader has been assassinated in Honduras, with local activists reporting July 6 that Lesbia Yaneth Urquía was found dead near a municipal dump with severe head trauma. Urquía, 49 and a mother of three, was a local coordinator of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) in Marcala, La Paz department, where she was slain. COPINH, which leads local efforts for land recovery and against destructive development projects, has seen a string of assassinations of its leaders this year—starting with that of co-founder Berta Cáceres in March. Said COPINH in a statement: "The death of Lesbia Yaneth is a political feminicide, and an attempt to silence the voice of those brave women who are courageously defending their rights and opposing the patriarchal, racist and capitalist system of their society."
Panama has opened the long-awaited $5.4 billion expansion of its inter-oceanic canal, completed after nearly a decade of work and forecast to boost global trade. China's container ship Cosco Shipping Panama was the first to pass through the expanded canal, crossing from the Pacific to Atlantic June 26, emerging at a ceremony attended by thousands of onlookers and foreign dignitaries. The expansion is designed to accommodate the huge "neo-Panamax" ships to move far greater quantities of cargo through the canal—also dubbed "mega-ships." But the Spanish-led consortium that carried out the expansion is demanding hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns. And there are long-term concerns about available fresh water to feed the expanded canal's new locks. The expanded canal is relying on the same water sources as the original canal—which are already under stress. During this year's El Niño-related drought, shippers had to significantly lighten their loads through the canal. Jorge L. Quijano, CEO of the Panama Canal Authority, has been pressuring Panamanians to conserve water to assure the functioning of the new mega-canal. (China Daily, June 27; Radio Australia, June 26; NYT, June 22; Miami Herald, June 20; American Shipper, March 22)
Francisca Ramírez Torres, leader of the movement against the planned Nicaraguan canal, was arrested by National Police agents June 25 in a raid on her village in the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. Ramírez was leading a workshop at her village of La Fonseca, Nueva Guinea municipality, teaching local residents to build fuel-efficient wood-burning ovens. She was detained along with her husband, four other local campesinos and four foreigners who were participating in the workshop, mostly Mexicans. The event was part of a Mesoamerican Caravan for Good Life, organized to support local communities opposed to the canal project. No formal charges have yet been announced. "We don't know what argument the police used to detain them and take them by force to the state," attorney López Baltodano told the AP. President Daniel Ortega said the detained had been "handling explosives." On April 22, Ramírez and her National Council for the Defense of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty led a march of thousands of campesinos against the canal project in Nueva Guinea. (Caravana Mesoamericana, La Prensa, La Prensa, Confidencial, AP, June 25; Havana Times, April 25; La Prensa, April 23; Havana Times, March 12)
The 2009 coup d'etat in Honduras has recently been in the news due to revelations that it was lubricated by then-Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Now comes the embarassing news that the son of Honduras' ex-president Porfirio Lobo has pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking charges in a federal court in Manhattan, and faces a mandatory 10-year prison term. Fabio Lobo, 44, admitted to scheming to import a “multi-ton load” of cocaine into the US. Federal prosecutors said the younger Lobo was snared by DEA informants who went undercover as traffickers and started collecting evidence against him in 2013. They popped him in Haiti a year ago, and put him on a plane to New York. Said US Attorney Preet Bharara: "Whether you are a street-level dealer, a member of a cartel, or the son of a former foreign president, drug dealing is drug dealing. It is a serious federal crime for which you will be prosecuted."
Security forces in Honduras on May 4 carried out raids on suspected narco-gang safe-houses at various locations, bringing out helicopters and heavy weaponry, and placing residential neighborhoods under siege. Code-named "Tornado," the operation coordinated troops from the National Police, Military Police, the elite Inter-institutional National Security Force (FUSINA), and the Technical Criminal Invesitgation Agency (ATIC). Locations were raided in the capital Tegucigalpa as well as the crime-stricken second city of San Pedro Sula, the Caribbean port of La Ceiba, and elsewhere. In Valle de Amarateca in the central department of Francisco Morazán, security forces seized at least two assualt rifles, fragmentation grenades, police unfiorms, and unspecified quanitities of cocaine, cannabis and cash. At least 12 people were arrested in the raids, including minors. The raids were officially called to apprehend gang members wanted for assassination and extortion. (La Prensa, May 4)
In a hotly contested incident in Nicaragua's Matagalpa department, army troops on May 2 killed "Comandante Invisible," a local campesino leader who had just announced he was taking up arms against the government. The army's Sixth Command said the "delinquent" was killed in a confrontation with troops on a patrol at the community of Palancito, Esquipulas municipality. But family members of Enrique Aguinaga Castrillo said he was "assassinated" in a raid on his nephew's home, and was unarmed when he was gunned down by soliders in front of young children. He was apparently still alive when taken away by the troops, although seriously wounded, and when his body was returned to the family it showed signs of torture. Family members also said the soliders ransacked their home, stole food and cash, and forced the nephew's wife at gunpoint to cook a meal of chicken soup and rice for them. Three days before the incident, Aguinaga had issued a communique under name "Comandante Invisible," saying he was taking up arms with a band of followers, calling the government of President Daniel Ortega "unconstitutional" and demanding new elections. Three co-signatories to the statement, who also used noms de guerre, remain at large and unidentified. The army says the operation was called as part of a crackdown on cattle-rustling in the area, not in response to the declared insurgency. (La Prensa, May 7; La Prensa, May 5; La Prensa, May 4; La Prensa, May 3; La Prensa, Nicaragua, May 2)